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Defend the Children and Punish the Wrongdoer
By Kate Kray
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Kate Kray
All rights reserved.
The London train emerged from the tunnel and gave a final sigh as it came to a halt at the platform. The heavy door swung open and Rosie stepped inside, praying that the decision that she had made was the right one. A whistle blew and the train lurched forward as it pulled away from the station and picked up speed until it reached its natural rhythm. Rosie swayed from side to side as she made her way along the narrow corridor, looking for somewhere to sit. Finding a near-empty carriage, she fell into a grimy seat, tossed down her bag, and settled back for the long return journey.
Her mind was racing as fast the Kentish countryside that flew past the window. She leaned over, wiped the condensation from the glass and peered out over the green fields outside. She had never really appreciated the beauty of the countryside as much as she did at that moment: the vivid burnt-amber, russet, and gold colours of the autumn leaves were spectacular. It was so beautiful, she almost began to forget about the harrowing day she'd just spent with Johnny.
Johnny was not happy. He wasn't happy at all. She had finally told him that she'd had enough – she wanted out. Johnny, as jealous and selfish as ever, had snarled at her, baring his teeth as he spat out a torrent of cruel words. They still rang in her ears ... especially his parting shot: 'Friends won't go with you out of respect. Straight goers won't go near you through fear.'
She had tried to explain, as gently as she could, why she could no longer visit him in prison. For five, long, grinding years she had trudged around the country. Five years of waiting in the rain outside grey prison walls. Five years of bringing up their daughter, Ruby, on her own. And the situation wasn't about to change – Johnny was inside for 18 years. That meant it was left to Rosie to pay the hefty school fees, the mortgage, and all the other bills.
Watching her reflection in the train window, Rosie was horrified. She could almost see the life draining out of her, like someone had pulled a plug out from somewhere deep inside her. It was as if she was aging in fast forward: budding, flowering, blooming, then withering and dying. All before her very eyes.
She was still only 30, but she felt closer to 50 ... and probably even looked it, which was a bloody disaster when her career – or what remnants of a career she had – was reliant on her looks. Her dewy, porcelain-perfect complexion and sparkling emerald eyes had once featured in a series of make-up ads, and her dazzling white smile had, for a while, earned her a certain amount of success for its appearance in a toothpaste commercial. True, she'd achieved some success as an actress. Bit parts here and there, mostly. There was an episode of Casualty, a very brief stint in a minor sit-com, and a longer run in EastEnders ... which is how she met Johnny Mullins. She had been introduced to him by a fellow actor at a glitzy party which Johnny was hosting with his brother, Eddie.
It had happened very quickly – too quickly, really. Like in the fairy stories she used to read as a little girl, Johnny, a knight in shining armour, had ridden into her life and carried her off, over the horizon into an world that she never knew existed. With his silk suits – hand-made in Savile Row, of course – and his Fratelli Rossetti, crocodile shoes, he was as smooth as butter and as slick as a whistle. He certainly had an aura about him; crowds seemed to melt away when he entered a room. When he approached, big, lumbering hard-men became suddenly light on their feet, stepping out of his way, and all the girls turned their heads. Still, Rosie couldn't quite put her finger on what exactly it was about him that attracted her. His reputation, perhaps? His awesome presence? Or could she put it down to an animal instinct, something she sensed? That alpha male, leader of the pack, top-dog aura. Whatever it was, there had been an instant attraction. You can call it what you will, but she called it love.
A relationship blossomed, and soon they were engaged. The wedding was an extravaganza, a spectacular of flounce and cash-waving. In the world that Johnny inhabited it was, without doubt, the wedding of the year. The cream of the London underworld were there; gangsters from America flew over to pay their respects and enjoy a knees-up with their British counterparts.
It was a wedding reception with a difference, too. Only the very best was good enough: top London caterers, a bar stocked with every bottle imaginable, and cabaret acts were flown in from Vegas. Everyone was out to make a good impression, and, as the bride, Rosie knew that she would have to put on a bit of style. If there was ever a time for Versace, this was it. So she wore a beautiful, ivory-silk corset dress, decorated with thousands of Swarvoski crystals, with a train more than seven yards long. And, on her finger, a ring with 35 princess-cut diamonds.
