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Chestnut Curls

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A shocked silence fell in the mess of No. 666 (Fighter) Squadron, RAF. Henry stood by the mantle-piece, holding his jaw and staring at Tug, who was standing in front of him. Tug was balanced on his toes, fists clenched, and a glass that had once contained barley-water was in pieces next to his foot.

‘Carrington!’ Biggles’ voice broke the silence. Tug glanced around at Biggles, who was walking towards him. ‘Come out side please.’
Tug followed Biggles out, indifferent to the stares and silence of the other pilots. Wilks’ pilots were there too. It was 666 guest night. The cool evening air rumpled Tug’s chestnut curls into disarray and, brushing them back impatiently, he followed the C.O. out onto the tarmac, where he swung round to face Tug.

‘What on Earth,’ he began, ‘made you lash out at Henry like that? As far as I could see Henry did nothing wrong. You were laughing and talking fine a couple of minutes ago.’

Tug just shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ He muttered.

Biggles went on, seeming not to hear him. ‘that is the second time you have struck Henry in the space of a week. What has he done?’

Tug didn’t reply. Biggles frowned. ‘I’m waiting.’

‘You’re going to have to wait an awfully long time then.’ Answered Tug.

Biggles drew a deep breath and changed the subject. ‘Do you want to go back inside?’

‘No. I‘m going to my room for a bit.’

‘Okay. And you can stay there for the rest of the evening. No coming out for any reason.’ Biggles half turned away, then Tug’s frank Cockney ring sounded in his ears again.

‘Can you send Algy out?’

Biggles turned back. ‘Algy? Why?’

Tug shrugged. ‘Don’t worry then.’
Biggles watched him turn away and head to his quarters, before walking into the mess. He picked up a drink and went to join Algy, who was standing at a window, looking out.

‘Anything interesting out there?’ asked Biggles.

‘No.’ Algy answered ‘Just watching Tug going to his room.’

‘What is up between you and Tug?’ asked Biggles, puzzled.

‘Nothing.’ Algy looked slightly startled. ‘why do you ask?’

‘Oh, it’s just that Tug was asking for you there and – ‘

‘For me? You mean for me to go out and speak to him?’

‘I don’t know.’ Biggles said blankly.

Algy shrugged. ‘Do you – ‘

‘Biggles!’ Wilks’ loud, cheerful voice cut across his. ‘Algy!’
Biggles winced as Wilks’ hand clapped him on the shoulder. Wilks was always like this when he had had too much to drink. Algy watched, amused, as Wilks grabbed Biggles’ drink out his hand and downed it in one. Then he turned again to the window and his smile faded. Placing down his drink, he slipped un-noticed out of the room.

----------

Algy knocked softly on the door of the room that Tug shared with Henry. To an answering ‘Come in.’, he turned the knob and slipped in, closing the door firmly behind him. Tug lay stomach-down on the bed, flicking through a flying magazine.

‘You wanted me?’ Algy asked gently.

‘oh.’ Tug answered, glancing up, then down again. ‘It doesn’t matter now.’

Algy sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure.’ There was a short silence, in which Tug flipped over another page. Algy leaned forward over his shoulder to see the magazine better.

‘Is that the new one?’

‘no. I don’t have the money to buy the new edition this week.’

‘But we all got paid on Tuesday. Surely you haven’t spent it all already?’

‘I didn’t get paid.’ Tug answered shortly. ‘punishment for hitting Henry on Monday.’

‘oh.’ Algy ruffled Tugs’ chestnut curls. His curls were so soft. He never thought boys’ hair could be so silky. As he ran his fingers through his hair, Algy detected a large gash near the front on Tugs’ head. Tug jerked away, as if it hurt.

‘Sit up, Tug.’ Algy commanded quietly. Tug reluctantly dragged himself into a half-sitting, half-slouching position, still reading. Algy parted the chestnut curls and examined the cut. It was one of the worst he’d ever seen. It was a wide, long scar, and it seemed to be deeper at one end. It was edged with bruising and had obviously been bleeding recently.

‘I can’t remember you getting this.’ Algy told Tug. ‘Did you crash?’

‘No.’

‘where did you get it then?’

‘where do you think?’ sneered Tug. ‘Off my da.’

Algy stared at him. ‘What did he use?’

‘a brick.’

‘a brick?!’ Algy was horrified. ‘was he drunk?’

Tug stared at him as if Algy was stupid. ‘what do you think?’ he asked with vicious sarcasm.

Algy looked away uneasily and shifted his position a little. ‘How did it happen?’ he asked after a short silence.

‘He was abusing my ma, and I tried to protect her, and my dad got angry and pulled a brick out of the fireplace. Then he tried to smash it across my head. I managed to dodge it the first time, but on the second time he caught me. It was only a glancing blow, but it knocked me out.’

Algy looked down. ‘I’m sorry.’ It sounded so stupid when he said it, but it was all he could think of saying.

‘Don’t be.’ Tug said angrily. Algy glanced up. His brown eyes caught and held Tug’s defiant, grey ones. From outside came the sounds out Wilks and his party leaving. Algy got up.

‘I haven’t read that version.’ He said, nodding to the magazine in Tugs strong, slender hand. ‘Do you think you could bring it into my room when you’ve finished?’

