Shut Up and Drive!
Chapter 1: Ted and Estelle
Ted noticed her standing there, the instant he entered the bar.
It wasn't the most salubrious of establishments at the best of times; what's more, it was advertised as a 'Singles Bar!' i.e. it was usually full of 'chancers', only there on the off-chance that they might get lucky! Indeed, why else had Ted himself chosen to frequent the place himself that evening?
However, Ted had not expected that he'd ever see her in there!
The attractive young woman was standing by the bar giggling, all but surrounded by a little band of hopefuls who were pretty obviously plying her with alcohol; while protecting their prey from any interlopers.
Ted knew what the gang were up to; he'd seen the guys in action more than a few times previously. What would most likely happen later, after they'd all left the bar together– as Ted suspected the guys were planning for that evening as well – Ted had never bothered to contemplate in the past.
But that particular evening was different. The young woman was different. She ... should not have been there! Not in that place, looking for a little ... fun on the side. Not that Ted thought she was going to get much joy out of the evening; if those chancers got their way.
Ted stopped and exchanged a few words with the doorman; one of the bouncers who keep things under control as best they can. They eject the more obnoxious customers and watch-out for anyone who was trying to take or deal-in ... illegal substances, within the establishment. The local police were a might touchy about that kind of behaviour.
The doorman listened attentively to Ted, then nodded and informed him that he'd pass the message on to the rest of his colleagues. Then Ted went over to the far end of the bar, away from where the woman thought that she was holding court.
Ted purchased his usual pint and then retreated to his dark corner to consume it. Several people -- knowing of Ted's reputation – vacated his regular table as he approached.
Sitting there in the dim light Ted watched as the woman danced with every one of the guys who were ... hunting her. He watched as the four of them subtly saw-off anyone else who tried to ask her to dance. And he watched as they plied her with more and more alcohol and pondered whether they'd resort to anything stronger. The woman was leaving her drinks unattended on the bar after all, and the two barmen were far too busy to notice everything.
"Taking it easy tonight are we, Ted?" One of the bar staff commented as he came around collecting empties.
The bar staff had noted that Ted had been nursing the same pint ever since he'd arrived in the joint; not his usual behaviour.
"Yeah, the brunette sort those tossers at the end of the bar are working on; I wanna make sure she gets home in one piece."
"Not like you, Ted. Someone special, is she?"
"You could say she was, yeah. A very long time ago!"
"Classy bitch, don't know what she's doing in here! If you don't mind me saying, a bit out of your..."
"Yeah, she was ... still is! Nothing ever came of it; I just can't figure-out what the Christ she's doing in this dump!"
"Looking for a bit on the side maybe? You know what some of these toffee-nosed bints are like?"
"Well, she'll get more than she's bargained for with those buggers!"
"So, what's your angle, Ted; are you intending to play knight errant or somethin'? Or are you planning to take advantage of the situation?"
Ted had glowered at the barman as he'd completed his sentence. Realising that he might have overstepped the mark some; the guy hastily withdrew to the safety of his bar.
Around eleven-thirty the woman began to look decided unsteady on her feet, and a couple of the chancers appeared to trying to persuade the her to leave. But she was having fun, gyrating around the small dance floor; so she refused ... loudly!
But by twelve she was staggering, and from what Ted could make out, the woman herself had decided that she'd better start thinking about leaving. However her newfound friends convinced her that another drink for the road, wouldn't do any harm.
It was as two of the chancers were assisting the woman through the door that Ted made his move. Several (large) members of the door staff -- backed-up by two police officers standing near-by -- had blocked their path just outside.
Ted, elbowed his way in amongst the chancers and then swept the – by that time – almost unconscious woman into his arms.
"'Ere, what's your bleeding game?" One of the chancers demanded.
"Just taking the lady home lads; just taking the lady home!" Ted replied with a smile.
"Well, wha'd'ya fink we wuz doing?"
"I don't know lads. But if that is the case; tell me, what's the ladies name and where does she live?"
"Stella! And if you know so bloody much, why don't you tell us where she lives?" Another chancer replied.
"Her name ... gentlemen, is Estelle Cooper ... Mrs ... and I'm sure ... when she's sober, she'd much prefer it if the likes of you, didn't know where she does live!"
Ted's reply had been for the benefit of the two police officers, who were by then showing a marked interest in the confrontation.
A nod from one of the door staff caused the officers to take more interest in the chancers' than Ted. The four guys hurriedly decided to disperse, once their names had been requested and dutifully noted down in the Constables' notebooks.
The police officers had no need to ask Ted's name. His younger days had left Ted a little more notorious locally, than he'd have preferred to be.
Assisted by one of the door staff, Ted loaded the semi-comatose, but still babbling Estelle, onto the backseat of his car.
"Are you taking her home, Ted?" One of the police officers enquired. "She don't look too clever!"
"I was going to, officer. But going by the state of her now; the General for a session with old stomach pump, might prove favourite!"
"My thoughts exactly. I'll give them a shout on the radio; give them the heads-up that you're on your way."
"Cheers officer." Ted replied. Then he climbed into the driver's seat and set off towards the local hospital.
"Has she taken anything?" The emergency doctor asked, pulling Estelle's eyelids open so he could inspect her pupils.
"Too much bleeding jungle juice for a start, Doc. But I wouldn't put it past those wankers she was with, to have slipped her something on the quiet. They definitely thought they were gong to 'get lucky' this evening; if you get my drift?"
"In this condition; that would be tantamount to rape!"
"Makes no difference to those tossers Doc; you know that as well as I do! She'd wake up tomorrow dumped somewhere; with a sore fanny, a headache, and little recollection of how she got either."
"So where do you fit into the equation Teddy? Not quite your style carrying distressed maidens, in here."
"We have history, sort-of, Doc. Not great history I have to admit; but history of sorts all the same. I always knew I'd be the guy from the wrong side of the tracks as far as Estelle and her family were concerned; so I worshipped her from afar."
