By the time we arrived at his flat we were freezing: me and my Brian Jones lookalike. At least he had been Brian Jones while I was tripping out in Chelsea but by the time we’d reached his pad in Shepherd’s Bush the cold had re-adjusted the connections between my brain and my eyes. After the trendy party, the dinginess of Wormholt Road was quite deflating. Maybe my lowered spirits had prevented me from immediately recognising the faint smell in the communal hall. Odd, strange, unpleasant and familiar, but my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders so I didn’t make the identification.
In his flat, my fair Elven Prince with his long blond hair and violet eyes looked a bit frayed round the edges, eyes all piggy bloodshot, hair not so golden now but green with over-bleaching and split ends and grey skin, pallid and grubby like his flat.
I should have taken him back to my hotel but he’d said he had some dope. We’d need it to liven up this place. The frosty night had given me more control over my mind but my head felt stuffed like my poor old Teddy Bear who was tucked up in bed at home.
Why didn’t guys in London talk much? Not like the boys at work who were always cracking jokes. These guys just looked pretty as they hung out, staring into space, occasionally muttering. He shuffled through his records, knowing what he was looking for and put on Led Zeppelin. Then, slowly, he turned and looked at me meaningfully, rolled a joint, took a drag and handed it to me. It felt good. It was good. Black Leb. Hopefully good enough to turn him back to a Prince. We listened to the music and then finally he spoke,
“So, er like, er, are you a groupie or something?”
I shook my head and my puzzled expression prompted him to say,
“Well, you said you knew John Bonham.”
“Oh yeahhh... his old man, Jack, works as a carpenter where I work.”
He thought about this and took another drag,
Blowing a smoke ring he asked,
“Yeah, I get it. You talk like, strange, funny. So, are you a Brummie too?”
“Brummie? No, I come from Redditch, like the Bonhams, well, near Redditch, Headless Cross.” This meant nothing to him. He looked at me like I’d said I worked on Jupiter.
“What’s he like? Do you know the rest of the group? It’s unreal. Knowing a drummer like him.”
“I don’t know him very well. He’s just been around. Used to be an apprentice with his Dad. Then he gave it up but was always broke. Before Led Zeppelin and fame he’d help out sometimes.”
“So how come you work at a builders? You a typist or you know, office work or something?”
“No, I do all sorts but not office work. Not that good with paperwork. Jack, John’s Dad that is, works for the building firm. My bit of the business is attached to the builders. I work for the Undertaker. He sometimes makes up coffins for us.”
He was already too pale to lose any more colour. He said nothing. Smoked a bit more, blew another smoke ring and closed his eyes.
I looked at the ceiling and started thinking, looking for a way out. I thought I was having some sort of quick flashback or another trip without the pretty colours. The ceiling was moving. Just a little bit of it. I screwed up my eyes to try and focus more clearly. A small flake of paint peeled away and fluttered on to the greasy threadbare carpet. I looked at it and looked back up again. Something was definitely moving up there. This time a larger piece fell. I picked it up. It was less than a quarter of an inch across and backed with plaster that was damp and viscous. I rubbed it between my fingers and in the forty watts worth of light imagined they had discoloured slightly as the glutinous lump disintegrated. I tried to make my mind work, but it didn’t want to engage with my ideas and then he spoke again,
“So, er. Wotcha doing in London?”
“Oh. I’m on a course. Me company sent me. I could have gone to Brum, but I like music and wanted to go to this club that Jack had told me about and that’s where I met the guy ….whatshisname with the fab house in Chelsea.... He invited me to his party. Where I met you.”
He nodded as he cogitated. “Like, what’s the course?”
“Oh, yeah, well, it’s embalming.” Another silence. Another suck of smoke.
Then he got up and made us coffee in cracked brown patterned mugs. I took mine and was going to drink when something fell from the ceiling and plopped into the hot liquid. I squealed in surprise and dropped the mug, its contents sinking into the sticky floor, beaching a large, creamy, gentle....
“Shit. It’s a maggot,” I said.
