She waited for him outside, at his request. He said his mother was not feeling very well. He said it in a slightly guarded, amused way, which suggested to Lucy that Kay had a hangover. So she waited outside in her car, rubbing her hands together and fiddling with the heating, and unable to breathe for the fear bubbling and building inside of her. She saw him come out of the block with his bag and his dog, and she had to look away, because it hurt too much. She took deep breaths, sucking up the air and willing it to send calming signals to the rest of her body.
He opened the door and climbed in beside her, with his bag and his dog on his lap, and an apprehensive look on his face. The silence waited for one of them to speak. For one of them to let the other one know everything was okay. She wanted to let it be him. They stared into eachothers eyes, until she felt her lips start to tremble and stretch. She watched the amusement fill his eyes and wanted to hit him. But it looked like someone had already done that. “What’s so funny?” Lucy demanded suddenly, feigning anger, wondering if she ought to slap him across the face after all.
Danny grinned, only it was a half grin, lopsided, and his eyes seemed to burn into hers. Lucy wanted to grab his face and press her lips onto his. She was suddenly and overwhelmingly reminded of her schoolgirl days. Of watching him and wanting him from afar, of being too shy, too awkward to do anything about it. Of lying on her bed scrawling into her diary, purging herself of the days wants and lusts, how he had brushed against her in the corridor, how their eyes had met twice across the classroom, that kind of thing. Remembering made her want to hit him even more.
“You,” he told her finally, pulling across his seat belt. “Your face. You look like you don’t know whether to hit me or what.”
“Thought crossed my mind,” she replied wryly. “But yet again it looks like someone has beaten me to it. What happened?”
“Same old story,” he said with a sigh, still grinning. “I can tell you all about it if you want. Lots to tell.”
Lucy turned the key in the engine and started the car up. “Well you better tell me then,” she said, not entirely sure how much of it she wanted to hear. “I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna’ be a long day.”
“You don’t mind?” he asked then, and she felt his hand on her arm. She checked her mirrors, but did not pull out.
“Me. This. I don’t deserve it really do I?”
“I’ll let you off,” she smiled. “You’re a man. You’re not the first to run off when a woman says she’s pregnant, and you won’t be the last I bet.”
He sighed in relief, took his hand back. “Okay. Thanks. I don’t really know where to begin though.”
“Who did that to you?”
Danny nodded at her. “Good place to begin. It was one of the guys who attacked me and Mike and Anthony in the pub? He was a bit pissed off with me. He was friends with Lee and Jack, and now they’re both dead.”
Lucy stared at him open mouthed, before remembering to concentrate on her driving. Luckily it was only a short drive back to her flat. She hated driving when she was distracted, and the baby alone was enough of a distraction at the moment. She had noticed her concentration skills had declined considerably, since the baby seemed to occupy every waking minute within her mind. “Dead?”
“Yeah, I only found out yesterday. Jack hung himself. Did it to himself. Though some might argue my mum had a bit of a hand in it.”
Lucy shot him a quick look to register his expression. He seemed incredibly calm, she thought, as if he had absorbed it all and come to terms with it somehow. He looked back at the road, frowning through the windscreen. “You better explain,” she murmured, shaking her head, feeling lost with it all. Danny cleared his throat. He could feel his eyes were on her, taking her in, watching her, but she had to watch the road.
“She went to see him last week,” he said. “To have a go, or whatever. To say her piece. Then she tells him what else she did. She put he’s a pervert all over the University message board, you know, and emails, phone calls, the lot. Warning the students about him in the pub. The shit hit the fan and he topped himself. With a sign saying ‘pervert’ hung around his neck, no less.”
“Oh my God, Danny.”
“I know. I know.”
“How do you feel about that? I mean….Jesus Christ!”
“I feel okay,” he shrugged beside her. “He chose to do it didn’t he? Obviously he couldn’t live with himself anymore. Mum only told the truth. She let those kids know who he was, that’s all.”
“Is she okay?”
“She was hammered when I got there last night,” Danny replied with a small chuckle. “A bit freaked out about it all, but she said she did it for me, she wanted to do something to make it up to me or whatever. Fuck knows. What a mess eh?”
“I don’t even know what to say Danny. I really don’t.”
