F’chrissakes…the miscreant was too wily by half. Even when Joe appeared to stay on script, he was plotting its subversion. His, was a magician’s gift for misdirection. Sleight of hand in which my terms, my way…promptly became Mac’s terms, Joe’s way. The latter was such distant kin, it scarce seemed related, let alone traceable to source.
The swiftness with which he’d conjured a way to amuse himself while still seeming amenable was…staggering. All things considered. The plotting potential of a firing on all cylinders Joe didnae bear thinking about. Heaven help anyone who stood in the path of Trouble in full possession of his faculties…which went a long way to explaining how present matters might have come to pass. Or, put more prosaically: why they hadnae been addressed before the shit hit the fan so spectacularly that some bright spark finally saw the light. Mac sure as hell couldnae rustle up another reason why they’d seen fit to hire half-baked babysitters to mind the man some fuckwit had blithely dubbed Heroin Houdini.
‘He chews ’em up and spits ’em out like cherry pips’.
‘Psycho Killer’ was the impertinent tongue Mac had threatened to bite off. Served up inserted into Joe’s cheek, instead? It might almost be considered acquiescence. Joe’s way, of course.
It could even be argued that said ringtone had its wool-pulling merits. No one with a scintilla of sense would expect Joe to go down without a fight or, at the very least, some form of protest. A fact Mac was counting on. It would make the win all the sweeter…and its outcome more effective.
He knew damn well that Joe was enjoying this new game more than he’d be prepared to admit. Even to Mac. Especially to Mac. Joe might want him physically—for now—and delight in trying to wriggle his way out of the restraints Mac placed on him…but the moment that began to pall? Or, something shiny proved too tempting to resist? Joe would slip free faster than ferret up a trouser leg. Mac would need eyes up his arse…in every way. Not least, when that was the only card he could count on; to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, if all else failed. If Mac was prepared to bring it into play.
Nevertheless, for today, Joe seemed content to comply with Mac’s terms. First impressions counted for much. They would suffice, for now. They had to. He couldnae rely on anything else. The only other certainty looked about to make a break from its bath-towel confines.
“I’ve rung down for a car. It’ll be here in half an hour…so, unless you plan on making an— admittedly fetching—fashion statement? You might want to get dressed, before that thought goes any further.” Mac informed him, with a ‘deadpan’ expression that possibly nailed ‘constipated’ instead.
“It’s too late. The thought has polished off its main course and is about to tuck into its pudding,” Joe grinned.
“It should be well-fed then, and will even have time for a post-meal smoke before you get dressed. Sorted.”
“Ah!” It was a toss up whether his lips or eyelids were wider apart. Or, which of those had a greater impact on Mac’s comfort levels.
“I need a wash and shave, so please button your lip, before you trip over it.” As good a reason as…the real one. “You have less than thirty minutes. Be ready.”
“Yessir, Mr McBadass, sir.” A response which, of course, came complete with a heel snap and salute. “Strewth, y’might want to work on issuing some orders sans glinty special and stiffy. Just sayin.”
“I don’t have a bloody boner.” Mac snorted.
“I didn’t say you did.” Joe pointed out.
“Fitzgerald. Get dressed. Twenty-five minutes.”
“If you keep this up, I’ll have to cram it in my pants with a crowbar,” the miscreant chuntered. “You’re ev-il.”
“Evil? I’ve barely begun.”
“Ooh…I was counting on it,” Joe purred. About a glacial glare before flashing his palms in a ‘don’t shoot’ parody. “Okay okay…get dressed. Twenty minutes…I knooww.”
“Twenty-three.” Mac corrected.
Twenty-three minutes later, or thereabouts, found them in the lift heading down to the foyer. Joe was even wearing clothes. The latter possibly being the most astounding part of all. Not only was Joe dressed, he looked…well, suffice to say, Mac found himself wishing that Joe was not. This wasnae the most helpful, or comfortable, of thoughts. Particularly in a lift, en route to the studio Mac didnae have a choice but insist on.
“Mac? T’is very swish in here n’all, but….” Joe shot him a grin, nodding toward the gaping doorway while peeling himself off the wall.
“Hm? Fuck, sorry.” Mac blinked. Tearing his gaze from the too-tight T-shirt shrink-wrapped to Joe’s nipples. “Are you cold?”
“Cold? I’m sweating up a storm, it’s suffocating in here.”
