The Bull Singer
Like all normal teenagers, I was sick of being stuck in a hospital bed, even if it was one of undeniable luxury with visits from my favourite pop star. I could have anything and everything I wanted; I only had to ask. Also Gypsy kept showering me with presents, and I met his wife and kids, but I still felt I ought to be back in Bristol to help Ricky and the gang sort out Harold's memorial concert. Brydie and John were busy sorting out Mum's and Gramp's affairs and had told me about Dad's involvement with Angela Street. I couldn't believe it at first, when John told me, but now, after thinking about it, I should have picked up on some of his dirty deeds. How could I have believed him when he said Brydie never wrote to me? And I should have suspected that Mum was being drugged to make her so simple minded. Oh well, he was out of my life and Mum was getting better now she was home and had come to see me. Brydie and John were due to return to Sydney after Christmas but they had employed an old friend of Mum's to live with her as her companion. Belle was a lovely lady and I knew Mum would be well looked after. Me, I just wanted to get back to what I did best, dancing and singing. I also wondered if I would ever see Mr. Alton again, and I felt warmth spread through me. He was a nice guy, and Ricky was lucky to have him as an uncle. Well, he had promised to come and see me hadn't he?
I opened my eyes and there was Gypsy Diaz with yet another bouquet of beautiful blooms; flowers in December? Oh well, I suppose when you've got his kind of money, anything is possible. He laid the flowers in my lap and studied me carefully. "You look like you've lost a million pounds and found a penny."
I put on my best smile for him. "Hi Gypsy, I'm okay."
"But bored as hell, huh? Tell you what; some friends and I are here to give the kids in the children's ward a bit of a lift. Why don't you come with me?"
"That would be nice but -."
"No buts." Gypsy walked back into his lounge and returned pushing a wheelchair; not a normal hospital type but a really up to date one, all shining chrome and a thick fleece cushion. He helped me out of bed, grabbed the ring cushion I had been sitting on, dropped it on the fleece and said, "Your chariot awaits, sir. Come on, let's go and have some fun." He pushed me out of the suite and down the corridor to where the children's ward had a large music room attached to it. Lots of kids, and some parents, were already there and cheered madly when we went in. My jaw dropped when I saw who 'the friends' were; only his band, Different Hats. Instead of being on the low stage, they had set up the instruments in the middle of the room with the kids seated round them. There was nothing like getting up close to the band to make a kid feel good. And music was always a good healer.
Gypsy introduced me to the band members and parked me close to an electric piano, and sat down, played a few notes. They played a couple of their old hits, and then Gypsy addressed his audience. "We have someone with us today who has done a bit of singing himself. His name is Stevie and I think we can persuade him to join us in a song or two; what do you think, kids?"
As the kids yelled their approval, one of Gypsy's band handed me a radio mike and turned it on, not that it was normally needed in such a small space, but the band were making enough noise that it made sense to use it. Gypsy picked some well-known songs for me, like 'Dancing in the street' and 'Hey Baby', encouraging the kids, and their parents to join in with me leading. Soon, I was just like any other kid in the room, forgetting the problems of my recovering body, and it took me back to the days I spent busking with Ricky and getting the people on the street to join in, either dancing or singing. And here I was, singing with a band. I loved it and didn't want it to end; but eventually it was time for the kids to go and have their supper and go to bed. I was busy watching the band pack up their instruments and didn't realise someone else had come into the room. I looked up and thought I was seeing things. I felt my heart lurch and the blood rushed to my cheeks. Mr. Alton nodded to Gypsy and headed straight towards me, a warm smile on his face.
"Hi, Mr. Alton!"
He looked round before saying, "Mr. Alton? That's funny! I don't see my dad around here. He's up north, minding the farm. Why don't you call, me Mags?" He pulled up a chair and sat down facing me, taking hold of my right hand. "It's nice to see you out of bed for a change. How are you?"
"Erm... I'm okay, thanks, Mr.....I mean Mags." I looked down at our clasped hands and blushed, an even deeper red. Um...how are Ricky and the baby?"
"As right as they'll ever be. Ricky went to court this morning and gained legal custody of his son. He's named him Harry, after Harold Briggs."
"That's good. Ricky told me he was having trouble with Jenny's parents."
"Not any more. Prescott's in jail and Mrs. Prescott stuck up for Ricky in court. So, it looks like Harry's got himself a loving granny."
At that moment, Gypsy cell phone rang and he talked quietly for a few seconds, and then turned to face us. "Sorry guys, there's another kid in trouble and we need to move."
I watched the band and Gypsy walk away, their gear still half packed, and all of a sudden, I felt tongue-tied. I looked up at Mags and found him gazing at me with a strange look of amusement on his face. "What will you do when you get out of here?"
I shrugged my right shoulder. My left one still didn't work properly. "Go home, I suppose."
"To your Mum?"
"I suppose so. But if I do I'll miss being with Ricky."
I shrugged my shoulder again. "He's a good dancer; we dance well together, and he said we could perhaps get together. Or maybe not, now his brother's with him. They'll want to be together, won't they?"
