Living in Spotlight's Shadow. Part 16

I don't think. Like the shoe ad, I just do.

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From The Province Newspaper, October 23rd, 2007, Page 7

LOCAL DRUMMER KILLED IN TWO CAR COLLISION

Alcohol strongly suspected factor in crash: Police.

VANCOUVER — Shock and sadness are rippling through the local heavy metal community today with the news that an overnight three car collision on the Knight Street Bridge has claimed the life of Systex drummer Adam Merritt. Reports indicate that the collision took place at just after one in the morning when a grey Ford Focus swerved out of the northbound lane, crossing the meridian and crashing into Merritt's 2007 Hyundai Elantra, blocking both southbound lanes. The driver was taken to hospital with minor injuries and later into custody with a blood alcohol level of 0.20, more than three times the legal limit. According to VPD Constable Rick Ashland, a passenger riding in Merritt's Elantra remains in serious but stable condition at Vancouver General Hospital and is expected to survive. Police declined to identify him at this time. "Unfortunately, the third person involved in the accident, Mr. Merritt, was pronounced dead at the scene by first responders," Ashland said, adding, "Owing to the nature of the crash, it is unlikely that Merritt never saw what was coming until it was too late." Investigations are still ongoing, although it is believed that the thirty-five year old Merritt is not suspected of DUI.

Adam Merritt was best known as drummer for the Vancouver-based metal quintet Systex, who had recently been the subject of comeback rumours after an almost six-year hiatus from the music scene. Critics often compared his playing style to that of such other Canadian metal acts Bloodwood and Black Heart Legion. In spite of his iconic reputation as a pioneer of what industry pundits over the last decade have coined 'New Canadian Groove,' Merritt often kept a low profile, holding drum clinics for underprivileged children, among many other charitable efforts. Merritt's father; the only surviving member of the family, declined requests for an interview, offering only a short written statement:

"I am utterly heartbroken by the loss of Adam Martin Merritt, a loving, talented son and friend. His always optimistic demeanour and friendly nature made him a constant joy to be around. I am grateful for the public's condolences, but request that my privacy please be respected during this difficult time."

No statement was made available from any representatives of the band as of the time this article went to press. The home screen on the Systex website has been replaced by a black and white image of Merritt behind his drum kit, a solitary arm clutching a drumstick raised in the air.

Funeral plans have yet to be announced.

***

"...[the answer is] I don't know. Not much time has to go by before you realize the scene you grew up in is changing. Even now, all these years later, you're faced with the reality of the situation every time you pick up a microphone, or a guitar. Of course, you mourn, you grieve, and sooner or later you're ready to move on, it's only natural. But things never get back to 'normal'. There's a place at the table that will never be filled again, and all of us know it. You don't just replace a guy like Adam [Merritt]."

- From the Commercial Dive. Interview of the Month: Richard Demin Discusses past, looks ahead on anniversary of album release. November 27th, 2012.

***

The first thing I'm aware of after a flurry of activity interrupted by punctuations of dazed incomprehension settles down, and feelings of normality begin to return is the homemade icepack on my forehead. It's really no more than a towel wrapped around a zipper locked plastic bag full to bursting with ice cubes, but it doesn't have to be anything fancy for me to love it. The brilliantly cold shock and the damp condensation feel wonderful against what is most likely going to turn into a goose egg, perhaps a concussion, which would certainly derail any plans for week two recording, but right now, those thoughts are in the back of my mind. I'm a little more concerned with my encounter with Clown Face and the fat man, and with whose couch I'm sitting on. 


"How's that?" the woman asks, the same woman who insisted I needed help, insisted I be brought into the house in spite of the cautious skepticism voiced by the man called Richard. He's gone into a nearby room and shut the door. I can't understand what he's saying but I can still hear his voice buzzing in steady, rhythmic patterns. He must be on the phone, I think, calling 911 to send police, an ambulance and remove this unexpected problem from his house. I strain to lift my head to look into the face of the woman; patient with bright green eyes alight with worry, straw coloured hair with a wave of pink drawn pack in a ponytail. Time has been good to her, I can't make out a single wrinkle in spite of a telltale voice suggesting she's pushing forty.

