This is The Day:Chapters 44/45

44

Lucy

 

 

            She waited for him outside, at his request.  He said his mother was not feeling very well.  He said it in a slightly guarded, amused way, which suggested to Lucy that Kay had a hangover.  So she waited outside in her car, rubbing her hands together and fiddling with the heating, and unable to breathe for the fear bubbling and building inside of her.  She saw him come out of the block with his bag and his dog, and she had to look away, because it hurt too much.  She took deep breaths, sucking up the air and willing it to send calming signals to the rest of her body.

            He opened the door and climbed in beside her, with his bag and his dog on his lap, and an apprehensive look on his face.  The silence waited for one of them to speak.  For one of them to let the other one know everything was okay.  She wanted to let it be him.  They stared into eachothers eyes, until she felt her lips start to tremble and stretch.  She watched the amusement fill his eyes and wanted to hit him.  But it looked like someone had already done that.  “What’s so funny?” Lucy demanded suddenly, feigning anger, wondering if she ought to slap him across the face after all.

            Danny grinned, only it was a half grin, lopsided, and his eyes seemed to burn into hers.  Lucy wanted to grab his face and press her lips onto his.  She was suddenly and overwhelmingly reminded of her schoolgirl days.  Of watching him and wanting him from afar, of being too shy, too awkward to do anything about it.  Of lying on her bed scrawling into her diary, purging herself of the days wants and lusts, how he had brushed against her in the corridor, how their eyes had met twice across the classroom, that kind of thing.  Remembering made her want to hit him even more.

            “You,” he told her finally, pulling across his seat belt.  “Your face.  You look like you don’t know whether to hit me or what.”

            “Thought crossed my mind,” she replied wryly.  “But yet again it looks like someone has beaten me to it.  What happened?”

            “Same old story,” he said with a sigh, still grinning.  “I can tell you all about it if you want.  Lots to tell.”

            Lucy turned the key in the engine and started the car up.  “Well you better tell me then,” she said, not entirely sure how much of it she wanted to hear.  “I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna’ be a long day.”

            “You don’t mind?” he asked then, and she felt his hand on her arm.  She checked her mirrors, but did not pull out.

            “Mind?”

            “Me.  This.  I don’t deserve it really do I?”

            “I’ll let you off,” she smiled. “You’re a man.  You’re not the first to run off when a woman says she’s pregnant, and you won’t be the last I bet.”

            He sighed in relief, took his hand back.  “Okay.  Thanks. I don’t really know where to begin though.”

            “Who did that to you?”

            Danny nodded at her. “Good place to begin.  It was one of the guys who attacked me and Mike and Anthony in the pub?  He was a bit pissed off with me.  He was friends with Lee and Jack, and now they’re both dead.”

            Lucy stared at him open mouthed, before remembering to concentrate on her driving.  Luckily it was only a short drive back to her flat.  She hated driving when she was distracted, and the baby alone was enough of a distraction at the moment.  She had noticed her concentration skills had declined considerably, since the baby seemed to occupy every waking minute within her mind.  “Dead?”

            “Yeah, I only found out yesterday. Jack hung himself.  Did it to himself.  Though some might argue my mum had a bit of a hand in it.”

            Lucy shot him a quick look to register his expression.  He seemed incredibly calm, she thought, as if he had absorbed it all and come to terms with it somehow.  He looked back at the road, frowning through the windscreen. “You better explain,” she murmured, shaking her head, feeling lost with it all. Danny cleared his throat.  He could feel his eyes were on her, taking her in, watching her, but she had to watch the road.

            “She went to see him last week,” he said. “To have a go, or whatever.  To say her piece.  Then she tells him what else she did.  She put he’s a pervert all over the University message board, you know, and emails, phone calls, the lot.  Warning the students about him in the pub. The shit hit the fan and he topped himself.  With a sign saying ‘pervert’ hung around his neck, no less.”

            “Oh my God, Danny.”

            “I know.  I know.”

            “How do you feel about that?  I mean….Jesus Christ!”

            “I feel okay,” he shrugged beside her.  “He chose to do it didn’t he? Obviously he couldn’t live with himself anymore.  Mum only told the truth.  She let those kids know who he was, that’s all.”

            “Is she okay?”

            “She was hammered when I got there last night,” Danny replied with a small chuckle.  “A bit freaked out about it all, but she said she did it for me, she wanted to do something to make it up to me or whatever.  Fuck knows.  What a mess eh?”

            “I don’t even know what to say Danny.  I really don’t.”

            “Well it’s pretty much nearly all over, to be honest.”

            Lucy sucked in her breath. “How is it?”

            “Well I finished the interview with Caroline Haskell,” he paused for a moment, digging into his bag, and then waving a folder at her.  They caught eachothers eye accidentally then, and Lucy felt her stomach drop at the name of the woman.  “It’s all here.  Mum read it this morning.  You can have a look too, you know.  Because it’s pretty much the whole fucking story from beginning to end, you know, in case you wanna’ know…anyway,” he stuffed it back into the bag.  “So I’ve seen Dennis, Lee’s brother…and I’ve seen Freeman, God rest his soul, so now I’ve arranged to see the old man himself.  The puppet master!  The man behind all this loveliness.  I might get some answers, see.”

            “Are you sure you know what you are doing?” Lucy took the next left to her road and pulled up out the front.  “Won’t it be dangerous I mean?  What’re you going to say, or do?” 

            “It’s just the final piece,” he said, lifting and dropping his hands, as if he didn’t quite have the words to explain it.  Lucy turned the engine off.  She wanted to look at him but she was afraid to.  “I know what he wants from me.  I’m not sure if I’m gonna’ give it to him yet, I’ll see how things go.  But don’t worry. I’m taking Anthony and Mike with me, definitely.”

            Lucy could only manage a slight nod, as she stared at the steering wheel, and tugged the keys out of the ignition.  “Well, that’s good,” she said, uselessly.  She moved one hand without thinking, going for her stomach, the way she had grown accustomed to doing lately.  To hold the baby, to soothe it, to feel it there.  She stopped herself and sighed.  “Come on then,” she told him. “Let’s get the kettle on.”

            Danny followed her into the flat, with Kurt still in his arms.  Lucy filled the kettle silently, shooting a look his way, wondering what he was thinking, what he was doing here.  She grabbed two cups, watching him hanging about awkwardly, looking like he wanted to sit down, but was not brave enough to do it.  When the tea was made, she nodded to the lounge, and they went through.  Danny sat down and Kurt curled into a small ball on his knees.  Lucy wanted to laugh then.  “You and that bloody dog!” she said, with a smile, rolling her eyes. He narrowed his suspiciously.

            “What? You sound like my mum.”

            “You’re just surgically attached to each other, that’s all,” she shrugged, crossing one leg over the other, and self-consciously tugging her top down over her swelling belly.  “It’s all right, it’s sweet, it just makes me laugh, that’s all.”

            Danny smiled back, dropping a hand onto the little dog, who grunted and wriggled in appreciation.  “He’s getting so old now.  I’ve got to make the most of him haven’t I?”

            “It’s so sweet the way he remembered you,” Lucy sighed, settling back into the sofa with her tea between her hands.  “Amazing, really.”

            “Best present anyone ever gave me,” Danny looked at her and said. “My mum says I treat him like a baby.”

            Lucy felt her throat go dry.  She looked away from him, back down to the little dog.  “You do.  A bit.”

            A silence stretched out before them again.  Lucy bit at her lip, drank some tea, and had to pretend that it tasted nice, when for some reason it had gone back to tasting wrong.  She felt it gurgling unhappily in her knotted stomach, and wondered if morning sickness could come back when you thought you were past it.  She watched Danny drink his own tea, keeping one hand on Kurt the whole time.  She felt impatient suddenly then.   She didn’t want to hear about Caroline Haskell, or his mother, or Jack Freeman or any of those people.  She just wanted to know what he was doing here.  What did he want?

            “So you’re…” he looked at her briefly, frowned slightly, then glanced back down at Kurt, as if that were safer.  “You’re okay then?”

            “Yes. I’m okay,” she told him.  “I’m still pregnant.”

            “Oh.  Yes.  I know.”

            “Is that why you’re here?  Is that why you wanted to see me?”  Lucy stopped herself, biting her lip again and raising her cup to her mouth to sip more tea.  She told herself not to expect too much, not to hope for too much.  She saw him try to compose himself, but he just ended up looking confused.

            “Yeah,” he said finally, although he didn’t sound very sure to her.  “I mean, yeah, I wanted to see how you were.  And say sorry.”

            “Sorry for what?”

            “You know.  Running off.  Being a bastard.  Hitting the bottle.” He met her eyes again, grimaced sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. 

            “I didn’t exactly make things easy for you either,” Lucy told him.  “I hurt you a lot, and I didn’t mean to.  Then I go and spring an unwanted pregnancy on you.  I know you said you didn’t want kids…but there you go.  This is where we are.  I’m keeping the baby Danny.  I already love it, if that makes sense.  What you want to do, or not do, is entirely up to you.”  She leaned forward then, unable to tolerate the tea any longer, and placed it on the coffee table.  “I’m not going to put pressure on you, or expect anything of you.  I’m here if you want me, as a friend, as more, whatever.  That’s all I have to say really.”  She folded her arms across her middle, felt the rise of her belly, and flattened her hand against it; hold on baby, hold on, give him a chance.

            Danny exhaled loudly.  “Okay,” he said slowly, hesitantly.  “I’ll be honest too then.  I do want you.” He looked at her then, and she felt her heart beating faster already, her cheeks warming up.  “I never stopped wanting you.  It fucking killed me when you said all that stuff on the beach…I do kind of get it now, I mean, my mum tried to help me understand…and I sort of do, but I just wanted to be with you, you know?  Whatever happened.  I just wanted to give it a go and see what happened with us.  And I guess, what I’m worried about now, among a million other things obviously, is maybe you just want me back now because…of…you know, the baby?”

He was really finding it difficult to look at her now, Lucy could tell.  She sat further forward, so that their knees were side by side, just touching.

            “I just look like a twat, don’t I?” she said with a wry smile.  “But life has a funny way of ripping the ground out from under your feet, have you noticed that?  I stand by the reasons I wanted us to have a break.  I was worried about us.  I’ll probably always worry about us.  But nothing changed how much I love you, and nothing ever will, you know?” He nodded silently beside her.  “I did it because I wanted you to be sure.  I just wanted you to have some time to yourself.”

            “Lucy, I had plenty of time to myself in prison, didn’t you think of that?”

            “No…I mean, yes.  Oh I don’t know Danny,” Lucy groaned, dropping her forehead into one hand and turning her face to look at him.

            “It kept me going in there you know,” he went on. “Thinking of me and you together at last.  Then you were there to meet me, and I just thought, okay here we go.  A decent, normal life.  That’s all I want, you know.”

            “But can you see how that puts so much pressure on us?” she asked him. “Being together as kids, dealing with all that shit, that was one thing.  Then eight years apart.  I mean, I know we saw each other and wrote to each other, but I guess I always kind of thought you would get out, see me for a bit, and then realise what else you could have.  What else is out there.”

            Danny was looking at her in amazement, shaking his head incredulously. “Lucy, is your self-esteem really that low?  Because I always kind of thought you were really confident and together!  Do you really think like that?  Did you really think I’d get bored of you and move on?”

            “I just didn’t want to cling onto you,” she shrugged, desperate to explain. “I didn’t feel I had any claim on you, any right to be with you, just because we were together back then. I just felt you needed time to spread your wings, you know, take your time, instead of jumping straight into a serious relationship.”

