And then nothing…. I explained to them the importance of making amends, the value of a rigorous moral inventory and doing the right thing….
I had just got my first thirty-day chip from NA when Zack called. I hadn’t heard from him since I went inside but part of my amends was reaching out and apologizing for my past behavior. I’d left a message on his voicemail and picked the next name on my list and started dialing. It was a long list.
“Hey, man. It’s Zack. Can I come over?”
I looked about my latest place and sighed. It wasn’t much, just a single twelve by twelve with a bunkbed over the small kitchenette my landlord had stuffed into the space. It was a helluva way from my old house but the program teaches you humility and I didn’t have the money to meet him anywhere else.
“Sure, come over. Just don’t expect much.”
I cleaned up and picked up some cheapo soda to offer him if he wanted something to drink.
He didn’t. The Zack I remembered, five years younger than me and my stepbrother from my Dad’s second wife had changed a lot since I last saw him. He had a guitar repair service now he ran out on Queen West that a lot of famous folk used to fix their high-priced shit. That meant there was a fair amount of action over at his place that I used to be into.
“I screwed up,” Zack said, scrubbing at the handlebar moustache he’d adopted in the time I paid my debt to the Crown and got clean. “I need your help.”
When we were young, like teens, he’d always try and pal around with me, but I had no time to give him any real attention. Hell, I was eighteen, he was thirteen, just on the cusp of growing up. Sure, I scored him weed and would buy beer for him and his friends but we didn’t really hang. I’d bailed on the old mans after a couple years and lost track of him, but he’d made the list once I started the comeback tour of past regrets. I’d called him because part of my moral inventory was about cleaning up my messes and I’d been the one who introduced him to blow. I was the one who first did it with him and it was the coke that changed everything. I ended up doing a dime for dealing and, from what I heard from the few folks still alive from back then, it was Zack who had ended up landing on his feet fixing fretboards and moving weight like I used to.
I had The Kinks playing on the radio as he laid it all out. He was right. He was in trouble. Where have all the good times gone? Ray Davies sang. I wondered as well.
“You remember Thrush?” Zack asked as he gulped the discount soda I’d handed him.
“Sure,” I said, pointing at the cramped futon sofa I’d crammed across from the curb surfed TV I’d found. “What about ‘em?”
Zack slumped down on the couch and fired up a smoke. My landlord, a soon-to-be-retired locksmith had a strict ‘No Smoking’ policy for his rooms but I figured if I opened a window and aired the place out, I’d be okay. At least it wasn’t the toxic shit that passed for weed nowadays. It may be five times stronger but it stank up everything.
“They boned me for a key and now I gotta make good with Tyrese.”
I whistled under my breath. A kilo of street coke went for thirty grand or more based on quality. When I got busted, I had ten keys but that was back in 2010. Even then, it’s a lot of product and a thirty-grand or more hit for Zack was a harsh toke.
“Sucks to be you,” I said. “Maybe it’s your Higher Power telling you to get out while you can?”
I won’t bother telling you what he said to that.
“Thrush broke up when they were on the road, right and they won’t return my calls. When Noddy died, that was it and I was out thirty large. Plus, the vig.”
I felt for Zack. Extending that kind of credit wasn’t something any dealer did – not if they wanted to stay in business. “What’s the vig?” I asked.
“Another thirty. And I don’t have it,” Zack whispered as a tear whispered into the woolly lip tickler. His eyes were beet red and sore looking already. This wasn’t helping. “I sold the Martin I had, plus some of the other axes and scraped together the initial money I owed. But can’t cover the interest. And it’s due.”
I blew out a breath doing the math. A hundred percent interest on thirty-grand is a helluva lot of vig. Zack was in deep, alright.
“Did you call Geordie or Alec direct about this?” I asked naming the two remaining members of the former rock power trio that were a rock n’ roll institution. At least here in Canada.
Zack nodded, his head bobbing like one of those car back window dogs. He was barely holding it together. “They keep blowing me off. Now, they won’t even pick up. I don’t know what to do?”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I need the dope back if they still have it? Or have them pay me?”
