This was previously published as a serial, in twenty parts. This is the complete story, for the benefit of those who missed it, or prefer to read it as a complete work. It is a long read, at 26,000 words.
Rarely had a person been born with such an inappropriate surname. Benny Fortune had endured many years of so-called jokes about that, usually the old chestnut, “I would change that name if I were you!” This was always followed by an earache-inducing guffaw, as the bad comedian laughed at his own wit. It did have some uses. Lots of people thought it might be Jewish, especially Jewish people. They also thought that Benny was short for Benjamin, confirming their suspicions that he was one of the chosen people. Benny didn’t mind that at all, as that supposition had earned him a good few quid over the years.
But the Benny in his case was actually Benedict, and Fortune had been his father’s name. Not his real, original name of course, but a legal one, changed by deed-poll. He had been an actor of some standing, at least for a while, the star of a popular comedy drama that had run for six series on television. The kids at school would say things like “Is that really your Dad?”, or more usually, “What, that Mark Fortune on the telly? I hate him”. If Dad had changed his name expecting to make his fortune, it hadn’t worked. When the acting jobs dried up, he wasn’t good for much else other than womanising and drinking, and was dead before he made it to fifty. Mum had got married again long before, and as soon as they got the chance, they cleared off to Canada, taking his younger sister along.
Benny didn’t mind at all. He had never liked his boring step-dad, and his little sister Kelly drove him mad. Plus, he got to live with his Nan, and she was great. She read books to him, and made him read others on his own. She took him to the theatre, and art galleries too. She told him she was what was known as a Bohemian, and he guessed that meant that she smoked too many fags, wore clothes unsuitable for her age, had too much make-up on, and copped off with lots of blokes whenever she got the chance. But the biggest clue was that she didn’t own a television. She made a lot of that, always saying “At least I was spared the horror of watching my son humiliate himself”. She said that at least twice a week, and Benny was sure they were going to be her last words. But he was in the flat when she died, and her actual last words had been “I think I need a shit”. Not something for a headstone, so just as well she was cremated. There was never mention of a granddad, and Benny wasn’t in the least surprised about that.
With encouragement from Nan, he did exceptionally well at school. Well enough to be frequently teased and picked on by the dumber boys. His head spent so much time being flushed in the toilets, that he seriously considered taking shampoo in his school bag, to save using the water at home. It didn’t help that they had no telly of course. All the other kids talked about what was on last night, who was who in the latest must-see series, and who had scored in the football over the weekend. After a while, everybody knew not to ask his opinion, and he didn’t really make many friends. Still, being on your own meant whiling away the time with studying, and even his favourite teacher was blown away when he got five A-levels, all with top grades.
It seemed he could pick and choose from any university he fancied, but he had chosen University College, London, as he could walk there from Nan’s place in Camden Town, and they readily offered him a place to study English. Nan took him out for a meal to celebrate, the Greek place on the one-way system, plate-smashing and everything. She even got up and did the Greek dancing with a waiter, but he shied away when she grabbed his bum and wiggled her tongue at him. Benny had smiled. That bloke had a lucky escape, Nan had told him she was hot to trot that night, and well up for some nookie.
But university wasn’t what Benny had expected. For one thing, there were no Londoners at London University. Most of them seemed to come from nice posh places around the country, or from China and India. And most of them had money. Lots of it. They lived in flats paid for by their families, and didn’t need to work to get by. The biggest shock was that there was no fun. Nobody went out for a drink, and he didn’t see a hint of all that promiscuity he had been led to expect. It wasn’t until the end of the first year that he had finally cracked it with a girl, and he had to admit she had drunk so much Tequila, she was borderline unconscious when they actually did it in her bedsit. Well he had mostly done it to her, to be honest. But she had taken off her underwear earlier, so consent was ‘implied’, as they say in the Courts. He saw it as a win-win, for both of them. She wouldn’t remember going all the way with an ugly bloke, and he was no longer a virgin.
He didn’t go back for the second year, so became an official drop-out. He used to say that should be the occupation on his passport. If he ever got a passport of course. There was a sit down chat with Nan, about not going back. Her opinion mattered to him, and he wanted to do the decent thing. She saw right through him of course, that was obvious. But the bottom line was that she loved him. He offered a sweetener, by way of softening the blow. “I spoke to Cozy, Nan. You know, the guy whose stall I have been running at weekends. He said if I want to take it on, I can. He wants to go back to Morocco, and says he will take forty percent. I can send the money to him from the Post Office every month. Nan thought about it for less than ten seconds. “So, you will have your own business then?” Benny nodded. “That’s about the size of it, Nan”. She pointed at the chair in the corner. “Fetch my handbag, we’ll go and have a drink to celebrate”.
That night, Benny put his university days behind him, and became a market trader in one of the most fashionable street markets in Europe.
It was all very well having a business to run, but that meant being up in the morning, to open up. Getting out of bed had never been one of Benny’s skills, and despite Nan moaning at him, he wasn’t developing it. She had got him up the first day, but had delivered a warning over breakfast. “Don’t think I will be doing this anymore, Benny. I am nearly seventy years old, and my getting up early days are long gone. After this, it’s up to you. Set an alarm on your phone thingy or something. You’ve got to learn to stand up for yourself, I won’t always be here”. He had apologised, but wasn’t that bothered. Most of the business in the market didn’t get moving until well after midday, once the tourists found their way to the underground station at Camden Town from wherever they were staying. He might have to shake himself up at weekends though. That was the busy time, and the stall took seventy-five percent of its takings in those two days.
Trouble was, Friday night was Nan’s pulling night. She would get dressed up, and go out drinking early. She favoured the pubs off the beaten track, the ones where the locals preferred to drink. Less crowded, and more familiar faces. It was hard to believe, but she almost always returned with a bloke. Sometimes they were a lot younger, and quite presentable. What they saw in an old woman wearing a too-short, low-cut purple dress, combined with day-glo yellow fishnet tights, and wearing enough make-up to qualify as a Kabuki dancer, he had no idea. And that was before you factored in the cone of dyed-red hair, piled up on top of her head like a wobbly wasp’s nest. But pull she did, and rarely came home alone. The noise of her sexual antics sounded like a couple of excitable school kids trying to kill a terrified pig, and when he was younger, he had started the habit of ‘headphones night’. He would go to bed on a Friday wearing the headphones from the stereo midi-system, and keep them on. He would have to carry on doing that, if he was ever going to get up early on Saturdays.
Running a business full time wasn’t something that featured in an academic English curriculum. Benny soon realised that you were either cut out for it, or you weren’t. There were some significant problems to deal with; the first being that he couldn’t drive, and didn’t have a car. Cozy stored his surplus stock in a lock-up two streets away, which didn’t seem very far, until you had to carry a box of six large pierced-metal lamps from there to the stall. The solution was obvious, he slipped the next door stall-holder a few quid to go to the lock-ups with her in the van, then stuffed the shop with enough bits and bobs to last a month. Like most small businesses in that market, it had doors you could lock at night, so you were spared having to get everything back to the lock-up. The amount of stuff made it unappealing to customers of course, and they were reluctant to weave their way in and out of the piles of stock, just to have a look at a rug or ornament they had spotted. Benny didn’t catch on, he just thought it was a slow week.
Something else about running a business escaped him too. Takings were not wages. You couldn’t just spend everything in the till at the end of the day. But he felt cash-rich, and did just that. One night, he treated Nan to a special meal in the achingly trendy restaurant, Gilgamesh. It was a new-style fusion place, but Nan called it a ‘Chinese’. She put on what she declared were her ‘special best’ clothes for the occasion, emerging from the bedroom like a vision of a faded Hollywood star. Gloria Swanson would have paled by comparison. She flung her arms out, and winked at him. “What do you reckon? Monroe, eat your heart out, or what?”
Benny surveyed his beloved grandmother, taking in the scene before him. The flared black dress was see-through on the cleavage and sleeves, and hovered a few inches above her knees. She finished off the ensemble with a pair of seamed stockings, and her swollen feet were crammed into some black velvet high heels that she could just about stay upright in. The eye make up was a tribute to Dusty Springfield, with false eyelashes, and something thick and black that resembled fresh tar on roadworks. She did a twirl for him, wafting an unusual aroma of heavy cheap perfume, combined with a trace of urine. Benny did the decent thing. “Wow, Nan. You look like a million dollars. You are gonna knock ’em dead.”
And Benny forgot to send any money to Cozy. Well not forgot exactly, just chose not to. Besides, he had spent most of it, so Cozy would have been less than happy with what was left. It just didn’t occur to him that his partner was still paying the market fees, and was responsible for the taxes. The business was in his name, after all, and Benedict Fortune didn’t appear on any of the paperwork. In many respects, Benny didn’t exist. He wasn’t on Nan’s rent book, or the electoral roll. He had forgotten to apply for a national insurance card, and hadn’t even registered with a local doctor. In a world obsessed with identity and credit rating, Benny was on the outside of it all.
The staff at Gilgamesh didn’t bat an eyelid when they turned up. This was Camden after all, and people like Nan were the norm, rather than the exception. But the customers had a good look at her, as she tottered to the table, supporting herself on Benny’s shoulder. As soon as they sat down, she kicked off the shoes, and rubbed her stockinged feet vigorously. “They weren’t the best idea, Benny love. They’ve crucified my poor feet. I know it’s not far, but we might have to get a cab back”. Two gay blokes on the next table were transfixed on Nan as she twirled her legs around. One of her stocking tops was fully visible when she crossed her legs, and the metal suspender glinted in the lights. Nan turned and leaned over to them. “Like what you see, boys? Wait until I have had my dinner, and I’ll take you both on, no problem”. They snapped up their menus, and pretended to browse the selection, avoiding her gaze. Nan winked at Benny. “No takers. Perhaps they think you’re my toy boy”. Nan didn’t get the gay thing. To her, a bloke was a bloke, and fair game.
She didn’t reckon much to the food, and thought the portions were too small. When a waiter as thin as an anorexic brought the main course, she looked up and said, “We’ve already had our starters love. These must be for someone else”. Realising that was in fact the meal, she shook her head. “Oh well, we can always get a kebab on the way home”. Nan had enough gin and tonics to float a battleship, so when the bill came, Benny could just cover it, even having to use the change in his pockets, much to the unconcealed scorn of Mr Skinny, who knew he wasn’t going to get a tip. Nan flagged a cab down by lifting up her dress, and waving a leg around. She was carrying her shoes, and Benny never saw that pair again.
Luckily, she had enough in her purse to pay the driver.
Nan answered the phone before he could tell her not to. It was Hamza, Cozy’s brother. He still lived in the family home near Ladbroke Grove, and had been tasked by his brother to see what was happening with the business. Benny wasn’t good at being evasive. He had never been a natural liar, though a few weeks on the stall was a good education in that. Hamza didn’t really want the hassle of sorting out his younger brother’s business, and made that clear. “Just send Omar his money, and stop messing about. Don’t make me come over to Camden to see you”. For a moment, Benny wondered who Omar was, then it dawned on him that was Cozy’s real name. “Sure thing, Hamza. Leave it to me. I will be sending some money this week. It’s just that business has been slow. No need for you to come over, no need at all”.
He hadn’t even convinced himself, and was relieved when Hamza said “Pleased to hear it”, and hung up.
At the end of trading, he totted up the takings. Less than one-fifty, but better than a slap in the face with a wet fish, as Nan always said. He would send Cozy the hundred from the Post Office, and keep the rest to give Nan for the food bill. She had talked about going to see a new play at The Donmar Warehouse, but he would have to put that off for now. But on the way to the Post Office, Benny forgot all about why he was going there, and became distracted by some music booming out from a tiny half shop in Chalk Farm Road. He knew the guy who ran it, Edgar. He was a Rasta, and a familiar figure around the area. His record shop specialised in West Indian music; Reggae, Ska, and Bluebeat. Benny went inside to listen to the rest of the track. Edgar nodded at him, and continued to stand behind the tiny counter, rocking almost imperceptibly. He was smoking a spliff the size of a baguette, and surrounded by a cloud of pungent dope smoke. Openly breaking two laws, without a care in the world.
“That’s a good one, Edgar. Who was that? Have you got a copy for sale?” The older man reacted slowly. He smoked so much weed, he seemed to live life at a different pace to everyone else. Slow motion. His grey dreadlocks were housed in a huge Rasta hat, a woolen arrangement the size of a pillowcase that hung down his back and bobbed slightly as he spoke. Benny thought it looked a bit like the alien queen’s head in the film ‘Aliens’, but wisely chose not to mention that comparison. “It’s ED-GARR, boy. I keep telling you, not ‘Ed-ger’”. He rolled the Rs with a natural drawl. Although he had been born in Harlesden, the man was more Jamaican than Bob Marley. He seemed pleased that the young white boy liked the record. “Them’s The Skatalites, boy, before you were born. Yours for ten pound”. Benny was an easy customer, so by the time he left Edgar’s small shop, he had parted with sixty quid for six albums, and was keen to get home and play them on the midi-system.
Cozy’s money had slipped his mind.
Nan enjoyed the music too, and jigged around the living room doing some sort of dance that looked very cool, in her head at least. She was wearing lace-sided leggings and an oversized t-shirt, but her velcro-fastening slippers were not helping the footwork. “This takes me back, love. Smart clothes in the 60s, and some great times at the clubs. Those black guys knew how to woo a woman, I can tell you”. He had seen photos of her back then. She was very attractive in her youth, a mixture of flower power love-child, and swinging sixties model. She made no secret of her past, including having posed for some dodgy glamour magazines, and even appearing in a few soft porn videos, during the heady days at the start of the VHS tape phenomenon. Dad had said he was ashamed of her, and would never talk about it. But Nan loved to reminisce, and once Benny was living in her flat, she was keen to show him what she called her ‘box of treasures’.
