Without further ado, here are the next two…
Joe was mooching about in the attic when he heard the rap on the door he’d been dreading. Perhaps he should be out. If Joe was out, then he couldn’t reasonably be expected to answer it, not even by unreasonable folk who dispatched bad-ass babysitters to jackboot him up the bum. Joe was way beyond bored of being read the riot act and told that he could not and should not. If he’d fancied a life like that, then he would’ve signed up for the forces and followed in his dad’s footsteps. Rather than make Major Fitzgerald RM wish it were possible to rescind his sperm donation, instead.
After shoving that thought to the back of his mind to fester like a brain tumour—as was its wont—Joe turned his attention back to the rat-a-tatting. Pottering about in his pants would no doubt be deemed most remiss, so Joe had headed for his hideyhole to get dressed before the arrival of a Mr Mac. Sent by the Powers That Be (pissed off-a-lot) to drive Joe demented. He’d no doubt hunt Joe down like a dog if he did a runner, so he might as well answer the door, seeing as he was indeed in, and even if he was out, he’d have to be in, eventually. Mr Mac wasn’t a quitter. Apparently. Unlike Joe’s previous bovver-booted bodyguards whose professional pride had been so susceptible to affront, merely by slipping his leash. Who knew? It was with a much-miffed huff that Joe shoved the attic window open and poked his head out to peer down at the latest installment as his serial killer of joys.
Crikey. He’d expected Mr Mac to be pacing about impatiently, unaware of being observed, but Joe found himself all-but tasered by twin glints of green. A green so gorgeous, its focus so absolute it was startling from two floors up. Those eyes could probably see round corners. If it was ‘just’ the laser intensity of that stare , then Joe might’ve had a hope in hell of cobbling a few brain cells together. But nope, its emerald gleam was set in a face gifted with such godly bone structure, Mac should by rights, be cast in bronze and positioned in pride of place beside the birdbath.
Joe scrunched his eyes up tight. Then opened them again. Still there. P’raps he’d hallucinated his own Mr Mac in a stealth attack of toxicless-shock-syndrome? Adam had sat sentry all night and only left half-hour ago, after sand-blasting Joe with a tirade about bad-ass babysitters and last-chance saloons. Thus, Joe was feeling far too fit-as-a-fiddle for his own comfort. If this particular Mr Mac was real, then he would speak, would he not?
Okay… If I greet him and he replies: you had me from hello… then ‘Mac’ is a miraculous mirage. If he says anything else whatsoever, then he’s a real, live hooman. Sorted.
Dammit. Wrong answer. Was that a good or a bad thing? Was it preferable to have an imaginary bad-ass who lusted after Joe’s…or a living, breathing one come to whip it into shape?
“Yesss…to whom am I speaking?” he asked, adopting his best lord of the manor tones.
Yup. It was Mr Mac-the-knife wielding Mafioso himself. He sure looked the part. That honeyed skin hailed from far closer to Scicily than Scotland, despite his moniker and Mac’s pronunciation of it. He wasn’t a jot like the Kray cronie Joe expected when told he was about to meet the inescapable agent of his doom. Adam actually said ‘nemesis’ but its definition was too devilish a delight to deny himself. Particularly when it coincided with being denied more than he could endure and stay sane. Or wish to.
Mac was as far from a Mockney geezer straight from the set of a Guy Ritchie movie it was possible to imagine. He was far too…sleek. He was a panther not a pit-bull…about as far from Vinnie Jones as it was possible to rustle up. Mac oozed lethal elegance. He even stood with a still, watchful grace as deadly as it was…delicious.
Mac was, quite clearly, the ‘real deal’ Adam had promised. Secured at great expense by Joe’s record company, no less, in the wake of one too many ‘tired and emotional’ no-shows and less than loquacious appearances here ‘n’ there. Enter Mac-the-Knife, sent to shove his size…tens(?) up Joe’s butt and whip it into shape. There was so much wrong (but oh, so right) with that sentence Joe would be best advised not to think of shoe sizes (or their inferences), shoved anywhere (whatsoever) and go down (oh dear) to let Mr Mac in (ditto).
Joe was so distracted by not-thinking such thoughts, he tripped over a runaway skateboard and damn near met (the harbinger of) his doom by barrelling head-first through the front door. Which meant that Joe also had to not think about barge-poles. At all.
Ugh...Joe hated being (comparatively) compos mentis, it felt akin to having a hive of hornets in his head. An incessant buzz of stinging truths and scything self assessment… no matter how hard Joe tried to drown—no—nothing worked that well: damp down the demons enough to believe. Believe in the very thing that had always been as natural to Joe as breathing. Before. It became a…commodity. Now? He could scarce string three words together or rustle up a riff that wasn’t as trite as it was turgid.