            “Okay, okay,” Danny said then, suddenly turning towards her and grasping her hands with his own.  Lucy was shocked, both by his sudden movement, and by the feel of his skin pressing against hers.  She felt her fingers curling into his, responding to the touch, clinging on.  “Can we just take things slowly then?  Can we just sort of pretend we’ve just met or something then?  You know, go on dates and keep it all fun and casual, that sort of thing?”

            Lucy wanted to cry.  She looked down at his hands, over hers and felt fingers lacing through hers, holding on.  “But what about the baby?”

            “The same thing,” he said, nodding. “One step at a time.  Take it slowly.  I can get my head around it, I know I can.  I’ll do anything Lucy, I just want to be with you.”

            “But do you think you’ll ever want it Danny?” she had to ask.  There was nothing she wanted more than to fling her arms around his neck, and pull him close to her, and promise him the world.  But the baby.  The baby was more important than anything they felt.  She felt his hands loosen on hers and dismay filled her heart.

            “I’ll be honest,” he said, glancing down. “It scares the fucking shit out of me Lucy.  All of it does.  I know people say everyone is like that.  Mike says it.  Anthony says it.  But it’s like, how the hell would I know how to be a good dad Luce?  I barely even remember my own dad, that’s how much he thought of me, and as for…” he paused, running his tongue over his bottom lip, his eyes seemingly fixated on her middle.  Lucy did not want him to speak the name either.  The name that seemed to hang like a dark shadow over everything in their lives. 

            “You wouldn’t be like that,” she said, pulling one hand out from his and holding it gently to the side of his face.  She saw his eyes weaken, closing briefly, before jerking open to stare right into hers. She shook her head at him adamantly. “You would never be like him Danny.  You mustn’t think that.”

            “But people say that, don’t they? Like, people who are violent to their kids, it’s because their parents were violent to them?  It carries on, doesn’t it?”

            “It’s different Danny.  It’s not always true, for one thing. There are plenty of people out there who have suffered horrendous childhoods, and then managed to give their own kids perfect ones.  And also, that man wasn’t your parent, he didn’t bring you up.  He only had influence over you for a few years.  Before he came along you were kind and good and sweet, and you still are.  You still are.”

            “I just worry though, I just worry.  What if I can’t cope? What if I don’t like bond with it or whatever?  What if I resent it somehow?  Like he resented me?  What if I…what if I….” He trailed off again, lowering his head.  Lucy couldn’t help herself, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and pulled him close.  His forehead bumped against her collar bone, making her laugh and wince.

            “Just shut up you idiot,” she told him. “Do you think I would want to be with you, if I had any doubts about you like that? You’re gonna’ be the best bloody dad in the world, that’s what I know Danny, even if you don’t! I know it, and everyone else knows it, and you just have to give yourself a chance.”

            “Okay,” he was breathing into her neck.  “Okay then.”

            “You can come to the scan with me if you like.”

            “What?  When?”

            “Next week.  If you want to.  And look,” she grinned, blinking away the tears in her eyes, and pulled up her top to show him her rounded belly.  “Look how fast I’m growing!  I’m getting all fat!” She giggled as his eyes grew wider.

            “Bloodyhell Luce.”

            “I know, I know.  Weird isn’t it?”

            His hand snaked out towards her stomach, hovering above it unsurely, before resting featherlike upon it.  “Mental,” he said quietly. “An actual little person.”

            “Blows your mind really.”

            “How big is it?”

            “About the size of a potato.  It has all its legs and arms and everything.  It’s just a tiny little mini person.”

            “You’ll be an amazing mum,” he sighed. She had her hand on his shoulder, and moved it down to his lower back, rubbing back and forth.

            “Maybe we’ll all be amazing together.”

            He lifted his head, pressed his forehead onto hers, took in lungfuls of air and closed his eyes.  “I hope so Lucy.” He opened his eyes and looked right into hers, and she felt the warmth spreading down between her legs, the longing tingling down her arms, making her shudder.  “I’ll do my best, eh?”

            Lucy didn’t want to talk to him anymore.  What he had said was good enough for her.  It was good enough for now.  She closed her eyes, pressed her lips softly against his, and let him push her gently back down onto sofa, as a thousand sweet memories roared through her mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

45

Anthony

 

 

            Anthony was sat in the lounge, flicking through the TV channels, checking the time on his watch, and sporadically picking up his mobile phone to check it for messages.  The kids were in bed, presumably asleep.  He was waiting for his wife to come home from her ironing jobs.  He was waiting for her to take over, and he was waiting to tell her another lie.  He realised he had been doing that a lot lately, and it saddened him beyond belief, that it had all come to this.  It felt like he had two choices.  Tell her the truth, and lose her, risk losing the kids.  Or lie.  He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had not lied constantly.  He hadn’t needed to for a while.  His brother and Danny had done a good job of keeping him in the dark since the attack in the pub that day.  He had realised that they were, of course.  He wasn’t stupid.  He had known something was still going on, and that they were deliberately keeping him out of it.

Anthony drummed his fingers impatiently against the armrest, jerking his other arm up to look at the time again.  Half past seven.  She had said she would be no later than seven.  He had swapped with her at half four, coming in from the restaurant, brushing a kiss across her cheek in the hallway, before she nipped straight out of the door, yelling that dinner was in the oven.  He had fed the kids, let them watch TV while he cleared up, bathed them, read to them and tucked them into bed.  He blew his breath out loudly with frustration.  He was not looking forward to lying to her, especially because he had it all worked out, and somehow that made it feel worse, but he was looking forward to getting out of the house.  He was looking forward to getting stuck in.  Standing still was not in his nature. 

His phone beeped at him then.  A message.  He snatched it up from where it lay beside him on the sofa and looked at the screen.  Jaime. Anthony grimaced, and scratched the back of his head.  They had not been in contact for a few years now, but Anthony still considered him a friend, of sorts.  Not the sort of person he could ever bring home to meet the wife and kids, of course.  Imagine that! Chrissy could still barely disguise her distaste whenever she heard Danny’s name mentioned.  What would she think if he knew he was back in touch with another blast from the past?

Saving you a seat mate!

Anthony grinned and quickly typed back; still waiting for wife! Be there soon as. He heard the door then, her key turning in the lock, and he stuffed the phone into his pocket in a panic that made him feel stupid and childish.  He got to his feet as she walked in, immediately narrowing her eyes his way.  “Kids okay?”

“Yep,” he nodded. “I’ve got to go out!”

“But I’ve just got in!”

“Emergency,” he shrugged, heading for the hallway to grab his coat.  Chrissy let her own coat slip from her shoulders, hanging it up on the hook just as Anthony reached for his.  He glanced at her apologetically. “Workmate,” he explained, “in a right old state.  His missis has left him.”

“Hmm,” Chrissy had folded her arms in a disapproving fashion. But Anthony did not allow her any time to question or admonish him for leaving.  He kissed her cheek and left.  He imagined her seething in the hallway, as he headed down the street, shoving his hands into his pocket, exhaling breath into the cold air.  He had an appointment to keep.

            It felt like going back in time, Anthony realised vaguely, when he reached the old haunt and paid his money on the door.  He stood outside for just a moment, staring around at the street they had waited on so many times that year in the bed-sit.  Leaping about, impatiently queing up to get in.  He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, recalling how excitable Danny had always been, more than the rest of them, who would have been happy about a night out anywhere.  This place had been special to Danny, he knew.  He’d been overwhelmed at first, unable to really believe there was a club that played all the music he loved, and introduced him to even more.  Anthony remembered seeing it in his eyes, the burning desire for more.  He would leap up and down all night, his hair flying about, his eyes wild with excitement.

            Sighing and shaking his head, absorbing the time that had passed for all of them, Anthony ducked through the doors of Chaos, and took a look around for Jaime Lawler.  The dance floor was empty.  The club had not long opened.  A few groups were scattered here and there, some at the bar, some lounging around the poole table.  Anthony tried to place the name of the song that was playing, and the band. He tapped one foot without thinking, nodding along whatever happened to my rock and roll? But he failed, without even really trying.  He had not had time for music in the last eight years.

            It didn’t take him long to pick Jaime Lawler out, perched on a stool at the bar, though it had been a good two or three years since he had last seen him.  He was tall and thin, hunched over his pint, still dressed the same.  Tracksuit jacket, jeans and a baseball cap crammed down over his forehead. His slate grey eyes peered out suspiciously from under it, taking Anthony in and lifting a lazy hand in a half-hearted wave. “Alright then mate?” he called out. Anthony took up the stool next to him and they shook hands.  He felt Jaime’s grip tighten, and his eyes seemed to pierce through him suddenly, just before he let go and dropped his hand back to cradle his pint.

            “How you doing Jaime?” Anthony asked, nodding to catch the barmaids attention.  “Pint of Carlsberg please love,” he told her.  The girl had short bleached blonde hair and a pierced nose.  She smiled warmly at him, but Anthony was used to that.  If anything, the wedding band on his finger seemed to make the girls even friendlier. 

            “Not so bad, not so bad mate,” Jaime’s response was a tired one.  Anthony paid for his pint and looked him over.  Jaime was a few years older than him.  Anthony had been in the same school year as his younger brother Bradley.  Bradley had gone down the wife and kids route at a young age and stuck with it.  Jaime had gone down the crime and punishment route at an equally young age, the question was, was he still at it?  “Getting old, eh?” Jaime sat with his legs apart, one hand dangling, the other lifting the pint glass to his lips.  He grinned and cocked his head. Anthony nodded and smiled.

            “Looks that way,” he agreed sombrely. “Happens to us all.  Never really believed it would though, did we?”

            Jaime’s eyes moved down to the bar, he leant on it with one elbow and Anthony watched the way his eyes moved about quickly, taking everything in, tracking across the bar, to Anthony’s hand, to his clothes, down to his shoes and back again.  There was still something distinctly shifty about the man, he mused, drinking his beer.  “How’re the wife and kids?” he asked.  Anthony nodded again.

            “Good thanks, really good.  How about you?  Last time I bumped into you, you were still free and single.”

            “Ah that’s the only way I know,” Jaime met his eyes briefly, grinning widely, and Anthony noticed that he had two teeth missing now.  One on the top right, and one just below it.  His other teeth looked grey and in bad shape.  It made him look older, Anthony thought.  “There’s no woman out there would put up with me, and bloody kids, eh?  Not for me thanks.  My bloody nephews and nieces do my head in when I see ‘em.  How’s your brother?”

            “He’s not too bad,” said Anthony. “He’s trying to get back with his ex, the mother of his little boy?  I hope he does.  It would be good for him.”

            “Yeah, yeah, no doubt,” Jaime swivelled on his stool, still grinning, but looking around everywhere, jerking his eyes up every time someone came in, or moved.  He touched the rim of his baseball cap every now and again in an almost subconscious gesture.  “He’s staying out of trouble these days then?”

            “Yeah, pretty much,” Anthony sighed. “But trouble has a way of finding him.  Well, not so much him specifically, but Danny. He’s been staying with Mike.”

            Jaime’s eyes had a life of their own, Anthony thought, almost transfixed now by how quickly they moved around.  They met his, then jerked away, took in two young girls who skipped in arm and arm, back to the bar, down to his nearly finished pint, then down to his trainers. He sort of lifted and dropped his skinny shoulders in a series of uncomfortable shrugs. “Yeah, yeah, so how he is then? That what this is all about?  This little blast from the past eh?” He laughed, but it was more of a cackle, and again Anthony was reminded of someone much older than Jaime was, and suddenly he could see him as a wrinkled old man, hunched and thin, with tobacco stained fingers and a gappy smile. 

