SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Justin’s bags were in the hall downstairs. He was booked to fly out to a new contract in Japan the next day. They were in bed dozing together in the afterglow of a very passionate session of intercourse. Nathan groaned when the mobile went at the bedside. Justin would not turn the damned thing off.
Justin reached over and groped for the phone. He flipped it open and grunted hello, then abruptly sat up and listened for quite a long time. After signing off he flopped back next to Nathan, who grabbed him and pulled him in for a long kiss.
‘Sorta,’ replied Justin. ‘That was Mike from the Leeds agency. They’re getting somewhere. Some cash they spread round social services in Kirklees turned up the name of Jade Gardiner. She was living there with a black guy called Julio Ahmed two years ago. Iss not good. They’ve got a file as thick as a bible. Domestic violence and drugs mostly. Although he’s got court orders to keep his distance, she keeps on taking him back and getting beat up for her trouble. Somehow Damien’s not been taken into care, but I can’t believe he’s missed out on the beatings. Poor little kid. What in fuck could I ever do to make up that sort of damage?’
Nathan kissed him. ‘Look, chavvy babe, if anyone could help a kid like that, it’d be you. It may be grim, but there’s nothing happened to him that didn’t happen to you. You survived it and grew, now maybe you can help him too. You might well be his only chance, Justy. You need to press on with this. Look, I tell you what. While you’re away, I’ll get the back box-room converted into a kid’s bedroom. It may never be needed, but it’ll show you how much your search means to me.’
‘You’d seriously do this for me?’
‘Yup, looks like I’m going to have two chavvy babes in my life. One has been brilliant for me. Two can’t be much worse.’
‘I love you so much, Nate me mate.’
‘I am your mate, babe. We’re joined closer than marriage. What hurts you hurts me. Your life is mine too.’
They nestled and slept.
At seven they were up and about. Justin, scooping Cheerios into his mouth so frantically that milk had dribbled down on to his tie, had his mobile jammed into his ear and was talking while he ate. When he rang off, Nathan looked expectantly at him.
‘They lost the track. She disappeared from Pudsey nearly two years ago, on the run from the Ahmed bloke. No one’s got any idea where she might have gone, and no other authority has contacted Kirklees for her case work. One thing. She was pregnant when last seen by social services, so Damien has a kid sister or brother.’
The smell of sex and drink was heavy in the stinking, enclosed air of the downstairs flat. The curtains were drawn and the lights were off, leaving the glow of the dim evening sun all the boys could see by. They found the sobbing woman first, just inside the door. She was naked, her face red and bruised. Danny hastily picked up a loose robe discarded on the floor to drape over her. He noticed how gaunt she was, how her ribs stuck out. The baby stopped crying when Gus leaned over her cot and picked her up.
Where was the foul-mouthed boy? Danny found him naked and unconscious in the kitchen, blood matting his hair and the marks of a phenomenal beating all over his body. Danny saw with horror a line of drying blood that had trickled down the boy’s inner leg from his anus. He feared to look closer.
‘Gus, we gotta get the police. I want you to disappear. Give me the baby.’
‘Oh Danny, but I can’t just leave you.’
‘Take the bank book and whatever money is upstairs and hang around down by the South Bay. If there are two of us, the police may make a link. One of us alone will be less conspicuous. Once they see this living nightmare, they’ll probably lose interest in me. I’ll ring you when it’s all clear.’
Danny was already on his mobile as Gus left the house. The police arrived three minutes later in two cars, quickly followed by an ambulance. A small group of nosy residents gathered around the front gate in the deepening gloom. Efficient female officers and paramedics closed in on the children and the woman, and three big policemen cuffed and removed the man, who had come around while Danny was waiting. He had kicked the bastard several times in the side out of sheer anger and hatred, and wished he had boots on when he did it.
Finally two policemen turned their attention to Danny. ‘You need to make a statement, kid. We can come back tomorrow if you’d rather.’
‘Now would be better. I’m on the morning shift at CostFayre.’
Danny led them up to the flat and sat them round his table. ‘Wanna coffee or something?’
