CHRONICLE THE SECOND
THE ABSURD NONSENSE OF THE ORANGE EYEBROW
Heathrow. 9 o'clock in the bloody morning. Saturday 23rd January.
"You can't end there. What happened next?" Venus Crappenleigh asked.
We were sitting at Heathrow Terminal One, waiting for our 11.30 flight to Nice. Five days in the sunshine at the annual music industry gathering in Cannes, together with a meeting with Luke Hutchence, literary agent extraordinaire, to show him the first five chapters of the Mysterious Case of Billy's G String. Not that this would be fun. Perish the thought. This was to be twelve hours a day hard labour, without so much as a smile at a friendly barmaid.
"I should have thought that is obvious." The Vicar carefully rearranged the table in front of him. "I took them through to a rather messy room, and gave an impromptu press conference. I must give Richard the B his due. He had, as requested, succeeded in getting five journalists from five large international publications to watch the show backstage. There was even someone from Rolling Stone, but then we all have to start somewhere, I suppose."
"And you did what? Bribed them to keep their mouths shut."
"tut tut tut. Young lady. I would never do such a thing. No. I offered them a five way exclusive, if that is not an oxymoron, on how we caught the man responsible for persecuting Billy G. First we recoginize the need for a plan. Then we create the plan. Then we implement the plan.
"It was all a carefully planned sting, you know." I cut in.
"One which went horribly wrong?"
"No, young lady. One which went wonderfully right." The Vicar looked at the menu. "Now what does one drink?"
He had recently given up drinking tea after reading an article about the harmful effects of caffeine.
"Hot chocolate? That has caffeine as well I am sure."
He finally stunned the waitress at the coffee bar by asking for a mug of hot water, and pouring a little milk on top as if it was tea.
"Earl Grey, without the Earl or the Grey. More like Commoners White . Certainly not a drink for the likes of Lord Crappenleigh." He looked at his watch. "who is already 33 minutes late."
He raised his eyebrows at Venus, as if to say "Where is that husband of yours?"
"I hope that I do not live to regret Punk's commendable decision to invite you both to share our villa with us, as much as I regret the size of my recent telephone bill."
I tried my best to distance myself from any blame. After all, Lord Crappenleigh was Harvey's father, and this grand reunion of old sparring partners had been his idea, not mine.
"So what did you tell them about this sting?" Venus asked.
"I told them that I knew that it must be Gabriel who was responsible for both the sabotaging of the live BBC performance and for the faked internet tapes, but I had no substantial proof, and I had therefore contrived a plan to catch him red handed."
"But you hadn't told Punk?"
"No. There is that. He was quite upset at the time."
I avoided his amused stare by glancing through my copy of Music Week.
"Oh Punk, please do not embarrass me by reading that rubbish here of all places. Do you not have a copy of Playboy that you can hide it inside. Look at all the music industry posers. I would rather that the world did not know we have anything to do with them."
I looked around, and certainly the café now contained a fair number of people who would be joining us on the annual pilgrimage to Cannes. You could tell the music industry types. Some wore baseball caps or T shirts, which proudly announced the name of their band or record company. Some, like me, were reading music industry newspapers or magazines. There were also a number of men in their fifties with highlights in their hair and wearing brightly coloured suits, who would have been out of place anywhere else except perhaps the BBC (Baldies in Bright Clothing). I could even see the odd famous face. Wasn't that Gifford or Tilbrook from Squeeze, and that must be Peter Waterman checking in at first class. (This was before he appeared as judge on Pop Idols, which changed him from a mere record producer into a national celebrity).
"And might I recommend a serviette for wiping your hands, not your trouser legs." He added, producing a carefully folded paper napkin from his pocket. "You really are a very proud member of the music industry club, are you not, my dear Punk?"
"And what is so wrong with being one of the lucky few going off to have a good time in the South of France?" I thought. Holidaymakers fall into two categories. Birds who flock together, and birds that don't. I am definitely a member of the "We British club together" brigade. Give me a pint of lager and a union jack, and I will sing with the best of them. The Vicar is firmly of the other persuasion.
"You were telling me about the sting." Venus was saying.
"It was most simple." The Vicar said proudly. "I brought Gabriel to Japan and explained to him how it would be possible for someone to use a VHF radio microphone to interfere with Billy G's vocals. What I did not tell Gabriel was that I had smuggled an old style UHF receiver into the country and that the VHF one was only rigged up in the loudspeakers on the side of the stage. In effect, his virtuoso performance in ruining Billy G's vocals was only for the benefit of those who were standing backstage. No one else heard it."
