This is The Day:Chapters 52/53/54

52

Danny

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

53

Anthony

 

            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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

54

Danny

 

            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!

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This is The Day:Chapters 50/51

50

Anthony

 

 

            He got the text message from Michael at half past four.  Get away as soon as we can. It’s on for 6pm at the club.  Anthony  answered the text, and then stuffed his mobile phone into his back pocket.  The time worked well for him, he thought.  He was working a double shift, and wasn’t due to clock off until eight. If he feigned illness and got away before six o’clock, then there was a good chance the whole thing would be done and dusted by eight.  He would be able to return home on time.  He was hoping he would never have to lie to his wife again after tonight. 

After making several fake dashes to the toilet, Anthony claimed he had a bad stomach, and was promptly sent home.  No one wanted a chef with a dodgy tummy working in the restaurant.  He changed out of his grease stained work clothes, chucked them in the back of his car, and drove off.  He felt a nervous drumbeat throbbing through his body as he drove towards Redchurch.  It made him lick his lips and grasp the steering wheel tight enough to make his knuckles ache.

There was a part of him that felt wound up tight, and full of dread as he headed back to that place.  It was the part of him that felt like the scum of the earth for telling his wife so many lies.  It was the part of him that told him he should do as she asked, stay away from trouble, keep his nose out of it all.  But the other part of him was kicking his arse all the way along, again and again, bang, bang, bang, get a move on, get over there, get it started.  It was a part of him he had left behind a long time ago.  Remnants of the troublemaker he had once been.  He smiled recklessly to himself, as he drove back to the familiar territory.  He saw himself as a young teenager, giddy with his own swagger and balls.  He had been full of himself, with every good reason to be.  Michael had grown up with his eyes fixed upwards, emulating his older brother from the petty crimes, to the fights with boys after school. 

He’d thought he was the bees knees, hadn’t he?  Big and strong and handsome. Not afraid of anything or anyone.  The day he had laid his father out on the kitchen floor had been one of the best days of his life.  Michael had been hovering in the background.  No one was ever going to push them around again.  He hadn’t even been that bothered about going to prison the first time.  It had been on the cards for years.  There are only so many times the police and the courts can warn a young man to behave himself.  Maybe there had been a part of him that had wanted to go.  Another string to add to the bad boy bow.

That was the part of him that Chrissie did not know, or understand, Anthony reflected.  She had a distinct habit of talking over him, or changing the subject whenever a slice of the old him appeared in a conversation.  It’s okay, he sometimes wanted to tell her, I don’t want to go back to being that person, not ever, talking about it won’t change me back to him.  He could never quite get it through to her, that he had stopped being that person when he met Danny.  She had an irrational fear and suspicion of a man she had still not even met, and yet Anthony knew that boy had changed him more than anything, or anyone else had.  That she should be thanking him, not fearing him.

I wanted to help him, Anthony thought, swinging his car around the roundabout and following Barrack road, past the police station and the youth club, that’s when I changed. When I wanted to help him. Didn’t want to get in trouble anymore. Wanted to get him out of trouble. 

It had seemed so simple, at first.  Anthony recalled how he had revelled in his position as the older boy the younger ones could turn to.  He had relished the thought of getting his hands on Lee Howard.  That night in the garden, on Danny’s fourteenth, he had sent the boys inside the house and given it to Howard straight.  He had provided his most menacing stare, his blood-thirstiest grin.  With his friends behind him, he had sent that small eyed, thin lipped bastard packing.  Done.  He had clapped his hands, grinned smugly at his friends, looked forward to telling the boys not to worry.  How wrong he had been.

Anthony could still remember the feeling now.  Having the ground ripped out from under his feet.  The confusion.  The hammering at the door, the police swarming in violently, handcuffing him and dragging him outside in just his tracksuit trousers.  Horror and disbelief swamping his mind.  Seeing Michael and Billy skidding to a stop on their bikes outside, as he was shoved into a police car.  He smoked a bit of dope, but he did not deal.  It wasn’t fair.  He was set up.  He was fucked over.  No time to help Danny, or spend time with Mike, it was just all over. Back to prison.  He hadn’t done anything wrong.

Oh those months had dragged in misery.  He had been overwhelmed by his own sense of helplessness and self-pity.  How could he be back in prison again?  How could this happen?  How could he prove it was all wrong?  How could he get back out there and help Danny?  He couldn’t.  The realisation had led him into the first real depression of his entire life.  He couldn’t do anything.  All he could do was serve the time.  Bide his time.  Hope for the best. Grit his teeth.

