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Authors: Judith Barrow

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BOOK: Changing Patterns
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Straight to the point, Mary thought, deciding to give the old woman the same courtesy. ‘No, Nelly, not totally. Is your George in?’

‘George?’ Nelly put her head to one side. ‘No, there’s no need to worry, pet, he’s out. I would have warned you at the door if he was here, knowing what he’s like about you.’

‘Yes, of course. I just wanted to make sure. I want to talk to you.’ This was going to be worse than Mary had expected.

‘About?’

‘It’s awkward, Nelly.’

‘About what, Mary?’ Her tone was wary. She folded her arms and leant against the table.

‘Can I sit down?’

The woman nodded but when Mary sat at the table she didn’t follow suit.

‘We’ve been friends for a long time.’ Mary put her palms flat on the worn surface, rubbing them back and forth, covering her fingers with a dusting of flour that she barely noticed. ‘And what I want to ask you isn’t easy. I …’ She stopped.

‘Go on.’

Her words came out in a rush. ‘The night Tom was killed, I saw the van.’

‘And?’

‘I’ve seen the van again, here, in Ashford. It’s white with orange markings on the side. Do you understand what I’m saying?’

‘I’m not thick. But I still don’t know where you’re going with this.’

It was obvious to Mary. Nelly knew exactly what she was saying. ‘Please don’t be like this.’ Mary’s eyes prickled with hot tears. ‘This is as awful for me.’

‘Just spit it out.’ The words were harsh but the fear was unmistakeable.

‘You gave him an alibi. You know it was George…’

‘One son.’ Nelly pleaded. ‘That’s all I have now.’

The two women stared at each other. Nelly was the first to blink.

‘What do you want me to do, Mary?’

‘You know what I want you to do. Tell the truth.’ The agony in Nelly’s eyes was painful to see but still Mary urged, ‘Please Nelly. I just want you to tell the police the truth.’

‘I can’t help you, pet.’ Nelly’s voice was weary. ‘You know I would if I could … but I can’t.’

Mary caught her lower lip between her teeth. She had one thing she could bargain with, but Ellen would be furious with her if – when she found out. ‘I need to tell you something else, Nelly.’ She rushed on before she could change her mind. ‘But you must promise to keep it a secret, for now anyway.’

‘What is it?’ There was relief in Nelly’s voice, as though she thought Mary was changing the subject.

‘Please, promise me.’

Nelly closed her eyes slowly in agreement.

‘We, you and me, are more than friends. In a way we’re related.’ Mary waited. Nelly looked baffled. ‘My sister, Ellen, has a little girl, she’s beautiful.’ She spoke quickly. ‘She’s Frank’s child too – your granddaughter.’

‘Frank’s?’ Nelly’s ruddy face drained of colour. ‘How?’ She flopped down on the chair nearest Mary.

‘They were together … once. It was a mistake on Ellen’s part. No.’ She saw Nelly close her eyes in despair. She held up her hand. ‘Please, don’t fret. It wasn’t like what happened to me.’ She swallowed hard. ‘Ellen was as much to blame as Frank. I’ll tell you all about it some other time. For now I just want you to know.’ Mary reached over and took Nelly’s hand. ‘I wanted you to know because I’m frightened what George will do next. I want to protect my family, my niece, your granddaughter.’

Nelly pulled her hand away. ‘I don’t understand why you haven’t told me this before? Frank’s? What’s she called? How old?’ She moved from side to side in bewilderment, tears brimmed. ‘I don’t understand,’ she whispered.

‘She’s called Linda. She’ll be six next May.’ Mary could hear her voice tremble. It was a big risk she was taking, one she wasn’t entitled to, but she carried on. ‘If you stop George, if you tell the police the truth, I’ll try to persuade Ellen to let you see Linda, get to know her. Eventually.’

She waited. The only sound was Nelly laboured breathing.

‘Nelly?’

The older woman lifted her hand. ‘I can’t.’ She looked at Mary, despair in her eyes. ‘I can’t.’

‘But…’

‘I need you to go now. Please.’

The door slammed behind Mary almost before she left the step. Aware that the net curtain shifted to one side in the sash window, she lifted her chin and walked purposefully towards the gate and along the street. She’d just made things worse.

