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chapter 16

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Johnny Slipknot

Joined: 04 May 2005
Posts: 39
Location: The Burned City
chapter 16  Reply with quote  



It was gonna be a big night at Clerics.

The news that Gorgeous Vanguard was playing a one-night-only gig at their old hangout had hit the Quarter months ago and the frenzy that ensued assured Kevin 'Cleric' McDaniels of a sell out crowd.

The Gorgeous V. were local boys who had hit it big a few years earlier and always made it back to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. This, however, would be the first year they had agreed to play. McDaniels booked two opening bands since, with the Mardi Gras all around them; it would be a near certainty that his headliners would take the stage late.

He got a group out of South Carolina called WiseMagic and one from Tennessee named the Sharptens. He didn't know if either were worth a damn, and didn't care. They played for cheap and would hold a minimum crowd until G.V. came on.

He put both Gloria and Mahoney behind the bar that night. His best looking girls in white tee shirts (wet with sweat) backed with four under-grad wanna-bees, MTV poster boys on stage, and an eight-ball of coke in vest pocket… was gonna be a hell of a Mardi Gras for Kevin McDaniels.

Tru dat.

Mahoney was not half so happy. With the entire place slammed with drunken revelers, she and Gloria had their hands full. What was more annoying for Mahoney was not being able to pay more attention to the bands.

The Tennessee group went first. The lead singer was overly impressed with his hair, Mahoney thought. Whenever she could sneak a look he was running his fingers through it like it was foreplay. They're playing was okay. Loud and fast but, without much soul. Mahoney liked loud, but not as a substitute for passion. Gloria yelled in her ear, "Bon Jovi rip off."

The next band took the stage around ten o'clock. They looked college age and a little nervous. Mahoney figured this scene was a little more than they were use to. Once they were set up, the lead singer went to the mike and said,
"Hi. We're WiseMagic."

"Who gives a fuck?!" a voice made of beer answered. When the laughter had run it's course they launched into their set.

It was good, Mahoney thought. Not great, but with promise. She could hear the rough technique and somewhat shaky transitions, but under it all was an urgency that pulled at the ear.

Gloria nudged her and said, "They're kinda cute. I love the bass player." Gloria liked them tall and beefy. "Which one you want?" Mahoney pushed her away and made the fiftieth pitcher of margaritas that night. A half hour later the set came to a close with a mild response from the crowd. It was clear whom this crowd was waiting to see. They were primed and ready for a Vanguard assault to the ears.

The South Carolina boys, when done packing up and toweling off, gathered around the pinball machine in back. After a while, the lead singer walked over and took a seat at the end of the bar.

"What can I get you?" Mahoney put a coaster in front of him.

"Vodka neat."

She poured the drink and set it on the coaster. He knocked it back before she could put the bottle back in the well.

"Again, please." She topped off the glass, and once again he threw it back.

"I'll buy you another if you'll let it touch the bottom of the glass." She said. He nodded without looking up. Drink orders were coming at her from the other end of the bar but, as she went, she said, "You guys were good, you know?"

He just nodded and studied his drink.

Back in the thick of it, she and Gloria slung drinks for the next hour like it was the end of the world and the Angel of Death was buying. The roadies for Gorgeous Vangaurd had the stage set up and instruments tuned and were now in a heated exchange with McDaniels. There was a lot a shoulder shrugging and finger pointing. Mahoney could tell her boss was working up a good panic. A few calls for Vanguard went out over the din and was taken up with growing enthusiasm. Mahoney went back to her customer at the end of the bar.

"How 'bout a Guinness with a hemlock chaser?" she offered.

Almost smiling he said, "Another vodka will do. Thanks."

"I don't know what you're so down about. You guys were fine. Didn't you hear the morons you followed? After that crap, you sounded like you invented music." He did smile this time. When he looked up, his eyes met hers for the first time. They were hazel with little flecks of gold. Mahoney found it hard to look away.

"I know. It's's not that," those beautiful eyes clouded, "…we can't seem to hold on to…something. We get in stride and it all comes out...I don't know....fine. Great. Passable. But...there've been these times… like when no one is looking or thinking or…trying, we fall into this place where it's all…pure. You know? Like the music is playing us. When that happens, it feels like the sound is coming from one mind, one soul." He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. "It's so completely…"

"Honest." She said it without thinking.

He looked up at her, startled. Then broke into a smile that hurt her heart. Like she had pulled him from burning wreckage.

"Yes. Honest. When that happens, on those rare occasions that we hit that place…it's like a door opens and I can see and hear what this should be. Our music. All the time." He gulped down his drink. "But then, the door slams shut and it's gone. It fucking-- It kills me. Like…like falling in love and having it snatched away before you can tell her your name."

