7/09/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 10: Voodoo Child




Johnny, Chase, and Shelly jogged across the unfamiliar territory to a dangerous house much farther from their original destination than they'd hoped.  Joey and Apricot decided to accompany Marty back to the studio to inform Mr. Mcfly that the others were on their way, should he arrive earlier than expected.  Hopefully, they'd be back with the van before he got to the studio but there was no telling at this point.  Johnny was already regretting his decision as they ran into the front yard of the house.  He hadn't thought this all the way through.  If these people were willing to carjack a group of six people, it was obvious that they were willing to get rid of three.  He was putting his friends in danger.  A good leader wouldn't have made that move.  But Marty's van was long gone now and there was no going back.  It wasn't like they were going to be able to stop Chase from going for it anyway.

They walked up the front lawn that sloped into a hill and closed in on the van when Chase swore aggressively at the sight of it.

"They marked it!" he exclaimed pointing at a blue spray-painted decal on the side of the van that spelled out the word "BITCH" in capital letters.  "It's all over the tie-dye.  I don't think that's going to come off.  Damn it, it's ruined now.  If I wash it off, it'll probably wash off the details too."

"Chase, if what you said was true, the details have been on there since the 60's, rain would have washed it off years ago," Johnny said, approaching the van.  "That's spray paint and it looks like it's been on for maybe a day or so.  It'll come off easily.  Stop worryin' so much."

Shelly walked over to the back window and cuffed her hands around her face to get a better look inside.  "Our stuff is still in there!  Looks like it hasn't been moved.  There's no key though.  Either of you guys know how to hotwire this thing?"

"I would if I could," Johnny said with a sigh.  "Guess that means we have to go get the key."

"What?" Shelly said, turning to him quickly.  "Are you insane?  Those people will tear us to pieces."

"Well, what else do you expect us to do, Shelly?" Chase said with passion, crossing in front of Johnny.  "Sit here and wait for them to come out and then ask 'hey, can we get the keys for our van'?  They'll say 'sure' and then pull out a gun and shoot us, and then we'll leave here, empty handed, either in the hospital or dead and we'll probably get"-

"Alright, Chase, she's got the picture," Johnny interrupted.  "We're gonna have to take it by force.  We need a distraction though.  Shelly go knock on the door and improvise a bit to get their attention.  We'll creep up, tackle whoever is there to the ground and force them to give us the keys."

"Alright, I'll try," Shelly said as they split up.  Shelly took point at the door, while Johnny and Chase walked to the side of the house to survey from around its corner.  Shelly got up to the front porch and gave Johnny a nervous look, as he reassured her with a thumbs up, and knocked on the door hesitantly.  Johnny and Chase stood at the ready, waiting for something to happen.

"You know, Johnny," Chase whispered quickly.  "If something happens in there, I want you to know that I respect you as a leader and I agree wholeheartedly about your decision to kick Ramsey out of the band.  I know he seemed like a cool guy to begin with but he was a total prick from the start."

"Yeah, thanks, man," Johnny said, concentrating on Shelly, who knocked on the door again when there was no answer.  She waited once more.  Still nothing.  She looked back at Johnny and shrugged.  Johnny crept out from the corner and walked quietly up to the porch with Chase behind him.

"Nobody home?" Johnny asked, still in a whisper just in case he was being heard from the other side.

"I guess not," Shelly said cautiously.  "What if they're asleep?"

Johnny looked at the door intently.  "We'll just have to wake them up then," he said simply before opening up the raggedy screen door and kicking as hard as he could, forcing the wooden door to fly open and swing onto the wall by the other side.  Johnny quickly moved out of the way of the door, hiding by it just in case someone from inside was ready to greet them with a nasty surprise.  When he heard no sound being made in the house, he peaked around and motioned with his head for Shelly and Chase to follow him as he walked inside.

It was very old and worn-down; the floor was haphazardly tiled and covered with dirt and dust.  There were old newspapers strewn everywhere, but the place was big enough for every sound to echo, including their footsteps.  Paint was peeling off of the walls and there were cobwebs in virtually every corner of the house.  They walked through the living room as quietly as possible, just in case the tenants were still occupying the place.

