Jason had told Nigel that this lad was too young for this. Nigel had thought exactly the same, but there was no way he was going to agree with anything Jason said, and so Robbie was in. That was before they realized that if they wanted Nigel to do something, Howard would have to suggest it, and that if they thought one of Nigel's ideas was complete bollocks, Jason would have to say he'd had that idea before. Manipulating people wasn't something Howard or Jason were very fond of, but this was a damn hard job, and Nigel was not a nice person and well, sometimes you just had to adapt the means to the end.
And so Robbie was one of them now, just so they were five. Howard and Jason had watched the recruiting procedure with a growing feeling of apprehension – first that blonde one, the piano player. A musician. “Adds credibility!” Nigel would smirk and look very pleased with himself. Jason looked over to Howard with raised eyebrows and Howard mouthed “adds problems” and back then that was still enough to make Jason smile. The good thing about Gary, though, was that he got so lost in his music that he never once noticed that this wasn't about music. And he never once wondered what they did at night. All in all, he caused them far less problems than they initially thought he would.
Robbie was different, though. He was too young and too curious and too easily bored and above all had endless energy. That's where the dancing came into plan. All those complicated routines they invented just to wear him out, just to make him bloody shut the fuck up.
But then Nigel presented them the decoy. Howard's jaw dropped and Jason's eyes seemed to pop out of his head. Mark was perfect in every respect. Simply perfect. Maybe this could work after all?
They worked their arses off, all of them, while Robbie was busy annoying them to death.
“We should just tell him, Jay. I'm serious, it's no good, all that booze just to get him to sleep. Christ, he's only 17!”
“Are you kidding? He can't keep anything to himself! What if he tells a journalist what we do at night?? They're gonna think he's on something.”
“That's what they think anyway! But we're making him a bloody addict!”
“I still think that's the lesser of two evils.”
Jason was wrong there, and he battered himself for that for the rest of his life. But he'd really thought they could protect Rob from all of it until they retired. Just a couple of years. Surely they could get him through a couple of years unharmed?
What Jason had underestimated was Rob's love for Mark. The hardest thing for Rob wasn't that they didn't allow him to come with them – the hardest thing was that he didn't know where they were taking Mark every night. Rob hated to see Mark so shattered and glum and sad and out of this world when they came back from their nocturnal trips. And so one night he replaced the Vodka with water, drank it in front of them to cosy them along and pretended to go to bed. Unfortunately, Mark would later think, he was a bloody good actor.
Rob had suspected they were doing something very strange at night, he was a sensible person after all, and he knew there were more things between heaven and earth. But he wasn't halfway prepared for what he saw that night.
They left with the van and Rob got in one of the cabs in front of the hotel. (He was giddy with joy when he got to say “Follow that van!” It wasn't as cool as “Follow that car!” but he didn't want to lose them, so proper instructions won out over coolness. A very grown-up thing to do, he thought, a tad bit proud of himself.) He had no idea where they were going; back then London was still a mystery to him. But it sure wasn't the best of areas. They parked the van and he got out of the cab and followed them silently. First he just watched them roaming the streets, looking for something. He saw them meeting other teams, greeting Morten and Mags, shaking hands with Graham, Dave and Alex, high-fiving Paul and Nick. Robbie grinned, imagining how Pal, Damon and Neil were happily sleeping in their hotel beds now – just like Gary. Bless the musicians!
Finally Howard, Mark and Jason turned into a dark side alley and Rob followed without thinking. Crouched behind a rubbish skip he waited to see what would happen. Somehow Jason and Howard had disappeared out of his sight, and Mark seemed to be all alone in this eerie alley, strolling around, waiting for something. Or someone? Rob saw him glancing around, only lit by the dim light escaping from the spare windows of the run-down brick buildings left and right. Rob felt how fear and the jitters formed a lump in his throat, and a knot in his chest. He knew Mark hated being alone and he hated the dark, so what the hell was he doing there? And where the fuck were Howard and Jason? Why didn't they look after him? Then Rob heard steps, and he stopped breathing and clenched his fists and he wanted to scream, tell Mark to run, but his mouth was too dry and his body was unable to move. He couldn't just leave his shelter, grab Mark's hand and tear him away from this place. The steps came closer and closer and Mark looked alarmingly nervous and a silhouette materialised from the surrounding darkness and the silhouette was petite, and frail, and Rob sighed with relief. It was a girl. A very young girl, ginger-haired and pretty and well fit, though with something vaguely reptilian about her. Her long curly hair waved and she seemed determined, she embraced Mark and before Rob knew what was going on they were making out as if there was no tomorrow. Mark groaned, and kissed and touched the girl eagerly. And far more expertly than Rob would have given him credit for.
