“Why’d you need to see her anyway?” Michael asked, when he dropped Danny over at Kay’s block of flats. Danny climbed out of the car with Kurt under one arm, and an overnight bag in his other hand. He had packed some spare clothes, his cigarettes, and Caroline Haskell’s article. He peered back in and offered Michael a lazy grin he hoped would reassure him. But Michael was on edge, close to freaking out, his hands gripping and ungripping the steering wheel the whole time during the drive over.
“Last time I saw her I was pretty vicious to her,” he explained. “We didn’t get a proper chance to talk about Freeman. Now seems a good as time as any.”
“Yeah, she text back. She’s getting me in the morning.”
Danny watched a little relief creep back into his friends eyes. “You’re gonna’ talk to her?” he asked. “About the baby and everything?”
“Yep,” Danny nodded at him. “Course I am. See you later Mike.”
He closed the door and headed on up to his mothers flat. She answered the door with a glass of wine in her hand, and rolled her eyes when he raised his eyebrows at her. “Don’t say a word young man,” she warned him, holding the door open for him. “You are hardly one to talk about alcohol consumption.”
“I wasn’t gonna’ say a thing.”
Kay closed the door and frowned disapprovingly down at Kurt, as ever, running in little circles around Danny’s feet, pawing and wriggling, until Danny gave in and stooped down to pick him up. “You treat him like a baby you know,” Kay remarked, wine glass at mouth. Danny just sighed and carried Kurt through to the living room. He dumped his bag on the floor and collapsed onto the sofa with Kurt on his lap. He watched his mother swaying into the room. She was wearing her trademark tight blue jeans, vest top and long cardigan combination. She was so thin, she had the body of a child, he thought looking at her then. Had she been that thin eight years ago? He didn’t think so. She looked at him, still frowning, one arm across her middle, the other hand clasping the wine glass, and he looked back at her, and he thought who the hell are we? What the hell are we doing?
“Do you want a drink?” she asked him, waving her glass. He could see that she was drunk, but it didn’t bother him. Like she had already pointed out, who was he to criticise? “I mean, tea, coffee? Something stronger?”
“Have you got any beer?”
“Okay I’ll have a glass of what you’re having then.” He looked at her and smiled hopefully. Her frown intensified.
“Why are you being so nice?” she questioned. “What’s all this about? Last time I saw you you were vile to me, which is fair enough. Then I hear you’ve been vile to Lucy too. The woman carrying your child! Oh yes, I know all about it young man! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Danny grimaced. He should have known she would start in on all of that, when drunk. She wouldn’t hold back for anyone when she’d had one too many. He guessed they had that in common at least. “It’s alright,” he told her, because he did not want to have that conversation with her yet. “I’ve sorted it, so you can stop freaking out. She’s picking me up from here in the morning, okay? We’re gonna’ talk.”
“Well I should think so too!” she retorted, still not making any move to get him a drink. “You don’t have any idea how scary, how isolating it is being on your own and pregnant! I’ve been there remember! It’s horrible Danny. You shouldn’t be doing that to her. She’s a lovely, normal, sweet girl, and it takes two to tango young man, it’s not just her fault there’s a baby on the way!”
“Yeah, I know all that mother, I know, that’s why I’m seeing her tomorrow like I just said.”
“A baby!” she gasped then, as if she had only just realised for the first time that a pregnant girl meant an actual baby at some point. She placed a hand on her chest, just below her neck, and closed her eyes briefly, a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “A grandchild Danny! Do you know I will be a grandmother! Do you know how excited I actually am?”
