Countless authors throughout the ages have written about characters being rooted to the spot, unable to move, usually out of fear or comic disbelief. I don't find anything funny about my situation. Seconds roll by since D introduced me to the man whose cynical-laced lyrics about life, loneliness, anger, broken dreams and lost relationships backed by aggressive riffs and drum lines gave millions of similar young men and women something to identify with; a man I never believed I'd come to meet yet could never quite give up on that dream now sitting right in front of me for the second time in a week and not looking too pleased about it. Good thing D and Art can't see his face from where they're sitting.
Richard Demin slowly extends a hand towards me. His grip is tight, as dark eyes stare holes through me. "Pleasure, Jay," he says.
I clear my dry throat. "Yeah, you too. Real pleasure." Then, because I can't think of anything else, "I have all your albums." Off in the distance, I spot D rolling his eyes with an amused side glance at Art, who returns the eye roll. Rookie move, they're both thinking, I can sense it.
"Good for you," Richard says, his lips tightening in a nearly sadistic smile. "Let me guess, your favourite is 'What Once Was.'" His eyes light up, it's clear he's enjoying this awkward position I've once again put myself in. "Don't worry, you can say yes. You'd be surprised how often I hear that."
"You don't say."
"Jay, why don't you sit down before you fall down?" says D, who also looks to be enjoying this although for different reasons. I cross the room to the open chair and drop down into it, feeling as though this is all a crazy hallucination. "Mr. Demin - Richard - dropped by a little while ago unannounced. We caught him perusing the racks and got to talking about the old days, back when he was just another pissant son-of-a-bitch trying to make it with his little garage band."
Richard snorts. "We were only as good as our first manager," which gets D chuckling again. "Thank God you convinced me to come back from the island back then, God only knows where I'd have ended up then. God only knows if there would have ever been a Systex again."
"Back when it was just you and Adam again, huh? Before the second album?" I ask, not fully aware of what I'm saying. Richard looks at me with a "who the fuck do you think you are?" expression that turns my blood cold. "Sorry. Wikipedia, you know how it is."
He pauses to consider this, then gives a consenting nod. "Yeah, it was. Shit, still can't believe that was over twenty years ago." He thinks some more and snorts again. "Fucking Wikipedia, turns your whole life into an open book."
"Yeah, but you never let that stop you," D chimes in. "That damned stubborn streak of yours, just wouldn't let you ever say no to anything that took you away from what you wanted." That one hits close to home in ways I don't think D ever could have imagined. He changes the subject. "I don't suppose you'd mind if we tell Jay-Jay here what you shared with us earlier, about LocalFest? He's good, don't worry."
Richard scratches his chin and glances over at me. "Hmm. Well, it is a secret, but if you guys vouch for him... Oh, what the hell. You can keep a secret, can't you, 'Jay-Jay?' Say no, and I'm afraid I'll have to kill you." Art cackles from behind his coffee mug and D's shit-eating grin broadens, but looking at the steadiness in Richard's eyes, I'm not entirely sure he's kidding, especially after the events of last week.
"Yeah, I can keep my mouth shut," I manage to say, feeling colour drain away from my face to match the cold wave washing over me. I just had to have my paycheque today, didn't I, I think, I couldn't even wait one fucking day.
Richard turns to Art and makes a snapping wave with his fingers. Art nods and slides him a piece of paper face down across the table, which Richard picks up and turns over, looks it up and down a couple of times and holds it out to me. My trembling fingers manage to pinch it and turn it over without dropping it. It turns out to be a duplicate of the updated ad for LocalFest announcing Systex's surprise return to the stage I'd accidentally taken from the Demin residence. At least I tried to tell myself it was an accident. I let an appropriate amount of time pass before saying something. "Holy crap."
That actually makes Richard smile. "You like that, huh?"
"Holy crap," I repeat. Nothing else seems right to say. "I... holy crap."
