The Bull Singer
The bitch opened the door and scowled at us. "Oh, it's you. I thought it was my taxi." Behind her, there were three large suitcases and two black bags by the coat rack. I hoped she was going for a very long time; in fact I hoped she would never some back.
"Going somewhere are we?" Gramps indicated the cases.
"That's my business. What do you want?"
Gramps pushed the door wider and stepped forward till he was almost nose-to-nose with the bitch. "Two things," he said sharply. "One, Joey has every right to be here and so have I as I own the property, and two," he pulled a long white envelope from his anorak pocket and thrust it into her hands, "this is an eviction notice. You have two weeks to move out of this house, and it's all legal."
The bitch tossed the envelope away. "We'll see about it being legal."
"Ask Elias if you don't believe me. You can bleat all you like, Angela, but you broke the tenancy contract yourself. It's a pity you don't like reading things before you sign them." Gramps moved further into the hall and gently pushed the bitch to one side. "The contract states that a tenant must not do anything to upset or cause distress to his or her landlord or neighbours. You've done both. You've upset me, your landlord, and you have caused distress to our neighbours, namely my sisters and my grandson."
Angela's reply was a snarl. "If you must know I'm going on a business trip and you," she pointed at me, "can go to hell."
"Just let us collect Joey's clothes and we'll get out of your way," Gramps spoke calmly to her and signalled for me to go upstairs where my new clothes and gear were still in the two cases Uncle Benji had packed for me. In my room I stared at the empty cases. As I turned to run down the stairs, I heard the front door slam. "Stop her!" I screamed, and I tripped and almost fell down the stairs. "The bitch has dumped my stuff."
Pete caught me and steadied me. "What do you mean; she's dumped your stuff?"
"My new clothes, everything." Angry tears stung my eyes. "They're gone."
Gramps flung the front door open but the taxi was already out of sight. Cursing, Gramps shut the door again and turned to face me. "Don't worry, Joey; we bought you enough to see you over Christmas, and there are plenty more in the shops."
"But they were special," I protested angrily. "They were the first decent clothes I ever had, and Elias bought them for me." In a whisper, I added, "They were special."
Gramps took out his mobile phone and hit a speed dial number. "Ben, we have a problem. Angela's just left the house in a blue Fast Fleet taxi. I want her stopped and questioned about the disappearance of the clothes and gifts Ly gave Joey. The two cases are empty and she has two black bags with her; I think she's heading for Manchester Airport. Call me back, please." Gramps returned the phone to his coat pocket and smiled at me. "She won't get far, lad; Ly has contacts all over the place. Meanwhile I suggest you collect what things you need and we'll head back to the cottage and get you settled in. No need for you to stay here in this big house on your own while Mags is away. It'll be a lot safer for you down there as well. Go on and get your stuff. It's getting late and you have school tomorrow, and I need a rest."
"That's just it, Gramps, there's nothing left. She's cleaned my room out. Even my school uniform and books are gone." Gramps insisted on Pete and I searching the house and the back yard in case she had just thrown them out somewhere, but there was no sign of anything. I found it hard to stop blubbering like a baby, and I wished Mags were there.
It was a good thing Angela wasn't within reach or I don't know what I would have done to her for all my aches and pains. Of all the petty things to do, that took the prize. From what Ben had told me, she wasn't short of cash so it wasn't for monitory gain; I suspected plain spite. The wicked queen from Snow White would have learned a lot from her. There wasn't much in the house that Joey was interested in so we took him back to the cottage while I waited for Ben to call me back. We had just finished putting Joey's new purchases away and had secured the cottage for the night when Ben rang me. Apparently his men had stopped Angela's taxi a few miles north of Oldham.
"They detained her and gave her a choice," Ben said with a chuckle. "Tell them where the clothes and stuff were or miss her flight. Angela had given one of her lackeys the job of dumping everything. Fortunately, he was of a more charitable mind than his boss and had dropped them off at the Red Cross Shop door in Fordage. I'll have one of my men pick them up. They were in the black bags. He was frightened enough of Angela to do as he was told but more frightened of my men and told all." At least the news was good enough for Joey to relax and go to bed. I noticed he was having difficulty keeping his eyes open so Pete made him a mug of Ovaltine and showed him into Mags's bedroom with strict instructions to come to us if anything disturbed him in the night.
It wasn't long after that I started to feel the effects of a hectic day myself, and I wondered if I had overdone things a bit with all that whizzing round the city like a dizzy teenager given a windfall to spend in one day. Pete wagged a finger at me. "I don't care what you say about kidding your family how ill you are; there must be some truth in it. I'm calling your GP in the morning and have him check you over."
