Trish shivers. She tightens her grip on her mother’s leg as the bus gets closer and the dim glow of its headlights grow clearer through the morning fog. The long moaning sound of the brakes making it so much scarier. “I don’t want to go Mummy,” she says, as her mother takes her hand and leads her and her younger sister Debbie, toward the now waiting bus.
“I don’t wanna go!” echoes Debbie.
Their mother glances anxiously at the glare of the headlights, then at her watch, before she pushes Trish and Debbie onto the bus before her.
It’s cold, and Trish snuggles herself closer to her mother to try and calm her shaking. She can see nothing through the window because of the thick fog and yellow coal smoke pressing into it. It’s like a heavy, damp old blanket, her mother often says.
The bus creeps interminably toward their destination, hindered by the bank of traffic and atrocious smog. Her mother looks at her watch, the journey’s supposed to be an hour, yet it’s taken almost two. She anxiously searches her handbag for the appointment note, holding it in her hand, stopping the bus conductor as he walks past. “Excuse me?” Her voice falters over the words.
Before she can reply, the brakes groan, and the bus slows. Her mother glances around and seems startled as other passengers rise from their seats. “Oh! It’s okay, this is our stop.”
Trish grabs and hugs Debbie tightly. Getting off the bus can mean only one thing. She trembles as she and Debbie follow their mother to the back of the bus. It moans and shudders as it comes to a stop as if, it too, is scared to be in London.
The three of them walk quickly as Trish looks around, trying to see anything through the smog. “My legs are hurting, Mummy, please stop.”
“My legs hurt too Mummy,” Debbie copies.
A passing sailor appears from the smog, frightening Trish. She stares as he lifts his cap and smiles. Their mother returns the smile, hesitates momentarily, then they move on.
Minutes later, they stop in front of a set of stone steps that lead to a large green wooden door. A sign next to the door reads, City of Greater London Orphanage.
Trish and Debbie look up at their mother whose eyes are filled with tears. Their own eyes fill with tears to match hers. Trish grabs her mother’s coat. “We want to stay with you Mummy. Mummy please?”
“You’re a big girl now, Trish, you’re four. You take care of your little sister. I’ll be back shortly.”
Chapter 1. May 1964 - London
Trish stands with her back to Lloyd; she gazes at the pedestrians below; the sun’s rays have just begun to reach into Milford Lane. Staring as pedestrians negotiate the roadworks and barricades as she did earlier. Watching them soothes her and gives her time to take in what Lloyd, today acting as her lawyer, just told her. He’s a dear family friend, having known her since she was seven. When after three long, lonely years in the orphanage, they were adopted by Ted and Joyce and arrived in Bowning. He’s always been there for her; she loves him dearly but today it’s hard.
There’s a hint of summer in the air, she was happy when she left the bus in the Strand fifteen minutes ago. Finally, she turns to him and says, “Thank God he’s dead.”
Lloyd sits apparently stunned. She looks at his blank expression. He’s trying to get a gauge on her.
Her thoughts return to that night three months ago, to Johnnie’s fist flying toward her. She can still hear the crunch, remember the rapid, vicious jarring of her head, the sudden pain, the momentary blackness, and then the ringing in her ears. His violence came from nowhere. The words, “I’m leaving you,” had only just left her mouth. As she reeled, an uppercut came from nowhere crunching her jaw, throwing her head backward, pushing her against the sideboard. Instinctively reaching for her favourite vase; a very large vase good for the big floral arrangements Johnnie used to buy her, she smashed it over his head. Blood spurted from the large-jagged gash that abruptly appeared across his cheek and nose. If he was enraged before, he was even more enraged now. She got to the door, opened it and was safe. He wouldn’t do anything outside where people would see. But she was wrong. He caught her and pushed. She fell, rolling down a long flight of stairs.
Lloyd finally gathers his thoughts. “Trish, I’m sorry, but what did you say?”
She turns and looks at him. “I said thank God! He was a rat and he deserved it!”
He studies her for a moment. “Trish, as your lawyer, I strongly advise you not to say that again. Not to anybody.” He takes a long breath and sighs. “He was murdered. If anyone hears you say things like that it could cause you a whole lot of trouble.”
She hesitates before saying, “I’ve been so scared, Uncle Lloyd. I thought he’d send someone after me. Nobody crosses Johnnie Lees!”
Lloyd remains motionless, observing her as she rubs her face nervously.
She returns to her chair, crumples over and begins to cry. “I don’t know how I could have ever loved that horrible man. Do they know what happened, who did it?”
“No, they have nothing, and they think they’ll have a hell of a time trying to find out. Nobody talks in prison, especially in cases like this.”