D cracks up. "I knew you'd get a kick out of that!" He claps a meaty hand on Richard's shoulder. "Turns out this little bastard had more than the latest Iron Maiden on his mind when he came by."
"Since Cage is a primary sponsor of the show, I've been asked to emcee the gig. Something about a favour owed from way back when, but I have my doubts about that."
Richard shrugs. "Just think of it as adding more 'local' to the fest'."
"That's awesome," I say.
D waves a playful, dismissive hand in my direction and then says, "Tell you what, Richard: Jay here's got a band of his own, uh, Ravenclaw right?" I nod. "Yeah, Ravenclaw. Anyways, they're signed up to perform at LocalFest, too. Only reason I'm not making him work the store that night."
"Ha," Art says. "As if you wouldn't have closed the store for this show in the first place." To which D indicates this to be true.
"No kidding," Richard says, looking at me again with those cold eyes. "Ravenclaw, huh? What do you guys play?"
"Uh..." Go figure he'd put me on the spot again like this. This must be his way of getting me back for rudely intruding in on his otherwise private life. "We're not really committed to one specific sub-genre of metal. We're finishing up a demo this week that's got a Pantera cover and a couple of original songs... Groove meets thrash meets, I dunno, new Canadian? We just call it 'metal.'"
"Well. How about that, then," Richard says, following up with, "Go on and keep that if you want," pointing to the ad, "but keep it to yourself till Monday. That's when the first poster goes up."
Art raises a finger and wags it in my direction, a playful grin overtaking his face. "Correction: That's when Jay puts the first poster up. There's 500 of 'em behind you." The finger moves to a stack of large cardboard boxes in the corner by the back door leading to the alley where the garbage cans live.
"Yippee," I say, folding the ad and shoving it deep into my jacket pocket. "Thanks, Richard. Appreciate it."
"Don't mention it," he says, then looks at the wall clock. "Shit. Sorry guys, I have to break this party up and make tracks. Gotta pick up the kid from school."
"Oh, don't act like you don't love it," D laughs.
Richard tips a hand as if to say "Touché," then stands up and stretches, his knees and arms making cracking sounds that sound like kindling being snapped in half. D rises as well and the two men share a long, beefy man-hug; lots of back slapping included. "D, always good to see you."
"Always welcome in the Cage," D says, letting him go. "Give my love to Kayla and the little one." He retrieves a flat metal box out of his pocket from which he withdraws a cigarette, putting it between his lips and ducking out the back door to light up, leaving it open a crack.
Art doesn't stand up but extends a hand, which Richard grabs and shakes, slapping his other hand on top. Then he turns to leave, walking past me without a second glance, although he claps my own shoulder and grips it a bit too hard for my liking and says, "Good to meet you, Jay. Maybe we'll see you at the fest.'"
"Yeah, you too, Richard. Thanks."
After he's gone, Art looks at me and says, "You gonna be alright there, kid? You look ready to either cry or piss yourself." His tone is neither mocking nor concerned, only thoughtful if slightly amused.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll live. I guess I'm not quite sure that actually just happened, you know."
"I get you. I was the same way when I worked a punk show in the early '90s at which Iggy Pop made a surprise guest appearance." He shakes his head and laughs. "That's one crazy dude. Nice guy, though."
"Yeah," I say absentmindedly, looking at the door through which Richard had passed only seconds ago. "I'm still jealous of that." I feign looking at the clock and then get up from the table. "I gotta get going too, Art, stuff to do. I'll just grab my cheque a day early if that's alright with you."
"You know where it is," Art says, indicating towards the office. "You gonna be finished with that demo recording tomorrow?"
"Alright. Take care, big guy, see you first thing Monday."
"Yeah, you too."
I manage to find the envelope with my name and address peeking through the cellophane window without much difficulty, tear open the envelope, separate the cheque from the pay stub and shove both into my wallet while exiting the store via the front door. No sooner do I find myself back on West Hastings than I search for my own cigarettes and light up, my hands still trembling slightly.
