The Bull Singer
At first I thought he was kidding, then I saw him close his eyes, and tears trickled down his cheeks. Shocked, I shot to my feet and turned to Ben; his solemn nod was confirmation enough. I staggered to the chair Elias had offered me earlier and collapsed into it as I remembered my aunts mentioning Dad being involved with a woman when he was first married. Could this be what they had been talking about? No wonder they didn't like Angela. My sister? But that made Joey my-. "Oh My God!" I clapped my hands to my face. Joey was my nephew, and I'd been…" I couldn't breathe. My throat constricted and I saw slashes of colour across my eyes. Elias spoke to me but all I heard were muffled sounds echoing in my head. Someone gripped the back of my neck and forced my head between my knees. That made me fight for breath and I started taking big gulps of air. My head started to clear and I sat up, and found Ben leaning over me. I stared intently at Elias, feeling the hurt in my heart turn to anger. "You knew. You bloody knew and you never stopped us. What kind of monster are you? And you, Ben, you knew too." I jumped to my feet and got ready to hit him. "How can I tell Joey I can't be with him any more? You knew it was wrong and you never did anything to stop us; you bastards!"
How I kept my hands to myself was a nothing short of a miracle. Instead I hurried to the door but as I reached it, Ben said quietly, "We're no more monsters or bastards than your father was, Mags. He brought this on you, not us. He committed the initial crime."
"Yeah; whatever!" I opened the door and stormed from the room, ready to do battle with someone, anyone. I found my way to Joey's bedroom easily enough and barged into the room, giving Sam a fright. He shot up from his chair, intending to put the intruder to flight. When he recognized me, he prepared to leave. "Don't go, Sam, I'm not staying. I've come to say goodbye to Joey, that's all. How is he?"
"He's okay, just dozing. I'll be getting him up in a bit."
I hurried to the bed and sat down close to Joey, and shook him gently. "Joey, I need you to wake up and listen to me."
"I don't think he's ready to-."
I waved Sam away. "Joey?"
He roused and frowned, and then he rolled his head to look in my direction and he blinked up at me. "Mags? OOHH! My head hurts." I tried not to let my shattered feelings show on my face but knew I had failed when he said, "Mags, something's wrong, what is it?"
"Joey, I…" I had to look away. What a hell of a situation. "I have to go away for a while."
Joey reared up off the pillow, wincing as his body reminded him painfully of the fall. "Mags, tell me." He grabbed my head and forced it round, making me look at his face. "I know something's wrong. I thought we trusted each other, so tell me."
"Joey, I think it's best if we don't see each other for a while. Your grandfather is going to see your mother and try to make her stop hurting you. That means she may retaliate and make trouble for him. If she finds out we've been here, she may guess what we've been up to and report me to the police."
"Joey, you're underage."
"Only for a couple of months."
"It doesn't matter, anything that happens before your sixteenth birthday will be classed as child abuse, and you could be taken away from me and put in a home; and I'd be carted off to jail. I'm going to Flixton for a while; I have some work to do with the band any way. Now, as soon as you feel better, I want you to go home and go to school as if nothing's ever happened. I'll phone Donald Mitchell and tell him why you haven't been to school as we arranged. I know you only have four weeks left of this term but it's important to go back and do some catching up. And you need to get back to Aunt Millie's group and practice for that show; I wouldn't want you to miss that."
Joey looked stricken. "What about Christmas, will you be home for then?"
"I don't know, Joey. The band is pretty busy around Christmas and New Year."
Joey looked away with tears in his eyes. "You don't want me any more, is that it?"
"No, it isn't that." How could I make him understand without betraying my promise to Elias, and bringing the world down on my father? "Do you want me to go to jail?"
Joey shook his head. "When will I see you again?"
"I'm not sure. I'll get in touch as soon as it's safe." We kissed, long and deep, and I almost folded there and then, throwing risk and danger to the wind, but I had to think of Joey; and my dad. How I got out of that house without being reduced to a blubbering idiot, I don't know, after telling Sam to keep using the Arnica on Joey's bruises.
