The Cup Bearer

by DJ

Chapter 81

Monday 8 th April 1996

Stamping her foot in exasperation, Shana glared across the floor of the old warehouse, which was now the permanent 'High Street' rehearsal room. Only one thing had made her sing with Brian again; money. The van had not passed muster and the Environmental Health Authority had closed them down till they could set themselves up with some new equipment. They had enough in the bank to replace everything if they bought good second hand stuff but it left no money to live on till the money started coming in again, hence Shana's return to "High Street" to keep the Royle family going. Rates and power bills had to be paid somehow. "This is too high, Brian, can't you take it down a key. I'm not singing, I'm screeching." The song was the George Benson hit 'Love Ballad' and it was being ruined as far as Shana was concerned, Joe and Archie agreed by the looks of disgust on their faces.

Brian turned from realigning a speaker. "It was okay when you sang with us before; you're just being picky." Grabbing up his trumpet he turned to Joe. "Start from the second phrase, I'm not happy with it. After three, one, two, three and -." Nothing happened and Brian glared at his band. "Now what's the matter?"

At the back of the stage, Archie pointed a drumstick at a point behind Brian. He turned to give whoever had intruded on his private space a blast of his temper, and his mouth dropped open. Shana followed his gaze and almost dropped her mic. A young man had walked into the warehouse dressed in a black leather jacket, black trousers and a black floppy brimmed hat. With a pounding heart Shana recognised him, not the one she hoped to see but a welcome sight all the same. He walked forward and stopped a few feet in front of the low stage, waiting for Shana to step down off it.

"Hey, now wait a minute, Diaz, you can't barge in here like you own the place." Brian roared as he came after Shana. "And where do you think you're going? You're not walking out on me a second time."

Shana didn't answer him, her eyes on Manuel. As soon as she reached him he held out his right hand for her to take, and he kissed her cheek. "Hello Charlie Red."

"Hello Mr. Music-man."

Finding himself ignored, Brian snarled, "She doesn't need you, she's got me now. You messed with her once, you're not going to do it again; you get me, faggot?"

Releasing Shana's hand, Manuel stepped up to Brian, and pushed his face close. "Wrong Diaz MacCaffrey; no scars. And you dare to ever call my son that again and I will have you up for slander, apart from which I give you and your family fair warning. Something happened to Gypsy while he was at Northwood. He has not remembered what it was yet but when he does, you and your family are going to feel the full weight of my wrath. The police can wait their turn."

Brian stepped back, realising his mistake "Where's your proof?"

"Time will reveal it, you can be sure of that."

"Ha! You've no hope if you think anyone will take the word of a brain-damaged freak. In any case this is poor payback for all my uncle did for that piece of murdering garbage you call a son."

No one saw the two blows Manuel delivered, but Brian landed on his back and curled up into a ball, holding one hand to his chin and the other to his stomach. Manuel stood over him and pulled a large envelope from inside his jacket. He held it up for Brian to see. "You mean the letters Jerry Hine wrote for Gypsy?" He opened the envelope and turned it upside down. Shredded paper rained down on Brian. "Tell Jerry and Bev thanks but no thanks. He told me about their offer and he does not want any help with kinky strings attached. Thanks for warning him about your aunt and uncle." Turning from Brian, he placed his right arm round Shana's waist. "Come on, Shana, we have a new fully equipped trailer to buy." He waited long enough for her get over her surprise and pick up her coat and shoulder bag then led her out of the warehouse. She only turned once, to give the band a farewell wave. The band whistled and clapped their delight. No one bothered to help Brian to his feet.

He faced the band, his face livid with rage. "You saw that? You're witnesses, all of you."

Archie exchanged glances with the rest of the band then shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't see anything; did you guys see anything?" The rest of the band shook their heads.

Outside, in full view of people walking along the pavement, Shana hugged Manuel tight then she held him back from her to study him closely. "How are you? How is Gypsy? And what is this about a new trailer?"

Manuel pulled a wry mouth. "I am all right, Gypsy is getting better and he is asking for you. But first I must apologise to you. I've been such a fool, keeping you away from him. I called you Charlie Red because that was the first thing Gypsy remembered about you. He recognised your perfume on one of the nurses. I've been busy getting our new home ready and I didn't know about the problem with your trailer till I contacted your sister."

"So that's how you found me?"

"Yes. I rang your home on the way up. Jo told us you were here and why you had gone back to the band; but there's no need for you to work anymore. I want to buy a share in your business if that's okay with you; it's the least I can do. I feel that you would be better occupied helping Gypsy get well than serving burgers or singing with Brian. Gypsy will be ready to leave hospital soon and I think having you join him at Chilvers would be better than any medicine or therapy Rosscroft could prescribe. Will you come?"

