Warning: Dubious Consent
Challenge: Challenge 06: Boosh on Tour
Length: 10-20k words
Notes: It should be fairly easy to get the hang of, but the fic jumps around drastically in time and place. Like photos. Do you see what I did there?
I’m Old Gregg: Photos Taken from their UK Tour, ‘06 by Maestro
Howard was halfway through his guitar solo when he felt the magic wear off, the shakes approaching. He was losing it. He brought his solo to a sudden close, attracting odd looks from the rest of the band. Quickly he flashed his right hand open wide, twice, the signal they had pre-arranged. The drummer nodded, and began the riff that would take them to the end of the song. The lead singer sent him a quick look when he heard it, but seeing Howard start to sweat, began the final chorus.
Howard wiped his brow with his sleeve, hiding it as an adjustment to his hat, working on holding it together for just a few minutes longer. Already his playing was starting to slip, a few wrong notes edging in here and there, but his bandmates could cover it.
They hurried to the climax, the lead singer howling into his microphone and writhing onstage in a way that never failed to make their female fans scream. They finished with a series of sharp guitar chords, a moment of silence then before the lead singer got down on one knee, pressing the mic close to his lips, and spoke the words of their closing catchphrase.
The crowd went wild, the applause and whistling was deafening. Howard took his guitar off, suddenly feeling the weight, and they all waved to the crowd, leaving the stage quickly.
As soon as they were out of sight of the audience, Howard sagged visibly. The lead singer took him aside, pressing him against the wall with one hand.
“Are you okay, pumpkin?” he asked, his eyes crumpled in worry.
Howard closed his eyes, breathing deep. “Yeah, Gregg. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I’d really like to help you, but it’s company policy never to—”
Vince smiled slowly, and licked his lips. “Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t like to get you in trouble or anything.”
The hotel receptionist smiled back, looking apologetic.
Vince leaned across the desk, dropping his voice. “I wouldn’t normally ask, it’s just that, well… she’s my sister, and I want to make sure nothing’s happened to her.”
She started to shake her head, but Vince carried on quickly. “I mean, I’ve never met this guy. And suddenly she’s run off and married him, you know? I just want to talk to her and make sure everything’s okay.”
The receptionist bit her lip a little, and looked over her shoulder to make sure her supervisor wasn’t around. She shrugged. “Well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you know if they’re in this hotel.” She held up a finger. “I’m not giving you the room number, mind.”
Vince grinned. “You’re an angel.”
“Howard Moon, did you say?” She tip-tapped away on her computer for a bit. “Aha!”
“Is he here?” Vince asked, his eyes lighting up.
The receptionist shook her head. “No. But he was.”
“Last week… he had a double room for two nights. But… oh.” She gave Vince a suspicious look. “Your sister, did you say?”
Vince nodded. “Yeah, his wife.”
She frowned, turning back to her computer screen. “No, this says he checked in with a young man.”
“Greg Moon. His brother, perhaps?”
Vince’s jaw dropped. He rubbed his forehead. “He was with a bloke?”
“… and you’re back with MFM in the afternoon with me, T.P. McGinley. If you’ve just tuned in, we’re talking to one of the most famous up-and-coming British bands of the moment, I’m Old Gregg.” The radio DJ leaned in to the microphone, swivelling back and forth on her chair. “If you haven’t heard of them, you must have been trapped down a well for the past four months, because everyone who is anyone is talking about their new and unique sound. Guys.”
“Hello T.P.,” Howard and Gregg chorused.
“How would you describe yourselves for those poor well-bound invalids that haven’t heard you yet?”
Howard slumped back in his chair at the question they’d already answered about a hundred times before. Gregg cocked his head to one side, regarding the host with a piercing stare. “We’re bringing the funk back.”
T.P. smiled nervously under his attention. “Right. Howard? Anything to add?”
“Yeah, it’s new-wave funk.”
“It really is like nothing else, isn’t it?” she asked them, and then carried on quickly without waiting for an answer. “Your first album came out last week, and has already hit number one in the charts on word of mouth alone. Reactions?”
“Great,” said Old Gregg, still staring at her.
“Yeah, it’s pretty unexpected. The fans seem to have taken a real shine to us,” said Howard, hiding behind his sunglasses.
There was a pause. Obviously annoyed with their silence, T.P. hurried into the commercial break, hitting a button to play her jingle. She got up, shaking her head, and went to speak to her producer.
Howard stood up. “I’ve gotta…” He gestured vaguely in the direction of the toilets. Gregg caught his hand as he was leaving, and pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist.
“Don’t be long.”
“I’m an old friend of Howard’s.”
The roadie just looked at him.
“No, really!” Vince snapped. “We worked together for about six years.”
The roadie turned away, chewing gum furiously. “Yeah, I’m sure you did, mate.”
Vince caught him by an arm. The roadie turned back and shook him off easily, looking unamused.
Vince realised just how much taller he was than him. “Look, please, just take him a message, yeah? It can’t do any harm.”
“Do you know how many people ask me to take messages to Howard Moon?”
“Just tell him that Vince Noir – N-O-I-R – is here to see him.”
The roadie rolled his eyes. “Piss off.”
“Look, look!” Vince said desperately. “If I’m just some crazy fan, then all that happens is you come back and kick me out, yeah? But if I’m telling the truth, and you turn away one of Howard’s oldest friends, what do you think will happen?”
The roadie rubbed his stubbled chin, looking Vince up and down. He held out one hand like he was waiting for something.
Vince sighed, and dug out a tenner from his back pocket. He slapped it into the roadie’s hand, who checked it against the light.
“Wait here.” The roadie disappeared through the stage door, and Vince heard it lock behind him. He leaned against the wall, fussing with his hair distractedly.
Five minutes later the door creaked open. Vince stood up and waited for Howard to emerge, but instead he saw only the roadie, followed by two even burlier men wearing shirts marked ‘Security’.
“That’s the one. Moon wants him gone,” the roadie said, pointing at Vince.
Vince held up his hands and started to protest, but was grabbed under the arms and dragged away before he could say a word.
There was a knock at their hotel room door. Howard made no move to answer it, sitting on the bed with his guitar in his lap. “I’m just saying…”
There was a smash from the bathroom, and Howard flinched.
“Gregg? I’m just saying maybe now’s not the right time, okay?”
Another knock at the door, a little louder this time.
“You’re leaving me!” Gregg screeched from the bathroom, smashing something else.
“We’re shit, Gregg!” Howard heard only sobbing in response. “You promised me, when we got engaged, you said we’d be a success. You promised. And instead, we’re playing crappy little pubs on the Isle of Wight!”
Whoever was at the door wasn’t going away. They banged on the door. “Hello?”
Howard got to his feet angrily, leaving his guitar on the bed. “Yeah, alright, hang on!” he called to them, and then moved to the locked bathroom door. “Look, Gregg… I’m just saying… if things don’t turn around…”
He backed away quickly as Gregg unlocked the door. His red eyes were even puffier, and he had tear tracks on his green cheeks. Behind him, he could see the shattered remains of the mirror sparkling away on the floor.
“You want success? Mmm?” Gregg said in his little froggy voice, his eyes wild. Howard took another step back as Gregg crossed the room and opened the door to the corridor.
There was a man in an expensive suit standing there, holding a clipboard. “Howard and Gregg Moon?” he asked nervously. “I’m Jim Standish, from Musical Management. I’d like to have a word with you about representing your band.”
Gregg looked at Howard, his head on one side with that scary manic expression. “I’ll give you success!” he said triumphantly.
Vince opened the door to Howard’s room only to find a stranger standing there, a scruffily dressed student with a rucksack slung over one shoulder. “Alright?” he said to Vince.
“Who are you?” Vince asked angrily.
“Oh, um… prospective tenant. I’m just checking out the room.”
Vince’s jaw dropped. “Tenant?”
“The guy with the turban said it’d be okay to have a look around,” the student said, shrugging.
