I don’t think they knew that I was watching, all the time, I was watching. They may have been keeping an eye out for my silver Merc, but that wasn’t the only car I had. They may have checking over their shoulders, staring into shadows, but the funny thing was they missed me; they never knew I was there. I watched patiently from afar, and I found the patience soothing. It was alright to wait, you see, it was alright to bide my time and choose my moments. There was a delicious sense of regaining control, while they scrabbled about their untidy little lives, like rats abandoning a sinking ship. Their faces, panicked, pale. The girl did not go around anymore, maybe they had warned her not to. It was just the three of them, day in, day out, scuttling about with their eyes wide open, yet never seeing me.
I knew their routines. I knew their work hours, and their shifts. I knew that Anthony was scanning the newspaper for flats, for other places to live. I knew this because I often drank a pint in The Ship when he was not there. I found his rolled up newspaper on the bar, and I was able to peruse his thought processes. He had a few lines of enquiry open, it seemed, a few options he was considering to keep them safe. Moving home, was one. Numerous flats across the area were circled or crossed out. Question marks had been drawn in next to a couple of old bangers in the car section at the back. I could see how his mind was working. Move further away, but buy a car so that they could still get to their jobs. Why, they had a dilemma on their hands, didn’t they? Move away, run away and keep running, and lose their jobs, their income. Stay close, and run the risk of bumping into the bogey man on every dark street corner. Oh how I chuckled over my pint, and his newspaper.
Sometimes I parked the car on the road outside their building, and just waited. I wanted to talk to them. To any of them. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would say, but just the thought of engaging one of them in a meaningful conversation was a thrill stirring to life in my chest. I wondered what their faces would look like. I thought back to Danny’s, that day in the alley way. I’d felt so good afterwards, so tall, and clean and fresh. I’d inhaled his stinking fear as soon as I’d opened the car door. He could try and hide it behind a surly expression, and a monotone voice, but I could smell it, and there was nothing he could do about that. I’d thought briefly about just grabbing him, just punching him in the head or something, taking him by surprise and slinging him into the boot of the car. Just for the hell of it. I could drive somewhere and open it up and let him out, laughing. Just for the hell. Just for the kicks. Just to see the look on his face.
But this was more fun. The waiting, and the watching, and the observing. I felt calm again, for the first time in ages. I felt like I had them all back in the centre of my palm, and their fate lay there, unsuspecting and blind. They knew nothing. They were rats in a cage, waiting for me to make my move. And here was one of them now. Anthony Anderson. Leaving the building to make his early shift at the pub. I watched him push through the heavy metal door at the bottom. He stopped, workbag slung on one shoulder, and lit up a cigarette, blinking and wincing in the bright morning sun. He had not seen the car yet. He shoved his lighter into his back pocket, and inhaled on his cigarette hungrily, as if he had been craving it for some time. Then he yawned, and scratched at his head. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and I could see the intricate tattoos winding up and down each forearm. What a tough guy, eh? What a piece of work.
He strode purposefully towards the crumbling brick wall that cornered off their crappy little piece of shit garden. He always walked like that. Fast and strong, his head held high, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the area, a ready smile on his lips, but not for me, not on that morning. He stopped when he saw the car. He lifted his cigarette to his lips and dragged long, and slow, before flicking ash at the ground and stalking quickly around the wall. “Fuck this,” I heard him mutter, as I rolled down my window to greet him. He walked along the side of my car, and then aimed a kick at it, booting the back door as hard as he could. I merely shook my head, and turned the engine off. “Oi!” he called out, stopping at my window and bending down. His eyes, dark brown and outraged, burned into mine. “You lost or something mate?”
I stretched my arm out of the window, and tapped the ash from my own cigarette out onto the ground between his feet. Anthony looked me up and down, and I could see his skin shaking, from anger, from fear, from barely contained disbelief. “What the fuck do you want?” he asked, when I continued to smile up at him.
I tipped my head. “Now that’s friendly, all you boys are so friendly!”
“I asked you a question. What the fuck do you want?”
