Hi, perchance you missed the start of Joe’s part in the update, I’ve included it all here. The new bit is in black type…
I don’t want to go…you’re making me do it. Let me stay here, Mac. Stay with me. Just me. That’s what I want…but you won’t.
Joe believed this with every fibre of his being as he said it; it was a mere echo of dreams he’d nurtured for a wee while. Of staying forever in his attic hideaway…as safe as those sacred hours of early morn that seemed to belong only to Joe. Writing, reading, playing…pottering about to his heart’s content. Contentment. The holy grail. Worth so much more than it was given credit for by those who sacrificed it at the altar of ‘happiness’. Joe wasn’t quite as daft as he oft made out, to cut himself some slack. No one else had offered of late…until Mac.
A belief that might well spring from stoned illusion—or batshit delusion—Joe had to admit, if only to himself. Chances were he’d drive himself doolally in a week if he did stay. Shortly before he found himself crawling the walls and chatting to the teapot.
It was comforting to wallow a while in his pipedreams though, because Joe was so, so weary of the fight. Dog-tired of being a product on a conveyor belt; churned out and swallowed up by the monster of his own making. Sometimes he was so bone-weary he could barely crawl out of bed…tramelled by too many forces making too many demands. Too many tainted dreams turned to dust. Sweet ’n’ sour sorrow that felt like failure. Scored into Joe’s skin as he paid the piper and danced the dance. Resenting them for snatching his soul away, even while trying to convince himself its integrity remained intact. Loathing that he let them.
It was akin to being trapped in an ever-contracting circle of snakes, knowing he couldn’t escape any sooner than flee from himself. Or his relentless, unmanageable emotions. Too many, too messy, too much. Feelings Joe could express far better in rhythm and rhyme, when that felt allowed. Even welcome. A way to finally unleash them, without fear of censure. To give them form, let them flutter free. Free? It had felt that way at first. Now they just fed the monster, fuelling the flames of the inferno that raged around him. A despair Joe tried to douse with much the desperation he clung to the tatty remnants of his wide-eyed dreams. Like a broken child clinging to a comfort blanket on a bitter cold night.
A despair he turned on Mac now, utterly certain that his bad-ass had his own piper to pay. Joe knew that his words rang true. Saw guilty indignation glint in the green before Mac quelled it, with but a blink. Crikey…he was good. Joe couldn’t have managed it; his eyes shared his secrets with all and sundry no matter what he said. Ever more ludicrous lies rustled up on the spur of the moment to twist people up in words…trying to distract them from truths so easily accessible elsewhere.
“You’ve signed a contract…put your honour on the line. The one thing you’re less likely to surrender than your reputation. I haven’t got one worth saving…and everything I crave is here. Now tell me who’s got most to lose if I refuse to go…”
The truth Mac had demanded went down about as well as a cup of cold sick. As oft tended to be the case.
““I cannae refute being called out as a cold-hearted bastard.” Mac acknowledged, as if Joe had accused him of such fallacious twaddle. “So, you should, by rights, have won. But.”
Bummer. Why was there always a but? This honesty malarkey was getting a tad out of hand. Quite why folk set so much store upon it, Joe had no idea. It was a Pandora’s Box of horrors waiting to be unleashed upon the unwary. The truth never went well. Especially when you got coshed over the head with a corker.
A fact Mac proved with his very next breath…and a plot cooked up by the divil himself. If Joe had been daft ’nuff to imagine he’d got the bad-ass all sewn up? He would’ve found himself tied up like a kipper when Mac seized upon the single frayed thread he’d left dangling and all-but strangled Joe with it. Scoundrel.
Mac’s ‘staring competition’ was so dastardly in its design, Joe didnae have a leg left to stand on to dispute that fact. Not least when his Achilles tendon had been severed with a single swipe.
“How long before you’re crawling the fucking walls for that shit? Two hours…four at the absolute outside?”
Joe could do two without breaking out in a cold sweat. He’d never scuttled off stage to shoot up mid-gig, after all. Four was endurable. In a cramped t’fuck and twice as clammy fashion. Four days? The blackguard would park his unimpeachable bad-ass there for four bloody weeks, and Joe knew it. Probably pride his cussed self on four months with naught but few nanas and barrel of whisky to while away such purgatory.
