Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Luxury Suite by Gabriel Franklin

An addle-brained ageing rocker stumbles into a meeting with his devil of a manager, Nigel Whitehead II; by Gabriel Franklin.

Why do all hotels look alike? I hope this is the right one.

Nice, weren't they? The two birds at the door. Just wanted an autograph, they said - but that's a lie, innit? It's never just an autograph, it's just what they think they can get away with asking for. Nice tits, though. Never get tired of the young ones. Well, not true. Some days you just want everyone to fuck off, even hot, young groupies.

What they all want is a piece of the best pie. The slice of 'heaven pie' I think someone used to say. Any piece of you will do, thanks kindly. Autographs are just socially acceptable pieces. They'd take your arm off if they thought they could get away with it.

Which hotel is this? What city is this, for that matter? Los Angeles. Right. Name of the hotel doesn't matter, I guess. I know this is the right one 'cuz I recognized the doorman. Scottish bloke. Nice to chat with someone from the homeland, even if he's Scottish.

Now, my room key is usually in my left pocket and, thank Christ, it's there. There's nothing I hate more than having to endure that amused look the desk clerk gets when I explain that I lost the bloody key. That thin fucking smile they try to hide but fail miserably. 'Oh, he's a funny old rocker, he is. Drugs addled his brain so much, he wouldn't know his arse from a hole in the ground, poor sod.' Fuck you, Miss Desk Clerk. Fuck you very much.

Can't say that, of course. Don't really want to say it in the end. Too much hassle. I'm worth so much money that my barest whim could mean a thousand dollars to someone or their job. Fuck, where's the elevator here?

Everything is brass in these hotels. Makes people think of gold, makes them think the place is posh. You know how you find out how posh a place is? Hang out with the dishwashers. Wherever they hang, on break or whatever, having a fag or spliff, see what that place looks like. If that place is clean and respectable, then you got yourself a posh hotel. I've been in four star places that looked like fucking Calcutta behind the curtains.

Oh, Christmas, what's my room number? They don't put it on the key like a sane person would. Security, they say. I'd take some asshole breaking into my room once in a while over trying to dredge up the sodding room number from my brain.

Oh yeah, check the phone. There it is, Nigel texted me it. 666. Ha. Been done, mate. Overdone, really. Still makes me laugh, though.

Gonna have to have that chat with Nigel sometime...



Nigel sat in a wing-backed armchair within the luxury suite. He toyed with a gold pendant about his neck, twirling it with casual cruelty. The London Times sat on the side table, a steaming cup of earl grey beside that. He waited for his biggest client to arrive. Very late, as very usual. Probably lost in the lobby, the carpark or perhaps in a potted fern he accidently collided with. That idiot could get lost for hours in a prodigious fichus.

He was in a foul mood.

A young maid came over to empty the ashtray beside his tea. His bulbous, spotted nose breathed in her scent. There was a time where he would have seduced, bedded and destroyed a girl like this without any hesitation. There were many thoughts against it now. My fucking back, was one.

She was pretty and, more interestingly, hungry. She did not see herself as a mere hotel employee for the rest of her life; she had ambitions. Nigel could smell it about her like a miasma of cheap perfume.

The maid would have vomited on the spot had she been able to see his true form. All she saw was a saggy elderly Englishman wearing a very expensive three-piece suit by Alexander McQueen. He also caught her noticing his three carat diamond/platinum ring, a gift from the president of Columbia Records back in 1976.

What she did not see was the dark scales over crimson skin, the weeping sores, urine-colored eyes that looked right through you. Or the horns. Right now she was hoping this old rich bloke might be interested in a bit of a quid pro quo liaison when she went on break.

The man known today as Nigel Whitehead II was born, if you could call it that, three millennia ago in the depths of a nightmarish pit, spewed forth from filth and the most disgusting bile of the multiverse. It was a fairly typical delivery as far as his kind went. Not quite the norm for Recording Industry Executives, but not far off.

The maid's scent tells him everything he needs to know about her. She is twenty-two, single, Filipino, goes to Catholic Church every Sunday but worries that she might be going to hell for the sins she commits on a frequent basis. Nigel knows for a fact that she is pretty much halfway there.

The frustrating thing was, it seemed like far too much work right now. There were dozens of little aches and pains that came hand in hand with aging. And that was rather disconcerting. He shouldn't be aging at all. At least, he didn't think so.

His kind were not very talkative or trusting towards one another and they rarely disclosed any information unless absolutely necessary. Nigel had never heard of his kind being subject to mortal ailments and worried that he might be spending too much time amongst these cattle, these humans. Was he - he didn't know - absorbing their mortality? Something along those lines?