"Ah, I see; daddy would not have approved?"
"You got it, Doc. And I doubt Estelle would have, either!"
"But she's married though, she's wearing a ring. Where's her husband this evening?"
"Buggered if I know Doc. He weren't in that pub anyway. A bit careless of the bloke really; I wouldn't let a looker like Estelle out of my sight."
"Well, we'd better get her stomach cleared out; stop anymore alcohol getting into her system. Are you going to call her husband, or shall I?"
"I think it better if neither of us do, Doc! How's she going to explain the state she's in to him? I've got no idea where she lives anyway. Although I do recall she married some geezer by the name of Cooper.
"She has no handbag or anything; that might have some information in it?"
"Not that I'm aware of, Doc!"
"Alright. She's drunk and incapable, we can do what's necessary to preserve her health, without written consent."
I'll leave you to it then, Doc. I've had endured the stomach treatment a few times, and I don't think I'd care to witness the procedure carried out on anyone else."
"You're not leaving, Ted?"
"No, I'll be outside polluting the atmosphere and removing some unsightly evidence of her presence from my car. If you get one of your nurses to give me a yell when the messy bits over; I'll sit by Stella's bed until she wakes-up. You folks have enough to do without watching her all shift. And ... well, she'll have to get home eventually, won't she?"
Estelle struggled to open her eyes. Her head felt worse than she could ever recall it feeling before and she had no idea where she was.
The ceiling though -- once Estelle had focused on it -- did appear to be very familiar.
"I'm in hospital!" She eventfully whispered to herself, "How did I get here?"
"I brought you here. You were as pissed as a fart last night, girl!" A voice said from off to her right.
Estelle slowly turned her head to look at who'd spoken.
There sat some stranger, maybe thirty or so years old, she thought.
"Do I know you?" She asked.
"No Stella, I doubt you do. But I know you; and you were keeping some real unsavoury company last evening. I had to bide my time until you passed-out before I could..."
"Could do what?" Estelle demanded.
"Well Stella. I somehow I didn't think that pulling a train, was quite your style. So I interrupted the wankers' plans; stepped-in and brought you here to have your stomach flushed out. You were pissed out of your skull; you silly cow! What were you doing in a place like that anyway?"
"Pulling a train?" Estelle repeated, failing to comprehend the metaphor.
"Four frustrated perverts taking turns with one female, Estelle. The Yanks call that pulling a train. I suppose those guys figured that you'd be the engine that would keep them going all night, if you get my drift? Where I come from, we'd call it a bike relay; as in village bike! Christ, if you were looking for a bit on the side, girl; you could have done better than that bunch of wankers!"
"How dare you impute that I'd do anything like that? Who do you think you think you... ? Estelle began to say; but as she spoke, she instantly got that déjà vu feeling.
The guys face was familiar and she could vaguely recall saying almost exactly the same words to him sometime in the distant past. The circumstance Estelle could not recall though. However, Estelle had been famously adept at ... seeing-off -- what she considered -- unsuitable prospective suitors in her younger days.
"God, I know you, don't I? You were at college weren't you? Ted Something-or-the-other; always getting into trouble on that motorcycle of yours!"
"Yeah Stella, that's me; Ted Something-or-the-other! I never did fit in with your high and mighty circle, did I?"
"Oh God, I'm sorry; but I just can't recall your name. I suppose that I should be grateful that you brought me here."
"Yeah, I suppose ... you should!"
"Oh Christ, I'm sorry; I'm so confused. That didn't come out as I intended. Look Ted, I'm truly grateful that you did bring me here last night. Um, where did you ... er... ?"
"Find you?" Ted suggested.
Estelle smiled weakly and nodded.
"In the singles bar, up behind the station. Bit of a dive for you Estelle! What the hell were you doing in there?"
But before Estella could answer Ted's question, the doctor arrived to check on her over before he went off-duty.
"Ah, our patient's awake I see. How's the head young lady?"
"Not good doctor. My stomach hurts as well!"
"That's from all the throwing-up you were doing, young lady. Didn't exactly save you from the dreaded stomach pump though, we had to flush your system out a little. You know you're a very lucky girl; Ted here saved you from a fate that some would consider worse than death last night. God alone knows where you'd have finished-up without him." The doctor said, examining Estelle's eyes again.
Estelle looked across at Ted, who suddenly had an embarrassed expression on his face as the doctor began to address him.
"We've sent those blood samples of Estelle's down, Ted. We don't think they'll find anything except excessive alcohol. But if they come up with anything that shouldn't be there, then the results will be passed on to the police. You did say that they got those guys names didn't you?"
"No!" Ted replied.
"Oh, the police officer must have told me then; he popped in while you were both asleep. I couldn't see much point in waking either of you. I think he was really here to check that Estelle had arrived safely."
"I might have guessed it!" Ted exclaimed, "Do some bugger a good turn, and the coppers are looking to pin something on me."
"Nothing of the kind, Ted! The police officer was just doing his duty in ensuring Estelle had arrived here safely. He praised your actions actually. He said that you saw something suspicious occurring and acted accordingly. What's more you brought Estelle straight here when a taxi driver or something, might have dumped her anywhere, after she'd vomited in his cab like that.
"Apparently he went past earlier, while you were cleaning-up your car. He thought he'd leave it until you were finished."
"Kind of him. He could have helped!"
"Come on, Ted; you know that no good turn goes unpunished! Hey, maybe you should have left it until this morning when Estelle could have helped you. It might teach her to be a little more conservative in her alcohol consumption in future."
"I was sick in your car! Oh, how embarrassing; I'm so sorry Ted!"
"Stella throwing up in my car ain't the half of it. You should have seen yourself last evening. I'm sure daddy would have disowned you! Just what were you doing in that dive, anyway?"
Estelle looked from Ted, across to the equally curious doctor.
"Actually I was hoping to surprise my husband last evening. I've been told that he goes in there quite often with his latest paramour. Obviously they didn't show last night and I hung around for too long."
