SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Danny Hackness sat once again in his own bedroom in Castringham Crescent and found it an alien place. It had not been a happy homecoming. He probably had not helped things along, either. He had stiffened when his mother went to hug him, and had simply stared coolly at his father, who would not meet his eyes. His sisters had hung back and his brother was not at home. He had walked through them and gone into the kitchen and put the kettle on. ‘Tea anyone?’ he had asked, in the authentic British reaction to any emotional crisis.
So they had sat round the table, and Danny had desultorily answered the questions as to where he had been and what he had done. He had not been particularly forthcoming. What perhaps he had failed to realise was how intimidating he was now to the Hackness household. He had come back neither needing their approval or wanting it, a man in control of himself. He was more of an independent adult than his big brother in the eyes of his family, and they had no idea how to react to him. None of the things that needed saying had been said. Eventually he had retreated to his bedroom without a word.
Danny tried Gus on the mobile. It had been turned off, but he left a supportive message on voicemail. He got up and looked over his shelves. He went down to the kitchen, where all went silent on his appearance, and picked up a handful of black sacks. He began filling them up with stuff he had grown out of, and schoolbooks he would never need. The room looked strangely empty when he finished. He put the bags down by the bin.
‘Where’s Wes?’ he asked his mother, when he came back in.
‘I think he went over to his friend Chris’s in Haddesley Village.’
‘When will he be back?’
‘He didn’t say.’
Danny grunted. He knew that he had to sort things out, and it was Wesley he most wanted to talk sense into. It was a warm July evening. He knew where Chris Mattingley lived, in a former railway house just around the corner from the gates of Haddesley Hall. He didn’t like Chris much – the bloke had a reputation as a pisshead – but Wes had been his mate since before he could remember. Danny got on his bike and made the three miles to Haddesley in less than ten minutes.
Danny chained his wheels to a post and walked round the back of the house, from where he could hear young male voices. Wes was lying flat on the grass, and it was pretty obvious that he was out of things. His eyes were open but unfocused. The reason was being currently puffed out of Chris’s mouth. But what really caused Danny to stop and stare was the third member of the group – bloody James Underwood.
Grinning with delight, James prodded Wes with his foot. ‘Wake up Wesley,’ he said silkily, ‘it’s my brother’s boyfriend come to say hello.’
But Danny was no longer intimidated by James. ‘Wes, what you doing hanging out with Lord fucking Lucan here?’
Wesley came into a vague sort of interface with the world. ‘Hey … ‘s fairy boy, my little brother! How ya doing, arse bandit?’
‘A lot better than you, Wes. Get up. It’s time to leave the opium den. I’ll take you home.’ Danny marched over, grabbed an arm and used his not unimpressive upper-body strength to lever his brother to his feet. Wes swayed amiably in a nonexistent breeze.
‘Doan wanna go. These are me mates. Aren’t you, mates?’
‘Wes, if these fuckers are your mates, I wouldn’t want to meet your enemies.’
James intervened. ‘Run along Daniel, don’t you see that Wes wants to stay with the grown ups?’
Danny sized up James Underwood coolly. Something of the calculation in his eyes caused James to stiffen involuntarily. Yes, said Danny to himself, a coward as well as a bully. He’s scared of me. So Danny smiled, and leaned up close.
‘Get away from me, homo!’ a suddenly disconcerted James blurted nervously.
Danny gave a low laugh. ‘James, you seem to be making a habit of coming between me and the people I care for. It’s a habit you should break, before I break something of yours.’ He stayed leaning in close long enough to cause sweat to come out on James’s forehead. Then he turned, taking his brother’s arm and leading him round the side of the house to where he had left the bike.
He pulled Wes along, walking his bike for a mile before he got fed up with propelling two inanimate objects. They had come up to a roadside pond, dark under some trees. Danny backed up a swaying and unresisting Wesley till his brother was in the right position on the edge of the pond. Then he pushed.
There was a great splash and a floundering in the shallow and muddy pool. ‘Jesus Christ, Danny! Waddya do that for?’
‘It woke you up didn’t it? When did you start taking drugs, you fucking dick?’
‘About the same time you started taking dick!’
‘And you’re hanging out with that complete arsehole, James Underwood! I thought you’d have more sense. He’s a sheep so black he’d stand out in a blind fog at midnight!’
‘We got poofy brothers in common. Leads to a certain bond of sympathy, dunnit?’
Danny took a deep breath. ‘Look, you’re gonna have to get over the gay-brother thing, Wes. It isn’t gonna go away, and I can’t really see your problem.’
