Extract | The Sting by Kimberley Chambers | Chapter 2

Category: Extract

Enjoy the second chapter from our exclusive sample of the explosive new novel from Kimberley Chambers. Out now!

 

CHAPTER TWO

Christmas morning started out like any other. The kids opened their presents, then watched Clapperboard’s Christmas Cracker and Play School while munching on home-made sausage rolls. Considering the events of the previous evening, the atmosphere was relatively normal. The only telling sign of the drama was their mother’s swollen eye.

Alexander poked his head around the lounge door. Hazel was engrossed in her Jackie annual, Tommy in his Roy of the Rovers and Linda’s head was in a St Trinian’s book. ‘Look what I found in the dining room,’ Alexander
grinned.

Realizing they had more presents, all three children jumped up excitedly.

‘Wow! A real Celtic kit, like the actual players wear. Look, Mum,’ Tommy gabbled, taking his tank top and shirt off and putting the top on. ‘Can I wear it today? Please can I, Dad?’

Alexander chuckled. ‘I don’t see why not – do you, Mum?’

Valerie forced a smile. She loved Christmas as a rule, always decorated the house with a huge tree, paper chains, tinsel, and put all the cards up on the wall either side of the fireplace. She even blew up an enormous inflatable snowman; he stood in the corner next to the glass cabinet she kept her collection of china dolls in. This year, however, apart from enjoying the children’s excitement when opening their gifts, Valerie was only going through the motions. She was counting down the days until her husband went back to work and she could spend time with the man she truly loved.

‘Oh my God! It’s those yellow dungarees we saw in Rathbone market,’ Hazel exclaimed. ‘I love them. Can I put them on now?’

‘Go on then,’ Alexander laughed.

‘Barbie and Ken! And they’re wearing cords like you made me, Tommy and Hazel, Mum.’ Linda was over the moon.

Valerie smiled. She was a dab hand with a sewing machine. Not only did she make lots of pretty frocks for herself, whenever the kids spotted one of their idols on Top of the Pops or in a magazine wearing something they desired, Valerie would find a pattern and make them an identical version. ‘Your father and I wrote to Father Christmas ourselves because we knew how much you wanted Barbie and Ken, didn’t we, Alex?’

‘We sure did. And this is for you,’ Alexander replied, handing Valerie a gift. He hadn’t forgiven her. Would never forgive her for the past. But he only had Irish Tony’s word on seeing her out with Terry Fletcher and, to be fair, Irish Tony was always pissed and rarely knew what day it was. Valerie had sworn to him last night that the only times she had been out of an evening while he was working away was to the bingo with her mate Lisa, so for the  children’s sake Alexander had chosen to believe that. For now, at least.

‘Thank you, Alex. They’re beautiful,’ Valerie said, darting off to the bathroom mirror to secure the knotted gold hoops to her ears. She didn’t like them much, preferred dangly earrings, but she was determined to play
the dutiful wife for the sake of her kids. She had quite liked the perfume Alex had given her earlier, which was a bonus. Aliage by Estée Lauder. She’d been amazed he’d got that right. Every year he bought her scent and he usually got it so very wrong. She liked musky perfumes and no matter how many times she told Alexander that, she always ended up with something with a sickly sweet aroma.

Having already received numerous presents from his wife and children, Alexander was surprised when Tommy ran out of the room then returned with another. ‘I chose this and bought it out of my pocket money, Dad.’

Alexander ripped off the wrapping paper. It was a small framed photo of the victorious Celtic side who had won the league last season.

‘I thought you could take it to the oil rig with you,’ Tommy suggested.

Alexander stood up and ruffled the boy’s head. Tommy was a lovable kid, but Alexander could never love him, not properly anyway. He glared at Valerie. ‘I’m off to the pub now. I’ll pick my mum up on the way home.’

‘What pub you going to?’ Valerie asked, her heart in her mouth.

Alexander liked to drink back in his old stamping ground Seven Kings, rather than Barking. ‘The Joker,’ he replied. ‘Why?’

Valerie breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. Terry Fletcher wouldn’t be in there. ‘No reason. Have fun. Dinner will be ready at half three.’

‘Why isn’t David on here? He’s so much better than Chuck Berry. “My Ding-A-Ling” is a stupid song,’ Hazel complained.

Tommy rolled his eyes. What was it with girls? His eldest sister was in love with David Cassidy. ‘Because David’s a poofta.’

Hazel punched her brother in the arm. ‘No, he is not.’

Watching Top of the Pops was a ritual in the Boyle household. Tommy liked David Bowie, but he would never admit that to the lads at school because David wore make-up and he would get ribbed for it.

