Rehearsal: A Different Drummer
(©Elucidate Publishing. All rights reserved. Do not copy.)
10 March 1974
Duncan opened his eyes from the half sleeping state he had allowed himself. Looking around at people jumping from their seats trying to beat everyone else out the door, he waited. He was in no hurry. In fact, he could stay on the bus a while longer and see how far it would take him before the driver realized he had passed his stop. But, he told Ev he was coming.
He took a deep, slow breath before grabbing the things by his side and moving into the aisle. The duffel got tossed over his shoulder, but the only possession, well, one of the two possessions he cared about, went ahead of him.
The sun burned into his tired eyes as he stepped down onto the crowded sidewalk. Pulling the dark sunglasses from atop his head, he pushed them in front of his face. When his pupils adjusted, he surveyed the area. Same as any city: blank cement walls, graffiti, cigarette butts speckling the dirty curbs, bodies moving in both directions. The damn pigeons included, daring to swerve around unaware passers-by while searching for hand-outs.
A constant breath of cool air interrupted the heat, keeping his second most-treasured possession, a black leather vest, from being uncomfortable. He didn’t need the extra warmth. He rarely did, but the vest had become a part of him.
A jolt against his shoulder reminded him that he was still standing in the unmarked path of the bus entrance. He looked back at the offender, his glance pushing the boy to hurry into the bus. Heading out of the congestion, he let the guitar case drop against his left leg. He always kept his right hand free.
So what now? He was in his friend’s city and Ev was waiting on his call. But he needed time, and maybe coffee.
“Excuse me.” He tried to stop one of the passing locals. The guy barely looked at him before swerving to move away. Duncan stared a moment, irritated by the rudeness, then searched for someone willing to give him directions.
After more of the same, he gave up and started walking, dismissing the looks he was used to getting. They were different here, though. In Chicago, they had been warning him to stay away, as though he intended to cause trouble. Here, in small city Massachusetts, they were looking down at him, or not even bothering with a glance. He supposed Ev’s band mates would be the same. Not a problem; it would give him a reason to leave again.
Rain-and-dirt-streaked cement walls gave way to red brick buildings, some with bright green ivy crawling up their sides, others with wrought-iron gates protecting them from intruders. One had a large portal with two Romanesque columns supporting each end. It looked out of place among the plainer office buildings. He wasn’t sure whether it was an office or a residence. There was no sign advertising its business, but it was too large to be a private home. Anyway, Duncan couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to live in something so overdone.
Approaching a corner, he stayed on the outer edge of the sidewalk, watching for what may lie beyond his present vision, and was hit with the aroma of baking bread as he turned. His stomach knotted. He hadn’t eaten in … roughly twenty-four hours. Maybe more. The events of the past few days were a blur by now, with little food and not much more sleep. He still had a few bills in his pocket, and Ev would likely insist he stay with him, but he wasn’t going to count on that. Coffee would hold him a while longer.
A shapeless girl in a tight orange sweater and red mini-skirt standing in the doorway under the café sign watched him walk closer. The hairy man she was hanging on pulled a cigarette from his lips. Threading a line of smoke from the side of his mouth, he leered through narrow slits. Duncan would have to push through them to get inside if they didn’t move voluntarily. He hoped they would. He didn’t have the energy or the will for a confrontation.
Studying the girl, Duncan knew she couldn’t tell where his eyes were focused behind his opaque black lenses. She was still watching him. Her eyes drifted up and down his frame, showing no concern about the other guy noticing. A fleeting thought of temporary companionship took hold of him, but she was too overdone. He didn’t want another prima donna fussing about him messing up her hair or smudging her lips. And what was she trying to hide behind the dark pink rouge, caked-on blue eye shadow and bright red lipstick? Not likely anything he really wanted. It sure wasn’t worth a fight.
Pausing in front of the large man, Duncan didn’t speak. They knew he wanted through the door, and he didn’t want to reveal his accent to this guy. As a show of power, the man waited several seconds before moving aside, just enough.
Duncan pushed the wood-frame screen door out of his way and returned the sunglasses to the top of his head, throwing a glance around the room. The café was nearly empty, except for three men in blue work uniforms who eyed him as he entered. The place was small and needed some modernization, but it was clean.
He could now smell coffee and greasy food and thought again about getting something semi-nutritious while making his way through the stares. Claiming a table in the corner, he threw his duffel over the back of the chair against the wall and propped the guitar case holding his Fender Mustang against the one next to him. The waitress was there as soon as he sat down.
She grinned shyly. “Would you like a menu?”
“No, thank you. Just coffee, black. And a phone?”
“Over there.” She glanced to her left, then moved away.
