Sometimes Life's A Drag
by JP Bowie

an excerpt


Chapter One

London, England.

Patrick Farland grimaced as he dashed from the shelter of Selfridges's storefront out onto the drizzle slicked pavements of Oxford Street.

"What a pisser," he muttered, feeling his hair curl immediately in the damp air. It bloody well would have to rain today, he thought, half running to the Underground station. He'd wanted to get to the nightclub at least in decent condition, but now he'd be soaked by the time he got there. He'd heard that Kenny LaFontaine, the star and the owner of the nightclub, was a stickler for presentation, expecting anyone who auditioned for him to look like they were ready to perform-no jeans, no tennis shoes, no unshaven chins, and if a girl showed up without makeup, it was the door right away.

He was meeting his friend Lawrence there, and after the audition they'd go to the nearest pub and have a late lunch. No way would they dance and sing on full stomachs! As he rushed through the station toward the escalator, Patrick caught a glimpse of himself reflected in one of the glass mounted advertisement panels that lined the station walls.

"Oh, Gawd." His hair was a mess of black curls. So much for spending a fortune at Selfridges's hair salon. Well, he daren't touch it now. He'd just make a bigger mess of it.

Lawrence was waiting inside Kenny's Theatre Club doorway when Patrick finally arrived, out of breath and sweaty.

"I'm a mess," he moaned in greeting.

"The hair's lovely," Lawrence said, laughing. "Where have you been?"

"Would you believe, the hairdresser's?"

Lawrence patted his own light brown perfectly cut hair and smiled. "I told you to get it cut shorter. Bangs are out, dear."

"Oh shut up, and let's see what's happening inside. They might make concessions because of the rain."

"They might suggest an umbrella!"

Patrick gave his friend a push and they both fell into the stage door entrance, giggling. An older, gray haired man gave them a baleful look that said, without words being necessary, 'Bloody poufters.' Patrick cast him a look of disdain. After all, the old geezer was working for Kenny LaFontaine, one of the biggest 'poufters' in the business.

"We're here for the audition," Lawrence said.

"No need to tell me that," said the old man. He pointed down the hall. "All the way down, then left turn."

"Thanks." They set off, hand in hand, just to annoy the old fart. "Bloody cheeky old git," Patrick whispered. "I bet he doesn't look at Miss LaFontaine that way." They turned left at the end of the hall and found themselves backstage where about twenty young men and women were standing about. "Gawd, look at them all. And he only needs one singer."

"But six dancers," Lawrence reminded him. "And you can do both."

"Right, but I prefer to sing. It's what I really want to do. Oh look, there's Maggie." Patrick pointed to a pretty young girl doing stretching exercises off to the side. "Let's go say hello."

Lawrence followed Patrick over to where Maggie sat, intently stretching her leg muscles.

"Maggie..." Patrick knelt by her side. "Hello."

Maggie smiled up at the two friends. "Hi... I thought I might see you here." She jerked her thumb toward the stage where a young man was pacing around. "He's just waiting for the diva to arrive. Always late apparently." She got to her feet gracefully. "I'm just going to run to the loo, be right back."

No sooner had she gone than a strident voice sounded from the front of the club. "Ralph, let's get started shall we? I haven't got all day."

The man on the stage sprang into action, clapping his hands for attention and calling all dancers on stage immediately. Patrick looked around for Maggie, but there was so sign of her coming back.

"Shit," he muttered, wondering if he should run to get her. "Lawrence..." He pushed his friend toward the stage. "Stall them, somehow."

"What?" Lawrence looked at him in amazement. "How the bloody hell can I do that?"

"Think of something," Patrick hissed. "Maggie's not back!"

"Come along, you two!" The man called Ralph yelled at them. "Let's not keep Mr. LaFontaine waiting. He's a very busy man."

"Shit," Patrick muttered again, walking on stage with Lawrence. He looked back into the wings. Still no sign of Maggie.

"All right," Ralph said, clapping his hands again. "Just going to show you a very simple routine to begin with, then we'll see how fast you can pick it up. Okay?" Ralph smiled sweetly but Patrick could see the bitch underneath. He and Lawrence exchanged glances, then he saw Maggie sidle onstage, joining the end of the line. He was just going to breathe a sigh of relief when that strident voice rang out again.

"You there! Yes you... the pretty one with the ponytail. You're late coming onstage." Kenny LaFontaine swept down toward the stage, his face grim. Patrick had seen Kenny several times on TV but never up close or out of drag, so he was surprised at how young he appeared. Young-and full of himself.

"If I can be here on time," Kenny snapped, "then so can you, young lady."

"But you weren't here on time, I'm afraid," Maggie said matter-of-factly. "You were a good fifteen minutes late."

