The first light of dawn was seeping into the world racing a train to the east. It was gliding in a straight line as fast as it could trying to reach its destination at the coast before the sun. There was no good reason to do so, but the train had its pride. Beneath its silver skin in the compartment where its inverse stomach was located, were it processed comestibles into meals to feed its passenger three people were sitting. Kim and D.C. were sitting on one side of the table facing Turner who felt a bit uncomfortable as he found himself more or less in the same position as the Devil on his last train voyage.
D.C. was staring into his chipped white mug of coffee. It smelt strong and bitter, like it had spend ages on a heater plate slowly turning from the sad watery substance they usually served here into something that through some horrible sacrifices had now turned into a twisted version of proper coffee.
Kim was munching away at a plate of what passed here as eggs and bacon. Every so often taking a bite out of a piece of toast that was more imagination than bread, its brown outer crust impossibly thin encasing a core that was mostly air. She was quite chipper for someone who hatted getting up before midday. This was because in contrast to D.C. who had gotten up half an hour ago, she was still awake. Once her food had arrived she had preached a bit about the joys of a really good bad breakfast, but now had joined D.C. in silence.
Turner was sitting with his arms crossed in front of his chest looking at them, looking at the glass of alleged orange juice in front of him and out of the window which only showed him a mirror image of his own aged self.
After taking another sip from his coffee, which sent a strange wave patter over D.C.s lips he asked: “Why a keyboarder?”
“Because of that question.” Turner answered.
“That is a stupid answer.” said Kim.
“It gets better Kim, just give it a little time to grow.” Turner said. He was mildly annoyed. Not because of Kim’s comment but because she was right. He had a hard time to put it into words in a way that did not convey the wrong idea. “Keyboards are dying. As an instrument I mean.”
“Not quick enough.” Kim said between mouth fulls of over-fried bacon and and underdone eggs.
“Why?” Turner asked.
“Because they are fucking ridiculous. They serve no real purpose and they sound shit. It’s like the easy way to popify your music right into the radio.” Kim said gesturing with her cutlery.
“Never hate.” Turner said cringing inwardly.
“Huh?” said Kim and half a mouthful of food.
“I’m not hating anything.”
“So you have no problems with a keyboard joining us.”
“I have a problem with some tacky, cheap instrument entering our band. Before we even have a drummer for fucks sake.”
“There. You are hating the keyboard. And you are not even hating it for what it is but for what other people are doing with it. You are hating a tool for what other people are doing with it.” Adrian said.
“He is right you know?” it was the first thing D.C. had said in a long time. He was still staring into his mutant coffee.
“Would you please not stick your knife in my back D.C.?”
“I’m not. What Turner says makes sense. Kind of.”
“Really?” Kim had stopped eating, had put her knife and fork on her plate and turned towards D.C. She was now leaning back against the window looking at her friend. “how does that make sense?”
“Well you are right. Keyboards are pretty much shit…”
“There you go.” said Kim satisfied and was turning back to her food.
“No. Wait. They are shit because how they are played. When you stop and think about it they are most versatile instrument around.”
“Are you on drugs? Man, this is what happens when you get up in the middle of the night. Sooner or later it will fuck with your brain.”
“It is true though.” D.C. said perfectly calm, still looking at his coffee. “Load it with the right sounds, connect it to a computer and it can be every instrument in the world. Most composers use them to make their music.”
“So? It’s a crutch. A stand in. It is not the real thing. You could rather have a real piano, or a real guitar. You know?”
“Yes. But that is not the point I’m trying to make. It can be all those things, not perfectly so, but it can. A jack of all trades instrument.”
“Still.” Kim insisted.
“But it can also make sounds that no other instrument can make, that is its real voice.”
“You mean synthesiser shit?”
“Among other things. Yes. That is a unique voice with untold potential.” D.C. finally looked up nodding at Turner “That is the point where he is right. The instrument itself is dying turning into the crutch you are complaining about.”
Kim thought about it, soaking her toast in egg yolk. “I still don’t see it.”
