With Martin Morton banged up, Dave Carter thinks he’s on easy street. But Martin’s wife, Babs, has other ideas. She knows she can be just as clever and brutal as a man given a chance, and she is going to grab this opportunity with both hands.
Meanwhile, little Jimmy Diamond is growing up in Poplar, believing he is an orphan. Little does he know that his father is still alive and is none other than the vicious crime boss, Martin Morton.
Secrets cannot stay hidden forever and things are about to come to a head in the East End. When they do, watch out because sparks are going to fly!
East End Diamond is the second book in the East End Series. The first book in the series is East End Trouble.
Release date: May 25, 2016
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 371
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East End Diamond
Mary Diamond groaned and covered her eyes. Bright sunlight poured in through the open curtains. Her head was pounding, and her mouth was so dry that her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.
She’d fallen asleep in the armchair for the second night running. An empty bottle of gin was wedged between her body and the cushions. Her cheeks burned in shame. She knew little Jimmy was already up because he’d opened the curtains, and he’d tried to lay a fire in the grate.
He hadn’t done a very good job, and the flames had already burned down to glowing embers, but the poor lad was only ten years old. He shouldn’t have to do it in the first place. That was her job.
Her lip wobbled. She only hoped Jimmy hadn’t spotted the bottle of gin.
Mary’s fingers nervously tugged at the knitted blanket tucked around her legs. Jimmy must’ve covered her with it last night. She smothered a sob. The poor little sod. She knew he was worried about her, and that made her feel even worse.
He had started to watch her in the evenings. His big, dark blue eyes followed her every move. He didn’t like her drinking, and who could blame him?
Mary rubbed her bleary eyes. This had to stop. She couldn’t carry on like this. She’d started drinking after Kathleen, Jimmy’s mother, had died. At first, she just had a couple to help her sleep at night. After two or three gins, Mary found she wasn’t plagued by the nightmares and night terrors that had haunted her previously.
These days, the trouble was she didn’t stop at two or three. Her drinking started earlier and earlier, and yesterday… Well, yesterday was a complete blur. She couldn’t even remember if she had cooked Jimmy any supper.
Mary leaned forward in the armchair, determined that today was the day she turned her life around. Little Jimmy deserved so much better. He hadn’t had the best start in life, the poor little bleeder.
He was a sweet little boy. And thankfully he hadn’t turned out anything like his father, the gangland boss, Martin Morton, who had ordered the death of Mary’s precious daughter.
Of course, Mary couldn’t prove that. The bastard was too clever for that.
She thanked her lucky stars Jimmy had turned out the way he had. There was no sign of Martin Morton’s evil nature about him, and as much as she loved her daughter Kathleen, Mary was well aware that Kathleen used to be a little self-centred at times. Jimmy was a little angel in comparison.
Of course, he got into scrapes now and again just like any boy his age, but he was always polite and respectful.
Mary was determined to do right by him. When she’d brought him back to the East End, she had planned to reveal everything to the little boy.
She’d been so caught up with grief over her daughter, she hadn’t thought about how delivering such news would affect Jimmy.
But Mary had come to her senses just in time and realised the innocent young boy shouldn’t suffer the sins of his parents.
Mary struggled to stand up and then clasped a hand to her stomach as her belly churned.
Her gaze flickered back down to the gin bottle, but then she straightened her shoulders. No. She wouldn’t have a drink. Not at this time of day. What she needed was a nice cup of Rosie. That would sort her out.
She shuffled across to the front door and opened it, shivering as the cold autumn breeze rushed in. She reached down for one of the milk bottles on the step, and as she did so, she lost her balance, cursing loudly and tumbling down the front step.
The bottle of milk smashed, and milk splattered everywhere. Mary shouted out a string of expletives before realising she was being watched.
Across the road, the Mackenzie family, a young couple and their small daughter, stared at Mary in horror.
She knew she must look a right state this morning, and they’d seen her stumbling about all over the place as though she were still drunk. But instead of dropping her head and scurrying back inside, Mary glared at them angrily.
“What the bleeding hell are you looking at?” she yelled across the street.
Laura Mackenzie gasped in shock, put her hands over her little girl’s ears and ushered her inside as Mary stooped down to pick up the other bottle of milk that thankfully was still in one piece.
