Author's Note: Not mine. SO not mine! It's all from the scary mind of Mel Brooks, with a little help from the current Vienna cast (the one on August 12th if you want me to be really precise ... )
For The Muse, my beautiful, crazy inspiration.
Proudest night of my life? Oh, yes.
1: Roger's Big Night Out
Kevin's voice, just that little bit too high-pitched and far too loud, rang through the smoky bar like a foghorn. "Roger, darling, over here!"
Pretending not to notice everyone staring, Roger sauntered over and flopped dramatically down on the tatty leather couch in the corner, the one he and Kevin had claimed as theirs on the night they'd discovered this place. Six months ago, it must have been, and since then a lot had changed – the addition of Bryan to their little 'family' for starters, to say nothing of that wonderful new choreographer chappie, Scott or whatever his name was (Roger had taken one look at him and his name had become strangely irrelevant) – but one thing remained the same: nobody else ever, ever dared sit on Roger DeBris's couch.
Wedging himself in between Kevin and Bryan, Roger leant his head on the smaller man's shoulder and heaved a huge sigh as he did so, just for good measure. "Sweeties, I'm exhausted," he whispered in his most pitiful voice, and they both made clucking sounds of sympathy, like a pair of mother hens. That is, if hens could be respectively balding-and-bespectacled, or prone to wearing a little too much leather … "Actresses," he continued, hissing the word in a sinister fashion, as though it were the most disgusting curse, "I ask you! And you both abandoned me – "
"No, Roger, we – "
"We'd never – "
"Abandoned me, I say, left me at their mercy … " Roger pouted out his lower lip. It was a childish ploy but one that was yet to fail – and right on cue, Kevin and Bryan became absolute models of contrition, falling over themselves to apologise for their early departure from the rehearsal. Roger was promised plenty of drinks to make up for it, which, he considered happily, was a very good result for a little bit of drama-queenery.
The evening wore on, becoming pleasantly alcohol-blurred, warm and fuzzy. They were deep in an enthusiastic discussion regarding the assorted merits of various members of the chorus – chorus boys, naturally, chorus girls being regarded by all three men as a sort of necessary evil – when Bryan nudged Kevin hard in the ribs, making him jump and squeak loudly.
"Heavens above," the little costume designer protested, rubbing his bruised ribs and wincing, "do you really have to be quite so violent? I'll be sore for days … "
"Oh, shush," Bryan chided, unsympathetically, nodding towards the large mirror that filled almost the whole of the wall-space behind the bar. "This'll take your mind off your mortal wound, trust me."
"Oh … my … word."
Walking through the room towards them – well, towards the bar, to be perfectly accurate, and actually, 'walking' didn't even come close to describing it – was the most extraordinary person Roger had ever seen. And in a fairly eventful life so far, Roger had seen some pretty extraordinary people.
"Well," breathed Kevin, sore ribs completely forgotten, "now there's something you don't see every day!"
"Thank the Lord for that!" Roger blurted, without thinking. "I'm not sure the world could cope!" I know I certainly couldn't, he found himself adding silently.
The young man now leaning oh-so-casually against the bar and trying to catch the barman's eye – not difficult, as the barman was staring just as hard as everyone else – had apparently been created entirely from angles. Extremely tall and ridiculously skinny, he was dressed from head to toe in black. Very tight-fitting black. It made him look, Roger thought, like he'd been put on the rack and stretched … no, not the rack, that was far too unpleasant … despite all the angles, there was something soft, almost vulnerable, in the boy's eyes. While the barman took Skinny's order and mixed the drinks – two drinks, damn it – Roger entertained himself by trying to imagine how exactly a person could be stretched, but nicely … Intriguing. Mmmmm, yes, that was the word. Very, very, very –
Everyone in the place jumped and craned around to look. It wasn't so much the volume of the shout that attracted attention – although that was excessive – or the imperiousness of the tone – but rather, the use of a woman's name. It wasn't that women were banned from the bar, exactly, but it was extremely unlikely that anyone would bring a date here … a female date, anyway. It was a well-known haunt of theatrical types – actors, dancers, directors, of course – and anyone who knew anything about anything understood what that implied.
