"Man, like you look really hot tonight," said Marty Medina, as Linda sat down across from him in the booth. 

            Linda Mueller was in her early thirties, a beauteous vision with shoulder length light red hair, young, tan and lovely.  About five foot two with a great body and curves in all the right places, the tight red curls framed her face, with deep blue eyes and an up-tilted nose.  She was BlackTop's relief swing-shift dispatcher three nights a week.  She was wearing brown short shorts that showed off her gorgeous legs, and a tight, beige tank top with a plunging neckline, revealing much of her tanned breasts.  They were lightly dotted with freckles and you could see from the small tents made by her nipples in the thin fabric, that she wasn't wearing a bra.  Her tight, reddish-blonde curls bounced as she dipped her head, smiling.  She looked absolutely delectable.

            They were in the bar at the Keg, a steak house over on the West End in the Narrows Plaza Center.

            "Thanks.  Have you been waiting long?"

            "Uh uh.  Just got here a few minutes ago."

            A waitress stopped at the table, and asked Linda, "May I get you something?"

            Linda stared off into space for a moment, and then replied, "How about a margarita?  Supersize?"

            The waitress nodded, and then looked at Marty.  "And you, sir?"

            "Thanks.  I'm fine."  He said.  He took a sip of his beer, and then turned to Linda.  "Well, thanks for finally coming out with me, man."  He paused, drinking in the sight of her, and then asked, "So what changed your mind?"

            Still smiling, she shrugged. "Oh, I split up with my boyfriend a few weeks ago."

            "Huh."  He thought for a moment, absorbing the implications, and then said, "Like I guess I'm sorry to hear that."

            "No you're not."

            He smiled.  "Okay, so I'm not."  She smiled back and he continued, "I dunno.  Maybe I'm a little happy, even, I guess.  Like what you told me about your relationship, it didn't sound real healthy.  And I haven't noticed you lookin' all broke-up over the fact it ended."

            Her drink arrived and Medina paid the waitress, then after taking a sip, she said, "I'm happy Darrell and I split up.  It wasn't working and we both knew it.  It was time."  She shook her head and continued, "No, I'm glad you asked me out.  I was kinda hoping you would."  She ran her finger around the rim of her glass, displacing the salt, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes.

            He nodded.  "Huh.  That maybe why you always been like hanging all over me the last few weeks?" he blurted out, at once scared he'd pushed it a little too far.

            Grinning, her eyes widened and a blush formed on her cheeks.  "What?  Me?"

            Relieved that she took it the right way, he smiled wide.  "Damn straight.  Who the hell was it that came and draped herself around me when I was filling out my trip sheet in the driver's lobby last Friday night?  Huh?  Huh?"  Blushing furiously, she grinned and didn't answer.  He went on, "Or early last week, I forget what day, when you kept brushing up against me when we were standing out on the deck, talking.  And hugs?  You're always giving me hugs.  Jesus.  And you sat down in my lap last week when I was talking with Mac that day.  Then the stuff with Dave Murphy last week.  Oh, Christ!  That really got me.  Like I was at the window.  What was it, Murphy said?  Oh, Jesus.  'If I was a lady, I think I'd have to jump in bed with Medina.'  Then like you come back and say, 'Yeah.  Marty's intelligent, he's loyal, he's a good driver, a good person, and I think most women would wanna go to bed with him.'"

            A slight blush still on her cheeks, she smiled and said softly, "It's all true.  Everything I said.  But I still don't understand why you got so embarrassed."  Looking amused, she stared at him, unblinking.

            Marty laughed, and then said, "Damned straight I was embarrassed.  There musta been a half a dozen people there listening.  People say stuff like that – Jeeze.  I mean, not in public, man."  He took a drink, and then went on, "Anyway, look, you gotta be careful about being too nice to me, for Christ's sake.  Like I mean everybody thinks you're feeding me as it is.  You don't need to give them extra ammunition.  That's gonna create problems for you.  With the other drivers and maybe even with Elmo.  You don't need stuff like that, man."

