Chapter Twenty-six- In Rod we trust
The world stopped on a dime, all time ceased, suspended in mid-tick. It was a grinding halt into air so thick it could’ve hung in sheets like laundry on the line. Except for the thumping of my heart hitting my Adam’s apple with pounding force, it did seem all around me was frozen waiting for a spring thaw, never to come.
Then Miss Agnes spoke, signaling motion and the world began to turn again at an alarming rate.
“Good gracious! Sweet Jesus! What is all the commotion over? Someone better explain what’s going on here. And you . . . ” She wagged a threatening finger at me, while her white, floppy brimmed hat jiggled up and down on her head in compliance. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Talking that way. It’s condemnable. It’s too bad you’re too big to take over my knee, or wash your foul mouth out with soap, because it’s exactly what I’d do young man.”
“Young?” Doc interjected. “He’s forty-two!”
I ignored Doc. “Miss Agnes, I most sincerely and deeply apologize for my language just now but— ”
“— The Lord God Almighty didn’t place us on his good green earth to stand for such crass words of disrespect from the youth of this world and neither do I.”
Doc held up his fingers in the form of a four and a two, once again gestured in my direction.
“It’s bad enough a dreadful Australian man was turning the air blue with insults when I arrived. Then I come in here and you’re blazing on like a hellcat in a pit of pariahs . . . Oh St. Heavens!” She surveyed the damaged room as the furrow across her brow deepened turning her forehead into a prune like wrinkle. “What happened here?” She scolded. She twisted a picture frame of Old Man Cooley hanging askew, back to its original rectangular formation. “It looks like the raccoons have been here during mating season. Was there a scuffle?”
“Yes sorry. We’ll clean it up. Like I said— ”
“— Not before I get an explanation of what’s going on under my roof!”
“A misunderstanding Miss Agnes. I didn’t mean any discourtesy. Really. It’s just that— ”
“— I’m waiting!”
“Yeah Sparky, Miss Agnes is waiting. Explain yourself.” Doc said. He slid in between our matriarch and the deaf gargantuan, Tiny. I was on the spot and the guys seemed to be loving the moment after I had gone off on them.
Miss Agnes’ scowl was transforming into something hideous behind the pristine white of her Sunday attire. There would be retribution from someone. She would see to it, and that someone was going to be me. Was she going to condemn me to purgatory or cast me into the fiery depths of hell itself. It would all depend on what I said next.
“It started when our drummer hurt his hand, remember?”
Grub raised his slung arm as if I had just performed roll call.
“Yes, I remember. The little fellow,” she said, as if Grub wasn’t in the room. “What’s that got to do with your foul mouth and all this mess?”
“He can’t play the way we need him to. We tried to find a suitable replacement to help . . . ” I chose my words carefully. “ . . . you know . . . guide us down our chosen path.”
Her sour expression softened, what I might call a smidgen. Perhaps purgatory it is?
“The only guy we could get to help us was the, 'dreadful Australian man', as you refer to him. He has a somewhat sordid past with our guitarist here and . . . um . . . he . . . ” The words drifted to silence as if I was suddenly struck mute. For all my rambling earlier I was abruptly at a loss for words now. No more bullets left in the verbal chamber. Move over Tiny, here comes speak no evil.
“Out with it!”
“Um . . . ah. I— ”
Skunk spoke up suddenly.“That Australian man murdered my mother!”
“Lord Jesus! Good gracious me! Murdered your mother? I’m so sorry. What an awful thing to have happen. You poor girl.”
"Poor girl?" Doc threw his hands up in frustration over the constant dismissal of everyone's age correction.
Tiny still stood with his hands ground to his ears as if he were terrified they’d fall off his head if he were to let go. Miss Agnes’ stormy temperament suddenly gave way to a wave of calm. The hurricane eye passed over us. Her face melted into a somber pool of empathy. “Sweet child, how did it happen?”
“Child now?” Doc mumbled.
