‘Aggggh.’A man’s voice came out from the undergrowth.
‘Are you sure that was a squirrel you saw, Billy?’ said the old woman. ‘That scream didn’t sound like one, and I’m sure it had a Berkshire accent.’
Middle-aged Billy lowered the rifle. ‘Mama, just killed a man. Pulled my trigger, now he’d dead.’
‘My knee…help,’ said the voice.
Mama tutted. ‘Oh, Billy, he’s not dead. You’re always so melodramatic about these things.’
‘Over here…please,’ called the man.
They ambled through the trees and saw the owner of the voice, crumpled on the ground. ‘I see a little silhouette of a man,’ said Billy.
‘Thank god. You’ve got to help me. My leg is…’ The man looked at the mess where a kneecap used to be. He could not finish his sentence.
‘Something wrong?’ said Mama, and gave Billy the sort of glare that says ‘ditch the rifle into the undergrowth before he sees it’. Billy did as he was glared, then blinked back a ‘now I’ve gone and thrown it all away,’ blink.
‘I’ve been shot,’ wailed the man.
‘Quiet,’ said Mama. ‘You’ve not been shot; this is Newbury, not Reading.’ She pointed at the gaping wound. ‘A hornet’s done that. Vicious beast, the hornet. Goes for knees.’
This was too much for Billy, who always got the jitters whenever Mama had to start covering up for him. ‘Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go. Gotta leave you all behind and f…’
‘… find the Superdrug Sting-Crème in that pouch you’re carrying,’ interrupted Mama. Billy rummaged through the bag of dead squirrels until he found the soothing balm, wiped off the blood, then offered it to him.
‘That’s very kind’, said the man who had neither seen his assaulters, nor a hornet on his walk. ‘I hate to appear ungrateful, but I think I might need a doctor.’
His words were ignored, and as Billy applied the salve, the man went very pale and passed out, possibly from loss of blood. Billy dropped the tin and started tapping the back of the man’s limp hand. ‘Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.’
Mama produced the smelling salts she always carried for situations like this, and waved them under the dazed man’s nose. He lurched back into consciousness. Still delirious, he tried to focus on the faces peering over him. ‘Who…who are you?’
‘I’m Miriam. Miriam Margoyles,’ said Mama, immediately regretting using the first name she had thought of to conceal her true identity. She turned to Billy. ‘And this is…’
‘…I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.’
‘Don’t you listen to him,’ barked Mama. ‘He comes from a perfectly solvent and loving background.’
‘Call me Mr Farenheit,’ said Billy.
Gareth looked at him in a mixture of sharp pain and incredulity. In fact, Billy had been rather quick-thinking, his real surname being Centigrade.
‘I have to apologize for Billy,’ said Mama. ‘He has a rather difficult sense of humour.’
She looked at Billy, and remembered that night in 1980 when she’d broken into ‘Scratches’ record shop, Newbury. While filching the previous days’ takings and a copy of Boogie Wonderland, she had forced the lock on a small storeroom in which a child, the 10-year old Billy, had been kept imprisoned for years by the evil shopkeeper and deprived of human contact, with only a record player and some ‘70’s LP’s to learn his social skills. Never previously maternal or moral, her heart immediately melted and she took the child (along with a pressing of My Coo-ca-Choo), sparing his life from this monstrosity, but unaware of the mental damage his incarceration had caused.
She glared again at Billy then addressed the injured man. ‘You are lucky me and Mr Fahrenheit here found you. What’s your name?’
‘Ga..’ started the man.
‘Galileo!’ butted in Billy.
‘Galileo?’ repeated the man, confused.
‘Galileo,’ said Mum.
‘No, Gareth – Gareth Fi….
‘Figaro,’ squealed Billy in excitement. ‘Magnifico-o-o-o-o.’
‘No,’ said Gareth. ‘Finch. Now can you help me? I’m in pain.’
‘We’ll take him to the cottage,’ said Mama, knowing Billy was only one more shooting away from a custodial sentence, which would almost certainly prove fatal to him.’
‘Young man,’ Billy looked at Gareth. ’Pick your feet off the ground.’
‘Err – I’ve got a shattered knee.’
‘I said, young man, there’s no need to feel down.’
‘Ignore him,’ said Mama. ‘We’ll carry you back together.’
Billy sized-up the heavy-looking man. ‘Now, I’m not the world’s most physical guy.’
‘Never mind that,’ said Mama.
Gareth yelped as they propped him him up, and started to walk him. ‘Is it far?’
‘The road is long,’ said Billy. ‘With many a winding turn.’
‘Billy!’ seethed Mama. ‘Don’t listen to him, it’s just through these trees.’ Gareth passed out again.
Gareth opened his eyes as they approached a dilapidated shack in a clearing.’
‘There, that wasn’t so bad was it? In you come,’ said Mama.
‘You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal,’ encouraged Billy.
‘I just want a doctor. Won’t you please call an ambulance? ‘
‘Of course,’ said Mama.
