Tales Of The
North By Pacific Northwest

Story by Roger Neville-Neil
Photographs by Victor Santiago, Cascadian Daily Chronical

From Aural Innovations #32 (November 2005)

They say what goes around, comes around. That one point of the compass is just as good as the next. And that one who leads a decent life and says his prays at night will be rewarded in kind for his good deeds.

They say that the ideal way to conduct your affairs is to treat others the way that you would like to be treated yourself. This sounds like a very reasonable and honourable way to conduct yourself. Unless you find yourself lost somewhere in between the major cardinal points. Somewhere where these rules don't seem to hold true.

They say that such a place exists. It exists in a small country on The North American continent. A country known as The Republic of Cascadia. Located somewhere in the coastal rain forests - North by Pacific Northwest.


A bottle of Amstel Light was sitting on a coaster at the bar - sweating. My left arm was lying next to it. I reached over. Liberated it from exile. Took a long, slow swallow. And casually gazed around the room. Sizing up the joint.

It's Thursday night. It's early. It's quiet outside the club's doors. And it sure wasn't much livelier inside. Tonight was one of those Low Dough Shows that Dante's puts on in hopes of drawing a crowd on a typically slow night of the week.

A sparse gathering had turned up. Littered randomly throughout the club. Several people were located at the two bars in the main room of the club. A few of them were seated at the tables located in between the bars. Maybe some of the others were over in the game room shooting pool. Playing video poker. Or maybe they were just wagging their chins at the bar on the other side of the red brick-and-mortar wall dividing the two rooms. Force feeding the bartender an earful of mundane and mindless patter.

I reached inside my topcoat. Found the bulge beneath my right arm. And removed the Canon from its shoulder holster. I flicked open its chamber. Slid in a high speed Fujicolour cartridge. And snapped the chamber shut.

It's dark at the middle bar. Even with its inlaid frosted white glass glowing faintly - lit by an elusive smattering of small globe lights beneath its surface. Faint white souls lost in a visceral maelstrom of red decor. Gasping beneath the rising tide of half empty bottles and sawed-off translucent spirit decanters. Like will-o'-the-wisps restrained by magic cement slippers. They lay submerged in the depths of a murder marsh. Swallowed by a thirsty, frothy fog. Lost but not forgotten. Just slightly misplaced in the normal scheme of things.

I casually reached over to the tumbler resting on the bar in front of me and palmed a colourful Camel matchbook. The artwork gracing its cover centred on a vampish raven haired temptress - a cigarette girl rendered in full retro '40s splendour - showing off her soft round shoulders, ample cleavage, and luscious long shapely gams.

I peeled back the matchbook flap. Ripped out a match. Struck it. And held the flame next to the small mechanical dial settings on my camera. The ASA and exposure meters flickered in and out of focus in the darkness - analogue Dali delusions. Only vague impressions of reality. The cogs and wheels governing them hiding in plain sight. Somewhere in the dancing shadows. Dodging the tongue of flame. peppering my retinas with its afterimage. Novas of flack follow my gaze.

I grimaced. Cursed to myself. Waved the flame into extinction. And tossed the dead, smoking, joss tickler into an ashtray parked next to Sarah Mayfield's sweating cocktail glass. Sarah was sitting at the bar with her back to me. She had long, straight, brunette hair that flowed down to her shoulders and spilled further down her back. She was wearing a red long-sleeve t-shirt and was talking to a group of friends. She was once the guitarist for King Black Acid. Now she was a free agent. With her own band.

Sean Ferrell was over by the stairs that led down to the club's dressing room. He was surrounded by a pile of musical equipment and was fiddling with a laptop. He had short dark hair. Was clean shaven. Wearing a black short-sleeve t-shirt that had white letters that indicated he was "GUIDED BY VOICES". There was a wide white-cloth wrapped around his left wrist. He was once the keyboard player for King Black Acid. Now he was throwing in his lot with Sarah Mayfield. Teaming up with her on this new musical project.

Hello Damascus was playing on the stage. They were a three-piece band. A drummer. Guitarist. And bass player. Their music was very mellow. very slow. Very low-key. It was a slow, sleepy derivative of folk rock. Their derivation was kinda depressive. Like a long droning honky-tonk dirge. It was definitely moody. The kind of music that might lead a weaker mind down a dark path - making suicide seem like a viable option.