"Close that door, in case they pull up," Johnny informed Chase, who turned around and closed the front door lightly.  "Keep your eyes open for those keys, guys....and for movement."

"I was hoping you wouldn't say that," Shelly replied nervously, as they began to creep in separate directions of the house.

"I'll check the downstairs area," Johnny said continuing down a hallway.  "You two go upstairs and check up there."

"There are a lot of rooms for people to hide down here.  Don't you think you might need back up?" Chase asked cautiously.

"No, I'll be fine.  Just hurry up and find the keys before something does happen."

“Alright," they said in unison as they accompanied each other up the stairs to the right of the living room and headed up as quickly and as quietly as they could.

Johnny walked into the kitchen down the hallway beside the stairs, which was the first room to his right, and began to survey the area intently, trying to point out anything of interest.  There was a counter in the center of the room, but apart from that it wasn't out of the ordinary other than the fact that it was extremely dirty and unsanitary for a kitchen.  Johnny walked past the stove and saw a pot full of water on it.  He dropped his finger into it and drew back in pain.  It was scorching hot.  It must have been turned off recently.  That meant whoever left it there was probably still around.  Johnny prayed that the people occupying the place left it there before leaving, though that didn't seem likely.

The keys have to be somewhere around here, he thought.  He began to rearrange things on the counters carefully, trying to spot something, but it was a lost cause.  There were dirty dishes filling the sink, water thick with fog and dissipated soap surrounding it.  Shot in the dark, Johnny thought.  He began to carefully pull back some of the dishes when one of them slipped and collided with another plate that slid down farther into the sink.  It made a loud clank that caused Johnny to jump and look behind him quickly.

"Shit," he swore under his breath, then signed in relief.  He began to dig farther and swirl the water around a bit with the dishes to get a better view of what was in it.  Why would the keys be in here? Johnny thought.  I'm wasting my time.  He let go of the dish he was holding and started to walk away when he heard a strange clinking sound.  He stopped and went back to the dish, picking it up and dropping it in the same place, hearing the clinking sound again, only this time it was collective.  It was hitting multiple objects.  Small objects.  Johnny looked around him again just to make sure no one was creeping up and he delicately stuck his hand into the water.  He cringed as he felt slimy objects and soft pieces of food particles brush against his hands but his eyebrows raised when his fingers met the surface of a small jagged metal object.  He pulled it out quickly and felt the weight of it, pulling other objects behind it.  He lifted it out of the water and saw the key, connected to a key chain with a bunch of trinkets to go along with it.  It was the same chain of keys he'd seen May use when she drove the band to the Parks and Rec.  He'd found them.  Way to think like an idiot, Johnny complimented himself.

He turned around quickly and headed out of the kitchen.  "Guys, I've got 'em, let's get out of here," he said loudly.  Now that he'd gotten what he'd came for, there was no need for secrecy, plus if there was someone in the house, there was no use in being quiet as it was obvious that the residents knew they were there, especially if they were hiding.  "Guys?"

There was no response.  "Ah shit," Johnny said, sensing that there was something going on as he headed for the stairs and began to climb up.  He was moving slower than usual to test his surroundings, just in case something were to pop up from around the corner.  He was completely alert, making sure nothing would catch him off-guard as he continued on down the upstairs walkway and crept along the wall until he reached the first door.  Counting to three in his head, he jumped in quickly with an offensive stance and looked around.  It was a bedroom but there was nothing out of the ordinary about it other than the fact that it was old and decrepit, like the rest of the house.  Johnny made sure to check his surroundings behind him before entering the room.  He crept forward and began to gaze around to the other side of the bed.  A figure was coming into view.

He continued on and saw Shelly face first on the floor, unconscious.  "Oh crap," Johnny muttered under his breath as he continued on.  Somebody else was definitely in there.  Movement.  From behind.  Johnny's reflexes obeyed him and he elbowed the figure that was sneaking up on him.

