Tom was coming home for the weekend and Millie was more hyperactive than Sarah had ever seen her before. The flat was cleaned and re-cleaned. Millie stressed over whether Tom would like sleeping in the small room, and Sarah offered to go to Jude’s for the weekend so he could have his old room back. Millie was desperate for the two of them to meet however, and Sarah had to admit, she was just as anxious to make Tom’s acquaintance. It wasn’t that Millie was being bad-tempered or awkward about anything, but Sarah found herself tiptoeing around and doing her best not to untidy anything. It was after Millie had wiped the worktop down for the fifth time before they were due to go off to work, that Sarah took her friend by the hands and sat her down on the sofa.
“Millie. Chill. The flat is cleaner that it’s ever been. Tom’s told you a million times that he’s happy sleeping in the little room and can’t wait to meet me. That’s mutual. You are my oldest friend, and I love you to bits, therefore I will love Tom to bits as well. Let’s get to work now. Oliver is filming one of those cases where he crams a dozen people on the stage and security are run off their legs trying to stop everyone killing each other. It promises to be a busy morning, which is just as well because you need something to keep you occupied today. I’m taking you out to lunch, and then Tom is coming to the studio to meet us. He’s been to the studio a million times; he is a street-wise young man who can cope with trams and a rucksack. Put your shoes on, and I’ll drive us in so that Tom can relax on the way home, and you don’t have to swear at the traffic too much. Deal?”
“Sorry.” said Millie, with a rueful smile. “I am being a pain, aren’t I? I just don’t want Tom to think he’s being pushed out. I love having you in the flat, and I’m in no hurry for you to buy a place of your own. It’s just so important to me that the two of you get on.”
“We will. Just don’t get so tense about it. Come on. Shoes!”
Sarah handled the morning traffic with an ease that Millie envied. She even managed to find a decent parking space under the studio, nipping in quickly ahead of one of the younger runners who had borrowed her mother’s Range Rover and was having difficulties manoeuvring.
“Sorry!” Sarah called cheerily, as she and Millie hurried towards the lift. “Got a meeting to go to.”
“Mean girl. You know that she has to be at that meeting too.” said Millie.
“I know. I also know that she was boasting about her mother’s new Rangy in the green room yesterday, that her mother is away and that little Miss Spoilt is driving said Rangy without insurance or her mother’s knowledge.”
“Quite! I also know that she has been spreading poison about me to anyone who will listen. God knows why because the only qualification the child has is an alleged ‘A’ level in media studies, and a well-placed mother who has had to pull a lot of strings to get her kept on.”
“Natasha will be out by the end of the month. Does she even have a car park pass?”
“Nope. She’s using her mother’s pass, again without permission, and there will be hell to play if she gets caught. Someone mentioned the risk to her yesterday, and she just batted her baby blues, tossed back the blonde locks, and said that she was sure she could blag her way out of it. Apparently, she is taking some of the other runners out for a meal and drinkies tonight, hence borrowing Mummy’s Rangy.”
“It’s one of those times when you know that you should butt out and leave them to it, but the old social work instincts keep nagging at you to do something. But what can you do?”
The lift arrived and took them up to the fifth floor. Al passed them in the corridor and grinned. “Busy one this morning. Get your flak jackets on.”
“I know. I’ll be the one hiding behind you Al.”
“Any time Sarah, Any time.”
Millie nudged Sarah with her elbow.
“You’re blushing! You do like him!”
“How could anyone not like him. He’s a lovely man. Don’t get ideas, I’m just getting comfortable with the idea of being single again.”
“I know, but he really is a nice man. A lot better than Andy I’ll bet.”
“Andy was nice – is nice – and will undoubtedly be a total hero to whoever it is that he’s fallen in love with. Just not me. Hurry up or we’ll end up sitting in the danger zone.”