Mahoney stood there staring at the beautiful-eyed boy, so lost and helpless with his dark hair and troubled soul. She found she wanted to touch his face, to rub away the crease in his forehead and…

There was the sound of shattered glass.

Mahoney was pulled from her revive. Someone threw another bottle and it exploded against the back wall of the stage, spraying the drum kit with beer and glass. The whole room had taken up the chant for Vanguard, complete with stomps on the floor and fists on the tables. Mahoney looked at Gloria, who had pulled back as far as she could from the bar and held an empty Jack Daniel's bottle in her right hand like a club. The floor shook underfoot and the place pulsed with impending violence. It was a soccer match waiting to happen.

Kevin 'Cleric' McDaniels fought his way to the stage and took the mike, trying to look in control. He held his hand up for quiet. The mass of bodies pushed harder against the stage, some reaching out for McDaniel's pants legs.

"VANGUARD! VANGUARD!" the chant rose higher and louder as the terrified club owner tried in vain to calm the crowd. At last, he stepped back from the reaching hands and tried to find a way off the stage. Mahoney thought he looked like a coked up wildebeest before a pack of drunken lions. He looked over to her and tried to shout over the crowd. A beer mug hit him full in the face just as the word 'police' left his lips. McDaniels went down in a heap.

Gloria was already on the phone, yelling into the receiver. Beer bottles flew overhead like brown and green birds. The five bouncers were at the lip of the stage, trying to reach their boss and pulling down would-be stage divers as they tried to climb up.

Mahoney stood transfixed in the sea of chaos. All around her sweaty bodies pushed and slammed into each other like bulls on a Tilt-A-Whirl. She turned to the guy at the end of the bar. He was standing now looking at the riot in wonder. His three band mates had joined him, mouths open. When he looked at her, she tried to speak but found no voice. Fear had locked up her throat.

He reached across the bar, grabbed her by the hand, and pulled her to him. He started to say something, but could only look at her. After a moment, he let her go, took a deep breath, and plunged into the crowd.

His bewildered friends called out and tried to grab him, but to no avail. She caught sight of him muscling his way to the stage. He grabbed the back of a frat-boys shoulder and climbed up his back to the stage. Stepping over McDaniel's body, he snatched a guitar from its stand and strapped it on. Trying the strings and finding them dead, the dark-haired lunatic waved frantically at the sound board operator until the guy gave him some juice.

With bottles flying past his head, he brought the neck of the Stratocaster past his right ear, closed his eyes, and plunged it down...

The bar froze as the E-chord erupted from the peerless Vanguard sound system and engulfed the room in raw electric power. It washed over the tableau of violence and muscled through every alcohol soaked brain it came in contact with. The chord held for a full minute before dying away to silence. The audience shifted warily, shooting each other looks of suspicion and question. A few bottles were raised uncertainly, ready to launch at a moment's notice.

He just stood there, still and (for the first time) looking unafraid. His eyes were shut and head tilted to one side, as if he were listening to some music or signal no one else could hear. Finally, his fingers slid up the frets and locked down in a power chord and he began to chop at the strings, carving out a rough edged rhythm that seemed to prowl room...

....a rythmic predator,


....gaining strength,

surveying it's hunting grounds....


As Mahoney watched, heads began to nod with the rhythm, only a few at first but it begain to spread over the entire bar until the floor before the stage resembled a Kansas wheat field in a strong wind. More than a hundred baseball capped and sweat-soaked heads bounced up and down like marionettes as their puppet master wrung magic from the strings. The other three band members made there way to the stage and assumed their places as McDaniels was carried off.

Another guitar joined its brother as the bass slid in under the flow. When the drums came crashing in, three hundred fists pounded the air overhead in adulation. When the four on stage put voice to the music, the writhing throng before them joined in.

One song bled with the next, weaving up and down and pulling at every corner of every soul in its path. Mahoney somehow found herself standing on the bar, vibrating. That part of her, the part that filtered out dishonesty and allowed in only that which seemed true, was overloaded and buzzing.

She didn't know how long it all lasted, an hour? A day? But her eyes never left the boy with the beautiful goldflecked eyes and the soul of a troubled poet.

When it did come to an end, the cheering crowd parted before band like the Red Sea. A warm and satisfied buzz went through the room as the police and paramedics took people away in handcuffs and on stretchers.

He made his way to the bar and looked up into her eyes.

She said, "That the place?"

He nodded slowly, as if he was recalling a dream. "That was the place."

Without another word she got down off the bar, took his hand in hers, and walked out into the night.



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