The police didn’t look at it that way. The minute they showed up, shoving their way into the trailer, you could tell they were itching to arrest a few rock stars. Even though the festival was packed with likeminded people, most people in the South weren’t at all accepting of long-haired rock musicians. At one conservative diner we stopped at it was a scene straight out of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”: You always seem outnumbered; you don’t dare make a stand. You knew the cops were going to make hell for Hybrid, just as they made hell for Zeppelin years before.
The first thing they did was grab Robbie and Mickey and haul them out of the building for questioning. Despite Noelle’s cries of protest that she and Mickey weren’t even around when it happened, they weren’t going to let the shaggy-haired, bearded Mickey out of their grasp. They almost got Sage too, one cop asking if they should question the “half-breed hippie” until the medic told them he and I had just showed up.
Sage’s face flared with indignation—whether it was because he was called a hippie or a half-breed, I don’t know—but he couldn’t do anything, and if he tried, he’d be questioned too. So we could only watch while two members of Hybrid were taken away and only he and Noelle remained. Soon the cops cleared out everyone who wasn’t a coroner or a paramedic, and we found ourselves surrounded by the local media and questioning onlookers. Sage refused to deal with anyone except for Jacob, who took him off into the darkness to talk. One reporter with a camera in tow tried to approach them, and Jacob grabbed the woman’s microphone and tossed it on top of Ted Nugent’s trailer.
I stayed behind, trying to blend into the black surroundings. By now all the musicians had retired to their own areas, perhaps paranoid of impending drug searches. I found no comfort in the gossip of the people who remained, talking about Emeritta like it was inconsequential for a groupie to die, like she had asked for it. I had only known her a day but it still burned deep inside. And if I was being honest with myself, something just didn’t sit right. Though it was totally possible, I didn’t believe she had actually died of an overdose. It was too bad you couldn’t convince people on your own gut feeling.
I hugged myself, feeling the humidity shift to chilled air. I had nowhere to go, so I wandered around the back of the trailer, trying to compose my thoughts. It was too fresh and her body was still inside the trailer—it was going to take a long time before the reality of it all would sink in. I remembered what had happened when I found my mother dead in the bathroom all those years ago—I was in a delirious stupor for weeks. The blocking mechanism in my head was busy at work again.
I was alone in the dark back here. Or so I thought. The crime scene investigator’s flash caused light to burst from the tiny windows, and in one illumination I caught the face of Graham standing at the rear of the trailer, a few paces in front of me. In that flash I saw his pale face smiling gruesomely. It went black again, and in the next flash, he was gone.
It was lucky we didn’t have a show the next day, seeing as we had to wait around in Charlotte until Robbie and Mickey were released from custody. We all slept on the bus—Bob had parked it in an empty department store parking lot on the outskirts of the city since Sage wanted us off the festival property and as far away from it as possible.
No one slept well. The bus echoed with deep swallows, sighs, and the occasional murmur. Ironically, the only person who did seem to sleep was Graham. But after seeing him smiling in the dark like that, nothing about him surprised me anymore.
I tossed and turned all night, staring up at the roof, trying to come to terms with things. My heart and my brain were having a battle over what to focus on. My heart ached for Emeritta, and her death was hitting me harder than perhaps it should have. Part of it was just the shock, the other part was the loss of someone I really liked. Then my brain came in and started dwell on the hows and the whys. And when all was said and done, it wanted to think about Graham. The goateed man sleeping on the couch, snoring heavily, seemingly unaffected by any of this. It wanted to think about the things he had said to me, that he was a debt collector. It wanted to think about what I saw when I looked at him. That image of his face contorting into one of a monster’s rolled over and over again in my head. It didn’t matter how many times I told myself I imagined it, that it was a product of stress and lack of sleep and repeated exposure to very loud music. I kept seeing it. My brain wanted to tell me something.
It turned out that by 10AM, Robbie and Mickey had been released, but we didn’t pull up into the police station until noon. They both climbed onto the bus, solemn and embarrassed. Robbie looked like he had been to hell and back, with puffy eyes and sallow skin. Mickey seemed on edge, eyes bloodshot and buzzing with indignation, fingers tapping wildly on his knee.
I made them some instant coffee and gave them bananas and crumbly muffins to munch on. As the bus roared out of the city toward Georgia, Jacob decided to call a meeting. I sat in the booth, my knees curled up to my chest, feeling more like an onlooker than anything.
First we heard from Robbie and Mickey, what had happened to them in jail. They told their stories over and over again to the police, with cross-examining from all angles. Robbie had to lie and tell them they were just fooling around in the trailer before he went to the bathroom. If he admitted at all that he had used drugs or supplied the drugs that she ODed on, he would have been in some major trouble. Those cops were looking for any excuse to lock rock and roll hippies away. He then told us the truth; that after he came back from the bathroom—and he had been in there for ten minutes having the coke shits—he found Emeritta on the floor. The drugs were nowhere to be found, presumably all in her system, and even the cigar tube he kept the drugs in was gone.
