By the time they arrived back at the hotel, Mattie was exhausted. Tommy certainly hadn’t given Reenie an easy time, and Mattie and Gil had watched in stunned silence as he had told her exactly how The Silver Five had crumbled in the wake of her departure. The picture Tommy painted wasn’t pretty.

‘We’d all been so excited about that gig. You remember the hours we chatted about it beforehand, don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. Maybe all you were thinking of was yourself.’

‘No, it wasn’t like that.’

‘Wasn’t it? Then why never speak to June again, or Alys? Why refuse every invitation I ever sent you to meet up? I know Chuck saw you later – and that was another mess muggins here had to sort. But if you were happy with your decision, why shut us all out afterwards? I think you were embarrassed. I think you knew you’d made a mistake. But you were too proud to own up to it. Pride’s always been your problem, girl.’

‘I do regret it. That’s why I want to get us together now.’ ‘And you think they’ll listen?’

Reenie had swallowed hard, and Mattie had found herself clenching her fists in her lap to resist going to her friend’s aid. ‘I – I don’t know . . .’

‘We didn’t just split up that night. We imploded. It was just so sad. And Rico dropped us like a bunch of hot rocks. So much for a supportive manager.’

‘I thought he would look after you all. I really did.’

‘Then you’re dafter than I thought. You were destined for a glittering career, Reen. What use did he have for us?’ ‘He promised he would . . .’

‘Rico’s promises weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Like our contract that vanished because you weren’t part of the group. Did you know that? The small print said Rico was only responsible for us as a five-piece. You leaving negated the whole thing.’

‘I didn’t know that . . .’

Tommy had rubbed his eyes as if the memory exhausted him. ‘But that aside, what hurt most was that you lied – to me. You promised me Rico was just an associate. And you want to know the worst of it? I knew you were lying. We all did. I was as hurt as they were, but I stuck up for you. I took your side, the night of that concert, when June and Alys and Chuck were screaming blue murder about you. I told them I believed you, even though I knew you’d lied.’

The colour had drained from Reenie’s face. ‘Oh, kid, I never knew. What can I say?’

Tommy had shaken his head. Without his smile he looked ten years older, the dark lines around his eyes and across his brow deeper. ‘There’s nothing to say, love. It’s over, done with. Why do you think I’ve kept in touch all these years, hmm? Why I’ve tried every Christmas for fifty-nine years to get you to join us for our get-togethers? Because deep down I believed you were a good person, with a good heart. The business turns your head, we all know that. But I knew, beneath it all, you were still Irene Silverman from Woodbine Street, Liverpool. The girl I met backstage at the Ted Farnsworth gig who helped me tie my necktie. The girl who gave me a slug of good-luck brandy from that daft hipflask you nicked from a lorry driver hitchhiking to London. She’s more money now – and fancier glad-rags – but I still see her, sitting here.’

‘Oh Tommy . . .’ Reenie had looked up at Tommy, tears running down her cheeks, leaving darker trails in the powder. ‘Oh, love . . . I’m so very sorry.’

As they watched Reenie walking slowly to the hotel bar, Gil whispered to Mattie, ‘That was brutal. Is every meeting on this trip going to be like that?’

‘I hope not,’ she replied, willing the sinking feeling to leave her.

At dinner, all traces of Reenie’s discomfort over the meeting with Tommy were gone. She was on top form, her stories of gigs gone by flowing as freely as the wine.

‘. . . this stage manager in Rotherham kept giving baby Alys the eye and trying to get her on her own. Dirty beggar! Mind you, back then many of them were. Thought us girls were fair game. He told her she was needed in the back for a costume check, thinking the rest of us hadn’t heard him. So we all pretended to go out, only we switched places backstage. When old Wandering Fingers snuck into mine and Alys’s dressing room he found Tommy and Chuck waiting for him, dressed in our costumes! We never worked at that theatre again and Rico was furious, but none of us minded. Pass us that bottle of white, Gil, there’s a love.’

Gil folded his arms. ‘I think you’ve had enough for tonight.’

