The coco pinchard boxset.., p.42
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.42

           Robert Bryndza

  “Hey!” said Nick. “I own my own construction company!”

  Lady Edwina looked even more disgusted.

  “Rebecca!” yelled Edwina back at the house. “There’s some of those new money types in the driveway…”

  Chris’ sister Rebecca came bustling out. She’s quite pretty in a posh and pudgy way. She was wearing a hound-tooth suit and a padded hairband in her long blonde hair.

  “Mummy, that’s Coco, you silly sausage, she’s selling her car…” she said in her little squeaky posh voice.

  Lady Edwina finally lowered the shotgun.

  “Why are you selling your car?” she said.

  “Legal bills,” I said.

  For some reason this seemed an acceptable excuse for all parties involved, and Nick resumed counting out the money. Rebecca even brought out a special marker pen she uses for work, which shows if a bank note is real. Luckily they were.

  When we were done, we shook hands and Nick went back to his Rolls Royce leaving Dahlia to drive my car. Well, her car.

  “How much would you take for that fur coat and the gun?” asked Dahlia, pulling up beside Lady Edwina.

  “These are family heirlooms and not for sale!” she huffed.

  “Okay, bye Dean,” she said, winking at Rosencrantz, and she roared away.

  I watched wistfully as the car vanished.

  “Why did she call you Dean?” asked Lady Edwina.

  “Long story, your ladyship,” said Rosencrantz.

  She offered to phone Coutts for us and get them to come and collect the cash, but I said I had to go to find a branch of the Halifax, which she didn’t understand and she went back into the house muttering.

  The rest of the day went quickly. I paid in the money and also took out a bank loan and then watched most of it vanish when I paid Natasha’s bill.

  I’ve just done my maths. With loan repayments and putting money aside for an appeal, I have £900 a month to live on, which in London terms is nothing. And then this will only last for six or seven months.

  Please keep your eye out for any work opportunities!

  Wednesday 13th April 11.14

  TO: [email protected]


  Dear Adam,

  Well, here I am, having a go at emailing you. You should receive this 24 hours after I press ‘send’. I have also posted some letters, but they are a little waffly. I hadn’t wanted to moan about my living situation, considering what yours is. I managed to find a flat within my budget and I thought I would tell you the story.

  I had a few days of drudgery, going round the slimy estate agents in South London (of which there are many). None of them had flats in my budget. There were plenty of scuzzy overpriced bedsits. One guy was letting a room in his flat where the damp had made the plaster crumble under the wallpaper so it bulged out, but he didn’t want Rocco in case he damaged the furnishings. Another woman was letting out a large airing cupboard and said I could have Rocco as long as he slept in a kennel in the garden. One room was even advertised as free — in exchange for ‘light modelling and photographic work’!

  On the third day, I was outside a newsagent in Brockley with Rocco, trying to roll a cigarette (I’m economising) when I noticed a little old man in the window sliding a handwritten card into one of those clear advertising pouches. The card was advertising a one-bedroom flat, all bills included, for £550!

  I spat out my tobacco, and waited until he emerged a few minutes later with a copy of The Guardian under his arm. I introduced myself enthusiastically. I was dreading he would tell me to ring a number and book an appointment but he was charming in his tweed jacket and flat cap, with a little grey bristly moustache. He knelt down and tickled Rocco under the chin. Rocco, sensing that this was a make or break moment, turned on the cuteness, stood to attention and panted theatrically. Then I realised he knew I had a dog.

  “Look, I’m really in need of a flat to rent, but I want to be honest,” I said. “Rocco is a wonderful dog, he never makes a mess, but I can’t guarantee he won’t pee accidentally.”

  I held my breath as the old man smiled and squinted in the sun.

  “Well, I’ll be honest too,” he said. “My late sister, whose flat this was, also had a habit of peeing accidentally and the carpets are in need of a good scrub.”

  I didn’t know what to say, but he wasn't saying no, so my heart lifted.

  “Would you like to come and see it? It’s only round the corner,” he said.

