The next day started late for Turner and Kim. They had crashed on Sam’s clandestine couches after their musical conversation had run into the early morning hours. It was not until the late afternoon that they went back the hotel. They got stuck in the rush hour paying the cabbie mostly for swearing while immobile. They arrived there as the soon sun was painting the sky crimson. The first star had appeared above heralding the approaching night.
“There you are!” Cray had been sitting in the hotel lobby seemingly lost in thought. The moment he saw them enter he got up walking towards them in long strides. “I started to worry after you missed breakfast and lunch. Are you OK? You are OK, right?”
“Yes Cray.” Turner said. “There is nothing wrong. We just got carried away yesterday evening. Which by the way is a good thing because that means that we have a drummer turning us into a functional band.” Turner turned towards Sam, “This here is Samantha Freeman.” he said.
“Call me Sam.” she said shaking Cray’s hand. “So your Billy Cray. I’ve heard a lot a bout you and I’m looking forward to hear you play.”
“You heard about me? Er… wow… right… I guess we’ll have a lot of time to listen to our music now I guess. Pleasure to meet you.” after a short pause he added: “please call me Will or Cray. I hate being called Billy.” he’s smile twitched a bit.
“Sure thing Cray.” Sam said. Slightly amused that Cray appeared more nervous of meeting her than she of him.
“D.C. in his room?” asked Turner.
“No.” Cray’s smile stabilising, growing into a wide grin. “He’s getting the bus.”
Kim whistled in appreciation.
“You’ve got a bus?” said Turner.
“Bus?” asked Sam.
“While you two were out and about to recruit our latest memeber… erm… Sam. We went right into the mission of getting us a tour bus. Well maybe not the very instant you left. There was also a bit of drinking involved. But nothing wild. Deeply social occasion. We were tossing around some ideas. It took us a while but we quickly got the ball rolling. The bar has wireless LAN, so combining the pleasure with the research was easy.”
“Right.” said Turner.
“Turns out that there isn’t anyone specialising in tour buses. At least not in the net. We were going through a couple of options. But then we remembered where we were. And while we may not be walking legends like you Turner, we do have friends in the scene. So we rang up a few people, they called friends of friends. Shit like that. And then shazaam! We got a number of a dude that might be able to help us.”
“Yep. Older even than you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean.” asked Turner who remembered that even to the older band members like Cray and Sam he was still ancient. He didn’t feel ancient. His body might be getting creaky, but his soul was still young and fresh.
“I’m sorry Turner. It was not meant like that. You’re not old, old. Right? You are more of seasoned? Grown? Full of wisdom?” Cray was getting nervous again as his words did not improve Turner’s mood. “At least you’ve still got all your hair.” he was grasping at straws now.
“You were talking about the bus dude.” said Sam, she was standing a bit back from the other three observing the group. She hoped her little prod would bring the conversation back on track.
“Right. Old dude. Like in he was even around when you were young. Which is kind of great. Right” Cray said.
“Experience is important. You are right Cray.” said Turner who was now starting to feel more sorry for Cray than for himself. “So who is he?”
“Now listen to this. Most of his life he wasn’t a chauffeur, but a roadie. So that’s puts us into two birds with a stone category. He is a veteran of many tours, has seen generations of bands coming and going and the best part is, because he is feeling that he is getting to old for this shit, he built himself a bus. One big double-decker extra length monster of a bus. When he retired he bought a big old machine. Wanting to turn it into his dream home on wheels. Turns out he still dreams of music. So there he is sitting on that monster which feels kind of pointless without a band.”
“And we just happen to be the first band that comes knocking at his door?” said Kim doubt rolling over her features.
“No. It gets even better.” Cray was no visibly excited. “He was open to the idea to go on tour once again, but so far he has told every band that came knocking at his door to fuck off. Not one of them was good enough for him. We were almost blown off ourselves!” he said as if it was the most amazing thing in the world.
“But we got the bus?” asked Turner.
“We got the bus.” beamed Cray.
“Because of you, man.”
“Me?” Turner had not seen that one coming.
