Danny walked in twenty minutes later. Warmed and invigorated by two pints of beer, plus the cans he had already shared with Michael, Anthony felt like he had never been so glad to see anyone in his whole life. Looking at Michael’s face was enough to convince him he felt the same. He cheered and whooped and held up his pint glass as Danny sauntered on in. They both watched him shrug off his coat, throw it down and search for his wallet. He looked alive, Anthony thought then, his eyes were glowing. “Where you been?” Michael asked instantly, and in his drunken haze Anthony felt so warmed by the tone of his voice, by the worry and the care in it. It had always surprised and touched him, the friendship these two had. Danny shook his head and raised his eyebrows.
“Let me get drinks first then I’ll tell you,” he said, heading to the bar. “It will blow your minds.”
“See who’s at the bar mate!” Michael called out to him, and as Danny looked back at him frowning, Michael smiled and nodded at a large figure sat up on one of the bar stools. Danny approached from behind slowly, wonderingly. Anthony grinned at Michael, who grinned back.
The man shifted, moving around to reveal the huge gut that hung down, almost covering his knees, like an apron of t-shirt clad flesh. He was almost bald these days, and his full face wore a permanent sheen of sweat. But he stuck his hand out at Danny, and the smile that filled his face made his old eyes shine with delight. “I’ve been hoping to run into you!” he exclaimed, and as Danny took his hand, the fat man pulled him in and clapped him on the back. “C’mere you little bastard!”
“Come and join us,” Anthony said then, getting up and gesturing for Terry to take his seat. He nodded at Danny. “I’ll get your drink mate. Sit down.”
“Terry,” Danny said again, still pumping hands with him as they both joined Michael at the table. “Terry!”
“Yeah, that’s still my name, that’s still my name!”
Anthony ordered another round of drinks and joined them. He laughed out loud at the look of wonder on Danny’s face. “How are you? Jesus Terry! It’s good to see you! They said you’ve still got a shop?”
“Down the road, that’s right,” Terry nodded at him. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“You still think The Smiths are the best band in the world?” Danny was smiling uncontrollably, his top teeth biting down on his lower lip, pulling it in, as the smile stretched up to his ears. Anthony sat back and watched, a warm rush of satisfaction filling him up, as he started a fresh beer.
“Nothing can touch them!” Terry barked back explosively. “I’m sorry, I said it then and I’ll say it now, as far as lyrical content, melody and fucking balls mate, nothing can touch them and never fucking will! What the hell are you into these days anyway?”
“I’ve been out of the loop,” Danny said with a sigh, still smiling. “I’m liking Neil Young, Bob Dylan, stuff like that. Need to find something new though, need to get back into it all. I miss it. I miss your shop mate! Going through all the records, discovering stuff. Your shop was like a fucking treasure chest, wasn’t it?”
“Look I can’t stick around long mate,” Terry said then, and he quickly swallowed the last mouthfuls of beer in his glass. “Meeting the lads for a curry. But you come and stick your head round my door right? I might have a proposition for you. Work wise, I mean.”
Anthony watched Danny’s eyes grow even wider. “Really?” he breathed, and to Anthony then, he looked just like a fresh faced kid again. And he remembered he had always looked like that where music was involved. Lost and amazed and happy. He wanted to hug Terry then. He had got up from the table, his large belly knocking into it as he rose, sloshing beer from the pints.
“I’m getting old, aren’t I?” he chuckled. “Can’t keep up with all the new stuff, for one thing. Still like me vinyl, and it’s all about keeping up with the times now, thanks to this bloody Internet thing. I can’t do the hours mate. They do me in, but the shop’s going downhill.” He slid his hands into his pockets and shook his head grimly. “Think I need some fresh young blood in, you know? Come and see me. Come and stick your head round and we’ll have a cuppa and a chat, right?”
Danny stood up and shook hands with him again. He patted him on the back, and his eyes were burning with joy. “I will Terry. I’ll come tomorrow. I will. Thanks Terry. You’re a legend.”
Terry waved a podgy hand dismissively and started to stagger away. “See you tomorrow then.”
“Bloody unbelievable,” Danny announced, sitting back down. He just stared at them both, shaking his head, grinning like an idiot. “He can’t be serious can he?”
“Sounded like a job offer to me mate,” Michael replied. “What a cool guy.”
“Yeah, he always was.”