The frontman was singing a ballad as he strummed his acoustic guitar. The drummer rustled his skins with brushes. And the bass player was letting his fingers do the talking.

I just wasn't into it. I leaned back against the red brick-and-mortar wall. Searching for the dregs in my bottle as I tipped it up and drained it. It certainly looked like a bad night to kick amphetamines.

A voice snapped me out of my stupor. It was attached to Jeff Hollett. "Hey, Action Man!"
I smiled. "So you did make it."
"Well it's not too often you make a request... and I wasn't doing anything anyway."
"You working?"

I removed a crisp green note - folded in quarters - from my wallet - a Samuel L. Jackson - and placed it on the bar. It was folded in quarters. Scaling it down to about the size of a business card.

"I don't have the item you requested on me."
"Good. I wouldn't want it to get damaged."

His eyes darted from side to side suspiciously. His voice dropped to a whisper. "She's not here is she?"
"That Dutch dominatrix. The one with the stormtrooper clogs that was with you at the Private Player show."
"Relax sunshine, Monique is cooling her jackboots back in Rotterdam. She won't be slapping any more sense into you."
"Gawd, where do you find them?"
"I don't. They find me. But if you're interested, I'm sure she could fix you up with a friend."
"You know, you really should screen your clients better."
"Are you applying for the position?"
He shook his noodle violently.
"Then forever hold your piece."

I slid the double-sawbuck closer to him. Jeff frowned as he eyed the note laying on the bar between us. "Aw, Just buy me a beer."

I tapped the legal tender Cascadian script. "Your drink is included in this. The rest is yours to keep." Jeff just stared at it. I drew a card from my pocket and laid it on top of the twenty with a snap. "This is a safe mail drop. Send it here. I'll get it just fine. No one will be the wiser."

Jeff beamed. "Piece of cake. I'll have it in the mail on Monday."
"And so you don't forget what details I'm interested in." I removed a pen from the breast pocket of my inner topcoat and wrote one single word - DAHLIA.


It's 9:30 p.m. Empire Expand walked out on stage. They were a new local two-piece band with two very special members. Sarah Mayfield and Sean Ferrell. Both were former members of King Black Acid and the Starseed Transmission. My all time favourite local band.

I approached the stage. Getting as close to the band as I could. I wanted to maximize the available lighting should I decide to take natural light photos. It looked dicey. The stage was lit predominately with red lights. And Sarah didn't improve matters. She was wearing a red shirt. My clip of colour film would be overwhelmed by all this intensive concentration of red. This would force me to do what I really disliked doing - use a flash. I decided on a compromise. I'd alternate between shooting natural light and flash photography. I figured I might as well see how it all turned out in the wash. Either way I'd have something to show for my efforts. Something for my files. And maybe even capture something that might prove to be vital information later on.

Sarah was positioned left of centre. Guitar at the ready. Looking down at the laptop setup in front of her. She was making a few fine adjustments. Sean was over on the right. He was also standing behind a laptop. It was positioned in front of his keyboard.

This was the first time that they had played in front of a live audience as Empire Expand. I didn't know what to expect. I'd never heard their songs before. I figured that Sarah would be singing and playing guitar. Toward the end of King Black Acid's rein in Portland, Sarah was providing more and more vocals to the band's songs. It would be interesting to see just what direction she would take it.

I would be watching the audience as well as the band. I wondered what type of characters I might find lurking in their audience. I wondered what would unfold. And what new pieces I could add to the ever growing puzzle. Everything seemed to be so interconnected. And so many pieces seemed to be leading toward a conflict of interests. Or a collusion. In either case, it was apparent that someone was in the background pulling the strings. But who?

I caught a movement to my left. Someone was heading toward me. Heading directly toward me from the tables over by the middle bar. A dark figure. Wearing a dark suite. White shirt and dark tie. And thick black horn-rimmed glasses - like what Clark Kent might wear. A small grey derringer size camera was dangling from his left wrist by a thin black strap - a 35mm autofocus. His fingers were coiled around a fully loaded cocktail glass.

It was Victor Santiago. He was a self-confessed writer. But I still didn't know what he wrote. Or who he wrote for. For all I knew, he could be a reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. He strolled up. Held out his right hand. And smiled warmly.

