The Standalones

Chapter Thirteen

Ken Preston

10 June 2024

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

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Chapter Thirteen

Ratzo couldn’t believe his eyes. Was that Fred over there? What was he doing here?

Ratzo did his best to make himself invisible, sinking back into the crowd of bikers and rockers. He’d been hiding at the back anyway, not wanting that girl, Chloe, whatever her double-barrelled surname might be because he’d already forgotten it, to spot him. It had been easy enough to find her once he knew she was in a pop group. The Standalones. Their flyers had been all over town, playing tonight at The Dog and Whistle, and then the day after tomorrow at the Brockwell Park Pop Festival.

Hopefully, he could get Frankie’s money back tonight, and not have to bother with the pop festival. He couldn’t think of anything worse; crowds of cool kids and posers, and stands selling hippy clothes and ethnic food. At least they wouldn’t have a lion over there, though.

Ratzo cast a nervous glance at Elsa as she padded between the bikers and the rockers. They were all either too drunk to be frightened or they were regulars and had grown used to having a lion wandering around. To be honest, it was most likely a combination of both.

The Standalones were into their fourth or fifth song now and, despite himself, Ratzo would find himself tapping his foot or humming along to the songs. They were irritatingly catchy.

He wasn’t sure how much the regulars were enjoying the show. They looked like they were more used to heavy rock than catchy, hummable pop tunes.

Ratzo caught sight of Fred again, pacing up and down in the crowded room. What was he up to? Fred never ventured out of his house unless it involved some scheme to make money. And that usually involved beating up somebody.

Money.

Ratzo froze as a terrible thought rose from the depths of his mind.

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Was he after Frankie’s stash of money, too? But that didn’t make any sense. Fred was a debt collector, and it was the likes of Frankie that sent debt collectors out to ply their trade, but this money wasn’t a debt was it?

Ratzo lost sight of Fred in the packed room.

Nah, he had to be here for another reason. Unless Frankie had sent Fred to get his cash back, too. Maybe that was it. Frankie just didn’t trust Ratzo enough to get the job done.

Ratzo jumped as something rubbed against his legs and pushed past him. When he looked down, he jumped again at the sight of Elsa squeezing her way between the bodies packed in close. Ratzo swore. Tonight’s shenanigans were starting to get a little too serious for Ratzo. Maybe he should wait outside, by the kids’ van. He could get the money off them out there easy enough.

Turning to go, he was suddenly brought up short by Fred looming over him and close enough they could have embraced like old friends.

“You scared the life out of me!” Ratzo yelled. “I thought you were that lion!”

Fred grinned. “Now then Ratzo, when did you last see a lion walking around on its hind legs, eh?”

“Never mind that, what are you doing here?”

“What do you think, Ratzo? I’m here for the money, of course.”

Ratzo cursed inwardly. He’d been right, Frankie had betrayed Ratzo by getting Fred in on the job. Frankie would probably give him a cut of the money, too.

“That’s not fair, Frankie sent me to get his cash back.”

Fred eyed him quizzically. “What are you talking about, Ratzo? I’m Frankie’s debt collector, everyone knows that.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t count because this isn’t a debt, is it?” Ratzo peered through a gap in the crowd and saw the holdall in the bass drum, just for a fleeting moment, before the bodies closed in again. “Besides, I don’t know how we’re going to get it off them, not when they’ve got it stashed in the drum with them.”

Fred peered over the heads of the crowd.

“Aye, I suppose so,” he said, thoughtfully.

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