The first time Kevin Roach was mistaken for Tommy Ross he was in the White Lion. The mistake's maker approached him when he was at the bar, getting in a round of drinks for himself and his workmates. She had bobbed red hair and neat, pretty features and she wore a T-shirt displaying her allegiance to the rock band White Noise.
'Sorry to bother you,' the newcomer said, as she materialized at Kevin's elbow, her head inclined coquettishly to one side, 'but my friends won't shut up unless I settle it once and for all.' Over her shoulder Kevin could see a garrulous party of girls staring over at him, heads bobbing in fascination. He sincerely hoped he could 'settle it' to everyone's satisfaction, particularly that of the attractive young woman currently addressing him. 'You're Tommy Ross, right?' There was a giddy excitement in the way she said it, an expectant gaze that willed him to respond in the affirmative. She looked ready to dissolve in liquid admiration.
Kevin wanted very much to be Tommy Ross at that moment, even though he had no idea who that individual might be. He faltered an instant, then undaunted by its lousy track record, fixed her with his most charming smile. 'Can't say I am - but I'm willing to be him for the night...'
The red-head's smile faded and the excitement seemed to drain from her like a plug had been pulled. 'You're really not him then?'
'Eh - no.' Kevin's burst of confidence departed, presumably to the same place as the girl's interest. 'Haven't actually heard of him... Ehh...Who is he?'
'Doesn't matter. Sorry.' And she faded off to her tableful of friends, before Kevin could summon anything further to say.
'Nice one, Kev, what's your secret?' said Big Dave, as Kevin lowered a tray of brimming pint glasses on to the table. The rest of the boys roared with hilarity at their friend's quip. 'I mean, she looked like she was ready to shag you on the bar and you managed to get shot of her with your first line! What did you tell her you'd caught?' The whole table creased with renewed laughter.
Kevin slumped into his chair, trying to mask how gutted he felt with a self-mocking grin. 'Fuck off, Dave, and drink your pint.' Over at the other table the rowdy girls no longer gave him a glance.
He broached the subject of his humiliating encounter the next day, when seated with Phil Bradley, behind the check-out at Dr Lovegood's Funtime Adult Emporium. 'Who's Tommy Ross?'
'Hmmm?' Phil looked up from the twelve-inch, gel-filled, coarse-textured, strap-on dildo he had been pricing. 'Tommy Ross - he's the drummer with Neanderthal. Why?'
Kevin narrated the whole sorry tale, his irritation increasing as he did so. 'So,' he concluded, ' do I really look like this Tommy Ross guy?'
Phil set down the pricing gun and gave his friend an appraising stare. 'Well - your hair's longer these days and you've filled out a bit since you've been working on the site...' He laughed as if in sudden recognition. 'Shit, Kevin - I'd never thought about it, but - she's right, you could really fucking pass for him!'
Kevin felt even more pissed off at this news. 'So wait a second - This girl obviously wouldn't look twice at me, even on a good night. But she thinks I'm this Tommy Ross bloke and instantly she's set to rip my trousers off! What's that all about?'
'Kev, mate,' said Phil, with Jedi-like sagacity, 'he's a rock drummer. If he looked like me, women would still want to shag him.' Kevin glanced at his fellow university drop-out unconvinced; Phil was lank-haired and slope-shouldered, and his Metallica T-shirt did nothing to disguise his paunchy stomach. Phil, however, seemed confident in his theory, referring Kevin to one of the DVDs piled close by on the counter. It was entitled Brett Hardwood - International Fucker of Sluts and showed the eponymous, grinning porn stud amongst a cluster of gorgeous, naked starlets. 'Trust me,' Phil insisted, 'if you were Tommy Ross, you'd get laid more than this guy - only none of the girls would expect to get paid afterwards. That, my friend, is the power of Rock.' He handed over the DVD as an afterthought. 'You want to borrow this?'
'Sure,' Kevin replied sourly. 'I mean it's the best deal I've got, right? Not being Tommy fucking Ross...'
