The coco pinchard boxset.., p.38
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.38

           Robert Bryndza


  “Yes, Adam! He was a respected member of this community. A diligent Allotment Association secretary with the finest penmanship I’ve ever seen. Then he meets you, and you encourage him to give up his allotment patch. Then I find him in flagrante in your potting shed… And now I hear he’s charged with fraud amounting to two hundred thousand pounds!”

  “You know nothing about me, Agatha!” I said, close to tears.

  “Nor do I wish to. Your life is a cesspit! I won’t charge you a release fee. I think of it as a bonus that I never have to see you again.”

  She turned and walked away, swinging the car clamp as she went. I had to steel myself not to cry on the street.

  I drove the car over to your place and your sister let me park it in the garage.

  I know this sounds odd but I just want the trial to start now; we need to move forward. The waiting is unbearable.

  Monday 28th February 19.27

  TO: [email protected]

  The trial began this morning. I came up to Southwark Crown Court with Adam early. It was still dark and there was a fine drizzle. My throat was tight with fear when I kissed him goodbye. He had to go in earlier for a last bit of preparation with Natasha. I grabbed a coffee from a tiny pop-up coffee shop manned by a guy with dreadlocks, and sat on a bench by the river and watched the sun coming up. I felt physically sick, so I left my coffee and, as a distraction, read the final chapter of Wolf Hall. It is a brilliant book.

  I was just finishing a cigarette when I looked up to see the author herself, Hilary Mantel, ordering a coffee over at the pop-up stand! I grabbed my bag and lined up behind her. She shot me a sideways glance as I proffered my copy of Wolf Hall with a biro.

  “I’ve just finished reading your book,” I said. “Would you sign it for me?”

  Her look darkened further and she said, “I didn’t write Wolf Hall.”

  “Didn’t you?” I said, holding the book up beside her head. “The picture looks a lot like you!”

  “I am not Hilary Mantel,” she snapped, and taking her coffee, she walked off.

  “What a snooty cow, who does she think she is?” I said, a bit too loudly. She stopped and looked round with a penetrating gaze, then turned and walked away.

  The dreadlocked guy tutted so I moved off to let him serve the queue forming behind me.

  I arrived at Southwark Crown Court at a quarter to nine and joined the queue waiting to get through the metal detectors. I tried to imagine I was passing through an airport and kept thinking positive thoughts. I was then shown into the courtroom. I was sat high up at the back in the visitors’ gallery.

  The jury filed in and I had my first chance to get a good look at them. Six men and six women, who were a good mix of race and age. No one really stood out. I hope this is a good thing. Adam then came in with Natasha. I gave him a little wave, which came out all wrong, and looked like I had come to see him in a nativity play. A couple of the jurors clocked me and I remembered I must act neutral. Then the prosecution entered; a large, dark-haired woman called Annabel Napier QC. She has slanting eyebrows and feline eyes, and regarded Adam much as a cat would before moving in for the kill.

  When we were all in place, we were asked to stand for the judge, Her Ladyship Dame Ruby Haute-Penguin. The doors were flung open and I nearly died when the woman I thought was Hilary Mantel entered in her judge’s robes.

  Fear shot through me. Did I really call the judge a snooty cow? Natasha had warned me about the role of the judge, and even though they don’t have a say in the outcome, they can heavily influence the jury during the summing up of the evidence.

  We sat and she regarded the courtroom from under her wig. It was far too theatrical for my liking. It made me want to scream; the wigs, the robes, the jury all po-faced and the prospective legal teams posturing. It seemed as if all the people involved were doing it for personal gain and it was forgotten that my Adam was sitting there with his life in the balance. The one-upmanship seemed heightened in that it was all women involved.

  I detected a whiff of camaraderie between the prosecution, Annabel Napier QC, and the judge. They seemed to regard Natasha — younger and prettier Natasha — as a threat, and wiping the floor with her pretty face during this trial was the order of the day.

