It was late evening when Mark’s car pulled onto the driveway at Lou’s house. He was alone and aware that the news he was about to deliver was not good. Time to bite the bullet.
Lou and Rachel had been in the living room, looking out for him; Sally and Sarah had been persuaded to go to bed earlier than usual, Jenny had gone to her room with strict instructions not to tell any of her friends what was going on. She reluctantly agreed. Rachel let Mark in, and by the look on his face, she could tell that he was steeling himself up to break bad news. “Have you eaten? We’ve saved you some curry and rice. Lou’s just warming it up for you.”
“I’m starving. Before Lou comes back, I have to tell you that Pete’s been arrested, but we’ve had to take him to hospital. It isn’t good.”
“Be straight with her. She can take it – now.”
“Take what?” said Lou as she appeared in the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on a tea towel.
“Sit down and listen to Mark, Lou. I’ll finish off sorting out the food.”
Lou and Mark sat down on the sofa and Mark took her hands in his. “Pete’s in hospital; he’s also under arrest. I got him cleaned up and fed, but while he was in the bath, I discovered that he had quite a quantity of heroin on him, far more than for his personal use. I had no choice but to arrest him and called in a couple of PCs to take him back to the station. When they got him there, he had some kind of a fit and had to be taken off to hospital. He’s unconscious but stable; I went in to see him before I came back. The doctor says that there’s an awful lot going on with him that is due to more than addiction. He’s had a pretty bad beating recently as well. I’m sorry Lou.”
Mark put his arms around her and held her while she cried; loud, angry sobs that brought Jenny from her room. Rachel put Mark’s dinner on the table and sat down on the other side of Lou. “Go and eat now, Mark.”
Rachel gave Lou some tissues and waited while she mopped herself up.
“What is it, Mum? What’s happened to Dad?”
“He’s not well Jenny; he’s in hospital though so go back to bed. I’m okay. I’ve got Rachel and Mark here, and as long as I know that you three are safe, I’ll stay okay.”
Jenny gave her mother a hug, and started to go back to her room. She stopped, turned around and gave Mark and Rachel some rarely dispensed hugs as well before running back upstairs.
“Are you okay Sis?” said Mark, tucking into curry and rice like there was no tomorrow.
“Rachel and I talked about this earlier; the guy who turned up here wasn’t the Pete that I married and had three children with. Are you saying that he was carrying drugs when he came to my house, in front of our children?”
Mark nodded. “I’m afraid so. It wasn’t something that I could ignore. He wasn’t happy about me arresting him either. Said that I was being disloyal to the family. I’m afraid that I pointed out that putting you and the girls at risk by turning up at the house with drugs, and a violent group of criminals on his tail, could hardly be considered to be loyalty either. I don’t think I’m his favourite person at the moment.”
“You are most certainly ours. Does that mean that we are safe now?”
“Unfortunately, no. The gang will have tracked him here, then to our house and the police station, but they may not be aware that he’s in hospital. Short of going over to the settlement, I can’t think of another way of tipping them off.”
Lou laughed. “That’s because you have no children. Teenagers have their own network.”
She went into the hallway and called for Jenny to come down. Puzzled by this summons, Jenny reappeared, clutching her mobile phone.
“Tell me honestly Jen, have you communicated with any of your friends about Dad?”
“No. You and Rachel told me not to.”
“Are any of the Portuguese girls in your group of friends?” Mark asked.
“Maria mostly, and a couple of others. Why?”
“I need you to let your friends know that your Dad has turned up here, but he’s been taken ill and is now in hospital. No need to mention which one. You can say that he’s unconscious though.”
“Anything else, Uncle Mark?”
“No. Your Mum is right. The main thing is that word will get around that your Dad is not here, nor at our house, so there’s no point in the heavies turning up. He’s been admitted under an assumed name and we’ve got people at the hospital keeping an eye on him. Keep it light Jenny. No mention of drugs or being arrested, just that your Dad is very unwell.”
“I’m afraid so. He has internal injuries from a beating that he was given, but that’s another thing to keep to yourself. Can you do this?”
