“C’mon, John, lighten up!” Paul urged his friend. He punched John’s shoulder playfully and smiled. “Just because our gig in Hamburg ended badly, that doesn’t mean we’re never going to perform on a stage again.”
John hung his head and made no response, but continued walking down Slater Street alongside Paul to meet their manager Allan Williams at the Jacaranda Club.
“I just wish you’d have given me a ring to let me know you were coming home,” Paul chided John gently. “I could have put Allan to work straight away, trying to book us a gig. With Christmas almost here, there’s bound to be some parties and dances we can play.”
John dug his hands deeper into his coat pockets. “I’m pretty sure all the holiday shows are already booked.”
“Well, then we’ll get a jump on the bookings for the New Year!” countered Paul. “I have a feeling in my bones that things are really going to turn around for us in 1961.”
“Right,” John mumbled in a discouraged voice. He stopped in front of the Jacaranda coffee bar and held the door open for Paul. “You go in first, since this was your idea.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Paul laughed. He stepped into the building, found Allan Williams sitting at a table going over his books, and pulled up a seat beside him. John walked up to the bar and asked for a cup of tea, then took a seat beside his friend.
Allan looked up from his paperwork. “Well, look who the cat dragged in. The college drop-out and the felon.”
Paul made a face at his manager. “Who are you calling a felon? I only committed a misdemeanor. That fire Pete and I set hardly left a burn mark on the wall.”
Allan frowned at him. “You can’t even set a proper fire then, can you, Paulie? I’ll add that to the list of things you can’t do when I consider putting your name forward for another gig.”
The waitress brought John his cup of tea. He smiled at her, then flashed an anxious look at Allan. “Is this on the house, or do I have to pay for my cuppa?”
Allan shrugged, then gestured to the girl to walk away. “So, lads, what brings you here?”
Paul cleared his throat. “We were hoping you could land us a new gig. We figured there might be some openings, what with the holidays upon us.”
“And is your child prodigy guitarist old enough to join you on stage yet?” Allan replied with a smirk.
John swallowed a sip of tea and rested his cup back in its saucer. “You knew George was underage when you sent him to Germany. You saw his passport. That’s your bad.”
“But I didn’t know Paul and Pete were pyromaniacs,” Allan retorted. “Or that your bassist preferred the company of German fräuleins to the contractual obligations of sticking around with your band.”
Paul exchanged a quick look with John, then turned back towards his manager. “We don’t need Stu to play bass for us anymore. I can play the instrument as well as he ever could.”
Allan stared at Paul for a long moment, then curled his lips into a twisted smile. “So, you’d be willing to fill in for another bassist then, would you, Paulie?”
Paul puffed out his cheeks proudly, then slumped his shoulders in defeat and exhaled his breath. “Well, I’m not looking at leaving the Beatles, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“There’s not much of the Beatles left to leave,” John said sadly. He lifted his tea cup and stared into his drink. “We imploded in Hamburg.”
Allan continued to stare at Paul. “You know, you might actually fit the bill for the gig I want to offer you, though I’m not so sure about our John here.”
John lowered his tea cup and frowned. “What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I just got a call from a friend of mine who’s managing a group called ‘Suzy and the Red Stripes’,” Allan explained. “They’re set to play a couple of concerts at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool this week. But their bass player and guitarist took ill all of a sudden with the flu. My friend was wondering if I knew any musicians who might be willing to take on a temporary, last-minute assignment as replacement band-members.”
Paul broke into a huge smile. “We’re in, Allan, we’re in!” But then his face fell. He turned towards John. “Shit, did you bring Stu’s bass back with you from Germany?”
“Hell no! I could barely carry my own guitar and amp and suitcase!” John replied in an indignant voice.
“The instrument won’t be a problem,” Allan said, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “You can use the regular band-member’s bass, and just restring it cack-fisted for the concerts. The stage costume is a bigger concern to me.”
“Why?” Paul challenged. “Is it something stupid looking, like a red and green holiday suit with jingle bells sewn onto a hat? Because I wouldn’t mind wearing that, you know. I’m always up for a larf. Give me any costume, and I’ll put it on.”
“Is that so?” Allan replied. “I’d like to see you wear this one.”
John threw him a dirty look. “Out with it, Allan! Just tell us how we’d be expected to dress if we filled in for these musicians at the Winter Gardens.”
Allan leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Suzy and the Red Stripes are a novelty act. An all-girls band. You two would have to dress the part. Skirts, stockings, high heels. And wigs and make-up too.” He focused his gaze at John. “Lots of make-up, I’d venture. Paul’s pretty enough to pass for a lass, Johnny, but you’d need a complete, professional make-over.”
John bolted up from the table and sent his chair crashing to the floor. “Fuck you, Allan! I’ve had enough of your bullshit to last me a lifetime!” He stormed out of the Jacaranda, knocking a table and two more chairs to the floor as he left to emphasize his point.
Paul jumped up and followed John out of the coffee bar, but called over his shoulder to Allan before he left the building. “I’ll see if I can talk some sense into him! Don’t offer that job to anyone else yet!”
