The arrangement was to meet at The Olde Inne pub at six o’clock. Billy had texted to confirm this. He would be coming alone. Michael was excited. He did not see the harm in popping down to the pub at lunchtime, just to get into the mood. The pub was warmer than his flat, and the pub provided food as well as free newspapers. He made himself at home in his usual corner, tucked into a cheese and pickle sandwich, accompanied by a packet of crisps and a pint of beer. He felt at ease and brimming with anticipation. He was looking forward to getting Danny back again and having some drinks. And Billy! Maybe they could drag him forcefully back into the gang, he mused to himself as he sprawled in the corner, with the newspaper spread out before him. They would all be back together again.
Just then his phone beeped with a message. He pulled it out and looked at it. Anthony; Dan back yet?
Michael punched back the reply. No. U comin out later? He placed his phone on the table and picked up his pint, drinking three large mouthfuls before his phone beeped again.
Not sure. What time?
Michael rolled his eyes in annoyance at his older brother. Billy coming at 6. Waiting 2 hear from Luce and Dan. I’m here now. He almost deleted the last bit. At this time of the day he knew his brother would be greased with hot sweat, working in the kitchen of the posh hotel he was employed by. To imagine Michael relaxing in the pub at mid-day would irk him no end.
At this time? The message came back through, making Michael chuckle. U alone?
It’s warm, he texted back, u coming later or what?
Be home by half 5. Have to check with Chrissie. Txt u later.
Michael growled in disgust and typed back; you better make it u cunt. Anthony did not reply. He dropped the phone back onto the table, drained the last of his pint and finished off his sandwich. The beer made his body feel warm and tingling all over. He picked up the newspaper and started to read it, spread out across his knees. He imagined he would have one more drink here, then go home and try to tidy the flat up a bit. The other night he had been too drunk to care about the state of it, but now he felt a creep of embarrassment about it. He knew he did not have to worry about impressing Danny, he had just come out of prison for Christ’s Sake, but he had seen Danny’s face in the morning, as he looked around at the state of it all. Having a flatmate, he reasoned, was going to be brilliant. They could look after the place together, take turns tidying up and cooking, like they used to do back in the bed-sit. Those had been strange times, he reflected now. He remembered feeling jumpy the whole time, checking his shoulder, and waking up in the middle of the night bathed in terror, but at the same time, they had been amazing times. He had not had times like that since, he mused. He and Danny and Anthony, against the whole fucking world. Lucy and Zoë around every Friday, he smiled now, thinking of it. Billy and Jake. The nights going mental at Chaos, then around the corner for kebabs and chips, before finishing the night up in the bed sit with a joint or two shared around. Michael recalled the feeling that he was surrounded with the best people in the world. That was the best feeling in the world, he thought now, nodding rather morosely to himself in the corner, as he stared up across the empty pub. Best friends, and amazing music, and a few drinks and what have you, and that was it, life couldn’t get any better than that, could it?
Just then Tony the landlord sauntered over to collect his empty glass. He was a short, rather overweight man in his late forties. He reminded Michael of Terry, The Fat Man, they had all called him, Danny’s boss in The Record Shop. “Want another young man?” Tony asked him, grabbing his grass.
“Ooh go on then, you’ve twisted my arm Tone.”
“Same again?” the man grinned. He was wearing a rather unflattering beige and brown cardigan, which did not quite button up across his wide girth.
“Oh yes. Then I’ll be off. Though I am tempted to stay here and keep my seat warm for later!”
“You back again later are you? Celebration?”
“Yeah, we’re back later,” Michael grinned up at him. “Me and the boys! We’ll be taking over the place Tone, my man.”
“Ah right you are,” Tony nodded. “That friend of yours the other day? The blonde one? He the one you were telling me about before?”
“The one who’s been in jail?”
Michael nodded and folded up the newspaper. “That’s him. Fucking best friend I ever had in my life, Tone.”
Tony smiled, stepped away, and then paused, looking awkward. Michael raised his eyebrows at him, waiting. “He the one that, you know?” he lowered his voice slightly, even though the pub was empty. “Killed his old man?”
Michael nodded slowly. “Wasn’t his old man,” he corrected him, and he was aware that his defences had gone up already, even though he had known Tony in here for years, and he was a good bloke. “He was his step-dad.”