There's a woman in here? Roger thought, and a second later, as the kid in black flinched and spun to face the newcomer, Oh, surely not!
"Drinks, Carmen, today would be nice," the voice continued, "before we all die of thirst … " The owner of the voice strode into view, reflected alongside the boy – Carmen? Seriously? – in the mirror. He was tall, though not as tall as his partner (Roger felt his stomach turn slightly at the thought), broad-shouldered, dark-haired, and wearing a fabulously classy deep blue suit, the sort of suit that screamed money; the sort of suit Roger was determined, one day, to wear himself. One day. When he was famous and adored by millions …
"Drinks, yes, sorry – " Carmen hastily held out one of the glasses. It reminded Roger suddenly of the way he used to offer a stick to his aunt's dog, when he was little. Here, look, you can bite this all you want, just please don't bite me … "Here," Carmen added, his voice coming out a little harsh, a little strained, "Just the way you like it. Shall we - ?" He made as if to move away from the bar, towards the relative privacy of a table, but the older man grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back. "Or we could just stay here," he continued, with a bright, brittle smile. "Here's fine. In fact, here's fantastic. Here's – "
"Yes, darling? I mean, Eric, sorry – "
"Shut up, Carmen."
"Oh." Nervous giggle. "Sorry."
Roger hardly ever got angry. He had a tendency to be completely overdramatic, he suffered dreadfully from what the new choreographer, Scott, had christened "terrible fits of the queenies", and he did rather love to flounce … but he couldn't remember ever being really furious. Really enraged. So utterly mad he had to hang on to his friends for dear life, in order to stop himself wading in with both fists like the hero of some bloody cowboy movie, for crying out loud … Roger DeBris? Heroics? Don't make me laugh!
He wasn't the only one, either. Kevin was tut-tutting away like a little old man, and Bryan was inhaling loudly through clenched teeth, something he only did when he was seriously annoyed. "Poor little thing," the set designer muttered in Roger's ear, "someone really ought to do something … " His voice trailed off as they watched Eric's hand snake possessively up Carmen's spine, coming to rest, finally, curled around the boy's neck. It gave Roger the creeps. From the way Carmen was cringing but trying his best to hide it, it looked as though it gave him the creeps, too. "Why would you let anyone treat you like that?" murmured Kevin, half to himself.
And that was what did it.
Roger knew all too well why. Is it really so long ago that you've forgotten? he asked himself miserably. So long ago that you can't remember how it felt to be where poor Carmen is now? So new to the city, so desperate to belong, so bloody needy that you'd let He Who No Longer Exists treat you like something he'd stepped in and not only did you put up with it, you were grateful for the attention!
He sat up a little, perching on the edge of the couch, ready to stand up just as soon as he'd figured out exactly what he was going to do. And it was at that moment that his eyes and Carmen's met, for a split second, in the mirror.
The true stuff of theatre, Roger always told people, later. Thunderbolt, flash of lightning, all that good old-fashioned romantic rubbish. Carmen's eyes went wide, his mouth forming a perfect little 'O' of surprise – and, unexpectedly, recognition – while Roger himself felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach. Not that he ever had been punched in the stomach, but hey, he had a good imagination …
Hello, Carmen's eyes said, in the mirror. Help, they added. Please.
So much for coming up with a plan. Roger was on his feet and across to the bar before he'd even consciously decided to move. And then he screeched to a ridiculous halt, mouth open like some kind of idiotic fish, hundreds of words jamming in his throat and not one of them making it out into the air. Damn it, Roger, pull yourself together!
The man in the blue suit – Eric – turned to face the newcomer without bothering to remove his hand from Carmen's neck. He looked Roger up and down – very slowly, very deliberately – and raised one eyebrow. "And you are … ?" he drawled.
"I'm – "
But Carmen, apparently unable to stop himself, got there first. "Roger DeBris!" he squealed, his voice cracking inelegantly on the 'Bris'. He fixed huge blue eyes on the embarrassed director's, and added delightedly, "Aren't you?" Despite Eric's obvious disapproval – his expression was growing colder and nastier by the second – Carmen was practically bouncing.
Correction – he was literally bouncing.
