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Authors: Heather Atkinson

Aftermath (Dividing Line #6)

BOOK: Aftermath (Dividing Line #6)
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AFTERMATH

Dividing Line Series #6

By Heather Atkinson

 

Copyright May 2014

Acknowledgement

 

Many thanks for downloading this book, I hope you enjoy it. Also thanks to my mum, Stephanie, for her proof-reading abilities and to my little sister and fellow writer Suzanne Heal for her continued and enthusiastic support. As always thanks to Paul for his love and support and not complaining when I spend a lot of time on my laptop.

Big happy fiftieth birthday to Tracey Baxter in Perthshire, who also features as a character in this book.

For your information, Abercraig Castle and whisky mentioned in this book are fictional, inspired by the breathtaking castles of beautiful Aberdeenshire.

 

Heather Atkinson, May 2014.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

The residents of the estate weren’t used to seeing big flash motors pull up. Usually all they got was a parade of old wrecks held together by rust, which inevitably ended up on bricks when their wheels got nicked. So it was an understatement to say that Shane and his friends were surprised when a brand new Range Rover rolled to a halt before them, black metalwork gleaming in the weak spring sun. Before the doors even opened he was calculating how much he could earn from stealing it. Judging by their excited murmurs his six friends who formed his little gang were thinking exactly the same thing.

Their lairiness only increased when the front passenger door opened to reveal a pair of long slender legs partially encased in a tight black skirt.

“Phwoar, look at that,” said Chug, Shane’s best friend and second-in-command of their gang.

The woman must have heard because she cast them a haughty look before hitching her handbag over her shoulder. Gucci, noted Shane. Expensive. Here was real money.

“Cor, I wouldn’t mind a piece of that,” said Chug, his eyes riveted to the woman.

Shane wasn’t surprised. Chug was like a dog with two dicks, hence his nickname, because he was always in his bedroom chugging on himself.

“Give over, she wouldn’t look twice at a shite like you,” replied Lard, a short tubby boy in a baseball cap.

“Maybe she’s after a bit of rough,” leered Chug.

Shane let them banter. He enjoyed listening to it but he rarely joined in. At eighteen he was the eldest of the group and the natural leader. In keeping with his status he liked to act cool and aloof to raise him above the lower ranks. His little band were responsible for most of the vandalism, intimidation and petty theft on the estate as well as keeping any interlopers at bay. Under his leadership they did it well. Shane had aspirations to be big time and he knew he had the brains to make it, if only someone would give him the opportunity. Hopefully the cash he’d make nicking the Range Rover would go a long way to seeing those dreams come to fruition. With what he’d make he could buy a lot of drugs to sell on. He didn’t touch them himself, that was for mugs.

Chug went silent when the hot woman’s man emerged from the driving seat. He was big and very good looking with thick, stylishly messy dark hair and a physique that said he spent a lot of time at the gym. Shane wasn’t worried. Just because someone was strong didn’t mean they could fight. The man wore a cropped black leather jacket, black trousers and a black shirt, a watch on his wrist that probably cost more than the motor. It was clear they were coined up.

The couple saw the group watching them and looked at each other.

“That’s right, scurry inside,” murmured Shane. That was the usual effect his gang had on people. Hurry into the flats, head bowed, not making eye contact and hope they allowed them to pass unmolested. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn’t.

Surprise and indignant outrage seized Shane when the couple smiled at each other and started to walk their way.

“What the fuck do they think they’re doing?” said Chug.

“Must have a death wish,” glowered Shane, not taking his eyes off the couple, starting to feel uneasy the closer they got. There was something fearless in their determined strides, as though they didn’t give a shit that they were outnumbered and on hostile territory.

They came to a halt right in front of Shane, who straightened up to his full height, which annoyingly was a couple of inches shorter than the man. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why they looked familiar.

With a subtle hand gesture from Shane his friends formed a circle around the couple but still they refused to look afraid. The woman even seemed to find the situation amusing, a smile playing on her lips.

