As we’re drawing closer to the launch date of 24th June for ‘Danger by Association’, I thought I would share an excerpt with you. In this first chapter Rita has returned to Manchester to attend her brother’s wedding.
After the trauma of her previous visit (as shown in ‘A Gangster’s Grip’), Rita regarded her return with trepidation. This trip won’t be any better for her because her son is in danger. As you can see from this first chapter, there are already signs of trouble, which intensifies as the book progresses:
Saturday 8th June 1996
Rita walked in front of her family and greeted them before taking her seat at the front of the church. Her mother, Joan, was seated to her left, resplendent in her new outfit from C & A. To the left of Joan was Rita’s father, Ged, looking uncomfortable in his one best suit. As Rita cast her eyes across the front pew she noticed him loosening his shirt collar and adjusting his tie.
Furthest away from Rita, and occupying the inside seat of the pew, was her brother, John, nervously awaiting his bride-to-be, with his best man Tony buoying him up. Rita smiled at John before switching her attention to her husband, Yansis.
Rita felt mixed emotions as she thought about the absent family member. It was five years since her sister, Jenny, had died but on days like today she missed her more than ever. This was the first time Rita had returned to Manchester since Jenny’s death. She lived in Greece, where she and Yansis ran a restaurant.
Her sister’s demise was such a traumatic event that Rita had taken a lot of persuading before she agreed to return to Manchester. But how could she miss her brother’s wedding? So here she was. But only on the condition that she went nowhere near the Riverhill Estate. The place where it had happened. The place where her parents still lived.
Although Rita no longer lived in Manchester, she thought of her sister daily. She always would. Every time she looked at her son’s face she was reminded of Jenny. Because, even though Rita and Yansis called Daniel their son, it was Jenny who had given birth to him. As Rita thought about Jenny, she gazed with affection at Daniel who was shuffling impatiently in his seat between her and Yansis.
“It won’t be long now till the bride gets here,” she whispered as she took in his familiar features and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
As though in response to her words, the organist began to play the wedding march. Rita, along with almost everyone else, turned to see the bride walk up the aisle, which was lined with exquisite blossoms in a delicate pink and white colour scheme.
Rita had never met Paula in person; she had only seen her in photographs. She was a stunning girl, and Rita felt happy for John who gazed proudly at her as she approached. Paula looked radiant in her beautiful off-the-shoulder wedding gown with sweetheart neckline. The onlookers were captivated as she progressed down the aisle, the layers of tulle flowing from a tiny fitted waist against which she clutched a lovely bouquet. Yes, John had definitely done himself proud and, if her parents were to be believed, Paula was a lovely person too.
As the bride drew closer, Rita caught the eye of her best friend, Julie, sitting a few rows back with her husband, Vinny. A few seconds later, the bride joined John at the front of the church, and the wedding march died down. The congregation cleared their throats and hushed their children, and the vicar allowed them time to settle down before beginning the ceremony.
Joan had already broken out her tissues and sat sniffing throughout the entire service. Rita wondered whether it was through happiness for John or sorrow at her missing child. Maybe it was a combination of the two. Rita’s mind wandered again to the last time the family had been together, apart from John who had been stationed abroad in the army.
The hospital. The endless wait. Desperately hoping she’d pull through. The devastating news from the doctor. Rita stopped herself, determined not to succumb to tears. This was a happy occasion and she’d make damn sure she enjoyed it. She tried to ignore her mother’s whimpering as she focused on the ceremony.
Once outside, the emotional strain was forgotten amidst the excited chatter, words of congratulations and organising the photographs. Rita was too busy to think about emotions as she and Yansis had resolved to keep Daniel clean and tidy at least until the pictures were taken.
Although he was a good child, he was a typical five-year-old boy. Carried away by the novelty and excitement of the occasion, he was more intent on racing around the manicured church lawns than posing for photographs in a stuffy suit.
“Oh, it was lovely wasn’t it?” said Julie as she and Vinny joined them on the lawn after the photographs had been taken. “I was filling up when she walked down the aisle in that gorgeous dress.”
“Don’t be so bleedin’ soft, you daft sod,” said Rita. “You’re supposed to be happy, not crying your eyes out. You’re as bad as my mam. I think she went through a full packet of man-sized by the time it was over.”
