“Did you see her?” Raymond asked as we pulled away from the hotel.
“I suppose it went all right. I’m still processing it. We talked. She let me buy her lunch and she wants me to call her when I get back to the hotel.”
“It’s a start.”
“It is,” I said with a sigh. “Say, what do you know about running the big bridge? I noticed a lot of people on it when I walked down to Caitlin’s work.”
“I know my wife’s always trying to get me to go with her.”
“Oh, hell no,” he said with a laugh. “You should ask her.”
“So, what do you think about this band Billy’s nurturing?”
“Not bad. They seem like nice kids. Polite. Not like some of the arrogant little shits who’ve come through here.” Raymond glanced back at me. “But they can use a real guitar player. No lie.”
“Are they local?”
“Yeah. Real local. Mount Pleasant local.”
“Billy said they work together well.”
“Yeah, which isn’t always the case.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Raymond dropped me off at the front door of the studio. A sign proclaimed, “Rock House: Be Prepared.”
“Warning or promise?” I asked with a laugh.
“Little of both, my man,” Raymond answered.
Faint strains of music bled out the door from the studio making me grin. Inside, Billy rose from his desk.
“Nicholas! Welcome back. Our boys are here today. It will be interesting.”
Raymond came through the side door from the car park.
Billy said to him, “Your musical talents have been requested in rehearsal room one.”
“All right!” Raymond said, turning to go up the stairs.
“Oh, and if you don’t mind, would you leave Nicholas’ guitar with Dougie? Thanks.” Billy turned to me. “C’mon in my office.”
Billy’s temporary office space was decorated with gold and platinum records. Displayed on shelves were other awards he’d earned through the years, as well as photos of himself with various recording bigshots. Behind his desk he’d mounted a battered, ancient Fender Stratocaster signed by Jimi Hendrix. It all struck me as a bit surreal, considering the walls were unpainted plywood.
“The sign on the front door is brilliant,” I said.
“You like it? I thought it was rather brilliant myself. This was a bar and music venue for years, until the owners put more profits up their noses than back into the place. When the studio and music hall at the compound are finished, I may give this place another go as a nightspot. For now, we’re producing some of rock’s rising stars and needed a place to do so. I know you’ve heard of Purple Strap, but we’ve also got Charlotte Knew, Lightning Streak, and some others.”
“I toured with Purple Strap last year,” I said.
“Yes, actually I invited them to join us here after I heard your guitar work with them. You’d already moved on to work with Taylor. We’re encouraging them toward an edgier sound with more guitar, more thoughtful lyrics, and less screaming. They’re challenged, but rising to it.”
I smiled remembering my time with them. “They’re a good bunch of lads. I understand Jonathon recently became a father.”
“Yes, lord. And a doting one he is,” Billy said.
I wondered about doting on Oliver.
Billy stood up. “Let’s see how Penn’s doing today.”
We watched the young band in the studio from the window in the door.
“They’re very good. Very young. Extraordinarily good looking,” I said with a laugh. “I suddenly feel old as dirt.”
“I know the feeling very well,” Billy agreed. “These kids are quite promising. They’ve been together . . . really, most of their lives, and like I told you yesterday, the chemistry between them is unforced and natural.”
“Brilliant harmonies, from what I can hear.”
“Let’s go in.”
Dougie Chappell was at the sound board wearing headphones, his hands manipulated controls while he watched the computer monitor.
“Guys,” Dougie spoke into the mic. “Special guest visiting.”
The young men of the band called Battery Park exited the inner studio to meet me. Billy introduced us all around, Penn puffing up a bit like we’d been long-time mates.
“All right,” Billy said, “let’s get to work, lads. I’d like to give Nicholas an idea of where you’re starting. Let’s hear the song again. Play it like your lives depend upon it.”
The opening riff was catchy enough, but right away I could tell the song lacked a cohesive lead, just as Billy had said. Penn seemed to know the basics, but couldn’t grasp the nuances. On the guitar at least, he was an adequate technician more than a musician.
