“’Kay, I just need to scribble something down first…” Joe insisted, upon being prompted bathwards. Quibbling for the hell of it? It seemed not, because he promptly sprang up and scurried off whippet-quick. Christ, he’d been semi-conscious an hour ago but then… a swift snort sure as hell didn’t cut it for long when smack cravings clamoured for their customary delivery. Not least over such a prolonged period, in quantities that should have ensured Joe’s membership of the infamous 27 Club. If only by surviving on borrowed time until his (birthday) card came through...according to Vince.
Three years later…he’d defied the odds. And the opinion of everyone who’d ever offered it, apparently. Fucknows how. For every statistic there’s a Keith Richards cocking a snook to decency? Moreover, the wily old cat had dodged his dues for so long he’d become celebrated for it. There was, literally, only one Keef. Joe had another forty-odd years to serve before the press stopped baying for his blood and he became a legend for his lifetime. Rather than Junkie Joe, poster boy for moral outrage.
So swiftly did he scarper, Mac had to shift himself sharpish to follow in Joe’s wake when he sped off upstairs, heading straight for the attic. He’d already dropped to his knees by the time Mac entered, and was scrabbling amongst the notebooks scattered across the floor, searching for…a dog-eared diary, bound in blue, apparently. Springing back to his feet, Joe stood, head swiveling from side-to-side, meerkat style, before pouncing on a pen amidst the pile of coins, trinkets and clutter on his desk.
It appeared that Joe had forgotten Mac’s existence when he folded himself into the chair he’d once slept in and started scribbling away, hand flowing across the page in a spidery scrawl. Every now and again he’d pause to ruthlessly score out a word, or a whole line, before continuing apace. The ferocity of Joe’s focus and the fluidity of the words that spewed forth were….startling. Astounding, when the former had seemed improbable, at best. The latter was staggering, full stop. Rather than stand gaping, Mac figured that he might as well go and run Joe’s bath while he was busy not rustling up a cunning plan, and so absorbed he was probably about as safe as he’d ever be, for two minutes.
Mac made for the bathroom he’d used, rather than the en-suite Joe had fled to for his fix. After turning on the taps, he poured in a dollop of blue Imperial Leather bubble bath that promised a ‘Sea of Tranquility’ in your tub. Cussons sure as shit wouldnae be approaching Joe to be face of their next advertising campaign any time soon.
Joe didn’t actually smell as unsavoury as Mac had implied; a bit stale in a smack-sweat way but not rank. It was more that—oh, f’chrissakes. Mac just had an absurd urge to strip away the filth tainting his very name. Every insult ever dealt him—deserved or not—undoubtedly the clincher that proved Mac had lost his goddamn mind. A few hours with Joe and his ‘McBad-ass’ had turned into John the bloody Baptist.
When Mac returned to the attic it was to find Joe still sitting exactly where he’d been left but now strumming an acoustic guitar, crooning to himself. The guitar had been propped against the arm of the chair, so chances were, he’d just lifted it into his lap. Mac stood in the doorway, unwilling, or unable, to disturb him when the melody rippling from Joe’s fingers was so very…lovely. His voice was too soft to make out the lyrics but it’s bittersweet lilt was so heartfelt it yearned; tugging on Mac’s deepest, darkest desires. Long dead and buried; snuffed out of existence as…inexpedient. What the fuck are you prattling on about, yer tosser? Okay…he was now talking to himself. In the third person. Mac could clearly do with a drink. Meanwhile, the bath would overflow if he didn’t shift his arse, sharpish.
Joe didnae seem to have noticed he’d ever left, or returned, so Mac left him to it and headed downstairs to stave off a flood. It had been a wee while since he’d downloaded some…recent music, Mac had to admit (if not to Vince) so he’d never—knowingly—heard Joe’s music before. It had crossed his mind to download an album or two for the drive to the Cotswolds, but he’d been contrarily…resistant to the idea. Hadnae wanted to appear as if he cared a toss one way or the other who the fuck ‘Joe Fitzgerald’ was. Apart from a client Mac was being paid to protect. Why risk it, when the only fortuitous outcome would’ve been utter indifference to Joe’s output? It felt preferable not to know he loathed it in advance…but even worse (he’d decided) was that he’d wind up impressed—disarmed—by the talent even Joe’s harshest critics could only berate him for ‘abusing’. A prudent precaution, Mac had assured himself. Now? He just felt pathetic.
He had to get on top of—f’fucksakes—get to grips with this goddamn gig. He’d never been anything less than precise. Professional. Clinically efficient. Brutal, if need be. Mac wasnae a sadist…but he’d never once flinched from getting a job done. No matter what that entailed.
Everything he had done since stepping through Joe’s front door? Was not only dangerous, it was a ticking time bomb that would detonate in Mac’s face. One way or another.
