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From out of the Blue - A new novel
By Ralph Murray
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Not rated by the Author.
From out of the blue is my first novel, which was completed in November 2010. Then will follow the harrowing process of getting it published in 2011.
This is the first chapter.
All feedback welcome
Part I Chapter 1
The evening of the competition was much too warm for a draped jacket and a boot-lace tie, but Joe was determined to hit the stage in style. He had even bought yet another pair of brothel creepers just for the occasion. He knew his well-oiled, blond hair was set to perfection, but automatically gave it a backward stroke before striding into the Green Man.
He picked his way through the minefield of thrusting pool cues, flying darts and precariously perched pint glasses to the bar. He spotted Harry making, he guessed, some lewd comment to the peroxide barmaid.
“I see you’ve really made an effort to look the part and impress the judges, after all it’s only the bleedin finals tonight. I can understand the last cuppa rounds but I thought tonight of all nights you might’ve tried a little bit.” He eyed with distain the oversized leather jacket and the tight grease-stained jeans that encased Harry’s bandy legs.
His friend just grinned. “Watcha mate, I was beginning to think I’d got the wrong night. I’ve been here about 30 minutes.”
Joe shrugged. “It’s not even 8 o’clock yet, anyway you didn’t seem too lonely when I came in.”
He was spared the sordid reply by the appearance of Eddie, the band’s drummer.
“I’ve just about had it with that bloody motorbike,” was his greeting. “Ten minutes, 10 bloody minutes it took me to start it. What really narks me is that it was only last weekend I stripped it down.” He paused, glared at his mates in turn, and added: “Look, if no one’s gonna buy me a beer, I’ll get one meself.”
“Okay laughing boy, keep your quiff on,” said Joe, and fished inside his pocket.
While supping their pints, they strained their ears to hear the muffled music coming from the hall above the hubbub of the pub. It was the sloppiest version of “Heartbreak Hotel” they agreed they had ever heard. Joe craned his neck and peered through the archway that divided the two rooms. He could just make out the tiny figures on stage.
He was surprised to find the band on stage were the Tom Cats, who in his view, were their only rivals in the contest.
“Well, well, well, looks like we’ve got the record contract in the bag.” The singer nodded towards the stage.
“Oh yeah, we’re gonna beat the Tom Cats aren’t we,” Eddie answered with sarcasm.
On tip-toe and neck straining towards the stage, Harry said: “Struth, it’s them alright. The way Bill’s singing, it’s not only heartbreak he’s got, but bleedin voice break.”
A thought floated across Joe’s mind. If the Tom Cats sound like that, what do we sound like? The idea was immediately expelled by his ego. His hand again glided over his sleek head.
Graham’s face was flushed as he blurted out his excuses for being late onto three pairs of deaf ears.
Being the youngest, the most amiable and above all the one with a transit van, Graham’s job was to pick up and transport the instruments to gigs.
“I got a parking space right outside the door which is really handy isn’t it?” He then gave a half-laugh in an attempt to hide his embarrassment.
Eddie glowered at him and said: “Why don’t you say something useful like “Who’s for another beer?”
“Er, yes who’s for–”
“It’s okay Graham, it’s my shout,” Harry interrupted with a contrived lop-sided smile.
The four friends chatted generally, each trying to appear unconcerned about the importance of the evening. The only one genuinely unmoved by the occasion was Harry, whose anecdotes of on-stage mishaps was not going down too well with the other members of the band.
Joe spotted the pub’s Landlord across the half-filled room and whistled him over.
“Hi Alf, how’s the evening going?”
Alf Bassett had persuaded the brewery to agree to a trial period of live music at the establishment. In six months it had become East London’s premier rock and roll venue and staging the contest was it’s crowning glory.
“Hello boys, yeah it’s going okay thanks. Have you seen the Rebels?” They shook their heads as one. “Then me lads, it looks as if you are on stage in...” He glanced at his watch. “In 10 minutes.”
