Authors: Lyn Gardner
Alicia sat opposite Katie's mum on one of the only two chairs in the poky maisonette. Alicia smiled gently. “It's so good of you to allow me to come and see you, Mrs Wilkes-Cox. I know things have been hard for you. I'm very grateful for your time.”
“It's Katieâ¦” began Mrs Wilkes-Cox doubtfully. “She'sâ¦ she'sâ¦” She tailed off miserably.
“She's a very talented girl,” said Alicia firmly, “but possibly not the happiest of children just at this moment. She was so brave to expose her father's criminal activities. I know she used to hero-worship him. The change of circumstances must be very difficult for her, and you.”
Mrs Wilkes-Cox blushed.
“I'm glad she's back in school again,” continued Alicia. “Thank you for notifying us about her absence. It must be very hard for her to settle at the Swan after everything that has happened. And of course, some of the children are unforgiving. But I assure you, Mrs Wilkes-Cox, that I do know what is going on and I am dealing with those who need dealing with. They are not bad girls, just thoughtless, self-obsessed and in need of taking down a peg or two. I'd be very surprised if there are any further incidents. I don't think you need have any worries on that score, and if you do you should of course contact me immediately. We must work together to ensure Katie's future. I have such faith in Katie and I want her to get the chance to blossom and fulfil her potential.”
“Oh,” said Mrs Wilkes-Cox, at a loss for words. She felt as if Alicia was talking in some kind of code that she couldn't quite decipher, and the meaning was under the words, not in the words themselves. “Oh, Iâ¦”
Alicia waited a moment but when it became apparent that Mrs Wilkes-Cox was not going to say anything further, she continued,
“But I didn't just want to talk about Katie, Mrs Wilkes-Cox. I need to talk about you.”
“Me?!” The other woman's heart sank. She was certain that Alicia was about to say that she was an unfit mother, that she had let her daughter down utterly, and that now Alicia had no choice but to alert social services. Katie might even be taken into care!
“Yes, you, Mrs Wilkes-Cox.” Alicia smiled. “Some time ago Katie told Olivia that you were a stage designer before you married, and when Olivia heard that I was in urgent need of one for our pantomime, she remembered and mentioned it to me. I was wondering if you could help me out. It's not a properly paid job, I'm afraid, as the panto is for charity, but we can offer expenses and a small fee and it will be an excellent showcase for your talents. I can guarantee that lots of industry people will see your work.
“Please think about it, Mrs Wilkes-Cox,” continued Alicia. “You would be doing me an enormous favour. The Swan would be very much in your debt.”
Katie's mum felt like a drowning woman who had been thrown a lifeline. She had always
loved her job as a stage designer and only reluctantly gave it up when she became pregnant with Katie. She had always regretted it.
“I don't know what to say,” she said, and her eyes were moist.
“Well, just say yes then!” said Alicia. “I know you can do this.” There was a little pause, then Alicia added softly, “Katie needs you, Mrs Wilkes-Cox, and the Swan needs you too.”
“Thank you,” said Katie's mum, her eyes shining. “Things have been bad, very bad, but maybe our luck is turning. This is just what I need.” She added shyly, “I accept your offer. But I'd like it if you called me by my maiden name. Lily Wilkes-Cox is no more; I'm Lily Carmichael from now on.”
“Lily Carmichael!” exclaimed Alicia. “But I know your work. You won an Olivier for your
Much Ado About Nothing
set in nineteenth-century India.”
“Oh, that's amazing! We are privileged to have you,” said Alicia. She took a quick look at her watch. “I'm afraid I must go. I have an appointment with some parents back at school and I have a taxi waiting.”
* * *
Alicia leaned back in the taxi as it headed for the Swan. Lily Carmichael! It was quite a coup for the school, and she hoped it would be exactly what both Katie and her mum needed. She frowned.
. She knew she'd heard that name somewhere else recently. But for the life of her she couldn't remember where.
Georgia leaned forward, looked around to check that nobody else was listening and whispered, “Will Todd saw Kylie with her parents in the waiting room. Apparently Kylie's face was all blotchy as if she had been crying. Somebody must have snitched.”
Olivia started tearing the piece of paper in front of her into tiny pieces.
“Whoever did it, did the right thing. I don't feel sorry for Kylie,” said Aeysha smoothly. “I'm glad Miss Swan got to hear what happened and came down heavily on her. Maybe everyone will give Katie a break now. She's looked so down since she came back to school. I sat next to her at lunch, but for all the response I got, it was like trying to hold a conversation with a block
“I can understand why she wants to keep her distance,” said Olivia, thinking about her own miserable first term at the Swan when she'd thought most people hated her. “It's hard to know how to be a good friend to her.”
