Within days of discovering Jonno’s treachery, it seems that Karma did its business without me. To my complete amazement and disbelief, no more than three days afterwards I saw him getting his head stoved in. The bafflement came in one thing, and one thing only: it was Mal Bellis doing the stoving.
Mal Bellis? What the F*** was going on here then? Naturally, being the peacemaker I am I forgot my hatred and ran over to split them up. Mad Mal looked upon me with fury, as if to question how I could be so stupid as to bite the hand that fed me. Is that what he was? How could someone so distant be that hand, when I barely knew him?
Jon held me back, saying, “Leo leave it, you don’t know what’s going on”, but that only served to make me panic more, as by his tone I could tell that Jon knew something. Not that he would tell me anyway. We weren’t close anymore; he had Alicia and the baby to concentrate on and I was wrapped up in Geraldine.
Geraldine didn’t like Mal Bellis. On meeting the guy, she said she got a bad feeling about him. After seeing his plastering of Jonno, I suspected she may be right. A few days after the scene, I asked Mal in person as to why he did what he did. He made up some story about him eyeing his missus up or something, but this was obviously shite. A day or two later still, I saw Jonno himself.
He too came out with the same story about eyeing Marie up, but had something else to say:
“Leo,” he said, “I don’t know how to say this. I’ve got something to tell you, and I don’t expect you to keep it secret but if you don’t I’m dead. It’s about Joachim Nusam, and me.”
Ah. The truth.
“A few years ago, you know when we used to hang around in that big fuck-off gang, loads of us? Well we got into a bit of shit one night, in Elswick. We all got pretty battered, and Ste Simpson even ended up with…”
“- I know”
“Yeah, I know all about it. It was big news at the time, remember?”
“Yeah, I suppose it was….Do you know Wayne Ross, then?”
“Not personally, but I know who he was, and that he got killed.”
Jonno’s face screwed up. “He didn’t get killed, it was an accident!”
The patronising idiot took me for a fool who didn’t keep his ear to the ground, when I actually knew something that could ruin him. He made me sick, the c***, but somehow seemed to read the anger in my eyes. His face changed.
“What do you know about it?”
I wasn’t going to make his excuses easier. “Know about what?”
He hesitated. “You know”
I laughed. “No I don’t”
He bit his lip. I waited. He bit again. I folded my arms. Well?
“Wayne Ross, being killed. What do you know about it?”
“Not much, why? What do you know?”
He smiled the smile of the noble secret keeper, and turned away. I wasn’t going to let him escape though. I suddenly felt like I had an unused power on my side; the power of blackmail. I felt shrewd, for the first time in my life. I felt like a dealing gangster, and now I knew what manipulation was all about.
“Wait! I’ll do you a deal Jonno. You tell me what you know, and I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Oh, you know”
His face screwed up again. “You can just fuck off Leo. You’re just takin the piss, and don’t know shit.”, and he turned away again. It was time to play my joker.
“Know shit about what? About your Elswick friends?”
As I thought, he stopped and turned frantically. What I hadn’t prepared for was the potential for my own fear. I had him by the balls, but we were completely alone. If he had wanted or had the balls or brains to, he could have shut me up for good by stabbing me, or something. Luckily, he didn’t. He was a shitbag, after all.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know all about it. I’ve seen you, laughing and chaffing with those c***s. The same c***s that put you and your mates in hospital. What I don’t understand is why”
Now that there could be no hiding, there was a great urgency in him. He began to sweat, and couldn’t get the words out fast enough: “Oh my God Leo, Leo please you’ve gotta listen to me, it’s not what you think. It’s when. It’s Wayne Ross, when he…aw fuckin hell! Now I’ll have to tell you everything! After he killed him, right, he made me do it, I couldn’t argue. He made me find them and…”
“Woah, woah! What did you say, after who killed who?”
Poor old Jonno’s arse dropped. He had cocked up big time, even if he perhaps secretly wanted to.
“Slow down Jonno, and start again. After who killed who?”
He tried walking away again, but despite my pity I reminded him of my blackmail potential.
I calmed him down and reassured him, saying all that same old crap about secret-keeping that people do when they want to get the truth. Eventually, he regained his composure.
“You said you knew that Wayne Ross had been murdered, di’nt you?”
“No,” I corrected, “But I suspected it. Everyone did. So he was then?”
“Yeah, and you’ll never guess who it was…”
He drew a deep breath.
