The morning had gone well, she reflected, grabbing her duffel coat from the staff room, and buttoning it up on her way out to the car park. She had finally gone to see the head to announce her pregnancy. Of course, the head had been lovely, really excited for her, and before long everyone knew, and everywhere she went she felt the smiles upon her. She walked out to the car park, one hand now proudly held under her growing bump. Lucy was relieved she no longer had to try and disguise it with looser tops than normal, convinced that her fellow teachers just thought she had let herself go a bit. It was all out in the open now.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked, and then broke into a huge helpless smile when she spotted Michael’s car. Both doors opened, and the two young men approached her, smiling warmly. She held out her arms to them both and laughed in surprise as they both fell into them, snaking their arms around her back. “Oh aren’t I the lucky one?” she laughed. “Two handsome young men coming to meet me at school? They’ll all be gossiping like crazy in there!” She had her arm around each of them, Michael’s mass of thick black hair nestled into one shoulder, and Danny’s blonde locks on the other side. Michael finally pulled away and she wrapped both arms tightly around Danny. “Are you both alright?” she asked then, feeling suddenly that they were not. Michael averted his eyes to the ground.
“How’s school?” he asked, avoiding the question. “Bet they still remember me and Anthony here!”
“I bet they do,” Lucy agreed, frowning as Danny remained buried in her arms. “So why the visit?” she asked, trying to catch Michael’s eye. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Danny breathed in deeply then, as if sucking up the smell of her. She felt him nuzzle his nose into her neck through her hair, and she giggled as it tickled, but she could also feel the sadness coming from him, and her heart began to race. She forced him back, holding him around the waist. “Come on, what is it? I know you two well enough by now to know something is wrong.”
“You look gorgeous,” Danny told her, smiling broadly. But the smile did not touch his eyes.
“What’s going on?” she asked again. “Michael?”
Michael was leaning against his car, ankles crossed, hands in pockets. He looked at Danny, as if trying to read what the right answer might be. “He just wanted to come and see you, that’s all,” he said with a nervous shrug. Lucy understood what it was then, and she berated herself for not realising sooner. She looked Danny in the eye, and he held her gaze.
“You’re going to see him aren’t you? The old man? Today?” Danny nodded in reply to her, keeping his hands where they were, laced at the small of her back. Lucy tried to swallow down the fear that came rushing up from her guts. She told herself she had known it was coming. “You’ll be careful?” she asked, shifting slightly to take in Michael just behind. “You won’t do anything silly?”
“Just going to talk,” Danny told her gently, his smile stretching out to his ears, his hands pulling her closer. “Just going to lay it all on the table and try to find a solution. I promise, it will all be okay.”
“I’m scared,” she told him, and he nodded.
“Me too, but it will be okay. I’ve got my sidekicks in tow, see?” He jerked his head at Michael, grinning. “It’s all worked out,” he tried to reassure her. “We’re meeting in a public place, no funny business. We’ll call the cops the first sign of trouble we get, we promise.”
Lucy tried to say something, but the words got stuck in her throat. She felt like she was going to cry, so she pulled him close again, burying her face in his chest. Her belly squished between them, and he put his hand down there, rubbing it gently and chuckling into her hair. “You promise me you’ll be careful,” Lucy said, closing her eyes against him. “Promise me and the baby.”
“I promise, I promise,” Danny replied, playfully ruffling her hair. “I just came to let you know what’s going on. I didn’t mean to freak you out or anything.”
“I’ll look after him Luce,” said Michael, moving away from the car and stepping forward. Lucy lifted her head, held back the tears and forced a smile for him. He looked so anxious, she thought, anxious yet somehow fierce, how was that possible? She thought back then, seeing him as a teenager again, and it made her smile real. She had always thought him so handsome, she remembered, that dark tousled hair, those deep brown eyes. He had driven her best friend Zoe crazy for years, holding her at bay for as long as he could, while he checked out all the other girls first, even though Zoe was by far the prettiest girl in the whole school. Lucy reached out to him, pressing her palm against his cheekbone. He’d looked fierce all the way through school, she thought, Michael Anderson, talking back, getting into fights, trouble with the police just like his older brother. He had swanned around school as if he owned the place, and in many ways he had. Fierce, she thought again, looking at him, fierce but yet full of hope, that was how he had been back then. The joker. Always with a ready smile and a careless laugh, no matter how tough life seemed.
