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A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Fourteen – A fractured Dream.

 

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On the street the temperature was dropping, and clouds from the east were threatening snow.  I hurried home, mindful of my mother’s words and the conversation that was beginning in my head.  Was she right?  Was it possible a girl with whom I once spent twenty minutes of inexpert passion on a river bank could still mean more to me than the one who loved me now and shared my bed?  Could I – would I – betray Angie so callously over nothing more than a fractured dream?

Indoors, I set up a fire and then began to cook, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I turned off the stove.  Five-thirty found me sitting in our bay window, watching a snowflake corps de ballet as it danced before the glass, and the steadier trickle of people coming home from their work.  My eyes picked out Angie as she appeared at the end of the road; head down against the wind, clicking along the wet and whitening pavement on busy feet. I responded to her jazz-hands wave as she ascended the steps to our door.

“Here’s a night!”  She stood in our little lobby, brushing snow from her coat.  “Feel them!”  She reached out for my hand, squeezing my fingers as she passed, heading towards the bathroom, and casually shedding clothes as she went.  Pipes juddered as the shower turned on.   I felt that completeness of Angie wrapping itself around me as it always did when we were together in the primacy of our private lives, and I was immediately rested and content.  No, I told myself, could be no-one else.

Back at the stove, I was throwing stir-fry stuff absently into a wok when she joined me, gently resting her hand on my wrist and sliding the pan aside.  She came close to invite a kiss, then draped herself against me, letting her towelling robe fall carelessly fell open.

“Are you hungry?”  Angie giggled deliciously.  “Why yes, I do believe you are…”

Later, as we sat before the fire, Angie asked:  “Did you see your Mam?”

“Aye.”  I relayed almost everything that had passed between my mother and me.  “She says she’s quite happy with the way things are, but I don’t entirely believe her.  She’s so edgy these days.  I was a bit worried about her.”

Angie nodded sagely.  “It’ll be the ‘H’, man.  It get’s t’you like that.”

I stared.   “’H’?”

“Oh, come on!  Ah thought you’d kna’ about that at least!  Smack; heroin, Chas!  She must ‘a been on it a year or two, I’d reckon.”

“No!  Oh, god, I didn’t know.  I mean, I didn’t see it.”

“Man!  Are you a divvy or what?  I saw it first time I met her!”

“Why didn’t you say?”

“Would that ha’ been polite, like?  You’re too innocent for this world, you!  Mind, it were another little stone wor Terry managed to drop into the conversation the other night when he were tryin’ to run you down.  He reckons they’re all on it, up Bertie’s.  Brasso’ll be keepin’ ‘em hooked up, I ‘spect.”

“Brasso?”

“Brasso Moziadski.   Tall, thin bloke, sharp threads.  Looks like he’s a lawyer, or sommat, but ‘e’s not.  He’s the biggest dealer round here.  Drives a dark blue BMW?  You must ‘a seen ‘im!”

“Aye.”  I acknowledged.  “I might have.”

After administering a new shock, Angie fell silent for a while, just gazing into the fire.  My mind played around with this explanation for my mother’s behavior, which ascribed the tension that gripped every fibre of her being to a simple need for to score.  Meanwhile, Angie seemed to be steeling herself.  And, at last, she spoke.

“I been thinkin’ about it all afternoon: about us, y’kna?  Chas, be honest wi’ us now; do you seriously want me to come with you when you go to Carlton?”

“Yes.” My answer came without hesitation.  “I’ve never been more serious.”

“Only it’s a big thing for me.  I’ve lived here all my life, y’kna?  All my friends and my relations are here.  I’d be leavin’ them all behind, if I did – if I came with you.  Y’see?”

“I do see.”  I told her.  “Can I say something now?”

Her eyes were uncertain.  “I s’pose.  But Chas, I’ve worked all this out…”

“Angie, I love you.  I’m not going to let you down, am I?”

“Mebbees.  Or mebbees I’d be the one to let you down. Promises we make at nineteen aren’t meant to be kept, Chas.  They really aren’t.” She shook her head impatiently.  “I cry too easy around you, y’kna?”

“Am I going to be allowed to make a case, here, like?”  I protested, “Or are you going to walk out on me without eating that bloody stir-fry?”

“Is it still there?  I’d forgotten about that.”  She smiled through her tears.

“It’s a waste of good vegetables.” My pathetic attempt at humour was designed to cover an awkward truth – I was panicking, because a pit of absolute despair had suddenly opened up beneath me, and the reason for it seemed unaccountable unless this was love?  This – something – that was completely new to me?  Love, or need?  Had I grown to need Angie so much I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her?

”No.  No, let’s not do this now.”  I said.  “Wherever you go you’ll find friends, Ange.  I’ll be joining a proper club, you know, and the other guys will have wives and girlfriends, and besides, you’re just – just so – well, people just like you.  They’re drawn to you.  I was.”  I ended rather lamely.

“I suppose.”  Angie rested her head on my shoulder.  “Chas, I love you.  I wish…oh, you don’t know how I wish…”

“I don’t want us to part.”  I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.  “And we needn’t.  Let’s see how things turn out, Ange.  Give us that chance, will you?”  Angie was quietly tearful, my own heart was aching and there seemed no solution to our pain, no chance of escape.  The welcome warmth of the fire had become an oppressive heat, such that I was finding it difficult to breathe.  I had to escape.  “Sorry; I’m sorry, really – think about us a bit more, please, because I love you, Ange, and I can’t stand this.  I’m going out.”

The bubble of anger in my heart was not for Angie.  I tore myself away from her not because I felt she had betrayed me, but because I knew I had betrayed myself.   I slammed the door behind me not because I was turning my back on the home she had made, but because there was no home for me, anywhere.  My childhood, my whole miserable life had bred a fear of relationships in me and I knew it was a reserve that showed – that try as I might I could not give her the true and selfless devotion that would let her build her world in me, let her trust me.  She believed I would let her down, and perhaps she was right.

The snow fell fast enough to hide my tears, the cold air offered an alibi for my reddened face, my interrupted breath.  Nevertheless I avoided the town and its still-busy streets, choosing instead to take the alley which led from the far end of The Avenue past the blind ends of a trio of similar culs de sac and on in the direction of the park.  I walked briskly, ignoring the slips and slides of my inadequate shoes on the snow-slick pavement, kicking back at it with furious feet, slamming against walls and fences with aggrieved fists.  So preoccupied was I with my inner noise I was deaf to the lonely darkness and oblivious to the approach of running steps.

The first I felt was a sickening blow to my head, the first I saw was a galaxy of stars.

