He walked down the wide stone and concrete corridors of the hotel going towards where his instinct told he he would find the lobby. It did not take long until the smell of obsessively scrubbed stone gave way to the the smell of colourful cocktails and micro-brewed beer. The silence was replaced by the subdued murmur of a crowed were everyone was talking about things precious to them but carefully keeping their voices down.
Turner walked through a saloon door. Just like in the westerns of old. An old veteran doubled sided swing door that after years of service had been left out to rot, the rough splintered wood spoke of a rain soaked life on the street, that had been given a new purpose in life when all hope had long faded away. And the door did his job well. Turner just wanted to pass through to the room next door. Yet he could not help himself but slow down, adjusting his leather jacket, sweeping aside the right hand side from his imaginary peacemaker. He pushed both side of the door open of the door as he walked through the door. He paused for a moment as the old western door behind him swung back into its neutral position, radiating professional pride.
The Eastwood moment quickly vanished as no one in the bar paused to look at the nameless stranger who had just entered the scene. “Well” Turner thought, “it was fun wile it lasted.” He looked around finding him self on a generous balcony surrounding a large entrance hall which doubled as the hotels lobby and bar. The balcony was filled with designer tables, not one looking like the other, everyone positively crowded by people as thoroughly designed as the tables. Turner started walking down a trail that was implied by the inch of space between the backs of the people crowding the place. The privacy between the table was kept by some cleverly planted creeper plants, growing into living walls up to the celling where they crawled towards the edge of the balcony from which they pored down to the lobby bellow.
Turner squeezed his way past the anonymous bodies towards the cast iron helical stair leading to the first floor. He marvelled at how the waiting staff seemed to effortlessly moved through the crowd. All of them perfectly beautiful specimens of humanity, wearing perfectly decent clothes, cleverly designed to highlight and improve the physiques of the wearers. While the patrons wore mostly black, charcoal and dark brown colours, the staff wore light-coloured grey in grey uniforms. They looked like heavenly beings slowly dancing their way through the sea of people who they served. When he had reached the stairs Turner took a deep breath. The air smelled of of fruit with hints of alcohol and wet earth. A strange smell for a hotel bar. Sliding his hand over the cold iron guard railing he descended, seeing that while the main entrance area and the reception desk were almost empty, behind the green curtain created by the vines growing above there was another bar or restaurant area, as crowded as the one above.
In the lobby he was not quite sure what to do. By now he was wide awake and all the things he thought he did not get because he was still half a sleep still made no sense at all. Why was he here? How did he even get here? Where was here anyway? He shook his hair trying to clear his thoughts but nothing came. “Here I am standing like some hobo who is slowly getting senile.” he thought his mood slowly going sour.
“Wow Mister, I really love that leather jacket of yours. It looks so… vintage. You must tell me were you got that from!” this came from a young man, still mostly a boy really with a complicated advanced geometry hairdo and worn out grey clothes. That was not quite right his clothes were well made and very carefully tuned to look worn out.
“Thank you young man.” said Turner watching the boys face for any traces of sarcasm, but he could not see any. He looked genuinely impressed. The group he was with had not yet noticed that he was missing and passing through the green curtain looking for a table. “Well I bought it in a Sears.”
“No way Mister. I understand that you want to keep your sources a secret.” he quickly looked around before closing a little closer to Turner, “I really do. When you find something really special you want to keep it for yourself for a while, before everyone else gets onto it. It’s really hard work not to look like everyone else. But if you do not share your secrets you risk a great designer or perfect little boutique being lost. And that’s just not right. Right? So. Want to trade secrets?”
Turner smiled. It was a big warm smile. While he did remember his youth all to well, so many things that should better be forgotten, he had somehow lost track of how it felt to be young. There was this nervous young man in faded blacks, who had fallen in love with style and had this burning passion still going. Turner really could not give a fuck about boutiques neither could he understand how anyone could be so obsessed with what clothes they wore. But the passion behind it, that was something that he could relate to.