            "Hey, screw 'em if they can't take a joke.  If I feed you it's because you're a good driver, and that's it, period.  It's like that Everett trip I gave you last week.  The pickup address was deep in Lakewood, a real tricky place to find.  The only other car in the zone was a newbie, and he probably woulda taken hours to find it.  I fed the run to you because it was an important run, and I knew you wouldn't fuck it up."  She paused for a moment, and then asked, "How much was it, anyway?"  She raised her eyebrows, as she sipped her drink.

            "Ninety-one ten, with a ten buck tip.  A little over a hundred, altogether."

            She nodded appreciatively.  "Hot shit!  How did you do last night?"

            He shook his head.  "It was bad.  I mean it died at like what?  About eleven?  After you left, it didn't get any better.  I did like one fifty-three for the night."

            She shrugged.  "That's not bad for a dead night."

            He nodded.  "Yeah, I know."  He paused for a second, taking a sip of his beer, and then said, "I do want you to know that the reason I asked you out has nothing to do with work.  I mean like whether you feed me or not has nothing to do with why I'm interested in you.  In fact, ya know, when it comes right down to it, I may have to quit working with you, man."

            "What?" she asked, taking a large gulp of her drink.

            He shook his head.  "I kid you not.  I'm serious.  Like I mean I always have felt guilty as hell because of you feeding me, and that's bad enough.  But lately, I dunno, it's like I can't really concentrate on work any more when you're dispatching."  He breathed deeply, then took a chance and plunged on, "When it comes down to it, it's more like I spend most of my time trying to figure out reasons why I need to go back to the office when you're on."

            Linda smiled broadly.  "Oh, really?"

            He felt a blush forming on his cheeks, and looked away.  It was too late to turn back, he thought, so he laid it on the line.  "If you haven't figured out that I like having you hang all over me, then you're one sick puppy, man."  He looked back into her eyes.  She was responding as he'd hoped, so he went on, "But of course, you have figured it out, which is why you do it, isn't it?  Isn't it?"  She nodded slowly, still smiling, and he pushed on, "We got some pretty powerful chemistry between us, ya know."  He stared, waiting for her answer. 

            She returned his gaze, her chin resting on her knuckles, and then slowly nodded again and said, "Yeah."  She stared at me for a few more moments, and then went on in a low voice, "I was kinda wondering for a while if maybe you hadn't noticed."

            He knew he'd been right.  Shaking his head, he laughed.  "You gotta be kidding me."

            She shrugged.  "For a long time, you didn't react to me."

            He took a hit off his beer.  "Yeah, like after you said you couldn't go out with me 'cause you were in a relationship.  I didn't want to push it.  I mean like we have to work together.  But inside?  Inside I was like jelly every time you came near me."

            She looked at him over the wide rim of her glass.  "What attracted you to me?"

            He grinned.  "You mean other than the fact that you're a gorgeous-looking babe?"  She nodded coyly, taking a long drink of her margarita.  Serious once more, he went on, "Easy.  You believe in me.  One hundred percent, without any reservations.  Like I really think you've got kinda a warped view of me, actually.  But I like it.  I don't think I've ever met a woman quite like you before.  Someone that believed in me like you do.  A woman who doesn't want something from me.  Then all this working stuff – I really respect that.  Like I respect people who are well motivated, and you certainly are.  I mean two regular jobs, and sometimes a third?  Man!  I'm still not sure you're real, Linda."

            "I'm real."

            He took a drink of his beer, and then asked, "So what attracted you to me?"

            "I already told you – you're really intelligent, not at all like the other guys I know.  You're a good person, loyal, kind.  And you're a helluva good cab driver.  That's something I can respect.  Excellence."

            "Thanks."  Relaxing, he paused for a drink of his beer, and then asked, "Like how about the chemical thing?  Can you explain it?"

            She grinned.  "Not a fucking clue."

            He shook his head.  "Me either.  Gawdawful strong though, huh?"

            "Hey!  You don't even know half of it!"

            Staring into her dark blue eyes, he took a long drink.  Setting the bottle back on the table, he said softly, "Maybe so.  But like I do want to find out."

            She nodded her head slowly.  "You will."

