The hunt for Joey Boswell
Joey's mobile rang around midday. He had been lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, watching a small patch of sunlight dance around on it, and the ringing noise snapped him out of what had been an enjoyable little trance. He answered it in irritation.
'Martina, I'm not interested – '
' – Joey?'
'Adrian!' His voice came out almost breathless. He didn't particularly want to hear from his brother either, but Adrian's worry was preferable to Martina's constant nagging.
'I just thought I'd let you know…' Adrian sounded wary, and he didn't blame him. Joey had bitten his head off on the phone a few times. 'Aveline's all right now. Her baby's doing well; the worst of it's over. Oswald's taking her home tomorrow.'
Joey felt another heavy breath leave his body, a weight lifted. In spite of his distress, he'd still worried about her. This also meant, the selfish side of him exulted, that he didn't need to bother going back yet.
'She's got pre-eclampsia; she's on bedrest until the baby's born now,' Adrian continued, 'but as long as she sticks with that, she'll be all right. The doctor's keeping a close eye on her.'
'Aw 'ey, still, that's great news, son. Great news.' Joey could almost manage a smile, but this brief, lukewarm good mood was immediately ruined by what his brother said next.
'Why don't you come home, Joey? Mam's worried sick. We all are.'
'Adrian…' Joey protested weakly.
'Look, you can't just sit in a hotel room forever, can you?'
He had planned to keep an even tone, but Joey supposed, as he felt his annoyance rush back, he wasn't ready to be calm just yet.
'And why not, then, sunshine?'
'Oh, Joey, come off it…'
'I plan to stay here, Adrian, until the world rights itself or I snuff it waitin' for that to happen. Whichever comes first. Okay?'
'Oh, Joey,' Adrian said again. 'You need – '
'Don't concern yourself with what I need, Adrian,' Joey snapped. 'What I need is to cleanse me soul and get a bit of peace for a change – however long that takes. Go and write yer memoir, son; I'm sure you've got plenty of new material by now.'
He never put down Adrian's artistic pursuits, futile as they were. He'd crossed a line – had tried to, in fact, in a desperate attempt to return to the tranquillity and aloneness of a few minutes ago. And he knew he'd succeeded when Adrian, sounding deflated, rang off meekly.
Joey lay back down on the floor, trying to return himself to the state of mental numbness he'd achieved earlier. The guilt at treating his brother this way was chewing at him now, but the eldest Boswell pushed it away, trying to focus instead on what few shreds in his life could be considered good things. Aveline was all right. He could stay here a bit longer. The patch of sunlight on the ceiling was nice, in a stupidly mesmerising sort of way.
And thankfully, mercifully, Martina hadn't bothered to phone him today. Perhaps she'd given up pestering him about signing on, realised it wasn't going to happen.
None of it blocked out Roxy's voice, though, nor the vision burning on his brain of his almost-bride storming out of their wedding ceremony.
Forget it, Joey. I'm going home. I don't know why I thought this would ever work.
'Did you tell him about our Jack?'
'I couldn't do it, Mam,' Adrian still looked sheepish every time Nellie saw him, guilty (which, if she were perfectly honest, was well-deserved. Oh, she'd forgiven him for sneaking off and getting married, another son gallivanting off and having a wedding without the family, just like Billy had before him and Joey had tried to. One always forgave one's children for everything in the end, didn't they? Still, a bit of remorse every now and then wouldn't go astray).
'I mean…I just don't think it's the right time to tell him there's gonna be another baby. Not when he's…well…you know.'
Nellie couldn't understand how it had happened. Joey, her pride and joy, after an outburst she was still reeling from, had simply taken himself off the map. That Roxy had always had a horrific influence on him, pressuring him to tear his pieces out of the family jigsaw the moment she beckoned, and she should have known, Nellie thought, that his irritability had had something to do with her. It always did. Every time Joey acted…well, un-Joey-ish, it was Roxy's doing.
But while she was relieved the wedding hadn't gone ahead and he hadn't ended up shackling himself to that divorced tart for all eternity, Nellie hadn't been prepared for the destruction that had occurred in its stead. Denied the marriage and happy future his other siblings had all been chasing of late, Joey had become reclusive, unmoored. Adrian was right – telling him about Jack and Leonora's child would certainly only cause him further pain at this point. Envy and covetousness were terrible sins – and yet she could understand how Joey could have been swept away by them.
She only had Adrian's word to go on that he was alive and well at all, and she went to bed each night praying desperately that he would keep himself safe, keep eating good meals, take care of himself while he was away.
'Aw 'ey, Mam, you wouldn't believe it!'
Nellie was forced to stack her worries into a neat little bundle and lay them aside as Billy came hurricaning in, a babyishly cross expression on his face.
'Connie doesn't wanna marry me! Why do I always go through this, Mam? She said it was too soon, whatever that's supposed to mean! What's too soon got to do with anything?'
Nellie couldn't believe her ears.