It was like his body parts had a committee meeting while he wasn't paying attention and they worked out a schedule, taking turns aching. He found himself getting depressed. Depressed! Him? What next? AARP? What would happen to him if he ever... He couldn't bring himself to think of that possibility.

The maid was straightening the bed now and glanced in his direction a few times, searching for an opening. But he merely continued to play with his pendant. It held the soul of an old business colleague who crossed him once. Its tormented screams, audible only to Nigel's kind, would often soothe his thoughts. He barely noticed it today.



Dammit, I'm lost again. Where the fuck am I?

I miss Julia. I don't miss her sagging tits much, but I miss everything else about her. She makes me laugh, she does. Even after this long. How long? Christ, who knows? I don't remember half of the Sixties or almost anything of the Seventies. I know I had fun but I couldn't tell you the details. Big stuff, like that concert at Wembley for that thing... AIDS, Africa, South Africa...?

That gig was magic. Great crowd, best we'd had in ages. Crazy, crazy buzz. Like a living sea of passion. We looked at each other after the second or third song and were amazed, one and all. Didn't think that could happen anymore. Thought we'd seen everything. But that show was different. It was the last of the magic, though. Don't know if there will be any more big ones like that.

Mind you, the small gigs, they're still good. Show up at some open mic night and give them a bit of a treat. They're fun.

Oh yeah and the kids named after you, that's rich. Mom's said they conceived their precious sprogs to your song, had to name the brat after you. Helps if the kid isn't an obvious tosser or a Quasimodo, like.

Don't like it when they get tattoos of my face. Always looks wrong. I look dead in them. One or two good ones I've seen over the years. Caricatures work; portraits, not so much.



Corruption was Nigel's passion.

He had the strength to take this maid by force, but that would not satisfy him. They had to damn themselves. That was the key.

Sexual intercourse was just one of his many ways of eating; his favorite, truth be told. The body that the humans could see, the one he chose to show them, was rather unattractive. Well, not to mince words, he was fucking ugly. This was important.

Throughout his assignment he always positioned himself in occupations of influence and power that tickled the greedy instincts of people. During Emperor Nero's court he was a centurion of the palace guards. He would promise his "clients" something that they desperately thought they wanted or needed. The price would be high, it had to be high. Nigel almost always demanded sex as part of the deal. The old musician he was currently waiting for was a rare exception to his normal business practices, he was much more valuable as a tool rather than just another meal. But most times he would, almost casually, say: "One more thing. You will also let me fuck you. Non-negotiable."

He savoured their revulsion at his naked form, the one he showed them. Ambrosia was the moment after they willingly opened themselves to him, the firm resolve they held to just get this over with as he penetrated them with his organ. It was not his phallus he used, but something else, something truly alien to this plane. Ah, then, the sudden tension! The clench, as they sensed a fundamental wrongness about everything they were doing; the inhumanity of it. A shriek from nature that almost breaks the spell. But, almost always, they would shake it off, buckle down and soldier through it.

And how he would gorge himself upon them.

Then came the fury, the disappointment and the helplessness as Nigel reneged on the deal. Or worse for them, better for him, was when he followed through on his bargain.

The succulent flavors of ecstasy that so quickly sour and fade as wants transform into disappointments and dreams realized become mundane or intense nightmares from which there is no escape. You want to ruin someone's life? Make their fondest wishes come true.

And one mustn't forget the interest payments. No, must not forget them.

But like many industries these days, his work lately seemed so, so - automated, he thought. Why put the extra effort into your work when they come so addled by electronics, pollutants, drugs, propaganda and so forth? Like this maid. She has traces of MDMA still coursing through her veins from the previous night. And she actually believes she's virgin? After what she did with Garcia? Laughable.

Ninety percent of his work was done for him before they even walked through his door. He started getting lazy, complacent a long time ago and he knew it. And there were the aches, of course, the ever present aches.

The maid left the suite, unmolested. Nigel sighed and twirled the pendant again.

Where is that addled fool of mine? he thought.



Oh here we are. 666. Nigel's probably still here, I needed to talk to him...



Nigel heard the familiar fumbling at the lock, the key card finally inserted and watched as the leather clad, long-haired old man shuffled in.

"You're late."

"Lay off, mate. Bad night last night."

"What did you do, then?"

"No idea. Just know it wasn't good."