“Well it’s pretty much nearly all over, to be honest.”
Lucy sucked in her breath. “How is it?”
“Well I finished the interview with Caroline Haskell,” he paused for a moment, digging into his bag, and then waving a folder at her. They caught eachothers eye accidentally then, and Lucy felt her stomach drop at the name of the woman. “It’s all here. Mum read it this morning. You can have a look too, you know. Because it’s pretty much the whole fucking story from beginning to end, you know, in case you wanna’ know…anyway,” he stuffed it back into the bag. “So I’ve seen Dennis, Lee’s brother…and I’ve seen Freeman, God rest his soul, so now I’ve arranged to see the old man himself. The puppet master! The man behind all this loveliness. I might get some answers, see.”
“Are you sure you know what you are doing?” Lucy took the next left to her road and pulled up out the front. “Won’t it be dangerous I mean? What’re you going to say, or do?”
“It’s just the final piece,” he said, lifting and dropping his hands, as if he didn’t quite have the words to explain it. Lucy turned the engine off. She wanted to look at him but she was afraid to. “I know what he wants from me. I’m not sure if I’m gonna’ give it to him yet, I’ll see how things go. But don’t worry. I’m taking Anthony and Mike with me, definitely.”
Lucy could only manage a slight nod, as she stared at the steering wheel, and tugged the keys out of the ignition. “Well, that’s good,” she said, uselessly. She moved one hand without thinking, going for her stomach, the way she had grown accustomed to doing lately. To hold the baby, to soothe it, to feel it there. She stopped herself and sighed. “Come on then,” she told him. “Let’s get the kettle on.”
Danny followed her into the flat, with Kurt still in his arms. Lucy filled the kettle silently, shooting a look his way, wondering what he was thinking, what he was doing here. She grabbed two cups, watching him hanging about awkwardly, looking like he wanted to sit down, but was not brave enough to do it. When the tea was made, she nodded to the lounge, and they went through. Danny sat down and Kurt curled into a small ball on his knees. Lucy wanted to laugh then. “You and that bloody dog!” she said, with a smile, rolling her eyes. He narrowed his suspiciously.
“What? You sound like my mum.”
“You’re just surgically attached to each other, that’s all,” she shrugged, crossing one leg over the other, and self-consciously tugging her top down over her swelling belly. “It’s all right, it’s sweet, it just makes me laugh, that’s all.”
Danny smiled back, dropping a hand onto the little dog, who grunted and wriggled in appreciation. “He’s getting so old now. I’ve got to make the most of him haven’t I?”
“It’s so sweet the way he remembered you,” Lucy sighed, settling back into the sofa with her tea between her hands. “Amazing, really.”
“Best present anyone ever gave me,” Danny looked at her and said. “My mum says I treat him like a baby.”
Lucy felt her throat go dry. She looked away from him, back down to the little dog. “You do. A bit.”
A silence stretched out before them again. Lucy bit at her lip, drank some tea, and had to pretend that it tasted nice, when for some reason it had gone back to tasting wrong. She felt it gurgling unhappily in her knotted stomach, and wondered if morning sickness could come back when you thought you were past it. She watched Danny drink his own tea, keeping one hand on Kurt the whole time. She felt impatient suddenly then. She didn’t want to hear about Caroline Haskell, or his mother, or Jack Freeman or any of those people. She just wanted to know what he was doing here. What did he want?
“So you’re…” he looked at her briefly, frowned slightly, then glanced back down at Kurt, as if that were safer. “You’re okay then?”
“Yes. I’m okay,” she told him. “I’m still pregnant.”
“Oh. Yes. I know.”
“Is that why you’re here? Is that why you wanted to see me?” Lucy stopped herself, biting her lip again and raising her cup to her mouth to sip more tea. She told herself not to expect too much, not to hope for too much. She saw him try to compose himself, but he just ended up looking confused.
