The Cup Bearer
Holding firmly onto the back of Emilio's anorak, the officer marched him, breathless, bruised and with stinging hands, back to the Rover. Once they reached the car, the officer backed him up against it, and pointed a warning finger into his face. "Stay right there, sunshine. If you so much as move a finger, I'll arrest you for wasting police time, all right?" Keeping hold of a handful of anorak, he turned to Don. "Don't I know you from somewhere, sir?"
"You should do, your name's Wynne, isn't it? I was down at the station last week, talking to D.I. Rudkin, and I don't think he'll be too pleased with you tonight."
"Oh, and why's that, sir?"
"Ask him yourself. That's his sergeant's car just turning into the street."
"Emilio, where have you been?" Emilio's mother asked anxiously as Don shoved him into the kitchen. Both she and Guido rose from the table to greet him. Emilio avoided them and slumped down onto a chair, feeling completely let down by everyone, including Don. "What do you care?"
Guido looked stern. "What nonsense is this? Your mother cares a lot for you."
Emilio shot him a withering look. "No she doesn't, nobody does, least of all you."
"Emilio, will you stop this?" His mother placed her hands on his shoulders. "Of course we care."
"Is that right?" he shrugged her hands off. "Prove it." Glaring at Guido he repeated in a softer but
more dangerous tone, "Prove it." He leaned his folded arms on the table and refused to look at anyone. Then something made him look up and he found Don and Guido glaring at one another across the table.
"You will explain, please, Mr. Clooney."
"I thought you might be able to do that, Mr. Gomez," Don's voice hinted at deeply controlled anger. "After all, the trouble only started after you arrived."
Emilio saw Guido's eyes flicker nervously, and at the same time he read the look on Don's face. ' Yes, you bastard, I can smell people like you a mile off. What's the betting you're another Mr. Pinstripe, or worse?
Rita sat down beside Emilio, her face grey with worry. "Where did you find him Don?"
"In the park dealing with a pervert."
Rita's hands shot to her mouth. "Oh, My God!" Guido went to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Rita raised her right hand to cover his left, and Emilio's skin crawled. Rita dropped her gaze to Emilio. "Did the man...did he touch you?" Emilio shook his head.
"The pervert came off the worst," Don explained. "It was a stupid thing that Emilio did, and next time he might not be so lucky. He wasn't too pleased at being hauled out of danger. Unfortunately a copper saw us and I've just spent a difficult half hour convincing him and his friends at the local nick that I wasn't an abductor as Emilio kindly let them believe."
"And may we ask what you were doing in the park, Mr. Clooney?" Guido asked.
Emilio looked up again and saw Don's eyes glittering dangerously. "Are you inferring something, Mr. Gomez?" Don said acidly.
"Perhaps," Guido replied.
"In case you've forgotten, Mr. Gomez, I'm paid to look after Emilio. Part of my job is to protect him from anyone I consider might harm him, and I mean anyone including you. I came here tonight to take him to Altrincham. He wasn't here, and neither were you. Your wife asked me to look for him. Now, Emilio and I are going upstairs for a little chat, so, you either back off and let me do my job or I call the Graftons and have them come up and take over. Somehow, I don't think you'd like that very much, would you, Mr. Gomez?"
"They shouldn't interfere."
"Why not, they're still his legal guardians. Ask Mrs. Gomez."
Emilio watched as Guido and his mother looked at each other. Rita confirmed the fact with a nod of her head.
Emilio opened his bedroom door and limped to the easy chair as his knee began to throb again. Reaching the chair, he threw himself into it, seething with anger and leaving Don to make his own way into the room and close the door. He refused to look at the man directly, but out of the corner of his eye, he watched Don make himself comfortable on the settee. The guy studied him, weighing him up. Well, if the guy thinks I'm going to make it easy for him, let him think again .
At last Don sighed. "Of all the kids to spoil things, it had to be you!"
Curious, Emilio glanced his way. "Spoil what?"
"A trap to catch a paedophile ring passing a kid on to a London courier. Some friends of mine got a tip off and were posted round the park while someone tried to persuade the police there was a transfer in progress. My buddies were prepared to rescue the kid themselves and make a citizen's arrest but you decided to play the macho street kid. All they got was a pinstripe looking for a quickie. My friends know I'm your minder and that I was looking for you tonight, so they contacted me, hoping I'd get you away before the others arrived with the kid. Unfortunately your little performance caused a panic and they got away."
