I didn’t realise for a while where he was heading. I didn’t realise until he swung his car into the road that led up towards Chaos. I remained pressed up to the window, too lost within my own pain and horror to realise where we were. On the drive over, I’d slipped into my own little world of grating pain and soothing music. I told you that before didn’t I? That wherever I go, whatever I do, music is with me, drumming and thrumming inside my brain, like a constantly changing soundtrack. I have no control over it, it just happens, the songs just come, they make their own way in, and out, they do what they want. I had Lithium in my head, all that time, all that way, while the car swerved corners and trundled across bridges. You might not know that song. You might not give a shit about that song. Or any songs. But it was there, so that makes it part of everything…I’m so lonely, it’s okay I shaved my head…No I’m not sad, and just maybe, I’m to blame for all I’ve heard…I’m not sure…I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there…I’m so horny, that’s okay my will is good…When the car stopped, he killed the engine, and I moved my head slowly and rubbed at the steam on the window, and that was when I knew he had driven me home. I looked at the door handle and thought about wrenching it open, tearing down the road and screaming for help. But my body ached and cried out at even the thought of it. It felt wrecked and ruined and weak and slow. My back screamed in agony with every muscle I twitched, and my legs didn’t even seem to be with me. I like it, I’m not gonna’ crack…I miss you, I’m not gonna’ crack…I love you, I’m not gonna’ crack…I kill you, I’m not gonna’ crack…
There was a build-up of tears behind my eyes. I was too tired to give into them, and as I gazed through the hole I had rubbed on the steamed up window, I felt sort of numb, and detached from it all. I wondered blankly and calmly what would happen next. During the drive, I had felt the fear ebbing away. It dissipated, it broke up and floated away, because, I reasoned, it didn’t really matter anyway. It didn’t really matter what happened next. Or who won. Nothing mattered. You lived, or you died. You took it, or you fought back. You cared, or you didn’t. Now that it had dawned on me where we were, I felt a little confused, and uneasy, but at the same time, I felt perhaps the first tender sparks of anger, deep within my body. I turned my face slowly to look back over my shoulder at him. He appeared in a daze, staring straight ahead, at the windscreen. “So what now?” I asked him. “You’re just gonna’ let me go?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he turned his head to look at me, and his eyes looked glassy and strange. “Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll drive somewhere else. I haven’t made my mind up.”
“You really want me to work for you?”
He nodded slowly. “That was the deal.”
The concept seemed to stun me for a moment or two. I just stared and blinked at him, open mouthed, and teetering on the verge of nervous, disbelieving laughter. The sparks of anger gained a little more hold then. I could almost picture the match inside of me, sparks flying, the flame not quite taking hold, yet. “But you really, actually want me to work for you?” I swallowed and asked. My mouth was paper dry, and I would have killed for a decent drink. He nodded at me, a slight crease appearing across his forehead.
“Hope you haven’t forgotten our conversation already,” he said. “It will do you good. I’m giving you one last chance Danny, that’s what I’m doing.”
I ran my tongue slowly back and forth across my lower lip. I could taste tears, and sand, and blood. “I’m just a bit confused,” I said softly, cautiously. “You want me to work for you, when you hate me? When you’ve always despised everything about me? That’s the bit I don’t get. I would’ve thought you’d be happier with me gone.” His face darkened and his head lowered on his shoulders. I glanced at the door I was huddled against, and then looked back at him. “Come on,” I said. “Level with me. What the fuck was all this? Missed having your favourite punch bag, did you? Punching mum not quite the same for you? Scared you’d lost control? Had to come and show me who the big boss man is, all over again, right?”
“You needed showing!” Howard snarled, spittle flying from his lips as he thrust his big head towards me. “Sneaking round to my house! Encouraging her to leave me!”
“And if I’d stayed away, you wouldn’t be doing this now? It was her who begged to see me! I would have been happy never to set eyes on either of you again, to tell you the truth, but she begged Lucy, she told Lucy she needed to see me.”
With one meaty arm looped over the steering wheel, Howard leaned closer to me. “You ought to be grateful to me,” he sneered. “You ought to be grateful that I care about you! That I’m trying to help you!”
