The Bull Singer
I scrambled out of bed, wondering which of my troubles were about to land on my head. I went to the loo, washed my hands and face, and dragged my clothes on. Before I went out onto the landing I took a deep breath and hoped I would be in one piece after this. My nerves were in a jangle. I went out onto the landing and looked over the banister in the hope of seeing who my visitor was. There was no one in the hall, so I went downstairs and into the lounge, and my jaw dropped. Dad was sitting on a settee close to the fire, toasting his hands. "Dad, what the hell are you doing here?"
"Trying to make sense of a load of nonsense and keep you out of trouble."
"How did you know I was here?"
"Joey told me. He begged me to come and talk to you, to find out why you left him."
"Well, how did you get here?"
"Train to Flixton, then I rang Daley and he offered to pick me up and bring me here while you were still in dreamland."
I sat down beside Dad. "I didn't leave him, Dad. I…"
In the past I could never lie to Dad and get away with it. I doubted if I could now. "I found out about you and Angela. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Oh." Dad sat back against the cushions, and frowned at his hands. "Who told you?"
"I thought it might be; interfering bastard."
"Now don't you go shouting your mouth off at him; he told me because he wants to protect Joey."
Dad shook his head. "I didn't want anyone to know. I'm ashamed to accept her as my daughter. I knew what she was going to be like when she was a snotty nosed tot. I had to tell someone so I told Cissy and Mabs, and they promised never to tell, but it would have hurt your mother to know about her, we were only a few months married, you see, and we had newlywed problems. Your mother had lofty ideas about what wedded bliss should be; she was too fond of reading romance stories and thought that was reality, bless her heart. I left her for a short while and told her to make a choice between fantasy and real life; and that was when I met Marian Chambers. So I begged Elias to take care of Angela in return for me keeping quiet about what I knew of his dealings. He helped me from time to time when the farming world took a tumble."
"So that's how you survived those foot and mouth epidemics over the years; I did wonder. He gave you money to replenish your stock? Is that the favour that made him ask you to provide a home for Angel to hide in?"
Dad nodded; his face filling with sadness. "I had Elias on the phone shortly after you left Marble House. He wants me to sign the rental of Home Farm over to Joey and kick her out. If I do that, what's to stop her telling the world who she really is? I don't know what it would do to the kid."
"Where's Joey now?"
"He's safe enough. Ben brought him back when he came to see if Angela was back from her travels. But the boy is tearing his hair out wondering what he's done to upset you."
"He hasn't done anything, Dad. He's completely innocent; it was me panicking when I found out he was my nephew. All I could see was a trip to jail if Angela got wind of what we did. I was angry as well."
"Didn't Elias tell you what I found?"
Dad frowned at me. "No, what did you find?"
"He's been abused."
"Yes; and not just once."
"Did you talk to Joey about this?"
"Yes, but he wouldn't say who did it."
"Well I think you'd better tell him as soon as you can. I only came to see if you were all right. I need to get back home by tomorrow afternoon at the latest; I have a doctor's appointment at four. Any chance I could stay here tonight and you take me home tomorrow morning? It's starting to blow a gale out there."
I smiled at him. "I know, you crafty sod. You want to sleep in that bed again. Okay, Dad. I'll take you home tomorrow but it will have to be early and I won't be able to stay long. I'm supposed to going with the band to a gig in Halifax tomorrow."
Dad scowled at me. "Going over the Pennines in winter, in this weather? Have you seen the forecast? Gales on top of gales! You must be bloody mad."
"We have to work, Dad," I got to my feet. "Now we've made a name for ourselves we have to keep the media and the punters happy. I'll go and have a word with Daley, and see if I can make my own way to Halifax instead of coming back here first. That will give me time to see Joey. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Is the Pope Catholic? I could sand a plank of wood with my throat."
Laughing, I went out into the hall and was making my way to the kitchen when the front door bell rang. From the sound coming through the corridor from the barn, the band was hard at it, so I went to answer the bell myself. I didn't recognise the muffled figure at first, as he stood shivering on the doorstep with his hand thrust deep in his coat pockets. Then the wind blew the dark hair away from his face and dark eyes and a cheeky grin gave the game away. "Hi Mags! It's freezing out here, can I come in?"
"Pete! What on earth are you doing here? Come in." I literally dragged him into the hall and slammed the door against the gale, and we threw our arms about each other. We drew back and I said, "Wow! It's good to see you. How are you, kid?"
"Fine; how's the band?"
"Doing well; we released another album last month and it's rising nicely up the Easy Listening charts. Take your coat off and come and see the lads." I hung his coat up in the hall closet and took him through into the barn. The boys were taking a few minutes break while Daley did some adjustments to an arrangement. "Hey, lads, look who's turned up." The band looked our way and erupted in cheers as their faces split with grins. Pete, the young drummer who had replaced Billy while he underwent surgery for cancer, disappeared under bodies all wanting to hug him. He emerged, giggling and breathless but otherwise unharmed as they released him, and continued their noisy welcome.
When Billy had returned to the band, Pete had moved on to a new life with a small rock band. Now we all wanted to know what had happened to him since. "Okay, boys," Daley's loud voice calmed everyone down. "You want to know what's been happening so let the lad speak."
"Well?" Trilby asked.
Pete grinned round at everyone. "Well, the band I was with did all right for about six months and we managed to get a European tour together, but when we were in France there was a massive fight and the band just went downhill. I got out and came home. Since then I've drifted a bit, and now I've found another band called Malebox. They're based in Oldham, and they're semi-professional at the moment, but who knows? You were semi pros at one time weren't you? We're doing local stuff until April so I thought I'd come and check you out."
