Mind and Vision by InSilva
Disclaimer: didn't create Danny
A/N: as requested by otherhawk. More than once. Sorry, mate. ;)
A/N: looong chapter that I didn't want to split. Suggest you make a cup of tea first.
Chapter Five: Appearances
During the six weeks of summer vacation, Weston Harkett drained of pupils and teachers, leaving behind skeleton staff to look after the kids who didn't have a home to go to or who just weren't wanted there or who fell into both categories.
To start with, Os was going to be with him and Danny thought this might all be bearable. Then the day after term ended, Osmond's parents came unexpectedly for him. Osmond's face lit up with absolute delight and Danny waved him goodbye with a bright, tight smile.
It wasn't until Osmond had been driven away and he sat on his bed in the empty dormitory that he thought about the weeks stretching out ahead. It was going to be a long summer.
September and Osmond returned to a warm welcome and with the news that the allergy tests had come back with only peanuts as the villain.
Danny's smile grew wider. "That mean you can eat chocolate?"
"Eat chocolate, eat shrimp, eat wheat, eat dairy," Osmond recited.
"I'm fresh out of shrimp but I got this." Danny handed over a Mars Bar and Osmond's face lit up with happiness.
"Oh, these taste so good," Osmond said, tearing off the wrapper and biting into it.
There was delight in the final word and Danny smiled. He somehow doubted he'd find anyone who enjoyed food with quite that degree of relish.
"You have a good time with your parents?"
"Just the best," Osmond nodded happily. "They'd saved up their leave so we could all go to Florida. Disney."
Danny listened to the bubble of contentment and part of him tried to imagine a vacation with his father and mother. He shook his head. Impossible.
"So what have you been up to?" Osmond asked.
Mornings taken up with dull summer school sessions; afternoons spent on enforced sports that had been enough to put him off circuit-training for life.
"Nothing as exciting," Danny said truthfully.
Osmond picked up the leaflet off Danny's bed. "What's this?"
"Extra lessons you can pay for."
Osmond scrutinised the list. "There's all sorts on here. Are you going for any?"
"Yeah," Danny said. "French and German."
"Really." Danny changed the subject. "Tell me about Florida."
Going into the second year meant new subjects and new teachers and one of them was Life Skills with Mr Winton. Mr Winton was old school. A teacher who firmly believed that if you spared the rod, you spoiled the child. When his previous school had merged with a neighbour four years previous, there had been no room for Mr Winton and he'd applied to Weston Harkett to teach Latin. Latin was what he'd lived and breathed for twenty-six years and he looked forward to beating logic and grammar and syntax into schoolboys' minds the way he had for the past quarter of a century.
Weston Harkett had no call for Latin. However, the Principal had been impressed with Mr Winton's solid service record and had offered him a place on the teaching staff to deliver Life Skills.
"What our young men and women need is a good all round education," the Principal had told him earnestly. "They need to be exposed to all kinds of influence in order to shape their destiny."
Mr Winton thought the Life Skills syllabus weaker and washed out than his sister Elinor's ginger beer and the only plus side of that was there was plenty of latitude as to how he delivered the unit content. In any case, there hadn't been a plethora of opportunities, so with great reluctance, he had accepted.
The lack of discipline within the school had come as a shock. He had brought his trusty cane with him on his first day and had been politely but firmly asked to leave it at home thereafter.
Four years on and the only weapon he had against the schoolchildren and their appetite for chaos was his never-forgotten ability to single out and humiliate a child with sharp words. It was something he liked to practise often. It was good to make sure they knew who was in charge.
"Life Skills." Danny sat at his desk and studied the words on the blackboard. His nose wrinkled. "Sounds…vague to me. What do you think we study?"
Osmond looked as bemused as Danny felt. "More to the point, how do you think we pass it?"
Their conversation was interrupted by the door opening and their teacher, Mr Winton, sweeping into the room and depositing his leather briefcase on the table. Silence greeted him and he stood and ran his eyes over the class with a baleful eye.
"My name is Mr Winton. You will call me Mr Winton. You will, in future, stand when I enter the room and greet me with "Good morning, Mr Winton" or "Good afternoon, Mr Winton" depending on the time of day. You will concentrate in my lesson and you will provide your homework promptly and without fail. There are no excuses for not handing in assignments. You will now all stand."
No one moved for a second and then there was the sound of thirty chairs being scraped back as the class got to its feet.
"One by one, you will announce your full name clearly and distinctly. You." He pointed at Marie Andrews who was sitting on the front row, first left and whom Danny was certain right now was wishing she was anywhere else. "Begin."
They said their name and sat down once Mr Winton was satisfied he had mastered it. They also learned that when he said full name, he meant full name. Danny was Daniel. Os was Osmond. A boy who had gone the entire first year known as Skids to pupils and teachers alike was suddenly outed as Torquil.
"Good," Mr Winton said when the last pupil – Mandy-now-Amanda Bayliss – had sat down. "Now some of you may be wondering what Life Skills involves. Let me enlighten you."
Danny sat forward, curious.
"Horse, shampoo, fountain, book," Mr Winton said rapidly and suddenly, in Danny's head, a horse was shampooing its hair in a fountain while reading a book, "lion, guitar, rocket, castle, river, gasoline, rose, chair, radiator, bear…"
The list of random words continued for a minute, two minutes, longer. Danny looked round and everyone was looking as confused as he was. A couple of nervous smiles were appearing. Had Mr Winton completely lost it?
Then just as suddenly as he'd started, Mr Winton stopped.
"Life Skills is about improving your grubby little minds. About sharpening them and honing them so that they can cope with the mental challenges and mundane practicalities in this world. Now. What was the first word in that list that I recited?"
Horse. Danny was certain. He put his hands up along with about half the class. Mr Winton chose Mandy-now-Amanda and she answered correctly. Mr Winton looked vaguely disappointed.
"And the second word?"
Shampoo. Fewer hands this time and fewer still for fountain but Mr Winton's lips grew tighter: apparently they weren't supposed to remember so well without being taught how.
"And the fourth word?"
Silence. Satisfaction started to creep across Mr Winton's face and then slowly, Danny's hand went up. He was almost certain he knew the answer. Mr Winton's eyes narrowed.
"Why, Daniel, is it?" Mr Winton checked his notes.
"Yes, sir. Is it 'book'?"
Mr Winton said nothing immediately. Instead, he stared at Danny and Danny couldn't read his face at all.
"Don't you have any other clothes, Daniel?"
Danny blinked. "Pardon me?"
"That jumper is halfway up your arm."
Self-conscious, Danny pulled his sleeve as far down as he could. His clothes had been getting tighter. Shorter.
"Well? Cat got your tongue? Don't you have any other clothes? On your feet, boy."
Danny pushed his chair back and got to his feet.
He felt the eyes of the rest of the class follow him as he walked up to the front of the classroom.
Mr Winton circled him, looking him up and down. The inspection seemed to go on forever and Danny felt the humiliation burning in his face. Finally, Mr Winton stopped.
"Your trousers are at half-mast and your jumper is a disgrace. Get out of my classroom and don't come back until you are properly dressed."
Until he was…?
"Go," came the instruction and as if in a dream, Danny stumbled out of the room and into the school corridors.
He leant up against the wall and felt the confusion wash over him. Clothes. They just appeared. He'd never questioned – he'd never had to question. There were always clothes. He opened the wardrobe door and there they were.
Huh. Saying it in his head like that made it sound like he believed in magic. Thank goodness he hadn't said to Mr Winton that the clothes just materialised. Something told him he wouldn't have heard the last of it.
"Danny? Are you alright?"
He turned to find Mr Cahill, the teacher who took them for art. Mr Cahill was young and keen and smiling and eager to please. He reminded Danny of Mark, his ex-tutor and Danny felt a little sorry for him because no one listened to him in the slightest. There was far too much fun to be had with paint and glue and self-expression.
Falteringly, Danny explained the reason he was out of class. Mr Cahill listened, frowning a little, and then asked:
"I bet you have older brothers."
Yeah. Kind of. Danny nodded, not sure where this was going.
"Me too," Mr Cahill sympathised. "I spent my life in hand-me-downs when I was your age. My kid sister got off lightly."
