The Four Musketeers: Part Thirteen

This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 750 words.

Susan proved to be remarkably fertile. Within four months of coming off the pill, she was expecting. My parents were beyond excited, and even her mum and dad seemed to be genuinely pleased. She was starting on names the day after the positive pregnancy test. She wanted Joanna for a girl, and Stephen for a boy. I didn’t mind what name she chose, if it made her happy.

I would be a father at the age of twenty-two. Not counting Alice’s baby of course.

Not only did I have to grow up fast, I had to think about the responsibilities of being a parent. Susan had already found a child-minder willing to take the baby, a local lady with an excellent reputation. She resolved to get back to work at the earliest opportunity, but I also had an idea.

Despite the fairly recent promotion at work, I had a feeling I could do better. I looked around and found a different insurance company advertising for staff. They were branching out into every area of insurance available, and were looking for someone to take over a new car and commercial vehicle department. At the time, someone of my age was never going to get a job like that. But I applied anyway, and really worked hard on my interview preparation.

They gave me a grilling on the day, and I was left undecided whether or not I had a chance at getting the job. It took over a week until the letter arrived, and I was overjoyed to be offered it. It was twice my previous salary, and only two streets away from where I was already working. Susan was very happy for me, and I told her she didn’t need to work after the baby. So she agreed to wait until the child was of school age, and then get a part-time job locally.

When I handed in my notice, the only one who was visibly upset was Nancy. I knew I would have ended up having it off with her, and felt quite relieved to remove myself from temptation.

Even Keith was pleased to hear the news, and said he was looking forward to having a niece or nephew. When I phoned Terry, he made the right noises, but didn’t seem that excited. I suspected that things were not great for him and Maria, and suggested he should think about getting their own place. “I would love that, Danny. But Maria is stcuk like glue to her parents. It’s her mum who is really bringing up little Sophia, and Maria acts more like her older sister than her mum”.

The problems of dealing with a different culture.

It seemed only right I should tell Johnny. Jeannie looked awkward when she answered the door. “He’s upstairs, Danny. Go on up, love”.

Johnny’s bedroom smelled bad, and he looked shabby. But he also seemed pleased to see me, and genuinely happy about my news. “Tell you what, Danny, everyone’s moving on. Sorry about that night at The Anchor, by the way. I was out of order. But I was thinking. What with you married and living in Brockley, Keith tied up with that Maddy and his new job, and Terry under the thumb in west London, how about a boy’s weekend? Just the four of us, the original musketeers?”

Before I could say anything, he carried on.

“My mum’s older sister has a caravan near Eastbourne. Sunnyside Site, not far from Beachy Head. We could go down on a Friday night, come back Sunday afternoon. Take a load of beers, eat fish and chips, and kinda make it our last time all together. What d’you reckon?” I told him I was up for it, if he could arrange it with the other two. That really brightened him up.

“Yeah, leave it to me. It will give me something to do. Spring time might be good. Not too busy down there, and the weather should be okay”.

Even though she would be well-pregnant by then, Susan thought it was a great idea. “You four really need to get together again. Settle all your old differences, and remember what things were like before they all changed. Well done to Johnny, he came up with a good plan. I can even forgive him for being horrible to me that time”.

Sleep didn’t come easy that night. To be honest, I was wondering what we would all talk about for a whole weekend.

The Four Musketeers: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 776 words.

Married life suited me well enough. Susan took to it like a fish to water, and became a real housewife. She cooked nice meals every evening, and at weekends we usually went back to see my parents, and hers. Her mum and dad had never come over for that tea, but she couldn’t be bothered to argue with them about them not seeing the house. She thought she knew why they had never visited.

“They’re just jealous, Danny. They could have bought a house years ago, but chose to stay renting off the Council. Now they are embarrassed because Keith has an upper-class girlfriend, and they are ashamed of Deptford”.

She found out that Graham Simpson had an art exhibition in Brighton, and one Saturday,we drove down to see it. Because she was that few years older, she had known him briefly back in Deptford. I hardly remembered him, but we got on well. He introduced his friend to us, but the bloke was a shade too effeminate for my liking. He made me feel uncomfortable, talking like a woman, and his long hair perfectly styled.