  The flat was a short walk from the newsagent, on a nice terraced street, and the ground floor flat of a Victorian conversion. I estimated it was around a twenty minute walk from Marika’s flat in Honor Oak Park.

  He opened the communal entrance, and we walked down a dingy little corridor, and into a rather dated one-bedroom flat. There was evidence of his elderly sister everywhere; in fact, it looked pretty much as it would have when she was alive. A pile of Danielle Steele library books were stacked on a coffee table — due back in a week, I noticed — and a blue wool blanket was discarded on the sofa beside them. Next to the books was a glass half filled with water and bottles of pills.

  On one wall was a huge bookcase filled with novels, paperwork, spider plants in various states of decay and many ornaments. By the sofa was a floor lamp, and, under a bay window which looked out onto a well-kept garden, was a huge bureau with an old television set. The bottom doors hung open and a video recorder blinked off and on. A load of videocassettes, most of them labeled Midsomer Murders, were piled high and stuffed beside the machine.

  The carpet was nice, Axminster, if a little stained. The sofa and curtains seemed to be in competition with each other as to who could be the most frilly and flowery. However, to my delight, there were the original sash windows, the paint cracking admittedly, but they look far more elegant than the modern plastic ones.

  In the other half of the living room was a kitchen of basic pale Formica; an oven with a breadboard on the hobs, a microwave sat on the end of a tiny counter with a kettle on top of it. Beside the oven, a tall fridge-freezer squealed from the exertion. A tap dripped into a sink filled with dirty dishes.

  We moved past the back door, which was on the opposite side to the front door, and down a corridor. To the left was a window looking out over the back gardens of the next-door neighbours. Washing whirled on some old rotary dryers, a faded kids’ plastic slide sat amongst an overgrown garden.

  On the right was the bathroom. It was a bit smelly with a faded avocado suite and brown cork tiling. Rocco put his furry feet up on the edge of the bath and peered inside. The bottom was dry and full of dust; the toilet was clean but ringed with lime scale.

  At the end of the short corridor was the bedroom. This shocked me the most. The bed was unmade and some flowery print dresses were laid over a chair by an old fashioned, high wooden wardrobe. The lady who owned this flat hardly seemed to have left; in fact, she had left a bit of herself behind. Her teeth were in a pint of water on the nightstand!

  “Ah. I hadn’t expected to show anyone around so quickly,” said the old man, breaking the silence. “I know it’s not ideal for a modern woman like you Mrs…”

  “Pinchard,” I said. “But please, call me Coco.”

  “Hello Coco, I’m Mr Mason, Thomas.”

  We shook hands politely and he went to the foot of the bed and opened the window to let in some air. It looked out over a little strip of concrete that ran between the side of the flat and the gardens of the other houses. Despite all of the mess, I liked it. Mr Mason asked what I thought.

  “It’s perfect for me,” I said eagerly. “When could I move in?”

  “Well, I don’t know. Theoretically you could move in today, but as you can see I have to phone up someone to come and get my sister’s things and I’ll need to, I don’t know, pay a cleaner.”

  “Look Mr Mason…”

  “Thomas, please…”

  “Thomas,” I smiled. “I own a house
in Marylebone; I’ve had to rent it out for a year to, erm, pay some bills. So I have a regular income, I have a contract with my tenant which proves this.”

  “Jolly good,” he said.

  “It’s just that my budget is five hundred pounds a month… What I thought was if I could move in today, I could be the one to help you pack up everything, for free… Of course, not for free, but I can give you two months’ rent, in cash, today.”

  He looked at me for a moment. I think I’d made my desperation obvious.

  “Are you on the run?”

  “NO!” I said, sounding like someone who was totally on the run.

  “I’m joking, my dear,” he grinned. “I’m sure that’s fine. My son has drawn up some paperwork. Shall I meet you back here at, say, five o’clock?”

  “Yes,” I said. “That would be wonderful.”

  We shook hands, and then he knelt down to Rocco who also held out his little paw.

  “Well I never,” he said and shook it.