Vince held up a hand. “Wait there,” he said, and closed the door, heading back to where Naboo was slumped on the sofa.
“You’re renting out Howard’s room?” he asked, standing between him and Countdown.
“I need the money,” Naboo said, shifting along the sofa to see the TV.
“He’s only been gone a week!”
“It’s been a month, Vince.”
“You can’t rent out his room.”
Sighing, Naboo switched off the television and patted the seat next to him. Vince sat down moodily.
“Howard’s dead,” he said softly.
Vince shook his head furiously. “He called me two weeks ago, remember?”
“That was just heavy breathing. It could have been anyone.”
“I’d recognise Howard’s breathing anywhere.”
Naboo sat forward, reaching under the coffee table for a small cardboard box. “Look, I don’t normally do this, but…” He opened the box, pulling out what looked like a bottle of make-up remover. He handed it to Vince, who examined the label.
“What is it?”
Naboo sat back. “Just use it before you go to sleep. It’ll help with the pain.”
Vince dumped the bottle back in his lap. “I’m not in denial. He’s not dead, and I’m going to find him. And I don’t need some magic potion to make me forget him, yeah?”
He got up and headed back to Howard’s room to turf out the student.
The four of them waited behind the curtain nervously for the start of their first performance. The drummer and the bassist had answered an advert in the local newspaper, and weren’t so much talented as they were tolerant – that is, they hadn’t run screaming at the sight of Old Gregg.
Howard shot Gregg a look, standing just in front and to the left of him, just behind the microphone stand. The wedding dress was a mistake. This was a working men’s club, they were going to get lynched. Still, it had been a choice between the dress and the tutu, the only two items of clothing Gregg owned. They were still too poor to afford a new outfit for either of them.
Gregg seemed to sense Howard watching him, turning slightly and blowing him a kiss over his shoulder. Howard ducked his head, rubbing at his engagement ring, which suddenly felt painfully tight.
“And now,” they heard the emcee say behind the curtain, “please welcome – Old Grog!”
The curtain rose swiftly to reveal the four of them blinking in the stage lights. Howard heard a communal gasp and various mutterings as the clientele of the club took in Old Gregg’s appearance. He winced, waiting for what must surely be the inevitable hail of bottles and pint glasses.
Gregg lifted his head slowly and surveyed the audience. He grinned, and cleared his throat.
“I’M OLLLLD GREGGGG!” he screamed, and signalled for the band to start playing.
They leapt straight into their first song, a hard hitting funk number with plenty of guitar work for Howard to show off with. He felt the juju rise up in him and was playing like he never had before, his fingers moving faster and faster until they became a blur.
He couldn’t be sure, with the light in his eyes, but he thought he could see people dancing.
Vince was in bed when his mobile rang. He groaned, scrabbling for it in the dark. Eventually he found it in the pocket of his trousers. “Wha?” he said sleepily.
“Vince! It’s me!”
Vince rubbed his eyes. The reception was terrible, all crackly, he could barely make out the person on the other end of the line. “Who?”
Vince woke up instantly. He flicked on his bedside lamp. “Howard? You’re alive?”
“Of course I’m alive, you berk… I haven’t got much time, so—”
“We thought you were dead, you bastard!” Vince shouted into his phone.
“I know, I’m sorry—”
“We had a bloody funeral and everything!”
“Where the hell are you? Wherever it is, I’m coming there right now to give you a kicking!”
“Shut up, Vince!” Howard hissed. “I haven’t got much time, okay? He’s going to come find me any minute, and I need you to tell Naboo that… oh shit.”
“Who’s going to find you?” There was a sudden silence on the other end, and Vince clamped the mobile to his ear. “Howard? Are you alright?”
The line was terrible, but he thought he could make out a woman’s voice in the distance, a strange, warbling, high-toned voice saying, “Where’d you go, fuzzy little man-peach?”
He heard Howard say, “N-nowhere, Gregg, I was just…”
“Howard? Where are you!” Vince shouted, suddenly concerned.
“What’s that?” the unknown voice said.
“It’s noth—” Vince heard Howard say before the line suddenly went dead, and he was left talking to the dial tone. “Howard? Howard?”
Quickly he punched in the number to call Howard back, but was met with a recorded message telling him that the number he was trying to reach was currently out of order, and to try again later.
Gregg was in the bathroom when someone knocked at the door, so Howard got up from where he was writing their next number. He opened the door wide, and saw the last thing he’d ever thought to see again – Vince.
“Howard…” Vince said breathily, his eyes wide. He pulled him into an embrace, hugging him tighter than he’d ever been held before. “Oh my God, Howard…”
Howard pushed him away roughly. “What the hell are you doing here?” he hissed.
Vince looked hurt. “Looking for you, of course.”
Howard shot a look over his shoulder, but Gregg was still happily singing away in the bathroom. “I told you not to, you little idiot!”
“No you didn’t!”
Howard sighed. “I sent you a postcard, remember?”
“I thought that was code! I thought you meant you did want me to come find you!”
“Who’s that, sugarbunch?” Gregg called from the bathroom.
Vince raised an eyebrow.
Howard pressed a finger to his lips. “Just room service, Gregg. Seeing if we want anything.” He stepped away from Vince quickly as Gregg came out of the bathroom. He saw his friend’s eyes widen as he took in his new wife, holding an empty bucket.
“I need more ice,” Gregg said, watching Vince suspiciously and handing Howard the bucket.
“More ice, right, I’ll deal with it,” Howard stammered.
Gregg kissed Howard lightly on the lips as Vince watched in horror, and disappeared back into the bathroom.
Vince opened his mouth to speak, but Howard put a hand across it, whispering fearfully. “Shut up, or he’ll kill you. We’re doing an interview at MFM tomorrow afternoon. Be in the toilets on the second floor, the furthest stall on the right, and we’ll talk there.”
Howard closed the door in his face, leaving him standing with the ice bucket.
Vince dropped a piece of paper in Naboo’s lap, who was once again sprawled in front of the television. He unfolded it wearily, and then looked up at Vince.
“Well?” said Vince manically.
Vince pointed. “Look at it!”
It was a flyer for a band called ‘I’m Old Gregg’, apparently playing the next night up in Glasgow. The flyer was covered in positive reviews. Naboo looked up at Vince in confusion. “I don’t get it.”
“Old Gregg was the name of that creature who kidnapped Howard on Black Lake. And when he called me that time,” here Naboo just sighed, believing that particular call to have been all in Vince’s tired head, “he spoke to some girl in the background named ‘Greg’.”
“You think that Howard’s been kidnapped, and viciously forced to form a new-wave funk band?”
Vince’s mouth worked for a moment, no sound coming out.
“I know you want to believe that Howard’s alive…”
“He is alive!” Vince yelled.
“… but why would he join a band? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Vince snatched the flyer back. “I don’t care whether you believe me or not. I’m going to Glasgow.”
Vince bit his lip. “The trouble is… it’s a bit expensive to get all the way up to Scotland…”
The little shaman just glared at him.
Howard looked like shit. He was pale, sweating, and shaking all over. He was storming through the backstage corridors of the Wembley arena, holding a thermos, and shouting. “Where is he? Where the hell is Gregg?”
Various low-level minions wearing headsets or carrying equipment hurriedly got out of his way as he stomped past, wrenching open random doors and sticking his head inside and calling Gregg’s name.
Eventually he found his way out onto the stage where the other two members of the band were halfway through their sound check.
“Where’s Gregg?” he asked them.
Howard brandished the thermos. “We’re out of milkshake, yeah? Which one of you fuckers had the last of it?”
They exchanged a worried look, and both claimed to be innocent.
“Oh, really? So WHERE’S GREGG?” he shouted at them.
“Um, Mr Moon, sir?”
Howard spun around to see one of the legion of assistants that followed them wherever they went. “Do you know where Gregg is?”
The assistant shook his head. “But if it’s a milkshake you’re after, we can send someone out for one right away, sir.”