I drove south, trying to make up my mind whether to go and see Dad or go straight to Flixton. If I went to see Dad, what could I say to him? "Dad, you've been a naughty boy and now you're saddled with a load of trouble called Angela, and it's affecting my love life." Oh yes, that would help a lot! He would go to Elias and rip into him for running his mouth off, the result of which would be me having a visit from Charlie and his boys for blabbing, and no doubt a trip to hospital. Flixton won the toss. I arrived at my house around seven thirty in the evening to find the place in darkness. I parked the car in the back and unlocked the kitchen door, and I went through the house, switching off the alarms and looking for any signs of life. Where was everyone? Then I remembered. It was the twenty-eight of November and I was supposed to have gone with the band to a gig in North Wales. Damn! Feeling as low as I have ever been I went into the lounge and flung myself onto one of the settees, oblivious to the chill without the fire being lit. Because of my own stupidity I had lost both my father and my lover. I folded my arms on the settee arm, and put my head down on my arms.
I don't remember falling sleep but I came awake with the jerk and felt a hand on my shoulder. I lifted my head and saw Rob leaning over me. "Well, now laddie, ye look as if the w'rld has hit ye on the back of ye noggin. Care to tell Uncle Robbie?" I sat up and felt fresh tears gathering. I tried to wipe them away so Rob wouldn't see, but he grabbed my hands and peered at my face. "Och, now; what's all this, Mags? There's no one here but me for the moment, so why don't I sit down beside you and you can till me what's bothering ye?" As soon as he sat down, he took me in his arms as if I was a child and I wept on his shoulder. Ten minutes later, I had drained myself of tears, and of words, and still he held me, rocking me gently as he would an unhappy child. "Well now, that's a sad tale if ever I heard one. And you say this Joey is the spitting image of Billy? Och, now, that's a hard one to take in. So what are you going to do, laddie?"
"I don't know, Rob." I eased out of his embrace and fished for my handkerchief to wipe my face. "I need to lay low for a bit while I think things out. I'm really in the shit and no mistake. I've tried to help a kid and I've made it worse for him. I should have stayed but I just ran. What will he think of me, Rob? And I've left my dad to take the brunt of any stick that bitch is likely to fire; and Lord knows what she'll do to Joey. I think I should get back to them."
"Not until y've had some rest, laddie, and had a wee word wi' Trilby. He'll know what's best for sure. Now, you get on upstairs. We hav'na been using y'r room so it's as ye left it. When the boys get back wi' the van, I'll bring you up a nice hot brew. They're stuck the other side of Queensferry wi' a sick bus. As ye know, I'm nae use with mechanical stuff so they sent me on ahead to catch an important phone call. It's a guy who wants to talk to us aboot a new recording contract and this is the only phone number he knows to call. No one's called while y've been here, have they?" I shook my head. "Well, now, off you go, up to bed."
I wasn't in the mood to sleep, but if it got me away from Rob's fussing I would try. Maybe I was wrong to have come back here. I stripped off my clothes and crawled into bed, the next thing I knew the place was in darkness and my guts rumbled.
I checked the luminous hands on my watch. Twelve thirty two. Oh fish! I'd slept for more than five and a half hours! I lay back down and closed my eyes but I was kidding myself if I thought I would sleep with my stomach thinking my throat was cut. I got up and searched for a bathrobe in the bathroom cupboard, put it on and went downstairs. There was a light under the lounge door. I opened it a crack, fearing the whole band was in there. The place was quiet and I saw no one, so I opened the door and, went in. Trilby's head appeared over the top of the settee facing the fire. He blinked sleepily at me. "Hi Mags; feeling better now?"
I checked the room but there was no one else here. "Yes, thanks. I need something to eat, do you want anything?"
"I wouldn't mind a cup of tea," Trilby got up from the settee and stretched and yawned. "There are sandwiches all ready and waiting for you in the fridge. Get the kettle on, I'll be there in a minute." He headed for the door and disappeared into the downstairs loo.