As for the art on display, well that was a matter of taste, and it wasn’t my taste. It looked like a little kid had got paint on its feet, then run around the canvas. But I kept my opinion to myself, and when Susan whispered that one of them had been sold for two thousand quid, I was suitably impressed. We even had our photo taken with him, and he told us it was going to be printed in the local paper.

Before we left to drive home, I had a chat with Graham about his brother and his dad. He seemed to be fully aware of what had happened, and it was soon obvious that he was in regular contact with his mum.

“Yes, I hear that Johnny is not doing well. He is working part-time in a warehouse in the railway arches, and spending a lot of time alone in his room. By the way, I wanted to thank you for being so kind to my mum when all that happened. She speaks so well of you Danny”. Then he hugged me, and I let him. He didn’t know that musketeers don’t hug.

In work on the Monday, Nancy came and sat on my desk. She didn’t care that I could see right up her skirt, even opened her knees a bit to make sure I could. “Tell me you are coming to the Christmas party this year, Danny. I’m organising it, and there’s going to be a nice meal followed by a club night. I doubt most of the old geezers here will show up at the club, so I am counting on you. Can you give me a tenner deposit to confirm?”

Handing over the tenner, I grinned at her. How could I resist?

Three weeks later, Susan had an interview for a new job, and she was offered it there and then. It was in a new Estate Agents that had just opened up in Brockley, and she would be doing the typing and some secretarial work. The pay wasn’t much more than she got at the factory, but she could walk to work in five minutes, and save on the train fares. We went out to celebrate when she handed her notice in. I took her to an Indian place in Lewisham, and we got a taxi both ways so we could both have a drink.

After a couple of months in her new job, she started to talk about kids.

“With me working so close, it would be easy to find a nursery. You don’t need the car during the week, so I could manage to still go shopping and everything else would get done. If I come off the pill now, we might get lucky next year. Is that okay with you, love?” I said it was. I didn’t want to upset her by saying no.

I thought about Terry, still living with his in-laws. Keith, trying to act posh for his new bird and his job with the M.P. Johnny, stuck in the house scared of his own shadow as people thought he might have grassed up the real criminals. Alice, bringing up a kid her and her husband both knew was someone else’s. Georgie, released from prison but living in his siter’s spare room in a Charlton flat.

Then there was me. With a nice wife, our own house, decent jobs, a car, and a future.

No doubt I had come off best. As far as I was concerned, anyway.

The Four Musketeers: Part Eleven

This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 772 words.

While Johnny was away in jail, I learned to drive. Susan did it at the same time, and we used the same instructor. We both passed our tests one wekk apart, and because Susan passed first, she never let me forget that. My dad was in the process of part exchanging his old Ford Escort Estate for a new Cortina, so I offered him cash for it instead. The car was cheap, but the insurance for me and Susan to drive it was very expensive.

We left the car parked outside my parents’ house, and started to get out and about in it at the weekends. Most of our trips were house-hunting, checking out affordable areas where we could buy a house once we were married. As we already lived in Deptford, south London was our first choice. We didn’t want to venture too far from what we knew, and we would need to be near a train station to get into work. Susan was still at the factory, but hoping to change jobs. There was a rumour the factory was closing down and moving far away from London, and she was keen to get out before that happened.

Johnny got out too late for our wedding. As planned, it was a small affair at the Registry Office, followed by a buffet and drinks in the upstairs function room of The Anchor. There were some cousins on both sides we hadn’t seen for years, an elderly great aunt of Susan, and some friends. Terry and Maria showed up, but they left little Sophia at home with Maria’s parents. Keith came, and he brought his girlfriend too.

Madeleine was introduced as Maddy. She was very tall, taller than any of us, and stick-thin. Her accent was so posh, I had trouble understanding some of what she said. And I had to smile at how Keith had adopted a very similar accent, making him sound completely ridiculous to the rest of us. Maddy spent the evening sticking close to Mr and Mrs Rainsford, and declined to eat most of the buffet food on offer. I saw her nibbling a bridge roll containing gammon ham and gherkins, then wrapping it in a paper napkin and leaving it behind a chair.

Keith had his degree, and there was talk of him going to work as an assistant to an M.P. We had never really discussed politics, but my dad told me the M.P. in question was a Conservative. Dad didn’t approve of that party. Keith’s parents were suitably chuffed, as their son would now be working in an office inside the Houses of Parliament. They spent the wedding party telling that to anyone who would listen

The house we had decided on was an old two-bed terrace in Brockley. Not far from from the cemetery, and an easy walk to the station. It would have been three beds at one time, before the smallest one had been converted into an inside bathroom. Parking was on the street, and the small garden was just big enough for sitting outside in the summer. With no honeymoon arranged, we were going to spend our wedding night in that house, then we would both be back at work on the Monday.

