SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
It was not really Gus’s fault that he blew up a petrol pump. It could have been worse, as he said. At least it was the isolated pump in the corner of the forecourt. Even so, the column of black smoke rose half a mile in the air, and it took six fire tenders to get the blaze under control. He was sacked on the spot without a hearing, which he thought was just a cheap way to get rid of him for all the other little dissatisfactions they had with his work.
‘At least you left with a bang, Gussie babe.’ The boys had quite a good view from their front lounge window of the column of smoke rising over the town.
‘I was surprised they were quite so considerate with me. But it was not my lit cigarette I swept into the pool of spilled petrol. They couldn’t claim it was.’
‘I imagine insurance will account for the damages. Pity they won’t give you a reference, now you’re back on the job market.’ Danny was in fact profoundly relieved that his physically inept lover had escaped uninjured. Fortune favoured the uncoordinated.
‘I’m afraid this will leave us rather short of money, Danny.’
‘It means we had better get in touch with those detectives in Leeds. We’ll need the reward. And there’s no time like the present.’
Danny picked up his mobile. He entered a number and got a recorded message: ‘Hi, this is Mike from Northern Security. Leave your number and message, and I’ll get back to you.’ So Danny gave his number and simply said it concerned the whereabouts of Damien Macavoy.
His phone buzzed only half an hour later. ‘Hey, this is Mike Mason. Who am I talking to?’
‘I’m Steve. That’s all you need to know. You’re looking for a six-year-old kid called Damien, who’s the son of Jade Ahmed or Gardiner. Well, I can tell you where they are, but it’ll cost you.’
The unknown Mike didn’t waste any time. ‘How much?’
‘Three thousand.’ Thinking of a film he had seen, Danny added, ‘I want it in small bills, too.’
‘That’s a lot of money, kid.’
‘How much do you want this Damien?’
‘How did you know I was looking?’
‘You’ve been asking questions and spreading money around. Now come on, three thousand and I’ll tell you. Your job will be done and you can collect your fee.’
‘Look, we’ll pay, OK? How do I get the money to you?’
Danny had thought this one through. ‘I’ll meet you outside York Station at two o’clock tomorrow. You give me the cash, I’ll give you the details. Deal?’
‘We’ll need some sort of proof that he’s the right lad before we pay you.’
‘I’ll have it with me.’
‘Done then. I’ll see you under the outside clock.’ Mason hung up the phone.
Danny counted out the fivers and tenners on the table. He had met Mike, a slim and quite attractive bloke in his thirties. From the looking-over his body had got from Mike, he rather guessed that Justin had found a gay agency. He had said little, however, merely handing over the details of Jade Gardiner’s last address and present whereabouts, along with a cutting from the Walbrough Mercury. That was enough confirmation of his story for Mike, who passed Danny the well-stuffed envelope. Danny made sure he wasn’t being followed back to the Walbrough train, although he couldn’t see why Mike would bother in any case.
‘We’ll put this in the building-society account tomorrow. Let’s go and see little Damien now. Later on we can think what we’d like to do with the money. We could go on a holiday, maybe get a better flat.’
‘I’m still going to find a job.’
‘I know you will, Gussie. But at least the urgency is gone, and we can survive well enough on my supermarket wages for now.’
‘One thing, Danny.’
‘What’s that, Gussie mine?’
‘Er … I’m sure you’ve thought this out, but what if, when Justin meets Damien, the kid tells him about Danny and Gus who came visiting? And another thing, your name is on that newspaper article about the arrest.’
‘Aah … I see your point, babe. I think we’ll just have to meet with Justy and ‘fess up.’
‘Don’t you think he’ll want his £3,000 back?’
‘Oh, he won’t be that small minded.’
‘I hope you’re right.’
‘Sure I am. He’s gonna be grateful we found the boy, isn’t he?’
When they greeted little Damien, he was looking a bit better. ‘I done me first shit this morning. Hurted like fook and it wuz messy, but I didn’t cry. Andrea wiped me bum. She said I wuz cute.’
Danny struggled to contain a laugh. ‘That’s quite something when a girl finds you cute while she’s wiping your bum.’
Damien looked suspiciously at Danny. He clearly had an inbuilt irony-detector, even at the age of six.
Gus began talking to him about television. Pretty soon it was clear that Damien was disgusted because the nurses wouldn’t let him watch the box till after midnight, as had been his custom when he was with his mother.
‘You watched Sex in the City?’ Danny gawped.
‘Fookin borin’ it was too. All those old bitches gettin’ …’
‘OK. Hold it a minute, kid. There are some areas of conversation where boys your age aren’t supposed to go.’
Damien leered at him. ‘You shoulda seen the DVDs that me mam’s boyfriends brought. They tried to chuck me out the room. Fook it. I wuz back behind the couch like an attack of the runs.’
Danny was appalled. It seemed there were no areas of life that held secrets for this abused child. He had no innocence, either mental or physical. It was tragic. Danny began to realise that Justin would have his job cut out if he decided to try to salvage his son.
Gus, on the other hand, seemed untouched by such reflections and Danny wondered why. As they were heading out through hospital reception, he tackled his boyfriend about it.
‘That kid is so screwed up, Gussie, he’s never going to be put right.’
‘Do you think so, Danny? I wonder.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘I don’t doubt that he’s a very badly damaged boy whose childhood has been ripped from him, but there are some reasons to hope. He’s a brave little person, and he’s desperate for the things he can sense he doesn’t have: the security of a family, the love of a mother, the protection of a father he can look up to. He knows what he’s missed. Maybe he’s willing to find his way there if it’s offered.’
