Chapter 1: Sunday, October 1st 2000: Royal Albert Hall, Raoul Sinclair, 19.47h
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
I whispered the words to my refection in the man-sized, old-fashioned mirror with its carved wooden frame full of vines, flowers, angel faces and wings. Those words were my little ritual, my twisted version of a prayer. I’d spoken them every night before I stepped onto the stage to face the waiting crowd.
That night I was even more nervous than usual. I felt sick to my stomach and slightly dizzy but that was not going to stop me performing. Too much was at stake. I studied my reflection in the mirror and forced some deep breaths. A pale faced man, who was not very tall and slim on the verge of being skinny, stared back at me. His huge brown eyes were heavily made up. He wore a touch of blood-red gloss on his lips. His smile was tight and nervous. Hair cut short, dyed blond and carefully styled into a sophisticated out-of-bed look. He struck an odd look, dressed as he was in tight fitting black leather trousers with matching heavy boots, a starched Victorian shirt with a high collar and a black cravat. A long, black velvet coat billowed around him and followed him like a cloud of doom whenever he moved.
I bowed to him sarcastically. Meet Raoul. Raoul Sinclair. Yes, the one, who first shot to fame back in 1987 with Raoul & The Romeos. The one, who messed up big time not long after that. The one, who in the end got more headlines for his suicide attempts than for his records or concerts. Yes, meet Raoul, now front man of The Dreaded Bliss. They were the sensation of the hour, the next new hot thing. Meet me and follow me take the stage again after an eternity of suffering, pain and depression. Follow me take the path back into the light. Well, at least back into the blinding glare of the the limelight.
I bowed again, still looking at my reflection. “Mirror, mirror on the wall...” I could’ve sworn that the bloke in the mirror winked at me. That his lips curled into a mocking smile. Of course I would not mention that to anybody. They’d only think I’d lost it again and needed to be locked away in some mental hospital or other, pumped full of meds. I had no desire to feel like my brain had been replaced with a useless mix of jelly and glue or to have my vocal chords bleed from screaming too much again.
No, I kept my mouth shut and smiled instead. No one understood the fear I had of mirrors. Despite of my compulsion to have the damn thing with me before every show, I hated mirrors with a passion. Not only because they showed me how much of my youth I’d already lost, how the cruel lines of old ages slowly crept into my features but mostly because deep inside I knew something lay waiting for me in the depths of those looking glasses.
A voice interrupted my train of thoughts and I was catapulted back into the reality of my dressing room. It was full to burst. Countless people were milling about. They made sure everything was ready, looked for technicians and roadies and whatever else. The girl from the make-up crew lingered nearby, waiting to give me a last minute dusting of pale concealer and glitter. My boyfriend Ralph slouched on the sofa in the corner. He was drinking lager from the can and chatted away to Cathy, a mutual friend, who was also in charge of the merchandise. Had been since the very first shows all those god-damn years ago where the few T-shirts and posters we had had to offer had been hand-made. By myself. Had been signed and numbered, too. Look them up on Ebay, they still make a small fortune.
“Flowers for Mr Sinclair,” a young woman dressed in the official Albert Hall outfit announced as she timidly entered the room. Ralph grinned but made no move to get the huge bouquet for me. I sighed and walked over to the women, who was hoovering uncertainly by the door.
“That’s me,” I said and forced a smile. “Thank you for bringing them up. I appreciate it, you must be very busy down there.”
The woman relaxed a fraction and smiled back. She had nice eyes, I thought. There were dimples in her cheek and a dusting of freckles on her nose. Her strawberry blond hair had been braided into two little pigtails, which did not quite reach her shoulders. “We are,” she agreed. Her voice was shaky. It made me smile. There was someone who was almost as nervous as I was. “But it’s an honour to have met you, sir. I’m a bit of a fan as well.”
“Well, that’s great,” I was fumbling for words as I took the flowers from her. “You must excuse me now, I have to get ready.”
“Of course,” she smiled, half turned, then faced me again and said: “Best of luck!”
I blinked and wanted to say something but she was already gone. I exhaled slowly, trying to ease the mounting tension. Cradling the bouquet in my arms, I walked over to the sofa where Ralph was still sipping beer. I closed my eyes for a second and inhaled the scent of the flowers. Roses and lilies of the valley were pleasant enough but there was something dark underneath. A sickly sweet scent, like of something rotten. I frowned. Feeling even more sick, I wanted to get rid of the damn flowers. Before I could toss them to the floor, Cathy took them from me.
