Sandy sat up with a jerk, coffee splashing onto his hand. "Blackmailed?" He fished for a handkerchief while his memory banks went into overdrive. "Oh yeah, but… 'ang on, it's the criminal who gets blackmailed, not the victim."
"Not always. The police are after an international paedophile ring, and someone has found out I'm going to help them." Reaching deep into a pocket of his caftan, Gypsy brought out a small, buff coloured envelope and tossed it to Sandy. It was addressed to 'Mr. G. Diaz, private and confidential.
Sandy opened it and shook out a small polythene packet containing a torn scrap of photograph, and a note saying, 'Chain your pet dog, keep your mouth shut and sign with Hine Records, or the press get more like this.' He examined the piece of photograph and his mouth dropped open. "'Ow did you get this, then?"
"A new secretary found them in my private mail. She's young and a bit green at the job, and everyone else was busy setting up the last show and the events for this week, so she waited till I we were on the plane home and she could talk to me in private. That's the fifth and last piece."
"Where did it come from? I mean who would 'ave took it?"
"I'm not saying anything till I'm sure. The blackmail note is clear enough, but if anything is going to be leaked out about my past life, it's going to come from me and not from someone who claims he's got some juicy pictures to sell."
"'Ave you told anyone else about this?" Sandy remembered the days when Gypsy's silence had landed him in a load of trouble. "Apart from Ed, I mean."
"Just Erskine, Ed, my dad and Rudkin."
"I've 'eard Hine Records are in trouble," Sandy said, remembering the shady, small-time, record company. "Your name on their books would save them from drowning, right?"
"Yes, but they've asked me twice already. Ed went to see the Hines yesterday and they denied any involvement, and you don't lie to a guy like Ed Thompson." He shook his head and gazed thoughtfully at a point somewhere behind Sandy. "I knew trouble would come, I had a warning. I thought I'd be prepared for it, but coming this way it caught me off balance."
"But 'ow can you be sure the blackmailer and the paedo ring are connected?" Sandy asked him.
"How do I always know things?"
Sandy's brows knitted firmly together. "I thought you gave up all that psychic stuff. I don't believe in it and neither should you. Divine prophecy is one thing -."
"- and what I had in the past is another?" Gypsy interrupted him. "Yeah, I know, and I remember my promise. Someone very special told me this would happen. I didn't believe it then but now I understand. I'll tell you something else, too. Remember the promise I made myself? That I'd get even with every bastard who ever touched me? Well, it's time to fulfil that promise but not in the way I expected. It's time to set things straight, but there will be a lot of dirt thrown at you as well as me."
"As if I care."
"Well you should." Gypsy took another mouthful of coffee and placed his mug on the table. He gazed at Sandy again. " For school buddies, we were pretty close and there were more than enough silly rumours spread round about us. Once this new problem hits the fan, someone's bound to rake up old stories. Mud sticks, and I don't want any of it flying your way and hurting you or your family. I want you to be prepared for trouble."
"Let me worry about them, mate, I can 'andle my side of things." In response to Gypsy's questioning look, he said, "We're talkin' again, satisfied? That's where I'm off to, to see Trish." He tossed the envelope and its contents back to Gypsy and added with a shake of his head, "So you think these pictures 'ave somethin' to do with the ones the cops found?"
"If they aren't, they were sold before I opened my mouth. We must be getting close to someone."
"Oh? What makes you say that?"
"Don Clooney's back."
"Ah!" Sandy suddenly understood what the reference to a pet dog meant. How could anyone forget Gypsy's ex-minder. The guy left the UK eight years ago, supposedly for personal reasons, but Sandy had always suspected it had to do with Gypsy's past. "'As 'e finished what you sent 'im off to do?"
Gypsy's eyes narrowed to angry slits. "I didn't send him off at all. He went of his own accord."
"But 'e's been workin' for you ever since then, right?"
Gypsy sighed and looked away. "Okay, yes, but not just for me. He has a personal interest in what he's been doing as well." Glancing back at Sandy he said, "Now he's back with a load of evidence that's going to make a lot of people account for their past actions, going back to before you and I met. Now I wish we'd never met at all."
"Gypsy you can't mean that, man!"
"I do, Sandy, if we hadn't met, none of your troubles would have happened. Your trouble with Trish is all my fault and no one else's."
"Don't talk rubbish, man."
"If you don't believe me, think back to your wedding."
"Huh? My wedding?"
