He had spent the entire weekend in the pub, drinking it all away. It seemed the best option, the only safe thing to do. He felt like his mind would explode if he thought properly about any of it. So he stayed in the pub. He ate all his meals in the pub. He drank whiskey shots and pints of beer in the pub, and if anyone wanted to see him or speak to him, then they had to come to the pub too.
He sat, mostly alone, in the corner, staring into nothing. He got up every time the jukebox needed a new cd. He went through all of them like that. All the old ones, all the ones he had cherished in his youth. He drifted in and out of memories and images, and thoughts, and every now and again something would smack into him like a brick, she’s pregnant! You attacked Freeman! Freeman attacked you! Then he would shake it all away again, drink more alcohol, push it away and think of something else. Anything else. His phone vibrated non stop with messages and phone calls. His mother. Michael. Caroline. Even Anthony wanted to know what he was playing at. He ignored them as much as he could.
“You’re pissing your life away in here mate,” the old guy Tony would look at him and say, shaking his head from side to side slowly, as he came round the table to clear away the empties. “Young man like you, ought to be out there living your life.”
“Safer in here,” Danny would tell him, knowing he was right. “Safer to stay put. Everything I touch out there turns to shit.”
“Well aren’t we feeling sorry for ourselves?”
“Not really. Just need time to think.”
“Well I can’t argue with that. You’re my best customer at the moment.” He would chuckle to himself and wander back to the bar. “Good luck with the thinking.”
Michael joined him on Saturday evening, his expression taut with worry. He sat beside him at the little round table, pint glass in one hand, cigarette in the other.
“So she’s up the duff,” he shrugged at Danny. “So what? You’ll be alright mate. It’s not that fucking bad!”
“I don’t want kids,” Danny told him. “I do not want kids.”
“Even with Lucy?” Michael tried to reason with him. “You love her mate. She loves you. Maybe you can have a shot you know? At a decent, normal life? You know, move in together, have the kid, settle down?”
“Didn’t work for you.”
“Well I wish it had mate, I wish it had now.” Michael caught his eyes and nodded at him sombrely. “I’d give anything now to go back and do it again. I’m not shitting you. I love that little boy to death, you know. I was a fucking prick not making it work with Jenny.”
“I need to contact Caroline.”
Michael spluttered over his drink, and glared at Danny. “What? Why? What for? You need to call Lucy, you twat! She must be in bits!”
Danny merely picked up his drink, and finished it off, before glancing hungrily at the bar. “Need to get the next address,” he said. “Can’t forget about all that. It’s not over yet.”
Michael shook his head and slumped back beside him. “Well maybe it should be Dan. Maybe we should leave it. Call the cops if anything nasty happens. Seeing that old git Freeman has not exactly done you the world of good.”
“Jerry’s the one,” Danny argued back, already sliding his hand into his pocket to find some money. “He’s the one behind it all, we know that now. I finish the fucking interview with Haskell, give her what she wants, then go see him. One way or another I am fucking having words with him.”
“And what if it’s not just words Danny? What if it escalates like it did with Freeman? You’re gonna’ get yourself thrown back in prison mate. That’s what I’m worried about. That could be the whole point of it all! That could be what all this is leading to you know.” Michael had sat forward again, pint between his legs as he stared at Danny, “didn’t he say that to you? That you shouldn’t be out, you should have got longer? That’s what he wants, he wants you fucking back inside, either that or fucking out of your mind. He’s winning on both counts mate. I hate to tell you, but he is.”
“You were all for it yesterday,” Danny reminded him, staggering to his feet and pulling a handful of money from his pocket. He promptly dropped most of it, and had to bend down under the table to retrieve it. He heard Michael sigh in frustration and found it amusing. He had decided to find it all amusing, all of it, the meeting with Freeman, the pregnant ex-girlfriend, and the thought of meeting Jerry Howard. Amusing. Funny. Really fucking funny. That was the way to go, that was the way to see it.
“Yeah, that was before I knew Lucy was pregnant, and before you started bingeing.”
“Michael, I don’t know what else to do.”
“Get home,” Michael looked at him. “Get sober. Then get back to Lucy. For fuck’s sake.”
Danny rolled his eyes and wandered over to the bar. Michael did not hang around much after that. He had other things to do apparently, other places to go. Danny didn’t care, and he didn’t mind drinking alone. He wobbled slowly home after closing time, and wandered back again the next morning to take up his post.
After the second pint of the day he finally picked up his phone and sent a message to Caroline Haskell. She had been sending text messages constantly, wanting to know how it had gone with Freeman, and when could she see him next. The first pint of the day merely served to refresh the alcohol he had consumed the day before. In the pub if you want me he sent to Caroline. Moments later the text came through; I’ll be there asap. Danny laughed out loud and leaned back against the wall, drink in hand. He saw Tony eyeing him wearily from the bar, and raised his drink to him with a smile. He had chosen The Smiths for the jukebox today, and it was making him feel vicious and careless. I want to fuck myself right up, he thought lazily, gulping his beer, I’ll be a fucking boozer, a fucking dirty old skanky alcoholic, fuck it, at least that way I won’t have to deal with any more shit.
The next hour passed in a blur. His phone rang when he arrived back at the table with another pint and a packet of crisps. “Hello mother!” he shouted into it. He registered her clicking her tongue at him on the other end.
“Danny, everyone is worried about you. Are you still in the pub?”
“Yes I’m still in the pub,” he laughed down the phone. “I’m still in the pub, it’s a very nice pub, you should come and join me mother.”
“I’ll meet you, but I want to take you for coffee or something.”
“Why? What for? Fuck that! I’m staying in the pub!”
“Why? What good will it do?”
“It’ll do a lot of good mother! It’ll keep me away from the bastards after me, and it’ll keep me away from my pregnant ex-girlfriend, and it’ll…”
“What did you say?”
“Pregnant? You said pregnant! Is Lucy pregnant? I knew it! I knew something was up yesterday!”