"Ouch!!" Chase exclaimed as Johnny's elbow bashed him on the nose with much force.  "Fuck!!"

"Dude, why the fuck would you sneak up on me like that?" Johnny said, slightly jolted by the sudden adrenaline rush.

"Ah, I just came out of that closet and you hit me, I didn't know you were standing there," he said, holding his face, gesturing to the closet behind him.  His nose was bleeding profusely.  He tried to lay his head back to stop the flow but Johnny put a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from doing so.

"No, no, you can kill yourself doin' that, you've got to keep your head forward."  He ripped off a piece of his shirt sleeve as hard as he could and handed it to Chase, who covered his nose with it.  "What happened to Shelly?"

"I don't know, I just found her lying on the floor there.  That's why I was in the closet."

"So you were waitin' on whoever attacked her to come back so you could get 'em?"

“....Yeah, let's go with that.”

Out of the corner of Johnny's eye, he spotted quick movement by the doorway that forced him to push Chase down as quickly as he could and duck down fast.  It was close enough for him to feel the air of it pass by.  Loud thuds went off above them.  He looked up.  There were several shuriken throwing stars embedded in the wall where they were just standing.  That was too close.

"Shit, I missed," cursed the figure by the doorway.  Johnny stood up from the bed and spotted him.  "I've got more though."

He was a tan-skinned guy with dark eyes and long black hair past his shoulders; much older than they were in appearance.  He was dressed in all black from head to toe and wore fingerless gloves on each hand.  There was a piercing on his right eyebrow and he gazed at them with a deadly sneer, oozing with what could only be described at face value as pure evil.  Johnny recognized him.  He was the lead singer from the band at the Parks and Rec.  The band that carjacked them.

"Salem," the man said, introducing himself in a lazy, raspy voice.  "Lead singer and guitarist of the band, Calypsis.  This is my house.  And you're Johnny B. Goode.  Lead singer and guitarist for the crap ass band, ‘Class of '70.’  This is NOT your house.  I saw you outside, snooping around my new ride.  We were waiting for you."

"You just tried to kill us," Johnny said, his eyes squinted without a hint of fear.

Salem chuckled.  "Yes I did.  Because I legally can, since you all are trespassing on MY property and I can get away with it too.  You better check on your little friend over there, she doesn't look too good."

"She'll be fine," said another figure walking out of the doorway to Johnny and Chase's surprise.  "I just gave her a little bump on the head, that's all."

It was Ramsey.  He had his hair tied up in a ponytail and he too was wearing all black just like the man beside him.  "You guys thought you were infiltrating this place like fucking spies, didn't you?  You interrupted a very important practice that my brother happened to be having with your nonsense.  No matter though, this is still pretty fun."

"This is your brother?" Chase asked in disbelief, pointing at Salem.

"Yep, Salem Sharpa, founder and frontman of Calypsis.  They're on their way to success.  They won the Battle of the Bands."

Johnny stepped forward.  "Oh okay, I know what this is," he said, nodding his head with a smirk.

"I bet you do, Johnny, you always try to be one step ahead of the average crowd," Ramsey said, hands in his pockets casually.  "'Try' being the keyword.  You know how fast news spreads around Garfield?  Fast enough for me to find out that you were starting a band before you confronted me.  Fast enough to get word of my job from my brother before I even met you.  You see, I have an important mission to accomplish in order to make sure that my brother's band comes out on top around here."

"And what's that, sabotagin’ other bands?"

"Not just other bands.  Other good bands.  Because I'm such a good actor, which is why we share the same acting class, and because I can sing and play various instruments, I've broken up some of the best that Ladyland has to offer, Sleeper Cell style.  My brother has won every Battle of the Bands for the past five years, partially because of me."

"You didn't break up this band, Ramsey."

"Ah, but I didn't have to.  I mean you're right fucking here for us to break you up literally, which will ultimately solve the problem for us.  Wasn't like Joey was going to take you guys anywhere special anyway."

"Wait, how did you break up our first band?" Chase said in confusion.  "How could have gotten me to start liking Shelly or gotten Oliver to....Oh my God...."

