I spend the next few minutes going through Suzy’s list of requirements for the music, trying to keep my mind on the job but failing every time I catch even a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. She’s back with her massive entourage and by the looks of it the press, and soon enough its time for the big speeches, which as it turns out is started by Brad Burt. The man with the lion’s mane gushes with enthusiasm at the prospect of working with Vantage, and heaps praise on Suzy for all her hard work and manages to get a little nod in there for his new life-partner. It’s a short, kind and generous speech which gathers a massive round of applause. I get a sudden queasiness when the next speaker comes on. Looks like Suzy is bringing a few of her old friends with her. “Hi I’m Monique and I’ve been a good friend of Suzy’s now for a few years…” She talks of her friend’s generosity, and how the agency was built from the ground up with models in mind; their safety, their rights, their pay. It’s an eloquent speech which, if I’m honest, I didn’t expect to be coming from Monique’s mouth. Doesn’t make me a very nice person does it.
And then there’s this guy, with the perfect hair and the sharp pin-striped suit. Not good looking enough to be a model but ruggedly handsome I guess, in his own way. He’s stood on the stage holding Suzy’s hand, announcing how proud he is to be working with someone with such a level head and a clear vision. He doesn’t make any mention of his relationship with her. From what I can tell they’re just business partners. I don’t remember seeing a ring on her hand when she was up here earlier. Maybe Gossip Monger should be renamed Lying Fuckwit. They probably photo-shopped the ring on!
And then, finally, it’s Suzy’s turn. Her ‘short and sweet’ speech as it was no doubt intended is going really well with the obligatory thank you’s, until she gets a little flustered with her words. I guess all the hard work and emotion is catching up with her – her dream is becoming a reality. I find myself beaming with pride so you can imagine how she is feeling right now. Stumbled as she is she opens an envelope to consult her back-up notes. She opens up the paper, and just stares for a couple of seconds. Oh no, I told her not to get the two mixed up. I bet if I hadn’t said anything this wouldn’t have happened. I see her faltering slightly, but ever the professional she digs out her last reserve of calm and forces her way through, improvising the rest of her speech, making jokes if she forgets anyone and raising a toast to her new business venture, before heading quickly away from the spotlight. I don’t know if anyone else saw it, but I know she’s upset. Gradually a terrible thought gathers over my head like a huge storm cloud. What if she wasn’t the only one who got the envelopes mixed up? Shit! I fumble around in my jacket and pull out the crumpled envelope.
So far so good!
Please find enclosed an invoice for three hundred and fifty pounds for music and equipment provided…
So, either I’m really, really bad at writing a letter explaining to the girl I love about my feelings, or that was the wrong envelope. “Shit!” I can’t do anything. I’m forced to stay behind this damn mixing desk and keep the revellers in the mood with some fucking awful songs. Not Marcus’ choice. Apparently Siren Radio is one of the sponsors so I’m guessing one of the deal breakers is that any music has to come from the station play list. I tell you if I ran that station…
After a couple of minutes of blind panic and less that professional mixing I haven’t seen any sign of Suzy. I’d hoped she would’ve been forced to come back in to the crowd and mingle a little more, at least then I would’ve known she was still here. But when Brad and Karim come bounding over I need a new game plan.
“Dan you simply must head round to the back door!” Brad shouts. Most people probably think it’s a chat-up line, I know I do!
Karim is rushing around with all the excitement of a Meer cat on speed. “Dan you gave her the wrong envelope!”
“I know I did!” I shout back, searching the dance floor in desperation.
“Well she’s round the back crying her eyes out. What did you write?”
What the fuck am I going to do? I ask at least five people if they would step in on the DJ duties but they all look at me like I’m asking if I can finger-fuck their cat! Thankfully the Tree-trunk Bodyguard, who is quick to tell me is an ‘accomplished amateur’ (whatever the fuck that is) at DJ-ing, volunteers his services and with us both agreeing that the audience are by this point so off their faces they wouldn’t know a Siren Radio play list if it sat on their faces, I tell him to let loose and do whatever he wants. I turn to say thanks to Brad and Karim – an act that is redundant given the thumping bass. They just smile and practically push me off the stairs and on to my search.
It’s a jungle in here. Everywhere you turn people are shouting and jumping, and sweating. I feel like I’m lost, with no way out, just obstacle after obstacle. And then there’s two very familiar obstacles just inches from my face. “Hi Dan, how are you?”
“Monique!” I shout, with way too much relief for my liking. “Monique do you know where the back door is?”
“I beg your pardon?” she demands, in a voice more reminiscent of a school teacher.
It’s a decent enough question. Maybe she misheard me over the thumping bass. “I need to find Suzy. Been told she’s by the back door. Please Monique I need your help!”
Finally the question looks to have clarified in her head. To be honest I could have just lead with that rather than asking her where the back door is. Over all the music it probably sounded like I was asking her to take it up the arse! Eventually Monique and her massive bionic breasts clear a path through the crowd. Trying to block out noise and shouting. I think I hear a couple of blokes give out a few wolf whistles. One of them even wishes me luck, presumably thinking I’m off to get lucky. It’s hard to breathe in here. Even with a smoking ban the place still has that horrible stale air smell. Monique seems to be gathering pace, stumbling the last few steps until we finally make it to a blue door.
We stand on the other side, both of us a little out of breath. Her chest is heaving up and down, sweat glistening down her neck and prominent cleavage. Couldn’t care less, I’m just scanning left and right for that damn back door.
“Dan?” Monique asks, still breathing deeply. Out of the corner of my eye I see her stroking her neck and fondling her own breasts. Bloody hell I really do have an effect on the women don’t I! “Dan I need you to give me something.”
