She's still smiling when we call it a day. Innocent enough to anyone else's eyes. But I see the smugness hidden behind that mask of contentment, no longer paying particular attention to me. Yes, I'll just bet you're pleased by what you've seen, aren't you, Miss Wagner? It's hard to blame her, though. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be wearing a similar look were the shoe on the other foot. We were apathetic sight to behold, the four of us playing through our rehearsal set with sterile efficiency, looking more like emotionless robots you'd find in Disney's Hall of Presidents.
Suddenly having an audience to play for did little to improve morale. The majority of Dichotomy of Mind treated Lindsay's presence as an unwelcome intruder. Brea pretended not to notice her existence as she packed up her equipment while Billy retreated into his cocoon of silent fury. Stephen, ever the peacemaker, attempts conversation, offering his twist on "What's a pretty girl like you doing in a dump like this?" and other face-value questions which are answered with marginal albeit friendly enough responses. I notice her looking at me more than once with teasing eyes while I lay my bass in the case and gather the tangle of patch cords into a loose pile.
What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?
I won't dignify that with an answer. My objective right now is gathering my stuff and getting out of there with a minimum of fuss, in no mood to offer goodbyes to anyone. Nobody looks eager to receive them either. I wave at Stephen. He lifts his head in a single nod, nothing more. Lindsay follows me out the door, seemingly in no hurry to catch up.
"Don't be a stranger now," Billy calls. Lindsay raises a hand and twiddles her long fingers.
"Yeah, yeah," I say. "See you next week, Billy. Mind those vocal cords."
Before we're clear of the driveway, he fires another verbal missile. "Oh, don't worry. I'll be here. Will you?"
"What? And miss a chance to impress the drunks at Funky's?" Nothing else needs to be said.
Rather than wait around for a bus, I opt to walk down Main towards the SkyTrain. Lindsay walks alongside, asking if I want the company. I shrug and go to light up a smoke, forgetting about my ruined matches. "Sh-t. Would you mind?"
Lindsay produces the lighter and sparks the end of the cigarette before I can finish the sentence. "Thanks."
Far ahead, the sun is setting, a glowing yellow coin slipping from blood orange skies behind dark jagged teeth of the North Shore mountains. Lights are snapping on all through downtown as half the city prepares to go to sleep, the underbelly nightlife due to rise from the crypt and take over until dawn. Any other day, and I'd be one of those nocturnes, slipping on one of many band shirts to go stand in line for whoever the headliner of the week might be. Happier too, I think.
Lindsay and I go about a block before I look over at her. She locks eyes with me. "Well, go on then. Say it."
"Oh, come on, that circus act back there? You were drinking in the tension and loving it. That cute smile did little to hide the schadenfreude in your eyes, though I will admit it seems to have kept the infamous Billy temper at bay."
She looks thoughtful. "You think my smile's cute, huh?"
"Perhaps. I don't know. Tell me I'm full of sh-t."
She seems to think about it for a minute. "Well, maybe. If it's any consolation, I have seen worse."
I want to laugh, but the emotion isn't there. "That I find hard to believe."
"When you've gone through as many bandmates as I have in a year, your beliefs can change pretty damn quickly."
"I wouldn't know."
That makes her frown. "Are you always this much of an as-hole after band practice?"
"Only on bad days," I say. "Which I guess can also be called weekdays if you stop to think about it." Just another punch the clock job, I think to myself. "Well, I warned you anyways, didn't I?"
"And yet you choose to stick around anyways," is all she says, no longer looking at me. I find it now takes a conscious effort to keep from reaching for the gas can. This fire is burning brightly enough without my meddling.
Neither of us say much until we get to the SkyTrain station a few minutes later. Riding the station escalator up to the platform, Lindsay reaches into her pocket and pulls a tape out. Dangling it between two fingers, she holds it out towards me. "Here."
"What's that? And please, don't say 'a tape'. That cliché is older than Billy."
That succeeds in finally cracking any form of emotional reaction out of her since leaving the studio. "Zing!" she cries with a smirk, and adds over the din of an incoming train, "It's a demo. You should give it a listen; get a better idea of what you'd be getting into if you decided to jump ship. And yeah, yeah, I know what you've said. Just give it a listen anyways. Good for a laugh if nothing else." She takes a step backwards and throws the tape in my face.