Eddie, Joe and Graham stared at each other wildly, and after gulping down as much beer in one mouthful, bolted for the door. At the sight of his fleeing friends Harry rolled his eyes to the ceiling and leisurely drained his glass.
“I don’t know about you Alf, but if I was a Landlord and my patrons left half their drinks I’d be mightily offended.”
He took the three abandoned beers glasses and emptied them into his own.
“Shame to waste such a lovely drop of beer.”
Alf smiled. “Good luck mate, and tell that so-called singer of yours that I don’t want him going on half the night. There’re other bands on after you lot.” He propelled the musician away from the bar with a hearty slap on the back.
Harry caught sight of Eddie and Graham swearing and struggling to get the double bass through the entrance of the hall. They were followed by Joe looking every inch a star, carrying his glistening white guitar. A twinge of envy caught Harry for an instant before the Teddy boy disappeared from view.
Fancy being jealous of me best mate, he thought, and tried to force the emotion away.
The little man walked slowly towards the entrance of the building and out into the car park. He absent-mindedly wandered what he should play. After rummaging through the assorted instruments in the boot of his car he straightened up with a dented trumpet and his faithful tambourine.
At any gig or practice the three mates would never know what Harry would bring along to play, but although sometimes outraged, Eddie, Joe and Graham would admit, if pushed, that Harry always enhanced their overall sound, be it in an unorthodox fashion.
They would also admit that he came the closest to having real musical talent among all the youngsters they knew in the local area who had jumped on the rock and roll bandwagon.
The slight feeling of melancholia disappeared as Harry softly serenaded the parked cars.
I really must practice more, he thought, as he removed the trumpet from his lips. Stung by his advice, he scurried inside to find the others.
As he entered the hall, Alf Bassett was on stage introducing them.
“You’ve seen them before, so you know how good they are. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the Raiders.” The response was somewhat less than ecstatic as the trio ambled onto the stage led by Joe.
Try as he might, Harry was making slow progress through the crowd in his effort to get to the stage. He thought of shouting to the band but decided the judges wouldn’t be too impressed.
Joe noticed the activity below him then saw an outstretched trumpet. The grim look on his face hardened into a scowl. He turned his back to the audience and walked up to the drummer, with feigned nonchalance. Eddie also scowled when Joe hissed that Harry was finally on his way.
The sound of laughter made him turn around. Harry was treating the audience to some comic antics as he tried to clamber onto the stage. Joe hurried to the front to lend a hand, a smile masking his face while the Green Man revelled in the unexpected light relief.
In contrast to Joe being red with indignation, Graham had turned white with horror behind his double bass. He also registered pity. He was used to the little man’s clowning around but this wasn’t part of it. It was as if he was stuck in a mould, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not change the way people saw him. By way of confirmation, when Harry did succeed in clambering onstage, he grinned broadly at the laughing faces below him as if it was part of the routine.
Not surprisingly their set was well below their best, with Joe singing through clenched teeth. His anger only intensified when he noticed that far from suffering from his late arrival, Harry actually seemed to be playing better and was even starting to strut around the tiny stage.
Bloody cheek, he thought, that’s what I should be doing.
After the second song, it was obvious that Harry had unintentionally upstaged the Raiders’ front man and had completely won over the audience by his natural warmth, sense of fun and musical ability. Of the five songs they did, three were cover versions of hits by Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The other two were Joe’s. Whenever they played, the always finished off with Little Richard’s “You keep on knockin”.
It was only on the last song that the band showed something of what it was about, with Eddie taking his frustration out on the drum kit. Graham with his nerves subsiding, started playing as if he had some feeling for his one-legged fretless instrument. Joe too found some spirit from somewhere, the chords now crisp and powerful. His voice though restrained mustered an edge of conviction.
The energy and commitment of the three combined couldn’t come close to Harry’s. With his pencil thin legs wide apart, he trumpeted as though his life depended on them winning. The sweat ran freely from his forehead over the ballooned cheeks and down his strained neck. He was fully aware that the band had not preformed well and that it was down to him, so it was also down to him to pull them through to take first prize.