“So come on, spill,” Anthony said then, sitting forward. “Where were you? What’s gonna’ blow our minds?”
Danny nodded and gratefully accepted a cigarette from Michael. “Went to the old bastard’s grave again,” he told his friends. Anthony looked at him, stunned. Michael’s jaw had dropped. “Guess who came along?” Danny lit his cigarette, smiled at them and puffed smoke across the table. “His old man,” he told them finally, and his smile stretched as far as it could go. Anthony did not understand how he could smile at all. To him, it seemed horrendous. But here was Danny smiling, and his shoulders shaking. “Had quite the chat,” he went on, as they stared at him. “It’s him all right. The old fucker. It’s him doing all this shit.”
“You all right?” Michael asked, and Anthony looked at him, saw how clouded his face was. Danny shrugged and drank his beer. Michael looked at Anthony. “Jesus Christ.”
“You’re okay though?” Anthony felt the need to persist. There was that fatherly role again, he thought wearily, the role he just could not seem to shake off.
“What did he say?” asked Michael.
“Doesn’t really matter,” Danny said easily. “Just what we thought anyway. He hates me. He thinks the sun shone out of Lee’s fucking arse. He wants revenge. Whatever.”
“He admitted it?” Anthony asked. Danny shook his head.
“Oh no. No, he played the innocent alright. But it’s him. It has to be. Ah I don’t even give a shit now that I’ve seen him!” Danny drank more beer, wiped his mouth and grinned recklessly at them. “Fuck it!” he exclaimed loudly. “I feel good! I faced my demons! I walked away all intact. I don’t fucking care anymore. He can do what he wants. The police will catch up with him sooner or later, so fuck it.” Danny picked his pint up again and drank hungrily. Anthony drank his own, and felt the warning bells of drunkenness ringing carelessly. “And the fat man just offered me a job no less, so I’m feeling pretty good!”
“You’re a fucking legend,” Anthony told Danny then, pointing at him. “You’re a brave man. That little bastard. I wish I’d seen him!”
“You think the cops will speak to him now?” Michael asked. “And what about the other two? Do you think it is just him?”
“Oh yeah that’s the other thing I was doing this morning,” Danny said, and took a large gulp of his beer before explaining more. “That Haskell woman collared me again, outside Lucy’s. Offered to buy me a drink, said she could help me, so I thought what the hell, and went with her.” Anthony and Michael swapped curious glances. “She reckons she can get the addresses of the three main suspects. She can do a bit of digging around, and all that. So I made a deal with her.”
Anthony frowned suspiciously. “What kind of deal?”
“If she gets me the information I want, then I’ll give her a bloody interview,” Danny shrugged his shoulders at them both.
“Is that a good idea?” Michael asked.
“Look I’m not even gonna’ think about that yet,” Danny replied quickly, shaking back his hair, his eyes darkening suddenly. Anthony could see then that he was on the edge. He was in that state where your mood can come down on either side, and drinking alcohol would maybe help it decide. “I’ll wait and see what she comes back with first.”
“I thought Lucy was digging?” Anthony remembered.
“Well she can if she wants, but I’d really rather she wasn’t involved, after last night. You didn’t see the state she was in, guys. She was shaking like a leaf by the time I got there.”
“Still can’t believe the bastard phoned her up,” Anthony gritted his teeth, angering just at the thought of it. “And this leads us to question, how exactly is this old man getting around us all so easily? Spying on Lucy and cutting her power? Phoning her up? I wouldn’t fucking know how to do all that!”
“He must have help,” Michael nodded at them both, drank his pint and looked troubled. “It can’t just be him on his own, that would be impossible. He’s an old man!”
“He’s pretty fit for an old fellow,” Danny was near the end of his pint already, and Anthony saw him look quickly towards the bar. “He’s got a stick, but he’s not fragile, you know? Built like a brick shithouse, just like his shitting arsehole son.”
“Well hopefully he’ll be getting a visit from the police any time soon,” Anthony commented, as Danny drained the last of his beer and got back up, wallet in hand. Anthony had never seen anyone drink a pint so fast. “Bloodyhell mate, you might want to slow down!”
“Fuck it,” Danny laughed, waving the wallet at him. “Let’s have these on him, the old dead fucker eh? Let’s have the next round on Lee fucking Howard!” He looked at them triumphantly and then stalked up to the bar. Anthony turned to his brother, and grimaced.