Howard glared at him. “Milkshake? Who the hell wants a fucking milkshake?”
“Um… you did, sir, you said—”
“I don’t want a milkshake!” he yelled. “I want Gregg!” He prodded the young assistant viciously in the chest. “Find Gregg. Bring him to my dressing room. Fast.”
He stalked away before the young man could say anything else, walking as quickly as he could manage back to his room. Oh, but this was a bad one, right here. He clamped his hands under his armpits to stop them from shaking.
Vince sidled up to the empty bar, where the barman was polishing a glass incredibly slowly. “Hi.”
The barman barely glanced at him.
“Can I ask you some questions?”
“You going to buy a drink, boy?” the barman said in a thick Scottish accent, not looking up from his glass.
Vince had a look behind the bar for a list of cocktails, but couldn’t find one. “Uh, what do you recommend?”
“Recommend?” Now the barman looked at him, looking him up and down, and apparently not pleased with Vince’s particular brand of androgynous electro chic.
“Yeah, what’s good to drink?”
The barman turned away in disgust. “I’ll get you a whiskey.”
“Cheers,” said Vince happily.
“It’s the most expensive.”
The barman slammed down a whiskey in front of him. Unusually for a man who spent all day polishing glasses, the glass was filthy. Vince picked it up carefully, trying not to touch any more of the glass than was absolutely necessary, and took a sip. He choked, and the barman laughed cruelly.
“Now, lad. What questions did you want to ask?”
Vince thumped his chest a few times. “It’s about the band you had playing in here last night.”
The barman brightened up suddenly, his expression becoming animated and wistful. “I’m Old Gregg.”
“Yeah, that’s the—”
He was cut off by the barman leaning his head back and screeching, “I’M OLLLD GREGGG!” at the top of his lungs. He turned back to Vince and grinned. “A great band. Gonna be truly massive one day soon. You a fan?”
“A big fan,” Vince said. “Huge.”
“Ah, that Gregg… what a gorgeous specimen.”
“Yeah, she’s great,” Vince said quickly. The barman gave him an odd look, but let it pass. “I was just wondering… do you know where the band is staying?”
Howard sat on the double bed, twisting his engagement ring around his finger. It was a cheap plastic thing, slick with the sweat that was all over him as he waited for Gregg to finish whatever it was he was doing in the bathroom.
Their first night together. And Howard had married this freak, this homicidal transsexual. He prayed desperately that Gregg would have a headache, that he just wouldn’t be up for it that evening.
The bathroom door creaked open. Gregg stood there, naked except for his tutu. Howard closed his eyes in horror, then opened them again quickly as he realised that if there was anything worse than Gregg dressed like that, it was Gregg dressed like that but not knowing where he was.
“Hey, Howard,” he crooned, leaning against the doorframe.
“He-ey, Gregg,” Howard whimpered, his voice unusually high.
Gregg crossed the room to the bed, not stopping when he reached Howard, but rather climbing up on top of him and pushing him flat on the mattress. He was clammy, and cold, and he smelt of the sea. A strand of seaweed slipped off his head and hit Howard in the forehead with a wet slap.
“Oh, Howard,” he whispered, and bent down to kiss him. Before Howard could react, he had Gregg’s tongue in his mouth.
He was so cold, and he tasted of salt water.
When he’d finished, Howard put a hand on his bare chest before he could attempt it again. “We can’t do this, Gregg.”
Gregg frowned. “You don’t love me?”
“No, of course I love you!” Howard said with a nervous, high-pitched laugh. “It’s just… just that…” he felt the engagement ring on his finger again, “we’re not married!”
Gregg sat up, a confused expression on his face.
“We’re only engaged, Gregg. We won’t be married until we get it done by a vicar, in a church, the whole deal. And, and… I can’t do anything until our wedding night. It wouldn’t be right.”
“A wedding?” Gregg climbed off him and stood next to the bed. “With a pretty white dress?”
“Exactly!” said Howard, sitting up. “A proper wedding.”
Reception was terrible in this part of the city. Vince had a quick look around, and headed up a hill, hoping it would boost the signal, his mobile clamped to his ear.
“I don’t get it,” he could barely hear.
“Naboo, how many times? I found Howard here in Manchester. He’s been kidnapped by some transsexual merman named Old Gregg. We have to rescue him.”
There was a pause. “Have you been drinking?”
“You sound all slurred.”
“It’s a bad line, that’s all.” Vince had a look around, and took a quick right where the road seemed to slope upwards slightly.
“A bad line is making you sound pissed?”
“Just go look up Old Gregg, okay?” Vince noticed several people give him a sharp look when he said the name, and he hurried onwards. “Find some way we can get rid of him. Her. It.”
He could tell Naboo was still unconvinced. “I don’t understand… why is he in a band?”
“My credit’s running out. Call me back when you have something, yeah?” He hung up quickly before Naboo could protest, and stopped, leaning against a wall.
Everything Howard had said, everything that had happened to him over the past four months… just hearing about it had left Vince feeling drained and shaken. He couldn’t imagine how it had been for Howard to live through it.
He closed his eyes, resting his head against the cool brickwork.
There was a nagging doubt in his mind. What Howard had said about the engagement ring. There was something weird about it. It was almost as if – and here was where Vince knew that he had really lost his mind, because after all he had heard, how could it be possible? It was almost as if Howard didn’t want to leave Gregg.
He heard Gregg coming back into the cave, and sat up, taking his hands away from his face.
Gregg was wearing what looked like a brand new wedding dress, far cleaner than it was possible for anything to be in his underwater grotto. He stopped, watching Howard sitting at the table. “You’re still here.”
“Of course I’m still here,” Howard said, gesturing at the cave. “Where would I go?”
Gregg shrugged, toying coyly with the hem of his dress. “Don’t know. Just thought you might try to run away.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a man of my word. Howard Moon says he’s going to do something, it gets done, my friend.”
Gregg took a shy step forward, smiling. “Moon?”
“What?” said Howard, nervously.
“That’s gonna be my name – Gregg Moon.”
Howard swallowed. “Look, can we get out of this place? That was part of the deal, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Gregg held out a hand, the gloved one, and Howard took it reluctantly. “Husband.”
“That’s great, Gregg.”
Howard picked up the cardboard box containing the Funk, and put it under one arm. As soon as they hit dry land, he was going to ditch this seaweed-covered freak and head back to the city.
“So… how do we get out, exactly?”
Gregg pulled him towards the rock pool that Howard had noticed earlier. He looked into its murky depths.
Howard sighed. “I’m not a fish, Gregg. I need oxygen. I can’t swim up to the top of a lake.”
Gregg took a step forward, squeezing his hand. “That’s okay. If you run out of air,” he leaned in, his mouth perilously close to Howard’s, “I’ll give you some of mine.”
Howard smiled weakly. “Fantastic.”
“I’m Old Gregg Exclusive!” screamed the magazine front cover, catching Vince’s eye. “The Moon Men on Life, Love, and Wedding Dresses!”
He paid for it quickly, opening it as soon as he left the shop. There was a long opening blurb about how the band was number one in the charts, they had a sell-out tour across the UK, blah blah blah… he skipped to the actual interview.
“… don’t really understand what you mean about ‘the gay market’, I have to say,” says Howard, looking over at Gregg affectionately. “We just sort of are what we are. We try not to pigeonhole ourselves.”
I ask them about the wedding dress, the style icon that had freaked out a lot of people at first, but had now become their trademark. “We never meant for it to be permanent,” Gregg smirks, looking down at the dress he wears even today. “It was just that at our first gig, I didn’t have anything else to wear.”
Boy, they must have done some serious editing to make him coherent, thought Vince.
“You see,” says Gregg, taking Howard’s hand, “Howard proposed to me on the night we decided to form the band. But we’ve made a decision to hold off the wedding until we win a Brit award. So it’s become sort of symbolic.”
“It’s easy to see from the way these two are around each other that they’re really in love. Their live performances back this up, with a song regularly including a kiss or two behind the microphone.
