His first night back in Big Bill’s house, Streak couldn’t sleep. It was too quiet. When he was a boy, when he’d first come to live under this roof, it had been too quiet then, too. When Bill wasn’t fighting with Fiona at any rate. She’d put a telly in his room, “to keep him company”. He’d learned to fall asleep to whatever old movie was playing, as if they were bedtime stories. Even so, it had taken him a long time to adjust to the sounds of a prison at night, lying in his bunk with that thin pillow pressed against his ears, but he’d finally done it. He’d turned the cacophony inside Greenock into just another movie.
Now it was quiet again, especially since Fiona was long gone, except for the ticking of the pendulum on that pretentious grandfather clock in the hall. He wondered what had happened to his old television, thinking it was just possible that Bill had tossed it out a window simply because it had to do with Will’s mother and resolved to get another one post haste.
Four years ago, he hadn’t been much of a reader, but if nothing else, prison gave him an appreciation for the company a good book could provide and he’d developed a voracious habit. There were none in his room. He’d have to do something about that as well.
Since his thoughts were chasing themselves around in his brain, he grabbed the nicest one and settled on it. Dave. Davina. All the years we ran with Gordo, how did I miss her?
His fingers reached up, of their own volition, to trace the planes of the face that wasn’t there. He wondered if her skin was as soft as it looked and what it would feel like to have his hands stuck in all of that glossy brown hair… You’re a pure goon, man! Weems1 definitely had you pegged. It’s been way, way too long. So yer gonna go all feely for the first lassie you run across? Jesus, she’s got a brother inside. What the fuck does she need with the likes a’ me?
Streak got up, jumped into his jeans then grabbed his smokes from the dresser and went downstairs to find a movie to watch.
He woke up on the sofa when Will kicked his foot.
“Oh good, you’re awake. Here.” He handed Streak one of the two mugs he was holding. “You look like shit.”
“Morning to you, too.” Streak sat up and rubbed a hand over his face and the top of his head. “What time is it?”
“Early. I’d have let you sleep, since you obviously need it, but His Lordship’s already asking for you.”
“Lovely.” He gulped down his coffee before asking, “Do I have time to put on a shirt?”
A couple of hours later they were headed up the M8 to Port Glasgow on an errand that Bill could have had any of no less than twenty other men carry out for him. It was also back in toward Greenock, in the direction from which Streak had just come about twenty four hours earlier. At least Will let him drive.
“This is the ‘business’ that couldn’t wait it had to be the first thing he said to me? This is shite and you know it. Is he testing me?”
“Maybe he just wanted to ease you back into things and put some coins in your pocket.” Will shrugged, “Who knows why he does or says anything?”
“And you had to come along? Is this what you’ve been doin’ for him the last four years?” Will shook his head and looked out his window. “Didn’t think so. So what? Are you mindin’ me now?”
“I asked for the job.” Will stabbed his cigarette out in the truck’s ashtray. “You could make it easier on yourself if you’d let me tell him what you did…”
“For fuck’s sake Weems, he knows. Of course he knows. He doesn’t care.”
They both knew Streak was right, but Will needed to have this conversation as much as Streak wanted to avoid it. “Why wouldn’t he say?”
“Say what? ‘Thank you, Streak for taking the fall for my boy and not grassing him up with the coppers so you two could have adjoining cells.’ Not bloody likely. One, he’d have to admit that we were both fuck-ups – not for doing the crime a’ course, but for doing it without his permission and then bollocksing the thing up so very badly and getting nicked in the bargain. This way it’s just me. And two, he thinks I owe him. And I do, don’t I?”
“Is that why?” Will didn’t feel guilty about many of the things he’d done thus far in his life, but letting Streak talk him into keeping his mouth shut was close to the top of the list.
Streak’s knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel. “I’m gonna say this just once more. There was no point. It was all down to me anyway. I got us the job. When Jimmy flaked I shoulda called it off. Where’s he, now we’re at it?”
“Nowhere near here and wherever he is, he better stay there.” Streak gave him a side-eye. “I had nothin’ to do with it.”
“Right, whatever, my fault it all went tits up.”
“Saint Streak of Bishopbriggs.”
“Fuck you.” Streak pulled off the road and up to a café then threw the truck into park. “Heard you did a year in Low Moss anyway.”
Will wasn’t at all surprised that Streak had managed to keep abreast of at least some of what had been going on in his absence. He hadn’t even needed to ask what for. Will nodded, “Yeah, no big.”
“You get pinched on purpose?”
“What, you think I’m a martyr?” Will knew Streak wasn’t serious, and Low Moss was a cake walk compared to Greenock. They both knew that, too.
