Сетевая библиотекаСетевая библиотека

Covent Garden in the Snow: The most gorgeous and heartwarming Christmas romance of the year!

Covent Garden in the Snow: The most gorgeous and heartwarming Christmas romance of the year!
Covent Garden in the Snow: The most gorgeous and heartwarming Christmas romance of the year! Jules Wake HarperCollins A division of HarperCollinsPublishers www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) HarperImpulse an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperImpulse 2017 Copyright Jules Wake 2017 Cover layout design HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2017 Cover photographs Shutterstock.com (https://www.shutterstock.com) | Cover design by Books Covered Jules Wake asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the authors imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008221973 Ebook Edition October 2017 ISBN: 9780008221966 Version: 2018-02-16 Table of Contents Cover (#ub9ddc4b8-180f-5442-8fc6-eb4ac55fa2e9) Title Page (#uacb4ad59-5e13-5f8e-90f8-8bf2d40a8e01) Copyright (#u5f4eb8e3-bca8-5676-af2e-4ec15362ace7) Dedication (#u0af5f4a1-8f5d-54f4-b6ce-b941e9499ff4) Chapter 1 (#u3ef46ea9-f82d-5f7b-9eea-4d740cee169c) Chapter 2 (#u1d6d6569-2ac0-566d-abe9-675049cbb04a) Chapter 3 (#ub5f85ab8-bbeb-5577-90bf-05dd4c620bd3) Chapter 4 (#uef2cd0f1-9257-50ad-962e-2de2f3e31ba5) Chapter 5 (#uf9f9522c-9f4c-51c4-8702-f6e29ca85348) Chapter 6 (#u1a622b30-5df0-55ff-bee8-9a5eb2750d39) Chapter 7 (#u48a6348a-a818-5304-9c2b-08bd2ea7e85b) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 27 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 28 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 29 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 30 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 31 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 32 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 33 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 34 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 35 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 36 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 37 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 38 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 39 (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About HarperImpulse (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) For my Mum, Di, the real make-up artist and my children, Ellie & Matt, whose love of theatre has been infectious. Chapter 1 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) To: Felix@nutsmarketing.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk URGENT Possible loo roll crisis Working late tonight, pls record the Arsenal game and dont forget loo rolls!!! Can you get some when you go shopping tonight and remember no gummy bears or chocolate peanuts, we need food we can actually cook with! And have you seen my book, The Rosie Project, Ive got a horrible feeling I might have left it on the train. Tilly x No! No! Stop! Despite knowing it was probably completely hopeless, I stabbed at the keys on the keyboard, bracelets clinking like maracas as I watched the computer screen. It was the Sorcerers Apprentice all over again. With horrifying speed, the number of emails leaving the outbox increased. Five! Then ten! Twelve, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty-three. Oh hell. This couldnt be happening. Emails with the title Urgent Possible loo roll crisis which should have gone to Felix were busy whizzing off to goodness only knows where. Jeanie, my boss, glanced up from the wig she was working on. What have you done now? she asked, rolling her heavily kohl-lined eyes as she came over to stand behind me. Dont tell me, youve sent another email to Alison instead of Felix? Attached a picture of Dr Who instead of our leading man and sent it to the head of costume at La Scala? Give me a make-up palette, a couple of pencils and the right hair-piece, and with a deft touch of shading and brushing, I can transform a sixty-year-old granddad into an irresistible Lothario. Give me a computer and theres more chance of me splitting the atom in my own kitchen with an egg whisk. I blame my biospheres; apparently, I have dodgy ones. Mobile phones give up the ghost on a regular basis and I cant wear a watch without it losing time. Me and technology are a disaster. I just dont have the patience. Even so, I thought Id cracked email. Unfortunately, once youve clicked that mouse, theres no going back. Its Pandoras Box all over again. And just like Pandora, how could I resist. After all, whats a girl, on the wrong side of twenty-nine, to do, when its coming up to Christmas and her fianc seems to be spending more time potting snooker balls than checking out her erogenous zones, and some random person sends her an attachment called Santa Baby. It sounded cute and harmless. When I opened the attachment up, it was even cuter still a very handsome Santa danced across my screen to the tune of jingle bells before dropping his trousers to reveal a full moon of pert buns, flashing a very naughty grin over his shoulders. The moment I moved the cursor to try and close the picture, Santa started zinging about, bashing the edges of the screen with the speed of a demented bluebottle. Although amusing at first, after the initial dancing, his frozen image didnt do much but ricochet off the sides of the screen as erratically as a pinball on speed. It was only when I tried to close the thing down that everything went haywire. Now, as I watched the identical subject lines of the emails racing, like armed and dangerous carrier pigeons from the inbox, regarding the imminent loo roll crisis at home, I guessed something more sinister had been going on. Flipping dip, the numbers in the outbox were still going up. Fifty-six, sixty-nine Did I even know that many people? The whirring from the hard-drive under the desk was getting louder and faster, with the intensity of a plane revving up. I didnt think kicking it was going to help. Any moment now it might take off. Jeanie pointed one of her neat, shortly trimmed nails at the screen. Its six weeks until Christmas. Whats that? Santa baby apparently, except I cant get him to go away. She shook her head. You didnt open an attach, did you? Now was not the time to correct her casual misuse of the English language. Who? Me? I gave her a big smile and a shrug of my shoulders. Might have done. Oops. What are you like, Tilly? The two of us stood there staring at the computer and I vaguely registered the squeak of the studio door. Only one thing for it. I dived down onto my knees, bum high in the air and took the most obvious course of action. I pulled the plug. I heard a gasp from Jeanie. What? I wiggled out, feeling my skirt riding up. It cant do it any harm, can it? There was silence and somehow, I just knew someone else was there. Someone else getting a birds eye view of my favourite lilac silk and lace cami-knickers which were more lace than anything else, if you get my drift. Still on all fours, I managed to manoeuvre around to find Mr drop-dead-gorgeous glaring down at me, although the expression on his face was decidedly Sir-seriously-pissed-off. Hi, I squeaked like an over-sized guinea pig. My heart stuttered as I stared at him. Someone had been more than generous when handing out the good-looking genes. What the hell do you think youre doing? How bloody unfair. Even his voice melted sodding chocolate with a very faint trace of an accent. Talk about being front of the queue for sex appeal. He must have snagged an entire birth years quota. Cool eyes studied me intently. Oh God, he seriously expected an answer? Any moment now Id start drooling. What the hell was wrong with me? I was a happily engaged woman for heavens sake. The thing was those green eyes, high cheekbones and the short dark hair sparked a dart of instant sexual attraction, sending my heart rate into intensive care levels. Lust at first sight. Nothing more. My libido sitting up and taking notice. After all, it wasnt as if my lady parts were getting an awful lot of attention at home at the moment. Yes, just lust. I realised he was still waiting for an answer. I just thought it needed rebooting. I plucked the phrase out of the air, knowing Id heard Felix use it once or twice. His eyes narrowed, his mouth tightened. I swallowed. Even scary, he looked damn attractive. Rebooting, he spat the word with enough venom to strike down the entire make-up team. I nodded with a hopeful smile. He closed his eyes, a look of pain crossing his features. I could see tension in his jawline as if he were clenching his teeth really hard. When he opened them, I leaned over and patted his arm. Getting stressed like that wasnt good for you. Hey, its only a computer. Itll be fine. We dont use it that much anyway. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jeanie shaking her head ever so slightly. Give me pen and paper any day. I smiled encouragingly at him. Jeanie looked horrified. Green-eyes took in a strangled sort of breath but couldnt hide the slight twitch of his mouth as if he wanted to smile. Do you know who I am? I didnt but he seemed to expect I did. In that suit, which added to the overall heart-socking attractive package, (and I dont normally do corporate types), he didnt look as if he worked here. The fine wool jacket emphasised broad shoulders and the sharply creased trousers hinted at long lean legs. Visiting sponsor? Interview candidate? Contractor? Then I spotted the staff badge tucked under his suit jacket. He must be new oh minims and crotchets. Sweet hallelujahs. The new guy. Thered been a department note circulated last week about the spanky new appointment to whizz up our computer systems. Id filed it under irrelevant, i.e. straight in the bin. My heart plummeted stone-like and I stepped in front of the computer as if I could hide my recent misdemeanours. Mr Memo, I mean erm Mr er er. Could this get any worse? Walker. Director of IT. The way he said it, he might as well have said defender of the faith or something else weighty. Right. So, Miss, Mrs ? Jeanie jumped in, This is Matilde Hunter. Shes one of our team. Shed pronounced it in the French way, which I thought might be deliberate as if to suggest that English wasnt my first language, so how on earth could I possibly be trusted with a computer. And this is exactly what I was talking about in the management meeting, he glared at Jeanie. She nodded. And as I explained at the meeting, we dont have much call for computers up here. Were more hands on, if you know what I mean. Rubbish. Its the twenty-first century. How do you manage your inventory? He glanced around at the untidy room, over to the shelf with rows of head blocks, some with complete wigs, others pinned in grid patterns ready to start making a new one and others partially made. Like a rather odd rainbow, hair in every shade spilled from the shelf. From the white of yaks hair used for seventeenth century Rococo wigs and the golden blonde of Brunhildes tresses through to an intricate plaited Titian hairpiece and a dark black coronet of ringlets. Surely you need to keep track of how many wigs youve got and the materials you use. Jeanie and I both glanced over at the antiquated filing cabinet hiding the tattered card index system we used. Not only, his eyes bored into mine, does this place need a thorough overhaul but you For the briefest of seconds something flashed in his eyes. need to learn how to deal with a computer properly. You do not yank out the plug ever. You shut it down. You dont There it was again, that little twitch of his mouth. Reboot it. His face softened but were talking degrees here. He still seemed pretty fearsome. Leave that to the experts please. Okey-doke, I said with a cheery smile. Thank goodness he hadnt walked in two minutes earlier, when all those emails were flying the nest. At least Id got away with that much. To: All Departments Please join me in welcoming our first Director of IT, Mr M Walker, who joins us from a significant financial institution in the City. This is a new appointment for the London Metropolitan Opera Company. I therefore hope you will make him feel welcome and offer your co-operation as he gets to grips with our wonderful work here. Julian Spencer Chief Executive London Metropolitan Opera Company Chapter 2 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) After the cluttered mayhem of the wig room, the calm, clinical atmosphere of the make-up department was like stepping into an operating theatre. Harsh white light from a bank of bulb-lit mirrors filled the room. Underneath them, a spotless white counter ran the full length of one wall, in front of which sat a row of cream leather swivel chairs as impressive as thrones awaiting royalty. Hey Pietro. The imposing figure filling the plush chair with his broad shoulders and wide chest was waiting for me. Tilly, darling. Under the dark bushy brows which contrasted sharply with his silver hair, his eyes glinted with merriment. On either side of him, the other opera singers chattered away together as they waited for their respective make-up artists to arrive. How are you today? I fished out a black cape and draped it across the rich fabric of his heavily embellished costume. Did your granddaughter like the zoo? She loved it darling. The words came out as lorved eet. Despite all his years in England, hed never lost his Italian accent and the exaggerated vowels always made me smile. Especially the snakes. He shuddered dramatically and winked at me in the mirror. Revolting child. Next time were going to Selfridges. To see Santa, that will be far more civilised. He didnt mean it, he positively doted on twelve-year-old Lottie and had even been into her school in Notting Hill to talk in assembly. Not something that many international superstars did in my experience. Laying out my kit, I checked I had everything, not once but twice. It made me antsy if I had to break off half way through to go searching for a brown pencil or the right brush. Yup, everything was where I wanted it to be. I looked at Pietro in the mirror. In front of him, on a wooden block, sat the long flowing wig which made the final transformation from favourite grandpa to Don Giovanni. How was your morning? I had a run in with a virus, blinking thing, I said shaking my head. Think Ive spread it everywhere. What? Pietros face filled with concern and his hand strayed to his throat in self-concern. His precious vocal chords could be rendered useless if he caught a nasty cold. No. No, I laughed. Not a real one. A silly computer one. I patted his arm quickly. Infecting anyone in a principal role, especially the worlds most renowned baritone, was Make-Up Artists Cardinal Sin Number Three. Im germ free. I waved my hands to reinforce my point. As I carried on pencilling and shadowing his face, our conversation moved on with its usual easy flow as he related scurrilous tales about his arch-rival, an up and coming American singer, naughty, libellous gossip about one of his co-stars in a previous production and the difficulties of learning an aria for his next part. Half an hour later, I put down my pencils and make-up palette. Thanks, wonderful girl. Pietro stood and with a wicked grin admired