Chapter 3

The taxi pulled up outside Granita and Trellis and Milton-Houghton piled out.  Trellis paid the cabbie; he would put it on expenses.  Milton-Houghton habitually straightened his tie.  He was old school and wouldn’t dream of dining out in public with a lady incorrectly attired.  It all added to the theatre of life anyway, with which he was well-versed after decades at the bar.  Whatever women claimed about liberation, equality or feminism, being a gentleman was an honour and a blessing, he knew it.  He also knew Mary liked him whatever kind of punk appearance she put on and right-on mush came out of her mouth, but then factoring in the myriad of blokes out there and their proclivities he could hardly blame her or any other female for getting stroppy and giving as good as they got. 

Gathering his thoughts yet simultaneously readying himself to put them aside all the better to begin an all-out offense on Park and Slacker, Milton-Houghton cleared his throat and exhaled the far from fresh air.  He glanced through the plate glass window and caught the eye of an arresting-looking young woman he immediately knew must be Mary.  With typically suave assurance he nodded to acknowledge her as Trellis graciously held the door for the more senior man.  He strode into the restaurant and raised his arm in her direction.

‘Good afternoon.’

Mary, who was not without manners, pushed her chair back and rose to her feet to begin the customary exchange of pleasantries which would kick start the lunch.  If Trellis had been wearing a hat he would have doffed it.  Instead he nodded, politely accepted a menu that was being already being pushed in his direction and pulled up a chair.  The three of them shared an almost co-conspiratorial silence and then Mary, in spite of herself, giggled.

‘Congratulations!’  offered Peter.

‘I haven’t had a baby!’ replied Mary.

‘No but all the same.’  interjected Milton-Houghton.

‘It’s not the same!’  laughed Mary.

‘You must be very proud all the same, a two week run at the Almeida.  That’s no mean feat.’  Trellis asserted the plain facts.

At that she nodded.  She was the toast of the town and she knew it.  False modesty could go hang, but why did Milton-Houghton and Trellis want to wine and dine her?  Trellis, well he was in effect her boss, so that made sense, but what was Milton-Houghton’s interest, she knew who he was, just, like everyone else she could look it up on the internet, and yes he was a veritable grandee.  She supposed that she was to be enlightened over the course of a pleasant lunch, South African steak or none.  She gazed, slightly quizzically at the older man.  Correctly interpreting the expression on her face for curiosity Milton-Houghton mustered all the assurance and authority of his back ground, education and privilege and pronounced:

‘We are going to have a lovely lunch.  Business comes afterwards, please my friends.’

This was inevitably the cue to begin enthusing over the menu which was nothing if not ridiculous.

‘Have what you want.’  he added, by way of explanation, ‘Peter is paying!’

‘True, it is my turn.’  Trellis smiled, ‘But next time we’ll meet at Rules.  Okay?!’

‘I love shell fish!’ enthused Mary.

‘You want Sheeky’s for that sort of thing.’  Peter informed her, ‘the chef here is from New Zealand; he does amazing things with offal.  Although as you are from South Africa I suppose it is biltong all the way with you.  Nights around the brie staring out into the savannah.’

Mary grinned.  What stereotypical views people had of her country!

‘It’s a very beautiful country, indeed.’ she offered politely.  Thankfully no one countered this with an observation regarding Mary’s visage and so she was spared the embarrassment of having to pretend she had no idea what they were getting at.  It was true to say the hair and piercings generally put off more generalised observations on her looks, for which she was thankful, although the slew of aggressive diatribes that could be counted on from the pit of the internet when ever she pronounced on the issues of the day, obligatory as a ‘micro celebrity’ on what ever was the bush telegraph of the moment, never seemed to abate.

Naturally she made liberal use of whatever facilities there were to ‘block’ such pests.  Mary could not fathom the frame of mind that decreed that the best thing to do with the trolls was to fan their flames or to ‘expose’ them.  It gave them the oxygen of publicity, which they craved, off the back off their ability to insult or complain, current synonyms for ‘engage’ or ‘interact’.  As she was in ‘show’ business she accepted that there inevitably must be some exposure, but for the life of her could not understand the eagerness of the politicians of the day to embrace such platforms.  

