The coco pinchard boxset.., p.57
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.57

           Robert Bryndza

  ‘Come on, open your present,’ said Rosencrantz. I tore off the paper. It was a lovely bottle of champagne, and an envelope.

  ‘We got you a voucher for a his and hers spa day,’ said Oscar.

  ‘And the champagne is to have after you’ve given birth,’ added Rosencrantz. ‘We couldn’t think of any other time a woman is more deserving of a lovely glass of champagne.’

  I got quite emotional as we thanked the boys.

  ‘And don’t worry about being an older mum, Mum,’ said Rosencrantz. ‘You guys are in a great position to have a baby. You’ve done it before, you’re more established. You own this house, and Adam’s flat round the corner. It’s perfect.’

  ‘Cool, you’re in property?’ asked Oscar. ‘My mother is too.’

  ‘Well I wouldn’t say we’re ‘in property’,’ said Adam. ‘Renting out the flat pays the mortgage and gives us a little extra to live on.’

  ‘Isn’t the Tenancy Deposit Scheme a bureaucratic nightmare!’ said Oscar.

  ‘The what?’ asked Adam.

  ‘The Tenancy Deposit Scheme, I had to help my mother transfer all our tenants’ deposits over when the scheme launched. Nightmare.’

  Adam looked blank.

  ‘Did you do this tenancy deposit thing?’ I said.

  ‘Not yet,’ said Adam shifting uncomfortably.

  ‘Don’t worry, your letting agent must have done it for you,’ said Oscar.

  ‘I didn’t use a letting agent,’ said Adam. ‘I put a card up in the caff on Baker Street.’

  ‘You should have used an agent. Running credit checks on all the people you interviewed must have been so pricey,’ said Oscar.

  Adam looked blank again.

  ‘You did run a credit check on our tenant? What’s her name?’ I said.

  ‘She showed me her savings booklet…’ said Adam. There was a scandalised silence.

  ‘So what job do you do?’ asked Oscar changing the subject.

  ‘Nothing at the moment. I’m looking for work in the public sector,’ said Adam.

  There was yet another awkward silence. Rosencrantz changed the subject to safer ground, and they chatted on about their acting auditions and trip to Ibiza, but the happy atmosphere between me and Adam had evaporated.

  ‘Can I see the tenancy agreement for the woman who rents your flat?’ I asked, when the boys had left.

  ‘I haven’t got one,’ he said.


  ‘She’s been there for over a year now and we’ve had no problems.’

  ‘So you’re telling me that our main source of income depends on a word-of-mouth agreement with a dotty old spinster?’

  ‘She’s not dotty!’

  ‘What job does she do?’

  ‘I think she’s on disability allowance…’

  ‘I don’t believe this. We have no savings Adam! We’re screwed.’

  ‘Coco. Why have you never brought this up before?’

  ‘It didn’t seem as urgent,’ I said. ‘But we’re having a bloody baby. The most expensive thing you can have!’

  ‘It’ll be fine,’ said Adam, but I could see from his face he didn’t believe it either.

  Saturday 4th February

  Adam phoned our tenant this morning. I perched beside him on the sofa when he made the call.

  ‘Hi Tabitha? It’s Adam. How are you?’ he said. There was a long pause as he listened, an indulgent smile on his face.

  ‘Yeah, this damp weather will do that to your knees… No, thank you, I don’t want any of your Victoria sponge… Yes it is delicious, but I’m on a new workout regime… Thank you. I do look after myself… No, I’ve never tried modelling.’

  I rolled my eyes and nudged him to get on with it.

  ‘Listen, Tabitha. I need to talk to you about the flat…’ he said. ‘No, there’s no problem… I wanted to see what you thought about getting yourself on a tenancy agreement…? Yes, signing one. Ok… well have a think… ok, bye.’ Adam put the phone down.

  ‘What the hell was that?’ I said.

  ‘She said she’d think about it.’

  ‘We need to make her sign one… it’s madness not to have anything in writing. We might as well have a squatter.’

  ‘You are being ridiculous Coco. Let me handle this,’ said Adam firmly.

  ‘She just wound you round her little finger.’

  ‘Coco you’ve taken zero interest in Tabitha. She’s paid the rent, on time, for nearly a year and a half.’

