Saturday, December 9, 2017

Vampires vs. Werewolves, Part Two

I worked on some other cases, but then curiosity killed my cat and I called Linda Gilleran again.
            “Yeah, I represent Weregild too. And lots of other bands. I keep them separate.” She sounded tired. And annoyed.
            “They don’t like each other.”
            “There are always rivalries. Look, half of my clients hate the other half at least some of the time. ‘Why did they get that gig?’ ‘Why aren’t we getting reviewed?’ “Can’t you get us on the cover?’ It’s really tiresome.”
            “I can imagine.” I hesitated. “Would it be possible to talk to them?”
            She tried to hide a groan. “I’ll pass your number to Quentin. He’s the lead singer. He might not call you back.”
            “That’s fine. Thank you.”
            But Quentin called me back right away. “Hello, Tom Jurgen? I got a message that you wanted to talk to me?”
            “Thanks for calling me back.” This was a long shot, but—“Have you been in contact with a young man named Jason Johansson? He might go by JJ.”
            “Uhh . . .” A long hesitation. “Yeah. He came to our show last night. Which was weird. Usually he hangs out with Vamperica.”
            “Do you know where he is?”
            Another hesitation. “Is he in trouble?”
            “No, nothing like that. His parents haven’t heard from him.”
            “Parents?” Quentin seemed puzzled. Then he laughed. “Sorry. I don’t usually—I mean, I sort of don’t think of a vampire as having a mom and dad. Look, I can’t talk about this right now. I’ll call the rest of the band, but if you want to see him, I’m pretty sure he’ll be there tonight.”
            “At the Atragon. It’s on Wilson, right off the el. We played there last night, Vamperica is playing tonight. Then tomorrow we both play. It’s going to be awesome. And loud.”
“Wait a minute.” My head was swimming. Werewolves versus vampires in a battle of the bands? This sounded more and more like a straight-to-DVD movie. “Their lead singer just got murdered—and they’re doing a show?”
Quentin laughed. “The show must go on, right? You snooze, you lose.”
“But he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” I took a deep breath, rubbed my eyes and tried to focus. My clients wanted their son back. That was my priority. “What time does it start?”
“Nine. But they’re not going on until after midnight. Lots of other bands come first. But look, if you’re going to come see them tonight, you ought to come for the show tomorrow night. There’ll be food.”
            I checked the time. 3:30. “I’ll see if I can find a date.”

Tickets were forty dollars apiece at the door, but the wristbands we got entitled us to snacks and drinks. The music roared against our eardrums, and kids jostled us from every direction as we moved through the throng.
            “Okay, this sort of counts as a date.” Rachel looked at the snack bar. “Can I get nachos?”
            “Whatever you want.” I was hungry too.
            The Atragon was a legendary concert venue, not huge like the United Center or the Horizon, but not small and intimate either. It had attracted local bands and up-and-comers over the years. The Ramones had supposedly played there in the early 1980s, along with New Order and a few other bands I didn’t recognize.
            We found seats near the back. The band onstage called itself The Suits, and they were playing a version of “Stop In the Name of Love” at about eight times the tempo of the original version. Somehow it worked.
            I checked my phone. 11:02 p.m. Vampireca should be coming up soon. I stole a nacho from Rachel and stood up. “I’m going to look for Jason.”
            “Okay.” She sipped her beer. “I kind of like this.”
            I made my way down the side, toward a door behind the stage. A bouncer spotted me before I was halfway there. ”No way.”
            He looked like a Chicago Bears linebacker. “Yeah.” I turned to take a look at the fans in the front row. None of them looked like Jason.
            The music roared. I reached slowly into my jacket and pulled out my business card. I scribbled “JJ” on the back. “Look,” I shouted. “Can you get this backstage? They know me.”
            The bouncer didn’t believe me, but at least he didn’t rip the card apart with his teeth. “Go sit down.”
            By now the Suits were playing something else hard and fast, with a grinding beat I could actually follow. Rachel was swaying to the music.
I held her hand, and we sort of danced—me awkwardly, clomping my feet, Rachel like a ballerina even with the folding seats around her legs—until the song ended in a crescendo of guitar chords,
            The lights on the stage turned a dim purple. The lead singer flashed his middle finger and shouted, “Next week in Cleveland!”
            They exited the stage. The lights came up, harsh and yellow and bright.
Rachel sat down, panting. “That wasn’t bad.”
            “You kids and your crazy music.” But she was right. Maybe I needed to expand my musical tastes.
            I stayed on my feet, looking for Jason. After ten minutes the lights lowered again.
            A smoky voice over the loudspeaker announced: “Sit down. Or stand up! Here comes the act! This is what you came for. The Atragon proudly gives all you assholes—Vamperica!”
            The lights went dark. The crowd shrieked. I grabbed for Rachel’s hand as a guitar strummed from the back of the stage.
            Then a strobe light flashed from the ceiling, bright and fast enough to cause seizures. Adam walked forward in a leather vest and jeans, fangs gleaming in the white light.
            “This . . .” He stomped a black boot on the stage and hit a loud chord. “This is for Rigo.”
            His fingers hit the strings, and the music roared. The crowd was silent for a moment, and then everyone around us leaped to their feet screaming, “Rigo! Rigo! RIGO!”
            Then Brandon stalked out, his chest bare under a leather vest, brandishing his guitar like an assault rifle. Tina followed with her bass guitar, in cutoff shorts and a tight white T-shirt. A knife was strapped to her leg.
            They planted themselves at the front of the stage, their faces fierce—and their lips pulled back, showing their fangs.
            Then they spread apart. Tina crouched between Adam and Brandon, her fingers on strings, her shoulders tense. Waiting.
            The guitars burst with sound. Adam and Brandon leaned back, grinning, and Tina danced.
“Blood . . . give me a flood . . . I want your love . . . give me your blood . . .” Tina writhed on the stage as Adam and Brandon waved their guitars.
They seemed awkward onstage together, as if they were still working out how to perform without Rigo. Brandon struggled to keep up with Adam, and Tina dropped a lot of words, but they made up for it with their energy and anger.
The audience didn’t care. They shouted, screamed, and danced, jumping up and down until the first song ended with a burst of noise. Adam and Brandon dropped to their knees and Tina lifted her arms, throwing her head back, shrieking like a bat.
The crowd screamed back.
I pressed my lips to Rachel’s ear. “I’ve got to look for Jason.”
She nodded. Be careful, her lips said. It was too loud to hear each other.
I squeezed her hand and made my way forward.
Jason was there, in the first row, reaching both arms up over the edge of the stage. He’d shaved his head almost bare, and he wore loose shorts and a black sweatshirt, but I recognized his wide round glasses and his blunt nose. He was singing at the top of his lungs, leaning back, his eyes in slits, bouncing against the other fans.
I pushed between a big woman and her husky boyfriend, and felt a punch on my shoulder from one of them. Then I grabbed Jason’s arm. “Jason! Hey!”
He twisted around. “What the f—”
I leaned in. “Jason!” The speakers were booming in my ears. I could barely hear my own voice. “Your parents! I told them I’d find you! Let them know you’re all right!”
“Later!” He shoved me away. “Talk to me later! After the show! Come on, let me do this!”
I shoved a card into his hand. “Later.”
The fans around me danced and shrieked. I backed away, my legs shaking. On stage, Adam played a guitar solo that ripped the air. Brandon and Tina stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Rachel grabbed my hand when I got back to her. “Find him?”
I nodded. “Later.”

