Extract | Don’t Turn Around by Amanda Brooke

Category: Extract


To celebrate the publication of Amanda Brooke’s page-turning thriller, Don’t Turn Around, here is an exclusive sneak peek at the opening chapter!



The Confession

The rhythmic slap of my ballet shoes against the linoleum-covered steps echoes down the stairwell. As my pace slows, my head droops and my gaze falls onto the worn and familiar treads that lead to the seventh floor and home. I know each and every scuff mark, every chip of paint, and even the crumpled tissues and sweet wrappers discarded by my thoughtless neighbours are familiar to me. Unlike my apartment block’s gleaming city-centre exterior, its spine has an air of abandonment. The stairwell is rarely used and less frequently cleaned, and there have been times when I’ve taken it upon myself to return with rubber gloves and a bin bag, but no more. Believe me, I’ve tried, but nothing I do ever makes a difference.

My legs are trembling by the time I reach my floor and I take a moment to catch my breath. Drawn to the window with its view of the Liverpool waterfront, I follow the line of docks until they’re rudely interrupted by the modern edifice of a thirteen-storey office block that sits awkwardly between Canning Dock and the Pier Head. This is Mann Island, and although it hasn’t been an island for centuries, the place where I work certainly looks stranded next to the iconic outlines of the Port of Liverpool, Cunard and Liver Buildings. The Three Graces had been basking in the afterglow of a crisp autumn day when I’d set off on the short trek home along the Strand, but the world has darkened since, and the Graces have been reduced to silhouettes, pockmarked with yellow, fluorescent lights. As I step back from the window, my eyes refocus and I catch my reflection.

The apparition floating beyond the sheet of glass is weighed down by the heavy houndstooth woollen jacket hanging off her shoulders. Her round face is framed by straggly mouse-brown hair and a severe fringe that’s become frayed from her exertions. Her complexion is pale against the starless night and there’s no spark in her eyes. The fight has left her.

I don’t recognise this woman captured by the failing light, or perhaps I do. There’s something about her that reminds me of Meg. My cousin’s hair was a similar shade although you would describe hers as golden, and she never hid behind a fringe. Meg was bold, and yet the hopelessness in the face that stares back at me immediately brings her to mind.

I retreat to the exit door only to stop when I hear a noise. The soft squeak of a rubber sole on linoleum came from the floor above, or I think it did. The world falls silent again and I’m about to dismiss the crawling sensation that I’m being watched when—

‘Hello, Jen.’

Instinctively, I grab the safety bar but I don’t open the door because I’ve already recognised the deep voice that sent a jolt of terror down my spine. The fact that he’s here shouldn’t surprise me, and I know it won’t matter if I run away, or stand and fight. He’s already won.

I turn my head slowly but he stops me.

‘Don’t turn around.’

Keeping my head to the side, I stare at the window with its mirror image of the landing behind me. No figure appears from the shadows, no hand reaches out to wrap around my neck.

‘What is this? Don’t you have the guts to face me?’ I ask, my voice surprisingly calm.

There’s a pause and when he replies, he sounds closer. ‘If I thought it was going to be easy, we would have had this conversation ten years ago.’

‘This conversation?’ I ask. ‘If it’s a confession you’re planning, I’m not the one you should be talking to. It’s Meg’s parents who deserve answers.’

‘Ruth and Geoff don’t need to hear what I have to say.’

‘I suppose you’re going to tell me you’ve been protecting them all these years.’

‘Not only them.’

My laugh catches in my dry throat. ‘Oh, I see. You’ve been protecting me too.’

‘If Meg had wanted you to know everything, she’d have told you everything.’

‘Maybe she tried,’ I reply as I picture a torn scrap of yellow lined paper. Meg’s suicide note, or at least a remnant of it.

‘No, she didn’t,’ he says with finality. ‘Christ, Jen, didn’t you know her at all?’

‘She was my best friend. Of course I knew her!’ I tell him, raising my voice to camouflage the doubt.

‘Not like I did,’ he says in a whisper.

A door swings open three flights down and shrieks of laughter ricochet off the walls as a group of raucous, and possibly drunken friends race to the ground floor. Their giddiness reminds me of times lost, but I can’t trust my memories. How many of Meg’s smiles were a disguise for unfathomable pain?

