Thomas Selzbi was an hour early. The 25-year-old data-inputter usually was. He felt proud that the television station's security people knew him, offered him cups of tea and asked about his family and his famous hobby. While he was at work all he dreamed about was turning up to be in the audience of one of TVUK Channel 31's shows. Last night had been exciting: old Haresby, who'd lasted nearly three weeks, had been removed in front of the entire audience from the midnight discussion programme! Thomas had had no fewer excitements the previous week: on one occasion Bella, the station's owner, had actually looked his way! If she spotted how good he was at being a member of the studio audience perhaps she get one of her hosts to interview him about his matchstick models of shopping trolleys? Nobody else on the entire planet made anything like them and everyone who saw them was speechless. Bella must have known about his hobby by now - the security guards knew Thomas so well they'll certainly have mentioned it to her.
Today Thomas had got off work early so that, for the first time, he could attend "Bella's Midday Discussion". His friend Matt, who was in the same age bracket as himself but a head taller, joined him soon. They were old pros together. Matt had been doing the midnight show for a while now. Apparently he'd once got Bella's autograph! The two of them were very helpful to new audience members, showing them the ropes. They'd show them how to look professional and sit up straight and how to inhale the right amount of air to laugh and so on. Normally the new members had to rush away at the end of the session, unfortunately, but he and his friend had occasionally persuaded the odd person to join them for a drink or two afterwards. Matt was going places too, Thomas felt sure. With his brains (he was practically like a walking encyclopedia!) he'd make a great host.
Suddenly the 'phone rang. Thomas and Matt looked at each other. They should really leave it for the security people, they agreed. But it wouldn't stop and no-one seemed to be around.
"Hello?" said Matt.
Thomas watched his colleague's face collapse into bewilderment.
"Yes," said Matt, after a pause, then after another pause, "What do you know?" and then, after a very brief further pause he hung up.
"Who was that?" asked Thomas.
"Somebody fooling about," announced Matt. "He said that Bella Pleasance was pure poison and to keep clear. He hung up without even saying 'goodbye'."
They discussed this incident repetitively for the next half hour. Eventually one of the security guards came over. They told him about the call. He shrugged and said that this happened on a regular basis.
After the show, which was another blinder, was over Matt and Thomas decided to head to the bar, which was situated just outside the main building. Drinks were heavily subsidised by Bella herself so you could get quite hammered at very low cost. On their way through the main door, however, they found themselves caught up in some cloth and had to fight their way through it to get out. On the other side they turned to look at what had been blocking their way. It was a massive sheet which covered the whole of that side of the building. On it was written in large dripping red letters "HONOUR THY FATHER AND MOTHER". This was brilliant - Bella certainly liked to keep people on their toes! As the only people to see this were audience members, not the public, this must be a test to see how the audience members would react. Maybe there were hidden cameras? Over the next few drinks Thomas persuaded Matt to give him a mock interview in a loud voice while he gave his views on the brilliance of Bella's creations. The bar lady smiled indulgently at them. She could probably see their potential too.
Thomas was surprised that the TV in the bar had been tuned into another station. Maybe the bar lady just wanted to check what else was going on briefly on the other channels before returning to TVUK Channel 31? Come to think of it the station was very rarely broadcast in here. Oh well - whatever. On the news on whichever channel it was there was something about a man who came home to find his house burnt down and his wife missing. The man had been taken into custody "to eliminate him from police enquiries". The two professional audience-members looked boredly as one of the man's neighbours said, "Mr. Sorrell was one of the quiet types, you know. Kept himself to himself. We'd no trouble with him."
Matt and Thomas decided that that was enough of that and carried on with their mock interview. They were interrupted by a scream. Two security men were hurriedly removing the sheet with the crazy lettering on it. Bella was right behind them yelling and hitting them with a big broom. Matt nodded to Thomas. That proved it - it was a bit of drama for them to see how they reacted. They drank up quickly, tossed the bar lady 20p (well, at these prices they could afford to leave a tip) and walked out into the yard. The security men had escaped into the main building with the massive sheet. Bella was standing outside breathing rapidly, her face all red. That performance must have taken it out of her. She actually glanced their way! Wow! They waved and said, "Hello, Bella." She got up and walked back into the main building. What did she want them to do, they wondered? They decided to pop back into the bar for another drink.
Suddenly the bar's 'phone went. Sighing, the bar lady went to answer it. "Yes?" she said (pause) "You know I do," (pause) "What do you know?" (pause) and down went the 'phone.
"That's odd," she said,
"Oh, it's not that old one about 'pure poison' and 'keep away' and all that, is it?" asked Matt. "Yeah, we heard about them from security but we thought we'd better not tell everybody, you know."
"Well obviously it's that," said the bar lady as if to say 'why else would anyone ring?'. "No, it's just strange that there was this other voice in the background going 'Remember it's only one 'phone call' and ra ra ra and 'Put the 'phone down now, sir' and la la la. I wonder what that's all about?"
Matt and Thomas shrugged, drank up and tossed the bar lady another 10p.