Monica Duarte was an Anglo-French woman of around thirty years of age. She arrived at the door of the Connolly House Project on a crisp February morning clutching an oversize bag in one hand and the small hand of a young boy of perhaps four years in the other. Neither woman nor child wore a coat against the bitterness of the winter weather.
Louisa Calleray welcomed the woman and child into the reception room; a cosy, intimate room painted in calming pastel shades and with minimal décor. Soft matching sofas and armchairs boasted crisp white embroidered antimacassars on their backs and arms to protect against unclean hair and grubby fingers. Louisa directed the woman and child to one sofa while she busied herself seeking out a warm blanket in which to wrap the freezing couple. She called upon one of the other residents to please make a pot of tea and to rustle-up some biscuits.
Born of an English mother and a French father, Monica Duarte had that same porcelain beauty about her that a young actress currently making a name for herself in the movies – Audrey Hepburn – had (Stuart had surprised his wife with an unplanned visit to see the hit movie ‘Roman Holiday’ last summer.) Unlike Miss Hepburn, Monica Duarte’s large almond-shaped eyes were haunted with fear and lack of sleep had left them puffy and bruised-looking.
“My husband, he a bad man.” Monica said in surprisingly heavily accented English. “He beat with his hands and he also hit poor Pascal” she said as tears trickled down her pale face. The worried little boy, Pascal, moved closer to his mother, sucking his thumb, his dark eyes downcast and solemn.
“He go to prison, my husband, but now I am hearing he come out again after nearly three years.”
Louisa remained silent, allowing the frightened woman time and space to tell her story her own way. It had proved to be the most effective method of getting agitated visitors to calm down and relax a little. While Monica Duarte talked, Louisa poured tea.
“I tell the police on him. He steal things from other people and hide them in our house. I not like this and I tell him. He hit me and he tell me to keep my mouth shut. He wave sharp knife in my face and tell me he cut out my tongue if I say wrong thing.”
Her tone was flat and emotionless, which gave her shocking words more weight and power.
“One day, Pascal is looking for some paper to draw on. He is a good drawer. He goes to closet in my and my husband’s bedroom and finds bright shiny things. He think they toys but they not. They stolen things, things his daddy stole from people. His daddy come home and find stolen things on bedroom floor. He scream and shout and make nasty threats to me and to Pascal. Frightened, I run away with Pascal.”
New, tears slipped from her eyes as the frightened woman hugged her young son close to her side.
"Pascal not sleep. Too scared in case daddy come to hurt him. Mummy tells him she make everything alright and go to police. Police come and take husband away and he go to prison but now he come home again and Pascal frightened. Me as well.”
“Your husband, he is not released from prison yet?” Louisa asked gently.
“In two days he come home!” Monica Duarte cried.
“Are you able to collect whatever you immediately need from home?” Louisa asked.
“I have here all our things.” Monica answered pointing at the large bag she had brought with her. “I never want to go to that house ever again!” she exclaimed.
“In that case, let’s get you and Pascal settled into a room. Maybe we could rustle-up some hot soup for both of you. Would you like that Pascal?”
Two large, soulful eyes looked warily at Louisa from a pale, tired face. The child did not appear to have slept for days.
“That would be very nice, thank you.” his mother answered for him.
Two weeks after arriving at the Connolly House Project Monica Duarte had made contact with relatives in France, her father’s brother and his wife, who, upon hearing of her plight and that of her young child, had offered their home to them. Plans were set in motion for Monica and Pascal to leave England within the month.
As spring began to dot the landscape with bright daffodils Monica Duarte and her young son sailed across the English Channel to their new life away from the violent threat of her husband. Louisa received a note of thanks from her at Easter-time along with a photograph of her with a beaming Pascal looking healthy and happy. Louisa was pleased to see that the Connolly House Project had been able to help yet another woman who had experienced difficult circumstances. She added the note and photograph to her ‘Wall of Success’ as she now called the wall in her study.
Summer still held sway over the British Isles when on a late August evening as Louisa and Stuart Calleray enjoyed a rare evening of relaxation with Marilyn and Bernard Penney. Life had been challenging and exciting ever since The Connolly Killeen House Project had opened its doors.