"Much too long, Mrs Cooper. Anyway I think that it's safe for Ted to run you home now. Just don't be alone for the next few hours or so, and for God's sake don't drive until tomorrow at the earliest. You're still technically drunk; well over the drink drive limit anyway!"
"Thank you doctor. From the way my head feels, I don't think alcohol will ever pass my lips again."
"That's not the first time I've heard a patient say that on a Sunday morning Mrs Cooper, and I doubt it will be the last! Regretfully it's usually the same patients repeating themselves every few weeks. I'll send the nurse in with your clothes."
The doctor left and a few minutes later a nurse appeared around the edge of the curtain screen carrying Estelle's clothes. As she did so, Ted stood to make his way out of the cubical. But as the two passed each other they exchanged smiles and nurse planted a brief but familiar peck on Ted's cheek."
"We've done what we can, Stella, but your dress still has traces of vomit on it. Teddy suggested that you might prefer to wear this. At least it doesn't smell!" The nurse said to Estelle, after closing the curtain.
"What is it?" Estelle asked, staring down at the folded garment the nurse had dropped onto the bed.
"A boiler suit. Ted keeps it in his car in case of emergency. It is clean, and at least it doesn't smell of vomit. I'm afraid your lovely dress is going need a dry clean at least. But even then, there might be stains. You must have been in some god-awful state when Teddy dragged you in here last night Stella!"
"You know, Ted?"
Of course I do, Stella. Everyone knows Teddy; I'm one of his regular bodies..."
Estelle did not know what to make of that strange remark, and chose not to enquire.
"And I know you Stella, from college. But I doubt you remember me?"
"I believe I do ... remember you, that's is. Brenda ... er, Green. You were good friends with Sheila Withen weren't you? Doctor Sheila ... Thomas, as she is now."
"Brenda Brown actually; different colour, but close enough considering we never actually met each other to speak to before. I didn't have the makings of a doctor, so I settled for becoming a nurse instead."
"Brenda, I really do could with a shower before I go home."
"Bad timing Stella. Our shower down here is out of commission, so you'd have to use one of the ones up on the ward, and at this time of day it's a madhouse up there. Why don't you take a shower at Teddy's place? He's got a great set-up back there in his changing room and you might even find something a little more ... well, more feminine than that boiler suit anyway, to wear."
Brenda stuck her head though the curtain and asked Ted if Stella could use his shower. Ted agreed and also suggested that Stella would probably find something more suitable to wear on the rack.
Stella overheard the exchange, but once again chose not to enquire too much.
She did wonder exactly why Ted would apparently have some female clothes at his home. She even wondered why Ted would refer to them as being on a rack. But because Brenda didn't sound at all surprised by the fact that Ted kept some female clothing at his home; Stella decided not to enquire why he would have them there. She also thought that Brenda would not have suggested that she used Ted's shower, if it wasn't completely safe for her to do so.
After signing the relevant paperwork and feeling very self-conscious, dressed in Ted's oversized – for her – boiler suit; the sleeves and legs rolled up and wearing her stiletto heeled shoes. Estelle followed Ted out to his car, which had the distinct odour of disinfectant inside.
Out of embarrassment, Estelle did not comment on the strange smell.
It was but a short journey to Ted's house. A deceptively spacious, small and very old looking cottage; that had obviously been standing there for many years before any of the other houses in the street had been built.
Estelle was surprised to see that the lower floor had been knocked through to make one large interconnected space. There was a neat kitchen tucked away in one corner and very little furniture; just a few lounge chairs and no television set. However the surface of every wall was almost completely covered in works of art.
"I see you go for the minimalist approach to furnishing, Ted."
"Down here, yes!"
But as he replied, Stella's eye fell upon what she thought was an anomaly amongst the paintings. Estelle had never considered herself a connoisseur of art, but hanging there before her was what appeared to be a print of Constables 'The Hay Wain'. That one print, amongst all those oil colours looked out of place to Estelle and she found herself drawn towards it.
"My God, it's not a print!" She found herself forced to exclaim, when she realised the fact.
"There's no prints here Stella! That's an oil on canvas copy!" Ted informed her.
"But who painted it?"
Estelle lent close so that she could make out the signature.
"T. E. Harper! I know that name; I've seen it before. He ... or she, painted that big mural in the college entrance hall."
Then Estelle noticed that the next painting to it, was also signed T. E. Harper ... and the next. She spun around and looked at Ted.
"Theodore Edward Harper, at your service milady." Ted grinned at her.
"Not Ted Something-or-the-other then?"
"Oh my god I'm so sorry. I had no idea that you were such a talented artist Ted; or should I call you, Theodore?"
"No bugger gets away with calling me Theodore, Stella. Well, not unless they are i8n the habit of writing me a bleeding great cheques, that is! Now, if you are going to take that shower, you'd better get your arse in gear."
"Charming turn of phrase!"
"I don't stand on ceremony Stella; you should have figured that out by now. The room on the right at the top of the stairs is the models changing room; off that, you'll find a shower room. And you'll see the costume rack, loaded with clothes that my models wear, in there as well. You'll have to be a little choosy though, some of them are a little on the risqué side; it's what some of my clients want."
"Oh my, there's even more of your pictures up here. What's in the room on the left?"
"That's my studio, Stella, and it also doubles as my bedroom; stay out of there, please?"
Estelle had her shower and searched through the rack of clothes she found in the dressing room, eventually coming across something not too revealing, as Brenda had suggested she would. Estelle then tracked down the nurse's make-up case and spent some time trying to create her look. She could hear Ted working down in the kitchen, Estelle assumed cooking them some breakfast.
On leaving the dressing room Estelle stopped to admire the art that covered every inch of wall space. But then she began to wonder what pictures Ted could be currently working on, and also what pictures adorned the walls of his studio.
Taking a quick glance down the stairs to ensure that he wasn't standing down there watching her; Estelle quietly opened the door to his studio and tip-toed inside Ted's inner sanctum.
