Midnight was only minutes away now. That was when their first chord was due. Together, the members of Disbelief were assembled on a small and cluttered stage beneath the crimson glow of the floodlights. The DJ had ended his night already, handing over to the opening act a crowd that was neither patient nor quiet. The lighting covering everybody on the cramped dancefloor, coupled with their demanding shouts and gestures, made them all seem like the bloodthirsty cast of a zombie film. Paul relished the sight of it. The reckless demand for more entertainment seemed violent and carnal. These people couldn't care less who was playing, they just wanted to make sure that the money they had spent at the door and at the bar had not been wasted. These were Fuse patrons, and they were honest people. They wanted what they wanted, and they were damned sure going to get it.
Everything set up and arranged, Paul had taken to taunting them. He was stood, his bass in playing position, at the very front of the stage, behind the microphone. He was also completely ignoring his audience, choosing instead to stand perfectly still and stare at his watch. His laptop was already counting down the seconds. He knew this, but with each passing moment he could feel an increase in the fury of their spectators. The intensity was nearly overwhelming. Paul loved it, so much so that he was hard pressed to keep the smile from his face. That, unfortunately, would give the game away.
He could imagine the expressions of his friends without having to look at them. Adam would likely still have fear etched in every line of his face. His confidence had been shaky all day, leading to numerous speeches explaining nothing but terror. These people horrified him to his very soul, but Paul had convinced him to stay and play. Adam's nails had been chewed right down to the quick. His hands would be shaking and his eyes would be darting back and forth across the faces of the crowd.
Jace would be watching Paul; alert and ready in case of danger. Whether Paul liked it or not, Jace had always been there to act as his guardian. The mass of enraged bodies did not bother him at all. His concern was Paul's welfare. Likely this was quite justified considering Paul's constant mockery of their audience. Nevertheless, Paul felt quite at ease.
Ed, as usual, seemed quite unfazed by this mob. He had marched through them to reach the stage. Even now Paul suspected that Ed would be wearing his typical benevolent smile, looking out like a king would look over his subjects. His hands in place, his fingers ready, Ed would only need a moment's notice to launch into Disbelief's chosen opener.
A new addition to their usual presence, just for today, was the purple-haired and short-skirted Ally. Placing her behind them, out of the reach of their aggressive audience, had been absolutely essential. Her own attempted 'rock chick' style was nothing compared to that of the everyday Fuse patron. This place inspired fear amongst the ignorant masses of society. Ally had been seated behind the laptop by Paul so that, hopefully, she would at least look busy.
She jumped in her seat when midnight finally came and the laptop let out a brief, loud and clear alarm. Paul wasted no time. He leaned in close to the microphone and inhaled sharply. In perfect unison, Disbelief came alive. The sudden blast of volume that came from the first touch of their instruments drowned out each and every sound from their crowd.
It all slipped so smoothly into place. The notes melded together as perfectly as the members of Disbelief itself. The power of Paul's vocal lines were complemented by the subtle notes sung by Adam. The tension was high, as was the energy. It all flowed through Paul, driving his hands and pushing his voice to a vicious outcry that Adam did not even try to match. Euphoria had set in, and Paul was helpless against it.
Ed ripped through the solo after the first chorus with a practised precision. As always, their lead guitarist made every note look practically effortless. His movements were fast, but so very smooth. It was as though the guitar was merely an extension of him, answering always Ed's very will and thought.
As they entered the second chorus, their spectators began to sing along. It came across more as a mass of noise, but the pleasure of Disbelief's drunken audience was marvellously evident. Paul raised the volume of his voice in answer, calling out so that everybody listening could hear every note.
The song came to a close with Paul's vocal cords aching. Nevertheless, there was no respite. As planned, after only four seconds of pause, Jace began to strike a familiar beat. As the crowd roared their approval, Paul took the microphone stand in hand.
"We're Disbelief," he announced, "that was Avenged Sevenfold," he continued, "and this is Iron Maiden," he completed at the same time as his two guitarists began to bend their strings in unison.
It quickly became clear that they could not have chosen a better song. Every single person looking up at them knew this song inside and out. The numerous voices that rose to accompany Paul were perfectly in time.
