As I stumble back from the Moonlight Bar I’m thinking fast. I’m trapped between that proverbial rock and its hard counterpart and they’re both pressing in. On one side lies the imminent threat of physical pain which Mackie and his henchmen would be only too pleased to inflict; on the other side a different pain threatens, the pain I’d feel if I ask my friend to return a package people think he’s stolen or can find. I’m not sure which would leave the deeper scars. I guess the beating would have the edge in most respects.
I think maybe I’ll share my dilemma with Wayne and hope he has some really good idea about a way out of it. Something deep inside offers a silent prayer that it’ll be an idea which removes the threat of physical pain. If Wayne decides to own up to everything he knows, maybe locate the package for me, I can brush my moral dilemma aside, right?
Only I can’t find Wayne. He isn’t one the late shift at the factory; in fact, he hasn’t been at work at all and he was due on at ten. He called in sick which Wayne never is. He isn’t in his flat either, and his phone is switched off. A couple of hours pass as I search all the places I can think of, at least all the ones that are open in the late evening – the snooker hall, a couple of favourite cafes, the botanical gardens. I wander along the promenade searching the crowds. I try the library and art gallery which are open late on Saturdays. Yeah, an eclectic mix, but Wayne loves snooker, gardens, art and books, especially books. He got hooked back in primary.
I’m starting to sweat. If I don’t find him soon, get to the truth, find the package, I’m in some serious trouble. I imagine Mackie drumming his fingers on the table and looking at his watch. The knife on the table looms as large as Denny’s fists.
Finally, I call Tina. We’re in this together, I reckon. Besides, she may know something I don’t, like where the hell Wayne has gone. Only it’s Mrs Oldfield who answers. She sounds tired and worried, and disappointed that it’s only me.
‘I was hoping it was Tina,’ she says. ‘I’ve been waiting.’
Alarm bells ring like claxons. What if Mackie...?
‘The police wanted to speak to her again,’ Mrs Oldfield says, ‘something about the alibi she gave Wayne and about his whereabouts on a few other occasions. She went to the police station a couple of hours ago.’
‘Jesus, are they trying to pin other burglaries on him?’ I think.
There’s been a spate of them recently, mainly in the retirement zone on the outskirts of the town, estates full of bungalows, neat gardens and modest cars; easy targets.
‘They’ve arrested him again, you know.’ I can feel the pull of her emotions as if they’ve hitched a ride on the phone signal. ‘I like Wayne,’ she sighs. ‘Thomas had his doubts but I always liked Wayne...’ I can hear the ‘but’ approaching from a distance. There’s always a ‘but’ when it comes to Wayne. ‘...but I wish...’
‘Yeah, I know.’
In the background I hear a door opening, and then Mrs Oldfield calls out, ‘Is that you, Tina?’
‘Oh, thank goodness. Is everything alright?’
‘Who are you speaking to?’ I hear Tina ask.
‘Philip,’ her mother tells her.
The next moment she grabs the phone. She sounds worried too. Everyone seems worried today; except Wayne probably who doesn’t really do worried. I get a sudden image of him in the police interview room, sitting with the chair leaned back and his legs stretched out. He’s yawning.
‘Can you come round, Phil, maybe first thing tomorrow.’ she asks. ‘The police say they’ve got evidence and they’ve charged Wayne. I had to tell them I wasn’t with him that night. There’s something else too.’
Her voice trails off.
‘Have you read the Evening Post?’
‘Not for ten years,’ I lie. ‘It’s Simon’s paper.’
‘Maybe you should get a copy,’ she says. ‘Bring it with you. There’s something I have to explain to mum. I want to explain before anyone else tells her.’
‘I can come now, if you want.’
‘No, it’s late and mum’s tired. She’s had a hell of a day.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, tomorrow will be better.’
I don’t sleep well. I keep dreaming about knives and blood and pain so I’m relieved when morning finally stumbles, bloodshot and yawning, towards me and I can roll out of bed. I collect a paper at the Newsagent and see at once why Tina was so reticent on the phone. Her pretty face is looking demurely from the cover. The headline above sends a shudder through me and, for a brief moment, I’m really glad Mr Oldfield is in a coma and can’t see it. ‘Millionaire’s Daughter in Sex Romp Threesome’ is as good as it gets. I don’t read any further. The ‘Sex Games’ alibi was a good joke at first. It was fun seeing how people reacted – especially Slattery.
It isn’t funny anymore.
