Don’t miss the third instalment from our exclusive sample chapters from Kimberley Chambers’ explosive new novel. Out now!
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?’
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.’