Neil is in LA when Rachel Wallis gets married - to somebody else. Then, back in Kent, he reluctantly takes on a case for Calverley Investigations which puts him in a school again. So far so bad, except things are going to get worse – even teaching is preferable to being dead…and his past is catching up with him.
Here's some of Chapter One - forgive the formatting but this site-building malarkey is a pain in the arse so I like to minimise the time I spend suffering
'You may now kiss the bride.’
There was no denying it, Rachel Wallis looked absolutely stunning. And that’s a word I hardly ever use – my own personal protest against its overuse by the easily impressed and those without an adequate personal vocabulary. The just-above-average can’t accurately be described as awesome or stunning but try telling that to the sort of idiot who has the imagination of a five-year-old.
She had on a simple, full length white gown that followed the outline of her torso and hips before falling unhindered to the floor. The neckline was high enough to take her cleavage out of the equation but the dress was sleeveless so her lightly tanned arms were left bare. Rachel’s shoulder length dark brown hair hung loose in the style familiar to millions and on her face was the look of undisguised joy only a woman on her wedding day can achieve. Movie stars, it’s said, are often a disappointment in real life - but not Rachel. She was witty and intelligent and mostly lacking in the prima donna traits one might expect in one of the most famous women in the world. I’d fallen in love with her more than two years ago in England, or was it Venice, and never quite managed to recapture my emotions since. So, when her new husband leant forward and planted his lips gently on hers I think the huge knot in my stomach could be forgiven.
‘That could have been you Slick,’ Rocky whispered sensitively from his seat next to me.
I wanted to ignore Tunbridge Wells’ answer to Del Boy but I settled for leaning towards him and mouthing, ‘Piss off,’ raising my hand up to my face in case someone sitting behind me had a flair for lip-reading.
We were in Beverley Hills sitting among the glitziest wedding congregation this side of the Oscars. Over a hundred guests gathered under a white awning erected Hollywood style for the occasion. Erected by Nick Rastelli, the guy who owned the lawn and the man Rachel had chosen to be her husband number two. A clichéd but, I had to admit, beautiful setting for one of the most exclusive weddings of the year.
When the happy pair, who were standing along with the minister on a raised platform at the front, had decoupled and turned to face us I studied Rachel’s face, hoping to detect I don’t know what. Maybe, selfishly, I wanted there to be the faintest hint of regret etched in her features even though I knew on the one hand she was too good an actress to give anything like that away, while on the other I was simply being ridiculous. It was only a moment or two later, however, that my eyes strayed down towards her hands and I noticed the fine silver band on her right wrist. I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to focus on it more clearly, suddenly aware that the knot in my stomach had tightened and was spreading up into my chest. It certainly looked like it - but it couldn’t be could it? Meanwhile I clapped along with the rest of the guests and joined in with all the smiling to emphasise how pleased I was with the whole thing.
Rocky turned to me again and grinned brightly. ‘Never mind Slick, you’ve still got me and Gere.’
Gere was sitting the other side of Rocky and leant forward and winked at me. I gave him a resigned look to indicate my sense of humour was still in operation and returned my attention back to the front. Like my two buddies I was smartly turned out in an expensive single-breasted suit, white shirt and tie on that warm sunny April day. The remainder of Rachel’s and Nick’s families, friends and the movie elite that made up the male half of the congregation were similarly suited and booted. Gere had had his grey hair cut and almost looked like an American himself with his tall, slim build. In contrast, Rocky, with his shorter stocky frame and number one haircut could have been an off duty bouncer save for the laughter lines engraved on his face. His black goatee, which came and went with his moods, was present and neatly trimmed for the occasion.
Most of the rest of the gathering were American or Canadian and as grateful as Rocky and Gere to be there. Rachel and her new husband’s wedding was one of the social occasions of the year, even for Hollywood. George Clooney was sitting somewhere behind us to give you an idea of the standard of celebrity present and the three of us had needed all of the help we could get to prevent ourselves being mistaken for part of the catering team. We wouldn’t even have been present but for Rachel. She’d called me up about a month before, during one of my routine Sunday night TV fests.
‘Rachel,’ I said brightly after seeing who it was. ‘Everything okay in Tinsel Town?’
We spoke more or less every couple of weeks. It wasn’t like me to be mature and grown up at the end of a romance but I’d made an exception in her case and the phone calls had continued. Now she almost qualified for old friend status, a category only one or two other women had ever managed to make it through the preliminary rounds to achieve.
She laughed. ‘Yeah, we’re great here. The sun’s shining, I’ve just got back from a run and I’m off to a party later. Sometimes I think I’ll take a sabbatical and enjoy this lifestyle for a couple of years.’
‘I’ll believe that when I see it – I should have nagged you more when I could.’
‘You never nagged me – maybe I would have listened.’