She trudged back inside, unable to face clearing up the mess just yet. She would tackle that after she’d had a cup of tea.
She made her way back to the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil before carefully spooning tea leaves into her teapot.
She walked through into the larder and saw she had some potatoes and a couple of carrots. She frowned and tried to remember the last time she’d been to the shops.
She decided she’d go to the butcher's and get a little bit of beef and make a stew for Jimmy’s supper.
He loved stew, and heaven knew he deserved a treat after the last few days.
Perhaps, she thought as she poured the hot water onto the tea leaves, they could go down and visit Bev in Romford this weekend. Jimmy loved going to Bev’s little bungalow, and she couldn’t blame him. It was a lovely little place, and the garden backed onto a nice children’s play area. Mary often wondered if she had done the right thing by bringing Jimmy back to the East End.
She put off telling Jimmy everything she knew about his mother’s death, but she couldn’t delay the inevitable. As he got older, he was bound to hear gossip. Mary sighed. For all she knew, the poor lad had already been teased about it at school.
Jimmy loved to hear stories about his mother, and Mary would tell him how beautiful and clever she was. He would listen to Mary talk about Kathleen with a soft, dreamy smile on his face, but he’d stopped asking questions about how she’d died a few years ago.
Mary lifted her cup of tea with shaking hands and took a sip.
She only had a few hours before Jimmy would be home from school, and the butcher would be out of the best cuts of meat by now anyway. Maybe she should do the stew tomorrow. She could always nip down to Maureen’s and pick up some pie and mash for supper.
Mary lowered her cup of tea and put it down on the kitchen table and then slowly walked back to the front room.
She looked at the bottle of gin that was still propped up in the corner of the armchair. There was only a dribble left in the bottom, but Mary had another couple of bottles stashed away upstairs.
Perhaps she could have one quick sip... The hair of the dog would do the trick and get the day started. After all, the way she felt right now, she wasn’t going to get a lot done. Surely one small drink wouldn’t hurt.
* * *
When Jimmy Diamond arrived home from school, the first thing he saw was the smashed bottle of milk on the doorstep. Thinking something terrible might have happened to his grandmother, Jimmy pushed open the front door and quickly ran inside.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his grandmother dozing in her favourite armchair but scowled when he saw the bottle of gin. He was sure that was a new one. It had a white label and the label on the bottle he had seen that morning had been red.
He reached over and gently pulled the knitted blanket up to his nan’s chin as she let out a loud snore.
He screwed the bottle cap back on the gin, so it didn’t spill, and then headed into the kitchen.
He was absolutely starving.
He’d found a lump of stale bread in the larder this morning and had eaten it for breakfast with the last of the margarine.
He knew his nan would be out for the count for the rest of the evening, so he had two choices: find himself some food or go without.
He stepped into the small larder just off the kitchen and gazed at the shelves.
They didn’t look any different to when he looked this morning.
There were a couple of potatoes and a single carrot. Jimmy reached for the carrot and took a bite out of it without bothering to peel it.
Jimmy’s stomach rumbled as he thought of the last meal his grandmother had prepared him. Beef hash… his mouth watered. Although he’d settle for bread and beef dripping right now, anything to fill the emptiness in his stomach.
He supposed he could go to his mate’s and try to scrounge dinner at his house. But Jimmy knew if he did that too often people would start talking. The last time he’d had dinner at Bobby’s house, Bobby’s mother had launched into a round of questions, asking him how often his nan cooked his tea and asking when was the last time he’d had a bath.
Jimmy didn’t mind missing baths so much, but the food...he missed that like mad.
His stomach growled loudly as he polished off the last of the carrot. It wouldn’t keep him going for long. He didn’t want to get his nan in trouble, or cause people to gossip about her, but he was starving. He had to do something. Maybe he could ask Bobby to sneak him out some bread. He rubbed his stomach as he walked out of the kitchen and tiptoed past his nan, who was still snoring in the chair.