They smiled and said yes, thank you. So he weathered the first questions from the kitchenette as he moved round the kettle and the mugs.
‘Could you tell us your name, son?’
‘Eighteen.’ They seemed to swallow that without difficulty.
‘Student, doing a summer job at CostFayre.’
‘So you’re not local?’
‘No … I’m from Suffolk.’ There was no point telling unnecessary lies, he realised. His accent would betray him. Besides, it was clear enough that the police were only filling forms. They had no interest in him, only in what he had seen and heard.
He gave a succinct account, omitting all mention of Gus. He had been dozing after work and woke up to hear screams and shouting. He went down to find out what had happened, the guy had threatened him and attacked him. He had pushed the man, who fell off balance and hit his head against the door post. Danny had then seen the dreadful mess inside the flat and called the police.
‘You don’t know anything about the woman?’
‘She was here when I moved in two weeks ago. I’ve never even talked to her, only seen her with her kids. How’s the little boy doing?’
The other officer had been on his radio. He looked serious. ‘A bit of a mess. He was raped by the bloke, and a few bloody objects lying around make it look like he was sodomised with them. That did bad damage to his bum. He also has three cracked ribs and a broken wrist from a beating he got with his own cricket bat. Fortunately, his head injury is not much more than superficial. It was mostly shock from the beating that sent him under.’
‘What about the bastard who did it?’
‘He’s the baby’s father, so far as we can make out. The woman had been on the run from him. She’s known at the women’s shelter in Walbrough. The people there found her the flat a month ago, but he seems to have tracked her down, and forced his way in.’
The other police officer flicked his notebook closed. ‘OK. Thanks, Daniel. That’s all we need for now.’ He paused and then said with a smile, ‘You did a brave thing, kid. If you’d not gone down and confronted him, we might never have known about it. It would just have been another domestic incident. But him coming out and attacking you like that meant we could investigate without needing a complaint from the woman or a warrant. He’ll go down for a long, long time. Courts don’t like child rape, let alone sustained abuse. He’s got previous too, and that’ll help the judge.’
‘What is her name, by the way?’
‘Oh, she calls herself Jade Ahmed, the baby is Sunni May, but we don’t yet know the boy’s name. He’s from a different father apparently.’
It was past midnight when Danny rang Gus, who said he was enjoying gazing at the stars from the seawall, and watching the boy racers roar up and down the seafront road in their souped-up cars. When he finally came up the stairs, he got a big hug and kiss at the door from his vastly relieved boyfriend. Danny was still not entirely convinced it was safe to let Gus out alone. They sat in the lounge with yet another coffee as Danny filled him in on the details.
‘Poor little fellow,’ said Gus, clearly deeply affected.
‘He may be a lippy little bastard, but no one deserves that kind of treatment. It puts our problems into perspective, doesn’t it?’
‘What will happen now?’
‘I dunno, Gussie. I suppose the kids will be taken into care. I can’t see the mum being much use, even when she recovers from her beating. She’s a druggie too. The hospital will pick that up and pass it on to the social services. The police have got my mobile number and will get in touch when they want anything further. They even offered me counselling. Look, they gave me a card with a number to ring.’
‘So we’re off the hook, do you suppose?’
‘I think we can get on with our illicit and fugitive lifestyle. You did so well, my babe, coming down and clocking the bastard that way.’
‘I was quite surprised at myself, Danny. But he was threatening you, and I just couldn’t put up with it. He might have hurt you, which would have broken my heart.’
A sudden warm feeling flooded Danny’s abdomen. He had forsaken family and home, but he was not alone or abandoned. He leaned in and kissed his lover. ‘Bed then. We’re both working tomorrow.’
‘One thing we can do, Danny. In a few days maybe we should go and visit the little chap and see how he is. Take him a teddy or something.’
‘OK, yes, we’ll do that.’
Despite all the coffees, they slumped quickly into sleep and needed the alarm to wake them in the morning.
As they left for work, Danny in store gear and Gus in his greasy blue boiler suit, they found that the previous night’s incident had left the neighbours very curious. A small group of Ireton Terrace residents had gathered at the gate and were talking with the nameless old guy from Flat 2, who of course knew nothing at all about what had happened.