He left Phil's workplace with the Brett Hardwood movie, but ended up paying it scant attention that night. On his way home he had walked impulsively into a music store and bought himself a DVD copy of Neanderthal - Live in Concert. Alone in his bed-sit he watched the band in grim fascination, paying special attention to his supposed doppelganger at the back of the stage. Yes, amazingly he could see it. Tommy was around the same age as him (younger than the other band members, having replaced original drummer Reggie Stokes some few years ago - so Phil had informed him); same average build, same shoulder-length, wavy, blond hair, same bony features. No more prepossessing than most guys you would meet down the pub of a weeknight. Both of them ordinary London lads, yet there was Tommy, thrashing the skins in an apoplectic fury before ten thousand Los Angelino rock fans, drawing roars of approval from the crowd every time he delivered some virtuoso piece of drumming. Kevin could hear the shrieks of female adulation soaring above the rest of the noise every time Tommy beat out a solo or hurled a pair of drumsticks into the churning mob. Occasionally the camera would pan over the mass of crazed young women who thronged before the stage, their mouths all but frothing in their excitement. Didn't they just love their rock stars? Didn't they just love Tommy?
Within days Kevin's brooding interest in Neanderthal had developed into fully-fledged mania. He ate up every scrap of information and gossip he could find in the music and celebrity papers about the band and its drummer, for whom he was, it had transpired, such a ringer. All he read backed up Phil's suggestion - Tommy and his fellow rockers had sex handed to them on a plate and they never refused seconds. He purchased Jackhammer and Leather and Latex, Neanderthal's two most recent albums, to see whether some spark of musical genius was the secret to the band members' desirability. All he heard was a run-of-the-mill group of rock musicians, pumping out songs with titles such as Blood Sacrifice and Angel of Lust. No clues there then.
One night he sat down with some beers to watch a salacious rock profiles show on cable and saw Neanderthal rated no.3 in a list of The World's Wildest Rock Bands. Former roadies of the group described their role in picking out the band's choice of girl-fans at concerts and presenting them with backstage passes. Tommy's favourites, it was explained, were handed out black leather wrist bands such as the drummer wore himself. Any girl who sported said wrist band backstage was declaring herself his property for the rest of the night. 'Yeah,' one hairy leather-clad ex-roadie reminisced, 'Tommy'll take three, four... I've seen him take as many as five girls back to his room at the same time. I saw inside his room one night... He was in the shower with two girls, he had another two oiled up and playing naked Twister on his bed.' Tommy's painfully non-famous look-alike stared at the television screen askance, caught between arousal at the vividly described scenario and indignation that it wasn't him co-ordinating the hotel room games.
Kevin knew he was the right side of average-looking, his wiry frame bulked up somewhat from his recent labours on construction sites. He was fairly intelligent - could have completed his studies if he'd had the motivation at the time. He was even witty, at least when there was no sex at stake. Tommy Ross was no better-looking - was he intelligent or witty? The only time Kevin had ever heard him speak was on the DVD, when he had regaled the crowd, returning on stage for the encore: 'ROCK AND FUCKIN' ROLLLLLLL!!!' And yet there Tommy was, indulging all his sexual cravings night after crazy night, as if in some deranged parallel version of Kevin's existence.
Kevin sank back into his armchair in glum resignation. 'God, I should have learnt to play drums,' he said, and cracked open another can.
Neanderthal played the Hammersmith Apollo two months later and Kevin bought himself a ticket. He queued from mid-afternoon, so he could get near the front of the stage and observe the Tommy Ross effect close up. There was a fervency about the crowd long before the main act arrived on stage. Then the great store of potential energy erupted into an almighty worshipful roar, as the members of Neanderthal strode cockily into their arena to address the faithful in blasting power chords and screaming vocals. And there, pointing triumphantly to the skies with his drumsticks, was Kevin's supposed twin - a lanky sex idol in scabby jeans and a washed-out T-shirt. Screams of female excitement sailed above the cries of the young male fans, as the boys launched into some barnstorming opening number, apparently entitled Rock Addict.
Kevin was an island of awed silence throughout the concert - not because of any great musical originality on the part of the band, but from the grip they somehow exerted on their legion of followers. The initial fervour dropped away somewhat, but the band kept their audience simmering, turning up the heat at intervals, then finally pushing them beyond boiling-point to a full-on orgiastic fury, with Dave Styx howling out Give it Up to Daddy, their hit from the recent Leather...album. Tonight I'll make you rock and roll, Caress your body and thrill your soul. Give it up girl, give it all up to Daddy.
Tommy Ross tore into his longest, most frantic solo of the evening, punishing the drums like it was a vendetta, before the others powered in again, driving the song to its demented conclusion. As the crowd roared its wild approval, the drummer stood up on his podium, threw down his sticks and ripped his T-shirt in tattered pieces from his torso; then he punched the air with both fists in a moment of bare-chested, alpha-male glory.
