MUM ALWAYS SAID THAT DAD AND HIS FAMILY WERE MISCREANTS, but I never really knew what she meant until years later. A month or so before my thirteenth birthday, we left Liverpool and went to live with my Nana in Wales. When I asked Dad why, he said, “Because we’ve been evicted, and that whore mother of yours has left us.”
I didn’t try to defend her, knowing he’d only shout me down.
Nana lived in northeast Wales, near the Dee estuary. It was the summer of the long drought, 1976. I spent the first week thinking about Mum and gazing across the water. On clear days, you could see right across the Wirral shore and, sometimes, Liverpool shimmering beyond the haze.
I made friends with a boy my age called Luke and his older sister, Jodi. They gave me a tour of the town, told me who was who. As the weeks dragged on, we fell into a routine. We’d spend our mornings in a sleazy café called the Ritz. I was never sure whether the owners had named the place as a joke. The tea was cheap, though, and they didn’t seem to mind us hanging around. In the afternoons, we’d stroll down to the estuary, throw stones into the water. And when the tide was out, we’d see how far we could walk across the sands. We soon got bored of it, though, and those first few weeks seemed never-ending. Then Dad’s younger brother, Billy came home, making it a summer the whole town would remember.
I first met Billy one Saturday morning. I’d slept in late, woken by his raucous laughter. When I wandered into the kitchen, Billy leaned back into his chair, put his feet on the table and said, “Look what the cat’s dragged in.”
He was better looking than Dad, dressed a lot cooler too. He wore a faded denim shirt and flared jeans to match. He had blonde, shoulder-length hair, and the tiny gold star, hanging from his left ear, shone when it caught the light.
Nana placed a hand on my shoulder. “Scott, this is your uncle Billy, why don’t you say hello.”
I just nodded, not really knowing what else to say.
Billy smiled, then took something from his back pocket and held it in his fist. “Guess what I’ve got?”
I shrugged, more interested in the tattoos on his knuckles. He opened his hand, revealing a small silver coin. “Do you know what it is?”
I shook my head.
“An American dime, my lucky charm, I brought it back from the States.”
“You’ve been to America?”
“Yeah, a few years ago, ‘Frisco, New York, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.”
“Meet anyone famous?”
“A few, shared a beer with Lee Majors once – you know, the Six Million Dollar Man.”
“He’s not really bionic, you know.”
“Shit, no way? And there’s me thinking it’s a documentary.”
I liked him then. He was the first person to make me laugh in weeks.
That morning, after Nana went to town, Billy told me about his travels. The fights he’d had. The women he’d left behind. I thought how hard it must have been for him. All the things he’d done, and here he was trapped in this one-street town, just like me. He slipped his hand down the back of his jeans and pulled out a gun. “It’s a 38 Snubnose,” he said.
“Is it real?”
“Course it is, hold it if you like.”
I held it for a few seconds, then got scared and gave it back.
Billy winked. “Don’t say a word to your dad. This is between you and me.”
“Sure,” I said, sworn to keep his secrets. Then, just as I was about to ask Billy where he got it from, Dad walked in, causing Billy to sit up and take his feet off the table. Dad cast Billy a glance. “I heard you were back.”
Billy grinned. “Yep, it’s been in all the papers. They even announced it on the radio.”
Dad got himself a beer from the fridge, took a few long swigs, then said, “Still got that mouth on you, hey, so, what have you two been up to?”
“Just talking, trying to get to know my nephew.”
Dad shook his head and sighed. “Don’t go filling the boy’s head with shit. He’s already got a big imagination.”
I spent the next few days, following Billy around. He didn’t seem to mind, kept calling me his little shadow. We lay in the back garden, wearing nothing but shorts, baking beneath the sun. Sometimes I’d catch him staring at me, his eyes full of sadness. He’d say the strangest things, as though he knew what I was thinking. “You better get used to this shithole, Scott. Your mum’s not coming back, not if she’s got any sense.”
