Monday, 5 December 2011

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 21

Sally picked up the ringing phone.
"Hello Megabucks Financial Software Solutions, Sally speaking, how can I help you?"

"Sally? It's Matt. Matt Deacon? Yeah?" came the voice at the other end.

Sally held the phone away from her ear, a combination of poor volume control and slight disgust that this person had somehow tracked her down at work and, more to the point, called her up.

"Yes," she replied, in the tone of someone totally unamused by the turn of events. "How on earth did you find my work number? And why the hell are you calling me, anyway?"

"You forget, dear lady, that I am a professional investigative journalist!" He stated this with some degree of pride in his voice. It was true. His writing was poor in comparison with many of his peers, but his initiative to find information was something he was quite proud of. Simple case of joining the dots in most instances, or knowing who to ask for details and what questions were likely to get answers. Laying on the charm where necessary, resorting to the impeccable manners that came with his origins. Shame he had to pretend he was a rough and mindless hack to fit in with his tabloid colleagues.

"Matt!" He was suddenly aware of Sally's angry tone coming from his mobile. "Why are you calling me?"

Matt smiled. She had a right temper on her, this one. He had just the anecdote.
"I've got a warehouse where you can dump those rabbits," he said in his most suave voice.

There was a moment's silence on the airwaves.
"Really?" finally came the reply. "How? I mean, where? When did this come about? Are you taking the piss or is this true? Are you sure? And how_"

Matt cut her short.
"It's sorted, don't worry. Meet me at the volunteer centre at nine tonight and we can cart them all out and away. I've borrowed a van from a mate. Okay? See you then."
And he hung up.

Sally looked at the phone in her hand. She felt as if she had just taken part in a conversation taking place in a parallel universe. She quickly dialed 1471 to return the call, but the robotic voice informed her it was an ex-directory number.

Did he say nine o'clock tonight? Yes, she was sure of it. He didn't even ask if the time or date suited her, although given the grief the damn rabbits had caused already, that was hardly relevant. Get them out of the way, out of sight, out of mind, out of_

The phone rang again.

"Yes?" she barked down the receiver.

"Sally? Wow, you okay? Have I called at a bad time? Shall I call back? It's Colin, by the way," came the voice.

"Sorry, yes, no, it's fine, really, yes." I am being ridiculous, she thought to herself. She forced herself to smile and lighten up her tone. "What's up?"

"Fancy a film tonight? I can pick you up? Maybe a bite to eat as well?" Colin, bless him, sounded so enthusiastic that Sally wondered whether he had been a puppy in a previous life.

Sally shook her head. "Sorry, I can't. Another engagement. We can do tomorrow, maybe?" She could already sense his disappointment down the phone line. They had the beginnings of a great friendship but she somehow worried that he expected more, despite knowing her past disastrous relationship history and her reluctant stance towards romantic entanglement.

"Sure, no problem. I'll see you at the volunteer centre later anyway? Only two more weeks of Sir Percy's 'great idea' to go now!" he said, fake joviality evident in his voice.

They exchanged goodbyes and hung up. Sally looked at her watch. It was already six in the evening and she had not even got through half of her workload for the day.

"All going to shit in a handbasket!" she remarked. Her boss looked up from his desk and raised his eyebrows. Sally grinned, tossed her hair back and huddled over her computer once more.

Friday, 15 October 2010

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 20

"I thought she was a very sweet girl. Slightly unusual, I'll grant you that, but very nice. A bit severe and possibly shy at heart, but still most pleasant. Not so sure about her family background though. She didn't say much about that did she? For all we know she_"

"Mother," Colin interrupted, "She is just a friend. Please stop postulating theories and, and, and..."


"And anticipating developments that may never happen. Yes, that's what I meant."

"Oh. Very well then." Colin's mother Enid sat down and nursed her cup of tea, visibly deflated. She really did like the girl he had brought unexpectedly to dinner the previous night. She has been courteous and well-mannered. She seemed unpretentious and perfectly suited for her son, she thought.

"Does she frequent the races?" she asked.

"Does she what?" Colin had been busy rifling through his mother's cupboards for a pack of biscuits. He knew she always kept a spare packet of chocolate digestives somewhere. He stopped and turned to face her.

"The races. Does she frequent the races? You know, Ascot, Epsom, Cheltenham_"

"Mother, for crying out loud, whatever gave you that impression? She hardly seems like a horsey type, does she? Just because she is well spoken is no indication of the social circles she frequents. I really don't think it matters either, do you?"

"No, no," Enid sipped her tea cautiously. "I just thought it would be nice for you to establish yourself amongst that crowd, it would be most appropriate given your work now with Sir Percy and all the doors it could open in your career, and_"

"Mother. How many times are we going to have this conversation? I respect your views but I am not interested in rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, much less anyone with vague royal connections. Sir Percy is merely a means to an end, a job, nothing else. There, I've said it now. And I apologise if you are disappointed. I really have no interest in pretending to be something I am not."