‘Simon Walsh!’ I mutter. I want to go to the newspaper office on Monday and beat him to a pulp with his own rolled up newspaper. I imagine force feeding it to him, but I shake the image away. What good would it do? It’d just make another headline.
Tina is waiting at the door when I arrive. She drags me inside and closes the door behind her.
‘Have you got the paper?’
She takes a very deep breath and walks through into the lounge where her mum is waiting, as if for a death sentence. I guess Tina has prepared her for the worst – and this really is pretty much as bad as it can get.
Tina sits down as her mother stares at the cover of the Evening Post. She motions to me to sit down beside her. I’m glad of the invitation because I’m not sure my legs can sustain me. I watch Mrs Oldfield reading the article.
There follows a silence which seems to stretch into eternity. When she puts the paper down and looks up, it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking but it’s pretty clear there are a number of different thoughts vying for the top spot. Then at last she says, ‘Well, I suppose we can count ourselves fortunate that your father can’t see this.’
I’m about to say that the very same thought occurred to me but I think better of it.
‘I’m sorry, mum,’ Tina says. ‘Like I told you, it was just a joke, just a silly joke.’
‘But you did lie to the police?’ Mrs Oldfield says, ‘both of you.’ Her eyes fall on me and there’s such pain in them I feel like I’m no better than something crawling from a primeval swamp.
‘I’m sorry, mum,’ Tina repeats.
‘I’m sorry too,’ I mumble.
‘The neighbours will love it,’ she says.
‘Not those who matter,’ Tina says. ‘I don’t care about the rest.’
‘I do,’ Mrs Oldfield says. ‘They’re the ones who’ll talk.’
Mrs Oldfield isn’t comfortable with her wealthy neighbours. She doesn’t like the trappings that come with a big house and an even bigger garden - the clubs, the functions, the dinner parties. The people in this neighbourhood are different to the people she knows and likes; they talk about things which don’t interest her or about which she knows little. Her closest friend is the woman who comes in three times a week to do the cleaning. I guess she feels like the ugly one at a beauty pageant, only she doesn’t have the confidence or the brashness to compensate.
I don’t suppose Thomas has much patience.
‘We’ve earned our place at the table. Remember where we started.’
I can almost hear him.
The trouble is, Mrs Oldfield remembers it too fondly. She misses it.
‘We got here through our own hard work, remember that. It’s more than most of them can say.’
Her one consolation is that Tina will be at home in these circles in a way she never can.
She looks right at me. ‘Did he do it, do you think? Wayne, I mean. Do you think he’s capable of doing such a thing?’
I shake my head. If there’s one thing in this world I will stake my life on it’s that Wayne wouldn’t do anything to hurt Tina.
‘I do hope he didn’t,’ Mrs Oldfield continues. ‘I like Wayne. I feel at home with him.’
‘It wasn’t Wayne,’ Tina says. ‘But someone wants it to be.’
‘Who could do such a thing?’ Mrs Oldfield sighs.
I think about George Mackie and the package he says Wayne has stolen and I’m supposed to find for him.
‘Does the name JAYDEE mean anything to you?’ I ask.
Mrs Oldfield turns to me with a faint look of surprise.
‘That was Thomas’s first, really successful business. It was JAYDEE which set us on the road to all this.’ She waved her hand to indicate the room, the house and the gardens. ‘But where did you hear that name? We haven’t used it in years.’
I shrug. ‘I’m not sure. Maybe I heard Mr Oldfield mention it.’
The answer is enough for Mrs Oldfield but not for Tina. She looks at me curiously. Then her attention is caught by the bruise at the side of my head and the swelling which is spreading over my eye. ‘What happened to you?’ she asks.
‘I walked into a door,’ I tell her. It’s not far from the truth – a fucking, big, scary door called Denny.
She doesn’t believe me and takes the first opportunity to get me on my own and ask questions. There’s no point in prevaricating so I tell her the truth, every detail of it, except the bit where I wanted to howl like a baby.
‘So, Tyrone is back,’ she says, ‘he’s mixed up with this Mackie fellow again and they think Wayne might’ve stolen something from the safe, something they want?’
Perplexed is the common theme here.
‘What’s in the package?’ she asks.
It might as well be an alchemist’s formula for turning base metal into gold for all I understand of it.
‘I don’t know why everyone thinks Wayne’s responsible?’ I say. ‘I mean, he hasn’t got a track record for burglary. His only claim to fame is getting kicked out of pubs.’
