And Thereby Hangs A Tale – Free Story – Stuck On You


Short Story

Stuck On You


JEREMY LOOKED ACROSS the table at Arabella and still couldn’t believe she had agreed to be his wife. He was the luckiest man in the world.

She was giving him the shy smile that had so entranced him the first time they met, when a waiter appeared by his side. ‘I’ll have an espresso,’ said Jeremy, ‘and my fiancée’ – it still sounded strange to him – ‘will have a mint tea.’

‘Very good, sir.’

Jeremy tried to stop himself looking around the room full of ‘at home’ people who knew exactly where they were and what was expected of them, whereas he had never visited the Ritz before. It became clear from the waves and blown kisses from customers who flitted in and out of the morning room that Arabella knew everyone, from the maître d’ to several of ‘the set’, as she often referred to them. Jeremy sat back and tried to relax.

They’d first met at Ascot. Arabella was inside the royal enclosure looking out, while Jeremy was on the outside, looking in; that was how he’d assumed it would always be, until she gave him that beguiling smile as she strolled out of the enclosure and whispered as she passed him, ‘Put your shirt on Trumpeter.’ She then disappeared off in the direction of the private boxes.

Jeremy took her advice, and placed twenty pounds on Trumpeter – double his usual wager – before returning to the stands to see the horse romp home at 5–1. He hurried back to the royal enclosure to thank her, at the same time hoping she might give him another tip for the next race, but she was nowhere to be seen. He was disappointed, but still placed fifty pounds of his winnings on a horse the Daily Express tipster fancied. It turned out to be a nag that would be described in tomorrow’s paper as an ‘also-ran’.

Jeremy returned to the royal enclosure for a third time in the hope of seeing her again. He searched the paddock full of elegant men dressed in morning suits with little enclosure badges hanging from their lapels, all looking exactly like each other. They were accompanied by wives and girlfriends adorned in designer dresses and outrageous hats, desperately trying not to look like anyone else. Then he spotted her, standing next to a tall, aristocratic-looking man who was bending down and listening intently to a jockey dressed in red-and-yellow hooped silks. She didn’t appear to be interested in their conversation and began to look around. Her eyes settled on Jeremy and he received that same friendly smile once again. She whispered something to the tall man, then walked across the enclosure to join him at the railing.

‘I hope you took my advice,’ she said.

‘Sure did,’ said Jeremy. ‘But how could you be so confident?’

‘It’s my father’s horse.’

‘Should I back your father’s horse in the next race?’

‘Certainly not. You should never bet on anything unless you’re sure it’s a certainty. I hope you won enough to take me to dinner tonight?’

If Jeremy didn’t reply immediately, it was only because he couldn’t believe he’d heard her correctly. He eventually stammered out, ‘Where would you like to go?’

‘The Ivy, eight o’clock. By the way, my name’s Arabella Warwick.’ Without another word she turned on her heel and went back to join her set.

Jeremy was surprised Arabella had given him a second look, let alone suggested they should dine together that evening. He expected that nothing would come of it, but as she’d already paid for dinner, he had nothing to lose.

Arabella arrived a few minutes after the appointed hour, and when she entered the restaurant, several pairs of male eyes followed her progress as she made her way to Jeremy’s table. He had been told they were fully booked until he mentioned her name. Jeremy rose from his place long before she joined him. She took the seat opposite him as a waiter appeared by her side.

‘The usual, madam?’

She nodded, but didn’t take her eyes off Jeremy.

By the time her Bellini had arrived, Jeremy had begun to relax a little. She listened intently to everything he had to say, laughed at his jokes, and even seemed to be interested in his work at the bank. Well, he had slightly exaggerated his position and the size of the deals he was working on.

After dinner, which was a little more expensive than he’d anticipated, he drove her back to her home in Pavilion Road, and was surprised when she invited him in for coffee, and even more surprised when they ended up in bed.

Jeremy had never slept with a woman on a first date before. He could only assume that it was what ‘the set’ did, and when he left the next morning, he certainly didn’t expect ever to hear from her again. But she called that afternoon and invited him over for supper at her place. From that moment, they hardly spent a day apart during the next month.

What pleased Jeremy most was that Arabella didn’t seem to mind that he couldn’t afford to take her to her usual haunts, and appeared quite happy to share a Chinese or Indian meal when they went out for dinner, often insisting that they split the bill. But he didn’t believe it could last, until one night she said, ‘You do realize I’m in love with you, don’t you, Jeremy?’

