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Play the Game
Foul Play

When someone comes up with a 'Great Idea', it is rarely something that they may care to apply to themselves.
Rather, the 'Great Idea' is often imposed on others.
The result is seldom gratitude!


Play the Game

The teaching staff at the Lower Methil Annexe of the East Fife Technical College, were, almost without exception, dedicated and qualified teachers of their chosen profession. All were practical men who had worked their way up through the trade and were respected by the students. They knew all the tricks in the book (and more than a few, held back from publication!). They knew how to treat the students. As adults (though inexperienced) who were trying to learn the trade and earn a living.
They dealt with honest failings, with firm tact and sure guidance. Any student who tried to pull a fast one, rapidly learnt that the teacher had seen it, done it, buried it, and dug it up many times before. There was no shame attached. The would-be tricksters were often the star students by the end of their educational voyage.
We had the occasional bad apple - Malky McLaren being a less-than-shining example - but generally, the Annexe was a happy place, and student-teacher relations were excellent. Far better, in fact, than the main college in Kirkcaldy, which tended to suffer from 'educational theories' and 'behavioural studies', when good common sense would have been better.
I did say "almost without exception". The one, ugly stain on the Annexe, was not a student, but a teacher. Admittedly, he was foisted on us by the Main College - yet another 'brilliant theory' - but he was one of us. And we had to deal with him.V

It had been 'decided' that the Annexe students needed physical activity, as well as mental backfilling. Everybody 'knew' that juveniles could not cope with the 'excess energies of puberty', so 'healthy exercise' would produce more amenable students. More able to digest the educational pap.
Rico Napier had pointed out to the Higher Powers that physical activity was readily available to the students. Many were involved in the local football or rugby teams. Even the Coal Board apprentices were exposed to levels of exertion and labouring, that would provoke a heart attack in the average galley slave. Shovelling coal, swinging a pick whilst lying on your back, or building packs - that was a 'man's job'! (Oddly enough, experienced mineworkers were usually quite content to leave the hard work for the apprentices!).
This also applied to the electricians and mechanics. If you couldn't dig your own way out of a roof fall, then you shouldn't be 'doon the pit'. Though they would move heaven and earth to get you out if you were trapped. Every miner knew that. You had to go down the pit every day, and you had to believe that you would be coming up again at the end of your shift.
As usual, the final decision was made by the Principal. After carefully listening to, and rejecting all objections, it was decreed that the Lower Methil Annexe would have a Physical Education Teacher.
Rico Napier made one last objection.
"If a P.T. Teacher is such a good idea for the Annexe, why does the Kirkcaldy College not have one on the staff?"
David Falkland Orr, the Principal, drove Rico's objection over the boundary with one mighty roundhouse swing.
"Heavens, No! We have young ladies, here in Kirkcaldy! The last thing we want here, is some masculine type, sweating with exertion. It could only be a distraction. Definitely no! Methil it is!"
The Principal's secretary, Miss Penelope Pillan, was later reported by one of the attendees, to have made a 'crackling noise'.
"Is there some kind of problem, Miss Pillan?" enquired a concerned Principal.
"Oh no!" replied Miss Pillan. "My pen appears to have fallen apart in my hand. I have another one that I can use."
"Excellent, Miss Pillan."
A mangled Parker pen was dropped discretely into a bin.
"Methil it is, then."
The meeting closed with a smile.
Only the one smile.

The following week, R. (for Roger) Lawson McNichol appeared at the Annexe, and the education turned 'physical'.

On that Monday, I positioned myself to the side of the main door of the Annexe. I thought that I knew who was coming. I had a note in my pocket, from the Principal's Secretary, Miss Penelope Pillan. I was to offer Mister Roger Lawson McNichol 'any assistance required' in setting up a 'Physical Education Facility' in the Lower Methil Annexe. I reckoned that this would be a fairly straight-forward task, as the Student's Common Room had, at some time in the past, been used as a gym. The wooden bars on the wall were a bit of a clue. Obviously, this was not the first attempt at 'physical education' at Methil.
My main concern was the students. I couldn't see that losing half of the Common Room would amuse them. And experience of P.E. at school was never brought up during any beer-assisted 'Good Old Days' discussions. Not in any positive way.
A second concern was a note from Miss Pillan. She wished me 'Good Luck!' Of course, I would rather have a forced march across the Gobi desert, than be personally instructed by Miss Pillan. I am sure that Norse warriors, going into battle, were never greeted with a cheery 'good luck' from the Valkyrie.
Better a Gym Teacher than that! Surely?

