Author Archives: Candice Nolan

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 26

Tracey managed to lever herself half out of the container. Her body was covered in pale, sticky, goo. Spluttering, she made a final push and the jar fell forward. A tsunami of goo flooded out of it and towards the front of the stage. Too late, the town mayor realised it was heading her way. Unable to get out of the way, she was engulfed in a waterfall of paste that flowed around a now prostate Tracey struggling to stand up.

“Quick, get the curtain down!” bellowed Freddie. The stage hands were ahead of him and the scene was quickly covered and the house lights raised.

“Wow Freddie, that was quite an impressive scene,” laughed Gareth, “I say, Tracey is game isn’t she? I don’t think I’d like to be in the gunge like that.”

“It’s not part of the scene you idiot. Someone has sabotaged the show.”

“Sabotage?”

“Yes. And we’ve nearly drowned the mayor. She’s going to be livid.”

*

Backstage, Tracey was incandescent with rage.

“What the hell happened there?” she bellowed at Sparks, “I did the trick like we rehearsed but that last pot was full of the most disgusting stuff I have ever seen.  It’s going to take me weeks to get it out of my hair, and the humiliation…”

Even Sparks looked shocked. “Nothing to do with me. I don’t know how it got in there.”

“You’re the bloody magic man. Did you think it would be funny?”

“I told you. It was nothing to do with me. I thought it was all going well and then you appear covered in goo.”

The dressing room door flew open and Gareth appeared.

“Tracey, are you OK?” he asked, “Freddie tells me this wasn’t in the act.”

“No, it wasn’t. Someone filled that last pot up with all the crap from the slapstick scene. I’m bloody covered in it!”

She turned to face him and he had to stifle a smile as his colleague stood in her stage finery with lumps of what looked like weak porridge dripping off her.

“I’m sorry. It looked amazing. Are you OK though?

“I’ll live, but getting this crap off is going to take hours.”

Sparks interrupted, “Don’t forget we’re back on stage in 20 minutes.”

She turned to face him. “20 minutes? Bollocks to that. I’m finished with acting.”

Sparks looked horrified. “You can’t say that. We’ve got an audience out there.”

“Sod the audience. I’m covered in this stuff,” she paused and looked down at herself, “And I think it’s setting! The bloody stuff is setting!”

“Don’t be silly Tracey, it’s just the mush they use for the slapstick scene. Half the cast gets covered in it every evening. Twice a day if we have a matinee. They survive.”

Tracey fixed him with a steely gaze. Then a lump of goo dripped onto her nose. “I said”, she growled, “I’m through with this. I only did it to help you lot out and what happens? I end up in some gunge tank. Did you think it was fun to play a joke on the new girl eh, magic man?”

“Look, I said I’m sorry. I don’t know how the gunge got in the pot. And no, we aren’t playing tricks on you. You’ve done really well to learn the role in a week. Everyone is impressed. Even the tech staff and no-one impresses them.”

Gareth added, “Come on Tracey. We need to make this work, at least for tonight. I’m sorry you got a scare, and we will find out how this happened, but we’re relying on you. The whole theatre is relying on you. At least don’t make me go back and tell Kate we’ve failed.

“She’d be delighted. In fact she probably put the goo in the pot.”

“That’s not fair. She wouldn’t sabotage our project, no matter how much she disapproves. Anyway, can you see her pouring gallons of that stuff anywhere? It wouldn’t do her posh suits any good would it?”

Tracey stood and dripped. And thought. She had to admit that a mental picture of Kate manhandling a vat of stage gunge while in her sharp work clothes was funny. For a moment she let the thought float in her mind, and smiled.

“Tracey?” asked Gareth and Sparks in unison.

“Oh go on then. Sod off and let me clean up. The shower in this changing room better have some warm water and Molton Brown shower gel in it.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 23

An e-mail was Karen McDaniel wasn’t something Kate had expected to see when she fired up her computer. Still fuming from the previous evening, her finger hovered over the delete key but something made her open it.

Kate

I’m sorry about last night. Shelia was out of order. I’m afraid it happens at some events – the organisers get a bit protective about me. I can assure you I’m perfectly capable to fighting my own battles, as are you.

I think I can see where you are coming from. We make light of the challenges running a business and family, but it isn’t easy. In that respect, I hate to admit it, you do have a bit of a point, even if it didn’t come over very well.

I’m staying in Solihull for a couple of nights to attend a conference at the NEC. Do you fancy catching up for a coffee later? Don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture you about the joys of children, I looked you up on-line and just fancy a chat. We have more in common than you might think.

Karen McDaniel

Kate re-read the message a couple of times. What did she mean by “more in common than you think”? OK, they were both in business, but surely that was as far as it went. A little Googling had brought up an interview where Karen and her apparently perfect family were photographed in a smiling group. Her husband did something in publishing and they lived in a nice house in Lewesham.

On the other hand, a coffee wouldn’t hurt she decided. Kate prided herself in not walking away from a fight, although there seemed to be an olive branch being offered. There was something about Karen that intrigued Kate, and anyway, she told herself, making contacts was her job and you never turn down opportunities when they arise.

*

Karen was already in the coffee shop when Kate arrived. Sitting in a booth with a latte and a laptop, she was obviously perfectly comfortable with working wherever she found herself. Carefully arranged on the table were a slightly chewed Biro, a Moleskin notepad and a mobile phone. She looked up from her keyboard when Kate arrived and declined the offer of an extra drink, but added that she could murder a small muffin as she’d had to skip lunch.

Ordering herself a drink and a couple of muffins, it seemed to politic to join in the eating and a little more time on the cross-trainer would take care of the extra calories, Kate wondered how the conversation was likely to go. She’d considered several different openings, from a matey “How ya doing” to another apology. None seemed to hit the spot so she hoped inspiration would strike when the time came.

As it happened, she needn’t have worried. Karen smiled and opened with, “Kate, thanks for coming along. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me after yesterday evening.”

Taken aback, Kate replied, “Oh. I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me again either.  Sometimes my mouth overtakes my brain!”

