Panic was not a feeling I was familiar, or comfortable with. I didn’t think I had felt it since I was a child, hiding behind the sofa when I knew my father was after me. But I could feel it stirring now, oh yes, all the time, niggling and needling at me. I felt it the night I called Jack to say I would be over soon to collect Danny. “What you talkin’ bout?” he had slurred back at me, his voice thick with drowsy inebriation. “He ain’t here!” I felt it again when I stuck my head around the door of the record shop, just as the fat whale that owned it was cashing up his paltry takings. He gave me a withering look of contempt that made me want to ram my fist into his nose. “If you’re looking for Danny, I sent him home,” he told me before I could even open my mouth. He folded over the top of a money bag and slapped it down onto the counter with a metallic bang. “He’s sick, not well, so I sent him back home.” I nodded and left, but it was wrong, it was all wrong. The way he said it; on cue, as if he had been drilled. The way he repeated what he had already said; he’s sick, not well, so I sent him home. Like Jack’s confusion, it struck a warning bell in my mind. It sent a shiver of panic coursing through my body.
And now the feeling was growing. And more than that, it was following me about, clinging to me petulantly. I couldn’t shake it off. I was starting to forget how my stomach normally felt, without this strange and unwelcome feeling inside of it. I was slumped behind the desk in my office, a whiskey in one hand, and my head in the other. I had drunk too much, but there it was. There it was again. That feeling. A hammering in my chest, a coldness to my skin, a sweat that seeped out across my forehead. The feeling that I was about to be found out. That there was nowhere left to hide, because my father would turn the sofa right over with one kick to get me out from under it. The feeling that I ought to be looking for a better hiding place, or be working out ways to cover my tracks. I took a deep breath before draining my glass and reaching for the bottle to refill it again. There was no denying it; the voice in my head chided smugly, and there was no hiding from it. The feeling of something slipping slowly through my fingers, like an expensive wine glass that never really feels your grip before it slithers from your grasp and then shatters in slow motion into a million diamonds on the floor.
I lifted the glass of whiskey up to my face and peered into it, as the brown liquid sloshed one way, and then the other. You’ll never find the answers at the bottom of a bottle, my dad was always fond of saying. He liked to say a lot of things, my dad. Got that boy in line yet? He was fond of that one too. Want me to come down and show you how? He always chuckled after that one. Is he still taking the piss out of you, or what? I studied the liquid in the glass, and realised that it was not answers I was looking for, so my dad could fuck off actually. I was looking for a bit of peace. I was looking for a way to make that queasy feeling in my belly go away. I was wallowing, but it was all okay, because I was alone, and the office door was locked. I was wallowing in self-pity, and in the other thing. The other thing was lying under it all.
The other thing was a vile, merciless and burning anger that roared within the very core of me. It had been building for a while now, ever since those kids stopped going to Jacks. That had been the start of it. I had been struggling to control it, before it could control me. I had been trying to put it out even, but nothing worked. Drink just inflamed it, and not drinking just prolonged the agony of it. Fucking my wife did not even touch it. Fucking my wife left me feeling unspent, unsatisfied and close to crawling up the walls with frustration. Getting hold of that kid and smashing his body until there was nothing left but dust and bones might just do it. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t lose control.
I told myself this on a daily basis. Kay was watching me. She had returned from her mothers’ funeral, thin and pale, her lips pressed together and her body stiffening when I laid my hands on her. I didn’t understand. Shock, I presumed. Shock, and grief. I talked to her about the new house, to take her mind off things. I told her how we were simply days away from moving in now, and she better start planning her colour schemes and styles. I told her how excited I was, how it would be a brand new, fresh start for all of us. I told her how well Danny and I had got on during her absence. I told her how I longed for the day he might accidentally call me dad. What tormented me even further, was the distasteful knowing I had, that there was an element of truth within the lies I fed to her. But that boy was mocking me at every turn, at every opportunity. Playing me for a fool. Taking the piss and laughing at me, just like my old man said he was. Plotting and planning something behind my back. I just knew it. I could feel it.
I took my chances to warn him when they came to me. It was like a drug, and I was not entirely sure when making that boys life a misery had started to turn into some kind of addiction. It was a riddle to me, the way I longed to kick and punch him, yet at the same time, would have felt my heart brim over if he had called me dad and meant it. I pondered it now. I wallowed in it, I swam in it, all the murky dingy depths of it. Maybe violence was an addiction, like any other, I mused carelessly, sloshing the whiskey down my throat and pouring another measure. Maybe that was it. It called to a weakness inside of you, just as booze and drugs did to other people. It harnessed that weakness and convinced you of your strengths instead. And then it had you where it wanted you, and it turned and twisted inside of you, and became a constant urge that was impossible to satisfy. I wondered if that was what drove people to murder. That relentless urge to harm and maim, like an itch you could not scratch. The desire to control and own. When the opportunity to inflict damage arose, the adrenaline was on fire inside of me. And then afterwards, the wonderful magnificent calm would wash over me, and I would feel clean, and cleansed, and fresh and new. I could think clearly, and breathe steadily. I sometimes felt like thanking him. There was no other way to satisfy it. I thought about that boy and I longed to hurt him. I wanted to see his face all screwed up in pain. I wanted to hear the gasps and the grunts and the begging, and I wondered if my own father had felt like that about me? He had certainly never shown me much mercy, I remembered that.
