Sandy thought they had stopped outside the wrong building when the Mercedes drew to a halt outside the studios. His mouth dropped open as Gypsy led him from the car, through the sudden surge of excited onlookers and up the newly tiled steps. Elegant plate glass doors, kept open almost permanently, admitted an endless stream of dancers, agents, choreographers and producers; most of whom recognized Gypsy and stepped aside with a welcoming smile. Inside the doors, the foyer had been greatly enlarged with a smart new stairway rising between two modern lifts and carrying a crocodile of people to and from the next two floors.
"Hey, pal! You said you'd done just a bit of decoratin'."
Gypsy grinned as he steered Sandy towards the reception desk, which took up most of the left hand wall. "You ought to know me by now, Sandy. I never do anything by halves. Hi, Jim, how is the ankle?"
"Mending nicely, thanks." The young subject of Gypsy's concern grinned as he hobbled past on crutches. A little girl pushed her way through the crowds and asked Gypsy for his autograph, the only thing available to write on being a school exercise book, the child obviously willing to risk a ticking off from her teacher to have a rare prize to show her schoolmates. Gypsy grinned as she hurried away with the book clutched tightly to chest. Then he turned to scan the illuminated information board behind the desk indicating what classes and activities were going on in various rooms and suites.
"That's business for you," Gypsy said proudly. "All but one room occupied. Erskine said I wouldn't make this place pay under five years, I think he is wrong, don't you?" He pointed to a particular entry. "See who's in studio four?"
Sandy read the name and his eyes popped. "Bobby Meredith! Iesu! You are doin' well!"
"Well, why should Pineapple have all the cream, excusing the pun." Gypsy turned to speak to one of the receptionists, a pretty girl who moved towards him behind the desk. "Could I have a look at the booking sheets, please, Patsy? I want to see this overgrown groupie do a double take."
The girl obligingly turned the large flat pad round on the desk and pulled it in front of Gypsy who turned a few pages before pointing to a one particular name. "If you think Bobby Meredith is a big fish, feast your eyes on this one; and these further down the page:"
And while Sandy gazed in awe at the names written down in the book, Patsy said to Gypsy, "Madame Marsaud has arrived, she's having coffee in your suite with Mr. Trumble and Mr. Thompson. She said to tell you to hurry, we've had more names for the audition than we expected and we've had to swap things round a bit."
"Over eight hundred."
"That many! Where have you put us?"
"But I thought Mr. Bernard was in there, he did ask for the biggest room we had."
"We've put him in your own personal suite, he's quite happy there apparently."
"And what time are we due to start?
"Five minutes ago."
"Oh dear: Madame will not be in a good mood: Had a bad night has she?" By now Gypsy was grinning widely.
"Wouldn't you if some silly nut in the flat above fell asleep and left the bath taps running, and you had water cascading through the ceiling?"
Gypsy's smile vanished. "Oh no! Was there much damage done?"
"Her new bedroom carpet got a soaking and her bathroom is awash. She spent most of the night trying to rouse the offending tenant; apparantly he'd had a date with a whisky bottle. Madame couldn't get any help from the night porter either; he'd slipped out for a quick one, which lasted half the night. Madame's going to report him to the landlords."
"I should think so!" Gypsy sympathized. "I think I'd had better go upstairs, Sandy, Madame may be tiny but she is quite a dragon when she is angry!"
Gypsy's penthouse apartment had its own private lift to the right of' the reception desk and as they stepped into it Sandy asked, "This Madame Marsaud, it wouldn't be the one who-."
"Yes Sandy; the one and only." Gypsy stabbed a button on the lift wall and the doors closed. "It was Madame Marsaud who helped me dance again when I was finally out of the wheel chair. Ed advised me to learn basic dance steps as part of my physio. You don't realize how much you rely on all your toes when you walk, till you lose some. By your face you think it's funny I still take dance lessons. I'm serious, pal. Now Madame tutors not just me but my dancers as well and I've made her principal of these studios. There are still a lot of things I can't do yet, and I have to work out with my dance teams. And I have to work out a new routine with Madame and Ed before I dare attempt it. At least I never have a dancer of' mine say to me they don't need a tutor; what is good for me is good for them, right?"
