The coco pinchard boxset.., p.93
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.93

           Robert Bryndza

  “What?” said Marika.

  The living room door flew open and Meryl stood there in her housecoat winding up the hoover cord.

  “Tony! What are you doing?”

  Tony leapt away from Marika, and I introduced her to Meryl.

  “Oh, you’re a foreigner, how interesting. Nice to meet you… Don’t flush the downstairs loo, I’ve only just put Harpic down. Don’t go in the kitchen, the floor’s wet, and you’d better steer clear of the lounge too, I’ve just shampooed the carpet. It was a bit of a fright, Coco.”

  Marika looked confused as Meryl leant in and kissed us both.

  “You were bloody quick, Auntie Meryl,” said Rosencrantz.

  “No toilet language, please Rosencrantz,” she said.

  “That’s nothing, Auntie Meryl, apparently I said loads of rude words in the school Nativity play!”

  “He’s joking,” I said, putting my hand over his little mouth.

  Meryl pushed past Daniel with the hoover.

  “Right, I’ll get cracking on your pelmets, Coco. Tony, you can make yourself useful and find the crevice tool!”

  He leapt to attention and followed Meryl up the stairs.

  I looked at Daniel.

  “What are they doing here?” I hissed. He shifted, trying to get comfortable with his leg poking out. “Couldn’t you have pretended to be out?”

  “She heard me watching Countdown,” he said.

  “Who fancies a swift one on the corner?” I suggested. “If she’s going to clean, we might as well let her get on with it.”

  “Yeah, I’m spitting feathers,” said Daniel, rising awkwardly.

  “What? What’s a swift one on the corner? And why would it have feathers? asked Marika anxiously.

  “Mummy means do you want to have a booze drink at the pub on the corner, and Daddy said he’s thirsty. I’m coming too, but I’m only going to have a children’s drink,” said Rosencrantz, taking Marika’s hand. “Come on, I’ll look after you,” he added. Marika grinned.

  Even though the pub was close, it took a while to help Daniel hobble the short way there. I ordered wine for Marika and me, a pint for Daniel, and Vimto and crisps for Rosencrantz. We sat at a cosy table in the corner.

  “I know that bloody is toilet language,” announced Rosencrantz, fiddling with his straw. “I only say it to make Auntie Meryl mad. She’s funny when she’s mad. So who the bloody hell are you?” he added to Marika.

  “Now that’s enough, Rosencrantz!” I said. “This is Marika, my new friend from school, and she is very nice.”

  “Yes, you do look very nice, in fact you are very pretty,” said Rosencrantz, looking at Marika through his straw as if it were a telescope.

  Marika smiled and blew down the straw.

  “Got you,” she grinned.

  “You did!” smiled Rosencrantz, offering her a crisp.

  “You’re in there, Marika,” said Daniel. “He never offers anyone a crisp.”

  I had started to relax and we were on our second round when Marika came with me to the cigarette machine. As I fed in two-pound coins and selected Marlboro Lights, I suddenly heard the Thunderbirds theme tune. We looked up at the TV in the corner of the bar. The Channel Four news headlines had just begun, and they were still running with the Tracy Island shortage.

  “Bugger, bugger, bollocks!” I exclaimed, grabbing my fags out of the machine. “I’ve left the bloody Tracy Island plans at school! I never got them from Mr Wednesday!”

  “I thought you went to his classroom?”

  “I did, long story.”

  Marika checked her watch. “Will anyone still be there?”

  We looked at each other and realised not.

  We went back over to the table and I gave Rosencrantz a pound, and told him to knock himself out on the Pac-Man machine in the corner. When he was out of earshot, I told Daniel what had happened, leaving out all the bits about Mr Wednesday not having his shirt on.

  “Do you have the number for the caretaker?” asked Daniel.

  “No, he’s gone to Devon to see his sister,” said Marika. “What about The Ripper?”

  “Call him away from home on the first night he’s had with his family in months? No way,” I said.

  “I could phone him,” offered Marika.

  “No, you don’t want him getting funny with you. I think I could get in and out. I know a way into the school grounds and the back door to my classroom has a broken lock. It’s usually open.”

