Ash was waiting as Tracey burst in through the coffee shop door. She hadn’t dressed for rain, so found herself trying to tame her hair as she spotted him sitting in a corner, a model of efficiency typing on his laptop. He looked up and smiled at the bedraggled figure heading his way.
“Is it still raining out there?” he asked with a smile.
Tracey grimaced, “Yeah. It started just after I left the office. Now I’m bloody soaked.”
Ash swiftly moved the computer to avoid the drips. “That’s a shame. No wonder you look a little, erm, unprepared. But I thought it’s been raining for half an hour, and your office is just around the corner.”
“I had a little errand to do before I came here.”
“Would that little errand be in the Whistles bag?”
Tracey looked at the bag. Too small to act as an umbrella, she hoped the contents were OK. Even at the sale price, they hadn’t been cheap. “Oh, I was just passing, you know how it is.”
“Hmmm. It sounds like you need a good accountant young lady. Someone to keep an eye on your finances. We don’t want those evil fashion retailers bankrupting you do we?”
For a moment she wondered if he was hitting on her. Then the wedding ring glinted in the lights and she saw he was chuckling. “You can’t talk. That’s an Ozwald Boateng suit isn’t it? You’re no stranger to a designer outlet yourself Councillor Dhaliwal.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Us accountants don’t all wear beige you know. Some of us try to bring a bit of style to our profession.” Tracey nodded her approval. “And I also have a bit of a secret” he continued, leaning forward, “My wife is a personal shopper. She knows what suits me and can usually get a bargain.”
The wife. Now she knew he wasn’t hitting on her. “Oh,” she said, “That sounds like a bit of a dream job – getting paid for shopping.”
“Sometimes it is, but she’s also a bit prone to ‘just passing’ a clothes rack. Our wardrobes are testament to that.”
“But a girl likes to look good.”
“That’s what she tells me. I say you always look good to me, but apparently that isn’t the right answer.”
Tracey squeezed her sleeve out on the floor. “Too right. You men never learn do you? Anyway, do you think they could turn the heating up in here a bit? I need to dry out.”
Ash stood up ad offered to get her a coffee. While he was away, Tracey did her best to restore her normal glamour. Checking her face, she was pleased to see her make-up hadn’t run and her hair could be pulled back so at least it wasn’t stuck to her face. By the time her companion returned, she was feeling almost human.
Placing the cappuccino in front of her, Ash asked, “So. Why are we meeting here? It can’t just be because you wanted an illicit shopping trip, or the chance to enjoy a cold shower.”
Tracy paused and considered her answer for a moment. In the end, she decided to be honest. “It’s my boss. We have an idea for a show to bring in the crowds, but I know she’s not going to approve. I want the plan nailed down before she finds out.”
“Bit of a dragon is she?”
“A bit. She doesn’t think I’m much use sometimes and I want to prove her wrong this time.”
Ash stirred his coffee. “Sounds fair to me. I’ve been there myself, you want to pull off a big success. What about Gareth? Are you worried he’s going to grab the credit too?”
“No chance. She thinks he’s even more useless than me. Besides, when she finds out about the plan, she will know who dreamed it up.”
Ash pulled a pen from his pocket and opened a notepad. “Ah yes, your plan. Go on then, what are you up to?”
Tracey outlined her idea for a male stripper show. She explained the ticket prices, the hoped for bar income and then described a couple of shows she’d been to, making a particular point of explaining how busy they were. By the end of her slightly lurid description, Ash looked a bit stunned.
“I’m not quite sure what to say?”
Tracey tried to read his face. “You don’t approve?”
He laughed. “It’s not my sort of show. I’ll not be buying a ticket you understand, but I know how well these sort of things sell. As you say, we could have a bonanza on the bar, as well as shifting a load of tickets. I’m not sure what the rest of the councillors will say though.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. Doris had to bully Freddie into it and now I have to go and present something to them next week.”
“Hmm. Doris is a force of nature when she wants to be. If you have her on your side, Freddie won’t dare to complain. The fuddy-duddy councillors might be a different challenge though.”
“That’s what I thought. I was hoping you might have some ideas. You know them better than me.”
Ash stared into the bottom of his coffee cup. “You know, I think I need a refill while I think about this. Your shout” he said, sliding the cup towards Tracey.
Queuing for drinks, she wondered if she’d gone too far. Coming up with the idea in London had been fine. A few drinks and the atmosphere of the club with Silvio were one thing. Even back at work she’d done her research and thought it was a good plan. The meeting with Freddie had been tougher, but Doris rallying behind her helped a lot. Now faced with someone she had to convince, her confidence wobbled.
Sitting down at the table, Ash still seemed deep in thought. “Well,” she asked nervously, “Any ideas?”
He sipped his drink. “Maybe. It’s not going to be easy, but maybe if we can get them into the showbiz spirit, we can get them to take a punt on it.”
“Really?” she beamed. Maybe there was a chance.
“Yes. I mean the culture committee is pretty dry most of the time. They might as well be talking about parking regulations or dealing with dog-mess. Perhaps the time is right for them to smell the greasepaint and listen to the crowd.”
“Perhaps I should arrange a video of one of the shows?”
He shook his head. “No. I don’t think that will help at all. In fact, I’d be inclined not to make a bit thing of the stripping part. Mention dancing, it’s a bit less scary.”
“But the stripping is what brings the crowds in.”
“True. But there’s no need to shove it in their faces. Let’s see if we can warm them up first. I know a few people.”
Tracey looked surprised. “Strippers?” she squealed.
“No.”, Ash said firmly, “But there is more to showbiz than taking your clothes off.”
Tracey looked curious.
He continued. “Leave it with me for a couple of days.” turning the laptop around, “Now, while you’ve been cavorting, I’ve been working the numbers and I think you’ll like what I’ve found…”
Tracey looked at the spreadsheet but it was difficult to concentrate. What did he mean?