The pain in his head was far worse than intolerable. The common explanations describing the discomfort feels to someone was inexplicable at this time. There was no Mack truck big enough, or sledge hammer forged that could properly define how he was feeling at that time and although the ache that was invading his skull was nearly debilitating, Chase Champion had managed to stagger to his feet without hitting the ground a second time. Once was enough, meeting it initially as he was blindsided by a baseball bat and a horde of heavy fists. Which weapon came first was still to be determined, but they both seemed to get the job done. Chase was down for the count.
The alley was as dark as an abyss in one of those B listed science movies. But here, no stars darted the sky, which tonight was cloudless, starless and empty….the moon played hide and seek behind the city’s many historical buildings. Abandoned factories and decrepit stores made for an eerie backdrop for downtown. However, it was perfect for the Monkey Cage, a club that served as a second home for Detroit’s alternative bands and their “children”.
Children was the affectionate title of adoration that Monique “Mama Blue” Neuman had given all of the people who had patronized her spot for over the last fifteen years. The die-hard fans who crowded the dusty wooden floor until there was standing room only had allowed her a more than comfortable life. The musical strays that swooned to the lyrics and colorful melodies of countless bands in the struggle to make it big had helped to put the Monkey Cage on the map. Mama Blue to her customers and simply Blue to her colleagues had run a nearly blemish-less business for some time now and even though dirty splotches sometimes found their way into the progressively eclectic environment, Mama Blue always knew how to effectively clean house.
Tonight though, she had issued a stern warning to her highest ticket selling band with a specific focus on its most enamored lead singer. Chase had formed his first and only band The Counsel of the Kings when he was a high school sophomore, electing to skip classes and write lyrics with his best friend Hatch and spending evenings in the basement. His parents were non the wiser because aside from his less than sparkling attendance record, Chase was always on top of his work and was a straight A student thanks to an early following of loyal, boy-crazy female classmates.
“Be Careful Chase, I’ve had some signs that you might be in danger. You guys watch out for him.” She said, boldly interrupting their last mini rehearsal before the doors to the general public opened.
The band, standing as silent as church mice shot puzzled looks between each other. Mama Blue had the link with the spiritual world, their link was musical.
“We got it Blue.” Darryl Keys, the groups lead guitarist said as he switched from the basic black guitar strap to the custom made Swarovski crystal appliance to his vintage 1974 Gibson L6-S that took six years of delivering pizzas to save up enough to buy. He was ready to jam, and Mama Blue and her kooky intuition was standing in his way.
Mama Blue shifted her massive weight from one hip to the other, She was heavy to say the least, constantly vowing that the next time one of those popular weight loss reality shows had casting calls in the vicinity, she would surely go and take her chances. But until then she kept the cook, a former musician who’s dreams of stardom had long disintegrated into the globe of a crack pipe, busy with cooking almost as much food for her as for the customer’s.
“I’m telling you that something is off.” She spat, invading Darryl’s space so tightly that the scent of the garlic chicken wings she had eaten for lunch assaulted his nose.
Now Chase could feel the atmosphere grow thick with tension. Beads of sweat popped across his forehead as he attempted to defuse the possibly hostile situation.
“We got it, beautiful.” He said, struggling to fit his slim muscle toned arm around her massive shoulder. “I’ll make sure Bo or someone from security walks with me out if I stick around to late.” He said, knowing that he would take his chances without extra security…he didn’t trust them at all.
Blue didn’t look convinced, but she decided it was a fight she didn’t want to engage in. She turned her mossy green eyes until they met his. He was exhausted from lack of sleep, but he was still able to show appreciation to his guardian angel looking out for him, as she always seemed to do. The touch of his bare skin against her shoulder seemed to ignite her; she hated the term crush, but that was exactly what she had on the strikingly handsome musician. She understood she was not his type, that he needed a different type of muse. One that could work the runway, not be the width of one.