"Um. Yes. That's what I was – yes. Roger DeBris." Roger stammered. "I'm – "
"The director, you know, darling – Eric, sorry – oh my God, I can't believe it, I saw Candyfloss last year, for my birthday, I just loved it, and gosh, this is so amazing!" Carmen sounded like an overexcited eight-year-old meeting a movie star. An overexcited eight-year-old girl, if Roger was being totally honest. He could almost sympathise with Eric. Almost.
Or at least, he might have done had Eric not tightened his grip on Carmen's neck, cutting the boy off mid-squeak and wiping the happy glow from his face with shocking suddenness; had Eric not smiled at Roger then, a smile like a shark, all gleaming white teeth and dead black eyes.
"And just what, exactly, Mister DeBris, Mister Famous Director, can we do for you?"
"Well," Roger began, utterly lost and unable to think of anything even remotely intelligent to say, "I was … that is, I – uh, I was … "
"Dear oh dear, for a director you're really not that … articulate, now are you?" Eric interrupted, smooth as cream. Poisonous cream. Cream with razorblades in it. "Let me see if I can help you out … Roger, was it?" He made the name sound like it was something filthy, something he found distasteful to say. "I'm thinking you came over here for the same reason most people would come over here. I'm thinking you'd like a closer look at this divine creature – " he used his grip on Carmen's neck to drag the boy closer to Roger " – is that right? Am I close, or do I get another guess?"
Roger glanced swiftly up at Carmen, who had gone a sick shade of greenish-white. Again, there was that hint of a help in his eyes. Rise to the occasion, Roger old duck, Roger told himself sternly, and suddenly there it was – that click, that thing that happened to him sometimes during rehearsals; that fantastic moment where everything would neatly fall into place and he would know exactly how and when and who …
He gave Eric the most confident and (hopefully) dazzling smile he could manage. "Oh my goodness, well, could you blame me?" he asked, mock-incredulously. "But seriously, no, nothing like that. All I was wondering – I am, as your friend was kind enough to point out, a theatrical director … I was simply wondering if Carmen, is it? If Carmen here were by any chance an actor? Only I'm currently rehearsing this marvellous new play – "
Carmen began to say something but Eric leapt in before he had a chance. "He is indeed an actor," he said, "Or at any rate he was. Until I met him. And now he works for me." He gave his shark's smile again. "Why? Are you in the market for an … actor, Mister DeBris? It seems a little strange, if rehearsals have already started, unless, I suppose … maybe you've had a little difference of opinion, something like that, with your … leading man?" The emphasis he put on actor and leading man was unmistakeable. "Perhaps that's it. Too bad, either way. He's not available."
"Oh? Not even – "
"Not even." Eric's smile was feral. "Let me put it another way; simplify things for you, Mister Director." He brought Carmen's face down to his with another brutal yank on the younger man's neck, and kissed him. Never mind the fact that everyone in the bar was watching, with a curious mixture of outrage and envy. Never mind the unspoken rule that said do what you like in the privacy of your own home, but for God's sake be careful in public. Carmen was obviously caught completely off-guard; his whole body jerked in shock, and he gave a little muffled cry as Eric pulled him in even closer, sliding his tongue between Carmen's lips, tasting him; taking his time, savouring him as one would a fine wine. The boy's face went from dead-white to the blazing red of public humiliation in a couple of heartbeats, but he didn't break away from the awful kiss; rather, he seemed to be sinking helplessly deeper and deeper into Eric's embrace.
It felt like an eternity before Eric finally came up for air, shoving Carmen carelessly away from him with a force that almost knocked the kid over; he slumped against the bar, breathing hard, looking dishevelled and dizzy. His mouth was bruised and swollen; he touched trembling fingers to his lower lip as if in disbelief. Eric, meanwhile, turned back to Roger with a horribly smug expression on his flushed face.
"I think I've made my point," Eric said, still smooth, still unruffled, as if they'd been discussing something pointless and trivial. "He's mine."
Which was when Roger punched him. Hard. Right on the nose.
Gasps and shouts rang through the bar. Roger, practically having an out-of-body experience by now, was dimly aware of Kevin and Bryan at his side, of one of them shouting "Run! Bloody run, you idiot!" and pulling him along by the arm.
