Becker sat cross-legged in front of Eric, who was still whacked out because of the fire. He was curled up in the fetal position; his eyes glazed and empty. His clothes still smelled like smoke. Nevertheless, Becker tried to reach out to him.
Eric, do you recognize this? Becker asked, holding out the metal lighter with the iron cross on it.
Eric tilted his head to stare at it. He gently reached out and grabbed it with shaking hands. The area around his eyes was puffy and dark, like he hadn't slept in ages. He looked like hell, and inside his head, it couldn't have been much better.
Do you recognize it? Becker repeated. Eric nodded and gave it back.
From where? Becker asked. Eric looked sad and pointed to his backpack, which was laying on the ground nearby. Becker quickly retrieved it and gave it to Eric, who shuffled through it lethargically. Finally, he removed a small book of photos.
What is this? A scrapbook? Becker asked. Eric shrugged and flipped through the photos, stopping at one of himself. Becker looked down onto it and saw that in the photo, Eric was triumphantly holding up the lighter.
It's yours? Becker questioned. Eric nodded.
Did you start the fire? Eric shook his head slowly.
Dammit. Becker grumbled, looking down the hall at Andrew, who was restringing his Fender Jazz Bass. He got to the D string before Eric put his photo album away. Becker stood, looking down the hall at Andrew, who sighed as he finished restringing.
Well, I hope I wasn't too much of a bother. Becker said to Eric, tossing him the lighter.
Anson was next to try Eric, whom had begun to speak in curt sentences. Anson took his own place on the corner of Eric's bunk. Eric was now fiddling with the lighter Becker had left behind.
So look where we are. Anson laughed. We've come pretty far, eh?
Seems so. Eric replied, flicking the lighter open and closed.
I mean, we went from strangers to bandmates to enemies to friends to Anson stopped. He didn't know how to describe the relationship from hero to person saved.
To victims. Eric finished with empty eyes.
Yeah. Anson replied sadly. Victims.
He paused, looking at the countryside passing by out the window. It amazed him how fast life passed by, just like the landscape in a window.
I have to wonder Anson began. What's the Shredder got in mind for me?
Dunno. Eric sighed.
Well, Kris got electrocuted, you got burnedso.
You'll get wet. Eric concluded in a bored monotone.
Wait, that makes sense! Anson exclaimed. Electricity, Fire, Water.
Or earth, maybe. Eric added.
Earth? Damn elements!
Anson stood and tossed his music notebook at the wall. The papers exploded everywhere upon contact with the weakened wall. Anson sighed.
You really have to think, I guess. Anson said.
Your mom kicked you out? Eric asked.
Uhyeah. Anson answered sheepishly. But hey, that's how the cookie crumbles, I guess.
Sure. Eric said, then added: Your cookie seems pretty fragile, then.
Anson nodded sadly, looking down at the bed in his depression. But then his head shot back up. He didn't need absolution from his sins. Besides, he had to face his coming victimization in stride. He had to be the man without fear. He stood to leave.
Anson Eric suddenly said with bold eyes. You don't need to be the heroyou've already got that. And no matter what life, or even what I, take from you, you can't let it beat you. You're better than that.
Anson looked back over his shoulder at Eric, who simply nodded to him. Anson did the same back, then walked like a true hero toward the front of the bus.
At 11 that morning, Mike pulled off the interstate and called everyone into the large back room of the bus for a multi-band meeting. Everyone was unaware of what Mike wanted, but nevertheless, they dropped whatever it was they were doing and took seats in the back room. Several sat on amps, and Jay found an appropriate seat on the drum throne. Anson was even able to get Eric to muster up the mental capacity to get to the room.
Mike took center stage, pacing in front of everyone like a drill instructor. He looked positively panic-stricken, and he smoked one of his self-rolled cigarettes like it was the last one on earth. His brow was lined with beads of nervous sweat.
Gentlemen, he said calmly, still pacing. Tonight at the concert, the Shredder is going to strike.
Oh, come on! Jay interrupted in exasperation. You're really buying into this damn Shredder theory?!
Jay, we've got to assume this guy wants us out and gone. Kris said.
Let's go over the pattern. Mike continued regardless. He's hit Kris and Eric. Both are guitarists.
Then why's he going after guitarists? Andrew asked from the back.
I don't know. Mike admitted with a shrug.
Maybe he's a guitarist? Anson guessed.
