The scrape of Paul’s lighter put me on edge, the flame jet loud and distracting. Yet the ability to hold fire in his hands, control it with a flick of his thumb, calmed him somehow. Sitting before a fireplace, holding a stick of tinder until the orange glow warmed his fingers, kept his mind stable.
God knows he needed it. The spotlight, grueling recording schedules, nightly performances, stress on his voice—not to mention the demands on his songwriting, the pressure to churn out one hit after another… Nearly a dozen albums released in the span of three years. Shooting to the top so early, so fast. A man, even a young one like Paul, could only take so much before he snapped.
Hundreds of screaming girls almost did his poor head in. That sort of reception isn’t as great as the average person fantasizes. It erases all sense of normalcy. Usually when a bird screams at you, it’s a bad thing, sending the police running after you. In this case, it was the other way ’round; girls wanted him nearer, and the police arrived to protect him.
You’d think it’d be easy to get a date, even if Epstein had to arrange one. Creating simple songs and meeting beautiful women were the only things on Paul’s mind. But the sort of fame he’d been thrust into can be daunting, and he wasn’t the forward type. Without Epstein and me, he’d never have gotten very far with any of them. And thanks to narrow-minded parents complaining about the band’s bloody haircuts, such an ordinary experience became a tedious pain in the arse, if it happened at all.
Imagine the aggravation. Despite the obscene thoughts that ran through his head at all times—in the shower, waking up to a beam of sunlight across his bare chest, even on stage, for Christ’s sake—I kept myself firmly anchored until the time was right. Talked my trousermates into ignoring the contrary signals those overzealous fans tended to incite, especially when the cheeky ones bared their breasts for the whole arena to see.
It’s tough being a mediator in any case, but try being Paul McCartney’s cock.
One night after a show, a beautiful blonde caught Paul by the elbow outside our tour bus. She must have been waiting in the shadows of the alley just to get a glimpse.
“I’m Ellen Mooney. I loved your performance,” she said, tilting her face against her shoulder.
She gave a little wave and turned to leave. “Well…’bye, I guess.”
We were gobsmacked. Usually if a fan gets near enough to handle any member of the band, they shout for all their friends to come running and maul the poor fellows to pieces. This one simply wanted to express appreciation and be on her way.
Touched by this unusual respect, Paul called her back. “Where ya from?”
“Leeds. We’re um…following the band to every show.” She pointed at an idling van barely visible at the end of the alley. “I skived off to give you privacy.”
Paul’s flush spread from cheeks to nuts like a warm summer breeze. Ever the gentleman, he invited her to ride on the tour bus for one stop; she could rejoin her friends at the next gig at Grenada. Naturally she agreed, and since she lived only a mile from there, we could drop her at her flat.
By the time the bus arrived in Walthamstow after eleven, Brian, Richie and George were sleeping with their heads against the windows. John stubbornly attempted to remain upright at the table writing songs, head bobbing on his neck like a puppet. Paul and Ellen still jabbered on, bodies laced together like old lovers.
Paul, I whispered, twitching against his thigh. In case you didn’t notice, she fancies you.
He hummed a response and squeezed his thighs together, too shy to do anything that might draw attention.
The road leading to her flat was too narrow for the bus to navigate, and the driver braked at the corner. Paul offered to walk her home, where he’d call himself a taxi to the hotel. He accidentally brushed John’s arm as he and Ellen passed down the aisle. John smiled and gave a sleepy thumbs-up.
Ellen brought him upstairs to a tiny attic room. Through the slight gap in Paul’s trouser zip I noticed there was no wallpaper, no paint, just lightly stained wood. The sloped ceiling hung a few inches above Paul’s head. Moonlight poured in through the stained glass porthole. The mid-May sun had warmed the little room to a cozy temperature that any typical man would take advantage of. But not Paul.
She breathed deep, emphasizing the room’s citrusy scent. “Norway spruce,” she said, slipping off her shawl and lounging across the bed.
She told Paul to grab a seat that didn’t exist, and he chose to sit lotus-style on the braided rug. Used to fast women making the first move whether he wanted it or not, we’d be here all night, waiting for this one to do the same.
I strained to see, but Paul dropped his hands into his lap to hold me down. Ignoring me, they sipped glass after glass of cheap wine and yammered on about nothing for hours. Her work, his life on the road; their families, their friends. When they ran out of intimate small talk, they moved on to the existence of God, child-rearing in England versus other countries, and the current situation in Vietnam.
I admit I was fascinated by her insights, but that only made me desperate to go even deeper, if you get my meaning. Paul was having none of it, flicking a thumb against me as though a few seconds of stunned pain would shut me up for long.
She hoisted herself off the bed with a faint huff, springs groaning. While she visited the loo, I jolted upright to get Paul’s attention, nicking myself on his zip. It was worth the knock to the head.
