“Audrey. Audrey! Mrs Cooperman!!”
“Umm? Yes, what is it? What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just wondering when you were coming back to us.”
“Haha! Oh, right! Sorry, darling, I was miles away. What time is it?”
Richard glanced at the Panerai watch on his left wrist. “Almost six. We’d better be making a move. You are the main attraction after all and we don’t want them giving your award to that Archer bloke to look after – you might never get it back! Where were you anyway?”
Audrey looked slightly confused. “When?”
“Just now. You said you were miles away.”
“Oh, right. Yes. I was just thinking of the last little ‘soiree’ we attended. A little less formal attire, but no less grand an occasion. Hopefully, though, not quite so much drama this time. Here, do you want a hand with that?”
“Thanks. These bow ties are a nuisance to get right. Have you seen my cuff…ah, there they are. Yes, sharper than the Superman outfit, but not as eye-catching. No hidden mic this time, either. Should make going to the bathroom a lot less embarrassing!”
Audrey smiled. “There. All done. You’ll be the most handsome man in the room.”
“Why, thank you darling. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s always nice to hear.” Richard fiddled with his cufflinks as his cheeks flushed slightly.
“And…!” Audrey stared at her husband in a potent mixture of anticipation, disbelief and mild admonishment. Richard looked back at her with bewilderment and a hint of fear. “That’s your cue to comment on how I look!”
“Oh, right! Well, it goes without saying – and that’s why I didn’t say it,” Richard gave a nervous laugh. “that you look every inch the successful, confident – and beautiful – woman that you’ve always been and there won’t be a woman in the building that isn’t burning with jealousy or a man that…”
“Okay, okay! You can stop there. I’ll let you off! I’m the fiction specialist in this house.”
“Award winning fiction specialist,” corrected Richard, proudly. “Anyway, is a novel still fiction if it’s based on actual events?”
“Richard, dear, you’re a publisher – and now a reasonably well-known and comfortably-off publisher – if you don’t know the answer to that, no-one does.”
Richard blushed again. “Yes, but I once released Blair’s autobiography under the heading ’True Crimes’ remember. The worrying thing is that no-one noticed for four months!”
“Well, I changed all the names, reordered some of the events and made you out to be the hero. It can hardly be called true, can it?” Audrey gave her husband a playful dig in the chest and winked.
“Yes, well, that definitely is fiction. It may be over a year ago and my recollection of events is somewhat hazy, given that I was unconscious for the business end of it, but I seem to remember being told that you were the star of the show that night. In fact, if you hadn’t tackled the late Ms Pestis when you did, it’s a fair bet that neither of us would be here to tell your worldwide following all about it.” Richard leant over to the dressing table and picked up two flutes of champagne. “Here you are, darling. A toast: to the most successful crime-fighting novelist since Jessica Fletcher. Cheers!”
“Cheers…I think!” Audrey half frowned at the comparison to a pot-boiler-penning pensioner. Her interpretation of the events of last year might not rival, say, Raymond Chandler, she thought, but they were a darn sight more suspenseful than anything that Rowling woman, for example, could come up with – and look at the accolades she had thrown at her. Besides, winner of the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger spoke for itself. Audrey let out a defiant “Hmph!“ then took a sip from her glass and handed it to her husband who, being somewhat taken aback by his wife’s sudden utterance, in attempting to place both glasses back on the dressing table, missed and only narrowly avoided breaking up a set of flutes and incurring a significant carpet cleaning bill by the application of residual reflexes from his student days as a barman.
“Audrey! Richard! You might want to see this.” A young woman’s voice from the bottom of the staircase pierced the comic tension in the bedroom and the occupants dissolved into laughter, which only abated as they reached the door of the living room. Alice was half seated, half laying on the settee with her right arm propping up her head, watching the television intently.
“What is it, Alice?” asked Audrey.
In response, Alice pointed at the screen.
The BBC news had just begun: “Our main story tonight: Gregor Repec, the man hired by literary agent, Yvette Pestis, three years ago to murder a would-be writer and who assisted Pestis in the kidnapping and unlawful detention of renowned publisher, Richard Cooperman and his novelist wife, Audrey, to cover up the crime was today sentenced to life imprisonment. He was told he would serve no less than twenty years. Pestis was shot and killed in October last year by police who had been watching the home of Lord Chattering – the comedian and author, Ben Fedora – who himself had been implicated in the affair. Pestis died just moments after she had shot and fatally wounded Lord Chattering and was about to shoot Mrs Cooperman. At the end of the trial, Police spokesperson, Stephanie King, thanked Mr and Mrs Cooperman for their assistance and praised their bravery during…”
“Okay, that’s enough of that, I think.” Richard pressed the standby button on the television remote and the screen crackled into blackness. “Darling, are you ready?”
“When you are, dear.” Audrey picked up her clutch bag and both she and Alice followed Richard to the front door. “You know the drill, Alice sweetie. Look in on Charlie every now and again – he’s got a slight cold, bless him – and help yourself to anything in the fridge. Any problems, call me. Okay, we’ll see you later. ‘Bye.”
“’Bye, you two. Have a great night…and congratulations again,” Alice replied, before closing the door, returning to the settee and picking up the TV remote.
The house was inhabited by a dreaming child, a television set now showing a documentary on Beckett and a young woman smiling contentedly.