The previous owners had done a good job of making the house nice, and all we had to do was get our furniture in before the wedding. We had bought everything from the same department store, and taken their credit option over three years of easy payments. My mum and dad had been over to see it, and were so proud that their son had his own house, and would not be renting from the council like them. Susan’s parents said they would come for tea once we were settled in. I told them there was no rush.

With Johnny back at home and out of work, my visits to Jeannie had to stop. Besides, it wouldn’t have been so easy once we were in Brockley. We had managed an enjoyable few months though, and Susan had never found out about what happened on my visits to console Jeannie.

The next time I saw Johhny I was visiting my parents and he was standing outside the corner shop. I stopped the car and spoke to him through the window. He looked ill. He had lost a lot of weight, and all of his confidence. Prison had taught him a lesson, right enough. He congratulated me on the wedding, wished me all the best, then walked across the street without looking back.

Maybe I should have felt guilty, but I didn’t.

The Four Musketeers: Part Ten

This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 758 words.

They took Johnny from his home at six in the morning. It had been a long time coming, as the police took their time building a case by watching Johnny and his dad for close to three months, accumulating evidence on them and the men delivering the stolen goods.

Georgie was arrested at dawn too, but he was in the bed of Big Viv, another market stall holder. Viv deserved her name, with breasts that arrived a few minutes before the rest of her, and a huge mop of home-dyed auburn hair. She must have been getting on a bit, but Georgie had obviously fallen for her charms, and was tracked down to her flat by the cops. She was arrested too, but released for lack of evidence.

With Johnny and Georgie getting bail, and determined to plead not guilty at their trial, everyone in the district was speculating about who could have grassed them up. Receiving stolen goods and tax evasion didn’t add up to a long stretch, but it would mean the end of their careers as market traders, as their licences would be withdrawn. They also had to worry about the actual robbers who were implicated, as four of them had also been arrested.

Safe to say I was not even considered as a suspect for grassing them. Where we came from, you didn’t grass, so it was simply presumed that someone from outside the borough had done it, probably to get a lesser sentence for whatever he had been charged with. Not grassing also applied to Johnny and his dad. No chance they were going to name names to get any charges dropped or reduced. Their lives wouldn’t have been worth living if they had done that. The local criminals had a long reach, even from behind bars.

For a few weeks, everyone was talking about it. I did the decent thing, and went to see Johnny at home. Him and his dad looked scared, and his mum couldn’t stop crying. They had phoned his brother in Brighton, but Graham was not coming up for the trial. He was getting his own back on Georgie for how he had been treated in the past. Johnny told me that Terry had driven over to offer his condolences, but hadn’t stayed long before rushing back to his wife and baby.

Keith probably didn’t know what had happened. He was totally immersed in his life in Oxford. He wouldn’t have cared even if he did know.

When I told Susan, she was unimpressed. “Serves him right. He was getting really flash, and above himself. Reckoned he was some sort of gangster if you ask me. A bit of time inside won’t hurt him, and might teach him a lesson”. She had never forgiven him for his outburst at The Anchor. And neither had I of course.

Neither Johnny nor his dad had any preious convictions, but electing for a trial by jury must have upset the powers that be. They were found guilty by that jury, and the judge was in a bad mood when sentencing arrived. Georgie got eighteen months, and Johnny twelve months. They were also heavily fined, fifteen hundred each. That was a considerable sum back then, and wiped out their savings.

Johnny’s mum didn’t take it well. Not only were her husband and son going inside, there was the extra bad news that Georgie had been found in bed with Big Viv. Susan felt sorry for her, and I said I would pop round occasionally, and see if she was alright. Jean Simpson liked to be called Jeannie, and she was alright for her age. Alright enough to make you wonder why her husband was over the side with Big Viv, a woman who could easily take on a regiment of soldiers if she was in the mood.

I kept my promise, and checked on Jeannie at the first opportunity. The experience had definitely hardened her. “I won’t be taking Georgie back when he gets out, Danny. He can go and live at his sister’s place in Charlton, for all I care”. I was very sympathetic. Sympathetic enough that on my third visit, Jeannie suggested going upstairs to the bedroom, and I willingly followed her.