Anthony approached the roundabout, narrowed his eyes at the desolate nightclub across the road, and turned left, and then left again.  He pulled into the car park of the Conservative club, overlooking the roundabout.  It was almost directly opposite Howler.  It was surrounded by a chain link fence, beyond which a row of neatly maintained conifer hedging further helped disguise his car.  He killed the engine and sat back, closing his eyes briefly, pressing them together and allowing himself a deep, steadying breath. 

Prison had changed him that time.  He had felt it, and he had known it whenever Michael looked into his eyes.  He was just as vulnerable as they were, and they all knew it.  He had been wrong about Lee Howard.  Anthony reached into the back then, retrieving his cigarettes and his mobile phone from the pockets of his chef whites.  He saw that he had missed a call from Lucy, but tucked the phone between his legs, while he lit himself a cigarette.  He smiled to himself wryly.  He had been trying to give up again, but if there was any time that called for a smoke, surely this was it? Into the dragons den, and all that, he mused, picking the phone back up and bringing up Lucy’s number. Before he called her, he gazed back out of the windscreen, at the glimpse of Howler he had through the bushes.  A sadness settled deep within him then, as he tried to imagine all the nights Danny must have spent there, collecting glasses and washing up.  Just a small boy in the palm of monsters.  He recalled the time Danny had shown up with a cut to his forehead, and fresh blood pumping from his nose and mouth, as usual just brushing it off as if it was nothing.  It was the night they had been getting ready to go to Chaos for the first time. He could still see Danny’s face, beaming with excitement, hopping around impatiently, while Anthony kicked the wall and longed to go and beat the shit out of Lee Howard, while at the same time realising that he had to hold back, he had to be smarter than that.

Danny had rolled his eyes, dismissing it, longing to get going, to get to the club that played his music. Anthony had let them go, watched them from the window, Michael with hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunched anxiously, while Danny bounded on ahead, laughing and shouting.  He’d watched them go, seething in disgust and rage, balling his hands into fists against the window pane.  What could he do?  He had just got back from prison.  He was terrified of getting sent back.  Howard could do it again, couldn’t he? What could he do?

That night, he had sat watching and listening as they dissected the amazing time they had had, and he could tell by their eyes that they had taken something.  He didn’t say anything until morning, and his fears had intensified overnight.  Smoking weed was one thing, but he didn’t want his little brother taking anything else.  He had felt utterly helpless, like a pointless gaping bystander, just hanging back and watching aghast as the lives of the two people he cared about most were put at risk.  In the end he had pulled Danny to one side and warned him never to give that shit to Michael again.  He hadn’t enjoyed it, first the look of fear that leapt into the boys eyes when he grabbed him, and then the instant flash of hurt, followed by anger and distrust. 

Anthony sighed, and looked away from the club. He tried not to picture who might be in there now, and why.  He rubbed his eyes awake, rolled his window down a little, and tapped his ash outside.  And then there was Michael and Lucy, dragging Danny back from the beach, a total wreck, so fucked and out of it he could barely stand.  Anthony recalled his dismay, his frustration, how could this be happening?  He’d thought again, what could he do?  Confront Howard again?  Go to the police?  Talk Danny into telling the police?  He even considered going to the boys mother.  It was only when Danny coughed up the name of his drug dealer, that Anthony started to form a loose plan in his mind. It had spiralled from there. 

He knew the Lawlers.  He could find Jaime and talk to him.  It was a start.  Yeah, he thought now, his finger still hovering over the call button to Lucy, it had been a start, the start of getting us all in even deeper. I should have gone to the fucking police.  I would have…but I was scared of going back to jail… He supposed he felt a lot like Danny did about it these days.  If he could go back and face himself at that age, he would shake himself by the shoulders, tell him to do the right thing.  Get the police involved, the social services, anything. Get Danny away from those men, and get those men locked up.  It didn’t seem like it was possible at the time.

He sighed, shook his head and pressed call.  Lucy answered almost instantly, as if she had been holding the phone right next to her ear.  “Anthony?” She sounded scared, he thought, and he didn’t blame her. “What’s going on?  The other two won’t answer their phones!”

“It’s okay, I just heard from Mike,” he told her gently. “He’s low on credit, so doesn’t want to use any up unless he has to.  Think Danny has his turned off for the moment.  He had a run in with that Haskell woman earlier, and she keeps phoning him.”

“Oh?  Why?  What happened?”

“She’s been involved from the start, didn’t Danny tell you yet?”

“Involved?  With what?  No, he didn’t!” Lucy sounded perilously close to tears, Anthony thought grimly.

“We only found out when I got hold of Jaime Lawler. He works for Howard too. Drug dealing again.  He told us Haskell has been on Howard’s side the whole time, letting him know where we all live and that. Probably posted some of those letters herself, who knows?”