  I am not sure if I can sit through this; it could go on for weeks. I’m driving myself mad with analysing every nuance of voice, and every time I see one of the jurors yawn or appear to switch off I want to throw sweets at their head (I have a supply in my handbag to pass the time).

  Opening statements were heard from Natasha and Annabel. Both were persuasive and it feels like they could make the case go either way.

  After the day’s proceedings, Adam stayed behind with Natasha to go over some of the things the prosecution brought up during the opening statements. I hung around outside the courthouse with another cup of coffee, waiting for the judge. I caught her as she was leaving with her bags.

  “I’m so sorry I was rude this morning,” I said, scuttling along beside her.

  She carried on walking, looking straight ahead.

  “I said, I’m sorry. I meant it as a compliment. I would love to be mistaken for a Man Booker prizewinner, even if she is a minger. I mean, not that you’re a minger! You’re a penguin, I mean you’re a Dame, Dame Haute-Penguin…”

  “I can’t talk to you, Mrs Pinchard,” she said. “You should know this.”

  She quickened her pace and I fell back and let her walk away, watching her halo of golden hair fly about in the breeze.

  Shit, I’ve done it now, I thought. Adam is doomed.

  He phoned and said to head home, he would talk later. I walked in a circle along the river to London Bridge then doubled back down Tooley Street and past the big multi-storey car park. I stopped as a large Range Rover pulled in front of me. Cars zoomed past and the Range Rover had to wait for a spot to pull out. After a moment, the tinted window slid down. Judge Haute-Penguin was sat regally on her white leather seats, smoking a long thin Capri cigarette.

  “When I read a book, I like a good comedy,” she said, to no one in particular, her eyes never leaving the traffic zipping by.

  “I couldn’t get into Wolf Hall… Chasing Diana Spencer was rather good…”

  A spot opened up, and she pulled out, roaring off into the traffic. I stood watching the Range Rover move out of sight. What did this mean? Did it mean anything? At the very least, I must be forgiven… Maybe she thinks Adam is innocent.


  Wednesday 2nd March 23.11

  TO: [email protected]

  The prosecution has spent the last two days laying out its case against Adam. I’m glad I can only see the back of his head. Annabel Napier QC has skilfully painted him in a bad, bad light. I watched the jury carefully throughout the day, and I could see some of their gazes hardening towards him.

  Annabel Napier is a formidable woman with real stage presence, highly articulate and one of those immaculate larger ladies. She has beautiful shiny chestnut brown hair tied at the nape of her neck. Her face is feline in shape with emerald green eyes and arched eyebrows. She really knows her eye makeup and utilises the autumn shades with devastating effect. Dark shading on the lid combined with an elegant swipe of eyeliner, and in all the hours she’s been up there attacking Adam’s character, she’s never suffered eye gloop.

  I got to see her up close during a recess. I was in the toilets brushing my hair when she emerged from a cubicle and came to wash her hands in the next sink. There was an awkward silence. In another world, I’d love to have struck up a conversation. I would have begun by asking her for tips on eye-shadow. I spent years thinking coral and royal blues were flattering, but my efforts always made me look like a slightly anaemic country and western singer. Then when we’d got chatting, I’d launch into a speech about Adam. Tell her all of the wonderful things about him that will never come out in court. However, I was scared to even smile at her. She
finished washing her hands and went to the dryer. Over the low drone, we both pretended the other wasn’t there.

  I had lunch with Adam and Natasha in one of the offices at the court, and when he nipped off to the loo, I confided in her how worried I was.

  “I know it’s hard, Coco,” said Natasha, through a mouthful of Pret No-Bread sandwich. “But you have to remember, it’s my turn next.”

  She said the words “my turn” with real relish.

  “We have several things in our favour. The two hundred thousand pounds is nowhere to be found, which we can spin positively: no money, no crime. Then we have CCTV images of Adam placing him in another area of London on four occasions when the cash withdrawals took place from his bank account.”