'Haven't you learned anything?!' she snapped. 'Is this my son talking of another hasty marriage when his family is in pieces for that very thing? Haven't you learned from your marriage to Julie?! Haven't you learned from your brothers and sisters?! Look where it got them! Our Aveline is upstairs fighting for her life because that Proddy she hastily married bestowed a defective child on her!'
That Proddy had been rather helpful of late, seeing to Joey's shop, but no matter. It was beside the point.
'Our Jack is having a child to a geriatric posh hussy – our Adrian sneaked off in secret and went through a pathetic elopement…'
Adrian's sheepish expression was back.
'And our Joey – he's all but dead! Does none of that mean anything to you? Can this be my son, seeing the destruction of us all, and still wanting to plough ahead with another rushed marriage?!'
Billy shrugged. 'It's what you do, isn't it?'
Oh, there was no talking to him. Nellie had to steady herself on the table.
Joey would have sorted him out. Joey would have talked some sense into him.
But Joey had disappeared.
One by one they've all fallen away.
Oh, God, what came over me?
Her impulsive rage had been eradicated the second she'd stepped off the train and been assaulted by a downpour. Martina had wasted two hours to get here, realising as she inched close to her destination that she had gone completely mad actually going through with this. She couldn't believe she'd actually wasted her time in this fashion.
She had no plan, no map, no address – no way of finding Joey Boswell at all, apart from looking and asking round.
This was feeling more and more like a fool's errand as the afternoon wore on, and Martina wondered what had happened to her common sense. She had no idea where to even begin, and wandering around town trying to find the right place was proving futile. It was going to get late soon; she'd need to start thinking about getting back, or at least getting herself some shelter for the evening (although given she hadn't brought a change of clothes with her, or indeed anything other than her handbag and her grim determination to make Joey Boswell see sense, that likely wasn't a good idea. She couldn't even afford to stay anywhere.)
The rain upped the ante late in the afternoon, bringing with it an icy wind that cut through to the bone, and Martina decided she'd better call it a day.
She was sodden, and freezing on top of that. It was chucking it down, rapidly getting dark, and to her dismay, when she decided to throw in the towel and go home, she discovered she'd missed the last train back for the day.
Oh, bloody hell.
She had no choice, then. Either she found Joey Boswell soon, or she was really stuck.
She was focussing so much on fretting over this, and trying in vain to protect herself from the rain that she almost walked past it.
Martina did a double take.
There it was, confirmation she'd come to the right place – Joey Boswell's dubiously acquired classic Jaguar, parked outside the Gretna Hotel.
'Oh, God!' she exclaimed aloud, resisting the urge to fall upon it. She'd never fancied herself pleased to see that wretched car before, but here was empirical proof that, when one was in a sticky situation, one's integrity could rapidly disappear.
If being thrilled to see that dodgy car was strange enough, actually taking herself into the hotel itself was on another level altogether.
'Joey Boswell, please.'
The bellboy eyed her bedraggled state, dripping onto the carpet, giving her a raised eyebrow that Martina found so impressive she thought she might have to borrow at some point in the future.
'Are you his wife?'
'No.' She wrung her hands awkwardly. This was going to be a difficult one to explain. She shouldn't be here at all, but now she was, and the inclement weather and lack of transport home were making it hard for her to leave, she might as well go through with it.
'This just gets better and better,' he smirked to himself. Martina ignored him, following his directions and finding herself in front of Joey Boswell's room, fist raised, ready to knock.
What am I doin'?! The thought assaulted her one last time, but it was a bit late now. Her fist was rapping against the door of its own accord, and now it was swinging away and Martina beheld her target.
Catching sight of him gave made her stagger back slightly.
He didn't look himself at all.
Oh, the leather gear was still there, the silk shirt, the gold jewellery, but if it hadn't been for his usual attire she wouldn't have recognised him. Joey Boswell looked gaunt, exhausted, unkempt. It had clearly been a while since he'd combed his hair; there were dark rings under his red-rimmed eyes, there was a sense of defeat in his stance she'd never seen in him before, even as he tensed with surprise and anger.
'You have got to be joking.'
His tone was just as disdainful as it had been on the phone; unwelcoming, unfriendly, but mingled with a strong dose of shock at actually beholding her there.
And though this was still feeling like a fool's errand, and though she was aware she looked like a drowned rat, somewhat undermining her authority, she'd actually found him at last. And remembering just why she was furious with him and what was at stake brought back enough presence of mind for Martina to draw herself up to her full height, look him sternly in the eye and assume her usual no-nonsense DSS-lady voice.
'I warned you what would happen, Mister Boswell.'
Joey couldn't believe this. It defied all belief.
He'd been expecting, when he got up to answer the door, to find a member of the hotel staff with the tea he'd ordered. The last thing he'd been expecting was a cross DSS lady on his doorstep.
And yet here she was, standing outside his room, dripping wet and shivering, looking more pathetic than normal and yet glaring at him as if they were merely sitting on opposite sides of her counter.