When another door slams shut and stillness returns, I hear the whisper of stealthy footfalls. I scan the reflection of the empty landing and glimpse movement on the small section of the stairs that are visible to me. I spy a pair of black boots and legs clad in dark jeans. I twist my body towards him.

‘I said, don’t turn around.’


‘Because I can’t . . .’ He curses under his breath. ‘I won’t do this if you’re looking at me.’


Don’t Turn Around is out now in paperback! Continue reading here

Extract | The Sting by Kimberley Chambers

Category: Extract

The Sting book on beach

Enjoy an exclusive peek at Chapters 1-4 from the explosive latest thriller from Kimberley Chambers.

The Sting is out now in hardback and ebook, and coming soon in paperback. Order your copy here!


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. . .


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.’


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

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

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

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

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 rest of the festive season went quite quickly with no more major drama. Tommy had heard his parents doing naughties as his bedroom was next to theirs, so he guessed they must have made up.

On 3 January, Alexander hugged his family and said his goodbyes. ‘I meant what I said, Valerie. I am paying someone to watch you,’ he warned before strolling down the path with his case.

‘You OK, Mum?’ Tommy asked, as his father disappeared in the distance.‘I am now. Go and let Rex in, love.’

‘You look nice, Mum. You going out?’ Linda asked, later that afternoon. Her mum was wearing a pretty green flowery frock she hadn’t seen before.

‘Yes. Only popping round Lisa’s. I haven’t seen her all over Christmas and want to give her her present. I won’t be late. Don’t forget to get all your stuff ready for school. I’ll be back before you go to bed.’

‘You not going bingo?’ Hazel asked suspiciously.

‘Not sure. We might.’

Tommy gave his mother a hug. ‘Me and Rex will look after the girls. Have a nice time.’

‘I’m the oldest. So it’s me who looks after you,’ Hazel argued.

Valerie kissed her son on the forehead. ‘Be good. Love you.’

As Tommy waved his mother goodbye at the front door, he had no idea he would never see her again.

Terry Fletcher opened a Babycham for Valerie and a can of bitter for himself. He didn’t have a lot of spare cash, specially at Christmas, but he’d scraped together enough to book himself and Valerie a hotel room today. Usually they would do the deed in the back of his Ford Cortina, but it was bloody freezing and Terry had wanted to treat the woman he loved.

‘So, how was your Christmas?’ Valerie asked. She’d just been telling Terry what a dreadful time she’d had with Alexander.

‘Same old, same old. Susan was her usual miserable self,’ Terry replied, referring to his wife.

‘Your kids enjoy it?’

‘Yeah. Kids always enjoy Christmas, don’t they? Did yours have fun?’

‘No. To be honest, they didn’t. They’re getting older now, sense what is going on more. Which is why I’ve come to a decision.’

Terry was the total opposite to Alexander in every way imaginable. He was blond, had a cheeky grin, sparkling blue eyes and a bubbly personality. He worked as a docker and at thirty was two years younger than Valerie. He’d been married for fourteen years though, had got Susan pregnant when she was sweet sixteen and was forced into a shotgun wedding by her father.  ‘What you decided, my love?’

‘That I’m leaving him, Terry. I hate him with a passion. It’s you I want to be with.’

Terry puffed his cheeks out. He hadn’t been expecting this. ‘I do love you, Val, more than anything, you know that. But where we going to live? And what about the kids? It’s awkward, isn’t it?’

‘There’s stuff you don’t know, Terry. About Alexander.’

Terry knew that Alexander knocked Valerie about and would have done something about it ages ago if he could. But for obvious reasons, he couldn’t. He squeezed his lover’s hand. ‘Tell me.’

Tears streaming down her face, Valerie admitted the one thing she had vowed never to admit to anybody. ‘He gets off on our arguments and fights, Terry. Then afterwards, he rapes me.’

‘You fucking what! I’ll kill the bastard.’

The roads were treacherous, thanks to the snow and freezing conditions. ‘This is a joke, Val. No way are we going to get home in this. We’re going to have to turn around and go back to the hotel,’ Terry said. The hotel he’d booked was in Canvey, miles away from Barking, and it was becoming impossible to steer the car. The roads were like an ice rink.