The room was far larger than she'd expected; against one wall stood an unmade bed. Alongside it were two easels both with incomplete paintings on them. At the foot of the bed stood a tall freestanding mirror, positioned Estelle imagined so that someone sitting for a portrait would be able to see their reflection in it. There was also an odd collection of chairs, Estelle assumed for Ted's subjects to sit upon.
Stacked along the side of the room, their fronts turned towards the wall, were many canvases. Estelle went over and pulled the first stack away from the wall so that she could look through the paintings one after another. Then she looked at the second stack and then the third. But the first picture in that forth stack, took Estelle's breath away, and she physically started.
There was no mistaking the fact that the scantily clad subject of the painting was herself. And so was the next and the next.
"I thought I recall asking you not to come in here, Stella?" Ted's voice suddenly said from behind her; making Estelle jump.
"Ted, that's me in this painting!"
"Not exactly Stella. Actually that one is of Brenda, she just has your face!"
"Why does she have my face?"
"Because I happen to like your face, Estelle. I've always liked it, didn't you notice that you are in the mural at the college."
"You know, the girls always said that it looked like me in that mural; but it was too high up for me to see properly."
"It is you, Estelle. I didn't have my ideal model here, so I used ... bodies as Brenda euphemistically calls them, and then I add your face from memory. Oh, bodies with similar attributes to your own, of course. That's probably why Brenda thought you'd find something that would fit you, on the rack."
"Don't your models get annoyed that you don't paint their faces?"
"Oh, but I do ... I use their faces, on most of the work I sell. But every now and then, I like to indulge my fantasies and paint my ideal woman. I never sell any of those paintings by the way; so you shouldn't ever find yourself being embarrassed or recognised from one. Although, I have entered a few in competitions up in London. You've won me a medal or two over the years actually.
"I'm not a stalker Estelle. Stalkers follow people around and that sort of thing. You know I don't even know where you live! I'm an artist and many years ago I found my ideal subject. I've enjoyed painting her ever since."
"But this is one of me on my wedding day?"
"Ah yes ... well, I was there that day; I'll admit that. I took some snaps and painted that one from them."
"You know, I think I saw you that day. You kept your crash helmet on, didn't you?"
"Yeah well, I hoped I wasn't being too obvious."
"But this is of me and my father; surely it should have been Roger there outside the church?"
"Artists licence Stella. You surely couldn't expect me, to paint you holding hands with Roger. You looked so beautiful in that dress."
"Ted, were you in love with me?"
"Am I in love with you, don't you mean, Stella? And to be honest, I don't know. I love your face ... your figure and your hair. But I never did get to know who Estelle Warender actually was!"
"Not a nice person Ted, I can assure you of that. I thought I did, but I'm not sure now that I ever really loved Roger. I'm not sure I even understand what love is! Mind you, I'm sure that Roger never really loved me either. It was a business thing with him; Roger's father did a lot of business with my father, so we were both preferred candidates as in-laws, if you understand me?
"I think maybe it was against my better judgement, that I married him. It worked for a while, but the parents don't do so much business together nowadays and Roger appears to have taken to ... well, playing the field a little too often for my liking! That's what I was planning last night, you know; a big scene in the pub. But Roger and his latest floozy didn't show.
"I suppose, in a way, it's lucky he didn't; there'd have been repercussions. Divorce can be so ... messy."
"I can't see the point in living with the idiot, if he doesn't love you, and you don't love him, Stella."
"I agree, but if I do divorce him, what will I do? I've never gone out of my way to make myself popular with anyone; you know that! If I throw-out Roger; then I'll have no friends or social life left at all, or very few friends anyway."
"I'd say that they're not your friends to start with then, Stella. Roger's friends more like! Drop that bloody high and mighty act you used to have all the time at college and I'm sure you'll soon find plenty of new friends. Now get that pert backside of yours downstairs and let's eat; I'm starving!"
"You are a funny man Ted!" Estelle said as they drank their after breakfast coffees.
"Surely you've got that wrong Stella, disagreeable most people would say. You know I have to sell my paintings from here, because I can't get-on with any of the gallery owners. Too much up their own stuffed shirt arses for my liking, all of them."
"Like, I was back at college, you mean?"
"Yeah well, you could say that! My trouble is, I come from the wrong side of town and I've no patience with the Hooray 'Enries of this world. You always have been something different though, Stella!"
"Yeah, you thought that you loved me, and I never had a clue that you were even interested in me that way; too stuck-up to notice! Ted, I just never even contemplated it, and that makes me the fool, not you. You know that you always have been just about the most handsome ... tearaway, I've ever known.
"Oh, I remember you from our college days all right, and I can recall thinking that you were so good looking back then. But I never even thought to get to know you ... or actually I should say, allow you to get to know me; you did try at least once as I recall. If I had, then maybe life would have been different for both of us."
"In what way?"
"Well, I somehow doubt I'd have married Roger Cooper for a start. And, your paintings would be on sale in all the top galleries in the country."
Ted went to speak, but Estelle quieted him with a wave of her hand.
"I am one of your Hooray Henries, Ted! I know exactly how to handle those people. And how argue their commissions down as well. Your paintings are good ... better than good, they are brilliant. Ted, I'm sure that if we'd worked together, you'd be more famous than Hockney by now
"Hey, don't get carried away, kid. I paint what I like to paint and none of this avant-garde or pop rubbish. Anyway, I think we'd better think about getting you home before your husband calls out the National Guard or something."
Disappointed at Ted's reaction to her little speech ... suggestion, Estelle had hoped ... but she had to agree with Ted.
In fact Estelle had taken a serious fancy to the notion of sitting for Ted, and maybe helping him sell his work. Not that Ted appeared to be struggling in that direction; many of paintings on the house walls had 'sold' stickers on them.
"Damn-it Roger's not here and I haven't got my keys; I can't get in!" Estelle exclaimed as Ted pulled up in the street outside her house.
"How do you know?"
