Merry Christmas, Everyone. Wishing you all peace, love and laughter wherever you are in the world.
The dark closed in on her. She felt a delicate touch run up her leg, a predatory kiss sweep fleetingly across her lips. Warmth ebbed and flowed around her and a shiver of excitement, the anticipation of a new forbidden lover, tingled up her spine.
“Your time’s up.”
The doors of the flotation tank flew open. Robyn’s eyes sprang open for a brief startled moment as the light poured in to her capsule. She squinted and saw Cheryl’s inquisitive face looking down at her.
“Day dreaming again, Robyn?”
“Why, why, why do you always open the door at the most inappropriate time?” groaned Robyn. “I was just about to be ravished by Hugh Jackman.”
“Now you know if I didn’t time you, you’d been in there all day fantasizing. And as much as I love your custom, Robyn, you have a job to go to otherwise you won’t be able to afford to pay my bills.”
“You’re such a hard taskmaster,” grinned Robyn, pulling herself upright.
“And it’s about time you got a real boyfriend. Honestly, a woman of your age and connections - you’re a disgrace to womanhood. I’ve had more boyfriends in a year than you’ve had in a decade.”
“But darling,” said Robyn, adopting a theatrical voice. “You know I work in the media. The men are either gay or complete bastards. I am destined to become a grumpy old feminist with a fixation on nubile young men. I am fated! Now pass me that towel I have a programme to do.”
“One of these days you’ll meet your match, Robyn. And I for one will delight in watching you fall hook, line and sinker for some utterly ruthless bastard who will put you in your place.”
“Ain’t ever gonna happen,” grinned Robyn. “I’m one of a new breed of women who don’t need a man other than to clean the car and paint the ceilings. And that’s only because I can’t be bothered. Use ’em and abuse them that’s what I say.”
“Oh stop it!” laughed Cheryl flinging the towel at Robyn. “Now get out before I haul your ass out myself.”
“Oh, all right. Spoil sport.”
Robyn towelled herself dry in a hurry. It was now nearly four o’clock. The early evening talk show on which she was a regular panellist began in ninety minutes and she still hadn’t finished reading the guest profiles. She probably should have stayed at The Herald and done her preparation when she’d had the chance. Instead, on a whim she’d gone for a self-indulgent break at Cheryl’s salon. It was exhausting fitting in all her hours as a journalist and as a TV presenter and occasionally she just needed to get away from it all. The last few months had been particularly stressful at The Herald as she’d been covering a series of gruesome murders and, when her editor had ordered her to find a new angle on the story, she’d finally flipped and stormed off. What was she supposed to do? Uncover the murderer herself? Or hope he’d murder someone else to add to his tally of six murders in the last seven months just to keep the story in the papers? As far as she could see there was nothing left to say; the trail was dead and the police didn’t seem to have any clues.
Robyn grimaced as she pulled on her clothes. Her role covering current affairs was far more demanding than her previous job as a fashion columnist but it was a challenge she enjoyed. A few years ago, fashion had been Robyn’s first love but gradually she’d began to lose interest and then one year whilst slightly intoxicated at a fashion show she’d mistakenly purchased a Vivien Westwood gown. It was then she’d realised it was time to grow up. The truth was she was no longer bothered whether or not cowboy boots looked better with jeans or a skirt or whether she could squeeze herself into a size ten without getting a hernia. Fashion might be big business but she was bored stiff writing about silly frocks and shoes that only celebs could afford. Worse, she was sick of attending fashion shows which paraded anorexic stick insects who looked like they wouldn’t be able to have sex without first requiring calcium supplements. Of course, sometimes she still missed writing frivolous articles, attending glamorous parties and the bags of freebies but nevertheless quitting fashion to concentrate on serious journalism was probably her best and most satisfying career move. Besides, she’d been secretly worried that she was going to end up looking like Helena Bonham Carter.
Robyn’s stylist, Megan, rhythmically pulled the brush through Robyn’s hair as she flicked through her researcher’s notes. Robyn’s shoulders sank further; she felt totally relaxed and ready to take on the panel Larry, her producer, had lined up for tonight’s programme. Normally, she’d be getting a little edgy by now with pre-show nerves but after an afternoon at Cheryl’s fantasising about Hugh rescuing her from the clutches of a pint sized evil villain (played by Tom Cruise) she felt on top of the world. Ruefully, Robyn acknowledged that imaginary men were sometimes better than the real deal and she might as well stick to fantasy men as all the decent men in her circles seemed to be either gay or already taken and, at thirty-five, Robyn knew she was rapidly approaching the age when she wouldn’t be able to have foreplay without the use of crowbar to lever off her underwear. She was probably going to be a plump spinster hanging out at the local library for kicks unless she took up some manic exercise regime like Madonna - although pumping iron twice a day and sticking to a diet of lettuce leaves in the hope of finding a toy boy or some rich sugar daddy didn’t really hold much appeal. In fact, from what she’d heard toy boys and sugar daddies broke wind even more often in bed than your average male - and she was definitely not in the market for a wind chime. Anyway, Robyn also knew she was far too lazy when it came to exercise - she’d rather focus on her career, eat Pringles and watch CSI than step on a treadmill.
