|09-04-2010, 01:48 PM||#1|
I Coulda Had a VH
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Steve Buscemi's Couch
NEEDLE in the Box Contest
The Pretty Hands
Augie tripped over two people on his way out of the apartment. Or he may have tripped over the same person twice; he couldn’t be sure. The result in either case was a sharp jab to his calf, accompanied by an indolent “dick!” Augie jumped, startled at the shot, and knocked a few empties over. Looking over his shoulder to the three humps on his carpet – and one more on his couch – he found no further motion. The guys had come in with Curtis after Augie had gone to bed. The Pretty Hands Augie vaguely recalled. Charlie’s newest band. Curtis had played a couple of tracks they had uploaded on their site. Augie thought they were fine, but nothing to worm its way into your brain. They’d be crashing on floors for a few more months (maybe a year) and then be knee-deep in the bullshit with the rest of us, Augie thought.
The line at the bagel shop was out the door and Augie had only thrown on a sweat shirt for the quick trip. He rubbed his biceps and tried to figure out which one or ones of the guys he had tripped over while he waited. Who had punched him. There was Ed. Or at least that’s the name Augie thought he’d heard, but Ed was a chick. Whatever her name, drowsy as it was the ‘dick’ had not been a woman’s voice. The drummer went simply by the sobriquet T. That Augie remembered for sure because he had thought it was on the borderline of idiotic. Dumb, but not so dumb he would refuse to call the person by the name. Not like the one who had wanted Augie to call him Cracker Jack. Cracker Jack was met with shrieking laughter upon introducing himself. The name was so ridiculous that Augie never heard the boy’s proper name. So Augie had been calling him CJ the rest of the night, partly as taunt, partly as dodge. Charlie Augie had known for a while now. He was an old friend of Curtis’s. Charlie wouldn’t have punched him. Not even in inebriated half-slumber. He actually had the talent to go somewhere, just not the personality. It was depressing in a way. Ed played sax – probably better than bass – but she had never been able to convince the band to incorporate it. Charlie could play bass well enough to take up duties on the occasional song, but he felt awkward on anything but a six string. On top of that, CJ wouldn’t have it. He had very specific ideas of what a rock band should be, and saxophone had no place there. CJ could be good if he ever took some time away from his showmanship lunacy. The Pretty Hands had picked him up after he was tossed out of his old band for lighting his pants on fire in the middle of a set. Augie had to admit to himself, however, that that flirted with genius from just inside the insanity side of the line. T was shit. And a shitty drummer is the ruination of a band.
Augie called out as he walked down the hallway to his apartment door. “A’right, get up. I’m not hiding in my room all morning. I bought bagels so you can’t bitch about it.” When he looked down to guide the key into the lock, he saw a small parcel. A plain white box two inches by twelve inches by eighteen inches. He scooped it up in one smooth motion while he pushed the door open. “So what the hell is this?”
“Plain package?” CJ had lifted his head up to look at the invading light from the hallway. “Must be another one of your dildos.”
“Yeah CJ, you don’t know me well enough to crack that joke.”
“Who said it was a joke?”
Augie reached into the bag and pulled out one of the bagels and threw it into the corner of the room where it rolled through some gray dust collected there. “That one’s yours.”
“Like I give a shit.” CJ stood slowly and went over to the corner to retrieve the bagel. He wiped it off on his shirt and took a large bite.
No one else had so much as stirred yet, so Augie flicked on the ceiling lights and pulled opened the blinds. The light tore the balance of The Pretty Hands from their preferred biorhythms. It also exposed the modest, though well-maintained state of the apartment Augie and Curtis shared. Creaking hardwood floors stained deep brown, off white walls with yellow molding, and a hideous red, yellow, and orange carpet the roommates had picked up at a yard sale. It prevented splinters when walking barefoot in the room. But it certainly did not pull the room together. The television was . . .