“Bloody hell Anthony!” Lucy cried down the phone. 

“I know, I know.  Look, we’ll have to explain it all properly to you later darling. I’m parked opposite Howler at the moment.”

“What are you all going to do?”

“Hopefully nothing,” he told her honestly. “I’m just sat out here in case they need me.  Hopefully it will just be a chat, Lucy. They’ll just try and sort it all out.”

“But you can’t trust men like that!” she hissed desperately down the phone at him. 

“It’s alright” he tried to tell her.  “We have a plan.  It’s all sorted.  We’ll be okay Lucy, I promise you.”

“You can’t promise me that,” she replied tightly.  “None of you can. This is just like before, you three taking things into your own hands. It will all blow up in your faces if you’re not careful! Why don’t you just tell the police?”

“It’s not that simple Luce. Danny needs to speak to Howard.  He needs to put it behind him, and this will be the way.  He’s not going in alone.  Mike’s going in too, whether they like it or not.  I’m watching Lucy. I’ll call the cops the first sign of trouble I see, I promise.”

“I don’t want him to end up back in jail again.” Her voice was tiny now, cloaked in tears. “Like last time Anthony. What if it happens again?”

“No weapons,” Anthony assured her uselessly. “It won’t be like that. I promise.  It’s different.”

“I hope so,” Lucy told him and hung up the phone.  Anthony closed his eyes briefly, awash with fresh guilt.  Then he scrolled down the contacts on his phone.  He had added the number for the police station just minutes down the road.  In case we need it.  He glanced at the time.  Ten minutes to six.  He wrote a text to Michael and sent it; I’m here. Place looks dead from out here. Your end?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

51

Michael

 

We’re in the alley. Couple of cars parked close. Must be them. We’ll go in dead on 6. Michael hit send, then threw his head back against the head rest in his car, pushing a nervous hand stiffly through his hair.  “How you feeling?” he asked, with his eyes closed.  He heard Danny shifting on the passenger seat, and clearing his throat.

“Like something crawled into my stomach and died there.”

Michael laughed, opened his eyes and looked at him. “Yeah, you look kind of like that too!”

“Shut up.  Look at you.  I saw your hand shaking on the steering wheel on the drive over!”

Michael leaned towards him digging him in the side with an elbow.  Danny shoved him back, punched him in the arm.  There was a smattering of gentle, nervous laughter, and then they both fell silent again.  Michael checked the time on his phone.  Five minutes to go. 

“Feel a bit naked,” Danny croaked next to him.  He coughed, clearing his throat again, and drummed his fingers against the dashboard as he gazed out and up at the building to their left.  “Without a shit load of knives on me, I mean.” He looked at Michael again, a grin on his face, dread in his eyes.  Michael nodded sombrely.

“We’ve got Anthony.”

“I have a feeling I sense some pain heading my way,” Danny said, still grinning. Michael grunted.  He did not even want to think about it.

“You better turn your phone back on,” he said. “Get Anthony’s number up ready.”

Danny pulled out his phone, and Michael watched him pressing the buttons, and trying not to let the shake in his hand show too much.  He didn’t blame him one little bit.  He felt sick to his stomach with fear, and he didn’t have as many reasons as Danny did to be afraid.  But this was where it would all end, wasn’t it?  He had not yet grown tired of repeating this assurance inside his mind. It would all end here tonight, because Danny would talk to Jerry Howard.  Something would happen.  Michael still had no idea if Danny planned to agree to any of the old man’s terms, but he guessed it was better that way.  His job was just to be there. 

“Another four missed calls from Haskell,” Danny remarked beside him. Michael shook his head in disgust.

“Unbelievable. Why doesn’t she just crawl off and die?  I still can’t believe that hard nosed bitch.”

“What about what she said?” Danny looked at him, biting his lower lip.

“I wouldn’t believe a word that woman said, Danny. Not a word.  And even if it is true, if her mums’ fella’ abused her or whatever, why the fuck would that make her do what she did?” He lifted his hands in a gesture of frustration. “Why? I mean, if it’s true, then she should know how it feels, she shouldn’t be helping people like them!”

“She wanted to kill him, she said,” Danny replied, gazing down at the phone that lay in the palm of his hand. “She never had the guts.”

“So what?  Who cares?  Fuck her.  She screwed you over big time, mate, don’t forget that. We wouldn’t even need to be doing this if she hadn’t been helping that fucker in there, would we?”

He watched Danny consider it.  He felt the urge to roll down the window and spit out of it.  Just the sound of that woman’s name on his tongue made him feel queasy and on edge.  He had seen her on the pavement, clinging to Danny, whining and wailing.  What a performance! Michael did not buy a word of it.  “Don’t you go feeling sorry for her,” he warned Danny then, who looked back at him quickly with a frown. “I mean it mate.  I know what you’re like.  You’re already making up excuses for her in your head, aren’t you?”

