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Authors: Richard Asplin

Conman (27 page)

BOOK: Conman
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So we did it.

Andrew booted up my laptop and opened up a new email account under a false name while I paced, chewing the inside of my cheek and watching Elvis on the wall backcomb his quiff with the long hand. It was twenty to five. I knew from his black book that Christopher checked eBay for likely marks daily at 5pm and, time being of the essence, every passing day potentially taking Lana’s financial future further and further from me, I was keen to get our worm on the hook.

Our phoney seller now born – [email protected] – we scanned in the
Action Comics
photograph Sotheby’s had returned to me, downloaded it onto eBay hastily, Andrew typing while I paced, dictating a snappy, no-nonsense, business-like description of this once-in-a-lifetime collectable. To avoid it being snapped up by a genuine buyer, we instructed a three-hour window and
added a ludicrous reserve price, thus insuring the comic would stay unbought, on-screen and alluring until 8pm. Hopefully long enough.

Hopefully
.

I was just having a final jittery pace, Andrew reading the copy back to me, when we both jumped at the sound of the phone.


Heroes Incorporated
?”


God, there you are,
” Jane said. “
I’ve tried you four times.

I could hear Lana gurgling in the background.

“Sorry, it’s been busy,” I said with a throat-clearing,
no-honest-really
cough. Andrew spun around on the office chair, eyebrows aloft. In my ear, the line went quiet. I knew that quiet.

Jane, it seemed, had decided to fling open a window for apology re: my performance at Thursday’s dinner. Last night had offered a small opportunity but between me locking myself in the study to Google
prison visiting hours Selmeade
and Jane consequently locking herself in the bathroom with Lana, I’d missed the window completely.

So I seized the frame and threw myself through it.


It’s all right,
” she said, interrupting my grovelling. “
I’ve spoken to Jack and Catherine. They forgive you. I forgive you. Old friends are old friends. So how was Benno after all this time? Still got the big beard and jumper? On shore leave from the SS Activist?

“Uhm, not quite, no –”


Did he tell you why he didn’t come to our wedding
?”

“Er, he’s here now as it happens. In the shop.” Andrew looked up at me. “He dropped in to see me.”


You want to invite him over for supper
?”

“Uhm, you sure?” I said, although I wasn’t sure why. Niggling thoughts breaking the surface. Andrew’s little red notebook of poetry. The three of us then. The three of us now.


Why not
?” Jane said. “
You’re cooking.

“I’ll ask him. See you ladies a little later.”


Love you.

I hung up.

“Ask me what?” Andrew said. I extended the offer. “Marvellous,” he said, eyes bright. “The old gang,” and with a small smile, he spun on the office chair to face the laptop. “Here we go,” and he
crossed his fingers and jabbed the return key, sending the bait down the line.

We both looked up at the clock. It was four minutes to five.

“That’s it,” Andrew said. “Nothing to do now but wait.”

I nodded, queasily.

“What do we do if he doesn’t respond?” I asked, grabbing my keys from the desk.

“I think our big worry old friend is what the hell we’re going to do if he
does
.”

 

“Benno? More spaghetti?”

“Huh? N-no, I’m fine old chap,” Andrew chomped with a tomatoey chin, mouth full. He waved a fork. “This is grand tuck. A treat. Your skills have improved in the last ten years.”

“God
don’t,
” Jane said, head on one side, smiling. “I can’t believe what we used to eat back then. What was your speciality
sweetheart
?”

“Me? White sliced with marge’, wasn’t it?” I said.

I scuttled to the kitchen, sliding the large serving bowl onto the cluttered counter top among the spills and onion peel,
snapping
off the light and returning to the warmth of the lounge. I eased myself to floor level with the others.

“No no, you were always
Bovril
and
Super Noodles,
” Andrew was saying with a chuckle. “Often on the same plate. Don’t you remember? You bought shelves of the stuff. From Mad Jackie in the
Spar
on Queen Street.”

“Christ,” I said, my head tumbling through wine-misted
recollection
, down dusty corridors of forgotten years. “Mad Jackie. How do you
remember
this stuff. We’re going back a
decade
.”

“Being so far from home,” Andrew said. “Makes remembering more … I don’t know. Important?”