“Oh Christ, he’s gonna’ get slaughtered.”
“Let him,” Michael shrugged. “He probably needs to.”
Anthony groaned, and resting one elbow on the table, he ploughed one hand back through his hair. “I’m pretty drunk already Mikey.”
“Me too, so what? It’ll be fun. Like old times.”
“Old times were not always that fun little brother.”
“Yeah they were. In a weird way, they were,” Michael smiled at him gently then. “Even when we were shit scared. We had fun in our own way, didn’t we? Us and Danny. We stuck together.”
“Yeah,” Anthony sighed and nodded. “What do you think about that Haskell woman? I can’t remember if she was on his side or not, you know years back?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Michael. “Don’t worry about it. He knows what he’s doing.”
“I know, I know,” Anthony laughed and rolled his eyes at himself. “I’ve got to stop being the dad, or whatever! Stop being a boring old man.”
“Old habits die hard,” Michael grinned at him. “Forget about it.”
Danny returned with three more pints, plonked them down and then went over to the jukebox. “The whole of ‘Definitely Maybe’,” he announced striding quickly back and sitting down. “Haven’t heard it in ages.”
Anthony raised his eyebrows and glanced worriedly back at Michael. “You’re feeling like a trip down memory lane mate?” he asked Danny. Danny shrugged in reply, drinking his second beer. “Just be careful with that. That and alcohol.”
“Like I said, fuck it,” Danny told him and Anthony sighed, thinking it was becoming obvious which side he was coming down on. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was not even lunch time yet. And then he thought to himself fuck it too, fuck it all, let him, let him get it out his system, let him get wankered, whatever, don’t worry about it. He remembered his empty house, his wife and kids gone, and sunk the last of his pint, before picking up the next one. “You know what we’re gonna’ do?” Danny was asking, leaning towards them both, his blue eyes flashing. “We’re gonna’ get fucking paralytic, we’re gonna’ spend that arsehole’s money, feel like shit tomorrow, and what does it even matter? Who’s gonna’ care?”
“That sounds depressing Dan,” Anthony smiled gently, thinking again of his eerily empty house.
“I mean, let’s make the most of it,” Danny explained. “Let’s go wild. It’s just us three, yeah? We used to have some wild times, didn’t we?” Michael and Anthony nodded, and Michael lifted his second pint suddenly and clinked it against the others.
“Cheers to that!” he cried. “That’s what I’ve been saying for ages!”
“Then,” Danny continued, still leaning across the table, pint firmly in hand. “We’ll wait and hear from this Haskell woman, see how good she really is. We’ll have all three addresses, and wherever the fuck they live, we’ll pay them all a visit, yeah?”
“What about the police?” Anthony asked immediately, concern again becoming his overriding emotion. “They won’t want you doing that.”
“I’ll give them a chance,” Danny shrugged carelessly. “But if this shit carries on, what choice do I have? We’ll go see them all. Show them we’re not kids anymore. Show them we’re not taking any shit of anyone, yeah?”
“We’ll be right behind you mate,” Michael was nodding, and clapped Danny sombrely on the shoulder. Danny looked to Anthony, awaiting the same confirmation. Anthony scratched his head.
“I’ll come with you, don’t get me wrong, you know that. You know I will. But think about it a minute mate, do you really want to see Freeman? I mean, the old man is one thing, this Dennis character we know nothing about, but Freeman?” Anthony felt his mouth become dry at just the thought of it. He watched as Danny pulled back from the table, dropping one hand into his lap, and caressing his pint with the other. He glanced away, not answering for a moment, and then he looked back and smiled sadly at Michael.
“You know what this album reminds me of most?”
“What?” Michael asked him.
“Me and you at Freeman’s flat. Think that was when I got it, around that time. You remember the night me and you took speed for the first time?”
Michael nodded, glancing sheepishly at Anthony. “I remember mate. We must have been fifteen?”
“Yeah. We mostly had the place to ourselves, didn’t we? So it was pretty cool. Just you and me and this album on all the time.”
Michael nodded and his eyes met with Anthony’s again. “Yeah Danny, it was all right for a while.”