himself in the brightly-lit mirror. God, Im lovely. He patted the outsize codpiece stuffed down his buckskin trousers. All ready to seduce my daily quota of virgins. Oooh, Pietro, you are wicked, sang Vince as he applied the finishing touches to the doe-eyes of one of said hapless virgins. A chorus of giggles erupted as Pietro strutted around the room thrusting out his pelvis. Even Jeanie, who liked the team to maintain an air of calm before a performance, managed a smile. Come here you. Crooking a finger at him, I beckoned him back to his chair. Theres no seducing anyone until Ive checked your wig again. Running my fingers around his hairline, I gave the hairpiece a testing tug, this way and that. All snug. Perfect. Cardinal Sin Number Two was something coming adrift mid-performance. Jeanies mantra had been drummed into all of us you can draw blood as long as the wig stays in place. How does it feel? I stood back, studying the fit. It looked fabulous on him. All the wigs were hand-made. Most were sent out to trusted pieceworkers but the principals wigs were made in-house. I didnt want to think how many finger twitching hours this particular one had taken. Pietro tossed the long hair back over his shoulder with a leonine-shake. It suits me I think. Perhaps I should keep it on when I go home. He winked lasciviously. My wife would love it. Beginners stage left please. The tannoy burst into life, punching the muted quiet of the room with a spike of electricity. A sudden hush fell as everyone sobered, ready for that first step on stage. Now on count-down to curtain up, with the precision of a well-drilled army, the make-up team straightened, smoothed and stroked, giving each of their charges a final check to ready them for the vast audience out front, while the wardrobe team, like bridesmaids at a wedding, assessed, tugged and tucked. Several floors down, two thousand people were taking their expensive red velvet seats in eager anticipation of the evenings performance. The picture was so clear in my head; the excited hum of chattering voices, the Mexican Wave of up and down bobs as the audience squeezed past each others knees and people peering down through their opera glasses at the orchestra in the pit, already seated and tuning up. As we were about to leave the make-up room, crowding into the corridor to make the journey backstage, Pietros hand suddenly shot to his chest. For a horrible moment, I thought he was having a heart attack, until he gave me a sheepish glance and fished out his mobile phone. Pietro! I gasped. Mobiles were strictly forbidden backstage as they could interfere with some of the tech stuff. Id never even seen him with one before. His face darkened, lines of temper marking his mouth as he homed in on the caller ID. I have to take this, he snapped and wheeled back into the empty make-up room, slamming the door. Shit! What do I do? I hopped from one foot to the other, glancing from the closed door and back at Jeanie. This was uncharted territory. You dont argue with a star as big as Pietro but I had to make sure he was in the wings for curtain up. No excuses. No reprieves. Fuck, said Jeanie looking at her watch. Go get him, whispered Jeanie, shoving me toward the door, looking anxiously at the rest of the actors hovering in the corridor. Be firm. Well go on down but make sure youre right behind us. I could clearly hear a tinny voice talking excitedly down the line but not the words. Not that I needed to. Pietros face said it all. Porca Miseria! The vehement words rattled around the room as he started to pace the floor, Italian expletives exploding from his mouth periodically. Keeping a panicked eye on my watch, I deliberately walked into his path. Er Pi His eyes flashed furiously at me and he shook his head, putting me in mind of an angry lion one that would be quite happy to rip my head off there and then. Theyd better not print a word! Not one single word you hear me, he bellowed. Gone was avuncular grandpa. His anger permeated the room in shock waves. Standing so close, it felt as if I was holding a punch bag while Muhammad Ali practised his right hook. I could feel sweat beading on my forehead. This was awful. I had to get him down to the wings. The tinny voice started jabbering again like a rabid Dalek. I dont care about that! Pietro took another turn at the end of the room and stopped an angry bull about to charge. You stop it. Take out an injunction. Menace hissed in his voice. His gaze came to rest on me, the steel grey eyes glinting and my heart stalled for a minute. Hell, it was The Godfather all over again. You stop it! Youre my agent Max. I dont want the story getting out. He listened and then turned puce. You wouldnt want your grandchildren to see pictures like that in the paper. Stop it. Thats your job! Do it! Pietro snapped the phone shut with a vicious clench of his hand. Merda, he spat, throwing the phone with such force onto the table that it flew across to the back wall and bounced onto the floor. The sudden action stirred me. Pietro, Im sorry but we have to go down. Now. I was quite impressed with how calm I managed to sound. Inside, it felt as if there was a bat trying to beat its way out of my chest. I had to get him backstage. Now. You expect me to go on stage now? His hand touched his throat and he stood there with his head thrown back. Yes, I said, feeling as if Id stepped off a cliff and desperately hoping I sounded firm. Oh crap, he couldnt not. Jeanie would kill me. She trusted me to get him there. My vocal chords are far too tense. Im too upset. He started towards one of the chairs, every inch the prima donna. I tentatively touched his arm. Not as upset as the audience, Pietro. Some of them may have waited years to see you. You cant disappoint them. He straightened. Narrowing his eyes, he nodded. Do it for them. Dont let, I nodded to the phone discarded on the floor, them win. I held open the door, standing back to let him through before following in his wake. He strode down the corridor, leaving me almost running to keep up. When he stopped suddenly, I cannoned into him. Whirling round, he grabbed my forearms in a tight grip and stared intently. What now? With my arm clamped in his, I risked an agonised glance at my watch. Four minutes to curtain up. You love your job, he fired at me. Its all you ever wanted to do? I nodded, thinking it could all be over if I didnt take charge of him. He knew how much I loved my job. Pietros hands gentled suddenly, his eyes filled with regret and something else. Like you, this is all I ever wanted to do. My father, a poor man, worked the fields. A farmer. His voice. Bellissimo. He would have been greater than me but he never had the lessons. I needed lessons. The money to pay for the best lessons. I nodded, trying to be patient and not let my agitation show hed told me this many times before. His usually flawless English deserted him. Now inwhen a youth, I he stopped and then whispered the rest. I couldnt help the gasp of surprise that whistled out next. Bloody hell! The curtain went up two minutes late. The audience probably didnt notice but the production crew knew. Backstage there was a noticeably tense atmosphere. Jeanie nodded and mouthed. You OK? I held up crossed fingers and shook my head. Vince sidled over and gave me a quick hug. God that was awful, I muttered into his ear. Really thought he was going to refuse to go on. Hes really shaken up. Vince pulled a sympathetic face. Thanks to the quick scales practice in the lift that Id manage to coerce Pietro into doing, his voice settled quickly and soared in the theatre within the second bar. Hopefully the audience would forgive his quavery first few notes. What the fuck do you think you are playing at? hissed a furious voice, pressing right up to me in the wings. Alison Kreufeld, Artistic Director and head honcho virtually had steam coming out of her ears. I I That is fucking unforgivable. See me tomorrow. My office. With that she turned her back and disappeared through the stage door. When I looked around all the crew were absorbed in looking down at the floor. Nursing a large G and T, I sat at the kitchen table resting my forehead on the wooden top. What a day. I wanted to cry. Why did scary, super superior Artistic Director, Alison Kreufeld, always manage to catch me doing something stupid or getting something stratospherically wrong? Like the time, in a fit of enthusiasm, I thought Id impress her by doing a series of hair designs for the corps de ballet in Swan Lake. Only I hadnt read her briefing notes properly. It was the Matthew Bourne all male production. She dined out on my stupidity for weeks. And after a day like that I should have known better than to answer the phone. We still had a landline. Only three people used it. Felixs mum, my mum and my sister. Hello Tilly. Its Christelle. I winced guiltily as I heard the carefully enunciated words, spoken as usual in her precise fussy way. Hi, Christelle, I did my best to inject some enthusiasm into my tone. How are you? Has your cold gone? Yes, thank you. It was several weeks ago, you know. Had it been that long? Well, sometimes they linger, I said, determined to keep the conversation afloat. Hows work? Are you very busy? Exceptionally. My caseload keeps growing. But Im getting more and more of the high-profile stuff, which is a good sign. Idly, I straightened the photos on the mantelpiece. All of them were of me and Felix in various silly poses, accompanied by assorted friends. It struck me that in all of them, there was always someone else in tow. A day at the beach Felix and five mates buried up to their necks in sand. Me and Felix and friends at Alton Towers. Felix and I, with three of his mates and their girlfriends, on the day he proposed. Its been an excellent week in chambers. We won an important case. Got a new clerk. Not terribly bright but I think hell get there. You know how it is with these people. She spoke, as always, in little staccato sentences. Sure. I lied, feeling guilty. I had no more idea about what went on in my sisters world than she did about mine. She was a legal eagle, a high flyer with straight As, a fabulous degree and apparently in the right chambers. The second hand on my watch ticked its way around the face. Thirty seconds and wed nearly exhausted our lines. Regret pinched at me. We had so little in common. Maman hasnt heard from you. It might be a good idea to call her. She won a bridge tournament. And Dads put his back out again. Resentment replaced regret. I didnt need her reminding me. Mum was just as capable of calling me. Deliberately being flippant I said, Poor Dad, back to the chiropractor. Must be love, I swear he spends more time with her than with Mum. Not that I Tilly! Christelles voice was sharp with reproof. Only joking, I said. My poor sister was a chip off the old block. A sliver of ice. Youd better phone her. Christelles words were clipped with disapproval. Now, lunch? Can you do Wednesday? One-thirty? What would she say if I turned around and said, No, I cant? Maybe shed be secretly relieved. Our lunches were hardly fun, Chardonnay-fuelled, gossip fests. I think so She was so well-organised she probably knew her schedule off by heart, even had appointments entered in her smart phone, whereas I wasnt even sure where my antiquated brick was now. Let me check. If it isnt, Ill let you know. The usual Caf Paul. One-thirty. See you then. Try Tilly, not to be late. Familiar Tiggerish thumps made me lift my head as Felix bounded up the stairs to our first-floor flat and then the front door crashed shut as he yelled, Missus, Im home. I could murder a beer, he said as he burst into the kitchen. Pulling a bottle out of the fridge, he flicked off the top and took a long swallow without breaking a stride. He glanced at my glass. More gin vicar? he asked. No, this was a large already, I mumbled, toasting him with my half-full tumbler. He dropped a brief kiss on my head and wriggled out of his favourite RAF style overcoat, tossing it over a chair, heedless when it slipped to the floor. Perching himself on the top of the kitchen counter, his legs swinging and bashing the cupboards, he studied my unhappy face. I winced. The cupboard was already hanging from its hinges. Whats the matter? You look like you swallowed a pound and shat a penny. Crap day. Seriously crap. The crappest of the crappiest. Tell Uncle Felix all about it. I shook my head, pulling a face. Urgh, Uncle Felix sounds well creepy. And this is bad. Do we need Mojitos? he asked teasingly. Not this time. I sighed and took a slug of gin. I might not be able to afford Mojitos ever again. That bad. He pulled a face of mock horror. Sometimes Felix just wore you down with his indefatigable refusal to be serious. I gave him a half-hearted smile because I couldnt not. Been a shocker of a day. Started with a virus. Then I got bollocked by the new IT man and then Pietro missed curtain up. And Alison, I twisted my mouth in a bad-medicine taste expression, Kreufeld went ballistic and wants to see me tomorrow. I covered my face with my hands, stretching my skin over my cheekbones. I just know she wants to get rid of me. And that freelance woman, Arabella Barnes, is desperate for a job. Well, she cant do that because youre ace and Jeanie and Vince would put syrup of figs in this Arabella birds coffee. Although personally I dont get it. He shook his head and jumped to his feet. How do you put up with all that gruesome squawking? Clutching his chest and holding out one hand, he launched into a horribly shrill falsetto vaguely reminiscent of Bohemian Rhapsody. Kill me now. I beg of you. Spare me from this awful music. In spite of myself I burst out laughing. You are awful. You should come, you might even enjoy it. He shook his head like a mutinous toddler. How do you know if youve never tried it? He pulled a face. Thats what mothers say when they want kids to eat green stuff, like broccoli or cabbage or Brussels sprouts. If I ever have children, they can live on jelly and ice-cream if they want. Theyll get malnutrition, I giggled. Yeah but theyll be the happiest kids on the block. He took a long swallow of beer, almost downing the whole bottle in one and then smacked it down on the table. So, what have you done? I told him about the Santa baby image because quite frankly that seemed the least of my problems. Oh missus. You big numpty! He jumped up, oblivious to the cupboard door which dropped another inch, and then gave me a fleeting hug before whirling over to the fridge to help himself to another beer. I wouldnt worry about it, he grinned. People get those virus things all the time. Its no big deal. Thats what you have virus protection for. Itll be fine. I think half the time, the IT bods just use the fear of a possible virus to frighten people, so that you think you need them. Well weve got a new one. An IT Director. Hes a bit of a stiff. He caught me yanking the plug out of the computer. Director eh? Big title. Im sure hes got more important things to do than worry about that. Next. I closed my eyes, remembering the flutters of panic when I thought I might not get Pietro to go on stage. Much worse the absolute worst. Pietro delayed curtain up. Blimey. Even Felix knew how serious that was. He squeezed