by Talo Segura

Chapter 9

Arran had not seen Tom around at all. He had spoken to Mark and Jenny, but neither knew anything. He decided the only person who might have any information was Max Arnold and that seemed like a better choice than showing up on Tom's doorstep. Besides, if Tom was off college for some reason, it would impact their project. Surely though he would have said. But Arran wasn't certain, not with everything that was going on.

When Arran arrived, Max was in the Art room tidying things away from the last class, with the help of Jillian, a nice girl whom Arran had seen helping before. She was an art monitor like Tom.

"Excuse me, Mister Arnold," Arran interrupted them. "I've been looking for Tom and was wondering if you've seen him today?"

Max stopped what he was doing and looked up. "Nope, sorry I haven't. But then he does the clearing up on Wednesday and Friday now. Is there anything wrong?"

"Oh, nothing really," Arran said. "I just thought it a bit odd that he wasn't in college today"

"Are you sure?" Max asked, looking slightly concerned.

Jillian emerged from the store room. "All finished," she announced, smiling.

"Thank you, Jillian. See you tomorrow," Max said, as she was leaving.

Arran moved to let her pass and returned her smile.

"Come with me," Max said, looking at him. "We might just catch the secretary before she leaves."

He locked the door and they went off to the office on the next floor down to see if Mrs Nassim was still there. She was. They found her still at her desk having just put the phone down.

"What can I do for you gentlemen?" she asked, looking up.

"Soumi," Max addressed Mrs Nassim like an old friend, "we were wondering if you have any news on Thomas Rustle. It appears he wasn't in college today."

"That's a coincidence! I've just come off the phone from talking to his mother. He's in hospital."

"What!" Arran was shocked and unable to retain his emotions.

"Oh, I don't think it's anything to worry about," Mrs Nassim replied quickly.

Max's hand squeezed Arran's shoulder in a firm, comforting, gesture. "Do we know what happened and how long he might be absent?"

"A few days, his mother said. Maybe all week. She was on her way to pick him up. So I'm guessing he'll be recovering at home."

"Recovering?" Arran was almost beside himself.

Soumi Nassim regarded the boy.

"A friend, I presume?" She offered a nice smile.

Arran nodded.

"Thank you, Soumi," Max said, guiding Arran out of the office.

Mrs Nassim watched them leave before returning to finish the last bit of paperwork for the day. She thought to herself that reaction was more than mere concern, one friend for another, but she got back to the task at hand, wanting to finish up quickly and get home.

"She never said what happened! It must be bad if he's in hospital. What can I do?" Arran blurted out all his thoughts as his emotions suddenly seemed to overpower him.

Max still had his hand on Arran's shoulder as their steps echoed in the empty corridor. "Why don't I give you a lift home and we can talk about this?"

Arran said nothing, but allowed himself to be led out of the old brick building, down the steps and across to the car park. He opened the door and sat down inside Max's car, like a robot on automatic pilot, his mind reeling from events.

"We haven't seen you all summer," Jennifer told Vicky.

"Yes, it's nice to get together," Alison added.

Vicky gave a little smile. "And you both know why." She turned to look at Alison. "And, Ali, you shouldn't interfere."

"I'm not," Ali protested. "I only said I didn't think it was a good idea."

"Yes, but Ali." Vicky sounded as exasperated as she felt.

It wasn't surprising they were all discussing her affair with Arran's dad, but Vicky reckoned Ali hadn't a clue. Anyway, who was she to talk? Look at her and Arran. That hadn't worked out. Vicky was not at all happy to be called out on her relationship. Her now non-existent relationship. What she wanted was their support. She wanted revenge. She had been taken advantage of and very badly treated. Her aunt knew that. So why was Ali giving her a bad time?

"Ali, you and Arran split. That was all him, wasn't it? Well it was all his dad with me. John wanted to end it because he said it should never have happened. Fuck that! Never have happened? Imagine how that makes me feel."

Jennifer tried to calm her down. "It can't be nice when two people end a relationship," she said sympathetically.

Alison nodded in agreement.

