The Bull Singer
Donny frowned at me as I eased him back onto the pillows, hoping he wouldn't notice my reddening cheeks. "Have we met before?"
"Briefly, in the shed." I picked up the tumbler, hoping he wouldn't notice my reddening cheeks. This little guy, with his silvery hair and delicate features, was so beautiful he made it hard to breath. He tried to sit up but winced and fell back, his breath hissing through clenched teeth.
"Are you in pain?" I mentally cursed myself. Daft question.
Donny shook his head, "Not too much; just very sore." I slipped one hand under his neck and eased his head up so he could drink through the straw. He took too large a drink and coughed.
"Take it easy; just take a few sips at a time. They had to put an air tube down your throat and it's made your throat dry and a bit bruised; it might be difficult to swallow for a bit."
He lay down again and closed his eyes, and I thought he was going to sleep when he said, "What did they do to me?"
"Do you remember what happened to you?"
"Well, you were torn pretty bad inside and the doctors had to do some intensive repairs on your colon and your back passage. The damage also caused you to have Septicaemia. How do you feel now?"
Donny shook his head "Like I've done ten rounds in a ring." Youthful curiosity made him lift the sheet, and his eyes widened in horror. Then he closed his eyes and sobbed, "No, Nooooo!" He fell back against the pillow and threw his arm across his eyes. "Nooooo! I wanna die."
Worried that something had gone wrong yet again, I lifted the sheet myself and spotted what had shocked him. "Donny, it's nothing to worry about. It's just a colostomy bag."
"I'd rather die than have that; you should have left me to die in the shed," he sobbed. "My gramps had one and it stank the house out. I used to have to help him change it and it was horrible." Tears flowed down his ashen cheeks.
"Donny, this it isn't permanent," I said gently. "Once the infection has gone and they know you're healing inside, they'll reverse the op and reattach your intestine to your colon. All you'll have is a tiny scar."
"How do you know?" Donny said bitterly.
"The nurse told me before he went for his break. You can ask him yourself when he comes back."
After a few sniffles, and an attempt to wipe the tears from his eyes, he calmed down but I could see his chin still trembling. There was something else troubling him. "Donny, is there something else bothering you? I'm Ricky's Uncle Mags and I'd like to help you if I can."
Donny shook his head and wouldn't look at me. Talk about a little boy lost! Now what would I miss the most if I had been in his shoes? I tried to put myself in his position; thrown out of his home because he was gay; living on the streets and taken in and used by an unscrupulous sexual predator. I hadn't been much older than Donny when I left home to explore the world, but at least I had gone with my parents' blessing. Yes! That was it. "You miss your mum, don't you?" At last, the dam burst. Careful not to disturb the IVs in his arms, I lifted him as gently as I could and cradled him in my arms while he cried buckets and soaked my shirt; I wondered how long it had been since anyone had hugged him.
"I wish I had done more of that with Jenny," a voice said behind me. I looked over my shoulder and found Jill standing by the bed, still nursing Harry but with tears streaming down her face. "There are lots of things I never did with Jenny. Our import business took all our time; and the sex ring now I know about it."
"Well, at least you have a second chance to rectify that." I nodded at Harry who had a strong hold on the front of her dress as he stared up at her. "It looks like he's taken a liking to you."
Jill nodded in return. "I might say the same for Donny and you."
"Quite the knight in shining armour, our Mags is," another voice piped up, and Jessie appeared on the opposite side of the bed. "Be careful, Mags, you can become addicted to other people's throwaways, just like I did."
Not people's throwaways, I thought; just one, with hair like silver and baby blue eyes. Then I thought of Billy and Joey, and I blushed at the idea of being caught with another youngster in my arms; at least no one could charge me with anything inappropriate with Jill as a chaperone. I glanced down at the boy in my arms to find he had fallen asleep. I laid him down and made sure he was comfortable, and backed away from the bed, ready to face Jessie Welch's tongue. Instead, she came to me and drew me towards the sofa, leaving Mrs Prescott to watch over Donny. She sat me down beside her and patted my hands. "Relax, Mags; he is legal."
Jessie laughed at my startled expression. "You can't hide that look in your eyes, lad. He's going to need someone like you during the next few days. James is trying to make sure he takes Donny's statement himself, but he has to return to Bristol to chase up what leads he has about Prescott's crimes. Prescott still isn't talking and it's going to take all James's efforts to break him. God! I feel like wading in and tearing men like Prescott into little pieces, but what's the point. I'm due to retire at the end of this month and will have my work cut out tying up loose ends in Oldham. As soon as Ricky's court case is finished with in the morning, I'll be heading north to sort your problems out. Josh is making sure I have legally binding copies of the twins' birth certificates, and I'll let you know the moment I have the date of the hearing. That leaves Joey's charge of assaulting his mother and a police officer. That stands I'm afraid."
