The dimly lit hallways of the VPD office on East Hastings makes my stomach knot and drop into my feet, which feel full of cement. I force myself to walk up to the overweight lady with the no-nonsense look at reception, give my name and mention the voicemail details. She invites me to be seated, picks up the receiver of a phone, presses a button and speaks quietly into it. I plop myself into one of those stiff backed, uncomfortable plastic chairs every waiting room seems to have and await my fate with only a gurgling water cooler and a wall full of various brochures about crime and punishment for company. Although wanting to put off doing this as as long as possible, or delete the message entirely and delve into the instant gratification that runs rampant in the world of denial, the little voice continued nagging with each passing minute until I finally gave in to my rational side, whose own voice has grown from a muffled whisper of last night, to a rich and strong baritone. I arrive at the police station about an hour after receiving the dreaded voicemail and having several long conversations with myself.
Brea? Sorry to disappoint. That girl turned tail and made a swift disappearing act from my apartment not long after she heard the word "police." Which was her right, I suppose; the voicemail requested that only me, myself and I return the call and come down to the station to "answer a few questions regarding an incident of which your name has come up as a person of interest." Still, it didn't make things easier when she vanished without as much as a thank you, heading off to God knows wherever.
It didn't surprise me, though. Let's get that one thing clear. Save for Stephen, and even that friendship seems to be sporting a deep fissure, the sharpness of the shallow character of the Dichotomy of Mind crew quickly dulled on me after a while. It didn't surprise as much as it did disappoint. You can know someone's true colors for so long, but it never seems to erase even the tiniest fragment of hope that things might be different this time, nor does it make it any easier when they once again reveal said colors to you while slinking out the back door, leaving you to clean up the mess.
In some way, I know I deserve it, too. This isn't a fit of self-pity though, no sir, no ma'am; just the cold reality check I've badly needed. One for which I must know prepare myself to face whatever lies beyond the door of the police station marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY."
After a long wait, a man in tightly pressed dress pants and shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, revealing a set of dark and tangled hairy forearms. "Josh Mallory?" he asks, to which I nod and stand up. He extends a hand. "Corporal Caruthers, VPD. I'm in charge of the investigation."
I shake, a polite and firm one-pump. "I talked to a Constable Ballard on the phone?" I say. It comes out sounding more like a question than a statement of fact.
"Yes, that's right. Constable Ballard's out on a call, so it'll just be you and me today. Would you come this way, please?" The corporal leads me through the "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" door, through a winding maze of cubicles, most of which have unanswered phones blaring away, and into a room marked "INTERVIEW 01." I don't know if you've ever been on this side of a police station before, but to those who haven't, yet are addicted to the cop dramas on television - sorry to burst your bubble. The walls aren't painted a sickly color, there's no cold metal table, no lone swinging light bulb, and no giant two-way mirror designed more to unnerve you than anything else. "INTERVIEW 01" is carpeted, the table is a nice looking polished hardwood, the chairs are padded and have arms, which are also padded.
"Wow," I can't help saying. "This isn't quite what I expected," knowing I must sound like a complete tool to Corporal Caruthers. He laughs politely out his nose, then indicates to one of the chairs and asks me to sit. I do, and the first thing I notice is the large video camera in the corner of the ceiling, its accusing lens pointed right in my direction. Smile! I think, one for the album, as the corporal takes another seat opposite me, and asks if I have a drivers license or other piece of photo identification. Seeing as I've never driven a car in my life and have little desire to start learning, especially now, I pluck my BCID from my wallet and slide it over to him. Caruthers scribbles down the details on a form held inside a thick blue folder. When he finishes, he slides it back to me with a simple thank you.
"Uh," I venture. "Can I ask what this is all about? The message Mr. Ballard - Constable Ballard, I guess - left on my voicemail didn't go into details, just mentioned about an important matter involving me as a person of interest or something like that."
Caruthers grunts and looks up at me. "What do you do for work, Mr. Mallory?"
Oh great, I think. The old "make him sweat!" routine. I answer that I work at Cage Records, while offering up a silent prayer of thanks that I didn't have to work today; the less questions I had to answer, to Art or Corporal Caruthers, the better.
"Uh-huh," says Caruthers. "And how long have you worked there for?"
"A little over two years."
"And who's your boss there?"
"Uh... Art, Art Crawford, he's the day manager, but the store's owned by a Mr. Derek Drummond. Everyone just calls him D."
