Authors: Sue Moorcroft
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
'All right, Tom?' A tall young man did a squirt-and-wipe on a table.
'Hey, Tom.' A diminutive girl rapidly set out a range of jams and marmalades, wiping each jar.
By the time that Tom had exchanged greetings with three staff and two customers, Judith had got the idea that he was a regular. They ordered coffee and toast and sat down at a pine table near the steamy windows. At the bottom of the glass the ghost of a smiley face from a previous layer of condensation beamed out.
Tom asked Judith about Malta. Judith told him a little of her life there but nothing about Giorgio, because apart from being just too weird to discuss him with her ex-husband, she simply didn't want to let Tom in. Giorgio was too precious, too special, too private to open to Tom's gruff brand of sympathy. Or, even, lack of sympathy.
'So what do you intend to do with yourself?' His large teeth crunched into toast made from thick, white bread and running with butter. Awake, washed and brushed, he looked considerably better than he had done when she'd seen him last.
She spread ginger marmalade, and took a bite, enjoying that particularly British combination of hot toast, cold conserve, and a slick of butter between the two. 'A job's high on my list of priorities.' She sipped her hot tea from the forest-green mug.
He grunted. 'Back to the hard hat and wellies?'
'Hope not. I don't want to work full-time. Don't particularly want the stress of site meetings and trying to make architects understand why their pretty picture won't work on the ground. You know what that's like! I'll have to look around, think about what I can do.'
He talked around his food. 'I could look out for you.'
She selected lemon curd to spread on her second slice of toast. Tom was already on his fourth. She crunched into the toast and the tart-sweet bite of the lemon. 'Thanks, but I don't want to be in construction.' And she didn't want to be involved too closely with Tom.
When breakfast was over she walked around three of the town's job agencies, gazing into windows to read the cards in the
columns. Nothing to take her fancy, the agencies all seemed to deal mostly with payroll, warehouse or driving. She could sign on at an agency for professional people, but then, surely, wouldn't they be offering her jobs within her profession?
All her life she'd decided what to do and then done it. This unsettled purposelessness was foreign.
She knew she wanted something different. Something... well, she didn't understand what. But different. For lack of anything else to do, she turned for Molly's house.
Her route took her close to Lavender Row. She slowed. No harm in calling in to see if Adam Leblond had begun the hunt for alternative accommodation. It might delay the return to the frigid life of Moll and Frankie for half-an-hour.
He was speaking on the phone when he answered the door, and gestured her into the house with a flash of his smile. She went in. In the sitting room the computer in the alcove displayed a screenful of thumbnail images and a cable attached a matt black camera. Silver photographer's cases stood nearby, paperwork was laid out neatly across the carpet. 'Two minutes,' he mouthed.
Then, into the phone, with restrained patience, 'But that wasn't what you asked for. Of course I could have done the garden as well, but this is a bit after the event, isn't it? I can't rewind time.' He listened for a minute. 'Let me know tomorrow if you want me to schedule another shoot.'
The moment he clicked the phone off and began, 'Hello - ' the phone rang again. He grimaced. 'Sorry! But do you mind?'
'Go ahead.' She picked up a glossy home magazine to flip through while he entered into another conversation, clamping the phone to his left ear with his shoulder and scribbling awkwardly with his right hand, the pen lodged between his thumb and the knuckle where his first finger used to be.
'Yes, I said I can. How many? What's the angle? Well, you must know the writer's... E-mail that to me, then.'
He put down the phone, scribbled on for a few moments, then flung himself down on the sofa, shoving back his hair.
She closed the magazine. 'Sorry. I really shouldn't turn up unannounced. I didn't think you'd be working on a Sunday.'
He blew out his lips. 'I shouldn't be. Unfortunately, I've just lost my assistant, so I have to deal with my paperwork myself. And the phone call was from a picture editor who can access her computer network from home. Probably sitting on the lawn with her laptop catching up on a few things while her kids play in the paddling pool.'
'You work for magazines?'
'Mostly. Mags schedule features, then contact me to shoot the accompanying pix for them. A lot are case histories, you know,
I had an affair with the cannibal next door
sort of thing. I cover the midlands for several titles. Very busy at the moment.'
She felt like breathing a Kieran-like, 'That's
cool!' But restricted herself instead to, 'So you won't have had a minute to start looking for alternative accommodation?'
'No need.' His calm eyes hardened. 'Nowhere near August twenty-first. That's when you can run an inventory, inspect the property, give me back my key money, and I'll go.'
Judith's stomach dipped.
She'd forgotten she held his key money. The modest savings she'd thought she still had plummeted by about twenty-five per cent. Rats.
He grinned, suddenly, and all the grooves beside his mouth and eyes deepened. 'Do you know you've got marmalade on your chin?'
She rose with a sigh to glare into the mirror over the fireplace. The cleft of her chin was decorated by a smear like a comma. 'Bugger.' She scrubbed at her chin with lick-and-tissue, succeeding in making the skin pink. 'I had breakfast with my ex. His idea of fun not to tell me, I suppose.'
'Breakfast with your ex? Civilised.'
'Accidental meeting.' She returned to her seat, her chin burning slightly and her cheeks burning a lot. 'Then I went looking in job agency windows.'
His eyes were interested. 'You're looking for a job?'
She wrinkled her nose. 'Economic necessity, like anyone. Something part-time, hopefully.'
'What sort of thing? Because I'm desperate for someone like you to help me on a big shoot, tomorrow.'
'Like me? What am I like?'