Again, I was stunned into silence. I opened, and then closed my mouth. I shook my head as if to clear it. I didn’t even know where to begin, or if I should even bother. The man was dangerously deluded. Did he truly believe he could be a force for good in my life? Or was he simply seeking ways to justify his lust for constant violence he could get away with? I lifted my bloodied hands and dropped them again. “I’m supposed to be grateful?” I asked him. “Really? I’m supposed to be grateful for what you just did to me? Grateful to you, for dragging me away from my own life, and fucking it up all over again? I’d only just got you out of my head you know!” I stopped myself then, clamping my lips over my teeth, recognising the anger building in his face.
“What have we just been talking about? Have you forgotten already? You said you were going to behave!”
I dropped my head into my hands. I didn’t know what else to do. I felt so close to laughing at him it was scary. I scraped my fingers back through my hair, found my scalp and scratched at it viciously, whilst shaking my head from side to side. “So what’re you gonna’ do?” I asked, keeping my head down. “Come and find me every time you feel like you wanna’ beat someone up? Every time you wanna’ remember how fucking big you are? Do you know how fucking warped that is?” I looked up again, in curiosity. “How do you know I won’t go right to the police right now?”
Howard snorted in derision at the comment. “You never have before, and besides, it’s your word against mine, and they won’t give a shit. And if you behave like you are supposed to, there’ll be no need for me to be tough on you! I’ve told you that so many times!”
I blew my breath out over my teeth, risked a smile and shook my head in pity. “You really haven’t thought this through, have you? Why the hell would I let you back in my life? I ran away from you Lee. You should have just left me where I was.”
He leaned even closer, right over my seat, with one hand gripping the steering wheel. His breath was coming in short, furious bursts through his nostrils. “I thought we just had this discussion Danny? Eh?” I looked him in the eye. I could feel the rage throbbing from him in waves, building up again steadily. As his face jutted closer, I moved back instinctively, only for his big hand to shoot out and grab hold of my face. I tried just once to wrench free, and then I gave up. I had barely anything physical left to fight with, so I let my shoulders slump and stared back at him dully, while his fingers crushed my cheeks. “You’re worrying me now,” he hissed, spit from his curled lips splattering my skin. “I thought I’d got through to you back on the cliff. Maybe I ought to take you back up there? Maybe I should have ignored you when you were screaming and begging? You said you were going to do what I told you, you said you were going to be a good boy, so were you fucking lying to me?” he let go of me, dropped his hands between his thighs and raised his eyebrows at me. “Or maybe I should give Jack a call after all, eh? Shall I do that? Is that what you fucking want?”
“No it’s not what I fucking want.”
“I ought to call him right now, see if he wants to come back and have a date with you eh?”
I fixed him with a cold, hard stare. In that moment I understood that it was possible to hate someone so much that you wanted them dead. Stone, cold dead. Dead and in the ground. In the ground so I could piss all over his grave. I didn’t just want him dead, I longed for him to be dead. I scowled at him. “Why don’t you save him the trouble and fucking do it yourself? You obviously really get off on the idea, you dirty fucking bastard.”
He snarled and lashed out, his hand slapping my face so hard I fell back against the window. I laughed at him, I laughed at it all. I winced and gasped from the pain in my back, and laughed out loud. “What the fuck is so funny?” he bellowed at me.
“I’m tired of this…” I murmured, smoothing my hands out across my face and shaking my head behind them, as gentle, exhausted, close to hysterical laughter rocked through me. “This has to end…one way or another…”
“I’ll be the one who says when it fucking ends!”
“Control freak, aren’t you?” I said from behind my hands. “Is your dad like that too? Is that where you get it from? Are you trying to be like him all the time, and failing? Because one, I am not your son, and two, I fucking loathe you and want to kill you and nothing you can do or say will ever change that? You need help, you know. You really need help.” I moved my hands, and shrank slowly back against the car door, keeping my eyes on Howard. His face and neck had reddened to a dark shade of crimson, and his eyes bulged out of his face. I sighed at him. “You should have just left me where I was.”
“You’re trying to help Kay leave me!”
“That’s her decision!” I cried back, sitting up straight. “I’m not helping her do anything Lee, John’s helping her, and it’s nothing to do with me! She wants to leave you because you’ve been beating her! Why do you do that?”