Well, that wasn't quite how things had happened. Leaving aside the age gap, leaving aside the likelihood of the clothes being passed on in the first place, leaving aside any fashion objections, Danny had trouble picturing himself in anything that Cole or Randall would wear. He shuddered.
"Yes," Mr Cahill smiled, misinterpreting the horror. "There's a pink and white polka dot shirt that I never want to see again."
Danny could just go quite happily without seeing Cole or Randall again.
"Well. Let's get in touch with your folks and get them to send-"
No. Randall wouldn't care and Cole just wouldn't. And his mother…his mother…
"No," Danny said again. "It's not necessary. I've got an allowance that's banked for me with the bursar."
"Oh…" Mr Cahill looked surprised. "Oh, well, that's OK then."
Yeah. Except he didn't know how he was going to spend it. Wasn't like there was a department store on campus and Danny didn't have a clue where the nearest shopping mall was.
Maybe Mr Cahill saw a little of how it was.
"What do you have for your next lesson?"
"Phys Ed," Danny said and couldn't help the gloom pervading the two words. To be endured rather than enjoyed and he couldn't help thinking that his PE kit wasn't any more comfortable to wear than his ordinary clothes were.
"And then it's lunch." Mr Cahill looked thoughtful. "Come with me, Danny. Let's see what we can do."
A visit to the Principal's office where Danny was asked to wait outside while a long conversation took place inside. Danny heard the odd word floating through the door. "Winton" and "singled out" followed by some deep muttering of disapproval. Well, Danny felt quite disapproving too. And then he heard the Principal's voice - "father's deceased" and "family" - and there were soft noises of sympathy and he didn't care for any of that at all.
But then door was suddenly flung open and Mr Cahill emerged, smiling and waving a piece of paper called "special dispensation". There was a trip to the bursar to collect some money and Danny hesitated over the amount.
"Would a hundred dollars be enough?"
Mr Cahill's eyes were round and he cleared his throat and nodded. "I think that will do."
Osmond found him at lunchtime up in the dormitory, dressed in very obviously new clothes that did at least fit him. Danny ran a finger around the new shirt collar.
"Do I look stupid?" he asked Osmond.
"You look fine," Osmond reassured him. "Where did you get all this stuff?"
"Shopping trip with Mr Cahill."
"Yeah. Unexpected. He said he'd arrange a shopping trip once a semester for me."
It had been a kind gesture and Danny felt grateful. He didn't know how he was going to repay Mr Cahill but he wanted to and he'd think of something.
"Anyway. How did the rest of the lesson with Mr Winton go?"
"Oh!" Osmond shook his head. "He's a little strange. And a lot scary."
Yeah. That about summed up Mr Winton.
Mr Cahill's class was the next day and he didn't say a thing about the clothes. In fact, he hardly said two words to Danny, just nodded and flashed him a quick smile and when Danny wasn't looking, the smile faded into a thoughtful look.
It was with a little trepidation that Danny watched Mr Winton walk into the classroom the following week. With the others, he got to his feet and joined in the chorus of greeting.
"Sit," Mr Winton instructed, adding, "Not so fast, Daniel."
Danny stopped, awkwardly, caught between standing and sitting. Slowly, he straightened up.
Mr Winton fixed his gaze on Danny's clothes and Danny resisted the urge to pull his sleeves down. The clothes fitted perfectly. Instead, he stood stock still and stared straight ahead. This wasn't the first time he'd had to grit his teeth and keep his silence.
Finally, Mr Winton spoke.
"I am pleased to see that you bothered to dress yourself properly. Remember that a smart demeanour denotes a smart mind. Sit down."
Danny took his seat, the chair scraping along the floor as Mr Winton stood behind his desk then turned abruptly on his heel, facing the blackboard and selecting a piece of chalk.
"Everyone, take out a pen and paper and make as many words of three letters and more from this."
He wrote, in a flowing script, "Orchestra", and then turned back round.
For the next six weeks, lessons with Mr Winton continued in this fashion - mental gymnastics that drilled them all in logic and reason. Danny had to admit it wasn't completely awful. If someone else had been teaching them, it might even have been enjoyable. As it was, he took a perverse pleasure in not volunteering the right answers and not trying half as well as he might with the homework. He wasn't going to work for Mr Winton.
Mr Winton remained unpredictable and quick to chastise and the lessons were always a complete minefield.
"He's just impossible," Osmond complained as they walked back to the dormitory after class. "There's just no pleasing him."
"No," Danny agreed. Mr Winton enjoyed being impossible to please.
There was an envelope waiting on Osmond's bed and Osmond's face lit up.
"Karen?" Danny hazarded. Osmond and Karen were officially seeing each other – shy smiles, hand-holding, walks and sodas. Danny liked seeing Osmond happy.
"What's this?" Osmond picked up a piece of paper underneath the envelope and opened it. "Oh. It's for you. Sorry." He handed it over and frowned as he did so. "You're signing up for Spanish lessons?"
"Yep." Danny took the paper that confirmed his place at the Spanish classes.
Osmond frowned. "But you signed up for French and German already."
The frown grew deeper. "What, you're going to be a linguist?"
"Maybe it's my ambition to know three words in several languages."
Osmond looked at him searchingly. "Is it?"
"No. I'm gonna ditch French and German."
"But you've paid for them already," Osmond pointed out.
"Spanish is what I really want to learn."
It was the truth. Writing to Luis and Maria in their own tongue… That was something special. That was something worth doing.
After a few weeks, he felt brave enough to try a letter and he laboured over carefully-formed simple sentences in Spanish, slipping back into English when he didn't have the vocabulary.
There had been absolute delight in the letter that had come back. Danny couldn't stop smiling as he read it. So many things had been ripped away but Luis and Maria were still with him, still thinking about him, still cared about him.
Osmond had asked a few times about his family and Danny had firmly deflected the questions. He didn't want to talk about his father and his mother and he certainly didn't want to talk about Cole and Randall, not even to Os. Even speaking about Luis and Maria seemed like a secret too far. Osmond stopped asking and just accepted the slices of delicious fruit cake at Christmas and shared in return the biscuits and chocolates his parents had sent him.
No one else seemed that interested in his background and that was exactly how Danny liked it.
After Christmas, the Life Skills classes took on a variation. Every other week, there was a taster session of some of the subjects for the following year. Mr Winton led them in strict formation into the relevant classrooms where he let the different teachers lead the classes while he occasionally prowled up and down, offering sharp comments as he saw it fit.
January, and it was home economics. Mr Winton marched the class down to the cookery kitchen, took up residence at the front, baleful eye daring them to step out of line and left them to Mrs Newman. Mrs Newman was a no-nonsense teacher with white hair pulled back into a bun and a crisp white apron. She barked out instructions and recipes with such fierceness that no one wanted to ask her to repeat herself.
Later, when Danny found himself peering into the oven and staring at a sponge cake that refused to rise, he thought that he probably should have been brave enough to double-check the ingredients.
"How long's it been in there?" Osmond asked sotto voce.
"Too long," Danny murmured back with a grimace.
"Right!" Mrs Newman snapped. "Let's look at how you've done."
With a sigh, Danny took out the cake and emptied it onto the wire rack. It landed with a forlorn thud. Mmm. Didn't seem like cooking was his thing. Danny glanced sideways at Osmond's neighbouring effort of light and fluffy and risen. Nope. Definitely not his thing.
Mrs Newman and Mr Winton agreed.
"C minus," Mrs Newman announced, jabbing the biscuit-like cake.
Mr Winton wrote the mark in a little black book and tutted. "Daniel, Daniel. Must. Do. Better."
The last three words were punctuated by three little prods into Danny's chest. Danny gritted his teeth.
"You seem adept at failing to impress, Daniel. I'm watching you."
"Cookery classes," Osmond said flatly a few days later. "You're signing up for cookery classes."
"You know I need them, Os," Danny replied.
"Yes, but…all those languages you were studying…"
"Well, if the cooking doesn't work out then at least I'll understand everything on the restaurant menus." Danny nodded at the box of chocolates Osmond was clutching. "Are they-
"-for Karen," Osmond blushed. "It's her birthday tomorrow. You think she'll like them?" he added anxiously.
