It was going to be a strange, seeing him. Lucy had a lot on her mind. She was still feeling shell shocked and on edge since the creepy phone call. Nothing else had come her way, but the news of the fight in the pub had reached her before she could get over to Michael’s flat. Danny had sent a humorous text to warn her; we all look like shit! Lucy didn’t find any of it funny though. All of it, from the letters and the bricks, to the phone calls and the fight, all of it turned her stomach and sickened her. More and more she found herself in sympathy with Anthony’s wife. Who would want to be caught up in all this mess, she wondered? Who would choose to?
Danny came out of the flat limping slightly, with Kurt at his heels. Lucy looked him up and down, shaking her head slowly in despair. He grinned at her and sort of grimaced, trying to edge her towards a joke. He had a deep cut to the right of his forehead, just above his eye. She winced at the criss cross of stitches, the ugly bruising. She felt the immediate urge to hug him, but then something stopped her, something held her back, and she sighed, and guessed she knew what it was. “The police have come up with nothing?” she asked, thinking it to be a useless question, and one to which the answer was obvious.
“Nah,” he shrugged in reply. “Not yet. But they will. The pub?”
“I don’t think so,” Lucy replied, glancing over her shoulder nervously. “Can we just go for a walk to the beach with Kurt? Maybe get some fish and chips?”
“That sounds brilliant,” Danny beamed, and she knew again that he was faking it. That he had been doing that a lot with her. She slipped her arm through his and they walked on. “Can I duck in on the fat man on the way back though? Saw him in the pub last night and he kind of offered me a job!”
Lucy stared at him in surprise, genuine relief flooding her. “Did he? Really? Terry?”
“Yep,” Danny nodded proudly, and she could see how excited he was about it. “Just got to say hi quick. See what he reckons. Is that okay?”
“Course it is! That’s amazing news Danny, I am so pleased for you.”
“Me too,” he beamed, hugging her to his side with one arm. “Everything okay your end?” he asked he after a few moments had lapsed past in silence.
“Fine,” she nodded. “Actually Carl stayed over last night.” She glanced up at him, looking for a reaction. “I was a bit freaked out again. Just keep feeling watched, you know?” She saw him clench his teeth briefly before replying.
“Oh that was nice of him. Yeah, I know what you mean. After yesterday, I feel like I should be looking over my shoulder the whole time. But fuck it. What can we do?” He shrugged at her. “Just have to hope the cops come up with something.”
“Do you still want me to do that search online? I haven’t really had the chance, with everything going on.”
He shook his head at her. “No, no don’t bother. I’m just leaving it to the police Luce. I don’t want you involved. I don’t want any of you involved.” He shrugged at her again. “Safer that way.”
They came out onto the high street, and slipped between the hurrying crowds. They headed down towards the crescent, at the end of the high street. “How are Michael and Anthony?” Lucy asked eventually. Danny released a sigh.
“Lucky they weren’t hurt worse,” he admitted. “Poor Anthony went down like a sack of shit when that ape brained him with a pint glass. He was out for a while. They were kicking the shit out of him. Then I got this!” he pointed to his cut. “Didn’t pass out though. Think we got them back a bit.” He chuckled softly to himself, and Lucy pretended not to notice.
“Unbelievable,” she said again, shivering as she couldn’t resist another look over her shoulder. “Makes you feel unsafe, wherever you are.”
“Wherever I am,” he corrected her, with a wry smile. Lucy rolled her eyes at him and nudged him with her elbow.
“It’s not your fault. These people are sick. They need to be stopped.”
“Let’s not talk about it,” Danny said then. They had reached the crescent, so called because of the little crescent shaped park to the right of the main road. It was surrounded by a loop of knackered old benches, usually filled with sleeping bodies wrapped in blankets. It was fairly empty now though. A young man in a hooded top was throwing a Frisbee for his bull terrier, and two young women in short skirts were smoking next to the bus stop. Lucy shivered again, and wondered why Danny and Michael liked this place so much. Belfield Park had not changed, she thought. It was still bed-sit city, a place filled with unfortunate people.
They took the road to the left, which wound slowly and gently down to the beach. When their feet hit the sand, Kurt trotted off ahead of them, sniffing the sea air and wagging his tail that much faster. “Gorgeous,” Lucy breathed, as the wind from the sea swept her hair back from her forehead. “Freezing, but gorgeous.”
“We’ll get fish and chips along there,” Danny said pointing to the promenade. “There’s a place always open.”
They walked on, hand in hand now. Lucy told herself to enjoy the closeness while it lasted. They got their fish and chips and sat down on the sand to eat them. They tasted divine, but Lucy found herself closely watching every person that passed them. She wondered if Danny was examining them all as she was, wondering if any of them were watching them, or following them, wondering if they were about to be set upon or attacked at random. It was a horrible, disquieting feeling, which made the fish and chips harder to appreciate, as her stomach began to knot and twist in nerves. When she could eat no more, Lucy pushed her share onto Danny and decided it had been long enough. “Who was that woman yesterday?” she asked him, looking sideways to catch his expression. She saw it immediately before he disguised it. Guilt. Fear.
“Yes. Outside my flat. I saw you with a woman. You looked like you knew her, and then you walked off with her.”
“Oh!” Danny sounded amused now. “That was just that reporter woman that’s been sniffing around. Caroline Haskell. She keeps hounding me for an interview. She reckons I need to tell my side of the story.”
“Yeah. That’s who that was. I went to the pub with her, only because she said it was on her and I thought it might shut her up.”
