The Cup Bearer
Leaving Sandy busy with his camera, Don made his way to the bar and found himself standing not far from where Bernie himself was serving. His friend of many years was a small ferret of a man with a quick eye for a deal. He spotted Don almost immediately and jerked his head towards the music room. "You've got a hot one there, Clooney, and I'm not the only one who thinks that way." He jerked thumb towards the other end of the bar and indicated that Don should move down there with him. Standing at the end was a monster of a man, a positive caricature of a boxing promoter complete with bowler hat and overcoat, and a white silk scarf draped round his neck. The man was holding an enormous, unlit cigar between right thumb and index finger as if it were a delicate bauble; little finger pointing to the ceiling. Bernie introduced him as Erskine Trumble then went off to finish serving someone further along the bar. After they shook hands, Erskine inclined his heavy cheeked face towards Don. "Would you mind telling me where you found that young man?" His voice was low and gravely and he spoke perfect English flavoured with a hint of Cockney.
"I didn't find him anywhere." Don reached for the pint Bernie had just brought him. "I'm his minder."
"Really! There is no mistaking who the other gentleman is; like peas in a pod."
Don wasn't sure where this was leading. "And who might you be?"
"You might say I am a minder too, or was; in the entertainment business of course. I have managed quite a number of youngsters in the past, and the right artiste who wants to be mothered might induce me to come out of retirement as you might say."
Don caught on at last, and turned back to his pint. "I don't think so."
"And why not, may I ask?"
Don suddenly had a horrible feeling he might lose Gypsy. "He's still at school."
"Indeed! How old is he?"
"Really! What happened to his face?"
Don started to feel riled. "Someone didn't like it. Look, Pal, I don't know what your game is with all these questions but I'll tell you now, he's not for sale, okay?"
The man smiled, clamped his cigar between his teeth and reached into his breast pocket. Producing a business card he dropped it onto the bar top in front of Don. "It isn't a case of buying, Mr. Clooney. It's a case of protecting. There are too many fish that would let that young man swim into the mighty ocean without showing him the right way to avoid the sharks of the entertainment business; and believe me there are far too many. That young man will need swimming lessons if you understand me. Does he sing anything else?"
"Depends on what the customer wants, why?"
"I would like to hear what else he can do." Trumble tapped the card. "Ring me."
As Don picked up the card and dropped it onto a tray of drinks, compliments of Bernie, a roaring cheer and furious clapping heralded the end of the Diaz interlude. Don carried the tray back to their table and found Gypsy and his father already making the way to the table, hampered by an ecstatic audience wanting to shake their hands and pat them on the back. Manuel was coping with the adulation calmly enough and was responding with smiles and a few 'thankyous' here and there, but Gypsy hardly reacted at all, seeming not to want to shake anyone's hand. When they were seated again and the drinks handed round, Don turned to Gypsy who was sitting with his head down and his hands hidden beneath the table. "You could have shown a little more courtesy to your audience." Before Gypsy could reply there was a shout from the stage and Hoss Linger was calling for him to join them on stage once more. This time the music was of the kind that had made Hoss Linger and his band famous; Old Fashioned Gospel. Don thought Gypsy would not want to join in, but to his amazement Gypsy seemed to know all the songs and sang along enthusiastically with Hoss. Once he was allowed to come back to the table he got a standing ovation that made him smile and nod his head in acknowledgement. On reaching the table he dropped wearily into his chair and grabbed for his coke.
Don noticed him wince as he lifted the glass. "What wrong with your hand?" This caused Manuel and Sandy to stop talking. Gypsy raised his head to stare at Don with eyes full of pain then he raised his hands for them to see. Both hands were swollen and the fingertips on his right hand, unused to doing the work the hardened fingertips on his left hand usually did, were split and threatening to bleed.
"You have done too much too soon!" Manuel said in alarm. "Don, get some ice please." Don thrust his way through the tables in a hurry but Bernie had a better idea and made them bring Gypsy backstage where he sat him down in his office and raided his ice machine for two large bowls of the stuff.
Once Manuel had gently pushed Gypsy's hands into the ice, Gypsy said, "My feet don't feel so good either." It took several painful minutes for Don to ease his boots off, and they all stared in dismay at the state of Gypsy's feet before Bernie gave them the same treatment.
"Well. I guess that cuts out any ideas of a return visit for a while." Don gazed ruefully at the damage. When Gypsy asked him what he meant, he showed him Trumble's card and told him of the man's interest.
