That evening, t he hospitality room on the third floor of Hine Records was packed like a sardine can as Gypsy and his party arrived. The sound system was blaring out track after track from 'B' Platoon's first album, shattering the eardrums and causing voice to be raised to shouting pitch. Directors eyed the band, as well as the starlets sprinkling the place like dandruff on a dark suit. Disc jockeys rubbed shoulders with talent scouts and hangers-on, and agents surveyed the field with patronizing shrewd ness. Backers with money to burn made promises to likely looking artists, with hardly any intent of keeping them. They even promised Brian and his band the earth and the waitresses a good time, the waiters too if they were pretty enough. Among those who thought they could dance in such a crowded place, there were plenty of hands wandering where they shou ldn't, or should if the recipient was willing. Better than trying, to keep one's feet moving to the impossible tempo being churned out of the speakers. B Platoon were a good show-band who had spoilt themselves by going into heavy rock, and eighty percent of the guests were wondering why Hine Records had ever bothered to sign them up. Word had it that Hine Records were in trouble and were clutching at anything that might sell. Word also had it that the leader of the band was Bev Hine's nephew, and a junior partner in the business. That figured! But if Hine thought this new sound was a winner...!
Hine Records had only two big names on their books now; did they really think this band of theirs could make a difference? The directors of Hine Records were circulating round the room, faces set with wooden smiles, as they tried to drum up support for Hine Records and sterling backing for their new signing. "Now if Hine," the talk went on round the place, "could persuade someone like Gypsy Diaz to sign with them...WOW! There was a pro. "Look at him now, walking into the room with his mob, looks like he's been poured into those black velvet pants ."
Bev Hine was conscious of the immediate change in atmosphere as the fish they were trying to catch walked slowly towards the dais where 'B Platoon were on display. He was late, forty minutes to be precise, which told Bev he w as determined to make a grand entrance and take the limelight.
With those pants, black satin shirt, and beaded bolero, and that famous black hat, there wasn't one pair of eyes that failed to be drawn to the spe ctacle like pins to a magnet. B Platoon were forgotten as Gypsy made his way through the crowd followed by two of his female dancers in colorful Spanish costumes. On their heels, like the dutiful entourage of an Arab prince, were Erskine Trumble, Gypsy's backing group and a young man Bev took to be the one the gossip columns were hinting about. He was blonde and muscular with the open friendly face of a country boy. Yes, this was the one, and by the look on his face he would rather be anywhere but here. A path opened before them to where B Platoon had arranged themselves below a huge blowup of themselves in military uniforms and other pictures of armies of days gone by, and Bev saw the faces of those lucky enough to get close to Gypsy. Someone had brought a small piece of fondant iced cake into a room full of half starved street urchins and they all wanted a slice. Pure lust was rampant in the eyes of male and female alike.
Bev noticed an elderly Billy Bunter had cornered a young waiter, a slip of a lad with blue eyes and a button mouth, near the door of one of the anti-rooms. Suddenly he forgot he had promised the lad he'd turn him into a pop star overnight if he was nice to him, and pushed his way through the crush to get close to those velvet pants. Bev smiled to herself as she stepped off the dais to greet Gypsy. If anyone was going to have a rub down with velvet it certainly wouldn't be that oversized pudding. Suddenly the fish was inches away from the hook and smiling cynically at her. " Hi Bev!" he shouted above the noise as he took her hand to kiss it.
Bev shouted back, "You're late. I thought you weren't coming."
Gypsy smiled. "We got held up. You look great tonight, how are you?"
"Thank you, kind sir." Bev wondered if he really meant that or playing cat and mouse with her. "You're not looking too bad, yourself." How much did he remember about his stay at Northwood? She hoped he would not let anything slip in conversation with anyone. She drew him towards the dais and turned to face the band, catching Brian's eye and praying he would keep his lust for revenge out of his mind for tonight. The silly boy was still smarting at losing Shana to this beautiful Latin after all this time.
Brian nodded his head in greeting and stuck out his hand towards Gypsy. "Good to see you again, Gypsy. We might have made it together if you'd stayed with us, what? How about joining up with us again?"
Gypsy face took on a pained expression. "Brian! Are you actually admitting you need me?" The guys standing behind Brian caught his attention . Artie was the first to jump off the dais to hug him. The rest of the band greeted him with equal enthusiasm and Bev wondered if these boys could be the lever to cut Gypsy loose from TAB Records. Brian looked annoyed at the fuss his band was making of Gypsy. Sensing trouble, Bev caught his arm and dragged him through the crowd and into the nearest anti-room.
