From Aural Innovations #34 (August 2006)
They say that you are judged by the company that you keep. All of those individuals you find yourself gravitating toward. Those select favoured few that you have chosen to associate with. Every single last one of them.
They can unmasked you. They can betray you. They can reveal exactly who you really are. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. This is the price of admittance - your soul.
They say that you can run. But you can never hide. For the creatures of justice and vengeance are vigilant. And they never sleep. They prowl the darkened streets. And they're coming. They're coming. Coming to judge you.
I was heading east down Hawthorne Boulevard in the Hawthorne District. That notorious section of the city known for its young, liberal residents, microbrews, brewpubs, its European-bohemia atmosphere and its high-density housing. It was a virtual Sargasso Sea of limited parking, vintage homes, and locally owned shops and restaurants. It was everything that corporate Cascadia was not.
The Hawthorne District is frequently compared to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. Sans the colourful cultural history and all of its Deadhead baggage - unless you tapped into The Third Eye. Which is always an option, if one is so inclined.
I wasn't so inclined. At least, not while I was driving. Coppers tended to frown on that. They tended to frown on everything. Especially anything that challenged their authority and mental processes. It's best to just humour them. Why run the risk of cooling your heels in the think tank overnight.
I could see the Mount Tabor Theatre marquee up ahead - flickering on the left-hand side of the road. I could also see the large dark mound of earth looming up ahead on the not so distant horizon. Rising six hundred feet above the surrounding urban jungle like a gigantic dark-green barnacle - a forested volcanic butte. It was an extinct cinder cone and one of the highest points in Stumptown - Mount Tabor. It also happened to be the primary location for the city's municipal reservoirs - providing the drinking water for Portland's Eastside Districts.
I drove past the blazing white marquee. Turned north on Southeast Forty-ninth. Then west on Southeast Madison. And quickly ditched my wheels on a shadowy side street in the densely packed neighbourhood. Where residents' cars slept along the curbs like shoals of parallel parked sardines. Lost in an opium dream.
There was a chill in the air as I walked down the sidewalk. I could hear voices carried on the waves of random automobile noise. They drifted over the buildings and flowed into the artificial canyons running behind the facade of the main drag.
I navigated the side streets following the voices. It wasn't long before I was back on Hawthorn Boulevard. Strolling by the full-length windows of the Mount Tabor Theatre.
A few fliers were displayed inside the glass enclosed foyer. One of them featured a big green face. Part human. Part vegetable. It was like something right out of a '50s sci-fi film. Back when the cold war threatened to irradiate the world's food supply. And Vegan sounded more like the denizens of a planet hell bent on interplanetary invasion and conquest. Or the name of a governor in South California.
The face haunted me. It seemed oddly familiar as it stared angrily back at me. Hard as I tried, I just couldn't quite place it.
I continued down the sidewalk. Periodically checking the numbers over the doorframes. And puzzling over the digits. They were decreasing. They were now lower than 4811 - Sabala's address. I had somehow passed its location and was heading in the wrong direction.
I stopped walking. Turned around. And scanned all the buildings I had just passed. Sabala's had to be somewhere back where I had already been. Somewhere before the end of the block. But where?
That's when the Green Man's face suddenly materialized in my mind. It was a flash of enlightenment. The face wasn't someone I knew. It was an image connected to someone I knew. It was linked to Helios Creed.
I doubled back to the Mount Tabor Theatre. I scanned the lobby. There was a small legend painted inside. It was located in an obscure area of the wall. Up near the ceiling. It read: SABALA's.
Yeah, this was the place alright. And it was no wonder I couldn't find it. It wasn't near Mount Tabor. It was in it. There was a medium-set man at the ticket booth. He had dark collar-length hair and a well groomed, full beard. He appeared to be the only person inhabiting the building. He was just sitting there in a trance. Like a coin operated automaton that dispenses fortunes at one of those decrepid seaside penny arcades you might find over in America. Or in an old world arcade in some coastal tourist destinations like Blackpool, England. I approached him and made my inquiries.
"Helios Creed playing here tonight?"
I slid a George Hamilton across the counter.
He stamped my wrist and handed me a crisp sheaf of paper Elvis'.
"The main hall's not open just yet. But the Lounge is."
"All the way back... and to your left."
"A drink sounds like a good idea. Thanks for the tip."
"I'll let you know when the main hall opens."
"That'd be swell. Just swell."
I walked down the hallway. The surroundings were dingy. All the walls had been painted a flat-black. A gumball machine stood over on the right just in front of the door of the main hall. It was filled with clear plastic globes. All of them filled with flesh-coloured earplugs. It was a parking meter for the sonically challenged.
I pressed on. Closing in on the end of the hallway. There were two dark door-sized gaps carved into the left wall. I figured that they must lead into the Sideshow Lounge. I hung a louie at the first gap.
What I found came as a surprise. I had entered into an antechamber. A baffling passageway that seemed like it was exploding. Assaulting my eyes with blinding florescent Day-Glo colours of lime-green and passion-pit-pink. The walls were totally covered in artwork - all painted in those eyeball throttling florescent black-light poster colours. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by crying-out-loud caricatures of sideshow freaks. It was like being physically injected into a head shop poster, circa 1968.
It was flower power on overload. Incoming hippie flack Going straight for the retinas in a visual homemade ice cream brain-freeze. Numbing the neurons and shocking the senses.
I staggered toward the gap in front of me. That peaceful black void devoid of hallucinogenic lightning. And plunged into the room waiting for me on the other side.
The Sideshow Lounge had a bar situated between the two entrances that spilled into the room from the psychedelic baffle. It was manned by a dumpy, middle-aged bartender with a ruddy complexion. The bar in front of him was lined by a motley crew of patrons. Looking like bikers and roustabouts. They were covered in tattoos - even the women. They were dressed in denim and leather. And they all huddled close together like refugees at a disaster shelter. Swilling their suds. Greedily nursing on their drinks like thirsty piglets.
