There was only one way to get out of it, I knew. I had to get away from her. After soundcheck I slipped out the back of the hall, out onto the campus. I wandered around for hours, summer school students and local kids crossing my path where the walkways intersected. I could have been one of them, a kid in a jean-jacket on my way to the library or dining hall or wherever college students went. After dark, I started heading back for the concert hall. Sitting on top of a brick wall outside, I could hear things starting. The muffled sound of drums and bass pulsed through the night air. I hoped no one was worrying about me. If I waited another forty-five minutes, I’d be safe. When I made out the pattern of the drum solo in “May Day,” I decided to go back.
I was somewhere below the back wall of the hall. The backstage doors were locked and no one answered my knocking. I had to go around another building to get up to the front. A single student stood in the lobby, his back to the closed double doors. With his crewcut and at-ease stance he looked like a junior soldier boy. Or maybe a football player. I admired his wide shoulders.
“Excuse me,” I said as I tried to go past him.
“No admittance.” He put a hand on my shoulder.
“Look, the backstage door was locked. I need to get in there.”
He looked down at me like he couldn’t understand a word I had said. “Look, there’s no admittance after the show starts.”
I pulled the laminated tag I wore around my neck from under my shirt. It said NOMAD in their signature style, ALL AREAS. “I’m on the crew.”
He seemed to think that was funny. “Where’s your entertainment committee pass?”
He pointed to a patch of cloth adhered to his pant leg with the university logo on it. “These were passed out after soundcheck to all band, crew, and entourage.” SECURITY was handwritten in black magic marker on his.
“Well, I missed that.” It was getting late. “Look, I need to get in there, now. I’m supposed to be onstage in ten minutes.”
“Yeah, I believe that, too. Get out of here.” He moved from foot to foot, as if moving his bulk alone should intimidate me. It did, a little.
The only thing I had to heft was the fact that I was right. “Get me the stage manager.”
“I told you I can’t open these doors.”
“Fuck that! I told you…” I took a step back as he took a step forward.
He flicked my hair off my shoulder with the back of one hand. “Townie punk, you can just get off the campus before I call the campus police.”
I backed away from him. He was probably going to grow up to be a very mean and stupid rent-a-cop and I hoped it got him killed someday. But that didn’t help me, now.
I went back around to the stage door. There was still no answer. I circled around the building, looking for the door I had slipped out before. Every door was locked. I was pulling and kicking it, trying to force it open when a flashlight interrupted me.
“Hey, there, hold up.” The voice came from behind the light. A uniformed man took the beam out of my eyes and stepped forward. “What are you trying to do there?”
He was campus police. I started talking. “I came out this door and it locked behind me. I’m on the stage crew. They need me in there.”
He muttered to himself. “Five and a half feet, long brown hair. You’re coming with me.”
“No! I have to get in there!” Have cops ever been reasonable? “I have a crew pass, see? Just talk to the stage manager and you’ll find out. The head technician’s name is Matthew…”
He wasn’t listening. “Are you going to come along, or do I have to get rough?”
“Somebody’s going to be really pissed if you don’t let me in there. They’re paying me to do a job, here.” But he was poking me with the flashlight, herding me toward his car.
“Can I see some I.D.”
I produced my RIMCon I.D. from my back pocket.
“Got anything else? Driver’s license?”
I shook my head, familiar with this particular problem already. It didn’t make a difference. He patted me down for weapons or drugs or something that he didn’t find, and put me in the back of his car, talking into his hand-held radio. All he’d found in my pockets was a few dollar bills. Then he got in and drove me to a local police station. I guess in the state of Wisconsin it’s a crime not to have a driver’s license.
He handed me over to a real cop in the lobby and I learned the charge. Vagrancy. The cop made me sit down in a little room with a window and closed the door. I felt like I was an extra in a film and someone had changed all the sets while I wasn’t looking. I tried to think back to the exact moment when everything had gone weird on me. But it made me think of Carynne. I had sunk so low I couldn’t even have that sinking feeling anymore.
Mr. Uniformed Officer came in and sat down. He didn’t even look that old, like he could have been twenty-two or -three if he’d been in civvies. But the uniform changes everything. He was smiling and shaking his head, looking at a paper in his hand. “So, you’re the vagrant the CPs dumped on us. Daron Marks.”
The sound of my name, my former name, gave me a jolt. I looked at my hands, wondering what they were going to do to me next. “I guess so. What a mess.”
“You want to tell me what you were doing on the campus?”
“I’ll tell you what I told them and see if it makes more sense to you, okay? Because it’s the truth.” I forced myself to make eye contact with him. I remember hearing somewhere that people will believe you more readily if you make eye contact. (But I think a politician said it, or maybe it was Digger, so who are you going to believe?) “I’m a member of the traveling stage crew for that band they’ve got playing on the campus. They didn’t give me one of those stupid campus passes. This,” I held up the laminate, trying to keep my voice down but only partly succeeding, “is good enough for any professional arena in the States, but some butt-headed student bully…” Cool down, kiddo, I told myself, “wouldn’t let me back into the hall once I’d left. I was trying to get back in some other door when the campus cop stopped me.”
He shrugged. “You’ve got less than $20 on you, no identification, and you look, well, you look,” he shrugged again, “like a vagrant.”
“Since when is it a crime to have less than $20? I’ve got five bucks worth of pizza in my stomach that I bought just down the street.” I felt angry, but he didn’t seem to be taking it personally. “Do you believe me?”
“I believe you.” He stood up. “The CPs are always dumping people off here. You haven’t been arrested. You don’t appear intoxicated, armed, mentally unstable, or otherwise dangerous. I’m going to let you go.”
“Thanks.” It was good news, but relieved as I was I couldn’t act happy about it. “How the hell do I get back to the campus?”
He called me a cab and held the door open for me as I got in. “Get yourself a state liquor ID if you don’t learn to drive by the time you’re twenty-one,” he said. “And don’t take any wooden nickels.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I decided I didn’t like friendly cops all that much, either.
The cab let me out by the front doors of the concert hall. The doors were wide open, students milling all around. I walked straight through the lobby and no one even looked up to challenge me. Mr. Muscle Brain was gone.
So was almost everyone else. The only person I saw was Matthew, standing by the sound board. I ran up to him.
“Daron! Holy shit, where have you been?” He sounded more relieved than angry and I relaxed a little.
“The damn police picked me up and charged me with vagrancy. I’ve been all over the fuckin’ place.” As the knot in my stomach loosened, I realized I was hungry. “They wouldn’t let me in the goddam door!”
Matthew put his arm around my shoulders. “Pinheads. Well, Remo just carried on the set without you. It was okay.”
“Remo. Oh fuck.” I could imagine what Waldo must be saying right now.
Matthew steered me toward backstage. The equipment was already packed. Matthew pointed his nose toward the students lugging cases. “This is great. We have like thirty kids helping out. I haven’t had to lift a finger.”
“Was Remo worried?”
“About you?” Matthew shrugged. “I guess you better talk to him.”
“He’s pissed, isn’t he.”
“He’s at the hotel. You and me are the only ones left here. You can talk to him when we get back.” He dug in his pockets. “I’ll go call us a cab. You keep an eye on these kids.”
Yeah, like any one of them would even listen to me.