my arm with an immediate show of understanding. Felix really did get how important my job was to me. It wasnt even my fault but AK immediately assumed it was. She didnt even give me a chance to explain that Pietro got a call and the press Hes being blackmailed. Ooooo whats he done? Been caught in a compromising position with a rent boy in the box office? Felix! Dont be so horrible. Whats he done then? Something worse? His keen-eyed curiosity had me hesitating for a second, I could almost hear him smacking his lips in anticipation. I sighed. He was so upset. When he was younger, his family didnt have the money to pay for singing lessons. He got a part in a porn film to earn the money. I cant wait to tell Kevin that one. Felix! You cant tell anyone. Just joking. So, whats happened? Pietros sleaze-ball of an ex-brother-in-law has threatened to contact the press unless Pietro is nice to him. Shorthand for give him a big hand out. Can you imagine it? If the press get wind the film will be all over the internet. At the moment if he can keep a lid on it, its unlikely anyone will track it down. Blimey. What a boy. I shook my head and sighed. Poor Pietro. He told me a bit about it, sounded quite racy. Very Lady Chatterley. Apparently, he played the young gardener seduced by the Contessa. Pietro said it was called Il Gardiniere. Doing her ladys garden for her, giggled Felix. Classic. Go Pietro. Someone would pay good money for pictures. Felix, you shouldnt say that. I shook my head. Its not funny. I feel so sorry for him. You didnt see how upset he was. He almost couldnt go on. Youre too soft. Hell get over it, dismissed Felix. No such thing as bad publicity. To: Wig, Hair, and Make-Up Team From: Director of IT All members of staff are reminded that under no circumstances should attachments from unauthorised sources be opened or any unapproved material downloaded. M Walker Director of IT London Metropolitan Opera Company Chapter 3 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) Dreams of heart-shaped doodlebugs, reducing London to rubble, while AK handed me an Air Wardens helmet, filled my head all night leaving me feeling blurry around the edges by morning. Stuffing my corkscrew curls into a hasty ponytail, I secured it with a silk paisley scarf pinched from the wardrobe department and glared at my anaemic reflection before poking unhappily at the bags under my eyes. All the tricks of the trade werent going to be able to disguise those babies. I shot the computer in the workroom a quick look. I was staying clear of that thing today. Vince, who was just arriving, smiled as he caught me. Morning our Tilly. Want me to check your emails for you, lovie? Dont. Im jinxed. Im not touching it again unless I absolutely have to. That reminds me, youve had a few deliveries. He nodded towards my work area with a sly smile. Ha blinking ha! I scowled at the pyramid tower of loo rolls which had appeared on my worktable. Maybe we should be starting up a comedy club. Judging by the number of them, I guessed every last member of staff in the building had received my email yesterday. Blinking marvellous. Alison Kreufeld would just love that. As I got my materials out to start work, Vince wandered over. Can I borrow ooh those bags still need some work sweetie. Thanks a ton, I muttered. Ive used half a tube of concealer. I didnt get much sleep. I did a double take, his skin positively glowed. Whereas you, you look all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Have you been at the Beauty Flash Balm again? Me darling? I swear by it, especially when you get home with the larks. Larks? Late night, early morning? All work and no play would make Vince a very dull boy darling. Bit of drinking and dancing, you know how it is. Behind him, Jeanie sighed. Drinking and dancing? I dont know where you get the energy. High on life, me. High on life, chirped Vince. Oh God, groaned Jeanie. Who is it this time? Vince pouted and sniffed. Who says theres a man involved? Jeanie and I exchanged grins. Theres always a man involved. Vince swallowed hard. Not this time. Even trying to sound brave, he managed to be dramatic. Were just good friends. Aw Vince, I reached out and patted his arm. He seemed destined to be unlucky in love and it would be lovely if he could find the perfect partner. Jeanie rolled her eyes. You mean hes straight. She shook her head. Vince. Vince. Vince. What are we going to do with you? Hes not straight. Vinces words spewed out in a brief burst of anger. Hes in denial. Really? I reached over and patted his hand. Maybe hell come around. He snatched his hand away. Easy for you to say. His mouth flattened into an unhappy line. Smugly engaged. The sharp words hit like unexpected hailstones and I flinched. It was unlike Vince to be snippy. Jeanies jawline tensed. Sorry Tilly. Sorry. He gave me a sheepish look. I I sh I didnt mean to take it out on you. She gave him an approving look. Wary of touching him again, I nodded. Dont worry Vince. I understand. If you ever want to talk about it. I encompassed Jeanie in the look but her face was closed. It struck me that shed been drawing back more recently. Thanks, lovie, but no one can help this time. The expression on his face made me want to comfort him but something in his eyes warned me to back off. Right, then to work. Come on. My office. We need to get cracking and start thinking about Romeo and Juliet for next years season. She stopped and her eyes twinkled with sudden enthusiasm. And guess what? Its going to have a Regency period setting. Oooh, I rubbed my hands together. Research. Vince groaned, Research. Before adding, Tilly will be down to the Portrait Gallery faster than Fagin can pick a pocket or two. I beamed, my fingers twitching at the thought of getting started on the hairpieces we would need. Well, before you go beetling off on your little jaunt, we can make a start here. Jeanie pointed to a pile of large coffee-table-sized books on the floor in front of her feet. Despite being no bigger than a broom cupboard, her office housed a huge collection of books. Being sexist, lets start having a look at this lot to get some ideas of the period for the ladies and you Vince, she pushed another set of books with her foot across the floor to him, for the gents. Vince winked at me. Goody, lots of eye candy for me. After about an hour, with pages marked with yellow stickies, scribbles in notebooks and the occasional, What about this? Vince got to his feet. My knees are killing me darlings. I need caffeine. I doubt it will help your knees but I wouldnt say no. I held up my empty mug. As he stepped over me, I shifted onto my bottom and stretched out my legs, taking over what little space hed just vacated. My back twinged as I sighed in relief. Jeanies phone buzzed and she leaned over me to get it. A resigned expression settled on her face. Ill send her up now. Alison Kreufelds office was a lot grander than Jeanies in that there was room to swing a whole cat and possibly a hamster too. With a cursory nod, as I approached the open door she invited me in. Id only been here a few times before and was fascinated by the patchwork of designs that filled the walls, sets, make-up, wardrobe, lighting rig plans. She had a huge job, like a spider in the centre of the web spinning all the threads to create the final look and feel of a production. I might not be too keen on her but her reputation was fearsome. Morning, Matilde. Take a seat. She shook her head and sighed. Bit of a balls up last night. Yes. Pietro He had a bit of a crisis. Do you know what? I dont actually give a hes the talent. I cant bollock him. You however, I can. Its your responsibility to make sure hes where hes supposed to be. You, I can sack. And I bloody will if you make a balls-up like that again. What did she want me to say? Im sorry but Like I said. I dont give a toss. And yes, I know its bloody unfair but thats the way it is and you have to suck it up. Alison sighed and turned to the view outside her window. Youre a good make-up artist. Talented. But there are plenty of good, talented make-up artists. Theyre standing ten deep in a queue out there. She actually stabbed her finger at the pane of glass. You need to be better than good. Deal with stuff. Like getting Pietro on stage on time no matter what. Youre too casual about things. You need to take some responsibility. I opened my mouth. Id got Pietro down to the wings. Calmed him down in the lift. Got him to sing scales. He was two minutes late but it wasnt my fault. Your attitude is far too cavalier. Just that bit too laid back. Its not acceptable. Youre letting yourself down. The executive board has decided to appoint an assistant head of department to Jeanie in the New Year. Its a management post. Her eyes bored into mine. And it has to be advertised internally and externally. Id like to see you apply but I need to see you buck your ideas up. Im going to be keeping a very close eye on you, one more cock-up and youll be on a disciplinary. Consider yourself on probation between now and Christmas. I opened my mouth aghast and for once thought better of it and closed it quickly. The quick calculating glance she shot me suggested shed seen the brief movement. Probation? What on earth did that mean? Yes. For the next few weeks Ill be reviewing your work very closely and at the end of the period, Ill decide whether to recommend you for the job or not. You have a tendency to jump in feet first without thinking about the further consequences, she continued. That is not managerial behaviour. Managers reflect, think and then act. Id really like to apply. I love it here and I appreciate that but we want someone who doesnt just get the job done but who also understands the bigger picture. You love it. Great. Youre brilliant at it. Wonderful. But you are just one small cog. Make-up yes, its important. But so is the sound, wardrobe, the electricians, the lighting riggers, the props guys. If youre in management, you cant afford to think that your department makes a bigger, better, more special, more authentic, cleverer contribution. I know the detail, the attention, the amount of work that goes in, but, she paused and gave me a ferocious stare, if you dont get the talent on the fucking stage, none of that counts for jack shit and actually shafts all the other buggers who have done their job just as bloody well and dont get the notice. Prima donnas on the stage I can cope with, but not the backstage crew. She sat down back at her desk and began to flip through her diary. You need to prove that you can do more than wield a hairbrush. And not make stupid cock-ups such as sending effing pictures of Dr sodding Who to my opposite number at La Scala when shes expecting shots of our leading lady. Yes, I did hear about that and it makes us all look stupid. Especially when were in competition with the Royal Opera House only a stones throw from here. That was One of my ditzier moments. Unprofessional. But they thought it was funny, I said in a small voice. Funny? Her voice dripped icicles. It undermines the reputation of the London Metropolitan Opera Company, the heart of what we are a world-renowned institution which employs the very best people, not a bunch of amateurs who cant use modern technology. What does that sort of dumb ass thing say about us? Were a bunch of effing dinosaurs? Were supposed to be at the forefront of artistic endeavour, avant garde, cutting edge, innovative, ground breaking. I bit my lip as she continued her diatribe, still hanging on to that brief thread of hope, Id like to see you apply. And then theres the small matter of yesterdays virus. Which brings me to my second point which is going to be a key part of your probation. She picked up a pen and marked a date in the diary with my initials. Christmas Eve. My heart contracted slightly. Care to explain that? I grimaced. Yes, Im sorry I thought it was, I shrugged, harmless. Clearly, she bit out. Do you have any idea how much havoc that little stunt caused? No. Id very much hoped that not too many people had realised. W-what happened? What happened, she almost snarled the words, was that when you opened that attachment, it attached itself to every email contact you have. Oh. I wriggled in my chair. That sounded really, really bad. Which in turn then attached itself to every contact in all those contacts and so on and so on. OK, it just got even worse. My face heated up. Im a layman here but Mr Walker, our new IT Director, did explain that it could have had extremely serious consequences if they hadnt managed to shut things down and get rid of it. Her eyes bored into mine. Great start to his job. Now, thanks to you, he thinks were all a bunch of incompetent idiots. Oh. I ducked my head, my face now on fire. The IT department spent all night trying to get rid of it. After youd kindly shared it with every email address in the building. I bit my lip and slid my hands under my thighs. Sorry about that. I felt five inches high. Im very sorry. You dont need to apologise to me. Youre going to have to apologise to Mr Walker and Fred, the IT assistant, who burnt considerable midnight oil to solve the problem. Its not created the best impression with the new director. Oh dear. I wilted inside. Our first encounter hadnt exactly gone well. Oh, dear indeed. It took considerable persuasion to get him to take the job. Julian Spencer is not best pleased, as youve confirmed any negative perceptions Mr Walker might have had about the ability of the Opera House to move into the twenty-first century. I gazed down at her table, trying to imagine how to frame a suitable apology and came up with nothing. Id rather hoped after that first run in, Id never have to see Mr drop-dead-gorgeous again. Are you listening to me? She laid her hands on the desk and pinned me with a fierce stare. I nodded vigorously. Good, because Ive decided that we are going to convince our new IT Director that all departments are open and amenable to progress. All members of staff are ready to embrace technology and make it serve us. What afternoon cream teas? I rather relished the thought of the little CD disk drawers popping out on command with a lovely china cup and saucer of tea and a matching plate with a chocolate clair. Then I realised Id missed what she was saying. an IT champion, who will provide the link with the IT department and promote the use of new systems within their department. She plumped herself down in her grand leather chair as if she were Sir Alan Sugar suddenly discovering that his potential apprentices had a couple of brain cells each. What? Id missed something important here. As part of your probation, you are now the Hair, Wig and Make-up teams IT contact and you will be working closely with Mr Walker to identify suitable software packages for implementation in the department to streamline and update your processes. Me? She had to be kidding. But Im rub Its all been agreed. Hes expecting to see you today. Who? Mr Walker? I curled my fingers over the edge of the chair. She narrowed her eyes, which I took as a yes. But but Ive got work to do proper work. The designs for Juliet. And Pietro for curtain up tonight. She smiled and it wasnt a nice smile. She tapped her diary rather pointedly. Mr Walker will be