“There are gorgeous,” she exclaimed. A moment later, her nose wrinkled and she coughed a little. “But they stink!”
Sammy, her girlfriend, laughed. “Look, there’s a card.” She picked out a little white envelope from among the blossoms and handed it to me.
Despite of my shaking hands, I managed to open it and to retrieve the card. When I read the few words that had been scribbled inside in black ink, I felt the blood drain from my face. The card slipped from my hands and landed on the floor. The world around me tilted. I swayed on my feet. Ralph jumped up from the sofa and grabbed me by the shoulders. He held me fast until the awful feeling of vertigo had passed and I felt safe on my feet again.
“What is it?” I heard his voice. At first the words made no sense. They were just hollow sounds that cut through the fear and the chaos in my mind.
“What is it?” He repeated and I understood. I swallowed hard, wrung my hands in an attempt not to run them through my hair or over my face and said:
“Gregori... He sent the flowers.”
Ralph stared at me in disbelieve for a moment. Cathy and Sammy had fallen silent. They too, were staring at me. Their faces were pale. They looked about as frightened as I felt.
“What does it say?” Ralph eventually asked in a dangerously flat voice that couldn’t conceal his anger.
I shook my head. There was no time. I had to go on stage in a moment.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. “Or read the card yourself, I have to get ready.”
As if to emphasize my point, Ellie, my manager, shouted from somewhere out of sight:
“Right, lights go down now.” I could just make her out as she rushed down the corridor back to my dressing room. “Musicians have all taken up position. The dancers, too. Raoul, you’ve got three minutes and not a second more!” She poked her head through the door. I threw her a tight smile and nodded. Ralph held me back as I wanted to walk away.
“Do you want to cancel this? We still can. I mean, if it’s not safe... I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I shook my head. “No. Let everything do ahead. I won’t let him win that easily.”
Ralph glared at me for a second, then nodded. He let go of my elbow and stepped aside to let me pass. One last look at the mirror, a few deep breaths, a quick sip of water and that was it. The make up girl fussed over me but what was her name? I couldn’t remember.
I can never remember things like that, never. Ralph, Cathy and Sammy appeared on either side of me, patting my shoulders, wishing me luck. Luck? I didn’t need luck. I needed a full-blown miracle, damn it! I had not been on a stage for years and this was not just any stage, it was the bloody Albert Hall, sold out and all. With journalists of every damn paper or radio station in town in attendance, poised to chronicle the final downfall of a former legend. Fuck them all! As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, I now had a death threat to deal with.
Ignoring the sneer of the bloke in the mirror, I mumbled my thanks and stepped out of the dressing room into the corridor. Colourful little arrows marked the floor, indicating the position where I was to wait behind the curtain. I didn’t need those markings, I would’ve found my way blindfolded. I always did. The stage calls out to me like a siren.
As I stood there behind the curtain, I was on my own. Nobody dared to talk, to make a sound or to even stand too close. I shut my eyes and emptied my head so that all I knew were the frantic drums that made up the intro of the first number. Drums, that seemed to be born of a fever dream, heavy with the humid heat of some unexplored jungle. Drums that were beating out a relentless rhythm which got increasingly faster and promised danger and passion.
My hands were trembling, they were clammy and felt like chunks of ice. My heart beat too fast, I felt the pulse in my mouth. I was scared. I wanted to run, to hide somewhere and never come out again. Glimpses of dark corridors lined with countless doors and of mazes with deep, dark shadows and unimaginable horrors lurking in their depths flashed through my mind. The smooth surface of the mirror stirred, waves rippled across it and...
...the drums reached their peak. It was time. I stepped forward, through the curtain and right into a coffin the dancers had presented to the screaming crowd, proving it was empty. Inside the wooden box I held onto a small handle over my head as the coffin was shoved around in the frantic dance that had been the trademark of every Raoul Sinclair show. The door was yanked open, greedy hands grabbed hold of the lapels of my coat and dragged me into the spotlight. I stepped onto the stage, sank to my knees, bowed my head and waited. The noise around me intensified a hundredfold. The volume of the screaming and clapping was deafening. I could no longer hear the drums, let alone my shallow breathing or irregular heartbeat.