“I am so much enjoying myself, Louisa” Marilyn said brightly. “It is so much different from anything I have ever done before!”
“You are a natural at it, dear. The girls love you.” Louisa said with genuine affection.
She had never had a moment’s doubt that her friend would make a success of the role at the Project. At her suggestion Louisa had engaged the services of a nurse to look after the immediate medical needs of the users of both properties, something that Louisa believed she should have thought of herself. Many of those who sought help were in need of medical attention, usually minor, but occasionally more intense intervention was required. The nurse, a motherly woman in her early fifties by the name of Doreen Clarkson, had proved herself to be a godsend in the few months she had been engaged with the Project.
“I must confess that I have somewhat surprised myself.” Marilyn admitted. “Although it has turned out to be more pressured than I anticipated I would really not have it any other way.” She smiled warmly at her friend.
“And I am more than happy turning my hand to all things practical” Bernard Penney chimed-in. “Who would have thought a crusty old police Inspector would be happy unblocking drains and rehanging doors and the like, eh?”
The assembled company laughed good-naturedly.
“It just goes to sho…” Stuart began.
He was interrupted by loud, violent hammering on the street door.
“What the devil..?” he asked.
“My goodness! Somebody must be in desperate straits to make that much noise!” Louisa gasped. “I had better go and see what the matter is. You sit and relax.” she told her husband and guests as she rose to her feet.
The hammering continued its ferocious intensity even as Louisa turned the key in the lock.
“Hold on, please!” she called out to whoever was on the other side of the door.
As she turned the handle the door flew inwards towards her. Only her quick feet prevented the swinging door crashing into her.
A large man, easily over six feet in height, with a shaved or bald head stood on the step. His face wore a snarl of pure fury.
“Where is she? Where is that bitch and MY son!” he demanded loudly.
“Louisa? Are you alright there, darling?” Louisa heard her husband call to her.
“I think you had better come to the door.” Louisa replied. “We may have a problem here.”
“Oh, you’ve got a fucking problem alright!” the angry man said as he shoved Louisa aside and stepped into the house.
Louisa cried out in pain as she fell to the floor. Stuart Calleray came running into the entrance hall to see his wife sprawled on the floor and a strange man standing by the door.
“MONICA! MONICA!” he yelled, his voice reverberating around the sparsely furnished open space.
“Hey! There is no need for that!” Stuart shouted.
“MONICA? Where are you, you bitch!” the man yelled.
Stuart had helped his wife back to her feet.
“Excuse me,” she said in a firm, even tone, “are you Monica Duarte’s husband?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Now, where’s my fucking wife and where’s my boy?” the man snarled.
“Please, sir, could you please refrain from shouting and swearing. We have a lot of vulnerable…”
“I don’t give a fuck!! Where is MY wife and MY son?” he demanded.
“Now, you listen here. Do not speak to my wife in that tone!” Stuart Calleray remonstrated.
“If I don’t get some fucking answers, right now, it’s not my language you’ll have-ter worry about!” the man hissed. He slipped a hand into the pocket of the jacket he was wearing. When he withdrew it again a black handgun gleamed ominously in the light streaming in from the open door behind him. “Maybe this will help convince you to answer me?” he said, an unpleasant and ugly grin on his face.
A shocked gasp came from behind Louisa and Stuart. Marilyn Penney stood beside her husband, one hand to her mouth.
“Ah, Bernard, would you please be so kind as to call the police?” Stuart asked calmly.
“Of cour….” Bernard began.
The deafening retort of a gunshot silenced him.
“No fucking police!” the stranger said menacingly. “You move a muscle before I’ve got the answers I want and I’ll shoot you on the spot. Get it?”
“Okay. No problem.” Bernard Penny answered. In all his years as a police officer it was the first time he had come face-to-face with a loaded weapon. There were plenty of guns around as so many former military types brought them home from the war as souvenirs. Too many accidental deaths had been ascribed to them, which had given Bernard a disliking of the things.
