The thought of actually taking the test made her feel like someone had punched her in the stomach. The thought would not go away obviously, and the only answer, the only way to get rid of that feeling, would be to take the test. The pregnancy test lay like a dead weight of anticipation in her handbag. She had bought it the day after she had realised how late she was. An embarrassing visit to Boots where the chemist had made her feel like a naughty school girl instead of a grown woman of twenty four, who had every right to be pregnant, should she want to be. Still, she had wandered nervously around the shop four times before she’d had the courage to approach the tests and pick one up. And now it had been sitting in her bag for almost a week. Lucy had gone back to school, ignored her daily bout of sickness, and pushed the test and the implications of the test, to the back of her head.
She berated herself about it at the end of the working day, when she came home and kicked off her heels, and thought about pouring her usual glass of wine. She would stop then, pausing with her hand on the fridge door, shaking her head slowly, feeling like an idiot. Of course she knew she had to do the test, so she would know what she was dealing with. But the thought of knowing was terrifying, the thought of having her suspicions confirmed took her breath away. Not knowing was better, she decided, day after day. Not knowing was okay. She found it relatively easy to get through the usual hectic day at school.
The doubts and the fears and the sick feeling in her stomach all kicked in when she returned home. Tonight was no different. If anything, tonight was worse, it being another Friday alone. Another night she would normally open a bottle of wine and be enjoying company. She had sent Danny two messages in the last week, not expecting to hear back. He had, at last, replied to the second one. She had kept it on her phone and took it out every evening to read through again. She thought it was probably the longest message he had ever sent her; Don’t want 2 b mad at u- luv u – don’t get why u done this – 2 much goin on right now u don’t need 2 no – head is a mess but I still no I luv u. spk soon, Danny. It made her smile sadly every time she read it. She loved the way he had finally mastered the art of text speak and getting a message out quickly. She loved the fact he had said he loved her, twice. It pained her to think that he still did not understand why she had let him go, and it worried her to think what could be going on his life, that she was now not a part of. But speak soon, she told herself, speak soon was hopeful. Speak soon meant he could turn up at any time, probably totally uninvited and unexpected, Danny style.
Curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea in place of wine, Lucy thought again of the test in her bag. She told herself she had to stop being a wimp and get it over with. She reminded herself she was an adult, not a child. She scolded herself for being so afraid, when Danny was out there facing his demons, being attacked by strangers who had it in for him. All she had to do was take the bloody test, and then she would know. She would have decisions to make, possibly.
Lucy let out a growl of impatience with herself and threw back her duvet. She stomped into the kitchen as fast as she could, snatched her handbag from the table and rooted around inside until she found the pregnancy test. She looked at it for a brief moment, her heart falling again, her stomach curling up, and then she took a deep breath, ordered herself to be brave, and marched through to the bathroom. She ripped the cellophane off and ran her eyes impatiently over the instructions. “Okay..okay,” she murmured to herself, suddenly wishing she had a friend to hold her hand. “Pee on this end, wait two minutes. Fine. Easy…..Right then.” She smiled at her reflection in the mirror before pulling up her skirt and tugging her pants down. “Can have a nice big glass of wine after this,” she said aloud in the small blue bathroom. She placed the stick in the sink when she had done the deed, and looked at her watch to note the time.
While the time ticked on, Lucy thought about the outcome. She amused herself by imagining herself getting fatter and rounder. She horrified herself by picturing how she would tell Danny he was to be a father, and she surprised herself by imagining something else, something in the future, her and Danny, and a small child…She shook herself out of it, and picked the test back up with trembling fingers. Still sat on the toilet, with her knickers looped around her ankles, Lucy Chapman discovered that she was going to be a mother.
After running from the pub, Danny had brooded for the following two weeks. Every time he thought he had his head back together again, and was ready to go back there, he would see Jack Freeman in his mind, and would fall apart all over again. He was constantly on the urge of going back, even going so far as to tell Michael he was ready, only to change his mind again. He went to work at the record shop, and felt like he was living in the past, in more ways than one. He would walk there from the flat, nervous and twitchy, looking over his shoulder, becoming accustomed to the heavy lump of dread that had grown into something alive inside his belly. Just like back then, he would think angrily and helplessly, this is like some fucked up dream where I’m back in time, living the same fucking life, the same fucking fears. Only a few days after he had started work for Terry, the shop suffered two broken windows. A few days after that Terry received a letter. “No fucker is gonna’ tell me what to do!” he had ranted for a while in front of Danny. “And don’t you even think of going anywhere mate! I stood up to the cunt back then, and I will again!”