Robyn forced her attention back to the notes and wondered what Larry had planned for this afternoon and how he might want her to perform: the girl-next-door, the professional journalist or the super bitch? Frequently, it depended on what attitude the guests took and sometimes Larry would signal his instructions across the studio floor as the show progressed. Larry had a way of drawing out latent emotions with his playful teasing and caustic jibes which he often showered on his guests in the Green Room, and Robyn rather liked playing along with him. Together they’d wound up more celebs than she cared to mention. However, it didn’t seem to stop politicians and other celebrities from wanting to appear on their show. In fact the ratings were soaring and Larry was, in part, putting it down to her outspokenness - and she wasn’t one to complain about her increasingly popularity. It seemed just reward for all her years slogging away in obscurity on local rags and the years devoted to fashion wearing clothes that she now used to shine the bathroom floor.
Robyn tossed the researcher’s notes onto the dresser and decided she might as well wing it. She was so relaxed now she felt almost pleasantly drunk. Deciding she might as well indulge herself some more, she leant over to the dressing table and pulled out a large bag of Maltesers from her handbag.
“I hear the Home Secretary is appearing today,” said Megan, as Robyn ripped open the packet.
“Yep. It should be interesting. I intend to give him a hard time about crime rates and some of these ridiculously lean sentences. That should fire him up, he hates to look like a soft touch,” replied Robyn rolling a Malteser around her mouth.
“And don’t forget to bring up that string of murders you’ve been reporting. Honestly, I’m afraid to go out at night now. It’s like London is being stalked by Jack the Ripper again.”
“Yes. I think I will,” said Robyn thoughtfully. “It’s a ghastly business. The police just seem to be running around like headless chickens.”
“Do you think they have any clues?”
“Not that they’re letting on about. Anyway, let’s not dwell on it now it makes me depressed enough as it is. So tell me - what do you think of the Home Secretary’s looks? I think he’s about a six.”
“A seven in my book,” grinned Megan. “He’s definitely better looking than the average politician.”
“You’re too generous,” said Robyn offering up her bag of Maltesers to Megan before popping yet another in her own mouth. “You know, if Simon Cowell owned a Malteser factory I reckon he’d be the perfect ten.”
“Ugh. How can you compare him to likes of George Clooney?”
“Do you think he likes to suck or bite?”
“Simon Cowell. Do you think he likes to suck or bite Maltesers?”
“Oh,” giggled Megan. “I think he’s a sucker.”
“That’s what I thought. Definitely a sucker,” said Robyn looking in the mirror at Megan with a deadpan face until the two women burst into giggles.
The laughter was interrupted by a sudden crash as the door flung open hitting the wall and Larry flounced into the room still yelling back down the corridor in a breathy, high pitched voice.
“I said fifteen minutes not fifteen hours! Now get that idiot assistant down here before I fire him!”
Robyn eyed up Larry’s trousers which sagged loose around his fleshy buttocks. Even though she no longer fussed about fashion some things she just couldn’t help noticing - especially when they involved bottoms.
“Production crew! Why don’t they ever do what they’re told?” exclaimed Larry, turning towards Robyn and raising his hands theatrically in the air. “Heaven help me if I actually had to produce something artistic!”
Robyn beamed at Larry’s dramatic entrance. Saggy trousers or no saggy trousers, everything Larry did was always larger than life. He was a master of the media. He even wore a cravat tucked into the open neck of a flamboyant pink shirt, which strained against his rotund stomach, as if he was a Hollywood director of the Golden Age. It was only his leather brogues which were scuffed and bruised where he scurried from room to room, alternatively haranguing and greasing up to his guests, which gave an indication of his hectic, pressurized job.
“Now Robyn, my dear, have you heard?”
“Heard what? You’re getting a makeover?” teased Robyn.
“Very funny,” Larry replied caustically. “But you’ve heard?”
“Heard what? I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve been at Cheryl’s all afternoon.”
