Here’s the first part of a 20,000 word novelette, which I thought I’d share with you all so that you can see my writing style. I’ll add some more parts as the days go on.
Scam! by Stevie Turner
Copyright Stevie Turner December 2020
Lauren West and Ben Hughes are saving frantically for their forthcoming marriage and mortgage deposit. When Lauren sees an advert online from a firm of brokers extolling the profits to be gained by buying and selling Bitcoins, she is interested enough to pursue it further.
Lauren clicks on the advert. She is soon contacted by Paul Cash, a knowledgeable stockbroker whom Lauren trusts straight away. He is affable, plausible, and seemingly genuinely interested in her welfare. Lauren looks forward to making enough money to be able to surprise Ben and bring the date of their wedding forward, and also to put a deposit down on their ideal house.
What could possibly go wrong?
Chapter One – 2015
The next word I say will decide my future forever.
Surroundings in my shabby student digs fly away, and I no longer lie amongst rumpled and unwashed bed sheets in the front downstairs bedroom at 205a Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge. Instead, for one brief moment, Ben’s proposal lifts us both up over the snowy rooftops and lands us down on a deserted Caribbean island instead.
“Thank God for that! I was bricking it in case you said no!”
I laugh, cuddle closer to his chest and feel his warmth in the chill of the January evening, all the while twisting a long strand of white-blond hair at the back of his head around my forefinger.
“Why wouldn’t I want to marry you? I need to snap you up before Diana bloody Notlob does.” I pull a face. “Her legs are so bandy she couldn’t stop a pig in a passage.”
“Another saucer of milk, darling? Hey, let’s not go through all that again. I’ve already told you… nothing ever happened between me and Diana Bolton.”
“Forget it.” I reach up and kiss the side of his neck. “You know I love you to the moon and back. Yes, yes … yes!”
Two arms boasting enviable musculature squeeze me tightly.
“Awesome.” Ben kisses the top of my head. “We’ll have to save for a few years though, obviously. When we get our teaching posts then we’ll be able to put a bit more money away. I know Mum and Dad will want me to work for what I want though. I was brought up that way.”
“Me too.” I reply, and lift myself up on one elbow. “I can’t ask the parentals for more money anyway, because they’ve still got to put my sister through Uni yet.”
“My parents have it, but they just don’t want to part with it. They had it tough at first, and Dad has always said it’s the best way to learn value for money. Mum always tells me there’s nothing more satisfying than buying a house that you’ve paid for yourself.”
“Yeah, she’s probably right.” I sigh. “I just wish it would all happen now.”
The usual throng of tourists jostle for position along King’s Parade as we walk in crocodile form behind the Vice-Chancellor up to the Senate House wearing our hooded graduation robes in the bright June sunshine. I grin at Ben as he briefly looks over his shoulder and seeks me out right near the back with the foreign students as usual, whose surnames all end in either x, y or z.
Inside I search for Mum, Dad and my sister Linda, sitting proudly with their cameras that they aren’t allowed to use. My little group of Ws wait seemingly forever for our turn, then walk four abreast up the aisle towards the Praelector, who speaks to the Vice Chancellor in Latin, but basically presents us individually to him. We kneel before the Vice Chancellor, who speaks in sonorous tones to the congregation.
“Te etiam admitto ad eundum gradum.”
I know that Mum and Dad will have no idea what is going on. We rise and bow to the Vice Chancellor and then exit through the Doctor’s Door. I am handed my English/PGCE degree certificate and sigh with happiness as I search for Ben. We are 23, engaged to be married, and now have Qualified Teacher Status after four long years of study. The world is our lobster, or even oyster if we’re lucky.
Ben, now a graduate Mathematics teacher, strides over to me as soon as we are freed from ceremony into the front garden of the Senate House. He has time to lift me up and swing me around before our parents and Linda file out as quickly as they can and descend, gloating, upon Ben and I to photograph us from every conceivable angle.
“Well done Lauren and Ben! I had no idea what they were all saying in there!”
Mum, bless her, has taken time and effort to straighten her dark curls which I have unfortunately inherited. The finished effect makes her look rather peculiar, and not like Mum at all.
“What have you done to your hair?” I laugh and hand her my certificate, already in its frame at extra cost. “I’ve never seen it like that.”
“I had to straighten it or my hat would just perch on the top or fall off!” Mum chuckles while positioning Ben and I for another photograph.
