The Bull Singer
I threw back the bed covers and made to scramble out of bed but Ms Welch stopped me with a low snarl. "Don't you dare. One of the conditions of Mr. Alton visiting you is that you stay put. I've worked my guts out for this meeting; just don't spoil things for everybody, or I'll turn your nuts into rissoles." Before I could protest, she turned to face my visitors. "Gentlemen, this visit is for fifteen minutes only, as per Doctor Jones' request. Joseph has just recovered from a heart operation and needs to be calm and rested." Ha! If the ride I had just had didn't cause any problems, nothing would. With the looks of an angry nanny goat, and with Marge's nodded approval, Ms Welch continued, "You have five minutes to talk with him then I ask that you give Mr. Alton the rest of the time to talk to Joseph in private while you make yourselves comfortable in the lounge area." What a woman! I wouldn't want to have crossed her path in a hurry but she certainly seemed to have my interests at heart as she accepted the nods of agreement from my visitors.
Doctor Jones was the first to come forward to check me over in case the excitement was too much. Satisfied, he stepped back and joined Steve and Ms Welch at the foot of my bed, and let Mags wheel Elias to my bed. I found it hard to take my tear filled eyes off Mags, but I had to for courtesy's sake; after all it was Elias who was paying for my stay in this clinic. We shook hands and I felt my hand being crushed as he held on to it and said, "Whatever happens after you leave here, trust me and this white haired beanpole behind me. Mr. Mornington is the best family lawyer I have had the pleasure to employ; the only legal man I can honestly call a friend. Listen to him and do as he tells you. Now, how are you feeling?"
I shook my head and tried to dry my eyes with the back of my free hand. Failing miserably, I choked back a sob. "I'm okay, I think. I'm just..." I lost it, and covered my face with my hand, not wanting people to see me break down like this. Then a pair of strong arms enfolded me in a crushing hug and I just let everything go.
"Hush now." It certainly wasn't Mags who whispered in my ear. "Getting yourself upset won't help, and Mr. Alton will be told to leave." I looked up and stared into the craggy face of Ms Welch, and that made me feel worse. I just couldn't stop the tears, and I buried my face against her chest as she rocked me gently. I felt my left wrist gripped by a thumb and finger, and realized someone was checking my pulse, and then I felt the cool touch of a stethoscope thrust inside my pyjama top. She was right. I had to pull myself together or have Mags thrown out, and I didn't want that to happen. I battled against the gasps and the hiccups till I was able to sit back and look at Mags with tear-filled eyes, and saw matching tears in his. Someone thrust a bunch to tissues in my face, and Ms Welch gazed down at me, trying to hide a look of motherly concern with a frown. She thrust a tissue at my nose and snarled, "Blow."
I blew into the tissue. "HARDER!" I took a deep breath and almost blew my sinuses out of my head. "Now then, boy; pull yourself together and listen. Everyone in this room is on your side and we all want to do what's best for you and Mr Alton. You still have a few minutes before your temporary guardian arrives, and I'm sure you and Mr. Alton have a lot to talk about. Now you just lie back and rest for a minute while I talk to Mr. Alton." She thrust a fresh tissue in my hands and laid me back down with all the gentleness of a mother with a new baby, and I was glad to do as I was told, but before she left me I whispered my thanks and she rewarded me with a lovely warm smile, the first of many I would receive from her over the next few weeks. She straightened up, turned and glared at everyone, needing no words to convey her instructions. Everyone drew back from the bed and headed for the couches around the coffee table. Ms Welch had a few hurried words with Mags before she let him come and sit on the bed and gather me in his arms. At last, I felt safe.
"I'm so sorry, Mags," I choked out as he crushed me to him. "This is my fault; if I hadn't gone for my mother, no one -."
"Hey, stop that." Mags stifled my outburst by pressing my head against his chest. "What's done is done. We'll get through this, okay?"
"But I'm gonna have to live with some old guardian or other, and I'll never see you for ages."