“Yep. He remembers you Turner. He remembers you from the time when you were and I am quoting here: ‘a motherfucking rock god’. The idea that you have returned from oblivion to form a new band and kick some sense into the scene today got the man all excited. So as you had not come back we decided to split up. D.C. went to the old man to bring the bus, while I waited here for you to come back. “
* * *
The roadie did look nothing like Turner had imagined him. He had played through many variations in his mind but none had come up with what he saw. The man was probably 70 years old. He had long silver hair, a face full of deep fault lines and crevices, his muddy brown eyes had gone a bit watery with age. But he was built like what brick houses dreamt of becoming when they grew up. 6’5” tall, mostly bulging muscles, with lightly tanned skinned that had an impressive collection of scars. He looked like a man who had not simply lived live, but had walked right through it. As he had introduced him self his deep voice rumbled through the room like a rock slide, shaking the people in the room and bewildering the elephants in the local zoo.
When it was Adrian’s turn in the round of introductions, the man paused. “Oh. My. God!” he said his deep bass moving into the upper baritone scale. “It’s you.” the man out his plate sized hand in front of his mouth, obviously fretting. “It is such an honour to meet you sir. I know this sounds silly but I am a huge fan of you. I’ve been collecting your records since your Critical Chain Gang Reaction days!” Turner winced. That had been the name of his first pre-soul sale. The memory returned instantly to him as the man in front of him said the words. With the memories also came deep embarrassment. “Right through the later days of Vintage Innovation. I was devastated when there were no new albums. For years I have kept my eyes open, hoping beyond hope that you’d still be touring the states. And here you are! Right in front of me!” the giant’s eye were now brimming with tears, one of them breaking lose as he blinked rolling down the canyons of his face.
What the fuck am I supposed to do? Adrian the man asked himself. Turner the rock star on a mission felt right at home. He placed one hand on the mans arm while shaking his hand. “It is a great pleasure to meet you. Please stop the ‘sir’ nonsense my name is Adrian.” he smiled his most winning smile. Kim rolled her eyes, D.C. was trying out his minimalist ‘what the fuck’ face, Cray was shaking his head repressing a chuckle and Sam was in her neutral observer mode.
“McLean. Darius McLean. It is such an honour…” it took Darius an enormous amount of will power to say: “…Adrian.” one the word was out he started to beam like a xenon arc-lamp.
“No Darius, can I call you Darius?” Kim groaned at this point which, Darius seemed to not notice though, both Cray and D.C. now were working very hard at not chuckling inspecting the walls with renewed interest.
“Of course si… Adrian. Darius is fine.”
“Glad to hear that. Darius it is us who are honoured, I heard that you had dismissed all other bands before us.” Darius was now turning a deep red. “We are all incredibly happy that you decided to give us a chance. You are taking a big risk here. We are newly formed. We haven’t even played all together yet. So thank you from all of us that you came all the way here to give us a chance. We really appreciate it.” the old mountain of a roadie was now working hard to keep his dignity. There was now a second tear tumbling down his face, his lip quivering.
Turner looked at the others who were fighting to subdue their giggles. “Right?” Turner tried to calm the others down. The could not see the big man or his reaction. Having them laugh out loud would be a disaster. Kim was stepping forward her face foretelling the arrival of a wave of sarcasm. When she saw the face of the old man, her expression changed instantly. First there was surprise with a bit of shock, quickly followed by her features softening. Her smile was now warm and welcoming. She put her hand on Darius’s left shoulder. “You sir, are our mother fucking saviour.” as she said that she slapped his shoulder a couple times. She looked at Turner indicating with her eyes, that he’d now better leave the picture for a moment. Turner moved over to Sam. Cray had picked up on the situation once he saw Kim’s reaction, he approached working with Kim of getting a proper conversation going. He Darius when he started talking about how he’d like to see the bus Darius had constructed, as he had soldered his favourite keyboard together himself. Kim joined telling her about her hand carved bass and soon the three of them were having an animated conversation.
“Well played chief.” Sam said.
Turner shrugged. “Back in the day I used to meet thousands of people like that. Never in such strange circumstances though.”
“You did well. A bit stilted but for that guy it was discovering that Santa Claus was real all along and that he had been a good boy. Many others would have either behaved like pricks or would have lodged their feet so hard into their mouths they would have fused with their faces.”
“Thanks. And that was a really disturbing image.”
“Kind of amusing though.” said Sam her deadpan moving ever so slightly to hint at a smile.
* * *
Half an hour later they were back on the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel sitting at their special round table drinking to their two new additions. Kim had developed a complicated three drink cooling system, that kept both her hands cool while allowing her to drink from a central mother-drink through a straw. Her antics allowed the two new comers to ease into the group as everyone agreed that Kim had her ‘special’ moments.