When he opened the front door, he saw the smashed milk bottle still scattered on the front step. He carefully picked up the broken pieces of glass, put them in the dustbin and ducked back inside to grab a cloth. After tidying it up the best he could, he headed off towards Bobby Green’s house. He chose the route that would take him past the chip shop. When he turned the corner, the delicious smell of vinegar on hot chips wafted past him. Jimmy breathed in deeply, and looked enviously at a man, leaving the shop, carrying his fish supper wrapped in newspaper.
Jimmy hadn’t gone much further when he saw Linda, who was heading home from work. He’d been so focused on the chip shop, he hadn’t noticed her until she was almost beside him.
Jimmy liked Linda. She’d been a friend of his mother’s, and he liked hearing her talk about the old days. Nan said Linda and Jimmy’s mother had been ever so close, and since Jimmy was never going to get to know his mother, talking to Linda about her seemed to be the next best thing.
She smiled widely as she approached him. “Hello, Jimmy. How are you and your nan doing?”
“We are fine, thank you,” Jimmy said politely.
Linda frowned as she looked down at Jimmy’s skinny legs poking out of his school shorts. “Shouldn’t you be home by now?” Linda asked. “I’m sure your nan’s got dinner on the table.”
Jimmy looked down at the floor. He didn’t want to lie to Linda. But he didn’t want to cause his nan any grief. His nan was a very private person, and she’d hate it if anybody saw her in the state she was in now. Just last week, she’d broken down in tears, apologising to Jimmy, promising him that soon things would get better, and she’d sworn to stop her drinking for good.
She hadn’t stopped drinking yet, but Jimmy was positive she would soon.
He thought, just this once, a little white lie wouldn’t hurt. “Actually, we are having chips tonight. She’s just sent me out to get them.”
Linda looked quite surprised and then she glanced over her shoulder at the chip shop two doors along. “They do smell nice.”
Jimmy nodded. “Yes, I like them best with lots of vinegar.”
“Me too. Don’t let me hold you up,” Linda said, nodding towards the shop entrance.
Jimmy’s eyes widened. Now he was going to be caught out in his lie. Nan hadn’t sent him for chips, and he didn’t have any bleeding money anyway. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his shorts and pretended to search for a coin.
“Oh, no!” he said. “I forgot to pick up the money.”
Linda wasn’t stupid, and Jimmy was sure she hadn’t fallen for his lie. As Linda looked at him with pity-filled eyes, Jimmy felt his cheeks burn. He didn’t like people feeling sorry for him, but he’d feel even worse if Linda knew he was a liar.
He considered telling Linda the truth and then quickly gave up on that idea. If Linda went back and told his nan about this, there would be hell to pay. His nan always said loyalty to family came first, and if she found out he’d told anybody their personal business, she’d have his guts for garters.
Jimmy turned on his heel. “I’d better get back home and pick up the money then,” he said.
Linda shook her head, and her long, brown, glossy hair swung around her shoulders. “No, don’t bother going all the way back home, Jimmy. Here, take this.” She rummaged around in her bag and then pulled out her purse and extracted a shilling. “Get the chips with this.”
Jimmy could have hugged her. Chips! Oh, he couldn’t wait! His mouth watered at the prospect, and he reached out to take the coin from Linda before she changed her mind.
“Thank you very much,” Jimmy said, beaming at her. “It’s very nice of you. If you wait here, I’ll go in and then give you your change.”
Linda smiled and ruffled Jimmy’s hair. “Nonsense,” she said. “You get your chips and keep the change. Maybe you can get yourself a little treat tomorrow?”
Jimmy rubbed the shilling between his finger and thumb, grinning, unable to believe his luck.
“It’s the least I can do for my best friend’s little boy,” Linda said, smiling fondly at him.
Jimmy imagined his mother would be a lot like Linda, kind and sweet, and at times like this, Jimmy missed her badly, even though he’d never really known her.
Jimmy ducked inside the chip shop and asked for two portions of chips. He doubted his nan would wake up this evening, but if she didn’t, it didn’t matter. Jimmy was so hungry, he was quite sure he could polish off two portions.
Linda waved goodbye and then crossed the road, continuing her journey home.
He’d overheard a conversation between his nan and her friend, Phyllis, talking about Linda. They’d talked about the fact Linda had been married for a while now, but she didn’t have any children of her own. Jimmy wondered if that was why she was so nice to him. Maybe she liked the idea of him being around.