‘Oh, you do, do you? Well, I’ve had a bit of a day, sun- shine, so hand over the vino . . .’ ‘Maybe we should all have a coffee?’ Mattie suggested, relieved that Gil had broached the subject she’d wanted to mention for the last hour, but not wanting another stand-off between her companions. ‘It’s getting late. Early start tomorrow.’

‘Pfft, lightweights, the pair of you! We’re celebrating. One singer signed up, three to go.’

‘All the same . . .’

Reenie glared at Mattie like a recently grounded teen. ‘You two are no fun. I’ll see you in the morning.’ She wiped her hands on a napkin and left the table.

‘That’s us told,’ Gil grinned.

‘You did the right thing. I saw the bag of medication she had to bring with her. It was scary.’

‘I hope I can put them away as well as that when I’m eighty-four.’

They laughed, Mattie finally allowing herself to relax a little. Today had been an emotional marathon she hadn’t trained for, and she felt exhausted.

‘I think Tommy might just have saved us today.’

‘I reckon so. What was Reenie thinking, not checking ahead?’

Mattie stretched out a little in her chair. ‘I suppose she assumed it would be easier that way. I think Tommy shocked that out of her, though.’

‘He’s a good bloke. I feel a lot happier knowing he’s phoned ahead of us.’ He finished the last of his wine. ‘So, how are you doing?’

The question seemed to come from nowhere, and Mattie found herself smiling at him. ‘I’m good, thanks. Tired now, but glad we’ve made a start.’

‘You’re good with her. She doesn’t strike me as the eas- iest person to be with.’

‘She’s lovely. You two just haven’t clicked yet. But you will. I think she’s amazing. I’ve never met anyone like her. Her self-assurance is off the scale and she refuses to let anyone or anything slow her down. That’s inspirational. And I’m so proud of her for doing this. It can’t be easy, facing up to mistakes you made over half a lifetime ago.’

Gil considered this for a while, and Mattie was struck by the change in him since Reenie’s departure from the table. Gone was the professional coolness, in its place a warmth she hadn’t seen before. Even his posture seemed different, more relaxed and open. She liked this version of him. ‘Maybe we should get together like this every night of the tour,’ he said, as if the suggestion had been carefully carved from the amiable silence. ‘Have some time to go over everything, without Miss Silver’s intervention.

‘I’d like that.’

‘Good.’ He flushed a little, and checked his watch. ‘It’s getting late. I probably should let you get some sleep.’

‘Probably.’ Rising from the table with him, Mattie smiled back, surprised to feel a little disappointment. She reached for her room key card, and noticed another one half-hidden by Reenie’s discarded linen napkin. ‘Oh, hang on: Reenie isn’t going to get far without this, is she?’

‘Crazy woman. We’d better head her off at the pass.’ They hurried back to the hotel rooms in the far end of the building. With any luck, Mattie thought, Reenie’s troublesome hip and the effects of alcohol would have slowed her progress and they might catch her before she reached her room.

The corridor on the second floor was empty, but when they arrived at Reenie’s room they could hear muted music coming from inside. Of course Reenie wouldn’t have let a lost key stop her doing what she wanted!

‘Better just check she’s okay,’ Mattie smiled, knocking on the door.

The door opened, and a startled-looking Eastern European woman peered out at her. ‘Good evening,’ she rushed, her pale face reddening. ‘Turn-down service. Two minutes, please?’

‘No problem. I’ve come to see Miss Silver.’

The woman’s expression clouded. ‘Guest is not here. Just me.’

‘Oh . . .’ Had Reenie gone back to the bar to find her key, or to Reception for a new one? ‘Thank you.’

The door closed, and Mattie turned to Gil. ‘We need to find her.’

‘Where could she be?’ he demanded, hurrying down the hotel corridor in her wake.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Where would an eighty-four-year-old woman go at this time of night? It’s an hour since we last saw her. Where is she?’

‘I said I don’t know,’ Mattie replied, wishing she’d gone to find Reenie by herself. But she was worried. Reenie had seemed so bullish at dinner, so full of confidence in their onward progress. She should have been tucked up in bed, or at least lounging in self-congratulatory splendour.

