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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 20

Is it £1.27 Bob?”

Nah Tony. Oy’ve been saving up a bit more than that.”, he looked at Tracey, “Tell me Tony, are you married? Only we’ve got a cracking lass in here called Tracey.”

‘fraid to say I am Bob. Thirty years this year. “

Bob looked impressed, “Thirty year eh Tony? You get less for murder! Tell you what though, shall we ask young Tracey here if she can guess what I’ve got in my pocket?”

Go on then Bob. Tell her she can’t put her hand in to rummage around though”

Bob shook the bag again. “Go on then young Tracey, what have I got in my pocket?”

Tracey looked confused, “erm, I don’t know. Fifty quid perhaps?”

Fifty quid! Did you hear that Tony? She thinks I’ve got fifty quid in me pocket!”

Down the line, Tony laughed, “Blimey Bob. If you’d got fifty quid in your pocket, you’d be living in Marbella. I paid less than that for my first car!”

Tracey blushed.

Bob continued, “Too right Tony. Fifty quid! I think I’m going to have to count me pennies again. Thanks for calling.” and with a push of a button, Tony was gone. By now, several lights shone out and Bob picked another caller. “You’re on Bob’s mid-morning show. What’s your name and why are you hanging around listening to me clarting about on the radio?”

Hello Bob, I’m Joyce and I work in a hairdressers. We love listening you you in the salon as we work. “

Good to hear from you Joyce. Perhaps I could get you to come around and give me a quick blow dry”, he patted his bald head, “I could do with a little trim.”

Cheeky”, the caller chuckled, “You’re as bald as a babby. I wouldn’t be cutting your hair, I’d be looking for it!”

You’re right Joyce. It’s a finders fee I’d be paying you.”, he jangled the bag, “Anyway, how much do you think I’ve got in me pocket? Young Tracey here thinks fifty quid, but I’m not that rich.”

Oh, that’s a difficult one Bob. The girls in the salon reckon it’s £3.28.”

Is that how much you charge for a haircut now? I can’t remember, it’s so long since I needed one.”

Nah, you’d need to save up a bit more than that Bob.”

Perhaps I ought to ask this young lass. She’s got really nice hair, and loads of it. Plenty to spare for me and the Genie.”

Don’t think you’d look good as a redhead Bob.”

Bob pulled a face of mock horror, “You don’t think so? Maybe red is my colour. Anyway, I’m afraid to keep putting the pennies by. I’ve not got as much as £3.28.”

Awww. That’s a shame.”

Never mid love. Perhaps you need to get along to the panto. Take all the girls from work too.”

Nah. Don’t fancy it much. I heard your new mate hasn’t actually done this before. Someone told me she nicked the part from some other actress…”. With the practised speed of someone used to cutting off a troublesome caller, Bob took Joyce off the air and replaced her with a record.

While the music played, He turned to the pair. “Sorry about that. We’ll get back to your panto again after this track. Have you got any tricks you could do on-air Sparks?”

Sparks smiled at Tracey. “I think I can come up with something.”*

And we’re back with Tracey and Sparks from the Leighton Oxley panto, which I’m told is Ali Baba this year.”

Tracey paused so Sparks jumped in. “That’s right Bob. Loads of festive fun for all the family. We’ve got a great cast, including my co-star here.”

Ah yes”, Bob smiled, “The beautiful Tracey. How are you finding it our kid?”

Erm”, Tracey hesitated, “Well it’s my first part, but I’m really getting into it. The rest of the cast are brilliant.”

She’s too modest. Tracey is a real star. We’ve got all sorts of magical stuff lined up, it’s a real spectacular this year, the biggest show the Midlands has ever seen.”

Bob pulled a surprised face. “The biggest eh Mr Sparks? I bet the guys in the Hypodrome will want to have something to say about that.”

Let them Bob. This is a top show, you’ll not see better magic this side of Vegas”

Vegas baby!”, Bob cried. “Go on then”, he continued, “show us some of that ol’ black magic”

Not sure it’s black magic Bob, but give your pocket another jingle.

Bob obliged, holding the bag up and giving it a good shake. The sound was flatter than before. “Now take a look inside. I think you’ll find that when Tracey guessed at fifty quid in there, she wasn’t so far out.”. Bob emptied the contents out on the desk. Among them was a casino chip.

Blimey, what’s this?” he asked, surprised.”

Sparks smiled. “I think you’ll find that it’s £2.25 in small change and a chip for, well perhaps my assistant would like to read the number.”

Tracey picked up the chip. “It’s a chip worth fifty pounds! She squealed.