“Yeah,” he said finally, although he didn’t sound very sure to her. “I mean, yeah, I wanted to see how you were. And say sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“You know. Running off. Being a bastard. Hitting the bottle.” He met her eyes again, grimaced sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn’t exactly make things easy for you either,” Lucy told him. “I hurt you a lot, and I didn’t mean to. Then I go and spring an unwanted pregnancy on you. I know you said you didn’t want kids…but there you go. This is where we are. I’m keeping the baby Danny. I already love it, if that makes sense. What you want to do, or not do, is entirely up to you.” She leaned forward then, unable to tolerate the tea any longer, and placed it on the coffee table. “I’m not going to put pressure on you, or expect anything of you. I’m here if you want me, as a friend, as more, whatever. That’s all I have to say really.” She folded her arms across her middle, felt the rise of her belly, and flattened her hand against it; hold on baby, hold on, give him a chance.
Danny exhaled loudly. “Okay,” he said slowly, hesitantly. “I’ll be honest too then. I do want you.” He looked at her then, and she felt her heart beating faster already, her cheeks warming up. “I never stopped wanting you. It fucking killed me when you said all that stuff on the beach…I do kind of get it now, I mean, my mum tried to help me understand…and I sort of do, but I just wanted to be with you, you know? Whatever happened. I just wanted to give it a go and see what happened with us. And I guess, what I’m worried about now, among a million other things obviously, is maybe you just want me back now because…of…you know, the baby?”
He was really finding it difficult to look at her now, Lucy could tell. She sat further forward, so that their knees were side by side, just touching.
“I just look like a twat, don’t I?” she said with a wry smile. “But life has a funny way of ripping the ground out from under your feet, have you noticed that? I stand by the reasons I wanted us to have a break. I was worried about us. I’ll probably always worry about us. But nothing changed how much I love you, and nothing ever will, you know?” He nodded silently beside her. “I did it because I wanted you to be sure. I just wanted you to have some time to yourself.”
“Lucy, I had plenty of time to myself in prison, didn’t you think of that?”
“No…I mean, yes. Oh I don’t know Danny,” Lucy groaned, dropping her forehead into one hand and turning her face to look at him.
“It kept me going in there you know,” he went on. “Thinking of me and you together at last. Then you were there to meet me, and I just thought, okay here we go. A decent, normal life. That’s all I want, you know.”
“But can you see how that puts so much pressure on us?” she asked him. “Being together as kids, dealing with all that shit, that was one thing. Then eight years apart. I mean, I know we saw each other and wrote to each other, but I guess I always kind of thought you would get out, see me for a bit, and then realise what else you could have. What else is out there.”
Danny was looking at her in amazement, shaking his head incredulously. “Lucy, is your self-esteem really that low? Because I always kind of thought you were really confident and together! Do you really think like that? Did you really think I’d get bored of you and move on?”
“I just didn’t want to cling onto you,” she shrugged, desperate to explain. “I didn’t feel I had any claim on you, any right to be with you, just because we were together back then. I just felt you needed time to spread your wings, you know, take your time, instead of jumping straight into a serious relationship.”
“Okay, okay,” Danny said then, suddenly turning towards her and grasping her hands with his own. Lucy was shocked, both by his sudden movement, and by the feel of his skin pressing against hers. She felt her fingers curling into his, responding to the touch, clinging on. “Can we just take things slowly then? Can we just sort of pretend we’ve just met or something then? You know, go on dates and keep it all fun and casual, that sort of thing?”
Lucy wanted to cry. She looked down at his hands, over hers and felt fingers lacing through hers, holding on. “But what about the baby?”
“The same thing,” he said, nodding. “One step at a time. Take it slowly. I can get my head around it, I know I can. I’ll do anything Lucy, I just want to be with you.”
“But do you think you’ll ever want it Danny?” she had to ask. There was nothing she wanted more than to fling her arms around his neck, and pull him close to her, and promise him the world. But the baby. The baby was more important than anything they felt. She felt his hands loosen on hers and dismay filled her heart.
“I’ll be honest,” he said, glancing down. “It scares the fucking shit out of me Lucy. All of it does. I know people say everyone is like that. Mike says it. Anthony says it. But it’s like, how the hell would I know how to be a good dad Luce? I barely even remember my own dad, that’s how much he thought of me, and as for…” he paused, running his tongue over his bottom lip, his eyes seemingly fixated on her middle. Lucy did not want him to speak the name either. The name that seemed to hang like a dark shadow over everything in their lives.