Oh, but he’d far from finished yet. Not content with that trial o’torture, Mac mooted the tie-break from Tartarus. ‘Six hours fix-free. Wide awake. Then choose one. Just one. No caveats or amendments. Smack…Or (cue demonic drum-roll)….Shag. Me.’ The scoundrel even had the utter audacity to serve up that doozy with a set of scales.
An ounce of smack against the ten-tonne weight of bad-ass bravado-two-zero? Physics was far from Joe’s best thing, but he didn’t need to be Newton to figure that he’d go flying through the air faster than a bloody bullet sat on one end of a see-saw if a cannonball was dropped on the other.
There was a flaw in Mac’s cunning plan. Joe would have be dead not to notice that spot o’goalpost shifting. Someone who doesnae bottom ever cannot dangle such a carrot and expect to clean up in the scurrilous scheme stakes.
Mac clearly thought Joe was still ‘away with the faeries’ if he expected him to fall for that one. Hypothetical, my arse.
Clarification was called for. Joe bit the bullet. There was a lot o’them about.
“Does ‘I do not bottom’ mean: You never have or…You won’t bottom for me?”
“It means I won’t. Full stop.”
Mac had fessed up, whether he was willing to own that fact or not. Pah. Hoisted by your own petard, you wriggle-hipped hustler. A man who had never been plundered thus would not allow such a suspicion stand. It was a matter of manly principal. Or something such. Joe didn’t have the foggiest idea why that mattered but then, he’d never had a stick up his arse instead.
Mac was obfuscating. It was pointless poking away at something he had no intention of admitting any time soon. Sober.
Ah well, where there’s a will, there’s a way. To wrangle the truth...still dish of the day, no doubt...t’die for? Or, hill to die on? Back at ya, Mr. McBadass. I believe the ball’s in your court…
Mac didn’t demur. Did, in fact, seem well-up for cramming the lid back on the candour box. Odd that.
Some truths are best told without words. Tinderbox truths. Told in tongues, stroked across skin, suffused in sighs…soft cries, like whispers on the wind. Stealing free in a tumble of endearments, too tender to survive the harsh light of day.
One of which was…the bottom line. The real reason Joe was so obsessed about whether the baddest ass had ever been breached.
You never have? Or, you won’t bottom for me?
The former was false…which left the latter.
Despite the fact you’ve done it before, with someone else. Someone worth it.
In truth (being the blah-de-blah), Joe wanted Mac whichever way he came. He wasn’t fussed how. But. He couldn’t help but wonder (fret…fear) that it meant Joe was just a convenient port of call, a perk of the job, rather than someone Mac would ever care to share himself with. In any way. Let alone deem worthy of such a gift.
Unless. One hope did remain in that particular Pandora’s Box. If paranoia would permit Joe to believe it wasn’t just a loophole Mac could exploit and explain away:
Mac had only done it once (maybe twice for confirmation) and hated it so much, he’d sworn never to allow it again.
Joe would have to accept that. Whether it was a big fat fib, or not. Only an utter git wouldn’t. He might be a junkie scumbag, but he wasn’t a sadistic shit.
While on the subject of wriggle room…and dunderheads who leave it lying about for bad-asses luxuriate in?
So shove that up your pipe, and y’might smoke the truth out? Had left the scoundrel all the segue he needed to bypass—nay, sashay past—Joe’s not-so-killer-line with Lauren Bacall aplomb.
“Speaking of…I’m gasping.” Mac reached out to snag the cigarettes from the bedside cabinet, tugged a couple out and popped one between his lips, then held the tip of the other to Joe’s. If you can’t beat ’em…
After doing the honours with the lighter, Mac shifted himself around, cig still in situ, to lean against the headboard. Hellish sexy he looked too, having pulled that off with more than a whiff of Brando, when by rights? He should have looked like a navvy on a dockyard with one gripped in his gob like that. The bad-ass oozed too much louche elegance for that ever t’be possible.
“Why are you being so tricksy, Mac? Truth being the terms, n’all. Y’can ask me anything you like and I’ll tell you true.” Joe shrugged. Oh crikey, he was forever landing himself in some tight spots to escape…which was p’raps part of their charm.