"Haven't seen you in a while... you must have been involved in a lengthy investigation. Or several investigations. Anything interesting?"
"No. Just taking it easy. I haven't done bugger all in ages. My last case was Motorhead."
His eyes bulged. "And you're still alive!"
"Yeah, but deafer than a doornail."
"Serves you right for mixing with that lot. You must have a death wish."
"It augments my charming temperament."
"To each his own."

He saluted me with his glass, and retreated back the way he'd come. He was just letting me know that he was here in the club. And that I wasn't the only person armed with a camera in this club tonight. I continued shooting the band. When I emptied my clip. I quickly reloaded and continued squeezing off shots in rapid succession. After their set, I signalled and got Sarah's attention. She leaned toward me and listened closely.

"Can I nick your set list?"

She reached down and picked up the light-blue sheet of paper laying beside the base of her mic stand.
She smiled broadly. "You want this?"
"Yeah. For my files. Then I can refer back to it and have a pretty good idea what to expect.
"Well, you're in luck. We never change the set list. So I don't need to hang on to it."

She surrendered the list. I took a good squint at it. The sheet was 17 x 11. A light-blue flier advertising tonight's show. There was a black and white photo of the band alaska! Complete with the date. Venue. Names of the bands playing. The promoters. Cost. And written on the back - in big black one inch tall Sharpie letters - the brief shorthand words serving as mnemonic reminders of the actual titles of the songs played in their set:


I nodded. "Thanks. This'll do nicely."
"No problem."

Sarah was grinning as she turned and left the stage. I folded the flier several times. And filed it away in the inner pocket of my topcoat. And glanced over at the gameroom bar. It was partially exposed through the brick archway separating the two rooms.

Jeff was standing near the edge of the bar across from the merchandise stall. A location that provided a reasonable view of the stage. It also allowed those so inclined to be able to keep an eye on the rest of the patrons holed up in the gameroom.

I strolled over and joined Jeff at the bar. He backed up against the brick wall at the end of the bar. I studied his expression. He was grinning. Then I started to probe his thoughts.

"How would you describe their sound?"
"You were down front. Didn't you hear it?"
"Selective amnesia."
Jeff's face warped into a puzzled expression.
"I want a second opinion."
"Oh, I get you."
"Would you call it... Chick-Rock?"
"'Cos a chick is singing? Ya know, that famine touch."
"Oh, no. Not at all. It's Melodic. Ambient. Rock music. It just has female vocals as a bonus. But I will admit one thing."
"What's that?"
"Sarah's a peach."
I nodded.
"Okay. In one word. Sum it up."
"Good. It's good, George."
"That's all I wanted to know."

I removed my cigarette case. Planted a Chesterfield between my lips. Struck a match. And took a long drag on the cig. "Is that all you need from me?"

I blew a stream of smoke across his bow and chuckled. "Just one more little thing, sunshine."
"What's that?"
"See the suit over there."
Jeff peered around the brick wall.
"You mean Victor?"
"He's a real nice guy."
"A little too nice, if you ask me. Keep an eye on him."
"Why?" "He's too good to be true. He must have something to hide. See what you can dig up on him. It never hurts to have an ace up your sleeve - just in case."
"Alright, I'll watch him."

I signalled to the bartender and indicated the Budweiser tap. He nodded and grabbed a pint glass. Jeff cleared his throat.
"Ah, anything else?"
"What's that?"

I took an other long drag. And rasped, "Don't leave Old Town!"


The Out Crowd was a five-piece band. There were four gents and one dame. The frontman was a distinctive fellow that went by the name of Matt Hollywood. He was tall and had dark mopish hair. His sideburns were long fuzzy carpets that dripped down past the end of his ears. There was one more thing about his appearance that stood out. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses. They conjured up an image that could only be described as a Teddy-boy version of Roy Orbison.

Matt was standing at the front of the stage. Over on the left-hand side. The dame was positioned to the right of Matt. She was known as Sarah Jane and was standing in front of a keyboard - shaking a tambourine. She had long dark hair. And emoted passionately with every movement she made. She was driven by the moment and by the relentless rhythms unleased by the band. The bandanna looped loosely around her throat flipped up and down - waving wildly - between her chin and well proportioned chest. She was no plain Jane - she was a real looker. And every bit the live wire.

The last time I had seen the Out Crowd was over at Berbati's Pan a couple of years ago. I didn't know much about them. But I recall that they had a cool hip beat that had the classic trappings of psychedelic music. Distortion. Fuzz. Reverb. And heavy rhythms. All topped off with vocals that droned and sounded strung-out at times. Then there was that retro '60s sound of a jangling tambourine throughout most of their songs.

