He wanted to lie in bed with her all day. He found the weekends glorious. No hurry, no need for intrusive alarm clocks, no need for her to climb groggily out of bed, leaving him all alone. He would usually wake up first, eyes blinking up at the cream coloured ceiling, as he tried to work out where he was. Then he would automatically grin to himself. So much for taking things slowly, he would think. He had hardly spent a minute at Michael’s flat lately. He would feel her lying next to him, warm and close, her hair across the pillow, and he would wriggle onto his side to stare at her for a while. She was getting paranoid about her cheeks getting chubby, but Danny thought the little bit of extra weight suited her. She was glowing, or so his mother said every time she set eyes on her. Danny could see what she meant. There was a warmth that radiated from Lucy, and he remembered if from across the classroom when he had first met her. He had wanted to reach out and touch it, and use it to pull himself into it.
This morning his eyes tracked down to her neat little stomach, popping out over the waistband of her pyjama trousers. He watched it for a moment, totally fascinated by the way it moved in and out as she breathed softly in her sleep. They had the scan photos on the bedside table. Lucy was going to buy a frame to put them in. She was twenty weeks pregnant now, Danny remembered. It had taken a while for the language to seep in. He had felt like they were all talking in an alien tongue at the hospital on the day of the scan. Lucy seemed to know exactly what everything meant though. She had giggled when the midwife spread the clear jelly on her bare stomach, and her hand had reached out for his. His heart had been hammering wildly inside his chest, and when the picture came up on the screen, he had been totally shocked by the force of his emotions. He hadn’t expected it to hit him like that. He was enthralled and bowled over to be back together with Lucy, but the dad thing had still been a huge fear, unknown territory, scary for so many reasons. But seeing the baby on the screen had been unbelievable. It had changed everything.
It had a sweet little face, incredibly rounded cheeks and full lips like him. It’s fists were curled up under its chin, and its legs were crossed over at the ankles, knees firmly pressed together. “Do you want to know the sex?” the midwife had questioned them. Danny had been staring in disbelief at the screen, so Lucy had answered for them.
“No thank you. We want it to be surprise.”
A surprise. It was that, alright. What surprised Danny the most was how much he suddenly wanted it. He hadn’t thought it possible. A part of him had wanted Lucy back so much, that agreeing to be involved with the baby too had almost been an afterthought. Okay, he had thought, I’ll see how it goes, I’ll try. But now he knew he didn’t have to try, he just wanted it.
Now he lay on his side, with one hand placed carefully upon Lucy’s belly. She could feel it kicking now, but he had yet to experience one. She snored on gently beside him, so he kept his hand there, hoping. He felt a deep sense of belonging and satisfaction, and realised with a jolt that he had never really experienced either, before now. It was like everything suddenly made sense, he thought, watching his hand on her belly. It was like everything had somehow fallen into place, that day in the hospital, watching that little baby, their little baby on the screen. It had made him remember the night of his fourteenth birthday party, before everything had kicked off, before Howard had got rid of Anthony and shown him what he was dealing with. He and Lucy, cuddling at the kitchen table, her dopey and drunk, snuggling into his chest, while he stroked her hair back. She had asked about his real dad, where he was, why he wasn’t in contact. It was another thing he had liked about her. She wanted to have proper, interesting conversations, and she was not afraid to ask things that other people would do their best to avoid. They had talked about it, and she had said how rotten it was for a dad to do that, to not be there for him. She had repeated her own mothers’ view on children, that they were the most precious things in your life, or they should be. She had said it then, hadn’t she? How she would find having a child the most precious thing in the world, and then she had lifted her head and looked at him with her make up smudged all over her face, and she had pressed her finger against his cut lip. I think I’m going to marry you, one day, she had said. He could still remember how those words had set his heart on fire. How the warmth from her had seeped into him, and spread through his blood, through his veins, making everything that was scary and unfair, just a grey blur behind him. Because she was in front of him, she was beside him, and that was all okay.
And then the shit had hit the fan. Everything had fallen apart around him. His mother had not had a clue what her new boyfriend was capable of. Danny had spent more time on the floor than standing, in that house. He felt the baby move then, just a ripple under his palm, at the same time he saw himself in his mind, lying on the kitchen floor with Lee Howard’s foot crushing down on his chest. He remembered painfully that Lee Howard had two main ways to hold him in place, one was by the neck, and the other was by standing on him. He felt the ripple again, like a little tidal wave of life under his hand, and he almost pulled away, not wanting to taint the baby with his own grim memories.
