This Is The Day:Chapters 40/41

40

Michael

 

 

“No change really,” he relayed to Lucy, who reported back that she was now past the morning sickness stage, and her trousers were starting to get too tight.  “Just lies on the sofa all day smoking.”

“Drinking?”

“Nah, not really.  Not since that weekend.”

A sigh followed on her end of the phone, and it made Michael wince, because  it was one of the saddest noises he had ever heard.  “He’s not said anything about me?” She always asked him this.  Every phone call was identical to the last. “About the baby?”

“Not really, Lucy,” Michael would tell her reluctantly. “He’s not really saying anything darling.  Not to anyone.”

“Could be some sort of breakdown….”

“His mum says that.  But I think he’ll be alright.”

“Alright then,” she would sigh again.  “Keep in touch.”

Hanging up the phone, Michael paused in the hallway, hands in pockets.  It had been a week since Danny’s weekend bender had enabled him to finish his interview with Caroline Haskell.  In some ways Michael could well understand him needing to get drunk to do it.  Going over the past like that, while treacherous things reared their heads in the present, was like raking over old wounds, digging up scars and letting the blood run fresh.  He looked at his friend now, sprawled on the sofa, eyes closed, arms crossed over his chest while Kurt snored on his legs.  It had done him in, one way or another, that much was obvious.

Michael thought back to the night Caroline Haskell had called him to help get Danny home from the pub.  He had arrived urgently, to find his friend could not walk.  Tony had held the door open, finding it hard to look Michael in the eye. He and Caroline dragged Danny home together.  She had helped them up to the flat, tucked a piece of paper into Danny’s pocket, kissed him on the forehead and left.  Michael had covered him with a blanket and gone to bed, only to wake hours later to the sound of vomit splashing into the toilet bowl.

Danny had remained pretty much the same since then.  On the sofa.  In his own head, not reaching out to anyone.  He sometimes took out the piece of paper Caroline Haskell had left for him and stared at it silently.  Michael guessed it was the final address; the location of Jerry Howard.  Michael could not blame him for taking his time with it.  It was the final piece of the puzzle, he mused.  Meeting with the man who had helped create the monster who had tortured him.  Michael looked at him now and could barely begin to comprehend how it must feel for him.  He didn’t blame him one bit for the bender that had led to this.  He could not imagine how he would have raked over the past for Haskell any other way. 

The past, that was one thing.  A place of fear and despair.  Then there were eight lost years, eight years! Michael still had trouble coming to terms with that.  Eight years, eight years older, all of them.  He sometimes found himself wondering what that must do to someone.  To go into a place basically a child, and to come back out a grown man, having missed everything in between.

His phone started ringing again, and as he searched his pocket for it, he glanced back at Danny, whose eyes opened momentarily at the sound of the ringing phone.  It was Anthony.  “Hey, you okay?”

“Fine, how is he?”

“The same.  Glued to the sofa and listening to Neil Young.”

“Oh right.  What’s the plan though?  When are you going to see Jerry Howard?  I want to come.”

“I don’t know,” Michael sighed. “No plan yet.  I’m still trying to get him to speak, or whatever.”

“What about Lucy?”

“I just spoke to her.  She’s doing fine.  She’s thinking about coming over to see him, but she doesn’t know if it’ll make things worse or better.”

“Worth a try,” said Anthony. “She could be the one he opens up to. Any more bother?”

“Nothing,” Michael shrugged, as he wandered slowly up and down the hallway. “Fuck all.”

“Well that’s something. And what about the precious article then?  Has Haskell done it?  Has she let him seen it or what?”

Michael turned around when he reached the door, and walked back up towards the lounge again. “No idea,” he told Anthony. “I’ve not heard a thing and he won’t switch his phone on half the time.”