It was getting on for eight o’clock. Tired and smiling, woozy on nostalgia, the three of us were spread, legs out, shoes off, on cushions about the rug in the lounge talking in hushed terrace voices. An 80s
Best Of
… CD was playing, succeeding in adding to the reunion atmos’. On shelves and sills, tea-lights cast long dancing figures on the dark walls, light winking on mineral water bottles and smeary wine glasses. Lana slept blissfully throughout
in her carry-cot, Jane’s left hand set on auto-baby-entertain, bobbing and stroking and wiping and stroking some more, almost of its own accord. In fact, watching it as I scraped a chunk of warm ciabatta about my bowl, I was confident we could have all moved into the kitchen and her hand would have stayed – Addams Family style – amusing Lana beneath her blanket for the rest of the evening.

“New York sounds amazing,” Jane gushed. “We should come out and visit. Neil? We should visit?”

“Huh? Yes, yes absolutely.”

“Maybe when Dad’s accountant has gone through the books next week? We’ll see if we can’t scrape together a cheap fare, yeah?”

The room went a bit quiet. I could sense Andrew looking at me over his wine glass.

The stereo twiddled Spandau Ballet inappropriately.

“Well . . I guess we’ll see,” I said. Why hadn’t I told her? Why hadn’t I told her
everything
? What was I doing? What was I
doing
?

“Well. Old
Benno
,” Jane said for the fifteenth time. “Who’d have thought it. I
still
can’t get over how much you’ve changed. You look better without the beard.”

Andrew shrugged a manly shrug and smiled a rakish smile. I looked across at Jane who was looking at him. I watched them watch each other, feeling altogether odd about the whole thing. Partly the wine, perhaps. Partly that book of moony romantic poetry I found in Andrew’s room at the start of the third year. Partly his New York expense account and his broad manly
shoulders
.

Partly knowing that somewhere Christopher could be on eBay, bidding on Lana’s future.

Mostly the wine though I think.

“I was telling our Neil here,” Andrew was saying, “I was sorry I missed the wedding. I bet …” and he began to fuss with his bowl, avoiding our look. “I bet you looked beautiful. As always, I mean,” and he blushed a little, covering it with a wink at me. “You’re a lucky fellow. I always thought –”

“Uhm, y-you having more bread sweetheart?” I said suddenly, getting up with a clatter of bowls and spoons.

“Huh? No, no, not for me,” she said.

I moved into the kitchen, stomach tumbling, chewing the inside of my cheek.

What was going on in there? Was Andrew flirting with my wife? Had he spent the last decade thinking about the one that got away? Was all this just –

The cooker clock said
20:04.

Shit.
eBay.
It would be all over by now. Anything Christopher was going to do, he’d have done.

I splashed a little cold water from the sink onto my face to sober up a bit and, with a deep breath, returned to the lounge making concluding
ah-well
and
right-then
sorts of gestures.

“You trying to break up the party?” Jane said. She looked up at me from her bean bag. Her skin was pale and soft in the candle light, eyes big and shining. Her whole face, her hair, her whole beautiful body reminding me why I loved her so much.

And of course, proportionately, reminding me of what an utter shit I was keeping everything from her.

“Not at all,” I fibbed. “It’s just, Benno’s probably got work, and –”

“C’mon then sweetheart,” Jane whispered and slid up, onto her haunches. Andrew and I watched as she gazed lovingly at our baby for a long moment. Leaning forward to kiss the dozing bundle, her violin back bowing, Jane’s perfect skin peaked as her shirt rode above her jean tops. She hoisted herself up, lifting the cot.

“Do you want to see the nursery?” Jane asked Andrew. “Not quite your Hamptons summer house I know, but …”

“It’s getting late maybe?” I said, pulling the plug on the mood quickly. I snapped on the main light, causing everyone to squint and moan.

“Do you not want another drink? There’s plenty.” Jane said.

“Uhmm …” Andrew said, looking at me.

“Er …” I countered.

“Maybe a … a
coffee
?” Andrew said.

“Yes, yes. Coffee,” I said, all too eagerly.

Jane looked at us both.

“Then … then I’ll show you that thing,” I said.

“The thing.”

“The
thing
,” I said, clearing my throat conspicuously.

“Thing?” Jane said.

“Neil wanted to show me something.”

