The Bull Singer
All gone! My mentor, my fiancé, my baby; and now everything Jenny and I owned; all the things we had struggled and scrimped to buy, either smashed up or burning in front of me. I tried to stop them but I hurt too much to even move from where they had dropped me. In the flat they had beaten me up then made me watch as they smashed everything they could lay their hands on, including stuff that belonged to Prescott like the curtains and the dishes. They found our photograph album and destroyed that too. Then they had dragged me down the stairs and made me watch, shivering with cold, while they used lump hammers on Harold's appliances and the pram he had bought us. Such a beautiful thing, not one of these small-wheeled boneshaker buggy types, but a handsome white, coach built pram with large wheels complete with blankets and a dark blue hood. I clutched the blue teddy to me, determined to drag myself to the fire and throw myself on it. There was nothing to live for now.
"You're wrong," a voice said in my ear. " You have everything to live for and help is coming. Hang in there, Bro. " I lifted my head to see who had spoken to me but saw only the four thugs turning to watch someone arriving through the front gate. They turned to run off round the back of the building, while, in front of me the flames called to me, luring me to go closer. Someone put their arms round me and spoke my name. I heard voices around me but I was too dazed to concentrate on what they said. The next thing I knew, I seemed to be closer to the fire and could feel the heat of it on my face, and I found myself wrapped in something warm. The shivering faded a bit and I looked up and found myself kneeling in front of me, smiling and with tears in my eyes. "Ricky," my other me said, "I'm your brother Joey, and our older brother Peter's here too." the guy he called Peter held up a black and white picture of three babies and an older brother. No, this was just another dream I was having and in the dream, my other self pulled me forward into a tight embrace and let me cry on his shoulder. If only it were real.
After putting the photograph back in my coat pocket, I wrapped them both in as close a hug as I could, adding my own body-heat to that of the rug, while they wept on each other's shoulders. My own tears threatened to erupt, but I had to be strong for my brothers; I managed to choke them back as Mags and Dad came out of the building with the new owner. All three wore expressions of raw anger, and I heard the new owner say, "It looks like the boy needs medical help. Have you transport?" I watched Mags shake his head, and the man shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I have my 4x4; it's the least I can do to offer you a lift wherever you want to go." He gazed up at his new acquisition. "And please don't tar me with the same heartless brush used on the Prescotts. I only met them a week ago when I bought it at an auction. I never would have bought it if I'd known what he was up to, but I'm a builder. I buy up old buildings like this and renovate them and sell them on. Sometimes I turn them into flats and rent them out to kids like this one here. You see, I know what it's like to be homeless; and I swore I would never stand by and watch kids suffer like I did, while I could give them a roof over their heads. You've heard about the Shana Royle Foundation, of course? Its run by her widowed husband Gypsy Diaz the new international star. Its aim is to reunite damaged kids with their families, if they want to be reunited, and to provide a springboard for them to get back into society. We each have small shares in each other's benevolent companies. Now you've told me the boys' story, I'd like to recommend them to him." He glanced towards the slowly dying fire. "For now, I think we'd better get these boys to a safe haven. Got anywhere to go?"
Dad nodded. "We'll take them to my uncle's place. My mother and my wife will be there by now." With a nod of agreement, the owner went to bring his car up close to fire while Dad and Mags knelt down to gather Ricky in their arms. I moved back to give them room, and Joey reluctantly let go of our brother and let them lift him to his feet. Still dazed, Ricky's eyes closed and his legs buckled, and Mags lifted him in his arms, gently holding him as he would a tiny child, and I saw tears of compassion and love in his eyes as he gazed down at the face resting on his shoulder. I knew, then, that if Ricky needed a father, Edward would be more than willing to adopt him; in fact he would probably offer to adopt Joey and me as well. It took only ten minutes for Mr Worthington, our new friend, to drive us to Aidlemere Cottage, where Rosie greeted us. Dad had phoned ahead and by the time we arrived, Rosie had a bed ready for Ricky and had already called Great Uncle Harold's doctor and his friend Tom Crossman. Jessie and the doctor took charge and Ricky was soon tucked up in bed with the worst of his injures treated, including a couple of stitches in the cut above his eyebrow. Satisfied he was okay and asleep, the doctor left and Jessie called a conference.
"As you know, I'm only here on temporary assignment and must get back to Oldham; and Mr Chambers will need his chopper back."
I saw a thoughtful frown appear on Mags's face. "Does that mean I have to go back with you as well? I'd rather stay here with the boys."
"Unfortunately, yes. I can't go against the conditions of your bail, much as I'd like to."