It made Danny feel miserable, and again, the only option was to visit Jack Freeman and try to get it all to stop. For a while he could not even explain to himself why it was seemed so impossible to move. Jack Freeman was nothing like Lee Howard, he told himself. Jack Freeman had not beaten him on a daily basis and made his life a living hell. Jack Freeman, for such a long time, had just been this shadowy figure on the edge of everything. He was even older and fatter now, Danny reminded himself. Nothing to fear there. He had fought him off and won a day before his sixteenth birthday. That image came to him now, night after night, when he couldn’t sleep. The knife sticking out of Jack Freeman’s shoe, blood gushing out over it. He had not seen him again after that, not for nearly nine years.
Questions filled his mind whenever he was alone. How long had Freeman been living that close? How was he tied up in all of the harassment they had been getting, and why? Why hadn’t he stayed in Essex? Danny realised that the only person who could answer the hundreds of questions he had, was Freeman himself. And the harassment had not stopped. Far from it.
They had been followed twice more by the black Golf. On both occasions Michael had eventually pulled in, and they had got out of the car to confront whoever it was. Both times the Golf had driven away. Danny had passed the registration of the car on to the police, but as usual, it seemed there was nothing they could do. No laws had been broken.
Danny could not help feeling he was being provoked into action, or reaction, and he had been all along. He and Michael were receiving the brunt of things now, as long as they kept a safe distance from Lucy, Anthony and his mother, then they were all left alone. Which again, made it seem likely that they were being constantly watched.
What do you want me to do then? Danny would think to himself, as the days passed by, what are you waiting for? “You need to get yourself a hobby, get out and about a bit more, or do a course or something,” his mum had told him over the phone. “It’s not good for you just waiting around for something to happen. Have you spoken to Lucy yet?” His chats with his mother would inevitably return to this subject. “You could just go and have coffee with her, you know, just be friends and see what happens?” Danny never had an answer for this, so he would change the subject, or end the conversation. Lucy was just another thing he could barely stand to think about. There simply was not enough room in his head. Need to speak to Freeman. Rule him out or work him out. Then on to the next one. Get this thing over. He would nod to himself, talk himself into it and believe in his own strength, until the moment to actually leave arrived, and then he would put if off again.
Michael hovered around on the sidelines, unsure whether to encourage his friend on, or allow him more time. “I would ask Anthony for advice,” he said forlornly more than once, “but I’m not allowed to, am I?”
On a Friday night two weeks after he and Michael had located Jack Freeman in the White Horse, Danny found himself nursing a can of beer and trying to talk himself into going back. Michael had just opened his second can. They had stayed in the flat a lot lately, Danny realised, looking at him. Going out just seemed pointless and dangerous, and inviting people over was just not an option either. We’re trapped here, Danny told himself, purposefully attempting to urge himself into action, that’s what they’ve done, they’ve got us trapped here, waiting for them to fucking strike. He tried to will himself to move, like they had the time before, just get up and go without thinking, just get in the car and drive. He tried to think of what he would say to Jack Freeman after all these years.
“You okay?” Michael murmured, his expression troubled, as he threw Danny a cigarette. “You’ve hardly spoken all day.” Danny nodded, thinking. Michael sighed and lit his cigarette. “You heard from Haskell?”
Danny nodded again. “Practically every day,” he yawned. “She wants to know why I haven’t spoken to Freeman yet. She wants the next part of the interview lined up.” He rolled his eyes and scratched his head. “Wish I’d never started all this, sometimes.”
Michael looked at him in sympathy. “I never imagined it would be like this. I thought given a few weeks you would be all settled, and sorted and life would be cool. You’ve no idea how excited I was the months leading up to your release. Been a long fucking time coming, and now this, this shit! We need to sort it out Dan. I’m serious. We need to put an end to it and stop living in fear. Look at us for fuck’s sake!”
Danny sat forward, tapped ash into the ashtray and pushed one hand back through his hair in frustration. “I know, I know,” he said, “you don’t need to tell me. I’ve got my mother on my back constantly telling me what I should be doing. I know it. I should have my own place sorted out, a proper job or something. I should be thinking of ways to spend that bloody money.”
“Look I’m with you,” Michael said to him. “Whatever happens. We can even get more people. I’ve still got Jaime Lawler’s number you know. He’d help us out, I know he would.”
“I don’t like getting anyone else involved.”
Danny saw Michael suck his breath in, trying to bite his tongue. “Danny, that was half the problem back then mate. You didn’t tell anyone because you wanted to keep them out of it, after what happened to Anthony. Don’t let them pull that on you again. No one has actually been hurt, have they? Bricks and fucking letters, so what?”
“You’re forgetting about the three guys in the pub, idiot,” Danny could not resist smiling at him.
“Oh. Yeah. That wasn’t good. But that’s why we need more muscle Danny, come on! Let me at least call Jaime. You’d like to see Jaime, wouldn’t you?”
