Lucy seemed to have experienced every conceivable emotion during the hour since the pregnancy test had come up positive. For a long time she had just sat in stunned silence, her pants still around her ankles, the white stick trembling in her hand, her mouth hanging open in surprise. Eventually she had moved to somewhere more comfortable to go through the rest of the emotions that tumbled through her; the kitchen table, with a cold cup of tea in front of her. She felt herself shooting violently between abject fear, and euphoric joy, with everything else in between, including wanting to laugh out loud. She had her phone on the table too. She picked it up every now and again, her thumb rubbing gently across the buttons, as she thought about calling her mum, or Danny, or anyone. Then she would put it down and drop her head back into her hands in exasperation. She considered going out to buy more tests. Wasn’t that what women normally did? Took a whole load of them just to be sure?
It seemed like a plan, and a plan was what she needed. She forced herself up from the table, swiping a dry tea towel from the back of the chair to dab at her damp eyes. She checked herself in the hallway mirror, smoothing down her hair and blinking away the last lot of tears. She turned sideways and wondered how it was possible that she looked fatter than normal. Panicking, she sucked in her stomach, and pulled at the waist of her jeans, wondering how long they had been feeling tight for. Fresh air, Lucy told herself. Fresh air, and a brisk walk back to the chemist. It would be humiliating buying more tests, but it had to be done. Then she would know. Then she would be able to start making decisions.
Lucy grabbed her coat and scarf and left her flat, slamming the door abruptly behind her. She marched down the road towards the row of shops. She remembered how the row of shops had helped her make the decision to buy the flat. The convenience of it, having everything she needed just on the doorstep. She felt brighter, and braver, as she walked on. She found herself nodding to herself, telling herself it would be okay, one way or another, it would all be okay.
She bought three more tests and felt her cheeks redden when she handed them to the middle aged woman behind the till. The woman could not resist raising her eyebrows and smiling slightly. Lucy could tell she was just dying to ask her about it, to start a conversation, but she just bagged them up quietly without a comment, and Lucy paid, and left the shop. Right, she thought, stepping back out into the cold evening, get in, do these, make another tea while waiting, then we’ll know what we’re doing.
As she walked, her hand inadvertently drifted to her stomach, and she found herself looking down, wondering…what if? She shook her head, walked faster. No, I don’t know for sure yet, it could be wrong, I’m just fat! I’ve been comfort eating, and I’ve missed my periods because of stress, yes, that’s it! Back in the flat, Lucy slammed the door shut and kicked off her shoes again. She ducked into the kitchen long enough to click on the kettle and dump a clean cup on the side. Then she hurried back to the little bathroom and started to tear off the packaging from the tests. She wondered why she didn’t feel so scared this time around; was it because she expected them all to be negative and the first to have been wrong? Or was it because she knew they would all say the same thing?
Lucy did what was required of her, and went back to the kitchen to make her cup of tea. She put the radio on, and made the cup of tea, and forced herself to sit down and drink all if it, before going back to the bathroom. An old Smiths song was playing, and it made her think of Danny, and her heart lurched a little, and her pulse accelerated. She gathered herself together and tried not to think about anything at all. When the tea was gone, she slid back her chair and gracefully walked back to the bathroom. She had lined all three tests up on the windowsill, and picked them up one at a time. She hitched in her breath; positive, positive, positive. Okay then.
Lucy felt strangely calm and detached from them as she let them fall into the bin, turned around and walked out of the bathroom. She chewed the nail on her thumb, went back to the kitchen and sat back down, and saw her phone was still on the table where she had left it. I’m having a baby. It was a strange, dislocated thought. Her lips tugged into a smile, and then she started to cry.
Lucy cried on and off for an hour and a half. Then she pulled herself together again, and picked up the phone. She thought about who to call, who to text. She wanted her mother desperately, and every time she even thought about her, fresh tears would fill her eyes. She realised she had never felt quite so alone before, and found it odd that discovering she was pregnant, somehow made her want to curl up and cry in her own mother’s lap. But it felt wrong somehow to tell her mother first. As much as it terrified and pained her, Lucy brought up Danny’s number. She pressed call and held her breath. As it rang, she decided not to tell him over the phone, but just to explain that she needed to see him urgently. He did not pick up. The phone went to messages, so she hung up. Instead of leaving a message, she quickly typed him a text; tried to call u ,pls call me, v urgent, need 2 c u v urgent, Lucyxx She pressed sent and dropped the phone back onto the table. There. Done. Well, almost.
Lucy rubbed her face with both hands and thought about the thing she now knew was growing inside her. It seemed impossible and amazing and terrifying and soothing and wonderful and unbelievable all at once. What will he say? She glanced through her fingers at her phone. What on earth will he say? What will he think? What will he do? What am I going to do?
Then she remembered her mum, and quickly grabbed the phone up again.
Michael did not hesitate when he saw Danny behind the bar with Jack Freeman. He ran to the bar, could not find a way in, so jumped right over it, and grabbed Danny by his arms. “Danny no! No! Stop it!” He wrestled him away from the bloodied man on the floor. At first he felt him struggling to get away, to go back for more, and he held onto him as tightly as he could, trying to drag him further from Freeman. Then he felt him relaxing underneath his arms, and he loosened his grip slightly. “What the fuck are you doing mate?” he asked, still holding onto his arms. “What are you doing?”
