Past, Present & Nowhere

Jack Davril is an internationally famous teen pop star. He's riding high - but he's about to fall. His new song, Ain't No Fun, includes the lines 'Don't give me that essay, don't give me that look; I'm gonna grab me a match and burn your book'.

The song gets out of control - fans walk out of school lessons and burn their books. But worse, Jack is confronted by two men who claim to be from a government agency. Suddenly, he's on the run - from the men, from his fans - and from himself. Can the mysterious Jane be his saviour?

Past Present & Nowhere (previously called Burn This Book) aims to be a fast-paced adventure, looking at how fame can change us, how a friend can save us, and how living for today sometimes means looking back.

This will be a full-length novel, and these are the first chapters. While it is a contemporary story, there is a lot here of interest to fans of historical fiction (I hope).

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1. Prologue: Teenage Kicks

Hello and welcome to Entertainment Fix, I’m Sophie Jones. We’ve got a packed show tonight but, wow, what a story to start with. Jack Davril has been at it again!

The controversial pop superstar caused another sensation today when he punched our reporter Matt Briggs in the face! Yes, the teenage singer, who spectacularly rose to fame two years ago with his first album, lashed out at Matt during an interview at the gates of Davril’s mansion in Sussex.

To find out what happened, we’re going straight over to Matt now…

[Cue live feed: Matt Briggs outside the Davril mansion]

Matt – ouch, that nose of yours looks really sore!

Hi Sophie – yes, it is! The ambulance crew here think it’s broken, so I’ll be heading off to the hospital once I’ve spoken to you.

You’re very dedicated to your job, Matt! So tell us, what caused Jack Davril to punch you?

Well, that’s a good question! I was here outside Jack’s house with a group of other journalists in the hope of getting an interview with him. As you know, a school caretaker in Texas almost died last night in a fire, which we now understand was deliberately started by two of Jack Davril’s fans.

That’s right. They claim to have just been doing what Jack Davril told them to do, isn’t that the case?

Correct. Of course, Jack Davril didn’t personally tell them to set fire to the school. What these teenagers were talking about is Jack’s new song, Ain’t No Fun. You can see what they were referring to in this clip from the video:

[Cue Recording: Jack Davril ‘Ain’t No Fun’. Images of Davril singing in front of a bleak looking school building.]

So I'm just tryin’ to say, there ain't no mystery, cos there ain't no, ain't no, fun in history

Let the dead stay buried six feet below, you're teaching us something we don't wanna know.

Don't give me that essay, don't give me that look, I'm gonna grab me a match and burn your book!

[Cue studio]

That’s pretty strong stuff, Matt.

Absolutely. The song appears to be an attack on the past – the message is very much ‘live for now’. But his fans are almost taking it as a call to arms, to reject their lessons,

The first incident we’re aware of was at a school in Manchester. 16-year-old Simon Walker actually walked out of a GCSE history exam, isn’t that right?

It is Sophie. Luckily, one of Simon’s classmates caught most of the incident on his phone, as you can see here:

[Cue video: after a blurry start, we see a 16-year-old standing at his school desk while his seated classmates stare at him. The camera switches between the boy and his teacher.]

…ask you again, Walker, take your seat and continue with your exam.

There ain't no fun in history, sir.

What?

Teacher at the front, you're mad as a hatter - history is past, so what does it matter?

Okay Walker, sit down now or…

I’m just trying to say, there ain’t no mystery, cos there ain’t no, ain’t no, fun in history…

What? Sit down..Walker…sit…come back! You can’t walk out of an exam, come back! Smith, Packham, where are you going? No…all of you…sit down…SIT DOWN…

[Cue studio]

As we saw there, the whole class walked out of their exam.

That’s right! We, of course, reported the story on this programme, but this was just the first of many such incidents. Children around the country, and even in some countries abroad, seem to have taken this song very seriously.

But that was only the beginning?

Exactly.  If it wasn’t enough that children were walking out of classrooms, we then had the first incident of Jack Davril fans actually setting fire to books!

This was the two girls in Devon, wasn’t it? By this time, Jack Davril was already on the front pages of the papers and trending every day, but even by his standards, his reaction to this was strange, wasn’t it Matt?