“Claire in the bathroom?” Ed’s voice came unexpectedly
“Claire,” Ed answered as she rubbed her eyes. “Charlie’s latest girlfriend.” The end of the sentence was almost yelped as Ed stretched. Her shirt lifted just above her waistline and was the first evidence Augie had that she had hips. He had been a little mad at her for failing to intrigue him the night before, proactively dressed down in drab, shapeless clothes. He forgave her now.
“Did I meet her last night?”
“You’d remember,” Ed said.
“That’s a big bitch,” CJ bellowed.
“Watch that shit.” Augie turned to see Charlie coming out from the kitchen. He hadn’t noticed Charlie’s absence. “Those bagels?” Charlie reached his hand out for the bag and Augie handed them over and nodded. “Thanks.” Charlie headed back for the kitchen, removing an everything bagel as he did. “What’s with the box?”
“Don’t know,” Augie said.
“Break her open then,” Charlie said.
“Where is this bum,” CJ said, making a beeline for Curtis’s door. Augie placed the box up on the kitchen counter and pulled his keys out of his pocket. CJ banged on Curtis’s door. “Get your ass up.” Augie tore the tape on the box with one of his keys. CJ went into Curtis’s room and then came barreling out to the kitchen. “He’s not in there,” he said..
“Maybe he went out for coffee,” Augie said as he opened the box.
“You’re just gonna open that,” CJ asked, reaching meaninglessly for the package.
After peering into the box, Augie turned to Charlie and said: “I think this is for you.” Charlie looked into the box. Inside were two CDs, demos that Charlie’s first band The Mugwumps had made almost eight years ago. Charlie inspected the CDs. One was titled, “Ludic Slaves”. The other was, “Mainlining on Exile St”.
“What the . . ?” Charlie looked into the box for any further information. It appeared empty. Charlie felt his hand around the inside of the box. He felt something, a piece of paper, under one of the bottom flaps. He pulled out a wallet-sized photograph of himself. It was fairly recent. A shot that Claire carried with her. Charlie puzzled over the photograph for a moment and turned it over. “Squatters’ Paradise” was scrawled on the back in near-chicken-scratch.
Squatters’ Paradise was the one attempt The Mugwumps had made at a properly produced album. They had pooled every dime they had and sunk it into the disc. They labored over each detail of the album, including the cover photo. They went through hell lugging Curtis’s sofa down to their old squat. The photo was of the band plopped on the couch while Curtis served them fast food, using a hubcap for a platter. It even seemed like there was some industry interest for half a minute. With nowhere left to build to, the band soon broke up. The album’s absence from the box now felt conspicuous.
“Shit.” Charlie slipped the photo into his pocket and stormed towards the front door.
“Where we going,” CJ asked as he threw his jacket on and followed Charlie. Charlie made no objection. Augie stared at the front door for a minute, and then grabbed his coat and followed. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was concerned CJ might aggravate whatever it was.
* * *
Augie had closed the gap to just under a block when he saw Charlie and CJ walk into the decrepit building. Augie wasn’t used to this kind of setting and approached with caution. He had come this far, he might as well see what was going on.
He found a window, painted over in black, with a corner of glass missing. Inside, dust-infested beams of light revealed a sickly gray scene. The bottom floor had been pretty well gutted. Charlie and CJ stood facing a third man Augie hadn’t seen before. Or rather, Augie hadn’t seen before in person. It took a moment, but Augie recognized the face, although it was less gaunt than it had been in the photographs. Joe was one of Curtis’s oldest friends, but Augie had never seen him until today. He did know that Curtis had met Charlie through Joe when Joe was drumming for The Mugwumps.
“Where’s Claire,” Charlie asked.
“Who the hell do you think you are,” asked Joe. “I don’t have to tell you where she is.”
“You took her?” Charlie showed the photo.
“Took her?” Joe stared at Charlie studiously. “Shit, you really don’t remember.” Joe laughed.
“Fuck you laughing at?”
“You, asshole. Claire’s my sister. You met her way back. I mean, she was only fifteen then, but shit.”
“So, wait . . .” Charlie seemed to search the floor for something. “What is this? I mean, are Mark and Pete . . . what is this?”
