Danny awoke groggily the next morning, to the sound of Michael tripping over something in his bedroom and swearing loudly. He struggled into a sitting position on the sofa; pulling the blanket Michael had given him right up to his chin. The flat was freezing. It was so cold it felt like the windows had all been left open overnight. It reminded him grimly of the bed-sit he had shared with Michael and Anthony for a year, just down the road. Just like this place, it had had huge old sash windows that let all the air in. Hell in the winter.
“Who the hell is at my door at this time in the morning?” Michael was muttering darkly as he emerged from his bedroom, dressed in a t-shirt and boxer shorts, with his hair sticking up all over. He shook his head at Danny, shivered violently and headed for the front door. Danny watched in amusement. He hadn’t heard the buzzer go, but guessed that was what had woken Michael up. He yawned widely, and wondered if Michael had a hangover at all. He had certainly put away the drinks yesterday. He watched him press the buzzer next to the door. “Yeah? Who is it?”
Danny could hear another voice, but it was too muffled to distinguish what they were saying. He lowered his feet to the floor and started to shiver hopelessly, as he looked around for his jumper and coat. His head felt okay, he thought, not too bad, but then he had sobered up before bed, unlike Michael, who had just kept going. He had slept well too, he realised then with surprise, fishing his hooded jumper up from the floor and tugging it down over his head. No weird dreams for a change.
“I don’t think so love!” he heard Michael saying loudly. “Go on off you go! You’re not in luck today.”
“Who is it?” Danny hissed, getting up and stepping into the hallway. It was long and narrowed, the pale blue wallpaper peeling off in places, dotted with mould in others. Michael had a bin liner filled with dirty washing next to the front door, and the floor was littered with empty beer bottles and bits of rubbish. It made Danny’s heart sink a little, looking at it. He had not expected his friend to still be living like this. He had pictured him like Anthony, with a wife or a girlfriend and somewhere nice to live. The way it should be. Looking around this place was slightly depressing, he thought. It was like Michael had not moved on, not one bit. He had moved from the bed-sit, but taken all the old shit with him.
“Some reporter bitch,” Michael grinned at him, letting go of the buzzer so that she didn’t hear him. He was leaning against the wall, one arm slung around his middle, one foot bent back to rest on the wall. His shoulder shook with soft laughter. “I know her, don’t worry. She used to come round all the time.”
Danny was confused. “What do you mean, reporter? Why?”
“Because of you, idiot. You were in all the papers for ages, remember?”
“Oh. So why’s she here now?”
“She wants to talk to you. I said you weren’t here.”
Danny took a step backwards and folded his arms. “Good. Get rid of her.”
Michael pressed the buzzer and leaned towards it. “You still there love? I told you, he’s not here. Try somewhere else. His mums’ maybe?”
“Could I just come up and leave my card with you?” came the sickly sweet reply through the intercom. Michael snorted.
“Stick it under the door.”
“Okay, okay. Just tell him I want to give him the chance to tell his story that’s all, okay? No one has ever heard his side.”
“Maybe he wants a private life?” asked Michael, with a roll of his eyes. “You ever thought of that?”
“Well he can tell me that, if you pass on my message.”
“Still trying to get that big story, eh?” Michael taunted her. “Get into the nationals? Aren’t there any other scandals you can sniff out these days?”
“It’s not about stories or scandals Michael,” the voice said tersely. “It’s about giving people the chance to tell their side, so that people know the truth. Otherwise people make their own minds up, don’t they? Daniel Bryans might embrace the chance to get his story told, for all you know. Good day.” There was a click, and she was gone. Michael turned to smile at Danny who was shaking his head in bemusement.
“Mr. Popular already eh?”
“A reporter?” Danny said again. “I don’t get it.”
“You heard what she said. She covered it at the time. She spoke to all of us. Caroline Haskell her name is. She is hot by the way.”
“What did she say at the time?” Danny asked, eyes narrowed, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer to his own question. Michael came back up the hall and went into the kitchen where he flicked the kettle on.
“I thought you kept all the papers?” he asked.
“I did. I never looked at the reporter’s names though. That was her?”
“Most of it, yeah. She was okay, back then. Bit bigheaded and bossy, but I suppose they have to be. Tea?”
“Yeah, thanks. You think she’ll come back?”
“Yep. You can count on it. Don’t worry I’ll get rid of her for you if you don’t want to talk to her.”
Danny nodded gratefully. He felt twitchy and nervous all of a sudden, and the thought of leaving the flat made his stomach turn over. “I just didn’t expect that sort of thing,” he shrugged at Michael. “I didn’t think people would still care.”
“It will die down again,” Michael smiled at him encouragingly. “People will get bored again, you’ll see. How you feeling this morning? You sleep all right?”
“Not bad at all,” Danny nodded, recalling his dream free night. “Had Kurt with me all night, keeping me warm. And I was feeling okay, until that,” he jerked his head towards the front door. “Now I feel a bit freaked out, for some reason. Like everyone’s going to be staring at me or something.”
“They won’t. Chill out. We’ll head over to Lucy’s soon, yeah? She’ll sort you out, I know she will.”
