With Betty dispatched to search for ‘bubbly wine’, Treadwell began fussing about looking for glasses in the adjoining room, whilst Clara took the opportunity to take in her surroundings more clearly. Faded posters of a younger Quentin Treadwell peeled away from the wall. A threadbare hand towel which might once have been described as ‘avocado’ was spread out on the one long work surface. On this were make up brushes and little pots of colour laid out with the precision of a surgeon, their lids open expectantly like baby birds waiting to be fed. An orderly row of elaborate jackets filled one wall; velvet jackets, sequinned jackets, jackets with feathers sprouting from the shoulders. Was this cubbyhole really all the man had to show for thirty years at the apparent top of his game?
“Turkey,” announced Treadwell, appearing in the doorway like an illusionist, and brandishing a bottle, a champagne coupe and a jam jar.
“Feathers, dear girl. Always use turkey. I swear by them,” he passed her the jam jar. “Have you visited Paris?”
“Errr, yes. With my mother when I was thirteen years old.”
“I was taught by the concierge of the Moulin Rouge that when tasting champagne, to take lingering sips. Let the bubbles dance on your tongue,” he uncorked the bottle, “don’t do that with this.” he commanded emphatically. “Ideally it should not touch any part of your mouth. You may also want to hold your nose.”
“You performed at the Moulin Rouge?” Clara was suitably impressed.
“For nine glorious months.” Treadwell poured the wine, “you’re sitting underneath the handbill.”
Clara turned and focused on an elaborately designed advert featuring a much younger Treadwell in a small star on the bottom left-hand corner. The poignancy of it made her quite bold, “Here’s to you,” she offered, holding her jam jar aloft.
“May your medicine never poison,” countered a quietly impressed Treadwell.
They drank. Clara attempted to suppress a wince as the gut-rot hit her insides.
“Have another glug, you need to work it around your intestines a bit,” offered the man, clearly amused. “Now, you must tell me all about your incorrigible aunt and her adventures since we tread the boards together.”
It was at that moment the pair became aware of six pair of eyes creeping around the door-frame to witness the extraordinary sight of their usually guarded star chatting cosily with a complete stranger. “Push that door to, would you?” said Treadwell.
Clara obediently pushed the door without taking her eyes off her new confidante.
A bloodcurdling scream ensued from the other side of the door. Various unknown voices ramped up the drama,
“She’s trapped her fingers!”
“It’s Ruthie! Get the…”
“I don’t want any bloody Lucozade!”
Horrified at being the cause of Ruthie’s suffering, Clara’s hand – still encase in a grey kid glove – shot up to her mouth. “Should we see if she’s alright?”
“Ruthie? She thrives on drama, dear. Where were we? Oh yes, your aunt.”
Still reeling from this latest catastrophe, Clara took another large gulp of wine and swallowed hard, “My aunt is very well, thank you. She has been back in the family homestead of Meltcham for nigh on twenty years now, and is proprietress of a very well-respected shop of antiquities; curiosities, that type of thing. And my aunt. Well, my aunt told me to come here. She didn’t say I’d be meeting you. She didn’t mention you at all, just said to ask for William Tell, which I suppose I thought was a joke or a nickname or, oh, I don’t know what I thought. I don’t know what I was thinking! Getting on a train and coming to London without so much as a by your leave. I’ve never even been to Upper Crumping unsupervised. Lower Crumping, yes, but never Upper! I just had to get away, you see, I simply had to, and one hasn’t always been able to talk to mother or father the way that one can with aunt Terri. And so, when it happened, well…when it all came out…I’m so sorry am I talking too much?”, the light-headed girl took another slug of wine and stared intently at her host.
Without taking his eyes from hers, Quentin Treadwell reached forward and took the half-empty jam jar from the reeling girl and placed in out of her reach. After what seemed like an eternity, he opened his mouth and spoke, “She didn’t mention me. At all?”
Just as Clara was about to attempt a reply, there was a knock at the door and Betty appeared almost simultaneously. She was not tinkling.
“Quentin, I’m so dreadfully sorry to barge in like this but we need you on stage.”
“Now? Whatever for? The doors don’t open for another two hours!”
Betty carefully broached the subject, “Ruthie can’t do the fan-dance section of the opening number. Her fingers are in a real state” it was all the blonde girl could do to keep her eyes from darting towards Clara. “We shall have to rehearse in one of the new girls and we simply can’t do that without you.”
“But Old Ma Lewis is in tonight!”
“The show must be of the highest standard!”
“I know. And Kittie’s just walked out.”
“And Kittie’s just walked out!” parroted Quentin Treadwell, as he shot out of his chair and wrapped his satin robe so tightly you’d think his life depended upon it. “Lead on, MacDuff!” He commanded Betty, who relieved him of his champagne coupe and slipped out of the room again. Treadwell paused to turn to his guest, peering down at the perplexed – and now rather drunk – girl. “Come along,” he said, “you’re coming with me.” and he marched out of the cubbyhole towards the stage. Clara Pin jumped up and trotted behind him, trying not to bump into bit of costume and props, the adjoining room deserted of people now.
“Me? But what use can I be!” she exclaimed.
“We’re two men down. Well, women…”
“Oh dear. That is a pity. Perhaps it would be best if you cancelled tonight’s show? What is the show, exactly?”, Clara reeled.
Treadwell spun around so abruptly he almost knocked a flat of scenery from its hinges “Cancel the show?!”, he cried, as the flat swung violently towards Clara, who was swaying a little herself now. “CANCEL THE SHOW?!”, the man bellowed as two showgirls in bra and pants ran for cover.
“Young lady, for three decades now I have presided over the room you are about to enter twice a night, Wednesday through Sunday, and not once have we cancelled the show. Not when the roof was caving in, not during the three day week, not even when Liza got gout.”
At that moment a distraught Ruthie ran through the hallway, having just been broken the bad news of her demotion. She stopped short in front of the unlikely pair, like a rat caught in a trap, glared at Clara Pin and then wailed as she ran off in the direction of the dressing room. Treadwell forged on with his tirade. “You will be taking Ruthie’s place in the opening number.”
“You will be standing in for Kittie’s solo with your juggling routine.”
“But I don’t have a…”
“And together,” Treadwell, changing tack now, cupped a surprisingly tender hand on the girls trembling chin “we shall ensure that the show will go on! I trust there is nothing ambidextrous about what I’ve said?”
Clara’s left eye twitched an infinitesimal twitch. She swallowed hard, “Nothing ambidextrous, whatsoever.”
Treadwell bent down and beamed a breathtaking smile, “Clara Pin, you’re in the show.”
Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.