He didn’t want to think about it, he didn’t want those images in his mind, or those trembles of fear on his skin, but he had to. He had to. It wasn’t over yet, and he needed it to be over. He had more reason than ever to make it all go away. He kept his hand on the baby, while Lucy slept on, and he looked back up at the ceiling, forcing himself to think.
He had made the call, and spoken to Jerry Howard, while his mother snored anxiously against his shoulder. Not many words had been spoken. “I want to see you,” he had said. “To sort this all out.”
“You know what I want. You gonna’ give it to me?” The man’s voice had been low and nasal, but still brought back searing memories of his son’s gruff tones.
“Give me a time and a place and I’ll be there,” he had replied stiffly. And so it was arranged. In three days time he, Anthony and Michael would drive to a location that was yet to be confirmed. Jerry Howard had said he was a busy man, hard to pin down, and would tell them the place the day before. Danny didn’t know quite what to make of this, but saw that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. He had not told Jerry that he would not be alone, he didn’t see the sense in that. Like Anthony had said more than once, it could all be some kind of trap. He had kept his mother out of it. She wanted to know when and where he was meeting Lee’s dad, but Danny told her nothing was sorted yet.
It was a dark heavy thing, he thought, hanging right there over his head. And there, under his hand, was a different thing altogether, a light and amazing thing, something breathtaking in its beauty and its promise. He felt joined with Lucy, joined together like a forcefield around the unborn baby. He promised himself he would do what his own father had failed to do for him. He would stand by that child, never leave it, no matter what. He would never ever let anything bad happen to it.
So, this had to be sorted out. One way or another. Anthony wanted to know if he had a plan, if he was going to give Howard the money he wanted. If he was going to give the man any of the things he wanted. Danny still didn’t know. He didn’t know what assurances Howard would give him, that if he played it his way, it really would be over. How was he to know it would just carry on regardless? That Lucy would be targeted again. And the baby?
Fear and rage bubbled inside him and he rolled over then, away from Lucy and the baby, reaching out to the bedside table for his phone. Just as he picked it up to see what time it was, it rang in his hands, making him jump. Lucy stirred beside him, but then rolled over and went back to sleep. Danny saw that it was Michael, and hopped quickly out of bed in his boxer shorts. “Mike?” he whispered, heading out of the bedroom.
“Yeah, why you whispering?”
“Was in bed. Lucy’s still asleep,” Danny replied, closing the bedroom door softly behind him and padding into the kitchen to put the kettle on. “She’s flat out mate. Has to get up so early for work all week, it really takes it out of her. I’m gonna’ let her sleep all day if she needs to.”
There was a snigger from the other end of the phone. “Get you mate. How bloody sweet!”
“Shut up. What do you want?”
“I’ve got news. Not good news.”
“Oh,” Danny felt his heart sink, and sighed as he rinsed out a mug from the day before and grabbed the milk from the fridge. “Should I be sat down?” he joked weakly.
“Can you get away for a bit?” Michael asked. “We need to talk, me you and Anthony. There’s stuff to tell you, and anyway, we need to work out our plan for, you know.”
Danny groaned. But he knew it was all inevitable, and there was no point in railing against it. “I’ll come over to yours then,” he agreed. “Give me an hour. Or can you pick me up?”
“Pick you up mate? I’m already parked outside.”
Danny frowned, went to the kitchen window and peered out. Michael and Anthony were sat out there in Mike’s rusty old Escort. They waved up at him obligingly. He waved back unsurely. “Bloodyhell Mike.”
Danny got dressed, wrote a note for Lucy and placed it on his pillow for her to find. He looked at Kurt, still curled into a tight ball at the bottom of their bed, and thought about taking him. He decided against it at the last moment, striding from the flat without him. “What’s the emergency?” he asked immediately, when he climbed into the back of the car. Michael started the engine and drove off. Anthony turned to look at him. His face was taut with tension and unease.
“I met up with Jaime Lawler the other day,” he told him.
“Yeah. Took me a while to track him down actually. Seemed like he didn’t want to hear from me. But when I finally got to speak to him, he agreed to meet me.”
Danny looked from Anthony to Michael. He could see his face in the wing mirror, and he was frowning deeply. “What did you want to meet him for?” he asked Anthony.
