Pluto's Child

by DJ

Chapter 34

When the program director's impatience finally drove Erskine to enter the inner sanctum, to find out what was going on, Erskine found Sandy sitting in an armchair looking pretty worn out, while Gypsy leaned over the wash basin, rubbing cleansing lotion into his smudged make-up. Erskine leaned on the bathroom door-frame and rolled a cigar between his lips. "You all right, son?"

Gypsy shook his head as he reached for tissues to wipe away the softened make-up. "Nope; my leg is troubling me, my back is killing me, and I feel like hell. Get Ed in here, will you, please?"

Erskine straightened up. "Monclare's here; let him take a look."

Gypsy frowned as he turned on the taps. "What's he doing here?" He dipped his head towards the water. "If you called him I'll-."

"Yes I did call him; he just picked the wrong locum to check you over. He had a call from Sudermann just as he was about to leave; my guess is they must have found something. He wants to talk to you as soon as possible. "

Gypsy turned off the taps and stared down at the water for a long time before carefully washing the rest of the make-up away. He reached behind him for a towel and Erskine dropped one over his hand. With the towel to his face, Gypsy turned to face his manager. "I think I already know what he's going to say; he's just trying to figure out the best way to break the news to me."

Erskine turned away with a soft curse; then he turned back and said, "What about Todd? You'll have to talk to him some time."

"How much time have I got?"

Erskine looked at his watch, "You've got just over ten minutes before your third spot." Gypsy nodded and threw the towel into the shower hamper.

He was already stripped and in his bathrobe, when Erskine showed Monclare and Todd in, and seated at the make-up bench, applying fresh make-up. Todd was determined to get to him first but Monclare had the edge, barring the inspector's way as he leaned one hand on the bench. "Sudermann called me and gave me the results of the tests we did, and I felt it only right to let you know as soon as possible. The growths we found are not cancerous but unless we can remove them they will eventually damage your spinal column. An operation, even using the most modern standard techniques we know of will be dangerous and could result in complete paralysis below the waist."

Gypsy's hands stilled, and he lowered them slowly until they rested them on the bench. Sandy turned startled eyes towards Manuel and Ed, and their shocked eyes stared back at him. "What happens without the operation?"

"You could remain quite active for some time, with care. Growths are unpredictable entities, and one can never guarantee how they will develop. As things stand I would suggest making this show your last."

Aware of the hushed whispers behind him, Gypsy leaned forward to resume the application of his make-up. Manuel moved closer to stand behind his chair. He gazed steadily at Monclare. "I suspect you would rather Gypsy stopped the show right now, am I right?"

M onclare nodded sadly. "What I would like to do, and what I CAN do are two different things, as the T.V. producer so firmly inform ed me just now." To Gypsy he said, "Why don't you let your lead dancer take over your dance routines for the rest of the show?"

Manuel was quick to take up the idea. "Patrick can do them; after all he did help choreograph them."

Gypsy blotted his make-up with tissues and sat back to study the result. "Patrick is a fine dancer but he can't do my solos."

"But he can cope," Manuel insisted. "You ought to rest and -."

"Can he dance the bolero?" Gypsy asked sharply, staring at his father through the mirror. "Can he sing my songs in the last part of the show? The bolero is mine; the songs are mine. The show must go on as planned, and so must I."

Todd got his attention at last. "You would do better by helping us find your daughter and your girlfriend."

This brought an angry response from Gypsy. "Do you really think I've forgotten them? I think about them with every breath I take." In his anger his accent became thicker. "I will tell you all you want to know; I will sing like a bird and name names. I will give you all the juicy details of my life if it will help put MacCaffrey and his crowd away for a lifetime; but right now I have a show to do, and you would do better getting out of this theatre and looking for my daughter and my fiancé yourself instead of telling me what to do."

An angry rebuke was on Todd's tongue but Gypsy turned away from him, and Erskine maneuvered the man towards the door and through it with practiced ease, before he could say anything. Coming back to the bench Erskine planted his hands on Gypsy's shoulders and said into the mirror."If Monclare is right, and I say IF, you'd want the c hance to say bye-bye to all your fans , wouldn't you?" Gypsy nodded. "Well then," Erskine beamed round at Manuel and Monclare, "what better time than tonight! There's a world full of fans watching tonight. W hy not make it a grand farewell show, eh?"

Gypsy started to protest but Erskine gave his shoulder a warning squeeze." Now don't argue, son. Uncle Erskine knows what he's doing." He picked up Gypsy's costume for the next spot and handed it to Daniel who had been standing all this time in the bathroom door -way in shocked silence. "Take this upstairs, Danny Boy, and give it to Patrick. He's two inches taller than Gypsy so you'll have to do the fastest let down job on the hems you've ever done. Tell him he's dancing everything except the 'Bolero', Right, Danny Boy?" Erskine only used the name, 'Danny Boy' when he meant business. Daniel raced through the door with the costume, almost falling over Gypsy's stage manager on his way in. Erskine grabbed the man and said sweetly, "Charlie, I want you to talk nicely to your stagehands and find what stools or chairs you can lay his hands on, and place them on stage for Gypsy to use as required." Still smiling cheerfully, Erskine steered the bewildered man out of the room. Closing the door once more, Erskine leaned on it and folded his arms across his chest. "Now all you have to do is to park your arse on them seats for the rest of the show." To Monclare, he added, "Will that suit you, your lordship?"

