The coco pinchard boxset.., p.68
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.68

           Robert Bryndza
 

  ‘I’m sorry.’

  ‘No. I’m sorry Cokes. I’ve been an idiot.’

  ‘Look. Why don’t you come over? Before your flight. We can open some champagne. I’m number one!’

  ‘The thing is Coco. I don’t know if I want to be an agent anymore…’

  ‘But now is the time I need you. I’m number one.’

  ‘Chloe is going to be running things for now. I just need to get away and look for some answers.’

  ‘Why Thailand?’

  ‘I’m going on a colonic irrigation holiday,’

  ‘I doubt you’ll find the answers up there,’ I said.

  ‘Ha. Funny Cokes. Look it’s bye for now, and congratulations. Really.’

  Angie rang off.

  We went out to walk Rocco and saw that the newspapers were all featuring the Regina Battenberg story with headlines like:

  BATTY BATTENBERG BELITTLES BELSEN

  BATTENBERG: HOLOCAUST NEVER HAPPENED

  And my favourite, from the Sun:

  BATTEN-BERK

  Sunday 22nd April

  It’s been a whirlwind few days. I’ve had so many phone calls and visits from people about the book.

  Rosencrantz, Oscar and Wayne came over for dinner on Thursday, asking me to sign their copies of Agent Fergie.

  ‘I was going to give you all copies,’ I said.

  ‘We wanted to support you Mum,’ said Rosencrantz.

  ‘A genuine first edition Mrs P!’ said Wayne clasping the book to his chest.

  Marika and Milan came for dinner on Friday night. Milan was very sweet and brought a pile of copies for me to sign for the guys who work for him.

  Adam bought me an enormous bunch of flowers, Angie sent a silk pashmina from Thailand.

  Chris sent an orchid and a basket of fruit, apologising that he was stuck in Kent trying to keep order as the family argued over the will…

  Ethel barged in with another spare key, and brought some dehydrated sachets of Angel Delight, which were only just past their sell by date. Meryl phoned to say congratulations, and that as soon as Agent Fergie was in the library in Hampstead, she’d read it (I presume this means she is staying put with Daniel and Jennifer). Tony rang, asking when Agent Fergie will be released in Mandarin. Mai Ling is keen to read it.

  Chloe rang to ask if I had heard from Regina Battenberg, she has apparently gone into hiding (like she’d hide at my place). She also said that Agent Fergie is already being re-printed and rolled out to even more bookshops!

  Wednesday 25th April

  Agent Fergie remains at number one. The book is now everywhere: Waterstones, WH Smith, even the Tesco Metro has it as you walk in the store. However, our happiness was short -lived. This evening we discovered Tabitha has done a runner. She’s moved out of the flat owing all the rent for April, and she’s left unpaid bills galore. I’m selling a huge amount of books, but when I phoned Chloe she said that the royalties won’t start coming through until next January at the earliest.

  We went round to the flat this evening. All her furniture has gone, but she’s left a huge gouge across the wooden floor in the living room, rotting food in the fridge, unwashed pans in the sink. The bathroom sink was stained with hair dye and the toilet nearly made me throw up.

  ‘Don’t touch any of it,’ said Adam as I started cleaning. ‘I should have listened to you. I’ll sort this out.’

  Thursday 26th April

  Adam got up very early, got dressed and said he was going out.

  ‘Where?’ I said.

  ‘I don’t know. But by this evening, I’m going to have a solution for all this. I promise.’

  He gave me a kiss and left the house. I didn’t hear from him all day, then around five he phoned to say he was meeting a friend who had a lead on a possible job.

  I tried to watch TV but couldn’t settle. Around eight thirty pm Daniel phoned.

  ‘Cokes. Your husband just served me and Jennifer in The Hop & Grape in Covent Garden…’

  ‘What?’ I said.

  ‘Adam. He just served me with a pint and Jennifer a vodka and tonic.’ I heard Jennifer mumble in the background.

  ‘Sorry, Slimline tonic…’

  I didn’t know what to say.

  ‘Coco, did you know about this?’

  I paused.

  ‘Sorry the baby just gave me a kick,’ I said. ‘Yes, he’s doing very well at the…’

  ‘Hop & Grape,’ said Daniel.

