Tuesday, 1 September 2015

They're Coming in Boats.

fiction by Philip Lee

Day of the meet, a flotilla of windjammers are doing their offshore line-up, bringing the crowds out at White Rock. From the English Channel, the tall ships will sail non-stop around the world. It's a breezy day in high summer, but at sunset last night the sea was flat and glassy, the air all calm and sultry. Crusty seadogs snored in fitful expectation, excited children tossed in their beds. Around midnight, a fresh wind picked up in the East. To an ominous red sunrise, the 'jammers unfurled their huge white sails at Flushing - Holland - and made the crossing in good time. Now they are coasting off West Kent and East Sussex for their run past the old Cinque Ports.
Distilling from the crowd, Blake Rogers and the others have converged outside The Pig. Their timing perfect, the six old pals come together in the middle of a conversation - except for Shabad, whose social media skills are not on the same level. Blake, red-faced and hearty as ever, looks up from his phablet,
Do we agree the flan and red wine?
Rick & Jules' voices ring in unison,
Jerry is nodding appreciatively. Brigit sounds as if she has wavered, but caves in to group pressure,
Ay, what the heck!
Ostentatiously, Blake presses the button,
Smallwoods it is!
And off they scoot, Blake steering through hordes of stout louts and families bearing flags-to-crack, he leads them into The Old Town shortcut.
It's as though nothing has changed in thirty years: not Walmington-on-Sea (euphemism for the fishing port of Hastings), nor Blake Rogers with his left-field dodges, nor the followers who dance to his tune. They snake in the opposite direction of the flow, a bunch of greasy land-lubbers parting a sea of would-be sailors. Rats fleeing the sinking shoreline, they head towards the foothills of Castle Rock.
Brigit, her long legs in trousers or a skirt (never clear which), strides after Blake - a tall Valkyrie stalking a short swordsman. Then it's Rick and Jules, after three decades as newlyweds, managing to stay arm-in-arm. In fifth place comes Jerry (Brigit's ex) who, with giant limps, glances over his shoulder to urge Shabad on. She shrugs when he manages to catch her eye.
Shabad is not sure what or where to eat and drink has been proposed or voted on. Foot dragging at the rear, her eyes dart between heels and screen, scanning incoming msgs with mathematical squints. The jerky line of six negotiates alleyways and narrow streets towards the shopfront and escalators of Smallwoods' department store.

This emporium still has its cafeteria on the top floor, though former customers always wince at the decor. In the Eighties, it was plain garish: bright Formica and cold vinyl. In 2015 it has morphed into a jolly Gingham of stained pinewood and frilly hangings. The self-service routine is same as it ever was. You load metal trays at the food bays, then haul them across to the cashiers. Blake and the others are having the mincemeat & spinach flan with rice AND chips, pre-ordered on Scrunch-Bidder. They get small avocado salads thrown in, and two bottles of Aussie red – which Blake takes charge of. A few short minutes after arrival, they have descended on the deserted seating area to commandeer a large window table. Now, here's a feature typical of many South Coast towns: although the cafeteria is four stories up, the sea looms over its interior - a silvery Leviathan basking above slates and chimney pots.
Shabad, pushing 68 kilos, is kinda fussy about her food. Long after the others have begun tucking in, she loiters at the menu board, comparing it with what's on offer at the counter. Calorie-wise, the celery soup and wholewheat bread roll cancel each other out, so they will do for Starters. The small avocado salad is not available as a Main Course, so she has a large; though it looks about the same size as the ones thrown in free with the flan. She adds a wineglass to her tray and is charged thruppence short of eighteen quid.
Come on, Shabad! Blake has saved her the dregs of bottle No 1. Hold out your glass! Cheeky little number, this. Cheers! Not bad at all. He smacks his red lips
She is still not paying due attention and has arrived at the table puzzling over the bill. Blake drains the bottle into her glass and does a verbal calc of what the others owe him,
Three pound forty-seven each.
Munching and slurping, he scoops up proffered coins, sorts them into piles and hands the odds back. Shabad's face is nonplussed as she draws a twenty from her wallet. With a magnanimous wave, Blake lets her off,
This is mostly for the nosh. The wine was only seven a bottle, and we got two for the price of one on our bid. You should have come in with us. He slurps from his glass and shovels another forkload of flan into his mouth, It's the bee's knees!
Shabad is now po-faced,
Couldn't find the App.
Jerry – his eyebrows raised to ask if he may - takes her phone, swipes the screen and holds it back to her. Sure enough Scrunch-Bidder has been running all along, auto-launched from their Facebook page. Pulling the same expression, he takes the bill from her hand and gives it a once-over,
Ach! They've charged you five ninety-nine for that empty glass.
He points across the floor to the drinks dispensers,
By putting it on your tray, you've paid for Unlimited Fruit Juice.
Blake feigns gobsmacked,
We could have bid for more wine with that! Ho-hum. Drink up!
Everyone joins in,
His glass empty again, the thirsty man is already uncapping the second bottle. Shabad, her food and drink untouched, is tapping in another msg.