“Remember you getting pissed off with me though?” Danny laughed then, but Anthony didn’t like the sound of it at all, and had to look away and drink more beer. It wasn’t a happy laugh, he thought, it was a hollow, bitter laugh, tinged with despair, and he thought again, is this a good idea, getting plastered? “You couldn’t understand why I was always around there. It was nice though.” He nodded, staring intently at the table. “He was nice to me.”
Anthony looked at Michael and shook his head. “Danny?” he started. Danny looked up, smiling brightly, but his eyes were far away.
“I know that sounds stupid,” he said. “But it was nice, you know, until what you found out.” He looked at Anthony almost apologetically then. “Until you told us what he’d done. What he was. It was nice going there before that.”
“To get away from Howard, yeah?” Anthony asked softly. “That’s what you mean.”
“Yeah!” Danny replied enthusiastically, as if he was desperate for them to understand. “That’s what I mean! Because he was like all chilled and lazy and shit, and he didn’t care if you messed the place up, or put your feet on the table, or spilled your drink, you know? It was a nice change in a weird way. Like, relaxing? Just getting totally stoned or whatever. I guess I went there because I thought he was being nice to me, when really he wasn’t.” Danny sighed and shrugged and lifted his pint to his lips. Anthony noted that he was nearing the end of the second one.
“So,” Michael started slowly, unsurely, his dark eyes flicking restlessly between Danny and Anthony. “You think you’ll be all right seeing him again? If it comes to it? What the fuck would you say?”
“I don’t know,” Danny shook his head at him. “The thought of it makes me feel sick if you want to know the truth, but maybe in a weird way, it will be like another bit of closure, you know?” he frowned at them both, and again Anthony got the feeling he was simply desperate to convey what he meant to them, for them to understand. “I mean, like that just seeing Howard’s old man, that was fucking insane, but the first time we ran into him, I was just shit scared and shocked and stuff, and I felt like a kid again, but this time was different. I had the chance to calm down and figure things out, and I walked away feeling pretty good. It was a bit like getting the last word, you know? “ He sighed again, rolled his eyes and laughed a little. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I mean.”
“I get what you mean,” Michael said quickly, nodding. “You could get some answers out of Freeman, you know. After that fight at your house, when you stabbed him, you never fucking saw him again, did you?”
“No,” Danny agreed. “I just had fucking Howard taunting me about what he did or didn’t do….”
“You’ve just got to be careful Danny,” Anthony spoke up then, and he realised he had been telling the guy that for years now. “Just take it slowly. Let’s have a good time today, like you said, and then lets’ sit and see what the police can do. I think seeing someone like Freeman could seriously mess with your head if you’re not careful, and open up a can of worms. I know you reckon seeing the old man just now has done you good, but that’s a kneejerk reaction, yeah? You might feel differently when it all sinks in.” Anthony felt the two of them staring at him, challenging him somewhat, and again it was an old, familiar feeling. But he knew when it came down to it, they would both listen to him. So he nodded firmly at Danny. “I don’t want you going down that road unless you have to mate. That’s all.”
Danny smiled at him finally. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll be careful.”
“He’ll just be another washed up old man by now anyway,” Michael said then, his tone brightening. “If he’s even still fucking alive!”
They all laughed at this, and Anthony felt the tension easing slightly. He hoped against hope that they would not have to visit Jack Freeman, wherever he might be these days. He hoped that the police would have it all in hand by now, that they would be taking things far more seriously after Lucy’s power was cut. Anthony got up from the table then, “need a piss,” he muttered and headed for the men’s room. He heard Michael and Danny laughing amongst each other as he left, and he thought good, that’s better, we should be having a laugh, and he sighed to himself in relief.
He looked at his phone while he was in the toilet. He had sent Chrissie a message earlier, asking when they could get together and talk. He saw now that she had replied and he had not heard it come through. Tomorrow morning – kids at school, I’ll come to the house. That was it. Anthony didn’t know quite how to take it. It was good that she was going to come and talk, but he found the message rather curt and businesslike. Inside his heart seemed to drop, his stomach took a nosedive, and he wondered again how miserably close he was to losing them all. A wild panic thundered through him every time he thought about them not coming back. He would be a weekend dad, like Mike was. She might meet other men…Oh it didn’t bear thinking about. He went through his head what he would say to her in the morning. He guessed he was going to have to lie to her about still helping Danny, lie to her, or tell her the truth and risk that being the end of it all. Great, thanks, love you babe he sent back to her, and came back out from the toilet.