My smile stretched out across my clean shaven face. I felt a little giddy, and dreamy, as I looked up into his blazing dark eyes. “Well, if you’re really interested, I wanted to have a quick word with my step-son again. Is he in?”
“No,” he snapped quickly, letting me know right away that he was. “He’s not. You stay the hell away from him, I’m warning you!”
I blew smoke up into his face, and watched him pull back, his eyes fluttering in their sockets as he waved a hand in front of him. “Well maybe you could pass a message onto him then, how about that? Maybe you could tell him that I dropped by to say hello, and maybe I’ll drop by again another day, just for a chat, you know? Just to catch up and see how he’s doing.” My grin crept upwards, my teeth shining out at him.
“Listen to me,” the boy snarled suddenly, pushing his face as close to mine as he dared to. “You don’t scare me, right? I see you for exactly what you are. I am telling you now. I am fucking warning you. Stay the hell away from us or I am calling the cops, do you hear? Danny wants nothing to do with you, not ever, so get that through your fucked up head, and stay away!”
“Well listen, there’s no law that says I can’t drop by and say hello to my step-son if I feel the need,” I replied to him calmly. “I’ve got something I need to talk to him about. I think he’ll be interested, once he gets a chance to hear it.”
Anthony was shaking his head. “You’re unbelievable,” he breathed, pulling away from the window, as obvious sweat broke out across his frowning forehead. “You’re completely fucking insane if you think he wants to hear anything you’ve got to say! After what you did! Don’t forget, arsehole, me and Mike were there the day he stabbed your vile paedo friend! We know how far you’ll go to control and frighten someone, and it turns my stomach, it makes me sick! I ought to go to the cops! You’d be finished if we told them everything!”
I could see he was hoping this would alarm me. But it did nothing of the kind. I was laughing so hard my shoulders were shaking with it. I looked up at his face, and he stood back, straightened up and dragged on his cigarette. “Go on get out of here,” he said to me coldly, flicking his head towards the road. “You’re vile. Get away from here.”
I leant forward suddenly then, taking him by surprise, and loving it. He was caught off guard by the ferocity of my movements, and stepped back again, blinking, his lips pressed down over his teeth. “Real tough guy aren’t you?” I asked him, sneeringly. “Yeah, look at you, talking to me like that, when you’re the one who’s done time. Twice. Very, very naughty boy, weren’t you eh? Thought that would shut you up. Don’t like the thought of going back there a third time, do you boy?” I raised my eyebrows at him and smiled slowly. He thought he was a big man, but I could see the truth. He was nothing of the sort. He was another scared kid, too big for his own boots, playing with fire. I nodded at him. “Just pass the message onto him, or I’ll go up there and tell him myself. Tell him I’m never very far away.”
“Well come on then!” he yelled at me then, lifting his arms up to either side in frustration. He let his workbag drop to the pavement and beckoned me. “What are you waiting for then? Come on! We’re all just dying to know what you’re gonna’ do! Come on then! Why don’t you take it out on me, eh? Try it on with me!” He nodded at me, daring me, sucking on his smoke and flicking ash at my car. “Come on then,” he urged me. “Take it out on me, take all your sick shit out on me, just you and me, right now, I fucking dare you! Get out of your shitty little car and try it on with me! Or do you only like your chances with little kids and women? Is that it? Hey?” He looked satisfied, and stepped closer to lean down towards me again. “That’s the truth of it, isn’t it big man? That’s the real truth, and it’s exactly what I’ve always said about you…You’re a big cowardly bully. You won’t get out your car and take me on, will you? You had to get another cowardly piece of slime to do your dirtiest work for you, didn’t you? How do you sleep at night? Really? How the fuck does someone like you sleep at night? You get your kicks controlling people, frightening people who are smaller, and weaker than you…burning them with cigarettes, for fucks sake! What the fuck is wrong with you, you evil motherfucking bastard!”
I stared back at him, and I yawned. “You finished?” He shook his head at me.
“No. Come on. I’m serious. Get out your car and fight me. Show me you’re not a coward and a bully, or I’ll go to the police right now, and tell them all about your drug dealing, child abusing ways!”
