Princess Diana stood at the entrance to the bar, dazzled by the flash of cameras. A few drinkers turned in her direction as she entered, and one or two waved. She paused in front of the floor light so that it shone through her diaphanous dress for a moment, then headed for the bar.
Michael Jackson swivelled on his bar stool and grinned a welcome.
‘Well good evening,’ he said, beaming, leaving a small gap before adding ‘Your Highness’.
Princess Diana blushed, dipped her head and looked up at him through artfully sculpted lashes.
‘Oh, you,’ she muttered playfully, but glad that he’d used the title. Michael Jackson had always had a thing for Princess Di, and Diana knew it, but it would have been impossible to acknowledge the existence of any romantic interest. They occupied very different worlds. For a moment they looked into each other’s eyes, then he glanced away and the spell broke.
‘So,’ he began, ‘how’s the mine clearing business?’
‘Oh,’ she replied. ‘You know. Those poor, poor children. Someone really has to do something.’
Princess Diana tried to think of a way to continue the conversation, but she’d exhausted her knowledge of the subject. She really must research landmines, she decided. Perhaps she’d make a quick visit to the Ladies and check out their Wikipedia entry on her phone.
‘Somebody always has to do something, love,’ said a Liverpudlian accent at her shoulder, ‘but most of you posh birds just rattle your jewellery.’
Princess Diana closed her eyes and slumped a little on her bar stool.
‘Hi John,’ she said in a weary tone.
‘You may say I’m a dreamer,’ he continued. ‘But -’ He left a pause, and Princess Diana turned to him with a pitying glance.
‘You’re not the only one?’ she said wearily.
‘Too right love,’ he added. ‘I hope some day you’ll join us.’
‘Yes, John,’ said Diana.
‘I read the news today -’ John Lennon began.
‘Oh boy,’ interrupted Jackson. ‘Look, John, we’re in the middle of a conversation here.’
‘Okay, okay,’ Lennon said, backing off, his hands raised in mock surrender. ‘We all want to change the world. Well. You know.’ And he wandered off into the darkness.
‘Jesus fuck,’ said Princess Diana. ‘He don’t half go on with them bloody lyrics. It really does me head in.’
‘Character, girl,’ said Michael Jackson softly, swirling an ice cube in the remains of his orange juice.
‘Oh, my goodness,’ exclaimed Princess Diana, raising a hand to her mouth and blushing deeply, ‘I’m most terribly, terribly sorry. One must never let one’s emotions overrule one’s sense of decorum.’
‘So, Your Majesty,’ Michael Jackson said, ‘the usual?’ He signalled to Humphrey Bogart behind the bar, who folded his Racing Post and walked over.
‘Pimm’s?’ said Bogart, reaching for a tall glass. ‘Of all the Pimm’s joints in all the bars in all the world…’ he added, before ducking under the bar to search for limes and cucumber.
‘Now that,’ said Michael Jackson, ‘is class. See? Keep it light. Don’t lay it on with a trowel. You can’t beat it – beat it.’
Princess Diana looked up at him.
‘It’s all very well for you,’ she said, ‘but I don’t have your quotes catalogue.’
‘Hell, babe,’ said Bogart, ‘you got your looks. Flutter those eyelashes and you got any red-blooded male eating out of your hand. You just have to whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you?’
‘Strictly speaking -’ began Michael Jackson.
‘I know, I know,’ said Bogart, backing away to his perch in the corner, ‘and if Lauren ever makes it in here I’ll be sure to give her her line back.’
They were interrupted by a crash by the door, as someone tripped over the spotlight, tumbled backwards and knocked over the seven-foot replica Oscar. Princess Diana hurried over, and peered down at a short, white-haired black man in a garish shirt being helped to his feet by George Best.
‘Nelson Mandela?’ she asked.
Mandela looked around him, bewildered. ‘Fucking hell,’ he said, ‘what the fuck was that?’
‘It’s the paps,’ said George Best. ‘Humphrey rigged them up. Only cardboard, but it works.’
‘Begorrah,’ he added, a little uncertainly.
‘Fucking hell,’ said Nelson Mandela again, ‘they fucking blinded me.’
‘PIR unit,’ said Humphrey Bogart, lifting the statue back up. ‘LED spotlights in the cameras, set to a one-fiftieth burst flash.’ He examined the damaged spotlight. ‘I got an HND in electrical engineering,’ he added, scooping out the shards of broken bulb with a beer mat.
Princess Diana took Nelson Mandela’s arm.
‘First time?’ she said, before adding, ‘Yes, of course, it must be. Welcome.’
‘Sorry,’ said Nelson Mandela, settling onto a bar stool. ‘For the language. Damn flashes. Took me by surprise.’
‘You get used to them,’ said Michael Jackson. ‘Annoying, but we’d miss them.’
Humphrey Bogart reached behind the bar, drew out a bottle of Vin de Constance and poured a generous measure.
‘Been saving this for years,’ he said. ‘Mandela’s favourite tipple.’
Nelson Mandela took an exploratory sip.
‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘that’s disgusting. Do I have to?’
‘Listen, man,’ said Michael Jackson, ‘who we are is all we’ve got. And that goes for your language as well. I’m guessing you didn’t get a lot of voice work?’
Nelson Mandela shook his head.
‘Mainly film’ he said, ‘in the background. The camera pans over a line-up of world leaders. They put me next to Margaret Thatcher.’
‘Yes,’ said Michael Jackson, ‘she’s a regular.’
Mandela looked around the room, spotting the celebrities sitting at low tables. Bobby Charlton shared a table with Lou Reed and David Frost, Whitney Houston was deep in conversation with Larry Hagman.
‘All dead?’ he asked.
‘Of course,’ said Michael Jackson. ‘It’s a lookalike’s curse. Once our principals die, our work stops. Marilyn gets a few corporates. The rest of us – nothing. That’s why Humphrey set up this bar.’
He knocked back the remains of his orange juice.
‘Welcome to The Afterlife.’