As Monclare nodded his approval, Gypsy frowned deeply. "The show won't be the same without the 'Bolero'. That's the whole essence of it."

Manuel placed his hands on Gypsy's shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. The tension went out of Gypsy and he brought his hands up to cover his father's in a gesture of compliance, and their fingers entwined, one seeking support, the other giving it. Manuel smiled and said, "I have an idea."

At precisely eight forty five, the orchestra began to play the opening bars of Ravel's blood stirring 'Bolero'. I n the box, Trish caught her breath. Not wanting to leave the theatre as planned, she had persuaded Jo to stay wi th her, and now they sat on the edge of their seats as, the slim silhouette of a Spanish dancer appeared on the highest of four large round staggered platforms at the rear of the backlit stage . Dressed in the formal Spanish costume of tight pants, cropped bolero and flat crowned hat, he slowly came to life, haughty with exaggerated arrogance. Gypsy began the solo routine he had devised as a trainee dancer and perfected through the years, until it had become as much a trademark as his earrings. But where was Manuel? Why had he been called away just when Gypsy was about to bring the third part of the show to a triumphant end?

Suddenly Jo pointed to the darkened left hand side of the stage. At first Trish could see nothing but vague shadows. During the interval, the orchestra had been moved back to the pit and the huge stage was empty, except for the platforms and a trelliswork of scenic arches depicting Old Spanish architecture. Slowly, Trish's eyes made out a lone figure sitting on a high stool. Manuel! But he was playing the guitar the wrong way round.

As the dance progressed other dancers appeared as black silhouettes in the arches. Gypsy moved down the platforms till he reached the last one. Slowly the lights came up to reveal the colorful costumes of Old Spain in a lavish spectacle which brought the audience to its feet. Gypsy came forward to take an extra bow and the lone guitarist walked forward on elbow crutches, to join him, carrying a radio mike slung round his neck on a long key fob. The audience roared their applause once more as they realized that Gypsy had not danced the Bolero. The dancer smiled and waited for Gypsy to join him. He looked so like Gypsy and, as the applause died down, Gypsy raised the mike and said, "Well, hello Dad." Again, the audience roared their delight at the switch, as Gypsy pulled Manuel into a loose hug and introduced the famous classical guitarist, Manuel Diaz, as his dear father. Gypsy walked off with Manuel and, at last the tabs closed for the quick scene change to a plain backdrop of blue with carefully selected drapes and lighting. Gaskin and Co. made their debut as an independent act, filling in the ten minutes it would take Gypsy to change for the last and most important part of the show. They were accorded a marvelous response from a delighted audience; reprising the songs that had brought them fame; and bowing off as the tabs closed once more. The audience fell silent, waiting for the orchestra to play Gypsy onto the stage, waiting for the tabs to open and reveal London's Darling. Nothing happened!

Trish closed her eyes, not wanting to witness Gypsy and Sandy together; showing their friendship in public with millions watching. She felt Jo's hand closing over hers and she opened her eyes. The d elicate tones of the piano being played softly came to her ears as the tabs opened. The audience broke into spontaneous applause as they saw Gypsy, sitting on a silk draped stool, a small delicate figure in a white suit and a pale blue ruffled shirt. Sandy sat at the piano, a few feet , back and a little to the right of him. The audience fell silent, but Gypsy did not utter a note as he sat rock still. Sandy came to the end of the intro and stopped playing, hands hovering above the keys, eyes on Gypsy, waiting. Trish froze, almost forgetting to breathe. Down on the stage, Sandy watched Gypsy slowly raise his radio mike to within a few inches of his mouth. In a voice that threatened to break and fade away, he said, "Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, fr1ends, I would not be here tonight but for someone writing such wonderful songs for me to sing; songs which have kept Different Hats and I in the charts so consistently since we made our first record. Most of our hits were written by two very dear friends of mine; Kenny Gaskin, you already know as my base guitarist. The other guy is Sandy Roberts who, up until now, has in sisted on remaining anonymous while spending that last three years studying music, first at the Royal Academy and until recently with the famous Professor Claude Roget in Paris. Now his studies are over, I feel it is time he was introduced to the world; so, tonight it is my greatest pleasure and an honour to present to you one of Britain's most promising new composers, and soon to be signed up for work in Hollywood. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present Mister Davidd Sanderson Roberts."