I didn’t speak for hours afterwards, kept my eyes fixed on the grass.
The things Billy said never bothered him. He didn’t seem to care who got hurt. Whenever I told Nana about it, she’d defend him, then tell me to stop sulking. It was always the case. In her eyes, Billy could do no wrong. I could see why she thought that. I felt it too, but it still didn’t make it right. She seemed happier when Billy was around, dressed nicer, and always laughing at his jokes. “When are you going to settle down?” she’d say. “A handsome boy like you should give his mother a grandchild.” Then she’d look straight through me as if I wasn’t there.
The following Saturday, Luke came around. He looked lost, said he hadn’t seen me for ages, wondered what I’d been up to.
“Nothing much,” I said.
He scraped the heel of his pump across the step. “I saw some rats near the estuary, show you if you like?”
I didn’t answer, and we just stared at each other for a while, caught in an awkward silence. As I wandered back inside, Billy blocked my way. “What’s all this about rats? You lads wait there. I’ll fetch my old 22.”
We took a shortcut to the estuary through the valley woods. Billy walked between us, the rifle strapped across his shoulder. He didn’t care if anyone saw him. Neither did I; it made me feel kind of recklessness, closer to Dad, too.
As we walked, Billy asked Luke some questions. The usual stuff: how old was he; did he have a girlfriend; what was he going to do when he left school. Luke didn’t say much at first. He blushed a lot, thought too much about his answers. Billy soon charmed him, though, and after a while, you couldn’t shut Luke up.
When we got to the old docks, we saw Jodi. She was sitting on the wall, listening to her transistor radio. She wore tight denim shorts and a yellow vest, her long, brown legs shining in the noonday sun. Billy put his fingers in his mouth and wolf-whistled, then said, “Jesus, look at that.”
“Look at what?” Luke said.
“That stunning blonde over there.”
Jodi waved at us, and Billy waved back. He gave Luke a nudge. “Do you know this girl?”
Luke frowned. “Yeah, that’s my sister Jodi.”
Billy shook his head. “I’d never have guessed. Luckily for her, there’s no similarity.” He placed a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “Come on then, introduce me.”
As we got closer, Jodi stood up and smoothed her hand over her hair. She was pretty I suppose. But for some reason, I never thought about her in that way, self-protection I guess. A seventeen-year-old girl would never be interested in me. She liked Billy, though. I could tell that by her smile and the way she looked at him when he spoke.
Billy gave me the rifle, took some pellets out of his pocket and held them in his hand. “Take ‘em, should be enough to last you.”
He studied me for a moment. “You know how to use it, right?”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ve gone shooting with Dad loads of times.”
Billy smiled. “Go and kill some rats then. Go on, the pair of you, I’ll wait here with Jodi.”
I did as he said, not really knowing where to go. I followed the coastal path,
Luke dragging his heels behind me. He kept mumbling and looking over his shoulder. I just ignored him and started walking faster, stopping when I reached the gate. While I waited for him to catch up, it felt strange standing there, stretches of fields on my left, and the blue-grey river on my right. I had no attachment to the place. I felt lost, those wide, open spaces giving me the saddest feeling.
As Luke stood in front of me, he asked me what was wrong. I stared into his moody face. “That’s what I was just about to ask you.”
“I’m fine, just thinking.”
“No, go on.”
He looked down at the grass. “How old’s your uncle?”
“Not that old, eighteen or nineteen at the most.”
Luke shook his head, “Looks in his twenties to me.”
“Twenty-one then, why d’you care?”
He held my stare for a moment, then looked across the fields. “We’re going the wrong way,” he said. “The rats are near the rocks.”
When he started walking back, I called after him. He didn’t turn around, just gestured for me to follow. I slung the rifle over my shoulder, thinking I’d have been better off staying at home.
We found Jodi sitting with Billy on the rocks, her arm around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder. They were singing along to the radio, Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Billy kept changing the words, replacing Jolene with Jodi, singing “I’m begging you, please let me be your man.”