  Sunday 5th February

  I spent last night online, looking at websites on how to be a Landlord. They all say that you would be mad to rent a place out to someone and have nothing in writing. It also didn’t help that I discovered a baby calculator on the BBC website. Not for counting babies, of course, but counting the cost of them, which was eye watering. I think this persuaded Adam we need to act, and we found a site which had downloadable tenancy agreements and printed some off.

  This afternoon we filled two of them out, then walked round to Adam’s flat on Baker Street. I haven’t been there in yonks. I noticed the panel with the six buttons on it for the flats. The bell for Adam’s flat on the ground floor had a tiny image where the name should be. A little cluster of hearts. I pointed this out to Adam, who shrugged and said that Tabitha was a bit arty.

  I went to ring the bell when the main door opened. A bald middle aged man in glasses emerged. He was dressed smartly, and carrying a big hold-all. Tabitha was behind him. She must be in her late sixties, a buxom woman with very long grey hair parted in the centre, and wearing piles of red lipstick and eyeshadow. Her enormous bosom was bra-less, and barely battened down under a silk Kimono.

  ‘See you soon Dougie,’ she said wiggling her red painted nails at the bald man. Dougie blushed and scooted off down the road, looking furtively back at us.

  ‘Hello Adam,’ she said, gazing up at him with an appraising smile. As an afterthought she looked at me, ‘Have we met before?’

  ‘No,’ I said. ‘Hello, I’m Coco. Mrs Rickard. Adam’s wife.’ Adam gave me a look as if to say, now you decide to be Mrs Rickard.

  I had met Tabitha before. I’d mistakenly barged in when Adam first rented the flat out. We’d just split up, and I was hurt, angry and looking for a confrontation. Luckily she didn’t seem to remember me, and we followed her inside.

  When Adam lived in the flat, it was very clean and modern. Tabitha’s style was more Miss Havisham, a sort of sweet smelling decay. Loads of overgrown dusty plants, wicker chairs, coloured beads in the doorways. There were joss sticks on the go everywhere, leaving little trails of ash on her mismatched furniture.

  ‘Would you like some tea? Oolong? Lapsang Souchong?’ she said sashaying into the kitchen half of the open-plan living room. A cat was snoozing on top of a big old computer monitor, and there was a single bed under the window. The curtains were drawn, and the sheets were crumpled. Adam and I said yes and no at the same time.

  ‘No,’ I repeated. ‘We’re just here to see if you could sign this?’

  Tabitha lit the gas with a flourish, placed the kettle on the stove and sashayed back towards me taking the Tenancy Agreement.

  ‘Oh we don’t need this,’ she said flicking through. I looked at Adam.

  ‘Yes. We do, um Mrs?’

  ‘It’s Laycock. And I’m a Miss. I did toy with Ms. but I’ve met a lot of Mses and they always seem so uptight… What’s wrong with being available?’ she asked, admiring Adam’s backside in his tight jeans.

  ‘Miss Laycock,’ I said tartly, as if I were in an Oscar Wilde play. ‘We need an agreement to make this – you being here – legally binding.’

  ‘But it is legally binding,’ she said.

  ‘No,’ I said unsure.

  ‘But yes Ms Rickard. I have a verbal agreement with Adam.’

  ‘You do?’ I asked, looking at Adam.

  ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘He invited me to be his tenant. I said yes. I paid a deposit, he gave me a receipt. Voila we have a ver
bal tenancy agreement. Sure it’s not as watertight as if it were in writing, but I’m protected by all the same laws, you are too.’

  I was lost for words. I looked at Adam.

  ‘Do you want me to move out?’ she asked all wide eyed. Her nipples had now decided to join in the discussion too. They were straining against the material of her kimono like football studs.

  ‘No! No Tabitha. You are very welcome,’ said Adam to her nipples. I went to say something but the door buzzer went.

  ‘Ah. I’m afraid our time is up. That’s my next client,’ she said.

  ‘Client?’ I said.

  ‘I’m a healer,’ she said. I looked from the bed, to Tabitha in her kimono with obviously nothing on underneath.

  ‘What do you heal?’ I asked.

  ‘Oh, everything,’ she said vaguely. The buzzer went again and she ushered us out.

