Chapter 13: Hack in the Back
The stretch of Highway 41 that ran from the Region down to
A few times Cerberus and I passed something that broke up the monotony of the flat fields. There was a man-made pond on top of a hill just waiting for someone with a shovel and a twisted sense of humor to play wrath of God with the inhabitants below. There was an oak tree, large enough to rival some of the smaller redwoods I’ve seen, that sat in the middle of several hundred acres of soybeans like some green godling lording over its subjects. There was even a small, neglected cemetery hidden behind a small stand of tall grass and dying bushes that probably hadn’t seen a fresh corpse in over fifty years.
When Cerberus and I drove past the cemetery, I gave it a cursory glance. Most of the tombstones were visible above the overgrown grass and the nearby trees kept it hidden from the road. Cerberus sniffed the air and turned his head, keeping his eyes on the tombstones until they disappeared behind us.
The sun was almost down by the time we crossed over the
The last I heard, Darby owned a house over in Allendale just off of the ninth fairway in the closest thing to a gated community
I wound through town across the
Someone in the backroom was butchering a Clapton riff as a man in his early fifties with a white beard and a Zildjian hat sat behind the glass counter flipping through the pages of Modern Drummer and chewed on the straw from his Big Gulp. He glanced up when I walked in, stared at me hard for a few awkward seconds before giving me a nod and going back to his reading.
I stepped behind a stack of used amp heads and pretended to examine their prices. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him glance at me from under the brim of his hat, casually close his magazine and walk into the office.
I went back to the front door, flipped the ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed,’ and then threw the deadbolt. I grabbed an immaculate Gretsch hollowbody from the wall and pulled out my car keys. The old man’s voice was coming from the office, but he was being too quiet for me to make out what he was saying. But I didn’t need to hear it to know what it was.
I walked up to the counter and placed the guitar down. There was the dull, plastic sound of a phone receiver hanging up just before the guy walked out of the office. When he saw me at the counter smiling at him, he stopped. His beard was stained yellow around his mouth. He didn’t return my smile.
“Is Pete working today?” I asked.
Kris Kringle stared at me with his mouth slightly open as the squirrel in his head tried to fire off enough neurons with its exercise wheel to figure out how to answer me without tipping me off to the cavalry that would soon be charging over the hill.
“Uh, he moved to
“Yeah, I wanted your opinion on this guitar.” I pointed to the Gretsch on the counter. “Do you like it?”
“One of the best in the store. You can plug it in if you wa—“
“No, that’s okay.” I pressed my car key against the guitar and held it there.
Santa’s eyes did this morph from wide shock to narrow anger. “Hey, be careful. That’s worth three grand and unless you got the cash pay for it, you might not want to scratch it.”
“Three grand? Wow, that’s a lot of money.” I started tapping my key against the guitar. Just hard enough to be heard.
“Stop that!” He came forward a step.
“Ah ah!” I held the tip of the key against the body with one hand and held up a single finger with the other. I dug deep for my best Cagney voice and said, “Another step and the broad gets it.” Father Christmas stopped. “Now, who’d you just call?”
“Whoa, let’s not do anything stupid here.”
“Well I certainly don’t want to. But if you don’t answer my question, I won’t have much of a choice. So who’d you call?”
“I called…” he started to say, but then he studied my face, his eyes lingering on my black eye and stitches. “You know what,” he said as he took his hat off and tossed it to the ground. “You damage that guitar, not only are you going to pay for it, but I’m going to give you a shiner to match the one you’ve already got.”
“Fair enough. Just tell me who you called and the Gretsch walks away.” Was it wrong that I was having fun?
“I called a supplier about a shipment. Now get out of my store.”
I shook my head. “Tsk tsk. Now, why’d you have to go and lie to me? Last chance, Santa man.” I pressed the key down hard. “Who’d you call? And please, be honest this time.”
“We’re done talking.’ Now get out of here before I bring you a world of hurt.”
Yeah, like I was going to let a challenge like that pass me up. I dragged the key along the soundboard and left a long, white gash across the body. “Oh, how sad. Almost like watching puppies drown, isn’t it.”