"Ah, he's figuring it out," Ramsey said with a laugh, tapping his brother on the arm.

"You fucking poisoned Oliver, you son of a bitch!" Chase exclaimed.

"Bronchiopneumonia from Thallium poisoning.  I actually meant to spike Joey since he was the head of the whole thing, but that was just as good.  You managed to handle the rest for me with your thing for Shelly."

"Do you know how many dreams you've crushed, Ramsey?" Johnny said, squinting at him with anger intensely boiling inside of him.  "How much music could have been revolutionized?"

"I think I have an idea.  But do you know how much music can be revolutionized by Calypsis?  I don't think you do.  No, I think you just need to....crossover to the other side, there's nothing here for you but the heat of the night."

Ramsey sung the last part of his sentence and Johnny's heart lept in horror as he realized Ramsey's true purpose.

"Hold on!  Those are the lyrics to 'Crossover', aren't they?" Ramsey said with false excitement.  "Now how did I remember that?"

Johnny stared at Ramsey, expressionless.  "You join people's bands....you memorize their music and you steal them."

"Now, we're on the same page," Ramsey said with a smile.  "I should join the CIA, right?  I just wanted to make sure that you guys knew what was going on before Salem....you know...."  He motioned his thumb across his neck quickly and made a tearing sound.

"Oh, I guess that's my cue," Salem said, opening his jacket and pulling out another batch of throwing stars.  Johnny had been stalling for time.  If he was going to act, it had to be now.  He reached behind him quickly, pulled one of the throwing star out of the wall and chucked it swiftly across the room, where it seemed to move in slow motion.  Johnny hoped to God that it was headed on the right path.  It flew across the room, slicing through the air magnificently before scraping across Salem's face as he drew back violently, blood swinging across the floor.

"Whoa, bro, are you all right?" Ramsey said, tending to his brother, while Johnny jumped across the bed, hopped into the air and drop kicked Salem directly in the head, sending him back out to the doorway.  Johnny landed on his feet, jumped back up, and punched him in the face one final time before he went sailing over the upstairs railing, which, since it was made of fragile wood, broke immediately under his weight and sent him flying down to the surface below.  Johnny didn't mean to deliver that much damage but it still got the job done.

"Salem!" Ramsey yelled, pushing past Johnny, who looked down in shock at the man who lay on his back below him.  Ramsey rushed down the stairs and went to his brother's side.  Johnny was so intent on seeing if he'd accidentally killed Salem that he hadn't paid attention to his surroundings.  At the last minute, he sensed someone right beside him and looked to see the spiky-haired drummer from earlier wielding a sledge hammer, swinging it in his direction.  Johnny ducked, missing it narrowly as it broke into the doorway, spraying wood all over the bedroom.  Johnny pushed the guy away from him to give him some room as he vaulted over the remains of the railing and landed on the floor below.

Strangely, Salem and Ramsey were no where to be found now.  That wasn't good.  Johnny took the time to hook the keys he now possessed onto his belt.  Just as he did, he heard a gun cock behind him.  He forgot.  There was a door right under the staircase that he'd seen when he entered the house.  He jumped directly to his side in the direction of the kitchen just as a powerful muffled sound went off and the wall by the front door was torn apart.  Johnny fell to the floor and scrambled to get up, heading for the kitchen.  The muffled sound went off just as he dove through, destroying part of the doorway.  Johnny vaulted over the counter, sliding across the dirty surface onto the other side, where he flipped and landed on his back behind cover.  He waited a few seconds and peaked over the counter carefully to see Salem, dripping with blood from the bridge of his nose down, with a jagged horizontal scar right across the horizon of his face.  He was holding a shotgun with a huge silver silencer on the end, which was why there was a muffled sound when he fired it.  Johnny only got a glimpse of this terrifying sight, just as the gun went off again, forcing him to dive down back under cover.