            “Yeah, basically,” Anthony said, deciding it was time to cut the small talk and get down to business. “I asked for your help once before, you remember?”

            Jaime nodded, his grey eyes thinning to wary slits. “I remember.”

            “Because of Mike and Danny, because I cared about them.” Anthony drank some beer, and tried to catch Jaime’s eyes and hold them still.  “Here I am, at it again, all these years later.  You didn’t mind me contacting you?  I mean, you were the only person I could think of that still lives round there, that might know anything.”

            “Oh I know things, I know things alright,” Jaime had put his empty glass down on the bar.  He searched inside his jacket and brought out a packet of tobacco, which he set up on the bar to roll a cigarette.  Anthony swallowed nervously.  He watched him, waiting, wanting to urge him on, but not wanting to interrupt him.  His messages to Jaime had gone unanswered at first, and he had wondered if he had the wrong number for him.  A search via Friends Reunited had linked him back up with Bradley, the family man, who had confirmed that the mobile number Anthony had for Jaime was correct.  He had phoned him not long after. 

            “Anything useful?” Anthony urged him after what felt like an age.  Jaime rolled his cigarette into a neat white tube and tucked a roach into one end.  He did all of this without looking at Anthony once. Anthony picked up his pint and drank three mouthfuls, put it down, and scratched his head impatiently.  Jaime put away his tobacco pouch, dragged a lighter from his other inside pocket and lit his roll-up.  Anthony found himself wondering if the man was doing it on purpose, because he had something really juicy, and was dragging the moment out in anticipation for it, or was he just extremely reluctant about sharing what he knew?

            Jaime dragged heavily on his roll-up, his thin lips pursing tightly around the end, the skin around them wrinkling heavily.  He exhaled deeply, let his eyes drift back to meet Anthony, and Anthony had a flashback then, back to that horrible ghastly moment in the pub he had worked in.  When he had sat just like this, face to face, hunched forward to catch Jaime’s hushed tones, to hear what a dirty bastard Jack Freeman really was.  He remembered how his stomach had rolled over, how he had wanted to puke, and run from the pub to find Michael and Danny, to drag them home and keep them safe.  “You know Freeman is dead?” Jaime said finally.  Anthony nodded quickly.  “You know he topped himself in his own bleeding pub?”

            “Yes.”

            “He didn’t actually own that pub, he just managed it.”

            “Hey?” Anthony frowned, felt the urge to shake his head and blink, not understanding.  Jaime reached for the bar, dragged an ashtray forwards and tapped his roll-up against the edge.  “I had my suspicions few years ago to be honest,” Jaime went on. “But what did it matter to me?  Never saw you and Mike round that way for obvious reasons.  Danny boy locked up inside.” Jaime shrugged at him, elbow on bar and cigarette dangling over the edge between his long fingers. “But I found out since you called me, started sniffing around a bit more.  Jerry Howard bought both places, K and The White Horse.”

            “Let me get this straight,” Anthony leaned towards him. “When Lee Howard died, he left half of the club to Freeman, and half to Danny’s mum, or so she says.  So what, did Freeman and Danny’s mum both sell their halves to Jerry?

            Jaime shrugged and nodded at the same time. “Look all I know is, Freeman had his fingers in both pies, but you only ever saw him at the White Horse, lording it up.  A guy called Nick Groves manages K’s, or Howler it’s called now, and has done since Howard died.”

            “So Jerry owns both?” Anthony asked, still not understanding. “What, Lee left his club to his wife and his dad? Why did she and Freeman think he owned half of it?  Oh Christ, this is confusing.”

            “Because Jerry wanted to stay in the background, that’s why, can’t you work it out?” Jaime rolled his eyes under the brim of his cap and tapped his roll up at the ashtray again.  “Come on, you ain’t silly Anthony mate.  Danny’s mum wouldn’t have cared who she sold to, she just wanted shot, and wanted the money.  Done.  Freeman wanted Danny to think he had half and sold it to buy the Horse, because that hides who really owns it all, doesn’t it?  Jerry.  Jerry Howard owns both places, and he had Freeman managing one, and Groves in the other, and let me tell you something else mate, if you think all the dodgy shit and drug dealing died with Howard, you’d be fucking wrong too.”

            Anthony sat back, overwhelmed.  He blinked a few times, looked at his pint dumbly and felt the urge to order a shot of something stronger.  “Bloodyhell.”

            “Yeah, so when old pervy Jack started whinging and whining saying he had fuck all to do with screwing Danny over, he was lying mate.  He was in on it from the start because he fucking had to be.  Because just like Lee owned his bollocks back then, Jerry owned them now.  Well till he topped himself anyway.  Wise fucking move that was.”

            “Who is this Groves fellow?”

            “Oh you’ve met him mate,” Jaime tipped his head back, almost gloating out at Anthony from under his cap.  “You met him in Old Inne, didn’t you?  Big shaven haired bastard.”

            “That guy?” Anthony was appalled.  “Fuck! He said he was a mate of Lee’s.  He attacked Danny again, you know, after Freeman killed himself.”

            “Yeah, and how much do you want to bet it’s been him and Freeman, and fuck knows who else, running around smashing all you people’s windows in, sending hate mail and all that shit?  Watching you all mate, that’s what.” Jaime looked grim for a moment, his eyes shooting around the place again, as he leaned towards Anthony and lowered his voice.  “They been watching you all for years, I reckon.  Waiting for Danny boy to get released.  They knew he’d head back to you lot.  They been keeping tabs on where you all live and work, so they could fire all this shit at you as soon as you took him in.”

            “But why?” Anthony lifted his hands in exasperation and dropped them dismally down into his lap.  “Why for fuck’s sake?  Danny did what he did, he paid for it, it was eight fucking years ago!  I don’t get why they would carry it all on.”

            “It’s obvious,” Jaime shrugged at him, a sneer on his thin lips.  “Lee was Jerry’s precious son.  The other one was a retard right?  The mother died after the funeral.  Jerry was left with no one thanks to Danny.  He wanted him to pay.”

            “But he did pay! He went to jail for eight years!”

            “But he’s still alive,” Jaime reminded him with another thin shrug.  “He’s out, he’s alive, he’s got friends and family who care about him, right? And he’s got money in the bank.  Lee Howard’s money.”

            “That’s what he wants,” Anthony nodded, lips tight, teeth clenched. “He told Freeman and Freeman told Kay.  He wants all the money back, he wants Danny to apologise, and he wants him to leave here and go away.”

            “You reckon he’s gonna’ do any of that?”

            “I don’t know,” Anthony sighed, shaking his head.  “But I know he’s arranged to see him next week.  He phoned him and put it into place.”

            “Well he’s fucking crazy if he goes anywhere near that man,” Jaime shook his head, sucked hard on his roll-up and crushed the butt into the ashtray.  “I’ve heard stories about him mate.  Stuff that would make your toes curl.  You think Lee was evil and twisted?  How the fuck do you think he got that way?”

            “I don’t even want to think about it,” Anthony breathed, rubbing the heel of one hand into his eye.  He dropped his hand then and looked blankly at Jaime. “How do you know all this?  Didn’t they know you gave Danny the coke he took before he killed Howard?”

            “Nah, that never came out,” Jaime touched his cap, crossed his ankles together and leaned back again on his stool, resting his back on the bar behind.  “I kind of got myself roped back into things again, you know.  That way.”

            “You mean dealing?” Anthony lowered his voice to a whisper.  He didn’t know why it surprised him, because it was obvious that people like Jaime Lawler were too far gone to ever change.  But it did, for some reason.  Jaime gave a brief, guarded nod.  “Back that way?” Anthony questioned. “For them?” Another quick nod.  Anthony breathed in and out slowly, and stared around at the club, which was slowly starting to fill up.  A line of customers clustered along the bar, trying to get the single barmaids attention.  The music had gone up a level.  This time he knew the name of the band, Primal Scream, one of his favourites from back then, and a group of highly excitable teenage girls were already bopping about in the middle of the dance floor, screaming out the lyrics as if their lives depended on them; I’m movin’ on up now! Yeah, out of the darkness! My light shines on, my light shines on…

            “It’s all I fucking know, right?” Jaime snapped beside him then. “I got no fucking qualifications or experience.  I got dragged back into it, so what?  Probably worth your while I did, eh?  Kept my nose to the ground for you.”

            “You’re doing a brave thing right now then,” Anthony met his eyes squarely and told him.  He watched the thin man quiver slightly, and his lips worked nervously over his broken teeth.  “Meeting me here.”

            “Well you’re a mate,” the reply came quickly, defensively, but Anthony could see the fear and the doubt working itself up in his eyes.  “Danny was a mate.  And I always felt bad, you know.”

            “About what?”

            “About fucking everything,” the man groaned, rubbing at his eyes with his hand.  “About Freeman putting me onto him when he was just a kid.  Getting him into all sorts of shit.  Knowing what a sadistic bastard his step-dad was.  I was never brave enough to say or do anything, was I?  Just kept my nose out of it, I did, just minded my own fucking business I did.  Turns my stomach now, you know.  And that night…” he paused, shaking his head from side to side, whistling out a slow stream of breath, his grey eyes zooming around the club.  “That fucking night….he called me.   I should have said no, because he made it pretty obvious what he was gonna’ do.”

            “Did he?”

            “Oh yeah.  He took the stuff and said not to tell anyone, and the last thing he said was he was gonna’ fight back, and when I asked how, he said ‘you’ll see’.  He didn’t wanna be in that position anymore, you know, did he?  That evil bastard tracking him down all the time.  I didn’t blame him.” Jaime shrugged, his face shut down now, his eyes small and tired.  “I thought, fuck it, let him fight back if he wants, who was I to stop him?  I left him to it.  Then the next day…”

            “I know,” Anthony stood up then.  He didn’t think he could bear to be in Jaime’s company a moment longer, it was all so depressing.  “But you can’t blame yourself Jaime.  In some ways we all played a part.  The thing is now to sort all this out, so Danny can live a normal life.”

            “You’re gonna’ go with him?”

            “Yeah, me and Mike.”

            “There’s something else you should know.”

            “What?”

            “That reporter bird?” Jaime raised his eyebrows expectantly as Anthony nodded in confusion.  “She’s in on it too.”

            “What?”

            “Yeah.  Jerry’s been using her too. Or she’s been using him, whatever. He let her know how to find you all, how to find Danny to get her story.  She’s part of it Anthony.  I’m not really sure how or why, but she is.  She’s on the payroll.”

            Anthony stood next to the bar in dumb amazement, the information rolling over him in waves of bewilderment.  He covered his mouth with one hand for a moment, trying to take it all in.  “Okay,” he said finally, meeting Jaime’s eye. “Thank you Jaime.  You be careful, yeah?”

            “Always careful,” was the unsure reply.  Anthony nodded and patted him on the shoulder.

            “I better go.”

            “Call me if you need me.”

            “Thanks.  Thanks Jaime.” Anthony hurried out of the club, his mind swimming.  He got out into the sunshine, brushed back his hair and stared up at the buildings around him.  Their own old bed-sit was just around the corner.  Anthony ran his tongue over his dry lips, as he felt shivers spiralling down his spine.  Looking over their shoulders, that was how they had lived there for a year, wasn’t it?  Trying to get on with things, attempting something close to a normal life, but in reality they had all lived with one eye trained over their shoulders.  He had felt like their guardian, in more ways than one.  Shepherding them in and out of the building, watching out for trouble, staring into the shadows. He pulled out his phone and stared at it for a moment, thinking who should he call first, Danny or Michael?