‘Yes! Jimmy’s on,’ Linda squealed, jumping up and down with excitement.

‘They didn’t even have the Shangri-Las on there,’ Hazel moaned. ‘Leader of the Pack’ was her current favourite record. It reminded her of Jimmy Young, who lived across the road. He was a bad boy who rode a motorbike. He was also very handsome.

Valerie was singing along, merrily basting the potatoes when she heard Alexander arrive home. Her heart beat rapidly and she said a silent prayer he wasn’t half-cut. She would hate him to spoil the kids’ Christmas by kicking off again. ‘Did you have a nice time?’ she shouted out. She could hear the nervousness in her own voice.

‘So-so. Come and say hello to Mum then,’ Alexander bellowed. Irish Tony had wound him up again. ‘I’m more than ninety-nine per cent sure it was your Valerie with Terry Fletcher, Alex. I’m a hundred per cent. I saw ’em holding hands.’

‘Hello, Noreen. Merry Christmas,’ Valerie said, wiping her hands on her apron before kissing the old cow on the cheek. She could tell Alexander had heard more gossip due to the sneer on his face.

‘Oh dear! Looks nasty, that eye. Walk into another door, did you?’ Noreen knew full well her son clumped Valerie at times and she didn’t have an ounce of sympathy for the woman. Valerie was a born flirt and, unfortunately for Alexander, she couldn’t keep her knickers on. Noreen
would never forgive her for how she’d treated her son and she rued the day Alexander ever met the whore. His first wife Mary had been a lovely lady.

‘Dad’s still got the hump with Mum. You don’t think they’ll fight again, do you?’ Hazel whispered in her brother’s ear.

Tommy shrugged. He’d been doing a lot of shrugging
lately.

Valerie Boyle was a good cook and had gone to town as per usual with the Christmas dinner. The turkey was succulent, the stuffing crispy, the parsnips just on the right side of burnt and the vegetables not too soft.

‘Bit soggy, these roast potatoes,’ Noreen complained, pushing the spuds to one side of her plate.

Tommy glared at his grandmother. She wasn’t a loving woman and he could tell Hazel was her favourite. ‘I like the potatoes. It’s a nice dinner, Mum.’

‘You would say that, wouldn’t you? You’re your mother’s
son all right,’ Noreen spat.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Tommy asked.

‘Don’t answer your grandma back, eat your dinner, boy,’
Alexander ordered.

‘You never answered my question, Valerie. What happened to your face?’ Noreen pried. Her son hadn’t mentioned anything was amiss on the journey.

Aware of her children’s eyes on her, Valerie cleared her throat. ‘I tripped and fell down the stairs.’

Noreen pursed her lips. She knew Valerie was lying, guessed she’d been hawking her mutton again. ‘Best you be more careful in future then, eh?’

‘Hello, Rex. Look what I got for you, boy. You’ll like this. It’s turkey,’ Tommy said, stroking his best mate. Rex looked so forlorn living in his kennel, it broke Tommy’s heart. But his dad wouldn’t budge, not even when he’d begged to let Rex inside for Christmas Day. ‘It’s a dog, Tommy. Dogs live in kennels and humans live in houses. Fact.’

Rex nuzzled his head inside Tommy’s navy blue Parka. He hated being out in the cold, alone.

Alexander dropped his mother home early evening, then drove back towards Barking with a face like thunder. Irish Tony’s words had been on his mind all day and it had been an effort playing happy families. He was far too embarrassed to admit the truth to his mother. She’d warned him not to leave Mary for Valerie in the first place, and he felt like a bloody fool.

‘How could you do this to me, you bitch?’ Alex mumbled under his breath. He loved Valerie with a burning passion. She was an absolute stunner and the thought of another man even touching her filled him with rage. He’d always been insanely jealous, couldn’t help himself. Perhaps he should hand in his notice? Quit the oil rigs and stay at home where he could keep a watchful eye on her. Trouble with that idea was, local jobs paid nowhere near what he earned on the rigs and they had a very expensive mortgage. Only other option was to pay this Terry Fletcher a visit and warn him off. Alexander didn’t know the bloke personally but had heard through the grapevine he was married and lived in Barking with his wife and two kids.
Alexander didn’t want to turn up at Terry’s door in case the wife chucked him out. That would only push him and Valerie closer together.

Alexander punched his steering wheel in frustration. ‘Slag.’

Valerie Boyle put the Party Susan on the dining table. ‘Supper’s ready, kids. Would you like me to bring a plate of sandwiches in the lounge to you, Alex?’ she shouted out. Her husband was sitting in his favourite armchair, knocking back the Scotch like it was going out of style.

