But I'm keen to crack on with the second of the City Boy Juke Box musical novellas I wrote last Nano. My goal is to publish before Christmas. Tall order, I know. Unfortunately, between now and then, all my regular team are busy with another release in the Bryant Rockwell series.
So I'm looking for a particular sort of Beta - someone who doesn't mind the odd transcription error (so difficult to spot all the bugs speech-to-text introduces - it usually takes 4 or 5 extra pairs of eyes to get every single one - they are slippery little blighters). And in particular, someone who can spot a British idiom/spelling at twenty paces and suggest a US alternative.
If this is you, please drop me a comment below and we'll figure a way of getting together.
Here's an extract of the 1st scene to whet your appetite:
1 – A Modern Love AffairRobin sat back on the luxurious recliner and raised his hand, a signal to the control room to resume the movie where he’d let left off.
Hudson, the English butler, appeared with a bow. “More wine, sir?”
A nod saw his glass of Bollinger replenished, and the guy pulled the trolley closer. “Would sir like the caviar, smoked salmon, or quails’ eggs?”
“Any chance of a bit of each?” It was a game they played often, but only when she was not around. “I took the liberty of preparing that.” Hudson placed the next course on the high-tech adjustable table along with the necessary silverware. He offered the condiments in a well-worn ritual, knowing full well Robin would refuse.
The first time Robin did this, saying how he trusted the chef’s expertise, was the only time he got behind the façade. The man’s stiff upper lip, a testament of his apprenticeship in a British stately home, cracked in a brief twitch which some people might have recognized as a smile.
Back on his first day at this monster of a mansion, Robin had wandered downstairs after dinner to hear Hudson entertaining the staff with the incident. He followed with the assertion that Robin never added any further seasoning or sauce. Colorful language could not disguise the chef’s obvious approval, and the strength of feeling from the rest of the staff made Robin pause. He crept away, understanding for the first time, the huge divide between upstairs and downstairs.
From that point on, Robin’s every culinary desire was catered for, no matter what time of day or night. Now he knew the man a little better, Robin took pleasure in teasing Hudson about his belt-and-braces approach of leaving the plate of sauces on the trolley, just in case.
With a sigh, he wondered what the below-stairs staff really thought of him. Despite their professional training which meant none of them would actually meet his eye, he detected a certain body language which said many of them, especially the men, envied his position, living on “mother’s handouts” – even though his benefactress was not his mother.
The clever spotlight on the table illuminated his solo meal just enough for Robin to appreciate the artistry of the presentation, without detracting from the darkness of the room. How proud his father would be if he could see him now. His mother not so much, her austere Scottish upbringing meant she had a real downer on TV dinners. But, heck. This was no ordinary couch potato thing.
Annamarina, Robin’s wife, boasted at every opportunity that this was the largest private movie viewing theatre in New York. After all, wasn’t she the highest grossing female movie star in the world? Who cared that Spielberg had charged way over the odds for this prime real estate in the center of Manhattan? Or rather, his realtor had. All his wife cared about was the number of column inches the sale had brought. Or so it seemed when she brought it up at every conceivable opportunity.
Robin sipped the ridiculously-priced wine, disliking intensely the way the bubbles made his nose fizz, but she refused to allow what she called “budget booze” in the house. He frowned at an image of her saying the words, disdain wrinkling her nose and turning her wide eyes into ugly slits.
Maybe, once the movie finished, he’d nip out on his latest toy, and grab a bottle from an all-night corner market. Complete with brown bag. That thought cheered him up immensely as he dug the delicate, two-tined fork into the gelatinous mass and relished the explosion of flavors on his tongue.
How far had they come from their first movie date together? Shaking his head, he grinned at the image of the pair of them, holding hands on the back row, thinking that a change of clothes and a baseball cap would be enough to disguise her when the news of her husband’s law-breaking indiscretions hit the newsstands. They got turfed out, only to cause a near riot at a nearby diner. For a moment, he allowed himself to remember the excitement of their first few months together, when they connected over the smallest things like a book they both read, and a song they both loved.
How different to today? Every breakfast they shared was seconds out, waiting for the bell to start the latest argument. A fine romance indeed, as her management company tried to sell him down the river at any opportunity, making it clear he was a nobody, hanging on the coat-tails of her success, no matter how he tried to carve out a independent career as a consultant.