"You're a cop?"
"If I was a cop, would I have wasted the last half hour at the police station, clearing your name as well as my own? They tagged you as a junior pro until Rudkin arrived. It's a good thing he knows I'm working for Mr. Grafton. He was on a shout on the other side of town and he arrived just in time to stop us both being thrown into the cells. What made you accuse me of trying to abduct you anyway?"
"Why not?" Emilio grouched. "I'm sick of people breathing down my neck all the time. If it isn't you, it's Guido pretending to play the doting step-papa, or it's golden boy MacCaffrey poking his nose in where it isn't wanted. I'm sick of him calling me into his office all the time for nice little chats about this and that."
"He's only doing his job. Teachers are always on the lookout for signs of abuse among their pupils and MacCaffrey is no exception."
Emilio's reaction was to curl up in the chair and bury his face against his arms. As his anger faded, he felt utterly ashamed of his loutish behaviour, which was totally out of character, and the fact that he had treated Don and his mother with less respect than they deserved. Once again he felt himself losing control of the situation and he didn't like it.
"Is there anything you want to talk about?" Emilio glanced up and found Don sitting forward and gazing at him with eyes full of understanding.
"What makes you so interested all of a sudden?"
"I understand what goes on, okay?"
"What d'you mean, you understand?"
"I was twelve years old and passed for sixteen. My dad didn't believe in giving us kids pocket money. My two older brothers and I had to earn our own. My mother is a timid soul who was devoted to Dad and backed him in all things. So, when a neighbour offered me money to run errands for her, I couldn't believe my luck. Mrs. Meller owned a big house near where we lived. Her husband was a respectable retired banker and they were English, so Dad said okay. The second time I went there, Mrs. Meller left me in the kitchen with her husband. He ... he put his hand where he shouldn't, and ... gave me ten dollars to keep my mouth shut. He said people wouldn't understand and would be very angry. I'll be honest; at first I didn't find the experience entirely disagreeable. Lots of kids don't. That's how most creeps get away with what they do. You see my father didn't care enough to teach me right from wrong. The things I learned about sex, I learned on the streets and from friends boasting that there was money to be made. So here I was being offered cash for a little harmless fondling. I was young and curious, and I guess I carried on doing errands for Mrs. Meller in the hope that it would happen again, which it did of course. When I needed to get my bike fixed, Dad wouldn't pay for it. Mr. Meller said he'd stand the cost. His wife was in on the whole thing of course. I ended up with an almost new bike and money in my pocket, and I did anything Meller wanted. Things developed until Meller's friends started coming round, and I found myself in a situation I didn't like, being passed round the group like a damned peace-pipe. I told the Mellers I wanted to stop but they wouldn't let me. And it slowly got worse. It went on for two damned years and nobody noticed. Mom worked nights at a nursing home and slept all day, and Dad worked all day in a factory and spent his evenings down at his favourite bar. I already knew my dad's views. He was a bully who believed that all victims got what they deserved whether it was a little girl raped on her way home from school or a boy found dead in a ditch. Dad often boasted of the times he and his army buddies had discovered someone in their ranks was gay; they beat the goods out of him just for kicks. When Dad did find out about me, he beat me black and blue and put the blame on me. He refused to call the cops and started sneering at me and calling me fruitcake and faggot. I was built like your Welsh friend and it was taken for granted I could look after myself. It doesn't always work that way. That's why I'd like to catch all the Pinstripes and Mellers, and perverts like them, and put them all in a leaky boat and let them drown in the deepest ocean but even that would be too good for them. Don't get me wrong, some of my dearest friends are gay and have loving relationships with young males, but they mind their own business and leave the kids alone, or if the kid is willing they treat him with respect and affection. Most of the perps are straight but it's the gays who get the shit thrown at them."
"What did you do about the Mellers?"
"Me? Nothing; my brother Jake was nineteen and Grant was sixteen, both of them a lot bigger than me. When they saw what Dad did to me, and why, they rounded up some of their buddies and paid the Mellers' place a visit while the couple were away in Europe. They took the place apart with baseball bats then left a note warning them that what had happened to their house would happen to them unless they laid off the kids. Soon after, the Mellers sold up and left town." By now, Don had worked himself into quite an agitated state and it took him a while to calm down.