  “Break in?” said Daniel.

  “It’s not breaking in when the lock is broken already,” I pointed out

  “You’re mad, Coco,” he said.

  “Am I?” I rounded on him. “What I think I am is a desperate mother whose husband is laid up with a broken leg. We have nothing for Christmas, and I am not seeing our son’s little face on Christmas Day anything other than happy.”

  We looked over at Rosencrantz on the Pac-Man machine. He was standing on the small stool the landlord put there for the tiny kids, and his excited face was lit up by the yellow light of the game.

  “Ok. What should I do?” he said.

  “Just look after Rosencrantz.”

  “I’ll come with you,” said Marika, downing the rest of her wine.

  “No, it’s risky,” I told her.

  “You are the first person in England who has treated me like a friend and I always think you should help your friends, so let’s go.”

  Tony appeared in the doorway, looking in need of a drink.

  “So this is where you’re all hiding!” he grinned. “Thought I’d leave Meryl to it, she’s cleaning your skirting boards with a toothbrush.”

  “Tony can help you hobble back across the road if we’re gone for ages,” I said.

  “Yes, will do!” said Tony.

  I kissed Daniel on top of his head, slipped Tony a tenner for more drinks, and me and Marika went out into the darkness.

  “How should we do this?” she asked as we picked our way along the pavement. It was now coated in a thin film of ice.

  “We should go on foot,” I said. “There’s a gap in the side of the playing field fence.”

  “How do you know?” asked Marika, moving faster to keep up with me.

  “I overheard Kelly Roffey tell Damian Grange they could meet there.”

  “Romantic…” said Marika.

  Arriving at St Duke’s, the front gates were locked, and the orange street lights reflected off the bike sheds by the gate. The long squat building at the end of the drive was in darkness. We hurried past a row of terraced houses next to the school, and at the last house we turned down an alleyway leading along the perimeter of the school fields. It was dark and quiet.

  “Coco!” hissed Marika. I turned and couldn’t see her. “Coco, I’m stuck,” she hissed again.

  I tracked back to where Marika’s coat was caught on a giant bramble, now dead but still with fearsome spikes.

  “You should be able to pull free,” I whispered.

  “This is my only coat,” she said.

  I couldn’t see her face properly but she sounded embarrassed. I gingerly grasped the long twisting bramble and unhooked Marika without doing her coat any damage. We carried on, down the side of the terraced houses, past dark gardens, and found the hole in the fence leading to the school playing fields. I held it open for Marika and she squeezed through. I followed and we ran, hunched over, across the wide, dark expanse of the school playing fields, towards the main school building.

  We passed the long, tall windows of the assembly hall reflecting the wisps of cloud above, and then moved round to the art room. The huge chimney from the kiln cast its long shadow on the mini courtyard outside the door. I stopped and peered into the dark windows.

  “Where could he have put it?” I said. Marika joined me at the window.

  “Did he want to put it in your pigeon hole?” she asked.

  “Yeah, but I told him I was married.”

  “What?” she hissed.

/>   “Oh. The pigeon holes by the main entrance, you mean. For internal mail. Yes, he might have.”

  “Don’t make me laugh, Coco, I’ll wet myself,” she giggled.

  I tried the door, but it was locked.

  “We need to go round to my classroom,” I said.

  We crouched down and ran along the back of the building, past the science labs and the school canteen where the bins were giving off a foul odour, even in the cold. We rounded the building and reached my classroom. I peered in the window. The room was dark and silent. I gripped the door handle and gently turned: the door opened a crack. Marika made to go in.

  “You should stay outside,” I said. “What if we get caught?”

  “Who is going to catch you? The place is empty. There aren’t burglar alarms, are there?”

  “No,” I whispered. “The Ripper never turns them on after they went off accidentally a few times one weekend.”

  The door creaked as I opened it and we slipped inside. I closed it softly behind us, and we tiptoed between chairs stacked on rows of desks. Halfway along my handbag became tangled on a leg of one of the chairs and it fell off the table, hitting the floor with a crash. The door to my classroom was open and it echoed along the hall. We froze as the echo subsided. I was shaking and so was Marika.

