The coco pinchard boxset.., p.88
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.88

           Robert Bryndza
 

  “This is a very clear picture of your husband, Mrs Pinchard. I have met him twice and I can recognise him. So?”

  “I suppose it could be him. Although, what he was doing at that lay-by…”

  “It could be him? If so, who would this woman be he’s got his arm around, if it wasn’t you?”

  “Ooh, I’m going to have words with him when I get home!” I grinned manically. I started to sweat.

  “This is not the time to joke!” he said, slamming his hand down on the polished wood, making me jump.

  Say something normal! a voice screamed in my head. But I just sat there and looked guilty. The Ripper swallowed and sat back in his chair. The silence was deafening.

  “Was the Christingle assembly a success?” I chirruped eventually.

  “Was the Christingle assembly a success, WAS THE CHRISTINGLE ASSEMBLY A SUCCESS?” he roared.

  “Is that a yes?” I said.

  The Ripper went a funny shade of purple and tried to compose himself.

  “Your form was unsupervised, and started throwing Christingle oranges at the choir,” he growled. “They changed the words from ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’ to ‘Wanking In A Winter Wonderland’ and one boy asked the Lady Mayoress to show him her fanny.”

  “And what did she do?” I heard myself ask. Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut?

  “Well, she didn’t, OBVIOUSLY, MRS PINCHARD!” shouted The Ripper, losing it again. He stood up and thumped his desk.

  “SO I’LL ASK YOU AGAIN. WHERE WERE YOU YESTERDAY?”

  I reacted like a naughty year eight pupil caught smoking behind the bike sheds: I sang like a canary. I blurted out that I had done what any mother would have done, and I had gone to track down a Tracy Island toy for Christmas. I waited to hear that I was sacked but…

  “You’ve got a Tracy Island?” he said sharply.

  ‘Yes.”

  “A genuine one?”

  “Yes.”

  He stood and went to the window. He lifted the blind for a moment, then let it drop.

  “Look, Mrs Pinchard,” he said evenly. “I also have a son. A son I rarely see due to the pressures of being a headmaster.”

  “So you must understand, Headmaster,” I pleaded.

  He was composed now. He came and sat back at his desk. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a file. I noticed it had my name on the front.

  “I’m having to make some difficult decisions about St Duke’s. We’re experiencing budget cuts and I have to make a teacher redundant.”

  “I thought Miss Bruce was retiring?”

  “Only if she decides to… If not, I have to make a tough decision. One teacher will be getting a P45 for Christmas.”

  “Are you threatening me?” I frowned.

  “No, no, no,” he said as if I were a silly little girl. “You are an able teacher, popular with pupils. But, I have a great deal of able teachers who are just as popular, and when I make my decision I have to be fair. I have to look at things like attendance records, and of course you are one of our newest staff members. So…” He tapped the file against his teeth.

  “So?” I asked.

  He pulled the newspaper toward him and twisted it round.

  “So I wish I’d known about those Tracy Islands. Getting one for Christmas would make my son happy, my wife happy, and, naturally, me happy. And when I’m happy I’m a much more reasonable Headmaster,” he said. He was now calm, collected. Then the penny dropped.

  “You want me to give you the Tracy Island?” I said. He kept staring at me. “No. No, NO, I’m sorry, Headmaster. This is my son’s Christmas present. Please. No…”

  He kept staring at me with his cold eyes. I jumped when the bell rang to signal morning registration. Miss Marks knocked and came in.

  “Mr Sutcliffe, I’ve got the Lady Mayoress on the phone, asking about the written apology?”

  “Yes, thank you, Miss Marks. I was just discussing the pupil in question with Mrs Pinchard.” He turned his attention back to me. “I’ll need that written apology on my desk by lunchtime, and think carefully about what we discussed.”

  I nodded and tried to compose myself. Picking up my bag I left his office.

  I had to give my class a dressing down when what I really wanted was to tell them well done for trashing The Ripper’s Christingle assembly. When morning break came round I went to the ladies loos near the domestic science block, which are always empty. I locked myself in a cubicle and had a good cry. I didn’t hear anyone come in, and was surprised when there was a knock on the cubicle door. I froze. The knock came again.

