Charlie and The Big Win

Charlie and The Big Win

I suppose that I’d better come out and admit, right now, that I used to be a rowdy teen. Not only that, I was one of a gang of four rowdy teens, the other three also being bullies. Me, I was the one that made the plans, thought about the consequences, and mainly kept us all from spending our schooldays in detention.

I was born in the northern Midlands and named Charles Anthony Wilson, being known as Charlie for most of my life. The other three chums were David Frobisher, Norman Weldon, and Jack Strachan. I suppose that, had we not been friends from the day we all started school, I would never have been included in their group. As it was, I stood out like a sore thumb when we were together. All three were big, sturdy lads from an early age, becoming bigger and sturdier as we went through High School.

None of us made it to University, but that really didn’t matter. I followed a path into athletics, while they all found work in the building trades. Look, I wasn’t a runt, quite well-built but short, and slim. Besides them, I looked, well – like a runt! Being with them stopped me being bullied by even bigger boys and, as I said, I used my brains to keep us out of trouble.

We didn’t do much that was too bad - - a little scrumping, a little larceny, some heavy drinking, and even the odd bit of vandalism. I made sure that the others never went to the point where the police were called. We raided orchards and berry fields but only took what we could eat. We did some shoplifting but moved around a lot. Even when we had a skinful and the others broke things, I had trained them carefully to walk and talk as if they were sober when we entered another pub. The three did bully other lads in the school, but that was never my thing.

I said that I did athletics. Now, to spend weekends running, one needs a proper job. Mine was as a clerk in a real estate office. You know the sort of job I mean, sharpening pencils, making the tea, putting away files, running errands. It had two advantages. One was that they paid cash money, and the second was that the two agents that sold the houses were nice girls, unfortunately, both married.

I would catch up with my three drinking buddies every few weeks and we would have a moan about the state of the world, politics, people they had worked with and everything they could find to moan about. Me? Well, I just added my bit to the conversation as needed. I think that, if I had met these guys now, I would have stayed well clear of them, but we did have that shared life for close to fifteen years.

My world changed when I checked my Lottery ticket one Sunday morning. I had some time due so called in to the office to tell them I would be taking a day or two off. Then, I packed a small bag and took myself to the Lottery Headquarters, in Watford, my ticket safely in my top pocket. I expected that I would be just one of many, that weekend, and could throw a small party when I got back home. Perhaps I could buy a house from one of the girls I worked with. How wrong I was! Monday, my ticket was the only one with the winning numbers and the amount I had won was considerable, into the millions.

Of course, in shock and being totally stupid, I allowed them to take pictures of the cheque being handed over. It was that simple act of sheer idiocy that changed my life forever. My face was in the paper the next day and I rang the office from the hotel room in London to tell them I wasn’t coming back. My boss was brusque when he said that he never expected that I would, telling me that I obviously wouldn’t mind if my pay and accrued leave pay was shared between the two girls. I was too amazed to argue.

The next thing that happened was that my phone was constantly ringing. I now had more friends than you could count. Guess what, they all wanted to catch up and many said that they had ‘plans’ or ‘projects’ that they wanted to discuss. I would certainly look after my family, but the others could go to hell!

I did take a call from Dave, though. He said that he understood why I couldn’t show my face in the hometown and offered to come to the city to have a little, private party to celebrate my win. Two days later, all three of my former gang members showed up at the hotel. A day later, as I slowly came back to the real world, I found that I had agreed to fund Dave with his plan to set up a diving school. He had always dived, and I had gone with him a couple of times to look at the fish.

Not only that, I was now also sponsoring Norm and Jack in a winery. When I looked at the paperwork I had signed, I saw that they hadn’t really ripped me off an awful lot. I expected that I could, one day, go down to the coast and dive with Dave. That was the name of his projected business – “Dive with Dave.” Snappy, what!

The way the other two had spoken, I expected that the winery would be somewhere along the south coast as well. I could see me, with my busty blonde wife, sipping a chardonnay while looking out over the grapevines. I was to send them the cheques in registered envelopes, which they had thoughtfully left for me, pre-addressed. That would be when the bank came through with my cards and chequebook after the waiting period.

In the meantime, I had a visit from a guy that the Lotto people had suggested I speak to. He was a specialist in getting lottery winners hold on to their money. He had a look at the paperwork I had signed and told me that I had made the biggest mistake, right off the blocks. I had, basically, given away more than half a million and had no way I could get out of it. When the bank arranged my finances, I had a couple of credit cards which I was told to use sparingly. There was a debit card with quite a decent amount on it which I was advised to use for day-to-day payments and top up as needed. It was not a huge amount and would restrict any loss if stolen or mislaid.

I signed the two cheques and posted them off. I also got in touch with my parents and told them that I would buy them a house and pay off the mortgages of my two sisters. My mother wanted me to come home and throw a party, but I told her that most of the town had been on my back for money, already.

I also engaged a legal company to look at any paperwork I got in the future. Once bitten, and all that. They came back to me a couple of days later to tell me that my old boss, while paying me the correct wage in cash, had never signed me on to the pension plan and had kept the money he should have paid for my stamps.

As I was getting out and about, I found that I was being recognised and was constantly being asked for money. I began to stay in the hotel, where I had the security of the staff to keep beggars away. I had all this money and the only place I was spending it was at the hotel.

That’s when the hotel bar started to be populated with beautiful girls who were keen to talk to me, and more. The hotel security assured me that the only girls I would meet would be genuine. They had a big database of the professionals in the area because of the sort of clients they had. I can tell you that the genuine amateurs who did get into my bed knew a lot that they don’t teach in any Girls School I’ve heard about.

By the end of my first month of being rich, I had a group of steady girlfriends who I was able to go out with. One was a make-up artist and we put together a small kit to change my appearance. I had a small range of wigs to change my hair colour and length, as well as getting used to some changes to my facial appearance by being aged several years. We would go out, two or three together, and I was able to buy every one of them jewellery and clothes.

At the end of the second month, my legal firm told me that all of the girls were already known to each other and that the things I had bought for them had been marked up with a cut back to the girl. They also informed me that ‘Dive with Dave’ was now centred in a seaside village in Spain. Dave had taken my money, meant to fund a fully equipped dive school, and had bought a villa next to the beach. I was shown pictures of Dave with his pupils. All looked about eighteen, blonde and well stacked.

They also supplied me with pictures of Norm and Jack, at the ‘winery’. Now it was a couple of hectares of dirt in the middle of France, with a nice farmhouse in the middle and a bistro across the road. That was where they were spending most of their time, testing wines made by other wineries, usually in the company of a couple of buxom girls who I recognised from my hometown.

That was it, as far as I was concerned. I got my legal team to find a nice apartment for me within walking distance of the night life, furnished, if possible. Two weeks later, I had disappeared, once again, now living, alone, in my apartment with a big selection of hot food suppliers and delivery companies on speed-dial.