We spent the next few days at the estuary, Luke and I wandering around the old docks while Billy spent his time with Jodi. Whenever I looked back, Billy had his arm around her, making her laugh and whispering into her ear. Sometimes they’d go for a walk, stopping before they reached the trees, settling into the long grass. Luke always asked if he could come, but Jodi told him never to follow. She seemed different now. She’d started wearing makeup, changed her hairstyle, which made her look older. That shy, considerate girl had disappeared, replaced by someone colder. It didn’t bother me. It affected Luke the most. He’d compete for her attention, contradicting everything Billy said. Yet Billy was too quick for him, always putting him down.
One afternoon, the four of us were sitting on the rocks, watching the shore glinting beneath the sun. Billy shielded his eyes against the light and pointed to the distant stretch of land. “You can drive all the way to the other side, you know when the tide’s out.”
“How d’you know?” I said.
“Done it, years ago, borrowed a friend’s Land Rover, drove right across the fucking sands.”
“Bullshit,” Luke said, “no way, and who do you know that has a Land Rover?”
Luke’s sudden outburst surprised us all, but Billy seemed shocked by it the most. I thought Billy was going to slap him, from what he’d told me, he’d beaten people up for less. But he just smiled, shook his head and rested a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “You need to calm down, Luke. Jodi told me what happens when you get upset; I don’t want you pissing the bed.”
Luke stood up and glared at Jodi, his eyes shining. “I’m going to tell Dad about you and him.” He sniffed back a tear. “I hate you, Jodi. What did you tell him that for?”
When Luke started walking toward the road, Jodi tried to follow. Billy grabbed her arm, forcing her to stay put. “Let him go, if he’s gonna give it out, he needs to learn to take it.”
We didn’t talk about it after that. We just sat on the rocks, listening to Jodi singing along to the radio.
The following Tuesday, I spent the whole morning watching the street from my bedroom window. I was waiting for Billy’s friend, Dave. He was a bricklayer, taking us to one of his jobs and paying us for a day’s work. I’d been pestering Dad to get me a job for weeks. I’ll see what I can do, he’d said, but when I asked Billy, he arranged it the same day. He told me the night before, woke me up to a bag of chips. “Dave owed me a favour,” he said, “so I decided to call it in.”
By midday, there was no sign of Dave. When I asked Billy if he was still coming, he told me to relax and wait. “He’s probably on another job. He’ll be here before one.”
Dad laughed when he heard this. “Sure he will, that’s if Dave exists.”
Billy glared at him. “Why would I lie?”
“I’ve no idea, but lying’s what you do.”
Billy sighed. “Why are you always at me?”
“Because I know what you’re like. I warned you; don’t go filling the lad’s head with your stories.”
“I’m not telling stories. Dave said he’d be here this morning.”
Billy paused. “Dave J . . . Dave Jacobs.”
Dad laughed again. “You know, the sad thing is I think you actually convince yourself this shit is true.”
Billy clenched his fists. “You need to watch your mouth.”
Dad walked over to him. “Or you’ll do what exactly?”
Billy didn’t say a word, just stormed out. I tried to chase after him, but Dad grabbed my arm. He stared at me for a second, and the tenderness in his eyes surprised me. His breath stank of beer, the smell growing stronger as I pleaded for him to let me go. He loosened his grip, almost causing me to fall over.
“I’ll be back later,” I said, pausing when I reached the door. I turned to face him. “It’s not Billy’s fault if Dave let him down. He’s only trying to help me. There’s no need to be jealous of him, you know.”
Dad shook his head and smiled, then told me to take care.
Billy had reached the estuary when I caught him up. His fists clenched, cursing under his breath. I wanted to ask if he was okay but guessed it would only make things worse. He didn’t say a word until we spotted Jodi. She was waiting at the old docks, sitting on an upturned boat. Two boys stood by her, smoking cigarettes.