I was stretched out on the pavement.  A knee pinned my chest.  The thrust of a boot raked into my side with such murderous precision it may have made me scream.

“Too proud fer yer fans kidder, isn’ the’!  The great friggin footy star, yeah?”

Another voice.   “Friggin’ wanker!

Another:  “Mak’ ‘im nice an’ pretty fer ‘e’s girlfriend, like!  Frigging prick!”

The boots were heavy, the kicks vicious and well-aimed, but the surprise was over.  Kicking upward as hard as I could once, twice, three times I found the groin behind the knee, making its owner groan and shrink sufficiently to release me.   I rolled to my feet, counted three of them: balaclava’d heads snapping at me like dogs.

Remember the rules, the street fighting rules: which one looks like the leader?  Pick him out.  Don’t try and counter all three; go for him and him alone.  Don’t let up.  Never let up.

The one that was tallest, noisiest.  “Yer kna wha’ us ganna do ter the’, wanker?  Wor gan ter break yer legs, man!  Tha’s nivver gan ter play footy again, frigger!  Finished, man; finished!”

I sent him the best message of defiance I could muster.  I heard his nose crush.  Then I was straight after him, not letting him draw back, not giving him a second before I got in a perfect groin kick to bend him double.  But they were three, I was one.  Almost too late I saw the iron bar clenched in the smallest one’s hands, and though somehow I rode the first scything swing it scored across my calf, opening flesh.  Hands pinned me so thoroughly I knew I would not avoid the second.  They were intent upon crippling me, these darkly clad men.

“Stand still yer little frigger!  This is a message from one o’ yer fans, like!”

The bar was swinging, my eyes closed against the certainty of pain.  Heaven would have heard my involuntary shout – it was not heaven that answered.   There was a crack like an egg, but of bone.  The iron bar clattered to the ground, the bar wielder’s knees crumpled.  My hands were suddenly free to unleash a haymaker of a punch, the hardest I could muster into the ribs of the noisy one, while behind me my third assailant was being treated with savagery.  The grey shape that had materialized out of the snow had grounded him, subjecting him to a furious sequence of kicks.  Seeing I was out of danger, though, the shape desisted quickly, grabbing my arm.

“Come away, lad.  Ah think I might ‘a killed the stupid bugger!”

Even in my disoriented state (by this time I must have had several blows to my head) I could see the iron bar wielder was not in a good state.  Lying inert in the snow, a dark red halo was growing around his head.

“Police!  We should call the police.”  I managed to drool out.

“Frig it nah!  Ah’m gannin nowhere near the chatties, lad!  Coom on, run!”

I made no argument.  Run – or stagger – I did, supported by my savior’s arm as together we retraced my steps back to the apartment.  I wondered vaguely as we went why the grey shape had a voice I found familiar.

“Footsteps!”  I pointed behind us to our trail in the snow.

“Aye.  But this snow’s going to keep up all night.  Blowin’ a bit, too.  They’re coverin’ already.”

Angie emerged from the kitchen as we burst through the front door.  I could see from her expression I was not a pretty sight.   She moved instantly into caring mode.  “Come away, man, take off those clothes, I’ll get you some towels.  Who’s your friend, like?”

I think I already knew.  Watching as he unwrapped himself, taking his flat cap from his balding head and unwrapping the scarf from his face.  “Dad.”  I said.  “He’s my Da’.”

I was treated to the broad smile of a man at war with his teeth, and for once in my life I felt genuinely glad to see him.  “Recognized me, then. Hello, son.”

“Da’, this is Angie.”

“I kna’ lad,”  My father said,  “and a canny lass she is.  Make sure yer keep yer ‘ands on this one.”

“Pleased to meet you.”  By this time, Angie’s eyes had widened into saucers. “I thought…”

“I kna, Angie, pet, ah’m supposed to be the most absent of absent fathers.  But since ah’m ‘ere, ah’m wonderin’ if you’d mind washin’ this for us?”

From beneath his donkey jacket my father produced a brutish-looking adjustable spanner, its grips encrusted with blood.  Angie stared at it.  “Shouldn’t we get rid o’ that?”  I asked him.

“Nah, lad, no way!  That’s the only one big enough to fit wor bath taps at ‘ome.  It’ll clean up canny!”

Angie took the spanner between thumb and forefinger and nearly dropped it because it was heavier than she expected.  “Do you always carry a spanner when you go out?”

“Aye, lass.  Yer never kna’ when yer gan ter meet someone wi’ a loose bath tap.”

Angie nodded.  “Of course.”  She disappeared into the kitchen.

“I’m lucky you were passing by.”  I said, not really believing it.

“Luck had nowt tae do wi’ it.  Ah’ve been followin’ yer’ for days.  I were keepin’ an eye on they, too.  I kna’d they were workin’ ‘emselves up to have a go, like.  Ah’m stayin’ ower the Black Horse, where they drink, y’na?  The skinny one was lanterin’ about how you was too big fer yer boots an’ as how ‘e wanted ter fix yer, like?  But it were more than that.  They were plannin’ ter get yer anyways, Chas.  Ah follered them tonight ‘stead o’ you – for a change.  It were less damp.”

“It’s good for me that you did,” I said.  “But how did they know I’d be on the street?  I hadn’t planned to go out.”

“Ah don’t think they intended to get yer on the street, son.  Ah think they was comin’ ‘ere”

I had scarcely time to absorb that thought before Angie returned to bandage my leg, demanding we explain.  I described events leading up to my father’s appearance, omitting the reason he was able to intervene so quickly, and hoping she would not spot the fault in the logic.  “I could place one of the voices,” I told her, “It was that troll from Pellosi’s.  I thought he was just a bad accident, but looking back on it now I think he had meant to be there.”

“It’s likely.”  My father nodded.  “They was drinkin’ wi’ a friend o’ there’n, used ter be Town’s best player ‘til you showed ‘em as how it should be done.  Reckon it were him tryin’ to get ‘e’s own back tonight, like.  Guy Harrison – y’ kna’ ‘im?”

“Guy Harrison!  Way aye!  He’s still in the team.”  The more I thought about it, the less this information surprised me.  Guy had already tried to injure me once, in training at the beginning of the season.  Guy would not know of my intention to leave, and if I stayed the club wouldn’t renew his expensive contract; not just to be my understudy.

“We should tell the police,”  Angie said.

“Nah, no police.”  My father was emphatic.  “Me and the chatties round ‘ere, we go back a long way, Angie pet.”

“Don’t leave your bicycle around him.”  I advised Angie.  “He’s canny light-fingered, like.”

“Yeah?  He saved you, that makes him alright by me.  Anyways, I haven’t gorra bike.”