Lucy nodded and looked back out at the sea. She was silent for a while, remembering a younger her and Danny, sat like this, side by side, week after week. It had started the day she had spotted him stalking angrily past in his suit, the day he refused to go to his mothers’ wedding. They had started meeting there every Sunday morning. Sometimes no one would see him all week. He would be like the invisible kid. So oh how blessed and lucky she felt when she was the one he chose to meet with. Most of the time they would sit and not even talk. He’d never been much of a talker, she remembered. If she wanted conversation with him, then she would have to work at it, and ask him questions, pull him slowly out of himself. She remembered seeing his bruises. Different ones every week. For a long time she was too innocent, too sheltered to realise what they meant. She imagined him as the bad boy they all said he was. Getting into fights and scrapes. Doing stunts on his bike.
There was that time he had weeks off school, and the teacher had told them all he had been hurt at the cliff top, falling from his bike. They had all made him this stupid big card, and signed their names. Only Michael, Jake and Billy had refused to sign it, and she had wondered why. Years later she was to learn that he had been hurt at home. Anthony had been arrested for drugs offences. Michael had been going crazy the whole time telling anyone that would listen that Lee Howard was behind it all; Anthony’s arrest and Danny’s accident. That Anthony had warned him to leave Danny alone, and this was the outcome. Anthony gone. Whisked back to jail for something he had not done. Lucy shivered again, and this time she could not stop. She felt him go to put his arm around her, and she stopped him by pulling away. He frowned at her, his eyes hurt. “You’re not going to like what I’m about to say,” she warned him then, and he looked even more worried. “But I’m going to say it. I want you to listen and try to understand.”
“You’re scaring me Lucy,” he said. She knew. She felt wretched. She hung her head for a moment.
“I think we should stop seeing each other for a while.”
“What?” His voice was a croak, a strangled cry. She looked up, right into his eyes and thought to herself, she would probably never say anything so vital, so important again, so she had to get it right, she had to make him understand so that it would hurt him less.
“It’s not because of all the stuff going on,” she assured him, placing one hand over his and squeezing down. Her hair was being whipped back and forth by the wind from the sea. She lifted one hand to hold it away from her face. “It’s scary, and I am scared, but that isn’t why I’m saying this.”
He looked bereft, and so confused. “Why then?”
“Partly because of that woman. Well not her specifically. But women.”
“What? I don’t get it.”
“It’s going to sound crazy, but I’ve been worried about it for some time. Even before you got out. And the way things have been going, I’ve thought it more and more. And then seeing you with her, the way you looked at each other, I knew I had to say it.”
Danny pulled his hand out from under hers and glared. “What do you mean, the way we were looking at each other? I don’t even know her!”
“I know that, I know, I’m not accusing you of anything.” Lucy searched for his hand again and found it with hers, even though she felt his stiffen under it. “The thing is Danny, we just had each other right? Before you went to prison?” he nodded at her, biting at his bottom lip. “And while you were there, I had a couple of boyfriends, you know that right?” Again, he nodded. She swallowed, feeling a little like she was suddenly elevated to the adult position, and him down to the child’s. “So I had the chance, you see, to experience other people, other relationships, and that proved to me that it was you I wanted. I couldn’t stop thinking about you Danny. It was never going to work with other men, while I still thought I had a chance of something with you.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, sounding exasperated. “You’re not making any sense!”
“Just listen,” Lucy insisted, her eyes on his. “What I’m saying is I had that chance, to experience other people, to figure out what I wanted, but you haven’t. You’ve been locked inside since you were sixteen. You only know about me. You see? How do you know for sure that I’m the one for you?”
Danny laughed then, but the sound made Lucy pull her hand from his. It was a brutal, bitter laugh, and it matched the hardness that had suddenly filled his eyes. “You must be fucking kidding me?” he asked her. “This must be some kind of joke, right?”
“No, Danny,” she shook her head at him. “And when I saw you with that woman, I realised it even more. You need to be single. You need to do all the things you never got the chance to do. Be young free and single, a young lad, all of that. So you can figure out who you are and what you want.”
It wasn’t getting through. She could see that now. His eyes were clouded with anger and resentment, his jaw jutting out, his lips screwed tightly together. He looked so young all of a sudden that it was heartbreaking. She wanted to reach out and wrap her arms around him, but she knew that was just another part of it all that was wrong; her feeling the need to mother him. It was all wrong.
“Let me get this straight,” he said to her then, his voice cold. “Because I’m obviously really fucking dumb. You’re dumping me right?”
“No, Danny,” she tried to explain, reaching for his hand again, but this time it was him who pulled away. “It’s not like that. Please try to listen to what I’m saying. I’m giving you the chance to find out what you want. I need to know that I’m really what you want, that I’m enough for you, that we’re right together. I can’t get rid of the feeling that you’ve not had the chance to…” Lucy shook her head then, searching for the right words.
“To sleep around?” Danny finished for her, his voice louder. She looked at him and sighed.
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Yes it is, don’t bullshit me Lucy. You want me to be single? You want me to go and shag around for a while?” He widened his eyes, waiting for her to answer. She couldn’t. She was perilously close to tears. “That is what you’re saying, isn’t it? Because I haven’t had the chance?”
“That’s sort of it,” she tried again. “But I don’t want you to think it’s because I don’t want to be with you…because I do…I just…”
“You’re doing this for my own good?” he cried, throwing up both hands, and knocking all the chips from his lap. Lucy looked at him and wanted to shrink away. His blue eyes flared back at her, his top lip curled. “This is so fucking funny! You’re dumping me after only a few weeks. So I can sleep around? Nice one Lucy. Fucking class.” He got up suddenly then, taking her by surprise. He was marching away across the sand before she even had time to call out.
