Lucian stood outside Studio D and shivered. The weather forecast had been right for once - it was icy.
Presently he heard the sound of footsteps clattering quickly along. A woman in her 30s appeared round the corner. She wore a long brown coat over what were clearly very glamorous clothes. She was wearing heels and had a sort of miserable beauty about her which matched the ice in the air.
"You are?" she said.
"Hi - I'm Lucian. Yeah, good times," said Lucian, trying to sound chillaxed despite the fact that he had hardly slept the previous night.
The woman didn't bother to introduce herself. She unlocked the door and went in. After a bit Lucian decided he'd better follow her. He asked if he should shut the door.
"Well, if you don't, we'll get rather cold," she said without looking up at him. Her coat was off and she was wearing a deliciously short skirt. As she leant forwards to look at something in her desk he noticed her cleavage. It was a stunning sight! He noticed that she had a golden locket around her neck which dangled in front of her boobs.
The 'phone kept ringing. She answered it frostily each time. Sometimes the frost remained but other times her face would break into a cheeky grin and she'd become all girly and flirty. He realised that this was either when she was talking to a great actor or when she needed someone to do something for her that was above and beyond their job description.
Your fun is short-lived, however, as you hear a sound you'd never wanted to hear again as long as you lived - it's the sound of a man panting in between barking like a dog. You look up, your imaginary steering wheel still in your hands, and there is the owner of the Greek farmhouse gasping for breath as he opens the door to the sweet shop.
"The tea doesn't make itself round here," the woman said, apparently to the wall. Lucian realised that that comment was for him and rushed to make her some tea. He handed her the cup while she was in the middle of typing something on the computer. She didn't say 'thank you' but just took the cup and started sipping it. He asked if it was all right. She ignored him. He asked if he could make himself one. She ignored him again so he just pressed ahead.
Finally you find yourself at the farm house, and not a moment too soon. The needle on your gas gauge lies flat, though you could probably run on fumes for a little while more. With a sigh, you unlock and open the door of the rental, and trudge up to the farmhouse, a solitary light illuminating a single window.
He walked around staring at the whiteboard, staring out of the window, staring down the sink, making tea, daydreaming and washing up. This went on seemingly forever. It felt so strange to Lucian to be in a job after all this time being unemployed. He wasn't sure he was going to like this job but knew that he couldn't leave straight away. He thought about the great times he'd known at Nestlog (his previous employers all those years ago). He thought about that letter:
"Dear Lucian, On behalf of all of us at Nestlog's HQ, we'd like to thank you and your team for all the hard work and dedication you've put in over the years. As you know our company is going through a painful but necessary period of restructuring at the moment..."
The woman broke him out of his reverie.
"I need to pop out for a bit. If the 'phone goes, tell them I'll be back soon and make a note of it."
Off she went. There were indeed 'phone calls. They all asked for Alena. He guessed that that must be the woman's name. He gathered that she was the Head Runner. He put all the notes on a piece of paper with clear headings: WHO; WHEN; MESSAGE. He created a grid structure.
When Alena returned she said she hoped he had made a note of anyone who'd rung. He handed her the piece of paper. He saw her eyes widening slightly. She can't have been used to his organised, anally retentive mind - her notes were written on scraps of paper and dotted around the room. She said nothing though.
There was a knock at the door.
"DON'T answer it," she said assertively and rushed over to get it. Lucian recognised the presenter of Morning Pop. He entered and looked flirtily at Alena. "Beautiful morning... not," he said. "Well, not out there - in here it is, obviously."
Alena giggled and said she'd make him some tea just in case things weren't hot enough already around there. She got Lucian to make the tea and then she handed it to the presenter and sat on his desk swinging her legs and smiling at him as he typed away.
"You make great tea," the presenter said. Alena giggled and said she wondered what he would do if she pressed a magic button and made all his work for the morning disappear.
"I should have to find some way of punishing you," he said. "A painful way."
Alena giggled and said she was sure he would and that it'd teach her to be a good girl.
The door went again. Lucian didn't move.
"The doors don't open themselves round here," Alena pointed out. Lucian rushed to open it. A massively fat man entered. He announced himself as Yogi, the Deputy Head Runner and said he'd sit down later with Lucian and they'd have a chat about the contract and what Lucian was hoping to get from the job and so on. (Actually he didn't bother to do any of that.) Yogi then proceeded to offer cakes he'd made himself round to Alena and the presenter.
You whip your hand forward, ready to deal with the foe. You come face to face, though the back-light renders the man --woman?-- as a simple black profile. With bravery stitched across your own visage, you hold forward your...
Lucian was having one of his daydreams again as he was wont to do. This was brought to a halt when he heard the word "runner" and realised he was being spoken about.
"Yes," smiled Alena into the 'phone.
"I'll get the runner to pick you up in the next hour. Yes, absolutely. Yes, you're going to love him."
It turned out that the first ever host of Morning Pop, who'd retired 13 years ago and been released from prison just two months ago, was to re-appear on the show and be interviewed by today's presenter. He disapproved of cars and would only come on if he could go by 'bus but was getting forgetful and couldn't remember the way. Lucian's job was to take some petty cash and travel by 'bus to meet the former television grandee and bring him back to the studio with him.