Colin looked at his mother. He recognised she was a quaint character, that she moved in circles with her close-knit group of friends, playing bridge every Tuesday, going to the bingo parlour on Thursday, and taking turns to host book club meetings once a month. It was a lonely life otherwise, or so he believed, with noone else to share things with. Not since his father disappeared anyway. He pondered for the umpteenth time where the bastard might be now.


His mother was looking at him, smiling, eyes pleading for a comfortable answer.

"So you are absolutely sure this Sally does not frequent the races?"

Colin rolled his eyes. Jesus wept, he thought.

"No mother, definitely not. I can assure you..." He paused suddenly, a fragment of conversation crossing his mind.

Enid watched him expectantly.

"Actually mama, she does frequent the races, I've just remembered."

"Oh splendid! We can have an excursion all together next week! What fun!" She clapped her hands for added effect.

"But not that kind of races, I'm afraid. Dog races. On the track, but with dogs."

He looked at his mother. She wore the same stunned expression as when she broke her beloved Silver Jubilee china cup and saucer.

"Oh," was all she managed to say.

Monday, 13 September 2010

An Innocent Disaster – Chapter 19

Sally stood in front of the wall of boxes. There must have been about two dozen of them. She rubbed her temples and closed her eyes. Damn headache again, she thought. Go away.

How did this happen? She tried desperately to recall her actions, the sequence of events, what answers she gave to that stupid questionnaire that led to this whole consignment being delivered to the volunteer centre.

“Oh honestly!” She exclaimed out loud. “Rocks for brains!”

“They won’t disappear by shouting at them, you know?”

Sally glanced to her right where the voice came from.

“Not you again?” she hissed at Matt. “Do you not have a home to go to?”

“And how lovely to see you too,” he replied. “Always knew we were meant for each other.”

“Sorry. Bad time. Did not mean to snap.” Sally turned back to the boxes, sighing heavily.
“I just cannot believe this situation. These damn boxes and their idiotic contents, nowhere to hide them, nowhere to send them, nowhere to return them. I mean, there must be a solution somehow to getting rid of the stuff, don’t you think? They just serve as a permanent embarrassment sitting here in the volunteer centre.”

Matt assumed what he thought was a pensive stance. He stroked his chin for extra effect, hoping that Sally would notice and turn her attention to him. He always dreamed of a captive audience, and his timing now could be perfect provided he found the most appropriate words.

“I might just have the answer to your problem,” he said, raising an eyebrow in his attempt to add to the allure of his message.

Sally did not move. She was still staring at the boxes, in a trance.

“I said, I might have the answer to your problem,” Matt repeated.

“Don’t tell me. You have an empty warehouse in the countryside that is crying out for a delivery of plastic battery operated vibrators that look like pink rabbits?”

“You knew?”

“I did? I was just postulating.”

“Oh. Well. Funny that, because I do actually have access to an empty warehouse. Not quite in the countryside, but close enough.”

Sunday, 18 April 2010

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 18

What was so special about the bunny girl Robert ran off with? Sally pondered the question for the hundredth time, although this time it was Colin who was asking, not her own mind.

“I guess she just had bigger boobs,” she answered, “because she certainly didn’t have a couple of brain cells to rub together.”

Colin looked at her, taking his eyes off the road momentarily, stung by the caustic reply.

“That bad, eh?” He wondered whether to pursue this conversation further.

“It was a classic case of a boys night out gone awry,” she continued. “Robert was at a lap dancing club with some of his mates and a couple of clients, things between us were not brilliant, and next thing you know this dolly bird bounces over to him, all sequins and tassels and bouncing size G cleavage, gives him the eye and two weeks later he’s moved out and in to a brand new flat in Clerkenwell with his new woman. From Slovakia, as if that is supposed to make it acceptable. Idiot.”

Sally was struck by the acidity in her own voice as she recounted this summarised version of events that had finally buried her marriage no more than six months ago. It was her way of dealing with the pain. She could feel her eyes smarting and was grateful for the traffic so that Colin had to revert to focusing on the road rather than cast any more glances her way.

“And now?”

“And now life goes on.” Sally sighed. It was the type of conversation she was sick of. She wanted to move on, needed to, but everyone around her – her parents, her friends, her colleagues, even Colin now whom she didn’t know at all – was intent on raking over one way or another what had gone wrong, or what they perceived as having gone wrong. It wasn’t their fault really, how were they to know the intricacies of her marriage to Robert?

“We were married for seven years,” she continued, breaking the silence in the car.

“Isn’t that the trickiest year? Seven year itch and all that? Or is that just coincidental?”

“Well, considering we were together for four years before we got married, it’s probably just a convenient exit clause.”