This Is The Day:Chapter 43

43

Danny

 

 

                        “Why’d you need to see her anyway?” Michael asked, when he dropped Danny over at Kay’s block of flats.  Danny climbed out of the car with Kurt under one arm, and an overnight bag in his other hand.  He had packed some spare clothes, his cigarettes, and Caroline Haskell’s article. He peered back in and offered Michael a lazy grin he hoped would reassure him.  But Michael was on edge, close to freaking out, his hands gripping and ungripping the steering wheel the whole time during the drive over.

            “Last time I saw her I was pretty vicious to her,” he explained. “We didn’t get a proper chance to talk about Freeman.  Now seems a good as time as any.”

            “And Lucy?”

            “Yeah, she text back. She’s getting me in the morning.”

            Danny watched a little relief creep back into his friends eyes. “You’re gonna’ talk to her?” he asked. “About the baby and everything?”

            “Yep,” Danny nodded at him. “Course I am. See you later Mike.”

            He closed the door and headed on up to his mothers flat.  She answered the door with a glass of wine in her hand, and rolled her eyes when he raised his eyebrows at her.  “Don’t say a word young man,” she warned him, holding the door open for him. “You are hardly one to talk about alcohol consumption.”

            “I wasn’t gonna’ say a thing.”

            Kay closed the door and frowned disapprovingly down at Kurt, as ever, running in little circles around Danny’s feet, pawing and wriggling, until Danny gave in and stooped down to pick him up.  “You treat him like a baby you know,” Kay remarked, wine glass at mouth. Danny just sighed and carried Kurt through to the living room.  He dumped his bag on the floor and collapsed onto the sofa with Kurt on his lap.  He watched his mother swaying into the room.  She was wearing her trademark tight blue jeans, vest top and long cardigan combination.  She was so thin, she had the body of a child, he thought looking at her then.  Had she been that thin eight years ago?  He didn’t think so. She looked at him, still frowning, one arm across her middle, the other hand clasping the wine glass, and he looked back at her, and he thought who the hell are we?  What the hell are we doing?

            “Do you want a drink?” she asked him, waving her glass.  He could see that she was drunk, but it didn’t bother him.  Like she had already pointed out, who was he to criticise?  “I mean, tea, coffee? Something stronger?”

            “Have you got any beer?”

            “No.”

            “Okay I’ll have a glass of what you’re having then.” He looked at her and smiled hopefully.  Her frown intensified.

            “Why are you being so nice?” she questioned. “What’s all this about? Last time I saw you you were vile to me, which is fair enough.  Then I hear you’ve been vile to Lucy too.  The woman carrying your child! Oh yes, I know all about it young man! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

            Danny grimaced.  He should have known she would start in on all of that, when drunk.  She wouldn’t hold back for anyone when she’d had one too many.  He guessed they had that in common at least. “It’s alright,” he told her, because he did not want to have that conversation with her yet. “I’ve sorted it, so you can stop freaking out. She’s picking me up from here in the morning, okay?  We’re gonna’ talk.”

            “Well I should think so too!” she retorted, still not making any move to get him a drink. “You don’t have any idea how scary, how isolating it is being on your own and pregnant!  I’ve been there remember! It’s horrible Danny. You shouldn’t be doing that to her.  She’s a lovely, normal, sweet girl, and it takes two to tango young man, it’s not just her fault there’s a baby on the way!”

            “Yeah, I know all that mother, I know, that’s why I’m seeing her tomorrow like I just said.”

            “A baby!” she gasped then, as if she had only just realised for the first time that a pregnant girl meant an actual baby at some point.  She placed a hand on her chest, just below her neck, and closed her eyes briefly, a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.  “A grandchild Danny!  Do you know I will be a grandmother! Do you know how excited I actually am?”

            “Are you?”

            She shook her head in dismay at him, crossed the room quickly and leant towards him on the sofa.  Tilting her head to one side, she reached out and cupped his chin with one hand. “Oh you silly boy!” she scolded him playfully. “Of course I am! Obviously I am worried about you both, well you mostly, because Lucy is so terribly sensible and lovely…but you, you’ll be okay won’t you?  Won’t you?  Oh Danny,” she went down to her knees then, to his surprise, right in front of him, with one hand still holding his chin, and the other holding the wine glass precariously close to his knees. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, it’s so lovely, you a daddy! Oh Danny, I know you’re scared, and I understand, I was fucking terrified expecting you and John!”  He said nothing, curiously watching her carefully lower her glass to the floor and place it on the carpet.  She clamped her other hand down on his knee and looked right into his eyes.  She was hammered.  “But you’re gonna’ be fine, you are, you really are, you have to believe that!  You’ll be wonderful, you’ll be amazing, you’ll be just fine darling.  And imagine! Imagine! How beautiful is this baby going to be?”  She was smiling now, this huge dopey drunk smile all over her face, and he couldn’t help but smile back at it.  Her eyes, exact replicas of his, were glistening with hope and love and drink.  “Imagine how beautiful! Lucy, oh, so pretty, so pretty, and you! Do you know when you were a baby, people would actually stop me in the street to tell me how beautiful you were?  Really they did.  Complete strangers. On a daily basis.  Did I ever tell you that?”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “Oh well that’s because I’m a useless mother and always have been!” she rocked her head back and laughed out loud at herself. “I probably didn’t want to let you get big-headed, but they did! I lost count of the times people would look at you and say miss, he is the cutest little boy I have ever seen.  They did, they really did.  Do you know, people used to tell me to watch you closely?  Because you might get stolen?  Really, really they did.  Like someone would see you and just have to have you and would just steal you away when I wasn’t looking.”

            Danny laughed at her.  “Is that right?”

            “It is, it is. And they were right.  You were like that.  You were that kind of child.  Like something out of heaven.  Like an angel.”

            “Except I didn’t behave like one,” he joked, finally lifting his hand and dropping it awkwardly onto hers.  He felt the shock vibrate through her small body, and the surprise and the hope and the hurt showed on her face, intensifying her frown, as she clenched harder at his knee.

            “You were just full of life, that’s all,” she told him, her smile fading. “I see that now.  That’s how it should be anyway.  Little kids.  They should be like that, full of life and hope.”

            “Mum how drunk are you?  How much have you had?”

            Kay smiled wryly, looking away as she pulled back, and then used his knee to push herself back to her feet.  “It’s the weekend,” she shrugged, heading to the kitchen. “I’m allowed. I’ll get you that drink.”

            Danny waited for her to come back.  He grimaced at the sound of her clattering around the small kitchen, and took a deep breath before she returned.  He felt touched by her enthusiastic descriptions of him as a child, and her doe eyed look when talking about Lucy and the baby.  The baby. It still made him shiver when he thought it, when he tried to picture it.  He knew he could not even begin to try to explain to his mother how he felt about it all.  He did not even know himself.  One moment it filled him with nothing short of horror, for so many reasons.  It took his breath away, made him feel sick, made him feel like running.  And then every now and again it would feel okay.  It would feel like something he could actually deal with on some level.  One step at a time, maybe. Slowly and surely.  But it was Lucy, it was thinking of Lucy, and waking up in the night craving her arms around him like a physical sickness, it was that which shook him the most.  He was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.  More than he had thought possible.  It made him grin every time he thought of it.  He knew she had every right to slap him across the face, and he didn’t even care if she did.  He just wanted to see her.  He just wanted to talk it out.  See where it went.

            Kay returned with a glass of wine for him, and her own glass refilled.  She sashayed across the room and dropped onto the sofa beside him, emitting a huge dramatic sigh, and placing a hand on top of Kurts head for a stroke. “He is kind of cute really,” she mused, scratching his ears.  “You always went on about having a dog when you were a kid. I always said no.  Didn’t Lucy buy him for you?”

            “For my sixteenth,” Danny nodded. “Best present I ever had.”

            “She’s a good girl,” Kay was nodding too. “We’ve had our words, you know, and God knows I deserved them, but I’ve got a lot of respect for that girl, Danny.  She’s strong and she’s true.  I like her a lot.”

            “Mum,” Danny shifted slightly so that he could look at her.  She frowned, already knowing that the conversation was about to take a darker turn.  He paused for a moment, wondering if this was the right time, wondering if maybe they should just have a drink together, talk about Lucy and the baby, about hope.  But as he paused, she moved forward suddenly, grabbing his face again, harder this time, turning it to the side and gasping.

            “What’ve you done there?  What’s that?”

            Danny sighed.  No going back now.  “I got attacked again,” he told her softly, pulling away from her hand.  “Earlier today.  Outside the flat.”

            “What?” she gasped, her hand covering her mouth. “By who?  Why?”

            “You know why,” he shrugged. “It was one of the guys from the pub that time.  Big bald guy.  He said he was a friend of Lee’s, and Jack’s.  He said Jack was dead, mum.”

            Kay looked away from him abruptly.  He watched her mouth drop shut, her jaw tighten, her eyes widen.  Then she put one hand over her mouth, dropped her head forward, and squeezed her eyes shut.  Danny sat forward, put his glass down, and reached for her knee.  “Mum?”  She was shaking her head now, as she opened her eyes and stared at him, her bottom lip trembling.

            “The laptop,” she gasped, raising a shaking hand and gesturing toward the kitchen.  “The computer.  I sent these emails you see!”

            “What?  That he’s dead?  What’d you mean?”

            She got up, strode urgently towards the kitchen, and returned carrying her laptop, which was open.  She sat beside him and pushed it roughly onto his knees, nodding at the screen.  “It’s been going all day,” she was mumbling, “I kept checking when I was at work.  The University, the message board I wrote on and everything. Look!”

            Danny had no idea what she was talking about.  He stared at the laptop screen which was logged onto the Bournemouth University website.  She leaned over and scrolled down the screen for him, and then he could see what she meant.  The page was full of comments, all from students at the University.  The subject was about Jack Freeman, landlord at the White Horse and whether or not he was dead.  Danny narrowed his eyes and moved his face closer to the screen.  The last comment was from someone called Phil Robson and it read ; there’s no proof he was a peado, so why don’t you let the poor guy RIP, before you start believing any shit on the internet, you stupid cunts.  Danny looked at the comment below.  A girl called Emily Sutch had written; he was in the paper yrs ago actually, my Nan told me, she lives round here. He was accused of molesting young boys and supplying them with drugs. You can find the info online if you don’t believe me. The comment below hers, Nancy Mills ; always thought he was creepy! Def an alkie too, he reeked, sorry but he did. The one below that was from Phil Robson again; hate the way people believe everything they read! One minute sum nutter comes on here saying he’s a paedo, the next thing the guy is dead! Wait til there is any proof before you start slagging him off!  Danny felt his heart beating faster and harder as he scrolled further down, running his eyes rapidly over the hundreds of comments students had written on the page. Tom Atkinson; he had a sign round his neck saying ‘pervert’ apparently!

            Danny had read enough.  He closed the laptop and looked at his mother.  She was sitting with her hands pressed against her eyes.  “What happened mum?  What did you do?”

            Kay let her hands drift unsurely down to her lap.  She seemed to try to compose herself, clasping her hands together between her knees, shaking back her hair and blinking away the tears he saw shining in her eyes.  “You know I went to see him last week?” she said, and then sucked in a huge breath.  “Last Friday.”

            “Yes, I know.  He told you what Jerry Howard wants.”

            “I had a bit if a pop at him while I was there,” she went on, “I had a go at him.”

            “That’s no worse than what I did the week before,” Danny pointed out, sliding the laptop down to the floor and picking his wine back up.

