Chet stood on the roof-top, watching. There was still gunfire coming from Duffy's. Randi gave him his beret.
"Thanks," he said. He put it on.
–How's your shoulder?
He rubbed it. "All better. Thanks." He stuck his finger through the hole in the shoulder of his jacket. "I'll have to sew this up when I get home."
–Look down below.
He leaned over in time to see the elf-girl running down the block, carrying the skinny woman in the suit. They vanished around the corner. The sound of gunshots had died down.
"I could use a drink," he said. "You want to–"
–I'm going home. I've had enough of this city for one night.
He nodded. "I can see what you mean. I just need to unwind a little." He adjusted his beret again and stroked his goatee. He lit a cigarette.
–You want me to drop you anywhere?
–Okay. I'll see you at home.
He felt the soft press of a kiss on his cheek.
At Duffy's the bodies of the police and bystanders were removed. The place was given a cursory once-over for clues, and then padlocked.
After everything was silent for about half an hour, the concealed trap-door behind the bar slowly opened and the bartender came up. He looked around and poured himself a shot of whiskey.
He sighed and checked the back room. The old man was still working away.
Chet walked quickly down a very narrow alleyway, then emerged into a wider space between two old tenement buildings. There was graffiti on all sides. On the right hand wall, it said: "There is, in the world, a war or two . . ."
On the left-hand wall it said simply: "Queer Turf."
He walked straight ahead to a plain, white door.
A woman wearing bright yellow face paint under glowing red hair sat at a crude table by the entrance.
"Hello, Chet," she said, careful not to change her expression. "What's the rumpus?"
He shrugged. "Shoot-out at Duffy's." He took his wallet out to pay her.
She frowned, the paint cracking. "Was it–"
"Cops after some man. I didn't know him."
"They get him?" She took his money and stamped his hand.
He shook his head. "He had a couple of friends. The cops got the worst of it."
She nodded and turned to the next customer. Chet knew that if the story wasn't on the grapevine already, it would be now. Quite often people came to the Quarter just to find out the news from Frances.
Chet wondered why the place was so full. He moved over to the bar to get a drink. For some reason the crowded room made him uneasy.
The crowd was mixed, most seemed to be in their teens or early twenties. Chet calculated that he was probably the oldest person in the room. There were quite a few gang members around, but everybody usually behaved themselves at the Quarter.
The kitchen was long since closed down, so the bands used it as a second dressing room.
They necked with their leather jackets on. To compensate for the difference in their height, she sat on the edge of the kitchen counter.
She wrapped her legs around him as they kissed.
The double doors at the rear of the club opened. Two kids of high school age came in, awkwardly carrying a large speaker cabinet.
Chet leaned over to the bartender. "What's going on?" he asked.
"A band's playing later."
Chet heard someone at a nearby table ask the next question before he could. "Do they have a permit?"
He had a feeling he knew the answer already, and wondered if he should leave while he still could.
The bartender said, "Frances tells me you were at Duffy's." Her voice was only barely loud enough to reach his ears.
He nodded. "Randi and I were there. It was a quiet as you can imagine for a while, about ten people in the place. We'd just stopped in to see if anything was shaking, and I thought Arch might take my side in an argument Randi and I were having. Then suddenly this guy runs in, a bunch of cops behind him, and all hell breaks loose. As usual, a bunch of people got killed, none of them the one the cops were actually after. He got away with his two friends."
They necked with their leather jackets on. To compensate for the difference in their height, she sat on the edge of the kitchen counter. She wrapped her legs around him as they kissed. They both wore cowboy boots. She wore hers outside her jeans, he wore his inside. Her hand clutched at his curly black hair, and he pulled back suddenly to light a cigarette.
His face was closed down and his eyes lidded. "You should be telling me that this time we'll pull it off."
"If I believed it, I would. But it's a long shot. You know that."
He grimaced. If you work at it hard enough, you can make people say what you want them to say, but you can't ever make them feel what you want them to feel, so why bother.