‘I can’t leave the kids alone, Terry. They’ll be worried sick. I’ve never left them all night before.’

‘Can’t you call them from the hotel? I can’t drive back to Barking in this. It’s too dangerous.’

Imagining her beloved children looking out of the window, wondering where she’d got to, Valerie shook her head. ‘No. I have to get back, Terry. Tonight.’


Tommy Boyle stared out of the window. There was a kind of eeriness about the stormy weather; nobody was about and a dog was howling in the distance. He was getting worried now as his mother always came home when she said she would.

Hazel and Linda were sitting next to the blazing coal fire with Rex. ‘Where do you reckon she is, Tom?’ Hazel asked.

‘I told you a hundred times already, I don’t know,’ Tommy snapped. ‘Go look for her address book again, see if you can find Lisa’s number,’ Tommy ordered.

‘I looked everywhere already. Linda reckons she put it in her handbag.’

‘I’m sure I saw her put it in her handbag earlier, Tommy,’ Linda insisted.

‘I’m going to get dressed and walk to Lisa’s house. You two stay here and do not answer the door to anyone,’ Tommy ordered. He was ready for bed, had his pyjamas on.

‘You can’t go out this time of night on your own, Tommy,’ Linda warned. ‘If Mum comes home and you’re not here, she will be furious.’

‘Linda’s right. Besides, you’ll freeze to death. There was ice on the inside of our bedroom window earlier,’ Hazel stated.

‘I’ll be fine. I’ll take Rex with me.’

Hazel and Linda waited anxiously for their brother to return home.

‘He’s back, Haze,’ Linda squealed.

Hazel bolted to the front door and yanked it open. ‘Did you see Lisa? Is Mum with her?’

Teeth chattering, Tommy sat by the fire rubbing his frozen hands together. ‘Mum was with Lisa earlier, then she went to visit another friend. She said the weather must’ve stopped Mum getting home and we’re not to worry. Mum told Lisa if she wasn’t able to get home, we were to go to school as normal tomorrow.’

‘Thank God for that,’ Linda sighed.

Tommy and Hazel went to the same school, but usually walked separately with friends. Today, however, Hazel was waiting outside Tommy’s classroom for him and the pair of them ran home together.

Their mum kept a key they all used under the plant pot, and it was Tommy who did the honours. ‘Mum, Mum,’ he shouted.

Hazel ran up the stairs, then reappeared, crying. ‘She ain’t been home, Tommy. Mum’s make-up is still on the dressing table like it were yesterday. No way would she come home, then go out again without putting her make-up on fresh.’

By teatime, all three children were extremely worried and at a loss what to do. Hazel had warmed up the stew their mother had cooked the day before, but nobody was very hungry. Their mum was a good mum, their world, and she never left them for long periods of time. Even when she went to the bingo she was always back by 9.30 p.m. at the latest to tuck them into bed.

‘What we gonna do, Tommy?’ asked Linda.

‘I’m going to ring Nanny Noreen. She will know what to do,’ Hazel replied.

Tommy leapt up. ‘No. Don’t ring her. Nanny Noreen hates Mum. If you call her, it will only cause more trouble between Mum and Dad.’

‘What we meant to do then?’ Hazel shrieked.

When his eldest sister began howling louder than Rex ever did, Tommy went outside to get more coal for the fire. He didn’t know what to do, he was only twelve, but he was the man of the house and he would decide what was best.

By 10 p.m., Tommy was in panic mode himself, but was trying not to show it as he didn’t want to upset his sisters.

‘Shall we all walk round to Lisa’s house? See if she knows where Mum’s other friend lives,’ Hazel suggested.

‘No. Not tonight. But if Mum isn’t back by tomorrow afternoon, then we will,’ Tommy replied.

‘I’m scared. I think we should call the police,’ Linda stated.

‘The weather is still really bad. Hopefully, Mum will be home as soon as the ice and snow has thawed,’ Tommy said. He sounded far more reassuring than he actually felt.

Hazel’s eyes welled up again. ‘I got a bad feeling in my tummy about all this.’

