Millie came running up the steps during the break and crouched down by Sarah’s side. “I need you to do me the hugest favour.” she whispered.
“What? ” She whispered back.
“At the end of the show we need someone to accompany Marta and security to the airport. She refuses to have any of the runners or researchers accompany her. She wants someone important.”
“Millie! I’m not even employed, let alone important.” Sarah hissed.
“You look important. She spotted you taking notes during her segment. She asked who you were, and I said that you were a senior social worker who was considering coming to work with us. To her, that’s good because she feels that you are still impartial, and will protect her from the security guards.”
“I’m not sure that I am impartial. That woman is horrendous!”
“Please Sarah? You’ll have the lovely Dave, and the even lovelier Al with you for protection. More to the point, you will have guaranteed yourself a job on the team and everyone’s undying respect.”
Sarah sighed. “What do I have to do?”
“Brilliant! You go with her and the guards to the airport. Because she is rather unpredictable, the airport has agreed to fast track her, provided she is supervised through to airside security. They will take it from there and get her onto the plane. The guys will bring you back here and you will receive a hero’s welcome at the mop up meeting.”
A runner came up the stairs behind Millie and beckoned to her.
“Right, ready to go. At least this bit will be fairly funny.”
Millie and the runner returned to the backstage area and the lights dimmed again as Oliver stepped out onto the stage. His composure had returned and Sarah noticed that there was a slight smile on his face that had been missing in the previous segment.
“Welcome back my friends. I hope we’ve all recovered and are ready for the last section which, if nothing else might raise a smile or two. First on the stage today is Ben. Ben is in a relationship with Sukie. They have no children – for which we should all be grateful. Ben has found out that Sukie has been cheating on him with a mutual friend Will. Will is in a relationship with Teena Marie, who is far too young to know who she is named after. According to the park warden, Sukie and Will have been indulging in sexual contact on a park bench. He has reported them to the police, and they are under investigation. They have come here to take lie detector tests to prove to their respective partners that they have not been cheating, and that the whole thing is a figment of the imagination of the park warden – who has a grudge against young people allegedly. So put your hands together for Ben!”
The audience laughed and clapped, relieved that the last case would be a bit of a giggle anyway. Ben, a stripling in black skin tight jeans and tee shirt, tattoos and piercings, came onto the stage with a sheepish grin on his face. He touched knuckles with Oliver and threw himself down in the chair, legs stretched out in front of him.
“Hello Ben. So, you have been in a relationship with Sukie for how long?”
“Hi Oz. We’ve been together for – uh – around a couple of months. I’ve known her for a couple of years though.”
“Right, and you know Will and Teena Marie too.”
“Yeah, we kind of hang together. Will’s my best mate – well he was anyway.”
“Okay, let’s get Sukie out. She’s on the show, give her some applause – if you want too.”
Sukie stomped out on the stage, her platform Doc Martens making any kind of secretive approach impossible. Like Ben, she was dressed in black from head to toe; leggings, net tutu, crop top, and small leather jacket. Her long hair was an improbable shade of black, put to shame by her vivid purple lips. She sat on Ben’s lap, legs crossed and swinging in an attitude of complete disregard for her situation.
“We are on daytime TV Sukie. In your own chair please?” said Oliver. With the sulkiest pout, Sukie got up and flung herself into the chair. Oliver nodded his thanks curtly.
“Sukie, tell me about the park bench. According to the park warden, you did WHAT on a park bench with Will?”
“Nothing. We wuz just sittin’ and talkin’. We had a few cans like and we wuz gigglin’. That old parkie, he’s just a perv. You not even allowed to breeve in that park he’s so strick.”
“I think I understand although I’m not sure why a white girl like you has to adopt a Jamaican patois? You did a lie detector test but before we read out the results, let’s meet Will, who was also apparently doing something naughty on a park bench, and Will’s girlfriend Teena Marie. Welcome them both onto the stage please?”
Teena Marie dragged Will onto the stage. In appearance, Will was almost a twin to Ben but Teena Marie was a vision in girly pink and frills. Her blonde hair was teased and backcombed into a bouffant that sported several candy-pink bows. Her pink spotted leggings formed a bridge between sparkling red stilettos and layers of pink sequinned net that formed her skirt. She wore a tiny white tee shirt that exposed her belly ring and topped the outfit off with a luminous pink fake fur bomber jacket. Sarah wondered if Teena Marie had put this outfit together in an effort to show that Will preferred girly blondes to sulky Goths, or whether this was her usual style of dress. Teena Marie gave a curt nod of acknowledgement to Ben but blanked Sukie completely. She kept a very firm hand on Will; Sarah could tell that Oliver was watching their body language closely too. He was standing to one side of the stage looking from one couple to the other and very obviously comparing them.