She was a pretty thing: round enough to look adorably feminine, with an oval face and dark brown eyes. Her hair was rather plain, a mousy brown pulled into a high ponytail, but her friendliness threw a highlight on her beauty.
The workmen stopped her before she could return with his coffee, but she didn’t waste time getting to him. “This is a little strong. Would you like to wait for a fresh pot? It won’t take but a few minutes.”
“It’s fine.” Duncan was careful with his pronunciation, though it was always more of a struggle when he was so dead-tired.
Pouring the steaming liquid into the heavy white cup, she wouldn’t have needed to warn him about its strength. He caught a slight scald within its natural aroma. Still, the smell was tantalizing, and he didn’t bother to wait for it to cool.
The cropped-hair work suits were still watching. Duncan kept them in his vision without looking directly, and stopped the waitress. “You know the city well?”
She hesitated. “Yes. Do you need directions?”
“No.” He took another sip. “How long have you been here?”
Now she glanced back toward an open doorway behind the counter. But she didn’t walk away. “All my life. I was born in Lakewood.”
“You have not wanted t’ leave?”
Her eyes showed fear. “I have to check an order.” She pulled back and soon disappeared through the door.
What had he said? He wasn’t used to women who were so jittery. Most of the girls he had met in the last five years had been very … well, not jittery. But then, most he had met in bars. He couldn’t see this one in a bar, unless she was with a boyfriend and sipping wine. He could see her with his friend. Ev hadn’t cared for the girls in the little dive Duncan had been playing in when they had met. He would have to have someone classier, or at least more subdued. That girl he’d been dating wasn’t his type, either. What had he said about her? “Her parents pay her tuition and send her money.” He hadn’t stayed with her long, though that was partly Duncan’s fault. Once Ev started hanging out with him, many of the Thiel College students, including the rich girl, pulled away.
Duncan still didn’t understand why Ev chose an expensive private college when he couldn’t really afford it. He’d said it was because it was close to home, and he had to be there for some girl his mom was helping to raise if she ever needed him. But, she wasn’t a girlfriend, just a kid they were babysitting from the way it sounded. He hadn’t said much about her, except that she lost her mom and her dad was away a lot. And he’d written that she moved with him, or followed him. Anyway, he was still looking after her.
The waitress returned to warm his still half-full coffee. “I’m making more. Do you want me to dump this?”
He shook his head. So she added to it and left again.
It was strong, and bitter, but he could feel its warmth from inside. The men in work clothes paid their bill while chatting with the waitress, then threw him a look. He needed to call Ev, but now, as they were leaving, was probably not a good time. So he let his thoughts wander while swallowing the dark liquid.
Sam’s Shack, the little dive in Greenville, Pennsylvania where he had met Ev, crawled back into his mind. It hadn’t been the worst place he had played, or worked, and he liked the owners, Joe and Mel. Mel was short for something, maybe Melanie or … well, Joe’s wife was always just called Mel. They had offered him a job hauling and shelving their supplies, since Joe’s back wouldn’t allow him to lift anything heavier than a beer mug, and had given him a small room in their home and a small salary. It had been enough, with the band fees, since Mel insisted he eat with them, as well. They never had children and lived next to their bar, “adopting” their favorite patrons. For some reason, they had taken an instant liking to Duncan when he’d started playing with their regular band. Sam, he’d eventually found out, had no meaning. Joe just liked the sound of it.
The little bar was a local hang-out for the younger working class. Saturday night at Sam’s was a ritual for the same general crowd every week. Occasionally, though, a few Thiel College students would drop in. None ever went there alone, and for good reason. The strife between the Thiel kids and the locals had been obvious the first time Duncan played. Generally, they left each other alone, sometimes exchanging words, but a couple of times, Duncan helped one of his band mates through a fight, only from a sense of honor. He would rather have had the college kids stay away, until he met Ev.
But Ev wasn’t like the others. He had been in his second year of a two-year business degree after working full-time for the first two years after high school to save money. His mom had divorced years before and they had no help from his father, so Ev started working at an early age to help support his family. He had lost a brother during his teen years and often treated Duncan as a little brother, though they were only a year apart.
He didn’t mind, except that he figured once Ev graduated and moved back home, that would be the end of it. And this guy was the only person Duncan had been able to be himself around. He would have missed him.
Ev, however, didn’t intend to let the friendship end, inviting Duncan to go with him and stay at his mother’s home until they found an apartment. He hadn’t let himself accept, unwilling to become that attached to anyone. He did take Ev’s address and phone number and promised to let his friend know whenever he moved.