"Oy! Don't you start fussing, you cheeky young tyke; you sound as bad as my sisters." I couldn't help chuckling at him. "At least I enjoyed myself, lad. You two young sprouts have done me the world of good, and I've got fifteen years of having a grandson to catch up on." I grabbed him and pulled him into bear hug. "And I've also got a hell of a lot more years of not having someone to love; how about you being my second son?"
Pete laughed, planted a warm kiss on my cheek. "That's a nice idea. Someone's got to make sure you don't make yourself ill." He broke free and hauled me to my feet. "Come on, you old goat, it's time for bed and no arguing."
"Cheeky devil; I've put Mags over my knee before now for calling me that. Come on then, put your old man to bed." We secured the cottage and put out the lights as we made our way to our bedroom, but I insisted we check on Joey before we went to bed ourselves. I needn't have worried. The boy was curled up on his side, his eyes tight shut, and a frown on is face. I tucked the duvet closer about his shoulders and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Goodnight, my darling baby boy. You're safe now," I whispered in his ear, and I was rewarded to see him stir and his features smoothed out into an expression of peace. Pete must have realised that my thoughts were on Joey that night, and I must admit I was glad of Pete's assistance in getting undressed and having a shower. Afterwards, we cuddled close and he offered me his understanding as I shed silent tears. In return I let him know I understood his need for someone of my maturity; he obviously needed the comfort of my arms about him because I was the father figure he yearned for. We fell asleep content with each other's company while knowing we would be good for each other. Unfortunately, our peace was shattered in the early hours by the screams that came from the room next door.
Peter was out of bed in seconds, switching on the bedside lamp and grabbing his jeans. He stumbled about, half asleep, trying to put them on. "It's okay, Pops, I'll go, you stay there. Shit!" He collided with the jar jam as he stumbled out into the hall. By the time I had struggled into my dressing gown and reached Joey's bedroom, Pete had the boy in his arms, talking softly to him. The boy trembled violently, his sobbing alternating with mumbled words, which neither of us could understand except for, "Mummy, no. Please Mummy."
We both realised that the boy was not quite awake. I recalled a similar incident, many years ago on board ship, when a shipmate had had a horrendous nightmare. Apparently, at the age of ten, he had witnessed the murder of his parents by an intruder. Remembering this I went through the same procedure I had back then. I got into the bed and sat back against the headboard. When I was comfortable, Pete eased Joey into my lap. Once the boy was in my arms, I cradled him as if he was a tot needing his mother's breast, and Pete tucked the duvet round us. Shushing him gently, I whispered words of comfort in his ear till I felt the shudders lessen and the sobbing fade to an occasional hiccup. Within ten minutes of hearing him scream, Joey's right arm reached up round my neck. His eyes were open and he stared up at me with tear filled eyes and a puzzled expression. "It's okay, Joey, you had a bad dream." I made to sit him up but he wasn't about to let go of me, so I tightened my embrace then planted a loving kiss on his cheek and had Pete help me move him off my lap and back into the bed. I wondered what to do next as he grabbed my hand and gripped it tight. "Don't go, Gramps, please."
Pete said, "Your grandfather is tired, sport. I'll stay with you."
I shook my head as I made a quick decision. "It's alright we'll both stay."
Pete nodded, and went to switch out the lamp in our bedroom. He came back carrying my pyjama bottoms. "I don't think Joey would want to wake up in the morning and find two naked men with matching woodies in his bed." I got off the bed to remove my robe and put on my pyjamas then we settled down with Joey in my arms and Pete cuddling up to him from behind. Joey was asleep in minutes, and Pete soon after him, but I lay awake for a long time with Angela on my mind, or rather what I would like to do to that shameful product of my loins. I reckoned a call to Ly about financing a series of appointments with a good psychologist wouldn't go amiss for the lad.
When I woke up, my arms were empty of a warm body. I turned over and saw something that brought tears of joy to my eyes. Joey was asleep in Pete's arms with his face buried in Pete's neck and his left arm round Pete's waist. I was loath to disturb them, so I eased my aching body out of bed and went to use the bathroom, thanking The Lord for timed central heating. When I returned, I stood for a few moments, gazing down at these two sleeping angels. Each with a peaceful expression on their faces, they were so much like; Joey could have been Pete's younger brother. I filled up at the joy of having them in my life. Stupid man! It wasn't a toy boy I needed. Leaving them to slumber on, I had a shower and dressed in the better of the two business suits Mags had brought from Lower Farm, and went to make breakfast. Mags, in his wisdom, had bought me a tea trolley, rather an old fashioned idea but handy for me in my old age I supposed, so I loaded the trolley with breakfast for three, just cereal and milk, boiled eggs, toast and jam, and a large pot of tea, and wheeled it into the bedroom to find the boys awake and Joey demanding to know the reason for Pete being in his bed.