“That’s because you are a hater.” D.C said.
“Once I am done with my food here I am going to fork you to death.”
* * *
When they had arrived in the city they hardly noticed that the sun had caught up with them. The city was under a thick cover of clouds so grey the might as well have been black. The rain was crashing down so hard onto the street, it looked like it wanted to wash everything into the ocean. Even the scent of the city was gone there was only the neutral smell of rainwater mist.
“Lovely.” said D.C.
“What a great start into our brave new future.” said Kim with relaxed sarcasm “Here we are in the elephant graveyard of music were creativity goes to drown in a shallow grave. We are looking for some dude that plays the embarrassing, retarded sibling of all instruments. While the rain is trying to out ocean the Pacific and we are are standing in front of a railway station with no taxi anywhere in sight. How about calling it quits, take a train south and look for a drummer.” Kim raised her hand looking pointedly at D.C.
“Oh ye of little faith.” Turner said amused by Kim’s outbreak. He was slowly getting used to her personality. She was not as aggressive as he had thought at first, she rather was very thorough with all she did, including the way she voiced her thoughts. “See over there.” he pointed down the street. Kim looked where he was pointing at careful not to move her had to far outside the slightly inefficient protection of the roof above them. There was an amorphous yellow shape moving slowly towards them in the rain. It was a lone cab looking for customers.
The inside of the cab was filled with the aroma of cold cigarette smoke that had woven itself into the fabric of the car. The bleached, threadbare fabric covering the seats were more smell than cloth by now, even the glass of the windows seemed soaked in it. The cab driver, a dark haired crumpled up heap of a man kept chatting away at them, but neither D.C. nor Kim could make out what he was saying of the sound of the rain hammering on the car. Turner appeared to answer the cabbie every once in a while but his words also were lost in the noise.
There was no telling how far they had travelled nor how long it had taken them. In the rain everything was just grey, without shape, without time. They had been sitting there in noisy silence for what turned out to be 45$ a price that had outraged Kim, inspired D.C. to make a face but had failed to impress Turner in any way. He just gave the driver 60 bucks, motivating him with his generous tip, the graciously ignore the law, drive up to the side walk, placing the cab as close to the door of a looming old factory building as possible.
Turner rang from inside the cab, not wanting to expose himself to the elements outside even one second longer than strictly necessary. Only when they heard the buzzer did the jump out of the cab and inside the building. While Kim and D.C. were looking around Turner closed the door behind them, cutting off most of the noise from outside. Now all the could here was the deep drone of the rain drumming against the concrete roof far above them.
“This place is fucking disturbing” Kim said with her usual deadpan voice.
The large building was just one large open space, crammed full of all manner of machines in every conceivable state of disrepair. The place looked like a junkyard that because of the horrible weather had decided to seek shelter inside of a large storage building. There appeared to be a system to the chaos in front of them. Someone had long ago come up with a plan of how to order the things that had been crammed here, but along the way had stopped to bother with it. Now it was a labyrinth of rust and gears and chrome with what looked like…
“Is that a house?!” asked D.C. squinting toward the centre of the building.
…some kind of hut. Smack in the middle of all the chaos someone had somehow using a diverse collection of wooden boards build something that looked like a childes version of a bungalow using the surrounding scrap as support. There were even little windows with shutters, and curtains and all.
“It even has a little porch.” said D.C. as they moved towards the strange house. Instead of plants the front had a collection of assorted machine parts assembled in a decorative manner.
As they were moving towards it the front door opened and a thin long man with thing long hair appeared at the front door. He stood there without saying a word, watching as Turner and his two companions came closer. Reaching the premises of the house they stopped.
“Hi.” said Turner.
“My name is Adrian Turner and these here are my friends Kim Cochran and D.C.”
“Good for you.”
Turner wondered why almost everyone he met lately was so hell bent of turning every conversation into a series of awkward pauses. By now he was used to it.
“We are here because we want you to join our band.” this was going to get him a reaction one why or the other.
“Join a band? Me?”
“Who the fuck gave you my address?” the long man asked.