Absolutely. Instead of condemning the girls, he actually tweeted them a message of support. Here it is: @Davril Jasmine and Carla u rock. Burn it up girls, it’s the only way.  #aintnofun.

That didn’t go down too well.

Well that depends on who you talk to. Adults hated him for it. The kids loved him even more. And as we know, it led to more and more book burnings, until yesterday’s almost-tragic incident in Texas.

So what’s going on, Matt? Is this young man falling apart?

It’s starting to look that way Sophie. I want to show you something - here’s footage from an interview with Jack two years ago, when he was riding high on the wave of success after his first album came out. Take a look:

[Cue video: Jack Davril on camera.]

Well, yeah, it’s all been a bit of a dream really. We all think we can make it as singers but I guess most people don’t. So I’ve been lucky I suppose. The fans have been amazing and I just want to keep making music, keep doing what I’m doing. That’s it really.

[Cue Matt]

You see how he looked there, Sophie? Young, fresh and determined. He’d just blown us away with his first Number One single, If You Could See What I See, which stayed at the top of the charts for an incredible 16 weeks! Then his album came out, and he pretty much conquered the world. But now take a look at this footage from the press conference when he announced his new tour, just after the controversy about Ain’t No Fun had really started to take off:

[Cue press conference: Jack Davril sits behind a table with a man in a suit. Reporters and photographers are in the foreground.]

Reporter 1: "There has been a lot of controversy over this record. How do you feel about that?"

Davril: "It's nothing to do with me.”

Reporter 1: "But your fans are only doing what your song tells them to do. Surely you are inciting them to..."

Davril: "I'm not inciting anything. I wrote a song, that's it. I'm not responsible for what people do after they've heard it."

Reporter 2: "Yes you are."

Davril: "Excuse me?"

Reporter 2:"You are responsible for what happens. How can you not be?"

Davril: "Which paper are you from?"

Reporter 2: "Stop the song. Before it's too late."

Davril: "Stop the song? What are you on about?"

Reporter 2: "Tell them it's not true. Please, Jack."

Davril: “Gimme a break. I’m outta here.”

Davril gets up and storms out of the room.

Man in Suit: "Um...so if sales continue at this rate, Jack Davril will be confirmed as Britain's top-selling artist for 40 years..."

[Cue studio]

Wow, that was some performance, Matt!

Absolutely. If you compare that to the earlier clip, we’re seeing a young man who has changed. Some might even say he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And if more proof was needed, take a look at this from today:

[Cue video: Jack Davril emerging in an open-top BMW through the gates of his house. A cluster of reporters, including Matt surround the car.]

"Jack! Where are you going?"

"Jack! Why did you do it?"

"Jack! Is this what you wanted?"

Davril sits in the car, unable to move, looking stunned.

"Jack! What’s it like to almost kill someone?"

"Jack!"

"Jack!"

"Jack!"

Davril gets out of the car: "Shut up! Shut up! What's the matter with you? What do you want from me?"

Matt, Entertainment Fix: "Jack, did you realise the effect this song would have?”

Davril: "What do you think?”

Matt: "How does it feel knowing that your song almost killed someone?"

Davril stares at the reporter then turns away.

Matt: “Jack…”

Davril: “Get away from me!"

Davril tries to get back to his car, and pushes Matt away, catching him on the nose.  Matt turns to the camera, blood trickling from his nostrils.

Matt: "Did you get that?"

Davril gets back into his car and revs the engine. Above the furore, a teenage girl’s voice is heard.

Girl: “Are you proud of yourself?"

Davril, trying to see who spoke: "What?"

Girl: "Are you proud of yourself?"

Davril: "Am I proud of myself?"

Girl: "Yes. Some amazing things have happened because of you."

Davril: "I..." The popstar almost seems to crumble.

Davril: "No. No I’m not." 

Davril revs his car engine and pulls away, scattering the scrum of reporters in a lightning storm of flashbulbs.

[Cue studio]

Wow. We really are looking at a man on the edge. So what’s next for Jack Davril, Matt?

