“Factory’s looking good, isn’t she?” Carol said to him once she’d poured tea out of Ina’s big pot.“Always does.” Frank rose and looked out of the window to the town below. “Pretty place, this. What percentage of the local population work here, do you think?”Carol went to his side.“I’d say most of the families here have someone or other working at Cardill’s. Why?”“Oh, no reason.” Frank stared at the toast in his hand, then consulted his watch. “I’ll get going to the station soon. Don’t want to be late for the top brass, eh? You coming, Jonathan? We might need a strapping lad to carry stuff.”“Stuff, Frank?” Carol queried. “They’re only coming for a couple of hours.”He blinked at her.“Well, briefcases and that.”Carol stepped a little closer. Frank was almost twice as tall as her and definitely twice as broad in the shoulders, but she had never let size intimidate her, nor attitude. It was what made her such a successful factory manager. “What’s wrong?” she demanded now.“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong! I just want this visit to go well, that’s all.”“Why should it not?”“No reason. I just don’t think they’ve seen anything quite so, well, eccentric as this place.”“Eccentric?” Carol echoed, turning to the others to roll her eyes in disbelief. “Cardill’s isn’t eccentric, Frank. We’re highly efficient, and you know it.”“Of course, of course, and that’s why they love you.”“Good!”“But actually seeing the place . . .”“What’s wrong with it?” Carol felt a flush of anger. She glared at Frank, who hung his head, looking suddenly more like a schoolboy than a top executive of an international corporation.“Nothing’s wrong with it, Carol. It’s just not every day these blokes will have seen a factory based in a converted chapel.”“Then they should count themselves lucky!”“Absolutely.”“And they will, especially when they taste what Ina’s got lined up for lunch.”“You do have the best cook in the group,” Frank conceded, allowing himself a small smile.“And the best profit margins, too,” Carol retorted sharply.Frank nodded, but hesitated.“It’s tough,” he said, “with the recession and all. People aren’t buying as many underthings as they were.” Despite the worrying tone of this strange conversation, Carol smiled at her boss’s choice of words. Even after years in the textiles industry, Frank wasn’t comfortable with the word “lingerie”. He certainly would never be one to use the term “knickers” in front of a lady! “And those garments that people are buying they want cheap,” he hurried on. “Your girls are highly skilled with a sewing machine, Carol, but they cost quite a lot to employ.”“Quite a lot?” Carol spluttered, glancing at Helen, whose eyes were wide with disbelief. “Some of these girls barely take enough home to keep their kids in baked beans!”“I know, but they still cost ten times their equivalent abroad.”“What are you saying, Frank? What’s your point?”“Nothing. It’s nothing, Carol, really. Come on, Jonathan, we’d better get going.” Carol put a hand out to stop him but he just grabbed it and patted it awkwardly. “It’ll be fine. They’re going to love the place.” And with that, he was gone, leaving behind a cold cup of tea and an untouched slice of toast. Carol, Helen and Brenda stared at the neglected food. Frank never turned down Ina’s cooking!“Oh, help!” Brenda whimpered, wiping sweaty hands down her dress. “There’s something going on here and I don’t like it.”Helen grasped her shoulders.“Even if there is something strange to this visit, there’s nothing we can do except make the place look its best, and we’ve done that already.”Brenda nodded.“Maybe it’s Frank they’re assessing?” “Maybe it is,” Helen agreed. “I bet that’s it. No wonder he’s so nervous. Poor Frank!”“We’ll do our best for him, eh?” Carol said.“That we will,” the others agreed as stoutly as they could manage. But if they’d been nervous about this visit before, they were terrified now.