The Cup Bearer
The following morning, Gypsy woke to find the house deserted. The butler, a genial old retainer who oversaw the staff with the help of his wife and son, offered the information that the family had breakfasted early, as was their custom on Christmas day, and had gone to church and would be back soon for the opening of the presents. Richard MacCaffrey had left instructions that Gypsy was to be offered a substantial breakfast in the cosy warmth of the kitchen with the rest of the staff. Gypsy enjoyed the meal and the company but as soon as it was over, the staff had their various tasks to perform in preparation for the luncheon, a grand affair of several courses, and Gypsy soon found himself wandering round the place in search of something to do. He was in the massive library, browsing among the hundreds of treasured books and historical maps, when Bev descended upon him without warning; a bird of prey in all her finery and ready for the kill. "We've been looking for you all over the place,"
She kissed him on the cheek with heavily lacquered lips and gave him a white-toothed smile. " All the better to bite me with," Gypsy thought .
She pulled the book he was reading out of his hands and tossed it onto a nearby table. "Come on, Jerry and I have something we want to talk to you about." Hooking an arm through his, she marched him out into the hall where the base of the giant Christmas tree had been buried under a load of parcels and sweets.
Jerry stood by a drinks table to the left of it. "Ah, there you are! Did you know Father Christmas left something here for you?" He turned to fill three glasses from a bottle of dark liquid. Oh no! Not more alcohol! Gypsy hung back embarrassed. He hadn't thought of bringing any presents with him, after all he was here to work. Bev tugged at him till he moved towards the tree. Jerry faced him, holding out one of the glasses. Gypsy accepted it and Jerry bent to pick up some parcels lying towards the back of the tub the tree was standing in. Gypsy took a sip of his drink and only just stopped himself from pulling a face before he set the glass down on the table to accept the gifts; it certainly didn't taste like sherry or wine. There was a cheque for fifty pounds from Richard MacCaffrey and his wife, a marquisette tie-pin from Paul and Margaret, a smart silver bow tie and lace ruffle from James and his wife, and an engagement book from their elder daughter with a message written inside the cover. " Thank you for making my eighteenth birthday party one I shall always remember. Love Jenny"
By the time he had opened the other gifts there was a lump in his throat. "I don't know what to say."
Jerry slapped him heartily on the shoulder. "No need to say anything. You've earned them all, and this is from us." He picked up a large envelope and thrust it into Gypsy's hands. "It's an open door to the world of entertainment. I've written some letters of introduction for you and I've arranged for a trial recording at our own studios in London among other things. As soon as you've cut a demo disc, it'll be examined by our directors whom, I'm sure, will feel the same way as we do. In no time at all you'll have a contract in your hands."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that." Bev slipped an arm round his shoulders and gave him a friendly squeeze. That was a mistake because it set alarm bells ringing in his ears. "And that's not all," Bev continued, "you have a date with one of London's top showbiz photographers. When he's finished with you, everyone will be talking about Gypsy Diaz, the new pop face of nineteen ninety six."
"What about my partner? I can't leave her out of this."
"Of course you can't," Jerry said quickly. "What happens to you will happen to Shana as well, if she wants it." Turning to the drinks, he added with a flourish, "Let's drink to our latest discovery. To Gypsy!"
Gypsy tasted his drink again, still didn't like it, but forced himself to drink a fair amount. Bev and Jerry were watching him over their own drinks and there was no way he could pour the drink into a nearby plant or drop the glass. What he really wanted to do was to go upstairs and sleep. He'd never felt as tired after an evening's performance as he did now. He felt his energy levels dropping quickly and could hardly keep his eyes open as Bev and Jerry told him of the plans they had for him if he went to London and made use of their letters. It all sounded great, so exciting and glamorous, and he wondered why Erskine Trumble hadn't offered him this much support. He didn't know if was the warming affects of the drink but he felt himself being drawn towards these two entrepreneurs. Bev was a lovely looking woman with a terrific figure for her age; she knew what clothes suited her best; her dark brown hair piled on top of her head in a mass of waves and curls. I wonder what she looks like with her hair down, he thought. Jerry isn't so bad looking either, no grey in his hair yet and no sign of a middle age paunch. "I don't know what to say." he mumbled again as Jerry topped his glass up.
