From Aural Innovations #37 (September 2007)
They say that it's bad luck if a black cat crosses your path. They also say that sometimes bad luck is better than no luck at all.
I walked down the sidewalk toward the disturbance. Walked passed the large window of Dante's. Inside the club I could just make out the image of a band on the stage through the dark tinted window.
I continued past the club. I could hear a voice singing. When it stopped, a harmonica started playing. The music leaked through the brick building and followed me down the street. A band was doing a routine soundcheck. But this was no ordinary band. This was The Head Cat. And they had taken precautions.
There was a big burly bouncer standing guard on the sidewalk beside the club's sealed black door. Trying to sneak in early was not an option. Not unless you happened to be Claude Rains or Vincent Price. I was neither.
I drew a notebook from my trench coat and reviewed the facts. The Head Cat was holed up inside Dante's. It was Friday the 13th. 7:55 PM. The suspects in question were: Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead, Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats, and Danny B. Harvey from 13 Cats. One thing was a sure bet with this combination of desperadoes. We were in for a hell of a night. A night of blistering high-octane excitement. Once these guys cut loose - the city would never be the same.
I reached into my breast pocket. Drew out a silver cigarette case. Flipped it open. Selected a lucky Chesterfield. Planted it between my lips and struck a match. The smell of sulphur and tobacco permeated the space around me as I filled my lungs. Huffing and puffing, I breathed a brilliant glowing cherry into existence. I waved out the flame. And dropped the match on the wet pavement. I was thinking about security. The security of the club. The security of the city. The security of Cascadia. And the events that were about to unfold. I released a hazy tendril of smoke. Watched it slowly dissipate. Watched it disappear as if it had never existed at all. Like fading memories of how life used to be before the Blitz.
My thoughts were interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Someone who had snuck up on me from behind. I took another drag and turned to see who it was. It wasn't just someone. It was Johnny Law. One of Portland's finest. A copper.
He gave me a stern glare. "Smoking's not allowed in public."
"Excuse me, I thought I was alone. In private."
"No. Now, you have company."
"So I see." I dropped my fag and ground it out.
"Littering's also not allowed."
"Sorry, just doing my civic duty. Not letting a fire go unattended and get out of hand. I'd hate to find myself accused of arson."
I reached down and picked up exhibit A. The copper removed it from my fingers. He examined it closely. He sniffed it. Eyeballed it. Tasted it. In fact, he did just about everything except light it up and smoke it.
"This isn't a Cascadian brand."
He frowned. "Bushavik contraband."
"Yeah, kills slowly, tastes great."
He held out his hand, "Your papers please."
I rummaged through my pockets and produced a document. He screwed up his face. It wasn't much of an improvement.
"These are temporary papers."
"I'm a victim of circumstance."
"And what circumstance might that be?"
"I see. Then you need to get your papers in order. These lack a photo and expire in a few days."
"All the more reason to report in... so you can fill in the sketchy details concerning your identity."
"The government office is closed now."
"They reopen Monday morning. Like they do every business day."
"I just might be free then."
"I'm happy for you."
He was so happy that he stayed rooted to the spot. He was treating me to several long awkward moments of silence. He was waiting for me to crack. To break the ice. Or to perform some other act of civil disobedience - so he could rub my nose in it.
"Anything else, officer?"
"Do you happen to have any more cigarettes?"
"Could I see them?"
"Sure." I drew out my case and flipped it open."
"I certainly hope so."
"Then I'll have to confiscate them. But I'll let you off with a warning."
He emptied my case. Shoved the offending white sticks inside his uniform. Patted his pocket proudly. And flashed me a broad smile.
"It's a pleasure doing business with you."
I returned a sardonic sneer. "Anytime, officer. Anytime."
Johnny Law sauntered off. Twirling his night stick. And just took his time as he whistled in the rain. I stood there for a few moments watching him. I finally decided that it might be best to find another spot to occupy. One where the natives were a bit friendlier. And not on the take.
I headed west toward Powell's Books. I had some time to kill. And they had a coffee shop. It was a legal buzz. It was Kismet. I came to the ruins on Northwest Fifth Avenue. Stepped onto the plywood path laid out before me. It was a makeshift pedestrian bridge that spanned the chasm between sidewalks.
Northwest Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic. The city was still busy repairing the damage left over from the Blitz. At this point on Burnside it was down to one lane of traffic each way. No turns. It was just a zone filled with orange and white diagonally striped pedestrian barricades. And steel plates over the street where Northwest Fifth Avenue crossed Burnside. Several exposed rails were sitting off to the sides of the street waiting to be installed for the new trolley line. And yellow CAT digging equipment littered the street like lumbering giant metal scorpions embedded in amber and ash - mired in toil and time. Rolling in the rubble. Rolling in the ruins.
I continued my journey and my never ending quest for stimulation.
I entered the club and handed my ticket to the mistress of the till. She was a curvy, raven-haired Rom wannabe. Scantily dressed in a black outfit that could have passed as a tribal fusion nightgown. Or an Arabian Nights outfit for a goth vixen. She stamped the underside of my right wrist. Taking her sweet time as she rolled the dark, clammy stamp from side to side on my skin.
She Gazed intently at the lines carved in the palm of my hand. Maintaining a stoic expression during the process of reading and branding. If she'd seen anything lurking in the wrinkles of time - she was keeping mum about it. What the future had in store for me would remain a mystery. Then again, she was probably just bluffing. Most fortune seekers do. They don't want to give the game away. So they just wait for the poor rube to blurt out something that will type cast them. Then the seekers go into their act. Sinking their barbs in real deep. Until the hooked fish leaps right into their waiting net.
I stepped away from the till and glanced around the room. The stage was being set up for the first band. It was still early. I had time to kill. But at least I was inside and could give the joint a good going over before the main crowd arrived.
I started toward the Game Room. A woman's voice called out to me. Was she someone I knew?
I turned to see who was trying to get my attention. The voice had come from a hot bottle-blonde. She was sporting the latest Veronica Lake peekaboo hair style. And she was not hurting for company. There were two hopeful Romeos sitting with her.
Miss Hottie was facing my direction - smiling at me with that come-on-up-and-see-me-sometime look. So I smiled back. Maybe she was taking up a collection.