Danny grinned. Os worried too much. "If she doesn't, I'll help you eat them. Deal?"
Mr Cahill had been as good as his word and organised a second expedition to the shops. Danny had taken out another hundred dollars and had made his purchases with more confidence than the last time.
Mr Cahill didn't buy anything for himself but at the till in the department store, Danny saw the way his eyes lingered on the wallets and key rings. He could slip one into his pocket and- No. No, he'd remember and he'd buy one the next time and make a thank you gift of it. Somehow it mattered that he use his own money for a present.
The February sunshine was bright but cold. Mr Cahill had suggested stopping at a cafe and Danny had agreed happily; sitting and people-watching and sipping a hot chocolate.
Mr Cahill was eating a sandwich like it was going out of fashion. He caught Danny looking.
"My kid sister's staying with me at the moment," he said by way of explanation and then perhaps realising that he'd explained nothing, went on, "she's moved in with her boyfriend and she's doing the cooking to help out." Mr Cahill pulled a wry face. "She really can't cook."
Danny related to that. He nodded sympathetically and insisted on buying Mr Cahill another sandwich.
"Thanks," Mr Cahill smiled. "That'll help when I have to chew through Dana's meatloaf. Do you have a sister?"
"Just two brothers. Half-brothers."
"They any good at cooking?"
Danny laughed at the thought. "I think Cole and Randall would be worse than I am."
"The trouble with Dana is that in her mind, she's good. And Harvey, her boyfriend, doesn't know any better. When the pair of them leave, I'm going to eat out every night for a month just to treat myself."
"Are they staying with you long?" Danny asked politely.
"Not too sure," Mr Cahill sighed. "Dana's in a bit of a fix and-" he broke off. "Doesn't matter." He smiled at Danny. "Something'll come up."
When they got back to Weston Harkett, Danny thanked Mr Cahill and added, without thinking, "This reminds me of trips out with my tutor, Mark."
"Your tutor?" Mr Cahill frowned.
Danny hesitated and then nodded.
"When did you have a tutor?" Mr Cahill asked curiously.
But before Danny had to answer, the lunch bell rang and ended the conversation. Danny disappeared into the melee of hungry pupils and Mr Cahill was left standing staring after him.
Life Skills had taken them into metalwork and woodwork classes where much to the dismay of some, they'd seen a hundred different tools – a mitre-gauge, a tenon saw, a lathe, a hacksaw, a plane – and they'd heard what they did but they hadn't been able to use them.
"All in good time," Mr Winton told them. "You don't imagine we want to arm you little hooligans with weapons, do you?"
Now it was the turn of needlework. Apparently, needlework raised fewer concerns: they were fine to handle scissors and needles.
"Thread up and express yourselves!" Ms Adams suggested with enthusiasm, handing out embroidery silks and canvas. "Let your imaginations run free!"
Danny saw the look of utter disgust wash over Mr Winton's face and his lips twitched. Unfortunately, Mr Winton saw.
"Something amusing you, Daniel?"
"No, Mr Win-"
"I should hope not. Maybe you think needlework is beneath you."
"Then I suggest you wipe that smile off your face and focus on what Ms Adams is teaching you."
Danny bit his lip, turned back round and did his best not to laugh at the intense concentration on Osmond's face as he tried to thread a needle.
A few weeks later and now that they were moving into the warmer months, the next session was a visit to a farm accompanied by Miss Sellers, the Geography teacher, and of course, Mr Winton.
They all climbed out of the minibus, clutching a sheet of questions and a map of the farm, with his words ringing in their ears.
"You will stay with your study partner. You will not stray from the marked trail. You will behave with respect at all times to the animals and to the people who work here."
Danny looked down at the worksheet and up at his classmates already crowding round the first questions pinned up in front of the pigsty. His nose wrinkled at the smell.
"You want to work backwards?" he asked Osmond. "Might be less of a squeeze."
"OK," Osmond agreed. "Where's the finish, then?"
The finish was in the dairy where they churned milk and made cheese. The young girl in charge was called Sandy and she giggled as Danny smiled at her, gave them the correct answers and a hunk of fresh cheese each.
"That was easy," Osmond beamed as they walked back towards the barn. "Where to next?"
"We need to get to the stables." Danny frowned at the map and then pointed hopefully. "There."
They walked for fifteen minutes in the general direction of where the stables ought to be but the stables were notable by their absence. Danny stopped and squinted again at the map.
"Maybe we ought to be more left," he suggested.
"Uh huh." Osmond wasn't arguing.
"This way." Danny pointed at a field of cows.
Osmond was arguing now. "There are animals," he pointed out nervously. "With horns."
"Yeah." Danny wasn't too sure about that either. He tucked the map and the questionsheet into his back pocket. "We can run. We can run faster than them."
Osmond was still doubtful but he followed Danny over the gate.
"Ready?" Danny asked.
"No," Osmond replied truthfully.
They ran anyway. Full pelt and direct and the cows were startled enough to look up from their grazing and then, to the boys' horror, a few started to follow them, lolloping after this new distraction.
"Quickly!" Osmond shouted as he clambered over the fence at the other side.
Visions of sharp horns and hard hooves close behind him, Danny took no chances and dove headfirst over and into the dirt and mud the other side.
He was laughing as Osmond hauled him upright.
"You think this is funny?" Osmond asked incredulously.
Being chased by cows?
"Little bit," Danny grinned and then stopped as he saw how Osmond was trembling. "Hey, it's OK. We're safe."
Osmond swallowed and gave a quick nod.
"Come on," Danny smiled reassurance. "Let's get back to the others."
They finished the questionsheet and handed it into Miss Sellers as they climbed back on the bus. Mr Winton's arm shot out and blocked the gangway. He ran his eye over Danny's mud-caked clothes and Danny braced himself for the comment.
"If your answers are as sloppy as your dress, I can see that this will be yet another effort that merits a poor grade, Daniel. Take a seat."
A mutinous look suffused Danny's face as he moved past him. He had tried with the questions, mostly because it affected Osmond. He really didn't care about his own grades. Not as far as Mr Winton was concerned.
"Have you heard?" Karen asked breathlessly as she ran up to Osmond and Danny at recess. "The office was broken into early this morning!"
"What?" Osmond blinked.
"It's true! Alison heard from Jen who was walking by the staff room when all the arguments were going on." Karen's eyes were round. "Mindy says they tried to get into the safe but they couldn't. They just broke open the desk drawers and grabbed the petty cash tin. Janice says there'd only be about fifty dollars in that though."
Osmond blinked again at the bewildering female grapevine.
"Do any of them know who did it?" Danny asked with interest.
Karen shook her head regretfully and then brightened. "But if I hear, I'll come and tell you," she promised.
It was a fortnight later and no one had been caught. Danny and Osmond had speculated a little like everyone else but there was no evidence and the gossip had died down. School continued as normal.
"Horse-riding?" Osmond frowned as they waited for Mr Cahill to walk into the art room.
"Yes, horse-riding," Danny muttered. He hadn't exactly planned on telling Osmond but it was kind of impossible not to let it slip. He caught sight of Osmond's quizzical look. "What?"
"After the cows?"
Danny gave a hurried shrug of the shoulder. "Horses are different."
"Yes, they're bigger and faster," Osmond pointed out.
The conversation died as Mr Cahill arrived, smiling.
"Good afternoon, everyone." He cleared his throat and his voice went up slightly. "Today, I'd like everyone to design a piece inspired by their surname and their family."
Surname. Family. Danny's shoulders sagged. He couldn't think of anything worse. And yet… Maybe there was something after all.
Mr Cahill came round as they were working, murmuring encouragement and advice. Eventually, he reached Osmond and Danny.
"Good use of colour, Osmond," he praised. "Try some drop-shadow to emphasise the letters of "Forsythe" more."
Mr Cahill moved on to Danny.
"You're at a disadvantage," he commented with a smile. "Double-barrelled surname. Lots more letters in it."
Yes. A double-barrelled reminder of a wealthy background and the certainty that riches never guaranteed happiness.
