Sat on the reception sofa, Tracey’s visitor could have been any successful businessman looking for KOD’s help. She decided that he certainly didn’t look anything like a Councillor. For a start, his suit was sharp and looked like a Michael Kors number. Slim fit too, and none of the buttons straining.
Holding out a hand, she greeted him and noticed that when he stood up, the jacket was instinctively buttoned up, further emphasising his lack of beer belly. The action also caused his wedding ring to flash in the sunlight, which she realised disappointed her a little.
Leading the Councillor to the meeting room, Tracey could see people in the office looking up to see who she was with and then quickly trying to pretend they weren’t. A slightly circuitous route avoided passing Kate’s door, although she seemed glued to her screen.
With the door safely closed, she carried out the introductions. “Councillor Dhaliwal, this is Gareth Fothrington-Thomas, our senior partner. He and I are working on the theatre project together.
“Call me Ash”, beamed the councillor, “I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony.”
“Pleased to meet you Councill… I mean Ash” replied Gareth, shaking his hand a little too enthusiastically. “I hope Tracey has looked after you. Erm, can we offer you a drink?”
“Water will be fine. You have a very nice office here. The view is excellent.” Ash walked to the window.
Tracey handed him a cup from the water machine. “Yes it’s lovely. You can see Rackhams and House of Fraiser”.
Ash laughed. “I was thinking a little beyond the shopping centre roof. Those hills are where I love to go for a run, although it’s been a little while”. He patted a non-existent belly.
Tracey blushed. She noticed the ring again.
“Sit down Ash”, Gareth said. “It’s good of you to take the time to join us. Let young Tracey fill you in on where we are with the project.”
Ash sat down. “To be honest, Tracey gave me a few details in her e-mail and I’ve been doing a bit of checking up myself.” He winked at Tracey, “Doris is very helpful.”
“Ah. So you understand the position” Gareth added.
Tracey opened up her laptop. “Perhaps if I give you all the figures.”
“As I say, I have been doing a little digging, and to be blunt, you are up shit creek. The question is, do you have a paddle?”
Tracey’s face fell. She looked at Gareth who seemed at a loss for anything to say. “I’m not quite sure. I mean, it’s not looking good. The panto has brought in some money, but we are still not where we need to be.”
Ash smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m on your side. You’ve been doing some good work. Saving the day by getting on stage for the panto was amazing for a start, although maybe next year you’ll see if you can find me a part. I know how much publicity has been generated too.”
“You saw me on stage?”
“Of course. Councillors are privileged, free tickets to the show. My wife and kids loved it.”
Her face flushed again. “Thanks. I’m glad that Julie came back though. Not sure I’m cut out for a life on the stage.”
“Never say never. I’ve done a little acting myself you know.”
“Oh, I know, I looked you up.”
Ask grinned. “You have been doing your research, have you? Should I give up a career in accountancy for the film world?”
“Maybe. I’d not seen a Bollywood film before, but it was pretty good. I couldn’t understand what was being said but the dancing and costumes were amazing.”
“Don’t worry. The plots aren’t usually that complex. It’s all about the spectacle most of the time. That and churning them out as fast as possible.”
Gareth looked confused. “You are an actor?”
“Not really. I managed to wangle myself a little role in a film when I was visiting family in India a few years ago. My uncle knows the director, and someone had gone off sick.” He turned to Tracey, “You see, we’ve both filled in in showbiz.”
“At least you didn’t end up in a jar full of gunge.” Everyone laughed.
“That’s true. You didn’t look too impressed. Mind you, neither did the Mayor when the stuff splattered her.”
“She was really upset about that. I think I ruined her clothes.”
“Oh, the suit will have gone on expenses. It was more the indignity. Some of my colleagues don’t understand that pantomime can involve a bit of audience participation shall we say? They like to be seen, but don’t want to take part in the fun.”
Tracey looked shocked. “You mean…”
“Some of them can be, how shall we say, old-fashioned. I shouldn’t say this, but they have been doing these jobs for years and like things done a certain way. Being respected by the right sort of people in the town matters more to some of them than actually doing the job they are elected to do.”
Tracey and Gareth looked at each other.