“You better look after each other,” she corrected him, and he smiled against her hand, nodding.
“We’ll call you later,” said Danny, finally unwinding himself from her. She shivered and crossed her arms over her stomach, as the cold wind whipped her hair back from her face.
“You better do.”
They nodded, looked at each other and headed back towards the car. There was nothing else to be said, she supposed, watching them. Of course she realised they were probably not telling her all of it. That was their way, and she understood, she knew why. She would get the full story when the time was right, and that was okay. She supposed she didn’t want to know any more than she did at the moment anyway. She was at work, and she was already distracted enough with thoughts of the baby. She watched Michael get back behind the wheel. Danny was half way around the car when he suddenly halted, let out a breath, and then ran back to her. He caught her in a violent embrace, nearly knocking her from her feet, and then his lips were upon hers urgently, their teeth clashing mid-kiss. He pulled back, looked like he was about to say something, and then looked away, and went back to the car.
Lucy was left watching the old Escort roar off with both of them inside, grim faced behind the windscreen. “See you later,” she whispered to the wind, lifting a hand in a pointless wave.
So, seeing Lucy had been like a blow to the heart. Danny felt choked by it, driving away, leaving her there like that. He could only watch her growing smaller in the wing mirror, her hair blowing back in the wind, and think, he had only just found her again. He looked at his phone then. There was a text message from Caroline Haskell, and just seeing her name there on his phone made him want to vomit. His mouth felt dry and tasteless. “Back home,” he told Michael, not looking up from his phone. “She wants to meet in the Inne.”
“Classy,” Michael nodded, tapping the ash from his cigarette out of the half open window. “What time?”
“Half an hour.”
“Great. Just enough time to get a pint in. I think I need one, how about you?”
“Hmm,” Danny replied, unsurely. “Don’t know.” He went back to looking out of the window, watching the roads and the houses rush by. He hadn’t been back in this area for eight years, he thought, staring at it all. A whoosh of memories, good and bad and mundane, were spiralling through his mind as they passed by. He remembered walking out of school one day. He remembered why; his English teacher, who had tried to encourage him to join the school newspaper, breaking the news to him that actually he wasn’t allowed to after all. He had been in trouble with the police, and this would set a bad example to the younger pupils in the school. Danny found himself smiling out of the window, think I told her to sod off or something like that, then I just walked out, just left. Had he gone into McDonalds for a milkshake or something, before wandering home, assuming no one would be there?
The rest of the memory reared its head like a monster that had been hiding behind the sofa. He wondered whether to speak it, whether to share it with Michael, would that exorcise it? Howard had appeared out of nowhere, he remembered. He had been in his room, and he hadn’t had time to get the door shut, when he heard the steps pounding up towards him. Caught. Trapped. Huge hands twisted in his hair, pinning him to the bed, an enormous knee pushing into his spine. Howard laughing, smug that he had him alone, pulling his knife from his pocket and holding it against his cheek and then his neck. You gonna’ stab me in the eye are you? You gonna’ stab me in the eye Danny? That was the day he had kicked Howard in the balls.
“What are you thinking?” Michael asked, glancing his way. They had passed McDonalds now, and were heading down Somerley road back towards town. “Bad memories, eh?”
“Just thinking about the day I kicked Howard in the nuts,” Danny replied, looking at him with a grin. “Just came back to me, because I remember it was the day I walked out of school, after they said I couldn’t be on the paper?” Michael nodded in reply. “I went to McDonalds and got a milkshake and went home, thinking I could spend the rest of the day on the sofa, watching MTV or something.”
