Archie Chunnks allowed only the slump of his shoulders and a slight lowering of his baton betray the supreme effort the Final Movement had cost him. The last triumphant note died away.
There was a moment of almost suspended silence.
Then the crowd rose to their feet as if a single being. The orchestra equally stood as one, awash in the cheers, applause and whistles from the rapturous throng. But Archie, grimly lost in the exhausted moment, still had his back to the audience — his deafness preventing him from noticing the approbation of the entire House.
With tears moistening her shining eyes, the prima ballerina moved to his side, touched his elbow tenderly and gently turned him to face his public so he could see, through eyes glistening now with tears of his own, just how much he was appreciated.
From the shadow of the wings, Colonel Vögler visibly sagged, defeated and spent, his monocle crushed to crystal dust underfoot, his hearing trumpet dented and askew: this was supposed to be his night… night…
The images flickered and fled in a haze of synaptic flashbombs, gradually replaced by a steady, increasing sense of dark. Darkness, but no sense of peace. Then Archie realised: there had been no audience, no orchestra, no music…hell, not even one lissom prima ballerina. Furthermore, he wasn’t deaf. The ringing in his ears gave him ample reassurance of that.
No, dammit, someone had simply hit him hard across the back of the head.
Groggily, Archie sat up in the darkness and gingerly fingered his skull. A lump the size of a golf ball was throbbing squarely at the rear of his cranium, each tentative touch making it hard to concentrate. All in a day’s work, old boy, thought Archie ruefully.
Suddenly a light came on in the room. As his eyes fought to adjust to the light, Archie noticed a classy leather swivel chair, a blank desk and something else in the room that was making it hard to concentrate. Thoughts of escape tried vainly to regain a foothold in Archie’s addled mind as Celeste blocked the exit — more than adequately — with her curvaceous body, one immaculately manicured nail tapping the light switch, a playful smile lighting up her exotic features. She lit them still further by sparking up a cigarette, and took a languid draw.
“Ohh, Mister Chunnks,” she admonished, her smoky accent tempered by a schoolgirl’s giggle, “you should know better by now than to tangle with my superiors! They cannot be defeated.”
“I wouldn’t count your chickens, love,” countered Archie, regaining his mettle and already warming up, “they’re hired gorillas doing a dirty job on a barman’s wages. You can’t get the staff these days…”
“SILENCE!” she barked, dispensing with the charm in an awful instant, “you will soon find that my staff are trained to pull more than pints and press more than optics…”
“No. You listen, sweetheart,” said Archie, his voice bitter, “I hired those goons to knock me unconscious, so I could get a closer look inside the lion’s den.”
Celeste almost managed to make the smoke from her cigarette stop dead in its tracks.
“That’s right,” Archie continued, eyes narrowed, moving towards her, “like I said, you can’t get the staff these days.” He plucked the cigarette from Celeste’s parted lips, took a pull on it, and blew the smoke back into her face with a flourish. She didn’t flinch, but Archie could see the defeat in her black-lined eyes. Then those glacial green jewels melted like a spring thaw into another emotion altogether. She drew closer…
“Sorry, love,” said Archie, pulling away, face resolute, “I’m still gay, you know the score…” Then he turned on his heel, pushed past her and out of the door, leaving her standing, trembling slightly, her downcast face moist with a light sweat.
The moment passed. The face hardened.
“DAMN YOU, ARCHIE CHUNNKS! DAMN YOU AND DAMN YOUR BAND!” she cried out after him, as finally Celeste slumped in the swivel chair, “GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!”
Archie’s only reply was the sound of his retreating footsteps, the Blakeys on his heels clicking against the ground marking purposeful strides that blocked out the cries from back down the corridor. Too close this time. It was getting increasingly harder and still yet harder to convince Celeste that he was gay. A hint was just another word for a small rocky outcrop back in the town that crazy, dangerous, incredible lady came from.
Stupid, stupid, he cursed himself in his head, never let your dick get in the way of the mission, any way you slice it.
He arrived at a door with a round window. Peering in he could see an empty restaurant kitchen, the lights still on. He entered cautiously. No one around. Pausing to open the fridge door, he noticed with some delight that there was an uneaten sandwich on the shelf. Eagerly he snatched it up and devoured it. Egg and cress. Abyssinia! It reminded him he hadn’t eaten for over two days now. Then he noticed the Gaggia, steaming gently. Coffee.
Lots of it.
As he drank cup after cup he could feel the strength returning to his grateful muscles along with his wits. Yeah, this was more like the old Archie, the Archie from that glorious summer of ‘79, who wowed the crowds in Hyde Park. He was back in the game, running on heart and soul again, a passion-fuelled ecstasy like none he’d experienced since ‘Brain Of Remand’ got into the Top 40.