Danny growled under his breath. “I’m staying in the pub,” he said and hung up on her. She instantly called him back but he ignored it. And then the text messages began, barraging him with questions and accusations, getting angrier by turn; what the hell are you doing, you should be with her!…Get over to her right now, stop being an idiot!…She needs you Danny, don’t be so selfish…I’ll come down there and drag you out if you don’t pick up your phone!
There was a simple solution to it all, he considered. He picked up the phone, switched it off, and slung it angrily back onto the table. He just wanted to be alone; why wouldn’t they all just leave him alone? Through the drunken haze he had enveloped himself in, he was aware that he was simply revelling in self-pity and self-disgust. That’s okay, he told himself with a firm nod, I’m allowed to, I’ve never done it before! He rested his head back on the wall, closed his eyes briefly, and immediately saw a flash of Lee Howard in his mind. The image jumped and blurred, mingling with the face of Jerry Howard, then rearing up again as Jack Freeman, pudgy and bloodied, eyes streaming with guilty tears. Danny kept his eyes closed, pulled his feet up onto the chair and nestled into the wall with his pint glass between his knees.
He awoke with a jolt, fear strangling his throat, his breath caught there, and for a few moments he was so disorientated that he thought he was still a kid, waking suddenly in the night, every creak and moan a suggestion that something was about to happen. He stared wide eyed around himself, as it sunk slowly back in where he was, who he was, what was going on. He looked up then, aware of a presence. The pub was darker. He wondered how long he had slept.
“The state of you!” came a voice, and Danny struggled to sit up, rubbed his eyes and pushed back his hair.
“Yes, you fuckwit, what’s the matter, drink affected your eyesight?”
Danny groaned, feeling the pound of an impending hangover starting to gnaw at his brain. He found his pint still sat between his legs and lifted it to his lips, as Anthony pulled up a stool at his table. He placed his own pint before him and folded his arms on the table. He was looking at Danny with pity in his eyes, shaking his head, mouth grim. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” came the inevitable question.
“Knew you were gonna’ say that,” Danny sighed, head in hand.
“Well, haven’t you? Mike says you’ve been in here since yesterday morning.”
“What is this, your turn to try and talk sense into me? For Christ’s sake can’t anyone just leave me alone? I’m not harming anyone sat here, am I? I just need some fucking time Anthony.”
Anthony looked him slowly up and down. “Mike told me about Lucy.”
Danny groaned again, not wanting to hear about it, not even wanting to hear Lucy’s name. “Don’t start,” he said, holding a hand up to Anthony. “Please Anthony, don’t even start on it. I’ll deal with it when I’m ready.”
Anthony nodded silently. He was quiet for a few moments, looking around at the pub, drumming his fingers against the table. He took a slow sip of beer and Danny drank the last of his and set the glass down, wiping his mouth with the back of one hand. He looked at Anthony and thought I don’t recognise you anymore, where did the kid in you go? Anthony looked up then, as if guessing his thoughts. “This isn’t the answer you know, Danny.”
“It is at the moment.”
“How is this helping?”
“It’s helping,” Danny shrugged, knowing there was no way to explain this to him. “Believe me, it is helping. I think I’ve got it all figured out actually.”
“Really? Come on then spill it.”
“You know about the list?”
Anthony edged forward, his dark eyes frowning. “List? What list?”
“The three people who have it in for me, the list.” Danny counted them off on his fingers for Anthony. “Dennis Howard, Jack Freeman, Jerry Howard.”
Anthony’s frown grew deeper, and he shifted uncomfortably on the barstool. He shook his head slightly. “You better explain what you mean. I don’t get it.”
“Me and Mike, we went to see Dennis, yeah?” Danny felt impatient to tell him about it. He vaguely remembered telling Michael to keep Anthony out of it, to keep him at a distance, for his own safety. But none of that seemed to matter now, now he was so close. Only one more address to get from Haskell. Only five more questions to answer to satisfy her bloodlust. Then he would meet with Jerry Howard. His eyes flicked to the bar, he thought about a whiskey shot and another pint, but then looked quickly back at Anthony. “Lee’s brother. Never met him back then. He had this mentally handicapped brother, this slow brother. We went to see him. I got the address from that reporter Haskell. She’s been helping me out.” Again, Danny glanced at the bar, licking his lips slowly, getting worried that the fog might start to clear, that the alcohol might start to dry up within him. He looked back to see Anthony leaning forward, his head jutting out towards his, his eyes deep with confusion and fear. “He’s just this poor idiot anyway,” he shrugged and went on. “He’s harmless. But he let on that Freeman had messed around with him, you know, back when they were all kids, hanging around Jerry’s gym. Lee caught Freeman in the act, but instead of protecting his brother, he used it to hold it over Freeman, so he could control him. And he used it to convince his dad Dennis was gay, and no good, and he got packed off to some home for years and years.”
Danny stopped to take a breath and his eyes drifted down to the pint Anthony was holding. “Go on,” Anthony urged. “I can’t believe you guys haven’t told me any of this. I knew you were keeping stuff from me, I knew it.”
“My fault,” Danny shrugged. “I told Mike to keep you out. Didn’t want you losing your wife and kids over it.”
“So go on,” Anthony pushed him. “Dennis is not behind the shit you’ve been getting?”
“Don’t think so, no. Well if he is, it’s only because his dad is making him. Anyway, next I found out where Jack Freeman calls home these days. Hang on mate, I need another drink.” Danny got up abruptly and headed for the bar, digging in his pocket again for money. He felt the floor dip and sway beneath his feet, and had to reach out blindly to hold onto the bar as it appeared before him. Tony passed him another pint wordlessly and he slid him the money and went back to the table.
“Man, you can barely walk, you idiot,” Anthony had his head in his hands, shaking it in frustration. “When you’ve had that one, I’m taking you home, no fucking arguments.”
“Can’t,” Danny told him brightly as he lifted the new drink to his lips. “Waiting for Haskell to show up. I get the final address today. In exchange for a bit of useless information, she’ll let me know where Jerry Howard lives, and then I’ll go and see him when I’m sober. I’ll have it out with him. Find out what the fuck he wants and end all this.” Danny lowered his pint glass and smiled at Anthony triumphantly.