“And so what happened?”
“He’d spotted me walking home.”
“How’d you manage to get him in the balls?”
Danny saw himself on the bed, turned over, face stinging from a hard slap that told him where he stood, Howard holding him down by the arms, and his legs lying there, right between his. He had looked down, saw the tight bulge of stone washed denim between Howard’s tree trunk legs, and he had looked back up into the twisted face of a man who was marching like a devil through all of his dreams, and he took his chance. “Just took the chance when it came and gave him a good boot in the balls,” he smiled at Michael. “Fucking hell, he went down like a sack of shit. I just fucking ran! I was shitting myself! I ran and ran, I swore to god he was after me, but he wasn’t. I ran to the base and hid. Then I started laughing, I remember that. I’d kicked him in the balls!”
“Little old you,” Michael said, repeating something Billy had laughed around the campfire that night outside the old caravan they had called the base. “I remember mate. Must have felt superb.”
“Remember that morning I called for you, really early?” Danny asked suddenly, sitting forward and staring past Michael as they went over the two bridges that led back to the high street. “We rode our bikes down there, down the alleys behind the shops?”
“Oh yeah, we nicked some bread!”
“From the back of the cafe,” Danny remembered. That was a good memory, he told himself, as they drove down the high street, past the café Jake had eventually got a Saturday job in. He was glad they turned left at the roundabout, onto Barrack road, instead of continuing on, up towards the club. Even as they turned off, Danny could see it there. It had been called Nancy’s once, before Howard bought it outright and changed the name to K. It had been white and neon blue outside. It did not look like it had changed much, Danny mused, staring back over his shoulder as it grew smaller in the back window. He saw a sign advertising live music outside on the pavement. He shuddered then, thinking of Jerry Howard, with his hands on the place. And up past the club, if you kept walking, you came to the old record shop he had worked in, for Terry. Further on, there was a bridge which crossed the railway lines, and more blocks of flats to the right. That was where Freeman had lived.
They headed down Barrack road, and Danny turned his eyes to the front. “Can you go home and check on Kurt for me?” he asked Michael when they got closer to home. “Maybe take him out for a little walk for me?”
“Oh mate, I was gagging for a pint,” Michael complained.
“You can still have one. Just do that for me then come to the pub yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Michael sighed, parking the car around the back of his flat as usual. “You going straight there?”
Danny checked his phone for the time. “Yeah. May as well. Another nasty little meeting I’m not looking forward to.”
They got out of the car and Michael locked it, and pulled out his key to the door to the flat. “Jaime was a fucking mess,” he reflected, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand. Danny sunk his hands in his pockets.
“Yep. Sad, wasn’t it?”
“Well to be honest, he was always gonna’ end up like that,” shrugged Michael. “When people have got nothing else in their lives, you know?”
“I know, but…” Danny gazed at his feet, struggling to find the words to express his intense disappointment. “I just thought…I don’t know. At one point he was just my drug dealer, you know? I was as scared of him as I was of everyone else. I didn’t trust him or like him. But towards the end, it changed. I mean, I know Anthony paid him, but he still put his neck out digging the dirt on Freeman, didn’t he? If he hadn’t done that Mike…”
“Don’t,” Michael held a hand up and started to walk towards the flat. “Just don’t. Let’s get on with this.”
“Okay. See you in a bit.”
He walked to the pub, feeling his guts shrivelling up inside of him. It was a horrible sensation. He felt like he had no energy in his bones, as he forced himself on. He wondered when he was going to start to feel brave again. When the urge to fight back would return. It was hiding today. He wanted to be under the duvet with Lucy again, curled up in the warm, not having to deal this nightmare. He looked ahead at the pub, wondering if Haskell was inside. He could not bring himself to call her Caroline anymore. He could not bring himself to think of her as a woman, or even as human. The thought of her and him together, limbs tangled, naked skin, her breathing heavily into his ear, before crying out in ecstasy. He was sickened. All that time she had been throwing him to the wolves.