“A friend.” Turner said, ”That isn’t really relevant though. I’m here to ask you if you are going to joins and make some music. Music that is different to the stuff we are hearing right now. Good or bad.”
“You are looking at the wrong guy, I’m not into progressive and post-rock shit like that.” the man answered. He did not turn away Adrian noticed, he was still standing there on the threshold of his door looking at them. While his haggard face remained impassive his body was tense. Turner knew that this was a man who wanted to be swayed, who was hoping that there was someone out there who was looking for someone like him. That man was almost burnt out, but in contrast to Murphy, this one had still some hope left.
“No worries. As I said we are trying to find something new.”
“You can’t just make shit up from thin air.” the man said. “You need to start somewhere, use it as a platform, evolve it add something different.” when he noticed that he was showing something that was bordering on enthusiasm the man stopped.
“Sure.” Turner agreed. “But we will hardly use something as a starting point that anyone in the band hates, right?”
Kim snorted. D.C. elbowed her.
“I’m more of a classic rock guy.” continued Turner trying to ignore Kim while preventing his eyes from rolling. “D.C. follows a path of metal” D.C. nodded. “and Kim here is all about the groove.” Kim made pistol hands aiming them at the man.
“That sounds alright I guess… Why don’t come in so we can have a proper chat?”
The entrance door opened to a small corridor that was mostly there to hold three doors, one left, one right one centre and a littl empty wardrobe. The man ushered them in, introducing himself as they did so. “William Cray, a pleasure to meet you.” his hand shake was firm and reassuring. Up close most of the dilapidated look of his vanished. Standing next to him Turner and the others realised that his crazed looks were the result of him being a bit too thin and having rings under his eyes that had rings of their own. He had a pleasant aura of old after shave scent to him that made even Turner feel nostalgic.
Cray opened the left hand door that opened to a small but comfortable looking living room dominated by two sofas facing each other, kept apart by a massive wooden table. The walls were covered in bookshelves mostly containing what looked like magazines, apart from the wall at the right hand side of the room which held a small impressively stocked bar. At second glance the bar was impressively stocked with empty bottles.
“Please have a seat.”
After sitting down Turner went straight to the core of the matter. He explained the plan he had and why they wanted Cray to join the team. Cray had listened in silence most of the time interrupting only a couple of times to ask a few questions about some detail or other. Turner knew early on that something was not quite right. While Cray appeared to be truly interested his expression became increasingly tired as Turner went on. By the time he was done Cray looked ten years older than before.
“I’d love to go with you. But… it’s not gonna happen.” Cray said.
“Why?” Turner asked while Kim made a ‘what’s his fucking problem gesture at D.C.
“Because my type of skills aren’t in much demand these days.” as Cray said that Turner shot Kim a look to shut her up, be she was perfectly quiet. “The people who want a keyboarder, want to make music that I’m not really happy with making. I know other guys, good guys, talented guys, who can go mercenary like that. But me? I can’t do that.”
“Those are some hardcore principles you have there Cray. I like that.” said Kim. D.C. just nodded.
“Yeah? But principles don’t pay the bills. Fuck. I wish I could, like rent out my work, but I really can’t. So I have to sell stuff just to keep going.”
“Noooo.” said Kim, “You aren’t going to tell us what you think you’re going to tell us. Aren’t you?”
“I sold my last keyboard a week ago.” Cray said.
“For. FUCKS sake!” Kim sprung up, but as there wasn’t anything that she could punch to make better she sat down again.
D.C. just shook his head.
“Otherwise you’d come with us?” Turner asked.
“Without batting an eyelid.” Cray said head hanging.
“That’s a deal then. Welcome on board.”
Turner smiled enjoying the shocked looks of everyone in the room. “If your missing keyboards are the worst of your problems then consider them solved.” to further reinforce his point Turner grabbed into his pocked pulling out three golden credit cards tossing them onto the table. He was a bit disappointed that they did not slide apart in a dramatic fashion but mostly stuck together, coming to a halt only an inch from their point of impact. But the others were so distracted by the cards that they did not notice Turner’s frown.
