Read on for a chapter of Laura's adventures, and also for a chance to win a signed copy of Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings.
Laura walked through passport control with a spring in her step, swinging Mimi’s leather bag in excitement. She loved everything, instantly. The St Pancras station shopping hall heaving with people. The great soaring Victorian roof.
She pulled out her phone and called Caspar, smiling as she dialled. He was going to love the story about Harry Scott. But again there was no answer, which was unexpected. Laura checked the number, frowning. No, she had the right one. Where was he?
She took a deep breath. There was nothing to worry about. He might be at an audition or something; he needed the work. He would be in later. He knew she was coming.
But it was strange, even so. Might it be possible...? But no. Caspar was not a jewel thief on the run. It was out of the question that he had anything to do with the missing Bender bling. He would be at an audition, that was all. And later on he’d give her a wry account of it, and she would tell him off for not answering when she called. And then they would make up, which would be a lot of fun. She felt a frisson of lust. A lot of fun.
But that was all later. For now she would go to Society and check in with the HR department. She had investigated the location; the Tubes were either Oxford Circus or Bond Street. But it was only early afternoon and she had two hours before her appointment. Should she walk? Or take the bus? Yes – the famous, iconic, red London bus?
Outside, on the Euston Road, a stream of double-deckers was passing. Laura studied the timetable and caught the 73. She clambered upstairs; the seats at the front were empty. Perfect.
Off the bus chugged. Laura stared out at thronged pavements and choked crossings. It all seemed much busier than Paris. When, eventually, the bus reached Bond Street, she got out and walked down, examining the tableaux in the smart shop windows.
Mannequins in Bond Street were living the dream. In one display, top-hatted male and fascinatored female dummies were enjoying a champagne party. They stood about convivially on green fake grass studded with bright fake flowers. In the windows of an expensive lingerie store a group of mannequins in underwear were getting ready for a night out. One sat on the loo applying lipstick while another stood before the mirror. The third lay in the bath, one high-heeled mule swinging from the end of her foot.
It made Laura suddenly long for the banter and freedom of living in a flat full of girls. She had never shared a place with anyone but Mimi, and whenever she had made female friends at school, they had always been scared away by Clemency Makepeace. In the end she had given up trying. But hopefully London would bring opportunities to form new bonds. It might have to. She had just checked her mobile again and there was still nothing from Caspar.
Had he really robbed Mrs Bender? Was that why he’d gone AWOL? The jewellers’ shops had now begun: Cartier upon Bulgari upon Harry Winston upon Boucheron upon Van Cleef & Arpels. Pausing to look at pear-shaped emeralds, sapphires the size of Scrabble letters and diamonds strobing like disco lights, Laura could see how a penniless actor might be tempted. They were hypnotically beautiful, as well as worth a fortune.
Did Caspar have the ruthlessness that one associated with jewel thieves? Laura was beginning to wonder. She may have spent hours on end sitting just inches away from him and, yes, she had slept with him. But she didn’t really know him. She knew the funny, seductive, outrageous exterior, but had she ever glimpsed the inner man? How Caspar really felt about anything? Only when he’d been complaining about Orlando Chease. And he’d sounded pretty ruthless then. Positively murderous.
Passing Tiffany’s, she remembered her grandmother’s advice on acquiring a radiant complexion. ‘A stroll with the right man round Tiffany’s! The air there is excellent – very good for the skin.’
Laura smiled and felt better. She must focus on the fact that her professional future was as bright and brilliant as a jeweller’s window. Soon she was cheerfully entering an imposing garden square. Rising before her was a building of pale stone with letters cut above the entrance. ‘SOCIETY HOUSE’.
It was all she could do not to run towards the revolving silver door set in the large glass frontage. Beside it, mounted on the cream stone wall, was a highly polished brass plaque on which was engraved ‘The British Magazine Company’.
A pair of thin young blondes passed her as she entered. One wore a clear plastic cloak over a green neon tutu, the other a tweed boilersuit and pink jelly shoes. ‘Body chains with prehistoric teeth,’ she was saying.
‘Vengeful ballet pumps with punky buckles,’ replied the other.
Laura grinned. How wonderfully glossy!
A woman with red glasses carrying an open MacBook swept past. She was barking into a phone. ‘The new interiors colours are Penis, Pigeon and Pout.’
Laura was delighted. She was going to absolutely love working here!
On the door was a sign reading ‘Suzanne Silver, Director of Human Resources’.
‘Laura Lake for you, Miss Silver,’ said the girl who had met Laura at the lift.
‘Thank you, Antigone...’
A plump, groomed blonde in a black dress looked up, unsmilingly, from a desk. On the desk were some enormously thick books, Who’s Who and Debrett’s among them, as well as a framed page from a newspaper, ‘London’s Most Powerful’, as well as a big red number 5 beside a photograph of Suzanne.
Laura realised she was in the presence of a media potentate.
‘I’ve got lots of features ideas,’ she began, reaching for her bag with her notebook in it.
‘Ideas?’ Suzanne looked startled.
‘For the magazine.’
Suzanne gave a dismissive chuckle. ‘I don’t need to know about that sort of thing. I do the background checks.’ Laura had previously filled in a form online, but that was incomplete anyway; her London address was yet to be added. Perhaps that was what Suzanne meant. But she had her passport, which she now put on the table.
Suzanne did not pick it up, however. She was consulting a huge red book with ‘Burke’s Peerage’ in gold on the spine. ‘Lake,’ she was murmuring to herself, flipping through the pages. ‘Hinton St Magna?’
Suzanne looked up irritably. She had very hard blue eyes, Laura noticed. ‘Are you one of the Lakes of Hinton St Magna? A cadet branch of the Codde-Chitterling family?’