I suddenly remembered my dad. "Cup of tea anyone? I was about to make one for Dad." That started a stampede to the kitchen where Pete was subjected to a load of teasing while I brewed some tea and coffee. Daley brought Dad in from the lounge and Pete was introduced to him. From that moment I saw something of the old Edward Alton come to life as he looked the kid over with the practiced eye of a husbandman. He gave the lad a nice fatherly smile and a warm handshake, and he took a seat on the corner of the table with Pete on his left so he could watch Pete, and talk to him, without having to crane his neck around other people. And while the noisy banter continued, I watched these two. There was no mistaking the spark between them, the way Pete grinned at everything Dad said, and blushed like a shy kid on his first date; and I got to wondering if Dad was serious about his idea of finding a toy-boy. If that were the case, I would have to warn Dad that he was playing with fire with this one.
When Pete first came out as gay, he had run wild with his new found enthusiasm for gay sex, and Daley had to persuade him, as gently as possible, that the band was uncomfortable with his behaviour. Most of the band members were gay but were settled in permanent partnerships; and we kept our sexuality private; not that we were afraid of people finding out but that's the way we preferred it. The public never even got wind of my relationship with Billy until late on; but Pete had been in danger of inviting attention of the unwelcome sort. That, and Billy coming back into the band once his cancer was supposedly cured, led us to say farewell to an otherwise talented drummer. He took the decision with good grace, saying he preferred a smaller band to ours, and left for pastures new. Now he was here among us again, and seeming a lot quieter, although I did sense there was an undertow of tension in the way the lad fidgeted, and fiddled with his mug. Dad glanced my way and gave me a slight shake of his head. The canny old man knew something was wrong. I looked toward the far end of the table and saw Trilby frowning at the lad. He caught my eye and raised an eyebrow.
When Daley called the band back to work, I made an excuse that Dad was tired and needed a rest, and I would see him up to my room. Pete helped Dad to his feet and seemed unsure what to do, go with the boys, or stay in the kitchen. Dad made his mind up for him by slipping an arm through his and leaning heavily on it. Not that he needed that much help. We helped him upstairs and into my bedroom where he indicated I shut and lock the door. He sat down and invited Pete to sit beside him. I dragged the bedroom chair over and sat down in front of them. Peter was trying to keep a pleasant smile on his face while his hands rubbed his thighs. But as soon as Dad placed his hand over Pete's, the lad's façade began to crack. "What's the matter, lad?" Pete shook his head and looked away. "Lad, I know something's wrong and I want to help if I can; so does Mags. I don't think you'd come to visit the band if you didn't want to talk to someone."
Pete sighed deeply and shook his head. "All this talk about doing a tour and everything; it's all a pack of lies. I was with a band for three months but they did the same as Daley. They asked me to leave." Tears glistened and threatened to fall. "I thought I was having fun, being the sexy guy, happy to go with anyone would have me. I guess I learned my lesson the hard way. I picked up a dose of STD, and that was it. I drifted for a while and ended up on the streets." He wiped away the tears with the heel of his left hand. "I was stupid; I trusted people, and I got in with a guy who offered me a home. He was a businessman who owned a penthouse apartment in Manchester. He was okay at first, and I thought he was rather sweet. He let me live in the apartment in return for sexual favours. He gave me a bankcard and, like a naïve young fool, I thought it was great. That was until he started drinking heavily. He changed, and I saw his temper at last. Our lovemaking turned to rough sex and, when I protested, he beat me up. He kept me locked in the flat and disconnected the phone."
"How did you get out?" I asked.
"One night, he was so drunk he fell asleep on me, so I grabbed his keys, locked him in the flat and fled. I went to the police and filed a complaint of rape and unlawful imprisonment. I gave them the keys and they arrested him. He had a good story to tell, of course. He said I had blackmailed him into letting me stay at the apartment and demanded sex off him in return for me not telling his wife about the affair. Hell, I didn't even know he was married."
"And who did the police believe?" Dad asked him, his hand still covering Pete's and squeezing it gently.
"Him, of course. I found out he was a mason, and so was the chief inspector, and they're in the same lodge. They look after each other, the masons. He came out of court squeaky clean, and now I'm on the run from him and his thugs."
"How do you know about the masons?"
"My dad's a mason. Normally they don't talk about their society, it's one of their taboos, but Dad used to let slip about things when he hit the brandy."
"What's this businessman's name?" Dad asked.
"And what about the rest of your story?"
"It's true, I've joined Malebox, but I saw one of Faring's thugs hanging round the place where we rehearse, so I thought it best to split before any of the band got hurt."
"Why didn't you tell your parents?"
Pete's face crumpled at last and he laid his head on Dad's shoulder. Dad put his arms round him and he began to sob. "They never loved me. Now they won't talk to me and… Dad said… I had it… coming and didn't…. want to know me… any more."
I decided it was time to go and talk to Trilby; I rose to my feet, and whispered, "Can you cope with him, Dad?"
Dad smiled at me, his eyes twinkling, "Daft question." He planted a gentle kiss on Pete's cheek.
I stepped out onto the landing feeling really angry that people like Faring could use their influence to evade the law and leave a sweet but foolish guy like Pete with his life in ruins. Then I thought of Dad and the kid and had to smile. The crafty old goat! I started down the stairs and a thought came to me. I froze as I recalled Indian's words. "You've got visitors." Definitely in the plural; so who…. I turned back and peaked in the bedrooms on the landing. Empty. I went up to the top floor and walked into the front attic, and saw the bed occupied by the sleeping form of someone under the duvet. Creeping to the bed, I lifted the duvet a little, and saw the mop of blue-black hair. Pulling the duvet further down, I feasted my eyes on the face I had come to love.
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