'I told you, Mister Boswell,' Martina said again, her authoritative tone somewhat dampened by the fact that she was sodden and looked out of place here, 'that if you didn't do as you were told, I would be left with no option but to bring you back myself.'
She'd threatened it over the phone. She was here now. She'd just said it again. And yet Joey still couldn't believe it.
'You…' he tried, shaking his head, gesturing viciously in an attempt to make words actually come properly out of his gob. This whole situation was ridiculous. As if his life wasn't enough of a joke as it was, without throwing this little spanner into the works.
'You came over a hundred miles just because I didn't sign on?!'
'Yes.' She said this as if it were the most normal, natural thing in the world. As if it were perfectly reasonable to leave one's job, get on a train and travel to another country, to turn up at someone's hotel just because they didn't do what you asked.
Red flashed before his eyes. This was just too much. He'd had bloody enough of everything.
Joey opened his mouth and another angry rant fell out of it.
'For God's sake, Martina, get a life! Get somethin' in your life! Get a hobby, go and find a feller or something… your days can't be that empty you've got nothing better to do than chase after me and my family!'
Clearly, he still had a bit left over from his earlier speech to his family, and it was deciding to work its way out of his system now. He was sick and tired of everyone coming after him, trying to force him to solve everything; he'd reached breaking point, and even though a part of him still felt sickened with guilt at how he'd treated his family, another part of him felt as though it need to keep purging. And Martina, if she was determined to lay the law down with him and take uncharacteristically extreme measures to do so, was going to get the sharp edge of his tongue same as everyone else. Sod his respect for her – he always had admired her in some way, although the fact that she had done this had just made her go down in his estimation. He'd thought her to be more rational than that. And while he was at it, sod his bloody giro, too. He didn't care about it anymore. There wasn't any future for him, claiming or otherwise.
'I don't know why you got it into your stubborn little mind to choose now of all times to up the ante on your little I'm out to get you, Mister Boswell game – which, quite frankly, I'm sick of after the three hundredth time of hearin' it! Perhaps it's just that, as with everyone else in my life, the fact that I might occasionally need some peace and distance and a chance to sort meself out is just not important. It just doesn't matter to anyone, does it? But you know what, sunshine? At some point people snap and they stop playing nice. I have had all this up to here. I don't care how many times you turn up on me doorstep to try and torment me; I'm not standin' for it. So turn yourself around, go home and leave me alone, okay?'
Martina didn't go away and leave him alone, though. She stood there stubbornly, astounding Joey with her determination; with her sheer stupidity. What had she been thinking?! Did she honestly believe this little stunt was going to make him change his mind, meekly go along with her and sign her bloody form? He had thought she was cleverer than that. More sensible.
'I can't,' her voice was quiet all of a sudden, less harsh and unrelenting, and this confused him even as he was internally still raging at her.
'You've got things called legs, haven't you? Use them, and get yourself back to the station and back on a train, and off you go.'
'There's no trains until the morning, I'm stuck 'ere and in case you haven't noticed,' Martina said, shaking water droplets off her arm, 'it's raining outside.'
Joey just stared at her, dumbfounded.
'Can't you at least let me in?'
She'd completely dropped the DSS lady voice now; she sounded lost, unsure of herself, in a strange twist of fate given the usual circumstances they encountered each other, she was pleading with him.
Joey blinked, still unsure this surreal occurrence wasn't a dream. And if it wasn't, he thought, irritation rising back up his throat, she'd deserve what she got. The nerve of her. She'd probably finally clicked it; lost her mind from working behind that DSS counter. He felt his face harden again, his hand clench around the door.
'I'm cold.' Her voice was almost pitiful now, and it weakened his resolve to ignore her.
'That's what you get for goin' on daft little escapades without plannin' ahead, isn't it?' But he couldn't keep his hard voice up for long, not when she was standing there looking so pathetic in front of him, a drowned kitten on his doorstep.
He didn't really want to let her in, didn't want to do anything other than shut the door in her face and go on wallowing, her having come all this bloody way or not. But he couldn't do that. Devastated though he was, angry though he was at his family, Roxy, at Martina herself, Joey always had prided himself on doing right by people. He couldn't stand suffering, deserved though it may be – and Martina's lips were turning blue. Joey had no idea what she was playing at, what her motives were, was one part confounded by why she'd gone to all that bother and about three parts furious that she was here, nosing into his life for no apparent reason other than wanting to take her quest to ruin him to extreme lengths. But still. He couldn't leave her in the cold. There were no vacancies left here; he was extremely lucky he was still here himself, given he'd extended his booked stay already by a week. And it would be a long walk in the rain to go and find somewhere else – if indeed there was somewhere else that would take her – at night, in the dark. She'd end up with a cold at the very least – if she didn't get mugged or worse.
She's stranded here, son. Least you can do is put her up tonight and put up with her.
Joey's shoulders slumped, and he held the door open for her.
'One night, sweetheart, and then I'm packing you back onto that train tomorrow and sendin' you home.'