Jeremy had never expressed his true feelings for Arabella. He’d assumed their relationship was nothing more than what her set would describe as a fling. Not that she’d ever introduced him to anyone from her set. When he fell on one knee and proposed to her on the dance floor at Annabel’s, he couldn’t believe it when she said yes.

‘I’ll buy a ring tomorrow,’ he said, trying not to think about the parlous state of his bank account, which had turned a deeper shade of red since he’d met Arabella.

‘Why bother to buy one, when you can steal the best there is?’ she said.

Jeremy burst out laughing, but it quickly became clear Arabella wasn’t joking. That was the moment he should have walked away, but he realized he couldn’t if it meant losing her. He knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with this beautiful and intoxicating woman, and if stealing a ring was what it took, it seemed a small price to pay.

‘What type shall I steal?’ he asked, still not altogether sure that she was serious.

‘The expensive type,’ she replied. ‘In fact, I’ve already chosen the one I want.’ She passed him a De Beers catalogue. ‘Page forty-three,’ she said. ‘It’s called the Kandice Diamond.’

‘But have you worked out how I’m going to steal it?’ asked Jeremy, studying a photograph of the faultless yellow diamond.

‘Oh, that’s the easy part, darling,’ she said. ‘All you’ll have to do is follow my instructions.’

Jeremy didn’t say a word until she’d finished outlining her plan.

That’s how he had ended up in the Ritz that morning, wearing his only tailored suit, a pair of Links cufflinks, a Cartier Tank watch and an old Etonian tie, all of which belonged to Arabella’s father.

‘I’ll have to return everything by tonight,’ she said, ‘otherwise Pa might miss them and start asking questions.’

‘Of course,’ said Jeremy, who was enjoying becoming acquainted with the trappings of the rich, even if it was only a fleeting acquaintance.

The waiter returned, carrying a silver tray. Neither of them spoke as he placed a cup of mint tea in front of Arabella and a pot of coffee on Jeremy’s side of the table.

‘Will there be anything else, sir?’

‘No, thank you,’ said Jeremy with an assurance he’d acquired during the past month.

‘Do you think you’re ready?’ asked Arabella, her knee brushing against the inside of his leg while she once again gave him the smile that had so captivated him at Ascot.

‘I’m ready,’ said Jeremy, trying to sound convincing.

‘Good. I’ll wait here until you return, darling.’ That same smile. ‘You know how much this means to me.’

Jeremy nodded, rose from his place and, without another word, walked out of the morning room, across the corridor, through the swing doors and out on to Piccadilly. He placed a stick of chewing gum in his mouth, hoping it would help him to relax. Normally Arabella would have disapproved, but on this occasion she had recommended it. He stood nervously on the pavement and waited for a gap to appear in the traffic, then nipped across the road, coming to a halt outside De Beers, the largest diamond merchant in the world. This was his last chance to walk away. He knew he should take it, but just the thought of her made it impossible.

He rang the doorbell, which made him aware that his palms were sweating. Arabella had warned him that you couldn’t just stroll into De Beers as if it was a supermarket, and that if they didn’t like the look of you, they would not even open the door. That was why he had been measured for his first hand-tailored suit and acquired a new silk shirt, and was wearing Arabella’s father’s watch, cufflinks and old Etonian tie. ‘The tie will ensure that the door is opened immediately,’ Arabella had told him, ‘and once they spot the watch and the cufflinks, you’ll be invited into the private salon, because by then they’ll be convinced you’re one of the rare people who can afford their wares.’

Arabella turned out to be correct, because when the doorman appeared, he took one look at Jeremy and immediately unlocked the door.

‘Good morning, sir. How may I help you?’

‘I was hoping to buy an engagement ring.’

‘Of course, sir. Please step inside.’

Jeremy followed him down a long corridor, glancing at photographs on the walls that depicted the history of the company since its foundation in 1888. Once they had reached the end of the corridor, the doorman melted away, to be replaced by a tall, middle-aged man wearing a well-cut dark suit, a white silk shirt and a black tie.

‘Good morning, sir,’ he said, giving a slight bow. ‘My name is Crombie,’ he added, before ushering Jeremy into his private lair. Jeremy walked into a small, well-lit room. In the centre was an oval table covered in a black velvet cloth, with comfortable-looking leather chairs on either side. The assistant waited until Jeremy had sat down before he took the seat opposite him.

‘Would you care for some coffee, sir?’ Crombie enquired solicitously.

‘No, thank you,’ said Jeremy, who had no desire to hold up proceedings any longer than necessary, for fear he might lose his nerve.

‘And how may I help you today, sir?’ Crombie asked, as if Jeremy were a regular customer.

‘I’ve just become engaged . . .’

