Carl was coming in, and he made a brief pantomime of pushing through a crowd of customers. He reached the counter, turned and held up his arms. "Everybody step back!" he demanded. "I need to talk to Pete!" He turned and perched on the edge of the counter. "I don't know how you run this place all by yourself," he said, grinning.
"I know," I said. "The pressure would be the ruin of a lesser man."
Carl was my roommate, the drummer in the band, and probably my best friend in the world. Also, if drummers in rock and roll bands have a bad reputation, he may well be the reason.
"I hear we're on for Friday night," he said.
I shrugged. "I'll believe it when it happens."
"You've got to work on your positive mental attitude, son," he said. "Me, I have only one thing on my mind." I laughed, and he laughed, too. "Well, okay, maybe two. And I'll tell you what the other one is." He swung around on the countertop, bringing his legs up to sit cross-legged facing me.
"Our lead guitarist, that's the problem," he said. He pushed his long red hair back behind his ears, looking unusually serious. "In case you haven't noticed, Eustace, we don't have one."
"I think Henshaw is working on something," I said. "He told me yesterday not to worry about it." Philip Henshaw was the leader of the band.
Carl shrugged (he was about reaching his time limit for seriousness). "Well, I think we had a perfectly fine lead guitarist, and no good reason for him to have to leave, except that you all are so damn particular about who sleeps with who." He grinned wolfishly as he hopped down from the desk. "Just a lot of foolishness, if you ask me." He waved and was gone.
As a matter of fact, Kingdom Come would succeed in playing a gig on that Friday night, at a club called The Quarter, but it would turn out to be our last. In the middle of our set, Philip Henshaw would be stabbed with a broken beer bottle by his girlfriend, Jennifer Owens. Later that night, Carl would be shot to death in an alley.
Of course, I didn't know any of this on Tuesday.
I awoke with a start to find myself face to face with the most dangerous woman in America . . .
This one is from a little later, when Pete and starling go to his apartment, and he shows her a photograph of the band on the wall.
Two of the photos were taken at The Quarter, the third at a concert in the park on Founder's Day.
Henshaw was in the center, of course, his battered electric guitar gripped in his hand. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a grim, hawk-like face and long curly black hair. The photograph from the park was probably the most typical. He was, as Carl always said, preaching, his eyes closed, his hand on the microphone, his mouth wide open.
I was to Henshaw's right, my hair plastered to my head by sweat. The Founder's Day gig had been quite chilly, actually, but I didn't sweat any less. I was playing with that vacant expression which some people took to mean that I was really moved by the music. In reality, it meant that I wasn't wearing my glasses and was as blind as a bat. I liked playing live, but I could never really relax and enjoy it because I always had to be ready for Henshaw's sudden changes of direction. Every time we played he carefully wrote out set lists for each of us. I couldn't actually read mine without my glasses, of course, but it didn't matter because he wasn't going to follow it anyway. Sometimes he even changed the songs around as we were playing them.
On Henshaw's other side was Tom Drenkenson, our lead guitarist. Our former lead guitarist, I should say. I'll tell that story at the appropriate time, but for now it's enough to say that, when I met Tom, Kingdom Come was his idea for a band, and Jennifer Owens was his girlfriend. Now Tom was out of the band, and Jenny was going with Henshaw.
In the Founder's Day photo, Tom's place was taken by CJ. He was still in the band at that time, but he'd been in jail so CJ had filled in. She was a member of the Jinx, a local motorcycle gang, and in the photo she was impassive in black leather and mirror sunglasses. She was a very large woman. Not fat, but like a large, idealized statue, with long straight reddish- brown hair, and she towered over even Henshaw in the photograph. I'd had a sexual fantasy about her once, and it had scared me half to death.
Carl wasn't all that visible in the photographs, the price of being a drummer. starling glanced briefly at the pictures, and her expression indicated that she thought my story was very unlikely, but she holstered her revolver again and said, "Maybe we should have some dinner soon."
It was right after this that I said I was going out to make some phone calls.
This one is from the afternoon of the Kingdom Come gig at the quarter.
Fifteen and the Drone, our two roadies, were sitting at the bar, each with a beer. There didn't seem to be anybody else around. The place looked old and decrepit in the harsh glare of the work lights.
Fifteen smiled as I came up. "As you can see–" he began, but that was as far as he got before the Drone leaped off his stool and started biting me on the leg.
"As you can clearly see–" Fifteen started again, standing up and gesturing toward the back of the club.
"Get off my leg!" I said, trying to step backward.
The Drone looked up, his sweaty face working itself up into an evil leer. "You dog!" he said.
"What?" I demanded.
"Where is she?" he asked, his expression getting even more crazed.
"Asyoucanseewebroughtalltheequipmentoverandstackeditneatlybesidethestage," Fifteen said. He collapsed back on his stool again.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I demanded of the Drone, who'd gone back to gnawing on my calf. "Thanks very much," I added to Fifteen. "Good work."