"Not so, sunshine. As long as Ms Welsh or your guardian comes with me, we can see each other any time we want. And you can see how Ms Welch feels about that. I'm just glad she's a friend of Elias Chambers. You aren't the first kid who's met up with Elias in this clinic." When I gave him a puzzled frown, he smiled and said, "I'll tell you a story about two high-spirited ex-navy men who decided the world was bad. They devised a plan to pool their money and time to try and help kids like you. The first two kids they rescued from their sexually abusive families wanted to be doctors, and these men paid for them to go to medical school, here in Manchester. One of these sailors made a lot of money and built a clinic, the other went back home to help his father run his farm, and used his wits to search out kids who needed their help. The two young doctors took charge of the clinic and a team of child experts was developed, complete with social workers and lawyers. Do you get the picture now?"
Elias? Edward? Ms. Welch, Marge, Derek, Sam and Steve; were they all in this together?
"Joey? Are you with me?"
Joey blinked and looked up at Mags. "What? Oh, yeah. I'm just...just stunned that's all. So that's why Gramps was so angry with the Bitch."
"Too right, kid. It looks like Elias tried damned hard to keep you in his sights every time she disappeared with you. But your mother was so good at covering her tracks; he couldn't prove she was harming you. That's all changed now. You're old enough and savvy enough to stand up in court and tell the truth."
"But it won't help you, will it?"
"No, but as long as you're safe I don't care what happens to me. Your mother's had the same restraining order slapped on her."
"Can't I live with Gramps?"
"I'm sorry, Joey. That bitch has implicated him as an accessory to my crimes till we can prove otherwise, so he's off limits. The magistrates decided your guardian has to be someone outside the family."
"That sucks." I lay back and closed my eyes, feeling suddenly tired. I didn't want this to be happening. I heard Mags ask me if I was all right, but his voice seems so far away. When I opened my eyes again, Derek was studying a bleeping monitor by my bed, and there were contacts stuck to my chest and a thing like a clothes peg pinching my left index finger.
Mags still sat on the bed, holding my right hand and gazing down at me with eyes full of concern. "You had us worried for a moment. Derek's put you back on the monitor just in case all this was too much for you. I said it was too soon after your trip to theatre but I was voted down. Just as well, I'll be on the road with Billy Junior tomorrow. The magistrates agreed it`s the best way to keep your mother from causing me more trouble. But while I'm away there's something I want you to do."
Mags was about to answer me when the bedroom door open and Pete walked in, looking very dapper in a business suit and a black overcoat. Ms Welch snarled, "Well at last! Where have you been?"
"Sorry Ms Welch, the traffic was horrendous. Yours truly got court in the middle of it." He came to sit on the opposite side of the bed to Mags and took my left hand in his. "Have they told you yet?"
"Tell me what?"
"Who your guardian is." When I shook my head at him he grinned. "You're looking at him."
"You? But you have to be ancient to be a guardian."
"No; you just have to be at least twenty-one."
My eyes filled up with tears of relief as I squeezed his hand hard. "And I had the idea I'd be living with some old retired schoolteacher or something. Thanks, Pete; with you at my back I think I can survive. So what's with the natty suit and coat?"
Pete grinned. "I had to impress the court didn't I?" He turned to Mags. "Have you told him yet?"
"Not yet; I was waiting for you to arrive." Mags squeezed my other hand and leaned forward to talk in my ear. "What I say is for yours and Pete's ears only. I've had a call from Jeremy. He can't find any record of Pete being adopted by anyone called
Crayel. He's been searching for your own birth record as well, and there's nothing in the birth indexes in London. I agree with Steve Parker's theory. Your birth certificate is a forgery and I think Angela is at the back of it. Why she'd want to forge things we may never know, but we have to start looking for clues. Is that metal box of hers still at Home Farm?"
"Yeah, she never takes it anywhere. She thinks no one will interfere with it while it's there."
"Well let's prove her wrong. Pete, can you get hold of a pair of bolt cutters and break into that case?"
