"Come on, Rusty," Bob said, getting to his feet and slipping on a jacket. He pulled out a golf umbrella from underneath the couch then opened his arms for me, gesturing to the door.
I let out an angry breath of air and went to join him, not even bothering to give the band one last look before we opened the bus doors and walked out into the rain like a pair of rejects.
We were still in the motel parking lot, so Bob and I walked through the mounting puddles and up a block until we got to the café. Despite the coverage, we looked like a pair of drowned rats and we plunked ourselves down on the pink vinyl booths.
"Don't take it personally," Bob said in his ragged voice, smoothing back his white hair. "If I never fit in with another band, I'll be one happy fucker. They can ruin you, ya know?"
"I can see that," I told him, smiling tiredly at the telepathic waitress who plunked two mugs and a pot of coffee on the table.
He took a sip of his coffee and smiled. "Oooh, damn that's good." He then placed the mug down and folded his hands in front of him. "You know, I've been on a lot of tours. Hell, I've been doing this for most of my life. I couldn't even begin to tell you about half the shit I've seen. Not only because I've been sworn to secrecy, because I have…The King had some strict waivers. But because I've blocked it out. Or I've just refused to believe it. But this band…this band, Rusty…something is not right."
A shiver ran up my spine. I knew it wasn't just the wet clothes.
"You feel it, too?"
He leaned back and thoughtfully spun his mug around.
"I don't know what I feel, exactly. But whatever it is, I've felt it from the start. I'm not into supernatural, hippie-dippie mumbo-jumbo shit. I'm not the god-fearing man I used to be. But there's something with us…almost like it's on the bus with us…that hasn't let us go. I know that doesn't make any sense but the reason I'm telling you is because I know you can feel it too. These things…these aren't coincidences. I've been around enough to know when to call a spade a spade. It's almost like the band is cursed…and it's only going to get worse from here on out."
Cursed. That almost made perfect sense. Or it would have, had the idea of a curse not been so ridiculous. I was as much into the hippie-dippie mumbo-jumbo as Bob was and my journalistic mind was constantly trying to find reason and logic.
"Curses don't exist," I said reluctantly.
"But what if they do? It would explain some things. This feels like more than a string of bad luck. First that girl dies, rest in peace. Then Noelle has a mental breakdown. Could one thing be the result of the other? Sure. But I don't buy it."
"Me neither," I said. "But if it's a curse, someone had to have cursed us. Who would do that?"
He raised his brows. "I couldn't tell you, Rusty. But I can tell you I've heard some pretty weird shit at night on the bus when everyone is asleep."
I tried to ignore the goosebumps on my arms. "What shit?"
"Graham," he said soberly. "He rarely sleeps. He only sleeps when the sun comes up and then it's only for a few hours. I've never seen anyone get by on such little sleep before and so consistently."
"What does he do? Just lie there?"
He nodded. "Oh, he lies there. On his back. Staring up at the ceiling. And he chants things. Very weird things. You can barely hear him, but sometimes I really try and listen. He's not chanting in English, you can bet your mother on that. It sounds like Latin to me, but then I'm a pretty ignorant soul."
I leaned in across the table and lowered my voice. "Have you ever seen him do any of that Satanic shit that he's always talking about?"
Bob smoothed back his hair again and seemed to think. "I can't really say. Maybe chanting in Latin counts. I've seen him always talking to this equally freaky girl."
I straightened up. "Was she blonde?"
"No," he said. "And I know who you're talking about, the GTFOs. No, I haven't seen the blondes around. They aren't allowed on the bus at any rate, strict orders from Jacob. This girl is a bit on the chunky side, really short, nasty haircut."
"That's Sparky, she's one of them."
"Interesting," he mused. "Well, anyhow, I've only seen her a few times. She kind of stands off in the distance, and like Graham has some stereo receiver in his head, he gets up and goes off the bus and meets her. They disappear for, oh I don't know, maybe ten minutes, and then he comes back alone. He doesn't seem any different. I always assumed he was getting himself serviced."
I grimaced at the thought. "When does this usually happen?"
"In the middle of the night."
"What?" I shrieked. People in the café turned to look at me. I gave them a sheepish look and lowered my voice. "What? In the middle of the night? How?"
"I stop at a gas station to fill up or a truck stop for food and she's usually there."
"Well, don't you find that fucking weird!?"
"Look, Rusty, of course I find it weird. But these are rock stars. They all have their weird quirks. And having scary chicks show up at gas stations you stop at isn't that unheard of. Especially when they're following the bus."
Alarm bells rang in my head. "They follow the bus?"