“Are you the leader of this boy scout group?” the man asked Shane in a deep, hard voice that was at odds with his posh accent.

“Yeah,” he retorted, a hell of a lot less sure of himself. The stranger was surrounded by an aura of strength and control that smothered Shane, making him feel weak and vulnerable. The man’s grey eyes were as piercing as lasers and he wilted beneath the force of them. Shane realised he’d seriously misjudged the situation. This man had seen real violence, not the stupid scraps he and his friends got into but genuine life-threatening danger. Shane’s eyes flicked to the woman, who stood fearlessly amid his leering friends, barely aware of their presence, her black eyes riveted on her man’s exchange with himself. When he noticed the thick scar on her neck everything clicked into place. Even down here in Nottingham everyone knew who this pair were.

“No Chug, don’t,” Shane called, but it was too late. He’d already slapped the woman’s behind.

She rounded on him with indignation burning in her eyes. Chug grinned and opened his mouth to deliver the smart comment he’d lined up to accompany the offensive gesture but, before he could speak, she’d grabbed his balls in one hand and twisted, making him scream. When Lard moved to assist his stricken friend she produced a taser from nowhere and jammed it into his shoulder, the jolt knocking him off his feet. She followed this up by headbutting Chug, mercifully silencing his squeals, and he joined his twitching friend on the ground.

“Stop,” Shane ordered when another of the morons tried to go for the woman, but the man’s arm shot out, grabbed him by the throat and hurled him over an overflowing bin.

“Stop it now you daft bastards,” Shane roared at his gang.

They all appeared relieved by the order to stand down and moved backwards, watching the woman warily, who glared at them with black, shark-like eyes.

“I’m so sorry about that,” said Shane.

“You ought to be in better control of this shower,” the man snarled savagely.

Shane had never been so humiliated in all his life. These were the big hitters he longed to be and his friends had embarrassed him in front of them. He finally saw himself and his little tribe for what they really were - playground bullies, amateurs, pathetic and disorganised. They’d have to up their game just to reach the small time. His ego deflated, bringing him back to earth with a thump. No wonder they’d approached them so fearlessly, they’d clocked what they were the moment they’d seen them.

“We’re looking for Estelle Law. We know she’s here, we just don’t know which flat,” said the man, his voice once again smooth and calm.

“Flat twenty three, first floor. You can take the stairs there,” replied Shane, nodding at a flight of stairs at the side of the building. “She’ll be in, she doesn’t go out during the day.”

“Nothing’s changed then,” he replied, disgust in his eyes.

“You’re Ryan and Rachel Law, aren’t you? Estelle told us you were her son but we didn’t believe her, we thought she was just mouthing off.”

Ryan chose to ignore the comment. “We’re going up there now. If we come down and find anything’s happened to our motor I will ensure you pay for it with horrible physical suffering that will remain with you for the rest of your life. Not them,” he said, pointing at his gang. “Just you.”

Shane swallowed hard and fought the urge to look away from his granite gaze.

“If we return and it’s still in pristine condition,” continued Ryan, “there’ll be a bonus in it for you. However, if you are as stupid as you look and think you can damage it or steal it then disappear into this rabbit warren of flats you’re wrong. We will find you and when we do…” He paused to look at his wife. “Rachel, show them.”

With a smile she ground the heel of her stiletto shoe down on Chug’s privates, who was still on the ground. He started to scream all over again, drawing the residents of the flats out onto their balconies, who started to laugh and point. Shane’s cheeks heated. The Laws had only been here two minutes and already they were killing his reputation but he didn’t blame them, he blamed his friends who, he’d just realised, were complete wankers.

“I’ll look after it, no worries,” assured Shane.

Ryan gave him a slow nod before turning away, taking Rachel’s hand and walking towards the staircase that had been pointed out to them.

The boy who’d been thrown over the bin finally got to his feet, panting, the wind knocked out of him. “He’s fucking lucky he did one when he did or I would have kicked the shit out of him.”