From there the conversation flowed naturally back and forth. First the were talking about their quest, followed by Turner and Kim telling the others about their jam with Sam. As the night went on Darius shocked and delighted with his roadie stories. They soon discovered that you just had to give the veteran just one keyword to get an outrageous story from the old man. After they had eaten they had drinks while Darius had them in stitches with his stories.
Later that evening when Turner returned from a short stop at the toilet he paused for a moment before joining his band. He was leaning against a wall in the half shade looking at the illuminated table where they were sitting. It was now deepest night. All was dark around it, their table a small island of warm light in a sea of darkness. He felt a strange sensation, like his insides were being pulled together. It took him a while to remember that this was how in a past so far away that it might have happened in another reality he had felt when he knew that his band had come together. For a moment he thought that this memory had also been one that had been kept by the Devil. That was not true though. This was a memory he had lost on his own. With his actual band. The now faceless group of people touring through the grotty bar’s of Louisiana tyring to make a living. With the people with whom he had attempted to keep this fire going for so long, he had lost this feeling.
Adrian shivered. The people around that table suddenly looked so far away. How did he fit into that group anyway? He had not done anything to get this going. The mission, the quest as the others now referred to it, was given him by the Devil. The musicians he had sought out had all ended in disasters. Only after The Critic had given him his list did he even have a fucking clue who to look for. Maybe this was it. Adrian Turner’s time had come and gone a long time ago. He had found all these people brought them together and now that they were united they had turned into a band. They did not need him anymore. D.C. could play the guitar. Both Sam and Cray were great singers, who would have thought, and Kim was a decent shouter with a lot of potential.
It was getting a bit chilly. Adrian thought that this was the time to fade into the night. His job here was done.
“Hey chief!” Sam shouted. “What the fuck are you doing over there?!”
“Yeah Adrian, move your ass over here. You look like psycho standing there!” D.C. was now drunk enough to shift into his extrovert persona.
Adrian smiled and walked back into the light.
Back at the table the discussion had become focused on the next obstacle on their quest.
“Before we can even dream of booking a gig, we should get a rehearsal room, don’t you think.” D.C. said.
“Well that should not be that hard. There’s bound to be tons of them around here.” said Cray.
“Also since we have Lord Coke over there,” said Kim nodding towards Turner “as our patron money should not be much of a problem.”
“I’m not sure it’ll be that easy. We’ll need a big one.” said D.C. leading to a moment of complete silence at the table before everyone burst out laughing.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” said D.C.
“So you need a big one for fuck’s sake?” Kim asked failing hard at staying serious. “That clears that up then.”
After that it took a while until the conversation got back on track.
“I don’t see how arguing over the rehearsal room helps solving our problem.” Cray said “Could be we find the right one first thing tomorrow, could be we don’t. But sitting here talking about it certainly won’t change that. We now have a rather good idea what it should look like. So maybe we should wait with the details until tomorrow?”
“No need to wait.” said Darius. He had not voiced any opinion during this debate. “’cause uncle Darius has just the place for you.”
Now he had everyones attention.
“Why didn’t you just say so?” Kim asked.
“I just did.”
“Well, I needed to know what you all were looking for. Then I had to go through all the options. Now I know.”
“So where’s that place of yours?” Turner asked.
“That’s a surprise. I’ll drive you there tomorrow.”
“Surprise?” asked D.C.
“Just find it in your heart to trust me. By the way dose anyone of you here have a drivers license for trucks?”
“I do.” said Cray.
“So do I.” said Sam.
Darius looked pleasantly surprised. “That is very good. It’ll save us a lot of trouble.”
“It will?” asked Kim.
Darius smiled the lines of his face underlining it. “Another surprise.”
“I hate surprises.” said Kim crestfallen.
* * *
“Is that thing even legal?” asked D.C. pointing at the steel monster in front of him.
“Who gives a fuck? It’s awesome!” said Kim.
“What is that even supposed to be?” asked D.C.
“This ladies and gentlemen is Jörmungandr.” said Darius swelling with pride turning his already large frame into a temptation for adventurous alpinists.
“That clears it up then…” said Cray.
“In what dimension would that be considered tour bus?” asked Sam.
“Australia.” said Darius. If at all possible the people around him now looked even more confused.
“Is any of this going to make sense at any point?” asked Turner.