No matter how her PR guys tried to spin it, the writing was on the wall; the days of wine and roses were over. Every day was head-to-toe sulk and brood. He took another sip of fizz. As with the wine, she controlled what movies were played in her cinema. Of course, every single thing she’d ever acted in was there. Apart from that, she had little else except her entire collection of Broadway musicals from the ’50s. Along with a couple of action movies starring the former husband she’d taken for every penny when he made the mistake of being caught on camera with his boyfriend. In bed in a sleazy hotel room.
Putting aside these unsavory memories, Robin focused back to her latest pre-release footage, knowing she would quiz him about it later. She claimed to value his opinion, calling him her “everyman barometer.” Her publicist reckoned Robin was perfectly placed to determine what the man-on-the-street wanted from a movie. Robin could have taken gross offence at this but, for whatever reason, his opinions were unerringly correct. As his reputation spread, he gained the respect of several influential producers who were willing to pay substantial sums of money for his comments and suggestions on their latest projects.
When she found out, Annamarina insisted he paid a criminally high percentage of his earnings to charity. Her motive was obvious, she didn’t want him to gain autonomy and break away from her clutches. But with the help of an eternally grateful accountant, he’d become canny about managing his earnings and had managed to squirrel away a respectable rainy-day fund. Even now, the guy’s Jag was only on the road thanks to his expertise, it was a perfect example of back-scratching symbiosis.
Several courses and glasses of champagne later, Robin found his eyes closing. Nothing to do with the fact it was yet another formulaic rom-com-adventure to add to all the adventure-rom-coms which had kept her star on the ascendant for so many years.
Pushing aside the remains of the exquisite sugar confection he’d chosen for pudding, he stood. Instantly the screen froze, leaving her with an unfortunate expression, as though she’d been caught mid-sneeze. Even with this undignified face, she was beautiful. Stretching out stiff limbs, he took a long, slow meander to the bathroom and back, thinking about their first meeting.
Driving past her car on a lonely stretch of interstate, he’d pulled up immediately, concerned about seeing no driver near the car. “Helpful Harry,” his mum called him, even as she warned of the dangers.
A woman slept in the fully-reclined passenger seat, her face hidden by a scarf and dark glasses. The tale about visiting her mother didn’t quite ring true, but he was a sucker for a damsel in distress.
He figured the dark glasses were to hide the fact she’d been crying. The air of mystery about her, added to an intense vulnerability, brought out his protective instincts.
As her story unfolded, it became clear this was a woman not used to fending for herself in the wilds of middle-America. A woman not clued in to the most basic things about hiring a rental car, like checking the spare. Luckily, his Boy-Scout instincts provided a rope and he towed her to the nearest gas station where he changed the flat and filled the spare with air. He remembered how she’d insisted on buying him a meal at the nearby diner.
“There’s no need for that.”
“There absolutely is. I’d have been stranded forever.” The woman, who called herself Betsy, gripped his arm, then dropped it, standing back.
His stomach growled, alerting him to how long since he last ate, so he followed her lead, hustling to open the door.
She walked through to a window seat and sat, scanning the menu with a disgruntled huff. Standing, she asked him to order her a decaf coffee, with soya milk before slipping to the rest rooms.
On her return, he was still trying to choose between the ultra-burger and a chilli-dog. She removed her dark glasses to glare at the waitress who stood close enough that her hip brushed his shoulder.
He made his choice: The burger.
As the waitress headed toward the counter, Betsy sat, tightening the scarf which covered her hair, asking him about his life.
He gave her a potted history from the time he left Edinburgh, and she asked a lot of questions, revealing their mutual love of theatre.
When the waitress brought her coffee, Betsy sniffed it suspiciously. “Are you sure this is soya milk?”
“Sho is, honeychile.” The waitress winked at Robin.
“You better not be lying, because I’m lactose intolerant.”
The waitress lost her fake southern accent. “Are you casting aspersions on my integrity?”
Betsy stared with a blank expression, and the woman’s lip curled. “I said, are you calling me a liar?”
Robin stepped in with a calming word before the dispute attracted diner-wide attention. The waitress gave a bland smile as she stalked off, returning several minutes later with a burger for him and a frown for his companion.
During the meal, Betsy entertained him with anecdotes of her life in New York and travels around the country. When he finished eating, she asked for the check, only to find she had no cash to pay and they refused plastic.
Robin paid up, ignoring her protests. As they walked back to the cars, he offered to follow her back to the airport where she was due to return the car. After a moment’s hesitation, she agreed. When they reached the airport, she insisted on finding a cashpoint to pay him for his efforts, but as they entered the terminal building, someone recognized her, shouting her name. He watched in mild amusement as she fled through security, paparazzi piranhas snapping at her heels.