I spent the next few days moving house, and trying to control my ever spiralling rage and confusion. In between barking orders and screaming at the removal men, I punched vicious messages into my mobile phone, and called Jack repeatedly. There were no replies to either. The flat was empty, and Jack gone. I’d stalked around the empty barren flat like a madman, like someone possessed, my hands clawing at my head, my eyes bulging and refusing to believe what they saw. It was the not knowing that was doing me in. Danny and the Anderson boys had vanished into thin air. That was one thing. But Jack shooting through and refusing to answer my calls, was just about enough to send me over the edge. My mind was playing tricks on me, convincing me of endless ridiculous scenarios. I almost had myself believing that Danny and the other boys had killed Jack off, got rid of him somehow, and cleaned up the evidence. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t the man answer his phone? What was his problem? What the hell had gone on and why wasn’t he talking?
I had become a very nervous man, and I did not like it, not one little bit. Kay told me it was because of the stress. Moving house is as stressful as death and divorce you know, she kept saying this stupid useless thing every time she saw me looking aggrieved, or angry. I could only look back at her blankly, fold my fingers into a fist that had nowhere to go and wonder how close I was to punching her lights out.
I avoided her where I could. I had to. Such was my constant and burning desire to grab her by her skinny neck every time she opened her stupid mouth. She was driving me insane with her endless inane chatter about colour schemes and furniture, seemingly determined to pick airy fairy girlish styles that made me want to throw up. She wasn’t going to get her way over any of it, but she didn’t know that yet. I’d see what she was really made of when it all kicked off. I had already instructed the painters and decorators, and the colour schemes, had been picked weeks ago. You’re a grown woman, I wanted to scream at her when she got excited about pictures in home improvement magazines, and you don’t even care where your own son is! The only times I could bear to converse with her, was if the talk concerned his whereabouts.
“Have you heard from him?” I’d ask her whenever I came home. “Have you called John? He could be there you know.”
“He’s not there honey, he was the first person I called, remember?”
“He’s probably lying, hiding him.”
“Honey, why would he do that? He knows how worried we are!”
“I’m going round to those other boys houses again. Speak to their parents this time. Maybe they don’t even know we’re looking for him! You know what those bloody kids are like.”
She wouldn’t answer me half of the time. She wasn’t making any effort to look for him herself. Knowing this increased my paranoia daily. Maybe she was in on it too. Maybe she knew where he was. It was becoming harder and harder to look at her face without slapping it really, really hard. I lay awake at night, my fists clenched tightly at my sides, and I pictured her face whipping from side to side as I lashed at it. I thought about how her eyes would look, like blue marbles rolling around inside her skull. I thought about what she would say to me if I did it. I imagined the look upon her face, the horror and the knowing clouding her eyes. Stupid, stupid cow.
I showed my face in The Record Shop every day, hoping to catch him there unawares. Surely he’d return there at some point? The fat bastard behind the till regarded me with increasing frustration and disgust. “Has he called you? Has he given you notice?” I asked him every time. “His mother is going off her head you know! If any of you are hiding him!”
“Why would we need to hide him?” the fat man spat back at me churlishly from over the top of his magazine. “What is your problem anyway? Why the constant red face and anger?”
“He’s missing,” I took deep breaths and stayed near the door. I feared getting too close to that fat sack of shit, that rotten excuse for a man. He had the kind of soggy flabby face that would have made a great noise slapping down onto the counter. “We need to know where he is…If you have any idea, or if you hear from him at all…” I was trying to keep calm, trying my hardest to be reasonable with the man. But he made a face that told me exactly what he thought of my request. He snorted.
“I wouldn’t tell you!” he blurted out aggressively. “Because I get the funny feeling it’s you that boy is hiding from, now go on, get out of my bloody shop!”
I had to leave. I had to back slowly out before I found his face with my fists and reshaped it into a squashed and bloody pulp. It was all so unfair, and so frustrating and I was becoming more and more convinced that they were all in on it. All of them. Kay, and John, and the fucking fat pig in the shop, and Lawler the shifty little scumbag, the fucking lot of them! I longed to put the frighteners on all of them, but with Jack gone, I felt naked and exposed.