  “It’s okay,” she whispered. “We’re the only ones here.”

  Carefully I picked up the chair, turned it over and placed it gently back on the desk.

  We crept out of my classroom and along the dark corridors. When we reached the doors to the assembly hall we stopped to catch our breath. I grimaced as the handle squealed, and the door creaked open. Long windows stretched all the way along one wall from floor to ceiling. The full moon lit the vast room.

  “Let’s be quick,” I whispered. “It’s so bright. People might see us!”

  Halfway across the vast parquet floor of the hall, a huge cloud sailed in front of the moon, plunging us into darkness.

  “I can’t see anything!” whispered Marika.

  I slowed and reached back, grabbing her hand. We fumbled our way to the other side of the hall, squealing when we made contact with the branches of the giant Christmas tree. We jumped back as it swayed and a lone bauble fell off, bouncing away on the dark floor like a ping-pong ball.

  We finally made it out of the hall and along to Mr Wednesday’s classroom in the art department. The moon came back out and we approached Mr Wednesday’s desk. There was nothing on it. The moonlight reflected off the polished wood. We stood for a moment looking at the driftwood of the abandoned still life.

  “He probably put it in your pigeon hole then?” whispered Marika.

  I gulped: the pigeonholes would mean another trip across the school to the front entrance. We slipped quietly out of the Art department, back through dark corridors. The school was starting to give me the creeps. All this empty space. Marika must have felt the same because she grabbed hold of my hand.

  We arrived at the school canteen, passing rows of tables, and then we were through to the reception area. The wall of staff pigeonholes was opposite Miss Marks’s desk. We were about to start poking around in the pigeonholes when we heard the main entrance door open and someone hit the lights. They blared on and we squinted against the brightness. Voices were coming towards us, fast, and we rushed down the corridor toward The Ripper’s office. The door was closed but the little kitchenette opposite was open. We dived in and ducked down under a work surface to one side, between two big boxes of Styrofoam cups. We got there just in time as The Ripper walked past with Miss Marks!

  Marika grabbed my hand again and dug her nails in. I bit my lip; we were both trembling. We heard the clinking of a big bunch of keys and The Ripper unlocked his office. They went inside, and the door closed. I leaned round the box, but the door opened again. I pressed my back against the wall. They stopped outside the kitchenette.

  “How long have we got?” asked Miss Marks breathlessly. “Will I get to see you over Christmas?”

  Marika and I looked at each other outraged. Miss Marks was a home wrecker!

  “You can come to my flat,” she went on. “I put Mother down for a nap in the afternoons, so we’ll have privacy.”

  She sounded quite desperate.

  “I want you. Now,” he growled.

  “Where do you want to do it? The vaulting block in the gymnasium?” she suggested.

  There was a slurping sound. Ugh. Miss Marks was kissing The Ripper!

  “How about the biology lab? You want me to be your naughty gynaecologist?” growled The Ripper.

  “That’s my classroom,” mouthed Marika with a disgusted look on her face.

  I was now terrified. What if they caught us? There were more slobbering, snogging noises and growling sounds. Then there was silence. We sat sweating for a few minutes, then a few minutes more. “I’m going to look,” I mouthed.

  I peered round the boxes a fraction: they weren’t in the doorway. I got up and slowly moved to the door, peeped round, but they had gone. I beckoned for Marika. We crept out and over to the pigeonholes. I found mine and, sure enough, tucked inside were the plans for Tracy Island.

  “Let’s get out of here,” said Marika, still terrified.

  We made to leave, and then I noticed my Tracy Island on Miss Marks’s desk! I went over to it and ran my finger along the cellophane. The box was so colourful, the picture of the toy island was so glossy and striking.

  “This is what he must have come back for,” I said. “He’d forgotten it.”

  “Or he used it as an excuse to get out of the house,” said Marika.

  “I went through so much to get this,” I said wistfully.