Shane blinked at him in disbelief before drawing back his fist and knocking him back to the ground. Then he laid into Chug and Lard, kicking at them while they were still down, furious at how they’d embarrassed him. The rest of the gang stood back, deciding to let Shane get it out of his system otherwise he’d do the same to them.

CHAPTER 2

 

Ryan banged rather than knocked on the battered door, which had been painted an ugly purple. He hated seeing the old witch he’d once called mum, she was the only person who could really get to him, drive away the man he’d become and bring back the scared little boy he used to be.

Rachel took his hand while they waited. She’d seen first-hand how Estelle affected him, which was why she’d insisted on tagging along. He hadn’t wanted her to come just in case he reverted back to the state Estelle usually reduced him to, but he’d realised he would need her to get through it.

He planted a quick kiss on her lips before the door slowly swung open and Ryan’s heart sank. He had thought ostracising his mother from Manchester would make her take a long hard look at her life, especially after her actions almost led to Rachel and himself being murdered in their sleep. What small hope he’d harboured was extinguished when he saw the mess before him - badly dyed blond hair stuck up like straw, make-up smeared all over her sagging, lined face. She clutched a dirty dressing gown about herself that had once been white but was now a limp grey and covered in dubious stains. To Ryan’s disgust she had love bites on her neck. She’d been beautiful once and, although she’d always been a vicious cow, somehow her beauty had made her seem softer, more gentle. Thanks to years of drug and alcohol abuse she’d ruined those looks and was now just another used up druggie slag.

The grey eyes just like her son’s narrowed. “What the fuck do you want?” she barked, voice hoarse with cigarette smoke.

“Good to see you again Estelle. It’s been a while.” He’d stopped calling her mum long ago.

She leaned against the doorframe with a belligerent smile. “If you’ve come to give me a guilt trip I wouldn’t bother.”

“I wouldn’t waste my breath. Unfortunately there’s something we need to discuss with you.”

“And if I say no?”

“We’re not giving you a choice.”

Estelle snuck a look outside, scanning the ground below before stepping back to allow them to enter. Ryan knew she was checking to see if anyone was watching, hoping to increase her standing on the estate.

Ryan was embarrassed. Estelle still hadn’t learnt any basic housekeeping skills and the whole flat reeked of dirt, unwashed clothes and stale food. There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t coated in dust, dirty crockery took up most of the floor space and his shoes stuck to the carpet as he walked. He glanced at Rachel, who was trying so hard not to show her disgust for his sake, but he noticed she was going out of her way not to touch anything.

“I suppose you want a brew?” said a grudging Estelle.

“No thank you, we don’t want a dose of e-coli,” replied Ryan, grimacing at a chipped mug on the coffee table containing curdled tea, the rim stained with bright red lipstick.

“If you’re going to be a snobby bastard you can piss off,” she snapped. “Just ‘cos you’ve got money you think you’re the fucking dog’s gonads.”

Ryan stared at her coldly. “Aren’t you going to ask about your grandsons, Ethan and Aaron? Or Jez’s kids? Has your drug-addled brain forgotten about them?”

“Keep your bloody voice down. I don’t want Brian knowing I’m old enough to have grandkids.”

“Who’s Brian?” said Ryan.

In response a loud grunt emanated from the next room. “Estelle, what’s all the fucking noise?” grizzled a deep voice.

A half-naked man emerged from the bedroom scratching a bare, podgy belly that hung over the waistband of his grey boxers, receding hair stuck out at odd angles, as though it was attempting to distance itself from his ugly mug.

Ryan thought he was just his mum’s type - probably a petty crook, most likely a small-time drug dealer so she could exchange sexual favours for a fix. An ageing thug.

“We’ve got guests,” Estelle said sardonically.

“Tell them to fuck off. I want your skinny arse back in that bed right now.” The man finally focused on Ryan and Rachel, his bleary eyes taking in their expensive clothes and jewellery and his demeanour changed in an instant. “Who are they?” he said more respectfully.

