The rain had begun in earnest.
Sheeting down, pounding the grey seafront as Vincent trudged up to the bar where his band Slushpuppy was playing that night. It was May and typically wet and cold in Southend that time of year.
Joey was waiting at the door, beer in hand.
"What kept you?"
Vincent shrugged. "Train was held up. Someone fighting or something. The fuck you couldn't swing by and pick me up in the van, I don't know. Fucking rain." He went in, shivering, unslinging his guitar case from off of his back. "I reeeally need a beer."
"You were the one said you were happy to get the bloody train out to this hole," Joey said, passing over the bottle of Amstel. Vincent took a pull from the neck, sweeping his long, wet hair off his forehead. He glanced over at the small stage where Adam the "drum monster" was finishing setting up his kit. He waved and Adam gave him the thumbs up.
Vincent saw the sound guy coming over and sniffed. "Fucking pointless soundchecking. No one'll be here anyway."
Driving back home from the gig in Joey's van, Vincent sat deep in thought looking out of the window as the lights on the motorway ticked by. The rain had lifted and the night was now crisp, clear and cold. On the way back to Barking they'd dropped Adam off at the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, who to Vincent and Joey's immense jealousy, was a poledancer in a local "gentlemen's venue".
The gig had been another in a series of pointless, poorly attended wastes of time. Somehow it hadn't quite materialised for them. Some promising shows in London had given way to increasingly demoralising dates on the pub circuit in Essex. Three years on, they were going backwards. Wayne, their ex-manager, had left them the month before to look after a teenage girl punk band together all of four months who had already scored a debut hit via some over-generous Xfm airplay. Now he was taking them on a nationwide tour, with a major deal mooted. Fucking Jesus!
"I dunno," Vincent muttered, "do you ever get the impression that it's all passing you by?"
Joey glanced over, running his hand through his spiky black hair. "Hey, it ain't that bad. One day we'll get our shit... Shit!"
"Our shit shit?" Vince smiled.
"No, I mean, shit. We're out of petrol." As if on cue, the engine spluttered and died. Joey steered the van over to the shoulder and they rolled to a halt.
"Poifect," said Vincent under his breath. For a moment, he wanted to just sit there forever. Become a frozen statue. Instead, he said quietly, "we passed a 24-hour services before the last junction."
"I'll go," said Joey. "It was my fault. I need to get some cigs anyway. You look after the gear." He reached into the back, fetched the empty gas can and got out of the van.
"Don't go away," he said patting Vincent on the shoulder and dropping the keys into his hand. He slammed the door. Vincent watched him recede into the distance in the rear view mirror.
He was left to the traffic and the darkness.
Forty minutes later, Vincent was getting seriously worried. The services must have been five minutes walk max. Even given Joey's slow, lanky amble of a stride, he should have been back at least twenty-five minutes ago.
Vincent got out of the van, breath clouding the cold air. He looked down the road. The Moto sign was clearly visible, a welcoming light. He looked down at his watch. 1.20am. He sighed, peering into the darkness, trying to will Joey's returning figure into existence.
After five more minutes, he came to a decision. He reckoned he could risk the amps and cabs, but Joey would kill him if anything happened to his vintage 70's Gibson Grabber. Vincent hauled the bass bag onto his back, picked up his own guitar case, locked the back of the van and trudged off up the road.
As Vincent approached the fuel stop, he could see immediately that something was wrong. There was a car stalled half in half out of the forecourt, bonnet crumpled and door half open. There seemed to be a bundle of blankets or something spilling out of the open door, which was on the driver side. The Texaco sign glowed red and white above him.
He narrowed his eyes and looked round, trying to spot any activity. The pay window was illuminated but there didn't seem to be anyone in there. Vincent frowned, walking up to the car. As he neared it he thought he could hear low voices in the crisp air. The voices seemed to be coming from round the side of the low station building. He was about to yell, "Oi, Joey!" when something made him look down.
Vincent was standing by the open car door. His foot was in a pool of something wet and sticky. Something wet and sticky and red. Vincent pulled his foot out of the pool, irritated, wiping the sole of his canvas Converse basketball boot on the tarmac. Then Vincent noticed that bundle of blankets or something.
Then Vincent noticed what that bundle of blankets or something actually was.
It was a man. He was in his thirties maybe, wearing a long leather coat and dark jeans. He had a goatee beard and black sideys. He was lying down. Or rather he was kinda half seated in the driver seat and half lying down on the forecourt blacktop so that the top of his head was resting in the pool of red, sticky liquid by Vincent's foot. Except that the top of his head wasn't...
Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus! Oh God, Oh shit!!!
Vincent actually had to sit down then because he seemed to lose all the power in his knees. He tried not to look at the dead man. He breathed heavily through his mouth to stop inhaling the smell of blood, which was overpowering, mixed with the gas smell as it was.
As Vincent sat there breathing, he began to hear the voices again. Scared but curious, he edged round the back of the car and peered over his shoulder in the direction of the voices.
He could make out five figures, huddled in the scrubby grass bit round the side of the low building. Three of the figures were kneeling down, with their backs to the other two, who were standing, each pointing something at the back of the heads of the kneeling figures. With a start, Vincent realised that the nearest of the kneeling men was Joey. He took a sharp breath, then another as he realised he might be overheard. Terrified, he pulled his head back round the hidden side of the car and closed his eyes, trembling.
The low voices continued and Vincent slowly inched his head round again. The scene seemed the same. They hadn't noticed. Then he saw Joey imperceptibly angle his head round. Joey's terrified eyes clamped hard on Vincent's and he saw Joey's lips moving silently, mouthing the words "call the police."
Vincent nodded back and pulled his head back round the side of the car. Trying to keep his breath steady, he gingerly lowered the bass and guitar cases onto the ground. He looked round feeling his pockets. He'd left his mobile in the van. He'd have to try and get back there without alerting the shooters. But he'd got here without doing that and luckily most of the walk back to the van was hidden by the side of the building behind which the men were conducting their business...
Vincent took a deep, shuddering breath and peered round the side of the car again. The voices continued, slightly more animated. One of the kneeling men seemed to be pleading with the gunman. Joey was looking down at the floor. His eyes seemingly closed.
Wait a minute. The gunman? Weren't there two gunmen before?
Vincent's blood froze.
He looked round desperately trying to locate the other man. Maybe he'd gone to take a piss round the back or somethin-
There was a soft sound behind Vincent. A footfall. Then Vincent felt something hard on the back of his head.
"The fuck is this shit?" said a deep, gruff voice, heavily accented, behind Vincent.
Vincent thought he was going to pass out. But instead he managed to whisper, "wh- wh- what... what sh- sh- shi-shit?"
"Guitars? Fucking guitars?" said the voice. "Who the fuck are you? You fuck!" The hard object was jabbed painfully into the back of Vincent's head. He began to cry.
Sobbing, he stammered, "Pluh.. pluh..please, sir. Please don't kill me. Wuh- wuh- wuh- we just needed some petrol. Our van's up on the hard shoulder. We just ran out of puh puh puh petrol. Oh please, please, please..." Vincent tailed off, dissolving into wracking sobs.
"We? Oh I see," said the accented voice. "Other kid. He is musician too?"
"Get up," said the voice, "bring instruments and walk in front of me. You try any shit, you fucking dead like Kurt Cobain. Brains on wall. Ha."
Vincent managed to stand, and pick up the guitars. He walked out in front of the accented man. Joey looked up as he approached, a sad look in his eyes. As they passed the pay window, Vincent could see the young Asian attendant slumped back in the seat, a big hole in the middle of his forehead. Vincent closed his eyes,
Hands roughly shoved Vincent down next to his friend and bandmate. The two gunmen talked in low voices behind them, in a language that Vincent did not understand. Sounded like Russian, he thought. He looked up and saw that Joey had tears too. They looked at each other's faces for a long time as the Russians' or whatever started shouting at the two men next to them, who were weeping and pleading back.
The Russians' shouting match had escalated to deafening proportions. Then a single shot made Joey flinch and one of the men next to them slumped to the ground, brains emptied onto the side of the building. It was quickly followed by a scream from the other kneeling man, a screaming, foreign curse cut short by the sharp, popping report of another gunshot. Another body hit the concrete floor.
Vincent closed his eyes. He found Joey's hand and felt his friend's squeeze back.
For a moment there was silence.
Then the voice of the man who had found Vincent spoke again. He was breathing heavy, sounded excited. "You," he said, poking Vincent in the back of his head with the hot muzzle of his just fired gun. "What you play?"
"Guitar, sir," Vincent whispered.
"I- I play the bass," said Joey.
The man laughed, slowly. "Well, well. Two fucking musicians. Do you sing?"