The show ended at 1:30. Rachel and I waited while the fans fought their way out. A short hallway led to a wide staircase down to the street, but it was a bottleneck that could easily become a deathtrap if someone tripped.
            “Good concert.” Rachel patted my arm. “I should download an album.”
            I rubbed my ears. “I know all the fun places.”
            Once the crowd died down, we made our way forward. The same bouncer spotted me and smiled. “You again.”
            “I’m looking for a kid named Jason.” I showed him a picture on my phone. “Is he inside? He hangs out with the band.”
            “Let me see.” He knocked on the door. “Your name?”
            I handed him another card.
            A minute later we were backstage. Adam was drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels, wearing just a pair of boxers. Brandon sat in a chair, gulping a bottle of water and wiping his arms with a towel.
            Tina sat on the floor, legs crossed, flipping through a magazine. And Jason . . .
            Jason leaned against a table, his eyes bright. “That was just great! That was the best one ever. I loved that. I thought—”
            “Shut up.” Adam slammed his bottle down. “I don’t know why—” Then he spotted Rachel. “Hello again.”
            “Great show.” Rachel looked Adam’s body up and down. I tried not to get jealous. And failed.
            Brandon threw his towel on the floor. “That was hard. Without Rigo—”
            “Shut up!” Tina stomped a foot on the floor. “Rigo’s dead! We have to go on, or we can’t do anything!”
            “We know.” Adam grabbed for a T-shirt. “This was just—hard. But we have to move on.”
            “It’s only been two days.” Brandon stood up. “I told you, it’s too soon—”
            “So we let Weregild win this?” Adam leaned down to find a pair of jeans. “That’s not what Rigo would have wanted.”
            “Guys, it was a great show!” Jason staggered forward. “God, I’m hungry. But you did great—”
            “Go away!” Tina whirled on him, arms spread. “Just stop hanging around, all right? Get out!”
            Jason’s hands curled, and for a moment I thought he was going to attack Tina. And get killed. Then he slumped. “Okay. Fine.” He wiped his nose on his wrist. “I’m still coming back for every show. I love your band. I’ve been following you for years.”
            “You need to go.” Adam turned his back.
            Brandon shrugged. “Sorry.”
            Jason looked like he might cry. But he headed for the door.
            Out in the hall we caught up with him. “Jason? We need to talk.”
            He kept walking. Rachel jumped around me and put a hand on his arm. “Just for a minute.”
            Jason turned and looked at her for the first time. “Who are you?”
            Her hazelnut eyes have a strong effect when she wants them to. “I’m Rachel. Tom’s girlfriend.”
            “Oh.” His eyes flickered at the word “girlfriend,” but he didn’t start walking away again. “What do you want?”
            I answered. “Your parents hired me to find you.”
            “Well, you did.” He stiffened his shoulders. “You can tell them that.”
            “I’d like you to call them.” I held out my phone. “Just tell them you’re all right.”
            “Do you have a place to stay?” Rachel asked.
            He shook his head, helpless. “I got kicked out of the motel. They wouldn’t let me sleep all day. And I’m almost out of money.”
            “You can stay with me.” I pocketed my phone. “But you’ll have to call your parents.”
            Rachel raised an eyebrow. I shrugged a shoulder. I couldn’t very well tell Rick and Rose Johansson I’d let their son sleep in the streets. In the daytime, when he might burn up.
            Jason sighed. “Okay. Fine. But I need some—some blood. It’s been two days.”
            I nodded. “I know a place.”

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