Sandy died a thousand times as Gypsy turned to face him and raised his right hand towards him in acknowledgement. The audience went crazy, clapping furiously and whistling, and Sandy's knees trembled as Gypsy signaled for him to take a bow. He rose halfway from the stool, nodded his head and sat down again; wishing Gypsy would get on with the show. He glanced up at the box and spotted Trish, sitting rock still, and unsmiling. His fingers shook as he began the intro all over again, the audience fell silent again, but only till Gypsy began to sing and they recognized his latest hit which was riding high in the charts. As he sang, Gypsy's eyes often sought Sandy's as if to encourage him, but Sandy knew different. Each song had been carefully chosen to portray Gypsy as a lover in all his forms, heartbroken, happy, lonely, riding the clouds, thoughtful, whimsical and during several of them, there were tears glistening on his cheeks and mingling with the sweat that covered his face and neck. He was fighting the knowledge that this might be the last time he performed on a stage, and possibly never see his daughter or his new love ever again.

The tender words he sang were a release valve which no-one could detect save those who knew the truth. Obedient to Monclare's wishes, he used the stools and other seating arrangements; he even sat beside Sandy on the piano stool to sing a song with a faster beat that had the audience swaying happily together, Gypsy forcing Sandy to sing along with him to the delight of the audience; and beckoning Different Hats to come back on stage and sing with him as they had done in the past. And Sandy wondered what Trish was thinking at that moment, likewise his parents watching the T.V. in Trentham, and his relatives in Cardiff. What a bloody shock for them! But more important, this was better than a shot in the arm for Gypsy whose smile hid the pain he felt, and hid the grief in his heart. He knew he was not alone any more, thanks to Trish.

At the end of the medley, while the audience went wild, Gypsy let his head drop onto Sandy's shoulder and using the applause as a cover, he said, "I guess you will have to hold the fort for a few minutes, I have to get to the wings. Can you cope?"

"Hell," Sandy stared at the keys in panic, "what do I play?"

"You'll think of something," Gypsy replied, ri sing from the stool, "how about Opus 57?" and turning to the audience, said into the mike, "I think it is time I let you good people find out for yourselves just how wonderful a musician Sandy really is, don't you?"

Sandy didn't believe it, it just wasn't happening; Gypsy was walking off the stage and leaving him to stew in front of that cheering crowd, what did he want to go to the wings for anyway? He saw Gypsy practically fall into Ed's arms in the wings and once he was seated on a stool Ed took off his left boot and started massaging and kneading vigorously, Gypsy's face creased with pain as they fought the cramp together. Sandy saw Manuel hand him a glass of juice , watching anxiously while he drank it down with something Monclare offered him, then Gypsy glanced towards Sandy who came down to earth with a start and found the audience waiting patiently for him to begin playing. Sandy looked down at the keys and thought about Gypsy, his mother, and her words of wisdom on his wedding day, and he began to play Chopin's sweetest melody. Once he glanced towards the wings and Gypsy smiled sadly, poin ted to his own heart then at Sandy and blew him a kiss, at another time he saw two strange men trying to talk to Gypsy and prevented from doing so by Ed and Erskine who seemed quite angry with them. Manuel had his arm round Gypsy's shoulders and was reassuring him about something, and Gypsy himself looked pretty upset. At the same time the audience became restless, and a hushed whisper rippled through the auditorium. What did people know?

Sandy was glad when Gypsy limped back on stage and joined the audience in their enthusiastic applause, he came to the piano and made as if to shake his hand but his grip was too tight. He said above the cheering, "Someone has leaked something to the press. They know everything."

"What do you mean everything?"

"Erica; us; why Monclare is here; everything. But I don't care, Sandy, not any more. I think I've made contact with Lorna, she's near water somewhere; that's all I care about now."

"Are you sure it's her?"

Gypsy shook his head and said, "It was just a flash I had, but I can hope again, can't I?" Going back to the centre front of the stage, he sat back down on his stool and, with just Sandy playing for him, he sang his heart out with fresh tears in his eyes. When the last note died away, the audience were on their feet, yelling for more and showering the stage with flowers and ribbons, but Gypsy shook his head with a sad smile and bent to pick up some of the blossoms and held them to his face before rising to bow to the royal box and limping off the stage. Sandy saw Erskine grab him and try to turn him round but he shook his head firmly and strained against the man's arms. It was the audience, beginning to chant "We want 'Sad World, we want 'Sad World' and stamping their feet in time to their rhythmic handclaps, which brought him slowly round to face the stage once more. While everyone clustered round to give him en couragement, Ed handed him a tissue and he dabbed at his eyes with it; then he walked back onto the stage still carrying the flowers. The jubilant audience settled down in their seats and waited. Gypsy nodded to the con ductor in the pit and the orchestra began to play along with Sandy, and Gypsy began to sing.

He cried all the way through, the words having so much more meaning, now it was clear this was to be his last performance, and when t he song was ended, there were many handkerchiefs in the auditorium as they yelled for more and more. Gypsy shrugged his shoulders and looked at Erskine who nodded franticly, then glanced round at Sandy and shrugged his shoulders. Sandy remembered that Gypsy had rehearsed 'Sad World' as the only encore, expecting the program time to run out halfway through. It seemed to Sandy that Gypsy was stuck. Or was he?

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