The dance was just as Rob remembered them from his own schooldays, that is thick with cheap perfume and newly-emerging pheromones, loud with naff music, squealing from the girls and rude noises from the boys, floor sticky with spilled pop and who knew what else. In other words, dire for anyone who had reached the far side of puberty, even if they had done so unscathed as Rob hadn’t. He spotted Mr Milton, the geography teacher who had already been ancient to his generation, and for the first time ever felt a pang of empathy for the man. In the past even an incident involving a dead frog had failed to stir such a feeling, except maybe for the frog.

By the second hour, the kids were high on sugar and one or two of the older ones were showing signs of having imbibed more unofficial substances. Rob wished he’d had the idea. The girls were mostly dancing like maniacs with each other, while some around the edges made eyes at the boys who were ostentatiously doing anything but watch the girls. If you liked girls you were gay, was the line at their age. Rob hadn’t grasped the logic then, and didn’t now.

A loud crash and a thud interrupted Rob’s pondering on male sexuality. Some of the girls had stopped dancing, others continued, but all were backing away from the spray of broken glass that had been a window and the brick that had, seemingly from nowhere, landed in the middle of the dancefloor. Almost everyone was staring at the jagged hole where the centre of the window had been.

‘There’s the bastard!’ someone shouted, and sure enough Rob could see a flash of pale hair making at speed for the bushes. Rob twisted open the emergency door with a skill born from years of sneaking out of that hall, wondering briefly if the alarm was still buggered from his time or had been mended and re-buggered, and took chase. Keeping up with him were several boys and Denise’s eldest daughter Jennette. He collared the escaping brick-thrower, with two boys piling in to help, just as Mr Milton caught up with them.
‘It’s Jules Wolf, sir!’ Jennette called. She was throwing punches in their captive’s direction, with her brother trying to restrain her. ‘He’s a wanker!’ she shouted, clearly bent on assaulting Wolf and any of her own comrades who tried to stop her.
‘No doubt, Lambert, but we have rules against violence on school premises. Wolf, I’m disappointed in you. What do you think you’re doing?’
‘His dad told him to’, a boy announced loudly from the growing crowd of onlookers. The rest laughed, except for Jennette.
‘This school isn’t what it used to be’, Wolf replied. Rob was beginning to recognise him, remembering a cherubic first year with a slight nasty streak. ‘It’s too multicultural, for a start. All the immigrant kids, everyone having to learn at their pace, can’t learn about our own traditions. My brother got the crap kicked out of him just for being white.’ It may have been Rob’s imagination, but the boy sounded less than sincere; almost as if he was reading from a script. ‘We thought we’d stir things up a bit.’ Now that sounded heartfelt.

Just when it might have been getting good, Jules’ flow was interrupted by a sudden outbreak of shouting inside the hall. Worse, there was smoke flooding out through the broken window. Rob craned his neck to see what was going on.
‘Leave Wolf with me’, Milton snapped, seeing a possible alternative to the public torture session his pupils were dreaming up. ‘Go to the front to be counted. First aiders report to Miss Cohen from Biology.’
At the front of the building Rob established firstly that Sophie and Celine were safely outside and secondly that the aforementioned miss Cohen was holding a young man in a headlock which bore no resemblance to any first aid taught in Badgers.
Sophie clutched at his arm. ‘That boy threw a smoke bomb,’ she explained.
‘So did the one Devon and Pete caught, but Mr Parker stepped in to stop them decking him and he ran off. Porker wouldn’t dare tell Miss C to lay off though.’ Celine sounded out of breath, Rob hoped through excitement – however dubious – rather than smoke inhalation.
‘And Maria’s crying because she lurves the one Miss C’s strangling’, Sophie finished, removing Angie’s sister from the immediate list of people to worry about. This did not, surprisingly, reduce the list by much.
‘Anyone hurt?’ Rob asked, trying to get back into sensible territory.
‘He will be if the cops don’t get here soon,’ Sophie gestured at Miss Cohen, her captive and the group surrounding them.
Celine, the less bloodthirsty of the pair, pointed to a young black woman with braids and said ‘ask Miss Smith’.
Miss Smith turned out to have taken charge of the evacuation, with some nominal help from Mr Parker, and was delighted to organise other people to deal with the gorier parts of proceedings. By some miracle there weren’t many of these. A few bruises from the stampede for the exit over a slippery dance floor, some coughs from the smoke which Miss Smith – who turned out to teach chemistry – declared non-toxic, and some redness around Joelle Lambert’s eyes which could be from the smoke but could equally be the result of rough application of her sister’s hanky. Jennette was still seething and smuts made an adequate proxy for Julius Wolf as an outlet for her aggression.

The worst damage was sustained by Georgia Howett, whose parents ran the pub. She had not only slipped on a spilt drink on her way to the exit, but also landed on a piece of glass from the window. The upshot involved Rob applying gauze to her shapely brown leg topped by a short red skirt, the same shade as his face as he tried to hide his embarrassment, and a number of girls displaying a level of envy never previously directed at someone with a possible (although thankfully not actual) severed artery.
‘Use her knickers’, Devon called from the sidelines, earning him cheers from some of the other boys and glares from most of the girls.
‘To wring your neck?’ Rob asked, straightening up after stemming the flow of gore.
Devon’s life expectancy was increased by the emergence of Mr Milton from the front entrance.
‘Young Wolf has calmed down a bit,’ he announced, ‘and is waiting in my classroom for the police. Miss Cohen, if you’d like to…’
‘The police?’ Parker interrupted.
‘Yes, the police,’ Milton replied with a tone and expression familiar to Rob from the frog incident. ‘The people we normally call when young hooligans break the windows and release noxious substances.’ He spoke as though this happened every day. ‘Now as I was saying’ – he glared at Parker – ‘Miss Cohen, can you take’ – a moment’s hesitation – ‘Davis to my classroom to wait with his friend. I’m sure I can trust you to keep them in line, preferably without violence.’
Parker began to chunter about how the son of a parliamentary candidate couldn’t be called a hooligan. Milton, sensible, continued to speak over him.
‘Right, I think we can all agree we’ve had an exciting evening, but it’s time you lot dispersed. Form an orderly rabble to collect your coats, if you bothered to bring them. Do not stop in the hall to grab extra crisps. Do not vomit on the crime scene. If you’re waiting for a lift go to the front gate. If you’re walking, bugger off. Oh, and happy Easter.’
 


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