Title: Shaming the Devil (1/?)
Genre: Exile, post-Episode 3
Rating: Adult for themes and language
Word Count: This part: 4,265
Summary: Following his expose of Metzler, Tom is offered a job on the Lancashire Evening News. On the surface, all seems well apart from his father’s inexorable decline – Nancy is eagerly awaiting the birth of her baby and Tom’s relationship with Mandy has reached the point where she wants them to set up home together. For Tom, this is a double-edged sword; he loves Mandy but feels that domesticity may blunt his new-found journalistic edge. Mandy, however, thinks he still has commitment issues. And there is also Mike to consider – he has given them his blessing but when the divorce papers arrive will he still be quite so munificent?
Add to this the occasional dark moods which possess Tom and which no amount of female comfort can seem to banish, and Tom finds himself giving in to cravings he hoped he had left behind in London...
With thanks to my lovely Beta, Jinxed for her eagle eyes!
Copyright disclaimer: no infringement intended of copyrights held by Red Productions or the BBC or any other copyright holder. Written purely out of admiration for this brilliant drama, and because I don't want to say "Goodbye" to the characters. Wouldn't dream of making any money out of it, done only for pleasure.
Photo copyright BBC.
Part One: Bad Day Blues
Some days are better than others, Tom tells himself, but he isn’t sure whether he means for his father or himself. Perhaps both, he concedes as he scans the nursing home car park and finds himself looking for a silver Lotus and remembers he should be looking for a black Mondeo. He sighs. It isn’t that he exactly misses the Lotus – truth be told it had been an impractical vehicle up here. You couldn’t exactly get much in the way of groceries in it, and as a recipe for future spinal problems it was right on the money. No-one is impressed by such flash up here; envious of the money you’d have to be earning to afford such a car maybe, but they’d be as likely to call you a wanker for driving it as to say ‘nice car’ and mean it. It had gathered more key scores in the few short weeks he’d driven it around up here before being rear-ended by Metzler’s cronies than it ever had in the six months he’d had it in London. When the insurance quote had come back at four figures he’d thought fuck it, let the insurers have it. Now that he’s staying on, the image the car had given him is no longer appropriate. But some days – the bad days- he just wishes he were back in London, living the life and snorting the odd line when the self-loathing gets a bit much. Today is a bad day.
It doesn’t get much better when he pulls into the drive and sees Mandy’s Fiat. Now what? He hasn’t decided whether he wants to see her tonight or not; now it looks as if he doesn’t have a choice. Shit.
‘What’s for tea?’ He has the uncomfortable feeling that they’d been talking about him; it makes him snappy. He heads for the cupboard and pours himself a generous whisky and doesn’t offer Mandy or Nancy any. They’ve got mugs on the table between them, anyway.
Nancy gives him a look which he ignores. Mandy had looked to be on the verge of rising from her chair; she changes her mind and sits back down, nursing her empty mug with a frown.
‘Nothing – I ate earlier, and you’re late anyway.’ Nancy rubs a hand absentmindedly over her swollen stomach.
‘Went to see Dad.’ Tom downs the contents of the glass in two gulps – he doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants.... he doesn’t know what he wants, he realises.
‘How is he?’
‘How d’you think? You could have gone yourself.’ Tom pours another slug, swallows it in one and puts the glass in the sink with more force than is strictly necessary. He turns to Mandy, drops his hands on her shoulders and leans in to kiss her – she flinches away from him slightly. He shrugs and moves away, opening the fridge and shutting it again without really seeing the contents.
‘I can’t ride the moped now, Tom; you never said you were going. I could’ve come with you.’
‘I went straight from the office,’ Tom frowns, looking at her before turning to Mandy. ‘We going out or what?’
Mandy stares at him. She opens her mouth, looks at Nancy, and shuts it again. ‘Actually, do you know what? I’ve changed my mind. I came to see Nancy and I’ve got to get back to the kids.’
Tom shrugs. ‘I’ll come to the car with you.’ Rejection burns – or it might be the scotch- but he turns away so they won’t see.
‘Tom, what’s eating you?’ Mandy stops short of her car, looks beyond it to the Mondeo; it’s blocking her in.
‘Nothing. Shitty day.’ He’s heading for his car, to move it.