Bob applauded. “I don’t know how he did it listeners, but Sparks here has just made me a wealthy man. Me and the missus can look forward to some stonking fittle for tea tonight. If you can do that, then lad, you are a real miracle worker. Are you sure you can’t get West Brom promoted?”

Tracey suddenly remembered her marketing head and jumped in. “Well, that’s small fry compared to what we do on stage. Everyone better get themselves down to the theatre or on to our website as the tickets are selling fast.

Excellent. Thanks you two. Please stick around as we’ve a couple of big names on the show next, Baggies stars Freddie Morgan and Nathan Donnelly who want to tell us about next Saturday’s big game against Wolves.”

The red light indicating the microphones were live went off and Bob started to fiddle with the control board again. Tracey paused.

Sparks smiled at her and whispered, “So far so good. Do you know anything about football?”

Not much, but those names sound familiar. I met a couple of guys in a club last year who said they were players, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

You in training to be a WAG then?”

Tracey laughed, “Well a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I always fancied living the high life in some posh mansion with an endless shopping budget.”

And we’re back on”, Bob shouted across the desk, “That was The Liquidator, which as we all know, can only mean one thing – here come the Baggies!”. Fake cheering rang out. “We’ve got two of the teams biggest stars on now. Striker Freddie Morgan and in mid-field Nathan Donnelly, howya doing lads?”

Bostin’ Bob, really bostin’”, shouted Morgan, “We’re looking forward to seeing off the Wolves on Saturday.”

Yeah”, joined in Donnelly, “They ain’t going to know what hit them. Don’t bother turning off the engine on the club bus, they might as well go home at halftime!”

Bob laughed. “Great stuff lads. Training going well then Freddie?”

Cracking Bob. We’re as fit as we’ve ever been. This is the best team West Brom have put out for years and there ain’t no-one going to stand in our way. Might as well give us the three points now.”

What about you Nat? You fighting fit?”

Too right I am Bob. Not that we’ll need it. We could let half the lads stay in the dressing room and we’d still win.”

That’s what we like to hear lads. If there’s any listeners out there wearing black and gold, you better book yourself a seat in the pub to drown your sorrows after the match.”

Tracey laughed nervously. The phone lines weren’t great but she was sure she recognised the voices now. Noticing her blushing, Bob decided it was time for an introduction.

Lads, we’ve got a bit of showbiz in the studio today. We were supposed to have that Suzi Perry on but apparently her phone isn’t working properly. Typical Wolves fan, can’t get anything right. Not to worry though as we’ve got Tracey and Sparks from the local panto.”

Oh no you haven’t” joked Nat.

Without thinking, Tracey responded, “Oh yes we have lads.”

Ohhh” they both went and laughed.

Ignoring Tracey’s blushes, Bob added, “Yes lads, she’s a bit of a glamour puss. Once you see her picture, you’ll wish you’d got yourselves into the studio with me.”

That sounds good Bob”, replied Nat, “You gonna be coming to the match then Tracey? You can see some real action on the pitch, plenty of scoring if you know what I mean.”

Sorry lads, I’ve got to rehearse. We don’t get much time off at the moment.”

Pity about that. Maybe we could take you out for a drink afterwards. A girl’s got to let her hair down sometimes and we’ll be celebrating when we win.”

Maybe, but I’m a busy lady at the moment.”

Hold on Nat”, Morgan said, “I think I recognise her voice.”

I was thinking that. Tracey have we met somewhere?”

Now bright red, Tracey stammered, “I don’t think so. I’m not a big footie fan.”

Yes we have. It’s posh Tracey. You remember Nat, we met her in Mussons last year.”

Nat paused and then the penny dropped, “Your right. Wow, posh Tracey. What did you do? You said you ran some sort of consultancy firm, didn’t you? And now you’re an actress? Well done love.”

I’m not really an actress, well I am, but this is all a bit new to me.”

Nat laughed. “If I remember rightly, you put on a pretty good performance all right. Really memorable, I certainly won’t forget it!”

Bob jumped in, “You all know each other. That’s brilliant! So you have been wining and dining our Tracey have you lads?”

Morgan laughed, “Oh yeah. She enjoyed a good spit roast.”

Bob sat back. This was going better than he expected. “She likes a good feed ay lads? I’ll admit I’m a bit partial to a good hog roast and a few bevies myself, nothing like a good bit of pork you know.”

Tracey sat open mouthed.

Not sure you’d like the same porking as Tracey. She prefers hers sausage-shaped and the longer the better.”