“When we started out, we were advised to keep our relationship quiet. But we thought that people needed to take us as we are – no secrets,” Howard told me.
Relationship?!? Howard was practically under house arrest with that freak! How could he possibly… how could he even face any kind of romantic activity with that…
Vince tore the magazine into a thousand shiny pieces, and left them in the street.
Howard was collapsed on the floor in their dressing room when Gregg found him, clawing at the carpet and moaning. Gregg rolled him onto his back gently. “Howard, sweetie? What’s wrong?”
Howard smacked his lips. “M-milkshake. Oh Gregg… I’ve got the shakes so bad. Please, make me a milkshake…”
Gregg opened his bag and pulled out a bottle filled with the creamy black liquid, and held it just out of Howard’s reach.
Howard coughed weakly. “Please, Gregg.”
Gregg cocked his head in his scary way. “Who’s Vince Noir?”
Howard froze. “What?”
“He was looking for you outside the gig yesterday. Said he knew you.”
“I’ve… no idea. Please Gregg, just give it to me. We’ll talk after.”
“You’re lying.” Gregg jerked the milkshake away, his eyes hard and cold. “Do you love him?”
Howard just opened and closed his mouth like a fish, speechless.
Gregg leaned in, his voice dangerously quiet. “You say his name in your sleep, sometimes.”
“Oh, I hear ya. Even from the bathroom, I hear ya.” Gregg tilted his head back and attempted a vague impression of Howard. “‘Vince… Vince, where are you? Come save me, Vince… Ohhhhh, Vince… that’s it, Vince, just like that… ’”
“Shut up!” Howard croaked.
“I’ve given you everything you ever wanted, Howard. Everything you ever asked for. And I’ve been faithful to you since the day we met.” Gregg put the bottle of funky milkshake back in his bag, and stroked Howard’s cheek. “But it won’t be long until it’s all over.”
He stood up and walked to the door.
Howard turned, watching his boots cross the floor. “What do you mean?”
Gregg stopped, his hand on the doorknob. “They announced the Brit award nominees today. We’re up for five.”
It had taken a lot of work to get past the MFM security guard, but considering he’d only had about twelve hours to think of a plan, Vince thought he’d done pretty well. He sat in the toilet stall, the lid closed, of course, jumping every time someone came in and biting his nails.
There was a squealing of hinges, and footsteps. Someone knocked at the cubicle door. “Vince?”
He got up quickly, opening the door and pulling Howard inside. With the two of them in there, it was a tight squeeze, and they were pressed together. Vince sat on the toilet again, then realised where his face would be in relation to Howard’s anatomy, and quickly stood back up.
Howard looked… different. He was in some kind of funky black jumpsuit with a fringe on every available surface, and when he moved he made a noise like leaves blowing in the wind. He had a pair of sunglasses perched on top of his head, and looking at his bloodshot eyes, Vince could understand why he needed them. His clothes were different, but his scruffy hair and weatherbeaten face were the same, except that he looked a lot more haunted than Vince remembered. More jumpy.
“I haven’t got long,” Howard said sadly, putting a hand out to squeeze Vince’s shoulder. “It’s so good to see you.”
Vince shook his hand off, folding his arms, which in that cramped cubicle meant that they were pressed against Howard’s lycra-covered chest. “Do I get an explanation, or what?”
Howard’s hand hovered in the air for a moment, then fell to his side.
Howard crawled up the pebbled beach, coughing and wheezing, his clothes wringing wet. Behind him he felt Gregg’s hand on his back, and then his hands under his arms, pulling him up into a standing position and supporting him away from the waves that threatened to drag him back down.
It was the middle of the night, so the ascent through the waters had been done in pitch black, plants and sea creatures brushing his face as he swam blindly upwards. He had clawed at Gregg’s hand clutching his, his lungs desperate for air, and Gregg had wrapped his body around him tenderly, gently blowing oxygen back into his mouth, floating steady in the dark.
He lay on the pebbles, listening to the surf and the beat of his own heart. Gregg knelt behind him. “You okay, lover boy?”
Howard rolled onto his back, looking up at the merman who had both saved and endangered his life. He could do nothing but gasp.
Dripping water on him, Gregg leaned in and kissed him again, breathing into his mouth. He gave Howard’s mouth a little lick as he finished, and grinned slyly. “My first kiss, Howard. I’m glad it was you.”
Howard sat up, coughing, his eyes wide.
They sat there for a few minutes in the moonlight, Gregg rubbing his back in circles and murmuring nonsense as Howard waited for his heartbeat to return to normal. He saw the cardboard box that contained the Funk a few feet away.
“We need to get to a phone,” he said slowly.
Gregg watched him carefully. “Why?”
“Well, I’ve got people I need to talk to, Gregg. Friends who’ll be looking for me.”
“Others?” Gregg’s voice had a hard edge to it.
Howard cleared his throat. “Just friends, Gregg. They’ll be worried.”
Gregg tilted his head to one side in a movement Howard was learning to fear. “You don’t need others. You’ve got me.”
“Well, yeah… I’m very happy with you. Obviously. But if we’re going to form a band, we’ll need more than just you and me, right?”
Gregg got to his feet, pulling up Howard beside him, who staggered a little. Gregg stood in front of him and put his hands on Howard’s waist. “No others.”
Howard leaned back a little. “Sure. I mean, I won’t tell them where we are. I’ll just let them know that I’m okay, that I’m with you, and—”
Gregg’s grip on his waist tightened painfully. “No phone calls.”
Howard reached down to Gregg’s hands, but couldn’t move them. He looked up at Gregg’s face, his eyes shining in the moonlight. “Sure! No phone calls, Gregg. I won’t go near a phone.”
Howard had been missing for over a month when Vince got the postcard. It was just lying on the mat innocently, like it was nothing special, mixed in with the bills and flyers from hair salons.
Still in his pyjamas, Vince had peered at the picture blearily. It showed a cow with a morose expression standing in the middle of an empty field, in the rain, and bore the caption, ‘Greetings from the Isle of Wight’.
Taking it back to the table where he was halfway through his coffee, Vince had wondered to himself – who do I know in the Isle of Wight? No one. Who do I know who’s sad enough to take a holiday in the Isle of Wight? No one, well, except maybe How—
He turned it over furiously, his coffee forgotten.
It was Howard’s handwriting all right, if a little scrawled like it had been written at speed.
‘Vince,’ it said.
‘Having a great time. Wish you were here. Howard.’ And then four kisses. Vince swallowed a little at seeing those four Xs meant for him, not really knowing why that should affect him so.
‘PS:’ it said. ‘In great danger. Don’t come looking for me. Will surely be killed. Love to Naboo and Bollo.’
Vince sat there staring at it for a while. It was possibly the most bizarre postcard ever written. He looked at the postmark – it had been sent over a week ago.
Three things were clear, though: Howard was definitely alive. The phone call hadn’t been a mistake at all. And he wanted Vince to come and find him.
Vince grabbed the telephone in one hand, and the phone book in the other, and looked up the number of a taxi firm.
Howard leaned back in the toilet cubicle, his head resting against the wooden partition. Vince put a reassuring hand on his arm. “It sounds awful, Howard.”
Howard’s voice was thick with emotion. “He just kills indiscriminately. I’ve lost count of how many people it must be by now. He does this thing where he puts his head on one side, and he stares intently, and then…” He trailed off, his eyes unfocused.
“And every time I hear about someone dying, or not showing up for work, or disappearing, I wonder… did I do that? Did I smile at someone too much, or pay them a compliment that he overheard? Did I make him jealous?”
Vince squeezed his arm. “It’s not your fault, Howard. He’s a maniac. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
Howard closed his eyes. “He loves me, though. He really does.”
Vince bit his lip, looking down. “You don’t, I mean, for him…”
“God, no! I mean, he’s got a certain imbecilic charm once in a while, but he’s evil, Vince. How could you even think—”
Vince started to get angry, the cramped conditions of the toilet cubicle restricting his impulse to gesture frantically, and making him even more frustrated. “Well, what am I supposed to think? It took me two years to convince you to form a band with me, and this guy does it in two minutes!”