“Who the hell are they?” Billy said.
I shrugged. “Friends from school, I guess.”
Billy handed me his jacket. “Hold this a minute. Let’s see what they’re up to.”
I trailed behind him, breaking into a jog as he started walking faster. The boys went quiet when they saw him. Jodi looked nervous too. Billy grabbed her hand and pulled her toward him, then slipped his arm around her waist. He snatched one of the boy’s cigarettes and put the lit end in his mouth, streams of smoke pouring through the filter. Then he handed it back. “That’s called shotgun,” he said, “now you try.”
The boy shook his head.
Billy grinned. “What’s wrong, blow-wave, afraid you might burn your hair?”
As the other boy stepped forward, I couldn’t keep my eyes off his t-shirt; it was a picture of Kung-Fu, walking barefoot across the sands.
Billy stared into the boy’s eyes. “What about you, Kwai Chang Caine? Why don’t you try?”
The boy took his cigarette out of his mouth and flicked it across the path. “Nah, not me, seems like a stupid thing to do.” He glanced at his friend and smiled, then said, “And the name’s Mikey by the way.”
Billy took his hand from Jodi’s waist, “Is that right, Mikey who?”
“Mikey Rowlands,” she said. “He’s Shane Rowlands younger brother.”
Billy shrugged. “So, is that supposed to mean something? I’ve never heard of either of them.”
Mikey motioned toward the path, but Billy blocked his way. “Where do you think you’re going? You owe me an apology.”
“Mouthing off, coming on to my girl.”
Jodi grabbed Billy’s hand. “Leave him alone. We were just talking. I’ve known Mikey for years; he’s a family friend. Shane works for my dad.”
Billy poked Mikey’s chest. “If he’s known you so long, then he needs to show more respect.”
I stood and watched, waiting for that Billy Star smile. Billy only fought men. These were just boys for Christ’s sake, a few years older than me. I knew any second now Billy would start laughing, tell us it was all a joke. But Billy kept on at him, poking and prodding until the tears welled in Mikey’s eyes.
I hardly saw Billy after that, just caught glimpses of him flitting in and out of the house. He never said much; it was almost as though he was avoiding me. The day before my thirteenth birthday, Nana told me to invite Luke to my birthday tea. I hadn’t seen him in ages, not since that time at the estuary. When I called at his house, his dad said he’d gone out. “He’s gone off on his bike somewhere,” he said, then asked if I’d seen Jodi.
I saw Luke twenty minutes later, pushing his bike up Moor Hill. I shouted his name a few times, and at first, he pretended not to hear me. When he turned around, I told him to wait for me at the top, and as we walked toward town, I asked if he was okay.
“Not bad,” he said.
“So why haven’t you been down to the estuary?”
“You know why.”
“Because of Billy, you’re still angry?”
He nodded, “With good reason too.”
“He was just having a laugh. You started it. Why do you hate him so much?”
“Because he’s too old for Jodi for a start, anyway it’s not just me. Half the town thinks he’s a prick. Dad won’t have him near the house.”
“Nobody thinks he’s a prick. What the hell do you know?”
“I know he’s never been to America.”
“So where did he get his Snubnose?”
“Another convict, I suppose. Dad said he just got out of jail.” Luke threw me a glance. “Snubnose . . . I bet it’s not even real.”
“It is too. Anyway, I bet your dad’s lying; he’s just trying to turn Jodi against him.”
“Billy’s the liar. He’s always bullshitting. Everyone around here thinks he’s a joke. That’s why they call him Billy Star.”
“They call him Billy Star ‘cause of his earring.”
Luke smiled. “Yeah, right, if you don’t believe me then just ask him.”
That night, Billy came home drunk. He brought me a bag of chips and asked if I fancied talking. He jabbered on like a machine gun. “Things are on the up,” he said, “especially since I met Jodi. That girl’s gonna be famous one day. Top twenty, I reckon, sings like a fucking angel.”