"You don't have to say anything but you can do something for us in return," Bev replied. "We have a special hobby we like to indulge in when the opportunity arises."
"What's that?" Gypsy asked as his brain started to get a little fuzzy.
"We like making amateur films; not here, of course, and not the kind the old man would approve of, if you know what I mean." Jerry's face seemed to float towards him as he spoke with an echoing voice. "We have a cottage a couple of miles from here where we meet with a few friends every Christmas and summer holidays. Why don't we go to the cottage and do a little casting?"
The warning bells clamoured in his head and a headache started between his eyes. "I don't think so." He turned to put his glass down on the table. The table moved and the glass crashed to the floor.
Someone shook him awake and he opened his eyes. The Beak was smiling down at him. He closed his eyes again and tried to get his befuddled brain into gear. He tried again and the Beak was still there. Gypsy lifted his head and found he was in bed in his room. He couldn't remember coming to bed; he couldn't remember anything.
James pointed to a cup and saucer on the bedside table "Margaret sent me to wake you with a cup of tea. It's almost four thirty."
What? Gypsy lifted his head to look at the clock by the bed and six lump hammers started banging away in his head. He groaned and let his head drop back onto the pillows. "I don't understand. How did I get here?"
"I carried you up here myself." James sat down on the bed and gazed down at him with a look of understanding on his face. "My sister should never have given you all that wine. You've been asleep since eleven o' clock this morning, apart from the one time you graced the loo for a while. Paul and I had to help you back to bed. For some people, rich food and too much booze don't mix. Take my advice, young man and stay off the drink if you can't handle it. Do you realise you've missed Christmas lunch? You must be starving; you threw up most of your breakfast. Margaret will bring you a tray in a few minutes so out of bed with you, have a shower and make sure you're decently dressed by the time she arrives. The children are putting on their own nativity this evening and it wouldn't do to miss it."
Gypsy sat up and had to hold his head for a moment to stop it racing round the room on its own, and wondered why he felt so sore and bruised. Then he remembered what James had just said about finding him on the loo. He didn't remember a thing about that but it answered a lot of questions forming in his brain. He took a drink of the tea. James had brought, and had to dive to the bathroom. For the next five minutes he suffered the indignity of his body betraying him at both ends, while the Beak tried to help him as best he could. Gypsy felt so humiliated and disgusted with himself, and when Margaret arrived with a tray of food, one look at it had him heaving his heart out. They helped him back to bed and as he buried his head into the pillow he heard Margaret telling James what she thought of Bev making Gypsy so ill. He didn't care what made him ill; he just wanted to be left alone in his misery.
He felt awful about missing the nativity but when he went downstairs at eight thirty he felt a lot better. Margaret had brought him a fresh tray of light snacks, which he had picked at, and though he was a little weak kneed; the illness he had suffered seemed to have cleared up as quickly as it had struck. That evening, Gypsy gave one of his best performances ever and avoided the many invitations to have a drink. No sir! He wasn't going to be bitten twice and stuck to Perrier water and the plainest of the snacks to keep his blood levels from dropping. Towards midnight, he felt his headache returning and James offered him a tablet and told him to go to bed. The tablet relaxed him so much he drifted off to sleep the moment his head touched the pillows and did not wake up till the early hours, in the middle of a nightmare. ' Ganymede. Come to me my precious one. "
"Is that you, Lord?" he asked as he rolled over onto his back.
"Yes. Come to me, my precious Ganymede ."
1.35 am Thursday 26 th December. 1995
Sandy was the first to hear the telephone ringing. He shambled downstairs, half asleep and picked up the receiver just as his dad appeared at the top of the stairs. "Who's ringin' at this hour?"
"I don't know, do I?" Sandy put the receiver to his ear. "Hello. 40135?" there was no voice at the other end of the line, just someone breathing erratically. "Hey, whoever you are," Sandy shouted down the phone, "if this is a joke it's the wrong time to play it, mate." He was about to slam the phone down when a faint whisper came to him, not so much from the phone as inside his head. "Sandy … help me ….so cold …"
Five minutes later, Evan swung the car out of the garden gates, angrily shaking off the last clutches of heavy sleep. "I just 'ope you're right about this or so 'elp me I'll wrap you round the gate posts when we get back, may God forgive me. D'you 'ere me, lad? You know the lad's not 'ome."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]