Skunk looked down, a tera escaping from her right eye in a gentle slolom down her cheek. “I’d rather not say. To this day it’s still too painful.”
“I understand.” Tenderly she reached out and placed both of her hands on Skunk's arm as if they were the hands of healing. Skunk accepted her touch.
“John here, was just defending my honor Miss Agnes. So you can see why he was so upset when you came in.”
“You should have heard him before you got here.” Doc offered.
That’s not going to help Doc.
Skunk continued. “If he’d let me go, I would have killed that man with my bare hands. There is enough of a mess in here without shedding any blood, especially in front of Mr. Cooley.” Skunk nodded to the picture with respect.
“Vengeance is the Lord’s to see fit. Yes, yes.”
“I know Miss Agnes and perhaps John had those words in mind when he decided to speak? It kept me from further physical confrontation. I was very upset.” The tears now poured freely.
Miss Agnes clasped her hands together and closed her eyes as if praying silently for my soul. “I understand. Pastor Dave gave a wonderful sermon on forgiveness today. If only you had all heard it. It appears the Lord is putting me to the test right away. Perhaps I can overlook this indiscretion. After all there are many sinners in the world who need his immediate attention. That dreadful Australian man being one of them. I can’t believe they let him out to walk the streets after what he did.”
Skunk spoke softly, as she looked away. Her fingers brushed at the moist corners of her eyes. “He served his time in the eyes of the law, I guess.”
Christ. Academy award nomination here I come.
“Yes, and our justice system is extremely flawed when a convicted killer is allowed to go free.”
“And now our killer . . . I mean last hope just stormed off.” Doc added sadly, from his roost behind Miss Agnes’ shoulder. “The weekend is lost.” Doc could feel Miss Agnes’ eyes searing into him as she turned her head upward. She must have regarded his words as extremely insensitive. “What?....I don’t see how we can continue?” Doc lamented. “In fact, we were just discussing our plans for calling it quits when you came in Miss Agnes.”
“Well heavens. Is that what all this is about? You must show more faith in yourselves, in each other, in the Lord. Don’t let the Devil’s minions take you. If not for yourselves, for the dearly departed.” She again laid a caressing set of fingers on Skunk’s arm. “There are always other options.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t see what they are. Other than the obvious . . . admit defeat. We don’t have anyone who can play drums and time is against us.” I said.
“Get Rodney to play drums. He plays at the church for Pastor Dave. He’s quite good.”
Doc’s eyebrows raised. “Who the H E double hockey sticks is Rodney? It sounds like a pet rabbit.”
“I’m sorry. You don’t know him by his Christian name. You know him as Tiny.”
Tiny still stood with his hands over his ears watching the verbal exchanges but unable to hear what was being said. Miss Agnes looked up thoughtful from our shock and gently coaxed Tiny’s fleshy mitts away from the side of his head.
“He plays drums?” Grub mumbled in disbelief. “The guy who almost single handedly obliterated them in the first place?”
“Balderdash!” Doc added.
“But how?...” I couldn’t fathom the logistics.
“Fiddle-faddle,” Doc spouted.
“Oh he’s a fine musician, Aren’t you Rodney?”
“Sure Miss Agnes. Tiny likes to help but . . . ”
Miss Agnes dropped her voice to a barely audible whisper. “The sweet little girl lost her mother tragically Rodney. You can help them out by playing with them now. I know Pastor Dave would look kindly upon such a deed. It’s a very Christian thing to do.” She turned to us awaiting our confirmation. One by one we all weakened under her gaze. My volcanic rant had totally subsided and we all seemed receptive to trying this one last time, however absurd, with Tiny behind the kit.
Miss Agnes seemed pleased she had done the Lord’s work, and smiled warmly. She left us to tend to her other Sunday business whatever it might be. Tiny went to work on righting the microphones and instruments. He started to set the kit up to handle someone of his size.