* * *
“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” Paul urged John as they strode down Penny Lane at a brisk pace. “It’ll be like dressing up in drag for a Christmas Panto. Lots of male entertainers do that!”
“I didn’t spend the past five years practicing guitar till my fingers bled so I could don a frock and wiggle my arse on a stage for people to laugh at me,” John replied. He approached the bank tucked into the corner of the street, kicked a rock on the pavement, and set it flying into the air. The rock hit the face of a person who was leaving the bank.
The injured man stopped dead in his tracks and glowered at John. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, arsehole?” He tightened his grip on the large cloth bag he was carrying in his right fist.
A man wearing a Macintosh coat ran out of the bank and crashed into the first man. “Get a move-on, Charlie. Spats is waiting for us in the motorcar!”
“That bastard just threw a rock at my face!” the first man said, pointing his free hand at John.
“Yeah?” the second man replied. He dug his hand into the pocket of his Macintosh, pulled out a gun, and pointed it at John and Paul. “Which one? Four-Eyes or Pretty-Face?”
“Fuck,” John and Paul muttered simultaneously under their breaths.
A black Rolls Royce barreled through the round-about and screeched to a stop in front of the bank. Its back door flung open, and a voice cried out from the inside of the car. “Get in! What are you buggers waiting for?!”
“Those two wankers saw us!” shouted the man holding the large bag.
“No, we didn’t!” John called back to him. “My glasses are old. I need a new prescription! And my mate’s even blinder than me, but he forgot his specs at home! We didn’t see you clearly! Not at all!”
The man in the Mac pointed his gun back-and-forth between John and Paul’s faces. “So which one of you should I shoot first?”
John and Paul gulped and broke into sweats.
“Wait a minute…I know these blokes,” said the man with the bag. “I’ve seen them perform at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey. They’re in a band called the…”
The scream of sirens drowned out his last words. A gleamingly bright fire engine raced up Penny Lane, followed by three police cars in a row. The two bank robbers exchanged quick looks, then ran into the Rolls. The man in the Mac called out to John and Paul before he slammed his car door shut, “We’ll be coming after you!”
The Rolls pulled a fast U-turn and took off like a rocket. Two of the police cars spun their cars around and followed after it in hot pursuit.
The Rolls nearly hit her a pretty nurse who was walking across the traffic circle. She screamed in terror, then starting running back to the shelter in the middle of the roundabout. The first police car screeched to a stop to avoid hitting her. The second police car barreled into the back of the first car, and set it careening across the roundabout. The robbers’ get-away car disappeared into the distance.
John grabbed Paul’s elbow and pulled him away from the bank, then took off at a tear and ran down a quieter side street. Paul followed at his heels, then passed John and ducked behind a tall lorry parked along the side of the road. John leaned his back against the lorry and closed his eyes in worry. Then he opened his eyes slowly and turned towards his song-writing partner.
“My Auntie Harriet’s got some wigs we could borrow,” he panted between shaky breaths. “And some large size stockings too.”
“We could probably fit into my Auntie Gin’s frocks and shoes,” Paul offered.
John nodded, then looked down at his feet. “And my sisters saved a box of my mum’s old trinkets. Hats and scarves and paste jewelry. They play dress up with her things all the time.”
“Righto,” Paul said. “And maybe we could borrow Cyn and Dot’s overcoats.”
John lifted his head and glared at Paul. “We’re not breathing a word of this to Cyn or Dot. This gig is strictly off the record books.”
* * *
John teetered awkwardly on his high heels as he strutted down Blackpool’s Northern Promenade towards the Imperial Hotel. “How do birds move in these goddamned shoes?” he cursed under his breath.
“I think you have to put a little wiggle in your walk,” Paul replied. He stepped a few paces ahead of John and started demonstrating an exaggerated feminine stride.
A man in a long black coat jogged beside Paul and pinched his bottom as he passed. Paul stopped dead in his tracks. John started laughing.
Paul clenched his free hand into a fist. “Why, I oughta…” he growled under his breath.
“Watch your voice, Paula,” John commanded him. He pitched his own voice into a high falsetto. “Don’t make a scene. It’s not ladylike.”
Paul rolled his eyes, then lifted his own voice into a higher register. “I’ll try to do better, Joan.”
“Make it Jane,” John corrected him. “Or Janet. Or better yet, Johanna. Then I can model my voice off the German tarts we shagged in Hamburg.”
“Well, you’d better decide on your new name soon,” Paul replied. “We’re almost at the hotel. I can see the porter helping some bird with her luggage.”
“How does Ivana sound to you?” John asked. “I could try out a Russian accent, and pretend I’m a spy.”
Paul and John reached the front door of the hotel. The porter nodded politely at John, then looked Paul over carefully and smiled. “May I help you ladies?”
“Yes,” said Paul in a high-pitched voice. “We’re here to meet Desmond and Molly Jones. Our manager sent us from Liverpool. We’re the replacement musicians for their band.”
The porter noted the guitar case John was holding, then looked back at Paul. “Forgot your instrument at home, sweetheart?”