The old suitcase was stuffed full of magazines, and loads of loose eight by ten glossies. She wasn’t at all embarrassed to show them to him, though she did take out the VHS tapes, and put them to one side. “Maybe not these, love, not until you are much older”. He had been surprised to discover that her modelling career extended well into her fifties, in magazines with titles like ’50 Plus’, and ‘Treasure Chests’. She casually flicked open a centrefold, showing her huge breasts dangling down in front, as she pretended to be a French maid doing some dusting. “I was nearly fifty then Benny. They loved me. I even had my own fan club, used to answer their letters at the back. Well, not me as such, one of the staff did it. But I loved what he wrote”. She closed the case, and a wistful look passed across her face. “Anytime you want to have a look at these again, the case is on the bottom of my biggest wardrobe. Help yourself, I don’t mind. But promise me you won’t watch any of those videos when I’m out”. Benny promised her, and didn’t watch them.
There was only so much his young mind could take in at the time.
When the record finished, Nan was out of breath, and sat down heavily next to him on the sofa. “Phew, that puffed me out, love. But I enjoyed it”. She turned her head and planted a big smacker on his cheek. Benny felt overwhelmed with love for the funky old lady. “Why don’t I ring up about that play, Nan. See if I can get tickets for tonight?”
He got two tickets, and arranged to pay on collection at the box office. Cheap ones, on the side, near the back. Restricted View they called it. No view, Nan said. But she didn’t mind, as she thought the play was overrated and pretentious. At the intermission, she balked at the price of the drinks. “Tell you what, Benny love, let’s skip the second half, and go back to Quinn’s for a drink. They have Irish music tonight”. Benny nodded, hoping he had enough left to buy a round.
Not long after he had turned eighteen, Nan decided it was time to show Benny one of her videos. Because she didn’t have a television, she knocked next door, and asked to borrow the set owned by Mr O’Brien. He hardly watched it anymore, as his cataracts were getting bad. As well as that, he had emphysema, so just sat all day staring into space, inhaling oxygen from a tube connected to some cylinders. He only removed the mask to take puffs on his cigarettes, ignoring the warnings that they could ignite the gas, and blow up his flat. Nan got him bits of shopping when she was out and about, so he was happy to oblige. Benny wheeled it in, as it was screwed to a stand with tiny black rollers at the bottom. Nan told him where the old VHS player was, stored in box on top of a chest of drawers in her bedroom, and he connected it up with a dusty scart lead he found with it.
Nan handed him the film she had chosen, and sat back smiling on the sofa, patting the cushion next to her, indicating where he should sit. As the static crackled on screen, she folded her arms and smiled. “One of my favourites. I was good in this one, if I say so myself”. The film certainly had pretensions. It began with the title ‘Miss Baxter’s Finishing School For Girls: A Tony Cooper Production’, followed by a cast list, and credits for director and cameraman. Unsurprisingly, both were Tony Cooper. The action started with a woman, obviously Nan, in a shabby school classroom set. She was dressed as a teacher, wearing a ridiculously old-fashioned outfit, complete with a mortar board hat. Benny turned to her. “I didn’t see your name, Nan. Didn’t you get a mention?” Nan grinned. “I was ‘Betty Baxter’ in this one, love. Lilian Thwaite is hardly the sort of name for this type of film, and besides, nobody uses their real name”.
Benny watched as the clunky action unfolded. Three other women entered, all dressed in what were meant to be schoolgirl outfits, leaving little to the imagination of the viewer. It didn’t help that two were at least the same age as Nan, and the blonde looked much older than her supposed teacher. Nan’s character told the girls off for doing something wrong, and said they needed to be punished. That took the form of Nan pulling off most of their clothes, as she snogged them, and fondled their bits. When they were left wearing next to nothing, Nan produced a small cane, and pretended to cane them on their behinds. But it was pretty obvious she wasn’t really hitting them, despite their screams and tears. The second sequence involved them turning on Nan, stripping her off, and having their way with her. It faded out just before the action got too blue.
Benny was relieved when it was over, and grateful it had only lasted for twenty minutes. Watching a soft-porn film with your Nan was an unusual experience, to say the least, but when she was starring in it, naked apart from stockings and suspenders, ‘uncomfortable’ was the word that came to mind. He didn’t really know what to say when she asked him, “So, what did you think of it?” Benny thought for a while before answering. “You were great, Nan. Not so sure about the other girls though, their acting was crap”. Nan seemed pleased. “In all fairness, acting ability didn’t count for much in Tony’s films. Long legs or big tits were the main talents he was looking for”. Benny ejected the cassette, and unplugged the television. He would have quite liked to have hung onto it for a while, and watched ‘University Challenge’ that evening. See how many questions he got right. But Nan wouldn’t have that, so he wheeled it back next door, and thanked Mr O’Brien.
When he got back, he headed for his bedroom, but Nan wanted to talk to him. “Now you are old enough, I can tell you something you need to know, Benny love. One of the reasons I showed you that film was because of Tony Cooper. He was your grandfather, though he never knew. We got carried away after filming one afternoon, and Mark was the result. I had known Tony since my teens. He started as a photographer, then moved on to making videos. He had a lot of respect in that industry”. Benny pondered the concept of having respect for someone who was average at photographing girls in the all-together, then went on to make crap films like that one. But he let that slide. “So, where is he now, Nan?” She grinned. “Long dead love, and good riddance to be honest. But I thought you should know”.
In his room, stretched out on the old candlewick bedspread, Benny contemplated his pedigree. A Nan who had been a porn actress of sorts, and a granddad who worked in the same grubby industry. His dad had been a failed actor, drunkard, and all-round nasty bastard, and his long-suffering mum had cleared off to the other side of the world, leaving her first born to be raised by her mother-in-law. Not exactly the best start in life.
It was amazing he had got this far.
When the phone started ringing, he leapt off armchair, moving fast to get to it. But Nan beat him to it. No matter how many times he asked her not to, she always answered it instead of letting it ring. Still, it was her flat after all, and her phone. She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s for you. Some foreign bloke. He sounds grumpy”. His heart sank when he heard Hamza’s voice. Despite his London accent, he did also sound foreign, something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. “I have heard from Omar. He hasn’t got the money. So I am going to come round and collect it in person, and I will be taking back the keys to the shop too. You had better be in”. Benny tried to sound casual. “Hasn’t got the money? I sent it, so I had better go and check with the Post Office, and call you back. No need to take the keys back, Hamza, it’s just been quiet at the market. Things will pick up”. Hamza wasn’t having any of it. “I will be there in thirty minutes. You had better be there, and have the money and keys”.
Nan wasn’t as silly as she sometimes looked. She quizzed Benny about the phone call, and he broke down and told her the truth. “How much are you in for, love?” She sounded kind, not in the least annoyed. Benny shrugged. “He might settle for two hundred, Nan. But he wants the keys too”. She stood up, reaching over for her cigarettes. “Leave this Hamza to me love. I will sort him out. Put the keys on the coffee table, and make yourself scarce. I will tell him something, don’t worry. And never mind about the shop, something will turn up”.
Benny left her the keys, and gave her a hug before going out. He had an idea where to hide for the rest of the day, but not a clue what he was going to do for money now.
It had taken no time at all for him to go bust.
Lilian put her face on while she was waiting for the bloke to arrive. Not that she wasn’t already wearing make-up of course, but the full slap wouldn’t hurt. She wasn’t scared of these Moroccans. In her day, she had dealt with many shady characters, and she wasn’t about to take any shit from anyone. She had fifteen tenners hidden in her stocking drawer, wrapped up in an old pair of woolly tights. He would have to settle for one-fifty and the keys, she would make that clear.
Benny left the flat in Plender Street for the short walk south to Crowndale Road. He would go and see if Big Linda was in. She wouldn’t mind him hanging around there until Hamza had cleared off. He would give it a few hours, then ring Nan to see if the coast was clear. When he arrived, he could see her through the kitchen window of the ground floor flat, doing something at the sink. Not bothering to ring the bell, he caught her attention, and waved. Moments later, the door opened, and Linda stood back to let him in. “Well, if it’s not the gorgeous young Benny. What brings you here?” He grinned, knowing full well he was far from gorgeous. But it was nice of her to greet him like that. He went with the truth. “Some guy I owe money to is coming looking for me. I need to be away from the flat for a few hours, if that’s alright”. She headed back into the kitchen. “Fine with me, it’s nice to have the company. Go through and sit down, I’ll put the kettle on. I have to be at work by six though”.
He knew Big Linda from the market. She helped out in the central cafe for a few hours each day, one of a few cash in hand jobs she had. The woman was a grafter. As well as getting up early to help prepare a flower stall, she did the cafe job during the lunch rush, then worked in the evenings, cleaning offices up the Euston Road. Despite her familiar name, Linda wasn’t that big. But her boobs were. It could have been argued with conviction that they entered a room a full three seconds before the rest of her, and when he had met her the first time, he couldn’t take his eyes off them. Someone should surely have asked the Guinness Book Of Records to investigate, as she was a potential record-breaker. She even introduced herself that way, thrusting her chest out, and adding, “I’m sure you can tell why I’m called that”. It had taken him a good while to get used to them, but he was relaxed about the gargantuan jugs by now, and able to chat normally.
Linda hadn’t had it easy, but she rarely complained. She had a one-night stand with Edgar from the record shop when she was seventeen, and a year later, she was stuck with his baby, who he wanted to be called Cedric, after some relative in Jamaica. Mum had chucked her out over it, and Edgar was too stoned to ever take any responsibility, let alone part with any cash for the child. So she had done her best as a single Mum, got a flat off the Council, and worked around childcare, nursery, then school. But Cedric turned out to be a wayward son. For one thing, he didn’t like his name, and started to refer to himself just as ‘C’, as soon as he was old enough. Then he started skipping school, and got in with some right tearaways all the way over on the Packington Estate, in Islington. She couldn’t manage him, and he was soon in and out of Young Offender Units, with the cops at the flat all the time. Edgar came up with the idea to send him off to live with his distant uncle in Jamaica, and he had jumped at the chance. She hadn’t heard from him in years.
As she asked him various questions about what had happened to cause his current situation, Benny gave Linda a good visual examination, the first time he had really looked at her. He reckoned she was around twice his age, but her round face and fleshy body made her skin look good, and took a good few years off. Her hair was the same as it always was, drawn up tightly around her head, then sticking up on top, tied with some elastic contraption. The end result was something like the top of a pineapple, if a pineapple had its roots showing through a yellow-blonde dye job. Her eyebrows were plucked within a hair of existence, and arched so severely, she looked permanently surprised. Her hips and thighs appeared to be trying to escape from the three-quarter length jeans, and an ill-advised low-cut short top failed to conceal the roll of belly that bulged between its hem, and the waistband of her jeans.
On her left tit, he could clearly see a well-rendered tattoo of the cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. She had seen him clock it, and looked down. “You spotted my Bugs? I was gonna get a carrot on the right one, but never got around to it”. Benny smiled, and said nothing, so Linda grabbed her chest, and pushed it together, creating a cleavage resembling a crevasse in a glacier. “See? It would have been on this side, and when they were squeezed together, it would have looked like he was eating it. You know, What’s up, Doc? Chomp Chomp”. Benny didn’t really know, but he enjoyed the demonstration.
Lilian let the Arabic bloke in. He was wearing a white tracksuit, and jingling keys on a Mercedes key ring. “Benny had to go to the doctor’s, he’s not been at all well. But he left your money, and the keys to the shop”. Her tone was flat, not friendly, and not rude either. Hamza looked at the old woman with undisguised distaste. She was dressed in just a black nylon full slip, and he could see her underwear through it. Her dark tights were laddered and holed, and she had no shoes or slippers on her podgy feet. He had never seen a woman wearing so much make up, and her perfume made him want to sneeze. He stepped back, reluctant to be too close to her.
When she handed over the money and keys, Hamza glanced down at the small bundle of notes. “Who are you lady, his mother? This is not enough, I want twice this”. Lilian kept her cool. “Better than his Mum, I’m his grandmother. And I’m saying there is no more. As he told, you, it’s been quiet. That’s all there is, so take it, and piss off”. Hamza didn’t like to hear a woman swear, and even less so when they were swearing at him. “Look you’re an old lady, and my people respect old ladies. So don’t make me turn nasty, I’ll just wait until Benny comes home”. He sat down heavily on the sofa, and stretched out his legs. Lilian had expected that, and was ready.
She stepped back, lifted her left leg, and tore a huge hole in the ladder already there. Then she reached below her left arm, and pulled at the seam of the ancient slip. It came apart easily, exposing the lacy bra cup underneath. “So it goes like this mate. I start screaming, and my neighbours call the police. I tell them you forced your way into my flat, pulled me down on the sofa, and tried to sexually assault me. You ripped my slip, tore at my tights, and only stopped when I started screaming. You car is a Mercedes, and I’m sure the number plate will be on CCTV. Besides, you will be on the camera covering the entrance to the flats. The fabric from your clothes and shoes is on my sofa and carpets, and once I start screaming, the neighbours are going to see you running away”. She folded her arms.
He sneered. “Yeah, like who is going to think I tried to have sex with an old witch like you? Scream if you want, I don’t care”. She shook her head slowly. “Think about it. Do you really want to chance it in court? Take the money and keys, and forget you ever heard of Benny. You know it makes sense”. He thought about it for a few seconds, snatched up the money and keys, then stormed out the flat without a word.
Linda looked down at Benny’s face, his head nestled under her left arm. She smiled as he caught her gaze. “Well Benny boy, that cleared my sinuses, and ended the drought too. It’s been longer than I care to remember, I can tell you”. He nodded, unsure what to say. “It was very nice, Lin. Honest”. She moved her head back, feigning upset. “Well I should hope so. I don’t just jump into bed with anyone you know”. It took some effort to lift his right leg up around her hip, but when he pulled her in his direction, she spoke quietly. “Ready for more, eh? Well, just a quick one. I have to be at work soon soon love”.
He had been surprised when she made her move, as it had never really entered his head that she might be interested in him, at least in that sense. One minute they were talking about her tattoo, and the next she had decided to show him her eye-popping assets, before straddling him on the sofa, and almost suffocating him with those immense mammaries. By the time they got through to the bedroom, Linda had already pulled off her jeans and panties, then made short work of undressing him. He couldn’t deny it had all been very pleasurable, and considering his lack of experience, he had given a very reasonable account of himself too. After the first time, she had rolled over and mounted him, the wobbling mass of boob flesh slapping around his head with enough force to leave a bruise. It had been something like being made love to by a sea-lion beachmaster, but in a good way. At one stage, she had even flung her head back and yelled ‘Yee-Hah’, bringing to mind those rodeo machines at the funfair. The final quickie was just that, and she was up and about immediately after.