“You wouldn’t be like that,” she said, pulling one hand out from his and holding it gently to the side of his face. She saw his eyes weaken, closing briefly, before jerking open to stare right into hers. She shook her head at him adamantly. “You would never be like him Danny. You mustn’t think that.”
“But people say that, don’t they? Like, people who are violent to their kids, it’s because their parents were violent to them? It carries on, doesn’t it?”
“It’s different Danny. It’s not always true, for one thing. There are plenty of people out there who have suffered horrendous childhoods, and then managed to give their own kids perfect ones. And also, that man wasn’t your parent, he didn’t bring you up. He only had influence over you for a few years. Before he came along you were kind and good and sweet, and you still are. You still are.”
“I just worry though, I just worry. What if I can’t cope? What if I don’t like bond with it or whatever? What if I resent it somehow? Like he resented me? What if I…what if I….” He trailed off again, lowering his head. Lucy couldn’t help herself, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and pulled him close. His forehead bumped against her collar bone, making her laugh and wince.
“Just shut up you idiot,” she told him. “Do you think I would want to be with you, if I had any doubts about you like that? You’re gonna’ be the best bloody dad in the world, that’s what I know Danny, even if you don’t! I know it, and everyone else knows it, and you just have to give yourself a chance.”
“Okay,” he was breathing into her neck. “Okay then.”
“You can come to the scan with me if you like.”
“Next week. If you want to. And look,” she grinned, blinking away the tears in her eyes, and pulled up her top to show him her rounded belly. “Look how fast I’m growing! I’m getting all fat!” She giggled as his eyes grew wider.
“I know, I know. Weird isn’t it?”
His hand snaked out towards her stomach, hovering above it unsurely, before resting featherlike upon it. “Mental,” he said quietly. “An actual little person.”
“Blows your mind really.”
“How big is it?”
“About the size of a potato. It has all its legs and arms and everything. It’s just a tiny little mini person.”
“You’ll be an amazing mum,” he sighed. She had her hand on his shoulder, and moved it down to his lower back, rubbing back and forth.
“Maybe we’ll all be amazing together.”
He lifted his head, pressed his forehead onto hers, took in lungfuls of air and closed his eyes. “I hope so Lucy.” He opened his eyes and looked right into hers, and she felt the warmth spreading down between her legs, the longing tingling down her arms, making her shudder. “I’ll do my best, eh?”
Lucy didn’t want to talk to him anymore. What he had said was good enough for her. It was good enough for now. She closed her eyes, pressed her lips softly against his, and let him push her gently back down onto sofa, as a thousand sweet memories roared through her mind.
Anthony was sat in the lounge, flicking through the TV channels, checking the time on his watch, and sporadically picking up his mobile phone to check it for messages. The kids were in bed, presumably asleep. He was waiting for his wife to come home from her ironing jobs. He was waiting for her to take over, and he was waiting to tell her another lie. He realised he had been doing that a lot lately, and it saddened him beyond belief, that it had all come to this. It felt like he had two choices. Tell her the truth, and lose her, risk losing the kids. Or lie. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had not lied constantly. He hadn’t needed to for a while. His brother and Danny had done a good job of keeping him in the dark since the attack in the pub that day. He had realised that they were, of course. He wasn’t stupid. He had known something was still going on, and that they were deliberately keeping him out of it.
Anthony drummed his fingers impatiently against the armrest, jerking his other arm up to look at the time again. Half past seven. She had said she would be no later than seven. He had swapped with her at half four, coming in from the restaurant, brushing a kiss across her cheek in the hallway, before she nipped straight out of the door, yelling that dinner was in the oven. He had fed the kids, let them watch TV while he cleared up, bathed them, read to them and tucked them into bed. He blew his breath out loudly with frustration. He was not looking forward to lying to her, especially because he had it all worked out, and somehow that made it feel worse, but he was looking forward to getting out of the house. He was looking forward to getting stuck in. Standing still was not in his nature.
His phone beeped at him then. A message. He snatched it up from where it lay beside him on the sofa and looked at the screen. Jaime. Anthony grimaced, and scratched the back of his head. They had not been in contact for a few years now, but Anthony still considered him a friend, of sorts. Not the sort of person he could ever bring home to meet the wife and kids, of course. Imagine that! Chrissy could still barely disguise her distaste whenever she heard Danny’s name mentioned. What would she think if he knew he was back in touch with another blast from the past?