Her smile was warm. Her face was the stuff of gauzy glamour magazine closeups. And the rest of the packaging leaned toward steamy and seductive. But try as I might - I just couldn't place her. Who could forget a dame like this? Surely, not I. So I reckoned she must be a friendly stranger. A stranger with multiple admirers. And a flight plan of paramours too numerous to name. All circling waiting for permission to land.
Her eyes sparkled as she cooed, "I like your whiskers."
I gave her a sly grin, "I get that a lot... especially around St. Patrick's Day."
She laughed. The two potential paramours sitting at her table didn't. They just put up with my sudden appearance. They were biding their time. Wearing their pleasant, easygoing faces - their public masks of social camouflage. Just waiting for me to buzz off. I give her a wink, a nod, and headed toward the Game Room. I wasn't feeling particulary quadraphonic. Not with those odds and sods. If it had been Miss Hottie and two other dames instead - it would be an entirely different story. That would be worth stringing along for the ride. That would certainly be a much more interesting way to kill time.
I angled over to the left and stopped as soon as I came around the end of the bar. Something had tweaked in my mind. And that something turned out to be a someone. A shadowy figure. A figure that was lurking somewhere behind me.
I turned. The individual in question was sitting at one of the video poker machines lining the wall at the northeast corner of the room. He was a quiet gentleman dressed all in black. Black trousers. Black shirt. Black jacket. Black hat. And sporting dark victorian style whiskers - his chin clean-shaven. I did a double take. It was Lemmy.
He was sitting at the second machine from the right. Totally engrossed in the game he was playing. Transfixed by the images flickering on the screen. He fed a crisp Cascadian note into the currency slot. Never once checking to see what denomination it was. He had money to burn. I strolled over.
"Hi Lemmy. How are you?"
"Hi George. Okay. And you?"
I placed my hands on the top of the empty chair next to him.
His gaze shifted to my hands. I glanced at them to see what had caught his attention. My hands were kneading the chair's black upholstery. I quickly willed them to stop. They came to rest and just leaned on the top of the chair. Lemmy gave me the once over. Maybe he was sizing me up. Or maybe he was taking note of the changes in my appearance. Changes due to the normal wear and tear of time that most of us experience.
I was surprised that he hadn't changed at all. It must be all that healthy living he's committed himself to. All the booze, broads, sex, and rock'n'roll. Yeah, That Errol Flynn lifestyle does have its benefits. My gaze drifted down the right sleeve of Lemmy's jacket. There was something that had caught my eye. A white embroidered label was stitched on the cuff. It was like the decorative piping on the sleeve of an officer's uniform. This one spelled out a name and a legend - "The Head Cat."
I cut to the chase. "I won't dive right into that other matter just yet. I'll get round to that later on. The last time I tried that - 17 years ago in London - you left the club laughing. And I left with a chronic case of amnesia."
He studied my expression and reviewed the details. I raised an index finger. "Oh, it's a fond memory I'll never forget. And one I'd rather not try to top."
He grinned. I glanced over at the bar.
"Think I'll go get a drink... and let you get on with the game."
Lemmy stated the obvious. "I'll be around."
I nodded. "Okay, I'll see ya later. We can settle things then."
Lemmy turned toward the screen and gave it his full attention. Sitting perfectly still. Just staring straight ahead at it. He looked just like the waxwork copy of himself over at Madame Tussaud's. Same pose. Same look of determined concentration. I left him to his vices and continued my quest for stimulation. John Barleycorn was calling. And since prohibition was now repealed - imbibing a little alcohol wouldn't land me in Dutch with Johnny Law.
There were two bars inside Dante's. One was in the main hall over on the eastside of the building. The other was sandwiched between the main hall and the Game Room - right in the middle of the brick wall separating the two rooms. The bartender there was pulling double duty servicing the needs of the parched on both sides of the bar. I settled for the latter.
The stool at the very end, across from the staging area, was vacant. Sitting there I would be able to lean back against the brick wall and keep an eye on the entrance, the other bar, the VIP section located in the small dark balcony above the east bar, the stage, the merchandise stall, and the stairs behind it that led down to the Green Room - the bunker where the bands go to take refuge from their adoring fans.
In no time at all, there I was deep in thought. Nursing a cold one imported from the Dutch Masters of the Amstel. Wondering how I was going to play my hand tonight. So far I'd played everything off the cuff. Carefree. Fast and loose. And just let the chips fall where they may.
It was about this time that the government decided to step in and check up on me. Apparently, I had become quite a hot item on everyone's to-do list, this evening. When I looked up, I found myself gazing at the jovial moonfaced features of Special Agent Greg Stoker. He was clean-shaven this time. And waxing philosophic.
"Thought I might find you here!"
"Must be my lucky day."
He nodded. There was a body he was eclipsing. It was standing close behind him. My guess was that it had followed him in. I squinted in a futile attempt to see around him. Special Agent Stoker brought himself up to his full height. Stepped to the side. And gestured with an old world flourish.
"This is Maureen!"
He leaned in closer and emphasized her name more slowly. And with a modest hint of importance.
"Ah, the boss."
Greg smiled, "Yes."
Maureen was a red-head. She was middle aged. Of medium height. Of Margaret Dumont width. And she was gazing around the room as if she was totally out of her element.
"Where are the tables?"
I pointed, "Back there."
"Only three tables?"
"It keeps the floor space open so people can crowd the stage."
"And where are people suppose to sit?"
"At the bar. There are plenty of stools here."
"But I want to sit so I can see the stage."
I gazed up at the plexiglass platform held overhead up by thick, heavy, gunmetal chains. "You could try sitting up there on the see-through catwalk. But I think it's reserved for exotic dancers."
"This place is a dive!"
I glanced around and shrugged.
"It's still early."
"Did you come prepared?"
I flipped open my trench coat and exposed a shoulder holster complete with Canon nestled inside it.
"High Speed black and white. Medium Colour. Even brought a flash. Torch. And spare lens."
"Good. Then you plan to shoot him."
"If I must."
"You're in way too deep to back out now."
I stood up.
"How about now?"
"How about we pull your file for a citizen review. Maybe we'll find something."
"Or maybe you'll cook up something."
"Think it over."