The band, as a whole, was quite talented and in fact, I could see—rather hear—the brilliance in Penn’s vocals. He had an ear for harmonies. I kept my eye on the rhythm guitar player, Colby. I saw him wince when Penn missed something. Clearly, he heard in his head what Penn could not.
“You said they’ve known each other a long time?” I asked Billy.
“Yes,” he said. “Nearly all their lives.”
“I think Colby has a better ear for lead. D’you think Penn would have a problem switching roles?”
“I don’t think so,” Billy said thoughtfully. “Now you’ve brought it up, I see what you mean.”
Billy and I entered the inner studio as the song ended.
“Great song, mates,” I told them. “Good lyrics, the bass line rocks. The harmonies are brilliant.”
Penn blushed and hung his head. “I know I’m holding them back.”
“Not totally,” I said. “Mate, your harmonies are more intricate than anything out there. They’re bloody genius. True, you’ve got a long way to go with lead guitar, but what do you think about trading lead for rhythm and harmony vocals?”
Penn and Colby looked at each other.
“I’ve not played much lead,” Colby said.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll give you direction. I know you can hear it. I saw you. Let me show you what I mean.”
I picked up my Les Paul and looked over the effects pedals in front of me. I smiled. “I can work with this.”
The drummer counted off and the song began. From the very first note, which I bent using the distortion pedal, I brought a whole new level to an already decent song. I heated up the main riff with the wah and string rakes, blistered the solo with trills, staccatos, and high-neck tapping. I made good use of three out of the four effects pedals and ended it all with a feedback scream setting the whole song apart. Even Dougie was impressed.
Dougie played it back and I approved.
It was decided I would play lead guitar on a couple of the songs while training Colby on the basics. A glorified guitar teacher. I laughed at the thought.
We finally stopped working about nine-thirty, having taken a short break for dinner when Bryan arrived with sandwiches and fresh fruit. By the time we met in Billy’s office for an after-party of sorts, we were tired, but satisfied. Billy poured us drinks and we settled in to relax.
“Raymond told me you got to see your lady today,” Billy said. “How’d it go?”
“It went all right. She didn’t send me away and she let me buy her lunch. We talked about some of our issues, but I think there are a lot more we haven’t addressed.”
“On your part as well as hers,” Billy said.
I arched my eyebrow in acknowledgement.
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” Dougie said. “Nicholas Trent is serious about a woman? Bloody hell?!”
“With any luck, Dougie, it’ll happen to you one day,” Billy said.
“Bollocks!” he said. “You’ve been my role model. ‘How to Have the Time of Your Life While Staying Single.’”
Billy shook his head at Dougie and said to me, “Has she softened her stance on you, then?”
“I know she enjoys being with me. We enjoyed lunch today. I’m hoping she’ll be able to . . . I dunno. I know I’ve never felt so happy and so miserable at the same time.”
“Thanks, but no thanks, mate,” Dougie said. “I believe I’ll keep the happy and pass on the miserable.”
Billy laughed. “Have you told her you love her?”
“No-o-o. Not yet. I’m not sure I’m ready. I’m not sure she’s ready to hear it.”
“Why wouldn’t she be?” Billy asked.
“She’s a widow—almost a year and a half. But her husband’s spirit is always very close to the surface because his brothers—well, two of the three—are giving her a hard time over his estate.”
“Shouldn’t all those matters have been sorted out by now?”
“You would’ve thought so, wouldn’t you? But it’s holding her back from moving on with her life.”
“Hmm,” Billy said. “And once it is all sorted, how do you envision your future together?”
I leaned back in my chair and sighed deeply. “I dunno. The only lives we’ve known are totally incompatible. I’m never long in one place and she never travels.”
* * *
It was nearly eleven o’clock before I could ring Caitlin, but she answered straightaway.
“Is it too late to call?”
“I was starting to wonder, but I wouldn’t answer the phone this late for just anyone, you know.”
“Well, I thank you. You can’t imagine how it makes me feel to hear your voice.”
“Aww . . . you’re sweet. How was the studio today?”
“It was good. We made a couple of personnel shifts and I think it’ll work out fine. How was your day?”