“Well, last time I bumped into him, he was still living in Redchurch you know, still hanging around the old haunts. I got the impression he wasn’t exactly living a straight life yet either.” Anthony grimaced and shrugged. “I wanted to see what he knew…about Freeman, and Howard, you know?”
Danny nodded slowly. “And did he? Know anything?”
“Oh yeah,” Anthony nodded quickly. “He basically works for the fuckers.”
Danny’s mouth fell open in surprise. If he had been expecting to hear anything at all, it had not been that. “What? How?”
“What do you reckon? Drug dealing, that’s what. The fella’ didn’t learn his lesson, that’s for sure.” Anthony sighed and shook his hair back from his forehead, as Danny attempted to let it all sink in. He still remembered the last time he had seen Jaime Lawler, the night he had called him from the phone box. He had been as scared as the rest of them by then. He had sworn he was keeping well away from it all.
“But drug dealing for who?”
“This is where it gets even more interesting,” Michael spoke up.
“Yeah,” agreed Anthony. “Okay. When Lee died, he supposedly left half the club to your mum and half to Freeman, right?” Danny nodded silently. “Well for whatever reason, Jerry ended up buying the lot. Owning the whole thing. Plus, when Freeman said he used his money to buy into the White Horse, he was also lying. Jerry Howard already owned that place, and employed him to manage it. In other words, he got Freeman back here, and put him in there.”
Danny touched his forehead. They were careering back to Belfield Park. He felt like his brain was being pounded from all sides. “But why?” he asked again, looking to Anthony for the answers.
“Not really sure,” he replied. “But I’m guessing several reasons. To keep him under control, to keep him where he could see him, that kind of thing? Or to get him supplying drugs to the Uni students there? I mean, Freeman would probably have jumped at the chance, right? His own pub, easy ready money, power? Makes sense.”
“So what about K’s? Howler, whatever it’s called?”
“Same thing. Well, he puts another meathead in charge of that place. You know that big guy that attacked you the other week? His name is Nick Groves. He and Lee were good friends apparently, and so I’m guessing it was pretty easy for Jerry to convince him to come this way and run a club for him.”
They had pulled into the alley behind Michael’s flat. Without talking, all three of them got out of the car, and headed to the flat, shooting distrustful glances up and down the alley, and over their shoulders as they went. It was cold in the flat. Michael dashed about, switching the central heating on, and making cups of tea, while Anthony and Danny lit up cigarettes in the lounge. Danny sat on the sofa, smoked and tried to absorb it all. He stared down at the tatty carpet beneath his feet, and felt an eerie chill settling over him, that had nothing to do with the cold flat. Jerry Howard was starting to seem like some kind of God, he thought, playing with peoples lives, moving them around like pawns in a chess game, setting them up for battle. It was striking how similar his behaviour was to Lee’s. That was exactly how he had operated. Controlling them all. All the power at his fingertips.
Michael came in with the tea and the conversation began again. “So,” said Anthony, leaning forward beside Danny, tea in one hand and smoke in the other. “Jaime ends up getting dragged back into it all. God knows how. He looks a state, by the way. Looks like he takes more drugs than he sells, you know. Felt sorry for him really. He doesn’t know any other way.”
“So Jerry Howard has Freeman in a pub, Groves in the club, all drug dealing or whatever, but why?” Danny looked sideways at Anthony. He thought he knew the answer, so it seemed like a dumb question, but it needed asking all the same. “Why do all that? When did he do all that?”
“After Lee died,” shrugged Michael from the armchair. “Seems like he moved down here. Started pulling strings, moving people about.”
“And you know why,” said Anthony.
Danny nodded grimly. “To prepare for my release. To get me back for killing his son. It all makes sense.” He released a mammoth sigh and buried his face in his hands for a moment or two. “Unbelievable,” he murmured, although it really wasn’t. Like he had said, it all made perfect sense. “So he had this whole harassment campaign in motion eight fucking years ago. Great. What a lovely man. I am so looking forward to meeting him again!”
“That’s not all,” he heard Anthony mutter next to him. Danny dropped his hands and stared at him in dismay.
“Fuck me, what else?”
He watched Anthony open his mouth, look at Michael, then close his mouth again, as if he did not know how to say it. He swallowed instead, cleared his throat, and had another go. “Haskell,” he said. Danny sat up straighter.
“What about her?”
“In on it. From the start too. Howard must have hooked up with her back then, when the story broke, when she was sniffing around it all.”