Holy shit, we're in deep, Johnny thought.  He needed to come up with something fast.  He heard talking behind him.  Salem was telling Ramsey to go flush him out.  This was his chance.  Johnny saw a knife fall down beside him when he slid across the counter.  He picked it up, just as Ramsey appeared around the corner and twisted himself around on his tailbone, kicking Ramsey forcefully in the groin.  He doubled over and Johnny hopped up, clothes-lining him into a headlock, with the knife at his throat.

"Dumb ass," Johnny muttered as he held Ramsey tightly.  He now had a hostage.  "Put down the gun."

Salem hesitated.

"Put it down, unless you want a crimson shower to clean up this filthy kitchen!"

Salem dropped the gun and there was a short silence.  Johnny could hear struggling on the floor above them.

"Kick it away."

Salem kicked the gun far behind him, back into the living room.

"Alright now....you're gonna let us go....peaceful-like.  Now get the fuck out of the way so I can"-

The window by the sink suddenly shattered as a figure dived through it, tackling Johnny from the back and sending him and Ramsey slamming onto the counter painfully.  The three of them tumbled to the floor.  The boy was a pale-skinned, thick, bald-headed teenager in Gothic clothing, the last of the three members he'd seen at the show.

"Eugene, you cock-head!" Salem exclaimed.  "You could have hurt my brother!"

Eugene got to his feet and pounced at Johnny, who ducked down, hugged him around the legs, and tossed him behind where he collided with Ramsey.  The two were knocked away immediately.  Johnny pushed himself onto the counter with one hand and slid across to the other side where he was confronted by Salem, who had entered the kitchen staring at him with the bloodshot eyes of a demon.  This wasn't going to be as easy as the others.

Johnny tried to improvise.  He saw a pot beside him, grabbed it, and slammed it onto Salem's head.  It didn't do any good.  He was completely unphased.  Salem dashed forward and grabbed Johnny by the throat, squeezing hard enough to completely close off his windpipe.  With the same hand, he slammed Johnny's head onto the counter with abnormal ease.  His strength was unbelievable.  He brought Johnny closer to him and kneed him in the groin.

"I hope you enjoyed that as much as my brother did," he whispered, turning around to toss Johnny out of the kitchen and into the living room, just below the staircase.  At the exact same time, the wild-haired teen from before flew from of the stair walkway and landed right beside Johnny, slamming onto the floor.

"Get up, Eckard!" Eugene yelled, coming out of the kitchen.

Johnny looked up to see Chase looking over the wreck of the rail, bruised up.  His nose was no longer bleeding, but there was still blood covering his upper lip and teeth as he flashed a red smile.

"Johnny, Shelly got out okay," he yelled.  "She's waiting....shit, you're outnumbered....Look out!"

Johnny looked beside him and saw that Eckard was scrambling for the shotgun that had been kicked away.  He was going to get to it before Johnny.  Eckard ran, picked it up, and turned around with it in his grasp.  He pointed it directly at Johnny and the gun went off....

Eckard flew backwards into the wall, his stomach seeping with blood.  Slowly, he slid down it, leaving a bloody trail and immediately regurgitating blood from his mouth on his way down.  He had been holding the gun backwards.

Johnny was actually holding his mouth in shock.

"Eckard....you dumb fuck...." Salem said in a near whisper, just as shocked as Johnny and the rest of them.

"Oops...." Eckard muttered, blood oozing out of his crooked smile.  Seconds later, the light left his eyes and he was gone.  Everyone stood in complete stupor as they stared intently at the dead body that now lay before them....

Until a sound was heard behind the three enemies that stood by the kitchen entrance.  They turned around just in time to see Shelly, blood trickling down her face, holding the pot of hot water that had been sitting on the stove.  She thrust it over Ramsey's face as he screamed at the top of his lungs, the scorching water seeping into his skin.  She dropped the pot quickly and pushed past him.

"Run like the motherfucking wind!" She screamed at the top of her lungs, sprinting for the door.  Johnny bolted after her as Chase hopped off of the floor above them and landed beside him.  Salem and Eugene were right behind as Shelly forced the door open and broke down the screen door in front of it, trying to escape.  The three of them raced across the yard as Johnny unhooked the keys from his belt.  He rushed in front of Shelly and Chase, getting the key ready in his hand as he ran towards the Retrovan.  He stuck it into the door, turning it and opening it quickly before hopping into the front seat.  Shelly and Chase climbed through the now open window, which had been busted out of during the carjacking.  Johnny stuck the key into the ignition and turned with all his might as the van started.

