Townies

by Philip Charter

summer-drink

Summer ‘97 was supposed to be one big party with two weeks of sunset cocktails and trance euphoria, but I’ve never been back, not after what Gavin Brunson did.

I had finished my A-Levels and my relationship with an immature boyfriend, and was looking forward to soaking up the rays and watching my heroes work their magic on the decks. Magaluf a.k.a. “Shagaluf” in Majorca was the number one clubbing destination. The best of the best played the Carwash and Club Coco Bongos — Oakenfold, Judge Jules, Sasha & Digweed. Gavin was a DJ too, or so he claimed. Last I heard, he was doing car park raves, still clinging onto dreams of superstardom in his forties. Now that he’s gone to prison for a long time, there’s no point in keeping this secret any longer. I want to share what happened that summer, and show you how that man became so obsessed with fame, he was driven to kill for it.

Mum dropped John-Boy and me at Stansted Airport, and the others were already at check-in.

“Hi Lauren. Hi Kelly,” I said, giving them each a hug.

“Alright Katie, babes,” Kelly said to me. “That lanky git got leave I see.”

John-Boy pretended not to hear, but I knew he still had feelings for her. He went off to look at the latest game releases in Dixons with Gavin. Back then Gavin was just a loud-mouthed telesales rep, with West Ham tattoos and too much hair gel.

There were six of us in total. Lauren, who worked at Mum’s salon, was a couple of years older than me. Kelly was her friend (and my brother John Boy’s ex). Gavin had taken on the role of finding another person to take Mark’s place after we had broken up. I thought he’d bring along another “diamond geezer,” but his mate looked young and geeky.

“Oh, hello there. I’m Nathan,” he said, raising up on his toes like he was trying to look over a wall. No spikey hair and gold chains; his polo shirt was buttoned all the way up to the top, even though it was hot. His shorts were too short and his hair was too long. I returned his wave, and Gavin whacked his arm.

“What did I tell you, Nate, bit skinny but John-Boy’s little sis is alright, eh?”

I’d never seen a black guy go red before.

He turned to Gavin, annoyed. “I told you, it’s Nathan, not Nate.”

“Alright, mate. Just chill.”

We survived the journey on the noisy charter flight and were first to get off the bus, as our ‘brand new’ accommodation was a little out of town. It was more like a construction site, but we didn’t know any better, so we were chuffed. The holiday complex had a small shop so we stocked up on wine and crisps and went back to the flat to unpack.

Gavin snatched a pair of Nathan’s shorts and ran into the lounge with them. “Ooh, nice swimmers, mate,” he said parading around. “You’ll look like a black David ‘asselhoff in these.”

Nathan ignored him and carried on unpacking.

Gavin wouldn’t leave it though. “Oi, Nathan. Are you even old enough to watch Baywatch?”

“Leave off him,” said Kelly. “You’d probably play the cheesy theme song at Pacha on a Saturday night hoping to get some action.”

“And you probably think the Ministry of Sound is a governmental department,” John-Boy shot back. He laughed and Gavin swaggered over and high-fived him.

We started on the bottles of Lambrini, lemonade and cheap vodka and the party was on. Gavin was the designated tunesmaster and blasted the bass from his speakers. The lounge was a tip with the furniture shoved to the side to create a dance floor, clothes flung everywhere. That night we let loose. I suppose, people back home would have called us townies — young, loud and brash — but we didn’t care. Magaluf was every towny’s dream.

We took the long walk into town and were attracted like insects in the humid night air to the neon-lit bars. A rep outside The Carwash beckoned us over.

carwash-mcp-nightclub-magaluf

“What’s up, guys? Having a good night, no?” His hairy chest burst through his Hawaiian shirt which displayed a name badge — Eros.

Our responses varied from wild whoops, to Lauren dancing down the street in her own world.

“Hey. Any of you connected to any DJs?”

Gavin pushed his way to the front of the group. “DJs? Yes mate, that’s me.”

I was surprised Eros could see in the dark with his big sunglasses covering his face. “Cool. Cool. I’ve got this track you know? Trying to get it into the clubs.”

“Sweet,” said Gavin, patting him on the shoulder. “What sort of vibe?”

Eros removed his sunglasses and lowered his voice. “The sort that makes the ladies crazy. You’ll see.”

Gavin looked impressed. “Well, I’m mates with Gary Revs, could ask him to spin it. I’d have to give it a listen on my own first.”

“I no recommend that, my friend. You have to listen with the women.”

“What is it, some kind of girly beat?”