We heard that he was seen this afternoon at Heathrow, boarding a plane for New York, so maybe he’s going to try and get away from it all for a while. On the music front, he’ll no doubt be practising with his band for the big opening night of his tour, at London’s Olympic Stadium.

If ever the eyes of the world will be on one live show, it’s going to be that one!

Exactly. Even more pressure for a young man who, quite frankly, doesn’t seem to be coping with the fame that now surrounds him. We’ll certainly be watching to find out what happens. And now…I’m off to the hospital!

Good idea Matt! Thanks very much for that report. And now, more entertainment news…

 

Chapter One: Everybody Hurts

 

Has a song ever changed your life?

Yeah, me too.

But this time…well, it changed my life more than I ever could have imagined. And this is the story of what happened. Stick with me if you want.

One thing though. I’m sure you already know a bit about me. Maybe you think you know everything about me. Do me a favour – don’t assume anything. None of us are what we appear to be.

 

Okay, where to start? What about the beginning of the end? That’s when I heard those words:

 “Are you proud of yourself?”

Someone asked me that –  though I guess you know that by now. But those words – I suppose they’re key to a lot of what has happened.

            After I pushed that reporter – come on, I didn’t actually punch him - I threw my car in gear and pushed forward through the crowd. Apparently I cliped a few legs on the way, so my lawyers now tell me. But I was clear. I stared at the road, and drove.

I spent the next couple of weeks holed up in New York. People know me there, but it's not so intense, so I had a chance to breathe.  The concert was coming up and I flew the rest of the band out to join me for rehearsals. So I didn't have to face Britain. And all the time we were rehearsing, every night I tried to sleep in my hotel bed, I thought about the girl’s words. "Are you proud of yourself?"

The words had cut me open, and now I had no choice but to look inside. Was I proud of myself? Of course not, why should I be? What had I done that was worth anything? Become famous? Big deal.  No. There was nothing I was proud of, nothing in my life that made me smile.  And when you start to feel like that, what, really, is the point? So I guess that’s when I came to my decision.

It was time to say goodbye.

 

It was the day of the concert - the first solo pop gig at the new Olympic Stadium in London, and being beamed live around the world. 

People had started queuing outside from eight in the morning, and I wasn't due on stage until 7.30 that night. No doubt everything that had happened contributed to the excitement, plus the fact that a group of parents had tried to get the concert banned - that's always good for ticket sales. And maybe they should have cancelled it, but there was no way the promoters were going to lose out on the biggest money-earner they'd had in years, so it went ahead.

The burger vans and donut sellers did a good trade that day too, not only from the fans but also from the hundreds of anti-Davril protestors who gathered with placards and megaphones. Obviously the press paid them attention; the fans didn't.  The gates opened at five and there was a mass rush to get closest to the stage - it was all-standing on the pitch, with seating around the edges. And mainly girls at the front, which I didn't mind. After the initial rush, everyone sat themselves down, and waited.

In the dressing room at the back, I was nervous. But I wasn't nervous about going on stage, which was strange. I'd always got nervous about appearing live, even though at first I'd enjoyed it - that was part of the enjoyment, I suppose, the tension, then the release when you start to play, and you realise that people want to hear you. But gradually it had become less enjoyable, and when I waited in the dressing room before playing to 80,000 people, plus millions on television, I realised I didn't care. And if you don't care about something this big, then there's something wrong. But I knew there was something wrong, and I knew what I was going to do about it, and it was that knowledge that made me nervous.

At about 6.30 something stirred in the crowd. Someone at the front stood, pointed at a figure near the back of the stage. I suppose they thought it was me, but it wasn't. It would have been Dave, one of our technical guys, another blond lad, who we'd send out about an hour before the show to lurk around in the shadows. Someone always spotted him, thought it was me, then the same thing always happened. The person who saw him stood, pointed. Their friends would stand too, stare at the figure in the shadows. Then quickly everyone on the pitch, about 20,000 people, would stand too. There would be a surge to the front as people pushed to see more clearly. A few who were too slow to stand, or who were trying to pick up the picnic things they'd spread out on the floor, were knocked aside in the rush, and there would be shouts and arguments. It all added to the tension, to the excitement. And that's why we sent Dave out. One of the tricks of the trade, and it worked every time.