keeping me abreast of your progress. I gave her a weak smile. My cup just runneth over. As I stood to leave, she leaned under her desk. A present for you, she said and pointedly handed me a toilet roll. Did she offer you the Assistant Head of Make-up job? Vince bobbed up and down, firing the question at me as soon as I returned to Jeanies cubby hole, half an hour later. You are flippin joking, I said with feeling. She bloody hates me. Im a dumb ass, stupid, make cock-ups and Im an amateur. I think its safe to say, Im not on the short list for that job. Jeanie gave me a stern look. Is that what she really said? I shrugged. Or did you just listen to the bad bits and ignore the positrons? Positives, I said absently, staring mutinously at the floor. She wants me to have a meeting with the Prince of Darkness to discuss the use of IT in our department. What? The new IT Director? Oooh lucky you. Sadly, I dont think he bats for our side. Jeanie shot Vince a look. Good, that will make life up here a little less precarious when you use that thing. She nodded at the computer. But I dont want Jeanie sniffed. One meeting wont kill you. You are a great make-up artist but these days, it isnt enough. My heart sank. As Alison had told me. Presumably shed had this conversation with Jeanie already, after all she was my boss. You need as many strings to your violin as you can get. She turned back to the stack of books on her desk. Now we need to crack on. With that clear signal, both Vince and I got our heads down to do some serious research. At the London Met Opera Company, its an adventure just travelling in the lift. You might meet members of the orchestra rocking the escaped mafia hitman look in their dinner suits carrying violin cases, a props guy carrying a papier m?ch lobster, costume ladies buried in yards and yards of chiffon, set designers in paint-splodged clothes and petite dancers of both sexes, who always seemed to be wearing millions of layers and carrying bags double their size. Today, I didnt even take note as my heart plummeted along with the lift. I wandered as slowly as I could along the corridor to the IT department. Once you passed the sound engineers offices, it became very different down here in the basement. A million different cables found their way around every surface; coiled and suspended with the sinuous grace of snakes in the jungle, blue wires, black wires, curly cable, straight cable and an infinite amount of silver connecting thingummies at the end of each. Passing a couple of storerooms, I finally came to the IT offices. Id only been down here a few times but I almost didnt recognise the area today. Ah, come to see the damage. Fred glared at me from where he sat hunched over a screen in a central station in the middle of the room and shook his head. What are you like? Here till bloody 3am because of you. Was it really that bad? I asked, wincing at his outraged face. Im so sorry. Poor Fred had been my saviour on more than one occasion, the most recent being an unfortunate incident with a can of Coke and a keyboard. You will be when his nibs gets hold of you. Fred sniffed, rolling his eyes and went back to peering at his screen. I took a quick look around the room. Blimey, whats happened in here? Marcus. Fred inclined his head towards the office over on the outside wall. Ah, so the M stood for Marcus. It suited him, sounded slightly posh. The entire room appeared to have undergone operation de-clutter. For once, you could see the floor and on the opposite wall, a bank of shiny white glossy cupboards lined it like storm trooper lockers. One open door revealed neatly organised shelves filled with spare mice, keyboards, green circuit board things and various other bits I didnt recognise. Very smart. Very Star Wars. Comes of working in the City, answered Fred, glancing over towards his boss who was clearly visible through the glass door, his back to us, gesticulating with surprisingly graceful hands with a phone tucked under his ear. And he cares about this department. Actually, he reminds of Darth Vader, without the breathing problems. An animated look came over Freds face. Might be an ordinary bloke doing his job, but hes bloody brilliant at making things happen. Hed obviously made quite an impression on Fred. Hes usually very laid back, although with his long streaky blonde hair thinning on top and the baggy paunch around his middle he looks more surfer dad than surfer dude. Precisely Fred, no one here is ordinary. He doesnt belong. You dress up as Thor, with a Viking helmet and a silver spray painted mallet for Comic Con. Youre one of us even if you do understand the machines. I laughed at his sheepish attempt to study the ceiling. Dont deny it. I saw the pictures on Facebook and the props guys told me they made the hammer for you. I had a great time. You should see the outfit Leonie in wardrobes going to make me this time. A proper one. His eyes lit up with glee. Dont suppose youd do my make-up for me? Of course, Id love to I stopped, but please dont say you want to be that blue one from X-Men. Mystique? Nah, shes a girl. Fred pulled a yuk face. And you think that dressing as an imaginary alien species is more acceptable than a spot of cross dressing? He shrugged. So, who are you going as? Ill need to do my research to make sure its right. The Joker. Leonies making a purple suit. Batman. Yes. Big red lips. White face? Green hair. I studied Freds limp blonde mane dubiously. It might not come out for a while. I can live with green hair. Its a Saturday in about three weeks time. Sure, Ill be working if weve got a matinee or I dont mind coming in. Ill have to see if I have the right coloured hair spray in the cupboard. But seriously if you want green hair- Itll be fine. Cant imagine hed approve of that, I nodded towards the office door. Surprised he hasnt got you in a suit yet. Give him a break. I pulled a face. Fred nodded enthusiastically. Bit of a control freak but OK. Doubt hell be here long. You lot will drive him mad and besides, I reckon as soon as hes got his shit together hell go back to the City. Why do you say that? Fred checked the room with a furtive dart of his head as if to make sure no one was listening. He was at Deutsche bank before here. Bit of a leap. Theyve got some serious mainframe over there. Why he came here, unless he was fired, made redundant or caught fiddling the books? This is a come down for him. I put my hands on my hips. This is one of the best places in the world to work. Fred laughed. I meant in terms of technology, you great muppet. Its not exactly cutting edge and he doesnt have much time for artistic temperament. Knows his stuff, though. Definitely on a mission. Bring this place into the twenty-first century. You have to admit hes got a point. Some of the kit here pre-dates steam engines and you lot in make-up and wardrobe are a blinking nightmare. I knew what he was referring to. Id once called Fred up because the computer wouldnt switch on. The light on the monitor was on, so as far as I was concerned when he said was it switched on, it was. Not seeing the cleaners had unplugged the hard drive the night before was an easy mistake to make. The monitor and the hard drive should switch on together, I said still feeling indignant even though it had been six months before, its not as if you can use one without the other. It should be automatic. That probably would make good sense in some situations, Miss Hunter. I jumped up from the edge of Freds desk. How had he moved so quietly? My mouth dried. With his white shirt-sleeves rolled up to reveal strong tanned forearms and the top few buttons unbuttoned, I found myself totally distracted by the skin on display, which wasnt even that much. Would you like to step into my office? He gestured for me to go ahead of him. About as much as a fly does into a web, I muttered under my breath. His office had the ice-cold minimalism of an executive. See, definitely alien species. A shiny silver laptop sat in the centre of the dark ash wood desk and absolutely nothing else. He did not belong here. Not a single personal item could be seen, no photos, no knick-knacks nor any colour apart from the rich red satin lining of his jacket which hung from the black leather chair at his desk. It contrasted sharply with my little cubby-hole upstairs which embraced a magpie approach, as if one had flown through my life, cherry-picking the best bits to produce a snapshot of memories with pictures of finished make-up designs, photos of me and friends on various nights out, ticket stubs of milestone productions and swatches of fabrics. He pulled up a chair for me and then took his seat opposite. It felt as cold and chilly as being in a headmasters office. Any moment now, hed say You know why youre here, have you anything to say for yourself? Leaning back in his executive chair, he exuded an air of being relaxed and in control. Would you like a coffee? Surprised, I nodded. He disappeared and within minutes returned with two pristine white china coffee cups. Wow, real coffee. How did you do that? Nespresso machine. How did you wangle one of those? Is that the sort of perk you have in the City? No, there we have minions who go out and get our double espresso mochaccino lattes for us. I nodded, of course they did. His lips quirked in a brief smile. It took me a second to catch up. Its my own machine. I brought it in. Oooh, a sense of humour. I hadnt expected that. I took a sip. Heaven in a cup. Ill have to remember this. One eyebrow twitched. Youre always welcome. He might have meant, over my dead body, but there was something else in his expression that made my pulse flutter in recognition of something that I thought had long since passed me by. Was he flirting with me? Thank you for coming to see me. Ah maybe he wasnt. There was nothing flirtatious about the grave, business-like expression that had dropped down across his face as if the drawbridge had suddenly been drawn up. I shrugged. Alison insisted, I blurted out with my usual blunt honesty, instead of slowing down to frame the apology Id planned. Before I managed to carry on, his face darkened and he stiffened, the brief sense of humour Id sensed earlier vanishing like smoke. Its obvious that for some departments in this building, technology is viewed with the same sort of suspicion as witchcraft in the Dark Ages. The stilted words sounded a bit rehearsed, the irony of which was not lost on me, given we were in a theatre where people normally played their parts with ease. He shook his head. The place is filled with archetypal Luddites. This place! Any thought of an apology dried up. I dont think Ive ever come across anything quite like it. Alison and I have discussed some changes. My role is to help each department identify where technological applications could help increase efficiency and productivity. I cant believe the lack of computer literacy in some of the departments. Its a bloody nightmare. He sighed and fiddled with the pen on his desk before looking up and focusing on me. The stern expression in his green eyes made my stomach flip. Lord, talk about masterful. And your department takes the prize for being the absolute worst. Screw the lovely green eyes, he was horrible. Thats because we dont really need computers. My voice rose in indignation. Wed managed perfectly well without his interference or without stupid computers for the last well for ever. Could they apply make-up, pin a wig, placate an unhappy singer? No. Unless Id missed some incredible technological breakthrough which surely would have been broadcast by every paper on the planet. And even I couldnt have missed that. Of course, you do. Everyone does these days. Rubbish, were dealing with art. I shot him a disdainful look. Clearly, he had no soul. Not numbers and widgets. There isnt a right way or a wrong way to play Don Giovanni, there isnt a definitive costume for him, or a prescriptive make-up design. Its all open to interpretation. Not that Id expect someone like you to understand that. His jaw clenched and I felt a bit guilty. Him and his attitude just reminded me too much of my parents. They didnt approve of my job at all. As I said, Ive got a job to do here and you people need to understand that technology is here to stay. Did he just say you people? Have you any idea how many of the disparate parts of this building are held together by computer equipment and software? I shook my head and shrugged. Like I cared. A computer could not put on a show. Wed managed for hundreds of years without them. Yes, Im sure for some industries they were essential tools of the trade but we didnt need them. He leant forward, planting both elbows on the table, steepling his hands together. Again, I noticed they were lovely. Long fingers. Quite artistic looking. Nice nails. Miss Hunter? Are you listening to me? Yes, I lied and focused on the grim set of his jawline. Gosh he was handsome. I tried hard not to look at the dark hair peeking out of the top of his white shirt. Every part of the operation in this building, and I mean every part, is dependent on technology. He paused, looking expectantly at me. Sorry? Oh heck, I could feel myself blushing. I put on my interested face. Concentrate Tilly. Operation. Building. Technology. Yes, got it. I nodded at him, with no idea what he was banging on about. He had one view, I had another. It was all very well giving me this lecture but what did he hope to achieve? Tell me off. Tell me not to pull the plug out or open any more attachments. Blah. Blah. I knew all that, now. I realised he was still talking and Id tuned out. So, it is vital that everyone can use computers without potentially causing a problem elsewhere. I nodded anyway. Again. Id been doing that a lot since hed started. Hopefully hed wind it up soon. Honestly, he could have given Wagners Ring Cycle a run for its money. Suddenly he threw himself back in his chair, finding something interesting up on the ceiling. I followed his gaze and then realised hed turned his thunderous expression on me. None of this is getting through, is it? His tone was mild but there was a pulse just under his jawline which tipped forward, just erring on the side of pugnacious. When he rose to his feet, for a second, I thought he might be about to strangle me. He strode around the desk. Come with me. With a hand under my elbow he ushered me to my feet. Wow, he smelled good in an understated, subtle aftershave, sort of way. I tried not to sniff too obviously. And since when had I liked that masterful touch? Rather than shake his hand off, I let him lead me out of his office and over the corridor to a large glossy black door. Bluebeards den? The IT prison cell? Inside the room, a steady hum emanated and in the dark lots of green lights flickered and blinked in and out with synced regularity. No point in asking if you know what this is, he said, snapping on the light. His eyes glinted as they roved across the back wall. I turned to look, which wasnt a great move. There wasnt much space and I was conscious of him standing right behind me, his toned thighs almost touching the back of mine. The room had a bank of cabinets on one side filled with grey and black boxes, all of which had lots of grey wiring leading out of them along