Colin was intrigued. The dinner at his mother’s that evening had confirmed his judgement that Sally was a decent person, well mannered, educated, intelligent, and attractive, albeit in a slightly unconventional way in that she did not make an effort and did not seem to even know what her best attributes were (eyes, teeth and hands, in his book). Given his own past disastrous experiences with women, he was amazed she had even agreed to join him for dinner, at his mother’s no less, but this also gave her additional kudos in his eyes. He was under no illusion that he was a ‘great catch’ in any sense of the word. But he must have some value for her to have accepted and gone through with it. Or maybe she was just being kind and he had caught her at an opportune moment?

“Would you do it again?” he asked her.

“What? Get married?” She looked at him in horror.

“No, sorry, I mean would you go out with me again?”

Sally quickly pondered her choices. Evenings at home watching re-runs of Friends over takeaways. Waiting for Robert to call and say he made a mistake and beg her forgiveness. Anticipating Keira’s next phone call to recant the latest pregnancy news. Spending more hours at the volunteer centre doing mindless work...

“Sure, why not?” She smiled at Colin. “Just one condition.”

“Oh? Okay, what would that be?”

“No lap dancing clubs.” Sally burst in to a fit of laughter that was infectious.

As they stopped at the traffic lights, nearby cars were amused by the sight of Colin and Sally wiping tears from their eyes as they fought to control themselves.

“This will be a great friendship, I promise,” Colin finally managed to say as he squeezed Sally’s hand in her lap.

“Thanks,” she returned the squeeze, “I need that.”

Saturday, 27 February 2010

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 17

Matt looked forlornly towards the door of the pub, long after Sally and Colin had walked out.
"Same again?" the bar man snapped him out of his trance. He nodded and reminisced about the events of the day. He was not a happy man.

The meeting with his editor earlier that afternoon had been a true ultimatum. Either he came up with the goods and a meaty story or he was out. Simple as that. The boss did not mess around and Matt had seen better journalists than him move on for similar reasons. It was disheartening. This was his third job after all in the media and he was desperate to show he could cut it with the best of them. He knew why they took him on, he knew what they hoped for when they saw his CV and read his name. The tabloids were game for anything but the reputable papers would not even talk to him unless he had a portfolio of work behind him, and so far his was pretty flimsy.

He took a swig of his beer and looked at his watch. Sally and Colin must be at his mother's enjoying a home-cooked dinner by now, he reckoned. It was funny how he could not get her out of his head. She was definitely not his type, but ever since she had stared him down on the plane all those months ago when the hostess incident took place, he had felt a distinct attraction. Maybe it was because she seemed so different from the typical leggy blondes he favoured. He sipped his beer again.

What was it with this Colin fellow though? He was so awkward and peculiar-looking. There was no doubt he was conscientious about his work, despite its dubious aims, but how could a girl like Sally ever fancy him? Matt was convinced he was running a separate agenda. Maybe he was gay? He shook the notion from his head and drained the last of his beer, seeking courage from the bottom of the glass. He had to make a phone call and had been dreading this moment, postponing it as long as possible.

He took out his mobile phone and dialled.

"Sir Percival Deacon speaking," it answered after only two rings.

"Hello father, it's Matthew".

Saturday, 23 January 2010

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 16

Sally stared at herself in the mirror. That was weird, she thought, her mind running over the events of the previous evening. She could not quite decide whether Colin’s intentions had been purposely chaste or whether he really was just a shy person at heart.

“Can you just tilt your head forward a bit please?” the stylist asked. Sally complied obediently. Anything to avoid having a pointless conversation about nothing with the girl cutting her hair. She focused intensely on her magazine hoping this would deter any proposed banter. It seemed to work and her mind wandered again.

Colin’s mum provided the missing link regarding his ears. They were an exact replica, slightly square with pointy earlobes. When she complimented her on the dinner – which actually was delicious, she loved sausage casserole and sprouts – the blessed woman blushed and her ears turned beetroot red. Sally had had to stifle a giggle, the similarity was bordering on comical.

After leaving Matt in the pub last night, she made sure they were well out of earshot before asking Colin the most obvious question. “Why?” she queried, as they walked towards his car.

“Oh, well, I just thought you might like some company,” he replied.

Sally left it at that and made a conscious decision to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening, regardless of what might lie ahead. She felt strangely safe in Colin’s company, despite her earlier reservations and, in hindsight, rather catty comments about him behind his back. It proved to be the right option.

Colin’s mother Enid lived quite nearby, it turned out. Only some ten minute’s drive away in Chiswick. She had an accelerated running commentary on the way there, filling her in on relevant details that Colin deemed necessary to tide her over for the evening in his mother’s company.

“Mother is quite set in her ways,” was his opening line.

“Really? How so?” Sally queried.