“Oh I see the old you coming back now,” he grumbled, his top lip curling up, and his hands rolling into fists between his legs. His chest was trembling. It was all there, under the surface, the tumbling waves of violence, desperate to burst out. I watched his fists and knew I had to be careful. I didn’t think I could take any more. “Same as ever eh? One minute it’s all please, please don’t hurt me, I’ll be good, I promise I’ll be good! Then the next you’re trying to fucking push me again! I think you like it, that’s what I think. I think you enjoy winding me up. That’s how it’s been with you the whole time, isn’t it? I’ve given you so many chances, so many times, and you fuck it up every time!”
I licked my lips. Took a breath. Wondered if I should keep pushing him. Let him do it. Let him kill me. Whatever. Did I give a shit anymore? Really, did I? “I’m just wondering what the fuck your parents did to you,” I said slowly. “I mean, really, what the fuck did they do? To create this insane, delusional, monster, who can only see things his way. Come on,” I shrugged at him. “You can tell me if you like. You can share it. Might make you feel better to open up. You think it was okay your old man hit you with a belt and shit, don’t you? But it’s not, it’s not okay, it’s not okay to do that to people…Did he burn you with his fags too? I’m just curious. Or is that your own little twist on things? Something you get a kick out of? And what about Jack eh? He’s older than you, isn’t he? Did your dad arrange that too? Did he get Jack into your life? Come on, you can tell me.”
“You better shut your mouth.” He could barely look at me. His face was going purple. The skin on his cheeks was trembling. A massive vein was throbbing in his neck. I glanced back at the door handle. “You didn’t sound like this up on the cliff…”
I cleared my throat. “Thought you were gonna’ throw me off. I really did. But now I see you were just trying to scare me. Just playing games. Just getting that control back again, because it makes you feel so good. But maybe now, I’m less scared, now I’m sat here with you. I remember exactly what you are.”
He leaned in dangerously close. “I’ll take you back up there you little shit!”
“Maybe I’d prefer that,” I shrugged again, eyeing him warily. “Maybe I’d prefer that to working for you. If that’s the only choice I’ve got.” I shut up and waited. I expected his rage to erupt upon me once again, but he appeared frozen to his seat, his position solid and unmoving, his eyes fixed on mine. I watched his face carefully for a few moments, before pulling my feet slowly up onto the seat, and resting back against it. I lurched forward again as soon as I made contact, tears of pain springing into my eyes, swearing under my breath at the sting across my back. He chuckled at that.
“That’ll teach you,” he said, like a child. He was one big fucking child. I winced and shifted my arse on the seat, holding myself in the centre of it.
“I could use a drink,” I said. “Any chance of that?” I had just remembered my cigarettes, and slid my hand into my pocket to retrieve them. The pack was squashed and soggy, but there were one or two smokes that appeared to be intact. I shook one out, stuck it between my teeth and lit it before he could react. “How about it?” I prompted him. “You got anything?” He grunted and his eyes shifted to gaze out at the dark street beyond the car. “A nightcap, what do you say?” I urged him, almost desperate for one now. “To toast this new business arrangement of ours? Then you know what? I’ll promise to go home like a good boy and not say anything to anyone. I’ll tell them I had another accident, how about that?”
He looked at me, his small eyes squinting down to slits. “I don’t think I can believe a word that comes out of your mouth.”
I laughed incredulously. “Come on, what am I gonna’ do? I can’t even fucking walk! You’re the biggest Lee, you remember? You’ll always be the biggest. I’m not gonna’ call the police, come on. I tried that a few days ago. They don’t give a shit.”
“Jack Daniels,” he nodded abruptly at the glove compartment in front of me. He slipped his hand towards the gear stick and picked up his own cigarettes. I leant forward stiffly, pulled open the compartment and plucked out the bottle of whiskey. I sat back, unscrewed the cap, and lifted the rim of the bottle to my swollen lips. I took a long mouthful and swallowed, and closed my eyes.
“That’s good,” I murmured, and drank some more. Howard gestured for the bottle so I passed it to him, and sucked on my cigarette instead. I wrapped an arm around my knees and rested my chin on it while I smoked. The pain throbbed steadily across my back, and in my head, in my brain, and I just smiled at it. I still remembered how to claim it, how to make it mine, and not let it panic or consume me. I thought about my friends and wondered what they were doing up there without me. Would they even be worried? Would they just think I was at my mums’, or with Lucy? Howard nudged me and handed me the bottle. “So what’re you gonna’ tell mum?” I asked him then, taking it and swigging from it hungrily.