‘I’m not hungry,’ Alexander replied.

‘Whassa matter with Dad, Mum?’ Linda asked. It was clear to all three children that after dropping their nan off their father had arrived home in a foul mood.

‘He’s probably just tired and winding down from work. Why don’t you three take your sandwiches and pickles upstairs, eat them in your bedrooms. You don’t have to go to sleep yet. You can play with your toys upstairs too.’ Valerie was a protective mother, would hate her children
to witness any more violence. She had always tried to hide that from them.

‘No. I’m staying downstairs with you,’ Tommy replied. He was determined not to leave his mother alone with his father. That thought scared him.

The girls went to their bedroom and Tommy sat next to his mother on the sofa. His dad had a film on, but Tommy could tell he wasn’t really watching it. His mood was tense and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
‘What’s this film about, Dad?’ Tommy asked.

‘It’s about a slag, son. A slag who has affairs while her old man is working away.’

Valerie felt her heart lurch. ‘Please don’t say such things to Tommy, Alex. I have done nothing wrong. I told you that last night.’

‘That isn’t what Irish Tony says. He’s seen you out with your fancy man, holding hands. How often does your mother go out of a night, Tommy?’

‘Not much. Once a week usually, to the bingo,’ Tommy lied.

‘Hazel, Linda, get down here a minute,’ Alexander bellowed.

‘For goodness’ sake, Alex. Please don’t do this, not on Christmas Day. If you want to argue with me, then fine. But leave the children out of it,’ Valerie urged.

Hazel precariously poked her head around the lounge door. ‘What’s up?’

‘Come in the room properly,’ Alexander ordered. ‘Stand in front of me and look me in the eyes, love.’

‘Why?’‘Because I want to ask you something.’

‘Me too?’ Linda enquired, looking at Tommy, who stared at her, willing her not to put her foot in anything.

Alexander held his eldest daughter’s hand. ‘Don’t you dare lie to me, Hazel, this is important. I want to know how often your mother goes out of a night?’

Hazel didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t want to get her mum into trouble but neither did she want to lie to her dad. ‘Sometimes she goes out,’ Hazel mumbled.

‘Yes, but how many times? Think back to, say, last week. You can remember that clearly, can’t you?’

Hazel nodded.

‘How many times did your mother go out of an evening last week? Mind, I will check with the neighbours and if I find out you’ve fibbed to me, you’ll get no pocket money for a whole year. Do you understand?’

Valerie squeezed Tommy’s trembling hand. ‘Please stop this nonsense, Alex. The children don’t deserve it.’

Hazel chewed nervously on her lower lip. She got far more pocket money than any of her friends and she would hate not to be able to buy her records, favourite magazines and sweets. ‘Five times, Dad. Mum went out five times last week in the evening.’

‘Thank you, Hazel. You and Linda can go back upstairs
now.’

Alexander waited until the front-room door was shut, then leapt up and whacked Tommy hard around the head. ‘That’s for fucking lying to me. Now get your arse up them stairs and I won’t be taking you to football tomorrow either.’

Tommy burst into tears and ran from the room. He had been so excited about attending his first ever proper football match, had been bragging about it at school before he broke up. What was he meant to say to his pals
now?

Valerie winced as Alexander moved closer to her. She knew what was coming next and had little choice but to take it.

Alexander punched his wife in the side of the head, then pinned her to the carpet. His breath smelled of Scotch, his face etched in a sneer. ‘You’re my woman. Nobody else’s. You belong to me,’ he spat as he ripped her knickers off. Seconds later he raped her, brutally.

 

The Sting is out now. Order your copy here!

Extract | The Sting by Kimberley Chambers | Chapter 1

Category: Extract

Enjoy an exclusive sample from the explosive new novel from Kimberley Chambers. Out now!

PROLOGUE

New Year’s Eve 1972

‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld land syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.’

I’m in the middle of the circle holding hands with my sisters Hazel and Linda. My mum, dad and Nanny Noreen are all singing at the top of their voices. My mum looks happy, even though she still has the remainder of a black eye that my dad gave her on Christmas Eve.

‘Open the front door, Tommy,’ orders my dad. He calls New Year’s Eve
Hogmanay after an oatcake.

I do as I’m told. Old Mr Cleaver across the road is banging two dustbin lids together. I feel something brush past my leg and then I scream when I realize what it is. It’s a black cat and it’s obviously been run over. It collapses in the hallway right in front of me.

