HOW LITTLE WE KNOW
10.40am. First pick-up of the day. When Terry arrives in Chelsea at Ashington Mews, two people are already waiting out on the pavement, him struggling into the jacket of his city suit, flight bag at his side, her in evening dress and flimsy wrap. City Suit yanks the door open the minute Terry pulls on the brake, whilst she clicks away down the street in her high heels, in the opposite direction. Now settled in the back of the cab, the man with the flight bag doesn’t look round – but she does. Terry sees her in his rear view mirror as she stops suddenly, puts a hand to her cheek, turns and waves frantically. His fare is already punching some numbers into his mobile, so it’s a wasted gesture on her part. Then they turn the corner.
Terry swings the taxi out into the traffic and joins the stream heading towards the City. As he glances in the mirror he sees his passenger, phone clamped to his ear, checking his watch.
Should have chucked her out of bed half an hour earlier, mate, Terry thinks. They’ll be cutting it fine now, to make the flight.
He turns off the main road and onto the one-way system, running parallel at first then taking a right, past the back entrances to shops and restaurants. Turning left at the end, he suddenly hits the brake. Ahead, the road is blocked by a delivery lorry, two cars in front of him. A van pulls up behind him, then another car, cutting off Terry’s only other option and boxing him in to the queue. He leans out of the window and shouts ahead to the delivery man.
‘How long’s this gonna take, mate?’
‘Five minutes – less if I’m left to get on with it.’
In the back of the cab Terry’s passenger swears.
A young woman appears on their right, rushing along, also in a hurry. She steps off the pavement without looking, meaning to cross in front of Terry, and a second later a courier motorbike flashes past her. The bike just catches the woman’s shoulder bag, and as it tugs at it the strap breaks. The bag bounces off the cab bonnet and onto the road, where the contents spill out. Things are made even worse when a breeze starts to whoosh everything around – sheet music, papers, and photos.
One of the photos is blown up onto Terry’s windscreen, and the image of the girl in the road stares in at him and he back at her, before it slithers to the ground again. She scrambles around gathering everything up, holding her long dark curls off her face with one hand as she does so. She stuffs the whole lot back into the bag then dashes off in front of Terry’s cab, disappearing into a dark doorway on the left.
Apollo theatre stage door, Terry thinks absently. He’s picked up there plenty of times before.
Up ahead, the lorry driver slams his door and starts up. The queue moves off.
April walks on stage and is handed some music. They all have to sing the same song and most of the young girls she’s been sharing the green room with will have to sight-read it because to them it’ll be new. But April’s repertoire consists mainly of standards, and she knows this one well, so she doesn’t need to look at the words or the notes. She puts the music down on the top of the piano and tells the pianist her key.
‘Up-beat and jazzy,’ she adds to him, clicking her fingers and counting in with the tempo.
Down in the dim light of the auditorium, behind the footlights, the director and his assistant flick through April’s CV. She’s the seventeenth so far this morning and it’s beginning to get tedious. They’re ready for a break and a coffee but there are a lot of girls to see in this session so they have to crack on. The pianist swings into the introduction with as much jazz feel as he can muster at that time on a Thursday morning.
‘”How little we know, how much to dis-co-ver…”‘ April smiles at the darkness and the two dim figures in the stalls as she settles into the song she’s sung dozens of times before.
The director uncrosses his long legs, takes another look at April’s CV, then puts her publicity photos back into their plastic wallet and shifts around in the theatre seat.
‘”How little we understand what touches off a tingle, That sudden explosion when two tingles intermingle…”’
‘Plenty of projection for chorus,’ comments the assistant, ‘and she looks good.’
Up on stage, April unhooks the mike and gives the wire a little flick to uncoil it. She’s confident with the song, and it shows. The director sits up and starts to take more notice of her.
‘She’s the best this morning,’ he says, ‘by a long way. And we could use some experience in the chorus.’
‘Pity she didn’t audition yesterday for the supporting roles,’ says his assistant. ‘You know what, I can’t help thinking she’d make a better Clarice than Trudy James as well.’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right… but as you know we need a name up front and Trudy’s already done the show on Broadway. Who’s ever heard of …’ he flicks the papers over, ‘…of April Rydale? No, much as I like her we’ve got to have Trudy to bring the punters in – unfortunately. Just got to hope she’ll be OK with plenty of make-up and a little tweaking on the sound board.’
‘But this one would be wasted in the chorus.’
The director thinks for a moment as April carries on singing, punching the song out into the darkness of the auditorium. Decisions have already been made on leading and supporting roles, but his assistant has a point. He fidgets a bit more.
