Gill and Raymond soon appeared along the pathway, their voices carrying across the river bank. Gill came first: a tall boy, who always stood slightly stooped, as though he was uncomfortable with his height. His eyes were grey and upset-looking and beneath the right one, he had a tiny bright red spot, the colour of which seeped slightly into the pale flesh of his cheek. He’d always had it, ever since DB had known him. Raymond was about DB’s height, with wide penetrating green eyes and thick unruly hair. His father was half-Malaysian, a mix that had left Raymond with skin the faint olive of young sycamore bark.
He and Gill had been talking about last night’s TV, and their conversation lapped over into their arrival. DB had seen the programme, and when Raymond described a gunfight inside a wrecker’s yard, and identified one of the guns used as an Uzi, it was a misunderstanding that he could not let pass.
‘It wasn’t an Uzi,’ he said.
‘Yes it was.’ Gill took up the argument now.
‘No it wasn’t.’
On his last trip to the local library DB had returned with a book on firearms and he had spent night after night researching the contents for exactly this kind of occasion. ‘It was too small to be an Uzi. It was an Ingram M10. The shape was all wrong.’ DB looked over at Gill, who was now breaking off pieces of bread and rolling them into pellets. ‘The Uzi fires 600 rounds per minute, but the Ingram fires over a thousand.’ DB paused to allow everyone to appreciate a fact which, conceivably, might one day save their lives. ‘Which means that it empties its clips in under two seconds. That gun was never an Uzi.’
Gill tossed a pellet of bread into the river.
‘Don’t do that,’ William said. He chewed thoughtfully upon the last of a ham sandwich, staring out at the float bobbing on the pull of the river.
‘You’ll deafen the fish,’ DB said.
William ignored him. ‘We’ll never catch anything if you carry on doing that.’
‘You’ll never catch anything anyway.’ Raymond was lying flat upon his front, staring down into the water. ‘Bread and cheese! Why not make him a sandwich?’
Gill laughed. ‘Throw some chutney in as well. A pickled onion.’
‘I’ve caught plenty of fish with bread and cheese,’ William replied. ‘I’ve caught chub, perch, trout.’
‘Trout! Give me a break.’
‘I’ve caught trout.’
‘Not here. Not with bread and cheese.’
‘Not here, no.’
‘Thought not,’ Gill said, who was now rolling up a knob of Red Leicester, squeezing and shaping it like a piece of clay.
‘It was up with my dad. In Wales. We went to a fishing lake.’
‘You’d never catch trout with bread and cheese,’ Gill said. ‘Even in a lake.’
As the line tightened and the tip of the rod arched downwards, William let out a little mocking laugh and began to turn the reel. Gill stepped towards the bank, impatient to see the fish that had so quickly proven him wrong. All of them were on their feet, staring at the space where the line intersected with the river. The fish was brown and dull when it slid out of the water, the sullen freckled colour of a toad. It thrashed at the end of the line.
‘What is it?’ DB asked. ‘Is it the pike?’
Gill laughed. ‘It’s a chub, moron. Only a chub.’
William landed the fish, wrenching the hook out of its mouth. The line came away with a stringy piece of red attached. The fish thrashed in his grasp, and flipped from his hand onto the bank. ‘Careful,’ Gill said. ‘It’ll get into the water. I’ve seen it happen.’ Without looking at him, William took the fish by the tail and, hefting it up with a smooth and clean movement of his shoulder, he struck it against a large stone near the bank, the slap of the impact solid and resonant. He did this three more times, before he laid the fish down on the grass. The jaw opened slowly, a sinister reflex.
‘Urgh,’ Raymond croaked. ‘You. Killed. Me.’
‘Can we eat it?’ DB asked.
‘The flesh tastes of dirt, my dad says.’ Raymond was touching at the scales with a grubby fingernail. Close up there were orange and blue freckles amongst the toad colour, the belly a spoiled potato white.
‘Everyone knows that,’ Gill replied. ‘You can’t eat chub.’