“She plays the mouth harp,” John interrupted in a sweet voice. He slipped his hand inside the top of his dress and squeezed his false bosom. “Paula likes to keep it close to her heart, so she can grab it at a moment’s notice.” He massaged the socks he had stuffed inside his bra and pursed his lips at the porter.
The porter looked back and forth between John and Paul’s padded chests, then laughed. “I can see the advantages of that!” He turned to a bellhop and told him to help the ladies with their bags.
The bellhop lifted John’s and Paul’s suitcases onto a luggage cart, then reached for John’s guitar case.
“Don’t touch that, you little wanker!” John shouted, dropping his voice an octave. Then he blushed and cleared his throat. “Sorry,” he added, resuming his forced falsetto. “I’m just very possessive of my instrument, that’s all.”
“Her father gave it to her for a Sweet Sixteen gift,” Paul added, fluttering his false eyelashes.
“And then he died the next day,” John added, hamming up his performance. “It’s all I have left of dear Daddy.”
“Right then,” said the porter. He rolled his eyes at the bellhop and directed him to lead the ladies into the lobby so they could check into their rooms.
Paul looked up at the high ceilings inlaid with intricate woodwork, and stared in amazement at the glittering chandeliers shining down on him. Then he followed John and the bellhop to the front desk. John rested his hand on the heavy oak desktop and smiled at the receptionist. “We’re with the Desmond and Molly Jones party.”
“Indeed,” said a man standing directly behind John and Paul.
John and Paul both turned and stood face-to-face with a fat man in a loud, checkered, three-piece suit.
“I’m Desmond Jones,” the man said. “You must be the musicians Allan Williams send up for my wife’s band.”
John and Paul nodded in unison.
Desmond asked the front desk clerk for the key to John and Paul’s room and signed the register on their behalf. Then he sent the bellhop ahead to the room with their luggage and led the boys to the elevator.
“’Suzy and the Red Stripes’ is Molly’s newest pet project,” he explained as they crossed the lobby. “I don’t have much to do with the band. But I thought I’d tag along for this set of holiday shows, so I could stay at this magnificent hotel for a few nights. You girls ever been to Blackpool before?”
“Yes,” answered John. “I came here with my father and uncle for a holiday when I was little, right after the war ended. But we just stayed at a cheap cottage by the fairgrounds.”
“This is a rather posh place,” Desmond replied, casting a look around the luxurious foyer. “Molly spends a fortune on her girls. Treats them almost like royalty. But she expects them to act like ladies in return.”
“Oh, we’re very good at acting like ladies,” Paul chirped in, forcing a giggle.
“And your names are…” Desmond asked.
“Paula,” Paul said, extending his hand.
Desmond lifted Paul’s hand to his lips and kissed it.
Paul giggled nervously.
“Leila Parkes,” John said. He offered his right hand to Desmond and winked.
Desmond laughed and kissed John’s hand as well. Then he looked over John’s shoulder and broke into a large grin.
“Pardon me for a moment, girls,” he apologized. “I just saw someone I need to greet.”
Paul watched Desmond walk away, then turned toward John. “Leila Parkes? I thought you said you were going to call yourself ‘Ivana’!”
“Leila Parkes is my cousin’s name,” John explained. “Don’t you remember? You’ve met her, I’m sure. This way if I get paid with a check, I can have Leila cash it for me.”
“Ah, good thinking,” Paul said, nodding his head in understanding. “I wonder if I should have…”
Desmond Jones returned to their side, bringing with him a tall, fashionably-dressed young man. “Girls,” he interrupted, “let me introduce you to my old college friend. Paula, Leila, this is Osgood Fielding the Third. We graduated from Oxford together eight years ago. Osgood’s family owns a diamond mine in Rhodesia, but he sailed his yacht up to Blackpool for the holidays to visit his dear old mama. Wasn’t that nice of him?”
Osgood eyed Paul curiously for a moment, then focused a long gaze at John. “Pleased to meet you both.”
“Are you staying at this hotel too, Mr. Fielding?” Paul asked, laying on the charm.
“Well, I’ve checked into a room, though I might just sleep in my boat most nights,” he answered. “I don’t need to get too close to Mumsy, now, do I?” He smiled at John. “Might I ask your room number? I could stop by in an hour or two and collect you for dinner. Or if you’d prefer, I could ask my steward to prepare us a more private meal on my yacht.”
John blanched, then forced a nervous smile. “I’m sorry, Mr. Fielding, I’m going to have to ask you for a raincheck. Paula and I have to go to a rehearsal as soon as we freshen up. We’re playing a concert tonight, in a band managed by Mr. Jones’ wife.” He lifted his guitar case to back up his excuse.
“Ah, Molly always did have an eye for the beauties, didn’t she?” Osgood said to Desmond. “So these are her newest protégés?”
“We’re just filling in for two of her regular girls,” Paul said defensively. He slipped his arm through John’s bent elbow and pulled him closer. “I’m sure we’ll both be very busy these next few days.”
Osgood nodded. “I’m sure you will. I meant no offense. The women of rock-and-roll deserve to be treated with more respect. I’m a great admirer of Faye Adams and Sparkle Moore, and I had the good fortune of seeing the Poni-Tails perform in concert last year in New York City. Will your group be singing a cover of their hit, ‘Born Too Late,’ this evening?”