“My son Ryan and his wife, Rachel.”

Brian gawped at them. Like everyone else he’d assumed Estelle had been bullshitting about who her boys were but he recognised these two from the news and he spotted a chance. “Don’t just sit there woman, get the bloody kettle on.” He held out a meaty hand to Ryan. “Good to meet you son. Estelle talks about you all the time.”

Ryan regarded the proffered hand with distaste. “Would you please leave? We wish to talk in private.”

“I think I should be here for that. Me and your mum have been talking about getting hitched so that practically makes me your dad.”

Ryan’s face smoothed itself out into an expressionless mask. “You are nothing to me. I don’t even call her mum so if you think you and I will ever have a relationship simply because you’re shagging the old slag then you’re sadly mistaken. Now for God’s sake put on some clothes and get out of my sight.”

“You can’t talk to me like that. Estelle, are you going to let your boy…”

Ryan grabbed Brian’s right arm, twisted it up his back and marched him to the door.

“Open it or I’ll put you through it,” said Ryan almost politely.

“But my clothes…,” replied Brian, opening the door even as he protested, afraid his arm was going to pop out of its socket.

Ryan shoved him outside semi-naked, shut the door and locked it.

Banging started up on the other side. “Give me my clothes, it’s fucking freezing out here.”

Jaw set, Ryan stormed into the bedroom - which stank of sex and booze - picked up the trousers, trainers and stained t-shirt and threw them out the window. He was satisfied to see his Range Rover parked in the same place, not a mark on it, Shane and his little band watching over it.

He stormed back through the flat to the front door, which shook beneath Brian’s knocks, accompanied by his pleads for his clothes.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ryan snarled through the wood. The knocking and begging ceased. He returned to the living room to find Estelle puffing away on a cigarette, to Rachel’s revulsion, completely unconcerned by her lover being thrown out the door. Ryan felt slightly sick at the sight of her pale, varicosed legs on display. “Cover yourself up, you’re too old to flaunt yourself like that,” he told her.

Estelle gave him a yellow-toothed smile and ineffectually tugged at the hem of the robe. “What’s this about? I’ve got things to do.”

“We’ll be out of your hair as soon as we can so don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to go to your flower-arranging class or bake cookies for the local girl guide group.”

“Always were fucking funny, weren’t you?” she retorted, puffing smoke down her nose.

Rachel shifted uncomfortably. The flat was too hot, it was dirty and smelly and the smoke was the final straw. She thought she’d be lucky to get out without vomiting all over the manky carpet.

Ryan sat beside Rachel on the beige couch, both of them perching on the edge, afraid of what horrors its dirty cover might hold. “I want to know about Jules,” he opened.

Ryan watched Estelle carefully as his words took effect. Just for a moment she went rigid, her eyes widened and her jaw clenched, the cigarette clutched tightly between her teeth. Then she relaxed and settled back into her armchair. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you fucking do.”

“Really, I don’t,” she smirked taking another drag on the cigarette.

“Alright, how much do you want?” he sighed.

“You think I’m trying to get cash out of you?”

“It’s what you do. I don’t suppose it occurred to you to tell us out of the goodness of your heart? Didn’t think so,” he added when she threw back her head and cackled, smoking streaming from her mouth.

“Why are you so desperate to know?”

“Because she tried to kill Rachel. We don’t know if she’s still a threat.”

Estelle’s eyes slid to the scar on Rachel’s throat then away again. She puffed on the cigarette and shrugged, indifferent to the prospect of her daughter-in-law being murdered.

Ryan bristled and Rachel clamped her hand down on his arm in warning. When he inhaled sharply and nodded she released him.

“I can see how concerned you are for Rachel’s safety,” he said sarcastically, “so you’ll be pleased to know she won the fight. Jules was down on the ground bleeding badly. Rachel was just about to bring a lump of wood down on her head when she told her she was my sister Jules who, funnily enough, I’ve never heard of before. I know it’s nothing to do with Riley’s side of the family so here we are, in this paradise,” he said, throwing out his arms to indicate the room. He fixed her with a hard glare. “We’re not leaving until we’ve got what we came for.”