There was no time for a wash and brush-up, and she was already in her green polyester work uniform as he was hurrying to get dressed. She checked the tiny watch she was wearing. “Hurry up, love. Sylvia will be here soon”. He slipped his feet into the trainers as the doorbell rang. Linda grabbed her bag and keys, ushering him out ahead of her. Sylvia was a work colleague who always walked in with Linda. She lived in Greenland Road, so it was on her way. Surprised to see the dishevelled young man emerge first, she grinned at them both. “So who’s this, Lin, your new boyfriend?” Benny cast his eyes over the stranger. About the same age as Linda, slimmer, and quite pretty too, in a mumsy sort of way. He noticed a wedding ring, but her figure was hard to define under the green uniform.
When she answered her friend, he wasn’t sure if Linda was embarrassed, or just wanted to keep things to herself. “What, Benny? Nah, he’s just a mate. Too young for me by a mile”. Sylvia was unconvinced, and turned to him. “What about you, got anything to say?” He stood back, and adopted a formal pose as he spoke. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”. They both looked at him as if he was crazy. He made a mental note never to slightly mis-quote Hamlet to women who had stopped bothering with school at the age of fourteen. As they walked away, Linda turned. “Oh, Benny. If I was you I would get online love. Lots of opportunities on the Internet these days for a smart young fella. Let me know how you get on, don’t forget, yeah?”. She added an elaborately theatrical wink, just to make sure he caught the final remark.
Benny nodded, and turned in the direction of home. He felt really good, and totally relaxed. As he walked away, he heard Sylvia cackling. She hadn’t been fooled. And now he had a girlfriend.
He had forgotten to ring Nan, and had no credit left on the mobile. Outside the flat, Benny wondered if Hamza had bothered to hang around for the hours he had been with Linda. He decided to chance it, and went in. Nan was wearing her quilted burgundy dressing gown, and matching slippers. She looked chirpy as she turned to him. “You’ve been a long time, love. Where did you get to?” He puffed up, feeling pretty pleased with himself. “I’ve been with Big Linda. Reckon you can confidently say we are an item now, Nan”. She chuckled, mostly at his excited face. He hadn’t even asked about Hamza. “What, the woman from the cafe? The one with the enormous chest? She must be close to forty if she’s a day”. Benny shrugged. “I don’t care about that, Nan. She’s got a lovely nature, and I think she really likes me”. Lilian smiled, knowing full well what attracted him to someone like Linda. “Well if you’re happy love, then I’m happy for you”. He suddenly remembered. “Did Hamza turn up? How did it go?” She stood up and headed for the kitchen as she spoke. “I sorted him out, love. Gave him a few quid and the keys. I don’t think he’ll bother you again. I’ve made a nice Shepherd’s Pie for tea. Sit down, and I’ll dish up”.
After dinner, Benny sat in his room, thinking about the afternoon with Linda. He knew deep down that they were an unlikely couple, and probably not really suited to be together. But he was certainly looking forward to the next time. Recalling what she said as she left for work, he reached under the bed, and slid out his laptop. His Mum and Stepdad rarely sent him anything, but on birthdays and Christmas, they would send a parcel, addressed to Nan. It was usually things like a baseball cap, or a t-shirt with a maple leaf on it, but it always had to be signed for, as it usually contained cash too. Canadian dollars, the only time he had ever seen foreign money. Nan would take them to the bank on the corner of Kentish Town Road, and change them up. He often wondered if she came back with all of it, but wouldn’t have minded if she had kept some. Or maybe Mum didn’t send all that much. That would be more like it.
When he got the place at University, Nan had decided he needed a laptop. So she phoned his Mum, and told her the good news, mentioning that no self-respecting student went to uni without a laptop these days, it just wasn’t done. Two weeks later, Nan told him that Mum had sent enough for him to get one. He had a feeling she had put in most of the money herself, but he sent a ‘Thank You’ card to Canada, at Nan’s insistence. Trouble was, Nan’s place wasn’t online. It was expensive to get fast broadband, and Benny didn’t have the heart to suggest it to her. She seemed to think that computers just went online automatically, and he worried that if he told her the truth, she would just go ahead and pay the connection fee. So he spent that year using wi-fi anywhere he could find it, but mostly in the campus buildings. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked well enough.
To be able to use it at Nan’s now, he would need a dongle, a mobile phone company device that came with a monthly fee, and plugged in to the laptop using one of the USB slots. There was no way a mobile company would give him a contract, so he made up his mind to go and see Noddy, tomorrow morning.
Benny knew Noddy from school. He lived in Robert Street, a ten minute brisk walk away. Carrying the laptop in an old sports bag so it didn’t attract any attention, he was on his way there just after ten the next morning. Noddy’s name was really Darren Hall, but since the age of eleven, he had taken to wearing a blue woolly hat. It was floppy, and unstructured, adopting a cone shape as it covered most of Darren’s head. That had earned him a nickname that had stuck, based on the character from the Enid Blyton books. At least he didn’t have a bell at the top of his hat, like the real Noddy. He had been a nerdy kid, but his natural aptitude for anything to do with technology had ensured he never got picked on. He knew more about computers and phones than anyone, even the teachers who were supposed to teach them how to use them.
Everyone thought Noddy would go on to become the next Steve Jobs, or Zuckerberg, but he had little interest in academic results, and even less in being famous. He was so shy, he never went outside unless he had to, and his main interest was hacking, seeing if he could get into protected systems and company records. Maybe he could have sold the results to someone, but that wasn’t his motivation. He was happy in the housing trust maisonette above the shops in Robert Street. His Mum and Dad let him do his own thing, and his older sister had got married, and moved out to Milton Keynes. Although nobody else knew, Noddy was classed as being too Autistic to work, and though he managed to function at a very high level when it came to machines, his social skills were non-existent. He had left school as soon as he could, retiring to the sanctuary of his bedroom at home. There he sat, working online until the early hours, rarely sleeping. He also didn’t bother to wash that much, or shave. That had left him resembling an English version of Osama Bin Laden, wearing a blue hat.
Mrs Hall answered the door. A friendly, stout woman, her face and appearance betrayed her roots in the countryside of Gloucestershire. She seemed out of place here. “Benedict? I haven’t seen you in years, boy. Have you come to see Darren? You must have. Come in.” She was happy to see any visitors for her reclusive son. “Hang on, I’ll let him know you’re here”. She walked upstairs, and he could hear her knock loudly on a door. “Darren, Benny’s here to see you. You know, that Benny from school”. She returned to the living room, smiling. “Go on up, love. The door straight in front of you, it’s open. Do you want a tea or coffee? Maybe you prefer a Coke or something?” As he mounted the stairs, Benny shook his head. “No thanks, Mrs Hall. I’m fine thank you”.
In the small bedroom, Benny caught his breath. The smell was overwhelming, a combination of unwashed feet, stale clothes, and air that had never been recycled through an open window. Despite his lack of personal hygiene, Noddy had the room arranged just so. Something that people with his problem were prone to do. He was sat at a desk, perched on a stool. Everywhere you looked were screens, there must have been seven or eight of them. You could feel the heat generated by half a dozen computer towers, and a couple of laptops. He greeted Benny as if he had seen him yesterday, but didn’t turn away from what he was doing on a keyboard. “Alright, Ben? You can sit on the bed, but don’t mess it up”. The small single bed looked like something in an Army barracks, the sheets and blanket drawn tight, the single pillow showing no creases. Benny wondered if it was ever slept in. He looked at the back of the frail young man typing away like he was possessed. As well as the blue hat, he was wearing a white t-shirt that had faded grey, and similar tight underpants. Benny was reminded of photos he had seen of Howard Hughes in later life.
“I was hoping for some help and advice with my laptop, Noddy. You’re the only man to see for that”. The flattering tone was laid on heavily, and worked. Noddy stopped typing, and turned on the stool, immediately interested. “Show me the laptop then, and your phone, if you’ve got one”. Benny explained that he need to get online with a dongle, but would never get the contract. He also couldn’t afford to put enough credit on his mobile to access the Internet for more than a few minutes a day. Noddy listened, continuing to inspect the devices, pulling bits off, and fiddling with the connectors. After a while, he laid them both on his desk, and smiled. It was what passed for a smile from him, but seemed more like he was about to throw up. “The phone is crap. Cheap and nasty, but it works OK. The laptop is running an operating system that’s out of date, and it needs more RAM, and a bigger hard drive. But otherwise, it’s good enough. What do you need to do with it?”
“Well my girlfriend reckons I need to get online, and explore the job opportunities. I thought maybe I could get a website; even sell stuff, or do one of those scams you read about. What do you think?” Noddy looked serious. “The big money online is in advertising. Get a good website up and running, or a very popular blog, even a You Tube site with millions of hits. Once that starts to get noticed, then the advertisers will flood in. Trouble is, they usually have contracts and stuff, you know, legitimate payments. That means accountants, tax people getting involved, and all sorts of exposure. But I can help sort all that out for you, and nobody will ever really know who you are. But first, I need to upgrade your stuff, so we can make a start”. Benny exaggerated his genuine admiration. “Wow, Noddy. That sounds fantastic. But I am obviously going to need lots of help. Are you up for that? Should I come back tomorrow and get the laptop”. Noddy chuckled. “No, just sit there, it will all be done in under an hour”.
Noddy plugged cables into the laptop, then removed the SIM card from the phone, and slid it into another device which he connected to something else. Benny soon lost track of the cables, switches, and boxes being plugged and unplugged, and watched as red and green lights flickered, Noddy typing like he had four hands. Rows of incomprehensible numbers and characters appeared on the biggest screen at the back of the desk, scrolling so fast, they made him feel dizzy. Twenty minutes later, Noddy spoke. “What do you want to call your website, Benny?” Taken aback, he tried to think quick, but had no idea. “OK, I will call it anything for now, we can change that later, when I update it with some photos.”
Less than two hours after he had entered Mrs Hall’s, Benny was leaving with more than he could ever have imagined. Noddy had worked miracles indeed, asking less than ten questions as he typed frantically. The mobile phone had been updated, and he had an unlimited minutes contract with full Internet access. It was all in a fake name and location, but he wouldn’t even have to change the number. Noddy said it was good for at least a month, then if he got cut off, it could be changed easily. He had produced a broadband dongle from a drawer in the desk, and worked his magic with that too. “This will dial into any available connection, Ben. Unlimited use, and no one will have a clue that you are even connected”. There was a website under construction, the origin also hidden from view, and he had a Paypal account based on one of two new email addresses, as well as a new current account with an online bank. Noddy had written down all the usernames and passwords that he needed on a post-it note, telling him to keep them safe.
When it was all finished, Benny felt he had to offer some payment. “What do I owe you, mate? I’m not flush right now, but I can bring some money back later”. Noddy shook his head, and looked surprised. “Money? I don’t want money. I just do it because I can. It’s what I do”. Benny left the flat, and walked slowly back to Nan’s. He was excited, and couldn’t wait to tell Linda.
When he got home, Nan was just going out to get her hair done. “I will be gone for a few hours, love. After the hairdresser’s I’ll pop into Morrisons, get us something nice for dinner”. He kissed her on the cheek. “OK, Nan, see you later”.
Benny unpacked the sports bag, and connected the laptop to the mains, so the battery wouldn’t go flat. Then he plugged in the dongle, and followed the instructions Noddy had given him. Google popped up in record time, and he was very impressed by whatever had been done to increase the performance of the basic machine. After two hours, and most of a family-size bottle of Pepsi, Benny was fast becoming disillusioned with his search. Online money-making seemed to fall into two distinct categories; selling crap to anyone who might buy it, or selling tips on how to make money online. The first option would involve storage and warehousing, containers from China, good credit, and money up front. The second option seemed to be about sending someone twenty dollars to release their ‘secret’ to you, and tell you how they became a millionaire, sitting by a pool in The Bahamas. Searches soon revealed that all they would do for that twenty was to advise you to ask other people for money for the same ‘tip’. Then the circle continued, with the outcome that all of these people were just asking each other for a donation, and hoping to find the few who were dumb enough not to do any research.
He went to get some crisps from the kitchen, his rumbling belly reminding him he hadn’t eaten. Eating them washed down with the last of the Pepsi, Benny was about to shut down the laptop, when he had an idea. Something nice for Nan, hopefully. He wiped his greasy fingers on his t-shirt, returned to the flat keyboard, and opened a new tab. In the search box, he typed ‘Betty Baxter’, then hit send.
Sitting back, he wondered at the marvel that was the Internet. The search produced over a quarter of a million options, many repeats of the same stuff of course, but still. He changed the view to ‘Images’, and gasped as page after page of photos of Nan appeared on screen. It was all there. Her younger days with the racy lingerie glamour modelling, stills from the dodgy films that followed, and tons of shots of her when she was much older, from her heyday in those ‘special interest’ magazines. Benny reckoned she would love all this, being immortalised online for all time. He clicked back to ‘All’, then scrolled down. There were clips from her films, magazine covers featuring her poses, and various entries on what was known about her life. Surprisingly, many mentioned her real name, Lilian Thwaite, and he wondered how that had got out. Halfway down, he found a forum, dedicated just to Nan. It seemed that the admirers of Betty Baxter had never forgotten her, and some were running this active forum, with entries posted in just the last two hours. Not only that, some appeared to be new fans, and had stumbled across Nan by following random links.
Using one of his new email addresses, Benny signed up as a member of the forum, so he could read the full comments, and add his own if he wanted to. It didn’t cost anything, and he picked the username ‘Retrofan’, showed his age as forty-two, and a location of ‘Britain’. This was a revelation. Over two thousand members, and hundreds of threads, with ninety percent of them active and buzzing. Looking at the member stats, he soon discovered that over half of them were in America, with the rest mainly coming from Britain, Germany, and of all places, Belgium. Others were much further afield, including some Arab countries, as well as a few from Australia and New Zealand. These men, he presumed they were all men, were thirsty for information on anything to do with Nan, as well as the other so-called stars of the magazines and films she had featured in. They swapped treasured photos, gave each other links to hard-to-find film clips, and all seemed to be trying to outdo each other as the biggest fan of Betty Baxter. Benny was amazed, and he knew Nan would be.
