When the two grumpy old men at Barkland Bank's London HQ investigate the bank account of Chantelle Pankhurst, about to go dormant, neither realise the metamorphosis through which they will be led over the next week.
Two Grumpy Old Men
Mike Walters and Stephen Morley were known throughout Barkland Bank's City of London HQ as the two grumpy old men.
Not that they were particularly old, unless you compared them with the others working there who were mostly under thirty. Nor were they particularly grumpy; indeed they both had quite liberal views on everything from immigration through gay rights to world politics. But with Steve having had an acrimonious divorce, and Mike's wife having died after a long term illness, both were settling into bachelorhood and neither were particularly interested in forming relationships with women. However, their continual grump was over the decline in standards operated by the Bank in which they worked. Once it had championed the help it gave its customers; now it simply pushed them into a debt they didn't want and couldn't afford, in order to increase its profits to a level of total obscenity.
To most, including senior management, Mike and Steve were considered Old School. Consequently, they had been moved from frontline jobs into those quiet backwaters which had to be done by someone. As the two grumpy old men, they usually sat together at lunchtime.
"Steve," Mike said as he sat down at Steve's table in the staff restaurant. "Your train home passes through Streatham, doesn't it? Do you think you might visit a customer on the way?"
Although Steve managed the Bank's IT strategy, he'd often dealt with customers on special IT projects, so it wasn't unusual to have an occasional request like that. "No problem. Who is it? London United Carriers?"
Mike shook his head. "No. I'm not allowed to deal with the important clients now. It's a Miss Chantelle Pankhurst. Her account's about to become dormant and she's not answering her mail."
"She must be stonking rich to merit a visit," Steve observed. "One of the landed gentry?"
"Far from it," Mike appeared disconcerted, clearly undecided about how much to reveal, and then grinned and said, "In fact, she's only ever had a small savings account with us. Apart from one transaction, all activity on the account ceased about four years ago."
"And the one transaction?" Steve could sense Mike was keeping the best until last.
Another hesitation, then, "An automatic transfer from National Savings of one million pounds. Her Premium Bond came up."
Steve pursed his lips in a pseudo whistle. "And the money has just sat there ever since. Hasn't anyone from the bank contacted her?"
"When I was Branch Manager, I'd have camped on her doorstep until I got hold of her. Nowadays, the computer manages it all. Without a telephone number, it defaulted to mail, which has never been answered."
"So she's either dead or moved away," Steve said.
"Or she bins her boring-looking mail," Mike added.
"How old is she? Perhaps I should think about remarrying."
"Thirty-eight. A bit young for you."
"Rubbish. You're only a year younger than me," Steve retorted. "I'm surprised you're not going to see her yourself."
Mike hesitated a little more. "Truth is," he said, "Justin, my boss has informally told me to let all these cases go through."
"You mean let them go dormant," Steve said, "so the bank gets to keep everyone's money. That's pretty shitty."
"Which is why I'm setting up my best friend to meet a rich, beautiful woman."
"How do you know she's beautiful?" Steve asked.
"With a name like Chantelle?" Mike said. "She must be."
"Come in," said the short, rather ugly man who answered the door in response to Steve's ring on the doorbell. "You're the first so far," he added, as he led the way to a ground floor flat. "So if you like it, it's yours. Obviously you'll need references, but I guess that won't cause you too many problems." He nodded at Steve's Barbour coat over his Saville Row suit.
"Sorry," Steve said, looking around at the pleasant flat into which the man had led him. "I haven't come about a flat."
"I've come about Miss Chantelle Pankhurst. Does she still..."
"Chanti?" the man said, his face suddenly turning white. "You've come about Chanti?"
"Does she still live here?"
His face now became confused. "Does she... Then you're not from the... You mean you haven't heard?" With his last sentence, he had become defiant.
"I'm afraid not. Is she ill or..."
"She was murdered." The way he was staring daggers, Steve thought he might be about to be accused.
"Murdered. How terrible! Did they catch who did it?"
"A neighbour heard the screaming and called the police. Caught him literally red-handed – he was covered in her blood. He's doing life now."
"How horrible." Steve certainly hadn't been prepared for that. Aghast, he looked around the newly redecorated apartment. "Did it happen here?"
"Hell, no." The man at last started to look at ease. "This wasn't Chanti's flat anyway, that was upstairs, but she was murdered at the killer's house in Dulwich. It's still upsetting, though."
"Of course it is," Steve agreed. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Stephen Morley from Barkland Bank. Miss Pankhurst has an account with us. Do you know who her next of kin are? We'll need to contact them."
