Here as promised is the first chapter of ‘Scam!’, the second story in my latest publication ‘Two Novellas’:
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?
Copyright Stevie Turner 2020
Chapter 1 – 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.