The problem was, Joe would happen on a miracle that did diminish the onslaught of self-doubt and carping criticism. Then find himself flying as high as a kite once more on rhythm and rhyme, feverishly writing reams of poetry as cascades of notes flitted through his thoughts. As free as his fingers across strings, caressing keys, coaxing melody from mayhem as words tumbled from his lips. ‘Til the fear came flooding back with a vengeance….which left Joe with little option but more—in ever spiralling amounts—or find a fresh source of blissful oblivion. Joe was fast running out. Of everything. Sources. Lives. Chances. Everyone’s patience.
Enter Mac-the-Knife. A shark shrink-wrapped in a fitted shirt, snowy sleeves rolled back to reveal sinewy forearms and an incongruous slash of scarlet bound around his right wrist. He was a shock of sharp contrasts, all clean lines and crisp tailoring that clung to sunkissed skin as warm as his russet brown hair. Buzzed in an undercut with rogue tendrils that flopped over those flinty glints of green. All of which was so discombobulating, Joe found himself admitting that Mac was far from the man he’d dreaded. Out loud.
“What were you expecting?” Mac asked as he stepped into the hallway
Joe might’ve mooted a bulldog chewing a wasp. Or Butch from Tom and Jerry. Same difference. In his own defence, neither Kray twin put in an appearance. Nor Jack the Hat McVitie…which was a bit of a McMiracle, all things considered.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Mac muttered vaguely, laser gaze blazing everywhere, all at once. Quite possibly checking every nook and cranny for secret stashes with X-ray vision… now there was a thought. Oh dear...Joe was all out of rubber gloves…
“Disappoint?” Joe figured that he’d better appear to ponder this, rather than state outright how very un—whatever the antonym for disappointed was—he was. Chuffed to bits, that would do. As would Mac. Very nicely indeed, thank you muchly. “Nope. I find myself strangely amenable to the whole ‘whipping me into shape’ idea.”
P’raps the vicar’s wife had a spare crop she could lend him.
It was roundabout then that the holy grail of revelations dropped on Joe’s head. His marbles were so scattered may have mixed his metaphors but no matter:
If Mac’s presence was supposed to dissuade Joe from overindulging here ’n’ there, then the bright spark responsible for that cunning plan was patently in need of psychiatric assistance. If Joe set off on the long ‘n’ snakey road to sobriety then…he wouldn’t need a bad-ass to guard his body, would he? Duh.
“It’s just Mac.” Stated firmly (double ditto) with a flinty glint. Uh-oh. It seemed that JustMac was not partial to being suffixed. It was too late now, Joe couldn’t unthink it, he wasn’t stoned enough. Hence his head wouldn’t shut up at all…and he found himself unleashing all sorts of nonsense and the vicar’s wife, before segueing straight into crockpots and paddling therein.
Somewhere amidst all this superfluity, Joe discovered that the walking oxymoron that was JustMac wasn’t the green-algae aficionado he’d feared. Things were looking up. In more ways than one. A fact so obvious that Joe figured he’d better take himself off and slip into something far less comfy but a bit less…lurid. It was a bloomin’ good job the bad-ass had been too busy stash-scouting to peruse Joe’s person. At least his boxers were black—which was far more forgiving than his favourite red undercrackers—but blimey, it was very hard to conduct a chat under such circumstances.
Mac tossed back his tumbler of whisky before tugging his cigarettes from the pocket of his leather and sinking into a comfortable armchair beside the fireplace. Despite being the embodiment of his billing, Joe Fitzgerald far from met Mac’s expectations. He couldnae quite put his finger on why, when it made no sense to suggest that Joe fit his description yet defied its very essence.
Just as contradictory was the fact that all Joe Fitzgerald wasn’t made him so…utterly what he was. While he was every bit as charming as Mac had been promised, he’d presumed that would be mere showbiz artifice. A cultivated charisma about as shallow as a coke spoon. Fake, like so many of Joe’s ilk, with a glossy veneer about as genuine as their teeth. Far less forgivable was the fact they were as tedious as fuck, which was why Mac had given Vince such a hard time. He’d rather wade through a cesspit than work the red carpet. The stench was more sincere.
Unless Joe was the best faker Mac had ever met, he was far too authentic for his own welfare. It was a miracle he’d survived himself, let alone a life in the music business. Safeguarding Joe’s future in it would make Mac worth every penny the record company paid up. Thwarting his determination to destroy Joe Fitzgerald—in one way or another—would be a far more brutal battle. One Mac fully intended to win, by means fair or foul. Breaking all the rules…even his own.