Danny thought about it for a moment. “The last time I saw Jaime was when he came to the phone box for me,” he nodded, seeing it again in his head. That night had always been a bit of a blur for him, but lately he had been remembering more and more. Fragmented images would come to him at random times, for no real reason. He saw Jaime Lawler now, in his head, a tall thin young man, always wearing a baseball cap and a tracksuit jacket. Always with a cigarette pinched between his fingers, and always hopping about restlessly on his feet. He had called Jaime from the phone box, just down the road from the bed-sit. He had called him to ask a favour, and Jaime had come through for him.
“He felt bad about that for years,” Michael mused, sipping his beer. “He’d come around the bed-sit after for a while. He felt crap about it. Like it was his fault.”
“I shouldn’t have involved him,” Danny sighed, glancing down at his hands. He remembered how he’d felt something snap inside of him, when Howard had finally let him out of the car. How he had looked back into that man’s face and realised in a cold moment what he had to do. And then he had called Jaime. His body had been wrecked, his year long escape had ended, the monster was back and the monster was never going to let him go. He had needed something to feel strong again, and so he had called Jaime, and Jaime had brought him the cocaine and helped him out of the phone box, and he had limped towards the bed-sit. He had told Jaime he was going to fight back, and that was the last time they had seen each other.
Danny was about to get up from the sofa, stretch out his legs and think about another drink, when suddenly there was an almighty crash. He ducked down instinctively, his arms going over his head. He felt what seemed like a whoosh of cold air, followed by a tinkling of objects raining down, which he quickly realised was broken glass. “Holy fuck!” he heard Michael exclaim. A stunned silence followed the crash. Danny lowered his arms, and looked down in disbelief at the shining shards of glass that covered his lap, and Kurt. He immediately stood up, letting the glass shake down to the floor, where he saw the offending object sat bullishly beside the coffee table. A large red brick with a piece of paper tied around it.
Michael leapt to his feet, snatched it up and ran to the window. Danny followed, picking specks of glass from Kurt’s fur. The little dog whined and trembled in his arms from the shock. “You fucking bastards! Come on then!” Michael was raging at the window. Danny glared down at the street, it was dark and eerily empty at that time of night. He looked at Michael.
“Hey?” Michael swatted a hand at his cheek, and held it out in front of him, staring in disgust and fury at the bright blood on his fingertips. “Fucking bastards! Come on up here then you fucking cowardly cunts!”
“Right that’s it,” Danny said then, shaking his head and allowing the rage to seep slowly through him. “That’s fucking it.”
“You’re telling me it is! Fuckinhell!” Michael looked down at the brick, and then angrily pulled the paper free. It was another photo of Danny, but this time someone had drawn what appeared to be prison bars over it, and the slogan read; go back where you belong! “Fuck’s sake,” Michael spat in fury. “This takes the piss. This is disgusting. Come on then, let’s go!”
Danny nodded in agreement. He felt his guts curl up and die inside of him, but he knew that he did not have any more time to wait it out. He turned around decisively, spurred on by anger, and grabbed his jacket from the back of the sofa. They were out of the flat in seconds.
“This is probably what they want,” Michael spoke on the drive back to the White Horse, “this could be some kind of set up.”
“Could be,” Danny agreed helplessly. He was trying to hold onto the anger in his belly, but the closer they got to the pub, the more it was slipping. It wasn’t just the fear, he realised, it was the constant delving back into the past. It felt like ripping open old scars, and rubbing them raw. He pushed his thoughts and feelings aside and focused on one thing at a time the way he had learnt to inside prison. Talk to him, he’s an old man, he’s a fat old man, just talk to him, to get all this stopped, that’s all you have to do, talk to him and get it stopped.
Michael screeched to a halt outside the pub and checked his watch. “Nearly closing time,” he commented. “Come on.”
Danny put a hand on his arm then. “Can you stay here?”
Michael stared back at him in dismay and confusion. “Eh?”
“I’ll be all right,” Danny assured him, passing him Kurt to hold. “I’ll keep your number up, and press send if I need you, yeah? Just come in if I do.”
“You can’t go in there alone Danny! It could be a set up!”
“I’ll be careful,” Danny reached for the door handle, but Michael caught his elbow and held him back.
“Seriously,” he begged, his dark eyes pleading. “This is not a good idea!”
“I need to talk to him alone,” Danny tried to explain. “Give me a call in ten minutes, yeah? I’ll let you know I’m okay.”
“I don’t like it. You’re crazy!”
Danny pulled away and climbed out of the door. He felt the adrenaline throbbing wildly through him, clogging up his chest and making it hard to breathe. He nodded down at Michael. “This is nothing,” he winked at him. “He’s not Howard, okay? Never was. Call me in ten.” With that he turned and walked briskly away from the car, pulling his jacket around him as the wind from the sea whipped back his hair.