Nanny Noreen goes ballistic and blames me. She’s very religious and believes in Scottish folklore. ‘You stupid boy,’ she bellows. ‘You know the first to step through the door after midnight affects the fortunes of everyone who lives in the house. I’ve told you that enough times, so what do you invite in, a dying black cat. Now we’re going to have bad luck all year. You wait and see.’

I stare at the cat as it takes its last breath. Little did I know at that point Nanny Noreen was speaking the truth.

In a few days’ time, my life as I’d known it would no longer be. Everything was about to change for the worse.

My name is Tommy Boyle and this is my story. . .

 

CHAPTER ONE

Christmas 1972

Tommy Boyle pressed his nose against the cold glass of his bedroom window. The weather had taken a turn for the worse this week. It was literally freezing, but Tommy didn’t care about the cold. All he was bothered about was his father coming home from the oil rigs. He was so excited; he’d barely slept last night.

Hearing his sisters squabbling over the record player, Tommy sighed. Three months at a time his father worked away for, and it was difficult being surrounded by females. He missed the simple things: such as watching The Big Match or Match of the Day and discussing the games. Girls knew nothing about football. Nor Cowboys and Indians, or Battleship.

‘Not this rubbish again. Turn it off,’ shouted twelve-year-old Tommy. His younger sister had obviously got her way. Linda was obsessed with little Jimmy Osmond, reckoned she would marry him one day. ‘Long-Haired Lover from Liverpool’ was one of only two songs Linda ever played. Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ was the other and Tommy hated both. He thought they were silly songs.

‘Breakfast’s ready, kids.’

Tommy ran down the stairs, but slipped, landing in a heap at the bottom.

Valerie Boyle picked her son up. ‘What did you do? You silly sausage. Have you hurt yourself?’

Tommy had hurt himself. His knee was throbbing, but he was determined not to cry. ‘Boys don’t cry,’ his dad had always told him. ‘I’m all right. My pyjamas are too long. I fell over the bottoms of ’em.’

Valerie had only bought her son the fleecy pyjamas the previous day. They were meant to fit a twelve-year-old, but Tommy was small for his age. ‘I’ll get the machine out in a bit, alter them for you. You’ll live, eh?’ Valerie smiled, ruffling her son’s mousy blond hair.

‘Where’s Rex?’ Tommy enquired. Rex was the Alsatian his father had purchased to protect the family in his absence. Tommy loved Rex and the feeling was mutual. He would often take the dog out with him. Rex was too strong on his lead for Tommy, but he would walk happily by his side and never went into the road.

‘Rex is having his breakfast in his kennel, love. You know your dad doesn’t allow Rex indoors while he’s here, and he’ll be home soon, won’t he?’

‘Yeah, but it’s cold. Rex can’t sleep in his kennel this time of year. He’ll freeze.’

‘I’ve put some blankets in there, Tommy. He’ll only be out there for ten days, until your dad goes back to work. Then he can come inside again,’ Valerie replied, wishing her husband wasn’t coming home for Christmas at all. She didn’t love Alexander any more, hadn’t for a long time. But the children did, so she put their happiness first. For all Alexander’s faults, he was a hard worker and good provider. They lived in a nice three-bedroom house: private, not council. Working on those oil rigs paid extremely well.

A deafening scream filled the air, followed by ten-year-old Linda holding two halves of a seven-inch single in her hands. ‘Hazel snapped Jimmy in half,’ she cried.

‘No, I never. It was an accident,’ lied fourteen-year-old Hazel. ‘I wanted to play Alice Cooper and she—’

‘Enough.’ Valerie Boyle held her hands in the air while eyeing her eldest daughter with suspicion. Hazel had a nasty streak at times, just like her father. ‘Go eat your breakfast, now!’

‘I loved that record, Mummy,’ Linda whimpered.

Valerie held her youngest child close to her chest. ‘I
know you did, darling. Don’t worry. Mummy will go to
the record shop after breakfast and buy you another one.’

Tommy Boyle stared out of the front-room window nervously chewing at his fingernails. His father had been due home at lunchtime and it was now teatime.

‘Sausage rolls are ready. Who wants one?’ Valerie yelled, trying to keep her voice sounding jovial. Alexander had promised her faithfully he would come straight home, what with it being Christmas Eve. Him stopping off at a pub for this length of time would only lead to one thing. Arguments. Alexander was a horrible drunk, would always drag up the past.

‘Will Dad bring us presents too? Or is Father Christmas
bringing them all?’ enquired Linda.

Hazel sniggered. ‘Father Christmas doesn’t exist, divvy.’