  ‘Let me leave it here so you can think about it,’ I said putting the tenancy agreement down on the hall table. She opened the door to a shifty looking lad of Rosencrantz’s age. His eyes lit up when he saw her bosom.

  ‘Do go through Dean. I’m just finishing up with this couple.’

  ‘Couple?’ he chuckled and nipped past us.

  ‘I promise to think about this,’ she said picking up the tenancy agreement. The door closed behind us. We walked down the steps and onto the street.

  ‘Interesting. So there is such thing as a verbal tenancy agreement.’ said Adam as we walked back.

  ‘That’s what’s interesting?’

  I stopped on the pavement by the crossing and pressed the button. Cars whizzed past. Adam looked at me.

  ‘Adam! She’s a prostitute!’

  ‘She’s a healer.’

  ‘Come off it. Did you see that young lad? There was nothing wrong with him. The only thing her healing hands are doing is unzipping his trousers…’

  ‘No. Not Tabitha,’ said Adam as we crossed the road. Why is it that men have this blank when it comes to women? I don’t know if Tabitha ticks some mother/goddess button for him, but he seemed to think butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. But I think it would, and very quickly too.

  When we got home I had the horrible realisation that our whole life is being funded from the spoils of prostitution.

  ‘Ok. If she is a prostitute, so what?’ said Adam.

  ‘So what? The food we eat, the bills we pay are all because she does… I don’t want to think what she does.’

  ‘If you look at the world like that, then everything is tainted,’ said Adam. ‘Our banks lend money to fund wars, our phones and computers are made by workers in terrible conditions, that shampoo you use is tested on fluffy animals. Consenting sex, in comparison, is pretty harmless.’

  I went to put a latte capsule in the coffee machine, then dropped it back in the box.

  ‘Coco,’ he said putting his arms round me. ‘Why are you being so prudish?’

  ‘I don’t know. We’re bringing a baby into the world… and I know there are bad things out there… I just don’t want us to be so close to them.’

  ‘Okay let’s spin it another way. If she is a prostitute, which we don’t know for certain, isn’t it a good thing? It’s recession proof.’

  ‘It’s also illegal.’

  ‘So is taping shows off the telly and keeping them… How many illegal episodes of ‘Eastenders’ are you hoarding in those packing boxes?’

  Despite everything I smiled.

  ‘Coco. I’m going to get a job. I always said I would in the New Year. You have a meeting with Angie tomorrow about your new book. We won’t be living on the spoils of prostitution for much longer.’

  Monday 6th February

  I left Adam this morning uploading his CV to job search sites, and took the tube over to see my literary agent Angie. She has finally finished re-modelling her house, a beautiful four-storey home in a quiet, elegant terrace in Chiswick. She opened the door wearing pyjamas, holding a cup of coffee, with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.

  ‘Hi Angie… We have got a meeting today?’

  ‘Course Cokes,’ she said using the free side of her mouth. ‘This is the joy of working from home: you only need to get dressed up when it’s something important.’

  I wiped my feet and gave her a look.

  ‘Of course love, you’re important. But you’re a mate too,’ she said.

  She gave me a tour of the finished house. The basement has been excavated, and she now has a home cinema, underground parking, and her own spa with a jacuzzi. We finished the tour at the swimming pool. The huge expanse of water rippled softy under a vaulted sandstone ceiling. The bottom of the pool was tiled with a mosaic of her family.

  ‘I didn’t bank on the rippling water making me look so fat,’ she said, as we peered down at the bizarre Disney-esque cartoon mosaic of Angie, her fifth husband Mark, and her kids.

  ‘Course the kids all wanted to include their fathers in the mosaic, but why would I want to go for a swim with those bastards every morning?’ Angie is a proud four-by-four-er. Four kids by four different fathers. I often wonder if it’s her skill as a literary agent that has landed her this luxurious lifestyle, or her skill at negotiating a divorce settlement.

  We came up to Angie’s office via a sweeping staircase. The walls were adorned with photos of her kids, every Madonna concert she’s been to and, I was flattered to see, a big poster of my proudest triumph, ‘Chasing Diana Spencer: The Musical’, which was adapted from my novel of the same name.

