The Cup Bearer
Tuesday 23rd April 1995
During French class, Gaskin was caught eating sweets and had them confiscated. Everyone cheered except Emilio. After lunch Gaskin found another bag of sweets in his desk. He turned in his seat, caught Emilio's eye and saw him wink. On the way to art class a first former pushed past Emilio and called him "Queer-bait". Gaskin chased the lad into the toilets and gave him a fright and a warning about his mouth needing a clean out with something stronger than carbolic. After that it was spread around the school that Gaskin's gang had a new leader. Sandy tagged along feeling more than a little jealous at the attention Emilio gave Gaskin and Co. who openly encouraged him. Gaskin may have his problems, Sandy thought, but this is going just a bit over the top .
During the last lesson, Emilio, Gaskin, Ball and Vetch were allowed out of class to attend an extra rehearsal for the Judo display. Sandy wasn't in the Judo display team and had to sit through a particularly boring English lesson till the home bell sounded. Sandy began to have doubts about having Gaskin and Co. hanging around Emilio, even if he was only offering Gaskin moral support. Sandy sulked all the way across the schoolyard and, out of the gates; he turned right without saying his usual "Cheerio" to his mate, and left Emilio speechless at the gate. Serve him right!
At seven thirty that evening, the phone rang and Sandy picked it up. When he heard the familiar voice, he hung up and told his mam it was a wrong number. Going back into the front lounge, where he'd been practising Liszt's La Trampanella and getting it wrong. He slammed the lounge door a bit too hard and his dad spoke sharply to him; that made him feel even worse. He lay awake for a long time that night.
Wednesday 24th April 1995
While waiting for the assembly bell, Emilio nudged Sandy. "What's wrong?" Sandy scowled and said nothing. Emilio nudged him a second time. "What's wrong, Sandy, what have I done?" Again Sandy chose to remain moodily silent, this time mentally closing his mind to possible invasion. The bell rang at last and they walked out into the corridor with the rest of the class.
Emilio tried to slow him down in an effort to talk to him but Sandy shoved him away. "Why don't you leave me alone, Gomez? You've got those three suckers eatin' out of your 'and now, them and your fancy man, so you don't need me anymore, do you?"
Emilio watched with stunned amazement as Sandy strode off down the corridor, shouldering his way roughly through the pupils walking down to assembly. Hurt and confused, Emilio felt a hand on his shoulder. "Something wrong?" Gaskin asked.
"I don't know." Suddenly, Emilio wished Gaskin would disappear.
Gaskin grinned at him and leaning close he whispered in his ear. "Had a little tiff with lover boy, have we?"
"Watch your mouth, Gaskin. I said I don't know."
Ball nudged Gaskin and said, "We think we know."
Gaskin frowned at his two mates and they grinned back at him with raised eyebrows. Gaskin's mouth dropped open. "Oops!"
9.30 pm. Thursday 25th April 1995. Central Manchester
The boy staring at the kids grouped round a space game was about twelve years old. Sad eyed, he counted what little money he had left. His clothes were dishevelled and he had a sports bag slung over his shoulder. Emilio moved between the boy and the predator, presenting himself as a far tastier victim; careful not make eye contact with him. The guy was interested, so Emilio wandered off, fully aware the watcher was following him instead of the boy. Once they were far enough away, a group member would approach the younger boy and escort him out of the arcade. Emilio was also wearing shabby clothes and he had a duffel bag over his shoulder. He wandered from machine to machine, looking but not playing, knowing the predator was still following him. Finally he chose an army tactics game, stacked a small pile of coins on the side and began to play. The man approached him.
"Interested in the army, son?"
Emilio shrugged his shoulders. "There's nothing else to do, is there?"
"Got a place to stay?"
"Not yet." Emilio put the last of his coins in the game, lost, and gave the machine a thump of frustration. The man placed a fresh stack of coins on top of the machine. Emilio took them up, fed them into the machine and lost again.
" That's okay; I ate this morning ."
"There's a burger stall round the corner."
Emilio gave the man a shy smile and shook his head.