“Jesus Christ,” Anthony pulled his hands down his face and picked his own drink back up. “What happened with Freeman then? Where was he?”
“Right round the fucking corner, no less!” Danny exploded, his shoulders shaking with laughter, as Anthony looked on in horror. “I know, I know, unbelievable right? You’d think he would off crawled off somewhere and never shown his face again, wouldn’t you? After all the shit you found out about him, remember that? Well the fucking bastard’s got no shame obviously. He got money from Howard’s will and bought a fucking pub near the sea.”
Anthony scratched his head, and then covered his mouth briefly with one hand. Danny felt himself whisked back to the past then, seeing him like that. He saw him, sat exactly the same way, hand over mouth, eyes full of gut wrenching dread, just before he told Danny and Michael exactly why he wanted them to stay away from Jack Freeman and his grotty flat. Danny remembered he had got up to be sick when the information had sunk in. It was like Anthony had sat there and confirmed all his worst nightmares were actually real, had actually happened. It had been like a smack in the face, a punch to the gut; he had felt all the air leave his lungs and had been spluttering for oxygen when the bile began to rise.
“I don’t believe it,” Anthony said now, his tone soft and sad, and Danny could see that he did believe it. “Fucking dirty nasty old cunt…”
“Yeah,” Danny agreed and picked up his pint. He drank four mouthfuls without stopping for air.
“Danny, how long has he been living there?”
“The whole time I was inside pretty much,” Danny replied. “Just fucking loving it he was, Anthony. He even thanked me, can you believe that? He said I did him a massive favour the day I killed Lee. I freed him, see? Lee had this hold over him, all his filthy secrets from the past. He could get him to do anything he wanted. I killed him and it all died with him.”
“Oh Danny, mate…”Anthony seemed at a loss for words, moving his hand from his mouth to his eyes and wiping it back and forth, his head down low.
“But anyway,” Danny waved a hand at the past dismissively. “We had a chat. Got a few things straight. He reckons he’s got nothing to do with all the shit I’m getting. He said Jerry is about, and wanted him to help, but he said no.”
“Probably not true,” Anthony looked up. “Wouldn’t Jerry have a hold over him too?”
“Not really. He didn’t know what he did to Dennis. Or anyone else. No proof see?”
“So he just gets away with it?”
“Looks like it, yeah. Apart from me giving him a bit of a kicking.”
Anthony’s jaw fell open. Danny grinned at him, waiting for the smile to tug at his lips, and before long it did, he couldn’t help himself. “You didn’t!”
“I did. Don’t worry though, Mike came in and pulled me off. No real damage done.” Danny shrugged his shoulders carelessly while Anthony looked on in wonder. Finally he let the smile win and nodded at him.
“Bet that felt good though.”
“Nothing like a bit of revenge eh?” Danny sighed then, picked up his drink and looked around the pub. “Haskell should be here soon.”
“So what happens then? She just gives you the address?”
“Well not quite!” Danny laughed, sitting back against the wall and letting his head drop back. “I’m doing this bloody interview with her, aren’t I? The one she’s been after for years.”
“Something else you guys have kept from me eh?” Anthony raised his eyebrows and drank from his beer.
“Sorry,” Danny told him. “It’s best that way. I know what you’re like. Can’t keep your nose out, can you?”
Anthony sniggered at him. “Always been a problem of mine.” He smiled sadly then, and shifted forward. “Tell me when you go to see this Howard guy though, yeah? I’ll make up an excuse for Chrissie. I think I should come.”
“What if he has back up? Those guys that attacked us in here? What if it’s all a set up, leading you to him?”
Danny shrugged in reply and looked up at the door, as a slim blonde woman pushed her way meaningfully through it. “Survived so far,” he said. “Here comes Haskell. Hope she gets me a drink.”
Anthony looked over his shoulder. “I’ll tell her not to.”
“Well you look like you’ve made yourself comfortable!” the reporter said, smiling confidently as she approached their table. She dropped her bag next to the table and looked at Anthony. “Hi, how are you?”
“Not bad. Was just about to escort this young man home though.”
Caroline frowned at him. “Why?”
“He’s been on a bender since yesterday morning,” Anthony informed her, shrugging apologetically at Danny. “He’s in no state to do an interview with you love.”
“Oh fuck off, Anthony!” Danny said, feeling a wave of aggression wash over him. He rolled his eyes impatiently at Caroline. “Ignore him and get me a drink will you? He’s just leaving.”
“What would you like?”
“Anything. Anything.” When she had gone to the bar, Danny sat forward and gestured to Anthony. “I’ll be alright,” he insisted, even though he had to blink hard to get Anthony’s face to stop blurring. “I’ll be fine…off you go, go on…She’ll look after me. She’ll take me home.”
“I don’t trust her,” Anthony argued. “You shouldn’t either.”
Danny laughed and reached out to him, clamping his hand down on Anthony’s forearm. “I don’t trust her, I don’t. I don’t trust anyone Anthony….apart from you and Michael…and that is it…no one else. Not my mum, not Lucy, not anyone, except you two guys…I’d trust you with my life you know, you two?”
Anthony was smiling at him gently. “You are so drunk mate. So drunk. Please let me get you home.”
Danny removed his hand and sat back against the wall. “No. Got to do this. Got to. No other way. Go on, off you go before she comes back. I got to get in the right frame of mind for this shit.”
Anthony relented, shaking his head and sighing as he swung his leg over the bar stool and got to his feet. He drained the last of his beer and put the glass down, then cast a withering look at Caroline Haskell, on her way back from the bar, and turned to leave. “Look after him, right?” he hissed at her as he passed by. “Or you’ll have me to answer to.”
Caroline sat down opposite Danny and placed a bottle of red wine and two glasses on the table. She waited until Anthony had left the pub, and then exhaled in relief and laughed out loud. “Your friends Danny, are so incredibly protective of you!”
“Old habits die hard,” he said in return, helping himself to wine. “Come on, get your thingy out, I want to get this over with.”
