Profundity of expression wasn’t Brad’s strong point. “I don’t care if you don’t fucking believe me. Eric Clapton’s my mate and if I asked him to come and play here he’d fucking come and play here!”
Fred, the landlord of The Black Swan, coughed diplomatically. “Well, I expect he’s a busy man.”
Brad ran a hand through his greasy, swept-back grey-blond hair. “He’d still come and play – if I asked him to.”
“Bollocks!” said Billy, a large bald-headed man with tattoos down both muscled arms.
Brad looked daggers at Billy. I’d never noticed how much Brad looked like Dracula before. Give him a cape and the fangs and that look would have killed.
“All right, how much?” said Billy.
“How much d’you wanna bet? I say you can’t get him. Five hundred?”
“I don’t want your fucking money!” snapped Brad.
“You bloody liar, you don’t know him at all!” laughed Billy.
“All right then, you’re on. I’ll give Fred five hundred quid tomorrow to look after. You do the same, OK?”
“All right,” said Billy. I’ll give you three months, till September. Eric Clapton perform in this bar! Never!”
“I shouldn’t really allow betting,” said Fred.
“No one’ll know if you don’t tell ‘em,” said Brad.
“All right,” said Fred, “just this once, as it’s Eric Clapton!” His eyes lit up at the thought of an interest-free ‘loan’ of a thousand pounds.
So the weeks passed. There was a blackboard with the name of the musician or band playing that week. So far the letters ‘E.C.’ had been conspicuous by their absence. It was a touchy subject. Mention it to Brad and he was liable to fly off the handle or, at the least, return abuse. He’d been in the pop business for many years, once a kind of ‘pop star,’ now, long forgotten and unmissed, but a ‘mate’ of EC? The idea seemed preposterous.
Brad’s ‘squeeze,’ Jilly, likewise acted schtum. “I’m not saying anything. You’ll find out by the end of September,” she’d say, with an enigmatic smile and a shake of her curly red locks.
The second week of September I called in on Tuesday for the weekly pool match, on this occasion a home match against the ‘Tigresses,’ a ladies’ team from the curiously named Coach and Tiger in Thaxleby, an ‘easy’ match – in theory. With embarrassment, I remembered our last meeting when the motley crew of elderly ladies had emerged victorious, their nearly eighty-year-old captain, Ada, winning the final game with a gloating expression on her wrinkled face, “Hard luck boys!”
Then my jaw dropped. The blackboard for the music that Friday indicated ‘Special Guest.’
Fred appeared. “D’you want a drink?”
“Is that who I think it is!”
“Well, all I know is it’s Brad’s friend.” He raised his eyebrows.
Friday came and, burning with anticipation, I called in just before eight, surprised to find a meagre handful of patrons chatting and listening to an old man wearing a fedora, singing ‘I Walk the Line’ to an out-of-tune guitar. Lizzy, the barmaid smiled at me. “That’s Eric Clapton,” she said whilst pulling me a pint of Old Gravedigger.
“You’re joking!” I said.
“No, honestly, he showed everyone his birth certificate and driving licence, his name really is Eric Clapton!”
“Bloody Hell, what a swizz!”
“Just then Billy walked in. He took one look, then turned to Lizzy. “Get Fred in here, I’ll have my five hundred back!”
Brad appeared, having returned from the toilet. “I didn’t say it was the Eric Clapton did I?” He laughed. Jilly came over and hugged him. She turned to Billy. “No, he never. He won that money fair and square!”
Brad and Billy stood a few feet apart, sizing each other up. ‘Eric’ had stopped playing and the bar was ominously quiet.
Fred appeared. “Calm down everyone. I’ve got someone else in to play.”
There was a gasp of amazement as a familiar figure strode through the door, carrying a worn hardshell guitar case and an amplifier. He put them on a table, adjusted his round glasses and ran a hand over his stubbly grey beard. “Hello everyone, just give me five minutes to set up. Fred’s asked me to start with Layla, I hope that’s OK?”
There was a cheer and more customers came through from the restaurant area. I turned to Fred. “I don’t believe it!”
He laughed, “It’s amazing who you can book for a thousand quid!”
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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