            “I know, I know, but I did something else before I went to see him,” Kay explained, finding her own glass and snatching it back up.  “And then before I left I told him, I told him what I’d done to him.”

            “And what had you done?” Danny questioned, although he now had a pretty good idea.  Kay shrugged, shook her hair back again and looked away at him defiantly. 

            “Went on their University page and told them all what he was. I even phoned up the guy at their Student union, to warn them not to go in his pub. Told them the truth.”

            Danny found himself sinking slowly back into the sofa, drinking his wine and leaning his head on his hand.  “Oh mother,” he murmured.  “Why did you do it?”

            “Why not?” she shrugged again.  “He got away scot free, like you said.  Out of everything, he got a pub, he got a life, he never got punished!  I wanted to put that right, for you! I wanted to ruin his life, like he helped ruin yours!”

            “It’s fine,” Danny said, shrugging his shoulders and wondering what else he could possibly say about it.  “Just don’t say you did it for me, alright?  I didn’t need you to.”

            “Well I needed to!  I needed to do something!” Kay argued back, her voice shrill.  “I didn’t do much to protect you back then, I wanted to do something now!  I wanted to make him pay!”

            “Well you did that, didn’t you?” Danny yawned, as she trembled and raged beside him.  He watched her smoothing her hair down, shoving it viciously back behind her ears.  Her cheeks had risen in colour, and he guessed it would not be too long before she passed out.  “The man is dead.”

            “Well that was up to him, wasn’t it?” Kay snapped, crossing one arm protectively across her middle.  “I didn’t do it, I didn’t make him!  They’re saying he hung himself with his own belt, upstairs at the pub.  With a sign around his neck saying pervert.  Well at least he died telling the truth for once.  I might even respect him a bit for that.”

            Danny laughed then.  He could not help himself.  He looked at her and laughed, and she stared back at him in horror.  “What else am I supposed to?”

            “You find all this funny?”

            “Not really.  No funnier than I find anything these days.  It’s just the way you said it, that’s all.  Maybe I’m trying to relieve the tension or something.”

            “Well he’s dead anyway,” Kay waved a hand at him and drank another mouthful of wine.  “It’s not my fault.  I did what I had to do, and if he wanted to die, that’s his fault, not mine.  The world is a better place without him, eh?”  She looked at Danny then, and he could see it in her eyes, that she had done it for him, that it meant more to her than he would ever know.  She wanted him to say it was okay, she wanted him to know what she had tried to do.  So he nodded, and then reached out and patted her leg twice.

            “We got rid of one each,” he joked, knowing full well it was in bad taste but unable to help himself.  “We’ve got something in common now, haven’t we?”

            “Oh Danny, don’t say that,” she sighed and fell back beside him, wiping one hand slowly back through her hair.  “This is all such a mess.  Such a mess.”

            “Listen,” he said. “You did what you had to do.  He deserved it, you’re right.  Who’s to know he wasn’t still at it anyway?  You know?  You reckon he never messed around with anyone again after me?  ‘Cause I fucking don’t.  People like that don’t change mum.  Not ever.  I bet there are loads of messed up kids out there that had suffered at his hands, one way or another.”

            “Like from the drugs he pushed,” Kay said, turning her face to look at him. “He could have still been doing that, couldn’t he?”

            Danny nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”  He felt her lean against him, her wine held loosely between her legs.  He knew what they were doing, trying to justify it, trying to reassure themselves that he deserved it.  “Don’t worry about it mum,” he told her.  “He made his choice.  You didn’t do it.  You didn’t kill him, he killed himself.  And those Uni kids had a right to know.”

            He felt her sigh heavily beside him.  She lifted her glass again.  “I’m just glad you’re not angry with me,” she said.

            “Nah.  It would have all got out in a while anyway, because the article is written.  I’ve got it with me, look.”  Remembering it for the first time since he had arrived, Danny eased himself forward to dig around in his overnight bag.  He brought out the plastic folder and passed it to Kay.  “She gave it to me today.  She’s got some bidding war apparently, with all the papers?  Think of that hey?”

            Kay looked at the folder on her lap.  “Oh gosh.”

            “So there you go.  His name is in there.  I didn’t hold back. It’s all in there.”

            “Have you read it?”

            “Yeah.”

            “And?”

            “It’s good.  I mean, she’s a good writer.  She did a good job.” Danny looked at the folder, as his mum flipped open the cover and ran a finger over the title page.  Kids That Kill.  She had told him she was planning on a whole series of stories now that she had covered his.  She wanted to go up and down the country, around the world even, talking to people who had killed as kids.  She wanted to know why, she had said, why they had done it, who they had killed and why. 

            “I don’t know if I can read it Danny.”          

            “You don’t have to,” he shrugged, rummaging then in his pocket for his cigarettes. 

            “But I should shouldn’t I?”  She closed the folder and held it tightly to her chest.  “Like you said, it’s all in there.”

            “Yeah, but you don’t have to.”

            “I will,” she glanced down at it and nodded.  “I think I owe it to you.  And I think you were incredibly brave doing it.  Do you know you are the bravest person I have ever known?”

            Danny made a noise in his throat, dismissing her claims.  She shook her head at him adamantly.  You won’t think that when you’ve read it, he thought to himself, looking at her shining eyes, you won’t think that when you read what a coward I was, not telling anyone, hiding it from you, running away.  “I’ll read it tomorrow,” he heard her saying.  She had rolled up the file and placed it to one side of the sofa.  “When I’m in a better state of mind.  Did she pay you, by the way?  Because if it gets published, she’ll stand to make a lot of money from it.”

            “We had a deal,” Danny replied, thinking distastefully of the piece of paper he still had in his pocket.  The address where he would find Jerry Howard, the man who wanted him gone.  The address, and the phone number.  “She helped me find Dennis and Jack.  And now Jerry.”

            “So you’re going to see him next?” questioned Kay, linking her arm through his.  He nodded in reply.  “When?  Not alone?”

            “Not alone, no.  I don’t know when.”

            “And what about the things he wants?  What Jack told me?”

            “I don’t know,” Danny told her, and this was the truth.  He had no idea whether he was going to do the things Jerry wanted.  He had decided not to think about it until he was in the moment.  Take it one step at a time.  What was the point in trying to make decisions until he knew what he was faced with?  “I’ll deal with it when it comes,” he said. 

            “I could come with you.”

            Danny thought about this.  So far he only imagined him and Michael going to see Jerry Howard, and he didn’t even know if this would be realistic.  What if Howard only agreed to seeing him alone?  He would have to go along with it, wouldn’t he?  He patted his mum on the hand, feeling her grow heavier beside him, as if she was slowly slipping away.  “I’ll let you know,” he told her gently. 

            “You let me know…” his mother murmured against him.  “I’ll come with you…I’ll sort it out for you darling, I will….I’ll make it up to you.”

            “Don’t be stupid,” he told her, rolling his eyes.  “Don’t start all that.”

            “Got so much to make up for,” she went on, lifting her glass slowly to her lips and sipping at the last mouthful. “That’s the last thing I think when I fall asleep at night, you know?  And the first thing that hits me in the head every morning. How badly I let you down.  How bloody stupid and blind I was.  How you went through it all alone.”  He felt her hiss then, turned to look at her and saw she was sobbing quietly into her fingers. “I’m useless…useless…don’t know how you can stand to be around me.”

            “Let’s not do this,” Danny told her gently, slipping his arm hesitantly around her shoulders.  “There’s no point mum.  We’ve all got to just move on somehow.”

            “The baby,” she said then, pulling back so that she could look into his face again.  Tears were sliding down her face. “It will bring us all together.  I will make it up to you that way.  I will be the best grandma in the world, if you and Lucy let me!”

            “Stop being so daft,” Danny shook his head at her, wanting the conversation to end.  She lolled back into him, done in by the wine, finished off by the week she had endured.  He felt her yawn widely against his shoulder.  Her own thin shoulders were still shaking softly, jerking in time with her steadying tears.  He found himself sat there, staring at the wall, staring at the floor, waiting for her to fall asleep, hoping she had run out of things to cry about.  He glanced briefly at the folder next to her on the sofa.  He wondered what she would really make of it.  There were things in there he had never told her, things she didn’t know.  But maybe reading it would help her too, he reasoned, like it had helped him.  He viewed the article now with a mixture of cold distain and morbid curiosity.  Had telling it helped him get rid of it?  He closed his eyes and wondered if it was possible that his head felt clearer, and that his heart felt lighter.  He pondered the meeting with Jerry Howard and experienced a strange sense of calmness about it.  He had a feeling that all would become clear, that everything he had ever wondered about, everything that had ever tortured him about Lee Howard would all become known to him.

            Hearing his mother start to snore softly beside him, Danny took a breath and pulled out his phone.  He had added Jerry Howard’s number to his contact list.  He decided it was time to give him a call.

This Is The Day:Chapter 42

42

Lucy

 

As she lay in the bath, surrounded by a ridiculous amount of lavender scented bubbles, Lucy could not help but smile at how different her weekends had become.  At one time Friday and Saturday nights had always meant wine.  Either at home, or out with friends, or colleagues from work.  Sometimes Carl from upstairs would invite her up to join him.  He had a girlfriend now, she remembered.  A small shy looking girl named Tara.  She guessed that his weekend nights had changed as well.

Where once there would have been a large glass of wine, placed next to her head was half a cup of tea.  It had probably gone cold now, but she hadn’t really been enjoying it anyway.  As she had told Michael earlier, the sickness part was easing off now, but there were still certain foods and drinks she couldn’t enjoy like she used to.  Coffee was a complete no no.  Marmite was another one.  Toast was okay if plain and nearly cold, otherwise it would feel like it was clogging up her throat, making her want to gag. Chocolate didn’t taste the same anymore either.

She reached up with her big toe and pushed the hot tap until it came on.  A boiling flow of water spurted out and she dunked her foot back under the water to avoid being scalded.  She closed her eyes, feeling her entire body relaxing and unwinding muscle by muscle as the hot water swirled slowly around the bath.  Music was playing in the bedroom, turned up so she could hear it in the bath.  She had gone for The Stone Roses, which she knew was probably a mistake, going by how sensitive and emotional she had been since discovering she was pregnant.  Every song would only serve to remind her of Danny, and all the music he had shared with her back when they were kids.  It had been like a religion to him hadn’t it? He had always reminded her of one of those church going fanatics, the type that are always trying to convert you, and get you to feel what they feel, and see what they see.  He had been like that about music.  She could still hear him now.  This is good, this is so good, you have to listen to this, you just have to, your life will not be complete or worth living if you don’t listen to this. And he’d always been right, hadn’t he?  From The Smiths to Bob Dylan, from Nirvana to The Stone Roses, he had converted her easily every time, and he reminded her of an addict, always searching, hunting for more. Coming back from the record shop, beaming brightly, having discovered Cream, Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart.

They had spent so many hours like that, just listening to music, not talking.  Lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.  She would rest her cheek against his chest and listen to his heart beating there.  She would feel the shivers go down her spine when a certain lyric, timed with just the right guitar riff or drumbeat seemed to fill the room, the emotion of it lifting them up above it all, taking them somewhere else entirely.  Sometimes she would lift her head to look at him, and see this almost serene look on his face, eyes closed, smile huge and dopey, like one of those people in church, praising their lord, believing in it completely.

Her hands wandered slowly towards her stomach and she shivered again now.  It was a combination of the music and the memories, and the thought of the life whirling around inside her.  Sometimes it was all too much.  The thought of the baby both frightened and enthralled her.  It sent jolts of fear through her body, and turned her stomach upside down every time she thought of it, but at the same time, she could not stop her hands going to it.  It was a comforting urge she had.  She would wake up in the morning with her hands cupped around her belly.

