Author: Guede Mazaka
Premier might look like it was full of dark corners, but in all honesty, getting a bit of it to oneself wasn’t that easy. It was built to maximize visibility. Of course, years of opening and closing deals in the place had taught Fredrik that there were a few isolated spots available.
The really obvious ones were filled with couples and more-somes, but usually he could pick up a table in the very back. Tonight, however, something was up—for a moment, he wondered if that was Van Persie’s fault again, then irritably shrugged off the thought. That asshole was good, but he wasn’t omnipotent. Just…on Jens’ good side.
Fredrik picked up a whole bottle of vodka and a glass at the bar, then struck out for the very, very far corners of the club. It wouldn’t be easy to get a feel for the acts playing tonight, but honestly, he was willing to just take Thierry’s disappointed scolding in the morning in order to get drunk fast right now. Except…damn it, even that part of Premier was full. With an unusual occupant.
After a moment, Fredrik shrugged and pushed his way over. “What? Is there a bloodbath scheduled that I didn’t know about?”
With the way things had gone today, he wouldn’t be terribly surprised. But Raúl just looked a little startled at being spoken to, and didn’t get that old-woman exasperated look he usually put on whenever one of them came in. “I hope not. Tonight’s my night off.”
“You get nights off?” It was a tight squeeze, but Fredrik got himself wedged into the one remaining seat.
Raúl didn’t seem all that happy about getting company, but he could go fuck himself. Seriously. He had the medical degree and he would’ve had the authority to tell Jens what was not good for health, but he never said a word as far as Fredrik could tell. “Yes.”
Fredrik didn’t really have either an idea or the inclination to ask a follow-up, so he just poured himself a drink. Downed it, and then poured himself another one. The act on stage finished on a jarringly out-of-tune power chord that almost made him spill some vodka. Of course, that was de rigueur nowadays, but apparently they didn’t do it right because the crowd loudly booed and he could see things flying at the stage before the bouncers managed to push through to the ringleaders. The chaos reminded him of the disaster the day had been, and then of Van Persie, may something electrocute his smug Dutch ass, and then of…“Hey, Ruud hired your nephew. Congratulations. What, did you get tired of dealing with Cristiano and figure you’d palm him off as a practice patient?”
Lip curling, Raúl glanced over and clearly thought about saying something bitchy, but then he shrugged and waved for a waitress. After asking for a glass and a bottle of water, he sat back and stared moodily at the crowd. “Like I would want my family involved in that side of the label. I only got him in because his mother begged me to. Cesc’s determined to work in the industry, so she wanted him at least where somebody could look out for him.”
“Don’t sound all that enthusiastic about the idea,” Fredrik muttered, finishing off half his glass. He topped it up and set the bottle back down; he wanted to get drunk, not get comatose within the first hour.
Raúl tapped his fingers on the table, rapidly speeding up till he was damn near drilling through it before he abruptly snatched his hand back. “Would you want to baby-sit some reckless twenty-year-old?”
Fredrik bit his lip hard enough to raise blood. He ran his tongue over it afterward, then pushed his glass up against his mouth. It wasn’t very cold now—he’d been sweating beneath his suit since he walked in—but it numbed things a little bit. And at the very least, the vodka would sterilize the cut. “Point. You know, it might not be a bad idea to neuter ‘em. Temporarily. Just till their brains catch up with their balls.”
For some reason, Raúl was now staring at him like he’d lost it or something. He hadn’t—that had been earlier in the day, when he’d spent fifteen minutes of his sole thirty with Jens running down exactly why Van Persie should be shipped back to Amsterdam in baby-food jars. And then Jens had looked at him and said sorry, Freddie, I’m not going that far but I will do something about it. First time ever that Fredrik had gotten the brush-off from Jens. Okay, he wasn’t Thierry, but he thought he was one of the few with Jens’ trust.
“That…is medically very difficult. Making it temporary, I mean,” Raúl finally said. He looked up as a waitress pushed back towards them, then took his glass and bottle of water from her with a gracious smile and half-bow. Then he sat down and poured himself a drink from Fredrik’s bottle of vodka. “Besides, that just keeps them from getting a girl pregnant. Which only is a little bit of the problem.”