“It was okay. Got bombarded this afternoon with arrangements for a funeral and we have more to do before the service tomorrow, but it’ll be okay. If it wasn’t work, they’d call it fun, right?”
“Rather like my job.”
“Yeah, no fair. Can we have lunch again tomorrow?”
“Sorry, no. I’m going to the studio in the morning, but if it’s anything like today, I should be back in time for dinner.”
“No,” she said, “tomorrow night I’m setting up plants for a catering event.”
“Hmm. Well, what about Wednesday?”
“Okay. What would you like to do?”
“I could pick you up from your job and take you to dinner. I saw several interesting restaurants between here and there.”
“I’d have to go home first. I’ll have to change my clothes and feed the dogs.” \
“Oh, well . . .”
“How about this?” she interjected excitedly. “You choose a place and time, I’ll go home and change, then I’ll meet you.”
“All right, then. I’ll let you know tomorrow. That sounds like a fine plan.”
“What’ll you do tomorrow?” she asked.
“I think I’ll run the big bridge when I get back from Billy’s. It looks like a good run. Have you ever done it?”
“I don’t have the knees for running, and I haven’t yet walked it, but I’d like to. It looks like a challenging bike ride. If I ever got back into biking, I might like to do it. Be careful out there, okay?”
“It looked like there were lots of people on it. Is there much crime up there?”
“I don’t think so, still . . . I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Thanks. You’re sweet.” I yawned again. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I should let you go anyway. We both have early days tomorrow, don’t we?”
“Yes, but I hate to let you go. Get some rest, all right?”
“I will. You too.”
“Oh, I will. Caitlin?”
I wanted desperately to say, “love you,” but I kept it to myself.
* * *
“Dougie, want to run the bridge with me?” I asked when we finished up the next day’s work at the studio.
“Not bloody likely!” he said laughing. “One night though, while you’re here, we should go out. Hit some bars.”
“I dunno. I think my days partying with you are over. I can’t remember once I didn’t get in some kind of trouble when you were involved.”
“Never convicted,” he said with his devilish grin.
“Yeah. Never convicted. By God’s grace only, we were never arrested. See you tomorrow.”
* * *
The late afternoon still held warmth from the day as I left my hotel looking forward to a well-deserved workout. I walked a few blocks to warm up before breaking into run.
I’d gotten to stride when I found the pedestrian entrance to the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge where I nearly collided with a woman trying to run while adjusting her MP3 player.
We both were brought to a sudden halt.
“Oh shit—I mean crap!” she said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Clearly,” I said, resuming a run on spot.
“Well, I am sorry,” she said, looking genuinely contrite. “I have a problem getting distracted.”
I stopped running in place. “Are you all right, though?” I asked.
“Yeah, just embarrassed. You?”
Blonde ponytail, fashion model face, beautiful smile. Young enough to be my daughter. Exactly Dougie’s type. I’d have to remember to tell him tomorrow.
“All right then,” I said, resuming my run. “Take care.”
“Wait!” she said.
I stopped again.
She held up the MP3 player. “You know anything about these?”
“I thought your generation was more electronics literate than mine.”
She rolled her eyes and looked disarmingly innocent.
“Let me see it,” I said. “What are you trying to do?”
“I want it to run one of my playlists, but I keep getting a little bit of everything.”
I played around with the controls and found her problem. “You’ve got it set to ‘shuffle’ and ‘all songs.’ Here. I turned it off.”
I held it out for her to take but she said, “Could you set it on the ‘hard rock’ playlist for me? Please?”
I was losing daylight and didn’t particularly want to be running back to the hotel after dark. Still, I tapped around on the touchscreen until I came to her playlists, highlighted ‘hard rock’ and pushed Select.
“Jesus!” I said. “You don’t have it in your ears that loud, do you?”
“You sound like my dad.”
“I’m old enough to be your dad. Do you have any idea what kind of serious damage you can do to your ears?” When I turned it down, I noticed the song playing at such high volume. It was “Rising to the Dream” from my solo album.
I handed the device back to her.
“You’re probably just like him, too. Hard rock hater!”
