The Bull Singer
At last, those who needed a bed started settling in for the night. I realised Rosie and Tom were more than just friends, the way she looked up into his eyes when he invited her to go back to his home for the night; Rosie having given up her tiny attic room for Mother. After a tour of the house and surrounding area with Charlie, Mags and I folded the leaves of the dining table down, pushed back the rest of the furniture to make space for a Zee bed for Mags. It was ancient and I remarked on the bed not being comfortable but Mags grinned and showed me the depth of the mattress, a fully sprung one. Next we tackled the sofa bed in the lounge for Ann and me. It creaked and squeaked as we unfolded it. Once it was completely open, I tested it and it felt quite comfortable. Eventually Mother and Ann had the beds made up, and it only left the problem of where Pete was going to sleep. I studied the recliner and tried flattening it out as far as it would go. It was obvious Joey and Ricky would stay in Harold's old room, so I turned to Jeremy and Jessie who were sitting on a love seat under the lounge window, their hands entwined and gazing into each other's eyes. I coughed politely. "Would either of you like a nightcap?" Hint, hint.
"What?" Jeremy glanced up at me, glassy eyed. When he landed back on earth, he smiled and said, "Oh, no thank you. Many years ago I lost this little apple to the army and I've had a hell of a life from my family ever since." and in true Leslie Phillips style he added "Don't worry about us, dear boy, I'm taking this one home to Daddy, and the sooner the better before she disappears again." Jeremy shook hands with everyone, including a rather subdued Pete, and led a mesmerised and very meek Jessie Welch out of the cottage. Charlie stayed for a last cup of coffee, and then left the cottage carrying a flask and a pack of sandwiches big enough to feed an army. He stayed on the step until he heard me turn the key in the lock and shoot the dead bolts, then he called through the door, "Don't forget to charge your phones; g'night."
Ann took hers and Mother's overnight bags upstairs, saying she would get changed in Mother's room, while I prepared to deal with Pete and get him tucked up on the recliner. He sat on the recliner, gazing sad eyed at the bedroom door. At last he looked up at me, his eyes brimming with tears. As he got to his feet, he said simply, "Dad?" I caught him in a tight hug and felt the tremors rip through his body, and I let him cry on my shoulder as I rocked him. "I think I understand, Pete. You feel shut out, don't you?"
"He's my brother too, Dad."
This only caused my anger at the boys' callous disregard for their brother's feelings to rise like a raging sea in my chest. When I had the chance I would give them a good talking to. "I know, son, I understand what you are going through, and I'll support you, no matter what. I'm sure that if you give them time, you'll have two brothers who love you more than you ever dreamed of; but at the moment they are being most inconsiderate. I agree you should stay with the boys and not go back home. It might be a good idea to apply for guardianship of Ricky as well. I'm sure Josh will help. I think you will find the boys will appreciate it."
"What if they don't agree?"
"What is there not to agree to?" I knew, too, that the events of the last thirty-six hours were finally catching up with a somewhat inexperienced supervisor of boys only three years his junior. What was Jessie Welch thinking of, landing him in this pit full of trouble. How did she expect him to react if Angela's thugs caught up with them? I hugged him closer and rubbed his back; something I had missed doing since I forced him to leave home. I laid my head down on his, loving the smoothness of his fine hair against my cheek.
After a while, he stirred and leaned back from me. "I guess you're right, Dad. I'm behaving like a silly kid."
"No you're not, son." I lifted his chin and gazed down into his eyes. "You've reacted to an emotional situation." He nodded his head but I knew he wasn't happy. We got undressed and used the tiny bathroom tucked away under the stairs, and by the time we returned to the lounge, Ann had returned and Pete allowed her to make a fuss of him. Eventually, we managed to coax him to lie down on the recliner where Ann tucked a duvet round him and kissed him goodnight before getting into bed herself. I used every excuse possible to keep me occupied until I was sure Pete had fallen asleep, and then switched off the lounge lights and stretched out beside my gently snoring wife, sure that everything would seem much clearer for all of us in the morning. Ann was a lady who found it very easy to fall asleep even after a traumatic event but was just as easily wakened. Not so for me. I would chase my problems round my brain like a toy train on a circular rail track but once I was asleep folks had to dig me out with an excavator. For some reason it didn't happen that night when Ann screamed and the instinct to protect my family kicked in. I sat up with a jerk to find the room in semi darkness, and an icy draught coming from somewhere. A huge shadow stood at the foot of the bed and the barrel of a gun swung towards me. A heavy, old fashioned, wind up clock stood on the table by my side of the bed. Without hesitation, I grabbed it and threw it will all my might at the intruder before me. He gave a grunt of pain then, with a heavy sigh, he collapsed to his knees and leaned heavily against the foot of the bed. Ann shot out of bed to switch on the main light and we stared in horror at the man bleeding all over the duvet. "Oh, my God! Charlie, what have I done?"