Danny felt like he had suddenly forgotten how to breathe. He stared at Anthony, until it seemed like he was choking on nothing. He got to his feet abruptly, instant rage falling over him. He felt them watching him. He wanted to explode. He wanted to hit something, smash something, kill something. “You must be fucking joking,” he managed to utter, stalking around the other side of the sofa. Anthony and Michael swapped anxious looks.
“Told you not to trust her,” said Michael darkly.
“Why? Why would she? How? I don’t fucking get it!” Danny shook his head, tried to calm himself down, but it was almost impossible. He walked over to the wall and kicked it hard. It hurt his foot but he wanted to kick it harder. He felt like an idiot, a fool. He knew they must all be laughing at him, all of them!
“Because she’s a bitch, that’s why!” Michael called out from behind. “She’s a hard-nosed bitch, who was prepared to do anything to get her fucking story, that’s why. She’s been helping them all along. Helping them keep tabs on us.”
“That’s how they found it so easy to target us, when you got out,” Anthony explained, facing him. “The bricks through the window, the letters, everything. She knew where we all lived. She knew everything, from being a reporter.”
“But why did she need them?” Danny turned from the wall, red faced and shaking with rage.
“She’d do anything to get closer to you,” shrugged Anthony sadly. “To get closer to the story. We all told her to piss off back then, didn’t we? None of us would speak to her. I bet Jerry Howard did. I bet he was really fucking friendly to her. But he made her wait, didn’t he? He must have convinced her that the bigger story was worth waiting for. Waiting eight fucking years for.”
Danny smoked the last of his cigarette and leaned over Anthony to hurl it angrily at the ashtray. He plunged his hands desperately back through his hair. “Bitch,” was all he could think to say. “Fucking conniving, cheating, lying, dirty, nasty skanky bitch!”
“It all adds up,” Michael went on. “The only reason you agreed to do the interview with her, was because of the shit we were all getting. Remember? You wanted to know the names and the addresses, to sort it out. She got you that, at a price. But her helping you get to them, was the only reason you agreed to tell her your story, right?
Danny nodded silently. He closed his eyes. Pulled his hands back down from his hair, and onto his face. “They were all behind it. Them harassing me pushed me into doing the interview. She got what she wanted. She gave them what they wanted. Fucking treacherous whore!”
“You have to stay focused though,” Anthony said then, rising from the sofa and walking around it to Danny. “We’re one step ahead now, mate, as long as Jaime Lawler keeps his fucking mouth shut. They don’t know we know all this! They don’t know we have Jaime on side. You’ve got to stay cool, don’t let it get to you.”
“But for fucks sake!” Danny wailed then, dropping his hands to stare at Anthony in utter misery. “I slept with that nasty bitch! She used me! It’s disgusting, it makes me feel sick! It’s like she’s this parasite, that feeds on other people’s misery!”
“That’s exactly what she is,” Michael piped up. “I knew it mate. I knew it the first time I laid eyes on her. She’s a shark.”
“She sat there and listened to it all,” Danny’s arms hung at his sides. He felt the anger dripping away steadily now, to be replaced by a dismal sense of bewilderment and sadness. “She fucking sat there and listened, each time, to me talking about Howard, and Freeman, and all the shit they did to me. She sat and listened to that, she dragged it out of me, and all the time she’s fucking working for the cunts! How can she do that? How can she help them, after what they did?”
Anthony blew out his breath, his hands on his hips. “I don’t know mate. I don’t know. I’ll never understand it either. Some people are just evil. Twisted. They’ve got no good in their own lives, so they feel no guilt about destroying other peoples. You can’t let it get to you now though. You have to stay focused. It’s nearly over.”
“Only if I give him what he wants.”
“And are you going to?” asked Michael, now also getting up from his chair, and crossing the room to stand beside Anthony. Danny looked bereft.
“I have no idea yet.”
“We need to take some action,” said Anthony. “We need to prompt Howard to give us the location, so we can work out what to do. Have you got his number on you now?”
Danny’s shoulders slumped as he pulled out his phone and passed it to Anthony, who started to scroll through the contacts. “I’m gonna’ send him a text,” he said. “Tell him to decide on the place, or it’s all off. See if that kicks his arse into gear.”