He only had a second to smile with accomplishment before Salem's fist came charging through the window, breaking it and colliding with the side of Johnny's face.  The blow nearly threw him from his seat.  Shelly reached up from the back as he was temporarily incapacitated and pulled the gear to reverse, allowing the car to back out of the driveway.  Johnny, who had now regained his composure, hit the gas pedal hard, sending the van out into the street.  He turned the wheel swiftly, switched gears, and charged down the road, leaving Salem and Eugene standing in their front yard watching them drive away.

"That's right, bitches!" Chase screamed at the back of the van, displaying two middle fingers in their direction.  "Class of '70, all day!  Calypsis, my ass!  We Rule!"

Johnny was breathing heavily and blinking hard.  Shelly climbed into the front seat.  "That didn't exactly go as planned, but oh well.  We got the van back."

"Yeah," Johnny said simply, his eyes focused on the road.

"What's wrong?" Shelly asked.

"What do you think is wrong?" Johnny asked, turning to her.

"Was it that guy dying?" Chase asked leaning up into the front seats.

"Someone died?" Shelly said with surprise.  "I didn't see that."

"Yeah, that dude with the wild hair, Eckard or something, shot himself with the shotgun.  I mean how do you accidentally shoot yourself with a shotgun?  The trigger was backwards-"

"He didn't pull the trigger, his finger probably slipped across it," Johnny said in a monotone voice, his eyes still on the road.  "He was holdin' it recklessly."

"Well it's not like you killed him," Shelly said, shrugging.  "I mean unless they go to the cops-"

"They won't, they'll probably burn his body just like they were going to do us if we'd lost.  They don't look like the types that would go to the cops anyway.  That's not what I'm worried about."

"Then what's the problem?"

Johnny thought for a moment.  "We have to record.  Today.  No questions asked."
"Why?"

"Ramsey knows all of our music by heart, probably remembers the melodies too.  We need to get our music down and copyrighted before they do or all of that work will be for nothin’.  They’ll just say we stole it from them.  Hell, they’ll probably end up sayin' that anyway.”

“Oh I see now,” Shelly said, just as the back window of the van shattered.  The three of them ducked in surprised.  “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Johnny looked behind him briefly to see an old fashioned red Cadillac speeding up from behind.  Eugene was driving and Salem was firing the silencer shotgun from the passenger window.

“Just can't get enough of the carjackin', can you, assholes?” Johnny muttered aloud.  "Chase, be careful back there.  I want you to look around and see if there’s anythin’ that you can throw back at them.”

“Alright,” Chase said, ducking down as he traveled farther into the back of the van, evading quickly to avoid becoming a target.  “Oh, and for the record, if we don’t make it out of this, I want you to know that I really REALLY agree with your decision to kick Ramsey out of the band.  Now more than ever.”

“Once again, thanks,” Johnny responded, swerving across the road intently, trying to avoid the gunshots.

Chase continued on to the back but just before he reached the band equipment, he saw something on the floor of the third row.

“What?” he said in confusion.  “What the hell is this?  It’s like some kind of rake with tiller blades or something.”

“A tiller tine, that's perfect,” Johnny said quickly.  “Throw it out there at them as precisely as you can and get it under their tires.  That should slow them down.”

“Okay,” Chase said, shrugging without faith.  He picked it up, waited for the next shot made by Salem, counted to three, and emerged from the seat.  He pulled the rake back and hauled it out of the back window, watching it fly down into the Cadillac's path.  It got caught under its tires, causing them to blow out and instantly deflate.  The car began to swerve and spin out of control as it slid up a curb and flipped into someone’s yard, tumbling to a stop.  “YEAH!!  Olympic pole vault style!”