Saving you a seat mate!
Anthony grinned and quickly typed back; still waiting for wife! Be there soon as. He heard the door then, her key turning in the lock, and he stuffed the phone into his pocket in a panic that made him feel stupid and childish. He got to his feet as she walked in, immediately narrowing her eyes his way. “Kids okay?”
“Yep,” he nodded. “I’ve got to go out!”
“But I’ve just got in!”
“Emergency,” he shrugged, heading for the hallway to grab his coat. Chrissy let her own coat slip from her shoulders, hanging it up on the hook just as Anthony reached for his. He glanced at her apologetically. “Workmate,” he explained, “in a right old state. His missis has left him.”
“Hmm,” Chrissy had folded her arms in a disapproving fashion. But Anthony did not allow her any time to question or admonish him for leaving. He kissed her cheek and left. He imagined her seething in the hallway, as he headed down the street, shoving his hands into his pocket, exhaling breath into the cold air. He had an appointment to keep.
It felt like going back in time, Anthony realised vaguely, when he reached the old haunt and paid his money on the door. He stood outside for just a moment, staring around at the street they had waited on so many times that year in the bed-sit. Leaping about, impatiently queing up to get in. He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, recalling how excitable Danny had always been, more than the rest of them, who would have been happy about a night out anywhere. This place had been special to Danny, he knew. He’d been overwhelmed at first, unable to really believe there was a club that played all the music he loved, and introduced him to even more. Anthony remembered seeing it in his eyes, the burning desire for more. He would leap up and down all night, his hair flying about, his eyes wild with excitement.
Sighing and shaking his head, absorbing the time that had passed for all of them, Anthony ducked through the doors of Chaos, and took a look around for Jaime Lawler. The dance floor was empty. The club had not long opened. A few groups were scattered here and there, some at the bar, some lounging around the poole table. Anthony tried to place the name of the song that was playing, and the band. He tapped one foot without thinking, nodding along whatever happened to my rock and roll? But he failed, without even really trying. He had not had time for music in the last eight years.
It didn’t take him long to pick Jaime Lawler out, perched on a stool at the bar, though it had been a good two or three years since he had last seen him. He was tall and thin, hunched over his pint, still dressed the same. Tracksuit jacket, jeans and a baseball cap crammed down over his forehead. His slate grey eyes peered out suspiciously from under it, taking Anthony in and lifting a lazy hand in a half-hearted wave. “Alright then mate?” he called out. Anthony took up the stool next to him and they shook hands. He felt Jaime’s grip tighten, and his eyes seemed to pierce through him suddenly, just before he let go and dropped his hand back to cradle his pint.
“How you doing Jaime?” Anthony asked, nodding to catch the barmaids attention. “Pint of Carlsberg please love,” he told her. The girl had short bleached blonde hair and a pierced nose. She smiled warmly at him, but Anthony was used to that. If anything, the wedding band on his finger seemed to make the girls even friendlier.
“Not so bad, not so bad mate,” Jaime’s response was a tired one. Anthony paid for his pint and looked him over. Jaime was a few years older than him. Anthony had been in the same school year as his younger brother Bradley. Bradley had gone down the wife and kids route at a young age and stuck with it. Jaime had gone down the crime and punishment route at an equally young age, the question was, was he still at it? “Getting old, eh?” Jaime sat with his legs apart, one hand dangling, the other lifting the pint glass to his lips. He grinned and cocked his head. Anthony nodded and smiled.
“Looks that way,” he agreed sombrely. “Happens to us all. Never really believed it would though, did we?”
Jaime’s eyes moved down to the bar, he leant on it with one elbow and Anthony watched the way his eyes moved about quickly, taking everything in, tracking across the bar, to Anthony’s hand, to his clothes, down to his shoes and back again. There was still something distinctly shifty about the man, he mused, drinking his beer. “How’re the wife and kids?” he asked. Anthony nodded again.
“Good thanks, really good. How about you? Last time I bumped into you, you were still free and single.”
