The Cup Bearer
After taking a few moments to calm herself down, Rita raised her eyes to MacCaffrey. "What about Guido? Is he okay?"
"Vanished," MacCaffrey replied. "Out through the bedroom window, and over the back garden wall, I should imagine. Don't worry, Mrs Gomez, we'll take care of things. Perhaps Maria could make us all a cup of tea." He signalled for Sandy to follow him out into the hall. "I think we need to make some phone calls; first to the police, and then to the Gomez family GP."
"All taken care of." Gary Norton's voice came from above their heads as he came down the stairs. "DI Rudkin will be here in a few minutes. The GP's also on his way and I've phoned the lad's guardian as well. There was no reply so I left a message on his phone for him to put wings on his car."
"Are Ramon and Lucy all right?" Sandy asked him.
"They're fine. Ramon's a bit stunned by it all but Lucia's okay. It's a pity Jose woke Mrs. Gomez up like that. It must have been quite a shock for her."
MacCaffrey nodded and turned to Sandy. "Would your mother be prepared to come and sit with them and offer Mrs. Gomez some moral support?"
"She'll be glad to." Sandy looked at his watch. "My dad's on early shift this week and 'e'll be 'ome soon. E'll come as well."
"Right then." The Beak waved a hand towards the phone beside them "You phone your mother while I take a look around the block. If Guido's injured, he won't have got very far. It's possible the man's hiding somewhere. There isn't much of this area I don't know."
As MacCaffrey left the house, Sandy phoned his mother then he and Gary returned to the back living room. Don raised a strained face to look at them as they entered and Sandy caught the signal Gary gave Don, pointing to the ceiling then forming a box with his thumbs and index fingers in front of his eye, simulating a camera. Don lowered his head again, and his shoulders started to shake, and Sandy realised the man was trying not to cry. All Sandy could feel at that moment was a sense of numbing sadness for his mate having to shoulder the burden of protecting his siblings for so many years.
Maria knelt on the floor by her mother's chair, hugging her mother, while Perquita stood twisting a damp handkerchief round her fingers, muttering, "Sorry, I'm so sorry," over and over to no one in particular.
Sandy went to her and, putting an arm round her shoulders, he offered what comfort he could. "It's all right; you weren't to know, isn'it. You've just got to be strong for your mam, and for the kids, isn'it."
"The kids!" Perquita's mothering instinct brought her out of her misery. "I forgot about them." She moved towards Jose to offer him comfort but he pushed her away and stomped out of the room, his footsteps heavy as he ran up the stairs. "Poor Jose, he worships his dad."
"Don't worry about the boys; my mam and dad will be 'ere soon, so let's you and me go and make that pot of tea."
The ringing of the front doorbell halted any further conversation. Gary went to answer it and Sandy heard him talking to someone, then a tall, distinguished gentleman in immaculate pinstripes and dark overcoat entered the room. Sandy froze at the sight of this grey haired man with steely eyes and neatly clipped Shakespearean beard. Sandy guessed that this man was the famous Edward Grafton. "Good afternoon, Don."
Don looked up and stared in surprise, as Gary said, "So, your car did sprout wings after all. I only phoned you a few minutes ago."
"I wouldn't know about that." Grafton let his eyes sweep the room. "I have business to attend to in Carlisle and had the feeling I ought to pay Emilio a visit on the way; primarily to ask him why he should suddenly want a large amount of cash." The doorbell rang again and a short stocky man hurried in followed by a policewoman. Silent messages flashed between Grafton, Don and the newcomer. Grafton raised an eyebrow. "Oh dear!"
Sandy sat on the settee in Emilio's room and tried hard to understand what had been going on in this old house. Not wanting anyone to see him break down, he had run up to Emilio's room to escape having to talk to anyone, and he was so deep in thought, he didn't realise anyone had entered the room till he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up quickly and found his dad gazing down at him. He waited till his dad sat down beside him. "It's really bad isn't it, Dad?"
"Aye, lad; it's a sorry situation all right. It's a good thing you cottoned on like you did. All you can do now is to be strong for 'im, but keep your thoughts clean, right?"
