He sat smoking in Anthony’s lounge, sprawled out on the sofa under the boarded up window. He couldn’t resist a smug smile to himself. He could smoke in the house now that Chrissie had gone. Ah but it was sad really, it was devastating. He looked up and caught sight of the kids pictures, dotted proudly in frames all over the walls, and felt a stirring of guilt and unease in his belly. His brother was in the kitchen, trying to decide between tea and beer. He was supposed to be at work but had called in sick. Michael could see that he was sick all right; sick of everything, without a clue what to do about it. Chrissie was still at her parent’s house with the kids.
“She can’t take them from you, you know,” Michael said, when Anthony shuffled miserably back into the room. Michael was pleased to see he had opted for beer, hurling one at him, and slumping into an armchair with his own. Anthony shrugged in response. He was wearing old tracksuit trousers and a paint stained t-shirt. They had been up most of the night drinking and talking, and he looked somewhat worse for wear this morning. Michael looked at his phone. Danny had still not returned his messages. “You need to go around there and have it out with her,” he said to his brother. “You need to stand up for yourself.”
“Why?” Anthony looked at him irritably. “She’s done the right thing. They’re better off out the way with all this going on.”
“The police are investigating properly now,” Michael shrugged, snapping his beer open and taking a large gulp. “After what happened to Lucy last night. They can’t ignore stuff like that.”
“Still no message from Dan,” Michael told him, looking at his phone again. “Do you think he’s all right?”
“I don’t know. Hopefully he’s gone in search of these scumbags. Hopefully he’ll find them and kick the living shit out of them.”
Michael laughed. “Do you really think he’s got it in him?”
Anthony glared his way. “He just spent eight years in prison Mike. Course he’s fucking got it in him.”
“So you’ve had it out with Chrissie, or what?” Michael decided to bring the conversation back around to his sister-in-law and her stubbornness. Anthony yawned in reply, drank fast mouthfuls of beer, and looked angry.
“She doesn’t know me at all, you know,” he said then. Michael nodded and waited. He thought, I know that already mate. “It’s like these last eight years together, or whatever it is, she thinks she’s been married to someone else.”
“You should tell her,” Michael said then, sitting forward slightly on the sofa, and tapping the ash from his cigarette into the ashtray on the floor. “Tell her Jenny is totally fine with it all. She wants to meet Danny and everything. She didn’t give a shit about Zach meeting him. She was just pleased for us all you know?”
Anthony looked at him with narrowed eyes. “But have you told her about the letters and the windows and that?”
“Yeah, I’ve told her,” Michael replied. “Course I have. I’m not having Zach over, just in case, but she’s still cool about it all. You should tell Chrissie that.”
“Jenny’s a good girl,” Anthony nodded at him, his expression sombre. “You should have held onto her you know. She’s a good girl and she would have loved you forever.”
“I know I’m an idiot,” Michael shrugged. He had been thinking the same thing himself lately. He still could not believe how cool she had been about Danny’s return, and the trouble it had brought for them all. He had gone to visit Zach at home twice in the last week, which was more than normal. He supposed he felt a bit ashamed of himself for the way he had behaved in the past. He hated to admit it but there had been some truth in some of the things Anthony had said to him that night in the pub. “I’m trying to make it up to her now,” he told Anthony. “I’m gonna’ get more involved with Zach, you know? Be more helpful for her and stuff.”
“Good,” Anthony nodded. “About time.”
“So what do you think will happen? You think she’ll come back with her tail between her legs when all this blows over?”
Anthony sighed. He crossed one ankle over the other. “God knows. I don’t know Mike. We’ve got a lot of talking to do, one way or another. I mean, I can understand her being angry and scared, and wanting the kids out the way, but it’s the whole thing of making me choose that I can’t take. She knows how much you and Dan mean to me, I’ve told her a million times, but she obviously didn’t listen, or she didn’t get it, I don’t know.”
“Hard for her to get, I suppose,” Michael said diplomatically, choosing his words carefully. He felt like letting rip, of course, letting Anthony know exactly what he thought of his sister-in-law, but he knew he couldn’t. That wouldn’t be fair.
