The West End club was heaving, jam- packed with the usual Saturday- night crowd. The music was loud and the air thick with expectation. Lads circled the dance floor like wolves, leering at the girls, hoping to bag some prey before the end of the evening. The girls played it cool. His own gaze travelled through the strobing lights until it came to rest on a slim blonde swaying to the music. Laura Moss was wearing a white minidress and white knee- length boots. Her long fair hair, falling almost to the base of her spine, was swinging in time to her hips. She was dancing to the Supremes, ‘Back in My Arms Again’, and her face had a dreamy, contented expression.
He inclined his head, examining the contours of her body. His eyes blatantly raked her breasts, her hips, her long shapely legs before returning to her face again. A soft hiss escaped from his lips. It was a shame, he thought, but it had to be done. Having examined the problem from every angle, weighing up the pros and cons, he’d arrived at the only logical conclusion: she would have to be disposed of. She knew too much and couldn’t be trusted to keep her mouth shut. In every war there was collateral damage – it was just the way of the world – and this was no different. He wouldn’t sleep easy again until she ceased to be a threat.
Once he’d made up his mind it was like a weight had been lifted. He stood straighter and the tightness in his guts subsided. He lifted the glass to his mouth, swigged some whisky and smiled. The circles he moved in were dark and dangerous, savage places where life was worth nothing. Only the strongest could survive. To have a conscience, to think twice, to harbour even a twinge of remorse were weaknesses he could not afford. That was why he had no regret for the decision he’d made. It was him or her. End of story.
The only question left to answer now was how. It would be easy enough to put a bullet in her brain, but smarter to make her death look like an accident. That way there wouldn’t be much of an investigation. An open and shut case; a few quick words from the coroner and job done.
He nodded, pleased to have sorted things out in his head. In truth, he wasn’t going to kill her just because she knew too much. Laura Moss had taken him for a fool and that in itself was enough to sign her death warrant. Who did she think she was? A double dealer, a liar, a cheap little slut, that’s what. His eyes grew dark with anger. He had a rule he always stuck to: no one messed with him and got away with it.
Ten years later
The three girls sitting on the wall were at a dangerous age, no longer kids but still a few years off adulthood. They thought they knew it all as they swung their skinny legs against the warm brick, their elbows touching, their eyes drinking in the world around them. What they had was a six o’clock curfew. What they longed for was freedom, for their lives to properly begin, for all constraints to fall from them like chains.
There was nothing much to do except hang out. They had no money and no obvious means of getting any. Boredom coursed through their veins. On Sundays they were always at their most restless, knowing it was school the next day, knowing that the hours were ticking away and that tomorrow they’d be shut up in a classroom while a teacher tried to focus their scattergun minds on algebra or oxbow lakes or Dickens.
They were sitting in a line on the low wall near the entrance to the Mansfield estate. Chrissy Moss was in the middle with Zelda Graham to her left and Dawn Kearns to her right. Chrissy’s arms were tinged with pink where the sun had caught them yesterday. Zelda’s were smooth, the colour of caramel, and Dawn’s were pale, almost white, mottled with fresh and fading bruises. Chrissy didn’t ask about the bruises any more; the blue, brown, plum- coloured marks were always there.
Behind them loomed the three tall towers which could be seen for miles. Chrissy gazed down at her pink flip- flops, at the chipped nail polish on her toes, and looked up again. Her Uncle Pete said Kellston was a shithole and the estate was a sewer, a place where all the local waste was dumped and forgotten about. That’s when Nan got all huffy. If that’s how you feel, why don’t you find somewhere else to park your arse? But, of course, he didn’t have anywhere else. He’d only just come out of jug. She wasn’t exactly sure what he’d been in for – a robbery of some sort – but he’d been gone five years. It was cramped in the flat with him living there. She’d had to give up her bedroom and bunk in with Nan, who tossed and turned and seemed uneasy even when she did finally go to sleep, breathing wheezily into the darkness, muttering words that made no sense.
Nan was sad at how things had worked out for her kids. She didn’t come right out and say it but she didn’t need to. It was written all over her face. Pete, however hard he tried – and it wasn’t very – couldn’t keep on the straight and narrow. Laura had died in a terrible accident, falling under a train when she was twenty- three. Chrissy had only been four then and couldn’t remember much about her mum. All that remained was the photo kept on the mantelpiece, a picture of a young laughing girl with fair hair flying in the wind.