Doc reminded us, if we were to do this we shouldn’t stand around, “lollygagging.” The four of us headed back to the control room to wait for Wally’s return thankfully, minus one Arsehole Party.
Grub grabbed me to the side and we lagged behind the others. “Is that true about Skunk’s mother? Son-of-a-!... No wonder she went ape-shit. And you guys brought him in here knowing that! I knew she hated the guy but you never told me— ”
“— Grub, Skunk’s mother is fine . . . she was talking about her other mother.”
“Remember the guitar she made from scratch. Took her months. She carved it from mahogany. It had a cherry wood bridge with mother of pearl inlays, custom pick-ups.”
“The one with the skunk tail head stock?”
“None other. She loved that guitar like she's given birth to it. She probably would have slept with it if it if she’d carved it into a penis. She used to call it mother. It was her favorite of all his guitars, but when Alistair came into the band he destroyed it.”
“He was drunk at rehearsal and fell on it. Snapped it in two like a twig two nights before our major showcase. Skunk was crushed and as you can imagine mad as hell. She never forgave Arsehole Party. Personally I’m surprised she didn’t kill him all those years ago at Slowhands.”
“I know it was an incredibly stupid and insensitive move on our part to bring him here. But you couldn’t play and we were desperate. I just thought . . . shit! I can’t believe Skunk saved my ass in front of Miss Agnes. I feel like a complete— ”
“— Insensitive fuck-up?”
“I was going to say ass.”
Tiny sat awkwardly behind the drums as if they were nothing more than a child’s toy of cheap plastic with paper thin skins. He was on his third podium as the other two seats we’d provided collapsed beneath his weight. Finally Wally helped Doc roll in a wooden barrel from the barn and it seemed to provide adequate stability while filling the room with a musty, wet apple smell. There he remained in his Sunday white shirt and black stretchy pants with a thin black tie — nothing more than a stain down the front of his shirt. He listened repeatedly to the track through one head phone as the set would not fit over his cranium comfortably. We were beginning to lose hope in our massive percussionist, but he came through and complemented everything Grub had laid down. "Tip-toe percussion," Doc called it, for one so big.
The day was nearing an end and finally we felt we had made real progress. The bed tracks and over-dubs were complete. With one more day remaining we had to lay down a solid vocal and finish the mix. I had worked on lyrics and melody lines with Doc. We had a finished draft of what we thought would make a damn good song. Although Skunk remained silent and did not speak to Doc or I, the fingers of optimism were beginning to creep back into the fold. We felt with one more day, the finish line was finally attainable.
With the clock nearing the witching hour Suds motioned to us we should probably shut it down for the night. “We can get a good start in the morning with fresh ears.” He was right it had been another day of oil change emotions and we could all use the break. Suds began to switch the system off. “I never thought I’d say this given everything you boys have been through this weekend, but it looks like you’re going to make it. With a good day tomorrow we can probably finish this demo.”
“Do you think the song’s good enough Sparky?” Doc said, looking for reassurance.
“It has to be. It’s out of our hands now. Too late to fix it in the mix.”
“As Miss Agnes would probably say, Wires has got to be smiling down on us right now.”
“I’m just glad this is all going to be finished soon.” Grub said. He’d been scouring the house for tea bags and had finally returned to the control room, after a long absence, with his steeped prize. He gingerly slid onto the couch and began sipping.
“Guys, there’s a car coming up the driveway, ” Wally informed from his lax position near the window.
“At this hour? It’s quarter to twelve. What kind of car?”
“A black sedan Doc.”
“Are you sure?”
“Four wheels, black, two headlights, coming toward us. No, I’m not sure.”
“Well, aren’t we a bit snippy.”
As Wally and Doc continued their playful banter, my thoughts returned to this all being a cruel joke. How Wires was going to march in at the eleventh hour, or in this case quarter to twelve. He’d be laughing and expose the ruse. Wires? He’s alive? I don’t know whether to kiss him, or punch him in the mouth.