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Then there were more flames.

Then there was nothing.

DEAR ABBY

Life can be pretty screwy. Hectic. Random. That was my life anyway, and most of the time. But, occasionally, things just fall into place. There’s a feeling of fate. Kismet. Order. I prefer the up-and-down jumble and unpredictability. I liked that shit happens for no reason sometimes. There’s something easy about that.

When things align themselves in my favor, it makes me suspicious. Maybe because I don’t like the idea of my life being part of some overall cosmic plan. I don’t want the universe to pay attention to me. I just wanted to put my head down and go.

Sing Sin Sinatra (why the hell did I name it this?) had been doing really well until Toby up and left the band. Toby, my last remaining friend, a leftover from high school, decided smoking crack in the Bronx was better than playing bass in my band. OK, our band. But really, it was my band.

Not that I wouldn’t have had to fire him at the rate he was going but still. It would have been my choice and my decision. Instead, just before the fall season, when we had a shit ton of shows (good shows too) to do, he decided to say see ya.

Good riddance and fuck off, said everyone else in the band. They were sick of him being late, being incoherent. He could barely play the bass anymore and that was saying a lot, especially with most of our songs. I mean, fuck, we did the classics. They were as simple as shit. But it burned me a little bit. Like I said, he was my last high school friend, a connection to my past. Did I like my past? No. I didn’t even speak to my own brother anymore. But it was something.

It also sucked balls because he was going to be my editing partner. He wasn’t in school, but he had the talent and the equipment. Well, before he sold it for crack. We worked well together. Well, before he started wigging out.

Fuck. I should have seen it coming.

So there I was, gathering my books, getting ready to leave my afternoon editing class. Everyone in my class was a dick so there was no way I’d feel comfortable making side projects with these people. Anyway, I needed someone who would want to fuck around with film with me. I know I’m not easy to work with, so there was that too.

I started toward the door, the last person to leave the room.

Before I got there, a gigantic redhead appeared in the doorway, panting and out of breath. A layer of sweat lay across his freckled forehead.

“I missed it didn’t I?” the ginger said, his arm propping his body up against the frame. His voice was unusually smooth and he had a weird accent that was Southern but also not quite.

“Missed the class?” I asked. I walked toward him but he was still leaning against the door and his whole massive body blocked it. There was something weird about him, about the way he was, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Oh well, no matter. It wasn’t my problem.

“Yeah. Shoot. I signed up for editing. Missed last week’s too.”

I gave him a false nod of sympathy. I had places to go, a girl to fuck. I wasn’t about to stand around and shoot the breeze with this guy. Looking at him gave me a headache and made me want to rub my eyes vigorously. Maybe with salt.

“Better luck next week,” I told him with a placating smile, then gestured for him to move.

He did. Reluctantly. I quickly glanced at him as I passed. If I’d known better, he looked confused. Maybe even hurt.

“You’re Declan Foray,” he called out after me.

I stopped walking. I slowly turned around.

“Yeah. Who are you?”

“Jacob.” He smiled. He had pretty white teeth for a Southern boy. Then he frowned, catching himself. “No. Jacobs.”

“Jacobs? With an S? Do you know your own name?” I frowned at him.

He wiped his hand on his jeans and thrust it out at me. “Maximus Jacobs.”

“Oh, you have many names.”

He eyed me and his hand expectantly. I sighed and dragged my ass over to him.

“Nice to meet you Maximus Jacobs. I’m Dex Foray.” He shook my hand in a very strong, cold hold. He kept it there a little too long. I narrowed my eyes at him. He smiled in response and dropped it.

I took back my hand and wiggled it a bit. Fucker could have broken it. Who let this animal out of the zoo?

He smiled again like he’d heard what I thought and found it funny. I ignored it.

“So, Maximus Jacobs.”

“Just Max, please.”

“OK, Max please. How did you know who I was?”

“Word on the street was you were looking for a new bassist,” he said.

“Word on the street? Who says that?” I scoffed, taking in his purple plaid shirt. “Where are you from?”

“The South,” he said. He scratched at his orange sideburns. He had a very wannabe Elvis type do. It looked retarded.

“Oh, the South,” I remarked dryly. “Always wanted to go there.”

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Louisiana. Outside of New Orleans. On the coast.”

OK. Now his accent went from odd and slightly Southern to full-on Cajun. Like he was trying to sound neutral but eventually failed.

I needed a cigarette badly. I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. I don’t know where the headache had come from but it was apparent that standing around talking to the burly Cajun wasn’t helping. Still, I had to know.

“So you say word on the street?” I mused. “Who told you?”

He shrugged. “I just overheard.”

So, so vague. “All right. Do you play bass?”

He smiled broadly. He almost looked angelic. “I play everything but I love bass.”

