Following on from the prologue, this is the first chapter of the story I started many years ago. I really hope to one day continue it…
“Tim, love, we’ve got a bit of a situation.”
My shirt buttoned only from the chest up, I poked my head back around the long, ‘velvet’ (supposedly, it felt more like a shaved rodent) curtain we’d been instructed by Phil, easily the angriest man in the world, to get changed behind for the show. Jean was stood, dressed head to toe in paisley, cigarette in her mouth, tapping her foot impatiently. “Jean, babe, what’s the trouble?”
She exhaled a cloud of smoke, which scratched at the back of my throat. “Don’t ‘babe’ me, Tim, it’s that doorman. Gav.”
“What’s he doing?”
Stupid question, what isn’t he doing? Gav was Phil’s worst decision for this place, from a non-threatening, welcoming atmosphere point of view.
“What he’s doing is not letting Michelle and Polly through—I told him they was with the band, but he’s not buying it. It’s bullshit. It’s not like they haven’t been coming here for every night since I got you that gig, or anything,” she snarled, glancing back over her shoulder towards the door to the club itself. God knows how she got in here, but it was clear that she wanted to get back to reigning over her group of psychedelic weirdos as quickly as she could. “Look, just get those kids in. I’m not having that bastard doorman making me look like a fool.”
That solved the mystery of why she gave two shits about Chelle and Polly; she felt that Gav, and yeah, she’s right, he’s a bastard if I ever knew one, was exerting power over her. And fuck, she may be tiny, but no one humiliates Jean Tobey and gets away with it. Her blue eyes were drilling into my skull as I fumbled with the last few buttons on my shirt. “I-I’ll see what I can do.”
Seriously. Jean is terrifying to the point where she can reduce a man over a foot taller than her to stuttering. How else could she get where she is?
Well… maybe some things are better left unsaid.
“You won’t see what you can do, you’ll do it, Tim,” she said, with a swish of her dress as she turned to march back towards her group. And, yeah, I’d have to do it, otherwise she could just as easily defile herself with Phil in order to have him kick us out as she could to get us in. If she hadn’t dropped out at fourteen to join the travellers she probably could’ve made a pretty effective spin doctor.
I shoved the pink silk inside my belt as I snuck away from my curtain. As I did so, Ian, in all his Hendrix-permed glory, grabbed my arm; I flinched, waiting for the rip of cerise which never came. I turned around to catch him grinning, his tongue poking out of the gap of his missing tooth. “Jeanie got your balls in her handbag, huh?”
“Not exactly,” I replied, nonchalantly. “Fucking Gav being difficult again. Not letting Chelle and Pol in, I fucking said…” I shook my head. “Anyway, I’m gonna go and get them.”
“Want me to clean out the storeroom?”
“Y’know, so you and Chelle can…” he wiggled his eyebrows.
“Fuck off, Ian.”
Ignoring the following jeering and vulgarity from him and Rog, I left our pitiful excuse for a dressing room at a jog, shoving through the doors with such force that they almost smacked right into Phil, who was laden with a large glass of beer and expression so venomous he could spoil milk. Which he’d probably feed to us after the show.
“You, Rowand. Where the fuck do you think you’re going, you’re about to go on stage?”
Great. His eyes were probably glowing red with the fires of hell beneath those bloody sunglasses that he was wearing, despite the fact that this room was, as is probably characteristic of unused nuclear bunkers, dark as shit. Even those which have since been extended and converted into a dank, yet somehow popular, night club.
“I think I’m going to get my friends in because your bouncer is being an arsehole again,” I replied, suddenly filled with inexplicable courage. Maybe it’s a pride thing; if I couldn’t stand up to Jean, that was enough humiliation for one night, thanks. “Michelle Carne and Polly Beckett?”
“Look, son. You know as well as I do that I couldn’t give a flying fuck who your friends are. Just go and get them in, then get back here and play that keyboard like I’m fucking paying you to,” he snapped, actually surprisingly more compliant than he normally is.
I gave a nod which hopefully didn’t look too surprised, and proceeded through the door—just in time to hear a cry of “Sergeant!”, which suggested that the real reason he didn’t eradicate me on the spot was because he was saving all that pent-up rage to rip into Ian. I’d say that I feel sorry for him, but I don’t. His hairstyle looks like my grandmother’s and if I’m perfectly honest it looks a lot better on her.
