BILLY WAS just thinking he ought to call The Enemy when the phone rang. It was The Enemy.
‘Hi, this Justin Lastname of The Enemy here. Can I speak to Billy Freeb?’
The Enemy? Justin Lastname of The Enemy? The Justin Lastname of the The Enemy? Billy was not sure what to make of this. On uncountable occasions in the past howevermany years Billy had not called The Enemy. Whenever he was conscious he thought he ought to call The Enemy, but he never actually did. Now they were calling him.
‘Yeah, this is Billy Freeb,’ he said.
‘How’re you doing Billy?’ asked Justin, brightly business like. ‘Your name has been buzzing round the office lately. We at The Enemy are very excited about what you’re doing.’
Billy was picking his nose. He stopped and said ‘uh.’
‘Yeah, we thought we’d do a short number on you. Nothing grand just yet, maybe five hundred or a thousand words, a photo. See how it pans out.’
‘If, of course, you agree. What do you think, Billy?’
‘Er . . . How did you find out about me — my work?’ he mumbled at the edifice of awe and fear that had popped up next to the telephone.
‘Well I have a big memo right here on my desk, Billy. Makes interesting reading, almost enough for a story but without one crucial thing — you yourself, Billy.’
‘I see . . . As a matter of idle curiosity, do you know why you happen to have a big memo about me on your desk?’
‘Oh, I imagine one of our staffers saw one of your gigs and put your name about.’
‘I haven’t actually done any gigs,’ said Billy. ‘That’s kinda the point, isn’t it.’
‘Oh . . .’ the sound of a seismic shift of papers, something heavy toppling, ‘that’s — ’ and the light summery rustle of memo, ‘right. Well, I suppose one of our staffers didn’t see one of the gigs you didn’t do and decided to put your name about. So what do you say, Billy? Why don’t we meet for lunch? I . . .’
‘Billy? Billy? You all right?’
The mention of food had sent Billy into peristalsis.
‘Aaaaaagh!’ he expanded, but pulling himself together with an eviscerating drag on his cigarette, he arranged to meet Lastname at an Indian restaurant in Islington.
‘See you there,’ said Billy.
‘Check,’ said Justin.
Great! Fame! And Billy had done absolutely nothing to earn it but think about it! And a free lunch to boot! Not that he ever ate — that was against his principles, or against the chemicals in his blood — but a free lunch means free booze — and that was very for his principles and the chemicals in his blood, both.
But fame. ‘I don’t believe it’ said Billy lamely, the dead receiver still in his hand. ‘Help.’ Abandoning the handset to the floor, he lit a cigarette and stumbled giddily from the hall into his room.
He felt profoundly nauseous. His body didn’t miss food too much so long as he remained supine or drunk, but he was neither at the moment, and now with this adrenaline rush on top of this morning’s quart of black instant coffee and ten Camel, his legs suddenly felt rubbery and he badly needed the toilet.
‘I don’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I refuse to believe it. Someone’s yanking my chain.’ Either that Lucien Savage had put someone up to it — in which case he was dead meat in the Kropotkin Arms — or the call was genuine, in which case he would have to face an interview with the gargantuan Justin Lastname . . . and therefrom, record contracts, gigs at Wembley, TV spots, fame, wealth, an active and varied life — unlimited sex, drugs — everything he had ever wanted. Really, it was a no-win situation.
The thought of drugs helped to steady his mind.