He spent another hour perusing the threads, even going so far as to add a few random comments on some of them. They wanted more, that was clear. Undiscovered photos, VHS films, even reel-to-reel film, if anyone had it. Many were also desperate for information on what Betty was doing now. She had dropped off the scene when she had been close to sixty, and nobody knew why. But Benny knew, as that had been around the time he had gone to live with her. She had abandoned her career for him, not wanting his youth to be remotely tarnished by any association with an elderly glamour queen. No wonder she had told him about it when he was eighteen. She must have been bottling that up for almost ten years.
The forum also had lots of links, and he clicked on them, bookmarking them all in sequence. ‘Glamorous Grannies’, ‘Lingerie Grannies’, ‘Grannies In Stockings’, and dozens more. Not only were the members really into this stuff, it was made obvious that they were also searching these sites in the hope of seeing Betty Baxter reappear one day. Benny did some more research. He had checked out some porn when he first got the laptop, just the usual mainstream stuff. But he had no idea about this huge new market for Grannies and Matures. There were hundreds of sites, and most linked to others, until the number of combinations became too high to fathom. They showed images of older women in every imaginable pose, doing things you would never have credited. There were videos too, and sites where you had to pay a hefty monthly fee to be a member. ‘Granny Webcams’, ‘Granny Personals’, Granny Dating’, it was all out there. Benny sat back, blown away by what he had found in less than three hours. Grannies were the goldfields of the Internet, and he had the mother lode, out getting her hair done.
Nan came back with two shopping bags, and Benny took them off her to take them through to the kitchen. Her hair looked exactly the same, but he guessed that she had just had the dye topped up, as usual. She sat down on the sofa, slipping off her shoes. “Morrisons was packed, Benny love. Then I got chatting to Sheila on the way home. You know her, my friend who drinks in The Queens Head and Artichoke. Anyway, I got some lovely sausages for dinner, and I will do some mash in a bit”. Benny sat down, a broad smile on his face. “Don’t worry about dinner for now, Nan”. He opened the laptop, and clicked on a bookmark.
“I’ve got something to show you”.
Dinner was late that night. Nan was excited by the things Benny had shown her. Although she knew about computers and websites, her experience with them was limited. She had no idea about the forums, and was simply staggered to discover how many people were keeping her name going, and desperate to get hold of anything to do with her. She asked Benny, “This is all about me, really?” Nan wasn’t often lost for words, but for a couple of hours she watched almost speechless. Later, as they sat munching the sausages and mash, she seemed deep in thought. Benny stood up to clear the plates, and she called after him as he walked to the kitchen. “Show me that stuff again, Benny love. I reckon there’s some money to be made here, if we play our cards right”.
It was very late, but they were still going over everything. Benny had a few suggestions. “Nan, I think we need to get those VHS tapes copied onto DVD. They could then be sold online, through the new website. Shame you haven’t got negatives, but we could scan the photos, and print off as many copies as we want. Those guys on the forum would snap them up. You could even go online and answer their questions and requests. I could do that for you. I could be Betty Baxter. And if we offered new photos or video content, they would go crazy for that. I tell you, Nan, the Granny market is huge, and getting bigger all the time. Noddy will help me, I’m sure. Even if he just shows me what to do, I could get it up and running, at least see how much interest there is”.
Nan looked tired, but she opened some Port, and insisted he had a glass too. “We don’t want to flood the market too soon, love. We have to keep them keen, give them a bit at a time. And some of those old girls you showed me, I know them. Well, at least I did at one time. Many of them worked on the magazines with me, and some I recognise from our younger days doing the films. They might not even be alive now, but I have phone numbers or addresses for lots of them. Maybe we could group them all together and use them on your site thingy?” Benny thought for a moment. In his head, he was already the Prince of Grannies online, but he had to temper what might become uncontrolled enthusiasm. “I think we should start with you though, Nan. There is a huge interest in what you are doing and where you got to, and we can tap into that at first, see what happens. Just a shame you don’t have more photos and tapes”.
Nan downed her Port, and went over to the sideboard. She returned with something, unable to suppress a satisfied smile. She slapped a big key down on the coffee table. Benny hadn’t seen it in years. It was the key to the bike shed, where he used to keep his BMX bike at one time. He had almost forgotten about the shed in the inner courtyard of the flats, and had no idea that Nan was still renting it. She refilled her Port glass, and sat down. “Remember all those boxes stacked in the bike shed, love? We had to move them around, so we could get your bike in, didn’t we? Well, in those boxes are at least sixty VHS tapes, some cans of film, probably hundreds of magazines, and perhaps a thousand photos or more, including some negatives. I got them delivered in a van one day, after Tony died. I had to pay the blokes to carry the boxes round to the shed, but I had no idea what I would ever do with them”.
Benny poured himself another Port. He didn’t even like it, but a celebratory drink seemed in order. “I will start bringing those boxes up tomorrow, Nan, then I have to get down to Robert Street, and have a serious chat with Noddy” They clinked the small glasses together, and Nan raised her voice. “Here’s to Betty Baxter. She’s back!”
After such a late night, Benny didn’t surface until nearly eleven. He took the key, and went down to the bike shed. The boxes were covered in more than ten years of dust and cobwebs, but the brick-built bike shed was dry and secure, and they were in great condition, considering. Using the metal edge of the key, he started to slit the brown packing tape on the first few boxes. He felt like Howard Carter, discovering Tutankhamen’s Tomb. This was a wealth of treasure indeed. VHS tapes still in their retail boxes, with screenshots and titles. Magazines in pristine condition, most still in plastic wrappers, and hard plastic containers full of negatives, stacked on top of hundreds of photos. Sadly, the photographic prints had buckled or warped in the main, but at least ten percent were salvageable, and with most of those being black and white, they had hardly faded at all.
Benny left the boxes for now, and locked the shed. Not even bothering to wash all the dust off himself, he headed straight for Noddy’s place. Mrs Hall seemed surprised to see him again so soon. “Oh, Benedict, have you come to see Darren? Silly question. Go straight up, but make sure to knock. He hates anyone just walking in”. For the next hour, Benny chatted excitedly to Noddy. He relayed the story of the previous evening, the revelation from Nan that she had all the stuff in the shed, and how they planned to reinvent her for the twenty-first century. Noddy listened without interruption. He knew about the online stuff of course, but let his visitor ramble on, still typing feverishly, hardly turning from the screens. Benny was so exited, he had even stopped noticing the smell of the room.
When he stopped talking, Noddy turned to face him. For all that time, he had been working away on his computers, and Benny was amazed by what he said next. “OK, I have named the site. It is now called ‘The Real Betty Baxter’ dot com. We are going to need some photos, something not already on the forum. And a new photo of your Nan, to prove it’s really her. You need to get the VHS tapes put onto DVD, and use the same cover art. I can tell you who to see about that. Then you need this new email address, which will be the only one associated with contacts from the site. Your Nan will need to answer the comments though. They will realise if it’s you. An older person would respond differently. She has to be authentic. I have set up the site to accept Paypal payments to the new email, you want to keep away from credit and debit cards, believe me”. Benny opened his mouth, and he was wide-eyed with appreciation. “Wow, Noddy. Just wow”.
Noddy’s expression turned serious. “This is a lot of work though, Benny. You have to have cookie warnings, and be compliant with online regulations too. Start off by selling some stuff to the eager buyers. Make sure you post the bloody things though, don’t piss about and upset the customers, or they will kill you dead as far as the online business. And this site won’t be secure, but I can make it look as if it is by sneaking a padlock in the top bar. Jumping through all the online hoops to get this going isn’t going to be easy, I’m telling you. I will probably route it through Russia, but make it look like an English site by sticking a lot of union jack flags all over it. And we will need a database of anyone who shows interest; sign them up for newsletters, maybe even run a Betty Baxter blog. It’s going to be a real job, so if you want my help you will have to step up”.
Benny threw his arms wide. “Noddy, I’m on it mate”.
Benny had to have a serious chat with Nan. They would need some front money. Even with Noddy fixing up most things free of charge, by using his knowledge of computers, some things had to be bought. They would need a printer, photo paper, and ink cartridges. Plus things you didn’t immediately think of, envelopes. jiffy bags, labels, and of course the postage costs. The buyers would have to pay those on top of course, but some money had to be there already, to pay the Post Office on the day. Then there was the cost of getting the first few VHS tapes transferred to DVD, along with the printed inserts. Ideally, they should have a decent digital camera, one that could shoot video if required. The memory cards for that camera, as well as the costs involved with running around places. Hopefully, the money would soon come rolling in. Noddy thought they could do quite well, at least with the first flush of interest. It was keeping them interested that was the problem. But nothing comes from nothing, and Benny told Nan they would need around seven-fifty at least, perhaps a grand for preference.
He knew she had some savings. She mentioned them often enough, but never let on how much. When he finished telling her what Noddy had set up, and what needed to be done to start off, she nodded her head, and thought for a while, taking a long time over one cigarette. “You can get a second hand printer and camera from that little shop in Hampstead Road, love. No need to buy new for now. If you need running around, go and see Leroy Wilson on the top floor. He drives a cab, and will give you a good deal for regular work. As for the DVD films, I don’t know about them. I will give you six hundred, but I want you to account for it mind. I will go to the bank tomorrow, and get you the cash”.
Feeling really good, Benny decided to celebrate with a visit to Linda. He could be there a while before she had to leave for work. Using his new unlimited phone minutes, he gave her a call. She sounded very happy to hear from him, and said she would make sure to stay in until he arrived. When the door opened, he could see she had made an effort. She was wearing a long black dress made of t-shirt material, and had a fair bit of make-up on too. Her hair still looked like a pineapple, but you couldn’t have everything. Besides, he was willing to bet that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath that clingy dress. She seemed excited to hear his news, and very pleased when he gave her full credit for suggesting he do some online research. Inside, Linda was genuinely touched that he had chosen to share it all with her first. That made her feel special, like they really had something. It didn’t occur to her that he had just been telling his Nan, and Noddy already knew. Other than those two, Benny didn’t have any other real friends to tell.
Linda had her own ideas about how to celebrate his news. The black dress was pulled off over her head, and she literally dragged him into the bedroom. By the time Linda jumped into the shower to get ready for work, Benny’s legs were trembling, and he felt like someone at the finish line of The London Marathon. He was amazed at Linda’s energy. For such a chunky woman, she certainly had stamina. When she was ready, and expecting Sylvia to arrive, Linda came into the bedroom. “No need to rush, love. Take this, and lock up on your way out. You can keep it, if you want. That’s your key now”. She gave him a huge kiss, and shut the bedroom door as she left. Benny looked at the latch key in the palm of his left hand. That had been a surprise, the last thing he had expected. Kicking off the duvet, he stretched luxuriantly. Life was getting better, he was sure of that.
When he got home later, Nan was sitting at the table, wearing her reading glasses. She was surrounded by sheets of paper, all covered in notes written in red ink. That was probably the only colour pen she could find. She was wearing a cardigan over her nightdress, and had obviously not been out since he left. As he entered the room, she spoke without turning. “There’s twenty quid on the hall table, Benny love. Can you go and get some fish and chips? I haven’t had time to get any dinner ready”. When he got back with the food, Nan was still engrossed, and he had to get the plates and cutlery out to dish up.
When they had eaten, and were sitting in the living room, Nan picked up all her notes, and started to tell him what she had been doing. “I’ve been on the phone for hours, love. It’s not easy to track down my old contacts, and as I expected, a lot of them have just disappeared, probably dead. But I have two definitely interested, and three possibles. Val Barker is well up for it. She used to be known as ‘Lady Valerie’, and put on a posh accent too. She’s 73 now, but she reckons she has looked after herself. Trouble is, she lives in Clacton now, and that’s too far away. We would have to put her up, so you might have to sleep on the sofa for a night or two. Then there’s Dolly Bright. I never did know her real name. She liked the sound of it, but wants to talk again, when her husband is out. She only lives in Holloway, so nice and close. I have written down all their names and numbers here, so you better put them on your computer lists”.
Benny was impressed, but Nan was still getting ahead of herself. “That’s great, Nan. I will make a list of them later. But let’s start with you. You already have a lot of people interested. We can expand the site with the others if it takes off. Did you mention money? I hope they are not expecting too much”. Nan grinned. “I told them there might be some money in it of course, they wouldn’t do it for free, would they? But I said it wouldn’t be much, and it would depend on how many people signed up, and bought their videos or photos”. He gave her a big cuddle, and a kiss on the cheek.
“Nan, you’re a wonder. You really are”.
As he struggled back to the flat, Benny wished he had arranged for a cab home. He was carrying a box with a printer in it, and a tripod balanced across it. Over his shoulder hung a battered old camera bag containing a four year-old Canon Digital SLR, and two zoom lenses. Nan had got back with the promised cash not long after the bank had opened that morning, so Benny took most of it, and headed off to the secondhand electrical shop less than ten minutes away, where Hampstead Road became Camden High Street.
The old bloke inside looked more like a vagrant than a shopkeeper, but seemed to know his stuff. The camera was basic, but in good condition. It came with the two lenses, and one was still in the wrapper, never been used. It had a built-in flash that would do for now, and the original instruction book. Benny didn’t know much about cameras, but the bloke had shown him how to set it on ‘Program’, and that would sort out the settings automatically.
It was marked up at two-twenty-five. But when he realised Benny wanted other stuff, he became amenable to some haggling. He threw in the big tripod, two memory cards, and the bag to carry it in. Then showed him the printer, a compatible Canon with a scanner and copier facility. It was a bit scratched, but demonstrated as working. After some debate, he added a sealed replacement printer cartridge, and a neck strap with ‘Nikon’ woven into it. He started at three-sixty for everything, but when Benny said he would think about it, and made to leave, he settled for two-seventy-five for the lot, as long as it was in cash.
