Bad Blood (10)

Vic was scum. A sadist and a paedophile who wallowed in the repulsive glory of what he was, which he had long ago come to terms with. But in Joe he saw all the promise that could once, perhaps, have been his, and each time he looked into the boy’s eyes he was reminded of it.

He smiled up at Joe. A grin so wide, so white, so sinister that he looked like the devil himself. “Ah, first the daughter, now the son. The perfect night,” he said.

“Leave her alone,” Joe said, his eyes burning as black as coal as the hatred smouldered within them.

‘“Oh, I’ve finished with her. Now it’s your turn.” Vic’s cravings were two-fold and, even to him, very odd. He got his kicks out of young girls, particularly and most peculiarly, his own daughter, a desire which he could not quite fathom. Of course, she was a most striking girl, slim and extremely pretty, but she was, after all, his daughter. Secondly, and again, to his mind, most confusingly, he enjoyed the fights with his son, which to him, in some strange way, were equally as erotic and maybe even more satisfying. Years ago, there was little fight to be had, Vic used to beat Joe and that was that. But more recently, as Joe had grown, he had been able to put up a much better show and even though the boy was just fourteen, the two of them had become much more evenly matched and the pleasure Vic now gleaned from the fights was far greater than ever before.

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Bad Blood (9)

Within a quarter of an hour, the ambulance was parked outside and Mum was being stretchered onto it. As I climbed in beside her, I noticed neighbours staring out of their bedroom windows, some were even outside in their night clothes, blatantly gawping at the proceedings without the slightest trace of shame. I stuck up two fingers and mouthed an obscenity at them, then watched with relish as they visibly recoiled.

Mine and Mum’s lives had turned into a circus and I was playing to an insatiable crowd. The people in the street pretended to be shocked but I knew that they were really savouring every minute, already relishing tomorrow’s gossip.

The Reilly family never failed to put on a good show.

Just a short distance away from where we lived, my best friend, Joe Cassidy, was awoken by a scream coming from his twin sister’s room. Immediately alert he darted from his bed and rushed to help.

As Joe threw open Sarah’s bedroom door he saw the man on top of her. Sarah was fighting but he was too powerful and had already slapped her into near submission, but still she fought. The man raised his hand again but before he could strike her Joe was on him. Using all his strength he pulled him off Sarah and flung him to the floor.

Vic Cassidy hit the ground and glared up at Joe, his son, the boy who was the image of him. Tall, strong and good-looking with the jet black hair that all his family had. Vic should have been proud of his fourteen year old son but instead he resented him. Joe had all the promise that Vic never had; courage, compassion and an inner strength which would be forever out of Vic’s grasp. And for that he hated the boy.

Bad Blood (8)

I woke up sometime later, my head throbbing badly. Several strands of unruly blonde hair hung messily over my eyes. I brushed them wearily aside and glanced around the devastated kitchen. The cupboard door was hanging off, a chair lay broken on the tiled floor along with the remains of a meat pie and a saucepan that had spilled its contents of boiled potatoes across the floor.

Mum was slumped in the corner of the room weeping, her face purple and bloody and streaked with tears.

Cautiously I climbed to my feet, suddenly aware of the pain in my nose and the blood dripping from it. A slight touch told me it was broken. The second time in two years.

Mum looked dreadful, like the survivor of a car crash, and for the millionth time I cursed my father. She was clearly in a great deal of pain, with her midriff being the main point of concern. I suspected that she had cracked a rib but could not be sure. Whatever it was, it needed a hospital. Sitting her carefully on a chair, I quickly checked the house but George Reilly had gone; gone to find his pal Benny or some whore who got paid to take his beatings. I did not know and did not care, I was just pleased he had gone.

After that I ran up to the telephone box on the corner of the street and called an ambulance, then set about packing a few of Mum’s things in an overnight bag. It was a well practiced procedure.

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Bad Blood (7)

Without heeding her warning, I leapt down the stairs and darted through the sitting room into the kitchen. The old man’s first punch had knocked Mum down and I arrived just a moment too late to stop a follow-up kick to her stomach.

Fuelled by rage, I sprang onto my father’s back as my mum writhed in agony. “No, Sean!” She shouted, but I ignored her as I flung an arm around George’s thick neck and battered his massive bald head repeatedly with my free fist. But it was a futile attack. “Is that the best you can do boy?” My father growled, rearing backwards like some great bear, smashing my back between him and the kitchen cupboard, forcing me to lose my grip.

Reacting quickly, I immediately sprang up to attack again, but the old bastard had already anticipated the move and as I leapt, he span around and grabbed me with his huge hands. He held me for a second, crushing me in his grip, then, as if deciding I was not worth the effort, he tossed me like a rag doll back against the wall. I cracked my head but somehow I remained on my feet. “Leave her alone!” I shouted as I staggering forward, still reeling from the blow.

“It’s my house, boy—,” George snarled, “—and in it, I’ll do exactly what I fuckin’ well like!” Then he launched the hammer blow – so fast that I barely saw it coming, and just a split second before everything went black, I briefly felt the pain.

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Bad Blood (6)

“Be careful,” I said. It was no good me telling her not to go, or to stay out of my father’s way, as we both knew neither of those would work. “I’ll be listening. I’ll be there if anything happens.”

Mum looked at me with panic in her eyes. “Stay here, luv. It’ll do no good, you know it won’t. You’ll just get hurt again. I’ll be fine. He’ll be—”

“Woman! Did you ‘ear me? I want some bloody food. Get your arse down ‘ere, now!” George was getting angry.

