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       Killer Queen: A Painted Faces Novel, p.1

           L.H. Cosway
 
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Killer Queen: A Painted Faces Novel


  KILLER QUEEN

  A PAINTED FACES NOVEL

  BY L.H. COSWAY

  Copyright © 2014 Lorraine McInerney.

  All rights reserved.

  Cover pictures taken from Shutterstock.com.

  Cover design by RBA Designs.

  Editing by Indie Author Services.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

  Books by L.H. Cosway

  Contemporary Romance

  Painted Faces

  The Nature of Cruelty

  Still Life with Strings

  Six of Hearts

  Hearts of Fire (Coming 2015)

  The Hooker & the Hermit (Collaboration with Penny Reid, coming Feb. 2015)

  Urban Fantasy

  Tegan's Blood (The Ultimate Power Series #1)

  Tegan's Return (The Ultimate Power Series #2)

  Tegan's Magic (The Ultimate Power Series #3)

  Tegan’s Power (The Ultimate Power Series #4)

  Crimson (An Ultimate Power Series Novella)

  Dear reader,

  If you’d like to discover the songs accompanying each of Nicholas’ diary entries, you can find the playlist here:

  CLICK FOR KILLER QUEEN PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY.

  For everyone who adored Fred & Viv. I wrote this for you.

  Contents

  September 8th, 2002.

  June 18th, 2005.

  October 31st, 2011.

  November 1st, 2011.

  May 31st, 2012.

  June 6th, 2012.

  June 28th, 2012.

  June 28th, 2012. (Part Two)

  June 29th, 2012.

  June 30th, 2012.

  July 1st, 2012.

  July 4th, 2012.

  July 22nd, 2012.

  July 24th, 2012.

  July 25th, 2012.

  August 5th, 2012.

  August 6th, 2012.

  August 31st, 2012.

  August 31st – September 1st, 2012.

  November, 26th, 2012.

  December 25th, 2012.

  December 31st, 2012.

  March 9th, 2013.

  September 26th, 2015.

  A Note from Nicholas

  My darlings,

  Ever since I can remember I’ve had some very grand ideas about myself, and therefore, every now and again, I would record my important life moments in a diary. The diary itself is made of expensive worn brown leather, which I like to think adds a sense of grandeur and importance. Never let it be said that I’m not partial to a slice of pretension pie.

  Often I’ll hear a soundtrack for these moments, like a movie, if you will. (Do not roll your eyes. I know for a fact that each and every one of you has, at some point or another, sat in the back seat of a car while the scenery rolled past, the radio on, imagining you were the hero/heroine in the opening scene to the movie of your very own life story.) My point is, I like to attribute songs to my diary entries. It helps set the tone. Sometimes I imagine I’m writing to an adoring audience of thousands. Other times…well, let’s just say I may have a penchant for thinking of David Bowie in Labyrinth as my agony aunt.

  The other day I came across the diary after having abandoned her some months ago and began scrolling through the pages, alternately cringing and smiling fondly at times gone by. Extreme highs, earth-shattering lows — I’ve had them all. My existence has been champagne and dirt. I’ve built a career around donning costumes and transforming into another person, and my life as Vivica Blue has certainly been an eventful one.

  I want to share these moments with you all. I’m exposing my flaws and my mistakes, because you are my audience, and I, a humble drag queen on the stage, singing my messed-up little heart out in the hopes of making you feel something, anything, if only for a moment.

  So I guess I’ll see you on the other side for a glass of champers and a slice of chocolate cake. (God knows we’ll all need it.)

  Yours always,

  Nicholas.

  xxx.

  September 8th, 2002.

  Soundtrack: “Look Mummy, No Hands” from Fascinating Aida/ “The Lost Boy” by Greg Holden

  When I was little, I used to stare at my mother a lot. I thought she was a beautiful princess, and she fascinated me. Last night I was remembering her and what little she managed to teach me before she was gone. I was about to walk onto a stage for the very first time, and I was terrified.