What the hell are you doing, I demanded, sending the message straight to his brain. This method of communication works with every other man on earth. He must have been out to lunch the day God explained that the plonker makes all the important decisions.
I’m biding my time to see if I can trust her. Does she want me or ‘the star’? he responded, and immediately pictured the Queen Mum.
I was powerless against this tactic; always have been. There’s not a one of us who aren’t. Except the deviants—but that’s another story for another time.
Ellen returned from the loo, her braids untied, hair flowing in waves around her face and down her back. She’d undone a button at her breasts, her cleavage bouncing as she flopped onto the bed again, clearly wanting more than chit chat.
“It’s two already,” she said, low and throaty. A yawn bubbled under the surface of her voice. “Time for bed.”
Paul smiled and hummed in agreement, the dolt.
She laughed, but not in a flirtatious way. She thrust the sound from a place she must rarely touch, louder than natural, an unsubtle hint to pay attention. “And I have to work in the morning!”
“Not me!” Paul said, and I perked up, hopeful. I deflated at his next comment: “I’ll go sleep in the bath.”
If I had the ability, I’d have strangled him. But Liverpudlians are only so gifted.
Too exhausted and appalled at this point to think clearly, I shrugged and gave up. If Paul wanted to sleep in a cold porcelain tub with water dripping onto his ankles, using a rolled-up towel as a pillow, I wasn’t going to stop him. I’d wake him early with the idea to work out the kinks in his back using the best exercise on earth.
“Four hours of sleep for me,” I heard her say to the walls.
A nice four-hour nap would do us good. Then we’d pounce as she pulled back the shower doors for her morning wash-up.
Paul rose before I did. I bounced gently against his thigh as he padded into the main room. His sad whimper woke me right up, alert as though Ellen suddenly had me in her grip.
The flat was empty. She hadn’t even bothered to clean herself. She simply ran out, leaving us alone in an unfamiliar place. Not even a pot of tea.
Unbelievable. All that teasing, all that suggestion, and then to disappear? No one had ever been that rude, not even the birds who spent the night simply to boast that they shagged a Beatle.
My ’mates flushed tight with indignity and frustration. They tugged me down, fiery with accusations. You’re all talk, they said, as though I hadn’t been working most of the night. As though I were the one who’d broken promises.
Blame the Bird, I hissed. Paul insisted he had a plan!
You’re losing your touch, they hissed back, their voices reaching a fever pitch. You think the rest of the Four are having this much trouble getting laid? Who’s really calling the shots here, Nowhere Man?
I reared back in shock. What did you call me?
We’d never fought like this before. But we’d never been stood up before either. She knew who she’d gone home with, yet treated us like squatters.
Paul was dumbfounded. I couldn’t make out a single thought; images raced through his mind faster than I could read them. He pulled out that bloody lighter and flicked it open, swiped the wheel, and coughed out a flame, over and over. Though his thoughts slowed, I still could not make out concrete pictures. But they had sharp, black edges, centers orange like over-exposed film. More than a little worry buzzed through me, and my ’mates started to sweat.
Paul paced, snatching at things at random and dropping them back down, swinging from one emotion to the next. For a second, he calmed, thinking perhaps she stepped out to pick up something to eat for the two of them. But when he snatched up her alarm clock, a piece of cotton stuffed in the ringer, he tightened his fist until his arm shook. I shrank back, the ol’ duck-and-cover.
“I’d like to—oooh, if she were here now, I’d give her what for!”
That’s it, Paul, anger’s good. Now call yourself a taxi and go back to—
I was interrupted by some clicks and Paul’s muttering. I strained forward to hear. Would you mind repeating that?
Again, he ignored me. Something metallic bounced off the walls. His lighter. Probably out of fuel after all the—
I stiffened at a sharp, rough skritch! followed by a whoosh like someone frantic to blow out a candle.
Not the lighter.
Paul? What are you doing?
“Lighting a fire,” he said, as though telling me he was putting the kettle on.
No! Not again. She’s not worth that!
“All this untreated wood will go up like—” Then he dropped the match inside the box, and the rest of the sentence was lost.
I slapped against his leg as he ran down three flights of stairs and through the back gate, rounding the house opposite as neighbors’ shouts filled the streets.
He jerked me out of his trousers by the neck, thrusting his fist into the back of my head, forcing me to watch his handiwork. His grip nothing like I was used to. There was no love in it.
Orange flames licked the clouds, black smoke coloring the sky. A fat, grey-haired landlady burst out the front door, dodging firemen. She pressed her hands to her face, leaving sooty trails on her pale skin.
“Norwegian wood,” Paul said, proud and breathless, as though watching his greatest dream unfold. “Isn’t it good.”
When Epstein hears about this, you’ll never live it down. Get out of here quick, or your clean-cut reputation is over.
“No one will spot us. Look, they’re all hypnotized by the fire. No one even knows we’re here except our driver—” He froze. “Christ. John. Well…let’s pray he doesn’t write a song about it.”