  ‘Yes, The Hop & Grape.’

  There was another pause and I tried to recover.

  ‘What are you doing in Covent Garden?’ I asked.

  ‘Jennifer is home for the weekend. She came to watch me busk. I made sixteen quid in one hour.’

  I remembered Daniel making the same in 1985. I wondered if his playing had got worse or people stingier. I think he could read my thoughts because he added,

  ‘Bar work is what? Six quid an hour?’

  ‘What’s your point Daniel? That you’re earning more than Adam?’

  ‘Well, now you’ve said it…’

  ‘Have fun,’ I said and I hung up on him. I tried to call Adam, but his phone was switched off. I tried Marika and Chris but they were both busy too. Then I phoned Rosencrantz.

  ‘Hey Muuuum!’ he said. He sounded a bit tipsy.

  ‘Hi love. What are you doing?’

  ‘I’m just putting some highlights in Oscar’s hair, then we’re off out for a farewell meal at Wagamama.’

  ‘Why is it farewell?’

  ‘I’ve just got a part in Hollyoaks,’ said Oscar excitedly in the background. ‘It’s a month’s work.’

  ‘Keep still,’ snapped Rosencrantz. ‘I need to pull your hair through all these tiny tiny holes…’

  ‘Ow! I said I’d go and have it done professionally, are you okay to do this?’ said Oscar.

  ‘I’m fine, but of course you can afford it now you’re working,’ said Rosencrantz.

  I didn’t want to get involved with their bickering, so I wished Oscar luck and said goodbye. I checked my watch. It was now nine. Rocco barked and tugged at my trouser leg. I pulled a cardigan and slippers on, went to the French windows and let him out. A bloated moon loomed above the garden, casting an orangey glow. Rocco did a few laps, barking up at it then stopped and did his business. I heard the sound of a helicopter and looked up as it moved over the house, lights winking. Rocco barked again. The London skyline loomed around us and I heard Mrs Cohen open a window, then slam a door, which is code for keep your dog quiet!

  ‘Piss off you silly cow,’ I said under my breath. She appeared at her upstairs window. We gave each other a fake wave then she yanked the curtains shut.

  Maybe we could move, I thought. But where and how? This is the time when I need a good hospital and doctor and we need good schools. The weight of everything ahead came pressing down on me. Why did life have to be so complicated? I thought when I got to number one with my book, I’d have made it. I’d be sorted. How could I have been so naive? They say God only throws problems at those who are equipped to deal with them, so I should feel it’s a compliment. Rocco finished what he was doing and trotted back indoors. I stayed outside for a moment. There is something about staring at the night sky in the quiet; it seems like all the answers are there for the taking. You just need to work out what they are. I squinted a moment longer willing a solution to pop into my head, but the only thing that came to me was how the Gherkin building looks like a giant dildo. Rocco re-appeared in the doorway, took the hem of my cardigan and gave it a pull. I looked down at his beautiful brown eyes and furry face, and I came in.

  I lay back on the sofa and drifted off to asleep. I woke up with the telly still on, as Adam came in. It was 2am. I went and gave him a huge cuddle.

  ‘Thank you.’ I said.

  ‘For what?’

  ‘For taking a crappy bar job.’

  ‘Daniel?’

  ‘Yes, phoned me with glee. Why didn’t you tell me?’

  ‘You would h
ave persuaded me not to, but now I’m on the payroll and it’s fine. Six quid an hour plus tips.’

  ‘British people don’t tip.’

  ‘Yeah, it’s pretty much six quid an hour. But it’s cool. I worked out that after a week we’ll have enough to buy half a travel system.’

  ‘A buggy?’

  ‘Yeah.’

  I smiled at him, and he went off to have a shower. It was both inspiring and depressing. He used to earn five times that in the Civil Service, and even that was hardly enough to live a life in London. Adam went straight to bed but I couldn’t sleep.

  Sunday 29th April

  Adam’s shifts have been worked out for the next two weeks, and he gets one day off. I’ve hardly seen him. Tonight I decided to go and visit him at The Hop & Grape.