            He tried to mask his eagerness and failed.  "Oh, yeah?  Like when?"

            "Soon.  I don't want to go to bed with you tonight.  I mean I've got to get up by five, and I'm fucking beat.  I've got to get to sleep early tonight or I'm gonna die, that's all there is to it."  She took a breath and went on, "I really want our first time together to be something special, on a night where we have more time.  Could you take Saturday night off?"

            His mind was reeling with the way this was turning out.  Even his fantasies hadn't been this good.  He simply nodded and said, "Sure."

            Linda was all business.  "Then let's get together that night.  Your place or mine?"

            "Doesn't matter to me."

            She looked thoughtful, then said, "Let's go to yours.  Mine is a bloody mess and I'm damned if I want to spend time cleaning."

            He thought furiously about the possibilities, then responded, "Cool.  I'll cook you dinner.  Like prawns, man?  Scampi?"

            "Sure."  She smiled.  "You can cook?"

            "You betcha.  Hey, I just wanna know one thing?"

            "What's that?"

            "Why are you sitting way the heck over on that side of the booth when we could be sitting together, cuddling?"

            "Beats the hell outa me."

            At once, she slid out of her seat, stood up, and slid back in next to him.  He put his arm around her shoulders and she molded herself to him.

            Her smiling face inches from his, she asked, "Better?"

            "Damned straight!"

            Staring into her eyes, he bent and kissed her.  She responded hungrily, and within moments they were lost, as the restaurant, the world, and everything except each other faded into a hazy obscurity.

            After some time, their lips parted and she lay with her head on his shoulder, breathing heavily.  Eyes closed, she softly moaned something that sounded like, "Wow," drawn out slowly, in-between deep breaths.

            Getting his own breathing under control, he nodded.  "No shit."  He became aware the young couple in the next booth were staring at them.  He gave them a momentary glare, then turned to Linda and said, "I think maybe we better not do that again or they'll throw us out for making spectacles of ourselves."

            She put her hand between his legs and squeezed his thigh.  "Hey.  Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," she said softly.  "Chemistry!"

            "Uh huh.  Yeah, right."  He kissed her forehead, and then went on, "You sure you don't wanna go back to my place, now?"

            She looked into his eyes, thinking, and then said, "No.  I really do have to sleep tonight."  She sighed, and then went on, "Look.  I don't want our first time to be some kinda slam, bam, thank you ma'am, type a trip.  Uh uh.  I want it long, slow, and without any time pressures.  You know I have to be up tomorrow morning by five."  She batted her lashes, and then continued, "Anyway, this is our first date.  I never go to bed with a man on my first date."  She smiled coyly.

            "We've known each other for almost a year."

            She leaned forward and snagged her drink.  "At work.  That's different."  She took a long gulp and set the glass back on the table.  "I don't really even know what you did before you came to BlackTop.  You were a manager or something?  In sales?"

            "Is that a question?"

            She grinned.  "I would like to know.  I want to know everything about you."  She hesitated, and then went on in a lower voice, "I shit you not, Marty.  You're someone I could get really hung up on."

            "That feeling is definitely mutual."  He kissed her nose.  She was still looking at him expectantly, so he took a deep breath, and then said, "Well, after I graduated high school, I took off and went down to California.  Spent about five years in San Francisco, mostly bumming around.  I played in a few bands, and then later, managed one.  It was a good time ... mostly.  I learned a lot.  We made a couple records, got a lot of gigs."  He paused and took a drink of beer, then went on, "Then they fired me." 

            She looked concerned.  "That's too bad."
            "No kidding.  It was a big ego thing.  Musicians are the most egotistical people I've ever met.  Anyway, after I left them, like I came back up here and went back to school.  I was gonna learn real management – I was going after a business degree."

            "You were?"

            "Yeah.  Worked at Seven Elevens to pay the bills.  After a couple years, I dropped out and lucked into this sales job."

            "What was it?"

            "Phone sales for charities.  Stuff like the Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo, fundraisers for the Jaycees.  Like that.  It was all pretty easy sells.  I mostly worked businesses." 

            “So it wasn’t you who called during dinner that night to sell me aluminum siding?”  She smiled, eyebrows raised.

