They’d been nearly four hours at this latest to-do, and John and Paul were so done with it, and more than ready to call it a night and head up to their hotel room.
Brian had insisted they attend this dinner, reminding them for the millionth time that, “You’re MBE’s now – members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. You need to show your faces amid the men who move things behind the scenes. You know, the background influencers who hold the real power.”
For once, even Paul McCartney – who usually supported Brian’s social aspirations for them -- was unpersuaded. He had rather loudly resisted attending this gathering of the titled, the post-nominal-laden, and the well-connected, arguing that titles and post-nominals aside, “We’re pretty well connected ourselves, at this point, yeah? Which one of them has as much social influence as we do? Who, more than any one of us? Why do we have to kiss their arses?”
“That’s hardly a display of humility, Paul, or gratitude for your situation,” Brian had chided. “That’s the sort of remark that gets you called arrogant.”
“Phonus bolonus,” Paul smiled at him, working a bit of charm into the tight moment, “it’s only the truth I’m tellin’ Bri, and they’ll only call me arrogant if you repeat it. How much gratitude are we supposed to lay out when we've worked and slaved to get where we are?”
At that point John Lennon, sprawled out on a sofa in a tee shirt and jeans and looking entirely too comfortable to willingly get up and figure out where his tuxedo might be, spoke up in agreement. “Aye, Eppy, this is nonsense. We’re a rock-and-roll band, not bleeding Lordships. You talked us into accepting the MBE, and we’ve done that, but now you’re askin’ us to go socialize with some of the very snobs who objected to us gettin’ it, and threatened to send their little medals back if Her Queenie-ness didn’t remove us from her consideration.”
Paul nodded in agreement. “It’s a good point. Not sure why they even want us there. One day they’re saying Mother Superior’s jumped the gun giving us any notice at all so early in our careers, and the next they’re invitin’ us to smoke and drink and eat caviar with ‘em. Likely all they really want is to gawk at us like we’re animals in a zoo.”
“Aye, like that time in D.C., at the Embassy,” John added. “All they really wanted was to look us over, sniff at us like we’d brought fleas into the place and then pinch our arses – or at least Paul’s.”
“That was no pinch, John,” Paul corrected. “Old bloke was tryin’ slip ‘is finger fully up there, right through me trousers!”
“I loved it when you just sat down on the steps and refused to budge,” John laughed, recalling the moment. “You were fuming and all they could see was how cute you were. Like an annoyed puppy.”
“Aw, fuck ye, son,” Paul flung at him good-naturedly.
“That’s what I say about goin’ to this stand-up funeral, Eppy. With all the spit in my scouser tongue, I say ‘fook it, and fook them’. I ain’t goin’.”
And yet, here they were – or here John and Paul were – Eppy had decided he could dispense with George and Ritchie’s services for the evening. Ultimately, it had been hard to say no to Brian, who had grown more panicked every hour after having promised to deliver the Messers Lennon and McCartney to the gathering. “Alright, Bri, just this once,” Paul had sighed in surrender.
“Three hours, Eppy,” John said in a serious tone. “Three hours, no more, and then we’re done, right?”
And now nearly four hours had gone by, and John – who had endured all the high-toned faw-faw and veiled insults he could take of an evening – found his way to his partner and slipped a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s ankle it, babe, we’ve put in our time and I’m knackered.”
Paul raised his head from a conversation he’d seemed to find engaging and looked around. “Where’s Brian, then? We should let him know…”
“I thought we’d do an Irish goodbye, you know. Just wave at the room and leave?”
Unable to hide a snicker, Paul nevertheless objected. “Can’t leave without tellin’ Brian, mate. D’be cruel, you know. He worries.”
“Well, I saw him by the bar a bit ago,” John answered, sounding impatient.
“Alright, go on up then. I’ll finish my drink here, say goodnight to Eppy and be right behind you, yeah, love? I’ll grab a couple drinks for us while I’m at the bar.”
“Ah, yer a good man!” Giving his mate a thumbs up, John made his way to their room. He was undressing – flinging his tuxedo jacket and shirt at various corners of the room -- even as he flipped on the radio and turned the dial toward something with a beat. Looking forward to drinks and some down-time with the only person whose company he always preferred, he decided to take a shower.
A half hour later, showered and shaved, and toasty warm in one of the hotel’s thick terry robes, he came into the room and found it empty. There was no sign of Paul.
