Baby of Shame : Chapter 1
‘MR PETRAKIS.’ His UK PA’s voice was hesitant. ‘Please excuse me for interrupting you, but—’
Dark, displeased eyes flashed up at her from the man seated behind the imposing mahogany desk. Maureen Carter quailed.
‘I said no interruptions, Mrs Carter—for any reason whatsoever.’ The deep, accented voice was brusque. For a fraction of a section the forbidding gaze admonished her, then simply cut her out of existence, returning to the papers spread out on the leather-topped surface of the desk.
In the doorway, Maureen Carter hesitated, then, visibly steeling herself, spoke again.
‘I understand, sir. But…but she said the call was urgent—’
Alexis Petrakis sat slowly back in his large chair and lifted his eyes to her.
‘Mrs Carter,’ he said, and his voice, with its slight Greek accent, was soft—so soft it raised the hairs on his PA’s neck. ‘You may inform Natalia Ferucia I have no interest in her affairs. With me or with anyone else.’
He rested his killing gaze on her, his mouth whipped to a tight, hard line, and then once again he returned to the papers on his desk.
His PA swallowed and cleared her throat. ‘Mr Petrakis—’ she attempted a third time ‘—it isn’t Ms Ferucia on the line. It’s a Mrs Walters, from Sarmouth Social Services Department. She says it’s very important to speak to you,’ she added quickly, as Alexis Petrakis stilled and lifted his head again. His dark eyes levelled on her.
‘It’s in connection, she says, with Rhianna Davies.’
For one long second the gaze levelled on her went completely blank, as though the name she had just given him was as unknown to him as it was to her. And then a mask closed over his powerful, planed face.
‘Tell this Mrs Walters, whoever she is,’ he enunciated, cutting each word out of the air as if he were vivisecting it with a scalpel, ‘that I have no interest whatsoever in Rhianna Davies.’
He picked up his gold pen and returned to his papers.
‘But, Mr Petrakis,’ Maureen Carter said, with a final desperate urgency, ‘Mrs Walters says it’s about your son!’
And this time, finally, she got a reaction.
Alexis Petrakis froze.
RHIANNA was stepping out on to the zebra crossing. It was pouring with rain, the wind battering the rain hood on Nicky’s buggy. She’d checked both ways before starting to cross, but as she pushed forward, eyes stinging with rain, her head bowed into the wind, weak and exhausted but with desperate urgency, it came again, the way it always did.
A screech of tyres, an engine roaring, and then a blow so violent it lifted her up and threw her sideways as the black and white painted tarmac slammed up to meet her. And then the sickening thud of her body impacting—and then the darkness. Total darkness.
She jerked as her brain relived, yet again, the moment when the speeding car had run her down on a pedestrian crossing. The jerking caused pain, shooting through her, but following the pain came worse—much worse.
A voice screaming—screaming inside her head. Distraught. Demented.
Nicky! Nicky! Nicky!
Over and over again. Drowning her with terror and fear and horror. Over and over again—
A hand was on her shoulder. Her eyes flew open. One of the nurses was speaking.
‘Your little boy is safe—I’ve told you that. He’s safe. He wasn’t injured.’
Rhianna stared up into the face looking down at her, her eyes pools of anguish. ‘Nicky,’ she whispered again, her voice husky, fearful. ‘Nicky—where are you? Where are you?’
The nurse spoke again, her voice calm and reassuring. ‘He’s being looked after until you get better. Now, you just relax and get some sleep. That’s what you need now. Would you like something to help you sleep?’
Rhianna pressed her lips together and tried to shake her head. But any movement when she was awake was agony. Even breathing was an agony, her infected lungs raw and painful.
‘I can’t sleep—I mustn’t! I’ve got to find Nicky…they’ve got him. They won’t give him back. I know they won’t—I know it, I know it!’
Her voice was rising again, fear gulping in her throat, and she could hardly get the air out of her.
‘Of course you’ll get him back,’ the nurse said bracingly. ‘He’s only been taken into care while you’re here. As soon as you come out they’ll hand him over—’
But terror flared in Rhianna’s eyes.
