The Bull Singer
I sat by Harold's bed, holding his hand and watching him as he struggled to breathe. The stroke had affected all his right side, his speech, and the right side of his face was all skewed, his mouth pulled down into an ugly tilt. The doctors said there was little chance of his recovery due to his advanced age, and they didn't think he would last the night; but the old codger had proved them wrong. It was now eight thirty in the morning. Just as well because I dreaded him dying; he was my only connection with my past and there were so many question I needed to ask him. He knew I was there; I could feel his left hand gripping mine every so often. Then he let go of my hand and beckoned me closer. I leaned over him and placed my right ear close to his mouth. Through his tortured breathing I managed to make out. "Off…fffii…ccce. Say..ffffe. Le…tt…ers. Sis…ter…Ma….reee. You…fin…d…br..oth…." and that was all. When I looked down at him, his eyes stared sightlessly back at me, and the alarms went off on his monitor.
"Nooo! Harold, noooo!" Tears coursed down my face and I clung to him as long as the nurses allowed me, and to be fair to me, they let me go back to him once they had tidied things up. After a few minutes, I pulled the sheet over his face myself.
"Goodbye, my dear friend. Go in peace." I called Jenny and told her the sad news. "I'm going to the theatre now. There are some things he wants me to look at in his office."
"Okay, Ricky, I'll let the band know and we'll meet you at the theatre."
"That's okay, I'll -."
"You silly thing, you shouldn't be on your own; not at a time like this. We all loved Harold and will want to say goodbye." Jenny was right, of course; it was good to have friends I could depend on. I phoned Rosie, and Harold's closest friend Tom Crossman, and then I headed for the theatre. To my disgust I found that the demolition workers had already erected a security fence round the building, and there was no way the foreman was going to let me into the theatre, even though I stated that I was Harold's foster son and entitled to be there. All he said was that he wasn't going to let some long-haired street kid get in and damage the place and to get the hell out of his sight. For crying loud, they were getting ready to knock the place down! I phoned Tom again but got no answer, and tried reasoning with the foreman who replied by calling some of his gang over.
Things were going to get physical when, to my relief, Tom arrived on his motorbility scooter. His countenance was stern. "Mr. Read is it? I hope you are not going to do anything rash." He parked the scooter right in front of the foreman, locked it and climbed off it, taking a folded walking stick out of the front basket. The stick clacked into a straight black cane, which he leaned on while glaring at Mr. Read.
"This punk thinks he can run wild all over this place. I'm not having it. I have my job to do."
"Even when 'this punk' as you call him, now owns the place?"
My jaw dropped a mile. "Own it? How?"
Tom nodded and took a buff coloured envelope from his top-coat pocket. He handed it to Mr. Read. "Read that and tell your men to back off and leave the site. Mr Monks is the owner of this theatre till he hands over the keys to the CCP. That letter gives me power of attorney over the estate of the late Mr. Briggs." Mr. Read's mouth opened and shut like a wet fish as the contents of the letter sank in. Tom winked at me and said in my ear, "Harold left a will naming you as his heir and that letter was with it in case of trouble like this. Everything goes to you as his legal son, including the theatre, and his cottage, which will make a very nice home for you and Jenny and Baby Monks as long as you let Rosie live with you. She'll make a wonderful nanny for you." Plucking the letter out of Mr. Read's hands, he pointed to the gate in the fencing. "Are you going to open this gate or do I have to have the Commissioner himself wrap you in a legal suite for jumping the gun. That fencing was supposed to be put up AFTER the keys to the theatre were handed over. NOT BEFORE. And another thing, the removal of all of Mr. Briggs's belongings includes the Wurlitzer organ in the basement. I represent the Organ Preservation Society of Great Britain and we have a stay of demolition from the Commissioner to give our experts time to remove said organ. I'm sure you don't want a civil action against you for damaging a priceless instrument? We don't want another situation as happened in Llandudno, do we? A beautiful Christie organ it was, and lovingly restored. We fought tooth and nail to move the organ in the basement of the Astra Theatre before the demolition gang got their mitts on the place. It was moved to a warehouse for safekeeping. Unfortunately the warehouse was damaged and the instrument was destroyed."
Mr Read and his men just gaped at us as Tom placed a hand on my shoulder and guided me through into the fenced off area. "Beautiful instrument, it was." I saw tears in Tom's eyes as he continued, "I used to spend my holidays in Llandudno as a child and loved to watch that organ rising up from the basement, all lit up and sounding so rich. This one does the same. Now young man, let's see what Harold chose to hide in his safe, shall we?" Once we were in the office at the back of the theatre, Tom pointed to Harold's desk. "The safe key is taped to the underside of the left hand bottom drawer of this desk. Your knees are younger than mine." I retrieved it and Tom went to the picture of Harold's father on the opposite wall. He swung the picture to one side to reveal Harold's safe, a tiny compartment no more than nine inches by nine; no numbered dial, just a door and a keyhole. He unlocked the safe and reached inside and pulled out a brown envelope. It was addressed to him so he tore it open. Pulling out a single fold sheet of paper he read it. "Well, he certainly made sure he was ready to meet his maker. These are letters he wrote to various people a few weeks ago. I watched him write them, but I didn't know what was in them or who they were for. There's one for you, one for his sister, Mary, where ever she is, and one for someone called W. D'Marco, and each envelope bears the words, "My last letter to, and then the name." Tom handed me my letter and
I tore it open and read Harold's spidery scrawl.