Lucy forced herself to get to her feet and run after him. She caught his elbow, but he pulled it viciously away. “Danny, don’t just storm off, for God’s sake!”
“Why? What else have you got to say to me? I don’t think I want to hear anything else thanks Luce. I already feel like a right fucking twat.”
“You don’t need to, don’t be silly! Just stop and talk properly to me. Talk like a grown up.”
“Oh so now I’m not a grown up either?” He did stop walking then. He whirled to face her, his expression close to rage. “So in your eyes I’m not a real man, or a grown up until I’ve shagged some random women? Right?”
“No Danny, no,” Lucy shook her head. The tears were coming now, and she could do nothing to stop them. “It’s more than that. You’re not giving me chance to explain. I just want you to be sure that’s all. How can I live the rest of my life knowing you just got stuck with me?”
“Stuck with you?” Danny shouted at her. “How am I stuck with you?”
“Because, because of all that happened. Because you didn’t have a normal life, when you were a teenager. You didn’t get to be like other teenagers!”
“And that makes me stuck with you?” He placed his hands on his hips and shook his head at the sand. “You’re insane Lucy, you really are. I thought you’d credit me with more intelligence. I loved you, you stupid cow.” He lifted his eyes to hers then. “I fucking loved you back then and I love you now. I don’t understand why you’re doing this to us.”
Lucy bit her trembling lower lip and pressed her hand up to his cheek. He did not pull away this time. He just stared at her in misery, not understanding. She felt like a bitch and wondered what the hell she was doing. “I’m doing it for you,” she told him, realising that as she spoke them, the words sounded hopeless. “I want you to be free and find out who you are, and then come back to me when you know it’s right. I’ll wait for you, I promise.”
His eyes hardened again. His lips tightened and he slapped her hand away from his face. “Don’t bother,” he snarled at her. “You did this to me once before, remember? When I didn’t show up to your precious beach? Ha, how fucking fitting here we are on another fucking beach! I guess you planned this all, yeah? Don’t cry.” He placed a finger on her cheek, and pressed down on the tear that lay there, wiping it away so roughly that she flinched and drew back from him. “Don’t fucking cry over it Lucy. You did this before. You gave up on me then, as soon as the going got tough. I forgave you that time, because you didn’t know the full story. Well you can forget it this time. I’m not forgiving you this time. You want me to go and shag other women yeah?” He gestured wildly to the beach around them. “Right then. Off I go! I’ll report back, shall I? I’ll text you all the grotty details? Let you know how I get on, shall I?”
“Well you’ll want to know, won’t you? You’ll want to know who I do it with, and what it’s like? Hey, maybe they’ll teach me some new tricks eh?” He stepped towards her again, this time pushing his face right down into hers. “Maybe that’s what this is all about. Not experienced enough for you, am I? Not good enough in bed? Or maybe you think I’m damaged goods, eh?”
“Danny!” she stared at him in horror. She watched his face shut down. All emotion seemed to flood right out of it. He just looked pale and cold.
“Fuck you,” he said, and walked away.
Lucy stood alone on the beach, her body shaking with sobs. She covered her mouth with both hands, watching him go. He walked briskly and stiffly into the distance, with the little dog hurrying along at his heels. She felt sick. She had known it would go badly, but she had not expected his fury to come like that. It had been like looking at a stranger, she thought helplessly. Oh God, what have I done?
This just keeps getting better and better. This is fucking unbelievable. I wish I’d stayed inside. I wish I’d been locked up forever. In a state of shock and confusion, Danny made his way back towards the high street. He felt like he had been slapped in the face. Kicked in the balls. He felt like she had ripped the ground from right under his feet. Why did she want to hurt him so much? Why now? In the middle of all of this shit? She wants shot of me, she wants out, why am I surprised? Why would anyone want me? He walked on, faster and faster, head down, hands in pockets, unable to make sense of it. He felt blinded by rage and choked by pain. He wanted to go to the pub and get smashed. He wanted someone to come and have a pop. Get into a fight.
His mind wandered back to the previous day. The fight. In a strange and unsettling way, it had been something he understood. Something he recognised. Fear is worse than pain. He remembered how he had figured this out when he was a kid. How it had helped him get through the bad times. How he used to sit and study the pain, remove himself from it, as far as he was able to. He would try to separate his mind from his hurting physical body, and analyse the pain, try to work out exactly what it was. It was burning, or it was throbbing, or it was sickening dull ache in his belly from the day before. Whatever it was, he had worked out a way to get away from it, whilst accepting it at the same time.
It was the fear, he remembered now. It was the fear that was so horrible, so soul-destroying. It was the physical manifestation of fear, the spine tingling sensation, of fingers creeping along your skin, then coming to life inside the pit of your belly, stirring you up. It was the same now. The fear of what could happen, the fear of who was after him, and what they might do next, that was a hundred times worse than the pain of having a glass smashed in your face. Danny smiled to himself bitterly, and marched down the high street.
He almost stormed straight past Terry’s shop. It was only nearly bumping into a skinny kid with a pink mohican that stopped him in his tracks. The kid staggered off down the street, a pile of vinyl twelve inches tucked gleefully under one arm. Danny peered through the open door, and his shoulders sagged. He wanted to get to the pub badly, but he didn’t want to let Terry down, so he took a deep breath and walked into the shop. Immediately he stopped in the doorway and inhaled deeply, even closing his eyes for a brief, calming second. A smile touched his lips, before fading away again. The smell, it was the same, just the same. Dusty shelves, dusty record sleeves, and the smell of the vinyl itself. Danny looked around him. Another scruffy haired teenager had his back to him, while he flicked ruthlessly through the records. The shop was smaller than Terry’s old one, so it appeared overstocked, almost every conceivable space had been filled with shelves, and tables overflowing with records, cassettes and compact discs.