The boys in the band did their usual warm-ups. Nick, my lead guitarist, was a good friend, and probably my only true friend. I'd known him for so long, I knew that he wasn't just there to share in the wealth and the fame, and that was a re-assurance. Not that I ever told him that, of course.

So I just did what I always do, teased him. Insulted his guitar playing, told him I only used him in the band because I believed in equal opportunities and there weren't many Asian lead guitarists. And he would do what he always did, smile at me, look through my insults and see inside me to the truth. That day at the Olympic Stadium he smiled at me, and saw inside me, and he saw the pain no-one else could see. His smile faded for a moment, and I saw the concern in his eyes. I looked away.

From the stadium we could hear the muffled hubbub of excited chatter. Occasionally a small group of friends would start singing one of my songs, and their voices would be joined in moments by thousands, singing my words, my music. Then the song would die away, leaving only the chatter. A few minutes later the same thing would happen, then again and again until the crowd had sung most of my hits without me. Sometimes I wondered why I needed to turn up at all.

It was 7.30. I had planned my big announcement for the end of the concert, a climax that no-one would forget. But I took my mind away from that, and focussed on the job. If this was to be my last concert, I intended it to be a good one. The best, in fact, that anyone had ever seen. The band stood, ready, psyched, shouting, fists pumping, like football players before a match. Nick was doing the rounds, as usual.

"You alright?", to Sam, the drummer. Sam nodded, a big grin on his big face.

"You alright?", to Dylan, the bassist. Dylan also nodded, but nervously, wondering if he needed to throw up again.

"You alright?", to Keith, on keyboards, who high-fived him.

Then to me. "You alright?"

I looked at him, didn't answer.

"You?" Again he looked through me, saw too much. Cocked his head on one side, silently asked me again, "You alright?"

I stared him out. Had to, for his sake. "I'm great," I said.

Phil the PR man came through the door, sweating and nervous.

"It's 7.35," he said. "We're, um..."

"Late. I know," I said. "Five more minutes."

Phil looked more nervous. "But they'll..."

I interrupted him. "...be even more excited when we turn up. Now go and sit down, you look like you're having a heart attack."

Phil nodded, left us. Outside I could hear the chants, "We want Jack, we want Jack..." As we waited, the sound grew louder, louder, almost became real, solid, something that could have ripped the walls down, plucked us from the dressing room and dropped us into the crowd.

"Blimey, can you hear it?" said Sam. "They're gonna take the roof off!"

"I've never heard nothing like it," said Keith, silver sweat shining on the darkness of his skin. Dylan said nothing, but threw up in the sink.

"Lovely," said Sam, turning pale.

"Couple more minutes," said Nick. "Just hold on."

"Must be like going into battle, this," said Sam, who always talked a lot when he was nervous. "You know, like in the war, waiting to get out of the trenches and charge at the Germans." We all laughed, and even Dylan managed a smile. Comparing ourselves to soldiers made us feel strong, big. How little we knew.

"Right," I said, turning to Nick. "You going to tell them?"

"Sure," he said.

He turned, walked out of the dressing room. After a few seconds the noise from outside, already monstrous, magnified to an impossible level. On our TV monitor I could see Nick walk out onto the stage, waving at the crowd, lapping up the reception. Then the slow walk to the microphone, the sombre look on his face, the gesture for people to quieten, which they slowly did. Then his voice, clear through the speakers.

"Good evening..."  A huge roar, then slowly to quiet. "I'm afraid I have some bad news." Eighty thousand gasps. Nick waited for the noise to subside, waited for the anxious faces to turn away from their anxious friends, and back to him.

"Jack Davril..." One piercing female voice interrupted him: "Jack!!"

Nick pressed ahead. "Jack Davril...dearly wanted to be here tonight, for you, and for his millions of fans across the world..."

More gasps, heart-broken shouts of "No!"

Nick raised his hands, his face a picture of honest apology. Then it broke. "And so he is! Ladies and gentlemen...Jack Davril!"

