Justin Fashanu lit a marijuana joint and grinned an enormous, lopsided grin at a roomful of teenage kids. He felt pumped-up. He was in control. He could see it in the faces around him. No crowded football terraces roared him on, but the former soccer striker was back. Forgotten, if only briefly, was a lifetime of troubles, failures and forced retreats. Amid a smell of smoke and beer in a rented Maryland apartment, the grass hit. He felt a rush.
The time was 9.30pm on Tuesday March 24, and across Howard County, between Baltimore and Washington, silence and cold closed in. By nature, the area was all forests and fields, but freeways, shopping malls and luxury housing developments stamped footprints across the landscape. In the parking lot in front of Fashanu's cream clapboard building at 8465 Oakton Lane, Ashton Woods, ranks of Dodges, Buicks and Toyotas creaked after hour-long commuter drives. In the back were trees - dogwoods, oaks and maples - where bats wheeled and small mammals dug.
In the living room of apartment 2C, however, things were hotting up. Mike was there, with Steve, Tiffany and Carol. And DJ, and another boy. They were aged between 16 and 18, all minors, and they had beer: an illegal thrill. They sprawled on the floor and on a rented couch. They flicked cigarettes into the dogwoods from a plank deck at the back of the building. They eyed a ball game on a 40-inch television set. They praised Nirvana and rolled three-inch joints.
Most of the kids had been here before: word had spread about free-beer parties. Fashanu had rented the apartment for just two months, but had quickly put out feelers to local youth. He was a man with a natural, charismatic charm. He found it easy to win people's confidence. When he bumped into kids, he would invite them to come over. And he would tell them to bring their friends.
He had made himself comfortable in what must have seemed to him like a previous place and time. He had grown up on the edge of a village in Norfolk, England, which though flatter and less humid than Howard County, Maryland, otherwise had much in common. And his teenage years had been his days of hope, when his life seemed to promise so much. Acting out his youth again, he must have felt complete. 2C was open house.
He was powerfully built: 190lbs, 6 foot 2 inches, and reasonably fit for his age. He had once been a star, albeit only fleetingly, in Britain's national game. Back in 1981 he was bought from Norwich City FC by Nottingham Forest FC as the first black player in UK soccer history to rate a transfer fee of £1m. In 1990, he got the spotlight again for another first: for money, he declared himself in a series of tabloid newspaper features as the first out gay player in the sport.
But that night of the party, those glories were behind him. His career had collapsed in injury and controversy. More recently, he had been scratching around for work in Canada, New Zealand and even America. Howard County was as low as he had got. He needed these kids to give him a lift.
His guests were happily in the dark on all this. They knew nothing of his rise or fall. He was a witty kind of guy. His English accent was mellow. And he rented this neat place to hang. But as for his past across the pond playing soccer, they didn't get too stoked about that. They were into basketball, baseball, athletics. "Soccer sucks," they agreed.
"Yeah. Soccer sucks."
Fashanu, who had done little but kick a ball since he was four, tried to bridge this frustrating gulf. You don't have to like it, he advised them, but it was going to be big. A gold mine for players. Easy cash.
He told the kids that he was aged 28 and had come to their neighbourhood to help promote the game as part of a new team, Maryland Mania. He was an owner, he implied, and was looking for young people to help with back-office work. Delivering pamphlets. Designing publicity. All kinds of other cool stuff. The pay would be awesome: two hundred bucks a day. He told them: "We ought to talk."
Mostly he lied. He was 37 years old and had no slice in any commercial property. The Mania was for real. It plans to compete next year in the second-rank American A-League. But Fashanu was retired with an injured knee and was only being considered as coach. The team was owned by others, including a guy called Ali, who had known Justin Fashanu for years. Ali's local trading company sold Gourmet Swiss chocolates and the Purple Parrot suncare range. He had suggested there might be a position with the team's management, but nothing more. No contracts were signed.