That incorrigible charm might make Joe’s star shine all the brighter, but Mac had not expected to find him so…engaging. Warm. Real. While he undoubtedly wielded those eyes as the weapon they were, the monster was so shameless about it, it was damn near impossible to take umbrage. It didn’t help that those intent on tethering Joe to his talent, rather than proclivities, were undoubtedly complicit in using the latter as leverage. Doling them out like dog chocs to bring Joe to heel and rewarding him for ‘good’ behaviour, if he played ball. They knew damn well that they couldnae control him any other way—he was too talented, too clever and could clearly outfox them—which made this entire shitstorm horribly inevitable.
Mac’s remit was not to get Joe off drugs. It was to get him there (wherever that happened to be), in a fit state to fulfil his ‘obligations’. Able to function.
Joe Fitzgerald was very obviously functioning today. All of him. The evidence tugging Mac’s attention to this fact made following Joe’s bullet train of thought a feat in itself…let alone while suffering an acute case of cripple cock. This gig was doomed to disaster before it began. Mac should walk away without a backward glance and tell Vince to book some other bugger to guard Joe’s body. Bodyguard Joe. The miscreant had one hell of an advantage; his reputation was already shot to shit. Mac’s was on the line. The very line Mr Fitzgerald could never bloody walk.
Mac had just lit a second cigarette when the clink of a bottle against glass filtered through this fog of thoughts. Joe soon reappeared, clutching two tumblers, one of scotch and the other a shade that suggested rum. He was, thankfully, wearing clothes: black jeans with a red and black striped top, scarlet socks. Dennis the Menace on stilts, after switching the shampoo for a bottle of bleach…then forgetting that fact.
“Are you off in a minute?” Joe asked as he handed Mac the glass of whisky.
“You look as if you’ve made up your mind to leave and are planning an exit strategy.” His soft voice sounded uncertain, rather than hopeful, which was…unexpected. Quite why Mac had focused on this when Joe had just intuited all of that in three seconds flat was almost as perplexing. No one had been able to get a read on Mac for a long time, his life depended on it. So, he’d strived to eradicate every single tell as if it was an unsightly stain on a blank wall.
“Your safety could count on the latter. ” That wasn’t a lie, at least. “Just a reflex, if y’like. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me…” Mac shrugged.
“I don’t mind being stuck with you. If I’ve got to have someone, I’m glad it’s you. So, JustMac, what can’t I do?” Joe asked, folding his far too lavish self into the opposite chair.
“It’s not about what you cannae do. It’s about what you will do.” Mac stated, as fact.
“…And what will I do?” His pincushion lips twerked; as incorrigible as the rest of him.
“Everything in your diary.”
“What if I’m…?” Joe paused, rolling his eyes top right while pondering the perfect get out clause. There wasnae one. “‘What if’ nothing. You could Section yourself, I guess, but that would somewhat defeat your objective,” Mac snorted. “Joe, I’m not your bloody gaoler and I’m sure as hell no babysitter. But you will do what’s in that diary, even if I have to knock you out and carry you to the car, or cuff you to make certain of it.”
“Oooh…” Joe’s doe eyes widened still further. They were…exceptional. The deepest shade of brown before black, bewitching in themselves, otherwordly alongside milk-white skin and white-blond hair.
“Not in a fun way.” Mac retorted.
“Party pooper.” Sticking Joe to the window with that pout might prove the answer to all manner of problems. “That’s just cruel.”
“A trait that was never in doubt…so your point is?” Mac arched an ironic brow.
“They didn’t tell me you were a sadist, t’boot.” Joe chuntered.
“How very remiss of them.”
“It was. This is torture. First off, you come slinking in with your granite jaw and glinty-greens, then start waving your cuffs about. You’ll be wheeling in a tank of piranhas next, with baggies of smack floating in it.”
“Not till tomorrow when you’re chewing the carpet.” Mac smirked. Strewth, he’d only been here half-hour and was fast turning into a pantomime villain. All he needed was a moustache to twirl and he’d be sorted. Slinking?
“Humph. I’ll go insane. They’ll be carting me off in a straitjacket before Monday. I won’t be able to do my diary then, will I?” Joe huffed.
“That’s up to you, it’s your choice. Locked up on your lonesome in a rubber room. Or put the fuck up with me.”
“Can I have a pick ‘n’ mix of those choices?” Joe wondered ‘airily’.
“Do I look like a confectionary counter?” Mac spluttered.
