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Encore by Geddy Gibson (this story is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license)

“We have to buzz to get in? Weird.”

I hit the button. There was no buzzing sound, but an orange halogen spot flicked over the doorway.

I tried the door. Still locked. I glanced over at Katie. She was looking nervously down the sidewalk. One way then the other. There were only a couple of streetlights. A half block to our left were some figures standing in the shadows. January steam blew from their noses into the light.

“’Zis really the place?” she asked, smirking. “Thought you said this guy was a big deal.”

I looked up above the door. Didn’t see a camera or anything. Wondered whether I should I try the buzzer again.

Katie reached for the door. This time it opened. I smiled at her, shrugged. We entered.

Two flights up and the place finally started to seem like a music venue. It was an old commercial building--the kind of place where you might visit some shabby CPA office. But here on the third floor, where the gallery was, were signs of creative types.  Lurid posters. Cigarette butts on the floor. Sounds of a P.A. wafted out of the door of the gallery.

“Hi?”

I stared for a beat at the wormy little guy covering the door. Waited for him to figure out that, yep, the two people standing in front of him wanted tickets for the show. He peered at me from behind a pair of those ugly fucking black rectangular glasses. Out-waited me.

“Two!”

“That’ll be $20 dollars.”

I pulled out a thin fold of cash. My stomach contracted as I looked through it. A ten and six ones.

“Oh, shit. I, ah,…I coulda sworn I got out forty today. Um…d’you...?”

“Yeah, hold on.”

Katie’s head darted down, avoiding the eyes of the door nerd. I could tell she was embarrassed. Not angry, though. I hoped.

Guy took the money, put it in a zippered bank bag. There was a stack of programs on his table, but he just looked up at us with one of those thin-lipped “Well…?” expressions.

We sauntered forward toward the performance space. Bunch of metal folding chairs for seats. The crowd was still light, milling around in pockets. Hardly anyone was sitting.

I noticed that if you looked at the place from above, it was laid out kinda like a big number seventy-one on a digital clock. The performance area--the “one”--was this long shotgun barrel of a room. Off to our left--the “seven”--was a gallery room,  separated from the performance space by a high wall.  Hot bright lights were aimed at the nouveau artworks scattered across the walls inside the “seven.”

We stood there for a moment, not knowing where to put ourselves. Through the pockets of people in front of us, I could see a drum set down at the other end of the shotgun barrel. I felt a little twinge of excitement.

Gerd Hootkamp’s kit. Holy shit!

I’d been listening to him for, what…twenty years? Had it been that long? The wild man of the Netherlands. One of the originators of the freely improvised music movement in Europe.

The drum kit looked fairly normal, run of the mill. I chuckled under my breath. One of the first of his albums I bought featured him playing out in Germany’s Black Forest. You could hear him splashing around in puddles, breaking sticks, banging on tree trunks. Expanding the notion of percussion, music. A ridiculous experiment. A huge influence on me.

I looked over at Katie. I smiled. She smiled back. I loved that she was willing to tolerate my oddball tastes.

Katie pointed out the reception desk to our left. Some guy was serving beer from a keg.

“Red plastic cups,” Katie said. “Classy.”

“Alright, you!” I jeered.

She socked me on the arm.

“We still have a few minutes before the thing,” I said. “Why don’t we go through there, check out some of the art? They’re s’posed to be showing some of Gerd’s stuff, too.”

I let her move ahead of me toward the opening to our left, the opening to the “seven.” Just then I caught the eye of a guy standing up near the drum set.

Dan…what’s his name?…Dan Fisher?…Fishberg. Dan Fishberg. Baritone sax guy.

Dan was talking to someone but not looking at them. He had positioned himself so that he had prime seating for the show. But he was now standing so that he could “see and be seen.” Big arrogant grin.

I could tell he recognized me from the last show Katie and I had gone to. His band had been the opener at that show. But he’d spent most of the time sucking the ass of a guy in the main act: Jack Garrett, a sort of a legend of the local scene. I guessed that Dan was probably gonna try and schmooze Gerd at some point tonight. For now he was just scanning the audience for lesser prey.

I rolled my eyes at him slightly as I turned to follow Katie. I didn’t care if he saw me. His whole deal just seemed so…post-collegiate. Too much like seeing a mirror of myself fifteen years ago. Just out of college with some worthless Humanities degree. Desperate. Knowing I didn’t want to end up in the purgatorial office where I’d been interning. Deluded that I could make it in an obscure music scene, if I just worked at it. The whole thing just seemed insane now. Laughable waste of time.