“Good, in that case we’ll get along just fine.” Monica Duarte’s husband said in a less aggressive tone.
He turned to Louisa, who stood hand-in-hand with her husband.
“You Louisa?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s me.” Louisa answered.
“You run this place?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you know where my Monica and Pascal are, right?”
“I cannot answer that.” Louisa told the man.
One of the guiding principles and the foundation on which the Connolly House Project was established was the complete confidentiality of those who used the establishment. Louisa and her staff asked very few questions of the women who came to them and kept only the scantest of records.
“You will answer me, lady!” the man threatened.
“I am very much afraid that that information is highly confidential. I cannot and will not divulge it to you or anybody else. That was Monica’s wish and it is how I run this establishment!” Louisa said earnestly.
“Monica’s wish?” the man said with mock-incredulity. “Who gives a fuck about Monica’s wish? She is my wife and as such she does as she is fucking told!” he said, his voice rising in anger again.
“You!” he said, pointing the gun at Stuart Calleray. “Is she your wife?”
“She most certainly is.” Stuart said, pride in his voice.
“Then tell her to tell me where my fucking wife is!” he hissed angrily.
“I will do no such thing!” Stuart replied indignantly. “I would no more dream of telling my wife what to do than I would… well, hit her.” he added.
A nasty smile spread across the gun-wielding man’s face.
“Oh, so that’s what this is all about is it, eh?” he said in a growl. “That little bitch been telling tales about me has she? Been telling you how I beat on her, yeah? Telling you how she feared for her life, yeah? Been saying all sorts of shit about me, blackening my name, has she?”
The calmness of his words belied the seething anger behind them.
“Well it’s all fucking LIES!!!” he bellowed. He suddenly rushed forward and before anybody could react he grabbed Louisa by the hair and dragged her away from her husband. Louisa cried out in pain as her hair was viciously yanked back. She had no choice other than to allow the man to drag her towards the still-open street door.
“Hey! Let her go!” Bernard Penny shouted.
“You, back off!” the man shouted at Penney. “You. Tell your wife to tell me where my Monica is or I’ll blow her fucking brains out!” he shouted at Stuart.
“I will never tell you anything!” Louisa said through gritted teeth. The man had entwined his fingers tightly into her hair. She could feel it pulling painfully on her scalp. Tears of pain pricked her eyes. Louisa tried to move as little as possible to reduce the potential for causing herself further unnecessary discomfort.
The barrel of the gun was pressed firmly against her temple.
“Tell me, you bitch or I‘ll kill you here and now!” the man growled.
“Then you will have to kill me. I would rather die than tell you anything!” Louisa said defiantly.
The man was breathing heavily, almost panting. Louisa could feel the tension in his body. It seemed to thrum like an electric current. She felt the barrel of the gun move away from her head.
“Maybe this’ll change your mind, bitch!” he spat as another gunshot rang out.
Marilyn Penney’s scream was almost drowned out by that of Louisa’s. She watched in absolute disbelieving horror as her husband’s face exploded in blood and muscle and tissue.
An animal roar burst from Bernard Penney as he threw himself across the expanse of open space between himself and the stranger. He tried to free his fingers from Louisa’s hair in a bid to escape the furious ex-policeman, but he had been so successful in entangling them that he was unable to free himself very quickly.
Bernard ploughed into the man and Louisa and sent the pair of them to the floor with him on top.
“You bastard!” he cried as he wrestled the gun from the man’s hand. “You bastard!”
Louisa, finding herself freed from the man’s grasp ran to her fallen husband. He lay unmoving on the bloody floor.
“Stuart? Stuart?” she said as tears streamed down her face. She knew that there was no hope for him even as she knelt beside him.
“Marilyn Penney, horror-struck by what she had witnessed, was initially shocked into immobility. However, when her husband flew at the man who had shot her best friend’s husband she had hurried to the telephone and called the police and an ambulance. Now, as her husband restrained the seemingly deflated strange man, Marilyn went to Louisa. The bells of the approaching emergency vehicles could not quite drown out Louisa’s heartbroken sobs.
To be continued...