“Forget it. I know what you were trying to say, even if some of the audience didn’t get it.”

“You can say that again. I’m still waiting for an e-mail from Shelia banning me from the group.”

Karen laughed, “Don’t worry about that. I calmed her down after you left. There’s no point in running the groups if we can’t deal with a few disagreements. This IS business after all, not a bloody knitting circle.” She paused and looked at Kate, “Not that there is anything wrong with knitting you understand…”

It was Kate’s turn to laugh, “I don’t know about that. Not my thing at all, isn’t it something you take up when you abandon any interest in fashion?”

“No! It’s quite trendy apparently. I was reading that Julia Roberts does it on set between takes, and Ryan Gosling.”

“Ryan Gosling? I’d happily help him with his needles!” Kate blushed

“Kate Smith! You little minx. I thought you were all about business.”

“Well, a girl has to have some outside interests I suppose. I think I’ll give it a miss though and stick to the gym. That and Olly and Horatio of course. They probably would like some balls of wool around the place.”

Karen cocked her head to one side, “Olly and Horatio?”

“My cats. I’ve had Olly for years, but Horatio kind of adopted me after our last job.”

“I didn’t think they were children. That would have been very weird.”

“I’d certainly have been drummed out of the Brownies if they found out I had kids after last night. What about yours though, Iona and Hamish isn’t it?” Kate sipped her latte and looked at the screen of Karen’s phone. Staring out were two faces she recognised from the interview.

“Well researched”, Karen smiled, Yes, my pair give me plenty of trouble, but I wouldn’t be without them. Iona is just starting secondary school.” Kate did some mental arithmetic. Secondary school started at 12, which would mean Karen was,  “Twenty five.”, she answered to Kate’s unsaid question. “Yes, I was a junior marketing executive for an oil company at the time. Andrew and I had been married for a couple of years and she just appeared. I mean, kids had always been part of the plan, but we hadn’t decided quite when. Then fate, or at least a faulty contraceptive, took a hand.  Once we’d had one, well a second a couple of years later seemed to make sense.”

Kate leaned back, “But what happened to your job?”

“Oh, they were very good about it. I took my maternity leave of course but when I came back I was a bit shocked to discover life had gone on without me. Everyone had a years worth more gossip and another years worth of projects under their belts. I’d stayed in touch by e-mail and Facebook, and dropped into the office a couple of times with the baby, but you miss the day-to-day chat.” She bit into a chunk of muffin. “Mmmm, this is good. Do they make them in-house?”

Kate looked at the counter. She normally grabbed a drink from one of the big chains. This local coffee house wasn’t normally on her radar. Biting into her own muffin, she had to agree that it was rather good. “So you came back to work, and then left again? Weren’t they a bit annoyed by that?”

Karen wiped her mouth. “They couldn’t say anything, but I got the feeling that my boss wasn’t too impressed when I told her I was pregnant again.”

“Her?”

“Yup. Female boss. Alison. Nice enough, but she didn’t really approve of women, or at least I always got the feeling that she preferred working with men.”

Kate realised that Karen was staring directly at her. “Hmmm. Sometimes I think she might have a point. Not sure how keen I’d be about one of my staff nipping off all the time.”

“Hey, I wasn’t nipping off, I was having a baby!” Karen chided.

“Yes, but it means the business has to cover the work, and keep the job open for when they decide to return. And you get the rest of them going all gooey when the kid gets brought it.”

“But there is more to life than business Kate. Don’t you ever feel the need for a break?

Kate stared into the dregs of her drink. “I don’t know. My business means so much to me. No-one cares about it as much as I do.”

“That’s what I thought. But then I had kids and they gave me a bit of perspective. You find that you have to think of other things than work.”

“That’s the problem”, Kate protested, “Someone has to keep the place going or they will all be out of a job.”

“And are you the only person who can do this?”, Karen paused and finished her muffin. “I mean, the people who work for you can’t all be useless. I don’t see you as the sort of boss who employs idiots.”

Gareth’s face crossed Kate’s mind. “No. OK, my partner…”

“Partner?” Karen interrupted

Kate smiled. This wasn’t the first time someone had added one and one to get five. “Business partner. He’s good at having contacts I suppose, but you wouldn’t want to leave him in charge of anything important. Gareth’s a nice guy, but it’s a bit like dealing with an overgrown schoolboy sometimes.

“OK, but you’ve got other people working for you.”, Karen finished her drink, “You’re not the only one who can do some research you know.”

“Yeah. Most of them are OK. One or two are picking up the business really well and I’m hoping we can hang on to them.”

“Right them. You need to get your head around letting them get on with it. The secret of running a business is not trying to do everything yourself. Let others share the load a bit.”

Kate pondered for a moment, “Is that what you’ve done? I don’t see anyone else listed on the website for the network.”

Karen smiled, “No, the Empowerment Forums are all my work. However, I do have help – Andrew has always been happy to share the work with the kids. After Hamish was born, my firm offered me the chance to take a longer break.”

You mean they chucked you out?”, Kate looked shocked.

“Sort of. There was a bit of a re-organisation and a streamlining. They needed less staff and strangely, mine was one of the positions that were no longer required.”

“Can they do that?”

“Their lawyers kept them just on the right side of legal. I’d half expected it. Much as I loved my job in some ways, I wasn’t as disappointed as I’d thought I would be. Part of me felt it was time for a change.”

“So that’s when you started up the forums?”

“Not quite. I got myself a part-time job first. Partly for the money, but also because I needed to get out of the house. That’s where Andrew came in. He wanted time with the kids, so we downsized a bit and both cut our hours. Things weren’t easy, but it was the right thing to do.”

“Andrew sounds like a great guy.”

Karen smiled. “He is. We’re a proper team. I can’t tell it’s been an easy few years.  Parenting and working full-time is not as easy as some of the articles you will read.  We don’t have a nanny and if one of the kids is ill everything goes out the window.  I have to tell you settling Iona into school was one of the hardest three months I’ve ever worked.  Tears every day while I’m trying to run off to meetings. You get good at working on three hours sleep!”