Jenny gave Mark one of those patronising looks that teenagers have down to a fine art, before running back up the stairs and closing her bedroom door. Lou took Mark’s empty plate into the kitchen and returned with a plate of cupcakes and scones filched from the batch destined for the teashop. “Eat up. I’ll make some more. It will give me something to take my mind off everything else. What do we do now Mark?”
“Stay safe. Get some sleep. Do you want to visit Pete tomorrow?”
Lou shook her head. “No, and I don’t want the girls to visit him either. Seeing the state that he was in when he turned up earlier was bad enough, they don’t need to see him unconscious in a hospital bed and covered with tubes.”
“Jenny might need to visit him,” said Rachel. “She’s that much older than the other two, Lou. Speaking from experience, she may need to be able to say goodbye. Don’t deny her that opportunity.”
Lou took Rachel’s hand and nodded. “Would you and Mark take her?”
Lou went back into the kitchen; knowing that cooking for the shop was the best way of taking her mind off things. Mark sat down next to Rachel and Pluto, who seemed to have realised that something was wrong, and was resting his head on Rachel’s knee.
“You okay Rachel?”
“I am. How about you? It can’t have been pleasant having to arrest Pete.”
“No. I felt torn in too many directions; Pete is the father of Lou’s girls, she used to love him once, part of me wanted to sort things out for him but once I found the heroin, the policeman in me took over. He wasn’t happy; did all the emotional blackmail stuff, but it didn’t work. Was he right? Have I been disloyal? “
“No. You were protecting the people that you love. More than anyone, you know how dangerous these people are, and how drug addiction can make you forget all about the things that should be important to you. Lou is furious with Pete more than anything else. He did enough damage when he left them, and now he comes back and wreaks more havoc just when Lou is feeling independent and rebuilding her life.”
“Like you then?”
“I’m fairly sure now how I would react if Sam turned up out of the blue. He doesn’t belong here any more than Pete does. How about Sorrel?”
“I don’t know where she is, and I don’t want to know either. Do you want to stay here tonight or come back to the house with me?”
“I’ll ask Lou. Are there still policemen keeping an eye on us here?”
“Yes, at our house and the shop as well. It’s a good job that it’s the weekend. Will you and Lou still go up to London on Sunday?”
“It depends really. Will it be safe?”
“Pluto and I will spend the day here. I’m sure that the girls will keep me on my toes.
Jenny came thundering down the stairs. “I just had a text from Maria. She lives on the settlement and she says two of her uncles and some of their friends are visiting, and they were asking questions about me, and about my Mum and Dad. She doesn’t like them, says that they are really creepy.”
“What’s Maria’s surname? Did she say if they are her mother’s brothers or her father’s?”
“Her surname is da Silva, but these people are called Santos, and she doesn’t think that they are real uncles, just people who turn up every now and then demanding food and accommodation. Her Mum and Dad don’t like them and she thinks they are too scared to say no.”
“I’m going to have to get back to the station,” said Mark, reluctantly getting up from the sofa. “Will you and Pluto be alright staying here then, Rachel?”
Lou came in from the kitchen, brushing the flour from her tee-shirt. “What’s happened? Did I miss something?”
“Jenny’s given Mark some very useful information, but he needs to go back and sort things out. Do you mind if Pluto and I stay here?”
“Just like old times. I would welcome your company – and Pluto’s too of course. Are we safe now then, Mark?”
“Possibly. At least we know the names of the people we are looking for now. Radio silence now Jenny. I wouldn’t put it past them to try and grab one of Pete’s family as a bargaining chip.”
“Does that mean I can’t meet up with the others tomorrow then?”
“Where do you usually meet up?”
“Down on the Common; by the guns. Auntie Rachel knows it, it’s one of her favourite places too.”
“Yes,” said Rachel. “And I’ve seen a group of those men down there as well. They made me feel very uncomfortable.”
“Don’t go tomorrow, Jenny?” said Mark. “It might not be safe for you, or for your friends.”
“Oh! Whatever!” She stomped back upstairs, no doubt feeling that she had to make a token protest at least. Mark said his goodbyes, and felt particularly happy that it was Rachel standing in the doorway, waving good bye to him, and blowing a kiss.