‘Many congratulations, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ said Jeremy, beginning to feel a little more relaxed. ‘I’m looking for a ring, something a bit special,’ he added, still sticking to the script.

‘You’ve certainly come to the right place, sir,’ said Crombie, and pressed a button under the table.

The door opened immediately, and a man in an identical dark suit, white shirt and dark tie entered the room.

‘The gentleman would like to see some engagement rings, Partridge.’

‘Yes, of course, Mr Crombie,’ replied the porter, and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

‘Good weather for this time of year,’ said Crombie as he waited for the porter to reappear.

‘Not bad,’ said Jeremy.

‘No doubt you’ll be going to Wimbledon, sir.’

‘Yes, we’ve got tickets for the women’s semi-finals,’ said Jeremy, feeling rather pleased with himself, remembering that he’d strayed off script.

A moment later, the door opened and the porter reappeared carrying a large oak box which he placed reverentially in the centre of the table, before leaving without uttering a word. Crombie waited until the door had closed before selecting a small key from a chain that hung from the waistband of his trousers, unlocking the box and opening the lid slowly to reveal three rows of assorted gems that took Jeremy’s breath away. Definitely not the sort of thing he was used to seeing in the window of his local H. Samuel.

It was a few moments before he fully recovered, and then he remembered Arabella telling him he would be presented with a wide choice of stones so the salesman could estimate his price range without having to ask him directly.

Jeremy studied the box’s contents intently, and after some thought selected a ring from the bottom row with three perfectly cut small emeralds set proud on a gold band.

‘Quite beautiful,’ said Jeremy as he studied the stones more carefully. ‘What is the price of this ring?’

‘One hundred and twenty-four thousand, sir,’ said Crombie, as if the amount was of little consequence.

Jeremy placed the ring back in the box, and turned his attention to the row above. This time he selected a ring with a circle of sapphires on a white-gold band. He removed it from the box and pretended to study it more closely before asking the price.

‘Two hundred and sixty-nine thousand pounds,’ replied the same unctuous voice, accompanied by a smile that suggested the customer was heading in the right direction.

Jeremy replaced the ring and turned his attention to a large single diamond that lodged alone in the top row, leaving no doubt of its superiority. He removed it and, as with the others, studied it closely. ‘And this magnificent stone,’ he said, raising an eyebrow. ‘Can you tell me a little about its provenance?’

‘I can indeed, sir,’ said Crombie. ‘It’s a flawless, eighteen-point-four carat cushion-cut yellow diamond that was recently extracted from our Rhodes mine. It has been certified by the Gemmological Institute of America as a Fancy Intense Yellow, and was cut from the original stone by one of our master craftsmen in Amsterdam. The stone has been set on a platinum band. I can assure sir that it is quite unique, and therefore worthy of a unique lady.’

Jeremy had a feeling that Mr Crombie might just have delivered that line before. ‘No doubt there’s a quite unique price to go with it.’ He handed the ring to Crombie, who placed it back in the box.

‘Eight hundred and fifty-four thousand pounds,’ he said in a hushed voice.

‘Do you have a loupe?’ asked Jeremy. ‘I’d like to study the stone more closely.’ Arabella had taught him the word diamond merchants use when referring to a small magnifying glass, assuring him that it would make him sound as if he regularly frequented such establishments.

‘Yes, of course, sir,’ said Crombie, pulling open a drawer on his side of the table and extracting a small tortoiseshell loupe. When he looked back up, there was no sign of the Kandice Diamond, just a gaping space in the top row of the box.

‘Do you still have the ring?’ he asked, trying not to sound concerned.

‘No,’ said Jeremy. ‘I handed it back to you a moment ago.’

Without another word, the assistant snapped the box closed and pressed the button below his side of the table. This time he didn’t indulge in any small talk while he waited. A moment later, two burly, flat-nosed men who looked as if they’d be more at home in a boxing ring than De Beers entered the room. One remained by the door while the other stood a few inches behind Jeremy.

‘Perhaps you’d be kind enough to return the ring,’ said Crombie in a firm, flat, unemotional voice.

‘I’ve never been so insulted,’ said Jeremy, trying to sound insulted.

‘I’m going to say this only once, sir. If you return the ring, we will not press charges, but if you do not—’

‘And I’m going to say this only once,’ said Jeremy, rising from his seat. ‘The last time I saw the ring was when I handed it back to you.’

Jeremy turned to leave, but the man behind him placed a hand firmly on his shoulder and pushed him back down into the chair. Arabella had promised him there would be no rough stuff as long as he cooperated and did exactly what they told him. Jeremy remained seated, not moving a muscle. Crombie rose from his place and said, ‘Please follow me.’

