42. Listen Like Thieves

I unplugged from my amp and started rolling the cord in my hands, concentrating on doing it, making each loop of uniform size, keeping my fingers from trembling. I didn’t know if I should be going to talk to Artie, if I should ask what he thought, or if I even wanted to know. I spared a glance back into the club.

Ziggy was planting himself on a bar stool next to a woman with big hair and a yellow miniskirt. Artie was deep in conversation in the circle of execs. I knelt to open my guitar case and stashed the cord in it. Then, instead of putting the Ovation away, I sat down on a milk crate and cradled it in my lap. Should I have brought the Strat instead? Artie was coming this way.

He shook my hand and I didn’t hear at all the first few words out of his mouth.

“Thanks,” I said, anyway.

“We would have been here sooner but Angie insisted we check out some show in Midtown.” He shrugged. He looked older than I remembered, starting to bald.

I should have said something like, “Really? Who?” or something equally schmoozy, but I just nodded.

“Anyway, I want to talk to you in the morning, if that’s possible. Can you come up to my office?”

“Sure.” I said immediately, even though my brain had already come up with numerous reasons why I couldn’t, chief among them that I wouldn’t be in NYC in the morning. I took his card from him with the address. “What time?”

“Not too early. Let’s say 11?”

“Sure,” I repeated. We shook hands again and he took the rest of them in tow and left.

Bart touched me on the shoulder. He must have been standing next to me most of the conversation. “What did he mean by that?”

“By what?” I unhooked the shoulder strap and let the guitar slide down between my legs until the peg touched the floor.

“Why didn’t he just tell you what he thought right now?”

“I haven’t the slightest.” Ziggy was putting his arm around Ms. Miniskirt. “But I guess I have an appointment to keep.”

Bart shook his head. “How are you planning to do it? Are we driving back tonight, or not?”

I rubbed my eyes. “We’d never make it back in one piece. Didn’t Michelle say we could stay with her parents in Connecticut?”

Bart was watching Ziggy now, too. “Yeah, that was if we were planning to stay over. I don’t know how kindly they’d take me calling them up now. And they haven’t even met you or,” he jerked his head toward our illustrious singer.

“Well, they’d take you, wouldn’t they?”

He didn’t look happy. “If it came to that.”

“It looks like Ziggy is going to find his own place to sleep tonight,” I pointed out. The guitar felt strange and unbalanced now that its weight was on the floor.

“And what about you?”

“I’ll take care of myself,” I said, turning away from him to slip the guitar into the velvet of the case.

A bit later Bart and I and Jeremy loaded the stuff back into Bart’s car. I was making a last sweep of the stage for anything of ours when Ziggy hissed from behind me.

He was grinning, his hands behind his back. “Hey, boss.”

I was too tired for witty repartee, so I just turned around and waited for him to say what he had to say.

“You guys mind if I don’t go back with you?”

I mustered part of a smile. “Go on. But how are you going to get back?” I was asking myself that question at the same moment.

“Bus? Train? Either one,” he finished. “I have some cash.” Sometimes Ziggy was part of our threesome and other times he was like he was that day in the park, an outsider along the ride. This felt like one of the latter.

“Have fun,” I said and watched him cross the room, take her under his arm, and disappear. Bus, train, either one. I guess it was a good thing I was obsessing over what Artie was going to say since I probably did enough worrying for both of us.

I didn’t feel guilty about leaving Bart to do all the driving, since I know he would have done it all anyway. I got my bag of dry clothes out of the trunk, and Jeremy and I watched him pull away from the curb. I resisted the urge to wave.

“So, what are you up for now?” Jeremy lit a cigarette while he talked, his purple pants garish under the streetlamp. I was glad I didn’t find him attractive. I was celibate, anyway, right?

I shrugged. “I guess I’m on my own.”

Jeremy clubbed my shoulder with a soft fist. “You want to get stoned?”

It was as good an idea as any, so I waited on the street while Jeremy locked up the club. I was still jangly from the show and I wanted nothing more than to get laid, but I would settle for stoned. That was a nice, normal thing to do.

We went on foot to his fourth floor walkup. He had last week’s Headbanger’s Ball on VHS and we watched it while we smoked and he told me dirt about Riki Rachtman and miscellaneous other LA metal scene people and I wondered maybe what had happened to him out there. I didn’t say much. Mostly I let each sweet puff unknot me a little more, until I almost felt relaxed. By the time I did feel relaxed, we had both fallen asleep in our clothes on the floor.


  • Jude McLaughlin says:

    Riiiiiight. Celibate.

    MJ as re/displacement for sex.

    (Given that I’m listening to audiobooks of the Tales of the City series right now, that opens up lots of possible interpretations of Mrs. Madrigal and her garden of delights.)

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