"His car is not in the drive Ted; Roger never can be bothered to put it in the garage."
"Perhaps he's out scouring the countryside, looking for you. I know I'd be climbing the ruddy walls if my missus hadn't come home all night. I'll bet he's down the police station reporting you missing!"
"No, knowing Roger like I do, I'd say he's on the seventh or eighth tee by now. Roger always plays a round of golf on Sunday mornings; then he adjourns to nineteenth for a skinful before lunch. He's going to get pulled for drink driving one of these days."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Ted, I know my husband and I doubt he even realised that I hadn't been home all night. Basically because he spent the night with his tart somewhere. He probably arrived home this morning and assumed I'd gone to my mother's house to avoid a scene. Pretty regular for Sundays, around here! Hang on, I'll check."
Ted watched as Estelle, got out of the car, walked over and looked through the garage window. He saw her head nod as she spied whatever she'd been looking for.
"He's out on the course all right; his damned golf trolley is missing. I can't believe that he didn't notice that I'd not been home all night. The newspaper would have been lying on the mat and there was no coffee made or anything; even the dishwasher must still be loaded."
"Perhaps he just never noticed!"
"Ted, he noticed, Roger just doesn't care! Mind you, he'd go apoplectic if he saw me in your car. Roger can get very ... protective, of what he considers, his private property. But he's going to find, he doesn't own me, not by a long chalk!"
"How were you intending to get in Stella, if you haven't got your keys with you. Do you want me to... ?"
"My God, no Ted! The house is alarmed; half the county constabulary would be here in minutes. My house keys are in my handbag in the boot of my car."
"And your car?"
"That's parked at a friend's house near to that pub I was in last night. I had to hide it or Roger might have seen it and realised that I was there, waiting for him."
"Okay we'll go get your keys from your car then. But the Doc said that you couldn't drive until tomorrow."
"Great idea, but we can't get into my car until later. The girl I left the car keys with, was taking her children out somewhere today. She won't be home until about four."
"Well you can't sit on the bloody doorstep all day, Stella; what are you going to do; your parents house?"
"No thanks Ted; too much explaining to do. I'll leave meeting them until after Roger and I have had this thing out. Either he gives up all his philandering, or he's out of here."
Ted gave Estelle an enquiring glance.
"The house, Ted; it's not communal property. Actually it belongs to an offshore company; but guess whose father is the major shareholder."
"So where to then?" Ted smiled back at her.
"How about we head off somewhere nice for lunch?"
"Stella, unlike you I wasn't comatose for most of the night. I got the odd nap in, but I could do with a shower myself and with getting my head down for a little while."
"Fine, we'll go back to your place then, and I'll ... well, I'm sure I can find something to keep me occupied. My head still doesn't feel too good anyway!"
Back at his cottage, Estelle began to wander round, perusing his many paintings. So Ted excused himself and headed upstairs to have his shower and then take a short nap.
An hour or so later, when he woke, Ted was instantly aware that he was not alone in his studio; he could hear Estelle breathing.
Opening his eyes, Ted saw her sitting cross-legged on the floor, her back towards him. She had moved the long mirror so she could see him in his bed by glancing at it. And she had all his paintings of herself lined-up along the wall; Estelle appeared to be studying them intently.
"I wasn't aware that you had a narcissistic streak, Stella!" Ted commented, surprising her.
Actually as he said it, Ted wasn't quite sure that it was the right thing to say.
"Oh I don't think ... Hey, maybe you're right there, Ted! You know maybe that's why I've always been such a bitch."
"I wasn't being serious, Stella!"
"No, I understand that Ted. But there has to be some reason that I was so ... narrow minded when I was younger. I had my head stuck so far up my arse that I didn't see ... well you remember how I was back then."
"You're perspective has changed as you got older then, has it?"
"Yes, I suppose it has. But I didn't know how much it had changed until this morning. Today I've learnt that I've missed-out on something in life."
"Oh, and exactly what have you missed-out on, Stella?"
But Estelle didn't answer Ted's question.
"Ted, have you any idea, just how flattering it is to see all these wonderful paintings of myself?"
"I've never thought about it, Stella. I just enjoy creating the pictures."
"But they are so wonderful; that one of me on the horse ... that's Toby from the riding school, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I went up there and took a couple of snaps of him. It's chance, that you recognise him."
"Not chance Ted; I used to ride Toby every week until they had to retire him. Lovely animal, they had to put him down eventually though; too old. I miss Toby! But why the habit, I've never ridden side-saddle in my life?"
"I had a commission to paint a woman who'd won some dressage competition. I liked the picture, but not so much the subject ... actually she even made Estelle Warender appear sociable!"
"Touché!" Estelle, smiled at him.
Ted smiled back at her.
"So I painted the picture again, from a slightly different angle; changing the horse and the rider ... oh, and the background."
"In effect you changed just about everything; painted a completely different picture!"
"No, the riding habit is the same. It's the only one I've ever had a good look at. The wearer's proportions are somewhat different though. I'm not quite sure how that animal ever manages to carry that woman!"
"I'll take that as flattery, if I may. Anyway, this picture of me in my wedding dress and the one on Toby. Are they for sale; how much do you want for them?"
"I haven't sold any of the pictures I've painted of you, Stella?"
"I know, you told me earlier; but how much do you want for these two?"
"I won't sell them to you, Stella. If you want them, take them; they are yours. I can always paint another."
"I'd like to pay for them, Ted; like a commission."
"No, they are yours Stella! Any of those pictures of yourself, you may have whenever you wish."
"Thank you I will take those two, if you don't mind. I know exactly where they will hang in my parents' house. They'll replace a couple of photographs that I'm sure my parents will shortly be taking down. But then I'd like to commission you to paint another portrait of myself. One that I hope will show the new me!"
"The new you?"
"Yes, the one that ... you, created this morning!"
"You've lost me girl!"
"Never mind, I know what I'm talking about ... I think! And you'll understand eventually, I promise!"
"Yeah, anything you say Stella. Hadn't we better go and get your house keys now?"