“It’s like she doesn’t care,” Anthony tried to explain, and Michael could see that he had been thinking about it endlessly. “It’s like it means nothing to her. That time of our lives, it kind of shaped us, you know? It’s like she doesn’t want to hear it, she doesn’t even want to understand it. I tried to tell her I was practically like a dad to you and Danny back then. That was how I felt. That’s why I can’t just turn my back on either of you, but she won’t listen, she won’t have it Mike. The only way she sees it, you’re both grown men now and I should leave you to it. Stay out of it.”
“She wasn’t there,” Michael said softly. “She doesn’t know. She can’t possibly understand.”
“But it’s like you said, Jenny does!”
“Yeah but Chrissie, she’s like this spoiled princess type of girl, isn’t she?” Michael looked at his brother, eyebrows raised in apology. “I don’t mean anything bad by that,” he said quickly, “but that’s how she is, I mean she’s one of those girls, nice family, nice house, good at school, pretty and popular. What has she ever had to deal with in life that isn’t nice or normal?”
“Nothing,” shrugged Anthony bitterly. “That’s what drives me mad sometimes.”
“I know, and I’m not slagging her off, I’m really not, she is a bloody fantastic mother, and she’s got this cool little business going and everything, and like when she talks, she’s so articulate and level-headed and knowledgeable. But she hasn’t had to struggle for anything you know? I think it all scares her. I think me, and my life, and Danny coming back, it scares her because it reminds her of where you came from, and who you are.” Michael drained the last of his beer and crushed the can in his hand, eyeing his brother’s doleful expression with triumph. He knew he was right. Chrissie had fallen in love with Anthony because he was handsome, and confident, and treated her like a lady. She knew what she wanted. Marriage, a home, and kids. She somehow felt that his and Anthony’s past tainted all of that, or was a threat to it. “That’s what it is mate,” he said. “The old you, the bloke who’s been in prison twice, the bloke who lived in a shitty little bed-sit with me and Danny, that’s not the one she wants. That one scares her. She wants this you,” and he spread out his hands, taking in the large TV and the portraits on the wall, and the sofa they had bought just three months ago after redecorating the lounge. “That’s why she hates you mixing with me, and that’s why it freaks her out so much Danny being back.”
“But why can’t she listen to me?” Anthony questioned, and Michael could see how anguished he was by it all. He loved his wife, and his kids, and the life they had together, and as angry as he was, he did not want to lose it all. “She’s my wife and she says she loves me, but she won’t listen. She has no empathy Mike, for what Danny went through. She just sees him as a killer, you know? That’s what she said. She called him a murderer. She said the kids can’t go anywhere near him. I just thought, you know, she might try to understand.”
“Some people just see what they want to see mate. You can’t really blame her. What he did frightens her. What happened to him frightens her. She probably thinks it will fucking rub off on them or something.” Michael shrugged and shook his head. “Fuck knows mate.”
“But I mean Lucy, she came from a nice home and a nice family,” Anthony said, his head in hand, his forehead creased by a frown. “She still somehow understood, didn’t she? I mean, she didn’t really even know the half of it, but she was always there, wasn’t she?”
“Different,” Michael told him flatly. “One, she grew up with us, so she gets it all. And two she’s fucking head over heels in love with Danny. He could probably murder a few more fuckers and she wouldn’t care.”
Anthony dropped his hand, looked at his brother and smiled. “Can’t believe you said that.”
“Joke,” Michael replied. “But it is true.”
“So he’s not with Lucy then?” Anthony asked with a sigh. Michael looked at his phone again, willing it to beep at him. He shook his head.
“He left this morning. Maybe I should call him?”
“Yeah go on. Lucy was meant to be finding out about you know who, on the Internet. We might learn some more today, with that, and the police, you know?”
Michael nodded, phone in hand. He brought Danny’s number up and hit call. The phone just rang and rang, and eventually went to answer. “Can you fucking answer your phone once in a lifetime please?” Michael shouted into it and hung up. He rolled his eyes at his brother. “He’ll show up later. You want to come and get pissed with me somewhere?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Anthony grinned, and hauled himself up from the chair. “Why the fuck not eh?”