Danny just watched. He saw Anthony’s face, that familiar serious frown, those dark eyes puzzling over it all, trying to work out what to do. He saw him taking control, like he had done so many times back then, and he gave in for a moment, letting him. His mind travelled back to the bed he had woken up in just over an hour ago. It seemed like days ago. He thought of Lucy, still there, and pictured her curled up on her side, the way he had left her, with Kurt at the end of the bed, and the baby, rippling gently inside her stomach. He swallowed the hard lump that had formed in his throat, and thought he would do anything just to get back to them, just to crawl back under the duvet and curl up with them, and just hide from it all. Just wait for it all to go away.
Anthony sent the text and pushed the phone into Danny’s chest. “There,” he said firmly. “Now let’s see what happens.”
Michael slept well that night. He woke once, confused by the amount of sleep he had already enjoyed, and realised that he probably had not slept well for weeks now. How could anyone sleep well when they felt under siege? When a brick, or something even worse could come through the window at any moment? He had kept a distance from Zach and Jenny, just in case. He had completely changed his routine, he had become so fearful of being watched. If he wanted to see Zach, he arranged with Jenny to meet him in a public place somewhere, like the indoor play centre, or the park, a different place each time. This way he and Zach had fun, and he didn’t have to worry too much about leading the bad guys to his son, or Jenny. Jenny. He and Jenny had shared a few moments lately. Sometimes when he looked into her open, honest face, he could almost see the life he should have been living all along. It tugged at his heart constantly. It was becoming harder and harder to be apart from Zach, and from her.
Jenny had dumped her boyfriend. She liked to try to assure Michael that it had nothing to do with him. That things had not been going too well between them for some time, and she just hadn’t had the guts to end it. She was single, and she told him she planned to stay that way, and just focus on Zach. She told him this with a look in her eye that told him something else altogether. When this shit is all over, when it’s safe again, I’ll do something, I’ll make my move. Michael found himself daydreaming about them all being together again. He was older now, more mature. He didn’t want Zach to grow up without him. He wanted to be the one who tucked him up in bed at night, and he wanted to be there in the morning when he bounced out of bed, wanting his daddy. It all seemed so simple, so refreshingly close, just within his reach, if he wanted it. He had started to view his bachelor pad with increasing distain and unease. Anthony had been right all along. He had been living his life in one spot. Unable to move on. Clinging to the old days out of some sense of loyalty to Danny, who was unable to move on either in prison.
Michael woke up that morning, nodding to himself as he yawned. He had slept well, and the wheels were in motion. Before long, one way or another, it would all be over, wouldn’t it? He had to believe it, just like they did. They had talked the night away, they had chased the demons from the shadows, just like in the old days. It was like brushing the cobwebs down from the ceiling. Starting anew. Or it would be, once it was all over, because surely they all deserved it now?
He swung his legs out of bed, pulled on his jeans and grabbed the nearest t-shirt he could find to yank over his messy hair. Anthony and Chrissie, he thought, as he yawned again, they would be alright again when this was all done. Anthony would not have to lie to her any longer. Maybe she would learn to understand? Maybe she would be okay with Danny, now he was going to be a dad? The thought made Michael smile as he dragged some clean socks from his underwear drawer and pulled them on. Danny, a dad. It really was quite funny. He enjoyed teasing him about it, now that he finally seemed up for it. It was nice. It was normal. It was what people did, wasn’t it? Met nice girls, had kids, lived a decent life. They would all make a better job of it than their own parents, that was for sure. Michael made sure to tell Danny this on a daily basis. “Even I’m a better dad than mine was, even me, so you bloody will be too. We won’t make the same mistakes.”
As he left the room, and nearly bumped into a blurry eyed Danny, Michael heard his phone already starting to harass him. He rolled his eyes at Danny, who blundered sleepily into the bathroom, and located his mobile leaping around energetically on the coffee table in the lounge. Anthony. “Morning bro!”
“Morning, you both up?”
“Yes sir, up sir, ready to go sir!”
“Don’t be a dick Mike. Listen, I’m off to work now, but call me or text me when you get the go ahead okay? I’ll pull a sicky if I have to. If not, Chrissie already thinks I’m meeting you to watch the football later, okay? Then I’ll text her and say I’ve had a few drinks and will be home late.”
“You lying, cheating, dastardly…”
“Shut up,” Anthony groaned. “See you later.”
Michael ended the call just as Danny reappeared from the bathroom. “Sleep well?” he enquired with a knowing grin. Danny already had his phone in his hand.
“Not that well, no, funnily enough. It feels like before an exam at school, you know?” he rubbed one hand against his stomach and grimaced. “Feel all weird and knotted up. I’ve arranged to meet Lucy when she has her break at lunch. I won’t tell her much. I just want to…” he shrugged his shoulders at Michael. “You know.”
