Lorcan stood on the summit of a mound of earth, near the new houses that were being built at the top of the estate. He was the leader of LCG, and both of his deputies, Callum and Gearoid were by his side. He thought that LCG was a cool name for a gang, as it contained the initials of the three main gang members, but it also stood for ‘Laochra na Croise Glas’, which was Irish for ‘the Green Cross Warriors’.
Opposite Lorcan stood Piaras, with members of rival gang, ‘The Bronx Warriors’. Lorcan thought it was a stupid name for a gang and everyone knew that Piaras hadn’t come up with the name himself, but that it had come from the name of a movie his cousins had told him about, when they’d been over visiting from New York the summer before.
Lorcan had been deputy leader of the Bronx Warriors, until he’d had a falling out with Piaras a few months earlier. Then Lorcan had put his own gang together, with its fancy Irish name and painstakingly designed crest.
Lorcan allowed girls to join his gang, partly because his sister Eilis had insisted on hanging around with them, but also because most of the boys already belonged to the Bronx Warriors and they needed the girls to make up the difference in numbers.
‘So, what do you want?’
Piaras looked ready for a fight, as he leaned forward. They’d had a skirmish the day before and Eilis had been pushed down onto the road by someone in Piaras’ gang. Lorcan had wanted revenge then, but his mother had put a stop to it all.
‘That’s enough now, yous two! No more of that oul’ fighting!’
So Lorcan had spent the previous evening composing an elaborate peace treaty. He’d drawn the LCG crest on one side of the page and the Bronx Warrior crest on the other. Then he’d written out a page of text in his best handwriting and printed his and Piaras’ names at the bottom, with lines beneath, so they could both sign it. He’d already signed beside his own name, to save time. Now all he needed was Piaras’ signature and the peace treaty would be complete.
He looked Piaras directly in the eye and said,
‘We want to make peace.’
Piaras sniffed in disgust, then looked back at his deputies before sneering,
‘Well, we don’t!’
Lorcan shot him a look of desperation. He’d spent ages working on the peace treaty, getting everything just right, so they could both sign it, according to his plan. He hadn’t thought for a minute that Piaras wouldn’t sign. He pleaded, in a voice that was almost a whisper.
‘Come on, Piaras! We need to sign the treaty!’
Lorcan knelt, opened his schoolbag and took out his favourite pen. It was a big plastic pen that he’d bought at the amusement park in Redcastle. Piaras was with him when he bought it and they both loved that pen, as it had six different colours of ink.
He fumbled with the pen nervously, clicking down the green nib.
Surely Piaras will sign, if he can do it in green?
Piaras smiled then, as his gang members sniggered behind him. Lorcan might be a bit odd at times, but the earnest look on his face and the grown-up appeal of his peace treaty had won them over.
Lorcan handed him the pen, relieved that things were finally going the way he’d planned. He held the piece of paper in front of him and read it out loud, so everyone would hear the terms of the treaty.
‘I, Lorcan Kelly, leader of the Laochra na Croise Glas, do hereby declare . . .’
More sniggers, from both sides of the mound of earth this time and Lorcan blushed deeply, as he thought that perhaps he’d got a bit carried away. He saw Eilis out of the corner of his eye, picking up a rock. She was in on his secret. He gave her a quick flash of the eyes that said Not yet!
‘. . . to stop attacking girls from LCG and keep the terms of the peace treaty . . .’
Piaras was enjoying the drama of the occasion and the encouragement from his own gang. Eventually Lorcan got to the end of his extravagant proclamation and Piaras reciprocated the sense of occasion by brandishing the multi-coloured pen in an epic gesture.
Lorcan looked at him wearily, but Piaras held his hands out, his palms turned upright, forming a question.
How else am I supposed to sign it?
It was a complication that Lorcan hadn’t been expecting. He knew that Piaras could push him down the mound of earth or kick him in the backside. It would be the ultimate humiliation, but he decided to take the risk.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
That’s what the headmaster had told them at the school assembly. Lorcan turned around slowly and half-closed his eyes, preparing for the worst.
But Piaras signed the agreement and Lorcan felt the nib pressing into his back. He turned around again, graciously accepting the pen and the signed document, then they shook hands and both gangs started to move off in opposite directions.
This was the moment he’d been waiting for. The moment he’d played out over and over in his head the night before. Lorcan stopped suddenly and smiled broadly.
‘Hi, Piaras, there’s just one thing . . .’
Piaras stopped and turned to face him. The two gangs moved back towards each other. Lorcan used both of his hands to hold the piece of paper in front of him, enjoying the shock on the Bronx Warriors’ faces, as he tore the paper into shreds.
‘LCG is officially declaring war on the Bronx Warriors!’
All hell broke loose. Piaras let a roar out of him, as he moved forward grabbing Lorcan by the throat. They tumbled down the side of the mound and stones flew through the air, as the two gangs went for each other. Lorcan thought that his sister fought well for a girl. She didn’t cry once, not even when one of the bigger boys pushed her face into the wet mud.
It was all over within minutes, as Mrs McGhee from one of the top houses shouted at them from her back garden. They scattered in different directions, down alleyways along the backs of the houses. Within minutes, Lorcan was in his own back garden laughing, as Gearoid jumped over the wall. They slapped hands and bumped shoulders.
‘That was brilliant! You played a blinder, Lorcan! The look on that dickhead’s face!’
Their victory was interrupted by a sudden knocking on the kitchen window, as Lorcan’s mother appeared, behind the pane of glass.
‘Gearoid McCarthy! Get back over that wall!’
Gearoid was gone before she made it to the back door. She grabbed Lorcan by the arm and spun him around, so she could inspect the tear in his T-shirt.
‘You! What have I said about fighting? And where’s that sister of yours?’
As they sat at the kitchen table later, eating their dinner, Lorcan and Eilis exchanged furtive glances. Eilis had a very visible scratch down one side of her face and Lorcan’s cheek had started to darken, where Piaras had thumped him.
They sat in silence, as the evening news played out on the television. Lorcan stared at the flickering images on the screen, absently moving the spoon from his mouth to the plate. A policeman had been shot, on the other side of the border. The British helicopters were up, and everyone was being searched at the army checkpoint, as they crossed the border on their way back from work.
Lorcan’s mother cursed at the man on the TV. He wondered if she’d been searched as well, coming home from her shift at the factory. There was a familiar tension in the room, and he knew not to push his luck by asking questions. When bedtime came, he made his way upstairs without his usual protest. His mother suppressed a bitter smile.
‘Would you look at him now? Butter wouldn’t melt!’
It must have been after midnight when Lorcan woke to hear noises down in the hallway. He rubbed his eyes and sat up in the bed, then made his way out onto the upstairs landing. The house was in complete darkness, but he could see the flickering light from a torch moving around downstairs.
He gasped, as a man’s face appeared in the hallway below, lit up momentarily by a pale blue beam.
The front door closed, and his mother pointed the torch up the stairs, whispering to him.
‘Lorcan! Back to bed!’
He made his way back along the dark landing and climbed into the warmth of his bed, snuggling down into the safety of the blankets. He tried to figure it out. The man’s face. The torchlight.
He listened out for noises from downstairs. Then he concentrated on his own breathing and thought about the day’s events. He was proud that his plan had worked. He comforted himself with a smile, as he eventually drifted off to sleep again, remembering the look of shock on Piaras’ face.