“Huh?” Joe stilled his fingers on the strings and scrunched his eyes to refocus before shifting the phones behind his ears.
The reason Stu had hollered his name instantly became obvious; the tinny tootle of Psycho Killer was trilling away in his trousers. Joe’s grin of glee faded pretty sharpish when he realised that delighting in its jaunty ditty p’raps wasnae the required response. Particularly when Joe had no idea how long it had been parping away for. Damndamn-quickquick. His guitar grunted a discordant protest when it twanged to the floor while Joe was trying to cram his hand into his pocket. Fuffing out a f’fucksakes, he sprang to his feet for better ease of access and yanked the McBatphone out. Phew...still tring-a-linging, but how d’you do the chatting part?
Joe poked at it a mite gingerly, then bodged it a bit, heart hammering a fretful tattoo. Glaring at it didn’t work either. It took no notice, but then, Joe couldnae psycho-killer stare it into submission. It might’ve occurred to him roundabout then that he was waiting for it to stop. On accounts of being convinced it would do just that, the second Joe solved the riddle of the sphinxter clenched in panic. Thereby breaking his promise in one fell swoop the very first time Psycho-Killer came a-calling. Fuckfuck…phew…finally:
“Mac!? Sorry, I didn’t hear it! I had m’headphones on.”
“No problem.” Mac’s husky voice lapped at Joe’s earlobe, sending shivers of flame licking along his veins. “Do you want to play Glastonbury this year, or not. Your call.”
“Mine?” Joe frowned, sure he must have interpreted Mac’s words wrong, somehow, being all of a flutter.
“Yeah…yours…” As warm as rummy honey on a wintery night. Drizzled into Joe’s lughole, hell bent on driving him demented, he was sure of it.
“Well…” Joe would like to play Glastonbury. He’d missed it last year after having a bit of a mishap en route, then p’raps got a lot lost…when it was so many folk to fuck up in front of. He’d puttered off without responding to Mac. Mac…the only answer in Joe’s world that made sense. “Will you come with me?” Joe asked, a tad tentatively. Possibly because it was mid-March-ish. Glastonbury was still three months away. So not fair—downright cruel in fact—to ask Mac to commit to enduring Joe until then.
“’Course I will…” he replied with an audible shrug, as if Joe had asked something reasonable.
Unless…it was a ruse to lure him into a false sense of security and secure the yes they wanted …a spot of scoundrelly subterfuge. Paranoid? P’raps? Prob’ly…but that didn’t make Joe wrong. Even paranoid peeps had good reason to be suspicious once in a while, surely? Mac might be playing along for now, pretending that he’d stay, purely to keep Joe sweet. That made more sense than it didn’t, when he must’ve expected Junkie Joe to be a nightmare on narcotics, incapable of toeing Mac’s terms. If the bad-ass was just browsing, then it didn’t matter a jot what Joe added to the window shopping list, did it?
“Will you stand at the side of the stage, so I can see you?”
“If you want me to.” Instant credit granted, with nary a pause to ponder liability clauses. No need, when playing with Monopoly monies, o’course. So why not moot a promissory note?
Mac agreed with nary a quibble. The scoundrel either thought he was on one helluva roll or…was a stone cold unscrupulous killer. Oh. Who inexplicably tossed Joe a lifeline to cling to.
“Done. D’you wish to play any of the other festivals?”
“Do I have to?”
If the bad-ass said ‘your call’ again, it would be impossible to persuade himself that Mac hadn’t been breaking Joe in gently. Dangling Glastonbury as bait to see if he’d bite, before promptly coshing Joe with a fistful of festivals.
“No.” One word. With nary a second of sinister silence that shrieked volumes. It wasn’t even the single syllable snap to a slapped hand on the snaffle. It sounded like seashore kissing sand. So, Joe told the truth.
Verbal vomit that possibly accosted Mac’s ears much like the scrape of teeth across tines. Finished off with a claxon screech justification, in case Mac assumed that Joe just couldnae be arsed to drag his junkie-carcass round the festival circuit. Unless frogmarched by force. “…I think they’ll be hoping I’ll throw a strop, or set fire to m’self…”
There it was, the dark dread truth. The hunger he’d triggered…fuelled, fed. By turning himself into a font of plenty for the rapacious thirst of the press to guzzle on and spew out.
“No problem. Just Glastonbury, sorted.” Sorted? That’s it? Done ‘n’ knuckle dusted?
No let’s talk it over later while I’m coaxing a thousand yesses from your lips, stroking reassurances across your skin…with words as hollow as a heart without hope? Pipe dream promises that dissipated when dawn crept through the curtains and Joe found himself trussed—bound by his own word—on the altar of the morning.
“Mac?” His name slipped free before Joe could stop it. He had no idea what he wanted to ask. Just needed, to say something—anything—that wasn’t this. That was theirs. Something tangible to clasp and remind himself that they hadn’t been a figment of his own lyrical fancy. “I…nuffin.” It was pointless. Dipshit daft. There was nothing Mac could say on the phone—at the drop of a hat—to assuage the snakepit of fears. “Thank you.” Anyhoo…for being you, being here.
