Doris rushed into the building to escape the rain. The weather forecasters had been threatening snow but for the moment what fell from the sky was wet rather than fluffy. She shook her coat and stamped her feet on the mat inside the door. It didn’t help much. Even the short run from the car had resulted in her being pretty soggy and that never made for a good start to the day.
Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she noticed that the box office door was ajar. For a moment she cursed whoever had been in the night before. They knew they were supposed to lock it.
Peering in, Doris was surprised to see Tracey sitting at the desk tapping on her laptop. She was concentrating hard and didn’t notice her arrival until she switched on the light.
Tracey leapt in the air with surprise. “Oh Doris, it’s you. You gave me the fright of my life.”
“I’m normally the first in. How come you are here so early?” Doris looked at the clock. She supposed that 10am wasn’t really that early for normal people, but when your business didn’t open until the evening, even the cleaners weren’t really needed before lunch.
Tracey settle back into her seat. “Sorry. I wanted to look at the ticket sales”.
“Again?” Doris raided an eyebrow, “You seem to be in every other day.”
Tracey looked glum. “Well, I’m just, you know…”
“Willing them to go up?”
Doris dumped her soggy coat on a hook and headed towards the kettle. “I’m not daft. When you’ve been here as long as I have, you get to remember what the numbers are from year to year.”
“Hmmm.” Tracey looked back at the screen on her laptop.
“I think they are a bit up. You’ve not done badly you know.”
The graph on the screen did look like it was heading in the right direction but that wasn’t the whole story. “They are better, but not good enough. We need to sell loads more if this place is going to hit the target we are supposed to be aiming for.”
Doris switched on the kettle and then looked over Tracey’s shoulder. Without her reading glasses on, she couldn’t make out the numbers properly. “Well, you can’t work miracles.”
“But miracles is what we need. Sorry Doris, I don’t know what more I can do.”
In the background the kettle burbled and then clicked. Doris started to drown a teabag in a mug. “Do you want a brew?” she asked.
Tracey smiled. “That’s the British thing to do isn’t it. Things are going badly, let’s have a cup of tea. “
“Maybe. But I want a cuppa ‘cos it’s pissing down out there and I need to warm up. Anything else can wait.” She smiled at Tracey, who relented and accepted the offer. For a few minutes, they let the warmth of the mugs seep into their fingers. Eventually Doris felt drier and Tracey’s mood improved a little.
Sipping the hot liquid, Tracey looked back toward the screen. “Seriously Doris. I can’t make it any better. We’ve tried the lot. Radio, local newspapers, Facebook, Twitter.”
“Have you tried dragging them off the street?” chuckled Doris.
“Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. I’m not sure my boss would approve though. She’d just make jokes about me being on the pull.” They both laughed.
“Well what are we going to do then. I mean we are where we are. How bad are the numbers? “
Tracey spun the laptop around, but still without her glasses, Doris didn’t bother looking. “I’m not sure. If I’m honest, working out budgets isn’t one of the things I’m good at. My credit card is always a bit of a mystery to me. I’m sure it goes to the shops on it’s own.”
“Yeah. I reckon mine does the same sometimes. You think, I didn’t buy that, but then it’s in the back of the wardrobe and you hope your husband hasn’t spotted it.”
“Ha. Not that I have a husband, but I know what you mean. My parents were always moaning that I seemed to have more shoes than the shop. The spare bedroom in my flat is full of stuff and I don’t know where it all came from.”
“A girl’s got to have nice things though. I mean you can’t take it with you and if you are going to go out, you better do it in style.”
“Doris, you are speaking my language.”
Doris smiled, “Years of being in showbiz love. You don’t think I always dress like this do you?”
Tracey looked at Doris’s black top and sensible trousers the same colour. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember when the woman hadn’t been wearing something like this.
“You do don’t you! Well, let me tell you young lady, I can dress up with the best of them when I want to. I don’t wear the good stuff for work, you never know when you’re going to be cleaning up some kids sick or trying to make the dodgy plumbing in this place work before a bus-load of pensioners descends and all want to pay a visit.”
Tracey paused. “Sorry. I’d not really thought of it.