"Hey! Can I borrow a light?" a familiar voice asks. I turn to see Richard Demin leaning against the same wall I found myself against after witnessing the ever-unpredictable Brea have the meltdown to end all meltdowns, only to turn on me just as quick. Free from the store, there is now no trace of the false polite smile on the Systex frontman. There's also no cigarette to be found.
"One hell of a coincidence, this chance meeting, wouldn't you say?"
"I suppose. If I'd only known..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you'd have baked a cake," he snaps. "Spare me."
"Look, Richard, I'm really sorry. About everything. I had no idea that was your house. I didn't mean any harm, or disrespect." Realizing this is having no effect on him, I shrug and raise my hands. "I don't know what else you want me to say, but if you think I'm suddenly going to start stalking you, I'm not. You didn't have to help me, you know. I would've been fine... eventually."
Something softens in his gaze. "Look, kid, I'm not pissed off about the other night, not really. A raccoon or bear or some other thing is just as likely to knock over my trash cans, and I'm sure as shit not gonna let anyone with his face rearranged like yours was just lie there like a sack of trash. And you strike me as someone smart enough to know better than to try stalking me or my family, anyways. I just want to make sure you don't think I owe you anything special, or whatnot."
"What? God no, I don't think that!"
"Good. Truth be told, I waited for you out here because I want to make something very clear to you."
"What is it?"
"I value my privacy. That, and my family's privacy. The last thing I want is a bunch of pimply-nosed fans camping out on my lawn wanting autographs and scaring my daughter. Can I trust you to keep your mouth shut about this? The police are going to do what they need to do, but apart from that..."
"No," I say. "I mean, I won't tell anyone. I promise." Here I am, right in front of my hero, and lying right through my teeth. My father would be so proud.
Richard relaxes. "Alright. That's fine." He begins walking down the alley, then looks over his shoulder at me. "And kid? Jay?"
The coldness returns to his voice. "You could have just asked to take that postcard with you when you left. I don't like being robbed."
That hits me hard. My legs feel like they're turning to jelly and falling out from underneath me, I expect to fall down, faint dead away, even. But nothing happens, I just stand there feeling my whole head burn. Richard doesn't seem interested in waiting for my response, he resumes walking down the alley, probably towards his car, but I don't know that for sure.
"Why did you quit?" I hear myself calling down the alley. "You had it all, what made you turn your back on music?"
Richard freezes, his back stiffening. Fists clenching by his sides. He looks back at me, and all I see is darkness. "Life happens," he says. "Things change. You grow up, you have kids. But music is the one constant. It never leaves you behind. And you never leave it behind if you really hear it calling to you. Never. If you believe that, you wouldn't have asked."
He is gone with that. And there I am, alone in the alleyway, again - bruised, broken, baffled. How do you walk away from that? Where do you go? What do you do when the cold hand of reality slaps you across the chops and shakes you out of your prearranged delusion and shows you the stark reality of the world?
I go across the street to The Stone's Throw, order a pint and sit and think.
Even with Cloudy's generous "Friends of Lindsay's" discount, losing a sizeable chunk of my pay not even twenty-four hours after receiving it induces a rush of panic tremors to course through my body. It takes a strong, conscious effort to hand over the thick stack of bills the next morning at the studio. Cloudy notices my reluctance and says something on the order of how it's all for a good cause. "No argument here," I say, "it just hurts the same, you know?"
"Oh yeah," he says, giving the bills a once-over with his thumb before standing up from the soundboard and slipping the wad into his back pocket. "But you'll easily make it back once you start moving stock, which, modesty forbid, shouldn't take long. This thing's growing from demo to EP. In fact, I'll bet you if you title it as such, people'll be more willing to drop the ten or twenty bucks for it."
Kevin perks up hearing this and points a drumstick at Cloudy. "Right! You heard it, everyone, if this thing fucks up, we all get to blame him."