My six dancers took up formation. The three boys wore tight black leather hot-pants and shiny black frilly shirts, which were unbuttoned right down to their belly buttons. The girls were dressed in blood-red leggings, bras and blouses, which were left unbuttoned as well and had been tied around their skinny waists. They all closed in around me and pulled me to my feet. The spotlight found me. I felt its heat on my the top of my head. A microphone was thrust into my hand, I lifted it to my lips and shouted: “Welcome back, mes amies. Welcome to a night of dark cabaret, sex and sin. Welcome to a night with Raoul & The Dreaded Bliss!”
People went berserk. The noise was unbelievable. I smiled. Only then did I open my eyes. The sight that greeted me was truly breathtaking. For a split second the pit right in front of the stage was plunged into darkness, the searchlights ghosted over the auditorium and illuminated not only rows upon rows of standing people but also the rows of seats in the stalls, the wings and on the balconies. Everywhere arms were stretched out into the air, hands waving, trying to grab hold of me. People screamed, clapped and whistled. They shouted my name.
A shiver ran down my spine. I took a small step closer to the edge of the stage and stood there for a breathless, insane moment. It didn’t last longer than the span of a heartbeat but felt like a lifetime. I stood there like I’d been crucified: arms outstretched, head thrown back, eyes closed. That was better than love, better than sex, better than any drug. That was what I was living for. That was the dreaded bliss. How I’d missed that feeling! I was bathed in applause. I only had to earn it, hadn’t I?
The drums picked up speed again, the keyboards and a saxophone joined in. With a smile I sang the first line of Drums of doom. That song had been my first ever single. It had also been my first number one in the British charts. It was still the Romeo’s song that was most likely to get played on the radio.
“Dance with me, baby, dance, to the drums, the drums, the drums of doom. Kiss me baby, kiss me. Kiss me amidst this wasteland, tattoo me with you radioactive touch...”
Madness followed. Even before the show was half over I was drenched in sweat. I also felt better than I had in absolute ages, more alive than I could remember having ever been. The enthusiasm of the crowd had not dimmed as the show went on and we played more and more new songs. Even during the slow - and I must admit, extremely gloomy - numbers the screams didn’t die down. Every person in the audience seemed to know the words to all the songs and to sing them on top of their lungs as well. It was amazing.
The last couple of songs before the inevitable encores were from “My little book of sorrows”, my last solo CD. I couldn’t bear to listen to it in its entirety these days, I’d been too low and messed up when I wrote those songs. That the lyrics hadn’t been written with the blood of my slashed wrists was the only spark of light in that collection of suicide anthems. Still, my most loyal fans loved them, so I’d play them. Never mind I’d be opening old wounds by doing so and would invite a whole bunch of nightmares to haunt me in my sleep for nights to come.
The hypnotizing, slow, late night Drum’n’Bass sound of Deadly Tango gave way to the haunting Gothic lullaby that was Death’s embrace but when the synth riff of Six feet under began with its throbbing and strangely uplifting electronic noises and sampled church bells, everybody was dancing madly. Even after I’d ended, the crowd wouldn’t stop singing and chants of “I wanna be six feet under come morning, six feet under, six feet under, where the pain can’t touch me, the tears can’t drown me/ I wanna be six feet under, six feet under, six feet under come morning,” kept going round and round through the auditorium, grew louder and more and more frantic before they broke down and erupted in a crescendo of screams and claps.
The lights went out for a full minute during which the dancers came back on and positioned themselves behind me, carrying the famous coffin. You can not imagine the lump in my throat or the goosebumps that crept down my spine in those sixty seconds during which I stood at the very edge of the stage, bathed in darkness and cheers. Emotions ran riot in my heart and those strange images of mazes, corridors and locked doors flashed through my mind. It was scary but mostly it thrilled me to the core. I wasn’t surprised to feel tears run down my cheeks as I turned away from the edge and took up position in the middle of the rough circle of dancers.
When the lights came on with blinding intensity, the drums started once more and began an instrumental mash-up of Six feet under and Drums of doom. Little fireworks exploded everywhere. I was lifted up above the heads of the dancers. Gunshots sounded, sirens cut through the commotion, strobe lights flashed and hands tore at me from all sides.
I screamed, then went limp in the arms of two of the male dancers. Blood poured down my face. It also gushed out of the bullet wounds in my chest. My lifeless body was shoved around and eventually put to rest in the coffin.