"Okay, then do me a favour."
"That depends on the favour."
"Walk around the bar."
I held up a finger and rotated it slowly - clockwise.
"A complete circle around the bar. Tell me what you notice when you get back."
Greg mumbled something about a sobriety test as he vanished around the brick wall. When he returned, I started to quiz him.
"Definitely. He looks just like the face on the fiver.
"Notice anything unusual?"
He thought a moment.
"Yeah, the people around him were acting like they didn't know who he was. He's hiding in plain sight."
"Interesting. His image is on the fiver. People see it all the time. Everyday. And yet nobody acts like they know who he is. Why is that?"
Greg shook his head.
"Did you speak to him?"
"I wanted to."
"But you didn't. Why?"
"He struck me as someone you shouldn't interrupt."
"Intimidation? Or respect?"
I nodded, "There you go. As long as he's here - he owns the club. It's his stage. His domain."
"How do you figure?"
"Simple. It's 'cos he has the public's respect, see. He's kinda a folk hero to 'em.
"Like Robin Hood."
"More like Dillinger. But with a Rickenbacker."
Greg had a few other things on his mind judging from his troubled expression.
"What else did you notice?"
"His beard was well trimmed."
"So, he's a gentleman."
"And he was a tad bit shorter than I expected."
"He was sitting down."
"Uh-huh, that right."
"Of course, he's much taller on stage."
Greg glanced at the stage and then back at me.
"Your point being?"
"Height is relative."
"So is time."
He had a point. It was 9:30 PM and the first band hadn't even started playing yet. Maureen wasn't about to let this fact go unnoticed.
"Do you know who the first band is?"
She shot Greg a stern glare.
"What good is he? He doesn't know anything."
I stood up and started toward the entrance.
"Where are you off to?"
"Lost and Found," I rasped. "Care to join me?"
She shook her head. I strolled over to the mistress of the till. I was in need of a little enlightenment. And I had a hunch that she could fill the bill. The raven-haired goth adopted a solemn expression as I approached. Turning slightly to the side with an air of sultry aloofness. Waiting for my inquiry.
"Who's on first?"
"Depends on WHAT?"
"That goes without saying."
I rolled my eyes and sighed. I was getting the old clairvoyant runaround. She was stalling. Waiting for me to answer my own question. And then she and her spirit guide would take the credit for it. I'd wager that not many silver-tongued devils ever make it to home base with her.
The mistress of the till shifted to the side. That's when I spotted it - the illuminated tote board. It was fixed to the wall behind her. It told me everything I wanted to know.
"Never mind, sister. I know the score."
I returned to my corner spot at the bar. Sat down. And leaned back against the brick wall. Maureen nudged Greg.
"When does the show start?"
I drew my lips back from my teeth.
"Soon as the Weaklings step out on that stage."
"And when is that?"
"It builds anticipation. It's the fashionable thing to do."
When the Weaklings finally came out and started playing - they sounded a bit rough. The stage lighting also left a lot to be desired. It was the lighting that was causing me the most concern. It was something that I was going to have to deal with later on.
The Weaklings were a four-piece outfit. I had never seen them before. So I had no preconceived ideas about them. I could only judge them by what I could see and hear. They looked pretty run-of-the-mill to me. They sounded rougher.
There was an average looking Joe playing a standup bass. He was dressed all in black. He had a goatee and was wearing a black fedora. He oozed cool. There were drums and a drummer to drive them. There was a guitarist hiding behind a dark pair of Roy Orbison cheaters. And there was a clean-shaven singer with tattoos covering the length of both his arms. He was a work in progress.
By the time they had progressed to their second song - they had improved greatly. They'd hit their stride. It was good background music to listen to while I killed time. While I waited for The Head Cat to take over the club. And for Lemmy to make his move.
I sat at the bar trying to make up my mind which type of film to load in my Canon. What would the lights look like when The Head Cat played? It might be the same. Or it might be better lit for the headline act. Maybe I should just hang tight a bit little longer. Sweat it out. Observe what's going on. And just play it by ear.
There were red lights aimed at the stage. Some blue, but mostly red. They looked kinda harsh. Not great for colour film. That meant that I might need to go with a flash or just shoot black and white. Which would be the best way to go?
I drained my drink. Stood up. And walked into the Game Room. My journey followed the same path Greg had taken earlier. But there was a difference. An emptiness. Something was clearly amiss - The video poker machine was sitting idle. The chair in front of it was vacant.
Lemmy was missing.
Special Agent Greg Stoker didn't take the news too well. He just stared off into space and kept repeating one word over and over.
Having someone on Cascadia's most wanted list suddenly slip effortlessly through your fingers was one thing. But having them pull a Houdini while the boss was present was another. Maureen was not amused.
"Search me,"I shrugged. "Maybe he took a stroll outside."
"With all the bluecoats out there waiting to nab him?"
"It doesn't sound likely, does it?"
"No. He must be here somewhere. Find him!"
"Got any ideas?"
"That's not in my job description."
Greg pointed across the room at the dark void sitting above the eastside bar
"How about that space up there?"
"The VIP area?"
"Yeah, that'd make a swell hideout. It's dark. Secluded. And he could keep an eye on everyone from up there. A real bird's eye view."
"Well, that's great if you're a nocturnal raptor."
I squinted and surveyed the silhouettes sitting at what few tables they had located up there. None of them sported Lemmy's telltale topper.
"No, he doesn't seem to be omnipresent."
"The basement!" Greg blurted out.
"If he'd gone down those stairs - you would have seen him walk by you. Wouldn't you?"
"Unless... there's another way to get--."
"The other side of the stage!"
I spotted the EXIT sign tucked away over in the dark area between the stage and the end of the eastside bar.
"Hmmm, guess I forgot all about the fire codes. They probably require more than one way in or out of a confined space."
Greg nodded. I knew of another way. A way that was known to the Lords of the Underworld. A way that involved the nefarious use of trapdoors. Tunnels. And a reasonable working knowledge of vice and crime. But I wasn't about to reveal my arcane knowledge to a couple of government flunkies. For now, I'd play it cool. And just let it ride .
"Oh, he's bound to resurface sooner or later. We'll just have to sit tight and wait a bit longer. See what develops."