Anthony wished him luck and hung up.  Michael released his breath and slid his phone back into his pocket.  He stayed like that for a few moments, hands in pockets in the hallway, staring in at Danny on the sofa.  He thought for the hundredth time, what shall I do?  What can I do? I don’t know what to do.  Just like back then.  I don’t know what to do to help. His fisst clenched slowly within his pockets.  He remembered easily the extent of his rage and frustration as a boy, knowing what was happening to his friend, seeing the evidence on a daily basis, and not knowing what the fuck to do.  At one point it had seemed so simple.  Anthony.  His older brother. Always so self-assured, so steely and tough.  Anthony would be out of prison and he would sort it out.  He would send Lee Howard running for the hills. Michael had believed in this passionately, unwaveringly, savouring the day when it finally came.  It had been such a shock to discover he was wrong.  That Anthony was really just a hapless kid like them, that anyone could rip the ground from under their feet and change everything, ruin everything.  The morning he had returned home from camping out, to see his brother being hauled from the house in handcuffs, remained a powerful image in his mind. For so long he had stared up at his older brother, regarding him as something untouchable, unshakeable, almost God-like.  That day he had seen a scared kid, terrified of going back to prison, shocked to the core that someone had set him up.

Anthony had never been the same since, Michael knew it.  He had returned from prison a year later.  Everything had changed.  Freeman and Howard were in control, holding the strings tightly in their greedy hands.  Danny had been lost to him.  Just a ghostly figure that flitted in and out of the background, trying to remain unseen, trying to shield the rest of them from the same fate.  Michael had never experienced such helpless anger.  He ranted and raged and pestered the Headteacher at the school, and then the police, begging people to check on Danny, begging the adults to believe him.  There was never anything he could do. 

There’s got to be something I can do.

“What are you staring at Mike?” Danny’s voice rose sleepily from the sofa.  Michael sighed and came forward.  He saw Danny had his blanket pulled right up to his nose, such was the coldness of the flat. 

“You, you idiot.”

“What for?”

“Trying to figure out what to do, that’s all,” Michael dropped into the armchair, crossing one leg over the other and tapping his palms against the armrests. 

“Mmm?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed, thumping the armrests. “No one knows.  See? Useless, I fucking am.  Some fucking friend.” He nodded seriously as Danny opened his eyes and turned his head to stare at him.  “Yeah, that’s right.  Some fucking friend I am.  Couldn’t do a thing to help you back then, and still can’t do a fucking thing now.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Danny told him.  “It’s not even your problem.  You have to learn to let go sometimes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Michael questioned angrily. “Let go of you?”

“I mean, let go of feeling responsible.  Forget about thinking it’s your fault you can’t do anything.”

“You have to let us help you Danny,” Michael said then, sitting forward with urgency, and planting his elbows on his knees. “I mean it mate, you have to let us, all of us, otherwise they have all won, you know?  They’ll have won!” Danny’s brow creased at him in reply.  “Can’t you see?” Michael persisted. “Back then, Howard and Freeman, they wanted you isolated.  They wanted us gone.  You and your mum, driven apart.  Anthony in jail.  Lucy fucks off ‘cause they’ve got you off your head the whole time, you see?  You see?  And look at us now Danny, look at us now!” Michael looked to his friend for a response, but Danny merely shifted under his blanket and closed his eyes again.  “It’s happened again,” Michael told him.  “You and your mum, Anthony pushed out, you and Lucy not talking even though she’s carrying your fucking child! Now you’re even pushing me out.  You’re letting them win! You’re letting them get you all alone yet again!”

Danny’s eyes snapped open and he pushed himself aggressively up on one elbow to glare back at Michael.  “I know what the old man wants alright?  I know.  That’s what I’ve been trying to get my head around.  My mum told me.”

Michael stared at him silently.  “What?  What did she tell you?  How does she know?”

“She went to see Jack.  Last night, a week after we did.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Danny shrugged at him.  “Must have been on her mind, or whatever.  She phoned and told me what he told her.  What Jerry Howard wants.  And this,” he paused as he dug urgently into his pocket, before pulling his hand back out and holding up the piece of paper Michael had watched Caroline Haskell give him a week earlier.  “This! This is his fucking phone number! So it’s all fucking here Mike, it’s all right here, all I have to do is phone him up and arrange to meet him!”

“Alright, alright,” Michael held up his hands. “Calm down.  Let’s talk then.  Fuck all this silence.  Tell me then.”

Danny sunk back down onto the sofa, his hands and the piece of paper disappearing under the blanket.  He pressed the side of his head against the sofa and exhaled loudly.  “Oh Mike..for fucks sake.”

“Are you gonna’ tell me, or am I gonna’ get that fucking piece of paper off you and go and find Howard myself?” Michael had risen to his feet, glaring down at Danny, letting him know he was serious.