Estelle dragged deeply on the cigarette and exhaled noisily, adding to the cloud building up in the room. Rachel had to stifle a cough, her eyes threatening to water.

When Estelle remained silent Ryan reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a thick wad of notes. “Ten grand cash. I bet that would come in very useful. You could stuff yourself silly with drugs.”

Estelle’s eyes alighted on it hungrily. When she reached out her hand Ryan snatched the cash back. “Ah, ah, ah, not yet. Information first.” He waved it before her enticingly, saw the greed fighting with the desire to keep a long-held secret. Just as he knew it would, greed won.

“Alright, you want to know that much then I’ll tell you, but no good can come from digging up the past.”

“Homespun wisdom, from you?” he said with a raised eyebrow.

“Do you want to know or not?” she snapped.

“Please enlighten us.”

She scowled at the derision in his voice, taking another puff on the cigarette before stubbing it out in the ashtray, to Rachel’s delight.

“She was born eight years after you.”

“Why don’t I remember you having a baby? I remember other things from when I was eight that I have no wish to recall but there they are all the same, forever trapped in my head. I remember you being heavily pregnant but you…”

Rachel regarded him with concern when he abruptly went silent, his entire body immobile with the rage paralysing him. Rachel touched his hand and he recovered the power of speech.

“You told me you lost the baby.”

“I did in a way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I sold her,” she shrugged.

Rachel’s mouth fell open while Ryan struggled with his anger. “Who to and for how much?” he eventually said, voice low and dangerous.

“Five grand. I suppose you want me to say I sold her to a nice family with a farm but they were some posh bastards in the city who couldn’t have kids of their own.”

“You sold your own child?” said Rachel, revolted.

“Don’t look so righteous Madam, you don’t know what it was like. I couldn’t cope with another baby. I was doing right by her. Beautiful little thing she was too. They were well made up with her. I knew they’d love her and look after her like I never could.”

Rachel wondered if Estelle had actually done the right thing by one of her children for once, but if it had been so right then how had Jules - aka Venom - ended up running round with Lucifer’s Shadow Motorcycle Club killing people?

“When I found out there were people desperate for kids I tried to sell you too but no one wanted you,” Estelle told Ryan. “I couldn’t get rid of you for love nor money and I tried hard, believe me. You were too old and too fucking lairy.”

“You vicious bitch,” spat Rachel.

“It’s okay babe,” said Ryan, taking her hand. “I wish I could say I’m surprised but I’m not.” He turned his gaze back on his mother. “Is there no depth you won’t sink to?”

Estelle merely shrugged and lit up another cigarette.

“So how did you meet this nice rich couple?” said Ryan almost casually, leaning back in the couch and stretching one arm out behind Rachel. “Hardly the usual type you associate with.”

“Her father arranged it.”

“I’m amazed you know who he was. What’s his name?”

She smiled, puffing out smoke between her teeth. “That’ll cost you another ten grand.”

“You grasping old cow,” said Rachel.

“What’s ten grand to you? Nothing, pocket change. Trust me, it’ll be money well spent.”

When Ryan produced more bundles of money and dumped them on the table with the rest Estelle’s face fell. They’d expected this tactic and had been holding out on her. If only she’d thought of that she could have upped her price.

“Twenty grand cash there Estelle,” said Ryan. “If you don’t give us the name we’ll leave and take it all with us. If you try to extort more money from us the same rule applies. It’s up to you.”

“Then you’ll never find out.”

“Yes we will and you know it. Now hurry up because I’m rapidly running out of patience.”

“Fine but you might be sorry you asked.”

“Spit it out,” he said, temper fraying.

“Terry Maguire.” She smiled at their shocked expressions. “That’s right, Uncle Terry. He was one of my regulars for a long time. He was only fifteen when he first came to me. I popped his cherry.”

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