Just then Terry appeared behind the counter, mug of tea in hand, tea stains already dripping down his wide swinging belly. Danny nodded at him. “You look knackered Terry,” he said to his old boss, stepping up to the counter and shaking the man’s hand again. Terry slipped onto his stool. Danny raised his eyebrows at the way his huge body disguised the stool, making it look like he was floating in mid-air.
“This is it,” Terry groaned, “I can’t keep up with it, son. I’m bloody killing meself in here. You’ve come to tell me you can start today, right?”
Danny grimaced. “How about tomorrow?” he asked, thinking again of Lucy, and the pub, and oblivion. “I’ve got to meet someone now. I can come in first thing tomorrow? You’ll have to show me the ropes though. I’ll be rusty after all these years.”
“You’ll be fine,” Terry persuaded him. “All right, tomorrow morning it is. I can only offer you twenty hours or so at the moment. Money is tight. But we’ll see how things go, right?”
“That’s amazing Terry, thank you,” Danny told him, and reached for his hand again. He shook it firmly, looking squarely into the fat man’s eyes. Another one who tried to help me, he thought, looking at him then, let me hide in his shop, he knew I was in trouble, and he never asked why, he just let me hide. “This means a lot to me, you know Terry. More than you know. I’m gonna’ feel good now, you know, with a job to come to.”
“Ah, go on with you,” Terry pulled his hand back and waved it at him. “It’s no big deal. I’m getting old and you were always a bloody good worker for me. It makes sense.”
Danny smiled. He reached out again and clapped Terry on the shoulder. He wanted to say more, to thank him more eloquently, more meaningfully, but he knew Terry was not an emotional man, nor a talkative one. Their conversations back then had only ever been about music. Danny still remembered the many times he had crept hesitantly into Terry’s shop, just down the road from Howard’s club. He had started flicking through vinyl versions of his Nirvana albums. Before long he had become embroiled in heated discussions with Terry about music. It had grown from there, he recalled. He would pop in every day. Mostly just to look. To listen to the records the fat man played on the counter. Then he had started to help out, for nothing at first, just to have a place to go, somewhere to hide, and he would get lost in the music, and he would discover new music and old music, and all of it was better than being at home. “I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he said to Terry, and slunk back out of the shop.
Immediately he remembered Lucy and felt all of the joy drop out of his soul again. Lucy could fuck off. Okay, that was sorted. Fuck her. What she had just said made no sense at all. To him, if she loved him then she should want to be with him, and stick by him, end of story. To do anything else was just giving up, just letting him know it was all too much for her. He thought back to the day he had mentioned to her. The day he had apparently stood her up at the beach. The night before he and his friends had discovered Chaos for the first time, the club that played their type of music. He had been so determined to go, to go and dance and sing and get high and forget it all. Nothing was going to stand in his way.
Danny reached the Olde Inne and pushed roughly through the doors. He made his way to the bar, glaring at anyone who dared look his way, and abruptly ordered a pint of beer and a shot of whiskey from the girl there. They had drunk whiskey that night too, he thought grimly. He had endured a scuffle with Howard in the hallway to get out. He had tried to stop him, but he’d got away, he’d got out, and he’d ran through the night to Michael and Anthony’s house, bloody faced and euphoric. The night had been amazing. Danny sat grimly in the corner with his two drinks, and his dog, and lit up a cigarette.
He thought about Chaos now. Just around the corner, only minutes from the bed-sit they had ended up running to. How it had been good song after good song, and he had taken Michael into the toilet with him to take speed again. They had been so high, so happy, so untouchable. But like all things, it went to shit in the morning. He’d woken up late and run to the beach to meet Lucy, his body a horrible mess from Howards’ abuse, and a night of drinking and speeding. She hadn’t been there. So he’d kept running, on to her big house on Cedar View. Her big house and her concerned old man, looking down at Danny like he was a piece of shit on his shoe. She’d given up then, he thought viciously, she’d walked away, turned her back because he was too much trouble, too much hard work, and she was doing it again now.
He recalled Anthony, collaring him on the way back through the estate, furious with him for giving Michael speed. Another face, another pair of eyes judging him, looking down on him so he’d run to the park and felt like there was no point in anything. He’d sat on the bench and felt like the wind could just blow him away. He rolled up his sleeve now, looking for the scar. He still had it. He’d sat on that bench in a cloud of self-loathing, and he’d taken his own knife and slashed his own arm, and that had felt good, that had made him relax. And then what had he done? He thought back, frowning deeply over the rim of his pint glass. Oh yeah. He’d wandered over to Freeman’s place hadn’t he? Because Jack Freeman wouldn’t judge him or look down at him, or get mad at him. And sure enough, Jack Freeman had plenty of stuff over there to chill him out. Plenty of stuff to make him not give a shit about anything.