I shook my head at the idea that there’d be anything left. Noddy, the dead drummer, had been a legendary vacuum cleaner of booger sugar his entire life. Hell, he had fourteen heads on his massive kit and the thing even rotated in midair as part of the obligatory drum solo. If you ever wondered about the impact of doing drugs on a daily basis, you had to look no further than the Thrush stage show. They had monster laser lights, fireballs on stage, and every song had video projections of fantasy landscapes, wizards and dragons. Thrush was a rite of passage for any self-respecting doper so it was easy to see how Zack had been sucked in by their bullshit. Never meet your heroes.
I’d heard about Noddy’s death when I was working in the SuperMax laundry. It had been years since I’d listened to them myself but they’d been doing these things for thirty years and people still lined up.
“Why’d you front them so much?” I asked Zack as I scratched my head trying to figure out how to help him. Tyrese was within his rights to charge interest on his outstanding – a hundred percent was high – but it wasn’t outside the lines.
Zack shuddered, “I’m a fan…I…I…”
I let him cry it out on the futon as I snagged a smoke from him and cracked the window wide outside. My landlord wasn’t going to be happy.
Down in Roncesvalles there are a ton of old warehouses that a number of enterprising folks picked up for nothing in the 90’s. Thrush was one of them setting up a soundproof rehearsal space for when they were in town for a fraction of what it would have cost to build from scratch or rent. I’d done any number of runs there back in the day. Like most smart celebrities, they did nothing to change the frontage to advertise their residency so it still looked like shit to the casual observer. Not that there were any here back by the CN Rails that ran in back of their place. They did all their gear load ins through the back-loading dock of the old tool and dye place they called home. I pounded on the man door that still functioned, I hoped, for their inner sanctum and waited for someone to come.
It was Alec, the lead guitarist who finally answered after I pounded the door three times in a row. He had a can of pepper spray in one hand and weaved unsteadily as he squinted at me. He still looked the same, just a little puffier from the booze and getting old.
“Holy shit, look who it is?!” Alec laughed as he pushed open the door. “I heard you got busted.”
“I’m out. How’ya doing?”
We chewed the shit at the door for a minute and I asked if I could talk to him and Geordie about Zack. Alec shrugged and ushered me in as he slammed the steel door shut behind me. “Head on back, Geordie’s composing.”
The main room had a big wraparound bank of synths, Alec’s famous flying V guitar on a stand with Noddy’s old kit sitting on a ginormous Afghan rug. The walls were all stipple foamed with acoustic baffling so between the trains rumbling by outside and the thick sound proofing, you’d be hard pressed to hear the sound of them in the street.
Sitting up behind the MOOG rack, Geordie was perched on a high barstool, a pair of half-moon reading glasses on the end of his aquiline nose. Like Alec, his hair was dyed now a deep black that rolled all the way down his back as he tapped along to the track he was listening to in his headphones. Geordie saw me enter and tossed me a wave as Alec headed back to the bar area.
“Right with you, slick,” Geordie called as he scribbled a note on his sheet music propped up on the rack.
Geordie called everyone slick, I remembered, as it made it a lot easier than remembering anyone’s actual name. As Alec busied himself popping the top on another tin of ale and slipping into his seat by his laptop on the bar, I looked about their clubhouse.
They’d set up a shrine to their own success in back by the bar where Alec was playing high stake video poker on the internet. Thrush were one of the country’s great success stories with multiple Canadian gold and platinum discs on the back wall. They’d filled shelf after shelf with recording industry glass and gold trophies. I didn’t recognize any of them except for the one sitting center stage. Right in the middle, a stylized old-timey record player sat illuminated in a baby spot that shined directly on it. It was a Grammy, the highest accolade of the US music business and the one they won almost twenty years ago now for their Temples of Styx album all about druids and some other shit I barely remembered.
“Good to see you, slick,” Geordie called as he dropped his cans on the keyboards having finished his work. “Long time, no see. You still in the business of making people happy?”
I smiled and shook my head. “Dealing? No, I ‘m out of that for good. I did my time and now I’m free.”
“Where’d you end up?” Geordie asked, his eyes bright with interest.
“Barrie,” I shrugged. “SuperMax up there.”
“We still have a lot of fans in jail,” Geordie sang out as he stepped past me to the bar. “Right, Alec?” he asked as he grabbed a fizzy water for himself.
I stood there in the middle of the carpet that probably cost more than the building I lived in and wondered if I’d even have a chance to turn down a drink, that is, if they offered me one.