“I’ll tell you,” came the surly reply from the sofa.  Michael nodded firmly and sat back down.

“Come on then.”

Danny brought a hand back out and dropped his forehead to it.  “Christ’s sake,” he muttered, rubbing his hand into his eye.  “You’re such a fucking pain in the arse, such a fucking nosy dick!”

“Whatever, come on!”

“Alright!” Danny dropped his hand and faced Michael, his blue eyes flashing with anger.  “Alright.  He wants all the money back, all Lee’s fucking money, all the money my mum gave me, he wants it all back, that’s one! He wants me to move away from here, from all of you.  And he wants me to say sorry.”

Michael felt his jaw fall open.  He stared back at Danny, wrinkling his nose in confusion as the enormity of it, the sheer audacity washed over him.  And then he started to shake his head from side to side, his fingers clawing into the ragged armrests of the chair.  “You have got to be fucking joking.”

“No,” Danny replied dully, looking away again. “I’m not.  That’s what he told her.”

“Why didn’t he tell us that? When we saw him?”

“Don’t know,” Danny shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t know then.  I don’t know.  Maybe he was waiting. Fuck knows Mike.”

“What’s the phone number Dan?”

“It doesn’t matter right now.”

“Yes it does fucking matter!” Michael exploded, unable to stop himself leaping to his feet again.  He snatched the pack of cigarettes from the coffee table and pulled two out, flinging one at Danny, and sticking one between his lips.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” Danny corrected him, swinging his feet to the floor and sitting up to light his cigarette. “I’ve got to take my time.  Figure out what to do and how to do it first.”

“Okay, okay,” Michael liked the sound of that.  At least Danny wasn’t just going to do nothing.  He sat back down, smoking his cigarette, letting the calm creep slowly back through him.  “Anthony keeps phoning.  He wants in.  Whatever we do.  He won’t hear otherwise mate.”

Danny shrugged. “Okay.”

“Cool.  And what about Haskell?  Any word?  She’s had a good week to write her blasted article hasn’t she?”

“She wants to meet up,” Danny sighed. “She’s done the first draft apparently.  Wants to see what I think of it.”

“You should meet her,” said Michael.  “That woman’s like a leech you know, she good as sucked you dry doing that interview.  Do you even remember what you told her in the end?”

“I think I just told her everything,” Danny sighed again through his teeth, sucked on his cigarette and slumped back into the sofa.  “No point hiding anything or glossing it over. Just got it all out there, you know?  It was like throwing it all up for her.  It was disgusting.”

Michael watched him staring forlornly down at his own lap, and he felt the urge to get up again, slap him on the back and tell him to cheer up.  “But you did it,” he reminded him.  “That bit’s over.  You’ve ruled out Dennis and Jack.  You can close the door on those two. It’s just that one.  That one, and what he wants from you.”

“I know,” Danny said, slowly peeling himself away from the sofa, and standing up.  Michael watched him sway slightly, as if his legs had momentarily forgotten how to hold him up.  He yawned and stretched out his limbs, before walking stiffly around the sofa and heading to the window.

“My God,” Michael looked after him and smiled. “It can move.  It can leave the sofa. Jesus Christ, I thought you’d forgotten how.”

Danny leaned wearily against the wall by the window and stared down at the street below.  “Ha ha,” he replied.

“Hey maybe we ought to get ourselves out in training, you know?” Michael got up and joined him at the window.  “Start running or lifting weights or something?”

“Why?” Danny frowned at him.

“To kick their arses!” Michael laughed, nudging him.  “Show them we’re not little scrawny kids any more! Bloody Howard, he’s an old man isn’t he?  What’s he really gonna’ do or say when you me and Anthony show up?”

“He won’t be alone.”

Michael remembered the men in the pub that night and nodded.  “Well we’ll be ready.  One way or another.”

“I shouldn’t have done it you know.”

Michael stared at him, taken back.  “What?”

“I shouldn’t have done it Mike.”

“Done what?  What are you talking about?”

Danny was staring at the glass, not through it, as Michael had first thought, but just at it, just right at the glass, his blue eyes fixed there.  He held his cigarette in one hand, and seemed to have forgotten about it.  Michael glanced at the ash growing longer and longer before finally dropping off and landing on the windowsill.  “Killed him,” he whispered, barely moving his lips enough to let the words out.

