Husband Unknown by Jacqui Penn by Jacqui Penn - Read Online

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Husband Unknown - Jacqui Penn

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Jacqui

Prologue

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As he squirmed, trying to protect himself from the savage beating, the ferocious blows landed on every part of his body. He was now being held against the wall by his neck, his feet barely touching the floor. Stale cigar breath wafted into his face.

The boss spoke quietly, in little more than a whisper. His voice held no compassion. ‘Your children, they will be sent to you bit by bit and then we will take your wife. You know what you must do.’                                                            

The boss nodded in the direction of his captor and the grip around his neck was released. The blood ran from open wounds as his bruised body slumped down to the ground. He gasped for breath; it dawned on him that he might not survive this ordeal. He shouldn’t have got involved. Now it had gone too far and there was no turning back. He could see no way out. He was left on the floor bleeding. The locks and bolts were secured on the door and the basement fell into darkness.

The thoughts running through his mind of what they would do to his family brought more tears to his eyes. How had he let this happen? He had risked the lives of those he loved most and now they were all as good as dead.

Chapter 1

Five months earlier.

‘Sam’s splashing his Choco Krispies again,’ Chloe grumbled. Libby turned from buttering the toast to see two-year old Sam banging his spoon into his cereal with a triumphant look as his sister wiped the splashes from her face.

‘Sam, that’s enough. Tony, can you keep an eye on him?’ Her husband looked up from the Sunday paper.

‘Sam, leave it out, there’s a good chap.’ Tony’s eyes dropped back down to the paper and Sam resumed splashing his sister with brown milk as he continued his favourite trick. Libby placed the toast in the middle of the table and retrieved the sticky spoon from Sam’s wet, chubby fingers and proceeded to feed him. She smiled at his cheeky grin acknowledging that his game was over for another day.

‘Come on, eat up, we’re going to see Granny and Grandpa today. Have some eggs Chloe, you’ll be hungry.’ Chloe leaned across the table, gripped the serving spoon and carefully placed some scrambled eggs onto her plate.

‘Daddy, you haven’t eaten your breakfast yet. Shall I put some egg on your plate?’

‘Yes, thank you, sweetheart.’ He folded the paper and watched his six-year-old daughter pile the egg on his plate.

‘Whoa! That’s enough; I won’t be able to move.’

Radio Two played a love song in the background as Libby cleared the table. Tony chased Sam through the hallway and into the front room pretending to be a monster. Sam giggled as he tried to run faster than he was able. He fell with a bump and then chortled as his dad scooped him up into the air and zoomed him around making raucous aeroplane sounds. Chloe raised her eyebrows at her mum and shook her head.

‘Why are boys so silly?’

‘I don’t know. They just like playing games,’ Libby answered, stroking her daughter’s hair.

They arrived at Tony’s parents’ house a couple of hours later. Lunch with the in-laws was always a special occasion. Sylvia put on a wonderful spread and spoiled Libby to an afternoon free of any household duties.

‘You sit right down there, this is your day off,’ she would gently scold. After lunch, Geoff usually ventured out into the large, landscaped garden, followed by the children, for an hour or more of mystery and stories. Libby couldn’t have wished for better grandparents for her children.

Today, once again, there was some tension between Tony and his father and as usual, it somewhat spoiled the day. After the roast beef lunch, Tony had joined his father in the garden. He was after a hand-out, which, unbeknown to Libby, was a regular occurrence.

‘Dad, any chance of helping me out with some cash this week?’ 

‘No Son, I’m afraid not. We can’t keep giving you money. You and Libby need to sit down and work out where you can make some savings.’

Geoff and Sylvia were pensioners and not at all well off. They couldn’t afford to keep subsidising their son. Whatever he spent his money on was a mystery. Both he and Libby worked hard and earned good money. Geoff wasn’t proud that he loaned money behind Libby’s back; he couldn’t understand why Tony insisted on the secret.

‘She’s your wife. There shouldn’t be any secrets between a man and his wife, it will only cause trouble, mark my words,’ he told his wayward son, as he had on many occasions. As always, the advice fell on deaf ears. ‘If you can’t manage, you have to pull in the purse strings, make some adjustments to your expenditure.’