That annoying little butterfly, he thought with more fondness than fury. Probably making sure he shakes every hand and wipes Eppy’s drunken tears before he leaves. And he has the drinks…
John turned off the radio, settled into one of the two double beds in the room and grabbed a paper and pencil, thinking Paul would be amused to see caricatures of the impossibly stereotypical red-faced Englishmen they’d just wasted too much time with.
Because on one level, he thought with a smile, it’s like we’re still kids in school, and we just want to make fun of the toffs.
An hour later, Paul still hadn’t come up, and John was beginning to get seriously annoyed. He wanted Paul. And his drink. And then playtime.
And Paul wasn’t co-operating.
It had been an hour and a half since he’d left the party. What the hell was going on? Sure, he knew. Paul had probably tried to say goodnight to Eppy, and gotten trapped in another feckin’ argument because their manager wanted them to take on some last minute tour in wintertime, and Paul had told him to shove it, and they were probably still bickering about it, with no consideration for John and all of his well-stated needs.
Picking up the phone he asked to be connected to the bar and politely introduced himself to the voice on the other end. “Can you give me to Mr. Epstein, please, or Mr. McCartney? I think they’re probably standing near you, and drinking too much scotch.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I never saw Mr. McCartney,” came a very mannerly reply. “Mr. Epstein said goodnight about a quarter-hour ago, however, so you might find him in his room.”
John frowned, biting his lip thoughtfully as he thanked the man and rang off. He dialed Brian’s room, and barely waited for Eppy’s greeting before laying into him. “Where the hell is Paul,” he demanded. “I’ve been waiting nearly two hours, now, for him to come up.”
“Where the hell is Paul,” Epstein asked. “I could ask, ‘where the hell are the both of you?’ You just abandoned the party without acknowledging the hosts, or shaking a single hand, and by the way I wanted to talk to you about –”
Lennon cut him off. “Never mind all that, Eppy, we went to your flippin’ shindig and we made nice-nice with everyone. Send Paul up, now. I don’t even care if he doesn’t have the drinks.”
“I don’t have Paul,” his manager answered in a testy voice. “I haven’t seen him in hours. I assumed he was with you.”
“But…” John grew quiet. He suddenly had a bad feeling, real enough to raise the small hairs on his arms. “He was heading over to the bar, to say goodnight to you, Eppy. He insisted on it, in fact.”
“Well, I never saw him,” Brian’s sounded puzzled. “Perhaps he got waylaid into a conversation.”
“Paul doesn’t get waylaid into conversations; he charms his way out of them.”
Both men were silent. John began to gnaw at his lip. “Feels like somethin’s wrong, Brian, doesn’t it? I don’t like this. Paul doesn’t just disappear.”
“Don’t do that,” Epstein answered. Trying to assuage John’s anxiety, he put on a lively tone of voice as he slipped his just-removed shoes back on to his feet. “I’ll go down and find him. I know he was talking about poetry to some old fellow with a monocle earlier tonight. Perhaps they met up again and he's being too polite to the old gentleman. Having trouble getting away.”
“When you find him tell him to get his ass up here,” John said, his voice flinty. “He’s no business making anyone worry.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing, John,” Brian said, signing off.
Twenty minutes later, a pacing Lennon heard a knock on his door and ran to open it, “Where’ve you bloody been,” he shouted at Paul, only to find himself face-to-face with Eppy, who was doing a poor job of hiding his concern. In fact, he looked terrified.
“John, I can’t find him. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere.”
John felt his hands begin to tingle and sweat as he released the door handle and drew Brian inside. “What do you mean, anywhere,” he asked. “Did you ask the concierge? Did you search that little after-bar?”
“Yes, and yes, I did. I looked in the gent’s rooms, I asked the front desk if they’d seen him, and the concierge. I asked every Lord and Sir still there if they’d seen him. It’s like he’s vanished into thin air.” Brian was ringing his hands. “John, you know we’ve talked before about the risk of kidnapping –- it’s why I always want you boys together.”
“No, but…but…” John was pacing the room, running his hands over the belt ties of his robe, as though to soothe himself. “No. He just…he probably met some bird and just, you know, went up to her room with her. His prick’s like a bleedin’ divinin’ rod, after all. He’s probably just havin’ a good shag.”
Brian gave him a skeptical look. “Do you really think that? Would he do that with you waiting for him? Wouldn’t he at least check in on his way?”
They both knew he would. Whatever else Paul was, he wasn’t thoughtless, and he’d never simply let people worry about him.
John licked his lips. When he spoke, his voice was a mere whisper, as though he couldn’t let the words fully out of his mouth, or they might become real.
“Eppy…you don’t…you don’t really think…kidnapped?” He felt his knees begin to buckle.