There was a mural on the wall behind the bar. It covered the entire space. It was filled with carnival freaks. Somehow it felt appropriate.
I leaned on the edge of the bar. I was attempting to catch the bartenders attention. He was moving back and forth at the far end of the bar. Just hovering - with no real sense of urgency.
I felt like I was being ignored. So I stared at him with deadly intent. And cranked up the vibes until he started acting uncomfortable. He glanced at me. Then slowly started to amble in my direction. I pointed to a bottle on the back shelf.
"You got Rainier. I'll have that."
The bartender frowned, "Rainier?" He scoured my face with his eyes.
"Yeah, Rainier. You do serve it, doncha?"
"Well, it's not 9 PM yet. It's still happy hour."
I leaned closer and leered. "SO--"
"So, you get two domestic beers for the price of one."
He turned his head so nobody could see. And winked.
"Yeah, lucky you."
He reached down beneath the bar. Came up with two bottles of Rainier. Decapitated them. And held them out to me. I produced a wad of Cascadian currency. Pealed off a crisp green Lemmy and tucked it into his shirt pocket. Then I relieved him of the sweating bottles.
He removed the fin from his pocket. Smiled. And handed me back two paper Elvis' and a couple of silver Sex Pistols in change. After our short exchange, he drifted back to the other end of the bar to schmooze.
I turned from the bar and gave the joint the once over. I wanted a quiet place to drink. I had a lot of things to mull over. And I didn't feel like being disturbed. So the bar was out of the question - it was standing-room only.
A card game was in progress at a table standing over at the south side of the room. It was a large table. Oval. Covered in red felt. Had recessed green pockets along its edges. And piles of poker chips stacked in front of the players. Their boisterous voices and the continuous clinking of their chips threatened to drown the room with their enthusiasm for vice.
To the right of them, there was a short stairway that led down to a sunken floor. The two sections were separated by a black wrought-iron guardrail. Its purpose was twofold. One was decorative. The other was practical. It was there to prevent tipsy patrons from tumbling head over heels into space and land spread-eagle on the pool table. Or fall into the waiting arms of oblivion. Besides reenforcing public safety, it also provided a vista point.
A large screen took up most of the space of the west wall. A black-and-white western was flickering on it. There was no sound. It was rendered mute - a silent movie. A movie that nobody cared to watch.
There was a table further to the right. It was empty. And that corner of the room proved to be totally unoccupied. This would be my best shot at solitude.
I strolled over to the table and sat down. A large, glossy-black, ceramic, Camel cigarette ashtray was sitting on the table. A flickering white candle - sheathed inside a glass candle holder sat next to it. All you needed was a pack of smokes and you were set for life. Or at least until your parole date rolled around.
I removed a silver cigarette case from my topcoat. Opened it. Planted a Chesterfield between my lips. And lit up from the burning candle.
What was that old saying about lighting up from a candle? I was sure it had something to do with luck. But I suppose that didn't really matter much. A true risk taker - makes his own luck. At least, that's what my Internal Detective tells me.
I slipped a notepad out of my pocket. Placed it on the table. Flipped through the pages. And refreshed my memory concerning the case. It was an old case. It involved a missing person. An Irishman - Tommy Grenas.
I picked up one of my beer bottles and downed a long series of swallows. Why not, I had a backup. The night was young. And I had plenty of time to kill.
The head of a jackalope was mounted - dead centre - on the front of a low hanging section of the ceiling - just above the bar. It looked like it was staring right at me.
Jackalopes are extremely rare. They are legendary creatures from the Western plains. Dusty in colour. Looking like large hares. But there was one big difference between them. They had a prominent pair of antlers to go along with their long mulelike ears - sprouting out of their fuzzy heads. They looked like a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope. This one glared defiantly. Brimming with unbridled punk attitude - even in death. Just like a demonic March hare. It's rumoured that Jackalopes only mate during thunderstorms - when lightning flashes. Maybe that's why they're so rare. At least in Cascadia. We don't tend to get many thunderstorms here.
This joint sure had its share of distinctive knickknacks. Some of it was odd. Some was classic Americana. And some was just downright quirky.
A large vintage '50s jukebox was rambling through a series of tunes. It sat over by the northeastern entrance directly across from the end of the bar. Droning on and on. Entertaining itself.
An old cinema-style pop corn machine sat mute over at the southeastern entrance. Sitting up against the other end of the bar like a crimson trimmed trophy case. Totally empty. All of its golden nuggets lifted from its coffers ages ago. It's just as well. Those kinda nuggets were nothing more than dietary fool's gold. Gilded junk food.
There was something going on behind me. I spun around and pushed back my chair. Ready to dive for cover.
A Sopranos pinball machine had started blasting random volleys of light into my peripheral vision. It was situated down below - down in the sunken area - next to the guardrail. It was located just a few feet away from the table I was sitting at. Almost literally at my back.
I gazed down through the black bars of the guardrail. Watching the machine's flashing display. Wondering how much time I would be doing in this joint. Cooling my heels. Killing time. And raising my blood-alcohol level. It was a sobering thought.
I took a long drag. Released a nebulous stream of blue-grey tendrils. And took in more of the room's unusual items d'art.
The north and south walls on the upper section of the room had a series of picture frames. They housed old classic photos and fliers of various sideshow attractions. One was of an alligator woman. Most of them were of familiar types of acts you could easily imagine hearing a sideshow barker plying potential rubes with their trumped up stories. All the amazing details concerning the freaks featured along the midway.
The room also had a couple of murals painted on the walls in that same Day-Glo lime-green and garish passion-pit-pink. A gigantic tattooed lady was painted on the south wall. It loomed over the sunken floor. She was blowing a stream of smoke and holding up a cigarette. I was pretty sure it was a Camel cigarette balanced between her dainty fingers. It was not too much of a stretch to come to this conclusion. Call it a matter of subtle product placement. Or reinforced iconic imagery.