‘Yes, he does. He eats the mince pies we leave outside
and his reindeers drink the milk.’

‘No, he doesn’t. Rex does.’

‘Stop it, Hazel. Christmas is meant to be a time of joy, not disagreements. And if I catch you breaking your sister’s records again, you’ll get no pocket money for a month,’ warned Valerie.

His stomach churning like it always did when he feared his dad might come home drunk, Tommy continued to stare forlornly out of the window.

It was gone midnight when Tommy was awoken by shouting and what sounded like glass smashing. He immediately started to shake. His mum was only five foot two, his dad a whole foot taller, and he knew who would end up with the cuts and bruises.

Linda appeared in his bedroom, tears streaming down her face. ‘They’re fighting, Tommy.’

‘Get in my bed and put the quilt over your head.’

‘Dad won’t hurt Mum, will he?’ Linda asked fearfully.

‘No. I’ll sort it. You stay here,’ Tommy replied bravely.

Sitting on the top of the stairs rocking to and fro was Hazel. Tommy sat next to his sister and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. The argument was loud, but muffled in parts.

‘You lying whore. I know you’ve been with Terry Fletcher because you were seen in the fucking pub with him,’ bellowed Alexander Boyle.

Tommy winced as he heard something else smash. It sounded like china. ‘I’m gonna make sure Mum is OK.’

‘No, Tommy. Don’t go down there,’ Hazel pleaded, grabbing her brother’s arm. ‘He’ll only hit you again, like he did last time. Don’t get involved.’

Remembering the time he’d got a clump for intervening, Tommy sat down. For as long as he could remember, his parents had argued. His dad was a tall broad-shouldered man with black hair and blue eyes. He was from Glasgow originally and spoke with a deep Scottish accent. So much so, some of Tommy’s friends struggled to understand what he was saying. At forty-five, he was thirteen years older than Tommy’s mum.

‘Who is Terry Fletcher?’ Hazel asked. ‘Is he Billy Fletcher’s dad?’

Tommy shrugged. Billy Fletcher was older than him and in Hazel’s year at school. Tommy thought he was a flash git and steered well clear of him. Whoever this Terry Fletcher was, it was clear he was the cause of the argument. From what he could gather, his dad was accusing his mother of fornicating with Terry while he’d been away.

Tommy didn’t know too much about his parents’ past. They never really spoke about it. The snippets he had learned mostly came via his dad’s mum, Nanny Noreen. She reckoned his father was happily married to a good Catholic girl before he’d been forced to travel to London to find work. According to Nanny Noreen, his mother was working as a barmaid back then and she’d trapped his father by falling pregnant with Hazel.

‘A laughing stock you’ve made me, you no-good slut. Parading around with another man while I’m working my balls off to provide for you. Have you any idea how that makes me feel? You’re a prostitute, same as your mother was,’ bellowed Alexander.

‘Do you think our dead nan really was a prostitute?’
asked Linda.

Not realizing Linda had snuck out of his bedroom, Tommy leapt up and held her in his arms. ‘Nah, take no notice. Mum says when Dad is drunk he doesn’t know what he’s saying.’ Tommy had actually heard Nanny Noreen say that his other nan had been a brass and had died while having an illegal abortion, but he liked to protect his sisters from such horrible gossip.

‘Mum has been going out lots of an evening lately and she has been wearing her best frocks and shoes. Do you think Dad could be telling the truth? Perhaps she hasn’t been going to the bingo?’ Hazel suggested.

Once again, Tommy shrugged. The boys at school were all infatuated with his mother. She was short, very pretty and blonde. The boys insisted she was a ringer for the actress Barbara Windsor, but Tommy reckoned that was because of the size of her boobies. She did look a bit like Barbara, he supposed, but to him she was plain old ‘Mum’. He had heard a few rumours though, that she was a ‘Good Time Girl’. Tommy hadn’t really understood what that meant at the time, but he was kind of getting the gist now.

Hearing more shouting, then a loud scream, Tommy decided enough was enough and bolted down the stairs.

‘No, Tommy. No,’ Hazel shrieked, running after her brother. Linda followed suit. As siblings, they often had disagreements. But whenever their parents fought, the three of them stuck together like glue.

‘What you doing? Leave Mum alone,’ Tommy ordered. His mother was lying on the kitchen floor and his father was crouched over her with his hands around her throat.

‘Go back to bed, you,’ Alexander hissed, without even looking around.

‘None of us are going back to bed. Not until you leave Mum alone,’ Hazel bravely defied him.