Is that really a concern? Mike asked. Besides, YOU'RE the next target. WE can plan around this. Once the Shredder goes for you, we can catch him in the act.
Well, Eric and I deduced Anson began, but was interrupted.
Eric? Jay asked. You got him to say more than three words?
Yeah. Anon said, looking to Eric with a smirk. I guess I got him to open up.
Eric gave a grin back, then went solemn again.
Can we get back to the focus? Mike asked, straightening his messed hair. Anyway, with the Shredder going after Anson, we can jump him, and finally end this bulls**t.
Assuming he hasn't left something behind and booked it. Kris pointed out. I doubt he was around to manually sabotage me. He probably haywired the amp while it was sitting backstage.
Good point. Becker said. We'll just have to keep our eyes open.
Which is just a great plan. Anson replied with biting sarcasm. Not that I'm afraid of this little bitch, but is that the best you can think of?
Well, we have no idea what he's going to do. Kris said as he picked up his guitar. He played a quick blues riff, then stopped. We just have to hope he's falling behind. He's meaning to kill us, but he can't get it right.
Eric and I figured out he's using the elements! Anson shouted above the noise and confusion. Kris got thunder, Eric got fire.
So what are you going to get? Becker asked.
I don't know. Anson muttered. Earth, water, airbut whatever it isI'm ready.
La Migra and Chagrin found themselves alongside old friends in Baltimore. Toxick, Milishia, and Hand Drawn Hollow, Kingston's band, had shown up for a cozy concert that subsided of those five bands only.
They were scheduled to play in a small indoor concert hall located in the center of Baltimore, where they were promised a good crowd would show up. But Becker didn't really trust the owner of the building. He looked greasy.
About an hour before the show was supposed to start, a throng of people poured in. It was probably a crowd of one hundred at that point, and the owner had to call in some friends to remove the many folding chairs lining the concert hall. It was now a standing room only concert.
The bands retreated to backstage with their equipment as the owner unleashed the buffet table. La Migra took to their own corner, where they broke out their own inspiration smoke' for their performance. Chagrin gathered in a tight knit group, knowing La Migra was watching their equipment.
Okay, since Eric's still a little out of it, I wrote the set list for tonight. Anson announced, passing a paper around the group.
Finally, someone who starts with Enigma'! Becker proclaimed with a hearty laugh. Eric slugged him gently on the shoulder, as if to say Shut up.
When are we on? Charlie asked as he passed the sheet to Jay, his ankle still visibly bothering him.
Second to last. We're the build up to Hand Drawn Hollow. Anson answered, looking over at Kingston, who smiled and gave a slight wave to Becker.
Becker wondered if Kingston had considered his diagnosis of Becker's self-hypnosis. He didn't want to believe he had written the number down himself. But he knew that damn number. But from where, he had no idea.
At last, Milishia took the stage, with Carl at its helm. He played rather effectively, but it seemed he was holding back. It was moments in that Becker realized Anson was staring Carl down from backstage. Trying to read Anson's lips, Becker had the odd feeling Anson was muttering an Old Italian curse.
Toxick was next, and Becker found a sadistic pleasure in watching Robert struggle. He hadn't talked to the sub par bassist since Virginia Beach, and he was rather glad he hadn't. But then it came to him: Robert came from a pretty bad home. As Toxick came off stage, Becker pulled Robert aside to chat with him quickly.
Hey, how ya doing? Becker asked, trying to sound distant.
Uh, fine, man. Robert replied slowly. He hadn't gotten into La Migra's ganja, clearly.
Listen, I realize people give you crap, and I just wanted you to know, I understand where you're coming from.
Yeah, I know. Robert said. You told me that.
What? When? Becker asked, his face contorting in confusion.
Back in Virginia. Remember? At the bar. You got all sappy after the Brain Hemorrhages and told me all that.
Becker paused. If he had done that, what else had he done that he couldn't remember?
Rob, did I ask you anything that night? Becker wondered.
Yeah. Lots of stuff.
Anything about a phone number?
Uh Rob stopped for a second, thinking. S**t, bro, I cant' remember. I was drinking, too, man.
Oh, okay. Becker said, patting Rob on the shoulder and walking to the back wall, where he spotted a lone Diet Coke bottle lying. He suddenly kicked it in fury.
DAMMIT! he shouted. He was so close to an answer, but Rob just HAD to be a lightweight, and he just HAD to be a burnout, and he just HAD to
You okay? Jay asked, putting a hand on Becker's shoulder. He had to admit, Jay's presence calmed him almost immediately.