My concerns and darker thoughts were interrupted as, precisely on 9 o'clock, the main doors swung open, and our new member of the Teaching Staff marched in through the door. The sun-tanned, toned body was a give-away - the locals tended towards small, wiry and pale. Not a lot of sunshine down the pit.
I smiled, and moved forward to greet him.
"Hello. You must be Roger, our new Gym Teacher. Welcome to Methil."
He stopped in front of me. And sniffed.
"I am Lawson McNichol. R. Lawson McNichol. M.A."
He ignored my welcoming handshake.
I do believe that he could speak in capitals.
"Who are you?" This aimed down a slightly broken nose.
I wondered if this was an old sporting injury, or, more likely, the result of someone taking offence with an arrogant numpty. I had encountered a few gym teachers in my High School days. My money was on the latter.
"I'm Neil Collins. The Lab Technician. I've been instructed to assist you."
"Oh." Another sniff. Obviously, I had failed some secret test.
"In that case, you can direct me towards the office of the College Registrar."
I did consider directing him towards the boiler room, but, wary of crossing Miss Pillan, I pointed towards Rico Napier's office. I must have been, in some way, obstructing his path, because he made this bizarre 'shooing' motion with his hands. I stepped back, and he marched off to, presumably, 'sniff out' Rico Napier.
"Best of luck there, matey." I thought to myself.
Then thought about Miss Pillan's note.
"Good luck."
A very precise woman was Miss Pillan.
I think that she was telling me something.

As Mister R. Lawson McNichol presented his credentials to Rico Napier, I wandered into the 'Students Common Room', soon to be the 'Physical Education Facility' (or 'gym' for short).
The tables and chairs had already been dragged to the front of the room, and the floor swept by whichever student passer-byes that I could press-gang into a workforce. Judging by the swell in the muttering level, this was not a popular task. I don't think that my popularity scale benefited in any way.
"Aw surr! Do we have to dae this? Where the card school gonna sit?"
"Whit dae we want with a gym, anyway?"
"Bluidy skivvies, so we are!"
One of my (unofficial) duties was to act as a lightning rod, drawing away any thunderbolts from the fabric of the Annexe. Judging by the dark clouds of rebellion and the growing tension of resentment, it looked like my task would soon be done ...
... to a crisp!
"Aw! C'maun lads! It's not my fault! I'm not the organ grinder?"
"Aye! An' we're no effin monkeys!"

I had found some free-standing partitions in the cupboard at the rear of the Common Room. They were about 3 foot high, 6 foot long and covered in beige cloth. There were just enough of them available, to make a low separating wall between the Common masses and the Physically Educated.
"Whit a stupitt effin idea! Stupitt effin ..."
"Rankine! Just line them up together. And less of the swearing!"
"If you effin say so, surr!"
"You could always explain your grievances to Mister Napier?" I suggested.
"Shakin it, boss! Shakin it!"
I groaned. Paul Newman and 'Cool Hand Luke'. Lord preserve us from a dedicated picture-house goer!

Well, I thought that it was a good idea. The old Common Room now looked like some classy Sporting Club, with a classy dining area overlooking the contest area.
OK, the battered and grubby, melamine-covered tables lacked a certain class - the hand-carved initials and gang slogans didn't help - but if you ignored the plastic stackable chairs (a future design classic, surely!), and enlisted the aid of the ageing fluorescent lighting, it seemed to work. Mostly.
To create the requested 5-a-side football area, we had acquired, (from an unnamed College, not too far away) a pair of small netted goals. They had arrived, courtesy of Too Hot Hutcheson, and I made a point of not asking why the paint was still sticky, on the part that said 'Property of Methil Anexxe'.
A couple of mats, one at each goal, provided a measure of protection for the goalkeeper.
A cupboard at the rear of the room, provided a supply of games kit. Footballs, hockey sticks (in a male oriented College?). Presumably left over from some previous incarnation as a gym. Normally, the cupboard was locked, as it carried the stocks of snacks and drinks for the vending machines. With an wary eye on the predations of our Janitor, we re-located the stock to the one sacrosanct area in the Annexe - Rico Napier's office.
This was never locked - and never needed to be.