“What brings you back here, Da’?”  I asked.  “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

This brought a sigh from my Da’, and I thought that I saw the effort go right through him, as though his rib cage was a rack of iron he had scarcely strength to lift.  “Ah’m not stayin’, son.  I’ve been hearin’ about yer and yer football an’ yer made me proud, y’kna?  I wanted ter see yer again, an’ tell yer, I suppose.  Then I got ‘ere an’ I’d not the courage to approach yer, like.  Not affer leavin’ yer the way I did.  An’ I’ll be awa’ again, now, likely.  I’ve a good woman waitin’ fer me, where ah’m from.  But I wanted ter warn yer, ‘cause I thought yer might be in trouble, an’ I were right.  Nor about tonight, mind, that were just Harrison, but there’s summat in the wind, ah can smell it.  Watch yerself with Mack Crabtree and Marty Berry, Chas; they’re bad people, y’kna?”

“I think I already know about Mack Crabtree,” I said,  “But Martin Berry?  He seems canny to me.”

“Aye, he’s friend enough to yer face, but keep facin’ ‘im, lad.  Don’t turn yer back, awright?”   He raised himself to his feet.  “Now I’ll be on ma way.  You’ll be awreet now, and I’ve some sleepin’ to do.”

“Stay!”  I said.  “We can make you comfortable here.  There’s so much to be said, Da’.”

“True, there is.  I’m not goin’ back fer a day or so yet, so if tha’ wants some catchin’ up, we’ll do it tomorra, because you’ll not be training wi’ that leg. But meantime this young lass doesn’t kna me, so she’ll not be com’fable wi’ me in ‘er home.  Besides,” My father nudged me knowingly;  “I’ve a feelin’ you’ve got some bridges to mend, son.”

Angie saw him to our door, helped him slip his jacket around his shoulders and watched his back as he hunched against the snow.  Then she turned to me with her face a picture of concern.  “Oh, Chas, man!  Whar’ ever am I going to do wi’ you?  I can’t even trust you to go for a walk on your own, can  I?”

“Then you’ll have to stay with me, won’t you?”  I told her brightly.  “I need looking after.”

It was no night for righteous sleep.  We lay awake together, Angie and I, listening for the wail of sirens, half-expecting a heavy knocking on the door that might announce the presence of my father’s dreaded ‘chatties’.  Neither happened.  Did I wonder if two of my earlier attackers might return?  Honestly no.  I felt that our deterrent effect upon them would be sufficient to keep them busy with the accident and emergency department of Bedeport District Hospital at least until morning, by which time I would have had a meaningful discussion with Guy Harrison.  At the stroke of eight I limped along to the Town ground with exactly such an encounter in mind and was gratified by his pale mask of surprise when he saw me come through the doorway of the home dressing room unassisted by wheels.

If you have never entered a room in which, until the moment you thrust wide the door, you have been the occupants’ sole topic of conversation: if you have never been the object of dislike, maybe even hatred, of each one of those occupants; if you have never experienced a silence in that room of such toxicity the very air seems to be reaching for your throat, then it will be difficult for me to describe it for you.  Suffice it that no-one wanted to see me walk through the door, or had believed that I could; and from that I deduced that the plot to injure me had been shared, in some form or another, with everyone there.  It was a palpable moment, if a brief one.

“Yer late for training!”  Pascoe snapped.

“Injury, Joe.”  I told him.  “Flesh wound, nothing much but I’d better keep off it for a day or so.  I’ll be sorted by Saturday.”

“Sit in, then.  We’re going over tactics for Abberton.”

And that was that; but from it I saw, with refulgent clarity, the true undercurrent of resentment I caused in the first team at Casterley Town. I had offered friendship, without ever, as I can remember, dealing underhandedly with or deliberately offending any member of it, yet they disliked me with an obdurate resolve I would never break. If ever I wanted ratification of my decision to leave, it was given to me then.

In the meantime, I needed to keep Angie from becoming entangled in this thicket of plotting and to avoid further violence.  Where originally I had intended to confront Harrison with a direct threat, now it was simpler to channel my message through Pascoe.  As the other players walked coldly past me from the dressing room, I grabbed his arm.

“Can you tell them not to worry, Joe?  Between you and me, I won’t be here next season.  It’s not official yet, mind.  Can you, sort of, pass it around?”

Pascoe glowered at me.  “Ah don’t care if yer friggin’ leave or not.”

That was a bluntness typical of the man.  I didn’t mind;  I knew the message would get through.

With my mission completed, I returned to the apartment.  Our telephone was ringing.

“Chas?  Hi!  It’s Dave Corker, County Record; I hear you’re up for transfer.  What can you tell me, mate?”

“Unfounded speculation,”  I said.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows. Chapter Thirteen – A Place that was Ours

People on a street like the one I grew up in rarely used taxis.  A cab fare took a sizeable slice of the weekly benefits cake, leaving too small a margin for such family essentials as TV, potato crisps, canned sugar drinks and beer.  I’m not saying there was anything at all luxurious about a Casterley taxi cab, far from it.  They were just dearer than buses.

At the end of the 1980s Casterley barely afforded a living for the gaggle of self-employed taxi drivers and two taxi or hire car companies who ran offices.  It was not a vehicle fleet of which anyone could be proud, and a taxi ride was not to be relished, since strong regulation applying to the age or safety of cabs remained conspicuously absent until well after the Millennium.  Customers who called the offices wrestled with the unenviable position of not knowing what form or age of cab would grind to a stop outside their door, or if it was in any condition to comply if, say, they wanted to be taken to the airport some forty miles away.

You couldn’t ‘hail’ a cab – you had either to telephone the office or pick one up from a taxi rank, of which only two existed; one opposite the old Town Hall – usually quite busy – and one at the railway station which was not.  Now the through line was no longer open, Casterley Station was a terminus, supporting a diet of four trains a day that linked to the main line at Bedeport.  Three or four optimistic cabs would sidle up to the rank at arrival times.  For the rest of the day it was unattended.

There were a couple of taxi offices you could call.  Bannon’s, the larger of the two, tended to attract smarter cabs and issued roof signs, stickers and other paraphernalia publicising them.  Then there was Bertie’s.

In my defence, I must tell you that up until the age of sixteen, like most in my street, I had never ridden in a taxi.  Growing up I had been so poor even ‘bus fares were a stretch; so had I questioned when my mother took a job ‘answering the calls’ at Bertie’s?  No, because I had been glad she could be paid in cash, thus avoiding any loss of her child allowance or unemployment benefits.  I was not naïve. In my separate boyhood universe how should I have known what a substantial undercurrent of the adult male population of Casterley knew, that Bertie’s Cabs owed their survival to a unique blend of services that went a lot further than the provision of taxis?