A nod, a grunted "Mmm," more notes scribbled down in that beast of a file. "Yes, I am familiar with Mr. Drummond. Quite a character in the local music scene, isn't he?" I don't even want to know how the corporal knows who D is, offering a simple yes in response. After a few more seconds, he looks up at me again. "Could you please tell me where you were last night, between the hours of four p.m. and midnight?"
"At, uh, Funky's. You know, Funky Winkerbean's pub? Right, well, my band - well, I guess it's my former band now - we had a gig there."
"Is that right? What's the name of your band? Or is it your former band? I'm not sure I understand you."
"Dichotomy of Mind. Long story."
"Ah. And this gig, as you call it, when did it begin?"
"But you were there at four?"
"Four-thirty or so, yeah. We had to setup."
"These - hmm - these bandmates of yours, did they go anywhere else, before or after your show?"
"My friend Stephen Gain and I, we went to Taco Fiero, over on Cambie, for a quick bite before the show. I don't know about the others. Same goes for after the show, I have no idea."
"And the names of these other bandmates would be?"
"Billy Glass and Brea DeMant."
"And you claim you have no idea of what they might or might not have been up to before or after your show?"
"No. We're not close friends. Look, officer... Corporal, beg pardon, what is this all about, please?"
"Did you go anywhere else last night, besides the taco place, before or after?"
"Uh, I went to another bar afterwards. The Stone's Throw."
"No. Well at first, yes, but I ended up meeting a friend there. His name's Kevin. I don't know his last name, only met him a week ago." I consider asking once more why I'm being interrogated like so, but I'd like to think I'm smart enough to recognize the futility in at least some actions.
"And after that?"
"I went home and slept."
Caruthers writes more notes, glancing at me in between. When he finishes this latest round of dictation, he sets his pen down on the pad, folds his damnably skinny hands and looks me in the eye. "Mr. Mallory, you are no doubt aware that last night, a violent incident took place at this 'Funky's' in or around the same time that your band allegedly performed? Several fights were reported, along with several injuries. One person was injured so badly, they were rushed to the hospital."
Oh, f--k, here it comes. "Yeah, I saw some sh-t unfold in the pit. Hey, it's a heavy metal show, you just know there's always one a-shole looking to make trouble."
"That would be one way of putting it."
"Is the guy okay?"
"Concussion and several gashes to the face from a beer bottle, but stable. Expected to pull through." Thank God for that. Mosh pits can be crazy, hell, outright dangerous, but the majority of headbangers out there never want to see another guy get injured so bad that the hospital ends up factoring into the equation. It's an unwritten code among moshers: you see a brother or sister fall, pick them the f--k up.
Caruthers redirects the conversation back to his original point. "We're currently interviewing anyone and everyone who was at that bar last night. As you can imagine, it's a time consuming process; narrowing down all the bits and pieces of information so as to determine exactly just what happened. We're looking at criminal charges ranging from assault to mischief."
This bit of information makes my heart leap into my throat, even though I know rationally there's very little chance of me being arrested for anything last night. The only punches I gave were in self-defense ... mostly. Of course if somebody else had pointed me out in one of those fights - worse yet, if they've somehow traced me back to Billy's insane liberation of our equipment from our almost certainly ex-studio...
That was a conversation I hoped to avoid at all cost.
"Mr. Mallory?" Corporal Caruthers asks, giving me a peculiar look. "I asked you a question."
Had he? Whoops. Tuning out in a cop shop isn't good. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
Caruthers makes a noise laced with impatience and asks if I have anything else to add. I shake my head and say, "Nothing much, we just played our set until some idiot throws a bottle that hits Billy in the face, and in the commotion, we fall off the stage. I don't remember much after that." Weak, I know, and it completely, if conveniently, overlooks the altercation with Curtis, but that's a powder keg I don't intend to shed light on. "If you want anymore information, you'll have to ask the guys, that's all I can remember right now."
Those words are no further out of my mouth before another important question strikes like a lightning bolt: how the hell did the cops get my number? In my twenty-eight years walking this planet, the only interaction I've had with the men and women of Vancouver's finest was to ask directions, and to offer a high-five following a Vancouver Canucks win during the 2011 Stanley Cup run - during the good times, before the masses turned insane and destroyed half the downtown core. I hadn't bothered to put on a sports jersey of any kind since. I'll stick to the chaos of the moshpit, thank you very much. Then again, if this investigation into the Funky's fallout gets any bigger or deeper, the future of that may also be in question.