Two years ago, and he hadn’t seen Ev since, but they had exchanged quite a few letters and several phone calls. His friend moved, also, from Eastern Pennsylvania to Eastern Massachusetts, and was in a band that wasn’t half bad, from the way Ev talked.
“Can I get you anything else?”
Duncan turned with a start from where he’d been staring out the large ceiling-to-floor windows.
The waitress stepped back. “I’m … sorry. I just thought … maybe you were hungry? Mom just pulled a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven. She wouldn’t mind if…”
“Thank you. It sounds fine, bu’ I will pay for it.” He wasn’t about to accept charity, and he couldn’t turn her down. She was a sweet girl through her fear.
Beginning to argue, the girl decided against it and refilled his cup. Her nervousness seemed to be mixed with concern. He knew he looked like hell. Besides losing weight, he hadn’t shaved in the last couple of days. And she obviously assumed he didn’t have much money.
She didn’t say any more, though, glancing at him and returning to the little doorway. Yes, he could see Ev with someone like this.
And Duncan needed to call.
With a careful swallow of the steaming coffee, he stood and grabbed his guitar case. He figured it was likely safe to let it sit by the table while he used the phone, but keeping a hand on his possessions had become ingrained. He did leave the duffel, however, to show he was returning.
The coins in his pocket rattled as he pulled a few out, found a dime, and dropped the rest back in. The dime clinked inside the machine and he dialed the only number he knew. Well, he still remembered Joe and Mel’s but hadn’t called them in a long while.
He stood facing his table, where he could see the door, and waited for an answer.
Wrong voice. “I was lookin’ for Evan Scott. Do I have the wrong place?”
“No. He’s here. Well, not at the moment, but … is this Duncan?”
He paused. How in the hell did this guy know who he was? “Y’ know when he will be back?”
Silence. “Depends. Can I tell him who’s asking for him?”
The guy was offended and probably a friend of Ev’s. “Yeah, it’s Duncan. He said t’ call…”
“In that case, yes, he just stepped across the hall. I’m supposed to find out where you are and he’ll be right there.”
“An’ you are?”
A chuckle came across the line. “Well, I was warned. I’m Mike, his roommate.”
Warned? Mike… “Y’ are the band’s lead.”
“That’s me. So … you wanna tell me where you are, or hold on ‘till I pull him back over here? You are in town by now?”
The band’s lead, and good friend of Ev’s if Duncan remembered the letters well enough. “Yeah, uh … hold on.” Damn, what was the name of the café? He caught the waitress’s attention and she came right over. “Sorry, but, what is the name of this place?”
She glanced at the small door again. Was she always so nervous? “I have someone comin’ to pick me up. He lives here.”
“Oh. Maybe I know him, then. Tell him it’s the home of the best doughnuts in town.”
Was that a test? He put the phone back to his ear. “I do no’ know the name, but the waitress says…”
“I heard her. Tell Alison I said hello, and Evan will be right there.” The phone clicked.
“Did he know?”
He returned the receiver to the cradle. “Are you Alison?”
She smiled, a beautiful smile. “I guess he did. Your bread is on the table, and I put some butter and jams there. Let me know how it is.” With that, she left again to greet other customers.
Duncan returned to his table. What had he just walked into?
10 March, second stanza
Evan pulled his dark brown Mercury Cougar in front of “Ein Bisschen Luxus” – in English, a little luxury. A funny place for his friend to land. Besides being at least twice as far away from the bus station as it would have been if he had gone the opposite direction, the little café was the band’s hangout. Susie would say it was a good omen. Evan didn’t believe in omens, but he did think it would be good for Duncan to have a little luxury for a change.
He saw him through the big window which threw sunlight back into his eyes. Moving to a better angle, Evan studied his friend. His hair was even longer, hanging three to four inches beyond his shoulders, and he hadn’t shaved recently. But those were minute things. His jaw line, more pronounced than usual, exposed its ridges and hollows even through the thick stubble. He’d lost weight that shouldn’t have been lost.
The scent of fresh bread wafted through the screen door. Evan pushed it open and grinned when his friend looked over, rising from the chair to meet him. Extending one hand, he grasped Duncan’s arm with his other. “It’s good to see you. I wasn’t sure you would actually come.”
Duncan tilted his head. “I was no’ sure either, bu’ I had nowhere else in mind.”
Evan released him and turned to Alison, who had been standing at Duncan’s table, talking. “It looks like you’ve already met.”
“Not formally.” She looked at Duncan. “It was Evan you called?”
“Actually, he got Mike, but I was next door. Alison, this is Duncan.”
A light of recognition hit her face. “Oh, you’re who Doug has been talking about. I should have realized when you came in with the guitar. You’re here to join the band?”