SATURDAY 25th July 1998
Sandy straightened his silver wedding tie and studied his reflection in the wardrobe mirror, glad he had splashed out and had his pale grey suit made to fit his ta1l frame. Two years had made a difference to him, his shoulders were broader now, and he had managed to shed most of his boyish bulk; six-foot four and not much fat left, not bad for a guy who spent most of his time sitting at a piano studying music. Training and running had kept him fit, as Gypsy had said it would; his mate certainly knew what he was talking about. He gazed round the bedroom for the last time, feeling a little sad at leaving it after almost five years of adolescent memories.
Closing the door on his past life, he went downstairs. The last of his wedding guests had already gone to the church and the house was quiet except for his mum singing softly in her bedroom as she put the finishing touches to her appearance. Sandy went into the sitting room and sat down at the piano, stared at the keys and thought of the hours he had spent sitting there, practising and composing. Instinctively he reached out to touch the keys and began to play his favourite piece, Chopin's Berceuse in D flat major, OP 57. It had been Gypsy's favourite piece too and it was almost as if he was sitting beside him as he had done so often, listening to him rehearsing it. Always, at the end of a session, he would have said. "Play OP 57, please?" The months had flown by since then and so much had happened.
After the trial Trish and he had decided to stay together. They had passed their GCSE A levels with good grades and gained seats at the local College of Arts, Sandy studying Music, and Trish Fashion and design. After not hearing anything of Gypsy, Sandy and Gaskin had been dealt a happy surprise. The kind of songs Gypsy and Shana preferred to sing made their break into the pop charts, but Erskine Trumble, their manager had persuaded Gypsy to try his hand at acting. A friend of Erskine's needed a fresh young actor to play a supporting role in a film. The actor needed to be able to sing and dance and Erskine felt that Gypsy fitted the role very well. Gypsy had gone for it and now the film had picked up several nominations, and as a result and a new singer had exploded onto the pop scene with a new song, their own composition, which they had forgotten about. "Sad World" didn't make the top ten but it got Gypsy noticed as a potential newcomer.
Sad world reached its highest in the charts at thirteen and, that night, Gypsy and Shana arrived at Trish's house where Sandy and the boys were entertaining at her birthday party, to hand a cheque to Sandy and Gaskin in payment for 'Sad World'. When Gypsy asked the boys to become his backing group, Sandy had sadly declined the offer, as he wanted to carry on at college although he promised to carry on writing music for Gaskin to put lyrics to, but the boys had jumped at the offer. Then Gypsy and Shana had gone back to London to work on another hit record before flying to Spain for a holiday with Manual. The day Gypsy's second hit appeared in the charts Sandy and Trish celebrated by getting engaged.
From then they had kept in touch with frequent letters and phone calls, keeping each other informed of all that went on as Gypsy and Shana danced, sang and skated their way all over Great Britain and Europe, supporting other stars until they rose to become stars themselves as the new prince and princess of pop. In the space of a year they had two more hit singles and a second album riding the charts. Gypsy's father, Manuel, had not been far behind them in the record stakes and had, on several occasions had partnered Gypsy on stage. An American tour had followed their British success and when they returned in triumph they had been swamped with requests to appear on chat shows and TV spectaculars, but Erskine Trumble, their wise manager had refused to over expose them too soon. January 1997 had brought them the opportunity of their own TV show and another extensive tour, this time in Australia. At the end of that they had been so exhausted their manager had ordered them to disappear for a well-earned rest. When they returned to work the first thing Gypsy was to ring Sandy with some astonishing news.
Sandy had to sit down. "What? But that's-."
"I know." It sounded as if Gypsy was laughing and crying at the same time. "It's a miracle, but isn't it wonderful? I'm going to be a dad after all."
"You can say that again. I thought-."
"So did I, I can't believe it myself but it's true."
"Three months, and Shana just thought she was off colour with all the traveling we've done."
From then on, Sandy's time had been taken up with requests for more and more songs for him to sing solo, as Shana's pregnancy progressed, forcing her to give up work. The money from the songs created quite a nest egg in Sandy's bank account, for which Sandy was grateful when he gained entry to the Royal London College of Music. Trish had been a great help too, and when she heard he was to go to London they had gone to talk to her father, and their wedding brought forward and arranged for August so Trish could go with him to London.
Gypsy had been delighted at the news and had promised to be best man. He had even offered the happy couple the use of his London apartment as a temporary home for them till Sandy found somewhere more permanent. "If you can't find anywhere," Gypsy had written, "just stay on at the apartment, we'll not be around much for the next couple of years, too busy you know." As time passed by, it had become obvious that Shana's baby was due the same time as the wedding and Gypsy had telephoned a fortnight before. "I think you had better find another best man, Sandy. We can't promise to be at the wedding after all."