That lasted a couple of weeks before I ventured out again. I chose a wig, did some aging, and went on a pub crawl. I was out and about, no-one recognised me, and I was careful with what I drank. There was no way I was going to get pie-eyed. Around eleven I found myself in Soho, outside a place that advertised a show with beautiful girls.

I went in and found myself in a darkish room with tables and chairs. I sat at a table and ordered a beer from a scantily dressed girl. There was another girl on the stage telling jokes, mostly vulgar. Then there was a succession of singers, each more vamp than the one before. I became interested in the show and slowly sobered up. That’s when I realised that almost every girl in the place wasn’t a girl at all!

I sat back and closed my eyes for a while. When I opened them, I had a companion sitting across from me. She, and I say ‘she’ with a sense of wonder, was big-haired, big-breasted and dressed in a sequined gown that barely hid her attributes.

She saw me open my eyes. “Charlie, I can call you that, can’t I? You’ve just realised where you are, haven’t you?”

“Aye, I have that, and I must have done a lousy job if you’ve figured me out in the half-dark.”

“Oh, no! You did a good job. It’s only that, in my business, we work a lot with make-up and can see the face under the paint and powder. You’re good enough to fool most people, even those who are on the look-out for an easy mark such as yourself.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I didn’t think I looked that much like an idiot.”

“I didn’t mean that you look easy to fool. I’m sorry, let me start again. I’m Lola, and no jokes please. They say that my mother, the owner of this place, was the inspiration behind the song and she made me promise to carry the name with pride. I know that you’ve been taken for a ride because of the underground information mill. I believe that you had been taken to the cleaners by the ‘Sisterhood’, a gang of nice girls, who look, and sound, genuine, but fleece unsuspecting boys with sheer force of numbers. I expect that you enjoyed your time with them, as much as they enjoyed their time with you.”

“Aye, I must admit that they knew their stuff. They milked me dry in more ways than one.”

“You can consider yourself lucky, the next stage in their plans was for one of them to go off the pill and snare you with a baby. That would be when they would take you for everything. Did they teach you to age your face?”

“Aye, it’s really helped me get around without being over-run by beggars.”

“They taught you well. It’s amazing how a change in appearance can allow you to melt into the background. Look around you at the other customers. Do you see anyone you recognise?”

I slowly looked at the couples and foursomes on the other tables.

“No, it all looks normal to me.”

“If I tell you that there are two cabinet ministers, three TV stars and a bishop in the room, would it surprise you?”

“Aye, it bloody would. I couldn’t see any of the guys that I recognised.”

“That’s the secret, Charlie boy. You were looking at the wrong people. All of those I spoke of are certainly here, but they are the girls here, with their boyfriends. That’s the ultimate disguise, if you really want to be able to stroll around the streets without being recognised. Everyone looks at a woman as an object of desire or jealousy, and it never thinks that they could be Charlie, the newly minted millionaire.”

“That’s grand, lass, but doesn’t help me. I’d never look like a woman, no matter how hard you try. I’m ungainly, I’m ugly, I don’t have any knowledge of how a girl moves or think, or even talks. I have to say that, although I’ve enjoyed being with my girlfriends, I’ve never wondered what it was like for them. The only thing I know about a bra is how to unhook it!”

“That puts you ahead of the game, Charlie. I can help you live a normal life. I will take a payment for my help, all fair and above board. When you pay, you get the services of an Uber driver who will be at your beck and call. He’s ex-police and a trained pursuit driver. He’s also as straight as a die in all the things in life. When you pay, I’ll set up a visit for you at a place where they specialise on making the undoable done and the unbelievable a gospel certainty. All you will need to do is go along for the ride and see what you think when the swings stop swinging.”

“So, lass, how much will all this cost me, then?”

“My fee is five hundred, payable tonight at the bar. The work to change you can cost between three and five thousand, depending on how much they must do. Everything can be reversed the next day if you’re not happy. Well, everything except the pierced ears and the new eyebrows. They will heal up and grow back in a couple of months. Beyond that it depends on you. When you’ve been made beautiful, I’ll take you out to lunch and then some initial shopping before the Uber takes you home. The next day we’ll go shopping and you will start to learn how to be a woman of means. That part makes it easy because you can act haughty and stand-offish right from the start. You won’t need to learn how to be a teenager.”

“Lass, you sure make it sound easy. It’ll take up some time, that’s something I’ve lots of, and, as you say, if I don’t like it, I can go back to being me. Aye, you’re a smooth operator, Lola, lass.”

“Just sit there and think about the name you want to be called. I guess that the bank issued your cards with just the initials?”

“Got it in one. So, I’ll need to still be C.A.?”

“I’ll just go and make a couple of calls. I’ll be right back. I’ll get one of the girls bring you over the sort of drink you’ll need to get used to.”

Lola stood, smoothed her dress, and went to the bar, where she started making phone calls. I sat there and wondered what I had got myself into. This was way beyond a bit of scrumping as a trick. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that, if it worked, I could walk the world as a new person, even if that new person was a woman. By the time she came back, I had decided to go the whole way and see where it led me. I sipped at the pinkish drink I’d been served. It was certainly different from an I.P.A. but not too unpleasant.

“So, what do we call you from now on?”

“I’ve decided that I’ll be Caroline Anita Wilson, Carol for short. What happens now?”

“Bert, the Uber driver, will be outside in ten minutes. He’ll take you home and that will let him scope out your accommodation. He’ll offer advice on and changes to the security. He’ll pick you up again the day after tomorrow and take you to the company where you’ll be spending about four hours being reborn. After that we’ll play it by ear. I’ll take your money now. I suggest that you spend tomorrow telling the guys who are looking after you that you’re doing this. It’ll make things easier, in the long run, if you’re happy being Carol. They can be extremely helpful with official paperwork that passes muster. I could get you something that looks the same, but official is better.”

I got up and walked to the bar to pay my drinks bill, plus the five hundred. Lola offered me a receipt, but I told her not to bother. On the way to the door, I made sure I looked at all the girls at the tables. Except for a couple that appeared overweight, they all looked like any girl you would see during the day. I wondered if any did venture out in daylight, and then realised that I was going to have to become much more proficient in applying make-up if I was to appear natural in the midday light.

Lola went to the door with me. The car was outside, and the driver stood next to it.

“Bert, this is Carol. She is to be considered a V.I.P. If she tells you she wants to drive to Scotland to see what haggis tastes like, book a good hotel on the way.”

Bert opened the back door for me, and Lola gave me a hug, whispering for me to sit and swivel and to keep my knees together. I did as she asked. The first time I had done anything remotely like a woman. It didn’t make me embrace womanhood, but it reminded me that there was a lot more for me to learn.

I directed Bert to my home, and he opened the door for me and held his hand out to steady me as I got out. That was something almost too different. He made notes as we went up, looking at windows and doors, lines-of sight, and likely ambush places. He told me he would have a written report when he saw me next.