She faced him and hissed, "You mess this up and I'll see to it that no-one signs you ever again, do you hear me? We've got to make Gypsy sign with us; that is priority number one whether you hate his guts or not. We've helped you out of a jam, now i t's your turn to help us out. We did you a favor, taking you and your band on when no one would touch you. And don't forget, you're a junior partner now, and if we go down, so do you."
Brian sneered at her. "You're shit scared aren't you , Auntie dear ?"
Bev bit her lip as white-hot anger raged through her. "Yes, Brian, I am, and with good reason; and so should you be. Do you think we don't know it was you who stole the photographs and set fire to the cottage?" Brian's eyes narrowed but he said nothing. Bev smiled icily. "Yes, Brian, we weren't born yesterday. After Ed Thompson came round here, asking questions, we did some checking. As the old song goes, the finger of suspicion points to you. Trying to blackmail Gypsy with them was a stupid thing to do. I just hope we've stopped your little game in time, that's all. Where are the photographs now?"
Brian looked steadily at her." I haven't a clue, Auntie. I certainly haven't got them, and it wasn't me who blackmailed Gypsy."
"What?" Bev was stunned."Who's got them then? We've got to get them back before any more damage is done. We stand to lose everything Jerry and I have worked for if those photographs get into the wrong hand s."
"Oh their quite safe, but I'm not going to say who told me because they are my insurance that 'B Platoon' will be top dogs with Hine Records. You'd better play things my way, Auntie, or people will find out what you've been doing at that cottage every Christmas time."
Bev gave a sigh of relief. "Well, well! Quite the mastermind, aren't you? But not quite cunning enough to put me down so easily; you'd better do as you are told and hand those photographs and the negatives, back, or you will find yourself holding an empty contract. It's called embalming."
Brian's face blanched and his hand shot out to grip her upper a rm tightly. "Just what do you mean?"
Bev wrenched her arm away and glared at him. "We have you on contract for five years but that doesn't mean to say we'll back you or find you work, and don't forget, you can't work for anyone else, or perform, outside that contract without our permission. No backing, no gigs, no cash; get me, nephew dear?" She spun round and walked out into the reception room, taking an unladylike dig at a purple haired freak with sequins on his cheeks when he didn't move out of her way fast enough.
Brian's lips curled slyly as he watched her disappear into the crowd beyond. "So that's what you think, Auntie dear. J us t you wait and see what's going to happen. You won't know what's hit you; you and that curly headed fuck's fart."
After an hour of having his eardrums hammered by a cont inuous flow of music and a few hundred raised voices, Sandy decided he'd had enough. The flood of drinks thrust into his hands, he had managed to deposit into other hands. The chicks, who seemed determined to get into a clinch with him, he had warded off with unbelievable patience and tact, which surprised him. He had sampled the endless array of concoctions on the buffet tables, from military style K -rations in authentic mess tins to items that would have graced a General's banqueting table. Now he wanted to get away from it all. Gypsy seemed quite at home in this oversized freak show, never without some gorgeous female hanging onto his arm or an equally determined male sniffing around like a dog after a bitch on heat. Gypsy openly egged them on for the hell of it until Sandy felt he was going too far. For something to do, Sandy watched the master at work as Erskine Trumble let his ears be bent by Jerry Hine trying desperately to win Gypsy's signature over a bottle of cham pagne. By Erskine's patronizing smile, it looked like Hine was failing miserably. Erskine drank the champagne willingly enough then left the poor man holding the half empty bottle and slowly realizing it wasn't the Hines dangling the bait in the pond but Gypsy and his crafty manager.
Meanwhile, the guests were getting slowly pickled and several couplings were going on, said participants uncaring that others watched like seasoned voyeurs. Two boys who had arrived with one of Bev's journalist friends were in the middle of the floor, clinging to each other, their eyes giving away the fact that they were high on Coke as they slowly stripped each other to the heady beat. Sandy decided it was time Gypsy and he left before the whole thing turned into an orgy. He glanced round for him, and saw Vetch and Ball talking to Brian. As he made his way towards them to ask where Gypsy was, he saw Gypsy pushing his way through the crowd a few yards to the right with a cute little chick in tow. Vetch grabbed Gypsy as he came within reach and Sandy saw the four of them go into a clinch with Brian, heads together as if planning something. Obviously Brian had been suggesting something, to which the group nodded their heads in agreement, only the girl seemed reluctant and Gypsy shrugged his shoulders and sent the girl away with a kiss and a slap on her perfect rump, then he glanced round, spotted Sandy and beckoned him over. "This party has gone to the dogs," he said as Sandy reached him. "Brian's invited us to Bev's place. It could be fun, why don't you come with us?"
