By the time the pandemic lockdown lifted, our moving and storage business was history. Mickey and I sold the trucks and the building, paid off the other guys as much as we could, shook hands and walked into the sunset. I was twenty-seven, single, and had just enough in the bank for two months’ rent. Nobody was hiring people with my backgrounds, so I had to go to plan B.
A few promoters were scraping money together from two years of not gigging, and when Git Down opened off Six Mile Road, they needed security. I wrestled in college—heavyweight, at that—so when I showed up in a sleeveless T-shirt, they hired me on the spot. The place was basically a bar with every kind of liquor and microbrew you never heard of, attached to a six-hundred-seat auditorium. They considered local talent their top priority.
Six weeks in, they booked HunnyPott, an all-girl band I’d never heard of.
“They’re getting about fifty thousand downloads a week,” Norman, the owner/manager told me. “Check out their website.”
I did, and understood why they were getting so much traffic. All four musicians looked about seventeen in full make-up, and they wore more of that than anything else. Their vids featured lots of cleavage and tush, accompanied by music that was loud, fast, and subtle as a wrecking ball. The general theme was “I want to get laid.”
A week before the show, we were sold out. Norman hired another bartender to handle the rush. I wanted two more security guys, too, but he shook his head.
“Don’t want to mess with the ambiance.” In his mouth, it rhymed with “Ambulance.”
When the band’s truck pulled up at noon Friday, I saw speaker cabinets that wouldn’t fit in my kitchen.
“We’ve got a good sound system here,” I told the head roadie. His name was Truck, and his huge hands twitched.
“Not this good,” he said. “These puppies can raise white caps on Lake St. Clair.”
He and his entire crew rode the white line express. Just what I needed.
Rudolph, the band’s manager, was about forty and a little beefy, with eyes that told me the band members were about ten years older than his preference. After talking with him, I felt like I needed a shower.
But the women were a surprise. At the sound check, I discovered they all really could play. Tina, the bass player, studied cello for six years. Angela played violin and classical guitar along with her Les Paul. Wanda—Rudolph pronounced it “Wanna”—warmed up on keyboards with the Goldberg Variations, and Rika loved jazz. Her drum heroes were Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich, and Tony Williams.
They all wore ear plugs during the sound check, and Rika gave me an extra set.
“I got to admit,” I said to her when we both stepped outside for a smoke, “I saw some of your vids and figured you probably knew about four chords between you.”
“Yeah.” She shrugged and I pretended not to notice. “But how many people would show up tonight if we wore choir robes and played chamber music?”
“Not many,” I admitted. “But still…”
She belched smoke from her nostrils. “My grandfather used to listen to the Stooges. They were good musicians, but managed to hide it.”
“But they were guys,” I said. “They didn’t stick it in the camera while they played.”
She held another drag for a minute before letting it out. “If it makes you feel better, that’s not really my butt on the video of ‘Big Finish.’”
By the time they finished the sound check, people were already showing up at the bar. We had to check IDs, and a scary number of women showed up wearing stuff I’d expect in a porn video. Barely legal in more ways than one. The guys with them looked like they’d discovered heaven. I had visions of lots of babies being born next April.
Four hours later, HunnyPott took the stage, dressed for the Sahara in a heat wave. Angela leaned into the mic so everyone could look down her shirt. You could read the fine print on a contract through the fabric anyway, but…
“Hey, Git Down,” she whooped. “We’re gonna do that tonight, right?”
The crowd roared, and she nodded so her patent-leather-black spikes bounced. “We’re gonna help each other git down, and git dirty, ‘cause it’s better together. You all up for that?”
The crowd whooped again and the band kicked into their opener, a song called “Candy Panties.” During the guitar break, Angela turned her back to the audience and bent over to flash flesh-colored hot pants. The crowd went crazy. The next song was called “It’s Better on Top,” and you can guess how that went over.
The first set lasted an hour, finishing with what they called their Beatles tribute, “I Wanna Hold Your Gland.” During the break, my crew stayed busy keeping guys out of the girls’ bathroom and vice versa. The bartenders needed roller skates and four arms to handle the traffic, and that was probably only a fraction of the medicine being shared. A statue could get a contact high in the men’s room.
The second set opened with “Share and Share Alike,” and I saw roadies handing out backstage passes like Halloween candy. I hoped the musicians would dash off-stage and get the limo to their hotel right away, but Jessie, my lone female security, laughed.
“Not even in your dreams, Russ.” Jessie could bench press two-fifty and looked like a librarian with her wire-rimmed glasses. “There’s going to be enough hot young flesh backstage to repopulate Dearborn overnight.”
Milo, an inch taller than me and thirty pounds heavier, shook his head. “That bass player, you ever seen legs like hers?”
“Only in my dreams,” Jessie said. “I wish I was her cello.”
Norman and Rudolph stood in the wings. Norman looked ecstatic and Rudolph looked even sleazier than before. Four guys tried to climb the apron between the monitors, but Milo and I pushed them back. Even with the ear plugs, standing between those monitors made my skull vibrate.
The band finished their set and moved to the apron to take a bow, flashing pretty much everything God gave them. The crowd screamed for more, probably not a dry seat in the house.