The DJ, having stayed to watch the show, began to lead the many voices further towards making a melody. He stood atop his booth, just to the left of the stage, holding out a microphone and shouting along to the music. When the vocals paused and the melody changed, the DJ took to clapping his hands with the rhythm. Under his example, the entirety of the dancefloor followed suit. Watching the DJ, Paul nodded his approval, and, when seeing it returned, an uncontrollable smile overtook his face.
Though not a particularly heavy song, the way Disbelief played it, coupled with the active participation of the Fuse patrons, gave it an energy all of its own. Paul relaxed his vocals, letting the roar of voices from all around the room pick up the slack. In the brief pauses between lyrics, he glanced first at Adam, then at Ed. As usual, his two guitarists were so completely different. He had never known two musicians with such polar opposite styles. Despite this, they worked so well together. Paul found it amusing.
It was as the excitement of the song peaked that Paul recognised a face in the crowd that he was not expecting to see. There, leant on the bar, raising his drink in response to Paul's look of surprise, stood Matthew Cooper. However, a movement of the crowd obscured him from view.
Fear washed over him for a moment, but he quickly achieved control over it. Quite suddenly, Paul felt dreadfully exposed and vulnerable. The image of a murderer caught in a line-up played in his mind, grappling for purchase. He rejected it fiercely as overdramatic, but it left behind a nagging feeling of self-doubt. Determined not to let it faze him, Paul entered the last chorus with all the strength his voice could muster.
Their spectators responded with an equal outpouring, dragging Paul straight back into the energetic excitement he had helped to create. The song ended in much the same way as it had begun, with the speakers behind Disbelief warring for dominance against the voices of the furious and ecstatic audience.
Still sticking to the plan, the members of Disbelief allowed themselves a few moments with which to ease their aching limbs. Covering for his friends, Paul returned to the microphone:
"I'm glad to hear you like Maiden too," he said calmly, he then paused to allow room for the cheer that followed.
"Thank you, thank you," he eventually continued. "Unfortunately, we're just the opening act, so we only get to share one more song with you. We thought long about what song, but we'll get to that in a minute. At this point comes the shameless self-advertising which, fortunately, we do a little differently."
Confident that he had their attention, Paul waved Ally to the front of the stage. She came quite happily and stood beside him to curtsey sarcastically to the audience. After that, she simply stood there, politely awaiting Paul.
"This is Ally," he stated simply. "She's a friend of ours. She's going to help us with a little demonstration, just to cement our band name in your heads. Go ahead Ally."
Looking shrewdly across the crowd, she casually placed her hands on the hem of her t-shirt and began to lift it. The small action was nonetheless watched very closely. Those that waited with baited breath however, were disappointed. She stripped off her t-shirt to reveal a tight-fitting tank top, worn to amplify her cleavage rather than show off her breasts. She let her hair fall as it would, then pushed it back, out of her face and away from her chest. Still, judging by the cheers and whistles, some people were quite satisfied by this.
"You are currently experiencing a feeling of Disbelief," Paul continued. "If you will now focus on Ally's chest, you will see the name of our band, just to remind you."
Looking down at her own tank top, Ally pulled it taut from the bottom. This served two purposes. First, it made the fabric straight, bringing the word emblazoned there into clarity. Second, it made her chest bulge against the material. Either way, it worked marvellously. In truth, Paul did not think he would need to draw any more attention to Ally's chest, but he did so just in case.
"And now," Paul added, "if we could draw your attention to Ally's arse."
Briefly, the crowd was silent. Then, Ally turned around, bent over slightly, and pulled up her skirt. The sight of her black underwear, with 'Disbelief' in white letters across her backside, caused quite an uproar.
"So does anybody know what we're called?" Paul queried.
The answer seemingly came from everybody in the room. Quite content, Ally dropped her skirt to cover herself again, then turned to give another curtsey. Her cheeks were bright red now, but her smile was wide.
"Everybody say thank you to Ally," Paul requested of his audience, who complied happily. Still blushing furiously, Ally rushed back to her seat, sharing a wink with Paul as she did so.
The advertisement over, Ed began to play again. This lead Paul's attention away from Ally's beautiful red cheeks and back to the audience.
"We hope you've been enjoying the show," he said, "but it's not over yet. This is Metallica."