She went through the whole day at school, not really knowing what she was doing. It was like she was on auto-pilot, doing everything out of habit and instinct. When she got home and threw down her bag and her laptop, and kicked off her shoes, she realised she could not remember anything about the day. As she reached for the bottle of wine in the fridge, she hoped no one else had noticed. Oh well, she thought, it was too late now.
The power was back on. She was determined not to feel scared. Carl had told her to call or text or pop up to him at any time, should she need to. It was reassuring knowing that he was there, looking out for her. Lucy filled a glass with wine and wandered aimlessly towards the kitchen window. She rested against the wall there, safe behind the net curtains and looked out at the road. She thought about what had distracted her so much all day, not so much the creepy phone call or the power going out, but Danny, out there on the pavement, talking to that woman. He seemed to know her, Lucy thought, and she wondered if she ought to recognise her for some reason too, but if she did, she wasn’t sure why, or from where.
They had chatted for a few minutes. Their body language had alarmed her, even from the window. Not only did they seem to already know each other, but they seemed to be eyeing each other up, she thought. Sussing each other out. The woman was smiling, tilting her head. Flirting, she had definitely been flirting. And then they had walked off together. This was the part that made Lucy’s heart hurt. This was the part that made her suck in her breath suddenly and blink away tears. They had walked off together. To where? Where had they gone? Had he arranged to meet her out there, and if so why hadn’t he told her?
So many questions. But at the same time, she told herself to shut up and get over it, because isn’t this what she had wanted? Isn’t this what she had been on the verge of talking him into all night? That he should be single for a while and find out what he wants. But oh it hurt, seeing him like that, with someone else, no matter how innocent. She had not been prepared for how much it would hurt.
Lucy sipped her wine and thought about calling him or sending him a text, but something held her back, something told her not to. Let him be, she thought instead, let him be and see what happens. She had an inkling that he did not enjoy being checked up on and worried about constantly, so she tried not to do it. He was not a baby, or a kid anymore, he was a grown man, and she knew he had to try to find his own way somehow. She recognised that Anthony and Michael had slipped easily back into their old roles with him. They were doing it again, even if they did not mean to. Looking out for him, defending him, worrying about him. Anthony’s wife had walked out for the time being, and it pained Lucy deeply to think of Anthony all alone. She thought back to that year the three of them had spent in the bed-sit together. They had been tighter than ever, she remembered, resting her head now against the wall, as she cradled her wine glass in one arm.
Anthony had been like mum and dad to them. He had done all the shopping, and the cooking. Lucy smiled at this. They had been like a little family, watching over each other. She wondered then if she could try to talk to Chrissie, try to help her understand the relationship that they had all had. She had only met Anthony’s wife a handful of times, and had liked her. She had seemed a natural, effortless mother to her children, and reminded Lucy of her own mum. The way she looked at her kids, you could tell they meant the world to her, that she adored them, and would do anything for them. Lucy moved away from the window then, and thought about putting the laptop on. Typing in those three names, and seeing what happened. But the thought chilled and outraged her.
Instead, she sank down onto her sofa, pulled up her legs and curled up with her wine. She flicked on the TV and checked her phone one last time. No messages from Danny. She wondered where he was. Who he was with.
They stared at each other across the grave. Danny had pushed himself up onto his feet, but felt small again, diminished somehow in the old man’s presence. He was just an old man, but there was no denying whose father he was. Danny felt tremors of fear clawing through him. He was old, but he had the same build as his son. The same menacing air surrounded him. He lowered his walking stick back to the ground, his gnarled old hand curled around it like a claw. Danny looked him up and down quickly, hardly daring to take his eyes off him. He was dressed in a long navy blue overcoat, brown trousers showing at the bottom, between the edge of the coat and the top of his black Wellington boots. He wore one of those flat caps on his head, like a lot of old men. Danny looked back at his face and for a moment all he could think about was running. Turning around and running as fast as he could. The eyes were the same. They were Lee Howard’s piercing eyes in an older face.