“You’re gonna’ be alright you twat!” Michael roared at him, coming forward to slap him on the shoulder. “You look like we’re about to send you into the lions den for fucks sake.”
“Well it feels that way. The club, of all places?” Danny looked with wide eyes around himself, as if still trying to come to terms with it. “Why there? I get the feeling Jaime Lawler has spilled his guts, you know? We’re not meant to know Howard has anything to do with that place.”
“Well that’s why we’re going to track the little scroat down now, isn’t it? He won’t be hard to find. Come on, get ready. We’ll get breakfast when we’re out.”
“What about Kurt?”
“Better leave him here,” Michael said, glancing at the little dog who, as always, was winding himself in and out of Danny’s legs. “Think it’s gonna’ be a long day, mate.”
They drove silently out of Belfield park, following Barrack road, past Lucy’s flat, and towards Redchurch. Michael pulled into the McDonalds along Somerley road and ordered them breakfast from the drive through. They ate in the car in the car park facing the main road. “I can still remember driving this way, when we first moved here,” Danny said after a long silence. “Following the removal van. You remember, those first few days after we moved in, how you and Billy and Jake tried to psyche me out? Riding your bikes around and around outside the house?” He looked at Michael with a tired smile. Michael swallowed the lump of fries in his mouth and wiped his face with a napkin.
“Course I remember. It may have looked like we were trying to start shit with you, but really I was just so bored, I just wanted to know who you were!”
Danny stifled a giggle, as they both stared back at the road. “And all those mornings,” he went on, “we’d cross that road on our bikes, go onto Somerley estate to get to school.”
“When you actually went to school!” laughed Michael. “Christ, even I had a better attendance record than you.”
“Yeah.” Danny looked down then, his expression troubled. “Well. Life was alright for a while wasn’t it? Remember all those tricks we played on John Bradley? I wonder what ever happened to him.”
“Retired, last I heard. Where shall we start mate? I’ve called him twice on the number Anthony had, but he’s not picking up.”
Danny nodded grimly. “Start wherever,” he sighed. “Let’s do it. Shit, I shouldn’t have eaten that, I feel sicker than ever now.” He blew out his breath and pushed his hair back with one hand. “Come on then. Let’s take a wander down memory lane, eh?”
“It won’t all be bad,” Michael laughed at him. “You probably needed to do it sooner or later.”
He balled up the rubbish and hurled it onto the back seat, started the engine and screeched the car out of the car park and back onto Somerley road. They crawled around the old estate first. Michael had his own knot of dread building in the pit of his belly by now. He could barely even look at Danny to see how it was all registering on his face. They drove slowly past Danny’s old house. The front lawn was littered with kids toys; bikes and scooters and footballs. Michael glanced up at the top window, recalling how he had climbed up the trellis and in through the window, desperate to see how his friend was. “Never forget climbing up there to see you,” he shook his head and murmured. “Fucking shit myself, with that gorilla sat downstairs the whole time.”
“It was brave of you,” Danny returned, staring at the house. “Christ,” he said then, taking another deep and shaky breath. “The things that went on in that house.” He shuddered, and reached for the pack of cigarettes he had slung onto the dash board. They drove on, around the roads, circling their old stomping grounds, much the way they had circled it on their bikes as kids. Michael noted that not much had changed. It all looked eerily the same. He felt that if he stared hard enough, he would see himself as a teenager, leaning over the handlebars of his bike, trying to look cool by smoking a cigarette.
They drove back out onto Somerley road, took a right, and began another slow crawl around the bigger estate. Jaime Lawler’s family had lived here. Michael quickly found the house, pointing it out to Danny, and accepting the cigarette he had lit for him. “I’ll knock,” he said, parking up and opening the door. “See if they still live there.”
Five minutes later they were back in the car and driving more purposefully, back into town, Michael chanting the address over and over inside his head. It was not the same address Jaime had had years ago, but it was close by. They drove down the high street, took the left onto Barrack road, and then turned right. Close to the railway lines, there were several blocks of new build flats. The sort of one and two bedroom dwellings that landlords liked to buy into then rent out to people on benefits. They parked out the front of one, and got out of the car. Michael glanced once at Danny, as they paced up to the main door and pressed the buzzer. He looked grey, he thought, grey and sick. He hoped some of the old fight would make a comeback before this day was done. The buzzer made a crunching sound and a rasping voice came back at them; “yeah?”
