The Cup Bearer
"Oh, wow!" Sandy and the boys stared in amazement at the two synthesisers set up at right angles to the left corner of Maria's upright grand piano, and the integrated tape deck, sound mixer and amplifiers connected to five new microphones standing in middle of the, now carpetless, floor. Gypsy looked happy at their reaction. "My dad thought we needed a little help so he had these little beauties sent down from Manchester. He must have arranged everything before he went back on tour; I was just as surprised as you when they arrived. Dad's a pro and it says something if he has this much confidence in us, considering all he's heard of us has been the tapes we made when we first decided to get together. It's up to us now to really work at being a band and show him he's put his money on the right horse. What do you say?"
"I say okay!" Gaskin's grin widened as he went out into the hall to bring his guitar case in. He chose a mike to stand behind. "Well don't just stand there, let's go to work."
Tuesday 4 th June 1995
Jose ripped off the blindfold and stared out of the car window at the rundown cottage. He got out and looked all around the place; nothing but fields and trees for miles around except for one house in the far distance the size of a palace and just visible through the trees. Terry led him to the front door, unlocked it and pushed Jose in ahead of him. He didn't see much at first but as his eyes got used to the dimness he made out a bulky figure rising from an armchair by an empty fireplace.
The man held his arms open for Jose to run into. They hugged each other for a long time. "I've missed you, son."
"I've missed you too, Dad." Jose gazed up into his father's face and added, "I've really, really missed you." He hoped his dad understand what he meant.
Guido raised his eyes to Terry. "Wait in the car." Terry gave him a smug look and left the cottage, locking the door behind him. Taking hold of Jose's right hand Guido led him up a flight of steep stairs and into a bedroom. There, he closed the door and turned to place his hands on Jose's shoulders. Looking him up and down, he smiled softly. "I too, have really, really missed you." He lowered his head to give the boy a very un-fatherly kiss.
Sandy didn't think they would have the same enthusiasm for another session so soon and was delighted when all six members of the band gathered at Gypsy's house just after seven and put pressure on Gypsy to pull the sounds they made to pieces. They wanted to know how to analyse their faults and put the whole thing back together, bar by bar, phrase-by-phrase, till they had their first number sounding as smooth as silk. Each player blended his sound with the others, feeding off each other for harmony and their own unique sound while practising their stage choreography at the same time. The result wasn't perfect but if they worked this hard, as often as their school homework allowed, Sandy was sure they would succeed.
Throughout the session, he watched Gypsy listening for faults while freely giving them the benefit of his experience, and without offending any of them. It was easy for them all to lose themselves in the sounds they were making, and it was only when they paused for a break that they realised someone was ringing the front door bell.
Perquita had taken Maria and Ramon to the pictures (movies), Jose had gone to a mate's house for a sleep over and Lucia was tucked up in bed, so it was left to one of the boys to answer the door. Gary came back, casting his eyes to the ceiling as a sign of trouble. He was followed into the room by an elderly whippet of a lady whose face reminded Sandy of the Wicked Witch of the West. She glared round the room, pointed her nose to the ceiling and sniffed rather scornfully. Behind her was a tall, mousy looking lady Sandy recognised as Gypsy's next-door neighbour, Mrs. Cole. From her look of apology, and the older lady's expression, Sandy smelled trouble.
The older lady fixed her gimlet eyes on Gypsy and said in a voice which would have done Lady Bracknell proud, "Young man, I am Mrs. Cole's mother. Are you responsible for the noise I have been hearing through the wall between this room and my daughter's front lounge?"
"We all are," Gaskin said in Gypsy's defence. "What's wrong with it?"
The gimlet eyes flashed at him. "I was not addressing you, young man; I was addressing the owner of this house. If you had any manners you would wait until your were spoken to. And I would also have been offered a chair by now." Gary sprang to her assistance and when she and her daughter were seated, she said to Gypsy. "I suppose you are attempting to form a band of some sort."
"If the noise bothers you -." Gypsy began, but the lady waved at him to be quiet.
She sat ramrod straight with her hands folded neatly on her lap. "Play me something."
"What?" Gypsy stared in surprise at her.
"Don't say what; say I beg your pardon. I want to hear what you can do."
Sandy exchanged looks of astonishment with the boys, and Gypsy signalled for them to play the number they had just been rehearsing. James Taylor's hit 'You got a Friend' which Gypsy himself had chosen for its simplicity while giving them an opportunity to really sound out the new equipment. They played it through twice without too many hitches and when they finished they looked towards the old lady for her reaction. There was no change in her stony expression whatsoever. "Is that all you can play? Can't you play anything different; something a little livelier?"
"My mother means something that one can dance to," her daughter explained.
Again the boys exchanged questioning looks and Gypsy said, "I'm sorry, that's the only one we've practised thoroughly."
The old lady's creased into a frown of irritation. "You can improvise, I hope?"