You get a good look at the windjammers right here in the cafeteria, though not out of its picture window. A large screen has live television coverage of the ships coming into view. Seven of the world's biggest are taking part in the race to win the ten million dollar prize. The winner should be back across the line in five months.
The screen cuts to a breaking news story. As if in dastardly conspiracy, another flotilla has set off at a similar time and place. This one is of tiny craft sneaking out of France during the night. Hundreds of migrants in commandeered row boats, dinghies and inflatables - even some beach canoes - have taken advantage of the calm at nightfall to paddle across from Calais to Dover. Many of the little boats are roped together. As luck would have it, long before they could land, the Easterly breeze has blown up and swept them far off course. Now, after fourteen hours at sea, the exhausted paddlers still have two or three miles to reach the English coast.

Everyone turns to Blake, whose nomination for the Dymnton by-election has made him a household name. He's standing for the UK Independence Party, so his opinion on the migrants' latest should be worth a listen,
Huh! It's a perverse parody of the Dunkirk spirit. A swarm of failed Islamic State hornets descending on the UK - honeypot of Europe.
Brigit, repossessing her Danish accent, takes him up on that,
Ay, you used to be so left-wing, Blake. This is a humanitarian crisis. What happened to the radical student leader we all loved?
Jerry, already looking bloated, sets down his knife and fork. His support for Brigit's stance is heartfelt, if predicable,
Don't you feel the least bit sorry for them, man? They're homeless, stateless, penniless, half-starved, just looking for a better life.
On screen there's a shot – the caption says, 'live by drone' - of people stopping rowing to wave. The sea is heaving. One inflatable has gone terribly limp. A canoe is empty. There's a man in life jacket trying to crawl back in. The shot pulls out from the little boats - to the first of the windjammers, now bearing down on them. Jerry goes on,
Or, looked at another way, they've got some bottle doing that. If they make the crossing, they deserve medals. Wasn't it people like them who made this country great?
His words are a deliberate provocation to any neo-nationalist. Blake, who is as short as ever and grown stocky, half rises from his seat,
I'd give them some! For half a second, it's as though he's going to hurl the second bottle of Aussie red at the flat screen. That's typical. Deliberately putting themselves in harm's way to get people's sympathies up. His cheeks have gone as bright as his lips.
Jules, often the peacemaker, chimes in,
Hmm, we considered voting for the Independence Party in the general election because, let's be honest, a lot of these European rules and regulations are so much stuff and nonsense. But our local candidate had this stupid thing against dogs.
Rick takes up the same tone,
You don't want to hear all about dog dirt in a national campaign, do you? It's more a parish council matter. And some of us like dogs. Their candidate shot himself in the foot over that.
Blake's brows curl over his eyes,
Was that Pierce Dears standing as your candidate, by any chance?
Jerry, who lives in the same constituency as Rick and Jules, points a finger,
That was his name. A deed poll job, I take it? Bit of loony on the side, I think.
Pierce is a damn fine bloke, in all actuality. Great pity. Lots of votes in dogs, some pundits say, one way or another. But you see, it's what makes our party different. He clenches his fist, We have passions and we talk about real issues.
Jerry can't resist rubbing it in,
Yeah, right-on Blakey. Dog dirt IS a real national disgrace.
Brigit, who always had a good appetite, has finished the flan, chips and every grain of rice. She fingers the stem of her empty glass, waiting for the refill Blake owes her,
So, if you were in power, what would you do about them, Blake?
Pouring her half a glass, then a few drops more, Blake takes a deep breath and leans back - though it is only the semblance of the man that is relaxing,
The migrants or the dogs? Everyone groans. No, seriously, I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd round the lot up and cart them all down to Madagascar. There's plenty of land, and they can have a fresh start. Give them a few shovels and packets of seed and see what they come up with.
Jerry a-hems,
I think you'd find the people already living there might not like that particular idea, Blakey.
For which he has a prepared answer,
True, there are some people on that great big island, but nowhere near as many as on this great little 'un. Your migrants would have space, see; forest that still needs clearing, a climate they are more used to. Stick them on chartered cruise ships, fill the holds with garden tools and bags of seed, and throw in some corrugated iron to roof their new homes. There's a plenty of wood in those rain forests.
Brigit raps her knuckles on the table,
Madagascar, is it? Isn't that where the Nazis planned to send the Jews? Before they changed their minds and gassed them?
Blake, doing another round with the wine bottle - giving everyone a few more drops and topping up his own fourth glass - scrunches his face,
We fought the war for the Poles and the Jews, not the Muslims. We don't actually owe them anything. Now, this little idea of mine is off the record, you understand...
A pinging noise suddenly pierces the cafeteria. They all look around, as though it might be time to evacuate the building. Everyone except Shabad, who is intently keying in another msg.
Jules leans over and takes a peek,
Was that awful noise coming from your machine?
'Fraid so. Pardon everyone. Bit of an emergency going on.
Work-related, is it? Shabad nods. What IS your job, then, Shabad?
I'm just an administrator, but they keep me on call at weekends
Admin, eh? I bet you're pretty high up? Shabad hums a non-committal answer. You always were a swot. Rick's just been promoted, haven't you, love?
Her husband pretends resentment,
Squashed sideways against the glass ceiling, more like.
Jules takes his arm, protectively,
Well, he's on more money, and that's the main thing.