There was something nice about that, she thought now, sliding her palms across her stomach, feeling the way it had popped out, creating a neat little pot belly.  She was never alone now, she had realised recently.  Wherever she was, whatever she was doing, there was someone else with her, all the time.  When she went to sleep at night, the baby was there with her, and when she woke up in the morning, the baby was still there, and she was starting to get used to it.  She was starting to feel excited. There were times when worry and guilt ruled her day of course.  She had not told anyone at school yet, and that whole scenario could keep her awake at night if she thought about it enough. She was seventeen weeks or there abouts, according to her doctor, and she was definitely starting to show. What would people at school say? What would they think, and what would they ask her?  Sometimes she felt so tired she wondered how on earth she would cope once it was born.  If it was this exhausting being pregnant, how would it feel to never get any sleep?

There were times when she just sat with her head in her hands and cried.  At first she had admonished herself for this, finding herself weak and silly for sobbing.  Be strong, she had wanted to tell herself, you can do this, you can do anything.  But now she wasn’t so hard on herself.  The sole book she owned on pregnancy informed her that carrying a baby sends your hormones into overdrive.  She allowed herself tears when she needed them. She would look at her book and sob at the pictures of loving couples, the father placing his hands over the woman’s swollen belly.  Sometimes she would feel so lonely it was impossible to bear, and then she would phone her mother.

She felt calm today though.  It was Saturday night. No school until Monday.  She could lie in and laze about to her hearts content.  Her mother wanted to take her shopping tomorrow at some point.  You need to start buying things, she kept telling her, or at least start looking at things.  By things, Lucy presumed her mother meant cots, and prams and nappies and clothes, and the thought of these things always made her want to giggle.  She would suddenly and inexplicably feel far too childish to be having a baby, and the thought of browsing through baby vests and moses cots, just made her want to burst into hysterical laughter.

Then she would inevitably think of Danny, and wonder, if things were different, would he be finding those things funny too?  Would he be placing his hands on her growing belly like the men in her book?  Would he be helping to think of names, and guessing if it is a girl or a boy?  Normally such thoughts would bring the tears to her eyes at once, but today, she felt different.

There had been his text message earlier.  It had been such a surprise, such a nice shock.  It hadn’t sounded angry, had it?  She had read and re read it a dozen times since it had arrived.  We need to talk. That was a good thing, wasn’t it?  It meant the news had finally sunk in for him, one way or another.  It meant he was sober, and thinking clearly again.  It meant he wanted to talk.  She had sent a message back asking what time and where, but he had not yet replied to this.  She had been fighting the urge to prompt him for three hours now.

Her hands laced upon her stomach and she wondered how long it would be until she first felt the baby kick.  She had started to feel something, just a fluttering, a sort of whirling, swooshing movement inside her.  She felt it more when she was like this, totally relaxed in the warm bath water.  It made her smile.  Even if she had just had the shittiest, most exhausting day, that strange floating feeling in her tummy, like little butterflies stretching their wings, it made her smile.  It made her feel better. Hello, she would mouth silently to the baby, giggling in embarrassment, is that you?

Maybe she would let her mother take her shopping tomorrow.  She was going to need new clothes soon enough.  Everything was getting too tight now.  Maybe they could go clothes shopping, and then just take a little peek at the baby section?  Just a tiny little peek.  She smiled and giggled at the thought, imagining her mother would probably get ridiculously excited once face to face with rows of tiny baby pink and baby blue outfits.   I wonder what you are… she started to ponder, when suddenly she heard her phone go off.  She sat up violently in the bath, jerking to a sitting position so quickly that she forced a wave of water out onto the floor.

Lucy told herself not to rush, not to panic, not to be so silly, but she could barely stop herself from leaping out of the bath.  She stepped out, hurriedly wrapped herself in a towel and trudged quickly through to the bedroom where she had left her phone.  She found it on the bed and picked it up.  It was Danny and her hand flew her to her mouth.  I’m stayin at mums 2night- any chance u cud pick me up in morn?  Her breath caught in her throat as she impatiently typed in her reply; of course I can, any time? She held the phone tightly in both hands, holding her breath, willing it to respond. She thought of the baby inside her right now, and she wanted to tell it that maybe everything was going to be okay, just maybe, maybe.  Just as she sat slowly down on the edge of the bed, the phone beeped and vibrated again; any time 2 suit u. I cud come back 2 yours or something. Lots 2 tell u. Mostly I’ve been a twat and I’m sorry.

Lucy laughed out loud as she burst into tears, and held the mobile phone up to her mouth, squeezing her eyes tightly in relief, as hot tears rolled down her cheeks. It was the same words he had said to her the day they had shared their first proper kiss.  How had he remembered, after all this time?  Or was it just a coincidence?  They had stood in Michael and Anthony’s lounge, she remembered.  Girl From Mars by Ash had been playing on the stereo.  He had said those exact words to her, and she had repeated them back to him.  Because they had both been twats, she grinned now, hadn’t they? Her for freaking out when he didn’t show up at the beach one time, and him for pushing her away after that. She found the small curve of her belly with her other hand and kept it there, reassuring the baby.  Don’t be silly, she text back, I’ve been a twat and I’m sorry 2. lol. C u tomoro xx She almost thought twice about the kisses, but then told herself, fuck it, I do love him, so fuck it, let him know.

Moments later the phone beeped again;

XXX

This Is The Day:Chapters 40/41

40

Michael

 

 

“No change really,” he relayed to Lucy, who reported back that she was now past the morning sickness stage, and her trousers were starting to get too tight.  “Just lies on the sofa all day smoking.”

“Drinking?”

“Nah, not really.  Not since that weekend.”

A sigh followed on her end of the phone, and it made Michael wince, because  it was one of the saddest noises he had ever heard.  “He’s not said anything about me?” She always asked him this.  Every phone call was identical to the last. “About the baby?”

“Not really, Lucy,” Michael would tell her reluctantly. “He’s not really saying anything darling.  Not to anyone.”

“Could be some sort of breakdown….”

“His mum says that.  But I think he’ll be alright.”

“Alright then,” she would sigh again.  “Keep in touch.”

Hanging up the phone, Michael paused in the hallway, hands in pockets.  It had been a week since Danny’s weekend bender had enabled him to finish his interview with Caroline Haskell.  In some ways Michael could well understand him needing to get drunk to do it.  Going over the past like that, while treacherous things reared their heads in the present, was like raking over old wounds, digging up scars and letting the blood run fresh.  He looked at his friend now, sprawled on the sofa, eyes closed, arms crossed over his chest while Kurt snored on his legs.  It had done him in, one way or another, that much was obvious.

Michael thought back to the night Caroline Haskell had called him to help get Danny home from the pub.  He had arrived urgently, to find his friend could not walk.  Tony had held the door open, finding it hard to look Michael in the eye. He and Caroline dragged Danny home together.  She had helped them up to the flat, tucked a piece of paper into Danny’s pocket, kissed him on the forehead and left.  Michael had covered him with a blanket and gone to bed, only to wake hours later to the sound of vomit splashing into the toilet bowl.

Danny had remained pretty much the same since then.  On the sofa.  In his own head, not reaching out to anyone.  He sometimes took out the piece of paper Caroline Haskell had left for him and stared at it silently.  Michael guessed it was the final address; the location of Jerry Howard.  Michael could not blame him for taking his time with it.  It was the final piece of the puzzle, he mused.  Meeting with the man who had helped create the monster who had tortured him.  Michael looked at him now and could barely begin to comprehend how it must feel for him.  He didn’t blame him one bit for the bender that had led to this.  He could not imagine how he would have raked over the past for Haskell any other way. 

The past, that was one thing.  A place of fear and despair.  Then there were eight lost years, eight years! Michael still had trouble coming to terms with that.  Eight years, eight years older, all of them.  He sometimes found himself wondering what that must do to someone.  To go into a place basically a child, and to come back out a grown man, having missed everything in between.

His phone started ringing again, and as he searched his pocket for it, he glanced back at Danny, whose eyes opened momentarily at the sound of the ringing phone.  It was Anthony.  “Hey, you okay?”

“Fine, how is he?”

“The same.  Glued to the sofa and listening to Neil Young.”

“Oh right.  What’s the plan though?  When are you going to see Jerry Howard?  I want to come.”

“I don’t know,” Michael sighed. “No plan yet.  I’m still trying to get him to speak, or whatever.”

“What about Lucy?”

“I just spoke to her.  She’s doing fine.  She’s thinking about coming over to see him, but she doesn’t know if it’ll make things worse or better.”

“Worth a try,” said Anthony. “She could be the one he opens up to. Any more bother?”

“Nothing,” Michael shrugged, as he wandered slowly up and down the hallway. “Fuck all.”

“Well that’s something. And what about the precious article then?  Has Haskell done it?  Has she let him seen it or what?”

Michael turned around when he reached the door, and walked back up towards the lounge again. “No idea,” he told Anthony. “I’ve not heard a thing and he won’t switch his phone on half the time.”

Anthony wished him luck and hung up.  Michael released his breath and slid his phone back into his pocket.  He stayed like that for a few moments, hands in pockets in the hallway, staring in at Danny on the sofa.  He thought for the hundredth time, what shall I do?  What can I do? I don’t know what to do.  Just like back then.  I don’t know what to do to help. His fisst clenched slowly within his pockets.  He remembered easily the extent of his rage and frustration as a boy, knowing what was happening to his friend, seeing the evidence on a daily basis, and not knowing what the fuck to do.  At one point it had seemed so simple.  Anthony.  His older brother. Always so self-assured, so steely and tough.  Anthony would be out of prison and he would sort it out.  He would send Lee Howard running for the hills. Michael had believed in this passionately, unwaveringly, savouring the day when it finally came.  It had been such a shock to discover he was wrong.  That Anthony was really just a hapless kid like them, that anyone could rip the ground from under their feet and change everything, ruin everything.  The morning he had returned home from camping out, to see his brother being hauled from the house in handcuffs, remained a powerful image in his mind. For so long he had stared up at his older brother, regarding him as something untouchable, unshakeable, almost God-like.  That day he had seen a scared kid, terrified of going back to prison, shocked to the core that someone had set him up.

Anthony had never been the same since, Michael knew it.  He had returned from prison a year later.  Everything had changed.  Freeman and Howard were in control, holding the strings tightly in their greedy hands.  Danny had been lost to him.  Just a ghostly figure that flitted in and out of the background, trying to remain unseen, trying to shield the rest of them from the same fate.  Michael had never experienced such helpless anger.  He ranted and raged and pestered the Headteacher at the school, and then the police, begging people to check on Danny, begging the adults to believe him.  There was never anything he could do. 

There’s got to be something I can do.

“What are you staring at Mike?” Danny’s voice rose sleepily from the sofa.  Michael sighed and came forward.  He saw Danny had his blanket pulled right up to his nose, such was the coldness of the flat. 

“You, you idiot.”

“What for?”

“Trying to figure out what to do, that’s all,” Michael dropped into the armchair, crossing one leg over the other and tapping his palms against the armrests. 

“Mmm?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed, thumping the armrests. “No one knows.  See? Useless, I fucking am.  Some fucking friend.” He nodded seriously as Danny opened his eyes and turned his head to stare at him.  “Yeah, that’s right.  Some fucking friend I am.  Couldn’t do a thing to help you back then, and still can’t do a fucking thing now.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Danny told him.  “It’s not even your problem.  You have to learn to let go sometimes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Michael questioned angrily. “Let go of you?”