Tony huffed at his father’s criticism and stormed off back into the house. He knew his father disapproved of him and deep down also knew the disapproval was warranted. He had never been able to live up to his parents’ standards. They’d been overjoyed when he announced his plans to marry Libby. To them she was the daughter they never had. She was kind, loyal, thoughtful and good company; everything he himself was not. Sometimes he wondered how he had ever managed to marry such a wonderful woman, but somehow her goodness drove him to despair. She never argued, was a great mum to their children, worked hard and provided a nice home for the family. He often felt envious of her. He always seemed to let himself and everyone else down and never quite managed to respect himself as a husband, father or son. Libby loved him and never doubted him. She took him at his word, which added to the guilt he felt when he strayed from the path he so desperately wanted to follow.

Money was the bane of his life. His problems began when he took a loan from the bank to pay off a gambling debt. He saw no reason to tell Libby; after all, he would soon have the debt paid off. He wanted her to respect him. How could he shatter her illusions by admitting falling foul of such a demeaning activity? He knew she wouldn’t approve. At first he’d paid the instalments without any problem. Then Libby fell pregnant and cut down her work hours as the birth approached. She worked part-time, feeling confident that Tony earned enough for the family, which he did before he had to make the repayments. They had relocated just before he had taken out the loan, upgrading to a three-bedroom, semi-detached house in Whitstable, ready to accommodate the family they were hoping for. However, Libby’s income had dropped and there always seemed to be something extra needed for the baby or the house. Tony turned to credit cards to alleviate the immediate problems. Of course it hadn’t actually solved any problems, but instead led him deeper into debt. The bank had given him more time on the original loan, thereby reducing the monthly repayments, but when added to the credit card debts he was in a huge mess. He couldn’t discuss it with Libby now; he’d have to struggle on alone.

Then there were the women. It always started out casually, a friendship with no strings attached, but one thing always led to another. He never cared about the other women the way he cared for Libby, but it made him feel good at the time, even though each time he’d cheated he vowed it would be the last. Why couldn’t he have the willpower and self-control to carry through what he knew to be right? Sometimes he loathed himself. He knew his weaknesses, but hadn’t the strength to sort himself out.

Libby was chatting to Tony’s mum as he walked through the French doors from the garden. The frown on his forehead and the anger on his face was all too apparent. Tomorrow he would be two months behind with the payments.

‘Are you okay, Tony? What’s wrong love?’ Libby asked.

‘I’m hot,’ he answered abruptly, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

‘Come and sit down. You look shattered. Shall I make you a drink?’ his mum offered. She knew Geoff was going to refuse a further loan if he was asked, and guessed this was the reason for her son’s weary look. She loved her son, but Geoff was right. He needed to start taking responsibility for his family. They had loaned him several thousand pounds since the children came along. Not all at once, but a hundred here and fifty there, it had soon mounted up. There was never any mention of repayment and they didn’t really mind if it was never paid back, but the lending had to stop. 

‘I’m going for a walk, I need some cigarettes,’ Tony mumbled, not meeting anyone’s eyes. He strutted to the front door and slammed it firmly behind him. Libby watched as he crossed the room. She couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get along with his father. Geoff was such an easy-going, amiable man, it was difficult to find fault, but somehow Tony always seemed to be at loggerheads with him. She knew something was troubling her husband, but whenever she asked, he brushed aside her concern, insisting that all was well.

Tony strolled down the road, past the tobacconist, and ended up sitting on the sea wall, watching as the waves washed up onto the pebbles. Boats bobbed up and down on the swell, tugging their chains to full capacity. He hadn’t been fishing since... well it must be the best part of a year. He’d have to ask John when he was next taking the boat out and if he could tag along. He reached into his pocket for his cigarettes, lit one and inhaled a long slow breath, pursing his lips to let the smoke trail away in a tunnel. He was deep in thought when he heard his name being called. He turned to see Cheryl, one of Libby’s friends, standing behind him.

‘Hi, how are you?’ he asked flatly, wishing that she’d get lost and go back to wherever she’d come from.

‘Fine thanks, can I join you?’

‘Of course.’

She sat down next to him. ‘Where’s Libby and the kids?’

‘At my parents’. We just had lunch and I popped out for some fags.’

‘You looked deep in thought. Anything exciting?’

‘No, same shit, different day,’ he answered lightly.

‘You okay?’

‘You know, just normal life. Laugh a minute.’ Couldn’t she take a hint and bugger off? ‘I’d better be heading back.’

‘Do you fancy a quick one in the Dog and Duck?’

‘A quick one, eh? That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.’

‘Cheeky! You know what I mean.’

‘Why not?’ He didn’t feel ready to go back to the house yet. Cheryl was alright. She had been friends with Libby since school days and Tony had known her since he had dated Libby as an eighteen year old.