The flat screen flicks back to shots of the windjammers. Fog horns begin blaring as the starting line is crossed. Blake and Brigit get out their e-cigarettes and even Shabad manages to finish her meal. Brigit begins,
We could be watching this at home. So why have you brought us together after all these years, Blake? Where does ballroom feature in today's politics?
Blake snorts. They have found him out. Ah well, on with it...


Blake is a clever devil. When the six first met, at the Cinque Ports Polytechnic, five of them were Freshers. Not Blake Rogers. No, not him – a mature student – he had already completed his first year (of a Sociology & Psychology degree) by being elected as President of the Student Union. That put him on a year's sabbatical with a grown-up salary. At ten years everyone's senior, not only did he know the ropes, he had a great talent for rabble-rousing rhetoric. It was 1985 and Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her power. To many students at The Poly, Blake Rogers was their very own Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and Bruce Kent all rolled into one.
But why ballroom? What had 'Come Dancing' got to do with picket lines, Jobs For All, CND and Troops Out of Ulster? When Rick & Jules strolled into The John Wesley Hall in the Freshers Week, they were already holding hands, having met the evening before in the Union Bar. Blake, totally unknown by them, waved as they passed his trestle and said, “You look like a nice couple”. They were joshed and thrilled at the same time. “Cut marvellous figures on the dance floor. Know how to fox trot? Waltz? Tango?”
In 1985, tango meant a fizzy orange drink where the bubbles got pleasantly up your nose. Hang on, though, there was a hint of something else – something exotic and passionate - about the word. And Blake caught them on the very sweet spot of their first day out. They had been tempted to spend part of their grants on tickets for a Smiths concert, on a scheme to go coffee picking in Nicaragua, on subscriptions to War on Want or on Hunt Saboteurs T-shirts... instead they signed up for something they knew nothing about, a throwback to the nineteen fifties, to a cobwebby culture that rock & roll had swept away decades before.
In the first term, there were about two dozen members of The Cinque Ports Polytechnic Ballroom Dancing Society, including a natty dresser from Coventry (with natty dreads), an outrageous lesbian couple and two quiet gay men (one from The North), so things got off to a rather multi-cultural start. They even had a keyboard player that could keep up with the built-in rhythms on the Society's Yamaha, and do approximate renditions of big band dance numbers. It also helped that the Eighties was a boom time for dressing up, of escapism from the doom and gloom of unemployment and youth work schemes. But the costumes and music did not have the retro edge they were to acquire a decade or so later. It was still the era of Torvil & Dean, of Grinkov & Gordeeva, when Ballroom was only big when it was strictly on ice. By Bonfire Night, the membership was already in decline.
Then the keyboard player left to form an Indie band, the Rasta realised his mistake, the lesbians dropped out to live in tents at Greenham Common, and the boys – who really only wanted to dance together – started going to a disco over in Brighton. Other members found the steps too hard to learn, or they could never settle on a steady partner. Ulterior motives for membership ruled. By Christmas there were only three regular couples left: Rick & Jules' solid pair-bond, the saga of Jerry and Brigit's on-off affair, and Shabad's partnering with Blake. Though the latter was consummated - at a Midlands Holiday Inn - Blake became more interested in the management side than the social spin-offs.
The Society was a wealthy one, having been endowed by a former patron of The Polytechnic. It had a leased minibus, its own studio in The Old Town - which it sub-let to various other groups and societies (generating more income), a costume allowance and a touring budget. For a modest subscription, the members did the rounds of the national ballroom circuit. So long as they practised two evenings a week and competed once a month, they got free transport, meals and accommodation.
His involvement with the student union made Blake Rogers the juggler of two budgets. While staging money-raising events for striking miners, he dispensed several thousand a year on a dance craze that was decades out-of-date. Finding he had a flair for show-biz management, he paired the dancers according to size, reasoning equality was more eye-catching than the standard man-above-woman. He hired a professional coach who drilled them in the little arts and crafts of ballroom etiquette. He dressed them in different costumes for each number. He commissioned tapes from a local showband, adjusting the tempos to make the steps easier. He entered the dancers only in group heats, to maximise their points. Blake's management style was structural rather than inspirational, designed for long haul survival.
In their first year, they finished the National Ratings as seventh in their class. In their second, they had climbed into third place. They were all set for a triumphant finale in their third year - when the final exams scuppered the group's career.


