I dreaded to think would Winter would say if I was given the boot before I even managed to open my mouth – although his icy irritation on the train was now making more sense.
Armstrong didn’t bother with the bullhorn. ‘I know most of you have been here for a few weeks already completing pre-interviews with the talent and setting everything up. I also know that things have been more difficult than they should have been and that there have been … complications.’ Complications? Well, that was one way of describing a horrific murder, I thought. ‘The police are still investigating the matter and I urge you to give them your full cooperation.’
He nodded over to a small contingent at the side who, now I looked at them more closely, did appear more grimly official than any of the film crew. ‘However,’ Armstrong continued to shout, ‘nothing will stop Enchantment. We are the best television series on this planet! We have millions of viewers! We are going to go from success to success and nothing is going to stop us.’
There should have been someone in the back with a drum kit. At the very least he deserved a cymbal crash to add to his dramatic flair.
‘You all know what to do and what needs to be done. At precisely midday the talent will arrive and the cameras will start rolling. We are making history, people! Don’t you forget it!’ With that, Armstrong punched the air and left the stage.
Mrs Bullhorn returned to her spot, clapping the director ostentatiously as he walked away. ‘Wonderful, just wonderful! We’re so lucky to have such a hands-on director. All runners need to report directly to Armstrong’s trailer now as he wants to brief you all in person. The rest of you get back to work!’
There were three other runners besides myself. One was Amy, my helpful room-mate, while the two others looked young enough to have just stepped out of high school. I eyed the first one’s acne and shook his hand when he introduced himself with a mumble as Mazza. I sincerely doubted that was the name his parents had christened him with.
The other one was almost as posh as Tarquin, with the kind of floppy hair and expensive clothes that marked him out as defiantly upper class. I was betting that he was called George or William or Henry but, when he gave his name as Moonbeam, it took everything I had to maintain a straight face. That couldn’t be his real name – could it? He was clearly used to painful reactions at his name, judging by the way he rolled his eyes at my stifled smirk, but at least he seemed to be enjoying himself.
We hustled towards a large silver contraption that I took to be Morris Armstrong’s trailer. I did my best to stay behind the others but, with only four of us, it was obvious that I couldn’t stay hidden for long.
Moonbeam took the lead, marching up the steps and knocking on the door. There was a muffled yell from inside and he shrugged then entered with the rest of us on his heels.
The trailer’s interior was considerably more spacious and luxurious than I imagined. I gazed round in awe at the plush decorating and shiny surfaces. I could easily live like this, I decided.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Mazza’s expression was something akin to a small child being introduced to ice cream for the first time. He let out a low whistle and then blushed immediately. He flicked a quick look at Amy and blushed even more. I decided that I liked him the most.
Armstrong appeared from the far end, wiping his hands on a towel. He tossed it to the floor and stared at our little group as if he’d completely forgotten the reason why he’d asked us here. Then his expression cleared. ‘You’re the runners.’
Moonbeam again stepped forward. ‘We are.’ He put out his hand. ‘I’m Moonbeam.’
Armstrong gazed at him with a blank face. ‘No, you’re not.’
‘I am. It’s a strange name but…’
The director held up a palm and Moonbeam fell silent. ‘I will not call anyone Moonbeam. You are Number One. That is what you will answer to from now on.’ He pointed at Amy then at Mazza. ‘Number Two. Number Three.’ His head turned to me. As soon as he registered my face, his mouth snapped shut.
‘Number Four,’ I offered helpfully, in case his arithmetic had suddenly deserted him.
Armstrong’s eyes narrowed. I held my breath and waited for him to throw me unceremoniously off his set. Instead he muttered something under his breath and gave a barely perceptible nod. He recognised me from the train – of that there was no doubt – but for some reason he was declining to mention it just yet.
‘Your job is going to be the most vital of all,’ he barked. ‘You might only be runners but everyone has to start somewhere. I was once like you, you know.’ His eyes took on a faraway cast as if he were fondly remembering his golden days of being a dogsbody when he didn’t have to worry about large gleaming trailers and lots of money.
Armstrong shook himself. ‘As runners, you have access to all areas. Naturally we have security on hand to deter any trophy hunters or rabid fans or,’ he shuddered, ‘the press. But that doesn’t mean that the more cunning of them will not find ways of gaining access. This is supposed to be a closed set. In my experience there is no such thing. This area was chosen because of its longstanding historical links to witchcraft. It’s certainly not the sort of place I would have chosen if I’d had the choice. There are simply too many opportunities for outsiders to sneak in. We can’t completely barricade ourselves off. More’s the pity.’
Amy nervously raised her hand. ‘Sir? Mr Armstrong?’
‘What is it?’ he barked.
‘Doesn’t everyone have identification tags?’
He drew himself up, looming over her in an almost sinister fashion. ‘That’s what makes their kind so insidious! And where you come in. One of your tasks will be keep track of those tags. You will frequently be approached by crew members who have misplaced their badges. I have already sent out an email to everyone. If your ID tag is lost, then so are you.’ He glared at her as if she’d already dared to forget her own. ‘Got that? There will be no duplications or replacements. I will not have my set sullied by anyone not of the industry who might have stolen a tag for their own ends.’
He wagged a finger at her in further admonishment. ‘Keep a particularly close eye out for anyone who might be a journalist. The last thing we want is their kind here revealing all our secrets to the world before we are ready to broadcast them.’
This time it was Moonbeam who dared to speak up. ‘What about the murder?’
‘What murder?’ Armstrong snapped with such ferocity that Mazza took a step backwards, colliding with me.
‘Er… the contestant who was…’
‘I know who you mean!’ Armstrong bellowed contrarily. ‘But what happened to him is nothing to do with us. Nothing, do you hear me? His death was unfortunate but completely unrelated to Enchantment. There will be no further discussion on this matter. Get out of my sight!’ For a moment we all just stood there. ‘Get out!’ Armstrong roared.
I twisted round and made for the door while I still had my eardrums intact.
‘Not you, Number Four! You will stay here.’
Uh-oh. I guessed I’d not managed to slide by after all. Maybe I should be grateful that I’d be fired out of earshot of the others.
I sighed and moved to the side to let them leave. Amy looked especially worried on my behalf. I gave her a small reassuring smile as she left, with Mazza biting his lip and Moonbeam blithely unconcerned. The door banged shut behind them and I tilted up my chin. Morris Armstrong might be shouty but I wasn’t intimidated. Not much, anyway.
He sank down into a chair, his heavy frame making it a tight squeeze. ‘Moonbeam,’ he muttered. ‘Where on earth do they dig these idiots up?’
I licked my lips, wondering whether I was supposed to answer him or not. Fortunately, he didn’t give me much chance. He raised his head and looked at me with suddenly tired eyes. In a flash of insight it occurred to me that, with the contestant’s death and his new role as director, he was under a great deal of pressure. If this new and supposedly improved version of Enchantment went tits up, there was no doubt that the blame would be laid firmly at his door. The revelation didn’t make me feel much sympathy for him but I did understand his violent swings between enthusiastic encouragement and terrifying rage a little bit more.