When the dust finally settles, Funky's looks even worse than it did before. Blood is being mopped up off the floor, equipment is being packed up, broken chairs and tables are being carried out the back door and thrown into dumpsters by walking balls of fat and muscle; those who aren't preoccupied pinning down the more violent offenders while waiting for the police, that is. Liquor is still being consumed at a steady rate by innocent bystanders and me. I'm at the bar, shot glass in one hand, ice bag in another. The place where Billy first hit me is blowing up like a balloon and has been receiving regular attention from the ice bag for the past twenty minutes. It pairs well with the plugs of toilet paper jammed up my nostrils to stem the bleeding brought on by a second, better aimed punch. It was the only good blow he was able to get in, the remainder of our encounter consisting of multiple rollovers, grapples and weak slaps while somehow managing to avoid being stepped on or crushed by the hoard of feet surrounding us. I was lucky, able to add an additional blow to the gut and come away with a fistful of straggly greying hair when we were broken up.
Billy himself was thrown out of the bar at once by Tub o' Lard and, I'm told through a bystander, delivered into the custody of the police, while I was allowed to go to the disgusting bathroom and try to tidy myself up. Everything hurt but nothing was broken, thank God. Lindsay is gone, vanished like a puff of smoke. I have no idea when she left. Ditto Kevin, I'm now convinced it was him who shoved Curtis into the crowd, sparking the chaos. Curtis himself is gone, too. I don't know where nor do I want to. Brea doesn't reappear during the rest of the time I'm in the bar, but I see Stephen almost immediately after coming out of the bathroom. I expect his first reaction to be one of friendly concern, perhaps worry for my well being.
His expression is one I've seen on Billy's many a time - contemptible disgust. Of the many things I know have changed tonight, the death of Stephen Gain - the friendly, supportive one, at least - is the first to manifest itself. "Well, congratulations, Jay. I hope you're happy."
The words feel like a punch to my already sore face. "Me?" I blurt out. "How the f--k is this my fault? In case you forgot in the chaos, that son of a bitch Billy pulled me off the stage - f--king threw us off the stage!"
"Yeah, well, that roundhouse to the gut sure didn't help things."
"May I also point out he was the first one to throw a punch? Come on, man. Any idiot could tell I didn't start any of this."
"So I'm the idiot now?"
"Aw, Stephen, you know very well that's not what I meant. Oh and by the way, I'm fine, thanks for asking."
He just rolls his eyes. "So I see. Too bad the same can't be said for your Warwick."
I blink. "What?"
Another eye roll. "You two idiots didn't watch where you were going when you were playing Jerry Springer hillbilly up there. You stepped on the neck when winding up to clock Billy."
The world fades out into silence again, the goose egg above my cheekbone is throbbing in time with my beating heart. I'm hearing things, I know it. "No, I didn't."
"Oh yeah," Stephen says. "You did. You were right, those Warwick's really are sh-t. Damned thing snapped like a twig."
Time goes by, seconds feel like hours before an especially impossible expletive erupts out of me. "That motherf--ker Billy, I'm going to kill him!" I scream.
"Would you keep your f--king voice down!" Stephen hisses through clenched teeth, grabbing me by the upper arm and shaking. "The last thing you need is the police throwing you into the back of a wagon for uttering death threats."
"That's no threat, it's a f--king promise!"
Color and hope drain from Stephen's face. He lets go of my arm and throws his up in the air and then turns around and begins to walk toward the stage. "You know what? Forget it. Just forget it. I'm gonna finish getting my gear together and then I'm getting the f--k out of here. F--k it. I'm done."
"What do you mean you're done? And what about our pay? Money's your responsibility, remember?" I call back after him. He stops long enough to look at me with that same contemptible disgust, roll his eyes one last time and walk off. I watch him go up to the stage, then do my own turnaround - right towards the bar. It takes a little bit of, shall I say, "negotiating" with the bartender before I'm served a beer and a shot of Jäger.
Time passes. The beer disappears, along with the shot and three of its twin brothers, one for each member of the band. I take a long enough break from drinking my dinner to go have a look at the Warwick, which is still lying on the stage. Stephen was right. The bass was totally useless, neck broken cleanly off the body, strings tangled together like robotic spaghetti strands, pickup chipped. Emotions from every end of the spectrum bite and claw inside me, begging to come out; cry, scream, swear, even the idea of laughter occurs to me at one point. God knows why. I collect the remains, handling them as delicately as you would a small nuclear device and bring it back to the bar, setting the pile by my feet as I remount the stool and ask for another shot.