Tommy clapped his hands excitedly. ‘I know what we can do: pray to that man Nanny Noreen always prays to when she loses something. What’s his name? Saint something.’

‘Saint Anthony,’ Hazel sneered.

Her grandmother drove her mad, spouting her religious claptrap. Hazel thought it was rubbish. ‘How’s he meant to find Mum?’

‘I don’t know. But he found Nan’s wedding ring that time, and her back-door key. It’s got to be worth a try, surely?’

‘Tommy’s right, Hazel,’ Linda added. ‘If we pray, Mum might come home tonight.’

Hazel shrugged. ‘OK then. Do we have to kneel and clasp our hands together?’

‘Yes. Let’s do it properly. Shut your eyes too,’ Tommy ordered. He waited until his sisters were in position, then closed his eyes. ‘Please, Saint Anthony, can you find our mum and send her home for us. We will be ever so grateful. Her name is Valerie Boyle. Amen.’

It was the following morning, during history, when Tommy’s headmaster entered the classroom. He whispered something in Mrs Jeffries’ ear, then she looked directly at him. ‘Tommy, do you want to go with Mr Andrews, love.’

‘Why?’ Tommy mumbled. All the boys were scared of Mr Andrews, who often caned them. As far as Tommy was aware, he’d done nothing wrong.

‘Come along, boy,’ the headmaster urged.

Outside the classroom was Tommy’s next-door neighbour, Mrs Talbot. ‘Hello. What you doing here? Have you seen my mum?’ Tommy asked, hoping Saint Anthony had found her.

‘I’ll get Hazel,’ the headmaster said.

‘What’s going on, Mrs Talbot?’ Tommy asked. He had a terrible feeling of unrest in his stomach.

‘Your nan’s at home, love, with Linda. She’ll explain everything to you.’

‘What! Nanny Noreen? She’s at our house?’

‘Yes, Tommy.’

It was at that precise moment Tommy knew something was dreadfully wrong. Nanny Noreen wouldn’t set foot in the house unless his dad was at home.

Mrs Talbot said very little on the short journey, then came inside the house with them. The mood was sombre. Nanny Noreen had a face like thunder and Linda was sobbing.

‘Whassa matter? Where’s Mum?’ Tommy asked, dreading the answer.

Linda flung herself at her brother. ‘Mum’s dead, Tommy. She died.’

Tommy had no idea what being struck by lightning felt like, but he should imagine it was similar to this.

Hazel sank to her knees, screaming blue murder. Even Mrs Talbot was crying and Tommy had never seen her cry before. ‘When? How? What happened?’ Tommy muttered. They had been studying Jack the Ripper in
history and he fleetingly visualized his mum being murdered, like those poor victims had.

‘Sit down, children,’ Nanny Noreen ordered.

Tommy lifted Hazel off the carpet and all three sat on the sofa, holding hands.

‘Your mother was involved in a fatal car crash. She died, along with her fancy man. I’ve managed to get a message to your father and he’s on his way home.’

‘Fancy man! Dead! No. She can’t be. Mum was visiting her friend Margaret,’ Tommy insisted.

‘Your mother was a hussy and a liar, boy. She was having it off with a man called Terry Fletcher. He was driving the car when it crashed. How your father will ever live down the shame, I do not know. May your mother’s soul burn in hell.’

‘Don’t say that. We love our mum,’ Linda cried.

Hazel was shaking uncontrollably. ‘Mum can’t be dead.There must be some mistake.’

‘Mum’s friend Lisa said she was with Margaret,’ Tommy repeated.

‘Well, I’m afraid your mother’s friend is a liar too, Tommy. It’s your poor hard-working father I feel sorry for. His side of the bed wasn’t even cold and that whore was out fornicating. It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey, is it?’ Noreen said, quoting a line from the Bible.

‘That’s enough now, Noreen. The children are clearly distraught. No matter what you thought of Valerie, they loved her. She’s their mother.’

Noreen glared at Mrs Talbot. ‘Was their mother.’


Valerie Boyle had been popular within the local community, therefore news of her untimely death, and the circumstances surrounding it, spread like wildfire.

‘Where have all Mum’s sympathy cards gone, Nan?’ Linda made the mistake of asking.

