KATE was shopping for shoes. Delia accompanied her to help in the search. Nesbo had given Kate money and strict instructions. She was to buy two pairs of identical red shoes.
“I want red,” he insisted. “I don’t want burgundy or pink. I want bright red. If you can find some with a silver buckle, so much the better.”
The two women were looking in the window of their third shoe shop.
“I assume this has to do with the act?” Delia said.
“Yes,” Kate agreed. “I don’t know what yet, but yes.”
She knew that Nesbo’s success depended on mystery and secrecy, and she respected that absolutely. She only wished his reticence didn’t extend into his private life. Lately he had become even more withdrawn.
It was Delia who said it.
“I’m worried about him, Kate. Do you think he might be ill? Sometimes I look at him and I see pain in his eyes. And the way he speaks to me he’s cold or surly, and we’ve been good friends for so long . . .” She had to dab her hanky quickly to her eyes.
“Oh, Delia, don’t.” Kate touched her arm. “I’m afraid he’s like that with everyone. I don’t think he’s ill, although if he was he wouldn’t say so. He’s drinking more. I do know that.”
Delia looked at her in alarm. Drink was almost an occupational hazard among music hall artistes, often brought about by long hours when not on stage, and loneliness, too, without a permanent home, without a family life. Delia had known a number of variety performers whose careers had been ruined by drink.
Kate quickly shook her head.
“He’s drinking more, but not heavily. I keep an eye on him. He’s short tempered with everyone, not just you. In fact, he likes you. He admires you.”
Delia tucked her hanky away.
“Well, he certainly doesn’t like Max Reynolds. Sometimes he’s positively rude to him. Kate, do you think Nesbo’s jealous?”
“Yes. Nesbo has always been top of the bill. But Max, since his arrival, has been getting terrific reviews in the local press and we are getting better audiences. Everybody likes him. Do you think that’s it?”
Kate was beginning to have her own thoughts about jealousy, not that they seemed to make much sense. She was wondering what to say, but then she suddenly saw what they were looking for.
“There, Delia!” She pointed at a pair of very bright, shiny red shoes with a small white leather bow. “I hope they’ve got my size. And two pairs.”
A few minutes later, leaving the shoe shop with her successful purchases, Kate was invited by Delia to join her for afternoon tea.
“I’m meeting Max at that little tearoom by Woolworths.”
Kate smiled and shook her head.
“I wouldn’t dream of playing gooseberry.”
Delia blushed a little.
“Nonsense. We’re just friends,” she protested. “I’ll admit I enjoy his company, though. He’s charming and amusing. And perhaps it might develop into something. I could do worse, Kate, don’t you think? No matter what people say about him.”
The older woman looked at Kate for reassurance.
“What people say, Delia, is probably exaggerated. Jealousy, perhaps. He seems a decent man to me.”
“He does to me, too,” Delia said decisively. “And what about you and Johnny West? Have you told him that you are not seriously interested?”
Kate hung her head.
“I will. I just haven’t found the right moment.”
“Make sure you do,” Delia admonished.
Kate looked at her watch.
“Look at the time. Nesbo will be fuming!”