As if on cue, at the bar, the manager walks up, relieving the bartender of this obviously unwanted burden, and informs me in no uncertain terms that the band's stipend has been donated to replace the broken furniture, and Dichotomy of Mind and all its members are hereby banned from "this fine establishment" (ha ha) for life in perpetuity throughout the universe and invites me, to make my shot disappear and then follow it, along with "that, ah..." he eyes the broken Warwick, "that instrument of yours." He's very careful to make certain every dollar of my tab is accounted for, which a pair of identical twin Queen Elizabeths satisfy. To make the night complete, I get the privilege of being escorted out the back door by Tub o' Lard.
"Why the hell are you sending me out the back door?" I ask, gathering up my ex-bass.
The manager's unsmiling face meets mine. "Security concerns. The last thing we need is you tearing each other apart on our property, and I'm not interested in having the police stick around all night, so it's better for all parties involved if you simply disappear."
"What, Billy? He's outside?"
"That's none of your business. Now, if you please."
"I think it is my godd-mn business, if you please. I..."
Tub o' Lard takes hold of me and ushers me from the bar before I can finish that sentence. His grip on my shoulder is firm but not painful, which is fine, because I don't put up a fight.
As he plants my feet onto the damp, piss and liquor soaked concrete of the alleyway, I look up at him and ask him the one question I've been wanting to ask all night.
"Do you get paid extra to not talk?"
The padded metal door slams in my face, snuffing out the beam of light from the bar's interior, rendering the whole alley dark, giving me my answer. I look down in my arms for what feels like a long time. There are no emotions now, just a cold, analytical observation made fuzzy by a not-too-wise combination of Canadian beer and German liqueur. Then I walk to the nearest open dumpster, and deposit the Warwick in its final resting place.
I really hated that f--king thing, I think to myself.
Sorry to disappoint you, if there ever is a you, but there isn't a big showdown between me and Billy, not tonight. More by divine intervention than anything else, I take a long, (I think it was long), walk through Gastown, purposely in the opposite direction from Funky's. The time outside clears much of the mental fog brought on by my liquid dinner, but does little to help alleviate the bad mood that has settled in following tonight's shortened set. My outlook on life is darker than the reactions I get after reading another empty-headed troll comment on my blog. Hell, what blog? I haven't written anything for so long, what makes me think I have a right to continue using that title? By that logic, what right do I have to call myself a musician? I'm down an instrument, down a much-anticipated pay cheque that's now going to have to be made up somehow and, more importantly, down a band. Nobody's come right out and said it, but I know my days in Dichotomy of Mind are done - hell, the whole band is done! Billy will never speak to me again without trying to break my neck, Stephen's as good as quit, and Brea? God knows what that girl thinks, she changes moods quicker than a TV changes channels. It's a safe guess she's got no interest in what happens to me, though.
So. Here I am. Free, and alone, after all, just like the Ravenclaw duo theorized on. What's the appropriate thing to do to (celebrate?) newly found independence?
Crossing onto Abbott Street, I walk under a fluorescent full moon, which draws my attention. It's a neon sign to the newest member of the public house scene, The Stone's Throw, across the street from the giant Cineplex, a literal stone's throw from the more colourful parts of Chinatown. One wonders if that's what prompted the ownership to confer such a name. I've never been to this place before, but that's no big deal, since a new refuelling station seems to pop up every other week or so in Vancouver.
I decide to change that.
The warm air, rich with smells of leather, grilled meat and beer is a welcome change from the chilled, piss-stained crispness of the nighttime Gastown air. The walls are lined with leather-padded booths that might have been plucked right out of an interior design magazine, something one comes to expect when the tagline "Public House" is attached to the name. With such a large sign hanging on the building, I expected to be walking into a cavern, and found myself in a conch shack instead, one covered from tip to tails in freshly polished wood. A slim, liberally tattooed brunette in a one-size-too-small T-shirt sporting the bar's logo across her one-size-too-large breasts greets me with a "customers first" smile until she sees my face and turns to shocked alarm, asking the usual "are you okay?" routine delivered in double-time. I assure her I'm fine, just a bit of an accident, I'm not about to drop dead. This doesn't seem to satisfy her completely, but it's enough for her to invite me to have a seat anywhere I like. I raise a hand in thanks and move down the narrow bar, bending and sliding past a few standing patrons who seem more interested in their emptying glasses than in my manners.
To my surprise, Kevin the Drummer is sitting in the farthest corner booth, sipping from an almost-empty glass, (surprise, surprise!). He notices me, puts down his glass and does a double take, wiping a frothy smear from his lips. "Jesus!" he cries out. "Jesus!" Others are now starting to look, notice my wounds, and whisper among themselves.