To return to Brigit's question,
Where does ballroom feature in today's politics?
Blake fields the question with a practised smile,
You may ask. At the General Election, I increased the party's vote from under three thousand to over twelve. Now there's a bi-election, I have a second chance. All I need is a last push, and I'll take my seat in The House. So come back on the road with me and we'll dance our way into Westminster. Let's put the tango back into politics.
This has Jerry shaking his head, sagely,
Tut, tut. It's a fundraising stunt. He steals a peek at Brigit's face. Up to now, she has succeeded in completely ignoring him, A scheme – or a scam - to raise money for UKIP's party coffers.
Brigit wags a finger at Jerry as though to say, 'No dice, buster'. But her words are for Blake's benefit,
I think this politics is only for fools and horse traders. She straightens her amber beads, her eyes staring at the great sea monster in the window, Alright, I was taken in with our Blake Rogers for a while. I was young and idealistic. But before those years were through, I was finished with his so-called politics. And so this latest twist, this mixing of the left with the right, and flag-waving by-jingoism... No way can I go down that road.
Jules is nodding, somewhat, in agreement,
That's right, Blake. Though we like you as a person and even have some sympathies with your point of view, we couldn't be seen actually supporting UKIP.
Rick is shaking his head,
Took the words rights out of my mouth, Love.
Shabad has one ear cocked to these comments, but is too busy with the stuff on her phone to add anything. Meanwhile, Blake hasn't stopped smiling. In fact, he bows his head to their comments, acknowledging them word for word,
Yes, yes, yes. Of course you don't have to agree with anything I say. That's the whole point nowadays. Everyone's got their own opinion, which is what's getting lost. Anyhow, you've got the wrong end of the stick. I'm joking. Of course I'm not asking you to take part in a fund raiser. This is just a one-off, a bit of fun literally for old times' sake.
Brigit folds her arms, refusing to be intrigued,
So what 'literally' is it?
When the by-election was announced, the BBC started profiling all the candidates. One of their research lackeys came round and asked a lot of background questions. I said something about the ballroom dancing group at The Poly and the next thing they had latched onto that. I said something like, “You never know, we might all get together again and then you could interview my old friends about me back in the Eighties.” A few days afterwards, I saw The Grand Hotel had revived their 'Come Dancing Week', so I had a word with the organisers and they said they'd arrange an entry for us as guest competitors.
Jules leans forward with a gleam in her eye,
You mean you'd have us competing as a team again?
Only in a qualifying round. Three numbers.
She glances at Rick,
And the BBC will film us?
Jerry leans across the table, shifting his plate and the empty wine bottles into the centre,
Talking about him... and we play along like it isn't thirty years since we did our last tango in Bristol.
Blake holds his right hand up,
Absolutely not! Tell them the awful truth about me. Work the camera. Even say you haven't seen me for years. They only want to talk about our student days and how, on the one hand, I was a bit of a firebrand on the demos and sit-ins - while running the old ballroom club on the other. He polishes his fingernails on the front of his jacket – a gesture that hasn't changed in three decades - They'll love it that we were years ahead of our time...
Jerry is even less convinced,
Implying that you've always been ahead of the game in UK entertainment AND politics?
Blake bangs the table,
Brigit stops one of the wine bottles - which he has toppled - from rolling off. She places it triumphantly before him, like someone planting a chess piece in a checkmate move,
And what if I tell them you are a self-serving opportunist who would sell his own mother for a bit of publicity, good or bad?
Blake, his smile broader than ever, presses his hand over his heart,
That would be perfectly fine by me. In fact, I would welcome it as a sincere view. Our party is all about people having their rightful say, you know. Even if it disagree with us.
Jerry sniggers,
It all adds to the legend.
But something really has disagreed with Blake and he doesn't take his hand away from his heart. The smile vanishes from his lips and he starts to shake, mouthing words that refuse to come out. In seconds, his face turns a deathly shade of purple. Jules shrieks,
For god's sake, look at him. He's having a seizure. It's a heart attack. Help him, someone!

