"Thomas Donnal—mean anything to you?" Mark asked Brian Fisher, a small, slim man now in his late thirties, some six hours after leaving the hospital. Brian had been his younger son's best friend when they were growing up and had nearly become his son-in-law. Fortunately, the fixation his daughter Joan had on her younger brother's best mate fizzled out before it quite got to that stage, though it had been something of a close call; Mark thought Brian would have been a better catch than what she ended up with.
"So, the pint's not exactly free, then?" Brian responded.
"You know me, Brian, always trying to find an advantage, and giving one of the best reporters in town a pint means I get to sit with him, which is certainly an advantage when you need some information."
"OK, Uncle Mark, Thomas Donnal—fourteen years old, badly injured in a road accident last Thursday. Seems the police were going to press dangerous cycling charges against him put have decided not to proceed." Brian looked up at Mark. "That's it, Uncle." Brian had called Mark "Uncle" from the time the boy was four and had made friends with Brian's son Phillip, a friendship which continued to this day, though Mark was aware that there had been a couple of rough spots in it, especially when they had both fallen for the same girl. Mark always wondered if Phillip's move to the States was due to the fact that she choose Brian over him.
"What else, Brian? You've got the best line into Social Services of anybody in the city and probably know more of what is going on than the bloody director herself."
"What's in it for me?" Time to negotiate.
"Photo of the accident at the point of impact."
"How can you get that?"
Mark pulled out his smart phone, opened an app and selected a file, then showed it to Brian. "Latest dashcam technology—it streams the video image to the smartphone, which then uploads it to the cloud. Very useful if the force of impact destroys the dashcam's SD card."
"So, you were the driver?" Mark nodded. "All I could get was that the boy was in collision with a vintage sports car."
"You bloody got one."
"Yes, last Thursday."
"They're worried about the boy; they suspect that it might not have been quite the accident it has been made out to be. Apparently, the boy's father found out that he was gay and hit the roof. The boy ran out of the house and jumped on his bike. Next thing, he is in hospital."
"Know anything about the father?" Mark asked.
"Frank Donnal is a nasty piece of work, the youngest of five brothers, sons of Gus Donnal, who used to be one of the big men in the steelworks when we had steelworks." Mark nodded, as he knew about the big men, the enforcers for the unions. "Frank takes after him but in a nasty way. There have been a few incidents, but nothing resulted in charges, though a couple got very close, like the to-do with his wife."
"What was that about?"
"Surely you heard about that—it was what seven… Oh no, you were taking Aunt Mary on that round the world cruise." Mark nodded. Seven years ago he had taken his wife on a cruise of a lifetime. She had an inoperable brain tumour, and a race was on as to whether they would finish the cruise before it finished her. They did, and she fought to the end, dying two weeks after they got back to Southampton.
"Well, it was just after Easter. The boy had been staying at his grandparents on his mother's side over the holiday as both Frank and the mother were working. Frank turns up late one evening demanding to know where Kate, his wife, was. His story was that he came home from work and found she had gone and taken her stuff with her. Her parents knew nothing about it. Anyway, Frank maintained that she had gone off with some bloke. Five months later Kate turns up in Blackpool, dead from an overdose. Signs were that she had been subjected to numerous rapes and to systematic violence over an extended period.
"Frank's claim was that she must have gone off with her boyfriend who then pimped her out. That sounded good, as the neighbours confirmed she had spoken about going off to live with some bloke and taking the boy with her."
"So, her bloke was not as nice as she thought—it happens."
"Except her bloke was Jim Sudgen, you might recall him, he played rugger with Phil." Mark recalled the boy, now a man, though he had not seen him since Phillip had finished high school. "Jim was quite cut up over it. He and Kate had been going out together before Frank appeared on the scene. However, Frank had got Kate pregnant and married her. From what Jim said I think it was a case of Frank getting her drunk and then fucking the hell out of her.
"Apparently, Kate and Jim had met up again and started seeing each other. Jim had got a chance of a move to London, so he and Kate had decided to get together and go to London; then she vanishes. No, it definitely was not her bloke that pimped her out."
"So, what happened?" Mark enquired.