‘In the bin, where they belong. Your father will be home this afternoon and he won’t be wanting to see those, will he? Not after what your mother did.’

Linda burst into tears. Hazel and Tommy had told her last night what lovely comments the neighbours had written and she’d yet to see them with her own eyes.

Tommy marched over to the bin and took the lid off.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Nanny Noreen shouted, yanking Tommy away from the bin by his arm and smacking him across the backside.

‘Linda hasn’t seen those cards yet. I’m getting them out
the bin.’

‘No, you’re not. I ripped them up into tiny pieces. Now make yourself useful. There’s a shopping list on the kitchen top. I need items from the butcher’s, the baker’s, the greengrocer’s and Mr Abbot’s. The girls can go with you. You’re getting no fresh air stuck in here.’

Lip quivering, Tommy picked up the shopping list and money. It was two days now since they’d heard the life-changing news and Nanny Noreen had not shown an ounce of compassion. Tommy hated living with her and could not wait until his dad got home. ‘Come on, girls.’

‘I don’t want to go to the shops. We’ll bump into our mates on their way to school and they will all know about Mum,’ Hazel warned.

‘You’ve got to face your friends at some point, love, so best to get that out of the way. It isn’t your fault your mother was a whore,’ hissed Nanny Noreen.

Tears streaming down both their faces, Linda and Hazel reluctantly followed their brother out the door.

It didn’t take the children long to realize the gossip-mongers were out in force. People whispered on street corners, then stopped and looked in pity as they walked past. Some even crossed the road to avoid them. A few of their neighbours were kind. Mrs Young who lived opposite gave them a sixpence each to spend on sweets, and Mr Abbot wouldn’t take the money for the baked beans, sugar or brown sauce. ‘You put that towards some flowers for your lovely mum,’ he said softly.

‘We should have brought Rex with us,’ Tommy said miserably, as they trudged towards the butcher’s. Tommy was worried about his beloved dog. Nanny Noreen wouldn’t allow him inside the house, and he could sense Rex was miserable in the kennel. His eyes were forlorn.

About to reply, Hazel heard a voice from behind her scream, ‘Oi, I want words with you, Tommy Boyle.’ Hazel recognized the voice immediately. It was Billy Fletcher, who was deemed to be the best fighter in her year at school.

His face as angry as hell, Billy ran towards Tommy and pushed him hard in the chest. Tommy stumbled backwards and fell on his arse. ‘What did you do that for?’

Billy towered over Tommy. ‘Your mother was a slag. If it weren’t for her, my dad would still be alive.’

‘Takes two to tango,’ Tommy mumbled bravely. Billy was at least a foot taller than him and a stone heavier.

‘My mum is in bits, thanks to your whore of a mother,’ Billy shrieked. He then proceeded to kick Tommy in the head and stomach as though he were a football.

Linda burst into tears. ‘Stop it! Leave our brother alone,’ she yelled, trying to push Billy away. ‘Do something, Hazel. Do something!’

Not knowing what else to do, Hazel picked up a nearby loose paving stone and cracked Billy over the head with it. He fell to the pavement, and unfortunately for him, smashed his skull against the edge of the kerb.

Cliff the butcher came running out of his shop. ‘What’s going on?’

Seeing copious amounts of blood oozing from Billy’s head, Hazel dropped the paving stone in horror.

News of Billy Fletcher’s untimely death and the circumstances
surrounding it also spread like wildfire. So much so, Nanny Noreen heard about it minutes before the police knocked on the door. She was distraught, Hazel was her favourite grandchild.

Alexander Boyle arrived home during the mayhem. He was shocked to the core and immediately offered to accompany Hazel to the police station. It was said parents shouldn’t have a favourite child, but Hazel was his, by miles. She looked like him and had all his mannerisms. There would never be any doubt over him being her father. None whatsoever.

Stony-faced, Alexander witnessed his daughter being questioned. ‘Tell the policemen the truth, love. You need to tell them everything that happened,’ he urged.

‘I already told you: Billy pushed Tommy over then started to beat him up. Tommy is only small and he’s younger than Billy. Billy is in my year at school and all the boys say he is the best fighter. I didn’t mean to hurt Billy, I swear I didn’t. I just wanted him to stop hurting my brother.’