This time the darkness within felt absolute, alive. It spooked me and that irritated the hell out of me. I’ve hid inside that very same coffin hundreds if not thousands of times and yet something about it was different that night. Maybe it was the fact that I’d come clean since I last had stepped inside my beloved wooden box and no longer wished to die. Maybe it was the strange sensation of being watched. Of being too close to the mirror’s surface. Whatever the reason, I was glad when I could climb out of my prison again to disappear behind the curtain. Ralph was waiting for me, a huge grin on his face. I hardly noticed him, my mind was still on stage. I ached to go back. Someone handed me a towel. I wiped the fake blood from my face and shrugged out of my coat. God, I was hot and sweaty all over and the shirt clung to my chest.
Ralph unbuttoned it for me. I shot him a warning glance but like always that didn’t stop him from sneaking his hands into places I did not want them to be while I got ready for the encores. Ignoring him and his misguided ministrations of affection, I hurried to change into my new outfit: 70s-style midnight-blue velvet trousers, silver plateau shoes, a waist-hugging black velvet frock-coat and a tiny top hat. Marc Bolan of the immortal T-Rex would’ve been jealous. Even the logo for The Dreaded Bliss – a pair of lips painted black, showing fangs dripping blood – had been stitched onto the back of my coat. I had a green carnation in my button hole and a blood-red feather boa draped over my shoulders. Yes, no shirt. A Raoul Sinclair show wasn’t complete without me undressing a little.
To avoid hysteria after I’d been seemingly shot, the house lights hadn’t come on and instead strobe lights flashed manically while projections flickered over the three gigantic video screens: one to either side of the stage and one that had been lowered to the middle where normally the musicians took up position. The projections consisted off a series of black and white photographs that chronicled my illustrious career, the phrase R.I.P. followed by a question-mark and finally a blasphemous headline that ran: The legend lives on! It made me want to roll my eyes. Even I wasn’t that vain but we had agreed we needed something to keep the crowd calm after the main part of the show had ended in blood.
The dancers and musicians whirled in and out of the room, changing into their Dreaded Bliss T-Shirts, grabbing drinks and sharing quick jokes and gossip. Ellie stuck her head through the door again and tried to be heard over the happy commotion.
“Everybody, you better get ready. The two minute countdown begins now! Raoul, you only have a minute more, so hurry with the make-up!”
As if summoned by magic the make-up girl appeared next to me. I tried my best to keep still as she powdered, painted, dusted and dabbed in an attempt to make me look half way presentable. The room emptied around me and soon I was left alone with Ralph. Cathy had disappeared in order to get ready for the after show merchandise craze. I stood there, counting down the seconds in my head and watched as Ralph closed the distance between us. He tilted my head back. Then he kissed me. It was just a little kiss on the lips, sweet and intimate, which calmed me. He withdrew and smiled that impossible boyish grin. The one that had won me over all those years ago.
“Here,” he muttered and handed me the lipstick. “You look fab, darling. And you’ve been fabulous out there. Better than ever.”
Gee, even after nearly 15 years of having that man in my life, his thick Manchurian accent and small-time gangster attitude sent little shivers down my spine. I grimaced, too nervous to manage an honest smile.
“Let’s not count the chicken before they’ve hatched, ” I cautioned and applied a little lipstick before handing it back.
Ralph grabbed hold of my hand, squeezed it reassuringly. He placed a fleeting kiss on top of it before letting go. Leaning closer to my ear he whispered:
“You can’t mess up, not tonight. They love you! They’re still screaming for more!”
He hesitated for a moment, then continued: “Only wish you’d chosen ordinary musicians, not this bunch of psychos!”
“They’re vampires, not psychopaths,” I automatically snapped, then thought better of it and waved my comment away. It would do no good to get into a fight with my dear boyfriend only seconds before I was due to appear on stage.
“Not now,” I pleaded. “I got to go.” As I walked around him and out of the room, I ran my hand over his shoulders and back. My big, strong man. My saviour, my hero, my love. And yet... Sometimes good old Ralph could be so very annoying and foolish, so stubborn and prejudiced. In short, a real pain in the ass.
As I hurried to one of the many colourful markers on the floor, he called out to me: “I’m just worried for your safety. Love you!”
I couldn’t reply as I had to get back on stage and for a split-second felt bad because I had to leave him standing there. Not two steps later those thoughts had completely slipped from my mind. I grinned as I jogged over to the microphone stand and launched into our techno-glam-electro cover version of Gavin Friday’s King of trash.
“Hey! sugar sugar, my sweet honey pie/ Baby let me tell ya about the teenage lie...”