“OK.” Turner agreed. The young mans face lighting up despite trying so very hard not to look excited. “I will tell you my secret. The reason why it is so loaded with roguish cool,” he had meant that to be funny but the young man just nodded eagerly, “the real reason is because I am vintage. I bought this jacket in ‘72, I was about to turn 16 and I had this head full of music and rock’n’roll dreams and I probably did not even knew that yet but I felt that I was going to walk down the path of rock. It’s probably hard to imagine now but back then I was surrounded by the giants of rock. People like Hendrix, Zappa and the King were still alive, bands like Sabbath and Zepplin looked like they would never stop going. And the titans of old were still around. Miles Davis was not only still going he was kicking music still forward. Areatha Franklin with her unstoppable voice. Man, back then I was surrounded by these gods of music and they just kept popping up pushing the envelope further and I wanted to be part of it. So this jacket was the first step. A statement of intent, if you know what I mean. And t my jacket here has been with me for all that time. It is soaked with my history. The nicks and patches and the burnt parts, they are all part of my history. They were there when I bought my first used guitar, they saw me ascend becoming a star and they have been with me while I slowly descended back into mortal life.” Turner had run out of words overcome by a longing for something he did not quite understand anymore.
“Wow…” the young man said. His eyes big a sparkling. His mind lost in Turner’s memories and their tales of greatness. He was about to ask something he was not quite sure what it was yet when a girl appeared from behind the curtain of green. She was looking for something, the young man.
“Alexander!” the girl shouted, “What the fuck are you doing? You better get your ass into gear because we will not be fighting to keep your chair for ever.”
Alexander looked conflicted. Turner smiled nodding towards Alexanders friend. “Alexander? I like that, it’s a conquerers name. Now go your friends are waiting.” Alexander was about to say something but Adrian turned around and left the lobby. It would have been a shame to let the opportunity to leave dramatically slip by. Thus the nameless stranger left Alexander walking boldly into the rain soaked night.
He had caught a Taxi not far from the hotel. Old school arm waving and shouting style. Now he sat in the back of the cab looking out at the street glistening in the rain. He watched as the colourful lights of the streets where the hip clubs and bars were slowly giving way to the more sensible streets. These were still shining bright in more sensible, better matched colours representing shops, banks, insurance buildings, all the things which were essential parts of a grown up life. After that the colour started to fade even more leaving only the regular street lamps behind, standing stoically in their municipality given positions. By this point magic of the city-as-night was gone leaving behind a cold place where everything was hidden in half gloom.
And it got worse.
The cab manoeuvred its way into neighbourhoods where the lights were broken, the streets were decorated with the bleached out chassis of long dead cars, killed and picked apart by predators a long time ago. While they drove deeper into the wild city the cabbie started swearing softly already knowing that he was not getting paid enough for this shit. Adrian was trying to get a grip on his mind. He remembered his new deal with the devil now. He was wondering if forgetting this rather crucial deal of information was part of the deal or if these were just side effects. He also became slowly aware why he had come here. He was looking for a drummer that once upon a time had almost become a legend. Ryan ‘Hardclock’ Murphy had been known for being able to play every rhythm no matter how strange by ear and improvise on the fly. He never missed a beat, never slipped, never messed up. He should have become one of the great ones of his trade. Somehow that never happened. The rumours around him slowly disappeared. Turner had just remembered him after he had left Lucifer trying to figure out what the fuck he was supposed to do. Finding the a semi mythical drummer forgotten by all, sounded like a solid start.
By the looks of it he had to descend into the underworld to find him. The streets outside looked like the only thing they were missing to make them picture perfect was a touch of armed robbery. It did look like all the criminals preferred to stay at home for the night, no one likes to get soaking wet. “Or,” Turner thought, “I might simply have the Devil’s Luck.” He wondered which memories this little boon was costing him. He quickly realised how silly it was trying to remember what he had forgotten.
