Then he shook his head and continued walking off toward the auditorium, strumming his guitar as he went, leaving me with a view of a tight ass in tight black pants.

What I had meant to do was ask him when a good time to interview him would be. I totally messed that one up.

I watched him go for a few beats, then I decided to give up on him for the day and try again tomorrow. Tonight I was going to concentrate on the music and just the music. If the band wanted to play hard to get with interviews, fine (and if I was going to bungle up some interviews with my big, fat mouth, fine). That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to observe and then compose the best damn live show review. Ever.

I shuffled back to the bus, gathered my purse, my notepad, my tape recorder, and the venue’s All Access Pass, and went to go catch Hybrid’s soundcheck.

CHAPTER EIGHT

I discovered that although I got a perverse sense of importance and satisfaction standing at the side of the stage with Jacob and all the other privileged people, the best place to see the band, any band really, was to be in the crowd with the rest of the fans. Though I was closer to the band on the side stage and had a great viewpoint for watching Sage work the guitar or Graham pound away on the drums like a man possessed, it felt removed and distant, like I was merely observing them. I wasn’t part of the experience. So fifteen minutes into Hybrid’s monstrous set, I excused myself from Jacob’s stoic company and made my way down the stairs at the side of the stage and into the Kansas City crowd.

I let the human tide, ebbing and flowing toward the stage like multi-colored water, take me, and within seconds I found myself squished in the middle of the floor, in between two metal heads who only stopped banging their heads to take a hit of pot. I was in my element here, and though I got a few curious glances at my All Access Pass (which I did wear a little too proudly), people paid attention to the band. And so did I.

The acoustic set from the night before was a nice change, but this show was the real Hybrid, a living breathing band that aptly mixed Sabbath-like downtuned licks with a dash of Jim Morrison lyrics and the funky, blues groove of Muddy Waters. During that show I forgot all about the talk I had with Robbie earlier, or the unexpected sass I delivered to Sage. I was just a fan, always a fan, a worshipper who talked to God in her head but fell to her knees at church.

There were lights and smoke, from the stage and from the audience, and Robbie and Sage gave the crowd everything they had. They were dueling against each other, pushing themselves for glory, and by that act, pushing each other. They were both winners here with Robbie leaping into the crowd like a soaring Messiah, making love to the microphone pole, telling the world his secrets with the deepest of growls; and Sage slinking along the sides, surging forward to join his equal, then disappearing into the shadows of the stage, giving the audience only a glimpse of his blistering fingers and the incinerating peels of sound he demanded from his guitar.

It was an epic, flawless, tingling-deep-in-my-belly type of show. I took notes between songs—just the feelings flowing through me or descriptions of the audience. Their enthusiasm built me up at times, and when a solo threatened to bring the crowd to its knees, I was sinking down, down, down with them, tears in my humble eyes.

It was a high unlike any other, a wave of perfection and human unity. It was all the purple prose in the world. It was magic.

Until I had a beer thrown in my face.

It happened near the end of the show, during one of my favorite songs, “A Loss to Win.” It wasn’t an accident. I was standing there, mouth agape at Robbie’s power, when I felt someone sidle up to me. I barely paid them any attention until I noticed their eyes flowing up and down my body and settling on the pass around my neck. They burned there, and I could have sworn my chest flared up with heat.

I took my eyes off the stage where Sage and Mickey were serenading each other with their strings and looked down. A short girl with Rod Stewart hair, dyed black as coal, and giant boobs was staring at the pass. I could have sworn she licked her lips, which were lined with dark red lipstick. She was dressed head to toe in black and her eyes were dark and soulless.

“Can I help you?” I asked unsurely. I didn’t feel like getting into an altercation, but I was at least taller than she was and a good deal lighter where it mattered.

“Can I have your pass?” she asked sweetly. She finally ripped her eyes off my chest and looked at my face. I shuddered internally. She looked crazier than I originally thought, and I immediately knew who I was dealing with—Sparky, one of the GTFOs.

“Um, and who are you?” I knew to handle the wannabe devil worshipper with care but I was annoyed I had to deal with her during a song I had been waiting for.

“Someone who deserves it more than you, bitch,” she answered. One of the metal heads in front of us looked behind him to see what was going on, and upon seeing her, he shot me a “good luck with that” smile and turned back around.

I put my hand to my pass and clutched it in my hand. “I don’t know who you are, sorry. This is my pass. I’m a journalist.”

I put my attention back to the stage and prayed she’d go away.

She sidled closer and reached out with her hand, attempting to close it around mine.

“Give me your pass!” she screeched like a jungle monkey.

I was flabbergasted but quick to act, and I backed up into the crowd, feeling their hands at my back, supporting me for the meantime. “Holy fuck, what’s your problem, you psycho!?”

“You don’t deserve it, you fake fan. You know nothing about him and I was here first,” she said coming forward, her black-nailed hand outstretched like some crazy fucking witch.