Billy said nothing. He couldn’t remember them having a phone as they eased Gareth in through the broken doorway.
They were not alone.
‘Hey, it’s the Police,’ said Gareth.
Mama turned to run, but a voice called out to her. ‘Hey, pet. No need to scarpa from me-like’
Mama stopped. ‘I’d recognised those husky Geordie tones anywhere. What are you doing here?’
She was right. It was Sting.
The thinly-haired crooner stood up and said, ‘Fate, missus. Years ago, I was rowing a hollowed-out tree down the Amazon, when I saw summat.’
‘Like a bridge over troubled waters?’ asked Billy.
‘Not exactly. A bobbing bottle. With a message sticking oot the top. I reached over and grabbed it. I still have it.’ He produced a piece of manky paper from his pocket and read:
‘Just a castaway
at Scratches, Newbury.
Another lonely day
With no one here but me-o.
More bad LP’s
Than any boy should hear
Rescue me before I fall into despair-o’
‘I sent an SOS to the world.’ Billy swallowed as he remembered writing that message and hearing the splash as he threw it from the tiny window of his childhood prison into the Kennet & Avon canal.
‘I needed time-off from the drudgery of saving the rain forest,’ said Sting, ‘so I went to rescue the bairn who sent the message-like, in a stereotypical act of rock-charity.’
Billy was astounded. ‘A year has passed since I wrote my note.’
‘More like forty,’ said Mama. ‘Look here, you ripened maestro. You can’t just turn up unannounced, hounding my son, when we’re doing our best to care for our good friend, Mr Fernando…’
‘…Figaro,’ corrected Billy, incorrectly.
‘…Finch,’ corrected Gareth, correctly.
There was a knock at the door. Mama worried it was the real police, Billy hoped it was the Real Thing, Sting that it wasn’t Stewart Copeland.
In came a man with a beard, blue spangly beany hat and long blue spangly boots over blue spangly Ikea tracky-bottoms.
‘Bjorn from Abba?’ gasped Gareth, and made another grab for the smelling salts, the pain of his knee temporarily forgotten by the presence of such heroes.
Bjorn had heard their conversation. ‘I also vanted to help.’
Billy recalled the other message he’d attached to the leg of his only friend during his internment: Lieutenant Pigeon. ‘So if you’re near me, darling won’t you hear me, SOS.’
‘When zis pigeon landed in my mansion, the pleas of this child touched me, and we wrote a song based on this SOS which earned us millions of Svedish Kroner.’
Billy jumped up. ‘Supertrouper?’
Bjorn looked at him. ‘Well, zat did too, but vasn’t the song I was thinking of.’
Billy couldn’t believe that two of the world’s greatest 1970’s pop icons had finally come to his rescue.
It’s disappointing it’s taken so long to trace the sender down to zis…lovely house.’ Bjorn looked around at the cobwebs and manky squirrel pelts. ‘But I’ve written a song to raise money to release the poor child, well man, who wrote it.’ He handed over a manuscript. ‘It’s called Knowing Me, Kneeing You.’
Billy snatched it eagerly. ‘Thank you for the music.’
Sting laughed. ‘But I’ve done the same. Here’s Don’t Shoot so Close to Me.’
Gareth held a hand up to speak. ‘This is all very nice, but my knee is throbbing quite severely now.’
‘Ah, shadap a your face,’ said Billy.
‘Yes, silence,’ said Mama. ‘Can’t you see, the world will pay fortunes for these songs.’
‘Money-money-money,’ said Billy.
‘Absolutely’ Mama confirmed. ‘We won’t just call the air ambulance, we‘ll buy one from your share – if you promise to forget all about us…and that hornet.’
‘Hmmm, put that way, it sounds marvellous,’ said Gareth, whose thoughts of a solid gold knee paid for out of the royalties, had an immediate easing effect on his pain threshold.
‘Sorted. I like a happy ending.’ Sting gestured to Bjorn to leave.’
‘You are going nowhere,’ said Mama.
Billy, who was rather disappointed that they weren’t at least going to stay for tea agreed. ‘Basmillah! No, we will not let you go.’
Mama pointed to the songsters. ‘You will perform these songs for us at the Corn Exchange, Newbury next week. Think of all the money you will raise for poor Billy and me here as a super-group.’
Billy looked excited, ‘Together in perfect harmony.’
‘Sorry, pet,’ said Sting and made to go.
‘Quick, Billy,’ said Mama, holding out a yellow ribbon she used for stringing up squirrels. ‘Tie them to the old oak tree.’
The door burst open. Everyone froze.
In came Olivia Newton John brandishing a rifle, and by the angry look on her face, wasn’t hopelessly devoted to anyone right now. ‘I found this firearm in the grass and thought it might be yours. Walking up, I hear that two of my pop peers are being kidnapped. No way, sister.’
Billy, seeing Mama under threat, grabbed at the gun.
‘Billy, don’t he a hero,’ shouted Mama.
The shot echoed round the shack.
There was silence for a few seconds….
‘Aggggh. My other knee.’