“Nasty piece of work I hear.”
“Yeah, you hear right. The guy was a psycho. Totally fucking twisted. Danny should never have been sent down for it.” He got up lazily, needing the toilet, and half wanting the conversation and the questions to end, and half wanting them to continue. This was where it got difficult, he thought. There was a side of him that felt tense and under attack whenever anyone who was not involved brought up what Danny had done. He had defended him, and fought his corner numerous times over the years, coming to blows more often than not. People were stupid and narrow minded most of the time. They had their own opinions on something they knew nothing about, and this enraged Michael more than anything. How dare anyone have a view or something to say about what Danny did that morning? But at the same time if he felt people understood, or sympathised on one level, he found himself enjoying telling Danny’s tale for him. So people would understand. He looked at Tony and could see he was squirming with curiosity. “He pleaded guilty when he didn’t have to,” he told him then. “He took ten years in prison when he didn’t deserve any. I tell you mate, any one of us would have done the same fucking thing he did. I know I would have. You can’t treat someone like that for years, and not expect them to fight back one day. That’s all he did in the end. He fought back.”
Tony was nodding emphatically; his brow shining with a fat mans sweat. Michael eased past him to head to the toilet. “Blimey,” the man said, shuffling back to the bar. “The things that go on, eh?”
“You don’t know the half of it mate,” Michael remarked and went off to the toilets.
After his second pint, he shrugged on his coat and headed back to his flat. He lit a cigarette on the way and dragged his phone out of his jeans pocket when it beeped at him. It was Jenny, Zach’s mum; Can you take Zach tomorrow night by any chance? At yours, or you can come here? Hoping to go out for a change!
He thought it over for a moment, before replying; having a major tidy up, he can come here if you want?
Jenny’s text came back instantly; that’s gr8!! Thanks Mike!! He’ll be so excited. Can u pick him up 4ish tom?
Michael paused before replying. He wondered if he should tell her about Danny. Not via texting, he decided and typed in; yes no prob c u then.
He was tucking his mobile back into his pocket as he turned the corner into the alley that led to the back of his flat. It was a dirty, narrow alley, lined with industrial bins from the shops, and crowded with bulging black bin bags. He kicked a crushed beer can as hard as he could as he approached, sending it nearly all the way to the other end, where the alley came out next to McDonalds. It was then he spotted the reporter woman again. She was hovering next to his back door, a distasteful expression on her overly made up face. Michael dragged on his cigarette, pushed one hand into the pocket of his coat and sauntered up to her.
“Can I help you love? Bet you’re freezing your arse off out here.”
Caroline Haskell had aged well over the last eight years, he thought, looking her up and down as she turned to greet him. He guessed her to be in her mid-thirties by now, but she was one of those women who did everything in her power to halt the ageing process so it was hard to tell. She had poker straight hair, golden blonde and so full of shine it reminded him of those adverts on the TV, where the women are always flinging their hair from one shoulder to the other. He could imagine her doing that. She dressed like a reporter, he thought. Smart casual, with sharp little heels, and always with a bag across her shoulder. She beamed her convincing smile his way and he wondered how many suckers had fallen for it over the years. She stuck her hand out to him. “Michael Anderson?” She phrased it as a question, although she knew full well who he was.
“Last time I looked,” he said with a grin, giving her hand an obligatory shake. “And no, Danny is still not here before you ask.”
“Ah,” she said, hoisting her bag on her shoulder and tossing back her hair. She tilted her head at him slightly and he looked into her wide amber eyes, and wondered what she was like in bed. She had a neat, narrow nose, and wide mouth.
“Certainly are persistent,” he told her, dragging on his smoke again. She smiled courteously, and he thought she was probably one of those women who smiled like that at everyone, even her bank manager.
“Just doing my job,” she replied brightly.
“Who do you work for then? Still with the local rag?”
“Do you happen to know when Mr. Bryans will be back?” she asked, ignoring his question, but pulling a business card out of her bag and passing it to him. He looked at it briefly before stuffing it inside his coat.
“You left one of those already.”
“Is he coming back here?”
“No idea darling. I’m not his keeper.”
“But he is staying with you here?”
“For now. Look love,” Michael sighed and tossed the butt of his smoke to the ground. “He won’t want to talk to you, so you’re wasting your time.”