“Hiya…” Joe’s halo of hair and the black holes into which Mac’s sanity had been sucked, peered around the side of the bathroom door. The water tank was wheezing as it refilled, pipes clanking in the way of old homes, but that was no excuse: he still hadn’t heard Joe descend the stairs. Mac couldn’t even keep him safe in his own house, let alone bloody London. He should ring Vince, immediately. Quit, having quite forgotten the vasectomy he’d booked…and the pressing matter that required his immediate attention. In Abu Dhabi. Mac might be one hundred percent gay but for all Vince knew? He could have a harem of women…in the Arab Emirates. Obviously.
“Y’okay?” he asked, searching those eyes for signs of distress.
“I didn’t. So, you needn’t stab me with the flinty glint.”
“Stab you with the flinty glint?” Mac spluttered.
“Ha…you told me to tell the truth. It feels as if you’re examining my entrails when you look at me like that,” Joe grinned, before glancing at the bath with a surprise that suggested it was a sudden apparition. “Oh, did you run that for me?”
“Well, you were busy, so I figured I might as well make myself useful,” Mac muttered.
“Ooh, my very own bad-ass bubble bath. See, another oxymoron. You are the most incongruous scoundrel I’ve ever met, Mr Mac.”
“And you are the most incorrigible, so I reckon we’re quits. Get your arse in it, then.”
“Okaay. Thanks Mac, it does look very lovely. You might want to turn around for a mo, I’d hate to offend your sensibilities,” Joe smirked.
“Since when?” Mac grunted, but turned around with a sigh that expressed ‘whatever’ but couldnae be further from the truth he’d insisted on. A fact that would become way too apparent by the time Joe was seated.
Mac stood, staring at a clotted cream wall, listening to the soft sound of cloth dropping to the floor, the rasp of a zipper, the scratchy rustle of denim. Trying to blank the visuals his (belatedly) vigilant brain was all-too keen on providing.
“Ahhh…” Meanwhile, the accompanying soundtrack had segued into soft porn. The deep squeak of a foot smudging across ceramic preceded the schlepping splash of a body being lowered into the bath with a lurid hmm of contentment. Swiftly followed by a purr of pleasure as the plink of water subsided. The indications of all such utterances went without saying. Half-crippled by immaculate tailoring, Mac semi-turned to park himself on the loo seat with a wince.
“Y’okay?” Joe wondered, that dark gaze aglint with devilry.
“You look, a mite…uncomfy.” Joe ‘noted’, pinning on a grimace. “Those strides will do you a mischief. They are superb though…the back view was worth its Saville Row weight in gold…even before—”
“Thank you for your sartorial wisdom,” Mac cut in. “I’ll wash your mouth out with the soap in a minute.”
“My mum used to threaten that too…but she did wash my back.”
“I am not washing your back,” Mac snorted.
“Meanie,” he pouted. Oh hell… “Would you be so kind as to pass me the shampoo, if it’s not too much trouble, then. Unless you’d prefer me to stand up and fetch it m’self…” Joe pointed to the window sill behind Mac, upon which sat a bottle of Sheer Blonde shampoo. Blowing out a long suffering sigh, Mac rose to his feet to reach for it. Belatedly realising what was now too blatant to deny. Staring Joe full in the face. Shit. Perhaps…he’d have the common decency not to pass comment?
“Crikey, I have a room with a view, all of a sudden…deluxe, at that.”
The grin was worse.
“Joe…” Mac glared through the overhanging strands of fringe stuck to his forehead.
“Mac…that glower? Is more than a mite counterproductive, just sayin’…honesty being the order of the day, n’all. You might start regretting you requested that. Just a thought,” Joe’s shrug was as airy as his words. His smile? As serene as it was satanic. Impossible? True.
“Start?” Mac spluttered.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come. In? You’ve already come out, by the looks of it.”
How the hell had Joe managed to squeeze three double-entendres into one sentence? Without so much as pause for thought…‘talented’? The monster was bloody brilliant.
“Joe, I am not here to share your bath,” Mac stated. Emphatically.
“Just my bed…” It was too soft to sound snide.
“You know why…” Mac sucked a sharp breath in—and forced a travesty out—through clenched teeth. “Joe…No.”
“Cos it’s unprofessional, or cos I’m junkie scum?”
“I have never shagged a client.” That answered both questions but the latter was a fallacy that needed quashing at all costs. Mac grasped a fistful of fluffy hair and tugged Joe’s head back. “Don’t you dare let the bastards convince you of that,“ he growled.
“You’re sacked then,” Joe’s lips quirked alongside a small shrug. “It’s too late…”
The sorrow that filled bottomless brown was decimating. Slamming his lids shut, Mac stated the flaw in that cunning plan. “You can’t sack me, you’re not footing the bill…”
He barely felt the stirring of the air before his nape was clasped and Mac’s mouth smashed down onto lips as breath-snatching as the lust that scorched through his veins. Shattering every last shred of restraint, sweeping aside all his best intentions. His worst ones? Had been obliterated in that heart-stopping moment when pinprick pupils skewered Mac’s…pride.
The truth, or as near as dammit.
‘Being the order of the day an’ all…’