Outside the studio, Producer Ben was gesticulating furiously but Bob didn’t seem to see him. “Bit of a fan of the bratwurst Tracey? I love a bit at the old German Christmas market. A bit of spice and some mulled wine goes down a treat.”

She certainly a spicey lady. Gives as good as she gets too”, chuckled Morgan.

Nat added, “If you fancy a return leg Tracey, Bob’s got our number.”

The producer was hammering on the window and making cutting gestures at his throat. Sparks realised that Bob wasn’t going to rescue the situation and decided to take matters into his own hands. From nowhere, he makes a small explosion appear above his open hand. Startled, Bob instinctively presses a button to start a record. By the time the track finished, his producer had cut the lines to the footballers.

Still unsure what has been going on Bob picks up the show, “Well listeners, today has been full of surprises. We’ve had magic and memories with our guests today. Remind the folks at home where they can see you on stage.”

Smiling, Sparks efficiently read out all the panto details including how people could book to see the show. Tracey appeared lost for words.

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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 17

Round tables were marked with large names and then there were smaller card by each of the chairs. A few women were sat at Kate’s table. She found her name and nodded politely to them, noting that there was a mixture of business clothes and casual, at least not everyone had come from the playpen, she thought. The clothes were more M&S than designer, but it could have been worse.

A trip to the bar later, Kate settled herself into her seat and looked at the time on her phone. “You’ve got to turn that off” hissed her neighbour.

Sorry?”

You’ve got to turn your phone off” she said again pointing at the device in case Kate didn’t know what she was talking about, “It’s the rules of the forum.”

Hold on, what if someone needs to get hold of me?”

It’s the rules. Something to do with showing respect for the speakers.” she paused, “I’m Ally by the way.”

Kate. Pleased to meet you.” they shook hands.

If I’m honest, it’s so all the yummy mummys have to take a break from the kids for an evening.” Ally whispered, “If they’ve got their phones on, they spend all the time issuing instructions to their other halves by text.”

Kate switched her phone to silent and tucked it in her bag. Looking around the room, the seats were filling up. “Looks like we are nearly ready to go. I wondered if they would start on time.”

Oh, don’t worry about that. Sheila, the woman who runs all this is a stickler for punctuality. It’s a bit like herding cats sometimes, but once you get the hang of it, it makes sense. Don’t over-run with your pitch either or she’ll cut you dead.”

Kate looked surprised. “My pitch? We have to do a pitch?”

Ally smiled, “You really didn’t read the instructions did you? We all have 30 seconds to say who we are and what we do. They call it a pitch, but it’s really just an introduction. Then you jot down the details of anyone you’d like to talk to later and find them once we break.”

Ahh. I get it, so I’m Kate Smith and I run a management consultancy, that sort of thing. “

I thought you’d get it. That suit says you’ve done this sort of thing before.”

Kate nodded. “Once or twice. Not usually as part of a production line though.”

True. It’s a bit overwhelming for some people. I reckon there’s about sixty here today so more than normal.” Ally paused. “Hang on a minute, Kate Smith, you are from that KOD company aren’t you? I’ve seen you on TV.”

A few more head turned at the table. Due the prominence of the two big contracts KOD had done over the last few years, Kate and Gareth had both been on the radio and TV talking about the company. Kate preened slightly at been recognised.

You put that Nolan woman in her place on Loose Women, didn’t you.” Ally’s eyes sparkled and a few of the table members tutted.

Chink”

Before Kate could prepare her response, a woman stood up and fiddled with a microphone.

Good evening ladies. I’m Sheila and welcome to the Midlands Empowerment Forum. I hope the evening is both fun and profitable for all of us.” She looked slowly around the room. “I see we have a few new faces so perhaps I’ll run through the ground rules for our sessions. First, phones off please. We don’t want any amusing ring tones interrupting the speakers.” Several woman hastily grabbed their mobiles from the table tops and fiddled with the buttons as if they didn’t know where the off switch was located. Grudgingly, the phones were then tucked into handbags under Sheila’s stern gaze.

She continued, “We’ll kick off with our pitches in a moment, but first some exciting news. Next month we have a very special speaker, Karen McDaniel, the founder of the national chain of Empowerment Forums. She’ll be explaining how these events grew from a tiny back room in a Camden pub to these glorious premises”, she waved her hand as though pointing out the décor for anyone who hadn’t spotted it, “I’m sure you’ll all be excited by that. It’s quite an honour for Karen to visit us and I for one am keen to know how you grow a business as fast. I’m sure we’d all like a dose of that sort of success.” Everyone in the room chuckled.