the wall and disappearing through the ceiling and away. This is the main server. Every computer in this building is linked to it. If that goes down, nothing happens. La Boh?me doesnt go on stage. Every computer is networked through this. If something goes wrong on one computer in your department, such as it being infected with a virus He paused expectantly. I turned around and gave him a weak grimace. He responded with a very serious look to underline his very important point, but it just had my heart doing a ridiculous cartwheel. Who knew that stern and serious could be sexy? Except he wasnt sexy and I was spoken for. It can impact on the whole network. This server manages a whole host of systems throughout the building. Systems that every production going on stage is totally reliant on. Theres the system which manages the ticket sales in the box office. Another one which programmes the lighting desk. No server, no stage lights. Everything in the music library is catalogued on a computer. There are thousands of scores stored here, finding the right one for the woodwind section for La Boh?me could take months, without that catalogue. And thats just the tip of the iceberg. Now when he stared down at me, I shuffled and swallowed. The blood pounding quite hard in my veins. Fear, obviously at how close Id come to messing things up. Who knew that a little box with all those wires could have such significance? When you happily downloaded your little virus, it slowed the whole network down. Every computer in the building was busy sending out emails to every contact on every email account in the building. To stop it we had to shut down most of the network, in order to ensure that the vital systems could carry on. Luckily for you the real damage only started after the opera had finished for the night. Otherwise the show would not have gone on. Shit. That would have been serious. Wed weathered storms, riots outside, transport strikes, but wed never missed a show. But I thought we had virus protection things and isnt that your job to install those things? His jaw tensed and I could see his throat working. I got the distinct impression he was holding something in. They work just fine, as long as idiots dont open suspect attachments. He leaned back against the door with his arms folded. Can I ask that you never, ever, ever open another attachment if you dont know where its come from or who has sent it to you? In fact, dont answer or respond to any email unless you know who has sent it or you ascertain that it has come from a bona fide contact. Do you have any concept of e-safety? Erm, sort of. My half-hearted smile elicited another narrow-eyed stare. Its about keeping yourself safe on-line. Protecting your personal information. Privacy settings on Facebook. Limiting the information you share on-line. In emails. Twitter, etcetera. You can rest easy there. I have a habit of frying my phones, so I dont tend to do much on-line stuff. Frying your phones? The patient tone radiated scepticism. Yes. Phones. Watches. Those Fitbit things. Anything electrical seems to be allergic to me. Really? I shrugged. Id been through enough phones and watches not to care whether people believed me or not. When it comes to attachments on emails, he paused and a brief smile flared at the corners of his mouth. Had he seen Santa Baby in action? In future, if in doubt, call myself or Fred. Yes sir, I said with a sudden smile. He was kind of cute when he was being all earnest and entreating. I decided against accompanying my words with a salute. He was after all a director and only trying to do his job. I dont mean to be useless with technology, it just doesnt like me. I could see him bite back a smile. Tilly, computers dont like anyone. Theyre not people. Theyre machines. They work for us. Do what we tell them. As long as we treat them properly. Are you sure? I asked doubtfully. Yes, Im sure. Hopefully youll feel a bit more confident when weve had a few sessions. Sessions? That wasnt the deal with Alison. Yes. As our first champion for the make-up department, we need to spend some time together so that we can identify what processes and systems we can implement to improve the way you do things. While youre here, well diarise a few dates to get things moving. I opened my mouth. Nothing came out. But I must have signalled my dismay. He had to be kidding? We were absolutely fine as we were. Hadnt he ever heard the saying, If it isnt broke? I think a couple of half days in the next week or two, to get started, and then once weve identified those areas that we can work on, well develop appropriate systems, get you trained up and then you can introduce them to the rest of your team. What? A couple of half days? Is it really going to take that long? Im sure theres not a lot you can help with. Why dont you let me be the judge of that? I sighed. And why me? He smiled, not a nice friendly smile, but a shark going in for the kill type. I think unplugging a computer to reboot it, I think the phrase was, is a perfectly good starter for ten. Our eyes met. I let out a long huff and glared. The room seemed to get smaller as he lifted his head and stared me down. It drew attention to the handsome jaw-line which was smoothly shaven, not like Felixs sexy but occasionally irritating stubble. This man was the total opposite, a corporate robot, looking to improve things, take the soul out of everything with his streamlining and rationalisationing. Well, he neednt think Id be going over to the dark side. Id grown up with all that crap and escaped it. I thought wed start with our first meeting a week on Thursday. Have a chat about what you do in more detail and what areas could do with some improvements. I hear youve had a few he was fighting back a smirk, issues in the past. Alison had clearly gone to town telling him how rubbish I was. Sent a few emails to the wrong people. Copied in the wrong people. Attached the wrong file? I could see merriment dancing in his eyes. Dr Who, was it? Might have been, I muttered. Tennant, Smith or Capaldi? Tennant, I muttered, blushing. To be fair, I had been trying to send a picture of the potato headed man, Drax, to illustrate an idea but had got a bit carried away when I started searching the internet for pictures. As I turned to leave I noticed one more thing. He had really nice lips. You never know you might enjoy it. What? Was he some kind of mind reader? He lifted one sardonic brow. Learning more about IT? Chapter 4 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) With a quick glance at my watch, I figured there was just enough time to finish the hairpiece I was working on before a mad dash to meet up with my sister. The strand of hair wrapped around a piece of doweling only needed a quick spray with setting solution and the last perfect ringlet would be done. I held up the piece with its bobbing curls and admired it, imagining the way it would look on the dancer playing Juliet. Ooh Tilly. You might wanna see this. Vince let out an alarmed squeal. He bounced up in his seat, where hed been ensconced in front of the department computer since ten oclock that morning. Allegedly he was looking for Byronesque style headshots but as far as I could tell hed done nothing but sigh over pictures of good looking male movie stars who might once have had a brush with a historical film. Hanging onto the final curl, I gave him a quizzical look. I thought youd decided Mr McAvoy and his appropriate sideburns, in Becoming Jane, were what you were looking for. Are you still hunk-spotting? As if I would? He batted his eyelashes as if hed never once logged onto Onmygaydar.com. No lovie. Its you. Youre in trouble, girl. You got email. What sort of trouble? Seriously, doll. Vinces blue eyes widened, like a small bush baby. Looks as if its your virus. It wasnt my virus. I carefully put down the hairpiece, before scurrying over to the computer, to find an email from a complete stranger. I heartily wished Id never sent that first email. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: FW: URGENT Possible loo roll crisis Dear Matilda Do I know you? Ive just had an email from you. Dont think you meant to send it to me but loo rolls? Try Tesco. Although funnily enough, Ive literally just finished that book, funny read. Did you know there was a sequel? With kind regards A Liverpool Supporter. P.S. Didnt think Arsenal supporters could read, not as erudite as us Liverpool supporters. Oh pants. Thankfully, despite his duff allegiance, the Liverpool supporter didnt seem too upset. Do you think Im going to get loads of these? Suddenly I realised Jeanie was standing behind us. She rolled her eyes, and squinted at the screen beyond them. If theyre all as dull as this, you havent got a problem. A football supporter who sounds very sensible. Probably short, bald and lives with his mum. And likes Liverpool United. She shook her head, before adding. Oh God, a Northerner. Southern born and bred, Jeanie was convinced that anyone north of Mill Hill was slightly suspect. Come on, some of us have work to do. She gave both of us a pointed look before turning and heading back to her office. I shot the screen another look and then my watch. Christelle was incapable of being late, I had no leeway. Youre not going to email him back, are you? asked Vince, clutching his throat in dramatic horror, which was a bit rich coming from Mr Online Romance himself. What if hes a stalker or one of those people thats looking to groom you for the sex-slave trade? With great show, I pointed to my flat chest and raised my eyebrows. Seriously, I read about it in the paper. Well it must be true, then. No, honest, girls promised designer clothes and given make-overs and then sold into high-class prostitution. In my favourite vintage 1950s skirt, printed with cherries, a matching red ballerina style cross-over cardigan and flat chunky boots, I was hardly sex-kitten material. Vince inspected my boots. Maybe not. Definitely not. Besides, its not as if were to become pen-pals. Hmm. Im not letting him have the last word on my football team. I shrugged my shoulders. Vince raised his eyes heavenwards. Youre a girl, is that normal? You know the football stuff. Youre a boy. You wear yellow. Putrid mustard yellow. Thats not normal unless youre a Buddhist monk. With another quick check of my watch, I edged him out of the way, pausing only fractionally as I remembered the thing about e-safety his royal ITness had said. But this was different. This bloke had taken the trouble to email me, it was only polite to email him back and thank him. If he was up to no good, he wouldnt be trying to help, would he? Then I stopped, what if he thought I was some sad loser type sending random emails out to try and make friends. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: Loo Rolls Im so sorry. That email was supposed to be to my fianc. There. Not single or desperate. I think I might have got a virus. No shit, Sherlock. I opened an attachment I shouldnt have. Thanks for being nice about it. And for Gods sake please dont mention it to anyone. Ive finished the book now. Dont want to read the sequel straight away but want something as good. I always feel a bit bereft when I finish a book Ive enjoyed. With kind regards Deciding to keep things formal I put Matilde rather than Tilly which felt like it kept a bit of distance. I hate my name. Matilde, written down, looks German and butch rather than French. The d is silent but very few people get that, so I prefer Tilly. My mother is Parisian hence the name. Although these days, even she managed to call me Tilly on the odd occasions we spoke. How about that? I re-read the words on the screen one last time. Mostly harmless. Vince pulled a mournful face, disappointment filling his big blue eyes. Its not that bad, is it? He sighed and tossed his head. Well, its hardly Gone with the Wind. I mean Its not supposed to be. I read the words again. It was OK. Not like people you heard of, who gave in to the heady temptation of on-line and text flirting, and ended up creating daring alter-egos that bore no resemblance to their real persona. Although, I rolled my neck feeling the tension. God knows a flirtation would be a welcome ego boost Felix seemed to find me about as sexy as a moth-eaten camel these days, but I was not going to fall into that trap. Vince rubbed at his goatee and sighed in theatrical despair. Lovie, why dont you compare slippers? At least ask him what he thinks of the book. Its seriously, seriously dull. Thanks a bunch. Its just a response. Its not as if Im going to get to know him. I should think not. Vince bristled, folding his arms and speaking with hushed reverence. Not when youve got Felix. There was only one thing to do with that comment; I ignored his half-pint sized crush on Felix. Just keeping it bland makes it obvious Im not some desperate cyber-stalker on the lookout for a man. Charming. What does that make me? Minced meat. Vince walked off huffily. I literally slapped my forehead. God, he was such a drama queen. Hed be offended for the rest of the day now. I hadnt meant anything to do with his predilection for on-line dating. I gave it one last read through. Vince was right, it did sound slipperish. Ignoring the small matter of already being ten minutes late, I added a quick post-script. P.S. Liverpool supporters erudite? In which parallel universe would that be? That wasnt flirty, was it? No. With a resolute stab that nearly pinged the enter button off the keyboard, I pressed send and shut down the email. Oops, even by my shoddy time-keeping standards, I was late. Of course, she was already there, perched at one of the high tables in Caf Paul and engrossed in her iPhone. I knew exactly what my sister would look like without having to peer through the window. Pristine and pressed to perfection. I could have made easy money betting on the fact that Christelle would be wearing a pure white cotton shirt, peaked tramlines down each sleeve, and a figure hugging black pencil skirt along with a nipped in matching jacket from either Hobbs or Jigsaw. Her glossy brown hair would be scraped mercilessly back into the dullest bun you could imagine and shed be wearing rubbish make-up. Seriously, she didnt have a clue. Lipstick in a dull nude colour which made her lips vanish into her face and a matt brown eyeshadow over the whole lid that made her eyes recede into her head. With her figure and gorgeous hair, she could have looked like some sixties starlet. It wasnt fair. Stick a button on my nose and Id look like one of those anime cute cartoon girls, except with way too much curly hair. I would have loved to get hold of her and give her a serious make-over but we werent that sort of sisters. Oh Lord, no. Late again. Why the hell did she have to look at her watch? I wasnt going to deny it. I was nearly always late to meet her. Maybe it was psychological. It minimised the amount of time we had to spend together. I shrugged cheerfully. Problem with a virus at work. It sounded almost professional and competent, something she might appreciate. For once, Christelle appeared vaguely interested. Serious? That can be terribly damaging. I heard of one solicitors company who had to buy a new server because theyd got some malware that