Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer by David Macfie

I really wasn’t looking forward to school today. I’d had a run in with the bully gang on Friday and I didn’t think the weekend would have calmed them down. So I walked really slowly towards the main gate, with my eyes frantically scanning for signs of Billy and Al, the two leaders of the group of eight that terrorized, pretty much, all the other boys in the school. Even the jocks were wary of them, if not downright scared. I, being a relatively weedy, nerdy type, am definitely scared. I don’t wear horn-rimmed glasses or have a row of different colored pens lined up, like soldiers, in my shirt pocket, but I am definitely more academic than sporty. I can’t run fast and I’m not very strong, so I haven’t got much answer to the school bullies.

My heart sank as I passed the pillars of the gate. Billy and the gang were waiting near the bicycle sheds and, clearly, Billy saw me coming. The gang fanned out on either side of him and rapidly closed the distance between us. I knew that this encounter was going to hurt, but I was determined not to be a chicken. I stopped and dropped my satchel, stood as straight as I could and looked up into Billy’s rapidly approaching eyes. He grinned maliciously.

“Dougie,” he said, with venom dripping from his words. “Me, and the boys are remembering Friday and we think you need to be taught some respect. Right, boys?”

The question was clearly rhetorical, but the boys dutifully chorused their answer.

“Right, Billy!”

Billy sauntered up to me and, without any more small talk, he punched me in the face and then very rapidly followed that up with a heavy blow to just below my sternum. All my breath left my body in an involuntary ‘whoosh’ of air and I could feel blood trickling down my face, from the cutting left by the knuckle-duster, I hadn’t seen, but had definitely felt. In spite of the pain, I straightened up again and spat in his face.

“I’m not afraid of you, you big bully,” I said defiantly.

Billy didn’t hesitate. He hit me on the side of the head, with a punch that felt like a pile-driver. I overbalanced, with the force of the blow, and fell to my knees.

“That’s a more suitable position,” crowed Al, who was standing at Billy’s right hand. “Now kiss Billy’s shoes, you little worm.”

“Never,” I replied, shaking my head and trying to clear the pain. “And, I’ll never respect you lot of dog turds.”

That was a mistake. Billy kicked me in the midriff and the boys worked me over until I lay gasping in the dirt. Billy kicked dirt in my face and looked down on me.

“I hope that will teach you a lesson, Dougie,” he said, managing to put menace and disdain into the emphasis on my name. “Show more respect in future.”

Nobody came to help me. They were all too scared. The massacre had been seen by the whole playground of kids, but none offered aid. I slowly and painfully got to my feet and hobbled to the bathrooms to clean myself up. I didn’t cry, although it was close. My one thought was, ‘that will never, ever happen again.’  I didn’t pay much attention to my school work for the rest of the day. I was too busy dealing with the hurt all over my body. And, I was planning my response to Billy and the gang.

I bought my own set of knuckle-dusters and started to train. I kept a low profile at school and lowered my eyes each time I encountered the gang. They obviously thought I was cowed and restricted themselves to insults and jostling. My dad’s friend, Vince, had been a useful boxer and he agreed to teach me the rudiments of defense and how to punch to get the maximum effect. He took me to the gym, where he exercised, and set up punch bags and we worked. And then we worked some more… and more…and more. I built up muscles, where I didn’t even know I had muscles, my punching got faster and crisper and my fitness increased. Vince made me run as well, and soon I could cover three miles easily. And through all this, my anger simmered. Vince showed me combinations that could result in knockouts and I practiced these until they were instinctive. He also showed me how to handle a fight with more than one opponent. He called the strategy ‘divide and conquer’ and we worked hard on that too.

Finally, Vince declared that I was ready. I started with the weakest members of the gang. One by one, I found them alone, picked a fight and knocked them out. I made a point of ensuring that each contest was short and sweet to increase the effectiveness of my retaliation. And, each time I told the gang member to quit the gang or I’d look for him again. And it worked. After the third fight, the other gang members got nervous and tried to avoid me, but I was relentless. I found them and picked them off until the gang had dwindled to only two members and the bullying had all but stopped. Now I looked for Billy and Al. They managed to avoid me for a while but couldn’t escape. I finally cornered them.

“I’m giving you two a chance,” I said, scathingly. “Even though you don’t deserve it. I’ll fight both of you at the same time so let’s see how tough you really are. Give it your best shot.”

The two shared a glance and attacked. ‘Divide and conquer’ I thought. I feinted at Billy and nailed Al, with a fierce one-two to the gut then the point of his chin. He dropped like a stone. Billy looked stunned but recovered quickly and pressed his attack, ferociously. I patiently defended until the opening came. Then, I nailed Billy with a double one-two – to the gut, then an uppercut, the gut again and finally the coup-de-grace, another uppercut. It was enough. Billy went down and out. I waited until he came round.

“I hope that will teach you a lesson, Billy,” I said, intentionally putting my own menace and disdain into the repetition of his words to me. “Show more respect in future.”