"Lots of syllables," Mr Cahill went on and then almost as an afterthought, "Your family's from the East Coast?"
There was something in the way he said it that made Danny look up at him. Properly look. Mr Cahill held his gaze for a second and then before Danny could answer, his eyes dropped down again to Danny's work.
"It just sounds like it ought to be East Coast," Mr Cahill muttered lamely. He frowned. "What are you drawing?"
In between the letters and, indeed, overwhelming his surname were playing-cards and cakes, pipe smoke and envelopes.
"Stuff I liked about home," Danny said honestly. "Like about home," he corrected himself.
There was a silence and the Mr Cahill made a non-committal noise and moved on to the next table.
Danny stared down at the traces he'd drawn of LuisandMaria. It was getting harder to remember their faces.
He lay in bed that night, listening to the sounds of Osmond and the others gently snoring, and doing his best to fix every memory in his head. Luis and his pipe, Maria baking, kind words and hugs, cards and stories…
"In the little village where I grew up – I have told you about my little village, haven't I? There were rich men and there were poor men and my family was very poor. And our neighbours were very poor, too. And their son was my best friend. His name was Felipe."
Felipe. All the friendship, all the together, all the trust and the love. Danny glanced over at Os. Was this close to what Luis had had? Almost, maybe…? Danny sighed. Not like he had anything to compare it to. He tried to imagine Osmond and him playing tricks together like Luis and Felipe had. Somehow, it was a struggle. Osmond was so much more about the straight and narrow.
Danny smiled. Wasn't as if it made him like Osmond less just because Osmond didn't want to play tricks.
Huh. Seemed like Os had been keeping him on the straight and narrow too. He had some lost time to make up.
Danny's spare thinking time was furiously consumed by different ideas, elaborate schemes that ended up with Mr Winton scowling around the classroom, trying in vain to identify the culprit.
Trouble was, Mr Winton was no fool. Added to which, Danny had heard Mack Henry on the subject of other pranks that had gone wrong. For example, Mr Winton had a habit of smacking his hand down hard on the desk to make a point. One day, he'd brought it down on a sheet of paper concealing half a dozen tacks, point upward. There'd been a moment and then Mr Winton had slowly and silently raised his hand, pulled the tacks out one by one and given the whole class double homework.
That was the rub. Mr Winton was likely to take it out on everyone. Which meant it had to be something out of class. Something to do with Mr Winton's office, perhaps. He could fill that with-
"Danny, you want that apple pie?"
Danny blinked and balloons/fire-extinguisher foam/frogs disappeared from his head. Osmond was gesturing across the table at Danny's neglected dessert.
"What's the matter?" Osmond asked. "You've been so quiet."
"Just thinking about stuff," Danny said truthfully. He didn't want to involve Osmond even as a confidant. That way, if the worst came to the worst, Os wouldn't be punished. He pushed his plate towards Osmond. "You want the pie?"
"Tell you who would like it." Osmond jerked his head to the left.
Danny caught sight of Mr Cahill walking past with a well-loaded tray of food. Seemed like Mr Cahill's sister was still staying over.
"Maybe we could get him a hamper or something," he mused and then looked back to find that whilst a hamper might still be possible, the apple pie was no longer an option.
Danny had ruled out balloons (too time-consuming to inflate unnoticed) and the fire-extinguishers (impossible to transport inconspicuously). He liked the thought of letting fifty frogs loose to cause mayhem but he wasn't too sure where he was going to get the fifty frogs from. Mail order was a possibility but he doubted the package was going to be quiet enough to escape detection when it arrived. Added to which, he was rather worried about the health of the frogs in transit.
It was a Friday lunchtime when he stared down at his tray of food and inspiration struck.
Gaining access to Mr Winton's office was tough. Mr Winton always kept it locked when it was unoccupied and when it was occupied, there was no chance of planting anything. The only saving grace was that it was on the ground floor and had windows that faced outwards: windows that Mr Winton did not bother to close fully if it was a hot day so that his empty office did not become an oven.
Danny did some comprehensive reconnaissance until he knew Mr Winton's timetable of classes better than he knew his own. The best opportunity was going to be on a Tuesday afternoon when Mr Winton had consecutive lessons and he himself was supposed to be on a cross-country run in the school grounds.
He'd deliberately broken his shoe lace on his trainers as he'd tied them and given himself the excuse to run back to the dormitory for a replacement. Instead, Danny ran to the outside of Mr Winton's office and retrieved the brown paper bag he'd left earlier in the bushes beneath the window. Then with an effort, he carefully threw up the window and pulled himself over the windowsill and into the little room, balancing precariously on a three-legged stool before dropping down to the floor.
There weren't many hiding-places to consider. The desk drawers were locked and the bookcases were full, all the spines neatly lined up. Anything added would be immediately visible. Danny examined the floor. Wooden floorboards firmly nailed down. Danny muttered wild reproaches at himself for not carrying out a recce of the inside of the office.
Just as he was resigning himself to climbing out of the window and giving it all up as a bad job, his eye fell on the little fireplace in the corner. It wasn't used – Weston Harkett had long since embraced central heating – and it was boarded up but the grate was still in place.
Danny dropped to his knees and carefully removed the metal grate. There, at last, was the perfect place of concealment. He shook the paper bag and out fell the fat, fresh fish that he had managed to steal from the kitchen at lunchtime. His nose wrinkled. It was already pungent. Give it a little time and the stink of its rotting corpse would permeate the room.
Quickly, he hid the fish, replaced the grate and climbed back out the window, pulling it back down behind him. He dropped the screwed up bag in the nearest trash can and then pulled a new shoe lace out of his pocket and threaded it through his shoe. Danny smiled to himself. He was sure Luis and Felipe would approve.
The police car parked outside the main steps a few days later was the hot talking point around the classes. Karen, of course, had the full story.
"Mindy says that Julia told her that Audrey heard that some of the teachers had money taken from their purses in the staffroom this morning. The police are interviewing everyone who might have had opportunity."
Huh. Danny had lifted a little money from people at Weston Harkett and redistributed it but he'd never taken so much that people would call the cops.
"Who are they talking to?" Osmond asked.
Karen didn't have every name but it sounded like they'd started with the teachers and moved on to some of the older pupils.
"Who do you think it is?" Osmond wondered aloud as they walked to their next lesson.
Danny thought about the petty cash going missing.
"Someone desperate," he said softly.
Double doors were flung open and nearly sent them both flying. Mr Winton strode through them, his face black as thunder.
"He's in a temper," Osmond muttered. "More than usual, I mean. Do you think he had some money stolen?" He gasped. "Do you think he's the thief?"
Danny considered. The temperature had been up in the 70s for the past week.
"Well, something fishy's definitely going on," Danny smiled.
The thief wasn't caught but no more money was taken and while the story was not forgotten, the new story was all about the smell in Mr Winton's office.
"Smells like a stinkbomb factory," Mack Henry declared to anyone who'd listen. "Who reckons Winton's hiding a body? Is anyone missing?"
Danny sat in class and looked at the permanently bad temper showing on Mr Winton's face and felt grim satisfaction. Serve Mr Winton right.
The fumigators found the fish or what was left of it. Not that that improved Mr Winton's mood tremendously.
"I will say to you as I am saying to all my pupils," he announced at the start of the lesson, "that if I discover who had the audacity to carry this out, I will be having very strong words with them."
Mr Winton glared around the class and while most of his classmates dropped their heads, Danny met his gaze with blithe confidence. What were they going to do? Fingerprint the remains of the fish? It was all he could do not to grin.
Spanish gave him further cause to be happy. Dora, the Spanish assistant who took the classes, gave them all a sheet with vocabulary that they might use for going on holiday.
"Let us say together," she instructed and together, they chanted in Spanish, "Is this your suitcase?" "Would you like an ice-cream?" "May I take your photo?"
Photo. Danny caught his breath. He could ask Luis and Maria for a photo. He couldn't wait to get back to his dormitory to write the letter.
It wasn't his fight. It was stupid and it wasn't his fight except that somehow it was.
Osmond and he were taking a short-cut down a little used corridor when they heard the sobbing and the pleading. They'd both stopped dead and looked at each other.
