Johnny had taken a seat on top of the kitchen counter as Chuck chronicled the story that led to the ultimate self-destruction of the man known as Wilford Miles. With this information in mind, Johnny couldn't stop himself from feeling helpless. It was Chuck's fault, but he never wanted things to get this far out of control. It wasn't like being angry at him would change anything. Not even hunting Will down and killing him would solve their problems. Johnny hopped down from the counter and walked past Chuck, heading for the living room. He sat down at the couch in front of the plasma TV and entered a deep thought. Chuck turned back and looked at him, hesitating before following him into the room and sitting next to him. It took a few moments to formulate his words.
"Do you know why I make you tell me you love me everyday before we leave each other?" Chuck asked securely. "It's not to make you feel awkward or to annoy you, boy, it's because tomorrow is never promised. I broke away from Guardian Avenue and disbanded it over twenty years ago because I couldn't deal with the secrecy, I couldn't conspire against my own friend like that. But still, somehow things got out of hand and that's just how it is. Sometimes things get out of your control and there's nothin' you can do about it. You've just got to make the best of what you got. And so I make sure that if things are outside of my control and I never get to see you again, we're still reminded that we love each other as family and it's never forgotten even after we're gone. I realized this when I lost my brother before I’d gotten the chance to really let him know how much he meant to me and I swore I‘d never let that happen with you."
Johnny was listening closely but wouldn't turn to Chuck. He didn't respond to him when he was finished, so Chuck turned away momentarily but continued.
"Your father...he was the one who taught me about Electric Church," he said as Johnny turned to him slowly. "I don't know where he got it from but...it seemed like one day he was playin' normally and the next, he was the greatest guitarist I'd ever listened to. I wouldn't be surprised if your skill with the guitar was inherited from him."
"It's not like it makes much of a difference," Johnny said somberly. "As soon as the trial starts, I'm pretty sure I won't get much use out of my guitar playin'. Not to mention, my entire band is probably goin' to get jail time as well."
"Not necessarily," Chuck said, a smirk forming on his face. "I talked to somebody that might be able to pull some strings."
The doorbell suddenly rung. Chuck exchanged pleasant looks with Johnny before getting up to answer it. Paul entered frantically, tackling Chuck into a bear hug that took him back down the hallway. When he let go, he was smiling brightly.
"Chuck, you old bloke, where the hell have you been!?" he said, shaking Chuck by the shoulders, who was getting visibly annoyed by the sudden display of affection and contact, and Paul knew this which was why he continued to do it. "It's great to see you!"
"You too, you ugly Brit," Chuck said, slapping him in the face lightly. "You still got that old Beatles record for good luck?"
"Of course, in the bottom drawer of the desk at my office. It hasn't failed me yet."
"Johnny's in the livin' room. I told him everythin', you know, about the band," Chuck said, pointing to where Johnny was sitting. Paul turned around quickly and walked into the room.
"Hey, Johnny, I heard what happened," Paul said, his enthusiasm subsiding. "Seems like you've entered a bit of a rough patch, eh?"
"Massive understatement but yes," Johnny said, nodding.
"Well," Paul smiled. "You'll be pleased to hear that I can solve at least part of your problem. Enough of it for the concert to still be a possibility."
"Yeah?" Johnny looked up curiously.
"I have a personal connection with the mayor of Ladyland. Did Chuck familiar you with Chandler Michaels? He was the producer of Guardian Avenue from Pioneer Records?"
"Yeah, Uncle Chuck told me about him," Johnny said standing up. "He's the mayor of Ladyland now?"
"Yep, went into politics after quitting from Pioneer in '86. Even though it was his quick lips that caused all this mess in the first place, I've kept in touch with him and we've been close ever since. As soon as Chuck told me what happened, I called him up. He's granting pardons for everybody as we speak and he'll have them all out by tonight."
"Oh, thanks so much, man," Johnny said gratefully, shaking Paul's hand with enthusiasm. This was the miracle he had been hoping and praying for.
"Unfortunately, Johnny, it's a Good New/Bad News situation. You see, according to city law, the mayor can only issue out a maximum of five pardons per sixth months. And there were six of you guys facing charges. I wasn't sure if you'd avoid full incarceration by the time of the concert or if Chuck would have the money to bail you out, so I put you on the list and I was forced to take May off, since she's not in the band."
"What!" Johnny exclaimed, beginning to get flustered. "Call Mayor Michaels and tell him to put May Walker or Ramona Miles or whatever the hell her name is back on the Pardon list!"
"Johnny, what about you?"
"I've been bailed out so I'm fine. The officer said the trial isn't until early June."
"But aren't you on probation or something?"
"No, my conditions of release only say that I can't leave Ladyland until after the trial and I have to attend my scheduled court appearances. I'll be fine, May needs to be made a priority...what're you waitin' for? Call the mayor!"