While he was out, Lilian got ready for the planned photo shoot. Nothing too raunchy, just her favourite purple dress, paired with some ancient black seamed stockings attached to a suspender belt. On her feet she had some wicked high heels. She couldn’t possibly walk in them any more, but they really went well with the outfit. She layered on the make-up, and spent ages doing her hair. When Benny got back, he set up the camera on the tripod, and moved the sofa out the way. Then he got one of the dining chairs and placed it by the window, closing the curtains to create a backdrop. Lilian had thought of something that would help remind her fans, and confirm her identity. She had got one of the bigger old photo prints, a sixteen by twelve glossy, and said she would hold it on her lap, so they could tell it was her, back in the good old days. Benny thought it was a sound idea. “Good one, Nan. Sort of a ‘then and now’ moment”.
He clicked away for ages, moving the zoom back and forth, trying some with flash on, some without. Nan crossed her legs in what she called a ‘seductive pose’, and flashed a bit of stocking top for the fans. Then she did some leaning-forward poses, so they got a good look at her cleavage. Benny had to admit she knew her stuff. She had snapped back into her Betty Baxter character in a heartbeat, and despite her age, she was certainly a very natural model. They lost count of how many shots he had taken. The built in motor clicked off a lot of times whenever he pressed the shutter, so it was a lot. Right at the end, he shot a few seconds of video; Nan crossing and uncrossing her legs, blowing kisses, and twisting around on the chair. Satisfied, Benny took the camera off the tripod, and removed the memory card. “I’ve got to get this round to Noddy now, Nan. See if he can work his magic on the website”. She seemed very pleased. “OK, love, see you later. Don’t forget to get something to eat”.
Mrs Hall showed no surprise this time, simply saying “Hello Benedict”, and opening the door to let him in. Noddy took the memory card, and plugged it in to something. Images flashed up on the screen, and Noddy’s fingers worked the keyboard like a young Chopin at the piano. Benny sat at the end of the bed, watching over his friend’s shoulder. He was glad of the rest, as the day had already been busy, and they had lots more to do yet. After forty minutes or so, Noddy waved for him to come closer. “This is a preview, how the website will look once I press to get it up and running. Once it’s live, I will go onto the forum, and create ‘The Real Betty Baxter’ as a username, with a thumbnail photo, and a link to the new site. It will be held for moderation by whoever runs the forum, but the site will be active straight away. I have done some research around memberships of similar sites, and come up with this”. He clicked into a separate screen. It was marked up as ‘Join Here’, and had monthly rates for membership via Paypal, followed by a row of boxes where members had to give a lot of personal details, including their real name, an email address, and an acceptance of monthly subscriptions via Paypal. There was a thirty-day cancellation clause, and an agreement to abide by the terms and conditions.
The monthly fees were impressive. Thirty pounds for UK members, and thirty Euros for Europeans. For anyone paying in US dollars, it was fifty a month. Other currencies by arrangement, and all paid via Paypal accounts. It seemed a lot, and Benny asked the question. “Seems a bit strong, Noddy. Do you reckon they will wear that much?” His friend was ready, and started to click on other sites offering unlimited access monthly memberships. They were all around the same price, and many were much higher. Noddy pointed at the screen. “See these, they are pretty basic, and people have joined them. Your Nan is in a niche market, and with the benefit of a ready fan base, mostly of older blokes who have the money to spare. You can expect some drop off later, but if you keep the new photos coming, and make sure the forum threads are answered, it should do well. In fact. there’s no reason why we can’t run a Q and A on this site, on a different page. That saves bothering with the forum once we get going”.
Noddy waited until Benny had taken it all in, before continuing. Once the payment is processed, I email them a password they can use to access the site with their username. That lasts for thirty days, and expires immediately if they fail to renew with more money. All the photos will be protected from being able to be copied, and any video clips will be embedded, so not able to be copied either. I can’t stop them giving someone else their login details at the moment, but there is a way round that, and I will have that cracked soon. The photos are not that great, but I have cleaned them up on Adobe Photoshop, and they are good enough for web use. They can only be enlarged by members, so they have to pay to see any details. I’m still working on a ‘Shop’ page for the site, where you can sell the prints, DVD films, and anything you like. I suggest that you let anyone access that page, as well as members. Some random surfer might well decide to buy something, even if they don’t want to subscribe. We have to look at all sources of income generation”.
Benny patted his shoulder. “Outstanding, Noddy mate. It looks great, just like a real professional website”. Noddy sighed. “That’s because it is”.
Then he hit ‘Enter’.
As she made the sandwiches in the cramped kitchen, Beverly Hall was thinking hard. Tomato Ketchup ones for Darren, the only thing he would eat, besides Coco-Pops. Cheese and pickle for Benny, whether he liked them or not. Darren had told her everything of course, he always did. People with his condition always spoke the truth, whatever the consequences, She liked that about her son. He was never sneaky or deceptive. That helped to make up for the harder years when she was struggling. She had never been able to go back to work after he was born. She missed the company, and hated being stuck in the house most of the time. But most of all, she missed being Beverly. She was overlooked, a housewife and housekeeper, good old Bev, as everyone called her.
She had met Keith when he was in the army, stationed close to her home in the West of England. He didn’t have much of a job in the forces, mostly driving and fixing lorries in the motor transport section. At least he was never posted overseas. He had been good looking back then, but he hadn’t aged well. The first flush of marriage soon passed, and he left the army as soon as his time was up. He wanted to move back to North London, where he came from, and it had been a shock for Beverly. Too noisy, too full-on, and lots of unfriendly people. But she had her daughter soon after, and once Kirsty was around, she at least had the company of some other young mums she had met. But once Darren was born, Keith seemed to just switch off, and leave it all to her. He was in and out of jobs for a while, and they often struggled. Then he had found a security guard job, in the cargo sheds at Heathrow Airport. That seemed to suit him, and he was still there, after sixteen years. He worked twelve hour shifts, six days a week. Adding the long commute each way, he was out of the house for almost fifteen hours a day, only getting home in time to eat dinner, doze in front of the telly, and go to bed. On his one day off, he got up late, read a newspaper in great detail, and then went to the pub for a couple of pints. She couldn’t remember the last time he had even spoken to his son. She didn’t blame Kirsty for getting married and moving away either. She had been a good girl, helped out when she could.
Noddy was too excited to eat. “Look, Benny. The site moderator approved Betty immediately. He has already started a thread, visited the website, and signed up as a member for thirty quid!” Benny munched his sandwich. He didn’t like Branston Pickle, but hadn’t wanted to seem ungrateful. On the sidebar of the site, was a box marked ‘Ask Betty’. The forum moderator used the name ‘bettysbiggestfan’, and he had left a comment, which Noddy had immediately approved.
‘My dream has come true. I need to pinch myself, to know it is really you, Betty. Thank you, thank you. More please. Never go away again, beautiful Betty’.
Noddy smiled. “I think we cracked it, Benny”.
Just forty-five minutes later, even Noddy was shaking his head in disbelief. The forum thread had close to four hundred comments, and there were already one hundred and sixty-five members signed up to the site. ‘Ask Betty’ had over ninety comments. Members were asking for specific poses and clothes, and wanting to buy photos, DVD films, even her worn underwear, tights, and stockings. The research done by both of them hadn’t come anywhere close to the excitement generated by Betty’s sudden reappearance. Noddy was doing some sums. “I have to get busy emailing the passwords, Benny. But look at this”. He held up a sheet of paper, with writing and figures on it, in his very neat hand.
US members so far. 100 X $50 = $5,000
UK members so far. 44 X £30 = £1,320
EU members so far. 21 X E30 = E630
“Benny, that’s close to six grand in under an hour, and it’s still coming in. Once the time changes around the world kick in, we can expect a lot more, I’m sure. I need to open more Paypal accounts and start spreading this money around fast, before it gets noticed. We will need more online bank accounts too, so I will get on that. You need to get started on those video transfers, and get a lot more pictures of your Nan. And I mean a lot. She has to answer these messages too, all of them”. Benny left the last quarter of his sandwich, and stood up to leave. Noddy turned, his eyes alive with excitement. “Come back later with those photos and I will explain about how to get hold of some of this money. But don’t forget, other than any sundry sales, it has to last a month, and we have to give them some content”. Benny gave him a thumbs up. “Sure thing, Nod”.
Beverly Hall was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. She was smiling, but had a determined posture, arms folded across her chest. After leaving the sandwiches, she had stood outside listening, and had only come down when she realised Benny was about to leave. On top of what her son had already told her, she had worked out exactly what was going on, and where it had got to. “Sit down, Benedict love. We need to have a little talk”. He hesitated, taken aback by her rather syrupy tone. “Can we do that later, Mrs Hall? Only I have rather a lot to do just now”. She shook her head, widening the smile. “It won’t take long, but it has to be now”. He perched on the edge of the sofa, his body language indicating he was ready to leave as soon as he could. Mrs Hall came and sat close to him. Very close. Uncomfortably close in fact.
“To start with, I want you to call me Beverly. Not Bev mind, Beverly. Mrs Hall makes me feel old, and though I might be forty-nine next birthday, I am nowhere near old, I can tell you. Now, I know that you are soon going to be getting quite a lot of money, Darren has told me how much he thinks it might be. And that’s every month. I expect you to do the decent thing, and give him a fair share. I didn’t spend the best part of the last twenty years looking after him, just so he could be exploited by other people”. Benny shifted a bit, but she just moved into the gap. “But Mrs, er, Beverly, Noddy told me he doesn’t want anything. I offered, I really did”. She slid her arm along the top of the sofa, her voice getting even softer. “He may not know what to do with cash, but he can always use new equipment. You know they keep bringing out bigger and better computers and stuff, and we don’t have the money to keep replacing them”. Benny nodded. “OK, fine. You tell me what he wants, and I will see you get the money to buy it for him”. She smiled, and Benny moved to stand. But the arm behind him rested on his neck suddenly, indicating he should stay put.
“And there’s something else, something for me. ” He was confused. “I could get you a new telly or washing machine, something like that. Or both.”. Beverly waggled a finger at him. “Is that what you think I want? Oh no. I want to be on the site; have my own feature, and my own fans. Next time you come round, bring your camera, and we can start taking the photos”. Benny raised his eyebrows. “You? What about Mr Hall, and Noddy? He will know, even if his Dad doesn’t” She smiled like a cat who had got the cream. “Leave Keith and Darren to me, Benny, and stop looking so surprised. You wouldn’t credit how well I can scrub up, I kid you not. And I look pretty good in my underwear, even if I say so myself.” She leaned forward again, her voice almost a growl.
“I really do”.
Benny sat in the the taxi that was taking him to the small industrial estate in a back street not far from White City. He had decided not to use Leroy from the flats. The less people who knew wht he was doing, the better. The traffic was bad, but it gave him time to think. Mrs Hall had surprised him. He had never really taken that much notice of her in the past. With her rather masculine hairstyle and mumsy clothes, she was just ‘there’. But he was going to have to take the photos later, as he couldn’t risk her blocking Noddy from the operation. The potential money was huge, much more than he had expected. But hiding it, then getting at it was going to take a lot of work. He called upon the resources he had used when studying for his exams, trying to get his head around just how busy life was going to become, even with such a small cottage industry like the one they had started.
Lilian had been using the laptop most of the day. Benny had showed her what to do, and after a few stumbles, she had finally worked it out and got in the flow. The comments on the thread were all lovely, and it brought a tear to her eye to read how so many people had dedicated a part of their life to keeping her memory alive. Her comments in reply were natural, and appreciative, and the replies came thick and fast. She also read some very appreciative remarks about her new photos in the ‘Ask Betty’ section, and chuckled at the variety of requested poses and outfits. Despite the amount of really graphic and seedy stuff online, her fans just wanted to go back to the traditional stuff. Old-fashioned underwear, domestic settings, and blatant flashes. Nobody asked for anything extreme, not one of them.
Dolly Bright had finally got back to her, but none of the others had followed up. Dolly was married to someone a fair bit older, but he wasn’t well, and knew nothing about her past. Her real name had been Sophie Kingwell, and that had changed to Sophie Ward when she got married. She told Lilian that she would love to do some work on the site, as it would make a change from being in the house, and a little extra money never hurt. Her husband was in hospital now, on his way out, it seemed. And he would be going into a terminal care hospice soon, so she would have a lot of free time. They decided that she would be called Sophie Bright, and use the name ‘Aunt Sophie’ with her pictures.
He paid the cab fare, and walked over to the small industrial unit with the name ‘ZR Facilities’ on a small sign by the door. He had phoned and made an appointment to see the owner, Zafir. In a big sports bag, he was carrying twenty VHS tapes, and some photos of Nan. Inside, the place was smaller than he had expected. More or less a room full of machines on racks, and a tiny counter at the front. Zafir was a young Indian-looking guy, very smartly dressed, with a wicked haircut. “So you want some old films transferred to DVD, and these old wrappers and photos combined into inserts? How many are we talking about?” Benny had already been thinking of a number before arriving. “I was thinking fifty of each to start with, but it all depends how much they cost”. Zafir used a calculator on his phone to work out some figures, but didn’t immediately come up with a price. “The copying is no problem, we can do that by machine. But there is some work involved in getting the DVD inserts right. Then there is copy protection. You get a master that can be used to run off as many as you want, but if we don’t include that copy protection, someone will rip you off, and sell them on Ebay. That’s a software thing, and easy enough. But it adds cost. Then there are the cases, but they’re cheap enough. The main issue is the poor quality of the old VHS. I can have a look at some of the films, but I am betting we will need to upscale them, and that takes time and money. Basically, the more you buy, the cheaper it gets”.
Benny leaned on the counter, taking it all in. “Don’t get me wrong, Zafir, but how can I be sure that you won’t just copy the films, and sell them on?” The young man took no offence at the remark. “I have a business, Mr Fortune, and it’s a good one. If I started ripping off customers, I wouldn’t last too long. Then where would I be? I assure you I have no interest in your affairs, and I certainly have zero interest in this seedy crap you are hoping to sell. I only look at it from a technical aspect, and I hope to get repeat business if you are successful. Does that reassure you?” Benny nodded. “Sorry, but I had to ask. How long before you could get some films to me?” Zafir smiled. “How long before you can collect some, you mean. I don’t do deliveries, unless you want to pay some hefty courier fees. Let’s say two days for the masters and inserts, then I will run off the copies you requested overnight. You can collect one thousand DVDs in three days. But I want a big deposit now, and full payment on collection. If it was a bigger order, I might get the price down to two pounds fifty each, but for just a thousand it will have to be three quid each, so three thousand pounds. I want five hundred up front to cover the donkey work, then a telephone payment by card, or bring cash, before I let you have the films. And make sure you have a big car, or van. There will be a few cartons, and they will be heavy”.