"'Ard luck, Mate," Sandy had replied, "I was lookin' forward to the four of us bein' together, like. 'Ow is the mum-to-be?"
"Fine, as long as I can stop her doing too much, she might not be working right now but she certainly keeps herself busy. Yesterday she opened a new baby clinic and the mothers presented her with a crib, isn't that sweet? Everyone is being marvelous to us, it is unbelievable!"
"Well, give 'er our love," Sandy had said, "and if it's a boy you can name 'im after me, right?"
Now, Sandy played the last few notes and tried to imagine himself as a father, an impossible picture. He heard a movement behind him, looked up and saw his mother standing in the doorway. She looked really nice in the pale green outfit he had bought her. Her dark hair peeped out from under the narrow brim of her matching trilby hat, and her eyes were moist and sparkling as she came and sat down beside him on the piano stool. "Do you remember the duets we used to play when you first decided you wanted to be a musician?" She took off her gloves and began to play a Strauss waltz, her fingers stiff with lack of practice. Sandy smiled, knowing it was her way of saying she would miss him. He joined in on the base keys and her face lit up; it had been months since they had played together like this. At the end, she folded her hands in her lap and stared at the keys "That was nice, just like old times when you were little, but...you and Gypsy…."
Sandy felt his cheeks burn, and when he didn't answer she gave his hand a squeeze. "I know things which I keep to myself, Cariad. Your dad thinks I'm a prude at times, not wanting to make love all that much and so on, but your dad doesn't really understand what a woman of my age needs, that's all. I used to love it all but as time goes by...well, your needs change, you know? Perhaps, now that we'll be on our own we might...need each other more, won't we? Promise me you'll be patient with Trish. She's such a sweet little thing and it's up to you to find out her needs as they wax and wane. Hormones, people call them, the curse of being a woman. But that's beside the point; what I wanted to say is…well, I've wanted to say something to you but your dad's been keeping his eye on you so I left it at that, you see? You're going to see a lot of changes now, Sandy; in yourself and in Trish too. You'll have a wife now and your first duty is to her. I don't know how much she knows about you and Gypsy." Sandy swore under his breath and his mam nodded. "I'm not blind you know, I'm your mam. Has your dad told you about what happened before we were married?"
"Him and his best friend? Nothing came of it, of course, but it was a close thing; you see he found out before he made a fool of himself, that his friend didn't love him in the same way and he turned to me and Christ for comfort. So I'm speaking from experience when I say I understand. During the first few months of our marriage I felt very lonely and unsure. You wouldn't want Trish to feel that way, would you?" She rose from the piano stool and kissed him on the forehead. "Don't keep things from her like your dad did me."
Sandy stared after her in amazement as she left the room. She had known all along, about Dad, and about his own feelings for Gypsy. Poor Mam!
The doorway lightened as she disappeared then darkened again as someone else took her place, and Sandy came out of his surprised stupor to find his cousin Tony grinning down at him. The six-foot five Welsh rugby player nudged him. "Are you comin' to a weddin' then? We didn't come all this way from Cardiff just to 'ear you play bloody Chopin." He gave a low laugh. "Old Thomas the choir-master from our village is 'oppin' mad at you, 'ad the choir booked for the openin' of the new community hall tonight, 'ad to cancel it at the last minute when he found out 'alf the choir was comin' to your weddin', isn'it?"
Sandy laughed and stood up. "Just shows you 'ow good the Roberts family can sing! They should 'ave called it the Roberts choir in the first place. 'Ow are you anyway?"
"Great, man!" They shook hands heartily and grinned at each other. "Ready and waitin' to look after that little bit of gold, like. Thought we wouldn't get 'ere, did you?"
Sandy glanced at his watch. "Well, it 'ad crossed my mind, what kept you, and where are the others?"
"I took Mam and Dad and Sis straight to the church, no sense draggin' them round 'ere, see? Came up with Auntie Megg's crowd, we did. Remember 'er eldest, girl Bethan? Married now and livin' in Wrexham. We stayed there last night and came on up this mornin'. What a trek; like a bloody exodus. All four families, you know. Every car jam packed full, standin' room only and that was on top."
"Well I 'ope you're all in good voice," Sandy laughed as he led the way out into the hall. "We're 'avin' a get together at Trish's 'ouse tonight, and Gaskin and the boys will be there. You can show 'em 'ow Welshmen sing on a stomach-full of beer!"
"You bet we will," Tony stated firmly, "we'll knock spots off them warblin' Cheshire cats any day. Now, are you comin' to this church or do I marry the girl myself?"
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