Here’s a fourth excerpt from my novel, in which stuff starts getting a little strange for Podge. Enjoy it, and please pre-order/support the book right here… we’re at 74% funded, with just over a month to go…
To cheer myself up after Felix’s rant I take the long way round, via the Main Stage. The staging and equipment are all housed in a huge plastic blob that looks like a cross between an alien mothership and a giant, elaborate balloon animal. I trot up the ramp towards where Maggie our monitor tech presides over the sound desk and glance at my watch as the deafening din increases: it’s half ten so the Small Faces will be building up to their finale. The already three-quarters full crowd are hollering out the words to ‘All Or Nothing’ while a nice gaggle of swinging-60s backstagers – Oliver Reed, Peter Cook, Cilla Black, among half a dozen others – frug about at the side, happily witnessing the thunderous spectacle of Keith Moon on drums. He effortlessly pulls off his party trick of holding aloft and then downing an entire pint of beer, all while performing, with his other hand, a hummingbird-like drum fill that would shame his earthly self. Maggie turns from the sound desk and gives me a cheerful wave: all is as it should be. I hurry back down the ramp, across the grass, around the corner and back along the main drag, noticing a bit of a kerfuffle around one of the dressing rooms – I think Lux Interior and his band are arriving, I’ll probably have to go and deal with that later – then continue straight on towards Lennon’s private region. His band are still hanging out, sunning themselves and drinking in the outdoor area, but I can see a concerned-looking George Harrison hovering by the maisonette door. I give him a friendly smile as I arrive.
‘Podge, isn’t it?’ he says.
‘That’s right. Help you with anything?’
‘You’re in charge of John for the whole day, right?’
‘In theory,’ I laugh.
Harrison doesn’t laugh back. He looks away, frowning.
‘Do me a favour, will you? If you notice anything… unusual. Let me know?’
‘Um… yeah, sure! Will do. Anything you have in mind?’
He narrows his eyes at me and flares his nostrils.
‘Just anything, man.’
‘Got it. Anyway, I’m gonna take him through security right now.’
‘I’ll come along,’ Harrison says, lighting a cigarette. ‘For the ride.’
I pop inside and find Lennon still parked in one of the armchairs, Ray Bans on, the same drink in his hand, which he doesn’t appear to have touched. I invite him to come with me, he rises without a word, and the three of us begin the walk back down the main street. Again, I keep a few paces behind the two Beatles as they amble along, mumbling quietly to each other, stopping occasionally to shake hands with someone. As we pass Robert Palmer’s dressing room, drummer Tony Thompson, in a perfectly pleated leather jacket and huge round glasses, bounds out and gives them both a hearty, backslapping hug. They chat for a couple of minutes, and then with promises to hook up later, we continue walking.
And that’s when everything goes still.
No, I mean really still. You know those nightmares when you can see and hear the world around you, but you can’t move? That.
It’s really quite weird. I can’t move any part of my body, but I’m still standing up. Every single person nearby – the Beatle pair, plus a few passers-by coming the other way – has also completely stopped, as has all the music. Even the flags on top of the marquees have paused in mid air, ditto the blades of grass on the ground, and the folds on the dress of the girl coming down the steps of one of the dressing rooms. Remarkable how they’ve achieved it. Then I suddenly hear a calm, English-accented voice coming from somewhere behind my left ear.
‘The security check will be missed.’
‘Jesus!’ I exclaim. I can still speak, then.
Two men appear, walking around the side of me and coming to a halt in my direct field of vision. Which is just as well, because I can’t move my eyeballs. They are both of medium height and wearing white lab coats. One is bald and wears glasses, the other has scruffy black hair and, if I’m not mistaken, quite a lot of dandruff. The bald guy carries a clipboard that he rarely looks up from, and seems to be the one in charge.
‘The security check,’ he repeats calmly, flicking between two pages and jotting something down in one of the margins, ‘will be missed.’
‘Who are you?’ I croak.
‘Who we are is irrelevant.’
‘How have you stopped everything?’
‘We’ve stopped nothing, buddy,’ says the other guy. American accent. ‘The only thing stopped is you.’
I think for a few seconds. I can’t really breathe, but nor am I struggling for breath. Bizarre. If this had happened back the old days I’d be screaming blue murder right about now. But at the moment, frankly, it’s just another odd suburb of the whole Weird City in which I dwell. Also, Felix has mentioned men in white lab coats to me before, so I’m not a complete rabbit in the cosmic headlights.