As he left, he reminded me that he would pick me up at seven-thirty and to wear jogging gear and carry a sports bag so I could bring it home with me. I stripped, showered and was in bed just after midnight, feeling a lot more aware of myself than I usually did after a night out. I considered what I was getting into, and just before I dozed off, I realised that I had decided something positive. Since leaving school I had been drifting. The real estate job was easy to get and gave me drinking money. I used to be the guy that made plans and I hadn’t made a single plan in a few years.

The next day I got in touch with ‘the team’ as I now called them. I laid it on the line and was genuinely surprised that no-one raised an eyebrow. In fact, I was told that, although it was a bit unconventional, the idea had a lot of merit. They assured me that they would do the preliminary work so that, if I followed through with the idea, I would be ahead of the game.

In the afternoon I just rested and took stock of what I had agreed to. For me to appear as a woman, I would have to have no beard, smooth skin, added breasts and a butt. Hair could be a wig and I’ve been used to them lately. I stood, naked, in front of the bedroom mirror, and looked at my body in a way I had never done before. I noted that I had a slim waist and shoulders that were not as wide as most of my age. I wasn’t tall for a boy but may be lanky for a girl.

I looked closely at my face and saw a little of what Lola had seen, last night. I had ‘interesting eyes’, a wide mouth, and a thin chin. Funny, I had never looked that closely before. Would I make a reasonable girl, I couldn’t say? I got into jogging gear and rang the local Chinese restaurant for home delivery. After that, I watched the TV until I went to bed, earlier than I could remember.

Next day I was waiting for Bert, in my jogging gear with a big kit bag with my wallet in it. He opened the back door and I remembered to sit and swivel. Then we were off. On the seat beside me, I saw an envelope. Bert told me that it contained his recommendations and that I should look at it tonight when I was home. He reasoned that after I had spent much of the day as a woman, I may see the reasoning behind the ideas better.

We travelled for about half an hour before arriving at an industrial estate and parking outside a large building with the name ‘Film and Imagineering Consultants.’ I was expecting some little dive in a back street, and this was a whole different ballgame.

Inside the main door, we approached the receptionist who just asked “Carol”. I nodded and Bert said he would see me later as he went back towards the door. I was, however, led into a corridor and delivered into a set of rooms labelled “Body Modification Suite.”

The receptionist left, closing the door as she went. I stood in awe at the big room, packed with workbenches, make-up and hair-dressing places, and a lot of other things I couldn’t place. There were a lot of computer screens. The guy that came up with his hand out could have played the part of Frankenstein in any of the movies. He shook my hand.

“Welcome to FIC! I’m sure you’re wondering what you’ve let yourself in for. Let me explain. First, we get you naked and you put on some skin-tone panties for us. Then we put you up on a revolving platform and film your complete body while to move your arms and legs. At the same time, we use low-powered lasers to measure every inch. Then, you go off to the salon area to be waxed and have that shadow taken from your face. After that we may even give you a cup of tea and a bun when we take our own tea break.”

I have to say that he smiled a lot as he described the procedure, almost looking like a vampire telling me that the first bite won’t hurt.

“After that, we should have made your extra bits. Every single one is custom made for you on a three-dee printer, based on your current measurements and the expected measurements for a woman your size. It would negate all the hard work if we just gave you double-dee breasts and expected that everyone would just be looking at those in the future. We aim for you to look just like every girl your age and height, with nothing that stands out. That way, you’ll fade into the background unless you glam yourself up.”

I was led to a changing cubicle and got naked, putting everything into the sports bag. It took me a bit of wiggling to get into the panties I had been given, having to tuck my tackle between my legs, as ordered. I have to say that the result took my breath away. When I looked down, there was no sign of any maleness.

It took about half an hour for me to be filmed and measured and then it was off to be waxed. That was a new experience, and it took an effort of will, not to cry. That was just the start of it. I had the panties taken away and had to lie there with my legs over a frame while my pubes were carefully clipped, then shaved. They did something with an icepack, and I smelt glue at one stage. When I stood up again, I could look down and see the same sort of thing that I had in the tight panties, only this time it was just me in my new natural state.

I was told that I now had to sit to pee and was given a wrap to cover my naked body. After that I was in the hairdressing section where it was decided that my natural hair was long enough to take extensions. Sometime later, I was given a new colour and a cut and shape. At least, that’s what the girl said she was doing. While that was happening, they worked on my fingers and toes. When I walked the few steps to the beautician, I had hair that cascaded past my shoulders and fingernails and toenails in a bright red.

The beautician worked on the only part of me that hadn’t been messed with. As she did, she told me how lucky I was to have the ideal face for her to work on. She proceeded to wax the only bits of hair I had that were still in the natural state, and then got to work with make-up. While she did so, she had a camera filming the procedure. I would be getting a copy of this so I could follow it myself in days to come, until I could do it with my eyes shut. Her final act of violence was to pierce my ears and put in studs. She said that I would have a care pack with the rest of my things when I left.

I was ready for the cup of tea now and we all sat at one of the workbenches while they had their break. Then I needed to pee and was led to the female toilet. That was another first and I was amazed as my beautician came in with me and chatted away while I was sitting in the stall. She touched up her lipstick, and mine, before we went back out.

I was finding that I was following the leads of the other girls in the room. I was trying to walk with one foot in line with the other and was already starting to use hand gestures. I was also trying to speak with a female voice and use proper southern English instead of my Midland words. No longer could I say, “Aye, we’ve nowt ’nanas” and get away with it. From now it would be. “Yes, we have no bananas.” I had been using proper English when I was working but it needed to be full-time now.

The adding on of the extra bits was a little like an anti-climax after the previous trials. There were just six bits of flesh-coloured latex waiting to be added. There was one for each hip. They linked with the ones for each butt-cheek. Then there were the two that went on my chest. Each piece, I was told, had to be precisely placed and I was warned that if I moved a muscle during this bit, they would send me back to the start point to be waxed again.

When they finished and told me I could move, I looked down and could hardly see where me finished and ‘they’ began. When the edges were worked on, you couldn’t tell that it wasn’t all me. For the first time, I was getting excited about the outcome. I would be anyone but Charlie. I was given some black bikini panties and a bra to put on and, after I had, they put me in front of a large mirror.

I looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe that the reflected girl was me. I looked like a late-teen, early-twenties girl, with a great body that rivalled the ‘Sisterhood’ babes that I had admired. My running had given me a flat stomach so there had been no need to restrain any part of me, just expand it as needed.

I thanked all and sundry and was again given the gown, and my sports bag, and taken from the ‘Body Modification Suite’ to another room, labelled very simply as the ‘Dressing Room’. Inside was rack after rack of clothes and costumes. Immediately I could see the costumes from a lot of films, some exceedingly scary just hanging there.

There I was put into the care of “Rita, I’m about to make you look fabulous, darling!” There I had a quick lesson in the different names of different styles, the why or not of a particular outfit for any situation. I found out that my additions now gave me an exact size so that I didn’t have to try things on, unless I wanted to see how they looked on me. “That’ll let you buy underwear, nighties, sports gear and wet weather coats without needing to do a lot of undressing.” Rita was being very helpful as we delved into the racks.