The next few seconds are lost to me. I would have run from the dressing room, down the short corridor then through onto the stage. Nick would have done his usual trick, getting down on one knee to gesture me forward. Then I would have run to the front of the stage, taken a bow. But I can't remember any of it. All I know is the wall of sound that hit me and wiped every other thought, feeling or sense out of my mind. Don't get me wrong, I'd always had great welcomes, I was used to excited audiences from Denmark to Japan. But this...this was unreal.

All I can remember is focussing after a few seconds - apparently it was nearly a minute, as the screams and the foot stamping and the applause overwhelmed me - and then I was back in control. And when I was back in control, the bitterness began to re-appear. The anger. For a few seconds it had gone, I had been wrapped in the happiness of the moment. But so quickly it was back. And I began to hate these people for being shallow, for being ridiculous. For feeling so much warmth for me...ME, when it was so undeserved.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure running towards me. I turned, and saw a girl, wearing a spangly dress, coming at me, arms outstretched and screaming. One of my bodyguards was right behind her, but I calmed him with a look, then I calmed her with a different look. She stopped in front of me, eyes wide, mouth open, as if she'd just met God. I know that sounds arrogant but how else can I describe it? But I merely took her hand, kissed it, then handed her over to the security guy. The crowd screamed even louder, excitement mixed with jealousy.

And then it was time.  Some bands save their big hit for later in the show, but not me, not this time. I turned, nodded to Sam. He grinned and started banging his drums, a fast, heavy beat. I walked to the microphone, turned back to the audience, their screams joined by 160,000 hands clapping in time.

"You having fun?"  I said, quietly. A huge roar.

"You sure you're having fun?" I said, louder. Another roar.

"You wanna have some more fun?" I said, louder still. The noise was unbearable.

"That's good!" I shouted. "But I'll tell you something...something that ain't no fun..." The noise almost lifted the stadium roof and sent it flying across east London.

I turned to Dylan and he started strumming, the nerves long gone. I turned to Keith and he hit the keys. I looked at Nick and he winked at me, then cut across the strings of his guitar. The sound filled the stadium. I don't care what type of music you like, but there's no arguing - take a set of drums, two guitars, a keyboard and the right tune, and there's nothing like it. The sound gets inside you, gives a pleasure, a happiness, a something that makes you want to smile, makes you want to dance, makes you want it to last forever. I could see the sound inside the faces in front of me, their eyes looking up at me, expectant. I waited, just a little longer. Give them more intro, more time to wait, more time to need me. Just a little longer.

Now.

I took the microphone in my hand, shoved it to my lips.

"Down by the blackboard, teacher's droning, back of the classroom, kids are moaning, 'What's the point?' they stand and shout - no more boredom, let's get out!'

Eighty thousand voices joined me on 'Let's get out!'. The feeling was incredible.

"Henry, Cromwell, Bad Prince John, they're all out of date so stop going on! Teacher at the front, you're mad as a hatter, history is past so what does it matter? Just trying to tell you, there ain't no mystery, cos there ain't no, ain't no, fun in history!"

The drum beat shuddered through me, Nick's guitar wailing in my ears, the voices all around me, singing, singing my words, "There ain't no, ain't no, fun in history, ain't no, ain't no, fun in history!"

When I was learning the way to perform on stage, I watched videos of all the great performers. There are too many to list, and if I mention someone you don't like, or leave out someone you do, then you may turn against me, and I can't afford you to do that right now. But think of the best you’ve ever seen, or ever heard about, and that's what I was going for. But ultimately, it was me, just me.

"I don't care about the people who cried, the people who lied, the people who died; they're long gone so don't start a row, all I wanna do is live for now!" Eighty thousand voices: 'live for now!'.  "So I'm just tryin’ to say, there ain't no mystery, cos there ain't no, ain't no, fun in history!"

The light show flashed and rippled around me, spotlights chasing me like tractor beams. Images of old news stories and historical films were beamed onto a huge screen, and the atmosphere grew edgy, angry.

"So let the dead stay buried six feet below, you're teaching us history we don't wanna know...Don't give me that essay, don't give me that look, I'm gonna grab me a match and burn your book!"

Cheers, shouts, screams. Old school caretakers long forgotten. People throughout the crowd started waving lighters in the air, but not for the usual soppy ballad. They were also waving books in the air, books of every kind. I even saw a couple of Bibles in the first row, which would really upset a few people.