Kevin could almost smell the oestrogen. There was not a women there, he thought, who would not prostrate herself before Tommy and his fellow rockers as a sexual plaything, who would not open herself up to their crazed rock and roll lust, even if she had shown up with her boyfriend. The whole thing was like an ecstatic religious experience, with the members of Neanderthal as debauched high priests.
During the hiatus before the encore Kevin saw it; at either side of the stage a selection of young women, the chosen few, were being helped out of the crowd and bustled behind the scenes by the band's burly, leather-clad henchmen. So Phil and the documentary-makers had not been lying - these guys really could fuck whoever the hell they wanted...
The post-concert trek from the venue was a poignant affair for Kevin. Several times some girl in the departing throng would double-take as she drew close to him - he had noticed the same thing on the way in - and he would hold her gaze, hoping that some of the concert's rock-alchemy would rub off on him. Each time, however, the girl in question would turn away, as soon as soon as she worked out he could not be the guy she had seen on stage. No substitutes accepted - you had to be a bona fide rocker to claim pussy that easily. Kevin had witnessed the Neanderthal boys work their sorcery first hand and at last was morosely satisfied; this was just the way things were. He thought wistfully of Tommy Ross and his pals, cosying up on the tour bus to the gaggle of females plucked from the crowd, headed for a cheerful night of sexual excess back at their hotel. And as he made his solitary way to his apartment, he could scarcely begrudge them.
One night later Kevin sat in Duke's bar, supping a pint of ale, while awaiting the arrival of Big Dave and the rest of the lads from the construction site. Drink and an evening's crude banter with the guys - mundane pleasures, to be sure, but at least they were easily attainable, with no disappointment, no near-despair attached... He was peering over his raised glass when he noticed the two girls looking at him, heads bowed together over their table in animated conference. Kevin had received enough similar glances of recent weeks to guess beyond much doubt what they were debating. And one girl, he noticed with a start, was wearing a confirmatory 'Leather and Latex Tour' T-shirt. The corners of their mouths were curling into smiles of recognition, as they noticed him looking back.
If Kevin had thought about it even for a moment, he would not have done it. If the girls had approached him, he would have had time to bottle out just like in the White Lion. It was instinctive and gave no thought to consequence. Holding the smile that had formed on his lips, he rose from his chair and walked boldly over to the other table. The girls were both lighting up like hundred watt bulbs as he approached.
'So you enjoyed the concert last night, girls?' he asked in a good- humoured tone that sounded like somebody else's voice. They laughed aloud, eyes wide with astonishment, the T-shirt girl putting both hands to her face in her disbelief. 'You know I think I saw you both out there - you were down near the front, right?'
Oh God, what am I doing? What the suffering FUCK am I doing? He was grinning at the girls cheerfully, even as the voice screamed within his head and his heart doubled its speed. Having dived in, what could he do but swim? 'Mind if I join you?'
'No, no, please! Pull up a chair!' the non-T-shirt-wearer exclaimed, as if appalled by her own rudeness. She was wearing a wine-coloured velvet waistcoat over a flouncy white shirt. The girls looked strikingly similar, Kevin noticed as he sat down, daintily built, with blonde, shoulder-length hair, although the more obvious Neanderthal fan had hers tied back in a ponytail. They had the same pretty elegance about their faces, the same marine-blue eyes, high cheek bones and gleaming white smiles. 'I'm Cathy and this is Tamsin.'
'Pleased to meet you.' Kevin hoped the trembling he felt was imperceptible to the girls, as he shook their hands. 'I'm Tommy.' Oh shit. Oh most holy shit. There's no going back now.
'Yeah,' Cathy grinned, her voice full of the same panting excitement the anonymous girl had displayed all those weeks before. 'We know.'
Beside her Tamsin was giddy with awe. 'You guys were fabulous last night. I mean, you were really...fabulous!'
'You fucking rocked,' said Cathy, eyeing him hungrily.
'Well, you know...' Kevin sat back in his chair, assuming what he felt was a nonchalant rock-star attitude. 'The London gig is always a bit of a homecoming. You were a great crowd.' Every time he found something appropriate to say seemed like a reprieve from inevitable discovery.
'Oh, and I bought a T-shirt as well,' Cathy put in quickly, indicating Tamsin. 'It's just we don't like to go out in identical stuff.'