“I think I’ll wait to hear that from him,” she said curtly, and turned on her heel, hair swinging. “Good afternoon Mr. Anderson.”
He went up to his flat, felt disgruntled with the horrible state of it, and kicked an empty beer bottle across the hall floor. There was no dog to greet him, because the dog was with Danny. Michael walked into the kitchen, felt overwhelmed with the filth, and walked back out again. He found himself fiddling with CD’s again, wondering what to listen to, and thinking about a drink.
Five minutes later he heard the doorbell buzz and cursed loudly. He stalked up to it and slammed his hand against it. “Is that you again Haskell?”
“No,” came the surprised reply. “It’s me and Lucy.”
“Oh. Sorry Dan. Come on up.”
Michael held the door open and watched the pair of them, closely tailed by Kurt, make their way up the grotty carpetless stairs. He narrowed his eyes at them and waited, hands in pockets, knowing something was up. They didn’t look like the young, love-struck couple he expected them to be by now. Lucy looked tense and her shoulders were slouched wearily. Danny was carrying a box and an envelope, and more than anything, he just looked pissed off. “That reporter chick was just here,” Michael said as they filed past him. Danny made a sound of disgust.
“For God’s sake.”
“I told her she was wasting her time,” Michael shrugged and closed the door behind them. “You guys want a drink? Not tea, I mean, because we’re out of milk. Whiskey?”
Danny looked at Lucy, eyebrows raised in question, and Michael had to turn away and smile. It reminded him so much of the way Anthony always looked at his wife before agreeing to anything these days. He walked back into the lounge and located his bottle of whiskey on the coffee table. “Can I stay here tonight?” Lucy sighed and asked, dropping down onto the sofa and chucking her keys onto the table. Michael took the hint and sloshed three measures of whiskey into the cleanest glasses he could find. He sat next to Lucy, while Danny stalked around the lounge, fiddling with the box he had.
“Course you can,” Michael told her. “What’s up? What’s in the box?”
“Mobile phone,” Lucy smiled slightly. “It’s doing his head in.”
Michael snorted in amusement. “Who gave you that?”
“My mum,” said Danny, his brow creased in frustration. “Can one of you sort it out for me? I don’t even see the point in the fucking things.”
“Give it here,” said Michael, taking it from him. “You’ve got to charge it up first, you twat. It’s a good idea actually. I’ll put all our numbers in it for you.”
“Believe me Dan,” Lucy said, twiddling her hair around her finger and looking back at him. “Give it a week and you won’t be able to live without the thing, I promise you.”
Danny just looked away, out of the window. Lucy looked back at Michael and caught his eye. “Someone sprayed graffiti on my front door,” she told him, while he uncoiled the charger from the box. “We found it this morning.”
“What did it say?” Michael got up and plugged the charger into the wall, and the phone into the charger. Lucy glanced at Danny, as if to let him explain, but he was staring out of the window and made no attempt to help her out.
“Killer,” she mouthed to Michael. He remained where he was, kneeling on the floor with the phone in his hands. He shook his head at her and his expression was troubled.
“You must be fucking kidding me.”
“Fucking scandalous! Shittinghell. Danny?” Michael looked up at him. Danny turned his head slowly. He looked far away. “You all right mate? Just ignore it, yeah? Just fucking idiots probably. How dare they?”
“That’s what I said,” Lucy nodded at him. “I’ve probably opened my mouth too much, you know, and people spread gossip around, and someone thought they’d play a silly joke.” She glanced back at Danny, but he said nothing. “It’s not really that bothering him though.”
“This,” Danny said suddenly. He walked to Michael and thrust a piece of paper at him. Michael took it and unfolded it. He could see it had been screwed up and then smoothed out again. He scanned it quickly. “And this!” Danny stood beside him and held out another envelope. Michael took it.
“Hang on, hang on, this one first. What the hell is this?” His eyes were drawn to the figure at the bottom of the page. He stared up at Danny, his eyes bulging. “Is this what I think it is? Is this yours? Jesus fucking Christ Danny!” He put the phone down and jumped to his feet, holding the bank statement at arms length. “Oh my fucking God mate! You’re rich! Look at this! Is this really yours? Your mum did this?” He probably had a thousand more questions lined up, but he looked at Danny then and stopped himself. His face was dark, his eyes scowling and his mouth screwed up small.