John backed away from Paul and looked directly at Osgood. “Come see us play tonight and find out for yourself, why don’t you? And if you like what you hear, then maybe you could show me your yacht afterwards, Mr. Fielding. Or should I call you Osgood?”
“It’s a date,” Osgood laughed. He leaned forward and whispered his hotel room number into John’s ear. Then he said goodbye to Desmond and stepped back into the lobby crowd.
Desmond finished walking John and Paul to the elevator, then handed them their hotel room key. “Why don’t you two have a little lie-down, then come downstairs and meet me by the bar? I’ll arrange a taxi to take you to the Winter Gardens after you freshen up.”
John and Paul nodded at him, then stepped into the elevator. They got off at the third floor and found their room. As soon as they stepped inside, Paul pulled off his wig and kicked off his shoes. “What the hell were you doing down there, flirting with that Rhodesian millionaire?”
John sat down at a desk in the far corner of the room and inspected his hands. “Did you bring more nail polish along, dearest Paula? I chipped two of my fingernails.” He lifted the first two fingers of his right hand and waved them at Paul in a rude gesture.
Paul put his hands to his hips and glowered at John.
John laughed at him. “You look just like my auntie Mater when you pose like that. She always was a bit of a sourpuss.”
“I’m serious, John,” Paul insisted. “You’re going to blow our cover if you go out with that bloke. He’ll see right through you.”
“So?” John replied. “This was your daft idea to play dress-ups in the first place. I’m just going along for the ride to see where it takes me.”
“But if Desmond and Molly Jones find out we’re not girls, they’ll send us back to Liverpool on the next train. And if we go home before the cops catch those bank-robbers, we’ll…”
“We’ll be fine,” John assured him. “We don’t have any gigs lined up for the indefinite future, remember? So that wanker won’t see us playing on any stage. We’ll just be crashing in our suburban homes, laying low. But we’re here now, and I intend to have some fun.”
John stood up from his chair and opened the suitcase that the bellboy had left on his bed. “I’m going to shave again before we head to the rehearsal. And you should too.”
Paul rubbed his hands over his cheeks. “Really? You can see my stubble already?”
“I’m not talking about your face, Paula,” John laughed. “I meant your legs. You’ve got a big patch of thick black fur sprouting through the run in your stocking.”
To be continued…
Continued from last week…
Paul finished tuning the G-string on his electric bass and turned towards Molly Jones. “Thanks ever so much for waiting for me to restring my instrument, Mrs. Jones. I’m ready to play now.”
“You’re welcome, Paula,” Molly replied. “But we can’t start rehearsing until Honey gets here.”
“Honey?” Paul asked.
“Honey Pie, our lead singer and ukulele player,” Molly answered.
“I thought the Red Stripes’ lead singer’s name was ‘Suzy’,” John said in his high-pitched falsetto.
“Suzy got the sack,” explained Thelma, the band’s piano player.
“After she was found in the sack,” added Lulu, one of the back-up singers.
“With a sax player named Max,” laughed Mildred, the other back-up singer.
The band broke into a fit of extended giggles. John and Paul exchanged nervous looks, then laughed along with forced, high-pitched chuckles.
Molly clapped her hands together sharply and called the band to order. “Enough gossiping, or I’ll fine each of you a shilling. Lulu, step forward and fill in for Honey until she gets here. We’ll start with ‘Lollipop’, on the count of four. One-two-three-four…”
Lulu sang the opening line a capella. Mildred picked up the harmony on the second line. Paul threw an impish grin at John and was just about to start singing the next line of harmony when a gorgeous blonde ran onto the stage of the Winter Gardens’ Empress Ballroom. She waved her right hand frantically and shook a ukulele case with her left.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Mrs. Jones!” the woman exclaimed. “It won’t happen again! I promise!”
Molly Jones gestured for the band to stop playing and turned to the late arrival. “It had better not happen again, Honey. This is the second time you’ve been late this week. I’m tempted to replace you, just like I replaced Tessie and Shirley on the guitar and bass.”
Honey Pie turned towards John and Paul. “So you’re the new girls. Welcome to the band!”
John offered her a quick smile and polite nod. Paul froze on his feet and stared at her in slack-jawed, gape-mouthed wonder.
John noticed Paul’s awkward response and elbowed him in the ribs.
Paul bit back a curse, then smiled at Honey Pie. “Sorry, cat got my tongue. Gosh, you’re pretty.”
Honey giggled. “You’re pretty cute too. What’s your name?”
“Paul,” Paul replied. “I mean, Paula. Sometimes people call me Paul for short.”
Honey walked up to him and shook his hand. “Hi Paula. I’m Honey Pie. Whose you’re friend?”
“I’m Leila,” John replied, fluttering his false eyelashes.
“Enough with the introductions!” interrupted Molly. “Honey, pull out your uke and get ready to sing!” She turned her back on the band for a moment and started sorting through her pile of sheet music.
Honey rolled her eyes in frustration at John and Paul, then opened up her ukulele case. A thin metal flask tumbled out of the case and landed on the stage with a loud thump.