A silly two-headed camel was painted across the room - on the north wall. A gibbering monkey wearing a red fez was planted on top of the camel's hump. Clinging like a vine on an old stone mansion.
There was too much to take in. Too much to hold and contain in just one room alone. It flowed outward. Spreading as far as the eye could see.
Out beyond the portal serving as the lounge's northeastern exit, lurked a gigantic Day-Glo image of "Gil" Bert. Half man. Half fish. He was staring right at me with a pleading look. While over at the southeastern exit, it was "JoJo" the dog-faced boy vying for my attention. Looking more like a Star Wars Wookie than a youthful loup garou.
They were not alone. Something else was out there. And it was on the move. Something was about to change.
The human automaton from the ticket booth entered the lounge. He stopped between the jukebox and the bar. Scanned the room for a moment. Spotted me. And continued walking - directly to my table.
"Sir, the main hall is open now."
I stubbed out my gasper. Stood up. Grabbed the necks of the two beer bottles. And hoisted them up - chest high - so that my self-appointed lounge valet could easily spot them.
"Mind if I bring my glass war clubs?"
"No. Not at all. Why would I?"
I aimed one of the bottle necks at him.
"Why indeed." I gestured with the bottle, "Lead on Gunga Din. Lead on."
He bowed his head. Turned on his heel. And escorted me back out into the psychedelic passageway.
I followed behind him at a leisurely pace. Glancing around at the blinding artwork as I sailed by. It seemed to explode around me. Like Kraut flack homing in on an Allied squadron as they closed in on the mission drop site.
Mushroom-shaped parachutes erupted into time-lapsed tulips. They drifted through black-light night skies. Drifting out over the Black Forest.
A psychedelic panzer division was on the move in that Teutonic arbour cathedral. It scurried along behind us on the lower walls. Stopping to make use of the natural cover whenever I turned to take a closer look at the artwork. My self-appointed lounge valet shot me a quizzical look.
"Is there a problem?"
"Maybe. I haven't decided just yet."
I glanced down at the bottles clutched in my mitts.
"Maybe it's these... that're eating me."
"What about them?"
"You see, most joints don't like you waltzing around with booze. Buzzing around from place to place like some juiced up hummingbird."
"Uh-huh. Really! So this arrangement sorta has the feel of a set-up. And that could be a problem."
"It's no problem. No problem at all. I assure you - you can take your drinks anywhere you like."
"Anywhere inside this building. Just don't bring them with you outside the building."
"Yeah, sure. Coppers don't cotton to that sorta thing."
He nodded and waited to see if I had anything else to say. I didn't. We continued walking until we reached the door of the main hall. He stopped. Opened it. And held the door open. Waiting for me to enter.
The door shut behind me.
I was now ready to get down to business.
The bar was located over at the west wall. It had no chairs or stools. The only things standing in front of it were a few patrons with their elbows firmly planted on the counter. They looked like they had been transplanted from a seedy dive that catered to the socially deviant.
One couple in particular caught my eye. A guy and a girl - both covered in tattoos. He had the look of an ex-con. She had the look of an aspiring punk out to make a fashion statement. She had raven hair tied in short, nobby ponytails. Was wearing a pair of large, black-rimmed glasses. And was dressed all in black. Wearing a full-length gothic gown that had spider-web embroidered black lace around the neck and shoulders. Her dainty feet were adorned in black combat boots. She was ready to kick some ass.
The wall above the bar was plastered with rock'n'roll fliers. Many of the bands featured were easily recognizable. Some where more obscure than others. But most of them were bands I was sure had never played here at all. They were displayed purely as a show of solidarity for the working-class.
There were two large paintings hanging on the side walls. Both featured women depicted in a vampish cartoon style. One of the paintings was titled "LUST". The other was titled "ENVY". I had difficulty distinguishing the difference between the two. They appeared to be almost exactly the same, as far as expression and execution goes. Perhaps the themes were related. But there wasn't a priest available to clarify the moral issues at hand.
I walked over to the booths and selected one. The middle one. The space in the booth was very narrow and cramped. Like it had been designed and manufactured by disgruntled midgets.
I turned backwards and slid down to the far end. Then turned sideways and faced forward - wedging myself between the bench and the table. Only my arms and head were afforded any freedom of movement. I fished out my notepad and jotted down some details.
The stage was at the front of the room on the right. To its left was a sunken section of floor. It was hard to make out what was down there from this position. I wanted to investigate it in greater detail. So I made my move.
I grabbed the neck of the full bottle of beer and left the empty bottle on the table. I walked to the end of the booths. And strolled down the steps. Down to the sunken floor.
There were four games lining the north wall - over on the left. An Elvira pinball machine. A Simpsons pinball machine. And two upright video games. One went by the name Terror Taught. The other one was CarnEvil.
There was a ghost town of a bar standing in front of the east wall. Behind it there were a pair of windows so filmed over that you couldn't see through them. And there was also an exit. I had a hunch that the dressing room for the band was located behind that wall. I figured that this was the route the band equipment took on its way to and from the stage. When I'd finished nosing around, I returned to my booth.
It wasn't too long after this Helios Creed made an appearance. He emerged from the sunken floor space and cruised by the booths. He was wearing a brown jacket and sported a snappy black bowler on his head. He had long black hair. It was tied back in a pigtail that trailed out from beneath the back of his bowler. It looked like a Chinaman's serpentine queue. Waiting to be pulled up to Heaven - by the roots of its highly prized plaited strands.
He gazed over at the booths. His eyes met mine. I nodded acknowledgement. He kept his eyes fixed - studying me. His expression was bemused and curious at first. Then he suddenly increased speed and veered over to the mixing desk.
I slid to the edge of my booth and stood up. There was a dame setting up a table just in front of the mixing desk. She was tall. Had short blond hair tucked up beneath a stylish beret. And was wearing a long dress. This is where I headed.