Sandy looked up quickly and coloured as his dad gave him a knowing look. "We're not daft, lad, me and your mam." Evan sighed. "Nothings 'appened, 'as it?"
"No, of course not." Sandy flush deepened.
"Well, that's okay then, and nothin's goin' to 'appen, is it; being underage and all that?"
"Dad!" Sandy shot to his feet and stomped to the window to stare down into the street. "How is Mrs. Gomez?"
"Very shaken and the doctor says she needs rest and quiet. Jose and Ramon are okay, but Emilio 'ad a panic attack and Beresford 'ad to give him something to calm him down. Perquita's phoned 'er grandparents and they're on their way down." Evan sighed again. "The police 'ave found a lot of stuff 'idden away in the room next door, photos, cameras, drugs. They went round to Guido's flat as well and found a video studio in there with a two way mirror between the two bedrooms."
"Emilio's story is true, then?"
"Looks like it. Rudkin wants you to make a statement but I said I would 'ave a chat with you first, set your mind straight about things, like. What I tell you now goes no further than these four walls, except for when you talk to Rudkin, you 'ear me, lad? Rudkin's the 'ead of the local child abuse team; 'e's been after some pretty nasty people around 'ere for some time now. 'Appen 'e thinks this is the breakthrough 'e's been needin'. Shame it 'ad to be Emilio who brought it out into the open. Rudkin says you and Emilio 'ave done nothin' wrong, or done anythin' to be ashamed of, and no one is goin' to point a finger at either of you, least of all the press, I won't allow that, but what you've got to understand is that this is not just about you and Emilio. What Emilio can tell 'im, while it's fresh in 'is mind, will help catch these people before many more kids get 'urt. Mr. Clooney told us about you usin' your Minox; you were real sharp there, and the pictures you took will back up your statements."
A white-hot anger rose up inside Sandy. "Guido was lucky all 'e got from me was a broken nose. 'Ave they found him yet?"
"No, 'e's well away by now. Your 'eadmaster's been drivin' round the block and up all the back alleys in that white car of his, lookin' for him."
The door opened, halting further conversation, and Don walked in his eyes red and puffy. "I made some phone calls to people who've been around Manchester a lot longer than I have. I'm hoping they can come up with some facts that will help Rudkin paint a broader picture of what Guido and his pals have been up to. Meanwhile the cops want to examine this room so you'd better come downstairs."
"Where's Emilio," Sandy asked.
"In Ramon's bed."
"What about the boys?"
"They've been taken to the Rosscroft Child Abuse Unit and Emilio should go too. Trouble is Rita won't let anyone near him, so they're leaving him here till tomorrow."
Sandy turned from the window and saw his father purse his lips. "A natural reaction I suppose. The lad's more or less accused the family of neglecting him, and his mam's trying to make up for lost time. How is he now?"
"Sleeping," Don replied. "Beresford only gave him a light sedative but I reckon the kid's tuckered out. Beresford's more worried about how he copes over the next few weeks. People, on the outside, can only counsel and care for him during the time of healing. It's what goes on inside which causes the cracks, so Grafton's been in touch with George Sherbourne. He's the psychiatrist guy who helped Tony Grafton look after Emilio when he was in the States. Anyway, we'd better get downstairs and let the cops take over in here."
Suddenly Sandy remembered his poem. He really did want to be the one who cared; to be his strength, to walk beside him and to pick him up when he stumbled, and he knew in his heart that what he felt now had nothing to do with gay feelings. He sighed and turned to walk across the room. The poem was on the table by the window. Careful to shield his actions from Don and his dad, he slipped the poem into his jacket pocket. "Can I stay here tonight, Dad?"
His Dad lifted his head to look Sandy straight in the eye then nodded. "Aye, lad; the boy will need a lot of comfort, and 'is mam can't be expected to do it on her own."
"I'll be staying too," Don said. "That's the only reason Rudkin's letting Emilio stay the night. I've only got a couple of cars in the garage for service checks; nothing Gary can't handle for a few days."
