For the first time she could remember, Lucy phoned in sick and took a day off work. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she supposed a lot of it was exhaustion and worry catching up with her. For the past few weeks, since Danny had stormed away from her at the beach, she had barely slept at all. She was kept awake hour after hour, wondering if she had made a terrible mistake, fearing that she would never get him back and would be forced to regret it for the rest of her life. Michael had said just as much to her, in fact. You better hope he comes back to you. Like Danny, Michael had not understood her reasons either. He saw things in black and white, she realised, and to him, if she and Danny loved each other, then they should be together.
Lucy spent the morning under her duvet on the sofa, watching rubbish on TV and feeling too sick to eat breakfast. She felt the familiar wretched sensation of guilt in her gut, and the thought of food actually made her gag. The only people who seemed to understand what she had done, were her parents, and Danny’s mother. Maybe being that much older, from a different generation helped them see the situation the way that she did. Danny had so much to work through, so much growing up and figuring out to do, how could he do that with her attached to him?
Lucy had sent him three texts that he had not answered. Each had suggested that they be friends, and meet up if he wanted to talk. No answer. She wondered helplessly if he was out meeting women and it ripped through her like glass. Just then, her phone beeped and she found it on the coffee table and pulled it under the duvet to inspect. It was her mother; I’m just around the corner, fancy a cuppa? Lucy smiled and immediately agreed.
Her mother let herself in less than ten minutes later, called out a breezy hello and started moving around the kitchen, putting on the kettle and doing the washing up. “Tea or coffee?” she called in to Lucy. “Anything to eat?” She poked her head around the door and frowned. “Oh my, don’t you look a sight for sore eyes? Good job I came around! Haven’t seen you that pale since you were little.”
“Tea,” Lucy replied, unsurely, as he mother walked over to her and placed a hand across her forehead.
“You’re not hot,” she exclaimed. “You just look awful darling. I expect you’ve picked something up from the kids at school. Surprised you don’t more often!”
“Probably nearly immune,” Lucy sighed, as her mother went back into the kitchen to make the tea. She tugged her duvet back up to her chin. Her mother came back in with two cups of tea, sat down beside her on the sofa and passed her one.
“You deserve a day off anyway,” she said. “You work so hard. And there’s been so much going on lately.”
Lucy blew on the top of her tea and then sipped it carefully. She knew her mother was referring to the graffiti and the cut power lines, and the phone call. Interestingly, there had been nothing else since her and Danny had parted ways. Just thinking about it gave her a cold chill all over. They had been watched at some point, by someone, and that was more than creepy. She still had her mobile in one hand, and ran her thumb across the buttons, wondering if he was okay. If something else happened, would any of them tell her now?
Her mother watched her for a moment and then asked; “so have you heard anything from him?” It was like having her mind read constantly, Lucy realised in amusement. Did all mothers have that natural knack? She thought briefly then of her ongoing communication with Kay. She heard from his mother more than she did Danny, these days, she realised with a sad sigh. Kay had called her in concern, after Danny had turned up at her flat, ranting and raving. Too much going on in his head, her words to Lucy had been, don’t feel too bad Lucy, you did the right thing and I tried to tell him that, and I think deep down he does understand. Lucy clung to this statement at night, when sleep was increasingly impossible.
“No, nothing,” she told her mum, sipping more tea. She felt her stomach starting to protest. “Which is fair enough. I think I really hurt him mum. The way he must see it, I’ve let him down again when he needed me.”
“You don’t want to have a relationship like that though,” her mother leaned against her and advised. “With one of you always needing the other, or needing help. It should be equal and you shouldn’t have to view him like a child. That’s not fair on him, or you.” Her mum slipped an arm around her and rubbed her shoulder. “I think you did the right thing darling, but I do hope he comes around and sorts himself out. Me and your dad would like to see you both make a go of it.”
“Really? Even after everything?”
“We just want you to be happy Lucy. That’s all any parent wants. If he makes you happy, then that makes us happy too.”