He paused before pushing open the door. He searched for the strength to go on. In the end, it had eluded him for now, but the only thing that made him go inside to face her, was knowing that he had to. There was no choice in it. He saw her right away. It looked like she had only just arrived. There she was, at the bar, coat still on, but unbuttoned, leaning breezily towards Tony, wallet in hand. She glanced his way, smiled broadly and waved a hand, before addressing Tony again. Danny let the door swing shut behind him. He realised he had no idea how to handle this, or what to say to her. So he walked past her and sat down in the usual place, in the corner.
She turned to face him, two glasses of wine held out, and tossed her hair back over her shoulders. He looked her up and down and cursed himself for ever finding her attractive. He found her loathsome now, and had to stop himself from curling his lip, as she placed the drinks down and pulled up the stool opposite. She was already frowning at him, picking up that his mood was dark. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. And what happened to your head there?” She was trying to peer round him, to get a glimpse of the bruising and grazing he had suffered at the hands of Nick Groves.
“Well you ought to know,” he replied in a low voice, glancing distastefully at the wine before fixing his eyes back on hers. She tossed her hair again, still smiling, but with a guarded look in her eye.
“I said, you ought to know.”
“I heard you, but what the hell does that mean?” She laughed a little at the end of her sentence, but it was a nervous laugh, and her mouth was twitching.
“I’m surprised you don’t know,” said Danny. “You know, that I know.” He looked at her unflinchingly, and she responded by shaking her head in confusion and picking up her wine glass.
“Danny, you’re talking in riddles! What do you mean?”
“I’d have thought you’d be good at riddles. A person as tricky as you.”
“You’ve lost me!” Caroline sat back a little, uncrossed her legs and tucked one arm around her middle while she sipped from her glass. Danny leaned forward then, the aggression and resentment rolling over him darkly.
“Let’s get straight to the point,” he hissed across the table at her. “And no more bullshit, all right? I know you’re working for Jerry Howard, I know you’ve been with them from the start, helping them to pinpoint me and my friends, so that you could get close to me and get my story!” He sat back again, his eyes flaring at her, his teeth clenched in growing fury. He watched the colour drain from her face. For a moment, she just sat there. She swallowed. She glanced at the door. She looked at the floor. She lifted her glass and drank steadily. “It’s all out in the open now,” he told her, as she waited. “So don’t even bother to think up excuses or lies.”
Caroline looked away from him, her face a mask of guilt. She shuffled her stool closer to the table, and rested an elbow upon it, the hand reaching up to ruffle under her hair. “Can we not do this here?” she whispered to Danny. He rolled his eyes at her.
“I’m not going to make a scene. I’m not going to shout or go mental. I just wanted you to know that I know. I know what a despicable, lying, cheating, back stabbing, two faced, cold hearted little whore you are.”
Her jaw dropped, revealing her perfect, white little teeth. She let her hair fall forward, as if to shield herself from the rest of the pub. “I don’t know what you’ve heard…” she began, her eyes moving around shiftily.
“Are you trying to deny it? Are you going to tell me you haven’t been working for Jerry Howard?”
Her mouth snapped shut, and in that moment then, he knew for sure. If he had harboured any doubts that she was capable of such vile behaviour, they vanished in that moment. He smiled grimly. “You can’t can you?” he asked, and she shook her head at him, her lips still pressed tightly together. “Why?” he shook his head at her and lifted his shoulders up and down. It was all he really wished to know. Why.
Caroline Haskell gazed down at the table, and breathed out heavily through her gritted teeth. “You know why,” she murmured her reply. “I wanted that story. I wanted my hands on it from the start. I told you that.”
“When did you first meet Jerry?”
“At his son’s funeral.”
She nodded in misery, hair now hanging down both sides of her face. She gripped the stem of her wine glass in one hand, while she chewed at the polished pink nails on her other hand. “I hung about. Wanted to see if I could collar someone to talk to me. Saw your mum there, and Jerry had a go at her, and she left. Everyone was drifting away, and he stayed there, and so did I.” She shrugged her shoulders as if this should explain enough.