Mags dived into the room, unaware that he was only wearing a pair of underpants as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with one hand and brandished the base of a heavy table lamp in the other. "Charlie!" Together, we managed to roll Charlie over so he could lie down on the floor. He had a nasty gash on his forehead where the clock had hit him. As soon as she recovered from her shock, my quick thinking wife ran to the kitchen for something to stem the flow of blood slowly staining the carpet, while Mags and I checked him over for other injuries. Ann ran back with a roll of kitchen towel and a household first aid box. Charlie blinked up at us and tried to raise his head, but groaned instead.
"Don't try to move, Charlie," Ann said as she cleaned the wound to have a better look at it. "Let us sort you out first. You might need some stitches in that."
"I'm so sorry," I said, "all I saw was someone getting ready to attack us with a gun."
The bedroom door opened and one of the boys hurried out, looking round for signs of trouble. "I heard a scream, what's wrong? Oh, shit!" Pulling his bathrobe closer, he hurried to our side and watched as Mags made a pack of the kitchen roll and placed it under Charlie's head.
"Radio," Charlie mumbled, and lifted his left hand. "Co...c...code...red."
I grabbed the tiny instrument from him, pressed the speaker button and said clearly, "Code red, code red. Charlie's down."
As soon as I released the button I heard a voice in my ear. "Code red to go. ITA, two minutes. Out."
As I dropped the radio to the carpet I suddenly had a thought that left me more than a little chilled. "Charlie, you heard me shoot the dead bolts when you left last night, how did you get in here?"
Charlie blinked up at me, trying to focus on my face. "Door was...un...unlocked. I...I...thought...someone had got in. S...sorry to give you a...shock, sir."
I shook my head at him. "I don't get it. We were all asleep."
I felt a tap on my shoulder and I looked up to find Joey gazing round the room. "Richard, where's Pete?"
Richard sprang to his feet and stared round the room. "Peter!" Then his gaze found Joey, and I have never seen a man's expression change so fast, from puzzlement to raw fury. "You! I warned you." With a roar he launched himself at him and dealt him a blow in the chest. "You selfish little prick, you cut him out and now he's gone." I shot to my feet and launched myself at Richard as he drew his fist back to hand out another blow. I took him to the floor but, before I could deal with him, Ann yelled and pointed towards Joey as his eyes rolled and he collapsed. At that moment, like a scene out of police movie, the room filled with men holding guns at the ready. Still holding Richard, I raised my other hand to warn them off, as Ann dropped to the floor beside Joey and let out a yell of despair. "He's not breathing. Someone do something."
Charlie waved a hand at the men. "Don't just stand there, help him," and in seconds we were all pushed roughly to one side as the four men went to work, one pounding Joey's chest, another whipping out a crash mask from a pocket on his pants leg. Placing this over Joey's mouth he began to breath into it.
Beside me, Richard began to heave with sobs as he realised what he had done. I led him over to the bed and sat him down while Ann ran to the kitchen to get some water. Leaving him in Ann's care, I knelt down beside Charlie. "What happened, Charlie?"
"I chased an intruder." I helped him sit up and he brought the pack of paper from his face to check how much blood he was losing. I gave him another wad of towelling and he held it to his face once more. "Remember I almost caught one earlier? I decided to stay around and let my boys patrol the outer area. About ten minutes ago, I caught him trying to open up the garage. I challenged him and then someone hit me from behind." Charlie touched the back of his head, winced, and looked at the blood on his fingers. A chuckle escaped his throat. "Not my lucky night; anyone else like to have a go at me? When I came round Mr Briggs's old car was gone." One of the men raised his arm and flexed his hand open and shut a few times. Charlie sighed with relief. "Thank God for that. How is he?"
"He's okay," the man who had raised his arm said. "He was only out for a minute."
Puzzled, I knelt beside Joey and brushed his hair back off his face. I saw the scar, and nodded. "This isn't Joey. This is Ricky, and it looks like he has the same problem as his brother, a hole in the heart. So where is Joey and the baby?"
"Right here," Joey said as he emerged unsteadily from the bedroom carrying Harry who sucked hungrily at the knuckle of his right index finger. "Ricky made us hide in the bathroom. I felt a blow to my chest and passed out for a moment. What's going on? And what wrong with Ricky?"