Rob gasped. That was it? Dirty sex in a dark side alley? Jay and How took out Markie so he could shag a girl in public? And where were those two bastards anyway? Watching? Shagging each other? Watching and shagging each other? He wouldn't have been surprised. Rob was pissed off. So they had their fun every night and all he got was Vodka and boring Barlow?! Why wasn't he allowed to shag a random strange girl in a dark side alley? Or be shagged by Howard in a dark side alley? Or shag Mark in a dark side alley? Or....before he could think of even more wonderful shagging constellations he heard Mark moan, louder than before, and in a different pitch. Then there was movement and out of nowhere Jason appeared behind the girl. “Are you sure, Mark?” Rob heard him say.
“Yes!” Mark managed to disengage out of the embrace.
No one could've prepared Rob for what he saw next.
Jason, sensitive, gentle Jason, grabbed the girl in a tight grip and in one vigorous and precise move cut her throat, while Mark, sweet, lovely Markie, expertly ducked away from the huge stream of blood squirting in his direction.
Rob wanted to scream, but a heavy hand on his mouth prevented that. “What the fuck are you doing here, shithead?” Rob felt something warm running down his upper thigh - seconds before he realized that the hand on his mouth belonged to Howard.
After the girl was properly dead, they sat him down in the alley and Mark held him and stroked his head slowly. Panting and shivering he watched Jason and Howard cut up the body and wrapping the pieces in huge black plastic bags. They worked fast, thorough and silent. It was obviously not the first time they'd done this.
When the work was done they took the bags and Rob back to the van. Mark made him sit in the back and fastened his seat-belt before he took his place behind the wheel. While Howard and Jason heaved the plastic bags into the trunk Rob overheard their grim conversation.
“I always said we should've told him.”
“I'm not going to discuss this now, How.”
“Now he's an alcoholic and disturbed.”
“We'll fix him.” Jason, soft as ever.
“Oh yeah? And exactly how?” The anger in Howard's voice made Rob wince on his seat.
“Howard...” A deep sigh. “I don't know. Shit, I don't know anything right now.”
Back in the hotel they showered him and put him to bed. He was shock-still now, but they knew that wasn't going to last long. At some point Howard left to get rid of the plastic bags before the sun would set. Then Mark went for a shower. Jason still sat by the side of Rob's bed, silent, brooding, seemingly calm.
Jason saw Rob's eyes flickering before they opened. He suspected Rob had waited until they were alone.
“What have you done, Jay?”
“What do you think, Rob?”
“You...you've killed a girl.”
“I did.” The Lord was his witness, he had told them Rob was too young for this.
Rob lifted himself up in...anger? Fear? Rage? “She was only a girl! What....why....did you do that?!” Disbelief. Jason got it – if he were Rob he wouldn't have believed that this had really happened either.
“She was an alien, Rob. And not one of the nice sort.”
Sitting on the edge of the bed Rob looked at him, his eyes wide open, a million questions on his mind, none of them he could halfway articulate.
“So aliens do exist?”
“Yeah. And they don't come in peace. If you don't kill them, they kill...whoever gets in their way, really...”
“And this girl....?”
“Was an alien.”
“But she looked so...real?”
“They always do, Rob. That's part of the problem.”
“And how do you know...how can you be sure?”
“Mark....he can sense them...he knows, you know? They kind of connect with him, they come to him.”
“He's special, isn't he? I'd come to him if I was an alien.” There was a shimmer of a smile on both their faces now, for the first time that night.
“He's precious, mate.”
“Is it....is it...uhm, as horrible as...it looks?”
Jason wished he could tell him it wasn't and that you get used to it. But he's never been a liar.
“You should try and get some sleep now, mate. We'll talk tomorrow.”
“Okay.” It wasn't okay at all and they both knew it.
“Mark will sleep here tonight, okay?”
That night Mark lulled him to sleep. And the next day they talked. But then the night came and they left for the hunt again and Rob was on his own once more. He didn't dare ask if he could come with them. And though he tried, he just couldn't paint the pictures in his head black. A couple of rooms further up the corridor Gary wrote a song about breaking up. In room 214 Rob sat in front of the mini bar and rekindled an old love.
And that was the reason why at the age of 18, Robert Peter Williams had a serious problem with alcohol.