Duncan raised an eyebrow.
“We haven’t talked much about that yet. I was just hoping he would.” Evan threw his confused buddy a grin.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I’m sure he knew my motives.”
Duncan didn’t answer, his eyes even more vacant than Evan remembered.
Alison interrupted. “So, how is Susie? I haven’t seen her recently.”
He turned back, glad for the change of subject. “She’s been very busy, with the show coming up in a couple of months. And don’t take it personally; I don’t even see her often.”
“Wow, that is busy.” She smiled, teasing him with her eyes. “Are you staying for coffee? I was forcing your friend to try Mom’s latest batch of bread. I’m sure I can sneak another.”
Evan chuckled. “Thanks, but I’ll think we’ll get back. Another time.”
“Okay. Tell everyone hello for me. And it was nice to meet you.” With a grin at Duncan, she left them.
His friend threw money on the table. He always tipped well, whether he could afford it or not.
Silence infused the drive back to the apartment, with questions Evan threw getting only curt replies. He decided to leave it alone for the moment and settle for Duncan agreeing to stay the night in the little third bedroom, with a few words saying he didn’t care how small it was. Of course, from the way his friend had described the “pad” he’d just left, Evan was sure his and Mike’s apartment would be a big improvement. He was always able to see where Duncan was living from nothing but the description in the letters he received. Evan couldn’t help being slightly jealous of his friend’s natural writing ability. Duncan’s songs, as well as his guitar skills and vocals, would be a wonderful asset to the band, if he could get him to stay.
Still in silence, other than the car’s smooth rumble and wind whipping through the open windows, Evan turned the Mercury around the corner that led to the old boarding house. It was now an apartment building, with two three-bedroom apartments upstairs and the same number of two-bedrooms on the main floor, leaving room for an entranceway with a security door. The best thing about it was the large basement, which had high ceilings and great acoustics for their practices. And it was in a quiet part of town – clean and well-kept, with a large yard that set the building away from the road while leaving an open area in back featuring two large maples. The front was adorned with spring bulbs currently in bloom and an ornamental pear tree Susie loved.
What would she think of his friend? Naturally, she would accept him. She was always welcoming to his friends and acquaintances, and they generally agreed about who they wanted to hang around. With a couple of exceptions. But Duncan…. He glanced over at the man staring out the window. Susie would be able to see past the charade as Evan had, though he wouldn’t be surprised if it took her a while to fully accept him. She was leery about men, with good reason, and tended to keep her distance. Even Mike thought she was a snob when they first met.
Mike. He could be a problem. The phone conversation had put him on edge, though he didn’t say why. Evan had warned him, though, that Duncan wasn’t open and didn’t give information willingly. He couldn’t tell him more than that.
He pulled the car into the building’s parking lot and switched off the engine. “The guys may all be upstairs. They caught me as I was leaving.”
Duncan glanced at him, then nodded, opening the door.
His friend looked back, an eyebrow slightly raised.
“What made you finally come out here? What happened?”
Turning his eyes down, Duncan tightened the muscles on his face, then relaxed them enough to answer. “Needed different scenery.” Then he met Evan’s gaze. “Think your band mates are goin’ t’ want me here?”
Evan’s stomach tightened. Something had happened. He shrugged as though it didn’t matter. “I want you here. Always have.”
His expression didn’t change, but he nodded again and got out of the car, refusing to let Evan take either the bag or the guitar while walking beside him to the door.
The wide, worn wooden staircase creaked under their feet as they made their way to the second level side-by-side. The front door needed to be propped open again to clear the mustiness, and the old beige wallpaper with blue and fuchsia flowered vines hadn’t been replaced yet as they’d requested. His friend didn’t seem to notice his surroundings, anyway. He still wasn’t talking. Both were atypical. Maybe he was tired. It was roughly sixteen hours from Chicago to Lakewood by bus, maybe more with all the stops in between. And Duncan didn’t sleep around strangers.
He turned the knob and tried to let his friend in first. Duncan stood back and waited. No surprise.
Mike’s voice hit them as the door opened. He was making some sarcastic comment, most likely to his perpetual antagonist. Of course, Stuart was going to react.
“Mike, you are so full of shit. Doug, tell him he has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.”
Evan shook his head stepping in. “How about continuing this later?”
Mike turned, scanning the area. “So? Did he change his mind?”
“Not yet. Keep trying.” Evan looked back. Was that a spark of amusement in his friend’s eyes? Taking the guitar without asking, he tried to keep it a joke. “Come on in, if you dare.” There was no mistaking the slight grin. For a moment, he looked almost like himself.
