It’s release day for Ellie Campbell! Their newest book is “To Catch A Creeper!”
“To Catch A Creeper” by Ellie Campbell
Blurb: To Catch A Creeper, to be published week beginning 24th March, is as follows. Cathy is riding high in her brand-new job at a (surprisingly bitchy) top London advertising agency working with best friend Rosa. But when Rosa’s pregnancy goes amiss and enemies sabotage her new career, she finds herself leading a chaotic double life of lies and deception, hiding a shameful secret from all, especially husband Declan who appears in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile she’s agreed to unmask the notorious Crouch End Creeper, a burglar terrorizing their neighborhood. Little does she know that her meddling, assisted by fellow mothers (the Wednesday Once Weeklies) and the Neighborhood Watch, will lead their dangerous opponent to murder. And that it’s not only the tall elegant transvestite who’s placing herself at risk…
Chapter 1 tease
‘It must have been horrendously frightening, Cathy,’ Holly Willoughby’s sparkling white teeth are shining directly into my eyes causing me to spontaneously blink, ‘finding yourself stalked and then almost strangled to death.’
‘Oh yes,’ I nod and refill my water glass. ‘Terrifying.’
Although, I squirm as three huge cameras circle closer like a cackle of hyenas moving in for the kill, nowhere near as terrifying as being on live TV. All through the interview I keep getting these uncanny impulses to indulge in a touch of Tourette’s, spouting obscenities while intermittently flashing a nipple.
‘And then not only did you capture the culprit but you managed to turn the situation round and through it launched the most talked about advertising campaign this decade.’
‘Not just me…’ I grin bashfully as Camera One’s red light gives a little wink in my direction.
‘So as a woman who’s spent the last eight years as a mother and housewife,’ Holly continues brightly, ‘how are you finding it being back out in the workplace?’
How am I finding it? Fantastic. Sodding-bloody-fantastic, I want to reply but for some reason, ever since the camera did that little wink, my throat simply refuses to co-operate.
‘It’s a…a…’ I cough and reach for the water, ‘case of…’
‘And balancing this brand new exciting career with taking care of two primary-school age children?’ prompts her co-presenter nicely. ‘You must be very organised…’
‘Well, Joseph… I mean Jason… I mean…’
And that’s it. My mouth freezes while I rifle through my memory bank trying to recall his name. Jason or Joseph… But no, it can’t be either. Joseph was the biblical character that this guy portrayed at a West End theatre and Jason…he was the ex-Neighbours actor who also played Joseph as well as dating Kylie Minogue and picking David Guest’s nose on some reality show. So this guy, the one sitting in front of me, all mike-ed up, awaiting an answer while millions look on… God, who is he? Sweat pools under the armpits of my new Vivienne Westwood polka-dot dress with the waist-cinching corset as I scan and rescan his grey speckled hair and cute baby face. ‘The thing is…’
A reassuring hand rests on my arm. For the fifth time this morning, Rosa steps in to save me.
‘Oh she is, Phillip,’ she laughs lightly. ‘Super-organised, that’s our Cath. Packed lunches prepared night before. Uniforms folded neatly on chairs. Dishwasher and washing machine fully loaded. Plants watered. Fish fed. Wonderwoman has nothing on her.’
She slaps me on the back, just as I take another gulp of water. Instead of drowning the giant South American toad now living in my larynx, a fountain shoots out from my mouth and nose.
Holly smiles once more as she smoothly links back to the weather, before the cameras wheel away, allowing her to dab at her water-spotted jacket and mercifully ending the second most scary moment of my entire life.
Five months later
‘Cathy, wake up. You’re singing Stairway to Heaven in your sleep again.’
‘Shh.’ I squeeze my eyes tighter, stick my nose deeper into the pillow and snuggle under my toasty warm duvet, dimly aware of my husband slipping out of bed.
Why so early?
Thank God I’ve a wee while before I need to spring into action. That’s the beauty of setting the alarm an hour ahead. Trick myself into thinking I’m having a lie-in.
I fumble to find my Smartphone and peer bleary-eyed at the display. Eight-thirty. Can’t be right, can it? Maybe it jumped or something, faulty electrics. The real time, it’s really… Wait here’s the radio announcing the news. The eight-thirty news!
‘Bugger!’ My scalp tingles as I kick off the covers, leap out of bed and race down the hallway to Josh and Sophie’s bedrooms, screaming as I shake their lifeless bodies and crank open their curtains. ‘Get up! Get up!’ I march to the bathroom. ‘Why didn’t you wake me? Declan!’ I bang on the door. ‘I need a shower!’
‘I have to GO TO WORK!’ I yell through the crack that runs down the middle of the door. ‘I’ve got to leave before you!’