In reality they needed some sort of attached communications officer to manage their on-line presence but the diy ethos of web 2.0 and ease of entry made every plonker with a smart phone a producer of meeja and the trend seemed to show little sign of reversing for fame hungry politicians or indeed anyone eager to be digitally ‘included’.  The fact that such ‘inclusion’ was basically a ball and a chain seemed to have passed most people by and the revenues this constant clicking generated for the Silicon Valley billionaires went largely untaxed and unremarked on, such manifestos as Lazzarato’s immaterial labour an obscure foot note to a national public life which was to all intents and purposes running on fresh air.

It was the sort of ‘free at the point of use’ ethos that made the National Health Service so loved but of course someone is paying for the thing or stuck in the galley heaving the oars, she made a mental note to ask Milton-Houghton if he had any connections to the Coltan mining industry just as soon as they had finished the cheese course.  Whatever the huffing and puffing about ‘modernisation’ there was nothing particularly modern about open cast mining or the eager scramble for minerals, which were the lifeblood of the silicon endeavour.  At least she was fairly sure she would get some sort of informed hearing from Milton-Houghton in this regard.  Her time at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) had bequeathed her a glaring knowledge of the world’s inequalities and lunch with one of the leading lawyers of his generation was sure to reveal some choice insight that she might not have considered before.

‘Three weeks until ‘Backlash’ opens then!’  Peter opened his napkin onto his lap and smiled at Mary.  ‘I think that deserves a toast!’

The serving staff appeared as if magically and filled all their glasses, a respectable quaffing’s worth but hardly up to the brim.  These receptacles were actually like gold fish bowls.  Mary supposed she would be drunk by the end of the meal or at least tipsy and started to fret about making her way back to her current Airbnb billet.

So, Peter put it to her straight:  ‘How do you know what you know?’

Mary took a deep breath and got ready to recount her tale…

‘When I came to this country I started working as a stripper to help pay the rent.  I met some really interesting people, you could say it was one big sexy family.  One of those people was Maybelline Rose, you might have heard of her.  She is a long time associate of Douglas Park, any way I became friendly with Maybelline  She’s a great woman and really showed us newbies the ropes in terms of doing that sort of thing to get by.  The thing was she has seen it, done it and got the t-shirt, she knew all the wrinkles, how to tell when it was going a bit potentially wrong with the punters, how to extract the bigger tips, where to keep the money we were earning when we were working, which might sound a triviality but was anything but, where do you keep money when you are barely clad, you might glibly suggest stuffing it up an orifice but it’s a serious problem.  So I was very glad that Maybelline had decided to take me under her wing.  I mean where I was working, at a place in Shoreditch, the people who were running the establishment were pretty good but generally working conditions did leave a bit to be desired.  Secondarily you might take the somewhat censorious line that I didn’t strictly need to be performing strip tease to make ends meet, I mean you know about my family, right?!  I have money behind me.  But I have always wanted to do my own thing, to be my own person and actually, once you had figured out the pitfalls to being a stripper the money was excellent and great flexibility too.  I could go to lectures at SOAS, do my reading, pay rent and bills, meet a really interesting cross section of the population and so long as I could turn up look half way alluring and perform a more or less acceptable version of the burlesque my whole set up could be kept ticking over, and I have dance training too and all the sport in the childhood, I mean I am pretty much an athlete, which you have to be.  So it was the perfect solution to my quandary at the time, which was that I didn’t want to be cap in hand to my father and whatever his expectations or ideas were for me.’

‘Was it ever an issue regarding any of your tattoos?  Short hair?’

‘You are insinuating I look like a lesbian!  I know you men from your social class and generation.  No never, I mean I have great tits and they more than compensated for any short fall there might have been in the glamour department vis a vis my bouffant, that era of glamour girls such as Lusardi,  Sam Fox and who ever with what I would call ‘the seventies look’ has not entirely defined the market for show girls and besides at that point I was not such ‘the finished item’ you see before you today, I was much more girlie.  Part of the reason I cut my hair so short in the end was because of the attention.  It got too much and I didn’t really want to have to be relying on a fella or any kind of ‘heavy’ if things got out of hand.  I wasn’t looking for the limelight and still am not.’