“Jaime, it’s Michael and Danny. Let us up.”
There was a silence before the buzzer crunched again. “You cunts. What you doing here? You’re gonna’ get me killed!”
“You better let us up then,” Michael advised him. “Before we’re seen out here.”
It worked though, and they were let in. They ran silently up to the second floor. Jaime Lawler had his door open already, and was peering out at them, as they came down the corridor towards him. Michael could already see what Anthony had meant about him. He looked at least ten years older than he was. He was noticeably thinner, and he had been a thin man eight years back. As they approached, he stepped back into his flat, and they followed him in, immediately greeted by the strong smell of weed. Michael looked at Danny and made a face. Danny closed the door behind them and let his breath back out again.
“What do you want, for Christs sake?” Jaime was already complaining, still doing that little dance of his, shifting from one foot to the other, while his hands fiddled with his baseball cap, and his eyes shot about everywhere as if they were too scared to settled on anything for too long. He crammed the dirty blue hat onto his head and twisted it from one side to the other. “I’m fucking serious, you’ll get me killed! Between you and your brother! Bloody hell!”
“We won’t be long,” Danny spoke up then, leaning against the door as if he was reluctant to come in any further than that. “Good to see you Jaime. It’s been a while.”
Jaime lifted a thin hand and scratched viciously at the back of his head, making the cap bounce back and forth on his forehead. He was frowning deeply as he took Danny in, his eyes running quickly over him, his feet shifting about on the threadbare grey carpet. “Yeah, yeah, it has, yeah, but this isn’t good, you know? You two here like this! I’ve had enough, I don’t wanna’ know about any of it, you know? That’s why I didn’t answer my phone!”
He looked terrified, Michael thought, watching him. He leaned against the door frame of what looked like the kitchen, placed his hands in his pockets, and then changed his mind quickly, jerking away from the door frame, adjusting his cap, and gesturing wildly around at his flat. “You just can’t come here!” he hissed at them. Michael looked around. The place was a mess. It made his own flat look like a pleasant family home, he thought. The smell of marijuana was thick in the air.
“We’re seeing Jerry Howard later,” Michael said, watching the fear leap immediately to life on Jaime’s haggard face. “At the club. Did you tell him anything, Jaime? Did you spill the beans after you saw Anthony?”
Jaime moaned, rolled his eyes and loped away from the kitchen, dragging his feet as he entered the small lounge. Michael and Danny followed cautiously. They found Jaime perched on the edge of a battered green sofa, fiddling with the contents of a little tin on his lap. Michael nodded, and glanced at Danny again, who paused in the doorway, arms folded. “You guys still smoke?” Jaime asked, not looking up. “I’ll roll us a big fat one. You’re gonna’ need it today you crazy fucking aresholes.”
“No thanks,” Michael shook his head. “Come on then, are you gonna’ be straight with us? Why did he tell Danny to come to the club tonight? Why there?”
“How the fucking fuck should I know?” Jaime looked up, his grey eyes raging for a moment. “Why’d you have to come and ask me for, eh? I want to be left out of it, I just told you that!”
“Does he know you saw Anthony?” Danny asked from the doorway. “That’s all we need to know Jaime. You really came through for us, you know. Telling Anthony all that stuff, about the club, and Haskell. We’re grateful.”
“Yeah, we’re grateful,” Michael agreed, watching Jaime stuff a roach nervously into the end of the joint. “But what happened then, mate? You seem nervy as fuck.”
“Yeah, alright, alright!” Jaime shouted at them from the sofa, drumming his feet violently against the floor. Michael narrowed his eyes at him. Something was different about the guy, he thought. He had always been shady, always been trouble, but something had changed. He looked like a nervous wreck, and he looked like he wanted to leap out of the window to get away from them. “Alright, have it your way, have it your way you fuckers! Yeah, he knows I saw Anthony, alright? Don’t ask me how, but he knows, so I’m in trouble, and so are you, and this whole thing is gonna’ blow right up in your fucking stupid faces, and the best thing you idiots can fucking do, is just get out of here and disappear! Right?”
He jammed the joint between his bad teeth and lit the end, inhaling long and deep, as Danny and Michael looked on. “What’s wrong with you?” Michael questioned, his tone gentler suddenly. “You’re not the same Jaime. What have they done to you?”