  I went during a lull between the lunchtime and evening rush, but it was still full of tourists and a couple of depressed buskers; thankfully Daniel wasn’t one of them. Adam was working with another tall scrawny guy who can’t have been more than eighteen and didn’t have a clue about bar work. Adam had just pulled a couple of pints of bitter for two elderly American men, who couldn’t fathom why bitter was served warm.

  ‘Hey can we get some ice?’ asked one of them. Adam filled an ice bucket from below the bar and the two guys reached over and plopped handfuls into their bitter.

  I was about to go and say hello, when a tiny woman emerged from a door behind the bar. She had bug eyes and a shaved head, which contrasted weirdly with her bright red lipstick. She pulled Adam to one side.

  ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ she asked. Adam looked around as the American guys leaned over the bar, poured a little of their pints into the drip trays, and added more ice.

  ‘Bishop’s Bell-end is meant to be served at room temperature!’ she said.

  ‘They asked for ice.’

  ‘What if a representative from the brewery came in right now?’

  ‘They’d see how much those guys are enjoying their bell-ends,’ grinned Adam.

  ‘No. They’ll say we’re not serving the drinks properly.’

  ‘Then I’d tell the representatives the guys asked for the ice.’

  ‘You don’t get it Adam, the representatives don’t come and talk to us, they work anonymously. They come in and they report back.’

  ‘Sally, you’re being paranoid…’

  ‘Watch your mouth. My arse is on the line with the Bishop’s Bell End.’ I laughed. Sally looked up and turned her attention to me.

  ‘Can I help you, madam?’

  ‘Hi. I’m Adam’s wife,’ I said leaning over the bar and offering my hand.

  ‘Adam didn’t tell me he had a wife. What do you do?’

  ‘I’m a writer. And we’re expecting a baby.’

  ‘Shit Adam, you’d better get back to work. Those tips don’t earn themselves.’

  Adam nodded and went off.

  ‘Do you want a drink love?’ asked Sally.

  ‘Yes, I’ll have a tomato juice,’ I said feeling thrown, and sounding like Dot from Eastenders. In a practised move she pulled down a glass, reached for a bottle, opened and poured it.

  ‘It’s on the house,’ she said, and she disappeared through the doorway behind the bar. I sat sipping my vile drink as the bar suddenly filled up with office workers and impatient pre-theatre goers. Adam and the skinny guy were rushed off their feet, and I felt my comfortable spot at the bar being slowly squeezed by the throngs waiting two-, and then three-deep to be served. When it got really busy, Sally came out to help, and then a couple more young people arrived.

  Adam seemed to really enjoy himself. He had a good banter with the customers, and looked like he was having fun. In the end I came home, oddly jealous.

  May

  Tuesday 1st May

  The baby seems to be on a different schedule to me. He was wide awake all night wiggling around inside me. At five thirty, when the sun started streaming through the bedroom window I gave up trying to sleep and came down to the kitchen.

  When Adam came down at eight, I was standing by the toaster, on my fifth piece of toast. I noticed he was wearing his work uniform.

  ‘You’re working again?’ I said dismayed.

  ‘We need the money. And you didn’t want to do anything.’

  ‘I never said that.’

  ‘Well, you didn’t say you wanted to do anything… What do you want to do?’

  ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen you properly in ages. London is going to be full of people having fun in the sun.’

  Adam came over and put his arms round me.

  ‘I’m doing this for us, you know.’

  ‘I know,’ I said. ‘I just miss you.’

  ‘I miss you too.’ He kissed me on the top of my head and grabbed his bag.

  ‘But you enjoy it at the bar, don’t you?’ I said.

  ‘It’s okay, yes. It’s fun to do a job with very little responsibility… is that wrong?’ he added seeing my face.

  ‘No.’

  ‘Ok. Good. I have to go hun.’

  ‘Bye,’ I said turning back to the toaster and slotting in more bread. I didn’t turn round until he had gone. I knew I was being horrible, but I couldn’t stop myself.

  Adam phoned me late in the afternoon to say he’d been asked to do a double shift. I was a little cool, especially when I heard a young girl’s voice calling him in the background.

  ‘Who’s that?’ I asked.

  ‘Becky,’ said Adam.

  ‘Becky who?’