His hand hurt like hell.
Christ, that was painful! Why did they never tell you how much that hurt?!
"I've broken my hand!" Roger announced to the New York night. They raced from the bar and down the street, Kevin and Bryan disappearing around the next corner in a desperate hunt for cabs. "My bloody hand," Roger continued to howl, undaunted by his lack of audience. "Oh my good GOD that hurts, I'll never be able to move it again – ow! Don't touch it, you blithering idiot – oh, ohhhhh, I'm in agony, I'll never be able to play the piano again … "
"You play the piano?" a voice asked quietly in Roger's ear.
"No of course I don't, don't be ridicul– " Stopping mid-word as he realised belatedly who had spoken, and who it was that had tried to touch his wounded hand, Roger spun around and stared. "How in the name of Gloria did you do that?!" he demanded, amazed.
"Do what?" Carmen still looked upset, but remarkably – and uncharacteristically, Roger was beginning to suspect – calm. He took hold of Roger's hand again, with astonishing gentleness, murmuring, "Here, let me … oh, it's fine, it's just bruised, you're my hero. Who's Gloria?"
"How did you get out of the – who's Gloria!?" Roger was astounded. "Gloria Swanson, dear boy, the one and only; Gloria the Goddess! Who's Gloria, indeed. Call yourself an actor!?" It was strange, he thought, how easily teasing the boy seemed to come to him, even now, mere seconds after such … unpleasantness. Stranger still how Carmen seemed instinctively to know that the teasing wasn't meant the way Eric would have meant it. He grinned a bit sheepishly. "I never really was an actor," he said with a shrug. "Went to one audition, oooooh, no. I don't think that's where I'm meant to be, you know, on stage … I think maybe I'd be much happier, say … " He let his voice trail off. Roger was about to make a suggestion – he could think of at least one place where Carmen would definitely be much happier (at least, he would if Roger had any say in the matter) – when Bryan and Kevin came hurtling back around the corner.
"Roger! Carm– my goodness, Carmen! Come on, the pair of you – taxi!"
"Um." Roger said, staring at Carmen.
"Well … " Carmen said, staring right back.
"TAXI!" hollered Kevin, bouncing up and down impatiently on the balls of his feet. Bryan, without waiting for a response, ran over to where Roger and Carmen were still dazedly staring at each other. He grabbed Roger's right arm and Carmen's left, and dragged them back with him, to where a deplorably beat-up old cab was sitting with its engine idling. They all piled in, three voices competing loudly to give directions to Roger's place. Carmen didn't seem inclined to argue or add his own address – the questions of where he lived, of whether he'd rather be dropped off back home, of what he was going to do now that he no longer 'worked' for Eric – all were suddenly irrelevant. Of course he's coming home with us, Roger decided, as he settled back in his seat. Of course. No question at all.
"Behind the scenes," Carmen said sleepily, five minutes later. They'd lapsed into an exhausted silence after the formalities of introduction: Carmen, this is Kevin, this is Bryan … Bryan, Kevin, meet Carmen. Pleased to meet you. No, no, the pleasure's all mine …
"Where I think I'd be happier," Carmen explained. He looked up at Roger from under his impossibly long eyelashes. "Behind the scenes. Like you." He blushed, giggled, closed his eyes and let his head drop sideways until it was resting on Roger's shoulder.
Roger pretended not to notice the little look that flashed between Kevin and Bryan, the way they both made "Awwwww" faces, like a pair of visitors at a zoo, watching the antics of some cute fluffy baby animals. Instead he let his own eyes close, let his head tilt until it was leaning against the top of Carmen's. He reached down with one hand – the broken one, but who the hell cared, it was all in a very good cause, and he was, after all, a hero – and gave Carmen's fingers a squeeze. He remembered, suddenly, Bryan's exclamation earlier in the bar:
Now there's something you don't see every day!
And his own response, which seemed oddly ironic, now:
Thank the Lord for that! I'm not sure the world could cope!
I know I certainly couldn't …
Roger smiled to himself in the dark of the cab, and let his fingers entwine with Carmen's.
But hey, I could be persuaded to change my mind …
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