The sound of his first-born’s voice was enough to jolt Alexander Boyle back to reality. He loosened his grip around his wife’s throat and gingerly stood up. He grinned at Hazel. A stupid, drunken grin. ‘You going to give your dad a hug then?’
Knowing it would be better for her mother if she did, Hazel walked towards him and put her arms around his waist.

‘Daddy’s home. Come on you two. Give your old man a hug.’

Linda was hiding behind her brother’s back, but when Tommy squeezed her hand and led her over to their father, she also guessed playing normal was the right thing to do.

Valerie stood up. Her left eye socket was throbbing where the bastard had given her a right-hander. Alexander had his back towards her, so she brushed herself down and locked eyes with her beloved son. ‘Thank you,’ she mouthed.

Unable to sleep, Tommy thought about his family. They were happy most of the time and all parents argued, he supposed.

His mum was from Poplar originally. She was bubbly and laughed a lot. She had sea-blue eyes and her smile could light up a room. There’d been rows in the past caused by other men chatting to his mum. His father had hit a man at Old Mother Flynn’s daughter’s wedding because he said the man was taking liberties with his mother.

Since his dad had gone to work on the oil rigs things had got better. His last few visits home had been such good fun and there hadn’t been a cross word. Tommy wasn’t sure why Nanny Noreen wasn’t a fan of his mum. Hazel reckoned that was because their mother wasn’t Catholic and she had liked their dad’s first wife. She was very religious, Nanny Noreen, and his mum didn’t believe in religion. His dad did though, especially when it came to football. He was a big Celtic fan and hated Glasgow Rangers with a passion. He called them ‘Protestant scum’ and had been raging when they’d won the UEFA Cup Winners Cup at the Nou Camp earlier this year. His dad’s sorrow had turned to joy when Rangers had got banned from defending the trophy thanks to a pitch invasion from their fans. ‘Serves the Protestant scum right, lad,’ he’d chuckled, doing a jig of unbridled joy.

Unlike most of his friends, Tommy had no cousins. His dad had a brother who lived in Scotland, but they didn’t speak. Tommy had no idea why they’d fallen out because nobody ever wanted to talk about such things. His mum also had a brother, but he had no children and they rarely saw him anyway. Uncle Ian lived in South London and Tommy’s dad said he was a ‘weirdo’. Even his mum didn’t seem to like Uncle Ian very much.

Tommy liked the house he lived in. It was ever so modern with brown and orange patterned wallpaper. Apparently, when he was little they’d lived in a house in Seven Kings. Tommy didn’t remember that, the one they lived in now in Barking was all he could recall. Unlike most of his pals, Tommy had his own bedroom that he’d decorated with posters of his favourite footballers. He was a Celtic fan like his father, but Tottenham Hotspur was his English team. He had decided to become a Spurs fan after watching them win the UEFA Cup Final in May. Martin Chivers and Alan Mullery had scored the goals. Chivers was Tommy’s favourite player.

Hearing Rex howling outside, Tommy prayed that he wouldn’t wake his dad. He had heard his father come up to bed about an hour ago, but not his mum.

Linda stirred as her brother got out of bed. She could never sleep alone if her parents had been fighting. ‘Where you going, Tommy? Has Father Christmas arrived?’

‘No. You go back to sleep. I’m going to check on Rex. I won’t be long.’

Aware his father was snoring like a pig, Tommy tiptoed down the stairs. It wasn’t just Rex he wanted to check on. Sleep would not come unless he was sure his mother was all right.

Valerie Boyle was sitting by the lit-up Christmas tree wrapping the last of the children’s presents. She could barely see out of her left eye now, the socket was so swollen.

Tommy crouched next to her. ‘Are you OK, Mum?’ he asked softly.

Willing herself not to cry, Valerie forced a smile. ‘Of course I am. Tough as old boots, me.’

‘Is Dad still angry?’

‘No. I don’t think so.’

‘Who is Terry Fletcher, Mum?’

No way could Valerie tell her son the truth. Not only would it break his heart, she would hate him to think badly of her. She shrugged. ‘I have no  idea, Tom. You know what your father is like when he gets a bee in his bonnet, especially if he’s been drinking.’

Satisfied his mother would never lie to him, Tommy nodded. ‘Rex is howling. I think he must be cold. Can I bring him in the kitchen? I will sleep with him and I promise I’ll put him outside before Dad gets up in the morning.’

Valerie reached her arm out and stroked her son’s cheek. Tommy was a good boy with a big heart. ‘Go on then. I’m going to sleep on the sofa tonight anyway, so I’ll hear your dad getting up.’