"Yes we could, after I've taken you somewhere for lunch. I owe you that at least!"
"Stella you've no access to your handbag remember, it's locked in your car!"
"Ted, daft I might be; but I never go anywhere with out my little plastic friend!" There's a little pocket sewn into the cocktail dress I was wearing last evening."
"Ooh, cocktail dress!"
"Don't mock me please Ted, please; I was trying to ... well remind Roger exactly what he could loose. See, I just said it, I can be really daft sometimes; I wouldn't give two pins for Roger anymore. Anyway if you can get your backside in gear ... is that right?"
"Your arse, Stella!"
"Okay, right. If you can get your arse in gear, Ted; I'll take you out for a real slap-up roast somewhere. It is Sunday after-all."
"I'll need to get dressed, Stella."
"That's fine, I can look the other way."
"Stella, you're looking in the bleeding mirror!"
So what's your problem, you're not shy are you? You can't shock me Ted; I doubt you've got anything Roger hasn't got!"
Exasperated and slightly tired of minding his manners around Estelle, Ted climbed out of bed.
"Ted, maybe I got that a little wrong!"
"Sorry?" Ted replied, struggling into his jeans.
"The girls at college, Ted ... they always said that it was a rolled-up sock!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Stella."
"Never mind, Ted. It's not important; I don't think. If it is, I'll worry about it later!"
"You're babbling worse than you were last night Stella; come on let's get moving before the pubs shut!"
They enjoyed a meal together -- that Ted insisted on paying for -- then they took a short walk along by the river, before retrieving Estelle's handbag from the boot of her car. Ted did not get out of his vehicle at Estelle's friend's place and neither did she go inside the house. But Ted thought Estelle was an inordinately long time standing at the door talking with her friend.
When his ears began to feel warm, Ted looked across and Estelle's friend – who Ted vaguely recalled from his college days – waved at him. Feeling a little embarrassed, Ted meekly waved back at her. But eventually Estelle retrieved her handbag from her Jaguar's boot and climbed back into the passenger seat.
"That took longer than I expected." Ted commented.
"Yeah sorry; we had a lot to talk about."
"You did, but you must have seen her yesterday."
"Yeah socks, and I had to tell Marie about last night ... what I can remember of it, and this morning!"
"What's this preoccupation with socks?"
"Nothing important, Ted, I told you! Humour me please, and don't ask again. Just assume that I've gone a little scatty; that's what Marie thinks I've done anyway."
Ted glanced across at Estelle and noticed that she'd gone very red in the face. He realised that she was obviously embarrassed about something.
He also noticed that Estelle became very quiet, although she appeared to become agitated as they approached her house. Exactly why he wasn't sure, but he assumed Estelle was preparing herself for a confrontation with her husband.
Ted wondered which argument was going to take precedence, Estelle challenging her husband about his girlfriend, or Roger Cooper flying off the handle about Estelle being out all night; surely he must have worked that out by now. And then of course, there was the fact that a strange man was driving his wife home. But then again, if Ted could get away a bit sharpish, Estelle's husband might think she'd come home in a taxi.
Not that Ted wanted too disappear in a hurry; there was this uncontrollable instinct he had to protect this woman. He couldn't explain it, it was just an urge that he'd had since he'd first laid eyes on her many years before.
As he pulled his car to the curb outside Estelle's house, Ted saw the front door open and Roger Cooper appeared in the doorway.
"Well, here goes; wish me luck!"
"There's no luck involved Stella, I'm sure you're a mental match for Roger; or most men, if it comes to that!"
"Cheers, but don't go yet ... please?"
"Your request is my command milady. If Roger looses control of himself physically, I'll make sure that you come to no harm. The chucking insults at each other, I'll leave to you two though; it's really none of my business."
Ted couldn't get his head around the smile that came over Estelle's face as he spoke.
When he looked back at the house again, Ted noticed that Roger Copper was by then sporting a large golf wood in his right hand.
"Ah! That type! The buggers going to come after you Teddy my boy; better prepare yourself!" He thought to himself as he slipped off his seatbelt, and released the catch on the door. Ted would prefer that his car did not get damaged; so if it became necessary, he'd meet Roger Cooper well before he got too close to the vehicle.
However as soon as Estelle had got out of the car, a slanging match had begun between the pair of them.
As is common in those situations, working out or recalling exactly who yelled what at whom and in what order, is quite difficult.
Roger Cooper had opened the engagement with, "Where have you effing-well been?" and "Who's that arsehole?" Followed almost instantaneously by Estelle retaliating with, "Why should you care; you've been out with your latest tart all night!"
Ted didn't follow the argument after that; he was far too busy studying Roger Cooper's body language. Ted was well aware that it would take him far longer to exit the vehicle and place himself between Estelle and Roger Cooper, than it would for Roger to reach her. So Ted was trying to gauge the right instant to make his presence felt.
And yet for some inexplicable reason he did not wish to provoke Roger Cooper. After-all, Estelle was the man's wife! But Ted didn't believe that he himself had done anything that he should feel ashamed about. His actions during the previous twenty-four hours could not be described by anyone, other than being chivalrous and showing utter respect for Roger and Estelle's marital status.
Although Ted had to admit to himself, that he had been sorely tempted.
After the confrontation had gone on for some minutes. And drawn an appreciative audience of curious neighbours away from dozing in front of their television sets; Ted recognised that Roger Cooper was about to make a move of some kind.
But Cooper didn't move towards Estelle; instead, Roger set-off, taking a shortcut across the lawn towards Ted's car.
Ted had rolled out of his seat and rounded the rear of his vehicle, before Roger Cooper had covered half the distance. On recognising that it was Ted Harper standing before him, Roger Cooper suddenly appeared to change his mind. In fact he'd decided that the better part of valour is discretion, and that decision had stopped him dead in his tracks.
"What's your game Harper; who gave you the right to screw my wife?" Roger Cooper demanded raising his golf club in the hope that it might deter Ted from doing what Ted Harper had been ... infamous for, as a teenager, and to give himself a little added confidence.