Dad, the ever-gruff Yorkshireman looks proud but slightly self-conscious as he stands in the background with Linda, still at the blushing schoolgirl stage, and lets Mum enjoy her centre stage moment. Ben’s mother comes over and gives me a quick kiss.
“I’m proud of the pair of you, but I’m sure Ben will need to get that ponytail cut off before he starts going to interviews.”
“Well, that’s up to him of course.” I give my future mother-in-law a hug. “I rather like his long hair actually.”
“Mum, it’s not coming off.” Ben shakes his head. “I’m going to be one of those trendy teachers who sits in the pub with his students.”
“Ye Gods.” Muriel Hughes tuts in mock annoyance and looks knowingly at her husband Geoff, “It’s changed a bit since I first started work.”
I snake an arm around Ben’s waist underneath his robe.
“Well, I’ll just be teaching little ones. Ben, you’ll have to line the drinks up for me around four o’clock every day.”
I like to tease Muriel, who I hope has a soft spot for me under her faintly brusque exterior. She rolls her eyes.
“My son and daughter-in-law-to-be are lushes.”
Linda steps forward, while her enviably straight auburn locks fall to hide her face.
“Can I take a picture of you, Lauren?”
I disengage myself from Ben.
My sister takes after Dad; quiet and unassuming. I’ve inherited Mum’s extrovert personality, which gets me into trouble sometimes as I can also be rather impulsive too, into the bargain. However, Linda’s only 17 and still finding out about the world. We’ve never really argued, as Lin will always walk away from any confrontation, which tends to render it non-viable in a very short space of time.
I spend a few moments with my sister before it’s time for group photographs with hoods down, more group photographs with hoods up, and then tea. I’m baking under my robe and can’t wait to take it off. At one point I catch Notlob gazing at Ben with her doe-brown eyes. I’m still not sure if anything went on with those two apart from calculus, algebra, differential equations and geometry.
It’s hard for us to say goodbye to our flat mates and move out from our digs. I feel a twinge of jealousy when I think of the new batch of carefree second year students moving into our bedroom from Halls in September. The time I’ve been dreading for months has come where Ben and I have to face the world and move in with his parents. Work and more work beckons until we can save enough money for a deposit. As much as I love Cambridge, house or even flat prices are beyond our means, therefore living in the city we love is unfortunately not an option.
Eltham seems drab after the bright lights of Cambridge, and I have the distinct feeling that Muriel and Geoff do not quite approve of their one and only son living in sin under their quite substantial roof. Mum and Dad are of course still in Yorkshire in the same little village they’ve lived in for 30 years, but at least in Eltham we’re not too far from the centre of London by train. All our belongings are crammed into Ben’s back bedroom. We frantically apply for teaching posts and take up summer jobs in the meantime; me working the tills in the local supermarket, and Ben playing lifeguard at the swimming pool. At night we try to have noiseless vanilla sex with one eye on the bedroom door that unfortunately never locks properly. The whole situation sucks.
Ben has interest from Corelli College, which I find out was previously known as Kidbrooke Comprehensive. It’s a large school taking in about 2000 students, and we discover it was the first comprehensive ever built. Apparently Jamie Oliver tried to tear pupils away from burgers and chips there in times gone by. Ben’s as pleased as punch, and spends his lifeguard wages on a smart interview suit.
I secure an interview at Wyefield Primary School, a recently improved and upgraded edifice re-built from the ashes of a drab concrete council estate it previously stood on. All around are ‘des res’ apartments instead of the once vandalised blocks of flats and maisonettes. It’s break time when I walk nervously through the playground full of hyper, noisy children, too busy screeching to even notice me.
I’m directed towards an obviously new and as yet unused classroom, currently serving as an inquisition chamber for several doubtless terrified and very junior would-be teachers. One of them exits as I go in. I give her a weak smile before coming face to face with the force that is Deborah Anderson, Head Teacher.
“Hi. I’m Lauren West.” I try not to let my voice show my nervousness as I hold out my right hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
The handshake is vigorous, and I get the impression of a firm but fair, no-nonsense kind of woman. Her hair is stone grey, but is cut into an attractive short style that flatters her fifty something oval shaped face.
“Deborah. Staff are all on first name terms here. Come and sit down, and we can have a chat.”
I’m relieved and anxious to rest my shaky legs, and flop down rather too readily into the proffered chair. Deborah’s eagle eyes take in my tailored suit, recent reddish low-lights, and hideously expensive Jimmy Choo slingbacks.
“I see from your CV that you’re well qualified for this post.”