Molly turned on her heels and flashed an angry look at Honey. “What’s in that flask?” she demanded.
John grabbed the flask and stuffed it into his bra. “Methylated syrup,” he replied. He beat his chest twice and faked a few coughs. “I keep it with me so I won’t break out coughing between songs.”
“She’s got a touch of asthma,” Paul corroborated.
Molly eyed them warily, then turned back to Honey. “Alright then. Honey, tune your uke and get ready to sing. We haven’t got all day!”
Honey smiled gratefully at John and Paul, then ran to the front microphone and squeezed Lulu’s hand. She took over the lead vocal on a second run-through of “Lollipop”, then led the band through the rest of the evening’s set list. After Honey finished singing, Molly gathered the Red Stripes around her in a circle and offered a few words of critique.
“Thelma, you dragged out your solo too long on ‘Only You’. Lulu and Mildred, one of you was off on your harmony for ‘Mr. Sandman’. I couldn’t tell who it was, but fix things up before tonight’s show. Ruby, tone down your drumming. This is a girl group, not a rock and roll band. And Leila, keep your legs closer together. You look like a man standing the way you do.”
“Oops!” John giggled. “Sorry. I just find it easier to keep my balance this way. You know, what with my new center of gravity and all that.”
“No, I don’t know,” Molly replied testily. “What’s wrong with your center of gravity?”
John blushed. “Well, it’s um, you know, a female complaint…”
“Ooh, do tell!” exclaimed Mildred.
“Yes, spill the tea!” giggled Ruby.
“Be careful what you say, though,” Lulu warned John. “Mrs. Jones won’t tolerate certain female complaints!”
“I heard Suzy’s starting to show already,” Thelma said in a loud whisper. “Talk about a shifting center of gravity!”
Molly Jones clapped her hands sharply once more. “Enough, girls, enough! Now go get yourselves a quick bite to eat. Desmond’s set up a nice tea in the hall outside your dressing room. Then change into your costumes and be ready to play at eight o’clock sharp. Leila, Paula, go with Honey. She’ll find you some outfits in your size.”
The band started to disperse.
John leaned towards Paul and whispered in his ear. “Sorry. Any mention of ‘female complaints’ always silenced every other crowd I’ve been in.”
Paul offered him a sympathetic shrug.
Honey approached them both and smiled. “Thanks for covering for me on the flask, Leila.”
“Oh, any time,” John replied. He reached into his brassiere and started pulling it back out.
“No, not here,” Honey whispered. “Let’s go backstage and we can share a few nips while I help you find some costumes.”
“Sure,” Paul replied. He swallowed hard to keep himself from panting.
Honey stood between the two men and clasped their hands in hers. “I hope you two can join me in my hotel room later tonight. I usually throw a little party for everyone in the band. It’s a nice way to let our hair down and relax after playing a concert.”
John bit his lip, then smiled at Paul. “Paula can probably come. But I’ve got a date lined up, with a Rhodesian millionaire.”
Honey’s eyes grew wide. “Gosh! Ask him if he has any friends that he can introduce to me! I’ve always wanted to meet a millionaire!”
John giggled. “I’ll see what I can work out!”
* * *
John slipped into the hotel room he was sharing with Paul shortly before dawn. He pulled off his dress and wig, scrubbed the makeup from his face, and tiptoed to his bed.
Paul sat up straight against his headboard and turned on the lamp by his bedside. “Where the fuck have you been?”
John put his index finger to his lips and crawled under his blanket. “Never you mind.”
“I’m serious, John,” Paul insisted. “What the hell were you up to all night long?”
“Osgood took me to his yacht,” John replied in a serene voice. “He served me champagne and imported chocolates. And then we…ahhh…”
“What’s with the bloody sighing?!” Paul blustered. “What did you do with that bugger?”
John laughed. “We listened to records, you pervert. What did you think we did?”
Paul cocked his eyebrow at his friend. “Seriously? That’s all you did? Listen to bloody records?”
“We listened to bloody amazing records!” John countered. “Osgood has the most fabulous record collection I’ve ever seen – and he just brought a small portion of it along with him on his yacht! The rest he keeps back home in his mansion. He’s got copies of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbinson’s original singles on the Sun label. He’s got first pressings of all of Larry’s Williams 45’s from Specialty Records. And he’s met Little Richard! He showed me a framed photograph of the two of them standing together!”
“Holy Christ, are you serious?” Paul gasped.
“My hand to God,” John said. He broke into a bigger laugh. “This bloke is a bigger rock and roll fan than you and me put together! But he can’t sing worth shit. So he lent me his guitar – which was signed by Chuck Berry, mind you – and I put on a little private concert for him in his stateroom. He was a very appreciative audience.”
Paul’s face fell. “Oh, does that mean…?”
“Don’t worry,” John chuckled. “I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t want to tell Cyn.”
“Okay,” Paul said sheepishly. “If you say so…”
“So how was Honey Pie’s party?” John asked as he slipped a little deeper into his covers.
“Oh, John,” Paul sighed. “I think I’m in love.”
John clucked his tongue. “So is she a lezzie? Will she let you kiss her?”