‘No—she’s taken him.
That social worker. She said I couldn’t look after him, that he’d be better off in care.’ Her hand clawed at the nurse’s fingers, eyes distending. ‘I’ve got to get him back. He’s my son!’
‘I’ll get you a sedative,’ the nurse said, and went off. Dread and anguish filled Rhianna. Nicky was gone. Taken into care. Just like the social worker had said he would be.
‘You clearly can’t cope with looking after a child.’ Rhianna heard the condemning tone ringing in her memory. ‘Your son is at risk.’
Oh, God—why? Why? thought Rhianna. Why had the woman had to turn up just then? She’d felt so ill, and it had only been a few days after her father’s funeral. She’d taken a double dose of flu powder and it had knocked her out, so that when the social worker had arrived it had been Nicky—still in his pyjamas, patiently watching toddler TV in the living room, with a bowl of spilt cereal on the floor—who’d opened the door to the woman while his mother lay collapsed in bed, breathing sterterously and all but unconscious…
The woman had taken against her, Rhianna knew, the first time she’d ever come to the rundown council flat to assess whether Rhianna’s plea for home help for her father was valid or not. The woman had told Rhianna bluntly that her father needed hospitalisation until the end came, that a dying man should not be anywhere near a small child, and that if Rhianna insisted on refusing to name her child’s father she had no business expecting the state to pay for his upbringing instead of his father. Nicky should be in nursery and she should go back to work, because that was government policy.
At the end of her tether, Rhianna had lost her temper and yelled at the woman, not registering that she was still holding the vegetable knife she’d been chopping carrots with in the kitchen before the social worker had come in to harangue her. Seeing the knife blade, the woman’s eyes had flared, and she told told Rhianna she was dangerously violent and brandishing a weapon threateningly.
After that everything had gone increasingly downhill. Her father’s life had drawn to its tormented close, and she’d eventually had to call an ambulance to take him to hospital, where a final stroke had brought the end at last. Her exhaustion, her illness, her desperate need to shelter Nicky from what was happening all around him, had laid her lower than she had ever been in the five bleak years since her world had collapsed around her.
And when the social worker had arrived that fateful morning, to find Nicky unsupervised and Rhianna passed out, it had been the final straw.
‘I’m having a Care Order issued,’ the woman had told her grimly. ‘Before any harm comes to him either from your violent tendencies or your complete lack of responsibility.’ She’d dipped her finger in the trace of flu powder on the bedside table and sniffed it suspiciously, glaring down at the barely conscious Rhianna. ‘I’ll take this for analysis, so don’t even bother to try and hide whatever other drugs you’ve been using.’
She’d left the room, and Rhianna had somehow found the strength to get out of bed and stagger after her—only to crash into the doorframe as if she were, indeed, under the influence of drugs instead of being so ill with a chest infection she could hardly breathe.
When the woman had gone, informing her she would be returning shortly with the necessary documentation to remove Nicky, Rhianna, out of her mind with terror, had dragged clothes on and set off for the doctor’s surgery, desperate to get some antibiotics as well as her doctor’s avowal that she was not a drug user and was not violent—anything she could use to fight off the Care Order. But before she’d been able to get to the surgery she’d been knocked down by a speeding car on a pedestrian crossing.
When she’d surfaced back to consciousness it had been to find herself in a hospital ward, her body in agony, her limbs and torso strapped up, a drip in her arm and her lungs on fire.
And Nicky gone.
Nicky—her only reason for living, the only light in the black pall that crushed her, the only joy in her life.
Nicky—she had to get him back! She would die without him. And he—oh, God—she could not bear to think of his distress, his confusion. Taken into care with no familiar face around him, no mother to keep him safe the way she had kept him safe all his little life. Despite all the strain and pressure, the hardship and the relentless, punishing difficulties of nursing her difficult, cantankerous father, despite coping with no money, coping with her father’s depression and his slow decline into both physical and mental incapacity, with no one to help, no one to turn to, and only the bare subsistence of the state to keep them going.
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