The coco pinchard boxset.., p.35
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.35

           Robert Bryndza
 

  Amazingly six adverts came up, plus one for Webcam Stripper stating that it’s ‘a job with a difference… a work from home vacancy.’

  The terminal made a buzzing, rattling noise and four slips of paper shot out. Rajdai suddenly appeared from behind a pillar and grabbed them.

  “Hang on!” I said, but she ushered us over to her desk.

  “Is it a joint claim?” she said.

  “I don't know,” I said. “We just want to…”

  “Are you single, married, cohabiting?” she said impatiently.

  “We’re co-habiting, but look, I want to ask…” began Adam, but she cut him off again.

  “When did you last work?”

  “Can you please listen to me?” said Adam.

  “No sir, you need to listen to me,” she said. “I’m trying to work out how I can help you.”

  “I haven’t worked for several months, but the situations is…”

  “Right, I’ll need you to meet with one of my colleagues upstairs,” she said sternly.

  We made one last attempt to ask her about legal aid but she said all our questions would be answered on the sixth floor.

  We trudged up six flights, helping a young girl with a buggy on the way, and took a seat in another open plan office identical to the one below. There were huge photographs on the wall of smiling happy job hunters laughing with Job Centre Advisors. It was all very different to when Daniel and myself first graduated from university and we lined up at the grimy Labour Exchange on Aberystwyth seafront. Its windows were smeared with the spray from the sea, and it had a scuffed parquet floor.

  The next advisor we saw was a pale fleshy girl with an annoying singsong customer service voice, and an irritatingly spelt name: Karliegh.

  After taking our slips of paper and tapping in our National Insurance numbers she waddled off to the printer and returned with some forms.

  “Right Mr Rickard,” she said. “I can see you were a civil servant? And you worked in the private sector.”

  “Yes,” said Adam. “But you’ve spelt civil servant with an ’s’,” he said, showing her the form which read, ‘sivil servant’.”

  “That is how you spell it, sir,” she said with the devastating confidence of ignorance.

  “No, it isn’t,” said Adam. “It’s spelt with a ‘c’.”

  She huffed around and changed it, then set her sights on me.

  “I see you, madam, are a… a… lap dancer?”

  Her voice trailed off as she looked up, taking in my jeans and jumper, and the glasses on top of my head.

  “You may have to widen your job search,” she said diplomatically.

  I tried to explain that I wasn't really a lap dancer, but she seemed to think I was some middle-aged sex worker in denial, and even opened her drawer and took out a leaflet entitled Breaking The Cycle: Help For Middle-Aged Sex Workers.

  “Stop! I just want to know about benefits in relation to claiming legal aid!” shouted Adam. “How difficult is it for you people to listen?”

  “‘You people?’” echoed Karliegh. “Are you talking about white people? Because you need to know, we have a zero tolerance racism policy. If you continue to racially abuse me, I may have to terminate the interview.”

  “I meant you people in this job centre!” he raged, “Are you all bloody morons?”

  Quick as a flash a huge security guard was at Adam's shoulder.

  “You need to cool it, bro,” he said.

  “I'm not your bro!” shouted Adam. “This woman is saying I’m a racist and my girlfriend is a lap dancer. I’m not a racist!”

  The security guard gave me the once over, a little like a farmer admires a cow with a good milk yield.

  “And I’m not a lap dancer!” I said.

  “Don't you give her that look,” said Adam, jumping out of his seat.

  “It's okay,” I soothed, pushing Adam back down.

  A silence had fallen over the office and I could see scared faces from the advisors and a few looks of excitement from the other claimants. Adam was still glowering at the security guard.

  “You need to cool down… sir,” said the security guard.

  Karliegh was now taking a keen interest in our forms.

  “I see here you both own property in the area. Do you have a mortgage?” she said icily.

  I could see a vein beginning to pulse in Adam’s head. I told her that Adam had a mortgage and that I owned my house.