All that was needed, now, was for R. Lawson McNichol, to claim his kingdom.

Foul Play

My first impressions of R. Lawson McNichol - that he was an arrogant numpty - proved to unfounded. As subsequent events confirmed, he turned out to be a monster. A thug and a bully, but devious with it. He used his staff position to instigate a reign of terror amongst the students.
A bad student, we could deal with. If the students themselves didn't manage to sort it out amongst themselves, then there was always Rico Napier. He could usually settle matters with a firm, but fair, hand. Those that were incorrigible - we are talking McLaren here - could be kept at bay by a keen eye or a sharply pointed suggestion. In my position as intermediary, I could 'assist' in keeping the peace. Nothing official - but the students trusted me. I worked hard at maintaining that trust, and I operated with a certain flexibility when it came to the information that was passed on to the administration.
Rico Napier knew exactly what I was up to. Often knew exactly what transgressions had occurred, and where. But could listen to my edited version, puff thoughtfully on his roll-up, and ponder the fate of some low-grade scoundrel.
I have often watched those students as they stood in Rico's office. Eyes drawn inevitably to that cigarette, as the ash grew longer and longer. Sweat beading on the brow as Rico puffed and pondered. If that ash were ever to fall ...
"I've listened to all that everyone has said, and considered all my options." Rico and that smouldering cigarette would hold the perspiring plaintiff rooted to the spot.
"Mister Collins has spoken in your favour ..."
Mister Collins took great care not to roll his eyes.
"... and I see no reason to take this matter further."
The relief showing on the student's would be almost comical.
"I do not expect to see you again concerning this, or similar events. Go forth, and sin no more!"
The student would about turn, and scurry out of Rico's office before that tottering ash cracked, and fell to his desk. Men have been broken by lesser catastrophes.
In the Annexe, there were few repeat offenders.

A bad member of staff was something else. As history has often proved, accusations against authority are incredibly difficult to prosecute. And R. Lawson McNichol knew it. And used it.

At first it was difficult to detect. No official complaints were made - no student expected their word to be believed over that of a teacher. There was no particular incident that stood out. Everything had a plausible explanation. Only the mood of the place changed.
Normally, I would have little to do with the Physical Education side of the Annexe. I was there to assist the Radio, TV and Electronics Department, and not being of an athletic frame of mind, the nearest I ever got to sport was watching Star Trek in the Colour TV Room while Jimmy Baxter and Reggie Fairfull practised their golf swing. What I did notice first was the attitude of the students.
Instead of the casual nods in passing, the furtive smiles and the odd chat on matters of no consequence, there seemed to an increase in blank faces, lack of eye contact and a tendency for students to clump together in groups. Herd instinct when predators were in the neighbourhood.
My little market-place deals - one of this in exchange for two of that - had disappeared almost entirely. Something was very wrong. I tried asking around, but any student that I approached, would mumble a few words then scuttle off on pressing business. I needed a more direct approach.