“Ah that’s the only way I know,” Jaime met his eyes briefly, grinning widely, and Anthony noticed that he had two teeth missing now. One on the top right, and one just below it. His other teeth looked grey and in bad shape. It made him look older, Anthony thought. “There’s no woman out there would put up with me, and bloody kids, eh? Not for me thanks. My bloody nephews and nieces do my head in when I see ‘em. How’s your brother?”
“He’s not too bad,” said Anthony. “He’s trying to get back with his ex, the mother of his little boy? I hope he does. It would be good for him.”
“Yeah, yeah, no doubt,” Jaime swivelled on his stool, still grinning, but looking around everywhere, jerking his eyes up every time someone came in, or moved. He touched the rim of his baseball cap every now and again in an almost subconscious gesture. “He’s staying out of trouble these days then?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Anthony sighed. “But trouble has a way of finding him. Well, not so much him specifically, but Danny. He’s been staying with Mike.”
Jaime’s eyes had a life of their own, Anthony thought, almost transfixed now by how quickly they moved around. They met his, then jerked away, took in two young girls who skipped in arm and arm, back to the bar, down to his nearly finished pint, then down to his trainers. He sort of lifted and dropped his skinny shoulders in a series of uncomfortable shrugs. “Yeah, yeah, so how he is then? That what this is all about? This little blast from the past eh?” He laughed, but it was more of a cackle, and again Anthony was reminded of someone much older than Jaime was, and suddenly he could see him as a wrinkled old man, hunched and thin, with tobacco stained fingers and a gappy smile.
“Yeah, basically,” Anthony said, deciding it was time to cut the small talk and get down to business. “I asked for your help once before, you remember?”
Jaime nodded, his grey eyes thinning to wary slits. “I remember.”
“Because of Mike and Danny, because I cared about them.” Anthony drank some beer, and tried to catch Jaime’s eyes and hold them still. “Here I am, at it again, all these years later. You didn’t mind me contacting you? I mean, you were the only person I could think of that still lives round there, that might know anything.”
“Oh I know things, I know things alright,” Jaime had put his empty glass down on the bar. He searched inside his jacket and brought out a packet of tobacco, which he set up on the bar to roll a cigarette. Anthony swallowed nervously. He watched him, waiting, wanting to urge him on, but not wanting to interrupt him. His messages to Jaime had gone unanswered at first, and he had wondered if he had the wrong number for him. A search via Friends Reunited had linked him back up with Bradley, the family man, who had confirmed that the mobile number Anthony had for Jaime was correct. He had phoned him not long after.
“Anything useful?” Anthony urged him after what felt like an age. Jaime rolled his cigarette into a neat white tube and tucked a roach into one end. He did all of this without looking at Anthony once. Anthony picked up his pint and drank three mouthfuls, put it down, and scratched his head impatiently. Jaime put away his tobacco pouch, dragged a lighter from his other inside pocket and lit his roll-up. Anthony found himself wondering if the man was doing it on purpose, because he had something really juicy, and was dragging the moment out in anticipation for it, or was he just extremely reluctant about sharing what he knew?
Jaime dragged heavily on his roll-up, his thin lips pursing tightly around the end, the skin around them wrinkling heavily. He exhaled deeply, let his eyes drift back to meet Anthony, and Anthony had a flashback then, back to that horrible ghastly moment in the pub he had worked in. When he had sat just like this, face to face, hunched forward to catch Jaime’s hushed tones, to hear what a dirty bastard Jack Freeman really was. He remembered how his stomach had rolled over, how he had wanted to puke, and run from the pub to find Michael and Danny, to drag them home and keep them safe. “You know Freeman is dead?” Jaime said finally. Anthony nodded quickly. “You know he topped himself in his own bleeding pub?”
“He didn’t actually own that pub, he just managed it.”
“Hey?” Anthony frowned, felt the urge to shake his head and blink, not understanding. Jaime reached for the bar, dragged an ashtray forwards and tapped his roll-up against the edge. “I had my suspicions few years ago to be honest,” Jaime went on. “But what did it matter to me? Never saw you and Mike round that way for obvious reasons. Danny boy locked up inside.” Jaime shrugged at him, elbow on bar and cigarette dangling over the edge between his long fingers. “But I found out since you called me, started sniffing around a bit more. Jerry Howard bought both places, K and The White Horse.”