“What’re you gonna’ tell her? That you and me made up? That we’re best of buddies now ‘cause you had a little word with me?” I grinned at him, took another big swig of whiskey that burned my throat raw, and passed it back to him. “’Cause once she finds out how you got me to change my mind, she’s gonna’ be all over you like a rash, right?”
Howard glowered at me darkly. “Always with the smart remarks eh?” he said, smoking with his elbow resting against the window. “From day one. You know what I thought when I first met you? Arrogant, smart mouthed little shit. I thought there’s a kid that needs taking down a peg or two.”
“Well yeah, you did that alright. Couldn’t have taken me down further.” I took back the bottle and poured it down my neck. It was setting me on fire, but I loved it, I needed it. I swallowed, and wiped my mouth on my arm, and it was like the whiskey was fuelling the fire in my belly. I felt this strange sense of calm. “So couldn’t you find anyone else to replace Jack?” I asked him.
“It’s not just about that,” he looked at me and sighed. “I’ve told you a million times Danny, I’m trying to help you. To give you an opportunity. We could run a family business if you play your cards right.” He was looking at me intently, his forehead furrowed with his own private frustrations. I didn’t understand. I would never understand. I found it almost painful to look back at him. There was something in his eyes more disturbing than the blatant lust for violence I was so used to seeing there. He looked like a man torn between doubt and conviction, hope and frustration. And then he said something that chilled me to the bone. “I could be a father to you Danny. That’s what I’ve always wanted. We could put all this behind us. We could work together, and make the business a success.”
I felt choked with horror and disgust. I swallowed, but the lump in my throat would not budge. “You really think I want to be like you?” I asked him. He jerked an angry thumb towards the darkened buildings outside.
“You really want to end up like your loser friends?”
“They’re not losers,” I shook my head. “They helped me get away from you. They’re the only people who’ve given a shit since I was thirteen.”
“Yeah? Bunch of long-haired fucking druggies, drunks and ex-cons?” he replied distastefully. “You’d be better off without them.” He lifted the bottle of whiskey up to his lips and drank. His eyes appeared hooded and dark as he sloshed a double measure down his throat.
I opened the ashtray on the side of the door and tapped my cigarette into it. “Let me ask you something.” He looked my way.
“What is it?”
“When Anthony got arrested that time, when the cops raided their house? That was you, wasn’t it? I mean, I’ve always known it, but how? How did you do it?” I smoked and kept my eyes on him. I watched his eyes widen and shine with a glitter of pride that sickened me, and he snorted in reply.
“That was easy.” I waited for more. I could feel adrenaline moving through me and picking up speed. Something rearing up wild, and untamed and primal, stirring to life inside of me, and somehow the horrible pain was subsiding and the sudden and bloody desire for revenge was stamping all over the fear and making a mockery of it. “Jack did it. Just broke in and planted it there.” He smirked a little at the memory and shrugged at me. “Easy. The back door was knackered. I made the call. The punk deserved it for threatening me. Giving it the big I am.”
I nodded slowly and gazed down at the floor. “So you got Jack here on purpose? To do that for you?”
“He was at a loose end. Plus, he owed me.”
“Oh I know why he was at a loose end. So, you got him here to get rid of Anthony?” I looked back at Howard and tried to determine what I saw before me. A huge, physically dangerous man, who looked proud and arrogant, but at the same time nervous and twitchy. Did he feel guilt, I wondered? Did he ever feel sorry for the pain and fear he inflicted? “Then Jack starts being nice to me,” I spoke up. “At the club. Buying me smokes and drinks. I was lonely I guess. Staying away from my friends because I didn’t want them to end up like Anthony. He started letting me go to his flat to get high. So what was that then? Some perverse little favour you owed him?”
“No. He owed me, I told you.” He seemed to thrust his chest out a little then, drank more whiskey and dragged a hand across his wet lips before breaking into a knowing smile. “He owed me shit loads, let’s put it that way. He owed me favours going back years. He owed me for every time I turned a blind eye to his sick little crushes. And believe me, he had plenty of them when he used to hang around my old man’s gym! He even has a fucking type, you know? He has a type, and you were it.” He sniggered then, his eyes flicking all over me as I stared back at him in horror. “He was pretty much in love with you, you know. Pathetic, eh?”