Kate sipped her coffee and nodded.

“But I’m getting into mummy territory.  I love my kids, but I was also a person first, and was for many years before they came along, and I wanted to keep that part of my personality. Andrew understands and between the two of us we have come up with a way of balancing our lives and the kids so there aren’t any compromises, or as little as possible.  We get our ‘me’ time and kid time too.”

“So where did the forums come from?”

“I’d had this idea in the back of my mind for a few years. Once you’ve been to a couple of mother and toddler groups, you find that the mums can be split into three groups: Earth mothers who basically want to sit in child sick all day and wear something easy clean. All they care about is their little darling. Sadly, they are probably raising kids who will turn into serial killers when they hit adolescence.”

They both laughed. Karen continued, “Then there are the yummy mummies. Hubby earns enough to keep them in Boden and the kids in Tootsa MacGinty jumpers while they sit around drinking coffee in freshly laundered gym clothes passively-aggressively competing with all the other mummies.” she looked at the empty cups, “Talking of which, I need a refill. Same again?”

Watching Karen join the queue for drinks, Kate pondered the conversation. It wasn’t going the way she had expected, but oddly, this didn’t seem to matter. Karen’s life seemed really chilled, there might have been lots of plates spinning but it all worked because of her relationship with her husband. Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 21

The room fell silent. Kate felt everyone staring in her direction. Being the centre of attention was something she was used to but the room didn’t normally look like a lynch mob.

Up to this point, the evening had gone well. There had been the usual scrum to find the allocated seats but her table hadn’t included any “new age bollocks” people. All the pitches had gone well and she’d noted down a couple of women to chat to after the speaker had finished.

Even the main event had been a pleasant surprise. Karen McDaniel walked the group through her journey to set up the Midlands Empowerment Forum. Karen was genuinely impressive. For a start, she looked the part in a well-cut Whistles suit that fitted perfectly. Hair and nails showed the recent attention by professionals and most importantly, she could work a PowerPoint presentation. If there was one thing that wound Kate up, it was a speaker who couldn’t use their equipment. Karen was slick, professional and Kate felt an immediate kinship.

After rapturous applause, the organiser, Sheila, opened the session up to questions. She kicked off with one of her own, mostly consisting of grovelling praise for Karen taking time to present to the group. A couple of women started to get restless, keen to get a bit of attention themselves.

Kate decided to seize the moment and her hand was up faster than a small child desperate for permission to go to the toilet.

“I think we’ll open with our minor celebrity”, Sheila emphasised the word minor a little more than necessary, “Kate Smith. You have a question for Karen.”

“Well, more of a comment really”, Kate said firmly, “You’ve done a superb job getting this organisation off the ground. It’s never easy being a woman in business.”

Karen laughed, “That’s why I started the Forum. Women work differently from men, we are better at collaborating rather than being adversarial.”

“That’s what I mean”, Kate continued, “But it’s a lot easier for those of us without children. I mean, we kid ourselves, no pun intended, that we can have it all, but there is a point where you have to choose don’t you.”

“Choose?”

“Yes. I mean there is success in business, or there is having a family.” Looking around, Kate realised what she was saying and tried to backtrack slightly, “I mean you can do both and be perfectly happy I suppose, but to play in the big league like you and I are doing, demands a different approach.”

She was suddenly very aware of the silence. And the staring.

Karen coughed. “I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say. I guess you don’t have children.” The rest of the audience murmured in agreement.

Kate found herself blushing. “No. I’m not really that way inclined.”

“Oh. Sorry. I don’t think your sexual orientation makes a difference.”

“Sexual orient… No! That’s not what I meant! No, I mean I don’t want children.”

It was Karen’s turn to blush slightly but she quickly got a grip on the conversation again. “Children aren’t poison to a business you know. I’m sure most of the ladies in this room can confirm that.”

The murmuring got louder.

Looking around, Kate realised she was digging a hole and tried to climb out. “That’s not really what I meant. There’s loads of great work going on here, but you can’t reach the top when you’ve always got to think about picking the kids up can you? Some of the people working for me are always nipping off for child-related issues.”

“Hmm. Kate, you do realise”, Karen said slowly, “That I have two children.”

Kate’s jaw dropped. She cursed herself for not doing her research properly. There was nothing on Karen’s LinkedIn profile that mentioned kids. “Sorry, I didn’t realise” she mumbled. It wasn’t a hole she’d dug, but a bloody great big bear trap and right now if it could have swallowed her up whole, this would have been a relief. 

“Don’t worry”, Karen said reassuringly, “You’re not the first to assume that.” The rest of the audience laughed. “I don’t make a fuss about it. No-one wants to be one of those annoying women banging on about trying to do it all as though they deserve a medal for making it around a supermarket and sorting out their VAT.” Several women went quiet instantly. “It is possible to have a family and a successful business. All you need is two things – a partner who really shares the workload and”, she paused, “a great long To-Do list so you don’t forget anything!”

Everyone laughed. Kate sat down and took a gulp of her wine. She pretended that the leaflet on the table had something really interesting on it to prevent the hard stares she was getting from the rest of the room. She’d really put her size nine in it this time.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 19

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?”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 18

The producer looked Tracey up and down. She couldn’t read his face. Normally when men looked at her, their eyes widened slightly. If they were a few shots down in a club, it wasn’t just their face that gave them away. Even though she was more casually dressed in jeans, they were skin-tight, as was her top so she’d expect some reaction. In the back of her mind, her gaydar sounded an alert.

“Well Tracey, love.” he drawled, “How have you been getting on with learning the lines.”

Very badly. Never one for homework, she’d tried to read through the wad of paper but nothing seemed to stick.

“Well, it’s all a bit new to me. I’ve tried my best”. She tried to sound confident but the reality was starting to bite. Chatting to her friends on Facebook and boasting about taking over a lead role on stage had been great, but now it was put up or shut up time. The theatre world didn’t seem so glamorous at nine in the morning in a hired village hall. At least it was slightly less daunting rehearsing in a hall than in the theatre.