“Fuck no,” Paul replied wistfully. “But she thinks I’m her new best friend. The other girls left the party about two, but we stayed up talking a few more hours. She told me all about herself. Her real name is Prudence Honeywell. Honey Pie is just her stage name. She’s from Tedstone Wafre in Herefordshire, if you can believe that. She left home when she was sixteen so she could try her luck as a singer. And she has a thing for bassists. One after another, she falls for the bassist of whatever band she’s singing with, and they always break her heart. Then she’s off to a new band, and a new bassist. She was absolutely thrilled to meet a girl bassist like me – she said I was the answer to her prayers. Because if I can help her get that ‘bassist thing’ out of her system, then she can fall for a man who’s not a musician. She kept asking me about that millionaire friend of yours. Wondering how you’d met him, and how she could meet some rich bloke of her own. She wants to give up the music business and settle down. But with someone rich enough to buy her a house, so she never has to go back to Tedstone Wafre in Herefordshire.”
“Poor lass,” John mumbled. He opened his mouth wide and yawned.
“I wish she knew I was a bloke,” Paul groused. “It was so hard sitting next to her on the bed and not touching her.”
“But then she’d find out you’re just another male bassist,” John pointed out. “And she’d immediately suspect your motives.”
“Yeah,” Paul agreed sadly. “Dressing up as girls was a mistake. We should have pretended we were millionaires. That would impress her.”
“You’re daft, Paula,” John said in his high-pitched voice. “Go to sleep.”
Paul turned off the lamp by his bedside. But then he immediately switched it back on. “I’ve got an idea! Why don’t you see if you can borrow some of Osgood’s fancy clothes for me, and I can try to convince Honey that I’m one of his millionaire friends?”
“Because that would be a shite thing to do to a sweet girl from Tedstone Wafre in Herefordshire,” John replied. “You would break her heart.”
“Oh, come on,” Paul said. “I’d break her heart if she found out I was just another male bassist too. But this way, she can act out her millionaire fantasy with me.”
“You’re no more a millionaire than you are a female bassist,” John pointed out.
Paul sighed and reached for the light switch. “I suppose you’re right. But it’s fun to think about, isn’t it? You and me? Millionaires?”
“In your dreams, Paul, in your dreams,” John said. He rolled over on his bed and closed his eyes.
* * *
Paul stepped away from the bathroom mirror when he heard John open their hotel room door, and stopped shaving his face. “Where were you this time?” he called into the bedroom. “I woke up and you were gone!”
“I was having a late breakfast with Osgood in his suite,” John replied. He stepped into the bathroom and held up a wooden hanger, bearing a bespoke three-piece suit made from the finest of wool.
“Try this on and see if it fits,” John said. “Osgood lent you a custom-tailored Oxford shirt as well, and two silk ties to choose from.”
Paul rested his razor on the sink. “What the bloody hell are you going on about?”
“If you want to pretend you’re a millionaire, you’ll have to look the part,” John said. “This was your idea, remember?”
“Yeah, but you told me it was a shite idea,” Paul replied.
“I’ll leave it to you and your conscience if you want to go through with this charade,” John said. “I’ll rest these on your bed, then run back to Osgood’s room to pick up some shoes for you. His valet is polishing a pair of hand-tooled leather loafers just now.”
Paul stepped out of the bathroom and watched John lay the clothes on his mattress. “Do you think this idea might actually work?”
“No,” John replied. “But Osgood said you could borrow his yacht tonight too, if you’d like. He won’t be needing it. After this evening’s concert, he’s taking me to meet his mum. He promised me a diamond bracelet if I can worm my way into her heart. Now get a move on! I just saw Honey walking downstairs to the lunch room. Catch her while you can!”
* * *
Paul stepped into the bedroom a few hours later and smiled smugly at John.
John looked up from the copy of Debrett’s “Guide to Etiquette” that he was perusing and met Paul’s eye. “Did she fall for it?”
“Hook, line and sinker,” Paul replied. “She’s going to meet me at the pier tonight, an hour after the show, and I’ll give her a tour of your friend Osgood’s yacht.”
“An hour after the show?” John asked. He dropped his book in his lap. “Will that give you enough time to wash all the pancake makeup off your face?”
“Hhmm,” Paul mumbled. “Maybe I should meet her at the bar downstairs first. That will give us both a few more minutes to change our clothes.”
“Won’t the other girls notice that Honey isn’t hosting her party as usual?” John challenged.
“They’ll cut Honey some slack,” Paul insisted. “Once she tells them she has a date with a millionaire, they’ll understand. Mildred and Lulu can invite the band over to their room instead.”
“And what about you?” John asked. “Won’t the girls miss Paula’s company at the pajama party?”
Paul laughed. “I’ll tell them I’m having my period! I’ll say I’m curling up in bed with a hot water bottle, and hang the “Do Not Disturb” card over our doorknob!”
* * *
Paul walked into his hotel bedroom at dawn the next morning and smiled radiantly at John.
“I just spent the night with the most beautiful girl in the world,” he gushed. “On a yacht, no less!”
“Did you drink the champagne Osgood left for you?” John asked.