She shakes her head slowly. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t speak that way, but he killed my unborn baby and nearly killed me, and I’ll never be able to have another child. He’s stolen that possibility away from me forever.”
He leans forward. “I’m so sorry Trish. You were so fortunate that night that he was already under police surveillance. If their car hadn’t been across the road…” He shakes his head. “It doesn’t bear thinking about. Then the moles started to rat on him. He would have been going away for a long time.”
“When he followed me down the stairs after he’d pushed me, I thought that was the end. He was so angry. I’d never seen him that angry before.”
“He was evil, no doubt about that. You would never have been safe. You may not want to hear what I’m about to say, but according to his solicitor, Johnnie didn’t change his will. You inherit everything, whatever everything is.”
“The proceeds of crime?”
He seems to hesitate, appearing unsure of how to reply.
She looks away as her eyes glaze with tears. Finally dabbing them away with her handkerchief, her hands are shaking.
“I’m sorry, you’ve certainly been through a lot.”
“Thanks Lloyd. My marriage to Johnnie was one huge mistake. A horrendous nightmare.”
“Don’t blame yourself. You weren’t to know. Who can blame you for wanting to find love and connection? Fortunately, you’ve escaped relatively unscathed. It’s a miracle.”
She shakes her head slightly. “I was so stupid. I’ve ruined my life.”
He touches her outstretched hand consolingly. “Nonsense. You’re young; you’ll recover. We all make mistakes in life. Heavens, I’ve made mistakes with huge ramifications. But hating yourself for making them solves nothing. Now, let’s see what we can salvage for you from this mess.”
A knock on the door interrupts them. Lloyd’s wife Gail comes into the room and offers Trish a solemn smile. “Hello my dear. I’m so sorry to hear what’s happened. What dreadful news. How are you holding up?”
“Thank you. I’m okay. Trying to look at it as good news. I don’t have to live in fear of my life anymore. It might not look like I’m taking it as good news though.” She smiles and indicates her no doubt make-up smeared eyes and face.
“I’m glad you see it that way. And you always look beautiful, even when you’ve been crying. Johnnie was a criminal. You were always far too good for him.”
Trish sighs and nods in agreement. “Thank you Gail.”
“Anyway, on a brighter note, tell me where you found that dress. It’s stunning. I love it. Did your friend Val help you find it? She always has an eye for fashion.”
Trish wipes her face and laughs. “Got it in one. She’s got taste, our Val. Expensive taste, but thank goodness she also knows where to find the bargains.”
After her meeting with Lloyd has finished, Trish freshens up and bids him and Gail farewell. She heads down the two flights of stairs into Milford Lane. Her thoughts are scattered, her body numb, as she looks back at Lloyd’s building and waves at Lloyd and Gail, who are peering through the Stevens & Stevens Solicitors lettering on their window. As she turns back, a wolf whistle from the workmen on the street lifts her spirits. She knows it’s crass of them, but the way she feels right now it’s good to know some people in the city are still happy and life is going on as normal. She skips a step then continues toward the Strand and her bus home.
Upstairs Gail and Lloyd smile and wave. “I love her outfit,” Gail says. “She’s blossomed so much since she arrived here from Bowning. When was that? Three years ago? The dress she arrived in then was probably a left over from Joyce’s haberdashery shop. She looked so sad in it. What she’s wearing now looks like a Mary Quant. What do you think?”
Lloyd seems deep in thought as he watches Trish disappear. He finally turns to Gail. “How would I know! All I know is she looks great after what happened, but I’m worried about how she’s going to cope now, poor kid.”
Gail sighs. “I like her attitude; she’s positive. All those horrible bruises will mend and she’ll get through it. You’ll see.”
Lloyd arranges to meet Johnnie’s solicitor with Trish the next day. His office is also off the Strand. They walk the few blocks from Lloyd’s office together and he asks her, “How are you feeling today? You look a lot brighter.”
“Free. I felt so imprisoned, so trapped. He changed after we married. I was just his possession.”
“There’s no doubt he wasn’t who he first seemed.”
“It’s such a relief to never have to think about him again.” She takes a deep breath and smiles, “Even the traffic fumes smell good. And look at all this traffic. It’s gridlocked! The red double decker buses, the taxis, the cars, the people, beautiful dresses, the crazy, crazy busyness of London! I’m noticing it all again. And in colour. It’s like I’m reborn.”
Lloyd glances behind them and smirks. “You’re noticing London again, and the men of London are noticing you. Did you see that young guy?”
“He was so busy staring at you he walked into a pole!”