Caruthers makes some notes, then asks if the phone number they have listed is my primary contact number. I confirm that it is, I own no landline and have no intention of ever getting one. He grunts again at this, a face-value polite noise that is quickly getting on my nerves. Then something, I don't know what exactly, guilt, panic, or the reptilian sense of self-preservation, prompts me to offer up the numbers of my other bandmates. I know, tattling is bad, but were the shoe ever on the other foot, would you not contemplate doing likewise?
"That won't be necessary," says Caruthers, clipping his pen to the folder lid and closing it. "Thank you for coming in today, Mr. Mallory. We appreciate your time. I'm sure you'll understand that we may have more questions for you in the future."
"Fine," I say, feeling weak in the legs all of a sudden. I'm able to stand again with some effort, using the chair arms to hoist myself up and out. "I'm not planning to leave town anytime soon, anyways."
"That's good," Caruthers says, offering a hand again. We shake briefly and he escorts me out of "INTERVIEW 01," through the cubicle maze and back into the lobby, wishing me a good day and closes the door behind him.
I start to tell him that I'll try, but the words don't come out very easy. I can only stand there and think, everything from the last twenty-four hours swirling around in my not-completely-over-the-hangover brain. I exit the station and proceed to walk up East Hastings to the bus stop, when another idea strikes me. I take out my phone and hit the only number on my speed dial and lift it close to my head. The phone on the other end of the line rings once, twice, three times. I've begun rehearsing the message I plan to leave when the other line picks up, the vibrator in my phone letting off a short buzz.
"Hey," I say, "it's me."
There's a long pause on the other end. It lasts so long I begin to think I've been hung up on, when I hear a less than enthusiastic, "Oh. Hi."
"Hey," I say again. "How's it going?"
The voice on the other end hums and offers up a blunt, "Well, I woke up, looked myself in the mirror and thanked God I'm still alive. You?"
"Shaking off last night the best I can." I wait for a response, but get one. I sigh and continue. "Look, about last night..."
I'm interrupted, and listen to the man I had considered my best friend tell me, "I don't want to hear about last night, Jay. And to be frank, I'm not altogether sure I want to hear from you right now."
Another sigh escapes me. "Alright, forget last night..."
"That," Stephen says, "is not likely to happen anytime soon."
"Will you just listen, please!" I say. "I just left the police station."
"Yeah, really. I don't know how or why, but they got ahold of my number, and I just had my chops grilled by some suit about last night."
"Yeah, so you should be on the heads-up, they're probably going to come calling for you, not to mention Billy and Brea."
"Yes, I know."
"Dude, I don't think you're hearing me," I say as a bus rumbles up to the stop. I wave a hand at the driver and take a step back from the pole, almost bumping into one of the Downtown EastSide's many transients. "Sorry," I say to the woman, and then to Stephen, "it's bad enough we're being dragged under the spotlight over last night, but if they get wind of what happened the other night at the studio, we..."
And just like that, my thought derails thanks to another brilliant thunderbolt that omniscient sense of the obvious can throw at whim, rendering my mind a total blank, until a new idea settles in ... one I don't like. "What do you mean, you know?"
"They interviewed me last night before I left the bar," Stephen says in an almost professorial tone of voice. "They know all that I know. Interesting choice of words, by the way."
"I'm not following you."
"Well, think about it. All this time, you've been trying to get into the spotlight at whatever cost with no thought to who you might have to step on to do so, all the while pretending you're not trying to steer the ship while blindfolded, and now all of a sudden you want to back out? I don't know, kind of ironic, don't you think?"
"It's lost on me," I say, "and that's not the point at all."
"Isn't it? Enlighten me then, why don't you?"
"This is about keeping our asses out of jail, that's what. And if I may be frank this time?" Stephen concedes. "Your nonchalance about this is more than a little disturbing."
Stephen omits a grunting noise not unlike Corporal Caruthers that makes me want to throw my phone. "Sorry you feel that way, Jay. But let's just say, after the events of last night, while you may feel content to blur it out in a sea of booze, I was given some much needed perspective."
That hurts, a verbal low-blow that I feel all the way up into my chest. "You coughed up my number. That's why they knew how to find me." Stephen neither acknowledges nor denies the accusation. "Why?"
From his end, it sounds like he almost laughs. "I don't know why you're so worried. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about, right?"
"Goodbye, Jay," Stephen says, and the line goes dead with that.
