The Cup Bearer
Saturday 24th August 1995
"I don't want to go anywhere," Gypsy grouched as Don fastened the buckles of his high-heeled boots for him. "Why don't you just leave me be?"
Don straightened up. "Look, pal, I've put up with your moods and your refusal to do anything for the last eight weeks. I've stayed in loads of nights just to nursemaid you, when I could have been out enjoying myself or getting work done at the garage, not to mention the hours I've spent giving you physiotherapy on your feet. For once I'm going out, and as I can't leave you here, you're coming with me. I promised Sandy I'd take him out as a thank you for putting up with you like he has, so just you stop being so bitchy and think about somebody else for change."
"You can't make me go."
"Oh, can't I! Just watch me. Come on, on your feet."
Seeing he was beaten but determined to sulk all night and make Don wish he'd left him at home, Gypsy stood up and shuffled to the door, mildly surprised at the support his new specially constructed boots gave his feet rather than making them hurt. On the way he caught a reflection of himself in the mirror and shuddered at the sight of his hair growing back uneven and spiky no matter how Perquita tried to keep it trimmed. "I look a sight!"
"Bid deal!" Don picked up Gypsy's treasured black sombrero and rammed it on his head. "Hide under that if you must, but I don't know why you're worrying, your hair looks no worse than most kids with their so called modern haircuts. And you can hardly see your scars unless you know about them. Thank the Lord they used a sharp blade on you and not some blunt DIY knife. You'd have something to moan about then, I can tell you. And stop shufflin'; you can walk well enough so don't try it on."
All the way to the Volvo Don had to keep a hand in the middle of his back. Wherever they were going, he wasn't going without a fight. It didn't seem to faze Don; the guy was out to enjoy himself, no matter what. They picked Sandy up at his house and Gypsy ignored him, feeling he was siding with Don the way he was grinning and exchanging secretive smiles with the guy. Gypsy sat in the back with his arms folded and stared out of the window till he noticed they were heading through Altrincham towards Stretford. He wanted to ask where they were going but he was damned if he was going to show any interest. He watched the landmarks pass by and realised they were approaching the Arndale Centre; then Don turned the car down a series of side streets till Gypsy was lost among warehouses and workshops. After several more turns Don drove the car slowly past a dilapidated warehouse with the name of "Bernie's' picked out in soft lighting above the entrance; Don turned the car into a covered parking lot next to it. "Bernie's?" The name rang a bell. "What is this place?"
"Somewhere where there's music and fun." Don said as he and Sandy got out of the car. Gypsy refused to budge and Don had to pull him out in the end. Locking the door he said sternly, "Just for your information, there's a surprise for you inside so just you stop acting like a mule ready to kick the world apart." Gypsy didn't miss the wink he gave Sandy who tried to look innocent but failed. Just what were these guys up to?
They reached the entrance to the club, a small brightly lit vestibule containing a desk and an oversized bouncer who grinned at Don, shook his hand and waved them through. "I thought kids weren't allowed in night-clubs?" Gypsy asked.
"This isn't a nightclub, sonny," the bouncer replied, "it's a music club with facilities for liquid refreshment." Before Gypsy could ask any more questions, Don grabbed him by his shirt collar and propelled him down the hall and through a beaded curtain into a dimly lit and rather smoky room. On the stage, a country and western group played reasonably well, except that the first string on the violin was slightly out of tune and the base drum hadn't been tightened up enough. He didn't suppose too many people noticed but to his highly sensitised ears it was naff. The place was small and crowded, with hardly any space between the tables. Through another doorway on the right, a small bar did a brisk trade. The punters made a fair amount of noise, but in contrast to the Irish club, the attention of this audience was focused on the group, the atmosphere totally different and the noise rising to a crescendo of applause when the current number came to an end.
A hand in his back moved him forward through the tables and Gypsy noticed several pairs of eyes stare at him. At one table he stopped and stared a man down before Don pushed him on towards a shadowy corner. Someone was already sitting there with his back to the room. As they reached the table he looked up, and Gypsy started in surprise. "Dad! What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you to arrive; you're late." Manuel smiled and indicated that Gypsy should take the seat to his left.
They sat down at the small square table and Gypsy felt really exposed. This was the first time he had been out in public and it was hard to take. "Could we change places, Dad?"
Gypsy wriggled in his seat. "People are staring at my face."
"That is something you are going to have to get used to if you want to be famous." Manuel exchanged knowing glances with Don. Sandy was in a happy world of his own, staring around at the crowd and watching the group with interest. Manuel exchanged pleasantries with Don and chatted about his latest successful tour; a short one this time in the Netherlands. No one seemed to notice Gypsy was with them. Even so, he kept his head down and wanted to run home and hide. Don bought a round of drinks, pints for him and Manuel and coke for Sandy and Gypsy; and still Gypsy was ignored and began to feel bored. The group left the stage and the curtains closed. After a few minutes delay, while the sound equipment was shifted about, a compere stepped in front of the curtains and took up the mike. "Tonight's guests, ladies and gentlemen, are on a European tour, and have travelled all the way from Nashville, Tennessee. We were lucky to have them break their busy schedule to be with us tonight. They are a band well known to Country Rock fans on both sides of the Atlantic. So without further ado will you please welcome Hoss Linger and The Pulaski Five!"
Nashville? The Pulaski Five? Gypsy sat up straight in his chair as the curtains were drawn back, and the new band appeared. Hoss Linger? Couldn't be! No way!