  “You own a house on Steeplejack Mews?” she said accusingly.

  “Yes,” I said.

  The security guard whistled and raised his eyebrows provocatively at Adam.

  “Then I might suggest you start using your property for income, and perhaps leave claiming benefits for those who really need them,” she said.

  “She didn’t even want to claim anything!” growled Adam.

  “Come on, let’s leave. Now!” I said.

  As we scuttled out of JobCentre Plus, embarrassment was an understatement.

  I am not sure why they added the ‘plus’. It was full of the same desperate people clinging on to life as I remembered all those years ago in Aberystwyth.

  It was pouring with rain when we came out onto the street. My phone rang again, and I could see it was Angie. We dashed over to a bus shelter. Inside was an Agent Fergie poster. We both stared at it as my phone continued to ring.

  “I should answer it,” I said softly.

  Adam kicked at the bus shelter as Angie’s voice came on the line.

  “Start giving me dates and times, Coco,” she said. “I’ve got your publishing house reaming my arse about you — and not in a good way.”

  I told her everything: about Adam, the house raid, everything. When I finished, she was quiet for a long time.

  “Are you still there?” I said.

  “Yeah… I just wish what you’d told me was the plot for your next book. It sounds like a best-seller.”

  “We need a happy ending first,” I said bleakly. “Which, of course, there will be,” I added quickly.

  Adam was now sat gloomily on the bench in the bus shelter

  “Okay. Here’s what we’re gonna do,” she said. “Nothing.”

  “Nothing?”

  “Yeah. I’ll make sure you only have to do the bare minimum of interviews and when we do the book launch, you act normal. If anything does come out about Adam, it will more than likely be a few weeks after Agent Fergie goes on sale. By then it will be a best-seller and it won’t matter.”

  “Really?” I said. “Why are you being so nice?”

  “I’m not being nice. I’m working out a strategy,” she said. “I only wish you’d told me earlier.”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”

  “Please, keep me posted.”

  “Okay, thanks,” I said and she hung up.

  Adam was dangerously gloomy when we got home. We were drenched from the rain, so he went up to have a shower. I waited until I could hear the water running then made two phone calls. The first to an estate agent, who said that subject to a viewing, I could rent it out the house for several thousand pounds a month. Then I arranged a transfer of five grand from my savings account and hired Natasha as Adam’s lawyer.

  Marika found me staring at the laptop. I took a deep breath and told her what I’d done. Without blinking, she said we could all move to her two-bedroom flat and split the mortgage.

  Looks like we’re moving.

  Monday 24th January 12.12

  TO: chris@christophercheshire.com

  Meryl called on Skype. I haven’t seen her since she was sectioned, but she looked her old self, apart from a new haircut.

  “Are you moving house, Coco?” she trilled excitedly.

  “How did you know?” I said. “The Estate Agent only listed it twenty minutes ago.”

  “Google Alerts!” she said. “I’ve got one set up for almost everything: you, Daniel, Rosencrantz, David Essex. Steeplejack Mews just pinged up and I knew I had to ca
ll you.”

  “So it’s like surveillance?” I said.

  “Gosh no! I simply like to know what people are up to,” she said.

  I explained what was happening with Adam.

  “Oh dear, ooh I can see him there. Hello Adam,” she waved as he shuffled past the computer in his dressing gown to the bathroom.

  “Gosh, that is a pickle, two hundred thousand pounds. I’m sure it will all be fine, Coco. Do wish him the best of luck with everything,” she said, as if it was a grade six piano exam Adam was facing and not a Crown Court trial.

  “Are you okay?” I said to Adam but he slammed the bathroom door. Since I put the house on the market and paid Natasha’s retainer, we’ve had terrible arguments, and he’s been very depressed.

  I turned back to the computer screen. I could sense Meryl was itching to talk.

  “Coco. I must tell you about my time in the hospital,” she said.

  “Were you in a padded cell?” I asked.