I offered him a knowing smile and a gentle shrug of the shoulders. “Well I might have to drop a call to them myself,” I told him. “Now that I know where my step-son lives. I better fill them in. How he’s unfortunately got himself mixed up with a drug dealing ex-con. Still see Jaime don’t you eh? Oh yeah, got tabs on you son. Got tabs on everyone. I just hope you don’t have anything up there that might get you into trouble when the cops come calling. I think they’d send you down for a very long stretch, wouldn’t they eh? And what would happen to your little brother then? No one else to look out for him, or so I hear. Hmm. I suppose I could keep an eye on him for you? See what he needs? What he likes?”
He threw his cigarette down, and gripped the roof of the car, his head shooting in close to mine. I did not flinch. I considered a fast and brutal head butt; shattering his nose all over the pavement. “We’ve got far more shit on you!” he snarled at me. I laughed.
“Well fine. If you want to risk it. But if I was you I would make arrangements for Michael first. You know. You wouldn’t want to leave him to fend for himself when the cops drag you away again, would you? Just something to think about.”
“I’m not scared of you,” he told me then. “You disgusting slug. I’m not a sixteen year old kid. Does it make you feel good, does it? Scaring him? Fucking up his life again? Is that what makes you happy? You don’t think you’ve tortured that kid enough? You can’t just leave him the fuck alone?” He touched his head with his hands, shaking it in exasperation. “It’s not fair,” he started saying then. “It’s not fair what you’re doing…just leave him alone why don’t you? Just worry about your own life. After everything that you’ve done…it’s just not fair…”
I could see what he was trying to do now. His tone had softened, and his eyes were searching my face wonderingly. He was trying something else. Seeing if there was another way he could get through to me. I looked past him, my gaze tracking up to the tall building behind him. “I did everything I could to be a father, and a good influence to that boy. I thought I’d done all I could, and it was all too late. But it turns out it’s not too late, you see. I can give him one more chance.”
“You’re crazy,” the boy muttered, shaking his head. “You’re just crazy…leave him alone…he doesn’t want to know you.”
“Well it’s very honourable, all this care you show for him.”
“He’s my friend!”
“Just tell him I want to see him,” I snapped, suddenly bored of all this, bored of his glaring, stubborn face, bored of going back and forth with him, not getting anywhere. I turned the key in the engine, and he stepped back quickly. “Just tell him we have unfinished business, and he might as well talk to me and see what I have to say.” I checked the mirrors and slipped the car into gear.
“You shouldn’t keep pushing him!” the boy was yelling at me now. “He’s on the edge after everything you’ve done! One of these days he’s gonna’ turn around and fight back, you know! He’s gonna’ stand up to you!”
I laughed out loud as I swung the car away from the kerb. I heard him yelling, and he kicked the car again as I did a three point turn. I could let that slide, for now. He’d be paying for that before he fucking knew it. I drove off, casually, calmly, as if the roads were mine, as if I had not a care in the world, and really, I didn’t. It was all coming together in my head you see. All of it.
I continued to circle the streets of Belfield Park in my car, like a low, sleek shark, moving in on its prey. I liked the feel of it, I have to be honest about that. As I trawled the streets, I felt on some deep and primal level, like a hunter, stalking my victim. The thought always brought a smile to my lips, as my hands worked the steering wheel smoothly, as my eyes scanned the pavements, the doorways and the shops. I didn’t want to go up to their crumby bed-sit just yet. That would be the last resort. I could be cleverer than that, and after all, at the end of the day, it was all for the boys own good. There was a constant, warm and soothing calmness to my movements and to my thoughts. I had a feeling the boy would soon see sense. I had a good idea, a really good idea, and I just wanted to talk to him about it. I thought about the other two boys and rolled my eyes in impatience. They were like the fucking guards of filthy, shitty bed-sit kingdom. They were always there, weren’t they? Lurking.