Sandy glanced at Brian and caught the expression of distinct hostility quickly masked by a sickly smile. The jerk certainly didn't want Sandy around so, just for spite, he said, "Great, I'd love to."
Brian looked nervous as he led them into an anti-room where a couple of Hine's heavies were guarding a fire exit. One of them opened it and Brian said, "The cars are waiting down below. Make it snappy, I don't want anyone else seeing us leave or they'll all want to come. I'll let Trumble know where you are. See you at Bev's."
Outside the door the drop-down fire escape led down to the darkness of the rear car park. Gaskin went down first, followed by Gypsy at a much slower pace as he negotiated the steps with care. Halfway down Sandy grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him to a stop. "I 'ope to God you know what you're getting' us into, mate: Brian's been goin' round picking up all the freakiest guests and sendin' them down 'ere."
Gypsy gave him an amused look. "So, what is wrong with that?"
"Gypsy, are you blind? I'm not goin' to any party with a bunch of weirdoes."
Gypsy chuckled and said, "Too late, Sandy, you already have, and before you put your great big foot in it, it's time I put you wise to something. Being gay is an accepted thing in show biz circles; each to his own, my friend, weird or not. And don't you forget, if we got together, wouldn't that make us queer?"
"But, Gypsy, you –."
"You and that lot, in there, I saw what you were doin'!"
Gypsy laughed softly and he leaned against the fire -escape railing and stared down into the dark below."You really are dumb at times. Don't you realize I was setting a trap for Brian, with Gaskin and co's help? I think he has taken the bait; he wants to have a talk with me or maybe thinks I'm kinky enough for him to get me into a smelly situation, right?"
"All right, yes, I'll buy that."
"Okay, so we go to the party and let things happen. I'm interested in finding out why Brian wants me at the party, and the boys know what to look for. Perhaps we'll turn up some more clues to the puzzle, so stop acting like a wet rag in a rain storm and come with me to Bev' s place."
"But, Gypsy, I thought Barney was goin' to do the digging!"
"Y ou want to see what Brian has on that chain round his neck, don' t you?" Not waiting for an answer Gypsy led the way down the iron steps into the rear car park of Hine Studios.
A bouncer beckoned them towards two large black limousines. Inside the first one, purple hair grinned widely at them, and a young red haired groupie who had somehow wriggled past Hine's security guards, gaped as she realized who she was sharing the car with. Ball and Vetch made room for Gypsy and Sandy, and the girl found herself sitting on Sandy's knee, her mouth still catching flies.
The journey lasted fifteen minutes, heading northeast , before the car stopped abruptly outside an ultra modern, pink tinted house with Maseratis and Jaguars already parked in the driveway. Music issued from open windows and busy talk greeted them as they piled out of the car and in through the front door. From the debris that met their gaze, it looked as if the party had been in progress for some time. Purple Hair was in front and as they threaded their way through the revelers who gave them only a cursory glance. H e said with a smile, "Down in the den is where it's at, folks. Follow me to paradise."
As they gained the rear of the main foyer, 'Adam and the Ants' blared up from beneath their feet. Purple Hair disappeared down a spiral staircase and Gypsy glanced down at the scene below. He shrugged his shoulders at Sandy and muttered, "Oh, we ll, i nto the Devil's lair…" and negotiated the tight curve into the dimness below. Sandy felt uneasy as he followed and found himself in a long cellar with a low ceiling, with light coming from covered recesses frosted with dulled red and blue glass.
Tiny coffee tables surrounded an equally tiny dance floor and cushions were scattered around for guests to sit or lie on as the whim took one. On a balcony at the end of the room, a hi-fi supplied the music, and Purple Hair was already bouncing up there to choose the next disc. Several couples were dancing but in contrast to the party at the studios, or upstairs, the atmosphere was subdued. Faces lifted to look at Gypsy as he made his way to an empty cushion; a few hands waved a lazy greeting and one or two smiled and said, Hi!" but that was all. Here he was no one and merged with the background.