  “No. I was in the newly refurbished low-security suite. It’s beautifully decorated. It was opened last year by Ronnie Corbett.”

  “Was it?”

  “Yes, and I met a woman who was convinced she was Carole Middleton. You know, Kate Middleton’s mother.”

  ‘Did she become a good friend?” I said.

  “God no. They whisked her off for electro shock therapy and I never saw her again. She did make me realise why I’d had all those visions of the Queen talking to me.”

  “Why?” I said.

  “To put me back on track, Coco,” she said. “I’ll never be the Queen, and I’ll never be able to truly replicate a traditional Sandringham Christmas. However, I could be the next Carole Middleton.”

  I noticed Rocco had walked up to the bathroom door and was pushing it with his nose, trying to get in and see Adam. Meryl went on.

  “Carole Middleton was just an ordinary air hostess, but through Kate, she’s now going to be mother to a future Queen. I could do the same thing as she did. Through Wilfred I could be the mother to the future King!”

  Rocco started digging at the bathroom door and whimpering.

  “I know you think I’m crackers Coco, but it’s all within the realms of reality. If Kate and Wills get married and have a baby girl, she’ll be close in age to Wilfred. He just needs to go to the same university as she does, and ask her on a date.”

  I couldn’t hear any sounds coming from the bathroom. Rocco was now frantically digging outside the door.

  “I’ve already hired a life coach and he’s taking me through each step to achieve my dream, this being my first.”

  “What?”

  “My Carole Middleton haircut!” she said, smoothing her hair. It didn’t look much like Carole Middleton’s; it looked more like someone had stuck a mixing bowl on her head and cut round it.

  “Look, Meryl, I’d better go and see if Adam is okay,” I said and ended the call.

  I was suddenly gripped with fear. I ran to the bathroom and banged on the door. There was no answer so I banged again.

  “What?” said Adam.

  “Is everything all right?”

  “Yes.”

  “What are you doing?”

  “What do you think? I’m on the loo…”

  “Oh, well, please don’t lock the door,” I said. I waited until he came out. He pushed past me, went back to bed and climbed under the covers.

  Wednesday 26th January 12.45

  TO: marikarolincova@hotmail.co.uk

  I was making coffee this morning when Chris knocked on the door.

  “Hey Cokes,” he said.

  I gave him a hug and he came and sat at the breakfast bar. I told him Adam hasn’t showered or shaved in four days, and that he seems to hate me.

  “He’ll thank you in the future,” said Chris.

  “How far in the future?” I said.

  ”You did the right thing. Natasha is a winner, and she’s working for Adam. And you’re only renting out your house for a year, tops. It’s win-win.”

  I told him there hasn’t been any interest in the house, no viewings. The teenage estate agent who came to do the paperwork was convinced it would be snapped up within hours. Also Natasha keeps calling to ask Adam to come to her office and start going over his evidence, but he’s refused, saying he’s ill.

  “Let’s change the subject,” I said. “What’s happening with you?”

  “Lots,” said Chris excitedly. “It seems seeing Dame Judi in the Northern Lights has brought me luck. I’ve been chosen to direct the new season of plays for The Rabbit Hutch Theatre, in Devon.”

  “The Rabbit Hutch Theatre?”

  “Well, it’s bigger than a Rabbit Hutch, obviously. I know it’s not hugely well known to civilians, but it’s so prestigious and career building. It’s one of the few top-notch repertory theatre companies left in the UK.”

  “That’s great!” I said.

  “However, I do have to temporarily relocate to Devon, in two days’ time,” he said.

  “How long are you going for?”

  “Three months,” he said awkwardly. “I won’t go, if you need me,” he said grabbing my hand.

  “Don’t you DARE not go!” I said. “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to miss you.”

  “I’ll miss you too,” he said. “And if you need anything, I’m only a phone call or one of your long emails away…”

  I looked indignant.