“Listen, I’m done. You wanna make it up to me, go in and get me a coffee.”
Will opened his door to get out but stopped to throw over his shoulder, “Then we’re even, yeah?”
“Not even close.”
While Will was inside, probably chatting up whoever was at the counter, Streak pulled out the mobile he’d been given that morning. He stared at it for a minute then punched in a number, hoping he’d remembered it correctly. After a few rings, Dave’s voice came on the line informing him that the shop was closed. He looked at the clock on the dash. “It’s only nine AM, ya numpty.” At the sound of the beep, he did not leave his name and number as requested. Instead he ended the call and sat there wondering why he’d made it in the first place. “What the hell did you think you were gonna say?”
Will chose that moment to open the door and toss in a white paperbag containing whatever the girl – there was always a girl – had given him. “Who’re you talking to?”
“No one.” Will had barely pulled his leg in before Streak had the car in gear. “Let’s get this over with.”
A few nights later, Streak was in his room shelving the new paperbacks he’d acquired that afternoon, wondering how long he was going to have to keep doing scut work for the old man before he gave him something of any importance to do. Leave it to Big Mac MacKenzie to punish him for doing what any sane person, villain or no, would consider a good deed. A rap at the door interrupted his thoughts. “Yeah?”
“It’s me. Is it safe?” Will thought he was funny, but his Laurence Olivier-in-Marathon Man-impression was terrible. He opened the door without waiting for an answer.
“When are you gonna give that up? You suck at voices.”
“If it still irritates you, I have a future. Get dressed, we’re goin’ out.”
“Who’s we and where are we going?”
Will sat on the bed and leaned back on his elbows, “You, me, some a’ the boys. Pub.”
Streak plucked a used Ray Bradbury from his small collection, “Pass.”
“C’mon man, you need to…”
“Take the needle off, your record’s starting to skip.”
“Twice. I’ve said it twice. And you know I’m right.”
Streak already had his arm cocked, the book still in his hand, “Say it again.” Will, obviously not worried, didn’t move. “You’re buyin’.”
“There’s a surprise.” At the door, Will turned around to ask, “You have anything to wear?”
“Not on your level, GQ, but I have been out in public before.”
“Just so long as you don’t embarrass me.” The book narrowly missed Will’s head.
They’d commandeered a table near the darts and were into their second round when he saw her. This couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Did you do this?”
Will followed Streak’s line of sight across the room. “I swear I didn’t. I’m not yer pimp. You’re interested, do something about it.” When all Streak did was stare at him, he knocked back his drink,“You don’t, I will”, and looked like he was about to get up.
“Sit the fuck down.” Streak wasn’t sure he believed any part of what Will had just said, but there she was and now was definitely not the time for discussion. Opportunity had presented itself, it was time to man up. Especially with these muppets watching. He finished his own drink and left the table.
Davina was with her own group of friends. No male company so he was reasonably sure she wasn’t on a date. The smile she gave him seemed to bear that out. “Hello.”
“Hey. I don’t know if -”
“Streak. That’s not exactly a name one forgets.”
He thought so, too. It’s one of the reason’s he’d chosen it. It didn’t prevent him from giving himself a mental fist-pump all the same. “I uh, wanted to thank you for your help the other day.”
“I didn’t do anything except take your money.”
You have no idea. “Yeah, well, can I buy you a drink?” He circled the table with finger, “A round?” To their credit and his relief, the other three didn’t blink, but the one on Dave’s right gave her an elbow before nearly shoving her out of the booth.
“I think they’re fine,” she laughed and smoothed her skirt over her hips. “We could sit at the bar?”
There was only one seat left, but Streak didn’t mind standing, especially since it meant he’d have to lean in to hear her over the din.
Once she had her drink – a G & T, with ice – in front of her, Davina asked, “So are you a fan of George Michael’s entire oeuvre or just the post-Wham years?”
“I told you that were a gift for a mate.”
Davina managed to sound both amused and skeptical, “Oh right, Brit Pop and vintage vinyl.”
Will liked the kind of music his mother Fiona used to play. Streak and ‘her wee Bill’ used to dance with her when Big Bill was out.
“Well, that last is all me. I’ve been tryin’ to show him the beauty…” Davina’s brown eyes caught the glow from the neon signs above the bar and he started thinking about a different kind of beauty altogether. She was waiting for him to finish his thought. “I prefer actual records, the way they feel in your hands, the covers with pictures you can see and lyrics you can read. You’d be amazed at what you can pick up from liner notes.”
