A short story about me and my mates getting up to more mischief
19 The Day The Coal Bunker Blew Up
It was a Saturday afternoon, myself and my two best mates Cliff and Steve had been hanging round in the street where we lived, and as usual we were a little bored, I suppose.
Cliff's father used to be in the police force, but I'd never bothered to ask what kind of cop he was. I couldn't have cared less. Now if he'd been a footballer, I might have taken a keener interest in his chosen profession. Anyway, he'd retired on medical grounds, I think he had some kind of mental breakdown.
Cliff started telling us about his dad that when he was in the police he used to carry a gun.
Nowadays I suspect that the majority of them are armed considering the amount of people they shoot, back then it was quite rare. Of course at the first mention of a gun, we suddenly perked up.
“So he used to kill people for a living then?” Steve said mockingly while pretending to shoot Cliff in the head with an invisible gun.
“No, he didn't kill people,” Cliff replied slightly perturbed. “ But he did have a gun, and I can prove it, cos he's still got it. He keeps it locked in the bureau in the dining room.”
“So can we see it then? Go on, go and get it.” I was saying, trying to goad him into doing what we wanted. At first he resisted the temptation, but after a little more vigorous persuasion he cracked.
“OK,” he said. “We'll go and look at it if I can find the key to his desk.”
Now, I knew that Cliff knew where that key was because he knew that the gun existed, and his father would never have told him that in a million years. So he must have been nosing in his dad's bureau before.
Cliff's mother was a bit religious and was always in the church doing some good deed or another. We'd seen her leave half an hour before. She'd given us a little wave on her way out.
Anyway, Margaret’s up the church and Des, Cliff's dad is languishing in his bed with some strange melancholia, so it was safe for the three of us to go in and make ourselves at home. We entered through the back door and went, myself and Steve, straight to the dining room where the writing bureau was. Cliff had a quick scout round making sure that we were alone. Two seconds later and he was back with us.
“All's clear,” he said, “but first of all listen to me,” he spoke in his, “I really mean this voice.” “We're not going to take it out of the house. Do you two understand?”
“Of course not.“ We both replied in unison, whilst at the same time giving each other little knowing glances.
The writing bureau looked like a really expensive piece of furniture, all mahogany and rosewood marquetry. But to us it was just the big bit of furniture with the gun inside. Cliff had got the key from the top of a row of shelves that was straining under the weight of lots of books and placed it in the lock. He stopped momentarily to give us a final warning about not grabbing it and running off with it. We were eagerly nodding our agreement when the key clicked.
We stood back and took a slight intake of breath. This was it, it was like waiting for the big boulder to be rolled from the front of a tomb to reveal the mountains of gold coins and diamonds hidden within.
The bureau had a roller shutter on it, and as Cliff slowly pulled it up the desk appeared to unfold before us. Inside there were all manner of drawers and compartments. As he opened them one at a time, all they revealed was piles of paperwork. Then suddenly a draw slid open and laying on it's side was a big shiny black gun. Beside the gun lay an equally black and shiny magazine. But what was even more impressive than that was that the magazine appeared to have real bullets in it. Cliff picked it up and quite carefully handed it to me. I took hold of it and was instantly shocked by how heavy it was. I was caught off guard slightly, it hit home that this wasn't some child's toy, it was real, it was everything and more.
After a minute or two of passing it back and forth and pointing it at one another and pretending to shoot each other's brains out, we got bored. After all, a real gun isn't much use without the bullets. But just hang on there a minute, we had the bullets, and now all Steve and me had to do was convince Cliff that it would be a good idea if we were to take the gun over the woods and fire it.
He was having none of that. “No, no no no no, he'll know that it's been fired, and he'll kill me. ”
“He just will, and we're not taking it, and that's the end of it, put it back, we're leaving.”
He was so emphatic, and it was clear that he had lost his bottle that we did as ordered. I placed the gun back on its side in as close a position as we had found it. Cliff quickly pulled the bureau shutter down, locked it and placed the key back on the shelf.
We left by the back door and walked over to our usual spot by the big tree outside of my house. The row of trees that were on my side of the road were surrounded with what looked like concrete paving slabs that were stood on their sides. These formed four little walls round the base of each tree. They were about 18 inches high and the centre part was filled with earth, with the tree rising from the centre. So when we weren't kicking a ball about we could use these tree surrounds as somewhere to sit and chat.
