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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 35

Tracey sat back and looked at her presentation. It was good. A lot of work, but she was really pleased with the results. Even Kate had noticed how industrious she had been, or at least quiet and staring into her laptop in a manner previously reserved for the Selfridges sale. Fortunately, the boss hadn’t seen some of the photos that appeared on the screen. Although they were genuinely work-related, muscly men wearing more baby oil than clothing weren’t the normal sort of images found in the office. Kelvin, normally happy to help her out with IT matters, hadn’t hung around when he saw exactly what she was trying to lay out on the screen.

Closing the computer, Tracey thought about the meeting later that evening. She was going into battle, or at least to present a plan to win the battle of Leighton Oxley’s theatre. For a moment she understood what went through Kate’s mind when she pitched for work. Mind you, she wasn’t usually selling this sort of product.

*

Finishing with a flourish, Tracey turned to the room and waited for her applause. Looking back at her were Freddie, Gareth and Doris. They were silent. For a few seconds, she wondered why Freddie looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He stared at the screen with his mouth slightly open.

This wasn’t the reaction she had expected. All the daydreams had ended with warm congratulations, heart handshakes and possibly even a hug. Turning back to the projected image on the wall, even Mr November seemed to be smirking, although that might have been the missing chunk of wallpaper.

Freddie gathered himself. “No. I mean, no. I mean, we can’t do this sort of thing. Not in Leighton Oxley.” He stuttered, almost lost for words.

Gareth chimed in, “I wonder if this is quite the right thing Tracey. I can see you’ve put a lot of work into this idea and I’m sure that, ahem, male strippers might seem like a good idea, but I’m not sure about the council…”

“Yes, the council. The bloody council”, Freddie interrupted, “They would go absolutely bloody nuts. You know how some of these posh old dears are like. We struggle to get some of the panto jokes past them.”

“But”, spluttered Tracey, “This sort of thing is all the rage.”

“Rage? I’ll give you rage” cried Freddie, “Councillor Osbourne. He’s about as with it as, well, Queen bloody Victoria. Tell him that we’re going to put oily blokes in tiny pants on stage and it would kill him. Right after he brought down the fire, brimstone on us. There’s no question of it. Gareth, what were you thinking?

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 34

What you are looking for is someone with a large cock and shares in baby oil!”

I’ll drink to that.”

Tracey downed her mojito and looked at her companion. ‘Your turn Silvo, same again please.”

Sitting in the bar at Soho House Tracey felt much more at home than she did in Solihull. London was definitely more up her street, the shopping was better and they understood her rather extravagant dress sense better than those in Touchwood shopping centre. When she said I want more pink they ran to help, not for cover.

Silvo returned from the bar with another two large measures. ‘Cheers, my lovely. Where have you been hiding all this time?”

He was an old friend and she loved catching up with him. They’d met at university and bonded over a shared love of pink, feathers and great shoes. Silvo was more of a fashion diva than she was. He’d landed a job at the British Fashion Council and she’d got stuck in some backwater trying to get to grips with a woman whose PMT seemed to last for the whole month, banished there by her father after an unfortunate incident at her first job. He’d managed to wangle her a week hostessing at Ascot, said it would be good for her to mingle with the masses and do some good hard graft. What he hadn’t realized was that hostessing was actually one step up from being an escort and the girls had to deal with being felt, leered and generally taken for prostitutes to get their tips. Tracey gave as good as she got but one City boy took it too far when he cornered her in the ladies. A rather nasty stiletto in the leg and her waitressing days were over. Daddy had been worried about how it would reflect on the family as the man in question was vaguely related to them so she’d been stuck on a train to the Midlands, and found a role in Daddy’s friend Gareth’s company. Two years down the line she thought she would have escaped by now but stepping into second place was something she was actually enjoying.

Tracey Dunn-Jones had spent most of her adult career (and a lot of her teenage years) riding on the back of anyone who would help her. She’d scraped through exams and then made it to university by the skin of her teeth, and the family inheritance. Dropping a couple of K here and there definitely helped to oil the wheels. She’d found her feet while studying Business Studies at “London poly turned uni” but was still trying to turn that knowledge into something she could use at KOD. Working for Kate didn’t help, she was a total control freak and couldn’t see past Tracey’s impressive cleavage. In fact, many people couldn’t do that, something she was realizing might be a hindrance rather than a help in life.

The theatre job had really whet her appetite. She’d had a brush with fame and realized it wasn’t all swanning around looking fabulous, and now she had this great idea to get some money in the coffers.

