Break on Through
Big multi-storey carpark near Kamla Nagar that they’ve been building for a couple years.
Work starts and stops once a month. You are no expert but the terms dihaadi and living wages seem to stand in direct opposition, the lean tanned workforce a stream instead of a lake.
It is the perfect spot to stage a rendezvous: witnesses will be harder to track down than actual parties involved.
The deep thrum of a bassline from somewhere underfoot, keeping decent time but still rough around the edges.
A tin drum swings a miss.
A bang. Then a hiss.
“Sonofabitch!” You stop near a makeshift wooden ramp and examine your wheels as the players try a few more variations.
Three nails jut from the rear tire.
A handful of rusty pointed ends still scattered over the path of your approach.
“Jimmy!” A voice nearly as deep as the bass calls from the darkness. “Break on through, man! We’re almost done here.”
You park the wounded Gwen gingerly beside the ramp, half expecting a murder of crows to fly out and hit you in the face; but the air inside is cool is and dry and empty.
The bassist finally picks a no-nonsense line and sticks to it.
You walk through a wooden doorframe, down a concrete stairwell, into the basement proper.
The basement is cooler, unfinished and slightly damp.
The darkness is near-total, sole light hung beyond a large blue sheet of tarpaulin in the far corner.
Up close the bass is joined by an acoustic guitar. The tin drum becomes a metal canister being thumped rhythmically.
“Take it from the top,” the Crow says on his mic, “and for fuck’s sake let’s stop sounding like death by rickets.”
It is an old, sprightly Bollywood tune made seething and funereal.
A dirge for a time and place that wouldn’t know subtlety from a sex montage.
You lean on the brickwork and let the serrated rendition replace all thoughts of a gyrating Mithun.
This will soon be your last happy memory.
The music drops.
The Crow dials back his wordless crooning and then stops.
You walk up to the tarp just as he emerges from beyond – same shirt as before, eyes a little more bloodshot, but otherwise the same slightly-larger-than-life myth who fluttered down the rafters before your big fight scene.
“Is this where the magic is made?”
“Oh yeah. Another week or four and they build over our corner. Nice impromptu deadline.”
“Going for a full-length album, then?”
“Depends on who’s asking.” He flicks his cigarette butt into the darkness. The orange light traces a near-perfect semi-circle as it goes out. “Got anything greener on you?”
You pull one of the Reverend’s joints from behind your ear. A corner of his mouth creaks upward.
To The Other Side
“So how many dudes you fight that day?”
“Whaddaya mean, ‘that day’? It was yesterday, man!” The smoke dissipating in plumes from his nostrils. “Two hired brawlers and a knife enthusiast. Could’ve stuck around to help, you know. Saved my last pair of uncut jeans.”
“Lover not a fighter, Jimbo.” He passes the J. The roach is a little wet. “Plus I had to know if you minded gettin’ your knuckles bloody. Had to know you were up for it.”
“Just tell me what the job is.”
“Ok, look. So most of the equipment I work with ain’t too fancy, right? We aim for sound jagged enough to cut your fingers picking up.”
“Ergo all the cassette demos in an era of lossless audio?”
He nods. “Most of it is analog, because that’s us. That’s our sound. But I also got a digital voicebox and amps. Good if you want your harmonies worth a shit. Cost roughly six figures. And some jerkwad nicked ‘em before soundcheck on Friday. If it weren’t for the crowd’s weird megaphone fetish we’d be thrashed senseless or worse: booed off.”
“Uh huh.” You have nearly finished your lap of the basement. The band has stopped completely. The lightbulb beyond the blue tarpaulin is nothing but a blurry afterimage on your retinas. “And where was this gig, exactly?”
“This rooftop bar off campus. Secret midnight show. We were previewing new material.” Something about the Crow’s speech pattern rankles. You don’t know what or why. His gaze leaves you and follows the patter of feet leaving the basement. “Better’ve picked up your leaky ghee can, mister!”
“W-why don’t you make me, birdbrain?” calls a thin voice from the very edge of your vision, halfway up the staircase, skinny jeans and sneakers framed in some fresh, warm, flickery lightsource beyond the wooden doorframe.
You squint hard but cannot see the other side.
“Say. Was that the mousy headphones guy who spoke in class today?”
“Sessions musicians can be a pain,” the Crow says, only half to you, and you realize that his words are no response to your words, are a smoother variant of your patter when talking down a drunk friend or Bharadwaj wrangling irate cops. “We had a killer percussionist. Did eye-popping things with them sticks. Kept yawning like it was kid stuff. Can’t pay for that sorta style.”
“Oh yeah?” You stroll towards the peeled-back tarpaulin, away from the warm flicker upstairs that’s becoming brighter by the moment. You flick the smoldering roach into the Crow’s studio. The wobbly orange arc lights a battered dalda tin and dies on the concrete. “Why isn’t he here, then?”
“Oh, he fudged his graduation again.” His words sincere as a Styrofoam sandwich.
Or rusted nails scattered before an entranceway.
“Currently getting bombed with his other no-good junkie friends. Some marathon.” The Crow sniggers. “I mean who even cares that much about academics?”
A delaying tactic.
“Say, Jimbo, is that your I-get-it-now face or are you suddenly constipated?”
You do not respond. You do not have time for a response.
You turn and run back up the stairs.
“Thanks for the greens, man!” he calls casually after you, and you don’t need to know what’s coming next to wish him dead.
The Death of Gwen Stacy
Stop. Take a deep breath.
What is coming next has happened before. It had happened before even when it was happening for the first time. It will happen again in your head, will keep happening, regardless of whether you care to recount it.
It will happen whether in the first person or the second. It will happen.
And now you have said ‘happen’ too many times and it doesn’t seem like a real word.
Had pen. Pierced scab.
Puns are ok. Puns are good.
Let’s say you aren’t weeping right now.
“What the fuck.” It isn’t a question you are asking. It isn’t even an observation. It’s the absence of a response. The warm flicker beyond the frame grows into a brow singeing sweat vaporizing fire.
And Gwen Stacy blazes like a wooden effigy rather than a twelve-year-old scooter.
“Who did this, man?” Honest question this time. “Who killed my fucking scooter?”
“Me,” says the asshole with the knife from Sunday, standing just beyond the pyre that was Gwen, a taser in his left hand and a plaster on his right. “Who’s the one armed bandit now, bitch?”
“Still you, man. Except I’ll be killing you now.”
You step around Gwen and within punching range. He points the taser, waits the split second it needs to charge, sees something in your expression, raises the plaster to defend his face.
That is the only mistake he needs to make.
Your first touch breaks some toes. A hard whack on the plaster cracks his nose like a leaky faucet.
you kick aside the taser
introduce your heel to his gut
“-a hundred shitheels like you!”
are about to kick him onto Gwen when
“Chill out, Johnny boy,” the Crow murmurs in your ear, and a thousand volts wrap around your spine and rock you to sleep.
(The second volume of Bloody Thursday, Bad Trips (J02E01-10), drops tomorrow).