When Paul gets back to their shitty little excuse for a room, Pete is crooning as though he thinks he's Dean Martin. He's nabbed one of their guitars (crafty bastard) and is strumming away, although the strings have never been his thing; fingers too short. John once described him as 'too much of a soft queer' for a guitar and hearing him now, Paul has to agree.
"Christ, what's that noise?" He asks, trying in some diplomatic way to display his utter contempt. Stu (who is on the bunk below Pete) gives Paul a look that says, 'Break the bloody thing over his head, will you?' And Paul finds himself smiling, possibly for the first time all day. He's exhausted - they're all exhausted, can't remember the last time they slept for more than two hours at a time or laid their head somewhere a pillow had once called it's home. Paul can feel all of his limbs weighing him down, more aware of the gritty scrape of his eyeballs in their sockets than he ever has been, more aware of his own pounding head.
"Seriously, Pete," he says, after a moment. "Give it a rest, yeah?"
Pete lets the chord he's playing trail off and - blissfully - for a moment there is peace.
Apart from the muted rumble of German voices playing themselves out on film next door, there is utter silence. Paul listens to the soft, distant way the voices sound muffled by the wall, carving off the harsh vowels of the accent, almost making it sound English. If he shuts his eyes for a just a second, he can pretend he's back home, falling asleep infront of the fire in the front room whilst his dad has the wireless on too loud upstairs as he gets changed for the night shift.
The sound of a frau pissing loudly next door breaks the daydream, ruins any chance he may have had of sliding into sleep.
"Where's George?" He eventually asks, when he realises that constant munching of food or tuning of guitar strings is missing, and Stu answers.
"His mother sent him some money for the phone, he's down at the Mission, pouring coins in the box."
There is a brief flare of warmth and affection in Paul's belly for Louise, and then he remembers who else is missing. "And John?"
"Wandered off somewhere," Stu says, voice slightly drowsy with sleep, and Paul realises he's not going to get any of that any time soon, so he pulls himself up from the bed.
"See you lot later."
Hamburg in September is a lot like Liverpool in September - covered in drizzle and preparing itself to take that final dip into freezing, sharpening up the wind so that
every now and then you'll have to pull your jacket around you and remember that summer is quickly going to be a memory. And it's grey too, off the Reeperbahn, grey and drab and harshly practical, with the stench of the port washing right over the city. There is the constant hum of voices shouting as the boats load and unload, the constant scrape of pallets along the wharf, making marks on the stone. It's the strangest version of home that Paul has ever been to.
He finds John in the Indra, leaning back on a bar stool, feet up on the bar.
"I'm chatting this one up," he says, as Paul approaches, and nods to the confused little brunette behind the bar. "Doesn't speak a word of English but she's going to suck my cock for me, aren't you, love?"
The way he's nodding his head and raising his voice as though he's speaking to the world's deaf, the girl nods back. John beams at him triumphantly. "See?"
"What the hell are you doing down here?" Paul asks, grabbing a stool for himself. "Spend enough bloody time down here when we're on stage. You a glutton for punishment?"
"I'm a glutton for something," John mutters, grabbing a handful of peanuts from a bag he's got open on the bar. The whole bag is covered in German, Paul has no idea how he identified them in the shop.
"Can't you find anything better to do with your time?"
John shrugs, throws a peanut into the air and winces when it hits him in the eye instead of landing in his mouth. "George went off to phone the family - I've got no mummy to call, have I?" He asks, pulling his own version of a sad, spastic face. "So I stayed put in here."
"Could have rung Mimi?"
"She's had her one call of the week - any more and she'll start thinking I've gone soft. Anyway, what about you? You're hardly busy, are you? Sitting here bothering me; I was on my way to a good seeing to before you turned up."
Paul can't help the grin that slides onto his face as John leers at the still confused barmaid. He picks a peanut from the bag and aims it at John's ear.
"You'd be lucky, you're not her type."
John frowns, still rubbing his ear uselessly. "I'm everyone's type, son."
"Not 'ers, she's a dyke. Saw her kissing that mate of hers the other night when we came off stage."
John seems to weigh up this information for a few minutes, finally shrugs his shoulders. "Ah, I'm sure they won't mind me watching."
Paul lingers on that thought a second - that's one he hasn't tried yet, though they've been here just over a month now and obviously taken advantage of all the wild, wonderful things their sex-obsessed new home has to offer. They do live sex shows down at one of the bars nearer the docks, girls doing girls, girls doing men, girls even doing punters on stage...
"Filthy beggar," John grins, spitting a peanut at Paul, damp from his mouth. "You're thinking about it."
"Oh, shut up," Paul hears himself say lamely, sounding more embarrassed than he should, wiping his face where the peanut got him on the cheek. He ignores John's laugh when it comes. "We gonna go and do something, then? No point hanging 'round here all day and I'm going spare with lack of sleep."
"Sleep is for the weak, my boy," John tells him, getting up from his stool with a patronising pat on Paul's head. "See you later, love!" He shouts overly-loud to the barmaid as he pulls his jacket on. "You can have a go on me then, alright?"