  “Yes?” I said.

  “Mrs Pinchard, is that you? Are you all right?” asked Miss Rolincova in her Slovak accent.

  “Yes, I’m fine, thank you,” I said.

  There was a pause.

  “You don’t sound fine, you are crying your head off.”

  Bloody woman, I thought, bugger off.

  “No I’m fine, really,” I insisted.

  “There is much chatterings in the staffroom about you pretending to be sick from work yesterday. And they are all passing round a newspaper with a picture of you in it.”

  I wiped my eyes, undid the lock, and opened the door. Miss Rolincova was perched on the line of sinks. She offered me a tissue.

  “Thanks,” I said, taking the tissue and blowing my nose. “So everybody knows?”

  She nodded. “They say The Ripper caught you bonking off.”

  “It’s bunking – bunking off,” I said. “And yes, I was caught.”

  “I have never properly introduced myself. I’m Marika,” she said smiling.

  “I’m Coco.” She nodded and we shook hands. “What else are they saying?” I asked.

  “Who cares what else they’re saying. That old crone who eats perished fruit is, as usual, being a bitch, and Mr Gutteridge, who smells like urine, was agreeing you should be given the sack. What is this sack? Some kind of bag?”

  “It means I’ll be fired. I’ll lose my job,” I said.

  “Ah, sorry.… Fuck. My English, I feel it will never get better.”

  “You speak really good English,” I told her, wiping my eyes with the tissue.

  “My God, woman!” she cried.

  “What?” I said, peering into the mirror. “Oh…”

  My tears had uncovered my black eye. I told her about slipping over on a pile of exercise books. She pulled a little pencil case out of her handbag, made me wash my face, then gently she re-applied my make-up. I couldn’t help but stare at her as she worked. She has a kind face, amazing cheekbones and beautiful long dark hair. She grinned when she was finished and turned me to face the mirrors.

  “Wow,” I said, admiring her handiwork.

  “How do you say? Army paint?”

  “War paint,” I laughed.

  Marika nodded and smiled. “Now you can face the battle,” she said.

  The bell rang out as if it had heard us.

  “What are you doing for lunch?” I asked. “I can’t face the staffroom today. You fancy coming to the caff round the corner? My treat.”

  She hesitated. “Okay, yes.”

  We agreed to meet outside the staffroom, and we dashed off to our respective classes. I was intrigued to go out for lunch with Marika. I’d been teaching at St Duke’s for nearly four months, and she was the first person I felt like I’d connected with. I wonder if she felt the same, or was she just taking pity on me?

  When lunch came round I was nervous. Marika was waiting for me outside the staffroom in her winter coat. As we walked out of school The Ripper was leaning over Miss Marks’s desk and in conversation. He looked up at me.

  “Thank you for the note of apology, Mrs Pinchard. Do think carefully about what I said.” His eyes bored into mine and I shivered.

  Outside it had started to snow, so we took my car the short way to the Italian café. The windows were steamed up, and a row of Christmas lights gave the mist a multi-coloured hue. I ordered lasagna, a gree
n salad, and a large glass of red wine. Marika spent a long time studying the menu and settled on a green salad and a glass of tap water.

  “Aren’t you very hungry?” I asked. She shrugged. “You’re slimming?”

  “Yes,” she said unconvincingly.

  When our food arrived my lasagna was thankfully enormous, so I offloaded a quarter onto Marika, saying that if she didn’t help me it would end up in the bin. We ate quickly and when the plates were cleared away I ordered a coffee and offered her a cigarette. There was a copy of The Sun on the next table and I grabbed it to have a proper look. I told Marika about everything that had happened. She listened attentively. When I finished she was silent. She could see I was uncomfortable and looked back down at the newspaper.

  “Look at this old lady! You can see her knickers when she climbs over this… What do you call this barrier?”

  “The central reservation. That’s Daniel’s mother. My mother-in-law,” I explained.

