Third Time Lucky

Charley didn’t stop to think as she ran after the handbag thief, little knowing where it would lead

Charley bounced up the steps from the beach onto the packed promenade.

Her back, shoulders and thighs were prickling, evidence she should have covered up from the sun at least an hour ago. Wearing only a skimpy pale blue playsuit over her bikini, her long dark hair tied up in a ponytail, by the time she got home, she knew she was going to be very sore.

She did it every year. Despite dire warnings from her mother that if she didn’t stay out of the sun, she’d have skin like a lizard by the time she was forty.

But forty was ten years off.

And when she came home to Devon for a few days, if the sun was out, she had to be out in it.

It was always great to be away from London, to fill her lungs with fresh air, to smell seaweed, and to gaze at the vastness of the turquoise sea.

The temperature of the sea today was just how she liked it. Cold enough to be invigorating, not so cold that she froze.

Swimming banished all the things that worried her in London. Her high rent, and whether her job in an advertising company would lead her anywhere.

But most of all it banished the knowledge that her biological clock was ticking away fast, and she’d yet to meet Mr Right.

Now as she strode purposefully towards the marina, she thought an ice cream would be good. Then maybe she’d hop on a bus up the hill to Wellswood, rather than walk.

The promenade was crowded, family groups, babies in prams, small kids on tricycles, and many disabled people in wheelchairs.

Here in Torquay it made her happy to see old couples holding hands, people walking their dogs, and scores of smiling teenagers who weren’t being a pain. Unlike the rough crews where she lived.

Charley had been horrified when her parents moved here ten years ago, leaving her to move into a flat in London with some friends. Why would they want to cut themselves off from friends they’d had for a lifetime, and their two children, to move to a place where they knew no one?

Her brother Steve, who was older by three years, backed their parents. But then he’d just got his PhD, a great job and a new girlfriend he wanted to move in with.

He reprimanded Charley for saying she felt she was being abandoned.

“Nothing sadder than grown-up children hanging onto their mother’s apron strings,” he said. As if he’d never brought home bags of washing from uni for their mother to do.

“Mum and Dad deserve a happy new life by the sea while they’re still young enough to make new friends.

“Besides, you’ll meet someone and get married before long. So go out and have some fun until that happens.”

Charley approved of Torquay now, and she’d had plenty of fun in London since moving into a shared flat.

Plenty of boyfriends too, and twice she’d believed she was in love. But both times it fizzled out. Maybe the third time would be lucky!

Charley was just finishing her cornet as she crossed the busy road by the Marina, going towards the shops and bus stop. Directly ahead she noticed an elderly lady in a pink and white dress getting money from a cash point outside the bank.

Charley winced as the lady awkwardly held her money as if counting it and then stuffed it in her shoulder bag.

Suddenly exactly what Charley had feared, happened.

A tall young man with dark scruffy hair and a grey t-shirt, lunged at the lady’s bag and snatched it from her shoulder!

Charley didn’t stop to think. She dropped her basket holding her towel and flew after the young man.

The elderly lady called out something. It was enough for the man to turn his head and tuck the brown bag firmly under his arm, before speeding up, not for one moment thinking the dark haired young woman dodging in and out of tourists was actually after him.

She had often played at flying rugby tackles in the garden with her brother. Although it was some years since she last tried it, and never before on concrete, she launched herself at the man. She brought him face down on the pavement in one swift movement.

Straddling across the man’s backside, while holding down his flailing arms and ignoring that he was swearing at her, she yelled at the astonished people going past. “Get the police! He’s stolen that lady’s handbag!”

It was laughable how dumb people could be, stopping to stare as if the scantily dressed woman who had pinned down a man on the pavement was doing it for fun.

The owner of the bag caught up with Charley, bringing her basket, shouting indignantly to the crowd that this lout on the ground had stolen her bag.

Finally, a man got out his phone and rang the police.

Charley pulled out the bag from beneath the thief. She clipped his ear as he struggled to get free, giving her a mouthful of abuse.

“You are going nowhere except the police station,” she said. “And keep up that abuse and I’ll clout you again.”

“I never saw anything so brave,” the lady in the pink dress said as Charley handed her the bag. “Thank you so much, my dear.”

The police arrived within minutes.

While one of them helped Charley up, the other cuffed the thief, hauled him to his feet and pushed him into the back of the car.

