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Authors: Jan Burke

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BOOK: Apprehended
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“He feels lucky to be in this band,” I said. “He has great respect for the other players.”

Mack smiled. “He's a generous guy.” As Joleen walked over to Buzz and handed him a beer, Mack added softly, “He's a little young yet, and I worry that maybe he has a few hard lessons to learn. Hope it won't discourage him.”

“How do you two manage to work together?” I asked.

He didn't mistake my meaning. “You mean because of Joleen's temper? Or because we used to be together?”

“Both.”

“As far as the temper goes, I'm used to her. Over the years we've played with a lot of different people; I've outlasted a lot of guys who just couldn't take her attitude. Great thing about Buzz is that he's not just talented, he's easy to get along with. He's able to just let her tantrums and insults roll off of him.”

“And Gordon?” Frank asked.

“Oh, I don't think Gordon is going to put up with it much longer. The musician's lot in life, I guess. Bands are hard to hold together. Talk to anybody who's played in them for more than a couple of years, he'll have more than a few stories about band fights and breakups.”

“But from what Buzz tells us, you've worked hard to reach this point—the CD, the tour, the gig in the Netherlands—”

“Yeah, I'm hoping Joleen and Gordon will come to their senses and see that we can't let petty differences blow this chance. And I think they will.” He paused, took a sip of beer. “You were also asking about how Joleen and I manage to work together after being in a relationship, right?”

I nodded.

“Well, she and I have always had something special. We write songs together. Musically, we're a good fit. When we were younger, when we first discovered that we could compose together, there was a sort of passion in the experience, and we just assumed that meant we'd be a good fit in every other way. But we weren't.”

“Still,” I said, “I'd think it would be painful to have to work with someone after a breakup.”

He smiled. “I won't lie. At first, it was horrible. But what was happening musically was just too good to give up. The hurt was forgotten. Over the years, we each found other people to be with. And like I said, we have something special of our own, and we'll always have that.”

He glanced at his watch. “Better get ready for the last set. You two want to come out to dinner with us afterwards?”

“Thanks for the invitation,” Frank said, “but I'm wearing down. Irene, if you want to stay—”

I shook my head. “Thanks, but I'll have to take a raincheck, too, Mack.”

“Sure, another time. I forget that other people aren't as wired after a gig as the band is. I'll check with Buzz—I can give him a lift home if he wants to join us.”

I toyed with the idea of heading home early if Buzz should decide to go out to dinner with the band. But my mental rehearsal of the excuses I'd make on my way out the door was cut short when Buzz stopped by the table and said, “They asked me if I wanted to go to dinner with them, but they're just going to argue, so I'd rather go home after this last set. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” I said, hoping my smile didn't look as phony as it felt.

Q:
 Why did God give drummers 10% more brains than horses?

A:
 So they wouldn't crap during the parade.

“What was the name of the first song in the second set?” Frank asked Buzz as we drove him home. He was being uncharacteristically quiet, staring out the car window. But at Frank's question, he smiled.

“It's called ‘Draid Bhreá Fiacla.' That's Irish for ‘a fine set of teeth.' ”

“How romantic,” I said.

“It is, really. Joleen rarely smiles, but once I said something that made her laugh, and she had this beautiful grin on her face after. When I saw it, I said, ‘Well, look there! You've a fine set of teeth. I wonder why you hide them?'

“Did she have an answer?”

He laughed. “In a way. She bit me. Not hard, just a playful little bite. So the next time I saw her, I gave her the song, and told her its name, and got to see the smile again.”

“You wrote that song?” Frank asked.

“She worked on it some after I gave it to her, made it better. It belongs to both of us now, I suppose.”

“Of all the ones we heard tonight, that one's easily my favorite,” I said.

“Mine, too,” Frank said.

“Joleen says it's too melodic,” he said. “But I don't think she means it. She just doesn't want me to think too highly of myself.”

Q:
 What's the difference between a viola and an onion?