Danny sighed. ‘I hope you’re right. But it would take a saint to put up with his obscenities and horrifying precocity. He’s defied abusive adults for so long, how can he ever learn to trust one?’
‘That depends on the adult, I would say.’
‘Gussie, you’re full of surprises. I could never have imagined that an upper-class kid like you could make a connection with an abused little future criminal like Damien.’
‘Are we that different?’
Danny stopped and looked at Gus’s intent face. ‘What d’you mean?’
‘The day my brother James met us on the stairs and dragged me off to humiliate me in front of my mother was the last of many horrible incidents. I came to loathe holidays. I’d have stayed at school if I could have. He would devise all sorts of ingenious ways to torment me, some of which left physical scars and some mental. My parents seemed unaware of his bullying, and I could never tell them.’
‘Oh! Oh my God. You never said.’
‘Can you see why I might want to run away with a boy who I knew loved me for myself, and get away from a house that James had turned into a torture chamber? You saved me from the pit of self-loathing he kept me in.’ Suddenly Gus looked fierce, a first for him. ‘I’m never going back.’
‘No babe, we’re never going back, that’s for sure.’ They looked in each other’s eyes, shook hands on it, and then sealed their deal with a kiss.
When they went along to see Damien two days later, something had changed. The nurses looked at them with excitement.
One of them said one of those things that really annoyed the hell out of Danny. ‘You’ll never guess!’
Danny bit back the obvious retort, that of course he would never guess since there were many thousands of possibilities that might have occurred to him. ‘Something happened?’ he countered.
‘Some lawyers turned up yesterday saying they represent Damien’s father. There’s been all sorts of legal action: court orders, injunctions and applications. It’s a big London firm. He must have a lot of money, whoever he is.’
You have no idea how much, Danny thought to himself. ‘Has the dad turned up?’
‘No. Apparently he’s abroad at the moment. It’s so exciting.’
‘How’s Damien taking it?’
‘He’s a little withdrawn at the moment.’
‘I wonder why?’ commented Danny.
Gus slid into the seat next to Damien, who had lost all the tubes which had once been stuck in him. He had curled up under the bedclothes, and looked a little scared when his eyes peeped out at them. His face was clearing rapidly of its bruises. Because he was also being kept clean, he suddenly looked very pretty. The resemblance to Justin was getting more marked all the time. There was no doubt at all in Danny’s head as to his identity.
‘What’s up, Damien?’ Danny asked with a smile.
‘Nuffink.’ His little face took on an expression of calculating innocence. ‘Y’know I said me dad was a general?’
‘Yes,’ they said.
‘Well he’s stopped being a general in the army now.’
‘So what’s his new job?’ asked Danny, doing his best to look innocent himself.
Damien was learning caution. ‘He may be a spy. So if you meet him, you mustn’t say anyfing, right? Especially about him being a general. That’s a secret.’
‘Not a word,’ agreed Gus. ‘Is he coming to see you, Damien?’
‘Oh yes. They said he’ll be here soon. He sent special doctors who’re doing tests. They stuck a thing in me mouth.’
‘A swab,’ guessed Gus.
‘Yeah. Didn’t hurt.’ The little boy was looking uneasy about something.
Gus reached out and found his hand. Damien squeezed back. ‘You OK, Damien?’
‘Naah. Me bum still hurts like fook.’
‘No, I mean about your dad.’
Damien’s uneasiness increased. ‘You gotta tell him it warn’t me fault what happened.’
Gus smiled gently. ‘Nothing that happened was your fault, Damien. And no one will ever blame you for it.’
‘But me mam … I tried to … then that fookin arsehole Julio …’ Damien was sobbing again. The whole weight of the world had descended on those small shoulders, and the guilt of a little boy who had impossibly and heroically tried to be a man and inevitably failed overwhelmed him. Gus took Damien in his arms and began gently rocking the child, who clung tightly on to the older boy.
Danny felt a bit useless. He was not good with this sort of thing. But he was a little awed at the tender and loving expression that had taken possession of his boyfriend’s face. Was that how Gus looked when he hugged Danny in the night?
Eventually Damien subsided, snot and tears all over his face as he wiped it with his pyjama sleeve. Danny held a hanky under his nose, and the boy blew into it.
He lay down looking tired. He was drifting off when he said, ‘Me dad might take us back to live in a big house in London. I wuz born there, mam told me. Is London big?’
‘Yes it is.’
‘The Queen lives there, don’t she?’
‘I bet me dad’s got a house as big as hers. And me and mam will have a big bedroom, and Sunni May will have a pony. And there’ll be a swimming pool maybe.’
Danny caught Gus’s eye with an I-told-you-so look. As they were walking back to Ireton Terrace, Danny commented, ‘The kid thinks his fantasy of domestic life is going to come true. He’s going to have a real dad and mum and they’re all going to live happily ever after in an ideal home he’s constructed out of TV images. He’s in for a hell of a shock, but not half the shock Justy will have.’
Gus seemed nettled. ‘Don’t underestimate Justin, Danny. And don’t underestimate Damien, either. You’re very negative about all this.’
‘Well yeah! It seems to me that everyone is running on fantasies here.’
‘Like perhaps the fantasy of gay marriage we’re living?’
Danny stared at his lover. He had been rebuked, he realised. Another first.