  “She looks a little crazy.”

  “You don’t know the half of it,” I said. I lit up another cigarette and offered another to Marika. “So how do you get to work?” I asked.

  “The tube train, on the red line from Epping.”

  “You’re living out in Epping? That’s miles away!”

  “I have to get the bus to Epping tube and then I change at Oxford Circus to get up here.”

  “But that must take you ages?”

  “Two hours, sometimes two and half…”

  She smiled and flicked the ash from her cigarette.

  “I’m happy to be here though. It’s hard to get a work permit for England, and teachers at home make nothing.”

  “Did you always want to be a teacher?” I asked.

  “I like kids, well, I thought I did, but the past four months at St Duke’s have made me think again. What about you?” she asked.

  “I had, have… no, had dreams of being a writer but life seems to have got in the way. I had my son four years ago, and then my parents died, leaving me a business which was bankrupt. I had to get serious. I thought teaching English would be bearable, but… St Duke’s is…” I trailed off.

  “No wonder they call it St Puke’s,” grinned Marika.

  I laughed too, adding, “I think you’re the first sane person I’ve met there.”

  “Mr Wednesday, the Art teacher, has been kind,” said Marika.

  “Are you two…?” I asked.

  “No. He is just a friend,” said Marika.

  “He’s rather gorgeous too, but he seems to spend the whole time in his art room and then leaves when the bell goes. Is he married? Gay?”

  “I don’t think he is married. And I have never met a gay man, so I wouldn’t know,” shrugged Marika.

  “You’ve never met a gay man?” I exclaimed.

  Marika shook her head.

  “But we’re in London! Gay men are everywhere!”

  “In Slovakia things like that are kept quiet. It’s a beautiful country but very… religious. Oh, I must sound like such a villager!”

  “No. I was just teasing. In fact, thanks,” I said.

  “For what?”

  “Coming to lunch, listening…”

  Marika grinned.

  “What do you think I should do about The Ripper?” I added.

  “I’d sell him the toy for a big profit,” she said, exhaling cigarette smoke out of the corner of her mouth.

  “But Rosencrantz really, really wants Tracy Island for Christmas.”

  “But this is your job, Coco. Your source of income to live. Can’t you get your son a toy plane or a boat?”

  “You don’t understand,” I sighed.

  “I don’t think you understand, Coco. There is a recession on, you have a job and you are willing to risk it all for a child’s toy? Are material things that important?” When she put it like that I couldn’t argue. “I’m sorry if I am direct, but I am direct with all my friends,” she added.

  “Do you want to be friends?” I said.

  “Yes, you just passed the interview.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “I’m joking,” she grinned. “You are the first person in England I have been to lunch with.”

  “How long have you been in England?”

  “Five months,” she said.

  As we drove back to school I took stock of everything. I realised just how lucky I was.

  When I got home, and whilst Rosencrantz was in the living room watching Noddy’s Adventures In Toyland, I told Daniel what had transpired at school.

  “I’ll knock his bloody block off! What a twat!” said Daniel, reaching for his coat on the back of his chair.

  “Yes, thank you. That will solve all our problems, you punching my boss.”

  “I’m not having him blackmailing my wife!” he said, pulling on his coat.

  “This is how men run the world.” I rolled my eyes. “Smacking each other about because they don’t like what they hear.”

  “Where does he live?”

  “High Barnet.”

  “Oh,” said Daniel, looking at the heavy snow falling outside the kitchen window.

  “Oh! The romance,” I said. “No, Marika is right, I should just sell him the toy at a profit.”

  “That’s giving in!”

  “Don’t you worry, I’ll find a way to get back at him.”

  “But what about Rosencrantz? He’s desperate for Tracy Island. It’s the only thing he wants for Christmas,” said Daniel.

  On cue Rosencrantz came bursting into the kitchen.

  “Mummy! Daddy! Can I have a Bumpy Dog for Christmas?” he asked breathlessly.

  “A Bumpy Dog?” I said.

  “Yes, like the one Noddy has got. He’s white and small and a bit bumpy, but I could train him!”