At the hotel reception, Mattie rang the bell. A young woman appeared.

‘Can I help?’

Mattie checked the receptionist’s name badge. ‘Gemma, hi. Yes, I hope so. Miss Silver – the old lady in our party – have you seen her leave the hotel this evening?’ Gemma frowned. ‘I don’t think so.’

Panic building in her throat, Mattie forced herself to breathe. ‘Okay. Is there anywhere she could possibly be in the hotel?’

‘The spa closed an hour ago. Is she not in the bar?’ ‘No, we’ve just come from there. She doesn’t have her room key.’

‘Wait a minute, how long is it since you last saw her?’ ‘About an hour?’

Gemma’s face lit up. ‘I was on my break then. Let me just get my colleague.’ She disappeared into the small office behind the reception desk and returned a moment later with a lanky young man. ‘Sam was on then. Did you see Miss Silver leave?’

He nodded. ‘She asked about nightlife in Alnwick. I sug- gested The Briar Rose over the road.’

‘A lot of our guests go over there on a Wednesday evening,’ Gemma explained, rolling her eyes. ‘Karaoke.’ Mattie and Gil looked at each other. ‘Karaoke!’

They left the bemused receptionists, and ran out of the hotel.

‘Do you think she’s in there?’ Gil asked, as they waited for a gap in the traffic.

‘If she isn’t, then we really do have a problem.’

‘She shouldn’t be left alone. The woman is a liability.’ ‘Gil, that’s hardly fair. I think Reenie’s more than capa- ble of looking after herself. Stop panicking.’ ‘I’m not panicking.’

‘Well, you’re doing a rubbish job of being calm.’

They fell into a disgruntled silence as they crossed the road and headed up the path of the country pub. As soon as they reached the front door, they knew exactly where Reenie was.

Muted but unmistakable, the booming tones of an accomplished singer echoed down the slate-floored hallway to the pub lounge, although Mattie couldn’t quite marry Reenie’s voice with her chosen song.

‘Is that – “Teenage Dirtbag”?’ Gil asked, stopping as Mattie pulled open the door.

Inside the low-beamed pub, a stunned audience of drinkers was watching a spry pensioner stalking the stage, her sequinned cardigan drooping from one shoulder, cocktail glass sloshing as she gave what could only be described as a hearty performance of Wheatus’s seminal hit. Mattie ignored the vision on the stage and nodded at a shocked male barman.

‘How long has she been singing for?’

‘Feels like hours. Started with “New York, New York”, moved on to “Ring of Fire”, and then she hit the Nineties classics hard. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Feeder or Reef sung lounge-style before.’

Reenie’s vocal gymnastics would have made Dame Shirley Bassey envious, each phrase lustily delivered. Mattie wondered just how much of the performance was fuelled by a lifetime’s experience, and how much by alcohol. Whatever the motivator, she had to act quickly.

‘Right, as soon as the song ends, turn the PA off,’ she instructed the barman, who seemed grateful for the inter- vention. ‘We’ll get her down from the stage.’

‘We?’ Gil hissed.

‘Yes,’ Mattie replied firmly. Gil could complain about it all he wanted tomorrow. Now he needed to shut up and help.

‘And another!’ Reenie called out, jumping slightly when Mattie joined her on the stage. ‘Matilda! Let’s do a duet!’ Mattie leaned across to gently wrench the microphone from Reenie’s hand. ‘It’s been a great show, but we should be getting back.’

‘I haven’t even started . . .’

‘What is it you always say?’ Gil asked, appearing at the other side of Reenie and taking her elbow. ‘Leave ‘em wanting more.’

‘But I haven’t done my big number yet!’ Reenie made to escape their grip, her heel twisting as she lurched forward.

Mattie and Gil braced to take her weight, and between them, pulled her carefully from the stage. A round of applause met their actions, and Reenie raised a queenly hand to acknowledge it.

Searching for a Silver Lining, published by Pan Macmillan, is available to buy from all good High Street and online booksellers, priced £7,99.