This is the prologue, and first chapter, of my novel Satan's Whiskers. Please read and comment.
George and Edward Whittaker were brothers, of eleven and ten years of age, they were the oldest siblings of a large family, and the product of a single parent home. Georgie and Teddy often vandalised the streets of Blakewater, while their drug addicted mother seemed to have lost control over her sons, if indeed she’d ever exerted any control in the first place.
Once tired of breaking windows in the derelict properties awaiting demolition, they headed towards the canal towpath, where horses once towed barges laden with coal to fuel the steam engines which powered the looms.
A pair of mute swans had built a nest in the shallow water, where a retaining wall had collapsed allowing the banking to fall into the water and create an artificial island.
“I wonder if there are eggs in that nest.” Teddy queried, as he threw a stone at the pen in an attempt to scare her from her nest, but he hadn’t taken account of the large cob swimming serenely on the almost ripple-less water close by.
The angry cob launched itself at the boys with a flapping of wings, and with neck outstretched towards its antagonists. The boys ran for their lives, with the swan giving chase in fits, starts, and flutters. They ran, and they ran, long after the swan had given up its chase, until the stitch pains in their sides dictated that they run no more. As they bent forward with their hands resting on their knees for support, while gulping in lung-full’s of the polluted industrial air, they began laughing hysterically due to the adrenalin rush of having escaped the angry cob,
“Shush, Georgie ordered. What’s that noise?”
Teddy stopped laughing at his brother’s command, and listened to the buzzing sound which appeared to be coming from a cast iron grate set into the towpath beneath their feet.
“There must be a cellar down there.”
“Let’s find it,” said Teddy, with the intent of creating more mayhem.
Twenty feet from the grate and set into a factory wall, they discovered a tongue and groove planked door of rotting wood. It had been fitted with an asp and staple, indicating that it had once been secured against intrusion using a padlock. Georgie operated the latch, and pushed the door to reveal a flight of worn stone steps, which led to an uneven flagged floor on the level below.
The buzzing sound became louder as they descended the steps, accompanied by a squeaking sound. Georgie went first in his capacity of the older brother, with Teddy hanging onto his shirt and peering nervously over his shoulder. The room would have been in total darkness, but for a shaft of light which intermittently flooded through the grated coal shoot on which they had so recently been standing, while a second shaft of light followed them down the steps from the open doorway creating distorted shadows of the boys on every step and on the floor below.
“Can you see anything?” asked Teddy nervously, while leaning heavily against his brother to enable a view, and toppling him down the last few steps and into a heap on the cellar floor.
“You idiot,” Georgie moaned under his breath, while examining a grazed knee.
Although it was becoming increasingly dark as they left the light afforded by the open door, the boys were aware that the room was cluttered with objects of an industrial nature, as they wound their way between oil drums and wooden pallets to approach the source of the buzzing.
“Get ready to run,” Georgie warned his brother. “It may be a bee’s nest, or even worse it could be wasps.”
“What’s that horrible smell?” Teddy asked, while trying to cover his nose and mouth with a rather unsavoury looking handkerchief retrieved from his trouser pocket.
“I don’t know,” answered his brother, “but I think I’m going to be sick.”
Rounding an oil drum Georgie imagined that he could see the outline of two people standing in the shadows.
“I think there’s somebody over there,” he whispered, and they hid behind a stack of wooden pallets in total silence for fear of discovery.
“They seem to be tied up; do you think we should free them?”
“You do it,” said Teddy, whose concern for his own safety outweighed his curiosity, “I’ll wait here.”
Georgie crept closer to the human shapes, while ensuring that he remained hidden from view. He could see the people a little clearer now as he approached the light from the coal shoot. One appeared to be a woman and the other a man, they were naked and covered in buzzing flies.
Suddenly the sun came out from behind a cloud, and a shaft of light streamed down the coal shoot illuminating the faces of figures that were tied to one of the pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling. Rats milled around their ankles squeaking excitedly, and the couple stared at Georgie from eyeless sockets. Georgie vomited uncontrollably, before running screaming from the cellar with his brother in hot pursuit.