Tonight they were leaning toward songs with extensive stretches of improvisational jamming. Their melodies slowly wound themselves around you as they roped you in. Instead of sounding hip and cool - they sounded hot and heavy. Very hot indeed!

But something was rotten in Camas. Jeff suddenly turned and bolted for the exit. I grabbed his arm as he rushed pass me and spun him around.

"Just a minute, sunshine. Where do you think your headed?"
"To go see Keith Schreiner."
"At The East... in Chinatown."
"By yourself."
"It's not that far into Chinatown."
"It's far enough."
"Just a few blocks."
"Well, you might consider avoiding the Old Town blocks after they ring last call."
"'Cos, that's when the gangsters start taking potshots at patrons. Just for kicks!"
"I'll be alright. It's Thursday night"
"What's that gotta do with the price of ginseng in Chinatown?"
"They've only been shooting folks on weekends!"

I rolled my eyes. "I stand corrected. You're right, sunshine. It just wouldn't be proper to plug patrons on a work night. Especially with a Saturday night special."

He gave me one of his dopey grins. "Aw, shucks, George. Everything will be jake. You'll see."
"Okay, it's your funeral." I waved him off. "Go ahead get outta here - scram!

He started for the exit. This time I let the nitwit go.

Jeff had his noodle set on Chinatown. I just hoped they wouldn't make chop suey outta him. After all, he did have my calling card on him. And that would lead the coppers straight back to me. I didn't feel like being on the receiving end of another free membership in their private athletic club - with full exclusive access to their backroom sweatshop. Where rubber hoses and spotlights were optional.

Jeff's wayward journey would take him across the street to the Chinatown gate over at Northwest Fourth Avenue and West Burnside. A big gate with five red roofs, sixty-four dragons, and two bronze lions standing guard at the east and west sides of its entrance.

Heading north he would cross Northwest Couch and walk right pass Hung Far Low's vacant two-story building. A light-brown brick building with a turn of the century fire escape attached to its southern face. The windows were all papered over with heavy brown wrapping paper so you couldn't see inside. And the permanently extinguished neon sign running up the southwest corner stood out like a gigantic kanji crucifix sporting a gold pagoda crown. The paint on the old red, white, and gold letters hiding between its dead neon tubes were now cracked, faded, and pealing. Totally dead to the world.

Pressing on from there he would encounter a row of homeless citizens wrapped up in blankets. Hugging the side of the vacant China Plaza building, The former home of the Royal Family of Ginseng. Another two-story brick building with an open, covered, railed balcony up on the second floor - overlooking the desolate blacktop parking lot just across the street on the westside of Northwest Fourth Avenue.

Crossing Northwest Davis he'd approach the bright red flashing neon world of The House of Louie's - a distinctively ornate and ostentatious eating establishment. It had two red columns in front of its entrance with matching bronze dragons curling around them. There were large plaques on the each side of the building near the windows. They depicted a pheasant and a dragon facing an orb that was hovering between them. Their sharp claws and talons were extended as they charged each other like cocks in a cockfight. There was a glowing disc high above the sidewalk, beside the arterial-red neon sign spurting the words - "HOUSE OF LOUIE". It had a ring of bare white bulbs. Flashing endlessly on and off. Moving clockwise around the artwork contained within. Artwork covered with haunting alternating shadows that flowed like slippery eels churned up by the probing lights.

At this point Jeff would almost be home free. All he'd have to do was navigate his way down the block passed the Republic Cafe and quickly duck around the corner. Seeking refuge and sanctuary midway down the block in the Chinatown Lounge, otherwise know as The East.

With Jeff out of the picture - there was only one person left to take up the slack. I'd have to keep an eye on Victor, the audience, and the bands. All by myself.

Victor was over at the main bar raising a cocktail up to his lips. Facing the stage and missing nothing. He was clearly enjoying the show. Smiling pleasantly as he set his glass down on the white cocktail napkin next to him.

I decided to make my move. I strolled over to the bar and joined him. Leaning an arm on the counter and giving Victor a friendly nod of acknowledgement. "They're sounding good."

I glanced at the stage to see what Victor might be watching. Sarah Jane was hopping and swaying like a python on a pogo stick. She was playing the keyboards and dancing in place like she was the life of the party.