He saw right away that something was wrong. It was not just the three burly men who seemed to have surrounded their table, blocking his view of both Danny and Michael, but it was the tense silence which had filled the pub. It was not very full, at that time in the morning, but there had been enough conversation and laughter going on for them to disappear amongst. But everyone had now fallen silent, and all eyes seemed to be on their table. Anthony approached slowly from behind. “All right there guys?” he asked, and one of the men, a shaven headed man in his late forties turned abruptly to glare at him. Anthony quickly sized up the other two. The shaven headed guy was the biggest, and had a good few inches on Anthony, but the other two were not exactly small, and made Danny and Michael look like weedy teenagers. One wore a navy blue baseball cap and had no front teeth. The third man looked like the youngest, late twenties or there abouts, and had greasy black hair pushed back behind his ears and a large hooked nose. Anthony tried to remember if they were regulars, but he didn’t think he recognised any of them.
He looked at Danny and Michael, who were eyeing the men cautiously from their seats. Danny cleared his throat. “These fella’s want to know which one of us is the scumbag who killed their old pal Lee Howard,” he said, his voice slightly strangled, and his eyes dark with warning. Anthony felt his heart skip, and thought uselessly oh fuck. The guy with the shaven head turned his thick body towards Anthony and jabbed a finger at him.
“You is it?”
“No, that would be me,” Danny spoke up quickly, and all eyes fell on him. Anthony saw him shrug his shoulders and raise his eyebrows in response as he took them all in. “The scumbag who killed Lee Howard, I mean. That would be me.” He smiled at them, and that was when all hell broke loose. The shaven headed guy nodded quickly, stepped forward and reached for Danny, grabbing him by the front of his jacket and hauling him up. Anthony dived in instantly, as did Michael, both of them going for the bald guy. “What the fuck?” he yelled, grabbing the guys arm and yanking it back just as he aimed his fist at Danny’s face.
Anthony felt his feet fly out from under him then, as he was blindsided by the guy in the cap. He hit the floor, as the whole pub seemed to explode into violence and shouting and bellowing all around them. He felt chunky fists slamming into his stomach, got his knee up and rammed it into the guys face. He was on his feet, and saw that Michael was wrestling with the greasy haired fellow, while Danny was doubled over, as the shaven haired guy had just delivered a knee into his belly. Anthony did the first thing that came into his mind. He picked up the nearest stool and slammed it down over the back of the mans head. He saw blood erupt almost instantly, and the man dropped Danny and covered the back of his head with both hands, swearing in pain. Danny straightened up, grabbed the stool from the floor and quickly swung it into the guys’ middle.
“Come on then, you bunch of fuckers,” Anthony snarled then, as the man in the cap came back at him, fists held up. “You want some more!”
“Take it outside! Take it outside!” Tony was yelling from behind the bar. “I’ve called the cops!”
The baseball cap guy looked briefly his way, and Anthony seized the opportunity to smack him in the nose. As he stooped down spluttering blood, he struck him again, as hard as he could right in one eye. “Anthony look out!” Michael cried from across the table, where he was still grappling violently with the greasy haired man. Anthony did not have time to look out. He only felt the incredible thump of the bottom of a pint glass striking the top of his head, and then he went down.
He blinked himself awake just moments later, struggling to regain consciousness, and felt a flurry of kicks make contact with his ribs as he lay on the floor, and then suddenly it was all over, the feet were running, thumping past him, and doors were slamming and swinging, and Tony finally ran around the bar and kneeled down beside him. Moments later two uniformed police officers appeared. Anthony closed his eyes, shook his head and just groaned.
“It’s all kicking off all right,” Michael chuckled into his phone, from the sofa where he was sprawled out, with one arm slung around his ribs. He was on the phone to Billy, who had just called him to report a mysterious silent phone call he had received on his land line the day before. “We’ve just spent most the fucking day down at a and e and the rest of the night down the cop shop.”
“Who the hell were they?” Billy wanted to know. Michael looked across at Danny, who was laid out on the other sofa with Kurt asleep on his chest, and a cigarette in hand.
“Minions sent by old man Howard,” Michael told him casually. “Or so we assume, right Dan?” Danny nodded in reply silently.
“You all okay?”