His phone went off then, and he cursed under his breath, dragging it out. It was Caroline Haskell. What time and where? Danny lowered his pint, thought for a moment, and then typed in his reply; In the Olde Inne, Belfield Park high street. I’m there now. A few moments later she replied; on my way. Danny sat back, picked up his whiskey and downed it in one. He sat and glared at the table, lost in a dream. He felt helplessly entangled in the past, as there it was, all the fucking time, ruining things and coming back to haunt him. He had known coming out of prison would not be easy, he had known it would take time and adjustment. But he had never expected this. His mere presence was yet again wrecking the lives of the people he cared about. Just as it had done back then. He thought then, for the first time, about moving on. Starting anew. The thought appealed to him in a way it never had before.
Caroline Haskell arrived just five minutes later, which took him by surprise. But nevertheless, he was relieved to see her. She nodded to him, went to the bar, and then came over with two whiskey and cokes, shoving one across the table at him. She dumped her large bag to the floor, flicked back her glossy hair and sat down opposite him. “Hi,” she said then, exhaling breath, stretching her arms out and yawning widely. “I was close by anyway. Good to see you.” She winced at his face. “What happened to you?”
“We were set upon,” he replied with a sigh. “In here, yesterday. Three men.”
“Oh God. Why? What for?”
“Well I might be able to find out now. If you’ve got that information for me. Thanks,” he said then, picking up the drink she had bought and tipping her a wink. “Cheers.”
“So what are you doing in here at this time?” Caroline asked, folding her arms on top of the table, and shaking her hair back again. Danny looked her over quickly, before downing the second whiskey in one again. She was wearing her denim jacket again, this time over a tunic and leggings combination. He thought briefly and painfully about Lucy, alone on the beach, and then he smiled at Caroline.
“Feeling sorry for myself,” he told her. She cocked her head to one side and her bottom lip jutted out, making an ah poor you face. “Normally I try not to do that. But today I’m making an exception.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“My girlfriend just dumped me,” he looked at her, lifting and dropping his shoulders wearily. He sighed, and pushed one hand back through his hair. Caroline was frowning at him in sympathy.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry Daniel. Why?”
“Call me Danny,” he said, and shrugged again. “That’s the thing. I don’t really know why. Maybe because I’m me and everything I touch turns to shit?” he raised his eyebrows at her expectantly, and she laughed and picked up her own drink.
“Oh I’m happy to take the risk,” she said, taking one sip, before leaning down and dragging a thick bound notebook from her bag. “Anything I can help with? Being a woman, I mean?”
“Nah,” he shook his head quickly. “Forget it. It’s boring. So what have you got for me? You didn’t take long.”
“Told you, it’s my job,” she replied brightly, folding her arms on top of the notebook, while he frowned at it curiously. “But we had a deal remember?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Your interview,” she reminded him, with a coy roll of her eyes. “I’m not sure I want to give you this information, then have you cancel on me.”
Danny leaned back in his chair again, slipped one arm around Kurt, who was sat next to him, and drank slowly and thoughtfully from his pint. Finally he lowered it and narrowed his eyes at Caroline. “You think if you give me the information I won’t give you an interview?” She grinned in reply and nodded. “Okay, but how do I know this information is correct? I need to check it out first.”
“Three addresses,” she told him. “Dennis Howard, Jerry Howard and Jack Freeman. All three men are alive and well. Thought that was what you wanted?”
“It is, but how do I know that’s where they really live?” Danny decided to play her at her own game. “How do I know I won’t give you your interview, then go to find them and find it’s all crap? Made up?”
“Because that would be wrong, and I don’t operate like that, plus you could complain about me and I could lose my job!” Caroline Haskell looked at him triumphantly, but Danny was not convinced. Trust no one, he thought, looking back at her intently, while a grin pulled at his lips. He drank more beer while she thought it over. Finally she took another sip of her own whiskey, and looked at him shrewdly. “So we both find ourselves not trusting each other?” she questioned. “This is interesting. And probably a sad indictment of our faith in other people! I like you Danny. You remind me of me.”
“Brilliant,” he shrugged carelessly. “So what do we do?”
“Okay, looks like we will have to do this bit by bit.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“You answer some of my questions,” she tapped the book under her arms. “Then you get one address to check out. If it’s correct, you come back to me and answer more questions. And so on. Obviously the interview will be taped. In stages.”
“Hmm,” Danny picked up his pint and drank it down to the end. He put the empty glass on the table and crossed his arms over his chest. “We’d end up seeing quite a bit of each other that way.” He didn’t know why he said that, but he did like the way a bit of colour crept into her cheeks as she smiled back at him. She did the hair toss again, even though she didn’t need to. There was no denying the warmth in her voice, as she looked him quickly up and down again.
“Well that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?”
Danny shrugged, giving nothing away. “And we’d both get what we want.”
“Looks like it.”
“Okay then,” he said before he could think about it too long and change his mind. He reached across the table and patted the book. “Fire away.”
“What, now?” Caroline frowned at him, and then at the pub around them. “Here?”
“Why not?” Danny asked. “We’re both comfy aren’t we? No one is listening. You got your tape recorder thing on you?”
“Of course I do.” She looked excited now, he thought, watching as she dug back into her bag and pulled out a neat black recording device. She placed it on the table and pressed a few buttons, before flipping her notebook open. Danny tried to peer at the writing she had scrawled across the pages, but she moved her hand to cover it. “Okay then. We can get started. How many questions do you think is worth one address?”
Danny sighed. “I suppose it depends on the questions.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Five?”
“Okay. What the hell.”
She looked like she could not believe her luck, he mused then, feeling a faint stirring of disgust, as she got to work, sucking on the end of her pen as she looked through her notes, and checked the tape recorder again. She seemed suddenly businesslike and hungry, like she had seemed on the other occasions he had met her. He sat back and waited, wondering what he was letting himself in for.