"Stupid question; I'd love to." Shana flung her arms round Manuel and he waltzed her around the pavement.

"In that case," Manuel laughed, "we had better get going. I looked at a couple of suitable trailers on the way here and the trailer mart closes in half an hour. Also I have a flight to catch in four hours. The car is just here." He pointed to a large car parked at the kerbside. Shana recognised the Volvo, and Don sitting in the driver's seat. A feeling of relief swept through her. No more singing songs too high for her, no more going home smelling of fried onions. No more lying awake at night thinking of Gypsy and longing to be with him. He was safe and she was going home.

The purchase of the trailer made, the papers signed and arrangements made for the trailer to be delivered to Blackpool, Shana and Manuel got back into the car and Don drove south. After a few miles, Shana noticed that Manuel looked troubled and when she asked him what the matter was, he asked Don to find a place to park. A few miles on Don drove the car into a motorway service stop and Manuel sent him off to buy coffee for them.

Manuel turned to Shana and said, "I'm sorry Shana, I feel I have deceived you. I asked you to come without telling you of the dangers you will be facing. Once I have told you everything I will quite understand if you change your mind and want to go back to Blackpool."

"Dangers? I thought Gypsy was safe at the Rosscroft?"

"So did I."

"Has something happened?"

"I am afraid so. We believe someone is still trying to kill him, and I have come to the conclusion that Guido was sent to kill Gypsy by a person or persons unknown, as were Adams and Jones's attempt to shut him up. Now there has been another attempt on his life."

Shocked, Shana listened while Manuel told her about Payne and his attack on Gypsy, and Manuel's decision to move Gypsy to Chilvers. "My problem now is that Don is about to continue his search for this organisation, and I have to take on more work to pay for the running of Chilvers. I thought you might like to care for him and keep him company, but as I said, I will understand if -."

Shana placed a hand on his arm to stop him talking. "Don't be silly, of course I'll come."

"I must warn you he is not a pretty sight; his face took the brunt of the fall. His nose is broken and he has -."

"Stop trying to put me off, Manuel. I might be only five foot two but I'm made of stronger stuff than you think. Nothing would please me more than to be with Gypsy, I thought you knew that."

Manuel smiled his thanks and placed his hand over hers. "I was so stupid, keeping you away from him. I am sorry about that. This will mean a lot to him, especially when the police interview him about Guido's death. George cannot refuse them access to Gypsy for much longer. That fall has caused him to remember most of what has happened to him. The inspector in charge of the case warned me that, normally, minors are taken into custody when a serious crime has been committed, but our friend, Inspector Rudkin, advised his superiors to allow police bail as long as he lives at the Rosscroft or in an alternative secure place, hence my renting Chilvers. I hope it won't be necessary to cancel the bail. I don't think Gypsy would survive a custody order. His mental state is precariously balanced. We have brought him this far so carefully, any pressure or upset now would send him backwards."

"What will he be charged with?"

"Murder, but Edward is fighting to have the charge reduced to manslaughter to which he will advise Gypsy to plead not guilty by means of extreme provocation."

"When will the trial be?"

"We just don't know. It all depends on how soon Gypsy is deemed fit to plead. Cases are heard in order of receipt and no one knows how long the cases in front of us will take. We have to be ready with our defence any time after July."

Just then Don appeared with three cartons of coffee and a grim expression. Getting back in the car, he said, "I've just checked in with Rudkin. Payne won't be talking to anyone."

"Bad news?"

"The worst; the Paynes are dead."

2 pm Monday 8 th April 1996

Manuel glanced at his watch and realised with a start that he had only one hour before Don drove him to the airport. With so much to organise and discuss, he felt a wall of apprehension block his thoughts as he sat in Rosscroft's office waiting for the rest of the interested parties to arrive. The office seemed overcrowded with the extra chairs placed round Percy's desk and he wondered if all those invited to attend this extraordinary meeting would arrive on time at such short notice.

Percy glanced up from reading the contents of a folder. "Stop worrying, Manuel. The world won't fall apart just because you're going on tour. Where is it this time?"

"Scandinavia and the Balkans; I'm just trying to think of anyone else we should have brought in."

As if on cue, the office door opened and the Grafton brothers walked in, followed by Don and Cissy. After handshakes all round, they sat down at the desk. Thomas opened his briefcase and took out a thin folder. As he placed the briefcase on the floor beneath the desk the door opened again and a stocky figure walked.