I finished my cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray behind me. “So why didn’t he try anything before?” I asked. I don’t know why I asked the question, when the whole business was making me feel sick and queasy in my stomach. I licked my dry lips, then used my teeth to scrape at the dried blood I could feel on them. Howard was shaking with soft mocking laughter. He looked right at me, cocked his head and smiled.
“How do you know he didn’t?”
“Come on, don’t make me fucking laugh…all those times you were round his flat, off your fucking head? How do you know what he did, or didn’t do? Could’ve dropped a fucking bomb on you sometimes and you wouldn’t have woken up!” He was grinning at me like a shark, all small neat teeth and shaking shoulders, obviously finding this distressing scenario pretty amusing. I breathed in through my nostrils, felt the hatred pumping through me, and I exhaled it again slowly, steadying myself, staying calm.
“Pair of sad, sick bastards,” I whispered. “Pathetic. Disgusting. You make my skin crawl. Pair of sad bastards who can only get their kicks torturing people who are weaker than them. And you! You are worse than him! And I am so fucking bored of all of this…” I turned my face to the window and sighed with exhaustion. I gazed at the dead street beyond the car, and I craved sleep, and a chance to think…
“Bored? Bored are you?” I wouldn’t look at him as he leaned over me again. “I’ll make sure you’re not fucking bored!” he was hissing at me. “You brought it all on yourself Danny, you remember that! You made an enemy of me from day fucking one! You decided to mess with me, not the other way around! You tried time and time again to poison Kay against me. It would have been different otherwise, if you’d been a nice, normal kid! We could have been like father and son from the start!”
I puffed breath against the glass and shook my head. Then I turned my face and sneered back at him over my shoulder. “Stop saying that. Do you know how fucking sick that makes me? It’s a good thing you never had your own kids! You’re a monster!”
His hand clamped down upon my arm. I felt the power like a shock wave, and my body wanted to recoil and shrink down to nothing. I looked into his eyes and they were ablaze with fresh anger. “Maybe I’ve changed my mind,” he said to me. “Maybe we’ll go somewhere else. I better take you back to mine instead. Tell your mum I picked you up off the street, totally wasted.”
My eyes travelled down to the door handle. “Alright, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t mean it. You’re not sorry. You just say sorry when you have to. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I’ll take the job,” I told him then. “As long as you promise that’s the last time you pull this shit on me?”
“I don’t think I believe you.”
“We have a deal,” I gritted my teeth and told him. “If you don’t pull this on me again. I’m not gonna’ work for you and be your fucking punch bag too. I mean it.”
“I wouldn’t have to get tough, if you behaved yourself.”
“Yeah, okay, I get it. I can get out here then.”
He looked like he was considering it. But his hand held tight. “I don’t know if I can trust you little man.”
“I’m telling the truth,” I urged him. “I’ll take the job. I don’t have a fucking choice, do I? I’ll take it, I’ll do it, I’ll do whatever you want, just as long as you keep your fucking hands and your fucking belt to yourself! That’s the only way! The only way!” For some reason there were tears in my eyes again. I didn’t feel sad though. Far fucking from it. But I was glad of the tears. They looked convincing, and he fell for them.
“I’ll have to trust you then,” he said slowly and thickly. I nodded.
“You can trust me. But that’s the deal.”
He kept hold of my arm. I opened my mouth to breathe. The air in the car was stale and cloying. He reached out with his other hand, turned the key in the ignition and unlocked all the doors. I took a breath. I moved my free hand and tried the door handle. I pushed it down, and I felt the door give way, just a little, behind me. I looked back into his face, just inches from my own. “Well I know where to find you,” he said to me softly. “And if you let me down this time, it’s over little man, do you understand that?” I nodded silently. Pressed my tender back a little harder against the door, and felt it move again. Howard kept hold of my arm and slipped his other hand inside the breast of his denim jacket. I watched him silently, as he pulled out a slick, shining blade. He held it up by the stubby wooden handle and then swished it dramatically through the air, and I cringed away from it, just to please him, just to really knock him out. I could feel cool air teasing my skin from outside the car. I was so close to freedom, yet still locked in with a madman. He took the knife and pressed it up under my chin. I closed my mouth. I did not breathe. His tiny eyes were right in front of mine. “This is the very last time I warn you,” he said to me. “I won’t be giving you any more chances little man. If you fuck this up, if you let me down, I’ll come looking for you and I won’t stop until I find you. You know what I’ll do then?” I shook my head just a little. He growled very softly and pressed the knife harder into my skin. “I’ll take you home to your mother, and I will slice that bitch from her cunt to her throat and the two of us will sit and watch her bleed to death slowly. And then I will do the same to you. Because I am not going through this again, do you hear? This is it. Final chance.” He moved the knife away, dropped my arm and pushed the blade back inside his coat.