‘Did Tommy say or do anything to antagonize Billy?’ asked one of the coppers.‘No. Not really,’ Hazel replied truthfully. ‘All Tommy said was “It takes two to tango,” because Billy called our mum a slag. Since our dad started working away, Tommy is the man of the house.’

Alexander pursed his thin lips. Not any more Tommy wasn’t, he thought. Not after all that had happened this week. Things needed to change. Like father, like son.

Tommy and Linda were huddled up together inside Rex’s kennel. Both were scared that Hazel would get into big trouble. They were also discussing their future.

‘I don’t like Nanny Noreen,’ Linda admitted for the first time. ‘She has never been like a real nan to us. It’s only Hazel she buys nice things for.’

Tommy sighed. Their father was the same, but over the years Tommy had got used to that and learned how to deal with it. ‘I think it is because Hazel was the first-born child. I never used to think Dad liked me much, but once I started getting into football things got better. Perhaps we have to find more in common with Nanny Noreen.’

‘Like what?’ Linda asked. ‘All she ever talks about is God. She doesn’t even like the Osmonds. She told me Little Jimmy is spreading bad vibes amongst girls my age. What does that mean, Tommy?’

‘I don’t know. But I really hope Dad and Hazel come home soon. Hazel was only protecting me. It was an accident.’

‘All that blood, Tommy. It was awful,’ Linda mumbled.

Tommy shut his eyes. Witnessing Billy Fletcher die would haunt him for the rest of his life.

When their father arrived home alone later that evening, both Tommy and Linda were gobsmacked.

‘Where’s Hazel?’ Linda panicked.

Alexander pointed at Tommy. ‘Thanks to him, your sister isn’t allowed to come home. Now, go to bed. Both of you. This very minute!’

The next time Tommy and Linda saw Hazel was the day of their mother’s funeral. She was outside the chapel with a woman and man they’d never seen before.

Tommy ran over to her. She looked awful, had lost weight and had dark circles under her eyes. ‘We’ve missed you, Hazel. Where you living? Dad hasn’t told us anything.’

As her brother tried to hug her, Hazel showed little emotion. ‘I’m in a bad girl’s home.’

‘But you’re not a bad girl. You didn’t mean to kill Billy Fletcher,’ Linda replied bluntly.

Hazel shrugged. This time ten days ago, she had a loving mum and family. Now she was living in a horrible place, with horrible children. She hated it there, wished she was dead.


The chapel was packed to the rafters. Valerie had been a chatterbox who loved nothing more than a good old chinwag as she scrubbed her doorstep, cleaned her windows or walked to the shops. The rumours of how she’d died and who she had been with meant the nosy parkers were all in attendance. Some had barely known Valerie, but felt compelled to attend her funeral.

Tommy sobbed like a baby as he stared at the coffin. His mum had been so pretty and full of life. How could she now be dead and inside that wooden box?

Alexander leaned towards Tommy. ‘Stop snivelling. You’re showing yourself up,’ he hissed.

Tommy bit his lip and pinched himself in the hope it would stop him from crying. He couldn’t help being so upset. He had loved his mother dearly.

‘I miss her so much, Tommy,’ Linda wept.

Tommy squeezed Linda’s hand and glanced at Hazel. She was showing no emotion, just staring into space. Uncle Ian locked eyes with him and smiled, so Tommy forced a smile back. The woman and man who had accompanied Hazel were standing at the back of the chapel by the door and Tommy wondered if they were staff from the bad girl’s home. He doubted they were Old Bill, as very few women were capable of doing that job. That’s what his dad said anyway.

Secretly pleased Nanny Noreen had refused to come, Tommy glanced at his father. His face was devoid of expression. He had been really nasty to him this past week, but Tommy guessed he was sad because of losing his wife and Hazel having to go away. They didn’t even watch the football together at the weekend; his dad said he was too busy.

The vicar said some nice things about his mum, but not enough, Tommy thought sadly. She had been much more than just a mother of three. She had cooked delicious dinners, knitted him tank tops, run him up flares on her sewing machine, and taken him to the pictures regularly. She wasn’t some average mum, she truly was the best.

When everyone stood up to sing ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, Tommy and Linda both heard shouting. They turned around. The door of the chapel was open and two policemen were struggling with some people.