I put my palm out to stop her, and for some reason it did. But it didn’t stop her from taking the cup of beer that she had in her other hand and throwing it in my face.

“I’ll see you in hell,” she snarled and stormed off into the crowd, amused concertgoers parting for her like the Red Sea. I watched her go, speechless and shaking with adrenaline as the warm beer soaked me.

“Whoa, chick is tripping,” said one of the metal heads who had been holding me. Now that I was able to stand, his hands were at my ass and copping a feel.

I shrugged him off and gave him a dry “thanks” as I shook the rivers of beer off my arms.

Chick was tripping, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with drugs. Though who really knew in this day and age. I patted down my wet hair and carefully wiped the smelly, cheap draft beer from my face and under my eyes, pulling up my tank top to do so. The metal head stared at my bare stomach with glazed lust, and I decided it was a good a time as any to get my ass off the floor. My favorite song had ended and Hybrid`s spell had been broken by a groupie witch.

I pushed my way through the sweaty crowd, Noelle`s basslines rumbling beneath my feet, and climbed the stairs to the backstage area. There were a few people in front of me so security was busy grilling them about their passes or lack thereof, and over their heads I could make out Jacob at the very edge of the side stage as it sloped toward the back, talking to a young girl.

He didn`t look too impressed with her and was making shooing gestures with his hands. The girl waved her pass in his face and pointed at the stage and the show in progress, but Jacob just shook his head, not budging over whatever they were arguing about. The girl looked like a replica of Sonja, with the same pale hair and skin, just a bit shorter and with bigger hips. When she finally gave up and walked away, her nose beaked sharply in the profile and I caught a flash of violet eyes. I had a feeling that was GTFO numero three, Terri the Know-It-All.

Finally I was let through by the stocky gatekeeper with a close inspection of my pass and a pitying glance at my drowned rat appearance.

“Christ on a cracker,” Jacob exclaimed as I slogged toward him at the side stage. “What happened to you?” He sniffed me. “You fall in a pint?”

“Something like that,” I said with a sigh. “Hey, who were you just talking to?”

His mouth twitched in a grimace. “Oh, the usual riff raff.”

“Robbie told me about the GTFOs.”

Jacob shook his head with annoyance and started fiddling with the rings that adorned his fat fingers. “Of course he did. Robbie’s jealous that Sage and Graham are getting all the attention and he has to deal with normal groupies. He doesn’t get the crazies. Makes him feel left out.”

“What did that girl want? Was it Terri?”

“I don’t pay attention to their names,” he said calmly, twirling a big gold ring around. “She did mention you though.”

“What? Me? I’ve never met that girl.”

He cracked a smile and lifted his shoulders back, looking down at me slyly. “She knows you though. Says you’re a wannabe music journalist and can’t be trusted. Says you’re just a groupie in disguise, and that she’s the one who should be writing the story.”

“Are you serious?”

He shrugged. “I’m always serious, love. For what it’s worth, this Terri as you say, has an actual media pass. She writes for someone, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a private magazine out of her parent’s basement, judging from the looks of her.”

I crossed my arms, not liking this at all. “So what else did she say?”

“That was pretty much it. You know, it’s just girly grade school stuff, tattle-taling and all that. Don’t worry, Rusty. I can tell when someone’s sucking up to me and spreading the nasty stuff for ulterior motives. I’m the manager for crying out loud. That’s my job.”

I wiggled my mouth in thought. “I don’t like it.”

He patted my shoulder. “No one likes it but it comes with the territory. Did you think you’d be able to interview the band and not score the wrath of other writer fans or groupies? Judging by the beer shower you just took, I’d say you know now.”

He walked off toward Chip at the console. “Welcome to groupie high.”

***

“You’re looking a little tired, Rusty,” Robbie said, peering at me with concern. I was sitting across from him at the table, trying to drink a glass of water while the bus trundled along the rough highway toward Minnesota. “Was I snoring?”

“Nah. I just didn’t sleep very well,” I told him truthfully. After the show was over and I was glancing over my shoulder every second, expecting to be ambushed by Terri, Sparky, or Sonja, we headed right back to the bus and a just waking Bob got us out on the road. Everyone was in great spirits but extremely tired and it wasn’t a very lively night. I had stayed up for an hour or so playing cards with Mickey and Noelle while the rest of the band went to bed early.

The top bunk was now officially mine as Noelle and Mickey were back to taking over the full bed in the back and Robbie decided to camp out beneath my bunk. Graham and Sage took over the other bunks toward the back and Jacob had a permanent claim on the couch. I guess it was the best place for a steely guard dog to be.

There’s something very comforting about sleeping on a bus; the drone of the engine and the sway of the roads make you feel like a baby being rocked to sleep. The confined space of the bunk helps too. But for whatever reason, I tossed and turned all night and the only reason I knew I had gotten any sleep at all was because I remembered my dream quite clearly.

***

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