He heard Michael close the car door behind him, and walked on, his head down. He could smell the sea, and he could hear the waves too, thrashing violently against the cliff, making him think of that night again, on a cliff top not far from Cedar View and it’s rows of huge houses and sweeping driveways. He remembered waking up, in a small dark space, his face running with blood, terrified, not knowing if he was dead or alive. It had taken him a few muddled minutes to work out that he was sat in the footwell of the passenger seat in Lee Howard’s car. The last thing he could remember was Howard turning up at the bed-sit when he was alone, and hurling Kurt against the wall. After that, nothing, just blackness.
Danny slipped through the first set of doors, letting a merry group of young men and women bundle past him first. He held the door for the last one, and then closed it softly behind him. When he turned around he could already see Jack Freeman, through the glass of the next doors. He took a breath, and pushed through. The pub was empty. Jack Freeman had his head down at one of the tills, while the girl with the pink hair was collecting glasses from the table. The man looked up, saw Danny, and stopped what he was doing. For the longest, strangest moment they just stared at each other. Then Jack Freeman wiped at his nose with his finger and thumb, sniffed loudly and called out to the girl; “hey Lizzie, you can go early if you like. I got it covered.”
The girl looked up in surprise, shook her head as if amazed, and then grinned to herself. She carried over the glasses she had collected and placed them on the bar close to Freeman. “Great, thanks Jack,” she beamed, and darted around the other side of the bar. She returned seconds later, tugging on a battered green parka and wrapping a tatty pink scarf around her neck. She gave Danny a brief frown as she passed him, as if she remembered him from before. Then she was gone.
Danny stared at the man behind the bar and he realised something that surprised him then. He was not afraid. He felt a lot of things then, as he stared the past in the face. He felt anger and he felt disgust and he felt a small amount of pity, but he did not feel any fear. He slipped his hands into his pockets and took a few steps forward. “You know who I am?” he asked, his voice coming out far calmer than he had anticipated. He saw Jack Freeman swallow, and then he cleared his throat and placed the palms of both hands down on the bar. He was wearing a loose fitting beige shirt, with the top three buttons undone, exposing the dark curly chest hair beneath. His hair was nearly all grey now, and had thinned to almost nothing across the top of his head. Danny had found him repulsive back then, and found him even more so now.
Jack Freeman gave a little chuckle, and narrowed his slate grey eyes slightly at Danny. “You haven’t changed that much,” he replied. Danny looked around at the empty pub, and the debris from the night’s drinking.
“So how long have you been here?” he looked back at Freeman.
“Bought the lease about eight years ago,” the man answered, his hands still planted flat on the bar top. He relaxed his body slightly, his hip jutting casually out to one side. Danny nodded at him.
“You’ve been here all that time?”
“Well our good friend Lee left me half the old club in his will, you didn’t know that?”
Danny came forward rather reluctantly and stopped at the bar, just feet away from a man who had been a frequent visitor to his nightmares. He shook his head. Freeman sniffed, raised his eyebrows, and went back to cashing up. “Well he did. Didn’t find out until after he died. So I came back, sold the club and bought the lease to this place.”
“Nice,” Danny said, nodding. “My mum never said you got half.”
Freeman just shrugged, looking down at the money he was counting into small bags. “So what can I do for you?” he asked, sounding almost bored, as if he was speaking to an everyday customer, not someone he had plied with drugs and tried to attack nine years ago. “Don’t suppose you just popped in for a drink.”
“We’ve got to talk,” Danny said. “But a drink sounds good too.”
Freeman folded over the bag he had finished and dumped it onto a pile. He turned and got down a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, and without even asking what Danny preferred, he poured them each a shot and shoved one across the bar towards him. With a grunt and a sniff he went back to cashing up and Danny looked at him, at the fat and slug like mess of him, and wondered what the fuck to say, where the fuck to even start. He sighed, picked up his glass, and that was when he heard his phone buzzing madly in his pocket. He put down the glass and answered the phone.
“You okay?” Michael sounded panicked. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing. I’m fine. Call you back in a bit.” He hung up and pushed the phone back into his pocket, looking up in time to catch Freeman’s shifty eyes on him. He felt a chill creep down his spine then, and shivered. He remembered those eyes, sinking into the folds of flesh in his face, but always watching silently.
“Your friend Michael?” Freeman asked him, slurping back a mouthful of his own whiskey.
“Yeah. He’s outside.”
“He didn’t want to come in too? Say hello? Catch up?” Freeman lowered his glass, and Danny saw his yellowed teeth shine in a smile.
“I got out back in October,” Danny said, thinking they may as well get on with this. “To start again, you know? I did eight years of the ten they gave me.” He looked down at his feet, glass in hand, and nodded to himself. “But there’s someone, or some people out there who don’t want me to start again.” He raised his eyes, caught Freeman staring at him in curiosity. “I think I know who. The cops are useless. So I’m trying to sort it out, one way or another. There’s been a lot of trouble, see. I’ve got to put a stop to it.”