Libby was a year younger than Tony. He had met her at a friend’s twenty-first birthday party. She was a petite brunette and he was drawn to her small facial features framed by her shoulder-length hair. She had beautiful, brown eyes, a tiny, pretty, snub nose and the shapeliest lips he had ever seen. He was instantly smitten. At the end of the evening, they had danced and arranged to go to the cinema a couple of days later. She made him laugh and was like a breath of fresh air every time they dated. Her personality was as much of a draw as her stunning looks. She never made a fuss if he had to work late or got moody like some of his previous girlfriends. They had similar taste in music so went along to see a few groups, singing along and swaying in time to the beat, usually ending the evening with a bag of chips and a walk along the seafront. They were a perfect match, had a lot of fun and gradually fell in love.

After two years of asking, she agreed to be his wife. She wanted to remain a virgin until after the wedding. That was not a problem. Tony had a few ‘friends’ who helped him out now and again. After all, they weren’t married yet, so where was the harm? And a man has his needs. He vowed never to look at another woman once they were married.

When they first met, Tony was an insurance agent. He earned a basic wage plus commission on all the policies he sold. That was when he started gambling. He was particularly drawn to horse racing. At first he placed bets for a few pounds, but he soon convinced himself that when he earned good bonus payments on the policies he sold, it was extra money and therefore it didn’t matter if he gambled it all. Soon his bets increased to forty pounds each; sometimes even more. When he won, the returns were good, but when the horses didn’t come in, his money soon ran out and he would have a frugal week ahead. He would explain to Libby that his funds were a bit short as policies weren’t selling well and she would pay for an evening out. Not that she didn’t contribute to everything they did. She always insisted on paying her share. He felt guilty, but his guilt was short lived as he persuaded himself that he would make it up to her the following week. He found little treats worked well. A bunch of flowers or small box of chocolates alleviated his conscience, until the next time. 

He pushed the door of the Dog and Duck, held it open for Cheryl, and ordered a gin and tonic for her along with a pint of ale for himself. They sat at a table by the window.

‘So why the long face?’ Cheryl asked.

‘Some things aren’t going too well at the moment, nothing big, just a few things on my mind.’

‘Want to talk about it?’ she asked. Tony shook his head.

‘No I came out of the house to get away from it. It’s nothing at all really.’ She took the hint and changed the subject. They sat in the bar and had three more drinks. By now they were quite merry, laughing at silly things.

Tony looked at his watch. ‘Oh no! We’ve been here for two hours. I was only going out for fags. I’ve got to go.’

‘That’s a shame. I’ve enjoyed the afternoon,’ Cheryl complained.

‘Yes, so have I. Maybe we should do this again sometime.’

‘Yes, I’ll look out for you along the sea wall on a Sunday afternoon then.’ She was joking, but with four gin and tonics inside her, it seemed like a good idea. Well, they were friends and they weren’t doing anything they shouldn’t. He stood to go and bent to kiss her cheek. She turned her face, their lips met for a moment and their passion was aroused.

‘So, I’ll see you along the seafront then,’ he jested as he pulled back. He lifted his hand and waved at her as he left the bar.

Cheryl sat alone and confused. That was her best friend’s husband. What was she thinking? It must be the drink. She had never fancied Tony, in fact, sometimes she didn’t even like him. He always seemed to sit around and let Libby do all the fetching and carrying for him. He would sit in his armchair watching television while Libby chased around trying to tidy up and cook the evening meal, and he would sit in the chair and ask her to refill his glass or make a cup of tea, oblivious to how busy she was. Libby, as always, would oblige with a smile on her face. She didn’t care how tired she was; when it was for Tony nothing was too much trouble. No, there was nothing about him to attract Cheryl, but somehow deep down she felt excited.

Tony sheepishly arrived back at his parents’ house. He’d made his plan as he walked back.

He looked straight at Libby looking remorseful. ‘Sorry button. I met Cheryl. She was a bit down so I took her for a drink and of course that led to another one and well here I am two hours later. Sorry love.’ He bent down and kissed Libby on the lips as he finished talking. She always softened when he called her button. He’d used it for as long as she could remember, usually touching his finger gently on the end of her nose.

Libby had felt disgruntled at Tony being gone for so long, but as always, she quickly forgave his small misdemeanour. Libby’s first thought was for everyone but herself.

‘Is she okay? What’s wrong?’

‘Oh nothing much. You know just a bit lonely I think.’

‘Has Cheryl not got a man yet?’ his mum enquired. ‘It’s been a while since the last one.’