Jerry has recently done a workplace first aid course. As soon as he sees the situation is no joke, he drops the wisecracks and takes control. Standing behind Blake, he pulls his chair back, supports the would-be politician's head and loosens his collar. Brigit dials 999. Rick runs to the counter to buy a bottle of mineral water and grab a fistful of tissues. Jules takes Blake's hand and pats it. Thus far, Shabad has been so engrossed in her phone, she's failed to notice anything amiss. Now she looks up,
What's wrong with Blake? Choked on his own words?
Jules frowns,
Really, it's no laughing matter. He's having a stroke or something.
Good grief. Shabad removes her glasses and blinks, He's never done that before, has he?
Blake, listen to me Luvvie... Jules draws level with his face and opens her mouth wide as she speaks, Have you got something to take for this? Then she's shouting him, poking him in the shoulder, Where are your pills? He can't answer. The e-cigarette slips from his fingers. She grabs it, Blimey, I've always said these vapour sticks were more harmful than the real thing.
Rick chips in,
You certainly have, Love.
By now, they're all on their feet, crowding round the man, Jules trying to go through his pockets looking for the pills she's convinced he has. Jerry waves them all back,
Give the poor bloke some air.
Blake has stopped trying to speak. His eyes are pinched. He looks confused, his breath comes in ghastly rattles. The manager of the cafeteria turns up. She gawps at the victim,
Uh? Isn't he the man from UKIP?
Jerry's sarcasm hasn't fully deserted him,
Yes, but don't call the press just yet, will you?
So what can we do?
Brigit looks up from her phone,
Just to wait. There's an ambulance downstairs in the street. The crew will be here directly. They've been on duty for the windjammers.
The manager starts to make a call,
Well they should take the service lift. I'll inform security. Hello? She wanders off.
Jules is outraged,
What difference does it make which way they come, as long as it's ASAP?
Rick, meanwhile, is pouring cold water onto handfuls of paper towels and handing them to Jerry. He is fired by his wife's indignation,
The so-and-sos are only worried customers will think it's food poisoning.
Jerry glares at him. Jules touches her stomach,
Poisoning? Oh my God, d'you think we'll all get it?

Soon enough, the paramedics arrive, a young woman with a huge box of equipment and an older guy rolling a folding stretcher. Expertly, they have Blake out of his jacket and stretched on his back. Then they're staring into his eyes with a pencil light, taking his blood pressure, listening to his heart. They're too busy to notice who he really is, only asking for his first name. They speak to him as they work.
The medics' talk is accompanied by gentle hisses and beeps. They are in remote, hands-free communication, talking to each other, to the patient, to others over the air, to the folks on the scene. The young woman asks what Blake has had to eat or drink. Jules ticks off the plate he has cleared of stodgy flan, chips AND rice; the four glasses of wine he's downed in such a short time; then she adds the e-cigarette, nodding gravely. Turning to the others, she piles it on,
And the noise from this television is doing my head in. Where's that manager now?
Indeed, since the ambulance crew arrived, it's as though someone has deliberately put the volume up. The breaking news story, about the flotilla of refugees, is back on. Wind and waves are rising steadily, driving them into the path of the windjammers. Lifeboats have been launched. An Air-Sea Rescue helicopter is hovering over the people in their little craft.
Jules goes up to the cash till,
Can't you turn this volume down? Don't you know my friend's having a heart attack? Where's the manager gone?
The manager comes back out, smiling in sympathy and about to speak - but the male paramedic takes her aside from the patient,
There's a helipad on the roof here, isn't there?
She thinks for a moment,
I believe there is, but I've never heard of it being used. Can't you take the service lift?
The traffic in The Old Town's chocker. We could lose half an hour just getting to the Infirmary.
She looks at her watch,
Golly. Are you going to call the air-ambulance?
I'll put in an urgent request. There may be other priorities. There's a lot going on today.
I'd better inform security.
Jules calls out,
Could we have the volume down, please?