He probably hadn’t meant for Fredrik to hear that last part, mumbling it as he did into his glass as he drank. Fredrik drained his vodka and set up his next drink, then kicked back to lean his head against the wall. The alcohol was starting to ease the tension from his muscles and give his sense of humor a boost out of the seething morass that was his current mood. “Castration.”
Raúl stopped with his glass halfway between the table and his mouth. Then it started to go forward, but at the last moment, reversed itself and came back up. He was looking out into the crowd and making a face at somebody or something. “He’s family.”
“That your only objection?” Fredrik asked.
Invite-only calls meant acts that agents liked but wanted to test-drive further before thinking about signing, so the door policy for the night was still pretty open. Despite that, it was easy enough to pick out people working for the label; after some staring the same way Raúl was looking, Fredrik picked out Van Nistelrooy’s new assistant…tonguing one of the waitresses.
“Yes,” Raúl said in a thoughtful tone. He glanced down at his glass, then shrugged and tossed it back with more practiced skill than Fredrik would’ve given him credit for.
Before he could refill it, Fredrik reached out and covered the top of the bottle with his hand. “Mine.”
After a moment of staring, Raúl sighed and dug into his pockets. He pulled out his hand and casually dropped it between them, beneath the table, and then pressed a tiny pill into Fredrik’s hand. “Cuts hang-over time in two, but take anything else—even aspirin—and you’ll end up in the ER.”
Fredrik considered that, then took his one hand off the bottle and slipped the pill into his money clip with his other hand. “You went easier than I thought you would.”
The waitress had moved on, but not without a lingering backwards look. Which Fàbregas failed to see; he had a table on the edge of the dancefloor and it looked like he was actually taking notes or something in between hot glances at passersby. One of whom was shimmying up to him now…with a definite lack of bouncing cleavage involved.
“I haven’t gone anywhere, and I’m not going to till he goes,” Raúl muttered. His tone epitomized unenthusiastic.
“I didn’t mean literally.” After draining his glass, Fredrik decided a better idea might just be going home. He hadn’t wanted to play the cliché and get drunk alone and in the dark, but watching all these young idiots pick each other up for nothing was getting to him just as well.
He tried to stand. He’d only had…three drinks?...but for some reason, it’d all already gotten to his knees. Fredrik sat back down, grabbing at something at the last minute to keep from falling into the table, and scowled at the bottle. The vodka inside was gently rocking to a standstill—if it wanted to move, it might as well be into his belly.
He poured himself another drink one-handed, then wondered why he only had the one hand. Then he let go of Raúl’s arm, a little embarrassment making it through the growing haze. After a moment, he shoved the vodka over; Raúl topped up his glass and passed it back. The other man was looking curiously at Fredrik, which he steadfastly ignored.
“Could just drag him out of here and send him to bed early. He’s still young enough for that, isn’t he?” This latest helping of vodka went down so smoothly that Fredrik barely noticed it. The world was starting to gently swirl around him, and the noise was beginning to recede into a vague but usefully distracting cacophony. Hopefully soon the same thing would happen to his vision.
“I can’t.” Raúl failed to elaborate on that. He did successfully drink some more vodka, though that didn’t seem to be cheering him up any. If that was the case, he’d better let Fredrik have most of it. “Is yours too old now?”
Fredrik paused, then put his fingers on the rim of his glass, just covering it with his palm. He laughed a little. “My God, Raúl, shouldn’t you be more up-to-date on the gossip? Mine, who isn’t mine anyway, is boning a Dutch jackass who probably grew up nursing on pricks.”
Long silence from Raúl. A good deal more vodka disappeared down Fredrik’s throat—enough to send him into a kind of suspended awareness where he knew he was being an idiot, and that he’d be angry with himself in the morning, but that for the moment, he was pleasantly detached from the situation. Pity he hadn’t been able to do that when he was awake.
“You aren’t talking about Cristiano Ronaldo, are you?” Raúl finally said, sounding truly puzzled. And a bit horrified. And just plain ridiculous.
“No. Not—not in a million years, oh, my God, I can’t—can’t believe—” Fredrik cracked up. He put up his hand, briefly forgot what he was doing with it, and then remembered and slapped it over his mouth to hold in the laugh. Didn’t want to be too loud, except oops, the chair back had shifted around. He went to lean on it and it wasn’t there, and when he grabbed the table, something splashed onto his arm.
