The publicity surrounding the successful rebookment of Jane Eyre was fun to begin with but rapidly grew wearisome. I happily posed for photocalls, agreed to newspaper interviews, hesitantly appeared on Desert Island Smells and was thankfully excused the embarrassment of Celebrity Name That Fruit! The public, ever fascinated by celebrity, had wanted to know everything about me following my excursion within the pages of Jane Eyre, and since the Special Operations Network have a PR record on a par with that of Vlad the Impaler, the top brass thought it would be a good wheeze to use me to boost their flagging popularity. I dutifully toured all points of the globe doing signings, library openings, talks and interviews. The same questions, the same SpecOps-approved answers. Supermarket openings, literary dinners, offers of book deals. I even met the actress Lola Vavoom, who said that she would simply adore to play me if there were a film. It was tiring, but more than that – it was dull. For the first time in my career at the Literary Detectives I actually missed authenticating Milton.
I’d taken a week’s leave as soon my tour ended so Landen and I could devote some time to married life. I moved all my stuff to his house, rearranged his furniture, added my books to his and introduced my dodo, Pickwick, to his new home. Landen and I ceremoniously partitioned the bedroom closet space, decided to share the sock drawer, then had an argument over who was to sleep on the wall side of the bed. We had long and wonderfully pointless conversations about nothing in particular, walked Pickwick in the park, went out to dinner, stayed in for dinner, stared at each other a lot and slept in late every morning. It was wonderful.
On the fourth day of my leave, just between lunch with Landen’s mum and Pickwick’s notable first fight with the neighbour’s cat, I got a call from Cordelia Flakk. She was the senior SpecOps PR agent here in Swindon and she told me that Adrian Lush wanted me on his show. I wasn’t mad keen on the idea – or the show. But there was an upside. The Adrian Lush Show went out live and Flakk assured me that this would be a ‘no holds barred’ interview, something that held a great deal of appeal. Despite my many appearances, the true story about Jane Eyre was yet to be told – and I had been wanting to drop the Goliath Corporation in it for quite a while. Flakk’s assurance that this would finally be the end of the press junket clinched my decision. Adrian Lush it would be.
I travelled up to the Network Toad studios a few days later on my own; Landen had a deadline looming and needed to get his head down. But I wasn’t alone for long. As soon as I stepped into the large entrance lobby a milk-curdling shade of green strode purposefully towards me.
‘Thursday, darling!’ cried Cordelia, beads rattling. ‘So glad you could make it!’
The SpecOps dress code stated that our apparel should be ‘dignified’ but in Cordelia’s case they had obviously stretched a point. Anyone looking less like a serving officer was impossible to imagine. Looks, in her case, were highly deceptive. She was SpecOps all the way from her high heels to the pink-and-yellow scarf tied in her hair.
She air-kissed me affectionately.
‘How was New Zealand?’
‘Green and full of sheep,’ I replied. ‘I brought you this.’
I handed her a fluffy toy lamb that bleated realistically when you turned it upside down.
‘How adorable! How’s married life treating you?’
‘Excellent, my dear, I wish you both the best. Love what you’ve done with your hair!’
‘My hair? I haven’t done anything with my hair!’
‘Exactly!’ replied Flakk quickly. ‘It’s so incredibly you.’
She did a twirl.
‘What do you think of the outfit?’
‘One’s attention is drawn straight to it,’ I replied ambiguously.
‘This is 1985,’ she explained, ‘bright colours are the future. I’ll let you loose in my wardrobe one day.’
‘I think I’ve got some pink socks of my own somewhere.’
‘It’s a start, my dear. Listen, you’ve been a star about all this publicity work; I’m very grateful – and so is SpecOps.’
‘Grateful enough to post me somewhere other than the Literary Detectives?’
‘Well,’ murmured Cordelia reflectively, ‘first things first. As soon as you’ve done the Lush interview your transfer application will be aggressively considered, you have my word on that.’
It didn’t sound terribly promising. Despite the successes at work, I still wanted to move up within the Network. Cordelia took my arm and steered me towards the waiting area.
‘Spot of bother in Auckland?’
‘Bronte Federation offshoot caused a bit of trouble,’ I explained.
‘They didn’t like the new ending of Jane Eyre.’
‘There’ll always be a few malcontents,’ observed Flakk. ‘Milk?’
‘Oh,’ she said, staring at the milk jug, ‘this milk’s off. No matter. Listen,’ she went on quietly, ‘I’d love to stay and watch but some SpecOps 17 clot in Penzance staked a Goth by mistake; it’s going to be PR hell on earth down there.’
SO-17 were the vampire and werewolf disposal squad. Despite a new ‘three-point’ confirmation procedure, a jumpy cadet with a sharpened stake could still spell big trouble.