The five hundred was paid using one of the cards that had arrived from the new bank accounts Noddy had set up. He waited as the payment went through, relieved that his mate had done his stuff. Zafir hadn’t cared that the name on the card was different, as long as he got his money. They shook hands, and he passed over a business card. “See you in three days. If any changes come to mind, then call me”.
Leaving the bag with him, he wandered back out onto the main road. After trying in vain to find a free cab, he eventually got on a bus to Paddington. from there he would easily get a taxi from the rank at the station. On the top deck, he relaxed and stared out of the window.
So much to do, but at least it was all coming together.
At least Nan was happy. Benny was pleased to see her in her element when he got back, relishing all the adoring remarks made by her fans on the forum, and ‘Ask Betty’ page. No time to hang around too long though. He wolfed down a bowl of cornflakes in the kitchen, not even bothering to sit down. He had to get back to Noddy’s place with the camera, take the shots Beverly wanted, then tell him about the DVD films on order, and sort out how to get more money out of the accounts to pay for them. He grabbed all his stuff, and went to say goodbye to his Nan. “Nan, we are doing really well. I will be able to give you your money back in the next few days, and a lot more on top of that. Noddy says we need more photos of you, so I will start on those tomorrow”.
Nan was fixed on the screen, typing gingerly, as if the keyboard would hurt her fingers. “Oh Benny love. HD. We need HD, apparently. All the boys here are asking for HD video and Hi-Res photos, whatever they are. She had her legs sprawled out either side of the laptop. They looked funny, sort of swollen, and were an unusual colour. “I know about HD Nan, but the camera is too old for for that. It will have to wait until I get a new one. Noddy can tune up the photos, it will be alright for now. Nan, what’s wrong with your legs?”
Lilian stopped typing, and looked up with a smile. “Its the boys, love. They want to buy my stockings and tights, once they have been on my legs of course. I’m wearing four pairs of stockings with three pairs of tights over the top of them, to save time. After I take them off, I can put them in some of those zip-seal sandwich bags. You will have to post them off, once they have paid for them. It’s up to you or Noddy to work out how much, I will leave that to you. But the next time you are near the market, you better buy me a lot more, maybe fifty pairs of each. They have all sent their names and addresses by email, they tell me. To be honest love, I can’t wait to get them off, I’m sweating cobs under all this nylon. And god forbid I need a pee in a hurry, this lot feels as tight as if I’ve been swallowed by a snake”. Benny chuckled at her, and gave her a big kiss on the top of her head. “See you later Nan”.
Beverly Hall had been right. She did scrub up well. The woman who answered the door looked like someone much better-looking, pretending to be Noddy’s mum. Her usual boring hairstyle had been changed completely. Various colour highlights had lifted the dark auburn, and the front was no longer combed in what he thought of as a ‘Hitler Parting’. Instead, it was a spiky fringe, gelled-up in a modern style. The hair alone had taken five years off her age, and careful, classy makeup removed five more. She smiled at his expression. “Like the hair? I did it myself. Told you I could look good. Now, did you bring the camera, like I said?”
She was wearing a pink hooded dressing gown that almost touched the ground, and as soon as they got into the living room, she undid the belt, and opened it wide. “TA-DA! What do you think of that, young Benedict?” She revealed that she was wearing a black lacy bra, her generous breasts bulging from the cups. The matching high-cut skimpy panties left little to the imagination, and a suspender belt was attached to some sheer black stockings. Her fingernails and toenails were painted with a lush dark red polish, and her glossy lipstick matched it perfectly. Other than a small ‘baby belly’ bulging slightly above the waistband of the panties, her figure was surprisingly good. Benny actually though ‘Wow!’ But decided to go with “Very nice Mrs, er, Beverly”. She didn’t bother to tie up the belt, and carried on talking. “I was hoping for better than ‘very nice’, but it’s a start. I decided we will do my photos in the bedroom. I have tidied it up, changed the bed, and lit a scented candle too. It will create the right mood, I think. I was out and about as soon as you left. I have been to Primark to get the undies, no point paying too much for them. Then I got the hair stuff from Boots in Oxford Street, while I was up there. She reached out and took his hand. Come on, up we go”.
At the top of the stairs, Benny hesitated. “What about Noddy? Won’t he think it’s funny if I am in your room? Maybe we should stay downstairs.” She shook her head. “He’s learning Russian, from one of those audio things, so he will have headphones on anyway. He’s just bought a Russian keyboard, you know, with their funny symbols on it. I expect he will pick it up in no time. He has a talent for things like that”. Benny didn’t move. “All the same, I would hate to upset him, and we really have a lot to do”. She looked fed up. “You have never got it, have you? Darren doesn’t think like that. Such things don’t register in his thought processes. He operates at a different level to the rest of us”. Beverly dropped his hand with a look of disdain. “Right, follow me”. She opened the door to Noddy’s room, and the strange odour wafted into the space on the landing. She tapped her son on the shoulder, and he turned, removing the headphones as she mimed the action. “Darren, Benny is here to take some photos of me for the website. We are going into the bedroom for a while, so don’t worry where I am, alright? He will come and see you when we’re finished, and you can go over everything then. OK, love?”
Noddy didn’t show the slightest surprise at his mother being done up to the nines, dressed like a high class call girl, and talking about going into her bedroom with his school-friend. He didn’t even grin. “OK, Mum. Hi Benny”. Then he turned back to the screens, and replaced the headphones.
Beverly beckoned him with a crooked finger, and he meekly followed her into the bedroom. It was three times bigger than Noddy’s, and actually done out quite tastefully. The bed was huge, and he wondered how they got the mattress up the stairs. Beverly slipped off the pink gown, then sprawled on the bed, curled up in a seductive pose on her front, with her legs waving in the air behind her. Benny had to admit that she looked pretty hot, even though she was still Noddy’s mum. And the stirrings in his loins were in danger of giving away his appreciation. She ran a finger around her mouth, looking him up and down.
“Right, Benny love. Two things are going to happen this afternoon.
One. You are going to take some very sexy photos of me.
Two. I am going to have you.
The only say you have, is choosing which one happens first”.
Benny looked at her squirming on the bed, her cleavage bulging above her folded arms, the firm white globes of her bum cheeks protruding from the sides of the panties, and her toes wiggling inside the stockings.
There was no contest.
He dropped the bag and tripod, and clawed frantically at his belt.
Benny had thought Linda was pretty good, but Beverly made her seem like she wasn’t even trying. It had felt like being in among some Greco-Roman wrestlers, twisting, grappling, and wrapping around each other. But much better of course, because Mrs Hall had released something inside herself that maybe even she hadn’t been aware of. Close to twenty years of sexual frustration, countless hours of fevered imaginings, and more than a few days spent surfing on her laptop. It had all burst forth, and he had been the very grateful recipient of her release. After, she had tidied up her hair and make up, re-positioned her underwear, and told him to get busy with the photos. He set up the tripod, and started to follow her lead.
She did the full range. On the bed, beside the bed, bent over the bed, then standing on it too. Bra on, bra off, panties on, panties off. On her back, on her front, looking over her shoulder, and also standing over Benny, looking down the lens as he clicked away on his back. She finished off fully nude, even removing the stockings for the last dozen shots. He had to hand it to her, she was a real natural, and she had obviously done her homework on the poses. It was all done and dusted in under an hour, and a quick review on the back of the camera showed they had got some first-class results. Beverly put the dressing gown on, and turned to him. “Right, Benedict. Put some underpants on, and go and sort things out with Darren. I will do you some egg and chips, give you a shout when it’s ready. Then after we have eaten, I want to have a nice talk with you”. She swept out in a cloud of pink fleece, not waiting for a reply.
Noddy was very matter of fact. “Close to eleven grand, Benny, and it’s not even six pm. I am still emailing passwords, in between learning Russian. I don’t want any problems routeing the site, so I want to be on top of any language issues”. As he was talking, his fingers were moving constantly, things scrolling up and down on at least three screens, and all sorts of beeping and whirring sounds could be heard. It was like visiting someone in an Intensive Care Unit. Not that he ever had, but he had seen it on telly. Noddy told him to get a notebook, and write down what he told him. It was a lot of stuff, and he had to keep being asked to repeat it. Benny would have to get up early the next day. He had to go to lots of banks, all over the place. He scribbled down the names and addresses, PIN numbers, and account names. At each bank, he should use the ATM, and draw out a certain amount, different in each bank. Darren turned to emphasize some points. “Use cabs, but don’t keep the same one for all the journeys. Keep away from public transport, but if you have to use it, get a bus, and sit downstairs, with the bag on your lap. It will have a lot of cash inside, so put some T-shirts in first, then hide the money under them. Don’t wear anything distinctive, just plain colours with no logos, and take a baseball cap, but only put it on for a few of the withdrawals.”
Benny checked the details, and went over it again. Then Noddy added, “And when you get home tear those pages out of the notebook, and destroy them. Not throw them in the bin, get rid of them. I suggest you tear them in very small pieces, then flush them down the toilet. Don’t burn them, in case you set off the smoke alarm”. His tone was calm, not ordering, just stating what needed to be done. He was on the ball, that was for sure. Benny wondered what the Hell he would do without him. “Christ, Nod. That’s a lot of banks mate. I’m going to be out most of the day”. Noddy turned his stool round, and let the screens alone for a moment. “It will be like this every day for some time, then at least twice a month after that. You have to realise about money laundering regulations, withdrawal limits, CCTV in the ATM machines. You can’t just walk into a bank and withdraw ten grand anymore, Benny. Not unless you want to explain how it got there, and whether you paid any tax on it. And don’t forget to take those extra shots of your Nan, they are crying out for them”. Benny whistled. “You are totally on it. You should be an expert on all this, you could make a lot of money”.
The smelly young man shook his head, finally looking exasperated with his friend.
“I already am. And hopefully, we will”.
From downstairs, Beverly shouted. “Food’s ready!” As he turned back to the screens, Noddy asked him, “Tell my Mum to bring me up a sandwich after. Tomato Ketchup. And some milk, the full-fat stuff, not the semi-skimmed she has in her tea”. Benny grinned. “Will do”.
When they had eaten, and Beverly had taken up the sandwich and milk, she came to sit beside Benny on the sofa. “Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself earlier, and don’t even think of saying you don’t fancy me after that performance. I may be a lot older than you, but I can still tell when someone really wants me”. He wasn’t about to deny it. “No, it was lovely. And I do. Er, fancy you that is. It was just a shock. I mean, you’re Noddy’s Mum”. She ruffled his already untidy hair. “Well not anymore, now I am your other half. I was thinking, it would make sense for you to move in, save keep coming round every day. You would be on the spot for Darren, and I would be more than happy to have you around, as I surely demonstrated upstairs. We would make a good team. I’m sure you could find me very useful for all sorts of jobs, as well as those behind closed doors”.
That was the last thing that he had expected to hear. “But what about Nan, who would look after her? And Mr Hall, what would he say? Would I have your daughter’s old room? And would I have to pay rent? I don’t at Nan’s, just give her some food money”. She stroked his face and shook her head slowly. “So many questions. I should have thought after the good time I showed you you would jump at the chance to be in bed with me every night of the week. And don’t make me laugh about your Nan. Everyone knows she looks after you, not the other way round. I reckon Lilian deserves a break after all these years, she’s getting on a bit, after all. And as for rent, I am guessing enough money will be coming in to more than cover that. No need to worry about Keith either. He won’t be here anymore. I’m sorting that out later”.
Benny was stumped for a reply. He couldn’t argue that it didn’t make sense to not have to keep coming round, and it was hard to deny he fancied her. He was still thinking about that session earlier, no getting away from that. Nan had been good to him, but might well be happy to have him off her hands. Noddy didn’t seem to care less, and Beverly was a decent cook, if her egg and chips were anything to go by. And she seemed to have her head screwed on too. He suddenly thought of something, and sat up straight. “Linda. I forgot Linda. What would I tell her?” Beverly wasn’t looking concerned. “Who’s Linda, your girlfriend?” He nodded. “Well, sort of. You know, Big Linda from the cafe on the market, works on the flower stall too?” Beverly nodded, getting a mental image of a woman selling flowers, unimaginably gigantic boobs, and her hair scurfed up like a top-knot. She smiled. No competition.
“How long have you been seeing her? Have you made any commitment to her? Are you in love with her or something?” He felt a bit silly as he replied. “Nothing like that really. We have done it a couple of times, and she gave me the key to her flat. I really like her, but I don’t have to answer to her for anything. I just think she’s nice, and don’t like to upset her”. Beverly pretended to think it over. “Nicer than me, Benny love?” He shook his head. “Do you fancy her more than me then? He shook his head again. “Well, how about this? Keep the key. I can spare you now and again to keep her sweet. Tell her you are living here, just sharing with Darren because of your business. She doesn’t need to know any details, at least not for now. Maybe offer her some work. We need someone to do lots of trips to the Post Office, as well as stuffing the envelopes and padded bags with the stuff. We could drop it off at her place, and she could work from home. Darren will print out the stickers for mailing, and we will give her the cash for the postal charges. Worth keeping her happy, she might come in handy later”.
He thought for a moment. It would be good not to upset anyone, and have no hassles. “OK, sounds good. If you’re sure”. She smiled, and almost purred. “Oh I’m sure”. Slipping out of the dressing gown, she opened her arms wide.
“Now. Come over here, and let’s seal the deal”.
Benny finally got out of the flat less than ten minutes before Mr Hall returned home. Keith hung up his jacket in the hallway, and walked through to find his wife sitting in a pink dressing gown that he didn’t remember ever seeing before. But he failed to notice her new hairstyle, or the very good make up job she had done earlier that day. She stood up and went into the kitchen, popping something into the microwave for his supper. When the bell went off, he went through and eyed the plate of unappestising brown stuff. “It’s just a microwave lamb hot pot tonight. I have been busy today. When you finish that, we need to have a talk”. She walked out, holding a glass of something that looked like whisky. He didn’t bother to mention that he had already eaten a curry during his break at work, just shovelled down a few mouthfuls of the hot pot, and dropped the plate in the sink.