She was taking her time. Not seeming to make very much progress unloading or setting up the merchandise. She wasn't in much of a hurry at all. I watched intently as she laid the swag out on the table.
She looked up and smiled. "It'll be a little while before I'm ready."
"That's okay, I'm getting a rough idea of what I'll be come back for, later on."
There were about six different CDs. A DVD titled "DUAL FORCES: CHROME & HELIOS CREED". Buttons. And even a black-and-white 8 x 10 photograph of Helios Creed - with his derby crowned head sprouting up out of the ground like he'd just germinated.
I slowly worked my way down the length of the table. Working my way to the far end. The end where Helios Creed was standing. His back was facing me. I gave him the once-over. And sized him up. I directed a pointed question at his back.
He turned quickly, his eyes shifting to see who it was. There was a definite look of surprise on his face. And then apprehension began to set in.
"Tommy?" His gaze was intense and distracting. His eyes had locked onto me in a chameleonlike manor. They were riveted on me - from two distinctly different angles. Cockeyed. And this was slightly disconcerting. I wasn't quite sure which eye to interrogate. They both looked shifty.
"Grenas," I said, to his left eye. It was the closest one to me. And seemed to be the logical choice to make at the moment.
His right eye swivelled in thought. And then locked back on me as he slowly replied.
"Tommy's not here tonight," he smiled. "But he was certainly in L.A." He chuckled. It sounded downright mischievous.
"He's a hard individual to pin down. I was beginning to suspect that he'd fallen off the face of the planet."
There was a long stretch of awkward silence. The kind of silence that can easily terminate a conversation - if you didn't nurse it along. I nursed it along.
"How's the tour been?"
"Some up. Some down."
I glanced around the near vacant room."
"Looks like tonight's a down."
He reassessed the room.
"Could be a down."
"Well, it's a Tuesday - it's hard to tell for sure."
We both fell into a grim silence. We both knew that the room was not the focus of the conversation. Tommy was. I didn't have anything else to say and it didn't look as if Helios was going to shed any more on light on the missing musician. At least Mr. Grenas was somewhere outside of the country. There was no probable cause to suspect a sudden outbreak of alien trafficking. Alien smuggling. Or any other suspicious lawn ornament activity, in particular.
I decided to wait out the deadly silence elsewhere. The ball was now in Helios Creed's court. Let him make the next move.
I turned and headed across the room. There was still an empty table between the bar and the booths. It was time to setup a command post.
I closed the gap. Pulled out a chair. And sat down. Now I had a good clear view of the stage, the merchandise table, the mixing desk, and the entrance. It was an ideal spot to observe unfolding developments.
I watched the crowd trickle in. Slowly filling the remaining free spaces at the tables and the bar. Some patrons milled about the centre of the hall. Eventually gravitating to their own private niches.
Occasionally, Helios Creed would turn slightly and steal a glance my way. He seemed interested in keeping tabs on me. Perhaps, Tommy had told him something. Perhaps, it was eating at him. And just maybe, he thought I knew a little bit more than I should.
I slid my notepad out of my pocket. Jotted down a few additional observations. And reviewed what I had accumulated so far.
It wasn't long before a peculiar sound caught my attention. I looked up and found that I had gained a visitor. A tall, dark, handsome, clean-cut, boy-next-door type had pulled out a chair and sat down at the end of my table.
"Hi," he chirped. "Do you know what bands are playing tonight?"
I removed a clipping from my notepad. Flipped it over and pointed to the bottom.
"It says here... Helios Creed-Chrome. And the New dark Age."
"I was riding by the theatre on my bicycle and saw the name Helios Creed and stopped. I couldn't believe it. Helios Creed! Here! Tonight! And I had nothing planned. This is a Godsend!"
He rabbitted on like this for quite a while. He'd apparently claimed me as his best pal. Spilling his guts freely and without shame. It wasn't hard to figure out that he wasn't a Cascadian. He was too cheerful. Too happy-go-lucky. He was one of those cloying - golly-gee, isn't the world just swell - Yanks.
I did the polite thing and nodded between his pauses. Grunted "Yeah" and "Uh-huh" whenever appropriate. And let him dominate the conversation while I prepared myself for Helios Creed.
I slipped my hand inside my topcoat and removed my Canon from its holster. Loaded it. Checked the settings. And glanced around the room. The Yank's eyes widened. Other than that, he never let up steam. He kept right on yakking.
"Are you going to shoot the band?"
"Yeah, and anybody unfortunate enough to get in the way."
"Do you know Helios Creed?"
"Only by reputation. And by the company he keeps."
"Oh, I get it - you're a friend of his!"
I grimaced. "I wouldn't exactly put it that way."
"How would you put it?"
"We travel in different circles."
A disappointed "Oh" escaped his lips. "I thought maybe I'd met someone important."
I counted to ten. Visualizing ten unique ways to dispatch him. It boosted my spirits for the time being. But did little to solve the problem. Yanks should be seen - and not heard.
"What are you going to do with the photos? Are you going to give them to the band?"
"Yeah. And frame 'em while I'm at it, too."
"Wow, that's so cool."
The Yank rattled on endlessly. He must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle. If I'd had a gag with me - I would have let him have it - and silenced him for good.
I soon found myself being treated to his life story, through no fault of my own. Call it ironic karma. Payback for all the people I had silenced in the past.
He told me that he had lived in Portland for about 3 years. He liked the area. He liked the weather. He even liked the rain.
I frowned. He had an unbelievably sunny disposition. How could he possibly like all the rain we get here?
"Where are you from?"
Well, that explained it. Winters are much harsher there. They didn't get rain. They got snow. Loads of it. His common sense must have been numbed.
I glanced down at the pile of personal items he had scattered around his feet. There was a bicycle helmet mixed in among them. He was either a fitness freak. Or an ecology nut.
