Read You Against Me Online

Authors: Jenny Downham

You Against Me (5 page)

But at the gate, even Jacko was silenced. They stood open-mouthed, taking it in. The house was lit up like Christmas, with fairy lights strung in the trees and torches with real flames staked along the path.

Jacko whistled. ‘Man, they’ve gone to town!’

‘They’ve got no shame. I told you.’

The place seemed even bigger than before. There must be at least five bedrooms and the lawn wrapped itself round the whole house. There were flowers that showed up their colours even in the dark, like flowers from a shop stuck in the earth. The windows seemed bigger too, all glaring with light. They obviously didn’t worry about heating bills, could just chuck cash away, probably had radiators at full blast and doors open and everything on standby all night long. There was a confidence to it that Mikey admired and hated at the same time – how come some people had so much? How come some kids got this for free?

‘You think they’ll suss we don’t belong?’ he said.

Jacko screwed up his forehead and looked offended. ‘We belong everywhere.’

‘What about the scratched-up Jag? You think they’ll know it was me?’

‘Nah, plenty of people hate the guy. Just keep the spanner out of sight.’ Jacko drew in a last chestful of smoke before chucking his fag on the gravel. ‘Right, remember what we said? First one to see him sends the other a text, then we reconvene for phase two.’

Mikey checked his mobile. He supposed it was some kind of plan.

Jacko went first, straight through the front door and inside like he knew the place. Mikey made his way round the side, following a trickle of guests just arriving. Round the back of the house, the garden opened up. It felt different from the front, almost tropical, with heaters belching out hot air and the grass still wet from the rain.

There were masses of people – adults as well as kids standing in groups on the lawn, others sitting at tables in a marquee with drinks and plates of food. Mikey was stunned by the effort that had gone into this.

He grabbed a beer from a woman with a tray and knocked half of it back. He wondered if anyone from school would recognize him. It’d been two years since he left and these kids were the ones who went on to college, so it was unlikely. He took another gulp of beer and tried to concentrate.
Find Tom Parker
, that was the plan.
Tell Jacko when he had
.

There was a group of boys sitting at one of the tables, there were more queuing for food, another group swigging beer over by the fence. They all had that posh look Mikey was expecting to find, but none matched the pixellated photo Jacko had shown him in the car.

He walked round the garden once, a whole circuit. Music pumped out from speakers, the leaves on the trees shivered, the grass thumped under his feet. He hated all these people in their smart clothes, with their wine and champagne. He thought of his sisters at home – Holly drawing crazy pictures with colours like mud and grey. Karyn trying to make dinner with no food in the house. Mum asleep. These people didn’t care about his family at all. They were here to support Tom Parker. In fact, they were probably laughing at Karyn. Whispering about her, nudging each other. It was unforgivable.

A girl wobbled by on very high heels. She was drunk, he could see that.

‘Hey,’ he said, ‘I’m looking for Tom Parker. You know him?’

She stopped and smiled. Her eyes were dark and drawn round the edge in blue. ‘Who are you?’

He couldn’t stumble at the first hurdle. ‘Joe.’ He had to be someone other than himself and he knew he’d never see her again.

‘You’re very good-looking.’

‘So, do you know where Tom is?’

She waved her arm in the vague direction of the house. ‘Somewhere. How do you know him?’

‘College.’ Second time today and it was beginning to sound true.

She leaned in to him as if she had a secret. ‘You want to kiss me?’ ‘Not really.’

She laughed, puckered her lips and moved in closer. ‘I bet you do.’

He looked about, but no one was taking any notice. He could pick her up and carry her off. He could drag her behind the marquee where it was dark and do whatever he liked to her. He could say she wanted it, that she asked for it.

‘Come on,’ the girl said. ‘Kiss me then.’

Was this how trashed Karyn was that night?

He nudged her off. ‘I don’t want to.’

She looked insulted. ‘Don’t you like me?’

He gave her a peck on the cheek to shut her up. Her skin tasted expensive. He told her he’d see her later, though he’d run if he saw her coming. He waved her off and fumbled for his phone. He couldn’t do this. He shouldn’t be here. This was the stupidest idea he’d ever had.

Just as he was texting him, Jacko appeared. ‘Target located,’ he said.

‘What?’

Jacko nodded at a tall boy loping across the grass towards a group of men. ‘I’ve been tailing him for five minutes. It’s definitely him.’