“No, course not.”

“Yes you are. You’ve got that look in your eye. You feel sorry for her.”

“I do, in a way.”

“You don’t even know if it’s true,” Michael protested, twisting in the driver seat to face him properly. “It’s probably all bullshit about this man abusing her. Just another way for her to stick the knife in! She’s sick, that’s all it is Dan, she is sick. She just wanted a good juicy story, and she got that in the end didn’t she?”

“It would explain it, that’s all,” Danny shrugged, and looked back out of the window, closing his hand over his phone.  “Why she was so obsessed for years.”

“Whatever, just don’t you go feeling sorry for her, and when this is all over, don’t you bloody go anywhere near her. She’s poison.”

“I might not even be around here anyway,” came the distant reply.

“What are you saying?  What does that mean?” Michael asked him sharply.

“Got to think what to do for the best. For everyone.”

“You’re not gonna’ fucking let them chase you away.” Michael patted his arm, forcing him to turn to look at him. “Do you know, between us, Lawler and Haskell we have enough to go to the police? We could get Howard sent down. That’s what we need to focus on when tonight is over, depending on how it goes. We haven’t done anything wrong remember? We haven’t broken any laws.  They fucking have.”

“I know, I know.”

“Well then, don’t let me hear you talk like that. We don’t want scum like them winning Danny. We don’t want scum like them running the place!”

“Michael, it’s six o clock.”

“What?” Michael looked at his own phone.  He felt his stomach fall to his feet. “Oh fuck.”

He looked up, caught a glimpse of the abject misery on his friends face, and then watched him take a huge breath, before reaching for the handle and opening the car door. Michael opened his side, got out and closed the door quietly.  They both looked up at the building.  It had been painted a startling white out the front, with a neon blue sign that flashed on and off in the dark, Howler, but out the back it was the same drabby grey it had been back then. 

Michael came around to stand by Danny. He wanted to say something, but all he could think of was good luck, and that sounded terrible.  So he nudged him instead, and nodded at his phone.  Danny showed him that he had Anthony’s number up. Michael nodded, swallowing the hard lump that had formed in his throat. “Press call as soon as we see anyone,” he whispered, and then wondered why he was whispering, and why the hell he suddenly felt about fourteen years old again.

Danny nodded, placed the phone in his pocket and approached the back door.  There were three dirty steps. He stepped onto one, then reached out and pressed the buzzer to the right side of the door. His eyes flicked nervously back to Michael. Michael waited, one step behind him, not breathing.

He expected the buzzer to return with a voice, or a buzzing noise, but that did not happen.  Instead, they heard several locks being turned, or drawn back. They swapped looks again.  Michael shifted from one foot to the other, feeling the air leak out of his lungs. He told himself to snap out of it.  This was an old man they were dealing with. Lee Howard and Jack Freeman were dead and in the ground. But it was not the old man who answered the door.  It was the wide staring face of the man they now knew to be Nick Groves.

The man was taller than them by a good few inches, built like a wrestler, and with the steps between them, Michael suddenly felt even smaller and younger than he had before.  Nick Groves was dressed in a snappy grey suit, and he greeted them with a sneering smile that stretched out and up towards his small round ears.  His shaven head was huge and round, and reminded Michael of a bowling ball, gleaming upon his wide, square shoulders. “Evening lads,” came the gruff, yet pleasant greeting.  He sounded amused, Michael thought, staring at him.  Like he knew he was in for a fun night.  He held the door open for them, and Danny looked at him once, then made it up the steps, squeezing past Nick Groves into the dark and narrow hallway that was beyond.  Michael followed quickly, not wanting to lose him, afraid that the door would be slammed in his face.

But Nick Groves let him through, and Michael squeezed past the big man’s chest, as Danny had before him. Nick Groves slammed the door behind him, clapped his hands in delight, and when Michael turned to look at him, all he could see was that huge shining head rushing violently towards his, the man’s eyes sparkling with hunger.  Michael did not even have time to remove his hands from his pockets.  The head smashed into his, darkness exploded, and as he went down he fought to say the words, to urge Danny to act, press call Danny! Press call! Call!

This Is The Day:Chapters48/49

48

Lucy

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

49

Danny

 

            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.

“Pardon me?”

“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.”

“What?”

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!”

“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.”

“I’m 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.”

This Is The Day:Chapters 46/47

46

Danny

 

 

            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.

“Oh?”

“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.”

47

Michael

 

            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.”

“Fuck.”

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.