Danny did not see Michael getting head-butted by Nick Groves, but he heard him go down. He spun around in alarm, just in time to see Michael crumple onto the floor, blood gushing vibrantly from his face. He lay in a heap, soundless, not moving. Danny raised his gaze, and the flat hard glare of Nick Grove’s eyes bore back into his. “Mike!” he called out, stepping towards him. As he moved, he sensed someone behind him, someone who had been lying in wait the whole time. He was grabbed from behind, large hands clamping down on his arms. He remembered his phone in his pocket, and struggled frantically to get his hand back in there, to hit the call button that would let Anthony know what was happening.
“Let’s be having you,” said Nick Groves, clapping his hands together again and stepping briskly over Michael. He came at Danny like a tank, his broad frame filling the hallway, his fist shooting out, jabbing a gut wrenching shot right into his abdomen. Danny grunted, his head falling forward, his arms still wrenched back behind. The other man was giggling. “That was for Lee,” Groves told him pleasantly. “And this one is for Jack.” Danny saw the knee coming towards his face, and turned his head just in time to avoid his nose being smashed to pieces. Instead he felt the weight of the force hit his lower jaw, slamming his bottom teeth into his top ones. He tasted the blood as it filled his mouth, and he was thinking oh shit, shit, shit, I’m gonna’ get killed, I’m gonna’ get killed.
He was spun around, pushed along, and it was all coming back to him in surreal waves of recognition. The hallway was narrow, made narrower by boxes of stock taking up space. Howard’s office had been to the right, and at the very end was the kitchen, where he had spent so many hot, airless nights, with his sleeves rolled up, hands plunged into soapy water. Jumping around, nervous and afraid, his jaw chattering, his eyes growing bigger as the speed took hold.
He nearly drowned me once, in that kitchen, he held my head under the water because I asked the DJ to play The Stone Roses and he did, and it wound him up.
He struggled against the arms that held him from behind. He needed to get to his phone. Anthony was just sat there in his pocket waiting to be alerted, waiting to send help. He had to get his hand in there somehow. The man holding him wrestled him through to the main part of the club. He lifted his head, flicking back his hair, feeling the blood drip down from his mouth. The place had not changed much, he noted, looking around. He remembered how Lee Howard had refitted it not long after taking it over. He had turned it from a scruffy little dive into something far swankier.
“There’s someone here who wants to see you mate,” Nick Groves said then, appearing at his side and slipping his hand around Danny’s right arm. Danny looked at the other man, who had taken his left arm, and saw he had also been in the Old Inne that night. Danny did not bother to struggle. What would be the point? He needed to save his energy. He stood still between them, panting quietly from the pain in his gut and face, and realising that his right hand was only an inch or so away from his pocket.
“Where is he then?” he asked, swallowing blood. “Come on, I haven’t got all night.”
“You always were a cheeky little bastard,” Jerry Howard’s voice rasped from behind him. Danny twisted his head to look over his shoulder. Jerry Howard was stood behind the bar, just as his son had once done, night after night, like a King holding court over his empire. He was wearing a light blue shirt, open at the neck, with expensive looking grey suit trousers. He held one hand loosely in one pocket, while his other hand caressed a glass with what looked like a shot of whiskey in it. He looked calm, and ready, and satisfied, and he looked at Danny as if he had never hated anyone so much in all his life. Danny sucked in his breath, felt the old fear shiver through him. Those eyes. For a moment, he felt lost within them, and he felt convinced that it was really Lee stood there, older and greyer, but just as big, just as dangerous, with those eyes that made him want to shrivel up and die. He could do nothing but stare. “Lee said that about you, right from the start.”