"Maybe, maybe not; who's to say there won't be a threesome?" Suddenly he let go of my hand, looked at his watch and stood up. "I think it's time you went back to your room and had some supper. Come on, I'll push you." As he bent to release the brakes, I caught a whiff of his aftershave, and felt I could live with that.
Mags wheeled me back to the suite and pushed the chair up to the bed. I started to push myself up off the cushion but doing it one handed proved too difficult. Mags pulled the sheets down, and turned to slip his arms under my thighs and round my back. In seconds I was in his arms with my face close to his. The last time my dad ever held me like this was on my tenth birthday. After that, he considered me too old for hugs or playing with me. Now here was Mags, holding me close, and it was nice. I leaned my head closer, and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. For a second I felt his mouth press into mine, and then we were staring at each other and wondering what would happen next. I put my free arm round his neck and laid my head on his shoulder, and I foolishly hoped he wouldn't put me down on the bed too soon. He held me for about a minute; then Mags cleared his throat. "I...er...think I ought to get you into bed." The spell I had woven for myself faded away. And I fought hard to hide my disappointment. Oh well, it was just a teenager's dream. What would a guy like him want with a kid like me?
He lowered me to the bed, put the ring under me and drew the sheets back up. I couldn't look at him; I had made a fool of myself and I was so ashamed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Hey! I'm flattered. No harm done."
I looked up at him in surprise; "Really?"
His answer was to lean down and kiss me quickly. "Supper will be here soon, and I have to get back to Bristol. I'll come and see you tomorrow, if I can."
"I'd like that," I whispered, and let him go. That night I slept like a log, no pain, and no nightmares. And the nurse told me I had a smile on my face when she woke me up the next morning.
In an exclusive club in the heart of Bristol, the dancers were thick on the floor. Both the ground floor and upper floor bars were busy; and undercover cop, Johnny Banksom, was sure there would be no trouble tonight. He wandered around, nursing a pint, looking, watching without being watched. He was a regular here and no one bothered to approach him. But it wasn't the punters he was interested in. Every so often he let his eyes sweep over the notice board pinned to the wall by the bar. After two hours, his patience was rewarded when someone slipped into the main hallway and pinned a note to the nearest board, then left as quickly as he had entered, but not fast enough that Johnny couldn't take a quick snap of him while pretending to text a message on his camera phone. Before he left the club, he chatted for a few minutes with the bouncers while taking a look at the notice. He had the bouncers laughing about mug-shots and showed them his new phone. They asked him to take a shot of the two of them with their arms round each other's shoulders. He showed them the result and promised them a copy each next time he was in the club. What they didn't know was that, behind them and to the right of the smaller guy's head, was a perfect shot of the note. All across England, similar notes were being discovered, reading "Administration Notice. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the committee has decided not to continue with the Paradise Project." All the notes had the same three red dots in the top left hand corner. When the police raided the clubs in the early hours of the morning, they found that a member of the Bristol club was one James Prescott, and a member of the Manchester branch was John Faring. Also, police raiding the Bristol club found John Faring's original note, asking for the whereabouts of Peter Crayel, in a waste bin in the back yard. Walker thanked the club, in spirit at least, for being so careless with their rubbish.
The Old Clay Theatre fell silent as a small figure in a smart suit and bow tie walked out of the wings to address the audience. "My Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress, Ladies and gentlemen, friends, thank you for joining us today to honour the memory of Harold Briggs; a man who lived with only one thought; to give disadvantaged kids the chance to blossom in the world of stage and music. He didn't have much money; in fact this old theatre and the cottage he lived in were the only things he owned. And he spent most of his meagre finances in keeping this place open so that kids like me could develop our skills in a safe environment. He never cared what we looked like, whether our hair was brown, black, blue or with red streaks; he never cared if your dad had pots of money or drew a weekly benefit payment, or if you were living on the streets; and he certainly didn't care if you liked Wagner or the Beetles. He just did what was needed for us. Over the years, most of you have attended the concerts and other musical events including the pantomimes he produced here, and are familiar with the results of his endeavours. Today, the members of Claythorn theatre group would like to honour Harold by performing some of his favourite pieces of music and showing you parts of the Christmas show which was to be performed next week. Harold will always be remembered by all the cast as a good friend and mentor. I will now hand you over to his closest friend who has kindly agreed to act as today's compare; Ladies and gentlemen; Mr. Josh Bennett!"
While the audience applauded the appearance, onstage, of Harold's friend, and Ricky walked off, I was aware of a movement behind me as I sat in what had once been the Royal Box. Mags appeared at my side, gave me a weak smile and took the seat next to mine. I studied him closely. He didn't seem his old confident self. "What's up, Mags?"