Danny crept forward to look through the classroom window, Osmond peering over his shoulder.
There were five boys from the top of the school, none of whom Danny really knew and there was a stick coming down on the hands of two crying first-years and before he quite realised what he was doing, Danny was shaking off Osmond's restraining hand and striding in to the middle of the room.
"Let them go," he demanded, his voice ringing out loudly and really, that was about as far as his plan went.
"Who the hell…?"
The bullies looked round, startled and let loose their grip on the two frightened boys who took the opportunity to pull free and bolt from the room.
That seemed like a good idea to Danny. He readied himself to turn and run.
"New blood. His name don't matter," one of them with traces of a faint moustache sneered.
"Doesn't matter," drawled a voice from behind Danny.
Danny span on his heel to see Silas Whittaker, sitting by the door, his hand wedged in an enormous bag of candy. Silas gave the door a lazy kick and it closed, shutting out the hint of freedom.
Then hands grabbed Danny's shoulders and pulled him backwards, struggling in their grasp.
Silas wasn't really part of it, that much was clear. He sat by the door and munched candy and from what Danny could gather, he was doing everyone else's homework. Probably in return for food because that seemed to be the way Silas operated. And the others were just killing time until he'd finished.
"Hold your hands out, new blood," Wannabe-Moustache instructed and when he wouldn't, they'd held him fast and forced his hands out in front of him anyway.
The wood came down hard on his hands, first one and then the other and he hadn't given them the satisfaction of making a noise. He glared at them through the pain. He wouldn't ever give them the satisfaction.
The two first years looked like they had run for the hills. He couldn't count on help from that quarter but the little voice at the back of his head told him that Osmond would surely have done something…
(…Os hadn't come in the room with him and that made sense because there were too many of them and he was glad Os wasn't there because there were too many of them but Os hadn't come in the room...)
Os would have gone for someone…
(…Os didn't like confrontation and that was alright but Os hadn't come in the room…)
Os would think of something...Os would…
The door was suddenly flung open.
Danny blinked up at his unexpected deliverer. Mr Winton's face was full of cold rage.
"Gibson! Reeves! McKinsey! Hunter! Thomas!" Mr Winton barked the names out. "You will report directly to Principal Beckerling's office and explain why you are there. Do not make me come and look for you."
The boys slouched out of the door and Danny watched Silas move to follow them.
"Is that you, Whittaker?" Mr Winton snapped. He turned round. "I thought so. Any time I hear the distinctive rustle of candy wrappers, I know it's you. You may follow the others."
Silas scowled but he didn't argue. Mr Winton turned his attention to Danny.
"Daniel?" His voice was stiff and unexpectedly gentle. "Let me see your hands."
Unwillingly, Danny held them up for inspection. Mr Winton looked them over and made a hmmph noise.
"Take yourself to the medical room and then go to your dormitory. I will sign you off for the rest of the day."
Danny tried to say "Thank you" but the words stuck in his throat.
Mr Winton gave an abrupt nod. "Osmond is waiting for you outside. I am going to see if my instructions to proceed to the Principal have been followed."
He left and Danny saw Osmond's anxious face appear in the doorway.
"Are you OK?" Osmond came into the room, the words falling out of him. "I'm sorry, Danny, I just froze and then I ran as fast as I could to find someone, honestly I did, and I saw Mr Cahill and started to tell him but he can't have understood because he didn't really listen, he just said he had somewhere to go and then I saw Mr Winton and I didn't want to ask him but there wasn't anyone and I was worried so I told him..." Osmond ran out of breath and gulped in air. "And he came," he finished.
Yes. He had. Danny stared down at the welts on his hand and winced.
"Let's get out of here, Os," he said.
Danny had gone, on Osmond's insistence, to see the nurse who had exclaimed and put a cold compress on both hands and tutted and fussed over him until eventually he had managed to escape.
Outside the medical room, they ran into Mr Cahill.
"Danny!" Mr Cahill managed to sound pleased and worried and guilty all at once. "Are you alright? Osmond had some story about…"
He tailed off as he glimpsed Danny's hands.
"It wasn't a story," Osmond exclaimed hotly.
"I'm sorry," Mr Cahill said sincerely and Danny wasn't certain whether he was apologising to Osmond, to him or just for the general situation.
"It's OK," Danny said and meant it. Maybe Mr Cahill wasn't into confrontations either.
"Yes. Well." Mr Cahill cleared his throat. "Well, run along."
"Mr Winton listened," Osmond said, the anger still loud in his voice.
"Os…" Danny pulled him away and they left Mr Cahill open-mouthed.
Mr Winton had listened and that meant that there was something Danny needed to do. He was stood hesitantly in the doorway of Mr Winton's office, where Mr Winton sat at his desk, head bent over a set of papers. There was no residual smell of fish which was something.
Mr Winton looked up.
"Daniel?" His voice wasn't welcoming. It wasn't hostile either.
Danny opened and closed his mouth. He was reminded of visiting his father in his study.
"What is it?" The impatience flavoured Mr Winton's voice.
Danny took a deep breath and walked up to Mr Winton's desk.
"I wanted to thank you. For earlier. And…" Danny resisted the urge to look at the fireplace: he was grateful but he wasn't stupid. He took another deep breath, "I wanted to say I know I haven't done the best in your lessons. I will do better."
Mr Winton looked at him for a long moment and then glanced down at Danny's hands.
"Gibson and the others are particularly repellent creatures. Symptomatic of society's sad decline. If values cannot be driven into a child in the home then school needs to be the parent. In my day, I'd have beaten the nonsense out of those boys. As it is, they will probably receive counselling."
The last word was flavoured with loathing. Mr Winton gave Danny's hands another glance.
"Try soaking them. It'll help."
There was a note of dismissal in there but still Danny stood there even though he wasn't quite sure why. Mr Winton stared at Danny thoughtfully and then reached back and pulled a book off the shelf behind him.
"To date, Daniel, I have your overall grade for the year as an F. If you are serious about improvement, then I am willing to set you some additional assignments."
He placed the book on the desk in front of Danny.
"This is an account of one of the cleverest use of tactics in warfare. I want you to analyse and summarise the outcomes."
Danny looked at the title. "Fabius Maximus Cunctator," he said wonderingly. "The man who beat Hannibal?"
Mr Winton raised an eyebrow. "You've heard of him?"
Danny nodded. Mark, his tutor, had told him the stories.
Mr Winton made a non-committal noise that might just have been surprise. "In that case, I look forward to a well-written assignment."
Carefully, Danny picked up the book. "I'll do my best, sir."
He did. And he made up his mind to apply himself in class in a way he hadn't tried before.
Danny had his first chance a few days later as they all sat at their desks and Mr Winton handed out sheets of paper.
"These are magic squares containing the numbers 1-16," Mr Winton stated. "Columns, rows and diagonals add up to 34. Some numbers are already entered. You need to complete them. You have twenty minutes. Begin."
"Math," Osmond said with a sigh.
Except it wasn't. Not completely. Danny stared at the grids. It was logic and patterns and common sense and-
His extra assignment was dropped down on the desk beside him.
"Tolerable, Daniel," Mr Winton commented. "Tolerable. Little too much sympathy for the elephants."
Danny stared at the "B-" written on the top of the paper and his mouth curved into a smile.
There were other books and other assignments and Danny's grades never dipped below the first B- and on one heady occasion, he had achieved an A. Danny found himself looking forward to the homework: it was significantly more challenging and enjoyable than anything else he was doing.
Mr Cahill caught up with Danny on his way to Mr Winton's office to return the latest book he'd lent him.
"Are you OK to go out shopping tomorrow?" Mr Cahill asked.
He'd pretty much avoided Danny since the incident with the older boys and he wasn't really meeting Danny's gaze now. Danny didn't blame him any more than he blamed Osmond but it seemed as if Mr Cahill was blaming himself.
Danny gave a bright smile. "Sure. That'd be great."
"Good." Mr Cahill sounded distracted. "Good. We'll leave at two o'clock."
He walked away and Danny went on to find Mr Winton who beckoned him into his office.
"Thank you, Daniel." Mr Winton inspected the returned book as he always did, checking for damage that wasn't there. "Take a seat."