Whatever it was evaporated away in a flash, quickly chilling Fredrik’s skin even though he still had his coat on. He tried to reach out and pull it more tightly around himself, but somehow his hands wouldn’t move. He yanked harder and a whole chain reaction of things involving clattering and low cursing about ten or twenty centimeters above his head went down all around him. Fredrik cursed back and tried to move away, but still couldn’t. “Goddamn it, Jens, I’m off-hours. Want something else, go ask your fucking new kid.”
“Oh,” came from above his head. And then: “Madre de Dios, you’re all drunken fools.”
Another name swam up to Fredrik and said hi. “Whatever, Raúl. I’m not jealous of some fucking nephew’s sex life.”
“Just shut up already,” Raúl sighed. “Shut up and pass out, and…”
There was more, but it was all blurry and drifting away and Fredrik couldn’t really hear it anymore.
* * *
Ljungberg had vomited once while mostly unconscious, so once Raúl had checked his vitals, he left the other man lying on the tile while he got in the shower. After he was done, he rinsed Freddie down, got him into a spare bed, and then wandered out to the kitchen for coffee and grumblings. His shoulders and arms ached from basically having to carry the man around himself; God, if He was unlucky, would know where Lehmann was, and Thierry had to be completely out of contact if Freddie was going around like this.
He got himself a mug from the cupboard and then filled up the water cup from the sink faucet—and got himself a long drink of water while he was at it; he wasn’t interested in dealing with any hang-over symptoms himself. Then he put the water cup in the coffeemaker and started to reach for the button before he remembered about coffee grinds. Raúl absently reached out, had the jar handed to him, and had measured out half of it before he paused.
“I can’t even say ‘good morning’ yet because it’s not that late,” Cesc said. He’d taken off his coat and tie, and when he padded over to the fridge, Raúl saw that he was barefoot as well. “You aren’t getting old that fast, are you?”
“What are you doing here? Doesn’t it run for another hour?” After another moment, Raúl turned around and finished putting the coffee-maker together. He stabbed the ‘start’ button, then stood back and mentally ran down possible excuses for leaving.
Cesc pulled the orange juice out of the fridge and uncapped it. He’d started to raise it before he glanced up—deliberately, said the mischievous glint in his eye—and saw Raúl’s warning look. With a shrug, he walked over to the cabinets and got himself a glass. “Yeah, but I was walking around before it started, listening to the acts warm up. There’s nobody worth hearing in the last two hours. Figured I’d be responsible and take the early night.”
“That’ll relieve your mother,” Raúl muttered.
“And you too, since now you don’t have to worry about leaving me there unsupervised.” Flashing a grin, Cesc tossed back his first glass like it was…then poured himself another. He put the juice carton on the counter and started to poke around Raúl’s breadbox. “I saw you.”
Raúl rolled his eyes and went over to put the juice back. “Great.”
Fingers snapped around his wrist. Cesc wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, then tugged on Raúl’s arm. “I wasn’t done with that.”
“So say so,” Raúl said, pulling back. “But don’t you have your own orange juice now, with your new apartment?”
The other man leaned in closer, voice and eyelashes dropping. “What if I like yours better?”
This again. After the mess that’d been Cesc doing a summer with him to see what private practice was like, Raúl would’ve thought that the other man would have gotten the message. “No.”
“We’re not that closely related. If one of us was a woman, nobody would be worried.” Cesc refused to back off, even when Raúl twisted his arm free. He trailed at Raúl’s heels all the way back to the fridge so Raúl almost hit him in the face when opening the door. “What? It’s not like you aren’t interested.”
“Even if we weren’t related, I still wouldn’t be interested. Stop pushing, Francesc.” In the background, the coffee started to splat into the pot. Raúl put the orange juice back on the shelf and briefly considered excusing himself to go check on Freddie. Then he could get to his prescription-strength migraine painkillers.
“Well. Hey, your loss. I’m sure I’ll find somebody to make me feel better at my new job.”
By the time Raúl had turned around, Cesc had walked out and Thierry had appeared in his kitchen. The sharp comment that had been clawing up Raúl’s throat softened into a sigh. “Third room on the left. Any bruises are his fault for being made out of lead when he’s drunk.”