Jaime laughed, hurled himself backwards on the sofa, and stayed there, his thin legs spread wide apart. His tatty white tracksuit jacket looked like it had seen better days, and the cuffs rode up his forearms every time he moved. He puffed smoke across the room, then instantly took the spliff back to his lips for another drag. It was then that Michael saw the marks on the inside of his forearm. “I work for them, didn’t Anthony tell you? They pay my bills, right? I don’t wanna’ fall out with them do I?”
“How could you go back to that?” Danny asked, in dismay. “After everything that happened? You knew about Freeman, you knew it all. How could you go back to being their errand boy? Fucking up more lives? You said you’d stay away Jaime.”
“Easier said than done, Danny boy!” Jaime cackled, his face split by a huge, gap-toothed grin. Michael moved forward slowly then.
“Or is there another reason?” he asked, grabbing hold of one of Jaime’s wrists and quickly shoving up the sleeve. The bruises and marks went all the way up. Jaime hissed in rage and leapt up from the sofa, practically flying across the room to get away from Michael. “Heroin Jaime? I never thought even you would be that dumb.”
“Oh give me a break, give me a break,” Jaime said, his voice whining, as he pulled down his sleeves, wrapped one arm around his ribs and smoked his spliff. Danny looked on in horror.
“Jaime! You idiot!”
“For how long?” asked Michael. Jaime shrugged, his eyes dark and defiant.
“I don’t know, few years, on and off,” he grumbled at them. “Oh don’t fucking start right? I’ve tried it all! I’ve been on programmes, I’ve been on methadone, the fucking works right? I’ve tried it, I’ve tried it, I’ve tried it!”
“So if you piss Howard off, you don’t get your drugs, is that right?” Danny asked from the doorway. “That’s how they got you by the short and curlies, eh? That’s it, isn’t it?”
“You try being me!” Jaime shot back, pointing his finger viciously their way. “It’s fucking impossible! I need that stuff, right? I need it. The pain, right, the pain is fucking unbearable!” He paced about in the small space he had positioned himself in. Michael looked around, noting how bare the room was. Just one sofa, a small table, and a large chunky television on a box in the corner. “I’m feeling like shit, right now see? You have no idea! I just have to fucking wait!”
“Wait for what?” asked Michael. He swapped a look with Danny, and knew he was feeling exactly like him. He wanted to get the hell out of there as quickly as he did. “A delivery?”
“Just go, right?” Jaime stopped pacing and leaned against the wall, putting one grubby trainer back against it to steady himself. He smoked the spliff, watching them through slitted grey eyes. “You can’t help me. I’ve done all I can to help you. You do what the fuck you want now, yeah? You can’t trust me, right? I work for Howard. He’s my boss. Just like in the old days, eh? You remember that Danny boy? Howard was always the boss wasn’t he? Till you took him out. But then the old man took over, and he’s ten times fucking worse. You ought to knife him too!” He tipped his head back then, cackling with unstable laughter. “You should! Go on do it! Go round there tonight with all your knives again, mate! Show the twisted old fucker what you’re made of! Fight back, remember that? That’s what you said to me last time I saw you kid. Fight back. You still fighting back, eh? ‘Cause if you are you’re a braver man than I’ll ever be. I’m tellin’ you. Fuck that shit.”
“I think we better go,” Danny spoke softly from behind. Michael nodded in agreement.
“You take care of yourself,” he said to Jaime, and he meant it. “You did a hell of a lot to help us Jaime. You should remember that. It’s not too late to start again.”
“Nah, nah,” Jaime shook his head violently, and tightened his arm around his middle. “Too late Mike, I like my gear too much, I do! In love with it I fucking am.”
“Thanks Jaime,” Danny came forward then, quickly, as if he knew he wouldn’t if he thought about it twice. He grabbed Jaime’s hand and shook it firmly, while staring him right in the eye. “Things would have been a lot worse for me, if you hadn’t helped Anthony back then. I just want you to know that.”
“And things would have been a lot better for you if I hadn’t helped you out that night,” Jaime replied quietly, his eyes still for once, focused on Danny. “But good of you to say it mate. Good luck.”
Danny nodded, dropped his hand and walked out of the flat. Michael patted Jaime on the arm. He wanted to say something else, something meaningful, something that might inspire him to start again, to get out from under the bad guys thumbs, but he couldn’t think of anything. There was nothing. It was all so depressing. It was worse than he had feared. The man’s life was a horrible mess. He turned and walked out of the flat.