“Oh alright, alright,” she looked perturbed, but began to dig around in her bag nonetheless. “Are you sure you’re not too drunk? We can do this another day if you like.”
“No today. Got to be today.”
“Okay then. How did it go with Freeman?”
“Not important,” he snapped. “Come on, come on. You got your five questions all ready? Thought of more?”
She gave him a patient look, as she set up her voice recorder and opened her notebook. “Where did we get to?” she murmured, dragging the nib of her pen down the page of her notebook. “Oh yes. Here we are. You were telling me about your relationship with Jack Freeman. How Anthony found out about the accusations made against him when he was a detective. How you couldn’t tell me any more, as you didn’t remember yourself?” She looked up, sweeping her glossy hair to one side as she did.
“Aren’t you supposed to press play?”
“I was just getting us back to where we were,” she shrugged, reaching out and holding her finger over the play button. “Ready?” Her eyes met his and he felt the sudden, disquieting urge to grab the tape recorder and smack her around the head with it. He blinked furiously, shook his head, and watched the whole pub swim around him. He nodded dumbly. He was wrecked and this was all fucked. He gripped the edges of the table with both hands, hanging on. “Okay,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Let’s go. You told me you started to stay away from Jack Freeman, after Anthony revealed his past. You then ran away from home the day before your sixteenth birthday, have I got that right?”
“Yep,” Danny nodded, certain he could feel the table rocking gently from side to side within his grip. He held on tighter. He focused on the wine glass, and the ruby red liquid that it held. He wondered if he could see the wine moving too, sloshing rhythmically from one side of the glass to the other. He could feel Caroline’s eyes burning into him, and he realised that he could not look, he could not move his eyes from the wine glass, he had to fix them there while everything was swimming and swaying.
“Can you tell me why?” she was asking.
“To get away,” he said quickly, shoving the words out as they entered his mind. “Had to get away. Wasn’t safe. Howard knew something. He knew we were up to something, he wanted to know why we stopped going to Jack’s. He was on my case constantly, he was getting angrier, more irrational. He didn’t like his control slipping see, he didn’t like not knowing everything. It wound him up. It drove him mad. He was getting more and more dangerous. He was insane.”
“You feared for your life?”
“Sometimes,” he nodded, tightening his grip on the table. “I feared for my friends too. I thought he’d get at them again. Make them pay. So we kept it secret. We snuck around sorting out a place to go to. Packed up on the sly. He was buying the big posh house with my mum at that time…Fucking stressed beyond belief he was….walking on eggshells the whole fucking time…I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t breathe half the fucking time…Only thing kept me going was getting away. Having a place to go to. Being safe.”
“Can you tell me what happened on the day you ran away? Did anyone try to stop you in any way?”
Danny could not see her now, he realised. She had become a floating, disjointed voice somewhere on the other side of the table. He could only see the wine glass, shining red, glittering back at him as he held onto the table. His lips felt dry and he wondered what would happen if he let go of the table and reached for the glass. “Freeman turned up,” he heard himself telling her, the words tumbling at breathless speed. “I was packed and waiting for the word from Anthony and Mike. Heard a noise and there he was, fat and drunk and in the fucking kitchen.”
“Why was he there? To stop you?”
Danny heard the voice and barely managed to locate it. He let one hand drop away from the table and watched it move awkwardly towards the glass. He made a face, grimacing as he fully expected his hand to knock the glass flying. Instead, his fingers curled expertly around the stem and he managed to move it slowly and carefully towards his face. “Yeah, Lee sent him, the perverted fuck bag.” He tried to look at Caroline, but she did not seem to be there anymore. There was a huddled, blurred shape where she had once been.
“Why? What for?”
“He wasn’t supposed to do anything to me when I was at his flat,” Danny remembered, and reached out tentatively with his lips, finding the cold rim of the glass and widening his eyes at the taste of the wine lapping onto his tongue. Everything suddenly seemed so slowed down, he thought, so drawn out, so painful and crucifying. His eyes jerked up suddenly, and he narrowed them at the blur at the other side of the table. She was trying to crucify him, he knew it, but why? “But that day Lee said he could do whatever he wanted. He sent him. He knew what he was doing. He wanted me back in the palm of his hand, because he knew, see? He fucking knew we were up to something! He was desperate!”
“And what happened? You got away?”
“Yeah, I got away!” Danny laughed and found himself drifting backwards, away from the table, towards the wall which met his back. The wine glass had travelled with him and he stared curiously down into it. “I had my knife on me, thank fuck! I stabbed him in the fucking foot! Was so funny! It was gross! All this blood was like, pumping out, all over the place, all over his shitty old shoe!” He tipped back his head, giggling at the image he had in his mind.
“So you got away? You and your friends? You moved out?”
“Yep. Shitty little bedsit but it was like fucking heaven. No one telling you want to do, none of that shit, turn your fucking music down, look at me when I’m talking to you! None of that! Just us and a shit load of weed. Oh yes. Good times. They were good times.”
“He didn’t try to find you?”
“Oh yeah, he tried, he tried!” Danny took the glass to his lips again and let the soothing liquid trickle pleasantly down his throat. He hiccupped loudly. “Must have driven him fucking mental, thinking about it. Oh he looked for us all right…He turned up at the record shop where I worked, going mental, shouting the odds…He even attacked my friend Jake when he came out of work one day…Cut his fucking hair and told him to give it to me as a message…That’s what he was like, see? Do you see now? No one ever gets it, do they? No one ever sees!”
“I see, I get it, really I do.”
Just a voice though. Just a voice floating around his head. He closed his eyes and sought a peaceful place, and it occurred to him that there might only be peace found in dying. “And how did he find out where you were?” came the voice again, and now even the voice had slowed down and deepened, like a tape caught in a machine, groaning to a halt. He peered at the tape recorder on the table, wondering how Caroline’s voice had managed to get trapped inside it.
“My mum,” he remembered, touching his face briefly with one hand, checking he was still there. “I started to visit her…No one wanted me to, they said it wasn’t safe, and they were right…but we started making amends with each other, because he was beating her by then, so she finally knew, she saw it, it all made sense to her, why I’d gone…who he was.”