  Daniel looked at me.

  “Pleeeeeease Mummy and Daddy, can I have a Bumpy Dog for Christmas?” he said, jiggling on the spot in anticipation.

  “What about Tracy Island?” asked Daniel.

  Rosencrantz screwed up his face in concentration and put his hand down the front of his trousers.

  “You don’t need to fiddle with yourself,” I said.

  “Sorry, Mummy, it helps me think. Daddy does it too.”

  “No I don’t,” said Daniel quickly.

  “I think,” said Rosencrantz, “that forty-three percent of me wants a Tracy Island, but a massive four hundred percent of me wants a Bumpy Dog.”

  “But you’ve already written to Father Christmas,” Daniel reminded him. “Ow!” he added as I kicked him under the table.

  “The secretary at my school knows everyone’s number. What if I got her to fax the North Pole, saying you’ve changed your mind and you want a Bumpy Dog?” I suggested.

  “Does Father Christmas have a fax machine?” wondered Daniel.

  “YES, he does,” I said, rounding on him. “He’s got flying reindeer, so it goes without saying he’s got a fax machine.”

  Rosencrantz was looking at us seriously. “So you can ask her, on tomorrow, if she can fax Father Christmas so he can get me a Bumpy Dog?”

  “Yes,” I said.

  “Not too bumpy though, Mummy. I wouldn’t want it to knock Nan over.”

  “Of course,” I said.

  Rosencrantz seemed satisfied and went back to the living room.

  “So as well as not giving him Tracy Island, we’re now promising him a dog?” said Daniel.

  We were quiet for a moment; Daniel put his hand down his trousers deep in thought.

  “Not you too! Leave it alone!” I snapped.

  Thursday 17th December

  I got to school early this morning and asked to see The Ripper in his office. Miss Marks showed me through. He was eating Rice Krispies at his desk with a huge napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt.

  “Ah, Mrs Pinchard,” he said, wiping his mouth and indicating the seat opposite.

  I sat and waited for Miss Marks to bugger off. When she’d gone, I took Tracy Island
out of a carrier bag, and placed it carefully on the desk in front of him.

  A hush seemed to descend on the room, broken by the occasional snap, crackle, and pop from his cereal.

  He pushed the bowl to one side and pulled out a pair of reading glasses. He polished them slowly, then popped them on and began to peer at the box, turning it over. A clock ticked loudly. I felt like I was on the Antiques Roadshow and he was going to tell me what a marvellous find it was.

  “I’m selling it to you for a hundred pounds,” I said.

  Daniel and I had agreed that The Ripper was on a good salary and the bastard could at least cover all of our Christmas booze, plus crackers and a new set of fairy lights.

  “And that’s what you paid for it, Mrs Pinchard? Tracy Island retails at £34.99,” said The Ripper, looking at me over the top of his glasses.

  “You saw the people at the back of that van, Headmaster. The wild-eyed hysteria. The closer we get to Christmas, the more valuable these become,” I said.

  “So it will cost me almost three times as much?”

  “Yes, and during January I won’t be doing playground duty either.”

  He raised his eyebrows and sat back.

  “Are you in a position to negotiate?” he said.

  I noticed beside his phone there was a picture of The Ripper with his family. His wife was small and quite ferocious-looking. His son had an unfortunate mix of their genes. I went to pick up the box. He put his hand on mine.

  “No, hang on, I’m sure something can be arranged,” he said. I shivered and pulled my hand away.

  I left his office with five crisp twenty-pound notes and a promise I wouldn’t have to stand in the cold during January blowing a whistle. I ran to the toilets and thought I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding. That man terrified me. I ran the tap and splashed cold water on my face. I felt complete despair at losing Rosencrantz’s Christmas present, but I would keep my job.

  Right now, if I could get away with it, I could have quite happily killed The Ripper.

  Friday 18th December

  The kids were unbearable at school today, and who could blame them? Christmas was now tantalisingly close. I couldn’t believe we had to come back next week on Monday and Tuesday before the Christmas holidays began.

 
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