I needed a word with Too Hot Hutcheson. Who, with excellent timing, was just passing the door of my little workshop.
"Hutcheson! In here!"
"Sorry surr. Ca' hang aroond. Got tae go. Urgent like. Got people tae do, an' places tae ..."
I was forced to use the 'Methil Elbow'! One swift arm hooked around Hutcheson's, like an impromptu Highland reel, and Hutcheson spun round and into the workshop. The door was flipped closed with my foot. It is quite a trick to draw a rabbit out of a top hat, but making a student vanish without trace takes a touch more magic and timing.
"Right Mister Hutcheson. A word!"
Hutcheson did that strange head movement so reminiscent of a Burmese dancer. Failing to spot any immediate danger, he dropped into his theatrical villain voice.
"No me surr! Ah wiz naewhere near when it happened!"
I blinked away the childhood pantomime memories, and fixed him with the out-thrust jaw and the steely eye. (If he was going to overact, so was I!)
"Some other time, Hutcheson. We have other issues to discuss."
A spark of gold-fever kindled in his eye. Any kind of monetary deal was always open to discussion as far as Too Hot Hutcheson was concerned.
"Iz we talkin business here, surr?" He drew nearer, the better to seal some financial pact.
"No, we 'iznae', sunshine!" The look of mild disappointment.
"I want to know what the hell is going on in this College."
Hutcheson edged back towards the door. His eyes turned towards the exit.
"Ah couldnae say, Mister Collins." He fidgeted. Not his usual stage act.
"Why not?" I must admit to a little exasperation towards my lack of progress.
He hesitated. Then some spur of rebellion made him stare into my face.
"Cause yer staff! Same as the rest of them."
I made that little 'huh' sound, that infantile relation to a throat-clearing cough. It gave me a moment to change tack, compose my reply. Less aggression, more enquiry.
"How do you mean 'Staff'?"
The rebellion had retreated into quiet resentment.
"Well! You lot always stick together ..." A pause. "... surr."
This was not going well. Something was truly out of place. I had never heard Hutcheson - or any other student, come to think of it - speak in that way. I pointed to seat beside my workbench.
"Just sit there a minute, while I think."
Hutcheson moved to the seat. Sat down. Never took his eyes off me. I pulled out my cigarettes, and lit up. Hutcheson watched me exhale a puzzle of grey smoke as I looked for inspiration in the cloud.
"And take your hand out of the drawer behind you, Mister Hutcheson."
Too Hot Hutcheson quickly brought the offending hand back round to his lap.
"Sorry, surr! Habit!"
He smiled. Giving me my opening. I sat down in the chair at my desk. No need to loom over the top of him.
"Do you trust me?"
Hutcheson's face went through a ripple of confusion, and other incomplete expressions. I must have used a term that he was entirely unfamiliar to him.
"What I mean is ... have I ever done you a bad turn?"
His face steadied - this was a question that could be answered.
He continued thinking for a moment.
"No. Ye've never done that."
"Then tell me what is going on."

It came out. Slowly at first, then faster, more detailed, as the minutes passed. And it all revolved around our latest addition to the Staff.
R. Lawson McNichol.
"It's the way he does it, surr. Started aff slow, getting a knock in here, a thump in there ."
I interrupted.
"He hits the students?"
"No. No like that. He joins in the the fitba matches, and it's a hard tackle here, a bit o' a clash there. One minute yer on the ball, and the next yer intae the wall bars."
"But that's what can happen in any football match. Especially if it gets a bit hectic."
Hutcheson looked at me, a wariness tingeing his expression.
"That's whit all the high heid yins would say if we spoke up. Who would take oor word over 'Ratshit' McNichol?"
I tried not to smile. My initial impressions of Roger Lawson McNichol did nothing to render that nickname 'inappropriate'.
"Has anyone tried to complain?"
"Nae way! Rat ... ah mean Mister McNichol ... made it real clear whit would happen if any 'cry-baby' was tae complain. Ye mind that young Coal Board apprentice - the wan that ye had sweepin the flair - Rankine, his name wiz?"
"Yes. I know the one you mean. Dark hair. Swears a bit. Goes to the pictures a lot."
In my thoughts, I recalled the previous week or too.
"I haven't seen him recently. Has he been off on the sick?"
Hutcheson looked straight at me.
"Aye. Ye could say that! Bad bruising on his leg the first time. Suspected broken ribs the second time when he said that he would report McNichol."
I opened my mouth to exclaim my shock. Paused. Thought about it.
"Has anybody else been treated to this ... "
I couldn't find the right word to describe it.
"A few."
Hutcheson looked certain about his answer. I had to ask.
He unbuttoned the cuff on his right arm. Rolled up his sleeve. I looked closer. A massive bruise covered the outside of the bicep. The mottled blotch varied through black and purple to greenish-brown.
"That wiz a hockey stick."
"And you didn't report this?"
I was amazed.
"Naebody would believe me. No against him. And ah didnae want it broken the next time."
"Somebody will have to do something about this. This cannot go on."
Hutcheson stood up, and moved to the door.
"Whit can ye dae? All you staff will stick together. That's why naebody wants to talk."
His eyes were accusing.
"You're staff. Whit can you dae?"
There was an uncomfortable amount of truth in what he said. I could only say that I would do what I could do. Not a comforting answer. Then I had a terrible thought.
"Does Podge Cunningham know about that bruise? What McNichol did?"
Hutcheson raised a sad smile.
"Naw! You know Podge. Big, strong, but no too bright. He would rip McNichol apart if he knew. Ah'm his pal. Ah look oot for him. And ah'm no telling him."
My dread made the next connection.
"So what will happen if McNichol tries his thuggery on Podge?"
"Dae worry about that, surr. McNichol wouldn't try it. He only goes for them that's no as 'tough' as he is."
"I only hope that's true."
As Hutcheson slipped out the door, I made a note to myself. Something must be done.
But what?
I sat alone in my workshop. I had a lot of thinking to do.

