As the car screeched to a halt, Sparks released his grip on the door handle. Slowly the colour returned to his fingers and he remembered to breath again.
“What’s up?”, enquired Tracy, “You look very pale.”
He gasped, “Where did you learn to drive?”
“Drive? Same as most people I suppose. My dad paid for lessons from a little bloke down the road. Why?”
“Was he a stuntman? How the heck did you pass a driving test?”
She laughed. “Friday afternoon, short skirt, low cut blouse and no bra. Funnily enough, the instructor said that’s all I’d need.”
“He didn’t mention car control?”. Sparks gently levered himself out of the passenger door.
Tracey realised the point he was trying to make. “Look, you said we needed to be at the radio station early. OK, I might have left a bit late, but we’re here now aren’t we.”
Sparks had to agree. They had certainly arrived. The Radio Birmingham sign glowed from its position over the door. It seemed to be moving, but since everything else was, he decided that all would be well when his stomach caught up with them. The last time he was sure it had been with them was just before the canal bridge, which was just after the close call with the dustcart and short session on the wrong side of the road… The memory made his knees feel weak so he tried to concentrate on making it through the door. Tracey bounded on ahead.
Two strong cups of coffee later, they were sat outside the studio chatting to a harassed producer called Ben. Looking through the window, they could see presenter Bob Footman waving a small cloth bag around.
Tracey looked confused. “What’s he doing?”. Bob’s mid-morning show might have been the most popular local radio programme in the West Midlands, but she couldn’t actually remember ever hearing it.
Ben sighed. One day he hoped to find a guest who cared about the show and wasn’t just plugging something. “It’s the guess the ackers spot. Bob pretends he’s jingling the change in his pocket and the listeners ring in to guess how much is in there.”
“Ackers? What’s that?”
“It’s Black Country slang for money.”
“And the callers win something?”
“Yeah. The contents of Bob’s pocket.” Tracey wasn’t really any wiser, but Ben continued, “Look, we’ll shuffle you in during the next record and get your headphones on. After that you take part in the show. Don’t worry, Bob will ask you about the panto but he’s got a couple of other phone-in guests as well so you’ll need to sit it out a bit. Your guy who booked this said you’d be happy to play along for a bit.”
Sparks looked up. “Play along? I thought we were just here for a quick plug, I mean interview.”
Ben sighed again. “Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of airtime. We’d got Suzi Perry lined up for a chat but no-one can get her to answer her phone now so you get her airtime. There are a couple of footballers lined up though and I suspect Bob will go a bit nuts for them but he’ll do you first.”
It was Tracey’s turn to perk up. “Footballers? Anyone we might have heard of?”
“Just remember to say ‘Up the Baggies’ and you’ll be fine love.”
In the studio, Tracey fussed with her headphones as the music finished. The station hadn’t considered the needs of anyone who’s hair had volume when they bought them. The presenter didn’t have a problem and nor did Sparks with his close cropped style.
A red light came on over the desk.
“That was The Steve Millar band and Abra Abra cadabra, which I’m playing in honour of our next guests. All the way from the panto at the Leighton Oxley theatre this year, we have Tracey Dunn-Jones and top magician Sparks!” Canned applause filled the studio for a few seconds then the presenter continued, “According to my researchers, young Tracey is the latest hot thing to hit the stage playing Mor, mor” he stumbled.
“Morgiana” interrupted Tracey.
“That’s it, Morgana”, continued Bob getting it wrong, “And to play the genie, we’ve got a real life magician. Should I get you to rub my magic lamp? Perhaps you could get the Baggies into the premiership?”
Sparks grimaced. He hated doing publicity like this, but knew it came with the territory and any chance to appear in the media might pay off. “I’m a magician Bob, not a miracle worker. Cutting a woman in half, making an elephant disappear, that I can do. Getting West Brom into the top division, that’s going to take more than three wishes!”
Bob pulled a face. “Oh. Are you a Villa supported then cheeky? Sounds like someone is a few cards short of a deck eh listeners?”
In front of Bob, a small light lit up. He pushed a button and bellowed into the microphone, “Line three, who are you and what do you think I should do with our Villa fan?”
“A Villa fan?” cracked the caller, “You need to tell ‘im to get a proper team. Up the Baggies!”
“I’m not a Villa fan”, Sparks tried to protest but Bob just waved a hand for him to shut up.
“Oy reckon he’s a bit embarrassed and so he should be. Anyway, who’s on the line and how much have I got in my pocket.” He jingled the bag.
“Dead right Bob. I’m Tony and oy work in a foundry. Got the day off because me backs playing up so I thought I’d ring in to you.”
“Good to hear from you Tony. Now how much have I got in my pocket?”