“Well, she believes in Queen and country and the divine right of the royal family, for one.”

“Don’t we all?" Sally remarked sarcastically.

“No, no, I mean she really believes that we should all still subscribe to the model that made the British Empire great.”

“And is that a bad thing?”

“I guess not, but I should warn you that she has certain ideas about how things should be and how this country is going to the dogs. Sorry, bad pun, not intended.”

Sally ignored the poor choice of analogy. “Don’t tell me,” she turned to look at him as he negotiated the streets of West London, “She reads the Daily Mail?”

“Of course, what else?” A smile twitched across his features. He could pass for cute, she thought, even with that shock of ginger hair. Another feature she was to discover he shared with his mother.

As it turned out, the dinner was a pleasant event. Colin’s mother was devoted to her son’s well-being. She took great joy in telling Sally the usual childhood anecdotes that accompany such occasions, and was rather coy when asking Sally about her own background. Sally was cautious in revealing too much, but not to a degree that would come across as rude.

“How would you like it dried?” The shrill voice of the stylist drew Sally out of her stupor. “Straight would be nice, yeah?” Sally nodded. It would revert to curly again as soon as she ventured out into the rain, so why not get value for money, she thought, and have them make the effort to endow some glamour on her. For once she quite fancied a more sophisticated look than the usual tousle effect.

She was sure her revelations to Colin and his mum had not been too shocking. Sally tried to recall what she told them. She worked in the City for a technology company, specialising in the financial services sector. She did not elaborate on what exactly this entailed, just left it suitably vague. They nodded and did not ask questions, so she had reckoned that information sufficed.

Her desire to help others had led to taking up the occasional evening work at the volunteer centre that Colin was running. Again, she made no mention of the Sparkie debacle and her falling out with Keira being behind this rash decision to offer her services to what was in all truth a less-than-savoury endeavour.

And she was separated, but not divorced. Colin’s mother seemed upset by this, far more than might have otherwise been deemed necessary, but Sally put it down to her age and living by Daily Mail standards. Colin however was intrigued and intent on asking more probing questions as he drove her home.

Monday, 14 December 2009

An Innocent Disaster - Chapter 15

Faced with the reality of having to say something to Sally, Colin found himself lost for words. Having that pesky journalist Matt standing in the vicinity did not aide matters either. Colin was overcome by selfconsciousness, aware of the wilting bunch of carnations in his hand and the inadequacy of his presence. His palms were sweaty and he could feel the colour rising in his face. He knew his ears were starting to turn red and could see Sally and Matt staring at them.
"Hi," he muttered, and made himself smile. Sally just looked at him, her unwavering gaze making him feel even more embarassed. Shit, he suddenly thought, was something going on with her and Matt? Was he interrupting an intimate get-together? His mind tried to recollect how she had left the volunteer centre earlier that evening and whether there had been some silent communication between her and Matt he was unaware of. Perception was not his forte.
"S-s-s-sorry," he stammered, "I am imposing." And he turned to leave, carnations still clutched firmly in his hand.
"Don't be ridiculous," Sally 's voice broke her silence. "I have no idea why he is here either."
Colin turned back. Sally's gaze was still firmly on his ears, but Matt was now staring at her, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
"I told you why," he said.
"Sure, you said you followed me."
"I did."
"At his request," she said, pointing at Colin.
"My request?" Colin asked. He looked at Matt. What the hell was going on here?
"Yeah, he was worried about you."
Colin looked at Matt. "I was?" he asked. "Why?"
Matt rolled his eyes. "Be-cause," he stressed, "you said you thought she was upset and I should keep an eye on her, just in case_"
"Just in case what?" Sally interrupted.
"Dunno, just in case."
"I did something stupid?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"I am an adult you know. I don't exactly need looking after." Sally's headache was retuning once more.
"Excuse me," Colin put his hand holding the wilting carnations up between them. "I did not say to follow her. I said, if I recall correctly, 'I hope she is ok, she looks a bit stressed out', and you replied 'She's fine' or something similar, and then left as well." Colin emphasised the 'as well', as if this exonerated him from any wrong-doing.
Sally's gaze moved from one man to the other. Her temples throbbed. She closed her eyes and addressed Colin.
"Why are you here?"
"Oh, um, well, I thought, well, I wondered, mmm, err, dinner. Yes, would you join me for dinner? At my mother's?"
"Hey," chipped in Matt, "Can't turn down a proposal like that!" He started to laugh.
Sally opened her eyes and looked at Matt, now doubled over with laughter that had set off a coughing fit, and then back at Colin. She took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to expel some of the pounding in her head. Look at him, she thought, standing there with those ridiculous flowers in his hand. What on earth was he thinking? He cut a pretty pathetic picture, red ears notwithstanding.
"Sure," she answered. "I'd love to."