It’s three o’clock. I’m lying in bed and going over and over the events of the day. I’ve as much chance of getting some sleep as I have of playing scrum half for the Lions. It’s not Manny whose face looms before me as I relive the visit to the development site. Manny is a hard man, a club bouncer, hired muscle and he has no more compassion than a hungry reptile, but he’s predictable. He strikes out with a purpose, because he’s been ordered by Mackie, because he’s paid, because, according to the rules of his world, it’s necessary. No, it’s Tyrone whose image keeps rising nightmarishly before me and he’s different from Manny. Tyrone enjoys inflicting pain - he gets a positive pleasure from it - and he’s unpredictable and dangerous. You could never be safe around Tyrone unless he was wearing a choke chain. I guess Mackie saw that, years back, when he had to dispose of Joseph Derby. But, Jesus, even for a bastard like Tyrone that must have been tough; he was thirteen years old, for fuck’s sake.
I wonder if Mackie has nightmares about the monster he created? If I was Mackie I’d keep a tight hold on Tyrone’s leash, and I wouldn’t let go of it for a second. If Tyrone slips it, he’ll turn. I wonder if Mackie knows that? I guess so. He doesn’t strike me as a man who misses much. He knows what Tyrone’s capable of – always has.
I close my eyes and try to sleep but there he is, all the time. Tyrone was always out of control, even way back when we we’re little kids and he was a vicious, scary teenager. I remember him with his gang of acolytes, smoking, drinking, swearing and smashing things. I remember the surge of fear when I rounded a corner and saw him leaning against a wall or stepped out of a shop to see him walking towards me. Fear like that never leaves you. Twenty years later it feels just the same. He scares the shit out of me.
Eventually, as I drift towards a light sleep I see the frozen lake in the park where we used to run and play as kids. It’s a bitterly cold winter, the lake’s been frozen solid for weeks and snow lies all around. It’s stayed so long we’ve all got tired of it and we want it to thaw. Then, when the thaw eventually arrives, slowly dripping from rooftops and branches, running in the gutters and drains, we want one more day on the ice; so we head to the park and the lake.
Stevie is there with Wayne and me, Carl Jeffreys is with his gang, and Tina and Chloe are walking along the bank. Chloe always stays near Tina. It’s like she’s an older sister, someone she can trust, talk to. We must be nine, I suppose. It’s hard to remember now. Pinning memories is like chasing shadows. I remember a long ice slide and kids with sledges. Everyone stays close to the edge because the ice is melting, but it’s still pretty solid and, without the restraining hands of our parents, we soon forget the danger and venture further out.
No-one goes as far as Wayne.
He’s on his own at the centre of the lake, way further out than anyone else.
‘I can see water under the ice. Come and look.’
That’s no enticement, so we don’t move. Even Stevie, who’s more adventurous than the rest of us, doesn’t fancy the prospect of ice cracking beneath his feet. We shout for him to come back, me, Stevie, Tina. I think some adults shout at him too but Wayne isn’t going anywhere until he wants to. It’s only when he gets bored that he slides sulkily towards us.
‘Why won’t you come and look?’
‘Why do you think?’
‘It’s safe. It’s only bubbles a long way down.’
Ten minutes later, he gets bored playing near the edge and wanders away towards an area closed off by ropes and warning signs. ‘Thin ice: Keep out.’
Well, that’s clear enough to me and it’s clear to everyone else, but not to Wayne. He wants to test it. He leans over the rope and then he steps over. He seems reassured because soon he’s well beyond the rope and jumping up and down.
We’re all getting pretty nervous, waiting for a loud crack. The crack doesn’t come - but Tyrone does. Stevie sees him first, slouching over the snow-covered playing field, hands in pockets, head down, like he’s hunting. Then Chloe sees him. She pulls at Tina’s sleeve and they walk over to where Carl’s standing. We stop what we’re doing and watch, ready to run for cover, like rodents in the shadow of a predatory hawk. He stares at us sullenly, the outsider, then walks across to the edge of the lake and sits down to watch Wayne out in the middle of the danger zone. He picks up pebbles from the sandy edge where the snow has melted and he flicks them casually over the ice. They skid and bounce and spin on the frozen surface. Then he picks a bigger stone and stands up. He sends it bouncing across the ice and It’s pretty clear he’s aiming at Wayne. The first stone misses so he tries again and this time he catches Wayne on the ankle. Wayne cries out and hops on one leg. He turns to see where the stone came from and spots Tyrone at the edge of the ice, but not before another stone spins and slides towards him. He hops out of the way and then slips and falls.