"It's alright," I say, becoming more aware of the warm throb of pain in my stomach, dulled considerably though from what it used to be. "Long as I'm not bleeding, that is."

"Lower," the woman commands gently, and I drop the icepack, then almost involuntarily rest it against my stomach. That also feels alright. The pain seems to turn tail and slink away; first a barely warm flicker, then gone. The woman studies my face and then shakes her head. "Nope, no blood I can make out."

"Lucky me," I say with a weak chuckle.

"That's putting it mildly. You look like somebody used you for a punching bag, otherwise." This brings a tiny, wry smile to my face. I don't know what it is about the human being that makes us smile, chuckle or in the worst cases, double over in hysterics at the lower moments of life, but it's not entirely a bad thing. Certainly better than lying collapsed in the corner of the room in a puddle of your own tears.

"What's your name?" asks the woman.

"Josh Mallory. Jay-Jay to those who like me, everyone else just calls me by my last name."

"Well, I'll call you Jay," she replies. "And you can call me Kayla."

That's when things stop being alright. Bells and whistles start sounding in my brain as though I've just taken a pull on the slot machine of life and come up with triple sevens. Kayla and the man called Richard. Impossible. I'm sure I've got a concussion now, maybe even a brain bleed, that would explain things.

Yeah, that and a toonie will get me a donut and a cup of Tim's tobacco-backwater excuse of a coffee.

"Is something wrong?" lady Kayla asks. "You've gone all pale."

"No," I quickly say, "no, no, too much ice at once, I guess. Getting a bit chilly."

"Hmm, it might be shock settling in. You really should be at the hospital, head injuries are nothing to joke about. My husband suffered a hell of a concussion a few years ago in an awful car accident."

"I'm sorry."

Before she can undo my abrupt subject change, her husband comes back into the room, replacing a cordless phone into its cradle. A pair of green lights snap on to indicate charging in progress, or complete, or whatever. Despite the time of night, he doesn't appear anywhere near ready for bed in his ragged black jeans and an old tee sporting a paint-chipped motto that reads "SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS," taking a seat on an ottoman that looks as if it could be made from real leather; though more likely faux. Unlike the lady called Kayla, the face belonging to the man she calls Richard sports his fair share of age and world-weariness. Patches of salt and pepper grace his stubbled face and the crew-cut hair while dark-rimmed eyes search me from top to bottom before boring into mine, no detectable emotion behind them, not much in the way of concern, either. There's a slight rasp in his voice when he speaks, likely the result of too many cigarettes, (tobacco and otherwise), or from someone who makes a living flapping his gums, as my parents liked to call it; a dee-jay perhaps, or a singer. Maybe even a screamer, I think, and force myself not to let the smile tugging at the corners of my lips spread.

"Well," he says, "I'll admit you look a bit better now than when we first fished you out of the garbage bin, but not by a lot. Just what the hell happened? But first, let's start with your name."

"Recycling bins, not garbage, thank you," says Kayla.

"Yes, dear." Sarcastic, yet not without an undercurrent of affection. His eyes, those of an insomniac I can now recognize with uncomfortable familiarity, never leaving mine. Talk, they say, and fast. Oh, and make it good.

"My name is Josh Mallory. You can call me Jay, though, or Mallory, or whatever. I was ... mugged, a little while ago. Just outside my building. I didn't think, I just ran, you know how you do in a panic without thinking? Just ran until... well until..."

Now, if you've been along for the ride with me so far, you're probably surprised, or maybe you're not, at how many times a man in my position could tell lie after lie, knowing all too well the consequences that inevitably follow from trying to keep your story straight. Here is another one of those undeniable facts of life compulsive liars sooner or later come to grips with: I don't think. If, as scientists have posited for decades, the unconscious of human nature can be divided into three areas of conflict management; fight, flight or accommodate, anyone who's ever been in a situation demanding a response along those lines can tell you that logic plays little to no role in the process. Like the shoe ad says, I just do. I don't look back later with regret or self-hatred at my too-often brilliant f--k-ups, only a sort of stoic acceptance that I alone am more often responsible for what transpires. You may have a hard time accepting this, and if so, you're not alone.