The others stood to greet him. They weren’t hiding their surprise well at his appearance. And Duncan would notice.
Evan set the case on the floor in front of him, resting his arms atop. “Mike Kean, Doug Lawrence, Stuart Lowe … Duncan O’Neil.” They each took his hand, and he answered each with a nod.
Stu moved closer. “O’Neil? Are you Irish?”
Duncan perused him a moment. “Partly.”
“Shit, Evan, what’s wrong with you? You know the English and Irish don’t get along.”
Stu’s newest victim was nonplused. “Ev is Irish.”
“Yeah, but he’s part English, too. That makes him okay to be around.”
Duncan raised an eyebrow. “Well, if he is part Irish, and par’ English, I would say tha’ some of them do ge’ along.”
Stuart laughed and set a hand on Evan’s arm. “Hey man, he’s in as far as I’m concerned.”
“What? You have asked him about the band, right? Isn’t that why he brought his guitar?”
Mike elbowed him. “Shut up, already. I’m sure he takes it everywhere.” His eyes studied Duncan’s. “Ignore him. He’s barely legal and we’re still trying to raise him. And, by the way, he’s more Swiss than English. He tends to forget that.”
“At least I’m not a high-falutin’ ass.”
“Yeah, and I know what damn country my family came from.”
Doug stepped between them. “Why don’t we let the man sit down?”
Evan thanked Doug with a glance and watched as Duncan took the seat farthest from the group.
Mike was still studying him until he noticed Evan’s silent reprisal. “Oh, Gerry called while you were out. He wants us this Friday. Will that work for you?”
“I was supposed to work late. What time?”
“He’s negotiable since it’s a last-minute fill-in.”
“Okay. I’ll get off as early as I can; won’t be before seven, though.”
“So, eight would work?”
“Yeah, I’ll take my things in and meet you there.” He looked over Duncan. “Feel like sitting in Friday night? Nothing big, just a local bar we play all the time, and you should be familiar with most of the stuff we’re doing.”
Evan watched his face as he didn’t answer, hoping he wasn’t pushing too fast. Duncan didn’t look irritated, though, with him, it was often hard to tell.
His friend glanced over at Mike, who had resumed the condescending stare, then back to Evan. “If you want, bu’ no’ if I am in the way.”
In the way? Not hardly. They would be lucky to have him. And Mike could think whatever he wished. “Great. We practice every night after work, except any Friday we’re not playing, though that’s always subject to change. We usually take Sundays off, too, depending…”
“Hell, not today, we’re not.” Stu pushed to the edge of his seat. “After what you’ve been saying, I wanna hear the guy play.”
If he wanted to be as rude as Mike, Evan would be telling Stuart to shut up. Another curious look from his friend said Duncan was wondering just how much Evan had told them. “He’s been on a bus since last night.” And it was nearly five. He turned back to his friend. “Do you want to lie down a while?”
“In the middle o’ the day? Y’ know I do no’ do naps.”
Stuart laughed. “Told you, didn’t he? He’s a true musician, always ready to play. So, let’s go.” Jumping off the couch, he stood waiting to be followed.
Evan looked for the reaction, but Duncan was watching Stu.
“Why not?” Mike threw a challenging look. “If you’re game. Evan has said you’re not bad.” He stood, turning it into a dare.
“If Ev wants t’ play, I will walk down with him.”
Perfect answer. Not confrontational, but not letting Mike take control, as he was apt to do. Duncan knew he was being tested. Maybe Evan should have mentioned that his friend was not someone to take lightly, or to underestimate. His combination of quick intelligence and street smarts made him a venomous opponent … when pushed.
Hoping that playing would break the tension between the two men, he stood, and Duncan did the same. So far, he was going along, but Evan knew that wouldn’t last.
Stuart badgered him with questions on the way down to the basement. Where had he learned to play? Taught himself. How long had he been playing? A while. Who was his biggest influence? Clapton. Did he play anything except guitar? Didn’t have any interest. Did he read music?
Duncan finally stopped, and turned. He was silent, staring at this kid giving him the third degree.
Evan wondered if he should step in. His friend’s look wasn’t giving anything away, but he did hate to be badgered. Mike moved closer to Stuart, as a warning.
Ignoring Mike, Duncan kept his eyes on the keyboardist. “Do y’ always talk so much?”
Stu hesitated, glancing at Evan before answering. “Generally.”
Duncan raised an eyebrow and shook his head, then continued down the second flight of stairs leading to the basement door.
Evan watched him a moment before turning back to see the reactions. Stu was speechless for a change. Doug was amused. Mike wasn’t. He was used to being the only one who put Stuart “in his place.” That could be trouble.