Keith slumped into the armchair, hoping his wife wasn’t going to go off on one of her nagging sprees. He hadn’t expected what came next. “Keith, we both know this isn’t working. We’re like strangers, for Christ’s sake. When did you last ever speak to Darren? And what about our daughter? I don’t think you have ever phoned her since she moved. You can’t just walk through life in a dream, love. I think it’s time to face facts. You should move out, maybe live nearer to where you work. I know you won’t miss me, and I sure as shit won’t miss you. I need a new life, be myself again. I can’t do that with you around, so I am calling it a day. I checked, and we have almost two grand in savings. I will go to the bank tomorrow, and get you half. You can cancel the direct debits for the housekeeping and bills, and you will have more than enough to get by”. She sat back, expecting an argument.
Keith felt the relief flood over him. Many times in the past ten years he had thought about just leaving. But he felt responsible financially, if not emotionally. Recently, he had thought about sharing a house with Vijay from work. He was struggling to pay the mortgage on a two bed in Harmondsworth, and had asked Keith if he knew anyone looking to share. That was only three weeks ago, so might well still be available. The prospect of not having to face his nagging wife every evening filled him with joy, but he tried to disguise it. “Will you manage alright? You know, with your carer pay for Darren. You will have to get a job again, I reckon. She was nodding as he talked. “Oh I will be alright. I have something lined up. I won’t need anything from you, I’m pleased to say”. Keith suddenly smiled, taking Beverly by surprise. “OK then, I will pack a bag to take into work, then get the rest of my stuff later. I will give you an address to send on my post. All being well, I should be out of here by Sunday evening”. That had shocked her. Expecting protest or tantrums at the very least, she certainly hadn’t expected such ready agreement. She looked away, and muttered “Good”.
When Benny got back to the flat, he could hear giggling and laughing as he opened the door. He wondered if Nan might have one of her fancy men there, even though it wasn’t Friday. Carefully glancing around the door to the living room, he saw her sitting on the sofa with another woman. Spotting him, she called out “Come in, Benny love. Come and meet Sophie, soon to be Sophie Bright. Sophie darling, this is my lovely grandson, Benedict. We all call him Benny though”. He walked over and shook the old lady’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Sophie”. She pulled him forward, and kissed him on the cheek. Nan carried on. “Sophie is going to be staying for a while, so you will have to take the sofa. She is going to be one of the stars of our new website, and work with me on some new films. She was Dolly back then, you will have seen her on those old ones, you know, Tony’s VHS stuff. But we have changed a bit since”.
He couldn’t place the little old woman from the films, but nodded. “Oh, right”. She was small compared to Nan, quite thin, with a very wrinkled neck. Her bright white hair was smart though, and she obviously looked after herself. He sat opposite, feeling shattered after such a long day. Sophie gave him a smile. They had obviously been drinking, as he could tell from the almost-empty bottle of brandy on the table, and the two glasses. She spoke carefully, trying hard not to sound slurred. “I hope that I don’t put you out, Benny. I feel bad about you sleeping on the sofa. I am happy to curl up on it myself you know, I’m only little”. Benny tried to sound unconcerned. “Not at all, it’s no problem. You take my room. Besides, I might be moving out soon”. He turned to Nan. “Mrs Hall said I can move in there, be close to Noddy, and the work. Save keep going backwards and forwards to their place”. Nan didn’t pick up on any implications that had. She just smiled, and turned to her old friend. “Well, that works out perfectly then”.
As he stood up, Nan spoke again. “Don’t rush off anywhere love. Don’t forget you have to take more photos of me. And you can do some of Sophie too. She has brought some lovely old undies; girdles and all sorts. We will get changed, once we finish our drinks”. Benny groaned. “Nan, I’m really tired. You wouldn’t believe what I have had to do today. Let’s do it in the morning”. Nan wasn’t having any of it. “It’s not even ten yet, plenty of time. We have been looking forward to it, haven’t we, Sophie?” Her friend had her glass to her mouth, but nodded anyway, spilling some of the booze onto her chin. They downed their drinks, and he set up the tripod, after placing a fresh memory card in the camera. He could hear them squealing like a pair of twelve-year-olds in the bedroom, as they put on their outfits.
He had a full day tomorrow, and a feeling it was going to be a long night.
Nan and the newly-named Aunt Sophie were having a high old time. They had emerged from the bedroom looking like two late 1950s glamour models who had been left to ‘go off’. Both were wearing girdles, bullet bras, and fully-fashioned stockings attached to industrial strength suspenders that dangled from the elasticated girdles. They were also wearing knickers bigger than even those favoured by Bridget Jones. Nan also had a plot of sorts, and she cleared the coffee table, before laying deck of cards out on it. “OK Benny love, what we will do is play strip poker, except we will just pretend. As each of us loses, we will take something off. Keep clicking away, and make sure you get it all. In fact, it might even be better to shoot it as a video, then you will miss nothing”.
He changed to video setting, and warned “Nan, this won’t last too long. The card is not very big for long videos”. Lilian and Sophie were already in character, so without turning, she mumbled “Stop and start it then love, but get the best bits”. It had been a long time for the two elderly friends, but Benny had to admit they slipped back into it as if they had been filming together yesterday. The supposed poker became little more than a game of Snap, as they seemed to compete with each other as to who could get their clothes off the quickest. Sophie was not remotely embarrassed to remove her bra in front of Benny, and he shook his head at the sight of her sad little paps that looked like deflated balloons. That was bad enough, but when Nan’s bra went flying across the room, Benny called a halt. “Nan! Come on, I’m your grandson. let’s not forget that”. He half-turned, so he didn’t have to take in the view. Nan’s once tantalising boobs now looked more like a couple of massive empty leather water bags, the sort you see slung around the neck of a mule, in an old Western film.
Sophie turned to speak to him. “Turn the camera off for a minute, Benny”. He pressed the switch, and she continued. “If you are going to work in this game, you have to forget all that stuff. You are filming Aunt Sophie and Betty Baxter, that’s all you need to know. Point the camera, get the good stuff that the punters want, and just forget about who you are related to, and what you are seeing. If you are going to make a go of it, you have to be detached. If you can’t do that, then get someone in to film for you. OK?” He knew she was right, but it wasn’t easy. “Carry on, Sophie, I won’t say anything”. Two minutes later, and Sophie’s knickers were round her ankles, her bum cheeks looking like a couple of under-cooked Cornish pasties. When she reached over to pull Nan’s knickers off, giggling and leering, Benny thought he might pass out. As he caught sight of what Nan called her ‘Old Glory’, he let out a long groan. “Oh, Christ Nan, did you have to?”
He didn’t sleep well that night. As well as the sofa feeling lumpy, it was all but impossible to erase those images from his mind.
The next day was the busiest day in Benny’s young life so far. After around three hour’s sleep, he had jumped in the shower to wake himself up, very pleased that he had remembered to get clean clothes out of his room the night before. He could hear snoring from both bedrooms, and guessed that the film stars were sleeping off a late night of fun and drunkenness. By two in the afternoon, he had a bag full of cash, his feet ached, and he needed something to eat and drink. Outside the last bank on the list, he was delighted to see a free cab, and he gave the driver Linda’s address. It was a long way, and a hefty fare, but he didn’t mind. He had more money than he had ever seen. Despite having a key, he didn’t use it, and when she answered the doorbell, she looked very happy to see him. To dispel any idea she might have about heading for the bedroom, he spoke very quickly. “Linda love, I was up filming half the night, and I have been out since before nine. I would love a bacon sandwich and a coffee, if it’s not taking the piss to ask”.
Over the sandwich and hot drink, he told her the full story. The website, the videos, Nan, Sophie, Noddy, the forum, the site shop, selling the underwear and photos, and how tired he was. He added the news that he was moving into Mrs Hall’s but carefully left out the bit about the two rampant sex sessions he had so far enjoyed with Beverly. Linda was suitably impressed, and jumped at the chance of earning some extra cash. She had been looking out for something to replace the lunchtime job at the cafe, and even suggested that Sylvia would be happy to help out too, for a few quid in return. They arranged that he would drop off the padded bags and envelopes once they arrived, and Linda and Sylvia would put the items into them, adding the address labels. Linda said she could use her Mum’s old shopping trolley to wheel a fair load round to the Post Office, and would make a couple of trips while Sylvia carried on stuffing the bags. He kissed her goodbye, and headed off. Still lots to do.
At Noddy’s place, there was no reply. Noddy never came down to answer the door, so he guessed Beverly must be out. Benny decided to hang around. No point walking back to Nan’s, then having to turn around and come back. Twenty minutes later, Beverly appeared on the landing. She was looking very smart, wearing a sharp two-piece suit that made her look like a real businesswoman. Not caring about the public display, she kissed him with unexpected passion, before opening the door to go in. Once inside, she opened the shoulder bag she was carrying, and showed him wads of cash, all new notes. “I have been out and about withdrawing money too, Benny love. We have to get out as much as we can, before it starts to get noticed. You had better go up and have a chat with Darren. He’s got some exciting news”.
Noddy was at his usual spot, looking as if he hadn’t moved in days. When Benny walked into the room, he started talking non-stop. “The demand for the photos is not as high as we expected, but quite a lot of them want to buy signed ones. You will have to get a decent pen, and get your Nan to sign them. I have put all the details in an email and copied it to you. My Mum’s pages are very popular too, and over ninety people have signed up to Velma’s private section already”. Benny presumed that ‘Velma’ was the name Beverly had chosen for herself. He wasn’t even sure that was a name, but that hardly mattered. He remembered the filming session last night, and placed the memory card on the desk. “This is Nan and her friend. She’s going to be called Aunt Sophie. It’s all video, but you can edit it, and use some screenshots for stills”. His friend slid the card to one side, then turned to face him.
“You have to get onto Zafir, the video guy. The pre-orders for your Nan’s videos are huge, and we need them sooner, rather than later. I have already accepted payment for a lot of the one thousand we ordered, so we need to get them posted out. Quite a few of those forum blokes have ordered the full set, twenty films at fifty quid each. This new video of your Nan and Sophie will be just as popular, I’m sure”. Benny smiled. “We have sold quite a few then?” Noddy took off his blue hat, rubbed his head, and put it back on. “Over eight hundred copies, Benny. That’s eight-zero-zero. Do you realise how much that comes to?” Benny could quote the poetry of William Blake, but had never been fast with sums. As he hesitated with the answer, Noddy raised his voice.
“FORTY GRAND, BENNY. FORTY THOUSAND QUID!
WE MIGHT HAVE TO GO LEGIT”
Beverly came upstairs to have what she called a ‘special conference’ in the confines of Noddy’s room. Between her and Benny, their bags of cash had amounted to well over five thousand pounds. She had counted out some bundles, and marked them with post-it notes. There was two thousand five hundred for the DVD films payment, one thousand for Nan, including a bonus on her initial six hundred. Then five hundred for Benny, described as ‘expenses money’. She sat on Noddy’s bed. Sidling up to Benny, she rested her hand on his leg. “Tell him the rest, Darren”.
Noddy turned on the stool to face them both. “I have ordered the stationery to be delivered tomorrow. A while ago, I changed the delivery location to Linda’s flat, using the address you gave me. You will have to tell her to be in to receive the parcels. You need to arrange a van and driver to take you to collect the films, I have written down some reliable companies. Drop the films at Linda’s, and give her the packet of address labels I have printed out”. There is spare cash for the postal charges, and payment for her time. Make sure she gets a receipt from the Post Office though. And check a random sample of the films. We don’t want them being returned with issues”. Benny interrupted. “They are region-free, Noddy, so should play anywhere in the world”. Noddy ignored him, and continued. “Tomorrow, you and my Mum need to get out and withdraw more money from different places. I have written down where to go, and what to take out. Mum suggests you get a decent haircut, and some smarter clothes. That’s up to you, but it might attract less attention if you look the part”.
Before anyone else could say anything, he sat up straight, and adopted his best serious expression. “I have been doing some estimates. Allowing for a fair drop-off rate, we should be seeing around five thousand a month coming in, and that’s just from membership fees. Also, there will be extras for Aunt Sophie’s and Velma’s private pages and videos. On top of that, I reckon we might pull in around the same for DVD sales, at least until they get fed up of the same faces. We have already got almost fifty grand spread around the accounts, just in a few days. You are going to have to keep up the content, and make sure you have enough fresh stuff every month. It might also be worth scouting for new faces. We might need some fresh talent by the end of this year, and we may have to seriously consider going straight. We should have advertisers interested soon, but we can’t deal with them using Paypal or cash. Besides, why pay commission to money brokers when we could manage it through a bank? That would leave us liable to tax of course, but there are ways around paying too much of that. Then we could legitimately get our hands on the money: pay Mum, Sophie, and your Nan properly, and get a decent amount of advertising revenue, based on clicks out of our site. If we carry on as we are, sooner or later it will become increasingly difficult to manage the cash. My forecast for the first year is something like twelve thousand a month, say one hundred and forty grand, to be on the safe side”.
He hadn’t mentioned taking anything for himself, not even asked for any new tech stuff. Benny whistled. “Wow, Nod, that’s a lot. What about your share, don’t you want anything? After all, you’re the brains behind it”. Noddy asked for nothing.”I just like having a project, Benny. And my Mum will benefit, and get me anything I need. So, she will take whatever she thinks is fair for me, and use it to get me whatever I need. By the way, there’s a new HD video camera coming tomorrow. It takes great video, as well as stills. The battery will last longer, and it has a decent light to attach to it too. I have also ordered some large capacity memory cards. Mum paid for it on her Amazon account, and I told her to take the money for it out of the bag”. He turned away, indicating there would not be anymore questions, or further discussion.
Beverly stood up and took Benny’s hand, winking at him as she spoke. “Darren love, we are both really tired after that early start. We are just going into my room to have a lie down for a while, alright?” He didn’t answer, just raised a hand in acknowledgement.
This time, Benny didn’t feel so tired. As he glanced at Beverly lying on the bed, looking very pleased with herself, he realised he had been rather energized by what they had just done. Perhaps he was getting used to it, discovering a natural skill after all. With less than an hour before Mr Hall got home, he kissed her lightly, then slipped away before she started all over again.