Freeman drank the last of his shot, dropped the glass onto the bar with an abrupt bang and wiped his mouth with the back of one wrinkled hand. “And you think this has something to do with me?”
Danny shrugged at him. “I came up with three people who might have it in for me, and you were one of them.”
Freeman laughed then, and the sound of it made Danny’s skin crawl, and he stepped back a little from the bar. “Why the fuck would I have it in for you?” he bellowed in amusement. “Me and you are even, far as I can see.”
Danny frowned. “We are?”
“Course we are,” Freeman winked at him knowingly, grabbed the neck of the whiskey bottle and poured himself another shot. He held the bottle aloft to Danny. He drank the last drop in his glass and held it out for a refill. “I tried to fuck with you and you stabbed me in the foot!” He was smiling, his shoulders shaking. “See? Fucking even as far as I can tell. I took the hint. Let’s put it that way.”
Danny looked at the whiskey in his glass. “You know Jerry?” he asked. “Lee’s dad? I’ve seen him a few times lately. Never set eyes on him back then, but can’t fucking get rid of him these days. It’s him. I know it’s him. Question is, who’s he recruited to help him? He’s an old man. Older than you.”
“I’ve seen him about over the years,” Freeman shrugged carelessly. “So what? I knew him as a kid, didn’t I? Used to train at his gym. That’s how me and Lee met in the first place, at the gym.”
Danny drank his whiskey, thinking of Dennis, and River House, but he said nothing. He decided to save that information for now. “He’s out to get me. He said as much to my face. He thinks I should still be in jail. He’s behind all the harassment we’ve been getting. You know about that?” Danny eyed Freeman accusingly, his eyes boring into his, trying to read what he saw there. “Bricks through the windows with pictures of me on them? Letters warning people to stay away from me. Creepy phone calls. Oh yeah, and three hired thugs that attacked us in the pub.”
Freeman looked slightly amused and puffed out his breath. “You’ve had a shit time lately. I get it. But it’s nothing to do with me boy.”
Danny fixed him with an icy stare. “I think it is.”
Freeman let out another bellow of a laugh. “Why would I have it in for you? For killing Lee? Jesus Christ kid, you did me a massive favour the day you killed him.” Freeman looked cocky, Danny thought, watching him as he went back to the bagging up of money. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. Here he was, despite all the sick things he had done, with his own pub, with staff and customers, surrounded by young people who had no idea who, and what he really was.
“How?” Danny demanded. “What do you mean?”
Freeman met his eyes again. “Think about it boy. He knew all my dirty little secrets, didn’t he eh? He had a hold over me for fucking years. Made out we were fucking friends and that, but he pulled the strings any time he wanted to, believe me. Well that all died with him, didn’t it?” Freeman dumped another bag of coins onto the pile and sloshed the rest of his second whiskey down his throat. He leant on the bar, sticking his backside out, his eyes narrow, yet brimming with excitement as he looked Danny in the eye. “Died with him,” he repeated slowly. “On the kitchen floor, no less. How did that actually feel, by the way? I’ve got to ask, seeing as you’re right here in front of me, all these years later. It must have felt pretty fucking good, eh? After everything that bastard did to you?”
Danny finished his drink and set the glass on the bar. “Felt great, from what I can remember,” he replied softly. “And he’s not the only one who knew your secrets, don’t forget.”
Freeman grinned at him. “I always warned him you’d snap one day, you know,” he said. “I told him loads of times to watch it. I saw the look in your eyes, you see, but he ignored it. I told him after you did the runner. I told him to leave you alone. I told him what you did to me, and he’d be next.” Still smiling, as if enjoying the trip down memory lane, Freeman rocked back on his heels and dropped his hands into the pockets of his loose grey trousers. “That mad bastard wouldn’t listen though, would he? Nah, he’d never fucking listen to anyone. The more you said to him, the less he’d fucking listen. He always had to be right, didn’t he? I bet you remember that well enough. So what actually happened that day anyway? What made you finally snap?”
“I’m not here to talk about that,” Danny told him coldly. “I’m here to find out who’s been harassing me. Who has reason. Jerry has reason, and so do you.”
“I just told you, you did me a fucking favour that day!” Freeman threw his hands out to either side. “I got this place because of you!”
“I grassed you up. I spoke about you and what you did. What you tried to do. Then other boys came forward. You got arrested. They told me.”
Freeman laughed again, and Danny felt like picking up one of the empty shot glasses and ramming it into his face. What was so fucking funny? He wanted to grab the dirty bastard by the hair and smash his face into the wall. What the hell was amusing about any of this? “That all fell apart,” Freeman informed him, rolling his eyes at the memory. “I got a suspended sentence. No big deal. You had no proof and the other kid waited years to say something. You were out of your face back then, remember? Plus you were on trial for murder, trying to deflect attention from what you’d done.”