“It’s like the Viagra. I call it Afrodisiac. It gets a hold of people and they can never forget it.”

By that point, Gavin had half a gram of coke in him and rabbited away with his new mate Eros. John-Boy and I chased after Lauren and when we came back Gavin was gripping the CD like a grenade, waiting to pull the pin.

“Eros says it’s a never-fail banger.” He performed several clumsy winks at Kelly and me. “I’ll be banging all night long to this as soon as we get some proper birds back to the flat.”

***

I had a stinking hangover the next morning. Nathan and I were up first and we saw a skinny girl slip out the John-Boy’s room, collect her hat and bag and start her walk of shame. Then a muscular club rep bowled out of Kelly’s room. He pulled on a t-shirt that said Bobby Dazzler above a large number one.

“Morning all,” he said in a sunshine tone, then went over to the kitchen sink and splashed his face with water. “Laters.” And with that, he strode out. He’d obviously done that before.

I looked over at Nathan. “Unbelievable. I suppose for boys, it’s a walk of pride.”

“Mmm,” he said between mouthfuls of cereal.

“Sleep okay?” I said.

“As well as can be expected. Think we were the only ones who didn’t wake up next to strangers this morning,” he said. “That music . . .”

They had been noisy last night. Spinning records in the lounge until six, then noises from the bedroom too. “I know. I’m glad I brought earplugs.”

As I poured myself a cup of tea, Nathan lowered his voice. “I think Lauren and Gavin . . . you know.”

“Never. Lauren would never—”

“They were in the room next to mine.”

“But she hates him, and she’s usually so careful.”

“Sounded like a pair of wounded animals.”

I couldn’t believe Lauren had shagged Gavin, and on the first night of our holiday. Talk about a bad idea. Apart from me, she was the sensible one, she saved money, kept her head down at the salon.

At one o’clock, Lauren finally emerged from Gavin’s lair. She ran straight for the bathroom, crying and jabbering all sorts, not making any sense.

“We’ve all done things we regret,” I said through the bathroom door. Her hair and makeup was a mess when she came out.

“I wasn’t even drunk, guys. Honest. She tried to unpick the evening’s events. “The last thing I remember was dancing in the lounge. Gavin put that CD on.”

“What CD?”

“The one that Carwash rep gave him. Afrodesiac or something.”

I looked at Nathan, trying not to laugh.

“It’s not funny! That music did something. It was like the girls were possessed, dancing like crazy. It’s voodoo or something. Ask John-Boy.”

John-Boy played it down. So did Gavin. “Oh, the mixtape?” That wasn’t important. It just had the usual Radio 1 stuff. It was ridiculous to think that an unknown piece of music made with a keyboard in someone’s bedroom could have magic powers.

magaluf beach for story

Over the next week, Nathan and I spent afternoons talking at the beach. I even read the book he lent me. At night we hit the clubs, dancing to the season’s hottest beats. Amazingly, Gavin kept up his hot streak. Almost every morning there would be a different girl, slinking out of our apartment, wondering what had happened. No one else was getting so much action and he wasn’t exactly rich or charming. In fact, he couldn’t last two minutes without making a dirty joke or talking about bloody West Ham United.

In the flat, we talked about one thing: what was on that CD. He wouldn’t show it to any of us and carried it with him wherever he went. Even John-Boy never caught another glimpse of it. Gavin strutted around that week as if he owned Magaluf — a spikey haired red rooster. He was even talking about getting a DJ slot at one of the smaller clubs.

I knew more than enough about Gavin, but I didn’t know Nathan’s connection to him, so I asked. “How do you two know each other again?”

“Um. It’s kind of embarrassing,” he said.

I touched his arm. “It can’t be more embarrassing. Lauren and all those others . . . sleeping with that megalomaniac.”

“Well, you know he’s a sales rep?”

“Yeah.”

“My mum was behind on payments for a TV he sold her way back, you know, over the phone.”

“Right . . .”

“He was going to call the debt collectors, take the thing back.”

“He wouldn’t.”

“Well, it’s kind of his job. That’s the way these deals are. I should know, we’ve had visits from the bailiffs all my life. My mum’s got a credit card problem.” He looked out across the sea, past the party boats and cruise ships. “He said if I took this holiday package, I could pay him back in installments before Christmas, and he would give my mum an extra three months on the TV deal too. Did it for the family, but . . . I’m glad.”

“It’s all right,” I said. “You’ll pay him back, and besides, you’re having a good time aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I’m happy I came. I’m pleased we met, Katie.” He flashed a smile.