  My hands shook as I stared at myself in the mirror. I wore a burgundy dress, black heels, and a long dark wig. I had been experimenting with makeup for years, so my face was perfect. Red lips, smoky eyes, false lashes.

  “The key to looking good to an audience, Nicholas, is to over-emphasise everything,” Mum had told me as I lay on her bed, my chin resting in my hands. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. She sat by her dressing table, turning her face from side to side as she studied her reflection in the mirror.

  “You want them to be able to see you, especially your eyes. The eyes are the most important feature when trying to convey a feeling. It’s where people look the most.” She swept a long, perfect black line over her upper eyelid, ending with a graceful flick of her wrist. I stared, taking it all in as she did the same on the other eye. “Lining the eyes with black makes them pop,” she said, smacking her lips on the “p” and smiling at me through the mirror. “Especially when you were blessed with icy blues like you and I have been.” She gave me a wink.

  I revelled in the affection in her gaze.

  She hummed in the back of her throat and began doing scales. I could hear Dad downstairs, pottering around as he searched for his car keys. Mum had a show tonight, and Dad was supposed to be taking her while Granny Turner babysat me. I didn’t want to stay with Granny Turner — I wanted to go and watch Mum sing on stage. She performed at a jazz club in the city a couple of nights a week, but I was never allowed to go.

  She picked up a blusher brush, tapped it into some red powder, and then dabbed a touch onto either cheek. “A hint of rouge highlights the cheekbones and breaks up the pallor. You and I are alabaster, Nicholas. We need blusher to bring out our rosy cheeks,” she said and turned around, dabbing some playfully onto the end of my nose. I giggled and moved away, scrunching up my face.

  Even before she passed, I was always a little enthralled by Mum’s things. I loved to fiddle with her jewellery, sniff at her perfume, and meddle with her makeup. I think she sensed the allure it all held for me, because she was always very accommodating in explaining what everything was for.

  “Now, lipstick can be tricky,” she went on. “Especially when using a bright colour, like this red I have here.” She twisted the end of the lipstick, the red part popping out, and held it up to show me. I leaned closer, trying to make out the words on the end of the label. I had only just started learning to read, so I spelled out the letters first.

  “C-H-E-R-R-Y,” I said, and Mum smiled. “I don’t know that word yet.”

  “It’s cherry, my dear, like you get on the top of an ice cream sundae.”

  “Cherry,” I repeated as she brought it to her lips.

  “It’s best to dab on a light layer, press the lips together, and then do another if you want to go darker,” she told me, and I nodded along. She had my rapt attention.

  “Dolores, we need to get going,” Dad called impatiently from downstairs. I frowned. I didn’t want her to leave yet.

  Mum shook her head. “Oh, Nicholas, I’m eternally late. It’s an unfortunate illness.” She set the lipstick down, picked up her perfume and spritzed her neck an
d wrists, then pulled out the clip that had been holding her curls in place. They fell prettily over her shoulders. Quickly, she took off her robe and shimmied into a shiny dark blue dress.

  I stared at her, starry-eyed, as she gave her reflection one last inspection in the mirror. “Well, how do I look?”

  “You look….” I screwed up my mouth thoughtfully before using my new favourite word. “Marvellous.”

  She smiled even wider then, picked me up, and cuddled me tight before setting me back down. She kissed me on the cheek and said, “You’ll be good for your granny, won’t you, Nicholas?”

  I gave her a toothy grin. “I’ll try.”

  She left then, and I went to sit in her spot by the dressing table. When I saw my reflection, I was fascinated to find a lipstick kiss on my cheek. I put my hand to it, and my fingertips came away red. I rubbed the substance between my thumb and forefinger curiously.

  Little did I know back then that my curiosity, paired with my devout love of my mother, would lead me down a strange, seldom chosen path.