“C’mon…sorry.” F’chrissakes. Focus. Two days sequestered with Joe had—in no way, shape or form—done bugger all to prepare Mac for the reality of Joe-in-the-outside-world. He not only knew this; he should be forewarned, and thus forearmed. Being the latter was impossible when said intelligence classed Joe a hazard waiting to happen—an utterly unpredictable one—t’boot. If Mac didnae get his head in the game pronto, it wasnae going to be pretty.
“S’okay, you were miles away…or wishing you were, anyhoo.” Joe sighed, gazing around at the vast marble foyer as he weaved his way to the plate-glass doors. A waist-swivelling arm-swinging ‘walk’ that seemed likely to lure low flying aircraft into land.
“I’m not wishing myself further away than the few miles to the studio,” Mac assured him, before adding, “What’s wrong?” Joe’s sigh had sounded too heartfelt for the quip it was tacked onto.
“Nuffin’. I’m just…edgy. I want to go, I just…it’s like walking into a wall of why/what/where/the fuck have you…? That’s before Adam clobbers me with whatever’s been cooked up in the cauldron of doom. ”
“Forget that crap…I’ll sort it. Did you part on good terms with the rest of the band?” Mac asked, inclining his head to acknowledge the doorman who did the honours, then thanking the driver waiting beside the open rear door of their car.
“I think so…unless I’ve upset someone in the meantime,” Joe grimaced, folding himself into the back seat. “I just want to jam, tinker around with some stuff my head’s fit t’bursting with. We’ve only got two days to rehearse for the gigs, but I need to work on the new songs. That’ll go down like a cup of cold sick.”
“D’you need the rehearsal time?” Mac found himself grinning. Fucknows why.
“It makes no nevermind to me, I’ll remember the words…or I won’t. Playing the setlist through for a fortnight won’t change that. I do want to see the lads, I just wish…” Joe tailed off, unwilling, or unable, to put those wishes into words. His chin was propped on his fist as he stared from the window with a glassy gaze that suggested he saw nothing through either.
Mac’s phone abruptly shattered the silence, trilling Garson’s jazz intro to ‘Time’. A ditty that made Joe’s head snap around, wonder writ…what else? In those eyes.
Upon extracting it from his jacket pocket, a cursory glance at the screen revealed the name Mac had been expecting to see for several hours. “Adam…”
“Mac, thank fuck for that. Joe’s not answering his phone, is he still asleep?”
“No…he’s wide awake. Seated beside me—”
“Why isn’t he answering his bloody phone then?” Adam interrupted.
“It might be in Marlborough…I havenae clapped eyes on it since I arrived.”
“Oh, for Godsakes, I left it on charge. So, I knew that couldn’t be the—hang on…in Marlborough? You’re actually on your way?” Adam sounded nonplussed, Mac noted with satisfaction.
“We’re about ten minutes away…” Mac shrugged. A deadpan demeanour away from a most indecorous snigger.
“From Marlborough?” Adam…guessed? Assumed?
“At fourteen-fifty? We’d be a bit bloody late if we were.” Mac pointed out. For all the world as if that was a preposterous notion.
“Ten minutes away…from the studio?” The voice on the other end of the line squawked.
“Yeees.” Mac drew the vowel out, as if he were speaking to someone rather slow. In all fairness, he’d yet to be convinced otherwise.
“Oh, I-um, is he…okay?”
“Joe? Are you okay…?” Mac enquired.
“Me?” The twinkle in Joe’s grin didnae bode well. For Adam. Mac should probably feel sorry for him, but he didnae do ‘pity’. “I’m crippled, but other than that—”
“Crippled!?” Adam spluttered.
“Don’t fret yerself, he hasnae been kneecapped to get him in the car.”
Adam was gonnae get very wearing.
“Don’t tell me he’s too stoned to walk…” Very fast.
“Okay, I won’t. I could kill for a coffee though, if you can rustle one up. Black, three sugars…and some rum for Trouble. With pineapple juice.”
“Pineapple juice…” Adam repeated.
“An excellent source of Vitamin C, I believe. We’ll be with you presently,” Mac ended the call with a rueful eye-roll that made Joe snicker in glee. Probably punch-drunk on the unexpected prospect of rum. “Christ, Adam had better hope that coffee is strong…” Mac blew out a long breath as he pocketed his phone.
It wasnae one iota as long as the day promised to be…