"Right, right," Paul muttered, dialing the number on his phone and stepping out of the room momentarily.
The pardons had been written for Chase, Shelly, May, Lorenzo, and, when he recovered from his hand injuries, Oliver. They were released with relatively no problem, with the exception of one officer who forbade May and Chase from leaving under the conditions of the Witness Protection Program. After a bit of bribery and some extortion done by Paul to intimidate the officers (For a number of years now, Paul had had connections with a local Mafia syndicate that he used for leverage), the two were let go on the condition that they remain under house arrest on Paul's property, settled through a legal signing. Paul let May and Chase live at he and Marty's penthouse suite, which was right across the street from the local studio that was operated by Razzberry.
A few days had passed since the incident and things seemed to be calming down. They had definitely gone through a drastic change, as Lorenzo wasn't allowed to continue his position in the band and neither was Oliver. Shelly nearly met the same fate had it not been for Paul, who had arrived with the pardon letters just as she had been let out of the cell to notify her father. She dodged a considerably large bullet. Lorenzo and Oliver's positions in the band were filled by their Stand-ins: Dino Bradley on keyboard and synthesizer and Lesley Strokes on bass and backing vocals.
And so the day of reckoning was upon them. It was the Sunday before the concert and the entire band, with the inclusion of May who along with Chase, was allowed to be in the studio because it was owned by Paul, had scheduled a sleepover in the studio, practicing their material from that morning all the way into the night.
Johnny's fingers were extra numb after the practice since they had been working all day. Everyone was sore and in between breaks, Uncle Chuck was there to coach them through some exercises to keep their muscles loose. It was the first time most of them had ever had any exposure to Uncle Chuck, as he seemed relatively apathetic about Johnny's band until now. With Paul by his side, he was, to some extent, picking the band apart and putting it back together securely. This was a good thing, as Uncle Chuck knew first hand what it meant to create a solid band and it was a joy for Johnny, who held his Uncle's contributions in high regard. By 11 O’clock that night, they were all winding down and Uncle Chuck led them through their final batch of stretches to end the practice.
"All right, that's it," he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a towel. "You all did fantastic. Now wash up, get to sleep, and dream epic dreams, because tomorrow, life is gonna be very different for ya'll."
Johnny wiped his own sweat away and switched off his amp while the others packed away their instruments as well.
"You know, I had my doubts to begin with, but I've got to say, jamming with you guys is freaking fun," Dino said with a smile, walking away from his keyboard. "In my 20 years of living and playing music, I've yet to see someone who's as mesmerizing to watch play as you, Johnny. Not to mention the music, I mean, wow."
Johnny smiled and shook his head dismissively as he pulled the guitar chord from his amp. "None of us are gettin' out of this life alive, so I'm just doin' what I need to do to get where I need to go."
"Wow, I didn't know Buddha played guitar," Lesley joked, pulling off her bass and heading toward her case on the other side of the room. "Yeah, you guys are pretty good. This concert should be a synch."
"Yeah," Johnny said, his enthusiasm dissipating slowly. His attention seemed to be taken away quickly and in seconds, Johnny was headed out the door of the recording booth where they'd been practicing.
"Where are you going?" Chase asked curiously, as he got up from his drum set.
"I'll be right back, I've got to talk to my uncle about somethin'." Johnny walked out and back into the studio room, where Paul and Chuck were consulting. Johnny chose not to enter immediately but instead stood by the door, silently listening in.
"Yeah, he is good," Chuck responded to Paul. "He's really good. It's just - I don't know. He doesn't have that edge Jimmy had, you know? Like it's all great and I'm sure everybody in this generation, especially all of those stupid kids at his school are probably gonna dig him for the most part, but it seems like somethin' is missin'. Like he hasn't tapped into the old school just yet, he hasn't tapped into the Electric Church."
"Then why can't you just tell me?" Johnny asked angrily as he walked into the room. Chuck turned around to him in surprise. "Why do you keep sayin' I'm gonna learn it all by myself if I haven't gotten it down yet? The concert is tomorrow, how am I supposed to learn how to be good enough for this thing in a few hours?"
"No, you listen, Uncle Chuck!" Johnny shouted pointing at him accusingly. "You don't know what I’m going through right now. Do you know why I'm constantly practicin'?! Because I always feel like I'm never gonna be good enough. Every time I pick up this damned guitar, I feel like a novice. I've felt this way ever since I learned about that damned Electric Church thing and no matter what I fuckin' do, I can't get over this shit. And now you just basically confirmed that I'm still not good enough. What the fuck do I do? Am I ever gonna be good enough? Because if I'm not by tomorrow, we might as well just cancel the stupid thing right now!"
Johnny ripped the Night Bird from around his torso and tossed it on the ground, before turning and walking out of the room quickly. Uncle Chuck tried to follow him.