“Mark’s dead,” Joe said. “Pete’s gone. Fried. Institutionalized.” Charlie just stared at Joe. “You’d know this if you were a friend.”
“So that’s what this is about? I abandoned you guys?”
“No.” The voice came from somewhere outside the window’s view range. Also apparently from outside of Charlie’s view, Augie thought. Augie watched as the Amazonian figure of Claire came into view.
“That’s a big bitch,” CJ bellowed. Augie noted that she was big, but not in the way he had expected. She was six foot two, and curved just right, but not with any excess. Attractive if viewed in a forced perspective.
“Fuck you, CJ,” Claire said. She walked over to Charlie and handed him a what looked like a slim coffee table book.. “It’s about this.”
Charlie studied the cover for a minute. Then he opened it and looked at something inside. “Where did you get this?”
“Fuck you is where,” Joe said. “You were a private school kid. You scammed us.”
“It shouldn’t matter if my dad had money.”
“It’s the deception. You used to disappear every few weeks. Show up again out of nowhere at one of our squats. We never knew what you were up to, but hey, none of our business. Turns out you were just ending one of your vacations.”
“So what? You could have gone home too, you were just too cool.”
“No, we couldn’t have.” Joe pointed an accusatory finger at Charlie. “That’s what you don’t get. This wasn’t a game for us. Play street urchin. Claire and me, we couldn’t go home. Same for Mark and Pete.”
“I slept in the same holes as you. Begged in the same places.”
“You’re still not getting it. You can’t fake the experience. You don’t know what it’s like if you have a fallback position. None of us had a net. You were a fucking tourist!”
“I was trying . . .”
“Fuck you, man. Any of us would have given anything to have your life. You go live your little poetic fantasy. Try to get some material for your songs. There’s nothing wrong with being a normal person. Now, being an asshole is another story.”
“You didn’t even recognize me when you saw me again last month,” Claire said. “We were going to let you off if you did, you know.”
“Let me off?”
Charlie turned to look at CJ. “We’re outta here.”
“There’s no we.” Charlie looked at CJ in utter confusion. “You’re a fucked up individual. You can’t mess with people like that. Explains the shitty ‘evolution’ of your lyrics though. The Pretty Hands are going on as a trio. T’s out. Joe’s in. We’ll move Ed over to vocals. Chick singer stands out. That, a little money, and a phone call to an industry connection . . .”
Charlie waved off the group as he headed for the door. “Not going anywhere, Charlie.” The voice came from a man just entering the building. He wore a silk shirt and pressed pants, and Augie could see some kind of handgun conspicuously displayed at his waist.
“You remember Tout Suite?”
Augie tried to will himself to an act of heroic intervention. They won’t do anything if I’m in the room, he thought. But he watched, frozen, as Tout Suite handed a stack of bills to Joe. “Twenty grand was the agreement?” Joe nodded.
“And a meeting with your music friend,” CJ said. Tout Suite nodded.
“I only owed you eight,” Charlie said.
“I’m a bitter man. Find out you could have paid me anytime you wanted. What kind of person that make you? Maybe you could have even saved poor Mark.”
Augie watched, his mind screaming for him to both rescue Charlie and to run away. The resulting paralysis made him hate himself a little. Charlie pleaded as Joe, Claire, and CJ began leaving. “Joe, come on, man.”
“Joe can’t do anything now if he wanted to,” Tout Suite said before he knocked a molar out of Charlie’s mouth with a right hook. Augie watched the blood begin to trickle down Charlie’s horror-stricken face and his paralysis broke in shame.
Augie was still running when he got into the apartment and went to check on Curtis. He found him asleep in his room, out cold, nine empties on his floor.
In the living room, the band was already gone. The only evidence they had been there was a copy of their demo. Augie looked at the package. The contact information for the band was Ed’s. Augie put the CD in the junk drawer. He would try to decide whether or not to call Ed when his thoughts weren’t dominated by Charlie screaming.
“Joe! Joe! Joe!”
Last edited by Buckyrig; 09-06-2010 at 04:11 PM. Reason: grammar issue