An impressive range of Rollers, Bentleys, Mercedes, and a smattering of top-end sports cars, were parked bumperto-bumper outside the country house where the reception was held. Hefty gangsters lumbered out of their mobile status-symbols, shrugging their broad shoulders and pulling at their lapels to free the high-living fat from their tight, starched-white collars. The dress code was as rigid as any society bash. All the men were kitted out the same: tailored suits, crisp white shirts, top pocket hankies, chunky 22-carat rings on their pinkies. All the girls had, quite obviously, been lying on sunbeds and sitting at the hairdressers with rollers in, after getting their roots done. At an occasion such as this, they wouldn't dream of arriving without the full works: high heels, dangly gold jewellery, lashings of lipstick, powder and paint. This was a wedding to be seen at.
A 300-strong army of guests slurped Cristal champagne and munched on canapés served on golden platters. Anyone who was anyone had turned out for the man himself, Johnny Mullins ... and the new Mrs Mullins.
Over the following year, Johnny and Rosie's journey was full-on and in the fast lane: a new house in a fashionable part of Islington, a hedonistic lifestyle of clubs, money, fast cars, Cartier this, Gucci that ...
She wanted for nothing and was swept off her feet by her new husband, much to the disapproval of her Aunt Madge. Over a cup of tea one Sunday, she warned Rosie: 'Watch him. His eyes are too close together.'
But Rosie had just laughed. She loved her auntie, but she didn't know Johnny like Rosie did. Besides, she enjoyed the attention and respect that came with being married to such a high-profile gangster. She was having a ball, the time of her life.
The only fly in the ointment, from her point of view, was Johnny's twin brother, Eddie; now, his eyes definitely were too close together. Eddie was as slippery as a box of frogs. He was so full of hate, like he had a great, gaping hole in the middle of his heart, and he could never inflict enough pain to fill it up. When Johnny and Eddie were together – which was most of the time – Johnny took on a different persona, one that could only be described as dangerous, intimidating, and all-out menacing. All they talked about was business, business, business ... like it was all they lived for. Of course, Rosie never asked Johnny about what he did, and he never told her. It was an unspoken thing between them. 'So long as you got what you want, darling, that's all you need to know,' Johnny used to say, with a wink.
So that's how life settled down ... with Johnny, Eddie, their best mate 'Hate-'em-all' Harry, and the rest of their firm – all big men in big suits who spoke mostly in whispers, out of the corners of their crooked mouths. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were spent propping up the bar in the Tin Pan Club; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in VIP lounges in fancy clubs Up West.
Aunt Madge was always telling Rosie that, 'Things that go up quickly, usually come down with a huge bump.' And boy, was she right. Within a few years of the wedding, Johnny was so high on success – and, above all else, cocaine – that their marriage went from bad to worse. His growing dependency soon began to wreak havoc on his finances, looks, and, most of all, his mood. If he didn't have his daily snort he would become angry, and, at times, even violent. It got progressively worse, until Johnny was frequently raising his hand to Rosie. It was becoming obvious that, under his gleaming armour, this knight was nothing more than a bullying, murdering thug. Soon, and so gradually that Rosie hardly noticed it, she had became totally under his control. Breaking away was simply not an option. Over the years, she had heard and witnessed things that nobody should have to experience, and she knew what he was capable of.
The only things that Johnny cared about was himself and his bloody psycho brother, Eddie 'Mad Dog' Mullins. Rosie had become weary of the never-ending threats and ongoing violence, the uncertainty that came with living life on a knife edge. But, by that stage it hardly mattered what she thought, because it was perfectly clear that Johnny's cocaine habit had grown into a full-on addiction.
Johnny's behaviour and their exhausting home life took up much of Rosie's time, but what energy she had left she channelled into her acting. She managed to get a few auditions, but they came to nothing ... until one day, much to her surprise, an amazing opportunity presented itself. It was on the day of her twentieth birthday; her agent rang to say that Andrew Brook-Fields, one of the nation's leading television producers, wanted to see her for a major new period drama.
'It's only for the lead!' said the agent. 'Kathy in Wuthering Heights. Great money, too.'
Rosie was ecstatic to finally have an opportunity to earn some money for herself – some 'straight money', instead of the tainted cash that her husband brought home. Johnny, on the other hand, was completely indifferent to the prospect of Rosie returning to her acting. He complained for a while about how he 'looked after her', but the truth was he was so lost in a haze of coke, that he rarely noticed anything that his wife said or did any more, and soon changed the topic of conversation.
Rosie put her heart and soul into the audition. She wanted that part more than she wanted anything. The chance of a major part in a series was a wake-up call – it made her realise that, somewhere along the way, she had lost herself, lost her identity. She was sick and tired of being known as 'Mrs Rosie Mullins, wife of ...'. She was never introduced as 'Rosie, the actress' any more, or even as 'Rosie, the person'. It was always 'Rosie, Johnny's wife'. She was fed up of the whole 'gangster' thing. She had to admit that, okay, it might have been glamorous and exciting at first, but now she longed for normality and respectability in her life.