She shook her head in dismay at him, crossed the room quickly and leant towards him on the sofa. Tilting her head to one side, she reached out and cupped his chin with one hand. “Oh you silly boy!” she scolded him playfully. “Of course I am! Obviously I am worried about you both, well you mostly, because Lucy is so terribly sensible and lovely…but you, you’ll be okay won’t you? Won’t you? Oh Danny,” she went down to her knees then, to his surprise, right in front of him, with one hand still holding his chin, and the other holding the wine glass precariously close to his knees. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, it’s so lovely, you a daddy! Oh Danny, I know you’re scared, and I understand, I was fucking terrified expecting you and John!” He said nothing, curiously watching her carefully lower her glass to the floor and place it on the carpet. She clamped her other hand down on his knee and looked right into his eyes. She was hammered. “But you’re gonna’ be fine, you are, you really are, you have to believe that! You’ll be wonderful, you’ll be amazing, you’ll be just fine darling. And imagine! Imagine! How beautiful is this baby going to be?” She was smiling now, this huge dopey drunk smile all over her face, and he couldn’t help but smile back at it. Her eyes, exact replicas of his, were glistening with hope and love and drink. “Imagine how beautiful! Lucy, oh, so pretty, so pretty, and you! Do you know when you were a baby, people would actually stop me in the street to tell me how beautiful you were? Really they did. Complete strangers. On a daily basis. Did I ever tell you that?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh well that’s because I’m a useless mother and always have been!” she rocked her head back and laughed out loud at herself. “I probably didn’t want to let you get big-headed, but they did! I lost count of the times people would look at you and say miss, he is the cutest little boy I have ever seen. They did, they really did. Do you know, people used to tell me to watch you closely? Because you might get stolen? Really, really they did. Like someone would see you and just have to have you and would just steal you away when I wasn’t looking.”
Danny laughed at her. “Is that right?”
“It is, it is. And they were right. You were like that. You were that kind of child. Like something out of heaven. Like an angel.”
“Except I didn’t behave like one,” he joked, finally lifting his hand and dropping it awkwardly onto hers. He felt the shock vibrate through her small body, and the surprise and the hope and the hurt showed on her face, intensifying her frown, as she clenched harder at his knee.
“You were just full of life, that’s all,” she told him, her smile fading. “I see that now. That’s how it should be anyway. Little kids. They should be like that, full of life and hope.”
“Mum how drunk are you? How much have you had?”
Kay smiled wryly, looking away as she pulled back, and then used his knee to push herself back to her feet. “It’s the weekend,” she shrugged, heading to the kitchen. “I’m allowed. I’ll get you that drink.”
Danny waited for her to come back. He grimaced at the sound of her clattering around the small kitchen, and took a deep breath before she returned. He felt touched by her enthusiastic descriptions of him as a child, and her doe eyed look when talking about Lucy and the baby. The baby. It still made him shiver when he thought it, when he tried to picture it. He knew he could not even begin to try to explain to his mother how he felt about it all. He did not even know himself. One moment it filled him with nothing short of horror, for so many reasons. It took his breath away, made him feel sick, made him feel like running. And then every now and again it would feel okay. It would feel like something he could actually deal with on some level. One step at a time, maybe. Slowly and surely. But it was Lucy, it was thinking of Lucy, and waking up in the night craving her arms around him like a physical sickness, it was that which shook him the most. He was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow. More than he had thought possible. It made him grin every time he thought of it. He knew she had every right to slap him across the face, and he didn’t even care if she did. He just wanted to see her. He just wanted to talk it out. See where it went.
Kay returned with a glass of wine for him, and her own glass refilled. She sashayed across the room and dropped onto the sofa beside him, emitting a huge dramatic sigh, and placing a hand on top of Kurts head for a stroke. “He is kind of cute really,” she mused, scratching his ears. “You always went on about having a dog when you were a kid. I always said no. Didn’t Lucy buy him for you?”
“For my sixteenth,” Danny nodded. “Best present I ever had.”
“She’s a good girl,” Kay was nodding too. “We’ve had our words, you know, and God knows I deserved them, but I’ve got a lot of respect for that girl, Danny. She’s strong and she’s true. I like her a lot.”