"No, no. You have no idea. He stopped it, chucked me away like an old rag he'd used to wipe his dirty hands with."

"Maybe he realised that..." Alison began, but Vicky cut her off.

"That... that it was all some big mistake. No way. That's what he tried to reason, but it wasn't and he needs to learn a lesson. You think Arran broke up with you because it was all a mistake?" Vicky responded, a venomous sneer contorting her face.

"Arran and me is different," Alison said. "Besides we're still friends."

"Really? Different? Look..." Vicky paused and took a deep breath. "Arran is gay! You do know that?"

Alison was speechless.

"Vicky, you can't say that," Jennifer protested.

"Why not? He asked Tom to interfere about me and John, but that backfired. My aunt saw right through his father's scheming and she told Tom to have nothing to do with either of them."

"That doesn't give you the right to say Arran is gay. You don't know. And so what? You shouldn't spread rumours." Alison told her.

"Tom is gay, that much I do know. Anyway I didn't come around to talk about Arran and you. Or Tom. Or anything. Vicky looked from one girl to the other. "I'm gonna make sure John pays and it would be nice to get some support here."

"I think you should let it drop. Relationships don't always last. Just move on." Jennifer told her.

"No way. He's gonna pay for what he did."

She turned and walked out, leaving Alison and Jennifer looking at each other wondering what she meant. It wasn't looking good, but Alison was now thinking about what Vicky had said about Arran. It seemed to make sense.

Max pulled into the drive of his semi-detached house in a leafy avenue of a nice part of town. It was not a house he could ever have afforded a mortgage to buy on the salary of a college art teacher. It was an inheritance from his grandfather who had left the house to Max's parents when he had passed away a few years ago. They in turn had decided Max should have it. It was ideally situated being less than twenty minutes by car from the college.

"Come on in. I'll get us a drink," Max said, to a rather distracted Arran, who was staring aimlessly through the passenger window, thinking intensely about the only thing that occupied his attention: Tom.

Max let his hand once again rest on Arran's shoulder and lightly shook him.

"Come on. Come in a moment," he repeated.

Like a deep sea diver encased in a rubber suit and weighted boots, Arran hauled himself up and out of the car and walked slowly behind Mr Arnold towards the front door. Once inside the hall, Max ushered Arran into the living room and directed him to the sit on the old sofa. Arran sat and looked around the room. It offered an incongruous view of the past; a scene from a piece of theatre set in a nineteen-fifties decor, right down to the tiled fireplace and clock on the mantelpiece.

The atmosphere distracted his thoughts as he began to wonder about Max. Who was his art teacher? A question to which he had hitherto not given a great deal of thought. However, now he found himself in the man's front room, in a setting that seemed difficult to align with his expectations. He felt lost.

Max entered the room carrying a tray with two cups of tea, milk and sugar, and a plate of large chocolate chip cookies. He set it down carefully on the wooden coffee table in front of the sofa and sat down next to Arran.

"I'll give his mother a call," he said, and the palm of his hand lightly touched Arran's thigh. "Are you alright," he patted Arran's leg and moved his hand to pour the milk. "Milk, sugar?" he asked.

They sat in almost silence, listening to the tick, tock, of the mantelpiece clock. Arran sipped his tea from the elegant China cup with its burgundy and gold decoration. He began to take in more of his surroundings and his gaze fell upon a small porcelain statue of two nude men wrestling.

Max, seeing where Arran was looking, smiled. "Hercules and Diomedes. Ancient Greek mythology, perhaps not your cup of tea?" he laughed. "People notice it, but often don't comment."

Arran grinned. "Well, maybe that's because the one upside down is holding the other guy's cock."

"I guess that's it." Max looked at the boy. "It doesn't seem to bother you though?"

"Ha ha, it's art, isn't it?"

"It's a copy of a classic sculpture. The Ancient Greeks had a very different culture."

Arran put down his cup and saucer. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Max replied, "but I should first make that call. Okay?"

Arran nodded and Max got up and left the room to make the call. He wasn't away long, but long enough for Arran to stand up and walk around. He was fascinated by all the different objects that filled the room. When Max appeared at the doorway tension overtook Arran once again and he became anxious to discover what had happened to Tom.