So, you got to be the star of the show then? How come you gave it up after one performance?”

I realized you were more of a drama queen than me!” Tracey laughed at her friend.

But I thought you were all – “I want to be on Big Brother, I want to be famous, Darlings”

I did, but actually those guys work really hard, and talking to Sparks he’s been plugging at it for years and still only breaks even. That wouldn’t fund my shoe and handbag habit.” Tracey waved her most recent purchase under his nose.

So, does this mean you actually want to do some work? What happened to that party girl I knew and loved?” Silvo pretended to look down in the mouth

Oh, she’s still there. I’m expecting you to show me the sights tonight, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a decent night out. But I’ve actually found something I am interested in. I care about this theatre.” Tracey paused, as this was the first time she’d actually put into words how she felt. She did care about the old dump, all ideas of stylish apartments carved from historic buildings had gone.

So I’ve told them we need sex to sell more tickets. I’m not talking Full Monty age performers, I want the real deal.”

And they are up for it?” Silvo looked concerned. Tracey had told him about the average age of the current audience, and he was worried about deaths during the performance.

Well, not exactly, but if I can prove that my idea will sell tickets, then it’s a done deal. I just need to whip up a buying frenzy.”

Well, I know some dancers who are in-between jobs who’d be up for it. I’m sure we could come up with a few ideas and some routines.”

Ok, well you tell them to start polishing their posing pouches and I’ll go and do the hard work. Once I know what I’m up against I’ll let you know if I need a bit more support.”

Darling, there are a few things you have been up against over the years and the only support you have needed is their hand on your….”

Silvo!” Tracey shrieked.

Tracey had been bouncing around an idea in her head since she’d been brought into the theatre discussions. She’d seen the shows and the audience but thought that everyone was thinking too one-dimensionally. Yes it was a local theatre, and yes people came to see something entertaining or something for their kids but there was a whole audience they were missing. What about bored women? There were a lot in the suburbs of Leighton Oxley she was sure, for whom a night in the one or two decent pubs, a trip to the local cinema or pub quiz, wouldn’t satisfy their needs. And she was talking about women of all ages, there must be girls from 18 to 40 in the town? She’d taken a wander round one afternoon between meetings and see yummy mummies and ladies who lunch, plus student types. She knew there was a college nearby. Surely this was a group that needed something the theatre could offer?

Being a little more widely travelled than perhaps those in Leighton she’d seen a few good shows in her time in the West End, and she knew that something with sexy men would go down a storm. She’d even heard about a film coming out about strippers, but the ones with six packs, not unemployed steelworkers. That would get people thinking about the whole idea.

She thought she could pull together a ‘Ladies Night’ which would fill the venue, riding on the back of the wave of the film, but knowing they couldn’t afford a proper stripping troupe had rolled Silvo in. He had a great network of performing types, and if she waved a few hundred quid at some of his ‘resting’ friends they’d been up for pulling something together. Tracey knew a lot of them loved a chance to show off their abs.

She could picture it, low lighting, a smoke machine, six drop-dead gorgeous men stepping out on stage dressed as policemen. The music starts pumping, their groins start pumping and in a flash, the clothes are off, the baby oil on and the screams from the crowd deafening.

Perhaps she’d get pulled up on stage for a one-to-one dance, where a nice dark-haired boy with a great torso would writhe all over her while she imagined something more.

Tracey, oh Tracey, come back. You’ve gone all flush love.” Silvo was peering over at her.

Sorry, I’d gone into a trance daydreaming about the show.” Tracey rolled her eyes and tried to hold on to the image of the impressive bod.

Oh, get over yourself. Remember most of my friends are gay so even if you get close, you aren’t their type. However, they do know how to shake their thang.” Silvo mimed wiggling his bum.

But it will be perfect. All those suburbanite ladies will love it! I can see the money rolling in now.”

The only thing Tracey had to do was convince Freddie and the local Council that a strip show was the right way to go. And she had an idea how she could do it at the next council meeting. All she needed to do was keep Kate out of the picture.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 33

Ash continued, “Look. You want to save the theatre and so do I. Not just because I love a live show, but because they do a lot of good work with the community. My mother-in-law will kill me if some of her social groups have to find a new home because the place has closed down.”

Switching on the projector, Tracey’s spreadsheet lit up the wall. “That’s going to be easier said than done. As you say, we are up errr, a creek.”