“…It was my cousin!”
Cousin? Who the f*** was his cousin?
“Mal Bellis? Remember? My cousin?”
Mal What? Your cousin? Mal…get to f***.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and for some perverse reason half of me was more baffled that the two were related than anything else. Jonno continued to tell the story, being too dim-witted to realise that what he had said was not the easiest of snippits to take in. He went on and on and on while I reeled over the knowledge, eventually making me tell him to shut up whilst I tried to hear my brain. This sort of shit was too much. People aren’t murderers. Not real people; people you know. How could I ever look him in the eye again? Mal Bellis, the murderer.
“It was just after it happened,” Jonno went on, “Mal told me everything, as if he was my best mate or sommat. He didn’t tell me why he did it. He just, like, told me how; and I didn’t wanna know. It happened really fast and I didn’t get the chance to ask about it…He baffled my head…He told me that he needed my help…He was relying on me – you’re my cousin, don’t let me down. He asked me to do something for him…”
“He asked me to get in with Ross’s boys…you know, get to know ’em like”
“That’s what I thought. To spy on ‘em, that’s what he was after. I was too shocked to think, so I just said yeah. I didn’t even ask what he meant…I mean, ’get to know ’em’, what’s all that about? What the fuck are they gonna wanna know me for? So I just agreed”
Stupid Jonno, stupid c***.
“Why did he want you to spy on them?”
“Why d’ya think? To see if they knew anythin’. He’d just killed one of their mates. He wanted to know if he was safe or not”
“Well what would you’ve done? It’s not often that you come face to face with a murderer is it? Especially when it’s your own cousin”
For the first time, I saw why Jimmy Johnson was so restless all the time. It was from having a big secret to keep; a secret that made him sweat and his stomach churn over. Mal had hit him with the truth and taken advantage of the confused state he had put him, getting him to agree to do his dirty work before having chance to think. Somehow, Jonno had managed to learn how to deceive his friends; not an easy task for someone known for being subtle as a ton of bricks. The poor boy not only had the burden of silence on his shoulders. He also had to change forever.
But that was Jonno. What about me? However would I deal with the knowledge, and how could I look Mal Bellis in the eye again? Naturally, I wouldn’t be grassing Jonno up to his mates, but I was confused for weeks, dabbling with the different options that my conscience knew were dangerous; tempted by the prospect of telling Geraldine, or my mates, or even my Mum. In an English lesson we played a game in which we had to write two secrets about ourselves, put them in a hat, and then guess which secrets belonged to whom by processes of elimination. I don’t think ‘I Know Who Murdered Wayne Ross’ would go down too well with my classmates, do you? Those who know will agree that keeping a vile secret is like having a disease. It eats away at your entire system, making it difficult to eat sleep and shit and all those other normal things; giving you depressed or even violent moods that you can’t explain away to anyone; turning your nearest and dearest against you because they know something is wrong and you don’t have enough love to confide in them. It’s fucking awful. I had always had secrets, just as everybody else has, but I had never thought them big enough to stop me getting on with life love and friendhips; being able to put on a front with my silly grin. Now, I was letting the world see how my stomach was churning.
Geraldine suffered most. At first, she was somewhat attracted to my quieter self, probably thinking it a nice temporary alternative to my cocky, sometimes ignorant persona. She was only too happy to take the lead. However, when the different me continued, she began to suspect that I was hiding something. When I didn’t confide in her as to what it was, she jumped to the conclusion that the secret involved ‘doing the dirty’. And who could blame her?
She may have thought that it was a boy thing, but didn’t take long to figure out that my mates didn’t have a clue. She then came to the thought that they did have a clue, but were taking part in the deception. Therefore, she saw herself the brunt of an awful conspiracy or, even worse, joke. Things came to a head on Bonfire Night, 1993:
We were stood silently next to the fire and display at the back of the Tin Whistle pub. I was yet again brooding over my dilemma, whilst Geraldine, unbeknown to me, was contemplating what sort of future we had.
“Leo” she whispered.
“You’re not listening to me, are you?”
“You’re not listening, are you? You answer, but you’re not listening”
“What are you talking about?”
She tutted, and walked away. I went after her.
“We’ve had such a good Summer, you know. For the first time in my life, I’ve…oh, fuck it”
She walked away again. I chased after her, and pulled her back.
