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Authors: Sophie Kinsella

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BOOK: Shopaholic to the Rescue
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She breaks off at the sound of frenzied barking. I have to admit, the police dog seems quite keen on coming over to the RV. It’s pulling on its leash and yelping, and the policeman keeps looking down at it in irritation.

“You bought
prohibited drugs
?” Suze explodes. “Why would you do that?”

“Janice, you’re going to jeopardize the whole trip!” Mum sounds apoplectic. “How could you bring Class A drugs to America?”

“I’m sure they’re not Class A,” I say, but Mum and Janice are too hysterical to listen.

“Get rid of them!” Mum is saying shrilly. “Now!”

“Here they are.” Janice takes two white packets out of her bag, her hands fumbling. “I never would have brought them if I’d known—”

“Well, what shall we do with them?” demands Mum.

“Everyone swallow one blister pack,” says Janice, pulling them out of the boxes in agitation. “That’s the only thing we can do.”

“Are you
nuts
?” retorts Suze furiously. “I’m not swallowing unlicensed tablets from the Internet!”

“Janice, you have to dispose of them,” says Mum. “Get out and scatter them by the side of the road. I’ll distract the police. No, we’ll
all
distract the police. Everybody out of the RV. Now.”

“The police will notice!” wails Janice.

“No, the police won’t notice,” says Mum firmly. “Do you hear me, Janice? The police
won’t
notice. Not if you’re quick.”

She opens the door of the RV and we all pile out into the already blazing hot day. We’re parked by the side of the freeway, with scratchy, scrubby desert stretching away on either side, as far as you can see.

“Go
on
!” Mum hisses to Janice.

As Janice picks her way over the dry ground, Mum bustles up to the policemen, Suze and Alicia in tow.

“Jane!” says Luke, looking taken aback to see her by his side. “It wasn’t necessary for you to get out.” He shoots me a glance that says
What the hell are you doing?
and I shrug helplessly back.

“Good morning, officer,” Mum says, addressing the first policeman. “I’m sure my son-in-law has explained the situation. My husband has gone missing on a secret life-or-death mission.”

“It’s not
necessarily
life or death.” I feel the need to clarify.

Every time Mum uses the phrase “life or death,” I’m certain her blood pressure goes up. I keep trying to soothe her, but I’m not sure she wants to be soothed.

“He’s in the company of Lord Cleath-Stuart,” Mum continues, “and this is Lady Cleath-Stuart. They live in Letherby Hall, one of the top stately homes in England,” she adds proudly.

“That’s irrelevant!” says Suze.

One of the cops takes off his sunglasses to survey Suze.

“Like
Downton Abbey
? My wife is nuts for that show.”

“Oh, Letherby is far better than Downton,” says Mum. “You should visit.”

Out of the corner of my eye I notice Janice, standing in the desert in her aqua floral two-piece dress, madly scattering pills behind a giant cactus. She could hardly be less discreet. But luckily the policemen are distracted by Mum, who is now telling them about Dad’s note.

“He left it on his pillow!” she’s saying indignantly. “A ‘little trip,’ he’s calling it. What kind of married man just ups and leaves on a ‘little trip’?”

“Officers.” Luke has been trying to get a word in. “Thank you for informing me about the taillight. Perhaps we could carry on with our journey now?”

There’s a short silence as the cops look consideringly at each other.

“Don’t panic,” says Minnie, looking up from where she’s been playing with her favorite dolly, Speaky. She beams up at one of the policemen. “Don’t panic.”

“Sure thing.” He beams back at her. “Cute kid. What’s your name, honey?”

“The police
won’t
notice,” replies Minnie conversationally, and at once there’s a prickly silence. My stomach clenches tight and I don’t dare glance at Suze.

Meanwhile, the smile on the cop’s face has frozen. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” he asks Minnie. “Notice what, sweetheart?”

“Nothing!” I say shrilly. “We’ve been watching TV; you know what children are like….”

“There we are!” Janice arrives by my side, breathless. “All done. Hello, officers, what can we do to help you?”

The two cops seem disconcerted to see yet another person joining the group.

“Ma’am, where’ve you been?” asks one.

“I was behind the cactus. Call of nature,” Janice adds, clearly proud of her prepared answer.

“Don’t you have facilities in the RV?” says the light-haired cop.