"Oh!" He looked decidedly embarrassed. "You're from a bank. I thought you were a punt…"
It was then that Steve realised what Miss Pankhurst's career choice had been. "Look, I'm sorry. This is all rather a shock to me. I realise this is rather embarrassing but I only want to find a next of kin so we can transfer the money from her account."
"The police never found out about next of kin," he said. "I'm Jake Stewart, by the way." He held out his hand for Steve to shake. "All this talk about Chanti has put the willies up me. I've put a few beers in the fridge to put the potential tenants in a good mood. Do you fancy one?"
"So she was on the game?" Mike said, as they discussed it the following lunchtime.
"Jake was keen to stress it was just a casual occupation," Steve said. "She had a full-time job as a chambermaid but, when the money got tight, she side-lined in a bit of Chanti Panky, as he called it. And Jake said that Chantelle was hardly ever able to pay his rent."
"You mean that Jake was having sex with her instead of collecting rent?"
"Which is why, it seems, he never told the police that she lived there."
"What?" Mike said. "A woman is murdered and he never tells the police that she lives in one of his flats? That's disgraceful."
"The way he looks at it," Steve said, "Chantelle was dead; they had the murderer and nothing he could do would improve that. Apparently, he did search her room for details of her next of kin but there was nothing there."
"I still think that's pretty shitty."
"I dunno," Steve said. "If you were seeing a prostitute who was murdered, would you admit it? Or simply keep quiet?"
Mike had the grace to blush before saying, "I'd never get into that position." Steve decided he would reserve judgement on the accuracy of that statement.
"It was when I started to press Jake on what information he'd found about Chantelle," Steve said, "that he told me he had all the contents of her flat boxed up in the cellar. I think he rather regretted getting into that position. I'm sure he was in love with her, whatever her part-time profession. He couldn't bring himself to throw everything away, even more so since the police might someday find out about him and accuse him of theft. So, he said that as the Bank was Chantelle's only legal representative, that I had better take the boxes with me, then I could satisfy myself there was no next-of-kin to be found. I didn't want to but he was quite insistent."
"So you took them!" Mike could hardly believe his ears. "What are we going to do with them?"
"The beer was very good," Steve admitted, "and maybe I'd had a bottle too many. I certainly regretted it all as soon as I saw the three large boxes he dragged out of his cellar. Had to take a taxi home. Anyway, I assumed you didn't want them brought in here so they're stacked up on my lounge floor at the moment. It's Saturday tomorrow so I thought maybe you could come over and we could go through them and sift out the rubbish."
"Christ! What a mess. You should never have taken them. What do we do if there's something valuable in there?"
"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it," Steve said. "Anyway are you game to come over tomorrow and help me see what's in there?"
Mike nodded. "I suppose I'd better."
To Steve, going through Chantelle's belonging felt both wrong and very, very erotic. The first item they pulled out was a beautiful purple wraparound dress with wide-V neck which looked as though it would leave most of the bust exposed.
"That's sexy," Steve said, holding it up.
"It turns me over a bit," Mike said, "knowing she was wearing these clothes in the days before some bastard murdered her."
"What's this?" Steve asked as he unfolded what appeared to be a very long pair of tights.
"It's crutchless body stocking," Mike said.
Steve wondered how come Mike had recognised it for what it was whilst he was still unfolding it. Maybe Mike's wife had been much more adventurous than his own.
"Here's a picture of her," he said, pouncing on a card now laying on top of the heap. "I didn't realise she was black." He held up the card, showing a photo of a voluptuous West Indian woman wearing the dress they had just examined, printed with the words, "Fanci some Chanti Panki?" followed by a mobile telephone number. Clearly it was designed as a flyer to be left in public places.
"Hell, she was gorgeous," Mike said.
"A big girl," Steve agreed, "although her face would never win a beauty competition. But it's that dress which makes her look so fantastic."
"I'm turned on just thinking about what she could do with those lips," Mike said.
They continued sorting through the boxes, and ending up with a large pile of erotic clothing combined with items of everyday wear, and a heap of papers which looked as though Jake had pushed every envelope the Bank had ever sent Chantelle into the boxes. Most importantly, amongst the papers was both a passport and a driving licence, although the address on the driving licence was Jake's flat, and there were no details shown on the passport for next of kin.
"Maybe she doesn't have one," Steve suggested. "She could be an orphan with no known relatives."
"Surely, every orphan has foster or adopted parents now." Mike said.