I supposed it was possible, that he had felt the same, but then, it was different too, wasn’t it? Because Danny was not my kid, he was not my son. We were not blood. Not related. That made it different, so it wasn’t really my fault, was it? My father had loved me. He still loved me. I’d never doubted that, even when on the receiving end of his thickest belt. I’d seen it in his eyes. He was doing it for me. He was trying to set me on the right path, and I had always known this, and worked with it, not against it. I had tried endlessly to please the man, to make him proud of me, and I truly felt that I had nearly achieved it. I had always put one hundred and ten per cent into everything, and look, now the rewards were rolling in! The new house, the cars, the club, the beautiful adoring wife. It was just that fucking boy. Just the boy putting on an act, pretending to be in line when I knew he fucking wasn’t, not really, not underneath where it mattered. The boy hated me, the boy had no respect for me, and this knowledge caused me pain somewhere deep and primal. It made me want to lash out. Because even when he was hurting, and afraid, that boy still looked at me with loathing in his eyes. It tortured me to realise that I had still not won. That I did not have everything the way I wanted.
I had to do something. Something.
Sometimes I would stop and wonder, would it be any different if I were Danny’s real dad? Sometimes I would discover myself locked in a dreamlike state, paused on the stairs, with my eyes fixed on the childhood portraits Kay kept hung on the wall there. Pictures of them as babies, and as small children. There was one picture in particular that dragged my eyes towards it every time I passed. He looked about three years old, and chubby faced, in blue dungarees, and with a shock of hair so blonde it looked almost white. Sometimes I stopped and looked into his shining blue eyes and felt this vicious tugging at my heart, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what it was. I would lie awake at night. I simultaneously craved to inflict pain, to make myself understood for once, but then at the same time I would lie there and wonder about useless, pointless things; like would things have been different if I had met Kay when Danny was the boy in that picture? A child of that age would not have railed against me from the beginning, would he? A child of that age would have welcomed me, a steady father figure. He would have run to me. He would have accepted me, and he would have called me daddy within time. A child like that would have done what he was told. He would have been a good boy.
Useless thinking like that now, I told myself angrily. I had come along too late for that boy, that was the thing, that was the problem. The damage had already been done. Years and years of people letting him do whatever he liked, letting him walk around like a scruffy little tramp, smoking and drinking and skipping school. Everyone knew exactly how he was going to turn out now. No qualifications, no hope, no future. He’d be a drain on the system, and on Kay and me forever, if I didn’t do something about it soon. He was still a defiant little fuck up even if his mother refused to see it. Even if she was all over him like a fucking rash since she got back from Cornwall, and found he had a girlfriend. It made my stomach curl up, for fucks sake. A girlfriend, well whoopy doo! A girlfriend, and that makes everything alright all of a sudden?
Kay was another thing that worried me. Her attitude, and her demeanour since she returned added to my increasing paranoia. She seemed different, and I couldn’t exactly pinpoint how, or why, and that made me feel like everything was slipping through my hands, without me even really knowing it. It was a giddy, head spinning feeling, and I hated it. Was she planning something too? I thought back to the evening Danny had come through the door with that girl in tow. Stupid stuck up girl fancying herself a bad boy for a while, that’s all it was, anyone could see that! And bloody Kay, fussing and fawning over the two of them.
I’d sneered in the background, treading a fine line between manners and hostility. It was Kay’s excited gushing that really got to me. Showing a sudden interest in the precious son she knew nothing about! Laughable. Made me want to puke. Putting her arm around him, while her eyes glistened with tears, what was all that about? Telling him that she wanted things to change between them, that she hadn’t been there for him, but now she was? “Mum died not knowing that I loved her,” she’d told his stiff and unresponsive face. “She died with bad blood between us, and there’s nothing I can do to change that now. I’ll regret that till the day I die, but I’m not going to let that happen with us.” It was all ‘us’ all of a sudden, wasn’t it? I felt shelved and sidelined. What was I good for then eh? Making the money and paying the bills evidently. I was just the idiot who paid the mortgage. The dumb fucker who slaved his arse off every night so she could have new hairdos and fancy nails. Why was she so interested in him now? It dug a fiery pit of resentment in my belly. Where had she been when Danny really needed her eh? When he was coming down on Jacks shitty sofa, sweating and vomiting, and then doing the exact same thing to himself again the next fucking day? She hadn’t even fucking noticed had she?