And so, whenever I had spare time to kill, I kept the car rolling, trundling around the block. I mostly felt at ease as I drifted around. I felt calm, and controlled, as my thoughts were laid out as neatly as my plans. The only thing that interrupted the relative tranquillity I existed in, was the occasional grumbling and sniping that came from the voice at the back of my mind. The voice that poked and needled at me, reminding me that Kay was not to be trusted, reminding me that I was running out of time. There was a clock ticking somewhere, and I could not afford to forget about it.
I parked the car in the darkness of the shadows and killed the engine. I kept my eyes on their scummy building. I sat slumped in the seat, and chain smoked cigarettes, keeping my eyes on the grotty looking people that came and went. It was twenty to eleven. I already knew Anthony was out. I had driven past The Ship to make sure. So the two younger boys were up there alone, and this excited and amused me. I killed time just imagining their faces would look like if I marched on up there, kicking down their door. I tried to imagine whether they would try to run, or attempt to fight. What would they do? I thought I would probably grab them both by the hair, smash their skulls together and then hurl them to the floor. That would be a good start, and the image brought a smile to my lips, but I knew I would not be going up there like that tonight.
I glanced up suddenly then, using my elbow against the door to hoist myself up when I heard the heavy metal door clanging on the building. I could see him, Danny, just outside the building, lighting a cigarette while that little dog of his scampered about in the straggly grass. Wee wee time for the little rat, usually around the same time every night. I did not hesitate. I got quickly out of the car and strode towards him.
He was dressed in these awful ripped black jeans, looked like they hadn’t seen a washing machine in some time, and this baggy, shapeless grey hooded jumper. Before he noticed me, he was just smiling inanely at the dog as it squatted in the grass to take a shit. I held up my hands and approached him. When he saw me, his eyes widened like saucers, and the cigarette slipped through his fingers and landed, smouldering in the grass, and then he turned in a panic, and fumbled for the door. “Hang on, hang on, wait!” I called out, still holding up my hands. “I just want to talk to you a minute! Hold on!” I stopped walking and nodded at the ground under my feet. “I’ll just stop here yeah?”
He glared back at me. His eyes outraged, disbelieving. “What now?” he growled, and I felt my skin prickling at the contempt in his tone. I swallowed.
“Just want a quick word, that’s all I want,” I assured him. “Just a quick word.”
“I don’t want to talk to you, not ever. I want you to go away and stop hanging around here. Or I’ll call the police. I’ve already spoken to them you know.”
I was intrigued. “Really? Have you? What about?”
“About you!” he cried out. “About you stalking us! I told them!”
“Oh,” I said, nodding and stroking my chin. “Well that’s the first I’ve heard about it. They haven’t said anything to me yet. Maybe they’re too busy out fighting real crimes, eh?” I watched his face crease up in dismay and confusion. “Sorry,” I told him. “I just want to talk a minute.”
“They said they can’t do anything,” Danny told me, his eyes flashing with hatred. “Until you’ve committed an actual crime, so why don’t you get one with it then? Whatever you’re gonna’ do?”
“Well listen Danny, this is what I want to talk to you about, I just want a quick word then I’ll leave you be.” I lowered my hands and chuckled softly. “That’s not too much to ask is it?”
“Yes it is,” he replied scathingly. “I want you the fuck away from me. I’ve had enough.”
“Oh calm down,” I advised him with a brief roll of my eyes. “Stop getting your knickers in a twist, and just listen. I have something to put to you, something to discuss. We can talk here, or we could go somewhere else if you like? Maybe a pub, or back at mine? It’s up to you.”
He had one hand wrapped around the edge of the open door. His eyes drifted up and down me. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going anywhere with you.”
“We’ll talk here then, fine,” I said amiably, stepping towards him.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s about Jack,” I started, and immediately I saw the alarm fill his eyes, and he shuffled closer to the door, pushing one side of his body through the gap and staring back at me with wary eyes. “He was very handy to have around, you know, I sort of miss him now he’s gone. He was my right hand man, I suppose you would say. He took care of a lot of business for me. I haven’t been able to replace him see, because there’s no one I can really trust. So I thought, I would offer you the job.”
He was shaking his head very slowly. His mouth was slightly open, and his eyes appalled. “The job?” he uttered, as the little dog scuttled through his legs and into the hallway. “Are you fucking insane?”
