The Standalones

Chapter Fourteen

Ken Preston

11 June 2024

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

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Chapter Fourteen

The gig wasn’t going well. Chloe kept glancing at Matt for encouragement, but she could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t happy either. This was the wrong crowd for their kind of music. They were obviously into their heavy rock, not bright, colourful pop tunes performed by a bunch of kids who didn’t look old enough to be allowed in a pub, never mind perform there.

The crowd of bearded rockers and bikers, just visible now in the fog of cigarette smoke hanging over them, were grumbling amongst each other. Chloe even heard scattered shouts of “Boo!” and “Get off!” and even worse.

The man who’d handed her that second note was growing restless, too. Chloe had made the decision to just ignore him. The Standalones weren’t a message service, they were here to sing, not advertise second-hand furniture.

Chloe glanced at Matt again. He gave her a brief, encouraging smile and a nod as they reached the end of their fifth song.

Right, I’m not putting up with this any longer, Chloe thought. We might not be a rock or punk band or whatever it is they want us to be, but that’s not our fault. All this grumbling and shouting is just plain rude.

“Hey!” she shouted at the end of their song.

The crowd of men ignored her.

“Hey! Shut up and listen to me!” Chloe yelled down the mic, her amplified voice echoing around the tightly packed performance space and finishing with a howl of feedback.

What seemed like hundreds of tattooed and bearded faces turned to stare at Chloe as a hush fell over the room.

Chloe swallowed. Alright, so you got their attention. Now what?

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She glanced at Matt.

What are you doing? he silently mouthed at her.

That’s a good question, Chloe thought. What am I doing?

She turned back to face her audience. It was funny, or at least it would have been had the circumstances been a little happier, all those men with their beer bellies bulging beneath stained, faded T-shirts, each one holding a pint glass of yellow, foul-looking beer. It was like they were photocopies of each other.

And they were all staring at Chloe through eyelids narrowed to slits.

“You’re all being very rude,” Chloe said, her voice faltering beneath the hostile stares. “I mean, I know we’re not your kind of band, but you should give us a chance.”

Silence.

“Chloe’s right,” Matt said, leaning into his microphone. “You should show some respect.”

“Respect?” The voice was gruff and deep. “I’ll give you respect, you little twerp.”

“Wait!” Chloe yelled, in an attempt to diffuse the situation. “Maybe there’s something we could play that you like. Any requests?”

“Yeah! How about, Show me the way to go home?”

A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd of bikers.

“And you still haven’t read out my note,” the man at the front said, pointing at the scrap of paper at Chloe’s feet.

Chloe gripped the microphone stand in desperation. Once more, she could not help but think that this was not how she had imagined life with The Standalones would be like. Not only was she having to sleep in the back of a camper van, but they were playing a gig in front of the most hostile audience she had ever encountered. And a lion!

“Get off!”

Chloe flinched at the sound of the angry voice.

“Yeah, go on, get off!”

The crowd of bikers began chanting and clapping.

Get off! Get off! Get off!

Elsa roared too, obviously not wanting to miss out on making some noise.

With a howl of pure rage, Scarlett Rage lived up to her name by dashing past Chloe and diving into the crowd. It was as though she had exploded a bomb. Fists went flying, as did glasses of beer.

Chloe watched the frenzied fighting in appalled fascination. The scrap was a general free for all, as though Scarlett had simply let loose an aggression that had been simmering just beneath the surface for the entire evening.

But Scarlett was more than holding her own, kicking and punching, and throwing men twice her weight over her shoulders and onto the sticky floor.

With a roar of delight, Elsa threw herself into the fray as well.

The man whose note Chloe had refused to read out climbed onto the stage and advanced upon her. He peeled his lips back in a snarl, revealing brown, chipped teeth.

“Hey!” Matt shouted, slipping his electric guitar off his shoulder so that he could come to Chloe’s aid.

No need, thought Chloe, dropping into a fighting stance and snapping her left foot out. It connected with the man’s chest and propelled him off the stage and into the melee, where he promptly disappeared in a tangle of arms and legs.

Matt stared at her, his mouth hanging open. “Wow!”

Chloe grinned. “I know a few moves, I can look after myself.”

“You’re not kidding!” Matt said. “I get the feeling you could look after me, too.”

“That was amazing and all,” Chris said, appearing at Chloe’s side, and turning his attention to the massive brawl happening just a few feet away. “But, if nobody minds, I’d really like to get out of here.”

“We can’t leave Scarlett behind,” Matt replied. “And what about all our gear?”

“Duck!” Chloe yelled as a hairy biker flew over their heads and crashed into the drum kit with a clash of cymbals.

“Alright,” Matt said. “Scarlett can look after herself, but our gear can’t. Let’s get it all packed up and in the van, and then we’ll get Scarlett.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Chloe said.

Chris was already packing away his keyboard.

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