I lowered my feet to the floor and pushed the car open just a little. “I think I get the message,” I told him quietly.
“Good,” he said. “I’ll come and pick you up tomorrow. There is no time to mess about. That Lawler prick needs a kick up the arse to start with.”
I slipped one foot from the car, down to meet the road outside. The fresh air circled around my ankle, cold and soothing against the wet leg of my jeans. “I need to call him actually,” I murmured wonderingly. Howard leaned forward.
“Do it. Tell him he’s working for you now and see how he likes that.” He laughed a little and put the car into gear. I lowered my other foot to the ground and eased the rest of my body out into the night. I felt odd. Dazed, and dreamlike.
“Yeah, I need something,” I said, and raised myself up onto my legs. They seemed to be able to hold me. I felt like I had climbed out of a hole. I felt the ground beneath my feet and tested it warily. I put weight down on them, and straightened out my spine. My entire body began to shake violently in protest. I knew one thing. I needed to call Jaime. That was true. I needed to call Jaime, and then I could get some sleep….and then….I looked into the car and my eyes met Howard’s as they peered out at me. I swear to god I felt it go. I felt it. Something, grew hard and taut inside of me, and then snapped. I swear to fucking god I felt it happen. I turned around, turned away from him, shuffling footsteps like an old man, my feet unable to pick themselves up. I remembered all the other times both my mind and body had been crushed beyond repair. You could only pick yourself up so many times. You could only do so much with the damage before it got too late. It was too late. It’s alright though, I told myself, glancing back one more time at the man who was responsible for all of it. The man who held the puppet strings. The man who was never going to let me fucking go. He stared back at me, hard slits for eyes, and a tight-lipped mouth turned up at the corners. He looked calm again, not twitchy anymore. He looked like he knew he had won. He nodded once, as if everything was now well, and understood, everything was as it should be.
“Make contact with Lawler and see how that goes,” he called out to me. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow and we’ll go to the club. Talk properly in the office. Stay out of trouble, you hear?” He gave a strange little laugh and leaned across the passenger seat to yank the door shut. Then he put the car into reverse and screeched back down the road.
I remained on the pavement for some time, just staring. I was thinking about Howard rather calmly, and thinking that really, it was all easy to understand, because we were all just humans, and underneath it all humans are just animals. They fight and snarl and wreak havoc to get what they want, they destroy each other on a daily basis, so why be surprised by any of it? I realised then that my trouble had always been that I cared too much. I felt too much. People like Howard, and Freeman, they did not care. They did not feel. They merely stomped through life like giants, stepping and stamping on anyone who got in their way, picking people up like toys, using them and tossing them away again. I turned and limped awkwardly down the road, towards the call box on the high street.
I went inside, lifted the receiver, found some coins in my pocket and fed them into the slot. I punched in Jaime’s number and it rang six times before his groggy voice answered it.
“Jaime. It’s Danny.”
“Danny? What the fuck mate? You’re friends have been out looking for you. They’ve called me like twenty fucking times!”
“Where you been then?”
“Fuck! Shit! You okay mate?”
“Nah, not really. I really need something Jaime. Can you help me out?”
“Yeah, what do you need?”
“I tried coke a few times,” I remembered, pressing my aching head against the cold glass of the telephone box. “Does it always make you feel really fucking full of yourself?”
Jaime laughed at me. “Yeah, basically, either that or it just makes you talk shit all night.”
“I need to feel really fucking full of myself, alright? I need to feel like king of this shitting world, yeah? I need to feel invincible.”
“Ah, are you sure you’re okay mate?” he asked me then. “You don’t sound like yourself.”