After explaining where the toilets and emergency exits were, Sheila handed over to the rest of the room for their pitches. A smartly dressed woman stood up at a table next to the stage and announced, “Hi everyone, I’m Joanne,” some of the audience tried to say, “Hi Joanne”, but were silenced by the glares of their neighbours. “I run a small marketing company. We do flyers and posters which I design myself. If you’d like some samples, I have them in my bag”. After a polite round of applause she sat down.

Next up was Andrea who ran a pottery painting shop followed by Sarah who did some book keeping. Around the tables, each woman stood up, said her piece and quickly sat down. Kate noted that Sheila was timing everyone like a hawk and gave them a harsh stare when they were close to running over.

As the long round of presentations went on Kate began to wonder if this had been a waste of time. Each of the presenters seemed wetter than the rest: with their gardening, home décor, massage pitches. Where were the juicy prospects and how the hell was she going to work out who was married to the cash cow?

At least her table colleague Ally seemed to be having fine, passing aside about certain presenters that she knew and Kate might want to talk to, and seeming to be still shell shocked at being sat next to a minor celeb.

As it came to Kate’s pitch she was starting to lose the will to live.“Hi everyone, my name is Kate Smith, and I run management consultancy KOD, based here in Solihull.”

There was a sharp intake of breath across the room. Kate wasn’t sure what that mean but she ploughed on.“I’m looking to connect with anyone who….”

Oh my god it’s you. Sheila, why didn’t you tell us she was coming.” A woman from across the room interrupted Kate’s pitch.

Sheila looked up from her stop watch, “Five seconds, Kate.”

But Sheila, don’t you know who she is. She’s been on telly and everything. Oh my god, I loved you on Loose Women, it was hysterical.”

The rest of the room started to mutter as those in the know explained to those who weren’t who Kate was.

Times up.” Sheila seemed to be totally oblivious to anything that broke her strictly timed routine. Kate sat down, wondering what that was all about.

You are quite a celeb in our group, well will those of us who like women with balls. You did upset a few people with your comments about working mums, but don’t worry about them, they are just jealous.”

Kate tried to think back to the interview. She been asked on the programme to talk about the closure of HIA, a vegetable research station that was the job that put KOD on the map, wrangling with marauding locals and a lost heir had made it national news. Her being a female leader had added to the news worthiness. What she hadn’t realised with that TV show was you had to play along with whatever top of conversation was happening that day. One of the presenters was talking about how she was knackered today after spending all her time looking after her kids, Kate had made a remark about not having any might help which hadn’t gone down well. She’d found you just don’t get on the wrong side of a Loose Woman.

At the end of the networking session Kate found herself surrounded by a group of acolytes. There was a definite split in the room, with those flocking to see the local celeb and those who looked at her with distain.

Ally did introductions. Kate found the split interesting, there were some who were early entrepreneurs who worked on their own but had decided to split from the corporate worlds for lots of reasons, not just kids. Those who did have children gave Kate a slap on the back and joked about never a truer word. They loved their kids but any time away was a bonus. Kate took this in with surprise, she always thought mums just wanted to be mums and work got in the way, but these ladies were swigging their wines and talking about a night out before the next social event.

Don’t worry about them,” Ally pointed at the break out group on the other side of the room. “Sometimes it can be like school here, who’s popular, who’s got the best toys, etc etc. They’ll come round, of if they don’t I wouldn’t worry. We’re a good bunch and we’d love to learn more about your company.

Sheila, Sheila.” Ally grabbed the leaders arm as she walked across the room. “Don’t you think we should get Kate to give us a talk. She’s the best woman’s entrepreneur here, she’s got… how many staff have you got Kate?”

Kate looked up from her conversation. “Twelve”

Twelve staff, a national success story, a woman who’s dragged herself up by the boot straps, I think it’s a story for us all.”

OK Ally, OK, I get the idea. I’ll need to speak to some other members but it sounds like it might be an idea.” Sheila brushed her off and carried on.

Not feeling it then?” Kate watched Sheila walked away.

She’ll be fine. She likes things done her way, and she likes to be centre of attention and you are stealing some of her limelight.”

By the end of the evening Kate was glowing slightly. She’d never had her ego bolstered by so many women at one time. In fact she couldn’t remember that time she’d had a conversation with a group of women that hadn’t turned into something competitive. The women had been desperate to know all about the workings of her business, amazed at what they had done, the fact that someone was now looking for work in America, how they’d expanded. Kate practically bounced back to her flat, as much as her three inch heels would let her. No one had really mention kids, or why wasn’t she married, or any of the usual stumbling blocks she came across at social occasions. These women might only have spare room businesses but they had appetite, an appetite that surprised her.