Lucy nodded and went to sip more tea, but suddenly she had to put the cup down quickly, dropping her mobile to the floor and covering her mouth with both hands. Her stomach was heaving. “You all right?” she heard her mum ask in alarm, as she flung back the duvet and ran for the bathroom.
Not much came up, because she had hardly eaten in days. Just tea, and water and yellow bile. Lucy splashed her face with cold water and then wiped it dry with a towel. When she straightened up to look in the mirror she could see why her mother had come over to feel her forehead. She did look awful. Pale and clammy, with grey shadows under her eyes. She rolled her eyes at herself and padded miserably back into the lounge, where her mum was waiting to wrap her up in the duvet again.
“Oh dear me,” her mum was saying, as she rested her head on a cushion, feeling the strong urge to close her eyes. She gave a little chuckle then, like mothers do when their child is looking a bit pathetic. She smoothed back Lucy’s hair, kissed her pallid cheek and joked; “you’re not pregnant are you?”
Lucy jerked her head up to stare at her mum in horror. “No mum!” She put her head back down, and then she couldn’t help herself, she had to check the dates off in her mind, count off the weeks, and question again, what date was it today? Her mother was watching her more intently now.
“No mum,” she said again, firmer this time, because she couldn’t be, she just couldn’t be, she was not that stupid, and she was just ill, and…oh Christ. Her mum had narrowed eyes trained in on her. “No mum,” she repeated. “No way.”
Without meaning to, Lucy soon drifted into an uneasy sleep. Her mother stayed with her, cuddling up next to her to watch daytime TV. She woke up at lunchtime, still feeling sick, but her stomach was empty. Her mother made her a sandwich and said she had to go, and Lucy promised to eat the food and stay in bed. As soon as her mother had gone, Lucy flung back the duvet, got up from the sofa and ran into the kitchen to find her bag. She dug through it frantically, shoving tissues and chocolate wrappers out of the way until she found her diary. She pulled it out, sank into a kitchen chair and started to flip through the pages. She always marked the day she was due on with a dot on the day. The day she actually came on she would mark with a cross, and the day her period ended she would mark with an x. She located the last dot and her heart sank with her stomach. It was worse than she had feared. Fuck she thought, sinking her head down onto her arms, I’ve missed two periods! How the hell did I not notice that?
When Michael returned from Jenny’s he found Danny still lying on the sofa, with his feet up, and Kurt asleep on his stomach. Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ album was playing rather loudly. “So how did it go?” he felt compelled to ask immediately, slinging down his jacket and collapsing into the chair beside the sofa. Danny turned to face him and smiled weakly and sheepishly. Michael frowned. “Did you?” He lifted his eyebrows in question and Danny nodded. “Again?”
“Fucking hell mate!” Michael exploded, thumping the side of the chair in excitement. He laughed out loud and then tried to reel himself in. There was a part of him that was undeniably and stupidly proud of Danny, the lad in him, he guessed. He wanted to laugh and clap him on the back and hear all the gory details. But he forced himself to calm his enthusiasms down, because as usual, there was far more to all this than met the eye, and another part of him found it all a little unsettling. He looked at Danny questioningly, legs crossed at the ankles, and hands on either arm rest, his fingers drumming restlessly. “So,” he started, “was this before or after the interview? Or let me guess, you didn’t even do the interview? She just wants your body, not your mind and your story?”
Danny frowned back at him with a faint smile. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “and I feel the same, believe me. It was after.”
“Ooh,” Michael made a face, as if in pain. “Now that is kind of weird. Any booze involved this time?”
“No,” Danny shook his head and looked even guiltier. “I can’t even blame it on that, can I?”
“What can you blame it on then? Do you like her?”
“I don’t know. Not really. Maybe.” He shrugged, looking lost. “I don’t know Mike. She just came at me.”
Michael’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. “Did she? Oh mate! You poor thing!”
Danny smirked. “It wasn’t all bad.”