Ash looked at the numbers for a moment. “Hmmm. The problem isn’t perhaps as bad as you think. Quite a lot of the Councillors don’t want to rock the boat. At the moment, the place is losing enough money that closing it looks like an easy option. You’ve managed to make things a bit better, but we’re not quite there.”

What do you mean?”

Look, we have the oversight committee meeting in a month. Most of those there will be happy to sit on their hands if we can persuade them that things are going in the right direction. Remember, these people don’t like making decisions. We just need to persuade them to leave things alone and let everyone get on with their jobs.”

Gareth spluttered, “You mean bamboozle them?”

Ash smiled again. “A bit. What we need is a few successes and then they can wave next year’s budget through and go home to their families after a few drinks in the bar, safe in the knowledge that they are looking after the best interests of their constituents.”

But what about Councillor Osbourne?” asked Tracey

Geoff is trying to make himself a bit of a name. He fancies being Council leader next year. I think his wife has told him it’s time for some ambition. He sees this as an easy way to show his credentials as a great leader. Be a bit Thatcher if you see what I mean.”

So this is all about him getting a better job?”

Sort of. I think it’s actually about him getting a better seat at the golf club annual dinner, but yes, he doesn’t like the theatre much, so he can’t see why the town needs one.”

Tracey looked at the screen. Was all this really a waste of time? “We just need to persuade one man?”

Possibly. I don’t think you will though. He’s got a bit fixated on this but he can’t do anything on his own. There needs to be a majority on the committee and as I say, most of them are only going along with this to keep him happy. If a few decided to change their minds, or at least develop some ideas of their own, we’d be home and dry.”

Right”, she tried to sound confident but wasn’t really sure what was going on, “So how do we do that?”

Ash turned to face her. “Well, the problem is that Freddie has been relying on the panto each year to save him. The rest of the time, the numbers look poor. It’s time to inject a bit of showbiz razzmatazz into the place. We need to get some bums on seats with something different. I’m sure the figures can be massaged a little and if we can bring out just one big gun, then the committee can get off early that night.”

So we just need one sure-fire hit. Where do we find one of those from?”

Ash laughed. “Ah well. That’s your problem. I’m just an accountant.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 32

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.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 31

Gareth looked around the meeting room. He wasn’t entirely comfortable. “Who is this chap again Tracey?” he asked.

Tracey sighed. She knew he wasn’t really happy about bringing someone else in on the theatre project because Kate wouldn’t approve, or at least he thought she wouldn’t, not having bothered to ask her about it.

Councillor Ashok Dhaliwal. Doris recommended we get him involved. I’ve checked him out, he’s about a hundred years younger than the rest of them and apparently good with the finances. I’ve only invited him along for a chat.”

It was true that she had checked him out. A couple of hours on the web and the Councillor’s background had been thoroughly researched. It didn’t hurt that he was only a couple of years older than her and she had to admit, pretty easy on the eye.

The big surprise was an entry on IMDB thanks to a bit-part in a Bollywood film a few years ago. Watching the film, in the aid of research and with headphones on, she thought she worked out who he was, but it didn’t matter, he was a bit of a mover judging by the dance sequences. It was all she could do to keep still at her desk. The music was really catchy.

But, are you sure it is a good idea? We don’t want to give the Council the impression that we can’t do this. Freddie is relying on us”

Tracey sighed. “We can’t do this. Not on our own. This ship is sinking fast and right now, neither of us can see how we fix everything. What we need now is some ideas how we can persuade the Council that this isn’t a hopeless project in a month’s time. Most of them are dead against keeping the theatre open, but it looks like we might have found someone on our side for once.”

But what did Freddie say?”

Nothing.”

Gareth looked surprised. “Nothing?”

Yes. Because I haven’t told him.”

Tracey. We’re supposed to be helping out, not sneaking around behind his back.”

We’re not sneaking around, we’re trying to help. For the minute, I don’t think we should promise anything we can’t deliver. For all I know, Councillor Dhaliwal will be no more use than the rest of them.”

In the corner of the room, a telephone rang. Picking it up, Gareth said, “Well, we are going to find out. Apparently, he’s in reception.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 28

Sitting in her dressing room, Tracey relaxed. The second half had been pretty much incident free. She didn’t have so much to do and her big finale, killing the baddie had gone well. Best of all, when the cast have come on to stage for their final bow, the audience went wild as she walked on. As a main character, she processed down the steps in an amazing gown that looked like it should be in a cake shop. All the applause was for her. It was possibly the most wonderful moment of her life.

