“Come on Al,” she gave me the patented Lenora Yanowitz puppy dog eyes. She only ever called me Al when she was asking me for a favour. “Jamie told me about this guy. You said George Michael used to make you swoon, Jamie said he’s a dead ringer for George.”
“Everyone swooned for George in the 80’s, Lennie. For me, it is only Faith George who counts.”
“I have no idea what any of that even means,” she waved her hand in dismissal. “Jamie said he’s a nice guy who loves music and he’s just having trouble finding the right woman. He wants a date; you need a date. It’s done, Alice.” She crossed her arms, but I wasn’t going to give in.
“I do not need a date. I’m perfectly capable of finding a man if I want to, I’m just taking a break after the whole Derek thing.” I mirrored her determination.
“He’s gonna feel really bad if you don’t turn up.”
“This is a terrible idea,” I mutter to myself. “Stupid Lennie,” I smooth the hem of my shirt and stared out of the window. He’s 10 minutes late, and I’m starting to hope I can still get out of this. Two more minutes and I’m out of the door, happy in the knowledge that I wasn’t the bad guy.
“Alice?” A pair of incredibly tight white jeans presented themselves to my view with a crotch bulge that would have made Labyrinth Bowie blush. I draw back for fear of brushing it with my cheek. Craning my neck up I take in a salmon pink sweater and a perfectly angled, clean-shaven jaw.
He’s too close. If I tilt my head any further I’m going to fall right out of my chair. I stand and stare into brown eyes topped off with a fluffed up mop of bouncy brown hair.
Oh lord, it’s Go-Go George! Wow, right down to the gloves. I had no idea how I missed the dayglo yellow, fingerless gloves on my first glance. They are all I can see now as I force my hand in the space between us to shake hands. “Uh, hi. Yes, Alice. I’m sorry, my friend, Lennie, didn’t actually get your name from Jamie.”
He clasps my hand by the thumb and pulls me into an enthusiastic chest bump which knocks the air from me in an undignified Ooomph and gives me what I am sure is an accidental brush of ‘the bulge’ against my hip. “Ha, that’s funny man. The name’s Nigel. Call me Nige.”
I disengaged in an awkward flailing of hands as he seemingly got his fingers entangled with mine somehow. The back of my knees pressed uncomfortably against my seat, I lean as far back as possible to gesture to the other side of the table, unwilling to sit until the denim-clad protrusion will no longer be at face height. “Please, take a seat with me.”
He grins and bops, flouncing hair and all, to the other side of the table, where he promptly reverses his chair and straddles it. Lennie is a dead woman. “So, Nigel…”
He holds up his hand, “No, Nige!”
“Erm, Nige,” the name makes me grate my teeth as I say it but I hate to be rude. “So, what do you do for a living?”
“I work with the J-man at the call centre.” He flashes excessively white teeth at me. They glisten like freshly formed ice in the moonlight, the sight is quite intimidating. I can feel in my gut that in the next five minutes I’m going to end up with a ridiculous nickname. “My real love,” he continues, “is my passion as a Wham! Artist. I’m currently looking for a new partner; the old Andrew just didn’t have the right je ne sais quoi, you know?”
I try to look interested. “A Wham artist?”
He shakes his head, “no, Wham! You have to express it right, or it just doesn’t mean the same thing. Some people would think it was just a tribute act, but it’s more than that. It’s like I am the embodiment of the real spirit of Wham! The quintessence, if you will.”
“Right…sure.” I was struggling here. I look around, desperate to catch the eye of a waiter, anyone. It was as though the entire room was determined to avoid our table, we were in an 80’s time vortex and had ceased to exist in the modern world.
“Now tell me A-list,” there it was, the nickname. “J-man said your friend told him you liked George so I know I’m your man, I figured we could do away with the niceties and get down to a bit of Georgie-Porgie, if you know what I mean?” He shifts in his seat and I realise with horror that he’s grinding ‘the bulge’ into the back of his chair. That’s it. I’m done.
“I’m sorry Nigel, I’m not feeling very well and I hate to waste your time, but I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for in a date.” I had pushed my chair back so hard that it almost fell over. I catch it just in time and garble the rest of my words out. “Good luck with the Wham thing, it was nice to meet you,” I say the last over my shoulder as I rush for the door.
The blast of frosty air as I head across the carpark feels like it is trying to blow me home, to safety. There is no amount of grovelling that will ever get Lennie out of my bad books. There is no way she vetted this guy. Jesus! I hunt through my bag for my car keys. The soft sound of a shoe scuffing behind me makes me cringe. Please don’t let me have to try and get rid of him. I half turn when a strong chemical smell fills my nose and mouth, and I’m choking and falling. Hands catch me and I want to thank their owner for the help, but my brain and mouth are so woolly and slow.
“I already told you,” whispers a voice in my ear, “it’s Wham!” My heart pounds as the night fades from view.
There are lights flashing. I try to turn over and go back to sleep, but I’m stuck. There is a pounding in my head that beats in time to the flashing lights. What the fuck is flashing? I pry my heavy eyelids open and peer groggily into the near dark. The flashing is coming from disco lights.
Urgh, Alice, you’re in a nightmare disco.
The hiss of speakers, then a disembodied voice fills the room and echoes around the space inside my skull. “Testing. Two-one, two-two one. Is it working? Hello, yes! Ok, this is for my special lady out there tonight. A-list, I know that you’re probably a little uncertain about this right now, I mean you are tied to a chair.” He chuckles to himself.