When the boys appeared, a tubby and officious-looking old bloke cornered them instantly. ‘Nah then, lads, what was going on in there last night?’
Danny’s village background had made him used to that sort of naked nosiness. He obliged with a condensed account of what had happened, omitting the more nauseating details.
‘Poor little lamb,’ commented a middle-aged lady in a house coat. ‘In a bad way is he?’
‘Still unconscious when they stretchered him out.’
‘Well, I think you were a brave lad going in like that.’
‘Yes, lad,’ agreed the fat old guy, ‘there’s not many would stir themselves for anyone nowadays. You’re a credit to your mum and dad.’
Danny rather doubted his parents thought he was a credit to them at the moment. For a brief space the forced separation from his family gave him a terrible pang of loss. He had already concluded that things were not so bad for Gus, who had been in a boarding school since he was seven. Yet even for him, there had been some occasional dark moments that Danny had to go through with him.
They took their leave of the gossipers and headed off for work.
As he laid out the local daily paper on the racks that afternoon, Danny saw a half-column article headlined: MAN ARRESTED IN IRETON TERRACE INCIDENT.
‘A man was arrested last night and charged after a serious incident of domestic violence. The man, Julio Ahmed (28) of Pudsey, had forced entrance into the Ireton Terrace home of his former girlfriend and mother of his baby. Mr Ahmed physically assaulted the woman and seriously abused her six-year-old son, who police understand had tried to protect her. The boy is currently described as in a serious but not life-threatening condition at Walbrough Hospital. The assault was interrupted by a neighbour, Daniel Hackness (18), a local student. Mr Hackness is believed to have mastered the man and called the emergency services. Insp. Michael Williamson of the Walbrough division stated that Mr Hackness’s bravery undoubtedly saved the boy’s life and probably that of the mother too. Mr Hackness’s name will be forwarded for consideration for a Queen’s Award for Bravery. Ahmed was charged with multiple counts of rape and grievous bodily harm. He was remanded in custody by the Walbrough magistrates court for trial at the Crown Court. No request for bail was heard.’
Danny read the article with some concern. It was nice to get recognition for an act of human decency, but he was not anxious to see his name plastered over the papers, even the Walbrough Mercury.
When Gus arrived home, Danny showed him the clipping. They were sitting over the baked beans on toast that was the summit of their culinary achievements.
Gus considered the possibilities for a moment. ‘I wouldn’t worry about it, my Danny. No one we know is likely to see the article. It won’t be repeated in the nationals. What we really should do is go out and celebrate your fame. Brokeback Mountain is on at the cinema, and I feel in the mood to watch the story of a tragic gay love affair.’
‘OK. We can neck in the back row, and eat popcorn loudly.’
Gus smiled a little dreamily. ‘That would be nice. I suppose we can afford the money for that at least, and tomorrow we’ll go and see the little boy.’
Walbrough Hospital was a mile away on the outskirts of town. They found the main entrance and then looked around baffled. ‘Where now?’ wondered Danny, bemused by all the notices.
Gus was not one to be flustered by words. ‘It’ll be Paediatrics, Danny.’
‘How do you know?’
‘It’s from the Greek for “childcare”.’
‘Oh! You know Greek?’
‘It’s philology that’s my interest, the roots of words and their changing meanings, so I have picked up a smattering of all sorts of languages. It’s not often useful.’
‘It was useful just now. Let’s go find Paediatrics then.’
They followed the blue notices and a blue line in the floor till the corridors were suddenly covered by paintings of cartoon characters. Danny was never reassured by these funny creatures wrenched out of context and painted up on the walls of children’s wards. The hospital smell was still there. It was like an executioner in a clown mask.
They found the nurses’ station. The young women looked them over, and at Danny with some interest. He might not have been handsome, but his physique and proportions – especially his broad shoulders, narrow waist and perfect rear – always got female interest.
‘Er, hi. We’re looking for the little lad that was beaten up in Ireton Terrace.’
The sister in the dark blue dress was not too impressed. ‘Sorry, are you a relative?’
