I checked my watch as I stood at the fire exit. “Not long now.”
Claire had followed me out.
“You hate Kev, don’t you?” she said.
“In a way.”
“I can’t say that I blame you, I hate him myself sometimes. Is that why you came home?”
I didn’t answer.
“Is Kev the unfinished business you were talking about?”
I moved onto the fire escape and looked out over the school yard. The rain had now stopped, but there was still dampness in the air. Claire followed.
“I should have known. It’s just that somewhere in the back of my mind I’d hoped that it was me that you’d come back for,” said Claire.
“Perhaps you should go.”
“No, I’m sorry. Just promise me that you won’t do anything stupid. Kev’s a dangerous man. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“A little late for that. You should go back inside before he misses you.”
“You’re right,” said Claire, “I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want you to disappear again. Promise me you’ll still be here when I get back.”
“I can’t do that.”
“At least promise that you’ll be careful. I’ve really missed you, Pete.”
“Take care of yourself, Claire.”
“What do you think, Elvis?” said Marie.
“What?” Elvis, his eyes transfixed on the couple in the corner, not listening.
“Pete and Claire. Do you think they’ll get together? That Kevin Davison is a complete bastard, she would be much better off with Pete.”
“That’s Tracy Lough and John Marriner. She wouldn’t have touched him when they were at school. Now look at them.”
“People change you know. Not everyone obviously, look at us, but people do. It’s human nature. Good luck to them.”
“I think Tracy’s turned desperate, worried she’ll be left on the shelf,” said Elvis.
“Listen to the Lady Killer there, since when were you the expert?”
“Yeah, I suppose you’ve got a point. We’re happy though, aren’t we?” Elvis took Marie’s hand. “I’m sorry if I went a bit strange when Pete came home. It brought up a lot of memories, a lot of old feelings. I suppose I went off the rails a bit.”
“If that’s as far as you’re going to stray I suppose I can live with it. It was as much a shock for me to see Pete. He seems like the same person, I still love him to bits, but there’s something different, something harder about him.”
“Maybe I should have taken a leaf out of his book; stood up to a few people a long time ago.”
“I love you the way you are.” Marie kissed Elvis on the cheek. “People like Kev will get what’s coming to them eventually. You can bank on it.”
“I already have,” Elvis said as he led Marie to the dance floor. Spandau Ballet were never one of his favourites, but it seemed appropriate now. ‘Gold’ played out from the speakers and Elvis thought again about the money in his account.
“Hi Pete, long time no see.”
I’d just walked back in from the fire escape.
This was a blast from the past.
“How are you? You’re looking well.”
“You too, you look great.”
Karen Walker barely looked different from when she was at school.
“I’m okay. I’m working in a call centre at Doxford, doing alright. I’ve got a little boy Cameron, he’s two.”
“Great, I’m really pleased for you.”
I don’t know why, but my response was tinged with a little sadness. I think Karen picked up on it.
“I’m not with the father if that’s what you’re thinking, he doesn’t know about Cam. It was a one off, stupid mistake. I didn’t think he deserved to know. Not that I would swap Cam for the world mind. How about you, are you married yet?”
“No, still as hopeless as ever.”
“Still running away then?”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
We were virtually on the same spot as where we had that first kiss.
“It’s only taken me best part of sixteen years to get over it,” she said. “I knew you liked Claire, it was obvious. She’s a nice girl. It’s funny how things work out though, isn’t it? Who’d have thought that they’d be together now?”
“I must admit that it came as a bit of a shock,” I said.
“What are you doing now then? You’ve been away for a while. Surely you haven’t been hiding from me for all this time.”
For a moment I thought she was serious. I realised that since I had come home, this had been the first conversation I had entered into without wanting something from the person involved.
“Do you want a drink? Orange squash?”
“Yes please, as long as it has vodka in it. You have to promise to come back though.”
I looked over her shoulder to see Bumper and Elvis. Bumper was making the same sign with his thumb and forefinger that he had sixteen years ago. I laughed and went for the drinks. Claire was dancing with Gilbert when I came back from the bar. I smiled over, but I think something had changed between us. I returned to Karen and handed her the drink.