‘So,’ I begin slowly, ‘You want me to…’
‘Come on, Adrian,’ says the American. ‘Do we really need to say it three times?’
He called me Adrian. If this has been calculated to get my attention, it works.
‘I’m not allowed to miss the security check,’ I offer, finally.
‘Not allowed? Says who?’
Bald bloke looks up from his clipboard for the first time, his grey eyes peering at me through little gold-rimmed spectacles.
‘Er… your “boss”? Do you describe what you do as a “job”, then?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘But there is no money here, Mr Jones. How can it be a job when you receive nothing in return?’
‘I receive plenty in return.’
‘Friendship. Guidance. Fun. Music.’
‘Peace and love, man,’ comments the American.
‘That’s right. And it gives me something to do. Anyway, why do you want Lennon to skip security so badly?’
‘We have our reasons, Mr Jones. None of which I am afraid either of us has time to elaborate upon.’
Stand firm, I remember Felix saying. Don’t fall for any of their shit.
‘Well, then,’ I reply. ‘I can’t do it.’
‘Oh, but you will.’
‘No, I bloody well won’t.’
‘You will. Believe us… we know all about you.’
I say nothing to this. After a moment the bald one sighs, then consults his clipboard.
‘Adrian Jones, born 1973… Bedford, England. Local school, university in… Plymouth…’
If a shiver was capable of running down my spine, it would do.
‘… became a… disc… jockey…’
‘A DJ, for goodness’ sake.’
He looks up.
‘Very well… a DJ-for-goodness’-sake.’
He pauses, as if expecting a laugh. He doesn’t get one.
‘Worked for… a marketing company in Wandsworth… lived with a Miss… sorry, a Ms Saffron Bailey, never married…’
‘Okay, okay, you’ve made your point.’
‘Died of… ooh, renal cancer. Nasty. In 2008.’
‘All right! Enough!’
The American is leaning against one of the dressing rooms, closing his eyes, pretending to sunbathe. Baldy continues.
‘If you agree to help us, Mr Jones, we are able to offer you certain… rewards.’
He consults another page of his clipboard.
‘Well… let’s see… we could have a look at certain problems you might be experiencing… certain deficiencies… certain, as your friend Mr Romsey would doubtless put it, death defects…’
‘Ah… feelings of anxiety… depression… loss of appetite…’
‘Loss of appetite? I don’t fucking eat.’
‘Exactly, Mr Jones, loss of appetite… overactive mind… and… ’
‘A protruding belly,’ concludes the American, fixing me with a smirk and prodding me in the stomach with his pencil.
‘Fuck off,’ I respond. ‘I don’t want any of those things fixed.’
Baldy sighs again and turns away, scribbling something on his clipboard. American takes over.
‘I’ll say it another way, Adrian. If you don’t help us, maybe we can talk to our friends from the Minus zones… see whether they can accommodate you.’
The Minus zones. Luckily, Felix has also briefed me about these. He didn’t tell me much, only to dismiss any mention of them as total bollocks.
‘Total bollocks,’ I dutifully retort.
‘Oh, yeah?’ leers American bloke. ‘We’ll see about that when you’re strapped to an electric fence for all eternity.’
‘Bullshit,’ I leer back. ‘Which fucking comic book have you been reading?’
‘Let’s calm it down a little,’ Baldy instructs. ‘It’s really very simple, Mr Jones. The gentleman you’re escorting is a Mr John… er… Lennon, who I’m given to understand is a trusted, beloved and most prestigious entertainer. No one would think it at all strange if you waived the security check on this occasion. And nothing calamitous is going to happen as a result. Why would we want to cause an outbreak of panic? So… please. If you have any value for your current existence whatsoever. The security check. It will be missed.’
I say nothing.
‘And nor will you mention this to any of your… ah…’
‘Work colleagues,’ sarcastically concludes the American.
Baldy wanders off, still studying his clipboard, as if already reading up on his next assignment. American gives me another poke in the belly.
‘So long… Podge.’
I struggle to formulate a corresponding insult as I watch them go. I’m just drawing breath to shout ‘Up yours, dandruff man’ – or something similarly sophisticated – when they disappear round the corner and everything unstills itself again. Apart from me, in fact. I’m standing there, rooted to the spot, trying to process what has just happened. Lennon and Harrison walk on for a bit, then Lennon realises he has no idea where we’re supposed to be going. He turns around.
‘You okay, man?’
I stare at him for a few seconds, then shake myself out of it.
‘Yeah, sorry. I just thought I might have forgotten something. We’ll, er… we’ll go round to security.’
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