“I mean, let go of feeling responsible.  Forget about thinking it’s your fault you can’t do anything.”

“You have to let us help you Danny,” Michael said then, sitting forward with urgency, and planting his elbows on his knees. “I mean it mate, you have to let us, all of us, otherwise they have all won, you know?  They’ll have won!” Danny’s brow creased at him in reply.  “Can’t you see?” Michael persisted. “Back then, Howard and Freeman, they wanted you isolated.  They wanted us gone.  You and your mum, driven apart.  Anthony in jail.  Lucy fucks off ‘cause they’ve got you off your head the whole time, you see?  You see?  And look at us now Danny, look at us now!” Michael looked to his friend for a response, but Danny merely shifted under his blanket and closed his eyes again.  “It’s happened again,” Michael told him.  “You and your mum, Anthony pushed out, you and Lucy not talking even though she’s carrying your fucking child! Now you’re even pushing me out.  You’re letting them win! You’re letting them get you all alone yet again!”

Danny’s eyes snapped open and he pushed himself aggressively up on one elbow to glare back at Michael.  “I know what the old man wants alright?  I know.  That’s what I’ve been trying to get my head around.  My mum told me.”

Michael stared at him silently.  “What?  What did she tell you?  How does she know?”

“She went to see Jack.  Last night, a week after we did.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Danny shrugged at him.  “Must have been on her mind, or whatever.  She phoned and told me what he told her.  What Jerry Howard wants.  And this,” he paused as he dug urgently into his pocket, before pulling his hand back out and holding up the piece of paper Michael had watched Caroline Haskell give him a week earlier.  “This! This is his fucking phone number! So it’s all fucking here Mike, it’s all right here, all I have to do is phone him up and arrange to meet him!”

“Alright, alright,” Michael held up his hands. “Calm down.  Let’s talk then.  Fuck all this silence.  Tell me then.”

Danny sunk back down onto the sofa, his hands and the piece of paper disappearing under the blanket.  He pressed the side of his head against the sofa and exhaled loudly.  “Oh Mike..for fucks sake.”

“Are you gonna’ tell me, or am I gonna’ get that fucking piece of paper off you and go and find Howard myself?” Michael had risen to his feet, glaring down at Danny, letting him know he was serious.

“I’ll tell you,” came the surly reply from the sofa.  Michael nodded firmly and sat back down.

“Come on then.”

Danny brought a hand back out and dropped his forehead to it.  “Christ’s sake,” he muttered, rubbing his hand into his eye.  “You’re such a fucking pain in the arse, such a fucking nosy dick!”

“Whatever, come on!”

“Alright!” Danny dropped his hand and faced Michael, his blue eyes flashing with anger.  “Alright.  He wants all the money back, all Lee’s fucking money, all the money my mum gave me, he wants it all back, that’s one! He wants me to move away from here, from all of you.  And he wants me to say sorry.”

Michael felt his jaw fall open.  He stared back at Danny, wrinkling his nose in confusion as the enormity of it, the sheer audacity washed over him.  And then he started to shake his head from side to side, his fingers clawing into the ragged armrests of the chair.  “You have got to be fucking joking.”

“No,” Danny replied dully, looking away again. “I’m not.  That’s what he told her.”

“Why didn’t he tell us that? When we saw him?”

“Don’t know,” Danny shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t know then.  I don’t know.  Maybe he was waiting. Fuck knows Mike.”

“What’s the phone number Dan?”

“It doesn’t matter right now.”

“Yes it does fucking matter!” Michael exploded, unable to stop himself leaping to his feet again.  He snatched the pack of cigarettes from the coffee table and pulled two out, flinging one at Danny, and sticking one between his lips.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” Danny corrected him, swinging his feet to the floor and sitting up to light his cigarette. “I’ve got to take my time.  Figure out what to do and how to do it first.”

“Okay, okay,” Michael liked the sound of that.  At least Danny wasn’t just going to do nothing.  He sat back down, smoking his cigarette, letting the calm creep slowly back through him.  “Anthony keeps phoning.  He wants in.  Whatever we do.  He won’t hear otherwise mate.”

Danny shrugged. “Okay.”

“Cool.  And what about Haskell?  Any word?  She’s had a good week to write her blasted article hasn’t she?”

“She wants to meet up,” Danny sighed. “She’s done the first draft apparently.  Wants to see what I think of it.”

“You should meet her,” said Michael.  “That woman’s like a leech you know, she good as sucked you dry doing that interview.  Do you even remember what you told her in the end?”

“I think I just told her everything,” Danny sighed again through his teeth, sucked on his cigarette and slumped back into the sofa.  “No point hiding anything or glossing it over. Just got it all out there, you know?  It was like throwing it all up for her.  It was disgusting.”

Michael watched him staring forlornly down at his own lap, and he felt the urge to get up again, slap him on the back and tell him to cheer up.  “But you did it,” he reminded him.  “That bit’s over.  You’ve ruled out Dennis and Jack.  You can close the door on those two. It’s just that one.  That one, and what he wants from you.”

“I know,” Danny said, slowly peeling himself away from the sofa, and standing up.  Michael watched him sway slightly, as if his legs had momentarily forgotten how to hold him up.  He yawned and stretched out his limbs, before walking stiffly around the sofa and heading to the window.

“My God,” Michael looked after him and smiled. “It can move.  It can leave the sofa. Jesus Christ, I thought you’d forgotten how.”

Danny leaned wearily against the wall by the window and stared down at the street below.  “Ha ha,” he replied.

“Hey maybe we ought to get ourselves out in training, you know?” Michael got up and joined him at the window.  “Start running or lifting weights or something?”

“Why?” Danny frowned at him.

“To kick their arses!” Michael laughed, nudging him.  “Show them we’re not little scrawny kids any more! Bloody Howard, he’s an old man isn’t he?  What’s he really gonna’ do or say when you me and Anthony show up?”

“He won’t be alone.”

Michael remembered the men in the pub that night and nodded.  “Well we’ll be ready.  One way or another.”

“I shouldn’t have done it you know.”

Michael stared at him, taken back.  “What?”

“I shouldn’t have done it Mike.”

“Done what?  What are you talking about?”

Danny was staring at the glass, not through it, as Michael had first thought, but just at it, just right at the glass, his blue eyes fixed there.  He held his cigarette in one hand, and seemed to have forgotten about it.  Michael glanced at the ash growing longer and longer before finally dropping off and landing on the windowsill.  “Killed him,” he whispered, barely moving his lips enough to let the words out.

Michael moved closer, watching his face, hearing the words and not understanding any of it.  “What do you mean?” he asked again.  “Why are you saying that?”

“Because I shouldn’t have done it,” Danny repeated, his eyes glassy. “I’ve been thinking about it non-stop, since finishing the interview.  Thought about nothing else.”

“You didn’t have a choice mate,” Michael said in confusion. “Remember what he did to you that night?  What he would have kept doing?”

“I had no right.”

“What?”

“I had no right to kill him Mike. I like to try and make out I had no choice, and I snapped, and I didn’t know what I was doing.  But there is more to it than that.  I had no right to do it.  I had no right to take his life, despite everything he had done.”

“Danny, don’t talk like that, you didn’t deserve what he did to you, you tried to get away, you…”

Danny smiled softly then, blinked and turned to look at Michael.  “You’re a good friend, and you’re always on my side Mike.  But I can’t help the way I feel.  I do wish I hadn’t done it.  If I could go back and see myself then I would tell myself to just run, run far far away, change my name, anything.  Or go to the police.  Go to the police and show them what he’d done.  Anything.  I wish I could go back Mike.  I wish I could grab hold of myself and look into my own eyes and say stop, just stop.  Don’t do it.  You’re gonna’ wreck the whole of your life and it will never be over no matter how much you think it will.”  He sighed massively and looked expectantly at his cigarette, which had gone out.

“You really feel like that?” Michael asked him.  He didn’t know what else to ask him, what else to say.  Danny nodded.

“Yep,” he said, turning slowly away from the window.  “I really do.”

“So what’re you gonna’ do?”

“Gonna’ try to make it right,” he called back.  “One way or another.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41

Danny

 

 

                        Thinking.  He had never done so much thinking in his entire life, he thought, after he had left the flat and started walking.  He had used the alcohol to get it all out for Caroline, to spew it all up as he had explained to Michael, and that was exactly how it had felt.  Part vomiting up distasteful things he had buried for nearly a decade, and part ripping off a plaster to reveal the rotting flesh underneath, not healed after all, but still weeping, still there. 

            He hadn’t done much thinking back then, he remembered.  In fact he had done everything he could to avoid thinking too much.  Drinking, smoking pot, doing speed and coke, and other things, anything, anything to feel numb, to feel nothing.  That was how he had survived, that was how he had got through each day.  Prison had been similar, but without the drink and narcotics to help.  He had simply buried himself, he realised now, although at the time, keeping his head down and pushing it all away had merely seemed a useful survival tactic.

Now he considered that throwing it all up like that for Caroline, had maybe done him some good.  It hadn’t exactly felt that way at the time of course.  It had felt nothing short of vile.  He had needed the alcohol to force himself back there each time, to prise the memories from the grip of his mind.  He had needed the drink to stop caring, to stop feeling, and just let it all flow from him in a mindless babble.  He could just about remember what he had told Caroline before he had passed out.  It wasn’t hard to remember when it hurt so much.  He had told her everything.  He hadn’t missed out a thing.

And now, undeniably, he was starting to realise, that his head felt clearer.  He walked down the alley way and pulled out his phone, punched in her number and listened to it ring.  She picked up on the second ring.  “Danny?” She sounded alarmed and concerned.

“Hi can you meet me?  You said you had the article done and I’d like to read it.”

There was a pause.  He thought he heard something in the background, some noises, or voices?  “Hang on, where are you?”

“Just left home.  Can you meet me?”

“Yeah, give me twenty minutes.  At the pub?”

“Yeah, okay.”

She hung up and he brought up another number.  Lucy.  Just seeing her name there like that, was like a punch to the gut, taking all the wind out of him.  He sucked in his breath, and typed out the message he had been thinking about for weeks.  Hi.  We need to talk. His thumb hovered over the send button, his guts turning over inside of him.  He pressed send, took a deep breath and put his phone away again.

Inside the pub, he smiled gingerly at Tony and ordered a pint. “You’re not setting up camp again are you mate?” the man asked him, looking worried.  Danny grinned and shook his head.

“No mate, I promise.  Just one, then I’m off.”

“Alright then.”

He took his pint to the corner and sipped it patiently, waiting for her to turn up.  He had been back to some dark places to satisfy her thirst for answers, he had retraced all the steps for her.  He hoped she was going to be worth it.  His phone vibrated with a message just as the doors pushed open in the corner, revealing a flushed faced Caroline Haskell, flicking back her loose blonde hair as she marched into the pub.  Danny waved to her and dug out his phone.  I know.  When and where?  I miss you. He pushed it away again and offered Caroline a weak smile. “You were quick.”

“Was in a taxi anyway,” she shrugged, sitting down.  “Just made him do a diversion.  How are you?”

“Fine thanks, fine.  Better.  Better than I was.”

“Last time I saw you, I left you comatose on the sofa.  Dead to the world you were.  Bet you had a hell of a hangover the next day.”  She was wearing a beige mac, belted tightly around the waist, and she made no move to undo or remove it.  He wondered if she seemed different somehow, less warm, less enthusiastic.

“I was okay,” he replied. “Think it helped.  In a weird way I mean.  I think I needed to get hammered and bring it all up like that.”