‘No, there’s no new man. She always says she’s happy on her own, but I’m not so sure. She always seems to go for the wrong ones.’

What Libby really meant was that the men Cheryl usually went for were married, but Libby would never be disloyal to her friend by divulging that information. Cheryl’s latest lover had been around for the past few years only turning up when he could take time away from his family.

‘Poor girl. Let’s hope she finds someone soon,’ Sylvia said sympathetically.

Tony was relieved he had been able to draw the attention away from himself so easily. The drink with Cheryl had lightened his mood, or maybe the few drinks had made the afternoon company appear to be better than it was. He had never really had a one to one with Cheryl, but felt he had got to know her a little better this afternoon. She didn’t make regular visits to see them, but he often found her presence a source of annoyance. She would often give him a disapproving look which reminded him of his father. Maybe he had read her wrong and he found himself hoping they would meet up again; after all, it was only a drink.

Libby was thoughtful on the way home. Tony hadn’t been himself at his parent’s house today and she suspected he’d had yet another dispute with Geoff. She couldn’t imagine why they fell out so frequently. She’d try and talk to him once the children were in bed. Bedtime was always the same routine of bath, pyjamas, teeth and story. Libby had other things on her mind tonight,

‘Mummy, you missed the bit when Goldilocks breaks the chair,’ Chloe said indignantly.

‘Oh yes, sorry, must have turned two pages at once.’ She half-heartedly resumed the story, finally relieved to be shutting the book after the last page. She tucked Sam in and kissed him.

‘Night, night, my little munchkin.’

‘Night, night, mummy munchkin.’

Libby walked Chloe through to her room.

‘Mummy why was daddy cross with grandpa today?’

‘I don’t know sweetheart. Sometimes grown-ups don’t get along very well, but it’ll be fine. Nothing for you to worry about.’ She tucked her in and bent to kiss her.

‘Grandpa was sad after daddy went out.’

‘I bet you cheered him up, didn’t you?’

‘Yes, I picked him a flower.’

‘Oh. I bet that pleased him.’ Libby smiled to herself, knowing that Geoff loathed his precious flowers being uprooted. ‘What did he say?’

‘He said he liked his flowers to stay in the ground, but I was kind.’ Libby ruffled her daughter’s hair and flicked off the light switch as she left the room. ‘Sleep tight, cutie-patootie.’

‘Love you more than all the stars in the sky.’

‘Love you too.’ Libby strolled down the stairs smiling to herself. She loved the children’s bedtime routines.

She found Tony in the front room watching a country series that was on each Sunday evening. He held a glass of whisky in one hand, while tapping his fingers nervously against the side of the armchair.

‘I think I’ll join you in one of those. Do you want a top up?’

‘No, I’m fine thanks,’ he answered without looking at her. She sat on the sofa. There was an uncomfortable silence as they both sat staring at the screen.

Libby cleared her throat. ‘Tony, talk to me. What’s wrong, bumpkin?’

‘Nothing I’m fine. I’m just watching this.’ He nodded towards the television. Libby knew that wasn’t true. Usually he would flick straight past the programme to another channel.

‘So what happened with your dad today? Chloe said your dad was upset.’

‘Oh you know what he’s like.’ Tony wasn’t interested in the conversation. His tone was flat and non-committal with his eyes fixed on the television.

‘So you aren’t worried about anything? You seem a bit distant.’

‘Libby, give me a break. I’ve told you I’m okay. The only thing that’s wrong is that you keep asking me what’s wrong when there’s nothing wrong. I’m tired and I’m watching this.’

In truth, he was beside himself. He was behind with the bank and the card payments were long overdue. He had squandered half the mortgage repayments in the bookies trying to get back on top. Today he hadn’t even managed to get as far as telling his father he needed a larger loan than usual before he had been knocked down with a lecture. He already knew he should be able to support his own family without hand-outs, but he only needed a bit of help to break even and then he’d be okay. He dreaded Libby finding out what a mess they were in. She was so competent, had everything organised. They’d always shared the bills with Tony paying the mortgage and the household expenses, whilst Libby paid for the housekeeping, shopping, clothes and anything for the home. It worked well in theory, but once again, Tony had messed up everything. Maybe he should just be honest with her; they’d work it out together and she wouldn’t cause a fuss, but pride stood in his way. He couldn’t bring himself to admit he was a loser. 

Libby watched her husband strumming the side of the chair, his foot twitching. She had seen this so often. He had always been