One of the heavyweights opened the door and led Jeremy out of the room, while the other remained a pace behind him. At the end of the corridor they stopped outside a door marked ‘Private’. The first guard opened the door and they entered another room which once again contained only one table, but this time it wasn’t covered in a velvet cloth. Behind it sat a man who looked as if he’d been waiting for them. He didn’t invite Jeremy to sit, as there wasn’t another chair in the room.

‘My name is Granger,’ the man said without expression. ‘I’ve been the head of security at De Beers for the past fourteen years, having previously served as a detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police. I can tell you there’s nothing I haven’t seen, and no story I haven’t heard before. So do not imagine even for one moment that you’re going to get away with this, young man.’

How quickly the fawning sir had been replaced by the demeaning young man, thought Jeremy.

Granger paused to allow the full weight of his words to sink in. ‘First, I am obliged to ask if you are willing to assist me with my inquiries, or whether you would prefer us to call in the police, in which case you will be entitled to have a solicitor present.’

‘I have nothing to hide,’ said Jeremy haughtily, ‘so naturally I’m happy to cooperate.’ Back on script.

‘In that case,’ said Granger, ‘perhaps you’d be kind enough to take off your shoes, jacket and trousers.’

Jeremy kicked off his loafers, which Granger picked up and placed on the table. He then removed his jacket and handed it to Granger as if he was his valet. After taking off his trousers he stood there, trying to look appalled at the treatment he was being subjected to.

Granger spent some considerable time pulling out every pocket of Jeremy’s suit, then checking the lining and the seams. Having failed to come up with anything other than a handkerchief – there was no wallet, no credit card, nothing that could identify the suspect, which made him even more suspicious – Granger placed the suit back on the table. ‘Your tie?’ he said, still sounding calm.

Jeremy undid the knot, pulled off the old Etonian tie and put it on the table. Granger ran the palm of his right hand across the blue stripes, but again, nothing. ‘Your shirt.’ Jeremy undid the buttons slowly, then handed his shirt over. He stood there shivering in just his pants and socks.

As Granger checked the shirt, for the first time the hint of a smile appeared on his lined face when he touched the collar. He pulled out two silver Tiffany collar stiffeners. Nice touch, Arabella, thought Jeremy as Granger placed them on the table, unable to mask his disappointment. He handed the shirt back to Jeremy, who replaced the collar stiffeners before putting his shirt and tie back on.

‘Your underpants, please.’

Jeremy pulled down his pants and passed them across. Another inspection which he knew would reveal nothing. Granger handed them back and waited for him to pull them up before saying, ‘And finally your socks.’

Jeremy pulled off his socks and laid them out on the table. Granger was now looking a little less sure of himself, but he still checked them carefully before turning his attention to Jeremy’s loafers. He spent some time tapping, pushing and even trying to pull them apart, but there was nothing to be found. To Jeremy’s surprise, he once again asked him to remove his shirt and tie. When he’d done so, Granger came around from behind the table and stood directly in front of him. He raised both his hands, and for a moment Jeremy thought the man was going to hit him. Instead, he pressed his fingers into Jeremy’s scalp and ruffled his hair the way his father used to do when he was a child, but all he ended up with was greasy nails and a few stray hairs for his trouble.

‘Raise your arms,’ he barked. Jeremy held his arms high in the air, but Granger found nothing under his armpits. He then stood behind Jeremy. ‘Raise one leg,’ he ordered. Jeremy raised his right leg. There was nothing taped underneath the heel, and nothing between the toes. ‘The other leg,’ said Granger, but he ended up with the same result. He walked round to face him once again. ‘Open your mouth.’ Jeremy opened wide as if he was in the dentist’s chair. Granger shone a pen-torch around his cavities, but didn’t find so much as a gold tooth. He could not hide his discomfort as he asked Jeremy to accompany him to the room next door.

‘May I put my clothes back on?’

‘No, you may not,’ came back the immediate reply.

Jeremy followed him into the next room, feeling apprehensive about what torture they had in store for him. A man in a long white coat stood waiting next to what looked like a sun bed. ‘Would you be kind enough to lie down so that I can take an X-ray?’ he asked.

‘Happily,’ said Jeremy, and climbed on to the machine. Moments later there was a click and the two men studied the results on a screen. Jeremy knew it would reveal nothing. Swallowing the Kandice Diamond had never been part of their plan.

‘Thank you,’ said the man in the white coat courteously, and Granger added reluctantly, ‘You can get dressed now.’

