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Authors: Louise Wise

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BOOK: A Proper Charlie
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At least Miss Piggy has stopped making that stupid noise.’ Nicole’s tears had quietened to small snuffles. ‘What do you see in her?’

He was surprised by her question. It wasn’t one he had thought about to be honest. His father had arranged their first introduction, and Nicole had slipped into his life as if she’d been around forever – like a scar. They had been seeing one another for several months, and whereas Nicole saw their relationship as potential marriage, Ben saw it as keeping his father off his back.

Donald wanted Ben to settle down and take over the business affairs. And as Ben showed little interest in dating – his head always behind a telescope or inside a book, Donald saw it in his duty to find him girlfriends, and had found him Nicole.

And Ben, being Ben, had accepted it without question.

You let Dad pick your girlfriends just like you let him run your life,’ she continued. ‘He’ll destroy you like he destroyed Mum.’

Ben didn’t answer. She was needling him for a reaction but she wasn’t going to get one. She was hitting out. It was understandable. Even so, her words didn’t rest easy on him.

Not now, Cam,’ Ben begged her. ‘It’s mum’s funeral.’

Please stand for hymn number five hundred and thirty-five;
Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
,’ said Reverend Church, and Camilla fell silent as everybody rose and began turning pages in their books.

Oh, I think I shall faint,’ said Nicole. She fanned herself with her hymnbook. ‘Ben, darling, help me?’

As Ben turned to place an arm around her waist and help her to her feet, Camilla swore beneath her breath and ran from the church as the congregation began to sing. The Reverend had thrown back his head, his robed arms flailing, and was singing with full enthusiasm as Ben mumbled the words from the hymnbook. His gaze fell on the back of his father’s head again. The old man was looking straight ahead and singing with clarity.

Nicole was singing as though Simon Cowell was on a judging panel, and Ben began to edge away, hoping nobody would notice.

Outside, there was no sign of Camilla among the gravestones or trees. He jogged down the gravelled path towards the gates and car park. She had refused to come in the funeral car, and had instead used hers. And now Ben knew why – her car passed him at a crawl.

Her window rolled down. ‘Grow some balls, Ben,’ she said, and then she was gone. Her car disappearing out of the car park as Ben looked on.




harlie sat at her desk submitting stationery orders. Ordering the stationery, arranging interviews and filing were her main tasks alongside fielding insults between Faye and Sarah.

She had only been at
London Core
for six months and within her first week, she knew everybody’s name. She wasn’t nosy, or prone to gossiping, it was just that she loved people; loved being a part of a team. It was a poor substitute for not belonging to a family. She never knew her parents. Her father was marked as ‘unknown’ on her birth certificate, and her mother died a junkie. Apparently, she was lucky to be alive. Worried neighbours reported hearing a cat crying in an empty flat and called the RSPCA.

The RSPCA inspector found a woman dead from a drug overdose and a fretful month old baby lying in a blanket-lined box. The baby had been looked after, and was obviously loved going by its well-fed state and the pretty pink clothes it laid in. A teddy, with a pink bow, was in the box with the baby – the same teddy that now sat on her bed at home.

She was day dreaming. What she needed was an idea, she mused to herself. An idea for a story, and to write it herself! That’d surely boost her chances for being kept on? Charlie beamed as she thought and tapped a pen against her head as her mind thought up, then dismissed, ideas.

What’re you grinning at?’ asked Faye passing her desk.

Charlie didn’t answer; she hadn’t heard. A snake of an idea had slithered into her mind and seemed determined to wriggle away before she could grab hold of it.

Oh, flipping ‘eck, Charl’s thinking!’ shrieked Faye to anyone who was listening.

Melvin swung around, telephone clamped to his ear. ‘Thinking?’ he asked.

Huh?’ Charlie clicked back to the present, and noticed people looking at her.

Melvin laughed at her puzzled face. ‘You were miles away, doll.’

