They took the stage with real confidence, almost to the point of cockiness. As if, Starling thought, the final applause and encores were guaranteed. She noted with interest that they had a female drummer. She'd forgotten that Vinnie Frank had introduced them. Meeting Alex had driven everything else out of her mind. She looked at the band.
Alex's thin, pale arms against her black t-shirt, somehow made her look young and defenseless. Vinnie combed his hair and made sure the points of his collar were properly erect as Alex tapped her mike and said, "There is..." She paused. "There is a Walking Wounded between where you are w and where you should be. This is called Special Reaction."
Starling was floored.
Alex was magic on stage that night. And, as Vinnie remembered Craig telling him when he joined the band, the whole thing rose and fell on Alex.
If she was off-stride, the rest of them could only be competent. But if she was at her best, they were all raised up with her. And that night she was at her best, tall, fragile body twisting around the microphone stand as her amplified howl sliced through everybody in the room. She looked like she was in the middle of a hurricane and the microphone stand was the only thing keeping her from being swept up into the air and away.
They were working up an incredible momentum, almost from the beginning of the set, each song crashing right out of the end ofthe last. Lenore drummed viciously, sweat flying from her in all directions. Her usually full red hair was plastered to her head and shoulders. Very early on she'd discarded her jacket, rolled up her sleeves and loosened her tie. Vinnie turned his attention back to his bass-playing.
Then, as they roared recklessly into the second section of "Fever Eyes," they almost lost the rhythm until Lenore's solid pulse brought them back together again. Craig's eyebrows raised a fraction, then lowered again, and Vinnie knew he'd have something to say about that lapse at the next rehearsal.
After the set was over, as Walking Wounded were recovering backstage, someone came into the dressing room and said there was someone who wanted to speak to Lenore. She got up, grimacing, and said, "This had better be good. I'll be back."
Vinnie, stripped to the waist, a towel around his neck, was wiping the sweat from his bass. Alex was sitting in a corner, trying to control her shaking hands. Craig was nearly asleep, lying back on a bench.
Then Lenore came back in, grinning, and said, "That guy from the college is here, Raymond's friend, and he liked us. Wants us to do the gig in two weeks. He told me to call him Monday and we'd figure out money and what-not. I think he'll pay pretty well." She sat down, looking pleased with herself.
Vinnie turned to Alex. "Well?" he asked simply.
She looked up through dull eyes, her lank hair making her look like some sort of refugee. She seemed to know what he meant, but asked, "What?" anyway.
"The epic. You said that if we got the college gig you'd want to do it."
She considered the question. Lenore winked at Vinnie over her wine glass.
It was a weighted question. The "epic", as it was called within the band, was a piece that Alex had said was important to the development of the band, and that the college gig was the perfect place to premiere it. Craig had finished the music, but she'd got blocked on writing the words. And now she had a deadline to face, since if they were going to play the piece in two weeks they would have to start practicing it almost immediately.
She shivered slightly, sipping her tea. "I'll finish it tonight. We'll do it."
After the set was over, as Walking Wounded were recovering backstage, Raymond touched Starling on the sleeve from behind, almost startling her. She turned, deciding to let him say the first words. She knew it would be bad tactics for her to mention the gig to him again that night.
"You've got the gig," he said quickly, as if to get it over with. "Come by tonorrow and we'll work out the details. You can open for Walking Wounded if you want."
He walked away, and Starling smiled, almost grinned, as she looked at the empty stage.
Raymond and Starling helped the members of Walking Wounded load the band's equipment into Craig's truck.
As they were loading equipment into the truck, Raymond said awkwardly, "Don't worry. It won't be as hard as you think. Craig told me--"
Alex made a face and snapped, "Of course you don't think it'll be hard, you don't have to do it!"
Lenore kissed Vinnie suddenly in the parking lot. The familiar taste of stale cigarettes. They were the only two people around. She smiled at his uneasiness, but that made it better, not worse. He borrowed a puff on her cigarette.
As they were lifting the huge bass speaker cabinet into the truck, Craig asked, "Who's that woman?"
Alex knew who he meant. "Her name's Starling. She manages a band in Boston."
"Why's she carrying our stuff?"
"I don't know." She gave the cabinet one final push and sat on the tail-gate. "I don't know yet. But I think she may be important to the band. This band, I mean. We need something new. Something to shake us up a little. Maybe she'll be it."
Craig remembered Vinnie observing once that Alex always spoke of the band as if every aspect of the interactions between the four people in it was as interesting and as important as every other, as if the music was only one part of it.
At Craig's house, moving as quietly as possible so as not to wake Craig's parents and sister, they carried everything into the house and down the narrow stairs to the basement.
When everything was done, Craig said, "Anybody for a beer besides me?"
Vinnie looked over at Raymond, to see if he was eager to leave. Raymond shrugged, obviously ready to stay. Craig opened his small refrigerator and took out a six-pack.
Alex shook her head, but everybody else took one. Craig took a long swallow, stared off into space for a moment, then said, "We were petty good tonight."
Alex took her flask from her pocket and took a sip, then said, "We're... it's getting to easy for us here. The same people come to see us whenever we play, we give them what they want, and they applaud." She closed her flask and stood up. "I'm going home. Craig, when's rehearsal tomorrow?"
"Late. After dinner. Whenever."
She nodded and put her trenchcoat on. As she turned to go up the stairs, Starling picked up her beer and followed.
Outside, Alex turned and looked at her. Neither woman moved. Starling's enigmatic smile almost made Alex angry, but she held it back and said, "You have a place to stay here in town?" Starling shook her head, still smiling. Alex nodded. "Come on."
They started the long walk down the hill to Main Street.
"Should I thank you for getting us the gig?" Starling asked after a minute.
"No," Alex replied.
(to be continued, below)