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 threw 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).