"What do you want?" she demanded, swinging her legs back and forth. She was bored with this. "Look you're blowing this up out of all proportion. It's a gig, no more and no less, whether or not you manage to play it. Even if you do play, it won't change anything."
He moved in on her, kissed her hard and long. She leaned up against him, cursing the fact that they both worked so hard against what could be so natural. And, damn it, she wished for this gig to come off every bit as much as he did.
He grinned at her. "Just a kiss. No more and no less."
Chet sat at a table near the back of the bar, sipped his beer and wondered why he suddenly felt tired. Probably just the adrenaline from earlier in the evening finally wearing off. "Chet," someone said behind him, and he turned. It was a small, slender man in a large, dingy gray T-shirt and denim shorts. He swung into the seat next to Chet, putting his drink on the table.
"Hello, Pete," Chet said, holding out his hand. "I didn't see you around."
"I was back in the dressing room. He–"
"Are you guys playing tonight?" Chet asked, sitting up straighter. He didn't feel tired now. He wondered if this was worth calling Randi.
"Yes, if we can. There isn't a permit."
"You've heard about the shoot-out at Duffy's. Maybe that will keep the cops busy."
Pete nodded. "Maybe. That's what I think anyway, but Henshaw isn't so sure. You got a cigarette?"
Chet tossed him the pack. "Where are your two partners?"
"Henshaw's in the kitchen fighting or making up with Jenny. Carl is at the bar trying to get a free drink. Another free drink, I should say. I hear you were over at Duffy's when it happened."
Chet laughed. "Everybody's heard that, and nobody wants to talk about anything else. Here I am with all these great opinions about art and politics and life–"
He stopped at Pete's look, laughed again, and told him the whole story as he had told it to the bartender. He had known, however, that it wouldn't be enough detail to satisfy Pete.
"Who was there when it happened?" Pete asked, brushing his stringy brown hair back from his forehead with one hand. He looked like he was hanging on Chet's every word.
"Arch was behind the bar. There were two kids, teenagers, asleep in the corner. They looked like hitchhikers who'd got stuck. There were two men who were waiting for the guy named Reggie, plus Randi and me. And a very small girl in a black leather jacket." He paused. "I know it sounds silly, but she looked like an elf. Under four feet tall, long black hair parted in the middle, big pointed ears and bright green eyes. Very small, but obviously not a kid. All dressed in black."
"A punk elf," Pete said. "Great."
"Then there were some gunshots outside, and a woman ran in. She was tall, real skinny, well-dressed, wearing a man's suit and glasses, walking with a cane. She said she was a reporter–"
Pete looked up. "Jan Sleet," he said.
"She didn't mention her name, at least that I heard. How–"
"I recognize the description. She's a good writer. I wonder what she's here to write about."
"She seemed more like she was here by accident."
Pete shook his head. "Too bad." He laughed. "Hell of a place to end up if you're not expecting it."
"The Jinx may be coming down," Pete said.
Chet made a face. "I would like to see Neil, and Denise, and Dr. Lee, but I almost hope they don't come down. Too much fuel on the fire."
Pete snorted. "You're getting mighty cautious in your old age. What happened to–"
"Those two kids who got shot at Duffy's. They weren't even awake." He poked at the hole in his jacket shoulder. "I got winged, and it could easily have gone against that guy Reggie and his friends. That's enough for one night."
Pete shrugged. "Frankly, if something ugly does develop, I'd rather have them here. At least they'd be on our side."
"They do idolize Henshaw, that's for sure."
"You hear any news today?" Chet asked. Pete was always up on the latest news of the outside world. Except for Pete, Chet sometimes felt like he and Randi were the only ones.
Pete shook his head. "We were too busy practicing. You hear anything?"
Chet nodded, signaling the waitress for another drink. He pointed at both drinks on the table, indicating he was buying for Pete as well.
"Another brigade is getting ready to ship out to Bellona. This time the government says they flat won't allow it."
"Negotiations under way?"
Chet lit a cigarette. "So they say. It doesn't sound like they're gonna give in, though."
