The coco pinchard boxset.., p.60
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.60

           Robert Bryndza
 
‘Hello Lady Cheshire,’ I said.

  ‘I am now the Dowager Lady Cheshire… But you are correct still to address me as Lady Cheshire.’

  ‘I’m so sorry about Lord Cheshire, he was so young,’ I said.

  ‘Yes, thank you. It happened during his usual game of golf. Such bad timing too, it was his best handicap…’ she said. ‘Look I haven’t got time to chit-chat. Is Chris-tah-fah there?’

  Chris had heard the phone ring and staggered into the hallway with his glass, making frantic movements not give his whereabouts away.

  ‘Um, no, no he’s not,’ I said. ‘I think he’s still in the air.’

  ‘Coco, I know you two are close. When you do hear from him, order him to call me. He is needed not just by me, but by the British aristocracy… Are you writing this down?’

  ‘No I think I’ll remember, Dowager.’

  ‘Don’t call me Dowager. You’ve been watching too much bloody ‘Downton Abbey’,’ she snapped and hung up. I relayed the message to Chris.

  ‘This is all my nightmares rolled into one,’ he said. ‘She’s going to make me be Lord Cheshire. I’m going to have to wear a tie, and make complicated business decisions, and do charity work… I’ll have to plant trees. You know I’m hopeless with a spade! I’m going to look an idiot.’

  I put my arm around him.

  ‘You only have to tip a little soil in with a polished spade. It’s just a formality… no real digging…’ I said.

  Chris buried his head in my neck and sobbed. Ethel crept into the hall with a big grin.

  ‘’Ere Chris, can I get a photo?’ before he could say yes, she held her phone out in front of us and took a picture. The picture popped up on her screen.

  ‘That’s horrible Ethel,’ he said. ‘I look jet lagged and puffy.’

  ‘Iss fine love,’ she said pocketing her phone gleefully. I dragged her into the living room.

  ‘Did you listen to anything I said?’ I hissed.

  ‘Coco, I ’ave to get a picture of me with a rich lord! Irene ’as got a picture of her and David Hasslehoff, an I never ’ear the end of it. This’ll show ’er!’

  ‘Ethel this is unacceptable. How would you like it?’

  ‘Everyone loves ’avin their photo taken,’ she said staring at the picture on her phone.

  I went to the kitchen and grabbed Ethel’s coat. I came and found her in the hall where she was peering at Chris’s cases piled high.

  ‘I bet these set ’im back a few bob,’ she said.

  ‘Come on, you’re leaving,’ I said. I opened the front door, pulling her out onto the step, and closed it behind us.

  ‘I’m ’ere for Chris,’ she protested.

  ‘No you’re not. You’re taking photos, you keep talking about money. It’s insensitive.’

  ‘If I won that much on the lottery we wouldn’t talk about anything else!’

  ‘This is different. He hasn’t won anything. He’s just lost his father.’

  Ethel started to protest but saw my face.

  ‘Well ’ow do I get home?’

  ‘I’ll get you a taxi,’ I said pulling her down the steps and out onto the street. A taxi saw me waving and came to a stop by the kerb.

  ‘Are you free to go to Catford?’ I asked through the window.

  ‘That’ll cost a fortune!’ said Ethel. ’Ere there’s a bloke in ’er house ’oose just won…’

  ‘No Ethel, not won…’

  ‘Alright. Inherited an ’undred million quid!’

  The driver didn’t seem impressed. ‘How many bags?’ he asked miserably.

  ‘Just one,’ I said indicating Ethel. Before she could protest I pushed her in, slipped him some cash, and he drove away.

  When I came back inside, everyone was in the living room where Adam was lighting a fire.

  ‘What is this champagne?’ asked Chris who was now on his third glass.

  ‘It’s Lambrini,’ said Marika. ‘Ethel brought it.’

  ‘Do you remember when we used to add Blue Bols and make anti-freeze?’ said Chris. ‘That was so much fun…Hey remember when we went to Alton Towers and got so drunk on it that Coco pissed herself on the Nemesis ride?’

  ‘Thank you Chris,’ I said seeing Rosencrantz and Adam’s faces.

  ‘You told me you all got soaked on the Log Flume,’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘No, it was when Nemesis went upside down,’ laughed Marika. Everyone joined in and despite being mortified I was so pleased Chris was smiling.