Danny smiled and nodded. If there was anything that would help him get through a day, it was thinking of her. Had always worked in the past, he thought, recalling his blackest moments, before prison, and during. He would think of Lucy, of her goodness and her calmness, all of which he would absorb whenever he was near her. He remembered the times when they were kids, lying side by side up in his room, or pressed against each other down at the beach. Not talking. Just being together, because nothing needed to be said. They knew it all without saying it. Would it still be like that now, he wondered? Would there be any awkwardness, any doubts, when they were finally left alone together? How would she feel looking into his eyes, knowing what he had done? How would she really feel about kissing a killer?
Michael made them tea and toast, then went to get dressed. “You’ve not got work or anything?” Danny enquired, while his friend was in his bedroom.
“No,” was the amused reply. “I’m sort of between jobs at the moment.”
Danny laughed. “Bit like me!”
Michael came out of his room dressed in jeans that were stained and tattered around the knees. He zipped up the front of a dark green hooded top and pulled his coat on. Danny grinned at him. As scruffy as ever, he thought, but I bet the girls still swarm around him like flies. He had grown into his dark looks, Danny thought. His eyes were chocolate brown, at once mischievous and menacing. He recalled the first few times he had set eyes on him, when he, Billy and Jake had tried to intimidate him by riding their bikes in circles around his house. He had been the new boy, he remembered, watching from the window, angry and scared. Danny had known right away who their ringleader was. The dark boy with the scowling eyes.
“Head over to Lucy’s shall we?” he asked now. Danny nodded.
“Is her flat along Barrack road?”
“Past the cemetery or before it?”
Michael had been checking his pockets for keys and cigarettes. Now he stopped and narrowed his eyes at Danny. “After. Why?”
Danny looked down at Kurt, who was at his feet, eyes staring up, tail wagging slowly. He had something he needed to do and he was pretty confident Michael was the only one who would understand. “Need to check,” he said quietly, and true enough, Michael pressed his lips together and gave him one silent nod.
They left the flat, got into Michael’s car with Kurt, and drove off. Barrack road was one long, straight road that connected Redchurch, where they had all once lived, to Belfield Park. They smoked as they drove, and said very little. The cemetery was to the left, just past the first of two roundabouts. Michael turned left, followed the narrow lane that led down to the gates, and parked the car in the small gravelled car park.
“Stay there,” Danny said to Kurt, and got out. Michael finished his smoke, stamped on the butt and slid his hands into the pockets of his coat. He looked around as they trudged through the black iron gates, which were wide open.
“I know where it is,” he told Danny, his voice just above a whisper. Danny just nodded. He felt a cold chill and buttoned his coat up to his chin. The ground under their feet was wet and boggy. Their trainers squelched and sucked through the muddy grass, as Danny followed Michael through the rows of headstones. Michael kept looking around, checking over his shoulder, his dark eyes hooded by a frown.
Finally Michael stopped walking, dropped his shoulders and pointed. Danny stopped beside him. Right before them was a plain black headstone. Danny looked it up and down, read the inscriptions, checking it all, the dates, and the year. He blew his breath out slowly, and then looked at Michael. “Just a niggling feeling,” he explained to him, even though he knew he did not need to. “You know. Just needed to make sure.”
“Don’t blame you,” shrugged Michael. “I’ve been here a few times myself over the years.”
“Same as you. To make sure. Maybe to laugh a bit. To gloat.” He stuck his tongue halfway between his teeth and raised his eyebrows at Danny. “Bastard got what he deserved,” he reminded him, and Danny nodded in agreement. That much was true, he thought.
“You know what I said to him, that day?”
“Die you motherfucker?”
“I said I’d piss on his grave.”
Michael laughed out loud and gestured to the plot. “Fucking do it!” he sniggered. “If you made a promise mate!”
Danny looked around quickly, and then looked back at Michael. He saw the light dancing in his friend’s eyes, the daring, and the old challenge. He snorted, remembering the pranks and the tricks they had played, first on Frank Bradley, and then on this bastard. Frank Bradley had caved in quickly enough, Danny recalled. But there had been nothing they could do to get rid of Lee Howard. Lee Howard, he thought now, staring back down at the plot, there you fucking are.
Michael nudged him with his elbow. “Do it,” he hissed. “I will too. Think of everything he ever did to you. You said you’d piss on his grave, you should fucking well do it!” Danny looked from him, back to the plot. It was not scruffy or overgrown with weeds like some of the others, yet there were no flowers or plants either. It looked like someone had maintained it, yet not wanted to draw attention to it. “Think of Freeman,” Michael said then, his voice a whisper, his eyes burning with hate. Danny swallowed, and felt a shudder of revulsion wring through him. It was enough to convince him, and before he knew what he was doing, he had unzipped his flies. Michael hooted with approval and did the same. They grinned guiltily at each other as two dark yellow sprays of urine pattered down onto the grave. Michael was stifling giggles, and Danny felt suddenly like a naughty child again. He remembered the time they had put laxatives into Howard’s beer, how scary, how intoxicating the fear had been.