“You are so disgusting,” Danny murmured, shaking his head, finding it hard to look back at the man and his sick smile. “Look, I need to know who’s got it in for me. I need to put a stop to it, that’s why I’m here. Is it you and Jerry? Is it?”
“Why would I bother?” Freeman shook his head at him. “Like I said, you did me a massive favour that day, and I’m extremely thankful to you for getting rid of him. Staying for one more?” He grabbed the bottle again. “Like old times eh?”
“They were bad times,” Danny said fiercely. “They were fucking horrendous times. I don’t know how someone like you sleeps at night after what you did.”
“Come on, don’t be a dick, have another drink with me. It’s good to see you. I often thought about you, you know, once I heard what had happened. How was prison by the way?” Freeman had poured two more shots, and stood, feet spread, expression greedy as he screwed the lid back upon the bottle. “Howard always said you’d end up there, you know. They treat you well in there did they?”
“It was better than living with him,” Danny nodded, taking the drink. “Safer.”
“Well,” Freeman came forward then, leant across the bar and lifted his drink up towards Danny, who flinched back in distaste. “You did what you had to do mate. I don’t blame you, I never did. I can’t speak for Jerry, but to tell you the truth, he’s fucking crazy anyway, always was. Scary bastard, and Lee wanted to be just like him. Looked up to his old man big time.”
“And what about Dennis?” Danny asked then, stepping forward again, his eyes clashing with Freeman’s, his lip curling. “Did he want to be like his old man too?”
Freeman pushed back away from the bar, his smile fading. He dug around in one trouser pocket and pulled out a pack of tobacco. “Dennis,” he said, his voice a sigh, his lips protruding. He rolled two cigarettes on the bar, stuck one between his teeth and held the second one out to Danny. Danny took it, again reminded of that night Howard had dangled him from the cliff. He and Howard had sat in the car together back at Belfield Park, and Danny had suggested a drink and a smoke, and they’d had both. “Poor old Dennis,” said Freeman, lighting up. “Poor fella eh?”
“I didn’t know much about him until recently,” said Danny, picking up the lighter when Freeman tossed it towards him. “But I went to meet him. I was expecting another monster. Another Lee. Another Jerry.”
“Ah he can’t help it, he was born that way,” Freeman grunted. “He was always an embarrassment to that family. They tried to hide him. Tried to shut him away all the time. Lee was vile to him, as you can imagine. Jerry loathed him. Put all his hopes and dreams into Lee.”
“You were a friend to him though?” Danny questioned, sucking on his cigarette, his other hand deep inside his pocket, wrapped around his phone. Freeman met his eyes silently. Danny nodded. “I went to see him,” he said again. “Poor git. He’s still ashamed of whatever you did to him. He still thinks he’s a bad boy who got sent away for it. How old was he eh? You fucking dirty bastard. How old was that poor fucker?”
Jack Freeman tossed his head, turned his shoulder and grunted. “Old enough,” was his surly, defensive reply. “Old enough to know what he wanted, I can tell you that.”
“And what about me then?” Danny heard his voice come out as a whisper. Freeman kept his eyes averted for a moment. Danny looked at him stood there, square and wide and stocky, one hand in his pocket, the other smoking the cigarette. He could not tell if the man felt awkward, or ashamed or anything. He felt his phone buzzing again in his pocket and ignored it. “What about me?” he pressed, feeling the horror rise suddenly and painfully inside of him. “Was I old enough? Was I?”
Freeman glanced back at him briefly, and grunted. “I told you, we’re even. Lee sent me that day. He knew what he was doing, that fucking bastard. I was hammered. Off my face. He was always dangling the fucking carrot in front of me.”
“I’m not just talking about that day,” Danny hissed at him, stepping closer again, his hand in his pocket tightening around his phone. Freeman was finding it harder to look at him, and Danny felt his heart beating faster, so fast he felt suddenly drunk on it all, not just on the whiskeys, but the fear and the anticipation and the memories. “I’m talking about all the times I was at your place. All the times I was fucked up and passed out. You know. You know what I mean.”
Freeman shuffled around slowly, facing him. He dragged on his cigarette and flicked the ash at the floor. Danny watched the tension ease away from his face. His eyes turned up slowly and his lips cracked over his teeth. “But you were a beautiful boy back then, you know,” he said, his voice a purr rolling out over his lips. “Too much so. You still are.”