Gypsy studied the card for a moment then looked down at Bernie who was kneeling in front of him and supervising the insertion of his feet into the ice. "Is he straight, this Erskine Trumble?"
Bernie chuckled as he straightened up and reached for the towel he had brought with him. "There's no such thing as a straight manager in the music world, son. They have to know all the tricks of the trade and how to use them so that kids like you don't suffer. I'll tell you this much about that wheeler-dealer, it isn't his clients who get fleeced. He's one of the best in the business, or was till he retired. His family's been in the entertainment business for donkey's years. His granddad ran a vaudeville show in the eighteen nineties, his father ran his own orchestra in a swank hotel somewhere, his mother was a classical singer and also taught singing, and that's how they met. Then his dad died and his mother married again and the boy and girl from that marriage weren't musical at all although the boy did go into the recording business for a time till he died last year. At least you're dealing with someone who knows the entertainment world inside out."
Gypsy's eyes sought Manuel's. "What do you think?"
Manuel shook his head. "I can't comment. In the classical world things are slightly different. My maestro was also my manager. That is an arrangement I agreed to when he first offered to tutor me for nothing, and I have never had cause to regret the arrangement. I know many who have not been as fortunate as I."
Gypsy studied the card again. "This is a London address."
In answer to what was on his mind, Bernie reached out and turned the card over to reveal a Manchester number scrawled across the back.
"Is he still in the club?"
"Yeah, you want to meet him?"
When Trumble walked in he filled the office with his bulk and his confidence, shook hands all round then requested an audience with just Gypsy and his father. Don and Sandy had to wait half an hour before Gypsy hobbled out in his socks, with Manuel carrying his boots. Don realised the boy was more than ready to go home. Once they were in the Volvo. Gypsy told them what Trumble had said. "Most young artists tend to burn themselves out in a short time and he advised me to stay semi-pro for the time being and finish my education while I develop my own style. He even said I should still try for a place in a theatre college and he's given me a number to ring in London. If and when I finally make the decision to start a stage career, I'm to ring him and we'll have another talk. He's impressed enough to come out of retirement rather than have me fall into the hands of some unscrupulous record company or agent. This way neither of us is committing ourselves too prematurely. One thing he did say that might make your ears prick up, Sandy; he wants me to go back next week to Bernie's open night, with Different Hats." Gypsy smiled at the astonishment on Sandy's face, and Don and Manuel shook hands at the success of their plan. "That doesn't let you two off the hook though. I'll get my own back, just you wait and see." Turning back to Sandy, he said, "I suppose it's time to call the band together and do some fast rehearsing if we're to be ready for Tuesday night." Sandy said nothing in reply but wore a silly smile. Manuel leaned round in the front passenger seat and held out a letter to Gypsy.
"Hoss Linger asked me to give this to you."
Frowning, Gypsy took it and ripped it open.
I heard about the figurine getting broke. I didn't like the ugly (&^(&)!!! either, and I chuckled every time I saw it still there in the case. Too bad Tony didn't see my joke. Ha ha! Come and see me when you're in Nashville again and we'll sing some good country together. H L
Gypsy's frown faded and he began to smile. By the time they reached Visick Street he was giggling and didn't stop even when Don carried him into the house.
Tuesday 27th August 1995
Don took 'Different Hats' to the club in his minibus and although they were only on stage for twenty minutes, their turn was warmly received. The only two slow numbers they had rehearsed well enough were Lennon and McCartney's 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand.', which Gypsy sang as a romantic ballad, and Mick Hucknall's 'Holding Back The Years.' Since Sunday, Different Hats had shown Gypsy what they had been doing while he sulked at home, and Gypsy had nothing to worry about them keeping up with his intense thirst for perfection. Gypsy looked for Erskine Trumble in the audience but didn't see him. Afterwards, in the minibus, Don handed Gypsy two envelopes. One was from Bernie containing one hundred pounds for the night's work and a note saying he had never seen the members of his club dancing round their tables and screaming so much for an amateur band. He wanted them to come back soon. The second was from Trumble, who had indeed been at the club but had prudently been watching the group on the CCTV monitor in Bernie's office. The letter contained a short note that Gypsy read out to the band. 'Good work, lads. If I don't hear from you within the next eighteen months I'll want to know why. Work hard, finish school, and you'll make it, with or without me, but I'd rather it was with me; E Trumble.
The boys cheered but Gypsy soon squashed their jubilation. "Let's keep the cheers for when we earn them. We haven't got enough songs rehearsed. Till then we've got a lot of work to do."
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