“Fuck.” Adam’s expletive splintered the shimmering silence; reverberating with the echo of the last chord strummed. He appeared rather startled, Mac noted with a sense of satisfaction he found…unsettling, to say the least. “That was bloody blinding—and I’m not just talking ‘tight’—I’m talking the dog’s bollocks. If you play like that on Wednesday, I’ll be cursing the fact I never booked a film crew. Then I could get on the blower to Amazon or Netflix or whatever, telling ’em that the stakes have just been raised to Six Foot Four…”
“From Five Foot Two, I take it? That’s just blasphemy, that,” Connor declared. “And, just for the record? Sizeist, too. Waving surplus inches about in the faces of the press is an alliterative accident waiting to ’appen, I reckon. Junkie Joe’s Junk, just sayin’. Biiig mistake. Jinormous.”
“Christ, you’ve had your Shreddies this morning, Con. Don’t tempt him, or it’ll be trending on twitter before y’know it. If only to start a bidding war,” Luke groaned.
“Sometimes, you scare me, Three Shredded Wheats Watson…” Connor shot him a suspicious side-eye that made Luke splutter a snort of laughter. Not quite as taciturn as he seems at first acquaintance. Mac patently hadnae paid Joe’s drummer the attention he merited. Overlooking the ‘strong silent type’ was never wise. Mac should have clearly polished off some crunchy nutters after his bacon (and Joe’s).
As for the all-day breakfast habits of this band? Mac was starting to suspect their rider would prove more scandalous than egregious inches, if it was leaked to the media. Cereal addicts, the lot of ’em. Should anyone suggest renaming Psycho Killer? Mac couldnae be answerable for the consequences.
“You lot can stick your cardboard breakfasts where the sun don’t shine. I’m a meat man, m’self,” Jez smirked. “Lightweights, the lot of you…if Mac didn’t put away a Full English this morning, then I quit. Mac, save me, please.” The imploring puppy-dog-eyes Jez turned on Mac were as priceless as the fact they’d patently been perfected to stymie someone’s lash-batting terror tactics.
“Gladly…” Mac obliged with a conspiratorial grin. “Two, in fact.”
“Ha. That’s it, he’s a keeper. I rescind my resignation. I’ll stay if Mac does. Speaking of grub, I’m starving…and Joe is suspiciously silent. Y’okay, Fitz?”
“Hmm…?” Joe blinked, swivelling an abstracted gaze Jez’s way, or thereabouts. “I was…thinking. I need a pen…and a piano. Dammit, I didn’t bring my flute. Well, I did, but it’s at The Berkeley. Ah well, no matter, I don’t need it now-now.”
“You don’t need a piano either, you were going to play the new song. The last new song before this new song—the one I’m prepared to eat all your hats if you forget—so I reckon you’re good to go. Colour me curious, I’m intrigued…and famished. I have a hot date with a Bulgogi and a pair of thigh-high boots, so…If you’d be so kind, Mr. Fitzgerald?” Jez swept a flourish of his wrist mic-wards with a half bow and all the flair of a compere at The Royal Variety Performance.
Mac had to concede that Joe had a point on the too similar to find one another irresistible front. Brains like twin-barrelled scatterguns. As brilliant as they were batshit bonkers. Mac couldnae recall the last time he’d found company quite so…entertaining.
His squaddie days, perhaps? He didnae do ‘nostalgia’ but he may have missed the camaraderie of those early years. Rising in the ranks didnae come accompanied by a barrel of laughs—it was a trade-off of sorts—respect in exchange for comradeship. Mates. Men whose lives were worth trading your own for. Rather than your duty to do so.
Special Forces had demanded a different kind of…kinship. Brothers In Arms in extremis. Since then, Mac had existed on the peripheries of all that made a man human. It was the life of a lone predator, and he relished the self-reliance. Considered himself independent, as opposed to isolated. Free to roam at liberty, eradicating the liberties less discerning bastards took with more deserved lives.