“He’s a murderer, Vince. What was I supposed to say? ‘Oh, sorry, I don’t really see my life heading in that direction at the moment…’”
“And I’ve been tracking you two for months now, from gigs to hotels. Everywhere I go, it’s Howard and Gregg Moon, sharing a double room, with one, big, comfortable double bed.” Vince came to an abrupt halt, his cheeks a little pink, a hard expression on his face.
Howard looked into his eyes carefully. “He sleeps in the bath, you little idiot.”
Howard put on his lecturing voice. “He’s a cold-blooded amphibian. He doesn’t sleep, he fills the bath half with ice and half with water, and goes into a form of hibernation overnight.”
“Oh.” Vince narrowed his eyes. “He so wants you, though.”
“Few can resist my charms, Vince,” Howard preened.
“Yes, he ‘wants’ me,” Howard said quickly, making air quotes with his fingers. “But I’ve told him that I can’t do anything until we’re properly married.”
“And you’re not going to get married until you win an award…”
“Exactly,” Howard said, snapping his fingers. “I did tell him that I wouldn’t marry him until we won an Emmy, but some stupid journalist set him right on that one. So now I’m safe until we win a Brit award.”
Vince raised an eyebrow. “‘Until’? Not, ‘if’?”
When Vince came out of his room where he had been holed up for the past two hours, Naboo and Bollo could do nothing but gape.
Vince was dressed in a simple black shirt, tie and trousers, not made out of leather or lycra or any other peculiar material, but what looked like polyester. They could have been bought from Asda.
His shoes were flat, simple round-toed black shoes that any middle-class accountant would have been proud to wear. Without his usual heels he was smaller, like he had been crumpled.
His hair, normally backcombed into a giant fluffy structure, was hidden completely, tucked up under a simple black beanie.
His face looked unusually pale, even for Vince, suspended against all that black. His eyes looked smaller, they no longer jumped out at you, screaming for attention, now that Vince had wiped off all his eyeliner. He wore no make-up at all.
And when he folded his hands over his stomach, they could see that all of his nail varnish, any jewellery, had been removed completely. They could have been anyone’s hands.
Vince pulled at the collar of his shirt, then stopped himself quickly. “Shall we go?” he said to a speechless Naboo and Bollo.
“W-what have you done?” Naboo stammered.
Vince tightened his tie. “No one’s going to accuse me of pulling focus today. This is all about Howard,” he said grimly, his suddenly thin lips set in a firm line.
They left the flat together, climbing into the black car outside, following Howard’s coffin to the cemetery.
Howard waited for Gregg to close the door to the bathroom, and counted to a hundred in the dark. When he was fairly sure that Gregg would be in hibernation, he picked up the cardboard box that contained the Funk, and let himself out of their cheap hotel room.
He locked the door from the outside, hoping that it might slow Gregg down as and when he awoke, and padded quietly down the corridor to the stairs. The Funk whined a little under his arm, and he shushed it, shaking the box harshly.
There was no one at reception, and so no witnesses to him leaving.
Outside the hotel, he turned left and just started walking.
Gregg had said no to coming to London after they had left Black Lake, and so they had headed in the opposite direction, hitch-hiking as much as they could. It had already been dark when they arrived in the nearest town, and Howard had no idea where he was.
The wind was bitterly cold, and yet he felt uncomfortably warm. He unbuttoned his shirt a little.
Get to a phone. Call Vince and Naboo. If he couldn’t find a phone, he’d find a train station or a coach, or a taxi rank, and just put as much distance between him and Gregg as was possible. Who knew what eldritch powers that merman had – maybe he could fly? Or read minds? Maybe he knew that Howard was escaping, and was just toying with him until he’d spring out from an alley, screaming—
Howard jumped back as something sprang out of an alley, screaming. He dropped the box, putting his hands up to cover his face.
It was, of course, a simple black cat. It gave Howard a smug look, as if it knew he had been afraid of it, and slinked off into the darkness.
Howard’s heart was going a mile a minute. He knelt down and picked up the cardboard box, but found himself unable to stand up again. He couldn’t breathe, he was hyperventilating. He clutched at his throat, gasping for air, sure he was about to die but in a way he had never imagined possible – a simple heart attack.
He thought of Vince, once, before he blacked out.
Second time lucky, thought Vince. He put his earphones in, and held the end of the cord in his palm with his mobile phone.
The secret to getting in places you weren’t supposed to be was confidence. And if you didn’t have confidence (which Vince had in abundance), then you just had to make yourself into someone nobody wanted to talk to.
He strode up to the gate.
“No, that is not okay!” he shouted to no one in particular. “We sent you over a very specific list of questions, you can’t start adding ones now!”
The security guard, disturbed from his morning coffee and paper, came out of his hut and watched Vince approach warily.
“I don’t… I don’t… stop interrupting me!” Vince yelled. “It’s very simple. Either you stick with the list we sent you, or the boys don’t do the interview.”
He approached the security guard, digging around in his pocket for something and mouthing ‘hang on’ at him. He rolled his eyes, and the guard smiled nervously.
“I don’t care if it is Parkinson, dear, that’s our policy. If you don’t like it, why don’t you just book the PM again? I’m sure he’s got nothing on.”
With a triumphant look, Vince dug out his old Zooniverse pass and waved it at the guard, dropping it back into his pocket before the guard could examine it too closely. He started to walk in, but the security guard took a small step forward to block his way.
Vince gave him an angry look. “How. Many. Times!” he screamed, and the guard took a step back. Vince smiled at him, and carried on. “Do you have any idea how often they’re asked about their relationship? They don’t want to talk about it any more! Everyone who’s anyone has already heard it before! And, might I add, by persisting in this way, I could quite happily have you up for sexual harassment.”
The security guard cleared his throat. “Um, excuse me, sir…”
“Well, not harassment then… whatever that one is about going on about people’s sexuality.” Vince dug his pass out again, and showed the back of it to the guard in an overly theatrical manner, then shoved it back in his pocket. ‘Well?’ he mouthed at him.
The security guard looked around uncertainly, then stepped back to let Vince pass.
“Discrimination! That’s it! Going on and on about it – I could have you for discrimination of the gays!” Vince blew the guard a very small kiss, and sauntered into the building.
Howard woke up on the pavement, his head ringing. As he opened his eyes he saw Old Gregg’s face, upside down, peering at him. “Whatcha doin’?”
Howard tried to sit up, and groaned. “Owww.”
Gregg knelt down next to him, supporting his back and raising him into a sitting position. “What you doing out here, Howard?”
Howard rubbed his forehead, every part of his body in pain. He looked around himself quickly. What was he doing out here? Where was he? Who was he? “Guh?” he managed to say.
Gregg pulled him up and put an arm around his shoulders. He picked up the cardboard box containing the Funk with the other arm, and gently guided Howard back to the hotel. “Were you sleepwalking?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” said Howard quickly, knowing a way out when he saw it. “Bad habit.”
Gregg shook his head, his seaweed flicking ice cold water in Howard’s ear as he did so. “Can’t be doing that. Can’t be wanderin’ off now we’re married.”
“Engaged,” Howard said quickly. “Maybe I should go to a hospital? I feel terrible.” A hospital would have police around, surely? Someone who he could hide behind?
“You’re fine. You just can’t go so far away.” Something about the way Gregg said ‘can’t’ made Howard’s stomach turn over.
“What do you mean, exactly?”
Gregg turned to look at him as they were walking, their faces close. He smiled. “It’s your ring, Howard.”
Howard held up a hand to his face to look at the engagement ring that looked like it had been found in a cracker. “This?”
“Mmm-hmm. If you go too far away from me, you get sick.”
Gregg squeezed his shoulder, leaving a wet imprint on Howard’s shirt. “But it’s okay. You love me. You won’t leave me. So you won’t get sick.”