“I understand that you don’t want to get out of the car pal, but don’t you have any business to do? Or are you just here to take in the sights?” Turner had not noticed that they had arrived.
“Wait here, I won’t be long.” Turner said.
“Like hell I will. The moment you close that door I’m off, pal.”
“Mr. Franklin thinks differently.” Turner said handing a 100 $ bill to the cab driver. “And if you are still here to bring me back to my Hotel he’ll get company.”
“Alright mister. But the moment I see someone suspicious coming anywhere near my car I’m off.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Turner stepped into the rain. The side walk was not as slippery as Turner had expected. There was so much crap lying about that it improved footing considerably. He stood in front of housing block that had been ugly when it had been new. Now it was decorated with graffiti, the odd broken window and had cracks running all over its cheap concrete walls. Turner walked right through the entrance door. It had been a glass door, now it was only a metal frame. The lobby of the building was just a large ugly room full of cracked tiles, bent mail boxes and the beaten up metal plate holding the bell buttons. Most of them were still there. It took him a few minutes to located Murphy’s flat number. After that he had just make his way through the corridors piled with rubbish. The whole building was filled with a stale smell of old trash mixed with piss to freshen things up a bit.
Murphy’s door looked like all the others. Although Turner was sure that an expert would be able to turn them apart by their unique blemishes. This door had some rather fascinating burn marks for example. Well the door still sported its number, tarnished as the metal digits may have been they were still securely screwed into the fake wood. Adrian felt slightly bad for coming for a surprise visit in the middle of the night. He could here the TV blabbing in the flat which helped to lessen the feeling of guilt.
He knocked a couple of times until he finally got a reaction.
“Who’s there? Fuck off!” presumably Murphy shouted.
“Hi. My name is Adrian Turner. I’d like to talk to Hardclock?”
“What? Fuck off man. It’s late.” after a short pause, “How do you know that name?”
“Where I come from that name’s a legend.” Turner tweaked the truth slightly. Hardclock Murphy was a legend, a rather obscure one, but still.
“Fuck. Off! What do you want from me?”
“I’d like to offer you a job.”
“Allready got a job. Fuck off.”
“OK. But you could at least give it a try? It pays well?” considering the place he found himself Turner thought that money would at least get the door open.
No ‘fuck off’ this time. He was making progress. “Enough to pay you 100 bucks just listening to me.” it was Satan’s money spending it came easily.
The door opened a bit spilling out dim light. A suspicious eye peered at him. Turner opened his arms empty palms held towards Murphy. “See? No trick. No weapons. I just want to talk.”
“Fuck off…” Not that again. “No trick? Where’s the money?”
Turner fished his wallet carefully out of his pocket and handed Murphy a clean, crisp one hundred dollar note. Apart from turner it was probably the cleanest thing in a diameter of at least fifty yards. Murphy surprised him by not grabbing the money first. Instead he vanished for a moment to unlock the door.
“Come on in then.” Murphy said. Turner walked through a tiny corridor only a few feet long, a door led into the main and only room of the flat, that smelt of stale smoke and week old left overs. It was the usual kitchenette room-for-everything-else combo that was the hallmark of shitty little abodes built around the world to make to stow away the not quite homeless. The kitchenette was well decorated in with empty boxes. Mostly ready made meals with a few take away Chinese boxes and a helping of empty beer cans for company. The main room consisted of a bed doubling as a sofa, a low table, some shelves and crammed into a corner a drum kit. Adrian’s heart sank. The kit had been shoved together as to take as little space as possible. It looked not unlike one of these fossils he had once seen in a magazine. It was some kind of half-bird, all crumpled together, Adrian remembered always had remembered the picture vividly because looking at it had made his neck ache. Now he felt pretty much the same looking at what had once been an instrument. Now its most noble task was to hold up a half wilted nightshade of sorts.
Murphy had cleared away a few boxes, magazines and discarded clothes uncovering another document of prehistory, this time in the form of a chair. “Please have a seat. Want a beer?” Turner considered accepting for a moment but he saw what passed for beer in this apartment and decided against it. “No, thanks.”