All the learning, all the work, it was worthwhile. Would the thrill still be there after a month of performances? It didn’t matter. For the moment there was a bottle of chilled champagne and a dozen roses sat beside the mirror. There wasn’t a name on the card, and she knew they were probably from that soppy old sod Gareth, but it didn’t matter. This was the treatment stars got and she wanted to revel in it.

Freddie stuck his head into the room. “Well done Tracey. You played a blinder. Who’d have thought you’d never done this before.”

A few minutes later, the dame wandered in and said the same. “Darling, you are a trooper. We didn’t think you’d do it, but you only did.” He gulped down a cup of the bubbly, “Listen, a few of us are going for a drink later. Fancy it?”

She paused. Normally a drink after work would be just right, but she was tired. On the other hand, how often is a girl asked out by a man in that much makeup? Not in the sort of bars she frequented of course.

Oh, go on then”, she replied, “Are you going to get changed back into your normal clothes first?”

Darling, you don’t think I’m going out like this do you? Gotta keep the magic in the theatre. It’ll be too exciting for civilians to see me in full regalia.”

She laughed, “Anyway, you might get asked again if you are a transvestite.”

OMG. That little kid earlier. We drag them up on stage for a little time in the limelight, just so the moms and dads can Instagram a picture you know, and the little bugger asks that! He said his auntie had told him to say it too! What a bitch!”

It made the audience laugh though.”

Oh yeah. They love it when stuff goes wrong. Look how they laughed when Ali opened the shop door and the whole front fell backwards.”

Tracey looked puzzled. “I didn’t see that. What happened?”

You were probably doing a costume change. Yeah. Ali Baba opens the shop door and the bloody set only goes and collapses.” The Dame fluttered her hand about to demonstrate.

Aren’t these things tied to something?”

Should be. Looks like one of the crew didn’t do their knots properly. I mean it’s only a canvas painting, but it still looks a bit rubbish.”

And the pyrotechnics almost blew up the camel.”

The Dame laughed. “Poor guys got a dose of exploding stars up the jacksie. Enough to give them the right hump!”

Tracey frowned, “Quite a lot seemed to go wrong then really. I’m glad it wasn’t just me.”

You? Oh no, you were fine. Look luv, we all fluff the odd line. It doesn’t matter so much for me as I can just mess around with the script anyway.”

Doesn’t the director mind?”

That old queen? Nah. Anyway, I’d soon give him a slap. Scripts are just for guidance in panto. We do something different every night.”

Oh, I’ve been learning it by heart.”

And very good you are too. You stick to the writer’s words and leave the ad-libbing to me and the others for the moment. We’re old pros. It takes years of practice, and that’s just for applying the makeup. “

With that, he swept out of the room leaving Tracey to her thoughts. Maybe she was OK. All the cast had been lovely and she had got most of her lines right. Give it another few performances and perhaps she’d feel more confident. One thing she did know, Tracey Dunn-Jones had found something she was good at.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 27

In the foyer, Freddie was also dealing with someone covered in goo. Stewards flew around waving paper towels to try and wipe the lady mayor down but she batted them away, grabbing the clothes and doing her best to both clean and appear regal.

My clothes are ruined! What the hell are you doing playing a trick like that?” she demanded.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I mean, this isn’t part of the act. At least it wasn’t in rehearsal.”

You don’t know? What sort of place are you running here if you don’t know when you plan to drown an audience member?”

I mean I know it isn’t part of the show. We might throw a little bit of glitter around, but we don’t mess with the audience.”

Well you messed with this audience member, and when I get back to the office, I’m going to suggest that the council messes with you and this place”, she replied, waving a hand around to emphasise the point.

Freddie pleaded, “Please, this isn’t fair. Look how much fun the audience was having. I mean we’re doing so much good work here. You can’t let one little accident ruin things.”

One little accident? Look at the Mayoral chain, it’s solid gold you know. It’s going to have to be professionally cleaned up. That’s council tax payers money you know.” She held the offending item under his nose just to make clear how bad things were. Freddie did start to wonder if it was real gold, as he thought he could see parts peeling off, but thought better of saying something.

Perhaps I can get one of our tech team to have a look. They are really quite competent.”

Really? They don’t seem to be able to nail down a giant pot do they?”

Well, I mean, I’m sure we don’t know how this happened.” He paused and then said triumphantly, “There will be an investigation!”