“Well?” the old man barked then suddenly, making Danny jump. His voice was low and gravely, and Danny remembered how Lucy had described the voice on the phone last night. He took another step back without even thinking. “What do you think you’re doing here? At my son’s grave? Came to mess it up some more did you, you little fucker? Came to shit on it this time, did you? You disgusting excuse for a human! I ought to call the police!”
Danny searched for his voice but could not find it. He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again. He looked around quickly but could see no one else. They were all alone. He swallowed and coughed to clear his throat. The old man was staring at him in disgust. “Cat got your tongue?” he demanded then, jutting his jaw out defiantly. “Lee always said you had nothing to say for yourself!”
“I came here hoping to see you actually,” Danny said then, and although his voice came out as a croak, he was still amazed anything had emerged at all. He could feel his heart pounding in panic. He took a deep breath, willing his body to calm down. “You’re his dad?” his eyes flicked briefly to the grave. “You’re Jerry?”
“Course I bloody am!” Jerry spat back at him, his lip curling into a sneer. Danny bristled.
“What do you mean good? What the hell do you think you’re doing here after all you’ve done? My wife went to an early grave because of you!”
Danny nodded slowly. This is good. He could hear the calm voice inside his head, the one he needed to listen to. This is what I wanted. Keep calm. This will lead us somewhere. “Funny you should mention the police,” he said then, keeping his eyes on the old mans, using every ounce of control he owned to keep his voice steady. “Because you might find them knocking on your door pretty soon. I’ve given them your name. And your other son. Dennis, is it?”
The old man snorted, rolling his eyes. “Don’t see anything of him! Waste of space he is! You must be having a laugh you repulsive little shit. Police knocking on my door eh? You’re the one who’s a killer!”
“Yeah and I’ve been to jail,” Danny said, calmly. “I’ve paid for it. But that’s not enough for you, is it? You’re the one behind all the graffiti, and the letters, and the bricks? Aren’t you? And last night? Someone cut the power to my girlfriends flat, then called her up and scared the shit out of her!” Good, that’s good, get angry, not scared, let the anger squash the fear, because he is just an old man, and you are not a little kid anymore…
“And you’re pointing the finger at me?” Jerry pointed to himself and laughed then. He tipped back his head, his broad whiskered chin lifting to the sky as the chuckling rocked his body. “That’s a fucking joke!” His eyes whipped back to Danny, and filled with pure rage. He pointed at him now. “You! You are the one who murdered my boy! Stabbed him to death in his own home! And you dare accuse me of crimes?”
“You deny it?” Danny asked. “Who else would it be?”
“Anyone!” Jerry roared, and again Danny flinched, he sounded so much like his son. He thought of all the times that twisted screaming face had been pushed into his, bellowing into his ear. “I’m not the only one who thinks eight years is a fucking joke! Ten years? Ten years, and you didn’t even serve that! For taking my son’s life? For driving my wife to her death? Life was not enough for you!”
“I think it’s you,” Danny said. He slipped one hand into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. Keeping his eyes on Jerry, he stuck one into his mouth, found the lighter in his other pocket and lit up. “It’s you,” he said again, blowing a smooth stream of smoke across the grave towards him. “It was you on the phone last night. The things you said to her. Just like him. Who else would know those things?”
“What things?” the old man demanded, doing a fine job of sounding incredulous.
“The things he used to call me,” Danny replied with a shrug. “Little man, and shit stain. He said it wasn’t over until he said it was over. That’s exactly the fucked up kind of thing he would say. Except he can’t say it, can he? Because he’s down there!” Danny jerked his cigarette towards the grave and watched Jerry’s eyes widen in horror. “So it was you. It has to be you. No one else would know those things.”
“You’re talking crap,” the old man snarled. “Where’s your proof? Where’s the evidence? There’s been no coppers talking to me. You’re living in a dream world.”