Danny bristled, and felt his muscles tense all over his body. He breathed in, looked away from Freeman and glanced at the whiskey bottle on the bar. Whisky and Jack Freeman were joined at the lips, he remembered wryly. He had always reeked of it. Whiskey on his lips. Whiskey on his breath. Stale whiskey on his shabby clothes. “Too old for you now though eh?” he snarled suddenly. “You weren’t supposed to do anything.”
Jack Freeman moved towards the whiskey bottle and seized it with both hands, cigarette dangling between his teeth. His eyes raged at Danny as he unscrewed the lid and sloshed himself a double measure. And then he raised the drink at Danny and tipped him a wink, his lips pulling into an amused grimace. “Yeah but who can blame me eh? A beautiful teenage boy, beaten and wasted on my fucking sofa, eh?” He looked almost proud of himself for a moment. Danny watched, eyes fixed on him in horror. “Lee knew what he was doing all right. That was the fucking reason he called me down here in the first place. He knew what I liked. It was just another way for him to scare you, and control me.”
Danny looked at the bar and stubbed his cigarette out in the nearest ashtray. “You disgust me,” he announced, almost laughing. “You disgusted me back then, and you disgust me now.” He looked up, right into Freeman’s face. “You are vile, and you ought to be ashamed, but you’re not, are you? Look at you! In your shit hole pub, surrounded by fucking kids, probably on the lookout for the next victim eh? The next poor kid off his face on drugs and drink? What’s the matter with you? Can’t you get it any other way?” He placed his hands on the bar and looked at Freeman with pure disgust. “You make me sick. You’re as bad as him. You should be dead too!”
“Maybe you’re right,” Freeman returned, with a lazy shrug. “But it was his fault Danny. He put me in that position. He called me here.”
“You didn’t have to come! And what about Dennis? And those other kids? You’re a fucking scumbag pervert, you are. I can’t believe you’re not in prison. Just got off scott free didn’t you? Whereas me, I get subjected to all that fucking shit, all that fucking torture, from you fucking aresholes and when I finally snap, when I finally stand up for myself, I get ten fucking years in jail!” Danny felt it snap again then, just like it had at his mothers weeks before, after meeting Dennis. It was almost as if he could feel the line that reached towards calm, stretched out inside him, pulled as tight as a wire could be pulled. He was as close as he could get to Jack Freeman without actually jumping over the bar. Freeman squared up to him then, unflinching to Danny’s dismay. “You’re a piece of shit,” Danny raged, now trembling from head to toe. “You and him, just the same. Pieces of shit. You’re inhuman.”
“Get a grip of yourself son,” Freeman said then, shrugging his shoulders while his expression was uncertain. “It’s all in the past. It’s all over. Done and dusted. You got yours in the end, didn’t you eh? What actually happened that night? Why were you even with him? He should have left well alone, shouldn’t he?”
“He wanted me to take your old job,” Danny nodded, shaking his head and swallowing. “Yeah, that’s right. Once he found where I was. Kept following me about and pestering me. Then he turned up at the bed-sit where we lived, and Michael and Anthony were out. He knocked me out and the next thing I knew I was in his fucking car. Thought I was gonna’ die. He drags me out the car, hangs me over the fucking cliff. Then he’s all, you got to do what I say, you got to be a good boy, all that shit. Then he beat me with his belt. That was a nice touch. Drove me home like all was good and well in his fucked up little life again. Sat there in his car we did!” Danny laughed then, leaning over the bar and raking his hand through his hair. “Yeah we had a drink and a smoke and a little chat, and then he sent me on my merry way, thinking he had it all cornered again. But I looked at him, right, I fucking looked into his face and I knew it there and then, kill him, kill the bastard, fucking wipe him from this planet!” Danny stepped to the right, so that he was directly opposite Jack Freeman, and pushed his face as near as he was able to his. “So I got myself nice and coked up, just a little trick I learned from you of course! How to feel big for once! How to feel strong, and not take any shit! And I armed myself with a load of knives, and I went round there in the morning.”
“Pretty brave,” Freeman nodded, his tongue lashing across his lower lip. “I warned him though. I knew you’d do something like that one day. I told him! Especially after you stabbed me, I told him. I said you had it in you. The way you looked at him. You fucking hated him.”
“Too right I fucking did,” Danny nodded. “And I was more than happy to take my time in jail, but now I’m out, and like you say it’s all done and dusted right? It’s all done with. It’s over. I want to get on with my life and be happy. I deserve it, for fuck’s sake!”
“I don’t disagree,” Freeman said, his tone soft and soothing, his expression sympathetic. “Course you do. I’m on your side mate, I always was…”
“On my side?” Danny roared, reaching for him then, finding his shirt and seizing him across the bar by it. “You weren’t on my side you fat pervert! You pretended you were, made out I had this safe place to go, when all the time you were just as bad as him!” Freeman shook his head, his eyes wide. His hands came up and gripped onto Danny’s.