Nelly watched her walk away. Her hand trembled as she let go of the curtain. ‘Linda.’ She tested the name on her tongue. ‘Linda.’ There was a strange feeling inside her. She put her hands to her throat. ‘I’ve got a granddaughter,’ she breathed.

Chapter 55

‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

‘Why?’ George ran his fingers through his hair, fastened the top button of his shirt and straightened his tie. ‘I told you I was going to the pub.’

Nelly made herself concentrate. She was keeping the knowledge that she had a granddaughter to herself for now. She’d had too many disappointments in her life and trusting Mary to keep her promise didn’t mean she would ever be able to talk to Linda. She gave herself a shake and said, ‘Mary Howarth’s been here.’

His mouth tightened. ‘What about it?’

‘I think you know.’ He was perfectly capable of doing what Mary had said. He had his father’s temper. How had she raised such a monster? With a sickening jolt she remembered that it was the same thought she’d had about Frank, all those years ago.

‘No.’

‘Yes.’ Watching the man, her son, it was as though she’d never seen him properly before. ‘When you asked me to tell the police you were home that night, when you went missing those couple of days, you said you’d just been moving stuff for that wide boy mate of yours.’ She waited for him to answer.

He lifted his shoulders.

The cold inside Nelly unfolded and grew. ‘She said you killed her brother. She saw the van. She saw it then and she saw it again here with you in it. She said you ran him down.’

His expression was all the confirmation she needed. He twisted his head, running his finger round his collar. ‘You don’t want to believe everything you hear, Ma.’

She looked into his eyes, saw the strange mixture of contempt and barely concealed fear. She didn’t know she was going to voice her next words until she heard herself. ‘You’ll hang.’ Oh God. The horrific image made her scalp crawl. She lurched towards the sink and retched.

In the long hiatus that followed, she listened to George’s shallow breathing, the slight clearing of the throat he did when he was agitated.

‘Ma?’

‘I want you to leave.’ Her throat was raw, the words hoarse. He had to go. She couldn’t stand the sight of him anymore. Her legs shook so violently she thought they wouldn’t hold her much longer. Blindly she felt around behind her for a chair.

He caught hold of her hand. ‘You don’t mean that.’

She pulled away, furious. ‘Get off.’

‘Ma? Please?’

Nelly fell onto the kitchen chair, banging her elbow on the table. She moaned, almost glad of the physical pain instead of the searing agony that tore at her insides.

‘What are you going to do?’

She hated the pleading whine. She’d heard it too many times in his lifetime.

‘Tom Howarth murdered our Frank, Ma.’

‘You don’t know that. Nobody knows who did it.’

‘I do. I was told. Her own bloody mother’s old boyfriend told me when I was in the Crown.’ George knelt down at the side of her. ‘That’s why they moved to Wales. They ran away to save that coward’s skin, to stop the coppers getting him.’

‘I don’t believe you.’ Nelly looked him full in the face. The fear was openly there for her to see now. ‘Tom Howarth was a conscientious objector, he went to prison for it. We talked once, Mary and me. She told me all about him. He didn’t believe in killing anyone. He didn’t kill our Frank.’ Nelly couldn’t prevent the cold hostility. ‘But I do believe you ran him down.’ She spoke slowly, firmly. ‘I want you to leave.’

He changed then. He challenged her. ‘Or what, Ma?’

‘I’ll go to the police.’

‘You wouldn’t.’ He moved quickly, standing over her.

‘I will.’ Nelly waited for the blow. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Instead he leaned closer to her. ‘I’m telling you – Tom Howarth murdered our Frank. You have to believe me.’

Nelly turned her head, shifted in the chair until she couldn’t feel his warm breath on her ear. ‘I don’t. Just go, George. I don’t want you here anymore.’

He gave a short laugh and straightened up but still crowded over her. ‘Fine. I don’t know why I moved to this godforsaken hole in the first place.’

‘You’d lost your job and you’d nowhere else to go. No one else to sponge off,’ Nelly said softly. ‘You’re a murderer. You’re no better than your brother was. Now get out.’

‘You’ll give me time to pack my things though, Ma?’ he jeered even as he stumbled backwards towards the door. ‘You’ll do me that favour, like?’

