Welcome to Part two of this novella. In the previous chapter we met the members of the Sewing Circle and discovered that their happy retirement was marred by the presence on one particularly disruptive family on the estate.
One Wednesday evening Flo Miles won over £500 on the bingo. She was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to share her news with her closest friends in the sewing circle. One of her bingo pals owned a mobile phone, and with great delight, Flo called Betty to tell her the news. What she didn’t know was that Sharon Jackson and her sister were sitting right behind her, and had made note of the substantial win.
Betty suggested that her friend come round for a sherry to celebrate. Flo decided to call it a night and get a taxi back to the estate straight away. She left the bingo hall, looking up and down the street for one of the cabs that normally parked outside. Unfortunately, there was still two hours to go of the evening bingo session, and the usual line of cars was not to be seen.
Flo was so elated by her win, she decided she wouldn’t hang about any longer, and would walk the short distance home, something she had done many times. She was blissfully unaware that at precisely the same time, Sharon Jackson was on her mobile phone, setting Flo up for another surprise tonight.
Despite being on probation, Sharon’s eldest son Darren had made little effort to control his violent and anti-social behaviour. When his mother had rung him, he was hanging out on one of the stairwells with two of his mates from his previous address. They had been drinking vodka and smoking shoplifted cigarettes as they sat on the steps leading to the top landing; fired up and ready for trouble.
Darren snapped shut his mobile phone and looked at his mates. “Mum says some old bitch has just won over five big ones at the bingo and is on her way home.” He smiled evilly showing brown discoloured teeth. “She says I can have half if I get the cash without being seen! Anyone fancy a laugh?”
With his two mates in tow, Darren scurried rat-like down the darkened stairs to the parking area below. Flo was just entering the estate from the main road, trying to move as quickly as possible in and out of the shadows, lurking outside the reach of the street lamps. She was looking warily around her but held her head up high, marching determinedly in the direction of the flats.
As she approached the entrance to Betty’s block, she had to pass some dumpsters on her left and failed to notice the movement in the darkened recesses between the bins. Suddenly a hand was clamped over her mouth and her bag, which was held tightly under her arm, was ripped away. She struggled as she fought for breath and she found herself on the ground feeling the jagged gravel through her clothing. Her eyes widened as she put her hands up to try and pry loose the hand around her mouth, and she looked pleadingly up into the hard eyes of her attacker, who she recognised immediately.
Darren knew that the old bitch had made him and he had a decision to make. Should he do a runner with his mates, with the bag, and wait for the coppers to catch up with him? He was already on probation, but this would certainly get him inside some juvenile detention centre. On the other hand, he could finish the job here and now. He held his hand tightly cupped over Flo’s nose and mouth, pressing down steadily as her struggles weakened and finally stopped. Satisfied that he had eliminated his victim, and witness to his crime, he slid back into the shadows where his friends waited in breathless admiration.
Betty laid out the sherry glasses and some special crisps that she had bought for the next sewing circle meeting. After half an hour, she became worried that Flo had still not appeared and crossed to her lounge window overlooking the parking lot. At first, she saw little but as her eyes adjusted to the dark outside, she noticed a heap of what appeared to be clothing lying by the dumpsters. For some reason a feeling of dread clutched at her heart, and she rushed to the phone to call Big Sal who lived two floors up from her.
“Sal, can you come down, I think something has happened to Flo and I don’t want to go outside alone.”
Within minutes Sal was at the door, and the two elderly women cautiously walked hand in hand towards the dark shape lying motionless on the ground. As they got closer they saw a hand, palm up stretched pleadingly in their direction. Hearts beating rapidly they drew closer and looked down at the frail face of their beloved friend. Betty immediately knelt down and touched Flo’s face.
“She’s still breathing Sal. Quickly, go and call an ambulance from my flat while I stay with her.”
She handed her keys to Sal who hesitated for a moment tears pouring down her face. “Hurry Sal, don’t worry I will be fine.”
As Sal hurried inside, Betty cradled Flo’s head in her lap and leaned as close as she could to her motionless friend. As she bent forward, she thought she heard a whisper coming from the bruised lips.
“Flo, it’s me Betty, what is it love?” She gently stroked Flo’s forehead.
“Jackson……boy…..” With that, Flo breathed softly and for the last time.
By the time the police and ambulance arrived on the scene, Darren Jackson was on the back of his cousin’s motorbike; halfway to his aunt’s house on the edge of Epping Forest. He was celebrating his elevation to hardened criminal by replaying the incident repeatedly as he clasped his cousin around his waist. Little did he realise that like his father before him, he had botched a job.
The Jackson family were well known by the police, and it was not long before Sharon’s sister found a number of coppers on her doorstep with a warrant. They found a newly scrubbed Darren, wearing his cousin’s clothes, and smirking as his alibi was established by his extended family; and a few of their mates for good measure. Without forensic evidence, and with their only witness lying in the mortuary at a South London hospital, the investigation stalled.
Everyone knew who had murdered their beloved Flo, and even families on the Redgrave who had never spoken to the old lady, stopped at Betty’s flat with shop-bought cakes and sympathy. The other members of the sewing circle sat in vigil with their distraught friend as she repeatedly relived finding Flo in that crumpled heap in the dark.
The police officer in charge of the investigation came from the area and knew both the Redgrave and the Jacksons well. He could only promise that he would not close the case but would watch and wait for Darren to return to his mother’s flat and get back with his little gang again. The detective was convinced that Darren would be unable to keep his mouth shut, and would end up boasting about his first major excursion into his father’s violent world. When he did, the detective was sure that his informants in the area would find out, and they would get Darren eventually.
The members of the sewing circle were united in their grief and spent the next week together in Betty’s flat, from early morning until late at night. The funeral was eventually arranged by Flo’s extended family and her close friends were all included at every stage. On the afternoon of the service, the sun shone in defiance and the five friends left Betty’s flat together walking proudly towards the waiting black cab that Flo’s family had laid on. They were all smartly dressed, wearing their best hats in honour of the occasion. The service was lovely and the five elderly women held hands as they watched the hearse taking Flo to the crematorium glide sedately pass them outside the church.
After the tea at a local pub, Flo’s eldest son took them home personally in his people carrier walking them to the door of Betty’s flat.
“My mum would have wanted you to have first pick of her special things, so why don’t I come back tomorrow morning, and you can come up with me and choose something to remember her by.” With a hug for them all, he left and the five filed into Betty’s kitchen to drink more tea and to reminisce into the night about their lost friend.
©sallycronin Flights of Fancy 2009
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