“Let me get this straight,” Anthony leaned towards him. “When Lee Howard died, he left half of the club to Freeman, and half to Danny’s mum, or so she says. So what, did Freeman and Danny’s mum both sell their halves to Jerry?
Jaime shrugged and nodded at the same time. “Look all I know is, Freeman had his fingers in both pies, but you only ever saw him at the White Horse, lording it up. A guy called Nick Groves manages K’s, or Howler it’s called now, and has done since Howard died.”
“So Jerry owns both?” Anthony asked, still not understanding. “What, Lee left his club to his wife and his dad? Why did she and Freeman think he owned half of it? Oh Christ, this is confusing.”
“Because Jerry wanted to stay in the background, that’s why, can’t you work it out?” Jaime rolled his eyes under the brim of his cap and tapped his roll up at the ashtray again. “Come on, you ain’t silly Anthony mate. Danny’s mum wouldn’t have cared who she sold to, she just wanted shot, and wanted the money. Done. Freeman wanted Danny to think he had half and sold it to buy the Horse, because that hides who really owns it all, doesn’t it? Jerry. Jerry Howard owns both places, and he had Freeman managing one, and Groves in the other, and let me tell you something else mate, if you think all the dodgy shit and drug dealing died with Howard, you’d be fucking wrong too.”
Anthony sat back, overwhelmed. He blinked a few times, looked at his pint dumbly and felt the urge to order a shot of something stronger. “Bloodyhell.”
“Yeah, so when old pervy Jack started whinging and whining saying he had fuck all to do with screwing Danny over, he was lying mate. He was in on it from the start because he fucking had to be. Because just like Lee owned his bollocks back then, Jerry owned them now. Well till he topped himself anyway. Wise fucking move that was.”
“Who is this Groves fellow?”
“Oh you’ve met him mate,” Jaime tipped his head back, almost gloating out at Anthony from under his cap. “You met him in Old Inne, didn’t you? Big shaven haired bastard.”
“That guy?” Anthony was appalled. “Fuck! He said he was a mate of Lee’s. He attacked Danny again, you know, after Freeman killed himself.”
“Yeah, and how much do you want to bet it’s been him and Freeman, and fuck knows who else, running around smashing all you people’s windows in, sending hate mail and all that shit? Watching you all mate, that’s what.” Jaime looked grim for a moment, his eyes shooting around the place again, as he leaned towards Anthony and lowered his voice. “They been watching you all for years, I reckon. Waiting for Danny boy to get released. They knew he’d head back to you lot. They been keeping tabs on where you all live and work, so they could fire all this shit at you as soon as you took him in.”
“But why?” Anthony lifted his hands in exasperation and dropped them dismally down into his lap. “Why for fuck’s sake? Danny did what he did, he paid for it, it was eight fucking years ago! I don’t get why they would carry it all on.”
“It’s obvious,” Jaime shrugged at him, a sneer on his thin lips. “Lee was Jerry’s precious son. The other one was a retard right? The mother died after the funeral. Jerry was left with no one thanks to Danny. He wanted him to pay.”
“But he did pay! He went to jail for eight years!”
“But he’s still alive,” Jaime reminded him with another thin shrug. “He’s out, he’s alive, he’s got friends and family who care about him, right? And he’s got money in the bank. Lee Howard’s money.”
“That’s what he wants,” Anthony nodded, lips tight, teeth clenched. “He told Freeman and Freeman told Kay. He wants all the money back, he wants Danny to apologise, and he wants him to leave here and go away.”
“You reckon he’s gonna’ do any of that?”
“I don’t know,” Anthony sighed, shaking his head. “But I know he’s arranged to see him next week. He phoned him and put it into place.”
“Well he’s fucking crazy if he goes anywhere near that man,” Jaime shook his head, sucked hard on his roll-up and crushed the butt into the ashtray. “I’ve heard stories about him mate. Stuff that would make your toes curl. You think Lee was evil and twisted? How the fuck do you think he got that way?”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Anthony breathed, rubbing the heel of one hand into his eye. He dropped his hand then and looked blankly at Jaime. “How do you know all this? Didn’t they know you gave Danny the coke he took before he killed Howard?”