“Why don’t you just admit it?” Danny shrugged. “It’s so fucking obvious. You hate me for killing him and you want revenge. Fair enough. We can talk. That’s why I came here. But you have to leave my friends alone, right? They didn’t do anything to you.”
“Yeah, I knew you’d be back, when I caught you and your little side-kick urinating here that day!” Jerry shook his head, eyes narrowing again now. “Disgusting that was. Vile. Inhuman. What kind of person does that?”
“Inhuman?” Danny questioned, rubbing his chin. “That’s interesting. Because that’s exactly how I would describe your precious son. Did you actually know him at all? Or do you just think all the things he did are fine?”
“He didn’t do anything to you!” Jerry stepped forward then, slamming his walking stick back down into the mud. Danny glanced at it, considered moving back, but then remembered again, he was a man now. He didn’t have to. He stood his ground, smoked his cigarette and waited, eyebrows raised in mock interest. “You were a coked up little bastard who stabbed my son to death, after he gave you every chance of a decent life!”
Danny shook his head, blinked and laughed out loud. He could barely believe what he was hearing, it was so unreal. “Decent life?” he asked. “He gave me a decent life did he?”
“Yes he fucking well did, you ungrateful little bastard. He tried to be a father to you, when your own couldn’t be bothered. He tried to keep you on the straight and narrow, he tried to help you be a decent hardworking person, like he was!” The man stopped then, as if the emotion was getting the better of him. He tore his eyes away from Danny and glared down at the grave. “I was so proud of him. Everything he achieved in his life. He worked hard! Unlike you!”
“Beating me with his belt was giving me a decent life was it?” Danny licked his lips and stepped forward, towards the grave. He focused his gaze on the old man, who suddenly seemed smaller now, as he stooped slightly over his stick, as if he had been holding himself upright and could not do it for much longer. “Getting his pervert friend to deal me drugs was a decent life too was it? Burning me with cigarettes? Punching me in the head? Kicking the shit out me? That was all giving me a decent life was it mate? Because it didn’t fucking feel like it to me!”
He pulled on his cigarette, feeling and allowing the anger and resentment to flow through him. The old man straightened up again, and Danny was sure he could see a flinch of pain in his face as he did. He was shaking his head violently. “There is no evidence that he abused you. All that shit you came out with at the trial! No evidence! There were no police reports, you never called the cops on him! If he was hurting you so bad, why the hell didn’t you call the cops, eh? There are no doctors reports, no hospital admissions, nothing!”
“He beat my mum too,” Danny shot back. “Once I’d left!”
“No proof!” Jerry bellowed in return. He took another step, this time around the edge of the grave, as if he had no intention of walking across it. “She just said that to stick up for you, the lying bitch!”
“Why did I run away then?” Danny asked. “Why did I pack all my stuff and fuck off before I was even sixteen? If I was having such a decent life? Why did he stalk me and my friends for a year? Attacking one of them in an alley? There’s a police report for that old man!”
“Bullshit,” Jerry took another step around the grave. A few more and he and Danny would be chest to chest. “All lies. If he tried to find you it was because he wanted to help you.”
“That is fucking hilarious!” Danny roared then, rocking back on his heels in amusement. He tossed his cigarette butt down and clapped his hands. “That is the funniest fucking thing I ever heard, you stupid delusional old bastard! That’s what he was doing, was it? Trying to help me? You don’t know the first thing about him do you? Yeah he wanted to help me. He wanted me back under his thumb. He even offered me Freeman’s job once he’d jumped ship. You know what that was don’t you? Dealing drugs to little kids. He wanted me to do that for him. That was really helping me, wasn’t it eh?”
“You’re a lying little fucker,” the old man hissed, drops of spittle flying from his clenched teeth. “That’s what you are. He told me. He told me what you were like from day one! Spoiled little mummy’s boy, getting his own way all the time. You didn’t like my son coming in and stealing the attention away from you.”
“That’s why I killed him, is it? Because I wanted the attention?” Danny snorted derisive laughter.