They both laugh, but the laughter leaves Trish’s face as they enter the solicitor’s building. She baulks. “Thanks for being here Uncle Lloyd.”
He pats her arm. “The least I can do my dear. Now, let’s see what that creep has been up to.”
Trish sits attentively as Johnnie’s solicitor explains the complex web of assets and liabilities Johnnie has left behind. It’s lucky she has a good understanding of the convoluted legal and business process, thanks to her legal studies. The solicitor tells them about all Johnnie’s outstanding bills, well overdue, that Johnnie probably had no intention of paying. It would seem Johnnie dared creditors to pursue him at their peril. The liquidator has no such luxury, having to assess and honour them all.
As they leave, Trish smiles as she negotiates the three flights of stairs in her high heels. “Is he shonky or what? Easy to see why he’s Johnnie’s lawyer.”
Lloyd takes her by the arm. “Will you be all right, Trish?”
“I’m okay. I’ve walked down worse stairs.”
“No, I mean, have you got enough to get by?”
She chuckles slightly. “Oh, what an epic misunderstanding! I wonder how many of Johnnie’s poor creditors ‘fell downstairs’ when they came looking for payment from him. I’m okay thanks. I’ve still got a little tucked away, and dear Aunt Tina has offered me help as she always does when I need it. But I’m going to get a job.”
Lloyd pulls her closer. “Well, under no circumstances give up that university scholarship. You’re nearly there. It was difficult for me to get you this opportunity. I don’t think you’ll get another chance to study law with a scholarship like this.”
She smiles. “Don’t worry. Please. I’m so very thankful for all your efforts in getting me that chance, especially so late in the year. I thought I’d missed out again. I’m going to complete the degree and repay both you and Aunt Tina. You’ve both done so much for us, for me and Debbie. You’re such wonderful people. I still can’t understand why you and Tina got divorced?”
“Perhaps a story for another time. Please keep up the university though. You’re so talented. I know it was Ted and Joyce’s wish for you, God rest their poor souls.”
She hugs him. “Here’s my bus, perfect timing. Before I go, I’ve been meaning to ask. Are you alright? You’ve been looking very pale recently.”
He scoffs. “Of course! Just overworked.”
Trish boards the bus, finds a seat and settles back in her seat. Outside is dull and overcast, a far cry from yesterday. The fog is late lifting, and there’s a cold wind blowing in shivering gusts, reminding her, not that she’ll ever forget, that it was October 1957, seven years ago next month, that Ted died. What a dreadful night that was. It was foggy just like this. She recoils from the memory and shivers.
The bus stops, and she watches the traffic in the drizzling rain and sighs. They were tough and lonely times, after Ted died. But she did it then, and she’ll do it again now. She did well after she arrived in London. Her new flatmate and now closest friend, Val, got her a job in a stockbroker’s office. It wasn’t long before she was promoted. They liked her and were sorry to see her leave when she married Johnnie. She silently admonishes herself. He insisted she leave the job; she should have woken up then. What a mess. Here she is, twenty-one years old and the widow of a criminal.
Chapter 2. June 1965 - London
Trish sits looking from the café at the passing parade of people outside. A young girl saunters by in the scantiest dress. Trish is glad the long winter is over, but it’s not warm enough for that kind of clothing yet. Her thoughts are interrupted as Val arrives. They greet each other with hugs and kisses, Val taking the chair opposite, dressed in an immaculate navy-blue business suit. She always looks good, her cheerful persona and pretty, happy face immediately make you feel all is right with the world.
Trish smiles as Val sits, “It’s been too long; I’ve missed you terribly. How have you been? How’s your Mum?”
“Yes, I’ve missed you too. So good to see you. Mum’s had a long haul, but she’s nearly better now. I can’t wait to get back to my own flat.”
“I don’t blame you. Who lives in Edgeware?” Trish chuckles. “I don’t know how you’ve coped living all the way out there.”
“Mum and Dad have lived there for thirty years; it’s where I grew up. But you’re right. Thank goodness I’ll be back in Notting Hill next month. Dad can’t even make a cup of tea, so I had to do everything for him as well. The doctor said it was a bad break, she’d totally shattered her leg, but it’s healing really well. Anyway, as if you can talk about living all the way out at Edgeware. The girl from Bowning!”
Trish laughs. “Yes, I shouldn’t sling off! How’s your new job going anyway? What are you now? Script Manager?”
“Yeh! How good is that?” She says excitedly before continuing, “it’s a big responsibility, but it’s going great. I have thirty staff reporting to me. It’s so good to be out in the world again instead of babysitting my parents. The last year has been a disaster for my love life. No dates, not even the gummy old milkman. Nothing! Might as well be a nun! How about you? Any closer to finalising that sleaze Johnnie’s affairs?”