Once Jeremy had his new school tie on, he followed Granger back into the interrogation room, where Crombie and the two guards were waiting for them.

‘I’d like to leave now,’ Jeremy said firmly.

Granger nodded, clearly unwilling to let him go, but he no longer had any excuse to hold him. Jeremy turned to face Crombie, looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘You’ll be hearing from my solicitor.’ He thought he saw him grimace. Arabella’s script had been flawless.

The two flat-nosed guards escorted him off the premises, looking disappointed that he hadn’t tried to escape. As Jeremy stepped back out on to the crowded Piccadilly pavement, he took a deep breath and waited for his heartbeat to return to something like normal before crossing the road. He then strolled confidently back into the Ritz and took his seat opposite Arabella.

‘Your coffee’s gone cold, darling,’ she said, as if he’d just been to the loo. ‘Perhaps you should order another.’

‘Same again,’ said Jeremy when the waiter appeared by his side.

‘Any problems?’ whispered Arabella once the waiter was out of earshot.

‘No,’ said Jeremy, suddenly feeling guilty, but at the same time exhilarated. ‘It all went to plan.’

‘Good,’ said Arabella. ‘So now it’s my turn.’ She rose from her seat and said, ‘Better give me the watch and the cufflinks. I’ll need to put them back in Daddy’s room before we meet up this evening.’

Jeremy reluctantly unstrapped the watch, took out the cufflinks and handed them to Arabella. ‘What about the tie?’ he whispered.

‘Better not take if off in the Ritz,’ she said. She leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips. ‘I’ll come to your place around eight, and you can give it back to me then.’ She gave him that smile one last time before walking out of the morning room.

A few moments later, Arabella was standing outside De Beers. The door was opened immediately: the Van Cleef & Arpels necklace, the Balenciaga bag and the Chanel watch all suggested that this lady was not in the habit of being kept waiting.

‘I want to look at some engagement rings,’ she said shyly before stepping inside.

‘Of course, madam,’ said the doorman, and led her down the corridor.

During the next hour, Arabella carried out almost the same routine as Jeremy, and after much prevarication she told Mr Crombie, ‘It’s hopeless, quite hopeless. I’ll have to bring Archie in. After all, he’s the one who’s going to foot the bill.’

‘Of course, madam.’

‘I’m joining him for lunch at Le Caprice,’ she added, ‘so we’ll pop back this afternoon.’

‘We’ll look forward to seeing you both then,’ said the sales associate as he closed the jewel box.

‘Thank you, Mr Crombie,’ said Arabella as she rose to leave.

Arabella was escorted to the front door by the sales associate without any suggestion that she should take her clothes off. Once she was back on Piccadilly, she hailed a taxi and gave the driver an address in Lowndes Square. She checked her watch, confident that she would be back at the flat long before her father, who would never find out that his watch and cufflinks had been borrowed for a few hours, and who certainly wouldn’t miss one of his old school ties.

As she sat in the back of the taxi, Arabella admired the flawless yellow diamond. Jeremy had carried out her instructions to the letter. She would of course have to explain to her friends why she’d broken off the engagement. Frankly, he just wasn’t one of our set, never really fitted in. But she had to admit she would quite miss him. She’d grown rather fond of Jeremy, and he was very enthusiastic between the sheets. And to think that all he’d get out of it was a pair of silver collar stiffeners and an old Etonian tie. Arabella hoped he still had enough money to cover the bill at the Ritz.

She dismissed Jeremy from her thoughts and turned her attention to the man she’d chosen to join her at Wimbledon, whom she had already lined up to assist her in obtaining a matching pair of earrings.

When Mr Crombie left De Beers that night, he was still trying to work out how the man had managed it. After all, he’d had no more than a few seconds while his head was bowed.

‘Goodnight, Doris,’ he said as he passed a cleaner who was vacuuming in the corridor.

‘Goodnight, sir,’ said Doris, opening the door to the viewing room so she could continue to vacuum. This was where the customers selected the finest gems on earth, Mr Crombie had once told her, so it had to be spotless. She turned off the machine, removed the black velvet cloth from the table and began to polish the surface; first the top, then the rim. That’s when she felt it.

Doris bent down to take a closer look. She stared in disbelief at the large piece of chewing gum stuck under the rim of the table. She began to scrape it off, not stopping until there wasn’t the slightest trace of it left, then dropped it into the rubbish bag attached to her cleaning cart before placing the velvet cloth back on the table.

‘Such a disgusting habit,’ she muttered as she closed the viewing-room door and continued to vacuum the carpet in the corridor.

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