“You’re bloody heartless you, Rita,” laughed Julie.
They circulated for a while, chatting to friends and relatives until it was time to go to the wedding reception. Then they crowded into a minibus, which John and Paula had laid on especially for the occasion. Within minutes they arrived at the venue, which was a hotel.
It wasn’t long before they were all seated ready for the wedding breakfast. But they had to go through the speeches first. This was the moment Rita was dreading. She knew it would be emotional. John was bound to mention Jenny. There was no way he would ignore her absence.
Unlike the church service though, where she had a front row seat, Rita was now surrounded by people on all sides. If she became overcome by emotion it would be difficult to hide. And she didn’t want to get upset. This was John and Paula’s big day, and despite Jenny no longer being with them, it should nevertheless be a happy one.
After dreading the speeches, she was surprised at how smoothly it went. John handled the matter well and she felt proud of him.
“I want to propose a toast to all our loved ones who sadly can’t be with us,” he said as he held up his glass. Everybody raised their glasses in respect and John quickly added, “I’m sure they’d want us all to enjoy this day so I don’t want to see any tears.”
Rita’s mother took a deep breath and shoved her tissues inside her handbag.
Daniel was fidgety during the meal and couldn’t wait to run around outside with his newfound friends. Fortunately, the wedding reception was in a hotel within its own grounds so he could play out safely. Once he had eaten enough, Rita and Yansis let him go. Then it was time for the adults to relax. While Daniel played outside, Rita and Julie chatted to some of Rita’s older relatives. They were all interested in Rita’s life in Greece and she enjoyed telling them all about it, as well as discussing her wider family.
When the meal was finished, Rita, Yansis, Julie and Vinny found somewhere else to sit while the hotel staff cleared the tables ready for the evening reception. Yansis and Vinny soon struck up a conversation while the girls chatted amongst themselves.
“That grand aunty of yours was a card, Rita,” remarked Julie. “She could hardly take her eyes off Yansis.”
“I know; did you hear what she said?” Rita asked, before answering her own question. “‘I’ve always liked the Mediterranean men myself. They’re really sexy.’ I had to wedge myself between her and Yansis to protect him. She might be in her seventies but there’s life in the old girl yet.”
Rita and Julie laughed heartily, and Rita soon felt as though she had been teleported back ten years. To the good times of her younger days. All the great nights out she had spent with Julie and the girls. That was before life got in the way, and a series of traumatic experiences had changed her and Julie irrevocably. But today she was going to be relaxed and carefree.
“There are some right eccentrics in our family, Julie,” Rita continued, “The bloody Addams family have got nothing on us.”
Then, spotting her Aunty Irene heading towards them, she added, “Talking of which, here’s one now, Aunty Irene, my dad’s sister, got a tongue on her like a viper.”
She whispered the last few words as her Aunty Irene came within earshot.
“Hello Rita, I thought it was you,” she announced once she reached them.
“Hello Aunty Irene,” sighed Rita.
“Well, aren’t you going to introduce me then? I’ve never met your husband; I wasn’t at your wedding. Is this him?”
Rita made the introductions, and Yansis, Vinny and Julie shook her aunty’s hand politely. Once Aunty Irene had the attention of everyone around the table, she asked Rita, “Was that Jenny’s son I saw earlier? Good-looking little lad, isn’t he? Takes after his mother.”
“No!” said Rita. “You saw Daniel, my son; mine and Yansis’s.”
Yansis, Julie and Vinny looked on, aware of Rita’s feelings about Daniel, as the aunty continued.
“Yes but, you know what I mean.”
“As far as Daniel is concerned, me and Yansis are his parents and I don’t want anyone telling him anything different.”
“But surely he’ll have to find out eventually?” Aunty Irene asked. “He’ll know there’s something amiss; even Yansis isn’t as dark as Daniel.”
“He’ll find out when he’s old enough and when we decide to tell him. But that won’t be for a long time. He’s only five years old, for God’s sake! It’s too much for him to take in.”
Rita could feel her temper rising but she tried to hold it in check. She didn’t want to spoil her brother’s wedding by having a set to with her Aunty Irene, but her aunty wasn’t finished yet.