"I sing lead voc-" began Joey, but Vincent elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
"No, sir." Vincent said, trying to steady his voice. "We don't sing at all. We keep quiet all the time." Vincent looked down and noticed the gunman's feet. They were clad in bright red snakeskin boots, pointed and capped with steel. Small spurs stuck out from the heels.
"Don't sing? I wonder if I believe that? Sound to me like you sing plenty," he said in his thick tones. Vincent heard him turn away, muttering something to his associate, who grunted back then walked off.
The gunman turned back.
"OK. Thing is this. I don't believe you don't sing. But I am fair man," he said lightly. "Neither you two have seen our faces. So is wrong to kill you as you cannot identify us."
Vincent gripped Joey's hand. Maybe they would be OK...
"Both you turn round and face me."
Vincent shook his head. Unable to speak.
Vincent heard his gun click behind him. "You fucking turn round or I shoot bass guitar man in back of trendy cool haircut head now. Stand. Turn round."
Slowly, they stood, eyes still closed. They turned.
"Open eyes," said the gunman, very, very quietly.
Vincent couldn't do it.
"Open. Eyes." He felt the barrel of his gun on his forehead. Smelt the cordite on the muzzle.
So slowly, Vincent opened his eyes. When he'd been little and there was something scary on TV or at the cinema, he'd developed this trick to make his eyes go out of focus so that he could pretend he was cool and still watching something that was too scary for him. He did this now, even though he realised that it would him do no good. The man's face was a blur in front of him.
"Oh no," said the gunman. "Now you both have seen my face. Now I must ki-"
Suddenly, nearby a single shot rang out. They all whipped our heads round at the sound. The gunman took cover behind the corner of the building, momentarily taking his eyes off of Vincent and Joey. Footsteps approached, unsteady, stumbling. Then a heavy figure appeared, the other gunman. He was mouthing something wordlessly, reaching out. Then he collapsed onto the ground. There was a neat hole in the back of his head. Blood seeped out onto the ground, pooling in the shadows.
Simultaneously, a voice, amplified by a megaphone, rang out.
"THIS IS THE POLICE! YOU ARE SURROUNDED! YOUR ACCOMPLICE IS DEAD! DROP YOUR WEAPON AND COME OUT OR OUR MARKSMEN WILL TAKE YOU DOWN! THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING!" A harsh light illuminated the gunman, missing Vincent by inches. He looked round, dazzled, muttering under his breath. Suddenly, he felt Joey tug at his hand.
Vincent looked up. Joey was looking urgently over at him. Vincent suddenly knew that Joey was right. The gunman, distracted, had taken his eyes off them. Vincent nodded, bizarrely stooping to pick up the instruments, and let Joey lead him off into the undergrowth behind the gas station.
"The attendant must've rung the police alarm, I guess," muttered Joey as they scrambled through the brush and away from the scene of the killings.
Vincent was woken by a copy of the Informer landing on his head.
"Whuthufuh?" he mumbled.
"Mate, we're fucked," said Joey, who was sitting down on Vincent's bed.
Vincent sat up on his elbows, "Jesus Joey, I told you not to burst in here without knocking. I mean what if I was in the middle of well, whatever."
Joey took a breath. "Look at the fucking paper Vincent. I'm not fucking joking."
Vincent rubbed his eyes.
Two weeks had passed since they'd escaped from the gunman at the service station. They'd been too afraid to answer the police appeals to come forward, for fear of reprisals, even though they'd seen on the news that the gunman was in custody. Now it was just beginning to feel that they might come through it.
Vincent picked up the paper, looking blearily at the front page. His eyes widened and he suddenly woke up properly, scanning the main story aloud:
"KILLER ESCAPES JUSTICE!
"The Crown Prosecutor's office was yesterday forced to drop proceedings against the suspected Russian mob killer Alexander Rodchenko. Rodchenko's solicitor, Leo Pauline cited obscure precedents to have the murder charges against him quashed yesterday.
"The charges were brought after last month's quadruple motorway service station murder in Romford, Essex, which the police described as a "gangland-style execution". The deceased are believed to have been members of a rival gang to the Russian crime family who are thought to have set up a base of operations in Southend. A fifth decedent, shot by police during the siege, is believed to have been an associate of Rodchenko.
"Pauline made a statement outside the High Court on the closing of the case and indicated that his client "had no comment to make on the matter" and was "looking forward to returning to his peaceful and law-abiding life as a well-known local businessman." Essex police are now appealing again for two witnesses, believed to have been hostages of Rodchenko, whose evidence, or lack thereof, is seen as being vital to the success or failure of the prosecution of this crime. Chief Superintendent Mary Donoughue stated yesterday that all efforts would be made under British law to protect the identities of the witnesses, and she urged them to make themselves known to the police.