"starling!" the Drone explained. "I was blasted yesterday when I was over at your place, and I didn't realize that was her. Is she here?" He looked around feverishly.
"Don't even think it," Donna said as she walked quickly past.
"She's my idol. I have her picture on my bedroom wall, and every night–"
"I can imagine. I–"
"No offense, but how did a guy like you ever score a babe like her?"
"Please," Fifteen said primly, "that's Pete's ladyfriend you're talking about."
"She's not that either," I insisted. I finally got my leg free from the Drone's clutches, nearly falling over backwards in the process. "I have to go talk to Charley," I said quickly, heading toward the rear of the club.
And, finally, a dream Pete had at one point.
Tom Drenkenson was, musically speaking, the bane of Philip Henshaw's existence. More often than not, his lead breaks were little, sputtery affairs, a few good ideas surrounded by a lot of noodling. But then, from time to time, usually when Henshaw was about ready to step over and push him off the stage and into the audience, Drenkenson's eyes would glaze over, he'd lean back on his heels and the uncertain fumbling coming from his amp would give way to full-throated fury.
None of the rest of us had any access to inspiration. With Henshaw, on stage and off, everything was calculated. He was the kind of a guy who would light a cigarette in the wings just in order to take a puff and flick it away as he walked onto the stage. He always bummed one from me for this purpose, because he didn't actually smoke.
Carl's lyrics may have been inspired, but on stage he was pure instinct and reaction. Half the time he wasn't sure which song we were playing, but he had great ears. He heard and understood everything that the rest of us were playing, like a quarterback who can step back into the pocket and see every other player on the field. Carl's ear, combined with his real understanding of how Henshaw structured songs, made up for his lack of attention to details. And by this time I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I was no inspired genius on the bass guitar.
It was Founder's Day and we were playing in the park, to a huge crowd. There had been speeches and more speeches, so even a mediocre band would have got a good response, and that day we were quite a bit better than mediocre. Nothing got Henshaw jacked up like a big crowd and a special event, and Carl had been having sex in the bushes right up until the moment we were announced and had nearly gone on stage with his pants on backwards. And then, as we were playing our third song, "I Pray Every Day," Drenkenson launched into a solo that almost made me lose my place in the song. It began as a fairly simple series of notes, but then he started repeating it, adding one or two more notes each time, leaning harder and harder on the beat. I suddenly realized that I'd lost count of the number of measures we'd played. I glanced at Henshaw to see if I could tell when we were going to the chorus, but he caught my eye and took his right hand away from his furious strumming for an instant to twirl his finger once over his head. We were going to ride this lead break as long as Drenkenson was going to carry us. So, I stopped worrying about how many measures were zipping past and concentrated on staying absolutely on the beat.
But then, as I watched Jenny dancing right in front of the stage, it started to get harder to hear the other musicians. The music was becoming tinny, as if I was listening to it on a cheap transistor radio. Even the drums were getting drowned out by what I realized was the sound of helicopters. I looked up at the sky, which had been bright sunshine, but it was quickly getting dark.
Nobody else seemed to be noticing this, though. The audience was still bobbing up and down, all looking at Henshaw or Drenkenson. I could tell I was still playing, but I couldn't hear it anymore, and I felt cold even though it was a warm day and I was covered in sweat.
I woke up and I was indeed covered in sweat. It took me a minute to catch my breath and I felt like throwing up. I looked around the dark room but I couldn't tell what time it was. I remembered starling saying that sometimes she had trouble sleeping, and I decided to see if this was one of those times. I almost went across the room on all fours, but then I had a momentary image of the bedroom door flying open and Daphne charging out to molest me in some way, so I stood up, wrapping my blanket around me.
Of course, starling was fast asleep. She was wearing the same sweatshirt she had slept in before, lying on her back. One hand was outside the sleeping bag, across her stomach, and the other was curled up over her head. Her head was tilted a little toward me, her mouth slightly open. I sat down cross-legged and looked at her, thinking that someone as tightly wound as she was might well wake up if they were stared at hard enough. I remembered her describing sitting by my bed when I was asleep, trying to bring herself to kill me. Well, I was finding it just as hard to bring myself to wake her up, even though I really wanted to. Her matter-of-fact practicality was exactly what I needed right then.
It's always strange to watch somebody sleep. I really wanted to just reach out and shake her. But I remembered her saying that she hadn't been able to get back to sleep again after the visit from Donna the day before, and I couldn't wake her up if it meant she'd toss and turn the rest of the night.
I gave her an extra-intense stare, but she didn't stir, so I went back to bed. I'd had a momentary impulse to curl up next to her, but I knew her well enough to know the effect that would have on her when she did wake up. I stripped off my sweat-drenched clothes and got quickly under the covers. After all, I thought, we could just as well talk about it over breakfast. This shows how I'd been fooled by the Quiet Day. I thought that one day without a shooting, an explosion or a death meant that things were going to get less frantic.
I was wrong, because the next time I opened my eyes the morning sun was lighting up the room and the first voice I heard was Inspector Novak.