Valerie finished wrapping the presents, then went to check on Tommy. He was fast asleep on the lino and so was Rex. She covered them both with a blanket, then glanced at her face in the bathroom mirror. She looked a mess and she would have to endure her bastard of a husband’s sanctimonious mother tomorrow. ‘You’re an animal, Alexander Boyle,’ she mumbled. ‘Merry bloody Christmas.’

 

The Sting is out now. Order your copy here!

Extract | The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant

Category: Extract

 

From the Top Ten Kindle bestselling author of The Perfect Neighbours, comes this riveting thriller about a murdered school teacher. The Good Teacher is out now in ebook! Here’s an exclusive peek at Chapter One…

 

***

Her back aches like hell. She tries for the hundredth time to read her watch but can’t see her wrist, no matter how far she cranes her neck. The hot metal handcuffs cut into her arm and send pain searing up to her shoulder. It might be broken, but fractures are worse than this; she knows that. Her body has taken a pummelling but the bruises will heal.

She shifts her buttocks, peeling the thick pyjama trousers from her clammy thighs. She’s in the lounge on a kitchen chair, old with paint splatters, the remnants of previous decorating forays. White speckles from several ceilings, large splodges of powder-blue bathroom sheen, and buttercup, pink and cherry from the nursery project. Happy days long gone. She’s never had to sit for so long in this chair. She usually perches on its hard edge long enough to force down a couple of cream crackers and a cup of camomile tea. Even the leisurely Sunday breakfasts are a thing of the past.

Reg Kenny weaves across the lane, taking care not to stray off the tarmac. Not that it would matter much – although the thick grass verge is soaked in dew, the ground below is rock hard. As he pedals, he feels sweat on his forehead. It’s going to be another scorcher. Doreen doesn’t know what she’s missing and he isn’t going to tell her. His early morning cycle rides are his only escape from the infernal woman. And besides he has his little detour ahead of him. He pedals faster at the thought of what lies ahead and breathes harder, taking in the country freshness.

The chance to freewheel downhill fuels his good humour. The riotous hedgerows rushing by, the morning birds in full voice, the warm air on his face. And the sun glinting through the trees that line the road – his road – through Martle Top, the one little bit of countryside between Penbury and the motorway. The car parked in the lay-by annoyed him earlier. The thoughtlessness of some people: radio blaring, passenger door wide open, driver probably stopped for a pee in the ditch. Just as well Reg didn’t see him. He’d have given him a piece of his mind. Still, he’s nearly there now. His stomach flutters and there’s a delicious prickle through his shoulders. He’s like this every time. The first few days he thought it was guilt, but he knows now it’s the thrill of anticipation.

Raging thirst replaces the hunger pangs. Her forehead throbs and it’s hard to swallow. She tries not to panic.

If only the curtains were open a crack, the postman might have spotted her through the window and called the police. After the sharp thwack of the letterbox, she heard his “This Is Me” whistling fade away down the gravel path. She tried to call out but, with the tape over her mouth, she only managed a pathetic humming sound that had no hope of reaching the man chirping off into the warm June morning. She hates those curtains now, garish with the broad daylight behind them. Their peach colour makes the room loud and stuffy, hurting her eyes and aggravating her headache. A clashing backdrop for the vase of dark red roses on the table, their pungent perfume tainting what precious clean air she has left. A familiar wave of nausea threatens, but she fights it off.

Reg chains his bike to the railings and walks briskly into the Little Chef. Why should he feel guilty?

Doreen’s fault. She shouldn’t have withdrawn her services. A grown man has his needs.

The chain digs into her ribcage whenever she arches her back, forcing her to slump into the seat. The carriage clock ticks behind her. Oh for a clock that chimes. At least she’d be able to count off the hours. She daren’t rock round to face the mantelpiece. If she topples over, she’ll bang her already-raw face into the hard floor. And it isn’t just herself to think about. She has to keep pain to a minimum; she might have to wait all day.

To deaden the ache in her neck, she rests her heavy arms on the chair and moves her knees apart, easing the pressure on the handcuffs around her ankles. But now it’s even harder to hold her bladder, so she squeezes her legs together again. If she wants to avoid wetting herself, she’ll have to accept the intermittent burning sensation up her calves.

Reg swings his leg over the saddle and sets off home replete. He deserved his cooked breakfast. That puny porridge Doreen serves up since he retired wouldn’t keep a toddler fed.

He gets off his bike again. The hill’s getting steeper. He used to be able to cycle up it. Better not tell Doreen. She’ll say he’s past it. Men of his age can’t expect to do so much. Stupid woman.