Our late evening ‘bus stopped at the end of The Avenue.  Angie and I stood face to face on the pavement, hunched against a fresh onslaught of rain.

“But I didn’t even suspect!”  I protested.

Angie was grim.  “It’s not your fault, Chas man.  When y’think o’ it, it’s the perfect cover, y’kna?”

“So there’s others, then, answering ‘calls’?”

“Aye.  I think so.  Brenda Wallis – she’s Terry’s auntie, that’s how he knows, Harriet somebody, from Cheviot Close, I can’t remember her second name, and…and yer Mam.  Oh, Chas, I’m sorry, pet, I really am!”

“Well, it’s not your fault either.  But where do they go – to…er..to do it, like?”

“Some ‘o it’s private, like the taxis take ‘em out to the customer, go an’ collect ‘em later…”

“Or the customer drives them back,” I said, half to myself, as I recalled a BMW and a red dress.  “Some – what about the rest?”

“There’s a couple a’ rooms ower the taxi office.  Bertie takes a bigger cut of what they earn, but the women like it ‘cause it’s safer.”

“Which makes Bertie a brothel owner as well as a pimp, doesn’t it?”

Angie grinned ruefully.  “I s’pose it does.  Are you really angry, Chas?”

“No.”  I had to be honest, “I’m maybe angry with myself for not seeing it a lot sooner.  I’m glad I’m out of that house, and I’m glad I have you.”  She huddled against me unconditionally then, at least for a moment freed from doubt, and I kissed her forehead.  “Come on.”  I said, “Let’s go home.”

In not leaping to my mother’s defence you might say I was remiss  You may reproach me for my altogether placid response; or think I should have stormed into my mother’s house, delivered a diatribe of disgust into her ear, slammed doors, ranted, humiliated and disowned her; but the truth is, I did not feel the need.  My mother was a prostitute and the most direful admission I had to make was my complete lack of surprise.  In my street, whilst hooker may hardly have been the noblest of professions, it was a career choice. So beyond that, what did I feel?   To this day I do not know.  Was it love, of a kind, or pity?  Or fear?

Since the morning following my encounter with Mackenzie Crabtree, I had not returned home – and yes, there was guilt to be suffered for that, because even before I was armed with this new knowledge I could not face another meeting with my mother.  I was afraid of what I might find inside that faded blue door, scared to see the tense, hand-wringing figure she had become, fearful of that shrill, mechanical voice and the sheer misery it concealed.  And now I knew she sold sex for money it was all the excuse I needed to draw a line under my past life.  I wanted to get away.

Lying next to Angie that night, so close I matched her breathing, my fingers brushed tears on her cheek and I asked her why she was crying.  She said:   “Because I’m sorry for your pain.”  Then she was silent for a while.  I’m certain she knew, though I said not a word, that I had made up my mind to take the Carlton Park offer, for I heard her say to her pillow, in barely a whisper,  “Because I don’t want this to end, Chas.  Don’t let it end…”

The next morning before I set out on my daily run I told Angie I was expecting an envelope by special delivery in the post.  When I told her what I believed the envelope would contain she became very solemn, promising gravely that she would look after it until I returned.

Persistent rain had sluiced over the grey roofs of the town all through the night, lacing the pavements with rivulets and gathering in lakes at intersections.  Water seeped through my tracksuit, squelched inside my trainers as I ran; not enough to provide a distraction for me in normal circumstances – footballers play an outdoor sport in winter, after all – but today I felt my resistance grow with every step.  My mind was filled with brooding thoughts and unanswered questions, so even the prospect of a huge upward step on my career ladder did not raise my spirits as it should.  The way ahead seemed fraught with complications, the path behind muddied and indistinct.

our apartment was empty when I returned.   Angie had left Ranton’s buff envelope on the coffee table with a note:  ‘Signed for this.  Gone to work so you can read it in peace.  See you tonight’…and beside her signature ‘Ange’ were two words she had never used before in our relationship…’Love you xxx’.

I went through the motions.  I did all the proper things.  After I had wound down from my run, I showered and changed into day clothes; I brewed coffee, I put my feet up on the sofa, made myself relax.  Then I stared at the ceiling for a full twenty minutes before I reached down for the envelope.  I picked it up, examined both sides, put it down again, drank my coffee.  Finally prepared, I snatched at the envelope and tore it open.

The contents took a long time to read, not because their wording was particularly complicated, or because I needed to study each sentence with meticulous care – no: rather it was because I had to persuade myself to believe what they said.

At school I had hoped to be a carpenter or a bricklayer, like Jonna’s dad; not an accountant like Greavesie’s father, no, that was flying too high.  Bricklayers had excellent earnings; Jonna reckoned his Da’ made £300, or more a week whenever he had work: if I could have reached that kind of wage before I was thirty I would have been more than content.  That was good money to me.  Yes, Sue had once tempted me to consider even greater things, like studying for a Phys. Ed. Or a Sports Science Degree, but I had never entertained it.  I knew my limits.

Which was why the document I held in my hand that morning seemed so unreal – no, not just unreal – unfair.  Jonna would follow his father into the building trade, and I had no doubt he would earn enough to get a small house, raise a family, do all the normal, Casterley things; whereas I, at nineteen years old, was being offered twice as much to be a player in a game – to do something I loved.  And that felt morally wrong, somehow.  I felt I was cheating.

“I don’t see how I can turn it down,”  I admitted, when I called Allen Ranton on the telephone.

“Very wise, lad; very wise.  Believe me, Carlton Park will be a completely different experience.  If you handle it like you’ve handled Casterley, you’ll do well.  Now, we have to arrange for a medical and inform Casterley Town, that’s only courtesy, but it’s also when the story gets out.  Don’t talk to the press yourself – it’ll be local stuff, mostly – any enquiries, refer them to me.  If you get cornered ‘unfounded speculation’ is a good phrase.  I’ve got all I need for now.  I’ll be back to you soon.”

I made one more telephone call.  I asked Angie if she was free for lunch.

From the moment my feet touched the pavement of The Avenue I nearly broke into a run, the crawling sensation in the short hairs at the back of my neck felt so intense.  I had made my now customary check up and down the road and seen no-one, yet I knew my stalker was watching, and following. No paranoia this time, no doubt.   At the end of the road I turned to look behind me, in time to see a furtive figure melt back into the buildings at the far end.  The rain had stopped, the light was good.  I could not be mistaken.