Once Katie and I were in the “seven,” we felt like we could breath. Space, light, art, high ceilings. I put my arm around Katie, gave her a squeeze. We ambled along the walls, checking out paintings and photographs.

We were almost alone in the room. I thought about grabbing her and dancing ironically to the crazy music coming out of the PA. During the past few years, raising a toddler, I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be on a “date.”

Across the top of the “seven” was a narrow hallway that led from the performance space to some other rooms in the back of the gallery. We moved into the hallway to see what was there. I looked to our right toward the performance space.  Gerd’s drums were not visible from the hallway. I could only see part of the audience. There was Dan Fishberg again, looking at us.

“Look,” Katie said. “Isn’t this the guy?”

I looked up where she was pointing on the hallway wall. There was a picture of Gerd Hootkamp. He was standing next to a ladder. Wild eyes blazing. Coveralls spattered with paint. Some of the longest legs I’d ever seen. He looked nearly seven feet tall. A lumberjack.

We noticed that we were surrounded by his drawings, hung on the hallway walls. Most of them were small, seemingly drawn on typing sheets.

“Why would they just stick his stuff back here in this hallway?” Katie asked.

I shrugged, lightly shook my head.

A couple of figures wandered up. They had come out of door further down the hallway and were headed toward the performance space. One of them was in his sixties, scraggly. He had on a gold lamé shirt. Looked like a bum who had dressed from the dumpster outside a children’s theater.

“…I mean, I’ve heard of gettin’ high after a show,” Mr. Gold Lamé was saying, “but before a show?”

The guy with him looked amused. Mid-twenties. He was dressed with “carelessly,” in well-stitched clothes designed to look like they were from a thrift store.

“Well, he is from the Netherlands. He’s used to being able to use whenever he feels like it.”

I leaned near Katie’s ear.

“That must be The Owl. The one in the gold shirt? Dude’s playing with Gerd tonight.”

“Mm-hmm…The Owl?”

“He has this…When he’s not actually playing on stage he, uh, smokes a pipe and, like, just stares at the other players. Looks real serious, wears a pair of those big-framed glasses…?”

Katie nodded absent-mindedly, looked back to the artwork on the wall. She didn’t know much or care about the improvised music scene. I watched her frown at the drawing in front of her. A swarm of penises floating above a daisy-covered field.

The Owl pushed through the college types clogging the end of the hallway. They frowned at him. A couple laughed.

Fishberg’s eyes got slighted wider. He recognized The Owl. Fishberg got this smirk on his face. His body became slightly tauter. He looked for a way to pounce, introduce himself to The Owl.

We walked to the other end of the hallway where Gerd’s dressing room was. We stopped instead of walking toward yet another set of rooms. The place was bigger than I had realized. Labyrinthine.

Katie was looking at the artwork. I stared at the dressing room door. Odd to think that Gerd was sitting in there, what…smoking hash? Shooting up? Not crack

My heart jumped when the door started to open. I turned around quickly, pretended I was looking at the artwork on the wall.

Why am I acting like a nervous teenage fan?

 I waited a beat, then looked over my left shoulder. He was already headed down the hall, his back to us. His legs still looked freakishly long, but I could tell he wasn’t much over six feet.

“He’s not as tall as I thought.”

“’Zat him?”

“Yeah. They must be about to start.”

We headed the same direction. Ahead of us we could see Gerd push his way through the crowd at the opening to the performance space. A smattering of applause grew into light cheering as the audience realized who it was.

Gerd attacked the kit immediately, before Katie and I had made it to the end of the hall. We moved as close as was comfortable to the student types plugging the opening to the performance. They stank of patchouli.

The sound of Gerd’s drumming crashed around the corner from within the performance space. We waited for the people to move. Make their way to the metal chairs. They didn’t. Katie stretched up to my ear.

“I can’t see anything.”

“Me neither! I…”

I glanced at the people again. I tried to see what was in front of them.

“Maybe they’ll…Let’s just…”

I gave Katie a “sit tight” gesture. She shrugged.

I leaned back against the hallway wall. We seemed so close. Maybe these people would sit on the floor in a few minutes. Something.

The music swelled as the Owl joined in on saxophone. Raucous, noisy playing. The interaction was tight, the music loose.

After a couple of minutes, I started to feel anger building. I glared at the people in the opening. None of them had been fans of Gerd’s for twenty years. I felt like shoving them out of the way.