“We're so lucky we all have each other,” said Aeysha. She turned to Georgia. “Do you want to go over the
script together?” she asked.
“Hey, I forgot. The next audition's tomorrow, isn't it?” said Olivia. “Will that be the third time they've seen you both?”
“Fourth,” said Aeysha. “Poppet said that if we get through this one, it will probably be a screen test next.”
Georgia looked annoyed. “How do you know that? When were you talking to Poppet and why is she giving you special treatment?”
Aeysha frowned. “She's not giving me special treatment! I just asked her when she rang to confirm tomorrow's audition. Don't get upset, Georgia; she'd have told you if you'd asked.”
“I just think everyone who has a chance at Zelda should be treated the same. It's not fair
if some people know more than others. It puts them at an advantage.” Georgia knew as she said it that she sounded silly and unreasonable. It was just that she so wanted to play Zelda and she was hungry for any titbit of information that might help her win the part.
Aeysha shrugged. “Well, now you know too. But I don't see how it puts either of us at an advantage. If I'd realised it was so important to you, I'd have told you as soon as Poppet told me. I'd always share anything I found out with you, Georgia, because you're my friend.”
Georgia blushed furiously. “Sorry, Aeysha, I'm just a bit wound up over the audition.”
“So shall we practise together and give each other a few tips?”
Georgia hesitated. “Actually, I think I'm a bit tired. It's been a long day.”
Aeysha looked surprised and a little hurt. “Never mind,” she said brightly, and quickly changed the subject. “Hey, have you heard Kasha's single yet? It's out and it's really good. Do you want to hear it? I've got a download on my phone.”
* * *
Katie put her key in the door and sniffed. She could smell rosemary and thyme. The maisonette was full of the unfamiliar and quite delicious smell of a casserole cooking. She frowned. What on earth was going on? Who was cooking in their flat? She dropped her things by the door and walked through to the poky kitchen. Her mother was standing at the cooker with her back to her. She was fully dressed, and her hair was brushed and tied in a ponytail. The radio was tuned to a pop station, and her mum was humming as she stirred the casserole.
“Mum?” she said hesitantly.
Her mother spun round. She held out her arms. “Katie darling.”
Katie stared closely at her face. She was wearing lipstick and her eyes were sparkling, not dull and full of misery as they usually were. It was months since she had seen her mum looking so well.
“What's going on?” she asked suspiciously.
Her mother's eyes filled with tears but she was smiling. “Katie. It's all going to be all right. I've been offered a job. It's not well paid. In fact, it's barely paid at all, just expenses and a
bit on top. But it's a start. A new beginning. I feel as if I've woken up from a bad dream.”
“That's great, Mum!” said Katie. “But howâ”
“I had a visitor. Well, actually first of all I had a phone call. Then I had a visitor. Miss Swan.”
Katie's heart began to thump. Why had Miss Swan come here? Had she discovered that Katie had been going to the Zelda auditions? Surely her mum wouldn't be smiling if that were the case. She couldn't bear to think Miss Swan had been here and seen where she lived. It was too, too horrible.
Her mother saw her stricken face. “Katie, listen to me. I know it's not nice to think of Miss Swan knowing our circumstances. But it's for the best. Oh, love, I've let you down so badly. I'm sorry. But it's time for me to be a parent again.”
“What kind of job did she offer you?” asked Katie.
Her mother laughed out loud. “I'm going to design the Swan panto.”
Katie gasped. “But that's amazing!”
“It's like a dream come true. And I'm
going back to my maiden name. Miss Swan recognised it and I hope others will too. It's a new beginning for both of us, Katie. We can put the past behind us and look to making a proper future.” She enveloped Katie in her arms. “We're not going under, Katie; we're going to be OK. I can feel it in my bones.”
Katie felt tears well in her eyes as she hugged her mother back. It was such a relief not to have to be the one holding it all together any more. She was so tired, so tired of everything. She wanted to let her mother look after her like she had when she was a little girl. She knew now she had to confess about the Zelda auditions, explain why she had done it and get her mum to help her make it all right.
“Mum,” she said hesitantly, “I've got something I need to sayâ¦”
“What is it, darling?” asked her mum, looking into Katie's face. Katie saw shining eyes, her face suffused with the soft glow of hope, and knew she couldn't destroy the moment. She kissed her mother on the cheek.
“It's nothing, Mum. It doesn't matter.” She sniffed. “Something smells great. Can we eat? I'm starving.”
* * *
Tom clicked on the page and scrolled down. He had been so engrossed in what he was reading that he hadn't noticed the light had faded from the classroom. The computer screen cast an eerie glow on his pale, freckled face. He studied the page. It didn't add much to the history of Campion's that he didn't already know.
