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U3A Writing, U3A Writing: Targeting Tessa

...‘There’s a lady on that table by the door, Reggie, who is completely unaware she is about to become one of the wealthiest women in the country.’...

Patrick Hopton tells a delicious tale of a conniving chap who went searching for money rather than love.

It had not been a good day. I muttered a curse as I watched the customer I was grooming walk away without concluding a deal, leaving me to pick up the bill for an expensive meal I could ill afford. I emptied the bottle of Rioja into my glass and settled to gloomy thoughts, mostly about the precarious state of my finances, invaded from time to time by pangs of guilt at my recent clumsy termination of a love affair that had run its course.

A plummy voice from the table behind pierced my melancholy.

‘There’s a lady on that table by the door, Reggie, who is completely unaware she is about to become one of the wealthiest women in the country.’

That grabbed the attention.

‘Point her out to me, Roland,’ enthused Reggie.

‘Yes point her out, Roland,’ I pleaded silently.

Four young women occupied the table in question, three of whom were conversing animatedly, while the fourth, small, plump and bespectacled, looked on, patently enjoying the conversation but not participating. It was the latter whom Roland identified as the unwitting billionairess. By straining my ears I managed to glean that he was a solicitor commissioned on behalf of a dying Texan oil baron to track down the man’s only living relative, a great niece, Tessa Fitzpatrick by name, who was to inherit his entire fortune.

I desperately wished to hear more, but Roland and Reggie were rising to take their departure. The only useful fact I learned was that Tessa worked as an assistant in the lingerie department of Selfridges.

Why could she not have worked in a less intimidating department – kitchenware or something? I felt exposed and conspicuous as I lingered amid aisles of provocative ladies underwear, the only man in sight. I was sure that staff and customers alike had me figured for some sort of perverted lingerie fetishist - or worse. Defensively, I kept my head down while I awaited the chance to grab Tessa’s assistance in a fictitious purchase.

Eventually she finished with the customer she was attending to and I stepped out to intercept her as she passed nearby. ‘Excuse me, miss,’ I said flashing my most winning smile. ‘Have you a moment to help me?’

She could not have responded more graciously. Her voice was agreeably modulated, and, up close, her face was pleasant enough too – big brown eyes and a friendly smile. True she was on the short side and her figure a bit dumpy; the spectacles were a bit of a downer too, but I could live with that – especially with a few million pounds to compensate. A whirlwind courtship, marriage, early divorce and a generous settlement was what I had in mind.

The initial hurdle was to get a date with her. She resisted my first invitation made at the cash desk as she sold me a negligee I had no one in mind for. (I figured the sale might advance my cause). She resisted my subsequent invitations as I made further needless purchases in the days that followed. Maybe it was because I was improving her sales figures that she partially relented on day four, agreeing to meet me over a cup of tea in the store restaurant while she waited for her boyfriend to join her. Her boyfriend! He would have to be dealt with.

We exchanged chit chat for half an hour about her life, and as much as I cared to tell her about mine. She lived with her widowed mother in Croydon, had no siblings and no close relatives. (No mention of a great uncle in America.) Boyfriend Gary worked in the gardening department. They had been going out together for years but had no immediate plans to shack up together or marry. Hope for me there then! Even more hope when Gary arrived – a tall, skinny individual with a limp handshake. I would have no trouble seeing him off. For the moment I left them together and went home to my bachelor pad to plot his demise.

In the weeks that followed I blitzed Tessa with my attentions, showering her with flowers, chocolates and ostentatiously wrapped gifts all delivered to her at her place of work, not only to maximise her embarrassment but also make a statement to her work colleagues that there was a new man in her life. It was costing me a fortune, but hell – you have to speculate to accumulate, as the saying goes. My invitations to her were many – to lunch, to dinner, to the cinema, to the theatre. Initially they were declined but sheer persistence prevailed in the end. Finally she accepted my invitation to dinner at Alfonso’s (the restaurant where I had first glimpsed her) and there over candles, conversation, Carbonara and Chianti I could sense a bond being forged. After that we were often together. Nor was it a hardship for me. I was surprised to find myself beginning to enjoy her company, which was shyly attentive, sincere and tinged with self-deprecating humour.

Once I had got her to ditch the nerdy spectacles for contact lenses she was more than halfway decent.

I knew I had won the contest when Gary approached me in the store restaurant as I sat waiting for Tessa to join me. There were tears in his eyes as he told me he was releasing her from any obligation to him. ‘I find it’s too distressing for Tess being torn between us,’ he stammered. ‘She deserves better things in life. Things I can’t give her and you obviously can. It’ll be better all round if she and I don’t meet any more.’ Noble sentiments! Wimp! But then a flash of steel. He lowered his face to mine. ‘Just make sure you’re good to her or you’ll have me to answer to.’ With that he turned on heel and made off.