I manage to grab it with one hand and slip it into my bag as we walk onto the platform. "Thanks. I think."
"Sure thing. See you at Funky's, Mr. Bass Man," she says, stepping inside the train car.
The doors slide shut before I can say anything back to her. As it begins to pull away, she looks at me through the window with that teasing tight-lipped smile. Then she's gone.
That evening, as darkness swallows the sunlight, I pop the demo tape into my veteran boombox and prepare to listen, with more excitement than I would have admitted out loud, to this "good for a laugh" teaser. I'm one of the few people in Vancouver who still holds claim to possessing old-school technology, which is a good thing, as far as Lindsay Wagner was concerned that night, since the days of cassettes have long given way to the burnable CD, iPod, and the mp3. Unlike its resurgent cousin, the vinyl, tapes have enjoyed a steady decline into obsolescence.
The tape clicks and hums in the background while firing up my laptop to check the state of my latest blog entry, with far less excitement. A good thing, since the first comment I read is a hostile request to take my life and spare the world from further dribble. I close the website and picture a checklist in my mind, the headline reading CAREERS, the word "blogger" scratched out below. As if I ever had much of a hope in the first place, I tell myself.
Any hurt feelings, more of a bruised ego than anything, that I might have had are forgotten with the first sounds of life from the boombox; a familiar half-tuned trio of notes taking center spotlight for the first few bars, setting up a smooth intro for both drum and bass, and a soft croon that seems to whisper the words I've had memorized ever since I'd picked up the album in an East Broadway record store as a twelve-year old and lost my metal virginity.
"If ever words were spoken, hateful and untrue... I said I loved, but I lied..."
This interpretation of a Pantera classic draws me away from my laptop. I sit facing the boombox in much the same way kids from the pre-television era sat and watched the radio during their favorite program. The crying guitar fade-in to the first verse is a touch sharp, according to my ears, but it's quickly forgiven when the alluring female vocals are replaced by a full-throated roar that causes me to jump in my seat a little.
"YOU KEEP THIS LOVE! THING! LOVE! CHILD! LOVE! TOY! YOU KEEP THIS LOVE! ..."
And just like that, my night has suddenly become a lot more interesting.
An hour (and several rewinds) later, I'm standing by the open window near my dining table-slash-desk, smoking, beer in hand, thinking, remembering the music, feeling that delicious shiver you feel when the main headliner of a concert you've been waiting months for is about to step on stage at long last.
They're good. Quite good. Despite having a guitar that leaned toward the sharp side of the scale, and a lack of proper soundproofing, (towards the tape's end, a telephone can clearly be heard ringing during the bridge solo of another Pantera personal favorite, the apocalyptic earthquake allegory, "Shattered"), the talent in Ravenclaw is evident. And rich.
So why am I so desired by these two? From what I've heard, the group doesn't need anything from me except a few bucks when and if they ever release a proper album. I think back to Lindsay's words earlier in the evening, "And yet you choose to stick around anyways..."
I do. I'm the kind of person who can't - or won't - throw in the towel, even while feeling under the boot of a tyrant with anger management issues and trying to put up with a moody sourpuss of a drummer. At least the drunken train-wreck was out of the picture, but it was little more than a band-aid covering over a deeper wound. Even Stephen and I aren't as close as we used to be.
But still, I'd only just met these two. Why throw away what little I had on an unproven chance? Which of course brought an even deeper question: What was worse? Being tied down to a sinking ship, or being alone, but free?
Such answers are beyond my grasp, at least for tonight. I drag my cigarette down to the filter, flick the butt out the window and chase the exhalation with the remaining half of my beer before heading for the shower, deciding to take an early night.
Our date at Funky's less than a week away.
Time passes uneventfully. The band meets up for one more rehearsal the Tuesday before we take the stage at Funky's, with all the similar melodrama dragging along like unwanted gum on a sneaker. Nobody starts a fight, which is good. Of course, nobody talked either, apart from the usual in-between-song checkups. We run through our set twice, top to bottom, and then we split. I'd be lying if I said I looked forward to Thursday's gig as a payday, and little else. I'm not such of a betting man, but that day, I'd have staked my dwindling savings that I was not alone in thinking that. But like I said, we didn't "talk" talk. And everyone knows how welcome my opinions are these days.