“Course it fucking wasn’t, you dirty bastard. What, she felt all sorry for you or something?” Again, he narrowed his dark eyes and drummed his fingers. There was something about all of this that made him uneasy, and he could tell by Danny’s face that he felt the same. “She might be trying to get more out of you,” he suggested. “You know, by getting closer to you? I wouldn’t put it past a hack to do that. They’re all immoral aren’t they? They have to be.”
“I don’t know,” Danny shrugged. “She said something before she left.”
“That me and her had more in common than I knew. What do you think that means?”
“Don’t know mate,” Michael replied. “She didn’t kill anyone, did she?” He laughed at his own joke, while Danny rolled his eyes at his never-ending ability to be distasteful. “Just trying to get round you, I reckon,” he went on. “That’s why I don’t trust her. She wants her precious article at any cost. If she was professional and all that, she wouldn’t be sleeping with you would she? It is a bit weird mate, that’s all.”
“I know,” Danny was nodding. “I know it is.”
“So how was the interview?”
“Mmm, not nice.” Danny got up from the sofa then and stretched his limbs out. “Had quite a long trip down memory lane,” he said. “Stuff I haven’t even thought about for years, let alone talked to anyone about.”
Michael looked down at his hands, bringing them together in his lap. “Freeman?”
“Yeah,” Danny nodded, grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the table, and threw one to Michael before lighting one up himself. “And look at this. Wait until you see this,” he was digging around in his pocket. “This will freak you right out.”
Michael caught the folded piece of paper when Danny tossed it to him. He opened it and saw Jack Freeman’s name scrawled upon it, and a neatly written address beneath. Immediately he got to his feet and held the paper out at arms length, as if it somehow disgusted him. “Danny, this is just outside town! This is the address of a pub!”
Danny came forward, snatched the paper back. “A pub?”
“Yeah! I know of it. It’s the local this girl I used to see lived near. The white swan or something, or white horse? It’s near the beach. Rough area. Seabourne?”
Danny swallowed, smoked his cigarette and looked nervous. “You’re sure?”
“Yes!” Michael nodded emphatically. He felt his heart hammering into action in his chest, as the fear and the adrenaline he had grown to know so well, started to flow aggressively. “I’m sure. I recognise the road name, it’s packed full of cheap b and b’s, and student flats, and this one pub. It’s on the corner. Bit of a dive with a bad reputation. He can’t live there Danny! He can’t live that close! Didn’t he go back to Essex?”
Danny had stuffed the address back into his pocket. “I just thought he had,” he admitted. “I assumed he had. Howard never said any different. Maybe he did. Maybe he came back!”
Michael shook his head, trying to clear his mind and organise his thoughts. He smoked his cigarette and found himself at one of the windows. He couldn’t stay away from them sometimes. It was always so busy out there on the high street. So many different people, coming and going. “Shit,” he said, looking back at Danny. “I wish we could tell Anthony this, Dan.”
“No,” Danny shook his head firmly. “He’s just got things back on track with his wife, and he’s been left alone since we stopped telling him stuff. Same for Lucy. It’s like anyone we see for too long, gets targeted, have you noticed that? Like me sleeping at my mum’s the other night? Right away she gets a nasty letter. It’s like there are spies everywhere out there Mike, just waiting to pounce.”
Michael sighed, feeling frustrated. “So what do we do now?”
Danny patted his pocket where the address was, and Michael felt his heart sink a little lower. “Go see him. We have to. It’s the only way.”
“Fuckinghell, I don’t even want to think about it mate,” Michael groaned, dropping his head into his hands for a moment. Danny arrived next to him at the window.
“I’m not as scared as I was,” he said, looking at Michael.
“No. I don’t know why. Maybe it was seeing Dennis Howard. Piecing things together in my mind. I don’t know. But Freeman is the next link, we have to see him. It makes my skin crawl, but I have to talk to him.”