My turn to laugh. ‘No you wouldn’t – that’s why I never said anything. Anyway, I preferred you famous; it was good for my standing at the badminton club.’
‘Shut up Neil – I’ve got news and I wanted you to hear before the press gets hold of it. In fact, you’re one of the first people I’m telling.’
My mind started to work, sifting through possible scenarios but, if I’m honest, I guess I knew what was coming.
‘News? I’ve a feeling I’m going to need to adopt the brace position,’ I said, keeping things relaxed and sociable. ‘You’ve met someone?’
‘I can see now why people pay you money to do investigating for them. Yes and I’m marrying him – next month over here. I want you to come. There I’ve said it – please be happy for me Neil.’
I pulled myself together. It was tough but I’ve had plenty of practice being male and British all my life - there may have been a pause but no sharp intake of breath. ‘
Jesus, Rachel, you really know how to ramp up the excitement on a Sunday night,’ I said. ‘Of course I’m happy for you – just pissed off for myself. It’s all happened a bit quickly hasn’t it? Who is he, what’s he like etc?’
Great, I’d kept it light and said something coherent and the ball was back in her court. Now I had time to concentrate on getting my emotions back under control. She was happy and excited and, as my mum often used to say to me, ‘it’s not all about you Neil.’
‘Oh, I’ve known Nick for years. He’s a big producer in the industry. We only started dating a couple of months ago and it’s all snowballed from there. I had all these plans to stay single but now all I want to do is be married to him. He’s great Neil – you’ll understand when you meet him.’
I doubted that very much. ‘Yes, I’m sure I will.’
Before I could continue she was off again. ‘You will come to the wedding won’t you Neil? It’s on the fifteenth of next month – I’ll send you and the boys the plane tickets.’
‘Give us a break Rachel,’ I protested. ‘We may have a big match or something lined up. Besides, Nick probably doesn’t want your most recent ex around while you tie the knot, especially someone as attractive as me. And, if he finds out I’m one of the first to know about your wedding to him that’s another nail in my coffin of unpopularity so far as he’s concerned.’
‘You’re just making excuses Neil,’ Rachel said with another laugh. ‘Nick will cope, if he finds out, and when he sees you he’ll realise you’re not a threat. Seriously though, please come – you and the boys saved my life - you more than once. And you found Beverley. For all your faults, I like you. We have a history you and me. Me getting married isn’t going to change any of that. You’re still one of my best friends and I want you to come.’
So I couldn’t say no - not that I really wanted to – I’m as curious and like a wedding as much as the next man. And, of course, as soon as Rocky and Gere found out there was a free trip to LA on offer my fate was sealed. As good as her word Rachel organised three first class air tickets along with the invitations and reservations at a five star Beverly Hills hotel. She knew only too well we couldn’t afford an impromptu visit to the West Coast for a wedding and that her generosity removed any excuse I had to avoid being around for her nuptials. To round it off we discovered soon after we’d arrived in LA that she had organised a suit and shoe fitting at a smart Italian tailor in Beverley Hills. Gere and I were initially miffed that she obviously didn’t trust us to turn up in outfits that cut the mustard where a Hollywood A-lister occasion was concerned but Rocky had no such reservations. He pointed out that the bargains we’d found at Marks and Spencer at the Ashford Retail Outlet a few days earlier might make us stand out like sore thumbs.
‘Imagine making small talk with Julia Roberts for example. She’s wearing a top of the range Gucci number and Gere’s standing there looking like a twat in his St Michael’s pinstripe. It’s going to be embarrassing at the highest level for both Julia and Gere.’
While this was registering with Gere I said: ‘For a start Julia Roberts might not even be going and if she was she definitely wouldn’t make small talk with any of us. On the other hand, I take your point - it might be better if we blended in.’
So it was agreed. Gere had gone for a navy coloured two-piece with creases you could cut yourself on and Rocky for something similar in dazzling royal blue. I’d opted for a more loosely cut classic Italian suit in brown with tan brogues, a white Oxford button down shirt and a mocha-coloured knitted tie. I imagined that this was probably the smartest and most expensively dressed we were ever likely to be and, almost as soon as we arrived and saw some of the other guests, I was glad I’d listened to Rocky. It was also another reminder of Rachel’s thoughtfulness – but I couldn’t help hoping that Nick was ignorant of the lengths she had gone to in making sure we made it to the wedding and fitting in when we were there. He might start wondering why Rachel wanted me there so much and settled upon the obvious - and wrong reasons. After the wedding party had processed out, the congregation disassembled row by row into the surrounding gardens. Waiters materialised holding trays carrying glasses of champagne or nibbles and the three of us found some drinks and stood around trying not to gaze too obviously at the movie stars that were scattered around in small groups within swooning distance. Even though I’d given up smoking a few months ago a sudden urge to light up sneaked up on me from nowhere and I was grateful neither of my friends were addicts or I would have been helpless to resist.