When it was over, she lit a cigarette and cuddled up to me. “If it’s good enough for Georgie, then it’s good enough for me. Will you come and see me again next week, Danny?” I said I would.

Well it was the least I could do, wasn’t it?

The Four Musketeers: Part Nine

This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 864 words.

After that night at The Anchor, life took a mundane turn for a couple of years. Keith met a girl in his first year at Oxford, so we saw nothing of him. Susan told me that he spent all of his holidays staying at her parents’ house. They had some huge country pile somewhere near Maidenhead, and were obviously minted. Keith had told her on the phone that the house had a river frontage, and the dad took them out on a speedboat.

Terry’s wedding to Maria was so low key that two of us didn’t get an invitiation. Johnny did the Best Man thing, but they had a meal in a restaurant after, so no party. He had moved into the family home with his pregnant wife, and was running a plumbing business from there. We heard when the baby was born. It was a girl, and they called her Sophia. With Johnny hardly ever around, I at least had Susan for company.

And she was good company.

She was also still planning. The quiet wedding she hoped for was to be after my twenty-first birthday, by which time she would be twenty-six. That was mainly because I had to be that age to apply for a mortgage with her. I had been promoted at work, and was now checking claims instead of writing them up. It was only a modest promotion, but came with a salary increase of one third, all of which went into the house deposit fund.

Although we never talked about love, I was in love wth her. At least as far as my understanding of love extended at the time. I missed her when she wasn’t around, worried about her when she was ill, and never once stopped fancying her sexually. The prospect of a life together appealed to me, and I had stopped chasing other girls. To me, that all added up to love.

Helen was out of the game anyway. She had left the insurance company for a better-paid job at the head office of the firm where Trevor worked. I suspected that was also so she could keep an eye on him. She was destined to be a weekend football widow, and spend every Friday night on her own while he got pissed-up with his mates. She couldn’t see it, or maybe she could, and didn’t care.

Not that I wasn’t tempted.

The replacement for Helen was a perky girl called Nancy. She was only eighteen, and very lively. On day one, I could tell I was in with a chance. One of the benefits of working somewhere where eveyone was at least ten years older than me, most much older than that. Strangely, I didn’t make a move. I was actually fond enough of Susan by then to not want to cheat on her. Or perhaps I was just growing up at long last.

Then Johnny upset me. Really upset me.

We were in the Anchor one night, Susan and I. We had been to see a film, then popped into the pub for a couple of drinks before closing time. Johnny was at the bar with his dad, and looking the worse for drink. He left his dad spinning some tales with a few old blokes at the bar, and wandered over to where we were sitting.

“Janice is history. I told her that no girl of mine goes out drinking with someone else, oh no!” I knew about him splitting up with Janice over a year earlier, and wondered why he was telling me all over again. Could it be that he was going to grass me up in front of Susan? He sat down heavily on a spare chair, and leaned forward, grinning at Susan.

“So you reckon you and Danny here are gonna tie the knot, Susie?” She hated being called anything except Susan, and he knew it.

“Well, Susie girl, you should think again. I mean, you’re years older than us, ain’t ya? Do you wanna end up with a younger husband when you have lost yer looks and stuck at home with kids? You should see sense now, before it’s too late”. Susan shot me a look. So I asked Johnny to calm down, and to stop being rude. He stood up, scraping the chair noisily. People at the bar turned round as he shouted.

“Calm down? I still owe you a good hiding. You want it now? I’ll give you a slap in front of your bird, or we can go outside if you’re man enough”.

Before I could answer, Georgie had come over and grabbed his son, before the pub landlord could consider throwing Johnny out. We left then, and as we walked home, Susan started to cry. “Why was he so horrible to me? I have never done anything to him. And you are supposed to be his best mate. Why is he saying he wants to beat you up?” I told her he had too many drinks, and I would have a word with him next week.

But it was the police I had a word with. An anonymous tip-off, using a phone box near work.

The Four Musketeers: Part Eight

This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 790 words.

What followed was something of a quiet period, in my recollection. Helen didn’t mention her mum going on holiday, though she was much friendlier at work, and occasionally touchy-feely when nobody was looking. I presumed she had decided to throw all of her eggs into Trev’s basket, and trust to luck.