When I looked back up, I noticed that an ominous figure had just entered the room. He just stood dramatically in the middle of the floor - scanning the faces in the crowd. He was of average height. Middle-aged. Heavy set. He had a high forehead with an advanced receding hairline. He sported a scruffy, greying, Vandyke beard. And was wearing a pair of government issue wire-rimmed glasses. It could only be one person-- Special Agent Stoker.
I caught his attention and waved him over. Greg Stoker arrived with a puzzled expression on his face. I gestured toward a chair.
"Do sit down." He deposited himself in the chair opposite from me. "Well, you seem to have found the joint."
Greg appeared distracted and didn't respond. He was in a daze. In some trancelike state. Staring off into space. Into a specific region of space that had manifested itself somewhere just above the bar. I turned and scanned the rock fliers on the wall. My eyes sailed from left to right. Finally settling on the distinctive likeness of a famous nineteenth-century American writer and poet.
"I think it's Edgar Allen Poe."
Greg maintained his blank expression. like a medium that had finally hit the spirit world's mother lode.
"Yes, it is...."
"I think you'll find that they put those up for decoration. Though, I must admit, a bar is the most likely place to find spirits."
Greg frowned and returned to the land of the living. I filled him in on the decor.
"Many of those bands have never played this venue. I'm pretty sure that the Sex Pistols broke up way before this joint was ransacked and converted into a music hall. It was a cinema back when they were singing their praises to the Queen."
He nodded. "Yes, of course... I wasn't thinking."
"No, you were too busy taking in the atmosphere."
A geek in a white T-shirt got up on stage. He had long, lanky, dark hair that was held in place around his skull by a headband. He looked like he'd stepped right out of a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic book. At first I thought he was a roadie testing the band equipment. But I was wrong. It turned out that he was - The New Dark Age.
His music sounded like a squadron of jets mating. It wasn't the least bit melodic. Its thunderous roar filled the room. And it felt like it was never going to end. Like it had managed to gain a stranglehold on eternity. I checked my watch and the inevitable happened.
He picked up a guitar and started played along with the droning wash of deafening noise. And that pretty much summed up exactly what it was in just one word - noise. An intense wail of noise. A wail so monstrous that it could have easily swallowed Jonah. Taken down the walls of Jericho. And spooked the four horsemen of the apocalypse into jumping the gun.
The Yank made a sour face. Got up from his chair. And fled. His common sense had thawed. Greg leaned forward and shouted into my ear.
"You know him?"
I shook my head. "No. He just showed up. He seems to have adopted me. I don't know him from Adam."
Greg looked relieved and settled back in his chair. I studied the purple splotch branded on his forehead. The distinctive birthmark made me think of Mikhail Gorbachav. So much had changed in our respective countries since the Bushaviks had come to power in America. Cascadia was now considered an emerging threat to Western Civilization. I guess they just couldn't survive without having some scapegoat ready to sacrifice when blame shifting became necessary.
When the Yank returned, he tossed two pair of earplugs on the table. He smiled as he inserted another pair in his ears.
I nodded and pushed a pair toward Greg. He just stared down at it with contempt. I pocketed the other pair. They might come in handy some day. But for now I chose to hazard the risk. One must keep in shape. You never knew for sure when Motorhead might return.
I fished in my pocket and placed a wrapped butterscotch candy on the table in front of Greg. He frowned. Scribbled something on a piece of paper. And slid it across the table toward me.
His message read: "Did I tell you I was diabetic?"
He arched an eyebrow.
I scribbled a reply and slid the paper back to him.
My reply read: "Just testing your self-control."
He rolled his eyes and mouthed something I didn't bother to decipher.
The geek on stage finally set down his guitar. The noise was falling back into the same pattern that it had started with. It was coming around full circle. This was a promising sign. The end was near. And along with it - RELIEF!
Everyone applauded when the New Dark Age had ended. But the clapping was not very enthusiastic. It was like the applause of a roomful of zombies. Timed to the ticking of a slowly dying metronome. The audience was fearful that they might be subjected to an encore if they put too much emotion into their applause.
The geek surveyed the audience with a total lack of visible remorse. Only his dark eyes showed any signs of life. There was an intensity to his stare as his eyes moved slowly from face to face. They were like the eyes of a vengeful felon committing the faces of the jury to memory after they had convicted him.
One thing was certain. This one-man exhibition of industrial mayhem would make Helios Creed shine. Then again, there was always the possibility that we may not be able to even hear anything that he played. Our ears might still be ringing in - The New Dark Age.
A large white sheet was draped across the back wall. This was a welcome sign. It was a strong indication that a light show was brewing on the not too distance horizon. Soon Helios Creed's band would be making their appearance. Claiming the stage and the audience as their own.
I leaned across the table toward Greg and spoke in a hushed tone. I didn't want the Yank to overhear our conversation.
"Tommy's not here."
"How do you know?"
"I grilled Helios"
He frowned. "I've never seen Tommy with Helios."
"Not even at La Luna?"
"Um, yeah. Alright, I've seen them with Nik Turner."
"They've cropped up since then."
"Uh-huh. A few years later - in Chrome. They were Droogs."
"Gang members. White jumpsuits and black bowler hats. Real horror show."
"Oh, really. And I suppose they performed 'Singing In The Rain' and tap danced."
"No, it only drizzled that night. We got off easy."
"Is that when Tommy vanished?"
"No, not exactly. He resurfaced later. Over at EJ's. He was one of Helios Creed's bandmembers."
"So you figured he might turn up."
"It's a long shot."
"So now what?"
"We keep a close eye on Helios."
I stood up and removed my Canon from its holster.
"It's time to rattle a few cages."
Greg stifled a yawn. "Sounds like a plan."
"I trust you'll hold down the fort?"
Greg leaned back in his chair. Flopped an arm on the table. And melted into a relaxed idle pool. "Consider it done."