Danny pulled the three legged-stool forward.
Mr Winton seemed unusually hesitant and when he did speak it was slowly and precisely, choosing his words with care.
"Your initial appearance, Daniel, was slapdash and messy and I took that to be representative of your outlook on learning. Your subsequent contribution to my class did nothing to change my opinion of your attitude."
Childishly, Danny wanted to point out that Mr Winton had started it. His jaw set defiantly. Mr Winton wasn't finished though. He cleared his throat.
"It is possible that I may have formed the wrong opinion of you, Daniel. You have done well in class of late and your last few efforts of homework have been above average."
That sounded like…that sounded awfully like an…
Mr Winton cleared his throat again. "Providing you do not slip back into your former habits, your end of year grade will reflect your current attitude. I wanted to make that clear. You may run along."
"Yes, Mr Winton."
Danny fought to control the grin. Oh, it was satisfying to have improved his grade but it was even more satisfying to have that apology.
Mr Cahill owned a small Japanese car and he was waiting beside it as Danny walked across the car park the following afternoon.
Mr Cahill sounded relieved and Danny frowned. He wasn't late, was he?
A familiar voice rang out behind Danny and he turned to see Mr Winton approaching.
"They tell me in the staffroom that you are headed into town. I would like to beg a lift with you if I may. I have some business at the bank and it's pointless taking two cars."
Mr Cahill's mouth opened and closed twice and Danny guessed that Mr Winton wasn't top of Mr Cahill's list to make conversation with. A pity, really, that Mr Winton didn't make things easier or that Mr Cahill wasn't a little braver: Danny thought that they might actually get along.
Mr Winton was waiting for an answer that still wasn't coming. Danny broke the silence before it could grow any more awkward.
"I'll sit in the back, shall I, Mr Cahill?"
"Yes," Mr Cahill said and Danny doubted he could fit any more resignation in the word.
Danny clambered in behind the driver's seat and the two teachers got in and closed the doors.
The journey was silent. Danny thought about trying to start a conversation but neither Mr Winton nor Mr Cahill looked like they were in the mood. In fact, the only time that Mr Winton spoke was when they made the turn on to a back road.
"Shouldn't we be taking the freeway?"
"It's busy this time of day," Mr Cahill explained. "This is a little longer but it's quicker."
The road definitely had less traffic on it. They passed maybe two cars and a van in ten minutes. And then Mr Cahill slowed up and Danny could see why. There was a van parked on the side of the road and a young woman flagging him down.
"Really!" Mr Winton muttered in annoyance.
The woman came running up to the driver's window which Mr Cahill wound down.
"Please can you help? We got engine troubles!"
"Sure," Mr Cahill said and started to get out of the car but Mr Winton grabbed his arm.
"What do you know about vehicle maintenance, Cahill? This is just going to delay us."
"I'm going to help," Mr Cahill insisted, pulling free and climbing out the car.
Mr Winton made a snorting noise of disapproval as Mr Cahill disappeared out of view. The young woman lingered, resting her arms on the open window.
"You out on a trip?" she smiled at Danny. "Why don't you get out and stretch your legs?"
"The boy's fine where he is," Mr Winton said curtly.
"Nice sunny day," the woman smiled again at Danny. "Maybe you want to get a little air."
"I said he's fine," Mr Winton told her and Danny could hear the irritation in his voice.
"Just making conversation," the woman said sulkily.
A large man in overalls ambled up behind her and pulled her out of the way.
"Get out of the car, kid," he rumbled.
Danny frowned. "I'm OK," he said before Mr Winton could.
The man's face grew darker and he yanked the car door open. He pushed the seat forward, reached into the back and grabbed Danny's wrist, pulling him bodily out of the car. Danny let out a yelp of surprise and struggled to free himself but the man's grip was like iron.
"What do you think you're doing?" Mr Winton was roaring and Mr Cahill was coming running and the woman was yelling and the man wasn't letting go and then Mr Winton was out of the car and the man had a long piece of metal and it was pushed against Danny's throat. Both Mr Winton and Mr Cahill stopped dead.
"Put the crowbar down." Mr Winton sounded anxious.
"Please," Mr Cahill pleaded. "Don't harm him."
"Don't be an idiot, Michael!" the woman snapped and Danny wished that Michael would just listen and let go of him. "We're not going to hurt him. He's our meal ticket,"
It was enough to make Danny stop squirming against the hard metal pressed against his neck and to try to look up at Michael but it was impossible.
And then he saw the way Mr Winton was staring at Mr Cahill and the way Mr Cahill was staring at the woman and none of that made any sense unless…
"I said not to use my name," Mr Cahill hissed.
"The kid doesn't know it," the woman hissed back.
"No, but- Harvey!"
The man holding Danny suddenly lunged with the crowbar and Mr Winton collapsed to the ground, a long red gash on the side of his head.
"We're wasting time," the man – Harvey - muttered.
Harvey. Danny's eyes flicked to the woman. That made her…
"Get the van doors open, Dana."
Harvey and Dana. And Mr Cahill…?
Dana pushed a roll of duct tape at Mr Cahill.
"Tape the kid up, Michael and we'll get them both in the van. Then you can follow us in the car."
"For heaven's sake, Dana, I'm supposed to go back to the school to raise the alarm."
"Bringing along that friend of yours has kind of screwed that up, don't you think?"
"Come on, Dana," Harvey rumbled. "Let's get going."
Mr Cahill looked helplessly between the two of them.
"Just drive the damn car, Michael."
There was tape in Mr Cahill's hands and there was apology in his eyes and all Danny could offer in return was bewilderment.
Mr Cahill had taped Danny's hands together behind his back and put another piece over his mouth. Then Harvey had picked him up, kicking and struggling – picked him up like he was no weight at all and dropped him down inside the back of the van. Mr Winton's unconscious body was heaved in after him and Danny shot him an anxious glance as the door slammed shut. Didn't look like he was coming round any time soon. There was the sound of footsteps and then the sounds of doors opening and shutting at the front of the van. Danny didn't have time to brace himself before the vehicle took off.
The journey seemed to last forever. It seemed that every time Danny kneeled upright, the van skewed round a corner: he couldn't keep his balance and gave up trying, settling instead for a half-sitting position, leaning against the side of the van when he could. Mr Winton, still out for the count, rolled in an undignified manner. There was nothing Danny could do to help him and he winced as the older man was bumped and bruised.
Eventually, the van came to a halt. The doors were yanked open and Harvey reached in and grabbed Danny. Danny glimpsed a street and a house before he was bundled inside, down a hallway and into a kitchen and deposited on to a chair. He struggled furiously but Harvey held him fast as Dana picked up a kitchen knife, split his bonds and then secured his wrists and ankles with more tape to the frame of the chair. She was panting hard by the time she'd finished and she scowled at Danny who returned the glare.
"For a little kid, he's a heap of trouble. Go and get the other," she instructed. "Help him, Michael."
Danny raised his gaze and saw Mr Cahill standing awkwardly by the door, his eyes troubled.
"Michael!" Dana snapped and Mr Cahill jumped and followed Harvey out of the room.
Dana pulled up a chair and sat opposite Danny. She smiled.
"Can't blame you for putting up a fight, kid. Suppose I'd do the same. You just keep your head down and co-operate and this'll all be over before you know it."
All what would be over? Danny still didn't understand what they wanted from him.
"You know, Michael's always been one for keeping secrets to himself," Dana said conversationally. "Number of times our older brothers used to have to sit on him to make him tell where his stash of candy was…"
She shook her head and laughed.
"We've been staying here since Christmas and he didn't mention for at least two months that he was teaching fucking royalty."
Mr Cahill and Harvey reappeared, manhandling Mr Winton into the room and taping him to another of the kitchen chairs. Danny stared anxiously at Mr Winton. He was breathing steadily and the wound on his head had stopped bleeding at least but his eyes were still closed and his face was pale.
"Oh, Michael… Kid's heard worse, haven't you?" Dana grinned at Danny. "As I was saying, Michael kept you a big secret. I remember him coming home and telling me all about this kid with the money and the tutor and when I heard your surname, I just had to dig out the magazine I'd been reading. Here. I still got it."