“Right. On the er …”

“Computer.”

“Web site.”

“Right. In fact why don’t I put Lana down,” I said quickly, lifting the cot from Jane. “And Benno can look at the computer while I get her sorted.”

“And I’ll do the coffee?” Jane said. She looked a little
bewildered
by the Abbott & Costello back and forth.

“Great. Perfect. Lovely,” I said. I pecked her on the cheek and led Andrew down the hall to the nursery.

 

“Jane hasn’t aged a day,” Andrew said as the computer stuttered into life in the study. He pushed the door closed and began to pick through the plush nick-nackery and soft-toy clutter as I gently laid Lana down in her cot. “Not a
day
.”

“God, my heart’s going, I tell you,” I hushed. Kissing Lana gently on her milky soft skin, I crept whispering to the computer chair and eased myself in, jittery fingers slipping over the keys. I double-clicked and dragged the stubborn mouse from its sticky slumber. “C’mon, c’mon. God, if Edward or Jane had
any
idea what I was doing …”

“Seeing her again. It reminds me of the impact she had when she first appeared in halls. How everyone stopped what they were doing, just to stare … Long time ago now. And hey, don’t worry. Neither Edward nor Jane could trace this to you, even if they happened to see it. Which they won’t. So relax.”

The homepage tinkled into life.

“What you
do
need to worry about though,” and Andrew motioned at the chunky gold on my wrist. “Is that ugly fake monstrosity. Why are you still
wearing
it?”

“I know, I know,” I said. I typed in eBay’s address and
double-clicked
GO
anxiously. “I told Jane it was a freebie from work. I figure if I take it off now, it’ll start another conversation about why I’m now
not
wearing it. I figured I’d just let the whole thing … ah, here we go,” I said, sitting up a bit, nervousness running her long painted fingernail between my shoulder blades. The eBay homepage appeared, winking and flashing in stuttery animation.

“There. Vintage comic books,” Andrew whispered, and I felt him scuttle up behind me. I click-drag-double clicked. The page wiped and the blue timer-bar began to fill across the bottom of the screen. 12% … 23% …

“What if he hasn’t seen it?” I said softly, quickly checking that the nursery door was properly closed.

“Every day at five, you said. He’ll have seen it.”

38% … 46% …

“He won’t. He won’t, I just know it. Today will be the one day he won’t have checked. He’ll be on holiday. Spending my fifty thousand pounds. He’ll have taken a year off. A sabbatical. To study pick-pocketing at the Sorbonne.”

“He’ll have made a bid, don’t worry. It’s like your father said. Just wait.”

78% … 86% …

“And if he hasn’t?” I began to squirm in my cheap office chair, threatening to have it collapse beneath me in a tangle of foam and bolts. “This is
it
. Our
one
idea. If we can’t find him with this, then I –”

94% … 97%

“He’ll be there, he’ll be there …”

100%

He wasn’t there.

My heart sank. Andrew shoved me aside and, rattling off some colourfully well-spoken curses, scrolled hopefully up and down, up and down, but nothing. Not a single bid.

“P’raps we didn’t leave enough time,” he pondered, biting his lip. “P’raps if we try
again
–”

“That’s it. We’re done,” I sighed, my throat fat and full. “Fifty grand. Lana’s whole …”

“Wait, wait, wait. Perhaps …” Andrew said slowly, hands hovering over the keys, but there was an uneasy desperation in his voice. “Perhaps, er …”

“That’s it,” I said, teeth angry. “That’s it,” and I reached forward and signed off the internet.

There was a light tap on the door. Jane.

“Coffee’s in the lounge.”

Andrew and I sat in silence for what felt like an age, illuminated
only by the faint glow of the screen. Neither of us wanted to speak because only one thing remained to be said and it didn’t need saying.

“It was worth a –”

“No no, absolutely,” we both began together awkwardly. “Thanks,” I said.

“You never know …”

“Right, right,” I nodded with a half-hearted shrug, but I knew. Christopher’s five o’clock eBay scan was the only thing I could recall from his little black book. A man as elusive as he would find the nano-sized shadowy half-life between winking electrons in space about the only place safe enough to stick his head out.

“Fuck,” Andrew spat, shaking his head, his one opportunity for vengeance dashed.

BOOK: Conman
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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