"Your idea of education is a mystery, cos there ain't no, ain't no, fun in history!"

Flames began to leap from the pages of history books and chemistry books, white paper turning black under the purple and orange flames. The drums and guitars assaulted me from behind while the smell of smoke hit me from the front. I was surrounded, every sense attacked, overwhelmed. The music kept forcing me forward, pushing me further, further than I’d ever intended to go.

I clung onto the microphone, used it as a weapon to defend myself, angrily sung the last two lines as the noise reached a crescendo:

"Don't tell me what to do, don't tell me what's been done, I’m acting right now, cos history ain't no fun!"

We stopped, but the crowd started, a thundering crescendo of noise that rose at the back then rushed forward like an avalanche, engulfing everyone before reaching the stage and smashing into me. I stood, stunned, unmoving, and shut my eyes. It was too much to take.

The noise roared in my ears as my mind struggled to comprehend what was happening. Why were these people doing this, why did they like it so much? It was only a song...it was only a song! Thoughts rushed through my mind, but nothing made sense.

So I stood, eyes closed, waiting for the crowd to quieten. I was left only with those thoughts, thoughts of what I had done, of what I was planning to do. Of what I was going to leave behind.

But there was no time, as Sam had already started slamming on the drums, taking us into the next song. Give the audience time to cheer, time to scream, then hit them with another one, that’s what I’d always told him. So on we went, into the next song, then the next, then the next, not letting the audience relax, never lowering their level of excitement. Never allowing myself to think.

We came to the last song of the set, my first Number One,  If You Could See The Things I See, then we took our bows and ran off stage. Everyone knew it wasn’t the end, we’d take a couple of minutes break, then come back for three more songs. And that was when I would make my announcement.

“Wow!” yelled Sam as we ran off, “That was amazing!”

“Best ever!” said Keith.

“Oh I don’t know,” said Dylan, “there was that gig in…” He looked around at us, then grinned. “Only kidding! That was the greatest!”

And Nick – Nick just looked at me, smiling, then patted me on the shoulder. I looked away.

“Back in a minute,” I said, as the others piled into the dressing room, grabbing cans of coke and wiping off the sweat with towels. Nick watched me.

“Need company?” he said.

I turned on him. “What, you going to hold my hand?” I said. The others laughed, Nick smiled but I knew I’d hurt him, yet again I’d thrown away an offer of help. But I couldn’t see any other way.

I shut the dressing room door and walked along the corridor, seeking some peace. One of my bodyguards started trailing me, but I waved him away. He tried to protest, but my look stopped him. I needed to get my head together, prepare what I was going to say. What I was going to do. The buzz of the crowd still throbbed through the walls, and I knew we had a good couple of minutes before we’d go back. I wandered into the big loading bay at the back of the stage, where all the equipment is loaded from huge trucks.

It was deserted, all the roadies taking a break until the concert was over, and dark, with only a few shafts of daylight from the high windows criss-crossing above me and throwing shadows.  It was silent, away from the buzz of the crowd, and empty, apart from one electric guitar propped up against a wall. Funny, as that’s how it had started, me and a guitar, and that was how it was going to end.

It was strange to think my career was over, me being a couple of months off my 19th birthday. You’re supposed to be 65, when you retire. Old, tired, ready to take up gardening. I’m not old, but tired? Definitely. But soon it would be over. A few words on stage, the inevitable reaction. Shock. I knew there would be tears, screaming, and I know how that sounds but I’m just being honest – and honest is what I do best. That’s why people liked me, I reckon.

My songs were true, not some dream wrapped up in a lie. So why change now? I’d become important to people, and what I was going to do would hurt them. But they would get over it. You always get over it. Maybe some of them would remember and that would be…that would be cool. But not cool enough for me to change my mind.

Suddenly from behind one of the trucks came the sound of someone clapping, and I jumped, snapped out of my wonderings.

“Who’s there?” I said.

I’m used to being clapped, but this didn’t sound right.  It was slow, menacing, the sound cutting through the silence. Probably a roadie who’d had one too many ciders. I started to walk around the truck, and the clapping stopped. I looked into the darkness, but couldn’t see anyone.