I left the table and headed toward the stage. The audience was standing in a Swiss cheese formation. Its rind was situated at the very edge of the stage. There were plenty of gaping holes riddled throughout the gathering. This was even more apparent the further away you were from the band. I found it amazingly easy to navigate through this porus minefield of humanity. It wasn't very long before I had wound my way forward to within one person of the stage.
I was very close to where the band would be standing. But not close enough for the task at hand. Several strategically placed gawkers were blocking what would have been a perfect view. I'd need to relocate frequently during the set if I hoped to shoot each individual bandmember. A full group shot would be totally out of the question.
All those movers and shakers - that had taken up the prime real estate down front - were not about to give it up easily. At least not without a fight. Or a hell of a lot of pushing, shoving, and screaming.
The band walked out on stage. Settled into their designated positions. And checked their instruments. Soon they would be launching into their set.
I studied their faces. I was searching for repeat offenders in the lineup. But couldn't find any that fit the bill. None of them looked the least bit suspicious - except for Helios Creed himself. The rest of the band looked pretty run of the mill.
The drummer was positioned at the very back - almost against the wall. He was wearing a black T-shirt. Had short brown hair. Was clean-shaven, except for a fuzzy chin warmer. It looked like a goatee that had lost its partner in crime - the mated mustache. Needless to say, he looked like a beatnik.
The drum kit was setup on a platform that stood much higher than the surrounding stage. If the lighting was good enough, he would be in an ideal position. This might be one of the few gigs where the drummer ended up being the major focal point. Most of the time they're buried somewhere in the background - shrouded in shadows.
The bass player was standing over on the left-hand side of the stage. Over where it was much darker and harder to see. He had long, raven hair that was cut in a spiky mullet. And was wearing what looked like a long, one-piece, black dress. Or a couture variation of a tribal sari.
There was a guitarist standing to the right of the bass player - over near the centre of the stage. He had short light-brown hair. Long tapered sideburns that ran down to the bottom of his ears. He was clean-shaven. And looked like your average Joe. He was wearing a drab-green T-shirt. Levis. And tennis shoes.
Helios Creed was standing way over in the right-hand corner. Down front. All by himself. There was an aisle along that side of the stage that gradually sloped down as it headed toward an exit.
Helios was wearing a black short-sleeve T-shirt. It had purple lettering and a big, bold, white display over the chest. It was a sacred relic from Nik Turner's Space Ritual Tour. A tour that Helios Creed had played a major role - back in the mid '90s. A pair of sunglasses dangled from the collar of the T-shirt. His hair was free and loose, released from its pigtail bindings. And his distinctive Tyrone Power-styled mustache gave him a somewhat rakish appearance - like a pirate - wearing a black bowler hat.
I turned and gazed up at the lighting rig suspended from the ceiling. A projector was mounted up there - pointed directly at the wall behind the drummer - dead centre. Yeah, he was sitting right in the bullseye.
I had a hunch that the projector would be activated during the set. It would turn the centre of the stage into a shooting gallery. This is where I'd train my lens.
As the set began - all was darkness. Something stirred in the darkness. It emitted a howl. Other creatures of shadow joined in. Droning as one. A few red lights winked on. Bathing the band in a mild vermilion sea. It was the harsh twilight of a new dawn. The music smouldered for a little while. And then it ignited.
The overhead projector came to life. Suddenly the drummer exploded into view, writhing in a brilliant burst of light. Psychedelic patterns swirled over his body. Slithered across his extremities. And crawled off onto the screen behind him.
The other bandmembers flickered in and out of existence as they moved in and out of the projector's beam. Light and life took up permanent residence at the centre of the stage. While the shadows danced safely at the sides - egging them on.
The crowd hadn't changed all that much since I had arrived on the scene. They hadn't bunched together. Or surged forward like some audiences do. They weren't densely packed. They were loose and relaxed. You could move around just fine. But you still couldn't worm your way to the front of the pack.
I worked my way around to the right-hand side of the stage. Over to the aisle that led down to the exit. Nobody had thought to use this area. Nobody except for me. It opened up a whole new vista that was only obstructed by the band itself. For now, this would do nicely. I was only a few feet away from Helios. Studying his cosy little corner and all his habits and mannerisms as he unleashed his assault on the audience.
There were two mics standing in front of him. The mic on the left was the one he used for singing in a normal voice. While the other one on the right was a special mic. When he sang into it his voice distorted. It reminded me of an effects mic that Daniel Riddle used to use at King Black Acid shows.
The white sheet behind the band was transformed into a makeshift movie screen. Some colour images were projected on it. But for the most part the images were black and white. They were fluid and sometimes chaotic. But never static.
White lines and spaghetti swirls radiated outward from the centre of the sheet - in all their psychedelic splendour. Sometimes the images started from a totally dark screen. With only a few white lines appearing on it at a time. Then the screen suddenly filled with a wild radial burst of light as the lines multiplied. It was like watching a time lapse flower - exploding from bud to full bloom - in only a few seconds.
The music was a heavy form of rock. It was effect laden with generous doses of feedback, electronics, and distorted echoing voices. It had a driving repetitive rhythm that carried you up one plateau after another. And finally left you stranded high atop a desolate arid mesa - hopped up - scanning the night sky for wandering rogue stars.
The music could easily be summed up as an industrial booty shaking vision quest. Brought about through a progressive and unrelenting assault on the human senses.
One of the songs unleashed from their awesome arsenal was "To 2012". It was powerful. It was from Helios Creed's new album - "Deep Blue Love Vacuum". And it was brilliant.
That particular date had an ominous ring of finality to it. It was mysterious and yet familiar. Too familiar. It was the end date of a long count. In fact, it was the last long count on record. And it was only six years away.
The date in question just happened to fall on the winter solstice of December 21, 2012 AD. And the fact that it had something to do with the end of days made it all the more daunting to contemplate. I tried to remember the exact prediction, but couldn't. All I could recall was that it involved the fifth sun.
Who was it that had arrived at that particular date? My money was on an old lost civilization. They would have to have been avid skywatchers. Consummate calender makers. And amazingly adept number crunchers.