More screams. I earned even more when I took off my jacket. Two songs, a seemingly endless a cappella extension of the last song’s chorus included, and the show was over. A dozen canons shot glitter and ticker tape into the air, which was thick with artificial smoke. When it came raining down, the tiny particles caught the lights and reflected them. It looked as if countless tiny stars were dancing in the air. I bowed, shook outstretched hands and waved. Grinning like a fool, I threw kisses in all directions and bowed some more. I couldn’t turn my back and walk backstage, I simply couldn’t. It felt too good to be back, to be where I’d always belonged: in front of a glittery curtain, on a wooden stage with a band behind me and my songs to sing.
Nevertheless the moment had to end. My ears rang from all that screaming. I was happy. I was exhausted. I was sad. I was hooked again. I wanted to go back and start all over. I was laughing and I was crying.
My crew didn’t take much notice, they were used to my strange moods. Most of them had been with me for years and the few that hadn’t – most notably the psychos, the youngish vampires that had replaced some old comrades (who refused to talk to me these days for various reasons) – had quickly learned to deal with them over the intense three week period of rehearsals.
Champagne corks were popped and drinks poured. It felt strange to keep sipping on my water. No drugs for me, not even alcohol. Could I be a sober pop star? I had no clue. At least I had proved I could be a sober performer. The crowd had missed my drug induced mood swings and panic attacks as much as I did, which was not at all. So all was well.
And still something felt wrong.
I could not explain the feeling and was given no time to dwell on it. I had to take a quick shower, then change into more casual clothes – dark blue jeans, Doc Marten’s boots in metallic lilac and a black, long-sleeved shirt with sequins on the shoulders – to face the meet-and-greet. As I hurried to undress in my little private bathroom, I sighed. It was going to be a long, long night.
The mirror’s surface rippled as I applied a final touch of make up after I’d showered and re-dressed. It was the strangest sensation, even though I stared at my own reflection, the background blurred, distorted and morphed into something other than the small, impersonal, white-tilted bathroom. Something sinister. Something dark and scary. As it took shape, it looked more and more like the maze from my nightmares. Ill-lit corridors that twisted and turned stretched out in front of me. Well, behind me actually, but when I chanced a glance over my shoulder, there was only the bright light of the neon tube, the clean white tiles and the bathroom door with its faded graffiti.
It made me shiver. My stomach turned into tight knots. I could not afford to go off the rails. Whatever it was I saw so clearly in the polished mirror, it belonged to my bad dreams, my drug-induced hallucinations. It had no place in my waking hours, not while I was desperately trying to reclaim my fame, fortune and sanity. I tried to ignore the strange vision and continued to apply some eye-liner. It was harder than it sounds. As the seconds ticked by, the sensation that I was being sucked into the world behind the looking glass got stronger and stronger. When I blinked and closed my eyes, it threatened to overwhelm me.
I felt the damp chill of those ancient underground corridors. I smelt the stale air and the decay. I heard the drip, drip drip of water and the loud echo of my footsteps. I tasted my own fear in my mouth. I saw nothing but darkness. Just as the sense of vertigo grew strongest, there came a loud knock on the door. Then the noise of people talking and laughing as the door opened and somebody came rushing in.
“Raoul, here you are! Ralph’s looking for you. Something about an radio interview. You were marvellous! Wunderbar, einfach super! Raoul?”
Concern crept into my friend’s voice. I wasn’t able to move. I stared into the depths of that blasted mirror. Wide-eyed and scared out of my wits. The man in the mirror smiled at me, a grim smile that promised suffering. For a second I saw another pair of eyes behind him. Eyes that were violet and sparkling. Eyes that looked at me with a mixture of hope and horror. With equal measures of love and hate. Eyes that belonged to someone I’d once known. Someone I’d forgotten along with the rest of my early life.
Stefan’s voice again, then his hand on my shoulder. Gentle, oh so gentle. I shook my head, willing it to clear. I got up and turned to face him. Somehow I managed a bright smile and drew the boy into a tight embrace. I held him a moment too long. Stefan is a constant temptation, even or maybe because he doesn’t know he is.
“Glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said as I stepped back. Seeing my favourite blond boy made me grin: he wore tight black jeans, an equally tight fitting T-shirt from the latest Raoul & The Dreaded Bliss merchandise range, had painted his eyes in thrill vermilion and a black feather boa loosely slung around his narrow shoulders.
“Enjoyed?” He exclaimed, faking outrage. “It was just... just... awesome!”