Nigel grunted and picked up the paper. Typical. People think that it's the drugs that made him like this but Nigel knew him when he was just a spotty teenager from the arse-end of London. This was always him. Couldn't find a hole in a block of Swiss cheese. But could the boy sing. Like the wail of a soul being tortured in Hell, and Nigel knew what he was talking about. He signed him on the spot. That was long ago for both of them, it seemed.

Nigel took a quick last look at the stock page in the financial section. He had up to date information on his phone, of course, but had gotten used to reading it in the Times. He did not want to admit that looking at his phone screen gave him a headache. He should not get headaches, of course.

He put the paper down after a moment. "I have some options to discuss with you. I think we need to go with another PR firm -", he began.



Oh, bloody hell, I don't want to discuss this right now. I wanted to get a shower and just hit the hay.

Wait, what was that thing that bird said? The one at the party last night.

The glasses. The sunglasses. Where did I put them?



"What are you doing? Are you even listening to me?"

"Hang on. I've lost me sunglasses."

Nigel gave an exasperated sigh. "There's almost no sun in here, why do you need sunglasses, for fuck's sake? I'm talking about something important."

"Don't bite me head off, Nigel. You go on, I'm with you. Bad PR firm, get new one, I got it."

Nigel rolled his eyes and continued. "Of the two morons I've spoken to in New York, the lesser git will -"



Oh here they are. The blonde girl from the new company, she explained it all. Just wear the glasses, they'll do the trick.

Hmmm. Nice. Really comfortable. Very sixties.

Oh fuck me.



"Oh fuck me. Is that what you really look like? Bloody hell, Nigel!"

"What?"

"Jesus, I thought you were a fucking munter before, but cor!"

Nigel's jaw hung open for a moment in confusion, his black and puss-filled gums showing. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"She said these would work. Said I should prepare myself, but forgot that bit. Glad I'm still feeling a bit of the cheer from last night. I need a drink, still." He stumbled over to the bar and poured himself a glass of scotch.

"Stop that. You don't drink anymore." It was one of the few vices that his client swore off.

"I'll stop again tomorrow, this one I need."

"What did you mean by: 'what I look like'?"

"You know -" he said, taking a long drink and coughing some of it back up. "Oh, lovely that. Hello, old friend." He went on. "What you really look like. With the scales and the horns and the jaundice eyes and all."

Shock.

He barely spoke: "...How?"

"This bird. Alice, I think her name was. She explained it all to me. I mean, I knew what you were back when we met, you were very clear about that, mate. But she said that I could wear these and it would protect me from - how'd she put it? 'Unnatural influence' from you."

Nigel regained his powers of speech but not his composure. "Who the hell is this bloody Alice and what the fuck is this cunt saying to you?"

"Nigel, I'm sorry but I've decided to go with new management."

There was silence.

A very long, very tense silence.

It was broken by a knock at the door. The concierge entered with a breakfast trolley. "Good morning, gentlemen. On behalf of the management I would like to offer -"

He never finished his sentence. Nigel stood up, his eyes ablaze with unearthly red light. The room darkened and grew cold. Despair flooded into the concierge and hope fled from his heart like a startled animal. Fire seemed to spring up from nowhere and consumed the room, yet it remained cold and sickly at the same time. The trolley seemed to melt in front of the poor man as he sank to the floor and curled into a fetal position, weeping uncontrollably. Every horror, every fear that the man held secret in his soul was laid bare in front of him and he believed it would consume him for all eternity. He voided his bowels and bladder and convulsed with violence.

"Oh lay off, Nigel, you're making the staff queasy."

Nigel fell back into the armchair.

Never had he felt so impotent. He was completely unequipped to deal with it. At once the darkness and the fires vanished as if they were never there. The concierge, however, continued to weep on the floor amongst the upturned trolley and scattered kippers.

Knocking back the rest of his drink, Nigel's most famous, biggest success story continued talking as if Nigel were a mere employee.

"I know what you're going to say. 'Unbreakable.' That's what you said when I signed. 'Unbreakable contract.' And, yeah, I was ok with that. I knew I wasn't going to go upstairs when I kicked it, you know? I wasn't a good lad when I was young. Wasn't the worst by a long shot, but I did things I told myself were justified to survive. Might have been bollocks, I don't know nowadays..." He took another swig. "Always, figured I was going down when I died, so when you proposed your deal I thought, 'why not?' Pricked my finger and wrote my Jerry Hancock on the dotted line. "And everything was swell at first. Best party on earth."

He paused and his face grew dark. Despite the alcohol and the years of chemical abuse his body had endured, he could still have moments of clarity. The old man took a deep breath, and went on.

"But I couldn't ignore that other stuff you were doing, mate. You know what I mean. The other people you, what, damned, I guess?"