As I walked into the kitchen, I tried to work out what I was going to say to the wise old owl, but when he came into the kitchen he made it really easy to talk. Sitting down at the table he scratched his greying head. "Sounds like you've dug yourself a hole. Rob told us and we're here to help if we can. The kettle's starting to boil."
I grabbed the teapot and threw a couple of teabags in it. When the water came to the boil, I filled the pot halfway, knowing Trilby hated tea like maiden's water. Setting it on the table I sat down across from him. "I just don't know what to do for the best. If I go to Dad, he'll have a roaring match with Elias for shooting his mouth off."
"And old man Chambers will not be pleased if you tell your dad, right? I can see your dilemma. But which is the worst scenario? You having a visit from this Charlie, during which we would make sure you were not alone, or this young friend of yours thinking you've deserted him, and him going home to another assault, and possibly your dad as well?"
"That's not the worst though. His mother will guess we're an item and bring the Social Services down on my head."
"Oh." Trilby frowned. "Underage, is he? Rob didn't tell us that. It does make a difference. How old is he?"
"Sixteen in two months."
"What a shame." Trilby filled his mug and stirred sugar and milk into it, thinking quietly. "Is Elias hinting at a gang war of some kind?"
"With his daughter, maybe." I took a bite of my sandwich. "Apparently she's got as many watch dogs and minders as Ly has. I thought this only happened in London or in films and TV."
"Don't kid yourself. Not all of them live in big houses like Elias Chambers either. A lot of the smaller fry try to stay out of that sort of thing, unless they're idiots trying to look big; but either side can call up past debts and then you really have a war in your lap. And it's my reckoning the lad will be in the middle, unless you do something."
Trilby got to his feet and carried his mug and the teapot over to the sink. "Calm things down as much as you can. Elias won't want you rocking the boat so, why don't you write to Joey, telling him to lay low about what happened between you. Give him Daley's dad's address, so he can write love letters to you if he wants. And give him your mobile number in case he needs to contact you in a hurry. Then write to your dad and tell him we have a lot of gigs to do between now and the New Year, which isn't a lie, and you've decided to go with us. You can tell Joey as well and that will put them both off the scent and make it a lot harder to find you if anyone comes looking for you. Then write another letter to Elias, promising him your silence. Now, I don't know what you're going to do but I'm off to bed."
I wasn't tired so I tidied up the kitchen and went into the study to find pen, paper and stamps. I took them into the lounge where I got the fire banked up and sat down to write the letters. After three attempts I managed to get Joey's letter written, and it took me four attempts to write to Ly before I was satisfied that they made sense and conveyed how I felt about the situation. Once I had put them in their envelopes and put the writing stuff away, I found I was still not tired, so I got dressed, put my heavy coat and a padded hat on, grabbed a torch and went for a walk. My journey down the lane to the post box was uneventful except for a young cow standing sideways in the middle of the lane. A few good "Ooaghs" and a swat on her backside got her to shift enough for me to pass her without stepping into the muddy ditch. When I got back, she was still there, lowing quietly; she had an udder full to bursting. I looked at my watch and realized it was near to the five o'clock milking time. "Lost your way, girl? Okay, let's get you home." With a lot of shoving I managed to get her pointed in the right direction then I got behind her and pushed. Thankfully she got the idea and started to move. Once we were over the ditch, she let me guide her over the field in the direction of the farm. She heard the noise of the other cows making their way to the milking shed and she took off at a trot, much to my relief. I didn't fancy having to negotiate the cowpats even with a torch. I got back to the house, locked up, made myself a mug of hot chocolate and went up to bed. I'd only drunk half of it when I woke up to brilliant winter sunshine streaming through a chink in the curtain, and Indian standing over me with a mug of tea.
"It's eleven thirty on a bright sunny morning and you've got some visitors waiting downstairs for you. One of them doesn't look too pleased"
Oh Hell! It looked like the war had started, for me at any rate.
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