In April 1964 the Beatles held the top five spots in the Billboard top forty singles in America. The Rolling Stones released their debut album, unimaginatively named the Rolling Stones. BBC 2 began broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Thieves stole the head from the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Twelve of the Great Train Robbers received sentences totalling three hundred and twelve years, and Raymond Evans joined the rock and pop band Satan’s Whiskers.
* * * *
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my appearance as I trimmed my unruly eyebrows using the moustache trimmer attachment on my electric razor. My mother often chased me around the house with a pair of eyebrow tweezers to rectify the eyebrow problem, but as she plucked her own eyebrows to destruction before replacing them with a thin pencil line, I made sure that she never caught me.
After naming the band Satan’s Whiskers a week earlier, I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the others to follow my example and grow whiskers as a gimmick. A week without shaving and the stubble of the first few days looked more beard-like; although I had to concede that the side growth was disappointing to say the least, which would undoubtedly provide ammunition for the others to ridicule my efforts. On an impulse I shaved the beard into a goatee. If I didn’t like the final result then the whole thing would have to be removed, but what the hell, easy come, easy go. I examined my handiwork from every angle until I was satisfied that I looked as satanic as possible.
* * * *
Freddie Cope was already at Ryan’s house when I arrived for band practise. I’d bumped into Freddie and Ryan a few weeks earlier, when I’d gone into Blakewater on Good Friday evening. I knew them through a friend and joined them for a drink while I waited for my date. It turned out that Freddie and Ryan planned to form a rock band, so the conversation inevitably drifted into that territory.
I was the owner of a bass guitar, which was currently languishing in my parent’s loft after a previously failed attempt to form a band with two of my school friends, and once they discovered this they asked me to audition at Ryan’s house on Easter Sunday.
I wasn’t confident of my musical abilities, as I’d practised for such a short time and it had been a few years since I last played the guitar. I worried all through Saturday, and wished that I hadn’t agreed to audition for fear of embarrassing myself, but I needn’t have worried as I was accepted as a member of a newly formed band by a unanimous vote.
“Hi Ray,” said Freddie, in his usual cheery way, as I entered the smoky atmosphere of Ryan’s bedroom.
Freddie was a happy-go-lucky character, with a ruddy complexion and curly blonde hair. He was roughly my height of a couple of inches below six feet tall, but I always wore high heeled boots which elevated me to a height in excess of six feet tall.
“I can’t bloody breathe in here,” I told them, open a window.”
“Stop being such a wuss,” Freddie told me with a laugh. “Here have a fag.”
“You can stick your fags where the sun doesn’t shine,” I told him, as I pushed past him to open a window before I suffocated in the smoky atmosphere.
Ryan, who was the exact opposite of Freddie, in both nature and appearance, grunted a reluctant “Hello,” while continuing to tune his guitar with a cigarette dangling from his lips and with smoke drifting into his eyes, which made him blink continuously and his eyes to water profusely. Because the two of them were so different in nature I found it difficult to understand how Freddie and Ryan had ever become friends.
Ryan Cheshire was dark-haired with a swarthy Mediterranean appearance and a little shorter than Freddie and I. He always appeared to need a shave, and even though he assured me that he’d shaved that very morning, I’m embarrassed to report that his beard growth was more impressive than was mine.
“Will Frank be coming to band practise?” I asked.
Frank Rivers was our absentee drummer and known to us affectionately as Hank, because he idolised The Shadows.
“No, he always works on Saturdays,” replied Freddie, “but practising in Ryan’s bedroom with a drum kit is never going to be an option even if he didn’t.”
Hank and Freddie were maternal cousins, although they were so alike that they looked more like brothers. They were both fair haired with rosy complexions; although Hank’s hair was a shade darker and he stood a couple of inches taller, about my height when wearing my boots.