corrupted everything. It almost put them out of business. And theyre a very smart outfit. They have some very high profile, blue chip clients. Our IT department is very good, I said smoothly as if it were the sort of thing that I regularly trotted out. Thats so important, said Christelle nodding. She stuck her head out, trying to catch the attention of the waiter who acknowledged us with a quick nod before disappearing with an armful of dirty crockery. We lapsed into silence. So, I said, hows work? Good. She stopped there. I had about as much of an idea about her job as she did about mine. She was a barrister, except she didnt do the exciting criminal stuff, no she did employment law which from the little I understood sounded deadly. Ive no idea why she insisted on these monthly meetings, they were always excruciating. But no, regular as clockwork, she phoned at the beginning of the month to suggest we meet up. So, are you busy this weekend? I asked, praying the waiter would get a move on. Yes, its Alexas thirtieth birthday and weve hired a gorgeous house. It sleeps twenty-eight, which is perfect. She whipped out her phone and showed me a couple of pictures of a fantastic view and a rather lovely looking Edwardian mansion perched on the side of a wooded hillside. You see, that I couldnt fathom. Whatever I thought about my sister, her social life was always busy. What about you? I smiled. Ill be working late on Friday and Saturday. I dont know how you manage to have a relationship. I find it hard enough to get dates with my hours let alone working most nights. Doesnt Felix mind? Do you ever get to spend a weekend together? He doesnt mind. That was the wonderful thing about Felix. Hed never minded. He understood how important my job was to me. And me working evenings had never been an issue. I paused, trying hard to picture my very uptight sister going on a date. Shed never mentioned any romantic entanglements and Id always assumed she was too busy pursuing her career to bother with such irrelevancies. For some reason, Marcus popped into my head. He was probably Christelles perfect date, not that Id wish her on him. Do you do a lot of dating? I asked, surprising myself. It took her a minute to answer. In fact, she spent a good thirty seconds rummaging through her handbag, in a most un-Christelle like fashion, before she lifted her head. I could almost see her weighing up how to answer. The second thirty seconds seemed to hang with unexpected portent between us. Sink or swim. Do or die. Crash and burn. Her foot poised over uncharted territory. And then she cleared her throat and I felt a pulse of shock at her candid look. Not with any success. Youre so lucky. You and Felix have got it all sussed. You were friends with him first. Ive been on so many dates but I just never seem to click with anyone. On paper, theyre absolutely perfect and then I meet them. Her childish expression combined with the most exaggerated eye roll, again so not Christelle, made me break out in a wary smile. Theyre either unmitigated hooray Henry tosspots, she broke off, excuse my language, she added, giving me a look that dared me to say anything, or stuffed shirts who spend the entire date trying to work out whether Im more successful than they are and whether Ive billed more than them in the last forty-eight hours. Its pathetic. It must be hard. I tried to look sympathetic, but quite frankly they sounded eminently suitable. Ah, the waiter, I said and grabbed the menu. What do you fancy? The fruit tarts look gorgeous, but then so do the palmiers and the chocolate croissants here are to die for. Cappuccino for me and a croissant amandes. Christelle snapped shut her menu and handed it to him, while I had now discovered the enticements of chocolate clairs, raisin pastries and pear and rhubarb tarts. I chewed at my lip as Christelle folded her arms. Make that two Cappuccinos and I, hmm, I cant make up my mind between the I turned the menu over and then peered beyond the waiter at the glass fronted cabinets. Or should I have one of the strawberry tarts. No. Ill have a pain au chocolat The waiter clearly had my measure, because he whipped away the menu before I could change my mind and go for one of the glistening strawberry tarts. Christelle put her elbows on the table. We need to decide what were going to get for Mum and Dad for Christmas. Its ages away, I said. Why couldnt people enjoy the build up to Christmas? Planning this far ahead took away all the fun and spontaneity. Present-buying should be an adventure and a grand expedition to all the beautifully decorated shops, sparkling with glitter and tinsel. It should be full of promise and excitement, like going on a bear hunt, to track down and tease out things that people will like. No, that people will love. Christelle let out a small huffy sigh. You havent spoken to Mum, have you? No. Nothing new there. My unsociable working hours didnt fit with her and Dads nine to seven schedule. She bit her lip before blurting out with great indignation. Theyre going away for Christmas. Around her mouth a few tiny lines that Id never noticed before tightened. Really? Where? Apparently, she stiffened. Theyre going on a cruise. I shrugged. To Scandinavia. Oh. It was a bit of a surprise but it would save me the scramble to catch the last train from Kings Cross wedged up against over-exuberant drunks in a corridor and then having to make the journey back in two days time to get back to work. It never seemed fair to book holiday at Christmas when other people in the department had young children and families. I dont know why theyve suddenly decided to go on a cruise now. Christelles voice wobbled. Why not? Were not children anymore. But its a family time. And we always go home. Well maybe this year its time to do something different. I shrugged, ignoring the bleak look on her face. Break the mould. See it as an opportunity. An opportunity for what? Theres loads going on in London, carol concerts, ice skating, shows. Yes, but not on Christmas Day. There is. Oh, God, now I had no excuse not to go with Felix to visit his mother on Christmas Day. Loads of things still happen, you know. Her mouth dipped down in scepticism. Jeanie, my boss, often spends Christmas on her own. Shes never short of things to do. Last year she went on a walking tour around the city. The year before she volunteered for Crisis and the year before that she went to watch the swimmers in the Peter Pan Cup race on the Serpentine. Its only one day. You could just spend the day watching films. A pang of guilt danced in and out of my conscience. Was she worried about being on her own? I hadnt given it that much thought. As I said, Christmas was still ages away. Yes, but why dont they want to have Christmas with us? Its not like them. Dont you think its odd? No. She pursed her mouth. Thats so typical of you Tilly, you ignore the things you dont want to see. No I dont. You do, youve always done it. Making out that Mum and Dad are so against your career. They are. I folded my arms, I really didnt want to get into this now. It was old history and nothing was going to change. No, they just wanted you to Whatever. Going home at Christmas is a hassle anyway. The trains are always packed and were busy at work. What will you do instead? Work. On Christmas Day? No, but well probably go to Felixs mum and Ill come back that evening because Im working on Boxing Day. I guess I could have lunch with some friends, but it wont be the same, she sighed, although Mum has said shell do lunch with all the trimmings before Christmas. We can go up together. If I drive up, we wont have to worry about carrying all the presents. She brightened. Talking of which, I was thinking about a nice Este Lauder skin set for Mum, theyve got some lovely gift packs this year. Ill be work Christelle had never done puppy dog eyes in her life. She worked on pure logic but there was a shadow of sadness about her and a sudden blinking that made me pause and say, Thats probably a good idea. We could leave late on Friday, miss the traffic and then wed have the whole of Saturday. I could pick you up straight from work. What time do you finish? Depends on the production but around ten-thirty, eleven. She smiled and straightened up, losing the sad uncharacteristic droop. Im glad thats all sorted. Now, I was thinking a nice cashmere sweater for Dad and hes been wittering on about learning coding, so a colleague at work recommended a book for him. Oh She looked down at her phone which had begun to ring, I need to take this. Will you excuse me? Yeah. Its fine. Her formality drove me nuts. I was her bloody sister for Gods sake, not an effing client. She scooped up her phone and disappeared out of the door, where I watched her pace with considered steps backwards and forwards through the window. I picked up my Kindle Fire that I never went anywhere without and luckily it seemed to be the one thing that evaded my negative electrical force-field. My idea of hell was not having a book to read. Im not sure what made me do it, but I logged onto the free Wi-Fi to check my emails and nearly dropped it when I saw Id got a response to my earlier one. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: Loo Rolls Dear Matilde The sequel is good but if you want something of a similar ilk, how about High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Its about a man whos crap at relationships too. Regards R P.S. - Would that be that same parallel universe in which Arsenal can play? It made me smile and by the time Christelle reappeared Id downloaded High Fidelity. Sorry about that. A client Ive been trying to get hold of for a few days. Any hint of sadness was vanquished as back-in-business Christelle swept back to the fore. OK, coding book and sweater for Dad, skin care set for Mum. Do you want me to get them and you can pay me back? I hate to be mean but could we perhaps go lambs wool rather than cashmere on the sweater for Dad? And set a budget. Dont worry, if you cant afford it now, you pay me back later when you can. I can afford it. Just because her income bracket outstripped mine by several thousand a month didnt mean she should contribute more. Pride stopped me saying that things were a bit tight this month because Felix still owed me two months share of the household bills. Well, we can worry about that later. She gave me a blithe smile and glanced at her mobile phone; it reminded me of a cheeping canary clutched in her hand. It never shut up. She took a long swallow of Cappuccino. Ive got an appointment with Sir Charles Whitworths solicitor. Im going to have to go in a minute. Me too, I said. Pietro DAngelis waits for no woman. My rare name drop sent her eyebrows shooting upwards in satisfying startlement. What? The Pietro DAngelis? Yes. You do his make-up? Seriously? Yes. I sat quite still, contrary to the smug inner squirming, surprised by my petty attempt at one-upmanship. The truly sad thing was that Christelle wasnt name dropping or trying to score points. That was her world in the same way the theatre was mine. Usually I gave little away about work. As the black sheep of a high achieving professional family, I preferred to keep my triumphs to myself. Obviously putting a bit of slap on a singer wasnt quite in the same realm as saving a company billions of pounds in pay-outs in a wrongful dismissal case. Wow. Hes really famous. Isnt that a bit, you know, daunting? I laughed. Not now, but, I leaned forward, to whisper conspiratorially, the first time, I thought I might poke his eye out, my hand was shaking so much! She laughed too and then both of us stopped, stalling in a well-this-is-not-like-us moment of shared confusion. Jumping up to her feet, Christelle gathered her phone, her bag and her gloves, leather ones that matched her bag and shoes, both a bold kingfisher blue, which I hadnt noticed before. We peeled off in opposite directions with a quick kiss on each cheek, back to our other worlds. Chapter 5 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) Everyone caught in the unexpected evening sleet wore a coat of dandruff as they hurried into the tube station, casting worried looks up at the sky. They had nothing to worry about, as this was not proper snow. Id grown up in Yorkshire on the edge of the Dales and so I knew all about wading to school through drifts up to your thighs. As the damp bodies started to warm up,the smell of wet dog permeated the packed tube on the Northern Line. I was wedged between a man in a Che Guevara khaki jacket, stained dark with the rain and a girl in a heavyweight rain-coat that rustled with every jolt and bump of the train. Unable to get enough elbow room to read my book, I twitched like a smoker desperate for a light. Despite my unknown email correspondent being a Liverpool supporter, he had good taste in books. Id started High Fidelity a couple of days before and was loving it. Finally, yippee, enough people got off at Charing Cross and I dropped into a seat. By the time the doors closed, chapter two had absorbed me. By Waterloo, I was deep in 70s suburban life. Kennington came and went. Clapham North arrived as I was mid-snigger, and way before I was ready. Stuffing my book away and leaving the summer of 76, I only just got out of the doors in time to join the stream of bowed bodies battling up the escalators into the bitterly cold night where, surprisingly, the tiny pinpricks of barely-there snow had turned into full on flakes, curling and floating down like feathers I still doubted it would settle. With Felix away for the night, I could carry on reading. Making myself baked beans on toast, I stood stirring the pan of beans with one hand and my kindle in the other and ate my tea, flicking the pages on the touch screen with my fingers. The washing up was left as I curled up on the sofa, the TV on for background noise, and carried on reading, completely hooked. Temptation sizzled on the edge of my fingertips. With half an eye on a very old episode of Spooks on the telly, I swapped to the email app on my Kindle. Ever since Id finished the last chapter, Id been mentally composing the message. I was just being polite. Letting a fellow reader know how much I was enjoying his recommendation. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: Book Thanks for the recommendation. High Fidelity is fab. Love it, although I got some strange looks on the tube on the way home. Kept laughing out loud. Just what I needed on a filthy winter night. Thanks, again Tilly My finger hovered over the send button. Was this the sort of jump in feet first type of thing that Alison meant? But where was the harm? The only downside I could think of was that he might think I was stalking him? Would he care what I thought? But then he did recommend the book. If it were me, Id be delighted to hear someone liked a book as much as I did. Then again, he was a bloke. I groaned out loud. I was giving myself a headache. It was just an email. Hed read it, raise his eyebrows, think its that dumb girl who sent the virus, delete it and think no more about it ever again. Then again He might just appreciate the feedback. The argument in my stupid head was getting out of hand. I went with the refs decision and pressed the send button. Done. No regrets. Putting down my Kindle, I went back to Spooks where things on the screen were tense. MI5 were about to save London for the fifth time that series. An onscreen flash on my Kindle two minutes later interrupted a terse exchange between the head of division and one of his trigger-happy minions Id got mail. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Im glad youre enjoying it. One of my favourites. And also a great film. Phew, he didnt think I was some deranged lunatic stalking him. Have you seen it? Not often you can say that, when they abandon a perfectly good English setting. Cant understand that? Why didnt they leave the record shop in England? In fact, why do film and TV companies have to fiddle with settings? The Killing? Life on Mars? Have we made an English Friends? Mates? CSI - Southampton? Thankfully High Fidelity survived. Id recommend it if you havent seen it. One of those rare films that translates well from a book. R OK, he had a point with the setting thing, but plenty of other books survived celluloid translation. With tongue firmly pressed in cheek I typed, To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Dear M I think that perhaps being a Liverpool fan might have addled your brain. Loads of good films from books: What about Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones Diary, Atonement? M An email came right back To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity What no car chases? I giggled. He was starting to sound a lot less grey cardie and slippers. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Ok then, what about: The Bourne Identity, Casino Royale, Patriot Games! Yet another new message. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Depends on the Casino Royale. First or second. Bet youre one of those girls who fancies Daniel Craig, although Lazenby is the cult James Bond. He had no idea. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Daniel Craig!!!! No thank you. Timothy Dalton, every time! To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Words fail me. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Whats wrong with him?! To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity The only positive thing I can say is that he had one of the best Bond girls. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Which one? To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity The blond cello player they sledged down a mountain in her cello case. Ive never read any Ian Fleming? Have you? To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Yes, but not sure I should admit it. I read quite a few Bond books when I was a kid (very precocious reader) totally (very) unsuitable for a twelve-year-old. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity He did write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity And you think thats a suitable title for a kids book? Although I loved the musical at the Palladium. Bet youre not a musical man. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity I saw Oliver once. Definitely not a suitable title for a kids book although at that age I was going through my Sci-fi phase. More Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity Sci-fi Oh dear. Just when I was starting to think Although I have read The Time Travellers Wife. To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Re: High Fidelity Time Travellers Wife! Thats not Sci-fi. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity How come? Its about a man that zips back and forth in time. He might not be Dr Who but how can that not be Sci-fi? To: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk From: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity O.K., I admit it, Ive never read it but doesnt sound very SF to me. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Subject: High Fidelity HAVENT READ The Time Travellers Wife. Shame on you, a) its beautiful and b) its beautiful. I forgot youre a bloke! Think you should broaden your horizons and read TTTW its very original. Failing that you could always try the other Nick Hornby classic Fever Pitch. I grinned at that one. He might take offence at reading about Arsenal doing the double and winning the league cup and the FA cup in 1992 and he probably wasnt a Colin Firth fan either, so wouldnt appreciate the film version quite the way I had. This might have gone on all night, except the phone rang at nine. Hey missus, its me. Felix had been away for several days and was staying in some posh hotel in Brighton. A trip which had been extended by an additional day. Hi. You all right? asked Felix, bouncy as ever. Yes. Sorry, long day. I tried to sound a bit more with it, and not as guilty as I felt. Id only been talking to someone on line, I hadnt done anything wrong, but I knew I wouldnt mention it to Felix. How are you? When are you coming home? And is it snowing down there? Lifting the curtain, I was disappointed to see that only a few flakes danced across the sky, battling against a brisk wind. There was no sign of the light scattering that had settled earlier. Not a speck here. I might stay here for ever. I could get used to this hotel. Five stars is right up my street, he enthused. Might bring you some towels. Lovely, white fluffy ones. Felix! You cant do that. People do it all the time. His voice took on a wheedling tone. No! Dont bring the towels home. You had to be literal with Felix at times. Means we could put something else on the wedding list. At our age, do you think we need one? Not that we had got anywhere near arranging a wedding list. We occasionally referenced having one but never did anything about it. A bit like the wedding. Be a shame though. He paused. I fancied one of those space-age Philippe Starck orange-squeezers. Theyre too War of the Worlds. I wouldnt want one in the kitchen. Id love one of those teas-made things. We should go for things wed never buy for ourselves. Or use! said Felix scathingly. Youre not one hundred and three. We both laughed. We dont need a wedding list, I said. We had pretty much everything we needed. Of course we do. Isnt that the whole point of getting married? He stopped. Maybe wed better call it off then. Silence filled the airwaves. So how did the presentation went well. We interrupted one another. Oh good. What have you got lined up on Friday? Felix paused. Would you mind if I stayed down here another night? Save having to battle through the traffic. Aw, Felix. Ive got an early finish on Friday, I thought we could do something together for a change. Ill make it up to you. Youd better. Ive got to see the IT guy that day. Ill need cheering up after that. Felix burst out laughing. So will he. I hope theyre paying him danger money. Chapter 6 (#u8164f706-3044-517b-bc20-2cb23245d5aa) I kept chuckling to myself at this mornings email response to my suggestion to Fever Pitch as I rounded up my notes and sketches. Thered been email silence for nearly a week and Id assumed it marked the end of the on-line conversation, but it seemed I was wrong. Before I could respond, I was sucked into the days work. Jeanie wanted an update of where we were at with all the hairpieces for the corps de ballet and both of us had to prepare for a make-up design meeting for Romeo and Juliet with the Ballet Director and Head of Costume, which meant making sure I had a complete cast list and details of their colouring along with the notes from Costume. Vince seemed full of beans. One minute he was running to get coffee for everyone, the next offering to redo the rota for the following production in three months time, then he would settle at the wig he was making and then dart up to wash a few brushes. The whole time he kept his distance from me. I took time to grab a coffee and took one into Jeanies office. What the hell is the matter with him? she asked, eyeing Vince over the rim of her coffee mug with deep suspicion. Seriously? I peered over at him, busy texting now. Hes obviously got a hot date tonight. Although normally wed have been subject to all his hopes and fears by now. Vince longed for true love and undying loyalty. A complete romantic. Jeanie sighed. Who is it this time? I worry about that boy. Her fingers rubbed an invisible stain on the side of the china mug. Needs to settle down. Hes getting a bit too old for all this promiscuity. Shed been in the business a long time. Even though it was less prevalent these days, too many of her friends had died of Aids in the late eighties. Ive no idea. In fact, thats the weird thing, hes not mentioned anyone recently. I cast my mind back over recent conversations. Thered been no clues. Not someone from the orchestra, I know that much. Vince had a fondness for percussionists and brass instrument players. Whenever a touring orchestra came, he was sure to find a new friend but they only stayed for a brief while before moving on to the next venue. I squeezed her arm. Weve given him the safe sex talk enough times, all we can do is be here to pick up the pieces. Both of us wished he could find the one. Funny hes not said much about it, if it is a date. Jeanie put down her mug and stared thoughtfully over at him. I could tell by his studied inspection of his mobile phone that he knew he was being talked about. Maybe hes growing up? I suggested. A beat later, we both burst out laughing and Vince looked up, his curiosity antennae instantly tuned and mouthed What? across the room. Yeah and Im going to buy me a pair of unicorns, Jeanie responded. With another fifteen minutes before I had to head downstairs to the IT department, I sneaked over to the computer and quickly logged onto my email. I just wanted to check there hadnt been any other emails resulting from my virus. Who was I kidding? I wanted to respond to Redsmans email. He clearly hadnt liked my suggestion for a book about Arsenal. Jeanie was still out of sight, so I quickly typed a response. To: Redsman@hotmail.co.uk From: Matilde@lmoc.co.uk Re: Subject: !!!!! It could be my dead body were talking about. Im just off to see his royal ITness, the Prince of Darkness, the corporate bod who lives down in the lower ground floor. Im to be given lessons on the correct use of computers. They werent best pleased about the virus. Im still a bit confused how it got to you lots of people here received it. You should see my pile of loo rolls. Think theyre a bunch of comedians. Oh, how I havent laughed. Must go. If you never hear from me again, send in a search party to dig up the basement. M P.S. Liverpool will be lucky to win the match this week let alone anything else. I checked my watch, still a couple of minutes to go. I wandered over to Vinces cubby hole. The make-up team each had one. It was our workspace and consisted of a shelving area, a long work bench and a chair, along with a small chest of drawers. Hi Vince, I said pointedly when he didnt look up. Oh, hi, he said, all smiles and fake bright eyes, as he finally lifted his head, as if hed had no idea I was there. I sighed. Will you wish me luck? Vinces mouth pulled down at either corner. Glad its you and not me. Yeah, hes too bloody good looking for his own good, I said dispiritedly. Lordy girly, are we talking about the same man. Good looking? Yes, dont you think so? You need to get some new glasses. Hes not a patch on Felix. Vince sounded quite aggrieved. Im not planning to be unfaithful or anything, I just noticed he was, I shrugged, you know, rather easy on the eye. Average, darling. Average. Vince turned up his nose but kept his eyes down, his fingers nimbly plaiting an intricate hairpiece. Unless you like that sort of thing, I guess. Through his strategically ripped jeans, his knee was jumping up and down with the frantic energy of teeth chattering. Shouldnt you be leaving? Are you alright Vince? Fine, why? he snapped. Got anything nice planned this weekend? What are you up to tonight? I was half hoping that he might be free. With an early finish, I didnt fancy being on my own in the flat again. Im going away. You didnt say anything about that before. Vince pouted. What? Now youre like the social life police? I dont have to tell you everything. Its called a private life for a reason. I took a step back. Vince shared anything and everything about his vibrant social life. I put my hands up in defence, said Sorry and got the hell out of Dodge. Making a strategic retreat, I realised that now I was going to be late. I skidded to a halt in the doorway to find Marcus ready and waiting, not quite drumming his fingers on his desk. There were, however, two mugs of coffee sitting there. Here you go. I inhaled the delicious scent as he pushed one towards me. Hed definitely earned a brownie point or two with his coffee. Sorry Im late. I expected it. I guess I should be grateful you turned up at all. The rueful shrug accompanying his words robbed them of any malice. A simple statement of fact which irked me even more. I do have a job of my own. I know, so Ill try and be quick today. And this will help make that job easier so that youll have more time. Ready for your first lesson? Not really. But in for a penny in for a pound. His green eyes danced with sudden amusement, transforming his face which made my body go into silly mode with my hormones hijacking any common sense and sending my pulse into overdrive. Bloody hormones. What did they know? I didnt even like him that much. Although I had to admit, it struck me how healthy and wholesome he looked. I might have likened him to the Prince of Darkness but he was clearly a damn sight more used to sunshine than I was. It struck me that I spent too much time with either stick thin dancers or singers with healthy diaphragms and sturdy chests and people whose working hours were principally after dark. The LMOC was my whole world and what a world it was. Most of my friends worked here. Jeanie had worked in theatre for years and had a million and one amazing stories. Shed worked with everyone who was anyone. Vince had come from provincial theatre and had less experience but had lived and breathed theatre life, so had a huge acquaintance of set designers, sound engineers and props people. My friends in the orchestra, Philippe, Guillaume, Karla and Angela had lived all over the world and came from different countries and cultures and Leonie and Sasha from the wardrobe department were slightly alternative and very bohemian. It was easy for us all to stick together because not only did we have the theatre in common, we all worked similar shift patterns. Have a seat. He pointed to the one next to him and I realised he changed the configuration of his desk so that we could now share his monitor, with me sitting at the end of his desk. You never know you might learn something. I sank into the chair with all the petulance of a teenager. I didnt like the way he wrong-footed me. It made me feel out of place. This was my world. My place. I hated feeling like this. It made me act even more childishly. I do know. I wont learn anything useful because its not necessary. He leaned back and folded his arms and lifted one eyebrow in a superior fashion. I felt about five. OK, how about you teach me some things? That sounded a bit wanky management approach to me, i.e. he was trying to butter me up. I wasnt completely stupid. Like what? How