“Welcome back, Pete,” she said as she pecked me on the cheek. “Fancy going for a walk?”
I agreed, and we headed out of the fire escape. Karen linked my arm and we walked around the perimeter of the school, past the swimming baths and towards the upper school. We talked. We talked about everything. Her career, she was doing very well as an Operations Manager for a Mobile Phone company. I talked briefly about my career, missing out the bits about gangsters and blackmail. She told me about her drunken fling with one of the directors at a conference, Cameron’s father.
She hadn’t been very lucky with her relationships but was getting to like the life of a single mother. I tried to think of a relationship story of my own but couldn’t. I considered lying, but it didn’t feel right. Karen smiled and leant in closer to me. Her smile was the same as I remembered. She told me as much as she knew about the people we had gone to school with. We had been in different classes for a lot of subjects but knew a lot of the same people.
“Do you ever think about that night?” she said.
“The Christmas Disco. Have you any idea what you did to me?” She pushed me away and looked me in the eye. “That was my first kiss and you were thinking of somebody else all the time. Imagine what that has done to me.”
I was shocked and mumbled an apology. She hit me on the arm.
“I’m joking, you idiot. I got over you, eventually. What sort of twisted screw up do you think I am?”
I relaxed again.
“I’ve always been a little jealous of Claire mind, not that I would swap what I have for what she’s got. Is that why you came home, Claire?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I had for a while, now I’m confused. I’m not sure what I want anymore, but I don’t think it’s Claire. I came back to finish business, erase some ghosts from the past, but everywhere I turn I seem be turning up more.”
“That’s what I am, a ghost from the past that you want to eliminate?” She faked a shocked look.
“No, not at all. It’s been great to see you. This is the first real conversation I’ve had since I have come home. Come on, tell me more about Cam.”
She showed me a photo that she had in her purse. He was the double of his mother and shared the same smile.
“You should come and see him sometime. If you hang about long enough.”
“I’d love to.” I meant it.
We headed back to the school hall.
“Can I ask you something?” She took my hand in hers.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I don’t know. Just stuff, you know.”
“Not Claire then?”
“No, not at all.”
Karen looked me in the eyes.
Then she kissed me. Her lips were warm, and I could taste the orange from the vodka we had just drunk. She stroked the back of my head and I hugged her closer to me. We could hear the music from the hall, it wasn’t Madness, but I didn’t care. This was the happiest I had been since I’d come home.
“We’d better get back before anybody misses us.” She gave my hand a squeeze and we walked back without speaking.
When we got back to the party it was in full swing. Nobody appeared to have noticed we were missing, except Elvis, who smiled as we came back in through the fire escape.
“What are your plans for the rest of the night?” she said.
“Got to meet with some old friends. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t back out now, but I was less sure of my motives.
“Try and save the last dance for me. I’ll understand if you don’t, but here’s my number. Give me a ring sometime. Preferably within the next sixteen years.” She handed me her business card and smiled.
“I promise, the last dance is yours.”
I gave her a peck on the cheek and headed for the door. I had business to attend to.
It had started to drizzle when I left the hall. It had been about an hour since Kev had taken the phone call and left the reunion suddenly.
I parked at the Seaburn Centre and took the short walk to the seafront and along to Kev’s house. As I approached the front gate a woman was leaving the house. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. She wore a black leather mini skirt and stiletto heels. I waited on the corner until she left the garden and headed down the road.
A light was on in the study and as I got to the front door it was already ajar. I edged it open a little further and walked in. There were no signs of life, so I turned right and walked along the passage towards the study. A stream of light was coming from beneath the door. I stood outside for a moment, realising that I’d begun to sweat, and tried to compose myself. I had worked this out in my head a thousand times, but now; now that I was here, I started to shake. My heart raced.
“It’s now or never.”
I opened the door and walked in. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting; I certainly hadn’t expected to see Kev sat behind his desk with an automatic pistol in his hand.