I mulled it over as I sucked the vinegar off my fingers. “She has a nice voice, I suppose; but she’s gonna have to wait.”
Billy snatched the chips from my hand. “Why?”
“She needs to finish her A-levels; that’s one more year of school.”
He handed me the bag, then lit a cigarette. He took a deep drag, blowing the smoke up at the ceiling. “She’s not doing her fucking ‘A’ levels; she’s coming to London with me.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a job lined up. A guy I know has his own recording studio. It’s a surprise, so don’t you say a thing.”
I didn’t answer, keeping quiet until Billy asked me what was wrong.
“Cheer up, then. Tomorrow’s your birthday. I’ve got a special day planned. I’m gonna drive you across the sands, then take you to my favourite pub.”
I sat up, beaming, hoping it was all true. “Whose car are you using? What if the pub won’t serve me?”
“Just simmer down. Get some rest. Leave the details to me.”
I lay back and closed my eyes, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep. The night was so quiet, and you could hear the rumble of the trains in the distance. I knew what Luke had said wasn’t true, but I still couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Billy?”
“Why do they call you Billy Star?”
He didn’t answer for a while, then said, “Because I’m a bright light, shining in the darkness.”
When I woke the next morning, Billy was already up. I pulled on some clothes and went downstairs, expecting to see him in his chair. The house was empty, and as I wandered into the kitchen, I found three unopened cards lying flat on the table. The first card I opened was from Dad, a cheap one from the market, a pastel drawing of a boat. He’d written ALL THE BEST inside and given me a crumpled fiver. Nana’s card looked almost the same, but she’d only given me a quid. Mum’s card was the biggest. It had my name and address on the envelope written in blue ink. It was a nice card too, a picture of a red Ferrari. I thought she would have written me a note, explaining why she left. But all she put was Love Mum P.S. I miss you. She sent me twenty quid, though, a fortune back then, and I kept bragging about it to Nana and Dad the moment they came in.
Nana insisted I give it to her. “I’ll look after it for you. It’s a lot for a boy of your age to be carrying around.”
I didn’t answer her, turning away when she said, “Don’t look at me like that; I’ll give it you back, as soon as you see something you want.”
Before handing it over, I made a mark on it with a blue Biro, so I’d know which one it was.
Nana didn’t like that. “This boy’s just like his mother,” she said. “But where is she today, hey? If it were left to her, he’d have no party.”
Dad sighed. “Scott never meant any harm. Let’s not ruin his day.”
Nana put the twenty in her purse and snapped it shut. “You should have seen the look he gave me. It’s your fault for spoiling him.”
Dad forced a laugh. “You’re a fine one to talk.”
“What do you mean?”
“You spoiled Billy rotten. That’s why he’s like he is.”
“There’s nothing wrong with him; just you leave him alone. You’re always going on at him.”
“And why’s that I wonder?”
They carried on like this for a while, Dad growing more frustrated, Nana refusing to let it go. I grew tired of it in the end and sloped off into the garden. I spent a few hours there, swinging back and forth on the gate, waiting for Billy to show.
About 4.30 Nana called me in for tea. My birthday spread as Dad called it. It was nothing more than a few bowls of crisps, a half-set jelly, and a pile of beef paste sandwiches. At least, they’d bought me a cake: a jam sponge with thirteen candles. I tried my best to tuck in, didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I ate some crisps, chewed the middle from a sandwich.
Nana shook her head. “I don’t know why I bothered; you pair haven’t touched a thing.”
We didn’t answer. Then Dad flicked open his lighter and lit the candles. “Blow them out in one, Scott. Then make a wish, but keep it to yourself.”
I wished for Mum to come and fetch me, but as Billy came strolling into the house, I settled for the next best thing.
Billy rested his hands on Nana’s shoulders, kissed her cheek. She placed a hand on his, smiling as she squeezed his fingers. Deep down I knew he’d come. No matter what Luke or Dad said about him, I knew he wouldn’t let me down. He walked over to me and ruffled my hair, then started singing Happy Birthday. He sang it in a strange, high-pitched voice, which even made Dad smile.