"Runner?" said Alena to Lucian as the latter neared the door.
"He has quite an alcohol problem so if he's crapped himself or pissed himself or anything, clear him up before you bring him back here. We don't want the studio stinking for the other guests."
Lucian got to a faded mansion in North London with smashed windows. The door was opened by an elderly smiling man. He welcomed Lucian in. Lucian hadn't been told his name and felt he couldn't really ask as the man seemed to think that the whole world remembered him and had been devastated by his prison sentence.
As you turn to the west to face the cliffs far above the azure blue waters of the Ionian Sea, the scorching summer sun sets before you in a cascade of golden flame.
The former presenter offered Lucian various alcoholic beverages which he enthusiastically accepted. The drinks sent ever further into his own daydreams.
Driving your rental slowly towards the farm house, an eerie sense of dread falls upon your shoulders. A shiver runs down your spine, then back up again, your heart pounding the bass-line of the garbled Greek song forcing itself out of the car stereo. You panic, and fumble for the lock, making sure that it isn't, well, unlocked.
Lucian was brought down to Earth with a horrible bump as the presenter said that he needed a bath before they left but that he struggled getting in and out of the bath tub and could Lucian please assist him. Lucian was suspicious: the man wasn't as elderly as all that and seemed perfectly capable of entering a bath tub; Alena's suggestion also seemed a bit wide of the mark with regards to the state he'd be in. However Lucian did as he was bidden and realised that the elderly former presenter was getting a real kick out of stripping off and getting into the bath with the help of a nice young man. Lucian felt he was being used a bit by everyone and started thinking bitterly of all the things he'd say when he got back to the office:
"You've hardly made eye contact with me. You made me go round to that old queen's house knowing what would happen. All you do is get me to make tea. You never say 'thank you' you ungrateful old tart. That lardarse of a deputy didn't even bother giving me any of his cakes. You're all so far up your own backsides, you self-important, hypocritical, useless bunch of..."
"Shall we go?" asked the former presenter pleasantly. "It'll be so nice to be on the telly again. I'd like to see the prison warders' faces when they realise I'm on the telly this evening! Perhaps they'll choke on their Cornflakes and die. That'd be an appropriate end to that self-important, hypocritical, useless bunch of..."
Lucian cut him off gently, saying it was time to go. He steered him to the 'bus stop. On the 'bus Lucian mentioned that he had once worked with Cornflakes - he'd been an inspector. The old presenter seemed genuinely interested and asked him lots of questions about it. He then apologised for having ranted about prison earlier on and admitted that he hadn't really adjusted to the outside world yet.
Lucian realised that it wasn't just he who daydreamed and schemed and raged. He was glad no-one could see inside his mind to find all the anger there. Everyone he knew always said how calm he seemed most of the time. He also felt a bit guilty about being so cross in his mind with the elderly presenter for simply being a harmless, lonely old man who craved young company.
They got back to the studio. Alena immediately told Lucian to make tea. The old presenter was trying to tell them all about how nice Lucian was and that he'd had an interesting job before in Cornflakes and that he ought to be interviewed. He also whispered to Alena that she'd been right about Lucian - he was very handsome. Alena smiled politely but was more interested in talking to the current presenter of the show.
A lot of the rest of the day involved Lucian reading a book and occasionally moving cameras and chairs around and making tea.
Just before he left for the day Alena said, "Today was quite an easy start - we only worked on one show. We've got a heavy schedule for the next three weeks and we need someone reliable. You were quite good today. I'll book you in for every shift Monday to Friday if you're happy with that. We do have a different team in on Saturday and Sunday but if we do need you over the weekend can we give you a ring?"
Lucian agreed. He was surprised that she had asked and surprised at himself for saying 'yes'.
"Have a nice evening," she said, looking up at him and smiling.
"You too," he smiled back.
He never guessed on that first day that this was a job which he'd grow to love and that four years on he'd be the Head Runner on a permanent contract or that he and the elderly presenter would be about to present a show together all about the history of Cornflakes. He laughed when he realised how long it'd taken before he's even found out the old presenter's name!
Lucian relaxed back and sipped his drink in the warm Greek sunshine.
He'd learnt not to daydream. He left that to the Deputy Head Runner who'd dreamed the courts would let him off his speeding fine, to the former Head Runner (Alena) who dreamed that she was in a loving relationship rather than an abusive one with that sports presenter, to the elderly presenter who still believed that the whole world loved him and to the current presenter of Morning Pop who was thousands of pounds in debt but who just loved to go clubbing and drink expensive cocktails and pretend he was younger than he was. They were all living various fantasies and they were all in debt.
Lucian, on the other hand, had realised that he would never be a big star and that he'd always be a hidden cog in the wheel behind the action but that, unlike all those people with delusions of grandeur, he wasn't in debt. Far from it. His former life dossing about on unemployment benefits seemed a very long time ago indeed - another life in fact.
As he turned to the west to face the cliffs far above the azure blue waters of the Ionian Sea, the scorching summer sun set before him in a cascade of golden flame.
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