"Nope, just me," I say.
"You look like sh-t. That frontman friend of yours do that?"
That makes me snort. "That son of a b-tch is no friend of mine, but for what it's worth, he's bound to have a hard time covering up the bald spot I gave him."
Kevin doesn't laugh, instead beckons me into the welcoming embrace of the leather booth. I sit down in the corner opposite him, catch the bartender's eye and motion to Kevin's glass, mouthing "I'll have what he's having." The bartender tips me a two-fingered salute and turns around to retrieve a clean glass from a nearby shelf after taking a long look at my face.
"Get used to the attention," says Kevin. "That lump's gonna be sticking around with you for a few days."
"Thanks for the heads-up, doctor."
"Hey man, I invited you to sit. Don't make me regret it."
Sigh. "Sorry. You understand I'm not in the most charitable of moods right now."
"No kidding. I wouldn't be if I were in your shoes. Police let you go?"
"Not even, security shoved me out the back door, told me not to book a return show anytime soon."
Kevin looks surprised by this. "You're banned?"
I nod. "Me, and the whole band," I tip my head back slowly, recalling the words the manager of Funky's left me with before I was shown the door, "'in perpetuity throughout the universe.' Whatever's left of the band, that is."
"Aw hell, I don't know who's in and who's out, other than me. I didn't exactly go find Billy to check, just in case."
"Understandable," he says, then he grows thoughtful. "I'm sorry."
"For what? Throwing our ex-bassist into the eye of the beast?"
He shakes his head from behind his glass. "Hell no, and if you're expecting one..."
This gets a laugh out of me, a single one-note bark. "You kidding? That tag-team stunt of yours was probably the highlight of the evening. Way to stick up for your girl, I respect a man for that."
"Ha. Thanks. Linds' isn't my girl, though. We're just good friends. I'm not much of a dating man."
"Well, either way."
"What I meant was: I'm sorry your gig went to hell."
I shrug. "Sh-t happens."
"Yeah, but still, nobody likes to draw a red card from any venue. Although to be fair, I'd never play there. Pay sucks."
"Don't remind me. Mine is being used to buy new chairs and tables."
Kevin winces, shaking his head. "That sucks." Then, almost automatically, he adds, "She's not here."
"Lindsay. She went home following our reaction to that pervert clamping his sweaty mitts on her."
Elegant, I think. "I don't blame her."
"Yeah, well I just thought you'd wanna know."
"Ask her yourself tomorrow if you want," Kevin smirks, looking a bit devilish. He must recognize I'm in no mood for jokes, and continues, "Yeah, she'll be fine. She was more upset she didn't break that guy's nose."
"Well," I muse, "that makes two of us. Or is that three?" Kevin smiles again. "So, what do you want to talk about?"
Kevin drains the rest of his glass, setting it on a soggy coaster with a satisfied thud. He looks to me. "What makes you think I want to talk about anything?"
"Three guesses. And the first two don't count. You don't seem too concerned that I could drop dead from my facial, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume you're still pissed about how our last conversation ended."
"Yet I'm the one who asked you to join me, anyways." Kevin thinks it over for a minute. "Hmf. Lindsay was right about you."
"About what, pray tell?"
"Oh, it's nothing big. She just happened to mention to me in passing that you're one of the more stubborn guys she's met." That shouldn't hurt, but it does, insult added to injury. A brief twang of sharp warmth in my chest. "Not that that's a bad thing."
"What she calls 'stubborn', I call 'idealistic.' You're a stick-to-your-guns kinda guy, even when your glass boat's got a hole in the bottom. I like that." His hand, sporting a fair share of bandages, moves for his glass, only to remember it's empty, and draws it back again. "Yes sir, I like that in a man. With you to the very end, women and children only. A smile on your face and a song in your heart; goodbye friends and don't be lonely."
The first thing I want to do is ask how much f--king booze he's had to drink, and then to seize any car keys he may have and get them into the bartender's hand, post haste. Instead, I do the logical thing, and burst out laughing. "What the f--k are you talking about?"
"Aw, I dunno. I heard it in a movie somewhere once, sounded good to me."
"Fair enough," I say, thinking that no sane scriptwriter would dare throw such crap together on paper.