Steve was unsure, so he shrugged his shoulders. "People die or fall out with each other," he said. "Perhaps she ran away from her parents. Whatever, it means we're no closer to finding a next of kin who can inherit the lottery win."
"Shit!" Mike said. "I was forgetting. When did she die?"
"It was in May 2011. I've got the exact date somewhere." Steve flicked through his notes on his mobile phone.
"Bollocks," Mike said. "Never mind the exact date. The important thing is that the Premium Bond didn't come up until July of that year, so Chantelle was dead when the bond was drawn."
"Does that mean what I think it does?" Steve asked. "The bond terminates with the death of the holder, so the win is null and void?"
Mike nodded. "Yes, I'm afraid it does. I'll have to inform National Savings and arrange the recovery of their money. Which also means I am in deep shit with Justin, who told me to let sleeping dogs lie. Not only does the money not go to our client or her heirs, but neither does the bank get to keep it in a dormant account."
"Well, you were doing your best for the customer..." Steve started to say.
"No Steve. I've crossed the line once too often. Justin's going to fire me when this gets out. Shit! Shit! Shit!"
"Pub's open," Steve said. "Let's go and drown our sorrows."
"Of course," Steve said, after taking the first sips of his glorious ale. "No one else at the Bank knows what we know. Maybe it would be better if I forgot to tell you I'd been to her flat, or even better, if you never asked me to go in the first place. No one is going to know. I'm certain that Jake Stewart will never reveal his involvement, especially now I've relieved him of her clothes."
"You mean," Mike said as he worked it out, "I let the account go dormant. It means I save my job at the expense of the bank holding onto money which, by rights, they shouldn't have."
They both went silent at that point, and concentrated on their excellent pints of ale, which rapidly disappeared. Mike took his turn to go to the bar and replenish them.
"Since there's no next-of-kin," Steve said, giving Mike a roguish grin as he returned to their table, "you and I, Mike, are more worthy to get the dosh than the bank is. Cheers." Steve held up his glass for Mike to chink his against it.
Mike grinned back. "Sounds right to me, but what were you thinking of?"
"It's only joke, you understand," Steve said, "but we could write in to the Bank pretending to be Chantelle and say she's changed her address to my house. After all, I've got all her stuff there. We could send in her passport as ID if it was needed."
Mike shook his head. "That's no good. Since the account is almost dormant, Chanti will need to take her ID to a branch for them to certify they've seen both the ID and her together. Otherwise, you'd get people like you and me walking off with money they didn't own."
"Mmm." Steve considered, as he sipped more beer. "Then we need to find a Chantelle lookalike and send her in."
"And how exactly do you do that? We can hardly advertise for someone who's prepared to do something crooked. What's more important, how can we trust someone sufficiently to bring them into our fiendish plan?"
They drank more beer, and it was Steve's turn to go to the bar.
"I know," he said when he returned, "we have two good photographs of her face. We could use software to create a 3D image, and then use a 3D printer to produce a face mask which looks exactly like her. One of us could wear it when we went to the bank." He snorted at his own humour
"You'd need to produce some kind of bodysuit as well," Mike said, pretending to take him seriously. "You'd look a bit stupid with her face and your body. How tall are you?"
"Five, nine. Why? Do you know Chantelle's height?"
"It was in her passport. She was five feet, eight."
"Close enough," Steve agreed, secretly rather pleased that Mike's six foot height ruled him out from their ridiculous plans.
"Don't you have a 3D printer?"
Steve nodded. "Yes, but it's only a toy. You'd need a serious printer to do this kind of work. Let's have a look on the web." He pulled out his smartphone and started to tap into it.
"Jesus Christ, Mike," Steve said next morning as soon as Mike answered the call. "What were we thinking of yesterday. I think we had far too much to drink. It was a stupid idea."
"Where are you?"
"I'm in a RestEasy Hotel in Seacombe. I got the train down here yesterday afternoon, and I rang up and made an appointment to visit that company in one hour's time."
"You mean Big Busts?"
"Mike, even saying the name embarrasses me. I'm a heterosexual male. How can I go into a place like that?"
"From what you showed me of their website, much of their business is with heterosexual males, so I wouldn't worry on that score."
"But this whole idea is crazy," Steve said. "How can we even consider..."
"Sure it was a crazy idea," Mike interrupted. "We were totally stupid in even talking about as an hypothetical idea. But there was something else about yesterday morning."
"What do you mean?" Steve was suddenly scared.