“That’s good, ‘cause I don’t want to be myself anymore. Can you help me out Jaime?”
“Um…” he sighed deeply on the other end of the phone. “I dunno mate…I don’t think you’re friends would be too happy with me, to be honest.”
“Don’t worry about them! Come on man, I don’t want to beg you. Listen to me, that bastard just totally fucked me up, and if I don’t get hold of something to make me feel better about it, I’m gonna’ do something stupid, I’m serious Jaime!” I paused, and gulped, and stared through the glass at the deserted street beyond the phone box. All the shops stood in neat rows on either side of the street, black and silent and watching. “I’m serious. If you can’t help me out really quick, I’m gonna’ go throw myself off a bridge or something…I really mean it Jaime.”
“Alright, alright,” he said quickly, sounding alarmed. “Calm down mate, just chill out a minute yeah? I get what you’re saying. Look, I’ll drive you over something to calm you down, yeah? Where are you?”
“I’m outside home. In the phone box. But I don’t want something to calm me down Jaime, I want something to fire me up.”
“Right. Okay. Sorry. Just sit tight then mate? Don’t do anything silly, okay? I won’t be long.”
“I’ll be here,” I replied and hung up. I felt my broken body weakening against the side of the phone box. I let myself slip slowly down to meet the floor. It reeked of piss, and I could see a used condom in one corner, coiled and pink like a piglets tail. I didn’t care, and I couldn’t have moved if I did. I crossed my arms over my knees, rested my head down, and closed my eyes as tightly as possible. I invited in and embraced the darkness, the ugliness inside of me, and I listened to the embers of the fire, crackling and hissing. The match had been struck, I thought to myself. I could feel it. I could really feel it. I kill you…I’m not gonna’ crack… I could feel it burning. It was burning, but I just needed a little more fuel to add to the fire…to keep it going.
I had no idea how much time had passed between my call to Jaime, and the screech of tyres further down the road that let me know he had arrived. I lifted my head and squinted through the darkness. I could see his tall, gaunt figure loping up the street towards me, moving in that jerky, shifty way he had, his head held low, and yet whipping from side to side the whole time. I wanted to get to my feet to greet him, but I couldn’t do it. My body felt like mush. He hesitated for a second outside, and then grabbed the handle and yanked the door open. “Danny?” he sounded unsure. I looked up at him and grimaced.
“You bring me something?”
He nodded, and crouched down beside me, a frown lining the face under the crammed on baseball cap. “Bleedinghell mate, look at you.”
I nodded at him. “I told you.”
“That fucking insane bastard, what did he do?”
“He wants to own me.” I tried to shake my hair from my eyes, but it was all sticky and clumpy with blood, and rain, and sand from the cliff, and it wouldn’t move. So I lifted a hand and smoothed it to one side. Jaime gasped.
“You’re head’s all cut mate. You should go to hospital!”
“This was his way of convincing me. He won’t stop, you know, he won’t ever stop. Not until one of us is dead. He thinks I work for him now. His fucking errand boy. If someone did this to you Jaime, would you do what they wanted?”
Jaime seemed to flinch and squirm at both the question I asked and at the state of me, slumped in front of him. He shrugged his bony shoulders. “I dunno mate. I dunno what to say to you.” He shook his head and whistled through his grey teeth. “Suppose that’s up to you to work out. Shit, I knew that bastard was nasty…whatever happened to Freeman, do you know? One minute he was here, barking orders at me, then suddenly he’s vanished, and no one knows where the fuck he is!”
“I stabbed him, so he left town. That was ages ago.”
His mouth fell open. “Are you fucking serious? You stabbed him?”
“Yeah. Had to.”
“Jesus fucking Christ! Well you learn something new every day! Guess you had your reasons….are you okay mate? Can you get up? Shall I call Anthony and Michael down?”
“No,” I shook my head at him. “I’ll be okay in a minute.” I stared down at my trainers, sodden and crusted with sand. “I thought he was gonna’ kill me up there.”
“Shit! Fuck me. Looks like he had a damn good try anyway…”
“Yeah. What did you bring me? I haven’t got the money on me. It’s up in the bed-sit.”