“Yeah, a lot of fans,” Alec grunted as the telltale sound of him crapping out sounded on his computer. “Shit,” he muttered as he turned to look at me, blaming me for interrupting his game. Gamblers are weird like that. They’d pick anything but themselves as the reason they kept losing.
“This a social call then?” Geordie asked as his foot tapped nervously and he sipped his drink. He knew it wasn’t, but wasn’t about to get into it right away.
“I was sorry to hear about Noddy,” I said as I looked at both of them. “He was one of the best.”
Alec poured out a small slug of his beer onto the rug as Geordie pursed his lips in distaste. “Alec, please…”
“Never gonna ever be another Noddy…” Alec sighed as he turned back to his computer and punched the reset for the game to restart. “You play poker?” he asked over his shoulder not really caring one way or another.
“Like I said at the door, Alec, I’m here for Zack and what you both owe him…”
If Geordie’s lips could tighten anymore, I did not see how. He was in his early fifties now, still looking like rock royalty but his makeup was cracking. He’d had at least a few hits of Botox, but the hand holding his drink was untouched by age spots and likely to remain so. It must cost a buck or two to afford to not look like a corpse after all his partying.
“I see,” sighed Geordie as he carefully put his drink down. “Well, it’s like I explained to Zack before he stopped listening, Noddy’s debts were his own and are not the responsibility of the band. When he died, because of the drugs, Zack’s drugs…,” he emphasized, “I don’t think either Alec or I feel responsible for paying for the very thing that killed him.”
“I see,” I said, my hands flexing slightly.
“Are you a tough guy now, slick?” Geordie asked, reading me all wrong as I took a step forward.
Alec turned from his game, his eyes darkening as he glared holes through me. “I can have the cops here in two minutes,” he spat. His hand slid over to the jumble of keys on the bar with a plastic alert fob clearly visible on the ring.
I raised my hands and smiled, shaking my head.
“Nothing like that. You guys ever hear about the Step Program? Making amends for your actions?”
“I don’t get it… and I don’t care,” Zach said…. I’m not gonna lie. I could taste that sour burn in the back of my throat.
“And then what happened?” Zack asked as he stared at the pile of cash on the coffee table that doubled as my eating area. Piles of well-used hundreds, fifties and twenties were banded together along with at least a half of the key Zach had fronted Noddy and the band.
“And then nothing,” I said anxious to kick my half-brother out along with his pile of coke that was already making my teeth ache. “I explained to them the importance of making amends, the value of a rigorous moral inventory and doing the right thing.”
“And they listened?” Zack asked, shaking his head in amazement as he touched the payout in front of hm.
“No, they kicked me out.”
Zack was still confused. He poked the money and dope again. “Where’d this come from?”
I smiled. “I hung around outside until after they split and broke in. SuperMax had a great locksmith program and I’d applied myself. Even got myself an apprentice job once I got out.” I swept my arm across the mini-mansion I now called home.
“And you stole all this from them?”
“Didn’t have to. They gave it all to me once I made the call.”
“I don’t get it… and I don’t care,” Zach said as he grabbed the loot and started stuffing it away in his backpack. I’m not gonna lie. I could taste that sour burn in the back of my throat.
“You’d be amazed at the kind of amends people are willing to make once they have the right incentive.”
“Like, once Alec and Geordie found out I’d lifted Alec’s flying V and their US Grammy. That’s all it took. I probably could have pushed for more, but with the half key and the fifteen or so you have there, you should be able to kiss and makeup with Tyrese.”
Zack power shook my hand one last time and headed out as I turned to the list scrawled on the memo book I was using to make my amends. I scratched his name of my list and scanned the next twenty-five or so names I’d written. It was going to take a lot of work to finish it, but I’d signed up for the duration.
Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories, outlaw poetry, full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and outsider comix. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published by Dark Fire UK, Quail Bell, Avalon Literary Review, Crepe & Penn, Alternative History Magazine, Granfalloon, Altered Reality, The Chamber Magazine, Clever Magazine, Peeking Cat Literary Journal, Danse Macabre, Fiction on the Web, CafeLit, Horla, Bond Street Review, Free Bundle, Filth Literary Magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash & The Adelaide Literary Magazine. www.juliangrant.com / juliangrantproductions AT gmail.com.