But there was still time.

The next time I spotted Janice, she went red-faced and tried to pretend she hadn’t seen me. But I crossed the road to tell her that she had made the wrong choice. I said I knew for sure that Johnny would dump her in due course, as he would never get past her background, whether that was gossip or not. She looked sad when I said that, almost teary-eyed. As she walked away, she turned and said “Sorry”. She said it very quietly, and that was the last time we ever spoke to each other.

So I was left with Susan, though she wasn’t a bad option to be left with.

Susan was as keen as mustard, and happy to keep me on side with some delightful feminine wiles that I enjoyed immensely. She was also teaching me things that would keep me in good stead when I was older. The icing on the cake was that she looked amazing, and everyone who found out we were a couple thought I was punching above my weight.

Big time.

Of course, she didn’t stop talking about us getting married, but she was also very sensible. Her idea was to save the deposit on a house somewhere, have a cheap Registry Office wedding, and no expensive honeymoon. The more time I spent in her company, the more I liked her. And the five years age difference didn’t matter to me at all.

We had to use precautions of course. No point her getting pregnant and ending up with a shotgun wedding. Especially with her brother riding high. She was on The Pill, and Keith had exceeded all expectations by being offered a place at Oxford. Bye bye, London University. Keith was going up in the world. He was getting a scholarship to study with the toffs and rich kids. At the time, I was really pleased for him. When I told him that, he hugged me.

I told him to calm down. The Four Musketeers were not huggers.

Even Johnny was delighted for Keith. We had a drink to celebrate his acceptance to Oxford, meeting up at The Anchor.

That’s when Terry stole Keith’s thunder. He announced he was getting married. We were all eighteen, and Terry had jumped the gun on all of us. He had met a girl on a plumbing job down in Sydenham, the daughter of the house. She was nineteen, and chubby would have been a compliment. But she adored Terry’s awful jokes, and they were both besotted.

It was a match made in heaven, as the saying goes.

Maria was from a family with a Spanish background, and they had welcomed Terry into the fold like you would not believe. The black-haired fat girl adored our idiot of a friend, but her welcome had been a bit too warm for our inexperienced Musketeer, and she was three months gone.

When we were supposed to be celebrating Keith’s rise in English society, Terry was asking Johnny to be the Best Man at his wedding. We bought another round, and toasted Terry and Maria. Keith looked a bit put out, but joined in. As for me, I was thinking about Terry’s mum, Alice. I often wondered if his dad had worked out she must have gone over the side to get pregnant. I doubted her and Georgie were up to much bed action back then.

Still, it was a rare night at the pub for the original Four Musketeers. Even Susan was okay with it. “Keith has done so well, he needs a celebration with his mates, Danny”. Naturally, where her younger brother was concerned, she was happy for us to all be out on a Friday night. And for my part, I was happy to be reunited with Johnny, and no mention of Janice. He hinted that he was going to finish with her soon, as the business was exceeding all expectations.

“To be honest, Danny. I have more money than I know what to do with. Janice is no more than a habit that I can do without. The stolen gear is coming in vanloads. Me and dad are minted, and I don’t see why a slag like Janice should benefit. I’m setting my sights higher than her, I tell ya.”

Well, as you might suspect, he should never had told me that.

Then again, he had drunk seven pints of beer.

The Four Musketeers: Part Seven

This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 756 words.

Things didn’t work out as I had expected with Janice. She was happy to eat a Wimpy cheeseburger and chips, then drink two vodka and limes in the pub after. But when I said I would walk her home, she was prepared with her answer. “That’s okay, Danny. Thanks for the dinner and drinks, but you live in the opposite direction. I’m only a couple of minutes from home, and it’s not that late. I’ll be alright. We should do this again sometime though, it was nice”. Then she kissed me on the cheek and walked away without looking back.

Unconvinced, I still felt sure she was interested. But lots of people we knew might have seen us in the Wimpy or the pub, so she was probably worried about someone telling Johnny before she had a chance to concoct a story. Janice could wait.

My Friday night date with Helen didn’t go that well either. She seemed keen enough in the pub, and expected me to see her home all the way to Islington. But when we got close to where she lived, she pulled me into an alleyway between two houses. “Better not come all the way. My mum loves Trev, and is friends with his mum. She wouldn’t be pleased if she saw me with you. It’s been nice though. Maybe we could do this again when she goes to my aunt’s caravan? I’ll be in the house alone then”. She sealed the offer with some snogging that took my breath away.