It was Doris’s turn to evaluate clothes. Tracey was sombrely dressed by her standards but she recognised the jumper from the Sunday paper as what they described as a Whistles multi-stripe and those maroon trousers probably came from Top Shop, the whole lot probably cost three times the price of her own outfit. Not something to wear when the ice machine behind the bar might want its innards jiggling. She smiled, “Don’t worry. I’m not offended. I wear this stuff for a reason. We’re here to blend in. The punters think we are part of the furniture most of the time.”
“That sounds a bit rubbish. Don’t you ever want to get up on stage?”
“Like you did when you filled in for Julie a few weeks ago? Not a chance. I’m quite happy working behind the scenes. You watch them coming in and out and having a good time. Then we shut the doors and they are out in the rain while we’re in the dry. They might pay be paying the bills, but we’re the ones in charge.”
Mention of bills brought Tracey back to earth with a bump. Her face fell as she looked again at the laptop. “Hmmm. The trouble is, they aren’t paying enough bills. Or at least I don’t think they are.”
Doris rummaged in her back and pulled out some glasses. Pushing them up her nose, she stared into the screen. For a few moments she examined the figures. They were pretty much what she expected, hardly a surprise as she was in charge of the box office.
Tracey finished her tea and swilled the mug out in the sink. Suddenly there was an “Ah ha!” from Doris.
“You’ve found something?”
“Maybe. What happened last Wednesday? I’m sure we had more in than that.” She pulled a notepad out of a desk drawer and leafed through the pages. “Yes we did. You’ve missed the old folks matinee.”
Tracey blushed. “Sorry. I told you numbers weren’t really my thing.”
Doris looked up. “Don’t worry. We sometimes record things a bit weird here. Those tickets were sold differently and don’t go through the computer in the normal way. You need to be here a few more years before you know all the wrinkles.”
“Sounds like I need wrinkles before I know all the wrinkles.”
“Now now young lady. You just get yourself back in front of this computer of yours and we’ll go through all the days and let’s just see if this ancient crone can find a few more ticket sales for you.”
And hour later, every ticket sales had been checked and entered on Tracey’s spreadsheet. Two more cups of tea had been drunk and the stash of mince pies behind the bar raided – Doris said there was always some “wastage” so no-one would notice a couple missing.
Sitting back in the chair, Tracey pressed the button to make the computer draw a graph. It was better, but still didn’t climb as fast as she had hoped. “I’m afraid, things still aren’t great” she said wistfully.
“Hmmm. The trouble is that high-finance isn’t really my thing. Oh, I can check the sales, but I just do day-to-day.”
“Do you think we need to show Freddie? Maybe he can…”
“I don’t think so”, interrupted Doris, “Freddie’s a nice bloke, but we need someone who’s a bit of a whiz with numbers. What about your boss, Gareth.”
Tracey chuckled, “Not a chance. Again, nice bloke, but he’s no financial whiz-kid.”
“And his boss? What’s she called, Kate isn’t it?”
“Well. She’s a bit busy at the moment on erm”, Tracey’s voice tailed off.
“You mean you don’t want to ask her help. I guess she’s a bit of a dragon and you are hoping to make this all work on your own.”
“Well then we need to find ourselves a magician then don’t we.”
“You mean Sparks? How’s that going to help? Is he going to make an audience appear from thin air?”
“No. Not that muppet. What we want is a financial magician. And you know what Tracey? I think I might know just the man for the job.”
“Some hot-shot accountant?”, Tracey beamed.
“You got it. Once of the councillors.”
“Oh.”, her face fell again, “I was hoping to keep it from them until we had some answers.”
Doris shook her head, “Don’t worry. They aren’t all useless. Most of them are, but not all. We need to get Councillor Dhaliwal involved. He’s a lot younger than the rest and seems to know his stuff. He’s asked how we are doing a few times in the past. I get the feeling that he doesn’t think his colleagues are up to much. Maybe if I send him and e-mail, he’ll be happy to drop in and have a look.”
“We could get him to come over to our office if you want to keep it quiet.”
“That’s a good idea. No need to let Freddie know what we are up to for the minute.”