Charlie’s brain finally caught up with what Faye had said, and she turned to haughtily glare at the woman who was ordering a tea, while checking her hair in the metal surround of the vending machine.

I was thinking of a story, actually,’ she said. ‘And it was good!’

Faye looked over. ‘You know, thinking and good, aren’t always in the same room as you, Charlie. Are you sure you just didn’t mistake wind for thinking?’

Melvin burst into laughter, and Charlie tried to look indignant. ‘Oh, shurrup,’ she said, ‘and bring me a coffee.’

Mel!’ Mr Fanton shouted from his office and Melvin’s laughter stopped as if someone had pressed an ‘off’ button. Fanny beckoned him over and he scurried off.

This is it,’ Charlie said. ‘Our P45s.’

You’re worrying over nothing,’ Faye said, bringing over a drink. She sat at her desk saying, ‘Machine’s giving out teas only today so be grateful.’

Ta,’ said Charlie and watched Melvin enter the office, and through the window she could see him and Fanny talking. Melvin didn’t look upset. In fact…

Melvin dashed out of the office and back to his desk looking excited. He searched for something in his drawer.

What’s up?’ Charlie hissed.

Can’t talk now. Busy, busy, busy,’ he said as he rummaged. ‘But the two recent disappearances have been linked together.’

What disappearances?’ asked Charlie, throwing a pen lid at the back of Faye’s head to gain her attention as Melvin scurried away excitedly.

Faye spun round from her computer. ‘Stop frigging throwing things!’ She pulled out the pen lid from her hair and threw it back. It landed on Charlie’s desk. She picked it up and placed it back on her pen.

So what about these disappearances?’

Oh, keep up, Charlie! The prozzie vanishing act,’ Faye said in irritation, and when Charlie just looked blankly at her, she sighed. ‘Have you always been stupid?’

Charlie grinned. ‘No, today is a special occasion.’

Faye controlled a smile as if afraid it might make her look approachable. She cleared her throat. ‘A prostitute went missing back in August and now another’s been reported missing. Get it now? Is there a chink of light in that dark recess for a brain of yours?’

But how are they linked?’ Charlie asked.

Tell me again why McDonald’s didn’t recruit you? Under qualified?’ Faye said, before she swivelled back around on her chair.

Oh, you’re so funny, Faye. A bit like Hitler.’

Well, how would I know how they were linked? I’m not in frigging CID! I suppose it’s because they are all whores. Who knows? Who cares? We’re linking them together!’

Melvin came back looking flushed. ‘Busy, busy, busy,’ he said. ‘We’ve got ourselves a new headline.’ He put his phone on speakerphone and keyed in a number and listened to it ring while typing furiously on his computer. ‘We’ve a possible Jack the Ripper copycat except we’ve no bodies yet,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘We’re going to be the first to leak it. It’ll attract media coverage and will really help pull
out of the rag status. Fanny thinks it’ll be our weapon against Sir Don making redundancies.’

It’s his own redundancy he’s worried about,’ Faye said.

Charlie had sat back in her chair. ‘How do they know the missing women are dead if there aren’t any bodies?’

It’s only a matter of time. The police are treating their disappearances as suspicious. And we’ve the main lead. Ah, Pete…’ he said towards the telephone as the connection was made, he continued to type on the keyboard as he spoke about the missing prostitutes.

Oh, my.’ Charlie’s eyes grew round as an idea trickled into her mind. ‘A prostitute story.’





en opened the French doors and stepped onto the terrace. The leaves on the trees were beginning to turn red and orange; the summer lost to his mother’s illness. Her death had been expected but that didn’t make it any less painful.

Nicole’s still upset,’ Iris, the housekeeper said from behind, causing Ben to jump. The last of the guests had left, and Ben had been hoping Nicole would leave with them. ‘She’s in the loo making sure her makeup is smudged in all the right places.’