Mags looked crestfallen, so I said, "No sweat, Mags. I'll stay with him, and Mum and Dad will be here too." Mags nodded, accepting the situation with some reluctance. Until we had the proof in our hands of the boys' ages, and that proof eventually presented to the court, there was nothing we could do. While we waited for the chopper to be refuelled and a flight plan registered at Bristol Airport, Mags tried once more to contact his researcher friend. "Strange! I'm getting a number unavailable signal. It's not like Jeremy to have his phone switched off; I'll try again later."
"Well, while you're waiting," Rosie said, "I'll make us some tea." Mum, Gran and Jessie insisted on helping her; I think it was a ruse to give them the chance to have a chat and give Rosie some support more than anything. Rosie had been with Harold for more than thirty years and regarded as part of the family, and it was obvious she missed him.
We men were left to talk in the lounge and I had the chance to share baby duties with Joey whose eyes had filled with tears the moment Jessie placed Baby Monks in his arms. We even shared the smelly duties as well, once we found the bag of baby stuff Harold and Rosie had bought in case Ricky and his young family chose to visit. Dad showed us how to change Baby Monk's nappy and what to use to clean him up, and we laughed at the shade of green Mags's face turned to at the smell. He escaped with the excuse that the baby would soon be hungry and carried the box of baby milk formula into the kitchen. He came back just as our nephew started fretting and hunting the front of my shirt for something to suck on. Baby Monks screwed his face up and opened his mouth to yell "FOOD!" but Mags shoved the bottle of warm milk in fast. With the teat firmly gripped by a pair of tiny rosebud lips there was no stopping him, as he sucked and gurgled away. "He's so beautiful," Joey whispered as he let the tiny fingers of one hand grip his index finger. "Can I do the burping?"
Dad grabbed a hand towel from the baby bag and draped it over Joeys left shoulder. "Some babies like to be burped over the shoulder, but Pete liked to sit on my knee and lean over with his head resting on my upper arm. As long as the head is supported, it's all trial and error." We tried both ways and soon learned that Baby Monks preferred to sit on Joey's left knee and lean against his arm while Joey patted and rubbed his back. Two hefty burps followed, making us all laugh; then it was back to the bottle. By the time the ladies joined us, Joey was lying back in Harold's recliner in his shirtsleeves with baby Monks asleep on his chest, his tiny head resting under Joey's chin, and Joey's shirt protected by a flannel. The ladies smiled and remarked how sweet they looked. Joey just gave them a contented smile. After setting the tea tray down on the coffee table, Rosie hurried to the dresser and rummaged in one of the drawers. She came back with a small camera. "Harold tried to show me how to use this thing but I never could understand these modern digital things. Give me a point and shoot any day." She dropped it in Dad's hands and he recorded the scene after making me kneel by the chair and have my picture taken with by brother and nephew.
Rose turned to Jessie. "You seem to have a way with babies, Ms Welch; do you have any children?"
"Oh, lovely; how many do you have?"
"At the last count, two thousand and sixty nine, not counting this new addition." She smiled as Rosie gaped at her, and added with a crafty grin, "With a job like mine, who needs marriage? Now, if you don't mind, everyone, I have to pay the local SS a visit and, if possible, arrange for my Bristol colleague to come here and see for himself that the baby is with his rightful father, blah, blah, blah. They don't normally work at the office on Sundays except for emergencies, but I managed to persuade my colleague that this was such an emergency. It's normally a long-winded process taking weeks, even months, and everything has to be done by the book. Pete, Joey, I know you said you want to take your brother and his baby home to Lancashire but you may find Ricky and the baby will have to stay down here for a while. He may be required to attend an emergency hearing at the local magistrate's court to claim temporary custody of his baby. I will suggest to Ricky that he also takes a DNA test. That will speed things up a bit and will prove he is the father. Joey, I'm afraid you will have to go back to school so you had better come back with me."
"Oh, no," Joey shook his head at her. "If Ricky stays, I stay. In any case, I can't be made to attend school as I'm seventeen not fifteen."
"What about the show, Joey?" Mags asked him.
"Sod the show."
"Hey, Bro," I nudged his arm. "I don't think Ricky would want you to let all those kids down. And I need to get back to Edward and the farm."
Joey's eyes widened. "You; a farmer?" I blushed and he giggled at me. Then both of us sobered as we thought about my relationship with the man who was now my grandfather as well as Joey's. "Oh, man," he whispered, "what a mess!"
I glanced up to check if anyone was listening to us and found everyone else busy saying goodbye to Jessie and gathering round the coffee table. I shifted round so I was facing him, put my mouth close to his ear, and whispered, "What about you and Mags? He's our uncle."
Joey's face creased in a grimace of frustration. "I don't know what to do. I love him, Pete. I was about to kill myself before he came into my life. I know he hasn't said it out loud but he's still grieving for Billy. I can't just drop him and say thanks but I've got my brothers now. Would you give up Gramps?"
I sighed, wondering if I could say what I had to without seeming cold hearted. "It's different for Ed…..for Gramps and me. We aren't in love. It's just an old man trying to relive his younger days and needing a bit of company; and me needing a father figure when I thought my parents hated me."
