TWENTY-TWO – EMPTINESS
Rays of sunlight through the eastern skylight played across Tony’s eyes and woke him.
He could hardly remember the last time he’d seen the morning sun. He found he didn’t like it.
Apparently, for once, he’d been sleeping in his bed, not on the couch or studio floor. Even odder, Glory wasn’t with him.
He got up and went to the bathroom, hardly noticing his pale reflection or the purple welts on his neck. He didn’t bother to take a shower, but automatically went downstairs to look for her.
She wasn’t there; neither in the main house nor the basement. No note told him where she might have gone. He rummaged through the papers and paintings covering his floor but could find no sign of her.
On impulse, he threw on his clothes and decided to walk down the beach. He soon came to the place where they’d first met—but he found not a trace of her. He peered out across the lake. Reflections of the sun on the waves made his eyes hurt.
Nothing, only a small, indistinct shape far out, near the sandbar.
He went home and tried to work, but found he couldn’t. His hands shook, and he couldn’t concentrate.
He paced the room for the better part of an hour. Then the box on the mantle caught his eye. There was something about the box he needed to remember. What was it?
He opened the case and gazed at the diamond ring inside. So small and inconsequential it seemed. The stone looked black and lifeless. Why had it once been important to him?
Tony closed the box.
He decided to wait for her. He plopped down in his chair facing the lake and waited for the sun to set.
It did, but she didn’t come. Nor did she appear in the hours after midnight. Black emptiness gnawed at his stomach—a void caused not by hunger of the body, but of the spirit.
He waited two more days before realizing that she wasn’t coming back.
During the time he waited, he couldn’t remember if he slept. He assumed he must have eaten because he found food wrappers on the kitchen table; he didn’t remember how they got there.
Nothing he did assuaged the emptiness inside.
Desperate, he changed into some new clothes and drove his Volvo into town. He tried to get into the Golden Palm first, but the man at the door turned him away because he lacked the proper attire. The bouncer at Screaming Meanie didn’t like the look of him either. Tony briefly considered overpowering the man, but a flash of memory made him decide not to.
The Coffin Nails’ name on the marquee had been replaced with that of a new band. Coffin Nails…
She’s with that singer, Tony mused, without knowing why. That singer she was with before. The guy in the Coffin Nails. The more he thought about it, the more he became convinced of it. If you can find the band, you can find her.
The Frosthaven Chronicle seemed a good place to start.
When he discovered he didn’t have the proper change in his pants, he broke the vending machine’s glass and took the paper anyway.
Shuffling back to his Volvo, he rifled through the paper’s entertainment section. It didn’t take him long to find the ad he was looking for. “Coffin Nails! Tonight only! The Barn off South Road.”
Tony had heard of The Barn. In the last few months, it had become the “in” nightspot with the young and cool. He climbed behind the wheel of the car and sped off toward the south side of town.
Twenty minutes later, he passed through the outskirts of Frosthaven and into Winslow Hills. Tony laughed. Winslow Hills always made him laugh. They’d been Frost Hills, once. But that was before his grandfather squandered much of the family fortune. How the name galled his father, Daniel, to this very day.
Then he frowned. Something about Winslow stuck in his head, making him think of Ivy. She was dating the Winslow heir, that was it. He’d seen them together—ages ago. And Ivy had come to visit him. When was that?
She’d been angry, he remembered. Angry at him. Angry at Glory.
He pushed thoughts of his cousin aside and pressed the accelerator pedal toward the floor.
Soon the hills turned into gently rolling forest—most of which was still owned by his family. The Barn was part of a renovated farm on the south side of the road, he knew. It was one of many such farms dotted among lands that otherwise belonged to the Frosts.
Tony wondered, very briefly, if his father wanted every inch of those farms back as badly as he wanted Winslow Hills. Then he spotted the club’s gravel driveway ahead and turned off the road.