I drained another whiskey and curled my lip up. Something was definitely going on. With all of them. Danny was doing his utmost to avoid me; that was one sign. He was avoiding me at all costs, and when he was home, he hid behind his mother, and his fucking eyes, his fucking eyes said it all, didn’t they? Ha ha, fuck you, they said! You can’t catch me now, you can’t catch me now…Avoiding Jack. That was something else. He’d loved going there, so what had changed? Why wasn’t he going there anymore to get high and listen to music? Where was he going instead, and why? I had liked him being there. I had liked knowing where he was, like Jack himself, in the palm of my hand and going nowhere. Now I felt like I had lost knowledge, and with that, control. Knowledge was power and without it, you were blind.
Jaime Lawler was a hard man to find these days too. What was that about? That was another sign, wasn’t it? When I found him, he denied everything. He had no idea why Danny wasn’t scoring anymore. Maybe he got clean, or got bored eh? Happen sometimes. Some kids are smarter than others, that was it. I knew different. I knew it couldn’t possibly be that simple, because I had the unnerving sense of something unfolding all around me, something in motion, something just below our radars. I hated this. I loathed the feeling of losing control to a bunch of doped up fucked up kids.
I snatched up the list I had placed next to the phone and glared at it in anger. It was a list of people I was meant to call. Removal firms, now that the sale had gone through. The letting agency to let them know when they could start sending prospective tenants around to the house. The list went on. Shit loads to do. Instead of making the calls, I had opened the bottle instead. And now, here I was. Fuck it. I had not been this drunk in years. I needed to sleep it off before I drove home, that was for sure. I didn’t normally believe in getting smashed. It was losing control, wasn’t it? Oh well then, fuck it, I thought, I’ve lost it then, and so what? Fuck it.
I picked up the phone and dialled a number. “Yeah?” came the stumbling, drooping reply from the other end. I felt my last dregs of patience dripping steadily away.
“Yeah, what?” Jack sounded angry, I thought, hostile and aggrieved, like I had done something to him personally. Maybe he was losing control too, I thought. Maybe he was missing his boys. I ran a spiteful tongue slowly across my lips.
“I’m fucking shit of this shit,” I told him. “Something is going on, and we both know it. You want to do something for me? Something you’ll enjoy?”
“What?” he shouted back at me aggressively.
“Go round to my place. Kay will be out. That little runt will be there alone. Teach him a lesson. Did you hear me? I want you to teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.”
There was just silence, for a long time, on the other end. I could his raspy breathing in my ear as he absorbed the information. Then; “But you said…”
“Forget what I said. I’ve run out of options. They’re up to something, I know they are, all of them, and it’s me and you in the firing line Jack, if we don’t put a stop to it one way or another. Do you understand that? If they’re onto us, if they’ve got their heads together, all those little shits, it’s me and you that will be fucked Jack. We’ll lose everything!”
“But Lee…you don’t know what you’re saying. You don’t know…” His voice had dropped to nothing more than a whisper, husky with lust and wonder.
“I know what I’m fucking saying Jack. Just do it. Have your kicks. Do whatever the fuck you want and I can guarantee he won’t talk. Just teach him a lesson, do you understand? Teach him a lesson so bad, that by the time I get home tonight he’ll be begging me to let him be my good boy again and come and live in my nice, new house. Do you get it Jack? Do you?”
“I get it. I understand.”
“Good.” I slammed the phone down. I tossed another shot of whiskey down my throat and savoured the reckless swirl of adrenaline that was pumping through me again. I dialled a second number, and Kay answered it on the third ring. She sounded breathless with excitement.
“Yeah, it’s me baby, what’s up?”
“I was just about to call you!” she gushed. “The keys for the house are in the office! We can go and get them right now if we want to!”
“Oh wow,” I replied, trying hard to keep the extent of my intoxication out of my voice. “That’s amazing news baby! You better go and get them then!”
She squealed in excitement and I pictured her jumping up and down next to the phone. She had been strange and distant lately, but that didn’t stop her eyes widening every time the big house on Cedar View was mentioned, oh no. “Oh thank you! This is so exciting! Danny’s here, I’ll get him to go with me.”
“Oh no, don’t do that,” I said quickly. “You go on your own baby, tell him to get on with the packing. I don’t want you lugging heavy stuff around, do I?”
“Oh okay,” she agreed easily. “Well I’ll leave him to it, and shoot on over there and fetch the keys. I’ll call you again later shall I?”
“You do that baby. I love you. You enjoy it. Go and take a look at that view again hey?”
When she had gone I lowered the phone slowly back down into the cradle, and picked up my glass. I didn’t know if I ought to feel proud, or sickened with my work. But it had done the trick, I can tell you that. I was calm again. Calm, and in control, with just a couple of phone calls. A couple of strings pulled.