Paul nodded. “And we ate the oysters. And then I had – a taste of honey.”
He flopped down on his bed and sang out with an exaggerated flourish, “Tasting much sweeter than wine!”
“Christ, you’re in deep shit,” laughed John. “But no worries. We’ll be back in Liverpool on Saturday morning, and this whole crazy trip will just fade into our memories like a bizarre dream.”
Paul turned his head towards John. “Back to the Pool already? Why?”
“The girls we replaced are on the mend, and they want their jobs back,” John explained. “Molly left us a note. And Allan sent us a telegram too. He said Mona Best offered us a gig at the Casbah Club this Saturday night. And he booked us for a Christmas Eve concert at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey.”
“The Grosvenor Ballroom,” Paul repeated under his breath. “The Grosvenor…Shit! That’s where those bank robbers saw us perform! They’ll be waiting for us there with their guns!”
“Not likely,” John replied. “If they shot us on December twenty-fourth, then Father Christmas wouldn’t leave any prezzies in their stockings the next morning.”
Paul rolled his head over his pillow and threw John a dirty look. Then he furrowed his brow. “What’s that on your wrist? It’s all sparkly.”
John lifted up his right hand. “Diamonds. A bracelet made from fifteen perfectly cut diamonds. Osgood gave it to me.”
“Fuck, John, what’s going on between you two anyway?”
John laughed. “Nothing. Osgood’s a transvestite. He saw through our disguises the moment he laid eyes on us…Or rather, he saw through mine straight away. You were pretty enough to fool him for a minute or two.”
Paul threw his legs over the side of his bed and glared at John. “So does that mean…?”
“Does that mean what?” challenged John.
“Did he try to…? Did he and you…?” Paul stuttered.
“I told you what we did,” John answered. “We listened to records, and I sang him a couple of songs. Then he gave me some pointers on how to look more convincing in my makeup.”
John sat up in his bed and looked directly at Paul. “Osgood’s not gay. He’s just a cross-dresser. But despite his enormous fortune, he’s had a rough time finding a girl who will accept his – well, his taste in fashion. His mother’s been on his back for years now, since he’s never brought a woman home to meet her. So he set me a challenge – if I could convince his mum that I was a girl who loved him, then he’d give me some diamonds.”
John lifted his wrist and let the gemstones sparkle in the soft morning light streaming through the room’s window. He admired the diamonds for a long moment, then slipped off the bracelet.
“I thought I’d give this to Cyn someday,” John began awkwardly. “If, you know, if we ever decided to get married, that is. A few years from now. Or maybe a few decades from now. But I wouldn’t know how to explain to her how I got them. So maybe you should just give this to Honey, as a goodbye gift. Keep up your millionaire charade for another day, then leave her with something besides a broken heart.”
John handed the bracelet to Paul.
“Christ, how much do you think these diamonds are worth?” Paul marveled.
“Dunno,” John replied. “A lot, I imagine. Though in all honesty, I was more impressed with Osgood’s record collection. And his autographed guitar and picture of Little Richard.”
Paul smirked. “I once read that Little Richard used to dress in drag for some of his shows too, before he became famous.”
“It’s a big world,” John replied.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. He looked up at John and met his eye. “And someday we’re going to be as famous as Little Richard. And then we’ll be able to buy diamonds for our girls whenever we want.”
“Maybe,” John laughed. He lay back down in his bed and pulled up his blankets.
“I’m glad we came to Blackpool and took this gig,” John continued. “This past month, when I was alone in Germany – you and Pete deported, George sent home till he turned eighteen, Stu ditching me for Astrid – I thought maybe I was all washed up at the age of twenty. No band. No future. No rock and roll left in my life. But this gig has turned everything around for me. Coming out here and living on the edge these past few days, I feel alive again! I don’t know if we’re going to hit the big time in 1961, or 1962, or if we’ll have to wait until bloody 1963, but we’re going to make it. I can feel it in my bones!”
Paul looked down at John and grinned. “Where we going, Johnny? To the top?”
John flashed him a smile. “To the toppermost of the poppermost!”
* * *
Honey turned her wrist back and forth and watched the diamonds on her bracelet catch the light.
“It’s so beautiful,” she cooed. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Paul replied smoothly.
Honey cut her eyes at him. “I’m not a thing. I’m a person.”
Paul swallowed hard. “Yes, of course, I know that. That’s not what I meant.”
“My mother told me I should never accept a gift of jewelry from a man I’m not engaged to,” Honey added. She tugged at the bracelet and started taking it off.
“Well, um…” Paul mumbled. He cast a nervous glance at John and Osgood, who were sitting at the lunch table beside him in the dining room of the Imperial Hotel.
John shrugged a non-committal response. Osgood lifted his hand and summoned a waiter.
“I’m not asking you to marry me, Honey,” Paul said. “We only just met! But I want you to have this. I…I have to go to Liverpool this weekend. On business. And, well, I don’t know where I’ll be heading to from there. But I want you to have this bracelet, and think of me whenever you wear it.”
Honey’s eyes welled up. “So this is it, then? The brush off? This is where you tell me you had a good time, but you don’t want to settle down with a two-bit singer like me?”