Fortune favoured them and they were able to get two seats well out of Oliver’s eye line. They already had their coffee to hand and notepads at the ready when Natasha, red-faced and glowering entered the room, only to be pushed into the hot seat directly in front of Oliver by Jenny as she shut the door. Sarah got the distinct feeling that someone was looking at her; raising her eyes up from her notebook she caught the hate-filled glare of Natasha, her little lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. Sarah returned the gaze with a beatific smile, and looked back down to her notebook quickly. Oliver was on good form this morning. The aftercare team came in for a battering, more to get them ready for the amount of work they would get from the morning’s show than for anything that had gone wrong. Someone in the research team got well and truly told off for some sloppy work, that had it not been picked up by one of the more experienced staff, could have caused a great deal of embarrassment to everyone involved with the show.
Just as the meeting was winding up, there was a knock on the door and one of the car park security guards entered.
“Looking for a Natasha Hart-Heron?”
All eyes turned to Natasha, and Oliver pointed her out. “What’s the problem?” said Oliver. “Only we are in the middle of a meeting you know.”
“Sorry Mr Standish. I’ve just had a complaint that a car belonging to Emma Hart-Heron has taken up two spaces. I went up to see Mrs Hart-Heron but it appears that she been in the Bahamas since Saturday. I came to see if her daughter might know why the car is in the car park when her mother isn’t in work, and why it is taking up two spaces?”
“Off you go Natasha – yet another black mark my dear. Bad enough pinching your mum’s car when she’s away, but to pinch two parking spaces when they are at such a premium …” Oliver’s voice trailed away ominously.
“It wasn’t my fault!” spat Natasha. She pointed at Sarah. “It was hers! She took the space I was going to park in.”
The look that Jenny gave Natasha would have silenced anyone sensible, but not Natasha who embarked up on another rant about the unfairness of it all.
“Just remind me.” Oliver drawled. “Are we in the habit of giving parking spaces to runners who are still on six months trial?”
“Definitely not! Off you go now Natasha and get the car moved. You’ll have to have to move it to the long-stay car park if you can find a space. Report to me when you get back.”
Jenny was definitely cross now and started packing up her laptop. An indication that the meeting was well and truly over. Oliver waited until Sarah and Millie were walking past, and put his hand on Sarah’s arm. “How’s it going Sarah? Settling in okay?”
“Yes, thank you. I mean I hope so. I should be asking you really. Am I doing okay?”
“Considerably better than that gobby little madam. We only took her on as a runner because Mummy works upstairs in the Chief Execs office. She doesn’t appear to have taken a shine to you, though does she?”
“Oh well, we can’t be loved by everyone can we.” said Millie brightly. “I think Natasha considers everyone over forty to be too boring for words, and can’t understand why we haven’t all be put out to grass.”
Knowing that Oliver was very tetchy about his approaching fiftieth birthday, Millie had touched exactly the right nerve to make him even more annoyed with Natasha.
“Jenny!” he called. “Just a word please?”
Millie and Sarah made good their escape, and settled down with the other members of the aftercare team to check out the case notes of the people appearing on the show that morning. As predicted, the huge family group took some handling; the mother and father had been separated for years, and hated each other. The mother said that her husband had cheated on her, so of course she had cheated on him. There were seven children in all, the first three went into care when the couple split. Then they got back together, had four more children who went to live with their grandmother when she gave up work to look after them. Two of the children went back to live with their mother when grandmother died, the other two went into care. Four of the children hated their father, three of them hated their mother. None of them appeared to like each other particularly, and a complicated strategy had been worked out so that each group was kept separate from the other until they actually went on stage.
It would have worked out okay if everyone had followed the strategy. Security worked very hard but because of a moment of inattention, two of the brothers that should have been kept separate managed to find themselves in a corridor and started lashing out. It took a while for Al to get from the corridor on the other side of the stage, to the corridor where all the action was taking place. He split the lads up before any real damage was done, but unfortunately blood was spilled, and a cameraman was already filming. Oliver soldiered on, and through sheer luck, managed to get some of the siblings reunited. The DNA test results were read out and to the surprise of nearly everyone, especially the mother, all the children turned out to have the same father after all. The mother was rather concerned about this as she had been getting the CSA to get money out of two other men who she’d claimed were fathers of her children. The mother and the father still didn’t like each other, and although the children were more kindly disposed to each other now that they knew that they shared the same parents, none of them wanted anything to do with said parents for abandoning them.