Settling down on the sofa with a final glass of wine she curled her legs underneath her and though about how much she is was looking forward to next month, and a chance to see some of her new friends.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 15

Look on the bright side”, said Tracey, “at least we got one of the bar staff to make the coffee. Freddie’s attempts always taste like boiled shoes and the contents of the vacuum cleaner.”

Gareth swilled his almost empty latte around and watched the foam settle. They had been waiting for quite a while. Lovely as the managerial office was, making small talk with Tracey wasn’t easy and he didn’t know quite how much of her wild night out stories to believe, or indeed, which were suitable listening for a happily married man. She certainly seemed to enjoy a more active social life than he had at her age.

Freddie had been proving elusive recently. It seems that the pantomime was living up to its name. Despite there being another week until the curtain went up on what would be a make-or-break season, the whole place was in chaos. Backstage staff were busy painting giant urns and there were short people everywhere trying on costumes. Gareth had made a bit of a faux pas when asking about midgets, the term not being politically correct any more. “Artists of restricted growth” was apparently the correct phrase, although the bolshie one who explained this in a patronising way nearly found himself labelled “shortarse” in revenge.

Wandering out of the office, the barman was busy nailing a “Casbah Cafe” sign up. A big box of rather tired Christmas decorations awaited his attention. Gareth decided against asking for more drinks and stuck his head into the auditorium to see if there was any sign of the missing manager.

On the stage, he spotted Freddie standing in front of a giant pile of polystyrene that was carefully being crafted to look like the entrance to a cave. Beside him was a very casually dressed Sparks the magician. They seemed to be having a heated discussion.

Back in the office, Gareth said, “I think we might be in for even more waiting I’m afraid.”

Do you think we should go back to KOD?” his colleague enquired, “I mean if he’s not going to turn up again, we’re wasting our time.” She didn’t mention that a quick return would allow her a lunchtime in the House of Fraser sale, and a chance to snap up the Whistles bargain she had her eye on.

Oh, I’m sure it won’t be that much longer”, he replied, although she was already looking wistfully out of the window.

Tracey’s retail dreams were interrupted by the arrival of Freddie, looking harassed. “Sorry I’m late. Look, can I get you a coffee to make up for it?”

No thanks”, Tracey quickly replied pointing at their empty cups, “we’ve already had one.”

I think your people outside are a bit busy anyway.”, added Gareth.

Are you sure? Don’t worry, I was going to make it myself.”, Freddie looked at the pair making slightly exaggerated head shaking gestures.

Tracey leapt in, “You look troubled Freddie. Big night nerves starting to set in?”

Freddie looked downcast. “Not first night nerves I’m afraid. We’ve got a bit of a crisis on our hands.”

Crisis? Surely, it’s all a storm in a, well whatever those giant jars are.”

Oil jars. It’s what the forty thieves hide in. No, we’ve got plenty of those. Bloody thieves coming out of our ears if you’ll pardon my French.”

Really? Sounds expensive. Couldn’t you have picked a panto with a smaller cast? We are on an economy drive you know.”, Tracey chided.

Cast? No. Sorry”, Freddie chuckled, “We only need ten people, and two of them are in the camel.”

Camel?”, inquired Gareth, “You have a camel?”

Not a real one. It’s a couple of the stage hands in a costume. The kids love it.”

Oh. But what about the forty thieves. It’s on the poster you know.”

For a moment, Freddie was confused. “No, no, no. You see we have people doubling up. You never see forty thieves all at once. I mean we did consider getting a local dancing school in to make up the numbers but in the end, they were more trouble than they were worth. You should see the paperwork, and then you have to deal with all the pushy parents…” he tailed off.

Tracey looked at her watch. The chances of getting a shopping trip in were fading away while they discussed camels and thieves. “So, what’s up. Anything we can help with? Our plans are rather replying on this show going well.”

Freddie looked sad again. “There is a bit of a problem. You remember Spark’s assistant Julie?”

The one who was chucking up when we came over a few weeks ago?”

Yes. An unfortunate incident. Anyway, the problem is that she and the great magician have had a really big bust-up and she’s walked out of the show.”

Walked out?”

Yes. Stomped off leaving the act. Left a note in the dressing room saying she was fed up with playing second fiddle to his ego. “

Tracey snorted. “Surely this happens all the time with showbiz types? I saw a couple of midgets…”

You can’t call them midgets”, interrupted Gareth, “Artists of restricted growth is the correct term apparently.”