He turns, startled by the shout; Mandy stares at him, her pale skin almost glowing in the dusk. Is she ill? Feeling ashamed, he goes back and pulls her into a hug.
‘I’m sorry. But I have – had a shitty day, I mean – and I’m just... I won’t be good company tonight, truly. Did you really come to see Nancy?’
Mandy pulls back from him slightly and looks at him. ‘No, you daft thing – I came to see you. Did we look like best friends? It was a bit... awkward, at first. But she’s not calling me a slapper anymore, which is something.’ She smiles unconvincingly.
‘Ignore her. She’s got nothing to boast about.’
True enough. But Mandy doesn’t want to talk about Nancy. ‘So have you thought any more about it?’
‘About what?’ As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he knows it was the wrong thing to say; Mandy’s eyes go hard and flat and she compresses her lips as if biting back words.
‘I should go. Can you move your car, please?’ She wants him to kiss her, say he’s sorry, he’s joking and of course he’s thought about nothing else... but she knows it’s not going to happen.
‘Mandy...’ but it’s too little too late and she’s turning back to the Fiat.
‘We’ll talk some other time, Tom. I can see tonight’s not a good time.’
‘....All right. I’ll call you... shall I?’
She nods and pulls the car door shut. She won’t look at him. Shit. He’s done it again... He watches her reverse, her eyes resolutely on the mirrors; still not looking at him. When the sound of the little engine has faded (so different to the Lotus – God, there are days when he really does miss that throaty roar – twenty quid blown in nought to sixty in four seconds flat, but it had always been worth it to see the look of envy on other men’s faces as he’d pulled away from them at the lights) he wanders down the driveway to stare at the empty road.
He could get in his car now, couldn’t he – he could get in it and leave, bugger off, go somewhere where nobody knows him, where they don’t look at him and think ‘there’s that smug bastard who went off to London, living it up like Riley and turns out he’s no better than he ought to be... did you hear that he spat on his real father’s grave? Blood will out, that’s what they say...’ oh yes; he’s heard that –and worse- since his expose of Metzler had been published in the News... there’d been acclaim too, it’s true. But since then, what has he done? Nothing of note. Nothing ‘worthy’. Nothing to reassure the Editor that Tom Ronstadt could follow through.... no more big pay checks looking likely to be coming his way anytime soon. He and Nancy, they’d got Power of Attorney now, since Sam had gone into full time care; but once the debts have been taken care of, and a sum set aside to cover the nursing home fees for the foreseeable future, there’s precious little left. Because the old man can’t see that it would probably be better all round if he were to die, could he – he’s all but a vegetable, poor bugger. He doesn’t know his son or daughter; for the most part he doesn’t even know himself... what kind of life must that be? Tom would rather be dead in such circumstances and he’s sure that if his father were compos mentis, he’d agree. Not that Tom wants to see his father die – but that shrinking bundle of flesh and bone and precious little else sitting in the chair by the window day after day after day... that’s not his dad anymore. It’s been weeks now since Sam Ronstadt has surfaced for more than a few seconds.
So he and Nancy must struggle on, mustn’t they... and he could leave of course; nothing’s to stop him. But then where would that leave Nancy, her with a baby on the way and a finite sum to cover their father’s possibly still long life? He’s deserted her once; almost twice. He can’t do it again, doesn’t want to be the man he was this time last year, not ever again. But it’s hard... and when he can’t find inspiration or subject matter to interest him enough to do what the News would pay him well for, the temptation to fall back on the easy crap he used to churn out for Ransom is always there; nipping at his heels like some bloody terrier, whispering in his ear when he’s sitting in Sam’s study with a bottle of cheap scotch and chasing one hangover with another because he doesn’t know what to do now, isn’t prepared for this. He’d thought he was ready to ‘be normal’, had told himself he can do it, it’ll be a challenge... but it isn’t, its fucking boring and he doesn’t like himself any more now than he did before his life went tits up on him. Perhaps less, all things considered. He shivers, and realises that it has started to rain while he’s been standing there like some lovelorn puppy...
‘Grow up, you prick,’ he mutters, and heads back to the house.
‘Not going out, then?’ Nancy is washing up the mugs when Tom wanders back in, bringing mud and cold air with him. The look she throws him speaks volumes but he refuses to bite, instead he peers over her shoulder, looking for the glass he’d had earlier; she’s washed that up too.