Hutcheson was correct in one respect. There was no way that anyone could bring up a complaint to the College officialdom. McNichol made an art of bullying. No real proof - just an 'unfortunate sporting accident' - and his word as a teacher against that of a student. We couldn't get Kirkcaldy to throw out Malky McLaren. They were never going to do anything against the Principal's Choice.

Perhaps if there was a credible witness.
A member of staff, for example.


I made my way to the Student Common Room. The part with the tables and chairs. I was right. It did make a great spectating area. I could sit quite comfortably, soft drink in hand, and watch the action. Even smoke a cigarette. I knew that McNichol had tried to remove the ashtrays, but more were liberated from the local pubs and clubs. As for removing the cold drink vending machine - that would have been a 'fridge too far'!

I had arrived just before a class change, and was able to claim the best vantage point. I could see every part of the 5-a-side pitch. When I was cajoled into playing football at school, I'd always hated the rock-hard grass pitches. I really could not see that a wooden floor was superior (unless you considered the winter mud).

The next class that turned up for Physical Education was from the Motor Vehicle Mechanics class. I could see the towering figure of Podge Cunningham, with Too Hot Hutcheson and the rest, standing in the shadow of his eclipse. There was no nonsense about Gym Kit - everyone wore street clothes. The only concession was the wearing of sand-shoes (plimsolls, if you must), and the removal of jackets and ties.
Come to think of it, nobody wore a tie in the College. Too useful as a handhold in a punch-up!

Prompt as usual, in strode R. Lawson McNichol. He was wearing shorts (legs suitably suntanned), a rugby shirt and some kind of sporting shoe. Even he couldn't get away with hobnail boots or spiked track shoes. Too obvious.
He glanced at me in the passing. Or, to more accurate, his nose sniffed in my direction. No nod. No smile. No acknowledgement. Not even a peep on the whistle that he carried on a lanyard around his neck.
A few shouted instructions. A shuffling around of bodies. And two teams lined up to play. As there were only nine in the class, McNichol placed himself in one team. Referee and player in one. There's fairness for you.