She picked up a dog-eared magazine off the kitchen table and flicked it open to a society page. She jabbed a finger at a photo.
Danny stared at the photograph. A society do with women in long frocks and men in black tie. His eyes widened as he saw Randall standing awkwardly, clutching a champagne glass alongside Cole who was looking thoroughly bored as a giggling blonde draped herself over him. Underneath the picture, both men were named "enjoying themselves with a good friend".
"I knew you had to be related. Cole and Randall, right? Michael said they were your brothers."
"I told Michael then and there that you were the answer to our problems but he kept on stalling. Kept promising he'd find another way to find the money. I kept telling him we had the perfect answer already."
The thefts. Danny could see it in an instant. Mr Cahill trying to appease his sister and Dana wearing him down with a hundred different arguments. And all this was about his allowance? He would have given the money to Mr Cahill if he'd known.
"What next, Dana?" Harvey asked. "You think we should call the school? Or send a note?"
Dana stood up and opened up the refrigerator, pulling out a bucket of beers.
"I think we should sit down with a beer in the front room and talk about it. Come on, guys."
Harvey grinned at Danny. "Don't you go anywhere."
The three of them left the kitchen. Mr Cahill didn't look at Danny once.
Danny already knew the tape would be impossible to escape from but he still set about testing each of the bonds in turn. Yeah. There was no give. He looked around the kitchen in search of something that might help and saw the knife that Dana had used, discarded on the kitchen table. Maybe he could-
A muffled moan from Mr Winton interrupted his thoughts. Danny saw him open his eyes, blinking heavily. There was disorientation and then Mr Winton saw him and the confusion melted into a sharp focus.
Are you alright? Mr Winton's eyes were asking him.
Danny nodded. They hadn't hit him, after all. He asked the question right back at Mr Winton who gave him a curt nod.
The door opened and Harvey came back in with the bucket, heading straight for the refrigerator and digging out more beers. At once, Mr Winton started a stifled protest of indignation and outrage, rocking his chair against the floor. Harvey turned round, an ugly scowl on his face. Danny caught his breath as Harvey strode across the kitchen, dropping the bucket on the table.
"We're still working out what to do with you," he growled, leaning over Mr Winton. "So keep quiet or I'll make you."
Danny saw Mr Winton glaring defiantly and Harvey's hand clenched in a fist, ready to punch, the aggression rolling off him. Immediately, he started rocking his own chair, sending up muted cries.
"Shut up, you little brat!" Harvey snarled, twisting round and covering the distance in a couple of strides. His left hand shot out and grabbed Danny's clothes, lifting Danny off the floor, chair and all. His right hand was raised and Danny was bracing himself and then-
"Harvey, stop!" Mr Cahill was there, holding on to Harvey's arm. "Stop!"
"He was kicking off," Harvey muttered sullenly, dropping Danny and shaking loose from Mr Cahill.
"It's OK, it's fine, I'll speak to him," Mr Cahill soothed. "Take the beers in and I'll bring some chips. Go on. I'll sort it."
Harvey shot Danny a dirty look, grabbed the bucket of beers and left.
"Are you alright?" Mr Cahill asked anxiously as soon as Harvey was gone.
Danny raised his eyebrows. Was that a serious question?
"You've got to be quiet," Mr Cahill said with a hint of pleading in his voice. "Harvey'll just…please." He looked from Danny to Mr Winton. "Both of you. Please."
Mr Winton's face was fierce, demanding answers. Mr Cahill hesitated and then his shoulders sagged and he slumped down in the chair opposite Danny.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He dragged his fingers down over his face. "Somehow they ended up moving in and they just wouldn't leave. They said they needed cash and I gave them all I had and I tried to get more but it still wasn't enough."
Mr Cahill looked at him miserably. "Dana comes up with crazy ideas sometimes. She kept on and on…"
A flicker of sympathy came into Danny's eyes and Mr Cahill gave him a weak smile. He hesitated.
"If I take this tape off your mouth, do you promise not to make a noise? If you make a noise, Harvey will come back. No noise, right?"
Danny nodded and Mr Cahill carefully peeled the tape away. Danny licked his lips. They felt dry and sore.
"I'll get you some water." Mr Cahill got to his feet.
"For Mr Winton too," Danny said hoarsely.
"OK," Mr Cahill agreed. He brought over a glass of water and let Danny take a long drink.
"It was all meant to be so simple," Mr Cahill sighed, refilling the glass and taking it to Mr Winton.
"I suppose I get the blame for making it complicated," Mr Winton snapped as soon as his mouth was free.
"It was just supposed to be me and Danny in the car," Mr Cahill said, tipping the glass to his lips and letting Mr Winton drink before resealing the tape. "They were going to bring Danny back here and I was going to tell the school so that they could inform the family. That way when the ransom demand was made-"
"Ransom?" Danny interrupted.
"Well, yes," Mr Cahill said, walking back round. "We'll ask your brothers-"
"They don't care!" The words were ripped from Danny.
"What?" Mr Cahill said faintly. "Of course they do. They must. They're your brothers."
Half-brothers. Like that made a difference. Like that had ever made a difference. All the looks and the snide remarks and the… Danny could feel the anger rising in him.
"They've never cared about me. Ever."
Mr Cahill had a sickly look on his face. "Your mother…"
Danny's chin lifted. "I wouldn't hold your breath."
"No. No, no, no." Mr Cahill was shaking his head. "You come from a rich family and family sticks together and they will pay to set you free."
Danny made a noise that was between a snort and a sob. Tears were filling his eyes and he blinked hard.
"You think they sent me to the other side of the country because they want anything to do with me?" Danny's voice grew louder. "They don't give a damn!"
"Shh!" Mr Cahill looked frantically at the door. "Shh!"
"They won't give you a dime! They'd be happy if I just disappeared forever!"
"Be quiet!" Mr Cahill hissed, lunging forward and sticking the tape back in place.
"Michael?" Dana was in the doorway. "We got a problem here?"
Danny stared unblinkingly at Mr Cahill, all the hurt of so many years welling up inside him, all the things he could never – would never say out loud, all the things he told himself didn't matter.
Mr Cahill's gaze faltered. "No, Dana. No problem at all."
Thoughtfully, Dana walked further into the kitchen and picked up the kitchen knife from the table then pushed her brother aside and crouched down in front of Danny, looking him in the eye and holding the knife just a few inches from his face. She ran a casual finger over the blade.
"You hear about the Getty kidnapping last year?"
Danny could only focus on the light glinting off the metal.
"You deaf, boy?"
With difficulty, he looked up at Dana who was waiting for an answer. He nodded.
"They got sent an ear," she said conversationally. "Think about it."
Danny glared at her as she straightened up, opened a drawer and dropped the knife inside.
"Come on, Michael. We've got a note to write."
Dana left the room and Mr Cahill cast a troubled look at Danny and trailed after her
There'd been more trips to replenish the beers from Dana or Harvey. Neither of them gave Danny a second glance.
There was no clock in the kitchen and the light through the kitchen window was growing darker: Danny could only guess how long they'd been sitting there but it had to be heading into evening. Surely someone was missing them by now. Osmond would be wondering, wouldn't he? What about the classes that Mr Winton and Mr Cahill were supposed to be teaching? He looked over for the nth time at Mr Winton. Ridiculously, he felt guilty for Mr Winton being involved. It was him they wanted.
All Danny could think of was how misguided this whole scheme was. There was no way anyone would hand money over for his safe return. He thought about Cole's words last summer at the trustee review meeting.
"It's not going to be Randall and it's never going to be your mother so you've got me."
Well, Cole certainly wouldn't rescue him. Danny felt the dull resignation wash over him. What a mess. What an absolute-
Mr Cahill stood there in the half-light. He spoke rapidly, his voice low and agitated.
"I've persuaded Dana to go out for takeout. Harvey's drunk more beer than he should have." He hesitated. "What you said…you meant it, didn't you."
It wasn't a question Danny needed to clarify. It wasn't a question Danny needed to answer.
Mr Cahill nodded to himself. "I'm…I'm going to end this."
He found the knife and set them both free.