"I looked at Chantelle's picture and thought she was the most erotic creature I'd ever seen. I immediately fell in love."
"She was certainly very sexy," Steve agreed.
"But you found her clothes even sexier," Mike said. "I could see you were really turned on by them."
"They were very sexy clothes," Steve said.
"I wanted to have sex with her," Mike said. "You wanted to get inside her clothes."
There was a short silence as Steve thought about lying to his friend and decided against.
"So you think I'm a pervert?" he eventually asked.
"Hell! Of course you're not a pervert. People get sexual enjoyment in all kind of ways. It only becomes a perversion when it hurts someone else. Lots of men enjoy dressing as women and there's absolutely no harm in it. It was why I encouraged you to go ahead with this plan."
"It was?" Steve felt a relief sweep through him. "Then that... hypothetical case we discussed..."
"Was just hypothetical," Mike said.
"But we agreed we'd split the cost of... this thing. If it's just for me..."
"But it's not, is it?" Mike said. "Remember, as part of our arrangement, I get to take out the most erotic creature in the world for a meal."
"That's only if this company do what they say," Steve said. "I'm not certain it will work."
"There's only one way to find out, and talking of which, shouldn't you be getting ready to go and see them?"
Steve looked at the clock. "You're right, but Mike, one last thing. That date, it is only a meal. Right?"
Mike laughed. "It always is on a first date, but the man lives in hope and the woman decides."
"Hi Mike," Steve said into the phone. "It's not too late is it? You haven't gone to bed? Only I've just got back home and I didn't want to phone you from the train and let the whole world know what I'm going to tell you."
"From your voice, it sounds as though you were successful," Mike said.
"The company were incredible," Steve said. "They're making up a Chantelle mask for me to order, but they showed me similar items off the shelf. The mask is mostly quite thin material which stretches the face a bit, and then pads it out in other places."
"Hopefully, it has holes for the mouth and nose," Mike said.
"The lips are incredible." Steve effused. "It gave me West Indian lips simply by pulling out my own lips and the material is so thin there - almost like a condom - so you still get full sensation if you run your tongue over your lips. And talking of sensation, they have this feature called Sensotouch on their flesh-coloured bodysuit - that's er, black flesh, of course. I've brought that away with me, by the way. It's in two parts: there are leggings which give me a huge bum and curvy hips, and a thing they call a Torsolet which is like a leotard, but with these huge, Chantelle-sized breasts.
"Not only that," he continued, "there's padding in the gusset which not only covers the Crown Jewels but also provides space for a vagina. This Torsolet gives me a bloody fantastic c..."
"You were saying about Sensotouch," Mike reminded him.
"Oh yes. The skin is covered in a touch-sensitive material and the feel is relayed to tiny electrodes resting against my own body. So if I squeeze my breast…" there was a slight pause, "…I can actually feel my breast being squeezed. It's rather nice actually, as long as it's not squeezed too hard."
"So you're wearing it now?" Mike asked.
"Er… Well, I thought I'd try it on again, just to make certain it fitted properly, you understand?"
"Of course," Mike said, trying not to reveal in his voice the huge grin on his face.
"Look, about that date you were talking about," Steve said. "Why don't we take a few days off as leave, starting Wednesday? The mask should have arrived by then. You could drive over and take me out for lunch."
"Sounds good," Mike said. "I'll book it first thing tomorrow morning."
"Justin won't let me take leave this week," Mike said. "Says I need to give at least a week's notice, although I've told him I'll get all priority work out the way by tomorrow. He replied, 'In that case, you can't have enough work to do. Maybe we should think about redundancy.' The little sod's just been vindictive because he's made that way."
"I had no problems booking my leave," Steve said, "and I think I'll still take it, even though you can't make it. It'll give me a chance to try out my new gear." He hesitated a little, and then, in a fit of rashness added, "In fact, why not come over to my house straight from work on Wednesday evening. If you think I look credible, you can take me out on that date, and then stay the night.
"That's Steve inviting you to stay the night, that is," he quickly added, "not Chantelle."
Steve could hardly contain himself as he walked home from the station. He'd bought several packs of hair remover at lunchtime and on his return home, as he'd hoped, there was a large, discretely wrapped parcel from Big Busts which had been left with a neighbour.
His hands shook slightly as he unwrapped the parcel. Inside was a heavy, one gallon container of black skin dye, a similar tub of dye remover, large tubs of red and green gel, which were used to reduce perspiration beneath the suit, and the Chantelle face mask. He dashed upstairs to the bathroom, throwing his overcoat over the banisters and discarding his jacket, shirt and tie on the floor on the way.