Michael almost did not dare look down at Jack Freeman, but then he heard him grunting and groaning, and when he looked, he saw he was pulling himself back up to a sitting position. He held both arms around his middle, leaning forward as he coughed and spluttered, while thick rivers of blood ran down from his face. Danny was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling rapidly, his fists still balled in front of him. “Let him, let him!” Jack Freeman coughed from the floor, waving one hand at them both, before wrapping it back around his body. “I deserve it all…let him finish me off.”
“No way,” Michael shook his head in disgust and pushed Danny behind him, blocking his way. He kept one hand on his arm, holding it firmly. “And spend the rest of his life in jail? Just what you lot fucking want I bet!”
“I’m nothing to do with all that, I told you…” Freeman was shaking his head at them.
“Liar!” Danny spat, pressing up against Michael, trying to get back at him. “Why are you here then? Just around the fucking corner! All of you are! You phone that cunt now, you get Jerry Howard here right now, I want to see him!”
“We need to get out of here,” Michael turned to him, both hands pushing him back now. “You can’t do this Danny, let’s just go!”
“I’m telling you, it’s not me, it’s not me…” Freeman said again, his tone desperate now. Michael looked down at him. He saw an overweight man in his sixties, bloodied and beaten, his slate grey eyes swollen and puffed up. He got onto his knees, kept one arm around his middle and held the other hand up, as if holding them back. “Listen to me Danny,” he said, “listen, it’s not me…It is Jerry, you’re right, he tried to get me involved….He’s been pestering me and winding me up just like his fucking precious son used to do…But I said no, you hear me? I said no, I said to leave you alone, just like I warned Lee to leave you alone, yeah? It’s the truth Danny, it’s the truth!”
“You expect us to believe that?” Michael glared down at him, holding Danny back. “Why should we believe you?”
“Because I have no beef with Danny, I told him that,” was the blood-choked reply. “We’re even. He got me back. I deserved it then, and I deserve it now. I was just a weak, weak man…I disgust myself, believe me!” He started to cough, and placed one hand down on the floor to steady himself, blood spraying from his mouth as his chest heaved up and down. Michael looked back to Danny, and tried to push him back again, but he resisted, pushing back against him, grabbing the bar with one hand and trying to pull his way free.
“You call Jerry Howard and tell him it has to stop!” he shouted at Freeman. “I’m not having it! I’ll kill all of you if I have to! Will you all be happy then? Look what you’ve turned me into! Look at me!”
“Danny come on,” Michael urged him, blocking him again with his body, “leave the filthy bastard, leave him, forget about it, let’s just go!”
“Will you tell him to stop it all?” Danny said again, and Michael could hear the begging in his voice now, and he was giving up fighting to get past. He held onto him just the same, keeping his hand on his arm, as he slowly sank against the bar, his head in hand. Michael glanced quickly at the bottle of whiskey and empty glasses on the bar, and wondered how many they had had. “Will you?” he asked Howard, sagging forward now, as if his legs were giving up on him. He was looking at Freeman as if he could not bear to, yet could not look away. “Will you tell him he has to leave me alone? Please?”
“I’ll call him,” Freeman nodded, sitting back on his legs, his hands lying limply upon his thighs, and his double chin resting on his chest. “I’ll talk to him. Get him to stop it all.”
Danny was staring at him, just nodding. “It’s not fair,” Michael heard him say, his head hanging lower. “I was just a kid…I didn’t do anything to any of you.”
“I know, I know that,” Freeman was still nodding. His face looked battered, Michael thought, eyeing him in distaste and distrust. “I’ll talk to him, I will.”
Danny pushed away from where he had been leaning against the bar, and moved towards Freeman. Michael automatically reached out for him, gripping his arm to pull him back. “That’s why I came here,” Danny said to Freeman, “to put an end to it all. It should all be over, shouldn’t it?”
“Danny, let’s go,” Michael said again, more insistently this time. He could not bear another minute in close proximity to a man like Jack Freeman. He looked at his friend in concern, and wondered what the hell had just passed between them, what had set Danny off like that. He pulled his arm again, even firmer. “You’ve done what you came to do, yeah? Let’s get out of here, get away from him.”
Danny nodded, released a shuddering sigh, and turned towards Michael, his eyes averted to the floor. Michael breathed out in relief and turned with him, heading towards the gap in the bar further down. He heard Jack Freeman cough again behind them. It was a wet, thick sound. Then he called out; “he always sort of admired you, you know Danny.”
“What?” Danny stopped, and looked back at him in confusion.
“Lee,” said Freeman, his large round shoulders bobbing up and down as he breathed heavily through his busted nose. “He was a dangerous man, but a part of him admired you, for not giving in to him. Everyone else always did, you know? But not you. That’s why he got tougher and tougher on you wasn’t it?”
Danny just shook his head. “What do you mean by that?”
