Justice for the Damned

Justice for the Damned by Ben Cheetham

Book: Justice for the Damned by Ben Cheetham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ben Cheetham
Tags: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
anxiety travelled down Edward’s arms. His mother knew exactly who ‘me’ was. The caller display would have told her that before she even answered the phone. She was just playing funny buggers, the same as she always did when he’d done something to incur her displeasure. ‘It’s Edward.’
    ‘I didn’t recognise your voice. It’s been that long since I last heard it.’
    ‘It’s only been three weeks.’
    ‘More like four. And at my age a month’s a lifetime.’
    ‘Oh, Mother, don’t be so dramatic. You’re as healthy as a horse and will probably outlive the lot of us.’
    ‘That’s where you’re bloody well wrong, Edward.’ As always when she was angry, a Yorkshire twang peeked out of Mabel’s self-consciously well-spoken accent. ‘I’ve been on antibiotics for the past fortnight.’
    ‘What for?’
    ‘I’ve had a chest infection.’
    ‘When you say “had”, does that mean you’re better now?’ For once, the concern in Edward’s voice was genuine to the point of fear. All through his childhood and for most of his adult life, his mother had worked twelve or fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, relentlessly building her cake-making enterprise into the multimillion-pound business it was today. In recent years, she’d cut herself some slack. But at seventy-eight, she still put in more hours than most of the executives she’d employed to take over her workload. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken a day off for illness. He’d always thought she would go on forever. The sudden realisation that she wouldn’t, that one day she would die, brought with it a clutching sense of panic, and something else too, something he wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge.
    ‘What do you care if I’m better?’ Mabel retorted. ‘If you cared you’d call.’
    ‘I’ve been meaning to, but I’ve just been so busy.’
    A tremor of hurt shook Mabel’s voice. ‘How long does it take to pick up the phone and say “Hello, Mummy. How are you?” One or two minutes, that’s all. Am I not worth even worth one or two minutes of your precious time?’
    ‘Of course you—’
    ‘To think of everything I’ve done for you,’ Mabel continued as if she hadn’t heard her son, ‘of everything I’ve sacrificed, and this is the way you treat me. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t got better.’
    ‘Please don’t say that.’ Edward’s voice was trembling too now.
    ‘Why not? Sometimes I think it would be easier for both of us if I just died.’
    ‘No, Mummy, you can’t die.’ Edward screwed his face up like a child, tears suddenly spilling down his cheeks. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call. It won’t happen again.’
    ‘Do you promise?’
    ‘Yes, I promise. Just don’t leave me alone, please don’t leave me—’ Edward choked off into deep, wrenching sobs.
    ‘Shh. Hush, my darling.’ Mabel’s tone was suddenly gentle and reassuring. ‘Mummy’s always here for her little man. You know that, don’t you?’
    Edward mumbled through his tears, ‘Yes, Mummy, I know.’
    ‘Good boy. Now take a deep breath, dry your eyes and tell Mummy all about it.’
    How do you know I’ve got anything to tell you? Edward knew better than to ask the question. If there was one thing his mother despised above anything else, it was people trying to play her for a fool. Early in her career, many of her competitors – mostly men – had made the mistake of underestimating her. As she took great pleasure in pointing out, all of them had long since gone – or, more accurately, been driven – out of business. Edward never usually rang her at this time of day. She knew well enough that he wasn’t phoning simply to say hello. He managed to bring his tears under control sufficiently to speak clearly. ‘I’m in serious trouble. I’ve lost some money. A lot of money.’
    ‘How much?’ There was no surprise in Mabel’s voice. When her son told her the amount, the line was ominously silent a moment. Then she asked,

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