He would use the hair remover on the rest of his body later, but first he carefully shaved his face and neck and then smeared the green gel from the tub all over his face and head. He washed the gel off his hands and then stood in front of the mirror holding the mask before him.
"Goodbye to Steve," he murmured, feeling rather foolish in case it didn't work out as he'd hoped. Then he pulled the mask over his head and down over his chin.
It felt a bit panicky at first, until he'd got his mouth and nose aligned with the holes in the mask. A few seconds later, he could also see, and he could look in the mirror at himself. Or at herself, he realised as he stared into the distorted face of a black woman.
It was now time to start carefully adjusting the fit of the mask on the face. The eyes had to be worked on first, sliding the skin of the mask so it precisely followed the lower line of his eye; then as he released it, it stretched back pulling his eyes open slightly wider. There were false eyelids made of material thinner than a condom, with long eyelashes. It took him ages to get those properly aligned but finally they were done.
He'd been to his optician and bought a pair of brown contact lenses to replace his normal pair, and he now made the switch and looked into a pair of beautiful, wide, brown eyes.
The cheeks were next, and he had to work the mask so that it pulled his own cheeks into rounded mounds. The nose needed little adjustment. It was already flattened by the elastic material, and the padding either side made it wide and flat. The material around the lips had to be fed right inside the mouth. As it stretched back into shape, it pulled his lips into a wide smile, and pouted them out making them look so good that he almost kissed himself in the mirror.
Now, as he stared at his face, he was looking into the face of the woman from the photograph. He was Chantelle.
Except when he glanced down at the rest of his body!
He grinned. He had more work to do.
He used the hair remover over the whole of his body, as advised, and was amazed how sexy it became, particularly his legs. Why did men keep hair on their bodies, he wondered. After that, a shower and then it was time to dye his feet and hands. He sat in the bath and used cotton wool to swab the black skin dye over the bits which would not be covered by the bodysuit – his ankles, feet, wrists and hands, applying less to the palms of his hand and the undersides of his feet. He kept the bodysuit next to him so as to match the exact shade, but they'd emphasised he could always add more dye a little later; the reverse was more difficult.
After the dye had dried, it was time to smear the green gel over his legs and buttocks, then put on the leggings and pull them right up. They added several inches thickness to his buttocks and hips, and swept in a superb curve from his waist down to his thighs with wonderfully rounded knees, and shapely calves. Only the wide slot left for his genitals and anus gave away the game, and he'd never seen his penis more erect.
Then, he had to pull the Torsolet over his head and down his body. He spread the green gel over the upper part of his body and then fed his head through the opening and pulled it down until it was level with his groin.
Rather than providing its normal gratification, he ran ice-cold water into a tooth mug and then dunked his testicles into it; his penis, poor thing, shrank to almost nothing. He fed everything into a little pocket on the underside of the Torsolet's gusset and then pulled the gusset between his legs and fastened it in place.
The final task was to locate the wig in place. Then he looked in the mirror.
This time, it was a complete Chantelle who smiled back at him. A sexy black woman with Jessica Rabbit curved hips and bum, and gorgeously large tits which quivered and jiggled with every tiny movement he made.
"Hello beautiful," he started to say, but now it was his voice which let him down. He found the bottle of voice-changer liquid, and drank a little as instructed. It felt like it was burning out his throat, but when the pain was over, all the deep notes in his voice had disappeared, leaving it shrill and much quieter. He'd have to practice to get it right, but now when he spoke into the mirror, no one could dispute it was a female speaking.
He realised he hadn't eaten since a rapidly swallowed sandwich at lunchtime, and now felt ravenously hungry. It was time to microwave one of the convenience meals he kept in the fridge.
But of course, he hadn't done his normal Sunday shop, and since then he'd been feeding on the few leftovers in his kitchen. He'd been meaning to buy something at lunchtime for this evening, but had forgotten. The cupboard was completely bare.
The panic hit him in the stomach; he would have to go out to the mini-supermarket, fifteen minutes' walk away. He'd have to change back to Steve, but it had taken him two hours from arriving home to transform himself to Chantelle. He couldn't simply slip out of his Chantelle body in order to go to the shops. Apart from anything else, his hands were black, his face white and he spoke like a girl. But the idea of putting on some of Chantelle's clothes and going out in her body was terrifying.
