Willem glared daggers as Jonny and the rest of the oddball group boarded the plane, a bunch of random pieces from different puzzle sets. Many a time Willem thought himself nuts for betting on these delinquents, but the payoff would very well make the high investment worth it – should it ever come.
They were about to break even, at long last, so the next piece of action might actually taste like pie. If Willem hadn't bet on them, all that talent would have otherwise rotted away in jail or on drugs or even six feet under. In one week, they'd have the show at DeeDee's Anti-Disco behind them, and then he'd know for sure.
But Willem wasn't stupid, he had eggs in many baskets. He might be gambling in a high stakes venture, but this lot weren’t his only source of income. His arse was well covered should their arses prove to be irrevocably out of line. Still a likely outcome, after all this time, and he hated them for it.
Willem didn't believe for one second that they'd passed all the sandtraps and landed soundly onto the green. After two years in the clear and now heading for a new land, the band was overdue, overripe for a major incident. He wondered which one of them would fuck it all up, as they had only just come out of the woods.
If he had to bet, he'd pick Jonny, the most obvious choice, the star of their little show, with his blue hair that the girl did up for him, and all that goddamned frightening talent. The bastard wrote songs like most people breathed, and played better than anybody anyone had ever heard. When he felt like being more of an asshole about it, usually while blind drunk, he’d pull out a guitar and make fun of the best, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, nobody was immune. He’d take their music and make it a hundred times better, putting them in the shade and making their own efforts sound like a stoned monkey.
But aside from that talent, the boy was virtually useless. He had so much music in his head it didn’t leave room for much else, like common sense or personality. If that weren’t enough, a mind-boggling instability had forced a lot of cracks in there, like weeds and rot through an abandoned building.
Willem hated him.
Jonny returned Willem’s hate with equal fervor and a plateful of resentment to boot. They stood diametrically opposed to each other in nearly all things. Willem shared perhaps one stance in common with Jonny, and that was a contempt for the stupid stage name the others had christened him with.
Currently, Jonny was snogging his girlfriend Ginny and blocking the aisle, their heads a mess of blue and pink-purple hair mashed together. Oblivious to the halt it had put to others’ boarding, their hands had ventured into each other's pockets. Willem would bet they'd be shagging in the lavatory by the end of this their very first flight.
The thought made Willem retch. But Ginny helped keep Jonny sane, and, if Jonny hadn’t found his way back to them, she could certainly have led the band into a more moderate success. So long as the second love of her life – heroin – had stayed dormant.
Her need for the needle had dissolved when Jonny returned and it became clear that patching him together required everyone's full attention. Her detoxification had surely involved more than that, but the band had spared Willem the details, much to his relief. Between the music and the groping, her mechanical aptitude with cars kept her busy now, she kept things running at her father’s auto shop.
Gary and Reg, the rest of the musical part of the band, broke up the snoggy traffic jam and squeezed their way past to their own seats. As Ginny's brother, Reg might be the one person who hated Jonny as much as Willem did.
Reg scowled at the scene the two had made, but then again, Reg always scowled. It's what he did best. He'd had his own drug problems in the past, opting for cocaine more than anything else. Anybody who played guitar in the same band as Jonny needed an artificial boost to their confidence. Reg might fuck things up just by deciding to split on them, once and for all. Even though he had the least amount of talent, he was easily good enough to get snatched up by another band.
If it turned out to be Gary’s turn to fuck things up, the only brawn in this brainless outfit, his misdeed would involve beating the shit out of someone just a hair too far, probably whilst protecting Jonny, and also whilst very drunk. Right now Gary looked rather green, and Willem wondered if they’d all see the ruffian’s breakfast again soon.
The lot of them had all stolen, broken into, destroyed, vandalized or set fire to something or someplace at some point, so any combination of offenders or offenses was possible. Willem didn't doubt for one second that they could discover some inventive new way to wreck this house of cards.
The procession ended with the gay bi-racial couple that made up their meager crew, “Trick” and Paul, obnoxiously queer, but at least they were cheap and didn't even try to steal things. Trick had only minor blemishes on his record, and those had happened mostly by being with the others at the wrong time, and all years past. His boyfriend Paul had never done anything wrong, at least that he’d ever got caught for. His drag queen magic act, however, was an affront to human decency and would have been grounds for death by stoning in ages past. The two weren’t likely to screw anything up other than each other, and that put them solidly on the shunned side of society along with the rest.