It was a long haul home after that, but I was happy with the promise of more to come once her mum had her holiday.

When I went out with Susan on the Saturday, I had to have a story ready about the leaving drink. Naturally, I told her I was bored to tears. Everyone had been at least forty, and of course I would much rather have been out with her. She seemed to accept the lie, as when we were in the cinema we only saw about ten minutes of the film, with her snogging me like a maniac in the back row. Back at her place later, her mum had stayed up late to make sure there was no hanky-panky. She made me a ham sandwich and gave me a cup of tea, but there was no chance she was going to leave us alone together.

On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on my bed reading when my mum came to tell me that Johnny was downstairs. I hadn’t even heard the knock on the door. I said to tell him to come up, but when he walked in the bedroom, he had a face like thunder. I knew immediately that someone had told him about me and Janice. What I didn’t know until later was that it was Janice who had told him. He couldn’t shout, but his soft voice was very threatening.

“Honestly Danny, I could slap you. What are you doing up the pub with my bird? I mean to say, we are The Four Musketeers, we don’t mess around with each other’s birds, do we?” I knew better than to deny it, so just shrugged. I said how I had bumped into her getting off the bus. I was on my way to the Wimpy Bar, and it seemed to be the decent thing to ask her to join me. He shook his head. “That’s not how she tells it. She reckons you followed her along the street asking her to go to the pub. She said no, but you kept on. So she agreed to go to the Wimpy, then you pestered her to go on to The Anchor. That’s how she tells it”.

The advantage on my side was that Johhny was well aware of Janice’s past. Even as he raged at me, I knew instinctively that he didn’t believe her. So I told him that she was trying to make him jealous. It was just a burger and two drinks with my mate’s girlfriend. I didn’t touch her, didn’t even walk her home. He knew he had overdone it, but his pride kept him going. “Well I have to take her side, you know that. But what you say sounds fair too. Let’s leave it at that, but don’t try it on with her again, or there will be trouble”.

After he had gone, I went back to my book.

But I was going to have to have a word with Janice.

The Four Musketeers: Part Six

This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 754 words.

As expected, Susan agreed to change the day of our date. I didn’t go with working late, as she knew that never happened. I told her that some old bloke was retiring, and I was expected to go to his leaving drink.

There were now three women to consider. Helen, the typist at work, Susan being my actual girlfriend, and Janice. I can be honest now, and say that I never really fancied Janice. Before she started seeing Johnny, she had been around a bit, and it showed. I wouldn’t say she was known to be ‘easy’, but some of the much older boys in the area had definitely sampled her charms.

My anger at Johnny’s attitude to me might seem misplaced, in current thinking. But you have to remember that I was still young, and such things held an importance to me far beyond what they actually represented. We had been the Four Musketeers, and he had considered himself to be the best of us.

And he still did.

Even though he worked a market stall, and his girlfriend had a dubious background. The fact that she wouldn’t go all the way until they got engaged spoke volumes to me. I wonder how many others had promised to do just that, then dumped her when they got what they wanted.

All of this was happening in a very different era. Most kids of that age these days would still be at school, and not really thinking about having a regular girlfriend or boyfriend. They would be playing video games, chatting on mobile phones, thinking about where to go on gap years, and be determined not to get involved with anyone too soon.

For us back then, we were expected to act like adults. Get a job, bring in the money. Settle down with someone, have kids, and repeat the cycle we had observed in our families. And let’s face it, we were keen to do that. Being thought of as immature was one of the worst things that could happen to us. The faster we grew up the better.

Friendships mattered to me too. I had stuck with all of them, only to find that Terry was a clown, Johnny was a big-head, and Keith wanted to be posh. So I reasoned that if that was how it was going to be, then I would get one up on all of them. Hopefully without any of them ever realising. Then I would revel in my secret satisfaction that none of them were better than me, whatever they might have thought.

It was going to be a long process, but I thought it was worth the wait.

Helen was an impulse. She didn’t owe me friendhip, or anything else to be honest. But she had simply irritated me by going on about the wonderful Trev. He was a football fan who had qualified as a lift engineer. He spent his days driving a van around North London fixing or installing lifts. He went out with Irene because he had known her a long time, and because he thought he should have a girlfriend. He would sooner be out drinking beer with his mates, or watching football at Arsenal.