In the end, she had me dressed in smoky tights under a dark peach coloured skirt. On the top I had a black Cami over the black bra, with a silvery-coloured silk blouse. We had also chosen a few other outfits and a half-a-dozen dresses which I was told was part of the package. Shoes were a different corner of the room, and I tried a number of styles and heel heights. Rita told me that girls have naturally strong muscles in those thin ankles that allow them to walk in impossibly tall and thin heels without falling over. For me, I was still in training so was restricted to two-inch heels, mainly blocky to give me side support.

After that, my next stop was a photo studio where I did a lot of posing, changing outfits and posing again. This, I was told, was to bolster my belief that I looked good enough to be seen on billboards. I didn’t believe them until I saw the rushes. Included in the portfolio were a few sets of passport sized photos which would be able to be used for any card that needed photo ID.

When I met Lola back in reception, I had my sports bag and another suitcase with goodies, along with a beauty case with all the cosmetics I would need. I also had a handbag, now containing my wallet and some make-up. I paid the bill, which now seemed reasonable, seeing just how much had been done, and turned to give Lola a hug and air-kiss. She looked me up and down and then asked, “Do I know you?”

I smiled. “OH Lola! I’m shattered that you don’t recognise your new friend, Caroline, I only saw you last night.”

“You didn’t look like a movie star, then, you looked like a lost soul.”

“That I was, Lola. That I was. But no longer. Let’s go for lunch, I’m starving!”

Outside I gave my bags to an open-mouthed Bert, who grinned as he opened the back door for me.

“Welcome aboard, milady. I think they must have swapped the person I delivered this morning and put a goddess in her place.”

“Well, thank you, you old smoothie, you. You never know, I might just be a whole different person, now.”

He rushed around to open the other door for Lola, who was almost succeeding in hiding her giggles. We headed into the city and, as we did so, the worry of being pointed at grew. Lola had anticipated that, and Bert dropped us off at a large shopping centre. He said he would pick us up at the same place, around five.

Lola took my arm and said “Remember, you’re Caroline, now. Head up and lead with the crotch and you’ll walk just like every other sexy woman.” She was right! I could feel my walk altering as we approached the doors and could see two good-looking babes reflected in the glass. As we walked the shopping centre, I could see eyes swivelling to watch us pass. There were no cries of “See that bloke in a skirt!” The women were mainly gauging us by their own values. The men were of two types, those who appreciated a nice-looking woman, and those who just saw meat ready to be sampled.

By the time we had sat down for lunch, I now realised what Bert had said about his report. Less than a day as a woman and I had already seen the underbelly of what I would expect in the future. Lola asked me why I was quiet.

“Lola, in the last few minutes I have been judged, admired, salivated over, and rated on how I would be in bed. I could see it in their eyes. It’s scary but nobody came up to ask me for money. A couple of the guys looked at us as if they were waiting to get us alone in a dark room and, for the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable.”

“Well done, Carol. That’s something which I thought that you may have had to be taught. It’s good that you’ve got your defence mechanism already tuned. You also seem to have lost the Midlands talk, this morning.”

“Yes, I watched a few programs on the BBC last night and tried to talk like the people on it. As I was being transformed, this morning, with every procedure I imagined my birthplace being twenty miles further south. It’s all part of the disguise.”

“You’re doing a lot better than I thought you would. The big test, this afternoon, is seeing how you take to buying lingerie. They said that they supplied some outer wear, but underwear is all down to you.”

Just then a waitress came over and asked us what we wanted, and we ordered a light lunch and soda water. As we were waiting to be served, I asked something that had been on my mind.

“Lola, I hope I’m not overstepping the mark, but last night you said that your mother was the inspiration for the song. That song, however, is about a she-male?”

“Yes, well spotted. My actual mother died not long after I was born. My father took on the role of my mother, long before I understood anything about genders. She was a wonderful mother to me and is now living in a care home, regaling everyone with her claim to fame, while they allow her ear, nose and eyebrow hair run amok. Even though I was a natural girl, I took over the persona when I took over running the club. It’s too much fun to do anything else and it certainly pays the bills.”

After we had eaten, we visited the conveniences and then touched up our lipstick. It was starting to become almost natural, while, all the time, feeling surreal. That afternoon I ended up with bras and panties, camisoles, slips and half-slips, nighties and a few gowns, various types of hose and a few different colour garter belts. Along the way, I learned a lot about being female and even more about myself. When I chose the nighties, I couldn’t help but wonder how they would feel as I lay on them, in bed.

At five, we left the shopping centre and found Bert with the car, exactly where he said he would be. My bags went into the boot, along with the other cases. Lola kept her bags with her as we went to the club first, so she could supervise that evening’s entertainment. Then Bert took me home and carried my things up to my apartment. Which, I had to say, now looked too butch for a refined lady such as myself. I gave Bert a tip and a kiss on the cheek, and he went off to the lift, whistling.

In the apartment, alone for the first time as Carol, I poured myself a Scotch, took a sip and then tipped it down the sink. I rummaged round and found a bottle of white wine which tasted a lot more pleasant. I took the cases into the bedroom and proceeded to pull out all my old ‘Charlie’ gear, replacing it with my new outfits and dresses. Then I had to clean out the drawers and arrange my new underwear, clipping the tags as I went. Looking at the washing instructions I realised that this would be a whole course that I would need to master.

Rather than phoning for take-away, I put a coat on and walked to the closest eatery, an Italian place not far from home. There, I had a nice pasta dish, followed by a tiramisu and a glass of wine. I was nicely spoken to and well looked after, adding a good tip when my card was needed at the machine. This earned me a “Thank you, beautiful lady, come again.”

That night, the nightie felt as good as it looked and I had some quite erotic dreams, once I had mastered the art of laying without being perched on my breasts. They were the sort of dreams that had never been in my head before now. I mean to say, how many red-blooded boys dream about a handsome Italian waiter holding them close and nuzzling their neck?

In the morning I woke to find the nightie was the one holding me close. I must have wound it around me as I turned during the night. I lay and ran my hands down my new body and wondered if I would keep this going. So far, I had been exalted and scared in the same day. I had a new insight into what a woman is exposed to, both good and bad. I vowed that, if I ever did revert to Charlie again, I would treat my girlfriends with more attention to what they wanted.

Bert was going to pick me up at ten, so I had a quiet breakfast while reading his report. With my new outlook I could see his reasoning on the problem areas. Some could be fixed, while others were part of the building design. I would need to outlay a bit to set up the CCTV system he suggested and should ask him if he could let me know who could work on the door and window locks, even though I was on the seventh floor.

After breakfast, I cleaned up, showered before getting dressed. Lola had suggested that, as I would be trying things on, to just wear a simple shift that had been supplied in the package. I spent a while working on my face, after watching the film that had been supplied on a USB stick. With my previous knowledge of steadying my hand, I did rather well.

At ten, I was downstairs waiting for Bert. Today, I was going to spend some serious money, as befitting a lady of means. Lola had told me that if today didn’t make me want to stay Carol for ever, she would refund my five hundred.