Nana laughed the loudest, though. “Thank God you’re here. Now it feels like a party.”
Billy grabbed some crisps. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world; Scott’s my favourite nephew.”
“So you’ve got him something special then,” Dad said, “saving it till now because I didn’t see your card on the table.”
“Shit,” Billy said. “I knew there was something.” He looked at me and smiled. “Sorry, Bud. My head’s all over the place. I’ve gone and left your present in my mate’s.”
Dad scraped back his chair, shook his head, and went outside for a smoke.
“That’s all right,” I said.
Nana smiled. “Course it is, Billy will give it to you in the morning.”
She started clearing the table, then Billy said, “Mum, I really need to speak with you.”
Nana froze and gripped the paper plate. “Why? What’s happened now?”
“Nothing,” Billy said. “Just need to tell you something that’s all.”
She walked over to the sink, and with her back turned said, “You best tell me now. Scott, you go outside and play.”
I did as I was told, leaving the door slightly open. Dad sat on the steps, smoking a cigarette, staring into next door’s garden. He turned to face me, flicked the ash from his clothes, “You all right?”
I nodded and looked back into the house. Billy was standing with Nana at the sink. She was crying, and he had his hands on her shoulders. “I know,” he said in a hushed voice. “I won’t let you down. This time, it’ll be different.”
He stopped talking when he saw me. Then he whispered something into Nana’s ear, causing her to turn around and slam the door.
“Jesus,” Dad said, “what the hell’s wrong with her now?”
I shrugged. “Billy wanted to tell her something.”
Dad stubbed out his cigarette. “Here we go again.”
Then Nana came outside, wiping her eyes as she asked Dad if she could have a word. I followed them into the house. There was no sign of Billy, and I had to ask Nana several times before she answered me.
“Will you stop mythering me, child. Billy’s gone.” She broke into tears. “God knows when he’s coming back.”
I rushed outside, Dad calling after me. I didn’t answer, just kept running, racing through the avenues, never once stopping for breath. I caught Billy up at the fire station. He turned around and waited for me by the wall. “You’re fast on your feet,” he said. “For a moment, I thought it was Steve Austin.”
I didn’t answer. I just stared at the sports bag slung over his shoulder.
Billy caught my glance. “I was going to send you a postcard. I hate goodbyes, always get over emotional.”
“No worries,” I said. “But we can still go to your favourite pub.”
Billy shook his head. “I doubt if they’d serve you, another time perhaps. Listen, I’ve got to get going. I’m meeting Jodi at the station.”
“What about the Land Rover. I thought you were driving?”
Billy looked away. “Nah, my contact let me down. Anyway, the train will be more fun.”
I nodded. “Do you mind if I see you off?”
Billy laughed. “It seems I don’t have any choice.”
As we walked, Billy kept telling me to hurry up. “Can’t afford to be late, there isn’t a direct train for hours after this one.”
I was going as fast as I could. He was being a bit harsh, considering it was my birthday. I grew angrier the more I thought about it, then told him I was heading back.
“See ya then,” he said, didn’t even ask me what was wrong.
“Oh, and thanks for the drink by the way, and the present you got me for my birthday.”
Billy gave me a dirty look. Then, as he was about to say something, a tan coloured Austin Maxi pulled up alongside us. I recognised Jodi’s dad the moment he wound down the window. “How’s it going, Scott?”
“Fine thanks, Mr Harrison.”
He looked really pissed off, so did the guy sitting next to him.
They got out of the car and walked toward us.
Billy motioned toward the kerb, and Mr Harrison blocked his way. “Hey, Billy, where you off to?”
Billy grinned. “That’s my business.”
“Don’t try to be smart,” the other guy said. “Mr Harrison asked you a question.”