They approached the hotel, and as they passed through the door Howard felt like he was entering the gates of Hell.
“This doesn’t sound very good so far,” Vince said, resting one hand on top of the cubicle door in a relaxed posture. By raising one arm up it made a neat line of his body, drawing the eye in a long arc from the top of his head down to his feet. Howard shook himself mentally, looking away.
“You can’t leave Gregg. And if we come and face him down, he can kill us with his mind,” Vince summarised.
Howard nodded. “Maybe Naboo will have a magic trinket, something that can immobilise him, or something. Or some way of getting this damned ring off,” he said irritably, holding up his hand and pulling at it without success.
“Give it here,” Vince said, grabbing Howard’s hand and examining the ring. “It’s turning your skin green. It’s plastic, it shouldn’t be doing that.”
“Thank you, Professor Science,” Howard said quickly, suddenly over-aware of the amount of blood rushing through his hand as Vince examined it carefully.
“Got it. Run your hand through my hair.”
Howard snatched his hand away. “Very funny, Vince.”
Vince grinned. “I’m serious!” He pointed to his hair. “There’s enough wax and gel in here to slide anything off your finger.”
They stood in silence for a moment, letting that particular remark settle before saying anything else that could cause some kind of double-entendre avalanche.
Howard raised his hand warily, looking at Vince. “You’re sure?”
Howard spread his fingers wide, and carefully combed them through Vince’s hair. It was softer than anything covered in that amount of chemicals had any right to be, and Howard took his time letting it run through his fingers, moving his hand slowly down to Vince’s shoulder.
He pulled at the ring, but it didn’t budge.
“Try it again,” said Vince, his voice suddenly more high-pitched. As Howard touched his hair again, Vince closed his eyes and tilted his head back a little. Howard pushed through the layers with his hand, and suddenly hit skin. His fingers were resting lightly on Vince’s scalp.
Vince opened his eyes and looked into Howard’s. Howard licked his lips, and moved in slightly.
There was a sudden creaking of the door hinges. “Howard? You okay?” Gregg’s voice warbled through the air, and Howard pulled back like he’d been burnt. He wiped his hand on his trousers vigorously, and motioned for Vince to be quiet.
“Coming, Gregg. Just a minute!” he called out, his voice wobbling a little.
Howard mimed for Vince to sit on the toilet lid, and when he did so, he picked up his feet and tucked them up on top of it so they couldn’t be seen by anyone looking under the stall. He flushed the toilet, the noise suddenly loud.
Looking at Vince sadly, Howard mouthed, ‘see you soon’. Vince winked, but it felt like goodbye.
Howard opened and closed the cubicle door quickly so that Gregg couldn’t see in. Vince smoothed down his hair, suddenly feeling very alone.
“… and Polydor say that they want you to start laying down the album on Friday, so we’ll send a taxi round to pick you up.” Jim Standish, their agent, shuffled some papers around on his desk, a pensive expression on his face. “Oh, there was just one other thing.”
Howard and Gregg sat on the other side of the desk in the most comfortable chairs in the world, Howard flicking through their new contract.
“We need to talk a little about publicity.”
Howard and Gregg exchanged a look. “We already said we’re okay with it,” said Howard.
Jim shook his head. “We’ve had some… concerns, from both Polydor and the networks, about publicising your relationship.”
Gregg reached for Howard’s hand and squeezed it. Howard managed a weak smile.
Jim watched them with well-concealed distaste. “It’s just that, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to go public with your engagement just yet.”
“Why?” Gregg asked.
“Well, it takes the focus away from your music. ‘I’m Old Gregg’ becomes less about new-wave funk, and more about… gay rights. Issues of sexuality. You’re no longer a band, you’re a gay band.”
Gregg tilted his head to one side. “So?”
Knowing from experience that talking to Gregg was often no use, Jim turned to Howard. “Also, you’re alienating your whole teenage market. You’re unattainable to women because you’re gay, and you’re unattainable to men because the two of you are married.”
“Engaged,” said Howard quickly.
“Whatever. The fans want to feel like, if they met you, they might have a chance.” Jim laughed. “I mean, you’re cutting out the possibility of groupie sex.”
Howard laughed a little, politely acknowledging the joke, but Gregg stared intently at him. “Adultery?” he said quietly.
They both stopped laughing. Jim cleared his throat a little. “It was a joke, Gregg.”
“I think we need a new agent.” Gregg got to his feet, and Howard stood up beside him.
“Don’t, Gregg,” he hissed. “Please.”
Gregg smiled faintly, and turned, fixing his eyes on their agent, who was looking from one to the other in confusion.
Jim’s mouth fell open, and he coughed. He reached for his collar, his face going red.
“Gregg, please! Not here! Not him!” Howard clutched at Gregg’s arm, but he pushed him away, not taking his eyes off the dying man.
Jim started to go blue. His eyes bulged, his tongue started to hang out. He was making the most ghastly choking sounds, clawing at his throat, his eyes pleading.
Howard couldn’t turn away.
A few seconds was all it took, and he lay dead on the desk.
Gregg took Howard’s hand, and gently pulled him out of the room. “We’ll get someone more tolerant,” he crooned, kissing Howard’s cheek lightly.
Bollo and Naboo exchanged a look as Vince peered out of the window. “I think I can see a light up ahead,” he said.
“That’s the moon,” said Naboo wearily.
“We’re going to run out of oxygen soon,” said Naboo, tapping the gauge. “We’ll need to resurface.”
Vince nodded, not taking his eyes off the window. “Right, yeah. How long will it take to refuel?”
There was no answer. He turned to Bollo, who was avoiding his eyes, concentrating on the radar. Naboo glanced at him. “You want to come back down here, then?”
“Well, of course. We haven’t found Howard yet.”
Naboo sighed, pressing a button on the dashboard that brought the submarine to a complete stop.
“What are you doing?” Vince squeaked.
“We’ve been down here three hours, Vince. There’s no sign of Howard.”
“That doesn’t mean we can stop looking!” Vince wiped the window with his sleeve, putting his hands up to it so he could see out more clearly. “I mean, it’s just a lake! How big can it be?”
“Eight miles by two miles,” said Bollo.
“And this submarine is about four feet by six feet,” said Naboo.
Vince watched them both in anger. “Fine!” he yelled. “You guys can go home, and I’ll keep looking!”
“You can’t drive a submarine, Vince. You can’t even drive a car.”
“I’ll learn.” Vince turned his back on them to look out of another window at the pitch-black water beyond. For a moment he thought he saw a movement in the distance, two people locked together, kissing underwater… but it was gone as soon as he noticed it. Cabin fever, he figured.
Naboo looked to Bollo, who shrugged. He fiddled with some gears and levers. “Okay, we’ll go up, get more air, and then come back down. I suppose we can stay for another hour.”
Vince grinned. “Cheers Naboo. We’ll find him. I know we will.”
Howard sat in his armchair in his dressing room backstage. He was watching his hands shake. He held them out at chest level, just in front of his eyes, and did his best to stop them from shaking, trying to hold them as still as possible.
He looked up at Gregg, mixing him a funky milkshake. “I don’t get it. I don’t understand why this is happening.”
Gregg stirred the jug carefully. “You’re coming down from the funk, Howard.”
“I know that,” he snapped. “But it’s never been this bad before. I mean, you always feel tired and a little depressed, but this…”
His hands stilled for a moment, and he looked up triumphantly. Then he went pale suddenly, and his whole body convulsed, shaking all over.
Gregg hurried over with the milkshake. “Here, kitten, drink up. It’s all creamy.”
Howard greedily gulped down the milkshake that Gregg held to his lips, finishing half of it in one go. He held a hand up, and Gregg took the glass away, wiping his chin with a handkerchief.
Howard lay back in his chair and closed his eyes. “A little.”
Gregg put the glass on the table next to him, and sat down on the floor just in front of his chair.