Michael moved closer, watching his face, hearing the words and not understanding any of it.  “What do you mean?” he asked again.  “Why are you saying that?”

“Because I shouldn’t have done it,” Danny repeated, his eyes glassy. “I’ve been thinking about it non-stop, since finishing the interview.  Thought about nothing else.”

“You didn’t have a choice mate,” Michael said in confusion. “Remember what he did to you that night?  What he would have kept doing?”

“I had no right.”

“What?”

“I had no right to kill him Mike. I like to try and make out I had no choice, and I snapped, and I didn’t know what I was doing.  But there is more to it than that.  I had no right to do it.  I had no right to take his life, despite everything he had done.”

“Danny, don’t talk like that, you didn’t deserve what he did to you, you tried to get away, you…”

Danny smiled softly then, blinked and turned to look at Michael.  “You’re a good friend, and you’re always on my side Mike.  But I can’t help the way I feel.  I do wish I hadn’t done it.  If I could go back and see myself then I would tell myself to just run, run far far away, change my name, anything.  Or go to the police.  Go to the police and show them what he’d done.  Anything.  I wish I could go back Mike.  I wish I could grab hold of myself and look into my own eyes and say stop, just stop.  Don’t do it.  You’re gonna’ wreck the whole of your life and it will never be over no matter how much you think it will.”  He sighed massively and looked expectantly at his cigarette, which had gone out.

“You really feel like that?” Michael asked him.  He didn’t know what else to ask him, what else to say.  Danny nodded.

“Yep,” he said, turning slowly away from the window.  “I really do.”

“So what’re you gonna’ do?”

“Gonna’ try to make it right,” he called back.  “One way or another.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41

Danny

 

 

                        Thinking.  He had never done so much thinking in his entire life, he thought, after he had left the flat and started walking.  He had used the alcohol to get it all out for Caroline, to spew it all up as he had explained to Michael, and that was exactly how it had felt.  Part vomiting up distasteful things he had buried for nearly a decade, and part ripping off a plaster to reveal the rotting flesh underneath, not healed after all, but still weeping, still there. 

            He hadn’t done much thinking back then, he remembered.  In fact he had done everything he could to avoid thinking too much.  Drinking, smoking pot, doing speed and coke, and other things, anything, anything to feel numb, to feel nothing.  That was how he had survived, that was how he had got through each day.  Prison had been similar, but without the drink and narcotics to help.  He had simply buried himself, he realised now, although at the time, keeping his head down and pushing it all away had merely seemed a useful survival tactic.

Now he considered that throwing it all up like that for Caroline, had maybe done him some good.  It hadn’t exactly felt that way at the time of course.  It had felt nothing short of vile.  He had needed the alcohol to force himself back there each time, to prise the memories from the grip of his mind.  He had needed the drink to stop caring, to stop feeling, and just let it all flow from him in a mindless babble.  He could just about remember what he had told Caroline before he had passed out.  It wasn’t hard to remember when it hurt so much.  He had told her everything.  He hadn’t missed out a thing.

And now, undeniably, he was starting to realise, that his head felt clearer.  He walked down the alley way and pulled out his phone, punched in her number and listened to it ring.  She picked up on the second ring.  “Danny?” She sounded alarmed and concerned.

“Hi can you meet me?  You said you had the article done and I’d like to read it.”

There was a pause.  He thought he heard something in the background, some noises, or voices?  “Hang on, where are you?”

“Just left home.  Can you meet me?”

“Yeah, give me twenty minutes.  At the pub?”

“Yeah, okay.”

She hung up and he brought up another number.  Lucy.  Just seeing her name there like that, was like a punch to the gut, taking all the wind out of him.  He sucked in his breath, and typed out the message he had been thinking about for weeks.  Hi.  We need to talk. His thumb hovered over the send button, his guts turning over inside of him.  He pressed send, took a deep breath and put his phone away again.

Inside the pub, he smiled gingerly at Tony and ordered a pint. “You’re not setting up camp again are you mate?” the man asked him, looking worried.  Danny grinned and shook his head.

“No mate, I promise.  Just one, then I’m off.”

“Alright then.”