"Hey, dumb-nuts!" Ted shouted back. "Why is it that the arseholes of this world, always assume that everyone else must think and behave as they do? I haven't touched your lady; I just ain't made that way. Unlike you, I respect the institution of marriage!"
"What are you talking about, I didn't spend the night with another man's wife?" Cooper challenged.
"No! You spent the night making whoopee with the village bike, Cooper! Christ, I've seen you the two of you in the pub together enough times. I never recognised you, or put two and two together though. You do know that that tart's the biggest slag in town, don't you?
"Jesus, she was famous for letting any numpty shag her on the top deck of the bus home from college. She's been married three times you know? I think all of her husbands ditched her when they found their wife in bed with another man, or discovered that they'd caught something nasty. Perhaps you'd better get yourself checked out, Roger me-lad!
"Hey Stella, did you catch that? If you and your ever loving husband here, have had ... relations of late? I'd get yourself checked out, as well!"
"Yeah, but I don't think that will be necessary, Ted. Roger there hasn't felt up to it ... with me anyway, for some time now!"
"Better safe, than sorry girl! But Roger, it's not something that I even need to worry about. I'm assuming here, that your little brain is capable of understanding what I just said to you? Never-mind, your neighbours understand, I can see that; Estelle's reputation is what matters to me!"
As Ted had been speaking, Roger Cooper had been back-pedalling for all he was worth. He was still trying to subtly back further away from Ted -- who had not moved from the rear of his vehicle -- when Cooper tripped-over backwards, up the front step of the house. Roger Cooper's new predicament was greeted by poorly muffled laughter from several of the on-looking neighbours.
"Estelle, get into the house, we'll continue this discussion in private!" Roger ordered as he struggled back to his feet.
"I don't think so Roger; I've had my fill of you and your incessant philandering. If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times; once more and that's it, we're through! Well, last night was the last time you'll cheat on our marriage Roger Cooper. It's over Roger; I'm out of here! Come on Ted, let's go?"
Estelle had begun to stride towards Ted's car as she spoke. But then she stopped and added, "No, hold up a minute, Ted!"
Estelle spun on her heel and looked back at her soon to be ex-husband. The slanging match was not quite over.
"Roger that's my damned house, you will get yourself and all of your crap out of it by lunchtime tomorrow. And don't try to get clever and strip the place, or the joint bank accounts, Roger. With all the playing-away you've been doing over the years, I've got enough on you to take you to the cleaners in the divorce court!"
"Hey, I'm not surprised that you never managed to shag her, Harper; the bitch is bleeding frigid!" Roger Cooper yelled out. Ted thought more for the neighbours consumption, than his own. "You hear that? That's how-come we've never had any kids, and the reason why I had to look elsewhere for satisfaction!"
Then Roger Cooper slammed the door, effectively bringing the pantomime to an end.
Ted watched, with an inexplicable satisfied feeling in his heart, as Estelle climbed back into his car. Then he looked around the audience; giving them a polite wave as he did so. Ted figured that at least a few of them would be aware of his past, and those who weren't, would know all about him in a day or so.
As Ted climbed into the driver's seat, Estelle was already talking on her mobile telephone.
" ... separated dad! I've left Roger, so you'll have to get Mr Goldman to organise getting him out of the house. I've told Roger to go by tomorrow lunchtime, but you know what he can be like!" -- "No dad, I'm fine. I told you, I've got an old friend looking after me at present." – "Yeah, Love to mother; see you soonest!" then disconnecting the call Estelle looked across at Ted.
"Where to; your parents place?" Ted asked.
"No, I figure we go back to your artist's garret, and you could make a start on my portrait if you like. Hey, maybe even a nude portrait!"
"Stella, that's not a very ladylike thing for you to say, and I really don't think..."
"I'm tired of playing the lady, Ted. Just shut-up and drive ... Please? There, I've asked you very nicely, haven't I? And don't panic, I'm clear of STD's; I had myself checked-out after Roger's last little escapade. A positive result would have simplified the divorce immensely. And Roger hasn't ... shared my bed, since I was declared clean."
"Roger hasn't? Oh my, how the other half live! But if he hasn't Stella... ?"
"Don't worry, you'll be the first Teddy ... and if I get my way you'll be the last as well. How many children would you like?"
"Kids! Hey look Stella..."
"Don't panic Teddy, I'm pulling your leg. And offering you the chance to do what your hormones wanted you to do when we were back in college. And ... well, maybe you'll even enjoy the experience. I get the feeling that I will! And I might get the chance to keep you; especially if I end up preggers."
"But if good old Roger couldn't get you pregnant in eight years, Stella; you have to wonder whether there is some kind of problem."
"Oh, but there was, Ted. A very small problem; the little pill I took every morning. I went on them before we were first married because a child would have been inconvenient to both of us at the time. But then, I never did get around to coming off of the bloody things. Mainly because I realised that Roger would make an abysmal parent, and an untrustworthy father.
"You, on the other hand! Well, I can just picture you with a couple of sprogs in your arms?"
"But, am I trustworthy Stella; you don't really know me?"
"Teddy, last evening you had me at your mercy. You had someone you've lusted after for years in your grasp..."
"Lusted after?" Ted interrupted.
"I've seen those pictures you painted of me, Ted. You've been lusting after my body for years and don't you try to deny the fact!
"Anyway, as I was saying; you finally had me at your mercy, and what did you do? You took me to A and E, and then sat by my bedside all-night when you could have been shagging the living daylights out of me."
"I can't say I've ever tried it; but a doubt there's much enjoyment or satisfaction to be gained from shagging a comatose female, Stella!"
"Well, I won't be comatose tonight Ted, lets see if we both match up to expectations. After all, Roger's out of the picture now, if only unofficially."
After a hesitant start the night went well for both participants. So much so, that they were in no hurry to get out of bed the following morning, and instead went for round two, followed -- after a short recuperative rest -- by round three.