Shabad still seems more worried by the work-related business on her phone. Anyone would think it was a matter of life and death the way her eyes keep darting back from her little screen to the big TV one. But no one is thinking about Shabad. As the minutes tick on, she finally drags her eyes away and walks up to the medic at the stretcher,
How's he doing?
The young female gives her a startled look,
He's stable now, Ma'am. But it's impossible to tell without a scan. There could be a haemorrhage.
Jules shrieks,
In his heart?
Brain, more like. The sooner we can get him into Casualty the better.
The male medic has his hand to one ear, exchanging words with HQ. Just then Shabad's phone rings,
I'd better take this.
She slips over to the window, out of hearing.

The volume on the screen is now turned down so low it can't be heard. Live coverage from the windjammers has been superseded by the situation at the refugee flotilla. The Air-Sea Rescue chopper is shown lifting people from the sea. Five or six are being ferried at a time to the beach. Men, women and children are gathering on the pebbles, some with blankets over them. There are police cars with flashing lights. Air ambulances come in to land, picking up two at a time, then flying off to the Infirmary. The captions read, 'Start of round-The World Windjammer Race Disrupted' and 'Boat People Treated For Shock & Exposure'. Rick and Jerry glance between screen and stretcher trolley. Rick shakes his head,
It's all go, isn't it?
Full-on, mate.
Never a dull moment.

Shabad keeps her voice down,
By some fluke, I happen to be on the scene myself. The victim's an old... colleague.
A wizard-prang, matter-of-fact voice replies,
That's a tough call, Ma'am.
She purses her lips,
It had to be today of all days. Are you certain there are NO other units available?
Not for an estimated... twenty-seven minutes. With the fire still burning at Horsham we can't call on help from West Sussex. And Kent are covering the Royal Visit.
Shabad takes a last peek before giving her decision. The medics have stripped Blake down to his waist and are applying a cold compress to the chest. She lets out a deep breath.
OK, there'll be no diversion of resources. Keep ferrying the migrants by air, this patient will have to go by road. You'd better inform the crew yourself. And get traffic police to clear the way ahead.

The medics have taken Blake down in the service lift. The five have gathered up their things and left Smallwoods. When they come out of the building, the ambulance is still at the end of the street, lights flashing, siren blaring, attempting to turn onto the A21.
They walk back towards The Pig for a drink. The crowd at White Rock is gazing at the tall ships as they scatter to the South and West. Far in the opposite direction, the thud of helicopters comes and goes on the breeze. From snippets of conversation, news of the migrant flotilla has done the rounds. There's a feeling of shock, with words of dismay and resentment. A loudmouth says, “Typical, innit? They've gone and spoiled it for everyone.” The pub is emptying out of the suddenly-curious, gifting the group a wooden cubby-hole - a welcome haven. Rick, looking on the bright side, rubs his hands together and volunteers to get in a round of drinks. No one orders wine.
This is when Jerry finally turns longing eyes on her, but Brigit avoids him by sitting across the bench, next to Shabad. She whispers, as if it's a secret,
Ay, poor old Blake. I wonder how he'll duck and dive out of this one?
Shabad is calm, almost serene,
I'm sure if anyone can pull through, it'll be Blake Rogers.
Blake was rotten to you.
She shrugs,
It's probably just as well. My folks would have disowned me if they'd found out what went on.
So you never got married?
Only to my career.
What line are you in again?
Shabad gulps a mouthful of fruit juice,
Public administration. Quite a drag, really. She puts her glass down with a decisive clunk, Especially after today's events.

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