“Welcome Teena Marie and Will. Will has also done a lie detector test regarding the alleged incidents on the park bench. How do you feel about this Teena Marie? It can’t be nice to hear that your boyfriend might have been canoodling with someone else on a park bench can it?”
Teena Marie pursed up her glossy pink lips.
“It’s a load of rubbish. Will’s not into that Goth stuff as far as girls are concerned. Why would he want to go with her when he has me?”
“Why indeed?” Oliver’s eyebrows were raised so far up his forehead that they had almost disappeared into his hairline. “I take it that Will denies that anything out of order has taken place between himself and Sukie?”
Will grunted and winced slightly, as Teena Marie squeezed his hand just a little too tight. Oliver shook his head but decided that they had enough decent material filmed already and that there was no more mileage to get out of these four sulky teenagers. The runner handed Oliver the two envelopes.
“Well, who shall we do first? Sukie? Or Will? Will first, let’s put Teena Marie out of her misery. Will, we asked you if at any time since you’ve have been in a relationship with Teena Marie have you ever engaged in sexual intercourse or any other sexual acts with anyone else. What is your answer Will?”
“A man of few words. you answered no to this test and guess what it says on this card? Will said no and he was telling the truth!”
Teena Marie flung her arms around Will’s neck and kissed him. Oliver smiled benevolently and opened the second envelope.
“Sukie, we asked you, if you had been engaged in any kind of sexual activity with anyone else since you have been in a relationship with Ben. What is your answer Sukie?”
“I said no of course. Get on with it an’ stop your chattin’ man.”
“Your answer was no, Sukie, and why did you say no?”
“‘Cos I was tellin’ the troof.”
The lie detector test says you were lying. The second question was about kissing other people and you failed that one too.”
“Ah – it’s a load of rubbish. I was gettin’ bored with Ben anyway, and Will ain’t much more use than him.”
Sukie got to her feet and stomped off the stage.
“I’m not running after that one. Ben and Will – stay mates and ignore the rumours. You might see if Teena Marie has a friend, Ben, then you can make up a foursome. Off that way you three. That’s all for tonight folks. I don’t think I dare lie down in a dark room in case I get attacked by a mad foreign lady.”
The audience roared as Oliver walked off the stage after the trio of teens. A runner came up the steps double time and motioned for Sarah to follow him. Millie was waiting in the first backstage pod, and with her was Peter, Ali and her husband.
“Sarah. Hi. I wanted you to meet Peter and his friends properly. We used your notes as guidelines for Oliver for that section, and as you can see, it worked extremely well. Word is beginning to get round in the business, and we haven’t even edited yet. We have Marta on tape showing her true colours, and our legal representative has advised her that she had better go straight back to Holland, because she has incriminated herself and admitted to persuading her son to lie on her behalf.”
Peter stepped forward and held out a hand shyly.
“Thank you, Sarah. I only hope you manage to get Marta on that plane without any incidents.”
“Me too. What are your plans now?”
Ali stepped in and shook Sarah’s hand as well. “We are taking him off for a celebration meal with lots of cocktails. He’s earned it.”
“I know the value of good friends myself. We don’t always like what they tell us, but it’s because they care that they don’t mince their words. Talking of which, my very good friend Millie is waving at me frantically. Have a lovely meal and I hope the work picks up again now. No trips to Holland though!”
Peter turned to go then stopped.
“The way to Marta’s heart is through her stomach, and her pride, so if you feed her up and make her feel really important, she’ll give you less trouble. Bye”
Sarah watched the three of them go, hoping that the media circus would let Peter back in again. She followed Millie down the corridor to another room.
“Here she is.” Millie grinned. “We put a load of food and drink in there so you should be fine.”
“You misheard him – he didn’t say NO trouble, he said LESS trouble. Let’s get the introductions over with then.”
Millie rapped on the door and entered. Marta was holding court with a glass of red wine in one hand, and a ham salad baguette in the other.
“Aha!” she said. “So, this is the important senior social worker. You are called Sarah?”
Sarah held out her hand. “Yes, I’m pleased to meet you.”