The Barn looked every inch like the utilitarian building it had once been. A fashionable “distressed” look dominated the outside. The red paint appeared to be peeling—though, looking carefully at it, Tony could see that the “aging” had been done by skilled, artistic hands.
The neon sign in front of the structure gave the lie to the facade, though. Someone had spent a lot of money renovating. Though Tony thought it funny that they’d failed to remove the charred remains of the farmhouse that once went with the barn. That is, he thought it strange until he noticed the large, carefully-painted sign (perhaps by Angel Whyte) pointing to the ruin. It read, “The remains of Rock and Roll.”
Had Tony been in the mood, he might have chuckled at the joke.
Now that he’d arrived, he could almost feel Glory’s presence—almost taste her breath on the cool wind. He stalked toward the front entrance, stuffed a fistful of bills into the hand of the man at the door, and walked inside. He ignored the small swarm of moths that hovered near the portal.
As he passed inside, someone said, “Man, ain’t you heard? Grunge is dead.”
Noise assaulted him as he entered, almost pressing him back out the door.
The interior of the club was dark, lit only by a few spinning spotlights and some neon signs.
“Brain drink, Mac?” asked a scantily-dressed waitress carrying a tray of beverages.
“No,” Tony said. “Nothing.”
He pushed past her and toward the mass of people thronging the dance floor. At the far side, the Coffin Nails thrashed out a hopped-up rendition of Nirvana’s All Apologies. But before Tony could step onto the floor, someone grabbed his elbow.
“Hey, aren’t you that Frost guy?” asked a high, nasal voice that cut through the din like steel scraped across a blackboard. “The one who’s the painter?”
Tony spun to face the man addressing him. What he saw might have made him smile in ordinary circumstances—but Tony felt far too grim right at the moment.
The man talking was short and thin with a gaunt face and hawkish nose. A mop of curly brown hair topped his head, and green-grey eyes peered out from under his bushy eyebrows and behind a pair of wire-rim glasses. His clothes looked at least ten years past their expiration date. The man looked hopelessly out of place among the young and hip—but he didn’t seem to care.
“I think you’ve been painting my lighthouse,” he said, trying to catch Tony’s eye. “Someone sent me a postcard of one of your paintings that’s hanging in a gallery in town. You’ve got some talent, though I think you should have gotten permission first.”
Something in the odd man’s manner broke through the obsessive veil that surrounded Tony’s brain. He stopped walking and met the stranger’s eye.
“Who are you? What are you talking about?” he asked distantly.
The smaller man extended his hand. “Jimson, Jimson Edison. I ran into one of your cute cousins a week or so back at the Screaming Meanie. Are you a fan of the Nails?”
Tony didn’t take the hand, but instead looked toward the stage where the group gyrated and thrashed frenetically. Tony shook his head. “No.”
Jimson took a sip of something he’d been holding in his left hand. “Me neither. But a writer’s gotta live—even if the assignments sometimes suck.
“Klein’s got some talent,” he continued, “but no discipline. Written some pretty good lyrics, though. He did one ballad tonight, a new one—‘Pale Lady from Mars,’ I think he said—which was almost poetic. Never heard that kind of stuff from him before. This one, ‘The White Queen’s Orgy’ is better than his usual self-indulgent headbanging, too.
“I think I might give the group a good review, even though my editor prefers sarcastic bile.”
The Pale Lady… The White Queen… thought Tony. The fog descended on him again and he walked away as Jimson babbled on.
“Hey, I can see you’re busy,” Jimson called after him, the writer’s voice whining above the conga drum solo. “Nice meeting you! Next time, ask before you paint! Or maybe I’ll sue your rich ass!”
Tony pushed his way to the brink of the dance floor and thrust himself in. He ignored the elbows that bruised his ribs and the feet that squashed his toes.
By the time he made it up to the stage, the band had already left. The audience cheered, and held up cigarette lighters and matches, ignoring the fire codes and begging for more. Perhaps there would be more this night. Tony noticed that the band’s instruments remained intact on stage.