“Yeah, funny,” I said. “This is a restricted area, so if you’re not supposed to be here, start walking.”

The clapping started again, this time from the other side of the truck. Just what I needed, a drunk roadie with a sense of humour.

“Thanks for your support,” I called out, “but I’ve got 80,000 real fans out there waiting for me. So either come here and ask for an autograph…or get lost.”

The clapping stopped, and again the silence surrounded me. It’s funny how sometimes no noise can be as loud as lots of noise. I mean, we’re nearly always surrounded by some kind of sound, but if it’s not there, then our ears search it out, try to find something, anything, to listen to. All mine could find was my own breathing.

And then the footsteps.  Slow, from behind the truck, coming towards me. Leather soles scuffing on the concrete floor, but there must have been some metal in the heels or toecaps, because there was a sharp scrape with every footfall. I don’t know why, but my stomach tightened, and I started to back away. Logic told me this was a drunk roadie, or Nick mucking about, or some doddery old security guard who had seen me come into the loading bay. But logic doesn’t control your senses, instinct does. And instinct was telling me to get out of there.

Too late.

A man, in his thirties, wearing jeans and a battered leather jacket. Thin faced and mean. Five metres away.

“What do you want?” I said. I stood my ground, didn’t want him to see me back away. “Do you want an autograph?”

He snapped a laugh at me. “You stupid, stupid boy,” he said. My mouth suddenly felt dry, so I licked my lips.

“This is a restricted area,” I said again. “You shouldn’t be here.”

He looked at me. “Tough.”

He kept coming towards me. I realised that he’d put his hands in his pockets, and I had no idea what else was in there. As a star, you’re always open to attack from nutters, and after the recent rumpus over Ain’t No Fun, I suppose I should have been prepared for this. I looked around, saw the guitar leaning against the wall. I wasn’t scared now – fear comes from the unknown, from the darkness, and now the danger was in the open. Sure, I didn’t know what he had in his pockets – possibly a knife, at worst a gun, but in the state of mind I’d been in, that wasn’t a worry. I was more angry, angry that someone had interrupted my peace time. I worked my way towards the guitar, watching him all the time, watching his hands.

“So what do you want?” I said. “Let me guess…your kid walked out of an exam and it’s all my fault, right? Well you know what? Tough. Like you said, pal. Tough.”

His hands came out of his pockets and I grabbed the guitar, swung it behind my head. His hands were empty, and he folded his arms across his chest.

"Ooh," he said, unworried, "the boy's going to hit me with his lute."

Huh?

"What do you want?", I said.

"What do I want? Well, if it was up to me, I'd kick you around for a while, then dump you upside-down in a river until you stopped wriggling," he said.

My stomach tightened again, but I couldn't let him threaten me.

"I'd like to see you try,” I said. There was silence for a second, then his words filtered their way into my brain.

"What do you mean, if it was up to you?"

"Exactly what it says, you stupid boy," he snarled. "If I was in charge, I'd teach you a lesson your grandchildren won’t forget."

My mouth was dry, I licked my lips again.

"So..who is in charge?"

He smirked, nodded at me.

No, nodded to someone behind me.

I turned, but it was too late. A big man was right there, towering over me. He grabbed the guitar and swung, throwing me across the floor. It hurt but I rolled over and tried to stand, but he was already on top of me, pushing me back to the ground.

"Stay down," he said. I pushed him away, went for him. I hate bullies. He drew back an arm and smashed his fist into my face. I went down again.

"You said I could do that," said the thin-faced man. He sounded almost hurt.

"Sorry," said the big guy.

I felt a trickle of warm liquid under my nose, reached up and touched blood. I glared up at the two men.

“Now that’s not going to look good on stage, is it?” I said. I began to stand, and they let me.

"I can imagine you're a little confused, Jack," said the big man, his voice quiet, with a trace of Welsh. "Maybe I can explain..."

"Too right!" I shouted. "Who are you?"

"Just calm down..."

“What do you want!” I glanced towards the door of the bay. “I’ve already been gone too long – they’ll come looking for me. Start running now and you might get away. I’ll forget it ever happened.”