"Sometimes. Fans, groupies, they're all obsessed. It doesn't matter what band."
I sat back in the booth, feeling floored and disturbed at the same time
. All this time I assumed that if I didn't see the GTFOs, they weren't around. But they were and it was something as simple as following the tour bus. Now I knew for sure that I had seen Sonja the night before. And she'd done something to Noelle, something horrible, to get her to freak out like that.
Suddenly I felt very vulnerable. Were they still around? Were they hiding out in the rain, waiting for our next move? I wiped a hand at the window, smoothing away the foggy condensation, but seeing only the gray daylight and wind-scattered downpour outside.
"I hope you'll keep our talk just between us," Bob said. "I don't know how much longer this tour is going to go on for, but I don't want to get booted off the job because they think I'm talking hocus pocus. I've got a big mortgage back home and a wife that looks up to me, and gigs like this are hard to come by."
I nodded absently, not even sure what I was going to do with our talk.
"If I were you though," he continued, "I'd consider going back home soon. You're a beautiful young woman and you've got a good brain in that head. I'd hate for anything to happen to you."
I eyed him carefully.
"Do you think something will?"
"It's rock and roll, Rusty. Anything that can happen, will happen. Even the impossible."
I took little comfort in that and had my first sip of coffee. Bob was right. It really was damn good.
Bob and I left the café just as the rain was starting to let up. I took that as a sign. I don't know what kind of sign, but a sign that some sort of change was happening. As creepy as our conversation had been, talking about it with Bob strengthened me somehow and made me feel like I wasn't alone. The band might have been in one camp, but we were in the other and in this case it wasn't a bad thing, especially if the curse nonsense turned out to be true.
Back on the bus, the mood was somber and tense. It turned out that the band had decided to continue on with the tour. They would get a replacement bassist to cover for Noelle starting with the Nashville show and hopefully that person would fit in well enough that they could replace her for the rest of the tour.
"What's Mickey going to say about it?" I asked.
Jacob twirled his rings with downcast eyes. "Knowing Mickey, he won't have a problem with it. He loves Noe and all but he loves music more. Sad fact of most musicians, ain't that right boys."
Robbie grumbled while Sage stared at Jacob thoughtfully, as if he was figuring something out. Jacob felt his eyes on him and, without looking up, grinned very slowly, like an afterthought.
Seeing as the band wasn't going to be playing, Jacob made Bob drive the bus to an office center and he got in touch with the promoter of the Atlanta show. Then he, Robbie, and Graham started the long process of trying to telephone as many bassists as they could think of. I stayed with Sage on the bus, both of us surrounded by a weird hush of unsaid words and mixed feelings. He had gone through so much in the last twenty-four hours, I wasn't even sure how to act normal around him anymore…if there ever was a normal between Sage and I. The Tom Waits show seemed like a lifetime ago. We seemed like different people then.
After maybe twenty minutes, Sage got up off the couch and stretched, his arms reaching far above his head. I tried not to stare at his stomach and the hint of defined abs that momentarily peeked out underneath his black western shirt. My hormones didn't seem to understand the bigger picture here.
He glanced down at me and I quickly looked away. I knew he caught my staring and I prayed that the flare I felt on my cheeks wasn't translating into a blush.
"Do you want to get out of here?" he asked.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Anywhere that serves copious amounts of liquor."
I nodded, thinking that sounded like a most reasonable plan. We left the bus, relieved that the rain had stopped, and let Jacob know we were going to be at a bar down the street.
"Which one?" Jacob asked.
"The dirtiest," Sage replied.
He wasn't wrong. It felt like we walked forever, but eventually Sage spotted just the right place. A neon open sign stuttered, one window was boarded up with wood in place of fixing broken glass, and a wall of motorbikes were lined out front. Inside we were met with a bevy of heavy-set, pock-marked gentlemen and hostile glares. I was glad that Sage's hair wasn't that long and that the visible tattoos on his arms gave him some sort of street cred. I hoped that his mixed heritage skin wasn't going to cause any problems.
We sat down at a hard wooden booth and proceeded to drink, starting with a pitcher of beer while Steppenwolf played on the stereo. We didn't speak much until we were starting another pitcher and I figured Sage's tongue would be looser. So far he seemed so wrapped up in his own thoughts.
I cleared my throat and adjusted my seat. "So, you're part Mexican, right?"
He didn't look surprised or annoyed at my question, though I thought he would have, considering he never really talked about himself in interviews.
"Is this part of the interview?" he asked.
I shook my head, but I was silently cursing myself for failing to bring along the tape recorder. Though, from a moral point of view, interviewing someone when they were drunk wasn't exactly fair anyway.