Despite his passionate effort, he could not redeem himself in the judges eyes and they were placed second behind the Tom Cats.
After hearing the results, the quartet trudged back to the public bar behind the hall. The first couple of rounds were bought and drunk in almost silence as each brooded on what might have been.
“Er Eddie, what do you think is wrong with your bike then?” Graham asked hesitantly. He was getting increasing nervous at the oppressive atmosphere surrounding them, and fearing a violent row might break out, tried to deviate their thoughts.
Eddie turned to the bassist, the permanent frown on his brow deepening. “How the bleedin’ hell should I know” he snapped. “It could be anything.” He then proceeded to go through the possible culprits.
Joe’s posture was the picture of dejection, perched on a stool, his elbow on the bar and the palms of his hand supporting his chin. He had not moved for several minutes, not even his eyes, which were glazed and lifeless.
Harry was getting over his disappointment at not winning and was now getting restless. Eddie was still droning on about bikes with Graham as the captive audience and his best mate seemed to have died on him. If Joe had had a go at him at him he would have found that more expectable than the gloom and despondency that surrounded the singer.
He sighed loudly to attract the singer’s attention but failed. After taking another noisy slurp of beer, Harry idly gazed around the room. His sharp eyes alighted on two Hells Angels approaching four Teddy boys playing pool. He was out of earshot but it was apparent that it was not pleasant exchange. He slid off his stool and sidled nearer.
“Not a chance, we’ve only just started playing.”
“My mate don’t like waiting, in fact he can turn real nasty if he doesn’t get his own way, and you wouldn’t like that would you?”
The youngsters looked over the Hells Angels’ shoulder to the grizzled mass of leather and hair. Although the eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, they guessed they were not smiling.
“Look, we don’t want any trouble, but every Wednesday night we have a game here, and I don’t see why you two can’t wait until we finish.”
Even the sound of the band next door seemed to have quietened.
The mute Angel lumbered up to the youth who had dared to make him wait.
Goliath confronted David.
He quietly took the cue from the shaking hand and snapped it over his knee, then handed it back.
“Now what did I say about upsetting my mate? Are you girls gonna leave the table or what?”
The four suddenly flung down their cues and stormed out of the building, tight-lipped and white with fury. The room breathed a sigh of relief, while the bikers guffawed, picked up the cues and started to play.
Harry returned to the rest of the band, grinning.
“Hey Joe, did you see those Teds scram, not that I blame them, that Hell’s Angel’s built like a gorilla.”
Obviously not. His friend was in exactly the same position as he has left him.
The scene had whetted Harry’s adrenaline sufficiently, so when his gaze meet two pairs of female eyes smiling in his direction him he knew wild horses couldn’t keep him from them.
He nudged Joe out of his stupor while inclining his head towards the girls across the bar. ‘C’mon mate, maybe tonight wouldn’t be a total waste of time after all.” He scurried off without waiting for a reply.
Joe knew he needed distracting, but for once chasing women was too much of an effort for him. He felt cheated out of winning the contest. Okay, the recording contract was only with a local record company, but it would have been a start, the first step on the ladder to stardom.
If it wasn’t for that little tow-rag we would have strolled it, he thought, and there he is now running off after a bit of skirt without a care in the world. I’m gonna swing for that runt one of these days.
His eyes followed for want of something to do. Joe knew exactly what his friend would be opening the conversation with and smiled thinly to himself, despite himself. Sure enough, within seconds of meeting, the young women were laughing while the musician gesticulated wildly.
From his vantage point Joe could make out the girl with the long fair hair was prettier and certainly more outgoing than her friend, who was not as tall with short, dark hair, but for some strange reason he found himself drawn to the second girl, who under normal circumstances he would not have given a second glance.
But then under normal circumstances he would be by Harry’s side, vying for a piece of the action. It was obvious that his friend was on top form and was putting on a good show as the girls were continuously laughing at his stories.
He was so taken up with his mate’s antics and the dark haired girl, that when Harry turned round and pointed in his direction, he was a little startled and turned away in embarrassment.