"Mugged!" Kayla says the word with a gasp. "Oh my God, that's terrible! Did they get anything?"

"Nothing much," I say, re-applying the ice pack to my forehead for a brief moment, a few quick taps and then back into my lap. I don't pay attention to the growing damp spot. "Just my cash. I managed to get off a sucker punch when they demanded my phone."

"What?" Now she sounds astonished, unable to believe her ears. "What, did they have guns? Or knives? Jesus, you could have been killed!"

"Babe," Richard says, craning his neck upward and raising a hand in her direction, "calm down a bit. He's alive, that's what's important." Back to me. "Although you definitely should see a doctor. And file a report with the police."

I start to shake my head. "No. At least, not right now. I just wanna get home and sleep for about a week." A thought strikes me, a not entirely unreasonable one, either. "Unless you already called 911? In the other room back there?"

His eyes dart to the short hallway, then back to me. "Not exactly. I called a guy I know from the VPD. He's been a friend of mine for a while now. He's good at, uh... what you'd call 'discretionary matters.'"

I don't know what he means by that term, but I don't like it. Neither does Kayla, judging from her wrinkled nose and cocked eyebrow. Richard gauges our mutual reactions and adds, "Relax, nothing sinister. You just won't have to go through so much procedural rigamarole than if you'd ended up in hospital with a bullet in your gut in this here mugging."

Elegant, I think and sigh. "I'm guessing this means you're not about to let me get up and try to catch the last bus back to town."

"Well," says Richard, "I'm sure Officer Caruthers wouldn't appreciate me wasting his time anymore than he'd appreciate you taking your leave without first having a little chat."

"So, no."

"You got it."

"Wait - did you say Caruthers?"

"Yes. Why, do you know him?"

"Unfortunately." I fall back into the couch, letting myself sink deep into the worn leather, ice pack tumbling from my hands to the floor, water slowly oozing out from the cloth onto the sleek hardwood.

Richard and Kayla exchange long looks. Then Kayla, who's been standing almost ramrod straight for too long, stretches and announces that she thinks we could all do with a cup of coffee before asking how I take it.

"Uh, just plain, I guess. Thanks?" It comes out as more of a question than I intend.

"Four black it is, assuming Officer Caruthers would care to join us when he arrives. I know I would, working late nights like these. Richard, help me get the cups?" He studies me for a minute longer and then follows her out of the room and into the adjoining kitchen, where they proceed to exchange a volley of viperous whispers I can't even begin to understand as I sit, practically limp, in the couch, staring at the smooth, cream-coloured ceilings, until a shadowy image emerges in the corner of my eye.

I turn and notice a pyjama-clad little girl who can't be more than eight years old standing in the hallway, staring at me in between episodes of rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Her dirty blonde hair hangs down in messy tangles. She watches me silently with unblinking eyes. Oh, this is just perfect, I think. Can this night get any better?

"Hi." It's the only thing that seems the least bit reasonable right now as the realization that our nights have just become incredibly strange descends on us.

"Who are you?" the little girl asks, sounding still half-asleep. "Are you one of my daddy's friends?"

"Uh, yes, that's right. My name is Josh. What's yours?"

She opens her mouth to answer, only to be cut off by a raspy cry of surprise. All eyes turn to Richard coming out of the kitchen and heading straight for the girl. "Jade! Sweetie, what are you doing up?"

"I heard Kayla yell, and then I got scared. I thought it was a bad dream, but then I got scared..." Her lower lip folds over, briefly exposing a row of small, round teeth and her eyes start to shimmer.

Richard envelops the girl in his arms and lifts her up, allowing her to bury her head against his shoulder, letting out a string of muffled whines and snuffles. "No, baby, it's okay. You're perfectly safe. Everything's alright." He carries her out of the room, continuing to assure her that everything's alright. Were I not feeling like a string on a guitar stretched to the point of snapping, I might have found something affectionate and beautiful in this. Instead, I can only let my head fall back on the couch pillow. This is hardly how I pictured my reacting to meeting the man who almost certainly could be called my hero, wishing for sleep, or unconsciousness to take me away from this strange house and back to my own bed; to make the pains and tribulations of the last six months vanish, rather than talking to him, maybe even daring to ask the one question that has followed me ever since discovering that self-titled debut album in the shelves of Cage Records years before I'd come to work there.