He returned her smile.  “Naw.  I just did businesses – more bucks there.”  He paused for a drink of his beer, and then went on, “I stayed with that for about four or five years, then I went into auto sales.”

Her eyes widened.  “You were a car salesman?”

He nodded.  “Yup.  This lot down on South Tacoma Way.  Al’s Used Cars.  Till about three years ago.”

“Why’d ya quit?”  She stared at him intently.

Medina frowned.  “I got into it with my boss.  I caught him porkin’ this lady in one of the cars, one day – and then everything kinda went like downhill after that.”

Her eyes widened again.  “He was getting it on with a woman and you caught him?  Oh, no!”  She laughed.

Medina nodded.  “Oh, yeah.  It was not a good situation.  Not even a little bit.”

“The guy was married?” she asked.

He nodded again.  “You betcha.”

“And it wasn’t his wife he was with?”

“Nope, not even close.  And you know the worst part?”


Medina slowly shook his head, a half smile on his face.  “Like I had this camera in my hand, and the flash fired by accident.  I didn’t actually take a picture, but my boss thought I did.”

Hands over her mouth, Linda was shaking her head, laughing.

Medina smiled back.  “Yup, I was dead meat.  Oh, yeah.”  He paused for another drink, and then continued, "I couldn't handle it, so I quit before he tried to fire me.  But it was more than that.  It was a good thing to do.  Like because deep down ya see, I really hate sales – took me a while to realize that, but it’s the truth.  I hate it with a passion – having to be 'on' all the time, selling people stuff they don’t need, don’t want and can’t afford.  So, I told Al, adios.  I sat on my ass for a couple weeks, and then got the job with BlackTop.  The rest is history."

            She stared intently.  "How'd you pick driving a cab?"

            He shrugged.  "I dunno.  I always have liked to drive.  And I guess I always wondered what it'd be like.  There I was.  I was about broke.  I knew I didn’t want another sales job.  I saw the ad for this in the paper and then went in and saw Dan.  That's all she wrote."

            "Huh.  You've done really well by it.  You're a natural.  I'll bet there aren't more than a handful of drivers that make as much as you."


            She took a small sip of her drink, and then asked, "So, what about the bands you were in?  What instrument do you play?"

            "Guitar.  I'm really not that good, though.  At least not like the people I was around."

            "Huh.  Did you ever write any songs?" 

            "Yeah.  There was a time when I wrote like a bunch of stuff.  But most of it was pretty half-assed."

            She smiled and kissed his cheek.  "You'll have to play me some, sometime.  Do you still have a guitar?"

            He nodded his head.  "Yeah.  I'd like to do that."

            She stared into his eyes.  "So how did you get into managing bands?"

            He shrugged.  "Oh, I dunno.  Like everything else, I kind of fell into it.  I'd been handling most of the bookings and business stuff for the bands I played in.  After my last band fell apart, I was looking for something to do.  Uh, I dunno ...  Like these guys ... uh, these guys I knew asked me if I could get 'em some gigs.  One thing led to another."

            "Huh.  What was their name?"

            He stiffened a bit, and then said quickly, "Oh, you've never heard of 'em, I'm sure."

            "You said they made some records."

            "Yeah, but it was only forty-fives, though.  We made 'em ourselves.  But all we ever got was airplay on some local college and PBS stations down in the Bay Area.  I was never able to get a record company interested in them."  Uncomfortable at twisting the truth, he took another drink of his beer, and emptied it.  Eyeing a passing waitress, he held up the empty bottle.  The waitress smiled and nodded.

            Turning back to Linda, he changed the subject and asked, "So what about you?  What's your life story?"

            She smiled and shrugged.  "Not much to tell.  I grew up in Montana, outside of Helena.  I left when I was fifteen, and came here.  I've been supporting myself, ever since."

            "You worked downtown at Woolworth's?"

            "Who told you that?"

            "Bobby O’Dea.  He said you worked at the lunch counter."

            She nodded her head.  "Yeah.  For a long time."

            "And then you used to drive cab for Oliver.  And later, for BlackTop."