“Don’t worry about it now,” he shook his head at me, dug around inside his tracksuit jacket and pulled out a plastic bag. “Coke,” he told me and looked into my eyes. “You sure you’ve done it before? It’s a bigger deal than speed you know.” I nodded that I had. “Okay then, here you go,” he placed the bag into my outstretched hand. “I don’t exactly feel good about giving you this, you know.”
“You’re helping me out,” I told him, closing my fingers over the bag. My head felt so heavy and full, close to exploding with everything. “If I don’t get some way to feel strong right now, then that’s fucking it, I’m done…I’ve had enough, you know. What’s the point? What’s the point in anything Jaime? Do you know?”
Jaime just reached out and patted my shoulder clumsily. “Don’t ask me mate. I don’t know a fucking thing about anything. You’ll be okay. Take that and feel better then. Maybe call the old bill tomorrow, eh? That bastard needs stopping.” He got to his feet, stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets and glanced around him nervously.
“Yeah he does,” I agreed with him. “He has to be stopped.”
He looked down at me worriedly. “You’re not gonna’ sit in there all night, are you?”
I shook my head. “Help me up?” I held up a hand, he took hold of it and pulled me to my feet. I closed my eyes against the pain, and my back took up its persistent drum beat once again. I stepped out from the phone box and leant briefly against Jaime, took a deep breath, opened my eyes again, and felt ready. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”
“What the hell did he do to you anyway? Jesus!”
“Doesn’t matter,” I breathed out heavily as we started to walk slowly and jerkily towards my building. “Just listen, just don’t ever mess with him Jaime.”
“God, I won’t. I don’t. Just keep my head down, I do. Do what I’m told.”
“Jaime, can I ask you something?”
“What is it mate?”
“When I first met you, you know, at the club?” Jaime nodded in reply. “Was it Howard or Freeman who told you to deal to me? Who did it come from?”
“Freeman,” Jaime remembered. We had reached the building. I let go of Jaime and leant against the little red brick wall that cornered off our patch. I stooped slowly forward over my knees to catch my breath. Jaime brought out some cigarettes and offered me one. I took it, and waited for the light. “I met him there. Actually he caught me dealing pills to some mates in the loos. Thought he was gonna’ take me outside and give me a good hiding, but he was cool about it.” Jaime lit my cigarette, and then his own. “He was pretty friendly. Suggested I went through him. He wanted a local bloke he could trust, someone who knew everyone I guess.” He shrugged loosely and puffed on his smoke. “So I said yeah. Made way more money through him. Heavier shit though. Always just sold grass and e’s before then. That was it really. I did the dirty work. Made it easy for him.”
“He told you to deal to me?”
“Yeah, I knew he was mates with Howard. Thought they were like, I dunno, business partners or something. You could tell there was something going on between them. You wouldn’t mess with either of them, you know?” He flicked ash behind him and peered at me curiously. “Took me a long fucking while to realise he was your step-dad though. That’s when I realised how nasty he could be, I guess. Then Anthony shows up…starts sniffing around, asking me questions…Fuck, if they ever found out it was me who helped him…” Jaime shook his head and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other as he sucked on his cigarette. “I don’t exactly feel good about any of this,” he admitted. “It’s all totally fucked up, isn’t it?”
I blew smoke smoothly at the ground and looked up at him with a brave smile. “You’ve done me a huge favour tonight,” I told him. “So don’t feel bad. They just used you, like they use everyone. To get what they want. I sorted Jack out, you know. Now I’m gonna’ sort my step-father out. I just needed this to help me feel better, you know? To help me feel strong. So I can fight back.”
Jaime frowned at me. “Fight back?”
“Yeah, I have to. I’m not gonna’ let him win. I’m not gonna’ fucking work for him.” I took a few more drags then dropped the cigarette to the ground and stamped on it. I looked up at the building. “I’ll get that money to you tomorrow. Probably give it to Mike to give to you, okay?”
“Why? Where will you be? What’re you gonna’ do Danny?”
I turned away from him and begun to limp awkwardly towards the door. “Fight back,” I called over my shoulder. “You’ll see.” I did not look back as I arrived at the door. I realised then that I had no keys. I pressed the buzzer and waited. My head was pounding with the music, so I nodded along to it, and thought it was okay, it was all okay, and I would just take it along with me, whatever I did, whatever happened, I would take the music with me. I love you…I’m not gonna’ crack…I miss you…I’m not gonna’ crack.