“I just wanted you to know,” the man shrugged at him. “He wanted to crush it out of you, but at the same time there was a part of Lee that respected you, whenever you told him to fuck himself, or whatever. You were never as scared of him as you could have been.”
“I fucking was,” Danny disagreed vehemently. Michael saw the rage flashing back in his eyes. “I didn’t fucking sleep for years, when he was around! I couldn’t fucking eat half the time, my stomach would be in knots! It was like I couldn’t breathe…it was like…” he trailed off then, shaking his head in dismay, trying to find the words he needed.
“There was a part of Lee that wanted you to like him,” Freeman said then, his tone more assertive, as if he was speaking of something he really understood. “I mean it, I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted you to know…he wanted what he had with his dad, I mean. That admiration. The way they felt about each other.”
“Well he went the wrong fucking way about it, didn’t he then?” Michael retorted, finally dragging Danny on again, and steering him away and around the other side of the bar. “He should have tried being a normal decent human being, and not beating the shit out of a kid who couldn’t defend himself, shouldn’t he eh? And you’re just as bad you fat sack of shit, why don’t you do the world a favour and throw yourself off the fucking cliffs eh? The lives you’ve ruined, how the fuck do you even sleep at night?” Michael kept his hand on Danny’s back, propelling him towards the doors. “Piece of shit,” he said and spat, right across the bar at Jack Freeman. The man stared back blankly, blood pooling around his doughy cheeks.
Michael shoved open both sets of doors, herding Danny back out into the night air. They marched quickly towards the car, Danny with his eyes down, his face confused, and Michael scanning the road nervously, always on the lookout for trouble. He unlocked the car quickly, guided Danny into the passenger seat, slammed the door and dashed around the other side. “You okay?” he asked, even though he knew it was a stupid and useless question. “What happened in there?”
Danny pulled his seat belt across him slowly, his expression dazed. Kurt was already whimpering and wriggling, trying to squeeze himself through from the back. He turned and grabbed him, smoothing back his ears and kissing him on his head. Michael was sure he could see tears shining in his eyes. “I could have killed him,” he said finally, dropping his head back against the seat and closing his eyes. “I think I would have killed him.”
“Why?” asked Michael, reaching down to switch on the engine. “What did he do? What did he say to you? Is he in on it all?”
“I don’t think so, I’m not sure,” Danny shook his head, opened his eyes and blinked furiously. Finally, he had no option but to lift one hand and wipe his eyes.
“Fucking crazy,” Michael said, because he did not know what else to say about it. “All of it. Him, being here, all this time? I don’t get it.”
“Howard left him half the old club,” Danny replied, sniffing. “Mum never said. Or she didn’t know. I don’t know.”
“Why stay around here though? Why would he do that?”
“I don’t get it. Seems mad. And it’s wrong.” Michael found himself glaring up at the pub. “It’s fucking wrong. What punishment did he ever get eh? He gets a bloody pub!”
Danny snorted. “His miserable life is his punishment Mike.”
“Miserable? Doesn’t look that bad to me!”
“It doesn’t matter,” Danny sighed, pulling out his phone. “Let’s just drive home. Let’s get the hell away from here.”
“What about Dennis?” Michael asked. “Did you find out more about him?”
Danny was frowning down at his phone. “Only that Lee and his dad despised the poor bastard. Freeman messed around with him, and Lee caught him, and said it was okay. Then he told his dad Dennis was gay and got him sent away for good.”
“Bastards…” Michael said softly, shaking his head. “So it’s Jerry, it’s Jerry Howard we need to target. We need proof Dan, that’s what we need, we need to get proof and take it to the police. Get the old bastard locked up like you were. That’s what we’ve got to do mate.” He checked his mirror and pulled away from the kerb side.
“Lucy’s called me too,” Danny said then, pressing buttons on his phone. “And texted me. Says she needs to see me and it’s urgent.”
“Call her,” Michael said quickly. “Something might have happened.”
Danny nodded and held the phone to his ear, waiting. Then; “Lucy? It’s me. What’s wrong?” Michael glanced at him, trying to read his expression. Again, he wondered what had passed between him and Jack Freeman, and why Danny had wanted to go in there alone. “Okay. Tomorrow is fine. Okay bye.” Danny hung up the phone, and frowned. “Don’t know what that’s about.”
“Yeah, nothing’s happened. Just said she needs to see me urgently. I’ll go around tomorrow.”
Michael breathed out again. “You need to call Haskell.”
“You do. Now, I mean. You need Jerry’s fucking address, ‘cause that’s where we’re gonna’ go next, believe me. But I’ll come with you this time and I’m not taking no for an answer.” Michael glared sideways at Danny, who shrugged in reply. “You gonna’ tell me why you started beating him or what?”
Danny covered his mouth with one hand for a moment. “I think everything will be revealed when we speak to Jerry,” he said, again avoiding the question. “You’re right. I’ll text Haskell now. Get on with it. Can’t live in this nightmare much longer.”
“You’ll be all right,” Michael told him, his tone softening. “He was right about one thing, wasn’t he?”
“You never let Howard win, he never won. He never got what he wanted.”
Danny sighed, raised his eyebrows and turned his face to the window. “I don’t think anyone has got what they wanted,” he said softly.