‘Hey, Nance,’ someone called her from behind. Nancy turned to confront Danny Wheeler, landlord of the Hatchet Inn. The big man’s small features seemed to gravitate towards the centre of his face, leaving large areas of space around his dimpled chin.
‘What a mindblower, eh?’ he gruffed. ‘Our Cora, the Cinderella who flew off when the clock struck twelve.’
Nancy’s tone came out sharp. ‘What are you on about?’
‘Our, Cora,’ he repeated as though Nancy wasn’t keeping up. ‘She was the one with Jonas when the limo crashed. She’s your mate, ain’t she? It’s about bloody time a local face put this place on the map!’
Nancy stalked from the shop before Danny could add something. Her pistonning legs conveyed her straight across Bedworth shopping centre. She sought out the bulk of Tesco superstore where Nancy knew Cora did her Sunday shop. The broadcast was probably live but Nancy could wait. She could wait all afternoon.
In a dazed cocoon, she made a meander towards the magazine section and plucked a copy of the Daily Mail. The front bore a huge picture of the crash site. In the café, Nancy absorbed the Mail’s take of events, a freak accident, according to Rob Stillman the managing editor. He wrote,
‘…the black limo sedan suffered a double tyre blowout before it skidded for nearly two miles. The vehicle then plummeted from the Eastcote Lane Bridge. The driver, Leon Fairchild, PA to tycoon and Nexus nightclub chain, Vincent Jonas died instantly.
Mr. Jonas himself remains critically injured but stable within an induced coma. Police are now trying to track down a woman who was photographed leaving the nightclub with Mr. Jonas before the crash. Until the subject comes forward for questioning, police have suppressed the pictures under privacy law.’
Nancy knit her lip. The story had evidently been printed before Cora had made the decision to don her makeup and milk the public eye.
Nancy turned the page to where the story’s focus shifted to the possible causes of the crash.
‘Repeated kerbing is a likely culprit,’ according to Ella Kelroy, a crash site investigator. ‘Tyre fatigue due to repeated pulling on and off the kerb is similar to aircraft metal fatigue. A potential hidden killer, the structure amasses fractures and stresses over a long period before breaching without warning. As both tyres had already been compromised, it only took one blow-out to spur another. Even new tyres can accrue stresses if kerbing is intensive and if the road is pot-holled…’
Nancy continued to glean. She couldn’t find the answer to the one question she really needed to know.
A bustle caused Nancy to glance up. Within the cosmetics aisle, a small melee trailed a crown of gold fuzz. Nancy stuffed the newspaper into her bag and closed in on her target. As she neared, she saw Robbie Probert standing too close to Chantelle, next door’s fourteen-year-old daughter. Cora plucked body exfoliater from the top shelf as though no one were there.
Nancy got the gist from the buzz. ‘Your’e lookin’ great, Cora,’ Robbie’s rakish friend, Strike remarked. ‘You’ve come through great considerin’what you’ve been through.’
‘Yeah, but the damage is on the inside, ain’t it?’ someone else countered. ‘It’s all in the ‘ead, post traumatic, that is. Stevie had it after he got burgled.’
And then someone else wondered, ‘what’s ‘e like, Cora? Did you flirt with ‘im? Has he got a big cock?’
Robbie’s simper froze when he spotted Nancy. She seemed to have that effect on people, kill the fun; make the other feel caught out. ‘Hi, Nance,’ her ex piped. ‘How’s your mam?’
Nancy merely drew her eyes away and addressed Cora. ‘Can we speak in private?’
Strike tittered without changing his expression. Cora’s eyes brushed against Nancy’s as she dropped the exfoliater into her basket. She nudged through the small crowd and allowed Nancy to lead her into the baby aisle.
Nancy’s voice came out as a harsh whisper. ‘What do you think you’re playing at?’
Cora overdid the nonchalant shrug. ‘Me weekly shop. What do you think?’
‘It wasn’t you in the limo, you lying tart.’
‘It might have been. How would you know, anyway?’
Nancy checked herself. ‘You had already buggered off with Bex before the shoot. You’ll be exposed for what you really are when he starts talking.’
Cora’s blithe expression galled. ‘Well, he ain’t talkin’,’ she asserted, billowing chemical flora into Nancy’s breathing space. ‘No one’s talkin’. The press are gagging for it, so I thought, why the hell not? I would have had my moment of glory and spent my little windfall.’
Nancy could barely stand to look at her. ‘You’d stoop that low for money.’
‘Don’t get all sanctimonious with me, Nancy. We’re all in the same boat ‘ere. Anyway, I should take some lessons from your bloody mother, the way she scoots around in that soddin’ chair. She’s the biggest benefit cheat around.’
Nancy’s mouth knit. She shoved Cora against a wall of nappies behind her. Cora stumbled too readily, her heels scuffing across the tiles. She wanted the wall to topple, but nappies proved an efficient shock absorber.
Cora thought she’d emerged the bigger person. She straightened herself up and jutted out her chin. She strutted off.No one’s talking. No one is saying a word.
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