“No,” he said, his face crumpling in pain. “No that’s not true, I wasn’t like him! He was cruel to you! He wanted to destroy you! I loved you!”
“Fucking shit!” Danny held him tighter and shook him hard. He felt all the power and strength he had not owned as a boy, coursing through his body as he held onto him. “People like you aren’t capable of love! You’d stand by every time and watch him hurt me, you never said a fucking word! You’d just stand there, just fucking watching! You disgusting piece of shit, you and him ruined my life!” He pulled back with one hand, balled it into a fist and watched the alarm fill Freeman’s eyes before he yanked him closer with his other hand, and ploughed the fist into his face.
Danny ignored the pain that careered up his wrist, and he ignored the frantic ringing in his pocket. He leapt quickly over the bar and found Jack Freeman on his knees on the other side, both hands over his nose. Bright blood trickled through his podgy fingers. “I tried to leave you alone, I really did…” he spoke through his hands, his voice thick and nasal from the pumping blood. “I swear to God I tried…you don’t know what it’s like! He never should have asked me to come!”
“He knew you abused Dennis, didn’t he?” Danny stared down at him, sneering in repulse. “You two sicko’s had been pulling the same shit for years!”
“He didn’t care about Dennis,” Freeman spluttered. “He meant nothing to Lee, nothing. He caught us one day, in the changing rooms at the gym. I thought he’d kill me, but he just laughed. He said Dennis probably liked it, and left us alone. It was so he would have something on me, but I didn’t realise that at the time.”
“Disgusting,” Danny said again, standing over him, shaking his head. “You’ve got every excuse going haven’t you? What about Jerry? Did he know?”
“No, no, he never knew, never, but Lee made up a story, told him Dennis was gay, and he believed him. That’s when he sent him to River House.”
“What was that place?”
“Just a home,” Freeman shrugged pathetically. “A home for people like him. They let him out when he was in his thirties. I hear he copes okay on his own now.”
“You’re gonna’ tell me what I need to know,” Danny said then, stepping closer. He felt a coldness fall over him then, as he looked down at Freeman. He glanced at the mans fat thighs, spread apart and he lashed out suddenly, aggressively, kicking him as hard as he could between the legs. He laughed when Freeman toppled slowly to one side, his hands down on his groin, his face twisted in silent agony. His phone was still ringing. He took it out and answered it while Freeman writhed on the floor. “Mike, it’s okay.”
“Jesus Christ Danny, I’m coming in!”
“No, you don’t need to, I’m fine.”
“Why the hell didn’t you answer your phone?”
“Too busy talking. I’ll be out in a minute.” He hung up again, and knew that he did not have much time before Michael would rush in. He knelt down carefully, fixing his eyes on Jack Freeman’s gasping, screwed up face. “You look a bit like Lee did,” he told him. “When he was on his kitchen floor with a knife sticking out of him. Took me a while to get him, you know. He nearly killed me first. But he didn’t know how many knives I had, you see, he thought I only had one, the stupid bastard. You know, I can still see that final look on his face? Before he died. He was fucking outraged, I can tell you Jack. He was outraged that I got him. That I won. He was fucking outraged that he never got me in line like he wanted. I was never his good boy, was I eh? Thank fuck.”
“He was addicted to violence,” Freeman grunted, his eyes opening up to slits, his head on the floor, and his hands still cupped around his groin. “He was the same when we were young. Once he found someone to bully he couldn’t stop himself…it was like a fucking drug to him…he craved it. He never would have stopped. You had to kill him, kid, you had to…”
“I could kill you too,” Danny informed him brightly, leaning closer. “Couldn’t I Jack? I don’t care about going back to jail, you know. Life is all fucked up out here anyway, always will be. I’ll go back to jail happily, yeah. Happy knowing that both you evil cunts are gone forever.”
“I’ll tell you…” Freeman pushed himself up one elbow, his thin strands of hair hanging limply over his eyes. “Whatever you want to know…I owe you…I’m sorry.”
Danny leaned closer, his eyes fierce, his lip curled. “Tell me what you did to me, when I was passed out, you filthy scumbag, I have fucking nightmares every night, not knowing…”
“Nothing!” Freeman gasped up at him, pushing himself up more with his palm against the floor. “Nothing, I didn’t do anything….I just messed around a bit, just touched you, that was it kid, that was it! Nothing, it was nothing…you would have woke up if it was anything more.”
“That’s not nothing!” Danny stood up then, and kicked him in the belly. He could feel no ribs, no muscle, just soft yielding fat, as the man dropped back to the floor, groaning. He kicked him again, harder this time. “That’s not nothing you shitting scumbag!” Danny looked at him and he really wanted to hurt him then, he really wanted to damage him. He was still kicking him when Michael rushed breathlessly through the double doors, and called out to him urgently.
“Danny what the fuck are you doing?”