" Oh, come on; I've never know a teenager to turn down a free burger before. It's not as if I'm inviting you to a five course dinner. " The man returned Emilio's smile with a friendly grin.
Emilio walked out of the arcade with the man and they stood by the stall while Emilio and the man ate their burgers. Emilio felt safe enough; the button he wore had been tested before he took to the streets, and at least three group members were watching and listening from their cars. The man said, "If you've got no place to stay I could offer you a bed for a few nights."
Emilio looked away from him, pretending to be shy . When he glanced up again, the guy made the mistake of showing in his eyes exactly the kind of bed he was offering. Emilio shrugged his shoulders. His burger eaten, he let the man guide him along the street towards a dark blue car; every step they took being recorded on video. The man unlocked the front passenger door and the street remained silent. At last, Emilio began to feel uneasy; one of the group should have put in an appearance by now. He moved to get into the car and relief flooded through him as a shout made them look back down the street. A man was racing towards them yelling, "Hey, you little thief! Get back here with my money!" At last! Emilio began to run.
A short way up the street, he turned down the alley where Don was waiting in a battered Ford Cortina. Behind him, the group members would be taking photographs of the man getting into his car and driving off in a hurry, and would follow. Diving into the back of the Cortina, Emilio nodded at Don and pulled up his sweatshirt to check that the button taped to the inside of his jacket collar hadn't worked loose. There were still plenty of boys to save and perverts to snare before he went home, so why did he still feel uneasy?
The chaser dived into the back of the car and gave Emilio a congratulatory slap on the shoulder. "Good work, lad."
"Is the kid okay?" Emilio asked him.
"Yes; he's on his way home in a police car."
"What's the tally, so far?"
"Three from you and four from our other set up on the Shropshire border. That's our best evening's work yet."
Emilio pulled a face. "Not enough; and too many tadpoles. I want to go deeper."
Don glared at him through the rear mirror. "No; no way."
"You want to break the syndicate, don't you? I know what's needed and if I get taken in, so what? They can't do anything I haven't experienced before. You might even catch them in the act or on home territory. I'd even go down the chain if it meant hitting the big fish at the end of it."
"Grafton would never agree to it, and neither will I."
Emilio glared back at him through the rear mirror. "Grafton can get stuffed. As for you; I thought you were out to get the guys who tried to ruin us both. I don't see you putting up much of an effort. Where's your conviction gone, Don?" He watched as Don gripped the steering wheel so hard he could almost see it begin to bend out of shape, and realised he'd said too much. Also the group member was staring at them both in surprise.
He dropped his gaze. "Sorry, Don, I was out of line."
"Yes, you were." Don started the engine. "This is the last night I work with you. Grafton can find you another minder; I'm finished."
Emilio sank back against the rear seat and stared at Don in shocked silence. The guy wasn't kidding.
4.30pm Friday 26th April 1995
As soon as Don opened the door of the garage flat, Emilio pushed hard and sent it crashing into him. He marched into the lounge and stood waiting with simmering indignation as Don came into the lounge. "You need to learn some manners, kid. You don't come charging into someone's home uninvited as if you own the place, least of all mine. Now say what you have to say and get out."
"I want to know why you've resigned as my minder; Edward rang me an hour ago and I found an unwashed lump of lard driving the Volvo. My Volvo! If you don't believe me go take a look, he's parked right across your garage doors so no one can get in or out. You could have said something to me instead of running to Edward."
"I did, last night remember?"
"No you didn't."
"You offered your services to the group and I said no. Then you went ballistic and I said I was finished with you. Remember now?"
" I thought you were just treating me like some snot nosed kid who doesn't know the score. I didn't think you were serious."
"Well, now you know."
"But why? I've been open with you about my problems, and my life. I trusted you. You said you'd stick by me. I never thought you'd run out on me like this. You owe me, so if you've got something you want to say, say it to my face and not down the phone to that glorified pen pusher."
Don sighed, and sank down onto the settee. "I'm not running out on you. I'm one of nine minders working with the group. We watch over the kids the group finds, on a one-to-one basis till they've recovered from the trauma of abuse. We stay with them till they can walk tall again, no matter how long it takes. You're my fifth, but I've never been drawn to any other kid like this before. I just hope you appreciate the trouble you've caused me."