“I thought you looked more glamorous than usual.”
“Touché,” grinned Robyn, getting up out of her seat to give Larry a welcoming kiss on the cheek. “So what’s up?”
“There’s been another murder.”
“Oh God, not again,” sighed Robyn. “When exactly?”
“This morning apparently.”
“Shit. I turned off my phone at the salon,” said Robyn, hastily pulling her mobile out of her bag.
“You’re in luck then. It’s not officially hit the news yet. The Home Secretary’s office rang. He’s pulling out of today’s show to meet with the investigating officers before they release a statement later tonight. They’ve also scheduled a press conference for tomorrow morning and he’s under pressure to attend this time. He’s sending someone over to replace him.”
“Phew,” said Robyn quickly tapping out a text to her editor. “I’ll have to get straight back over to The Herald as soon as we’re done and get an article written before we go to press. Who’s the replacement? Anyone we know?”
“Never heard of him,” said Robyn looking up as the ping on her phone acknowledged her message had been sent. “Is he some lowly backbencher?”
“No, he’s not a back bencher. It’s Brad Gilbert - the American industrialist,” said Larry, grinning triumphantly with his second piece of surprising news.
“What?” gasped Robyn. “The Brad Gilbert…of Safuture Technologies? How the hell did that come about?”
“Apparently, Gilbert and the Home Secretary are old acquaintances from Oxford. They were having lunch when the Home Secretary got the news. Gilbert actually volunteered to stand in for him. It’s all very curious.”
“Yes it is. I wonder if there’s a story in that somewhere?” said Robyn, making a mental note to trawl back through the Home Secretary’s business career. “Still, it’s a bit of a scoop; Gilbert’s kept a very low profile since moving some of his interests over here. This must be his first foray into television in the UK, maybe television in general. I don’t recall having seen him on any channel. Do we know his political viewpoints?”
“Not really. He’s well known for his philanthropy in the States but doesn’t throw his weight around in politics. In fact, no one’s sure which party he even supports.”
“I bet he’s a gun toting right winger if he’s friends with the Home Secretary,” said Robyn with glee. “The Home Secretary’s desire to reinstate capital punishment is the worst kept secret in Westminster. Gilbert’s probably one of those American nutters who wears a ten gallon hat and keeps a cabinet of guns in his lounge ready to fire at any passing pigeon. He probably shoots calves for breakfast. I bet he even models himself on Dirty Harry!”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to provoke him, Robyn. It’s what you do best,” chuckled Larry, delighted that Robyn was clearly up for making the most of their unexpected guest.
“Hmm… maybe if Megan styled my hair into a bird’s nest that would be a good starting point,” said Robyn, grinning at Larry and Megan.
“Really, there’s no need for yo’all to make such an effort on my behalf.”
Robyn glanced to the door from where a slow American drawl had originated. A tall, athletic man with an air of cool distain upon his face leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe. His hair was black, flecked with grey at the sides and his watchful eyes were the colour of rich, dark chocolate. He wore a tailored suit which reeked of Savile Row, the jacket of which was pushed back by his hands which were casually ensconced in his pockets which, combined with his open necked shirt, gave an overall air of casual indifference. Robyn recognised him immediately from the photographs that occasionally turned up in the business news. Only he looked more ruthless and arrogant in the flesh than she had ever imagined. A sudden hot flush swept over her as she realised Brad Gilbert had obviously heard all the idiotic things she’d said in jest.
Gilbert pushed himself off the doorframe, pulled his hands out of his trousers and sauntered into the room.
“I always kinda thought Callahan was a bit gung-ho,” said Gilbert with an expressionless face as he moved forwards.
Robin groaned inwardly with instant dislike. Not only did Brad Gilbert look arrogant but he was truly arrogant if he thought he was cooler than Clint. He was probably nothing more than a cowboy made good on the back of his wealthy parents. Robyn decided there and then she was going to roast alive him in the debate.
“Brad, Brad, Brad,” said Larry, recovering from the momentary embarrassment and switching back into genial mode and clasping Gilbert’s hand as if he was an old friend. “Delighted, simply delighted you could make it tonight. Anything we can do to make you feel at home just ask.”
“Well thank ’ye all,” said Brad, withdrawing his hand and tilting his head towards Megan.
Gilbert strode passed Robyn and plonked himself down in her chair, putting his feet up on the dressing table. Robyn’s mouth fell open in astonishment at the blatant rudeness.
“Well that’s good of ya, Larry. But I kinda like it here. That Green Room place of yours is way too gaudy, looks like some whorehouse from way back west. I sure am glad you folks in England don’t do that style regular.”