Too Hot Hutcheson and Podge Cunningham were in the opposition. McNichol tossed a coin and called the kick-off. Hutcheson kicked to his team mate on the left wing, then he and Podge moved forward on the right, awaiting the pass back. The ball curved back to Hutcheson and McNichol moved in to intercept. A neat little two-step, and Hutcheson was past his man and heading for the goal - only to come crashing down as a late (a very late) tackle hooked round Hutcheson's ankle. As Hutcheson lay groaning on the wooden floor, McNichol pivoted around with the ball.
Back up the pitch, he ran towards goal. The defence seemed entirely unwilling to intercept him. The goalkeeper actually leapt out of his path, preferring the hard floor to the soft mat - and McNichol! An easy shot, and McNichol's team were ahead. Not that anyone on his team looked overjoyed by the opening goal.
McNichol blew his whistle for a goal, then retrieved the ball for the next kick off. Podge helped his friend off the pitch, and on to a chair near me.
McNichol looked furious. He came striding across, his face mottled with anger. I was hoping that he would forget the whistle in his mouth, and choke on it.
"What's the matter, boy?" he thundered. "Can't you take a little knock?"
I could see that Hutcheson was badly winded. Once a target, always a target. I stood up between Hutcheson and McNichol. I'm no great hero, but five minutes of this farce was enough.
"Mister McNichol! Can't you see that Hutcheson is badly winded. There is no way that the lad can play until he has had time to recover. That was a really hard tackle."
The McNichol nose sniffed in my direction.
"Ah. Mister Collins. The . uh . Laboratory Technician, I believe. Don't you have a Laboratory to attend to? Somewhere else. Not here, perhaps ... "
I was really getting to dislike this guy. I should have stayed out of the affair, but - Hell no! - I owed it to the students. My mouth was heading into who knows what territory. I just followed along for the ride.
"Mister McNichol. There is no way that this student can continue with this football match. Surely, that is obvious, even to you."
OK. Low on tact, but nothing too stupid. Yet! McNichol gave me the visual appraisal that fitness fanatics always offer to the non-athletic, lesser beings. He could see the nicotine stains on my pointing finger. He sneered.
"Then perhaps you might care to offer yourself as a substitute. If you could wheeze yourself onto the pitch?"
With no words of wisdom holding me back, and common sense having a day off, I shoved my face right up to his.
"Aye Ratshit! Yer on!"
He frowned for a moment, not used to any kind of negative feedback, then filed the words as misheard; not applicable.
I dumped my lab coat, and stepped on to the pitch. Hutcheson pulled himself up, still grimacing with the pain.
"Dinnae dae it surr! He's just a b ..."
"Hutcheson. You are off the pitch. Just keep quiet,son!"
Podge Cunningham tried to intervene, but McNichol ordered him back onto the pitch.
"Just go, Podge. Don't get intae trouble, just for me!"
His effort spent, Hutcheson slumped back into his seat. I clomped alongside Podge as we headed out to the centre spot. I still had my thick-soled street shoes on. My mouth might talk me into trouble, but my instinct for self-preservation hung on to any advantage in this so-called football match.
A quick strategy talk with my newly-acquired team-mates.
"Keep well clear of McNichol, and just let me kick the shit out of him."
Not a great plan. But a possible survival option.

McNichol blew his little whistle, and I kicked off. Much the same as the first kick-off. I passed to my team-mate to the right, and Podge and I advanced to the left. The ball was passed back to me - no-one wanted possession - and McNichol came lunging in for the tackle. I never attempted any fancy footwork. I just raked my shoe down the shin of Mister McNichol.
McNichol's face turned white with shock. This was not how his game was supposed to be played. The ball slid past us both, and Podge blasted the ball towards goal. Right past the keeper who had never anticipated it getting that far.
A goal apiece. We did a little victory jig as McNichol brought the ball back for the next kick-off. I've played in only a few, good football matches, but I've played in a lot of really bad ones.
McNichol glared at me as he prepared to kick off. I could see the blood trickling down into his sock. His team-mate suggested that he might want to go and get that seen to, but McNichol just stared him into silence.
A quick peep of the whistle, and McNichol kicked off. Hard. Straight at my face. I raised my hand to protect my eyes, and the ball smacked into my fingers. It stung.
"A foul, Mister Collins. Hand ball!"
That silly little whistle again.
"Direct free kick!"
He positioned the ball as we tried to form a line to protect our goal. As McNichol wound himself up to drive the ball straight through us, Podge Cunningham stepped in front of me. The crack of that kicked was immediately followed by by the whack of the ball ricocheting off Podge's chest. He didn't even flinch. I knew he was tough, but I never thought that he might be bulletproof. As the ball cleared away up the pitch, Podge turned to me.
"Mah mum makes me wear a vest! Says that it'll protect me."
I just shook my head. I had no answer to 'Mum's Wisdom'.

The game raged on for the next few minutes. McNichol 'going for the man' (me), and myself jinking furiously, to avoid him. Every time he got close, Podge would somehow get between us, and that magic vest would protect both of us.
Unfortunately, my luck was never going to last forever.