Smiling, I shook my head and turned to continue up the ramp to the bridge.
The view from the crest was spectacular. The river, which sported a container ship being led into port by two tugboats, spread out below, as well as the town of Mount Pleasant. Of particular interest was an aircraft carrier and a fair-sized marina. The harbour and the ocean lay beyond.
I considered running to the Mount Pleasant side, but thought better of it with the upcoming dusk. Maybe I’ll have another chance.
“You’ve got a lot of balls, lecturing me about my ears . . .”
The young woman had caught up with me.
“. . . especially considering who you are. I should delete your songs right offa here.”
“It’s because of who I am that I know so much about ear damage. You can delete my songs or not, although I doubt you can figure out how to do it.” I turned to begin my descent.
“Wait!” she called.
I turned abruptly. “What?!”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been in a bad mood all day. I thought a good run would lift my spirits, but I couldn’t get the stupid MP3 to play right and . . .”
Oh my God, she’s going to cry.
“. . . then I literally ran into you—”
“Look.” I had to stop her. “I’m sorry you’ve had a bad day, but I’ve got to get back to the city and you should too. It’s going to be dark soon.”
She sniffled. “I know. I’m sorry.” She wiped her face on the tail of her tee shirt revealing a tight little body.
“It’s all right.” I tried to soften my tone. “Come on. I’ll run back with you.”
“I can’t keep up with you. You’re too fast.”
“That’s hard for me to believe, but if so, at least keep me in sight. I’ll see you to your car at the bottom.”
The run downhill was much easier but for the wind resistance, which was cool and refreshing. I could hear her footfalls clearly behind me at first and when they became more faint, I slowed till she caught up somewhat.
I waited in the car park for her.
“Which is your car?” I asked when she finally reached me, having strolled the last one hundred metres or so.
“It’s over here.” She pointed to a 4X4 close by. “Where’s yours?”
“I ran from downtown.”
“Wow. You must be in good shape. The least I can do is take you back to your hotel.”
“How do you know I’m not staying with friends?”
“Because Nicholas Trent will be staying on King Street. Not on some friend’s sofa like a college student.”
I sighed. These women know way too much about me. “Fine. I’ll take the ride.”
We got strapped in and she started the car.
“I’m Alicia, by the way,” she said as she backed out of the parking space. “I won’t really delete your songs.”
“It’s nice to meet you . . . I think.”
“Are you here for a concert or something? I haven’t seen anything about it.”
“No. I’m helping a friend with a project.” I didn’t want to give too much information.
“Oh. Too bad. I’ve always wanted to see you perform live.”
“Maybe I’ll come back sometime.”
“My mom was a big fan of yours. I grew up listening to guitar rock.”
It shouldn’t have, but her comment made me feel old.
Her voice broke, and pitched higher. “Today’s the five year anniversary of her death.” Tears spilled from her eyes as she pulled into the hotel’s roundabout and stopped.
“I’m sorry,” I said, unbuckling the seatbelt. “I can see how it’s been a bad day for you. I hope you feel better soon.” I reached for the door handle.
“Would you have a drink with me?” she asked shyly.
“I’m sorry, but no. First of all, neither of us is dressed for it and secondly, I’ve got to take a phone call.”
“Okay.” A note of resignation hung heavy. “I don’t feel like being alone tonight.”
I opened the car door. “Go home, Alicia, have a shower, call a friend to come over, have a glass of wine and talk about your mum. You’ll feel better.”
“All my friends are working tonight,” she whined.
“All right then. Go home. Have a shower and a glass of wine, sit down and write a letter to your mum.”
“She’s dead!” She started crying again.
“I promise you, it’ll make you feel better. Tell her how much you miss her and how much you loved her and the things you did together.” I spotted a pen and paper on the 4X4’s console. I picked them up and wrote her an autograph. “Tell her you gave me a ride in your car and I was a total arse, if you like.”
“I wouldn’t,” she muttered.
I got out of the car. “Thanks for the ride. I hope you feel better soon.”
Closing the car door, I thought I heard her scream, “You’re weird! I’m not writing my dead mom a letter!”