I picture half the population of the entire planet going ‘Phwoar I bet she bloody does’ in unison, dirty little minx. “Sorry Monique, never gonna happen!”
“Dan please, I’m really desperate here!”
Still not interested I just wave my hand in dismissal, still unsure which way to go for that illustrious back door. But then she gets my attention. Maybe it’s the voice going from a sexy/husky tone to one more in common with an asthmatic Darth Vader, or maybe it’s the fact that she’s now down on her knees gasping for oxygen like a terrified fish out of water. Suddenly I realise my first analogy isn’t too far from the truth.
* * *
I manage to find a room with a sofa, and carefully lay Monique down, trying desperately to think of ways to calm her. The most obvious choice of her blue inhaler has gone right out the window considering she lost it, presumably back out there in the sweaty human jungle. I look around in a panic, just hoping that there is something resembling an inhaler in the room. All I can see is a few guitars and a drum kit – presumably this is where the Four-nicators have established their dressing room. Annoyingly not one of them appears to be an asthmatic.
I reach for my phone with the idea of calling Suzy. I was hoping to talk to her at some point anyway, might as well be now. No joy with her I’d have to call an ambulance. But of course, in classic ‘sods law’ style I’ve got no reception, same for Monique’s. What’s the point of having these fucking things if they don’t work when you need them in a fucking emergency?
“Monique?” I say, in my calm voice. “Monique our phones don’t work, I’m going to get help. I’ll be right back okay?”
“Suzy” she pants. “Get Suzy.” She grabs hold of my hand and pulls it to her chest. I can practically feel the asthma getting worse by the second, almost crackling as she gasps for air. She’s petrified. I don’t have a fucking clue what to do, other than get help.
“Don’t move okay” which is officially my number one stupid saying of the weekend. Like she’s going anywhere! “I’ll be right back!”
I had no idea Ryan and his co-Four-nicators had returned to their little green room. Had no idea the little prick could hit as hard as he can either. Still, he’s obviously walked in here, seen me leaning over some sexy model with pouting lips and a heaving bosom, given those elements the value of two, added them all up and come up with the answer of five-trillion and one!
“You write that letter and then go hit on her mate?” Ryan lands a punch squarely on my left cheek. Am I that annoying that people must always hit me in the face?
I finally manage to get to my feet and I feel like I’m surrounded by a pack of rabid hyenas. Judging by their body language all four of them want a piece of me right now. Ryan I can kind of understand. It’s like I said, you never mess with someone’s sister. (Wonder how Jackie has dealt with Max?) But what’s motivating the other three I have no idea, unless they’re Australian and looking for payback, or they just want to get through me to get to Monique’s heaving bionic breasts. I’m kind of boxed in, no escape. Not even a can of deodorant or a cold power-shower to defend myself this time. Although by the smell of these guys if I used them I’d be doing them a favour! I don’t have time for this shit.
“Look Ryan” I start, trying to be all calm and understanding, but he’s having none of it.
“Shut the fuck up!” he shouts back.
In a split second I get a flashback. I’m about seven. I’m stood in the corridor of The Sterling Grand watching Dad deal with some obnoxious fuck-wit and soon-to-be ex-employee. He’d told Dad to “shut the fuck up” too.
“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” I bellow at the top of my voice, grabbing hold of this mop haired whiny little shit by the scruff of his t-shirt and pulling him so close to my face we’re practically lip-locked. “She is having an asthma attack you prick” I tell him sternly. “We need your sister, she has an inhaler. Now either make yourself useful and find her or get the fuck out of my way so I can do it myself!” I practically throw him half way across the room. He and the rest of the Four-nicators just seem to be dumb-struck, not knowing how to react. Them and me both! That’s the first time I’ve ever channelled Dad. I feel like Bruce Banner must feel after coming back from a crazy Hulk-style rampage. No time to dwell though, we need help.
I run back out to the corridor, ducking in and out of every room just in case she’s conveniently in one of them. My final shot is the back door and without hesitation I kick it open. The air is humid, even out here. Normal I suppose for a London night but compared to Bournemouth it’s almost claustrophobic. The back of the Paradigm is full up with vans and cars that had no doubt supplied the equipment and refreshments for the evening. I can’t see her anywhere. I start to panic even more, my heart revving up to burst out of my chest. Nothing for it, we’ll have to call an ambulance. I’m guessing poor Monique is getting way past the point of a small blue inhaler being able to do anything anyway.
I take one final look around the car park and turn back to the door, when I see someone, standing underneath a bright streetlight that’s fixed to the back wall of the club. It’s like a scene from one of those old 50’s movies – one solitary light, steam rising up through the man-holes. I half expect to see Frank Sinatra standing there singing My Way, or Gene Kelly to come round the corner in a flurry of spinning and tap dancing. But then the film feels more like a horror. No, no one gets their head cut off by a chainsaw (mores the pity!) and no, there’s no weird-ass alien creature spewing tentacles from human orifices. That sight I could handle right now! “Dan are you okay?”
I send a command from my brain to my neck muscles, instructing them to initiate a nod of acknowledgement. I’m not sure it works.
“I’m sorry, this is Rupert Golding, my business partner. Rupert this is Dan Shears!”
Rupert takes his filthy pin-striped paws off Suzy’s waste and offers one out for a cursory shake. I just want to punch him in the face!
“Nice to meet you” I say quickly, the urgency of Monique’s deteriorating condition giving me the perfect excuse to snub him. “Suzy please tell me you have one of Monique’s inhalers?”
I don’t need to say another word.