Angie had agreed to meet me at Mr. Pellosi’s Ice Cream Parlour in the town centre, no more than a ten-minute walk away.  I would check several times in that ten minutes, and twice more I got a distinct view of the same figure, red bomber jacket collar raised, flat cap pulled down over his eyes as he quickly averted his head to avoid recognition, then vanished into the shadows.  Always in the distance, so other than in the moment when I first realized he was there I felt no sense of threat from him.  Who was he?  What did he want?

When I pushed aside the glazed door of the Ice Cream Parlour, Angie was already inside.  She had ordered us salads from the lunch menu Mr. Pellosi was forced to serve to ensure his survival through the long northern winters when only the bravest wanted ice cream.  His restaurant was popular and always crowded, but we found a table where I could sit with my back to the room.  Unfortunately, someone sitting by the door had spotted me on my way in.

“You going to win for us on Sat’day, then, Chas?”  He leaned over the table between us, his pinched face inches from mine, all grey-toothed smile and unhygienic breath.   “Three-one, eh?”

“We’ll try,”  I replied, with as much politeness as I could muster.

“We?  We?”  The face sniggered.  “The’ mean you, pal, doesn’t the’?  Them others, they divvent kna’ a glass from a bottle!  Shall I tell yer what I think?”

“Actually, I’m trying to have lunch…”

“That fella Jackson, man.  Yer shud ‘ave ‘im fer support on the left, see?  He were always gud down tha’ wing, were Jackson..”

“Right.  I’ll remember.”  I told him.  “Now, will you excuse us while we…?”

I heard the sound of an unseen blow and a shock ran through our intruder which brought him uncomfortably close to spitting in my salad.

“Haway, dippa!  Piss off!”  Angie’s voice was quiet but venomous.  “Like Chas says, we’re tryin’ to eat, man!”

Indignant, the pinch-faced man drew himself up to his full height.  “Why, don’t youse bray me, yer friggin bitch…”

“Hey!”  I warned him.  “Now you’re pushing it.  Just go back and eat your dinner, right?  Leave us alone.”

Outfaced, and possibly more daunted by Angie’s aggression than mine, my self-appointed advisor retreated to his seat, muttering invective at every step.  I grinned at Angie.

“Now if ever I needed an excuse to get out of this town…”

She was suddenly serious.   “You’re going then?”

“You know I am.  And I’m hoping you’ll be coming with me.”

Angie smiled ruefully. “See, I rather hoped you’d say sommat more like ‘I’ll go if you come with me’.  Ah hoped that’s what you’d say.”  Then she added,    “I can see it’s askin’ a lot, like.”

“I’ve thought long and hard about the words.”  I told her.  “I don’t want to leave you behind, hon, but this is a dream for me, you know?  To play with a good team, to have the chance to play in the big league, that’s all I can expect from life.  If I could have you too, that would be awesome.  Shall I tell you what they’re offering me?”

“Na, it’d only confuse me,”  Angie said.  “Listen, Chas; I’ll think about it, yeah?  And I’ll see you tonight.  Meantime, why don’t you go visit yer Mam?”

“I don’t know, Ange…”

“She’s your Mam, Chas!    You can’t change that.  She’s the only Mam you’ll ever have, an’ you mustn’t turn away from her, pet.  Go and see her.  She’ll be proud for you.”

So, upon Angie’s insistence, I set off for my old house, unable to disassociate her words and sentiments from those Sue had expressed concerning my father, some years before.  Sue’s words, and in my head, Sue’s face.  Somewhere, far behind, I could feel the patient tread of my shadow, still there and tracking my every step.

My mother was sitting in the front room with the television up loud.  When she saw me she tensed visibly, as though she was afraid I had come to beat her.   “Now then, Chas.  Ah’ve not seen you for a while, have ah?”

“I’ve been staying away,” I told her.  “I thought you might be busy with your clients.”

Her shoulders slumped perceptibly.  “Tha’s found out, then.  Ah thought yer would, once yer was moved out, like.  How’s Angie?”

“She’s fine.  How come I’m the only one who didn’t know, mother?  How come?”

“About us bein’ on the game?”  My mother sighed, and that plaintive, familiar note crept into her voice.  “Ah always tried to protect yer from it, son.  Ah kept it discreet, y’kna?”

“Why did you do it?  Why are you still doing it now?  I mean, you’ve got the benefits, and your job at the taxis, so it can’t be the money, surely?  Why?”

“Oh, aye, the taxis.  That is me job, man!  Did yer nivver wonder how ah kept it affer that Powell git ‘starteds ‘e’s nosin’ around?  D’y’kna what Bertie’s really like?   He were happy enough t’keep me on he’s books as he’s receptionist, as long as ah kept on wi’ ‘e’s ‘extra services’ for cash.”  She had begun twisting her fingers together, cruelly, as though her hands were abhorrent to her.  “Why do ah do it?  Well, ah like it, ah s’pose.  Ah’ve not got you no more.  Ah’m nor’about ter give it up, anyways.”

“One thing nobody’s told me,” I said, “And I’m not sure I want to know now, but I have to ask.  How long have you been doing it?  When did it start?”

“Oh, I can nae remember, Chas.  Years ago.  Years!”  She got to her feet and walked to the window, there to stand looking out at the street, her fingers drumming on the sill.  “Don’t matter now, do it?”

I said: “Even when you were with my Da?”

“That fool!  ‘E nivver found out.  Wha’, did yer think I ran this ‘ouse on fresh air, or summat?  ‘E never earned enough to kep’ a fly alive an’ what ‘e did earn he gambled away.  Or ‘e drank it away.  Ah did it t’keep youse in yer expensive presents an’ yer fancy ideas.  A little bit on the side, just here and there, eh Chas?”

A little bit on the side.  I remembered a summer back in my school days when I came home to find my mother sprawled upon her bed, all but insensible, and now, at last, I understood.  How glad she must have been to get the job at Bertie’s, so she could enjoy the sanctuary of his ‘rooms’!

“I’m going away soon, Mother.”

“Yer already away, issen’ yer?  Livin’ wi’ yer Angie now.  She’s a gud lass, that one, but you don’t love her, pet, do yer?  You’re still in love wi’ your Susan.  Divvent fret, lad, Mack’ll not let yer near ‘er ivver again.  Not ivver.”

#

“I’m telling you all this off the record.”

Poultney throws me a quizzical look.  “You’re telling me a hell of a lot.  You aren’t by any chance under the illusion I’m going to write your life story for you?”

I grin at him.  “Would you?”

“My rates are reasonable.  But, in a word, no.  And that isn’t what we’re here for, is it?  Bear in mind I’m a journalist, Chas; if I’m going to keep schtum about little gems like your mother’s failings I’m going to need something pretty impressive from you to make up for it.  It’s all good copy, remember.”