What the fuck! He wasn’t lying. Suddenly I’m not feeling the least bit sleepy and the memory of the night rushes back to me. Adrenalin spiking through my veins like electricity through power cables. I grope for the knots in the ropes that I now feel chafing my wrists and scrabble for a loose fibre. “You’re gonna need a doctor when I get out of these ropes you walking hairdo!” My voice is croaky and entirely unthreatening.
“Ah, you are awake.” His voice croons over the sound system. He spoke too close to the mic so the huff of his breath also echoes through the room. “I know our date hasn’t gone to plan, but I’ve prepared a little something that I’m certain will change your mind about me.”
“Come anywhere near me you little freak and I will plant my foot so hard in your sock padded nethers you’ll need to go back in time to find your goddamn penis! LET ME GOOOOOO!” I scream the last and my throat feels raw. I gasp for breath.
The wall rustles and shifts in the dimness at the back of the room. He’s behind a curtain! “Come out right now and untie me, NIGE.” I let him hear the grating of my teeth as I say the name. Instead of emerging to release me, the disco lights are suddenly joined by a spotlight where the rustling had been, and I realise it’s a stage. The curtains are the back of the stage, and I am at the end of a long catwalk. What the hell is going on here? “HELLLLP! ANYONE???”
Noone answers expect the curtain which twitches and is then tossed aside by the poofy-haired psycho himself. He’s changed his clothes. Blue denim, just as uncomfortably tight as before, a grey vest and fringed jacket with leather gloves. What in the name of holy fuck is going on? Has he painted on stubble? Maybe it’s the drugs? I know it’s not the drugs when he starts to click his fingers with enthusiasm.
“Dum dum duh-da-dum dum duh-da-dum-dum-dum la da da da da nah. Yeah yeah yeah!”
“Oh god!” I struggle with the ropes more frantically. He’s going to sing while he murders me, or worse!
He began Edge of Heaven in earnest and was suddenly accompanied by the blast of trumpets and guitars from the sound system. He points, winks and claps across the stage, for my eyes only. “I would lock you up, but I could not bear, to hear you screaming to be set free. I would chain you up, if I’d thought you’d swear, the only one that mattered was me, me, me.”
“HEEEEEELLLLLLLLP, HELP HELP HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!”
The irony of the opening lines is not lost on me.
Hips gyrating, ‘the bulge’ protruding towards me like a sinister tumour, fringe flying against the backdrop of the flashing lights he prances back and forth across the stage as he embraces chorus and then verse.
He moves down the catwalk in a thrusting, finger clicking walk that is terrifying in its intensity. I am not dying as the climax of a shitty tribute act! I am going home, and I am going to murder Lennie instead! Terror and rage flow through me in equal measure. I give up on the knots that bind me to the back of the chair and wait for my moment instead.
His frightening approach halts part way down the catwalk as he claps from side to side like a demented fanboy. “You take me to the edge of heaven. One last time might be forever. Don’t you tell me lies, because believe me baby, one day you’ll wake up on your own.” As he belts out the last line he sinks to his knees, arm wide and eyes closed in rapture at himself.
“ARRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I release the explosion of emotion that has built inside me. Surging to my feet, chair and all, I rush at him as best as my stunted gait will allow. His eyes open a second before I make contact and the surprise in them gives me the briefest spark of satisfaction as I crash into him, and we both plummet from the stage, the remote for the sound system flys from his pocket and the song falls blessedly silent.
I lie for a moment, stunned by the fall and slowly bring my hands to my head. My hands! I’m loose! I rolled to the side. Nigel broke my fall and my chair. He lies in a heap under the broken pieces. I pick up the chair by its front legs and bring the remnants down as hard as I can on his prone form.
“You creepy son-of-a-bitch!” I hit him again and again. He groans in response and curls in on himself. “Wham! There! Am I saying it right? Wham! Wham! Wham!” I punctuate each word with a blow and a groan, “You. Fucking.Schizoid.Mother.Fucker!!!”
The chair legs snap off and Nigel does not get up.
I keep hold of one of the chair legs. Just in case. I throw the other at Nigel as hard as I can. “Bastard!”
The stairs were behind me the whole time. I run up them two at a time. Thank you!
At the top of the stairs is a door with a key in it. I slam and lock the door before the adrenalin floods out of me and I sink to the floor in exhaustion and drugged fatigue. My bag is on the bench. With amazing effort, I snag the handle and pull until the bag spill to the floor, my phone with it, and I call the police.
As I wait for help to arrive, I hear a brief Bang! as a hand hits the door behind my head. I gasp and jerk away. “Alice? Alice, are you there? I’m hurt, I need help.”
No shit you need help, psychological help you wannabe. I say nothing in return just listen with every fibre of my being in case he tries to get out.
His voice stays low to the floor and he starts to sob. “I’m sorry I frightened you, Alice. I like you. Maybe we could forget this whole thing ever happened and I can take you to the movies or something? They said you liked George, so I figure we’re perfect for one another.”
The sobbing makes him infinitely less terrifying and as I see the blue lights flooding through the window, I find my voice. “Nigel, George Michael was a gentleman. You are no George. Not even 90’s drugged up George.”
His sobs intensify but I can feel no pity for him. I pull out my phone, find my playlist and select a song. “Move into a new decade, arsehole.”
The police burst through the door and I hit play on En Vogue, Never Gonna Get It.