“I think you helped him leave,” I said to Kay when I returned home from the club one night, exhausted by the weight of it all on my shoulders alone. She was sat out on the balcony with a glass of wine and a pile of home improvement magazine set out on the little bistro table I had let her order. She was wearing a new silk gown, and her feet were bare. She frowned at me, and decided to ignore me. Instead she tried to show me a picture of the kind of bathroom she longed for. “Too old fashioned,” I snapped, shoving it away from me. “Why do you want to make the house look like it belongs in the nineteen bloody thirties? This is a modern house Kay! For christs sake! What’s wrong with modern things eh? Nice things!” I turned away from her and gripped hold of the railings. The security lights bathed the front lawn in a yellow glow which lit up the flower beds she had been digging around the edges. Flower beds, for fucks sake.
“I didn’t help him leave,” she spoke in a small and tight voice from behind me. “Why on earth would you think that? I had no idea Lee. I thought he was okay…I thought he’d settled down, with Lucy, and everything.”
“Well that was all an act wasn’t it?” I turned around and shouted at her. “And I bloody knew it was, and I bloody told you he was up to something, but you wouldn’t have it would you!”
She stared back at me, a thick magazine held rigidly on her lap. “You’re exhausted,” she told me stiffly. “You need to go to bed.”
“Don’t tell me what I need to do.”
“Lee,” she breathed out slowly, her eyes fixing on the magazine, instead of on me. She uncrossed her legs and sat forward on the chair. “We have to accept what he wrote in that letter. He doesn’t want to live with us. He’ll be in contact when he’s ready. We just have to wait for that, and then we will get some answers.” She looked up at me, and her expression was cautious, her position frozen. I had to get away from her. I had to. I couldn’t even open my mouth and give her what for. I stalked past her, through the bedroom, down the stairs and out of the house.
Finally, on the fourth day, just as I was getting increasingly anxious about my own sanity, I punched in Jack’s number, and he answered. “What do you want?” his washed out voice, asked me dully. He sounded exactly as I had expected him to sound; as if he had been lost inside a bottle of Jack Daniels for the past few days. I was gripping my phone so hard my knuckles began to ache. I strode briskly out of the house, shoving my way through the French doors and stalking my way down the garden, away from listening ears. The house was full of people all the fucking time. Painters and decorators, and neighbours Kay seemed intent on impressing. She was swishing around the house with this lost and pained look on her face, just because I wouldn’t allow her to paint our bedroom dusky fucking pink.
“What do I want?” I hissed through my teeth as I stormed down the long green lawn, away from the house. “What do I fucking want? Why haven’t you been answering your phone? I’ve been going out of my fucking mind these last few days! Where the hell have you been?”
“Been busy,” he replied, haughtily like a sulky child. “Had stuff to sort out.”
“Yeah, you’ve been busy getting the fuck out of town!” I roared at him incredulously. He sniffed in response. “Yeah I’ve been to the flat, you disgusting waste of space, what the hell is going on?”
He sniffed again. “You’ve seen the boy?”
“No I haven’t seen the fucking boy!” I had to stop walking, I was so apoplectic with rage. I was at the end of the garden, shielded by thick summer shrubs and a six foot wood panelled fence. “Why do you think I’ve been going out of my fucking mind you stupid useless bastard? What the hell went on? You fucked up didn’t you? Because he’s fucking vanished! Gone!”
“It’s your own fault,” his groggy, alcohol soaked voice informed me smugly.
“Just tell me what happened Jack, I am not dicking around here.” I looked at the fence, and remembered that another garden stretched down to meet it from the other side. I lowered my tone and edged slowly away from it. “Where are you anyway?”
“Essex,” came the dull, uncaring reply.
“Why? Why did you leave?”
“It’s your fault, you know,” he told me yet again. “You had to push things, didn’t you? You couldn’t just let things lie. You couldn’t be satisfied, could you? You had to have complete control of everybody!”
“You’re talking crap.”
“It’s true Lee, and you know it, and you’ve always been the same. You’re just ten times worse now you’ve got money behind you. You’ve turned into a monster.”