He smiled wryly. "Either side, I guess. The brigaders have an ace in the hole, though. Perry Nelson has announced that he's going back, and he sounds like he doesn't give a damn what Washington says."
Pete considered this as the drinks were served. "It would be a big deal for them to refuse re-entry to the most popular writer in the country."
"They're probably hoping he gets killed over there."
She always made him feel like an outlaw.
Just walking beside her, his hands jammed deep into his jacket pockets, made him feel like something different, something dangerous. At night was the best, seeing her in the streetlight's harsh glow, her long, blonde hair framing her wide, smooth face, cascading down her leather back. She was at her sexiest then. In bed was almost perfunctory, an acknowledgement of this, the best of the times together. This was the real love-making.
But it never lasted. This time it ended when she giggled. "You know," she said, "we could get shot out here."
He hated her when she was drunk. He wanted to hit her, to stop before she said anything more. "Shut up, Jenny. You're drunk."
"Oh, so what. Look, you just can't stand . . . can't admit that this turns you on. All these guns and shit, like what happened at Duffy's tonight."
"Look, can't you see the difference? People died at Duffy's."
"What the hell. Nobody I knew." He knew it was just bravado, tough-talk, and he hadn't known the people who had died either, but he didn't want to hear any more. He slapped her, hard enough to send her whirling into the wall of the building they were passing. She hit with an awful thud, but came back at him. He took a hard boot heel in the stomach, gritting his teeth as he went down.
He forced himself to his knees and lurched towards her, grabbing her around the waist. They fell to the pavement in a heap, she trying to knee him in the groin as he caught a handful of her hair and forced her head . . .
He yanked her head towards his, kissed her savagely, drawing blood, he didn't know whose. Her strong arms locked around him as if he were her only hope.
As Pete and Carl the drummer set up the band's equipment, Chet was watching the door pretty carefully, expecting trouble, so he was looking that way when, much to his surprise, two people from the Duffy's shoot-out came in.
It was the elf girl and the tall, skinny woman in the suit. Both the suit and the woman looked rather the worse for wear, and he noticed that she no longer had her briefcase.
Leading them was a young boy in a stained denim jacket that was several sizes too large for him, wearing a bandanna across the lower half of his face. Chet thought he looked familiar, but couldn't place him.
The boy went to the bar and caught the bartender's eye. She came over and shook her head before he had even finished his question. She gestured at the sign over the bar, which said, "Nobody will be served who's face is covered." There was a pause, then the boy pulled his bandanna down. Chet recognized him. His name was Paris.
"I'm looking for the dance. They've moved it again." The bartender indicated that she didn't know anything about it, but he persisted and eventually she gestured towards Pete, who was squatting in the middle of the stage, tuning his bass.
"He'll know if anybody does," she said.
Paris came over with the two women following behind. Chet noticed that the tall woman had a swelling on her temple, and seemed to be limping even more than she had before. The floor of the club was full of unexpected holes, lips and levels, and she was being very careful where she put her cane.
They were about to go past Chet's table when the elf-girl saw him and came over.
"How're you doing?" Chet asked.
"Not all that great," the girl replied. She jerked a thumb towards the reporter, moving carefully among the small tables, "but she's doing a lot worse."
"In the excitement before I didn't get your names. Mine is Chet."
"I'm Vicki. This is Jan Sleet."
Chet gestured for them to sit down, but only Jan Sleet did, grimacing as she swung her stiff leg under the table.
"How did you get out of Duffy's when the shooting started?" Vicki asked.
Chet smiled. "My girlfriend got me out." He pushed along before she could ask any more questions. "And where did you ladies come from? How did you happen to visit our fair neighborhood?"
Vicki smiled as Jan Sleet looked startled. "I have no idea," the reporter said. "I think I missed my stop on the subway, and here I am."
Frances came over. "Bobo is drunk again. As soon as he's sobered up enough to understand English Eddy wants me to can him."
"So," Chet said, "you're in the market for a new bouncer."
"Right." She looked them over. She shook her head. "I guess I'm going to have to look somewhere else."
"Well," Chet said, "Pete tells me you're a reporter. Are you going to write about all this?"
