“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?”