I could feel the black rage, creeping up on me again, colouring my mind a vivid shade of fury, and threatening to overspill and consume me. Heat was snaking around my neck, and the electricity was flying through me, setting me on fire. “Just tell me what the fuck happened you useless shitting pervert!”
Jack sighed heavily and dramatically on the other side of the phone. He cleared his throat, gurgling on thick smokers phlegm and I closed my eyes and moved my ear from the phone in repulsion. “You shouldn’t have done any of it,” he said. “You shouldn’t have set me up in the flat like that, with boys coming over. You knew exactly what you were doing.”
“Why not? You liked it, didn’t you? Thought we were on the same page!”
“Does the word torture mean anything to you Lee? Does it?” He sounded angrier now, I thought, and I almost wanted to laugh at him. I was starting to wonder why I had ever called on him in the first place, why I ever thought I could rely on him. He was weak.
“What’s the matter with you Jack?” I questioned him brashly. “I thought you were hard! Turns out you’re all soft and squishy like the rest of them. You didn’t have to take me up on the offer you fat fuck. You can say no, can’t you?”
“It’s not easy to say no to someone who can destroy your whole life in a second Lee,” Jack replied hoarsely. “It’s not easy to say no to someone when they hold all the strings. When they dangle temptations in front of you like fucking smack!”
“What are you whining on about man?”
“You know what I’m on about Lee. I couldn’t say no to you, not when you know everything about me. Not when you’ve always made it perfectly clear that you could, and would, destroy me in a heartbeat.”
I was getting tired. I shook my head and gritted my teeth. “Jack, I think you’re forgetting it’s always me who helps you out. It was me who sorted that little rat out for you back home wasn’t it eh? You would have done time otherwise mate. Time.”
“Exactly what I’m saying Lee. You know everything.”
“Well if you don’t like it Jack, maybe you ought to do a better job of controlling yourself! Don’t try and blame me for your shitty little perversions.”
“But you got me here Lee,” Jack replied, his voice a growl of indignation. “You obviously have your own perversions, ever thought about that?”
I rolled my eyes impatiently. How I longed to have him right in front of me then. How I longed to grab him by his grubby shirt collar and ram my mobile phone right into his eye socket. “Just shut up whining,” I snapped. “Just tell me what the hell happened when you went to the house. That’s all I’m asking you. Then you can go to your own sick hell for all I care!”
“You’re the sick one,” he rasped at me spitefully. “At least I try to control myself. You! You fucking love it don’t you eh? You seek it out, and you always have done! Weaker people you can scare and control and hurt. Like your own brother!”
I laughed coldly. “Don’t mention that pointless sack of piss to me,” I told him. “Just tell me what the fuck happened. Just tell me how badly you fucked up the job I gave you.”
“He stabbed me alright!” Jack barked suddenly down the phone. “The little shit stabbed me with his fucking knife, which, by the way, you neglected to tell me he had! I did what you said. I went round there pissed up and hard as a fucking rock, and the little shit knew everything about me Lee, he knew about what happened in Essex, somehow he knew, and that’s why they stopped coming to the flat! Then he stabbed me, right in my fucking foot! You happy now! Are you?”
I laughed. Oh, how I laughed. I laughed until my belly ached and my eyes watered, and the whole time, I could hear him roaring his anger down the phone at me, and I could see him in my mind, fat and grey and washed up and nursing a mammoth hangover as well as a mammoth hard on. “Your foot?” I managed to utter in response. “Your fucking foot? How the hell did that happen? You were drunk Jack. Drunk and weak and pathetic. I bet you tried romancing him, eh? Was that it? Did you ask him out on a fucking date?” I creased up again, my hands on my knees and the phone jammed between my neck and my shoulder.
“He said you’ve got the same coming to you,” he muttered at me. “If you don’t leave him alone. So there you go. Now you fucking know.”
“You think he’d try that on me? Oh you are funny Jack. You really are. Did he say where he was going? Did you get any clues?”
“Course he didn’t bloody tell me where he was going! You know, if you’ve got any sense you’ll forget about it Lee. It’s over. He’s gone. Why don’t you forget about it and leave him alone eh? Everyone will be better off if you do.”
I chuckled and straightened up. “Don’t think so Jack.”