"Right then." Evan stood up and moved to the door. "Let's get this Gomez family organised; can't leave it all to the wife, can we?"
Emilio came awake very slowly to find something tickling his nose. He raised a hand to push it away and felt fur. Opening his eyes he saw a shabby grey rabbit. It stared back at him with one eye, as if it were winking at him, and a little voice whispered close to his face, "I bringed you Grey Rabbit cos' Mummy said you need lots of lovins. Grey Rabbit will give you lots of lovins, won't he, 'Meelie?"
Already drifting off to sleep again, in a bed that felt too soft to be his, Emilio cuddled Grey Rabbit to him and knew that somehow everything was going to be okay.
"It's all your fault. He's burning in Hell and so will you, and it's all your fault, your fault ...your …fault …your…" Emilio forced his eyes open and lay staring at the ceiling, and tried to push the mocking voice from his mind. The heavy weight of Tony's death bore down on him. Then the laughter started; hideous laughter he had heard many times before in his dreams. He tried to get his sluggish body to move. Finally he made it and sat up, staring round at a dimly lit room full of toys and boyish things. He touched something furry and picked it up; recognising Grey Rabbit. Slowly he realised he was in the boys room and he was in Ramon's small bed. How did I get here? He glanced towards the other bed and saw the large shape of someone sleeping there. Too big to be Jose. Getting off the bed he found his legs wouldn't work properly. Using the table between the beds to steady himself, he staggered towards the other bed and touched the sleeping person. The body jerked awake and the head came up off the pillows.
"Whazzat! Oh, it's you. Don't do that! You can give a guy a heart attack."
Confused at seeing Don there, Emilio fought the need to sleep. "It's all my fault."
Fully awake now, Don raised himself on one arm. "What's your fault? You've done nothing wrong."
Emilio felt himself falling and steadied himself with a hand on the bed, then strong arms drew him down onto Jose's bed and Emilio felt safe for the first time since Tony's death, and safe enough to let the drowsy feeling take a hold and for him to relax, knowing that somehow the nightmares would not come back that night.
It was the movement of the bed that brought Emilio awake. The pillows were soft beneath his face and he was warm under a duvet. Whose duvet? He raised his head to look. In the darkness he saw the shape of Don lying beside him but under Jose's duvet. Emilio found himself wrapped in Ramon's Star Wars one. He didn't remember falling asleep, and what am I doing wearing pyjama top and shorts? Awake now and fully alert, he nudged Don. "Don? Are you awake?"
"Just about," Don mumbled.
"I need to talk."
Don raised his left arm to check the luminous dial of his watch. He groaned and let his arm drop back. "Can't it wait? It's three o'clock in the morning."
For a long time Emilio lay still as waves of guilt swept over him. He hadn't planned for this guy to get so close, it had just happened and he didn't want anyone else to look after him. He chewed the problem over and got nowhere and all the while Don lay next to him, trying to get back to sleep. Emilio felt the cramps starting in his right leg. Jose's bed was only a three-quarter divan, and there wasn't much room to move around without disturbing the guy, but he just had to move. He managed to ease over onto his back and flex his leg.
"What now?" Don rumbled into the pillows.
"Cramp." Emilio flexed his leg and rubbed the offending muscle till it eased then he moved again till he was facing Don.
"Okay, you win," Don grouched. "I'm listening."
"I have to tell someone."
"Tell someone what?"
"That it's my fault."
"What happened to Tony, and Caroga."
"Who's Caroga when he's at home?"
"The guy who taught me jazz dance when I was just a tot. Then, because of me, he ended up in the same sex club as me. He died carrying me to safety when the place got raided. He died because of me."
"Are you sure you want to talk about this?"
"I have to. If I don't, Guido will never be caught. Neither will any of the others."
"Okay, we'll talk in the morning; it's time to sleep.
"Please, Don, I need to talk now."
Don gave a groan of exasperation. 'Kid, didn't anyone tell you the hours between midnight and seven are meant for sleeping?'
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