It was unusual for Deidre to be late and it was unheard of for her to be this late. Gradually, as the evening wore on and the group attempted to conduct normal business without her, distraction set in and all talk within the Circle revolved around her absence.
“Maybe her bus was late,” said Penny.
“She drives in normally,” said Vanessa. “She’s picked me up occasionally.”
“Well maybe the car has broken down.”
“She’d have rung.”
“Could she have lost her phone?”
Despite all appearances, everyone involved in the group was quietly fond of Deidre and starting to worry. A number of attempts were made to call her, but her phone was turned off and, despite the determination of the group to carry on as normal, the meeting petered out after the mid-session break and Frankie agreed that, as he lived the closest, he would call round to her house on his way home and speak to her. After much confusion – during which Phil ‘took charge’ of installing the App onto most of their phones – a WhatsApp group was created so that Frankie could contact them all with ‘the news’ as soon as he had it. It was doubtful that some of them would know how to open it, but at least it was there. Deidre, for one, would not approve, but she probably never needed to know.
In the event, Frankie’s message popped up on the group at eleven o’clock that evening. It was short, only moderately assuring and, for the rest of the group, deeply intriguing: “She’s OK” it said. “Back next week.” But as it turned out, she was not, and it was Frankie who took control of the meeting.
“She’s been cuckolded,” he said.
“Cuckolded?” asked Terry. “What’s that?”
“I think,” said Jane, “that a cuckold is a man whose wife has been unfaithful.”
“OK, not exactly cuckolded,” said Frankie. “Although I’d argue that in the twenty-first century she could have been. She’s been scammed, I’m afraid; conned by an online ‘boyfriend’. She’s mortified. She can’t face you yet even though, as far as she’s concerned, you don’t know what has happened. It has really knocked the stuffing out of her – and, as most of you know, she was always choc-full of it.”
“Scammed how?” asked Billy.
“Part romance, part vanity. She’s just ashamed of herself.” Frankie dropped his head slightly. “None of us, and I most certainly include myself in this, gives much thought to Deidre outside of Circle nights. None of us ever contact her. She’s lonely… She was duped by a Romance Scammer who slowly managed to weedle enough information out of her to know how he could really hurt her. He told her he was involved in a TV production company and he persuaded her that, with just a little capital to ‘grease the wheels’ he would be able to convince them that her first novel would be ideal material for a full-scale series.”
“How much?” asked Vanessa, who like everybody else was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable.
“Twenty grand,” said Frankie.
“Oh God, she didn’t…”
Frankie shook his head. “She didn’t have it – at least not immediately to hand, which of course was what he wanted.”
An audible sigh of relief crossed the Circle.
“She did have five though… She sent it to him by money transfer and then, almost immediately realised what she’d done, but she didn’t feel that she had anybody she could tell, so she just turned off her phone, ate cake and sat in the dark feeling stupid.”
“Well, it sounds to me that she’s five thousand pounds wiser now,” said Elizabeth. “Is there any way that she can get it back?”
“I don’t think so,” said Frankie. “But at least she hasn’t given him any bank accounts or anything. I’ve spent the last few days helping her change all of her bank details, her phone number, her email, everything… The cyber Deidre Desmond of last week no longer exists.”
“So, when is she coming back to the group?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” said Frankie. “I’ve got her new number here, and I persuaded her to let me put WhatsApp on her new phone. If you look, you’ll see that she’s been part of the group for a few days now…”
They all looked. None of them had looked before.
“So, is she ok?”
“She’s still Deidre; your guess is as good as mine. Her new book is published next week so, if we can manage to get her back, I’m sure she’ll be just as insufferable as ever.”
“Insufferable is a little harsh,” said Penny. Frankie smiled at her and raised an eyebrow – a trick he had learned from Roger Moore in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – and Penny blushed slightly.
“Alright,” she said to a general murmur of approval around the group. “I’ll give you slightly insufferable, but I miss her.”
“Well hopefully you’ll be all be able to persuade her to come back next week then.”
“I don’t know. Tell her you want her to. Promise never to bother her on WhatsApp again and swear that you’ll never be late to the meetings… but don’t mention that you know about the scam. She asked me not to tell you. She’ll know that I have of course, but as long as we never mention it, I think we’ll all survive…”
Penny scanned the phone in her hand. “Is WhatsApp the blue one, or the green one?” she said…
Episode 1 of The Writer’s Circle ‘Penny’s Poem’ is here.
Episode 28 ‘Jeff Reads to the Room’ is here.