“I was on tour with one of the greater gods of British rock, back in the seventies. We were driving through the outback because the band thought it would be a great adventure to not take the plan but drive through the outback instead. That shit ended with us stranded in the desert, with no settlement closer than two hundred miles. We almost died there. The way that place looked no one would have ever found our bodies. But in the end we were saved by a pair of house cats as huge as lions who saved our skins and led us to a tribe of Aborigines who nursed us back to health. But that was when shit started to get really strange…” Darius paused for a moment. “Where was I?” everyone else pointed towards the infinite machine in front of them. “Oh yes. Jörmungandr! So we were driving down one of those endless roads. The ones that stretch from horizon to horizon in an seemingly endless wasteland when it happened. I sat there looking out of the window, wondering if that was how the whole world would look like after World War III. We passed a truck. Which in itself would have been the most exciting thing that had happened in three days. But that thing was enormous. It had one trailer stuck to the next. It took is a fucking eternity to overtake it. Since that day I’ve been dreaming of taking that road train idea and turning it into a tour-bus. And well there it is.” he said making a ‘tadaa’ motion with his hands.
Sam tilted her head, squinting a little. “Yeah. Now that you say it I can almost see it now.”
They were standing in front of what looked like a complicated multi dimensional bus crash. There was a over long double decker bus with two articulations in the back, but it was connected to more buses of different types that were coiling around it. Some of the double deckers appeared to have been made out of two different vehicles.
“Right now it’s three independent vehicles.” said Darius, “Two of them with trailers. So there is enough space or all of you and a lot of equipment. You also said that you think you might want to recruit more people. There is still plenty of room left. The three main towing machines can be connected into one super-large train. But that’s not road legal in many places…”
“No shit.” said Kim under her voice.
“…apart from that the super train is a real pain in cities. That’s what it is split up. Right now one is enough but with Cray and Sam as drivers we can take all three of them. Right then. All aboard! Time to get you to your new rehearsal room.”
It took some more shooing on Darius side to get his shell shocked colleagues moving. Half an hour later they were on their way. Darius’s home and workshop was outside the city, so they left in the ‘super train’ configuration consisting of all three busses and their trailers linked together into a 250 feet abomination. After a while the others got used to sitting inside of Jörmungandr. It was rather comfortable inside. There were leather seats and a bar for one. Another reason for them relaxing was that from the inside it looked a lot more normal. Only when the drove around stretched out curves and the could see the other end of the bus out of the window did the original apprehension reappear.
They drove for hours along the coast, leaving the city far behind. When ever someone asked Darius where the fuck they were going he just told them to be patient.
At long last the Jörmungandr slowed, turning a sharp corner into a narrow dirty road. This was again cause for excitement for some. Although by now people had leaned to cope in their own way.
Adrian was focused on his Devil’s Luck. Even if they should get into a horrible accident with their mobile train crash they would be OK. Kim had decided that if death had not come to them yet it was obviously not the time to worry about it and had returned to her former calm. Sam calmed herself by listening to the rhythms of the machine and those of the road, slowly starting to trust the strange machine. Cray was now inspecting the construction of the mega-bus losing him self in the engineering details. Only D.C. was still freaking out.
The trundled down the winding road back towards the coast. It took them almost another hour to reach a small natural harbour enclosed by crescent shaped cliffs. The forest grew right down to the sea level giving way to a large beach covered with fine white sand giving way to an ocean of blue waves crowned with white foam.
“Here we are.” Darius declared.
“This is our rehearsal room?” asked Turner.
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Breathtakingly so. I only see a few small problems.”
“You mean the lack of rooms and electricity?” said Darius ruining Turner’s sarcastic quip.
“That was what I was going to mention yes.”
“Look around you. What do you see Adrian, tell me.”
“A beach. Far from civilisation.”
“God your slow.” said Darius. “Jörmungandr is also very much here.”
“Right.” Turner said. “Oh.” he added. “Oooooh.” He turned to Darius. “Tell me how much power do the engines of your ‘bus’ produce.”
“I’m glad you asked. Enough to power four or five full size houses and there’s enough diesel in the tanks, that it’ll take five days to get to the point where we have to go back to a gas station. If we don’t go crazy the fuel can last us for two weeks. Before you ask, I have spare stacks, microphones, cables. What ever you need its here.”
“But wait, there is more!”
“Six steak knives?” guessed Turner.
“Actually there are twelve but that’s not it. I have one last trick up my sleeve.” Darius set the bus slowly back in motion. He drove slowly in a vary sharp curve pulling levers while doing so. THis had the effect that the front of Jörmungandr moved while its tail end remained where it was. Slowly the bus formed a circle leaving a gap only a few feet wide between the front and the back bumper.
“Jörmungandr is also a mobile stage.” Darius said grinning.