But like the rest of us, he was a product of his background.

Not that I meant him any harm, I didn’t even know him. But if I got my way with Irene, then Trev would have the wake-up call he so badly needed. And Irene would discover that there might be more to life than a lift engineer who lived in the same postal area.

Janice came first, purely by chance. I jumped off a slow-moving bus on my way home from work that Wednesday, and almost knocked her over as she walked along the pavement. Whe she saw it was me, she softened. “I was just about to have a right go at you. Just as well it was you, Danny”. I walked along with her, even though it was the wrong direction. I asked her how Johnny was, casually conversational.

“I hardly see him these days, Danny. Once a week if I’m lucky. If he’s not on his stall, he’s out with his dad buying stock. I’m starting to think he takes me for granted, I really am”. It was like taking candy from a baby. I suggested we go and have something to eat at the Wimpy Bar, then a drink after. Her eyes lit up.

“Yeah, why not? That would be lovely”.

The Four Musketeers: Part Five

This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 875 words.

When the rest of the family got back, Susan didn’t hesitate to announce that I was now her boyfriend. I was suitably quiet, and not a little embarrassed. Although she had stopped short of doing the deed, she had definitely confirmed her serious intentions when we had been alone together, much to my delight. I was also left wondering how a young woman who had supposedly never had a boyfriend had developed such talents.

Keith’s mum and dad looked less than impressed, but his mum did agree with Susan that my prospects were very good, and that I came from a respectable local family. Her dad went out the back to do something in the garden shed, and Keith looked very happy. He shook my hand. Very formal, and not something The Four Musketeers had ever done.

He was getting rather posh.

Back at my house, I arrived with Susan, much to my mum’s surprise. She had come back with me to tell my parents that we were now officially a couple. Mum decided that she should offer Susan a drop of Port to celebrate the occasion, then sat chatting to her about Keith going to university. When I walked her home, Susan kissed me passionately on the doorstep, like some actress in a film. It was blatant, for anyone to see. And she hoped everyone did see. Then she told me to pick her up on Friday evening, to take her to the cinema.

If Susan thought she was calling the shots, then she was right. But only for now.

In just over a year, I had suddenly become attractive to women. Even ones I thought I had no chance with, like Susan. I soon realised that gave me the power that I had often envied about Johnny. It also came with some new responsibilities of course.

But I decided not to worry about those.

My new-found confidence knew no bounds. Back at work the next week, I started to flirt with the office typist, Helen. I half-expected her to fob me off with more guff about her wonderful boyfriend, but her reaction was the opposite. She sat with me at lunchtime, and asked me where I lived. Then she pulled a face when I told her. “South of the river? That’s miles away from me. I live with my mum in Islington”. North London was unfamiliar territory for me, especially as I wasn’t driving, and didn’t have a car. But it wasn’t impossible, using a couple of buses.

So I brazened it out, asking her out for a drink on Friday night after work. She smiled a lot, and took her time to reply. “Well my Trev always goes to the pub with his mates on Fridays, then usually football at Arsenal on Saturday afternoons when they are playing at home. So we could have a drink, just as long as you know I am spoken for, and don’t tell anyone at work”. Before we had finished lunch, it was agreed.

I knew I was supposed to be taking Susan to the pictures on Friday, but I would just tell her I had to work late, and change it to Saturday instead. She had already made her big announcement that we were together, and I very much doubted she was going to go back on that in less than a week.

A couple of days later, I decided to pop round and tell Johnny I was now Susan’s boyfriend. We hadn’t seen that much of each other for a while, and I wanted to remind him about our previous plans to have party when we all turned eighteen. They had been made many years earlier, and although things had changed since, I saw no reason not to go ahead with it.

Johnny’s mum and dad were watching telly, so we went up to his room. He was worse than ever, turning into a real Flash Harry. Boasting about how him and Georgie were selling knocked off leather coats and shoes, and making a small fortune in ready cash. Then he showed me his provisional driving licence. “I’m starting lessons next month, and after I pass, dad’s buying me my own van. I dunno what you earn in that office job, but I reckon I could buy and sell you, no problem”.