“Well Anthony’s gone to try and make amends with his missis with a fuck off great bandage around his head,” Michael laughed again, just picturing it. “I can only imagine how well that’s gonna’ go down! And Danny’s sat here with ten fucking stitches in his forehead. One of the cunts put a glass in his face too. Seriously Billy, we’re lucky we didn’t lose any eyes!”
“Sounds horrendous,” Billy replied, his voice tense. “This is getting seriously scary guys. What time was all this?”
“About lunch time I think.”
“That’s when I got the silent call.”
“Really? Well that’s interesting. Right Billy boy, we’ll let you off the fucking hook right? Just stay away from us until this is all sorted out.”
Michael heard his old friend sigh in relief. “How are you going to sort it out?” he asked him.
“Don’t worry about it,” Michael said, getting bored now. “Just keep out of it and they should leave you alone.” He said goodbye and hung up and shook his head in disgust at Danny. “Bloody pansy he is.”
“He can’t help it,” Danny replied. “I don’t blame him. Mike, whenever we get these addresses, I don’t want Anthony to come.”
Michael frowned, not understanding. “What the hell do you mean? He has to come! We’ll get killed without him!”
Danny shook his head firmly. “I’m not going to be responsible for wrecking his life Mike. He’s already in enough shit with his wife. Me and you go. And we don’t tell him. In fact, we don’t tell him anything anymore, okay?”
Michael sat up and sat forward. His bruised ribs groaned in complaint and he winced. “Danny, don’t be stupid mate. We need him. We can’t do this without him.”
“Yes, we can, course we can,” Danny said quickly. “We have to Mike. Look, other people keep getting hurt, and it’s not fair. How will you feel if Jenny and Zach get a brick through their window, or their power cut off?” He was staring angrily back at Michael, daring him to disagree. “How will you feel if those heavies pay them a visit next? Mike, this is getting worse. Those guys were from Essex, from Lee’s old days. They were his mates from his dad’s gym. So we know why they were called here, and we know they can do it again. Any fucking time.”
Michael stared at him silently. He did not know what to say. Danny was right. This thing was getting worse by the day. The police had no leads on the men who had attacked them. They had seemingly ran out into the streets and vanished into thin air. The police reported that they had located Jerry Howard, although they refused to pass on his whereabouts, and they concluded that they had no evidence to charge him with anything as of yet. They were sitting ducks basically, or at least that was how it felt.
Danny leaned out from the sofa to tap his cigarette into the ashtray on the small table. He looked at Michael, waiting for him to agree. “I mean it Mike,” he said then. “Just keep it all low key now okay? Whatever happens to us, we don’t tell Anthony.”
“I don’t like lying to him,” Michael said uselessly.
“It’s for his own good,” Danny argued. “Look at the fucking state of him Mike! His window is smashed, that could have hurt his kids, so his wife walks out with them, and then he’s fucking knocked unconscious in the pub! He had a nice life, a decent life, and now it’s all in ruins. I mean it Mike.” Danny looked at him nodding seriously. “We need to keep him out of it. You too if you want. You’ve got Zach to think of.”
“Don’t be fucking stupid!” Michael argued again, snatching his own cigarettes from the table and lighting one up. “You’re not going to see those arseholes on your own. You can forget that!”
“Why not?” Danny shrugged, and Michael just stared at him, wide eyed in disbelief. “What can they do that hasn’t already been done Mike? Think about it. They’re three old men now. I’m a big boy. I need to get their attention just on me, not on you lot.”
“You’re fucking crazy,” Michael shook his head in dismay. “And I’m not letting you do any of it on your own. I don’t care what you say.”
“Even if it puts your son in danger?”
Michael opened his mouth. Nothing came out. He closed it again, and looked down at the grubby carpet beneath his feet. “Nothing has come their way yet,” he said, his voice small.
“Yet,” Danny said.
“Well if it does…”Michael trailed off. “Look,” he said then, shaking his head and pushing it all aside. “Look, we’ll worry about that if it happens. You need to call that Haskell woman. She should have something by now surely.”
Danny nodded. “Lucy is coming over later. Don’t mention that woman in front of her. I’m gonna’ tell Lucy to stop looking too. I don’t want her or Anthony involved in any way from now on.”
“She’s not gonna’ like that Dan.”
“She’s gonna’ have to. Yesterday changed everything. One minute I’m in the fucking graveyard having it out with the old man, the next minute he’s managed to set three fucking gorillas on us out of nowhere. I don’t know how the fuck he’s doing it, or what he might do next.”