“What did you talk about?”
“Just…just his son. How angry he was. He said he was interested in talking to me, but off the record, until he had his head straight. So I met up with him a few weeks later. He called me.”
Danny felt himself withdrawing from her presence, until his back was pressed firmly up against the wall behind him. “And then what?”
“He told me his side. He told me you’d taken the most precious thing in his life away from him, and he wanted to make sure you paid. He still wouldn’t let me record anything. Said he wanted to see what happened at the trial.” Caroline’s head seemed to be sinking lower and lower as her eyes burned into the table. “So I met him again after the trial, and he was happy about the result, but he still wouldn’t talk to me on record. I knew what he thought alright, and he told me he had loads of information that no one knew, stuff that would make an amazing story. But I had to wait for it. He was happy you were in prison. He said his revenge would begin when you were released.”
“So then what? What else? The next eight years, what?”
Caroline shifted awkwardly on her stool, shot a quick look around the pub, then returned to staring down at the table. “We stayed in touch,” she said softly. “I kept an eye on things for him.”
“Like where my family and friends lived, for instance?”
“Yes,” she nodded once. “Things like that.”
“Okay,” said Danny, trying to take it all in, trying to fathom the massive betrayal. “Did you know he bought the club? Did you know he owned the White Horse and brought Freeman back to manage it for him?”
“Well, not until recently. That’s his business. He wanted to keep solid connections around here. Not just with me. Businesses. Employees he could trust.”
Danny struggled to swallow the urge to scream at her. “People like Jaime Lawler?” he snarled, as his hands balled into fists upon the table. She peered at him from behind the hair.
“I think Jerry pulled him back in deliberately. It took a while, I think. He knew he had links to you, and Michael and Anthony.”
“Spies everywhere,” Danny shook his head in disgust. He searched his pockets then, patting down his jacket, searching for cigarettes.
“He’s a clever man,” she said, with a sigh. “And a very persuasive one.”
“So his deal with you?” Danny finally found his cigarettes, whipped one out and tossed the pack onto the table. “What was that then? You keep tabs on us all, and in return he lets you get the story? See, I’ve been thinking about that, the last few days. I’ve been thinking about all of it. So clever! Because I wouldn’t have ever agreed to do a story with you, if I hadn’t needed to know where Howard and Freeman were so badly, would I? And who put that idea into my head, eh? That I needed to find them, and you had the resources to help me?”
Caroline looked up then, her eyes shining with tears. She picked up her glass and finished off the wine. Danny lit his cigarette. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“No, you’re not, don’t give me that bullshit!” he spat back at her. “You’re only sorry you got caught, you bitch. You helped them target me, and my friends and family! You did that! How can you sleep at night, eh? Knowing innocent people are getting bricks through their windows, and threatening phone calls? Getting beaten up in the fucking pub? You’re disgusting, Haskell. You are worse than them! All of this, to get a story? To get my story? Wasn’t his story enough for you?”
“No! I wanted your side, not just his, I wanted to hear from you!” She stared back at him, wide eyed and open-mouthed. “I waited eight years to hear your side!”
“You waited eight years to fuck me over you evil cunt!”
“No, no, it wasn’t like that…I genuinely wanted to hear your side, I didn’t want to write a one sided article!”
“So that’s alright is it?” he asked in amazement. “You wanted to present two sides of the same story, write an amazing article, get fucking rich and famous, or whatever, and that makes it alright? That makes it alright to get involved with drug dealing child abusers, eh? Does it? You fucking disgust me!”
“It escalated,” she muttered, and with both elbows on the table, she pressed the palms of her hands flat against her face. “I didn’t like them Danny. I wasn’t on their side. I just used them to get to you.”
“You helped them Caroline,” Danny argued with her, jabbing a finger onto the table in front of her as she dropped her hands and stared at him. “You spied on the people I care about, you put them all in danger, Anthony’s little kids, Michael’s son, Lucy! You put them in danger, you put them in the firing line by getting involved with that man.”