  She reached out and squeezed my hand.

  “And most importantly, I always win,” she said.

  Before I could say anything, Adam returned, straightening his tie.

  “Are you talking girlie stuff?” he said.

  Natasha looked at me.

  “Yeah,” I said. He put his arm round me and leant in for a kiss. Then a knock on the door told us we had to go back for the afternoon session.

  The onslaught finished just before four-thirty. Annabel finished by saying, “I assure those members of the jury that over the following days the paper-thin defence of Mr Rickard will be dismantled, brick by measly brick, until a guilty verdict is not only necessary but imperative.”

  She let her words hang theatrically over the jury before thanking the judge.

  We went for dinner to Wagamama afterwards. I invited Natasha, but she said she wanted to go back to her office and prepare for tomorrow.

  It was raining again as we crossed Tooley Street and passed The London Dungeon, the torches out front blazing in the dusk. Then we picked our way through Clink Street, past the Clink Prison Museum with more flaming torches and signs offering us two for one on tours of the medieval jail. It seemed we couldn’t get away from symbols of foreboding. Well, we could have gone across the bridge to the Wetherspoons, but we love the noodles.

  I have found it difficult to discuss the trial with Adam at the best of times, but there was no opportunity most of the evening. When we were seated in Wagamama, we were put on one of those long benches where you sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers, so we slurped our noodles awkwardly amongst the deafening chatter. Then, when we left, the walk back through to the station was crowded and the crowds didn’t abate. We had to stand on a cramped train all the way home. Even the walk to the flat was chock-a-block with people pouring out of the station and on to the pavements.

  When we got in, the lights were all off and Marika and Greg were sprawled out on the sofa watching The Green Mile; more foreboding. Rocco was a scampering, scurrying little fur ball, canon-balling towards us with excitement. We said “Hello” to Marika and asked when Rocco had last been out for a walk.

  “Sorry hun, not since this afternoon,” she said, her eyes not leaving the screen. Greg just lifted a hand in greeting whilst the other dove into a bowl of Kettle crisps.

  Adam said he would take Rocco out. I had a shower and then scuttled to our bedroom in a towel. A whole pile of suitcases had slid over and scattered all of the clothes I had chosen for us to wear in court. I was trawling through it, still in the towel, when Adam came back. Rocco leapt up on the bed, dancing happily with his wet paws across a white shirt I was laying out.

  “Jesus, Adam!” I said, “Dry his bloody feet! We’re living in a twelve by twelve box as it is.”

  There was a horrible wailing sound and I turned to see Adam crying, well, not crying, but sobbing uncontrollably. Rocco looked up at him confused and began to bark. I scooped him up and hugged Adam.

  “This time next year we’ll look back on all of this and laugh,” I said, kissing the top of his head.

  “This time next year I’ll be on a four-year stretch,” he said.

  Then he started to cry again.

  “I’m scared,” he said. “I can’t go on, I can’t sit in that court room… I see the jury, watching me. Why do they get to decide? They don’t know me.”

  I held on to him tight and was suddenly terrified. My life, our life together, seemed to have shrunk drastically, and we were teetering on the brink of something terrible in a messy, cluttered back bedroom. It took every bit of self-control to gulp back the terror clawing up my throat and not to run screaming out into the night. I’m grateful to Marika that we are staying with her, but not having any space at this time is horrible. We lay on the bed under the harsh overhead light, with the sound blaring out from the television.

  When Adam had calmed down, I got up and flicked off the light, leaving just the yellow glow from the street lamps outside. Then a scream cut through everything; it was the scene from The Green Mile when the electrocution of a prisoner goes wrong. I had to make the death screams stop. I wrenched open the bedroom door and ran into the living room.

  “Please can you turn it down!” I shouted.

  Marika leapt up and pulled Greg’s arm out from inside her blouse. She jabbed at the remote and the screams subsided.

  “You could have said earlier…” she glared. “It’s been at this volume since you came back and now you’re flipping out.”