"Are you telling me that the broadcast was perfect?"
"It is funny that you should say that." the Vicar said as he nodded. "That is exactly what Breamore asked."
"And wasn't there a danger that the musicians would be put off"
"No." I said, still impressed by his meticulous planning. "If you remember he had insisted on them all using stereo in-ear monitors."
There was a commotion as two people pushed past us to sit on the next table.
"Will you be conducting the orchestra for your film score yourself?" one was asking the other very loudly.
"You really should do it, you know. It is such a buzz. When else in life can you point to twenty people and they will do exactly what you want."
"In a brothel?" the Vicar suggested equally loudly.
The man turned around to us. The Vicar was staring at me with a shocked look on his face, as if implying that I had made the comment. His lips were pursed together, half breaking into a smile.
I could feel the man looking at me, but tried to avoid his stare.
"I have only once conducted an orchestra," the Vicar began telling me, ignoring the men completely "An unfortunate experience. It takes so long for the music to reach you that you wave your arms like so..." he imitated a conductor starting a piece "…and then wait about a second for the orchestra to wake up, play the notes and for the sound to reach you. The idea is to keep waving your arms" he continued his impersonation, "and they will keep playing the music, a little bit behind you all the time. The problem was that I started listening to them. As they were a little bit behind me, I had to keep waiting for them to catch up. And the longer I waited, the slower the piece became, until finally the piece became so slow that the whole thing ground to a halt and we had to start again."
He had a broad grin on his face, and I have no idea if this was a true story, or a tale invented for his audience.
"And what about the motive?" Venus asked. "Do you know why he did it?"
The Vicar was shocked at the suggestion that he might not have all the answers.
"Cherchez la femme. Isn't that what all the detectives say? Gabriel was the plaything of a bitter and twisted woman – the former Powergirl bass guitarist, Mair. She had never forgiven Billy G for throwing her out of the backing band."
"Or for stealing her song." I added. "Although the Vicar didn't mention that at the time, as he didn't want to publicly blow the lid on her publishing scam. It all came down to that jacket that Mair was wearing "No Meat No Man", which she said belonged to her boyfriend".
"It is a song title by KMFDM, just like the T shirts that Gabriel always wore." The Vicar explained. "All it needed was an internet search. A quick visit to Google. As I said at the beginning, it was all very simple."
The Metro café was continuing to fill up, and there was still no sign of Lord Crappenleigh. The Vicar looked at his watch.
"Perhaps we had better make our way through customs, I do so hate to be late."
I gathered up my printouts of the first half of "The Mysterious Case of Billy's G String", and the photocopies of the Vicar's business plan, almost banging my head on one of those fake chandeliers that look more like porn brokers' signs - sorry, that should be "pawn broker", shouldn't it? (God only knows what sort of balls a porn broker would display). In my chaos, I managed to drop one of the additional photocopies, of a certain part of my lower body, on the floor.
"Interesting." Venus said, picking it up. "Yours?"
"Yes." I mumbled. "But it's not that big. I used the enlarger."
"Pity. Don't be fooled by what they say. Size matters."
She put her arm round me.
"And what happened to Gabriel?" she asked.
"I am not entirely sure. I think it was up to Breamore. Ritual disembowelment, I suppose. Although the Vicar had already planned a sort of punishment. When buying Gabriel's ticket, he had purchased one of those bucket shop specials that can't be changed. Gabriel was effectively imprisoned in Japan for a whole month, with nowhere to stay and no money except for what he could raise on his credit card. A prison without walls, and a large compulsory fine, as it will have cost him a bloody fortune to find somewhere to sleep. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the Vicar."
We had now arrived at baggage control, where they, of course, pulled me to one side to give me a quick frisking. What is it with these customs officers? Do I look like a terrorist, or do they all fancy me? And after that there was the small matter of buying some French Francs. A simple matter, you might think. You simply hand the cashier your credit card, and she gives you a fistful of francs. Not so with Vicar. On being handed his francs, he was heard to say
"And what do you call these? I was under the impression that I had asked for French Francs, not Monopoly money."
He waved the notes that were painted in various bright blues and yellows.
"I can assure you that I am most familiar with French currency and they have some of the finest banknotes you will ever see."
He pulled out of his wallet a large 200 franc note.
"Now there is an object to treasure. Could I please have some notes like this, rather than these revolting scraps."
And he pushed the pile of notes he had been offered back across the counter.
"Those are the only 100 franc notes we have," the cashier assured him. "Perhaps, you would prefer a different denomination."