“I don’t want it,” he said simply, and picked up the whiskey Michael had poured for him. “It’s his fucking money, isn’t it?”
Michael did not know what to say. He folded the statement carefully and passed it to Lucy. He crouched down and examined the second envelope. “What a day,” he said with a small chuckle. “Someone has it in for you, then you get rich, but you don’t want it. Maybe you should talk to that reporter chick, eh? Give her something to shut her up. I’m scared to ask what this one is about.”
Danny turned and stalked back to the window with his whiskey. “She wants me to think it over,” he said. “But there is nothing to think over. How could I take it? How could I take his money, after everything?”
“But it’s her money Dan,” Michael shrugged gently, now scanning his eyes over the letter he had pulled out of the second envelope. “She’s the widow. It’s all her money.”
Danny growled impatiently. “Yeah, that’s what she said too, but that’s a convenient way to look at it, isn’t it? When you think about it, when you’re truthful about it Mike, it’s his fucking money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” He turned to face them both, his eyes challenging them to disagree. “Because she didn’t have two pennies to rub together until she met him, did she? His money bought the house, his money bought the club, and his money bought the Cedar View house. Not hers. His.”
Lucy and Michael swapped cautious looks. “I’ve said it’s up to him,” Lucy said in a gentle tone. “But I do think a couple of days to think it over is a good plan.”
“Think it over?” Danny questioned from the window. “A couple of days for it to do my head in, you mean? I can’t believe any of you think I should take that money. Would you Mike? Would you?”
Michael grimaced, and gave a half shrug. “I don’t know Dan, it’s a tricky one. On the one hand, I totally get why you wouldn’t want a fucking thing that came from him, but then on the other hand, don’t you kind of deserve it? After everything? I mean, look at it this way, he’d fucking turn in his grave if he knew, wouldn’t he?” A sly smile crept across Michael’s face. “Imagine how much it would piss him off!”
Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes impatiently. “Trust you to see it that way Michael.”
“What? It’s true. That’s how I’d look at it. I’m just saying. If it were me, and it was my life that had been totally fucking wrecked, I would take the money and say fuck you bastard, thanks a lot!”
“So you would take it then?” Danny asked.
“Yeah. I think I would. To spit in his eye. To piss on his grave.” He caught Danny’s eye. “The final revenge.”
Danny just shook his head and turned his back. They watched him down the whiskey and wipe his mouth on his hand. “I’ve got to get out of here for a while,” he announced then, and walked past them, placing the empty glass back on the coffee table. Michael watched the alarm leap into Lucy’s eyes, but to her credit, she did not react to it.
“Okay,” she said. “We’ll wait here. Sort the phone out for you.”
“Don’t forget pub at six!” Michael called after him. “That’s most important!”
The only answer they got was the door closing, followed by the sad whining of Kurt, who had not been quick enough on his old legs to get through as well. Michael smiled at Lucy, who sank back into the sofa, throwing her arms up above her head. “You’d think it would be easy, wouldn’t you?” he joked. “But I think adjusting to life out of prison is gonna’ be harder for him than being in prison.”
“It was never gonna’ be easy,” said Lucy. “Too many memories. Too many complications.”
“He’ll be all right.” Michael thought of the old man at the cemetery and in his head he linked it to the graffiti on her door, but he said nothing. “And this one,” he said, getting to his feet and holding out the second letter. He shook his head at it. “This is another total mind fuck, isn’t it eh? His fucking dad, no less!”
“I know,” Lucy said quietly. “John certainly sprung that one on him.”
“Great timing. What do you think he will do? Call the guy? What the hell would you say after all these years?”
“God knows,” Lucy said with a heavy sigh. “I don’t think he’s ready for that yet.”
“No,” Michael agreed and placed the letter on the coffee table. He went back to fiddling with the mobile phone. “And the guys is about eleven years too fucking late, eh? Danny could have done with this when he was fucking thirteen years old with a psychopath for a stepfather. Fuckinghell. Hey Lucy, if I’m doing this, and you get bored, you could do me a totally huge and massive favour?”
She looked at him in suspicion. “What?”
“Help me tidy up. My kid is coming over tomorrow. This place is a fucking death-trap.”