“Alright. Good luck, I hear Arista and Sony are on the lookout for some new groups and the Monkey Cage is one of their focal points.” Mama Blue said, quickly moving away from the comfort of Chase’s embrace.
Darryl began to absent-mindlessly tune his guitar as he broke the circle’s chain. Chase, feeling a hard knot form in his throat, retreated to his makeshift dressing room to complete his onstage persona. The bathroom, which was decorated with every single band name and band member’s name, often served as the communal dressing area where many of the artist performed rituals, applied makeup, combed hair and relieved themselves. For Chase, it was a small space to calm himself because even after years of performing, he still experienced some level of stage fright before every gig.
But tonight, Chase was too mentally occupied with Mama Blue’s warning to worry about getting his rocks off. That could wait for later, when he chose some random hot groupie to help him pull off some stress. Right now, he would have to deal with the pinned up frustration on his own.
He quickly extracted bottles, thin brushes and tubes from his scull-plastered bag and began to examine the tiny lines forming on his neatly groomed face closely. The years were beginning show an age he dreaded ever being. The statement “you look just like your father” was one that he often responded to with a plastered smile and a half nod. He despised running into people who knew anything about his family in fear that they would tie their dysfunctional past to his now seeming bright future.
As he applied the war paint to his face’s t-zone, his thoughts floated back to Mama Blue. He didn’t need to be frazzled tonight. If Sony or any of the big wigs were going to show up tonight with his band headlining, he needed to be focused and ready to seize the once and a life time opportunity.
Chase continued playing that night’s happenings through his head. Mentally scanning the crowd, he strained to recall who was there and if anyone or anything looked out of place. But the culture of the crowd of people that frequented The Monkey Cage was far from normal and nothing had a specific place to belong to. But the one thing that did strike him odd was a tall looming figure of a man that seemed to be focused on the band the entire night. Chase was accustomed to groupies casing the club to learn their routines and other quirks that each member possessed. But this particular individual was definitely out of his element.
He had been standing at the bar sipping on something reminiscent of brandy and tonic water. Chase’s older brother who was once a celebrated high school football player. But the function of the stranger’s mask was up for debate. Their rival group, Cloned Peace Protectors often donned facial masks on and off the stage and the mysterious being may have been one of their legions of fans, however one thing was wrong; CPP, as they often were referred too, were not slated to play that night. Could they be trying to sabotage Chase’s group? Chase knew that he and the lead singer, Exodus Don often had their disagreements but nothing ever turned physical, or had it?
Now as he fuzzily came back to the present, Chase leaned groggily against the graffiti spattered wall and again attempted to get his bearings. What did they take? He thought to himself, assigning his hands the new function of checking his pockets instead of attempting to halt the steady stream of blood that was now rolling down his ballooning right eye.
His wallet was where he always kept it. It was tucked his back pocket with a thick silver chain securing it to a rear belt loop to his ragged black jeans, which now were a dusty grey from the rocks and dirt that he had been laying in for some undocumented amount of time. That ruled out robbery, until he remembered his black Corinthian leather messenger bag that he carried everywhere. He traversed the alley way searching for what he often referred to as his “life line”. That’s where he kept everything he needed to effectively get through the day. Without that bag, his daily journey had no compass.
Perched on a dented aluminum trash lid was his favorite leather messenger bag-the main flap open with papers and other accouterments sprawled around the perimeter of the grounds. Chases’ heart skipped two beats. He immediately knew what was probably missing, and if it was he was miles up shit creek.
Whispering a few curse words to himself, he realized that this situation undoubtedly was bad, even though he had not checked the bag yet.But as his worst fears began to prove true, the nausea in his stomach threatened a re-visitation of the pastrami and Swiss sandwich he had earlier for lunch in the worse way.
A mental checklist alerted him that the less important articles were still present. A pack of cigarettes, a half-empty bottle of blue Gatorade, a clean Jimi Hendrix tee shirt and his case of guitar pics made of Alaskan whale bone. His stage makeup bag was lying on another trash can lid and the mirror he used to ensure that his platinum locs were in place was cracked in a million pieces. But he still had not come across the band’s most prized possession. The Peripheral Prism was missing and if he didn’t find it, he might as well be dead.