When I wasn't with the guys, or practicing my parts with the loathed Warwick, I spent my free time the same way I have for the past year: stocking the shelves at Cage Records, taking people's money, giving them records, tickets or whatever in return, answering the phone when Art isn't available, "No, you do not sign up bands for LocalFest here, you call the other number on the poster." It amazes me how many people can't be bothered to read ads in entirety before reaching for the phone. Tickets aren't due to come on sale for another three weeks, but given the way things have unfolded in the last while, I'm losing what little hope remains that Dichotomy of Mind will be one of the participants.
I don't tell myself "there's always next year," because I've never been the sort of person who bought into those cliches. Besides, there's no guarantee LocalFest will be a success, and subsequent repeat event. What's popular today might not be tomorrow. The irony of course is that there seem to be as many legends like Ozzy and Iron Maiden as there are one-hit wonders. Nobody remembers the locals who opened for the openers, also a forgotten bunch, for Kataklysm on their last stop here a couple years back, but they'll talk about the double encore Slayer played last summer for years.
We metalheads can be as fickle as we are passionate, no doubt about it.
I'm reorganizing the merch display in the main window after lunch Thursday, trying to keep a pair of hoodies showing off the Cage Records logo on the front, the store's motto, "Proudly local since 1981" on the back, from slipping off a hanger strung up on a flimsy bar, when I hear the door open and close, the ever irritating bell ring. "Jay!" Art bellows from the back office.
"Yeah, got it!" I call back. Art returns thanks. I climb out of the display, being careful not to bang my head on the overhead bar, and give the store a quick glance, spotting the customer standing at the register, peering into the glass display case at the "Deals of the Week."
"Hey man, can I help you find something in particular?" I ask, moving towards the register. The customer straightens up, looks over his shoulder, then turns to face me. Recognition sets in before we make eye contact. The hair hides under a faded grey beanie, but it doesn't have to be exposed for me to know who I'm talking to. "Oh, I don't believe this."
Kevin the Drummer laughs and claps his hands together, wringing them. "Well well, Mr. Bass Man, as I live and breathe. I was hoping I'd run into you here."
I start to ask how he knew where I worked, and then stop myself, remembering our initial conversation at Funky's what seemed a lifetime ago. "What do you want?"
"I'm good, thanks for asking."
"Funny. Seriously, what do you want? Wait. Let me guess, this is about the band."
"Your psychic powers astound me," Kevin says, no longer laughing but still holding onto a good natured, if slightly mischievous closed-mouth smile.
"Not the first time I've been told that," I say.
"Well as it turns out, you're right, partly. But I'm also here hoping to score a copy of 'Pray for Villains.'"
"DevilDriver, eh? Huh. Looking to broaden your groove horizons, I'm guessing? Pantera covers not enough of a challenge for you guys?"
The smirk stretches further along his face as he tips his head towards me. "A man likes to try new things."
"Fair enough. Groove section's over there," I point to the shelf closest to the door. Kevin thanks me and scoots across the room. A faint whiff of weed floats up from his coat as he passes by me. I'm not surprised. I leave him to sift through the albums and go back to work on the display. When I come back out, he's back at the register, disc in hand. I duck behind the display case and punch a few numbers on the register. "$13.27," I say.
Kevin extracts a crumpled twenty from a wallet that appears to be held together by duct tape and sheer willpower and hands it over. "Seriously though," he says while I make change, "What do you think?"
Sigh. "I already told Lindsay my answer."
"No, no. Not that. Although that convo's not finished yet. I meant the demo she gave you."
"We clearly differ on definitions of 'finished,' but that demo?" I can feel the chilling prickle of goose flesh begin to crawl up my arms. "You guys know what you're doing. I don't remember hearing Pantera covers done so well."
Kevin's grin re-emerges. "Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Who did the guitar parts? Clearly someone who isn't with you guys anymore, but they know their stuff."
"Session guys," he replies, "had to fork over a small fortune to get them for those couple of songs, but it was worth it to get that down on tape."
"Ah." I hand over his change, and slide the till closed. "The tape was a nice touch, too. Antique-y."
"Cheaper than disc. Not by much, but you gotta do what you can to save."