“Pete. Come in. I’ve been expecting you.” Kev waved me in with his gun.
“You have?” This wasn’t how I’d planned it.
“How long did you say it’s been? Ten, twelve…”
“Fifteen. It’s been fifteen years since we left school.”
“Fifteen years? Long time. So, where did you go? No, actually, why did you come back?”
“There were other, more pressing matters.”
I noticed the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels on Kev’s desk.
“I’ve known all along you know, about you and Claire. I knew she always held a torch for you. That’s okay though, I didn’t hold it against you. Not until you came back; now it’s different. I’ve always known she didn’t love me. She may have thought she did at one time, but that’s all changed now. Now that little Peter Wood is back.”
Kev took a mouthful of bourbon and pointed at the chair with his gun. I chose to stand.
“I should kill you,” he said.
“Why haven’t you? I’ve been here for five minutes now; you’ve got a gun in your hand. I’m sure a man of your means and contacts could have taken care of the business as soon as I arrived back.”
“I could have killed you years ago, I should have killed you years ago. I knew it was you who stitched me up. The trouble is Pete. I’ve always admired you. Feared you in a way. Not in a physical way obviously; that would be ridiculous. When you decided that you had had enough you walked way. Left it all behind. I couldn’t do that I get too excited.”
“I wouldn’t have had you down as one of the most emotional people in the world.”
“Anger, Pete, anger.” Kev slammed the tumbler on the desk. “That’s my biggest enemy. I can’t control it, like now for instance. I know someone else has stitched me up and really, I should kill them. I certainly feel like it. It wouldn’t be the first time, but when does it stop?”
“When you want it to I suppose.”
“Well, it’s stopping now. Right here in this room, with just me and you.”
He took a large swig from the bottle. I looked around the room. The clock on the wall showed it was ten past ten, I had already been there longer than expected.
“You know the truth don’t you, Pete? I’m grateful that you kept it a secret for so long, but it had to come out sooner or later.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, I didn’t interrupt.
“He used to beat us you know, my sister and me? He used to get pissed on whisky then beat the shit out of us. Belt sometimes even a table leg when he was particularly angry. I used to think it was my fault. Remember how I was always in trouble at school? I thought I was the cause of his drinking and the beatings. I didn’t for one-minute think it was the other way around.”
His eyes were bloodshot, possibly tears, more likely the drink.
“Go on,” I said.
“When Rowcroft used to beat me at school I used to laugh at him, get him to hit me harder. I knew that no matter what he threw at me, it wouldn’t be half as bad as what my father did to me when I got home.”
Kev took another swig of whisky.
“How did you cope with it? Did you never want to fight back?”
“Thing is, I was so used to it, I stopped being bothered. I used to take the beatings and get on with my life.”
Kev offered me the bottle. I shook my head.
“It was only when I realised what he was doing to my sister that it started to affect me.”
Kev drained his glass, “After he had beaten us, he always apologised, said it was due to the stress he was under since Mam died. He seemed to make a special effort with my sister. Like any child I was jealous, I wanted to know why she was getting more attention than me. One night he came in after the pubs had closed, drunk as usual. We had waited up for him as we always did, waiting to see what type of mood he would be in. It was a bad one. As soon as he came through the door he removed his belt and attacked me. I tried to protect Elaine, but she got it as well. She ran upstairs and eventually my dad calmed down. He apologised as he always did, said someone had wound him up down the pub.”
Kev bit his bottom lip and tapped his gun on the desk.
“What happened next?” I said.
“He gave me a bag of peanuts, dry roasted. Said he was going to tuck Elaine in. I gave it a couple of minutes and followed him upstairs. I crept to her bedroom and peeped through the crack in the door. The bedsheet was peeled back, and he had his hand up her nighty. She was only nine. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.” His knuckles were white as he gripped the gun. “That was the night I killed him.”
Ingham sat at his desk surveying the photos in front of him. Gilbert had done a great job with them.
“How could she? The little slag.” He threw them across his desk.
