“BUT we need a lead guitar for more than one night, man! Our guy won’t be back for two weeks.”
Killian Desmond sighed, cell phone braced in one hand a few inches from his ear while bacon and eggs congealed on a plate in front of him, untouched. The clicks and clacks of a busy diner competed with his call—an amazing feat, given that the guy on the other end of the line shouted to be heard over a rock band in rehearsal.
In deep bass tones once described by a reporter as “smoky, with a hint of enter at your own risk,” whatever the hell that meant, Killian replied, “And I done told you, one night’s all I got—take it or leave it. Gotta be in Denver the next morning.” As much as he wanted the cash, no way in hell was he sticking around any longer than that. He frowned, both at the waitress offering more coffee and at the caller refusing to understand plain English.
Ignoring his cold breakfast, he fired up a cigarette. Bluish smoke swirled toward the ceiling before being batted away by the currents of an overhead fan. Nobody charged his table, demanding he put it out—yet—despite the “No Smoking” signs plastered on the walls every few feet like grease-spattered pop art.
“What’d you say your name was again?” Killy's would-be employer’s voice danced the razor’s edge between cautious and paranoid.
“I didn’t. All I said was that I play lead guitar and do vocals, all your ad requested. I can front or I can backup. Your choice.”
“How long you been playing?”
“Long enough.” The asshole didn’t need to know that Mama’d brought him and his older brother onstage starting at six and eight years old, hoping to squash junkie rumors by projecting a motherly image. It hadn’t worked, and the kiddies grew up on a tour bus, with pot, cocaine, and other drugs more readily available than bubble gum. Of course, trade a tour bus for cheap hotel rooms, drugs for booze and caffeine, and pot for tobacco, and you got la vida del Papa. Oh yeah, and enough prescription painkillers to choke one of the broncs he rode.
“I emailed you a lineup. You do know Trickster’s songs, right?”
Trickster? Did he say “Trickster”? Oh shit. Killian hadn’t read his email yet or he wouldn’t have taken this call. A solid lump of panic closed his throat. He swallowed hard around it. Trickster? A million friggin’ bands out there, with a zillion freaking songs—why the fuck did it have to be Trickster? He came close to slamming the phone shut until recalling the four lonely twenties in his billfold. Even the paycheck he’d collect later wouldn’t tide him over indefinitely. Royalties simmered in a bank somewhere, but damned if he’d touch a cent until the vultures finished squabbling over who got what, and all that survived of his mother’s pitiful legacy languished in trust pending Killy’s thirtieth birthday. Money, money everywhere and not a dime to spend. “Yeah, I know their songs,” he grudgingly admitted. Hell, I should. I wrote most of ’em.
“What’d you say your name was again?”
Was it that fucking important? Oh shit, here it goes. Maybe he should lie, hoping the front man for a band dedicated to his old songs never looked too closely at pictures on the CD cases. Then again, that one piece of info might guarantee him the gig, and also encourage the weekend warriors to beg him to stay, even if they did think he was full of shit. “Killian Desmond,” he replied, guessing the response he’d get. The novelty of a look-alike/sound-alike for a famous dead musician usually increased patronage at whatever seedy bars he played. Using the name further boosted his appeal even though someone occasionally spat, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, disrespecting that poor dead man!” If only they knew. However, in all his time filling in for bands wherever he could, this would be the first time he’d play Trickster’s songs without Trickster. Even for a man who’d seen a lot in twenty-six years, this was too bizarre.
“Killian Desmond? Man, you’re shitting me, right?” The guy paused, then snorted. “Good one. Who put you up to this? It was Ralph, wasn’t it?”
“I’m not shitting you.” Killy pushed his greasy meal away, appetite vanishing along with his patience. “Look, you gonna give me the gig or not?”
The caller spoke words he’d heard a hundred times. “I wanna hear you sing.”
Well, what could he expect? People weren’t in the habit of hiring dead men, though he found it hard to believe that a band missing a lead guitarist the day before a show could afford to be choosy. He signaled the waitress that he’d be back, then stepped out into a day that promised to be hot once the sun woke up properly. Rounding the back of the building, checking to ensure no one lurked around the corner, he began a deep, grumbling melody as familiar as his own hand, and as complicated as his life, stopping after one verse.
It worked. “That was awesome!” his prospective band mate exclaimed, also something he’d heard hundreds of times. “I don’t care what your real name is, if you play half as good as you sing, the job’s yours. You almost sound like the real Killian Desmond! How much do you have to smoke a day to make your voice that gravelly?”
Killy ignored the question, “too many” being the honest answer. He knew the man didn’t believe who he was; that was a good thing. He’d learned the hard way: call himself Bill and people tended to suspect, speculate. Call himself Killian Desmond and wield a mean guitar—they passed it off as a money making scheme. And money was money. He’d pretend to be himself for one night for what they were paying. The next day he’d go back to being another nameless drifter. “I’ll be there tomorrow morning bright and early for a run through.” They discussed particulars while Killy stopped by his ancient El Camino, extracting a laptop—a leftover from more prosperous days—while snapping the phone shut on a done deal.