“So what happened next?”
“He started bothering me,” Danny shrugged, feeling himself slipping slowly and helplessly down the wall. “Following me…Trying to be nice, but I didn’t trust him…he wanted me to work for him, to replace Freeman.”
“A drug dealer, I don’t know, something. He just wanted someone to control. He hated the fact I’d got away from him.”
“Final question Danny,” the voice sounded louder now, and he looked up, peering at the blur of a person sat opposite him, and he realised that this meant it was coming, it was nearly here, the final question meant the end of the interview, meant she had what she wanted right? Meant he could go and see Jerry Howard and put an end to it all? “Tell me what you remember of the night you allege Lee Howard abducted you, and describe how this led on to his death the following day.”
He found his lips with the glass again, banging it hard against his teeth before he managed to slosh another mouthful down his neck. He thought fuck, my eyelids are heavy, I’m gonna’ fall asleep in a minute… “Right, okay then, here we go, if you really want to know…this is it,” he tried to move forward then, to bring his elbows down to meet the table surface, but he missed with one, and succeeded in sloshing the rest of his wine all over his lap. He looked down at his wet leg with a confused expression.
“Danny?” the voice was prompting him. He looked up. Oh yeah, get on with it, spit it out, come on.
“He waited ‘til Mike and Anthony were out, and he came up and barged in and he grabbed my dog…he was just a little puppy then, and started bashing him against the fucking door, until I agreed to go with him…” Danny ploughed his fingers back through his hair, finding his head and hanging onto it. He found himself staring down into the wood of the table, his eyes narrowing and focusing on the scratches and nicks and stains on the surface. He remembered the horror then, that man filling the space as always, sucking up all the oxygen, making everything else become a grey blur, so that only the two of them existed. Waiting. Waiting for him to fall on him. Waiting for the explosion. The pain was always a relief from the fear, he remembered. The fear was always worse, thinking it might go on forever. “He knocked me out…woke up in his car…” his voice was faltering now, slowing down and growing softer, and he knew, somewhere in his mind he knew, that it was the alcohol, it was his own fault that the sorrow was creeping mercilessly through him, dragging him down. “He’d tied my hands up with wire…couldn’t get it off…then he got me out the car and dragged me to the cliff…held me right over it…I thought I was fucking going down there, I thought he was really gonna’ do it…he’d flipped….see he’s lost the plot? He’s laughing at me now…he’s roaring in my ear…deafening me. Do you want to go down there? No one will ever find you.. So I’m saying sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry for everything…I’ll be a good boy now, I really will, I’ll be good…I’ll do whatever you want!” Danny was only vaguely aware of losing the wine glass, as he clamped both hands around his aching head now. The glass fell from the table’s edge and smashed on the floor around his feet. He felt removed from the pub, he was drifting far away from all of it. He was convinced he could feel the cold sand pressing against his cheek. The weight of a monster holding him down. The sound of the waves smashing against the cliff below. “So yeah, I’ll do it…I’ll work for you, I’ll do anything, I’ll be a good boy this time, right…That’s what you want?…Okay then. But it’s not enough, it’s not enough for him…he has to beat me too…he has to fucking, fuck me up! Doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?”
There was a hand on his arm, soothing him or grabbing him? He didn’t know, but he tried to shake it off. The drink was slaying him, he thought miserably, it was all pulling him down, what was going to happen now? “He took you home after that?” the voice is asking urgently, pulling at his arm, trying to keep him there. “Back to the bedsit and just let you go?”
“Yes, yes, yeah,” he nodded, keeping his head in his hands, steadying his brain, wondering how long it would be before darkness fell. “It was all fine…all on board yeah? All cool…cool. But I looked at him and I snapped…I felt it! I fucking felt it go…Inside me…You ever felt that? You ever felt something like that? Inside you? I felt it go…I knew I had to kill him and I knew that I would. Only other thing was…kill myself.”
He felt his head going down then, finding the table with a slight bump that made him smile, and the hand on his arm was getting tighter and tighter. “I need to get you home…We’ll have to finish this when you’re sober….”
“Finish it now!” Danny yelled in reply, resting his head onto of his folded arms. “I’m fine!”
“Are you sure? You can’t even…”
“I’m sure! Ask me! Ask me fucking anything!”
“Okay. What happened next?”
“Phoned Jaime…my drug dealer…he got me some coke…”
“Why? Why did you want it?”
“To feel big,” he laughed, his face now buried in his arms. “To feel big and brave…not little and useless and fucked up…Went home, went to bed…Woke up before them…took all the coke and got all the knives and wrote them all letters and then I went.”
“How many knives did you take?”
“Do you remember much about what happened next?”
Danny blew his breath out slowly, letting it fill his cheeks before releasing it through his teeth. His eyelids were now so heavy that he had given in to them. He found himself encased in a comfortable darkness. He felt like the darkness was a pair of arms around him, shielding him and soothing him. His forehead lay against his arms, his hands flat upon the table. He felt his lungs filling and emptying air, everything slowing down, everything tucking up for the night. Nearly there, he thought, battling to stay awake, nearly over, then I never have to fucking talk about it or think about it again…
“It’s a bit blurry…” he murmured from his dark cave. “I see bits…sometimes I dream about it…bit come back to me, but never in the right order…I don’t remember getting over there. I think I caught the bus and then walked….but the thing I really remember is standing on the doorstep, waiting to go in…making myself remember everything, letting it all go through my head…every vile and cruel thing he had done…Everything Freeman had done…the nights at his flat…the things I hadn’t admitted to myself…I had to summon it all up, to get so mad, to get so fucking angry, to not be scared. And I wasn’t scared. Not anymore.”
