The Standalones

Chapter Twenty-Four

Ken Preston

21 June 2024

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

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Chapter Twenty-Four

Returning to the band’s disgusting bedsit was the last thing Chloe had wanted to do, but Chris and Scarlett were determined. They’d left Max in the capable hands of the garage mechanic and caught a bus back into central London. Now they were walking down Goodge Street, and butterflies were tap dancing their way through Chloe’s stomach. And they were wearing hob-nailed boots.

None of the others seemed to know much about Danny and Fred, and Chloe’s questions about how willing they would be to give up the money were met with shrugs from Chris and Scarlett.

As always, though, Matt was on Chloe’s side, and had agreed that any attempt to get the money back was a bad idea. But Chloe got the sense that Matt actually refusing to go with Chris and Scarlett might tear the band apart, and so he had reluctantly agreed to accompany them.

Now here they were, approaching the grand old Victorian building, its paint peeling, windows dirty, and the creeping vines run wild over the brickwork.

As they approached the front door, it swung open and two identical looking men stepped outside. Chloe shivered at the sight of them; they looked thuggish and mean.

They pushed past Chloe, almost knocking her to the ground, without bothering to look at her or say sorry.

Matt took her by the arm. “Are you alright?”

Chloe nodded, looking at the two men as they strode away. “They look like trouble.”

Matt nodded. “Just the sort I’d expect to be hanging around with Danny Lamb and his mate Fred.”

Chris was knocking on the front door, Scarlett standing next to him.

Chloe shook her head. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

“I’ll look after you,” Matt said. “The first sign of trouble and I’m getting us both out of there.”

Chloe smiled up at Matt. Whatever his reservations had been last night when they had been talking, and his reasons for drawing away, he was certainly sticking by her today. He was looking after her. But, Chloe had to admit to herself, she wasn’t sure how useful he would be if things got rough. With his slight, almost slender figure, he didn’t exactly look like he could handle himself in a fight.

Looking into his eyes, Chloe knew she didn’t care much about that. Just the fact that he was willing to try to keep her from harm had her stomach fluttering, not with nerves, but with—

“Hey, you two, quit staring at each other like a pair of lovebirds!” Chris snapped.

Scarlett was pushing the front door wide open. “Those two thugs didn’t bother shutting the door properly.”

“You’re not going in there, are you?” Matt said.

“Why not?” Scarlett said. “You’re not scared of Danny Lamb, are you?”

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Always the one to head straight into danger, Scarlett stepped through the doorway first, and was closely followed by Chris.

“I suppose we should go with them,” Chloe said. “Even if just to try and keep them out of trouble.”

Matt chuckled. “You know, before we met you, we were all worried about how you would settle in with us, but I think you fit right in.”

“Thanks… I think.”

Matt went first. Chloe thought it was sweet the way he was always trying to look after her. Inside, the house was gloomy. Chloe wondered if Danny Lamb had not been paying his electricity bills. To their left she saw a kitchen, the counters crowded with piles of plates smeared with brown scum, the sink overflowing with filthy pots and pans, and empty beer bottles scattered across the floor.

Disgusting.

A shout distracted her from the revolting mess. Matt and Chloe ran in the direction it had come from.

They pulled up short at the doorway to a bedroom.

“Ugh, what’s that stink?” Chloe said.

Chris and Scarlett were standing just inside the bedroom doorway, both with their hand to their mouth and nose.

“Danny has just been sick,” Chris said, his voice muffled behind his hand.

Fred stepped into view, looking pale and haggard enough that he might have just crawled out of his freshly dug grave.

He pointed at Scarlett with a shaking hand. “What have you done with our money?”

“Your money?” Scarlett bunched her hands into fists. “You stole it off us and we’re here to get it back.”

“What about my rent?”

That was Danny, but from her viewpoint just outside the bedroom doorway Chloe couldn’t see him. She thought that was probably for the best. Having seen the state of the kitchen, she really did not want to discover what his bedroom looked like.

“Give us our money back and we’ll pay you your rent,” Chris said.

But it’s not our money! Chloe thought.

Fred scrunched his eyebrows up and ran his hands through his straggly hair. “Nah, you’ve got the money. Haven’t you?”

“Are you serious? You’re really telling us you don’t have the bag of money?”

“No, I mean… yes… I mean…” Fred scratched his head. “Look, we haven’t got it, alright?”

“I don’t believe this,” Chris muttered. “That bag of money seems to have a life of its own the way it keeps appearing and disappearing.”

Scarlett bunched her hands into fists. “Stop messing with us, we know you’ve got the money, now give it to us before I lose my rag!”

“You don’t want to mess with her,” Chris said. “This is Scarlett Rage, and she likes to live up to her name.”

“Do what you want, love,” Fred said, looking like he wanted to just lie down there and then. “But I’m telling you, the money’s gone, alright? We had it, and now we don’t.”

And with that, he closed the bedroom door.

“I think he’s telling the truth,” Matt said.

Chris sighed. “Now what are we going to do? We still owe money for the recording studio.”

“We’ve got the gig tonight, remember,” Chloe said.

Chris shook his head. “It’s not enough, nowhere near.”

As one, the four of them turned and walked down the hall and out of the house. A black cloud seemed to settle over them. Chloe wondered if this was the end of her adventure, when it had only just started. There would be other bands she could join, other gigs to play at. But would any of it seem the same without Matt?

Just then, she heard someone call his name. Lexi ran out of the front door and stopped in front of Matt.

“Hi Matt.” Lexi gazed at him, her eyes wide and unblinking.

“Hi Lexi.”

Chris sighed, turned on his heel, and walked off. Scarlett followed him.

What’s going on? Chloe thought.

Had she been right in her suspicions that Matt and Lexi still had feelings for each other? Were they going to get back together again right now in front of Chloe?

She held her breath, tormented with indecision. One half of her knew that she should leave and let Matt and Lexi talk privately. But the other half was desperate to stay and hear what they said. If they were getting back together, though, Chloe had already decided she would move on and do her best to forget about Matt.

“What do you want?” Matt said.

“You know what I want,” Lexi replied.

Watching this exchange, Chloe suddenly realised she had got it all wrong. The atmosphere between them was hostile, Chloe could feel it even from where she was standing and watching.

“It’s not going to happen, you know that,” Matt said. “You should just go home, let it go.”

Lexi’s eyes narrowed. “I just want to talk, that’s all. You owe me that much, don’t you?”

Matt shook his head. “We’ve talked and talked about this. No more, Lexi, I’m done.”

The girl suddenly took two steps and lunged at Matt. Chloe saw him flinch, but Lexi had him in her arms before he could step back. She leaned in close and whispered into his ear. Then she let him go and walked back into Danny Lamb’s house, her bare, tattooed arms swinging by her side.

Matt’s face had drained of blood, and he looked white.

“Are you okay?” Chloe asked him.

Matt didn’t even look at Chloe, he just kept on staring at the door that Lexi had just walked through. “Let’s get out of here, shall we?”

He turned his back on the house and walked away, not even waiting for Chloe to catch up with him.

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