When I told him about Susan, he whistled. “Wow, she’s a right sort. You done well there, Danny. How did someone like you ever manage that? Have you knocked her off yet?” I tapped the side of my nose and winked. Let him draw his own conclusions. I asked how things were with Janice.

“She’s just Janice, you know what I mean? She reckons we are gonna get married, have kids, all that. She won’t go all the way until I put a ring on her finger. She don’t want me to get a van, neither. Says I should get a proper car. I mean, how stupid is that? I told her I need a van for work, to earn money, if she wants that diamond ring on her finger. Between me and you mate, I’m pretty fed up with her”.

That gave me an idea. And I didn’t mention the eighteenth party.

The Four Musketeers: Part Four

This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 872 words.

Work at the insurance company was easy enough. I received claim forms for all sorts of things, wrote them up properly on company documents, checked the policy was valid for what they were claiming, then stamped a box at the bottom of the form before putting it in a tray for the manager to countersign. I worked in a large building right in the centre of the city, in a divided office with five others. I was the youngest by a mile, but the girl who typed up our letters was only twenty.

She was engaged, and never stopped talking about her boyfriend. No chance.

Hours were nine-to five, no weekends of course. Most days I could get away by just after four-thirty, as long as the day’s pile of claim forms had all been checked and stamped. We had an hour for lunch, and I was given one ’til two. That suited me, as it made the afternoon fly by. And we had a staff restaurant that served good meals at subsidised prices. The salary was average, but considering my age, it was enough for what I needed. My mum and dad said I had to give them housekeeping, but when I got my first month’s salary, mum said not to bother until next month.

Now I had my own money, I spent it on clothes and records. The old portable record-player in my bedroom had never seen so much action, and my suits were on trend with fashion. The typist told me she thought I looked nineteen, when I still wasn’t seventeen for a couple of months.

The Four Musketeers were not the same though. Johnny was insufferably cocky, and working one stall on his own seven days a week. I saw Terry now and again, but stopped going to his house because of Alice. If she saw me on the street she used to turn bright red, and cross the road. I had a soft spot for her, as she would always be my first. She was also going to be the mother of my child.

It felt strange to think of that, so I didn’t.

Keith was busy, planning to take three A-levels and study PPE at University College London when he was eighteen. He had to tell me what PPE was. Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. That sounded a lot for one qualification, too much for me. It wasn’t that I lacked intelligence. I just lacked motivation and application. At least he wouldn’t have to leave home to attend university. One bus and a ten-minute walk would get him there.

With Terry plumbing twelve hours a day, and his mum a no-go, and Johnny on the markets all weekend, I started to spend more time at Keith’s when I wasn’t working. He wasn’t that interested in going to the pub or the cinema, so it was a bit boring sitting in his living room with his mum and dad while they all trapped on about how well he was going to do at university. Then again, my house was like a mortuary most of the time, with mum and dad staring into space, and my brother Kevin smiling down from his photo above the mantlepiece.

There was a bonus at Keith’s too. Susan. Almost five years older than me, she still looked great. But Susan had missed the boat, so it seemed. All those years of being choosy had come home to roost. Most of her friends had boyfriends, and some were already married. One of them even had two kids. She was still at the jam factory, and still living at home. Then after my seventeenth birthday, she noticed me. Really noticed me.

One Saturday afternoon, she answered the door. “Keith’s out. He’s visiting my nan with mum and dad. He shouldn’t be long though, you can come in and wait if you want”.

I did want.

Sitting in the front room listening to music, she gave me a funny look. “You’re quite the young man now, Danny. Very grown up. How come you don’t have a girlfriend yet?” I shrugged, and replied that I hadn’t seen anyone I fancied. She leapt on that. “Well you always fancied me, no point denying that. Don’t think I have forgotten you looking up my skirt all the time, or sitting too close to me on the setee. You might as well have been holding up a sign”. She was full of herself, but undeniably right.

So she had known all along. I let the conversation hang in the air for a while, waiting to see what happened. I didn’t have to wait long.

“Your job at the insurance company sounds good. You will get promotion if you stick at it, and a decent pension later too. You have quite a lot to offer someone. How come you have never asked me out?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “If it’s the age difference, that doesn’t matter to me. It won’t seem so much when we are older”. She patted the seat next to her. “You can kiss me if you like, I don’t mind”. I moved over to sit next to her.

Twenty minutes later, Susan was my first girlfriend.