It’s just gone five past eight on Mids FM and on the line now is Carole in Briggham. Hi, Carole,” a radio shouts, polluting Reg’s country air. That bloody car in the lay-by is still there. No driver or passenger about. What on earth are they playing at? A crude thought creeps into Reg’s mind and he smiles. He pushes the bike across the road, quickening his pace.

He peers through the open passenger door. Well, there’s no one at it on the back seat. Hardly surprising. That shrieking radio would put anyone off. Reg lays his bike in the long grass. They must be in the ditch or the field beyond. You’ve got to admire their stamina. They’ve been down there longer than it’s taken him to ravish his Olympic Breakfast with extra mushrooms. With the stealth of a marine commando, he moves towards the ditch. Perhaps he’ll share this one with Doreen. It might put her in the mood for some how’s your fath—

“Father God in Heaven,” he gasps and stands stock-still, the taste of bile mounting in his mouth. His eyes fix on the glint of metal and the shiny patch of red seeping through the grass. In the next instant, stomach heaving, he’s back on his bike, tackling the rest of the hill from the saddle.

The milkman came at about 6.30 a.m. – at least she assumes it was 6.30 a.m. because that’s when he always comes. His chinking of bottles is often the first sound she hears on waking. This morning, frozen by the enormity of her situation, she didn’t think to call out to him until she heard the clanking, whirring sounds of his aged milk float dying away as it left. Hers is the only house in the street that still has milk delivered.

The final spin of the washing machine behind the closed kitchen door filled the silence after that. Then time became vast and empty until the whistling postman. The mail usually arrives before 8 a.m. despite changes at the Post Office, so that must make it about 9 a.m. now.

There’s a distant crunching outside. More steps follow and grow louder as they trip their way up the gravel. It must be Linda. Of course, it’s nine o’clock. Linda and Dean will have dropped the children off at school and then come to pick her up, as arranged. She pictures Linda teetering up the path, her broad feet forced into tiny sandals.

In the background a car engine rumbles. She’s amazed that she can hear it above her hammering heart. Dean will be waiting in the car. She hears a light tapping on the front door glass. Linda’s false fingernails. She forms the words “Linda, help” at the back of her mouth, trying to force them through the heavy adhesive that clamps her jaws together.

“Gaby, are you in there?” Linda’s voice invades the house through the opened letterbox. “Are you going to let me in?”

With all her might, she gulps out one more “Help”. The sound reverberates in her ears and, for a moment, she thinks it’s reached the front door. The letterbox snaps shut and footsteps move around the house towards the lounge window. She rocks against the chains, causing two of the chair legs to lift and then slam down with a muffled thud on the carpet.

“Dean, she must have forgotten.” Linda’s voice is directed away from the house. “I’ve put their milk in the bushes otherwise it’ll be honking in this heat.” Linda’s jerky steps return past the front door and recede down the path, the sound of gravel scattering in their wake.

Gaby struggles to catch her breath as a car door closes and the car speeds away. Tears prick her eyes. Her best hope of rescue will be joining the Penbury ring road without her. Crying makes her head throb, but she weeps on. The fight flowing out of her.

Reg – ice-numb now despite the heat – tries to lean his bike against the potting shed but it slips, clattering to the ground. The noise brings Doreen to the back door.

“Where the heck have you been all this time?” She squints at him. “You look peaky, a bit like your porridge looked before I chucked it. I suppose you want me to get you something else now?”

“Whisky,” Reg gasps.

What time is it now? Exhaustion giving way to panic again. How long can she survive without a drink? It’s been hours and her lips feel like crumbling plaster. Gaby makes another effort to calm down by breathing in through her nose and letting the air slowly reach her lungs. She clutches at any passing thought to occupy her aching mind. The letters on the doormat. She likes getting letters, even if most are mailshots. Her thoughts wander to the postman. She blinks back tears again, regretting that she’s never really looked at him before and wondering whether there’ll ever be another chance.

A car pulls up outside the gate. The engine stops and a door slams. Heavy shoes trudge along the gravel accompanied by faint crackling voices like a radio. She breathes in sharply, preparing to hum out as before, but this time ready for disappointment.

“Yes, sarge. If there’s no reply, we’ll force entry,” a calm voice says on the other side of the front door.

Gaby’s breathing quickens and she can hardly believe her ears. She’s in some other world, unable to move. Seized by terror, suddenly afraid to end her familiar incarceration after so many hours. But then her survival instinct takes hold and she presses against the chains, rocking back and forth, willing herself closer to the window. After hearing three sharp knocks at the door, she crashes to the carpet. Shattering pain spreads across the side of her face. Everything numbs and darkness comes.

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