“It would be all very old copy, should you try to use it.  And yes, there is something impressive at the end of this – I think so, anyway.  I asked you to come here because I read your piece in the ‘Herald’ about sports philanthropists and you mentioned Mack Crabtree. It brought back a basket of memories.”

“Which we’re indulging.  For heaven’s sake, Chas; put up or shut up, will you?  I guess you knew Crabtree when he was sponsoring Casterley?  You know how big a wheel he is now, I suppose?”

“Member of Parliament, hotly tipped to be next Minister for Sport, fingers into every pie, inexhaustible supply of money, principal sponsor for the new National Stadium…”

“That is the basis for his place in my series – I am writing about other people as well, Chas; why so – no, I won’t use the word ‘obsessed’ – why so interested in Mack Crabtree?”

“Because of history.  Because you’ll be getting an interview with him, and because of other concerns I have, too.  For example, where has all his money come from?”

“Northern entrepreneur!  You should be proud of those, Chas!  As I understand it, he bought back the lease on Casterley Town’s football ground.  When the club went bust he sold the land for a fortune…”

“Aye, he did.  To a company called Wesfane Electronics that was desperate for a new plant in the area to make their industrial coolers.  Curious how it all linked together…”

“Business, Chas!  That’s how it works, mate.   You should know, you’ve got a couple of companies of your own, now, haven’t you?”

“Matthew, there’s something very wrong about Mack Crabtree.  I crossed him, unfortunately, and yes, you could say I harbour a bit of a grudge, even after all this time, but he has just too much money for a small-town entrepreneur.   You’re so thorough with your homework, tell me what you’ve discovered about his family.”

“I’m not sure I want to, Chas.  I dig pretty deep.  Some things are given to me in confidence – like the background of an international footballer whose mother was a prostitute?”

Just basic stuff.  It’s all right, I already know his ex-wife is an alcoholic.”

“She’s in rehab…”  Poultney qualifies.

“For the third time, before I stopped counting.  Maybe she drinks to forget.  Speaking of which, will I refill that glass of yours?”

“Well, thank you, I won’t refuse.  His new wife’s sober enough.  His setup should be pretty standard in this day and age.  Wife, who works, she’s a commodities broker, an only son who runs his own chandlery company, likes cats, favourite food Mexican, all the usual stuff.”

When you interview him,”  I say,  “ask him about Susan.”

“Why, was she some juicy ex-lover, or something?”

“No, I grew up with her.  She’s his daughter.”

“Daughter!  He hasn’t got a daughter.  Has he?”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Ten – Secrets

Photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash

 

I don’t really recall what my expectations were when I left Rossiter’s Hotel that July evening, coaxing Carlo’s elderly scooter back into town with a large folder protruding from under my jacket.  All at once the game I had supposed could never be more than an absorbing pastime threatened to consume my whole life.  Yes, I had dreamed of being a professional footballer, but now the dream was about to become reality, I probably felt terrified.

Nel Kershaw frowned at me over her spectacles.   She reminded me curtly that she specialized in criminal, not civil law, however…

“However this seems all right.”  She leafed through the pages of Allen Ranton’s contract a fourth time, scanning the solid-looking paragraphs.  “His credentials are certainly good.  Frankly, I doubt if you’ll do better, so the question is, do you want to be tied to one agent for five years, Charles? There is a get-out clause but you would incur a penalty if you used it.”

Other than Nel, I told no-one of my good fortune.  Ranton had suggested I say nothing until he ‘closed the deal’, as he put it.   “It’s important, Chas.  Don’t even tell your mother, all right?”

For reasons I didn’t understand then (I do now), Ranton wanted to handle any press himself.  Needing a reason for my barely contained agitation I told my mother Trevor Bull was picking on me again.  I hoped she would swallow it without pursuing our Trev and beating my lie out of him.

By the time I next met Angela I felt calm, sure that I had my emotions under control.

“What’s the matter, Chas?”

“Matter?”

“Yeah.  You’re quivering, man!”  Angela grinned.  “I’m not saying it isn’t sexy, like!”

“I’ll tell you everything soon.  In a few days.  I promise.”

She gave me a sly look.  “I think I know.”  She said.

“Oh, right!  What is it then?”

“Don’t worry, man, I’ll not tell.”  She drew close and whispered in my ear.  “Do you think you’ll get the number nine shirt?”

Once again, Angela had surprised me.  When I demanded to know how she found out, she simply said:  “You’s.  You’re on fire tonight and only your bloody football can do that to you. You give yoursen’ away, Chas Haggerty!”

Carlo voiced his suspicions.

“So, who’s this Ranton fella, then, Chas?  Why’d he want to keep the’?  He didn’t start getting fresh or owt, did he?”

Jack Masters knew, of course.  He stood outside the loop, ready to see my signature on the contract.  When I delivered it to him at our midweek practice session he simply said “Well done.” Then he told me to get on with training.

“Start doing a bit of running, lad.  A couple of miles each morning, to begin.  You need to sharpen up.”

That Wednesday, I planned to visit John Hargreave.  Carlo gave me two evenings’ release from pizza delivery duty each week to provide some part-time employment for his son, so, with Angie occupied ‘washing her hair’, and my friend desperately in need of an opponent to play his new Nintendo game I downed a sausage with batter and chips from ‘The Golden Chip’, before making my way to his house.   John lived a mile from the town, in one of those little satellite villages huddling around a blocked shaft that had been a coal mine, once.

John’s home was of a lesser vintage than the smoky red brick terraced houses, many of whose doors shielded retired miners, a silent community that harboured pneumoconiosis, industrial deafness and diminished hope.   A thin drape of smoke hung overhead and lurked in the breathing air.  I could never quite get used to walking amid the stultifying silence of that strange street; to one side the cramped hovels of two-up-two-down brick, with their belching chimneys, their expressionless windows, their urgency as they strove to break the narrow chain of pavement and be free; to the other a green acre, a benignly patronizing rank of four bedroomed detached new builds rising from immaculate grass.  Dividing them, the road might as well have been an ocean in depth, a battlefront in hostility.

Once in argument with John I had pointed out his own street as a metaphor for the implacable class war, evidenced by a complete absence of social interaction between those who lived on the left side of the street and those on the right.  He admitted it was true.

“I agree, but I don’t think of it as a line of battle.  I don’t know anyone from the other side but I do know you, and you live in a house a lot like those.  And if it’s symbolism you’re after, come up on a Sunday.  You’ll find our green and pleasant acre being used by kids from the other side, playing football.”

“Yeah, is that why every lamp post has a ‘No Ball Games’ sign on it?”