Stone me, what am I, some sort of bleedin schoolboy in love? He felt himself blush.
Luckily Eddie and Graham were still engrossed in their conversation and didn’t notice how flustered their usually self-confident, singer had become. For the next few minutes he kept his eyes averted from the trio imagining their eyes scanning him.
He experienced a mixture of relief and wounded pride when after turning back to them, he saw Harry and the girls had lost interest in him and were even more jovial.
The relief soon disappeared leaving the hurt pride needing satisfaction. Their failure on stage returned, rubbing salt into an open wound.
That greasy runt isn’t gonna make a fool of me a second time tonight.
In his haste to get up, his foot got stuck between the bars of the stool, sending him sprawling into the back of Graham. He curses passionately while he disentangled his foot.
This done, he scowled at the bass player, willing him to say just one word out of line. Wisely the youngster just trembled. Two hands were passed over the still immaculate hair, the white draped jacket readjusted over the broad shoulders and the skin tight trousers brushed down. All this was done without his venomous eyes leaving the drained, podgy face. Without a word Joe spun on his brothel creepers and headed for Harry and company.
Why the hell am I doing this. I can’t think of a thing to say to this woman.
He almost turned back but realised in time that Graham and Eddie would no doubt be watching him. He pasted on a make-shift smile as he approached the table where the little group were standing.
Harry had the girls so enthralled with one of his many anecdotes that they failed to registered Joe’s presence. Not having an opening gambit, Joe had to wait a full minute for Harry to finish his story and another 20 seconds for the shrill feminine laughter to die down. Harry feigned surprise at seeing his friend and with a wink introduced the singer. After all the waiting, the smile had frozen on Joe’s face, making it twitch slightly. He felt himself colouring but a glance at Harry’s grinning face drained it away and he felt his anger rising again.
“Oh well, seeing you’ve come over empty-handed, I suppose I’d better get ‘em in then. Wanna give us a hand Dawn?’
Such was Joe’s state of mind, that it was only as the remaining girl coughed politely that he realised that he was left with the person he had come over to meet. This latest fact did nothing to clear his confused state.
“We were just saying to Harry, in our opinion, you were much better than the Tom Cats, especially near the end,” the girl said. She was surprised and slightly disappointed that the confident showman on stage was so ill as ease and uncommunicative off it.
“Yeah... I mean no, we were awful tonight. I can’t remember when we’ve played worse.”
“Well I suppose you did have a bit of a problem with your trumpet player” she said with a smile.
“I guess it’s just an occupational hazard.” He sighed, then smiled. It was the first time his mood had lifted since leaving the stage half an hour ago.
“Harry told you my name but didn’t tell me yours.”
“I’m Mary and my friend’s Dawn.”
Two seats were vacant nearby. Joe nodded to them with a raised eyebrow and Mary excepted. The strain of the evening suddenly made itself known by a enormous wave of exhaustion. His knees buckled and he landed heavily onto the chair, legs sprawled untidily under the small table.
Opposite, with a great deal more care, Mary lowered herself into her seat, carefully arranging her skirt as she did so. In the seconds it took her to settle, Joe had scanned her with an expert eye.
She was slightly built, standing just over five foot tall, topped with very dark wavy hair done in no particular style. As he had thought from across the room, she was not strikingly pretty, but there was an attractiveness, not immediately obvious, but nevertheless apparent.
In minutes they were chatting easily about music and fashion and it wasn’t long before Joe was basking in the aura of tranquillity from the person opposite him. For once he didn’t feel he had to impress a woman. He didn’t feel he had to explain how good the band was and that fame and fortune was just around the corner. He was feeling almost content when Harry and Dawn appeared bearing drinks.
“Here we are folks, these are courtesy of the management, so enjoy. I reckon its cos Alf knew that the judges go it wrong tonight.”
He pulled up two more chairs.
“Not only were you better than the Tom Cats, you are all better looking, even you Harry,” Dawn said with a giggle.