When at last he spoke again, he said, "The friends who were at the park tonight are a private group dedicated to the arrest and prosecution of men who lure kids into the sex trade. They work all over Cheshire and Lancashire and they're linked to similar groups in other parts of Britain and Europe. The Graftons are their legal men. When the son of one of my friends was abducted, I went after him, found him and left his kidnappers with more than a few bruises. They retaliated by accusing me of aggravated assault. That's when I first met the Graftons. When the Graftons stopped me from going to jail, I joined the group. We monitor a twenty four-hour phone line that kids can call, and we have a rescue team who can be on the road in minutes. Sometimes we're too late.
"Sometimes men like Mr. Meller, and possibly your own step-dad, slip the net for years. They're shadowy people who hide behind masks of respectability that parents teach their kids to look up to. They can be bankers, company directors, doctors, teachers, even managers of children's homes and institutions, leaders of youth organisations, members of the clergy, and even the ordinary man in the street; the list is endless. Kids fall easily into their nets because these creeps don't look any different to the good guys, and find it a lucrative business with links in other countries. Some run a virtual army of couriers who earn tax-free money moving the 'pigeons' along the chain. Quite often the kids become pigeons because they're unhappy at home. From the first time a hand touches them, they feel someone wants to show them some affection, just like it happened to me. Mr. Meller was a very affectionate man and I responded to that affection. By the time the kid realises what's really happening, it's too late. A good percentage of them become abusers themselves, they can't help it. Has Guido approached you yet?"
"Guido's not like that." Emilio wondered why he was defending the creep.
Don shook his head. "People like him don't fool me, Emilio, and neither do you. I'm thirty-five years old, and after twelve years of smelling them out, I know what I'm talking about. Eighty percent of the time I'm right. While I was in the kitchen, my skin crawled just looking at your stepfather. Has anyone else approached you?"
Emilio shook his head and dropped his gaze. "No"
"Have you approached anyone?"
"No." Emilio shook his head again then thought of Tony.
"You seemed happy to make the first move in the park."
That brought Emilio off his chair. Standing over Don with teeth clenched, he unzipped his jeans. "You think I'm one of the pigeons you talk about? Why don't you try me and see what happens, big as you are!" But as soon as he spoke the words, he turned away, awash with shame. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. I don't bait gays."
"Why did you do it?"
"I was feeling bad, okay? I just wanted to take it out on someone. End of story."
"Okay." Don rose to his feet. "I still think you're holding back on me. According to the Graftons, and my own instincts, Guido is bad news. I want you to let me know the minute he makes any move you don't like. You understand what I'm saying? It doesn't make me happy to be proved right, but it happens that way all too often."
Emilio watched him walk to the door and wished he had the guts to tell Don everything. No chance. Edward would get to know and make a stink. Then Guido would open his mouth. He couldn't take the risk that what Guido had said was the truth. If it was, Mum would die of shock, as Guido had said. With a sinking feeling, he watched Don examine the old mortise lock on the door.
"Do you lock your door at night?" Don asked.
"I don't have the key." By the look Don gave him, he didn't have to explain further who had it. Don reached into an inside pocket of his coat and Emilio's eyes grew wide as he produced a sturdy slide bolt, screws and a screwdriver. After fitting the bolt to the door and placing the screwdriver back in his pocket, he said, "We carry stuff like this around all the time, we never know when it might be needed. And by the way, if you feel you want to hit someone again, come round to the garage and use my punch bag."
Halfway down the attic stairs, Don looked up at Emilio leaning against the door jam with his arms folded defiantly across his chest. He couldn't prove it unless the boy talked, but Don was sure he had already been corrupted. His looks and neat body shape were enough to attract either sex, and according to Grafton's hints, he'd lived the life of an adult already, the details he could only guess at. Guido loomed large in his suspicions but unless Emilio pointed a finger at Guido, there was nothing he could do. His heart weighed a ton as he left the house. Emilio was one more boy with his innocence already shattered. God only knew how many more he would find before he drew his pension. As he got into his car and closed the door, he glanced up and saw a face at the attic window, and he realised with a start that he wanted to get closer. He genuinely wanted to help the kid, not as Grafton's employee but as a friend. More than that, he was in a position to understand. He just needed to be patient and hope that, in time, the boy would talk. Till then...
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