Here’s our fourth and final exclusive sample chapter from Kimberley Chambers’ explosive new novel. Out now!
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
‘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?’
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 . . .