Bloody typical. Shaking my head to myself, and hoping that Phil wouldn’t break anything of Ian’s which would stop him playing bass like we all kind of needed him to, I marched past the tables which lined the back so as to avoid the ‘dance floor’, where bored adolescents swayed roughly in time with the erratic sounds of Cream. The tables all smelled the same: smoke, spilled vodka, and weed, though at least one lot had the courtesy to try and disguise the stench of it all with incense. Too bad it stank like dog shit, in my opinion. A few people turned their heads. I should’ve expected as much, really; a cerise-shirted silhouette behind a keyboard graced posters scattered all over the city, but I didn’t really have the time to give them the winks and half-smiles they wanted. I needed to get these two girls inside and my own arse backstage before Phil finally had that heart attack we’ve all been waiting on.
I reached the door just as the huge guy was stepping back, so that I was nearly thrown off-balance. I cleared my throat. No answer.
“Gav,” I said, rather more timidly than I’d anticipated. He didn’t reply. “Gavin,” I repeated, swallowing back whatever it was which made me sound like an imbecile. “Gavin.”
“Jesus Christ, what?” he said, with anger, whirling round. He realised it was me, and seemed almost startled. Nice. “I mean, yeah?”
I moved towards the door; he moved aside. I looked out, and saw two girls in their late teens standing together looking partly dejected and partly like they could kill six people each with their bare hands if provoked. I turned to him; my height meant I could look him in the eye. He just happened to be as wide as two of me.
“Gav, those girls, Michelle Carne and Polly Beckett?”
“Oh, the kiddies? What about ‘em?”
I could almost see Chelle’s fists clenching. To be fair, she was eighteen. “Whether or not you believe that they’re old enough is your own view, but, trust me, these girls are both adults and they’re actually really good friends of Ian and I…”
“Really?” he seemed sceptical.
I gave an affirmative nod. “Yeah. Back at the Poly, we used to skip all the time to hang out with them. We’ve been friends since ’63. I don’t want to be rude or anything, but it’s a preference of all the band if you let them in?” by that, I meant Ian and I—Roger barely spoke to them and I don’t think Jude’s even met them at all. “Also, you’ve really pissed off Jean Tobey and she could fuck her way into the PM’s office if she wanted to.”
“You’re talking bollocks,” he spat. Clearly, he’d yet to learn that judging a book by its cover when that book was called Jean could pretty much result in you not having any bollocks by the end of the night. “But whatever. Take the kids in, if you stick ‘em in the dark, they’ll stop making this place look like a daycare centre,” he turned to them. “You’re in. Better thank your musician friends later.”
“We will!” Polly assured him as she shuffled through the door. Chelle, meanwhile, sauntered through with a look of entitlement, giving him the finger when his back was turned. I dragged them more towards the stage. They, if anyone, were going to get the best places we could offer them.
I left them right in the centre, and placed my hands on my hips. “What happened to ‘we’re with the band’?” I joked.
Chelle rolled her eyes. “Asshole wouldn’t believe us. You’re gonna have to get us cards or something,” she remarked, her evident dislike for Gavin shining through in the dryness of her North American tone. “But, no, thank you, though, I guess. I actually didn’t think we’d make it in this time.”
I shrugged. “Eh, take it as a compliment. Better to look younger in the long run, I guess. But, anyway, you’ll join us at the pub after the set?”
“Yeah, probably,” Chelle said, while Polly, with wide, blue eyes, looked somewhat startled but also willing. Chelle turned to her. “We’ll get one of the guys to get your drink for you,” she assured, before returning her attention to me. “Who’s going?”
“Uh… me, Ian and Rog, definitely. Jude might, I think he’d be up for it if we persuade him enough—that’s our singer-guitarist, by the way. Jean and some of her lot join us sometimes, but it looks like they’re smoking themselves to Mars right now, so fuck knows if they’ll be in any state to…”
From their particular corner of the room came the strongest waft of grass, and the loudest eruptions of laughter.
“Cool,” Chelle nodded, a smile forming.
Beside her, Polly grinned. “Yeah, cool.”