Wes was now fully in focus. He sploshed his way out of the pond and stood dripping in the road. ‘Can’t see the problem? What universe do you live in? You’re out of school, you jerk. Me, I’ve gotta live with my peer group for another year before I escape to university. Having a bumboy for a brother is no asset where I am. But I don’t suppose you think of that.’
‘How come you assume I’m not going to university?’
‘What? Don’t change the fucking subject, which is about you being bloody insensitive enough to come out as a gay, without giving a monkey’s for the brother who’s been looking out for you for years!’
‘You mean I had a choice? Well, damn me, why didn’t someone say? Have you forgotten the fight you had in the pub with James? He was the one who outed me and Gus – James Underwood, that good mate of yours.’
‘It’s not something I’m gonna talk about.’
‘Well fine. You put up with me being gay, and I’ll put up with James.’
They stared at each other. It was Wesley whose grim face cracked first. ‘Oh fuck it. Why did you have to push me in the pond? I may have picked up horse leeches.’
Danny had to laugh. ‘Let’s get you home and find out, Wes.’
Wesley smiled. ‘Missed you, little bro.’
‘Yeah, well I missed you, at least the old you, not the homophobic friend of James Underwood.’
‘So tell me what you got up to, and how you got away from home.’
It took the rest of the two miles to Castringham for Danny to tell his story to his brother. When they got to their house, they were in a fair way to being friends again.
The intrepid commandos settled comfortably deep into Haddesley Hall’s undergrowth. Both of them had found ski masks, a little on the big side perhaps. They were carrying backpacks. Captain Oscott was armed with a stick, masquerading as an assault rifle, and Captain Macavoy had an expensive digital camera that had been left around the cottage lounge and obviously therefore belonged to anyone who might care to pick it up.
Mattie had been nervous about going into the Hall grounds again, but Damien had reasoned that James had got his arse kicked good by his dad so he wouldn’t come near them, even if he saw them. Having decided they were SAS commandos, they had taken some spy shots, which currently amounted to three pictures of Damien’s finger and four of Mattie peeing. It had caused them great amusement when they had viewed their artistry. But now they had settled into an observation post they had constructed by bending small branches and ripping up a damp old cardboard box.
‘When you goin’ home to … where is it you live, Mattie?’
‘Cranwell. Gotta be back there to start school in a couple weeks. Where are you goin’ to school, Daim?’
‘Goin’ to the village school at Castringham, Dad said. Wass school like?’
‘S alright. Boring a lot of the time. But my teacher next year’s Miss Allen. She’s cool. My old teacher juss asked girls things. Hated the boys.’
‘They only got three teachers at Castringham. I get Miss Williamson. I met her. She comes to the garden centre a lot wiv her bloke. I had to smile at her and be nice, or Nathan said he’d hold me upside down in the garden gnome pond.’
Mattie chortled at the idea, then smothered the noise as adult male voices reached them. They ducked right down. Their hide was on a corner of the woodland with a fine view of the Hall and lake on one side and, on the other, an overgrown and disused drive that once led to the east lodge.
Damien hissed into Mattie’s ear, ‘Iss that fooker James.’
‘Keep your head down,’ Mattie hissed back.
‘Wass he doin’?’
James had emerged from the drive in company with two men. They didn’t seem to want to be seen. The men were foreign-looking, well built and wearing black leather jackets. One of them carried a small white plastic sack. James was counting cash into the fat hand of the other man. Damien had by then mastered the zoom mechanism and – checking his finger was out of the way – started clicking the camera with great enthusiasm. Eventually, James and the two men parted. With a sly look around, James headed back up to the Hall.
‘Pig-face James is a spy!’ whooped Mattie.
‘Shhh! Nah, he’s a fookin terror-wrist. An’ we got the evidence. He’ll fookin end up in an orange suit at Guano Bay wiv Osma Bin Liner. Fookin good riddance too. Let’s go and see where them men are going.’
The two crept silently through woodland paths known only to them, and indeed so narrow and twisty that only small boys could follow them. A whiff of cigarette smoke told them the men had stopped. They found the strangers smoking and chatting, sitting on the bonnet of a large silver Chrysler parked at the gate of the decrepit lodge.
Damien signalled Mattie to stay in the woods, but he crept further on, along a fence right up to the car. Its boot was open, and its floor was scattered with a number of small plastic packets, just like the one the two men had given James Underwood. Damien grinned to himself under his ski mask. He darted in and out again, cradling a packet he had snatched from the car. Quick as thought, he rejoined his friend and dragged him back through the woods towards Haddesley Cottage.