It wasn't even going out as some insignificant-looking woman whom no one would notice as she walked down the road. This was going out as a sex bombshell. It was turned nine o'clock; by this time, there'd be gangs of blokes wandering from pub to pub who at the very least would jeer at her wobbling tits, and at the worst...
He could get the car out and drive to a local filling station with a store, but the police were very hot on drink driving around his area and he'd had a couple of glasses of wine over the evening. Suppose he was stopped. Even if he passed the breathalyser, they would do a check on the insured driver, discover it was not Chantelle Pankhurst, and he'd be arrested!
"Come on, Chanti," he said in his new voice. "You're thirty eight years old. You've spent your lifetime with this body, facing these situations on a daily basis. You survived on the streets until you stupidly went to some weirdo's house, and you'll continue to survive, provided you don't do stupid things.
The words calmed him. He wasn't a man dressed as a woman. He was Chantelle. This was just a normal evening of her life. She grinned at herself in the mirror.
Steve had always dressed according to convention, in order to blend in with others. He wore a smart suit for work; he'd put on jeans and tee shirt around the house or to go out to the pub; he'd wear a casual jacket when going to the theatre.
But Chantelle obviously dressed to attract. Clearly, there were her street girl clothes, which simply screamed out Sex! But even her normal clothes were designed to show off her assets to their very best. There were no clothes that even attempted to make her look insignificant.
Her bras were simply a shelf on which to rest her breasts, reducing the considerable strain on her shoulders whilst at the same time pushing them out even further and doing nothing to stop them jiggling and quivering with every movement. Her jeans were tight and precisely followed the curve of her hip around to her waist. Even her coat was nipped in at the waist to accentuate her hourglass figure. Thankfully, since she was tall for a woman, she'd several pairs of shoes with heels that were a mere(!) two inches. Steve could even squeeze his feet into them, but they made him totter about helplessly.
Steve looked in the hall mirror; he couldn't go out like this. The frightened girl staring back suddenly smiled. Yes she could.
It was about a mile to the mini market, a walk Steve would normally do and barely notice it, but as Chantelle he noticed everything. He noticed the look the solitary man gave him as they passed each other in the street; he heard the wolf whistle from some teenagers standing on a corner; he saw the way two women turned their noses up and their heads away as Chantelle wobbled past; and he heard one guy say to his mates, "Fucking hell! I could shag the arse off that."
By the time he reached the mini market his calves were aching like crazy at his unnatural walking stance and all he wanted to do was to sit down, take off his shoes and massage his legs and ankles. But now he could be clearly seen in the lighted shop, he attracted even more attention than in the darkness. The giggling teenagers, the leering men and the scornful women were all in there, and there were only five people in the shop, six if you counted the Jamaican owner. Normally, he'd barely say a word to the white, middle-aged, middle-class Steve other than to tell him the cost of his goods. This time, he gave a wide smile and a greeting, asked how she was, told her he hadn't seen her around before and asked whether she lived close by. Steve realised that he'd have to say a lot more than his normal "Thanks" at the end of the transaction. But clearly, the man had not a clue that the tall busty black woman he was trying to chat up was actually a white middle-aged man. Steve caught sight of himself in the mirror behind the man, a rather scared looking black woman, who suddenly relaxed and grinned at him.
"Hi," she said. "I'm staying with my new man."
The man grinned at her and told her that as soon as she was fed up with him she should come back to his shop. Chantelle had had her first conversation and not been outed.
The walk home was much more painful on her legs, she got jeered and wolf whistled rather more than on the outward journey, including having to walk directly past a large group of blokes, but the terror was gone. Attractive women had to endure this kind of banter all day long in this kind of area, they got used to it.
When Steve got back inside his house and stared into the hall mirror, he couldn't stop Chantelle from giving him a huge smile.
"This is a great restaurant, Mike," Chantelle said. "I haven't been here before."
One of the things about London that served to make it almost habitable were the large commons – huge areas of parkland – which had remained untouched as London had grown around them. Mike and Chantelle were in a superb restaurant which faced directly onto the common which, whilst only a few miles from Steve's home, he rarely visited.
"I've come here occasionally with business clients," Mike said. "I thought I'd treat the beautiful woman I'm taking out in the way she deserves to be treated. I still can't believe that somewhere underneath all that lovely black skin is…"
"Schh!" Chantelle said. "Don't give away the secrets of my femininity." She smiled. "It's rather nice being treated so nicely. I guess I could get used to it." Hell! Steve thought, that's an understatement. I feel better now than I've ever felt in my life. I want this to go on forever.