I laughed. “I see you’re still seeing a lot of Anderson. Didn’t he come along tonight to get his chance to murder me?
It was half a joke, Kevin Anderson had a nasty temper at times and tended to do rash things. Needless to say that at the time we’d shared out little fling he’d been just my kind of bloke. Stefan grimaced and shrugged his shoulders.
“No, he refused to come with me point blank. Said he’s got to work. At this strip club, you know? The Eros? He also said he didn’t want to spoil my evening by punching you and breaking your nose.”
“Charming as ever,” I chuckled. “How considerate of him though. Not at all like he used to be. Come now, let’s find Ralph and get this radio thingy over and done with!”
Secretly I was glad for the company. Stefan’s easy smiles and cheerfulness helped to keep the demons at bay. At least for the time being. As soon as we’d stepped outside, noise engulfed us. People were everywhere: in the corridors, in the various dressing rooms and of course in the fairly spacious conference room where I was to give that interview. Little groups stood together; drinking, chatting and laughing. Others were rushing about, mostly employees of some sort, handing out drinks or running to obey orders.
When I stepped into the room, all heads turned. Everybody stared and fell silent. It was an awkward moment that stopped me dead in my tracks. Stefan, who was right behind, bumped into me. Everybody clapped. It felt surreal to get such a spontaneous round of applause off stage. I blinked, then broke into a huge grin. Stefan squeezed my shoulder reassuringly as he stepped aside and found some corner to hide in. I bowed and looked around.
Cathy had left her merchandise stall to be there, her girlfriend Sammy was right next to her. They smiled, waved and made the victory sign, looking more like excited teenagers than the middle-aged business women they were. Ralph was there as well. He wore the biggest grin I’d ever seen but was unsteady on his feet. Too much larger, damn it! Ever since I got clean I hated it when he got drunk. It made me ill at ease and the smell on his breath physically put me off. Ellie was at the head of the table, talking to the guy from BBC Radio One. Sound technicians were checking microphones and making last minute adjustments to their recording gear. When the clapping had died down, I went over to Ellie and gave her a fierce hug. She had worked so hard to make it all happen, had been so nervous, she deserved the little gesture like nobody else. People laughed as I had to get on my tiptoes to reach her. She really is an extraordinarily tall lady.
“Right,” I said after I’d managed to untangle myself from her arms as well as countless shawls and turned to face the rest of the illustrious assembly, chiefly the radio people. “Let’s begin then, shall we? Before your champagne goes all flat. Besides, it would be a crying shame if I were to miss my own after show party!”
Polite laughter and nods from most people followed but the BBC bloke looked po-faced and like he’d want nothing better than to start a fight. Inwardly I sighed and somehow managed to resist the urge to roll my eyes. True, Jason Doyle and I had never seen eye to eye. Oh well, that’s an understatement, I admit. Right from the very start our dear Mr Doyle had despised me and my fellow Romeos and had used every possible (and impossible) opportunity to force his bigot opinion upon the poor listeners of his shows.
My only consolation was that his popularity had decreased over the years and his programmes have slid from the prime spots into obscurity. From the world famous chart countdown he had hosted through most of the early 80s, to his drive-time slot and now his late night show, which ran from 2 to 5 pm. Late laments of a bitter and twisted had-been, that’s how I called it in my mind but in reality it had been dubbed Doyle until dawn.
I felt Ellie shift from one foot to the other behind me. The constant movement made her shawls rustle and her necklaces, bracelets and bangles clang. Her concern made me almost smile. But just almost.
“Please, don’t let that tosser destroy what’s been a marvellous evening so far,” I pleaded with whatever higher power that was willing to listen.
“Right,” Doyle said with an ugly smirk. With a quick wave of his hand he signalled his technicians to get moving.
“Over there,” he pointed at a corner close to one of the windows which overlooked the deserted backyard. Now it was hardly more than a dark rectangle that caught our reflections. Seeing those made my skin creep. They evoked a vague sense of danger which settled like a stone in the pit of my stomach. I forced myself to look away and instead stole a quick glance at Stefan, who was chatting to Cathy and Sammy. Ralph watched the kid suspiciously. If looks could kill, the poor boy would’ve been nothing more than a pile of slices of raw meat.
“Anything you don’t wanna talk about?” Doyle asked. No greeting, no smile, no other acknowledgement of our unlucky acquaintance. Not even the tiniest attempt at politeness. That’s Jason Doyle for you.