Michael sighed and nodded. “Okay then.” He felt the urge to pat Danny on the shoulder, or something, to congratulate him on being so brave, and so held together, but he didn’t. He breathed out slowly and gazed back out of the window. He found his eyes drifting back to the flats opposite, the ones you could never quite tell were empty or not. “I wonder about those flats over there,” he said.
“Those flats. Who lives there. You can’t tell, look. No obvious signs. Be the perfect spot to spy on us from, wouldn’t it?”
Danny peered closer. “Maybe. You think they can see right in here?”
“When the lights are on, yeah. Plus they could see who walks around to the back. Just makes me wonder sometimes that’s all.”
“Don’t worry,” Danny told him then. “We’ll soon have this all sorted. When can you come with me? When are you free? I want to do if before I chicken out.”
“Whenever you want,” Michael replied, with a heavy heart. “Just say the word.”
“Well we could go now,” Danny said, his voice cracking slightly. He cleared his throat and shrugged. “Just to find it. We don’t have to go in. Could just check it out for another time.”
“Okay,” Michael agreed. He pulled himself away from the window, crossed the room and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. “Let’s go,” he looked up at Danny and said. “You’re right, we need to do it before we chicken out.”
Danny nodded, scooped Kurt up from the sofa, and they left the flat.
They sat in Michael’s car, shaking from the cold, teeth chattering, while Michael let the old engine warm up. He pulled a pair of fingerless gloves from the side of the door and put them on. Danny had zipped his coat up to his chin and wrapped his arms tightly around Kurt, who was also shivering violently. “Just takes a while,” Michael murmured, glancing up when he saw a car park a few spaces back behind them in the alley. He thought nothing of it, rubbed his hands together, put the car into gear and drove off, the car juddering in protest as it crawled jerkily out of the mouth of the alley. He glanced in the wing mirror to see that the other car had followed them.
Three turnings later, Michael had a bad feeling. “Oi,” he said to Danny, jerking his head towards the rear view mirror. “Is it me being totally paranoid, or is that black car following us?”
Danny looked, and kept looking. “Make a few random turns,” he advised. Michael did just that, turning left when he really needed to turn right, and then doing the same again at the next junction. The small black car remained behind them the whole time. Michael swallowed, his throat draining of all moisture. “Shit,” he said, his eyes jerking between the both mirrors, and the road. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Keep going,” Danny shrugged, his expression dark. “Just drive to this pub and see what happens. I’m getting the cops number up on my phone just in case.”
“Good thinking. You ever seen that car before?”
Danny peered into the wing mirror on his side again. “What is it a Golf?” he asked. Michael nodded.
“Then yeah. I think I have.”
“Shit!” Michael exclaimed, feeling tremors crawl down his spine that he knew were not from the cold, “when?”
“At the cemetery, the last time I was there,” Danny replied. “In the car park. I made a note of the cars in my head, you know? With everything going on.”
“It could be Jerry Howard then?”
Danny nodded silently and fiddled with his phone. They drove on, both nervously checking the mirrors as much as they dared, a heavy silence between them. Seabourne was the area next to Belfield Park. It was a nicer area in parts, closer to the sea, with lots of bed and breakfasts, hotels, and retirement homes. A lot of these were in good condition, or undergoing renovation, but there were just as many that had become run down as well. Michael drove through street after street lined with battered wind beaten b and b’s, and old Victorian homes that resembled a lot of the bed-sits on Belfield Park. At the corner of one of these roads sat a pub. Michael slowed the car to a stop just outside, but left the engine running. He looked up at the rear view mirror, and watched the black Golf pull in a few spaces back. He tried to make out how many people were in it, but the windows were dark, and it was hard to tell.
“This is it?” Danny asked, his voice a croak, as he stared out of the window up at the pub.
“Yep. The White Horse, not Swan. It’s a shit pit by the looks of it. There are loads of student places around here. It’s pretty much a student pub.”
“So how can Jack Freeman live there?”
“Maybe he works there,” Michael shrugged, watching the car behind. “Maybe he owns it?”