Anyway, we'd been sitting by the tree for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, Steve gives me a gentle nudge in the ribs. At first I ignored him. We were always pushing and shoving and hitting each other, and usually if someone gives you a gentle nudge in the side you get the real thing when you respond. For instance, I tap you on the shoulder, and when you turn to see what I want my colleague gives you a massive dead leg from the other side and then everyone falls about laughing. Except for you of course, who's left rolling around on the floor in agony. So the secret was not to respond to anything too quickly and ready yourself at all times. So when the second gentle tap arrives a moment later I turned to see what he wanted. I was sitting in between Steve and Cliff, and as I looked down at the fist that was nudging me in the side he opened his hand and there nestling in his palm was a shiny copper coloured bullet.
While I was mucking around with the gun, Cliff was too busy keeping an eye on me to have noticed that Steven had taken the opportunity to relieve his dad of one of his highly prized bullets. I was impressed, I turned to Cliff.
“Have you seen what he's got?” I said with a great big grin on my face. Now, the pair of us were laughing like a couple of naughty schoolboys, which is exactly what we were I suppose.
“What's he got then?” Cliff replied.
Steve raised his open palm from his side. The moment Cliff caught sight of the shiny object he lunged across me desperately grabbing for the bullet. I intercepted the grasping hand while Steve jumped to his feet and ran a few yards away before turning. Now holding the bullet above his head like a champion sportsman holds his trophy aloft. He was running around the tree with Cliff chasing after him. I think that Cliff knew he'd never get the bullet back because he gave up the chase quite quickly, we all sat back down. Now that we had won Cliff over all we had to do was to figure out a way of firing the bullet without the aid of a gun.
We went into Steve's back garden and found a couple of house bricks. Taking it in turns we started bashing the bullet between them. This proved to be a completely futile exercise. All three of us were totally knackered, and the bullet looked just as bright and shiny as before we started attacking it.
When the houses down our street were originally built, outside of the back door of each house there stood a coal bunker. Every house had one as they all had coal fired heating and water. They were made of orange concrete. They were basically just a concrete box about four feet high by three feet wide and two feet deep. On the top, there were two slabs of the same material that slid apart to reveal the place where the coal went in, and there were two more concrete sliding doors to the front a ground level where you loaded your scuttle with a little shovel that hung from a hook to the side. In Steve's garden, his father had moved the coal bunker from the back of the house and put it at the rear of the garage. It must have been a nightmare getting coal from there what with the boat he was building filling the rest of the garden but what did we know?
Anyway, after the two bricks had failed miserably we had found ourselves behind the garage, and I had a brainwave.
“We can stand the bullet up by wedging it between the two concrete lids of the coal bunker and then we'll have both hands free to hit it harder.” I said as if it was some great discovery.
At first we were still using the bricks, but slowly they were breaking up and becoming useless. Once the last bit of brick had crumbled to nothing and the bullet was no closer to exploding it was Cliff's turn for the bright idea. He suddenly turned to Steve and said, “Go and get a hammer, that'll be better than bricks.”
Two seconds later Steve was back brandishing a vicious looking claw hammer. I quickly re-secured the bullet between the bunker lids. It was Steve's hammer, so he got first bash. As he connected with the top of the bullet, a spark flew off it, yes! That's definite progress. He handed the hammer to Cliff. Cliff raised it above his head and brought it crashing down on top of the bullet. It made contact and instantly the bullet exploded. There was a great white arc of light and an ear shattering explosion. The blast blew all three of us off our feet. The hammer had flown out of Cliff's hand and gone flying over the neighbours fence. We were all left sitting on the floor with hundreds of tiny slithers of bullet in our hands and arms and we couldn't hear a thing except ringing in our ears. We really needed to go to hospital, but we couldn't because we couldn't tell anybody what we'd done. So we sat behind the garage picking metal shards out of our hands for about an hour.
Finally, we had done as much as we could. As we got to our feet Steve, went to inspect the black charred mark that was the only evidence left of the bullet on the top of the coal bunker. As he touched it a significant split appeared from under the dust, it ran right across the top and down the back. Cliff jumped to his feet and gave the forlorn coal bunker a gentle shove and to Steve's utter dismay it obediently fell in half right down the middle.
Anyway, not wanting to state the obvious I uttered the immortal words.
“Fucking hell Steve, he's blown up the coal bunker.”
It took about three weeks before the ringing in my ears stopped, and all the wounds had healed. Steve told his father that I had caused the coal bunker to break in two by jumping off the garage roof onto it, and as his dad didn't report me to my father I soon forgave him. I don't think Cliff's dad ever realised he'd lost a bullet, I think that he'd already lost his marbles by then.