Silence from the other end of the table. In fact the entire pub seemed silent and empty, but he had no strength to lift his head to find out if this was true. He knew he had to keep his head down and his eyes closed. He knew vomiting was getting closer and closer. “She let me in…mum. Tried to get me to go…I was screaming, going crazy, then he comes down the stairs in his dressing gown, I remember that, I remember his face…He was livid. He thought he’d won again. He thought he had me where he wanted me again, but he was wrong…I just see my mum screaming and shouting, and then he hit her and it was just us….I don’t know what happened then. I see the images sometimes…blood, and the floor, I see the floor..I was on the floor…He was gonna’ kill me for that.” Danny smiled to himself in the darkness. He remembered the blows reigning down on him, feet kicking at his ribcage, feet following him as he dragged himself along…and how it got easier when he met the slippery kitchen floor. “He didn’t know I had another knife….I got it out when he was close…I don’t remember stabbing him…I just see his face again…His mouth hanging open, I can see that now! I don’t remember how it went from there…My mum tried to stop me I think…People turned up, cops and ambulance people, all running about, freaking about and I remember I just felt chilled, you know? I knew it was over. I didn’t think about anything else, like prison, or the future, or anything. I just knew he could never hurt me or scare me again and I had won. Not him. But I was wrong anyway…’Cause still not fucking over is it?” The words were getting harder and harder to form in his mouth and spit out. Unconsciousness was steadily claiming him, gripping his mind and pulling it down. Now give me the address, you got what you wanted, now give it to me so I can see his dad and have it sorted, so I can end it properly…okay? Did I say that out loud or just think it? He wasn’t sure, but it was far too late, and all the lights went out.
She had sat on things for a week. She had not interfered. She had not called or sent any text messages since Danny had hung up on her in the pub. She knew what was going on though. She heard via Lucy, who heard via Michael, that Danny spent the weekend getting drunk in the pub, and finishing the so called interview with that Haskell woman. Kay seethed inwardly when she thought about that woman. She remembered her from years ago. Hanging around, shoving her business card into peoples hands, tapping politely on the door, making her enquiries. Why did the woman still care so much? It was an old story now, wasn’t it? Done and dusted.
No, it didn’t sit easily with Kay, knowing that Danny had spoken to her. It raced endlessly through her mind. What had he told her? How far back had he gone? What had he said about her? But she knew she had no right to interfere, no right to an opinion on it at all. So she said nothing, kept an eye on her phone, and waited. She brought up Lucy’s number on a regular basis, her thumb hovering over the call button. Pregnant, she would think, staring down at the phone, I knew it, I knew there was something up with her. She waited patiently, hoping that Lucy would reach out to her again, let her know what was going on, but the only messages she received were concerned with Danny being in the pub, Danny doing his interview.
Okay, Kay thought, I’ll pretend I don’t know. I’ll bide my time. I’ll wait until I’m needed. She imagined Danny drinking away his sorrows in the pub with that unscrupulous Haskell woman, and it made her shake her head in despair. Part of her, of course, could understand exactly why he was doing it. He was scared. He was in over his head, out of his depth, struggling with so many things. But part of her wanted to storm around and smack him over the head. Make him see how selfish and stubborn he was being. Knowing what his response would be stopped her every time she felt close. She could just hear his voice sneering at her; you’re a fine one to talk aren’t you?
It didn’t take her long to find out where Jack Freeman’s pub was. Danny had mentioned it being near the sea, not far from Belfield Park. There were only a few pubs that fitted the bill, and the White Horse was the only one dingy enough to be mostly frequented by student types. The day before she planned to pay him a visit, just for old times sake, Kay looked up a few things on the Internet. She had only recently discovered the joys of the world wide web. It had helped reunite her with a few old friends for one thing, which was good. It was also a useful tool, if you needed it to be.
She thought long and hard about the best time to surprise Jack. She could do what Danny and Michael had done, and wait until closing time. It would give them privacy and space. Or she could waltz in off the street during one of the busy times of day, when the place was heaving with young people. The thought of the look on his face was too hard to resist. She drove over there on a Friday afternoon, a week after Danny and Michael had seen him.
She sat outside in the car for a while, sizing the place up, watching the people going in and out. They were definitely mostly student types, she decided. They all looked mostly in their late teens, to early twenties. They all seemed to be carrying rucksacks or bags of some sort. She felt a little sharp pain needling at her insides as she watched them, so casually breezing in and out of the pub, tugging their duffel coats and parkas tighter around their bodies. Danny could have gone to college, or University, she thought, swallowing. He could have gone with his writing, couldn’t he? He could have got good grades at GCSE, all his teachers said it was possible. The thought made her remember parents evenings with both a sigh and a shudder. They had all looked at her the same way, those teachers at Somerley. Sadness mixed with reproach. He could do so much better, they all said slowly, carefully, as if picking the right words, as if unsure how to phrase it, if only he would turn up more, if only he would try harder, it’s so frustrating to see such talent wasted. Wasted. Some of those teachers could barely even look her in the eye, she remembered. Obviously they blamed her. They may not have known exactly what was wrong with Danny, but they had known it was bad, and they had looked to her to blame. They had eyed her with distain and faint curiosity.
She remembered feeling so ashamed, so let down, and just wanting to hide, to scurry out of that place. There was one time Lee had come along. At the time she had felt so grateful to him, so much stronger with him there like always, guiding her from teacher to teacher, so forceful, so authoritative. At the time, she had been able to hold her head up just a little bit, because she was not alone. But now she looked back on it in horror and disgust, and the memory of Lee holding Danny by the arm, as they went from classroom to classroom, filled her with self loathing, making her tremor from head to foot. He had walked with his head hanging, his eyes burning into the floors of the corridors. He had barely spoken, and as usual she had read that as insolence, as him not caring. Lee had been so calm, hadn’t he? Opening doors for them, pushing Danny gently ahead to face his teachers, to absorb the next sombre, regretful expression, the next outpouring of; well I’m afraid he’s just never here Mrs Howard, and when he is here he won’t work.
She hadn’t understood why, had she? She had thought he was doing it all on purpose, just to get back at her for being with Lee. She would rant at him in the car on the way home; why are you always doing this to me? Where the hell are you when you’re not at school? What do you think will happen to you if they kick you out?