“No, Honey, it’s not like that, um, it’s just…” Paul stammered.
The waiter approached John’s table and held out a bottle of wine for Osgood’s inspection.
The sound of a gun shot rang out across the dining room. The glass bottle in the waiter’s hand shattered, spilling red wine all over the white linen tablecloth that lay between John and Osgood. The waiter shrieked and fell to the floor, then crawled to the safety of the restaurant’s kitchen on his hands and knees.
John and Paul threw terrified glances at the front end of the restaurant.
“Fuck, I can’t see who that is without my glasses,” John cursed under his breath. “Is that…?”
“It’s the man in the Mac,” Paul replied in a terrified voice. “And he’s got his friend with him.”
“Bloody hell,” John swore.
The two bank robbers cut a path through the terrified restaurant patrons and approached John’s and Paul’s tables.
The man in the Mac pointed his gun at Paul. “Funny coincidence, you’re being here in Blackpool. My friend and I were just passing through town to make a withdrawal from the local bank, and we recognized your pretty face from across the room.”
Osgood threw an anxious glance at Paul. “Do you know these gentlemen?”
The second thief sneered. “Sure he does. We go way back, don’t we, Pretty Face? So where’s your friend with the specs? We’ve been looking forward to see the pair of you again.”
John tried to hide his face in his hands.
The man in the Mac walked up to him. “Wait a minute. You look familiar too.” He pulled off John’s wig and threw it on the wine-soaked table. “Ah, so you thought you could hide from us behind a mask of pancake makeup, did you?”
Honey stared at John, then looked back at Paul and examined his face. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “You’re not a millionaire. You’re just Paula from the band! I can’t believe it. I fell for another stupid bassist!”
The gunman pointed his weapon at John’s head. “So you wanted to look as pretty as your friend, did you Four-eyes? Well, then, I’ll let you pick. Which one of you should I shoot first?”
Osgood adjusted the silk paisley scarf around his neck, stood up from the table, and stared directly at the gunman. “I’d put that revolver down, if I were you.”
“And whose gonna make me?” the thief laughed. “You? A pansy wearing a frickin’ ascot?”
“No,” Osgood replied. “My bodyguards and the hotel security team. They’re standing right behind you right now as we speak, and they’re each pointing guns at your heads.”
The two thieves cast nervous glances over their shoulders and blanched.
“Drop your weapon,” commanded the burliest man in the armed foursome. “And come with me.”
The man in the Mac rested his gun on the table and lifted his hands over his head. Another armed guard picked up the revolver and slipped it into his coat pocket.
“I’ll be back for you two!” the second thief shouted over his shoulder as the guards led him away.
“Not bloody likely,” Osgood replied with a sneer.
John picked up a cloth napkin and started wiping the sweat from his brow, then started laughing manically. “This linen’s all soaked with wine. It’s no use to me.”
The restaurant’s Maître D’ hurried to Osgood’s side and offered him profuse apologies.
“No apologies necessary,” Osgood insisted. “It’s not your fault. Just send up another lunch for my friends and me to share in my suite. You can put it on my tab.”
Osgood walked over to Honey’s side and offered her his hand. “That is, of course, if this charming young lady would consent to join us.”
Honey blushed. She threw a cursory look at her bracelet, then turned her face back towards Osgood. “Something tells me these diamonds came from you, not him.” She cast a disappointed look at Paul.
“Well, actually, they’ve changed hands a few times over the past day,” Paul said, forcing an awkward smile.
Honey rolled her eyes at him. “You lied to me. You’re not the man you pretended to be.”
“Or the woman he pretended to be either, for that matter,” John piped in.
Paul loosened his necktie so he could breathe more comfortably. “Well, you know, Honey, nobody’s perfect.”
“That’s true,” Osgood agreed. He offered Honey his arm to escort her away from her table. “No person is perfect. But diamonds can be flawless. And I have a lot more just like the ones in your bracelet that I’d love to show you.”
Honey smiled at him. “Someone once told me that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
“Well, we’ll see about that,” Osgood replied.
Honey lifted her free hand and ran her index finger gently down Osgood’s silk ascot. “I like your scarf.”
“I have more like that back in my suite as well,” he replied.
She smiled at him. “I like a man who’s not afraid to dress with pizzazz.”
Osgood smiled back at her, then cast a cursory look over his shoulder. “Leila and Paula, you’re welcome to join Miss Pie and me in my suite for lunch.”
“We’ll take a raincheck,” John replied with a wink. “I somehow imagine we might be in the way.”
John watched Osgood lead Honey out of the dining room, then turned towards Paul. “You’ve lost her to this guy with diamonds.”
“That’s alright,” Paul sighed. “I think I’d be more satisfied with a girl who don’t need no diamond rings.”
John stood up from the table and grabbed his wig. “C’mon. Let’s go back to our room. I’ve got to call my Auntie Harriet and ask her how to wash the wine out of this wig. And you need to shave your legs once more before this evening’s concert. Tonight’s our last night of this gig. We should go out with style!”
* * *
Inspired by the film “Some Like it Hot,” screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan (1959).