“Where did the photos come from?” Junior had seen Ingham like this before and he wasn’t sure which way it would go.
“I don’t know, I don’t bleeding care. These two have been having a right laugh at my expense. You’re probably all in on it, aren’t you? I’m just one big joke. Think it’s funny, do you? Seeing the boss’s wife being shafted behind his back,”
Ingham lunged out from behind the desk, pointing the gun hard into Junior’s cheek. “Dare you to laugh now. Go on. Think I’m funny now do you?”
He had his left hand gripping Junior’s neck as he forced him backwards over the desk.
“Take it easy, I’m on your side.” Junior had begun to panic. “Do you think if I knew I would have let it go on? It would have been nipped in the bud a long time ago.”
Ingham released his grip; Junior rubbed his throat.
“Point taken.” Ingham slumped back into his leather swivel armchair. “What now? I suppose I have to kill him, don’t I?”
He didn’t like killing people, it was his job, and it had become a chore.
“It would be rude not to.” Junior was excited.
“I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Let’s do it then. Got your shooter?”
“Do elephants shit in the jungle?”
Ingham picked up the handgun from the desk again, cradling it like a child. “Come on my little beauty. Let’s go to work.”
“Ready when you are Boss.”
Junior grabbed the shotgun that was behind the chair. He looked out of the window of Ingham’s office. The nightclub was in the centre of town and overlooked High Street.
“Typical. It’s started to rain. Why do we never get a nice day for it?”
He watched as revellers ran for cover, their little dresses and short-sleeved shirts getting soaked in the rain.
“The sun shines on the righteousness my friend. We’re destined to be pissing wet for a long time yet.”
They went out of the back door and into the car park. They took a couple of the doormen from the front of the club. They wouldn’t be missed for a few hours, it was early and was likely to be a quiet night due to the weather. Junior put the shotgun in the boot alongside the Uzi that was already there. Ingham climbed into the driver’s seat and placed his automatic in his inside pocket. Junior climbed in the passenger seat. The two doormen were already in the back.
“You do realise the implications, don’t you?” said Ingham. “If we take out Davison, we’ve got a turf war on our hands. He supplies the whole of North Sunderland. We’ll have a lot of people to answer to.”
“It’s a matter of principle boss, it’s been coming for a long time. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“Let’s go and get this over with,” Ingham pulled out and raced over the bridge. “We’re off to the seaside.”
“What about the story you gave to the police?”
I edged over to Kev’s desk.
“It was partly true. He had been drinking whisky. The post mortem would have shown that. He even argued with the man on the moon like I told the police. I think that is what pushed me over the edge. I sat upstairs in my room for hours trying to get my head around what he was doing to his own daughter. It didn’t make sense. I headed to the top of the stairs. I was trying to pluck up the courage to ask my dad why he was messing with my sister and there he was, arguing with the moon’s reflection. I ran down the stairs and shoved his head through the glass. That’s why I never called the police.” He relaxed back in the chair and opened his arms wide. “The thing is Pete, you’ve come home with this big victim thing hanging over you, thinking you’re hard done by. But we’re all victims, every one of us. And we’re all guilty. It’s how you deal with it that matters. I’ve made my bed and I’ll lie in it.”
“Do you not feel any remorse for what you’ve done? I know that your father isn’t the only one you have killed.”
“Once you’ve killed one it becomes easier. I had nightmares for a while, once I got older I stopped thinking about it. When it came to sorting out business I didn’t think twice before popping someone.”
“What about your sister? Does she know what you did to your father?”
“She knows. She wasn’t going to say anything because they will have wanted to know why I did it.”
“That was Elaine leaving when I got here wasn’t it?”
“I had to warn her that you were back, warn her that the secret might come out.”
“How is she? What is she doing now?”
“She’s on the game. Has been since we were in the children’s home together. Used to do hand jobs for the older boys to get a bit of pocket money and progressed from there; blow jobs and eventually full sex. It didn’t matter to her. Then the carers became involved. They wanted it for free as usual, considered it a perk of the job, but they paid; eventually.”