It might have been the case that ‘Backlash’ was enjoying a packed run and Mary was the toast of the town but as the saying goes you are only as good as your last hit.  So Mary was eager to commence work on the follow up, the somewhat curiously titled ‘Rather Them’.  Taking as its inspiration the molestation of scores of girls from government care homes in the Oxfordshire area, Mary was mining a grimy seam that the likes of Loach had done so well for decades and to considerable public acclaim. 

It seemed there was no end to the way the chattering classes liked to wring its hands over the misfortunes of the lower orders and to pat itself on the back at its ‘response’ to their plight.  Well if Mary could save one troubled teenager from the clutches of a dirty old man the ends more than justified the means.  She clutched her wine glass in appreciation at the notes of gooseberry shot through with straw and glanced over at Milton-Houghton in a manner she hoped was not too simpering.

As if on cue he intoned:

‘Next project, Mary?!’

Mary lowered her eyes once again in faux modesty and gathered her thoughts, which were slightly floating after a good glass of white wine.

‘Dickie, I think I told you, I am working on the aftermath of the Rotherham affair, the play will be called ‘Rather Them’, I aim to do for the troubled teen what ‘Cathy Come Home’ did for the homeless back in the sixties.  Secondly there is no one else around at the moment who is prepared to tackle this subject.’

‘On account of the men being Asian.’  interjected Trellis.

‘Correct!’  shot back Mary.

‘So maximum controversiality hopefully without causing too much out and out offence.’ the Lawyer remarked.

‘Absolutely.’  Dead panned Ms Mary Slacker.  And on that note Trellis realised he had better book up the Almeida for a little longer.

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Chapter 2

Slacker

She peered carefully into the mirror.  The brilliant vermillion and sailor blue of her latest tattoo burst forward into brilliant vision and gingerly she pulled her arm round in front of her torso in the kind of classic pose beloved of pugilists and rough necks the world over.  Her hair looked as if she had had a simultaneous fight with a bottle of bleach and a lawn mower but it wasn’t bad, she though to herself and the gentle clinking sound of her many ear piercings was almost as soothing as a wind chime.

As is often the case with individuals who are in some way perceived as being extreme in appearance, Mary Slacker was an uncommonly shy young woman whose timidity was only compensated by her uncanny ability to inhabit the most outlandish of fantasy worlds she had now, for some years, managed to fashion into the most compelling of stage plays and her deft ear for the most elegantly turned prose had turned her, if not quite over night, into London’s latest literary sensation.

With this turn of events and the resultant clamouring of journalists from the most middle brow of publications seeking her time and what ever bon mots fell not quite so accidentally from her lips, she was poised to begin a short run of one of her plays in one of the capitals more prestigious theatres.  Of course, nothing like this happens without a lot of intervention from the various movers and shakers of this world who, like the great and the good, have an almost uncanny knack for spotting a vulnerable psudeo wild child and inviting them into their inner sanctum to dine out on the retelling of whatever improbable trajectory of events has led them to their present position.

Thus currently unassailable, Mary was due to meet Peter Trellis, the head of the Arts Council, for lunch on Upper Street at a restaurant she had once heard Tony Blair particularly liked to dine in but which no doubt would be horrendously over priced and probably not even slightly satisfy her hunger for a decent South African rump steak.

Truth be told Mary had experienced an utterly conventional and indeed bourgeois childhood.  She had grown up in an exclusive suburb in Cape Town and could remember apartheid South Africa.  It had all seemed so normal, ‘the blacks’ were just there to do the jobs no one wanted to do and the menial chores and it really seemed a barely remarkable aspect of a proto European childhood apart from when Mandela was finally released and her parents began to talk in hushed tones about ‘making plans’ and what ever they were going to have to do to hold on to a considerable homestead out near Durban.  Mary was no apologist however.

