The Only Way to Fly
Two days after Billy's pronouncement about the weather closing in, the band arrived, bringing with them the new lead guitarist and Jake. Billy seemed to know most of the band and there were hugs all round, but on being introduced to the new lead, his manner changed abruptly. For some reason he took an instant dislike to the poor guy despite his efforts to be friendly. His name was Ken, and according to Trilby was a very good guitarist. When Ken held out his hand, Billy stepped back a pace, scowled, and placed his right hand against his chest and pushed it away from him in a downward motion. There was a painful silence for a few seconds, broken only by a deep "Woof!" and the biggest Old English sheepdog I had ever seen bounced out of the bus to pounce on Daley, almost knocking him to the ground. I wondered if he was bigger than my dad's Old English, Major. This, I guessed, was Jake. By the time Daley calmed the dog down, Billy had disappeared. Once we had the band settled in the lounge with tea and coffee, I drew Daley to one side and asked him what Billy's sign meant. Daley said, "He doesn't like the new guy."
"But he's only just met him."
Daley shrugged his shoulders. "Well, you ought to know the kid by now; he's a pretty canny kid."
I went in search of the boy and, after looking in the bedrooms and studies, I looked in the music barn, He was huddled in a corner, his arms tight round his knees, with his head resting on his arms. I called to him, not wanting to startle him, but he gave no sign he had heard me. I walked up to him and said his name. He raised his head to look at me then looked away.
I sat down on the floor beside him and touched his shoulder, and felt the tremors coursing through his body. "Billy, do you know that guy?" He shook his head and leaned it back against the wall, his eyes shut tight. "Did he remind you of someone?" He nodded his head. "So what made you frightened of him?"
Billy frowned and shook his head again. He clenched his right hand and lifted his little finger, moving it from side to side while the middle finger of his left hand stroked his chest in an upwards motion. In the short time I had been at the house, Daley and Billy had taught me some of the basics of sign language. "You have a bad feeling about him?" Billy nodded and a tear trickled down his left cheek. He touched his left middle finger with his right index finger, signing the letter 'I', then stroked his open right hand down his right side and finishing palm down, meaning 'want', then he brought his closed hand to his chest then signed the letter 'D' twice.
"You want your dad?" The tears flowed and I pulled him into as warm an embrace as I could muster, and let him weep against my chest. In the market he had shown an amazing maturity, now he was just a little boy grieving for his dad. I held him close, rubbing his back, and I felt him pushing into me, finding a refuge while he got rid of pent up emotions. When he was finally in control of himself, he pushed away and got to his feet. Sniffing back fresh tears he tapped his fist against his forehead.
"No, you're not stupid at all." I stood up and adjusted my jacket. "Some people are sensitive to the vibes others radiate, some good some bad. My dad only had to look at someone for a few seconds to know whether to trust someone. You're probably the same. But I promise you, no matter what you feel around this new guy, or anyone else, I won't let anyone harm or hurt you. Okay?" Billy looked at me, his eyebrows raised in a question. "Yes, Billy, I really mean that." It wasn't a confession of love, as such, but the nearest I could say without making a fool of myself. Billy nodded, wiped his eyes on his sweatshirt sleeve and headed towards a door at the far end of the barn. I followed him and he opened it to reveal a short passage leading to the right. I closed the door behind me and followed Billy to another door. This opened onto the hall by the kitchen. I had wondered about that door but had been too polite to ask about it. I guessed that the corridor had once been a storage room but now created access to the barn without having to go across the yard; no getting soaked just to play music. I followed Billy into the main lounge where Daley had made tea for the band.
On seeing Jake toasting himself in front of the fire, Billy's eyes widened. He signalled to Daley who said, "This is Jake, my dad's mutt. You don't have to talk to him, just whistle, like this." Daley whistled softly and Jake's head came up. Daley whistled again and Jake went to him and pushed his snout into Daley's outstretched hands. Daley scratched him behind the ears then said, "Whistle him, Billy; let's see if he likes you. If he doesn't, you'll soon know about it."
Billy hunkered down and whistled the same way as Daley, and Jake turned his head to look at him. Billy whistled again and Jake came straight to him, gave him a good sniff then sat down and raised a front paw. From then on, Billy was captivated, especially when Jake endured a fierce hug from him. Billy looked up at Daley for an explanation, and Daley said, "It's a long story. He lived on a farm for a few years and was trained to respond to whistles rather than voice. Then the farmer died and he was passed on to my dad. We'll take him out for a walk tomorrow and I'll teach you some of the whistles. Just give him some food for now, and he's your friend for life. Trilby brought some with him; it's in the kitchen. Just click your fingers at him."
Billy stood up and clicked his fingers, and Jake was at the door already, his stub of a tail wagging frantically. Billy followed the dog out into the hall and all eyes were on me. "He wants his dad," I said and the band made muted comments. I saw Ken watching me and I stared right into his eyes. I didn't like him either. "And if any of you have any ideas about getting too friendly with him, he's off limits." Was that a flicker of annoyance I saw cross Ken's smug face? I'd met up with guys like him before – handsome, immaculate woman chasers who didn't understand the word "no". I turned to Daley. "You're the boss, Daley; I trust you'll back me up on that."
Daley nodded. "He's right, boys. Any of you touch him and I'll personally see what's left of you in court. We're here to rest up and rehearse. The house belongs to the kid now, and it's up to all of us to respect that. We're here as his guests so, just treat it like you did for Bill. You know the rules and I expect you to show Ken how things are. If you make a mess, clean it up, if you break anything, you either fix it or pay for a new one. We all, and I repeat all of us, will help around the place, just like we did when Bill was alive. We're in for a bad storm and may have to lock ourselves in and ride it out. The kid has stocked the place with enough food in the fridges and freezers, and in the cellar, to keep us going for a few weeks but that doesn't mean pigging out whenever we want. Be sensible is all I'm asking. Anybody not happy with that, they can leave now before the weather sets in. If you stay it means you agree with the house rules."
The only one who seemed uncomfortable with the rules was Ken, but to be fair he had only just joined the band. I had got used to the "family" and liked the idea of comradeship, but there were some men who wanted to be apart, be on their own. That didn't work with Daley's outfit, and Ken would have to learn fast; and if Daley allowed it, I would take great delight in teaching him.
The funeral went smoothly, even though a gale had sprung up, heralding the storm to come. Mr and Mrs Watson took charge of the wake, which we held in the barn so that Billy would not be inundated with too many people in the house itself. Almost all the villagers in the area came up to pay their respects, and Billy tolerated the attention as long as he could before disappearing upstairs with Jake for company. Halfway through the afternoon, I pulled Daley to one side and asked his opinion of Ken.
Daley grimaced and stared down at the glass of beer he was holding. "I haven't made my mind up yet. I'm uneasy about Billy not liking him, but, Trilby says he's an excellent guitarist so maybe we have to compromise. He knows there will be little reward, as we all do; he could easily step into a professional band, there's no question of that."
"Well I don't see why Billy should have to compromise. Just keep him away from the kid, okay?"
Daley gave me that strange look of his, hinting that he knew something I didn't. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
I nodded. "Nice place to hide if you don't want to be found."
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