Freddie groaned, “Did Gary tell you that. He really is a pompous little man. Literally in this case. Dwarf is the correct term, but to be honest I just call them ‘supporting artists’ and ignore the height issue. As long as they fit in the oil jar, then we don’t care what shape they are.”

Doesn’t that cause problems with casting? Do you just say ‘must fit in a jar’? Won’t the PC police be all over you. I mean, I could demand to play the part.”

We are running a production where the leading lady is played by a man in drag, the principle boy is played by an attractive young woman in thigh-high boots and you are worried about labels? Right at this moment, you can try the oil jars for size and I’ll have big Chris from the tech staff sit on the lid to make sure you get inside.”

Dragging the conversation back to the main topic, Tracey broke in, “So what about Julie? How do you know she’s not going to come back?”

It was her note. She addressed it to Barry.”

Barry?” Tracey looked confused.

Sparks’s real name. But he was very picky about being called Sparks. Said that if you didn’t you weren’t being respectful of his artistic status or some such rubbish. I got away with it because he’s never managed to get a bank account in his stage name so if he wanted paying, the money had to go to Barry, but woe betide anyone else using the ‘B’ word.”

Julie really meant it then.”

Oh yes. She’s gone and that gives us a big problem. “

Why? I mean she was great, but surely there must be other assistants out there.”

Freddie laugher nervously, “Of course, but she was playing one of the big parts in this show, Morgiana.”

Sorry old man”, said Gareth, “Who is Morgiana?”

Freddie looked surprised. “You don’t know the Ali Baba story?”

Tracey and Gareth both shook their heads.

OK, let me keep it short. Morgiana is Ali Baba’s slave girl. She kills all the thieves and then stabs Al Racheed, the baddie, to death at the end of the show.”

Tracey looked stunned. “Hold on? She kills forty people and then stabs someone to death? And this is for kids?”

Oh yes. It’s a very traditional panto. I mean there is quite a lot of death in it, but that’s all just part of the fun.”

Still not convinced, she asked again. “Forty-one deaths is what you guys call a good night out for the family? “

Freddie laughed again, “Forty-two actually. Kassim Baba, that’s Ali’s brother, gets killed quite early in the show. The thieves chop him up and put him in the cave as a warning to others.”

Tracey shuddered again. Newspaper headlines screaming “Massacre at the panto” crossed her mind. “Seriously? I mean what do you do for an encore, eat the camel?”

Of course not. No animal is harmed during one of our productions, the audience wouldn’t stand for it.”

But that are happy to see enough people to populate the quarter-finals of the FA cup get the chop?”

They don’t all get the chop. Most are killed by pouring boiling oil on them.” Freddie was enjoying the look of horror on his visitors faces. “As I say, it’s all good family fun.”

The conversation was interrupted suddenly as the great magician burst into the room clutching his mobile phone.

She’s not coming back”, he snarled, “I finally got her on the phone and she said she’s on the train back to London and I can, well, I can do something that isn’t physically possible. “

Freddie stood up and touched Sparks shoulder. “Perhaps when she’s had a chance to cool down a bit. I mean, you know what women are like,” he shot a glance at Tracey, “Present company excepted of course.”

Oh, I don’t know, “ Gareth chuckled, “Young Tracey has quite a tempter on her when roused”. Her look made him wish he’d stayed quiet.

Tracey!”, exclaimed Sparks, “Tracey! You could be our savior.”

Me?”

Yes”, he continued, “You could take the role. I mean you are perhaps a little more, erm, buxom, than Julie, but I’m sure you’d fit the costumes.”

Freddie stepped in, “Hold on. We booked the two of you as professionals. This isn’t am-dram. We’ve a week to go and can’t just drag someone off the street to fill in a major role. I mean, all due respect and everything Tracey, but you aren’t an actress, are you?”

Well, no.”, she stuttered, “I mean, I did a bit in college, but it’s wasn’t serious or anything.”

Perfect!” Sparks shouted in joy, “She’ll do perfectly! I mean there are lines to learn, but you’ve got plenty of time.”

No!”, replied Freddie sternly, “If you can’t get Julie back then either we find another experienced actress to take the part, or we don’t open.”

It was Gareth’s turn to look shocked. “Not open? But you must. I mean if you don’t open, then all our plans to persuade the council fall apart. This is your big earner each year and if it doesn’t happen, then the coffers will be empty.”

Sparks looked at Freddie. “We won’t get another actress at this short notice Freddie old mate. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Freddie looked crestfallen. “I suppose so. I mean it’s not perfect, but I suppose this is better than refunding all those tickets. What do you say Tracey?”