She dimly realised even at the age of seventeen over hearing and some how sensing that Mandela was indeed possibly ‘better than Jesus’.  In a flash of independent mindedness and clarity she decided she really had to find out all she could about Jomo Kenyatta, Oliver Tambo and any other virile freedom fighter who has it all staked on self determination in Africa.  It was her nascent sexuality really, and was certainly enough to horrify her mother.  Mary booked a flight to Zurich and made her way over land to London where she promptly took up a place at the School of Oriental and African Studies.  Mr and Mrs Slacker had enough money to fund their daughter’s entry into the counter culture, even if it was not even remotely what they might have had in mind for their child.  Such is the stuff of adolescent rebellion and Mary took to it with the kind of style that marked her out from the off.

Peter Trellis put on his overcoat.  He was en route to finally meet the infamous Mary Slacker but first of all he was going to swing by Dickie Milton-Houghton, his old pal from university days.  Dickie was a top class lawyer from a renowned chambers in Holborn, and was supposed to have one of the best minds of his generation and was desperate to meet Slacker, for what ever reason Trellis couldn’t possibly imagine.  So a lunch date  had duly been set.  Dickie had been in constant contact with Park as fellow lawyers whose careers had taken spectacularly different paths, Milton-Houghton looked on at Park with considerable envy, how he wished he had the brass nerve to cultivate the client base Park had.  The great and the good paid well as so often they needed to wash their clean linen in public but it was dreary stuff and Dickie knew it, sprinkle with the odd super injunction from the racier end of his brief and the chateau in the Dordogne was all but paid for.  Still lunch meant business, however many bottles of Puilly Fume it was washed down with.  Milton-Houghton had a new cause celebre he wanted to talk to Park about, now he was again a free man.  A civilised lunch in the company of a bright young thing was the prefect opportunity to give his concerns an airing.

Out in the street it wasn’t long before a black cab wheeled into view.  Trellis supposed he should attempt to make use of the app his daughter had installed on the iPhone 3 he still persisted in using and find some Eastern European who would take him to Islington for half the price with a fraction of the racist observations he would get from an old boy from the East End.  Old habits die very hard however however so he soon found himself settling once more into the ideally functional interior of that most archetypal mode of London transport.  His phone vibrated and inevitably it was Milton-Houghton telling him he was running slightly late as Margot his wife had forgotten to get cash for the cleaner.  Keeping a villa in Canonbury ship shape was no mean feet and there was always some aspect of the gently dilapidated house which needed attending to, be it the sash windows or the damp-course, still it was Margot’s life’s work and if it made her happy well Dickie considered it had been a price well worth paying, a harmonious home life more than off set the cut and thrust of the bar and he knew that if it hadn’t been for Margot he would have probaly succumbed to an ulcer some time ago.  Trellis was Dickie’s best friend and no one had a better insight into the nature of over half a century of marriage than he, or was a better sounding board when the crises came as they inevitably did.

As the taxi trundled on, Trellis idly contemplated the forth-coming lunchtime co-conspiracy and wondered what would be the best way to introuduce Park to Mackie Bumphrey.  Trellis was bound to know with his show business connections and Milton-Houghton was more than looking forward to meeting Mary Slacker and discussing the routes to presenting her latest offering at the Almeida.

Bumphrey was an up and coming sports commentator, his dashing good looks and aristocratic connections had assured his place in the broadcasting firmament.  Like most people, however, whose lives appear too charmed to be true, Bumphrey had an inordinate amount of skeletons in the closet.  Terry ‘Beaky’ Timms had fostered Bumphrey’s connections in Formula One with assiduous ruthlessness and only the tip off from his son which had alerted him to some of the less salubrious company Bumphrey was in fact fond of keeping had meant that Beaky had gone in search of legal advice from none other than the king of super injuntions, Milton-Houghton.  Reputation management is a lucrative and highly professionalised occupation, although, unfortunately, it does have the habit of taking down with it those whose livelihoods depend on guarding the secrets and indiscretions of the rich and powerful and so Milton-Houghton realised immediately that the only person who was remotely equipped to provide the kind of specialised damage limitation Bumphrey evidently needed was the newly liberated Park.