many wigs do you have in the department? I shrugged. No idea. OK, how many in the current production of Don Giovanni? Im impressed, you know whats on. My barb struck and I saw a tiny twitch in his eye. It made me feel a bit better and then I felt ashamed that I felt like that. It was mean and uncharitable. He was new in the job. There are eight main roles, the men have several wigs each, and the women have hair pieces. And some of the chorus have a wig. For this particular production, I guess we have seventeen for the principals, plus a few spares in case they get a bit untidy and we havent got time to redo them. What about Romeo and Juliet? You have been doing your homework. We have five for Juliet, for the principal ballerina and her understudy, thirty-five hair pieces for the corps de ballet. Wigs for the older male parts and the nurse. I think by the time we finish, well have around fifty. And do you keep a record of what youve got? Do you keep them all? Use them again? We used to take Polaroids of everything and then file them. That was the easiest way, although a lot of the time therell be some one who will remember a production from way back. In that case, well go and look through the old Polaroids and then look in the storeroom. Unfortunately, they dont hold their colour too well. Polaroids? His face said it all. You dont have a digital camera? Oh yes, I said, suddenly relieved that I could reassure him on that front. We used it a lot. Oh shit. Weeelll, that was until it got full up and lets say it doesnt work for us. Full up? Marcuss voice sounded suspiciously choked. Yes, you know. It says theres no more space. I lifted both shoulders. When we tried to free up some space, we managed to delete everything, so we decided not to use it anymore. We have a little card index file system, where we write descriptions down. When we remembered, or got around to it. Marcus closed his eyes and his lips moved. I think he said, Give me strength. Or it might have been For fucks sake. After giving his rather appropriate pound sign cufflinks a thorough visual inspection, he swallowed hard and quickly scribbled down a couple of notes. And do you make all of them in house? What? I was still focusing on the pen and notebook, wondering what hed written down. I couldnt imagine it was anything very approving. The wigs, do you make all of them? No, not all. It depends how many are needed. We have piece workers who will do some. So how do you work all that out? Whos doing what? When it needs to be done by? Whats ready? It can be a bit stressful, I guess. Damn, Id walked straight into that one. I was not going to elaborate and admit wed had some major panics in the past. Because it didnt matter. Wed always got things sorted in time. Really? He studied me so quizzically I felt as if he could look straight through and could tell I was avoiding the complete truth. Yes, OK, I hedged, it is very stressful but it works. But it could work better. Be less stressful. What, youre going to wave a magic wand? No but I could come up with a system to help you. A project management package. It sounded a bit too good to be true. Whats in it for you? He laid down his pen and gave me a grave look. Its like trying to herd a box of angry kittens with you. Believe it or not, Im trying to help both of us. Whats in it for me, is that, for one thing, you might treat a computer with a bit more damn respect instead of just yanking the plug out when it doesnt do what you want. That was a one off, I said. It was just unfortunate that you walked in when you did. Ive never done that before. Unfortunate? Careless I think. I narrowed my eyes at him for a second. Oscar Wilde? I have been to the theatre occasionally. Despite what you may think, Im not a complete corporate philistine. I didnt say you were. Although come to think of it, I might have done. The phrase nagged at me. Were straying. Whether it was the first time or not, it demonstrated your complete lack of respect or understanding for a computer. Maybe now wasnt the time to volunteer the fact that I often used the CD drawer to put my coffee on when I was working on a complicated hair piece. If I spilt coffee on any of the expensive human hair we used Jeanie would kill me. Suddenly he stood up and moved from behind the desk. Tell me about your typical day. Marcuss sudden change of tack threw me for a second until I realised he wasnt asking me about my shower routine in the morning but about my working day. We have shifts. We dont need to be at the theatre until a few hours before curtain up. But then there are rehearsals, matinees and evening performances, so our times vary. No ones a clock-watcher. We all lived and breathed the job. Most of us probably would have done it for free. Tell me, what did you do yesterday? I spent the first half hour cleaning hairbrushes, rinsing out sponges and sharpening pencils. Nothing that a computer could help with and the look I levelled at him reiterated my thought. A slight smile curved on his lips. I pulled a face as I remembered that yesterday had been a bit of a fiasco. I had to nip out to grab some light pancake because wed completely run out. Then Does that happen often? His face was grave as he asked the question. I lifted my shoulders. Very, very occasionally, I lied. Only because we dont tend to use that one very often. After that we had a big delivery from the wholesalers, which I had to unpack with Vince. Which wed forgotten was arriving and had chucked a spanner in the works as the boxes took up most of our working space until wed got everything put away. What sort of delivery? Hair stuff. You know Kirby grips, hair nets, hairspray, mousse. We get through buckets of the stuff. And how do you order all that? The wholesale people are quite good at giving us a call every so often and we just place an order. What? He didnt exactly pull a face but I could see precisely what was going on in his head. You can never have too many hair pins, I retorted. It just doesnt sound very, he clicked his pen off and on again, organised. If Id been a cat, my back would have been arched and Id have hissed at him. Are you trying to say were not very professional? I could feel my mouth creasing into mulish lines. What was it about this man that made me revert to being so juvenile? No, not at all. Exasperation was written across his face. But I can already see ways in which I could help you. The computer is not your enemy but its only your friend if it does what you need it to do. Using it could help enormously. Help you create orders of things you need and stop you running out of them. For example, remind you when youre low on pancake what is that by the way? He gave a self-deprecating smile, which made the green eyes twinkle. Im assuming youre not talking the maple syrup variety. I bristled for a second and then realised he didnt have a clue what I was talking about. Maybe it was time I cut the guy a little slack. Base. Make-up base. Not pancake anymore but we still call it that. I think some of our prima donnas would get very irate if you tried to smear their faces with anything that went with maple syrup. I thought as much. OK. Brownie points to him. I could see he was trying to help but really, we were fine as we were. Were actually quite good at that, I started, although I guess it could be helpful to keep some sort of list of what we have. Ever used a spreadsheet? he asked with a grin. Now youre just trying to blind me with science. I hate the damn things. I stared at the very posh leather-bound notebook as he quickly wrote something with a silver Cross pen. It reminded me of my mother. She always used Cross pens and Smythson notebooks. She would approve of Marcus. Youre looking pissed off again, he commented. Sorry, I was thinking about my mother, it does that to me. He looked startled. Right. OK. Ive got a few ideas about some software and asset management programmes to help you manage your inventory that would be easy to implement and would, I promise you, be of practical help. Once theyre installed and you know how to use them, you wont believe how you ever managed without them. He gave me a wry grin. We can explore some off-the-peg solutions which will be straightforward to install. His face sobered. The hard bit will be down to you and youre going to need to commit to it. The final success will be totally reliant on you. Therell be a lot of set up work, inputting data and information. Stock-taking. I sat up straighter and shook my head. I havent got time. And like I said, were very good at managing our supplies. And the thought of it all being down to me scared the pants off me. I didnt want the job. This is a very busy time of year for us. The Nutcracker starts in three weeks, were full on. I just wont have time. His eyes narrowed. Are you going to tell Alison Kreufeld that? Chapter 7 (#ulink_d5672091-28e0-5fd7-af0e-2e35c6a0e34f) My day didnt get any better after Id begrudgingly agreed to another information sharing session the following week with Marcus. When I returned to the make-up department Vince barely spoke to me and when Pietro rocked up for his call, he wasnt himself at all. Is everything alright? I asked. Stupid question because anyone within two feet could feel the waves of anger radiating from him. He threw himself into the cream leather seat in front of the well-lit mirrors, a scowl creasing deep lines across his forehead. Leonie hurried into make-up after him, still trying to lace up the ornate brocade jacket he wore. She threw me an anxious look as with ill-grace he submitted to her, tying the laces and adjusting the elaborate trimming at his neck and cuffs. She worked with jerky movements, tight-lipped and frozen jawed. Pietro stared stonily at himself in the mirror. Oh God, I had to get him on stage on time tonight. I felt slightly sick as I dabbed my sponge in the pan stick. It was like having to go head to head with a dragon who might roar at any moment and singe my eyebrows into oblivion. If that was all he did, Id count myself lucky. An hour to curtain call and he was still a long way from the zone. No amount of scales in the lifts would help if he didnt start making that mental shift into character. Actors, singers and dancers all prepare themselves before they go on stage. They use a variety of methods to put themselves in the zone. For some its very casual and only a five-minute job. For others, from the minute they enter the theatre, they start thinking about their character. Dancers begin warming up and stretching their muscles. Singers start to tune up their voices, practising their breathing, running through scales and vocal exercises with their mouths and cheeks to get all the musical juices flowing. Pietro normally prepared with painstaking thoroughness. Last time the phone call had interrupted but hed already been in character. This zombie-like stillness and sense of brooding made me very nervous. I approached with extreme caution, taking my lead from him. He clearly didnt want to talk. Without making eye contact, I busied myself with my kit and then got straight down to work without any further preamble, brushing his face with quick, nimble strokes, blending the foundation to create my blank canvas, working my way right into the roots of his hair. Next I brushed his hair, applying a light coat of wax before pinning it away from his face in readiness for the long wig. He grunted as I tugged it into place and then firmly pushed hairpins through the mesh to ensure that it didnt slip. He closed his eyes and kept them closed as I started work, shading the lids and outlining them with eyeliner. When he opened them, my heart contracted in pity. Despair shadowed them. Oh Pietro, are you OK? I asked unable to stop myself. Id never seen him look so down. No, my bastardo brother-in-law just asked for more money, he whispered. And my agent says that he cant get an injunction. Im going to have to pay the little shit again. Once Pietro strode onto stage, I joined Jeanie and Vince in the wings and let out a huge sigh, feeling the tension in my shoulders release. Id got him there, although I wasnt convinced Id done him any favours. As the curtain rose, I caught Alisons eye and she gave me an approving nod. It didnt make me feel any better. I watched anxiously as Pietro took centre stage and began to sing. God, that was awful, I muttered in Jeanies ear. What was wrong with him? Her low voice was barely audible. I dont think Ive ever seen him quite like that before. I just shook my head, unable to take my eyes from him. We watched as he moved about the stage. The voice was off, and his movements stiff. He missed a couple of cues that the audience would probably never know but a frisson of alarm ran around the wings. After ten minutes, Pietros consummate professionalism and innate talent rescued him. When we left the backstage area at the end of the performance to go to the canteen for a cup of tea, I was able to heave a sigh of relief. Shit. Jeanie turned to me. That was a bit hairy. Hes had some bad news, I hedged. You know I told you about the porn film. I filled her in on his latest fears. Bastard. His own family, said Jeanie as we queued up. But better to keep it out of the papers. Something like that would spread faster than wildfire on the internet. Thats what hes worried about. Never getting the genie back in the bottle. You got him on. Jeanie clapped me on the back. Thats the most important thing. All part of our job. You handled him well. Didnt press him. I think if anyone else had, he would have detonated. Think you can tell Alison Kreufeld that? She saw it for herself. Yeah and she probably saw how crap he was for the first ten minutes and Ill get the blame for that too. Shes not so bad you know. She rates you. Yeah right. So maybe you could have a word with her? She didnt even turn and look at me. You dont even know what I was going to ask? I wailed. Tilly, you are doing the computer stuff and thats the end of it. Darn it, I could have been asking anything. How the hell did she know that was what I was trying to wiggle out of? But its not my thing and its going to take ages and its going to be dead boring I dont want to do it. She gave me the look. I winced. The virus was a one off. I wont do it again. No, you wont because youre getting some training and support from the IT lot. Why cant Vince do it? I turned to him. Youd quite enjoy it, wouldnt you? Not really, I get by just fine as I do. Tight-lipped, he concentrated on the floor. Hmph. I crossed my arms. Come on the pair of you. Weve got some tidying up to do. But its our early night, protested Vince. Well its his voice dried up, withered no doubt by Jeanies arctic gaze. Ive its Turning on her heel with a distinct majestic toss of the head, Jeanie marched off down the corridor ahead of us, her feet clipping the floor with military purpose. Now youve done it, I whispered to Vince. Jeanie affronted was not conducive to a quick getaway. Just because she hasnt seen any action in fifty million years, doesnt mean she should begrudge me some fun. . . , (https://www.litres.ru/jules-wake/covent-garden-in-the-snow-the-most-gorgeous-and-heartwarming-ch/?lfrom=334617187) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .
КУПИТЬ И СКАЧАТЬ ЗА: 149.43 руб.