Billy shifted the strap on his shoulder. “And I answered him. Anyway, I’ll be as smart as I like. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Shane Rowlands. I believe you’ve already met my younger brother Mikey.”
Mr Harrison grabbed Shane’s arm. “Thing is, Billy,” he said. “You’re old enough to be as smart as you like. But that doesn’t apply to Jodi.”
Billy lifted the bag from his shoulder and dropped it on the pavement. “Jodi’s seventeen for Christ’s sake. You make her sound like a baby.”
“She still is to her mum and me. That’s why she isn’t going to London.”
Billy sucked the air through his teeth. “You should let her make up her own mind.”
Mr Harrison’s jaw tightened. “I will, after her exams, when she’s finished her degree.”
Billy sighed. “Let’s see what Jodi has to say about it.”
Mr Harrison shook his head. “No, Billy. You can’t see her anymore, just keep away.”
“Yeah right, just you try and stop me.”
Mr Harrison stepped aside, allowing Shane through. Shane was tall and broad almost as big as Dad. When he pressed his forehead into the bridge of Billy’s nose, I thought Billy would go crazy. But he didn’t do a thing, and when Shane stared into his eyes, Billy just looked away.
Shane grabbed Billy’s shirt, “You bullshitting little prick. You’re a fucking joke, picking on kids, stealing their cigarettes. Just do as you’re told and keep away from Jodi.” He slapped Billy’s face. “Answer me then, for Christ’s sake.”
Shane slapped him again. “Now tell me you’re a little shit, and you’ll keep away from Jodi.”
“I’m a little shit,” Billy said, his voice trembling.
“I’ll keep away from Jodi.”
Shane let go of Billy’s shirt and shoved him against the hedge. He kept staring at Billy as he walked back to the car, still watching him as they drove away.
When Billy grabbed his bag and turned around, I started walking alongside him. We didn’t speak for ages, and just before we reached town, Billy took a left down a side street. He stopped and lit a cigarette, his hand shaking. He took long, deep drags, cursing as he breathed out the smoke, “Fucking wanker. I’ll fucking teach him.”
Tears welled in Billy’s eyes, so I asked if he was okay.
“I’m fine, just angry.” He flicked his cigarette across the road. “I wasn’t scared of him you know, just played along with it. I was gonna knock the prick out. But I’ve got to be careful, one more slip I’d be back inside. I’m still on probation.” He stared at me for a moment. “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
“Good, lad, I know you can keep a secret.”
“What we gonna do now?”
“We’re doing nothing,” he said. “You’re going home, and I’m going for a drink.”
A strange thing happened to me that night. Half an hour before the police came, I woke up. I felt empty inside; it was the saddest feeling. I climbed over to Billy’s bed and stuck my head out of the window. The air was warm. An amber lit haze shone in the nighttime sky. I heard the rush of traffic. A dog barked. Then sirens blared in the distance. It seemed to be coming from the estuary, and when I looked toward the sands, I saw glimpses of blue flashing lights. Then a police car pulled up in front of the house. My heart thumping as they hammered on the door.
The doctor gave Nana Valium that night. The news about Billy was too much for her. After the police had left, Dad stood by the front door drinking. He kept looking at me over his shoulder, his sad eyes glistening.
We didn’t sleep that night. In fact, we didn’t sleep much for weeks.
The news about Billy was all over town. People spoke about nothing else, especially after his and Jodi’s funeral. Billy was drunk, or so they said, when he’d knocked on Shane Rowlands’s door and shot him in the head. They said he’d forced Jodi to come with him, steal her Dad’s keys, but I knew that wasn’t true. They said he was driving over 90 mph before he died, then lost control of the car and flipped it over the rocks. Most wondered what he was doing there. But only I knew the truth. Realising he’d tried to beat the tide and drive across those endless sands. I never said anything, though, even when the police questioned me.
“Is there anything you can tell us, Scott?” they said. “Did he say anything to you that night?”
But I just shook my head, and, just like I promised Billy, I didn’t say a thing.