“Self-preservation. No, you would not…and y’know it. Not if it served you better to lie…or even for the hell of it.” Mac smirked, levelling him with a squinty stare. Unless he just had smoke in his eyes.
“Back up a bit…‘self-preservation’? You can’t toss that off and carry blithely on without a care in the world,” Joe gaped. “Self-preservation against what?” The more Mac said, the less Joe knew. It was most perplexing.
“You.” One word. Tossed at Joe with hot-potato-hand-grenade pizzazz.
“Me!? I haven’t got any nefarious plots up my sleeve,” he protested.
“I don’t think you have, right this minute, but you’d soon give me the slip if it served your purposes,” Mac smirked. “But that’s not the point. I have a job to do. One that will be tough enough, without being too bloody besotted to watch my own back, thank you very much.”
Besotted? The bad-ass? That was taking truth-twisting to…tongue twister tangles. Waterloo Bridge was Joe’s favourite, if Mac thought he was that bloomin gullible.
“Besotted? By me? Do you think I fell off the Christmas tree? I’m hardly a catch. It’s been clearly established that I’m a junkie scumbag. Y’could trawl the banks of the Thames and take your pick, if that’s what floats your boat.”
“You know damn well it does not.” Mac spat before narrowing those glinty greens to spear Joe with a flinty special. “If I ever hear you call yourself that again, I’m going to flog you.”
“Is that a promise?” Joe grinned.
“Fuck off. You know what I meant. They’re baying at the bloody door to tear you to shreds, don’t give them—”
“Lightweights,” Joe scoffed.
“I take it you mean that you can do a damned better job?” A knowing eyebrow twerked up in enquiry.
“Yup. Please don’t clobber me with logic, Mac.” Joe begged, when the badass looked about to launch into some spiel that would make Joe’s batshit brain shove its tralala fingers in his ears. “That’s the only straw I can clutch, so I’m clinging on tight.“
“They wouldnae be so hellbent on dragging you down, if they didn’t think you were worth the effort.” Mac argued, instead. “Where would be the sport in that?” A shrug that asserted itself as an unnassailable pronouncement on the proclivities of the Press.
“That’s just tall poppy syndrome…” Joe’s shrug was a smidge limp-wristed, as a result. But then…The Rock would’ve been hard pressed to rustle up a worthy contender.
“No. It’s not. You’re a rare challenge, Joe Fitzgerald. The vultures don’t often get such rich pickings. Granted, you’d be a walkover if you were less bloody brilliant, but you’re a T-bone steak tossed into their midst…” Mac rolled his eyes alongside a rueful headshake. Despairing at whom? ’Twas tricky to tell.
“You can’t claim that, when I’ve been ‘away with the faeries’ or shrieking Ooh Mac! for a good half o’the two days you’ve known me,” Joe shot him a side-eye, suspecting a scoundrelly ruse.
“Yes I damn well can. Could have, ten minutes after I got here, in fact.” The bad-ass shot back.
“Oh? Is that all you’ve got?” Mac’s chuckle didn’t quite offset the fact he looked side-swiped. Astoundingly. Joe had chucked everything but the kitchen sink at him and the scoundrel was poleaxed by a single vowel?
“Yeah.” Joe dipped his head, a bit abashed, despite himself—or Mac—he wasn’t sure. “I dunno how you can call me brilliant, when you’ve somehow managed to circumnavigate everything I’ve asked is beyond me. How d’you suppose I could get bored of you?”
“No matter how tasty a meal is, would you want to eat it every day?” Mac sighed.
“Are you comparing me to a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes?” he spluttered.
“No, you are.” Joe snickered. “I’d compare you to a bucket of crunchy-nutters with a bunch of bananas on top.”
Can you actually fall for a man cos he strews nanas on your crunchy-nutters? P’raps that wasn’t the right question. It was his reason that mattered, was it not?
“You’re telling me that you could quite happily live on cereal and banana for the foreseeable—with nothing to let’s say cleanse your palette—when fancy struck?”
“Yup. So long as I could feast to my heart’s content, not survive on stingy rations,” Joe nodded.
“Well, I guess the proof will be in the pudding. Or not. Here y’go…” Mac bent over the side of the bed to grasp the neck of the guitar and plonk it across Joe’s legs. “I really would like to hear you play…”