It takes me a long time to react, standing there with my phone gripped tight in my hand and all I'm able to muster is a heavy sigh. A droplet appears on my phone and splits into smaller droplets. Then another one appears. And another. And so on. I quickly wipe the screen against my shirt and pocket it, looking up at the suddenly greying skies, watching errant drops fall to earth and strike the bare pavement, leaving large, dark impressions like the beginning of a bad pointillism.
Of course I left my hoodie at home, I think. This makes me laugh, God knows why; long and hard gut-rolling tosses of hysteria that inevitably pulls me to the ground, where I lean against a brick wall, howling until tears run down my face. In the camouflage of this sudden downpour, they blend in perfectly. Nobody who dares pass by can tell whether they're tears of joy or sadness.
Not even me.
I ride out the storm, a brief but powerful deluge that darkens every street and sidewalk in the Downtown EastSide, sitting under a bus shelter, avoiding the cascade of rolling drops off the smooth metal lip of the canopy, watching buses pass by until things dry out, then I climb aboard one heading further east to a storage facility near Gore Street where I pass through a large security gate, punching in an access code granted to me by the management, and into a waiting cargo elevator that delivers me to the second floor of this memorabilia prison. I go down the wide hallway of fuzzy walls, (best not to take too deep a breath in here, I think), and sterile lights until arriving at a garage door which someone has spray-painted 400-412. I lift the door, locate unit 407, slip my key, also granted to me by the management, into a very pregnant looking lock with a bolt so thick, one would need a blowtorch instead of bolt cutters to break in and twist. The bolt pops with ease. I swing open the door, leaving the lock hanging on the loop and go inside.
Fumbling through the dark, my hand brushes against a toggle box on the rear left wall, resting in the down position. I flip it up. The overhead bulb snaps on at once, startling a rather large moth which had come to roost among my few valuables. It flaps and flutters around the tiny walk-in closet I'm lucky to still afford, brushing past my ear a couple of times before it finds the doorway and disappears. Giving the room a once-over, a curtain of dust lingers in the air, lending the room a slightly nostalgic aura. Off in the corner, hidden under a cloth caked with mould and dust, are my pair of Mesa-Boogie Mark IV amps I haven't used since hooking up with DoM, borrowing a pair of Marshalls from Stephen for that. As I sense that's no longer a viable option, I realize I'm going to need to pull these bad boys out of mothballs and start breaking them in again, and soon. But they can wait, they're only a side attraction. The main feature is lying in the middle of the chipped concrete floor, on display for all to gaze at and admire in its reverence - my sticker covered, battle scarred hardshell case. I kneel down and flip the latches, lifting the lid as slowly and gently as one might a coffin lid. But this is not a funeral, oh no. It's a resurrection.
"Hello, old friend," I whisper to the Gibson SG Special inside, its ebony body almost lost among the case lining, only the sleek glint of chrome from one of the pickups that reflects against the strings renders it visible. I reach inside to retrieve it, fondly stroking the solid mahogany body, slipping the plain black strap over my shoulders. My fingers take to the position along the fretboard with no hesitation brought on by natural rust. In the still quietness right then and there, I strum a simple D chord. It's tinny and distorted without any juice, naturally. It's also beautiful; heavenly almost. Things are starting to feel familiar once again. The majority of the storm has passed. A few gloomy clouds still linger, but they will pass, given time. Everything passes if you wait long enough. But whatever is swept away in the winds of time clears the path behind it, making room for the new. Good or bad, we never know, we can only wait and see.
Other things, however, require action.
With the storage closet once more locked and bolted, I carry my Gibson back to the elevator and through the gate. I watch it open wide to permit me exit, but don't look back when I hear the clang of metal on metal. For once, it's a rather pleasant sound.
I walk up a block to the nearest bus stop and quickly jump aboard one of the city's many articulated beasts. The ride back through town gives me plenty of time to think. One thing stands out above all other.
When I get home, the first thing I do is carry the Gibson into the bedroom and lay the case against my dummy practice amp for later. Then I grab a Hefty and collect every can and bottle I can find. I find lots. The bag is knotted twice, dragged out to the barebones deck, and dropped into what was formerly an empty trash can. The thudding sound the lid makes is also quite satisfying. With item number one checked off my impromptu to-do list, I go to find my phone, hooked up to the charger on my bedside table. It's high time I returned someone's call.
The answer comes on the first ring. "Hello?"
"Hey," I say. "It's me."
"Jay-Jay!" Kevin bellows in his familiar goodnatured vigor. "What's the good word? Your ... uh ... 'company' taken off?"
"Forget about that. It's not important. We said we'd talk later about 'stuff.' Well, it's later. Let's talk."