He gestured vaguely. 'Personable, with a brain. I have a hassly day scheduled. Got to drive to a village near Coventry and take shots of a family with thirteen children, ranging from a new baby to twins of twenty. Nightmare trying to keep everyone happy at the best of times, let alone so many kids. And everything's more difficult since...' He indicated his damaged hand. 'I had a brilliant assistant, Daria, a friend's daughter who came on shoots and did my routine phone calls and invoicing and stuff. Terrific. But she's just run off to Northumberland after a whirlwind holiday romance, leaving me stuck.'
She glanced at equipment cases on the floor, open to display grey felt-lined compartments packed with cables and lenses. 'Doesn't sound too difficult.'
His face lit up. 'So you'll give it a go? That's terrific!'
She was taken aback at this leap of faith. She'd actually meant it didn't sound too difficult so he ought not have trouble filling the vacancy. Did she want to be a photographer's assistant? How many people did it take to hold a camera? 'Wouldn't you need someone full-time? And permanent?'
'Two days one week, four days the next, depending. I'll advertise for someone permanent, but in the meantime I've got tomorrow to get through. You'd be doing me a huge favour if you helped out. I pay by the day.' The sum he mentioned seemed to Judith to be worthwhile.
'Oh. Um. Well, perhaps just while you advertise,' she managed, eventually. 'I have no relevant experience or qualifications.'
Decisively, he pulled one of the metal cases towards him and picked up a lens in his left hand and a camera body in the right. 'I don't expect you to, I can teach you what you need to know. Let's start by me telling you the names of things...'
At the end of two hours she was dizzy with changing lenses, taking equipment on and off tripods and putting the settings he wanted on the Nikon cameras.
'Earlyish start in the morning.' Every item was now tidily back in its compartment. 'Can you be here by seven? I need to get going about then. The shoot's not till ten, but you know what the traffic can be like at that time in the morning.'
'About' seven proved to be deceptively casual.
She was two minutes late, having found it difficult to wake after the sleeplessness of the night before, and arrived to find the gear loaded and Adam in the driving seat of his car, waiting. He started the engine as she plumped into the passenger seat.
'Indoor/outdoor shoot,' he said, pulling away before she'd even got her seatbelt fastened. His right hand had some kind of aid around it that helped him grip the steering wheel, and the car had column gears so that his left hand didn't have to dip to a traditional gear stick and leave his right hand in charge of the wheel on its own.
'Is that significant?'
'It means we have to carry more equipment. We're heading for a village called Bulkington, north of Coventry. I know it's A14, M6, but can you look at the route from there, for me? The map book's under your seat.'
Blearily, she found the page, and glanced at the network marked in blue, green, red, orange and white that denoted the country's roads. She yawned, and tried to focus, her head twice its usual weight. 'Looks like you take the M69 off the M6, and it's just off that.'
'Sounds easy enough. Find something on the radio that you want to listen to, then have another rummage through the biggest equipment case. Make sure you remember how to change memory cards, grip, tripod etc.'
She dragged the case off the back seat with an inward sigh.
It would have been nice to relax the journey away. Not
, of course not, that would be an unprofessional way for a photographer's assistant to behave. And, also, she'd probably snore with her mouth open or something equally cringe-making.
But playing with memory cards wasn't interesting, and she yawned prodigiously all the way up the A14 as they progressed slowly through the morning traffic.
Eventually, he took pity. 'How about a coffee stop?'
Another face-wrenching, eye-watering yawn. 'Coffee would be brilliant. I'm sleepy.'
'You don't say.'
They bought coffee in big cardboard beakers and parked themselves outside the service station on a bench, the idea being that fresh air might wake Judith up. And, by the time she'd drained her cup, she was awake.
'Better get on.' She looked at her watch. A proportion of the time Adam had built in for traffic hold ups had drained away.
Which proved to be a problem when they finally turned onto the M69 and Judith got the map out again to navigate them through the A roads. She could focus now on the multi-coloured strands that denoted the roads on which they travelled. She found Bulkington, close to the M69, with her finger.
Her heart sank. 'Oh
! We can't get off the M69, it's one of those places where the roads cross but there's no junction.' And, as he sighed, she added, 'Sorry,' her face heating uncomfortably.
'Brilliant,' he muttered. 'OK, we can't turn on the motorway, so what's our best solution?'
He was obviously irritated, but at least he hadn't yanked the car onto the hard shoulder and snatched the map from her hands, as Tom would have done. Mortified, she studied the map with a degree of care that would have been useful in the first place. 'At the next junction you can turn right onto the A5, then take the first right. The road curls back beneath the motorway.'
'That doesn't sound too bad.' But he flicked a glance at the dashboard clock, and moved purposefully into the outside lane. Just as they encountered the first signs indicating roadworks.
They were late arriving, but only by about 15 minutes. Judith had to ring ahead on Adam's mobile to apologise, still hot with embarrassment at making a silly, uncharacteristic mistake. 'Don't you worry, dear, we won't be ready anyway,' was the comforting response from Jillie Lasyencko, the mother of the impressive brood.
And she was right.
They arrived at the two council houses knocked together to find one of the eldest girls gone to the shop in a huff and the other not back after staying out all night. Jillie Lasyencko displayed a spectacular quantity of breast through her open dress as she fed the baby, there was a decided whiff of nappy, and a handful of the thirteen Lasyencko offspring raced around screeching in excitement. Having once been two dwellings, the house had two front doors and two back allowing plenty of permutations of racing in and out of the property.
'You're going to earn your stripes organising this crowd.' Adam began to unload his gear from the car.
From this Judith assumed he was prepared to set up his equipment if she took charge of the personnel. 'I'm not changing the nappy. I'll sort the rest.'