The scope of the work needed someone with the vision, maturity and regretably the warts-and-all life experience of a seen-it-all jailbird such as Park.  The vertical integration of his client group from duchesses to high class hookers and his ability to take the rap when it came calling meant his suitability was in no doubt.  Milton-Houghton wanted to know all about Hayley Potts too although he supposed Park would be in no mood to reminisce over the finer points of his indiscretions with the youngster.

‘I hope you can put it all behind you’ went the consoling text, as well Park might try, but none of us can really ever leave our pasts behind, still the white wash job Dickie had in mind about Bumphrey would in no small part potentially salvage Park’s repuation.  He knew that ‘Backlash’ was on its knees and anyway legal bills, when you aren’t the lawyer, are the stuff of nightmares in anyone’s book.  Park never should have turned poacher but there is little point in ‘I told you so’.  It is not what friends are for, least of all old ones,  Milton-Houghton shrugged to himself.

His mind wandered to Bumphrey’s stellar nuptials.  In Christian circles, which Houghton did not move in, it was a known secret that vicar to the glitterati Lindley Selwood had nearly refused to marry Bumphrey on account of the disapproval and no-show of his parents after he had left his first wife and the mother of his child to marry Kerry, a finalist from a television talent show, who was now installed  as Lady Kendall in a little village just outside Droitwich.  Whether Kendall was a genuine peerage or some sort of smoke screen for an arriviste like Bumphrey was what Milton-Houghton knew that Park could establish and then more than likely refashion in considerably less damning terms for the millenials and generation Zzzs who made up his fan base using a combination of hear say, social media whispers and out and out fabrication of the variety that only as skilled a purveyor of subverting reality as Park who had come out of the rocky terrain of running ‘Backlash’ could guarantee.

So he hoped that Park would be on relatively good form when he did finally get in touch with him.  For now he had a top-notch lunch, an old and funny friend and a delightfully eccentric young woman to keep him amused.  The taxi wheeled to a stop outside the Union Chapel, Milton-Houghton pushed the door open and yelled ‘Margot’ at the top of his lungs.  In the distance Margot waved and called back, barely audibly above the hum of the city.  ‘He’s coming!’  Peter Trellis appeared from behind one of Margot’s prized rose bushes, perfunctionarly kissed his wife, called out cheerily ‘Me old mucker!’ and managed a relatively sprightly dash into the black cab, thus the taxi contined its onward journey to Islington Green.

Mary glanced at her watch.  The restaurant was round the corner from the Almeida but it was not somewhere she had ever been to before,  She was used to doing things on her own but she felt oddly conspicuous in such an establishment full of business types and people who seemed to feel the need to speak in unusually loud tones, it was hard not to eaves drop and as this was something she did quite habitually she immediately tuned into the conversation of the people on the adjoining table.  It went something like this:  Rupert, apparently, was not doing too well at Charterhouse; he had some sort of problem with his house mistress.  His parents had been called to sort out the ‘issues’.  Now it appeared that Rupert was back on track but the head master was not impressed that Rupert has flown a home made drone from the quad roof only yesterday!  The school wished that Rupert would settle down, they wanted to help him reach his ‘potential’, if however he made any more drone type items, let alone flew them, he would be ‘asked to leave’.

‘Expelled?!’  gasped one of the table, even more audibly.

‘Yes.’  Said another member of the party who was wearing a dark and very expensive looking suit.  ‘Expelled from Charterhouse.  I always said his mother would be the ruin of this family.’

Mary inwardly raised her eyebrows, maybe young Rupert was going to break the mould, on the other hand, in thirty years time he would probably be clad in an equally expensive outfit, though conceivably not a suit.  Mary imagined Rupert turning up at the start up on Silicon Roundabout in fresh anticipation of his first day at work where his high end geekerie would be seized on by the CEO, where he would be quickly, though horizontally, be promoted (tech businesses don’t do hierarchies, though of course they do really only the pecking order is even harder to fathom on account of the casual attire and inverted snobbery of these Ayn Rand acolytes).