“That’s exactly it: ‘what’s wrong’. You even have to ask. We used to be that close that you wouldn’t have to ask. And I wouldn’t have to ask you either. And you wouldn’t have to lie. What’s happened to us, Leo?”
A firework went off. I didn’t know, or at least that’s what I told myself.
“Why don’t you speak to me anymore? If I’m doing something wrong, you could at least have the decency to tell me, and then I could put it right. I’ve been listening as much as I can, but you won’t tell me anything. How do you think that makes me feel?”
My heart bled for the poor girl, and I mean that. I put my arms around her and kissed her on the cheek, remembering again how much she meant to me. But she pushed me away and stormed off again.
“You know how that felt? It felt like you were my brother! You hug and kiss me like you’re trying to shut me up. And you know what? I think you are!”
She hit some sort of nail on the head, even though she was wrong about that particular occasion. I chased her again, but started to sense that she was not going to let me back in without an explanation. Oh, the dilemma! She knew me so well, despite her grievance being that she did not know me at all. The big secret, in my eyes, was now just a detail. I, as me and myself, was not a secret to her. In fact, she could read me better than I could her. I loved her. “I love you”, I said.
She stopped. She turned. She had gathered herself.
“No you don’t…”
“I do! I…”
Tears welled up in her eyes. She smiled a loving, farewellish smile. A sympathetic smile. A wise smile. A maternal smile.
“You can’t love me, Leo, because you don’t really know me.”
“But I do! Of course you do you know I do! And you know me, don’t you?”
She didn’t answer.
She walked away again, and I chased her, for one last time. I was about to blurt it out. I was about to blurt out the truth, I loved her that much. It would be that easy. But it would be that hard. When I turned her round and looked at her face with those drowning, too-gorgeous-for-me eyes, she said what I was thinking, and for one eternal moment we had the psychic link she had craved so badly for.
“We’re too young” she said.
And she was right, of course. How could I place such a burden on the shoulders of such a sweet and innocent soul? How could I possibly rape her mind with the same rapist knowledge that had raped mine? ‘You’ve gone over, save her from the same fate’ came a voice in my head, and it was right. On that crisp November night, the truth was as clear as the flames burning before us. It had to end, for both our sakes. The secret would be mine to make good of, and mine only.
I let her go, the fireworks ceasing and only the dull crackle of burning leaves and paper the soundtrack. She looked beautiful as ever as she disappeared, and my heart had never been so broken. When we first met, I was quite literally on a rollercoaster ride. There I was in mid-air, having just done a loop-the-loop, on my way down toward the fair ground below. She was on that ground, eating candy floss, looking up at me. As fireworks went off everywhere, I was tumbling down to Earth, and she was on her way up to the stratosphere. Now, the fireworks had stopped, and I had come back down to Earh with a bang. Reach for the stars, Geraldine!
In my mind though, hope somehow revealed itself. The voice of some sort of trooper said something to warm my story and make all this poetic. It said, “One day I’ll be back for you, Geraldine”, and with that I knew I had something to do. As I pictured the face of Mal Bellis, the murderer, in my head, another voice said something like, “About time too Leo. You were beginning to sound like a right cheesy c*** anyway!” and the fireworks started once more.
I couldn’t dare go telling anyone the secret, but enough was enough and I had to do something. Above all else and first of all, I had to find out why.
I would have told Jon, but he had a woman and kid to think about and it would have knocked him for six. Instead, I went to see Hawke to ask a few questions in the guise of a friendly smoke and chat. Typically, I ended up getting too wrecked to pay much attention. I got the jist of it, though:-
“He’s become a bit scary lately Leo. Whenever I see him, he’s stomping down the road like he’s after murdering someone or some such. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason”
I had not known Mal all that long or well, whereas Jon had known him years and may have seen a more violent side to him to the cool, collected customer I had seen. In his mind, he said, he had always been pretty violent; ready to flip. I found this hard to believe, but heard the same opinion from Wolfy (who seemed a little more eager to know why I asked), and Bez, who I hadn’t known until this point but wondered why. Stephen Beresford is without a doubt the cleverest cat I have met that hasn’t let it go to his head; he’d rather laugh than cry anyday – but only at things that are funny, thank God. He said the same of Mal, but added “Yes but it’s all down to an over-keen sense of justice really”.