“Yes.” I nod. “First Class English degree and then a PGCE qualification, which of course included four months’ teaching experience at Hillhunton School.”
“Here at Wyefield we’re interviewing for a Reception class teacher, as Yvonne Tobin has decided not to return after maternity leave. As you know, a newly qualified teacher will also need to undertake an induction year, where I would evaluate their work and submit a report of the successful candidate’s progress at the end of three terms to the local authority.”
I quickly deduce that Yvonne Tobin’s loss might possibly be my gain.
“I can assure you I have no intention of taking maternity leave for many years yet.”
“Really?” A hint of a smile turned the corners of Deborah’s mouth in an upwards direction. “So … where do you see yourself in ten years’ time then?”
I decide to stick my neck out and make an impression.
“In your job.”
Deborah laughs out loud.
“Jack Eastlake at Hillhunton sends a very favourable report of your work there.” She leafs through her notes before looking up at me. “He thought you had quite a knack with the Reception class.”
I relax a bit, cross my legs, and lean back in the chair.
She likes me…
“I love working with little ones.”
“How about the parents though?” Deborah waggles one finger in my direction. “How would you cope with an angry six foot father looming over you, who doesn’t like the fact that you’ve given his precious son low marks?”
“Well…I’d keep as calm as possible and try and reason with him. Does the school have panic buttons in the classrooms like Hillhunton did?”
“Of course, but luckily we haven’t had to use them yet. One press of the button in the office or to the right of every class blackboard locks all the doors and windows, and all the windows are shatter-proof. It would need an axe to break any glass in this building. We also have a code phrase…Angela Draper’s homework, which when a member of staff hears this they would immediately phone the police. The school has improved no end since the sink estate around it was demolished. There aren’t so many angry parents these days, but we decided it would be a good idea to keep all the security extras anyway.”
“Wow.” I reply. “I’d certainly use the button if I had to, but as you say, hopefully I won’t need to press it.”
I’m sweating with the effort of having answered all of Deborah’s searching questions as I wait for the B16 bus back to Eltham. On a whim I get off early at the start of the High Street and pop into Eltham Baths. Mel is at the reception desk.
“I just want to speak to Ben, if that’s okay?”
Mel smiles and lets me pass through the entry barrier. When Ben sees me with my nose pressed up against the poolside’s long glass windows, he signals to a colleague to take over before striding over to the emergency exit and popping his head round the door.
I want to kiss him in my excitement.
“I’ve just had a fantastic interview at Wyefield …the head teacher and I got on really well!”
“That’s great!” Ben nods. “Mum sent a text to say there’s still no word from Corelli College, and I spent all that money on a bloody suit. Perhaps it is the ponytail.” He gives it a tug. “Do you think I ought to cut it off?”
“No.” I answer with a chuckle. “It wouldn’t be you otherwise.”
He looks over his shoulder.
“Anyway, I’ve got to go. My shift ends at five thirty.” He gives me a quick peck on the cheek. “Speak to you later.”
The High Street is teeming with afternoon shoppers, and I enjoy the slow stroll along its length before I turn left at Blunts Road and walk to the end. After crossing over Gourock Road and turning left into Glenhouse, I see my future in-laws’ double fronted Edwardian house come into view at the end of the road on my right. I haven’t yet been given a key, and so I ring the bell and wait for Muriel to twitch the net curtains at one of the front bay windows. She takes her time to answer the door.
“Lauren! Did the interview go well?”
The hallway carpet has been vacuumed again. I quickly whip off my heels before they leave holes in the shag pile.
“Yes, thanks.” I nod. “Let’s say I’m quietly hopeful.”
Muriel’s joy is genuine, probably aided by the relief of knowing that Ben and I might soon be earning enough money to buy a place of our own.
“Can I help you with anything?”
I desperately want to get out of my interview clothes and into my usual garb of jeans and tee-shirt, but feel I need to be constantly thankful that Ben’s parents have taken me in.
“Geoff’s still working in the study. Dinner’s on the go.” Muriel shakes her head. “I expect you’d like to change and get over the stress of your day.”
She’s not far wrong.
“Cheers.” I reply in pseudo-cheery tone. “I’ll get some jeans on. Just give me a shout if you need any jobs done.”
In the privacy of our bedroom I flop onto the duvet and wish for the thousandth time that Ben and I had our own place so that I do not have to be constantly on my best behaviour. Ben of course can see no wrong in living cheaply in the childhood home that he loves. We only need to pay towards the electric and gas bills, and Muriel cooks us dinner every night. But it’s her choice of food cooked at a time of her choosing. Many would say we’ve got it made, but I beg to differ.