Jan Sleet shook her head slowly.
"I don't think so. I wouldn't know where to start." She looked up. "Who's Pete?"
"Well, I should think–"
Paris came over. "I found out where the dance is. Come on."
Chet glanced at the stage. "You're not going to catch the set?"
Paris gave him a look that made him feel very old.
As they left Vicki stopped to talk to Frances for a moment.
Frances found herself getting more and more nervous as the time for the set approached.
She stood and started walking back and forth across the narrow club, only returning to her makeshift table when someone came in and she had to collect their money.
Donna the bartender gave her an "I know how you feel" look, but Frances shook her head. Donna was wrong.
Frances and Philip Henshaw had been a very casual couple for six months, until Jennifer Owens had appeared on the scene, and Donna had refused to believe that it hadn't been a Big Romance (because she herself was so hot for Henshaw, Frances thought) and that the breakup hadn't been a Big Tragedy.
But some combination of the history, the music and the very real possibility of danger had got her too antsy to sit down. She was thinking about how long it seemed since she had heard Kingdom Come play, and she was trying not to think that if anybody did decide to raid the club, she was the first person they'd get to.
She'd seen Henshaw and Owens leaving a while before, both with their hands jammed into their jacket pockets, looking at the floor, though as they left Owens had glanced up at Frances, as if daring her to speak to Henshaw. Frances wondered if she had been talking to Donna.
Unlikely, she thought. Owens never spoke to anybody but Henshaw.
She had also seen them come back in a while later, eyes still down and hands still jammed into pockets. The only difference was that one of Henshaw's pants legs was torn, his knee bloody, and his lip was split, and Owens had a handkerchief wrapped around one wrist and some cuts on one temple.
There was an eerie wail from outside and people turned to look, but of course the windows were all painted black. The sound faded away.
Right after them came a tall, muscular woman in black jeans, boots and a sleeveless black T-shirt. She had full reddish-brown hair and wore mirror sunglasses.
Frances nodded as she strode past, but got no reaction. Donna jerked her head after the woman, wondered why Frances hadn't asked her to pay, but Frances held up her hand and gave her the sign language characters for J and X – the Jinx were never asked to pay for anything.
Chet hadn't seen them come on, but suddenly the band was on stage. The room seemed to hold its breath, as if wondering if this was really possible.
Henshaw stood in the center of the stage, flanked by Pete on one side and a woman Chet recognized as CJ of the Jinx on the other, the big hollow-body electric guitar looking like a toy in her huge hands. She pushed her long hair back behind her ears as she waited.
Carl the drummer sat nervously behind the kit, his fingers playing patterns on his thighs as he waited for Henshaw's signal. "We'll play the good songs first, just in case," Pete cracked to the sound man.
Henshaw, standing impatiently in the center of the stage, frowned, fingering his battered guitar. He looked like he'd just been in a fight and was obviously in no mood for jokes. His lip was split and one eye was puffy and half-closed.
"CJ from the Jinx is sitting in on guitar. We're Kingdom Come, and this is Small Business."
Chet's attention was drawn to the blond woman standing by the side of the stage. Her face was wide, expressionless and flushed. She was obviously very drunk, and she showed obvious signs of having been in a fight as well. After a minute he recognized her as Jennifer Owens, Philip Henshaw's new girlfriend.
As the band careened from one song into the next, she raised her arm and brought her beer bottle down in the edge of the stage. It shattered, and she lunged for Henshaw, broken bottle outstretched in her hand.
Henshaw reeled back, clutching at the mike stand for support, blood streaming down the front of his jeans. Pete ran over to him, and CJ put down her guitar, obviously about to jump on Owens, but Henshaw waved her off.
"Leave her alone!" he rasped.
Then Chet heard the sirens from outside, and he knew that this was one more thing than he could deal with by himself.
"Randi!" he bellowed, fighting through the crowd to the stage as Henshaw fell over.
And, suddenly, Randi was there, and Chet and Pete and Philip Henshaw and Jennifer Owens all vanished.