The mayor didn’t look impressed. “Oh great, an investigation. I’ve worked in local government for 30 years. I know how much use ‘an investigation is. I don’t want things investigated. I want to know who did it and then fire them.”

Fire them, your honour? Surely we should work out what happened first.”

What happened,” the mayor replied angrily, “is that someone tried to drown me with a vat of what tastes like a mix of wallpaper paste and flour. If drowning the civic party isn’t cause for a sacking or two, then I don’t know what is. And, as for the funding for your little theatre, that now needs some serious consideration too. Now get out of my way, I’m going home. I feel a long bath is required.”

You don’t want to stay for the second half?” Freddie found himself saying weakly as the party stormed out of the front doors.

Watching them go, he didn’t notice Gareth appear beside him.

Good news old chap. I’ve managed to sweet talk Tracey into carrying on.”

Still starting at the now closing doors, Freddie replied, “Going on. What do you mean?”

Well, she was pretty shaken up the poor thing.”

Freddie turned around, “Shaken up? She’s shaken up? I’ve just been told we’re all for the sack and I’m supposed to worry about your office girl getting a bit mucky?”

Steady on Freddie. I mean Tracey has pulled a blinder to get the show on the road. Without her, we’d not even have a show to open. I know this is a bit of a shaker, but I’m sure things will be fine. You know what ladies are like, they will calm down again I’m sure.”

You don’t understand. This is bad. Really bad, but what’s worse is that the ticket sales aren’t as good as they usually are. I don’t think Sparks is as big a draw as we hoped he would be.”

Gareth looked at the busy bar. “Surely not. I mean this place is packed. You must have flogged loads of tickets”.

Hardly any. For the first couple of shows, we give freebies to the council staff and local schools. None of this lot has paid a penny.”

Oh. Why do you do that?”

Well, we like to get a good crowd in for the first shows so there’s some word of mouth. It gives the cast a chance to get used to a full house and when the critics come in, it all looks better. The whole thing’s a sham though. In two nights’ time, we’ll be lucky to have a hundred in.”

Gareth looked shocked. “You didn’t say. I mean that’s terrible.”

That’s showbiz. All smoke and mirrors. Never let them see you cry.” Freddie tried to laugh and then just put his head in his hands.

In the distance, a bell went to announce the second half would be starting.

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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 25

Quick Morgiana”, shouted the genie, “Al Racheed will be here any minute.” Morgiana looked suitably frightened at the thought of the ‘bad guy’ catching her. Casting his eye round the stage the genie spotted three giant oil jars. “Ah, that would be perfect, quick hide in one of the pots!”

In the audience, Freddie mutter to Gareth, “This is the big magic number to end the first half. Sparks gets to earn his money.”

Gareth looked at the stage. So far, Tracey seemed to have been doing OK. There had been a few fluffs on her lines, but the other members of the cast had covered those up. “How are the Councillors looking?”he asked.

Freddie peered into the darkness. The front row was full of smartly dressed old people, several wearing mayoral regalia. They didn’t seem to be smiling much and he doubted they would be joining in with the singing later. “It’s difficult to tell. They don’t smile much at the best of times.”

Did they laugh at the ‘Don’t polish my lamp’ lines?”

Don’t think so. Good job everyone else got the joke. I’ll give Tracey this, she can pull off a smutty line really well.”

On stage, Tracey lowered herself into a jar and pulled the lid down on herself.

Boo, Hiss” cried the audience as Al Racheed stomped on to the stage waving his wooden scimitar.

Where is that pesky slave girl?“ he bellowed, “I will find the wench and cleave her head from her body”. To demonstrate he meant it he swooshed the scimitar around.

There was a chorus of ‘ohs’ and ‘boos’ from the audience.

Tracey popped her head up from the jar, wearing the lid as a hat. “Help me genie. Don’t let the evil Al Racheed find me.” She dropped back down as Sparks appeared in a puff of smoke high up on the balcony of a wooden building.

Don’t worry Morgaina, that evil man will never find you.”

The audience cheered and then booed as Al Racheed snarled at them.

Be quiet you lot,” he shouted, “I’ll find her and when I do…” he waved the weapon.

She’s behind you!” called a lone voice from the audience. Freddie groaned.

Playing to the crowd, Al Racheed replied, “Is she really?” and turned to look at the pots. “I bet she is in one of these!”

Boooo!” called the audience.