“We’ll be live, won’t we?” I asked. When Doyle nodded, I shrugged my shoulders.
“Not really, but I’d appreciate it if we could discuss the show, the band or the new CD rather than my sordid sex life.”
Doyle pulled a face that looked like he’d been sucking on a extremely sour lemon but said nothing. The technicians behind us snickered and grinned. One – a young, stout lad with reddish blond hair – gave me a quick look over and arched an eyebrow, then smiled a knowing smile. Maybe he wanted to be part of said sex life. Who knew?
“I’ve got a connection with Jacky at the studio,” an Asian looking girl with a strong Scottish accent informed us. “Going live in 30 seconds, 29...”
As she continued to count down the seconds, Doyle took the microphone.
“Hello Jacky! Yes, we’re backstage at the Royal Albert Hall and we’ve indeed managed to get hold of Raoul Sinclair.”
With a sympathetic smile the Asian girl handed me an earpiece so that I was able to hear the last half of Jacky MacDonald’s sentence: “...can you tell us about the show?”
Before Doyle had a chance to reply - and to slag me off- , I chimed in: “Hello Jacky, it’s good to be talking to you again. Has been ages since I was last at the Beep, hasn’t it? Anyway, the show went down very well. For once I didn’t mess up! Tell you what, I’ve been terribly nervous beforehand but the reaction of the crowd was amazing!”
Doyle looked grumpier than ever but for the moment kept his mouth shut. Thank God for small mercies!
“Raoul, good evening to you,” Jacky exclaimed.
I could picture how she beamed. She was a truly nice and easy-going person, one of the few who had remained true to themselves in the fickle game that was showbiz.
“It’s a great pleasure to have you on my show! Everyone who didn’t get a chance to see your concert tonight can listen to it tomorrow night at ten, so get your friends to come over, turn up the volume and party. You’ll have a real ball, folks! But now back to the Albert Hall. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking to Raoul Sinclair. His phenomenal comeback show has just ended. It has been called the sensation of the year and we at BBC Radio One are proud to be a part of it. Now, what can you tell us, Jason?”
“Well, we went out there earlier this afternoon and asked people about their expectations. Then we went back right after the show and collected some more impressions. Here’s a selection.” Doyle motioned to a bloke behind us, who then turned a few knobs and switches. Our microphones were switched to mute. I heard the pre-recorded impressions in my earpiece. Excited fans told Doyle and his crew how much they loved this song or that, how much they admired me, that they hoped the coffin would make an appearance. Some expressed concern about my physical and mental health and only one mumbled something about being sceptical about my comeback and mused endlessly about the necessity of resurrecting pseudo-dead bands from the 80s. The after show reactions nearly damaged my hearing. It was mostly screaming and whooping at full volume. All I could make out were shouts like: “Fucking awesome!”
I couldn’t help but grin. Doyle rolled his eyes. He sure thought I was being an arrogant tosser but really I couldn’t care less. I was so grateful the people out there had enjoyed themselves, had not been disappointed by the show we’d worked so hard to put together. That I had not let them down. That they hadn’t seen a useless has-been making a fool out of himself on stage as he tried to recreate his golden days of youth and fame.
It was at that moment I realized how much pressure I’d been under. The weight of it was lifted off my shoulders. I could finally believe I had indeed done it. I wanted to jump up and down and punch the air. I wanted to laugh and dance like a child on Christmas morning. Instead I continued grinning and waited for Doyle to properly start this farce of an interview.
“Now you know what the fans thought,” Doyle finally said, his voice dripping with sarcasm and disdain. “We’ll have to wait for the morning papers to see what the professional critics have made of this bizarre display that was part rock performance, bad musical, circus show, carnival celebration and pantomime.”
“We don’t have to wait,” I hurried to comment. “We all know what the papers will say. They’ll slag me off. They always have, they always will. They just love to berate me, no matter what I do. Just like you do, Doyle.”
A stunned silence spread. Jacky MacDonald inhale sharply, then the white noise of static came through my earpiece. Jesus, I hadn’t declared war, had I? Live on national radio, only minutes after my comeback attempt had been rated a success? Oh really, sometimes I could be so very daft! Doyle blinked. A shadow passed over his face and when he grinned it was the dangerous grin of a shark.
“...and a shark, babe, has its teeth, babe, and he shows them pearly white...”
Well done, Raoul, well done indeed!
“I didn’t think you had any lucid moments, Sinclair,” Doyle sneered.