"Rudkin!" Thomas rose to his feet and reached out a welcoming hand. "I'm glad you could make it. Have you any news about the Paynes?"

"Not much I'm afraid, but I have news of another sort which might please all concerned. I've been persuaded to come out of retirement to head the investigation into Gypsy's case. The powers that be have realised at last that everything that happened to Gypsy is connected in some way. They've given me the job of making the links. You never know, if I do my job properly Gypsy might not even have to go to court."

"What are your chances?"

"Slim, given the short time before the trial, but I'll do my best." He took the seat next to Manuel and was about to say something else when the door opened again and Sean came in, pushing Gypsy in a well-padded wheelchair, followed by Shana. Rudkin immediately moved to sit by Percy to make room for the wheelchair beside Manuel. Apart from the bruising and a nose twice its normal size, he seemed bright enough as Shana smiled at everyone before sitting down beside him. Shana gave Manuel a conspirital wink, their ploy to get Gypsy out of his bed having worked. On their arrival in Gypsy's suite the day before, Shana had shown great reserve in controlling her emotions on seeing Gypsy's battered face for the first time. She had smiled and took his hands in hers while he stared up at her, first in confusion, then in surprise as he realised who she was. At that point, Manuel had made his exit, giving Sean strict instructions that they were not to be disturbed for whatever reason other than medical emergency. Sean had blinked his owlish agreement and Manuel had walked away with his heart doing loop after loop.

Wednesday 15th May 1996

Sitting in the quiet of the Chilvers spacious front lounge, Manuel heard the front door bell chime and waited for David to admit the caller. While he waited, Manuel turned the page of his paper to the entertainment section. Scanning the first page he didn't see what he was looking for and turned to the next page; there it was! A weekly music column on local and regional bands in the making had a picture of Different Hats. He smiled with satisfaction. He had submitted the article and picture himself in the hope it would bring the band to the notice of event organisers in their area. Trumble had suggested it and Manuel had been only too happy to oblige. "Come in Erskine," he shouted before David had a chance to introduce the man.

Erskine rolled into the lounge, smiling a greeting. "You're getting as canny as that son of yours, Manuel. Or is he getting as canny as you?"

"We're about even these days." Manuel folded the paper so Erskine could see the article. "And we have another member of the family not far behind us."

"Grey Rabbit?"

Manuel laughed at Erskine's joke, knowing full well the man knew who he meant.

"Where are the family?"

"Lucia is having a nap, and the two love birds are in the music room; practising I hope. I have had some news from Sandy Roberts. The boys have finally got the tracks for their new CD ready. I said they could come down and use the studio here, which means they can include Gypsy in their recording. It's about time they got together again. It must be hard rehearsing up there while their lead singer is down here. He's improving all the time, Erskine."

"Really!" Trumble looked interested as he sank down onto the settee opposite Manuel. "That's interesting! If they're as good as their performance at Barney's, I might do something with the recording, although I'm still pushing for Gypsy to make his mark as a solo artist. How soon can I hear him?"

"Now, if you like."

"Might we go via your beautiful gardens, Manuel? The last time I saw it, the place was somewhat overgrown, and now I see it's almost back to how the last owner had it. And I do love well-kept gardens."

Manuel led Trumble outside and round the south side of the rambling old building, towards the French windows that led directly into the music room. The windows were open and the sound of someone singing came clearly to them. Manuel was about to step inside when Trumble put a hand on his shoulder and motioned for him to wait. The man listened intently, his eyes half closed. Manuel didn't care if Trumble didn't think much of his son's efforts. As far as he was concerned, Gypsy was singing almost as well as ever. The song was a gentle ballad with a slow beat, and Gypsy was crooning it in a flowing style reminiscent of the 'fifties'. Trumble waited till the song ended, then nodded for Manuel to step inside the room. Gypsy was just about to remove the CD from the recorder while Shana sat on the piano stool with a soft smile on her face. Gypsy had obviously been singing the song to her.

Trumble clapped his hands and stepped daintily into the room. "Very good! Was that you or the CD I just heard?"

While Shana's gaze flicked between Gypsy and Trumble, Gypsy began to smile slowly. "That was me." He pointed to the CD recorder. "Sandy sent me a new backing CD and I sing to that now. Your name's Erskine Trumble isn't it?" He came forward and stretched out his hand. "I've met you before, haven't I? How are you, sir?"

Trumble clamped a hand round Gypsy's and said, "All the better for seeing you again, young man. You are going to make me very rich."

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