As Sandy followed Gypsy, he had a can of beer thrust in his hand, and a few females looked appreciatively at him. One blonde smiled and blew him a kiss. A few feet from the empty cushion , a gay little thing in red dungarees and painted eyebrows sidled up to Gypsy, and wound itself round his hips. While one dainty hand caressed the front of his pants, she whispered an invitation in his ear. Gypsy smiled and said quietly, "No thank you, honey. I am not your type. Why don't you go play with your toes for a bit?"
The creature look hurt as it drew back from him, then it smiled, and departed. Sandy stared at it in astonishment. "Is that male or female?"
Gypsy grinned. "I do not think it has quite made up its mind but as I say, each to his or her own. Come on, l et's sit down a nd see what develops."
Sandy pulled a face. "How exciting!"
They sat down on the cushions with their backs to the wall. While Ball and Vetch circulated, chatting to various groups, Gypsy watched the goings on with interest while Sandy tried hard not to watch anything. After a while Brian arrived with another crowd from the party, some making straight towards Gypsy, who declined their company politely enough - the same with the goodies they o ffered as the evening progressed, ranging from Speed, to Heroine, and a lot of Crack thrown in. Sandy spotted one boy rolling a rather anemic looking cigarette. The boy lit up and gave a satisfied smile, and blew a cloud of smoke towards Sandy who realized what the smell was. His anger rising, he realized he was sitting in a junkie's parlor and now he knew what Purple Hair meant by Paradise. Sandy wanted to get up and leave.
A slinky affair in plum colored satin snaked her way onto Gypsy's lap, wrapped her arms round his neck and tried to French kiss him. Gypsy kept his lips tightly shut and did nothing to encourage the partnership. The girl drew back with a pettish frown and said in a husky voice, "What's the matter, Gypsy? Don't you want this fly to come into your parlor?"
Sandy gaped in disbelief as Gypsy raised an eyebrow. "I don't remember giving you an invitation."
The girl flashed angry eyes at him and moved off in search of a more willing victim.
Sandy nudged Gypsy. "Was that what I think it was?"
Gypsy nodded and took a drink of his own beer. "One hundred percent transistor."
"Jees!" Sandy groaned, "I'm getting out of here.
Gypsy laughed softly at him, enjoying his discomfort. "Calm down, Sandy, they're all harmless. No one in here cares what the next person is doing. Let your hair down, lover, and live a little!"
"Iesu Mawr! " was all Sandy could mutter. S omeone had put on a cool disc and several couples, not necessarily male/female, were on the floor. Gypsy leaned closer to Sandy. "I think it is time we did a little play-acting. Just go along with whatever I do and you'll see what I mean, all right?"
Gypsy rose stiffly to his feet and, once on the floor, he began to dance, beckoning for Sandy to join him, doctor's orders forgotten as he smiled mischievously. "Come on, Sandy. Move it with me!"
Sandy w as deeply embarrassed as the other dancers stopped to watch Gypsy and applauded Sandy's attempts to match his steps, but soon they resumed their own sensual gyrations and Gypsy and Sandy were forgotten. Once more, Gypsy had been right. Everyone did their own thing with whatever partners they chose; away from public eyes, Gypsy was just another guest? And the cellar seemed no different to any other disco except that Sandy was dancing with a feller instead of a girl. Ball and Vetch sidled by in the arms of two painted dolls, they winked at Sandy and when the music changed to a slow sexy number they went happily into tight clinches, their feet traveling inch by inch across the floor as they rubbed cheeks and whatever else with their partners The lights dimmed even further and before Sandy realized what was happening, Gypsy had moved closer. Automatically, Sandy slipped his arms round Gypsy's waist and felt his cheeks burn as Gypsy's head finally came to rest on his chest, but Gypsy's next words dashed any thoughts of Gypsy's thoughts being erotic. " Make like a lover and listen,'" he said soft1y, "Brian is watching us like a hawk, did you notice ?"
"Yep." Sandy had spotted Brian talking to one of his cronies in a corner and had noticed the glint of silver within the vee of his open shirt.
"You see what he is wearing round his neck?"
"A silver chain. Let's move closer, then. Take a look at what 'he's got hangin' on it, isn' it:"
"We don't have to. I already know without looking at it."
"What is it then?"
"A scrolled 'S'."
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