The aftercare team swooped in and made counselling appointments for everyone who felt that they needed them. Oliver carried on with the last part of the show, which was rather quiet and understated, in an attempt to patch up a sad relationship between two gay men who were seriously insecure about their relationship. Give Oliver his due, he had no shred of homophobia in him, and he dealt with their situation with an unusual amount of tact and diplomacy. He wrapped up the show with one of his standard homey platitudes to camera about dealing with conflict in a controlled environment. Sarah had heard most of them before but this one rang true, and she had a feeling that things were going to get ugly when Oliver found out who was responsible for letting two of the opposing sides end up together without security.
Word flew around and soon everyone involved with that morning’s show was gathered in the meeting room. Oliver sat on the table with his legs on a chair. He only usually adopted this position when he was delivering a bollocking to someone. Jenny was beside him, clipboard in hand ready to ascertain who it was that had let the side down. The aftercare team were immediately eliminated; their job began after the show. The researchers appeared to have done their job well, which brought it down to the runners, and to security.
“So, Al.” said Jenny. “Thank you for getting there so quickly but why were you on the wrong side of the stage?”
“We’d arranged for the more aggressive lad to be brought off on the left, that’s why I was waiting there. He was escorted off on the right though, and the other aggressive brother was already waiting there.”
“Right.” said Jenny, looking around the room. “Who took the brother off the wrong side of the stage?”
There was a silence as people looked around the room, and checked their clipboards. After looking at his colleagues, the chief runner cleared his throat.
“It was Natasha, she was responsible for the older brother.”
“So, where is she?” asked Jenny.
“She said she had to nip out and get another ticket for the car park. She hasn’t come back yet.”
“Okay, so now you can all see what goes wrong if people aren’t where they should be at the designated time. If you see Natasha, send her to me again. I’ll be my office. Do you want a word with her too Oliver?”
He nodded, thanked the rest of the teams for their hard work, punched Al in the arm and followed Jenny to her office. It was time for lunch in the Italian restaurant across the concourse. Millie and Sarah sat in one of the booths, hidden from sight and munching on garlic bread until their main course came. The distraction of work had taken Millie’s mind off Tom’s arrival, but she was beginning to get anxious again. It was while they were tucking into tagliatelle carbonara, that they heard familiar voices from the booth behind them.
“Natasha! You have to go back. Jenny is waiting for you.”
“Tough.” Natasha’s words were slurred, and she obviously realised what she had done wrong. Her friends ordered strong black coffee and tried to make her drink it. It was while Natasha was being escorted to the toilet, that Millie and Sarah took their opportunity to escape. As they were paying the bill, one of the runners came up to them. “
Please, you won’t tell anyone will you? We’ll try and get her sobered up before we take her back.”
Millie and Sarah looked at each other and shrugged.
“Been there and done that. Of course, we won’t say anything. Just make sure she doesn’t smell of booze or sick when she gets to Jenny’s office.”
“She isn’t that bad really.”
“She has good friends. That makes all the difference.”
As they walked back through security, Al popped his head round the door.
“Someone to see you. I put him in your office.”
“Tom!” squealed Millie as she ran down the corridor to the office.
Sarah made to follow her but was stayed by Al’s hand on her arm.
“Give her a moment with him.” he said quietly.
“Good idea.” said Sarah and sat down at the desk next to Al.
“Nasty business this morning.”
“It was all over before it started. You got there really quickly considering you’d been sent to the wrong side.”
“I move fast for a big guy – or so I’m told.”
Sarah laughed and nodded in agreement, trying very hard not to think about Al moving fast. He was still smiling when he left the room, and made way for Millie and a very handsome young man.
“Sarah, please allow me to my lovely son Tom.” Said Millie with pride.
“God mum! Do you have to be so embarrassing! Hi Sarah. You don’t look as if Mum has driven you round the bend yet then?”
“No, she hasn’t so far – we seem to rub along quite well together. Are you two ready to go soon?”
“I forgot to say Tom, Sarah’s got her car here so we don’t need to go on the tram.”
“Thanks Sarah, Will you have room in your car for my stuff?”
“What have you got?” Sarah followed him back in to the office. “That’s not much. We’ll fit that in easily.”
Tom walked over to her and gave her a hug. “I’m glad Mum has you Sarah. I don’t need to worry about going away so much now.”