‘See if all the letters have gone out yet,’ he says, finally.
‘”…and the world around me shat-ters, How little it mat-ters, how little we know.”‘
April reaches the end of the song with a flourish and puts the mike back on the stand. In the silence that follows the director taps his pen on the opera glasses locked in the back of the seat in front, and considers. Tap, tap, tap. Perhaps he can manoeuvre a few changes to the casting, if it’s not too late. April clears her throat, and waits. The pianist turns the music back to the first page again, ready for the next one.
The director rolls a few possibilities around in his mind, then leans forward. ‘OK April, thank you. Stay behind for a while, please.’
Terry indicates left and turns the cab away from a slow moving traffic jam ahead of him. Taptaptap. A sudden knocking on the glass partition ensures his attention and he glances over his shoulder at the increasingly irate passenger behind him.
‘Is it really helping to turn off? Look here, once those lights change…’
Terry pulls in at the kerb, and turns to face the passenger.
‘Down there…’ he says, jabbing his finger back the way they’ve just come, ‘is a line of traffic going nowhere fast. Now I happen to know why that is because…’ he points to the dashboard…’I’ve got SatNav and contact with base. Do you want to know what the reason is?’
Without waiting for a reply, Terry goes on.
‘Well I’ll tell you. There’s a burst water main just around those traffic lights and everything that can avoid the junction is doing just that. Which is why you’ll notice a number of other vehicles driving up this little road, and getting ahead of us.’
The passenger looks through the side window where a procession of cars, vans and taxis is overtaking the stationary cab.
‘Now, you can either leave me to do my job, which is to get you to City Airport in time to catch your flight, or you can get out here owing me only…’ Terry glances back at the blue figures on the clock, ‘… eight pounds forty p.’
‘”How lit-tle we know”…oh, sorry…can I start again?’
On stage at the Apollo the nineteenth audition of the morning is getting underway as the assistant director returns to the darkness of the stalls. His seat squeaks as he flips it down then groans a bit when he sits on it.
‘Letters went out by courier bike this morning, also Trudy’s contract,’ he says softly.
‘Mmm…pity. Right – let her go, but make sure we keep all her details on file.’
The girl on stage struggles with the middle eight of the song and the pianist does his best to keep her on track. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, concentrating hard on the music, which flutters in her shaking hands. It’s a relief when she makes it through to the end.
‘Thanks for coming, Joanne. Let’s have the next please.’
There is a pause before another hopeful takes the stage and is handed the music. In the green room, fifteen would-be chorus girls wait nervously for their turn.
When Eddy sped away from the back of the Apollo he was unaware that his courier motorbike had just caused April’s publicity material to scatter around in the road – and even if he had realised, his schedule is tight and he wouldn’t have wanted to stop just for that. He has three deliveries to make for the Apollo – two north of the city and the third out at Chelsea. He plans to head to Chelsea first, where he knows he has two pick-ups waiting for him. Traffic is bad, but then it always is. Weaving his bike in and out of the other vehicles gives him an advantage and gets up other drivers’ noses, which are two good reasons to do it. There is a third, and it has to do with ambition.
Eddy has no intention of being a dispatch rider for longer than is strictly necessary to raise the cash it will take to fulfil his dream, which comes in two parts. First, he will buy a Harley Davidson, and second, he will ride it across the USA from New York to Los Angeles. He hasn’t ever ridden a Harley Davidson, although he’s drooled over a few, nor has he stopped to think through the logistics of the project, but he’s unshakeable in his conviction that he’ll achieve his goal. In the meantime, Eddy makes his deliveries as quickly as he can, because there is a bonus system in operation that favours speed and encourages the bold.
He’s still some way back from traffic lights at a busy crossroads, where everything seems to have come to a halt. He works his way along the nearside of the stationary vehicles, narrowly avoiding scraping their paintwork in the process. Traffic is crawling straight ahead across the junction but not moving at all on the left turn, which is Eddy’s route. He inches nearer the front of the queue, catching someone’s wing mirror as he does so and receiving an angry blast on the horn in response. Progress is annoyingly slow and he stands up astride his bike, looking for an opening to squeeze through.
Suddenly, the leading cars creep forward a little and this produces a small gap right in front of Eddy, which he dashes through. He is now on the outside of the line of traffic, where he can make up some of the time he has lost. He steams ahead. A large supermarket lorry near the front of the queue releases its air brakes with a sigh and rolls forward just enough for Eddy to dart across behind it and in front of the next car in the line.
He is now right at the junction and makes his left turn at speed, but because he lacks a taxi driver’s early warning system he has no idea about the burst water main Terry was able to avoid. Suddenly, he finds himself driving through what appears to be a lake and into a fountain.