Danny did not answer. He was staring at the pub. It was sat on the corner, with a garden going most of the way around. The overgrown grass had a number of weather beaten picnic tables scattered across it. They watched two long-haired young men saunter up, the collars of their coats turned up against the wind, shoulder bags across their chests. They pushed through the double doors and disappeared inside. Michael glanced at a blackboard near the doors. It said live music every Friday night on it. “What do you want to do about those guys behind?” Michael finally asked Danny. Danny sighed, his shoulders dropping as he turned to look at Michael.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I suddenly feel like a little kid again, how about you?”
“The same,” Michael was happy to admit. “It’s times like this I wish we had Anthony on board.”
“Mmm.” Danny looked back into the wing mirror. “Let’s get out,” he said suddenly, lifting Kurt carefully onto the back seat. “Stretch our legs and see what they do.”
“Okay.” Michael turned off the engine and got out, while Danny climbed out his side. They met on the pavement and looked nervously at the black Golf. Danny frowned and took a decisive step towards it, when suddenly it roared back into life and screeched off down the road. They looked at each other, stunned.
“Oh,” said Danny. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Did you get the plate number?” Michael asked then, his hand going to his head in frustration. Danny shook his head. “Oh we’re so dumb. We were sat there long enough to note it down.”
Danny turned on the pavement and sunk his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He stared up at the pub with a wretched and nervous expression that Michael well understood. “Shall we pop in?” he heard him ask. “Just put our heads around the door?”
“I’m right behind you,” Michael said, patting his back and nodding firmly, hoping that his voice sounded strong and confident. They started towards the pub garden, dragging their feet. “Just say the word and we’re gone,” he reminded Danny as they weaved their way through the picnic tables towards the doors. A group of three young girls came out, just as they reached them. They all looked around nineteen or twenty years of age, and were giggling and laughing, totally oblivious to the pain that was building in Michael’s chest, as he imagined it was in Danny’s. They let them pass, and Michael held the door open as Danny stepped inside.
It was pretty much what he had expected he thought, looking around. The double doors led into an entrance, where another blackboard, this time up on the wall, listed the various bands playing there this week. On the opposite wall a whole host of leaflets and posters advertising everything from lonely hearts, to music tutition, to live events at other venues, had been tacked up by people. They could hear music playing, and Michael strained his ears, thinking it sounded like an REM song from a few years back. They went through the next set of doors and saw the bar. It was a u shape, and reminded Michael of the layout at Chaos. You had tables and chairs and fruit machines to the right, and a small stage and a dance floor to the right. There was less seating on this side, but as the stage was empty, various groups of young people were perched on it, pints in hand, deep in conversation.
Michael looked back at the bar. It did not seem busy. There were a few more clusters of students to the right, spread out across the tables and the bar stools, and a handful of people leaning on the bar, chatting or waiting to be served. It was warm, and smelled like the sea. Michael shivered and nudged Danny with an elbow. “I can’t picture Freeman in a joint like this,” he said, his voice low. “I don’t get it.”
Danny nodded, staring at a young woman with bright pink hair who was behind the bar. She had chubby cheeks and a ring through her nose. Danny started to move towards her, so Michael followed cautiously. They didn’t stand out, he realised, in their usual scruffy jeans and trainers, they didn’t look any different from the other young people in here, but Michael felt different. He felt older for one thing, and he felt afraid. He remembered the times he had encountered Jack Freeman, back when Danny had thought nothing of going to his flat nearly every day. There had been a time where that was where he went, if he wanted to find Danny. It had made his guts twist then, even before Anthony and Jaime had discovered the truth about him. Michael had never liked the way the man just sat there, barely speaking, yet letting them use his flat, drink his whiskey and take his drugs. He remembered him and Danny chatting and laughing on one sofa, while Freeman sat sprawled out on another, and he remembered every time he looked up quickly he would catch Freeman watching them out of the corner of his eye. It had given him the creeps.
Danny approached the bar and smiled pleasantly at the young girl. “Can I help you?” she asked brightly, rubbing a damp cloth briskly across the bar top.