On our way back from the beach, we went by The Carwash for a drink and I saw an opportunity to solve the mystery of the mixtape. I asked the Spanish barman when Eros would be working.

“Who?”

“Eros. Big sunglasses, tall guy. He works here.”

“No, no, my darling. Carwash have no one called Eros.”

I couldn’t believe it. “But, he was giving out CDs a week ago.”

The barman shrugged and continued polishing the bar, preparing for another night of debauchery.

***

The next Saturday we got to Tall Trees early. Gavin was hoping that Gary Revs, the opening act DJ would let him spin his mixtape. He’d even gone so far as to get the CD pressed onto vinyl.

We went to the clubs for the atmosphere — the invisible force between clubbers, amplified by the music — but before midnight it’s not there. It’s just sticky floors and old posters which are usually hidden by the hundreds of sweaty bodies. The beats echoed over the empty dance floor and us girls chipped in for a very expensive pitcher of sex on the beach. There were around a hundred people there but few of them were up dancing. Most of them were sixteen-year-olds with fake IDs gambling on bouncers being less vigilant before the real party kicked off. Garnier and Fatboy Slim were co-headlining, but that was still hours away.

“After this shit goes down, we’ll be VIP,” said Gavin, holding his record up for us to see. “You’ll see. It’s unstoppable. I’ll be immortal.”

Lauren seemed annoyed. “There’s not enough people here to stop you from playing it.”

Gavin ignored her. He strode off towards Gary Rev in the DJ booth. “G-Man’s coming.” Just saying his DJ name now makes me shudder. He was already insufferable, but he’d be downright dangerous if he got famous.

After a few words, Gary Rev passed his headphones over to Gavin and signaled that he was off to smoke a cigarette. Gavin went to work mixing his record seamlessly with the funky house on the decks.

Lauren suggested we try and stop him from playing the track. “It’s not right.”

“Lauren, you’ve got to chill out,” I said. “It’s only music.” I was wrong.

Within one minute of Gavin fading in the music, the dance floor was covered. It was as if the beat was ripping girls out of their seats, me included. The boys of course followed. Soon the VIP booths were empty, and the bar was deserted. The green laser lighting pulsed over the bodies on the dance floor. DJ G-man raised his arms out like he was some kind of God.

clubbing_laser

The music was like nothing I’d heard before; it took control of my body. He was right, it was unstoppable. Booming bass pumped out of the speakers, fusing with a deep house rhythm and the tribal drumming patterns pulsing in and out of the mix. Sweeping synths and intertwining melodies played together and a sexy vocal line of “oohs” and “aahs” rose and fell to the beat. It was like eight tracks together, but sounded so natural, like a sort of life energy. Whoever made this music had captured the feeling of ecstasy without any need for taking a pill.

Revelers danced, grinding and touching each other. It was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly, Nathan and I were sharing a long passionate kiss. It felt right. I was so complete and free. Others around us were removing items of clothing. We were charged up with a feeling that had to burst out somewhere. It was a primal attraction, bodies pressed together.

Lauren yanked my arm and pulled me out of the throng.

“This is amazing!” I said.

She shielded my ears from the music, leaned in and shouted. “It only works once.”

“What?” I said, pulling away, desperate to get back to music, back to Nathan.

She held me firm and spoke into my ear. “Fight it, Katie. This music makes girls go crazy the first time you hear it. But after that, it’s gone. It only works once.” She pointed to herself, the one person who was completely immune to the draw of the beat.

It was like she had pulled out the plug. I clamped my hands to my ears and scanned the club. John-Boy was dancing, but not with the same intensity as the wide-eyed girls who were first-time listeners. Gavin was watching his handiwork from the DJ booth, dreaming of the havoc he could cause as the sole owner of the perfect club aphrodisiac.

Lauren squeezed my arms. “We’ve got to stop this. Get everyone to snap out of this. The song is too powerful. Gavin can’t—”

“All those one night stands was because of this . . . this song?”

“Exactly.”

I don’t know many men who could be trusted with a piece of music so special. Gavin certainly wasn’t trustworthy. He was an aggressive dog, licking his chops at the years of fresh meat he saw in front of him. This record could get him girls and set him up for life. The world didn’t need that.

Gary Revs had returned from his smoke break and stared, mouth agape at the dancers. What the hell was going on? I took advantage of Gavin’s distraction, reached over the booth and ripped the record off the turntable. It caught the needle and let out a screech over the speakers. Gavin whipped around and turned violent red. The dancers cocked their heads, looking straight at him all confused.