Chrissy raised a hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes against the sun. They were watching everyone who came in and out of the estate. Just for something to do. Like security guards, only without the authority. Mainly they were watching the lads, grading them from one to ten. So far no one had got more than a four. It was a half- hearted sort of game, but it was better than nothing. They knew most of them, spotty oiks with mush for brains, boys who once upon a time had liked to pull their hair or call them names but now just stared at them through wary eyes.
The town hall clock struck two, echoing down from the high street. Music floated through an open window. Come up and see me, make me smile . . . There was no breeze and the air felt thick and heavy. Frank Yates cycled by on his bike, half raising a hand as if about to acknowledge them but then speeding past. ‘One,’ Zelda said. No one disagreed. The Dunlap brothers mooched past with their hands in their pockets. ‘Three,’ Dawn said. ‘Maybe. I don’t know. Or a four?’ Chrissy pulled a face. ‘Three,’ she said, ‘and that’s being generous.’ She wasn’t keen on the brothers: they smelled funny, musty, like they’d been left in a cellar for a long time. Carol Harper, a year above at school, waltzed by with her mother, putting her nose in the air and pretending not to see them. ‘Snotty cow,’ Dawn said.
People came and went. Nothing happened.
And then, out of the blue, he showed up. They didn’t know his name but they’d seen him before. Chrissy instantly sat up straighter. They all paid attention as he approached the estate. Nineteen or twenty, tall, slender, wearing blue jeans and a black T- shirt. A bit of a swagger but not too much. Anyway, it was his face they were really staring at: sharp cheekbones stretched over olive skin, a generous mouth, eyes covered by a cool pair of shades. His dark brown hair, almost black, was straight and silky covering the nape of his neck. He stopped to light a cigarette a short distance from the entranceway.
‘Ten,’ Chrissy murmured.
‘I dare you,’ Dawn said. ‘I dare you to talk to him.’
Chrissy shook her head, narrowed her grey eyes. ‘You do it.’
‘You have to. I dared you.’
The god was alongside them now, almost close enough to touch. Chrissy took a deep breath and leaned forward a little.
A dare was a dare. ‘Hey, how are you?’
He looked at her and grinned. ‘Hey yourself.’
Chrissy felt the colour rise to her cheeks. She didn’t know what to say next, was completely tongue- tied and just stared stupidly back at him.
It was Dawn who filled the awkward silence. ‘You got a spare fag?’
He thought about this for a moment and then reached into his back pocket, pulled out a pack, opened it and offered it to her. ‘Stunts your growth, you know.’
‘Hasn’t stunted yours,’ Dawn said.
‘I’m what they call the exception to the rule.’
Dawn pulled out a cigarette and popped it in her mouth. ‘Ta. You got a light?’
He flicked open his lighter and held it out. Dawn lit the cigarette, took a drag and passed it to Chrissy, who hoped she wouldn’t cough and embarrass herself. Although she nicked Uncle Pete’s fags now and again, she hadn’t quite got to grips with the art of inhaling.
‘So what are you girls up to?’
Chrissy puffed out some smoke and quickly passed the fag to Zelda.
‘We’re just hanging,’ Dawn said.
‘Yeah. What about you?’
‘Oh, you know. Things to do, people to see.’
‘What’s your name, then?’
‘Eddie,’ he said. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Dawn. And this is Zelda; this is Chrissy.’
Chrissy had a breathless sensation like her chest was being squeezed, the same giddy feeling she got when she saw David Essex on the TV. Eddie looked a bit like him except his hair was straighter. Finally, she forced herself to speak again. ‘Do you live here?’
‘No, I’m just visiting. A friend.’
‘Nah, not my girlfriend.’ He glanced at each of them in turn and nodded. ‘Well, it’s been a pleasure, ladies. You have fun.’
‘See you, then,’ Dawn said. ‘Thanks for the fag.’
Eddie walked on. Chrissy, Zelda and Dawn turned to watch him. He was a few yards along the central path when he suddenly stopped, turned around and came back. Chrissy felt her heart jump into her mouth. Maybe he was going to ask one of them out. Maybe it would be her. Even though he’d spent more time talking to Dawn, she wasn’t without hope. Please God, let it be me.
But Eddie wasn’t thinking about romance. He had something else on his mind. ‘I don’t suppose you girls could do me a favour?’
‘Sure,’ Chrissy said too quickly, eager to please.
Dawn was more cautious. ‘What kind of favour?’