Marta looked at Sarah as if she were speaking a different language.
“Why? All these other peoples are rude to me. They tell me that I have to leave the country now, but I want stay, maybe see Peter?”
Sarah sat down next to her and looked at very directly.
“I’ve been advised that if we don’t get you out of here and on the plane back to Holland straight away, the police will come and arrest you for perverting the course of justice – and a few other charges. You have your son to think of Marta. How would he feel if you didn’t come home?”
“Aargh, he is with my father, is okay. So is dog.”
“If you get arrested, you may be refused bail because you would be considered a flight risk. Work it out for yourself. You have an escort to the airport, and you are being fast tracked through to airside where they will provide you with a free meal and drinks. Then you have a free flight home, and when you get there you can put all this behind you and move on.”
“But if stay I could sell my story to tabloids and make much money, and maybe get more money from Peter if he goes back to work.”
Shaking her head, Sarah began to wonder what she had got herself into.
“That’s not going to happen, Marta. Once this programme is broadcast your credibility is shot, and no tabloid will touch you. Peter’s friends from the business will have heard the outcome already. They won’t take any notice of you either.”
“I have to go home then. I am so poor and I have so many expenses.”
Millie stood up, “We paid you well Marta, there isn’t any more in the budget. Can you gather up your things now and use the toilet if you have to. You won’t get a chance until you are airside.”
“I go at airport. Sarah – she can take me.”
It was looking into a piece of machinery. Sarah could see the cogs whirring as Marta started planning her escape route.
“No chance Marta. That’s well beyond my brief.”
Marta reluctantly drained her glass and walked into the toilets adjoining the room. A sigh of relief went around the room.
“I so hope that you have a decent car for her.” said Sarah.
“We’re using the Merc that we use for the rehab people.” explained Mel. “It looks posh but there are child locks on the back doors so people can’t do a runner. We’ll be fine, especially if she doesn’t need the toilet.”
“Mm.” said Sarah. “I’m expecting a desperate need to go once we get there. We’ll have to use distraction until we get her through.”
Millie laughed. “I knew you’d be up for this Sarah. “
“I spent some time working in a young people’s secure unit. This is bringing it all back. I have a feeling my maladjusted adolescents were easier to deal with though”
“Here I am!” said Marta, breezing back into the room. “Ready to be escorted to the airport like a dog with a tail between its little legs. Are my jailers ready now?”
“Catch you later. “Millie whispered and disappeared down the long corridor. The car was waiting at the back of the studio. Marta and Sarah sat in the back seat whilst Al drove, and Dave sat in the front with him.
Once they were on the road, Marta turned to Sarah, her head cocked to one side. “So, Sarah. How do you fit in with this bunch?”
“I don’t.” Sarah replied, measuring her words carefully. “Oliver would like me to work for the team, but I haven’t said yes yet. At the moment I work for myself, and am therefore completely impartial. As such I can advise you that it would be foolish to cause a scene here or try to get out of going home.”
“A scene? What kind of scene would I do?”
“Urgent need to go to the toilet, fake illness, hysterics. These security guys from the studio have seen it all. You are going through a major airport that is set up to screen for terrorism. If you throw a wobbler once you are airside, you’ll be considered a flight risk and locked up immediately. The studio is giving you a good deal. They could just have handed you over to the police and have done with it.”
“Do you think I am the bad woman too?”
Knowing that her reply could make a huge difference to the outcome, Sarah chose her words very carefully.
“I feel that you genuinely believe that you have been wronged, and that you deserve some kind of revenge on Peter. You both said how happy you were in the first three years when Peter was working and there was plenty of money. The emails you sent stopped the work for Peter, and put him in a bad place. I think that now, you have to show what a good person you can be by letting things go, and moving on yourself. You are still young; you say that you have a nice flat for you and your son, you have family nearby and support. Why stay in a foreign country where people don’t understand you, and want to lock you up? “
“Okay, what would you do if you was me?”
I never could be, thought Sarah.
“I’d take the money and run home. Be graceful and prove those who are expecting you to cause trouble, wrong. Rise above all this, and give your son something else to be proud of.”
Marta fell silent then, and Sarah sent up a silent prayer that she had said the right things. Airport security had allowed them to park temporarily near the entrance. Marta seemed very proud to be escorted through check in, and then up to security. Sarah handed her over with an immense sense of relief which was halted when Marta hugged her goodbye and whispered
“I will be back. I never give in.”