“What’s the point? What’s the point in it now eh?”
“Point is Jack,” I replied, standing completely still while a righteous picture formed neatly in my mind. “I didn’t give him permission to fucking go.” I removed the phone from my ear and hung up on him.
For a few still and calm moments, I just stood there, in the middle of my lush green lawn, and my tongue flicked back and forth across my lower lip. Then I got myself moving, shoving the phone into my back pocket and swinging my arms as I marched past the house. I saw Kay frowning at the French doors. “Got to go to work baby!” I called out to her, waving one hand. “Problems!”
She nodded back unsurely and pulled the doors shut. I walked around to the front of the house, down the drive, and turned left towards the Chapmans house. Of course, Kay had already spoken to them a couple of times about Danny’s whereabouts, but asking again wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? It was three doors down. I could already see Mr Chapmans modest navy blue Renault parked neatly on their drive. I felt a welcome calm take hold of me, now that I didn’t have to worry about Jack anymore, and I approached their door brashly, lifted the heavy knocker and let it drop again. I stepped back, jamming my hands into my jeans pockets and when the bespectacled Mr Chapman opened the door to me, I cocked my head in a friendly, chirpy manner and offered him my most sociable smile. Instantly, a worried line appeared on the mans’ forehead, and his eyes flicked left and right behind the lenses of his glasses, as if looking out for someone or something.
“I’m sorry to bother you Mr Chapman,” I told him amiably. “I was wondering if I could have a quick word?” I could see his expression was troubled and nervous.
He cleared his throat. “What can I do for you?”
I took my hands from my pockets, planted one on my hip and the other on his door frame as I leant into it. “Look,” I said, “I don’t know how much your daughter has told you, but it’s been four whole days now since we saw Danny, and we still have no idea where he is, or who he’s with, which as you can imagine is very worrying for us.”
“What do the police say?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh you know what they’re like, Mr Chapman, they’re sympathetic but they haven’t got the time or the resources to go round chasing teenage runaways. They’ve said all they can do is keep checking in with his friends to see if any of them have heard from him. I mean, Lucy, she must have heard from Danny, mustn’t she?”
“Listen to me Mr Howard,” Mr Chapman spoke very softly, but firmly, and as he spoke he pulled his front door close behind him, as if shielding his home from me. He peered at me over the rims of his glasses and his eyes were like steel. “Look, I’m afraid I know all about you, my daughter has filled me in on every distressing detail, and all I can say to you sir, is even if I did know where Danny is, I would not be passing that information on to you. From what my daughter tells me, the boy ran away from you, for his own safety, and I think it’s probably best if it stays that way.” He nodded very curtly, indicating that the conversation was over, and he stepped back, preparing to close the door. My lip curled back in anger. I tossed my head and glared at him.
“Kids?” I spat. “Delinquent kids? And you believe them over me? That’s intelligent!”
“I believe my own daughter, Mr Howard.”
“You’re mistaken,” I said, jabbing a finger at him. “About everything. And that’s a dangerous mistake to make Mr Chapman, because that boy who your precious daughter is so fond of, is a drug addict who stabbed a good friend of mine in the foot the other day because he refused to give him money to buy more drugs! Is that the kind of boy you want your daughter hanging around with, is it?” I shook my head in dismay at his blank face. “Well it’s up to you I suppose, she’s your child. But don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.” I turned on my heel and marched away from him, back towards my own house, and the car. I could feel the desperation spreading through me, jerking through my muscles, the urge for violence, tightening me up, taking me over like a disease. I got into the car, turned on the engine and screeched off down the road.
I drove into town, and parked in a space along the high street. I sat there for five minutes, with the radio on low, just telling myself to calm down, to think clearly, to be clever and careful. I will find that little son-of-a-bitch, I said to myself, just nodding and breathing, as I tried to loosen my fingers on the steering wheel. I will find him, I nodded, I will, but I have to be patient, that’s all, patient. I pulled my hands away from the steering wheel. They ached, and were greased with sweat. I shook them out, and rested my head back for a moment, forcing myself to breathe in and out slowly, and purposefully. That little shit would destroy me if I let him. He would destroy everything I had worked so hard for. People wouldn’t want to come in the club anymore if the word got out about Jack and his past indiscretions. The police would start sniffing around. They would have no choice. It would all be over. Ruined. I tried to stay calm, but the pent up anger swirled like a tornado inside my gut and my chest. It wanted to come out. It was battering me from the inside. My head felt thick and heavy with it, and my eyes hurt. Mr Chapman had not helped me. Stuck up, condescending prick. I looked to the right then, a movement outside the café catching my eye.