Did anyone really love the bass? I mean, I could play everything too. I loved the sound of the bass but playing the bass? Unless you were peeling off some Les Claypool riffs, it was boring as fuck.

“I can play just like Les Claypool.”

I flinched. “What?” Had I said that shit out loud?

“Les Claypool. You know, he’s in Primus.”

“Yes, I know who he is,” I snapped. I eyed him warily. “You don’t know what kind of music we play. It’s not exactly Primus.”

He nodded. “I know. I’ve seen you live.”

That startled me. Did I have a stalker here?

“When?” I demanded.

He shrugged. “When I first got here.”

“Our last show was a month ago...”

“Then I got here a month ago. Look, I really liked your band.”

I could see how sincere he was. But still.

Reading the doubt on my face, he quickly said, “I’ll even audition. I reckon I’ll win you over yet.”

He’ll reckon? My god, why didn’t he just stick to the banjo and pots and pans? Fucking hillbilly. Still, we needed a bassist and finding one in New York City that wasn’t either an asshole professional or drooling crackhead wasn’t easy. My bandmates might even like the jolly red giant.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I didn’t say anything,” I muttered, annoyed and feeling deflated.

“I know. I could just tell. Do you smoke?” he asked.

I perked up. “Fuck yes.”

He fished a packet of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. They were in a bright yellow box, with Spanish writing. “Ever had Cuban cigarettes?”

“No. How did you get those?”

“I have ways. Come on,” he nodded toward the exit and I was suddenly aware that there was a school around me with students and teachers going back and forth. It was the weirdest fucking thing, like I’d been in a dream or something.

I had a few smokes with the Cajun. The smokes then turned into beers. Beers soon turned into jamming. I didn’t need to audition him. We had our bass player. Could he play like Claypool? Not quite. But he was polite (annoyingly so), kept good time and was open to anything.

Then we got to talking about film. He had some skills in the editing department and wanted to collaborate on student films with someone. It was like God plucked Max out of the sky and handed him to me. An answer to the prayers I never made.

So, you can see why it made me suspicious. The big dude in the sky usually never gave me anything but shit. But here was Max. Ginger Elvis. A bassist and editor all in one. The perfect replacement for Toby.

Well, almost. Toby knew my history. He knew I was on some medication. He knew what made me tick. Max didn’t know any of that and I fascinated him for some reason. He was always asking me questions. Questions I didn’t want to answer, like about my parents. About my brother. What my childhood was like. Did I have any nannies growing up. Who were my friends.

Did anything strange happen to me when I was young.

“Like what?” I asked. We were sitting in a dark bar in the Bowery on a Thursday night. The weekend before we played one of our best shows yet. Seemed there were parts of New York that got the joke, the campy fun of lounge music turned rock and roll. Max and I were taking over the city.

“Oh I don’t know,” he said. He was eyeing a girl in the corner of the bar. She was blonde, short but pretty enough and staring at us like she knew us. I leaned my head back, looked past his shoulder at her and winked. She giggled. I knew it. She was staring at me. She was staring at me like she wanted to bend over and let me stick it anywhere.

I turned my attention back to Max. She’d be there later, and then hopefully in my bed. What Max had asked me was weird and distracting.

“Are you trying to get all serious with me?” I asked, leaning into him. “No one touched me in private places, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

He took a sip of his drink and smiled. It was lopsided which meant he was getting drunk. It took a lot for the big guy. Almost as much as it took me.

“No, no. Just wondering if perhaps you ever experienced something supernatural,” he said lightly, like it was an every day topic.

I didn’t like it. It hit way too fucking close to home. Never in a million years would I reveal the ghosts I used to see, particularly the one who tormented me the most. She had only appeared to me the night before, sticking her accusatory finger in front of my face and screaming at me until I had to fuck my way out of it. Yeah, that’s right. I’m not proud of it but I’d been having a different girl in my bed for the last who knows how long. It’s easy for me, to just pick them up. Chicks dig men who can sing. Fucking them is a lot of fun too but what was most important is that it distracted. It made the ghosts go away. Not always, but often. And if it didn’t, well, no harm done. The girl got what she wanted, even if I didn’t. At least I got laid.

I turned my attention back to the girl in the booth, suddenly afraid she’d lose interest and leave. Conjuring up the image of the ghost in my head made my blood and breath flow cold. I didn’t want to be alone tonight.

I noticed Max was staring at me intently, like he was trying to pluck my thoughts from my brain. Sometimes I thought he was the paranormal one. If not paranormal, at least a big fucking weirdo.

“What?” I asked him.

“You never replied.”

“It’s a dumb question.” I motioned the bartender for another Jack and Coke.

“It’s perfectly reasonable. Some people believe in UFOs. Others believe in ghosts. What do you believe in?”

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