A:
 Nobody cries when you chop up a viola.

“Well, thanks again for the ride,” he said when we pulled up in front of his apartment.

“You have a way over to the club tomorrow night?” Frank asked. “I could give you a ride if you need one.”

“Oh thanks, but the Chevette is supposed to be ready by late afternoon. I'm kind of glad it broke down. It was great to meet you, man.”

“You, too. Stay in touch.”

“I will. You take care, too, Irene.”

After Buzz closed the car door, Frank said, “Let's wait until he's inside the building.”

Having noticed the three young toughs standing not far down the sidewalk, I had already planned to wait. But Buzz waved to them, they waved back, and he made his way to the door without harm.

•   •   •

It was about three in the morning when we got to bed. When Buzz called at ten o'clock, we figured we had managed to have almost a full-night's sleep. Still, at first I was too drowsy to figure out what he was saying. Then again, fully awake I might not have understood the words that came between hard sobs. There were only a few of them.

“She's dead, Irene. My God, she's dead.”

“Buzz? Who's dead?” I asked. Frank sat up in bed. “Joleen.”

“Joleen? Oh, Buzz . . .”

“She . . . she killed herself. Can you come over here? You and Frank?”

“Sure,” I said. “We'll be right over.”

•   •   •

By the time we got there, he was a little calmer. Not much, but enough to be able to tell us that Gordon had found her that morning, that she had hanged herself.

“It's his fault, the bastard!” He drew a hiccuping breath. “Last night, when they went out to dinner, he told Joleen he was quitting the band. Mack tried to talk him out of it, but I guess Gordon wouldn't give in.”

“Gordon called you?”

“No, Mack. He told me she made some angry remark, said we'd just find a new drummer. Mack was upset, and said he didn't want to try to break in a new drummer in three weeks' time, that he was going to cancel the tour. He told her he was tired of her tantrums, tired of working for months with people only to have her run them off. It must have just crushed her—she worked so hard—”

I held him, let him cry, as Frank went into the kitchen. I could hear him opening cupboards. Finally he asked, “Any coffee, Buzz?”

Buzz straightened. “Just tea, sorry. I'll make it.”

He regained some of his composure as he went through the ritual of making tea. As the water heated, he turned to Frank and asked, “The police will be there, won't they?”

“Yes. It's not my case, but I'll find out what I can for you. The detectives on the case will want to talk to you—”

“To me? Why?”

“Standard procedure. They'll talk to the people closest to her, try to get a picture of what was going on in her life.”

“Do you think she—I mean, hanging, is it quick?”

“Yes, it's quick,” Frank said firmly. I admired the authority in it, knowing that he was probably lying. Suicide by hanging is seldom an efficient matter—most victims slowly suffocate. But if Joleen's suffering hadn't been over quickly, at least some small part of Buzz's was.

“Thanks,” Buzz said. “I thought you would know.” He sighed and went back to working at making tea. I straightened the small living room, made it a little more tidy before Buzz brought the tea in and set it on the coffee table. We sat on the floor, although Buzz offered us the mattress-couch.

He took two or three sips from the cup, set it down, then went to stand by the window. The phone rang, but he didn't answer it. “Let the machine get it,” he said in a strained voice. “I can't talk to anybody else right now.”

The answering machine picked up on the fourth ring. We heard Buzz's happy-go-lucky outgoing message, then the beep, then, “This is Parker's Garage. The part we were waiting for didn't come in, so the Chevette won't be ready today. Sorry about that.”

“Aw, Christ, it only needed that!”

“Look, Buzz,” I said, “if you need a ride anywhere, we'll take you.”

“I've imposed enough on you. And after the last twenty-four hours, Frank has undoubtedly had his fill of Buzz Sullivan.”

“No. Not at all,” Frank said.

The phone rang again. This time he answered it.

“Hi Mack.” He swallowed hard. “Not too good. You?” After a moment he said, “Already? . . . Yeah, all right.”