  ‘Of course, those carefree days are over,’ he said and we all went silent.

  Then he changed the subject. He wanted to know everything about Marika and Milan, our baby, Rosencrantz and Oscar. He didn’t want to talk about his time living in Los Angeles, or the future.

  We stayed up talking until late. Chris, Rosencrantz and Marika got very drunk on anti-freeze, (Rosencrantz had wanted to try it) so they all stayed the night, curling up on the sofas downstairs.

  ‘God, I’d love to be a millionaire,’ said Adam as we were brushing our teeth before bed.

  ‘This house is worth quite a bit, and you own half,’ I said.

  Adam laughed, dropped his toothbrush in the cup and went to the bedroom.

  ‘What was that laugh for?’ I said, following. Adam was now in bed and I climbed in beside him.

  ‘Daniel was married to you for twenty years, he didn’t get a bean.’

  ‘Because he had an affair.’

  ‘But it’s not real, half of the value of a house, it’s all hypothetical,’ said Adam.

  ‘If we sold this house we would have the money, and half would be yours,’ I said.

  Adam laughed again.

  ‘You would never sell this house! It defines you. It’s been in your family for, what? A hundred years?’

  ‘A hundred and fifteen. But it doesn’t define me… Do you want to sell the house?’ I added.

  ‘No. And even if I did, you don’t want to live outside London. And we need the good schools, and hospitals.’

  ‘You say it like it’s not negotiable?’

  ‘It isn’t, and that’s fine,’ he said grinning and kissing my belly. ‘I know I’ll never be as rich or successful as you, and I just have to deal with it.’

  There was a pause and we lay there.

  ‘You own your flat Adam,’ I said remembering.

  ‘The bank owns most of my flat,’ he said. ‘And it comes with its own elderly prostitute…’

  With that he turned over, clicked off the light, and within minutes he was snoring. I stayed awake for a long time mulling over what he had said.

  Saturday 3rd March

  Chris was here for one night before his mother tracked him down. Lady Cheshire sent the family solicitor, Mr Spencer, who knocked on the door on Friday night. He was terribly polite but told Chris in no uncertain terms that his presence was required immediately.

  We drove Chris up to Cheshire Hall this morning. I had to sell the Land Rover last year, and its replacement, a rusty second-hand Fiat Panda could only cope with a few of Chris’s cases; even then it was almost scraping the tarmac on the motorway.

  When we turned into the gothic iron gates of Cheshire Hall, it started to rain. The Fiat’s suspension creaked and groaned on the gravel driveway, which went on for miles, past acres of fields and trees. Chris became more agitated. I stared up at the canopy of bare trees as their reflections moved across the windscreen and hoped that he would be okay. Then Cheshire Hall rose up from the gravel road ahead. An imposing Jacobean mansion with lots of cream carved stone, red brick, proud windows and a grey roof. Chris now owns the place with its seventeen bedrooms, a ballroom, library, billiard room, umpteen reception rooms and fully-functioning servants’ quarters. Two fields away we could just make out the squat factory, where the Cheshire brand paper napkins are manufactured and shipped all over the world. Chris is now Managing Director and majority shareholder in this multi-million pound company. I looked at him wrestling with the wrapper on his Starburst. How was he not
prepared for this day?

  Adam parked the Fiat outside the main doors, and we climbed out. Lady Edwina came bowling down the steps in her wax jacket and wellingtons. She has terrible teeth and a bowl cut of bristly steel-coloured hair. The Honourable Rebecca (Chris’s sister, blonde, in padded hairband, and matching wax jacket and wellington boots) followed, and six Labradors all poured out after them. Rocco was soon surrounded by them and whined nervously, so Adam scooped him up.

  ‘Chris-tah-fah, what are you doing in that car?’ asked Lady Edwina, horrified.

  ‘Coco and Adam were kind enough to give me a lift,’ he said.

  ‘You didn’t have to take them up on it darling,’ she said. ‘Even the man who empties the septic tank has a nicer car.’

  ‘Thanks,’ I said.

  ‘No Coco, I don’t mean to be rude but this is Lord Cheshire! He must travel in style… There is probably more horsepower in one of Rebecca’s marital aides.’

  ‘Mummy!’ shrieked Rebecca.

  ‘Come on darling, we all love dear old Squiffy but he’s far more interested in Tom.’