For a moment, Eddy can’t see a thing. The bike skids across the road and remarkably, mainly because everything but Eddy is travelling at a snail’s pace if at all, nothing hits him. He ends up 50 yards further along the road, in the opposite gutter, still holding the handlebars but with no other part of his body in contact with the machine. A crowd of spectators gathers round him and from their ranks come people who insist he sits down on the kerbside to collect his wits. Someone picks the bike up, and others help him out of his helmet, stand over him and fuss about until the arrival of the water company provides a more interesting diversion, and suddenly Eddy finds himself alone.
He looks around for his motorbike, but can’t see it. He gets to his feet unsteadily, and it’s at this moment that he spots the bike, complete with his courier-bag of undelivered mail, heading away from him and gathering speed. Anxious to keep on the right side of the law, the thief astride Eddy’s bike has also helped himself to his abandoned crash helmet.
A fading star arrives at the mews apartment in Chelsea with a newly topped-up suntan and her roots golden again. Trudy James unlocks the front door and starts to climb the stairs.
‘Honey,’ she says over her shoulder to Ray, the cab driver, ‘Would you be an angel and bring my bags up?’
Ray is unimpressed with her because last week he had Elaine Paige in his cab and hasn’t stopped talking about it since, so it is with bad grace that he hauls her bags out of the boot, deposits them on the pavement and glances up the narrow stairs. The fare hasn’t been paid yet, so he grudgingly grabs hold of the two suitcases and slowly puffs his way up behind her.
‘Hi, baby…surprise! Home already…’ Trudy calls as she throws her handbag down on a sofa and moves into the hall again. As he struggles with the bags at the halfway point on the stairs, Ray sees her reading a note on the hall table, which she then slaps back down with a sigh.
Trudy wanders into the bedroom and calls over her shoulder. ‘Just bring those bags right in here.’
Feeling suddenly tired after the flight, she sits down and peers at herself in the mirror. Her eyes are drawn to the twinkle of something unfamiliar on the dressing table top. A pair of earrings seems to leap up at her in order to get noticed. She picks one up and turns it over in her hand. A present to welcome her home? She looks more closely. No, this is just cheap costume jewellery, not her style at all. The earring slips through her fingers and collides with its partner, sending it skidding across the top. She turns to look at the silk cover on the bed. Nicely smoothed – and not, she thinks, by a man’s hand. And then in her waste bin she sees a small white tissue with a trace of lipstick on it. She looks at it for several seconds and it seems to grow larger under her gaze.
A wheezy sound behind makes her spin round. The taxi driver deposits her suitcases inside the room and gathers his breath to tell her the fare, but before he can do so she has more instructions for him.
‘I’d like you to put those bags back in your cab and take me straight to Heathrow,’ is her frosty greeting to him. ‘I won’t be staying after all.’ Her voice is quieter, but with an edge to it.
Ray would protest if he could get his breath, but in any case the moment is lost because she walks past him into the living room, and starts shrieking into her mobile phone.
‘…and as far as that contract goes you can tear it into small pieces, put them in an envelope, and post it to the bastard with whom I used to share this flat, with instructions to shove it where the sun don’t shine…Yes sweetheart, that’s exactly right. I’m heading back to the US.’
Ray weighs up his options, in monetary terms. Then he picks up the suitcases and sets off downstairs again.
1.45am. Last pick up of Terry’s day. When he arrives in Soho at the entrance to the jazz club there are still plenty of late night revellers milling around. He winds down the window and calls across to the large black guy on the door.
‘Cab for Islington?’
While he waits, Terry looks out at the faces on the posters by the club doorway. Musicians, singers, black, white – they gaze back at him, and one is familiar.
After a few moments April comes out, calls goodbye to the doorman and climbs in the back of the taxi. She looks different tonight, more sophisticated – her long curls are pinned up and she’s wearing sparkly stuff on her eyes. She looks tired, too. You and me both, thinks Terry. He pulls away and re-joins the traffic up on the main road. He glances back in his mirror and catches her eye.
‘Did you get the part?’
‘This morning, at the Apollo – you emptied your bag over the bonnet of my cab.’
April catches on after a few seconds.
‘Oh, that was you? No, I didn’t…I don’t think I was what they were looking for.’
She fishes her mobile phone out of her bag and sees that three messages have been left earlier that evening, both from the same unfamiliar number. Too tired now to bother, she switches the phone off and puts it away again. Tomorrow morning will do, she thinks.
‘Their loss,’ says Terry, and seeing that her eyes are already closed, puts his foot down a bit in order to get them both home as quickly as possible.