It's Gina on the phone. I look at Mark and Jason and they look back at me expectantly.
"Where are you?" I ask.
"I'm in the hotel lobby. The guys are arguing in the parking lot. We're going to go sort this stuff out and see where we go from here. I just need to know one thing: are you guys willing to carry on, or is it just going to be more fighting and shit? Can we salvage the tour?"
I look at the guys again. They look back with bright eyes, all full of hope and other cheesy emotions. I know they would follow me to the bitter end. "Yeah, we're still in," I tell her.
"Okay, that's all I needed to hear. I'll call again in a few hours."
I hear the click, but I say goodbye anyway and hang up.
"So?" says Jason. "Who was that?"
I tell them what Gina said. They nod, and we hang out in the room, getting drunk and waiting for her to call back. At one point we hear shouting beneath our window, look out and see half a dozen people scrapping it out in the parking lot. Man, what a town.
A few hours later I leave Jason and Mark drinking in the hotel room in case Gina calls and head downstairs to the bar to settle up with the manager. They've already locked up, but banging on the heavy wooden door brings one of the bouncers around. "Can I get in and see Jeff?" I ask him. Wordlessly he lets me pass.
The bartenders are behind the bar cashing out their registers. Another bouncer is sweeping. I ask at the bar and get directions to Jeff's office off a little hallway behind the bar.
I see him inside, his back to the door, counting stacks of bills. I knock on the open door. He turns and looks at me. "Oh. You came back."
"Sure," I say. "You said to come back and settle up."
He spins around in his swivel chair and folds his arms over his fat stomach. "Okay. But you're not going to like it."
I lean against the doorway. "How's that?"
"As far as I'm concerned, both of you guys, you and that other pack of assholes, fucked me over tonight. Those guys showing up what, four hours late? Then getting on stage and acting like a pack of assholes like that. Fuck them. They're getting nothing."
"As for you guys, it was your drummer who jumped up on stage and started that fight, so as far as I'm concerned you're lucky I don't call the cops."
"The cops probably stop by pretty often, don't they?"
He gives me a snarky look. "Don't get smart. You guys will get half."
"Half of what both bands were supposed to get?"
"No, half of half of what both bands were supposed to get. Half of your half. And if you don't like it, we can settle it outside."
I give him a hard look and think it over. Cops would be no help, and a parking lot settlement would not go well. Rock and a hard place. "All right," I say. "We'll take it."
"You've got the room, and the cost of that will be taken from your cut. Just to make sure you don't get any funny any ideas, you can get your money tomorrow when you check out."
"I thought the room was complimentary for the bands."
"Yeah, for bands that don't start fights on stage. Pricks like you can go fuck yourselves. You got anything else to say?"
I stand there like a dope. "No, I guess not."
"Then get the fuck out of here."
"Right." I walk back out of the bar and head up to the room. Mark is sitting on the floor in his underwear watching Jerry Springer on the television and Jason is spread out on the bed.
Mark looks up. "All right Taz?"
"We're not getting paid until tomorrow. The manager is pissed off about the fight, so we're not getting quite as much as we thought."
Jason rolls his head to look at me. "That's typical."
"Gina called," says Mark. "She's on her way here."
"Yeah," Jason says. "We'll see if she wants to play strip poker."
"Sure. It's a shame you'll be passed out drunk by then."
"Fuck that," he says, rolling into an upright position. "I'm good."
"Anyway," I say, cracking open another beer. "Gina's probably got more important things to talk about."
Fifteen minutes later the phone rings again. It's Gina, calling from the lobby. "I'll come down," I tell her. I get up and grab the last two unopened beers.
"Why'd you no invite her up here?" asks Mark. He looks as pissed drunk as Jason. And I probably look as drunk as they do.
"We'll just have a quick chat," I say. "Don't worry about it."
"I'm no worried. Ye've just like, got to be hospitable and all that, aye?" he slurs.
I leave and bumble down the stairs once again. Gina is waiting in the shabby brown lobby. She sees me and leads me outside into the parking lot.
"Do you want a warm beer?" I ask, offering her one of the bottles.
"So what happened?" I ask. "Why were you guys so late?"
