Ryan stood at the back of the pub, trying to hide himself away at the end of the horseshoe-shaped bar, and knew he shouldn’t have come here. The Fundraiser was now in full swing, many of those there were already drunk and, since his father had given that rousing speech, those drunks were now pushing money into the collecting tins. His father, in his typical shouting style, had stood on a table and told everyone there that he was being martyred for merely standing up for the truth and for his country, this was their chance to say to “those bastards in power” that they weren’t taking it anymore. At this everyone went crazy, shouting their agreement, and had started to push money into the collecting tins around the pub.
The pub was one of his father’s favourites, The George and Dragon (The irony wasn’t lost on Ryan), and that Saturday night his father and his three co-defendants had taken it over for a fundraiser for their defence fund. The four men had been charged with firebombing the home of a local businessman, Falak Patel. Mr Patel had run against Ryan’s father in the local council elections and won, especially after he exposed Ryan’s father’s extreme neo-Nazi views. Ryan’s father had been furious, swearing revenge. Two weeks later the Patel house was firebombed and almost burnt to the ground. Fortunately the family weren’t home that night, but Ryan took little comfort in that.
When his father was arrested the next day, Ryan wasn’t surprised either, but he was when his father got out on bail. From there onwards came the mad scramble for money. His father and the other three men needed money to pay for their defence, especially in the face of the mounting evidence. His father maintained that they had been framed, Patel had burnt down his own home and there was a conspiracy to send him to prison. Ryan simply remained quiet, but inside disbelieving every word he heard.
His father had always been a bully, as long as Ryan could remember, but he’d quickly learned how to avoid his father’s anger. If he was quiet, if he didn’t draw attention to himself, if he avoided his father when the man was drunk, then he was safe from his father’s violent temper. The man’s anger was usually directed at Ryan’s mother.
His father’s views had always been extremely rightwing. He blamed any problem on blacks, Asians, immigrants, Jews, gays, liberals; anyone he considered “others”. As a child, Ryan had known no different, but as he grew up into a teenager he began to see his father’s views for what they were. At school, Ryan met both black and Asian pupils and teachers, they were nothing like this his father’s opinion, they were decent and friendly people. Then there was Mr. Porter, his English teacher in Year 9. Mr. Porter was handsome, a muscular body stretching at his shirts and trousers, a charismatic personality, making English the most interesting of Ryan’s subjects that year, and Afro-Caribbean. Mr. Porter’s skin was a deep, rich brown. Mr. Porter was intelligent, kind, especially to Ryan, and very well spoken. He was the opposite of the stereotype of the black man Ryan’s father loved to talk about.
There was also his own sexuality, a quiet realisation that he was gay had grown upon him in his teens, plus a deep crush on his English Teacher, Mr. Porter. At sixteen, Ryan had nervously gone to his first gay pub, The Gentlemen’s Club, a pub on the opposite side of town. Though the barman had only sold him soft drinks that night, Ryan had found a group of six gay men there, who all seemed at least ten years older than him and older, who had just welcomed him into their group and had talked freely with him. None of them had tried to molest him or seduce him, though one of them, Alan who would later become a friend, had given him a lift home. Alan had introduced him to the gay youth group he ran, and there Ryan had been able to meet other gay men and lesbians his own age, and even met his first, short-lived boyfriend, Richie. None of the men he had met, that first night at The Gentlemen’s Club, were remotely like the predatory homosexuals his father hissed venom about. None of the gay men and lesbians he had since met came close to his father’s vocal homophobia.
Ryan was only a child when his father had joined The People’s Army, at the time all Ryan thought was that it meant his father would be spending less time at home, a good thing in Ryan’s eyes. When, as a teenager, he’d found out that The People’s Army was a neo-Nazi group he’d felt a rush of embracement, it was another reason to distance himself from his father. At first, Ryan had just dismissed them as his father and his bigoted mates sitting around and talking about their fantasies of hatred; but then they took it onto the streets. First they staged noisy and violent protests outside anything they didn’t like, Synagogues, Black Community Centres, Gay Clubs and Asian weddings. Then things turned nasty, members of The People’s Army started attacking the things they were protesting, and violence quickly followed. When two of the group’s leaders were arrested for beating up a black church Pastor, interest in the group had quickly died down, though his father’s views didn’t.
His last moment of disillusionment with his father came with the man’s behaviour over his father’s treatment of Ryan’s older brother, Bobby. Bobby had a problem with drugs, he seemed to try to use them as a crutch to deal with his downward spiralling life. All his father would say was that Bobby’s drug use was because of those “bloody black drug dealers”. When Bobby was arrested for possession of heroin his father had refused to offer any help, he wouldn’t stand any assurance for Bobby’s bail and won’t help pay for a barrister for Bobby, forcing Bobby to have to accept a half-heart legal aid barrister and causing him to receive a custodial sentence. Bobby was sent to a rat and cockroach infested, squalid category B prison were Bobby quickly started rotting away. Once sent to prison, his father refused to visit Bobby, saying, “He wanted to use those drugs and hanging around with those darky drug-pushers, he has to pay the price now.” Ryan hated his father for this and quickly distanced himself further from the man.
Ryan had left home at nineteen, he had just started working for the local council and suddenly had the financial independence to do so. He did so mainly because he’d just met Jake and wanted to pursue a relationship with him, which he couldn’t do under the glare of my mother, who always reported back to his father. It was at the same time that The People’s Army reformed, as The People’s Party and had turned their attention to politics, firstly with the local council elections. When they lost the election, they seemed to lose interest in politics, but his father’s arrest had galvanised them into energy again. Most of this had gone almost unnoticed by Ryan because he was far more interested in his relationship with Jake, because with Jake he had found a real boyfriend, a man who cared as much about him as Ryan cared about him, and Ryan loved it. Life with Jake was so much happier and much more stable than life had ever been with his parents.