Something struck my cheek and I jerked back to find myself slumped in Harold's chair with Tom peering into my face with a frown of concern. "Another blackout, lad? I thought Harold told you to see a doctor? You can't afford to be sick, what with the baby coming soon."
"I'm okay, it's nothing." I tried to control my hammering heart. "I'll see the doctor in the morning, I promise." You have enough to cope with, being Harold's receiver. You have the funeral to arrange and Harold's sister to search for, without worrying about me."
"Well, see that you do" Tom snorted through his Father Christmas whiskers. "I can't do this on my own. I need you to help me put my old friend to rest. Do you understand me lad? No flaking out like this."
I was about to reply when I heard a shout from the auditorium, and Dave, our drummer burst into the office. "Ricky, you'd better come quick; it's Jenny."
I grabbed hold of Daley and pushed him up against the car. "What do you mean, they'll be killed?"
At first Daley stared at me with eye full of terror then he relaxed in my grip and shook his head. "Mags, you don't know what you're getting into."
"Well why don't you start talking and tell me?"
"I can't, Mags. I promised."
I pushed my face into his. "I don't give a shit what you promised. That's my nephew and Dad's mate you're talking about and you're going to tell me what's going on or so help me I'll tear it out of you." A pair of strong hands lifted me as if I were made of paper, and threw me away from Daley, and I landed in a heap by the side of the manager's trailer.
When my head stopped spinning and I managed to look up. Indian stood over me; as he reached down for me, Daley yelled, "No, leave him be. We need to talk."
For answer Indian grabbed me by the shoulders, yanked me to my feet, and stood me in front of Daley. "You talk, but no touching," he growled, "or you'll be eating your base sax through your arse."
I watched the suddenly not so gentle giant amble back into the staging then signalled for Daley to get in the car. Once seated in the beamer, I said, "I'm sorry Daley. I don't care what you promised or to who. All I care about are Joey and Pete."
Daley shook his head. "So do I Mags but, God forgive me, I made Bill a promise never to tell."
"About what for crying out loud?"
"Billy wasn't Bill's lad. Bill and his wife adopted him so they could bring him to the UK and hide him."
"Hide him? From who?"
"From his real mother."
"You're not making sense."
"Okay, I'll tell you what I know, okay?" For half an hour I listened to Daley's tale, my fears for Joey's safety mounting with every word he uttered. Although he didn't know the whole story, he said Billy's mother had threatened to kill the child and Bill's brother begged him to take the baby to England and hide him, which was how Bill and the boy ended up at top Farm.
"But surely it was risky to place Billy in the public eye as a member of Billy Junior if you were supposed to help hide him!"
Daley shrugged his shoulders. "You know I was reluctant to do that the band persuaded me that enough time had elapsed, for it to be safe enough that the hunt for him was over. But now I know who his real mother is, and there was not just billy who was in danger, I'm not surprised Bill was concerned about keeping Billy hidden. Now we have three boys to hide and I hope you're not going to do anything stupid. I feel for those boys as much as you do, but going off half cocked isn't going to help them."
"Well first of all we've got to warn them what they're getting into, and make them turn round and come home so we can talk things through with them." I took out my mobile and dialled Pete's number. I let it ring for some time before switching off. I rang Joey's number and got a not available signal. I cursed as put my phone away. "Trust Joey not to charge his phone up!"
"I thought you said you could use a codeword for emergencies?" Daley reminded me.
"Good thinking Mr .D." I took my phone out again and dialled the number I had been given. When I heard a gruff voice say,
"Oldham Social Services, Jessie Welch speaking"
I said "Houston."
We arrived at the Crayel house, well to me it was a palace, complete with a high stone wall and a huge wrought iron gate.
"Wow, Pete! You never said you lived in a castle!"
Pete laughed as he stopped the car in front of the gate. "It might look like one but I assure you it's not as smart as it looks. It was turned into apartments years ago when my Gran Crayel ran into financial trouble. Gran just uses one of the ground floor apartments now; the rest are rented out to old friends she can trust." Getting out of the car he went to a box built into the gatepost. I watched him open it and press a button inside. He spoke into the box, and came back to the car. "So far so good, at least the porter didn't tell me to get lost or threaten to call the cops. Jeff must be mellowing in his old age." The gates swung open and Pete drove the car up the short, curving drive, and brought it to a halt outside a columned porch and a large blue door. We got out of the car and walked up the steps as the door opened. An old man in a uniform pulled it wide, nodded at Pete and waved us into the foyer. Pete headed towards a door to the left of the porter's table and rang the bell set in the wall. After a few seconds, a voice, old and crackling, said, "Yes? Can I help you?"
Pete smiled at the spy hole. "Hi Gran, can I talk to you for a moment?"
"Oh, heavens! Peter? Wait a minute." There came the sound of a muffled conversation then a chain being dropped and the door being unlocked. The door swung open to reveal, not an old lady but a distinguished looking man who stared out at Pete with a shocked expression. I moved close to Pete, ready to defend my brother.
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