When Bump in the Night had first debuted, the studios had referred to its cast as something along the lines of an ‘intrepid team of experts’, which had made Tony snort so hard with laughter that he almost burst a blood vessel. In their attempt to create an intriguing documentary with a touch of intelligence, the programme’s producers had accidentally created a winning formula for attracting three times the number of viewers they deserved. Tony Belgrave’s sarcastically bad acting appealed to every single obsessive layabout in the country, Andy Pride’s immaculately styled hair and ridiculously large muscles appealed to a lot of thirsty women, and Jean Valentown’s radical hairstyle and slightly frightening taste in shoes had attracted an eclectic combination of fierce feminists and misunderstood teenagers.
In the end, it hadn’t mattered that the programme’s ‘intrepid team of experts’ actually had no scientific or technological expertise whatsoever, nor did it matter that in real life, they could barely sit in the same room without starting a fight. There was only one time when they couldn’t possibly stay out of each other’s way, and that was the pre-release briefings, where everyone who’d been on-location had to show up. Today was one such day, and as always, Tony was dreading it.
He shoved open the door of the conference room just in time to see Jean spring out of her seat in shock. Her seat, as always, happened to be Andy’s lap. The more attractive two-thirds of the cast had become a couple almost as soon as the producers first yelled action, and since then it seemed to Tony as though they’d completely forgotten how to sit still without touching one another.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, dumping himself onto a sofa on the other side of the room. “Am I interrupting something?”
Wordlessly, Jean stuck her middle finger up at Tony as she sat back down. Her face was a jigsaw of features so sharp they could cut you, and her thin lips and charcoal-drenched eyes twisted into some breed of scowl whenever Tony was around. Half of her limp hair was shaved off and her left ear and eyebrow were archer’s targets, shot so full of metal piercings the skin was barely visible.
“Morning, Jean. Nice to see you too.” Tony didn’t even bother to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
“Whatever.” Jean put one foot up on the coffee table and turned back to Andy, who was narrowing his eyes at Tony. Andy seemed like an odd choice for any kind of paranormal investigation programme, with the body of a comic-book superhero, the blonde gelled hair of a boy-band singer, and the overripe complexion that could only come from a mild addiction to the tanning salon. Where his girlfriend was sharp, Andy was pretty much all square, from his jaw to his abnormally wide shoulders to his basic levels of intelligence. The most important thing Tony had noted about Andy, though, since the very first day they’d met, was his unmatchable talent for being a complete dickhead.
“How’s it going, Andy? You’re looking very, um… angry. Did I do something wrong?” Tony couldn’t resist faking an innocently cheerful smile.
“Yeah, Tony. You insulted my girl.” Andy sat up, shrugging Jean’s hand off his shoulder. “What gives you the right to talk to us like that?”
Tony yawned in a staged display of indifference, glancing down to pick listlessly at one of his fingernails. “I literally just said good morning to her. What’s the problem?”
Andy had now turned a slightly deeper shade of orange than usual. He was just like a clockwork toy the way he allowed himself to be wound up, and Tony would have been lying if he’d claimed not to enjoy it.
“You’d better, uh… watch yourself, Tony,” added Andy, growling slightly at the back of his throat. “Or I swear I’ll beat the shit out of you to teach you some respect.”
“I think you’ve threatened to beat me up every day for the last couple of years, Andy,” Tony said, upturning his eyes and pretending to count on his fingers. “How many times have you actually done it? Uh… one, two… oh yeah. Never.” He pulled the cushion behind him onto his lap and shoved his head down onto the arm of the sofa.
“Babe,” Jean said quietly, raising one eyebrow at Andy. “Really?”
“Really what, babe?”
“I don’t need protecting, you know. Especially not from Tony. He isn’t worth it.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Andy said, lowering his voice into what he probably thought was a whisper. “But I don’t want him thinking he can treat us like shit, babe.”
Tony raised an eyebrow, deciding not to bother saying anything else. He didn’t need to, anyway; the next person to arrive was Kevin, one of the new cameramen. From what little insight he could glean from barely paying any attention to anyone or anything, Tony had worked out that Kevin was Jean’s friend. As a result of this, of course, Andy hated him even more than he hated Tony.
“Hi, Kevin!” Jean said, sitting up and removing herself from Andy’s arm. It was unmissable, even to Tony and especially to Andy, how happy she always seemed when Kevin showed up.
“Hi, Jean.” Kevin smiled at her, making for an armchair near the window.
“You can come sit here with us if you want,” she offered. “You don’t have to sit over there all by yourself.”
