KATE stood on the concourse of Lime Street station, a suitcase at her side. Every few minutes black or green engines pulling long snaking lines of carriages chugged away from the platforms, taking people all over the country. They knew where they were going. Kate didn’t. Was she mad?
A few minutes later Kate sat alone in a compartment by the window. For an instant she began to panic. She could grab her case and run. Run back to Aunt Norma’s and Woolworths and write a story about a girl who didn’t have the courage to change her life.
The train lurched forward, then the thrusting pistons hissing with steam turned the wheels and the platform began to slip away just as the sliding door of her compartment opened and a young man tumbled in, a suitcase in each hand.
“Phew! Just made it,” he said. He plumped himself down in the far corner from Kate.
He smiled at her. She glanced at him. He was four or five years older with unruly fair hair and smiling blue eyes in a pleasant face. He was rather attractive.
“I take it you’re part of the company,” he said.
Kate returned his smile.
“I’m Mr Nesbo’s new assistant. I didn’t realise there was a company.”
A voice came from above Kate’s head.
“Oh, aye, matey. The Jolly Good Company.”
Kate looked up, startled.
The young man laughed.
“It’s all right. That’s only Salty Sam. I’m a ventriloquist. Up in that suitcase is Salty Sam the Sailorman, my doll. I’m Johnny West.” He held out his hand.
“I’m Kate Flynn.” They shook hands. “All this is new to me, I’m afraid.”
“I can see that. You’ll soon get the hang of things. Our various acts in the show form a company. You get a fixed wage, depending on where you are on the bill, and then a share of how much is taken at each show. The Great Nesbo and Lennie Douglas, our comedian, share top billing.”
“The Jolly Good Company. That sounds nice.”
“We’re a friendly bunch. There’s the odd spat and tantrum, of course. We are theatricals, after all. Fabio regularly throws knives at Rosa.” He saw the look on Kate’s face and laughed. “Sorry! It’s their act.”
Kate smiled and nodded. She was trying to take it all in. What kind of world was she going into? It was a little frightening, but exciting, too, and Johnny seemed so open and friendly.
“What kind of man is Mr Nesbo?” she asked.
“The Great Nesbo? He keeps himself to himself. But he’s very good. Has to be in his line of work. He knows what he’s doing, all right. Especially when he chooses an assistant. Oh, yes,” he said enthusiastically.
Kate kept smiling and nodding. It was a new world and it was all a bit of a whirl, but at least she seemed to have found a friend in Johnny West.
When they reached Wolverhampton, Nesbo walked down the platform towards them.
“Ah! I see Johnny West isn’t slow in spotting a pretty girl. Take everything that he tells you with a pinch of salt. That horrible doll of his talks more sense than he does.”
Johnny grinned as Nesbo continued.
“I’ll leave you with him, Miss Flynn. He’ll see you to the theatre and Enid will fix you up with digs. I’ll see you at the theatre tomorrow morning at nine sharp.” He turned on his heel and strode off.
“C’mon,” Johnny said, picking up his cases, “let’s get a taxi. You’ll probably have a chance to meet some of the others.”