"Tom's okay," Max announced.

Immediately, Arran relaxed and moved back to sit down on the sofa. "What happened? Is he home?"

Max looked across at Arran. "Yeah, he's home and he'll be fine. He was... attacked, hit."

"What? How?" Arran was distraught again.

Max joined him on the sofa. "Relax. He's fine. Hospital was a precaution."

"A precaution!" Arran's was staring hard at Max.

"He got knocked out, so they took him to hospital and kept him in overnight. Now he's fine. Apart from a few bruises. He'll be back at college in a day or two."

"What happened then?" Arran asked, anxious to know.

Max d idn't have any answers. He told Arran he'd have to wait until Tom came back and ask him.

Max would have liked to talk more with Arran, but he decided now was not the right time. Instead he drove him home and suggested he call Tom if he couldn't wait a few days. But he said maybe leave that at least until tomorrow, because he had gone to bed. He left Arran at his house..

Arran fetched his keys from his pocket, waved goodbye to Max, and opened the front door. The house was empty. He went into the kitchen thinking maybe he would eat something. There was a note on the worktop. Had to go out. Back late. Supper in the fridge. Just heat it up. Dad.

The incessant ringing, followed by banging on the front door, woke Arran. What the hell was going on? Pulling aside the curtain he looked out onto the street. It was then he got the shock of his life. Flashing blue lights played across the ceiling through the half open curtain. At the front door, making all the noise, were the police.

He rushed downstairs and opened the door, to be pushed aside as two uniformed officers immediately entered the hallway.

"Are you deaf," a guy in an ill-fitting grey suit and tie asked.

"What? I was asleep."

"Mr Taylor?"

The man didn't seem to have paid any attention to what he'd said.

"Yes," Arran answered.

There was a pause as the man looked at the sheet of paper he held.

"There's no one else here," one of the uniformed officers said.

"You're alone?" the man asked him.

"I guess."

"Don't get smart kid. Where is your father?" He looked a second time at his paper. "Mr John Taylor? He is your father?"

"Yes, he is my father. And... I've no idea."

"If you know where he is then you are impeding our investigations and committing a crime if you do not say. Right now."

Arran was freezing standing in the hall with the front door open. He had only his pyjamas bottoms on. He also needed to piss. But he didn't think there was a crime in not knowing his father's whereabouts.

"I need to pee. Why don't you come in and close the door. It's freezing."

The man in the suit did just that and was joined by another lady, also in plain clothes. The uniformed officers left. A few words were exchanged and Arran used the toilet. Back in the living room, he confronted the two detectives. At least he believed they were detectives, he had seen enough films.

"When did you last see your father?" the man asked him, whilst his partner looked around the room.

"Yesterday morning. When I came in last night he wasn't here, but that's not unusual. Actually he'd left a note."

"Where is that?" the man wanted to know.

"In the kitchen bin if it's not still on the worktop."

The grey suit nodded to the lady, who left to presumably retrieve the note.

"Do you know Victoria Chambers?"

Arran thought that an odd question, which made him try to imagine what was going on.

"Sort of. I mean she's good friends with Ali, Alison Shroud."

"Alison Shroud?"

"Yes, we are a kind of group, sort of. Me, Alison, Jenifer, Mark and Vicky."

"Sort of! You keep saying sort of. What do you mean... sort of? Something happened?"

"No. I mean not really," but as Arran was about to explain further the police lady detective, or whatever, came back holding the note. She handed it to her colleague.

"Had to go out. Back late. Supper in the fridge. Just heat it up. Dad," he read out. "And you've no idea where he is?"

"No, not really," Arran replied.

This appeared to irritate the man. "Not really, sort of, you don't seem very certain of anything young man."

He pulled out a business card. "Call me if he comes home."

Arran took the card, turned it over in his hand and read: 'Detective Joseph M. Hammer. Criminal Investigation Division.' There was a phone number printed underneath and the crest of the Metropolitan Police.

Detective Hammer and his partner left.

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