Paul, working with his lovers Becky and Hayley, feels deep-ended. He's acting in his first studio production--a slightly mad family-friendly TV show where amateur Egyptologists find a hidden tomb and temple, with a very realistic mummy on set.
They want to keep their developing three-way relationship private, while surrounded by people who love to gossip and just might let things slip to the media. Time is tight, working with a professional stunt team and egotistical actors is stressful, and Paul and Becky get some unwanted attention.
Adding to his anxiety is the important question of where their relationship can go.
Then there are his terrifying, painfully realistic, and very life-like dreams about nasty accidents. On TV, he can have another take. Real life only gives him one go. But it's almost as if he's getting a chance to change how things work out.
The Spitfire's powerful Merlin engine only ticked over, but even so, the aircraft shook and the propeller was just a blur in front of me. I looked to my left and held up a hand in an informal salute to the middle-aged man in a wing commander's uniform and the pretty blonde in a WAAF uniform, who stood twenty metres or so away. Both waved back, then turned and walked further away. I looked forward and scanned all the dials on the instrument panel in front of me. I struggled to stop myself grinning like an idiot before I'd fastened the facemask onto my leather flying helmet.
The engine noise grew louder and the aircraft vibrated as the revs increased. A tingle ran up my spine as the brakes released with a jolt and we rolled forward, bumping over the grass. The engine roared as the airfield rushed past, and the acceleration pressed me back into the seat. My stomach told me we'd taken off at the same moment the rumbling from the wheels stopped. The aircraft nose lifted upwards and we climbed into a huge sky of white fluffy clouds against the blue background. A perfect spring day.
"Just get the wheels up," the pilot said, "then we'll go and play. Okay so far?"
I remembered to turn on my intercom microphone. "This is the ultimate big boy's dream."
He laughed. "You do bloody jousting. I saw your TV show, all that armour and stunt work. And this is fun?"
"Chalk and cheese. Come down sometime and try it."
"No bloody way. Involves sitting on a damn horse. Give me a fast jet at low level any day."
We flew over the Cambridgeshire countryside and I kept looking all around, as I'd been briefed to. I had several tiny cameras in the cramped cockpit with me, so I had to look like a real fighter ace. The pilot, a senior RAF officer who flew with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, chatted on the radio with the pilots in the other historic aircraft we'd meet in a few minutes. He was behind me, in the rear cockpit of a two-seat training conversion aircraft. I was in the front, for the benefit of the TV recording. Work can be such a drag some days. But I was going to be paid for it, so...
"Right, you can take control for a while," the pilot said. "It'll give your director some great footage. Then fancy some aerobatics?"
"Okay, take the stick, push the throttle forwards a little, then pull the stick back a bit."
The engine revs increased and we climbed higher.
"I want one of these," I said. "How much are they?"
He laughed. "Get your private pilot's licence then save like mad. You'll need around a million pounds just to buy one. Okay, push the stick forwards until we level out, then we'll pretend to do an attack. Just do what I tell you. You'll love it."
He was right. I loved every bloody second of it. I'd dreamed about flying in one of these graceful, beautiful aircraft since I first saw one at an air show as a child. I think it was the engine sound which first seduced me, then the elegant lines I saw as it soared and swooped around the sky.
The aerobatics and the simulated combat were totally awesome, but I was grateful I'd not had anything to eat recently.
After dinner and drinks that evening, I felt very mellow. I relaxed in a wing armchair and daydreamed about my afternoon, soaring around the sky in a beautiful historic aircraft, in the safe and capable hands of an experienced and slightly mad real-life fighter pilot. After my quick flying lesson and the aerobatics, we'd engaged in a mock dogfight with a vintage Messerschmitt Me 109. On TV, it would look just like I flew the aircraft, even though I'd just followed the pilot's movements and instructions. There had been a very similar dogfight shortly afterwards, filmed from another aircraft, with a single-seater Spitfire which looked almost identical to the one I'd flown in. And it had been a real eye-opener to realise how close pilots in real-life combat had flown to each other, and how they'd thrown their aircraft around to avoid an attack, or get into position to make one. I was convinced I'd have crapped myself in their place.
"What did John say?"
I almost jumped in surprise at Becky's question. "Sorry, miles away. Called me a lucky bastard, among other choice expressions."
Hayley, who sat beside Becky on the sofa, with her legs curled under her, grinned at me over a copy of the script. "He's just jealous."