Joey looked hard at me. "So it was just companionship with you and Gramps?"
"If you want to put it that way, yeah; although he does make me feel wanted and more than someone's rundown pair of shoes. Right now I'd rather think of him as my granddad rather than my lover. I guess he'll think the same way too."
Joey turned his face away from me, thinking hard. "What about us?"
"What about us?"
"What we did."
He turned his head to look at me and I shook my head. "No, Joey; it isn't about sex. I think we have something that transcends that. It transcends what we feel as brothers, too. We have a love so deep I never realised it existed. What we also have is a need to fill the gaps in our lives our mother created. We need to be strong for each other, for Ricky, and for this little man here. When we went to bed at Top Farm, we were both saddened at finding we would never see Billy again, and we comforted each other. I don't care a toss if folks throw the incest angle in our faces. We know what we need from each other, and we know nothing happened that night; and I know I love you so much that nothing is going to change how I feel about you." Uncaring that anyone might see, I leaned forward to plant a loving kiss on Joey's lips. When I looked at him again, he had tears in his eyes. One escaped and started its journey down his left cheek. I wiped it away and he grinned and sniffed the others back as Mum made her way across the lounge with two cups of tea.
"Do you boy's take sugar?"
"Nah, we're sweet enough," Joey replied.
Mum raised her eyebrows at me. "And since when did you stop taking three heaped tea spoons in your tea?"
"Since I had to fend for myself and couldn't afford to buy it, so you chucking me out did me a favour." I helped Joey right the chair and sit forward so he could hold the baby safe with one arm and balance his cup and saucer on Harold's special over-arm tray.
Mum glared down at me, her hands on her hips, but the glare didn't reach her eyes. "After years of me trying to wean you off it; I don't know!" She ruffled my hair and went back to the coffee table where she sat down beside my dad and gave his arm a squeeze.
Dad said, "What was that for?"
Mum squeezed his arm again. "Nothing, I'll tell you later." They both winked at me and I felt so good that the family was back together again. Rising from my knees, I dragged a straight-backed chair to the side of the recliner. Nothing was going to stop me being with my brothers; nothing. As for my nephew, boy what a lovely surprise! I had wondered whether the Alton line would ever be continued for Edward's sake; Mags being the only son. Billy had uncovered his orientation and Joey seemed determined to set it in cement. Now we didn't have to worry. Here, sleeping peacefully, within Joey's loving embrace, was the heir to the Alton estate, all be it with a different surname, and, goodness! I didn't even know his first name.
"Penny for your thoughts, Bro," Joey broke into my thoughts. Baby Monks began to stir, his mouth hunting again. Joey smiled down at his young charge and changed the baby's position onto his right shoulder, flexing his left arm once it was free of its burden. "They're not lightweights are they?"
I was about to give a sarcastic reply when there was a knock on the front door. Rosie was busy, so Gran went to answer it. Her scream rang though the cottage, making Dad, Mags and myself run to the door to find Gran had slammed it shut. She leaned on it, her eyes wide with shock. As she staggered away from the door she whispered, "Oh, My God! It's Leslie Phillips!" and promptly fainted.
While we all gathered round Gran, Mags wrenched the door open and I saw an elderly man in a trilby and an expensive camel coat standing on the step, looking very surprised as he stared down at Gran. His moustache twitched as he looked up apologetically at us, and said, "Well, hello!"
"Bloody hell Jerry; what are you doing here?" Mags pulled the man into the cottage and slammed the door shut. "I've been trying to get hold of you for the last twenty four hours. Where the hell have you been?"
"Steady on, old chap. I didn't know my presence was going to cause such a stir. Is the lady all right?"
Gran had come round and was staring up at the man I assumed to be Mags's researcher friend. "Leslie?"
"Unfortunately not, dear lady, although I am told I do look like him. Allow me to introduce myself. The Honourable Jeremy Rheid, at your service." He tipped his hat at her then removed it with a flourish. "I will admit I sometimes make a little pocket money doubling for the grand old man of the "Carry On" films whenever the need arises." Once we had moved back into the lounge and Gran was settled in Rosie's fireside chair, Jeremy took her offered hand. "I take it you are a fan of Mr Phillips?"
"Oh, yes." Gran laughed and let her hand remain in his. "I've watched all his films, and I'm so glad he's still working and making films. I'm sorry I made a fool of myself just then. I thought my dream had come true and he'd actually come to see me. I should have thought he wouldn't come here though; this not being my home address."
Jeremy bowed to Gran then turned to Mags and pointed at him with his silver topped walking stick. "You, my good man, owe me a new mobile phone."
"Oh, yes? How come?"
"Well I don't much like being chased out of an Italian restaurant by a mad chef wielding a meat cleaver."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]