“There is one for each of you. You will find that you now have sufficient dough to get you through our tour in style.” Turner said grinning as the others were taking their cards, looking at them. Kim’s face was going rapidly from surprise to childlike glee. D.C. was mostly confused, shaking his card a bit as if that might make it suddenly disappear or change the name on it. Cray held it with his two hands looking at it in confusion.
“I don’t understand… why would you do this?” said Cray.
“Why not?” answered Turner. “As I said we need you in the band. I am not going to recruit any of you and then not let you earn a decent wage, right? Besides, here you are at the end of your fucking rope… let me ask you something. Is there much left for you to sell?”
“No. Not much.” Cray said still staring at the credit card.
“See I thought as much. I was pretty certain that you would only sell you keyboards as a last ditch effort. Tell me how far would you have gotten with the money you’ve got left?”
“A month, maybe two…”
“I would have thought of something. I always have.”
“Right now I have enough cash to help you. True I could probably go and look for another keyboarder, you are not the only one, but why would I do that. I want you to join us and right now I am in the wonderful position to say fuck the cost. You’re now part of the band and as long as it is in my power I will never let anyone of you hanging.” as Turner said that he turned his gaze to D.C. and Kim.
Cray’s eyes were starting to swim.
“Right.” Turner said, me ‘n the others are going ahead to get some things organised. You need to pack your bags because we’re going on a little trip. And don’t worry we’ll get you keyboards back before we leave. Get up guys there’s things to do.”
As they closed the living room door behind them they could hear soft sobs from the other side.
* * *
Turner found himself alone in a large bookstore in the rail-road station. They still had plenty of time left until the train that would take them south would depart so while the others had made themselves comfortable in a restaurant nearby Turner had excused himself to look from something to read during the long voyage. He was not quite sure why he had done that at the particular moment. He had told the others that they could, after having eaten go into the store themselves while he kept an eye on their luggage. Which of course was bullshit. The others had just shrugged assuming that he needed some alone time or something, while Turner himself was kept wondering.
The store was absolutely empty. There were no other patrons inside, which was a bit strange as the station was rather busy. Turner could see people hurrying past the store. There were also several people looking at the books in the displays, but no one was entering the store. There was also a rather suspicious lack of personal in the store. He did not like this situation at all, but then no one was forcing him to be part of it, so Turner decided to turn around and leave the store.
“Adrian! You here? What were the chances!” said the Devil.
“Holy shit!” Turner leapt back half crashing into a stand full of taste defying romance novels.
“No need to be rude.”
“Did you do this?” Adrian waved at the empty store.
“Yes. It is of crucial importance that we have a little talk.”
“In a miraculously empty book store?”
“I admit. It lacks style. But as I said this is important.”
“Did something happen? Is there a change in plans?” Turner asked, feeling cold fear clumping together in his stomach.
“The plan remains the same. What happened is you act of considerable generosity.”
“I don’t even know what you are talking about.”
“The organist guy.”
“Organi… you mean the keyboarder?”
“That one yes.”
“What about him. He’s on the list. I want him on board, I need him, so I did what was necessary. Case closed.”
“There were other… keyboarders on the list. People who you did not have to pay their debts for.”
Turner shrugged. “He was on the list and I had the money to help him…”
“Yes. My money.” interrupted the Devil.
“Since when do you care? So far the money has been flowing quite freely and you did not pull any magic tricks to reprimand me to go hiking into the fucking Canadian wilderness to get myself a guitarist and a bassist, when I could just have gone somewhere closer and with more running water and proper toilets!”
“That was a different case.”
“How was that any fucking different? I am doing you a favour. You came to me.” Adrian was poking holes in the air with his index finger. “It was also you who told me that I had your backing. What ever the fuck that is supposed to mean. Yet the moment I use one of your gifts to help someone out you come here to complain? What the fuck did happen to your whole ‘I’m not the bad guy.’ routine, huh?”