“Oh,” says Janice, looking thrown. “Oh, goodness. I suppose we do.” Her confident air melts away and her eyes dart about wildly. “Goodness. Um…well…in actual fact…I felt like a walk.”

The dark-haired cop folds his arms. “A walk? A walk behind a cactus?”

“The police won’t notice,” says Minnie to Janice confidingly, and Janice jumps like a scalded cat.

“Minnie! Goodness, dear! Notice what? Ha-ha-ha!”

“Can’t you shut that child
up
?” says Alicia in a furious undertone.

“It was a nature walk,” Janice adds weakly. “I was admiring the cacti. Beautiful…um…prickles.”

“Beautiful prickles”? Is that the best she could come up with? OK, I’m never going on a road trip with Janice again. She looks totally uncool and guilty. No wonder the cops seem suspicious. (I’ll admit that Minnie hasn’t exactly helped.)

The policemen are looking at each other meaningfully. Any minute now they’re going to say they’re bringing us in or calling the feds. I have to do something, quick. But what? Think,
think…

And then inspiration strikes.

“Officer!” I exclaim. “I’m so glad we’ve met, because I have a favor to ask. I have a young cousin who’d love to become a police officer, and he’d be so grateful for an internship. Could he contact you? You’re Officer Kapinski….” I get out my phone and start typing in the name, copying it off his badge. “Perhaps he could shadow you?”

“There are official channels, ma’am,” says Officer Kapinski discouragingly. “Tell him to look on the website.”

“Oh, but it’s all about personal connections, isn’t it?” I blink innocently at him. “Are you available tomorrow? We could meet after work. Yes! We’ll be waiting for you outside the precinct.” I take a step forward and Officer Kapinski backs away. “He’s so talented and chatty. You’ll love him. So we’ll see you tomorrow, shall we? I’ll bring croissants, shall I?”

Officer Kapinski looks utterly freaked out.

“You’re good to go,” he mutters, and turns on his heel. Within about thirty seconds, he, his colleague, and the dog are back in the police car and zooming off.

“Bravo, Becky!” applauds Luke.

“Well done, love!” chimes in Mum.

“That was close.” Janice is trembling. “Too close. We need to be more careful.”

“What
is
all this?” says Luke, baffled. “Why did you get out of the RV?”

“Janice is on the run from the narcs,” I say, and almost want to giggle at his expression. “Look, I’ll explain on the road. Let’s get going.”

TWO

They went missing two days ago. You might say,
So what? They’re probably just on a boys’ trip. Why not relax and wait for them to roll on home?
Actually, that’s what the police
did
say. But it’s more complicated than that. Tarquin had a bit of a breakdown-type moment recently. He’s also very rich and is apparently being targeted by Bryce with “unhealthy practices,” which Suze is worried means “joining a cult.”

I mean, it’s all just a theory. In fact, it’s lots of different theories. To be honest—and I’d never say this to Suze—I secretly think we might find that Dad and Tarquin have been sitting in a twenty-four-hour café in L.A. all this time. Suze, on the other hand, believes Bryce has already thrown Tarquin down a canyon after plundering his bank account. (She won’t admit it, but I know it’s what she thinks.)

What we need is some order. We need a
plan
. We need one of those incident boards like they have in cop shows, with lists and arrows and pictures of Dad and Tarkie. (Actually, no, let’s not do that. Then they really would look like murder victims.) But we need
something
. So far, this road trip has been shambolic.

It was an utter kerfuffle this morning—what with packing and handing over Suze’s three children to her nanny, Ellie (she’s going to live in and have full charge while we’re gone). Luke arrived with the hired RV at the crack of dawn. Then I woke Mum and Janice—they’d only had a few hours’ sleep since they arrived from the UK—and we all jumped in and said, “To Vegas!”

To be
absolutely
truthful, we probably didn’t need to hire an RV. In fact, Luke was all for going in two sedans. But my argument was: We need to talk to one another en route. Therefore we need an RV. Plus, how can you go on an American road trip and not get an RV? Exactly.

Since then, Suze has spent the whole time googling cults, which I don’t think she should do, because it’s freaking her out. (Especially when she found one where they all paint their faces white and get married to animals.) Luke has mostly been on the phone to his second-in-command, Gary, who’s at a conference in London, taking Luke’s place. Luke owns a PR firm, and he’s got stacks of commitments right now, but he put them all aside to drive the RV. Which is really supportive and loving of him, and I will do
exactly
the same for him when the situation arises.