‘No. I’m going up for a shower, get the stink of that nursing home out of my hair.’ He isn’t in the mood for an argument.
Nancy turns, but he’s already gone. The baby kicks and she winces, stroking her belly soothingly. ‘Ssshhh....he’ll get over her.’ All the same she can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Tom stares at the mirror – he can’t see his reflection clearly for condensation. It’s a good metaphor for how he feels right now; he isn’t sure who he is anymore, can’t see himself in the mirror, just a sulky face just the wrong side of forty. But he knows who he isn’t, and that’s Ricky Tulse’s son. Biologically, yes – he can’t deny that. Subconsciously he’d recognised their resemblance the first time they met, but he hadn’t wanted to see it. And it should have been obvious, shouldn’t it – maybe it was to everyone else, maybe the whole bloody town knows already, had been whispering about it for years... because he’s nothing like Sam in looks, nor Edith or Nancy. How had he not realised? Because you weren’t here, idiot.
Maybe his own self-destructive impulses have less to do with the beating his father had given him and more to do with having a rapist and a sadist for a sperm donor, and an insane mother... He’d hit Jane, after all...and that as much as anything else had finally been what sent him back here. What if Jane had called the Police? His father beating him, the way he’d hit her... hardly in quite the same league but its violence all the same. On the other hand he’d never hit a woman before or since, so it’s not exactly a trend, is it... he’d told Mandy about it after the funeral and she’d held him while he sobbed and never once had she asked ‘How could you even do that?’ What she did say was ‘It was time you got out of there, don’t you reckon?’ and he’d had to agree.
Except now, when he should be settling in, should be taking up his father’s mantle and putting the past behind him... he can’t. Nancy had told him ‘You can’t be normal – you wouldn’t know how,’ the day they’d submitted the Greenlakes story to the News, and she’d been right. There’s something still unresolved; the trouble is he has no idea what it is, which makes it kind of difficult to sort. Is he afraid to research anything local in case he uncovers something even worse? Fuck, what the hell could be worse? And Mandy wants him to move in with her and the kids...
‘What, with Mike living in the bloody caravan?’
‘He’s okay with it, Tom, really he is. We had a real heart-to-heart the other night; and I was there when he told you to stay, remember?’
‘Yeah, I know. But... Well, it’s not exactly normal, is it? I mean, he’s my best mate and all, but you’ve got to wonder... does he get off on it...do you get off on it, maybe?’
That remark had led to a distinct cooling in the relationship, no doubt about it. In retrospect he’s lucky she didn’t slap him for it. But it’s a perfectly valid question. Mike is back at work and doing good things since Metzler’s abrupt departure; he might even get promotion once they get over the fact that he’d accessed restricted files and kept his keys after being suspended; but only if he keeps his nose clean. And he’s not going to want to live in a bloody caravan forever, is he? If he’s going to go higher in local government he’ll need a change of image – living in a caravan is not conducive to career advancement, however you might try to spin it.
As for Metzler...the bastard has so far escaped prison, but Tom is well aware that the police could decide to open a case should new (and more importantly, admissible) evidence come to light. He’s thought about doing more digging; but truth be told he’s been thinking about it all for months since coming back home, and now he wants to think about something else. He wants to be ‘normal’ – whatever that is. He really should look at some of Sam’s old files, see if there’s anything else worth taking up in there. But it comes back to what Nancy had said, the night he’d discovered that Sam wasn’t his natural father – ‘this is the past...’ and she’d shut the cupboard door on it. It’s tempting, it really is.
Tom wipes the condensation away in a broad stripe across the mirror. And that’s part of the trouble, isn’t it – every time he looks in the mirror now he sees Tulse’s gaunt features, the pale blue eyes staring at him from beyond the fucking grave. Why won’t you leave me alone, you tosser?
Nancy pads past Tom’s room on the way to the bathroom, and pauses; listens. Who’s he talking to on his swanky mobile phone at this bloody hour? She raises a hand to knock then thinks better of it. He’s a grown man; it’s none of her business. The baby wriggles, pressing down on her bladder and she resumes her journey. On the return trip however, Tom’s voice is louder – agitated. She hears him shout ‘No-no-no...’ and grabs the handle, pushing the door open. Moonlight streams in through the open curtains, which are flapping about in the breeze from the open window; he’d been smoking –she can smell it - and he must’ve left it open to clear the air. She crosses the room and pulls the window down with a thump. Tom’s mutterings stop abruptly and he sits bolt upright in bed, startled awake.