  Making one out of old junk was going to be such a let-down for Rosencrantz. I looked over my shoulder and back at the box. I lifted it off the desk.

  “You’re going to take it?” gasped Marika.

  “Why not? What can he prove?”

  “Coco, you’d be crazy!”

  “No, it’s perfect, he hasn’t seen us. He couldn’t prove which member of staff it was.”

  “But he knows you gave it to him and—”

  “And what?” I interrupted.

  I was going to do this. I was going to take it back from the cheating bastard. It was pleasingly heavy in my hand.

  “They’re coming back!” warned Marika.

  Through the glass of the canteen doors The Ripper and Miss Marks came round the corner of the tables, walking hand in hand.

  “Put it down Coco, and run!” hissed Marika.

  Devastated, I put Tracy Island back and we ran, down the corridor and out of the front entrance, which thankfully was open. We dived through the hedges and ran across the playing fields to the gap in the fence, and then we were out and in the dark alley. We stopped to catch our breath. I was in tears.

  “We got the plans, Coco,” said Marika, giving me a hug. But it didn’t make me feel better.

  We trudged past the terrace houses and towards the front of the school. Suddenly The Ripper’s car was coming down the drive and approaching the school gates. We looked around for somewhere to hide. Then a hearse came purring out of the darkness and pulled up beside the kerb. The tinted window slid down.

  “I thought you might need a getaway vehicle,” said Meryl, leaning over to peer through the window, still wearing her curlers. “Daniel and Tony came home and told me what you were up to.”

  I yanked open the passenger door, but Marika hesitated. The Ripper’s car was now almost at the gates.

  ‘It’s all right, dear, there’s no dead body in the back. There was this morning, but she’s now safely tucked away, six feet under,” trilled Meryl.

  “Get in, Marika!” I hissed. We piled in and shut the door, just as The Ripper’s car headlights reached us, illuminating the hearse.

  “Where to?” asked Meryl, as if we’d just completed a bank heist.

  “The pub,” I said, clutching the Tracy Island plans to my chest.

es, I could do with a swift one. I am spitting feathers,” said Marika. We sank back against the leather seat in relief and laughed.

  Wednesday 23rd December

  It turned into quite a fun evening. We had some drinks and a bite to eat. Afterwards, I walked Marika over to Baker Street tube station and thanked her again for joining in the St Duke’s heist.

  “Think about coming for Christmas Day,” I said. “I’d love you to be there.”

  “No, Christmas is a time for family,” she said.

  “Christmas is a time for wanting to kill my family,” I corrected her, but she wasn’t having any of it. I watched as she went down the escalator and wished she wasn’t so bloody proud.

  When I got home, everyone was asleep. I kissed Rosencrantz good night and then found Daniel had returned to the marital bed, his plaster cast hanging off the end, and he was snoring loudly. I undressed, climbed in beside him and was asleep in seconds.

  There was a knock on the bedroom door at six this morning. I thought it was Rosencrantz, but then I heard Meryl whispering, asking if I was ‘decent’.

  I left Daniel sleeping and came to the door. She was in her long button-up nightie and holding the plans for Tracy Island with her reading glasses perched on her nose.

  “Coco, we need to talk,” she whispered.

  “Now? It’s early—”

  “Now!,” insisted Meryl.

  We came downstairs to the living room, and she closed the door, putting a chair under the door handle. On the sofa was a notebook full of her scribblings, and a video of Blue Peter’s ‘How to make Tracy Island’ was paused on the television. All of Rosencrantz’s Thunderbirds figures and toys were lined up on the coffee table.

  “Where did you get that video from?”

  “Mandy from Handy Mandy Crafts in Milton Keynes. Mandy was happy to help. She was very pleased with the job Tony did burying her mother.”

  “That’s very generous of her,” I said.

  “Now, Coco. We’re dealing with papier mâché,” said Meryl gravely.

  “That’s easy, isn’t it? Just glue and old newspaper?” I said.

  “Papier mâché may be slap-dash in its execution, but it needs time to dry. We’ve got barely forty-eight hours until Rosencrantz comes running down those stairs to see what Father Christmas has left him.”

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