The lift doors opened, and Sandy had his first glimpse of' the apartment which once should have been his home. It radiated caviar and champagne; the spacious lounge being a far cry from the old fashioned coziness of Chilvers. Here, Gypsy had created a luxurious business home where he could act out the part of a celebrity, a front office for his public image and a venue for receiving business guests and interviewers, and so keep his private life private. He had decorated it in his favourite colours, cream and jade and filled the walls and cabinets with paintings and precious bric-a-brac, sprinkled the settees and chairs with satin cushions and had given pride of place to a custom built recliner chair which housed a universal remote control consul from which he could manipulate all the facilities of the apartment. Sandy stepped out of the lift and his feet sank into deep piled carpeting. Awed by the place, he said, "Iesu, man, it must 'ave cost you a bomb!"
"Well, some people throw their money away on drugs, booze, women and world cruises, and even stranger things; I spend mine on the Chilvers Project, Erica, and this place. I take it you like it?"
"Like it!" Sandy whistled low. "That's putting it mildly."
Several people occupied the settees. Ed and Erskine were there, talking to a tiny silver haired lady who's thin hands fluttered like birds wings as she talked, emphasizing what she was saying. Her speech was quick and mouse like, her accent richly 'Montmartre'. As Gypsy approached the settees she glanced up, gave a cry of relief and was on her feet with the agility of a woman half her age. She came to Gypsy with her arms outstretched and they hugged each other, and Sandy's French was adequate enough to follow them as they uttered endearments in French before Gypsy ticked her off for not contacting him about her flooded apartment, insisting he would take care of everything for her. When she protested, he wagged a finger at her and threatened to book her into the London Hilton for a few days if she did not agree. Then he kissed her and drew her towards Sandy. Breaking into English, for Sandy's benefit, he said, "Remember my friend, Sandy Roberts? This is him."
The tiny lady smiled up at Sandy and held out her hand, "Oh, to be sure, I remember you, Sandy. Like Eddie 'e is ver' tall, no'? 'Ow are you. Sandy?"
"Very well, Madame," Sandy replied as he bent to kiss her hand. "And 'ow are you?"
"Ohhhh," Madame fluttered her hands at him, "A leetle damp round zer feet per'aps, nothing to worry about." Turning to Gypsy, she added briskly, "We must start zee auditions now, Gypsy, we 'ave many boys and girls wait for us. You really are zer naughty boy keep us wait like zis."
"But you still love me." Gypsy hugged her again. "Why don't you go and start the proceeding for me, Madame, I would like to show Sandy something first. I promise I'll not be long."
He saw her into the lift, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek then turned to greet the other guest sitting beside Ed with a huge smirk on his face at the chance to get so close to all that muscle.
"Hi, Henry; I'm sorry we had to mess you about today, I hope you will not find things too cramped for you."
"Are you talking about this settee, dear?" The man simpered, "Or that luxurious pad you call a rehearsal suite?" He nudged Ed, who looked away in embarrassment. "Who am I to complain about being used as a chess piece when I'm wallowing in heaven." He flicked his fingers through his grey locks, smiled accommodatingly at Ed, and stood up. His singlet and practice pants had once been a brilliant blue but were now more than a little work-worn and faded. His ballet shoes needed restitching, or better still throwing away, and the oversocks that partly hid them no longer stayed up by themselves; the overall picture was certainly not that of a top choreographer who commanded his own fees and had that much work in hand he could afford to smile at trouble for the next five years at least. He picked up an Arran cardigan and draped it over his left shoulder. "About that children's' Christmas show you are planning, Gypsy; thanks for asking for my help, my love. I'll be only too happy to choreograph it for you; nothing would make me more happy than to say I've actually worked with Gypsy Diaz. We'll make a great team, you and I, sweetie:"
"Actually I didn't think you'd have the time."
"For you, precious boy, I'll always make time." Henry let his eyes roam all over Sandy's tall frame. "Especially if he's part of the set up." and ignoring Gypsy's stifled snort, he swept past Sandy towards the door that led to the stairs leading to Gypsy's private rehearsal suite on the floor below. "Must dash, darlings; can't stay to jangle with you lovely people any longer; work, work, work." In his normal masculine baritone voice he added, "See you later, guys, for coffee perhaps. Bye." The door swung to behind him and immediately the occupants of the room gave way to subdued laughter, mostly at the look of disbelief on Sandy's face.
Gypsy slipped out of his coat and draped it over the back of the recliner. "You'll have to watch that man, Sandy. When Henry Bernard gets his beady eye on someone, squat thrusts and press-ups don't have anything to do with gymnastics. Seriously though he is one great guy and not as camp as he make out. That's just for show when there's people like you around" He glanced at his watch and his laughter died. "Is that the time? I'll have to move." He moved quickly towards the main bedroom. "Hang on, Sandy, I will fetch that paper. I think I know where I put it."