Bert was on time, and we headed off to the club to pick up Lola. On the way we discussed his report and came to an agreement on what parts of it would be implemented. He asked me for a spare key and said that he would get it all attended to over the next couple of days.

We needed to wait as Lola was interviewing a new bartender. As I watched I thought that I could do better than that. I foolishly uttered the same words when the applicant had left. Lola took me up on the challenge and declared that the job was mine if I wanted it after I showed her my ability behind a bar. I told her that it might be fun, and we agreed on my working four nights a week and helping out on Saturday if it got busy.

We then went shopping at a costume shop first, where I bought my outfit for the bar work. At first, I thought it could be trashy but, when we had added some adornments, the girl in the mirror looked like the barmaid from heaven. I needed three versions of the outfit, in different colours. One would stay at the club in case something happened, and I needed to change. The other two I would alternate.

Then we hit the boutiques, not the top ones, nor the cheaper ones. These were mid-range and smart. I ended up with a range of dresses, plus some skirt and top outfits that I could mix and match. I had never had so much fun shopping for clothes before. After lunch I needed to get more shoes to match my new outfits and then Bert dropped Lola at the club before taking me home. He came up to the apartment and double-checked what changes we had agreed to, took the spare key, sat with me for a while over a glass of wine, gave me a hug and a cheek-kiss and then left me.

I unpacked my purchases and hung them away, except for the barmaid outfit for tonight, and the one which was going to the club as a spare. I sat and looked at them for a while, wondering if I was being a complete idiot. Then I had a shower and got dressed for work. I had bought a coat that would cover my outfit as I travelled. With everything I needed in my handbag, my spare outfit on a hanger with a plastic cover, I was ready for my first shift at my new job.

I was downstairs when Bert turned up and he drove me to the club. When I went inside, I could see that Lola was setting up for the evening business, so I gave her a hand making sure all the tables and chairs were in the right places. She and I had a light meal with the other staff and then I was given a quick run-down on where everything was stored, what to do if we ran out of anything, and where the panic button was if someone got violent.

My first evening was busy, at least for me, as I was made the go-to person to get me fitting in. I started to get to know a few of the regulars and didn’t mess up any drink orders. Lola had a drink which she called ‘Lola’s Champagne’ and it tasted exactly like cherry cola but packed a mean punch. The night passed quickly and then Bert was there to take me home.

Over the next three weeks I had a ball. I became Carol, the barmaid at Lola’s. It was not hard work, the customers were more sophisticated than other clubs I had been in and there was usually very little trouble, especially from the more notable guys who had no wish to be lined up in a police station. At the end of three weeks, I was due to be back at FIC for my follow-up visit.

I had thought that it was to be the one where I would make a choice between carrying on as Carol or going back to be Charlie. The day Bert took me there it was a choice between staying or going further. They had a resident doctor who spoke to me about taking things to the next step and I convinced him that I wanted to go to the next level. That step was covered in my initial payment and consisted of hormones, one lot to reduce my testosterone, and the other to give me estrogen. I also had the enhancements removed and cleaned while my skin was checked for odd bumps or lesions.

I would be coming back at regular check-up visits for a year before anything major was done. In the meantime, I was warned about sweats and mood-swings and to get in touch when I felt major itching under any of the pads.

I worked my shifts and got friendly with the staff and the entertainers, all the time honing my skills at being feminine. I felt better than I had since leaving school. One of the things about being a barmaid is how the regulars seem to start thinking that you’re a cross between a wall and a psychiatrist. I had a lot of the customers start opening to me. One evening there came a point where my future crystalized.

One of the singers wasn’t looking happy, so I got her a drink and asked her what her problem was. She had a small child who was sickly, and she needed to get some medication which was not on the N.H.S. I told her not to worry and looked around, finding a cash-bag which was used to take cash to the bank.

I asked the other girl to watch the bar for a while and took the bag, one of the candles from a vacant table, and went around the club asking for donations for the child’s medication. When I had been to see everyone, I added some cash of my own. Lola asked what I was doing, and I told her the story. She added cash of her own and went up on stage after the singer had completed her show, presenting her with the bag of money from her friends at the club. The singer nearly broke down on the spot and asked how this had come about. Lola announced that it was all due to ‘Carol by Candlelight’.

From that night on, it was if we were one big happy family. Whenever someone was down on their luck, I was called on to do the Carol by Candlelight thing. The next point of divergence from my old life came about as I was talking to one of the TV stars, looking fabulous in her sparkling gown. She said that she wanted to have a party but didn’t want her agent or channel to know about it. I asked her where, when, and how many she was going to host and then made the statement that it should be easy. To this she replied, “OK Carol, you organise it and tell me how much after.”

That’s how ’Carols’ Occasional Occasions’ came about. I registered the name and started talking to suppliers. For an open-air party, you need tents, tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery, food, and drinks. There may, or may not, be entertainment. There may be a need for privacy and security. It all needed the right connections and someone with a plan. For the first time since my schooldays, I was flying with a project.

I found a country hall close to where the TV star lived, organised everything else and gave her the time and place. She sent out invitations and I arranged, through Bert, some retired policemen to act as security on the night. A London caterer supplied the food, Lola supplied the drink and most of our regulars were there, among the guests. It was, indeed, a coming-out party with most of the guests already aware that the stunning blonde who was dancing with the guys was really a guy who reads the news.

Three more events later, I needed to find a secure storage and buy my own tables and chairs, crockery, and cutlery. Hiring all of these was cutting into the margin. Bert got on to a pal to give me driving lessons and I passed my test, as Caroline, and bought a LWB Defender with just the front seats. By the time I was due to see the guys at FIC, I had my events business up and running.

I had Bert’s mates on retainer for security. I had accounts with suppliers and cleaning crews. I had a name for supplying an event that the customer wanted. After a couple of shows had media coverage, I was being asked to replicate the look for ordinary people, something that was easy as I had all the items that were shown in the media.

I only used my own money in the first few weeks. After that I had a business plan. With days working on events and most evenings at the club, I had no time to worry how people viewed me. I stayed out of the limelight by employing a guy to sit in an office and answer the phone.

Harry was previously from another firm where the owners had become addicted to the lifestyle of their customers. They had bought the big house and the flash cars, so starved the business of funds and then got on the wrong side of their suppliers. It was one of the suppliers who pointed Harry in my direction. He was very experienced, and I gave him the leeway to do what he needed to do.

Harry brought his own contacts into the fold. Contacts he knew were solid and trustworthy. They were also too ordinary for his previous boss. When your customer is enjoying their event, it doesn’t pay to have your waitresses that are more attractive than the client and most of the guests.

We added a small team of assistants, and it then allowed me to go my own way. That way was, for me, all the way. By this time, I was developing small breasts and my skin was fabulous. I talked to Lola about taking time off, made sure that Harry had everything he needed, and booked into the best clinic I could find. Two months later I was given a sign off on the body I now lived in and went shopping.