She showed him another note, which was just as garish as the other.
"No, no, no. Is there someone I can speak to? Where is the supervisor? Surely you can see that this note is a work of art, while that is simply a computer generated insult."
All of which did not alter the fact that his beloved bank notes proved to be some two years out of date, while the new ones had apparently been created in preparation for the Euro. As I am sure he knew perfectly well.
"So what about Kevin and Emma?" Venus asked as we reached the departure lounge. "I bet they were just banging each other in that priesthole of theirs
"How come everyone saw that but me?" I said. "The Vicar apparently twigged that very early on, as he found the corner of a condom wrapper jammed in between the two loudspeaker cabinets. Not an essential musical accessory, you might say, and not a good advert for condoms, as it turned out, because Emma was actually pregnant."
"That must have been the baby she had a couple of weeks ago. I read about it in the paper. Small world. To think you were almost there at the conception."
"The sad thing" the Vicar said, as we walked towards the plane "is that Mair had picked the wrong pony so to speak. It was "her friend" Emma B, not Billy G, who wanted her out of the backing band. It may have been Billy G, as the band leader, who broke the news to her, but the deed had Emma B's fingerprints all over it. After all, she is the one who -how shall I put this? - was hot for Kevin. And I rather suspect that the writer, Ernest Broom, who ripped off Mair's song, will also turn out to be the less than Ethical Emma."
Venus looked at him dubiously.
"Billy G and Emma B. Benedict Gaydon and Ernest Broom. Do you not spot anything? I think Emma hates Billy G because Emma had written a good song for Powergirl, and Billy G took it and released it as her own single. It was Billy G who lost Mair's tape, not Emma."
"So Mair had gone after the wrong person. What a mess."
He shrugged his shoulders.
""Thus served was this carpenter's wife
For all his keeping and his jealousy
And Absolon hath kissed her bottom's eye
And Nicholas is scalded in the butt
This tale is done. God save all of us."
We took our seats in row 54 of flight BA109, which was the very back of the plane, just behind Venus and Harvey's dad, the famous Lord Crappenleigh, who must have been the very last person to board, just before they shut the doors.
He was not at all what I had expected. He had mousy brown hair, fading to white, and was wearing a light blue cotton suit, which was so crumpled that he looked as if he had just spent the night on a park bench. Underneath it, he wore a bright yellow cloth waistcoat. He had the most strange way of speaking. He spoke so far at the back of his throat, that it was almost like listening to a ventriloquist. When I first heard him, I was tempted to say that he had a lisp. But it was more than that. It was quite simply that he spoke without moving his lips, so that half his words became an unintelligible mumble. If you combine this with the fact, that - how shall I put this - that he was not exactly abstemious as far as alcohol was concerned, then you will forgive me if I say that at times I was not quite sure if he and I were speaking the same language.
I stood up and introduced myself.
"Ah yes. Punk. My sin, ahem son, Harvey's flatmate. And the Vicar's lapdog and poodle. Pleased to meet you. I'm Giles Crappenleigh. Not Crapwell, or Crapalot, or any of the other names that a vicious and vindictive press have tried over the years."
He threw some things onto his chair.
"But you, dear Heart, must call me Crap. Crap as in the game, that is, not the shitty slimy stuff that occasionally stains the Crappenleigh undergarments. Mayhap, you are unaware of the fact that I was famous for it. Shooting crap, that is. As far as I know, one can't be good at having a crap. Although, erm, my previous wife, I tell you this with a smile that is both weary and wry, was very bad at it. She was constantly constipated, poor thing. Couldn't push it out however hard she tried. Used to pull faces of the shaven arsed dog walking backwards variety."
Can you believe this guy? I can't, and I'm the one who's making it up.
Venus kicked him in the shins.
"He's teasing you I'm afraid. It is a ritual performance. He enjoys shocking people."
Lord Crappenleigh was now making a big show of bowing to the Vicar, calling him "Your Vicarious Highness" and offering him his left hand, obviously mimicking the Vicar's left handed hand shake.
"So kind of you to join us, GC." the Vicar said, not rising to the bait. "We have enjoyed meeting Venus. How do you manage it? Was not your last wife called Aurora? Who would have thought that there were so many beautiful women with latinate names?"
"Surely you have heard of deed poll?" he replied. "In this world of enlightenment where you can choose hair that is blond and bleached, breasts that are firm and curvacious" he caressed her thighs, which as he was sitting and she was standing, were almost pushed against his head, " why use the old hatted name that two parents dreamt up some thirty years ago in their, erm, shall we say youthful exuberance?"