“Oh, man,” said Andy, turning to face Kevin. “Sorry, babe, but I don’t think there’s enough room for him. Shame.”
He was looking pointedly at Jean as he spoke, but she was glaring right back, looking as if she was ready to bite his head off with her slightly overlarge front teeth.
“Andy, cut it out,” she whispered.
“No, Jean, it’s okay,” Kevin said softly, pushing his glasses further up his nose. He hurriedly averted his eyes from hers, glancing down to absorb himself in his phone screen.
Jean glanced angrily up at Andy as he put his arm back around her, but she didn’t say anything. Tony tried not to grin.
By the time Philip was fifteen minutes late, Kevin had been joined by the other two cameramen and Jean and Andy had turned their attention back to one another. Tony was still sitting by himself, even though he was only taking up a third of the biggest sofa. It was no wonder, really, that when Dave finally showed up, he ended up sitting with Tony.
Several twigs in the blonde bird’s nest of Dave’s hair were sticking straight up, dark circles ringed his black-brown eyes and the handful of freckles chucked across his face only helped to make him look more nervous. The latest instalment in his seemingly endless parade of crazy shirts was electric orange, but as always, he was acting as if it was a completely normal thing to wear to work. Tony couldn’t help admiring his courage, but still didn’t bother to return the smile Dave shot in his direction.
“There he is!” Andy said, smirking at Jean. “We were just talking about you. Nice shirt, dude.”
To Tony’s surprise, the usually cheerful production worker delivered a devastatingly withering look in Andy’s direction. “Yeah, whatever, Andy.”
The smile fell from Andy’s face, and Tony raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, fine,” Andy said, trying to muster a contemptuous laugh. “I was just trying to be nice.”
“Give me strength,” Dave muttered under his breath. “The only person who’s been nice-”
“What was that?” Andy said.
“I said the only person who’s been nice to me since I got here’s Tony!” Dave raised his voice, and everyone in the room glanced up to look at him. Andy spluttered with laughter.
“Well, that’s good,” he said, “’coz Tony needs a friend or two, doesn’t he? You’d better be careful, though, ‘coz Philip burns through assistant producers faster than anything, and at the rate you’re going you’ll be fired before you’ve said two words to each other.”
Tony had been planning to stay out of the argument, but when Dave began to turn red and opened his mouth to make a retort, he changed his mind.
“Hi, Dave,” Tony said offhandedly.
Dave grinned. “Hi.”
“There. Two words.”
“Three words,” Dave corrected.
Tony grinned at Andy. “You lose.”
Andy stood up, sticking out his chest like a threatened bullfrog. “You-”
“Good morning, everyone!” Philip bellowed as the door crashed open to herald his arrival. “Andy, sit down.”
Andy sat down.
“Anyway, welcome to yet another pre-release meeting, season three, episode nine, yadda yadda et cetera. Ledgely Infirmary, Timothy whatsisface, ghostly activity caught on camera and all that. Anyway, none of you should really care about that one, because it’s done now. All you’ve got to do now is sit on your arses until the next one, so congratulations to you all.”
Philip paused for breath, and Dave frowned in surprise, reminding Tony that this was the first time he’d had to listen to one of his boss’ debriefs. Then again, judging from Philip’s attitude towards whichever assistant happened to be employed that week, Tony would have wagered it wasn’t the first time Dave had been belittled and patronised.
“Moving on from last week,” said Philip. “Unless any of you’ve got any questions?”
Dave nervously stuck his hand up, which made Andy snigger. Jean elbowed him, and he stopped.
“Yeah,” said Dave, ignoring them both. “When’s the episode airing?”
Philip narrowed his eyes. “Don’t tell me you actually watch it, David.”
“Well, yeah. Since it started, actually.”
Philip burst out laughing. “Are you serious?”
“I watch it too,” said Tony, earning a grateful glance from Dave as the ridicule shifted targets.
“Well, yeah, I guessed that much,” said Philip, “because you’ll believe any ghost bullshit you watch, won’t you, Tony?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” admitted Tony, “but I mostly just watch it now to laugh at Andy’s acting.”
“Tony, I swear!” Andy yelled. Jean tightened her grip on his arm to stop him from standing up.
“Shut up, everyone!” Philip said. “So, for the benefit of Tony and David, the new episode airs on Wednesday at eleven. Now, moving on to the important stuff for those of us smarter than that. As you all know, the next episode’ll be the Season Three finale, so we’re going to do a special hour-long feature again. We-”
“Where?” Tony asked, leaning forwards in his seat. The last time they’d done a special feature, they’d been granted access to the ruins of a pagan church, and watching Andy trying to explain away demonic voices on the EVP had been some of the most fun he’d ever had.