Caroline Haskell flicked back her hair and fixed him with a steely gaze. “How old were you when you first met Lee Howard?”
Easy, Danny thought then, in amusement, that’s one question you silly bitch.
“Thirteen,” he told her. “I was thirteen.”
“How would you describe yourself at age thirteen?”
“What the fuck?”
“That’s the next question Danny,” Caroline had reached out and pressed pause on the recorder. She eyed him suspiciously. “You said five. That’s the next one.”
“But what does that mean? How am I supposed to answer that? Why do you want to know that?” He glanced at the bar then, thinking of another drink, and she caught his gaze drifting and got up suddenly.
“You want another pint? Or another whiskey? Maybe it will help loosen your tongue. If not, we’re in for a very long day!”
Danny sucked his breath in, trying to think things over. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust her an inch. Suddenly this all felt wrong, wrong and intrusive, and he panicked slightly, thinking if that was the second question, what the hell would the third one be? Where was this leading, and what else would she demand to know? Without waiting for him to reply, Caroline walked briskly to the bar, taking her notebook with her. For a brief, confused moment, Danny thought about getting up and walking out. Finding Lucy on the beach and begging her to reconsider.
But then she came back with another pint and another whiskey, and he felt himself weaken, and he realised how regrettably weak he really was, as he picked the whiskey up hungrily and downed it. She sat herself back down, her brow furrowed with thought and concentration. “You want these addresses, don’t you?” she reminded him, while her finger paused above the button on the recorder. “You want to see these men and sort things out don’t you? Or have you changed your mind?”
Danny thought about Anthony then. His head bandaged, his life in ruins, as he ran off to try and talk his wife around again. He sighed, held his pint in one hand, and thought of it as a friend that would get him through this, whatever this was. He nodded at her and she pressed play. “How would you describe yourself at age thirteen?”
“I was a little shit,” he told her, his eyes on the table, his tone dull. “If you want to know the truth. I was smoking, I was drinking regularly with my friends. I started smoking pot just before I turned fourteen. At thirteen I had been arrested twice, for fighting other boys at school. I was a little bastard most of the time, especially to my mother. I did what I wanted to do. Is that enough?”
Caroline nodded, unsmiling. “How would you describe your relationship with Lee Howard in the early days?”
Danny swallowed. His throat was dry, so he took a few guilty gulps of beer before answering. “Um…it was not good. I didn’t like my mother seeing him. I had a big problem with all of her boyfriends, if you want to know the truth. They were usually dickheads and tossers, one way or another. I didn’t think he’d be any different and I was right.”
“In what way were you right?”
“Is that number four?”
“Um, no, I was just trying to get you to explain.”
“Oh okay. Well he was very full of himself. He part-owned Nancy’s nightclub and thought he was the bees knees. He was one of those people who talks over other people, you know, interrupts all the time? Always thinking they’ve got something better to say? I couldn’t stand him.” Danny rolled his eyes, faking boredom, drank some more beer and carried on. “I thought he was arrogant and rude and bossy, all those things. The second time I met him he tried to intimidate me.”
“How?” Caroline Haskell was staring at him, as if transfixed by what he was saying. He wondered distastefully how long she had waited to hear all this shit.
“He just squeezed my neck in the kitchen, after our meal, when we were washing up. Nothing heavy, but it was a warning. He told me nothing I could do would scare him away from my mother.”
“What did he mean by that?”
“What number question is that?”
“It’s still number three Danny, I’m just trying to get you to explain what you mean.”
“Who is seriously going to want to read all this shit?” he exclaimed then, shaking his head at her. She looked annoyed and pressed pause again.
“What’s the problem?”
“This, this is shit. This is boring shit. You’re wasting your time. No one is going to care.”
“Danny I probably won’t use everything you say,” she tried to explain, “it doesn’t work like that. I just need as much information as possible to put the story together, so it’s all true. I’ll let you read the article when it’s put together properly, I promise you. You’ll be able to have say on what goes in.”
Danny drank from his pint. He felt pretty drunk now and wondered if it was obvious to her. He shrugged at her carelessly. “Okay whatever. Go on then.” She smiled gratefully and pressed play again. “Me and my friends,” he told her. “We played tricks on my mums boyfriend, the one she had before Howard. To get rid of him. Just stupid kid stuff, so we did the same to Lee. Except mum had warned him about it, so he knew what to expect. We still had a go though. Laxatives in his beer one day. That kind of thing.”
“So the relationship was not good, even back then?”
“No,” he said, sounding bored. “It was not good. It was never good. Question number four now surely?”
“Yes. You claimed at your trial that Lee Howard physically abused you behind your mother’s back. Can you tell me when this first began?”
“Jesus,” Danny groaned, covering his eyes with one hand and shaking his head into it. “Okay. I think…there was that in the kitchen, and then a few weeks later she let him move in. I tried to kick up a fuss but no one cared. My brother left for University around that time.” He closed his eyes, screwing them up tightly under his hand, trying to remember. “I think…I’m not sure, but I think it was this time I was in the kitchen at night, and I was getting myself something to eat, because I’d been like sulking or whatever, refusing to eat meals with them. He came in from the club and went a bit mad about it, saying it was his food, that kind of thing. Oh yeah, I know, I remember. I said fuck you, which was pretty brave of me really, because he was built like a fucking gorilla!” Danny dropped his hand and found himself laughing slightly, as Caroline Haskell watched him, pen poised above her notebook. He knew he was drunk then. Finding that memory funny. “He grabbed me by the neck and sort of slammed me down on the kitchen table. Okay? That was it. So it was a few weeks after I met him, when I was still thirteen. Then a few weeks later he roughed me up after I got arrested.”