"Calm down Joey; the least you can do is be grateful our nearest neighbours are my sisters at Lower Farm. You certainly had a good pair of lungs on you last night."
"Huh?" Joey frowned at me, and Pete said, "That's what I was trying to explain to you. You had a nightmare last night and needed us to comfort you. Don't you remember begging your Gramps to stay with you?"
Joey closed his eyes and sank back against the pillows. "I'm sorry, I don't remember all of it, but Gramps; you were here too?" He opened his eyes to look at me. "Both of you?"
"Yes, son; you were well protected last night. Bosun couldn't have done better. Now, let's have breakfast. It's seven forty five and we have to be at the school in an hour. Pete and I are going to have a chat with your head teacher and a couple of your teachers before school starts. Milk and sugar?"
"Just milk, please."
The school secretary scowled at Joey, not noticing us Pete stepping into the office behind him. "What are you doing here? You've been suspended." Then she spotted me and frowned. "One moment, please while I deal with this boy." She turned her attention to Joey. "Now, I suggest you leave these premises immediately or face a visit from security. Do I make myself clear?"
I stopped beside Joey and fixed her with an angry stare. "This young man is my grandson and is going nowhere except to see Mr. Mitchell. The name is Alton."
"Have you an appointment?"
"No, but he said to pop in to see him anytime if Joey had any problems. And you seem to be the biggest one at this moment in time."
The secretary glared at me. "Sorry, the head teacher is busy, this morning." She glanced quickly at the appointment book open on her desk. "Come back after school closes, I'll see if he can spare you a few minutes."
As if on cue, Donald Mitchell came out of his office, a big grin on his face. "Nice to see you again, Mr. Alton. It's been a long time since we saw you here. How's Mags doing?"
"Very well, Donald, he's with the band till after Christmas so I'm taking care of Joey on his behalf. How's your dad?"
"Not too good at the moment. He's due in hospital next week for a hip replacement. Come over sometime, I know he'll be pleased to talk about cows and such with an old farming crony."
The secretary's eyes popped wide open as we pumped hands for a few seconds. "Mr. Mitchell, you have a board meeting in five minutes."
"Let them stew for a few minutes. This is the pupil they're going to be talking about so I'll have that much more information to tell them, won't I? Come on Joey, let's get you sorted out." We left the secretary gasping like a fish, and followed Donald into his office. He grabbed chairs and pulled them to his file littered desk. As soon as we were comfortable, he pulled a file from the pile on his left and opened it. "Joey, I've had a quiet word with Miss Cornish and my other colleagues, primarily because someone called Mr. Chambers contacted me and gave me a bit of background information about you." He glanced up and looked directly at Joey. "It's all right, lad, he only told me after he extracted a promise from me that it would go no further than this office. I only wish I had known what you've been through when this trouble began. As I told Mags when he came to see me, this file of yours is academically the best I've seen for some time, and I've advised the board to lift the suspension, as of today, so that you can get back to your classes. Mags told me you have joined his aunt's theatre group. I'm glad to hear it; my son and his group are helping out with the pantomime too. Have you started rehearsals yet?"
"Yes, sir; I went there on Saturday."
"Jimmy couldn't make Saturday's rehearsal; he had something on in Manchester. Do you think you will stick at it?"
"And what about school?"
"I never wanted to be suspended. I just couldn't take the hassle of being misunderstood."
"Well, next time you hit a black spot, don't stay in the dark. Come and see me, and tell Miss Walker I said so. Pity I can't get rid of her, she's too good a secretary to lose and keeps this school running like a well-oiled engine. Now, I believe your class has a new schedule, starting today." Donald scanned a chart hung on the wall behind him. "Ah yes; Computers in classroom three, first period, followed by Geography in classroom eight. We had Mr. White leave unexpectedly and his replacement isn't available till after lunch, so we had to swap the schedules round quite a bit. He's a first class Geography teacher and I've been after him to join us here for a year now. Okay, lad; off you go."
As we left the office, Donald shook hands with me and then with Pete. "Are you related to the lad by any chance? You look a lot like him."
Pete shook his head. "No, just a friend of the family." We said our goodbyes, smiling sweetly at Miss Walker and receiving a glare in return, and left the building wondering how Donald would fare at the board meeting.
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