  Back to the present. I pressed my lips together anxiously. Strangely, I’d picked a cherry shade for my show tonight. I peeked out from the side of the stage to find the club was packed. My heart thrummed in my chest as I took deep breaths in an effort to calm my nerves. Another drag queen who hosted the club gave me a quick look up and down, and then stepped past me. She knew I was the eighteen-year-old Kiwi who barely spoke a word of French, so she didn’t bother to make conversation with me. Then she strutted out onto the stage and started to introduce me. I plastered a smile on my face and walked out once she was done, all bravado and false confidence.

  I became my brand-new persona, Vivica Blue.

  In time with the piano on the cheap backing track I was using, I launched straight into my first number, “Killer Queen.” I reeled when the audience cheered. I had nothing to worry about. They didn’t throw beer bottles at me or shout insults like I’d anticipated. Their appreciation filled me with a glorious sense of purpose, and I thought to myself that no matter how bizarre or twisted my reasons for doing this, I had found my calling.

  June 18th, 2005.

  Soundtrack: “I Who Have Nothing” by Shirley Bassey

  London was a weird city for me. I had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved it because there was constant activity. No matter the hour, you could find something to occupy your time, and I was a breed of gentleman who needed that. I didn’t like to be left alone with my thoughts. When I took a trip down that road, my life usually took a turn for the worse.

  I liked to keep busy. It was a flawed practice because it only worked about eighty percent of the time, but I supposed eighty percent was better than a kick in the bollocks.

  But back to the other side of the London coin. I hated it because the majority of the people seemed to be miserable, yet wholly unaware of their own misery. It was like they had lived so long in the noisy, overcrowded metropolis that they couldn’t see how it was killing their souls.

  I didn’t plan to stay for long — just a few more days, and then I would leave for pastures new. I had no idea where I was going to go yet, but really, that was half the thrill. I liked the mystery, got off on the unknown. For three years I’d been travelling from one place to the next, and I didn’t have any intention of breaking the habit.

  Movement meant constant flux, which also meant no slowing down, no time to review or assess. I was moving forward, never backward.

  I pushed open the fire exit and stepped out the back of the club I’d just been performing in. My pay for the night was a measly fifty quid, but I didn’t need to worry about money. The thought caused a trickle of emotion to infiltrate a heart I always tried to keep guarded. My father had passed a couple of weeks earlier, and I was his only living heir, as they put it. I was still trying to come to terms with my feelings on the matter. We were never close. In fact, all through my life we’d had a strained relationship, barely even knew each other, really, yet now all his wealth was being handed over to me.

  I felt bad because I wasn’t sad that he was gone. After all, how can a person be gone when they were never really there to begin with?

  He’d stated in his will that I was to get everything, and I knew deep down the reason why. It was guilt. He felt guilty for being absent while I raised myself in a house that was eternally empty, a house that echoed with the premature death of my mother, who died when I was just a little boy. He felt responsible for the fact that I was left alone and vulnerable to being exploited and abused by a bad person who never should have been allowed access to me.

  I tried to shake those thoughts from my head, didn’t want to think of them.

  I’d just changed from my stage outfit and into a pair of trousers and a shirt; I’d removed most of my makeup, but there were still traces of it on my face. Swearing under my breath as I remembered I’d left my lighter back in the dressing room, I noticed two men chatting and smoking beside a dingy, graffiti-laden wall. One of them wore a yellow shirt and had a hoop earring in his ear. His attention came to me as I stepped over and asked if I could get a light.

  “Sure you can, blue eyes,” said the man flirtatiously, a smile shaping his lips, his accent Irish, if I wasn’t mistaken.

  The guy beside him stubbed out his butt and said he had to be getting back inside.

  The yellow shirt held up the lighter for me as I lit my smoke. His gaze ran up and down my body, and I had a feeling he was getting ready for a come-on. It was a bit of an occupational hazard, blokes thinking I was gay, but at this point I was used to explaining to them that I didn’t swing that way.