I had a hunch that the Aztecs were the culprits. Or perhaps the ancient Mayans. Yeah, that had to be it. It had to be one of those Mesoamerican cultures. Any culture that sacrificed its virgins to appease their gods were probably also running a sophisticated numbers racket on the side.
All the rampant vice and debauchery had no doubt done in their brainboxes. Sitting in those jungle pyramids. Dwelling on all their dirty deeds. Waiting for their razors to sharpen.
Yeah, all those bloodbath festivities must have taken their toll. Dulled their sense of reason and fogged their moral compass. It wasn't long before they actually started to believe that life revolved around death.
Sure blood is thicker than water. But it's hardly the best choice for a chaser - unless you fancy yourself Vlad The Impaler. And even then you'd have to be really up against it. Waiting for an extremely rowdy Shriner's convention of young Turks to descend on your pad. Maybe then it might make a little bit of sense. After all, one man's reasonable alibi may be another man's poor excuse.
A short woman with dark hair flowing down past her shoulders climbed up on stage. She joined the band. And settled in near the centre of the stage - just in front of Mr. Average Joe guitarist.
She was wearing a black short-sleeve T-shirt with some kinda Asian lettering running down the front of it. A pair of tight dark-brown leather pants hugged her hips and legs. And a low-slung belt with a large, bronze, belt buckle shaped like a sea creature encircled her waist.
She sang two or three songs with the band. Moving her arms slowly in fluid motions around her body like a Bali dancer. She spent her time wisely - either singing or dancing. But never standing totally still. Not for a single moment. She was always in perpetual motion. She was the belle of the ball. A special guest. Someone I wanted to positively ID.
I moved in closer to the stage. The Asian canary was holding the mic up to her mouth with both hands.
I raised my Canon and shot her. I shot her several times. She moved over to the right - closer to Helios. Leaning in toward him as he cut loose with his guitar. Releasing a rapid salvo of sizzling, high-energy notes.
I shifted my focus to Mr. Average Joe guitarist. He was now standing out in the open. Standing right in front of the drum kit and the makeshift screen - swimming in a steady flow of brilliant rippling light.
The best position in the crowd to stand was down front and dead centre - if you could manage to work your way that far. I couldn't. So I opted to shoot between the people standing in front of me. This would give me a few clear shots. Provided that I limited my shooting to rare moments when everyone shifted slightly out of the way. It would be time consuming. But well worth the extra effort.
I raised my Canon and watched the people moving in my lens. Watching them sway - back and forth - to the music. My finger poised over the trigger. Randomly shooting whenever an opportunity presented itself.
I moved over to the right. Over to where Helios Creed was standing. I was closing in on him. Getting him in my sights.
Then an odd thought occurred to me as I watched him. He reminded me of Lemmy. The thought had come out of the blue. Filtering in on the spur of the moment while I focused my camera. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't figure out what had triggered it. I tried to shrug it off and continued shooting. I shot until I could shoot no more.
I returned to the table after my Fuji clip had given up the ghost. Greg was still sitting there. He had never moved. He watched me as I removed the expended clip from my Canon.
I tucked the incriminating evidence in my pocket. The photos would go directly into my private files after I studied them. After I had positively identified Helios Creed's cohorts in crime.
Greg leaned forward and said something that struck a strange chord. It felt like déjà vu. Or perhaps, a mild form of mass hysteria.
"Helios kinda reminds me of Lemmy."
I froze. He was studying my expression. I tried to think of a good off-the-cuff remark while I back-peddled. But all I could come up with was the obvious.
"Yeah, but not when he's wearing a black derby."
"Of course, that goes without saying. It's not Lemmy's style."
I ran my fingers over the dead zone below my lower lip. The nerves were leaden. And yet they tingled like something was crawling under the skin - mining it. Yeah, I could see that this mysterious Lemmy flash was going to dog me something fierce.
I'd have to make a point of being a bit more guarded when Greg was nearby. He could pick the ether of thought waves as easily as Houdini could pick a simple lock. The mind was an unsecured vault that he just couldn't resist raiding from time to time.
They say that time, distance, and shielding are the three best ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of radiation. I had a hunch that this also applied to armchair mentalists. It was time to distance myself while I gave this case a bit more thought. And I had just spotted a diversion that might help me accomplish this.
There was a different dame tending the merchandise stall now. The blonde that had been there earlier had taken a powder. She'd been replaced with someone a bit more exotic - a cute oriental girl. I hitched a thumb and waggled it in her direction. Diverting Greg's attention from yours truly.
"Take a gander over at the merchandise stall."
His head swivelled around like a turret and locked on target.
"I bet ya might find that 2012 song on the new Helios Creed album."
"They got the new album?"
"Yeah, I think so. I watched them set up earlier before you arrived."
He stared at the merchandise stall. Glanced back at me. And then got up from the table. He took his time getting there. And he took his time looking over the merchandise. He was keeping the oriental hottie busy.
She smiled. Amped up the charm. Leaned forward to reveal more of the items on display - both on and off the table. And proceeded to fill his mind with all of the relevant details. She was skillfully leading him around by the nose.
Eventually, he returned clutching a CD. He deposited it on the table and sat back down. The cover art had an image of the Virgin Mary. She was blue tinted and set against the background of space. A galaxy served as her halo. And there was a tiny flying saucer hovering off in the distance - in the upper left-hand corner. I reached across the table and tapped the CD with my index finger.
"This bears the mark of Tommy."
He followed the tip of my finger.
"It's a UFO!"
"That's how he vanished."
Greg cocked his head at an odd angle.
"How does the Sorrowful Mother play into this?"
"As a spirit. A spirit of the age."
I thought back on that fateful day. Tommy was walking through the forest. He was carrying a bucket of mushrooms. I was shadowing him from a distance. That's when something lashed out at me.