‘Where is she? Where’s the evil child who killed my Billy?’ Tommy heard a woman bellow. Nobody was singing any more, they were all fixated by the commotion. Tommy stood on the pew to get a better view.

‘Murderers! First, my Terry and then Billy. My heart is broken in pieces. May you all rot in hell,’ the woman screamed, before being carted off by the police.

‘Was that Billy Fletcher’s mum?’ Linda asked Tommy. She hadn’t seen the woman.

Tommy was about to reply when his father yanked him off the pew with such force he twisted his ankle.

Tommy woke up next morning with a throbbing ankle and broken heart. He and Linda had thought their mum would have a grave nearby that they could visit and lay flowers on. It had been a huge shock to find out her body had been burned and all that was left of her now was a pile of ashes.

‘You awake, Tommy?’


Linda perched herself on the edge of her brother’s bed. She had been so upset over the awful events of yesterday, she had wanted to stay with Tommy last night, but Nanny Noreen had forbidden her to. ‘You’re not a little girl any more, Linda. Brothers and sisters of a certain age shouldn’t share the same bed,’ she’d snapped.

‘Dad wants to take me out for the day, but I don’t really want to go,’ Linda informed her brother.

‘Is he taking me too?’

‘No. That’s why I don’t want to go. Did you hear him come in drunk around midnight? He knocked the grand-father clock over and it smashed. He scares me when he drinks too much.’

‘I heard him knock something over. Did he say where he’s taking you?’


‘I ain’t staying indoors with that old witch. But I’m too scared to go out in case I bump into any of Billy Fletcher’s mates. They’re bound to want to beat me up after everything that’s happened and I can’t even run properly ’cause my ankle hurts too much.’

‘I wonder when we will see Hazel again? I don’t ’arf miss her, Tom. And Mum.’

Tommy’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Me too.’

As the children clung together like two lost souls, neither had any idea there was far more upset to come.

‘You need to pack a case, Tommy. Your Uncle Ian will be picking you up soon,’ said Nanny Noreen.

Tommy dropped his Shoot magazine in shock. ‘What! Why?’

‘Because you’re going to stay with him. Your dad can’t look after you. He has to go back to work soon.’

‘What about Linda? Is she coming too?’‘No. Linda will stay with me.’Tommy felt his pulse quicken. This didn’t sound short-term. ‘What about Rex? Where will he live?’

‘Rex is going to live on a farm. Be nice for him. He’ll have lots of space there to run around,’ Noreen lied.

Tommy’s face crumpled. ‘No. I’m not leaving Rex, or Linda. I can’t. I won’t.’

‘There’s no alternative, I’m afraid, Tommy. Your dad’s going back to the oil rigs and I can’t look after two of you.’

Stifling a sob, Tommy ran out into the garden and crawled inside Rex’s kennel. He draped his arms around the dog’s neck. ‘I’m being sent away to live with my Uncle Ian. You’re being sent away too, but not with me. You’re going to live on a farm. You’ll like it there. Be better than being stuck out here, boy. And I will visit you, I promise. I’m so gonna miss you, though. I love you, never forget that, Rex.’

Within the hour, Tommy’s anguish had turned to acute anger. He barely knew his Uncle Ian, had only ever met him about four times. What right did his father have to palm him off like some unwanted rubbish? Any decent man wouldn’t go back to the oil rigs. He would stay at home and care for his kids who’d lost their mother, Tommy fumed.

‘I made you a fried-egg sandwich,’ Nanny Noreen said as Tommy came into the kitchen. She didn’t hate the boy, but could never love him either.

‘I ain’t leaving Linda and I ain’t leaving Rex. What time will my dad be home?’

‘Not until late. Now, go pack your case. Uncle Ian will be here soon.’

‘You can’t make me go. I won’t,’ Tommy yelled, knocking the plate and sandwich on to the lino.

Nanny Noreen sighed. ‘You have to. Uncle Ian is your only known blood relative. It’s either that or a children’s home.’

‘What? I don’t understand.’