He took his pint to the corner and sipped it patiently, waiting for her to turn up.  He had been back to some dark places to satisfy her thirst for answers, he had retraced all the steps for her.  He hoped she was going to be worth it.  His phone vibrated with a message just as the doors pushed open in the corner, revealing a flushed faced Caroline Haskell, flicking back her loose blonde hair as she marched into the pub.  Danny waved to her and dug out his phone.  I know.  When and where?  I miss you. He pushed it away again and offered Caroline a weak smile. “You were quick.”

“Was in a taxi anyway,” she shrugged, sitting down.  “Just made him do a diversion.  How are you?”

“Fine thanks, fine.  Better.  Better than I was.”

“Last time I saw you, I left you comatose on the sofa.  Dead to the world you were.  Bet you had a hell of a hangover the next day.”  She was wearing a beige mac, belted tightly around the waist, and she made no move to undo or remove it.  He wondered if she seemed different somehow, less warm, less enthusiastic.

“I was okay,” he replied. “Think it helped.  In a weird way I mean.  I think I needed to get hammered and bring it all up like that.”

“It’s helped you, you mean?”

“Yeah, sort of, maybe. Didn’t feel like it at the time,” he shrugged sheepishly, picking up his pint.  She was looking back at him, as if inspecting him, as if he was a stranger she was trying to suss out. Why are you looking at me like that? He wondered, we’ve slept together twice.

“You didn’t want to do the interview to start with,” she reminded him coolly. “Even though I said it could help you come to terms with things.”

“So is it done?” he asked, deciding to bring her back on course.  She leaned down briskly, snatching her bag from the floor and opening it up on her lap. 

“Yes, it’s done.  I’ve got a bit of a bidding war on my hands actually.”  She pulled out a clear plastic file and passed it across the table to him.  He took it unsurely, turning it over in his hands, suddenly transfixed by its existence now that it was here.  His life was quite simply lying in his own hands.  It was a bit of a mind fuck, to say the least.

“Really?” he asked, not knowing what she meant.

“Yes,” she said, her tone still matter of fact, bordering on the formal.  “There are three major national newspapers that want to print it. I’m trying to decide which one to go with.  Which would be the best move.”

“You mean, for your career?” he asked, and he didn’t mean it the way it sounded.  He was genuinely curious, having no idea how her world operated.

Caroline sighed at him, and made a face that conveyed she had expected him to say such a thing.  “It’s complicated,” she said with a small shrug.  “But there you go.  You have a read and see what you think.  If there’s anything you want me to change, I still can.”

“Okay,” Danny nodded.  “Fair enough.  Thank you.”

“And you got the phone number I gave you?”  She was regarding him with eyebrows arched.

“Oh yeah, I got it, thanks.  I haven’t done anything about it yet though.”

“Thinking it over?”

“Mmm.”

“Can’t blame you for that.  Not the nicest of people to deal with, that’s for sure.”

“No.  But I do know what the old man wants now, so I’m more prepared,” Danny nodded as her expression altered, her eyes narrowing in interest, her body leaning forward ever so slightly. “Had time to think about that too,” he went on. “Been thinking non-stop really.  Once the drink wore off I had no choice.  Came to a few conclusions.  Got a few things to sort out.”

She looked hungry again now.  He could see the change in her instantly, and it made him want to shut up, to keep things close to his chest again.  So he picked up his pint and drank the last few mouthfuls, with the plastic file in one hand.  “I better go,” he told her, registering the barely disguised dismay in her eyes.  “Thanks for giving me this.”

“You can’t stay for another?” Caroline asked, catching his arm as he stood up.  “I was just about to go to the bar.”

“No,” he smiled at her. “One is my limit for now.  Not going back there again, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, you could keep me company, because I bloody need one.  You can tell me these conclusions of yours?”

“Oh it’s nothing, nothing really, not yet.  Got more thinking to do.” He rolled the file into a tube and tapped the palm of his other hand with it.  “Got this to read!”

She tried to hide her disappointment, biting her bottom lip and shaking back her glossy hair.  He noticed she mostly did this when she felt uncomfortable, or rattled in some way.  He patted her shoulder.  “Thanks Caroline.  I’m looking forward to reading it.”

“And all this from a guy who never wanted to do it in the first place!” she looked up at him, pushing a fake smile out across her face.  Danny nodded and walked quickly out of the pub.