As he walked home, eating his chips and licking the salt and vinegar from his fingers, Jimmy Diamond grinned. He thought his life was pretty good all things considered.
Babs Morton forced herself to smile as she tapped a long, painted fingernail on the kitchen table impatiently. She was trying to talk some sense into her husband’s brother, Tony.
Since Martin had been banged up, Tony had been the face of Martin’s outfit. Behind-the-scenes, though, Babs ran the show. Of course, it wouldn’t do to let Tony believe that. Babs was careful to flatter him and present her ideas and strategies very subtly, so that nine times out of ten, Tony believed he came up with the ideas himself.
It had worked brilliantly up until now. As the years had passed, Babs carefully guided Tony through various conflicts and troubles.
They played the long game, making sure they were earning enough to keep them all afloat but not getting greedy. The last thing they wanted was any trouble. Without Martin Morton’s physical presence, they were vulnerable. Martin’s reputation still counted for a lot in the area, but they couldn’t risk encroaching on the territory belonging to other faces in the East End. Babs had been especially careful not to get on the bad side of Dave Carter.
But now it was time for a change.
They needed to expand, and they needed to be clever about it.
Right now, they were just treading water, and people were starting to realise that. Once word got out that the Morton group were weakening, especially with Martin behind bars, they’d lose respect, and in this game, respect was everything.
But trying to explain that to Tony was like trying to explain it to a brick wall.
Tony was far better looking than Martin. He was suave and appeared sophisticated, and he certainly knew how to charm the ladies. Unfortunately, his good looks were the only thing he had going for him. Babs was convinced he had nothing between the ears except cotton-wool.
“Of course, you know far more about these things than I do, Tony,” Babs began. Flattering Tony, was a necessary evil. “But I’ve been hearing whispers lately, and red-haired Freddie told me the landlord at the Queen Victoria was a little reluctant to hand over the money he owed us.”
Tony gave her an easy smile. Nothing seemed to bother him much to Babs’ irritation.
“It’s nothing for you to worry about, love,” he said. “You know you can leave the business to me. Everything is in good hands.”
Babs smiled again, this time through gritted teeth. The stupid man really didn’t realise that she’d been the one keeping the business afloat all these years. Without her, Tony would have run the whole thing into the ground long before now.
“Oh, you’re doing a fine job, Tony. I know that, but on my last visit, Martin mentioned he wasn’t happy that takings were down. I really do think he’d like things to be ticking over nicely when he comes out.”
Tony’s ears pricked up at the mention of his brother’s name. Tony was eager to please Martin. All his adult life, Tony had played second fiddle to his gangster brother, Martin.
Babs expected entering the real world had come as a shock to Tony. As a child, he’d been spoiled rotten. He was his mother’s favourite, and as a boy, he’d never had to work hard for anything, so it wasn’t really surprising he didn’t have the same grit and determination as Martin.
But his brother’s opinion meant a lot to him, so Babs was counting on this as a way to persuade him.
“What did Martin say exactly?” Tony frowned.
Babs shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, you know me, Tony. All that business stuff goes right over my head, but he did say it was important to try and take on new business and go after our competitors aggressively. Otherwise, he reckons people will start to think we are weak.”
Tony’s frown deepened. “Weak?”
A flash of anger played over Tony’s handsome features, and Babs wondered whether she’d gone too far. “That’s only what Martin said. Of course, I don’t think you are weak.”
Tony nodded and was quiet for a moment as he thought over Babs’ words. You could almost hear the wheels turning in his brain, Babs thought. It was becoming harder and harder to manipulate Tony these days. Overseeing Martin’s business interests had filled him with confidence and the silly man had let the success go to his head. He really believed he was responsible.
Martin hadn’t really said anything about changing their strategy the last time she went to visit him. But if that little white lie aided her progress, Babs didn’t see anything wrong with it.
To be honest, she’d been a little bit worried about Martin the last time she’d seen him.
For the first few years, he’d been banged up, Martin was ever so keen to hear all about how the business was running on the outside, and he was obsessed with ensuring no one tried to muscle in on his patch — especially Dave Carter.
But over the last six months, Martin really seemed to be drifting away from the real world. Every time she went to visit him, he only wanted to talk about prison life, and enjoyed telling her how he was throwing his weight around, making sure everybody knew he was the boss.