“Wasn’t just me, was it?” she hissed back then, a little fire returning to her eyes, and a flush to her cheeks. She reached out, and snatched up the wine he had left untouched. “I hardly did a thing! What about Freeman, and Jaime Lawler?”
“Freeman was a low down filthy pervert, who couldn’t resist the thought of managing his own pub, being the big man for once, lording it up over a pub full of students! Not exactly hard to understand why he came back is it? Crawled off to oblivion for a year after I stabbed him, and then called back to a well paid position, a position of power, which is exactly what men like him crave!” Danny sucked on his cigarette, eyeing her up distainfully. “And as for Jaime. The guys a fucking heroin addict. Up to his fucking eyes in their shit. But you. You’ve got no excuse Haskell.”
“I didn’t know they would do all those things,” she insisted. “He didn’t put it like that. Do you think if he’d put it like that, I would have agreed to help him? He’s clever Danny, you don’t even realise how clever. He came across like this pained, distressed old man, desperate to find out why his son had to die. He didn’t say he wanted to terrorise people to get to you! I didn’t know he would do those things!”
“But once you did know,” Danny cocked his head to one side. “What then? You carried on, didn’t you? You let it go on. You knew it was them, you knew they were doing those things. You let it go on, because you had me in the palm of your hand, spilling my guts, dragging up the past, making me relive it all, just so you could get your dirty little story!”
“No, no,” she was shaking her head at him. “I didn’t know for sure it was them.”
“Shit! Who else would it fucking be? Admit it Haskell. You knew it was them, and you sat back and waited for your interview, didn’t you?”
“Well, I thought it would all end! The quicker I got the story, I mean, the sooner it would all stop. Once I got the story recorded, then Jerry would see you to put his…his views across.”
“That’s not what he wants to do,” Danny laughed and corrected her. “He’s not just gonna’ have a chat with me tonight!”
“Oh don’t pretend you don’t already know. I’ve arranged to meet him tonight. He wants all of the money back, the money my mum left me. He wants me to get out of town, and he wants me to say sorry.”
Caroline frowned at him. “I didn’t know any of that, Danny. He only says what he has to, you know. It’s not like I’m his best friend!”
“No, just one of his minions, scuttling around, doing the dirty work for him.”
“That’s not fair.”
“That’s fucking mild, Caroline! You’re worse than that!” Danny tapped ash into the ashtray and leaned towards her again. “You’ve helped a monster, you know that don’t you? I sat and told you what his fucking son was like. Did you believe a word I said? Or did you just sit there laughing at me? Thinking I was talking shit, and I deserved everything I got?”
“No, of course not, I believed you Danny!” She shifted nearer to him, her arms crossed on the table, her face just inches away from his. He felt her eyes searching his, searching for some softness, some understanding. “I believed every word you told me, how could I not?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I don’t understand how your vicious mind works.”
“Look, I got in over my head, alright? I mean, you more than anyone should be able to understand that! You know what these people are like!”
“I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end,” he told her. “And when my stepfather tried to rope me back in, by offering me a job, I fucking said no! You should have done the same Caroline. Who would want to be on the payroll for people like that?” He pushed his face even closer to hers. “You know they are still involved in drug dealing? Jaime works for them. Like he always used to do. But like I said before, he and Freeman, I can understand it. Weak men, with addictions. Their connections with Lee and his dad go way back. But you. You!”
“I just wanted the story,” Caroline’s voice was almost a squeak, so desperate was she to get him to understand. “I couldn’t see past that! I admit, I got obsessed. I told you that before, didn’t I? From the moment I saw you come out of that house, Danny, I wanted to hear it from you!”