And wait we did. Watching the Weaklings play out their set. Clear off the stage. Only to be replaced by the Deadman's Hand. Yet another band that I knew next to nothing about.
The Deadman's Hand played fast. They sounded loud. And they were rather punkish - in a psychobilly sorta way. They also had a standup bass like the Weaklings did. But that is where the similarity ended. The singer/guitarist was a large Joe that was distinctively unique in appearance. He wore a pair of black rimmed glasses and had very short, stubbly, dark hair. Maureen nudged me in the ribs.
"Take a good look at the singer. Who does he remind you of?"
"No, no, no. He looks like Simon from Alvin and the Chipmunks," she giggled.
I wasn't sure what she was on. And I couldn't see the resemblance, myself. He reminded me more of Goldfinger's hired hat - Odd Job.
The Deadman's Hand were relentless with a driving rhythm much like that of the ominous rumblings of a runaway locomotive. It wasn't long before the singer announced that they would take a breather and play something a little bit slower for their next song. When they started playing again - they played even faster than they had before. They certainly were a lively bunch. And well worth the time they spent on stage. So I sat and enjoyed the diversion. And waited for something to happen.
I finally decided to make my move shortly after The Deadman's Hand had completed their set. What caught my attention was the crew setting up the stage. They had placed a mic at the centre of the stage. It had several plectrums lined up and down its length. I had a hunch that this was Lemmy's mic. He'd be centre stage. The focal point of the band.
I drew my Canon from its holster and fished out a colour clip from my pocket. I snapped in the clip. Advanced the round. Slid on the flash unit. And doubled-checked my settings. My plan was to start out slowly and gradually pick up speed. I'd alternate between natural light and flash shots. Working my way through the colour film and end up shooting high speed black and white near the end of the set.
I stood up and thumbed the safety. Greg watched the lever slide off the locked position.
"Head Cat up next, eh?"
"Uh-huh. Think I better dig in while I still can."
"Good timing. The crowd is heading toward the bar.
"That's what I was waiting for."
I plunged into the crush of people migrating away from the stage. Slipping around them as I slowly worked my way down front. Eventually, I found myself one person away from the front of the stage. I was standing between the centre and the drum kit over on the right-hand side. There was a thin line of dames lined up along the edge of the stage. They were hardly the average cross section of society. They were comprised of a very unique class - the wild and freely independent.
A tall brunette stood in front of the drum kit. She had short spiky hair and tattoos that covering her arms. They looked like circular scales dripping down her arms. Or inky coifs of chain mail. Standing to the left of her was a shorter dame - about 5 foot-4 inches. She was diminutive, but well packed. A real firecracker - with a clear and present cleavage. An alluring load that threatened to overflow the Hammer Horror bodice she was wearing. She had long dark hair with bold shocks of sunburst streaking - flashing like bolts of lightning in a dense dark thunder cloud that roiled down her shoulders in a torrent of tresses. Her smile and sparkling eyes radiated pure excitement.
I watched one of the stage hands approach the drum kit over in the right-hand corner. It was standing on a rubber mat. He reached down and drug the mat until it came to rest centred in the right quarter of the stage. This would be where Slim Jim Phantom would hold court. That left the left-hand side of the stage for the lead guitarist - Danny B. Harvey.
Suddenly, I felt a soft, warm arm gently wrap itself around my shoulder. It coiled around my neck. And a hand rested on my right shoulder. Playfully patting it like a drunken python with a bad case of hiccups. My eyes followed the arm back to it's source. Further up the Nile... there was the soft, slender White Nile. It terminated at its source. A soft heart-shaped face with mischievous eyes gazing from an aura of rich, Dutch Chocolate, bobbed hair. I took in the delicious display and admired the view.
"What's your name?" she cooed.
"Hi George, I'm Erin."
She turned to her friends standing behind her and beamed.
"Georgie's my date tonight!"
I chuckled "You couldn't have done better, you know."
She laughed a silent laugh that stirred the mischief lurking behind those naughty, flirtatious eyes. She was a hot number, and she knew it. A tall, reedy, ginger-haired youth stepped forward and shook my hand.
"Hi George, I'm Damien. I figured since we're going to be spending time together, I should introduce myself."
"Okay. Hi Damien."
I glanced down and checked the settings on my camera. The dame parked at the right-hand corner of the stage, looked vaguely familiar. I was sure that I'd seen her at Dante's before. She turned around and looked directly at me. Then gazed down at my camera. Sized me up. And smiled. She nudged Miss Hammer Horror and pointed me out.
"Here's a man with a mission!"
She leaned in closer to me and laid it on the line.
"If you need me to move. Just let me know. I'll let you in... when you need it."
I nodded. "Sure. That'd be swell. Just swell."
Yeah, the natives were friendly. A little too friendly.
I had an unobscured view of the stage. All I had to do was shoot over their pretty heads. It'd be duck soup picking off The Head Cat members in front of me. The left-hand side of the stage was going to be a different story. It was going to be much more difficult. In order to get any good shots of that part of the stage I'd have to relocate. I planned to put that off for as long as I could. Sometimes, if you cruise - you lose. And I wasn't planning to lose. I liked it just fine were I was - blanketed between a row of dizzy dames in front of me. And another pressing in from behind. I was in like Flynn. Smack dab in the middle of a pleasure sandwich.
There was movement on the stage. A loud cheer erupted from the audience. The wait was over. Lemmy strolled over to the mic standing at the front of the stage - dead centre. A Marlboro was dangling from his lip - trailing a nebulous stream of blue-grey vapour in his wake.
I was surprised to see a fourth bandmember standing up on the stage. Someone I didn't know a damn thing about. He was a wild card. An unknown factor that added a classic look and feel to The Head Cat stage persona. The mystery man was positioned over on the left-hand side of the stage - at the very back. He was playing a pale-brown standup bass. He had medium-length black hair - greased and slicked back. He was sporting a soul patch under his lip. And was wearing a heavy black leather motorcycle jacket. Yeah, a Brando in the rough.