As the next attack developed towards our goal, McNichol made his move. As I prepared to block him, he suddenly passed the ball to the opposition. To be exact, he passed the ball to Podge. Momentarily confused by this unanticipated windfall, Podge hesitated before moving to block McNichol's lunge at me. More a rugby tackle than any legitimate football tactic, he smashed his shoulder into my side, and I rebounded into the wall.
A moment of pain, then blackness.

Sometime later - lots of pain. And Rico Napier talking to me. I could hear him speaking, but I really did not feel like replying. Rico insisted. He was the Registrar; he could do that.
"Are you all right? Can you hear me?"
I just couldn't manage both a 'Yes' and a 'No', so I just grunted a 'No'. Rico took a close look at my eyes. Both seemed to be working.
"You had us worried, there."
I tried moving, but it didn't seem like a good idea.
"Where's McNichol?"
I could only mumble the words, and Rico had to move closer for a repeat.
"I said, 'Where's that ... McNichol?"
"I didn't quite get all that." Rico smiled.
"I think you might be recovering, though."
I finally managed to sit up.

I could see Podge at the next table, and Hutcheson sitting beside him. Everyone else had taken the opportunity to be elsewhere. I gripped Rico's arm.
"Is Hutcheson OK? McNichol gave him quite a battering."
"He's all right. In fact, he is the one who burst into my office, and insisted that I come to the Common Room. From the look of you, you are the one who had been given a 'battering'."
I couldn't argue with that.
"So what happened after I tried to climb the wall bars?"
It was Hutcheson who filled in the detail.
"After you got bounced of the wall, McNichol tried to kick yer ribs in. Podge stopped him."
I didn't want to hear any more. I tried to stop Hutcheson, but Rico told Hutcheson to carry on.
"McNichol didn't like it very much. Swore at Podge. Called him stupitt. Then he realised that there wiz a lot o' witnesses aroond. Didnae like that. Dismissed class, and told them tae go. Ah don't think he saw me at the tables, or mebbe he didnae care. He took Podge into the equipment cupboard, there. Makin sure there wiz nae witnesses. Must've thought that slow meant stupitt, and position meant power."
Rico turned to Podge.
"Peter ..." I had to think for a moment there. " ... what happened next?"
Podge looked to Hutcheson, who nodded.
"Mister McNichol took aff that belt he wears."
Rico waited patiently for the next sentence.
"Then he tried to hit me with it."
Another pause.
"So ah stopped him."
We all waited for the next statement. I was starting to worry. Podge didn't deserve any of this.

Just then, R. Lawson McNichol emerged from the equipment room. His nose was even more distorted than normal, and blood dripped on to his rugby shirt. His right eye was a fair match for the shirt - black, blue and smears of red. He lurched across to where we sat, and pointed an accusing finger at Podge Cunningham.
"That ... that ... boy hit me. I demand that something be done about it!"
Rico Napier looked at McNichol for a moment. The strands of smoke from his roll-up drifting towards McNichol, making him cough, and produce more bloody snot from his flattened nose.
"Were there any witnesses, Mister McNichol?"
McNichol spluttered with disbelief.
"Of course there are no bloody witnesses. I sent them all away!"
His eyes widened with his admission. Hutcheson and I exchanged glances. Podge simply waited for the next step.
"In that case, Mister McNichol, it would appear that it is a case of your word against his."
He indicated Podge.
"And his."
He turned towards me.
"And his." Hutcheson this time.
"I simply see no case to answer."
"This is outrageous!"
His dripping nose lent McNichol no dignity. At least, it had stopped sniffing.
"I shall complain to the Principal in Kirkcaldy!"
Rico did what Rico did best. He pondered for a moment. McNichol actually broke into a sweat.
"That is your privilege. If you care to abuse it. And I shall supply the Principal with any facts that you might possibly omit. Good day, Mister McNichol."

Roger Lawson McNichol stormed out of the Lower Methil Annexe. We never saw him again. Never missed him. Never mind. But he did do the Annexe one last, great benefit. The students recovered their belief in the staff at the Annexe.
Someone had been on their side.

In the weeks ahead, having been cast in the role of 'Good Guy', I could rarely walk up a corridor without someone nudging me in the arm, smiling, patting me on the back.
Oh God! How those bruises hurt.

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