Robyn looked at Larry and Megan, lifted up her forefinger and twirled it discreetly around by her side of head signalling she thought Brad Gilbert was a total fruitcake. And then, just as she was just about to open her mouth and tell him to get out of her chair he yanked her by the arm and dumped her unceremoniously on his lap.
“Now, this’ll be the gal whom I’m to spar with on this here show of yours, Larry.”
“Ah yes,” said Larry for once in his life almost speechless at the turn of events.
“How dare you treat me like a horse!” spat Robyn, pushing her hair out of her face to find herself staring right into Brad’s haughty eyes which appeared to be examining her breasts like she was on sale at a farmyard auction.
“A pretty gal here, Larry,” said Brad. “But a mouth like a cannonball. I sure hope she ain’t gonna give me no trouble.”
“Ah no Brad, no, not at all,” lied Larry, knowing the look on Robyn’s face said there was definitely going to be trouble.
“Five minutes everyone!” called the assistant floor manager, popping his head round the door.
“Well now,” said Larry, clapping his hands together enthusiastically at the prospect of his ratings being given a massive boost by the mauling Robyn would undoubtedly give Brad, especially now that he had turned out to be some bizarre caricature of a wild west cowboy. “It’s show time! Let’s get going everyone!”
Robyn tried to wriggle free but Brad still had a firm grip on her arm and a foot wound around her ankles. As she squirmed she felt the muscles of his thighs pressed firmly against her bottom. And then she noticed there was something else pressed firmly against her bottom which most definitely wasn’t a leg. Robyn froze and looked Brad in the eye. He slowly raised one eyebrow and, in spite of herself, Robyn flushed a deep red.
“Why you perv…” began Robyn.
With a sudden jerk of his knee, Brad flicked Robyn off his lap and stood up.
“Lead on, Larry,” said Brad, ignoring Robyn stumbling across the room as he pulled out a tie from his jacket pocket and fixed it in place. “Let’s get this ’ol show on the road then.”
Robyn and Megan followed a few paces behind as Larry and Brad led the way down the corridor chatting amicably. Robyn smoothed down her dress, looked at Megan and rolled her eyes.
“He’s weird,” whispered Megan. “But he is definitely hot. I give him a ten.”
“Are you nuts?” whispered Robyn in return. “I’m deducting five points as he’s American and five points for being complete jerk. So that’s a big fat zero.”
“Honey,” said Brad raising his voice but without turning around. “I ain’t sure what you got against us Americans but we’re supposed to have a “Special Relationship,” so quit your gossiping or I’m gonna tan your ass.”
“I’d like to see you try,” said Robyn, aghast that Brad had been listening in on her conversation.
“Honey, I don’t think I could possibly miss,” replied Brad.
“Does my bum look big in these trousers?” whispered Robyn to Megan mortified her bum might look like Kim Kardshain’s. There were some fads that, even with her fashion background, Robyn was not keen to follow. “I thought it looked okay.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” giggled Megan. “He’s teasing you.”
“Why, the arrogant son-of-a bitch,” said Robyn marching up to Brad and poking Brad him vehemently in the back.
“You got something to say, honey?” said Brad, breaking off his conversation with Larry and turning around.
“Yes,” said Robyn. “I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself in future, asshole.”
“Well now, that’s not what I expected to hear from an English rose,” said Brad, raising his eyebrows as if mildly shocked. “I’ll be sure never to mention your ass again.”
“Good,” replied Robyn with a satisfied smile.
“But if you ever need to park it, I’ve room in my corral.”
“You bastard,” said Robyn raising her hand but Brad catching it before she could whip it across his face.
“Now, now, children,” interrupted Larry, masking his laughter with a mock cough. “Can we save this…um…dispute…until we get in front of the cameras.”
“Sure thing,” said Brad grinning and letting go of Robyn’s wrist before turning away and heading off up the corridor again.
“My wrist is numb,” said Robyn rubbing it furiously where red marks from Brad’s tight grip had appeared.
“I think he fancies you,” whispered Megan with a knowing smile as the two of them trailed after Brad and Larry.
“Well I don’t fancy him,” replied Robyn. “And, apart from the fact I’ve only just met him, he’s a jerk.”
“But he’s an incredibly rich jerk. You could do a lot worse,” giggled Megan.
“Yeah well, right now I know where I’d shove his wallet.”
Further up the corridor, Brad did a loud impression of a neighing horse.
To be continued….possibly....at some point....maybe....