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Authors: Johanna Buchanan

The Cinderella Reflex

BOOK: The Cinderella Reflex
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THE CINDERELLA REFLEX

JOHANNA BUCHANAN

Text copyright
©
Johanna Buchanan 2013

All rights reserved

The characters, events and localities in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER ONE

There were days when Tess Morgan wished she was back in Bali. Like today. Her boss, Helene Harper, was standing behind her, hands on hips, the pointy toe of one red-soled shoe tapping impatiently on the floor. In front of her, Ollie Andrews, presenter of This Morning with Ollie Andrews, Atlantic 1 FM’s prime-time radio programme glowered out at her from behind the soundproofed glass window of his studio.

“Are you asleep or what?” Helene’s voice cracked through the room. “Ollie has just got his facts wrong!”

Tess peered in at Ollie. His popularity – such as it was, considering his plummeting listenership – was a bit of a mystery to her. He had dark bushy eyebrows dominating a pale, almost waxen complexion, a mouth curved downwards in perpetual disappointment and thin hair dyed black in a ludicrous attempt to hold back the years. He managed to look somewhere between forty and forty-five but Tess happened to know he was actually nearer to fifty. She had googled him one day when he had been particularly vile to her and discovered from an old gossip column that he customarily shaved years off his age. She could understand why he was trying to look young though. Youth Audience seemed to be the mantra for the media industry. And while Atlantic 1 FM had once been tipped to get a national license and put everyone working there on the map, today it held only the faint whiff of desperation as people sensed their careers sliding silently down the drain.

Tess leaned forward, trying to catch up with the conversation between Ollie and his telephone guest. They seemed to be trying to unravel the complex labyrinth of the banking crisis and the fact that the country was now up to its neck in hock for generations to come. At least that’s what Tess thought they were doing. When Helene had burst in behind her a few minutes before, Tess had been in a pleasant daydream of how different her life had been this time last year. Beach in Bali. Blissed out and suntanned. No responsibility.

She dragged herself back to the present.

“Eh, Ollie, go easy there will you. We wouldn’t want to libel anyone!”

Ollie Andrews flicked a switch on his mike so the listeners couldn’t hear him.

“I can’t get any more out of this numbskull!”

Tess sighed. She had tried to put Ollie off this particular item but he had insisted that the banking crisis was still hot among the trendy young business heads. Tess wasn’t sure she followed his logic. As far as she knew, the banks were now a complete bore to everyone. But she was still relatively new to the job and had assumed he must know something she didn’t.

But now it seemed that even Ollie was getting bored. Tess clenched her fists as she watched the telltale signs. He was sighing and pushing his hands through his hair and muttering. But if he finished this item too early it was going to leave her with a gaping big hole to fill. In a show that was going out live. Not to too many people, if the programme’s figures were anything to go by. But still. Dead air was the cardinal sin of the radio producer.

And Tess couldn’t afford any more mistakes. She needed this job. She flipped the talkback button.

“Ask him ...” she looked down at her notes, trying to frame a question, which would enable Ollie to prolong the interview. But she was too late. Of course she was! Ollie Andrews was on-air, and on her case. Again.

“So thank you so much for that insightful if controversial analysis of the situation. Of course we could talk about this subject all day, but time, I’m afraid, has run away with us again. So let’s take a break!”

As the ad break jingle filled the room, Tess heard Helene Harper sighing dramatically. Tess’s eyes flicked to the wall clock. Her next item up was about a gangland killing in Dublin. But the eyewitness Tess had talked to earlier was nervous and she couldn’t rely on Ollie to draw him out – not when he was throwing her dagger looks through the glass.

“Sara!” Tess turned to her assistant who was busy examining her nails – long oval talons, varnished carefully in thin red and black stripes, Tess noticed. “Ring Mandy Foley – she’s a councillor in that neighbourhood. Maybe she can add something to prolong the discussion.”

Tess jumped as Helene gave one more theatrical sigh and barged back out of the studio, slamming the door behind her. Sara raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow.

“We tried Mandy earlier. She’s not available this morning. Like, have you forgotten?”

Tess stifled a sigh. She had forgotten. She was thirty years old and the fresh-out-of-college, super confident Sara could make her feel ancient. And incompetent. And not too well groomed either. She put the eyewitness through to Ollie, consulting her dog-eared address book at the same time. Tess didn’t trust electronic gadgets, not since her computer had caught a virus two weeks ago and wiped out all her contacts.

“Try Adam Ellington then.” Tess scribbled a telephone number on a scrap of paper and pushed it across the desk. She jiggled her foot, mentally urging Sara to hurry as she leisurely pressed out the number with one perfectly painted finger. Ollie’s interview about the gangland killing was a disaster. The man was giving monosyllabic answers and Ollie was doing nothing to save the item. If he finished up this one early too ...

“Hi, Atlantic 1 FM here ... Mr Adam Ellington, please? Oh hello, Mr Ellington!” Tess felt herself relaxing slightly as she realised Sara had got her man. Ellington was a well-known human rights lawyer who liked nothing better than the sound of his own voice, preferably on the airways. He’d definitely take a call.

“Streptococcal throat? Right ... Yeah. We understand. You have to go to bed and get yourself a hot drink and an aspirin ... right ...”

Tess resisted the urge to reach over and slam down the phone. ‘Like’, could she read the clock?

“Sara!” Her voice rose semi-hysterically and Sara replaced the receiver with a dramatic sigh.