All of which made it…interesting that Mac had taken to this eclectic bunch of blokes, when indifference had best described his dealings with Stateside showbiz types. His insights into the music business, on the other hand, had proved…disappointing, at best. Irritating, more often than not but then, he’d previously been contracted to protect ‘pop stars’ from screamers…rather than musicians, from themselves.
“Okay…keep your dreads on, drama llama. I feel decidedly underdressed now.”
Whether the absence of said boots—or The Palladium intro were more responsible wasnae elaborated on—which was perhaps just as well. Particularly if Jez was to be spared starvation and kinky-boot induced cripple cock.
“It still needs work, sorry…but I want to include it,” Joe scuffed his toe, staring at his feet, strangely…abashed.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I suspect there’d be demands for a refund if you didn’t meander off on some ramshackle ditty,” Connor snickered..
“Half naked…at least,” Luke chipped in. At least? Over my dead body. The miscreant would find himself carted off stage if that looked likely, even if it caused a goddamn riot.
“Quit gassing you lot and let him get on with it then, before Jez’s dinner winds up in the dog,” Adam advised, with a despairing eyeroll for Mac’s ‘benefit’.
Connor handed Joe his semi-acoustic before heading over to join Mac, his expression one of keen interest, rather than impish amusement, which was a first.
“Okay…” The sheen of sweat glistening on Joe’s face looked thick enough to drag a finger through, like condensation on glass. It had been a fair few hours since his ‘breakfast’. “’S called…’Then’.”
Then. Thank God Mac was sitting down, it wasnae so far for his jaw to drop. Then: a word he’d mooted even more recently than that last fix. Had Joe written an entire song since? Mac had assumed that Adam must’ve eavesdropped on the ‘new’ one Joe played in the car during their journey.
It’s…all I can do. The only thing…worth anything. Just let me show you…trust me, you said. I know you don’t trust me…and I don’t blame you, I don’t…but this? Tell me one thing you trust yourself to do, Mac…
Mac couldnae recall the last time he’d felt a creeping sense of shame leech the colour from his face. Or been so thoroughly blindsided. If the devil himself spent forever plotting? Mac couldnae imagine a more lethal plague on his person than discovering who the fuck Joe Fitgerald was.
The first trickle of notes that tripped from Joe’s strings were tentative, as if he were feeling his way into the song…unless it was supposed to sound that way.
“Wide asleep…” Two words…and the tempo made sense. Joe left them lingering in the air while playing a few more bars before the confirmation came.
“Pupils pinned…” Another pause for a repetition of the riff that made Mac’s tendons reverberate in response, twang tight, as tense as muscles steeled to spring.
“From station to station…” Christ. Joe had heard what…three seconds of ‘Time’? Before rewinding it to—incidentally—the best of Bowie incarnations.
Mac could only be grateful that he was too staggered to register the full impact of the next few lines. Unleashed in swift succession to spear him like lightning strikes. Sung to Mac—at him—in smoky tones as seductive as opium fumes and eyes ablaze with dark fire drilled him to his seat:
“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…”
My lean mean lethal machine? Thunder clap? He’d transformed Mac into steel-jaw trap Thor. Poetic licence assuredly, but even then; a superhero was the last thing on Earth Mac resembled. That part was too outlandish to focus on—sheer wordsmithery wrought by a Romantic—with my resounding around his head.
My…my…my…was the sound of a ‘Word on a Wing’. Mac was still listening to its echo when Joe started strumming— rather than finger picking—the strings. When he began to sing, his voice was a ripple of velvet ribbon weaving its way through the words:
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…
Joe…hollow hearted, alone in a land of lost dreams. ‘Drowning’ in smack, until…deposited safely on shore. By mon amour Dur à cuire…Mon Dieu.
Mac’s French and Italian were…good enough to get by when a target was based in mainland Europe. He tended to be dispatched there more often than most, because he could pass as a native, apparently. Until he opened his mouth, of course…but still. Mac sure as hell recognised the expression dur à cuire: Badass. Hard-nut. Bulldog.
Mon amour dur à cuire…