"What about Peter?"
Jessie sighed and looked careworn all of a sudden. "No news; I'm just hoping Donny will give us some information. Mrs. Prescott swears she doesn't know of any properties her husband might own. James is contacting the Bristol rates department first thing in the morning to see if they have any properties registered in his name, but I don't think Prescott would be daft enough to have anything registered in his name. Personally I shall be glad to see the end of this. I'm sixty-five and still trying to run around like a woman half my years. A proposition Mr Diaz has put to me sounds increasingly like a good idea. He's expanding the field of his child recovery efforts to include the north of England and has offered me an advisory position; less work and more say in how things are done; no more long hours, no tied hands and no red tape. He's certainly someone with a lot of clout when he's out to get what he wants for the kids in need of care and understanding. By the way, Mags, Jeremy is helping me find an older brother of mine. Apparently Arthur was adopted when I was about two and a half, and I never saw his again. I've a good idea who he is but I'm not saying anything until Jerry has the details on paper. Now then," She stood up suddenly and adjusted her skirt, "It's almost time for supper, then I'm taking Mrs Prescott and the boys back to Bristol. We have to be in court just after nine in the morning. I would feel happier if you stayed here overnight, just in case Donny needs anything or remembers anything of importance; I'm quite satisfied with the security arrangements Mr Diaz has here, so Donny will be safe enough. Would you mind waking the boys while I see about supper?"
Getting the boys out of bed wasn't easy. Each time I thought they were awake enough to be left, they would blink at me in confusion before closing their eyes and turning back to cuddle each other, limbs entwining tighter than ivy round a tree trunk. After a third attempt I used Auntie Mabel's trick. Some wash-cloths soaked in icy water, deftly applied to certain delicate parts of their bodies, had the desired effect on Joey, and had him screaming and jumping around and throwing curses at me. By the time Jessie arrived, ahead of a substantial supper trolley, Joey's noisy tirade had woken Ricky, and the boys were dressed and ready to eat, with Joey pushing Ricky's wheelchair up to the dining table in the lounge, with Jill preferring to stay with Donny. James joined us for supper and brought us up to date about Prescott and the hunt for Pete. He wasn't able to tell us much more than we already knew, except that we now had Gypsy Diaz and his organisation behind us in the hunt for Pete and other boys James knew to be missing. Joey listened intently to what James had to say but Ricky seemed more interested in cuddling Harry and giving him his last feed of the day, the look of love in his eyes as he gazed down at his son being a good pointer that he would be a great dad.
By nine thirty, that evening, Jessie had the boys, Harry, and Mrs Prescott packed up in her hired car and drove away from the clinic with an armed escort in two unmarked cars provided by the Diaz security team. That left James and I to deal with Donny. I wasn't going to enjoy this one bit but I learned that Donny had told the nurse he didn't want to talk to anyone without me being there. While we had been eating supper, the doctor and his team had been in to check on Donny and gave him a refreshing wash. Percy Junior gave us his personal assurance that Donny was fit to be questioned but at the slight sign of fatigue or distress we were to stop the interview, and declared me the boy's carer in the absence of a parent; the directive, I learned, being from Jessie herself.
The first thing Donny did when he saw me approaching the bed was to reach out his free hand to me, his face full of apprehension, especially when he spotted James a few steps behind me. "Donny, this big teddy bear is Detective Inspector James Walker, Bristol CID." I said, trying to ease any fears the kid might have of such a large man closing in on him. I needn't have worried because James had his own way of dealing with hurting kids.
"Hello there, son; glad to see you're on the mend." James took hold of Donny's right hand and squeezed it gently between his own plates of meat. Sitting on the bed he leaned over and gazed into Donny's worried eyes. "There's no need to be frightened; I'm just going to ask you a few questions about what happened to you, and perhaps you can tell us about any other boys that you know of, who might be in danger."
Donny glanced up at me. "Will you stay?"
"Yes, Donny, I'll stay, although you've no need to worry, James here is one big old teddy bear. He even has a nick name which I'll tell you about if he upsets you."
James glared at me and pointed a warning finger in my direction. "That's blackmail."
"So sue me." Our easy banter had the right affect on Donny and his mouth pulled into a slight smile. When James let go of Donny's hand and went to sit on the other side of the bed, taking out his pad and pen, I sat down where James had been sitting and gave Donny's hand a gentle squeeze, letting him know I was there for him. I felt him squeeze me back as he watched James open his pad.