Johnny sighed in relief.  The three of them were pretty beat up and so was the van, but they'd come out of the ordeal unscathed, more or less.  They now had the equipment and the van in their possession again.  But Ramsey was, for the most part, still in tact and that crash probably didn't bring an end to such a tough guy like Salem.  No, they would definitely be back for vengeance.

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The van pulled into the parking lot at 10:15am.  Johnny parked the car right beside the Lexus that Paul Mcfly had just stepped out of.  When he noticed that it was Johnny driving, he smiled and walked over to them.

"Everybody be cool," Johnny said confidently.  "I've got this."

"Hey, Johnny!" he said, as they began to exit the vehicle.  "Nice ride!  Some guys I knew back in the day owned a van just like this.  But what're you doing out here, man?  You're supposed to be inside practicing with your band."

"Yeah well," Johnny said, scratching his head.  "I got half of my band here, I had to pick up the other half on my own."

"Man, you guys look roughed up, what happened?" Paul asked with concern as Shelly and Chase accompanied Johnny.

"Uh, ran into a few snags that I don't want to get into right now, but anyways, we need to talk."

"Sure sure, let's get inside first, see if we can clean you and your little love bird friends up."  Paul smiled as he turned and walked into the building.

"Oh, no no no," Shelly said, trying to reassure Paul of his mistake.  "Me and this short idiot are definitely NOT love birds, I can tell you that right now."

"No need to be so defensive, Shelly," Johnny said with a smirk as he followed Paul into the building.  Johnny and Chase headed for the bathroom to wash off and conversed amongst themselves once they were alone.

"So how are we going to do this, dude?" Chase asked, washing the blood from his nose and face at the sink.  "You going to tell him that we have to record today, even though we need to spend all of our time practicing?"

"I'm hopin' he'll let us practice AND record today.  We really need it."

"I doubt that's going to happen.  He's going to have to like us a hell of a lot to give us that kind of treatment."

"How do you think you're gonna do when you get back on the set?" Johnny asked as Chase finished up in the sink and Johnny took his place.

"I think I'm going to rock that shit," Chase said, wiping his hands and face off with a paper towel.  "I can't say the same for the others though, I don't know where their heads are at right now.  Especially Joey."

"Let me worry about him," Johnny said, grabbing a paper towel to dry himself off with.  "Come on, let's get movin'."

Chase followed Johnny down the hallway and soon they met up with Shelly who, accompanied by Paul, made their way to the studio where Joey, Apricot, Razzberry, and Marty were waiting for them.

"Hey guys," Joey said, as they walked in.  "Everything go okay?"

"You can say that," Johnny responded awkwardly.  "I'll fill you in on the details later.  You guys ready for this?"

"Of course," Apricot answered, standing up.

"Alright, everybody set up in the recording room," Paul said with authority.  "I'll give you an extra 20 minutes to practice a bit before I hear what you've got."

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The band performed perfectly.  Everyone seemed totally in synch and they all remembered their parts in each song they performed, despite the setbacks from earlier.  Judgment was excellent as they all knew when to come in and add a new spin on the sound that none of the others had ever heard before.  None of it seemed unnecessary.  It amplified the quality of each song.  Even Joey seemed to be more on point than usual.  Each selection seemed to come out exactly the way Johnny wanted for this performance, echoing in his ears the way he'd imagined them when he first conceived their initial sound.  Johnny kept looking up at Paul as he played.  He had his hand pressed firmly against his mouth with a raised eyebrow.  He didn't seem to be enjoying it much.

This made Johnny a bit nervous but he kept on playing as if no one was there.  Even if Paul didn't have anything good to say about their performance, he was proud of himself and he was proud of this band for bringing their all this time.  He knew that he wouldn't rather jam with anyone else in the world.

When Johnny strummed the last riff of their quick sample of "Landscape," Johnny nodded at Paul, who raised his eyebrows and lifted his head.

"That's it?" he mouthed from behind the glass of the studio.  Johnny nodded.  Paul nodded back and walked out of the room for a moment.  He still couldn't tell what Paul thought of the performance but if he didn't think it was good at all, Johnny knew he wouldn't care in the least.