Santa came at me, his bowl full of jelly leading the way. He grabbed the guitar and pulled it away from me, but before he could throw a string of obscenities at me, I brought the key up into his armpit. I felt the soft flesh give way. When he flinched back, he dropped the guitar. I caught it by the neck, reared back and kneecapped him with it. He collapsed in a not-so-jolly heap behind the counter.
The guy in the back had moved on to something I could only assume was supposed to be Stevie Ray Vaughn but it sounded more akin to cats dying in clothes dryer.
“Kind of makes you wish you’d just answered my question in the first place, huh?” The clerk just mumbled something while he clutched his shin with one hand and his armpit with the other.
I flipped the guitar around and struck a chord. “Damn, that’s impressive. Thing’s still in tune. You could run an ad campaign on that.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“Ah ah. I believe “witch” would be more accurate, but I didn’t come here to discuss family history. However, I would like to discuss your phone call.”
I set the bottom of the guitar next to his head and wrapped my hands around its neck. “Think it’ll still be in tune after I five-iron your face with it? Now that would be one hell of an endorsement. Let’s find out.”
“Okay, okay, Christ.” Blood was leaking out from under his arm and onto the already stained and rarely vacuumed carpet. “Eli Carson.”
“He said some guy with a beat up face might show up here looking for his buddy and if he did I was supposed to call him.”
Was that guy in the back starting to sing now? Apparently killing the cats wasn’t enough. He had to rape them first. “Where is Pete, anyway?”
“I told you,
I leaned the guitar against the wall and squatted down next to bloody ole St. Nick. “Good for him. What else did
“That was it man, just call him if you showed up.” I grabbed him under his arm and dug my fingers into his wound. He pulled back so quickly that he slammed his elbow against the wall. Fortunately the hack in the back was playing too loudly for him to hear the guy’s screams.
“I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m in a pretty shitty mood. And I don’t feel like playing Torquemada for the next hour or so and I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to either. So what do you say you just tell me everything he told you so I can stop before I have you confessing your mother is a heretic.”
He had his head on the ground, his face twisted in an awkward grimace. “I swear that’s all. He just told me to look out for you. That’s it. He wasn’t even here five minutes, I swear. He described what you looked like, gave me his number and a hundred bucks. Asked if he could post a flyer on the board and then left. I swear, that’s all.”
“Flyer? What flyer?” He pointed to a corkboard at the front of the store.
I walked over to the board and had a look. It was covered with dozens of photocopied ads for musicians and promos for local shows. All of them were pretty low budge, and even the ones that were made by people who had a basic understanding of Photoshop didn’t look like they knew anything about design. All except one.
A brown and green print was advertising a show later that night at The Verve. There were several bands on the bill, but the one on the list that caught my eye was Darby’s band. I ripped the ad down and stuffed it in my pocket.
I walked back over to Santa who was now sitting with his back against the wall and trying not to pass out. “Tell the boys when they get here that I’ll be in the back.”
“I guess Michael wasn’t the only crazy one,” he said.
I stopped. “What was that?”
“Yeah, I know who you are. You’re one of those Asher boys, aren’t you? I hope they tear you a new one.”
I stepped behind the counter and snapped the heel of my boot to the side of his head. There was a flinch, a grunt, and then only pained mumbling. He crawled about halfway into the office before he passed out.
I went to the back room and found the hatchet man who was killing a Fender Tele with his pudgy hands. He looked up at me, gave me his best rock star grimace, and tried to impress me with some sloppy sixteenth notes. I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey man, just wanted to tell you that you’re fucking amazing.” He nodded like his greatness was common knowledge. “Anyway, the guy up front thought so too, so he called some A&R guys here in town to come check you out. Man, they are going to love you.”
The wanker gave me another nod then stared down his nose at me as he started on some Hendrix. Or maybe it was Ashlee Simpson. I couldn’t tell. If
I leaned over, gave his amp a little volume boost, and then left the store.