“Why?” he demanded, holding her gaze with his. “Tell me why. There are plenty of evil things that go on every day in this world. Plenty of other horrible stories you could have followed. Why this one? Why was it so important that you had to wait eight fucking years, get involved with the scum of the earth, and put innocent people’s lives at risk, just to get me to talk? I mean, in the end, was it really worth it Caroline, or were you disappointed? Did I fill you in enough? Did I provide enough gory details to satisfy you? You’re like a leech. You’re a parasite. I thought that the first time I met you. Sucking off other people’s misery. Vile.”
“Don’t say that, that’s not true, that’s not fair, you don’t know….” She broke off, her voice breaking as tears spilled from her eyes. Danny laughed at her. He wanted to slap her. He wanted to shove her off her stool and kick her arse.
“It is fucking true,” he insisted. “That’s exactly what you are. I mean, journalists in general are like that, but you, you took it to another fucking level! I mean, eight fucking years!” He rocked back away with her, roaring laughter, and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. Caroline sniffed through her tears, held onto the second glass of wine, and sipped from it. “You’re a joke,” he told her. “You make me sick. To think I fucking went with you. It makes me want to vomit. All that time, you’re all over me like a rash, when really you were on his side, sneaking around, helping him, helping him torture me! All over again! Thanks a lot! Thanks so much Caroline.”
“I slept with you because I liked you…” she said, shaking back her hair and fixing him with a firmer gaze, her jaw taut with defiance. “Believe that or don’t believe that, but it’s true. I liked you from the start Danny, from that day, the day they brought you out of the house.”
“Then you’re sick.”
“Yeah, you’re totally fucked. There’s no hope for you. I pity you. You may as well do the same as Freeman and fucking string yourself up and let the lights go out.”
She moved back as if she had been slapped. He watched the tears roll slowly down her bright red cheeks. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“You’re a horrible person Caroline. I can hardly stand to look at you. You’re a cold hearted bitch, look at you!” He pushed his face towards hers again, his backside momentarily leaving his seat. “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to go anywhere near you! It makes me feel sick, thinking about it. You’re as bad as Jack Freeman, you know? Sick and perverted. Taking advantage. Lying. Enjoying the power you have over people.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh I’ve had enough, I’ve fucking had enough of this shit, I don’t know why I’m even still here.” Danny got up from the table, shoved his way angrily around it, and began to stalk quickly out of the pub. Immediately he heard her leaping up to follow him.
The cold air met him outside. He shoved his hands into his pockets and felt her pulling at his elbow. “Listen to me Danny,”
“What else have you got to say?” He pulled his elbow free, and turned to face her. She pulled her coat around her, buttoning it up and blinking tears away as she scanned the high street.
“I did like you,” she told him. “I do like you. I’m not like them, Danny, I’m not.”
“No, I told you, you’re worse than them. Why did you do it Caroline? Why did you sell your soul to the devil like that? For an article? For a piece in a shitty newspaper that no one will even care about the week after?”
Caroline sniffed. Pushed her hands into the pockets of her coats, and let her hair be blown wildly around her shoulders by the cold winds careering up the high street. “I told you before,” she sighed through her snot and tears. “Me and you have more in common than you think.”
Danny frowned curiously. He folded his arms and waited. “Yeah, like what?”
“The things you went through.”
He nodded, waiting.
“I went through some things too,” she went on, her eyes now darting restlessly about, meeting his and then tearing away again. “The same things Danny. That’s what I meant, when I said that to you. I meant we had things in common.”
Danny took a step towards her. He guessed he was supposed to feel sorry for her now. Take her in his arms and feel her pain. But he just wanted to laugh out loud at her. He didn’t know why, but that somehow made it worse. “Go on.”
“My mum. My dad died when I was six. My mum remarried when I was eleven. Alex his name was. I called him dad.”
Danny laughed. He could not stop himself. He rocked back on his heels and laughed at her. She glared up at him. He saw the anger flash across her face. “Don’t you fucking laugh, it’s the fucking truth you bastard!”
He stepped closer. Peered down at her tear streaked face. “Is it?”
“Yes. He abused me. He did things….” She croaked a sob, buried her face in her hands. “I’ve never told anyone…never!”