Much as I would have liked to go back to work with Lola again, she thought that, as I was now all (well mostly) woman, it wouldn’t be right for me. She told me that I should take a holiday and try to come up with a future that a proper lady would be happy in. I had to bow to her sage advice, and she did rather get me off the hook.

My legal team had done their best and I now had a complete set of documents in my name, plus the ‘F’ in the sex box. Not wanting to go off on my own, nor wanting to take a cruise, I signed on for a six-week, escorted tour of Europe. It was a lot of fun and being in a crowd meant that I could lower my guard slightly and enjoy myself. In the second week, I got friendly with an older guy who was on the tour to get over his grief of losing his wife of forty years. By the end of the tour, I think we had managed to push her out of his mind.

When we parted, I gave him a bogus email address and dropped the card he gave me into the nearest bin. After a month at home, I signed on for a six-week tour of the Americas. That tour was wonderful, and I loved every minute of it. At my six-month follow-up visit, my doctor told me that he was very happy with my diligent use of the dilator.

After the travels, there was just one place that I really had to visit. My hometown and my family. That was something I wasn’t looking forward to and I procrastinated for more than another year while I kept busy with the events. On day, I hired a small car, packed my least extravagant outfits, and drove north. I wasn’t going to just front up and say “Hello, folks, look at me now!” No, I was going to take things sneakily.

I booked into one of the better hotels and just spent a couple of days roaming the old hometown and seeing that I was better off not living here. One evening I went to the pub where one of my sisters used to frequent and had a meal and a drink. When she didn’t show, I casually asked the waitress about my sister, telling her that she was an old school-friend.

“That bitch!” she exclaimed. “She got all hoity-toity when her brother won the lottery, telling us that she was about to get on board the gravy-train. He sent her some money, which she spent on a flash car, booze, and drugs. She’s buried in the cemetery next to her husband. They drove the flash car into an oak tree one night, high as kites, both.”

The next day I took a big bunch of flowers and went to find her grave. When I was given the directions and found it, I had to split the flowers into three, smaller, bunches. There, in a neat row, were the markers for her and her husband, next to my other sister and her husband, both sets with good gravestones. In a plain plot with just a name board, lay both of my parents.

I took out my notebook and noted the dates on the graves, laid my flowers and said a little prayer for them, and went off to find the office of the local paper. I sat myself at their computer and looked up the dates around the time of the burials.

The car crash was front page news as the oak tree they had hit was not far out of town, on a country road. They had been high on cocaine. I looked at later editions and the whole thing was buried quickly.

My other sister, and her husband, died in a house fire. The newspaper noted that every addict in town stood upwind of the fire, the smell of weed taking care of their needs that evening. The house was destroyed and wasn’t insured. A sidebar noted that both sisters had been living in houses that were over-mortgaged, even though their brother had won the lottery.

My parents both died in the freezing winter a few months ago. They were found by neighbours who hadn’t seen them for a while. Investigations showed that they had frozen to death while sitting in front of a two-bar electric fire. The electricity had been cut off that evening on non-payment of the account.

The house was still sitting empty, since their only surviving child, the big Lotto winner, couldn’t be found. I got in touch with the funeral director and found out that my parents had paid for the gravestones on my sisters’ graves but there wasn’t anything left to pay for a proper monument on theirs.

I rang my team from the hotel, setting them into motion. They had power of attorney in my original name, and I asked them to contact the town council to arrange the sale of the house, using the proceeds to get a proper stone for their grave and giving the remainder to the local Drug Rehabilitation Clinic.

I decided to hang around to make sure that things went as planned. Within a few days, a ‘For Sale’ board went up in front of the house and I went along to the first opening for a look around. It was odd to stand in my old bedroom, now cleared, and think about my early days there. It was just too sad, and I left after a quick look around. Speaking to the agent I was told that their son had won a big Lotto amount and had just walked away. I didn’t bother to set her right.

I stayed on for a few more days until someone agreed to buy the house. I found that out when I drove past it one day and there was a sticker on the sale board. I knew that my ‘team’ would send me the pictures of the headstone when it was set up and looked forward to seeing the grave of my parents look as good as it could be.

Strangely, I didn’t feel a lot of guilt over their deaths. They had lived their own lives and it was my sisters that sucked up all the money with their stupidity.

I settled with the hotel, aiming to get away early the next day. After packing I went out for a walk. As I passed by a pub I had never been into, I heard some music from inside that made me smile. I went in and ordered a meal from the bar, found a seat, and sipped my wine.

The music came from a three-piece group on the stage. It was good old rock and hits, and they were good. As I ate my meal they came to the end of the set and went to sit at a table near me, so I told the barman that their drinks were on me.

I could hear them talking and they lifted the new drinks to me when they were set down. As they spoke, I realised that I knew all three from school. They had been among the bullied group. Tonight, they looked grown up and happy with what they were doing. After their break they went up on stage and carried on with the feel-good music.

As they played, I was approached by another I had known from school. He introduced himself and asked if he could join me for a while. I expected that he may be a roadie or manager for the band, and I was proved correct. As we talked, I found out that all four of them worked for the council, on a road gang. I commented that it was dangerous work for a musician with the likelihood of injury to skilful fingers.

With the next break I ordered the drinks, and we joined them at the band table. We talked and I had a flash of inspiration.

“Lads, I run a company that specialises in high class parties. I have been hiring bands, but I want to offer you jobs. I could pay you a proper wage to work with my company as general handymen and helpers during the day. On the nights of an occasion, I will pay the going rate for the three of you as the entertainment. You’re too good to be tucked away here, and the music you play will carry the mood at most of the events I organise. I will find you a place to live, down south. What do you say?”

They promised to talk it over and they still had a month left of the booking at the pub. I told them that there was no rush. I gave the ‘manager’ my card with my contact details. I didn’t let on that I had been at school with all of them.

The ‘manager’, Cliff, and I had a couple of drinks when the band was back on stage, and he walked outside with me.

“Carol, I hope you’re not winding these lads up? If you’re on the up and up, it would mean a lot to all of us. I sometimes join them on rhythm.”

“Cliff, I meant every word I said. Why don’t you give me a call on Friday week. I’ve got a weekday show coming up and you can come along and see for yourself. If the boys are free, I will send a car for you and put you all up down south. When you see who you will be working with, I think that it won’t be very long before you’re ready to sign on.”

Back down in the big smoke I caught up with the things that had moved on while I was away. The show that I had in mind for the band was on a Thursday evening. It was a birthday party for the singer of a top band. The reason I was involved was because he wanted to have a private event where he, and some of his friends, could go the whole hog with their feminine side. He hadn’t thought about live music but was interested when I told him I could supply a band who were very good and totally unknown.

When Cliff called, I told him that I had a gig for them which would be a good payday, and, even better, launch them into the big time. I asked for him to email me with a list of equipment they would need for a large tent and for them just to bring their guitars. I also made the arrangements to pick them up straight after work and for them to take Friday off. They needed to be back home on the Saturday for the regular gig at the pub.