  ‘Um, I dunno, she’s Becky. She works here too…’

  ‘I’m Becky Jones,’ came her voice in the background.

  ‘Sorry Becky Jones,’ teased Adam. ‘She’s called…’

  ‘I heard,’ I snapped. ‘How old is she?’

  ‘Not sure. Do you want me to ask?’ said Adam.

  ‘No! God no, don’t you dare. And don’t answer like I asked you. Just say yes or no… Is she twenty five?’

  ‘I dunno.’

  ‘Is she in her twenties?’

  ‘I think so.’

  ‘Is she…?’

  ‘Coco, what’s up? I can just ask her…’ said Adam.

  ‘Shhhh. You idiot. Now she’ll know I’ve been asking. Look I have to go.’

  I hung up and felt stupid. Why can’t I stop being such a cow?

  When Adam got in at two in the morning. I pretended to be asleep. He slid under the covers and started to snore within minutes. I got up to use the loo and saw he’d left his work uniform on the floor. I picked up the trousers; the pockets were empty apart from a little piece of foil that fell out.

  I picked it up.

  The piece of foil was silver with two letters written in blue, ‘ex’. Something about the writing was familiar. I took the foil into the bathroom and scrabbled around in the cabinet and found a condom. The ‘ex’ was the the last two letters of ‘durex.’

  I stared at it for a long moment. I didn’t have the energy to shout and scream and what if he told me he was cheating? Could he be cheating with that girl? He’s so sexy… I’d been alone in the house all afternoon with just the thoughts in my head driving me bonkers… If I did find out he was cheating, I’d have to throw him out. I couldn’t face any of that, so I got into bed and put my arm round him.

  Thursday 3rd May

  I came round to the flat today. We’d hired a team of cleaners who’ve been in and scrubbed away the mess Tabitha left. Adam has seen sense and hired an estate agent to find new tenants. It is now echoing, empty, and costing us money.

  There was a pile of post on the mat and I sorted through the bills and junk. There was also a big plain jiffy bag addressed to ‘Ms Tabitha Mycock’. I tore it open, and it was full of Piña Colada flavoured condoms. Who drinks Piña Colada these days, let alone wants one served up via a penis? The image of Tabitha stark naked came back to me and I was suddenly scared to be alone in the flat. I grabbed the post and ran out.

  When I got onto the street I paused by the door and y
anked off the little picture of hearts she’d inserted above the bell. Not only has she left us with unpaid bills, she’d taken away all the happy memories of that flat. It’s where Adam and I had our first date. It also reminded me of the condom wrapper I’d found in his pocket.

  He got home late again.

  Friday 4th May

  I still haven’t said anything about the condom foil, and I threw Tabitha’s big jiffy bag of Piña Colada condoms away. By the time I’ve had the baby and want to have sex again they’ll have passed their use by date. And there would be something disturbing about using another woman’s condoms. Adam called me from work this morning.

  ‘I’ve got news,’ he said.

  ‘The estate agent found us a tenant? Already?’

  ‘Um, no, Cokes. I’ve just had Nanette on the phone,’ he said.

  ‘Your ex-wife Nanette?’

  ‘Yes… She’s coming to stay with Holly. That’s my daughter Holly.’

  ‘Ha ha very funny,’ I said.

  ‘She’s coming tomorrow.’

  ‘Tomorrow!’

  ‘For a week.’

  ‘A week?’

  ‘Is that a problem, Cokes?’

  ‘She could have given us some notice, there’s no time to prepare.’

  ‘She’s got a meeting with a gallery in London and she wants to come and introduce herself, before the baby arrives.’

  I started to say something, but he said he had to go. I tried his mobile and the bar phone but no one was picking up. He is always at work, we never seem to have a conversation so I got dressed, and went to The Hop & Grape in Covent Garden for eleven thirty, hoping we could talk. I arrived just as Sally the landlady was opening the door. She must shave her head every day with clippers. Her white scalp shows through a fine dark stubble. Her attire was just as striking: huge gold hoop earrings, long false eyelashes and a pillar-box-red lipstick. She was wearing a Japanese print smock dress and those funky trainers where there is a little compartment for each toe.

 

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