That March evening, Fashanu got off on the group's energy, but there was one special kid (who Tiffany had brought) who particularly attracted his interest. DJ (short for D- Junior) was 17 years and three months old, fair haired, blue eyed, with a wide smile and pink cheeks. He was 5ft 9 and 145lbs, with a gym-trained, weight lifter's physique. His forearm circumference bulged to 16 inches. He bench-pressed 200lbs. His T-shirt hung loose and his trousers sagged. He was the best-looking boy in the room.
Though Fashanu's sexuality had hit the headlines in Britain, he kept it to himself, at first. But then, around 9.30, DJ asked to use the phone. He wanted to call his mother and his girlfriend. Fashanu showed him the phone in the bedroom, closed the door, then lay on the bed as the boy made the call and, during it, made a grab for his groin.
The kid was talking to his girlfriend, Laura, and hadn't been disturbed by Fashanu's presence. But when he felt the hand in an unexpected place, he leapt up and abandoned the call.
"I prefer woman," he said, without anger. "I'm not gay."
"I'm sorry," Fashanu replied quickly, flustered by the rejection. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
DJ believed him. He had a generous nature, and tended to take people as they seemed. His parents had only moved to Howard County 14 months previously, and before then he had lived in a town of 200 people in southern Pennsylvania. It was Amish country, conservative, neighbourly, where crime was low and trust was high. And if furtiveness clouded the middle-aged man's sexuality, the kid was better adjusted. Despite his remoteness from big-city life, he was young, watched MTV didn't fear homosexuality. He thought being gay was cool.
The kid then called his mother, Julie, and another kind of age-gap yawned. He didn't own a car and she wanted him home. She said he should come right now. Julie, 44, used to be a nurse, but in January of last year had been disabled in a traffic accident. Her husband, a 54-year-old sales executive and former policeman, was away on a business trip. But the stoned and slightly drunk 17-year-old felt compelled to snatch the last word. He was having fun. He never had fun. Why shouldn't he stay out. It wasn't late?
"DJ," his mother snapped, "have you been drinking?"
"Can't talk now."
"You must come home."
"When your father hears, he'll ground you."
Angrily, his mother hung up the phone. DJ returned to the living room.
The party dissolved at 11pm, and the kids mostly went their own ways. But DJ was still trying to assert his autonomy, and agreed with a suggestion from his charismatic host that they should go get more cans of beer. They drove in Fashanu's rented black Mercedes to the Allview Liquor Store, half a mile west, across I-29, on the Old Annapolis Road.
The kid liked Fashanu, was drawn by his smiles and took his accent as suggestive of class. DJ was the youngest in a family with four sons and felt natural in the little brother role. He was also an athlete and hoped to learn stuff from this guy, who he thought was 28. DJ was an amateur wrestler, played American football, 10-pin bowling, and his top sport, baseball, was such a passion he dreamed of a pro career.
He wasn't the most academically-minded of persons, having dropped out of high school for a job delivering dishwashers and cookers. He was also lonely, or at least isolated, in the loose, suburban life that his family had adopted in Howard County, Maryland. He knew none of his neighbours, and without a car he found it hard to get out and make friends. Now he had a friend in this smooth-talking Englishman. He figured that maybe things were looking up.
All but one of the other kids had now left the apartment, and when Fashanu and the 17-year-old returned to Oakton Lane, the party was down to three. Then, soon after midnight, DJ felt tired, as if the evening had suddenly caught up. He felt a strange hazy feeling, not easy to explain. It was not a feeling that he was at all used to. He had only drunk three 22oz beers, and the marijuana didn't pack that kind of punch.
"I'm too drunk to go home," he told Fashanu. "Can I crash here on the couch?"
"Certainly," Fashanu agreed. The perfect host. "Of course. You crash. No problem."
DJ fell asleep. The other kid left. Time moved on to 2am.
Soon after, Fashanu seized his chance. He would not take rejection a second time.
At some dimly-lit level DJ knew what was happening. But his struggle to stop it failed.
Fashanu's power was briefly regained. The ex-star raped the boy.