"I'll get a rough cut of the footage as soon as I can and drive him really mad. Might be living dangerously, but totally worth it."
Hayley smirked at me. She walked over to the bed, sat on it, and spread the script out across the bedspread. "Right, let's run through the final scene. You jump off the Spitfire's wing, salute the wing commander, and he shakes your hand." She rolled onto her front and absent-mindedly waggled her feet in the air. I enjoyed the sight of her calves, which looked smooth and silky in the soft light.
Becky, cross-legged on the sofa, leaned forwards to look at her copy of the script on a low table in front of her. Her dressing gown gaped enough to give me a hint of the lovely naked body beneath it. She found the right page and glanced at me. "Right, I'm the wing commander now. I shake your hand and..." She looked at the script again, then said in a deeper voice, "Miller, you're incorrectly dressed."
"Sir?" I replied, in a plummy, posh accent.
"You're a squadron leader now. I'm sure young Bunty here will sew on your new stripes." She leaned back. "Leaving aside this endearingly quaint crap that only women can sew, has anyone ever been called Bunty? I mean since the dawn of time?"
Hayley pursed her lips. "I think it's an old-fashioned nickname for Elizabeth. Perfect for a story set in the 1940s." She glanced at the script, then looked up at me. "Gosh, I'll say, sir," she said, in an eager, bouncy tone. "You're a jolly hero now, Dusty. The girls will be so jealous of me, walking out with you."
Becky sniggered. "Gosh, how sweet, walking out together. Knowing you two, it'd only be as far as the nearest place you could stop for a quickie." Then she lowered her voice again. "Good show, Miller, you saved London from that dastardly gueschtunkina poison gas." She clearly articulated the word with four distinct syllables: guesch-tunk-in-a.
"Thank you, sir," I said. "Spiffed I caught that fighter before it reached the city. Was the pilot captured? I saw him bail out."
"Oh, yes. None other than the evil genius Professor von Pfifflepfaffel himself, very annoyed and now safely in custody."
"What about the bombers carrying the spitzensparkzen fire bombs?"
"The rest of the squadron stopped them. And American bombers destroyed their secret base. No more poison gas or fire bombs coming our way. I'm recommending you for a gong."
We all stopped and looked at each other, then started giggling.
I poured us all another glass of wine and opened the third bottle. Learning a script was hell, no one could convince me otherwise. Especially when doing it in a room with the two women I was in a three-way romantic relationship with.
It had survived eight months without the tensions, hurt feelings, or disagreements I'd worried about. I thought it helped that we didn't live together, but regularly met up as pairs and as a threesome for a few days at a time. We'd agreed to keep no secrets between us, but tended not to discuss details of our two-person meetings with the person who'd not been there. In some ways, it still felt like we were still starting this relationship. It did feel like one to me, even if it was a slightly strange arrangement. Only a very few of those closest to us knew about this relationship, even though I'd never openly told anyone. If I was honest, I really didn't know how to be open about it, and was anxious about how others would react.
"I know this script's total bloody pfifflepfaffle," said Becky, clearly pronouncing the p's and f's. "But one can but hope it entertains the youthful audience it's aimed at."
Hayley looked at me. "Do you propose to me in this one?"
"No, not this time," I said. "Still keeping score, Becky?"
"I am." She reached for her handbag and pulled out a notebook. She flicked through the pages. "Here we are. Paul proposed in King's Captain, and he'll pop the question in two other draft scripts. But Hayley's only got one proposal so far, in the next story." She looked up and grinned at us. "Who knows what other shows might bring? Still not written those."
"I want to get more proposals," Hayley said, a mischievous gleam in her eye. "Paul needs all the practice he can get, then maybe he'll get the idea. As far as the public's concerned, we're going out, after all."
I grinned and topped up her wine glass. "You never know your luck, lover."
The main problem about going out with a good actress was never quite being sure if she really meant what she said. And she could make anything sound believable. As her sense of humour included mischief and teasing, I didn't always feel entirely comfortable, but she was totally worth it.
She smiled at me tenderly and blew me a kiss.
"Cut the slop," Becky said. "It's embarrassing. And we're a threesome. If you two married, I'd have an existential crisis figuring out whose mistress I'd be."
"We'd still just be the three of us, so don't worry," Hayley said. "You always said you didn't want to get married." She turned to me. "I still can't believe you've flown in a real Spitfire. I'm so jealous."