They were the Lost Keys, and Willem, for better or for worse, was their manager.
It all made Willem sick to his stomach, right up until the band started to play and you saw the audience react. He was either in bed with a massive ticking time bomb or on to something really big. If only he could just lock them all up in-between the shows, he might actually sleep at night. At least he didn't have to sit with them back here in coach. He got to sit up front with two guys from the record company, Frankie and Charlie, whom Willem could tolerate a bit more. Only a bit, though.
These degenerates had cost Willem greatly over the years in money, time, opportunity and mental health, and he had made sure they paid back every penny in one form or another. They actually were even now, finally, even the high interest had been paid off.
Now that all debts were settled, Willem suspected that they’d started talking about firing him, moving on to another manager. But there wasn’t a sane man in the world who’d have anything to do with them, and sure as hell not with his resources. As much as they hated him and as much as he threatened to quit, they were stuck together in miserable wedlock until either they or his nerves went to pieces, whichever came first.
They couldn't dance on the razor's edge much longer, they had to fall one way or another. Back into the abyss and eternal anonymity, or forward into fame, fortune and glory. Or at least enough fame and fortune that further fuck-ups could be more readily dealt with.
Everyone who knew them knew it as well, even those who hadn’t known them for very long. Like Riff Magazine, who had graced them with the dubious distinction of "the Fab Four of Punk." But like whipped cream and a cherry sitting atop a cowpat sundae, the magazine had put them on the cover and stuffed their dirtiest laundry into the article within.
"The best band you've never heard of," the article read. “See them before they self-destruct,” it captioned below Jonny’s mug shot, with a list of all of their criminal offenses. The article ended with “I predict New York will eat these kids alive, but they’ll put on a mind-blowing show first. Get your asses to DeeDee’s if it’s the last thing you do, because it might be the last thing they do.”
Lovely. But in for a penny, in for a pound, he'd known that nearly five years ago, when he first heard them and offered his services to their cause. If people would stick around long enough to hear them, they'd be hooked.
The Lost Keys had landed this gig for a reason, the band had something truly amazing and original. The gig itself was pretty unusual, too. DeeDee’s Anti-Disco had invited punk bands from wherever in the world a punk scene had started to seed, for a weekend-long punk showcase or something.
The event was sure to be a nightmare, but it could be the thing that put The Lost Keys on the global map. They needed something to pull them out of the rut London had become, and the invitation had come perfectly timed, as Jonny's two-year probation and its unusual terms had finally come to a close. They'd nearly suffocated, trapped in a city where everyone knew them well and either loved them or hated them, and would never change their mind to the band’s gain.
Once the urchins had all sat down, Willem leaned over to give them all a piece of his mind. He needed to deliver a reminder to the peanut gallery before he headed back to first class. He pulled his eyes off of Jonny and Ginny at the far aisle and leaned over the rest of the group, loudly confidential.
"Don’t forget, if Mr. Fuck-Up over there pulls anything on this little tour, the lot of you can hitchhike home.” Willem didn't give a rat’s arse if Jonny overheard from the next aisle over, he'd said much worse to his face, and often.
"From New York?" Trick smiled under his dreadlocks as he squeezed Paul's hand. "That's so sweet!"
"I'm serious. Don't you go thinking that because he's near done payin' me back that I'll get easy on any of you."
"He's got a point," Reg sneered, one of the few things he did aside from scowl. Reg saw Jonny through the same filter that Willem used. Jonny was, after all, shagging Reg's sister, which gave Reg even more reason to hate him than anybody else in the world.
"Just get your arse back to first class, Willem!" Gary barked, irritable and nervous as he made his way through the safety literature. The poor lad was pale as the moon, and Willem was willing to bet that his airsick bag would be full very very shortly.
Willem made his way back to his first class seat, determined to ignore the blokes from the record company, Charlie Patterson and Frankie Weller.
In lieu of conversation, Willem re-read the article in Riff a few times, and downed several tiny bottles of bourbon in the process. He then pretended to sleep the rest of the way, but the prospect of what lie in wait sloshed around his stomach with uncertainty the entire time.
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