"Johnny, come back, JOHNNY!" he called as Johnny charged into the hallway. "JOHNNY, GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE!"
The rest of the band had exited the booth curiously to see Johnny storming away without a word.
Johnny didn't return until late, around midnight. He'd spent that time outside, lost in thought and reluctant to re-enter the building at all, as he didn't want to confront the others if they were still awake. His reservations concerning the concert as a whole were still running deep and if they didn't fade by the morning, he wasn't sure if he'd be up for performing at all. In the bottom of his soul, he knew he wanted to, but without the proper confidence, he couldn't see it happening, at least not the way he wanted. Johnny had never consciously addressed the deep insecurities he had with his guitar playing since most people praised him for it and he never had a problem with its reception. But whenever he worried about the well-being of his band, it was always amplified with the subtle disapproval of his own musical skill, the introduction of Electric Church being a largely contributing factor to this sudden withdrawal and perfectionist attitude. Now he was faced with an internal struggle that needed to be dealt with for the sake of the others or else their strongest link would become their weakest.
He entered the studio room and saw each member of the band covered in blankets as they slept soundly. Chase had been one of the lucky ones to get the couch and Dino was laid out on the comfortable leather chair in front of the soundboard. Johnny walked over to the corner of the room as quietly as he could and grabbed the blankets he'd brought from home, laying them across a vacant spot in the floor and leaning down to get into a comfortable position. It took nearly an hour for him to fall into a slumber, but the drowsiness finally washed over him and he fell into a deep sleep.
"She's flying down to me, but tomorrow got to set her free," whispered the voice in his head in a singing voice.
Johnny was standing naked on the edge of a cliff as he looked out onto the majestic sea, the moon shining down on him magnificently, as if he were the only creature in the world. Suddenly, emerging from the bottom of the cliff, a large bird-like creature flew above and flapped its wings as it landed softly on the ground behind him, kicking up a small cloud of dust.
The figure had the wings of an eagle but its feathers were dark and grey. When the figure turned around, it was a naked woman with long flowing hair, but there was only a blank cover of flesh where her face should have been. When she walked up to Johnny, he heard the voice speak again.
"Until tomorrow, no tears will be shed, hold on till the sun gets out of bed....”
The figure strolled forward and calmly embraced Johnny, its wings wrapping around him tightly. Johnny submitted himself and the two stepped off of the cliff, disappearing into the darkness.
“....All we've got is one precious night....”
May woke up to the sound of strumming that echoed in the hallway. She sat up from her sleeping bag and wiped her eyes before sliding out and tip-toeing to the door. Opening it, she walked outside to see Johnny in his pajamas, playing his guitar lightly and sitting by the side of the wall. He turned up at her curiously.
"Hey," May greeted, pushing back her hair slightly as she closed the door behind her. "Can I step into your world for a while?"
Johnny chuckled. "If there's enough room."
"What are you doing out here so late?" she asked, walking over and taking a seat beside him. "It's almost four in the morning."
"Woke up from a crazy dream and couldn't go back to sleep," Johnny said, going back to the Night Bird and continuing along its chords. "And the guitar was callin' me."
"Of course," May said with a smile. "The others were talking earlier...They were worried that you were going to bail out after what happened earlier. Do you mind me asking what's going on with that?"
Johnny continued with his guitar, acting as if he hadn't heard her. After a few seconds, he took a deep breath and said, "I'm doin' the concert."
"You are?" May asked with a bit of surprise. "I mean, you're not worried about getting the reaction you want-”
"It's not about the reaction, it's about sendin' the message."
"Okay, so you're not worried about not sending the message you want?" May asked, leaning forward to gauge his reaction.
He turned to her slowly, darting his eyes around the area as if unsure of what to say. Finally, he looked her in the eye and spoke securely and confidently. "No."
When Johnny went back to the guitar, May realized that she wasn't going to get much more out of him about the subject so she decided to change it.
"So, uh," she said awkwardly, scratching the back of her head. "Where does that leave us?"
Johnny turned to her. "I don't know. Where does it?"
"Well, you were the one that broke things off back when Oliver was with us and you didn't seem like you were phased by it at all. I thought you might have, I don't know, lost interest somewhere back there or something."
Johnny shook his head. "I never lost interest in you, May. I just wanted to give you the chance to make the right choice. I wanted you to be happy with whoever you wanted to be with and if that happened to be Oliver, I'd be okay with it. And the second he would start treatin' you bad, I'd step in, kick his ass, and take you back."
May chuckled, leaning forward and kissing Johnny on the lips. She then laid her head on his shoulder. "You're something else, Johnny."
"I'm everything else, baby," he said as she hit him on the chest playfully and he continued to play his guitar until she fell asleep at his side.
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) By Jimi Hendrix