Milton Houghton knew that Mary’s latest play was loosely based on the shenanigans at ‘Backlash’ but how had she managed to glean all the most juicy of details that really made the play leap off the page?  It was like an inside job and all the more delicious for that.  Who did Mary know and how?  Milton-Houghton had tasked himself with finding this out, over a good bottle of Chablis ideally.  And if it could do something for the staid and ailing Arts Council so much the better.  Trellis had presided over an unremarkable period at the helm of said organisation and if there was one thing that his friend knew, it was that sex sells.  The whole thing needed to be jazzed up as a matter of urgency.  His friend might not quite realise it but times had changed, it was not enough to preside over a bunch of chinless wonders sat in the regional development agencies and hope something vaguely salacious came out of the Women’s Institute, tits over the Victoria Sponge or something, that they could glean the requisite press inches from.  No it was time to up their collective game.  Of course modern management demanded some sort of digital strategy, but what they really needed was the kind of content that would drive the semantic web.  Click bait, in other words.  Lunch with Mary was set.

Chapter 1

‘Ere Hayley. ‘Ere Hayley!  ‘Ere!’

Mrs Potts was never one to shirk a challenge where motherhood was concerned.  Hayley was her first child and from the day she had been born no one had stopped saying how bonny and beautiful she was.

At the age of five she had won Miss Pears, a competition for photogenic children organised by a soap manufacturer.  Truly Mrs Potts (Cheryl to her friends) and Hayley had been blessed.  The ugly stick had given neither of them a beating and Hayley sailed through Junior School in a haze of sequins and pink tutus and the adoration of both her teachers and peers alike.

She could even add up (and take away).  Smug was not a word Cheryl liked to think applied to her but when she saw the other mums and heard recount of their struggles, dear little Samantha, for example was not even yet on the blue books, let alone the red, she realised that she had played a blinder with dear Hayley.  She counted herself a very lucky mum indeed.

Monday was therefore a particularly dark day.

‘Case closed Monday’, screamed the papers.

Cheryl sniffed loudly and dabbed a tissue to her eye.  Hayley stood, resplendent in the courtroom, looking every inch the knock out she was.

‘Scum bag!’ started the cries.

‘Pervert!’ echoed another.

‘Vultures.’  he muttered

The less vocal simply shook their heads.  Douglas Park began to push his way through the crowd of assembled journalists, videographers, by standers and gawkers.  He grabbed for his phone.  It was Louise, a brief text:

‘Frankie’s Bar’

So she wanted to see him, at least.

‘Park,’ he caught the eye of a particularly grizzled hack.  ‘Any comment?’

‘None,’ he replied tersely.  Then he felt the thud of an object strike his shoulder.  The policemen who had been half-heartedly trying to keep order began to shoo the press away.  Whatever it was was wet and sticky.  Park tried to feign that he had barely noticed being pelted with an egg.  He grappled with his phone.

‘In 5.’ it was a typically brief text.

He dived into an Audi with blackened windows and thanked God for the good times.  The driver engaged the gearbox with practised ease and the car sped off.

‘Good day Dougie?!’  he chortled.

‘I’ve known better.  But she wants to see me.  At least.’

‘Dougie she will always want to see you.’

‘You don’t know her like I do.’

‘That is true, Dougie.’

The pair fell into familiar silence.  The hubbub outside the courtroom faded into the distance, shouting reporters and the angry Potts family to be consigned to the annals of history.  Why oh why he thought to himself, did he ever see anything beyond the obvious in Hayley Potts.

‘Amazing looking girl though Dougie.’  It was as if the driver could read his thoughts.  Park laughed ruefully.

‘Beauty and brains?’

‘Greedy mother.’

‘You could say.’

‘I do say.’