It was a couple of aliens. They were Greys. One of them was armed with a blackjack. The other was armed with a pair of brass knuckles. They proceeded to demonstrate their expertise applying said instruments of persuasion. They worked me over.
It wasn't long before darkness rushed in and smothered my senses. I floated for an eternity. Drifting on that inky tide. Eventually, I washed up on a mossy carpet. It was littered with apples. And there was a bubbling spring nearby. Gurgling under a starry sky. Flowing like the Milky Way.
I was not alone. There was another presence. A forest maiden. She was dressed in white samite. Leaning over me - caressing my wounds.
I found myself gazing into the enchanting aquamarine eyes of Nimue - the Lady of the Lake. Morgan Le Fey's staunch rival. There's nothing more claustrophobic than finding yourself suddenly hemmed in. Playing the role of an unwitting pawn in the mysterious schemes of femme fatales engadged in a battle royal. Even more so, when it's served up à la fey.
"How did Tommy get involved in this?"
"His morels were compromised"
"He defected to the other side?"
"He ascended into heaven--"
"That's part of The Creed."
"Has Helios been indoctrinated?"
"So it seems."
"Do you think he's an emissary?"
I sighed. "Hard to tell. He could be. Then again, it could be some one else entirely."
"Maybe there's something we've overlooked."
Greg's eyes lit up. He'd read my mind. We both turned as one. Staring back at the stage. Giving it and the bandmembers our full - and undivided - attention. One of them might lead us to the missing link.
A clue emerged near the end of the set. It came when the bandmember's names were announced. Fabienne Shine was the female singer. Jerry Page was on guitar. Domokos Benczedi was on bass. Paul Della Pelle was on drums.
I perked up. Paul Della Pelle. It was a name I recognized from the past. I pointed out the suspect in the lineup.
"Paul Della Pelle. Wasn't he the drummer in one of Tommy's bands? Farflung? Or Pressurehed?"
Greg thought for a moment. "The second one."
"The second one?"
"Yeah. In fact, he played on Nik Turner's Space Ritual Tour.
I grimaced. "This is serious. Turner's no slouch. He was the brains behind Hawkwind."
"Are you sure he's the same guy?"
"C'mon, how many jaspers named Paul Della Pelle could there be that play drums? It's gotta be him."
Greg mulled this over.
"It does seem like an odd coincidence."
"Yeah, don't it."
"So Nik Turner is the connection!"
"Uh-huh. Looks that way, don't it"
"You think they slipped up?"
"Perhaps. Unless it's too late for anybody to do anything about it."
He held out his hand - palm up.
"You're film, please."
"You heard me."
"Sure, but that don't mean I'm gonna cough it up."
I drew my lips back from my teeth and leered.
"Care to come clean. And level with me first?"
"Okay. You missed something back there."
"On the stage?"
"No. At the stall."
I gazed past him - across the room - beyond the stall. There was a black T-shirt taped to the wall directly behind the merchandise stall. Just below the neck line of the shirt there were four alien faces all lined up. Side by side. A little lower - In the middle of the shirt - a nude woman was sitting on top of a thin hovering flying disc. She was posed in profile. Almost as if she was posing on a beach towel for an exotic magazine. Or was a defrocked super model piloting a flying carpet. Sitting in that classic pose you've seen time and time again - on the back of a pair of mud flaps on a juggernaut roaring down the highway. She may have been just a silver silhouette of an extremely curvaceous, top-heavy, nude woman. But she was the current reining goddess to the trucking industry and rednecks the world over.
"That wasn't there earlier."
"Well, it's there now."
"Who is she?"
"If you can identify those curves - you've got your answer."
"How the hell am I suppose to do that?"
"Lemme guess, you forgot to bring the dressing screen and interrogation lamp."
He narrowed his eyes and fell into a prolonged silence.
I was staring off into space when five words grabbed a hold of my attention. Dragging me back to the here and now.
"There he is - the drummer!"
Greg followed Paul Della Pelle intently as he walked across the room. Never once letting his eyes wander from his suspect.
There really wasn't much reason for us to linger here any longer. We had observed the suspects in action. Gathered additional intelligence on them. And managed to capture several incriminating photographs which would enable us to positively ID everyone involved in this caper.
It was time to shove off. I gestured with a nod of my head. Stood up. And made a move toward the door.
Greg stood up and joined me as I departed. We strolled down the hallway to the foyer. Stepped out onto the sidewalk. And headed east down Hawthorne Boulevard.
I stopped at the end of the block. That dark mound on the not so distant horizon was haunting me. It had captured my attention and refused to let it go. Greg's voice filtered into my thoughts.
"What about Mount Tabor?"
"Know anything about reservoirs?"
"They're open air reservoirs."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Not very far from here."
"About a mile or so."
"You can just walk right up to them. I mean, there's nothing to stop you. Not at this hour of the night."
He laughed. "They're perfectly safe."
"The Chief of Police."
"That's mighty reassuring." I rolled my eyes, "The mayor's lapdog's gonna protect our personal welfare."
"They'd arrest anybody that walked up there and tossed anything into those pools."
"What if they don't walk up there?"
"Then they don't get to the water supply, that's what!"
A streak of light blazed across the night sky. It looked like a shooting star. It wasn't fixed in the firmament. It had a mind all of its own. It rocketed southward. And quickly faded from view.
"Do you really think Helios Creed's band would tamper with the cities drinking water?"
"No. They were only the diversion. I think Tommy pulled a fast one."
"But he's back in LA."
"If you wait a few more minutes, you'd probably be right."
I turned down Forty-ninth and walked off into the darkness. I left him gaping at the corner. Digesting what he'd just learned. What he'd just picked from my thoughts.
If Greg had had the foresight to wish upon a star. He'd find that a case of Perrier can work wonders. Not only would it make for a refreshing change. It just might postpone the inevitable. That sudden and unexpected journey waiting somewhere out there in the dark. Waiting in the Otherworld.