“Bleedin cheek, I’ll give you a good spanking when I get you home.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself aren’t you? Who said I was coming home with you?”
“We are getting on so well I just thought–”
“Well don’t think mister.” Her tone softened. “Although, as I said, you are kinda cute.”
“That’s my girl,” Harry said with a huge grin. “We’re gonna have such fun together.”
Harry’s lusty eyes flickered over her friend.
“What about you Mary, wadja think of the singer and guitarist of the Raiders? Quite a catch, huh.”
Her cheeks coloured.
“Er, he seems nice.”
Harry let out a high pitch cackle.
“Nice? Joe Simmonds nice? You gotta be joking. This man is dangerous around woman. He’s just gotta look at ‘em and they fall at his feet.”
“Cut it out Harry, we were just having a pleasant chat when you were at the bar.”
“Yeah, I could see that. It didn’t take you two long to get settled did it?”
He winked at Mary. “You have been warned, the geezer is only after one thing.”
“Oh that’s rich coming from you.” Dawn said. “I suppose you want to make an honest woman of me.”
Harry took a deep slurp of beer, and turned to her with a look of pure innocence. “Of course I wanna marry you, what else could I possibly want?
The appearance of Alf Bassett stifled her retort.
“Hello boys and girls, just had 10 minutes with Eddie and Graham. Does your drummer do anything else other than moan? Anyway, just popped over to say how sorry I am that you blokes didn’t win tonight. Anyone who sees local bands regularly know that you are the best rock and roll group in the East End. One of the judges admitted as much, but due to your lack of professionalism – his words – they couldn’t choose you.”
“That’s alright,” Harry said. “We’ll win it next year wouldn’t we Joe?”
“Yeah, whatever you say,” came the laboured reply.
Alf pulled up a chair and the three men picked over the high and lows of the evening, leaving the girls to chat between themselves.
After a while Joe started to felt oppressed by his surroundings and talk of music. He needed fresh air and to clear his head. The feeling of calm he experienced with Mary had long gone and he wanted it back.
As if reading his mind, Alf stretched, pushed himself out of his chair and said: “Okay, drink up boys and girls, the barmaid’s rung the bell and some of us want to get home.”
“Yeah don’t we just.” Harry snaked an arm round Dawn’s waist.
“What about you Mary, how will you get home?” asked her friend.
“You’ll give her a lift wouldn’t you Joe?”
“Yeah sure. I dunno about you Mary but I’m ready to hit the road right now, I am shattered.”
“Yep, I’m ready when you are.”
“Eyi eyi, looks like it could be yer lucky night Joey boy,” Harry leered.
Joe turned to Mary: “Excuse my friend, he’s got a sewer for a mind. Dawn, it was good to meet you, and I’m sure we’ll meet up again. Harry, see you Saturday night.”
Five minutes later, after the girls had said their farewells, Joe and Mary stepped out into the nearly deserted car park. The evening was pleasantly cool and Joe’s heart lightened. He looked up at the stars in the cloudless sky. The young woman followed his gaze.
Neither felt the need for words.
Eventually he strolled over to his dad’s car and opened the passenger door. He look back at the stationary figure.
“Hey, I dunno about you but I’ve got work in the morning. Haven’t you seen stars before?”
He could just make out her smile in the gloom. Yes, his first impression was right. There was something very special about the person before him, even though, like the hairstyle, the clothes that covered the petite frame paid no particular attention to the current fashion.
Joe Simmonds’ addiction to looking good had always been reflected in the birds he chose, so that when he was out, they had to be the most head-turning of couples. He was never too bothered about who they were or what they had to say, just as long as they perched prettily on his arm.
So why’s this one so special? Her friend perfectly fitted my blueprint, yet I didn’t give Dawn a second look.
Also, what are my mates gonna say if I start going out with a plain Jane? I’ll never live it down.
Mary was now standing in front of him.
“Penny for your thoughts. You drifted off then with a serious look on face. Is everything alright?”
“Oh, sorry Mary, I was just thinking about, er, tonight and that clown Harry.”
