ON a Sunday afternoon in Nottingham, Kate, Delia and Johnny were sitting round a table in the sitting-room of their digs, playing dominoes with playing cards.
They had arrived two hours earlier by train and settled in their slightly shabby but clean and comfortable accommodation. Their landlady, Mrs Sherlock, had a reputation for providing comfortable beds and tasty meals.
Delia laid a five of clubs on the six.
“If we had another person we could have a game of Bridge.”
“I could go and get Salty Sam,” Johnny suggested.
Both ladies shuddered.
“Oh, no, you won’t,” Kate said. “I know he’s fine on stage, but,” she turned to Delia, “have you ever been in a room where he’s just propped up in a chair? With those eyes following you?”
“I can’t help it,” Johnny said.
Kate slapped him on the arm.
“Not you, you fool. Salty Sam.”
“If you’d only let him sit on your knee you’d feel differently about him. He’s loveable.”
“Johnny, dear,” Kate said, “he’s creepy. Sorry.”
Johnny shook his head in sorrow.
“If you let him play Bridge he could always play the dummy hand.”
Both Kate and Delia groaned at Johnny’s dreadful pun.
Kate looked at the smiling, handsome face of Johnny. He could always make her laugh. He was easy, pleasant company. Even though she had resisted his early advances, he was still obviously keen on her and she liked him, she really did. Sometimes she thought it could go further, but then she came back to him as a carefree, likeable boy. Even loveable? To be in love, she thought, would feel different.
She glanced up. She saw Delia watching her with one eyebrow arched, almost asking her a question. Then there were voices.
Kate identified the voice of Enid Broom. There was the murmur of conversation and she heard the louder tones of Mrs Sherlock.
“No. No trouble at all. As long as you like fish. That’s just fine. I can always do you a nice omelette. It’s no trouble.”
Then Enid’s face appeared at the open door of the sitting-room.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m glad I’ve seen you. I’ve got Max Reynolds with me. Max!” she called. “Come and meet some of the company.”
Max Reynolds followed Enid into the room. He was tall, slim and rather willowy. His wavy hair was dark but grey at the temples. He had a thin moustache and a charming smile. He was about fifty years old, Kate estimated, and a very handsome man.
Enid made the introductions.
“This is Miss Flynn Kate. She works with Nesbo.”
Max took her hand.
“I’ve heard of the Great Nesbo, of course. You have a top-class act, Miss Flynn.”
“We like to think so,” she replied with a warm smile.
He smiled at her then shook Johnny’s hand.
“Johnny West, our ventriloquist,” Enid went on.
“A skilled talent, Mr West.”
“And Miss Delia Desmond,” Enid finished the introductions.
Max took Delia’s hand in both of his.
“A lady I’ve long waited to meet. I’m so anxious to hear you sing, Miss Desmond. Delia?” He still held her hand.
“Yes. Of course. Thank you.”
Kate saw a little colour in Delia’s cheek. What had Lennie said? He’s suave, a man for the ladies. Well, if the ladies filled the theatre, that would suit the Jolly Good Company. Let’s hope he’s as charming on stage as he appears to be off it, Kate thought.
And he was. On his debut appearance for the company, Kate watched from the wings. Will Griffiths stood next to her. Max Reynolds’s singing voice was light and attractive. When he sang a romantic ballad it seemed that every woman in the audience felt he was singing to her.
Kate had never heard a top-class siffleur, and was a little surprised to be thrilled by the sweetness and variety. He did “In A Monastery Garden”, of course, and “Dream Of Olwen” and “Bells Across The Meadow”, finishing with a mixture of yodelling, whistling and more singing.
As he acknowledged the warm applause, Kate looked over and saw Delia standing in the wings opposite, and then she slipped away before Max made his exit.
“He’s jolly good, isn’t he?” Will Griffiths said.
“Yes,” Kate agreed. “They’ve found a good replacement for Sally.” She could have bit her tongue. “Sorry, Will, I . . .”
“That’s OK, Kate. Actually I got a postcard from Sally today.”
“Did you? That’s good. How is she?”
“She sounded quite happy. She thinks the show will take off. They open next week. But Clarice Dupont is a bit of a pain, apparently,” he added.
“It seems she was thinking about you, Will.”
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“It was only a postcard, Kate.”
Johnny West joined them, ready to go on, Salty Sam on his arm.
“Do you two fancy a drink after the show?” he said.
“No, thanks,” Will replied. “I’m working on something for Nesbo.”
“I will,” Kate agreed. She had something to celebrate. “Ask Delia, too.”
“I have. She said no. Whoops, here I go. Seeyou later.”