‘What you got there, Daimey?’
‘Iss evidence. Gonna send that fooker James to Guano Bay for sure.’
‘No. Come on. What is it? Is it explosives?’
Damien stopped and took off his ski mask. The two boys sat down in a small clearing, the packet in between them. The plastic was heat-sealed, and the only way into it was to make a hole. Damien got a twig and poked the packet till he had made a small tear in it. Crystalline white powder sifted out and on to the dead leaves beneath. The stuff was all too familiar.
‘Oh fook it,’ he gasped.
Gus Underwood found himself returning all too readily to the old patterns of his life. He hid in his room with his books. His father and mother had sat him down in the drawing room that first night. Sir Philip had begun, adopting an exaggeratedly reasonable tone.
‘So here you are back again, Augustus. I will not say that you haven’t caused us a great deal of trouble and expense, but your mother and I are very glad to have you safely back home, so … least said soonest mended, eh, old chap?’
Gus mumbled something inarticulate.
His father continued, ‘School term begins in only three weeks, and it seems to us that it will be for the best when you go back to Medwardine. No more nonsense, eh? Get stuck back into school work, meet your old friends, plenty of rugby. Just the ticket.’
Lady Underwood was twitching to intervene by then. ‘The point is, Augustus, that there is no future at all in your … connection with that Hackness boy …’
Gus lifted up his head at this point and his voice gained in strength. ‘Daniel. His name is Daniel.’
‘Yes … Daniel. He’s a boy without aspirations. One of those chavs they talk about. But you are intelligent and will go places. I’m sure it all seems very romantic at this point, running away and avoiding the police. But real life has to be faced sooner or later. You will go to Oxford, take your degree and occupy the sort of place in society that your birth and upbringing have fitted you for. In two years time, you’ll look back on this incident with Daniel and it will all seem so silly.
Gus by then was roused. ‘Not at all, Mother,’ he said evenly and with perfect clarity. ‘These weeks with Danny have changed my life. I have learned about love and my own feelings. I don’t think that in two years time it will seem in the least silly.’
His father moved on quickly. ‘We accept that you may well be a homosexual, Gus. Of course, there is less difficulty about that today than there would have been when I was your age. Hmphh! The very thought! But dear fellow, you’d do better even nowadays to keep it to yourself. I suppose the press attention will mean that your disappearance can’t be brushed under the carpet at Medwardine. I’ll just have a word with the Head. I’m sure he’ll be able to keep a lid on things.’
‘But Father,’ stated Gus with absolute determination, ‘I shan’t be returning to Medwardine. My plan now is to go to the sixth-form college here.’
There was a stunned pause, followed by a rising tide of horrified exclamations, contradictions and counterarguments. Despite all the fuss, Gus was still maintaining half an hour later that he was not going back to Medwardine. Realising he was getting nowhere with his parents, he retired to his room and took up his old amusements.
The next day at breakfast he bumped into James for the first time since returning. He got a sneering welcome.
‘It’s Danny’s little Gussie. Welcome back. I saw your boyfriend last night at Chris Mattingley’s, come to pick up his druggie brother. Nice sort of family you’ve married into there. Tell me Gussie, when you two have sex, who fucks whom … are you the girlie queer?’
A whole range of emotions rushed through Gus’s head. First was the stab of fear that his brother had inspired in him for years now. But that was instantly swamped by a rising tide of resentment that James could do this to him. The crude insults were neither here nor there. It was mostly annoyance that he could have let this ineffectual, good-for-nothing shit make his life a misery.
‘Do you know, James,’ he eventually responded, ‘there is nothing like a period of time away from home to give one perspective. What I’ve learned is that you really are a sad case. I’m not going to trade insults with you. There is simply no point.’
Gus smiled in his usual vague way at his brother and reached for the bread. The nonchalance of the response caused a red flush to colour James’s face. He bunched his fists.
‘You patronising little queer. I’ll teach you some respect, I’ll …’
But he was dealing now with the Augustus Underwood who had taken down Julio Ahmed. As James drew back his arm for a punch, Gus’s knee came up directly into his brother’s genitals. James’s eyes and mouth widened, and there was an audible pop from his groin. Then he fell squirming very satisfactorily on the floor, keening in pain.
Gus stepped over him and put bread in the toaster. ‘Amazing what you can learn in just a few weeks, isn’t it?’ he observed to his prostrate brother. ‘Care for some toast?’