Lester ended up knocking seven bells out of a beefy Northerner. That was the night at the Silver Spade when they had their first contact with the world of Jistabout.
Because it wasn’t really a beefy Northerner. In fact the man was so to speak the advance guard from this Jistabout place, this other England where they would spend several months while only a few minutes elapsed back home.
Of course, Franter knew who the guy was and where he hailed from.
He knew. Lino Franter, that buck-toothed bachelor. Sitting there with his hair slicked back and his shoulders built up with strips of newspaper bandaged together (no one ever dared mention his upholstery), Lino knew.
There he sat at the table with Lester and the rest of them, amiable but weird. Franter was quite a sight, no denying it.
Lester himself was into bodybuilding and had achieved results using only weights and protein shakes, taking pride in the fact that he never touched steroids.
‘Lino hates steroids, the same as I do,’ Lester had confided to Gus. ‘If he gets a bit of bulking-up from old copies of the evening paper, good luck to him.’
When work at Stark Engineering permitted (he was often on the night shift), Lino Franter liked to join their table at the Silver Spade on a Friday. A lot of noise came from their corner nook crowded with a dozen or so drinkers.
There they were–
Gus: fairly slight and stoop-shouldered, a small-time ladies’ man.
Lester: tall, bespectacled and heroically built himself if you ignored the beer gut.
Lino: a candidate for the nearest freak show.
Other friends came and went, but it was starting to seem as if Gus, Lester and Lino were the Three Musketeers, even though Gus was a bit leery of Lino. In fact, frightened.
‘The Musketeers? One for all, all for one,’ said Lester, amused and flattered by the idea.
The air that Lino had about him was usually enough to ensure that no one tried to get funny. In living memory, Lino Franter had not been put to the acid test of a bout of fisticuffs. A look from him was usually sufficient. The fact that it would have been no surprise to see a couple of bolt heads protruding from under his shirt collar counted for quite a bit. Who wanted to get snarled up in a Chamber of Horrors?
It took that boozy, bald-headed Northerner to go into the Silver Spade, see Lino there well-upholstered and minding his own business and shout:
‘Is he for real?’
The others at the table were offended. Lino shrugged. Lester began to twitch, clenching his fists and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
‘Toss-pots!’ concluded the Northerner. With his three friends, one of whom was a local side of beef well known in the Silver Spade, he went to the bar.
Silence settled over the corner table. Gus was watching Lino, or the ‘Zombie’ or ‘Freaky Franter’, as people called him. Lino cocked his head, but showed no other reaction.
The newcomers perched themselves on bar stools. People either side moved away. Every so often the four of them would cackle and snigger, looking over their shoulders at the ‘Freak’ sitting at the table that was once again creating a lot of noise. One of the visitors muttered something about a ‘geek puffed up like wheat’.
Lester opened a window and one of the newcomers said he didn’t like the draught. He came over to close the window.
‘I can feel a real breeze,’ said the guy, running his hand down his arm. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
‘That’s not a breeze, it’s this stuff known as fresh air,’ said Lester with a menacing grin. ‘Don’t touch the window.’
‘OK, OK,’ said the guy, raising his hand as if in blessing; he returned to his bar stool.
The MC got on stage.
‘Please welcome the Bandar Log, a combo destined for higher things!’
Maybe they were. For a folk outfit they produced a fair racket.
It was during a rendition of ‘Molly Malone’ that the red-faced Northerner came over on Lester’s coat tails as he returned with a tray of drinks. The man stood facing Lino. As the Bandar Log concentrated on their lament everyone felt that this was the showdown expected all night. Lester parked his laden tray on the table.
Lino and the Northerner eyed each other, then Lino shifted in his chair and raised his padded shoulders. At that moment the Northerner turned back to Lester and, taking up his friend’s complaint, began arguing about the breeze from the window. Lester got the guy by the collar, hauled him outside and landed punches one two three. The skin and hair began to fly, hardly any of it from Lester. In the end the Northerner decamped with his retinue, shouting abuse.
‘He’s actually saying he won that little bout,’ said Lester, offended like. ‘Hey, listen,’ he went on, ‘what do you boys say about moving on to the Rollin’ Gold?’
Several of them were keen to visit this night spot near the railway station. No one would quibble about the entry fee if the drinking and the search for talent could be prolonged beyond midnight.
During the discussion Lino had said his farewells and left the Silver Spade; he would never have got into the Rollin’ Gold with his tattered blazer and grey flannels anyway.
Gus, Lester and half-a-dozen others ambled down dimly-lit Leopold Street and proceeded past Bloss and Braybrook’s, that celebrated office building with a curving skin of black plexiglass. If they had raised their eyes they would have seen a figure perched on the edge of the shiny wall.
Looking down at them, Lino Franter grunted.
‘Gus,’ he said as they passed beneath him, ‘Gus Taber!’
Gus looked up.
‘Hey, what’s that? There’s a big bird up there or something, like a black owl.’
‘Black owl!’ sneered Lester after a brief upward glance. They continued on towards the Rollin’ Gold. Gus shrugged and followed them, then looked back. The ridge of the building was bare. Something came fluttering down, turning over and over.
He went back and picked it up and squinted at it in the moonlight: a strip torn from the Evening Star newspaper.
Title: As Far As Jistabout
Author: Rygo Quinlan
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services