‘No, we … I mean I, live in the same house. This is my friend,’ he added lamely.
The sister looked down her nose at him. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to see him, you …’
One of the younger nurses interrupted. ‘Are you Daniel Hackness?’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’ the sister asked.
‘Mary, he’s the boy that saved Damien’s life and knocked down the attacker.’
‘Oh! Is this true?’
‘Er … yes, yes it is,’ admitted Danny, blushing for some reason.
Gus smiled over his head. ‘He and Damien are very good friends. The child looks on Daniel as if he were his own brother.’
Danny’s head wrenched round. He had never taken his boyfriend for a convincing liar, but Gus was revealing himself momentarily as a master.
The sister was now smiling. ‘Then that’s different. Of course you can see the little lad. He won’t have many visitors. There’s no family that social services have been able to discover.’
Daniel and Gus were led by one of the nurses to a side ward. There, in clean pyjamas in a bed far too big for him, wired up to all sorts of machines, was the boy. He looked pathetically small. He had a white patch over the place where his head injury was. His lower left arm was in a cast. He had a swollen face and a black eye. His other eye, however, was as bright, blue and calculating as the last time, and it recognised Danny.
‘What the fook you ‘ere for?’ he asked through puffy lips.
‘Now then, Damien,’ soothed the nurse, ‘this is your friend Danny.’
‘I knows ‘im, he’s the cunt that makes a fook of a noise goin’ up our stairs and wakes the baby. Whatchu want?’
The barrage of abuse somehow did not get to Danny. In fact, coming from so badly damaged a little waif, it was even impressive. Clearly the boy’s spirit was quite unbroken, despite the horrors inflicted on him.
‘Just came to see how you are, Damien. Oh, and Gus here has this for you.’
Gus produced a rather expensive teddy bear in a doctor’s outfit. He handed it to Damien with a smile. The boy took it with his unwired right hand and looked at it. For a moment Danny was afraid he would throw it away, but instead he tucked it in next to him. He did not say thank you, however.
‘I’ll leave you with him,’ said the nurse. ‘Don’t stay more than a quarter of an hour.’
Gus and Danny sat next to the bed. ‘How you feeling then, kid?’
‘Like fookin shite. Whatchu say your name wuz again?’
‘I’m Daniel, and this is Gus.’
‘Yeah, you live together upstairs in our place. I seen you both coming out the house sometimes. I saw you kissing once on our stairs, too. That’s fookin weird, innit? I told me mam. She said you wuz poofs. Wassa poof?’
‘Er …’ stuttered Danny.
Gus cut in smoothly, ‘It’s a boy who’s in love with another boy, like I love Danny.’
‘Thass sick, that is.’
‘There are sicker things, kid,’ growled Danny. ‘Where’s your dad?’
‘Me dad’s in the army. He’s a general. He’s abroad in another country so we don’t see ‘im. Me mam says we’re not to bother him cos he’s important like.’ The boy was quiet for a bit. ‘What they done wiv me sister?’
Danny frowned. ‘We don’t know. She may be with your mum, but most likely with foster carers.’
Tears stood out in Damien’s eyes. ‘I knew the fookin services would get us in the end. That fookin bastard cunt Julio. He’s ruined it for us. We gets a flat again and mum’s off the crack for a bit. Then he turns up and …’ He stopped. The tears now coursing down his cheeks only served to emphasise his expression of total defeat. But it wasn’t the pain and abuse that were breaking his heart, it was the fact that his little family, which he had done his childish best to protect and keep together, had been torn apart.
Danny looked at Gus, who reached out and took Damien’s hand. The child didn’t pull it away. There was a light of great compassion in Gus’s wide blue eyes that was quite striking. This oddball boyfriend of his, so useless in many of the most ordinary things of life, had some surprising depths.
Damien’s face scrunched up. ‘I wanna see me mam,’ he wailed.
‘We’ll go get the nurse, kid,’ said Danny. They left him and told the girls on the desk, who nodded. Two of them hurried off to see to Damien.
‘I’ll come back tomorrow, after work,’ Gus decided.
‘You’re a good man, Gussie,’ said Danny with sincerity.