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Emily wasn’t a regular theatre-goer, and she found she was summarising her reactions to the performance as though sending postcards to herself:
Victoria was very funny, and Graham was a little stiff in his movements but had an extraordinarily deep and attractive vibrato voice. Victoria’s cartwheel was hilarious! ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was beautiful, and when she sang it, a capella, Victoria made almost everyone cry.

Dolly held Emily’s left hand in her right hand, and her father’s right hand in her left as she sat between them. Emily wished that everyone she had ever known – everyone she had ever worked for or with in a temp contract in a miserable job – could be here to see their little group and speculate that Emily was somehow connected to David Devereux. She sent herself a little postcard about it:
On her way to Hollywood!

David leaned over and whispered, ‘She’s great, isn’t she? Remind me to tell you about this video we made when we were students. It was hilarious. You’ll laugh your socks off.’

Remind me to tell you
? When we’re on a date? When you come to pick me up from my next temp job in your Bentley or your Lamborghini? When we’re flying to Hollywood together?

David bent and kissed Dolly’s adorable head. He laughed as if Victoria’s
Wizard of Oz
skit was the funniest thing he had ever seen and this was the happiest day of his life. His laughter carried, and a few people looked round to see what was going on and then smiled when they saw it was David Devereux, and he really was laughing at the show. Behind them, Emily was aware that Seema was agitated, whispering to Dizzy about something. Perhaps she was disappointed that there was to be no tap dancing routine from Victoria? Or perhaps she was jealous that Emily was sitting next to the world’s most good-natured handsome man.

In the classroom across the corridor that was serving as a dressing room, out of sight of the audience, all the members of Showstoppers were assembled, their small sweaty feet laced into their tap shoes, ready to take the stage for the final number, their small sweaty hands linked together as they prepared to come on in tightly-squished, snaking rows and then form one big circle together.

Victoria and Graham took their bow. Next to Emily, David whooped and blew three wolf whistles through his fingers. Victoria smiled and nodded her head once in his direction in acknowledgement, one professional to another, just like any other seasoned performer glad to see that one of their kind is ‘in’ to see the show.

‘Brava!’ shouted Dr. Muriel in her seat near the front, for all the world as if she were at the opera in Italy, where it’s usual to match the gender of the exclamation to the person who is being praised. ‘Brava!’ If she had meant the praise for both Graham and Victoria, she would have shouted ‘Bravi! Had her praise been meant just for Graham, she would have shouted ‘Bravo!’ Presumably she meant no offence to Graham by singling out Victoria – they were neighbours, after all. And Victoria was the school’s artistic director and owner. Also, her cartwheel had been magnificent, as had her ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

Victoria and Graham left the stage with a final wave to the audience, Victoria pretending to be led off by the invisible dog, to the amusement of Dolly and the other children in the audience, who shrieked in recognition of a kind of magic that needed them to ‘see’ it and believe in its charming illusion. Emily thought of her dog, Jessie, who had died and left a kind of invisible dog in her place which Emily ‘saw’ sometimes when she was tired or lonely, or when she simply forgot that Jessie had died. She wasn’t too old to believe in magic, even if it made her feel sad sometimes.

The lights went down, and there was no music, only the swelling sound, stage left – to the right of the audience – of a hundred pairs of tap shoes beginning to beat a rhythm in the dressing room as the children prepared to come on.
It was very theatrical! So effective!
Emily postcarded to herself, enjoying the build-up. She began to think she should go to the theatre more often.

The children began to cross the corridor from the dressing room, heading towards the back of the stage where they would come on, though their performance had already begun. The sound of their tapping feet grew louder.

‘Oh my God!’ shrieked Seema white trousers gleaming where she now stood where she had first come in at the side of auditorium. ‘Oh my God! Tap shoes! They’re wearing tap shoes! All them sweaty little feet in metal and leather! Oh my God! Oh my God!’