  Rocco barked happily. I didn’t tell him that Rosencrantz has taught Rocco to do the shake-my-paw thing, and now he does it with just about everyone. However, his timing was spot on and it sealed the deal.

  I dashed back home, home being Rosencrantz’s, but no one was in to tell the good news to. I wanted to phone you, which was, of course, out of the question. I then went to phone Marika and tell her I’d be living just down the road from her, but remembered we weren’t talking… Then I phoned Chris but his phone went to voicemail.

  I set to work tidying up and packing all of my things. I stripped off the bed sheets in Wayne’s room and put them in the washing machine. I dusted and hoovered. I thought Rocco would be terrified of the vacuum cleaner but he loved it, going as far as sitting on top of the unit (it’s a mini Dyson) and he clung on like a little Olympic tobogganist as I went through the house. Rosencrantz, Wayne and Oscar came back just as I finished lugging the cases downstairs.

  “Oh Mrs P, you didn’t have to go and rent a flat,” said Wayne, genuinely upset. “You’re welcome here as long as you need… isn’t that right, boys?”

  Rosencrantz and Oscar nodded in agreement.

  “Thank you, but I need to stand on my own two feet,” I said.

  “Can we come and help you, Mum?” said Rosencrantz, when I’d told them about the flat.

  “Ooh yes! I could wear my new character turban and housecoat!” said Wayne, clapping his hands excitedly.

  I thanked them, but I thought it could be weird and a little inappropriate if I rocked up with a load of strangers to offload all the old lady’s gear — and I wouldn’t want to offend further if Wayne was interested in a few of her dresses for his costume rack.

  “Now I feel like you’re leaving home,” said Rosencrantz, when the taxi pulled up. “Do you want Bitch to keep you company?” He offered me his teddy bear.

  “She’s yours,” I said. “And I’d never forgive Rocco if he chewed her up.”

  I hugged them all then got into the taxi and on to the next adventure.

  Mr Mason was waiting outside the flat with a younger, more severe version of himself whom he introduced as his son, Callum. He didn’t help with the cases, leaving Mr Mason and me to lug them into the hallway. Callum shifted in his loafers holding the contract impatiently and, when we were ready, he led us into the living room.

  There had already been a smash and grab clearing out spree, and a pile of bin liners was stacked against the wall.

  “Callum thought it best that we make a dent in clearing out my sister’s things,” said Mr Mason apologetically.

  I wasn’t sure what he was apologising for until Callum handed over the tenancy agreement. It was a standard six-month lease but it had “Rent £650 per calendar month” written on it.

  I asked why it was a hundred and fifty pounds more than we agreed on and Callum came alive. Well, his face twisted into a sneer. He said I had taken advantage of his father and that the rent should be higher as it included council tax and water.

  “I thought it was all bills included,” I said.

  “Um, my son says this is very competitive for the area,” said Mr Mason, rather embarrassed.

  I assured Callum I was not taking advantage, and I managed to negotiate him down to six hundred a month. Let’s face it, I was desperate and on the doorstep with all my things. Callum wanted twelve hundred cash up front, so I had to take Rocco round to the newsagent and withdraw another £200 from the cash machine. I also bought him some dog food (of course, he only likes the expensive stuff in the little pouches, the little diva) a new bone, some tea bags, bread, butter, honey, milk, and eggs. I also grabbed some cloths and all-purpose cleaner. I returned to find Callum loading up his car with the bin bags. I handed over the cash (which he counted, twice), we signed the tenancy agreements, and he gave me a receipt.

  “Sorry about that,” said Mr Mason, handing over the keys at the door.

  His son beeped the horn from the car.

  “Give me a call if you need anything…”

  As they drove off I realised they hadn’t given me their phone number.

  I took Rocco inside and let him off the lead. He woofed excitedly and set to work, nose to the ground, sniffing every inch of the place. All of the paperwork on the shelf had been removed, leaving gaps amongst the books. The television and video recorder had been taken but they’d left the videocassettes. The microwave and kettle were also gone, as were the pictures, leaving the pale walls with a series of circles and squares. I went through to the bedroom and the wardrobe was now empty, but the bedding was still there. The bedside lamp was gone, but the teeth were still in the glass of water!