Well, what do you know. I guess I was lying about that not feeling regret thing, too. Go figure.

My wandering eyes come upon something on a nearby coffee table, flat and dark and half-hidden by a stack of grocery flyers. A second glimpse reveals part of the LocalFest logo peeking out from under an ad for impossibly cheap ground meatloaf mix. My hand reaches unconsciously for it, and then I stop.

It's bad, I know it is. F--k it, it's unconscionable; poking a nose into the private business of a man who lifted me out of the gutter in more ways than one. But the curious side of me is wide awake now and won't stop screaming until I scratch that itch. Of course I'm well aware of what curiosity did to the cat as well, but such thoughts are on the back burner. In the end, I fold like a seven-two off-suit. I pull it out from underneath the papers. It looks like it's a postcard of some kind with the LocalFest logo emblazoned at the top. Before I can take a close look, the sound of echoing footsteps emerging from the hallway and startles me. Without thinking, (surprise, surprise), I shove the card into my pants pocket and return my hands to my lap as Richard comes into view. He gives me a momentary glance, then goes into the kitchen. I wonder to myself if there's some unconscious masochistic urge to put myself in constant close calls, an idea that is both ludicrous and plausible, given my checkered past.

There's a sharp knock at the door, and all at once, my mind empties as though someone pulled a drain plug, allowing every conscious thought to flush clean out. Richard emerges from the kitchen and matches toward the door, casting a side glance at me.

We're both thinking the same thing, I know it: Showtime.

***

The next forty minutes are some of the most uncomfortable in my life. You might also be thinking I'd be used to awkward moments by now. No such luck, I'm afraid. Corporal Caruthers' look of recognition is dripping with amusement hidden beneath a wafer-thin veil of professionalism. He makes himself comfortable in a high-back chair matching the faux-leather couch at Richard's invitation, and then like clockwork, Kayla comes through the kitchen doorway holding a tray laden with mugs, spoons, a sugar bowl and the largest French press I've ever seen. It looks like a postmodern minimalist's idea of a beer stein one might find at any Oktoberfest biergarten. Coffee is poured and distributed. Caruthers spoons an incredible amount of sugar into his cup; a gesture that makes keeping my eyes from bulging a challenge, sips with an appreciative "Ahhhh," thanks Kayla, and then produces a small black object from his back pocket - a recorder. He sets it on the glass coffee table, informs the man and woman of the house that neither are obliged to sit in on this, but that anything said may be used as evidence later in a court of law. Yadda-f--king-yadda. They lock eyes for a few seconds, then the man nods and says they'll stay. They have nothing to hide, after all. We should all be so lucky, I think.

Caruthers nods, presses the record button and speaks loud enough for clarity's sake on the tape, yet enough to keep from further disturbing the little girl, Jade, in the nearby room. "Today is Saturday, September 14th, 2013. The time is one-forty-four in the morning. This is Corporal Mike Caruthers speaking. I am taking a statement in regards to an assault and robbery on one Josh, alias 'Jay-Jay' Mallory at 1410 East 12th Avenue, the victim's address earlier this evening. For the record, our current location is 3127 Southwest Marine Drive. Also present in the room are Mr. and Mrs. Richard and Kayla Demin, homeowners. Josh, could you please tell me in as much detail as possible, exactly what transpired this evening?"

I tell as much as I can, being very careful not to hesitate or stammer when it comes to "not remembering" what the assailants said to me, apart from the order to listen and the threat of what would happen to me if I dared not. When the clown mask is mentioned, I can see the other three sharing suspicious, if slightly amused, expressions. The usual boring questions follow: Did I think my striking the fat man and running a smart thing to do? No, but you tend to forget your better judgment when panic-stricken. Didn't it occur to me to call 911 or get to a hospital ASAP? Of course, but... A - Nobody was dead, although things could've ended much worse had I actually tried to call while surrounded by Clown Face and the fat man, and B - Passing out didn't help. "Oh, and C - I'm hardly bleeding like a stuck pig," I add. Caruthers isn't amused.