* * * *
Hank had been playing the drums in a public house along with an elderly organist, when Freddie had persuaded him to dissolve his partnership with the old man and join the newly formed band without a name. We’d played together just once at a wedding reception. The reception had been held in one of the better hotels in Blakewater, and when I say hotels I mean a public house with a few bedrooms and named The Queens Hotel rather than the more common Queens Arms or Queens Head.
The booking had gone well and filled us with confidence, but it was of the easily obtained unpaid variety, a wedding present from Hank and Freddie to a common relative. During the interval, and on the back of a successful first set, we suggested names for the band. Many names were suggested and just as quickly rejected, until I pointed out the name of a cocktail containing gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth. Dry vermouth and orange juice, with a dash of orange bitters from the cocktail menu and Satan’s Whiskers were born.
* * * *
While we were practising Randy Bloomfield (1) entered the room; escorted by Ryan’s mother carrying a tray of drinking glasses filled to the brim with chilled orange juice. Randy was a married man with a baby daughter, and a wife who at twenty years of age had already resigned herself to becoming a band widow.
Randy’s hair had already begun to turn grey, even though he was barely a year older than his wife, but his eyebrows remained thick, black, and bushy. He had strong features with heavy brows, while his nose gave the impression of having been remodelled on the inside of a boxing ring, although in truth it was a natural feature on the landscape of his face.
Randy’s band regularly played at a public house on the estate of council owned properties where he and Ryan lived. The pub was popular with the younger demographic, but as the booking fee was disappointing; Randy was looking to offload this regular Sunday night venue in favour of the more lucrative offers which were beginning to flood in as his popularity gained momentum.
“I’ve got a proposition,” he announced, as he helped Mrs Cheshire with the distribution of refreshments.
“We’ve been offered a late booking for tomorrow night, but unfortunately we’re obligated to play at The Manxman. I’ve spoken with the publican, and he’s prepared to give you a trial, if you’d be interested.”
“We definitely are interested?” Ryan blurted out, without any consultation on the matter. But he could be forgiven for his indiscretion as he was the one credited with putting the band together.
“I’ll come with you if you like and introduce you to the landlord,” Randy volunteered, as he wanted the matter settled as quickly as possible to enable him to move on to pastures new.
Although the pub was within walking distance of Ryan’s house Freddie chose to drive, as walking was never a consideration.
The pub consisted of a large public room divided by folding doors. A red carpet, covered with a busy pattern, helped to disguise the beer stains caused by the frequent spillages, although it couldn’t hide the shiny spots of chewing gum which had been trodden into the carpet and were accumulating daily around the bar area.
Many of the customers, who had already been served, insisted in congregating around the bar while making it unnecessarily difficult for us to reach the bar, even though many of the seats and tables were unoccupied.
Randy introduced us to the publican who was busy pulling pints of beer behind the bar and took little interest in our names.
“This is the band I was telling you about. They’re available tomorrow and willing to stand in if you’re prepared to give them a trial.”
“Stage is in there,” the landlord informed us, as he finished serving a customer and came from behind the bar to push back the dividing doors.
Mounted on braked wheels, the tiny stage was a single step above ground level. A backdrop of vertical silver strips caught the reflected light from a glitter ball, which the publican proudly switched on for effect, and it sparkled in a myriad of different colours, while he watched in wonder as if he had never seen it before.
“The stage appears to be a bit small,” I observed.
“Randy’s band always spills onto the dance floor,” we were informed by the landlord, which Randy confirmed with a nod of his head.
“If you’re a success, I’ll book you to play on alternate Sundays, with Randy’s band doing the others.”
We concluded the business agreement with a handshake. I well understood why Randy wanted to move his band to pastures new, as payment for our musical services was close to non-existent, although at this stage of our fledgling career, the money didn’t matter half as much as laying claim to our first professional booking.
(1) The character described as Randy Bloomfield went on to record the single “Looking Good Feeling Bad,” his own composition, and two country music albums under the stage name of Randy Blue and Deep Water.
I would very much like you to comment on what you have just read . You will be the editors of my novel. If I get enough comments I will post extra chapters of the novel for your approval or disapproval.