  ‘My husband is not interested in the gardener!’ said Rebecca.

  ‘Darling, there’s nothing wrong with turning a blind eye. Of course if he was my gardener, you know what I’d do…’

  Rebecca blinked back some tears.

  ‘Now Coco, Adam. Would you like some tea?’ asked Lady Edwina. We climbed the steps and were shown through the huge oak front door into a hall with a giant red-carpeted staircase. We took a left into a fabulous drawing room with classical paintings on the walls and a huge stone fireplace. It was like being in a National Trust stately home, but there were no roped off bits, and Lady Cheshire’s iPod was strewn across a 17th-century table.

  ‘I thought Lord Cheshire might want to ring the bell,’ said Lady Edwina. Chris looked around.

  ‘She means you!’ snapped Rebecca. He squeaked meekly over in his high top trainers and pulled the bell by the fireplace. He didn’t know what to do next, so came back to his place beside me. I opened my mouth to say how sorry I was for their loss but Lady Edwina interrupted,

  ‘Were the roads dry?’

  ‘Um, yes…’ I said.

  ‘Now you’re the chap who went to prison? Business fraud wasn’t it?’ said Lady Edwina sizing up Adam.

  ‘He was wrongly imprisoned, someone in his company set him up,’ I said. Adam gave me a calming look.

  ‘Yes, and Lord Cheshire was very kind,’ said Adam. ‘He pulled some strings and speeded up my transfer to a category D prison. He was a really good man. I’m sorry for your loss.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said Lady Edwina. She looked as if she was going to cry. She leant across to Rocco who was still in Adam’s arms and scratched him behind the ears.

  ‘What a handsome little chap,’ she said. ‘Is he a Maltese?’

  ‘Yes, he’s called Rocco,’ I said. Rocco gave a contented sigh and licked her hand.

  ‘Where is Sofia?’ said Chris.

  ‘Your sister will be back tonight,’ said Lady Edwina. ‘She’s been in Zimbabwe, talking about buying a stake in a diamond mine. Apparently President Mugabe is an absolute sweetie.’

  Chris looked horrified.

  ‘Right Christopher,’ she said going over to the fireplace and giving the bell another pull. ‘We’ve got a meeting about the funeral at one, and then someone from Coutts will be here to record your signature and run you through the accounts.’

  ‘For fucks sake!’ Shrilled Rebecca. ‘He comes in and suddenly it’s all his! Do you know anything about this place? Anything about how it runs?’

  ‘Pull yourself together Rebecca,’ said Lady Edwina.

  ‘No! The house, the business, it’s all his now because he was born with a penis? A penis which he doesn’t even stick in the right places!’ Rebecca’s chubby little face was bright red now. A young girl arrived carrying a wide tray covered in a china tea set. Everyone was quiet as she laid it out on the table.

  ‘Thank you Louise, that’ll be all,’ said Lady Edwina. We took our seats round the table. She sat down and picked up a small plate with slivers of lemon arranged in a fan shape.

  ‘Oh for God’s sake! That stupid girl has forgotten the tongs.’

  ‘Daddy is dead! And all you worry about is how you’re going to put the lemon in your tea? Well I’ll tell you where you can put it!’ said Rebecca.

  ‘Chris-stah-fah ring the bell again, we need tongs and Rebecca needs one of her pills,’ said Lady Edwina.

  ‘I think we’re going to head off Chris,’ I said.

  ‘No, no please don’t leave me,’ he whispered.

  ‘You all have family things to talk about.’

  ‘Yes. We do,’ said Lady Edwina pointedly. A servant was sent out to collect Chris’s luggage from the roof rack.

  ‘Promise me you’ll keep in contact,’ said Chris.

  ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I’ll get the rest of your cases sent up here, and call me, whenever.’

  As we drove away I glanced back at Chris waving from the front door. It felt like we were leaving a little kid on his first day at school.

  ‘When’s the funeral?’ asked Adam as we pulled out of the gates and onto the country road. He changed gear to accelerate but the car screamed in protest. I winced.

  ‘I don’t know. They’ll probably spend so long arguing over the house and money they’ll forget to bury the poor guy,’ I said.

  ‘They don’t seem very happy.’

  ‘Someone just died.’