“Well don’t. Besides, if you had won, think of all those songs you’d have to write because you can’t have an first album full of cover versions can you?”
“Oh yeah, very good, so every cloud has a–”
“Exactly. So are you going to take me home or what? Some people have work in the morning.”
“Very funny, after me waiting so long for you to finish your star-gazing”
“Actually, I was thinking. Of all the stars in the sky tonight, the brightest one was on stage playing guitar.”
“Now I know you’re trying to be funny. Get in the car or you can walk home.”
Mary chuckled, then slid into the passenger seat. With rather more difficulty, Joe manoeuvred his frame into the Hillman Imp.
“That was a snug fit. I must admit I expected you to have a more sporty means of transport.”
“I wish I could afford one, this is the old man’s motor. Yeah, it doesn’t really go with the image does it? But when we’re famous it’s gonna be a white Cadillac with black leather seats and trim.”
“And when will that be, young man?”
“Sooner than you think doll, sooner than you think.”
Joe was surprised how at ease he was on the journey to Mary’s parent’s house. Having to take girls home in this excuse for a car had always been an acute embarrassment for him, especially when the passenger’s disappointment was evident as it was with so many of his conquests-to-be.
Sadly, the rock and roll star persona had to be confined to inside of pubs and bars until fame and fortune beckoned.
The car came to a stop in front of a tidy semi-detached along a leafy road which had more than a whiff of gentility.
Joe gave a low appreciative whistle.
“Thanks for the lift Joe, it was really good meeting you. Rock and roll isn’t really my thing but I’m glad Dawn dragged me along this evening.”
“I’m glad she did too. You certainly made my night.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
“Come to think of it, I do actually.”
A small fist connected with his forearm.
“So young lady, what are you doing Saturday night? I’d love to take you out on a date.”
“I’m sorry I can’t see you Saturday night.”
His face fell.
“I can’t see you because you’re seeing Harry, remember?”
Joe’s laugher was one of sheer relief.
“Phew, you had me going then. Don’t worry about Harry, it was only gonna be a band practice.”
“Well then I suppose it would be nice to see you again.”
The street light gave him just enough light to look deep into the hazel eyes. His gaze moved down to the mouth. He felt his heart beat faster as passion rose within him. He lent towards those lips. He was startled by a restraining hand at his chest. He opened his eyes with incredulity. No girl ever says “no” to Joe Simmonds, singer and guitarist of the Raiders.
“There’s nothing wrong. Why should there be anything wrong just because I don’t want to be kissed?”
He was knocked sideways by her logic. He was not used to girls questioning him. They were there to do what he wanted. As his passion died his anger flared.
Who the hell does she think she is? She should be bloody grateful I’ve showed an interest in her cos no other bugger would, not even Harry and he would go with anyone.
“I guess Saturday night is off then. Maybe it’s for the best if all you want to do is to use me.”
“Dunno. I’ll give you a ring sometime. What’s your phone number? he asked, more out of habit than desire”
Mary found a scrap of paper in her bag and scribbled down her number.
“Well thanks again for the lift,” she said, without the faintest trace of rancour which only added to his rage.
He watched her head towards the wrought iron gates. A shard of light appeared at the bedroom window above her head as curtains were parted. A middle-aged woman peered down at him.
He pumped the excelerator hard before wheel-spinning down the sleepy suburban street.
It was past mid-night when he skidded to a stop outside his house. He was sure the old man was awoken by his arrival but he could not have cared less.
If the old git stops me using his car then I’ll stop paying rent and there’s nothing he could do cos mum wouldn’t let him sling out her precious son.
As if to prove a point, he slammed the car door so hard the little vehicle rocked.
The front door got the same treatment.
He kicked off his shoes in the hall, but took care shrugging out of the jacket, which he folded across the back of the settee and waited for a reaction from his father.
Blimey, what a night. Can’t win a poxy talent competition, can’t get off with some bird and can’t wind up the old man. Joe mate, you are losing your touch.
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