“They ignore it, much to my Dad’s annoyance.  But kids from our side of the road could join in if they wanted.”

“Nah.  They’d just want to play rugby.”

At so early an evening hour the street was quiet, which must have been the reason I noticed a midnight blue BMW purring toward me.  It was travelling fast, giving me little time to catch a view of its driver, – a man in his thirties, with a close haircut and a sharp aquiline nose. He was not alone.  A woman in a short red dress reclined in the passenger seat, one foot on the dashboard, her legs carelessly displayed.  It was no more than a split second glimpse of someone whose face was hidden, yet it froze in my mind because – because of what?  Could I know a person like that?   If so, how; when, where?

John joked about it when I told him.  “You’ve seen those legs before!  Or was it the position that’s niggling at you?  Think now, and if you remember, give me her address, man.  She sounds perfect to me!”

“I know her from somewhere.  Daft, I’m sure, but I do.  I wish I could have seen more of her…”

“Doesn’t sound like there was much more to see.”

“I mean her face, yeah?  Never mind.”  I was anxious to change the subject.  “What’s ‘Super Mario’ like?”

“Special, very special.  Man, you should try it!”

The game was addictive.  We played long into the evening, and it was dark before I made my way home.  My mother had told me she would be at work, so I used my latchkey, took a Coke from the fridge, and went straight to bed.  Hours of screen watching had taken their toll on my eyes.  I slept like a bear in winter.

Ranton’s letter confirming Casterley Town’s interest came through our door a week later.  There was to be an official signing at Rossiter’s, it told me.  ‘This time you needn’t bring a pizza’.   Our meeting was set for 3:00pm on a Thursday.  For me, that was the day the world stood still – the space between the starter’s warning cry of ‘set’ and the snap of the gun.

As such meetings go the gathering at Rossiter’s would probably have looked unimpressive to those experienced in such things; to me it was immense.  Allen Ranton greeted me in the hotel foyer, prepared me with a few brief comments, then propelled me through a heavy door into a room that proclaimed itself the ‘Dickens Lounge’.  My feet were instantly silenced by deep pile.  There were comfortable chairs upholstered in dark red leather, a huge marble fireplace in which burned a small, apologetic and completely unnecessary log fire, and a faux antique table, where rested an array of coffee pots, milk jugs and cups.  These had already been extensively pillaged.

Of the figures who gathered around me there were one or two I recognized, many more I did not.  Martin Berry cut a familiar figure in the crowd at Casterley’s home fixtures, if only because he owned the club.  A compact powerhouse of a man, his highly pitched voice lent a descant to the baritone song of male conversation which paused only briefly when I entered.  The source of his wealth was undetermined, although subject to a number of unflattering rumours among the fans.  His ear was clearly being bent by a voice I knew emanating from a face I knew; that of Joe Pascoe, Casterley team manager, a squat warthog figure with a paucity of teeth.  Of the few whose heads turned when I entered, Pascoe’s remained fixed in my direction the longest, long enough for me to detect a dark lake of hostility splashing the shores behind his grey eyes.

My encounter with these people lasted all of thirty minutes.   I floated through it on my own happy cloud, because I had daydreamed about it for so long, oblivious to a reality that was quite squalid. My participation comprised a five-minute sideshow in a quagmire of networking, the substance of which had no meaning to me.  I might as well have attended in my underpants for all the notice I attracted.  Ranton, though, he navigated our way through the process with all the skill of a practised helmsman.

“The paperwork’s done, Chas.  All you have to do is sign it.  It’s for twelve months, okay?  Don’t let anyone suggest a voluntary extension.  They’re paying you a bit more than they normally pay at £15000 plus bonuses, so don’t discuss money with anyone.  I’ll just get us through the pictures and the questions, then the rest is up to you.”

There were a couple of press reporters present.  I was photographed next to a Casterley shirt, which Pascoe, wearing his best plastic smile, held up beside me.     The cameraman asked:  “What’s the number on the shirt, Joe?” Pascoe refused to display the back of the garment.  “Is it true Chas is replacing Guy Harrison at number nine?”

“Guy’s position in the team is secure.”  Pascoe rasped, still smiling.

“What position are you playin’ then, Chas?”

Ranton cut in.  “Chas’s position hasn’t been finalized yet.”

“Can’t he answer for himself?”

The room fell silent.  All eyes turned to me.  I could feel my colour rising.

“Yeah, that’s right.”  I muttered.  “Like Allen says.”

I shook hands with Martin Berry and one or two other people I had never met before and was unlikely to meet again.  Joe Pascoe manoeuvred his way to my side.

“I hope you’re worth what they’re investing in you, you little bastard.  I want you down the ground Friday, eight o’clock.  Gottit?”

Then, suddenly, it was all over.  The contents of the ‘Dickens Lounge’ drifted out of its door like snow on a breeze, leaving Allen and me among the cups of half-finished coffee.

“I wonder if they want us to clear up,”  Allen remarked.  He took me by the shoulders.  “See here, Chas, the next season is going to be tough, d’you understand?   When a club’s in as bad a position as this one, results-wise and everything else wise, there are always reasons why.”

“Pascoe?”  I volunteered.

“Maybe.  That’s what the crowd thinks.  You’ll find out as you go along and a lot depends on how you deal with it.  I’ll only say, be positive, right?  And in your darkest moments, lad, and there will be some, just keep in mind this is the worst club you’ll ever play for, alright?”

The worst club – the club I had followed and adored since I first learned to walk!  Somewhere in the back of my head, I distinctly heard the crack of the starter’s gun.

#

“Took me a while to find this place.”  Matthew Poultney says, “Should I take my shoes off, or something?”

“We don’t advertise it.”  I tell him.  “Keep them on, it’s no problem.”

“What made you choose the rural idyll?”  The journalist’s eyes take in his surroundings, walls in warm colours, bright windows inviting the sun.  “I always had you down as a city boy, myself.”

“Our training ground’s two miles along the road.  The airport’s ten miles more, and I’ve a boat on the river.  I like it here, well enough.  Do you still drink whiskey?  I’ve a nice peat-cured malt I think you’d like.”

He nods.  “Never refuse.   I don’t think I’ve ever smelt this much leather.  You’ve come a long way, Chas.”

“Feet of clay,”  I tell him, setting his eyes instantly alight.

“Do I smell an exclusive?  Something cooking in the transfer window?”

“Nothing definite.  As I said, I like it here.”  I pass him a glass.

He holds it up to the afternoon sun, casting an amber reflection through the fluid.   “Good colour.  So why did you want to see me – I mean, it’s always nice to catch up, but…”

“You remember our first meeting?”