"Looks like they're putting on a pretty good show tonight." Victor nodded. I engaged him in a seemingly casual round of chitchat. Hoping that he'd reveal his hand. But he was playing close to the vest. Revealing little concerning his past. He was more interested in the present. And how it sounded on the stage.

Midway through the set the Out Crowd started playing a solitary Tom-tom beat. Victor and I both perked up. The bass player set down his bass and picked up a pair of long white pompom padded timpani mallets. He walked back to the drum kit and joined in drumming. They were laying down a long and heavy tribal beat. It sounded like an evening at a Red Indian village.

Victor set down his cocktail glass and swung his camera up into position. "This is too good to pass up!"

He strolled down to the front of the stage and took several point blank shots of the drummer and the bass player laying down the tribal vibe. The rest of the band joined in. Weaving a very Red Indian inspired jam that seemed to go on for centuries.

My curiosity was piqued. If this was what they sounded like live. How did they sound canned? Could they capture this feel and live up to their live performance. I wanted to buy a copy of one of their CDs to put their music to the test... but I hadn't notice anything of theirs on sale over at the merchandise stall. The only things there focused on alaska!

I waited for Victor's return and leaned in closer toward him so he could hear me over the blaring PA. "How many CDs do they have?"

Victor screwed up his face while he thought. Then he confidently replied, "Two CDs and an EP." I gave him a sharp accusing stare. "You used to take pictures for them, didn't you?"

He appeared to be stunned and truly surprised that I knew this. "Ah, yeah. But that was quite a while back. One of the early bandmembers was involved in the Brian Jonestown Massacre."
"I heard something to that effect."
"It was interesting watching them back then."
"I believe one of the Warlocks was also involved in the Brian Jonestown Massacre."

He cocked his head at a funny angle. "Do you mean the Grateful Dead?"
"No. A new outfit."
"Perhaps you're mistaken or misinformed."

I took a sip from my drink and digested the information I'd just gleaned from him. Adding it to what I had picked up earlier. A few pieces for the puzzle.

It seemed that Matt's past had resurfaced to haunt him. It was playing itself out in the form of a documentary - up on the silver screen. A documentary called "DIG!" had won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. It was narrated by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and concentrated on two new bands as they set their sights on the music business and carving their names in the thick granite walls of the Temple of Rock'N'Roll.

Victor definitely knew more than he was telling. And I was pretty sure he wasn't about to reveal his sources.

4. alaska!

I watched the stage slowly morph from one band setup to the next. The audience was morphing from one drink to the next. Topping off their altered states of consciousness. They were clearly already three bands to the wind. Sailing off into blissful oblivion.

I gazed at all the faces around me. Skipping from mug to mug. Searching for the ones that were painfully out of place in this setting. A silent spectre shuffled into my peripheral vision. My gaze moved passed the interloper. I did a double-take. I suddenly recognized just who it was - Jeff Hollett!

I couldn't believe my eyes. He was standing nearby nursing a pint glass and a bemused expression. He seemed lost. So I snapped him out of his misguided solitude.

"What gives? Ya turn turtle on me?."
"Back so soon?"
"Ah, Keith wasn't there."
"Where is he?"

Jeff shrugged. "I dunno. They said he was off somewhere with Storm Large."

I pressed him for details but I was clearly wasting my breath. He didn't know where she was. He couldn't recall Storm having a gig scheduled anywhere tonight. It seemed that this was something totally private. Something that the general public didn't know anything about. Yes, Jeff had stumbled on something that was very interesting. Very interesting indeed.

So when did Storm Large get her hooks into Keith Schreiner? What possible plans did she have for Audio Sculpture? She was already in pretty good shape. Sitting pretty. With just about everyone eating right outta her hands. Yeah, she was a real mover and shaker in this city.

Earlier in the week... Storm Large had shown her compassion for the victims of Katrina in New Orleans. Way over on the Gulf Coast of that big country right next door to us - AMERICA!

It seemed that their current government was inept and inefficient. Not up to the task of helping its own people. Their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had failed to come to aid the survivors in a timely fashion. Their government, agencies, and leaders were too busy pointing fingers and trying to shift the blame. Instead of providing humanitarian assistance, they watched the devastation and aftermath unfold on CNN. They were sweating bullets. Desperately searching for a fall guy to offer up to the almighty media.

Yes, the most powerful country in the world was not prepared or able to come to the aid of its own citizens during a crisis. So Storm decided to do something about it.