"Now, Donny, could you tell me how you got into this mess in the first place?" James asked.
Donny shook his head and closed his eyes, tears squeezing out of them. "I can't; if I do, a lot of kids will disappear off the streets, and no one will ever find them, and it'll be my fault because I blabbed."
James shook his head at me and I gave Donny's hand a squeeze to gain his attention. "Donny, what about the boys in the place where you were held and helped you escape? If we don't get to them soon, the men holding them will find out they helped you and they'll be the first to suffer. The sooner you tell us what we need to know, the sooner we can rescue them. Do you understand, Donny? We're also looking for Ricky's brother, Peter Crayel, who was kidnapped from Harold Briggs's place sometime last night."
Donny opened his eyes and frowned at me. "Ricky has another brother?"
"Yes he does, Donny. They didn't know about each other until yesterday. Pete is older by three years. It's a long involved story, so I'll make a deal with you; you tell me your story and I'll tell you about my nephews. Okay?"
Donny thought for a moment then nodded his head. I squeezed his hand once more to let him know it was for the best. He closed his eyes again and said in a whisper, "I...um...I'm not Donny Cooper. I'm Steven Leary, and I'm from Hornchurch in Essex. Donny was the friend who let me use his ID card."
Oh well! It was now or never. The cops couldn't hurt me any more than that slime-ball Prescott had; and Mags Alton looked a nice enough guy. Okay, so where do I start? "I guess you've heard the same old story many times, about a kid being chucked out of his home because he was queer? I was never beaten or anything but by the time I was fourteen I knew I was gay. After I told my parents, my father ignored me completely, which was okay by me as he was hardly ever home to do the father-son thing. I guess he thought I was a wimp. Dad was the sporty type and anyone who wasn't into rugby or some other heavy sport just didn't exist. I didn't do any of that; I loved the stage and even in primary school I was always involved with school concerts. When I joined a local amateur music theatre my dad really flipped and tried to ground me, saying that was for sissies, but I had Brydie on my side. Brydie is my sister. She is ten years older than me, and when Mum became ill she became my second mother. Anything I wanted I went to Brydie for, at least until she fell in love with a visiting bushman and emigrated to Australia. Brydie had worked her way up the executive ladder of a big travel company that wanted her to help take charge of their far eastern affairs. That meant a move to Australia. She'd already met John Silkin and it was a good move for her, both in her career and her love life. I was happy for her but it left me in a bit of a fix. Dad didn't want me and once said to my face I was an accident he wished hadn't happened as it had put Mum in a wheelchair; a difficult birth at the age of forty five had damaged the nerves in her spine after the epidermal went wrong. So at fifteen I had to deal with a wheelchair bound mother, a father who wished I wasn't there, and a grandfather with a colostomy bag. Then all of a sudden Mum wasn't there; Dad had put both his dad and my mother in nursing homes so he could get on with his life as a successful businessman; a man-about-town complete with hair dye to hide his grey hairs and a once a month all over tan at a nearby health club. At fifty-eight he didn't realise what a fool he was making of himself. On my sixteenth birthday, Dad dropped the bombshell he had been planning as his last bid for freedom. He was already at work when I went to school; I noticed there were no birthday cards from him or my sister, in fact I was not surprised. Brydie wrote me once when she arrived in Australia to say she loved me and that if I needed anything or wanted her advice on anything, I only had to write to her. After that she stopped writing, either to my parents or to me. Dad said that now she was established down under I wasn't to expect any contact from her, that she didn't care about me anymore. Like a fool I believed him and I felt my last support ripped from under me. So much for a loving sister who promised to be there for me; she had her dream but what did I have? According to Dad, Mum was now three-sheets-to-the-wind with Altziemers, and the nursing home advised that she wouldn't recognise me if I visited. Everything changed when I got home from school, and not for the better. I walked in through the front door and found a couple of large travel bags in the hall and thought we had a visitor; I hoped to God it was Brydie.
Dad met me in the hall and just said, "Happy birthday Steven, All your clothes are in those bags, from now on you will not live in this house. The law states that I can tell you to leave the home as soon as you are sixteen. You are no longer a son of mine and I will not have a queer living in my house. There's the door, now get through it and don't let me see you or hear from you again. I have also given the nursing home instructions that you are never to visit your mother. She's sick enough without you to add to her problems." With that he threw a small wad of money at me then walked back into the kitchen and slammed the door."
[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.]