“Literally? No. It’s more like window shopping at S&M-R-US. Will I get rewards for good behaviour?” Joe beamed, all eyes and teeth, glittering with mischief.
“Yup.” Mac inhaled and blew a long stream of smoke ceilingward before adding; “Your career.”
“Ooh, that was evil.” Joe humphed.
“If the cap fits…” Another shrug. “But isn’t that what you want? Or, thought you wanted?” Mac asked, allowing the harsh Glaswegian accent he’d adopted to fall away and soften to his native Edinburgh burr for the first time.
“Well…yes. Sort of.” Joe sighed, lifting his feet off the floor to plant them on the seat and rest his chin on top of his bent knees. “I just wanted to write songs and play them to people. I did want to be famous…cos that’s how it works, isn’t it? I couldn’t do this if no-one cared whether I did or not, or came to gigs…but I didn’t expect it to be…like this. I thought I’d be able to potter along, writing, playing…but I can’t. That’s all anyone ever says, too: ‘You can’t‘. It’s like being devoured by a massive shredding machine that wants to spit out stuff. I want to write and play, sing songs that mean something to people—that matter—not be a product on a production line spewing out pretty melodies. I know that sounds stupid and ungrateful—”
“It doesn’t…” Mac interrupted. Not from those lips, at least. It was pure, impossible, idealism, tumbling forth in sing-song tones as alluring as a lullaby. The cadence of Joe’s voice seemed to smooth Mac’s sharp edges, much like the accent he’d affected. He’d begun to feel as if he’d stepped through some sort of portal when he’d crossed the threshold. A world where Joe dreamed impossible dreams and made them seem plausible by dint of believing them into being. Or Mac had lost the sodding plot. Either way, it was now blatantly apparent why the wheels of the tour bus had come off in such spectacular style.
“It sounds…naive,” Mac continued. “The music business is just that…and the truth is, you are the product. People buy into all you are, not just your songs. Whoever booked me knows that damn well and I suspect it’s more true with you than most of their artists. Some musicians sell songs…some gift their fans a sense of self…of belonging. Maybe you wouldnae write the way you do, if you didn’t want to touch people that way. I don’t intend to fuck you over, Joe.” That was one word away from a lie, but it was a helluva lot truer than: I don’t intend to shaft you. Moving swiftly on. “If you’re straight up with me, I’ll keep them off your back as much as I can…but that works both ways. If you’re dead set on fucking me over, then there’s no point. I might as well walk out the door, it’s no skin off my arse. I don’t need this job—but you need me—or I wouldnae be here. So…s’up to you.”
“’Kay.” Joe spoke so softly his nod was almost louder. Then abruptly sprang from his armchair before bending to scoop up Mac’s empty tumbler. “D’you want another drink?”
What the fuck? Mac had expected Joe to unleash the erudite charm offensive that must surely have been simmering since he’d been informed that he was being saddled with a ‘bad-ass’ squatter for the foreseeable. What’s he up to…?
“‘Kay? That’s it?” Mac shot him a suspicious side-eye but Joe just shrugged.
“Yup. I want you to stay, so okay. D’you have stuff to bring in from the car?”
“Aye, I’ve got a couple of bags in the boot, I’ll go and fetch them in a minute.”
“Okay. Should I show you around, so you know where everything is? You can choose a room to put your stuff in and—what’s that face for?” Joe interrupted himself, brows knitting in puzzlement.
“You seriously think I intend to leave you to your own devices overnight?” Mac snorted.
“I…well, what are you going to do then?”
“Sleep in your room.” Mac stated, with the most nonchalant shrug he could muster up.
“My room?!” Joe squeaked in a voice about three octaves higher than usual. If those eyes got any wider they’d swallow his head.
“Joe, you answered the door in your pants, what’s the problem? I think it’s safe to presume you’re not prudish.” Mac did his damndest to maintain a poker face, somewhat akin to attempting this feat while clutching a royal flush. Joe’s expression was priceless; an anime depiction of ‘agog’.
“’Tis customary to ask before you go inviting yourself into someone’s bed, Mr Cocky Pants,” Joe sniffed.
“To sleep.” Mac clarified, with a clipped precision that belied the chronic cripple cock.
“Sadist,” Joe grumbled, obsidian eyes agleam with stardust. After spearing him with a withering stare, Mac stomped off to fetch his bags from the car.
What the hell am I thinking? Yes, that decision had been a no-brainer on the drive down. Adam had just sat sentry all night, for chrissakes. Tactical thinking that did not account for the fact Mr Fitzerald In The Flesh was lethal. Ah well…so be it. Mac sure as hell had no intention of failing Joe because he feared an inability to keep it in his own pants…