Janice and Mum have been exchanging dire theories about Dad having a meltdown and going to live wild in the desert in a poncho. (Why a poncho?) Minnie has said, “Cactus, Mummy! Cac-TUS!” about three thousand times. And I’ve sat there in silence, stroking her hair and just letting my thoughts swirl around. Which, to be honest, isn’t a lot of fun. My thoughts aren’t in a brilliant place right now.

I’m trying to stay as positive and buoyant as I can, I really am. I’m trying to keep everyone cheery and not dwell on the past. But every time I let my guard down, it all comes back, in a horrible rush of guilt. Because the truth is: This whole trip is down to me. It’s all my fault.


Half an hour later we stop at a diner to have some breakfast and regroup. I take Minnie to the ladies’, where we have a long conversation about different kinds of soap and Minnie decides she has to try each soap dispenser in turn and basically it takes forever. When at last we make it back into the diner, Suze is standing alone, looking at a vintage-style poster, and I head toward her.

“Suze…” I say for about the billionth time. “Listen. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” She barely looks up.

“You know. Everything—” I break off, feeling a bit despairing. I don’t know how to continue. Suze is my oldest, dearest friend, and being with her used to feel like the easiest thing in the world. But now it feels like I’m in a stage play and I’ve forgotten my lines and she’s not about to help me out.

It was over the last few weeks, while we were both living in L.A., that things went wrong. Not just between Suze and me, but altogether. I lost my head. I went careering off the track. I wanted to be a celebrity stylist so badly that I lost the plot for a bit. I can hardly believe it was only last night that I was standing on the red carpet outside a premiere, realizing quite how badly I
didn’t
want to be inside the cinema with all the celebrities. I feel like I’ve been in a bubble, and now it’s popped.

Luke gets it. We had a long talk last night and set a lot of things straight. What happened to me in Hollywood was freakish, he said. I became a celebrity overnight, without intending to at all, and it threw me. My friends and family won’t hold it against me forever, he said. They’ll forgive me.

Well, maybe he’s forgiven me. But Suze hasn’t.

The worst thing is, last night I thought everything was healing. Suze stood there and begged me to come on this trip, and I promised her I’d drop everything. She cried and said she’d missed me, and I felt this massive relief. But now that I’m here, everything’s changed. She’s behaving as though she doesn’t want me here. She won’t discuss it; she just exudes hostility.

I mean, I
know
she’s worried about Tarkie; I
know
I need to cut her some slack. It’s just…hard.

“Whatever,” says Suze brusquely. And without looking at me, she heads back to the table. As I follow her, Alicia Bitch Long-legs glances up and sweeps disdainful eyes over me. I still can’t quite believe she’s come on this trip. Alicia Bitch Long-legs, my least favorite person in the world.

I should say, Alicia Merrelle. That’s her name now, ever since she married Wilton Merrelle, founder of the famous yoga and rehab center Golden Peace. It’s a massive complex, with classes and a gift shop, and I used to be quite a fan. Well, we were all fans. Until Tarquin started going there all the time to hang out with Bryce and told Suze she was “toxic” and frankly became a bit weird. (I should say: a bit weirder. He’s never exactly been the most normal knife in the drawer, old Tarkie.)

It was Alicia who discovered they were heading to Vegas. It was Alicia who brought a chiller full of coconut water for the RV. Alicia’s the heroine of the hour. But I’m still wary of her. Alicia has been my
bête noire
ever since I first knew her, years ago, before I was married. She’s tried to wreck my life; she’s tried to wreck Luke’s life; she’s put me down at every opportunity and made me feel small and stupid. Now she says that’s all in the past and we should forget it and she’s moved on. But, I’m sorry, I can’t trust her, I just can’t.

“I was thinking,” I say, trying to sound businesslike. “We need to make a proper plan.” I get a pen and notebook from my bag, write
PLAN
in big letters, and put it on the table for everyone to see. “Let’s go over the facts.”

“Your dad has dragged the other two off on some mission to do with his past,” says Suze. “But you don’t know what, because you didn’t ask him.” With that, she shoots me a familiar accusing look.

“I know,” I say humbly. “I’m sorry.”

BOOK: Shopaholic to the Rescue
6.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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