All the boys are innocent*

Nicole put the tape into the hefty but purportedly portable cassette and CD player on the mantlepiece, momentarily nervous that Parlabane’s geriatric tape would give it the audio equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease. He had cued it up at the right place, and she pushed up the volume as the sound began to break through.

She glanced briefly at him, but he was staring fixedly at the machine, either urging her attention or aware of the awkwardness of not knowing where to look when two people are concentrating on simply listening to something.

The recently abused chorus was ending, and the song broke down to just a synth sound and a tentative, creeping bass for a few bars. The synth riff was repeated as a rhythm guitar surfaced somewhere, a dry sound like helicopter blades chopping overhead. Then a lead guitar entered quietly, snaking around the synth and growing gradually louder in the mix as the hypnotic melody circled again and again and drums began to pulse in the distance, getting ever clearer, ever nearer.

She felt a thrilling sense of anticipation as the orchestration expanded and each of the instruments grew louder, her desire for the song to reveal its hidden secret enhanced by the dramatic and teasing build-up. The tension reached breaking point and the toms suddenly gave way to snare, the lead guitar screaming in, full-blooded, to take up the riff introduced by the synth, a crashing wave of sound and emotion. Somewhere she could see a man in black, younger than her, swaying and waving in a bacchae of sweating bodies beneath the swelter of stage lights.

There was a voice, somewhere, lost amidst the storm. She was about to reach for the volume control again when she realised that, like what had gone before it, the voice would grow stronger and louder in passing cycles. Other voices joined it on each pass, their tune now defined but the lyrics still agonisingly obscure.

With the next repetition, she thought she had made out what was being said, and it was a possibility that stopped her breath until the next pass confirmed it.

The voices were singing the same words over and over.

Over and over.

«All the boys are innocent.»

*Country of the Blind, Christopher Brookmyre