“I’ll have to go. Stay here. Please Sean. Just stay put.” With that she slipped on her housecoat and raced down the stairs, desperate to appease her husband.
Fifteen minutes later, I could smell cooking but the aroma did not make me hungry, it made me feel sick, because I knew what was coming next. Almost as if on a timer the shouting started. As usual, something was not right and within seconds I heard a crash of pots and the smash of plates and then I heard my mum scream.

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Bad Blood (5)

I inched open Mum’s door, knowing that she too would have heard the voices of my father and Benny below, knowing that she, even more than me, would be dreading the moment when the car pulled away and her husband entered the house.

I found her sitting bolt upright in bed, the covers pulled up under her chin, her pale blue eyes wide and frightened. I could tell that her greying, strawberry blonde hair had not even touched the pillow as she sat there waiting, shaking. Knowing.

Benny blasted the car horn as he pulled away. A moment later the front door crashed open and Mum let out a small whimper. My father was home and her regular nightmare was about to begin.

“Rita!” George shouted. He was drunk, standing in darkness at the bottom of the stairs, bellowing at the top of his voice. “I’m hungry. Come get me somethin’ to eat!”

Mum obediently got out of bed, as if in a trance. I noticed, not for the first time, how thin she had become and remembered how attractive she had once been. Even as a young boy I had been aware of the admiring looks she received from men as she walked down the street. But now that woman was gone, replaced by the drawn, worry-worn creature before me. The only looks she got now were from those concerned for her health.

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Bad Blood (4)

George jerked a thumb backwards, “Benny, meet Rita and Sean – ain’t they just the most wholesome thing you ever saw?” The sarcasm was thick in his voice, the disdain for us both undisguised. I knew what Mum had been hoping for as she had as good as told me and now my heart broke for her.

Benny tipped an imaginary hat by way of acknowledgment but said nothing.
“George, aren’t you staying?” Mum asked with trepidation, remembering her husband’s temper as well as his right hook. “You’ve only just got back. What about us—?”

“What about you, Rita?” Said George.

“I just thought—” Mum began.

“Look,” snarled the old man, “I don’t care what you thought. Benny saved my life over in France and I’m gonna buy him a drink if, of course, that’s okay with you?” I couldn’t tell if what he said was true or not, but guessed by the way Mottola sniggered that it probably wasn’t.

Benny laughed with a throat like rough gravel, “He’s right y’know luv,” he said with a wink as the pair of them got into his car, “I saved ‘im from gettin’ the pox in France – and I’ll save ‘im from gettin’ it ‘ere too! Ain’t that right, Georgie Boy?”

Mum and me could still hear them laughing as they sped off down the road, Mottola pamping the horn all the way to the junction.

In the three years since that glorious homecoming, things had gone from bad to worse and I’d now come to know my father all too well. To know him and despise him.

Bad Blood (3)

Dad had turned up with Benny on the day he returned from the war – four years after me and Mum had last seen or heard anything from him. But George Reilly didn’t care about us, in fact he barely even acknowledged us as he marched into the kitchen and took the small amount of money that Mum had saved, which she kept in an old tea caddy in the cupboard.

After stuffing the notes into his pocket and tossing the tea caddy aside, George strode back out the front door. His triumphant homecoming from the war and the reunion with his family had lasted less than a minute. At the time, I was barely ten and had little memory of my father before then, but Mum remembered and had hoped that the war may have changed him. She had hoped that the violence and cruelty of the man had all been spent on fighting the Germans. But in less than sixty seconds, those hopes had been dashed forever and were immediately replaced by despair.

Outside, Benny was leaning against his car, and, like my dad, wearing his demob suit. He looked swarthy, tanned and menacing, a smouldering cigarette dangling carelessly from his thick lips.

As the old man walked towards him, Benny turned his head to me, his eyes deep set and cruel. He smiled, but there was no warmth to it and I was glad that my dad had left him outside.

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Bad Blood (2)

The car pulled up outside and I had the familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach; a mixture of hatred, dread and anxiety. As my old man shouted his goodbyes to the driver of the car, not caring that he might be waking the neighbours, I slipped off the bed and quickly nipped along the landing to Mum’s room, to put her on alert. To give her the three minute warning.

The driver of the car was a man named Benny Mottola; a nasty piece of work from the East End. A hard case, a villain and a black-hearted thug, just like my dad.

George and Benny were wartime buddies who, in the three years since their return from France, had lived their lives with scant regard for anyone else. They were drinkers, womanisers and trouble makers. Violent men with vicious tempers and I hated them both.

George was a big, powerful Irishman with a bald head and a thick black moustache. He was also a heavily tattooed brawler with a quick, unpredictable anger and even quicker fists. Benny was a twenty-five year old, second generation Italian, fifteen years younger than his friend, with slicked-back black hair and a broken nose. He, too, was a big man and mean with it – meaner even than George. The word was that he was connected to some crime syndicate in the States but no one had ever dared to ask him about it. The two of them were big pals, but Benny, even though he was much younger than George, was undoubtedly the boss.

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Bad Blood (1)

Chapter One

I was laying on my bed in the dark just listening, waiting for the noise of the car outside, just as I had on many nights before. It was one in the morning but I was fully dressed, fully conscious. Ready for what I knew would happen when my old man finally came home. At fourteen, I considered myself to be a man already, not in appearance maybe, but in mind and experience. My boyhood had finished years ago, extinguished mercilessly by George Reilly, the man I was ashamed to call my father.

Out of the silence, I heard the first unmistakable sound of the car and listened intently as it grew louder, travelling up the war torn street that was once lined with more than two hundred terraced houses. Now though, amongst the rubble, which was still evident in many places even three years after the war, only fifty or so still stood. Fifty red-bricked monuments to those that had died; sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. I was only sorry that my father wasn’t one of them.

Continues tomorrow…