“Do I!  You were green as the grass then.  Just signed with Casterley of all places…”

“Accident of birth…”

“And you were all for diving in, a happy little coffee bean eager for the blender!”

I nod.  “Consider me duly blended, yeah?  I had no idea what I was up against.  Pascoe, the manager, clearly hated me for reasons I didn’t understand, and that number nine, Harrison – bloody Harrison tried to injure me in training!  They ignored me in the dressing room and they ignored me on the pitch.  I was on the bench match after match, waiting for Pascoe to bring me on in the last ten minutes if he felt like it.  By that time we’d be two, maybe three goals down and I couldn’t get a pass from anyone.  No-one would feed me – they just froze me out.  We were knocked out of The Cup in the first round, the team kept losing and the supporters started picking on me.  It was as bad as Allen predicted and worse.  Were you following us then?”

“Not match for match.  I followed the scores, of course, I always do, but apart from The Cup the nationals only want copy on superstars.  It was Ranton pushed me to do our interview.  He was a good agent, was Allen.  Retired though, last I heard.”

“He passed away last year,”  I tell him.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  Poultney walks closer to the window.  “It’s a grand view of the river from here.  What changed it for you?”

“It was Pops – Tommy Travers, the groundsman.  He opened my eyes to it all.   I was sitting on the terraces one day, and I’ll be honest, I was already contemplating giving up football when Tommy sat down beside me, and that was major for him because his bones were that stiff he couldn’t get back up again sometimes.  He explained how neither the manager nor the team wanted me there because I threatened their little apple cart.  They were old players and part-timers with some unofficial stuff on the side, doing just enough to stay in the league.  The last thing most of them wanted was a goal-scorer who might bring more money into the club.”

“More money would mean fresh legs, stale legs being forced out.  It’s an old story.”  He nods.  “I take it this Pops character was of a different opinion?”

“He wanted his new pitch, didn’t he?  He was astute enough to see that mud baths like the Casterley ground had had their day.  It needed a new surface – better drainage, part artificial turf, and so on.   There wasn’t money in the pot to do it or any investment in the offing and he was afraid if Casterley dropped out of the League, there’d be nothing left for anyone.  He told me to go over Pascoe’s head and talk to Martin.”

“The owner?  Martin Berry?”

“What a memory!  Although you’ll have done some homework on the way over here, won’t you?  I forget these things.  Anyway, He’s a nice bloke, is Martin.  I took an instant liking to that guy.  I went to see him and I found him on the floor of his warehouse with his sleeves rolled up, shifting crates into a panel van.  I told him my problem, and he said he left the team selections to his manager, soI said maybe he shouldn’t.  I also suggested he should get the team to work with me a little.  He listened, but said that bit was up to me.  I remember the way he put it:  ‘Be Roy of the Rovers for a game.  I know you can, I’ve seen you do it’.  So I did.

“The very next fixture Pascoe came in spitting fire, and a lot less than pleased, but he started me at centre-forward against Parnington.    He gave the captain’s band to Walters at centre-half and tried to put me upfield where I’d be starved of the ball, but I kept myself close to the halfway line.  I picked out the first decent ball and ran with it.  It wasn’t copybook, it was scrappy because there was no understanding between us, but we pulled out a result for the first time in the season.  Four – one.  The fans liked me better after that.”

“I remember that first goal of yours.  It was a fantastic solo effort.”

“One of three that afternoon.  My first league hat-trick.  You were there?”

“I saw the footage.”  He cocks an eyebrow at me and tosses his whiskey down his throat.  “When are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

I pick up the whiskey bottle.  “Have another?”  I say.

#

Wait!  Let’s go back a bit.  I’ve told you the story of how my career began that afternoon in Rossiter’s Hotel.  Without disguising anything, I’ve told you how hard it was for me to survive in those first weeks as a professional footballer, but I haven’t said anything about the effect my turn of fortune had on my friends or my home life, and I shouldn’t let that slip by.

Casterley began climbing up the league table, I hit goal-scoring form, and friends and enemies gravitated to me in equal measure; not the kind of friends I could count upon to guide me through a crisis, though, nor the kind of enemies who could see any further than their last drink.  I liked pubs; I am tempted to suggest that at eighteen-nineteen years old most males of my species like pubs, yet I found it wiser to avoid them.  After a good game my back could be exposed to slaps of appreciation from the moment I entered a bar, followed inevitably by an expectation that I would buy everybody a ‘round’.  Following a bad game a week later I could enter the same booze palace under a thundercloud of muted criticism, knowing that someone would voice their disappointment out loud, complete with obscenities, before the evening ended.

Abstinence then:  not a difficult choice for me.  I was assiduous in my training and an evening beer didn’t help a morning run.  But my real friends liked to go out drinking, they liked the pubs in our little town and trouble tended to erupt when I came along, so I was not always welcome.   Jonna ceased to feel comfortable with me the day I started playing for the juniors, but we found some common ground for a season.   When he learned I had a contract with the senior team his jealousy turned from green to black.  He and Sarah very soon came to prefer each other’s company to mine.

By and large, I didn’t mind.  I lamented it a little perhaps, but I accepted.  The wedge between us was driven deeper with every match I played.  Meanwhile,  John Hargreave – Greavesie – who did not drink, had replaced Jonna as my staunchest ally, while I was spending more and more of my free time with Angela, who was not fond of drinking either.  She made a disgraceful drunk when she tried to conform, obliging me to end many a date keeping her long hair out of the way as she wretched.

Angie and I were in our own world that winter; if not truly lovers then at least close friends, living in each other’s pockets, reading each other’s minds, generally setting about biblical issues according to the best teenage traditions.

There was a night in the depths of winter in that very special year when snow was falling,  and we sought shelter as we often did in the warmth of my home.   The house was silent, as it would usually be when my mother was at work, so we undressed each other and slipped into my bed, confident in the knowledge that she would be working for hours yet.  Sex with Angie was a thing of secrets, of laughter that was muffled and filled with mystery, words whispered that could not be said aloud.   Oneness might be minutes or an hour, a reverie ruptured by a raucous joke, or protracted in warm union for a dangerous time.  Such it was that night; we were together in the bed’s embrace, and a cold wind against the window bade us stay.

At last I disentangled myself because I must, and made naked for the bathroom, leaving Angie half asleep.  I opened the door onto the landing, groping for the light.  I switched it on, at which precise moment the door to my mother’s bedroom also swung open.  Framed within it, wearing as little or as much as I, stood a large male figure.

Mackenzie Crabtree’s face froze in horror, then he emitted the nearest thing I have ever heard to a male scream.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.