She picked up the phone on the third ring. "Councillor Carlyle here, how may I help?" was the polite, professional announcement. Billy couldn't entirely believe this was the same girl that had worn a t-shirt with his face on it all those years ago. He blanched, recalling when she asked him to sign it.
"Sherry, it's William Brandt. I've been told you were looking for me."
She paused for a second, obviously gathering her thoughts. "Bilbo, do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused my office with your interview? Why did that pillock decide to tell the Great British Public to contact the local Mayor? It is going to take three days at least for my people to get past the backlog of stupid calls and requests for interviews!"
"I'm sorry, Sherry. We clearly weren't thinking. None of us knew how that interview got so far off-track. It's good to hear your voice, even if you're mad at me." In spite of this feeling, his face had fallen. Too many years had passed, and he had never stopped obsessing over this woman. The proverbial one that got away.
"I didn't mean to sound that way, Billy. It has been a long night, and the week is going to be worse. You don't know what kind of a state this town is in these days, do you?"
It was clearly a rhetorical question, but the silence was aching to be filled. "I haven't been back to town in 20 years, Sherry. A wiser man than me said that you can never go home, I think, and I guess the place never really needed me."
"Trust me, a fire station without two of its' best crew was never going to be the same. The police lost something special here too, but don't ever tell anyone I said that." The lightness in her voice seemed to be returning, but he could feel that she was holding back a lot.
"I don't know why you never came with us," he said, preparing for fireworks.
She sighed: "Billy, I had a serious job, a family, and I was involved in the community. It's why I'm a senior member of the Mayoral Office now. I couldn't just abandon Blackthorn and write a song with the town's name in the title. You could have stayed, you know."
"That''s true, and then for the next 2 decades, your town would be facing the same kind of onslaught of interviewers, news crews and nosey parkers you're getting this week. Once again, I'm sorry about that. If we had stayed, the town would have become too small to hold us. We'd have been like King Kong getting out of his cage and hitting New York. I mean, you've seen Dave when he's had a few drinks - the comparison is pretty spot-on, am I right?"
Her voice softened a little, the mental image of Mad Dave Corran scaling the Town Hall office and beating his chest had tickled her. "We would have managed. You were good for the town, in more ways than you can understand, and I think you guys owe me a favour. I've been here on my own for a very long time, trying to keep this small town going. Don't you think there's a possibility you could meet with me and talk over what needs to happen here?"
Billy had always been an optimist, if a little naive: "Like a date?" he asked, his voice radiating hope.
"If that's what it takes for you to meet up with me, call it a date. If it gets you here sooner, call it the start of our honeymoon. I need you to meet with me, this weekend, somewhere nice and anonymous outside of London. Can you find a way?"
He agreed. "I can think of a place that you might remember. It's an old farmhouse we went to after a gig in Priory Lane, do you think you can get there on Saturday?"
"I know the place you mean, the one with the weird tiling all over the roof - how do you know they'll let you meet me there? It has been a few years since we saw it, and a lot may have changed," she asked.
"The owner knows me quite well. I always liked the place, and I made sure it was kept in the best possible condition," he said, a hint of excitement in his voice. Sherry agreed to the meeting, and told him they could meet outside at 3pm, knowing how the band were in the mornings at the best of times.
"It's a date... or a honeymoon, if you like!"
"Sure, Billy. Oh, and as we haven't seen each-other in 18 years, I'd like a divorce," she said, and broke down laughing.
* * *
John Harrison Jepson was a big fan of Rejection Letters. The band, not the standard response he'd had from various record companies over the years who had probably all received at least 6 CDs or tapes from him which had a fairly clear resemblance to their musical stylings. Even his voice was quite similar to Michael's - a fact he refused to acknowledge when quizzed about how he managed to sound so similar.
He had never managed to get a ticket to one of their concerts. Aside from the expense, and the simple fact that they never played near the one-horse town where he lived and worked as a maintenance engineer, he probably gave security crews a bad feeling. John radiated a kind of intensity that no-one wanted anywhere near them in a crowded building. His job was a lonely one with little human contact in a near-abandoned factory, and on the occasions when he got to speak to people, they felt like they were being shot with a gun full of questions and random facts.
If a neighbour or someone who knew him were to be asked to describe this man, the response would probably include comparisons to Julius Caesar or Hannibal Lecter. John was not best-liked in his community because of the way he made people feel - nervous, and on the edge.
Few people had seen inside his house - quite a ramshackle building with small, dark rooms that seemed uninviting, but if they did, more alarm bells might have rung. His living-room had a rather simple motif all over the walls and tables; large posters of Rejection Letters that had either been bought second-hand or stolen, accompanying newspaper articles with photos, and a ton of schedules from their last dozen tours.
To see all of this, it would not necessarily concern people who thought of him just as a fan, but if asked about them, he would always say the same thing: "They are the reason no-one wants my music - I hate them". A theoretical visitor might then notice the heavily-bolted and securely-locked door behind the living-room, and take a look through the keyhole. Then they would call the police pretty promptly.
Sometimes, people forget that "fan" is short for "fanatic". John was looking for vengeance on a band that didn't know his name, didn't know what they had done to him, and were now in deep, deep trouble.