Nanny Noreen actually felt quite sorry for the child and wished Alexander would have told him. ‘There is no easy way to say this, Tommy, so I shall just be blunt. Your father isn’t your real father; so I’m not your real grandma either. I’m sorry, boy. But you have your mother to thank for that.’

Feeling nauseous and dizzy, Tommy bolted out of the front door.

It was the local bobby, PC Kendall, who found Tommy in a dishevelled state in Barking park. He had only recently joined the police force and Mrs Young had told him, while he was on the beat, that she’d seen young Tommy run from the house in his navy Parka, tartan flares and white trainers, looking extremely distressed.

PC Kendall sat on the bench next to the forlorn figure and ruffled his hair. Valerie Boyle had been a beautiful woman inside and out. A lot of his colleagues had fancied her. They reckoned she was the spitting image of the actress in the Carry On films.

‘Go away. I want to be alone,’ Tommy mumbled.‘I want to help you, Tommy. I’m a policeman and that’s my job. I wasn’t much older than you when I lost my mum, ya know. Fourteen, and it was tough. It’s true what they say, though: time is a healer. I know it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but one day you’ll be able to think about your lovely mum and smile again. Nobody can ever take the wonderful memories of her away from you. They last for ever.’

‘But it’s not just my mum, is it? It’s everything.’PC Kendall sighed. The Hazel incident had been a major talking point at the police station. It wasn’t every day a fourteen-year-old girl clumped a lad of the same age over the head with a paving block, killing him stone dead.

‘Why don’t we get you home, eh? Your dad will be worried and it’s cold out here. That wind is bitter today.’

‘I ain’t got a dad.’

‘Course you have. Alexander’s your dad.’

Tears streamed down Tommy’s face as he looked the local bobby in the eyes. ‘He ain’t my real dad. My nan told me today. She ain’t my real nan either. That’s why Rex has to go to live on a farm and I gotta live with
Uncle Ian,’ he gabbled.

PC Kendall winced. He knew life could be cruel, but not this cruel. Poor little Tommy had lost everything in less than a fortnight. He hugged the freezing boy close to his chest. ‘I’m so sorry, mate. I truly am. I know how
much you love Rex. So, is Uncle Ian related to your mum?’

‘Yeah. He’s her weird brother.’

‘Weird? What do you mean by that?’

Tommy shrugged. ‘My dad – sorry, I mean Alexander – always called him a weirdo. Not to his face, like.’

Though he hadn’t been a copper long, this triggered alarm bells in PC Kendall’s mind. ‘Is your uncle married?’

‘Yeah. To a woman called Sandra. She’s very fat.’

Kendall relaxed slightly. ‘They got kids?’

‘No. They got cats.’

‘Where do they live?’

‘South London, but I don’t know the road name. It’s a smaller house than ours and not very clean.’

PC Kendall took a notepad out of his pocket and wrote something down. He handed it to Tommy. ‘This is the phone number of the police station I work at. Any problems, you call and ask for me, OK?’

Tommy nodded. ‘Thank you.’‘Right, let’s get you home. I thought we might stop at Mr Abbot’s on the way and buy you some sweets. What’s your favourite?’

‘Sherbet lemons.’

PC Kendall smiled. ‘Sherbet lemons it is then.’


So, that’s where it all began. Feels pretty good to get it off my chest, if I’m honest.

It makes me smile to think I once confided in the Old Bill. Having said that, he was all right was PC Kendall. Not like some of the sharks I’ve since met.

So many coppers are on the payroll of villains, you wouldn’t believe it. No integrity or conscience. Always on the take. I know because I’ve dealt with the unscrupulous bastards. They are worse than most of the gangsters I’ve mixed with. Reason being, they couldn’t give a shit who they trample on. Play ball or get nicked, that’s the option for many.

I’m rambling now, so let’s go back to my story. From the day my
mother died, my life wasn’t my own for a while. Saying it had its ups and downs wouldn’t just be an understatement. I’d liken it to a Boeing 747 hitting a hurricane.

I was twelve, naïve, and honestly thought I had hit rock bottom. I hadn’t. There was far worse to come.

You know the name: Tommy Boyle. Now read on and I’ll explain what happened next . . .


The Sting is out now in hardback and ebook, and coming soon in paperback. 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.

The Good Teacher is available on Kindle now for just 99p!