What had the sign out front said when he came in? “Shows at nine and midnight?”
Tony couldn’t wait for the next show. He paid a nubile young lovely twenty-five dollars to French kiss a security guard while he slipped into the back.
Backstage turned out to be even darker than the main floor, but Tony had no trouble finding his way around. He noticed that his senses seemed more keen at night now. He discovered most of the band members hanging out by a buffet table, noshing free food.
“I’m telling you, man,” said the black one with dreadlocks, “there’s something creepy about that chick.”
“Just another fucking groupie,” said a tall man with shoulder-length, red-brown hair.
A short oriental woman in black leather laughed. “Just because she’s not your type, Johnny, doesn’t mean Linc can’t be interested in her. Personally, I think he’s jealous of Stef. Linco wants that tramp. Those long white legs turn him on.”
“Shit, Kym,” Lincoln said frowning at her and cocking his head so his dreadlocks shook, “bitch’s probably got AIDS. You see how pale she is?”
“Who cares?” said a tall blonde woman. “Stef’s written some of the best stuff of his life over the last couple of days. I could almost feel the audience on stage with us when he sang ‘Pale Lady from Mars.’” She put a Coke to her lips, chugged it, and then crushed the can.
“She’s from Mars or somewhere, all right, Allie,” said Kym. “Real space majorette.”
The tall man, Johnny, popped a triangular sandwich into his mouth. “Stef ought to be more careful,” he said, licking his fingers. “We all got a lot riding on him.”
Kym laughed again. “Chill, man. At least she’ll have him plenty relaxed for the next set.”
Lincoln smiled. “Stef gets much more relaxed and he’ll be dead.”
White rage welled up within Tony. He slipped back into the darkness and quickly found his way to the dressing rooms. He didn’t bother to knock; something inside told him which door was the right one.
Stef Klein looked up languidly from where he was sitting as Tony kicked the door in. Glory stopped giving Stef head. A look of shock and fear washed over her face.
“Hey man,” said Stef, getting to his feet without bothering to button his leather pants, “what the fuck is this? You got a fucking search warrant?”
Tony dashed across the room and aimed a haymaker at the rock star’s head. Stef ducked and smashed his palm into Tony’s jaw.
Glory recoiled in horror.
Tony reeled back, recovering just in time to block the kick that Stef aimed at his groin. He spun around and smashed his elbow into the rocker’s ribs. Stef staggered and Tony followed up with a right to his chin.
“No! Stop! Both of you!” Glory yelled as Stef backpedaled. But neither man heard her.
Stef blocked the punch, but Tony kneed him in the groin. As Klein doubled over, Tony slammed a fist into his stomach. The rocker fell to his knees.
Tony knitted his fingers together and smashed both hands down on Stef’s back. Klein shuddered but didn’t go down, so Tony did it again. And again. After the fifth time, Stef’s chin hit the floor, and he stopped moving.
Glory continued to scream, not words now, but an incoherent, primordial wail. Tony ignored the noise, grabbed her by the arm, and pulled her out the door.
The other four band members arrived as Tony and Glory left. They stood in the doorway a moment, unsure what to make of the scene.
“We’re going home,” Tony said to Glory as he yanked her toward the fire door. He threw it open, not caring about the alarms he set off.
The Coffin Nails stared after them as the two figures disappeared into the night.
“Fucking jealous boyfriends,” said Linc, shaking his head. He went into the dressing room to make sure Stef was okay. The rest of the group followed, chuckling.
Somehow, despite the pounding in his head, Tony heard it all as clearly as if he were right next to them.
He dragged Glory past the front of the club and toward his Volvo.
She resisted, screaming at him, “Stop! Don’t you know I’ll be your death?!”
He turned and stared at her with dark, feral eyes. “I don’t care,” he said.
Then he pushed her into the car, climbed in himself, locked the doors, and sped off into the darkness.