He walked home with the story rolled up in one hand.  He wondered how it would feel to read it.  His story, in her words?  Would she have quoted him?  Used his words? What would it sound like? A succession of shivers ran through Danny as he headed down the alleyway back towards home.  He realised that he was both desperate to read it, and frightened to. He was nearly at the door when he heard the crunch of a footstep behind, and whirled around in shock, only to be greeted by a solid fist.  He felt it slam into the side of his head, and he saw the world turning sideways, tilting, falling, until his hands sliced into the gravel, and his body followed.  He only had seconds to blink, to take it in, to try to react, before the face appeared above him.  He stared up from the ground in dazed surprise.  The man was standing over him, one foot on either side, his face coming down slowly, his dark brown eyes gleaming down on him.  He recognised him immediately as one of the men who had attacked them in the pub.  It was the shaven haired one.  The biggest one.

“What the fuck?”

“Shut it!” the man roared back at him, spittle flying in streams from his curled back lips.  He reached down then, grabbing Danny by the front of his shirt, and proceeded to haul him roughly to his feet.  He felt himself being propelled backwards, faster than his feet could catch up with.  He stumbled, and would have fallen, but the man kept him up, finding the wall and slamming him back into it.  He registered the pain, like an old friend flaring into life in his spine, and part of him wanted to laugh, laugh right into the thugs face, and say, is that the best you got?  Is that all you got, cos I’ve survived a hell of a lot worse! But the man held him tightly by the shirt, and pushed his face in close.  “You’ve got blood on your hands!” he growled, pressing his forehead onto Danny’s, crushing him back into the wall.  “Not just one man, but two!”

Danny turned his face to the side, dropped the file, and pushed back against the man.  “What are you talking about?  Who the hell are you?  Who sent you?”

“Jerry sent me, hadn’t you worked that out yet?” the man sneered, his voice dangerously low, his large thick body easily resisting Danny’s attempts to push him away. “You killed his son.  You’re a murderer.”

“And who the fuck are you?” Danny growled back, staring easily back into the mans eyes, letting him know he was not scared of him, not scared of being hurt.  He wanted to laugh again, and tell him what he had figured out years ago.  That pain could be controlled, that pain was nothing, that pain just let you know that you were still alive, still fighting back. I’ll fight you back, he wanted to tell the man, whoever the fuck you are.

The man responded by tightening his grip on Danny’s shirt, and pulling him forward slightly, only to slam him back into the wall. Danny fought hard not to cry out, not to give him the satisfaction, and again he wanted to laugh.  He was laughing inside, roaring with it within his head.  He’d been good at that back then, as a kid, he remembered then.  Not crying.  Refusing to give Howard the satisfaction.  He had become an expert at gritting his teeth against the pain, screwing his eyes up tightly and willing himself to hold on. There were times he had crammed his own fists into his mouth to stop himself from screaming when the belt came down.

“I’m a friend of Lee’s,” the man snarled at him, and if he had any idea how much Danny was laughing at him inside, he did not let it show.  “And you’re a twisted little motherfucking murderer!”

“Am I?”

“Yeah! Not just Lee, but Jack too!” The man dropped his hands then, took a step back, while the words sank into Danny’s brain.  “Jack Freeman,” the man said, speaking slowly, his voice a low, growling snarl, as his raging eyes looked Danny up and down in disgust.  He moved suddenly then, pulling back his fist before slamming it into Danny’s middle.  Danny felt the air being wrenched from him, as he doubled up on himself, and found himself sinking back down to the ground.  The man was standing over him again, shouting something, shouting as the impact of his fist rocketed through Danny’ body.  He felt his bottom hit the ground, and he wrapped his arms around himself, as he clamped down on it, on all of it, owning it and controlling it, pushing the pain away, pushing it into a box he could control. “Yeah, Jack too, Jack Freeman is dead, because of you.  You may as well have put the noose around his neck yourself, you fucking murdering bastard!”

There was a kick or two, but Danny barely registered them, or the rest of it.  It was the words, it was the information he was taking in.  Jack Freeman, dead?  He waited until the man was gone. “You’re gonna’ pay,” the man promised him, before running off.  “You’re gonna’ pay for both of them.”