Jerry Howard, it’s Jerry, it’s Jerry, it’s not Lee, it’s not him, tipped his whiskey down his throat, licked his lips and dropped the glass onto the bar with a bang that made Danny jump. He started to walk slowly around the bar. He did not have his stick with him, and walked with a very slight limp on his left side. As he walked, he undid the cuffs of his shirt, and rolled each sleeve up to his elbows, very slowly and deliberately, his eyes locked onto Danny’s the entire time. Danny took a chance to see if he could get to his phone, but the second he moved his arm, it was wrenched back into place, and held tighter on both sides. He watched Jerry coming and he felt like a fly caught in a spiders web. If he couldn’t hit call on his phone, then he was in trouble.
He felt small again. He felt like he had been transported back in time. It was happening all over again. He had been a bad boy and he was going to get punished. Lee only liked good boys, didn’t he? He had to be a good boy, and toe the fucking line, and every time Lee thought he had got it through to him, he would go and fuck up again, and Lee would get angry. What is it gonna’ take to get it through to you?
Fuck…this was bound to happen, bound to happen.
Jerry Howard was in front of him. Danny looked him up and down, opened his mouth to say something, and felt the man’s right hook slam into his left eye. He remembered then that the man had been a keen boxer. That he had owned his own gym, training boys to be men. He felt the power behind the punch, sending his head back on his neck, hot sparks of pain exploding within his eye socket. Oh, this was going to be bad. He panicked, tried again to get his hand to his pocket, but the two men held him tightly, and he was worried that if he made it look too obvious that he was trying to get to his pocket, then they would check in it.
Jerry Howard rocked back on his heels, boxers fists now settled back into the pockets of his smart trousers. “I’m going to take you apart slowly, like you did to my son,” he informed Danny brightly.
“Murdering little bastard,” Nick Groves sneered into his ear. Danny looked back at Jerry Howard, and found his vision had gone a little blurry. He could already feel the skin around his eye swelling up nicely. Before long his eye would be completely closed up.
“With the help of your two mates here?” he asked Jerry, glancing at either side of him. “Just like your son, eh? A bully and a coward.”
Jerry raised his eyebrows, stepped calmly forward, lifted Danny’s chin and smashed his fist into his mouth. He felt his legs go. For a moment, the pain was blinding, and he could not get his grip on the floor. Fresh blood pumped from his torn lips. He wanted to cry and to laugh at the same time. They held him up. Drop me, fucking let me drop, he thought in desperation, so I can get to my fucking phone.
“I don’t need them, for your information, mister smart mouth,” came Jerry Howards growling voice, through the darkness that had momentarily filled Danny’s mind. “I could beat you to death all on my own, even at my advanced age. I just thought it would be fun for them to be here, you know? Nick and Phil here were both good friends to my son. They were boys from my gym, you know. Like poor old Jack, God rest his soul. They’ve probably got a few things to say to you themselves.”
“Too right, I fucking have,” Nick Groves snarled into his ear again, hauling Danny back up every time his legs gave way. He finally found the floor again, planted his feet as firmly as he could, and let his back rest against the bar behind. It occurred to him then that he had first met Jack Freeman at this very bar, sat a few stools down, whiskey sodden and wearing that ratty old overcoat he’d lived in.
“This is how it always is with you people,” Danny said then, his vision clearing, his broken lips pulling into a wry grin for Jerry. “Three against one, that’s really fair…That’s really hard and brave…Just like your son…And Jack. Always picking on people smaller and weaker…Nice.”
He saw Jerry take up his boxers stance again, one foot forward, fists raised, ready to strike. “And what you did was fair, was it?” he asked, his pale blue eyes seething with hatred. “Kniving a man to death in his own kitchen? Taking his pulse to make sure he was dead? Laughing about it?”
“I shouldn’t have done it,” Danny said quickly, and he saw the confusion in Jerry’s eyes. He nodded at him. “Is that what you want to hear Jerry? I shouldn’t have done it, I fucking know that now. I hated him, and I wanted him dead, I wanted him dead for years, but I shouldn’t have killed him. It was wrong.”
“Bit too late to say that now,” Jerry responded, and hit him in the stomach. Danny found himself doubled over, as far as they would allow him, coughing for air, unable to speak or breathe.