“You’re gonna love this.” Rudolph’s voice seemed to float down a long hallway.
Sure enough, the girls came back onstage minus their shirts. They glowed with sweat, adrenaline and pheromones while they picked up their instruments again. Jessie, beside me, took deep cleansing breaths.
“You’ve been great,” Angela purred into her mic. “We really like a crowd that keeps us going. And maybe coming…back.”
She waited for a lull in the screams.
“Here’s our closer. It’s called ‘Big Finish.’”
The one with not-Rika’s tush on the video. Angela held the last note long enough to get another round of applause. She, Wanda, and Tina played an impossible riff in unison, Rika went ballistic on the drums, and they finished together a second before the lights went to black and the crowd went berserk.
My crew headed for the dressing room to repel boarders while the roadies moved onto the stage to strike the gear. Dozens of fans appeared—both sexes—with backstage passes and we tried to reason with them. Have you ever tried to debate with an avalanche?
“I’ve got a pass,” one guy snarled, his saliva spraying my cheeks. “Do you know who I am?”
“No, sir, sorry.” He wore a blazer with more sequins than they had in Nashville, and jeans so carefully distressed they had to cost three figures.
“I’m Tyler Weinecke.” The name had italics when he said it. “My old man’s William Weinecke, President of the City Council. You let me in or you’ll be sweeping Woodward Avenue tomorrow morning.”
Two other guys and a woman wearing a latex top crowded behind him. Jessie and Milo argued with a cluster of other kids, mostly male. The Weinecke kid retreated, but he came back with Norman, who looked like he was trying not to mess his pants.
“Let him in,” he said.
I shrugged. “Your call.” Rank has its privileges, and this kid was pretty damn rank.
Rudolph escorted young Mr. Wienecke through the door and slammed it behind him.
Truck and his crew moved hand trucks and dollies toward the loading dock, speaker cabinets stacked taller than I am. Another guy followed with rolled-up cables. They returned a few minutes later, Truck with drumsticks sticking out of his hip pocket and cases that apparently held Rika’s drums. His crew wheeled a dolly with guitar cases and mic stands and mics, that reminded me I still wore the ear plugs Rika gave me. No wonder the voices sounded muffled. I tucked them into my pocket and returned to the dressing room.
Jessie stood by the door looking pissed. Milo stood across the hallway from her and didn’t look any happier. Truck nodded curtly at them and disappeared through the door, raucous voices escaping until he slammed it again.
“There’s gotta be two dozen kids in there,” Jessie said. “Any pronoun you can think of. That Weinecke jerk’s one of them.”
“His face looks like he was eating a powdered donut,” Milo commented. “He’s somewhere around Uranus.”
“Not mine,” I replied. Milo shrugged.
“Well, somewhere no man has ever gone before.”
“Which probably means he’s not with any of the band.” Jessie’s voice felt like broken glass. “Oh, did I say that out loud?”
“You did.” I tried the door, but it was locked. That was a no-no. I knocked on the top panel.
“Hey, unlock this and let us in.”
No answer. I pounded again, harder. I was about to tell Milo to help me kick it in when it opened and the voices spilled out again. This time, they sounded shrill and scared. Rudolph stood in the opening, his face pale.
“There’s a dead guy in the shower.”
I pushed past him, Milo and Jessie behind me. The groupies and musicians stood in clumps, everyone craning their neck toward the two shower stalls beyond the hanging clothes. Rika clutched a towel too small to conceal that she was a natural redhead and sobbed into Trish’s chest.
“Everybody shut up.” I said it loud enough so it worked. “Now, what happened?”
Rudolph spoke first.
“The shower. There’s a kid. Rika says she found him.”
“I always sweat like a horse when we play,” she said. “I was going to take a shower and…unwind…”
Two guys held their shirts in front of them, but they were naked, too, like they’d planned to help her. Their eyes danced around the room.
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know. He must’ve had a pass, but I…”
“Milo, don’t let anyone in or out.” He moved Rudolph back and closed the door. He pulled out his phone.
“You want me to call the cops?”
“That’s Norman’s call. Text him and tell him to get his ass down here pronto.”
I threaded my way through the crowd to the shower stall. I saw feet in black sneakers and distressed jeans. I stepped closer and saw a sequined jacket, covered with vomit. Sure enough, it was the Wienecke kid, his eyes wide and his face bluish gray. The stench was so thick I could almost see it; his sphincter had let go. I breathed through my mouth and felt the side of his neck for a pulse I didn’t expect to find. I pulled him flat on his back and tried to clear his tongue for CPR, but my fingers felt something in his mouth.
A drumstick. Under the layer of vomit, the tip showed blood. The kid hadn’t OD’d, he’d been murdered, and I held the puke-covered weapon in my own fingers. Yeah, Norman had to call the cops, ASAP.
He burst through the door, almost knocking Milo off his feet.
“What’s the problem?” he demanded. “What’s going on, Russ?”
I tilted my head back toward the showers.
“Weinecke’s kid is dead back there in the showers.”
“Oh, Christ.” Norman’s eyes grew big as Rika’s cymbals. “What happened?”