The Devil had arched one eye brow in amusement over Adrian’s outburst. “First of all I am not complaining. I am doing you a favour. IF you would be so kind as to show some self-control for a second I might even get to explain the situation for you.” Lucifer waited for a moment. Adrian was still fuming but remained silent, simply nodding to show that he was listening.
“There are rules that I have to play by. These are not my rules, they are more… fundamental in nature. I can bend the rules quite a bit. Like with you for example. I cannot take your soul, so strictly speaking I have no way of striking deal with you, but with your memories under my control we have a workaround. Also the money you spend on your travels doesn’t really matter. What you are doing is travelling from a to b and sleeping and eating. Which is all perfectly normal human behaviour. There is enough wriggle room for me there that it is not really important how far you travel or how comfortable you do it. Your lodgings and your food are in the grand scheme of things also rather unimportant, as long as you eat and sleep no one really cares how you do it.”
The Devil now started to pace up and down the isle while waving around his hands for added emphasis. “But with keyboard guy…”
“The man has a name.” said Turner.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Lucifer halting for a second.
“His name is William. William Cray.”
“Right.” said the Devil getting back into his groove without missing a beat. “What you did with Mr. Cray though was different. Different in so far that you changed the natural order of things.”
“Natural order? That guy was FUCKED! He had totally run out of money. He was a musician without an instrument. What do you think he’d done next? Become an alchemist and found a way to turn hard work into gold?”
“Please. Adrian. No need to get agitated. All I am saying is that you went in there and used my money to change his fate.”
Adrian was about to say something, but the Devil cut him off with a hand gesture. “No one says that what you did was wrong. Had you done it with your own money that would also not have been a problem. But you used my power. That is a fact. You used my power to change the course of life of a human. Do you understand the difference?”
“Because I fundamentally changed the lies of both Kim and D.C. which seems to not be worthy of a lecture. You have strange standards.”
“That was different. Those you convinced on your own. The assets you used to change their way were your mind and your skills, that has nothing to do with me. With Mr. Cray it is a mixture, you convinced him to come with you, but you also payed with my resources to get him out of his dead end life. Before you even start again I want to stress that I have no problem with that. You are free to do as you please I will not stop you.”
“Then why this conversation?”
“This brings us back to the start” said the Devil beaming happy to be able to make his point. “Most of the things you do with the powers I borrowed you are of little consequence thus they don’t come with a great price attached. Your memories are my hostages for now but once we are done you will get them back. But whenever you decide to change the way things are on a fundamental level, you will pay the price.” Lucifer let that information sink in before continuing. “You did not know. I am sorry that I did not tell you before but usually I tend to deal with people who are willing to sell me their immortal souls consequences be damned, they pay up front. Each time you do something like today it will erase a precious memory of yours forever. An experience that helped shape you to become the individual you are now will be gone forever.”
“Oh.” Adrian was dumbstruck.
“Don’t worry. This was the first time. I worked hard, very hard actually to find a memory that is precious to you but will not impact your being in any dramatic way.”
“Is there… is there a way to turn it back?” Adrian asked his mouth suddenly dry.
The Devil regarded him for a moment before answering. “Yes. Not much time has passed since your actions, you still have a way out this. You did not know, so I think it would only be… fair.”
“The moment you leave this place it will be undone.”
“No. I just wanted to know if it was possible. I won’t take it back.”
Lucifer smiled. “That is very noble of you.”
“Not really. Anything else would have been monstrous. Just one thing?”
“Can… can you tell me that I lost?”
“I can. In a way. What you lost are your memories of your favourite breakfast cereal.”
The Devil snorted. “That’s all? You loved that cereal with all your heart. When you were a child you would refuse to eat anything else for breakfast for years and years. There was major family crisis during one of your holidays when the hotel did not have it in stock. Your associations with it inspired you in small but important ways and until today you would return to them every once in a while and find comfort in them. You could for a moment return to being a child, remember your dreams and ambitions and find a moment of peace.
This is now gone forever. I am really sorry.”
“It’s OK. I think… no I’m sure it was worth it. Thanks for the warning.”
“You are welcome Adrian.”