"This is the first sensible thing you've done all day," Mr Winton said sharply as he got unsteadily to his feet.
"Thank you," Danny said quietly.
"My car's out front. I'll take you back to Weston Harkett. Quickly. And don't make any noise. Harvey might wake up."
They made it outside without interruption from Harvey whose loud snores could be heard resonating from the front room. As they walked up to the car, Mr Winton pulled the keys from Mr Cahill's fingers.
"I'll drive," he said shortly and Mr Cahill didn't argue.
Danny climbed quickly into the back seat and let out a silent sigh of relief as the front doors shut and they pulled away.
As the scenery flashed by, Mr Cahill started talking.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "It's been a nightmare, these past few months. Just a complete nightmare. Every time I came home from work, they were at me. They wouldn't stop."
Danny could imagine the relentless verbal bludgeoning. And Mr Cahill didn't like confrontation.
"They made it all seem so simple. Take the boy away for a few days, give him a holiday and then his family will pay up and we leave the kid somewhere public and we'll be on easy street."
Mr Winton snorted. Mr Cahill sighed and carried on as if he hadn't heard him.
"They'd be on easy street. They'd be far away and I wouldn't have to see them again. To be honest, that's kind of…"
He broke off.
"This isn't the way to the school. Where are we…what…"
The car pulled to a halt outside the police station. Mr Winton turned and looked at Mr Cahill.
"We are going to go inside and we are going to tell them what you, your sister and her brute of a boyfriend did."
"No!" Mr Cahill looked shocked. "No, I helped you escape! Harvey said we only needed the boy – he wanted to kill you!"
Mr Winton was inexorable. "You're going to confess everything, Michael. And then you're going to deal with the consequences."
"I... but I didn't…I had to…I…I…" Mr Cahill scrambled round in his seat, grabbing at Danny's arm. "Danny!"
"Don't you dare!" Mr Winton's eyes were flashing.
"Say nothing to him, Daniel. He doesn't deserve it."
Danny looked at the desperation in Mr Cahill's eyes and then down at the hand on his arm. He covered it with his own hand.
"I'll explain," he promised.
He didn't see Mr Cahill again. There had been questions and interviews and he and Mr Winton had been taken to the hospital despite Danny's insistence that there was nothing wrong with him.
There was a short interval of sandwiches and soda and then more policemen – agents - had arrived and there were more interviews. Mr Winton had stayed beside him throughout and Danny did his best but he wasn't certain that they understood how it had been for Mr Cahill. All he got from one of the officers was that it would be looked on favourably that he'd freed them.
After that, at some point close to dawn, Mr Winton had been taken home and Danny had been brought back to Weston Harkett where Mr Nash, the Housemaster, had clucked over him and taken him up to a private bedroom. "Don't let's disturb the others. You can catch up with Osmond tomorrow."
Fully clothed and exhausted, Danny'd fallen into his bed and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
He woke to warm sunlight falling across the room and Mr Nash bringing him a hot chocolate. Danny sat up in bed and accepted the drink gratefully.
"How are you feeling?"
Tired. Bewildered. Deeply desirous of everything getting back to normal.
Mr Nash smiled a gentle smile and it reminded Danny of Mr Cahill and it hurt.
"Someone wants to see you."
He opened the door and made a beckoning gesture. Osmond appeared clutching a change of clothes. Danny's face lit up in a bright grin.
"Hello," Osmond beamed.
"Hi," Danny smiled.
"I brought you clothes," Osmond said unnecessarily.
There were a hundred different questions burning in Osmond's eyes that he couldn't or wouldn't ask in front of Mr Nash. Danny tried to offer up reassurance and the promise that he'd tell him what had happened later. In truth, he already knew he was going to play everything down. It was over. No need to go into details.
"Get yourself freshened up, Danny, and then come down to the Principal's office," Mr Nash instructed. "You can meet up with Osmond again for dinner."
Dinner sounded good. He was suddenly aware of how hungry he was. Then his brain caught up. Dinner? How long had he slept?
The confusion must have shown on his face because Mr Nash added gently, "It's nearly five o'clock in the afternoon, Danny."
"Come along, Osmond."
"See you later, Danny." Osmond stood up reluctantly.
"See you," Danny said absent-mindedly. Five o'clock in the afternoon?
Danny was ushered into Principal Beckerling's office where the Principal came hurrying round from the other side of his desk, making soothing noises of comfort. Danny's eyes were on the man with his back to him, staring out of the window. Slowly, Cole twisted round, his face, cold and distant as ever.
"You can leave now," Cole said.
"Of course, of course," Principal Beckerling agreed hastily. He gave Danny's arm a squeeze. "We're so glad that you're back safely. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I can assure you that we pride ourselves on-"
"Of course," Principal Beckerling said again and hurried out of the door.
Danny watched him go and then turned back round, trying to manage the apprehension he felt at being left alone with Cole. There was silence as they stared at each other with mutual loathing and then Cole walked forward and sat on the edge of the Principal's desk, fingers loosely clasped in front of him.
"I was woken from a particularly pleasant dream by a phone call from Lawrenson informing me that the FBI were on their way to collect me because my father's runt has managed to get himself abducted." Cole smiled nastily. "For one glorious moment I thought you might actually be out of my life for good."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Danny retorted stonily.
"They said you managed to escape. I should have known it was too good to be true. The Feds dragged me on to a plane. They seemed to think it was important I came out here even though it was all over."
He stood up and moved closer to Danny who stood his ground.
"I just want to make it quite clear that if you are stupid enough to shoot your mouth off about the money this family has-"
"I said nothing!" Danny interrupted hotly but Cole ignored him.
"-and someone thinks they can take advantage of that, of me, then you will find out the hard way exactly how much I will pay to get you back again."
"I know already," Danny snapped. "You think I didn't tell them that? That's why they let me go."
Cole's mouth tightened. "Pity."
Danny glared at him. Cole smiled without the smile reaching his eyes.
"You know the only good thing about this charade is that Beckerling's agreed to a substantial reduction in your fees for this year and moving forward. Maybe you should get yourself kidnapped more often."
Danny couldn't stop the little hiss of anger escaping him and bit his lip, angry at himself. He knew what Cole thought of him. He'd always known. Why should hearing what he already knew be such a shock?
"I'm out of here," Cole announced. "It's a week or so till the school breaks for summer. I'll tell Lawrenson that he doesn't need to drag me back down here for a ridiculous review. He can check your grades over the phone. With any luck, I won't have to see you again for a year."
The door closed behind Cole and Danny's shoulders sagged. Dealing with Cole never got any easier.
Osmond sat at dinner and asked his hundred questions and Danny deflected them – no big deal, some sort of domestic argument between Mr Cahill and his sister and her boyfriend that he and Mr Winton'd got caught up in. Osmond looked disappointed but quickly moved on to the rest of the unofficial news provided by Karen.
Mr Winton had been given the rest of the semester off. Danny thought that was doubtless the Principal's equivalent of reducing school fees.
Mr Cahill was apparently indisposed and not likely to return any time soon.
And in more important news, Mack Henry's illegal guinea pig racing ring had been discovered. Mostly because Wally Rybeck had inadvertently left the cage door open and a drama lesson had been interrupted by furry diversion.
Danny listened and smiled and the events of the previous day seemed light years away.
He'd left dinner early and come up to the dormitory alone. The letter was waiting on his bed and Danny snatched it up, his fingers fumbling in their haste to open the envelope. Inside, there were words of the everyday and the normal and Danny's eyes barely took them in because a small colour photo fell out into his hands.
Luis and Maria smiling up at him. Taken at an official portrait studio with both of them in their best clothes, Maria sitting upright in a chair and Luis standing ramrod straight behind her, his hand resting on her shoulder.
The photo became blurry and Danny blinked furiously.
It wasn't how he remembered them - no pipe clenched in Luis's teeth, no apron for Maria, all floury from baking – but it didn't matter. Luis and Maria. Oh, God, Luis and Maria. More than anything, right now, he wanted cookies and milk and cards and stories; he wanted things back the way they used to be. He...he...
Danny took a deep breath. He was being stupid. Things were never going back to the way they were. His fingers tightened on the picture, now easily his most precious possession.