Ben’s lips twitched. Iris, God bless her, did not miss a thing. He closed the doors against the chill of the early evening air, and walked back into the crayoning room, so called because as a little girl, Camilla insisted it was better than saying drawing room, and since then, the name stuck.

He fell into a sagging easy-chair and watched as Sandy, the family tortoiseshell cat, strolled over to contemplate whether to jump up on his lap or not. She’d been hiding from the guests, and now felt it safe to show herself again. Ben tapped his lap absently to tempt her, but Sandy sat on her rump, lifted a hind leg and proceeded to clean her bottom instead.

She tried to turn my mother’s funeral around so everyone felt sorry for her. She didn’t even know Mum!’

Nobody fell for it,’ Iris said. She had a black bin bag in one hand and was tossing in rubbish as she walked around the room. The wake had been a simple affair at home: nibbles and cake.

Why’d I let Dad arrange for us to meet? We’re totally unsuited.’

She’s a good catch,’ said Iris.

She’s the daughter of a managing editor from a newspaper in our group. That’s the only reason we’ve been pushed together.’

You’ve a tongue in your head, tell her!’

Iris was another person who thought he should ‘grow some balls’. Camilla’s parting shot still rankled with Ben. Rankled, he supposed, because there was some truth in it. Here he was, a twenty-nine year old man still living in the family home, with a job handed down from his father and a girlfriend found for him by his father. And to top it all, being scolded by his father’s housekeeper!

He scowled, and watched as Sandy looked up from her bottom cleaning, lowered her leg and strolled over to jump up on his lap. He stroked her ginger ear.

Tell her today if that’s how you feel,’ Iris said. ‘The longer you leave it the harder it’ll become.’ Iris believed in speaking your mind, and that was probably why she always felt exasperated with him in allowing his father to manipulate him. She had also been the family’s housekeeper since Ben was a baby so he was used to her being familiar.

Iris stopped what she was doing to look up frowning. ‘What happened to Cam? I saw you follow her from the church mid service, poor love. Is she in her room?’

Ben bit his lip. ‘No, she had to leave. She’s gone to stay with, er, gran.’ The lie slipped out easily. ‘We all knew Mum was going to die, but… I guess we were still unprepared for it.’

They were close,’ said Iris. ‘And you? You spent most of the wake in your observatory. How’d you see stars during the day?’

You can’t,’ he admitted, ‘I was escaping from Nicole.’

Iris clicked her tongue. ‘Tell her it’s over.’

I’ve tried, but it isn’t that easy. She has a hide like a rhino, and my words, “Nicole, I’m sorry but there is no future for us”, is translated into, “darling, here’s a huge diamond engagement ring”.’ He looked up, and saw Iris smiling which she tried to hide when she saw he was being serious; that was half his problem. He was too serious. He didn’t like to take risks and valued routine, whereas his father had a reputation for plunging in headlong and taking huge gambles. Their personalities clashed, he guessed.

She might be good for you,’ Iris said, adjusting the heavy, floor length curtain against a window. ‘Bring you out of yourself a bit more.’

She’s dull,’ Ben picked at imaginary lint on his sleeve. ‘She can’t talk about anything else other than fashion and who’s who. I tried to inject some normal conversation once and her eyes glazed over!’

What do you class as ‘normal’ conversation?’ Iris asked.

Ben shrugged. ‘I invited her up to my observatory and let her look through the telescope. I thought she’d find it interesting, but when I was explaining Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, she suddenly remembered she had to make a telephone call. It was plain she wasn’t interested.’

Casanova, Ben wasn’t, but Mr Bean without the comic cuteness? Definitely! He always felt shy around women, and much preferred his telescope or books.

Iris continued to adjust the curtain, and seemingly found a speck of dirt that she concentrated on while rubbing it with her finger. She rubbed so hard her shoulders were shaking, and she made a strange coughing sound. The door opened and Nicole burst into the room in a cloud of Elizabeth Arden, her face freshly made up.

BOOK: A Proper Charlie
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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