“You punch….just…like your son…” he managed to croak when there was enough air back in his lungs to talk with. Oh let me drop, why won’t you bastards just let me drop so I can get to my phone?
“I taught him well,” came the proud reply. Danny was wrenched back up to face him. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling. He wondered if he was close to insanity. All the fear seemed to have dripped away. Now he just felt wild with disbelief.
“You did, didn’t you?” he panted. “You really did… You taught him how to punch and kick and pull hair, and slap, and use his belt, you taught him how to do all those things, but was he meant to do them to a thirteen year old kid?” Danny made a bemused face, his head cocked to one side. “Just wondering if that was part of the training at your precious gym, that’s all…How to get really big and strong and tough, and then beat the shit out of people much smaller and weaker?”
Jerry laughed at him, but it was a brittle, humourless sound, and he stepped forward, grabbed Danny by the hair and pulled him forward, so that their faces were nearly touching. “He tried to be a good dad to you, you ungrateful little shit. He took you on. Your own father didn’t give a shit, did he eh? Your mother could not control you. Oh yeah,” he nodded, his eyes gleaming. “I know everything Daniel. I know how you treated your mother before Lee came along. Getting arrested, getting in fights, getting drunk. You were nothing but a spoilt, arrogant little shit, and he tried to get you in line, that’s all.”
“Get me in line?” Danny questioned, swallowing back laughter. “Oh yeah, he tried… he really tried, he was always saying that…one day I’ll get you in line, whatever the fuck that means.”
“It means trying to bring you up to be a decent, hardworking person, like my son was. What have you ever done eh? You were a drugged up, messed up little shit stain causing trouble for everyone, then you murdered my son, and went to jail, and now look at you! Swanning around with your pockets full of money, my son’s money! And you’ve never done a thing to deserve it!”
“That’s right…I didn’t do a thing to deserve it. I didn’t deserve the way he treated me, and why would you believe anything else? You obviously treated him the same way to have created such a monster!”
“He was a successful business man!” Jerry roared into his face, spittle flying from his tight lips. His face was contorted with rage.
“He was a drug dealing child beating psychopath!”
Jerry bellowed his protest and pummelled his fists into Danny’s body, while the men held him up. “You killed him! You vicious little thug! You went there loaded with knives! You stabbed him again and again and again! You watched my son die on his own kitchen floor!”
The blows came again and again, until Danny would not have been able to stand had they let him. His legs were useless to him, he tried to cry out, to call for help, to awake Michael in the hallway, but there was no room to breathe or speak. Pain rolled in and out like in brutal waves. I probably deserve it, he thought to himself before blacking out, I killed his son. I killed his son.
He was tapping his feet against the floor, drumming his hands against his thighs, his mind a whirl of endless awful possibilities. Again and again he looked at his phone, which was now hot to the touch he had been gripping it so long. No messages, no calls, no nothing. He was on the verge of calling them, but that wasn’t the plan. Danny was meant to call him when they entered the building, so that he could pick up and listen in to everything that went on. Why hadn’t Danny called him? Why?
Anthony checked the time. Less than a minute from the last time he had checked, it was only ten minutes past six, but surely that was more than enough time for them to get into the club? They should be in there now, in that building right there, so why hadn’t Danny called him? What if they had done something really stupid, like left their phones in the car? Or ran out of battery, or credit?
Anthony could feel the panic taking him over. He got out of the car, lit a cigarette and paced about restlessly, even though he was meant to stay in the car and wait for the call. He thought about the police station, just minutes away. He thought about Michael and Danny, and why the fuck hadn’t they called? How much longer should he wait before he did anything? And what the fuck should he do?
He didn’t think he had totally lost consciousness, or at least, if he had, it had not been for long. He had maybe dipped in and out for a while as the fists of Jerry Howard rained down on him. Now he found himself finally in the enviable position of being down on the floor. They were stood over him, which was a worry, but at least his arms were free now. He wondered how long it would take him to work up the courage to move his hand into his pocket, and if they would notice or not.