"Excuse me?" Kenny gasped, placing his hands on his hips.

"I said, you were fifteen minutes late," Maggie repeated. "I was here on time, but had to go to the loo just as you deigned to show up."

"That's quite enough," Ralph yelled, marching up to Maggie and glaring at her. "You can go!"

Maggie shrugged, and Patrick stepped to her side. "There's no need to shout at her," he said quietly. "She couldn't help going to the loo."

"You can go, too," Ralph said, sniffing. He turned to Kenny. "Honestly, who do these kids think they are?"

"Ralph..." Kenny was tapping his foot and looked as if he were about to implode. "When I want you to interrupt me, I'll let you know. I'll say who stays and who goes, not you."

Someone, somewhere, tittered and Kenny's eyes narrowed to slits. "All right, we're not getting off to a very good start here. Young lady, what's your name?"

"Maggie Roberts."

"Don't be late again, Maggie. And you..." He stared at Patrick. "You with the hair, who're you?"

"Patrick Farland, Mr. LaFontaine."

"Right. Don't go butting in when it's not necessary. Now let's get on shall we?" He made a big show of examining the diamond watch on his wrist. "I have a very important business meeting to attend. Ralph, get a move on!"

Ralph, after shooting dirty looks at Maggie and Patrick, flounced to the center of the stage. "Like I was saying," he hissed, his eyes blazing with anger, "this is very simple. Now, follow me-and one and two, and one and two..."

And off they went.

"No, no, no!" Ralph screamed at Patrick. "That's not it at all."

"Well, I'm really a singer," Patrick said.

"I don't care if you're Placido Domingo-which I'm sure you're not-if you want to be in this show, you have to do these steps properly."

"I thought I was doing them properly..."

"Ralph dear, move on," Kenny called out. "The kid looked fine to me. Let's get this bit over with."

Patrick could almost hear Ralph grinding his teeth. This is not the way to get on his good side, he thought. If he has a good side.

For the next hour or so they galloped about the stage following Ralph's lead, then Kenny sashayed down to the front of the stage again.

"Okay, boys and girls," he said. "Thanks for coming. I can only take seven of you, so we'll be phoning those we want. Oh, you with the hair. I'd like to hear you sing. What's your name again?"

"Patrick."

"Right. Did you bring your music?"

"Yes, I did."

"Well, go get it and take it over to Tom there at the piano. Just one song, then I have to go."

Patrick shot off to where he'd left his bag and pulled out his sheet music, getting the thumbs up from Maggie and Lawrence as he hurried back onstage. Kenny was in deep conversation with Ralph, who didn't look at all happy. No doubt about it, he was getting it in the neck from Kenny. They looked up as Patrick approached them.

"What are you singing?" Kenny asked, dismissing Ralph with a flick of his fingers.

"Uh... 'Somethin's Coming' from West Side Story."

"Ooh, ambitious, aren't we?" Kenny's smile was superficial at best. "Let's hear it then."

Tom at the piano was better than most accompanists Patrick had sung with, and inspired by the solid chords and driving rhythm behind him, Patrick gave the song everything he had.

"Not bad... not bad at all," Kenny cooed when Patrick had belted out the top notes at the end. "Now, what's happening with your hair?"

"It was the rain," Patrick said, trying to chuckle. "It curls up in the rain."

"Well dear, I can't have you in competition with some of my wigs," the drag star told him with what Patrick hoped was some humour. "So if you want the job you'll have to have it shorn. That a problem?" he added sweetly.

"Oh, no." Patrick felt a prickle of excitement at Kenny's words. "Does that mean...?"

"You've got the job? Yes, it does, but get yourself a haircut, love. Butch it up a little, you know..." He pumped his pelvis forward in a parody of humping someone. "Show 'em you've got balls!"

* * * *

Lawrence and Maggie were waiting for Patrick when he exited the stage door.

"Well?" they demanded in unison.

"I got it!" Patrick yelled, jumping up and down, and hugging both his friends at the same time. "All I have to do is get a haircut."

"No loss there, love," Lawrence remarked without sounding bitchy. "Let's head over to the King's Arms and have a celebratory pint-or two."

"Lovely," Maggie said. "And lunch, I'm starving."

"Did they take your phone numbers?" Patrick asked as they walked quickly together toward Charing Cross Road.

Maggie chuckled. "Yes, although I think it was killing Ralph to be nice to us-me especially."

"He's a wanker, that one," Patrick said, putting his arm around Maggie. "But he's not so far in with Kenny as he likes to think. Did you see the way Miss LaFontaine put him in his place?"

"I could almost hear his blood boiling," Lawrence said, laughing. "He's got to be pissed off that Kenny hired you as the lead singer. Rehearsals should be very interesting. I only hope I'm there to see the goings-on!"