Suddenly, snap — the lights went out.
Archie spun in the dark towards the switch. Immediately it snapped back on, revealing a lanky figure, clad in drainpipe jeans and jacket, round specs perched on the end of a snub nose and a suedehead crop to top it off.
“Boz!” said Archie, relaxing visibly, ”You nearly gave me an ‘eart attack. Thank Christ I’ve found you, we’ve gotta…”
“This way, Chunnksy,” interrupted Boz crisply and indicating a far door with one hand while proffering a cigarette from the top pocket of his jeans jacket with the other, “the gaffer knows you’re in ‘ere and he’s out for blood, mate. YOUR blood.”
“Ta, geez,” replied Archie, taking the ciggy and already slipping effortlessly back into band speak upon sight of his rangy guitarist and lead singer. They dashed through the door, straight into the back of a busy pizza restaurant. Single-mindedly they tore past bemused waiters and customers and out the front door. They were back on the London streets, and it felt good. They stood there in the light of a beautiful Eighties midday for a moment, Boz tall and wiry, lopsided grin forever in place, Archie shorter but no less thin, the breeze gently disturbing his thinning mullet. The Proper Boys. Then a crash from inside made them break into long strides down the street.
“He’s coming after us!” cried Boz, “Leg it!”
They hared off down the street. From out of the restaurant, Celeste emerged in a pleasing fashion and behind her stepped a familiar face. It was Uri Geller, smooth-talking TV psychic and ladies’ man from Tel Aviv. The breeze failed to ruffle his dyed black John Craven barnet as he peered after the two men.
“They’ll be back,” he said under his breath, “they love all that.”
Celeste gazed on alongside, her face set hard with admiring eyes.
Boz and Archie had stopped running before too long as a Routemaster bus at the traffic lights had provided a faster means of escape. Before long they were back at Boz’s place.
Archie never failed to marvel at how organised Boz kept his life at home, and how similar Boz’s wife Maz looked to him, with her short hair and glasses. In the living room sat two other gentlemen. One had shoulder-length, dark, bouffant hair and looked like Rodney Bewes out of The Likely Lads, only with less puppy fat and more cheekbones instead. The other looked like a younger, harder Richard Briers, with the initials “S-P-E-Z” tattooed blurry on the knuckles of his left hand and ”V-E-G-!” on the right. Next to Boz’s professorial skinhead and Archie’s Robert Mitchumesque features and heroic, spiky mullet, the four guys presented a mismatched bunch of dudes, but to Maz they were special, still special: they were Boz, Spez, Fisher and Chunnksy of The Veg, NME Single Of The Week makers back in that heady May of ‘79. The intervening seven years had been kind, she thought, in a reverie for a brief moment as she poured out the kettle into mugs with those new round teabags in: The Veg were nothing if not innovators, one step ahead of the pack.
Inside the living room, the boys were hunkered down, talking business. Archie, doing the majority of the hunkering in the centre of the circle like a king lion, produced a piece of paper from inside his jacket and handed it to Fisher. Fisher looked at it sceptically and scanned its length for several seconds.
“It’s a joke, right?” he said in his slightly too-high West Country accent.
“No joke,” said Archie, “he’s on the run and what more elegant way to do it than hide in a tour van? All we gotta do is wait until he gets to England…”
Fisher looked again at the paper.
“Oh, come off it! I mean: ‘Andrew WK 2002 Tour Dates!! DO WHAT EVER YOU WANT! NEVER LET DOWN! LIFE IS TOO SHORT! NO REGRETS! LIVE HARD! PARTY HARD!!’” he read aloud, his voice losing credulity and adding derision the further in he went, “he’s a terminal wally is what he is!”
“What does the...“h’tuhp, wuh-wuh-wuh andrewuh-kom” bit at the bottom mean?” added Spez, to no response.
Maz tried to catch a glimpse over Fisher’s shoulder but the type was a little too small to read unless Fisher kept it still. From what she could make out, it looked like a typical jobbing band’s tour itinerary, with columns of dates alongside a list of likely venues, but none Maz had heard of.
“Wow,” said Fisher when he’d finished, “a message from the future…this is dated 2002. So, what — we wait, uh…16 years to catch up with this bloke?”
“No,” said Archie, with the same glint in his eye Fisher had seen when he first showed him the chords to ‘Brain Of Remand’, “…we don’t have to wait any longer at all…”
Currently listening to:
The Book Of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony (Horslips, 1976)
The Man Who Built America (Horslips, 1979)
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (Rob Young, 2010)
Apathy For The Devil: A 70s Memoir (Nick Kent, 2010)
X Men (Bryan Singer, 2003)
Men In Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997)