Richey Edwards is dead. Legally, that is, in two days' time. The remaining Manic Street Preachers expect the unexpected - if Richey is still alive, they reason, his return will be as flamboyant as his disappearance was secretive.
When they played Havana, the backstage buzz was palpable: if Richey were still alive, this would be the time to re-appear - probability wearing a Margaret Thatcher T-shirt, too much mascara around his eyes and roundly denouncing the band's output since he left.
There were tears for Richey that night, and there'll be more in two days time when the rule of law states he no longer exists. Beyond the myth and mystery, these are the facts: on the morning of February 1st, 1995, and on the eve of a promotional trip to the US, Richey left the Embassy Hotel in London and drove to his flat in Cardiff There he left his passport, made a phone call, and then drove to the Severn Bridge, a well-known suicide spot.
The car was found two weeks later, with the battery run down. In the previous few years, Edwards had battled against a series of ailments, including extreme bouts of self-mutilation and various eating disorders.
Fuelling the "fake his own suicide" rumours is the inescapable fact that for every day in the two weeks before February 1st, Richey had drawn £200 out of his account (the maximum allowed).
He has since been "spotted" in Goa, Iceland and Mexico. Band members remain curiously optimistic. "Deep down, my gut feeling is that Richey is still alive," says bassist Nicky Wire.
"But that's not based on any logical evidence. I just try and tell myself that he's done what he's wanted to do - whatever that is. I've known Richey longer than anyone and I think of him as my best friend, but I still can't say that, deep down, I knew him. The week before he disappeared he was in the best spirits I'd seen him in and I thought he was getting better. Sometimes now I think he was happy because he knew he was going to do something."
Singer James Dean Bradfield has confirmed that the band hired private investigators to search for Edwards. "I don't know if he is alive or dead," says Bradfield. "I just know there is no anger, no resentment, no bitterness in howl feel about him. I've only good feelings about him."
When the Manics play live they always leave a space on the stage where Richey used to play. And in the taped music before they come on stage, they always play a Stone Roses song. The Roses were the first band to invite the post-Richey Manics to play with them, at a gig in Wembley Arena.
The band's first album since his disappearance (Everything Must Go) contains many of Edwards's lyrics, and the remaining members opened a bank account into which they still pay Richey's royalties. On Friday that money will go to his family.
The myth and mystery continue. And no better band for it. From the mining town of Blackwood in South Wales, the four Manics - tooled up with political history degrees, wearing make-up and dressing in skirts - formed the band after seeing The Clash play Garageland on an old Tony Wilson music TV programme.
Other groups had rehearsals; the Manics had "manifesto meetings". They arrived in London quoting Rimbaud, Camus and Nabokov, and loudly announced that their debut album would sell 18 million copies. After which they would split.
And, Christ, they were funny. Nicky Wire on music journalists: "Critical respect is the easiest thing in the world because journalists are so crap. Music journalists don't even look good. I saw Andrew Collins on television and I nearly threw up."
We loved them. for that, we loved them for walking out on stage to a reading of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, we loved them for saying that they would set themselves on fire on their first appearance on Top of the Pops.
And we still love the mythology, the romance, the flamboyance. Love them for singing about Paul Robeson and for bringing a song about the Spanish Civil War to number one in the pop charts.
Love the way they make Travis and Coldplay look like the musical wing of New Labour. And love them for one of the best songs ever recorded - Motorcycle Emptiness. Play it on Friday. Do.
[Originally published: The Irish Times, 30 January 2002]