“Alright, I can see you’re upset. I know you don’t want to be reminded about Jenny. It was a sad day when she died. Your mother and father were broken-hearted, and when you took that little boy away they were beside themselves …”
“What do you mean?” Rita cut in before she had a chance to carry on.
“Well, you weren’t here of course. You’d taken him all the way to Greece, but I was the one having to console them when they were missing him.”
“You could have bloody well fooled me!” Rita snapped, unable to put up with her aunty’s venom any longer. “My dad couldn’t get rid of him quick enough. He was too frightened of him cramping his style. So don’t you go telling me they were pining for him! And as for you; we only bloody see you at weddings and funerals.”
Her aunty was speechless following this outburst. Rita was about to continue but, before she could say any more, she felt a tug on her arm.
“Rita, didn’t you want to go and talk to John and his new wife?” asked Julie. “There’s nobody with them now. Come on while we’ve got a chance.”
Julie’s words brought Rita to her senses. She stood up, grabbed her handbag, slammed her chair underneath the table and walked away with Julie. As they were walking off, Rita could hear her aunty shouting after her, “That child should be here with his family; not miles away, living with a load of strangers. What you did was wicked!”
“Did you hear that?” Rita asked Julie, “The cheeky cow!” Rita turned, about to retaliate, but Julie kept a tight grip on her arm.
“Don’t rise to it, Rita. Don’t let her spoil your brother’s wedding. If you go back, you’ll be letting her win. Come on!”
For a few moments Rita hovered, indecisive, but Julie’s insistent tugging at her arm persuaded her to keep walking. Rita didn’t head straight for John and his bride though. She was too annoyed, and needed to calm down first. She and Julie made their way outside the room where they found some ladies’ toilets in a different part of the hotel. Rita wanted to vent her anger without being overheard.
Once they were inside, they checked the cubicles. While Julie tapped on each of the doors to make sure they weren’t occupied, Rita hammered and kicked at them. It was her way of letting go of her rage at the same time. She had just moved away from one cubicle and was attacking the next one when the door opened. A young woman emerged looking terrified. Without making eye contact, and not even stopping to wash her hands, she swiftly exited the ladies’ toilets.
“Bloody hell, Rita; you’ve frightened the life out of the poor sod!” said Julie.
This realisation caused a break in the tension and Rita stopped kicking at the doors, “I’m sorry, Julie. I didn’t mean to go off on one. But thanks for pulling me away; it’s a good job you did.”
“I know you, Rita. I could see she was annoying you.”
Rita fished inside her bag for her cigarettes and lighter while sounding off to Julie, “She’s a cheeky cow! What business is it of hers? I wouldn’t mind but when I was at home she hardly ever came to see my mam and dad, so what would she know?”
Julie gave her time to let off steam. They knew each other so well that Julie could predict exactly how she would react. After a few minutes of venting, she began to settle down, “Eh, I hope Yansis and Vinny were alright being left with her.”
“Don’t worry about them two; I’m sure they can handle her. She probably went off with her tail between her legs once you’d given her a piece of your mind.”
“I’m not so sure, Julie. She’s a nasty old bitch by all accounts.” Rita then apologised again, now she was feeling calmer. “I’m sorry Jules, I didn’t mean to go off on one.”
“It’s OK, Rita. It wasn’t your fault; I’d have felt the same.”
“Look, I’m not gonna let that evil old cow get to me. This is our John’s wedding and I’m gonna bloody well enjoy it.”
And she meant what she said. Once she had finished her cigarette and calmed herself down, they returned to the reception, passing her dad on the way. She couldn’t fail to miss him; he was so loud. But she wasn’t going to let that worry her.
She could have become irritable watching him make an arse of himself, boasting loudly about his latest scam, but she wouldn’t. She could have focused on her dead sister, but she wouldn’t. No, she was going to make the best of things. After all, that was what she had come back to Manchester for: to enjoy her brother’s wedding. With that in mind, she and Julie went off to chat to Rita’s brother and to introduce themselves properly to Paula.
‘Danger by Association’ is already available in print from Amazon. The Kindle version will launch on 24th June, but you can pre-order your copy here.