The lady victim was telling the police and anyone else who stopped to listen how brave and speedy Charley had been.

“So what’s your name, then? Wonder Woman?” one of the officers asked.

Charley hadn’t realised, until her knees started to sting like mad, that she’d grazed them during her tackle.

But as she looked up at the officer her stomach gave a little flip.

His eyes were a deeper blue than his uniform shirt, and his wide smile showed dazzlingly white teeth and a cute dimple in his chin.

“Charlotte Brigham,” she said, forgetting all about her knees. “Better known as Charley.”

It was just after six when Charley was dropped at her parents by a police officer, two hours since she tackled the thief.

She and the victim, Carole Lombard, were taken to the police station to give statements. Carole went first as she had to get back to a sick husband.

While Charley waited, the handsome policeman came into the waiting room to see her. Seeing her bleeding knees, he insisted on cleaning them up.

Kneeling on the floor in front of her and dabbing the dirt out of the wounds with some antiseptic, he told her he was Dan Meredith. He’d been in the force for eight years, was aged thirty-two and unmarried.

“I’m cutting to the chase because I know you’re going back to London. Will you come to dinner tonight?” he said, his speedwell-blue eyes looking into hers.

Charley controlled the urge to cheer, or to run her fingers through his dark hair. She had to at least look as if she was considering his offer.

He continued to dab at her knees.

“I won’t have any skin left if you keep that up,” she said with a smile.

She was called then to make her statement, but as she got to the door, she turned to look back at Dan who was putting the first aid kit away.

“I’d like dinner,” she said. “Eight o’clock?”

She figured he was smart enough to find out where she was staying. Charley came into the sitting room just before eight. Her parents were watching TV.

“What do you think?” she asked. She had bought the pink linen top and trousers two days ago, not expecting to wear them until she got back to London.

“Very nice, you look classy. But fancy picking up a policeman while he was at work,” her mother said, her mouth set in a straight line of disapproval. “You don’t know anything about him.”

“That’s why she’s going out to dinner with him,” her father said, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

“You know what she’s like. By the time she comes home tonight she’ll know everything about him. Even his national insurance number.”

Charley laughed. Her father always backed her up.

“Make sure you do come home. This is Torquay, not London where they do those one-night things.”

“One-night stands, they are called,” Charley said. “And how do you know people don’t do that in Torquay?”

The doorbell rang.

“Behave like a lady,” was her mother’s parting shot.

Dan took her to a restaurant on the sea front, and he’d even got a table right by the window. Charley told him her parents always asked for that, but never got one.

“I was called here a week ago when a group of flash idiots were being rather objectionable,” he said.

“I managed to get them out without any further disruption and the manager said that if I was booking a meal anytime, to tell them who I was, and they’d give me a window seat.

“So I did, and here we are.”

The view of the sun going down on the sea was beautiful, the food delicious and Dan was the absolute best company.

His brown hair was streaked blond by the sun, his skin smooth and tanned, and she liked that he wore a white shirt, smart navy trousers and proper shoes.

So many men she’d dated recently turned up in some ghastly Hawaiian shirt, cargo pants and trainers.

She’d also smelled a lovely but classily subtle aftershave while she was in his car.

He seemed to bring out the best in her, asking about her job, and her friends she shared her flat with. She even found herself being amusing. Well, she assumed so as he laughed at many things she said.

She even admitted that she loved Karaoke, watching rugby, and did prison visiting, things she rarely spoke of to anyone.

He had bought a small flat in Torquay, he played rugby and coached a group of fourteen-year-olds, and preferred reading to watching TV.

His parents lived in Reading, and he had two brothers.

But it was the kindness in him that she liked so much, a generosity of spirit, and strength.

Real men, the kind you felt could build you a house on a desert island, were rare in advertising. Dan clearly was a real one.

They walked along the Esplanade to the pier after dinner. The breeze soft and warm on their faces, and the moon making a silver pathway on the dark sea.

Dan kissed her then, cupping her face tenderly in his hands.

All at once Charley felt she was slipping into something magical.

Third time lucky.

We’ll be sharing more of our favourite fiction from our archives, every Monday and Thursday during January. Look out for the next one – and pick up My Weekly magazine for four or more brand new short stories every week! Subscribe here for peace of mind, with an individually wrapped copy delivered to your door, and great savings too.