She set out to raise money for hurricane relief by spanking captured Bushaviks - live on stage - in exchange for donations. I heard she set a 10 spanking minimum. She even set a premium on the President of the United States based - solely on his popularity. If they could round him up and bring him back to Cascadia - hog tied - she'd spank him for free!

I gazed around the room and located a few racy promotional postcards of Storm and The Balls laying on one of the tables. I strolled over. Turned my head. Coughed. And quickly scooped a couple of them up. Filing them away in my topcoat pocket for future reference.

Storm's appearance looked different in the promo photo. It was familiar and yet somehow hauntingly different. Like a composite of every beautiful blonde you have ever seen. She was a photographic chameleon. Or a shape shifting femme fatale. Yeah, a real drop-dead gorgeous blonde amazon. She was wearing little more than a set of black leather straps over, under, and around her beautifully breathtaking and bountiful boobs.

I just might have to pay Storm Large a little visit. Jeff intruded on my thoughts. He pointed at the stage and exclaimed, "Look - a female drummer!"
"Now that's a rarity."
"I wonder if she's any good?"

I grinned, "You'll find out shortly. In any case, this'll make for a refreshing change. And a slight taste of the exotic - from the looks of her."

The lady in question was wearing a white blouse. Dark slacks with cuffs rolled up and resting just above her ankles. There was a long bushy white animal tail hanging from her belt loop. Perhaps an albino fox. Or some other wild creature from the frigid north. Her features and completion were not caucasian. Her hair was long, dark, and silky. Flowing down around her shoulders like pitch-black gold - oil. Her almond shaped eyes were as dark as space. Deep pools of infinity drilled in flashing ivory. Snake eyes. Exiled from the garden of Eden.

Jeff ventured a guess. "She could be a native Alaskan."
"Hard to tell under all these red lights."
"You could try her features."
"Maybe she's an Eskimo."

I gave Jeff a pained look. "You think she's an Eskimo? I suppose you think she came by her drumming skills from paddling kayaks and harpooning whales? Greenpeace wouldn't stand for it."
"Well, what is she then?"
"Inuit, perhaps."

His expression soured. "In you it?" He looked at me suspiciously. "They're from the Northwest Territories. Or the Yukon - Sergeant Preston's old beat. Up in the Great White North."

Jeff shook his head. "Nah, I bet she's asian."
I grimaced.
"Ah, George. What's your opinion of female musicians?"
"They're like everything else, I suppose. Some are good. Some are bad. Take you're pick."
"The good ones?"
"Talented. Top Notch. They can play circles around the hacks - blindfolded. Sarah Mayfield - she's one of the good ones."
"How about the bad ones?"
"Window dressing."
"Window dressing?"
"Yeah, sunshine. Just up there as eye candy."
"Like models?"
"No. More like the bandleader's main squeeze. Someone who wormed their way in on the act. Maybe to stroke her own ego. Or to keep a closer eye on her investment."
"Using them for their own personal gain."
"Like a stepping stone. Or a door mat. That type of dame is just a gold-digger staking her claim."
"It don't sound right."
"It ain't. But it's been known to happen. Take the Obelisks of Fondue, for example. They have a female bass player with long immaculately polished fingernails."
"You mean she can't play bass?"
"She couldn't even pluck the strings with those claws of hers. Just slap them around a bit and act sassy.."
"How can someone like that last in a band?"
"Some guys are into that sort of thing."

I winked, "Milksop musicians. Fans with fetishes. You name it. There's a sucker that'll bite the bait. Swallowing the hype hook, line and sinker."

Jeff's mouth hung wide open. "You better shut that porthole, sunshine. Someone's liable to complain about the draft - and turn up the heat.

A few people squeezed by us as they headed toward the stage. One of them triggered a thought. It was something that Jeff might know more about.

"I heard the Dandy Warhols have a CD coming out soon."
"Yeah, on Tuesday."
"I wonder what it'll sound like."
"It's good! I've been listening to it for a month."
"Wait a minute. How can you listen to it? It's not even out yet!"
"They gave me a copy."
I arched an eyebrow. "THEY gave you a copy? A personal copy?"
He smiled. "Yeah. They'd like me to put together a visual for their show."
"Interesting. Sounds like you're doing okay for yourself."
"I get by."

