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Authors: Louise Wise

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BOOK: A Proper Charlie
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She sat on the chair next to him and gazed into his face. ‘We’re ready for coffee, now, Mrs Martin,’ she said without turning around. ‘How are you, darling?’ she asked Ben.

Ben tried to hide a smile as Iris stuck out her tongue behind Nicole’s back, but she left them alone, closing the door behind her. Ben doubted they’d get coffee.

I’m fine,’ he said. ‘In fact I’d like to be alone now –’

Nonsense. Now everyone’s gone, this is where you’ll feel it more.’

Feel what more?’

You know what I mean. In fact, I might stay to look after you and Donald. I dare say Camilla’s capable. Is she back yet?’

No, she texted me. She went back with her gran and granddad.’ His lie felt easier this time. ‘And Father’s having a lie down.’

I’ll have Mrs Martin take him up something to eat,’ she said, and made as if call Iris back into the room.

Iris isn’t a servant,’ Ben said. ‘Treat her with respect please.’

Nicole removed her hand from his, and straightened her skirt over her fake-tanned knees. ‘I know you’re upset, Ben, but there’s no need to take it out on me.’

Ah, Nicole. Still here?’

Ben looked up as Donald came into the room. Nicole flew to his side and threw her arms around his middle. ‘Donny,’ she said on a sob. ‘I’m so sorry about Grace. You must be feeling wretched –’

Yes, yes,’ Donald said, pulling her arms away and moving to sit in a dark leather wingchair by an unlit fire.

The movement didn’t surprise Ben, although Nicole coloured slightly. Ben was never hugged as a boy and certainly not as an adult. Come to think of it, he couldn’t even remember Camilla being cuddled either. Strange that he was beginning to think of things like that now.

Can I get you anything?’ Nicole asked.

Peace and quiet would be nice,’ Donald said and Ben’s mouth twitched at the look on her face.

You said you were going upstairs for a lie down,’ he reminded his father.

And you said you were going to manage the takeover. I just had Fanton on the phone wanting the official dates of the merge,’ Donald snapped. ‘Hasn’t that been finalised yet? I want it this month,’ he poked the arm of the chair to accentuate each word, ‘October. Not November or bloody next year. You’re supposed to be in charge while I’m convalescing, or is that too much for you?’

Ben doubted John Fanton would’ve telephoned knowing what day this was, but knowing his father loved confrontation he didn’t like to draw him to this obvious untruth.

The official date is October 25
and Mr Fanton knows that,’ he said gently.

Donald grunted. His father still thought of him as ten years old, and he couldn’t help but feel like it beneath his reproachful stare.

In any case the merger’s going very smoothly –’ Ben began.

A monkey could handle it,’ Donald said, and Nicole giggled.

Ben flushed. He opened his mouth to retort, but noticed the sweat beading his father’s upper lip. Although Donald revelled in confrontation, it didn’t do him any good. ‘Well, this monkey is handling it very well,’ Ben said with false cheerfulness. He rose. ‘I’ll bring us some coffee,’ he said giving Nicole an apologetic smile, but she looked far from embarrassed. She was gazing at Donald in open adoration.

Ben,’ Donald called him back, and Ben turned at the door. ‘Staff at
are holding some sort of celebratory party to mark the occasion when we takeover. It’s the Saturday before we merge, and I’d like you to be there.’

Ben nodded, and found his mouth voicing dutiful words that he wanted to retract immediately, ‘Yes, dad.’

In the kitchen, Iris was stacking the dishwasher. She turned as Ben came in. ‘If you‘ve come for food there’s not a lot left over. Mainly the mini tikka tortilla wraps. I think they were a little spicy,’ she said.

Nothing for me.’ Ben placed the beans in the coffee maker and switched it on. ‘They want two coffees,’ he said. ‘Would you mind taking it in for them?’

Can I throw it over Nicole?’

You were telling me what a good catch she was earlier!’

I lied,’ she said, and closed the dishwasher door more strongly than necessary. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked as he picked up his car keys hanging on the back of the door.

To be honest I don’t know,’ he said banging out of the back door. He climbed in his gleaming red Audi S6, and sat for a moment. He thought about his life and wondered when it all started going wrong.

Career wise nothing could have been better. His personal life, however, was crap. His conscious pricked as he remembered the promise to his mum. He promised he’d take care of Camilla. But she hadn’t been seen by anybody since she walked out of the church during hymn number five hundred and thirty-five while clutching her hymnbook. How could he take care of her, if he didn’t know where she’d gone?

He started the Audi’s engine and drove out of the gates. He would handle the business side of things, which included finalising the takeover of
London Core
, and he’d try his hardest to sort out Donald and Camilla’s differences whenever she showed her face.

He hit the A1, dropped the window and floored the accelerator.





harlie turned off Old Kent Road in her battered blue Fiesta as she headed home from the supermarket the next day. She spent part of the morning online researching article writing and collecting ideas on how to bring her idea together. She used to write countless stories in her younger days; losing herself in characters that had families, but became disillusioned when an overcritical teacher dismissed her dream of becoming a writer as a ‘fantasy’.

As she jotted down ideas she was delighted to find the spark was still there, and she found she had to drag herself away to look for a Union Jack dress on eBay. But now it was early evening and she’d just done battle with others in the aisles of Tesco.

Supermarket shopping on a Saturday evening; how totally middle-aged. She drummed the steering wheel with her fingernails as she queued at the lights. Ideas and thoughts flashed on and off in her head about angle ideas for her article that she almost missed the lights changing.

As soon as Melvin had informed the office that they would be the first newspaper to leak the story, Charlie felt she had to be involved, and more importantly felt this was what she needed to do to impress the new bosses. She might only be the office clerk, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t write a story on prostitutes. Because of their disappearances, everyone was talking about them and it had maximum TV coverage – wouldn’t it be fantastic if she got an exclusive all by herself?