“That’s a very reassuring diagnosis.” Thierry stepped out, but came back too quickly to have done anything but take a look. He leaned against the wall and pulled out his phone to text someone, drumming the fingers of his other hand along the edge of the counter. For once, there wasn’t a trace of humor in his face. “Did he say much to you?”
“Oh, I wasn’t really paying attention,” Raúl muttered. Best way to deal with that occupational hazard, he’d found. If he didn’t even know about it, then he couldn’t possibly be involved and thus got completely left out of whatever backlash there was. “You can leave him here to sleep it off or take him with you—either way’s fine with how he is.”
He closed the fridge and went past Thierry out to the front door, where he just caught a glimpse of Cesc’s car pulling away. Raúl opened his mouth. Closed it. Started to lift his and then stuffed it back into his pocket.
After another moment, he decided there wouldn’t even be a point in trying to call and leaving a voicemail. He’d shown Cesc exactly what it was like: letting him tag along with housecalls to patch up hysterical, barely-legal girls and boys with bruises and blood between their legs, having him hold down a foaming-mouthed OD case who also happened to be worth millions, driving home in tight-lipped silence to stare at a meal neither of them could stomach eating. If Cesc still wanted a part in that, then he wasn’t walking in blind and Raúl had no idea what to say to him.
And as far as the come-ons were concerned, Raúl found them disturbing but not that genuine—they were a new way for Cesc to needle him, and Cesc had always liked doing that. What bothered him about those was how that tendency of Cesc’s had matured—badly, in a very twisted way.
Thierry was standing half-in the kitchen, half-in the hall when Raúl finally wandered back. His tie was gone and his collar had been pulled roughly open, and he was talking quietly on his cell to someone. Occasionally half his mouth would flick up in a smile, but it was a ghost of his usual good-natured humor.
“I’ll be taking Freddie in a minute,” he said, cupping his hand over the end of the phone. “Bill it the usual—oh, this is overtime for you, isn’t it? All right. Just have accounting take care of it.”
That wasn’t the usual reaction; most people thought Raúl was on-call twenty-four-seven and would rage to high heaven over the costs. Even Jens, who at least never tried to haggle over the bill even if he bitched like a woman, acted like it was Raúl’s fault that he was bringing somebody in. “Does this mean you’re bringing somebody else in later?”
The other man shot him a puzzled look, then got distracted by whoever was on the other line. After rattling off an answer, Thierry covered the phone with his hand again, eyebrow up and a slightly incredulous smile pulling at his mouth. “You’re so cynical! When did this happen?”
“I’m—oh, when did you think? How long have I been the house doctor?” Raúl sighed, rubbing at his temples. He moved his right hand down to pinch at his nose, then went back to pressing the heels of his hand against the sides of his head. That migraine was really demanding his attention.
A short, understanding but unbitter laugh came from Thierry. “I know, I know, we bring in all kinds of bad cases and none of them are cute kids you can feel nothing but simple good at helping. But you’re still staying—you must have a reason for doing that.”
“Because I still try to be an art-lover?” It came out sounding half like a question and half like a statement, and honestly, Raúl wasn’t sure which way he’d meant it to be in the first place. Then he had to laugh himself—he was old enough to be more decisive than this—and went into the kitchen. First he’d try brewing himself some herbal tea, and then later the aspirin if the headache was still bad. No point in ending up like the people who he complained about. “I loved—love music, and I…” he shrugged “…a lot of my favorite musicians were downed by drugs, and when I think about that waste…”
“It is a shame, isn’t it?” Pivoting to keep looking at Raúl, Thierry pinched his cell between his ear and his shoulder while he typed a note into his PDA. “Or do you think it’s a disgrace? All these things…the fame, the money, the can-do-everything…and we still don’t seem to learn how to be good, happy people?”
Raúl set the kettle on the stove and thought. “Wait—is that something you’re asking me?”
“Well, if you want to answer sometime, I’d be interested to hear it with where you stand in this world,” Thierry said. He glanced up at Raúl, then went back to frowning at his PDA. Then he grinned, his voice dropping to confidential levels. “It’s because I love music too. I think if there’s still that in somebody, then there’s still value. For them and for other people.”