Murphy sat in front of him on the edge of his bed. “So?”
“I…” Adrian was not quite sure how to put this into words. While he had a vague idea what he should be doing he had no real plan and this kind of improvisation did not come naturally to him it seemed. “I am looking for musicians.”
“Well I was thinking of you, for the drums.”
“Yeah. You are Hardclock Murphy after all.” should not a Silver Tongue be among his gifts from the Devil? “Back in the day everyone was telling me that you were special. That you had a talent to hammer out every beat in the blink of an eye and with perfect precision.”
“Hard work. Not talent. I pretty sure everyone else could do it too. IF they had the drive.”
“Well you certainly had the drive it seems. And you were known for being to improvise and come up with cool new stuff as you went along.”
“That’s what they say.”
“Did they also tell you how much bands appreciate a creative drummer?”
“No. I can imagine though.” Adrian had seen enough ‘bands’ where any kind of creativity by any member was instantly attacked by everyone else. “I can promise you though that if you come with me, that won’t be a problem. I’m not only guaranteeing that you’ll be able to be creative, I want you to do so. It’s one of the reasons why I chose you.”
Turner had thought that this would be easy. Especially after seeing the conditions in which Murphy was living in. He waited for an answer. But Murphy kept silent. His eyes dull staring at some far away spot.
“I wish you had come earlier. I really do. But I can’t help you.” there was nothing left in Murphy’s voice now. The anger was gone, as was the aggression. “The music. It’s gone.”
Adrian just shook his head.
“I can’t do it anymore. Fuck I can’t even listen to music anymore. In the past I could not spend a day without listening to music. MY MP3 player would never leave my side and if there was a moment of silence and a flat surface I would try to lay down a good beat. You know?” usually when people reminisce there is a glint in their eye, Murphy’s eyes were dead. “There was a time when I could not imagine a world without music, where I could see a path clearly in front of me and that was making music. It was that love that motivated me so much, that made me as good as I was.” Murphy fell silent for a moment. If he was remembering better times Adrian could not tell as Murphy’s eyes remained dull.
“But life does not always work out like that.” he continued “I was out of a band for to long. I was looking for the right people and I knew that right team we could make something special. Right? But the right people never appeared and a man must eat. So I worked. I worked every shit job you can imagine. You would think that in time you would work your way up. But I? I only moved sideways. From one hell hole to the next. I’ve been stuck in a cubicle hell for years now. Ever worked in one of those places?”
“I have had my shares of shit jobs.” Turner said. “Filling in shelves in super markets, cleaning bars, shit like that.”
“What I’m doing is worse. I am working at large company you never heard off that professionally pretends to be other companies that you’ll all know. Don’t ask me how this shit is even supposed to work but we are cheaper than if the companies we mis-represent did their shit themselves. And it is like going to work to Bizzaro World my colleagues have PhDs, Masters degrees, years of work experience and all of that is worth shit. Our bosses on the other hand… I have to admit that most of them have university degrees. But I swear to fucking god that all of them are either stupid as shit, utterly incompetent or just play evil. It’s like they are trying to crush ever little shred of motivation you have your will to live. And at least in my case they have succeeded.” Murphy looked up with his empty eyes.
“I’m sorry but the man you are looking for is long gone. I am only what is left of him. The only reason I keep going is because I’m to much of a coward to kill myself.”
On the way back to the hotel Adrian felt like shit. He had tried to argue with Murphy, in the end he had been pleading. But he got nowhere. Who ever he was looking for, the most important part of him was dead and there was no way he could bring him back. The worst part of it was that Murphy knew. He knew that he had been broken and that part of what had made him human was gone, he had known that what Adrian was offering him was a way out, a new beginning. But Murphy had no hope left. He would remain a disposable wage slave until his shell finally followed his soul.
Adrian left the city on the same night.