I don’t know who enjoyed it more – me, the band, or the clients. My driver dropped the boys off at the country mansion where the party was to be held. Cliff and the boys set up and get a sound check. When they stopped playing my client joined me and told me that she would want to have a sing-along later in the night.

As she wandered off to finish getting ready, Cliff put his hand on my arm. “Lass, was that who I thought it was? If so, the lads know a lot of his material, they are solid hits at the pub.”

“Cliff, tonight you and the band are going to be privy to a secret that you should take to your grave. My client wanted a band who no-one knew so that she could let her hair down. I think other members of her band will be here but probably not all dressed as women. Just tell the boys to have fun, go with whatever happens and to keep their mouths shut after. There may be other people here tonight who will want to book you for private events in the future. These guys will pay ten, or a hundred, times what you normally get.”

As the evening started, the band played quiet instrumentals as the food was served. As the guests got livelier the mood went up several notches. Later, my client got up on the stage with the boys and sang the hits in his normal voice, quite a surreal experience as she nearly fell out of her dress. Later, her guitarist got up and plugged in, joining the boys in a jam session. I danced with Cliff, currently taking a break, and his smile said it all.

“Carol, lass,” he said, “I had no idea what would happen tonight, but this has been the best evening of my life, especially dancing with you.”

I asked him if the boys should take a break.

“No way, Carol. They’re having too much fun to stop. I reckon they all think that if they did, they would wake up back north. I’d better get back up there, or else they’ll think I was skiving.”

That evening another corner was turned. The band gave their employer the two-week notice, and we used my Defender and the event van to carry their things south. I set them up in a nice house that I bought for them, not far from our warehouse. That house was the first for “Candlepower Properties” and I then purchased the warehouse under that banner as well.

Whenever the band played in one of our events, they went by the name of “The Carollers.” They didn’t need to go looking for other gigs as their name became synonymous with feel-good party music, and almost every event we put on, insisted that they would supply the music.

Cliff and I got together, quite often, and eventually became a couple – and then lovers. About six months of being a couple we were spending a weekend by the seaside, away from everything. We were walking along the promenade when he appeared to pull himself up to his full height.

“Carol, love, I am about to ask you something which may, or may not, alter our relationship. If I’m wrong, I will say I’m sorry in advance. If I’m right, I will still apologise. Can I go on?”

When I squeezed his arm and looked him in the eyes, he then said the words I had half-expected.

“Carol, over the time I have known you, I have noted that you seemed to have known a lot of things about me and the band that you should never have known. In our discussions you never questioned the nicknames we use. It’s as if you already knew them. When we spoke about being bullied by three louts you blushed. When we spoke about Charlie, who would never bully us, you blushed more. It’s almost impossible for you to be so easy with us four if you didn’t know us, over a longer period. Were you Charlie?”

I stopped and there were tears in my eyes.

“Would it matter if I had been?”

“Well, not really. You are totally a woman for me and whatever you had been before doesn’t change the fact that I love you and want you to be my wife.”

I gave out a little scream and pulled him to me in a kiss that seemed to last for minutes. Perhaps it did, as the crowd around us was looking strangely at us when we pulled apart. One older lady gave me a smile and said, “Congratulations, my dear, he looks like a keeper.”

We wandered along until we came to a café. There we sat with cups of tea, and I gave him a potted history of why I am the person I am now.

“Did you feel that you were in the wrong body at school?”

“No, I never did. It was a total surprise when I was transformed as a disguise. I took to it like a duck to water. It was almost as if I had always been Carol but never knew it. As Charlie I had always liked women, and there was a short period when I had one, or more, in my bed every night. I found out later that they were only after my money. I suppose that’s the reason that none of them gave me a critique on my performance.”

“Your performance is all I could desire, right now.”

“If you mean that, the hotel isn’t far away, almost across the road when we get up to that level.”

So, we went back to the hotel and made love until the evening, after which we went back to the promenade and had cockles and chips out of paper, while walking along. He then gave me a piece of information he had been saving, no doubt until he was certain of our relationship.

“Carol, darling, at the party a few weeks ago, we were approached by a guy who wants us to lay down tracks in a studio. We told him that we needed to run it past our manager and would get back to him. He reckons that he has a songwriter with material that would be ideal for us.”

“So, Mr. Manager, what did you say to yourself?”

“We decided that we needed someone we truly trusted to be our manager and the boys wanted me to ask you. You have given us the chance to play to, and along with, some of the best bands in the country, and we’re truly grateful. If we do put out a record, it could mean that we’re no longer unknowns and wouldn’t be able to be useful to you anymore.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, not if you use another band name for that stage of your career. Some of our clients have noted that you’re better than them at being able to play all night, most of them have only a couple of hours in them, at best. You do know that I have never managed a band and will have to rely on you as my mentor. Is there anything else you’ve held back?”

“There is. Can we go to a jeweller tomorrow so I can buy you an engagement ring?”

“As your manager I should tell you that being married can be detrimental to your career, as a woman I must say that I would love to choose something, and you can then get on one knee and do the job properly. Until then, you can take me back to the hotel and use whatever powers those cockles have given you. They do say that it works with oysters and the cockles are a similar family.”

That night, we discovered that cockles run out of power after the first three. I didn’t mind, as I was getting a little sore by that time. The next day I chose a reasonably priced ring and Cliff got on one knee in the shop to ask me properly. We had the band van and loaded our bags to head home. On the way, Cliff told me that he was sorry to have heard about my family. He said that the town was buzzing for a while, hoping that the lottery winner came home.

“What, so they could abuse me for running out on my family,” I snorted. “I made sure that they had enough to see them right. It wasn’t my fault my sisters spent it all getting high. I don’t know what I could have done to stop it, though. Those first few weeks I learned a lot of lessons about being a fool with money. My three friends from school got me drunk and took me for the best part of half a million, I was being bedded by a group of gorgeous girls with a plan that was, thankfully, thwarted before I had been sucked in too far. Then I met a person who told me up front what the costs would be and arranged it for me to be disguised as Caroline. That’s when I saw the light and truly started living.”

Cliff looked over at me and grinned.

“I think that’s when you decided that you would be generous but only for those who were prepared to work for it. Everyone in the events company love you, the band loves you, and I love you the most. We’re all living well but realise that you only get out what you put in. The band has always been good, but they now work hard at being better. Harry puts in ten-hour days to make sure the events are perfect, and no-one cares if they’re still working at two in the morning because they know that they’ll be properly paid and looked after.”

He looked again.

“Oh, and the way you’re sitting now is another thing that gave you away. That pose with your hand on your chin with one finger pointing vertically up your cheek. You used to do that at school when you were deep into planning some mischief.”

That week I set up “Candlepower Management”, signed the band and then made an appointment to see the chap who had given them his card. He was, of course, expecting them to just shout with joy and sign with him. He was not happy when I walked in and told him that he had to deal with me. We discussed what he could do for them, and then we got on to what he would do for them. In the end, I signed an agreement for him to set up the recording sessions. He finally agreed to two percent of the gross, plus a bonus for every week the band was in the top ten. I figured that this would be enough incentive for him to do the job properly.