Laura sensed that Suzanne would quite like her to be. Ambition urged her to say yes. ‘I’m not sure,’ she hedged.
The personnel director had now turned to consult an enormous poster on the wall which was covered in coats of arms. ‘Mole rampant on a background of azure with gules and half suzerain. Motto: “I toil in the dark”?’
The hard blue eyes had swung back and were boring into Laura. ‘Isn’t that your heraldic achievement?’
Laura decided to err on the side of caution, as well as truth. She took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got absolutely no idea.’
The irritation went from Suzanne’s face, and she smiled.
‘Congratulations, you’ve passed the first test. ‘I always invite people to claim they’re related to bogus families. Just to see whether they’re truthful or not.’
Laura felt light-headed with relief at not having succumbed to temptation. ‘The last girl I had in here said she was one of the Prawn-Sandwiches.’ Suzanne was shaking her head and beaming fondly. ‘And I’ve had plenty of fun with Lew-Rolles and Jolly-Silleys in the past.’
Laura chuckled obediently.
Suzanne gave a happy sigh, then looked hard at Laura again. ‘So who are you related to, then?’
The blue eyes froze. ‘We only want well-connected girls here.’
‘My father died when I was little. I’ve been living with my grandmother in Paris.’
‘Can you name some of your friends?’
Laura’s mind was blank. Thanks largely to Clemency Makepeace, she didn’t have many friends, as such. Apart from Ernest and Ginette. But a transvestite prostitute and an elderly bar owner were not what was being asked for here.
She sat silently, heart sinking, before the chill azure stare. Would her lack of grand contacts cost her the job?
It seemed not. Suzanne now leant forward with a conspiratorial smile. ‘Absolutely,’ she whispered. ‘The truly well connected never talk about the people they know. Quite right. Not at all the done thing. Just as long as you open your address book when Carinthia needs it, eh?’
Realising that, most unexpectedly, she seemed to have passed another of Suzanne’s tests, Laura nodded fervently. And she meant it. The minute Carinthia wanted to do a feature on Ernest, Laura would lay all his contact details at her feet.
‘Well, that’s it,’ Suzanne said brightly. ‘You can start tomorrow. Antigone will have an ID card ready, and your exes. £20 a week to cover travel. We don’t pay interns, as I expect Carinthia explained.’
Laura didn’t think Carinthia had, but decided it didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. She would manage, and she had a roof over her head with Caspar. The main thing was, she was in!
Too excited to wait for the lift, she ran down the back stairs and almost danced across the lobby. The revolving door whizzed in her wake.
Outside, the sun beat down happily on the well-swept pavement. Laura felt for her mobile and called Caspar again. She was desperate to share her good news, as well as check in about the flat. But his end remained unanswered. Again, no answerphone clicked in.
Her joy faded. Worry clawed at her, as well as annoyance. This really was ridiculous. She was now definitely beginning to think he was a jewel thief on the run. Or had he simply forgotten all about her, gone off with the blonde from the train? She’d almost prefer him to be a jewel thief.
Well, she had to be practical. Wherever he was, whatever was going on, it left her homeless. She must find a hotel if she was not to sleep on the streets. She had enough in her account for a few days if necessary. Caspar was bound to have emerged by then.
And when he did, she would tell him what she thought of him.
The Euston Road seemed her best bet. It had three mainline stations on it; there would be cheap chain hotels offering a decent level of cleanliness and comfort. She set off towards the Tube.
It was horribly crowded; this was rush hour. At Euston she lost her way among the escalators and tunnels but eventually made it to the train station concourse. This too was heaving with people, shoving in the opposite direction and dragging after them suitcases whose wheels bashed her ankles and feet. Laura skipped out of their way as best she could. London was a battleground!
Spotting the logo of a bargain hotel chain, she hurried gratefully towards it. Saved!
In the purple, deskless foyer, a lank-haired woman in a trouser suit and corporate neckscarf stood behind a touch-screen console. A badge on her lapel read, ‘Kayleigh, Guest Welcome Operative’. She tapped the greasy screen. Yes, there was a room, and within Laura’s budget. ‘If you could just hand over your card,’ said Kayleigh in a nasal drone.
Laura reached for the purse in her bag. Strangely, the bag was not in her hand. She realised that she couldn’t remember the last time it had been. She glanced at the floor; had it fallen? It was not anywhere on the grey and purple carpet.
Panic closed in, but she forced herself to think rationally. Remember. Had she left it on the Tube? No, she’d had it at the exit, she had shoved her ticket in the zip front. She had had it on the concourse at Euston; she had put it down to put her coat back on. Was it then that someone had snatched it?
The hideous possibility clanged through her just as the nasal drone cut in. ‘Your card?’
Laura stared at Kayleigh. ‘My bag... I... someone’s taken it.’ Her mind reeled. Not only had her purse gone, her phone had too. She couldn’t even call Caspar now. His number was in its memory.
‘Someone’s taken your bag?’ The Visitor Welcome Operative sounded sceptical. She had clearly heard all this before.
Laura fought not to lose control. She spoke slowly, clearly.
‘Yes, it’s gone. And so I don’t have a card.’ God, and her passport had been in there as well. Her passport!
‘Can’t give you a room if you can’t pay for it.’
‘Yes, I see that, but it’s not my fault. Someone’s taken my bag.’
Kayleigh was tapping impassively into her console. ‘Reported it to the police, haveya?’
‘Better do that then.’
Laura stumbled away. She was penniless, passportless and roofless, with the strange London night coming on. How on earth had this happened? Not long ago, she had felt on the edge of something big. But it was an abyss. A huge black nothing.
Oh God. What now?
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