The atmosphere in the room shifted. It felt like the temperature had dropped and everybody had been frozen to the spot. All eyes were fixed on us. I could very well imagine how they were holding their breaths, waiting for the ultimate blow up.
“I can tell you why the other journalists and I like to give you bad reviews. Because you’re not worth anything else, Sinclair. You’ve always been nothing but a fraud and a trickster. You’re not even a good singer and your lyrics are appallingly banal. Plus you surround yourself with freaks and crackpots. It makes everyone in their right mind sick to their stomach.”
Out of the corners of my eyes I saw the technicians frantically trying to cut Doyle’s line. Jacky on the other end was talking to someone away from the microphone so that the listeners and I heard only unintelligible mumbling.
“Freaks and crackpots?” I asked in a deceptively calm voice. “Whom exactly are you referring to, Doyle? Me for being queer? My friends and colleagues for being either gay or lesbian? My band because it incorporates vampires? My brilliant manager because she was not born a woman?” I shouted. “Go fuck yourself if you can’t get it into your head it’s not about what we do in private. This should’ve been about the show, about the songs and the fact that a couple of thousand people had a good time tonight. You could’ve at least shown them respect if you can’t manage to show me some, you tosser!”
Suddenly people were all around me. Well, not just me, also around Doyle and the stunned technicians. Strong arms grabbed hold of me and pulled me away. I was dragged from the interview, the earpiece ripped from my ear. Someone stepped in and tried to hold back Doyle, who wanted to charge after me. Only a few seconds more and this would’ve disintegrated into a physical fight.
“Let me go, Ralph, let me go,” I hissed through clenched teeth. “I wanna plant a fist into that jerks face. He doesn’t deserve anything else! He..., he...,”
Whatever else I’d been meaning to say vanished from my mind when Ralph shook me with so much force that my head spun and my teeth clattered.
“Goddamnit, Raoul! Stop! Stop now! What do you want? A broken nose? Go out and find a rough trade hustler if you’re looking for some pain. This was live! Do you have any idea how many people were listening to what you just said? Do you want to ruin everything?”
“Let him go, Ralph,” Ellie’s voice cut through the fog in my brain. “Let him go now, you’re hurting him. Besides, he did the right thing. Not the advisable but the right thing. Thanks dear, for defending all of us.”
When Ralph let go of me, I staggered to find my footing again. I felt dizzy but still furious. Why, oh why did those words still sting? Why, after so many years living as an out gay man, did it still hurt to be called any of those countless ugly names the rest of society has invented for us? Why? And why didn’t Ralph care? He was as bend as I was for fuck’s sake!
Forcing some deep breaths, I slowly unclenched my fists and looked up at Ellie with a crooked smile. She appeared to be outraged but also slightly tearful. Before I could do or say anything, she had swallowed me up in a tight embrace. My face was pressed against her impressive bosom and for an instant I felt claustrophobic. When she released me, Ellie looked sheepishly down at me.
“Thank you,” she said in a breathy voice. “It’s because of wankers like Doyle I wanted to kill myself when I was... Before..., y’know? And it’s because of you that I didn’t. So... thank you. And don’t worry about the mess. It’ll give you headlines in every damn paper. You’ll be the hero for every lgbt rights group in the country. Your fans will be delighted you stood up to Doyle. Calm down, Raoul and enjoy the party. I’ll better go somewhere quiet, my mobile hasn’t stopped ringing since the interview ended!”
She left me standing there and was gone in a swirl of shawls. The heavy scent of her floral perfume lingered and strangely enough reminded me of the boy Ellie had once been. Or rather forced to be by some cruel twist of fate. Mother nature isn’t always gentle with her children.
I shook my head, tried to make sense of what had just happened. I felt humiliated and hurt, robbed off the glorious moment of after show bliss. When I closed my eyes, the darkness behind my eyelids stretched into damp, decaying corridors. I was scared. I didn’t want to lose my mind. I forced a smile and went back to the party. Before long I was talking to Jacky MacDonald on the phone, who was even more shocked about the verbal punch up than I was. She was most apologetic. I felt sorry for her. It was her show in which this catastrophe had happened, yet it wasn’t her fault. We agreed that I’d be a guest on her show soon.
“I promise you can talk about about your new CD for as long as you want,” Jacky insured me. The eagerness in her voice made me laugh. Maybe Ellie had been right, maybe this disaster could be used in my favour. Only time would tell. Or maybe I should ask my god-damn mirror:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the loser among us all?”