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When the head had scolded him he did not care. When they made him stay in after lunch he did not care.

That afternoon at the last break he walked the playground like a predatory dinosaur. Jason approached and asked him to play soccer. He looked him in the eye and accepted.

That night he had slept dreamlessly.

For the next four years he was Jason’s dedicated apprentice. He learned how to administer Chinese burns. How to rip the underpants of a fellow without said fellow removing his trousers. How to belch in someone's face, effective after eating. How to intimidate. How to extort. How to terrorise. He had risen, in Jason's gang, to number two. They had been unstoppable.

One winter afternoon while sitting on the out of bounds playing fields watching the herds of lesser pupils, Jason had turned to Martin and remarked he did not like his shoes. They had thick heels and looked like something his sister would wear. The others laughed. Martin did not.

After school the gang split up, each heading home in the early gloom. Martin waited until Jason was out of sight before doubling back to follow.

Jason lived on the Old Town Estate. His route home meant crossing Hubert's field and going through the wastes between the canal and the council garages.

Martin trailed. The pathway was deserted but for the two of them. He waited until Jason was behind the garages before calling his name. Jason scowled then grinned. He walked back and asked what Martin was doing here.

Martin dropped his bag and asked Jason why he did not like the shoes. Jason looked down, confusion spreading across his face. Martin kicked him in the stomach and repeated his question. Jason clutched his belly and went down. The next kick caught the bridge of his nose and the next the side of his head. Martin could not recall where the rest had connected.

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