It didn’t help that the producer wasn’t happy with her being cast. She’d overheard him chatting on the phone as she came in and caught the words ‘amateur’ and ‘Bloody am-dram’ before he’d spotted her.

“Look, let’s start slowly. You read from the script and I’ll play all the other parts for the moment.”

“Aren’t the other actors here?”

He smiled. “I thought it would be better if we started without them. They’ve been rehearsing this for weeks. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Tracey’s heart sank. “OK. I’ll do my best.”

“I’m sure you will.” He looked down his nose at her.

Tracey gulped. “But, I think I need to nip to the loo first.”

*

An hour later things didn’t look quite so bleak. They had covered the opening scene three times and it was starting to make sense. At first, she’d struggled over the words but each time it made a bit more sense.

“I am Morgina, a poor slave girl. How can I serve you honoured Mr Baba?”

“Very good. I want you to keep an eye on my brother and see where he goes each night.” bellowed the producer in a terrible accent.

“You wish me to spy on your brother, Master?”

“Yes my dear. He is up to something and I want to know.”

“Morgaina exists stage left.”, she blushed, “Sorry, I’m not supposed to read that bit am I.”

The producer groaned. “No, Tracey you aren’t.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry dear. Let’s move on to another scene. I’m getting bored of obsequious Morgina anyway.”

“Yeah, she’s a bit of a wimp at the moment.”

He laughed. “Considering what she ends up doing later on, it’s quite a change. Just remember not to rub my lamp.”

For a moment she paused. Had her gaydar been off? Then the plot came back to her.

“Yeah. OK, no polishing your shiny bits!”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 16

“Ping” sang the computer. Kate looked at the alert on her screen.

“Midlands Empowerment Forum”, the message read, “19:00 Cranmill Hotel”

Her hand hovered over the cancel button for a few moments. The Midlands Empowerment Forum was one of the networking groups for women that she had always avoided. Why women couldn’t network with men was a mystery and she suspected that it would be a mothers meeting full of small business types who ran their own little play firms to fill empty days while the kids were at school and hubby played golf or did a proper job.

Kate was firmly of the opinion that women could beat men at their own game. Business was serious and not just something you did to avoid watching daytime telly.

She and Gareth had had a few verbal jousts over the last few weeks over the KOD coffers.  Kate was well aware that the next big contract wasn’t exactly knocking down their door.  With Gareth doing pro-bono work for the theatre and Dave trying to suckle on the American teat at the moment the wave they had ridden over the last few months was looking more like a trickle.  This was the point where Gareth normally jumped in, went and had dinner with some old school buddies and ‘wham’ in came the next contract.  But he was so busy with his head up some pantomime cow he wasn’t concentrating on the cash, or rather lack of cash, on the books.  She’d tried a few times to get him interested but it was like trying to talk with someone on drugs.  Every time she mentioned money he starting going on about what a good job Tracey was doing at the Theatre, or how they’d done this with so and so councillor.  She just wanted to shake him.

Dave, on the other hand, was being quite cagey with what he was up to.  Joining the weekly briefings but mentioning a few things he had in the pipeline, but not really expanding.  He had at least grasped that they needed some money to operate and had pulled in a few pieces of consultancy work to help with cashflow, but they were only sticking plasters.  If they didn’t get some big work soon she’d have to start looking at redundancies, and that wasn’t a job she relished.  Having been through that mill a few times herself she knew it wasn’t fun from either side.

One thing Gareth had mentioned was these local networking groups.  Kate wasn’t sure if there was anyone there who would have anything for KOD, yummy mummies didn’t normally need business consultancy or change management.  But their husband’s might… and this could be her routine in to talking to the partner who worked in big business. She’d decided to brazen it out, deal with the mummy chat and play nicely; on the off chance she might find a route in to some business.  And who knows what else she might find there, sometimes there were mentions of jewellery and clothing being sold too.

She shut down the computer. There was time to stroll to the venue and the evening sunshine looked pleasant enough. Checking her appearance, she’d chosen a Hobbs suit. Not too high end, certainly not Armani, but sharp enough to mark her out as a player and not just a bit-part. The invite said there would be food, and she hoped a little wine. Something to soften the dullness she expected from the conversation.

The Cranmill was an old fashioned hotel that had been bought by an anonymous chain and given a thorough and sympathetic update. The facade looked largely as it always had, they didn’t want to mess with the Georgian architecture or face the wrath of the local planners who were particularly protective one of the few remaining historic parts of town. The sign outside was discreet, but then they aimed for a clientele who arrived by taxi, chauffeur or at least satnav in a quality company car. Tourists and sales reps could stay in the rather more gaudy chain down the road.

Inside, everything was tasteful and painted magnolia. Fresh flowers added colour along with a few modern art paintings that looked like swooshes of paint and meant absolutely nothing. The smartly attired receptionist directed Kate to the Monkspath suite where the meeting was being held.

Arriving at the door, the first impression was of a confused huddle of middle-aged women. They seemed to be surrounding plan on an easel by the double doors into the room. Most seemed to be wearing slightly dated suits that were straining at the waist as thought the owners had bought them some time, and many slap-up meal, ago. One or two women wafted around in floaty Laura Ashley smocks, Kate took an immediate dislike to them. Free spirits usually talked in mumbo-jumbo inspirational phrases and did nothing that made any sense to a normal person.

“Do you know where you are sitting?” asked one of the ladies scanning the board. Kate realised that she was looking at a wedding style seating plan with everyone carefully allocated space at one of the tables. She squinted at the tiny text searching for her name.

“Hmmm. This is my first time”, she replied, “Do we have to sit where we are told?”

“Oh yes. It’s all part of the fun. You never know who you’ll be sat next too. I was chatting to a lady who runs a new age health retreat in a pig farm last month!”

Kate groaned inwardly. This was going to be as bad as she feared. Gently easing her way to the plan, she found her name and headed for the room.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 14

Dave relaxed with a beer and took in the view.  He’d decided to rent an apartment for his time back in America.  He couldn’t stay with Alicia, that would be too strange after all this time, and he didn’t want to stay in a hotel as there’d be no room for Junior to crash over.