“Arrested for what?”
“Fighting at the beach. He picked me up. Got physical. Told me not to tell my mum and he’d keep the arrest quiet for me.” Danny shrugged. “And from there it continued. He started having lots of fun. Let’s put it that way.”
“Okay.” Caroline nodded and glanced at her book. “Why didn’t you tell your mum about this at the time?”
“Ah I wondered when we would get to this,” he laughed again. “I did try actually, once. She didn’t believe me, and to be honest she had good reason to expect me to lie. I didn’t bother again after that, because I was embarrassed. I felt like a dick. I was scared. Take your pick!” he was counting out on his fingers. “Because he told me she wanted to put me in care, because I was too much trouble, and if I went to care worse things would happen to me, and he could convince her to do that any time he wanted. Because I didn’t want anyone to know, if you can believe that. My friends, and everyone at school, they all thought I was this bad boy, you know? Tough and cool, all that shit, and I loved it at that age, didn’t I? Having that reputation. Wouldn’t have been cool if they knew what went on at home. Like him playing tricks on me, making me think I was nuts.”
“How do you mean?”
“Salt on my toothbrush. Hiding my stuff. Messing with my mind. He was getting his own back. That’s the last question right?
Caroline looked down at her book, lips screwed tightly together, forehead wrinkled. “Um, well..”
“That was five questions Caroline,” he said, in a teasing, sing-song voice, leaning towards her. “Turn your tape recorder off now please!”
“Okay, okay,” she pressed a button and dropped the recorder back into her bag. She closed the notebook, but not before tearing out a page at the back. She folded this into two, and pushed it across the table. “A deal is a deal. That’s your first address.”
Danny lifted his eyebrows, picked it up and unfolded it. He looked at what was written down and thought for a moment. He thought it sounded fairly local. Somewhere he had heard of. The name on the paper was Dennis Howard. He nodded, folded it and shoved it into his pocket. Caroline was watching him carefully, her arms crossed on the table. “Thank you,” he told her.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“The police have probably already spoken to him.”
“Probably,” he shrugged and picked up his drink. “So how did I do anyway? Get everything you wanted so far? Juicy enough for you? Leave you thirsty for more?” He found himself laughing, but was not really sure why. He watched a slow grin lighten her face.
“I have to be honest with you Danny,” she said, and drank the rest of her whiskey in one. “Your story has fascinated me from the beginning. I was one of the first on the scene that morning, in Redchurch. I’ve always found it an intriguing tale.”
“Really?” he snorted. “Even eight years later? There must be loads of other stories more fascinating than this.”
“Not to me,” she shook her head, and got up from the table. “I think I’ll have another drink, would you join me?” Danny nodded. He thought about offering to pay, but she was already at the bar. He looked at the back of her. She had slipped off her jacket, and he could see the neat, trim shape of her now. She looked like she was one of those women who took good care of herself. Her bottom, he mused then, was particularly pert and well structured. Danny was jerked away from his thoughts by his phone going off. It was a message from Michael; Lucy just phoned me-u ok? Danny pulled out his cigarettes and lit one up, as he typed back; dumped, getting pissed now. Caroline came back to the table, this time with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Danny looked at them in amusement. His phone buzzed again; where? Who with? I’ll come.
“Looks expensive,” Danny nodded at the wine, as he keyed in another answer for Michael; with Haskell, don’t come I’m fine.got an address. Be home soon. He thought that ought to keep Michael satisfied for a while, and he was right. His phone fell silent. Caroline poured the wine.
“I’m a wine drinker most of the time,” she shrugged. “Don’t think I could stomach another whiskey. Did you know I reported on your story at the time?”
“Mike said. I kept all the newspapers actually, but I never looked at the reporters names.”
“Why did you keep them?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Just did. So eight years later you still want to know about it? Seems weird to me. You would have moved on.”
“It was one of those cases that shocked the nation, Danny,” she looked at him rather sombrely, her fingers gently caressing the stem of her wine glass. “Maybe you don’t really realise that.”
“You don’t know a lot, in prison.”
“I suppose not. People were shocked though. Not just locals either. Everyone. I was only twenty-two at the time. Hadn’t been on the paper very long at all. I was lucky to be allowed down to the scene.” She flicked back her hair, and straightened up. “I was there, you know. When they brought you out of the house. You came out first, and then the body a while later.”
Danny did not know what to say. He drank the wine and felt slightly removed from it all, which was actually quite nice. His body had that fuzzy warm feeling flowing through it. He felt tired and sleepy, and strangely at ease, now that the tape recorder had been put away. “Can’t believe you saw all that,” he said to her. “Weird.”
“It was fascinating,” she went on. “It really was. For a fresh faced reporter like me. There was this skinny little kid coming out in handcuffs, covered in blood, and grinning. That was the oddest thing Danny. You were just grinning.”
“Yes! And your friends, Michael and Anthony, and Lucy, is it? They were all there too, being held back by the police. They were shouting, trying to get your attention. I was overwhelmed really,” she shrugged at him and sighed. “I wanted to know there and then, what the hell had gone on in that house, who you were and why you had killed someone, and why you were smiling about it! I had so many questions. And frustratingly I never really got that many answers.”
“You were at the trial?” he asked her. She nodded quickly.
“As much as we were allowed. It didn’t really answer my questions though. I mean, it did, and there were a lot of people vouching for you, a lot of people speaking on your behalf, but nothing from you. I still didn’t know why.”