  I grabbed a couple of glasses from the kitchen cupboard and went back into the bedroom. I gave Adam one of the huge fluffy towels and made him take a hot shower. When he got back, I’d tidied up, trying to make it look like our bedroom at home. I poured us both a healthy slug of whiskey, and made him drink it with some aspirin.

  I think crying had done him some good. He fell asleep quickly with Rocco curled up on the pillow beside him. I crept out with the empty glasses to find Marika clearing up. Greg was in the shower.

  I told her briefly what had happened, but the atmosphere between us was distant. The flat now feels too full.

  I came back to bed and lay in the dark. I had thought this was going to work with Marika, that we would have so much fun living together.

  When the court case is over, I am going to find us a little flat to live in.

  Thursday 3rd March 23.41

  TO: [email protected]

  Natasha began with a roar on the opening day of defence arguments; she was fierce, charismatic and beautiful. She really brought out the human element of Adam, talking of his strong, honest character and painting him as the victim of stolen identity. I could see the jury soften their attitudes toward him.

  However, in court what people are saying is just as important as what they’re not, and the jury watched Annabel and Judge Haute-Penguin just as much as they watched Natasha. They both regarded her with an almost wry amusement. The wry smiles were saying, “Don’t take her seriously — she’s beautiful.”

  I am annoyed I am even writing about this, but these things matter. If this were a case argued by men, looks wouldn’t have entered anyone’s head, apart from the stenographer who seems to lament the lack of men, and gives Adam an appraising stare whilst her fingers move almost independently to her bored face.

  Natasha argued that CCTV footage would show Adam could be placed away from the cash machines when withdrawals of the stolen money took place, and that the computer systems at the offices of XYZ Event Management lacked even basic security. She finished by saying, “In the modern world, data whirls about us in invisible streams, with paper transactions taking a back seat, and more and more of our personal data are open to fraudulent use. With Internet banking now the norm we are expected to do the job of bank clerks — with no training. My client may have been foolish in not protecting his data, and in not doing a good enough job of administrating his financial affairs, but he does not deserve to be found guilty for a third party’s greed and dishonesty. Mr Rickard simply did not perpetrate this fraud. His background, his personality and clean record point to an upstanding citizen who is a tragic victim of stolen identity.”

  I felt the day ended on a high, but we trudged home with a sense of dread. Dreadi
ng Marika would be at home, something I have never experienced with her before. I feel like we are invading her territory. I would give anything just to be able to go home to Marylebone and curl up by the fire.

  We got in just before seven. She wasn’t home, but we wolfed down the fish and chips we’d bought, trying to minimise the time we had to spend in the kitchen. Then I walked Rocco, whilst Adam took a shower. When I got back Marika was home. Adam was in bed and Greg was now in the shower.

  “Hi,” I said awkwardly.

  She was unloading her shopping into the fridge.

  “Hi Cokes,” she said. “Is this your fish?” She held up a piece of haddock I’d covered in cling film.

  “Yes,” I said.

  “Are you going to eat it? It’s stinking out the fridge.”

  “Maybe I won”t,” I said. “It is a bit old…”

  Marika dumped it in the sink. I took a deep breath.

  “I just want to say, Marika, that when the court case is over, me and Adam are going to get a flat…”

  She paused and looked over the top of the fridge door.

  “That’s good timing because I’m going to ask Greg to move in here,” she said.

  This took me by surprise.

  “You’ve been seeing him how long?” I said. “Five weeks?”

  “Four and a half,” she said pointedly, closing the fridge door. There was another long pause.

  “Great, congratulations,” I said.

  “Thank you,” she said.

  She folded her arms and we had another pregnant pause. We had nothing to say. When have we ever had nothing to say to each other?

  “I’d better get off to bed then,” I said, and came in to find Adam asleep in all his clothes and Rocco licking his face. How was he not waking up? I pulled Rocco off and began to prepare for tomorrow which is when the trial properly swings into action.

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