"No matter what happens, guys," Johnny said, turning back to the band.  "You did absolutely amazin' today."

They all smiled brightly, speaking at once about the various changes they made in between the songs and complemented each other on their additions.  The chatter went silent instantly when Paul walked into the recording room with a slow stroll.  His hand was on his mouth and he didn't look pleased.  Johnny was ready for anything.  After a few minutes of silence, he pointed at Joey.  "You."

"Me?" he said, pointing at himself.

"Yeah, um," Paul said, looking him in the eye.  "I don't think you belong in this band."

Joey chuckled in confusion.  "What?"

"Your playing is mediocre compared to the rest of these guys, why's that?"

Joey couldn't understand it.  He squinted his eyes a few times in confusion.  "My-my playing is right up there with the rest of these guys, what're you"-

"Yes, in a parallel universe, darling, but here, right now, in this studio, it sucks and I'm trying to figure out why you're still here."

Joey was hesitant.  "Guys, you know I'm"- he started, turning to the rest of the band, but he stopped when he saw that most of them were looking away.  He looked at Johnny, the only one to make instant eye contact with him.  Johnny swallowed hard.  Paul wasn't making this easy on him.  He knew that Joey was going to realize that Johnny agreed with him and the brutal honesty that Paul was displaying was going to also make Joey believe that Johnny felt the exact same way, obnoxiousness and all.  But there was nothing he could say.  It was something that Johnny would never have been able to express in front of Joey because they were friends.  But Paul wasn't a friend.  He was a sponsor and potential manager.  That meant when it came to decisions, especially decisions that Johnny agreed with, his words were final.  And they didn‘t have to be nice.  "Johnny....what do you think about my playing?"

Johnny looked down somberly.  "Joey, you're my friend.  I let you stay in the band because you helped form it but....you didn't practice enough after you came out of your first band, man."

"So why didn't you tell me?" Joey said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Because I thought if I helped you with those private sessions we had, you'd get better."

"I wasn't 'better' when you almost let me get up on that stage at the Battle of the Bands and embarrass myself, Johnny!" he shouted angrily, tears forming in his eyes.  "You know what?  Fuck this."  He took off the bass he'd been given and dropped it on the floor forcefully.  "Fuck this, fuck this band, fuck all of you, fuck you, Paul, and fuck you, Johnny!"

Joey stormed out of the room, bumping into Paul's shoulder on his way out.  He budged slightly but was unphased.

"Joey, come on!" Johnny pleaded as the door slammed shut behind him.  "Shit."

"Looks like you need another bassist," Paul muttered.

"NO!" Johnny exclaimed loud enough to make everyone in the room jump.  He did it unintentionally and immediately calmed himself down.  "No....I'll get him to come around.  Everything will be fine."

"I certainly hope so," Paul said, a smile forming on his face.  "Because you guys are one of the best musical acts I've heard in decades.  It's like you all were destined to come together and make music.  I mean the frequency in which you completed these songs is baffling, it's like a gift from the Almighty himself.  And right now, I'm thinking of freeing up my schedule and letting you guys record here....today."

Johnny smiled brightly.  "Really?"

"Yeah, if you're ready."

"What do you think, guys?" Johnny asked, turning back to the rest of the band.

"What about Joey?" Apricot asked somberly.

"Oh, don't worry about that," Paul intervened.  "Johnny, just walk us through the Bass melodies you want in each song.  We'll handle it in post-production and digitally add in the sounds later."

"Okay," Johnny said, turning back to them as they shrugged uncertainly.  "With the Bass melodies already in, we can help Joey learn them the way they were meant to be and he'll get better.  It's win win."

"Yeah and then you can start sending your demos out to some labels and record companies while I hook you up with some gigs.  We can buy you all new equipment and any other studio time you may need.  As long as you guys provide the one thing we need the most: The music."

"Right, well it sounds good to me," Johnny said, smiling weakly at the numbness of not having his best friend with him.

"Nice nice.  Well then, let's get started."

Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix

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