  “I’m Phil,” he said, holding his hand out to me.

  I took it, and we shook briefly. “Nicholas.”

  His smile deepened as he teased, “Oh, I thought it was Vivica.”

  I gave him a small smirk. “I take it you saw my show.”

  “I did. Had a whale of a time. You make a stunning woman, Nicholas, but I have to say, I much prefer you as a man. Look at all that gorgeous jet-black hair.” He reached forward and tugged at the collar of my shirt. “It’s very sex-ay.”

  I laughed and drew away, taking a drag of my smoke. “Appreciate the compliment.”

  He nodded and took me in, looking like he was thinking of something. “You free for the rest of the night?”

  “Free as a bird.”

  “Want to come back to my place for a drink? I’m staying just around the corner,” he said, his intention blatant. A lot of gay men were like that, no messing around. If they wanted sex, you knew about it. Of course, there were the shy ones, but I could already tell that Phil didn’t have a shy bone in his body. I thought he might be a little bit tipsy, though.

  I exhaled some smoke, flicking away the ash. “I’m straight.”

  Phil’s eyebrows shot right up into his hairline. “No shit?”

  “None at all, Philip. I like to think of myself as a wonderful and unique snowflake,” I joked.

  Phil laughed softly, his features marked with interest. “Well, I can’t say I’m not disappointed. But you know, the offer still stands. I’d love to hear about how a straight boy from…New Zealand, if my accent-detecting skills are working correctly…came into the business of dressing up as a woman.”

  I grinned at him. I didn’t know what it was, but there was something about Phil that I warmed to. I could tell he was the kind of fellow I could get along with.

  “Do you have any whiskey at your place?” I asked.

  “I do believe there’s a bottle of Jameson knocking around somewhere.”

  “Then you’re on.”

  We chatted as we walked to his apartment, which was located on top of a newsagent’s. His place was small, as was usually the case if you lived in London, but it was clean and the furniture was nice. I sat on his couch as he put a CD on and began pouring us both a glass of whiskey. “I Who Have Nothing” by Shirley Bassey streamed through the stereo speakers, and I briefly considered adding it to my set
list. I loved those big diva tunes that you could belt out with a fiery passion.

  Phil sat down next to me and handed me a glass, crossing one leg over the other and eyeing me curiously.

  “So, go ahead and tell me your story, Nicholas. I’m dying to hear it.”

  “How I got into the biz, you mean?” I asked after knocking back a long gulp. There was something about Phil that made me want to talk, spill my guts. It was surprising, because usually I was very private about my past.

  “Well, how do most of these…quirks, for lack of a better word…come about? It’s normally down to adults fucking our heads up, right? My story is a typical one. Little boy’s mother dies when he’s just six years old. Little boy seeks comfort in the things his mother left behind, clothes, jewellery, makeup. They’re the only way he can feel close to a woman he never got the chance to know. Little boy’s father is a workaholic, never home. Little boy’s quirk is discovered by a predator named Kelvin, the predator takes advantage, blah, blah, blah.”

  I felt Phil’s hand come up to squeeze my arm before I looked at him. He was frowning, empathy in his gaze. “Oh, no.”

  “We’re all a product of our experiences, and I do what I do because it’s the only way I know how to cope. What’s strange to the rest of the world is normal for me.”

  “I’m sorry that happened to you,” he said, chewing on his lip as he considered me. Then he slapped his palms down on his thighs. “Well, how about a private show? I have Vivica Blue in my living room, and I plan on taking full advantage. Sing me a song.”

  I smiled, liking how he chose not to dwell on my sad story. Setting down my glass, I stood and walked over to his stereo, starting up “I Who Have Nothing” again and singing along with Shirley from the beginning. I hammed it up to the max. Phil was thoroughly delighted and applauded loudly when I was done. We spent the rest of the night talking about our lives and getting to know one another, and I felt like I’d made new friend, one that would last for many years to come.

 
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