Tom Parker looked like a tosser – shirt and tie, schoolboy hair, shaking hands with all the adults. Looking at him made Mikey want to puke, made the knot in his gut tighten.

‘Let’s get him.’

But before he could move, Jacko caught him, said, ‘Whoa! That’s
not
the plan.’

‘Bollocks to the plan!’ Mikey tried to shake him off. ‘Let go of me. I’m sick of this.’

‘You whack him now, you’ll get arrested,’ Jacko hissed. ‘How’s that going to help Karyn?’

Mikey shoved him off. ‘It’s gonna help me!’

A woman walked past and looked curiously at them. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Everything all right?’

‘Perfect,’ Jacko said, putting his arm round Mikey and reining him in. ‘We were just saying what a lovely evening for a bail bash.’

The woman moved away, frowning slightly.

Mikey shrugged Jacko off again. ‘I hate this place.’

‘I know, I know.’

‘I hate him too. Look at him – surrounded by suits and still untouchable. He’s getting away with everything!’

Jacko sighed, opened his coat, pulled out a bottle and passed it to Mikey. ‘I also located the drinks cabinet. I think you’ll find this twenty-five-year-old malt whisky will clear your mind.’

Mikey took three long gulps. It flamed in his throat, warmed his belly. It was good to sink inside the feeling that somehow this was all going to work out. He took another gulp, and another.

Jacko smiled. ‘Better?’

Mikey nodded. He was thinking of his mum with her morning Valium. For the first time he understood why she talked about taking the edge off the terror.

‘He’s the centre of attention,’ Jacko said, ‘so we need to stay calm and move on to phase two.’ He winked. ‘You get to do what you’re best at, Mikey, and talk to girls. We need tactical intelligence – does he do martial arts? Is he left or right-handed? Has he got brothers and are they here? The usual stuff. I’ll keep a visual and gather data as I tail him. We both need to suss out the best location for phase three – preferably somewhere dark and quiet with good escape routes.’ He checked his watch. ‘We’ll reconvene on this position in an hour.’

Mikey felt momentarily dizzy. He rubbed his eyes. It would be great to pretend this was an ordinary night, that they’d crashed some random party, that he was here on the pull.

Jacko pressed the whisky bottle on him. ‘Keep this, it’s doing you good. Think of the Vikings, Mikey. Free booze. Posh birds. We’re here to plunder.’

Mikey shook his head as Jacko walked backwards away from him. ‘The Vikings?’

‘Yep. And don’t worry, the face-to-face thing’s gonna happen. We’ll perforate him at the end, when it’s quiet.’ He tapped a finger to his head. ‘Stay frosty.’

Mikey took another swig of whisky and watched the clouds. Soon it would rain again. A downpour would be good – wet people rushing back to cars, the whole party ruined. Tom Parker would be left alone. An easy target.

Mikey scanned the lawn, looking for him, but he’d gone now, the circle of men broken up. There was the drunk girl again, moving slowly along the fence, staring at her own feet. She wouldn’t be any help.

But there – who was that? On the bench, underneath that tree. Lanterns swayed above her, people everywhere, and her simply sitting there, the one still point. Mikey put the whisky in his pocket, plucked two beers from a waitress and smiled. He knew this girl. She’d opened the door to him earlier. She was Tom Parker’s sister.

Seven

When he got to the bench, she looked up, but didn’t smile.

‘Mind if I sit down?’ he said.

She shrugged, as if she didn’t care either way, and slid along to make room. He put the beers on the bench between them. ‘One of these is for you.’

‘No thanks.’ Her voice was softer than he remembered.

He took out his tobacco and rolled a thin one, offered it across. ‘Smoke?’

She shook her head.

‘So,’ he said, ‘not in a party mood then?’

‘Not particularly.’

‘Missing revision?’

He meant it as a joke, but she didn’t get it. ‘It’s not that, it’s just, I never expected it to be so …’

She let the sentence drop.

A group of girls cheered as some Lady Gaga song suddenly blared from the speakers outside the marquee. They started dancing, singing along to the words and pointing their fingers at the sky. A couple of boys stood watching and one of the girls wiggled her arse at them. Adults stood about on the grass, leaning towards each other in deep conversation. It was like there were two parties happening at once.

‘Your brother knows a lot of people,’ he said.

She sighed. ‘Never underestimate the power of curiosity.’

‘Are any of your friends here?’