The tea can was three-quarters empty when Raúl went to spoon some into the pot. He added that to the grocery list in his head…right after restocking on hang-over supplies so he could give some of that to Cesc. Family was family, and Raúl still thought that the real meaning of what went on hadn’t really hit the other man yet. But that was how people grew up. “Did you need anything else? A drink?”
“Oh, no, thanks but no thanks. I need to take Freddie home and then I’ll just get something there. I’m taking up space in your kitchen, sorry,” Thierry replied. He nodded once to Raúl as he walked off, not waiting for an answer this time.
Well, that was fine. The water was nearly boiling, so Raúl got a mug out for himself and finished setting up the tea-pot. His sigh blended in with the sound of air whistling through the kettle-spout; tonight he was tired and cranky and depressed. Tomorrow he’d still mostly be the same way, but tomorrow he had to get up and keep going, and so he’d better get in his moodiness now.
* * *
Freddie woke up part of the way while they were still in the car. “Thierry?”
“Oui.” Thierry reached over to turn down the Marseilles street-pop he’d been listening to—possible signing he’d been mulling over for a few weeks.
“Fuck. Did I hit anybody?” Freddie muttered. He’d been slack as a rag-doll when Thierry had carried him out and had just sprawled over the seat, but now he cinched himself into a tight curl with his arms over his head. The one eye of his Thierry could see was scrunched up in pain.
“No. And you didn’t rip up any contracts, break anything expensive, offend important industry people or tell Jens.” After a moment, Thierry decided Freddie looked there enough to take the rest. “Though I have a strong feeling you said some things to Raúl, but he isn’t going to gossip about them.”
Groan. “Great. Remind me to tip him on the gigantic bill he’ll send up later.”
It was late enough for the vehicle traffic to have thinned out some, but the sidewalks were crowded with beautiful, laughing groups of people who apparently all were a little tipsy. Going fast risked hitting some of them as they stumbled across the road in disregard of any crosswalks, but slowing down pretty much invited them to walk where they wanted.
Thierry sighed and resigned himself to getting home another half-hour later than he’d originally planned. He slowed down—at least he could check out what seemed to be prevailing club fashion, so later he’d have a better idea of when to and to not yell at his acts for bad clothing taste.
“He’s fucking Dutch, Thierry,” Freddie snarled. “Doesn’t look old enough to even have a driver’s license.”
“Robin’s twenty-three, and in some parts he’s about twenty years older.” In others he was woefully too young, but not really the parts where Thierry would worry about Jens taking the wrong tack in addressing them.
Freddie kicked the floor. “You like him. He’s a fucking smartass cunt who could use a good whipping.”
With some effort, Thierry managed to not imagine how that’d actually go with Jens and Robin. Not really his cup of tea, and honestly, he accepted but wasn’t really all that enthused about that side of Jens. That could just stay in the range of unspoken understandings. Like with Freddie’s thing for…Thierry glanced at the other man, seeing the dark circles coming up beneath Freddie’s eyes, and suppressed a second sigh. “You already know what I think. No—listen, Freddie. I’m sorry—I know it’s a horrible feeling to never even be able to approach someone about that, but even if Jens was receptive, I’d object. It wouldn’t work.”
“Why not?” Freddie snapped, but at the end he was already trailing off. The heat in his voice was dulling to bitter resignation, which pained Thierry to hear.
But frankly, that was better than the way things would’ve turned out if Jens had ever started something with Freddie as far as Thierry was concerned. At least this way his two friends could still work together most of the time. And Thierry didn’t have to worry about having to ID one in the morgue and debate whether to make bail for the other one in a homicide case. “Because you don’t need a whipping.”
After a moment, Freddie cracked a jagged, scarifying laugh that lashed out and inwards at the same time. He let it die off into a long sigh, then pulled himself up into a semi-sitting position. “Sorry I made you pick me up.”
“Ah, Freddie, it’s not even three AM yet—the music business’ midnight, remember?” Thierry chuckled. “Apologize tomorrow, recover tonight, yes?”
“Okay.” Freddie stared out through the windshield, some of his earlier resentment coming back into his face. Then he grimaced and turned away, lying back down on the lowered seat.
Thierry turned up the music a little, letting it slowly wash over his thoughts. Not the greatest band ever, but it really had something, some infectious quality that he couldn’t quite identify but that really had him hooked. He seemed to be coming to a decision, finally.