Emily thought that if she were in charge of this place – which she was not because if the past was anything to go by, then for the rest of her life she was only ever going to have crappy administrative jobs, working for others, for a pitiful wage – she would send Seema on a management course to help her cope with change. Victoria had decided at the last minute to put the children in tap shoes for the final number. So what? So far, it sounded great.

But Dr. Muriel was on her feet at the front now, waving her walking stick in the air. ‘Emily!’ she shouted. Dr. Muriel was not the sort to try to storm the stage at a children’s end-of-term show so she could join in the dancing – she had plenty of limelight during her day job, where she frequently addressed large conferences on her specialist subjects: ethics and philosophical conundrums. Even if Dr. Muriel did plan to storm the stage, there was no reason for her to call for Emily to join in. So it was something else…

Suddenly, Emily understood.

She jumped to her feet. She rushed to the technician’s desk where Dizzy was standing and began pulling at wires and plugs, screaming, ‘Turn it off! Turn it off!’ If she could just expose two live wires and touch them together, she might stand a chance of tripping the fuse and killing the power – if she didn’t kill herself first.

At the front, Dr. Muriel had whisked Morgana Blakely’s miniature top hat from her head and now skimmed it onto the stage, where it skidded across the boards, sparking as the mesh veil attached to the hat and the hat pins that had secured it caught on a live wire or wires poking from beneath the stage, not far from the spot where Victoria had been performing her
Wizard of Oz

Morgana got to her feet and took action. ‘No children on stage!’ she commanded. ‘Victoria, do you hear me? Graham! Don’t let the children on the stage!’

Graham the Tin Man appeared through the side door in the assembly hall nearest to the stage, trying to make sense of what was going on. Dr. Muriel didn’t hesitate. She grabbed his triangular hat and threw it towards the location of the exposed live wires on stage in front of her. She was a frequent guest lecturer on cruise ships and was an expert player of deck quoits (donut-shaped, heavyish objects made of rubber or rope, guaranteed not to bounce and go over the side), so her missile struck its target effectively. Sparks flew, and a hissing sound came from the stage.

In the background, the ominous thrumming of two hundred tap shoes continued, the children held at bay as Morgana had instructed, though it seemed Victoria was determined that, somehow or other, even if out of sight of the audience, the show would go on.

Dr. Muriel next threw her stick with its metal band around the tip (which didn’t have any effect, though it made an impressive rattling sound), then she removed her jacket and threw it metal-button side down, causing more sparks and then, at last – whether through Dr. Muriel’s interventions or Emily’s – the fuses blew, the lights went off. Everyone was safe.

There was silence. Even the tap shoes had ceased tapping. There was darkness except for smears of late-afternoon sunlight coming through the cracks in the blackout curtains that had been hung at the tall windows along the left-hand side of the auditorium. Then there was spontaneous, rapturous applause from children and parents, and whoops and whistles, and then the sound of scraping chairs as the audience got to their feet in a standing ovation. At the periphery of her vision, Emily caught a flash of white as Seema turned and ran out through the door at the back of the assembly hall.

Dizzy had seen it, too. ‘Oh no you don’t, missy!’ he called as he rushed out after her.

David Devereux had joined Emily near the technician’s desk, where she stood with wires and plugs in her hands. He had Dolly with him – she didn’t look frightened. She was young enough to think the finale might have been part of the show.

‘Emily!’ said David. ‘Girl, that was brave of you.’

we can have the denouement,’ said Emily, shaking a bit – with shock, she thought, rather than electrical energy.

David reached over and grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him, and he kissed her.

So that’s what you do when something I say isn’t particularly funny
, thought Emily. She resolved to be less amusing in front of handsome actors in future.

David’s phone rang, and he answered it, ‘Yes, yes… Yes! Yeah, I can. Yeah. OK, buddy,’ while nodding and pretending to listen to Dolly, who was asking him a question.

‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘is this my new school?’

‘No, babe.’ He finished his call. He put his hand on Dolly’s head, smoothing her gorgeous curls, and he smiled at Emily.