Between the heads of the people cloying the opening I caught sight of Dan Fishberg again. His head was bobbing along with the beat. Huge grin. I sneered at the face before another head tilted in front of it.

Katie leaned her head against my shoulder. I leaned my own head back against the wall. I looked up at the ornate moldings around the high ceilings. My eyes unfocused as I concentrated on Gerd’s drumming. But my tension was building.

I might as well be at home, listening to this on the stereo.

I tried to relax. Pretend I wasn’t in this hallway, blocked by these idiots. Forget how wrong it all seemed.

What’s the point of going to a concert you can’t see?

My head snapped away from the wall. I glared at the people ahead of us again. Something was going to give. Something was going to have to happen.

Just then I felt the vibration of footfalls on the floor. A shoulder brushed mine. I watched as a guy and two girls moved past us. They were young, waifishly thin, short. Stylishly dressed and dumb looking.

The three of them pushed against the backs of the people in the opening, peering over their shoulders. The people being crowded by these three looked at them in annoyance, shifted on their feet. The space in front of Katie and me was now crammed with bodies.

Katie looked at me. I waved my hand toward the three fresh idiots and looked exasperated. Katie shook her head, disbelieving.

 “Let’s try going back toward the entrance, where we came in.” I said into Katie’s ear. “Maybe we can see from the back of the performance space. This is retarded.”

            More people had moved into the hallway behind us. We pushed past them. I looked back and watched them fill in our spaces. No going back for us.

            The “seven” room was still a fairly open space when we rounded the corner. But we quickly saw that its other opening--the one leading to the rear of the performance space--was thronged with people. It was just like the opening of the hallway. No way to see around the corner.

We walked about halfway across the room. I looked at Katie and threw up my hands.

“This is completely fucked.”

The bald twerp charging admission had moved his table into the “seven.” The performance room was glutted with people all the way back to the entrance. Baldy had undoubtedly moved here for some breathing room. He was standing there holding his bank bag, staring moronically toward the crowd. We walked up behind him.

            It was January, but the place had gotten hotter from all the bodies. My head felt like it was exploding. I started to unzip my coat. I looked at Katie. Her face had gone dark. She was looking toward the floor. I flung my coat to the floor next to the wall. The zipper tinked against the wall.

            Baldy whipped his head around to give me a look. I held his gaze, hoping he would say something, not sure what I would say. I saw a change in his eyes. He looked quickly away.

            I was starting to feel dizzy with anger. The only option we had was to stand here like dolts or push our way into the crowd. And wouldn’t that have been great, standing there sweating with some guy’s blue-jeaned crotch up against your ass for an hour?

And then, of course, there was the option of leaving. Driving the half hour back out of the city in tense silence. Letting baldy here and his loser buddies keep our twenty dollars as a reward for their shabbily planned, oversold music gig.

Gerd’s drumming was in my ears. The screeching of the saxophone. My breath hissed through my teeth. I thought about spitting on the floor. Maybe pissing on the floor of one of the back rooms. Anything. Something to show my distaste for the place. For all of this. But the thought seemed childish as soon as I had it.

We stood there a few more minutes, staring at the back of baldy’s head. Looking out of place. Baldy tried not to turn around.

I’m lookin’ at you fucker! What do you think we are doing back here?

I could see him keeping an eye on us in his peripheral vision. At one point he started to set his money bag on the table. His eyes suddenly looked blank and he tucked it under his arm.

I considered confronting him. Pointing out how fucked up the situation was. Demanding our money back. But I imagined him refusing.

“You can HEAR the music, can’t you? Sir? And if you want to see the performers, simply squeeze into the crowd. There at the back. There’s room.”

No point in trying. Besides, my heart felt overclocked. I didn’t want to bang my head against this wall any harder than I already was. And I sure as fuck wasn’t gonna blow my whole life just for satisfaction of kicking his twerp ass.

Katie had shut down, checked out. I could tell she was trying to pretend she wasn’t here anymore. I felt sorry for her. I pulled her closer to me by the arm.

“Fuck this. Let’s go check out those other rooms back there,” I said over the music. “Little privacy. Might as well, huh?”

She nodded. I grabbed my coat. We headed back toward the hallway, above the seven. I shot one more quick glance at baldy. Almost caught him watching us walk out of the room.

We made our way past Gerd’s dressing room/hash den. Deeper into the depths of the gallery. The place must have been a suite of offices at some point. Now it was nearly empty of furnishings. Just the mostly mediocre artwork on the walls and the “sculptures” laid out on plywood tables.