Philip sighed at the interruption. “What do you care? Some old ruined mansion house called, um… one second.”
He picked up his briefcase from the ground and dragged out a piece of paper, ripping the corner in the process. “Ah, yes... Lansfield… Hall.”
Philip had said the name slowly, as if he’d never heard it before. Tony had heard it before, though. He’d been hoping for Lansfield Hall as soon as he’d heard the words ‘ruined mansion house’. In fact, he’d been hoping for Lansfield Hall since being hired two years ago.
“Cool!” Dave was obviously just as excited as Tony, but less restrained when it came to expressing it. Tony glanced sideways at him in surprise.
Philip raised one eyebrow. “Cool. Thanks for that insight, David. Now, I haven’t got anything else to bring up, except from the fact that we start filming interviews next Tuesday. We do our lockdown in, um… Lansfield Hall, on Friday night. And…” He smirked. “Tony and David? Enjoy watching the episode. Sorry for your terrible taste in TV. Okay, everyone. This meeting’s over.”
Tony didn’t know what it was that made him stick around in the corridor after the meeting had finished. Maybe he was just avoiding having to spend another second with Jean and Andy, or maybe he felt sorry for Dave, who’d been called back into the room moments after getting up to leave. Standing alone outside the door, Tony could vaguely make out Philip’s muffled yelling; the soundproofing on the walls blurred the sentences, but he could make out a few words. “Fuck” was present in nearly every sentence, as usual. “Shit” was also prominent, but judging by Philip’s main problem with Dave, it could just as easily have been “Shirt.”
Tony had found a blue biro in the back pocket of his jeans, and was now twiddling it between his thumb and index finger, staring determinedly at the wall in an effort to look nonchalant. He didn’t realise the pen was leaking until he glanced down at his hand, which was now liberally coated in navy smears; he wiped the sticky ink on his jeans before carrying on. His grip on the pen slackened after a few more minutes and he accidentally flicked it sideways, where it skittered across the floor before hitting the wall. He sighed and went to fetch it.
Just as he’d straightened up again, the door to the conference room opened.
“-and God help you if you fuck this up, David,” Philip finished.
Dave stumbled out into the corridor, looking slightly dazed and ready to make a bolt for the staircase. Then, he spotted Tony and stopped short.
“Oh, Tony. Hey.”
Dave managed a weak grin. “I don’t know what that guy’s deal is with calling me David.”
“Well, isn’t that your name?”
“Well, yeah.” Dave frowned. “I guess so, technically, yeah. But nobody’s called me it in my entire life. Everyone just calls me Dave.”
He glanced over his shoulder to check the location of his boss; luckily, the door had swung shut.
“Don’t worry about it,” Tony said after a long pause. “Philip just calls everyone the wrong name on purpose. I think it’s a status thing. He spent the first month calling Jean, um… Jenna.”
He’d just told an outright lie; Philip only ever messed up Dave’s name, but he thought it might be better if Dave didn’t know that.
“Oh, really?” Dave paused, looking slightly doubtful. “So, Lansfield Hall, huh?”
Tony had almost forgotten Dave cared about Lansfield too.
“Isn’t that the place that got destroyed in a fire?”
“The place where that little girl burned to death?”
“Well, she wasn’t that little, but yeah.”
“And then he went crazy and hacked his wife to death?”
“The…” Dave paused. “The place that’s supposed to be cursed?”
The smile began to creep back onto Dave’s face as he looked up at Tony through several stray strands of hair. “Can you say anything besides yeah?”
“You should know. You’ve been watching me on TV for the last two years, haven’t you?”
Dave grinned. “Okay, fine, but you watch it too.”
Tony couldn’t stop the smile. Neither of them said anything for a moment, but just as the air between them was starting to get painfully awkward, Dave spoke again.
“Thanks, by the way.”
“Well, y’know, in there.” Dave gestured over his shoulder. “Stopping me from ripping Andy’s head off.”
“Oh. Okay.” Tony paused. “If I’d known that’s what you were going to do, I would’ve let you do it.”
Dave laughed, covering his mouth with his hand when he realised he’d laughed too loud. His eyes shifted briefly down to the ground before coming back to meet Tony’s.
“I’m actually kind of excited. About Lansfield, I mean. This could be pretty cool.”
Tony raised one eyebrow, then smiled back. “Yeah.”