The two week waiting on tenterhooks is worth it in the end. Both Ben and I secure teaching posts; Ben at Corelli College and myself with the little ones at Wyefield Primary. There’s a few more weeks of summer to enjoy before we begin our teaching careers, but ever mindful of the need to escape from Muriel and Geoff, we carry on with our temporary jobs. I open a savings account at the Nationwide Building Society to run alongside our joint current account, and before long we amass the pathetic sum of four hundred pounds.
“Only another thirty grand to go.”
Ben laughs at my remark, and as we lie quietly in bed in each other’s arms I broach the question which has been on my mind for some time.
“If we actually ask them for a loan, d’you think your parents would help us out with a few thousand perhaps? We could pay them back.”
There is no immediate affirmative comment, and so before he even replies I know what the answer will be.
“No. It won’t work. As I said before, Mum and Dad are all for being self-sufficient and learning the value of money. They’ll probably pay a bit towards the wedding, but as for a mortgage deposit, forget it. Still no for your folks too?”
I try not to let my mood sink too low at the thought of being stuck with my in-laws for the foreseeable future. I give him a squeeze.
“They don’t have that much money to splash around, and are already looking through Uni brochures with Linda. Looks like the banks of Mum and Dad are closed to us.”
“We’ll get there. You’ll just have to be patient. In the meantime you’re stuck here with me.”
I roll over on top of him and force a smile.
“Am I complaining?”
I kiss him, and he pins our bodies together with his arms. As he moves with an increasing rhythm inside me, I’m rather glad that Geoff’s hearing isn’t all it used to be and that Muriel has turned the TV up loud.
When my shift at the supermarket finishes, I always have to walk back along Eltham High Street past ‘Brides to Be’ with its changing selection of sumptuous wedding gowns to die for in the shop window. I often loiter outside the shop for ages, just trying to imagine myself standing at the altar wearing one of them. The price tags are never displayed, as of course that would be unseemly and spoil the wonder of it all.
At the start of September I can bear the suspense no longer, and tentatively open the door to the shop. There’s a wonderful smell of brand new tulle, organza and chiffon. I notice the assistant hovering hopefully next to a tearful mother near the back of the shop, who gazes lovingly at her daughter clad in a puffed and flouncy white creation, which to me resembles a meringue. The sales assistant clocks me with a quick glance and leaves the happy couple alone for a moment.
“Good afternoon.” The assistant wears her best smile. “Can I help you?”
The mother sniffs and turns to look at me, and I want to run out again.
“Er… I’m just enquiring how much your wedding dresses are please.”
““All different prices, but they range from about seven hundred and fifty pounds to somewhere around two thousand five hundred.” She beams and gestures towards rails full of chiffon, crepe, silk and taffeta creations. “Take your time and look at these while I serve my customer.”
She turns back to the mother and her meringue, and I pull up a few of the protective covers on the gowns, but basically they’re all out of my price range. Despondently I finger the fine lace and taffeta on a long sparkling dress and heave a sigh.
“Try it on if you like?”
The sales assistant has returned while Ben has been gazing adoringly at me at a virtual altar. I pull myself together.
“Sure.” The assistant nods. “Changing cubicles are at the back of the shop. I’m Brenda, by the way.”
“Lauren.” I reply with a smile.
The meringue has changed into a young twenty-something woman in jeans, trainers, and a jumper. She grins knowingly at me, then runs to hug her mother.
Trembling with excitement, I swap my supermarket uniform for a knockout £1850 wedding dress. It fits me in all the right places, and I have to admit that I look absolutely terrific. I sashay out into the changing area corridor, twirl about a bit, and watch my reflection in the mirror.
“You know, Deirdre is so you!”
The saleswoman claps her hands to emphasise her statement. For a brief moment I wonder who the hell Deirdre is, but then I realise it’s the name of the dress. I quash the urge to giggle.
“Thanks. Are there any payment options?”
Brenda looks thoughtful.
“Sure. There’s cash, bank card or credit card, but we don’t take cheques anymore.”
“No.” I shake my head. “I mean monthly payments.”
“Oh.” Brenda’s face falls and my heart sinks. “We don’t do finance agreements or give credit, I’m afraid. You’d have to get a bank loan for that.”
It’s out of the question while we’re trying to save. I reluctantly remove Deirdre from my person, return it to Brenda, and morph back into a supermarket worker.