He tried to move, and found the pain excruciating. It was his ribs. They were fucked. His mouth and eye were throbbing and growing fatter by the minute, but it was his ribs that really screamed. It made him smile though, how he was not afraid anymore. How could that be? The pain washed the fear away, and the pain was easier to deal with, it just was what it was. He remembered a sense of relief sometimes, when Lee had struck him. He would go into a dark place with the pain, and hide there with it, try to shut out the wild thing delivering it.
He moved again, getting his hand out from under his stomach. This is just like before I killed him! He was kicking the shit out of me, but I had to keep trying to get my hand down to my boot, to get the other knife. I got it in the end. So hold on.
He could smell smoke, cigar smoke. The three men were stood around him, murmuring. Finally he heard Jerry tell the other two; “Get yourselves a drink or two boys, I’m gonna’ have a few more words with our little friend here.” The two men walked around him, and from the floor he heard the clink of glasses and the splash of drink. Moments later, they walked back, Nick Groves actually stepping over him this time. Danny lifted his head just enough to see that they had gone to sit in the corner with their drinks. He felt a foot nudging his leg.
“Come on pretty boy, wakey wakey.”
“I am awake.” Danny rolled slowly onto his back and stared up at the old mans face.
“What do you think you’re fucking smiling at?”
“I didn’t know I was smiling. It’s just a familiar position I find myself in here, that’s all.” Danny used his hands to push himself up from the floor. He could have screamed from the pain in his ribs, but he bit down on it instead, and eased himself carefully into a sitting position, his back against the bar. He moved his hand towards his pocket, saw Jerry staring at him indignantly, and stopped. “I’ve got the money,” Danny told him then. Jerry’s eyes narrowed in distrust. “I brought a cheque. You can have the lot, you know. I never wanted it in the first place.”
Jerry grunted, sucked on his cigar, and glanced around the club. “She never should have given it to you. If she didn’t want it she should have given it back to me, for this place. That’s what he would have wanted.”
“Fair enough,” Danny agreed, keeping one arm wrapped around his ribs, the other hand planted on the floor, just inches from his coat pocket. “I told you, I don’t want any of it. I don’t want anything from him. It’s in my top pocket here.”
Jerry took his cigar out of his mouth, knelt down before him, and rummaged around in the top pocket of Danny’s coat. He found the folded up cheque, took it out, stuck the cigar back between his teeth, and opened it up to examine it. Danny waited, watching. He saw the light grow in the old man’s eyes. Jackpot. He got back up, using the bar to help him and then he nodded down at him. “You’ve got more brains than I gave you credit for, young man. Unless it bounces, of course.”
“It won’t bounce. And anyway, you know where to find me, right? You know where to find me and all my friends, thanks to Haskell.”
Jerry tucked the cheque into the top pocket of his shirt and puffed thoughtfully on his cigar, his other hand placed back in his trouser pockets. Giving those hands a little rest, Danny thought, an idea forming in his mind, but it won’t be for long. “She’s been very useful to me over the years,” said Jerry. “Very useful. With all her contacts. She’s a rather shrewd and driven woman, don’t you think?”
“You could call her that,” Danny nodded at Jerry’s cigar. “You mind if I smoke?” He put his hand in his pocket, pretending to rummage around. Jerry ignored him.
“Of course that article of hers is utterly one sided. But that doesn’t concern me now. She got what she wanted, and so did I.”
Danny closed his hand around his phone. He felt the relief swooping over him, making him shudder from head to toe. He closed his eyes briefly, thank fuck, and he ran his thumb over the buttons, trying to work out which one was call. He found it, pressed it, took another huge breath and pulled his hand back out. “Damn,” he muttered, “must be the other pocket.” He searched that one and found his pack of cigarettes. His hands were shaking badly as he took one out and placed it between his split and bloodied lips, wincing from the pain. Jerry passed him a lighter and he took it without a word, lit the cigarette and passed it back. The smoke filled his lungs like a delicious dream, spiralling through his body, calming him down. He had done it. Anthony would be picking up his phone. Anthony would know what was happening.