“Nah, that never came out,” Jaime touched his cap, crossed his ankles together and leaned back again on his stool, resting his back on the bar behind. “I kind of got myself roped back into things again, you know. That way.”
“You mean dealing?” Anthony lowered his voice to a whisper. He didn’t know why it surprised him, because it was obvious that people like Jaime Lawler were too far gone to ever change. But it did, for some reason. Jaime gave a brief, guarded nod. “Back that way?” Anthony questioned. “For them?” Another quick nod. Anthony breathed in and out slowly, and stared around at the club, which was slowly starting to fill up. A line of customers clustered along the bar, trying to get the single barmaids attention. The music had gone up a level. This time he knew the name of the band, Primal Scream, one of his favourites from back then, and a group of highly excitable teenage girls were already bopping about in the middle of the dance floor, screaming out the lyrics as if their lives depended on them; I’m movin’ on up now! Yeah, out of the darkness! My light shines on, my light shines on…
“It’s all I fucking know, right?” Jaime snapped beside him then. “I got no fucking qualifications or experience. I got dragged back into it, so what? Probably worth your while I did, eh? Kept my nose to the ground for you.”
“You’re doing a brave thing right now then,” Anthony met his eyes squarely and told him. He watched the thin man quiver slightly, and his lips worked nervously over his broken teeth. “Meeting me here.”
“Well you’re a mate,” the reply came quickly, defensively, but Anthony could see the fear and the doubt working itself up in his eyes. “Danny was a mate. And I always felt bad, you know.”
“About fucking everything,” the man groaned, rubbing at his eyes with his hand. “About Freeman putting me onto him when he was just a kid. Getting him into all sorts of shit. Knowing what a sadistic bastard his step-dad was. I was never brave enough to say or do anything, was I? Just kept my nose out of it, I did, just minded my own fucking business I did. Turns my stomach now, you know. And that night…” he paused, shaking his head from side to side, whistling out a slow stream of breath, his grey eyes zooming around the club. “That fucking night….he called me. I should have said no, because he made it pretty obvious what he was gonna’ do.”
“Oh yeah. He took the stuff and said not to tell anyone, and the last thing he said was he was gonna’ fight back, and when I asked how, he said ‘you’ll see’. He didn’t wanna be in that position anymore, you know, did he? That evil bastard tracking him down all the time. I didn’t blame him.” Jaime shrugged, his face shut down now, his eyes small and tired. “I thought, fuck it, let him fight back if he wants, who was I to stop him? I left him to it. Then the next day…”
“I know,” Anthony stood up then. He didn’t think he could bear to be in Jaime’s company a moment longer, it was all so depressing. “But you can’t blame yourself Jaime. In some ways we all played a part. The thing is now to sort all this out, so Danny can live a normal life.”
“You’re gonna’ go with him?”
“Yeah, me and Mike.”
“There’s something else you should know.”
“That reporter bird?” Jaime raised his eyebrows expectantly as Anthony nodded in confusion. “She’s in on it too.”
“Yeah. Jerry’s been using her too. Or she’s been using him, whatever. He let her know how to find you all, how to find Danny to get her story. She’s part of it Anthony. I’m not really sure how or why, but she is. She’s on the payroll.”
Anthony stood next to the bar in dumb amazement, the information rolling over him in waves of bewilderment. He covered his mouth with one hand for a moment, trying to take it all in. “Okay,” he said finally, meeting Jaime’s eye. “Thank you Jaime. You be careful, yeah?”
“Always careful,” was the unsure reply. Anthony nodded and patted him on the shoulder.
“I better go.”
“Call me if you need me.”
“Thanks. Thanks Jaime.” Anthony hurried out of the club, his mind swimming. He got out into the sunshine, brushed back his hair and stared up at the buildings around him. Their own old bed-sit was just around the corner. Anthony ran his tongue over his dry lips, as he felt shivers spiralling down his spine. Looking over their shoulders, that was how they had lived there for a year, wasn’t it? Trying to get on with things, attempting something close to a normal life, but in reality they had all lived with one eye trained over their shoulders. He had felt like their guardian, in more ways than one. Shepherding them in and out of the building, watching out for trouble, staring into the shadows. He pulled out his phone and stared at it for a moment, thinking who should he call first, Danny or Michael?