‘You fucker,’ he shouts.
It’s what Tyrone wants so now he picks up bigger and bigger stones and sends them over the ice towards his brother. Wayne escapes most of them but occasionally one catches him and he cries out. I see him look towards us but whether it’s a plea for help or he just wishes he was with us I can’t tell. Either way, we don’t move. Carl is heading away, towed by his kid sister.
Some adults turn and watch, wondering what all the noise is about. A woman with a little girl shouts at Tyrone but he just swears back at her and carries on. A couple of men step forward as if they’re going to intervene, but they’ve got little kids with them and they don’t want them upset or hearing the language Tyrone uses, so they stop and wait.
Then Tyrone picks a rock the size of his fist and heaves it in the air. There’s a crack and a splintering sound and a gush of water. Wayne wobbles precariously and then sinks through the ice. Tyrone looks at him incredulously and then he starts to laugh, if you can call that hideous, cold crackle a laugh, and he turns and saunters away, swearing at anyone near enough to hear him.
Stevie is the only one who reacts. He looks along the lakeside to the lifebuoy in its red box. It’s about thirty metres from where Wayne is floundering in the water and flailing his arms but Stevie covers the distance in record time. By the time any of the adults react, he’s dragging it heavily towards Wayne. When he reaches the edge of the roped area he’s about to clamber over but a man stops him. The buoy is attached to a length of rope, so this guy steps gingerly over and moves a few feet towards Wayne. Then he takes the buoy and he slides it over the ice. It takes a couple of attempts before it’s close enough for Wayne to throw his arms over and it and hang on while the man and Stevie drag him out. Some other people gather round, ready to help. A man with two kids flings a coat round Wayne’s shoulders and leads him to the side of the lake. It’s only a few minutes before we see an ambulance turn into the park and pull up as close as it can get. A couple of paramedics emerge and within a couple of minutes Wayne is packed inside, under blankets, and he’s on his way to the hospital.
A police car arrives and an officer asks what happened. A couple of adults describe what they saw but we keep quiet. You don’t talk to the police about Tyrone, not if you know what’s good for you. Pay-back is a point of honour with Tyrone, so if any of us cross him we’re condemned to solitary confinement at home or weeks, waiting for him to take his revenge. Most of my friends drift away before the police ask questions but Stevie and I stay, watching and listening. Tina’s there too but she doesn’t hesitate liked the rest of us. She steps forward and tells the police what she saw and how he’d thrown stones and then laughed and walked away, even when Wayne sank into the water.
That’s when Stevie steps up next to her and, without knowing what I’m doing, I step up beside him.
‘Wayne’s his brother,’ he says. ‘I saw it too,’ and, God, just at that moment I wish I was like Stevie and Tina. But I’m only there because I had no choice and I wish I’d gone home when the others left. I don’t know why I didn’t. All I can do is nod and try to tell myself I’m as brave as Stevie and Tina; but I don’t think I am.
Would I have stepped forward if I hadn’t been with them? I don’t know; probably not.
’The police woman looks at her colleague and then she says, ‘We know where to find Tyrone. Our paths have crossed.’ and she thanks us and they give us a ride home in the police car.
Mum and dad are proud of me, which makes me feel better and then worse. But now they aren’t happy that I’m friends with Wayne because it brings me too close to Tyrone. Dad phones Stevie’s parents and Mr Oldfield and they start a secret, parent campaign to stop us. They don’t want us anywhere near the Keech family. Wayne’s house is immediately out of bounds again. But, looking back, I guess they knew they couldn’t fight against a friendship like ours. We’re children and it’s our nature to forget what we don’t want to hear. We turn deaf ears and carry on just the same; all for one and all that.
At school there’s a big assembly about never playing on ice, heeding warning signs and not growing up to be an insensitive bully like Tyrone. It goes on and on, and then Stevie is out at the front for what he did, and everyone applauds. The younger kids think he’s a super hero. At playtime they walk round behind him. I get the feeling that at any moment they’ll drop to their knees and worship him; or maybe they’re waiting for him to change into his cape and mask and fly twice round the building.
I settle for basking in reflected glory.
A few days pass, Wayne returns to school pale but unharmed, and everything settles down and gets back to normal. It doesn’t last. A few weeks later, our world implodes for once and for all and everything goes to hell.