"God only knows, but Frank has some nasty friends, ethnic Russian Latvians, though in reality Russians and part of the Russian mafia. They run a number of semi-legal brothels. You know the type of thing, massage parlours with extras. Word is they are also into some darker things in the world of sex trafficking. Personally, I think Frank found out about Jim and handed his wife over to his buddies. I know some of the local force think the same but there is no way they can prove it."
"So, Frank Donnal is not a very nice piece of work."
"That, Mark, is putting it mildly, so you be careful if you are getting into anything involving him."
"As far as I am aware," Mark commented, "he has washed his hands of young Thomas."
A couple of days later Mark visited Thomas again. The boy was looking a bit better, at least some of the bruising had faded. Mark put a McDonald's bag down on the table that spanned the bed in front of the boy. "Thought you might appreciate some fast food."
"Ta, mate, the grub here is awful."
"I think the idea is to encourage you to get better so you can get out and have a decent meal," Mark commented.
"Not likely," Thomas mumbled through a mouthful of hamburger. "When I get out I'm going to Standford House. Bet the food there is as bad as this place."
"Isn't there any family you could go to?"
"Nah, Dad has fucked that up. Phoned all my uncles and told them that I was a bloody poofter, and they better not let me near their kids."
"Are you?" Mark asked.
"Am I what?"
"Yea; suppose that means no more hamburgers."
"Because I'm queer, and nobody wants anything to do with queers," Thomas replied.
"Don't see why. My cousin's son is queer, as you put it, and he has no problem. Really popular at the Student Union, though I think that is more to do with the fact he is Captain of Rugby."
"You've got a queer relation."
"Yes, he's twenty, doing a degree in Engineering. He and his boyfriend are having a Civil Partnership in August, once they've finished uni."
"I suppose he is, but he has worked hard to get that luck," Mark observed. "So, your father threw you out because you're gay?"
"Nha, I ran out before he could kill me because I'm gay. He was about to take a hammer to me, once he had finished with my phone."
"So, what happened?" It took most of the rest of visiting to get the story out of Thomas. He had known he was gay for a couple of years and had a boyfriend, Connor O'Mally. Connor and Thomas had been best friends so long as Thomas could remember, and the O'Mally's lived just down the hill from him and the two boys had grown up together. A couple of years ago they had discovered sex and found out they preferred it with each other.
Some six weeks ago, Connor's father had gotten a new job and they had moved to the West Midlands. Since then, Connor and Thomas had not seen each other, though they had kept in touch with texts and emails. They had also been sending each other explicit photos via their smartphones. Unfortunately, Thomas's dad had returned early one day and found Thomas on the phone to Connor in a somewhat compromising state.
"Do you think you could go to Connor's?" Mark asked once he had gotten the story out of Thomas, which had not been easy.
"Dunnow where they are—had the address and stuff in my phone, and Dad smashed that."
"Do you know what Connor's parents' names are?"
"Oh yea, Aunt Mary and Uncle Terry."
"So they are your relatives?"
"Nha, that's just what I called them from when I was a kiddy."
Brian looked up as the pint was placed on the bar next to his glass. "Uncle Mark, twice in a week; what is it this time? Oh, thanks for the pictures. They're front page in today's edition, and it seems the Chief Constable is furious about it—thinks there must have been a leak inside the force."
"Why are you so happy, because you've got a scoop or because the Chief Constable is unhappy?" Mark asked seating himself next to Brain.
"Both, really. The Chief can be a bit of a prig at times about giving the press information. I doubt, though, that you came here to get my views on the Chief Constable, so what is it?"
"I need to find a couple. They moved from Sheffield sometime in the last few months, went to the West Midlands. I know you have contacts that can find people; I can pay for it."
"Who are they?"
"They lived down the hill from Thomas Donnal, name of O'Mally, Mary and Terry O'Mally."
Brian laughed. "You can save your money, Uncle Mark. Terry O'Mally is now Detective Chief Inspector Terrance O'Mally of the West Midlands Police. He was a detective inspector here but moved for promotion. He was at school with Phil and me. His wife Mary was a teacher, until the kids came along. She taught at the Comp with my wife. Angela is bound to have her number." Brian pulled out his phone and typed in a text message. A few minutes later his phone pinged with a message, Brian opened it, and then wrote a number down and handed it to Mark. "That's Mary's mobile; Angela hasn't got her landline number yet."