Danny B. Harvey was standing just in front of the mystery man. He could best be described as the wholesome boy-next-door type with a wild western Teddy Boy twist. He was clean shaven. Wearing a snazzy black jacket that was decked out with tawny, spotted Amur leopard fur cuffs, lapels, and pocket highlights. His white shirt had a bootlace tie with a sterling silver slide and sterling silver tips dangling freely from it. His guitar strap was slung over his shoulder flashing a bold white lightning bolt. He was one of the legendary and notorious Lonesome Spurs.
Slim Jim Phantom was standing on the right-hand side of the stage in front of his drum kit. He was wearing a dark denim jacket. The sleeves of the jacket were unfastened and hanging loose. He was also wearing an orange leopard vest over a black T-shirt. A white scarf was wrapped around his neck. His coal-black hair was combed back at the sides. And the front locks dangled rakishly over his forehead. He looked like the leader of a gang of hoods - ready to rumble.
Lemmy hadn't changed all that much from when I had spoke with him earlier in the Game Room. He had removed his dark jacket and hat. The sleeves of his black shirt were rolled up to his biceps. And he had added something to his attire - a bootlace tie. It had a round sterling silver slide with a blazing red star mounted right at the centre. Even without the black hat, he looked like a gunslinger.
The selection of songs they filled their set with came as no real surprise. I had listened to their recent CD release and was well aware of its content. "Fool's Paradise" was a treasure chest of classic rock gems. Songs written by the likes of: Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly. The sound of the music had more of a sixties feel to it. This was probably due to the fact that bands today tended to be more into jamming than their older brethren from the 50s were. One thing was for certain - It rocked!
The Head Cat sounded like they had been together as a band for years. They were very tight, together, and with it. Each bandmember had something special to give to the mix. Danny B. Harvey could really make his guitar sing. Slim Jim Phantom kept things rolling - never skipping a beat. And Lemmy was driven and well into it - giving the audience their monies worth. Singing and crooning. And rumbling away with his Rickenbacker.
The audience came to life as soon as The Head Cat started playing. There was a lot of energy and excitement. In fact, there were outbreaks of dancing. Something that hadn't occurred during the support bands' sets. There were several punks lurking in the crowd. Even one with a spiky, lime-green mohawk. And a few people had come decked out in leather. But most folks were wearing T-shirts and jeans. All in all, the room was filled to the gills with rockers and knockers shakin' and a groovin'. Revelling in a night of blitzed out rockabilly.
Someone yelled, "Ace of Spades." Danny glanced over at Lemmy, "There seems to be a few Motorhead shirts out there in the crowd." Lemmy gazed around the audience and nodded.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'd be shooting constantly. Trying to capture as much of The Head Cat set as I could. It was a rare opportunity to witness a truly talented crew of musicians going through their paces. Besides, how often do you get the chance to see Lemmy up close playing in a small intimate club?
I decided to shoot The Head Cat members solely by themselves in natural light and flash. Trying to shoot some of bandmembers grouped together. But mostly I was keeping an eye out to shoot Lemmy at a dramatic moment. I started out slowly at first. Then picked up the pace. Shooting and winding. Faster and faster. Alternating from natural light to flash shots. Alternating from Lemmy singing and jamming, to Slim Jim delivering his stand-up assault on the skins. And a few shots pairing Danny and Lemmy together.
It wasn't long before I'd exhausted my clip. I quickly rewound. Unloaded. And frantically replaced it with a fresh clip of 800 ASA colour. I raised the Canon up to my eye and kept the lens trained on Lemmy. I observed what he was doing. And how he looked in the stage lighting. I was waiting for that special moment to reveal itself to me.
While tracking Lemmy through my view finder, I noticed that there was a zone out there where the lighting looked perfect. That's where I would get him. I'd wait for him to return to that spot - and nail him. I took a few shots of Lemmy at the mic while I waited. But I was stalling and holding back a bit. I knew he'd step away from that mic and into the hot zone. He'd be totally in view - and unobstructed - as he jammed away on that Rickenbacker. That would be his best moment. Lemmy in all his glory.
It wasn't long before I'd exhausted the second colour clip. I unloaded the medium speed clip. Pocketing it and quickly reloading with a professional 3200 ASA high speed black and white clip. I switched off the flash unit. From here on out I would shoot natural light shots. I didn't get an opportunity to get a good look at the set list. It was right there on the stage floor for the band to glance at during the set. I figured I would get a chance to look it over later on. After I finished shooting.
There were songs that they played that I easily recognized as soon as I heard them. "FOOL'S PARADISE. DON'T FADE AWAY. BAD BOY. MATCH BOX. And SUSIE Q." There was one song that was not an old classic. It was one of Lemmy's solo songs. I think it was a new one he called "ROCK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE."
During the set I watched Lemmy set his bass aside and pull out a harmonica. He played it for a couple of the songs. I watched Danny B. Harvey dart back and forth across the stage. Over to Slim Jim Phantom. And even out to the very edge of the stage and lean out over the audience so that people could get a good look at him. A few people down front reached up and touched his guitar as he played it for them. That's when I noticed the ring on his finger. He was wearing a signet ring on his right ring finger. It had an ominous number embossed on its face. The number "13." The number that many superstitious people live in fear of.
It wasn't long before the inevitable bad luck occurred. The Head Cat wound up their set. Stopped playing. and cleared off the stage. The audience wanted more. They started chanting and calling out for the band to return and continue playing. They chanted a mantra: "Head Cat... Head Cat.. Head Cat..." It sounded like the chucking sound of a steam locomotive moving down the rails. Gathering momentum. And picking up speed.
Miss Hammer Horror turned to her scaly friend and smiled. "Yeah, as if they're not gonna come back out and play."
Her friend laughed. The room filled with roaring chants of "Head Cat." Finally an explosive cheer rattled the rafters as The Head Cat walked back out on stage and prepared to give them exactly what they wanted. The Head Cat launched into a high-octane Stray Cats cover - ROCK THIS TOWN. The audience went crazy. And the joint was jumping. This was about the time that I noticed the mosh pit. It was over to my left. Gathering momentum. Spreading outward.
A youth with bleached-blonde hair crawled up on the stage and snatched the set list resting on the stage floor between Danny and Lemmy. He carefully stood up. Leaned forward. Aimed. And launched himself into space. Diving into the turbulent, swirling mouth of the mosh pit. Lemmy frowned. Then made a bemused expression and shrugged. He carried on playing as if nothing had happened.