Ryan had only come to this fundraiser because his mother had begged him to. She had rung him up the night before and pleaded with him to attend, saying that he had to be there to show a “united family”. He wanted to snap back that Bobby wouldn’t be there but didn’t. In the end, her shear pleading wore him down and he agreed. When he told Jake, later, Jake had exploded in anger, his liking for Ryan’s father was less than Ryan’s own.
His father was prowling around the pub, shaking hands and slapping backs with the other men there, a board smile on his smile. Ryan decided this was a good point to leave, he was sick of it all and his father acting like the king of the hill was the worst part of it all. He stepped away from the bar and began walking to the entrance, weaving his way through the groups of people there. He’d barely got halfway when his father descended onto him, shouting:
“Ryan, son! You made it! Good to see you, son,” his father slapped him on the back, with a sharp blow that made Ryan wince, and the next moment he quickly covered up that wince.
“Yeah, dad,” Ryan mumbled.
“I need a word with you, son,” his father said, his hand still firmly clamped on Ryan’s shoulder.
“What?” Ryan felt his stomach sink.
“The lawyer says I need character witnesses to make a good impression. He says your mother won’t do, juries see through wives and that shit, but he says I want character witnesses like you, people like you, you know people in good jobs who haven’t had any trouble with the coppers, like you with your job at the council. I thought you’d be great as one.”
“You want me to be a character witness at your trial?” Ryan asked, part of him not believing what he’d heard.
“That’s what I fucking said. You can be so fucking thick sometimes son”
“Right...” Ryan replied, not sure what else to say. He had not been expecting this and his mind was trying to process it.
“Good, I’ll tell the lawyer then. Knew I could count on you. I’ve got to see Kenny, poor bastard can’t get anyone to do the character witnesses thing for him,” his father said, moving away.
He watched his father walk away for a moment, God the nerve of the man. He hadn’t shown any interest in Ryan for years but now he was facing prison he wanted Ryan, but he could only spare Ryan a few moments. Though he could be a character witnesses for his father, a character witnesses who would actually tell the truth. He could tell the court about the real type of person his father is, his racism, his homophobia, his wife beating, the way he had treated Bobby.
He began to push his way through the pub to its door, he was meeting Jake at The Yellow Brick Road, their local gay pub. He smiled to himself, he still had Jake in his life. He couldn’t wait until he told Jake about what had just happened here.
The thought, the near fantasy, of standing in the witness box and telling a whole courtroom the kind of man his father really was, spilling all his father’s dirty secrets to an attentively listening courtroom, had almost carried him the whole half hour walk to The Yellow Brick Road. It was a wonderful and exciting thought, a thought that gave him an almost glowing sense of excitement.
When he’d reached The Yellow Brick Road, the doorman Stan had nodded a greeting as Ryan pushed his way into the pub, and Ryan had smiled back at him. He’d found Jake sat at one of the round tables there, drinking with their friends Eddie and Marc. Ryan had quickly joined them, taking the empty seat next to Jake. Jake had greeted him with a quick kiss.
“How was the old man’s fundraiser?” Jake asked him, referring to Ryan’s father.
“As awful as I thought it would be. My dad was strutting around as if he’d already won his trial, instead of just getting some stupid sods to shove five-pound notes into his collection tins,” Ryan told them.
“And your father hasn’t got a hope in hell of winning his trial, so I’ve heard,” Eddie said.
“What have you heard?” Ryan turned to Eddie, unable to hide the excitement from his voice. Eddie was a solicitor, who worked mainly as a duty solicitor for those facing police arrest, and heard a lot about different criminal prosecutions, and when he was able to, Eddie loved to gossip.
“No, not shop talk,” protested Marc.
“Ryan needs to hear this, trust me,” Eddie said.
“Hear what?” Ryan replied.
“The police have got a shit load of evidence against your father. It’ll take a miracle for him to be found innocent,” Eddie said.
“That’s why he was looking for character witnesses,” Ryan said.
“Character witnesses?” Jake asked him.
“He was looking for upstanding members of society to tell his trial how wonderful he is. He actually asked me to be one and God I was tempted to say yes,” Ryan told them.
“You were tempted?” Jake asked him, disbelieve plain in his voice.
“Yes, I could tell the court who he is. What a racist, sexist, homophobic wife beater he really is,” Ryan replied, unable to hold back the excitement from creeping into his voice.
“I don’t want to be the bastard here,” Eddie said, “but as a character witness you’ll be asked to write a character reference, which the defence barrister will present to the court. You write the truth about your father then the barrister won’t let it within a mile of the court.”
“Ah shit…” Ryan said, wallowing in a moment’s disappointment. It had been a nice fantasy while it lasted, even though briefly the fantasy had given him a moment of justice.
“Don’t worry babe,” Jake said, gently taking hold of Ryan’s hand. “It was a good idea, just not the right one.”
“Thanks,” Ryan replied, leaning into his lover’s body. His shoulder pressing into Jake’s shoulder, he could feel the warmth of Jake’s body through his clothes. It felt good.
“Don’t worry about it,” Eddie said. “The prosecution barrister can bring into evidence your father’s past convictions, and God knows that paints a bad enough picture. I’ve also had the misfortune of meeting your father, in the past. I’m sure he’ll tell the court what complete shit he is, all by himself”
“That’s a better idea,” Jake said, before briefly kissing Ryan on the forehead.