Confused, she just nods helplessly and when Paul catches John's eye they both burst into laughter, Paul feeling thrilled and energised by John's joviality at this early hour; without prellies and a few pints of Germany's cheapest inside him, he's usually grumpy from lack of sleep. Before the buzz of being on stage kicks in, they're all pretty prone to their poor moods from the hangovers and the alien surroundings.
Out on the street the wind is still sharp; Paul is grateful for the leather against his skin as John fixes up his hair, checking the neat pile of his DA is still in place as they pass a mean looking sailor, glancing at the two of them strangely. Paul realises that it's no good looking down and avoiding his eyes if John is giving him that usual challenging stare, half come-and-have-a-go and half really just squinting to see properly, so he speaks up, tries to divert John's attention. "Did you hear what that arsehole Koschmider has planned for us next?"
"What?" John asks, successfully distracted, and the sailor passes on his way.
"Reckons he needs Stu to gig opposite Derry and The Seniors at the Kaiserkeller with some band he's putting together - just trying to run us all ragged if you ask me."
"He's a shit; what did Stu say?"
"Happy to help out, I think," Paul replies, and watches with an ounce of strange satisfaction as John shakes his head in disappointment at Stu. Paul knows he wouldn't have gone, if he'd have been asked. He hopes John knows that.
"So where are we - "
They both turn at the sound of the refrain that is becoming familiar - Englanders, reminding them (as if they ever needed it) that they're very much not at home. It comes from two women standing on the corner, hidden slightly by the shadow of a near-by alleyway, but their dress making it clear what they're doing lingering down here so early.
It's like a split second decision, whether to stop or walk on. Paul looks to John for the final say-so. "Want to?"
John shrugs. "Nothing else to do."
Paul digs in his pockets as they cross the street, catching John surreptitiously doing the same. It didn't take them long to start taking advantage of the 'unique' area they were suddenly thrown into, but it hasn't yet been long enough for Paul to feel completely comfortable with this, the no-nonsense hand over of money, the practical spit onto the hand the whores give before they slip inside your jeans.
"You got another five Marks on you?" John asks, pooling what he has into his cupped palm, looking for all the world like a beggar, and Paul feels an odd flushing sensation and helping pay towards John's 'good time'.
"Don't think so, I'm almost skint."
"Let's lob it together then," John suggests. "What d'you reckon they'll give us for that?"
"Um... a wank?"
"Aye, one each hopefully," John mutters, taking Paul's money from him (all shrapnel, coins that jingle obviously loudly in the street) and offering it to the women before them. Now they're up close, Paul recognises one of them from the club after closing - that must have been how she knew who they were. "What d'we get for this, then?" John asks. He lacks any of the slight discomfort Paul still feels raging through his nerve endings.
"Hand," the first woman says, and as though this isn't clear enough, she does the action. John turns to Paul and waggles his eyebrows, feature-distorting grin on his face.
Paul can't help but match it, feeling the trace of nerves he had dying away.
"Folgen sie," one of the women says, and leads them down the alleyway, further into the shadows, though not so far out of the weak autumn sunshine that it wouldn't be obvious to anyone passing what was going on. "Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly," Paul hears John muttering, and braces himself. He wonders which one of the women he's going to get.
When they stop it's all so practiced, planned. The women (not girls, though perhaps that would be stranger) move them against the wall, close enough for Paul to hear the creak of the leather of John's jacket as he shifts himself, spreading his legs. A tremor of something thick and anticipatory, runs through Paul's brain.
Then they shrug off their coats, the women (must be warm work, Paul thinks, then hates his brain for still being on thinking mode), and both tuck the Deutsche Mark into their boots, letting the coins fall deep, far away from where any opportunistic fingers could get hold of them if trying for a refund, then they share a look. Paul glances at John in turn, but he's too busy focussing on the women's chests, the deep dip of cleavage where their tops are pulled down purposefully low.
"Nerven?" A voice asks him suddenly up close, and Paul turns back. The one that has decided to take him (the quieter of the two, faint lines around her eyes giving away her age - someone's mother, Paul thinks with an unpleasant shudder) is now up against him, running a perfunctory seductive hand against the outside of his thigh.
"No," Paul says. "Nein - I mean, nein." He knows he's not hard yet (hasn't had a chance) and he hopes she doesn't just start, doesn't want John to see.
He seems rather wrapped up in his own experience, however - "No kiss," Paul hears the other woman say. "For kiss, more Deutsche Marks."
"Well I haven't got any more bloody Deutsche Mark, have I?" Paul hears John complain. "Come on, don't be harsh - give us a kiss."
Maybe he's had her before, Paul thinks, because the next thing he knows he can hear the wet slide of lips and a strangled moan coming from John's throat, clearly content at getting what he wants. Paul tries to block the sound out, tries to focus on getting hard, aware this is supposed to be pleasurable.
He thinks of Dot, of the way her hair curls damply around her face when they're in bed together, remembers the noise of her panting, restrained and high-pitch as though she's trying to be quiet but just can't manage it. About the soft, pliant curve of her waist as she lets him do whatever he wants.
The sound of the whore spitting into her hand distracts him, but not that much. He's hard, he keeps his eyes shut so that he doesn't have to look at the lines around her eyes and it's alright.