“I’m worried about my friend out there,” he spoke up, trying to make his voice a little louder, without making it obvious. Jerry glared at him. “He hasn’t moved or made a sound. He could be dead for all you know. You better check on him.”
Jerry made a gesture to the men in the corner, and Nick Groves got reluctantly to his feet. “Take a look at the other one,” Jerry grunted at him, and he nodded and headed back out to the hallway. Danny listened keenly, hoping for a sound from Michael, a groan or a cough, anything.
“You know you’ve broken so many laws lately, I’ve lost count,” Danny said then, looking back at Jerry. The old man curled his lip.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. Criminal damage, GBH, harassment, not to mention the drug dealing we know about, and what you’ve just done to me and Mike. When’s it gonna’ stop, eh? You don’t want to end up in prison at your age, do you?”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” Jerry snarled, looking down at him as if he was a piece of crap on his shoe. “The life you’ve led!”
“I would have been fine if it wasn’t for your son,” Danny reminded him. Just then Groves stalked back through, rolling his eyes impatiently.
“He’s fine!” he snapped. “Out for the count but he’s breathing.”
Jerry trained his dangerous gaze back on Danny. “Don’t you dare try to blame my son for the way your life has turned out, you disgusting little shit!”
Danny took a deep breath. He needed to get things going again. Get Anthony to move. “Jerry, is it that you don’t believe all the things he did to me? Or is it that you think they’re all fine? I just want to know, that’s all.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Him beating me. I was small, you know? He was fucking huge. Could have killed me any time he pleased. I always thought he would at some point. I used to have nightmares about it. Thought my mum would just come home one day and find me in a pool of blood, you know?”
Jerry knelt slowly back down before him, sucked hard on his cigar and puffed the smoke right into Danny’s face. “Anything he did to you, was for your own good, you pathetic whining little specimen. I brought him up to be tough.” He pointed his cigar at Danny’s expectant expression. “You should have done as you were told. You were a child, he was the adult, it’s not hard, is it? You should have behaved yourself, and everything would have been fine, wouldn’t it? He wanted kids you know. He wanted to be a father. I think he tried bloody hard to get through to you.”
Danny felt the hardening inside of him and he welcomed it. He looked at the old mans face, just inches from his, and would have liked to throw his fist right into it. He grinned slightly, imagining the feel of a heavy blade in his hand. “Nothing would have been good enough for that bastard. When I did what he wanted, it was still fucking wrong. He held my head under water in that very fucking kitchen once, just because the DJ here played a song I had asked for! That’s what he was like! He was irrational, he was obsessive and jealous, and you know what else, he was addicted to violence? No, really he was. He got all edgy and jumpy when he hadn’t punched anyone for a while. He’d go all calm and weird afterwards. It was his drug!”
Jerry’s hand shot forward, gripping him by the front of his shirt. “Don’t you dare talk about him like that! He’s in the grave because of you!”
“I know, and I’m sorry for that, but he pushed me to it, he pushed me to it!” Danny shouted, begging Anthony to hear, to act, to get them the hell out of there.
“No, no,” Jerry was shaking his head wildly. “You chose to do it, that’s why they locked you up for so long! You didn’t just get in a fight with him and kill him by accident, you planned every part of it! You wrote letters to your friends, you took knives and you went over there with the intention of killing him!”
“Yes, I did, I did, because I snapped, I broke! I couldn’t take it anymore! I wasn’t thinking straight, I was off my head because of him, he did that to me! Why didn’t he leave me be? Once I’d left, why did he hunt me down like that? What did he tell you about that then eh?”
Jerry’s hand twisted into his shirt. “He told me he was worried about you. I told him he should forget about you, you weren’t worth it, but he cared about you for some stupid fucking reason! He thought you were with a bad crowd, into drugs, he wanted to bring you home.”