A bouncer waded out into the audience and turned with his back to the stage. He was now standing right in front of the stage - and right at edge of the mosh pit. Glowering down at the moshers with a sardonic sneer. Daring them to try and get out of hand while he was there. It was the old watched pot never boils theory of concert security.
I shot my last few remaining shots. Rewound the film. And removed it from my Canon. I glanced around and noticed a cute honey-blonde dish standing behind me. She was shorter than average and probably not getting the best view of the stage from where she was standing. I stepped aside. Gave her a smile and swept my arm toward the open space at the stage in front of me. A clear path straight to the edge of the stage. Right at Lemmy's feet.
"Go ahead, it's yours now."
Her eyes registered pleasant surprise by her stroke of good luck, "Thanks."
She wasted no time filling the void. She planted her hands firmly on the edge of the stage. And started to wiggle and rock in place - gazing up at Lemmy while she danced to his tune. I moved in closer behind the chorus line of hotties. It was a small compact area. Much like a private harem. I was totally surrounded by squirming, dancing maidens. I'd found my comfort zone.
After "Rock This Town" ended, The Head Cat left the stage. Their absence ushered in a prolonged session of chanting. And it wasn't long before they were summoned back for yet another encore. This time The Head Cat pulled out all the stops. They unleashed a rollicking rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes." It caused the mosh pit to spin totally out of control.
A tall, brunette amazon was standing her ground behind me. When the moshers rushed in - pushing and shoving - they came face to face will an unyielding wall. She shoved them back. Not letting them pass. One of them stumbled and fell. She reached down and helped the mosher back to his feet. Then sent him on his way - with a powerful shove. He was swallowed and consumed by the mosh pit.
A young scrawny punk and a geek wearing glasses and a scruffy beard seemed to be the main instigators. They were going at each other as a pretext to incite others standing around them. They plunged into the crowd scattering innocent bystanders like toppling dominos. Shock waves rippled through the front of the audience near the stage.
I thrust my arms forward trying to regain my balance. They raced toward the short honey-blonde beauty standing in front of me. My hands clutched the edge of the stage. On either side of her. She was wiggling and rocking oblivious to all the chaos breaking out around her. I pressed forward. And gritted my teeth.
She suddenly stopped dancing and turned to face me. Her eyes were wide with puzzled surprise. But she waited patiently for a reasonable explanation for why I'd taken her into my arms so urgently. The music was far too loud to try to communicate with her simply by speaking. So I resorted to emoting dramatically like they used to do in the old silent movies. Using exaggerated facial expressions and pantomime. With luck she'd be able to easily read my intentions. I nodded my head in the direction of the oncoming moshers to our left. Braced for the impending impact. And telepathically emoted my message to her.
"Hey, I'm just trying to save your ass!"
She glanced over at the swirling maelstrom. Then gazed deep into my eyes. She shrugged. And replied telepathically with an expression that said it all.
"Oh, so you've changed your mind. You're not even going to try to take advantage of me. Well, I hope they rip you apart!"
She turned her head. Gave me the cold shoulder. Gazed straight at Lemmy and turned up the speed of her gyrations. Just to give me a taste of what I'd be missing. Yeah, telepathy and blondes don't mix. It's best to keep your thoughts to yourself and just live for the moment. A slap in the face is always less painful than being drawn and quartered by Lemmy enhanced moshers.
After The Head Cat finished playing for the last time - Slim Jim Phantom walked over to Lemmy's mic and introduced the band. He mentioned everyone standing on the stage except himself. Even the mystery man on the standup bass. But I wasn't able to make out the guys name. Lemmy was next to step up to the mic. He pointed out Slim Jim Phantom and introduced him the audience. As if we didn't already know who he was.
I turned and headed toward the bar. Special Agent Greg Stoker smiled as I approached. From behind me a voice called out.
It was the tall reedy youth I'd met in the crowd while waiting for the set to begin. His hand was raised. And he was grinning like a fool. I smiled.
"Hi Damien. Survived the set, I see."
"I think they should hand out medals to folks that survive Lemmy's shows."
"That'd be cool."
When I turned back toward the bar I was looking full bore at Greg's suspicious expression. I shrugged.
"Him? Nobody I know. Just another face in the crowd."
"The Head Cat--"
"What about 'em?"
"You got 'em?"
"Yeah, they've been shot. Every last one of 'em."
Maureen made her presence known.
"Okay, let's round up the suspects.
"That may take some time, sweetheart."
"But I just gave an order."
"That doesn't carry much weight around here. This is Lemmy's domain. He's got the final say. As long as he's in this building - he's got sanctuary!"
"But nothing, sister." I pointed at the stairs behind the merchandise stall. "They're down in the bunker. And there's a gorilla standing guard."
"Why don't you just go down there and flush Lemmy out. That thug doesn't look so tough."
"What do you think, Tarzan?"
Greg cleared his throat.
"Well, we shouldn't get too hasty--"
"Sounds like he's using his noodle. I'd hear him out if I were you."
Greg put on a brave face.
"They do deserve a bit of a breather after that splendid set they just treated us to."
Maureen was antsy. She looked impatient and was simmering in her silence. I signalled to the bartender and chuckled.
"Looks like we'll just have to sweat it out a wee bit longer. Won't we?"
The final countdown had begun. We had until 2 AM - last call. After that all bets were off. The gorillas would be unleashed for the bum's rush.
Maureen checked her watch. Excused herself. And headed to the Ladies Room. I followed her around the corner. It wasn't long before I found myself standing in front of a small table. It had several sheets of paper scattered on top of it. They were fliers. The fliers were printed on 11 x 17 sheets of white paper. There was a black and white photo from The Head Cat's "Fool's Paradise" album. Beneath the photo was a list of the band members and what bands they were from. The date was printed in big bold letters "FRIDAY APRIL 13." Just beneath this floated the bait on the hook: "Spend this Friday the 13th with Lemmy."
I slid three fliers off the stack. Rolled them up. And slid them into a suitable cavity deep inside my trench coat. One of 'em would end up in my files. The other two would be sent off to other agencies along with photos of the suspects. Someone just might positively ID the mystery man for me. It was worth a try.