"Oh god," she says, opening the bottle and taking a drink. "This is so ridiculous. So embarrassing. Wayne was driving and he got into an argument with Dave, who was sitting behind him. They were talking all sorts of crap about the band, about throwing him out because he's not a good enough player. See, we were all pissed off at you because you told Dave we wanted to find a new guy, but the thing is we'd actually talked about that before. So you saying it kind of brought it out into the open. But of course you don't want that to come out when you're actually on the road with the guy."
"Right. Well, sorry again."
"So anyway," she continues, "Wayne is driving, talking like he's the fucking king, my band this and that, and eventually they get to yelling at each other so much that Wayne is turning around to yell at Dave while he's going ninety on the highway. And when Wayne was turned around, Dave hit him in the face."
"People have a habit of that."
"Yeah well, it's not really the smart thing to do when the guy's driving. So Wayne hits the brakes and we go into the ditch. Christ, I still can't believe we didn't roll the van. We could have been killed, there's no doubt in my mind. So we hit the ditch and we can't get back out. And then we find that Wayne's cell phone is out of the service area, so we can't even call for help. Eventually we get someone to stop and they call. Then it's two hours before the tow truck shows up to winch us back onto the road, with all four of us screaming at each other the whole time. So there. That's why we were late." She takes a long drink.
"That's fucked up."
"Worst day of my life," she says. "We're stuck in a motel down the highway. And it looks like the band is pretty much done. Dave's going home no matter what happens, and none of us want to play with Wayne anymore, so it looks like he'll be going home too."
"So that's it?"
"Well," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "To tell the truth, Matt and I wouldn't mind carrying on."
I laugh. "You want to play shows with just guitar and drums? You're The White Stripes now, with no vocals?"
"Actually I can sing," she says. "I'd have to cut or change some of the lyrics and maybe a few songs too. But I can do it. If we can find a new bass player, we'll be set."
"Sure, but where are you going to find a new bass player? Pick one from a musician tree?"
She looks at me sweetly. She even bats her eyelashes.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." I close my eyes and shake my head. "You're not serious. You've got to be crazy."
"Come on Terry," she says. "You know you could play our songs. You won't have to do anything fancy, just back us up. We'll play in the sound checks so you can learn the material. It'll be fine."
"The Clutch Dogs will kill me. Besides, you can't play shows like that without rehearsing first. It'll be a disaster."
"Well, we'll switch so your band will play second. That'll probably satisfy Mark and Jason. And we've got a free day before we play in Winnipeg, so we can jam all day tomorrow if you want. We can make it work. Come on, Terry. I really want to make this work. There's no way I want to go home. God, we're not even a quarter of a way through the tour."
"This is nuts." I shake my head, but my drunken brain is thinking, well, maybe. As well, I don't want to let Gina down. The thought also flutters through my mind that maybe, just maybe, I'll let her charm me with her beauty and abundant sexuality.
She has another idea. "Remember Terry," she says, "if Machine Within A Machine goes home, so do The Clutch Dogs."
Again, I laugh out loud. "That's a compelling argument." I have a sip and nod. "Okay. I'll see what the guys say."
"There's one other thing," she says. "Our van is on Wayne's credit card. He's going to take it back to Toronto."
"What, so you want to come in our van? That's a problem. How are we going to fit five people and all the gear, including two drum sets into our van?"
"We can make it work. Maybe Matt and Mark can figure something out about the drums."
"Sure, we'll just throw Mark's kit into the Lake of the Woods. Except that his gear is all borrowed. He can't ditch it."
"We'll work it out tomorrow. Here," she says, reaching into the inner pocket of her jacket. "Give them this as a peace offering." She pulls out a joint.
"You guys have pot?"
"Matt brought some, but he hasn't let anybody see it. Wayne was absolutely fascist about not having any drugs along." She passes me the joint. "Okay, so Matt and I will call you in the morning and let you know what's going to happen."
She walks away down the road. I go back inside. In the room, Mark and Jason have both passed out, Mark on the floor and Jason spread eagle across the top of one of the beds. I slip the joint into my guitar case and crawl into the vacant bed.
2006 Nolan Whyte