The apartment was over the road from the Pentagon.  Sitting in the lounge area he had a great view of the Capitol building, lit against the night sky, and could look down at a highway snaking its way across a bridge towards the main centre.  It was a short stop on the metro into town but close to open space in case he wanted to take his son out to play.

Ah, Jnr.  Having a son made things so much better but so much worse in his current situation.  He still couldn’t believe how being a father made him feel. He’d fallen in love with this crying bundle when it had arrived seven years ago.  Jnr was a lot different now, still fun but had an answer for things and didn’t always want to do what his Dad wanted.  He missed the days when the two of them had been able to go out and throw a ball around and Jnr enjoyed every moment with his Dad.  Now he had to fight to prise him away from his iPad.  He’d also been surprised how the boy had changed.  He had grown into a strapping young lad already, tall and muscled with blonde hair and blue eyes.  He wouldn’t change it for the world though and wondered, with his separation from Alicia becoming permanent, how they would make the distance work.  He didn’t want to become the absent father, resented by his son, though he knew it couldn’t be perfect unless one or the other of them decided to stay in the same country. 

Taking another slug of his beer he thought about his other quandary.  Kate, beautiful, confusing Kate. He’d fallen for her as soon as she’d arrived, late, to his second-year lecture. She’d slammed through the door of the theatre, stomped down the stairs and fallen in to an end pew.  Even the lecturer had paused, about to give her a mouth full, but her stunning smile had put him right off.  The flash of leg had probably helped too.

All he had seen was dark hair, a slash of red lipstick, tight skirt and heels. But she had captured his attention, particularly when she then started firing questions at the lecturer. By the end of the lesson, he was hooked and wanted to know more.

She marched out the same way she came in, like she owned the room.  He was impressed by her ability to get up the many steps in heels, when most students wore doc martins.  Turning to his friend he whispered, “Who’s the stunner?” “Dunno, mate.” Came the response.

After doing some fishing he found out she’d changed her major after the first year, moving from English to Politics so hadn’t been in any of his first-year classes.

Three weeks later and she rushed into another class, late again.  This time there was only one seat left in the room, next to him.  ‘Bingo’ thought Dave, ‘time to turn on the charm.’  All his bluff and bluster didn’t work though as she cut him down at every point, poo-pooing his ideas.  He liked her even more for that.

Their friendship blossomed as they argued more, debating alternative ideas. Dave could tell that Kate loved the cut and thrust of a good discussion.   As the end of term ball came around he set his sights on taking their relationship to the next level.  Turning up in his best tux he scanned the room for her, finding her striking in a short red dress, glass in hand as she held court with some guys.  Wandering over to see what the discussion was, he was surprised to hear introduce someone as ‘my boyfriend, Felix’.  She’d never mentioned a boyfriend before so he was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he could win her round.  Joining the group, he met his competition, a bearded art student who seemed to be mainly off his head, but doting on her every word.  Later on, he queried their relationship with another member of the group to be informed they’d been together since the first term, with Felix following her like a puppy.

Dave was a bit put out and proceed to snog the face off one of the random sloan girls that always seemed to be around at University, just to make himself feel better.  Returning in January he and Kate were set the challenge of debating against each other, but each arguing for something they would not normally support.  This led to many hours in the library together, helping to research each other’s arguments. Dave probed more about her relationship, finding out they had met in the first week and Felix was a fine art student.  She seemed more dismissive than besotted, but as the months wore on Felix was still around.

Dave finally realised that this was a dead duck.  His casual friendship with Kate had grown into something more concrete but it had also made him realise she was a fragile soul.  Felix was her comfort blanket, someone to keep her safe in the strange surroundings of university.  Through all bluff and bluster on top, she was shy underneath and needed his constant reassurance to help her. Dave couldn’t break that bond without ruining their friendship. He resigned himself to them being great friends.

Looking back he wished he hadn’t backed down so easily.  If he had told her how he felt then, perhaps it would have come to nothing, but perhaps he wouldn’t be sitting on his own in an apartment in DC trying to sort out a broken marriage while she was in the UK wondering what was going on.

He knew what the real barrier had been then, and it was still there now.  Kate didn’t want children.  She’d commented over and over again while they were at university how children just got in the way and she didn’t want to put her body through all that.  Every time they saw a baby she would go ‘yuck’.   But Dave had always wanted kids.  Dave Jnr was the hope that his and Alicia’s relationship, already rocky then, would calm down and he could grow up being a Dad to a little brood.  Now it would seem that wouldn’t be the case as his son would be 1000s of miles away and the woman he thought he loved didn’t want to add to the family.  In fact, he wasn’t sure she would want a stepson.  It was a real sticking point, Dave wasn’t sure he was ready to give up on being a dad just yet.

Finishing his beer he walked back to the kitchen and put the empty bottle in the bin.  He contemplated getting another but instead stood leaning against the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the lounge.  He was tired and all this thinking was just making him feel worse.  Taking one last look at the view he walked into the bedroom and tried to switch off for the night.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 12

“Blechhhhh”

It wasn’t the sound Tracey expected to hear as they entered the dressing room. Nor was the sight of someone’s bottom partially covered with a sequin-covered leotard the first thing they hoped to see.

“Oh God”, moaned the figure hunched over in the tiny toilet cubicle.

Gareth hid outside the door. “Is everything all right?” he enquired.

“Blechhhh”

“Can I go and get anything?”, he stammered unsure what to do. “A cup of tea perhaps?” he added weakly.

Tracey stepped in. She might not be trained in first aid, but helping someone chucking up after a night out was her field. Leaning in, she gently took hold of the woman’s long hair and pulled it back away from her face. It’s bad enough being sick, but chunks of vomit clinging to your split ends made it ten times worse.

“Blimey, you’re having a good clear out”, she joked. Looking at her watch, she added, “Mind you, I normally save this stuff for later in the day.”

A deathly pale face looked up at her. Its owner paused for a few seconds to check that there wasn’t about to be a repeat performance and then slowly stood up.

