Liam crouched on the newspaper pecking at a desultory chip. He didn’t want it — he was still full from the Cornetto he’d nicked off the toddler in Walkergate — but he didn’t want any of his mates to have it either, the greedy bastards. A flurry of feathers and fish scales in the air above him signalled the arrival of Tiny, an obese herring gull from Tweedmouth with a breath problem.
“Yo blud, what’s goin down?”
“Git your own fries, fatty man.”
“Whoa, settle. I is here on important bizniz, innit?
“You know it, blud.”
Liam eyed Tiny, spreading his wings protectively over his half-eaten chip.
“No sudden move on my stash, yo feel me?”
Tiny waddled a few careful steps back. Around these parts, Liam had a rep for being hard; rumour whispered he’d made a peregrine falcon his bitch and had it running gang errands.
“S’all good, man, I ain’t wantin your chip no how. Atkins, innit.”
“Yo stop jivin bout whether yo ass looks big in yo feathers — it do by da way — an git on with it.
“All right, all right. It’s Hector, innit.
“Wassup with da bird?
“Him dead. Shot.”
“I ain’t makin it up.”
Liam sucked his beak. Shit, that was a damn shame. Hatched only days apart, him and Hector had grown up together, skimming wild over the broken tiles of Prior Park. No-one could touch them — late-night trawler raids, picnic-jacking on the Ramparts, dive-bombing pensioners at East Ord Garden Centre. Good times. Sweet times.
Liam sighed. Ah, but Hector. Well, he never knew when to stop, did he? Always pushing the empty wrapper a stage further. Take that time at the home for the blind, for instance. Christ. Even he, Liam, felt sorry for the poor bastards. He would bet a jam butty and a half-eaten Calippo it wasn’t the warm shower they’d been expecting. Pretty sunrise though. Not that they could see it.
“Yo, blubber bird! What the—?”
Tiny threw back his head and gulped back the last of the chip before Liam had a chance to kick him in the throat.
“Sorry, bro. It’s my mutha-fuckin blood sugars, innit. They’re all ovah da place.”
“I is gonna peck you a new one fo’ sho, dumbnuts.”
“Like the peregrine?”
Liam advanced on Tiny across the newspaper hissing and cracking his beak, then a grease-stained photo caught his eye bringing him up short and promising Tiny a brief reprieve, who promptly farted in fishy relief. Liam put his head to one side and squinted at the paper.
“Yo read dis ting?”
“Nuh-uh.” Tiny continued to back away, trying not to let his feet slap on the pavement. “I ain’t so hot at letters n’shit.”
“Dat cos yo mama a mackerel-ho who likes it wid pigeons.”
“Pigeons ain’t all bad.”
“Shut yo mouth, Obese Wan Kenobi, an lissen, yo. Some baby-mutha ‘who has a phobia of birds’ — I bet she no stranger to Kentucky Fried anyways, know what I’m sayin? — ‘was walking down Marygate only last week with a sausage roll from Greggs when a vicious seagull swooped at me.'” Liam looked up. Tiny shifted awkwardly on to one foot.
“I was hungry, innit. An I ain’t swoopin, I is gliiiidin. ”
“Trust me, bruv, you ain’t gliding nothin. Tings yo size ain’t built for gliding, dey is built for demolition, yo feel me?” Liam resumed reading. “‘I was also relieved that I had my five-month-old baby in her pram and not in my arms. Do we have to wait until a seagull causes serious injury to a child before something is done?’ This is racist propaganda, innit. I is feelin a disrespected pain in my heart, yo get me? It’s not like yo was plannin to eat da chile.”
“Hell, er, no.”
Liam paced backwards and forwards hawking agitated gobbets of semi-digested wafer on the handrail to the disabled loos.
“For dem folk, eatin in the street wid their faces scavenging from bags, well, it’s a lifestyle choice, yo. But me? Hell, blud. I dream of cutlery — a knife, a fork, mebbe a spoon if there’s puddin.”
“Or soup, ‘xactly.” Liam nodded. “A meal sat up round a mutha-fuckin table, a crisp linen napkin n’all, a sweet bit o’ family time. But dis is my tragedy in life.” He waggled his wing tips. “God ain’t seen fit to give me no opposable thumbs. An so, the irony of dis situation in which we and our feathered brethren are finding ourselves in, is dat we are bein labelled as vermin.” He sucked his beak in disgust. “I aks yo, bruv.”
Liam lapsed into a depressed silence. Tiny wondered if it would be poor form to help himself to the mucus dripping from the handrail before it dried. He decided to quit while he was ahead.
“I is killing me a rat once,” he said cheerfully.
“What, yo landed on the mo-fo?”
“Shivved him with a lolly stick. Hey, dat reminds me, yo. Where did Noah keep all the fish?”
“Dunno, where did dat Noah batty man keep all the fish?”
“In the multi-story carp ark.”
Liam continued to peruse the pages of the newspaper, while Tiny took the opportunity to vomit up the stolen chip to enjoy it again at a more leisurely pace. “Shiy-eeet,” Liam said at length. “We in trouble, bro. Look, page four.”
Tiny hopped forward and peered over Liam’s shoulder.
“Sorry, bruv, you mind my mama’s a mackerel-ho who likes it wid pigeons.”
“Jeez, Tiny. It say, ‘A bird scarer and a gas bottle were stolen from a look-out in Scremerston.’ Know what dat is meaning, blud?”
“Hell, yeah.” He didn’t.
“The humans is declaring goddamn war on our sorry asses!” He turned to face Tiny, stricken. “You gotta promise me somethin, bird.”
“You can aks me anything, bruv. Go on, aks.”
“Whatever you is doing, don’t be eatin any unusually large sausage rolls. I seen dis sorta shit in a film once an the shark ain’t smilin at the end.”
“Stay cool. S’all good.”
Liam relaxed. “Okay, den. I’m off, innit. Hot date, n’all dat. One sweet piece of wing-lickin-good gull-ass.”
“Anyone I is knowing, like?”
“Yo sista, fool.
“Chill. Gonna watch the stars reflect in the Whiteadder Reservoir. Chicks dig that shit. Laterz, fatty man.” And with one propulsive crap, Liam took off and flapped out of sight, leaving Tiny contemplating the sensual delights of a sausage roll the size of a gas cannister.
Hector may have been the first to die, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be the last.