“Why?” Danny asked her. “Why what? Why did I kill him?”
“I suppose so. Why, everything. You must ask yourself the same questions Danny.”
He shrugged again. “It’s not that hard to figure out why,” he said, and he watched that hungry look return to her green eyes again. He saw them flick towards her bag, and he wondered how much she would love to get that recorder back out and hit play again. But it was too late. She had used up her questions, and he had the first address. “There have been lots of cases over the years, of abused wives finally snapping and killing their husbands. Same thing. Someone pushes you that far, someone makes you feel there is no choice. Well I had a choice I guess. Me or him. My life or his.” He drank more wine, slowly, watching her face over the rim of the glass. He could see her eyes searching his, he could feel the energy of her thirst and her desire. He waited for what she would ask next.
“Do you ever regret it?” she asked finally. “Do you ever wish you hadn’t killed him?”
Danny smiled at her. He reached out then, sliding his hand across the table and laying it gently over hers. She sucked in her breath, surprised at his touch. “I don’t ever regret it,” he whispered to her. “I don’t ever regret wiping that monster from this world. It was the best day of my life.” He saw her controlling herself, stiffening slightly in her chair. His smile grew wider. He patted her hand and wondered if she would pull away, if she would recoil. But suddenly she turned her hand up the other way and laced her fingers through his.
“We could take this wine back to my house,” she hissed, her head low, her hair skimming the table. Danny grinned recklessly.
“Why the hell not?”
He realised how drunk he was when the cold November air hit him, as they stumbled from the pub. Caroline hailed a taxi and they bundled in, giggling. Danny did not pay much attention to where they were headed, but it seemed a fairly short journey. The next thing he knew, she was fumbling with her keys, and they then they were in the hallway of her house. She nodded through to a large open plan living space, and kicked off her boots. He wandered slowly through, his head spinning, his mind a mess of anxieties, guilt and excitement. He did not have any time to focus on any of them. He felt her arms snake around his middle from behind, and when he turned around, she pulled his jacket from him and dropped it to the floor. He felt himself guided back towards a lush leather sofa, and watched, wide eyed and silent, as she came towards him, peeling off her dress. “I really should not be doing this,” she said, with a giggle, before pushing him down and climbing on top.
When it was over, he thought two things almost simultaneously, as Caroline rolled herself in a throw from the sofa and padded into the kitchen. He thought viciously about sending Lucy a text, telling her what he had just done, and with whom. And he thought, what the hell have you just done, what have you done? The alcohol was wearing off slowly. His head was throbbing, and so were his balls. He pulled his jeans back on while Caroline was busying herself in the kitchen. It looked like she was making coffee. He found his last cigarette and looked up at her. “Do you mind if I…?” Caroline smiled at him indulgently.
“Course not. Go for it. Coffee?”
“Yeah, that would be great.” He fell silent then, at a complete loss for words. What could he say? Why had he done it? He leant back on the sofa, smoking. Caroline padded back over with two mugs of coffee, and handed one to him. He saw her eyes take him in then, the scars and the marks on his naked chest. He felt sickened again, and put the coffee down to reach for his t-shirt.
“Please don’t tell my boss,” Caroline said, slipping into the space beside him, and making very little effort to cover herself with the throw. He glanced at her, and pulled his top over his head.
She drank her coffee, watching him. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Course. Just kind of shocked that we did that. I mean, we don’t even know each other.” He smiled slightly, puffed smoke across the room, and looked away from her. He looked at the door, and hoped she didn’t notice. She wriggled closer then, her hair loose and soft upon her bare shoulders. He felt her fingers stroking the back of his neck, and he flinched, it was a knee jerk reaction, but she pulled away, looking intrigued rather than hurt.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“It’s okay. Sorry.” He thought about telling her how Howard had always grabbed him by the neck, held him down by the neck, as if that was the easiest way to control the rest of the body, and he supposed it was. And sometimes he had stroked his neck too, very slowly and deliberately, teasing out the tension, preparing to strike harder. Danny shook himself and picked his coffee back up, glancing again at the door without meaning to. This time, Caroline did notice.
“Keen to get out of here, eh?” she said, with a knowing smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down. “Don’t take it personally. I was drunk. I mean, I still am. We shouldn’t have done that, should we? I mean, it seems a bit wrong.”
“Well I suppose,” she shrugged carelessly and settled back in the sofa, her coffee in both hands. “But then it’s not like I’m your boss, or you’re mine, or anything. I’m not the police either. There’s really no reason why we shouldn’t. You said you were single, and I certainly am.”
“How did it feel then?” he thought he may as well ask her. Their eyes met, and he found hers dazzling with excitement. “Sleeping with a killer?”
“It felt great,” she laughed in reply, shaking back her hair. “You were great.”
“That wasn’t why I was asking. You just seemed so obsessed with all of this. I don’t get why. I’m nothing special.”
“Well I’ll be the judge of that,” she purred, moving closer again, this time dropping her hand very gently onto his forearm. “When are you going to visit Dennis Howard? I’m already looking forward to the next stage of our interview.”
Danny got up then. He put his cup down on the polished floorboards and grabbed his jacket from the floor. He couldn’t stand it, he had to get out, get away from her. He wondered why it suddenly felt like he had sold his soul to the devil.
“Sorry,” he muttered at her, not meeting her eyes as she watched him pull on his jacket and head for the door, cigarette still in hand. “My head’s a mess. I’ve got to go.”
He found his way outside, looked around and realised he had no idea where the fuck he was.