“Mum,” Danny shifted slightly so that he could look at her. She frowned, already knowing that the conversation was about to take a darker turn. He paused for a moment, wondering if this was the right time, wondering if maybe they should just have a drink together, talk about Lucy and the baby, about hope. But as he paused, she moved forward suddenly, grabbing his face again, harder this time, turning it to the side and gasping.
“What’ve you done there? What’s that?”
Danny sighed. No going back now. “I got attacked again,” he told her softly, pulling away from her hand. “Earlier today. Outside the flat.”
“What?” she gasped, her hand covering her mouth. “By who? Why?”
“You know why,” he shrugged. “It was one of the guys from the pub that time. Big bald guy. He said he was a friend of Lee’s, and Jack’s. He said Jack was dead, mum.”
Kay looked away from him abruptly. He watched her mouth drop shut, her jaw tighten, her eyes widen. Then she put one hand over her mouth, dropped her head forward, and squeezed her eyes shut. Danny sat forward, put his glass down, and reached for her knee. “Mum?” She was shaking her head now, as she opened her eyes and stared at him, her bottom lip trembling.
“The laptop,” she gasped, raising a shaking hand and gesturing toward the kitchen. “The computer. I sent these emails you see!”
“What? That he’s dead? What’d you mean?”
She got up, strode urgently towards the kitchen, and returned carrying her laptop, which was open. She sat beside him and pushed it roughly onto his knees, nodding at the screen. “It’s been going all day,” she was mumbling, “I kept checking when I was at work. The University, the message board I wrote on and everything. Look!”
Danny had no idea what she was talking about. He stared at the laptop screen which was logged onto the Bournemouth University website. She leaned over and scrolled down the screen for him, and then he could see what she meant. The page was full of comments, all from students at the University. The subject was about Jack Freeman, landlord at the White Horse and whether or not he was dead. Danny narrowed his eyes and moved his face closer to the screen. The last comment was from someone called Phil Robson and it read ; there’s no proof he was a peado, so why don’t you let the poor guy RIP, before you start believing any shit on the internet, you stupid cunts. Danny looked at the comment below. A girl called Emily Sutch had written; he was in the paper yrs ago actually, my Nan told me, she lives round here. He was accused of molesting young boys and supplying them with drugs. You can find the info online if you don’t believe me. The comment below hers, Nancy Mills ; always thought he was creepy! Def an alkie too, he reeked, sorry but he did. The one below that was from Phil Robson again; hate the way people believe everything they read! One minute sum nutter comes on here saying he’s a paedo, the next thing the guy is dead! Wait til there is any proof before you start slagging him off! Danny felt his heart beating faster and harder as he scrolled further down, running his eyes rapidly over the hundreds of comments students had written on the page. Tom Atkinson; he had a sign round his neck saying ‘pervert’ apparently!
Danny had read enough. He closed the laptop and looked at his mother. She was sitting with her hands pressed against her eyes. “What happened mum? What did you do?”
Kay let her hands drift unsurely down to her lap. She seemed to try to compose herself, clasping her hands together between her knees, shaking back her hair and blinking away the tears he saw shining in her eyes. “You know I went to see him last week?” she said, and then sucked in a huge breath. “Last Friday.”
“Yes, I know. He told you what Jerry Howard wants.”
“I had a bit if a pop at him while I was there,” she went on, “I had a go at him.”
“That’s no worse than what I did the week before,” Danny pointed out, sliding the laptop down to the floor and picking his wine back up.
“I know, I know, but I did something else before I went to see him,” Kay explained, finding her own glass and snatching it back up. “And then before I left I told him, I told him what I’d done to him.”
“And what had you done?” Danny questioned, although he now had a pretty good idea. Kay shrugged, shook her hair back again and looked away at him defiantly.
“Went on their University page and told them all what he was. I even phoned up the guy at their Student union, to warn them not to go in his pub. Told them the truth.”
Danny found himself sinking slowly back into the sofa, drinking his wine and leaning his head on his hand. “Oh mother,” he murmured. “Why did you do it?”