‘Oh, it’s nothing much. I’ve got a message for someone but I’m a bit pushed for time.’ He glanced at his watch and frowned. ‘You couldn’t do it for me, could you? To be honest, I should be somewhere else right now. By the time I take the lift and . . . Would you mind?’ He rummaged in his pocket, found some loose change and held up a coin. ‘There’s fifty pence in it for you.’
Dawn held out her hand. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘We’ll all do it,’ Chrissy said, disappointed that he only wanted them to run an errand but not wanting to miss out on her share of the reward. They could buy pop and sweets with what he was offering. She didn’t think to ask why he’d been standing around chatting if he was in so much of a hurry.
‘What’s the message?’‘It’s for Anita, flat forty- eight, Haslow House. Just tell her Eddie sent you. Tell her . . . tell her the stock’s come in and she can take her pick. Can you remember that?’
‘The stock’s in and she can take her pick,’ Chrissy dutifully repeated.
‘And the flat number?’
‘Good. I can trust you, can’t I?’
‘Course you can,’ Dawn said.
Eddie dropped the coin into Dawn’s hand and grinned.
‘Yeah, course I can. Ta, girls. I’ll see you around.’
Chrissy slid off the wall and the other two followed. They stood for a while gawping at Eddie as he headed out of the estate and along Mansfield Road. He might have turned around and
waved but he didn’t. As soon as he was out of sight, they set off for Haslow House.
‘What are we going to buy with it?’ Dawn asked, twisting the coin between her fingers.
‘Sherbet dips,’ Zelda said, ‘and Black Jacks and Flying Saucers and—’
‘Love Hearts for Chrissy,’ Dawn said, sniggering. ‘She’s got the hots for Eddie.’
‘Yes, you do.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘You gave him a ten.’
‘So?’ Chrissy had crazy pictures in her mind: she and Eddie strolling down the street, hand in hand; she and Eddie slow dancing in a nightclub; she and Eddie snogging in the moonlight. And okay, so maybe she was a bit younger than him, but she’d be fifteen in a few months’ time, old enough to be taken seriously.
Dawn laughed. ‘You lurve him, you lurve him,’ she said in a singsong voice. ‘Chrissy wants to marry Eddie.’
‘I do not!’
‘So why’s your face gone all red?’
Chrissy glared at her. Dawn could be annoying, maddening sometimes, the way she latched on to things and wouldn’t let go. Like one of those yappy little dogs snapping at your ankles. ‘I will!’
‘Go on then.’
Zelda, forever the peacemaker, squeezed between the two of them and said, ‘Let’s just get this message sorted and then we can go to the shop.’
‘She started it,’ Chrissy said.
‘No, I never.’
‘Yes, you did.’
Zelda, sounding like a fed- up parent with two bickering kids, gave a long sigh. ‘For God’s sake, give it a rest.’
Chrissy linked her arm through Zelda’s, a proprietorial gesture. Sometimes she wished it was just the two of them again, the way it had been before Dawn had moved onto the estate last year. Although she felt sorry for the girl, she didn’t really like her. Dawn could be funny but she could be mean too; she knew where to find the weak spots and how to use them to her own advantage. Did Zelda like Dawn more than her? Did Eddie? Her stomach turned over. She dropped what remained of the cigarette and ground it out with her heel. In all honesty she wished Dawn wasn’t around any more.
'A cracking good read' JESSIE KEANE
The brand new gangland crime novel from bestseller Roberta Kray.
IN THE EAST END OF LONDON, OLD LOYALTIES RUN DEEP . . .
After losing her mum in a tragic accident, Chrissy Moss fought to survive on one of the East End's most notorious estates. When a fifteen-year-old girl disappears, hours after delivering a message for a local gang leader, the residents take the law into their own hands causing buried secrets to resurface.
AND YOU MUST FIGHT TO SURVIVE.
With rumours flying about the girl's disappearance, the truth about Chrissy's mother is called into question, and Chrissy begins to suspect her death was no accident: it was murder. But people on the estate are refusing to talk, and to find answers Chrissy must unravel an age-old web of deceit that runs right into the heart of London's East End.
As Chrissy grows nearer to the truth, she unwittingly inches closer to danger. Could it be that she, like her mother, has put her trust in the wrong person?
Full of the same danger and grit as it's London's setting, this is bestselling author Roberta Kray at the top of her game. Get ready for a KILLER read . . .
Praise for ROBERTA KRAY:
'Well into Martina Cole territory' Independent
'Action, intrigue and a character-driven plot . . . sure to please any crime fiction fans' Woman
'Gripping' Daily Express
'Great writing, gripping story, loved it' Mandasue Heller