"Um nothing; just a bit tired, that's all. But I wouldn't have missed this for the world. Ricky looks good, doesn't he?" The applause died down and Josh spoke a few words about his friend, then introduced the choir, made up of most of the older performers, who sang a lively gospel style version of the hymn 'Let It Shine' with Ricky accompanying them on a beautiful grand piano. When the curtain came down, the choir left the stage and there was a short pause before the sound of a large organ, playing hits from shows on Broadway, came to our ears. Below the Royal Box, a railed off portion of the auditorium floor slid down a foot then back to one side to reveal a magnificent Wurlitzer organ rising up out of the basement. As the lights twinkled all over it, Ricky sat at the console, playing Harold's favourite songs. Mags and I sat, gob-smacked, at the confidence Ricky showed as his fingers flew with practised ease over the keyboards.
Several members of the cast appeared onstage to sing and dance the parts from the shows, and this was followed by sections of the cast coming on to do their solo pieces, from kids still in their primary school years, to seniors about to go to college, Throughout the show, Ricky seemed to be everywhere, doing all sorts, from playing his guitar and singing, to dancing with the groups or dressed up in a silly costume to help move the scenery and props accompanied by crazy music-hall music. I wondered whether it was good for him to do so much after his op. I'd had mine done a week before his and I still didn't feel one hundred percent. I cast an occasional glance at Mags to see if he was enjoying the show, and each time he seemed to be off in a world of his own; not really watching what was happening below us. Maybe he was tired after all. He had been running round, helping the police tie up loose ends and keeping tabs on Ricky and I, and Stevie's family. Surely he had to stop sometime!
After the show, the cast gathered onstage to accompany Ricky and Josh over to the church across the road, where Harold's funeral service was to take place. I slipped up to Ricky and took hold of his hand, and watched with pride as the shocked cast realised their eyes weren't playing tricks on them. I was introduced to everyone and we made our way out of the theatre for the last time.
The funeral was a simple one, after which Ricky and his friends parted company, and Josh said he would meet us at Harold's Cottage. Rosie and Mrs. Prescott had prepared a light afternoon tea, "Just like Harold used to enjoy," Rosie explained. Jesse and Jeremy arrived and we sat and chatted while we waited for Josh to arrive. When he did, things lost their light-hearted tone as we talked about more serious stuff, like the sale of the theatre. Josh presented Ricky with a cheque for four hundred thousand pounds, and a promise that the Wurlitzer would be lifted and transported to a holding warehouse by the British Organ Preservation Society, to be stored until such time as Ricky decided where to put it. Then it was Jesse's turn to speak.
"What are your feelings about going home, Joey?"
As I was about to reply, Mags's cell phone rang and he went out into the hall to answer it in private. I said, "Much as I'd like to go home, I have no need to hurry back for the show, so, I'd like to stay here with Ricky and the baby for a bit; perhaps spend Christmas with them."
Ricky and I were sitting on the sofa, with Harry sleeping in the crook of Ricky's left arm. Ricky reached over and gave my left hand a squeeze. "I'd like that too, bro, but I think your family will be worrying about you. I'll come and visit soon, I promise."
"Hey! They're not just my family, they're your family too, you know. In any case, you're the most important person to me now; you and Harry, and Pete."
Jesse had stepped out into the hall to talk to Mags for a moment. When she returned, she cleared her throat to stop us making doe eyes at each other. "Why don't you two compromise? Mags and Joey have to appear in court over the next few weeks, and I'm sure the family up north would love to meet Harry. Why don't you let me drive you both home to Little Fordham? Then you can spend Christmas together."
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the look of disappointed on Jill Prescott's face. At the same time I heard the front door open and close and wondered who had left the cottage. "What about Mrs. Prescott?"
Mrs. Prescott looked up and frowned at us. "What about me?"
"You are Harry's grandmother. What do you think of the idea?"
"Me? Well, I'll certainly miss the company and having Harry to look after. Mrs. Crayel and her mother have gone to Manchester to see Peter."
"And Christmas isn't the time to be alone." Ricky stood and placed Harry in his grandmother's arms. "Why don't you come with us? We'll need someone to help us with Harry."
Jill's eyes filled with tears. "I don't know what to say; that's very kind of you to offer, but-."
"No buts," Jesse said in her 'I'm in charge' voice. "It's settled then. We're all going home to Fordham. If Tinkerbelle needs us he'll know where to find us."
"Tinkerbelle?" Jill gave us all a blank look.
Jeremy chuckled as he got stiffly to his feet. "All will be explained in time, dear lady. We have an ulterior motive for asking you all to come home. We can't have a wedding without you boys to sing the anthems."
"Jerry! You promised." Jessie looked daggers at him.
"Not to worry, my sweet Pippin; you were dying to tell them the good news anyway."
After congratulatory hugs had been dispensed with, Ricky stood looking at the cheque Josh had given him. "What are you going to do with all that money, bro," I asked him.
He smiled, and I knew he was planning something. "I wonder who owns the Luxor in Fordham; I think I might just buy it."
"Well why don't we ask Mags? It's his aunt who rents it."
"Yeah, good idea; where is he?"
"I shouldn't worry about him," Jessie replied. "He's got a date with a blonde."
More adventures of Mags and the twins in the new story called D'Marco, which follows on from here ~ DJ
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