"You look very natural," Mike said, this time lowering his voice so the other diners wouldn't hear. "As though you'd always been Chantelle. Have you ever been on the stage? You'd make a superb actor."
"I don't feel as though I am acting," Chantelle whispered back. "I've simply kept telling myself all day that I am who I am, rather than the person I used to be. I'm obviously quite inexperienced in lots of areas, but I'm learning.
"Like telling my dates to stop staring at my cleavage and look into my eyes," she smirked at him.
"Sorry." Mike had the grace to blush. "I'm letting my imagination roam."
"You'll be telling me you want to have sex with me, next," Chantelle said.
"Oh God!" Mike said. "There's nothing I want more."
"Really?" It was Steve who'd said that, rather than Chantelle. "You really think of me as a sexy black woman?"
Mike shook his head. "Don't ask me to explain it, but yes, I do."
Chantelle couldn't help but smirk some more.
"You're not upset with my suggestion," Mike observed.
"I'm not shocked," Chantelle said, "but that doesn't mean you're going to get your own way."
"Of course not."
All the same, she thought (or was it Steve thought?), perhaps I wouldn't mind experimenting with my sexuality. As long as it was Mike who did the persuasion and she… Well, she lay back and thought of England! Alternatively, she could turn up the Sensotouch to maximum and enjoy being shagged.
Just then, the waiter brought their starters to the table and they began to enjoy a great meal together.
They were in the process of leaving, the waiter was fetching Chantelle's coat whilst inside her surged an excitement which Steve hadn't felt since he lost his virginity. Soon he would lose it again.
"Hello, it's Mike isn't it?"
They both turned to see a buxom young woman with long blonde hair staring at Mike. Mike vaguely recognised her, but couldn't quite…
"It's Kimberley," she said. "Justin's wife. We live a few miles away from here but you're way off your beaten path."
"Oh, hi, Kimberley. It's been a few years since we met."
"Justin used to work for you in those days," she said, giving him a condescending smile, "and now you work for him." Not waiting for a reply, she waved to a group of similar women who had just entered the restaurant. "We're on a girls' night out."
Mike waved a hand towards Steve. "This is my friend, Chan..."
"Of course I remember Chantelle from the time before when I saw you here," Kimberley interrupted. "After all, she's hardly the kind of woman one could forget in a hurry. Presumably she's quite expensive. Justin must be paying you too much." She gave a quick smile to show she was joking, really – a smile that fooled no one. Perhaps realising she had overstepped the mark, she said a curt, "Bye," and followed her friends across the restaurant to their table.
"Sorry about that," Mike said. "It seems Kimberley is just as much a bitch as her husband."
"What did she mean, she remembers me from the last time you met?" Steve (definitely not Chantelle) asked.
"Oh, she must be confusing you with someone else," Mike said.
"But she knew Chantelle's name," Steve persisted.
"I introduced you as Chantelle. That's how she knew her name."
"So was she confusing me with your wife? I didn't know she was West Indian."
"It must have been a customer," Mike said.
"Oh, no, Mike, Not even Kimberley would be that offensive to a customer."
"Well, I don't know, then. Let's go." Mike marched out through the door and Steve had to follow him.
It was five minutes before their taxi arrived, and they could talk without being overheard.
"You knew Chantelle before she was murdered, didn't you?" Steve said.
Mike realised it was no use denying it so he nodded. "Yes I did. I'm sorry I misled you."
"Misled me! Look at me Mike! You did more than mislead me."
"Sorry. It started out as something small, but it just grew and grew. I don't know how to explain." His voice tailed off, and suddenly Steve was feeling sorry for him.
"Let's go back to my house and you can tell me everything," he said as the taxi rolled up.
"I guess you must have been seeing Chantelle whilst your wife was in hospital," Steve said.
Mike nodded. "I was quite depressed over Jane's illness, and sexually, I was virtually climbing up the wall. Then I saw Chantelle's flyer stuck on a bus shelter. She was the sexiest woman I had ever seen. I just had to meet her.
"It wasn't just sex," he added. "I'd take her out for a meal and we'd chat and joke, and have fun." He shrugged.
"That's when Kimberley saw you," Steve said.
"Yes. I took you to the same restaurant I used to take Chantelle. I hadn't realised Justin lived so close, otherwise wild horses wouldn't have dragged me there."
"And then Chantelle was murdered?"
"It was the same week that Jane died. I was devastated. I almost had a nervous breakdown. By the time I'd climbed out of it, the fuss over Chantelle had died down and I did what Jake Stewart did and kept quiet."