Cloudy turns around and says, "There are so many other places I could put that ProMark, drummer boy. But what say you go put it to those drums and finish off the final track."
"Hmph, touchy," Kevin says, going into the studio, but he's smirking. The door closes behind him.
Lindsay, seated next to me on the couch, reaches out and pokes my thigh. "You didn't call last night."
"Huh? Was I supposed to?"
She looks a little flustered now. "Perhaps I was a bit too subtle for you."
"Sorry, sweetheart, my psychic powers have been a little below par this week. Being kicked in the face and pummelled by thugs tends to do that to you." She gives me a look full of too many indiscernible emotions. "Besides, something came up yesterday that distracted me." Images of Brea coming undone overlap those of Richard Demin's special guest appearance at Cage yesterday. Oh yes, something came up alright, big time.
"Work?" she asks, sounding uncertain. It's a weak out, but I'll take it.
"Yeah, work. We got a shipment in for LocalFest to start on Monday."
"I see," she says in a voice that says she doesn't see at all, or doesn't want to. "Did work take you to the Stone's Throw, too?"
I blink. "What?"
"Your hoodie. It smells like a brewery."
"Yeah, I was at the Throw afterwards, spilled a bit. What of it? Accidents happen."
"Sure, but do they happen after just one? Or two? Or was it more?"
"Linds, for crying out loud, I told you I'm not a mindreader. You're the one who said you're not sure what 'this' is, remember. You could have easily called me too, you know. I believe in equality for women. I don't need the third degree right now." It's all out of me before I even think to bite my tongue. The sad part is, I don't exactly feel bad about it, not all of it anyways. Two pints and a burger platter don't qualify as Kevin-level drinking, not that you'd hear me say such a thing out loud, at least not here.
My sudden tirade causes Lindsay to shrink away from me, shoulders hunched all the way up to her ears like a small child recoiling in fear of an imminent slapping from a pissed off parent. I get a sudden mental image as clear and bright as a flash bulb of Brea fending off Billy with a broken bottle, and I'm ashamed of myself, for more than one reason. I should have known something was seriously wrong within the inner workings of Dichotomy of Mind, and I did nothing about it. I'm a real class act, aren't I?
The little voice chirps up in my head. What do you care about her, or the band? You're done with them, remember?
"Don't," she says. "You don't have to say anything. Please don't say anything." A long pause. "You're right."
"I - I am?"
"Sure. I could've called you, not like I was doing anything important. But, I didn't." She sighs and runs a hand through her hair, exposing an intricate webbing of chestnut coloured roots that could do with a touch-up. "I don't know why I'm so fucking weird about all of this. I guess I'm just not used to it all, you know."
"Yeah," I say, feeling more lousy. "These aren't exactly familiar waters to me, either." Then, a thought strikes me. "Wanna know something about the guy who dropped off the posters?"
"What?" She still comes off as withdrawn, but an adorable glint appears in her eyes just the same.
Before I can tell her what, Cloudy interrupts. "Not to be rude, but if you two love birds are going to be making up anytime soon, could you do it elsewhere? It's hard to track drum beats while you're listening to a couple suck face."
Lindsay falls away from me again, this time in laughter, loud and bright, enough to attract Kevin's attention from the drums. He plucks an over-ear headphone off his head, watches us for a moment and then shakes his head and replaces the headphone, tapping on a cymbal to get Cloudy's attention. As he turns back to face Kevin in the booth, Lindsay grabs my hand and pulls me off the couch and towards the door. I am always impressed and slightly intimidated to be handled in such a way by a woman one-third my size.
It turns out she's not through handling me yet as we find a small office adjoining the studio. It doesn't occur to either of us to find out whether or not this room is also soundproofed, because over the course of the next few minutes, we do more than just talking, and the subject of who the mystery delivery man was almost becomes an afterthought.
I suddenly don't feel so bad about handing over all that cash to Cloudy, either.