Then they showered together; Ted admitting to Estelle that it wasn't the first occasion that cubicle had held two bodies at the same time.
Stella replied that she wasn't at all surprised to hear that; but she was surprised that none of Ted's bodies had managed to stake a permanent claim on him.
"Oh, and Ted?" Stella said as they were getting dressed.
"Your euphemistically termed bodies. I'd prefer it if they're just sitters or models, from now on; are you all right with that?"
"Fine girl, I'll insist that the studio door is always left open in future, if you'd like?"
"No, that won't be necessary, besides some of your ... models, might find it embarrassing; I trust you implicitly Teddy. Oh, but I think, if you don't mind, I might ask the girls to call you Ted or Edward in future; Teddy has a familiarity about it that I failed to recognise when Brenda used it yesterday. Lets go have some breakfast and them we can..."
"Go and see your solicitor, I'd suggest, Stella!" Ted interrupted, "Or Roger is going to beat you to it."
"There's little chance of that happening, Ted. I had a couple of meetings with Mr Goldman last week; he has my power of attorney in matters of my soon to be defunct marriage.
"Well, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to react on Saturday evening. Roger and I had had so many arguments over his extramarital activities and he'd promised so many times to behave himself, that I feared ... catching him in the act, so to speak, that I might end up in a police cell. That's one reason that I never took my handbag with me; it's heavy, I habitually cart a lot of junk around with me in the damned thing. I'm sure it could do someone a nasty injury.
"What I do have to do today is go and see my parents. My father was more than a little curious about just whom Ted Harper is, and if he starts asking around before he actually meets you ... Well, there's little point in getting off on the wrong foot is there?
"By the way, exactly what did happen with you and your motorcycle at the college? It surely couldn't have been as bad as the rumours suggested, or they'd have chucked you out!"
"Oh that, it was just a mix-up. I rode it through the front entrance, up the main staircase and into the theatre?"
"In heavens name, why?"
"Well, that's where the drama group needed it. They were putting on some five day production, and borrowed my motorcycle as a prop. I needed to use it during the day though, when it wasn't on stage. But then on the final evening, that damned service lift broke down.
"The bike was a little heavy to carry up all those stairs, so I rode the bugger up the big staircase, along the corridor and right up onto the stage. I can't say that all of the college's faculty were impressed, or best pleased with my ingenuity though.
"But there were certain members of the staff who didn't wish to see me expelled; I think maybe my talent had been well recognised by some of then. And well, they had that dirty great blank wall in the main foyer, so my punishment was to paint that mural; out of usual college hours of course.
"A sort of extended detention you might call it. And it kept me from getting into too much trouble with the boys for a while.
"It did mean that not many folks, outside my own little clique, saw me painting that masterpiece though; you know on weekends and during the college holidays.
"And then quite unexpectedly from my perspective the story about me riding the bike around inside the college buildings ... well, it kind-of took-on a life of it's own. I can't say my sudden notoriety as the bad boy, did me any harm as far as ... well as far most of the girls were concerned. Although some people did seem to hold it against me!"
"Damn, touché again! I should not have been such a bitch back then; then you wouldn't be able to keep doing that to me."
"Don't let it worry you kiddo, let's go eat and then we'll go see your father, that should be fun!"
"It's my mother you need to worry about Ted, she's the ... Oh bugger, she's even more up-her-arse than I was!"
"Quite definitely, WAS, Teddy. Now that I've found you, I'm not going to give you an excuse to get away, or reason to want to!"
"I'm not sure whether I should be pleased or worried about that, Stella." Ted replied with a smile.
"Definitely worried Teddy my boy! There's only one reason I can think of for you being in that particular public house the other night, and I'm sure that it had nothing to do with saving damsels in distress. Well, they'll be no more of that malarkey when we're married, you know!"
"Oh, I get a bye until you're divorced and we can hitched then, do I?"
Stella looked across at the new man in her life, and just for a moment wondered whether she'd bitten-off more than she could chew. But that cheeky smile he was giving her reassured her that she'd finally stumbled across the right man for her.
"Ted, do you ever take anything seriously?"
"Not much Stella. Unless of course, it's one particular damsel in distress. Generally I just let the world do it's own thing and stand on the sidelines and watch. Providing there's enough readies in the bank to cover my immediate needs."
"Well, you must do alright, Ted; this place isn't very big, but it must have cost a fortune."
"It's my parents old place, Stella. I grew up here when the land around it was a my father's smallholding. Then a few years ago my dad secured planning permission for all those little boxes all around and then sold the development off to a consortium.
"He and mother did alright; they live on Cyprus now, soaking up the sun. And I got this place to call my own. I've chopped it about a bit as you can see; to give me room to work and sell my pictures."
"Well, I still think you should let me pay for those two pictures, Ted."
"Hey look kiddo, if you don't change your mind and chicken out on me; they'll all be yours anyway in a ... shit, how long do divorces take?"
Stella threw her arms around Ted's neck and kissed him again.
"Too long for either of us to wait I should imagine; we'll have to live in sin for a while. Now lets go and see what mummy and daddy make of you. Should be real fun. Oh, a heads-up it was my mother who thought that the sun shone out of Roger's nether regions. And by the way, where I picked-up my ... well, I listened to my mothers views on class a little too much when I was younger. My dad can come-over all-officious as well, but that's all an act really; I think to designed to keep my mother happy."
"Hey Stella, what am I letting myself in for?" Ted asked, beginning at last to realise the implications for his future.
Still with her arms entwined firmly around Ted's neck. Estella moved her a head little further away from Ted's and looked directly into his eyes. Ready to spot the first hint of doubt in his mind.
"I'm sorry Ted, but from your perspective ... probably the mother-in-law from hell!" She replied and then quickly added. "But it's me you'll be marrying, not my mother!"
"Oh, so I won't feel left-out when the boys down the pub start moaning about their personal dragons then, will I?" He replied with a grin.