Mike shrugged. "Chantelle's name leapt out at me from a list of accounts about to go dormant. I thought I'd try to find her next of kin – perhaps pay my respects – but was frightened that if I personally followed up the lead I'd give myself away. So I asked you to do it for me."
"But what about the million pounds?" Steve asked. "Hadn't that already rung the bells at the Bank?"
A shake of the head. "There is no million pounds. When you started cross-examining me about the visit, I realised I hadn't properly thought through the cover story. So I made it all up on the spur of the moment."
"There's no million pounds! Then what am I doing dressed like this?"
"I'd say you were fulfilling both your wishes and mine."
The silence lengthened between them before Mike spoke again.
"When I saw how aroused you became as you handled her clothes, ideas formed in my mind. I was preparing to suggest things, but you took the lead all the way. All I really had to do that afternoon was carry on drinking and encourage you."
"Bloody hell, Mike. I just don't know where we stand now."
"I think," Mike said, "it would be better if I went home, now, and we talk by telephone sometime tomorrow."
"Yes," Steve agreed. "I think that would be a good idea."
Chantelle went straight up to bed as soon as Mike left in a taxi. Lying on the bed was the sexy nightdress she had laid out in preparation for their return.
Steve hadn't cried since he was a child, but Chantelle felt her eyes swelling, and suddenly she was uncontrollably sobbing into the pillow.
She felt better next morning, especially after walking to the mini market to purchase some breakfast. She still received the admiring (and indeed, plain lecherous) looks from every male she met along the way, but they just gave her more confidence, as did the verbal jousting with the guy behind the counter. But she only just had enough cash to pay for the cereal and milk she purchased, and she vowed that later that day she would go to the bank with her passport and at the same time tell them she had changed her address. Then she'd be able to get a plastic card which would ease the money situation.
She spent some time sorting through all the unopened mail which Jake had shoved into the boxes. It seemed the money currently in her bank account was £24.68 - a rather nice sum, Chantelle thought. Certainly not enough to raise any suspicions with any banking clerk.
The postman dropped his own post through the letterbox just then. Amongst all the junk mail was a letter from National Savings, a letter Steve recognised from previous occasions when he'd won twenty-five pounds on the Premium Bonds. This win was for rather more than twenty-five pounds although rather less than a million. Still, it was certainly better than a kick up the arse. Steve didn't believe in clairvoyance but surely this was a sign.
Chantelle put on a pretty, but reasonably respectable dress and went out to the local branch of Barkland Bank.
EPILOGUE – FOUR MONTHS LATER
Mike was in his swimming trunks jogging across Seacombe Beach on his way to the sea when he heard someone call a greeting.
"Hello Mike," Justin said. He was sitting on a blanket on the beach with Kimberley and their two children. "Long time, no see. I heard you got married after you retired. Looks like life suits you."
"Justin," Mike said, pausing to look at him but resisting the urge to kick sand into the little shit's face. "What a surprise seeing you here. I thought you normally went to the Caribbean for your summer holidays."
"So did I when I married him," Kimberley said. "Only the bonuses haven't come through yet and we're having trouble paying the bills. And Justin's worried a lot of managers are going to be laid off after that report on the Bank's unethical loans."
"That's tough," Mike said, trying not to grin. "Justin, you haven't met my wife, Chantelle." He waved towards the voluptuous black woman wearing a tiny white bikini who was approaching them. "Chanti, this is my old boss, Justin. You've heard me talk about him in the past."
"I certainly have," Chantelle said, smirking at the way Justin's tongue was hanging out at the sight of her. "I think you even said good things about him once." She laughed at the expression on Justin's face, before turning back to Mike. "Sounds like you and Steve took early retirement just in time."
"Steve Morley?" Justin asked. "Do you see much of him now?"
"Naw," Chantelle said. "We hardly see him at all, do we darling? But I think he has just as much fun as we do." She smiled at Justin.
"With my pension," Mike said, "and Chanti's little Premium Bond win, we fortunately don't have to worry about money anymore so we can fully enjoy our life of leisure. But then it sounds as though you'll also be having a life of leisure soon. Enjoy it."
Chantelle briefly considered saying something to Kimberley as nasty as her remark in the restaurant, but she was above that. Instead, she flicked her head towards the sea, which she knew would produce a delightful wobble in her breasts and make Justin oggle some more. "Shall we go and have our swim, darling. Then we can come back to our beach villa and have a little more Chanti Panky."
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