The two men looked at each other.

“Very generous,” said the thin-faced man. He pushed his face into mine and I realised how large his nose was. “But forgetting it ever happened is what caused the problem in the first place!” he shouted.

I looked at him. “What?”

"Like I said, I'll explain," said the big guy, "but there's no need to be afraid."

"Unfortunately," chipped in his friend.

"I'm not afraid! I’m in the middle of a concert. I come back here for a bit of peace…”

"That's understandable,” said big guy.

"Then this big-nosed idiot turns up and starts threatening me..."

"Oi! Watch the insults, you floppy-haired, girly-dressed, rich-boy minstrel..." said the big-nosed idiot.

"Alright, that's enough..."

"Girly-dressed?" I said, and stepped towards him. The big guy stopped me.

"Enough! Now listen to me." He turned to his friend. "And you...calm down."

"He started it," he said.

"Who are you?" I shouted.

The big guy looked at me. "My mouthy friend here is called Wat."

"Wat? What kind of a name is that?"

"Watch it..," said Wat.

"Is that what your mother said when she gave birth? 'Wat on earth is that?" Wat came for me, but the big guy stopped him.

"Right, that's it. You will both shut up, right now." His voice was still quiet, but there was a strength there, a power that you didn't argue with.

"Wat - get over there. Jack - you will listen to me and you will not say anything until I've finished. Is that clear?" I glanced towards the door, but there was no sign of Nick, or anybody. It seemed like I didn’t have a choice, so I nodded.

"Good. My name is Cal. The government is going to judge your song as treasonous, and the consequences will be dire. Do you understand?" I looked at him. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. He carried on: “You must denounce it. Now, before this goes too far."

I looked at him, at Wat. It had already been a strange day, what with the concert, and the decision I'd made. Now it was just weird.

"What are you talking about? Who the are you?"

"Just listen," said Cal.

"You've got to be government, right? Secret Service?

"Not exactly."

“What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

He sighed, his big shoulders dropping, then he flipped his fringe out of his eyes. "I’m sorry it’s come to this, but we tried to warn you.”

“Warn me? What do you mean?”

“The press conference, I was there.” I thought back to the press conference  I’d held when the tour was announced. I’d hated it, hadn’t wanted to be there. In amongst the inane questions about which labels I wear and who my latest girlfriend was, a voice had come from the back.

“Stop the song, Jack, before it’s too late.” All I’d seen was a big guy in the shadows at the back, and I hadn’t had a clue what he was talking about.

“You?” His face had been hidden, but the physique was the same. “But I didn’t know what you meant…”

“I know, Jack. It’s not been easy to get to you. We’re operating, shall we say, on the edges of the law.”

Wat was getting nervy. “Come on, Cal, we’ve got to sort this.”

I looked at them. “So you’re some kind of agency? Watching out for, what, aliens?”

Wat snapped a laugh, but Cal nodded.

“Something like that.”

“And you shouldn’t be here?”

“Something like that.”

“So how do I know you’re telling the truth?” I stared them down. “If I’m being done for treason, it would be all over the papers. I’m headline news  in this country and I can’t sneeze without getting a front page in The Sun. You’re not government.”

Wat snarled at me. “We told you, we’re on the edge.”

“You and me both!” I said. “I’ve worked in the music industry long enough to know when I’m being lied to. And you’re trying to sell me a bum deal.”

Cal reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. “Please, Jack. You are endangering lives.  When you go back on stage, tell them that the past is important. If you do it will make a difference, I promise you. Tell them..."

"Get away from me..."

"You must do this!" he shouted, finally losing it.

He grabbed at me, but I dodged out of his grip. Wat tried to hold me but I punched him, straight and hard on his big nose, and he went over backwards. I thought I could make it to the door, out the back to the maze of corridors, get help. But the big guy was quicker than he looked, and caught me. He picked me up like he was lifting a child for a piggy back, and hurled me into a pile of empty crates. As I lay there, they both came at me, and held me down.

"No!” I shouted. “Get off me! Nooo!"

I remember seeing Cal draw back his fist, then the lights went out.

 

 

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