Yeah, I guess. Becker responded, trying to catch his breath. It's justI almost had an answer to all this crap, and
Hey, don't worry about it. Jay said. In the background, Becker could hear La Migra start their set. I don't. I think this Shredder theory is bull. We've just run into a series of unfortunate events.
Lemony Snicket hates you. Becker shot back playfully. But come on, the fire? Not exactly coincidence.
No, we just ran into an ill-timed arson attempt. Jay said. People are terrible.
Jay, for as long as I've known you, you've believed in the goodness of people. Becker said. Jay then turned his back and began to walk away. What happened?
I guess things change.
After La Migra finished, Chagrin took the stage, with Kris patting Becker on the head as usual. Anson looked very calm for a man with a target figuratively painted on his head. He had the air of a man about to be placed in front of the firing squad. As the band set up, he carefully removed a cigarette from the pack in his back pocket and lit it. He was ready to die.
They started with Enigma, just as Anson ordered. Eric was still on his game despite his crippling emotional issue. He slammed the solo like a manwell, a man on fire.
Charlie gave a little introduction to the next one, When the Guns Stop, and Jay pounded out the Drum Corps line he wrote. In the middle of the chaos, Becker looked to Anson. He was still cool as an old corpse, jamming out the rhythm. From the end of the song, they immediately went to Crash the Glass, which went a bit sloppy towards the end on Jay's part. During Charlie's back and forth with the crowd between songs, Becker approached Jay.
What's up, man? Becker asked. You kinda dropped the bar on that one.
It's the snare. Jay said, gripping the drum like he was choking someone. It's out of tune.
Do you have a drum key? Becker asked.
Not on my person. Jay sighed.
Becker soon returned to his position as Chagrin moved into a cover of Green Day's Basket Case. He really improvised most of it, but it sounded quite good, and Becker felt a swelling sense of pride. But he also felt the rising tension in the air. They were moving toward the end of the set, and nothing had gone wrong. It felt odd.
Eric, despite initial fear, slammed out the opening riff of Inferno. Anson followed gently, not wanting Eric to freak out. But Charlie let it out and nearly screamed the lyrics. Becker, in the midst, carefully sneaked his way over to Charlie, and, as the bass had a break in the bridge of the song, Becker smacked Charlie in the back of the head, as if to say, Stop shouting!
Charlie listened, and finished the song gracefully. Next, Chagrin went into Mars, which Jay and Becker easily rocked out, seeing as how they wrote it. After that, they went into the finale of Glory, a slow song that gets progressively more aggressive. Becker suddenly ended with a slide. Nothing had happened.
As the band unplugged, Anson looked to Becker.
Really? Nothing? Anson said. Now he's just messing with us.
Yeah, I guess Becker began, but he found himself interrupted by the automatic psrinkler system going off, showering the concert hall in a wave of cold eater.
Oh, here we go. Anson laughed, holding his arms out defiantly.
S**t. Becker muttered under his breath, preparing to leap on anyone who got too close.
COME ON! Anson cried out to the unseen Shredder. IS THAT THE BEST YOU GOT?!
It wasn't. As Anson taunted the Gods, there came a small explosion from behind Becker. He turned to see Jay plastered on the ground, surrounded by a plume of stale smoke. He quickly ran over, and was shocked to find the snare had fractured, as if it were a soda bottle under too much pressure. He looked to Jay, who was clutching at his chest.
He broke the pattern! Becker cried to his bandmates. Eric was standing near the edge of the stage, too scared to move. Anson quickly abandoned his imaginary vendetta and ran over to where Becker was kneeling over Jay. He took one look at the snare and ran a finger through it, then tasted his finger.
Sodium. Pure sodium. Anson concluded amid the chaos. Son of a bitch rigged the snare. The water set it off.
Becker looked back at Jay, and saw that a piece of the metal snare rim was sticking out of his chest. Becker carefully tore Jay's shirt open, revealing a simply miraculous sight: the piece of metal rim shard was stopped by Jay's crucifix necklace, where it now lay lodged. Jay opened his eyes and chuckled weakly.
I told you, it's God's will.
Becker looked back out at the crowd. As his hair plastered to his head, he realizedit's not that it ISN'T God's will. It's just that everyone controls their own fate. He suddenly reached his hands into his pockets, removing from one the ID with the number on it, and from the other, his cell phone. He dialed it carefully, savoring each digit.
RING RING RING