"I'll ask Edward if he's got a pair. It shouldn't be too hard. What are we looking for?"
Mags shook his head. "I'm not sure; anything, no matter how trivial, that may indicate where Joey was born. Elias said something about Angela living in Italy for a time before Joey was born. Jeremy is willing to go over there to do some digging but he has to have some clues to work on. Billy's family came from Italy and I promised him the day he died, that I'd look for a missing cousin, so when you've finished at Home Farm I want you and Pete to go over to Bingford and see what you can find there. Bill had a desktop and so did Billy. Not knowing much more than how to switch a computer on, and passwords being used to protect files, I've never checked them. I never heard Billy talk about passwords and stuff so I don't suppose the files will be hard to get into. There could be something on them. Here's the code for the house alarm. "Mags handed Pete a piece of paper. "Pete, have you thought any more about going to see Richard Crayel?"
Pete Nodded. "I phones Dad and asked if he'd see me but he cut me off. My best bet is to go and talk to my Grandma Crayel. She's pretty much under Dad's thumb but she always had a soft spot for me. It's just a case of getting to her when Mum and Dad aren't around."
"Okay; you've already got the use of the BMW. Use that to get around in, and you can use it to go and see Mrs Crayel, but get to Home Farm and Bingford first; promise?"
"How do we contact you if we find anything?" Pete asked.
Mags took back the paper from Pete and fished in his coat pockets for a pen; using it to write his contact number on the paper, he said, "That's my mobile phone number. I'll keep it switched on at all times so call me any time, day or night. Okay guys? Now I trust you to keep your mouths shut if you find anything; it's possible Angela will still have her spies about. The less she knows the better." At this point, Ms Welch indicated that our time together had overrun, so Mags and I had a few more minutes alone to enjoy an extra cuddle for which I was grateful. Ms Welch might have been a battleaxe in performing her job as champion of abused children but to me she was a gem in a million. Eventually, everyone but Marge and Pete left the room, Mags giving me a wave and blowing me a kiss on the way out. Marge took me off the monitor and Pete sat with me till I dozed off. When I woke up, Pete had gone and on the bedside cabinet was a small parcel wrapped in gift paper with tag on it, which read, "From me to you, Mags."
I ripped the paper off and stared at the box. I smiled before opening it and then I lifted the sleek silver coloured electric razor and wished Pete was there to show me how to use it. Instinctively, I rubbed at my face, feeling the minuscule hair growth around my mouth and chin. My stomach grumbled and I glanced at the clock on the cabinet. Four thirty in the afternoon! Wow! No wonder I felt hungry. I rang my bell for assistance and a moment later, Marge came in and two minutes later I had a tray of delicious food to tuck into and later a male ward assistant to help me shower and use my new razor. The next two days were spent wearing my ankle support less and less, and having Physiotherapy for longer periods until I could hobble about without the use of crutches. Two days later, Pete drove me home to Home Farm where I found that some angels had cleaned the place from top to bottom and stocked the kitchen with food. When I found out who it was from Gramps, I phoned Aunt Mabel and Aunt Cissy to thank them.
Once we had eaten and cleared away our lunch, we tackled Angela's box. Using Gramps' bolt cutters, we broke the padlock and lifted out the contents, only to find loads of receipts and documents to do with past business transactions, all seeming at first glance to be above board. Under them were two old black and white photographs. I studied the first one, a faded portrait of a couple I recognized as Elias and his wife, my maternal grandmother. I had never seen a picture of her before, but I knew the man had to be Elias. The second photograph was of a young dark haired couple holding three babies of similar appearance and age, and an older toddler. While I studied this one I heard Pete give a gasp of surprise. I glanced up at him and found him staring, white-faced, at the picture. "I don't get it. I've seen that picture before, but why would your mother have a copy of it?"
"I haven't a clue. Where did you see it before?"
Pete's voice dropped to a whisper as he said, "At Grandmother Crayel's house."
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