‘But I like it here, Daddy. I like Toto. I liked the ninja part at the end.’

David laughed his beautiful laugh, as if inviting the angels to join in. He said, ‘Yeah, babe. It’s great, isn’t it? But I just got the call. We’re moving to LA.’


A little later on, in Victoria’s kitchen at her house opposite the flat where Emily lived, Dr. Muriel – jacket back on, stick propped against the desk – poured tea for Victoria, Emily and a hatless Morgana while they discussed the day’s events. It was five o’clock, and they were all rather hungry, so Victoria split and toasted eight spicy fruit tea cakes, two at a time, in her expensive stainless steel toaster, and Emily stood next to her and buttered them and piled them onto a plate. Victoria was back in her jeans, white T-Shirt and pewter shawl, something like her fifth costume change of the day.

It had already been agreed that they had all been wonderful, and very brave, and they had praised each other accordingly. Now they were pondering the motives of the person who had nearly killed a hundred children on a Saturday afternoon in south London.

‘Seema sent those poison pen letters?’ asked Morgana.

‘It was a bit of a giveaway when she produced another one this morning, saying it had been sent to Showstoppers instead of being sent to your house,’ said Emily, taking her place at the table and picking up her cup of tea.

‘As if I didn’t have enough to worry about,’ said Victoria, ‘with the end-of-term show.’

‘That was rather the point,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Seema thought the letters would tip you over the edge and you would stand down from running the school and let her take your place. She was very jealous of your success.’

‘And like a lot of people who aren’t very bright,’ said Emily, ‘she couldn’t see why you were in charge and she wasn’t. She liked following processes, and she found your creative management style irritating and threatening, especially your last-minute changes of plan. She thought that all she had to do was replace you, instead of learning the skills that would earn her the right to take over.’

‘But I don’t get it,’ said Victoria, bringing the plate of tea cakes to the table and taking a seat next to Morgana. ‘How did she know about the video?’

‘You told her,’ said Dr. Muriel, stretching for a tea cake. ‘You told everyone.’

‘Yes, but not until today.’ Victoria nudged the plate in Dr. Muriel’s direction so she could reach the food without embarrassing herself.

‘You told me yesterday,’ Emily said.

‘You must have told Seema about the video a while ago,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘I’d guess it was not long after your tutor’s widow sent it to you out of the blue.’

‘Poor Bill,’ said Victoria, chomping on a buttery toasted tea cake. ‘I don’t remember saying anything to Seema. But she was a very good listener – she always seemed so sympathetic.’

‘You didn’t feel you could say anything to Piers,’ said Morgana. ‘Who else were you to turn to?’

‘And you are terribly indiscreet,’ said Dr. Muriel, offering the plate of tea cakes to Emily. ‘I knew that Emily had lost her job, for example, only hours after Emily herself had told you.’

‘Oh, Ems,’ said Victoria. ‘I know I offered you some work, but I think you might need to go back to the agency on Monday. I’m not sure we’ll be up and running at Showstoppers for a while. You know?’

‘That’s OK, Victoria,’ said Emily. ‘I’m used to it. Thanks for asking me, anyway. You did tell Seema about that video. Then when David tried to enrol Dolly at Showstoppers, it gave Seema the idea of sending the poison pen letters and hinting that David was responsible, to upset you.’

‘But what about Mr. Barrymore?’ said Victoria. ‘Yes, he was an ugly, bald fat man in an England shirt who tried to get me to give up my school premises so he could turn it into overpriced flats for young professionals – but that didn’t mean he deserved to die.’

‘He was the one who knocked Dizzy on the head,’ said Emily. ‘He’d been standing at the door to the office and overheard that there was a video you’d made with your boyfriend when you were a drama student. I think maybe he thought it would be, you know…’

‘Stimulating, rather than artistic,’ said Dr. Muriel, dabbing with a handkerchief at a spot of melted butter that had dripped onto her jersey.

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