HE WAS staring at her, and furthermore he was famous.
The man she had spotted in the Private Bar was none other than Lenny Miscovich, one time lead guitarist of Yellowsnake and more recently co-presenter of Rock of Ages, a cutting-edge TV series charting the history of blues and rock. Lenny Miscovich was so cool, even now at, what would he be, about five years older than her so forty five or six? There was something ever so slightly dangerous about him still; the way his dark, slicked back hair was a little too long; the way that denim jacket was draped around his shoulders, as if at any second he might throw it off and stride out of here; that preoccupied smile playing around his lips, as if there was some secret only he and a very few other people knew.
Here was Sal Gifford, in the public bar of the down-at-heel Greenacre Hotel, Old Mereford, appearing to be listening to some joke that her husband was in the process of telling to a group of his mates, whilst stealing furtive glances at the subject of her most passionate teenage fantasies.
And there was Lenny Miscovich, large as life, in the small private bar, with only two rather scratched mahogany counters, one grumpy landlord, one barmaid, a shelf of newly-washed beer glasses and a row of optics between them.
And one husband, of course.
‘At the end of the day, football means not having to go to Sainsbury’s on a Saturday!’ Mike Gifford reached the punch line of his joke to uproarious, beer-fuelled laughter.
‘Good one, eh, Sal?’ Mike turned to her, still laughing.
‘Good one,’ she assured him. It had never struck her before how all-alike Mike and his mates were; same chain-store polo shirts; same slightly crumpled jeans; same bald spot; same suspicion of a beer belly.
‘Mike, isn’t that the rock-star, er, Lenny something?’ She asked. He followed her gaze through to the Private Bar.
‘Now that you mention it,’ he said, ‘I did hear the barmaid saying something about that when I was up getting the last round. Used to be in Yellow-something, that rock group, about twenty years back, didn’t he? He and the film crew are staying here tonight. Barmaid reckons they’re down here to do some filming out at Bree Point, some programme about British eccentrics. There’s that weirdo hermit out at Bree, isn’t there? Lives in a railway carriage and plants umbrellas in the shingle.’
‘Did you notice the Rolls-Royce parked out front, on a trailer?’ somebody piped up. ‘Apparently he’s been driving around in that for the filming. Bit baggy around the eyes, isn’t he?’
‘Who, the Bree hermit ?’
‘Nah, Miscovich. Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle catching up with him, shouldn’t wonder.’
Mike was losing interest in this Miscovich. ‘Have you heard this one, you guys? What do you get if you cross a rabbit and a spider?’
Sal Gifford couldn’t help being aware of the fact that Lenny Miscovich was still gazing at her. Fascinated, he seemed to be. It was as if that secret smile of his was intended for her alone.
‘Well hello there, gorgeous,’ it seemed to be saying.
No, it couldn’t be saying that. Get a grip, woman. What could a man like Lenny Miscovich possibly want with somebody as ordinary as her?
‘A hairnet,’ said Mike. ‘Geddit, Sal – rabbit? spider? hare? net?’
The evening wore on. Mike and his mates continued to swop bad jokes and Sal sipped at her cider and pretended to laugh along with them. For the next half an hour she made a huge effort not to check whether Lenny Miscovich was still staring at her.
Finally the suspense was too much for her. Taking a deep, steadying breath she permitted herself a casual glance in the direction of the Private Bar, only to discover that Lenny and his entourage had vanished. They must have gone upstairs to their rooms, she supposed.
At least she could relax now. She settled back into the Greenacre’s second best sofa and pictured Lenny Miscovich pausing at the turn of the stairs, gazing down at her in order to fix in his memory the petite, voluptuous blonde in the Public Bar who had been so absorbed in her husband’s conversation all evening that she hadn’t even noticed a rock legend passing within a few feet of her.
‘If only,’ the Lenny of her imagination was sighing. ‘If only things could have been different.’
‘YOU CAN put them on now, Lenny,’ murmured his PA, Chanelle, when they reached the second floor landing.’
‘Thank God for that,’ he muttered, fishing a pair of black-rimmed geek-chic glasses out of his jacket pocket. ‘Are you sure it’s safe?’
‘Yeah,’ nobody’s likely to catch sight of you up here. Your public image remains intact.’
‘My eyes are killing me. Honestly, Chan, they’re standing out on stalks. It makes you feel quite queasy after a while, hovering around in the middle of a noisy fog, trying to look as if you can see everything that’s going on. When did you say my contacts would be getting here?’
‘Tomorrow morning, early. They’re sending them up from London by courier. Serves you right for leaving your little plastic box in the bathroom, for the third time.’
‘I know, I know. But you panicked me, leaning on the horn like that.’
‘Well you were very late, sweetheart.’
‘Rock legends are supposed to be late.’
‘For rock concerts, not TV programmes.’
‘I wasn’t doing that staring thing again tonight was I?’
‘As a matter of fact you were, my dear. A blonde woman in the Public Bar.’
‘Oh God. A blonde? At least it was a blonde. Did she notice?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid she did, though she was trying her best to appear not to have; self-conscious, you know, the way they are.’
Lenny pondered on this for a moment. It was such a pain having become short-sighted and even more of a pain having to pretend he wasn’t. How much longer was he going to be able to keep this up? Another year, two if he was lucky, before what was left of the stardust wore off and the work dried up altogether.
He’d suffered a major blow to his confidence recently when they’d informed him he was sacked from Rock of Ages. Well, not sacked exactly. TV producers never employed such a distasteful word. What they had actually said was, ‘The ratings have taken a dip this series, Lenny. We think an injection of fresh blood might be required, someone more congruent with the demographic.’
‘Um, possibly. And no doubt you’ll have a thousand other projects in the pipeline.’
But the only ‘other project’ his agent had been able to dredge up for him at short notice was this one, traipsing off to some out of the way corner of East Anglia to interview a nutcase in a railway carriage for an Aussie TV-special. It was going to be called either Barmy Brits or Potty Poms, he couldn’t recall which.
And having to pretend to drive a Rolls-Royce that was being towed along on the back of a trailer; waffling to camera whilst waggling, inexpertly, the steering wheel of a car he didn’t know how to drive, because he had never learned to drive. How humiliating was that?
‘The one I was staring at this time, was she a Babe?‘ he queried.
Chanelle glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, seeing the man he didn’t realise she saw, on the downhill leg of his career now, and staring obscurity in the face. She had loved Lenny Miscovich for years and no doubt would continue to love him however wrinkly and un-famous he became, and even though he was never likely to love her back. With an effort she brought to mind the chubby, plain little female on the shabby black sofa, clutching her half pint of cider.
‘Yeah, Lenny,’ she said, ‘she was a bit of a Babe.’