“Thanks. I’m sorry about that. It’s probably something I ate. Our hotel breakfast looked a bit dodgy this morning.”. Another pause. “I’m Julie. Julie Todmonton. Sparks’ assistant.” She proffered her hand and then took it back quickly. “Can you give me a couple of minutes to clean up?”

Back in the corridor, Tracey found Freddie huddled with Gareth and a terrified looking Kelvin.

“How is she?” Freddie asked.

“I’ve been worse. Says it’s something to do with the hotel. Probably not going to be leaving a glowing review on Trip Adviser.”

“Hmm. Let’s hope so. They are on stage in twenty minutes.”

Tracey had seen the posters up for a magic act. Sparks was emblazoned across the top with a permatanned grinning face in the middle. Cartoon electric bolts shot out around him. She had to admit that if you ignored the orange skin and Photoshop white teeth, he wasn’t bad looking. This and the fact he would be the ‘big’ star in the upcoming pantomime had persuaded her to give up an evening in the name of research.

“Maybe it’s stage fright then.”

Freddie shook his head, “No chance. They are pros. When you’ve been doing your act for a couple of years in every town in the country, it gets pretty banal.”

Tracey wondered if wearing skin-tight glittery costumes and having your head cut off could really be a run of the mill way to earn a living. The clothes are OK, she thought, and I suppose it’s better than getting chewed up by Kate all the time.

As she pondered, the face from the posters appeared beside them. “What’s happening? Where the hell’s Julie?”

Freddie turned, “Ah. Tracey. Please allow me to introduce you to Barry Martin, better known as…”

“Sparks. Just call me Sparks, young lady”, said the magician.

Dressed in a sharp black suit that showed off his figure, he was a million miles from the traditional old school conjurer who would have fitted the age of the venue or its audience. The posters didn’t do him justice. For a start, he wasn’t orange. Maybe the photo was a couple of years old, but the teeth really did light up the room when he smiled and there was an undefinable ‘something’ about him. She felt a little flush looking into his blazing green eyes. “Pleased to meet you”, she stammered.

“Tracey is here to help us relaunch the theatre. She’s a management consultant.”

Sparks looked at her. “Management consultant eh? Perhaps I should consult you myself. I need a bit of bringing in to line sometimes. Isn’t that right Freddie!”

Freddie laughed. Tracey blushed again. Was he hitting on her? “Oh, it sounds more boring than it really is. We go in and shake things up a bit, that’s all.”

“Well, if you fancy giving me a quick jiggle, I’ll be back for the season in a couple of weeks. Perhaps we can discuss a little strategy?”

Bloody hell. He really was hitting on her. And she quite liked it. “Maybe we can”, she smiled, “But I think you need to check on your assistant first. She’s not feeling too good.”

“Oh god. Yes. I told her to lay off the yoghurt at breakfast. Bloody things all looked out of date to me. Stick to red meat, that’s what I say.” Then with a final flash of his smile, Sparks disappeared into the dressing room, slamming the door behind him.

For a moment, they listened outside. Inside there were the muffled sounds of a discussion that quickly became heated. Freddie gulped and lead Tracey back to the office.

*

Sat with a cup of coffee that would defy any barista’s description, Freddie relaxed. “I think Barry, sorry, Sparks, likes you.”

Tracey looked away. “You think so? I thought you showbiz people were all like that. Air kisses one minute and bitching behind each other’s backs the next.”

“Not me luv”, he chuckled, “but I know what you mean. There are some real bitches in this business – and that’s just the men!”

They both laughed. Then a thought crossed Tracey’s mind. “Sparks and Julie. Are they, you know, a couple?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. She’s been with him for eighteen months or so. Pretty good really. He tends to be, how shall we put it, quite demanding. He’s got a bit of a temper.”

“Really? That doesn’t sound good. It sounded like they were rowing when we left. Will she be all right?”

Freddie laughed again. “Don’t worry. Julie can give as good as she gets. That’s why she’s lasted so long working with him. The trouble is, he wants to be the next big thing. We’re really too small a venue for his ego. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good. Really good, but he wants his name in lights in Leicester Square, not on a provincial theatre.”

“Do you reckon he’ll make it?”, she asked.

“Maybe. I’ve seen some real no-hopers make it big on TV and plenty of huge talents spend their entire careers slogging around the circuit living out of a suitcase in cheap hotels. It’s all about luck and who you know rather than if you are any good.”

“You mean talent doesn’t matter?”

“Oh, it matters. Unless you are young and very pretty”, he looked sideways at Tracey, “then you need to be ‘discovered’ by someone and that means getting your arse out on to the stage every evening.”

“So how come he’s doing the panto?”

“Trains, my dear.”

“Trains?” she asked

“Yes. You see, we are on the line from London. The critics can get out to us and watch the show but still be back in time for last orders at the Groucho club. That way they can pretend to show an interest in the provinces and then scamper back into the comfort of a Zone 1 card on the tube.”

She nodded. “Clever.”

“Patronising bastards most of them. ‘Oh you do so well for a regional theatre’ half of them seem surprised we have seats and running electricity.”, his shaking hand spilt coffee on the table, “But we need the reviews. The councillors always look impressed when the papers from the capital give us a tiny mention, and as you know, we need to keep them on board.”

A bell rang. Freddie looked up. “Showtime I think. Would you like to see Sparks in action?”

Tracey nodded and leaving the undrinkable beverage behind, headed into the auditorium.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 10

Buoyed up by her shopping experience, Kate sat in her lounge sipping a glass of white wine later, still smiling.  She’s gone straight from the shop to the gym and had a really good session.  The sweat had been dripping from her machine in the spin class and then she’d hit body pump too.  Her muscles would be aching afterwards but it was the best workout she’d had in ages.

Kate’s chat with Olive and the shop with Amelia had given her some confidence to face up to the thing that was bugging her the most. What the hell was going on with her and Dave?  Olive was right, this had been hanging around for 20 years on and off and she’d missed the boat back at university, moping about him being in America with his (ex?)wife now wasn’t helping things.