During the brief, ten-minute audition she got the feeling that Andrew Brook-Fields was impressed with her, and her understanding of the part. The wait was unbearable, but finally the call from her agent came through ... and her instincts had been right: she was first in line for the part! Rosie was over the moon, and she couldn't wait to tell Johnny her news. She so wanted him to be happy for her, to congratulate her, to make a fuss.
She should have known him by now. Johnny, being Johnny, was totally uninterested and just sneered at her when she told him the news. Like the selfish pig that he was, Johnny managed, in just a few, cruel words, to burst her bubble. Then the truth finally hit Rosie: all she was to him was something pretty that he could drape over his arm and show off, like a cashmere overcoat. Rosie's confidence was shattered by Johnny's reaction, and, after a truly disastrous second audition, the part of Kathy went to another girl.
Hot on the heels of this blow came more life-changing news: Rosie was four months pregnant. She was crushed, and resigned to her fate. So, with a heavy heart and an expanding waistline, she went back to being 'Rosie Mullins, wife of ...'
The pregnancy did nothing to curb Johnny's behaviour, and his cocaine addiction grew, eating away at everything they had. The flash cars were the first to go, then the upmarket house. They ended up in a two-up, two-down on Hewitt Way, just off the Roman Road in London's East End.
The day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month struggle went on. As the months rolled into years, things only got worse: endless police raids, violence, and constant domestic turmoil.
The only real joy in Rosie's life was their daughter, Ruby, who she adored. Rosie made a solemn promise to herself that she would never allow Ruby's father, with his addictions and violence, to drag them down with him. She managed to persuade Johnny, during a rare moment of harmony, to support the idea of sending their daughter to a private school; so, when she was six, they did just that.
But still, things between Rosie and Johnny weren't getting any better. The depths he sank to following a high became so harrowing that they were frightening to watch. Rosie frequently had to take Ruby to her Aunt Madge's, through fear of what he might do to her. He even threatened to murder Rosie on regular occasions ... and she knew that he was more than capable of it. She had heard things; she had seen things. She was well aware that there was nothing Johnny wouldn't do, especially when he was coked up and flying high.
One terrifying night, during a particularly violent episode, he slapped Rosie to the floor, wrapped a giant hand around her neck, and held a gun to her head, screaming abuse. That was too much to take and Rosie, her eyes streaming with tears and with bruises darkening on her body, fetched a suitcase and started throwing clothes into it. But she knew in her heart that Johnny would never let her leave. Sure enough, moments later, he stormed into the bedroom, grabbed her by the arm, and swung her around to face him.
'Nobody leaves Johnny Mullins!' he spat, his eyes darting wildly, with a strand of thin saliva hanging from his snarling lips. 'I'll bury you in the woods first!'
Rosie was shaking uncontrollably – she had no choice. She had to stick it out. That night she wept for her lost life. It seemed that her remaining years were mapped out, that the nightmare would never end for her ... or for Ruby.
Then, six months later, just when it seemed to Rosie that all hope was lost, fate played a hand: Johnny was arrested for drugs smuggling. It was a huge relief for Rosie. Out of the blue she had been given the chance of another life. In the days that followed, it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She didn't even consider that Johnny's arrest could have a downside ... but it did: Rosie's finances took a severe urn for the worse.
Rosie and Ruby started to rebuild their lives in the little terraced house on Hewitt Way. Ruby almost never mentioned her dad, and even pretended not to mind that he didn't write, and never used one of his precious phone cards to find out how they were coping. Life wasn't easy, and, at times, they had to really struggle to overcome the rising debts that threatened to engulf them.
The memories of her life with Johnny remained crystal clear in Rosie's mind, and this train journey was not the first time that she had been lost in them. She was snapped back to reality by squealing breaks as the train pulled into London's Charing Cross Station. She took a deep breath and tried to push any more thoughts of Johnny out of her mind as she stepped off into a small crowd of impatient travellers waiting to board.
The throng of people on the station concourse, bustling, pushing and shoving, made her head spin. She made her way through the sea of shuffling bodies to the road outside where irate drivers of black cabs hooted at red buses, which were blocking the cars, which were blocking the motorbikes, which, in turn, were blocking the pedestrians. She jumped on a No 40 bus, which would take her straight to the Roman Road.
Excerpted from The Betrayed by Kate Kray. Copyright © 2010 Kate Kray. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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