            "Dan and Bobby O and the others tell stories about you, ya know."  He laughed, and then went on, "Dan was telling me this one story about how you used to have some personal, a school kid, and how he picked her up one day when you were sick.  The kid gets in his cab, puts her school books on the floor, straps on her seat belt, and then braces her hands against the dash.  Like white knuckles or something.  Dan turns to the kid and asks, 'What on earth are you doing?'  The kid says, 'Well I always do this when Linda drives me.'  So, Dan kinda shrugs and takes off.  After a couple blocks as they're driving down Sixth, the kid looks over at Dan and says, 'Gee, is this all the faster you're gonna go?'  Dan's doing like thirty-five, the speed limit.  He looks over at the kid and says yes.  Then the kid takes her hands off the dash and starts unbuckling her seat belt."

            Laughing, Linda shook her head.  "That's bullshit.  I was never that bad!"

            "That's what Dan told me."

            "Dan's so full of shit, his eyes are brown."

            "Well that's what he told me."  The waitress arrived with his beer and he paid her.  He took a drink then asked, "So why did you stop driving?"

            She took a sip from her drink, and then said, "The people scare me.  I got so I couldn't handle it.  I've just seen too much happen.  People robbed, beat up.  It's just too dangerous."  She took another sip, and then went on, "I had a chance at this job as a parts runner and I took it.  After a year, they started letting me work the counter.  I've been there five years now.  It's pretty good money, and we've got benefits.  And it's safe."

            "So how did you end up back at BlackTop?" 

            She shrugged.  "Well, I heard Mattie was leaving and I figured I could use the extra dough.  So I went and talked to Elmo."

            He shook his head.  "I can't believe the aggravation of working in the office is worth what you're making.  That and having three sixteen hour days each week would be way too much for me."

            She shrugged again, draining the last of her margarita.  "I like dispatching.  And Elmo and the rest of the front office people are usually gone by five.  And, the money I make there pays my rent."

            "Like you want another drink?"

            She looked at her watch, and then frowned.  "It's almost eight.  I really should get home.  I'm gonna be a wreck if I don't get some sleep.  I think I only got about three hours last night, and that just doesn't make it."

            Reluctantly, he agreed.  "I can identify with that, man.  So, Saturday?"

            She nodded.  "Saturday.  We'll have all the time we want then."  She snuggled closer, and then after a moment, said, "Ya know, we really could make a night of it.  You know who's playing up in Seattle this Saturday at the Coliseum?"

            Nuzzling her hair, he answered, "Uh uh.  Who?"


            At once alert, he stiffened, and then said lamely, "Uh, I thought those guys broke up a long time ago?" 

            She squeezed his thigh and then said, "They've been back together for a couple a years.  Where have you been?"

            He looked away, trying to maintain.  "I dunno.  I guess I don't listen to the radio that much any more."

            "Do you like them?"

            He shrugged, outwardly appearing nonchalant.  "They're a good group.  I like their old stuff, at least.  But like I said, I haven't heard anything they've done in the past few years."

            "They've always been one of my favorites.  I've worn out two copies of their first album, the one with the pig on the front.  That whole thing was just too much, the way the songs blended one into the next.  And I just love the singer's voice.  God he's great."  She touched her finger to Medina’s nose and continued, "They just released a new album a few months ago, and it's doing really well in the charts.  It's a great album.  But look, there's a guy at work who bought a couple tickets for him and his wife, but now his wife is gonna have to work this weekend and he's been trying to off the tickets.  What say I take you to the concert?  My treat!"

            He was seriously under-whelmed at the prospect, but tried not to show it.  "Yeah, that'd be cool," he said slowly, looking away.

            He thought for a few moments about it.  Really, it was unlikely he'd run into anyone.  When you're up on stage, you can't see anyone past the first couple of rows and he doubted the seats she'd get would be that close.  Even if they'd be able to recognize him after all this time, which probably wasn't in the cards.

            Old feelings of anger and animosity tried to surface, but he pushed them back down.  It was silly to feel like that after all the time that had passed.  What the hell – they did play good music.  And he had to admit it would be a kick to see them again, albeit from a distance. 

