Excerpt from Chapter 1
It was the first day of April. Seeing the reception desk temporarily unmanned, Miranda snatched up the ringing phone.
'Fenn Lomax salon, how can I help you?'
'Hello.' It was a male voice. 'I need a complete restyle.'
'We do have a long waiting list,' Miranda warned, uncapping a pen with her teeth. 'Could I have your name, please?'
Over the phone, she heard gales of background laughter.
'Oh ha ha, well done, very good,' Miranda recited dutifully. 'If only Eddie Izzard was as witty as you.' She rolled her eyes at Bev, the salon's glamorous receptionist, now racing back from the loo.
'Who was that?' said Bev as Miranda hung up.
'An imbecile. April Fools' Day, don't you just love it?'
Grabbing her coat and rummaging in the pockets, Miranda dragged out one green woollen glove and one pink leather one. Well, imitation leather.
Bev's manicured blonde eyebrows went up.
'Lunch break already? It's only half past eleven.'
'Indentured servitude.' Making sure she wasn't being watched, Miranda pulled a face. 'Cigarettes for Alice Tavistock. And a box of herbal tea bags. And half a dozen first-class stamps. That woman, honestly, I don't know why she doesn't write out her whole week's shopping list, pack me off to Sainsbury's and be done with it.'
'And when you've finished that,' Bev suggested helpfully, 'you could valet her car.'
'Pop her washing round to the launderette.'
'Mow her lawn.'
'Fill out her tax return.'
'Clean her loos,' Bev blinked innocently, 'with her own toothbrush.'
'Miranda, are you still here?' Fenn Lomax, emerging from the VIP room, shot her a look of disbelief.
'Sorry, Fenn, no, Fenn, I'm gone.' Miranda jammed her gloves on, getting three fingers stuck in one thumb-hole. She grinned at Bev and made a dash for the door. 'Back in ten minutes, okay?'
Fenn called after her, 'Make that five.'
Since Fenn Lomax had landed himself a regular slot on the hugely popular TV show It's Morning! his client list had blossomed beyond recognition.
As the show's producer had pointed out, he was a seriously attractive heterosexual hairdresser. How could he fail?
The female producer had been right.
With his streaky-blond shoulder-length hair, thickly fringed hazel eyes and come-to-bed smile, Fenn had a way with women and scissors that had done his business no harm at all. No longer buried in the back streets of Bermondsey (special rates for pensioners on Mondays and Wednesdays), he had been catapulted upmarket to the altogether glossier pavements of Knightsbridge's Brompton Road (special rates never). Celebrities queued up, for months sometimes,for the privilege of shelling out two hundred and fifty pounds and being able to boast to friends, journalists…well, anyone who'd listen, basically, that theirs was a Fenn Lomax cut.
Nowadays you could spot his clients a mile off, thought Miranda, teetering on the edge of the curb as a chauffeur-driven limo pulled up inches from her toes. The snow had all but melted now, leaving only squelchy dregs, but the woman emerging from the back of the limousine was kitted out in enough fur to see her through a hike across the Antarctic. Gingerly, in her fur-lined boots, she picked her way through the slush.
Well, it was an awfully wide pavement. All of six feet from the car to the apricot-tinted-glass and brass doors of the salon.
And if you were going to pay a chauffeur to run you around town, it made sense to economize in other areas, Miranda acknowledged, recognizing the famous romance novelist as she removed her dark glasses. That must be why the stingy, face-lifted old hag had only tipped her thirty pence last week.
The stamps and cigarettes weren't a problem, but the Grapefruit Zing herbal tea bags with extra ginseng took longer to track down. By the time she'd bought everything, Miranda was already fifteen minutes late.
He was there, sitting in his usual spot outside the shoe shop. Experiencing a horrid qualm of guilt, Miranda wondered if she could cross the road so he wouldn't catch sight of her, or simply rush past pretending she hadn't seen him.
Then again, perhaps she should just explain that she was in a tearing hurry and didn't have her purse on her right now, but if he hung around for another hour or so, she'd see him later. Hung around for another hour or so, Miranda thought with a shudder. Crikey, patronizing or what?
Poor chap, as if he had anywhere else to go.
Oh, but he looked so cold, so utterly miserable and chilled to the bone.
Too late to try and avoid him now anyway, she realized. He'd spotted her.
'Hi,' said Miranda, feeling rotten already. His blanket was damp, soaked through with slush. 'Look, this isn't my lunch break, I'm just picking up a few things for a client, but I'll definitely be back before two.' Inwardly, she cringed. Oh, help, why did a perfectly good reason have to come out sounding like a feeble excuse? He didn't want one of her sandwiches in two hours' time, he needed something to warm him up now.
'Okay.' The man, who was probably in his early thirties, nodded and managed a faint smile. 'Thanks.'
He never begged, never asked for anything. Just sat there, with his greasy black hair falling over his face and his dark eyelashes half shielding his eyes, as he watched the rest of the world march on by. Miranda had never given him money in case he was a drug addict. The thought of her spare cash being injected into the nearest collapsed vein made her shudder. At least he couldn't fit a prawn sandwich into a syringe.
But today the circumstances were different. And there was a Burger King just across the road, selling hot drinks. What's more, Miranda remembered, Alice Tavistock had given her a ten-pound note to go shopping with…
'Here.' Hurriedly she fumbled in her coat pocket for change and thrust seventy pence into his hand. 'Buy yourself a cup of tea. Thaw out a bit.'
'That's very kind.'
Heroin cost more than seventy pence, didn't it?
Worried, needing to check, Miranda said, 'You don't do drugs?'
Another fleeting smile, accompanied this time by a shake of the head.
'No, I don't do drugs.'
Except…well, he would say that, wouldn't he?
Miranda gave up; she had to get back. Ugh, this weather, her feet were going numb.
'Okay, see you later.' She flexed her icy toes. 'Ham and tomato or prawn with mayonnaise?'
The man on the pavement shrugged.
'I don't mind. You choose.'