Carl Rainer had a little more to add. He told me that, many moons ago, Mal had been expelled from his strict Priest-run school for ‘perverted behaviour’. When I asked him what that meant, he said that, as rumour had it, he had sexually harassed an under-age girl. “Wouldn’t he have been under-age himself?” I asked. “No,” he said, “In those days, Catholics went to school until they were eighteen”
Rumours may just be rumours, but they have to come from somewhere. If I’d known anyone Mal’s age I could’ve found out more, but that wasn’t the case. I even thought that my Dad might have known something, him being the silent sage and all, but I wouldn’t dare ask someone like that. If Mal Bellis was some sort of pervert, it would only worry him to let him know that I was connected somehow. Instead, I went back to Jimmy Johnson. Perhaps he had ‘forgotten’ to tell me something.
“No way!” he said, “Mal may be many things, but he isn’t a sicko. I’ve told you all I know already, and that is that I haven’t the slightest foggiest clue why he did what he did. If you want to know anything, the best person to ask is your Kid”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he’s really good mates with him. Mal’d do anything for your Jon. I think he’s bumming him or something because he never shuts up about him. Always going on about his paintings an’ that. What’s so good about ’em anyway?”
“I couldn’t tell you,” I answered, “I honestly haven’t got the slightest clue”
And with that, I went to find my darling brother Jon. He had some explaining to do.
I turned up at Jon and Alicia’s (they were now living in Ingham) on a crisp Autumn morning; the type of day in which coming in from the cold to a warm, furnished room with the fire going fills the heart with thoughts of Christmas and cosy memories. Billy was playing around, imaginative enough to do it alone but jumping at the chance to involve a semi-adult like me. “Your feet are in the water”, he said when he saw that my feet weren’t up on the couch. “Well what about you then?” I replied. He paused, and grinned triumphantly when he thought of an answer. “I’m a fish!”, he said.
Jon and Alicia were discussing domestic nightmares in the kitchen. I didn’t envy them having to cope with such pressures at such an early age, but I would have given my right arm to see what a mini-me would look and act like. Billy was a Pallace alright, but somehow I could see how far he was his father’s son. As he buzzed about with cars and trains and that, I could see Jon looking on enviously from the kitchen. He wanted to do all that too. Right on cue with that thought, he shouted through to me. “Skin up, Leo. I’ll make the brews.”
Luckily, Alicia left to go shopping. Me and her got on fine, and over the years of her being with Jon we had become close in a matey way that didn’t involve the distraction of sex and looking after children and the rest. I could be objective with her, as I could be with Jon. But this matter, however, was not for her ears.
Jon has always had trouble getting to the point, or discussing secrets or however you want to put it. Whenever I wanted information from him, he could sense this before I had even asked. He would then stall me by getting up and doing something, or going into some other subject before I could pluck up the courage to spit it out. We were a fine pair; one being afraid to question and the other terrified of answering. Smoking weed only made the situation worse.
In my own inimitably cowardly way, I gradually lead into the question. I asked how long they had been mates, even though I knew. I asked if they had had Azid together, even though I knew. I asked all kinds of idle crap, even though I knew. Jonny had even forgotten some of it himself.
Billy was playing with a toy lightsabre. The battery on it had gone, so he was making the “vroom, vroom” sound himself. In his own mind he was lethal, but I knew only too well that the vicious and heartless would one day want to take his play away. On cue again, Jon smiled fondly at his son and spoke about Mal.
“He’s a good friend to have, Leo. He makes you feel safe…protected…he’s looked after me for years.”
“But you look after yourself pretty well, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but…I’m not as old as him. He knows…the dangers, and I don’t. He stops you from doing stupid things…”
“What do you mean?”
Jon looked away again, in his avoiding-the-issue type way. He picked up a lightsabre and duelled with Billy. He’s going to grow up lean and mean, I thought.
I asked again, and now he resorted to pulling the don’t-want-to-answer face. Sometimes it was impossible to tell if he didn’t want to speak because he didn’t want to reveal, or because he was too lazy to be arsed to get the words out. Here, I think it was a bit of both. In fact, it was probably always a bit of both. The lazy coward.
I plodded on. “Does he have any enemies?”
To this question, Jonny came alive:
“Enemies! Mal! Does he f*** have any enemies; everyone’s shit scared of him! I tell you what Leo: if he did have any enemies they be f***in’….dead!”