I returned to the bar and kept an eye pealed for Lemmy. He'd have to come up out of that hole, sooner or later. The time dragged on. It was weighing heavily on Maureen. She spent it in speculation. And peppered us with questions concerning Lemmy's absence.
"How long is he going to hide down there?"
"I don't know. Long enough to rest his tired dogs and tip a few back, I suppose."
"They have women here?"
"You should know," she glared at me. "A lot of young women keep disappearing."
"While I was in the women's restroom--"
"Damn, I didn't think to look there."
She ignored me and rattled on.
"There was a woman in there bragging about her boobs."
"So get this, Einstein-- there was powder all over her nose."
"Leaking from her boobs?"
"No, no, no. She was just bragging about them, among other things."
"Hmmm, sounds like you've uncovered a smuggling operation."
"Implants. Devilishly clever distribution system."
"Yeah, who'd think to look there!"
I wondered just how much Maureen knew that she'd been keeping mum about. I decided to press her for details.
"Where were the women headed when they vanished?"
"I'll give you one guess."
"How'd they manage to swing it?"
"The hidden stairs over there."
"Impossible. There's a gorilla blocking the way down."
"If you're a male."
"So females need only apply."
"That's the way it looks."
"How many are we talking about?" "I've counted about a dozen that have disappeared - and have never made it back up again."
"Very average actually. Normal dress."
"Average? How are they being selected?"
"There's the pimp."
I gazed over at the Game Room and couldn't believe my eyes. There was a dumpy loser with a chorus line of frolicking females trailing behind him. It was like watching a paunchy pied piper making off with half a dozen dizzy dames - all acting as if they were off to see The Wizard. When they reached the gorilla, he smiled. Bowed. and stepped aside. Allowing passage into the underworld. The women plunged down into the depths of Lemmy's lair. Giggling all the way. Lambs to the slaughter. They would soon learn the ways of Bacchus and Pan. In the wild, lusty catacombs of rabid vice and wanton debauchery.
"How long does he normally take?"
"Don't know. Sounds like he's got a lot on his plate."
"You don't know much, do you?"
"Enough to know you've got a long wait ahead."
Maureen frowned and conferred in private with Greg. It was brief. And the outcome didn't come as a big surprise to me. Greg stood up.
"The bluecoats have the building covered. He's got nowhere to run. Not much more we can do here. So we might as well call it a night. Care to join us?"
I shook my head. "Think I'll stay awhile. My voyeuristic Internal Detective wishes to linger a bit longer."
"Okay, suit yourself."
I intended to. There were still a few loose ends. And working solo was about the only way to ensure they got taken care of properly. I watched Greg escort Maureen across the room to the entrance. When they stepped out the door - I shifted gears. Or at least I tried to. There was something clearly amiss. It took the form of an object lying on the floor between my stool and the brick wall. It was lying inert and inanimate. But it was hardly innocent by any means. It was a government jacket.
I leaned closer toward it and said, "Testing... one... two... three... four. You can tell M that he's still not up on the floor." A few minutes later Special Agent Greg Stoker was standing in front of me looking rather sheepish. He bent down and picked up the jacket.
"I wondered if that might be yours. I decided to stay and guard it."
He gave me a quizzical look. So I appraised the current situation.
"Women tend to change your plans. Don't they?"
"What woman doesn't."
I grinned. "That's probably why I don't have one."
He just stood there in silence. I studied his expression and tried to read his thoughts. He waved his hand in a oh-forget-it motion. Turned on his heels and briskly stalked out of the club.
Now I was finally alone. It was up to me to play the last hand. Everything hinged on how it would play itself out. That and the fickle whims of Lady Luck. Lemmy didn't go unnoticed when he finally emerged from the Green Room. People started to gather around him as soon as he came up the stairs. He started toward the game room. And wandered down the length of its bar.
I spotted a large, troll-like jasper across the room. He was closing in on Lemmy at a fast clip. He clearly wanted to intercept him. There was something on his mind. And something in his hand. I slid off my bar stool and tailed Lemmy. I slipped my hand inside my trench coat. Grasped the object concealed there. And maintained a Napoleonic disposition. When Lemmy was halfway down the bar, I called out.
He turned. His eyes darted downward. They came to rest on the motion of my hand. Watching closely as it came away from my trench coat. I was holding an object aimed directly at his midsection. It was a 6 x 9 inch, unsealed, padded envelope with the name George Sanders written on it.
"This is the item I mentioned. I'm not sure if you're really into this. But it's all right here. The whole ball of wax."
"Thanks." Lemmy took the envelope and waited to see if I had anything more to add.
I glanced at the troll waiting to talk with him. He appeared surprised by my sudden appearance and delivery of said item. But he held his tongue. Patiently waited. And witnessed the exchange.
"It's self-explanatory, but I'll make myself available later on. Should you have anything you wish to discuss."
I gave Lemmy a slight bow and clicked my heels. Lemmy turned and continued his journey across the room. The troll lumbered along at his side as Lemmy approached the video poker machines. Lemmy sat down at the same machine that he had been sitting at when I first saw him. He peeled a crisp note from his pocket and slid it into glowing slot in the front of the machine. Then he selected a game - Royal Slots.
Five reels like those found on an old one-armed bandit materialized on the screen in front of him. The reels were covered with classic gambling symbols. They whirled around madly when he pressed the play button. And then they shuddered suddenly as they all started to a lock into place. One by one. From left to right - until they had all come to a complete stop.
Lemmy's full attention was on the screen and those spinning symbols. Watching them spinning and stopping. And spinning and stopping. The troll took the chair to Lemmy's left and sat down. He was vying for his attention. Speaking while Lemmy wagered and played. It looked like a one way conversation.
Gawkers gathered one by one. Some to say "Hi." Some to ask to have a photo taken with Lemmy. And some to just soak up the atmosphere. They were like visitors at Lourdes. Waiting for a miracle that would change their lives forever. Standing only a few feet away from a living rock legend. Mesmerized and rooted to the spot.
It wasn't long before a school of club nymphs had spotted Lemmy. They strutted across the room. And struck stunning poses. They were much more aggressive than the casual fan or those who came merely to gawk. The club nymphs leaned in close and kissed Lemmy's lips. They surrounded him. And flashed as much flesh as the law legally allows. This can vary considerably in Cascadia - depending on the size of the bribe tendered. Or the services offered.