Babs couldn’t see the point. It wasn’t like he could earn much in prison. So what if a bunch of criminals let him boss them around? Martin had a small black market ring organised, and he was blackmailing a couple of prison guards, but that was small potatoes compared to the money the real business brought in.
They still had the club, of course, and although they’d had to cut back on the protection racket that still brought in a fair few pennies every week. They’d ramped up the sale of the black market booze and cigarettes, and that definitely helped.
But there were so many opportunities out there for the taking, and Babs wanted to exploit them if only she could make Tony see sense.
Just when she thought she might be finally making some headway, the front door opened, and she heard her children making a racket as they made their way inside.
Babs got up from her seat at the kitchen table and went to see her children. Ruby and Derek were now teenagers, and they were both sour, moody individuals.
As soon as Martin had been locked up, Babs had quickly sold their house in Essex and moved back to Poplar. She’d never really liked living out in the country anyway. She was definitely a city girl. London was her heart and soul.
Unfortunately, the children had started to settle and make friends in Essex, so they resented her for making them move back. Babs simply hadn’t been able to cope. A few months after Martin got sent down, their youngest had died. Little Emily hadn’t lived to see her second birthday. The child’s death had devastated Babs, and she hadn’t been able to cope. Frieda Longbottom, an old family friend, had saved Babs in that dark, tragic time. She took care of Ruby and Derek when Babs couldn’t look at them without bursting into tears.
Over the past few years, she’d tried to make it up to Ruby and Derek but ended up just spoiling the kids with material possessions, giving them anything they asked for. Sadly, that didn’t make the children any happier. Instead, they both developed surly attitudes and miserable scowling demeanours. They could be rude little sods at times, too, especially when they spoke to Babs. She was at the end of her tether.
“Hello, sweethearts. Shall I put the kettle on and we can all have a cup of tea together? Frieda brought round a fruit cake earlier.”
“No. I’m going out with my mates,” Derek grunted as he dumped his school bag on the floor and nipped back out the front door before Babs could say anything.
Babs smothered her frustration and turned to her daughter. “What about you, Ruby? Uncle Tony is in the kitchen. Why don’t you come and say hello?”
Ruby lost her scowl as soon as Babs mentioned Uncle Tony. For some reason, both of her children thought the sun shone out of their uncle’s backside. Babs couldn’t figure it out.
Babs set about making the tea as Ruby told Tony all about her day at school. To his credit, Tony at least appeared to look interested.
But Babs wasn’t really listening to her daughter’s inane chatter as she put the tea leaves in the teapot. She was still thinking about the best way to persuade Tony to expand their business interests. So she was surprised when Ruby said, “Mum, are you even listening to us?”
Babs turned around. “Sorry, what was that, love?”
“Uncle Tony was saying Grandma Violet wants us to go around hers tonight for our tea.”
Babs suppressed a shudder. She couldn’t bloody stand Violet Morton, and the feeling was mutual. Martin’s mother had disliked Babs since the first day she’d met her. She was constantly criticising Martin and that included his choice of wife. She’d remained disappointed with Babs ever since.
She quickly tried to think of a way to get out of it. They’d sprung this on her on purpose. Over the last few months, she’d managed to avoid visiting Violet by making up some excuse or another every time she was invited.
“It will save you cooking, Babs,” Tony said, trying to be encouraging.
Babs felt her shoulders slump. It was pointless trying to resist. She couldn’t get out of it this time.
“All right,” she said and then turned to Ruby. “You’d better go and find your brother. He needs to have a wash before he goes to his grandmother’s.”
Ruby got to her feet and trudged out of the kitchen towards the front door.
How both of her kids had turned into such sulky little bleeders was beyond Babs. She sighed and patted her platinum blonde hair. She needed to look good for her face off with Violet. The woman had eyes like an eagle, and God forbid she saw Babs or her children with so much as a hair out of place. The last family dinner a few months back had been derailed after Violet had spotted a smudge of dirt on Derek’s cheek.
She gritted her teeth. The last thing Babs needed was a blooming family dinner at Violet’s, but it didn’t look like she was going to get out of it.
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