He looked overwhelmed. It was as if I had brought a pestilence upon him. I was some kind of an alien who had introduced him to a weird and frightening world. He must have thought he was on a really bad trip. I didn’t though. My head was clearing. I wanted to know why a maggot was alive in this cold. What had it been eating? It was huge.
“Who lives upstairs?”
He thought, looking nonplussed. “A guy.”
“What’s he like? Do you know him?”
“Has he just moved in or something?”
“No. He’s been here all the time I’ve been here. ‘Bout 2 years.”
“Two years and you don’t know him. That’s not very friendly is it?”
Another drag. More silence. There was only one way to find out where the maggot came from and that was to go upstairs. I could knock on the door. If he was in I could talk to him and if he wasn’t I could.... I walked into the kitchen and found a long thin knife. When I walked back Prince Brian looked alarmed and pressed himself against the wall as if he hoped it would envelop him. I realised I’d scared him and explained, laughing,
“It’s to open the door. You know, if the slope of the latch is facing out you can push the knife in and release it.” He screwed up his face as he thought and then said,
“Hey, that’s illegal.”
“So’s smoking dope, man. Come with me, I could do with the help.” I saw his face contort in shock and said,
“Tell you what, Bab. You stay here and drink your coffee. Lock the door after me and don’t let anyone in till I get back.”
I walked up the stairs smiling at what a prat he was. No knight in shining armour that’s for sure. The smell grew stronger as I climbed and by the time I reached the door to the flat I knew what it was.
I knocked. No reply. I slipped the knife in and pushed. It opened. The stench hit me in the face, and then I nearly gagged as it clawed at the back of my throat before it churned into my guts but I was ready for it. I swallowed hard and looked around. Bluebottles everywhere, hundreds and hundreds of them like an electrical storm with their incessant buzzing, darkening the room as they clouded around me as I disturbed them. Across the floor in the doorway at the end of the corridor was an arm. I stepped over it having a pretty good idea what I was going to find.
It took a while to help Brian Jones clean up his flat. It was the only way I could persuade him to call the police as he clung to his phone. “Hey man, I can’t call the Filth. I’ll get done for possession.”
“I know what we can do Bab, I’ll take your stuff for you. That way you won’t get caught.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Good idea. But what about you? They might search you.”
“No. Not after they’ll have seen what’s upstairs. They’ll be too sick to think of anything like that.”
“Yeah,” he mused. After the police had finished with him he was gone. Out of it. It wasn’t the drugs. Not entirely. He was shocked. Didn’t want to be alone. I recognised the signs. Seen it in people who’d never encountered death before. He needed something to hang on to. Comfort.
“I’ve got to go down to the Station with the police. So....”
“Oh yeah... Like, er, will I see you again... like tomorrow maybe?”
“Oh, sorry Bab. I don’t do tomorrows. And anyway, I’ll be going back to Redditch on Friday.” I could tell he wasn’t used to a girl calling the shots. But I also thought I saw a hint of relief as he relaxed enough to let his shoulders sag. He had no idea that this was going to invade his life for months and months to come. I don’t suppose I had either.
I was right as it turned out. The Old Bill had plenty to occupy them. They hadn’t just been given a suspicious death. By the end of the morning they’d identified the corpse as nineteen year old Martin Parkinson, eldest son of Reginald and June Parkinson who had reported him missing three months earlier. Later that day they found Mr and Mrs Peacock’s son Arthur, at least they found bits of him in the attic. The couple had recently celebrated his 17th birthday in his absence. Keeping him company was 16 year old Ron Elliott whose parents had been worried sick about him for nearly a year. And the next day, out in the garden, they dug up Jack Hill who’d been gone from his Leicestershire home for nearly two years.
Back in Headless Cross I was a celebrity. For weeks, Eddie and Bob had questioned me incessantly, wanting to know every detail of my well-publicised adventure. Eventually, we began to return to some sort of normality. One day I was working with them in the laying out parlour when I said,
“You know. I’m not doing no more drugs. Next course I go on won’t be in London. That was a bad trip.”
We all laughed.