I sighed, tiring slightly now. Why did everything always have to be such a fight, and a battle with him? Couldn’t he see a good opportunity when it was staring him in the face? “Oh don’t be so melodramatic,” I said to him. “It’s not like you’ve ever been squeaky clean, is it? And I bet you’re not now either! Jack had a job, didn’t he? A position. Earned himself some good money too. I’m offering it to you Danny. You’d be great at it.” I pushed my hands into my pockets and shrugged my shoulders at him loosely. “What do you say? You’d be rolling in it in no time. You wouldn’t have to live in this shit hole. You could have Jack’s place, all to yourself, if you wanted.”
He just stared at me. “You mean drug dealing?”
“Among other things,” I smiled. “It’s a colourful position, you wouldn’t get bored. I thought you’d jump at the chance actually. Right up your street I should imagine.”
“You don’t know anything about me!” he screamed at me then, his fingers clutching at the door, his eyes growing round and wild with a rage I could not fathom. The blueness of his eyes stood out all the more against his pale face, drained of all colour. “You never did!”
“What are you saying? You don’t want to get rich? You don’t want a stable job with good prospects? A nice place to live?” I clicked my tongue and raised my eyes up at the grotty hole they called home. “Are you sure? Why would anyone want to live like this? Here? I don’t understand you.”
“You…you…” the boy stopped and looked wildly around at nothing, as if he had lost the words he intended to speak. His chest was rising and falling at speed, his breathing had become laboured and heavy. “You…you have no idea…” He pointed a shaking finger at me then. “Why the fuck would I want to work with you? Do you think I’ve forgotten what you did to me? Do you think I’ve forgotten about Jack?” His eyes bore into mine, heavy with a disgust that made me stiffen.
“Jack was a loose cannon in the end,” I tried to tell him. “That’s why I sent him away. He’d lost the plot. Couldn’t control himself…But me and you, we could work well together Danny. Think about it. I’m giving you a chance here. You don’t even really deserve one after all the shit you’ve put me through, but here I am again, trying again, trying to help you. I still hold onto hope that you’ll listen to me!”
“No,” he was saying, looking away, shaking his head, “no, no, no, just get away, just go away…” He pulled the door open, slipped through it and tried to close it on me, but I was too quick, shoving my foot and thigh into the space. His eyes met mine, dark with anger.
“Think about it carefully,” I warned him then. “Don’t make any more mistakes Danny. You’ve run out of chances. Don’t fuck it up again. Think about what you are turning down. You don’t want to regret it..”
“Anthony!” he turned and screeched into the hallway. I winced at the sound of his shrill tones, echoing up the stairwell. I felt my patience slipping, and my calmness growing jagged.
“Fucks sake,” I muttered, leaning close. “Don’t be such a cry baby, he’s not here, and I know he’s not. I’m giving you an opportunity here! I’m giving you another chance to make amends!”
“Leave…me…alone!” He faced me and hissed it at me through the gap in the door, and then he jutted his face towards mine and spat a mouthful of gob out onto the ground. It landed between my feet and I stared at it and shook my head at it, at him. I looked up and smiled patiently.
“You really didn’t want to do that little man.”
“What do I have to do to get it through to you?” he said to me then, and his voice was this hard, brittle thing, rushing out between his clenched teeth. “Leave me the fuck alone or I am going to kill you!” He yanked hard on the door, and I could hear voices reverberating up and down the stairs, people coming out to see what the noise was about, so I pulled my foot back and let him go. The metal wobbled and vibrated right in front of my stunned face. I was suddenly shaking, fuming, boiling over with impossible heat. That ungrateful little shit had spat at me! He had threatened to kill me, he had spat at me, and he had slammed the door in my face! I stepped back quickly, panting. My tongue seemed to loll from my mouth as I struggled to breathe through the torrent of rage that rushed through me. This terrible, gut wrenching realisation was pounding at my head. He hadn’t learnt a thing. Not one fucking thing. That defiant little shit. Nothing had worked, nothing.