He hung up and shook his head. “The club wants us to have our stuff out of there before tonight. They've already asked another band to play. Guess it's the guys who were going to start there when we went to Europe.”

“You need a ride?” Frank asked.

“Yeah. I hate to ruin your weekend—”

“We're with a friend,” I said. “It isn't ruined. What time do you need to be down there?”

“Soon as possible. He said the detectives want to talk to us down there. Club owner, too—he told Mack, ‘I'm not too happy about any of this!'—like anybody is!”

Q:
 What's the difference between a bull and an orchestra?

A:
 An orchestra has the horns in the back and the ass in front.

We arrived before the others, and found the door locked. We walked around to the narrow alley, reaching the back door just as the owner pulled up—the bartender from the night before. He looked like he wanted to give Buzz a piece of his mind, but thought better of it when he took a look at Frank. Frank is six-four, but I don't think it's just his height that causes this kind of reaction among certain two-legged weasels. (I asked him about it once and he told me he got straight A's in intimidation at the police academy; I stopped trying to get a straight answer out of him after that.)

The owner grumbled under his breath as he unlocked the door and punched in the alarm code, then turned on the lights. I walked in behind him. I had only taken a couple of steps when I realized that Buzz was still outside; without being able to see him, I could hear him sobbing again. Frank stepped into the doorway, motioned me to go on in. I heard him talking in low, consoling tones to Buzz, heard Buzz talking to him.

I squelched an unattractive little flare up of jealousy I felt then; a moment's dismay that someone who had only known Buzz for a few hours was comforting him, when I had been his friend for several years. How stupid to insist that the provision of solace would be on the basis of seniority.

My anger at myself must have shown on my face in some fierce expression, because the owner said, “Look, I'm sorry. I just didn't get much sleep. This place don't close itself, and now at eleven o'clock, I've already had a busy morning. But I really am sorry about that kid out there. He's the nicest one of the bunch. And I think he had eyes for the little spitfire.” He shook his head. “I never would have figured her for the type to off herself, you know?”

“I didn't really know her,” I said. “I just met her last night.”

“She had troubles,” he said. “But she had always been the type to get more mad than sad.” He shrugged. “I don't know. She was complicated—like that music she sang.”

He started moving around the club, taking chairs off table tops. I helped him, unable to stand around while he worked. In full light, the club seemed even smaller and shabbier than it had in the dark.

Soon Buzz and Frank came in. Frank started helping Buzz to pack away his equipment. Within a few moments other people arrived: the detectives, then Mack and Gordon.

None of the band members seemed to be in great shape. The detectives recognized Frank and pulled him aside, then asked the owner if they could borrow his office.

They asked to talk to Mack first. He went with them. Gordon climbed the stage steps and began to put away his cymbals.

Frank surreptitiously positioned himself between Buzz and Gordon. They worked quietly for a while, then Gordon said, “I'm sorry, Buzz. I—I never would have said anything to her if I thought . . .”

“It's not your fault,” Buzz said wearily, contradicting his earlier outburst. He finished closing the last of his cases and began helping Gordon.

Mack came out, and told the bar owner that the detectives wanted to talk to him next. By then, most of the equipment had been carried into the backstage room. All that was left was a single mike stand—Joleen's.

I walked onto the stage and stood where she had stood during “A Fine Set of Teeth.” I thought of her voice, clear and sweet on those first notes, her smile as she listened to Buzz's solo. I looked out and wondered how she saw that small sea of adoring faces that must have been looking back at her; wondered if she had known of Buzz's loyalty to her; remembered the bite and figured she had. I thought of her giving the sound man hell; she had both bark and bite.

I saw Mack, standing at the bar, at about the same moment he saw me. He stared at me, making me wonder if I was causing him to see ghosts.

Feeling like an interloper, I stepped away from the empty mike stand, then paused. I had the nagging feeling that something about the stage wasn't right. When I figured out what it was, I called my husband over to my side.

BOOK: Apprehended
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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