And with that they fell into a mutually comfortable silence.  The driver carried on, weaving throughout the traffic, assertively cutting up the odd taxi driver who hadn’t reckoned on Arnold’s advanced driving qualification and prowess behind the wheel. Park settled into a relaxed slouch tenderly caressing his smart phone and allowing his thoughts to wander to Louise.  Louis, Louise, lovely Louise.  Beauty AND brains. As the editor of ‘Backlash’ she had done a fine job steering the publication and organisation through some particularly turbulent times.  ‘Backlash’ wasn’t the obvious choice of career vehicle for an ex public school boy and Park knew it; he knew he was the bête noir of his conservative, no should he say monarchist family.

The endless litany of causes and complaint that he had detailed over the years almost made his head spin.  Someone had to do it though and where there is muck there is brass though he wasn’t sure from where he had picked that well-worn cliché up.  Of course like most clichés though it was true, in this case it had been remuneratively spectacular at some points, having supplied him with German motor vehicles, architect designed offices and a place at the table of the rich, powerful and influential.  Park supposed it was the lawyerly authority that he brought to the party.

He thought fondly of Maybelline Rose, the high-class hooker and campaigner for sex workers’ rights.  He knew he conferred the mantle of erudition and respectability on what for many, certainly his mother, was an unfeasibly seedy world full of predictably unreliable people carving out a livelihood in the flux of the constantly shifting sands of state regulation and interference.  He knew that he could always push it one step further than the most learned Queen’s Counsel and anyway there was something about the proverbial under dog that just made his heart beat that bit faster.  So he couldn’t wait to see Louise, to find out what she had been doing with ‘Backlash’ during the interminable months he had spent on remand, an experience he could have barely imagined in his wildest dreams he would have ever had have to have gone though.  Still it was over now.  His phone vibrated.

He glanced down.  It was a pair of tits.  Park’s loins stirred inevitably.  He quickly punched some xxxs into the phone by way of acknowledgement and sighed, then pushed his hand back through his hair, which amazingly had become mop-like even within weeks of coming out of Yarls Wood.

‘Not long now,’ interjected Arnold as ever mind bogglingly telepathic.  Park glanced through the rain-spattered window into the moody grey of the post-industrial cityscape.  He noticed his leg was twitching nervously, odd to think that he should still experience this sort of disquiet at the prospect of arriving at the now so familiar Backlash offices.  Louise’s tits would have to be put off until a serious and sober appraisal of Backlash’s finances had taken place between the pair of them so with well-practised contradiction he tapped ‘can’t wait’ back at the Technicolor cheese-cake the ether had just so effortlessly served up to him.

‘Frankie’s Bar you said Doug?’

‘Just round the corner from the offices please.’

‘I should think you need a drink.’

‘Yeah.’

The car snaked down the private road behind the back of Butler’s Wharf and Park luxuriated in the easy comfort of the expensive engineering.  At a gentle stop the engine purred reassuringly.

‘Cheers.’  He pulled up his collar and grabbed his bag.

‘Can you remember the security code?’

‘Etched in my memory, unless she’s changed it of course.’

‘Women.’

Park’s brow furrowed in acknowledgement of the simple truth in this one word.

‘Potts.’

‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’

‘So she’s not that pissed with me.’

‘Go.’

He was more nervous of seeing Louise than he cared to admit but there was no point in dwelling on it so he prised himself from the cushy leather, heard the clunk of the heavy car door and strode into the iridescent puddles of the carefully cobbled streets.

If anyone were to ask what was the price of fame, Park would have been able to tell him or her, Cheryl knew it even if Hayley had not.

Bail had eventually cost one million and despite the eager support of glittering friends and followers the well was nearly drained dry.

The tenacity of his editor-in-chief amazed him and there was no point idly debating the merits of the fairer sex, his camera roll was stuffed with increasingly outlandish depictions of various parts of their anatomy, contacts at The Open Rights Group had managed to secure a super injunction so all there was for him to do was to download the images to his crappy hard drive and start the fight back for what remained of his tattered reputation.

Frankie’s Bar glistened in the distance, resplendent in neon, shimmering through the cloudbursts.

Hayley Potts could go to hell, or Here Abouts, which ever was nearer.

Someone once told him Droitwich was a fine city.

In Hayley he had had the finest of it, but there was no point rueing that now.