All for one
They called the four of us the Three Musketeers. We used to argue over who got to be D’artagnan.
Sometimes it was Adam, because he had to live with his grandparents after social services intervened at home. Other times it was Lucas because he could throw terrible tantrums if he didn’t get his way.
It was never Richie. He only ever wanted to be Athos, the leader.
Most of the time D’artagnan was me because the book was mine and I knew it best. We passed it between us, reading it aloud in the flat above Mam’s pub until we knew the story by heart and the cover was gone and the pages had all curled up.
The nickname trailed us to high school, where we never quite drifted apart. Adam spent his time buried in books. Lucas studied drama. Richie took to business studies. Said he was going to be rich in more than name.
I never really studied. I had the pub, so I messed about, scraping passes, ignoring the future. We grew up together in the damp cellars and creaking rafters of the Sword and Musket, Billy Joel on the jukebox and Milady DeWinter behind the bar.
We might have gone our separate ways after school, too, if it hadn’t been for all that.
Adam, who could never bear the real world long enough for a career, became a traffic warden, a paperback in his pocket for quiet moments.
Lucas funded his acting habit with work as an estate agent, at which he reluctantly excelled.
Richie sold second hand cars and, if he was never quite rich, he certainly wasn’t poor.
And me? When Mam died the bailiffs were a shock. She never told me about the debts and suddenly there was no pub and no backup plan.
I tried a few jobs; cleaning, temping. Nothing stuck, but I got by - enough for my flat and a pint with the others, when they weren't busy. They all had kids now, and bald spots. Paunches and mortgages and responsibilities.
When they heard I was sick, they downed tools and came. Was there anything they could do? No, there was nothing anyone could do.
Well maybe one thing.
The Sword and Musket. The owners were selling - I had some savings, but not enough. I had some time, not enough, but maybe, together, we could make it work?
We gave it everything, but it wasn’t enough.
The young couple signed the forms at auction and planned the death by renovation of our childhood home.
It was over.
Then, when things were pretty far gone for me, Richie appeared at my hospital bedside.
“D’artagnan -it is I, Athos, Porthos needs you - no time to explain”
So they stole me, bundling me off to nowhere. A clothes-line, a neat lawn, a swing set.
An ancient shed with orange light spilling a welcome from its open door, Billy Joel seeping out into the night.
They stood beneath a hand-made sign, beside a stack of crates and bar stools. They wheeled me to the ‘bar’ and let me pour cans of piss-warm Fosters into brand new pint glasses. My first and last shift at the Sword and Musket, here in Adam’s hard-won family garden.
“All for one” we toasted. Time for one final pint before last orders.