It seemed that there was a lot more to Jeff than meets the eye. Certainly much more than he had been letting on. And more than I had previously suspected from his easy going persona. I had grossly underestimated him. He had infiltrated Courtney Taylor-Taylor's gang. And it was well known that they had close ties to the British Rock kingpin - David Bowie.

While I digested Jeff's comments, several people squeezed around us. The audience pressed closer to the edge of the stage. alaska! had started their aural assault. I took the hint and retreated across the room to the end of the main bar. Selecting a spot close to where Victor was standing. I figured I might as well keep an eye on the parties of interest.

alaska! was a three-piece band. They had an EP at the merchandise stall that was only on sale on their tour. They had maybe two albums out on CD. One of them was titled "Rescue Through Tomahawk" on the Alternative Record label. Other than this - they were very loud and heavy.

The guitarist was the frontman for the band. He had collar-length, dark curly hair. He was wearing a long-sleeve white shirt and faded brown trousers. His legs were like pipe cleaners - thin as hell - they were just mere twigs. He moved manically across the stage like a man possessed. Totally animated. Playing his guitar with a passion that bordered on the psychotic.

I wondered if he might be a native Alaskan. But it was so hard to be sure with all these red lights. They tended to distort completions. Shifting them slightly into an aboriginal genome. I figured it was a deceptive trick of the light.

The bass player was definitely caucasian. He had a blonde wig shaped like a bird nest on his head. And was wearing a loud white and black speckled long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms. A pair of blue striped shorts. And a pair of black combat boots. He was also blessed with a matching pair of hairy legs and nobby knees.

alaska! could be summed up in an other way besides being loud and heavy. Their music featured emotions laid bare with a sonic edge that cuts deeply. It had an urgency to it that only someone who has ventured close to death can comprehend. Weaving the raw beauty of romantic harmony into a world of darkness and despair. They created a tapestry of hope that celebrated life - with crisp, clean, lyrical wisdom.

The guitarist started to go into hyper-overdrive on his guitar. playing it like a buzz saw busting loose from its fixed assembly. I started to think about Jimi Hendrix while I watched him. Don't ask me why. I just did. Maybe it was the burning match cupped in my hand. Flickering next to the dials on my camera. I was hoping to avoid setting it ablaze as I rechecked the settings.

Victor shot me a concerned expression from the safety of the bar. He appeared uptight. His cocktail glass was raised. Poised. And ready for action.

I drew my lips back from my teeth and rasped, "Forgot my flashlight." He made a small round "Oh" with his mouth and nodded. So much for X-ray vision.

Victor glanced nervously around the room. Then he leaned toward me with an apologetic expression. "Excuse me, I need to see Sarah and let her know I was here for the show."

I watched him as he crossed the room. He was heading toward the gameroom. Melting into the audience. And vanishing from view.

Jeff should be somewhere over there. It might be a good idea if I checked up on him. I made my way over to the merchandise stall and spotted him. He was near his private little corner - at the end of the bar near the brick wall. He gave me a slight grin.

"They sure are loud."
"Uh-huh. You can't fault 'em that. Can you?"

I glanced over at the big screen on the wall behind the pool table. A close circuit camera was aimed at the stage. alaska! was ripping through their set like the Great Frisco quake of 1906. I signalled to the bartender for another Budweiser. He handed me a full pint glass. I handed him a fin and told him to keep the change.

It was getting late. I wasn't sure how long Jeff had planned to hang out at the club. So I thought I better cut to the chase.

"Have you seen Victor?"
"Where is he?"
"I dunno."
"I thought you said you saw him."
"I did. But he left in a big hurry."
"Took a powder, eh?"
"I guess so. He came in here... and dashed straight out the back exit."
"Lickety-split. Just like that?"
"I never saw a guy in a suit move so fast."
"Maybe something urgent came up."
"I wonder what could of been that urgent."
"Maybe Lois and Jimmy are in trouble."

Jeff mouthed the words "Lois and Jimmy?" alaska!'s singer suddenly interrupted us. His voice blared over the PA.

"This is a song for all of you folks out there that like - ICE!"

The whole club was struck dumb. It was so quiet, you could hear a fumbled slug drop. A long dead silence ensued before the band shrugged it off and continued playing.

"Speaking of ice, sunshine...."
Jeff's eyes narrowed as he listed closely.
"Don't forget the goods I requested."
"I'll definitely have them in the mail to you on Monday."
I raised my pint glass.
"Here's to crime!"

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