Mark thanked Brian, bought another round of drinks and then, after chatting for half an hour, departed and made his way home. On the way he thought about the call he had to make.
After the phone rang three times, a woman answered. "Hello."
"Hello, my name is Mark Wainwright. Am I speaking to Mary O'Mally."
"Yes, this is Mary O'Mally; are you a relative of Phil?"
"I'm his father."
"Oh good, how is he? We've not seen him for ages."
"He's fine, as far as I know, still in the States. It's some time since I've seen him, though I spoke to him at the weekend. I'm phoning about Thomas Donnal."
"Tommy? Is he all right? What's happened? Connor has been so worried, he hasn't…"
"Mary, Tommy's in hospital. He's been in a car accident but is recovering. Things are a bit complicated though. It is not something I really want to discuss on the phone, and I wonder if I could come over and see you?" Mark asked. He really wanted to see what these people were like before he made a suggestion about Thomas.
"Oh yes, … that would be fine. When could you come … can you make it this evening? My husband will be home, but Connor is out till after nine; he's in the swimming club." Mary carried on for about three minutes before Mark could interrupt her and confirm that he could make it over that evening. He got the address and directions on how to get there once he was off the motorway. In half an hour he was on the M1 driving south. It had only just gone four and the time agreed for his arrival at the O'Mally's was seven, so he had a good three hours to do the trip in, and it should only take two. That at least was what Google Maps said, but Mark was more pessimistic. No matter which way he went—M1, M42, M6 or M1, A38—he knew he would hit jams. He was right, and it was just before seven when he pulled into the drive of a large detached house on Broadway West, Walsall.
As Mark got out of the car, the front door opened and a tall, well-built man walked across to him. "Mr Wainwright, nice to see you again after so many years. Mary tells me you have news of Tommy?"
Mark looked across at him and managed to recognise him, though he had changed a great deal. "Terry, I almost didn't recognise you. You've bulked out a bit since I last saw you." Mark looked around at the front of the house. "Nice place you've got."
"Not bad, is it, for a lad from the wrong end of Sheffield?"
"You've done well, Detective Chief Inspector, and not yet forty."
"More luck than anything, but I'll tell you about it later. We better get inside; Mary is dying to hear about Tommy." Terry guided Mark into the house and took him through to a large kitchen at the back. "Thought we might be more comfortable in here than in the front room, a bit less formal," he stated, indicating to Mark that he should take one of the chairs at the table. Just as he was about to sit down a tall, rather plump woman walked into the room.
"Sorry I was not here when you arrived, I was sorting out Shelly's room. I'm Mary," she extended her hand. Once introductions had been completed Mary and Mark sat at the table whilst Terry made tea for them.
"He makes a much better brew than I do." Mary commented. "He goes to the bother of warming the pot and all that; I just throw in some tea bags and pour on the water."
"Yes, typical woman, always taking the short cut," Terry observed.
Mary laughed, and it was plain to see that there was a great deal of affection between the two. "So, Mr Wainwright, what have you got to tell us about Tommy."
"Mark, please; Mr Wainwright makes me feel too old."
"OK, Mark, so what has happened to Tommy? You said he was in hospital and there had been a car crash, though I imagine there was more to it than that for you to drive over here on a Friday."
"Yes, there is, but it is a bit difficult, you see …"
"I think I can make it a bit easier for you," Terry interrupted whilst pouring the water into the pot. "Our son Connor is gay, and we know that Tommy is, too."
"That does make it easier. How long have you known?"
"Definitely," Mary stated, "since last weekend. We suspected it for the last couple of years. Shelly, that's our daughter, she has just turned ten so she would have been eight then, saw Tommy and Connor kissing at Connor's twelfth birthday party, and told us. We had already started to think along those lines anyway because the boys were inseparable.
"Then, a week yesterday, Thursday, Connor comes down from his room all upset. He told us he had been on the phone to Tommy when something had happened and the phone had gone off. He had tried calling Tommy again and was getting put straight through to voice mail, and Tommy was not answering him on Facebook or Skype.