She looked at her phone to check the time difference between the UK and America, it was only three in the afternoon over there so hopefully it would be a good time to call Dave.  Before she had time to think about it any more, she downed her glass of wine and filled up another before video dialling him on her phone.

***

Over in the States, Dave’s phone rang.  He’d just come back from the gym too and was picking Junior up later to go out for some food and take in a movie. Alicia was having an afternoon with her family and he’d not wanted to intrude.  Looking at the screen he was surprised to see it was Kate calling.

“Um, hi there.”  Dave propped his phone up on the table while he towelled his hair.  He hoped that the angle meant that Kate couldn’t see he wasn’t wearing anything else but a towel.

“Hi Dave, I hope I haven’t interrupted anything?”  Kate could just see a blur of movement on the other end.  Hang on, she thought, I don’t think he’s got anything on.  She didn’t know if to look closer or look away.

“Nope, I’m just drying off after a trip to the gym. Hang on, just let me finish getting dressed”. He turned round to walk over and grab some pants, the movement causing his towel to slip down at the back.

At the other end, Kate got a full eyeful of a rather pert derriere.  She stifled a laugh, not wanting him to know what she had seen.  It was turning into a rather pleasant phone call, she downed another glass of wine and daydreamed while she waited for him to return fully clothed.  She’d forgotten what it was like to have sexual urges, it had been so long.

Bantering for the next few minutes over who had done the hardest work out it was like old times on the call.  Dave was insistent that his weight program was harder than her spin class, she argued moving her heart rate into the red zone meant she was fitter.

“What can I do for you?” Dave was pleased Kate had called but he needed to get ready to go out soon so was wondering what the call was about, Kate never called without a reason.

“What do you mean, can’t a girl just call to say hi?”  Even Kate realised this sounded hollow, she always had a purpose and didn’t do chat.  “Actually, I was wondering how you’d got on with generating some business.”

Ah, it’s all work, Dave thought.  He was disappointed, he’d been hoping that they could talk a bit about them.

Dave reeled off a few of the conversations he’d been having, without mentioning the big meeting he’d had with the telecoms company a few days earlier.  He wanted to keep that one quiet because it was his deal and he wanted to make sure it came off before blowing a fanfare.  He didn’t know why but there was something about that job he wanted to keep to himself, probably because there were parts of the deal Kate wouldn’t be happy with.  He did mention an anecdote about using Dave Jnr as in with someone.

“You won’t believe what I did today.  Took my niece shoe shopping.”  Kate smiled again at the thought of Amelia’s face when they’d picked her shoes.  She still felt that joy when her shopping trips were a success, though it was much nicer to share it with someone else.

“What!  I thought you didn’t do children?” Dave was amazed.  Kate never even mentioned her nieces and nephews, or if she did it was only in disparaging terms.

“Ah this was different; she was like my little shopping buddy.  There were no nappy changes or sick involved.”  Kate related the shoe shopping story.

“And did you get any while you were there?”  Dave knew about Kate’s shopping habit.  He wasn’t totally surprised she’s enjoyed this trip with Amelia, it was perfect for her.  He was also pleased with her finally being more open to children. He knew the biggest stumbling block in their potential relationship was his son, perhaps this would help her to become more open.

“Ha no, they didn’t have them in my size!”  Kate finished her last glass and looked at her laptop.  Perhaps some online shopping after the call might be called for.

“You, me and Junior will have to go out when I’m back in the UK.”  Dave tested the water.

“I’m not sure his taste in shoes is the same as mine.”  Kate laughed.  She knew that she wasn’t as keen on boys as girls but perhaps she could find a connection with a seven-year-old boy.  As long as it didn’t involve sports events. 

“I didn’t mean that, maybe a meal or trip to a museum?” 

Kate realised that Dave was opening a door.  She hadn’t realised that taking her niece out could make a difference to her faltering relationship too.  The question was, did she want to put her foot into that gap or close it?

“That would be nice, how would Alicia feel?”  As soon as she said it, she realised it was the wrong thing to say.  Dave stood up and walked away from the phone.

“I’m sure she would be fine.”  Dave gritted his teeth.  Kate had just totally ruined the vibe of the conversation.  Why couldn’t she just leave that part of his life alone?  “Anyway, I need to go now, I’ve got to go and pick Junior up.”

“Fine.”  Kate, never the one to back down, didn’t like Dave’s tone.  If he wanted to be funny, she thought, then sod him.

Winding up the call, Kate was frustrated in more ways than one.  It was the best conversation they’d had in a long time, but then it had gone sour, the way their conversations seemed to do.  And after consuming nearly a whole bottle of wine and seeing a half-naked man she was feeling like she needed something to let off steam, and shoe shopping wouldn’t do it.  Picking up the phone she scrolled to another number.

“Hi Casper, yes I know I haven’t called you for a while. Don’t suppose you fancy a drink in town?”

Bootie call arranged she went off to change in to one of her sluttier outfits.  F*ck Dave, who needed him anyway.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 8

Freddie sat at his desk in the cramped office.  The admin area of the theatre was just a small corner of the behind the scenes space, a few rooms with a kitchen so they could make copious cups of tea to keep them all going.  The walls were plastered with posters from old shows, mainly to cover the cracks and peeling paint.

Spread in front of him were the books from the last few weeks. Ticket sales had been dire and even the forthcoming panto, normally a big pull for the theatre, was struggling to get bums on seats. Next to this was a letter from the local council giving him notice of a need to attend the next council meeting to explain his plans for the theatre, ahead of the vote on the planning application.

He put his head in his hands.

“You alright there, Fred.”   Doris, the front of house manager put her head around the door.

Lifting his head up and put he put on a smile, “Yes, I’m fine.”

“You aren’t really.  I’ve seen the receipts.  We are going to have to start buying our loo roll from Poundland soon to keep some money in the coffers.”  Doris winked at him.

Doris was the lifeblood of the theatre She’d been working there for centuries it seemed and knew everyone and everything.  Freddie smiled knowing that she’d stick it out until the bitter end, no matter what corners he had to cut to keep the place open.