Danny laughed out loud, he could not help it. “That’s what he told you? That’s fucking brilliant! In with a bad crowd? I was with my friends, my friends who fucking helped me get away from him! I was safe! He should have left me alone! So it’s his fault too that he’s dead!”
“Don’t you fucking say that!” Jerry pulled him forward. “I’ll fucking annihilate you you little shit! How about another beating eh? This one for Jack?”
Danny struggled against his hands, holding onto them and trying to push the old man back, while all the time they were being watched by the two men in the corner. “Jack killed himself because he couldn’t live with the shame anymore!”
“He was another good man, ruined by you!”
“No, no, no, no no! He was a fucking dirty paedophile! My friends found out, he got in trouble when he was a copper, that’s why he had to quit! He even messed around with your own son, Dennis! Yeah, I know all about him! Don’t you even care about that?”
Jerry was silent, his thin lips screwed up so tightly they had all but disappeared into his face. His pale blue eyes raged into Danny’s, and Danny stared back, unsure what he could see there. Anger, hatred, uncertainty. “Dennis was into guys,” he finally snarled, looking like the words were choking him. “I cast him aside a long time ago, the useless sack of shit.”
“He wasn’t gay, you stupid old man,” Danny hissed back in disgust, “he was helpless and vulnerable. Lee caught Jack in the act, did you know that? Jack told me himself. Lee caught him messing with Dennis, and instead of knocking him out, or going to you, he lied and told you Dennis was gay. Then he used that power over Jack for years, getting him to do what he wanted because of what he knew. See you didn’t know your son much at all did you? He stood back and let his friend abuse his own brother!”
“Fucking shit!” Jerry spat into his face. “None of that is true!”
“It is true, Jack told me,” Danny argued back. “Lee helped him out every time he got himself in a mess with a boy. He scared off the kid who wanted to press charges against him. Then he called him down here when he couldn’t control me. He put him in that flat, he got him dealing drugs! Did you know that? It wasn’t Jaime Lawler I went to first, it was Jack. He’d give me stuff at his flat. Lee pretended he didn’t know, but he was behind all of it!”
“Get up!” Jerry roared then, wrenching his cigar from his own mouth and flinging it behind him. “Get the fuck up now!”
“You don’t like the truth, do you?” Danny cried, struggling to get to his feet, wrestling with the old mans hands. “He knew about Jack! He knew what he would do! He dealt me drugs and he touched me up every time I passed out! He admitted it to me! It’s the truth!”
“Lads, I think I’m ready for round two!” Jerry called over his shoulder. The men were quick on their feet, pounding purposefully across the floor towards them. Danny attempted to run, but Nick Groves was too fast, snatching his arms behind his back. He felt his phone slipping from his pocket.
“You can’t do this!” he cried out, as Jerry pushed his sleeves back up again and took up his stance. “I’ve given you the fucking money! I’ve said I’m sorry!”
“Not enough,” Jerry came towards him, and shook his head. “Now you stand here and tell vicious lies about my son!”
“It’s all true, it’s true, I wish I hadn’t killed him, but that’s why I did it!”
He heard his phone hit the floor. Jerry looked down at it, looked pensive for a moment, and then lifted his foot and stomped on it, sending little pieces of plastic scattering across the floor. He fixed his cold blue eyes on Danny. “He was my son. I loved that boy. You took his life. You took him away from me.”
“And you’ve got what you wanted,” Danny said desperately. “You’ve got the money, you’ve got your apology. I spent eight fucking years in prison!”
“And now you’re out. You’re out, you’re alive, you can start again, you can get married, have kids, grow old. You took all that away from Lee. Maybe I ought to take it all away from you.” He came at him, fists raised, like a professional, ducking and skipping, lashing out one fist at a time. Danny’s arms were pinned behind him by Groves. They were laughing. He tried to twist away, duck down or to the side, but the blows seemed to find him every time. He got a glimpse of his shattered phone on the floor. Anthony for fucks sake where are you? This is getting worse!