She glared up at the White Horse pub now, at the battered shutters that banged in the wind from the upper windows, and the paint that peeled from the white washed brick walls. The front doors batted open and three young men bundled out into the cold, lighting cigarettes as they walked, and laughing raucously, carelessly, with book bags slung across their shoulders. Kay felt her body brace in anger.
Enough was enough. And some people had not paid enough. She got out of the car, buttoned her smart red coat up against the cold, locked the car, and started towards the pub. She pushed confidently through the doors, wondering if he would recognise her. She did not notice the young eyes that registered her, that looked her up and down in approval, and followed her to the bar, where she pulled out her purse and lifted her neatly plucked eyebrows at the young girl with pink hair. “What can I get you?” the girl asked, pushing her hair back behind her ears, looking tired, like she had not had much sleep last night and was paying the price now.
“A vodka and coke please,” Kay replied curtly, “and a word with your boss, if he is in?”
The girl frowned. “You mean Jack?”
“Okay. Hang on. I’ll get him. Or do you want your drink first?”
“Perhaps he can pour me the drink.”
The girl looked at her quizzically, and then turned around, starting to grin slightly to herself. “Okay then,” she said, and Kay waited.
He shuffled around the corner just moments later, and stopped in his tracks when he saw her. She looked him up and down coldly, narrowing her eyes and feeling her lips tug into a tight brittle smile. “Ooh now there’s a sight for sore eyes,” she remarked, wincing at his battered, swollen face. “Hello Jack, how are you?” Kay pulled a bar stool up and hopped onto it as he continued to stare at her, his eyes squinting through the swelling, his body sort of slumped and resigned. She noted the sweaty patches under each arm of his shirt and drummed her fingernails impatiently against the bar. “I’ll have a vodka and coke while I’m here.”
He grunted, moved forward, and grabbed the vodka from the shelf behind the bar. “You haven’t changed much,” she heard him utter thickly.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she returned. “You always were quick with the compliments Jack. I remember that. I remember I liked that about you. But then I was very shallow back then, wasn’t I? Very easily impressed.”
He placed a vodka and coke on the bar and shook his head when she opened her purse. “So what do you want?” He slipped his hands into the pockets of his loose brown trousers. “Round two?”
Kay continued to smile coldly at him. “Came to see how you are Jack. For old time’s sake. I must say, you’re not looking too well, yourself. I’d be lying if I said time had been kind to you.”
Jack snorted at her. “Your boy was here a week ago. I had it coming.”
“Yes, yes I know about that,” Kay picked up her drink, held it up and regarded him with a thin icy glare. He seemed to shrink and squirm under it, swallowing repeatedly, his eyes darting around to avoid meeting hers. “And you’re right, you did have it coming.”
He nodded once and shuffled forward a little more. “You want to talk somewhere?” he asked her. Kay bristled in disgust. She could smell the dirt and the body odour and the whiskey coming from him in thick waves. For a moment she just looked him up and down, sipped her drink, and let the realisation flood her completely. Had she not been so controlled, so stiff with anger, then she imagined the feeling would have floored her. In her minds eye she could not help but picture him, watching over her son while he slept on his sofa and it made her want to vomit. She jerked her head towards an empty table in the far corner.
“Over there will do. I won’t keep you long.”
Jack Freeman took a moment to make himself a whiskey and coke, before padding slowly out from behind the bar and following her to the table. She sat down, crossing one leg over the other, and wrinkling her nose as he passed her and took the other seat. “You ought to be in jail,” she said briskly, clasping her hands together in her lap. “You know that don’t you? For what you did to my son back then. For giving him illegal drugs. For everything.” She leaned forward then, her top lip curling, and hissed it at him in case he had missed it; “Oh yes, I do know everything Jack. Not just what you did to Danny, but what you did to Lee’s brother too.” She watched his face absorbing it all and she thought that he looked like a man who wanted to throw up his own life, as if it was poisoning him from the inside. “I don’t know how you live with yourself for one thing,” she told him, sitting back. “I don’t know how people like you sleep at night either. I mean, tell me, I’m curious, how do you sleep? How do you? Do you sleep well Jack?”
“Not well,” he replied, his voice low, his eyes looking away. He nursed his whiskey in one hand. “I told him I was sorry and I meant it.”
“Sorry for what?” Kay snapped, sipping her vodka quickly then slamming it back down onto the table. She kept her eyes on him, as much as is revolted her, making her stomach tighten and churn, she didn’t care and she imagined that she deserved that feeling, a feeling her son must have lived with daily back then. “Which part did you apologise for Jack? Tell me, I am curious to know. What did you say sorry for? Giving him drugs? Standing back while you knew Lee was physically abusing him? Getting your filthy hands on him when he was too drugged up to know better?”
Jack looked around in panic as Kay’s voice had risen in anger. The pub was busy. Young men and women were milling about, waiting at the bar to be served. They were chatting and shouting and the jukebox was playing Led Zeppelin loudly, but she could see the fear in his eyes. If she raised her voice any more, they would start to look and listen in. They would start to pay attention. She smiled at him, waiting for his answer, while he hung his head and hunched his shoulders. “For all of it,” he muttered in reply, raising the whiskey to his lips. “I’m sorry for all of it.”
“I don’t expect he believed you any more than I do. You did pretty well out of it all in the end, didn’t you?” Kay waved a hand at the pub around them. “You got this. But what made you come back here? Couldn’t stay away?”
Jack shrugged at her and grunted. “Don’t know.”
“I don’t have the time or the energy to sit here soaking up the misery of your vile life Jack, but I do want to know a few things. Are you helping Jerry harass my son?”
“No,” Jack shook his head at her quickly and firmly. “Not me. I try to keep away from that crazy fucker.” He glanced up at the ceiling and released a sigh. “Christ, you think Lee was bad, he’d only just got started compared to his dad.”
“So it is him behind it all?” Kay questioned. “You know that for sure?”
“He came to me,” Jack nodded. “A few times. Before Danny even got out. He knew it was coming and he was livid. He said if the kid came back this way, he would be paying him back. For Lee.”
