Charlie scratched his overgrown chin vigorously, tiny flakes of dead skin fluttering helplessly into the air around him. His watery, red rimmed eyes scanned the dimly lit room. Couples sat listlessly at tiny cheap tables. Ill dressed, solitary figures slumped in corners or shuffled about the room aimlessly.
His view was suddenly shrouded by an imposing figure, hair slicked perfectly down into a tight bun, red straight lips and steely grey eyes devoid of humour or emotion.
“Well, what are you waiting for, your audience is waiting for you.”
“The same set as last night?” Charlie wheezed and coughed into a filthy handkerchief.
“Play a few polkas. It would be nice for people to dance.”
Charlie frowned imagining the reception he’d gain from this audience if he played even a few bars of a polka. He wiped the blood within the spittle from his mouth and inspected his handkerchief briefly. “Will I get paid extra?”
“You’ll get the same pay as you always do and you’ll be glad you are allowed to play here at all. Now get to it, everyone is getting anxious.”
Charlie grunted, wrapped a grimy red headband round his thinning locks and heaved the ornate piano accordion to his knee. He wriggled free a dirty stub of a cigar which had been wedged in between a strap and smiled. Sticking it in between his teeth, he then lit it with the fluid flick of his zippo. His teeth crushed onto the slimy end and he grinned further as he sucked the fragrant burning stub. These moments made him feel closer to Hendrix.
“No Smoking. You know the rules.”
She stiffened and drew into her full, imposing height. “You know you don’t call me that.”
The tiny twinkle that had ignited in Charlie’s eyes extinguished as he cast his eyes downward. “Yes Ma’am”
She held her hand out as he stubbed the cigar gently out. In a fluid movement she threw the butt into the waste paper basket beside the windows and then held her hand out again. “and the lighter.”
Charlies shoulders sagged. “Its my limited edition Jimmy Hendrix one. I need it for luck when I go on stage.”
Maggie snorted. “I’ll put it with the rest of your things and you can collect it when you leave.” Her stony face cracked for the slight moment of pleasure she held with that thought.
“Would you mind getting someone to close the windows, I fell a little chilly.” Charlie meekly mentioned. He knew better than to ask for the heating to be put on. Management was far too frugal to switch it on until late autumn.
Maggie ignored his request and with an efficient swish of her knee length skirt, her low heels clicked across the floor and out into her office.
Charlies eye remained down as walked out and through the open door. His head jerked up as soon as he was sure she’d left and he nodded to one of the darkened figures leaning against the wall nearest the door.
The two exit doors closed with a bang and were barred with the assistance of a few of the steel legged chairs. Leon shrilly blew into one of the whistles hanging around his neck and ran out onto the dance floor. “Come on everyone, Lets get this place jumping, Hit it Charlie!” He then ran around the room in a lap of honour and wrapped himself up in the thick dusty curtains, his exuberance pulling them from their fixings. Leon shrieked with laughter as he threw the shrouds off and unsettled the wastepaper bin.
Charlie pulled a fresh cigar from a hiding spot in his instruments carry case and retrieved a different zippo to light the end. With a grin, he pushed the wheezing accordion gills together and began playing an Irish folk tune, the keys clattering and dancing under his fingers.
A faint thumping from one of the doors intermixed with the taping of the crowds feet. Maggies shrill demands to open the door and her threats of being banned were duly ignored.
Leon grasped one of the couples and dragged them to the dance floor, tweeting and tootling his whistles. His slim hips gyrated to a different tune as he flung his arms up and down.
One by one, the crowd stood and began shuffling to hesitant and jerky movements to the music Charlie was pumping out. His brow glistened with sweat as he squinted with both the effort and the acrid smoke curling from the cigar firmly attached to his mouth.
A thin wisp of smoke snaked around the feet of the dancers.
Leon brandished a fist full of glow-in-the-dark sticks and handed them around the dance floor before dashing off to the bank of light switches to plunge the room into darkness.
The few shrieks of fear turned into hoots of delight as a flurry of fluorescence darted around the space.
Leons continuous whistling and Charlies impassionate playing continued as the discordant music melded with the laughter and shrieks from the dance floor.
Coloured lights began flashing and reflecting on the tiny speckles hidden on the original 1970s coffee coloured wallpaper.
Thick smoke billowed about the dancers as they swam and leapt about in the strobe effect of the flashing lights through the windows
Thumping from the door became more urgent, the demands and threats, shriller.
The piano accordion player slumped forward and fell to the floor, coughing and chocking on the impervious smoke surrounding the stage.
“This is Trisha O’Neil reporting from the grounds of St Ignatius Mental Institution.
We have fire engines and ambulances on the stand by, but because of the tight security systems in place they have been unable to enter the buildings.”
A tall slickly groomed brunette twisted her head toward the scene where black smoke billowed out the barred windows and then stared back into the camera. “What you can hear is the screams of the inmates trying to get out.... and Barry ......can you hear that from where you are? What seems to be some sort of music. I am thrilled to think that I am reporting on an event similar to the Titanic where the band kept playing.”
Trishas eyes momentarily caught the blanched look her producer gave off camera and cleared her throat. “A truly terrible event unfolding before our eyes. Pure tragedy”
Clutching her ear piece and looking toward the ground as she concentrated on the tiny voice, “Yes Barry – well folks, I can confirm that there are 127 people trapped inside almost certainly to be burnt to death. We’ll keep rolling here and keep you up to date with ever detail. I’m not sure if you just heard that from where you are, but the music has stopped. Over to you Barry, in the studio. We’ll return when we have some more information.”