Gypsy fixed his eyes on the leader, a large, grey haired man with a Bill Cody moustache and beard. Hoss Linger! It could be no other. How on hearth had he found his way into this tiny dive? In seconds the band were into their first number, and Gypsy forgot his own problems as he was transported back to the heady days of Country music, when Hoss was a frequent visitor to Tony's home and the first to take notice of Gypsy's musical talents on a professional level. " Oh, no; the figurine." Gypsy clapped his right hand over his eyes and wished for invisibility. If he sees me, he'll want to know if I still have it. Gypsy hunched down in his seat and tipped his hat further down over his eyes.
At the end of a number, instead of starting another, Hoss took up the hand mike and smiled at the audience. "Thank you folks; it's a pleasure to be here again in Stretford. I remember you folks giving us such a warm welcome last year and I hope we can bring just a little bit of the Nashville magic to you if only for a few hours. We've got a lot more songs to sing for you but before we do, I'd like to introduce you to a young fella who's gonna be a big star one day or I'll eat my best Stetson. The last time I saw him in action was two years ago when he won a junior talent contest down in Nashville. He sure showed us old ones a thing or two that night. He's somewhere in the audience tonight and I'm gonna ask him to step up here and join us in a couple of songs." Gypsy froze in his seat as Hoss shielded his eyes and pretended to search for him. No, I can't do it. Not with my face like this. He realised Manuel and Don were smiling at him. So was Sandy.
This was a fix! No wonder Don had insisted he wore his black outfit and hat. No, he definitely couldn't go up.
"Ladies and gentlemen, he seems a little shy so why don't you help him up here by welcoming the young fella who now calls himself Gypsy Diaz. Come on, young fella I want a few words with you."
As the audience cheered and clapped, Gypsy glared his anger at Don and his father, but a spotlight picked him out and it was useless to refuse the invite. He rose to his feet and tried to keep his face averted from the spotlight as he inched his way between the chairs. Before he could make his way to the door leading back-stage, Hoss Linger leaned down and offered his hand. Gypsy took it and found himself hoisted onto the stage. Thinking about the figurine, his cheeks burned as Hoss kept hold of his hand and shook it.
Don loved the success of their ruse and joined in the applause, knowing Gypsy would find a way to pay him back. Manuel leaned across the table to speak above the din, "Do you think he will ever forgive us?"
Don grinned. "Of course not, any more than he'll forgive you for doing a deal with Hoss Linger. He's the guy who found you, isn't he?"
"Yes. Edward went through some of Tony Grafton's papers and found a letter from Hoss, so he sent him the letter Gypsy wrote and Hoss promised to put out a search for me among his friends. When he found out where I was, he came to see me personally. He shook me by the hand, gave me the letter with a huge grin on his face and said, "Congratulations, Mr. Diaz, it's a boy." I was what do you say over here, gob-smacked, when I read the letter and realised what he meant."
Don laughed. "I wish I'd seen your face; it must have been a picture. It's great the way things turn out in the end. When you contacted me and said Linger was due to fly over for a short tour, I was only too happy to fix it with Bernie for him to play here. If this doesn't get Gypsy back on track, I don't know what will." He nudged Sandy sitting beside him. "That was a smart move you made, kid, making him play the guitar right handed."
While Sandy smiled bashfully and brought out his Minox and correlated flash, Don glanced towards the stage where Hoss was clapping Gypsy on the shoulder and introducing him to the band. He knew what was coming next, and watched as the man asked Gypsy a question. When Gypsy shook his head, he produced Gypsy's own blue fronted electric guitar from the wings; sneaked out of the house by the back door by Perquita to where Gary Norton waited in the entry behind the house, it had been delivered backstage just minutes before they arrived. Gypsy glared directly at Don who smiled back at him and raised a hand in a lazy salute as a thought smashed into his mind. 'I owe you, Clooney .'
Tullahoma Stomp was the first number they played, and in no time at all, Gypsy had warmed up and was rocking with Hoss behind the mikes. His scars forgotten, except for the slight pulling of his mouth to the right in a Johnny Cash way, he looked better than ever. Don saw Manuel smiling at him as the same thought crossed their minds. Gypsy no longer looked young and angelic but meaner and more determined. Perhaps fate would turn a tragedy into a triumph after all.
His face splitting in an ear-to-ear grin, Sandy exchanged a victory handshake with Don. "It 'asn't made a bit of difference, man. 'E's singin' just as good as ever." Lifting his camera to his eye he started snapping his mate.
It was the first time Don had actually heard Gypsy sing or watch him perform, except in rehearsals, and it was a treat to sit back and enjoy the boy's performance; more so when Gypsy suddenly said something in Hoss's ear and the musician announced to the delighted audience who Gypsy's famous father was, and insisted on Manuel joining them on stage.
Don roared with laughter as Manuel rose reluctantly to his feet. "There you go, Manuel. I bet you didn't think he'd get his own back on you so soon. I just wonder what he's going to do to me."
A suitable guitar was found for Manuel and while the band took a rest at the back of the stage, the Diaz duo entertained everyone with a pleasing selection of Spanish songs, their voices harmonising flawlessly; with Gypsy's reaching the high notes so easily. By the end of their impromptu performance, Don noticed Gypsy was beginning to look more relaxed. That made Don feel good, and he decided another round of drinks was called for.
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