“What about your mum? Heard anything from her?”
“Nothing,” Danny shook his head. “I’m keeping my distance. I’m going to keep my distance from everyone.”
Michael had to get up then. He just couldn’t stand it. He paced around the room, puffing on his cigarette in frustration. “Yeah, but this is just what they fucking want, isn’t it?” He nodded to himself, feeling vicious stabs of anger course through him. “Can’t you see that mate? It’s just like back then. You, all alone. The way Howard got rid of Anthony. The way he and Freeman kept you doped up all the time, so you didn’t go to school, you didn’t mix with your mates. This is the same! He’s doing it on fucking purpose! Trying to scare off all the people who care about you. I can’t stand it. I’m about ready to fucking burst, I tell you. They’re not scaring me off. I don’t give a shit. I’m coming with you.” He stopped next to the sofa and stared down at Danny’s upturned face. “Whenever you get those fucking addresses, I am coming with you. I want to hurt them Dan. I want the chance to settle a few old scores. I would like to see them hurt and scared and alone!”
Danny stubbed out his cigarette and folded his arms behind his head. Michael just shook his head again. He had no idea how his friend could appear so calm and controlled, when he felt like smashing something up, anything. He felt like they were rats in a trap, waiting to be extinguished. He felt like they were just hanging around, killing time until the next shot was taken. “We need to fight back!” he exclaimed passionately. Danny just smiled and closed his eyes.
“We’ll get our chance,” he said softly. “Just need to be patient Mike.”
Michael found himself stood at the window, smoking. He breathed in and out slowly, willing himself to calm down. He stared down at the busy high street, watching the market traders directly below, as they bellowed out, advertising their goods. He wondered again, if they were being watched, and by who, and from where? He ran his eyes along the opposite row of shops, and the flats above them. Some were occupied, some were empty. He narrowed his eyes, wondering.
“You ever see your parents anymore Mike?” Danny asked suddenly from behind him. Michael was surprised by the question.
“No,” he said. “Not my old man anyway.”
“You see your mum?” Danny sat up a bit on the sofa, staring over the back of it at Michael.
“Just at Christmas,” he shrugged. “She lives with my Aunt Tina now. They’re both alone so they moved in together.”
“You see her at Christmas? How does that go?”
“It’s okay,” Michael shrugged again. “She’s not so bad these days. She was always better without my dad anyway. She still likes a drink you know. But so do I.” He grinned slightly. “I stay with them at Christmas. Never liked getting in the way, you know, with Anthony and Chrissie. So I go to them. We just get hammered the whole time. It’s okay.”
“She was a tough woman back in the day,” Danny remembered, with a slight grin. “She was always screaming and shouting.”
“She had her reasons,” Michael nodded. “My dad treated her like shit. When he wasn’t around, she’d get pissed and have a good time, because she could do what she wanted. Then when he was around, she’d get pissed and have a bad time, because he’d just fucking beat her all the time.”
“I don’t really remember any of that.” Danny was staring at him intently, as if casting his mind back to a long gone time.
“Well he was hardly there by then,” Michael said. “By the time you moved there. He was in and out again, wasn’t he? Then she’d bugger off whenever she could. I used to be glad. Got some bloody peace when I was on my own.”
“Anthony once told me that he was rough on you as kids. That he laid him out once, knocked him to the floor. Then he never tried it again. Was that true?”
Michael glanced back out at the street, thinking. “I do remember that,” he nodded finally. “Anthony was about sixteen I think. I would have been, what? Eleven I suppose. He used to get us with the slipper, that’s what I remember the most. But like I said, he was always gone for a long time. In and out. Like that.”
“You were lucky you had Anthony,” Danny mused, and Michael nodded immediately.
“Oh yeah. I know. He took the brunt of it, without a doubt. But that’s the worse he ever did you know? Get you across his lap with the slipper. Or a good old clip behind the ear.”
“Doesn’t it scare you being a dad? You know, when you have to discipline Zach?”
Michael came away from the window. He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. “I knew that was what was bothering you,” he said, “when I had Zach here.”
“You know, all that about you not wanting kids ever.”
“I don’t want kids,” said Danny, grinning at him.