  Despite all of this, I felt calm and relaxed for the first time in ages. I fed Rocco — I’d been left the glassware, plates, and cutlery. I then tried the side door leading out to the garden; it was locked, but I found the key under the saucer of a dead spider plant. The door opened awkwardly and I came outside with Rocco. There was just a thin, fenced-in strip of concrete. The garden I could see through the window was on the other side of one of the fences, and it belonged to the flat above. I squeezed past an old rusting washing machine and peered through a hole in the fence. A set of steps led down from a balcony to green grass and flowers.

  I was gutted. There was a gurgling, whooshing sound, and grey water shot out of a drainpipe and flooded over a little square drain beside the back door. The water ran towards us, steaming in the cold air, and Rocco backed away from it barking.

  I hoisted myself up on the washing machine and lit a cigarette. It was heavenly. I smoked two and then came back inside to survey the damage.

  I was initially only going to hang up some clothes, but I ended cleaning the whole flat. I found some bleach and scoured every inch of the bathroom. I took an old lampshade down, which was damp and misshapen, and the bare bulb made the room a lot lighter. I threw away piles of mouldy food from the fridge and cleaned it, along with the kitchen. I discovered a very old vacuum cleaner in a cupboard with an electricity meter and boiler (both ancient), and I vacuumed and tidied, then dusted with a pair of socks. I stripped the bed and threw all of the blankets away (there was no duvet). I found a clean set in the cupboard above the boiler and I turned the mattress and changed the bed. I hung all of my things in the wardrobe and arranged my meagre belongings — radio/iPod dock, laptop, phone, computer printer, and folders of paperwork on the coffee table.

  There is no shower, just a bath, so I found a jug in the bottom of one of the kitchen cupboards and I had a sort of shower, pouring jugs of water over myself.

  Finally, at one in the morning, I was clean. The flat was respectable and I made egg on toast with a giant mug of sweet tea. I sat on the sofa, next to the radio/iPod dock, and ate whilst listening to the shipping forecast. What is it about the shipping forecast? It’s so comforting — being warm and thinking of all the ships out at sea in the mist and the dark, all listening and being guided to safety. Then I thought of you. Moving into this strange fla
t with you would be so much more fun.

  I fell asleep on the sofa, and woke up at eleven the next morning with Rocco licking my face. It was sunny outside and I opened the back door. I filled a glass with water, grabbed my fags, and followed Rocco out. I put the glass on the washing machine and lit up. Rocco was rolling around in the sun and I watched him for a minute as he jumped up and chased a butterfly. I reached out and grabbed my glass, it was only when my lips touched the edge that I realised it wasn’t my glass, it was the glass with the false teeth! I’d put it outside last night during the cleaning spree. I hadn’t wanted to throw it away, I mean, what if they came back for her teeth?

  I screamed and wrenched the glass away from me. The teeth flew out and sailed over the fence.

  I jumped off the washing machine and tried to see over, but I am too short, even on tiptoes. I squinted through the gap. The teeth were lying in the middle of the lawn, glistening revoltingly in the sun. I looked up at the windows of the flat above. The curtains were all closed. Now this was a dilemma I’d like to see covered in the etiquette books: how to retrieve a set of false teeth from the garden of a neighbour to whom you have not yet been introduced. I went to haul myself over the fence and grab them, but I only had on a long t-shirt with nothing underneath so I came back in to get dressed.

  As I came out of the bedroom in a tracksuit, my new doorbell buzzed. Rocco barked like mad, so I picked him up to open the door. There was a tall, tanned skinny guy with shoulder length hair. He must have been in his twenties and he grinned with a set of huge white teeth. He had on flip-flops, shorts, and a woven poncho.

  “Huj thiiiir,” he said, in a broad Australian accent. “I’m Shane, from upstairs.”

  “Hello,” I said.

  “Weird question,” he said. “Did you throw Doris’s teeth over my fence?”

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