"Rodchenko, known also as "Cowboy" due to his penchant for Wild West clothing and his trademark red boots, will be released later today."
Vincent put the paper down. All colour had drained from his face. Joey was chainsmoking in the corner of his small bedroom. He turned. "We've gotta get outta this place."
Vincent buried his face in his hands. "Why don't we just come forward? Let the law protect us?" he asked.
Joey was looking anxiously out of the window. "You've gotta be fucking joking, we'd be dead before the day's out."
"They can give us new identities," said Vincent. "Relocate us."
"We wouldn't even make the first fucking day, mate. That Russian nutter's a mentalist!"
Vincent reached over and took the pack of cigarettes from where Joey had left them. He pulled one out and lit it. He'd somehow managed to start smoking again in the past two weeks. He looked up at the pictures on his wall, looking desperately for some sort of help.
Next to his treasured signed photo of Joan Jett, his eyes lit on a shot of Slushpuppy from a couple years back. They'd supported Belch at The Astoria (well, opened for them). That was about as big as it had got for the band. The photo showed them backstage after. Him, with shorter hair, arm round Joey's neck, both beaming; Adam looking goofy at the back and Wayne on his mobile probably making deals that ensured they'd stay strictly smalltime.
Suddenly, Vincent took a deep draw of smoke and exhaled. "Hey, I've got an idea," he said. Joey turned from his window surveillance to face him.
"C'mon Wayne, you owe us one, mate!" shouted Vincent. He had his ear pressed to the mobile phone. They were sat in a booth at the back of the cafe below the flat. Joey was finishing the last cigarette of the pack, looking anxiously at Vincent who was listening to a stream of words from their former manager.
"Oh yeah?" exclaimed Vincent, "fuck you too! And your fucking so-called fucking band!" He slammed the phone down on the table.
Joey took the half smoked stub from his mouth and handed it over. "I take it he said no," he said quietly. "And it's a good thing," he added looking around the murky walls, "that no one ever comes to this shitty cafe. We're not supposed to be drawing attention to ourselves, remember?" He smiled at Dot behind the counter, who grimaced sourly back at him.
Vincent wasn't listening. "Mr Wayne Goodrich," he spat, "said that his all-girl so-called band already has a guitar tech and is cool for road crew for the UK tour. So thanks but no thanks." He looked moodily into his coffee.
"Actually," he went on after a short moment's silence, grinning despite himself, "it's a bit worse than that. Wayne's tearing his hair out because they fly in two days and the singer's had s strop and fired a couple of the band. At the moment it's a two-piece! He says that they might have to cancel the tour unless they can find a couple replacements!" Vincent laughed bitterly then glanced up. "What?"
Joey was staring at Vincent.
Slowly, Joey reached out, and not breaking eye contact, picked up the Vincent's mobile, pressing the last dialled number button. He wrote the number on his palm and went to the pay phone at the back, putting a couple of 20p pieces in. Vincent followed him over, puzzled, as Joey dialled Wayne's number. Joey cleared his throat and raised the phone to his ear.
When he spoke, Vincent's eyes nearly popped out.
"Oh, is that Mr Goodrich?" said Joey in a breathy falsetto, "I hear you're looking for a couple of girl musicians? Bass and guitar, yes. Oh, yes. We'd love to try out! We're both really good. Good girls, y'know! Tomorrow 11am? Yes that's fine. Pardon? Oh, our names?" Joey looked momentarily panicked, "uhm.. that is to say, well, I'm Jolene and my girlfriend's name is... uhh... Veronique. Yeah, she's French. Half French, on her right side. Mm-hmm. Oh she's très sexy, monsieur! Ow! No, no she just kicked me, she's sooo excited, the dear... OK, see you tomorrow. Bye... Bye.... Bye! Bye bye!"
Joey hung up, exhaling deeply. He looked at Vincent.
Vincent looked at Joey.
Joey looked at Vincent.
This "reimagined" take on the beginning of Some Like it Hot was originally written in January 2006. Apart from being a spoof of that great Billy Wilder crossdressing movie, I guess the style of it is also somewhat informed by my love of the movie Desperately Seeking Susan.
It's rather stupid, but I kind of like it. But not enough to ever write more. Coincidentally, Deathline are playing in Southend in March this year. Maybe something akin to this will happen... Not!
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