“Have you never tried to stop her? Surely you have the money so she doesn’t need to work?”
“She works for me, one of my best earners.”
I sat, trying to take everything in.
“How long have you known?” said Kev as he leaned back in his chair with the glass in his left hand and a gun in his right.
I decided to tell him the truth.
“I didn’t. Not until you’ve just told me. I knew something wasn’t quite right and God knows I have a lot of stuff on you, but this I didn’t know.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I thought that’s why you had come home. You knew that I would kill you, so I assumed you would try and blackmail me. It makes no difference though. I suppose I had to tell someone.”
He drained the crystal tumbler.
“Are you going to kill me then?” I said.
Kev shrugged again.
“I don’t understand, if it’s not for the money, why did he do it?”
Marie was confused. The story hadn’t come as a complete surprise. She knew something had been troubling Elvis. He could never lie.
“Revenge I suppose. Davison had got to us all. This way we got some sort of respect back.”
The crowds had now dwindled. Unlike school discos of old, everyone had families to get back to. The last smooch was the domain of the drunk and the foolish. There would be repercussions and recriminations, but for one or two, it would be worth it.
“And you are sure it will work. This isn’t going to backfire is it?” Marie sounded worried.
“It will work, you can guarantee it. It’s like he’s been planning it from the day he left school. It will all be over now. All we need to do is sit back and wait. Tomorrow we’ll be free.”
“I hope so.”
“Trust me I’m a nerd.”
They both laughed as they headed out of the hall past the snogging couples. Elvis hoped he was right. He hung around in the entrance hall awaiting Pete’s return. He still needed to ask Pete one final question.
“I haven’t decided what to do with you yet. It’s not exactly your fault that Claire has always loved you. It’s not as if you’ve been bombarding her with love letters over the years; you’ve hardly been encouraging her. I resent you for what you did, but I don’t hate you.” Kev leaned back in his chair as if pondering his next move. “I was quite impressed with the way that you stitched me up all those years ago. You wouldn’t get away with it again though.”
“Nice to hear it, but you don’t get it do you?” I said.
“Who do you think stitched you up this time? Who do you think broke up your little relationship with Elizabeth? Do you think anyone cares that much about you to go to the trouble of photographing you with your mistress and then blackmailing you with the photos?”
“I’ve got enemies. You tend to get them in this business.”
“I suspect Ingham will be paying you a visit soon. You want to hope that the Police get here first.”
“What have the pigs got to do with it?”
Kev was getting more agitated, swigging from the near empty whisky bottle and fingering the gun.
“I heard they were very interested in your secret computer files. Quite surprised when they ended up on CID’s desk this morning”
“I don’t get it. What are you on about? What files?”
“The ones with your accounts and the ones of your rubber clad friends,” I said.
“How did they get hold of the files? What rubber clad friends?”
“A special present from Elvis.”
“That specky cunt, what’s he got to do with it?”
“Computer whiz-kid our Elvis. Master at tapping into computer systems would you believe? Surprised you didn’t know. You seem to take such a keen financial interest in his business.”
“You’ve lost me.” Kev leaned forward over his desk.
“You never were very bright, were you?” Any pity I had for him had now faded. I was finishing this once and for all. “You know Tim’s dead, don’t you?”
“Who is Tim? I don’t know anybody called Tim.”
“He looked out for me and my mates when we were kids, used to drink in The Whistle. Bloke with a camera? Now your little soldiers have killed him, burnt his house down.”
“They’ve done what? Why didn’t they ask permission? Why do they want to kill somebody like that? He isn’t a threat to us.”
“Wounded pride I suppose, it’s surprising what it does to people.”
“I’ll fucking kill them.”
“Too late, they’re already inside. I’m surprised you didn’t know.”
Kev picked up the phone in the office and dialled 1471. It was a number he recognised well, Southwick Police Station.
“Looks like your little empire’s falling apart.”
I headed for the door.
The noise from the blast took me by surprise. It was the first time I had heard a gun fired.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.