“Just two pints of Carlsberg please,” Danny replied, resting one elbow on the bar and nodding at Michael who nodded back. The girl got the drinks and Danny took out some money to pay her. She then went around the other side to serve someone else.
“Should have asked her,” Michael hissed. “Who’s in charge.”
Danny shrugged, looking around him, his dark blue eyes scanning the place, and jerking from person to person. “I just want to wait a minute,” he explained. “I’ll ask before we go, don’t worry.”
“If we see him, are you gonna’ talk to him?”
“Be a bit pointless coming here if I didn’t,” Danny shrugged and sipped at his pint. Michael breathed out, trying to release the tension he felt inside. He sat on the nearest bar stool and gulped his pint quickly. He wanted to go. He didn’t want to see Jack Freeman, and he didn’t want Danny to speak to him either. He was starting to hope they would just finish their drinks and leave with nothing. He found himself staring at the space behind the bar. There was a narrow corridor going out to the back, and Michael could see the usual boxes of crisps and nuts piled up along the wall out there. He imagined there was a room, or an office, or a kitchen back there somewhere, and despite gulping his pint greedily, his throat felt like sandpaper.
Danny kept looking around, he noticed. Not in an obvious way, but just checking the place out, and the people. He looked stiff, and his face was pale, making the stitches in his forehead stand out even more. Michael sighed, and rubbed tiredly at one eye, and again wished that Anthony was with them.
“We’re just having the one yeah?” Michael checked with Danny, when his pint was nearly gone. Danny nodded silently. Michael drained the last few mouthfuls and plonked his glass back on the bar. “Can you see the mens?” he asked. “Think I’ll have a piss before we go.”
“Over that side, past the stage,” Danny said, nodding. Michael slid down from the stool and glanced at Danny’s drink. He only had a few mouthfuls left.
“Hurry up,” he advised. “And don’t go anywhere without me. I’ll be back in a sec.” Danny nodded in agreement, and Michael set off for the toilet. He crossed the dance floor, looking around him quizzically, wondering what kind of music filled the place on a busy Friday night. He discovered the men’s toilets were surprisingly clean and fragrant for a change. He did his business as fast as he could, zipped himself back up and hurried back out. That’s it, he thought to himself, we can go, we can get the fuck out of this creepy place, and maybe Caroline got it wrong anyway…He then stopped in his tracks half way across the empty dance floor, because he could see Danny at the bar, and his body language had changed dramatically. He was staring, his eyes wide, his lips tight, at someone stood behind the bar. Michael forced himself to walk on, his chest tightening painfully. He arrived beside Danny and saw whom he was staring so intently at.
There was no mistaking him. Except for looking older, and greyer, he was exactly the same as he had been back then. There was a cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth, and he was unshaven, wearing a light blue shirt that was half untucked. The buttons were straining across his beer belly, which had grown even bigger, and he had a few extra chins as well, Michael noticed. Jack Freeman. Behind the bar. Staring back at them silently, wonderingly, as if he were not quite sure what or who he was seeing, as if he was trying to place them, and understand them. Caroline had got it right.
Danny seemed frozen to the spot, his eyes locked on Freeman’s. Michael looked from him, back to Freeman and saw the man relax his pose, placing one foot forward. Michael wondered if it was the one Danny had stabbed. Freeman lifted his chin up at them, his eyes squinting curiously. If he was alarmed, or worried, or anxious in any way to find the two of them there in his pub, then it did not show in his face. He knew them though, Michael could see that. Eight years on, he knew them all right.
Michael swallowed, reached out to touch Danny’s arm, and that was when he pulled away, spun around and tore out of the pub. Michael went after him, letting the pub doors swing shut with a bang behind him. “Can’t do it,” Danny was mumbling already, as they hurried towards the car. “Sorry Mike, not today, I can’t, I can’t do it.”
“It’s all right mate, calm down,” Michael unlocked the car and they climbed in. He started the engine and raced off before Danny could ask him twice.