The tattooed brunette approaches the table, tray in hand. She sets down two frosty glasses of an amber coloured brew on coasters, collects Kevin's empty and asks if we want any food. Kevin orders the house bacon cheeseburger and fries and seizes his glass, jerking a thumb towards me and instructing the server to put my pint on his tab before taking a long, hard sip. I tell the brunette to make it two burgers. She nods and smiles and turns to walk away, telling him "Absolutely, no problem!" The inner dialogue I can detect in her eyes when they briefly meet mine says "You really should be at the hospital right now."
I sip from my own glass. The beer is strong, aromatic and good. "Cheers."
"Cheers," says Kevin, taking another pull from his glass, then setting it down. He looks at me with all seriousness, the party-hearty persona gone, wiped off his face like raindrops swept away by the stiff arm of a windshield wiper. "Have you guys cut one?"
"I beg pardon?"
"A demo. Your band, I mean."
"It's not my band," I say, hearing Billy's curt snap in my own voice. I don't like it, but do nothing to discourage it. "We got one; a simple three-track sampler on disc. You should've asked the other day, I have a stash hidden away at Cage, I could've given you one."
"Get out!" Kevin cries, eyes widening. "You conned your boss into letting you sell your stuff?"
A snort escapes me. "Hardly. Officially, it's against store policy to accept solicitations of any kind. I've been caught once before but let off the hook, with the understanding that a repeat offense would be unwise." I pause and take a couple of sips. "That being said," I continued, "the curious few who ask don't always leave empty-handed when I'm running solo."
Kevin beams. "Aha. Entrepreneurship at its finest."
I get another twinge in the chest, a guilty one. I don't like playing cloak-and-dagger behind Art's back, he's a good guy if a little strange, and he's always been good to me when conflicts of shift and gig arise. Of course, Art didn't have a stake in Dichotomy of Mind's future, financial or otherwise. With this in mind, it occurred to me that this "entrepreneurship" would very likely no longer be a problem for me come my next shift on Sunday. Then I pause, thinking back to the other night in my apartment, just me and my tape player, and ask, "When are you recording the next one?"
"The next Ravenclaw demo." Sip. "I may have been beaten about the face, but I haven't lost my marbles. I remember your implying it."
"Do you now?" Kevin's smile flickers, then melts. "Well, forgive me, but I seem to recall your rather caustic reaction to something that's not even technically on the calendar."
I remember it, too, quite well, feeling the lump on my face growing hot. "Like I said, I already had other commitments. Besides, it's all a moot point now. My bass is dead."
I share the quick version of what happened with Kevin, who winces, his eyes closing into tight little screws. "That is just the worst," he says.
"Yeah, it blows all right," I say. "Well, at least it wasn't my real instrument, thank God." Kevin looks confused. "My Gibson, the six-stringed one."
"Oh. What about your transitioning, though?"
Another snort, another sip, this one followed by a belch, the majority suppressed by a quick snap shut of my jaw. "God, that's disgusting," I mutter. "And that transition idea was Lindsay's, not mine, remember. I only had that hideous thing with me because DoM needed a backbone. She can play. What you guys are missing is a guitarist." I pause, and think. "Maybe even two, I don't know."
Kevin tips his head in csion oncesand takes to his glass again. "I notice you've started using the past tense," he says after setting his glass back down. I don't pay this any attention. "Well, whatever. I never actually asked you outright to join up with us."
"I never actually said no."
We sit in silence, drinking and thinking, until Kevin says, "Did... did we just agree on something here?"
I shrug. "You tell me. Mind you, to be fair, not all parties are present."
Kevin goes silent for a long time. My mind clicks back into replay mode, the events of the past three hours being reviewed at incredible speed, until he interrupts the loop, bringing reality back into the main viewer. "Well, I think another drink is called for, before any big decisions are made, yes?"
"That sounds alright to me," I say, hoping to God on the inside I haven't just traded one alcoholic band member for another.
The rest of the night passes into early morning on a lake of booze, with a pair of burgers to offset what's sure to be a very unpleasant morning. The walls between Kevin and I are showing large cracks by the time last call is announced, it's only a matter of time before they fall. Paying my bill with a tired Visa, I drag my overindulged body out of The Stone's Throw and into the back of a taxi. I'm thankfully not too far gone to recognize the danger in trying to walk back to my apartment, even if its only ten blocks from the bar. As downtown begins to roll away into the distance behind me, I sign in to my blog on my phone and make what would come to be the final entry in a failed attempt at flexing my scrawny creative muscles. It's short and succinct. The last pearls of wisdom shared between Stephen Gain and I, I now share with Dichotomy of Mind, and the m tany anonymous trolls who've frequentedhe site over the months.
F--k it. I'm done.
Author's Note: For clarity purposes, the story is not done, merely this chapter. More to come.