We encountered other groups of people were wandering around these catacombs, too, looking equally lost. Pissed off, too.

“You believe this bullshit?” I said to one guy. He chuckled.

We reached an isolated room in the back. The temperature was lower back there. We could still hear the music, quieter now, coming through one of the walls.

Katie and I walked to the big window on one end of the room. A big panorama of the city. We sat in the sill together to cool off. We looked out at the lights, the cars. My anger started to subside.

“It’d be cool to live here,” Katie said.

“You think so? That’s funny. I was just thinking the other day about how, um, confining a big city would be. The traffic? You’d never be able to plan how long it would take to get anywhere. Crime…”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I think, only if I had enough money to, like, have a driver, somebody, whatever, who was constantly ready to take me anywhere. And an apartment big enough that ya didn’t feel…y’know.”

I looked up at the high ceilings again.

“Maybe a place like this,” I said.

Katie laughed.

“Yeah, this would be awesome,” she said.

I sat listening to the music a few minutes. Katie snuggled next to me and stared out at the lights. It was nice to be alone back there with her, but in public. Something like having a quiet table at the back of a restaurant.

“How was the bank today?” I asked.

“Okay, I guess.”

She shrugged. Then her eyes widened.

“Oh! You’ll like this. We got this, um, there was this guy who was, he was supposed to come in for a business loan appointment? Some big shot. Mary, the loan lady, she was chattering like it was a big deal he was coming in.”

“Uh-huh?”

“So, he calls and cancels. Tells Mary he’s spendin’ lunch with his secretary.”

I squinted and winced.

“Can you believe that? Mary says it happens a lot with the people around here, these rich suburbanites. And the women put up with it cuz, like, where would they go? They don’t want to work...”

I shook my head slowly. Tried to get into the head of one of these guys. I pictured a guy behind me in my rearview mirror. Mercedes SUV, riding my bumper. Expensive shades, angular features, hair slicked back.

“Maybe they do it out of competitiveness. Y’know? Here’s this other person, the wife. She has the same stuff. The trophy houses, the cars, the foreign vacations. So this prick thinks: “What has she done for it? Besides opening her legs?” So, that’s what they treat ‘em like.

Katie nodded her head. But she had a kind of funny look on her face.

Just then we heard the crowd through the wall. They were whooping, hollering, clapping. My stomach clenched again. One of Gerd’s big visual stunts, I figured. He was known for things like playing the drums with giant dildos, rolling parts of the kit down a ladder. Wild shit.

I looked at Katie, sighed disappointedly. I felt some of my ire returning.

“Sounds like a good show.”

The crowd kept going. Their clapping became rhythmic, like they wanted an encore.

“They must be about to finish up,” I said. “C’mon, let’s see if we can catch the encore, at least.”

Katie looked dubious, but she allowed me to pull her off the windowsill. We hurried back through the maze of back rooms and corridors.

Suddenly I stopped. Katie bumped into me from behind. Ahead I could see Gerd. He was standing outside his dressing room, his back to us. Listening to the cheering and clapping. I was surprised to feel a powerful swelling of anger toward him.

He felt our sudden presence and looked back at me. He had this beatific look on his face. I could tell how much it meant to him to hear the cheering. I glared at him, willing him to drop dead with my eyes. I watched the look of pride and satisfaction dribble off of his face. He started to turn back toward the cheering.

“Hey, Gerd.”

My voice sounded like someone else’s. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I was not going to just let him turn away. Katie gripped my arm tightly, pinching. Gerd looked at me again, wondering.

“What the fuck kind of set up was this?” I said loudly.

“Eh? Wha…?”

I felt the adrenaline starting to kick. My hands were shaking.

“Don’t you have a contract rider of any kind? After forty years in the business? This is bullshit!”

He looked confused. He squinted at me, shook his head quickly to express incomprehension.

“Look, man. See those people in the hall down there?”

Gerd looked. The crowd in the hall were all looking toward us. Smiling. Clapping. Gerd looked back me, shrugged.

“Yeah, them. The ones standing around like idiots in the hallway? Well, they couldn’t see any of the show! None of it! They have no seats, man. We had no seats. We couldn’t see! We’ve just been wandering around!”

Gerd’s face had gone slack while I was talking. Then his brow started to furrow. Out of the corner of my eye I saw The Owl stick his head out of the dressing room, then quickly pull it back in.

I stepped closer to Gerd. I could hear my heartbeat in my breath. My face was flushed.