Everyone turned to look at Rika, who shook her head helplessly.
I held up the drumstick. “This was jammed down his throat. He may have been stabbed, or he may have choked on his own vomit, or both. But someone killed him.”
“Rika, you stupid bitch.” Rudolph strode across the room, but Jessie grabbed his arm and yanked him back. He twisted free and glared at the naked drummer.
“You friggin’ moron. How could you be so stupid? Christ, you do two or three guys every night, and now you get—”
“No,” I said. “She didn’t.”
All the eyes in the room turned to me.
“The kid’s fully dressed, and his clothes are dry. He’s lying in puddles because the other musicians have showered, but Rika was going last.”
I looked at Trish, Wanda, and Angela, all fully—well, partly—clothed. Then at Rika and her two admirers.
“Rika’s hair is dry, and so are these guys. They weren’t in the shower yet. I’ll bet you smelled the kid first, didn’t you?”
“Uh-huh.” Rika’s head bobbed up and down. “I did, then I looked down, and…”
The two guys nodded, too.
“Besides,” I went on, “who takes a drumstick into a shower? I’ve heard of sex toys, but a drumstick? I don’t think so.”
“So someone framed her?”
“Maybe.” I tried to follow the train of thought that was just ahead, like trying to play along with a song everyone else knew.
“But who would have killed the kid?” Norman snapped. “Christ, his old man will close us down. Our ass is dead meat.”
“Maybe not,” I said. “The kid was giving us a lot of grief earlier, and we could all tell that he was high. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this was a drug buy gone bad.”
“That’s a helluva jump,” Rudolph said. His eyes were still moving over Rika, inch by inch.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But if he was buying, it had to be someone he could only see here, not a regular friend, right? Or he’d have done it somewhere else.”
The room went silent and I saw Rudolph and the musicians process that idea. Truck, the only roadie in the room, stared at the shower stall and at the floor, but not at anyone else.
“Truck, you were taking the drum kit out to the loading dock earlier, and you had drumsticks in your back pocket. Got any more of them?”
The guy whirled toward the door and shoved Norman out of the way. He yanked the door open, but Milo blocked it with his foot and grabbed Truck’s biceps. Truck tried to swing at him, but Milo blocked the punch and half-threw him back into the room. He glared at me and cocked his fist again.
He swung, but I blocked it and punched under his arm. My fist sank into his solar plexus and his eyes opened wide. So did his mouth. His face turned red, then blue, and he sank to the carpet. Milo and I grabbed his arms and pulled them behind him.
“Norman, call the cops.”
Truck threw up on the floor. I looked down and saw one drumstick still standing at attention in the hip pocket of his jeans.
# # #
At eleven the next morning, Rika rolled out of my bed and I admired the sun turning her whole body a warm amber that complemented her red hair.
“If you want to take a shower…” I pointed to the bathroom door.
“You want to join me?”
“Um, that’s kind of kinky, isn’t it?”
She shrugged, which worked well with her naked. “Hey, I’m in a band called ‘HunnyPott,’ remember? I’ve got a reputation to live down to.”
The shower took longer than it would have if we’d taken turns. We toweled each other off and went back to the bedroom, where she bent over to pick up her underwear. She turned around and caught me looking.
“I told you, that’s not my butt on the video.”
“I know.” I found my own shorts. “Yours is better.”
She cocked an eyebrow at me.
“You’re just saying that because you hope you’ll get another crack at it.” She frowned. “Maybe I could have said that better.”
“I doubt it.”
She pulled her T-shirt over her head and found a pair of cut-offs. She slid them up her legs, not as good as Trish’s, but close. I wondered if Jessie scored with her, too.
“I owe you. Owed you. You saved my ass—damn, there I go again, don’t I?”
“Saved the club, too.”
“There’s that.” She checked her phone. “Jesus, Rudolph’s sent a dozen texts. They’ve checked out of the motel and have my stuff. They’re leaving in ten minutes. We’ve got a sound check in Flint at three. The truck’s probably already there.”
“I can drive you.” I stepped into my jeans and felt her eyes on me like everyone’s on her the previous night. The cops held everyone until they finished processing the crime scene at three a.m., so we reached my place at four. We slept about four hours after she finished thanking me.
“No problem. Flint’s only about thirty-five miles up Seventy-five.”
I escorted her out to my car and heard my own phone ping. I checked the most recent message and learned that Truck had confessed.
“You could watch our show in Flint tonight,” Rika said. “We could comp you in, no problem.”
“Git Down’s got a show tonight,” I told her. “But maybe a rain check?”
“Maybe. I don’t think Rudolph’d have to twist your boss’s arm much to have us back, either.”
“Probably not.” “I didn’t look at her. “I wouldn’t mind closing with another ‘Big Finish.’”
“That wouldn’t suck, would it?”
She sighed. “Damn, there I go again.”
Steve Liskow (www.steveliskow.com) is a former English teacher, theatrical actor and director, and guitar player. He was the first to win the Black Orchid Novella Award twice, and he has been a finalist for both the Edgar Award and the Shamus Award. His latest novel is Words of Love, the fifth in the Chris “Woody” Guthrie series.