  “I love reading them,” he grinned. “But try to keep them shorter for a least a few days, I’ve got to read a ton of plays before the weekend.”

  He told me about all the plays he’ll be directing. It’s quite an eclectic season: The Cherry Orchard, Abigail’s Party, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Xanadu: The Musical.

  “I’m most excited about directing Xanadu,” he said. “But don’t let anyone else hear that!”

  It was so good to see Chris finally excited about something as the last few months have been rough on him.

  When he’d gone I went up to Adam, who was now beginning to fester in bed. He was just a lump under the duvet.

  “Adam, please get up,” I said. “I need to change the sheets.”

  “Leave me alone,” he said.

  “No, I need to change the sheets. I have to sleep in there too.”

  He didn’t move. I grabbed the duvet and pulled it off the bed. He was rolled up in a ball. I tried to hug him but he turned his head away.

  “Adam,” I said.

  “Nothing you can say will make me feel better so you can save your breath.”

  I covered him up with the duvet and came back downstairs. A couple of hours later I had a phone call. It was Ethel.

  “‘Ello,” she said.

  I hadn’t spoken to her since Christmas.

  “Look, if you’re ringing to fight, I can’t,” I said. “I haven’t got the energy.”

  “Listen love,” she said. “I don’t wanna fight, I want to speak to Adam. I’ve tried ‘is mobile but iss off.”

  “Why do you want to speak to him?” I said.

  “Rosencrantz told me ‘e’s took to ‘is bed.”

  “Yes.”

  “Can I talk to ‘im?”

  “You can try but nothing will raise him,” I said.

  I took the phone upstairs and left it with Adam.

  An hour later Adam came downstairs. He had showered and he brought with him the old bed sheets. I followed him into the utility room where he was stuffing them into the washing machine. I watched as he measured out the powder then switched it on. He turned, and gave me a kiss.

  “Thank you,” he said. “I love you.”

  “I love you too. What did Ethel say?”

  “A few home truths.”

  I don’t know how she managed to raise Adam from his bed, but he’s even arranged to go into Natasha’s chambers and practise giving evidence.

  February

  Tuesday 1st February 12.45

  TO: angie.langford@thebmxliteraryagency.biz
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br />   Adam had his preliminary hearing this morning at Southwark Crown Court, a huge anonymous brown-brick building which sits with its back to the River Thames. A preliminary hearing is the court appearance before the trial proper. The accused enters their plea, and the details of the case are decided.

  This was Adam’s second preliminary hearing; he had appeared back in December where he had entered a plea of not guilty.

  The judge was a grey, humourless man and seemed irritated to see Adam again. Despite Natasha’s best efforts, he only granted us an extra two weeks, agreeing now to hear the case on February the twenty-eighth.

  We left the courtroom along a corridor full of pale clammy-faced youths waiting to be tried. A couple raised their eyebrows at Adam in a look of solidarity. I grabbed his hand as we passed, hoping to show he is not a criminal and is loved by someone who shops in the Per Una section in Marks & Spencer. Stupid, I know, but being in the court house reminded me how serious this all is.

  It was raining when we came outside. Natasha had a little associate with her, a young chap with a huge umbrella, who opened it for us all as we emerged from the giant flying canopy at the front of Southwark Court House.

  “Two weeks isn’t much of an extension,” I said.

  “I think for our defence strategy, it’s a very positive outcome,” said Natasha.

  The little associate holding the umbrella nodded sagely.

  “The more we look through the case files, and the police report, the more we see a lack of evidence against Adam,” she said. “We have a very strong case. I’m itching to get in the courtroom and win!”

  I wanted to hear more but Natasha’s car arrived and whisked her away to another appointment. We were thinking of walking back to Marylebone via the Thames Embankment but it really began to pour so we ran to the Tube.

  When we got home, Daniel was in my kitchen making a cup of tea! By the breakfast bar stood a young lad in a suit far too big for him.

  “Um, what’s going on?” I said.

 
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