After that Tessa was mine alone. Not sexually – not yet. Her strict Methodist upbringing dictated ‘no bed till wed’. A pity really. I was keen to sample the delights she had to offer. I had an inkling that they promised much, albeit in a compassionate rather than a passionate way. Warm lips, trusting big brown eyes, a soft, clothed body and her hands running through my hair – these were the limits of my gratification now.

But at least we were talking of marriage. Tessa demurred only because she did not want to start our life together in my small flat, but was intent on saving up the deposit for a house. (Not as long a wait as you might imagine, I thought, what with Great Uncle due to pop his clogs in Texas at any moment!) Yet I was surprised to find myself disappointed by any delay, however short. I had grown to view our forthcoming marriage, not as a chore to be endured merely to achieve wealth, but as something that might bestow a modicum of fulfilment in its own right. Thus the early divorce idea had been moved to the back burner. As long as I was not actively discontented I would stick with it.

Then suddenly it was all over. It was Saturday morning when Tessa phoned me, bursting with excitement. ‘I’ve had this letter from a solicitor,’ she enthused. ‘We don’t have to wait any more to marry, darling. You won’t believe it. But I’ve come into money.’

I couldn’t get to Croydon quickly enough.

We met in Starbucks. There she thrust a sheet of paper at me. ‘Here, see for yourself,’ she said. ‘A great uncle in America, I never knew I had, has died and left me money.’

Initially I struggled to make sense of it. Fifty-thousand dollars was mentioned. A first instalment surely. My heart sunk as I read on and realisation dawned that this was not just the first tranche of her inheritance. It was the inheritance . . . all of it. It transpired that on his deathbed Chester J Loomis Jr had married his nurse. He had made a new will in his wife’s favour.

‘Apparently I’m his only blood relative and his new wife thought it would be right for him to remember little me in England,’ Tessa burbled. ‘Wasn’t that sweet of her!’

Marriage to Tessa with a few million pounds had been pleasant to contemplate. Marriage to Tessa with a mere fifty-thousand US dollars was considerably less so. Saturday afternoon found me in the gardening department at Selfridges in Gary’s wary company.

‘I remember your warning.’ I told him. ‘It made me realise I’m not the one for Tess. I couldn’t just walk out on her, though. But now she has money I believe my departure at this juncture will let her down more gently . . . particularly if you are on hand to provide support.’

It was the best I could do for her.

In the days that followed I set about trying to resurrect my pre Tessa social life. But somehow my heart wasn’t in it. I invited out a number of attractive young women and was surprised to find their appeal minimal. We never got past the first date. Sometimes we didn’t even reach the end of that. It was the same at the golf club: whether out on the fairway or at the bar of the nineteenth hole I could raise no enthusiasm for company. My work was suffering too. I found myself failing to pursue prospective clients and my sales targets slipping.

One restless night in my lonely bed I forced myself to face up to the cause of my malaise. I was missing Tessa. There I’d admitted it! It was so damned obvious I couldn’t understand how I had failed to realise it until this moment. But of course I had realised it all along. I’d just lacked the courage to face up to it. My thoughts lingered wistfully on that shy dimpled smile; those trusting, soulful brown eyes brimming with love, that soft pliant body, but above all that guileless happiness at the prospect of our life together. I had cruelly discarded a treasure – one that had nothing to do with money. Fool! Fool! Callous fool! And there was no way back.

Several empty weeks later, I was sitting in Alfonso’s again. It was a place I had avoided since my break-up with Tessa, but on this occasion a prospective client had specifically requested it. He was late and I was wallowing in sad thoughts of happier times. So engrossed was I that I was only vaguely aware when the table behind me became occupied. Two men were droning on in conversation scarcely impinging on my masochistic melancholy. At the words ‘fifty-thousand dollars’ I was instantly alert.

One of the men was that plummy Roland, whose indiscreet talk had triggered this tragedy. But it was the other, his earlier companion, who was speaking now.

‘So you’re telling me that the young woman you described as becoming one of the richest women in England inherited a mere fifty-thousand dollars. Presumably the new wife was at the bottom of this.’

‘Absolutely, Reggie! But much good it did her. The U.S. authorities were suspicious and set up an investigation. Turns out the marriage was bigamous. She’d been put up to it by her real husband. They were jailed, the new will declared void and the earlier one validated.’

‘So that chubby little creature,’ (I nearly turned and thumped Reggie for that!) ‘She inherited everything after all?’

‘Indeed she did.’

‘And where is she now? Not at Selfridges I’ll warrant.’

‘Hardly that. She’s swanning around the world on a cruise with her new husband.’

My Tessa swanning around the world with that wimp! The pain was intense. And with it an impotent desire to protect her.

He’d better make damn sure he was good to her or he’d have me to answer to.

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