Somewhere between ’f***in’’and ‘dead’, Jon’s eyes were full of shock, as if he had realised what he was about to say and wanted to do a u-turn, but then realised it was too late. He looked back to Billy again, knowing full well that I had read him. I plunged in with:
“Yeah, but he must have had enemies at some time?”
Billy plunged his light sabre into Jon’s heart. “You’re dead Daddy!”
“What about that shit on the park?”
“That shit years ago, when those lads left wrote the threat on the disused-building wall? I haven’t forgotten about that, Jon.”
He almost gulped, and was about to speak when Billy reminded him he was dead. I diverted the boy’s attention. Jon got up to make a brew, and motioned for me to follow. “You stay here and build me a nice house” I said to Billy. Jon wanted to talk to me alone.
“You heard of Wayne Ross?” he said in the kitchen.
“Course I have,” I answered, “And you’ve already told me that it was his posse who wrote the threat. But there’s something else, isn’t there?”
“What’s the name of that guy…you know, that guy who wanted your painting?”
“Eddie Fisher, right. Well did you find out why he wanted you dead that time?”
Jon nodded sternly, if ever there is such a thing. He was avoiding nothing now. He had decided, there and then, that he would tell me everything.
He turned his back to make the brews, and went on;
“I did a painting, a few years ago, of some mad crazy battle scene. Everyone loved it. Have I told you about it? Yeah, I thought I had. Anyway, this guy from Elswick wanted to buy it. I told him no”
“What is the crack with this painting? You’ve talked about it before you know”
“Bear with me. The painting has…special powers…some sort of force that I know fuck all about. Eddie Fisher wanted -
“The guy from Elswick: Eddie Fisher. He wanted it because he is part of some mad cult. At the time, we all thought he was just some smackhead but it turns out that he’s a spy of some sort, for this cult…Listening?…There’s another cult; a secret organisation called ‘The Brotherhood’. Mal Bellis is a member…”
The what? This story was ridiculii, the plural of ridiculous.
“…The Brotherhood is not something to be laughed at, and neither is Mal. There’s a lot you don’t know about Leo. The world’s not as straightforward and easy as you and your mates think. It’s stranger than fiction, and don’t forget that”
Billy ran in. “What are you two doing?” Jon let me answer, and I gave another mission that would keep him in the front room.
“So why did Mal…you know?”
Jon was making it hard for me, despite his story leading no other way.
Eventually, he spat it out.
“The Brotherhood’s leader, their main man, is a guy called ‘Piers Adrian’. A couple of years ago, his son was murdered. That would’ve been bad enough, but Piers didn’t even find out till quite recently. How fucked up is that?”
“Pretty bad. How come?”
“Because the guy who did it took on his identity. Piers Adrian was hearing regular reports about where his son was and what he was doing, when it wasn’t even him doing it. This new ‘Mark Adrian’ – that’s the son’s name – put himself about as an art dealer or something. Round the…Ingham and Elswick area. Mal Bellis had even met the c***, and he was the same t*** that killed the real Mark Adrian. Can you imagine that? Mel Bellis actually spoke to him, without knowing who he really was.”
“Phwoah…” I said, “But what’s this Eddie Fisher got to do with it?”
Jonny took a deep breath.
“And what’s Wayne Ross got to do with it?”
He took another deep breath. Jon’s eyes bulged, as they always did when he was getting to the point of something. He was the best storyteller in the world, and this relay of our discussion can do nowhere near enough justice for him. He could drag the details out to the point where I could’ve strangled him through sheer frustration and my patience being stretched to the limit, but the classic eye-bulge was worth its wait in gold. Here it was again. His eyes bulged, and he nodded his head up and down as he explained:-
“EDDIE FISHER IS…THAT GUY!”
“No, seriously!”, and so on and so on and so on. I felt honoured to be on the receiving end of such a story, whether it was true or not. The rest of what Jon told me was just details; I now knew why Mal Bellis had killed Wayne Ross:- Ross was clearly the sidekick of Eddie Fisher, and had got nailed as a consequence. Mal had tracked Fisher down and executed him for ‘Piers Adrian’ (why this leader of ‘The Brotherhood’ couldn’t have got someone else to do it I’ll never know), and poor Wayne knew too much – or perhaps had even witnessed the murder. The mind boggled further, however, when Jon told me that Eddie Fisher was not ‘Eddie Fisher’ at all. He had had a real name. Pity that the daft cunt had forgotten what it was.