Silence. He’s oblivious. Cool as a cucumber in a crisis, my husband. The house could be scheduled for demolition and you’d still find him in the bathroom at the ten-second countdown, heedless of ticking explosives, patiently letting his automatic toothbrush finish its allotted two minutes, give a last little hum and end.
I dash downstairs, fling a few slices of bread into the toaster, switch on the kettle and speed back to the kids’ rooms. Eight-year-old Sophie has stumbled zombie-like to her feet, moving mechanically, eyes open but unseeing, while her brother, younger by twenty-two months, has stuck his hands over his ears in preparation for the onslaught.
‘Get dressed! Come on, hurry!’ I pick up a mound of clothes littered on the floor and chuck them in his direction. ‘Henrietta’ll be here any second. DECLAN!’
Blast and blithery! Well too late to shower anyway. And I’ll just have to wear my jeans and blouse from yesterday – only slightly wrinkled, no obvious food stains. That’s the best thing about advertising, the casual atmosphere. It’s about creative brilliance not fancy attire.
‘I just checked the fridge. There’s nothing for sandwiches.’ Sophie has appeared in the doorway as I’m tugging on my clothes. ‘Only a soggy mushroom.’
‘Then have school dinners today. And can you remind Josh to bring in that reading book he keeps forgetting? Spiders in your Neck or something. And I’ve left a cheque in the drawer downstairs for your violin lessons. See Mrs Courtland gets it. Bye, Declan, bye,’ I holler through the still closed door. ‘Make sure the kids get off all right. Oh and the cat’s been sick next to the oven so mind where you tread. I’ve got to run or I’ll miss my bus.’
Declan emerges from the bathroom, wiping foam from around his mouth. ‘Not our Wonderwoman?’ he smirks, from under the hand towel. ‘Can’t she just flap her cape and soar into the sunrise?’ He manages a quick peck on my cheek before I scurry down the stairs.
In my rush I almost knock over our new neighbour, Mrs Baker, putting out her paper recycling box.
‘Oh my Lord!’ Her bony hand flutters around her heart, as if to make sure it’s still there and beating. ‘What a fright you gave me! For a moment I thought you were a mugger.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I joke. ‘Muggers don’t start work before ten round here, union rules.’
‘Let me hang onto you, dear.’
I nearly topple over as her skinny little wrinkled arm latches onto mine.
‘Do you want to sit on the step? Catch your breath?’ I turn her around and begin making small baby steps back towards her porch.
‘Catch my death, more like.’ She stops still in her tracks and pulls her crocheted shawl closer. ‘You know I never wanted to move here? Eleanor insisted.’ Her hold on me doesn’t recede. She might look frail but she’s got the grip of a gorilla. ‘“Move to Crouch End” she said. “It’ll be closer to me” she said. Such a dangerous place.’
‘Oh I don’t think it’s that bad.’ I put on a soothing voice and urge her forward once more. ‘I mean, the person who tried murdering me, well they did have mental health issues – really it was the medication talking. Could happen anywhere.’ I snatch a surreptitious glance at my watch. If I miss my bus…
‘They tried what?!’ Her hand flutters to her heart again.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs B. Love to chew the fat, but can’t stop.’ I prise off her arm. ‘Work, you know. Bye.’
Luckily, thanks to 14a buses travelling in packs, I manage to hop on the last of the row of three and marvel of marvels actually find a seat on the upper deck.
As we pass Archway Tube Station I begin to relax. Mornings are the hardest but that’s normal isn’t it, until we all get this new routine off pat. As Rosa says, it’s just a matter of prioritising and hey, there’s no way I’m giving up on it. I still can’t believe how things have turned out. What’s happened career-wise in the last few months has completely surpassed my imagination.
After years of struggling on one salary, putting my metaphorical hand out to my husband each month like a modern day Oliver Twist, I’m determined to make this job a success. Show the world that I’m not Cathy O’Farrell, stay-at-home downtrodden mother-of-two anymore, but rather Cathy O’Farrell, an important and vital cog of the workforce. My stupid Smartphone threw me off today, that’s all. And Declan surprising me last night by taking me to the opening of a new exhibit at the Natural History Museum followed by dinner at a swanky restaurant, having arranged a babysitter all on his ownsome, which meant I didn’t make the supermarket. We staggered in after midnight slightly tipsy and then headed straight for bed, shedding clothes en route. Hard to believe not so long ago I was in a real mess marriage-wise, clueless as to what to do with my life, wondering if Declan even still fancied me, feeling a total failure about everything.
I gaze out of the steamed up window into the misty morning gloom, reliving the evening.
‘You’re certain you’re really Irish?’ I’d teased him as he refilled my wine glass. ‘You don’t drink Guinness, you’re not Catholic and I can’t think of the last time I’ve heard you say, yoicks, me arse. If it wasn’t for the ginger hair and twinkling blue eyes, I’d think you were a complete fraud.’