His wife didn’t know why he cared so much and told him so on a regular basis.  Running a theatre had never been part of his career plan, which had involved accountancy as a cog in a big firm. When the wheels came off this with redundancy five years ago he decided, rather than go back to the corporate life, to do something he loved. 

The job advert had sounded enticing. The interview was easier than expected and the follow-up phone call from HR arrived before he’d had a chance to change out of his suit at home afterwards. The nice lady sounded so pleased when he accepted. At the time, the palpable sound of relief in her voice had passed Freddie by.

What he hadn’t realised that was running the theatre came with more stress and longer hours than his older job.  When staff didn’t turn up for a shift, he needed to be there.  When the fire alarm went off, he needed to be there.  And when the Council decided that they wanted to shut the place and sell it off for apartments, it was his job to fight tooth and claw to keep it the way it was. 

He cared because the theatre was important to a lot of people.  People like Doris who could have retired years ago but came to work because it gave her a reason to keep going after her husband had died and her children had moved away.  All the old people who sat through the matinee shows where they played old films, recreating their youth with a bag of popcorn while watching Fred Astaire.  The Mums who came for a break while their little ones watched children’s TV presenters make fools of themselves. It was more than just a building, it was a refuge.

“Your visitors are downstairs, by the way.”  Doris mimed making a tea.

Freddie gulped, he’d forgotten that Gareth and crew were descending today.  Quickly tidying his desk he nodded to Doris to put on the kettle and tried to get ready.  He had to remind himself these guys were here to help, but he still didn’t feel confident that they could.

Making their way backstage the KOD team were surprised at what they found.  Doors hung off hinges, lights flickered or just didn’t work.  A crew of half-naked dancers ran past them in the corridor, giggling, and shouting “move, we all need the loo and only one works!”

Tracey went to step into one of the dressing rooms and smartly turned back,  “Urgh, there was a rat in the corner!”

Up a tight staircase the worrying signs of disrepair continued, large cracks spidered across the walls and chunks of plaster lay on the stairs.  Tracey jumped as a piece fell from the ceiling and nearly hit her.

“If I’d known I needed a hard hat I would have packed one!”  she gripped at Gareth.

Kelvin put his laptop over his head to protect himself from any further falls.

Gareth gulped and then brushed down his suit, hoping it would be better when they got to Freddie’s office.

Reaching the top floor they found Freddie and Doris waiting, tea in hand.

“Hi there Gareth, glad you’ve managed to find us.  This is Doris, my front of house manager, she pretty much runs the place single-handed.”  Gareth shook the proffered hand.

“I’d like to introduce you to my colleagues, Tracey Dunn-Jones and Kelvin Armstrong.  Tracey looks after the business side and Kelvin is our IT and technical man.”

Freddie and Doris were drowned by a vision in pink as Tracey leant in to hug them both.  Kelvin just nodded.

“Please have a seat.”  Freddie tried to clear some space and find more seats for his guests, he hadn’t been expecting a full contingent of KOD staff.

“What did you think of the show?”  Behind Freddie’s back, Doris screwed up her face.  She knew how bad things were down there.

“Um, well, yes, it was entertaining…”  Gareth spluttered through his response.

“It was rubbish.  The crowd were half dead and so was the show.”  Tracey went straight for the jugular.  She’d been taking tips from Kate’s approach to things.

 Gareth jumped in, trying to cover up her bluntness.  “Well, yes, it was a little quiet down there and the audience was, erm, mature. Maybe the evening show is busier?”

Freddie’s look said it wasn’t. He stood up and waved his hands.  “It’s fine, it’s fine.  We know exactly how bad it is.  Ticket sales are at rock bottom, the audience need zimmer frames and we sell more tea from the bar than wine.  We’ve really lost our way, that’s why we need your help.”

“Why don’t you just sell it off and make a big profit.”  Tracey could already picture the shopping sprees she’d go on with the money.

“It’s not as simple as that, young lady.”  Doris was not warming to this bossy girl, especially as talking to her mainly meant talking to her cleavage. She’d seen tarts like this before and she’d got their measure.

“I’m sure it is, Doris.”  Tracey looked down her nose at the old dear trying to give her a piece of her mind.  “This is prime real estate, right in the middle of town.  Perfect for you and your friends to retire to and be able to pop down the shops after a game of bingo.”

Doris turned a light shade of pink and stood up.  “I beg your pardon!  This is more than a piece of land, it’s the place where people come for escapism, for some people it’s the only time they get out of the house.  We provide a very important service for the local community.”  And with that, she stormed out mumbling something about helping out behind the bar.

Gareth looked at Freddie across the desk.

“Fred mate, this is a big job.  You’ve got structural problems, poor audience numbers and a council baying for blood. I’m not sure we can help you.”  Gareth looked forlorn.

“I know, I know.  It’s a big task and I can’t pay you.  But at least give it a go until the panto is over. It’s our big earner and if we can get the ticket sales up I can plough some of that money back into the theatre.  I’ve already got quotes for some of the work and it can be done, as long as we sell out the whole run. Why don’t you all come back tomorrow and see our big name for Christmas, Sparks. I think he’ll be far more to your taste.”

Tracey looked shocked. Working in the evening wasn’t in her plans. Looking at Kelvin, she could see he was also pulling a face. It was too late, Gareth was already nodding, “Of course Freddie. I’m sure we would be delighted to see the big star.”

“Are you sure there is space?” asked Tracey hopefully.

Freddie laughed. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll squeeze you in somewhere!”

Tracey looked glum. Seeing her face, even Gareth realised what she was thinking. “Don’t worry Tracey, we’ll make it up to you. I’m sure we can do something with expenses.” At the sound of this, she perked up a little. Perhaps there would be benefits to this job after all. Her only appointment was with Netflix after all.

“Look Freddie”, Gareth continued, “It’s a big ask, but we at KOD never say no to a challenge. I’ll give it my best shot. “ Standing to shake hands, he turned to leave. What Freddie didn’t see was the look of concern. Gareth knew he really needed Kate and Dave on this, but wasn’t sure how he was going to get them on side.  Without their help, he was flogging a dead horse.

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