Ella had told him and Olivia that many famous music hall stars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had performed there, ones with great names like Burlington Bertie and Marie Lloyd. She'd also told them about the famous dancer who had a bath in her dressing room and how the Stage Door Johnnies, with more money than sense, had queued to pay for it to be filled with pink champagne. The dancer loved to bathe in the bubbles.
There was also the chorus girl whose dress had caught on one of the naked flames on the stage and who would have burned to death but for the quick-thinking stage manager who threw a bucket of water over her and wrapped her in a Turkish rug. After that, she always danced wearing a veil to hide her scarred face,
but it only added to her mysterious allure. One of her admirers had bought her a baby tiger that she kept in her dressing room until it escaped one night. It was never seen again, although for years afterwards there were reports of sightings of a full-grown tiger stalking the streets of Borough and Bermondsey.
There were the teenage twins everyone thought were boys, but who turned out to be the cross-dressing runaway daughters of a general, and the Chinese conjuror who was accidently shot doing his infamous catching-a-bullet-in-his-teeth trick, and who on his deathbed was revealed not to be Chinese at all, but the son of a Wapping cobbler.
Ella and Arthur had also shown Tom and Olivia the ancient stage machinery and the hidden trapdoors that were used in pantomime transformation scenes, when the characters or scenery changed dramatically with lots of smoke and music and gasps of amazement from the audience. Ella herself had played Cinderella on this very stage, and some of the backcloths from the production still existed, though they were very faded. But they were still beautiful; a piece of living theatre history.
“It's amazing; it should all be in a museum,” Tom had said wonderingly, but Olivia shook her head firmly and said, “No, it belongs in a theatre.”
Then a look of puzzlement crept into her eyes and she turned to Ella. “But I still don't understand why you don't use it. If it's not used, it might just as well be in a museum. It's dead, mummifiedâ¦”
She would have gone on but she saw Arthur frowning at her, and Ella said sternly, “I made a vow and I will never break it. The theatre will remain permanently closed. No public performances.” She looked sad, but determined. “At Campion's, the show will never go on again.”
In the classroom, Tom sighed and clicked on another page. He didn't really know what he was looking for but he knew there was some mystery about Campion's and, as Ella and Arthur were reluctant to share whatever it was, he was determined to find out on his own. Perhaps if he knew what it was he wouldn't feel as spooked all the time. As he scanned the page, the door to the classroom opened and Olivia appeared.
“So this is where you've been hiding, Tom McCavity! I've been looking for you everywhere. I even tried texting you but I guess your phone must be on silent. I thought we were going to Campion's to try walking the high-wire as the panto horse.” She paused. “Are you feeling all right? You look terrible. Is something wrong?”
Tom pointed silently at the computer screen. Olivia quickly glanced at it. She shrugged. “Why are you reading about an unexploded World War Two bomb? Oh, that's sad â it went off in 1951 and killed a woman and two children.” She looked up at Tom.
“I can see it's a terrible tragedy, Tom, but I don't see why you're so upset. It all happened a very long time ago.”
“Look at their names,” whispered Tom.
Olivia looked further down the page and started reading. “âThe deceased were Helen Campion, aged thirty-five andâ'”
Tom finished the sentence for her. “ââher twins, Elisabeth and David Campion, aged eleven.' And look where it happened! Underneath the railway bridge in Henley Street at around midnight on Hallowe'en. Don't you see, Olivia? It all fits. They must be the children
that Ella talks about all the time, the ones she keeps mistaking us for. And the dream you keep having, about the explosion and the bridge falling down, it's about them, it's their deaths.”
Tom was sheet-white and shaking violently. “Promise me, Liv. You must never go back to Campion's. There's something sinister going on. We're being drawn into some kind of trap. If you won't promise me, I'm going to tell your gran and make her stop you.”
Olivia looked shaken but her eyes blazed. “If you do that, Tom McCavity, I'll never speak to you again as long as I live. Anyway, it's a waste of time telling Gran. She doesn't believe in ghosts.”
“So you agree that's what we're dealing with?” whispered Tom. “Ghosts?”
Olivia bit her lip. “I know you're worried, Tom. I know you think I might need help. But I don't. Yes, I dream things that can't be explained. I hear children and, yes, I see them too. But they don't frighten me. It's like being in a room and noticing that there are other people there who you've just not noticed before. Or it's like when you try and tune the radio to the station you want and you get interference and it sounds all
crackly and strange. When I'm near Campion's, it feels as if I'm on a different wavelength. But it's not scary, it's quite exhilarating, and there's nothing sinister about it. I'm quite certain about that. If what I'm experiencing is ghosts, then I think I need to find out what they want and what they need from me. I don't need help, Tom. They do.”