“You’ll be fine!” She followed Tess’s glance at the studio clock. “I’ll try Simon Prenderville.” Sara was already punching out his number before Tess could protest.

Tess’s shoulders slumped. Ollie would hate it! Prenderville was a local politician who was on the warpath about making pooper scoopers mandatory for dog walkers. It would sound ridiculous coming after the gangland killing, but she was up against the clock and she didn’t have an alternative. She listened tensely as Sara went through the drill.

“Hi, Mr Prenderville, you will be on-air in just a minute, okay? No, we won’t be covering any other topics. Only pooper scoopers, yeah.”

Tess took a deep breath and pulled back the talkback button.

“Ollie? Er ... Simon Prenderville is on the line for you. He wants to talk about his plan for more pooper scoopers for Killty.”

“What?” Ollie’s features flushed scarlet. “We had him on only last week!” Actually it was two weeks ago, Tess thought. But luckily she didn’t have to reply. The red light was shining and they were back on-air. She leaned back slightly while Ollie and Simon Prenderville talked about pooper scoopers. Ollie would make her pay for this of course. But the main thing now was that the item would bring them to the end of today’s programme. And tomorrow, in the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara, was Another Day.

And finally, there it was. The sweet sound of Ollie wrapping up the programme.

“So okay, Councillor Prenderville, thank you for that scoop, ha ha ha! And that’s all we have for you today. Until tomorrow then, when you can tune in to This Morning again and hear more of the stories you
really
want to hear ... Bye-bye now.”

As the music faded away the smile drained from Ollie’s face. Sometimes, Tess mused, he seemed so angry she thought his head might do a 360-degree-turn rotation like a scene out of
The Exorcist
. She stood up, swooping up her pile of manila work files and clutching them to her chest like a weapon. She had to get out of here before Ollie stumbled out of his little glass box.

She nodded at Sara. “Er ... I have stuff I need to do. Can you tell Ollie I’ll talk to him later!”

Sara gave her a disapproving look. “He’ll want to talk to you about the show,” she reminded her.

Tess shrugged. She’d have to listen to him soon enough about the bloody show. This afternoon to be precise. At the post-mortem meeting where everyone would put in his or her tuppence worth about what had worked and what hadn’t worked.

But for now, she needed a break.

Ten minutes later Tess stared at her reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink in the cramped Ladies’ room. Her skin was flushed red and two stains of damp showed darkly under the arms of her white shirt. She pushed her hair out of her eyes, blowing out a sigh. Maybe she’d train for something else. She was good at sketching. And she’d always enjoyed taking photographs. But that only made her thoughts turn to her sister, the super successful designer in London. While Verity had been busy turning the dream she’d had since she was eleven into a reality, Tess had been drifting from one temporary job to another and from one country to another until finally she’d ended up back in Ireland again.

And now she was in a job that made her feel like a square peg in a round hole. Or a fish out of water. Or some other metaphor that she couldn’t think of right now. She winced. She could hear her parents already. “You have to settle at something, Tess. You’re
thirty.
Look at Verity, and how well she’s doing. That’s because she stuck at something.”

Tess’s mobile bleeped and she pulled it out of her bag, her stomach twisting in case it was Ollie or Helene summoning her.

U free for lunch? Zelda’s in ten? A.

Tess brightened. Andrea McAdams, her friend from college, was the reason she was working at Atlantic 1 FM in the first place. She had been at home living with her parents for exactly three weeks when Andrea had emailed her about this job. Three weeks in which she had felt as if she’d never left home. So when Andrea had told her there was an opening at the radio station where she was working as a reporter Tess had grasped at the offer like a starving person, convinced she could make a success of it. She had a journalism degree and a few freelance bits and pieces on her CV – stuff she’d done in between the beach bar jobs and the office jobs and the looking after children jobs that had paid for her travels around the world. How hard could the gig be?

Only a living nightmare, she had to concede now.

She was supposed to be Ollie’s boss but unfortunately, Ollie thought he was the boss of everyone. Andrea insisted this was because Ollie was stone mad – he would be like this with anyone – but Tess couldn’t help wondering if it was just with her. Travelling like an itinerant had given her amazing experiences she’d remember forever but had also left her with an alarming financial situation, an overwhelming impulse to ‘catch up’ with her peers, and a major crisis of confidence when things went against her. Which they seemed to do on an almost daily basis since she’d arrived here six months ago. Only the other day she’d overheard Ollie complaining about her to Helene.

“She doesn’t have what it takes, Helene. Face it!” he’d barked, his face taking on that puce hue that appeared whenever he was even angrier than normal.

“You’ll just have to suffer on, Ollie.” Helene said flatly. “I don’t have time to find someone else right now. Besides, Andrea recommended her – and she does have a journalism degree.”

“Journalism degree? She doesn’t have a clue!” Ollie exclaimed.

“Well, she’s bound to get better. She just needs more experience.”

“She’s thirty! She should have experience. Can’t you get me someone better?”

“I’ve told you. I don’t have time. Give her another three months and I’ll reconsider then.”

After that, Tess seemed to make one mistake after another. Now with the post-mortem meeting looming she knew lunch was a luxury she couldn’t afford. Regretfully, she tapped out her reply.

Working through. Too much of a backlog. See you this afternoon
.

She hit send and went off to unpack her plastic box of sandwiches and fruit and settled down to figure out how she was going to defend herself this afternoon.

BOOK: The Cinderella Reflex
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