“Why? Because you think you’d do to them what Howard did to you? Come on mate you can’t think like that.” He sat back down, easing his sore ribs slowly onto the other sofa. “And in answer to your question, no. It doesn’t scare me. Me and Jenny don’t smack Zach, we never have. We just tell him off or whatever.” He shrugged his shoulders at Danny’s enquiring expression. “Seems to have worked fine. He’s a good boy.”
“He is,” Danny agreed. “I was just thinking out loud, you know.”
“And I’ve never hit a woman in my life,” Michael added then. “And neither has Anthony.” He shrugged at Danny. “So see? You don’t always copy the way you were brought up.”
“Howard did,” Danny said then. Michael looked at him. He felt like he could read Danny like a book, and now was no exception. He was thinking about the old man. He was thinking about what a monster Howard was. How the things he did were in a totally different league to the things Michael and Anthony’s dad had done. He could see the thoughts going through his mind, and he could understand it. He had thought about it enough himself. How does someone get to be that evil and twisted? Are they, on some level, just born that way? Or is it their own childhood, their own experiences that shapes them?
“You don’t know everything,” Michael tried to remind him. “You don’t know how he was treated. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out mate, so why bother?”
“He always said I had it easy,” Danny went on however, gazing down at Kurt as he stroked him slowly on his lap. “Like I ought to be grateful. He’d say it. He’d say his old man was worse. So he must have been? But Lee loved his dad. He looked up to him. He thought that was the best way, and the right way, you know? He couldn’t understand people letting their kids run wild. He thought his way was the only way to do it.”
“Yeah and he fucking enjoyed it too don’t forget? Maybe it made him feel better.” Michael shrugged and pulled his feet up onto the sofa, wrapping his arms carefully back around his bruised up middle. “Maybe he turned into such a monster because he needed to feel big and powerful. You’ve really got good old Jerry Howard to blame for everything, haven’t you?” Michael shook his head in disgust. “Fucking old bastard.”
“And yet he denied it all,” Danny said, shrugging as he frowned. “In his eyes, Lee never did anything to me. He tried to give me a decent life and I paid him back by getting high on coke and killing him. That’s how he sees it. That’s what he said, anyway.”
“He really said that?” Michael was incredulous. “He really thinks his son treated you well?”
“Yep,” Danny nodded, a small smile on his lips. “Ten years was not enough, apparently. I should have got life.”
“It’s so him!” Michael raged from the sofa, snarling. “It’s so him doing all this! I can’t wait to see that old fucker, I really can’t. That is un-fucking-believable!”
“I know,” Danny nodded. “We’ll have a good chat. My words with him yesterday obviously had no effect.”
“You won’t ever get through to someone like that,” Michael said, and he knew that he was right. “Not ever. Best we can hope for is we can scare him, or fight him off somehow. I don’t even know mate. If he can summon up heavies like that, less than an hour after seeing you? God I don’t know. I thought things were scary enough back when we were kids, when Anthony got set up, but this is something else. I feel scared mate, I’m not ashamed to admit it. I want to fight back, but it fucking scares me, all of this.”
Danny yawned from the other sofa. “Me too. I should have asked what the fuck he wanted. What does he want from me? What can I do? I can’t make his son come back can I?”
“You wouldn’t if you fucking could!” Michael laughed. Just then Danny’s phone went off, vibrating and buzzing angrily within his clothes. Michael watched in amusement as he searched for it, swatting one pocket and then the other, until he finally located it under his backside. Danny looked at the call and immediately glanced up at Michael.
“Haskell,” he said, and put it to his ear. “Hi Caroline.”
Michael waited, feeling his impatience grow, as Danny listened quietly to whatever the reporter had to say. He finally nodded. “Okay thanks. I will do. I’ll have to get back to you later. Seeing my girlfriend in a bit. Okay. Bye.” He hung up and looked expectantly at Michael. “She has three addresses,” he said, and Michael felt his jaw drop. He was astounded.
“She was bloody quick! All three?”
“Yep, all three. She wouldn’t give them to me over the phone though. She wants to meet with me again.”
“Oh of course,” Michael groaned. “Course she does. She wants her pound of flesh, don’t forget? She won’t let you have them until you’ve done your bloody interview.”
“Just be careful,” Michael found himself warning him. Danny just nodded and fell silent, deep in thought again. Michael blew his breath out through his teeth and wondered where all of this was going to lead.