“Oh shit,” Michael said suddenly, zipping himself back up. He was staring urgently over Danny’s shoulder. “Someone’s coming!”
Danny did himself up, felt Michael pulling at his elbow, and turned to look. There was an old man, tall, but slightly stooped and wearing a neat grey overcoat and a navy blue flat cap. He was striding towards them. His eyes were wide, his mouth was sneering in disgust. Danny stared at him. He thought he saw something. Something about the way the man moved, the way he commanded the space he strode through, as if he was not afraid of anything in this world and had no reason to be. He felt Michael dragging him by his elbow. “Let’s fucking go!” he was hissing into his ear. Danny stumbled, saw the old man gathering pace, and let Michael haul him away from the urine-splashed headstone.
He looked back at the man, as they hurried down through the rows of graves, back towards the gate. The man had a walking stick, and as he quickened his pace, Danny saw him raise it and shake it at them. “That’s my son!” he roared suddenly, when he had reached the plot. He stood, his feet planted in the puddles of urine, his face twisted with disgust and rage, stick waving in the air.
“Shit,” Michael said again, and started running, dragging Danny with him. Danny stared back over his shoulder one last time before they hurled themselves through the gates and towards the car. He saw the old mans eyes, and they were burning daggers into his own. He lowered the stick and remained at the grave, and pointed one finger out towards Danny.
“You!” he bellowed out, and the sound of it took Danny’s breath away, and he heard a million other things in his mind then, as he ran for the car, stumbled, landed on one knee, scraping it against the gravel; you, you little shit stain, you little bag of piss, you little fuck up, little man, little man, little man… He felt horrible panic overwhelming him, as he pulled himself up and jumped into the car behind Michael. Michael slammed the door behind him, got into the drivers seat, stuck the key in the ignition and shoved the car into first gear. He skidded out of the car park, sending sprays of gravel flying up behind them.
“Shit, shit,” he was saying over and over again. Danny sat in the passenger seat. He could still hear that voice, pounding through his ears; I’m gonna’ get you in line if it’s the last thing I do…are you gonna’ be a good boy now you little shit stain? He shook his head, kept hearing it, pressed his hands against his ears and stared in horror at the road before them. Michael drove like a maniac, screeching out onto the main road and promptly getting beeped at by another car.
“Are you all right?” he was shouting at Danny. “Who the fuck was that? Was that his fucking dad? Danny?”
“You heard him!” Danny yelled back, dropping his hands from his ears. He stared at Michael in horror. “What the hell have we done? He’ll call the cops!”
“Relax, relax,” Michael held up a hand and took some deep breaths. “Shit. Shit!” He slammed one hand onto the steering wheel. Danny tried to get control of himself. He dragged Kurt onto his lap from the back seat and wrapped his arms around him.
“We shouldn’t have done that,” he murmured, shaking his head, his eyes fixated on the rear view mirror. “That was bad. We shouldn’t have done that! What if he calls the cops, or comes after us?”
Michael drove further down Barrack road, signalled right and pulled in around the back of Lucy’s flat, parking the car and leaving his hands on the steering wheel. “It’s okay,” he told Danny, although Danny could tell he was just saying this, just trying to calm them both down. “There’s no proof, okay? If he goes to the cops, we just deny it. No one else was there. No one. So it’s okay, yeah?” he looked at Danny and caught his eye. “Yeah?”
Danny did not look, or feel convinced. He merely felt a landslide of terrors hitting him, one after the other, and he could not speak. That voice ripped through him, and he pressed his hands to his ears again, trying to block it out. He felt Michael touch his arm. “Mate? Danny?”
He looked at him, breathing fast. “We pissed on his son’s grave. That was Howard’s dad.”
Michael nodded, looked away briefly, and then looked back at Danny, his eyes fierce. “Fuck it,” he told him. “Forget about it.”
“Forget about it?”
“Danny he deserved it, he deserved it! Fuck it, I say!”
Danny shook his head, found the handle and opened the car door. He got out, holding onto Kurt, and slammed the door. Michael got out the other side, holding his arms out to each side. “It’s okay!” he told him. “Forget about it!”
“Mike, I just got out of prison yesterday…”
“So what? You weren’t there, you weren’t near the grave. He won’t tell the cops anyway, I can guarantee it.” Michael spat on the floor, looked back at Danny across the roof of the car and smiled a little. “Haven’t felt the adrenaline pump like that for a while!” he joked. Danny rolled his eyes, and started towards the road. Michael locked the car and chased after him. “You should have done a shit on it too,” he told him. Danny looked up and down the street, a familiar feeling of checking over his shoulder falling over him.
“This is fucked up,” he sighed. “We shouldn’t have done that.”
Michael was staring back at him with amused eyes. “You worry too much,” he shrugged. “I say the twisted bastard deserved it, and fuck his old man anyway. He created a monster, so don’t feel sorry for him, the fuckbag. Come on. This way. Lucy will be waiting.” And that was it. Danny watched Michael shrug it off and saunter down the pavement and up three stone steps to a bright red door. He tapped on it and stared back at Danny blankly.