Until John comes, loudly. Paul tries not to listen, tries to focus on that image of Dot but it's more difficult today, perhaps because this particular encounter is so sterile.
He can hear the jingle of the bracelets the woman is wearing and John zipping back up, seeming overly loud in the echoing space of the alleyway. Paul has his eyes shut good and tight - they're used to having sex in the same room but that's in beds. With blankets. And they're used to sitting round wanking in a circle but that's in the dark. They've never been side by side like this before, and Paul feels the uncomfortable pressure of people now waiting for him, like he's holding everyone up in this slightly insane situation.
The smell of cigarette smoke drifts over him and Paul is wondering whether to give up when he hears the huff of John's laughter quietly beside him, just an inch too close.
"Um.... Bridget Bardot," he says, and Paul gets an uncontrollable urge to laugh.
"Fuck off, John," he replies, but it sounds far too amiable. Again John laughs.
"Alma Cogan. With her tits out."
This time Paul really wants to laugh. "Are we really fucking playing this game?" He asks, and hears his voice crack with pleasure on the word 'game' as the whore twists her wrist.
"I'm not the one enjoying it," John says, obviously in reply to that, and Paul being a connoisseur of it, he can hear glee in John's voice. Still he doesn't open his eyes.
That would be suicide. "Bardot and Cogan, both with their tits out, sitting on your lap."
He's slightly ashamed that it's working, but it's worked before. Only difference is that then John couldn't see it, hunkered down in someone's dark bedroom somewhere. Paul wonders vaguely how much John can see now, how much he's watching, but isn't willing to open his eyes and check.
"And?" He hears himself say, then wonders what the fuck he's doing. Why the hell is he egging him on?
"Oh, it's 'And?' now is it?" John laughs, but it registers to Paul that he doesn't sound bothered. There is a the noise of a sharp drag on a cigarette and then - his voice thick with the exhale of smoke - John finishes, "Bardot licking at your neck like a hungry little kitten."
Paul tries not to be too loud when he comes but knows John hears him because he snorts with laughter. It's only half as embarrassing as it should be.
"Auf wiedersehen, jungen." One of women says, but Paul is zipping himself up so he doesn't reply, just avoids John's eye as the other shouts,
"Danke, ladies! What lovely whores you are!"
An uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment seems to spread out right through Paul's body as the relaxed, sated sensation of his orgasm quickly wears off. It feels clawing and abnormal and like something strange has just happened. He has no idea what to say.
"God, could do with a fucking kip now," John announces, yawning loudly. "Back to the shithole for an hour before the gig, aye?"
As he exits the alleyway, Paul wishes he'd never gone in in the first place.
The crowd in later that night is slightly thicker and fuller than the previous night; Paul thinks that must be a good thing. His 'mach shau-ing' has never been so exhausting though, or so fake. For the first time he wants to just take a night off.
"What's up next?" George asks, speaking just a little bit too quickly, and Paul realises their little store of Prellies must be one or two down already.
"An Everlys?" Stu offers as they all crowd around Pete's drums. After he speaks he takes a swig of his beer and wipes a trail of sweat from underneath his dark James Dean glasses.
"Do you even get a say now you're fuckin' off with Koschmider's new band?" John replies, and for a second everyone goes quiet, looking between Stu and John like a tennis match.
In the end Stu just shrugs. "Play what you like," he says.
"We will, thanks," John sneers. "Paul?"
He gets a brief flare of joy at being chosen over Stu, but Paul's answer is cut off from a voice down on the stage, some impatient punter. "Musik! Musik!"
"Alright!" John shouts, "Keep your swastika on, we're fuckin' deciding!" He shakes his head. "What about Maggie May?"
No one wants to contradict him after the outburst with Stuart, so they all go back to the mics. Whilst Paul has his head bowed over his guitar, giving a quick tune, a voice too-near his ear makes him jump.
"D'you reckon either of them were called Maggie, then?"
John is trying to hard to sound conversational, twisting the key at the top of his strings even though it's already perfectly in tune. It makes Paul strangely nervous.
"Doubt it, not a German name, is it?"
John shakes his head, not meeting his eye. "No. Not much to look at though, were they?"
Paul remembers the want on John's features as he looked at them both down that alleyway though, and feels a strange burst of something in his stomach. "Definitely not."
"The type where you have to picture someone else," John says, and he seems to be speaking loudly, clearly, so that Paul doesn't miss a word of it in the noise from the crowd, now milling at their feet. Then he finally looks up and he has that smug grin. "Maybe Alma Cogan, Bridget Bardot..." Paul feels himself flush, hopes the shitty lighting from the stage covers it.
He thinks that at least the worst is over until John catches his eye and quite pointedly says, "And...?" A mirror image of the way Paul said it leaning back against the scruffy alleyway wall. He feels that hot, clawing emotion at his chest once again, but John just raises his eyebrows, grins a bit harder. Then he moves away to the mic.
"Right you nazi fuckers," he says, good and loud into the sound system. "Get dancing."
Paul falters on the first few notes, has to look to George for a chord pick-up. If he could get off the stage right now, far away from John, he would.