Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
The only child of a schoolteacher and a circus clown,
has been writing all her life. As well as writing novels, Christina contributes short stories and articles to many national magazines and newspapers. Her first novel was chosen for WH Smith’s Fresh Talent promotion, and
Nothing to Lose
, was short-listed for the Thumping Good Read Award, with film and television rights sold.
After years of travelling, Christina now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband Rob and a houseful of rescued cats.
Find out more about Christina Jones and her books by visiting her website:
Going the Distance
Running the Risk
Stealing the Show
Jumping to Conclusions
Walking on Air
Nothing to Lose
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2004 by Christina Jones
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
As this isn’t the Oscars, I’ve had to cull the list of thankyous as they could – and should – have gone on forever. However, I must give a huge vote of thanks to everyone at Piatkus for not giving up on me, especially Gillian Green, my wonderful editor, who never, ever nagged, screamed or cried when I gave her ample opportunity to do all three. And to Emma Callagher for being equally wonderful and for steering me towards HUBBLE BUBBLE as a title instead of the awful one I’d come up with.
Thanks, of course, to Rob who never stopped supporting me in spite of everything. And to Laura, whose butterfly career changes gave me the insider low-down on the paramedic and dentistry backgrounds. Also, to all my friends who gave non-stop encouragement and who, to a man, believed HUBBLE BUBBLE would be written when I didn’t.
Thanks also to the lovely staff and customers at the Weasel and Bucket who thought me being a novel-writing-barmaid was a good laugh and never complained about my spilling things on them; and my Nan (the herbal poisoner of Wessex Road) for giving me the HUBBLE BUBBLE idea and the inherited information, and last but by no means least, Nora Neibergall (Brit-Fic supporter extraordinaire) for kindly allowing me to nick the name of her feisty cat to become Mitzi’s ex-husband. Lance – you’re a feline star!
Peering through her farewell bouquet of mop-headed chrysanthemums, Mitzi wondered if it might just be worth serving ten years in prison for slaughtering Troy Haley.
True, it was neither the time nor the place: mid-afternoon in the foyer of the bank, surrounded by Chardonnay-clutching colleagues and customers – not to mention minor dignitaries and a smattering of the local press – was probably not the best venue to turn into an assassin. A dignified, middle-aged assassin, true, but an assassin nevertheless – and surely she’d be doing the financial world a kindness?
Troy Haley, looking about eighteen with his spiky gelled hair and acne scars, was peacocking – much to the apparent delight of every female employee under the age of thirty – around the nineteenth-century vaulted and chandeliered interior of the Winterbrook branch of the bank as if he owned it. Which, Mitzi supposed gloomily, was not too far from the truth. He was the new manager after all.
Mitzi shook her head in disbelief as she watched him – confident, laughing, joking and shaking hands. Troy Haley was far, far too young. Oh, not that she had anything against youth in general, of course. She had always been proud of her own youthful appearance and outlook, and enjoyed the company of younger people; she admired their optimism while at the same time pitying their misfortune to
be struggling through to adulthood in the uncertainties of the current climate.
She’d always considered herself doubly blessed, so much luckier than today’s generation, having had a secure and snug 1950s childhood followed by the fabulous teenage freedom of the 1960s. It was all so austere now, grim and sort of scary for young people. But her overall empathy with youth still didn’t detract from the fact that Troy Haley was surely far too immature to be in charge of anything. He was probably about the same age as her daughters.
Mitzi winced at the thought. Her daughters, Lulu and Doll, were scarcely able to manage their own lives, let alone the financial dealings of a high street bank. Yet somebody, in all their fiscal wisdom, had given this boy the chance to play God with the lives and accounts of hundreds of customers.
But then Troy Haley, Mitzi knew only too well, had been fast-tracked. She’d heard the term often enough since his shock appointment had been announced, along with her own early retirement, a month earlier. She’d gathered it was corporate speak for ‘business graduate with loads of qualifications but sod-all experience’.
Whatever had happened to working your way slowly up the ladder? Learning your trade rung by rung? What had happened to earning promotion, not to mention gaining knowledge and dignity and respect as you went, and what sort of name was Troy for a bank manager, anyway?
Mitzi bit her lip and almost laughed at herself. She was in very grave danger of wandering into Victor Meldrew territory here – she who prided herself on her flower-child take on life and her equanimity. Equanimity was fine in its place, she decided, but when it encroached on one’s own survival maybe it was another matter altogether.
She could see herself reflected in the bank’s darkening windows, with the crystals of the chandeliers casting small flattering shadows. Trim and neat, and with her fashionably choppy hair gleaming in a dozen shades of dark red, she
surely didn’t look old enough to be someone about to retire. Didn’t retired people wear a lot of buff and shuffle?
Was this it, then? The end of life as she knew it? Were daytime telly and pensioners’ luncheon clubs the only thing left for her?
‘That’s lovely! Smile!’ A girl from the
suddenly clicked a camera inches from Mitzi’s face. ‘Now, would you like one of you and Troy together?’
‘I don’t think so, thank you,’ Mitzi moved the chrysanthemums to her other arm. ‘After all, I’m on my way out. I think your readers will be far more interested in the New Order. Perhaps one of – er – Troy with my replacement would be more appropriate.’