“It’s helped you, you mean?”

“Yeah, sort of, maybe. Didn’t feel like it at the time,” he shrugged sheepishly, picking up his pint.  She was looking back at him, as if inspecting him, as if he was a stranger she was trying to suss out. Why are you looking at me like that? He wondered, we’ve slept together twice.

“You didn’t want to do the interview to start with,” she reminded him coolly. “Even though I said it could help you come to terms with things.”

“So is it done?” he asked, deciding to bring her back on course.  She leaned down briskly, snatching her bag from the floor and opening it up on her lap. 

“Yes, it’s done.  I’ve got a bit of a bidding war on my hands actually.”  She pulled out a clear plastic file and passed it across the table to him.  He took it unsurely, turning it over in his hands, suddenly transfixed by its existence now that it was here.  His life was quite simply lying in his own hands.  It was a bit of a mind fuck, to say the least.

“Really?” he asked, not knowing what she meant.

“Yes,” she said, her tone still matter of fact, bordering on the formal.  “There are three major national newspapers that want to print it. I’m trying to decide which one to go with.  Which would be the best move.”

“You mean, for your career?” he asked, and he didn’t mean it the way it sounded.  He was genuinely curious, having no idea how her world operated.

Caroline sighed at him, and made a face that conveyed she had expected him to say such a thing.  “It’s complicated,” she said with a small shrug.  “But there you go.  You have a read and see what you think.  If there’s anything you want me to change, I still can.”

“Okay,” Danny nodded.  “Fair enough.  Thank you.”

“And you got the phone number I gave you?”  She was regarding him with eyebrows arched.

“Oh yeah, I got it, thanks.  I haven’t done anything about it yet though.”

“Thinking it over?”

“Mmm.”

“Can’t blame you for that.  Not the nicest of people to deal with, that’s for sure.”

“No.  But I do know what the old man wants now, so I’m more prepared,” Danny nodded as her expression altered, her eyes narrowing in interest, her body leaning forward ever so slightly. “Had time to think about that too,” he went on. “Been thinking non-stop really.  Once the drink wore off I had no choice.  Came to a few conclusions.  Got a few things to sort out.”

She looked hungry again now.  He could see the change in her instantly, and it made him want to shut up, to keep things close to his chest again.  So he picked up his pint and drank the last few mouthfuls, with the plastic file in one hand.  “I better go,” he told her, registering the barely disguised dismay in her eyes.  “Thanks for giving me this.”

“You can’t stay for another?” Caroline asked, catching his arm as he stood up.  “I was just about to go to the bar.”

“No,” he smiled at her. “One is my limit for now.  Not going back there again, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, you could keep me company, because I bloody need one.  You can tell me these conclusions of yours?”

“Oh it’s nothing, nothing really, not yet.  Got more thinking to do.” He rolled the file into a tube and tapped the palm of his other hand with it.  “Got this to read!”

She tried to hide her disappointment, biting her bottom lip and shaking back her glossy hair.  He noticed she mostly did this when she felt uncomfortable, or rattled in some way.  He patted her shoulder.  “Thanks Caroline.  I’m looking forward to reading it.”

“And all this from a guy who never wanted to do it in the first place!” she looked up at him, pushing a fake smile out across her face.  Danny nodded and walked quickly out of the pub.

He walked home with the story rolled up in one hand.  He wondered how it would feel to read it.  His story, in her words?  Would she have quoted him?  Used his words? What would it sound like? A succession of shivers ran through Danny as he headed down the alleyway back towards home.  He realised that he was both desperate to read it, and frightened to. He was nearly at the door when he heard the crunch of a footstep behind, and whirled around in shock, only to be greeted by a solid fist.  He felt it slam into the side of his head, and he saw the world turning sideways, tilting, falling, until his hands sliced into the gravel, and his body followed.  He only had seconds to blink, to take it in, to try to react, before the face appeared above him.  He stared up from the ground in dazed surprise.  The man was standing over him, one foot on either side, his face coming down slowly, his dark brown eyes gleaming down on him.  He recognised him immediately as one of the men who had attacked them in the pub.  It was the shaven haired one.  The biggest one.

“What the fuck?”

“Shut it!” the man roared back at him, spittle flying in streams from his curled back lips.  He reached down then, grabbing Danny by the front of his shirt, and proceeded to haul him roughly to his feet.  He felt himself being propelled backwards, faster than his feet could catch up with.  He stumbled, and would have fallen, but the man kept him up, finding the wall and slamming him back into it.  He registered the pain, like an old friend flaring into life in his spine, and part of him wanted to laugh, laugh right into the thugs face, and say, is that the best you got?  Is that all you got, cos I’ve survived a hell of a lot worse! But the man held him tightly by the shirt, and pushed his face in close.  “You’ve got blood on your hands!” he growled, pressing his forehead onto Danny’s, crushing him back into the wall.  “Not just one man, but two!”

Danny turned his face to the side, dropped the file, and pushed back against the man.  “What are you talking about?  Who the hell are you?  Who sent you?”

“Jerry sent me, hadn’t you worked that out yet?” the man sneered, his voice dangerously low, his large thick body easily resisting Danny’s attempts to push him away. “You killed his son.  You’re a murderer.”

“And who the fuck are you?” Danny growled back, staring easily back into the mans eyes, letting him know he was not scared of him, not scared of being hurt.  He wanted to laugh again, and tell him what he had figured out years ago.  That pain could be controlled, that pain was nothing, that pain just let you know that you were still alive, still fighting back. I’ll fight you back, he wanted to tell the man, whoever the fuck you are.

The man responded by tightening his grip on Danny’s shirt, and pulling him forward slightly, only to slam him back into the wall. Danny fought hard not to cry out, not to give him the satisfaction, and again he wanted to laugh.  He was laughing inside, roaring with it within his head.  He’d been good at that back then, as a kid, he remembered then.  Not crying.  Refusing to give Howard the satisfaction.  He had become an expert at gritting his teeth against the pain, screwing his eyes up tightly and willing himself to hold on. There were times he had crammed his own fists into his mouth to stop himself from screaming when the belt came down.

“I’m a friend of Lee’s,” the man snarled at him, and if he had any idea how much Danny was laughing at him inside, he did not let it show.  “And you’re a twisted little motherfucking murderer!”

“Am I?”

“Yeah! Not just Lee, but Jack too!” The man dropped his hands then, took a step back, while the words sank into Danny’s brain.  “Jack Freeman,” the man said, speaking slowly, his voice a low, growling snarl, as his raging eyes looked Danny up and down in disgust.  He moved suddenly then, pulling back his fist before slamming it into Danny’s middle.  Danny felt the air being wrenched from him, as he doubled up on himself, and found himself sinking back down to the ground.  The man was standing over him again, shouting something, shouting as the impact of his fist rocketed through Danny’ body.  He felt his bottom hit the ground, and he wrapped his arms around himself, as he clamped down on it, on all of it, owning it and controlling it, pushing the pain away, pushing it into a box he could control. “Yeah, Jack too, Jack Freeman is dead, because of you.  You may as well have put the noose around his neck yourself, you fucking murdering bastard!”

There was a kick or two, but Danny barely registered them, or the rest of it.  It was the words, it was the information he was taking in.  Jack Freeman, dead?  He waited until the man was gone. “You’re gonna’ pay,” the man promised him, before running off.  “You’re gonna’ pay for both of them.”

Danny remained where he was, slumped against the wall.  He winced.  The pain was getting worse, as he searched for his phone and managed to drag it out from his pocket.  He held it in one hand, and then picked up the plastic file with his story in it from the ground.  He tucked it protectively between his knees, located his mother’s number and hit the call button.  It took several rings for her to answer, and when she did, she sounded breathless, as if she had ran around searching for the phone, and she sounded strange. “Danny?  Hello?” Her voice sounded thick, drowsy almost, but was too loud as well; he recoiled from the bark of her voice as it rang through his ear.  He held his head with one hand, feeling the bump that was already growing there, tracing his fingers softly over the scraped skin where he had hit the ground.

“Mum?”

“What’s up?  What’s up?” She sounded close to hysteria he thought, and he could almost imagine her clinging to the phone, welding it in panic to her own ear.

“Nothing, it’s okay, well it’s not okay, it’s not nothing, but I’m okay.”

“What?  What are you talking about?  Do you know every time my phone rings I feel like I’m gonna’ have a heart attack!”

“Mum, have you been drinking?” he asked tentatively. “You sound sort of…”

“It’s Saturday evening, I always drink on a Saturday,” she snapped back a little too defensively. “I’m a good girl the rest of the week.”

Danny thought twice then, about doing this over the phone.  “I’m coming over,” he told her, using the wall to pull himself back up to his feet.  “Is that okay?  I’ll be an hour or so.”

“Of course it is, you know it is, that would be lovely!”  Christ, he thought, now she sounded close to tears.

“Alright mum,” he said, “I’ll see you soon.”

He hung up and made his way slowly, painfully to the door to the flat.  He found his key, and went inside, taking care to shut it and lock it properly behind him.  When he reached the top door, he opened it and nearly bumped straight into Michael, who gasped in shock, and quickly reached out to slam the door shut behind him.  He looked pale and frightened.  “Where the fuck have you been?” he breathed, leaning in relief against the wall, as Kurt danced and wriggled around their feet. “I was just about to phone the cops!”

“What?  Why?”

It was then that Michael saw him properly, and moved forward, peering around to frown at Danny’s head. “What’ve you done?”

“Just got jumped outside,” Danny found himself sagging slowly back into the door behind him.  He was still breathing in and out heavily, trying to get his wind back.  He felt strangely alive though, like he had done after the fight in the pub. If anything, the physical blows seemed to spur him on more than anything, seemed to kick start his fight instinct.  “That big guy from the pub.”

“Yeah, that was him, he was here!” Michael was very animated now, dark eyes wide and staring, hands gesturing everywhere. “Fucking caveman was just here, banging on the door! He was going mental, going on about Jack Freeman being dead, and you having to pay!”

“He told you that?  He came to the door and told you that?”

“Yeah! He said he and Lee and Jack were friends from way back.  I just about managed to slam the door in his face, ran up here to grab my phone to warn you, then I heard you come in. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing, nothing, don’t worry.  What else did he say?”

“He said Jack was found dead, hanging! In the pub!”

“When?”

“I don’t know, today I think, I’m not sure. What does this mean?”

Danny shrugged and peeled himself away from the door.  He wanted to bend down to scoop up Kurt, but the pain was intensifying by the second, pulsing and throbbing all across his middle.  He headed for the lounge and Michael followed him, looking utterly lost. “I’m going to my mums, can you drive me?”

“Yeah, course, but why?”

“To tell her about all this.  To talk,” Danny shrugged and ran both hands roughly back through his hair.  He realised then that he still held the story rolled up in one hand and brought it down to stare at it.  “Oh this.  This is the article.  Caroline just gave it to me.”

Michael arrived at his side, silently running his eyes over the file as Danny unrolled it before him. “You read any yet?”

“Nope.  Tell you what, stick the kettle on, I’ll read it, then we’ll go to mums, alright?”

“Alright,” Michael nodded, looking anything but.  He turned to go to the kitchen, then stopped and pointed a finger in Danny’s direction. “I hope this has made you realise you were wrong mate! About wishing you hadn’t killed that bastard!”

Danny frowned at him.  “Eh?”

“Well all this! This is the shit you get when the bastard isn’t even here, just imagine the shit you would be getting if he still was!” He rolled his eyes as if this should be as plain to Danny as it was to him and stomped off into the kitchen.