He finished the glass in one gulp.

"I guess that's when I really hit the smack. I don't blame you for that, mind you. Becoming a junkie was on me, it was my choice. I know that. But you were the reason.

"I never thought it possible to get out. But then this Alice girl comes up to me last night. Shows me her card and explains who she works for." He pointed to the ceiling.

Nigel voice thundered. "They'd never have you! They don't forgive what you've done, you fool! YOU are MINE!" He shouted this so loud the walls trembled. The weeping concierge cringed into a tighter ball.

The musician sat on the barstool. "Change of policy, she said. They've had some pretty bad times lately, her company. Bad press with their managers being a bunch of corrupt tossers and all that choir boy stuff. They need fresh faces, and my name was suggested at a meeting. They looked up all that charity work I did. You were ok with me doing the pro bono stuff because it was good publicity, that was your take, I know.

"But because my heart was in the right place, they awarded some points my way. Well, I've no idea if they have any 'points' system or not - whatever - the upshot here, Nigel, is that they've had their people go over my contract and they're willing to overlook past deeds if I play ball. Sounded good to me, so I said 'yes'."

He paused.

"Sorry, mate."

Nigel's brain reeled.

"So, so, so..." he stammered, "you'll, what, start singing about kittens and how Jesus goddamn loves everybody?"

"Fuck no. I do my music, what I've always done. Just the offstage stuff changes a bit. I could live with that. Their 401k is much better, obviously, too. Bit of a no brainer, you got to admit. Nothing to discuss, in the end. It's over."

He ended by absent-mindedly scratching his backside through his leather pants.

Nigel could find nothing to say. He told himself that he should fight this, but was at a loss to how to go about it. He suddenly began to worry about his other clients.

"Look, mate, it's kind of awkward here, so I'm going to bugger off. Come to think of it, I'm going to fly back to London and see Julia. She called me some time ago and suggested we go for coffee. 'Bout time I took her up on it, I should think."

He stopped on the way out to help up the concierge from the floor. "Don't let it bother you too much, son. Hellfire's a bitch at first, but you get used to it..."



"Here! Miss maid! Could you look after your co-worker here? He's had a bit of a nasty shock."

They'll take care of him. Poor bugger. I'll make a point to talk to the manager here, arrange to get him a few months paid vacation. That's the kind of stuff the new company likes, Alice said. Makes me feel better, too. It's a new era for me, I suppose. I think I like it.

Pretty maid, this one. She's barely looking at the sobbing man, just at me. That's rich. Lovely smile.

Of course, I made bloody sure before I signed with Alice that the casual sex was still kosher. I may be old and half-stoned twenty-four seven but I'm not fucking stupid.



Nigel grabbed the phone and called his secretary. There were suddenly many calls he had to make. The one to his superiors below would be very dicey indeed.

He stopped. What was the name of that blonde girl he saw singing in the tavern in Atlanta? The one with the powerful voice that reminded him of the pipe organ at St. Jude's? The things he could do with her...

Nigel moved with ease once more, the aches forgotten, the funk dissipated. There was work to be done.

6 comments:

  1. i like this very much, too my mind, original and brilliantly descriptive, but at the same time a new take on an old theme,
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. This was a fun read and so many wonderful descriptions! The reader is treated to word paintings that make a fine portrait. And how can you not like the aging musician? (Interesting touch, by the way, with never giving us his name.) Nicely done.

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  3. A fresh reworking of the Faustian story. You sell your soul to the Devil. But the rocker has a chance at redemption. Nice. I wonder what the downside is when you make a deal with God? I hope the rocker read the fine print.

    James Shaffer

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  4. Imaginative ideas; a sharp businessman trapped for eternity inside a gold pendant, Nigel's 'food' being contaminated with electronics, drugs, propaganda...Tuneful phrases such as, '...lost for hours in a prodigious fichus.'
    In spite of the well-ordered POV I still found it difficult to identify which protagonist was speaking, but that's perhaps the real subtlety of this piece, and why 'rocker' don't have name...they both Nigel.

    Brooke Fieldhouse

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  5. I really liked the concept of this story. I think it is very true that the power of saints and demons over humanity has greatly diminished because humans frankly just aren't all that impressed with them any more and are much more concerned about our iPods and so forth. I did find the story hard to follow at points with the jumping POV. There also were instances of the tense shifting from past to present. It might help if less of the story was told as the internal thoughts of the main characters and instead communicated through actual dialog/action.

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  6. A great distinct voice by the protagonist here, even if I didn't particularly like his naughty ways! Great story.

    Charlotte Hayden

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