“Why not?” she shrugged again. “He got away scot free, like you said. Out of everything, he got a pub, he got a life, he never got punished! I wanted to put that right, for you! I wanted to ruin his life, like he helped ruin yours!”
“It’s fine,” Danny said, shrugging his shoulders and wondering what else he could possibly say about it. “Just don’t say you did it for me, alright? I didn’t need you to.”
“Well I needed to! I needed to do something!” Kay argued back, her voice shrill. “I didn’t do much to protect you back then, I wanted to do something now! I wanted to make him pay!”
“Well you did that, didn’t you?” Danny yawned, as she trembled and raged beside him. He watched her smoothing her hair down, shoving it viciously back behind her ears. Her cheeks had risen in colour, and he guessed it would not be too long before she passed out. “The man is dead.”
“Well that was up to him, wasn’t it?” Kay snapped, crossing one arm protectively across her middle. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t make him! They’re saying he hung himself with his own belt, upstairs at the pub. With a sign around his neck saying pervert. Well at least he died telling the truth for once. I might even respect him a bit for that.”
Danny laughed then. He could not help himself. He looked at her and laughed, and she stared back at him in horror. “What else am I supposed to?”
“You find all this funny?”
“Not really. No funnier than I find anything these days. It’s just the way you said it, that’s all. Maybe I’m trying to relieve the tension or something.”
“Well he’s dead anyway,” Kay waved a hand at him and drank another mouthful of wine. “It’s not my fault. I did what I had to do, and if he wanted to die, that’s his fault, not mine. The world is a better place without him, eh?” She looked at Danny then, and he could see it in her eyes, that she had done it for him, that it meant more to her than he would ever know. She wanted him to say it was okay, she wanted him to know what she had tried to do. So he nodded, and then reached out and patted her leg twice.
“We got rid of one each,” he joked, knowing full well it was in bad taste but unable to help himself. “We’ve got something in common now, haven’t we?”
“Oh Danny, don’t say that,” she sighed and fell back beside him, wiping one hand slowly back through her hair. “This is all such a mess. Such a mess.”
“Listen,” he said. “You did what you had to do. He deserved it, you’re right. Who’s to know he wasn’t still at it anyway? You know? You reckon he never messed around with anyone again after me? ‘Cause I fucking don’t. People like that don’t change mum. Not ever. I bet there are loads of messed up kids out there that had suffered at his hands, one way or another.”
“Like from the drugs he pushed,” Kay said, turning her face to look at him. “He could have still been doing that, couldn’t he?”
Danny nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.” He felt her lean against him, her wine held loosely between her legs. He knew what they were doing, trying to justify it, trying to reassure themselves that he deserved it. “Don’t worry about it mum,” he told her. “He made his choice. You didn’t do it. You didn’t kill him, he killed himself. And those Uni kids had a right to know.”
He felt her sigh heavily beside him. She lifted her glass again. “I’m just glad you’re not angry with me,” she said.
“Nah. It would have all got out in a while anyway, because the article is written. I’ve got it with me, look.” Remembering it for the first time since he had arrived, Danny eased himself forward to dig around in his overnight bag. He brought out the plastic folder and passed it to Kay. “She gave it to me today. She’s got some bidding war apparently, with all the papers? Think of that hey?”
Kay looked at the folder on her lap. “Oh gosh.”
“So there you go. His name is in there. I didn’t hold back. It’s all in there.”
“Have you read it?”
“It’s good. I mean, she’s a good writer. She did a good job.” Danny looked at the folder, as his mum flipped open the cover and ran a finger over the title page. Kids That Kill. She had told him she was planning on a whole series of stories now that she had covered his. She wanted to go up and down the country, around the world even, talking to people who had killed as kids. She wanted to know why, she had said, why they had done it, who they had killed and why.
“I don’t know if I can read it Danny.”
“You don’t have to,” he shrugged, rummaging then in his pocket for his cigarettes.