Nan and Sophie were sitting together on the sofa, answering comments from the veritable legion of fans who couldn’t seem to get enough of chatting to the two faded glamour queens. They smiled at him, as he came in. Nan looked up between typing replies. “There’s half a quiche in the fridge if you’re hungry love. Then get your tripod set up. We need to do some solo shots for Sophie’s page, then some more of me. You’d never believe the sort of things they’re asking for; real domestic stuff, normal clothes, doing the housework, peeling spuds and stuff. Most of them just want to see us doing ordinary things, and are happy with a little bending over, or a peek down our blouse”.
Benny handed Nan the cash. “There’s your money, and an extra four hundred, Nan. There will be some more soon, and next week again too. Noddy’s talking about going legit”. Nan turned back to the screen. “Thanks, love. Leave it there. What about Sophie, did you bring her anything? He had forgotten about her. “Tell you what, Nan, give her that four hundred, and I will replace it next week”. Sophie looked pleased, and blew him a kiss”. He didn’t bother with the quiche, and as he set up the tripod, he remembered. “Oh, Noddy’s ordered a new camera, HD like you asked for. It’s coming tomorrow”. Sophie leaned back, and spoke to him as Nan was typing. “Not sure about being legit, Benny love. That takes all the fun out of it”.
Nan kissed her friend on the cheek, and they both started cackling.
Benny Goes Straight.
With his new haircut, and wearing a smart two-piece suit in electric blue, Benny looked the part. After years of being in trainers, the hard shiny shoes felt strange, but he had to admit that at long last, he had finally grown up. At least as far as looking grown up. Beverly sat next to him in the taxi. Too close to him as usual, but that was what she did. Her expensive professional hairdo was an improvement on the previous cheap one, though the new dark green dress was perhaps a little short, for a woman of forty-eight. But she did look good, he had to admit that. They were making the short journey to Holborn, to the office of a solicitor who was an expert in commercial law.
The last week had passed like a blur. Keith Hall had been good to his word, and had moved out on that Sunday morning, never to be seen again. Beverly was packing up the rest of his stuff before he had even closed the door. By Monday, it had been collected and put in storage, and she sent him a text with the address where it could be found. Linda had turned out to be very efficient indeed. All the DVD films, as well as the signed photos, and the plastic-sealed worn stockings, underwear, and tights, had been packed up, addressed, and posted. All in just two days. He had been generous, and given her two hundred, some of which she would give to Sylvia. That was more than she earned from the cafe and flower stall combined, in a week. The films had been better than expected too. They played well, and looked professional. Zafir had even included a ‘Menu’ option, with a choice of scene facility. The inserts on the DVD boxes even proclaimed, ‘A Fortune Films Production’. He had done that without being asked. A nice touch. Benny had moved a lot of stuff into Noddy’s flat on the Monday, and Beverly had celebrated by taking him upstairs early, and seemingly trying to kill him with her ardour.
The next morning, she took him out shopping for clothes and shoes, made him get a fashionable haircut, and a proper barber shave. When they got back, Noddy told them what he had been up to. “Fortune Films is a perfect name for us, Benny. I have registered it, and sorted out copyright protection on the names, films, photos, and website. I have also made sure that it is an Irish company, using a shell in Dublin; just a front and mail drop, run by a guy who specialises in such things. Did you know that’s how Amazon operates in Britain? That’s why they pay sod all tax. I have also applied in your name for a new social security card, and a fast-track passport, which will be required for I.D. I took a photo of you on the webcam, and you didn’t even notice. I have also engaged the services of a solicitor in London. He will act as the middle man, getting the paperwork from Ireland, and arranging the accounts through someone he knows. We don’t have any office or company in England, and all the site stuff is routed through Kiev. The Ukrainians are up to speed in the online porn market, and already have some great set-ups”.
Beverly was excited, and kept kissing Benny. Noddy acted as if he just didn’t notice, and carried on. “So, as of today, Fortune Films is a legitimate company, at least as far as the law is concerned. I have ordered lots of better computer stuff, and we can stop using stolen phone minutes and broadband allowances. By tomorrow, we will have state of the art phones with unlimited business contracts. You can leave that moody dongle in the laptop for your Nan though, she needs to be able to answer her forum fans. All the documents will be couriered over from Ireland, then you and Mum just have to go and sign them in the office at Holborn. You two will be the company directors, and will both have to sign any papers. Mum will be coming off benefits, by no longer claiming my carer allowance. All being well, we shouldn’t attract any undue attention, and I estimate that it will all cost us less than ten percent of the annual income. Better than the forty percent we would pay if we earned all this as a salary. Now we can just draw anything out of the bank, with no need to keep hitting the ATM machines. I can transfer money legally online, and change the payment options to direct debit, or bank transfer. No more Paypal commission, after next month. You and Mum will have company bank cards, and I have set up an account with a private cab firm too, to run you around anytime”.
When he stopped talking, Benny thought for a moment. “But what about Nan? She is the reason all this started. What does she get?” Noddy sighed. “Nan is part of the talent, not the business brain. She will get cash, and lots of it. But if she goes on the books, then she will lose her state pension just in income tax. Her income would be too large for her to continue to get any allowances based solely on her age. I will suggest a weekly payment, and she can pay Sophie out of that. I assure you it will be a lot, and your Nan will be happy. Mum will get some cash too, as well as being on the books as a company director. That way, her payments as Velma will disappear as ‘running costs’. By the time we deduct all the expenses to set up, the new equipment bought in the company name, and the supposedly legitimate expenses, I doubt we will show any profit for a couple of years, at least if the accountant does his sums right. And I reckon I will be able to siphon off a fair bit, before he sees the figures”. Benny nodded, and Beverly patted his hand. “Why don’t you pop round and tell your Nan, show her your new suit?”
Nan’s flat seemed quiet as he let himself in. It wasn’t even dark yet, but it seemed they might be out. Perhaps they had gone shopping, or up to the pub for an early drink. He could see the door to his room was wide open, and nobody was in there. He wandered in, expecting to see Sophie’s stuff in there. But it was much as he had left it, the bed still made, and not slept in. Other than her big suitcase standing at the end of the bed, there was no trace of an old woman occupying the room. Nan’s bedroom door was ajar, and he knocked on it softly, pushing it open just a little. On top of the bed, Nan and Sophie were lying wrapped in each other’s arms. Neither of them had a stitch of clothing on, and they appeared to be fast asleep. By the side of the bed, two pairs of velcro-fastening slippers were placed neatly, side by side. He stood taking in the scene for a second, and suddenly Nan opened one eye, making him jump out of his skin. She smiled at him, and raised a finger to her lips, indicating he should be quiet. Sophie groaned a little, and tightened the grip of her arms around Nan.
Nan spoke, in what was best described a a loud whisper. “Everything alright, Benny love?” He nodded, his mouth still open. It seemed those old girl/girl scenes from the sixties had not just been for show after all. “Close the door then love. Come back some other time”. He took two steps back, pulling the door slowly. Then Nan spoke again, just as it closed.
“By the way. Nice suit”.
Benny ties the knot.
Benny had decided to walk to the Registry Office. It was a nice day, and it would give him time to collect his thoughts. He was still a few weeks away from his twenty-first birthday, and the last fifteen months had seemed to pass like an extended dream.
Everything had turned out to be bigger and better than any of them had expected, mainly due to Noddy, and his amazingly quick brain. He had come up with a great idea. Rather than employ lots more models, maybe having to rent studio space, and engage the services of additional photographers, Noddy did what he did best, and trawled online with the skill of a real deep-sea fisherman looking for Cod. He found hundreds of old films being sold in dribs and drabs, most from around the same time period as Nan’s early days, and featuring very ordinary women wearing much the same stuff as she used to. He contacted the sellers and distributors, offering one-off payments for sole rights. More than ninety percent of them went for his deals. After all, they had no idea who he was, or what he looked like, and their annual sales were negligible.
Once they had them, they were sent to Zafir. Tidied up, re-packaged, and branded as ‘A Fortune Films Production’, they found a ready market with the existing customers, who were always looking for something new. Benny’s old bedroom at Nan’s was now fully racked out for storage, and Linda and Sylvia had packed in their old jobs, now working full-time for the company. Noddy put them on the books as ‘Cleaners’, showing the minimum wage paid. But they more than trebled that with extra cash they got, and were very happy. Linda had soon caught on to Benny and Beverly being an item. She took her time, and then announced one day that she had a new bloke. “I’m with Dexter now. You know, the courier driver. He’s moving in soon Benny, so I’d like the key back. You don’t mind, do you?” Benny didn’t mind. He knew the cheerful black guy who did most of the drop-offs for them, and reckoned he would be good for Linda. Besides, Beverly was giving him almost more than he could handle. It seemed as if she had found some elixir of youth, and was going backwards in time.
Nan had kept her site going with Sophie. The drop off rate had been less than fifteen percent, so it was still a good earner. Those two had been a revelation. On Nan’s seventieth birthday, they had officially come out as a couple, celebrating with an almighty piss-up at one of Nan’s favourite pubs. It was a little weird to see the two seventy-somethings holding hands, and kissing and cuddling, more so when one was your old Nan. But his was Camden, in the twenty-first century, and nobody gave them a second glance. Benny was still doing the filming and photos three times a week to keep up the fresh content, but he had a lot of free time, which Beverly made sure was spent with her, usually in her bed. After six months, and the acquisition of all the old films by Noddy, she had announced that Velma was retiring, and closed down her page on the site. The truth was that she had very few paid-up followers, and hardly any page views. She just wasn’t old enough for their niche market.
The advertising wasn’t a huge part of the income, but enough to make a difference. Noddy had struck some decent deals, but a lot of the foreign companies were bad payers, and they soon had to drop their ads when no money arrived. Noddy had also set up an Ebay shop, as well as becoming an Amazon Marketplace seller for the softer films. The Ebay shop was huge. With ‘Buy It Now’ only, and payment in advance, they were run off their feet with orders from all over the world, and had even started to take credit card payments. Noddy contracted Dexter to do all the parcel work and Post Office drop-offs. Then he had the genius idea to lease a new bigger van in the company’s name. He made Dexter rent it off the company, so that deferred a lot of the pay they owed him. Noddy was on fire, and Benny never stopped being impressed.
They finally had to rent a storage facility on an industrial estate in Neasden, when they could no longer cope with the amount of films. Zafir had sorted that out at mate’s rates, through one of his cousins. Fortune Films had fast become one of his best customers, and he was secretly very pleased that Benny had walked through the door of his small warehouse that day. At the end of the first full year, Beverly called another one of her meetings in Noddy’s bedroom. Despite everything, Noddy hadn’t changed at all. He was still sitting in his underpants, wearing the blue hat. Since he had moved in with Beverly, Benny had never actually seen him wash, and he had never once gone downstairs either. Although he had become acclimatised to the smell, his friend’s self-imposed solitude still played on his mind. Noddy was happy though. He had changed his bed for one that folded up out of the way during the day, and his small room now looked like Mission Control for the Mars landing. Over ten grand had been spent on the best new computer equipment, and they had had to have an electrician in, to wire up more sockets.
Noddy had stayed in the bathroom while he was there.
It turned out there was a lot more money. Almost double what Noddy had predicted. When he ran through the financials, he sounded as if he was unimpressed. He was happy enough with his new stuff, and any extra money was meaningless to him, other that it represented success of the project.
“I have been in touch with the accountant guy. The turnover was close to two hundred and thirty-eight grand. We have shown a small profit, paid a little tax in Ireland, and of course the fees for taking credit cards, as well as the Ebay and Amazon commission. Less all running costs, and buying the new equipment, renting the storage. leasing the van, we have a lot left. I have deducted the money paid to Linda, Dexter, and Sylvia, and left a few grand in to cover the next few months. I have also excluded the money paid to your Nan, and Sophie. On top of what you have already spent for day to day living, you and Mum can split a hundred and seventy grand. Not bad, I think you’ll agree. And that’s just up to last week. There are still plenty more orders awaiting processing”.
Beverly turned and smiled. “We can get married now, then there’s no need to split anything. It will just be ours”. Benny had never proposed to her, and she had never mentioned it before. He was twenty, and she was forty-nine, though he had to admit she looked more like thirty-five these days. He hadn’t even realised that she had divorced Keith. He looked at Noddy, keen to see any reaction. As usual, his friend was businesslike, unconcerned by the news. “It would make sense financially. I am sure there could be tax advantages in the long-term, and it would save having to make wills, or additional legal agreements concerning joint finances and property”. He turned back to his screens, and Beverly smiled. “Is that OK with you then, love?” There was a slight break in her voice, a momentary hesitation that he might say no had crept in. He put his hand on her leg and smiled. “Yeah, why not?”
The Registry Office was in sight now. It was the big one with the steps outside, on the Marylebone Road. Nan had been pleased with the choice, and said “Ooh, that’s where Paul McCartney got married to that American woman”. Benny hesitated on the corner, pretending to wait for the traffic so he could cross. Despite all the money, they never did anything. They couldn’t move out of Beverly’s flat, because Noddy refused to live anywhere else. Beverly spent her money on clothes, as well as buying clothes for him too. He had five suits in the wardrobe, and hardly went anywhere to wear them. They ate out now and again, but mainly stayed in, and mainly stayed in bed, when he wasn’t out at Nan’s filming. Still, he might have stayed at university, gone on to become an English teacher for less than twenty-eight grand a year, and never had a girlfriend. At least life was easy, though it had seemed more fun when he had been bust.
They were waving from the steps, urging him to hurry up as it was close to the time of the appointment. Nan and Sophie looked smart, although their dresses were so similar, they could have been mistaken for weird twins. Beverly looked lovely in her dress, he had to confess. Not a wedding dress of course, and not white. But still lovely. Linda, Sylvia, and Dexter had all made an effort too. Zafir looked razor-sharp in a designer suit, and had a dolly-bird girlfriend on his arm. Noddy wasn’t there of course.
Even the wedding wouldn’t make him leave his room.
Benny crossed the junction, and waved back, smiling. This was his last chance. He could simply turn and run, or just walk up to them, and say he had changed his mind.
But he didn’t.