Some of the temptresses were practically undressing themselves. But Lemmy's eyes remained steadfast on those spinning reels. And the bitter fruit of Cascadian commerce. All those cherries, melons, liberty belles and other tokens that substitute for gratuitous sexual innuendos on the flickering screen.
A brunette club nymph breezed past. She was young. And very cute. She stood about 5-foot-4. And was wearing a very skimpy black outfit. It looked like it had been designed by ravenous moths with a taste for the latest in easy access fashion. What little it provided in cover was barely held in place by a series of spaghetti thin leather lacing. There was a short black curtain of cloth that served as a peekaboo skirt. It hung down to mid-thigh level and exposed her shapely gams - sheathed in black fishnet stockings.
She strutted confidently as she closed in on Lemmy. Claiming the remaining empty chair next to him. Lemmy's eyes never faltered. Never wavered from the screen. She squirmed in her chair. Pulled her skirt higher up her thighs - trying to raise the stakes. Flashing tantalizing views of her semi-covered assets. But Lemmy wasn't ready to call. He fed the machine another crisp note. And drank in the exotic whirling display of commerce. While vice and pleasure waited, squirmed, and pouted - ala carte.
I stepped forward when it was apparent that the hot-to-trot nymph hadn't made it out of the starting gate.
"Got any hot tips?"
Lemmy glanced over at me, "Did you enjoy the show?"
It seemed like a funny question. It was brilliant. Why wouldn't I enjoy it.
"Yeah! I even have the DVD and the CD."
Lemmy digested this. He gauged my words and inflection. He took them at face value. And made no reply. Just waited to hear what else I had to say.
"Will you be doing this again in the future? Perhaps, between Motorhead gigs?"
"Not in this area."
He frowned as he consulted a mental map. He held his index finger out in front of him. Moved it a few inches to the right, "...over round... Illinois."
"I heard about that one. A European Motorhead tour. And a later tour with Alice Cooper."
"Yeah, if I make it outta here."
"Perhaps, you might be of some assistance in clearing up a cold case?"
I moved in closer. Removed a cellphone from my breast pocket. And brought up a photo of a flag. It was red. There was an eagle up in the top left-hand corner. A big black swastika was resting dead centre in the flag. I tilted the screen so that Lemmy could see it clearly.
"I've seen one of those before."
I wasn't the least bit surprised.
"It looks unique. Different than the run-of-the-mill fifth columnist article. Take a gander at the eagle - over here. Just what kinda flag is this?"
He said something that sounded like "Special."
I frowned, "Special?"
"It's for the Merchant Service."
Suddenly it all made sense. I could imagine the flag rippling in the wind. Flying from the bridge of a Nazi Merchant Vessel - somewhere out at sea.
"Well, that explains it. The old man was in the Merchant Service. That's where he got the flag."
Lemmy arched an eyebrow.
"Skeleton in the closet?"
"Ah, but not on that side, of course."
"Thanks. You've cleared up a minor detail."
He removed his hand from the buttons on his video poker machine and gave me a thumbs-up gesture. Like Baron von Richthofen at the machine guns of his red Fokker acknowledging another flying ace during aerial combat. The padded envelope I had given him was sitting on the edge of the video poker machine. Sitting next to his right hand. I gestured at the envelope.
"That's the ticket out. Identity papers and a map to an airfield."
Lemmy stared at the name written on the envelope.
"Yeah, I'm no saint either. But they pass muster. Tested 'em out earlier on Johnny Law."
"What's the plan?"
"Escape. Your contact is Commander Don Falcone. He'll fill you in on the details."
"A Plane is waiting?"
"It leaves an hour before dawn - with or without you."
"What kinda plane?"
"Bomber. B-17 flying fortress."
"A Yank bomber?"
"I like their cigarettes."
I glanced to my right and noticed a cute young lady standing in a hovering pattern... waiting to land.
"I'll step back, and let this lovely lady see you."
I stepped back. Lemmy handed my envelope to a passing roadie. There was another item he handed over with it. It was something that the troll had given him. Several attractive dames moved in and circled around Lemmy. They took turns planting kisses on his lips. He was momentarily distracted. But quickly shifted his focus back to the video poker machine once the gun molls had moved on.
I decided it was time to take a little stroll through the main hall. It was time to tip one back and relax a bit. There was a familiar face parked at the bar. A chap I'd run into from time to time at Dahlia shows. He had long sandy hair and several silver rings piercing his eyebrows. And he was laughing. He had spotted me.
"I saw the whole thing. Lemmy was staying totally focused on that machine. All these people were coming up to him and they couldn't get his attention. Woman were practically undressing for him."
"Yeah, that about sums it up."
"Not quite. I noticed something very interesting."
"And what might that be?"
"As soon as you walked up and spoke to him - He gave you his full attention. And I have the proof!"
The Dahlia fan pulled out a cellphone and brought up a photo. It clearly showed Lemmy discussing something with me. What concerned me was a potentially incriminating detail - I was showing Lemmy something on my cellphone. It's a strange feeling to find yourself the subject of someone else's intelligence. I had a pretty good hunch who was behind this. And it pointed me in the direction of a creative solution to a problem.
When I decided it was time to leave, I walked back over to Lemmy. Then I did something odd. I removed my trench coat. Folded it up. Laid it in an empty chair. And placed my fedora on top of it.
"I seem to have mislaid my coat and hat."
Lemmy paused. He shifted his attention away from the screen. And waited for me to continue. I glanced around the room and continued.
"Istenlay oselyclay, Iway allshay aysay isthay onlyway onceway!"
"Let's keep it English. My copper's a little rusty."
"If someone where to find them... turned the collar up and wore the brim low over their face... they might take the Shanghai Tunnel outta the club. Resurface a few blocks away. And no one would be the wiser."
"These things happen."
"The government's been known to mislay things from time to time. I'm sure that will never change."
I raised my hand and gave him a salute.
"I'll catch you... the next time around."
Lemmy raised his arm. Reached out. And clasped my hand. We exchanged a firm handshake. Then I turned and faded into the darkness of the night.