"He's really been down ever since. I kept him off school last Friday, he was so bad. Last Saturday we sat him down and had it out with him. He told us he was gay and that he loved Tommy and he was scared because he had not been able to get Tommy since Thursday."
"That fits," Mark commented. "It was Thursday of last week that Tommy was on the phone to Connor when his father walked in and either saw something or heard something. I don't know which, but from what Tommy told me, his father hit the roof, grabbed a hammer, smashed the phone, and he then went for Tommy. Tommy ran out of the house, jumped on his bike, and started off down the hill. There was a bad storm that night and his brakes did not hold on a hill. He shot out into the main road and into my car."
"What aren't you telling us?" Terry asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Tommy loved that bike and kept it in tiptop condition. I don't care how bad the weather was, there was no way the brakes would fail. Also, he knows that hill, and he knows damned well he could turn off into the drive to Gilbert's yard just before the main road. Christ, the boys used to freewheel down the hill and into the drive for fun since they were nippers.
"If Tommy came out onto the main road he did it deliberately." Mark looked at Terry and nodded.
"Yes, it was deliberate. He was trying to kill himself," Mark stated.
"Poor boy!" Mary exclaimed, "What had that man done?"
"We can probably guess," Terry commented, "and Tommy probably gave him a good kick in the balls."
"Mary, I told Tommy ages ago that if his father got violent with him he should kick him in the balls and then run. I guess he took my advice."
"But why should he try to kill himself?" Mary asked.
"Probably desperation." Terry commented, "He probably thought Frank would phone us and tell us about him and Connor.
"So, Mark," Terry continued, "how is Tommy?"
"Pretty busted up, but fortunately there was a flash of lightning just as he came out onto the main road, and I saw him before he was in the headlight beams. I managed to stop before the impact, but he went over the top of the car."
"What's the damage?"
"Broken arm and collar bone, three broken ribs and a couple of cracked ones, and two broken legs, one in traction. He's going to be in hospital for some time."
"As it's Terry's weekend off, we were driving up tomorrow to take Connor to see if we could find out why Tommy has not been in touch. I suppose now we better take him to the hospital to see his boyfriend.
"You could have told us this on the phone, though. What is it you wanted to speak to us in person about?" Mary asked.
"Well …" Mark paused, not quite certain how to put the idea forward, and then decided just to go ahead and explain the facts. "Social Services have become involved because there was some indication of earlier bruising."
"The fucking bastard!" Terry exclaimed.
"Calm down, Terry," Mary instructed. "We always suspected that Frank was beating Tommy but never had proof. Carry on and explain things, Mark."
"When the police went to tell Frank Donnal that his son had been in an accident, Frank's response was something to the effect that he hoped he was dead, and then went on and told Social Services, 'That kid's trouble and I don't want him'. So now Social Services have an abandoned kid who has probably been abused on their hands. Once he gets out of hospital they are putting him in Stanford House."
"No way!" Terry shouted. "Tommy's not going to Stanford House." Mary and Mark looked at him, surprised at the ferocity of his statement. He noted the looks and calmed down. "Look, I know Social Services are trying to do their best, but I know Stanford House. It's a dumping ground for those Social Services have given up on. Most boys who end up there are into drugs within six to eight weeks of arriving and running them for the dealers. Most of the girls are being pimped out within six months as are some of the boys.
"If Tommy needs a home he can come here," Terry paused and looked at Mary, "can't he, luv?"
"Of course, he can, you twerp. You don't think I would leave my son's boyfriend on the streets, much less Stanford House, do you?"
Mark let out a sigh of relief because he had not had to bring up the subject of Tommy living with them; they had done it themselves. However, he did have to point out: "You know, it might not be that easy. Social Services may not be too keen on locating him outside the county."
"Don't see why not," Mary stated, "after all, after his father, I am his closest living relative."
"You're what?" Mark expressed surprise.
"Didn't you know? Tommy is my cousin, to be exact my first cousin once removed. His grandmother is my mother's sister."
"I presume," Mark queried, "that his grandmother is dead?"