Eventually, the questions wind down and soon end completely, after a brief mention by Kayla about hearing the noise of me tripping over the trash bins and the uneventful events that followed, right up until the Corporal's arrival. "Interview concluded at..." Caruthers lifts his right arm to glance at a watch, "...two-twenty-two AM." He shuts the recorder off, which lifts a celestial weight off my shoulders. "Right. Well, Josh - may I call you Josh?" I shrug. "I'm sorry we had to meet again so soon, and under these circumstances, but I want to thank you for sharing with us this evening. Someone from the Robbery section will follow up with you in a day or two. I can also put you in touch with someone from our Victim Services if you want. They can get you access to a counsellor, a psychologist..."

"That's alright," I say. "I just want to go home and sleep for about a week, eventually put all this crap behind me."

"Are you sure? These services are available to you at no cost, and..."

"I said I'll be okay. Really. Thanks though, Officer."

Caruthers nods, not out of agreement, exactly, takes a business card from his breast pocket, scribbles his name, contact info and case number, and then hands it over to me. "Well, I'll just give you that for your records. And now, I think it's high time we get you to that hospital. I'll give you a lift, don't worry."

I badly want to protest the continued involvement of Corporal Caruthers in my life. I've already made an a-s of myself in front of one of the pioneers of Vancouver's revival heavy metal, and technically lied to the police. Again. But given how tonight's gone, I accept it's best I use my mouth for breathing instead of grumbling. I slowly get to my feet so as not to jostle my resting stomach or trigger any hidden injury, put my long since emptied mug on the tray, and agree.

"Thanks Mike, a lot. I really appreciate it." Richard shakes hands with Caruthers. "I guess I owe you one now, huh?"

"Hey, it's the job," Caruthers says, patting Richard's heavily tattooed arm. "But since you mention it, I wouldn't exactly refuse that ticket offer if it ever came up." He shares a knowing smile, a wink, thanks Kayla for the coffee and hospitality, for which he's told he's always welcomed, although preferably not on official business next time. "Josh, shall we?" he says to me, and then makes for the stairs.

"Okay." I look back at the couple one last time. "Thanks, you guys, for... well, everything. Nice meeting you, I guess." Then, absentmindedly, "the 'What Once Was' album's still my favourite." And I'm gone.

***

Good news and bad news. The doctor on duty at Vancouver General discharges me after an X-ray and ultrasound confirm no broken ribs, brain bleeds or punctured organs; the upset stomach is just a massive episode of indigestion made worse by vomiting and the two tightfisted blows. I'll have a hideous bruise and should avoid any sit-ups or strenuous movement (i.e. heavy lifting) for a while. Lucky for me, guitars aren't too heavy, I think, and I can't admit to being too saddened at the prospect of not having to haul amps for a couple of weeks. The bad news is that by the time I get examined, tested, poked and scanned, it's almost eight in the morning, I'm more exhausted than I ever could have imagined and Corporal Caruthers has been called away on a shots-fired call. God bless the Canadian health care system. Say what you want about it, but it doesn't mean we don't pay for it in other non-financial ways. An outpatient nurse offers me a free transit ticket to get home, and although I am grateful, I explain that getting home to East Vancouver from here could take a while and with my luck, I'd fall asleep on a SkyTrain.

Realizing I'm pretty much out of options, unless I want to wish my "save me until payday" cash goodbye on an overpriced cab, it's time for me to swallow another humility pill. I dial a number on my phone and lift it to my ear, waiting for either an answering machine or an invitation to go fuck myself.

Call it self-pity, but I think I either is fair play.

1 comment sorted by best / new / date

    Arby911
    Yes! Now we're moving, and in a very interesting direction. I saw an early grammatical error which shall go unchallenged given my own recent history, but other than that this was top-notch. I've always waited for each installment but these last two have really made the wait unbearable. I'll now go sit quietly in a corner and sob until the next episode is posted...