“Oi, what the fuck do you think you’re doing, Katie?”

I didn’t know really. I just wanted anyone to have that record but him. I tossed the vinyl to Lauren and she hurried towards the exit.

The crowd were still coming down from the ecstasy of the music. There were a few murmurs. “Hey, what is this?” “What the—?” The spell had been broken and we were all standing in an underwhelming, half-empty club again.

Gavin jumped down onto the dance floor and raised his fist. “If you weren’t John-Boy’s sister I’d knock your fucking teeth down your throat.” He ground his own teeth together. Nathan put himself between us, stepping an inch away from Gavin’s face.

“Oi, Lauren,” he said, looking past Nathan. She turned.  Nathan tried to hold him back, but Gavin reared back and brought his head full force into Nathan’s face. Crack. Nathan turned and held his bleeding nose as if it was broken. Gavin made his way through the crowd, shoving people out the way.

A bearded doorman in a bomber jacket was over quickly. Gavin swung for him and missed. People on the dance floor who had been reveling in his music a minute earlier darted away from him like a school of fish, creating enough room for the bouncer to hold him down.

“You can’t take it, you frigid bitch. It’s going to make me famous,” he shouted from the floor.

Without looking back, I raced to catch up with Lauren. I knew what I had to do. There was no time to check on Nathan. I hailed a taxi and went straight back to the apartment. John-Boy would have to deal with Gavin.

When I got back to the flat I took a fire extinguisher to Gavin’s door and searched his room. The CD wasn’t in the stereo, but after going through his drawers, I found it under his grimy underwear. He had written the names of the six girls he had slept with inside the case. Disgusting. I tried to snap the disc, but it was made out of something super-strong, like reinforced metal or something. taking a kitchen knife I tried to scratch the metal side, but it made no mark. It was bulletproof, don’t ask me how. I thought about flushing it down the toilet but instead, stored it in the freezer, thinking I could break it in two later.

No one else would ever hear Afrodesiac’s beats again. As I waited for the others, I listened to the gentle crash of waves from the beach and the sounds of Magaluf in the distance.

When Lauren, Nathan and Kelly came back two hours later we agreed that Gavin Brunson wasn’t welcome anymore. Nathan’s nose was swollen and bandaged, but he’d live. John-Boy was still talking to the police.

***

What more is there to say about that summer? The police gave Gavin a couple of hours in a cell and a slap on the wrist, even though attacked several people and nearly reconfigured the laws of human attraction.

Twenty years later, and the group are all in different places. Lauren bought into the salon and runs it with Mum, who works part-time. John-Boy stayed in the army and has done tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. He works from a desk nowadays, which suits his wife. Kelly moved to Birmingham and keeps in touch with Lauren. And Nathan? Well, we’re still together, twenty years and counting, married for twelve. We still love dance music, that’ll never change: once a towny, always a towny. Our kids think we are old and sad now. They have no idea of the partying we used to get up to.

John-Boy had the occasional drink with Gavin and kept us updated on his life. He stayed in Majorca for the season, looking for Eros, asking half the islanders where he could get a copy of Afrodesiac. He searched online, asked in record shops, wrote into magazines but the track never existed. After striking out, he returned to wheeling and dealing in London to finance his search for the tune. He was obsessed, convinced that one song could make him a top club DJ. That nutter  even hired private investigators, invested in a musicology course, and paid experts to try and recreate the track.

Two weeks ago, the Rochester Times reported that Gavin Brunson had been found guilty of first-degree murder. I don’t get any satisfaction out of a “told you so,” but people like him don’t change. Perhaps this story goes some way towards explaining why a man would bludgeon his wife to death with a Technics PLX turntable for messing with the settings on his MIDI keyboard.

Magaluf is on the down now. They’re talking about clamping down on the drinking culture, and most of the big dance music acts play Coachella or unpronounceable festivals in Singapore or Dubai. But, out of the mess of that trip, Nathan is the one good thing that happened to me. We’ve been happy, living in Essex, making our way. It was Gavin who brought us together on the trip, and in the club. I’ve never told him that I hid the CD in the freezer, or that I took it back with me for safe keeping. In fact, I’ve never been able to part with it. Maybe one day I’ll give it another spin.
*******

Philip Charter is a British writer who often lives abroad. His work has been featured in Storgy, Page & Spine, and Fabula Argentea among other publications. In 2018, his piece ‘Raft’ won the 2018 WOW fest Flash Fiction Prize and he released his debut short fiction collection, Foreign Voices. Find out more at philipcharter.com

 

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