'She's lying, I'm just a bigger fan,' Tamsin said cheekily, as if finally overcoming her star-struck wonder, and both girls burst into gales of mirth.
'You bitch!' Cathy grabbed Kevin's surprised hand, so that his arousal began to gain ground once more on his galloping fear. 'I was the one who bought your new album, not her. We're twins, you see, but we don't like to draw attention to it. Well not always...' She darted a distinctly sly glance at her sister, who smirked in knowing response.
'Twins?' The word was out of Kevin's mouth before he knew it.
'Not identical,' Tamsin explained. 'Obviously.'
'No. And I popped out twenty minutes before her,' said Cathy. 'I'm the older more experienced one.' She held on to Kevin's hand as she said it and stared him straight in the eye. He struggled to hold back an involuntary gulp.
Tamsin leaned closer across the table, not to be outdone, her chin perched on her clasped hands. 'And I'm the wild and crazy younger one. Hey,' she said, apparently struck by a new thought, 'how come you're here tonight? Shouldn't you be playing up in Manchester?'
Kevin had been trying to take on board the twin-scenario and her question caught him off-guard. Of course Neanderthal were gigging again that night - and any denying it would be flatly contradicted by the tour dates on the back of Tamsin's T-shirt. 'Ehhh - yeah, yeah we were, the Manchester gig's been cancelled.' The girls looked surprised. 'Yeah - old Styxy bust his hand and couldn't play guitar. He was - eh...' A saving flash of inspiration came out of nowhere. 'Well to be honest he was trying something a bit acrobatic during the after-show party, if you get my meaning. With some new friend of his. But that's just between ourselves, right?' They laughed aloud, delighted at his cheekily improvised revelation, and he flashed them a winning rock-star grin in response. Well fielded, that man! These girls really buy it!
'So how come we weren't invited backstage?' asked Tamsin, with an aggrieved pout. 'Cathy and I would have livened up whatever little party you were having.' She smiled with mischievous radiance and her sister beside her arched a wicked eyebrow.
'I'll bet you would,' Kevin responded in a near-croak, before rallying. 'You mustn't have received the wristbands I sent.'
'Yeah, we missed those,' said Cathy, grinning at him cheekily. 'Your loss, baby.' But her assumed cockiness gave way as soon as she'd said it and she broke into girlish laughter in the face of her rock hero, eyeing Kevin as if the loss were very much her own.
Kevin seized his opportunity. Tommy would never bottle out at this point, of that much he was sure. 'Maybe I can have the pleasure of your company tonight. You can show me what I missed.' Putting words to the thought both terrified and thrilled him. Even as he spoke, the practicalities rolled in on him. Exactly where was this going to happen? He was hardly going to invite himself back to theirs. And what did he know about taking on two women at the same time? Oh yes, all wonderful in theory, but...
'You ready for us both?' Tamsin asked, snuggling up against her sister and smirking cutely. 'We're quite a team.'
'Oh I'm sure Tommy's more than equal to the task,' said Cathy, a touch breathlessly. 'I imagine he and the guys are used to entertaining more than two at a time...'
The guys...Shit, the guys from his work, it was a wonder none of them had arrived already! Kevin's eyes flicked to the entrance and back in a rush of paranoia. All it would take was for Big Dave or one of the others to plough their way into the conversation and his newly adopted persona would be instantly revealed as fraudulent. Scorn from Cathy and Tamsin, then gleeful derision from the boys, derision that would last as long as he worked with them. He had to extricate himself, fast. If he managed to keep the girls on board, so much the better...
'Look ladies,' he said, endeavouring under intense pressure not to blow his Tommy Ross cool, 'I'd love to entertain you both right now, but I may have to wait till later in the evening...' Tamsin looked crestfallen, Cathy somewhat sulky; they obviously both thought they were being brushed off. 'No, really - I want to meet up,' Kevin insisted, then tried to modify the desperation that had crept into his voice. 'It's just I've got to meet up with the tour manager - George -' George? '- at the hotel. You really think I'd pass on your company? Look - write a mobile number here.' He slid an upturned beer mat across the table to Cathy and looked on, inwardly urging her to be quick, as she scribbled down a sequence of digits.
'You'd better call,' she smiled ruefully, as she passed back the cardboard disc.
'Trust me, I will.' He downed the rest of his pint in an effort to look casual, then he grabbed the beer mat and was on his feet. 'Give me till ten, then I'll call you with my room number. And you two'd better not bail on me...'