His anger fading, Emilio dreaded what Don was trying to say. "Just what are you trying to tell me Don?"
"You're one hundred percent jail-bait, that's what I'm saying. We've got to draw a safety line between us, over which neither of us must step."
"Jail bait?" Emilio almost laughed, but the haunted look on Don's face killed any feeling of flippancy.
"I could go to jail if things went any further. It's obvious, neither Adams nor the Graftons have taken my personal problems seriously enough, or they would never have let me within miles of you. I went to see Adams yesterday and tried to explain. Like you said, it looks like he's not suited to the job. Now I've always made it a rule never to bring work home. No molested child has ever set foot past my front door, and you've made me break that rule twice. Now, either I redraw that line or I resign from the group and move away."
"Oh!" Emilio felt devastated when he realised the gravity of the situation. "If that's the case perhaps I can help you, like I helped Tony."
"I helped him find out what he was; I was helping him deal with his problems when he was killed."
"I don't think so. I've fallen under the spell of a pair of dark bewitching eyes and there's nothing I can do about it except run. I was parked outside your house for a long time last night, after dropping you home. I wanted to knock on your door and tell you what I'm telling you now, but I decided it would be embarrassing for both of us with your family around. You said you wanted to help? Well you have in a way. It's time to be honest with myself and confront my own shadows before I can even start to help anyone else. Men like me have to be careful. A move can be interpreted the wrong way and lead to a kid yelling assault. As it is, staying in control is getting harder every day I'm with you. I guess I was in a real state outside your house, and it's just as well I got cold feet at the last minute. I've been counselled over the years about the likelihood of the abused becoming an abuser. I'm not an abuser or a paedophile and I don't want to be one, but it's easy to be branded that way."
Emilio sank down in an easy chair and stared at the carpet. He felt so foolish. "Oh man! I'm so sorry, Don; I didn't realise. I thought you were just being friendly. I wouldn't want you to lose out because of me. I thought I'd done something wrong but as I said, I thought I could help you find out about yourself without all the risks. And I could find out about myself at the same time. I'm sorry I came now."
"I'm sorry too, kid. Cissy's a wonderful woman and would make any man a good wife, but I can't saddle her with a life of not knowing which way the horse was going to bolt from under her. This is not the way to find out, okay?"
Emilio glanced up and found Don looking at him with sad eyes. He thought fast. There was quicksand under his feet and he was sinking into it. Didn't Don realise he was the only guy who could pull him free? If Don didn't, he'd have nothing to hang on to; all the shadows would close in and suffocate him. "Well, if you won't help me I don't know who will. I don't think I could trust anyone else."
"Sorry, kid, the answer's no."
"I was banking on you, Don."
Don's face hardened. "Look, hasn't it sunk in yet? Haven't you been listening? You're fifteen years old, for crying out loud!
"I'm talking about the law. You're under eighteen."
"And you're afraid to take a chance, is that it?" Emilio snapped. He stood up and glared down at Don. "It seems that all my life I've had to do what someone else wanted, on their terms. No one, not even Tony, asked me what I wanted to do, he just took it for granted that I wanted what he wanted. I even got taken away from…." He spun round to stop Don seeing the guilt as he realised he'd said too much.
"Away from what?" Don wanted to know.
"Nothing; you guys are all the same. You only talk about what you want, or don't want, but what about me? What right has the law to say it's wrong for a guy my age to want the same things as someone older? Kids are expected to know nothing till they're eighteen then just flick a switch and that's it, they know it all. It's stupid."
"Are you saying you're gay?"
"I don't know what I am," Emilio stormed at him "You won't help me find out, so what do I do, take a stroll down Canal Street?"
Don leapt off the settee and jerked him onto his toes by his jacket front. He stuck a finger in Emilio's face. "You stay away from that place. Don't you ever go anywhere near it; or so help me I'll give you the biggest hiding you've ever had, you hear me?"
Emilio stared into Don's eyes and for the first time since he met the man he was frightened of him.
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