With a flourish, he pulled the first pot forward and lifted off the lid. “She’s not in here!” he cried, “She must be in one of the other ones. Putting the jar back on its stand he moved along the row and repeated the examination. “She’s not in this one either!”

Again, the jar went back on its stand and he looked at the final one. “I have you now!” he cried and pulled it forward grabbing the lid. The audience gasped. Inside there was nothing to be seen, yet only moments before, they had seen Morgiana climb inside.

At the other end of the row, Tracey popped her head up out of the first pot. The audience cheered.

Have you seen her?” bellowed the baddie, “Where is she?”

Running back to the first jar, he grabbed it and looked inside. As he moved, the genie waved his hands and sprinkled some glitter on the stage. There was nothing in the pot. Tracey appeared briefly in the middle jar. The audience cheered.

Again, the genie sprinkled glitter and Al Racheed looked in the pot. Nothing. He tried the end of the row and again, nothing. This time Tracey appeared in the first jar.

Time and again, they repeated the game. Once, the baddie slipped on the growing pile of glitter. Each time, the audience clapped and cheers. Sparks beamed from under his genie turban.

Suddenly there was a scream from inside a jar. Tracey appeared out of the top but her face was covered in goo. Coughing and spluttering she tried to climb out.

What on earth…” gasped Freddie, “what the hell is she doing?” Grabbing a radio, he spluttered, “Get the curtain ready. Something’s gone wrong!”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 24

Returning to the table, both women sipped their drinks and Kate was slightly shocked to see some mini muffins were also part of the order.

Taking a bite of her cake, Karen continued, “Where was I? Oh yes, yummy mummies. I think they thought I should be joining their gang. After all, I’d had a decent job, but unlike them, I planned to go back to it. My career wasn’t just something I did until I’d knocked out a sprog for the rich husband I’d landed.”

Kate nearly choked on her muffin. “Sorry” she said as Karen quickly wiped the crumbs from her laptop.

Don’t worry, it’s not the worst thing that’s been thrown at it. Anyway, there was a third group and they were the mums who needed more than childcare and shopping in their lives. Some of them had started small businesses. Nothing earth-shattering, and they generally had to fit around the kids but as I found them, I realised I’d found my tribe as they say. The problem is, that most of them were working on their own and didn’t know how to talk to each other. Finding help can be a bit like getting a good plumber, you can read adverts, but when your mate tells you ‘Dave down the road handles his wrench really well’ then you know you are on to a good thing.”

So you decided to bring them together. That’s a clever move.” Kate was impressed.

Not that clever. I wasn’t the first person to think of it. My USP is that I know these women aspire to do more than just take photos of themselves wearing today’s outfit or write a blog no-one reads. Take Harriet, one of my first recruits. She does bookkeeping. Before children, she worked for a big accountants. Now she can whip your finances into shape and keep on top of them. She does it for several people, including me. She doesn’t want to rival KPMG or anything, but it’s more than just a way to earn pin-money.”

Kate thought back to Ali from her first meeting. They had chatted and swapped business cards. She ran a pet grooming firm. “You mean you lead the horses to water.”

But if they want a drink, it’s up to them.”

But how do you keep it all going? Surely you are out on the road a lot.”

Karen waved her hand over the table. “Welcome to my office. Have laptop will travel.”

But what about the kids?”

Not a problem. Andrew works close enough to home to be able to do the school runs when I’m away. We just have to spend a lot of time synchronising our calendars to make sure at least one of us is around. We get there. Most of the time anyway.”

Kate looked at her plate. The mini muffin had been munched. Perhaps a few lengths of the pool would be a good idea. Tomorrow anyway. But Karen had really given her something to think about. Perhaps these women weren’t CEOs of multinationals, but they did manage to get more out of life than just being a parent. She knew she wanted to make KOD a company she could be proud of, but did she want to be the next Virgin? Certainly having your own private island would be nice, but perhaps it was time to take a long-term view. Did she just want to get the point that she worked and owned a company she enjoyed being at, and helped keep her in Louboutins and Westwood but perhaps Ferraris and multiple houses were a step too far? She honestly didn’t know.

Looking at her watch Karen closed her laptop, “Look I’ve got to get off, it’s dance class tonight so I need to be back by 4.30pm. I’d like to keep in touch, if that’s OK, I think there are things we could do together.”

Secretly pleased, Kate nodded her approval. Standing to shake hands goodbye she got overtaken by a hug and two kisses. Watching Karen walk away, stylish in heels, she thought to herself perhaps she’d finally found someone on her wavelength.

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