Danny remained where he was, slumped against the wall.  He winced.  The pain was getting worse, as he searched for his phone and managed to drag it out from his pocket.  He held it in one hand, and then picked up the plastic file with his story in it from the ground.  He tucked it protectively between his knees, located his mother’s number and hit the call button.  It took several rings for her to answer, and when she did, she sounded breathless, as if she had ran around searching for the phone, and she sounded strange. “Danny?  Hello?” Her voice sounded thick, drowsy almost, but was too loud as well; he recoiled from the bark of her voice as it rang through his ear.  He held his head with one hand, feeling the bump that was already growing there, tracing his fingers softly over the scraped skin where he had hit the ground.

“Mum?”

“What’s up?  What’s up?” She sounded close to hysteria he thought, and he could almost imagine her clinging to the phone, welding it in panic to her own ear.

“Nothing, it’s okay, well it’s not okay, it’s not nothing, but I’m okay.”

“What?  What are you talking about?  Do you know every time my phone rings I feel like I’m gonna’ have a heart attack!”

“Mum, have you been drinking?” he asked tentatively. “You sound sort of…”

“It’s Saturday evening, I always drink on a Saturday,” she snapped back a little too defensively. “I’m a good girl the rest of the week.”

Danny thought twice then, about doing this over the phone.  “I’m coming over,” he told her, using the wall to pull himself back up to his feet.  “Is that okay?  I’ll be an hour or so.”

“Of course it is, you know it is, that would be lovely!”  Christ, he thought, now she sounded close to tears.

“Alright mum,” he said, “I’ll see you soon.”

He hung up and made his way slowly, painfully to the door to the flat.  He found his key, and went inside, taking care to shut it and lock it properly behind him.  When he reached the top door, he opened it and nearly bumped straight into Michael, who gasped in shock, and quickly reached out to slam the door shut behind him.  He looked pale and frightened.  “Where the fuck have you been?” he breathed, leaning in relief against the wall, as Kurt danced and wriggled around their feet. “I was just about to phone the cops!”

“What?  Why?”

It was then that Michael saw him properly, and moved forward, peering around to frown at Danny’s head. “What’ve you done?”

“Just got jumped outside,” Danny found himself sagging slowly back into the door behind him.  He was still breathing in and out heavily, trying to get his wind back.  He felt strangely alive though, like he had done after the fight in the pub. If anything, the physical blows seemed to spur him on more than anything, seemed to kick start his fight instinct.  “That big guy from the pub.”

“Yeah, that was him, he was here!” Michael was very animated now, dark eyes wide and staring, hands gesturing everywhere. “Fucking caveman was just here, banging on the door! He was going mental, going on about Jack Freeman being dead, and you having to pay!”

“He told you that?  He came to the door and told you that?”

“Yeah! He said he and Lee and Jack were friends from way back.  I just about managed to slam the door in his face, ran up here to grab my phone to warn you, then I heard you come in. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing, nothing, don’t worry.  What else did he say?”

“He said Jack was found dead, hanging! In the pub!”

“When?”

“I don’t know, today I think, I’m not sure. What does this mean?”

Danny shrugged and peeled himself away from the door.  He wanted to bend down to scoop up Kurt, but the pain was intensifying by the second, pulsing and throbbing all across his middle.  He headed for the lounge and Michael followed him, looking utterly lost. “I’m going to my mums, can you drive me?”

“Yeah, course, but why?”

“To tell her about all this.  To talk,” Danny shrugged and ran both hands roughly back through his hair.  He realised then that he still held the story rolled up in one hand and brought it down to stare at it.  “Oh this.  This is the article.  Caroline just gave it to me.”

Michael arrived at his side, silently running his eyes over the file as Danny unrolled it before him. “You read any yet?”

“Nope.  Tell you what, stick the kettle on, I’ll read it, then we’ll go to mums, alright?”

“Alright,” Michael nodded, looking anything but.  He turned to go to the kitchen, then stopped and pointed a finger in Danny’s direction. “I hope this has made you realise you were wrong mate! About wishing you hadn’t killed that bastard!”

Danny frowned at him.  “Eh?”

“Well all this! This is the shit you get when the bastard isn’t even here, just imagine the shit you would be getting if he still was!” He rolled his eyes as if this should be as plain to Danny as it was to him and stomped off into the kitchen.

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