He disappeared into the bedroom and Sandy sat down beside Erskine. "Morning, Erskine, long time no see?"
Erskine beamed at him as they shook hands. "Good to see you, my boy, you're looking fit."
"That's more than can be said for Gypsy, you know all this bravado and 'appy talk is a sham, don't you?"
Erskine nodded his head slowly. "Of course I do, but who's going spoil the show by saying so? On Saturday, he's got the biggest gig ever; televised and going out live to no less than twenty four countries and all proceeds in aid of The Chilvers Project and the Diaz Foundation. He's pepping himself up for it, that's all."
"But I thought everythin' 'ad been cancelled for at least two months!"
"Not this one. He wouldn't let me. He said he'd do it in his wheel chair if necessary."
"Will 'e be fit enough for it?"
"We're keeping our fingers crossed. Ed's got the biggest chore. Getting him going after a couple of days in bed is bad enough, so you can imagine what Ed is up against. Still, we've got something cooking that'll lighten his load, haven't we, Ed?"
"Oh, yes?" Gypsy was heading back towards the settees carrying a brown envelope, which he was in the process of tearing open. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
Erskine's smile was smug. "Nothing you can't handle with your usual charm."
Gypsy fixed him with a knowing stare. "That sounds like bad news. Just what am I supposed to be handling?"
"No way!" Gypsy took out a sheet of paper from the envelope and studied it as he spoke. "Today I audition, tomorrow I have class and exercises, Wednesday I open the new children's unit at the Rosscroft, and I meet the public in a superstore, and don't forget I have to record that chat show for 'Thames TV' in the afternoon. Besides which I have contractors meeting me to discuss the final plans for the children's theatre."
With a wink in Sandy's direction, Ed said, "Sounds like some female is going to be mighty disappointed."
"What female?" Gypsy asked without looking up.
"The one who won the competition."
"If you mean the publicity stunt for that soap I hate the smell of," Gypsy replied, still studying the paper, "forget it; Erskine cancelled it." Erskine coughed with embarrassment and Gypsy raised his eyes at last to look at him, saying flatly, "you didn't cancel it. Brilliant!"
Erskine smiled disarmingly. "Not to worry, son, it's only a chick winning a day with her favourite star."
Gypsy groaned and throwing the paper and envelope on a nearby table, he turned his back on Erskine and rested his rump against the back of the settee. Folding his arms across his chest, he sulked. "How did I let you talk me into it in the first place?"
Erskine's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Think of all that lovely cash rolling into your appeal fund from the soap company's coffers: And think of that lovely young winner just yearning to swoon into your arms when she meets you."
"I see her already." Gypsy glared at him over his shoulder. "Five feet one, fat as a barrel with buck-teeth and cross eyes. Freda Basset. The name is enough to put me off!"
"You shouldn't always go by names, Gypsy," Erskine said soothingly. "She'll probably turn out to be a real cracker."
"With my luck, not a chance. You conned me into this, Erskine Trumble; you and that excuse for a friend sitting next to you."
Erskine looked hurt. "Don't you trust me, Gypsy?"
"Trust you? I know you and your scheming mind!"
"Oh, Gypsy, that isn't fair. Hasn't my scheming mind kept your agents and your record company, and half' a dozen other sharks, off your back? And don't forget, you said yourself you wanted to earn as much money as you could for the appeal before Christmas."
Gypsy sighed. "Okay, okay, you win, but I warn you, Erskine Trumble and you Ed Thompson, if this girl turns out to be a wart faced moron with a hunch back, I will make you suffer for your trouble!" He pushed away from the settee. "Now, do we stay up here and talk about starry-eyed competition winners or do we get some work done?" A buzzer sounded and he swung round, heading for the recliner. On the wall by the lift, a control panel showed a blinking red light. Gypsy opened the cover of a panel in the right arm of the recliner, flicked a switch and the light went out. "Yes, Barney, what is it?"
"Gypsy?" the deep voice of his security chief, Barney Anders came out of the lift control panel, "You've got trouble at the front desk. Can you spare a minute?"
"Not right now, we're late with the auditions already. Can you handle it yourself?"
"It's Denny and Paula, the kids Erskine sacked yesterday. They're raising a stink down here and they won't leave without seeing you."
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