‘Whas ‘appened?’ He rubs his eyes just the same way he’d done as a small boy.
Nancy goes to the bed. ‘Shove over,’ she says and eases herself down; Tom shuffles sideways to avoid his legs being crushed. He looks alarmed.
‘Is it the baby?’ He asks, blinking and yawning. His hair is sticking on end, making him look more vulnerable than he probably is.
‘No, you daft sod – it’s you. Look at the state of you.’ She reaches out and ruffles his sweat-soaked hair into some kind of order. Why is he sweating? It’s freezing in here.
‘You were having a nightmare.’ Must be my maternal instincts kicking in... She snatches her hand back, absentmindedly rubbing her stomach.
‘Was I? ...’ Tom frowns. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Probably just as well... you were shouting ‘No,’ over and over. I went past on the way to the loo earlier, thought you were on the phone. When I came back you were yelling. What’s wrong? Or is that a stupid question?’
Tom shakes his head. ‘Yes. No... Nothing. Everything. I dunno... You all right though?’ He looks at her then, and she knows he’s lying; he remembers the dream but he won’t tell her. He looks...haunted.
‘I’m okay. It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me, Tom; I just thought... well, if you wanted to talk..? Trouble shared and all that...’ Well who else has he got now that Mandy is off the scene? But then again, who has she had to confide in all those years while he was off in London living it up?
He shakes his head again. ‘I told you, I’m all right, Nance. What time is it?’
‘I’ve no idea...half past stupid o’clock, probably.’ She pushes herself up from the bed, groaning. ‘God, I’ll be glad to get shot of this lump...’
‘Oi, that’s my nephew you’re talking about there,’ Tom yawns again. ‘And I’m wide awake now...’
Nancy snorts. ‘How’d you know it’s a boy?’
‘I know.’ He’s about to repeat the old wives’ tale about patterns before he remembers anew that he isn’t Samuel Ronstadt’s natural child and realises that if the superstition were true, Nancy’s child would probably be female.
‘Don’t be daft. And I’m awake now too – fancy some warm milk? Mum always used to say it helped if she couldn’t sleep.’
Tom pulls a face. ‘Okay, but only if you put a slug of something in it.’ He throws back the duvet and Nancy is struck by how thin he is. He looks ill, she thinks.
‘You’ll rot your liver, you will,’ she tells him as they make their way downstairs.
‘You’re just jealous because you can’t have any,’ he counters.
‘Too bloody right.’
They sit across from each other at the kitchen table – Tom hadn’t insisted on adding anything to his mug and Nancy isn’t sure if that’s a good sign or not. Hopefully it means he isn’t an alcoholic, at least not yet; but he’s certainly heading that way. She sighs.
‘Do you miss him?’ Tom asks, swiping his tongue round his lips to catch the milk moustache. ‘Dad, I mean.’
‘Well who else would you be talking about?’ she pulls a face. ‘I’m certainly not missing boring Derek.’
Tom looks amused. ‘Did he ever stay here more than that one time, then?’
‘A couple of times. Last time was when we... you know.’ She waves a hand over her stomach. ‘It was after that morning – he was persistent, I’ll give him that. You weren’t here.... Dad came in, stark naked, just as we were catching our breath. Derek said he thought he wanted to join in, it really freaked him out. Last I saw of him.’
Tom throws his head back and laughs uproariously – the baby flinches in Nancy’s belly and she rubs it, soothing it back to sleep and taking another sip of her milk.
‘It’s not that funny, Tom,’ she berates as her brother continues to chuckle. ‘It was bloody embarrassing, to tell you the truth.’
‘A generation earlier and he’d have been demanding that Derek make a decent woman of you,’ Tom says wryly.
‘A generation earlier I’d have been a maid in some big house somewhere miles from here and he wouldn’t have had a clue about what I was getting up to.’
‘That’s true...’ Tom’s smile fades and he stares morosely into his mug.
‘What’s the matter, Tom? Really?’ Nancy puts her mug down and reaches across to cup his hand as his knuckles whiten on the mug. He looks up and the forlorn look in his eyes startles her.
‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, Nance.’ He blinks away tears, embarrassed and angry at himself.
‘It’ll take time, you know it will. It’s a lot to get used to.’
He sniffs. ‘You seem to be doing all right.’ There’s a bitter edge to his tone.
‘Well it’s not me who’s discovered...’ Nancy stops, struggling to find the right words.
‘... that I’m the son of a madwoman and a sadistic rapist, you mean?’ Tom’s voice is hard.
‘Well if you want to put it quite that bluntly, yes,’ she says. ‘But it’s not all you are, Tom.’
‘The rest of what I am... isn’t worth a damn,’ he snarls, and stands suddenly, the scrape of his chair reawakening Nancy’s baby. He grabs the scotch from the cupboard and pours a large measure into the cooling milk.
‘How can you say that?’ Nancy regards him sadly as he knocks back the mixture, grimacing. He wipes his lips with the back of his hand and pours another measure into the now empty mug.
‘Because it’s true. I know,’ he waggles a finger at her, ‘I know what you’re going to say... fresh start, new job, all that bollocks.’ He swallows another mouthful. ‘But it doesn’t work like that. Stuff sticks with you.’ He blinks and grabs the table as the alcohol hits his system.
‘So you’re going to drink it all away until you die of liver failure, are you?’
Tom stares at her, his eyes glassy. ‘What else can I do? I don’t know how to get past this, Nance. I don’t know.’ He hangs his head and Nancy realises that he must have been drinking earlier to get this drunk so quickly.
‘Well nor do I; but I do know that I don’t want a miserable drunk staggering around the house at all hours when this baby comes home.’ There, she’s said it.
‘Are you throwing me out?’ Tom doesn’t raise his head and his voice is muffled against his chest. Nancy opens her mouth to reply but he beats her to it. ‘Because you can’t – this is as much my house as it is yours.’
‘Christ Tom, Dad’s not even in his grave yet and you’re talking as if he’s dead and buried. It’s still his house, and don’t you bloody forget it!’ The baby kicks violently and she gasps.
‘Wha’s wrong?’ Tom’s head swings up and he stares at her, tries to focus. He looks grey and ill, Nancy thinks, but she’s annoyed and she’s given him enough sympathy for one night.
‘Nothing. The baby kicked me, that’s all. I’m going to bed. If you throw up, have the decency to clean up after yourself, all right?’ She pushes her chair back and heads for the stairs.
‘I’m not gonna...’ Tom gulps and makes a strangled sound in his throat before clamping one hand over his mouth and diving for the downstairs loo, the door crashing shut behind him. Nancy closes her eyes at the sound of vomiting. In spite of her better judgement she waits, reluctant to leave him like this. He might be a bastard at times (in more ways than one she thinks sadly) but he’s still her big brother. And he’s trying to deal with something nobody should ever have to. Nancy, you’re a soft fool.
Eventually it grows quiet and Nancy looks up, expecting to see a shamefaced brother in the doorway, but the hallway is empty. She waits.
When five minutes have passed with no sign of Tom, she goes to the door, knocks.
‘Tom, I’m going up.’ There’s no reply. Suddenly alarmed, she turns the handle – please don’t let him have locked it – and to her relief the door swings open, and stops as it hits something. Oh no...
‘If you’ve passed out in there you’ll have to stay there, I’m not lifting you.’ She’d had all this with Dad; she’s bloody well not going through it with Tom as well. He doesn’t answer.
‘Tom, wake up!’ She pushes the door again and slowly it moves. When there’s room enough for her to poke her head through the gap, Nancy peers around the door; Tom is seated by the loo, his head on his arm across the closed lid. The acid stench of vomit is all-pervasive; he hadn’t even flushed before passing out.
‘Bloody hell, Tom...’ she sees that it’s his foot which is jamming the door so she pushes harder and gradually makes enough room to get in. She reaches across and pulls the handle down; the resulting noise startles Tom who groans before sinking back into an alcohol-befuddled sleep.
‘You and I are going to have serious words in the morning,’ Nancy tells him.
‘Uhhhh Huuhhh...’ Tom murmurs.
‘The house is on fire, Tom – you have to get out!’
Tom’s only reply is a soft snore.