He gave me one of those looks, amused, I think.
‘No, and I don’t start warbling Danny Boy when I’m in a maudlin mood or go blethering on about the little people.’ He leaned forward in a secretive manner so that I automatically leaned forward too. ‘Though I will say, sure and begorrah, that’s a lovely colour blouse, you’re wearing. Makes your eyes look greener than a leprechaun’s jumpsuit, so it does.’
‘It’s new,’ I’d grinned, pleased. ‘Paid for it out of my own wage packet, wouldn’t you know.’
‘And I’m looking forward to removing it later tonight.’ He sipped slowly at his wine, face deadpan, eyes fixed on mine. It took a second but then a little thrill ran through me as I realised what he was talking about.
I decided to treat him to a drop down, flick up, sexy hair toss. ‘Dessert?’ I murmured huskily, running my tongue slowly over my bottom lip. ‘What do you fancy? Coffee, tea – or me?’
‘They do a great cheesecake here,’ he missed it entirely, nose stuck in the menu. ‘How’s the office lately?’
‘Fabulous!’ I raved. ‘Walt Whitman dropped by, hung around chatting. We hired him for the mineral water gig I was telling you about. They’re off to shoot in Hawaii next week. And then about two o’clock all the creative team had champagne in Turks’ office and watched his top ten favourite commercials – he says inputting is nearly as important as outputting.’
‘Does he now?’ he grinned and shook his head. ‘And there’s you who used to run three miles and jump a stile whenever I mentioned finding yourself a job. Who was it said it was nigh on impossible to combine proper mothering care with a worthwhile career?’
‘Ah but that was then,’ I swirled my wine around my glass, ‘and this is now. Things change. People move on. Besides I was merely waiting for the right opportunity. Didn’t want to waste my many talents on menial work.’
‘Many talents, huh? Like super sleuthing for example?’ He arched his left eyebrow in a sardonic pose. ‘So I guess that means you won’t be leaping in to catch the infamous Crouch End Creeper? Made page seven of The Independent today.’
‘The Independent? Wow. So what did…?’ I caught myself just in time and skilfully changed my mildly interested tone to dismissive-who-cares-a-fig. ‘Haven’t they better things to write about? I mean, what’s happening in the Middle East? How’s Germany’s economy? Besides I’m far too busy.’
‘Tell me again, what exactly it is you do all day?’
‘Think up new campaigns. Write copy. Mostly hush hush. I’m not supposed to talk about it actually.’ I dabbed my lips with a napkin. ‘Client confidentiality, you know.’
‘Oh I see,’ he whispered back, raising his palm between us as a shield from prying ears. ‘I didn’t realise. Heard anything from Gabby or anyone?’
By anyone, he meant half my close friends who seemed to disappear at roughly the same time towards the end of last year. Not exactly a case of one got squashed, one got lost, one had an operation. More one got sent to an asylum, one emigrated and the other disappeared to Cornwall in an attempt to get her teenagers off the weed.
‘Gabby called last week, funnily enough. She’s loving it down in Padstow. Her boys have a collie and a goat and acres of land. And Belinda emailed me from Toronto about a month ago. She started making her jams, and Geoffrey’s furniture is actually selling. Great, eh?’
‘Good luck to them, going after their dreams. I envy them in a way.’
‘Why?’ I stared at him in surprise. Not like Declan to sound wistful. ‘I could never imagine you tugging at goats’ udders or carving sparrows out of tree-trunks. Besides I thought you loved it at Wilson Inc.’
‘Oh I do, I do. Sure and isn’t it the dream of every young Irish lad,’ he mocked, ‘to be employed by an old established manufacturing company with a final salary pension plan and a real gold watch on retirement.’
‘Well, what is your dream then?’
‘Don’t know,’ he sighed and looked thoughtful. ‘But I suspect it’s nothing to do with end of year accounts. Ach, never mind,’ he put on the accent again. ‘Right now, I’m dreaming of bed with my Irish queen and stripping her of that fine linen blouse. Too la roo la roo la.’
Later that night, I snuggled up against his warm naked body.
‘I think you’ve been in Crouch End too long. You’ve the worst Irish accent I’ve ever heard.’
He wrapped his arms around me. ‘And hard to believe you’re more interested in matters abroad than happenings in your own neighbourhood. Well done.’ He kissed the top of my head.
‘I’m not a small town gal anymore,’ I’d sighed heavily, gloriously content.
* * * * *
“Looking for La La” by Ellie Campbell is on sale for $0.99 from Monday, March 24th to Sunday, March 30th!
“How to Survive Your Sisters” by Ellie Campbell is on sale Wednesday, March 26th to Sunday, March 30th! (US only)
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