but there was no Bobby Cotterel. He must be ex-directory; but the Mayhews had had the house before Bobby Cotterel. She spent ages finding the M’s. They did come after L, didn’t they? Oh God, the page was missing, No, it was the first number on the next page. Sir Edward Mayhew, Bandit’s Court. Her hand was shaking so much she could hardly dial the number.
“Hello,” said a brusque voice.
She was so surprised she couldn’t speak.
“If that’s burglars,” said the voice, “I’m here plus fifteen guard dogs and you can fuck off.”
Tory gasped. “No, it isn’t,” she said. “Is that Mr. Cotterel?” She must speak very slowly and try to sound businesslike.
Jake, having finished his glass of beer and ordered a large whisky, gazed at his reflection, framed by mahogany and surrounded by upside-down bottles in the mirror behind the bar. Totally without vanity, he looked in mirrors only for identity. He had spent too many Sundays at the children’s home, with scrubbed face and hair plastered down with water in the hope of charming some visitor into fostering or adopting him, to have any illusions about his attractiveness.
“Come here often?” said the barmaid, who worked in the pub on Sunday to boost her wages and in the hope of finding a new boyfriend.
“No,” said Jake.
He glanced at his watch. Tory had been away for nearly a quarter of an hour now. He hoped the stupid cow hadn’t passed out. He’d need a forklift truck to carry her home. He went out to look for her. She was standing by the telephone in the passage with her shoes off.
“That’s fine,” she was saying in a careful voice.
If Bobby Cotterel had not come back a week early from the South of France because it was so expensive, and been promptly faced with a large income-tax bill, he might not have been in such a receptive mood. Africa troubled his conscience, like his daughter’s guinea pig, whose cage, now she’d gone back to boarding school, needed cleaning out. He was not an unkind man. This girl sounded a “gent,” and was so anxious to buy Africa for four times the price he’d paid for her, and he wouldn’t have to pay any commission to Mrs. Wilton.
“The livery fee’s paid up for another three weeks,” he said.
“I’ll take that over,” said Tory.
“No, I’ll be happy to stand it to you, darling.”
“Can we come round and give you the check now?”
“Of course. Come and have a drink, but for Christ’s sake don’t tell anyone I’m back.”
Tory had had her first date, and been called darling and invited for a drink by Bobby Cotterel.
She turned towards Jake with shining eyes.
If she lost a couple of hundredweight, she’d be quite pretty, he thought sourly. What the hell had she got to look so cheerful about?
“Wonderful. I’ve just bought Africa.”
“Whatever for? You don’t like horses.”
“For you, of course. You can pay me back slowly, a pound a week, or we can go into partnership. I’ll own her, you can ride her.”
A dull red flush had spread across Jake’s face.
“You’re crazy. How much did you pay?”
“I offered eight hundred and he accepted. He’s just had a bill for his income tax. I said we’d take the check around now, before Mrs. Wilton starts blabbing about Sir William and Malise Gordon.”
“Have you got that amount in the bank?”
“Oh, yes, I got £5,000 on my birthday, and lots of shares.”
“Your mother’ll bust a gut.”
“Hooray,” said Tory.
“She’ll say I got you plastered.”
“No, you did not. I did it all off my own bat, like those cricketers in the bar.”
She cannoned off a hatstand as she went out of the door.
Jake was finding it impossible to clamber out of the pit of despair so quickly. He might at least say thank you, thought Tory.
They walked to Bobby Cotterel’s house and handed over the check. Armed with a receipt, he walked her home, both of them following the white lines in the middle of the road.