  Angie’s new office was lined with bookshelves containing the work of all her authors. I spied Recherche Lady Di, the best-selling French edition of Chasing Diana Spencer. It gave me a thrill to be getting back to work again after a few months away from it all. I took a squashy chair in front of her desk. Angie lit a cigarette and sat opposite. Behind her was a beautiful view of rooftops and the Thames in the distance.

  ‘What happened to your old assistant?’ I asked.

  ‘Brenda took me to a tribunal,’ said Angie.

  ‘That’s a shame, what happened?’

  ‘You know when they dug out my basement, they found that Roman settlement and the plague pit?’


  ‘Brenda started taking tea down to the builders, but the daft cow didn’t wear a facemask. She caught the bubonic plague.’

  ‘That’s terrible.’

  ‘Oh, it’s nothing these days, Cokes. She had to take a course of antibiotics, and she was fine. But the cow got greedy and wanted more than statutory sick pay. I said to her, ‘Did they get statutory sick pay in 1665? No they bloody didn’t. They all died.’’

  ‘And what did she say?’

  ‘Well she repeated that at the tribunal, and it cost me a bloody fortune. So for now Chloe is working for me.’ Angie’s daughter Chloe came in with two coffees.

  ‘Thanks love, hold all my calls, unless of course it’s uh, Regina Battenberg.’ Chloe nodded and left us alone.

  ‘Regina Battenberg?’ I said.

  ‘Yeah. I signed her to the agency last week. She’s gonna make me a fortune, Cokes.’

  ‘What about her other agent?’

  ‘She fired him. He was mean about her dog, Pippin, said it was mangy.’

  ‘And that’s a good reason to fire him?’

  ‘She’s a multi-million selling author now Coco. She can do what she wants.’

  ‘I’m just shocked you signed her.’

  ‘What Coco? Because you hate her? Because she’s always rude to you? Because she’s fucking barking like her horrible little dog?’


  ‘Coco this is business. And having her business will take this agency to the next level. I’m in talks to put her on cable in the USA.’

  ‘On the end of a cable, a noose?’ I asked hopefully.

  ‘No. The FX Network want to do a wine tasting show with her. It’s going to be mega bucks. Which reminds me.’ Angie pressed a button on her desk.

  ‘Chloe can you bring th
rough the book for Coco.’

  Chloe came back in with a copy of Regina Battenberg’s latest bestseller, Winetime. Regina was pictured on the cover, sitting at a table in a square in Venice, drinking wine and laughing with some elderly Italian men. She was wearing her signature gold character turban and heaps of makeup. Inside she’d written:

  I dedicate my millionth copy to you dear Coco Pinchard. Maybe one day you can do the same for me? I won’t hold my breth! Ha Ha! (Just joking darling) xxx

  ‘Has she really sold a million copies?’ I asked.

  ‘She signed that a couple of weeks ago, so it’s about 1.2 million now.’

  ‘Angie, she can’t even spell the word breath!’ I said.

  ‘I know she writes mainstream rubbish, but I need authors like her so I can nurture my... literary writers. Like you.’ I didn’t like the way she made quotation marks in the air when she said literary.

  ‘I’ve sold lots of books too,’ I said.

  ‘Course you have love. But I need mega-sellers. The ebook revolution is doing me no favours. Especially now any old Tom, Dick or Harry living in a bedsit can upload a word document and have a bestseller. It makes my blood boil,’ she hunted around her desk for a cigarette.

  ‘Chloe, where are my bloody silk cut!’ she shouted. Chloe hurried in and lit her mother a cigarette.

  ‘Look, let’s not get into this again,’ I said. ‘Self-published authors are here to stay, there’s room for everyone.’

  There was an awkward silence.

  ‘Right,’ she said composing herself. ‘I’ve got a release date for Agent Fergie. Your publisher, The House of Randoms, is looking at April 16th, so we really need to start things moving.’

  ‘There’s just one other thing,’ I said. ‘I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby in August.’

  ‘Bloody hell!’ said Angie. She sat back and puffed on her cigarette, then as an afterthought waved the smoke away from me. ‘You know, that could be a brilliant promotion angle. Old mum.’

  ‘Old mum?’

  ‘Have you got an ultrasound?’

  I started to get it out of my coat.

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