‘The police say there’s a witness who saw him running away from here on the night of the burglary. Simon Walsh tipped them off.’
‘That figures. What was Wayne doing here that night? Was he meeting you?’
Tina shakes her head. ‘He won’t tell me. He goes all secretive when I mention it.’
‘I hate it when he does that.’
‘You don’t think...?’
‘No, me neither.’ I shake away the thought and feel guilty that I even considered it.
‘The police haven’t charged him yet. They say they’ve enough evidence, even if it’s largely circumstantial, but they’ve gone back to his flat. They’re checking his DNA against the crime scene. I think they want something conclusive.’
‘They won’t find anything,’ I say.
‘No,’ she says, then she adds something I’ve been thinking, ‘I don’t know. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble. Maybe they will.’
‘What about JAYDEE?’ I ask. ‘It sounds like initials. Do they mean anything to you?’
‘Today’s the first time I’ve heard of it. I wish dad was here. I want to ask him.’
I venture a hug only it feels more than just comfort so I move my arm as soon as I can and work like mad to suppress my feelings. I find myself wishing Tina had a twin sister.
‘What are we going to do?’ she asks.
I wish I had an answer. If I had an answer I’d look as if I had some control but I’ve as much control as a madman trying to harness the wind. Then I have a thought and I grapple with the reins.
‘I’m going to speak to Simon Walsh.’
‘Do you think that’s wise? You’ll end up in the cell next to Wayne, and what good will that do? Besides, macho bravado isn’t your style. No offence.’
I’m aware of my own frailties but I prefer it when other people aren’t, so I say nothing.
‘Then, I’m going to see what I can find out about JAYDEE.’
‘Don’t mention JAYDEE to Simon. It’s like giving him a gun and letting him point it at our heads. I don’t want my family in another headline.’
‘Does your dad know George Mackie?’
‘He’s never mentioned him. I’ll ask mum, but not now – later.’
‘Maybe I can convince Simon Walsh that Wayne has been set up. Perhaps he’ll look upon it as a kind of crusade, “Saving Private Wayne?”’
My voice betrays my doubts. Simon Walsh has never been a particularly active member of the Wayne Keech fan club.
I’m about to mention Tyrone when I’m interrupted by a sudden cry from the lounge, and we hurry through.
Mrs Oldfield is sitting on the edge of the sofa. Her face is ashen. She’s holding a letter, just opened. The envelope has fallen on the carpet. She’s trembling all over and her eyes are frightened. She looks twenty years older and so overwhelmed by what she’s reading she can’t tear her eyes from it. She holds the letter to Tina.
‘Blackmail,’ she manages to say, her voice strained and distant, emerging like a cry from some subterranean vault. ‘What’s happening to us? I don’t understand.’
Tina reads the letter and hands it to me. She sits beside her mother and takes her hand and strokes it. Her mouth tightens and she speaks reassuringly, but her eyes betray her.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I mutter. ‘£100,000? What the hell is in that package?’
I look at Tina and her mother and then back at the letter.
‘What are you going to do?’ I ask, and I can feel a tremor in my own voice. This is getting way out of control.
‘Call the police,’ Tina says. ‘Do it now.’
Her mother grabs her arm and shakes her head. Her hair falls around her cheeks. ‘No,’ she cries, ‘No. Look what it says.’
‘I know what it says, but I won’t let them intimidate me.’
But Mrs Oldfield shakes her head over and over again and keeps saying, ‘No, no, no – they say they’ll hurt you. No police, no police...’
In the end Tina holds her hands and nods. ‘Alright,’ she says, ‘No police, but just for a day or two.’ She looks up at me. ‘Speak to Simon,’ she says. ‘Tell him if he doesn’t help us, we’ll sue.’ She nods towards the newspaper now lying discarded on the table by the window.
I feel a surge of admiration for Tina and a surge of other feelings which I hurriedly dismiss. I want to play the alpha male, I want to take control and put everything right. I feel like dusting down my Superman cape and flying round the earth a couple of times until I spot the villains and then – KAPOW!
But it’s Tina who’s in control, not me. She looks at me and I fall into those dark pools. I’m drowning; I need to find a girlfriend.
It’s time to go.
‘Will you be alright?’
She nods. ‘Just find out what’s going on. Find out what Wayne’s not telling us. Why was he here on the night of the burglary?’
‘We don’t know for sure that he was; witnesses can be bought. They’ll have to release him soon or charge him. I’ll find out. I promise.’
It’s a stupid promise but I say it anyway.