"Yes, Aunt Bess died about a couple of years after Tommy's mother. She never got over what happened to Tommy's mother. Uncle Brian, her husband, went within months—just sort of gave up the ghost. Wasn't helped by the fact that Frank refused to allow them to see the boy.
"Anyway, that is the past, and we have the living to care for. We will be coming up to Sheffield tomorrow. Would like to get there early but there is no way we can leave before eleven. I'm dumping Shelly at the riding school with her friends, and she is going to spend the evening with a friend; I just have to pick her up before it gets too late. What time is visiting?"
Mark pulled out his smartphone and opened up an app. "It's different at the weekends—yes, two till four-thirty afternoon visits and six till eight-thirty evening visits. There is also a morning visiting slot for one hour from eleven to twelve."
"Don't think we can make it over for then, but we will be there for two," Terry stated.
"If you don't mind then, I'll go in the morning and tell him that you are coming."
"Not at all, Mark. Might be best as he won't die of shock when Connor walks in," Mary observed.
Mark was just leaving when Connor rode into the drive on his bike. There was a quick introduction, and Mary told Connor that they would be taking him to see Tommy tomorrow and that Mark had come to tell them what had happened. The boy was excited and wanted all the details there and then, but Mary put her foot down, telling him that Mr Wainwright needed to get home and that she would tell him everything once they were back in the house.
It had taken Terry and Mary almost two hours to first tell Connor what had happened to Thomas and then to get him calmed down. Eventually though, assured that they would be going to see Thomas in the morning, Connor had gone off up to bed, leaving Terry and Mary at the table.
"I'm sorry, dear," Terry stated, "I rather dropped it on you about having Tommy coming to live with us."
"That's fine," Marry commented, "what else could we have done? Left the kid in Stanford House. There is no way any relative of mine, no matter how distant, is going to end up there, never mind my son's boyfriend."
"It's going to mean an extra mouth to feed and a teenager to support and clothe; it's not going to be cheap. If I had known this was coming I would never have gone for this place; we could have got something smaller."
"And then, Terry, where would we have put Tommy?" Mary asked.
"Oh, we would have managed, he could have shared with Connor," Terry said.
"And have the boys fucking like rabbits all night?" Mary queried. "I think not. It will push us a bit having Tommy here but we will manage. You're on a lot more now than you were back in Sheffield. If it becomes too much of a strain, I can always look for a fulltime position."
After Connor's birth Mary had given up fulltime teaching. In recent years, since the children had got older, she had started to do part-time supply teaching. She had even spoken a couple of times about going back to it fulltime.
"Would it be just to help out with the finances?" Terry asked.
"No, I really love teaching but as a supply teacher you don't get the involvement with the kids. It would be great to get back into the classroom with my own class and not just cover someone else's."
"If that," stated Terry, "is what you want, then do it." Mary looked across at her man who was smiling at her.
"I will, Terry," she responded. "Not immediately but as soon as Shelly is in the upper school, which will be September. I'll start putting feelers out for a position on Monday."
About the time that Terry and Mary were having their talk over the kitchen table in Walsall, three men were also having a talk in London.
"That is very kind of you, Tagashi-san," Jonathan Wainwright commented. He was seated at a low table in a rather upmarket Japanese restaurant not far from Oxford Circus. Next to him was seated Dale Waters, the chief executive officer of Bettridge's. Across the table from the pair sat Hirato Tagashi, the European Marketing Director of a major Japanese conglomerate.
"Not at all," Hirato Tagashi responded. "It is clear that enabling a line of credit with our bank to you and your associates," he nodded in the direction of Dale, "will give you an incentive to move this forward to a swifter conclusion."
"It is still going to take time," Dale observed. "Mark Wainwright has a sentimental attachment to the works and we must be able to show there is no alternative to closing it when the time comes."
"Don't worry, Dale," Jonathan stated, "the old man's not interested that much. Hasn't been since Mum was taken ill. To be honest he does not seem to be interested in anything these days."
Hirato clapped his hands twice and a young lady came into the room. She refilled their glasses, not with sake but a fine Scottish single malt. Once she departed Hirato raised his glass. "To a successful takeover." The other two men joined him in the toast.
Copyright © 2016 Nigel Gordon – All rights reserved.