"I hear that. You guys got any other stuff recorded?
Kevin shakes his head, pocketing his change. "Afraid not. What you've got in your Walkman is all that exists. For now."
"Now? You planning to record another one?"
Kevin shrugs and tilts a hand back and forth like a fish tail. "Perhaps. If certain things work out." He gives me a no-nonsense look.
"Damn," I say. "Too bad. Well, let me know if you do manage to get another one recorded, I'd love to hear it." I grin and add, "Hell, I might even be able to get a few copies stocked on our 'New Releases' shelf," and chuckle. He's still looking at me, stone faced. "What?"
He doesn't say a word.
"Seriously, cut that out. It's creepy as f-ck. I'm not a mindreader..."
But that was a lie. For that brief moment, I was a mindreader. I could see the words spinning around in his head, they were clear as the waters of False Creek at high noon on a bright Vancouver summer day.
"Oh my God," I say. "Oh my God, I'm so stupid..."
Kevin breaks his silence. "What do you mean?"
"Well, what do you think I mean?" I snap, shaking my head, hating myself. "You'll do anything to get me to join up with you guys, won't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Bullsh-t. 'Session musician?' That look of yours gave you away. Plus it wasn't exactly anything new, knowing you guys, it's easy enough to assume."
"You're seriously overreacting here."
"Yeah you are. Anyone ever tell you that 'assume makes an a-s of U and ME?'"
"I'm not joking. Your words, not mine."
"Well, you aren't exactly denying it, either, the way you were staring at me like that."
Kevin rolls his eyes. "It's all about you, isn't it?"
His voice takes on a mocking tone. "'Oh me, I'm so stupid. What do you want with me? My band, my problems, me, me, me.' Jesus, Jay, listen to yourself. No wonder your current project's self-destructing."
I want to tell him to leave, right then and there. I also want to swear at him, tell him what he can do with those splintered drumsticks of his, something other than just stand there and listen to this bullsh-t. But Kevin doesn't say anything else. So I take the lead.
"So when did you plan on asking me again?" I finally say. "Before, or after our show tomorrow?"
Kevin shrugs. "I hadn't decided. Frankly, I'm starting to think there's no point, given the way our current convo's going."
That long, huh? I think. What actually comes out of my mouth is, "Well then. I guess we're done here."
"Guess so." He's lost any remaining trace of good cheer, and turns to leave. "One last thing," he says, his back turned to me.
"If you wanna make it in this business, whatever band you decide to stick with, you'd better learn to trust people. Not everyone's got a hidden agenda all the time."
"Whatever you say. I dunno if you plan to join the... talented, Miss Lindsay Wagner with a V, at our show tomorrow, but if you do..."
"Ticket's in my wallet." Kevin proclaims. "Always give new talent the benefit of the doubt."
I don't bother to point out that Dichotomy of Mind is hardly new to the local circuit, though we're far from famous.
Before I can say anything else, the bell rings again and the door closes in a puff of icy wind.
I'm no more than ten steps shy of the store at day's end when I feel a buzzing in my pants pocket. I remove my phone, check the caller I.D., see it's Stephen's number, and lift it up to my head, reaching for the answer button with my thumb.
"Hey," Stephen responds. "Where are you?" He sounds a little short of breath.
"Gastown, I just left the Stone's Throw, on my way home. What's..?"
"Forget that. Get over to the studio, now."
The thought of going back to that place once more this week fills me with nauseous dread. "Why? Look man, I don't want to get involved with anymore of Billy's..."
"Never mind Billy, godd-mmit, get your a-s over here, quick. We've got a big problem."
My heart kick-starts into rapid-fire mode. Stephen rarely speaks so crudely. "Wait, what? Problem? Dude, what's going on? What's wrong?"
"Just get over here ASAP. I'll explain everything." There's a click in my ear, and he's gone.
I have never been an athletic person. But in that moment, I ran faster than in any other moment in life, down Abbott, onto Water Street and all the way up to the station. I find myself thinking of my bandmates. All the ill will I held for the last month had vanished like water droplets on a hotplate. I can't begin to imagine what's happened. Sometimes, waiting is the purest form of torture.
If I'd known earlier that day what would end up happening, I think I would have taken the scenic route, through some of Vancouver's cheapest watering holes.