Well, almost dead. This prism was only one half of a set that the band possessed. All of the concerts, rehearsals and everything that had to do with the Counsel of the Kings musical career was stored on the cube. It was specifically designed to fit into a port located on the band’s keyboard. But it was designed to record every minute of each concert and it could be accessed and controlled from anywhere in the world.“I gotta get home”. Chase spat out loud. He was racing against time; whoever the people were that attacked him already knew there was another part to their secret device.
Chase rechecked the bag for a third time and now found that his cell phone was gone. Another problem, because the phone held the start codes for the cubes and with his rock and roll life style, he was hard pressed to remember what they were.
Grabbing the remainder of his life, he made his way to the parking lot where he normally parked his 1982 Nissan 280 ZX, one that he had purchased with money saved from every gig he performed since high school. But the car looked like an automotive version of himself. The driver side window lay in a million shards on the wet pavement and the trunk had been forced open with something long, sharp and unforgiving. The two-thousand dollar paint job was scratched and damaged and three of the tires had been slashed.
“Is this a mad groupie that I didn’t call the next day or what?” He thought to himself. He had to admit, he had made plenty of women upset who thought they would settle him down and just as many men who thought they could persuade him to hit for the other team.
Looking back over his shoulder he could see the club was nearly empty, which meant he could catch Mama Blue before she started counting the receipts for that night and settled into her next meal. But he knew that route came with a gauranteed lecture, so he quickly decided to head to the firehouse across the street and petition the firefighters for help to call a cab for him.
As the taxicab approached the red brick building, he instructed the driver to circle the block an extra time and pull into the back lot where he could use the back door. Maybe the culprits were gone and didn’t bother to hit his home. He didn’t know how long they had been watching him, so there was no telling how much of his daily schedule they had picked up.
Scanning the windows on the third floor where his apartment was located, he could see that his home was engulfed in darkness. It was a bad habit that he knew he knew he should change, but he often had to give groupies the slip after shows and the less attention to his space the more peace he could secure for himself.
As he fumbled for his keys, he fought to focus on the lock on the door. He couldn’t decide if it was one or two doorknobs because his vision was so blurry, extra objects seemed to appear. Slowly opening the door, he could readily see that the strangers had indeed found his place home. The sight of over turned furniture and tossed books and magazines met him head on-another slam to his already pounding head. They left nothing to the imagination; all of Chase’s personal business was exposed on the living room floor.
Even though he didn’t cook much, the kitchen floor now held every kind of foods that were once kept neatly in the fridge and the cabinets. Flour, oatmeal and corn flake cereal dusted the pale yellow linoleum like a blanket of contaminated snow. He scrambled over boxes, stools and other debris to get to the tiny apartment’s bathroom. As he pulled off the lid, he checked to see that the bauble that weighted the chain to allow water to drain was still in position.
He removed the flapper valve, twisted the device until he heard a click separating the two halves. The exposed the second cube was secure, just the way he left it several nights before. The relief that he felt was almost salve for his pounding head. He placed the half-inch cube in his pocket and began to plunder through what was left of the medicine cabinet for something to clean his wounds.
After cleaning himself up, and putting the living room back to some type of order, Chase sat down in his favorite easy chair with the cordless phone and struggled to remember Darryl’s phone number. His first order of business, after making an insurance claim for his car, would be going to his mobile carrier to buy another phone. And although he could replace the handset, there were plenty of other things stock piled in his phone that he might never get back.
He tried to make sure that what he was about to tell his best friend was going to make sense. But no matter how many times he recited it in his head, he found it hard to believe himself.
As he punched the numbers to his cell phone and waited for the call to connect, he attempted to map out his next move. They had to get that cube back, it held their future and there was no way they could rewrite and rerecord over two hundred songs.
Whoever wanted his attention surely had it. Now, the chase was on.