Davina was watching him, leaning an arm on the bar with her head resting on her hand, an indulgent smile on her lips. He shrugged, “I like old stuff. It’s why I like yer Da’s shop. Always have.”
“It’s my shop now. Gordon’s and mine. We lost Da about six months back.”
“I didn’t know. I’m sorry. Cha bhithidh a leithid ami riamh2.”
“Thanks.” She blew out a breath and signaled to the bartender for two more. “Anyway, while Gordo’s away, it’s down to me.”
Streak wanted to ask what Gordon had been nicked for this time, but that would have invited too many questions about his own history with Her Majesty’s prison system, and he wanted to put that off for as long as possible. Instead he asked, “You mind it?”
“No. Not really. It’s quiet most days. I can read, listen to all the music I want. Not a bad gig – while it lasts. When I came home to help, I never thought it would be permanent. Besides, we’re not exactly swimming in it.”
“Then what?” He was staring at her mouth. Tonight, the color matched her fingertips.
“Go back to school, travel the world. Haven’t decided.” She held up her glass then tapped it against his, “The world is mine, yeah?”
“Sure.” He wasn’t thinking much beyond wanting to kiss her.
“You know John Trotter?”
Taken aback, that brought his eyes back to hers. “Yeah, course. Why?”
“I thought you probably did, since he’s with MacKenzie and all…”
“What’s he to you?” Streak couldn’t help it, caution was second nature whenever “outsiders” brought up Big Bill. And he felt not a little protective of John.
“Relax,” she sucked an ice cube from her glass and crunched it. “He’s been helping out a bit –“
“Well, I’ve not got him working the register. Just,” she shrugged, “keepin’ the wolf from the door and all.”
“You brought it up, so you won’t mind me askin’, why would he do that?”
“He and my Da were mates. Since they were kids.”
“No shite?” How it was that he didn’t know that, made him wonder what else he’d missed and whether he’d been sleepwalking through his former life.
“They used to talk jazz while they worked on their bikes. Da helped John rebuild that Indian.”
“Wow. I had no idea. That’s ole Jock’s pride and joy.”
Dave’s smile softened, “I was sorry to hear about Mary. She was lovely.”
Streak was starting to feel like she knew more about the people in his life than he did. What’d you expect? The world would stop spinning because you weren’t in it? He nodded and wished he had a cigarette to keep his hands busy. “I just found out.” It would always be one of the biggest regrets of his life that he wasn’t around for her, or for John. “Missed the funeral. Obviously.” Neither one of them spoke until he abruptly asked, “You wanna dance?”
She gave him that throaty laugh he liked, “I, uh, don’t really dance. Are you gonna tell me that you do?”
“A bit, yeah.”
“Not much call for it lately, though.”
Was she laughing at him? He decided he didn’t care and reached for her hand. “C’mon.”
Streak tossed and turned, flipping his pillow to find a cool spot, throwing the covers off, kicking his legs in frustration. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, whispered “Fuck!” and punched the mattress. He got up and lit a cigarette before going down to the kitchen for a bottled water.
His skin was hot, burning, as he ran his hands over his chest and his stomach, imagining they were her hands. He thought about the brief moments he’d had his hands on her while they danced, how his body had pressed against hers. He’d kissed her and she’d responded. She’d taken his hand and led him to the back of the pub and a quiet corner where they’d resumed a sort of private dance. He was the one who stopped it. There was no way his first time with a woman in four years was going to be against a wall in some dingy bar. And sure as hell not with this woman. She had an early train to catch down to London in the morning anyway. But she’d given him her number and they both knew he’d use it.
That was small comfort at this moment. He licked his lips, remembering the taste of her, the feel of her mouth on his.
His belly felt like it was full of snakes as he stumbled back upstairs to his room. Flat on his back her face swam in front of his closed eyes as his hand moved over his stomach, lower, lower… He gnashed his teeth and bucked his hips, straining toward release. He grabbed a pillow and pushed it down over his face to muffle the cry that seemed to come from his toes.
When it was over and his body had calmed he staggered into the bathroom and stripped off his boxers. He turned on the water and stepped under the spray, turning the knob all the way over to cold.
Leaning on the tile with both hands as the water cascaded over his head and his back he vowed to get himself under control…and his own place as soon as he could manage it.
To be continued…
1 John William Faraday Mackenzie, Jr. –also known as Wee Mac or Wee Bill, both of which he hates. Known to most as Will. Streak calls him “Weems” as a contraction of Wee Mac. He’s the only one who does.
2 Traditional Gaelic tribute to someone departed: “His like will never be among us again.”