“I still don’t get it… why am I the only one affected? Why am I the only one who has to dash offstage because he can’t hold his guitar any more?”
“You’re special, Howard,” Gregg said in his singsong voice. Howard opened one eye suspiciously, watching Gregg sitting cross-legged on the floor for all the world like an overgrown schoolboy.
“Did you do something, Gregg?”
Gregg ducked his head, smiling. “Maybe.”
Howard picked up the glass, peering into the creamy black liquid. “Did you put something in it?”
Gregg leaned in, biting his lip. “It’s double strength. Makes you twice as funky. Helps you play better.”
Howard rubbed his forehead. “I don’t understand – how could you make it twice as strong?”
Gregg shrugged modestly. “Just need to know what teats to pull.”
“So,” Howard sat up in his chair, looking from his glass to Gregg, “so I’m going through twice the normal withdrawal symptoms? Is that it?”
“It’s okay. It just means that you better keep drinking it.” Gregg was smiling, but he was easy to see through. If Howard had to keep taking the milkshake, that meant he had to stick around Gregg, since he was the only one who knew how to milk the Funk. He was, in effect, addicted to Gregg.
Howard looked at the remainder of the milkshake in the glass, and licked his lips.
“Drink up,” Gregg said eagerly.
Hating himself, Howard did.
Vince opened the door to a dressing room marked ‘Moon Men’ with a little gold star on it, chattering away on his fake hands-free headset. He had a quick look around the room, which was empty. It was an enormous dressing room. It had a set of bunk beds in the corner, for… what? Vince wondered. Getting to the gig early and then having a little nap so you can make the fans wait?
There were various costumes and accessories, sheet music, plectrums, the usual musical detritus strewn haphazardly around the room. There were some comfortable armchairs, one of which Vince sat down in gladly. There was a bottle half full of some strange black liquid on a table next to him. He picked it up and swirled it around a little.
The door to the dressing room opened, and Howard stood there, dressed in an outlandish outfit that really would have been a little extreme even for Vince. It was covered in sequins and glitter and ribbons, and sparkled in the light.
“Who are you? What are you doing?” he said to Vince, closing the door behind him. He saw Vince holding the bottle, and his eyes widened. “Put that down!”
Vince stood up. “Howard, it’s me! Relax.”
Howard took two quick steps over to him, and snatched away the bottle. “Don’t ever touch this, okay?”
“Are you alright?” Vince asked. Howard was jittery, and looked at him without recognition. “It’s me. It’s Vince Noir, remember?”
Howard peered at him for a moment, then something seemed to click in his brain, and his manic expression softened into the familiar Howard Vince knew and loved. “Vince. Sorry, yeah… you know what it’s like before a gig.” He smiled, but he didn’t let go of the bottle. “Dunno where my head is tonight.”
Howard moved over to his dressing table and sat down on the stool there, putting the bottle within arm’s reach. Vince watched him with worry and curiosity – the sight of Howard Moon applying make-up was one that had to be seen.
Howard slipped on a hairband to keep his hair out of his face – quite unnecessarily, Vince thought – and started painting a giant silver star over one eye. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Oh yeah, right,” said Vince, tearing his eyes away from Howard’s reflection with difficulty. “Naboo found a cure.”
Howard stopped painting. He looked at Vince in the mirror. “A cure?”
“For your ring… thing. About it not coming off.”
Howard looked down at his hand, the green stain there now covering the lowest joint of his finger. He rubbed it with his thumb. “What sort of cure?”
“Well, we did some research. You can’t get too far away from Gregg or the ring makes you black out, yeah?”
“Well, apparently the ring is like the first stage. It puts all this stuff into place, laying the ground work, but then Gregg does something which makes it stick forever, whether you’re wearing the ring or not. Luckily for you, you managed to avoid that particular step.”
Howard resumed painting his face. “Why? What did I do?”
Vince hid a grin. “Well, think. What didn’t you do that he wanted you to do?”
Howard’s jaw dropped. “If we have sex, I’ll never be able to leave?”
“It makes it permanent, yeah. Unfortunately for you, you’re getting married this evening.”
Vince stood up and came over to where Howard was painting the world’s wobbliest star, and took the brush away from him. Holding Howard’s jaw with one hand, he neatened it up a little. “The Brits, remember? The award ceremony is tonight, and if you guys are as good as you say you are, you’ll be whisked off to a church at the end of the gig.”
Despite his mounting horror, Howard couldn’t miss that particular dig. “You’ve never seen us live, have you, Vince?”
Vince dipped the brush in a little more silver paint. “I managed to miss that particular ordeal. And you will too, tonight. We have to get out of here.”
Howard dodged the brush with a wave of his hand. “I don’t understand.”
Vince sighed. He dug a small tub out of his pocket, about the size of a lip balm. “You rub this on your finger, and we do a little ritual. And then you’re free, the ring will come off. I mean, Gregg’ll probably chase us for a bit, we’ll have to do some hiding together, but I know a few places.”
“But I have to play tonight!” Howard whined, thinking of the thousands of screaming fans. “It’s the last night of our sell-out tour, Vince. Wembley!”
Vince just looked at him. “Howard, we have to get out of here before the Brits. If you play tonight, Gregg will take you straight from here to a church, marry you, take an extended honeymoon, and, well…” He made an obscene gesture that made Howard wince.
“But… Wembley, Vince! I can’t go through all this and leave before Wembley, can I?”
“I knew it!” Vince threw the brush onto the floor. “You don’t want to be rescued!”
Howard sighed. “Of course I want to be rescued, Vince, I’m just saying that it’s not such a good time right now…”
“You love it! The fame, the music, the girls… it’s everything you’ve ever wanted! I wouldn’t be surprised if you were looking forward to humping that deep-sea ladyboy!”
“Yeah, that’s it, Vince,” Howard said, rolling his eyes. “I’m in love with in Gregg. I can’t get enough of his clammy little body.”
Vince glared. “You’re coming with me, now, or you won’t see me again. I mean it.” He put the little tub of magic potion back in his pocket, and held out his hand.
Howard looked from Vince’s hand, to the mirror, and back again. He bit his lip.
Vince raised an eyebrow. “Last chance.”
Howard leaned forward… and picked up the make-up brush from the floor, turning back to the mirror.
“Fine!” Vince said angrily, turning on his heel and walking to the door. His face felt like it was on fire, and his stomach was churning like he was going to throw up.
Howard watched him go, one hand on his bottle of milkshake.
“Best New British Act goes to…” The vacuous young thing presenting the award opened the envelope with some difficulty, and then turned it to face the camera. “Was there ever any doubt? I’m Old Gregg!”
The audience went wild with applause and cheering. On the television screen onstage the other acts up for the award struggled to look pleased, an effort probably made easier by the fact that everyone had already known to whom the award was going.
The young lady held up a hand for calm, and spoke into the microphone, her eyes never leaving the autocue. “Unfortunately, the Moon Men can’t be with us this evening, but here to accept this award is a personal friend… Sir David Bowie!”
Bowie walked out onto the stage holding a glass of champagne, smiling and waving, and the crowd went wild again as the musicians in the audience recognised their musical hero.
He waited for some minutes for the applause to die down, and motioned for people to return to their seats. The woman next to him looked confused, as if trying to work out where she knew him from. Probably a politician, she decided.
“Thank you,” said Bowie, and the audience went wild again.
“Howard and Gregg can’t be here tonight, as they’ve just finished playing their last performance at the Wembley Arena.” He flashed a gorgeous grin to camera. “But no doubt many of you know that the Moon Men had a little pact, and can work out where they’ve sped off to this evening. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing them both many years of happiness together.” There was a mixture of applause from the assembled musicians, and crying and screaming from the fans in the balcony.
Bowie raised his glass of champagne. “Will you all join me in a toast to the happy couple: Howard and Gregg Moon!”
Everyone got to their feet and raised their glasses, chorusing ‘To Howard and Gregg Moon!’. There was some small unpleasantness as an inebriated Liam Gallagher spilled his pint over the drummer from The Strokes, and a fight broke out.