“These fuckers oversold the show, Gerd. They picked a shitty venue, and then didn’t cap the ticket sales. There’s like twenty, thirty people wandering around in here who couldn’t see anything. What kind of bullshit is this?”

Baldy rounded the corner from the “seven” room. His face went blank when he saw me interacting with Gerd. He caught my last sentence. He looked shocked, but he tugged weakly at Gerd’s sleeve.

“Mr. Hootkamp? Sir? Do you…are you planning to do an encore?”

Gerd was scowling. He looked at me, thinking. I waved my arm dismissively toward baldy.

“You put your reputation in the hands of these dumb shits? These fucking trustafarians? And they stuck your artwork up with tape in some dark hallway? What is that about--?”

“Hey, just what is this?” Baldy asked.

I pointed at him, bellowing now: “Shut your fucking mouth, twerp! You fucking amateur!”

The people on the other end of the hall had stopped clapping. They stood and stared at us. I could see Dan Blackberg staring at me through the mass of faces. His mouth was open. I looked at Gerd again. He was gritting his teeth.

“So, is this how your fans get treated, now? You need our twenty bucks so bad that you treat us like cattle? Or, or, let these idiots do it for you? Is this how you wanna go out?”

The dying of the applause had now spread into the performance space. I could see a few heads in there, peering down the hallway toward us. Baldy reached for Gerd’s arm again.

“Sir, you had just as much a chance to enjoy the performance as anyone else here. C’mon, Mr. Hootkamp. You don’t need to listen to this. Donnie! Call security up here, will y--?”

“NO!”

Gerd jerked his arm away from baldy.

“You fuckywads!” he shouted in his thick accent. “You are ripping off me?! You are overselling show?! Eh?!”

“N-n-no! We--“

“I play for flat fee, yes?! Who gets money for all dese extra tickets? You?! YOU, LITTLE …SHIT-MAN?!”

He shoved baldy back against the wall, knocking his breath out. Baldy’s black framed glasses lay crooked across his nose. He looked like he was going to piss his pants.

Gerd started bellowing in Dutch. He was flailing his arms wildly. Baldy cowered to avoid being hit with one of the thick drumsticks Gerd was holding. Baldy slid down the wall, thumped onto the floor awkwardly.

Suddenly, Gerd stuck both arms straight out from his sides. The sticks in each hand pressed against the gallery walls on either side of him. He froze like that for a moment. The crowd stared at him. Then we began to here a low moan. It started low, then began to build in volume into a war cry.

Gerd began half-lumbering, half-running down the hallway toward the performance space. Canvas tore loudly and paper fluttered as artwork was ripped from the walls. Gerd screamed the whole way down the hall. The crowd leapt out of his way or ducked his powerful arms as he ran by. People started cheering again. Especially the ones who had been wandering around the gallery the whole time.

I started cracking up.

Gerd paused when he reached the center of the performance space. His body was taut, framed in our viewpoint by the opening at the end of the hallway. He gripped his sticks and stood howling and screaming. He was in the Black Forest again. Katie and I looked on, cheering and howling along with him.

Suddenly, Gerd leapt out of our view. We heard him hit the drum kit. Not playing it this time, but smashing it. Throwing it. We began to hear cries of alarm mixed with the cheering. Some audience members began running for the exits. Parts of the drum kit, bits of picture frames, and metal chairs intermittently arced across the opening of the hallway.

I patted Katie on the hand she had resting on my bicep. We were both grinning.

“Well, I think we better head out before the cops show up,” I yelled over the din.

We started walking. Baldy saw us headed toward him. He scrambled to his feet, began running for the desk. When we passed the desk, he was on the phone. He scowled at me as he waited for the police to pick up. I smiled at him, gave him a “see ya” wave.

The herd of people trying to move out of the path of Gerd’s chaos was clogging the way to the exit. We managed to squirm our way into a stream of bodies headed out the door. It was tight, but we felt okay.

Outside the building it was still nasty cold, even for January. I whooped at the blast of cold air and zipped my coat up tight. We started for the car.

As we crossed the street, we heard glass break far above us. We winced and looked up toward the windows of the performance space. Shadows still flailed violently. One of the tall windows was now cracked.

The exit door swung open again. Dan Blackberg and his bearded buddy spilled out in a small group of guys, onto the sidewalk. His friend was still yacking away.

Dan paused for a moment. He stared at me and scowled from across the street. He looked like he wanted to yell something. I smirked at him. I grabbed Katie’s arm and we headed for the car.

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