Tug nodded. ‘Only if you let me borrow the new one. And don’t mention what I told you to anyone. Not even the C.O.’

Algy smiled and tousled Tugs’ chestnut curls. ‘of course.’

----------

 

‘Come in.’ Algy answered to the knock on his door. He and Bertie glanced up to see Tug coming in.

‘Hullo.’ Algy smiled. ‘Have you got the magazine?’

‘Yes.’ Tug passed it over and took the other one in return. He said nothing more. He turned and walked out the room. As he shut the door, he heard a familiar voice.

‘Carrington!’ the C.O. was walking down the corridor towards him. ‘I told you to stay in your room. What are you doing in Flight-Lieutenants Lacey and Lissies room?’

Tug opened his mouth to reply, then he shut it again as Algy appeared beside him. ‘Leave him alone, Biggles. I told him to come into my room.’

‘Did you know he was confined to his room for the rest of the evening?’

‘No.’ answered Algy with surprise. ‘He didn’t tell me.’

Biggles sighed. ‘Okay. I’ll let you both off. Carrington. Go to your room now.’

‘Yes, sir.’ But as Tug turned away, Biggles caught him by the elbow.

‘What’s that blood on your face?’ he asked sharply. ‘Have you got into another fight?’

Blood was dripping off Tugs chestnut curls, and onto his face. Tug wiped it away. ‘No sir.’ He answered quietly. ‘Just an old cut.’

Over Biggles’ shoulder, Tug caught Algy’s eye. Algy grimaced, but said nothing.

‘Leave it alone, please sir.’ Tug pleaded. ‘I’ll clean it up.’

‘Okay.’ Biggles shrugged. ‘It’s your cut. Although it’s a bad one. How did you get it?’

‘I caught it on a bit of shrapnel, sir.’
Tug saw Algy’s eyebrows raise. He flushed and looked away. Biggles let go of his arm.

‘Go to your room. We’ll see you in the morning.’

‘Yes sir.’ But as Tug turned away, a sudden thought struck him. ‘Sir?’

‘Yes, Carrington?’ Biggles said impatiently.

‘I share a room with Henry, sir. I thought there might be an argument if we share. I was wondering if he could swap with someone.’

‘Like who?’

‘I don’t know. Algy, will you?’ Tug looked at Algy wistfully.

Algy smiled. ‘Of course.’

‘Okay.’ Biggles breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Off you go, you two. The others are coming.’

----------

Algy woke up with a jump. He had heard someone cry out. Then he heard it again. It was Tug. Algy jumped out of bed and hurried over to his bed. Tug was lying on his back, lips moving, tears rolling down his cheeks. Algy shook his shoulder, and Tug awoke with a cry. He jerked upright, and Algy gathered Tug in his arms. Tugs head lay against his neck, his tears soaking Algys pyjama jacket. Algy soothed him, his cheek resting against his chestnut curls, gently rocking him from side to side. Eventually Tugs body relaxed and he freed himself from Algys hold. He leaned back against the pillows and looked down at his lap, evidently embarrassed from his outburst.

‘Don’t be ashamed, Tug.’ Algy told him softly. ‘Everyone gets them. Even the C.O.’

‘Do you ever talk about anything else?’ Tug asked bitterly.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You and the C.O. are such good friends. You talk about him constantly.’

‘Is there anything wrong in being good friends with someone?’

‘No. I just wish I was that close with someone.’ Tug slid of the bed and went over to the window. Algy hesitated, then followed. He looked at Tugs slim silhouette, and at his face.
He saw the firm jaw, the thin lips. He noted the straight nose and the long dark lashes that framed grey eyes, and the everlasting curls that sat on top of a small forehead. He felt a rush of sympathy and fondness for this abused, misunderstood boy. He wanted to make Tug feel like he was wanted, that he was liked by everyone. then a sudden thought struck him. 'why did you hit Henry?' 'He was teasing me about being a Cockney and coming from the East End.' 'oh.' Algy was silent for a while. Then Tug carried on talking.

‘Everyone just misinterprets me. Everyone think I’m this crazy kid who like killing Germans and punching people. They don’t seem to realise there is a different side to me. Ferocity said the other day that I looked like a homesick poodle.’

Despite himself, Algy let out a laugh. Tug glared at him. ‘It isn’t funny.’

‘I know. Sorry. And- ‘

‘Even the C.O. resents me being here.’

‘What?’ Algy was shocked. ‘no he doesn’t!’

‘He always snaps at me more than the others. And he always comments on how I fly.’

‘No.’ Algy said. ‘Don’t say that. He does like you and he appreciates you being on this squadron.’

When Tug didn’t reply, Algy continued; ‘Is this what you wanted to see me about the other day?’

‘No. I just find you easy to talk to. I mean, I feel I can open up to you more.’ Algy looked at him understandingly and hummed. Then he suddenly changed the thread of the conversation.

‘Do you have a girl, Tug?’

Tug gazed at him. ‘No.’ he said in some surprise. ‘I don’t know any.’

‘Are you sure?’ Algy teased. ‘What about that WAAF on Wilks’ squadron. I saw you with her the other day.’ Tug blushed and glanced away. ‘It would be nice for you to have a girl.’ Algy continued. ‘Maybe you’ll understand the point of life. I know. Why don’t you start by apologizing to Henry?’