“Looks like the liquidators will be lucky to be paid, so I get nothing, not a skerrick. I don’t care though. I don’t want his dirty money; I can look after myself. At least I’m a year closer to getting my degree.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been so remote with looking after my parents and all. Life’s been so hectic.”
Trish nods. “For you and me both. What with my study, lectures and casual jobs, it’s been a tough year and definitely not a man in sight!”
They order food, and as they eat, Val seems on edge. She folds and unfolds her napkin anxiously as they eat and talk.
Trish smiles and puts her hands on top of Val’s. “What’s on your mind? You’re agitated, I know something’s wrong. Share your woes. Please?
Val looks at her, then glances around the café.
Trish smiles encouragingly and turns her head to the side in a questioning manner. “What bombshell are you about to drop?”
Val looks her straight in the eye, puts her hand across the table and pulls her closer. “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“That sentence worries me.”
“Well, I’ve been worrying for weeks. I thought the lawyers would have discovered it long ago, so I must tell you sooner rather than later. There’s someone you need to meet.”
Trish is puzzled. She has no idea who Val could be talking about, but she mentioned lawyers, so this is obviously something to do with Johnnie and his dodgy business affairs. “Who is it Val? Who should I meet and why the secrecy?”
Val looks across the café. “See that woman over there sitting all alone?”
Trish looks across. “The one dressed in the classy business suit who looks like she has serious money?”
“Yes, that one,” Val whispers. “Well, she needs to meet you. I asked her to wait over there until I call her over.”
“What does she want to meet me for?” She looks again at the attractive and stylish brunette in her mid-forties.
“To cut to the chase, she works for you,” Val says. She breathes a long sigh and slumps forward, leaning on the table in relief.
“What do you mean she works for me? I haven’t even got a permanent job.” Trish sits back and shakes her head. “What’s this about Val? Spit it out.”
“Well, you know how the liquidators are having a hell of a time sorting out Johnnie’s businesses?”
Trish nods. “I certainly do. I can’t even get my share of the house. So where does your friend over there come into this?”
“My friend, my dear, is the madam of a high-class brothel that Johnnie owned.”
Trish knows her expression must be as astonished as she feels. “Are you serious? Johnnie owned a brothel? This is too much.”
Val’s big brown eyes shine wickedly. “Yes, I’m serious, and yes, he did. Her name is Maureen Connor, and when I say the brothel is high class, I mean very high class. It’s called The Business Exchange. Its clientele includes a lot of the top London businessmen, plus lords, judges, politicians. You name them, and she knows them.” Val nods in Maureen’s direction. “Have you heard of a bloke called Henry Able?”
Trish leans forward, her voice low to be inaudible to anyone but Val. “I have but only recently though. What’s he got to do with this?”
Val in turn leans forward and whispers, “Well, the word is Johnnie murdered him, and the very strong rumour has it that Henry owned The Gentleman’s Club before Johnnie took it over and changed its name … after Henry’s … ummm, tragic accident. You remember a few years ago when I worked nights as a receptionist? That was at The Gentleman’s Club for Henry. He was a rogue but a likeable rogue, certainly not a…”
Trish widens her eyes and opens her mouth but is speechless.
Val smiles before resuming, “Anyway, Henry paid me good money to look sweet and tempting at the reception desk. My job was to be nice and sexy, greet the clients, get them in and make them feel like Rockefeller then show them to their rooms.”
Trish looks at her quizzically and smiles.
Val sighs and slightly raises her voice, annoyed at Trish’s inference. “Never! Not once did I do that. You should know me better than that by now!”
Trish leans back in her chair feeling scolded. “I do! I do know you Val. I’m sorry it’s just that…”
“Don’t think I didn’t get offers. I did. I could have made a lot of money, but I’m not into that. When I get a man into bed it’s because I want him. Those lecherous fools never appealed to me. They were mostly fat old men, repulsive, yuk. They made my skin crawl, well, most of them anyway. The job suited me at the time though. Henry paid me cash, and I only worked until one in the morning. I made as much on one night as I did in my day job at the stockbrokers for the week. I was on commission for every bloke that phoned and came in. Not many got away, I can tell you.” She laughs, her eyes glistening with excitement. “I didn’t need to be on my back.”
“No wonder you paid your flat off so quickly.”
Val leans in and whispers, “All cash.” She looks slyly around the café before continuing. “I left a couple of years ago, just after Johnnie came to work for Henry. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise at the time what a rat Johnnie was. I certainly wouldn’t have introduced you to him if I’d known then what I know now.”