“But I should shouldn’t I?” She closed the folder and held it tightly to her chest. “Like you said, it’s all in there.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to.”
“I will,” she glanced down at it and nodded. “I think I owe it to you. And I think you were incredibly brave doing it. Do you know you are the bravest person I have ever known?”
Danny made a noise in his throat, dismissing her claims. She shook her head at him adamantly. You won’t think that when you’ve read it, he thought to himself, looking at her shining eyes, you won’t think that when you read what a coward I was, not telling anyone, hiding it from you, running away. “I’ll read it tomorrow,” he heard her saying. She had rolled up the file and placed it to one side of the sofa. “When I’m in a better state of mind. Did she pay you, by the way? Because if it gets published, she’ll stand to make a lot of money from it.”
“We had a deal,” Danny replied, thinking distastefully of the piece of paper he still had in his pocket. The address where he would find Jerry Howard, the man who wanted him gone. The address, and the phone number. “She helped me find Dennis and Jack. And now Jerry.”
“So you’re going to see him next?” questioned Kay, linking her arm through his. He nodded in reply. “When? Not alone?”
“Not alone, no. I don’t know when.”
“And what about the things he wants? What Jack told me?”
“I don’t know,” Danny told her, and this was the truth. He had no idea whether he was going to do the things Jerry wanted. He had decided not to think about it until he was in the moment. Take it one step at a time. What was the point in trying to make decisions until he knew what he was faced with? “I’ll deal with it when it comes,” he said.
“I could come with you.”
Danny thought about this. So far he only imagined him and Michael going to see Jerry Howard, and he didn’t even know if this would be realistic. What if Howard only agreed to seeing him alone? He would have to go along with it, wouldn’t he? He patted his mum on the hand, feeling her grow heavier beside him, as if she was slowly slipping away. “I’ll let you know,” he told her gently.
“You let me know…” his mother murmured against him. “I’ll come with you…I’ll sort it out for you darling, I will….I’ll make it up to you.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he told her, rolling his eyes. “Don’t start all that.”
“Got so much to make up for,” she went on, lifting her glass slowly to her lips and sipping at the last mouthful. “That’s the last thing I think when I fall asleep at night, you know? And the first thing that hits me in the head every morning. How badly I let you down. How bloody stupid and blind I was. How you went through it all alone.” He felt her hiss then, turned to look at her and saw she was sobbing quietly into her fingers. “I’m useless…useless…don’t know how you can stand to be around me.”
“Let’s not do this,” Danny told her gently, slipping his arm hesitantly around her shoulders. “There’s no point mum. We’ve all got to just move on somehow.”
“The baby,” she said then, pulling back so that she could look into his face again. Tears were sliding down her face. “It will bring us all together. I will make it up to you that way. I will be the best grandma in the world, if you and Lucy let me!”
“Stop being so daft,” Danny shook his head at her, wanting the conversation to end. She lolled back into him, done in by the wine, finished off by the week she had endured. He felt her yawn widely against his shoulder. Her own thin shoulders were still shaking softly, jerking in time with her steadying tears. He found himself sat there, staring at the wall, staring at the floor, waiting for her to fall asleep, hoping she had run out of things to cry about. He glanced briefly at the folder next to her on the sofa. He wondered what she would really make of it. There were things in there he had never told her, things she didn’t know. But maybe reading it would help her too, he reasoned, like it had helped him. He viewed the article now with a mixture of cold distain and morbid curiosity. Had telling it helped him get rid of it? He closed his eyes and wondered if it was possible that his head felt clearer, and that his heart felt lighter. He pondered the meeting with Jerry Howard and experienced a strange sense of calmness about it. He had a feeling that all would become clear, that everything he had ever wondered about, everything that had ever tortured him about Lee Howard would all become known to him.
Hearing his mother start to snore softly beside him, Danny took a breath and pulled out his phone. He had added Jerry Howard’s number to his contact list. He decided it was time to give him a call.