‘I didn’t invite anyone.’

‘You invited me.’

‘Apart from you.’

She slid a fraction further away to show her utter lack of interest. He smiled. This would be a breeze.

‘Where’s your boyfriend then? Is he here?’

She frowned. ‘Who?’

‘Just thought you’d be with someone. Looking like you do.’

‘No.’

Mikey inhaled, exhaled. He knew it was up to him to say something else, but most girls would’ve laughed when he mentioned a boyfriend, would’ve been flattered. Now everything that came into his head sounded fake. He sat and smoked and tried to work out what to do next.

It was solved for him – her phone rang and she stood up to fish it out of her pocket. ‘Tom, yeah, I did text you,’ she said. ‘Because I couldn’t see you anywhere, that’s why. This is madness. Do you even know half these people?’ She glanced back at Mikey only briefly before walking off down the slope. When she got to the fence, she opened a gate he hadn’t even known was there and disappeared through it. Now what did he do?

Across the grass, Jacko was talking to some bloke in a suit and tie. He was taking his responsibilities seriously by the look of it – nodding and smiling, asking questions, gathering information. Mikey felt his throat tighten. That Jacko would do this for him when it wasn’t even his fight – it was like having a brother.

He stood up, determined. He was going to walk across the grass and go through that gate and make Tom Parker’s sister talk.

As he crossed the lawn, he realized how massive this garden was. Holly would love to live in a place like this – so big she could have her own frigging football pitch. Beyond the fence was the river, so that gate must be a private entrance to it. He imagined him and Holly running down this slope to their boat, jumping in whenever they wanted and getting the hell out of this town.

The lights from the party didn’t reach the river, but he could still see the girl through the gate. She was off the phone now, standing there gazing across the water. A train was moving slowly along the tracks on the other side of the river. Its lights splashed the grass at her feet, her face lit up for a second and then went dark again. He’d envy this party if he was on that train – the marquee, the music, the enormity of the place. Funny how things could seem better from far away.

Before he even got through the gate she said, ‘You shouldn’t sneak up on people in the dark.’

‘I wasn’t.’

‘Yeah, you were.’

He shut the gate behind him. ‘What’s so interesting through here anyway?’

‘Nothing.’ She waved her hand at the water. ‘It’s a river. There was a train and now it’s gone.’ She turned to him. ‘As you can see, it’s totally fascinating.’

‘You should be careful,’ he said, ‘wandering about on your own.’

She didn’t even blink. ‘Is that supposed to be funny?’

Her eyes burned with something. Anger? Sadness? He had to look away. Karyn had eyes that deep. He swigged the last of his beer and chucked the empty bottle at the river. They both watched it – a dark missile, arcing against the sky before splashing into the water. Somewhere not far away, a duck called in alarm and then everything went quiet again.

Now what should he do? He wasn’t going to look at her again, that was for sure. He didn’t want to get to know her in that way, didn’t need bridges between them. He tried to remember the plan. He had to believe he’d come to this party for something. He was supposed to be getting information out of her, that was it. But before he could think of anything to ask, she nudged his arm and pointed across the water to the field beyond.

‘See the horses?’ she said. He hadn’t even noticed them – three of them beyond the railway line, marooned together under a tree. ‘Keep watching them. Watch by their feet.’

It made his eyes go funny to stare into the darkness. The field became dark blue and thunderous as he watched, although as he kept looking, the colours got less dense and the edge of his vision became ragged with grey. Then, from below the tree, a shadow moved, hesitated, moved again. A fox, low and sleek, stood exposed on the grass, one paw raised, before gathering itself and vanishing diagonally across the field.

‘See that?’ she said.

‘Yeah.’

She sighed, as if she was satisfied it existed now he’d seen it too. He glanced at her briefly, even though he’d told himself he wouldn’t. He noticed her scar again. She saw him looking, ran her tongue along it. ‘A dog bit me.’

‘Serious?’

She nodded. ‘I was on holiday and it came running out of the woods and jumped at my face. They thought it had rabies, but it didn’t.’

Other books

Everything Nice by Mari Carr
Bad Bridesmaid by Portia MacIntosh
Lucky Break by Sienna Mercer
The Alpine Traitor by Mary Daheim
Speak to the Devil by Duncan, Dave
Catch a Mate by Gena Showalter
Crime Plus Music by Jim Fusilli
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas
New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry
Family Values by AnDerecco