Fuck. Joe’s breath cut off. He felt his heart stutter in his chest before starting a giddy gallop so hectic it left him lightheaded. Properly lightheaded, in a whizzy sort of way. For one white-as-a-sheet-faced freeze-frame second, Joe thought he might keel over. His skin broke out in a sheen of sweat, as if his pores had unleashed a sudden flash flood. One word. A whole world within it. Theirs. Crikey. Mac could bring Joe to his knees without so much as a glint of green. The bad-ass was more lethal than even his own reputation. Typical…Mac could only be surpassed by himself. Scoundrel.
“Then…” It wafted out as a wisp of wonderment. Unless it was just an echo in his head, Joe wasn’t quite sure. His hand sort of flopped to his lap as he sat, amidst a torrent of words like summer rain.
Wide asleep pupils pinned,
From station to station
Then. Came a thunder clap
A steel-sprung snare trap
My lean mean lethal machine
A clash of contrasts as extreme
As whispers in the wind.
Or the soft susurration
Of summer rain
To soothe, succour, sustain.
As snug as the hug
Of a drug haze
Lazy days, lost ways
A last-past-the-post maze
Of nowhere fast.
A Nowhere Man
With no hope plans
All tattered, torn,
So lost, forlorn
What a blast
The future is green…
“Yeah…thanks. Sorry Stu…” Joe winced as he bent to pick up his guitar, plucked a string, then flinched afresh when a discordant twang assaulted his earholes. “Won’t be a mo.” A few tweaks of tuning pegs later, Joe picked up where he left off…
No reason why
Or why not
One last shot
To be or not
In your dreams…in your dreams (backing vocals taunt/refrain)
As hollow as a heart without hope
Smack sodden, strung out on dope,
And pipe dreams in the sky dreams
The lost boy left behind beams
Safe on shore Lost no more
Mon amour Dur à cuire…
As hollow as a heart without hope. What was the point in hoping when Joe would destroy it? When he knew full well that he’d shred Mac’s trust as swiftly as the dreams he’d turned to dust the minute he got his mitts on them?
In truth, the most he could hope for was that Joe Fitzgerald might, one day, be deemed better than he deserved, by virtue of stealing himself away. When all that remained of the pantomime he’d become were the fleeting slivers of magic they believed he’d managed to wring from himself. Then maybe, just maybe, those might linger in the mists of memory…gilded by nostalgia, granting his ghost pardon.
Oh, if only…but Joe wasn’t dead yet. He’d long felt it lurking, lying wait in the wings. A living death vanquished by a gleam of green. A sinuous sweep of spine so sublime that Joe had never felt more alive in his life. A terror so exhilarating it left him teetering on the edge of a cliff, aching to fling himself into eternity.
It was a very lot like the lady said…love is a losing game. Its loss, a burden too heavy to bear. Shit, how Joe missed her. So…why not toss the lot in the pot, if there was a hope in hell that his psycho-killer wasnae just killing time.
Speaketh of the divil…
“Hiya…” Joe felt a shit-eating grin smear itself across his face when a finger-tingling fringe and laser beam greens peered ‘round the side of the studio door. “Y’can come in…”
“Y’sure? I don’t want to intrude.”
Joe was hard pressed to think up an instance where a Macish intrusion might prove unwelcome. Nope. Nary a one presented itself for perusal. Joe didn’t try very hard though, it must be admitted, cos there were way too many hards flaunting themselves for comfort. He’d just fit three into as many sentences. Odd that.
“I’m sure.” Joe had never been surer. Of anything. Or anyone. “Did you get on alright with Adam?”
“We’ve reached an…understanding.” Mac’s lips twisted in a serpentine smile as sinister as it was incendiary. It sounded a very lot as if said understanding had been prised from Adam with a crowbar.
It was the bad-ass. In the studio. With the dagger-tipped glare…
Psycho Killer/Qu’est-ce que c’est…I did it my waay…
“Was that as painful as it sounds?” Joe asked. “Or… should I assume that’s a ‘refer you to my previous reply… ’ sort of question?”
“He’ll be here in a minute…” Mac glinted with a wink. “A couple of the lads just turned up.”
“Oh, okay. D’you think we should whip through the set list, before I break the bad news? Or, get that out of the way first?”
“Bad news?” Mac’s sublime features had a bit of a scuffle at this point. Bemusement and worry at war with a side-eye serving of suspicion. As sexy as fuck and twice as flammable.
“Not bad-bad, just a mite miffsome…I just want to add three songs to the set list. Maybe four. Won’t be a mo…I need the loo.”
“Fuck no.” The bad-ass shoved the door shut sharpish. Literally. With a flick of his butt. “Joe. They’ve just bloody got here.”
“I’ve had lots to drink! ” Joe protested. “You put the pineapple juice in it! That’s just cru-el.”
“I’m coming with you,” Mac declared. Firmly.
Ah…now there was a sentence not to be sniffed at. In fact, Joe couldn’t have cooked it up better himself.