The Standalones

Chapter Ten

Ken Preston

07 June 2024

Silhouette of a rock band against a spotlight and the words The Standalones

Listen to the audio version, or scroll down to read the post.

Chapter Ten

The Dog and Whistle looked like it might be the kind of pub where Jack the Ripper had hung out, back in the 1880s. It also looked like it hadn’t had a lick of paint or even been cleaned since Jack the Ripper’s last visit.

“Seriously? We’re playing here?” Scarlett said, as she gazed at the peeling paint, the filthy windows, and the weeds sprouting from the brickwork. “Is it even open for business still?”

“It was the best I could do at such short notice,” Chris said.

Scarlett sighed. “We so need a manager.”

Chloe flinched at a drop of cold rain landing on her face. She tilted her head back and looked at the heavy clouds overhead.

“I think we should head inside before the heavens open and we are drenched,” she said.

The four of them traipsed into the pub and were suddenly brought up short by a lion.

It bared its teeth and a low growl rumbled up from its chest.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Chris said.

As one, they backed up a step. The lion growled again, muscles and tendons rippling beneath its fur. It jumped onto a table, its ears lying flat along its skull. An old man, sitting at a table in a far corner and nursing a half-finished pint of beer, looked over and cackled. Besides him, the pub was deserted.

“I am never letting you book us a venue ever again!” Matt hissed at Chris. “What is this place, a zoo?”

Chris reached out a trembling hand towards the lion. “There, there, nice pussycat.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, she’ll take your hand off,” a voice called out.

Chris snatched his hand back with a tiny yelp of surprise.

A tall woman clad in leather trousers, jacket and boots, and holding a whip, walked into the bar.

“Elsa, come here!” The woman cracked the whip.

With one last longing look at her potential meal, Elsa licked her lips, jumped off the table, and reluctantly padded over to the woman, who dropped a hand onto Elsa’s neck and began ruffling the fur.

“She’s a softy, really.” As if to prove the point, the lion rubbed her head against the woman’s thigh and purred. “Now, who are you?”

“Um, we’re The Standalones,” Matt said. “We’re playing here tonight?”

The woman placed the tip of the whip against her chin and thought for a moment. “Oh yes, the pop group.” She held out a hand in greeting. “I’m Theodora Franklin-Vixen. Follow me.” Without waiting for anyone to shake her hand, she turned and walked through a doorway, the lioness following her.

“A lion,” Chloe said. “That woman keeps a lion as a pet.”

“What does everyone think?” Matt said. “We could leave now, right now, and just forget about this gig altogether.”

“Are you crazy?” Scarlett said. “This is amazing!”

With that, she ran through the doorway after the lion. Chris looked at the others, shrugged, and followed Scarlett.

Matt took Chloe’s hand in his. “Are you alright? Life with The Standalones isn’t usually this mad.”

Chloe’s insides tingled at Matt’s touch. Even though she had only known him for a few short hours, she felt that she could trust him. Not only that, but she now knew for definite that she was seriously falling for him. After rescuing Chris’s keyboard from Danny Lamb, Chloe and Matt had barely stopped talking about it and laughing. And it seemed like they were both drawing closer to each other.

Writing in the Shadows is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.


But was it all just in Chloe’s mind? Were these feelings she was experiencing being felt by Matt, too? Did the fact he was now holding her hand mean anything? Or was he simply concerned for her? Was he just being kind?

“Chloe?”

Chloe blinked, realising how foolish she must have looked, standing there and gazing at him in complete silence. But she couldn’t help it, he had the most amazingly clear, blue eyes.

“Oh, er, yes, I mean no! Wait, what was the question again?”

Matt burst out laughing. “You were a million miles away just then. I asked if you are alright.”

“Oh yes, I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” Chloe gabbled, the words tumbling from her mouth too fast.

Oh no, you just said you were fine. I told you not to use that word again.

“What about the lion?”

“The lion? Oh yes, it’s terrifying, isn’t it?”

“So you’re not alright?”

“No, not at all, are you?” Chloe snapped her mouth shut. Stop talking! This is just like when we first met at Euston Station. You’ve got to stop losing it like this, and turning all giddy whenever he looks at you.

“Okay, I’m confused now,” Matt said.

You and me both, Chloe thought. Get a grip, girl.

She took a deep breath. “I’m okay, really,” she said. “I’m just tired from the journey, and then finding all that money in what I thought was my travel bag, running away from your landlord, then going back to rescue the keyboard, and now meeting a lion. It’s been an unusual day so far.”

“Unusual?”

“Well, alright, it’s been completely mad, to be honest.”

“It sure has, but like I said, life with The Standalones isn’t usually this exciting. Come on, let’s follow the others. Who knows, there might be an elephant in the next room.”

Chloe giggled and together they followed the rest of the band.

At the back of the pub was a room with a small stage. Chris and Scarlett were both huddled together in a corner whilst Elsa stared at them from only a foot away. Theodora was striding up and down the tiny stage, talking about how many tickets she had sold.

“This place is going to be packed out,” she said. “You’d better be good.”

“We are,” Matt replied. “We’re going to be huge one day soon.”

“Oh good, that’s what I like, a bit of bravado and self-belief.” Theodora jumped off the stage and pointed the whip at Matt. “Now, the punters can get a little boisterous sometimes, but they’re harmless, really. Don’t worry if things appear to be getting a little out of hand, Elsa will put them in their place, won’t you Elsa?”

Elsa turned her head to look at Theodora and growled her agreement. Then she turned her attention back to Scarlett and Chris. Now that she had them pinned in one spot, she didn’t appear to be in a hurry to let them go.

“It used to be that I had a lot of trouble around here, me being a single lady and all,” Theodora continued. “But then I got Elsa, and she soon put a stop to all of that.” She clicked her fingers. “Elsa, come here, stop bothering those people.”

Elsa padded over to Theodora and sat at her feet.

Scarlett and Chris started breathing again.

Matt, Scarlett, and Chris climbed on the stage and began checking the equipment. Theodora had held Chloe in her gaze, as though she wanted to talk some more.

“Have you got yourself a man, love?”

Chloe felt herself reddening ever so slightly as she thought of Matt. “Um, no.”

“They’re a bit overrated if you ask me,” Theodora said, swishing the whip against her thigh. “But other men bother you less if you have a man of your own, know what I mean?”

Chloe nodded, wishing she could join the others on the stage, but not wanting to appear rude by finishing the conversation early.

Theodora pointed her whip at Scarlett, who was busy untangling cables. “Now that young woman up there, I get the feeling she can look after herself. Most men would think twice before trying anything on with her. But you? You’re a pretty little thing, aren’t you?”

“I’m tougher than I look,” Chloe said.

“Maybe you are.” Theodora regarded Chloe thoughtfully. “But you have to be careful these days. I’ve had some run-ins with unpleasant men over the years. There were these two in particular, liked to come round and take protection money off me. I could hardly afford to keep the place open, the amount they took every week.” Theodora placed the tip of the whip against her lips as she took a trip down memory lane. “Twins they were, hard looking, not a sympathetic bone in their bodies.” She smiled at the memory. “Elsa soon saw them off, and they’ve never been round since. Pity, I’d like them to meet Elsa again.” She turned and looked at the lion. “I reckon you’d like another go at them too, wouldn’t you, Elsa?”

The lion roared its agreement.

What on earth have we let ourselves in for? Chloe thought.

>