Cliff was reluctant to go the whole way with the band. He told me that he would not be happy with the touring, should they get big. The boys auditioned a few other rhythm guitarists, and it was a foursome that went into the studio. The first single got into the top fifty but then stalled. The songwriter then spent hours working out why it failed and came up with one that got into the top ten. That’s when some of our clients got interested, many of them having been in the same boat some years before. I was asked to organise a rehearsal room and send out invites to our friends in the business. That day, the band was given a complete set of instructions on how playing as a star was different to playing at a party. The next song was a much bigger line-up, practically a supergroup, and hit the top of the charts.

That led to their first tour, with the bonus that the fans never knew just who would turn up on stage with them. Many of the shows were more like a jam session than a performance, but the fans loved it. Cliff and I were in the background, usually working the logistics, and we made sure the boys remained grounded. After the first, short, tour, they were set to spend time in the studio again, this time to cut a serious album that would either cement their fame or show them how fickle the crowds could be.

Cliff and I took the break to get married. It wasn’t a big affair, just a registry office for the paperwork and a packed Lola’s for the party after. A lot of the guest were, by now, old friends and regular clients. The band did spend a little while on stage, but all the other players had brought their instruments along and it was the very early hours before they were all too tired or too drunk to carry on. Or so I was told. Cliff and I had snuck out just after midnight. Lola told me later that we weren’t missed in the general mayhem.

With my money we could have gone anywhere for our honeymoon. Instead, we used one of the company cars and went off for a few weeks wandering around Europe. We did just ‘happen’ to visit the hotel where my two winemaking friends propped up the bar every Saturday evening. They were still with the two girls from school, both with toddlers to look after. Cliff acted as if he had just recognised them, and we got drawn into conversation. I was introduced as ‘my wife, Caroline’ and we did not let on that I had been their unwitting benefactor.

By the end of the evening, we were all pals. The two had realised that they needed to do something about their lives, no doubt spurred on by the girls. They had leased most of their land to a reputable vineyard and worked it as paid employees, keeping the house. The girls were quite happy, if a little homesick, and they all spoke fluent French. They hadn’t heard from Dave in years. In fact, they said that the last they had heard was that he was in a bit of trouble with an underage blonde who had an important father.

We made it our business to work our way further south to see if we could add more to the story. When we arrived at the address I had been given, we found a large block of seaside apartments stretching over several properties, including the one where Dave had been living. A search in the computer at the local paper gave us the sordid history. Dave was now serving time in jail, charged with abducting a minor and rape. He had, obviously, discovered that you can’t hoodwink all the people, all the time.

There comes a day when you know that you must consolidate what you have. Back home, Cliff and I sat down and worked through what we were doing with our lives. We had the property business, the management business, and the event business. I still had a lot of my winnings untouched and was making money from the businesses. As far as the events side was going, Harry was happy to be in charge and we decided to let him carry on, without our involvement, unless specifically asked.

We were doing well with the management side and had an office with a few staff to look after the band. Or should I say, bands. We now had ten signed on, happy that we did the work needed to get them off the ground, without ripping them off. Four of them were working regular gigs, three were off touring on a long-term project across Europe, and the others were honing their skills in the studio. I was sure that nearly half of them were certain stars. Cliff oversaw that side of things, but we tended to make joint decisions.

I concentrated on the properties. It was something I could do better in if I gained more skills. We worked with our events and band clients, finding houses at the right price, and finalising the deals. This kept the clients’ names in the background, only to be found if you searched the records. Cliff and I were now living in the house I had bought for the band; with some modifications we had made before we moved in. The three schoolmates now all had large properties in the country, near each other. My apartment was now leased out, along with others in the block that I had quietly bought.

One project that took a lot of my time, for a while, was one that was linked to Lola and her staff. I had found out that some of the performers were living in less than optimum circumstances. I looked around for a property, close enough to be suitable, and cheap enough to be doable. I found an old warehouse that had been gutted by fire. It wasn’t in a good position to be a viable retail premise, nor was it located in a place to be worth transforming into up-market apartments.

I took out a mortgage, using my other properties as collateral, and spent a fair bit converting it into good sized apartments that were nice enough for most people. Bert oversaw the alterations with a view to maximum security and we offered the place to the performers and other staff, at a fair rent. Knowing most of the takers, we allowed them to move in without a bond. That, alone, made it appealing. I felt that I was giving back to the people who had welcomed me into their lives and had given me space to live my own new life. What made me smile was the fact that, with the place being home for single females, some wag called it ‘Tramp Tower’, and that became our name for it, even though the majority were hard working and proper ladies, although some weren’t ladies at all.

There’s something to be said for trying to do good, while being businesslike. I had made mistakes in my life, certainly. I had missed noticing the bad in some people, but generally weathered the storm. I had built a small empire, peopled with happy workers and happy clients. I had my man to keep me happy, in bed and out. There was only one thing that started to niggle at my brain. That was who would carry on my legacy.

In the end, it was ‘Tramp Tower’ that provided the answer. Lola told me that the singer that I had collected for, all that time ago, was in a bad way with lung cancer. When she couldn’t look after her daughter, now ready to go to High School, Cliff and I took her in. When her mother died, we looked after her and comforted her, being allowed to foster her until she came of age. She became more of a daughter to us as she grew into a lovely, and talented, young lady.

When she was nearly twenty, she met a guy and fell in love. We made sure that he was on the up and up and helped him go to university with her. They both ended up with great grades and, eventually, great jobs in medical research. Cliff and I were well into our forties when she produced twin boys. They grew into strapping lads, calling us their grandparents, something we both loved. Of course, if you did the maths, that was impossible, but family love can make anything possible.

When they came of age, we took them into the business, moving them around the three arms of the empire until they could start to give us advice. That’s when we told them that the whole lot could be theirs if they wanted it. Cliff and I were now into our sixties and ready to step away.

The empire now employed more than a hundred people. The events business had spawned ten regional outlets, the management side now had a list of over fifty acts, and the property side had close to seventy million pounds worth on its books, with inflation pushing up the values. Lola had retired and I bought her place, with one of the original bargirls now running it. Cliff now had the unenviable tag as being the guy who had left the band before they became world famous. It was something we joked about.

The twins took over the empire, with Cliff and I on a comfortable retainer as advisors. Their parents did well in being part of a team to create a new style of drug that led to the nanite era where intelligent bugs worked inside the body to cure all manner of ailments.

All that was left for me was to enjoy the latter years of my life, having to put up with the one thing that all women hate, the advance of the years. Luckily, our foster daughter was able to give us some trial drugs which did help keep my skin smooth and hydrated. She told me that they couldn’t turn back time, yet! But she promised me that I would be among the first to benefit. I didn’t mind if it didn’t happen, I had lived a full and happy life.

That, after all, is the biggest win of all.

Marianne Gregory © 2023

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