‘Yeah, right. Ta.’
Without apparently noticing the irony, the girl pointed her camera towards Troy and Tyler, his freshly appointed, equally gelled and spotty assistant, who was allegedly incorporating Mitzi’s redundant post with Personal Banking, but who, as far as she could gather, had never taken shorthand or made coffee or organised a conference in his life.
Troy and Tyler! They sounded like presenters on a children’s TV programme – and all the bank’s recently installed nasal-voiced, call-centre girls seemed to have names like Chantal-Leanne and Lauren-Storm … and … Mitzi snorted fiercely into her bouquet, making the tissue paper rattle.
‘Are you all right, my dear?’ Mr Dickinson, the outgoing manager, touched her arm gently. ‘Not too upset?’
‘Upset, not really – angry, very.’ Mitzi shifted the chrysanthemums again and flicked at the wrappings. ‘I was just contemplating garrotting the sad little squirt with my stylish and trendy raffia tie thingy. Look at it. Not even a decent bit of ribbon.’
‘At least you didn’t get a bloody clock,’ Mr Dickinson sighed. ‘Why do they always give you a damn clock when the last thing you want to do is watch time slipping away?’
They looked at one another and pulled synchronised, sympathetic faces.
‘Hi,’ Troy Haley seemed to have shaken off the press, the fawning customers and his posse of mini-skirted admirers. ‘Are you enjoying yourselves?’
‘You really don’t want the answer to that question–’ Mitzi glared through the flowers ‘–do you? No, let me put it another way. How exactly do you think we’re feeling after giving the last thirty-five years of our working lives to this bank? Put out to grass while we’re still in our prime? Pensioned off while we still have years of useful life in us?’
Troy Haley shrugged. ‘Tough one. Yeah, at the end of the day I know how you must feel about all that, but it’s a whole new ball game, you know. Youth is the key. Technology is the new rock ’n’ roll. Times they are achangin’. What with call centres and computer banking and everything, no one wants banks with face-to-face one-to-ones – er – well, you get the picture.’ He slapped Mr Dickinson chummily on the shoulder. ‘Anyway, Nev, it’ll give you lots of time to potter in your garden and play golf, won’t it?’
Mitzi almost choked. In all the years she had been Mr Dickinson’s right-hand woman she had never once called him Neville – let alone Nev. Even when they were mere youngsters, and she was starting out as a trainee bank teller with Mr Dickinson as the senior clerk, they’d always called one another Mr Dickinson and Mrs Blessing. How dare this crass, arrogant child take such liberties!
‘I have no interest in gardening or golf,’ Mr Dickinson said stiffly. ‘I may find a little more time to do
crossword now, but even that seems a small recompense for being forcibly retired.’
Troy Haley grinned. ‘Look on the bright side though, Nev. At the end of the day you’ll have your pension before they all go tits up, and your lump-sum payment, and the world will be your oyster, so to speak. I’m looking forward to retiring, me. I hope to be able to pack all this in before
I’m forty. There’s no way I want to sit at my desk until I’m – er—’
‘I’m fifty-five and Mr Dickinson isn’t much older,’ Mitzi said, her voice ominously steady. ‘We’re probably the same age as your parents. How do you think they would feel about being put out to grass at our ages?’
‘Actually, my parents are younger than you are and they’re already planning to step off the wage-slave playing field, thanks to their well-handled ISAs,’ Troy said happily. ‘You’re nearer my grandparents’ age – and they’re having a ball on the Costa Dorada. Why don’t you look into retirement homes in sunnier climes, Mitzi? At the end of the day, you’ve only got yourself to consider now, haven’t you? No point in wasting the rest of your life hanging around a deadend hole like Winterbrook when you don’t need to, is there?’
Mitzi took a deep breath. ‘Mr Haley, you know nothing about me. You know nothing about my hopes and dreams, my personal circumstances – nor my family, nor my responsibilities, nor my home life. You know nothing. Period. And if you find Winterbrook such an unappealing town why, may I ask, are you here in Berkshire?’
Mr Dickinson chortled into his clock.
Troy, clearly not offended, beamed. ‘Hey, chill out. Winterbrook is just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Start off in the Berkshire sticks and aim higher. The bank’s new policy is for a swift staff turnaround. Eighteen months max in one branch, then onwards and upwards … You won’t catch me or Tyler still being here, stuck in the same old rut, when we’re your age.’
‘No, I don’t suppose we will,’ Mitzi nodded slowly. ‘So we must be thankful for small mercies.’
‘Er, yes …’ Troy looked uncertain. ‘Anyway, must get on. People to see and schmooze with.’ He held out his hand. ‘Have a long and happy retirement, both of you.’
Fighting the urge to ram her bouquet as far down his throat as possible as it would really not be the action of a
‘love and peace’ person, Mitzi glared with hatred at Troy’s retreating, reed-slender, pinstriped figure. No doubt he worked out. All young people seemed to overeat on junk food and then work out as justification. Under Troy’s regime they’d probably introduce a gym into the bank vaults. And a juice bar – whatever one of those was – and probably an Internet cafe.