  ‘No, it’s more than that, like ingrained unhappiness… Aren’t you glad we’re not rich?’ Adam grinned.

  ‘We’re not poor!’ I snapped.

  ‘How come we’re driving a crappy old car then?’

  Adam tried again to get the car to change gear. The engine churned and we lurched forward.

  ‘It’s not crappy. That teenage boy we bought it off said it was very reliable.’

  The car began to shudder violently, and the engine died. He tried the ignition but there was no response. The car slowed to a halt in the middle of the road.

  ‘Shit!’ said Adam slapping the dashboard. ‘Shit! It was all that bloody luggage on the roof!’

  ‘You were grinding the gears!’

  ‘I was not. The clutch sticks.’

  ‘It doesn’t stick when I drive,’ I said.

  ‘Ha! You’re the expert? Didn’t you fail your test three times?’ said Adam.

  ‘Four. But they say it makes you a better driver.’

  Adam tried the ignition again, nothing. I pulled my phone out. I didn’t have a signal, nor did he.

  ‘So what do two poor people do next?’ asked Adam. ‘Revel in the fact we haven’t got too much money to tie us down?’

  ‘Shut up. I’m thinking.’

  It was suddenly very quiet. The car rocked as the wind roared across the fields surrounding the road, making ripples in the grass. Adam tried to put the hazard lights on, but the car was dead.

  ‘We’re in the middle of the road. We’re going to have to move it to the verge,’ said Adam. ‘Come on, let’s push.’

  ‘I’m pregnant.’

  ‘Oh yeah,’ he said.

  ‘You forgot?’

  ‘Coco, look at the bigger picture!’

  Adam got out of the car and told me to steer. I clambered over to the driver’s side and put the car in neutral. Adam went round to the back and started to push. The car wouldn’t budge. He strained and pushed harder. He came back round and I rolled down the window.

  ‘I think you’ll have to get out, you’re too heavy.’

  ‘I’m not that heavy,’ I said.

  ‘It’s okay, it’s normal to put on a bit of baby weight.’

  Then I noticed that the hand brake was on.

  ‘So you didn’t think I might have the handbrake on? You just think I’m some big fat lump of ballast stopping the car?’

  We were still bickering twenty minutes later when a black Mercedes purred up be
side us. The tinted windows slid down.

  ‘Need a lift?’ asked Rebecca. We turned and grinned awkwardly.

  Rebecca’s car was seriously cool. White leather heated seats, a screen on the dashboard showing CNN. She dropped Adam off at the local garage and then took me back to London.

  ‘This is very good of you,’ I said when we were on the M25. Rocco sighed comfortably on my lap and began to snore. Rebecca glanced at me nervously.

  ‘Coco, can I talk to you about something?’ she asked.

  ‘Don’t worry, I know plenty of people who use, um, marital aides,’ I said.

  ‘What? No, not that. I wanted to see if you could talk to Christopher.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘I think you know,’ she said carefully.

  ‘You want me to talk to him about the inheritance?’ I asked.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Why me?’

  ‘He adores you, you’re probably the closet person in the world to him.’

  I was now feeling uncomfortable.

  ‘That’s why we’re so close Rebecca. We never discuss his, business.’

  ‘It should be my business Coco, and Sofia’s. We worked with our father for fifteen years. Chris has just… well he’s been Chris.’

  ‘Do you think dropping me off in London earns you the right to ask me?’

  ‘I’ve got some business in London, and I’m meeting Squiffy at Annabel’s later,’ she shrilled, her pudgy face going red again. ‘And a bloody lift must be worth something?’

  ‘It’s not worth a hundred million quid Rebecca.’

  ‘Coco it’s very common to talk about money... And it’s all tied up you know.’

  We were silent for the rest of the journey. When we pulled up at my house I said, ‘Don’t ever try to use me to manipulate your brother. He is one of the kindest most loyal people I know.’

  Rebecca remained stony faced and said nothing. As I watched her Mercedes purr away, I was inexplicably jealous. She lives in a velvet-lined pocket of British life I can only dream of. Now with this baby coming I realise how tenuous it all is. Adam is right, being poor stinks.

  Just after I got indoors Adam phoned to say the Fiat is dead, which I already knew. We can either spend thousands on a new engine, or buy a new car. Neither is an option. The garage had offered him £50 to take the car away for scrap. I told him to take it.

 
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