“Well isn’t that a bit weird?” Noelle spoke up. “I didn’t see it anywhere in the trailer.”
“I know,” said Robbie. “I can’t even think straight. I know, I know I left her with the cigar case. It was right on the table damnit. I trusted her because she said she didn’t do drugs. When I came out and found her there…well, maybe the tube was still there and I didn’t see it. I wasn’t looking for it. How could I when there was a fucking dead groupie on the ground!”
“She wasn’t a groupie,” I said bitterly. Everyone turned to look at me. I brought my gaze to the tops of my freckled knees. “She was a lover of rock.”
“Anyway,” Robbie continued, “maybe she had it in her hand. I don’t know. But when I look back I don’t remember seeing it.”
“I think the cops took it,” Mickey said.
“If the coppers took it, they would have questioned you about it,” Jacob pointed out. He was leaning against the kitchen, his burly arms folded.
“So where is it?” Noelle pondered.
We all fell into silence and shrugs.
“Does it matter?” Sage asked, bringing his eyes around to meet everyone else’s. “The girl is dead. It’s not directly our fault, but it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for us.”
Robbie glared. “Thanks Sage, real supportive.”
Jacob sighed. “What Sage means is that it’s all done. And to be honest, we’re lucky that we’re all sitting here on the bus. And I mean all of us. This could have been a lot worse.”
I snorted angrily. “How could it have been worse? A girl fucking died in our trailer!”
“Oh, it’s your trailer now,” Mickey cut in. “Since when are you part of the band?”
I narrowed my eyes. “I’m not, but it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting me. Seems I’m the only one who actually liked the girl.”
“You didn’t even know her,” said Noelle, rolling her eyes.
“I think we should cancel the Atlanta show,” Sage said quietly. That got everyone’s attention.
“What the hell?” Robbie cried out. “We’re not cancelling anything.”
“Robbie, you were just released from police custody,” Sage warned. “A girl is dead because of us. I think it’s more than the right thing to do.”
“Screw your right thing to do!” Robbie got to his feet and stood in front of Sage who was sitting on the couch. He leaned over and got in his face, steely blue eyes against chilled green ones. “If every band had to cancel their shows because a groupie died, no one would ever go on tour!”
“Sit down,” Sage ordered with a keen sense of calm.
Robbie threw his hands up in the air. “I’m not going to sit down. No fucking way I’m going to sit down because for once, you’re not acting in the band’s best interest.”
“It’s true,” Graham spoke up. I wasn’t the only one surprised to hear him; he had been silent this whole time.
“What?” Sage snarled. His gaze locked on Graham’s head like a laser beam.
“I said,” Graham said louder, raising his head and meeting his challenge. “Robs is right. We can’t cancel the show. We’ve never had a strong pull in the south. The last time we were here it was weak city. We cancel, we miss out. I thought a pessimist like you would realize we won’t have a second chance.”
Sage shook his head, his eyes searching the ceiling of the bus as if he’d find some comfort there. “I don’t believe this. Guys, come on. You know I’m not taking this lightly.”
“Well maybe you should,” Mickey said, while Noelle jabbed him in the side with her bony elbow. He swatted her hand away and nodded at Robbie and Graham in some unspoken agreement. “I mean, if we don’t go on, it’s like the cops won. Her death would be in vain.”
Oh for crying out loud, I thought to myself. I was so close to losing it on them but I bit my tongue. Hard. Until I tasted blood.
Sage threw me an uneasy glance before he focused on Jacob. “Jacob, talk some sense into these boys.”
Jacob was polishing his teeth with the edge of his polyester jacket. He waited until he was done and satisfied before speaking. “I’ve always believed the best way to run a band is in a democracy. Let’s take a vote. All in favor of cancelling the Atlanta show tomorrow night raise your hand.”
Sage and Noelle raised their hands. Mickey appraised her with disappointment but she refused to look at him and kept her eyes on Sage instead. I raised my hand too, knowing someone would say something about it.
Jacob was the first. He gave me a polite nod. “Sorry, Rusty, I’m afraid it’s up the band only.”
I put my hand back down, knowing it wasn’t my place but still feeling rejected all the same.
“All righty,” Jacob carried on. “Now who is in favor of playing tomorrow night?”
Graham’s, Robbie’s, and Mickey’s hands all rose up. Jacob took it all in, making little noises of agreement under his breath. “Okay, well the majority seems to have spoken. We’re playing tomorrow night. End of story.”
“You’re an ass,” Sage said simply.
“Oh, dear Sage, you can say it. Don’t be shy. I’m a cunt,” Jacob said unapologetically. “But I’m a cunt who’s been in this game a long time, longer than you all, and though it would be a nice gesture to cancel the show for a groupie that no one here really seems to care about, it would be fatal to us as a band. For once, Graham has a valid point.”
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