“Why should I even believe you?”
She dropped her hands, aghast. “Why would I lie?”
He pressed his face into hers. “Because that’s what you do!”
“It’s the fucking truth!” She pulled away, took a step backwards. “It’s the truth. It’s the truth! I tried to tell her, but she loved him so much she didn’t believe me. No one believed me. I…I wanted to kill him…I thought about it day and night. I tried to think of ways to do it…I did! You have to believe me! I tried to poison him once.” She stepped forward then, her face creased, tears sliding down her cheeks. Her hand came out, grabbed at his coat. “I put it in his food…It would have killed him, but I chickened out! I took it and scraped it all in the bin before he could touch it. I didn’t have the guts…..So it went on. It went on for years.”
Danny looked down, at her fingers clawing at his clothes. She appeared wretched. Desperate. He felt cold. He took her hands, and held them in his own. He wanted to be a million miles away from her. “If that is true….” He spoke carefully and slowly, his eyes burning into hers. “…and I fucking doubt it, the way you lie, but if that is true, you know what? That makes you even fucking worse.”
“But that’s why your story meant so much to me!” she wailed then, threading her fingers desperately through his and holding tight. “Don’t you see? That’s why I got so obsessed! That’s why I did the things I did, why I got so in over my head… because I had to see you, I had to speak to you!”
“It makes you worse,” he repeated. “Because if you went through what I went through, then you would understand. You would know how much it means to be able to live a normal fucking life, with no fucking fear, yeah? How would you like me to track down your old man, eh? See if he wants to fuck you up again, eh? How would you like that back in your life Caroline?”
She flinched. “I didn’t know…I didn’t mean…”
“If you hadn’t helped him, none of this would be happening. He used you. You let him use you. And it’s not just my life getting fucked up, see? My girlfriend, my girlfriend, is fucking pregnant!” He watched the alarm leap into her eyes. Her mouth fell open again. “Yeah!” he nodded triumphantly. “We’re back together and we’re having a baby. See I’ve got a chance? I’ve got a chance of a normal, decent life, with someone who’s good, someone who’s kept my head afloat for years, and because of you, all of that is in jeopardy.” He shoved her hands away violently, as if they were cancerous. “You could go to the police with everything you know,” he said, stepping away from her. “That’s the only thing you could do right now to put any of this right.”
“Danny..” she moved towards him, but he did not give her the chance. He spun away and started walking fast. He immediately heard her heels clattering desperately after him. Felt her clawing at his back, dragging him to a stop. “Stop! Please stop! Listen to me! It’s because I didn’t have the guts! I wanted to kill him, I wanted to be free of him so much, but I never went through with it.” Danny kept walking, hands in pockets. Caroline clung to his coat, hurrying along with him. He growled impatiently and tried to shake her off. “I admired you!” she wailed then. “You did what I wanted to do! You fought back!”
“Yeah, and every day I wish I hadn’t!” Danny stopped walking again, shook her off and glared at her darkly. “I was wrong, okay? I shouldn’t have done it Caroline, I shouldn’t. I should have gone to the police that night. I should have shown them what he did to me, and my mum would have backed me up. He would have gone to jail.” He nodded at her face. “Yeah. That’s what I should have done. Now that I’m older I can see that, and you have no fucking idea how much I would like to go back and tell myself to stop, not to do it! Then none of this would be happening, would it?”
“But he would have, he would have continued to….” Caroline stopped, her head hanging, her shoulders drooping.
“We’ll never know will we?” he asked her. He looked away, and saw Michael was heading down the road towards them. He sighed and looked back at Caroline, feeling pity for her for the first time. “We’ll never know what he would have done, because I killed him. I did the wrong thing Caroline. I only see it now. And the only thing I can do is try to make it right with his father. The only thing you can do is go to the police, with everything you know.” Danny placed his hand briefly on her shoulder, giving it the smallest of squeezes. “You know more than me. I only know what Jaime’s said.” He shrugged, and turned away from her. “It’s up to you.”