“You killed him because you were a drug crazed little arsehole! He warned me about you! He worried something like that would happen. You’re disgusting.” Jerry was now right in front of Danny. Danny looked at him. The old man was slightly taller than him, and well built for an old guy, and he sensed that he expected Danny to move back, to wither in his presence, but he didn’t. He stood his ground again and pushed out his chest. “You’ve shown no remorse. You disgust me. You should have got life. You’ve not been punished enough.”
“I think I have,” Danny told him. “I think your bastard son punished me enough.”
“He did nothing to you! He did nothing to deserve what you did to him that day!” Jerry was even closer now, both his hands clamped down upon the top of his stick, his shoulders rigid with hate, his thin lips pulled back over his teeth. He had the same teeth as Lee as well Danny noted then. Small and straight, only his were yellowed and discoloured with age.
“Your son abducted me and hung me over a cliff!” Danny pushed his face closer to the old man’s. He suddenly wanted him to know about it, to know it all, the truth of it, and better than that to feel it as well. To know what it felt like to be dangled from a cliff top by a psychopath, by someone who you know is just insane enough to let you go, let you fall. To know how it felt to be small and helpless, with no way of fighting back. He suddenly wanted the old man to know how it feels to think you are about to die.
“There is no evidence!” he growled in response, his eyes now inches away from Danny’s. “Where’s your evidence?”
“I had cuts on my wrists from the wire he used. Look!” Danny shoved his sleeve up his arm and pointed to the thin scars around one of his wrists. “What’s that then? How else did I get that?”
“Fucked if I know!” Jerry yelled back at him fiercely. “Fucked if I care!”
“They brought it up in court,” Danny remembered then, pushing his sleeve back down.
“They also discounted every attempt you made to discredit my son, because there was no goddamn evidence! And as the judge reminded your defence every time, they were there to decide if you killed him intentionally or not. They were not there to debate what he allegedly did or didn’t do to deserve it!”
“I must have a pretty good imagination then,” Danny said, feeling the sudden urge to laugh again. He could barely believe he was stood next to the evil bastards grave, arguing with his old man! “To make all this shit up? Why would I?”
“To justify it to yourself, and others,” the old man sneered at him. “To make yourself out as the victim. If he was so vile to you for years, why didn’t you tell the police, or a teacher? Or your own goddamn mother?”
Danny took a step back then and breathed in then out again slowly. He saw this was getting him nowhere. This could go on for hours. “I don’t have to justify myself to you, or to anyone,” he said then. “I killed him because he drove me to it, and I don’t give a shit if you believe that or not. He tortured me for years. He was a fucking deranged psychopath, and no one knows that better than me! He was never going to leave me alone. He brought it on himself. He pushed me to it. I fucking snapped in the end! I’ve served my time now. I took the full fucking whack when I didn’t have to. So I’ve been punished.” He moved his head forward gently then, finding the old mans eyes with his own and holding them. See it, see it in me, see that it’s all true, see what he did, and let it be over. “So it’s over now, you hear me old man? He’s dead. I’m out. It’s all fucking over.”
“No,” the old man said it quickly and Danny knew then, he knew that it was him. “No, it’s not. It’s not over. Not for me.”
“Well make sure you tell that to the cops when they come knocking,” Danny nodded at him, smiled softly and turned away. “I’m not a scared little kid this time around. I’m not running this time. I’m not hiding from anyone. Come find me any time you want. You obviously know how to.”
He walked away quickly. He walked away while he was still able to, while he still had the last word. He felt strangely exhilarated, though half of it was through sheer terror and hate, but that was okay, it was more than that. It was refreshing he thought in amusement, to get the last word, to get to walk away in one piece.
He walked away knowing who was behind all the shit he’d been getting, and why. It was all simple, he told himself. His phone went off again as he neared the car park. It was Michael. “Mike?”
“Danny! For fuck’s sake why don’t you ever answer your phone?”
“Still getting used to it,” Danny laughed in reply. “What’s up?”
“Nothing, just me and Anthony getting shitfaced in the pub.”
“The one near your flat?”
“Of course. Where are you?”
“On the way,” Danny grinned and hung up.