Kay could only shake her head in disgust. “Who else? Who else is involved? He can’t be doing it alone. We’ve had letters, phone calls, graffiti, broken windows!”
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Jack shrugged at her. “He didn’t say. Could be people from Essex, friends of his, friends of Lee, I don’t know names.”
“The guys that attacked Danny and his friends in the pub?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Do you know what he wants? Jerry? What will it take to end all this?”
Jack Freeman took a gulp of whiskey, set his glass down and pushed the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. He looked at Kay darkly, and for the first time she felt her anger weaken, felt the coldness of fear wash over her. “He wants three things that I know of.”
“What are they?” Her voice came out strangled by dread. She picked up her glass and drank.
Jack turned one hand palm up and counted off on his fat fingers with his other hand. “He wants Lee’s money back. All of it. It keeps him awake at night apparently. His son’s cash in your sons hands. He wants Danny to move away from here. He doesn’t think he deserves to be near his friends and family, seeing as how his son can’t see any of his these days. And he wants him to apologise.”
Kay found her hand moving slowly and hesitantly towards her face. She could not take her eyes off of Jack Freeman. The tips of her fingers were cold as they brushed against her lower lip, before she found the lip and tugged at it. “What?” her voice was a whisper. Jack shrugged again, finding his drink. His face gave away nothing.
“He wants him to say sorry. He wants him to grovel. Nothing less.”
Kay shook her head from side to side, staring at him in horror, as if she was staring at something inhuman. “He won’t get any of those things.”
“Whatever,” Jack sniffed at her. “That’s what it’ll take.”
“He doesn’t deserve any of those things!”
“I’m only passing on what I know. That’s what you wanted.”
Kay found the arms of her chair and gripped them tightly. “The man must be insane, he must be delusional! He must know what Lee was like! He must realise what he did!”
Jack looked anxiously around him as her voice rose in frustration. Sure enough, some of the students closest to them were looking over and nudging each other. Jack leaned towards her urgently. “Keep your voice down or we’ll have to do this another time.”
“We’re doing this now whether you like it or not!” Kay retorted angrily, hissing through her teeth, whilst shooting a knowing glance at the youngsters at the bar. “I’ll be finished with you in a just a minute, and then I hope to God I never have to set eyes on your repulsive face again!”
Jack moved back again, showing his hands in defeat. “Okay, okay, what more do you want? Why are you here?”
“I want to know how you could do it Jack,” she met his eyes and questioned, taking him in, knowing she would never be able to truly fathom it. “When I knew you back then, I really liked you. You were Lee’s friend, but you were always good to me, you know, friendly and kind. I was so thankful to you when you seemed to take Danny under your wing.” She paused, watching him. His eyes were burning into the table, his whole body rigid with the guilt. “Do you know how sick that makes me feel now? Have you any idea how it tortures me at night? All those times Jack. All those times I’d look up at Lee and say have you seen Danny, where is he? Oh he’s staying at Jacks, he’d say, they’ve got a bit of a bond, he’d say. I fucking believed him, more fool me.” She looked him up and down now, her skin crawling. She felt the urge to wrap her arms tightly around her body, to shield herself from him. “A bit of a bond, he’d say to me. He’d chuckle. He’d sit there on that sofa beside me, with his arm around me, and he’d chuckle. The twisted bastard would laugh. And he knew didn’t he Jack? He knew all about you and he knew what you liked.”
Jack seemed to have trouble swallowing. He picked up his drink and drained it in one long gulp. “He put me in an impossible situation. He knew what he was doing, yes. It was after that boy Anthony stood up to him. He warned him he knew what was going on. So Lee wanted back up. And he wanted Anthony out of the picture. And he wanted…” Jack blew his breath raggedly through his lips, rubbing vigorously at one eye. His body seemed slumped, without shape or form. “He wanted to keep control over Danny…that’s what it was. If he didn’t have me as back up, then someone else might have stepped in, you know?”
“You talked about this with him? You sat and talked it all through? What your role would be and why?”
“Not really…not as such. But it was clear. From day one. I knew how he operated anyway. I knew what was going on.”
“You are as evil and disgusting as he was, you know that don’t you?” Kay clenched her fists in her lap. She stared in a daze at the kids at the bar, jostling for space, calling out their orders to the girl behind it. She looked sharply back at Jack Freeman and felt a jolt of horror rip through her, and she knew she had to get out of there fast. Her mouth had gone dry. Her skin felt alive. “And he got what he deserved in the end, no matter what his father thinks. Unlike you. With the gall to buy a pub around here! With all these young people coming in and out every day, not knowing what you really are! You better not have messed around with anyone else since then?”
“No,” Jack said quickly, covering his face with both hands now. His shoulders hung low, his breath came rasping through his fingers. “No I haven’t, I haven’t…I swear.”
“Well I’ve made sure you’ll never get the chance again,” Kay told him, picking up her glass and drinking the last mouthful, while he dropped his glass and stared at her in confusion.
“Oh I’m a dab hand with the technology these days, you know,” she said, waving a hand breezily, as she pushed back her chair and stood up. “You have to be don’t you?”
“What do you mean?” His voice was a squeak, a tremble.
“I’ve ruined you, Jack Freeman,” she sneered, hands on table, leaning close to his tortured face. “That’s what I’ve done. And it’s only a matter of time, hours, minutes even, before everyone in this pub knows about you.”
“What? I don’t know what you….what have you done?”
“Just a little thing called the Student Union, you know of it?” He nodded back in misery. “I found the number online. Phoned someone personally. Seeing as how this seems to be the favourite haunt for the local students. I thought they ought to know what kind of sadistic scum they buy their drinks from. I thought they ought to know that every time they pass out drunk here, they are in danger!” She straightened up now, folding her arms and smiling smugly down at him. “Rumours and accusations certainly spread fast on line, with e-mails and the like. Jack Freeman, landlord and drug dealing paedophile. Hope it goes well for you Jack. I hope you rot in hell.” She caught one last glimpse of his ruined face sagging into despair, and she turned neatly on her heel and marched out of the pub.