How she was going to achieve that was another matter.

She turned into the tenants’ only car park. She had been lucky to secure herself a council flat with easy commute to the office, especially one that was more or less in her price range.

In her one-bedroom flat, she kicked off her shoes, and went barefoot into the small kitchen. The flat had no dining room, just a sitting room with miss-matched furniture, a bedroom and a tiny bathroom. She placed the groceries on the kitchen table, flicked on the kettle and opened her fridge. She stood back to observe the contents: an open tin of spaghetti hoops, peach yoghurt (always the last to go), some green looking ham and a half carton of milk.

She grabbed the ham and sniffed it.

You’re definitely heading for the bin.’ While the kettle boiled, Charlie put her shopping away. Shopping for one never consisted of much.

Charlie took out the opened tin of spaghetti hoops and forked the contents into a dish, which she placed into the microwave. She put two pieces of bread in the toaster, and headed into her little sitting room. She switched on the TV and channel hopped until she found a station covering the news. She wanted the latest on the prostitute abductor.

The microwave pinged and she went back to prepare herself tea and hoops on toast. Settling on the settee with her dinner, she listened intently for any information on the missing women but the newsreader switched to pictures of the night sky. A comet was apparently going to be visible by the naked eye tonight, side-tracked by a subject that fascinated her Charlie watched.

Her intercom buzzed. She stared at it in annoyance but it only buzzed again. She put aside her food, turned the TV down and answered it. ‘Hello?’


It was Andy. She buzzed him up, happy for the surprise visit, and when he entered a couple of minutes later she threw her arms around him and kissed him soundly.

Missed you,’ she said, and he struggled in her embrace.

Careful Lots,’ he said, smoothing his clothes. ‘You’ll crease the shirt.’

She pulled away and looked him over. ‘Hmm, you look nice. Oh, crikey, should we be going out tonight?’

Not “we”, darlin’,’ he said in his cockney drawl which had attracted her to him from the beginning. He had exaggerated the accent to impress her, trying to hide his Birmingham intonation, but she had never noticed until Melvin mentioned he ‘spoke funny’.

I’ve got a deal on. I’m going to make us lots of dough, darlin’. Paul’s coming over to discuss it, like. Could you make yourself scarce, hun?’

Scarce? I’ve a lot to do tonight. I’m writing an article on prostitutes,’ she said. She had to tell someone! ‘It’s going to be brilliant.’

That’s nice, hunbun. But can’t you do that some other time?’

But –’

Andy pouted like a little boy. He put his hands on her hips and brought her forward. Forehead to forehead, he said, ‘This deal is the difference to us buying our own place, know what I mean?’

Our own place?’ she breathed, her heart flip-flopping in her chest. ‘Oh, Andy! I thought… I thought you… oh, never mind!’ She moved forward to kiss him, but he broke contact.

And that’s why, hun, I need this place to myself. The deal’s worth a bit, know what I mean?’ He winked. Andy was in-between jobs – and had been for several years. Instead he ducked and dived (his words), thinking up scams for easy money. Nothing illegal, he was always quick to assure Charlie, although he could never meet her eyes and she was too much in love to question him.

Why can’t I stay in? I’ll not say a word, just sit in the bedroom working on my laptop.’ But he was shaking his head and stepping away as she spoke. He bent and picked up a slice of her toast and hoops, and Charlie watched as it disappeared down his throat.

Can’t be done, Lots,’ he said between swallows.

OK,’ she said, and he broke into a smile. ‘How long will you be?’

Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Three at the most.’

She must’ve looked hesitant, because Andy pouted and wheedled, ‘You’ve promised now.’

OK,’ she said as the last of her dinner ended in his stomach, ‘but you owe me.’

Sure, hun. Anything.’

is throwing a party next Saturday, and I want you to come with me,’ she said quickly.

I’d love to,’ he said.

Really? You hate my work friends.’

But I love
, hunbun.’

Charlie grinned misty-eyed at him. ‘It’s a fancy dress. I’m going as Ginger Spice.’

He grinned back. ‘I’ll go as Beckham. We could be a celebrity couple.’

Charlie frowned. ‘Honey, I think you’re mixing up –’ but he wasn’t listening. He’d pulled out his mobile and was busy pressing buttons. She kissed his cheek instead and spun happily on her heels. She headed back into the kitchen to retrieve her handbag. ‘Phone me when it’s safe to come home, OK? And Andy?’

He dragged his gaze away from his phone. ‘Eh?’

Three hours tops.’

Sure,’ he said, his attention dropping to his mobile as his thumb moved over the keypad.

Charlie put on her shoes, and picked up her jacket. ‘I’ll be at Mel’s,’ she said.

We’re on!’ Andy was saying into his phone, and Charlie doubted she was heard.

Back in her car she headed to Melvin’s house he shared with Dean across Walworth, but at a roundabout she suddenly had a change of heart. Turning right she headed towards Soho, the so-called red-light district.

She parked up outside a closed estate agents’ and sat in her car. The streets were busy with late night shoppers and early-night revellers.

She chose Soho, not because of its reputation as London's red-light district – which was old-fashioned and no longer deserved – but because she knew the area well as she, Melvin and Dean often visited the pubs and clubs.

She could see a couple of women loitering in a shop doorway and concentrated on them. Every now and then they’d walk towards the kerb edge as if to show any passing car they were available. If men walked past they’d smile and try and engage them in a conversation, if women passed they’d slink back into the darkness of the doorway. They didn’t seem bothered by the fact a murderer might be on the loose.

BOOK: A Proper Charlie
7.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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