A young woman with a bright red dress on, was bumping her baby’s pushchair down the step, and waving goodbye to some people still inside. I narrowed my eyes and watched, and drummed my fingers against the wheel. Two figures came towards the door. One was another young girl, blonde haired and fiddling with something inside her oversized handbag. She was chatting and laughing to the young man who came out with her, and then he waved her off, and stooped down to pick up the sign from the pavement. It was Danny’s friend. The tall thin one with the floppy hair.
I lit a cigarette and turned the engine back on. The tall kid carried the sign back into the café and closed the door behind him. One of the café lights went out, and the shutters started to come down. I signalled and pulled out of the parking space. I drove slowly away and turned down the next road to the right. I parked up again, got out, and sauntered casually down the long and narrow alley that ran behind the row of shops. I leant against the wall there and smoked my cigarette down to the butt. I looked up when there was a noise from the back of the café. The back door was shoved open with a metallic groan, and the tall kid stepped out, shook back his floppy long hair, and walked off in the opposite direction. I had a huge smile on my face, watching him go. The thought of a little dose of genuine fear was enough to send tingles down my spine. I scratched my balls, flicked my cigarette butt away and moved after him.
I stalked him down the alley. I felt like a big cat hunting its prey. There was nothing like it. I watched his thin legs, moving stick like within loose blue jeans. I watched the way his spiky elbows jutted out as he marched along. I watched him shaking and tossing back his hair and thought why the fuck don’t you just get it cut you miserable girls blouse? When I was ready, I scrunched my boots into the gravel, and the kid whirled around suddenly in surprise. I moved fast then. I was on him in seconds, snatching up the front of his t-shirt and ramming him back into the nearest wall, enjoying the satisfying sound of his bony spine cracking against the concrete.
The boy doubled up, winded and wordless. His face hung down low so I brought my knee up to say hello to it. With a loud grunt of pain, and a spray of blood, the tall kid fell forward into the dirt, and I towered above his crumpled body, smiling grimly. “Tell me where Danny is,” I said to the boy, as he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and coughed up blood and dirt. I glanced quickly up and down the alley to ensure we were still alone, and then I squatted down next to him. I took his hair and wrenched his head back so that we could see each other properly. I greeted his terrified face with a sunny smile. “Tell me where he is.”
The boy coughed up another spray of gravel and gore, and shook his head in my grip. “Don’t know, don’t know! I really don’t!”
I cocked my head to one side and clicked my tongue at him. “I don’t believe you prick.”
He shook his head again, straining against my hold. “I don’t! I really don’t! I have no idea, I swear I don’t! We’re not friends! Haven’t been for ages!”
“Not sure I believe you,” I mused, rising to my feet and dragging him up with me. I used my body to back him up against the wall. I looked him up and down with a sneer. He was bigger than Danny, but he was still no match for me. He was a skinny, wiry, floppy haired little cunt. I took my old Swiss army knife out from the front pocket of my jeans and showed it to him. His eyes grew even bigger and rounder. I laughed, and then whipped the knife upwards, using it to hack at a handful of his stupid long hair. Then I presented a handful of mousy brown fluff to his terrified face. I pressed my face into his. “Give this to him when you see him,” I said. “Tell him it’s just the start. Tell him if he doesn’t come back home right now, I’m going to hunt down all of his friends, including that pretty little girlfriend of his, and I’m going to cut bits off of all of them, okay?” I stuffed the knife back into my jeans, pressed the hair into his hand and let him go. “You tell him that when you see him okay? Tell him it’s not over until I say it is.” He nodded at me silently, dumbly, his face a mess, his eyes watering. I felt much better. I felt refreshed and new again. I left him where he was and headed back down to where I had parked the car.