I peered at his camera bag and noted the tag that was sewn into it said the name “Jacob.” He must have borrowed it from him or something.
“So that’s it?” I asked, looking at him squarely. “You just accept what I said, no questions, no telling me that I’m crazy?”
“Do you think you’re crazy, little lamb?”
“I’ll go crazy if you keep calling me that.” I exhaled loudly and put my head in my hands, suddenly exhausted, my hair creating a red waterfall in front of my face. “And yes. Sometimes I do think I’m crazy, Max. But it happened. Jacob can back me up. Sage can back me up. I’m sure poor Noelle, if she ever gets better, could back me up. This shit happened. And…I think…I think it’s happening again.”
I felt Max stiffen beside me. “What do you mean, ‘it’s happening again’?”
I mumbled into my hands, “It’s probably nothing. But Sage had a few occurrences with a crazy maid at the hotel and thinks I may have made a deal with the Devil. I know. It just adds to how insane this all is.”
“And did you?”
The question of the hour. I felt sick just thinking about it. It couldn’t have happened, it couldn’t have happened.
“No. I don’t recall ever doing such a thing.” But even as I said the words, despite that I knew their truth, I didn’t feel any better, any safer.
A great pause hung over us, pressing down with all the questions. I turned my head and eyed him through a rusty wall of hair.
“You do think I’m crazy, don’t you? You think it’s all bunk.”
He seemed to consider that, his eyes watching the cars go past. “Would you think I was crazy if I believed you?”
“Let’s just say I’m more open-minded than most people, if you catch my drift.”
“I really need to speak to Jacob,” I said, sitting up. The more I sat there, the more I thought I was being useless. As much as I appreciated how open-minded Max was, I needed to talk to Jacob, someone who would know something, who would maybe even be able to do something. “Do you know where he is?”
He shook his head and brought out a cigarette. He offered me one from his tin, but I waved it away. He shrugged. “Thought maybe you needed one. Even non-smokers gotta smoke sometimes.”
“That’s an interesting philosophy,” I noted, standing up. “How do I hail a cab here, just flag them down? I think I’m going to go back to the hotel and get some rest before tonight. Maybe Jacob’s there.”
He stood up, too. “I’ll go with you,” he said quickly, flinging his spent matchstick onto the road. “We caught enough of soundcheck anyway, and the show doesn’t start until eight tonight.”
“So you really are my chaperone.”
“I like to look out for the ladies,” he said with a grin as he thrust out his arm, instantly stopping the nearest cab. After everything that Sage and I had discussed, I couldn’t argue with that. Especially when I was going back to the hotel where the supposed crazy maid was.
Once back at the hotel, I couldn’t find Jacob, so I ended up taking a much-needed nap. Even with the door locked and Max telling me to call or come to his room at any time, I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep. But I passed out right away and awoke to Max’s wake-up call, which consisted of him bleating like a sheep. Thank God it was still early enough for the sun to be in the sky, setting low on the horizon. I couldn’t have handled another disorienting wake-up experience in the darkness. Even so, when I got up, I made a point to turn on every single light in the bedroom and look everywhere for flies. There were none. I felt a trace of guilt for having been in Paris for twenty-four hours and not having seen any of the sights, but in the end I had to think of the big picture. And my job.
I got ready for the show, putting my hair up into a ponytail and pulling on boots, a denim skirt, and a thin tank top with Janice Joplin’s face sketched on it that I didn’t have to wear a bra with. For May, it was still quite chilly in Paris, but I knew the venue would be warm. That was one of the things I both loved and hated about concerts—that heat that only hundreds of sweaty, drunk, and adrenaline-fueled bodies can cause. It was just as intoxicating as the vibe.
Once again, I had missed Jacob, but I figured he was knee-deep in managing the band before they went on and making sure everything was going perfectly. With sharp bitterness, I imagined that Angeline was also there doing her job, and I tried to switch off my brain before I thought about Sage doing her. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get past that. It was one thing to know he’d screwed lots of groupies and chicks over the last eight months; it was another to know what one of them looked like, to know she made her mark on his skin, that I’d have to see her in the flesh. It made everything so terrifyingly real.
I was heading down the stairs to meet Max in the lobby when I caught a peculiar odor on the fourth floor. I looked down the hall, thinking someone had left a bag of rancid garbage outside their door when all the lights on the floor started flickering. At the end of the hallway, a tall figure came around the corner and then stopped.
I stared at the figure, my hand covering my nose to block the stench, feeling like there was something terribly wrong here. The figure came forward, a black coat trailing behind, and I realized it was a man. He came halfway up the hall and then stopped again, in between the lights so he was hidden in shadow. I don’t know why I didn’t keep walking down the stairs, why I was so drawn to this person coming down the hall like a regular hotel guest.