*

She’s doing what?” Kate roared, “Have you gone mad? We’re letting her take a month off to ponce around on stage?”

Gareth stood his ground. “I’m afraid it is the only option. The show really must go on.”

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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 13

And then she was floating above the stage. It was amazing!”

Tracey regaled the office with the description of the previous nights show. Each telling made it seem even more impressive, but she really had enjoyed the night. Sparks wasn’t as new-wave and exciting as his clothing suggested, but quite unexpectedly, she found herself staying for the whole show. He really could hold an audience. For much of the night, those green eyes seemed to be looked at her, but that was obviously part of the act.

Diwata from accounts yawned. “Oh, when my hubby and I went to Las Vegas last year, we saw that David Copperfield. Now that is a magic show. I bet but your Sparky boy didn’t make an elephant disappear in front of your eyes did he?”

Tracey had to admit that there had been a distinct lack of vanishing zoo animals. “It’s Sparks, and no. But then I don’t agree with animals being used on stage anyway, so I’m glad he didn’t.” she replied haughtily. Brenda was always trying to get one over on her.

At the end of the show, she had taken a trip backstage to congratulate Sparks, but the dressing room door was firmly shut again and the tech staff were doing their best to ignore the raised voices inside. She decided to leave congratulations for a later date, but on the way out couldn’t resist sticking her head into another room and staring at her reflection in the mirror. It was one of those proper theatre types with light bulbs around the outside. OK, half of them didn’t work, but for a moment she was lost in a dream from her childhood. The dream of being on stage in a pretty dress with the audience clapping and cheering. A dream that she never quite got around to chasing once parties and boys came along.

There had been a few idle thoughts about applying for a reality TV show, but if Tracey was going to be stuck in a room with a bunch of deadbeats, she could get this at work. At least this offered the ability to escape sometimes. As for chowing down on a kangaroo’s willy in a jungle, it made her shudder.

Looking back at her was maybe a different Tracey. One who had studied drama and the toured the country sleeping in cheap rooms, eating Pot Noodle and wearing clothes from charity shops. Through the wall came the sound of creative differences being argued out. With a shudder, she decided that perhaps her life wasn’t so bad all.

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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 11

“Jesus, cats what have you been doing?”

Kate stumbled in through the front door picked her way through her lounge looking at a scene of utter destruction. Sitting facing each other, playing it cool, Olly and Horatio were pretending that she wasn’t talking to them.

The date hadn’t gone well. It turned out that since she’d last hooked up with Casper, he’d got himself engaged to someone he met on holiday in Portugal. Worse, he insisted on showing her photos on his phone and talking about weddings.

After half-an-hour she had excused herself to throw up. Whether it was the wine on an empty stomach or the revelation that she was sitting in a bar talking to someone who considered “Angel Pie” to be a lovely nickname for his girlfriend, and was even considering having it tattooed on his manhood.

Getting back to the bar having carefully adjusted her makeup and spritzed some perfume to cover up any smell, she found Casper, or “Pumpkin Puppy” as he apparently liked to be known, talking on his phone. One look at his face told her that it was the love of his life on the other end and that no matter how revealing her outfit was, there would be no action from that direction.

He made his excuses and she decided to hang around by the bar. It was a nice place and you never knew who might rock up.

An hour and two gins later, she decided it was time for a cab. In truth, even if anyone had chatted her up, she doubted she’d be up for anything other than a slurred conversation. If women can suffer from brewers’ droop, she was well in the zone.

The cab ride home hadn’t helped either. Maybe her eyesight wasn’t at its best, but there seemed to be about twenty air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror. Were they masking smells, the seats had some interesting staining that Kate tried and failed to avoid sitting in, or did they actually make the problem worse? How did you sit in a knackered Toyota all day with that stink wafting near your nose?
Back at the apartment, it took a few seconds for her brain to comprehend the scene.

Olly, a black and white moggy, she’d had since he was a kitten looked up at her. He’d been her sidekick and go to companion during the ups and downs of work over the last few years. Horatio had come back with Kate from KODs last job at Fillern Holm. An unloved island tabby, she’s latched on to her and had jumped ship when they left. Kate had reservations about bringing her back because of Olly, but she couldn’t bear to leave her any more than the cat seemed to want to be left behind.

It seemed that two cats in one penthouse apartment didn’t mix. In the three days they’d been together the made short shrift of Kate’s pristine pad. Rugs had been sprayed, sofa’s mauled and most things knocked off the worksurfaces.