I looked closely at him, and wondered about the psychic phenomena concerning twins. "Same as you, sport, only he discovered it the hard way."
I looked down at Ricky and found him gazing, pale faced and glassy eyed at everyone. "Christ! I feel like I've been stomped on."
I hadn't noticed one of the men leave the cottage but he came back carrying a small oxygen bottle and mask. He knelt beside Ricky and said, "Your heart stopped so we had to get you going again; we had to thump your chest a bit. Now I want you to use this for a few minutes, until we get you and Charlie sorted out." When Ricky eyed it suspiciously, the man added, "Don't worry, it's only oxygen. Can we get him moved to a bed, please? I don't want him moving around until he's been checked over." Ann indicated the sofa bed and the men lifted Ricky and laid him on it, and Ann covered him over with the duvet. Harry finally decided that he wasn't getting anything from Joey's finger and let out a yell of frustration. Ann, now in her dressing gown, reached out her arms. "I'll feed Harry while you stay with your brother, Joey."
Joey let her take the baby. "What about Richard?"
"I'm all right." Richard stood up and turned to face Ricky. "I'm sorry, lad, I'm afraid I don't cope very well in situations like this."
Ricky shook his head slowly. "Don't worry about it. You're worried about Pete, and waking up with a gun in my face would have had me climbing the wall as well."
"Shall I call an ambulance?" I asked.
Charlie shook his head. "We don't want the police swarming round here and scaring everyone; and wasting hours making statements, do we? The boss wouldn't want too many questions asked about our being here either." He turned to speak to one of the men. "Griff, I think we need the chopper to take the lad to the Rosscroft, and I could do with a visit to their A & E as well." And turning back to me, he added, "and I think you need to get some clothes on."
I glanced down at myself and realised I was almost naked. As I rose to my feet I noticed Ricky looking at me. "Nice bod," he said, and grinned.
"Cheeky," I replied and went to get dressed. In no time at all, I was back in the lounge to find yet another of Charlie's men had arrived and having an intense conversation with Charlie who beckoned me close. "I don't want to cause another panic but Sandy, here, thinks there's someone else snooping about. He says it's someone very small, probably a young street kid, looking for somewhere to sleep. They got him cornered in the back yard. Can you go with Sandy and flush him out? My lads have probably scared the hell out of him."
"Sure." I looked round the lounge to check that everyone had been attended to including Harry who guzzled a bottle of milk like it was his last for a long time, in the safety of Ann's loving arms; Ricky was obeying instructions and staying put but his eyes were taking in everything that was going on. Joey sat beside his brother, holding his hand and talking softly to him. Of Richard there was no sign, and Ann let me know he had gone unto Harold's bedroom to lie down and calm his shattered nerves. Okay, that left me to sort out this new threat without making waves. I got my coat and let Sandy, torch in hand, lead me through the garden to the rear of the cottage where a mud covered path meandered through a jungle of tangled weeds and shrubbery. At one point, Sandy stopped me and put a finger to his lips. Ahead of us, the torch beam illuminated an old tool shed. Sandy dimmed the torchlight as we crept forward until we were a few feet away. Following Sandy's example, I crouched down beside him and he tapped his left ear and pointed to the shed. Keeping as quiet as possible, I concentrated on picking up any sounds. I thought I heard something. I listened again, and recognised the sound of someone crying. Not the wailing of someone bawling his head off but someone sniffling and trying hard to control his breathing between whimpers of pain.
I tapped Sandy on the shoulder and he gave me the torch. Keeping it dimmed, I stood up and walked forward until I was a foot from the door. I smelled the strong odour of rotting wood and damp earth. "Son, my name is Mags Alton. I've come to help you. There's no need to be afraid." I heard a frightened gasp and the sound of shuffling, as if the kid was shifting his position or burrowing further into his hiding place. "Its okay, son; no one's going to hurt you. I'm a friend of Ricky Monks. Do you know him? You're safe now." I waited a few seconds before continuing in as calm and reassuring a voice as I could. "I'm going to open this door so you can see me, okay? I won't come any closer to you until you say I can, I promise."
It didn't take much to open the door; it practically fell off its hinges it was that rotten. I shone the torch into the shed, slowly tracing a line across the dirty floor until the light revealed a dirty trainer. Further on I saw the tatted hem of a pair of jeans. Suddenly they disappeared as the kid drew his legs back, and I heard a gasp of pain. I swept the torch beam upward until it revealed a face, dirty with tears and a few days grime, half hidden by an arm as he shielded his eyes from the light.
"Please, mister," the voice was just a hoarse whisper, "don't hurt me."
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