Maybe because in my heart I knew he wasn’t a regular hotel guest.
“Dawn,” I heard a faint voice whisper, coming from his direction. “Dawn before the darkness.” The voice was ethereal yet menacing, and I started to smell the metallic tang of blood. I took my hand away from my nose and saw blood smeared on my fingers. A nosebleed.
I looked back at the man, but he was gone. The hallway was empty. Cold.
A woman in a tweed suit was coming up the stairs with a lapdog in her arms. She gave me an incorrigible look as she squeezed past me—I was too stunned to move. As she did, her Lhasa Apso started barking like mad down the hallway, toward the place where the man had been. The man who had whispered my name.
“Do you smell that?” I whispered, more to the dog than to the woman.
The women muttered something in French that was probably “buzz off” and kept going up the stairs, eyeing me suspiciously over the railing as she went.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up, telling me to go and go now. I swiftly ran down the rest of the stairs until I practically slammed into Max in the lobby.
“Whoa, where’s the fire?” he asked.
“Nowhere. Let’s go, I don’t want to be late.”
“Wait, what’s wrong?” He grabbed my hand and peered at it. “You’re bleeding.”
I tried to shrug. “Just a nosebleed. Came out of nowhere.”
He fished out a Kleenex from his pocket and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I said, embarrassed. I wiped away the last of the blood and threw the Kleenex in the trash.
He tugged at his camera bag and gestured to the exit doors. “After you.” We started walking and were almost outside when he asked, “Don’t you need a sweater?”
“It’ll be hot in the venue,” I managed to say, trying to keep my wits about me and my paranoia under control.
“But you’re shivering.”
He was right.
Since it was a Friday night, it took us some time to hail a cab to the venue. By the time we arrived, the place was absolutely swarming with people. There were men outside with signs, perhaps asking to buy tickets, and a long line up around the block. My heart began to pound in my throat. Sage really was a big deal here—people everywhere were wearing his Sage Wisdom shirts or Hybrid shirts. My heart swelled with a strange blend of pride and jealousy—all these people were there to see him, just as I was there to see him. Tonight he wasn’t just mine. Not that he was ever just mine; obviously he was Angeline’s the other night, but even so, I knew I had to share him with the masses.
Max paid the cabbie and ushered me out of the car. I was so strangely starstruck by everything—his name on the glowing marquee, the squeals and cries of the fans trying to get in, and that thick, meaty rumble of the opening band already playing inside. Max brought out our press passes and gently put mine around my neck as he puffed on another cigarette. I barely noticed the smoke going into my face.
“Want to go in here, or do you want to try a little backdoor action?” he asked with a wag of his brows.
I smiled, letting the adrenaline fuzz all over me like radio waves. “Back door. I’m that kind of girl.”
“Good to know,” he said and took my elbow, leading me down the block until we could cut into the alleyway that serviced the back of the venue. I could be highly self-indulgent when it came to music and covering music. I loved my fucking all-access and press passes like nobody’s business, and since Hybrid, I hadn’t covered a show this big, let alone one that meant this much to me. I wanted to use all of this to my complete advantage, and if this meant going in through the back door, where only the privileged people or crew were allowed, then that’s what I was going to do.
We went down the alley, which was filled with alley cats and garbage that tumbled in the chilling breeze. I started shivering and Max took off his leather jacket and placed it over my shoulders. I didn’t even protest.
There were a few vans parked outside the door and roadies running stuff in and out. I recognized one of them from the soundcheck earlier and smiled at him. He grinned back and motioned for us to hurry inside while he carried in a pedal board. After we waved our passes at the theater’s bouncer, who scrutinized mine until the roadie had to tell him who I was, we stepped inside to the smoke-filled backstage area.
People were hustling back and forth, and the opening band was playing a wicked cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker,” which made the ornate lights above us sway and the crowd cry out.
“You think people will ever get sick of hearing Led Zeppelin?” Max asked cynically as we flattened ourselves against a wall to make room for people who were bringing seat rows out of the pit and down the hall.
I shook my head. “I bet thirty years from now, you’ll still hear ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on the radio.”
“Mercy, I hope not.”
“Well, if it isn’t my redheaded brethren,” Jacob said as he appeared at the opposite end of the hall. He’d changed into a velvet suit that matched the chair cushions in the theater. He glanced at a pocket watch. “Running a bit late, yeah?”
“Sorry,” I said as we approachd him. “Took longer than we thought to get here.” I paused. “I was looking for you earlier.”
His beady amber eyes fastened on me in curiosity. “Been a bit busy, love. Hope it wasn’t too important.”
Well, it definitely wasn’t something I was going to spring on him here. I shook my head. “No, it was nothing. How are things?”
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