Tonight, was the worst. It wasn’t just the destruction, Kate realised that as her nose recovered from the cab, she could smell cat poo. Walking in to her bedroom found a pile in the middle of the floor.
“Argh, I really don’t need this shit!”

Olly had always been a house cat but Horatio was a wanderer. She’d had the whole of the island to herself and the idea of being contained seemed to be sitting badly with her. She didn’t like the litter tray either.

Feeling her stomach lurch again, Kate slammed the bedroom door and headed for the spare room. Collapsing on the bed, she didn’t bother to get undressed. Passing out, she realised that if she had brought someone home, then this would probably have ended the evening there and then.

*

Waking in the morning, for a few minutes Kate struggled to work out where she was. Through the fog in her mind, the previous evenings activity gradually came back to her and she groaned. Opening the door, the mess hadn’t magically gone away so she grabbed her jeans and a sweatshirt then donned rubber gloves and carpet cleaner. Kate tried to make the best of the mess in her bedroom, vowing to change the carpet soon. Picking the bag of mess up she decided to take it down to the outside bin.

Making her way down the three flights of stairs she didn’t realise she had a shadow accompanying her. In her rush to leave she’d left the door of her apartment ajar and Horatio had made a break for it. Depositing the waste, Kate turned to see a tabby tail high tailing out of the door.

“Horatio!” Kate rushed after the cat, just to see her crossing the road and running off in to the local park. “Damn, just what I don’t need!” Kate muttered to herself.

Retrieving a key and some cat snacks from her apartment, she spent the next half an hour try to locate the elusive tabby, but she was nowhere to be seen. Collar and microchip less, Kate was worried she’d never see her again.

The next day in the office Kate was distracted. Horatio still hadn’t been seen. She’d skipped her morning HIIT class to walk round the park calling the cat. Some of the people there had given her very funny looks as she walked round shouting ‘Horatio’.

She was busily printing off a poster with a picture of the cat to put up around town when Gareth walked in.
“What are you up to?” He tried to peek at what was coming off the printer.

“Nothing, nothing.” Kate quickly folded up the posters and put them in an envelope.

Gareth managed to swipe another as it came off the printer.

“Missing. Tabby named Horatio. Last seen on Wednesday night. If found call 07777 5555555. Oh no, what happened.” Gareth looked genuinely concerned, he liked all animals and remember the cat from their last job.

“She’s been staying with my brother but that didn’t work out. She managed to escape my flat last night and now I can’t find her.” Kate’s voice wobbled slightly at the end of the sentence and she turned away from Gareth.

Gareth turned slightly pink, he’d never seen his colleague get emotional. He patted her on the back.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she will come back. She’s not stupid that cat.”

“Thanks, yes I’m sure it’ll all be fine. I’m just going to pop out and do some postering.” Kate gathered the signs together and some tape.

“Don’t be silly, we’ll all help.” Being his usual boisterous self, Gareth wandered out of the office.

Everyone. Down tools, we are all going over the park for lunch today. Kate’s lost her cat so we are the search party.”

The sounds of ohs and ahs came from the office before bags were picked up and phones collected.

“I’ll even buy everyone an ice cream.”

That got everyone moving a bit faster.

By the time they’d walked to the park the group had a bit of a party atmosphere. Gareth found the ice cream van and Mr Whippy plus flake were dished out.

Handing out posters Kate felt a mixture of relief and confusion. She didn’t like being made a big deal off, but this was a nice touch by her colleague.

Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a tail in the undergrowth. The next thing a tabby stepped out the bushes. It was Horatio.

“There she is!” Kate shouted to her colleagues.

Lulled by the ice cream they took a while to react. The cat had gone again before they got their act together.

“Quick, spread out.”

It was hard to make a team of office workers; in heels, skirts, shirts and ties turn into a crack search team, but they did their best. Split into three teams they did their best hedge bashing and undergrowth exploring trying to find the elusive cat.

An hour later they had to admit defeat. Where ever the cat was she wasn’t showing her face again. The team put posters up around the park and resigned themselves to a fun but unsuccessful lunch break.

“I’m just going to put one of these up in my apartment block. I’ll meet you back at the office.” Kate was disappointed, they hadn’t retrieved the cat but at least she knew she was still alive.

Walking towards her block she thought she saw something by the entrance Sitting quietly by the door was Horatio.

“Oh puss, you have given me the run around.” Kate scooped her up and gave her lots of fuss. Looking no worse off for her trip out Horatio bounded up the stairs to the apartment and proceeded to curl up in a corner after scoffing some food. Olly looked over bemused.

Picking up her phone Kate texted Gareth. ‘She’s back’

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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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