‘I’m not your mother. You’re not my son. Not anymore.’

She saw the shock register on his face. ‘You don’t mean that.’

‘I do. Now leave me alone.’

The scones had burned. The kitchen filled with swirling blue smoke that stung her eyes. Taking them from the oven and ignoring their scorching heat she crumbled them one by one at the back door and chucked them into the yard. She took off her turban and wiped her hands on it. A pigeon swooped down and snatched at the scattered crumbs, now melting in the puddles on the flags. Breathing in the fresh air, she watched the last threads of smoke float over her head from the kitchen.

Chapter 56

George stayed in his room until it was dark. He didn’t care what his mother said. He’d leave when he was ready.

Now, sidling along the wall of the alleyway behind Henshaw Street, he was in half a mind to chuck a brick through Ted Booth’s kitchen window on his way to Arthur Brown’s house.

‘If it wasn’t for that stupid cow, Mary Howarth, I’d be in bed with a few pints under my belt by now.’ George said in answer to the questioning angle of Arthur’s head as he let him in. He looked around in distaste. There were dirty dishes piled high in the sink. A cat sat on the draining board licking its arse.

Arthur, obviously noticing George’s face, swiped the cat off with the back of his hand. ‘Get down, you bugger.’ He gathered a pile of old newspapers off a chair, its arms black and shiny with grease. ‘Sit here?’ he said, fumbling in his jacket pocket and producing a crumpled packet of Woodbines.

‘I’m okay here, thanks.’ George picked up Arthur’s jacket off the seat of the hard wooden chair by the door and slung it on the back. He sat down, dropping his rucksack to the floor. God what a stinking mess. How the hell can the bloke live like this? Could he stay here? He could catch anything in this fleapit.

‘I don’t understand why the Howarth girl’s back ’ere anyway.’ Arthur pleated a piece of newspaper and lit it from the small pile of smouldering coals in the grate before holding it to the end of his cigarette. ‘I’ve a lot to blame on that one. Buggering off with the mother. If she’d not taken ’er off to bloody Wales we would ’ave been wed, Winnie and me.’ He sucked furiously on the cigarette in between talking. ‘Didn’t find out where they’d gone for bloody ages. They made a right fool of me. Sodding laughing stock in the pub I were. Then I ’eard she’d died – my Winnie. If she’d cocked her toes up ’ere, if we’d been wed, I’d be sitting pretty in that house of ’ers instead of this dump.’

George noted Arthur hadn’t offered him a fag. Watching the man, he carefully felt inside one of the pockets of Arthur’s jacket and slid out a pound note between two fingers and crumpled it in his palm.

‘Last I ’eard, ’er Nazi boyfriend ’ad come back to look for ’er,’ Arthur said, letting go of the cinderised paper with a yelp. He examined the skin on his thumb. ‘’Eard some bugger told him where they’d gone, ’er and ’er bloody mother. I wouldn’t ’ave told the bastard. I wouldn’t have ’elped ’im – no bloody way. Bloody Kraut.’

George couldn’t prevent the smirk.

‘Don’t you start bloody laughing at me.’ Arthur squinted at him. ‘What you grinning at, you silly sod?’ He scowled. ‘Sometimes I think you’re bloody mad.’

‘Aye, happen you’re right,’ George said softly, ‘happen you’re right.’

Arthur shook his head. He sat down on a small wooden stool by the fireplace and tipped his head back against the wall to blow smoke rings before saying, ‘Thought I was on my feet there with the mother, you know, mate, ’till that one interfered.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘So? What ’as she done to you, then?’

‘Nowt for you to worry about.’ George said, ‘Just wondering if I can kip here a few days?’

‘Ere!’ Arthur sat up, a startled look on his face. ‘Why?’

‘Had a bust-up with the old lady.’

‘What about?’

‘Summat and nowt.’ George’s foot drummed impatiently on the floor.

‘She’s a fine looking woman, your ma.’

‘Yeah, well, you can keep your mitts off her, she’s not interested.’ George wanted to thump the old bugger but, keeping in mind he needed a favour, he let it go. ‘Well? Will you put us up or not?’

BOOK: Changing Patterns
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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