Before anyone else could deny it, Sandy turned round to face the synthesisers and began to play 'La Bamba', guessing Gypsy knew the lyrics and hoping the others would not leave him on his own. Gary took up the rhythm, Gaskin came in on base, and the backing was set for Gypsy to sing and play lead guitar. At the end, all eyes turned towards the old lady who was watching them with a not so stony expression. She harrumphed and shifted on her chair, sniffed and said, "If you expect to become one of these groups those silly girls scream and faint over, you'll need to work hard. And you'll need somewhere to rehearse where you won't blast your neighbours' eardrums. Now I haven't come to complain, although I would rather listen to Chopin than all this modern rubbish. I'm not here because of what I like but what my son liked. He owned a record company, albeit a small one, and when he died last year he left a legacy of five thousand pounds in his will to help promote a new group; having known personally what it is like to struggle at the bottom. Heaven knows why he should give me the task of deciding which group should benefit from the legacy. I have not the slightest interest in this loud and indelicate rubbish you call music these days. So, you will have to please me, won't you; if you want the money that is?"
She looked as if she was about to get to her feet, when a crafty thought came to Sandy. With a smile he turned to the piano and began to play the opening bars of Mozart's Concerto Number nineteen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gypsy signal for Gaskin to hand him his flute and together they played the piece that had become their own private duet. It was the first time they had ever played it in front of an audience and when they brought it to a gentle close he almost heard Gaskin and Co. sigh with delight. He looked at the old lady and saw a slightest softening of her features. She was staring fixedly at Gypsy and he returned her stare for several seconds before she suddenly realised she was staring.
She cleared her throat and rose to her feet. "Find somewhere else to rehearse and you will hear of my decision in due course." She paused on the way out of the room to add, "Remember, you're not the only group I will be vetting. Good day."
It was a while before the seven young musicians came out of the trance the old lady had left them in. They whooped and hugged each other but Sandy dampened things by saying, "You heard what she said though. Where are we going to find a place to rehearse in this town?"
Gypsy smiled. "That's easy. Don Clooney's flat."
As the front door of the adjoining house closed behind the two ladies, the older one's face wrinkled into a crafty smile. "I did enjoy that."
Mrs. Cole gave a knowing shake of her head. "Mother, you are a wicked, wicked woman."
"Nonsense! Come on; we've got some phone calls to make."
" Hello, Guido. "
" Chezney? What are you doing here?"
"Well that's a nice way to greet someone who's come down from the Farm to see his old pal, I must say!"
"You wouldn't visit your own mother if she were at death's door so don't try that on me. The Boss has sent you, hasn't he?"
"Well, he thought you might need a little help. That stepson of yours is getting dangerous, Guido. He's named too many faces. He also likes picking up strange men in amusement arcades, men who always seem to end up in custody including four of ours who've given us the same description of one of the boys they were about to secure for the Farm. The Boss doesn't like that, Guido. You promised the Boss you'd shut the kid up proper; he wants to know what the delay is."
"I'm still not one hundred percent yet, what does he expect?"
"Not too sick to carry on grooming that lad of yours, from what I hear."
"The Boss knows he's not the only one who wants the boy out of the way. I want him marked so he'll remember how much trouble he caused me, and my lad wants to pay him back for taking his father away from him."
"Do you trust him?"
"More than I trust you, Chezney. Like father like son, my boy is."
"That stepson of yours really made a mess of your face, Guido, I'll say that. He seems to know what to do with his hands and feet."
"He's been a trouble to me since he was born, Chezney. Tell the boss I'll see to it my boys to make a good job on the boy. What he and his friend did to my nose is nothing to what he's going to get. That'll stop his trips to the one armed bandits."
"They better had, for Jimmy Boy's sake."
"Tell the Boss not to worry, the friends I have in mind are good."
"What about the minder?"
"They'll take him out him first."
"Well make it snappy while the kid's still shackled by that injury."
Thursday 6 th June 1995
Sandy arrived at Visick Street at seven o'clock. Rehearsal for tonight was not on the agenda but he and Gypsy had agreed to get their heads round the problem of arranging songs to suit the band. He parked his bike round the side of the house where no one would trip over it and trotted round to the front door, rang the bell and waited. The space, where the Volvo was normally parked since Don had moved in, was empty, and Don's blue Rover was missing as well, which was odd; the man couldn't drive two cars at once. He was still puzzling it out when the door opened and Perquita stood smiling at him. "Hi! I thought you were Mrs Sykes." She led the way into the kitchen where Joe was unpacking a pile of midweek groceries.
"Where is everybody, then?"
"Mrs Sykes disappeared sometime today and hasn't come back yet, so Jose and I have had to do the shopping and we've only just got back. Maria's gone to pick Lucia up from a party, and I don't know where Gypsy is. He may be upstairs."
Sandy made the trek up to Gypsy's new room on the first floor and found it empty, and returned to the kitchen. "Perhaps Don's taken 'im somewhere, the Rover's gone, but so 'as the Volvo."
"Perhaps they've gone to fetch Ramon from Thursday Club," Jose offered. "That's usually Mrs. Sykes' job but we don't know where she is and we were late getting back from the supermarket; and Maria wasn't here. He'd have to go wouldn't he? He can't walk properly yet, so Don must have taken him. Mystery solved!" Jose grinned and stuffed a chocolate muffin in his mouth. Perquita snatched the packet off him before he ate the lot.
"Don can't drive two cars, can he?" Sandy turned to go back up the hall. "I'll go and watch out for them." He got no further than opening the front door. Ramon barged past him yelling and crying, with tears streaming down his agitated face. He was yelling something in Spanish and Sandy had to wait till Perquita calmed him down and questioned him. Horror filled her features her hands flew to her face, her eyes wide with alarm.
Sandy grabbed Jose by the arm as he began to run for the front door. "What's happened?"
"Gypsy's been taken. Ramon saw it all."
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