“This is insane, Gregg,” Howard protested as Gregg tightened his bow tie, standing just outside the church. “I mean, we haven’t planned this. There’s so much that needs to be done!”
Gregg fussed with his collar. “I already made all the preparations, Howard.”
“What about the vicar? Where will we find one happy to do a gay wedding?”
Gregg smiled sweetly. “He wrote to me and offered to do it.”
“What about witnesses?”
“The drummer and the bassist, Howard,” Gregg reminded him, taking a step back and looking him over carefully.
“… what about the cake?” Howard said desperately.
A van pulled up beside them and the driver jumped out. “Mr Moon, sir, a great honour,” he said to Gregg. “Where would you like your wedding cake?”
Gregg winked at Howard. “Liza Minelli sent it.”
An assistant came out of the church and spoke to the driver, showing him where to put the cake, and assuring him that he could have a signed photo just as soon as the wedding was over.
Gregg ushered Howard into the church, their footsteps echoing against the wooden floor. The church was almost empty, the vicar standing at the top of the aisle flanked by the drummer and the bassist. Howard wondered which one was the best man, and which the maid of honour.
Gregg put his arms around Howard’s neck, and pulled him in for a kiss. Howard was used to these by now, and no longer tensed up or started screaming like he had in the beginning.
“I know you don’t love me, Howard,” Gregg whispered. Howard responded instinctively as he had trained himself to do, but Gregg put a cold finger on his lips. “No, you don’t love me. I could convince myself back in the cave, but up here… with all these other people around… I know you never loved me.”
Howard swallowed, but Gregg didn’t sound angry, just a little wistful. “I tried to make you love me, but I think – maybe – you can’t take someone who’s already been taken.”
Gregg sighed deeply, but smiled with it. “I love you, though. And I can give you a lot, you know. The fame, the money, the music. We could keep going, get bigger. Go to America.”
Howard bit his lip. Gregg knew him well, and knew what would appeal to him. He couldn’t deny that he liked being a famous musician.
Gregg leaned in a little. “I can give you all these things… but I want you, Howard. I want you so bad.” He stared at Howard’s lips, his hands rubbing a little at the back of his neck. “So we have to get married.”
“What do you say, kitten?”
Howard thought for a moment. What it all came down to, he thought, was what you were prepared to put up with for a little of everything you’d always dreamed of. Could he get used to sex with Gregg, the cold-blooded fish? What wouldn’t he do to be famous?
He put his hands on Gregg’s waist, feeling the edges of his corset poke through the wedding dress a little. He leaned in, for the first time kissing Gregg of his own accord, waiting to feel something, anything. Fireworks. Electricity. Anything that might help him make a decision.
At the end of the kiss, Gregg stood motionless with his eyes closed, humming a little.
“Alright,” said Howard. “But I need to go freshen up first.”
Howard had the same dream, every night.
He dreamed he was back in Old Gregg’s cave, sitting at the dinner table with its candles and the dead fish on his plate. He could see everything so clearly, so vividly.
And he would sit, and wait. Wait to be rescued.
Because there was a very clear pattern to his life. He managed to get himself in some sort of crazy trouble, and then Vince would turn up out of the blue and rescue him.
So he sat at the table, trying to ignore the pungent aroma of raw fish, sipping his Baileys, waiting for Vince to find him.
The dream seemed to go by in real-time. Eight hours of sleep would mean eight hours of sitting there, waiting for Vince.
But nobody came.
Howard stood in the toilets at the back of the church, looking at his reflection in the mirror, and trying to imagine what a life with Gregg might be like. What their children might look like.
He could see the row of cubicles behind him in the mirror, all of them with their doors wide open except for one.
The second on the right.
Howard froze. It couldn’t possibly be…
He pushed at the cubicle door gently, and it swung open to reveal Vince sitting on the toilet lid with an enormous grin. “Alright?” he asked.
Howard was speechless.
“You know, an invitation would have been nice. I’m getting a little tired of all this gatecrashing,” Vince said, pulling Howard into the cubicle and locking the door behind him.
“You said I’d never see you again!” Howard managed to say.
Vince rolled his eyes. “I say a lot of things.” He watched Howard carefully. “Are you actually going to go through with this?”
“Of course not!” Howard said indignantly.
“Well, don’t blame me for asking. I heard that little speech he made. He offered you everything you’ve ever wanted. Must be tempting.” Vince’s voice was soft.
Howard tried not to think about how he had let Vince walk out on him before the gig. “Not everything,” he said quietly. “And anyway, you’ve got to remember that deep down, deep deep down… he’s a murderer. I find that helps in making decisions about my future. If I’d said no, he’d just have killed me with his mind.”
“So you’re happy with being in a second-rate electro-jazz band from Dalston?” Vince asked, still watching Howard for his reaction.
Howard smiled. “I suppose it’ll have to do.” He held up the hand with the ring. “Can we get out of here now?”
Vince pulled the little tub out of his pocket and handed it to Howard, who opened it, nose wrinkling at the smell. “What’s in this?”
Vince shook his head. “You don’t want to know. It took three weeks to get all the ingredients together.”
Howard smeared some of the grey-green mulch on his ring finger, and pulled at his ring with his other hand.
“It won’t come off!” he panicked.
Vince took the tub away from him, slipping it into his pocket. “That’s only half of it. There’s something we need to do first.”
“What, like an incantation?”
Vince bit his lip. “Not quite. We have to break the spell, sort of like Sleeping Beauty, Naboo said.”
Howard’s mind worked for a moment before he realised what had broken Sleeping Beauty’s spell. “Oh, great. How does that help me, exactly? Where am I going to get a girl from?”
Vince groaned in annoyance. “Howard. Please. Try not to be quite so clueless, okay?”
Vince leaned in a little, but Howard pushed him back. “No, Vince.”
“Look, it’s just for the spell, yeah? Don’t be such a square.”
Howard kept his hand on Vince’s chest, keeping them apart. “No. Look, I know to you it would just be helping me out, right? Just helping a mate out of trouble. But for me,” Howard looked away sadly, “it would mean more than that. And – just trust me on this – it would mean we wouldn’t be able to be best friends any more.”
Vince watched him for a moment, then tried to lean in again.
Howard held him at bay. It was just like Vince, poor, simple Vince, who would do anything for a friend, not to realise. God, one of Howard’s worries had always been that if Vince had known how he felt about him, he would have gone along with the whole thing just to keep Howard happy.
“You are the biggest idiot I have met in my life,” Vince said to him. “I’ve spent the past six months chasing you up and down the country. I haven’t spent more than three nights in the same bed. Even when we thought you were dead, when everyone else said I was insane, even when you told me not to come and find you, I kept looking for you, Howard.”
Howard just stood there with his mouth open.
Vince smiled. “If you’d like it spelled out a little clearer, I’m crazy about you. And I would very much like to kiss you now, so we can go home.”
“Oh.” Howard dropped his hand from Vince’s chest. “I suppose that’s alright then.”
He put his hand up to pull Vince’s head close, but Vince stopped him. “You’re not putting that finger anywhere near my hair,” he said, pointing at Howard’s ring. “I know what’s in that stuff, remember?”
I’M OLD GREGG SINGER TO MARRYAfter being jilted at the altar last year by his fellow bandmate Howard Moon, many said that Gregg would never recover from the shock. However, NME can exclusively reveal that Gregg has once again found love in the most unlikely of places. Following a visit to his local zoo to see the aquarium, sources close to the band say that Gregg is once again engaged, with a wedding expected early next Spring.
Although the engagement has not been officially announced, the lead singer of the multi-award-winning band has been spotted about town with a young man, who has been identified as Robert Fossil, a 32-year-old zookeeper. The two have been seen eating together at restaurants, looking for bargains at Topshop, and visiting each other’s flats in London.
Mr Fossil’s friends could not be contacted for comment.