            He turned to Linda.  "Yeah, that would be cool."  Thinking ahead, he said, "Look, if you're gonna spring for the tickets, I think I should pay for dinner."  He hesitated for a moment, then mindful of his unfulfilled fantasies, added, "Like maybe a motel, too?  Huh?"

            She smiled broadly.  "Make it a real night we'll remember?"  She kissed him lightly on the lips, and then went on, "A motel'd be a good idea.  But make it something close by Seattle Center.  'Cause by the time we get outa the concert, I'm gonna be so gawdawful horny I'll bust."  She grimaced, and then said, "Oh, shit.  Comes down to it, I'm about there right now, actually."  She clung to him tightly, burying her face in his chest.

            "That does make two of us."

            She looked up, moving away slightly.  "Look.  I'm gonna get the hell out of here while I still can.  I'll call you tomorrow afternoon and let you know when I've scored the tickets.  You call and get us a reservation at some place up north of the Center, say on Aurora.  There's a lot of hole in the wall places up there.  Don't spend a lot of money.  All it needs is a bed and a bathroom, as far as I'm concerned.  Mostly the bed.  Okay?"  She stared intently at him.

            He smiled.  "Two-two copy."

            She grinned and pressed a finger against his lips.  "Fuckin' A you better copy, bucko."

            "Fucking A." 

            She leaned forward and they kissed, slowly.

            She pulled back after a few moments, breathless, and said, "God, let me outa this place.  We'll see you Friday at work."

            His head was spinning.  "Like it’s gonna be damn difficult after this."

            "We'll both survive."

            "Huh."  He stared at her for several seconds, and then said, "Well don't be surprised if I stay away from the office."

            She smiled.  "If that's the way you want it, it's cool with me.  As long as I have you for the weekend."

            He gazed into her deep blue eyes.  "Lady, you watch out or you could have me for a helluva lot longer than the weekend."

            She looked thoughtful.  "I hope so, Marty.  I really hope so."  She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.  "Bye."

            "Bye, Linda."

            She grinned and slid out of the booth, walking towards the door.

            In a pleasant daze, he sat and finished his beer.


            The restaurant was packed and it had taken longer to get through dinner than they had planned, so they ended up getting to the concert late. 

            About fifteen minutes before showtime, they were pushing through the crowd, towards their seats.  The seats were better than he'd expected, only about ten rows back at stage left, on the aisle. 

            The cavernous hall appeared to be near its capacity of around twenty thousand, and the noise of the crowd over the background of recorded music coming from the stage was intense. 

            Some people near them in the long line outside had told them the concert was sold out.  Seeming to confirm that were numbers of people hovering along the lines leading into the auditorium, begging or alternately scalping tickets. 

            As to the scalpers, they were doing a brisk business.  They'd overheard one sale where seats that weren't even as good as theirs went for a hundred dollars apiece.

            Linda looked lovely, thought Marty.  She was wearing tight, faded jeans and a frilly, low-cut white blouse with ruffles on the front, and black boots that made her nearly as tall as him.  She'd even put on makeup for the occasion, something he'd never seen her do before.

            He'd tried to dress up for the evening as well, wearing his best pair of jeans, a black t-shirt, and his black leather cycle jacket.  Laughingly, Linda told him that with his long hair, he looked like a biker.

            Linda held up the tickets, a puzzled expression on her face, and then turned to him.  "We're row ten, section AA, seats twenty-five and twenty-six."  She peered through the crowd in front of them, inching slowly forward down the long aisle.  She pointed to the area just at their left.  "They should be over that way."

            He looked the way she had pointed.  "Yeah, I think you're right."  A woman in back of him shoved her purse into his right kidney and he stumbled into Linda.

            The woman mumbled an apology, and the throng of people inched forward again.

            To their right was a roped off area at stage left.  Roadies and sound people were milling around, watching the people pour in.  A few off duty cops stood at the rope, urging people on, telling them to take their seats.

            There were screams and shrieks from in front of them, and someone next to Linda shouted, "Jeff!" and pointed towards backstage.

            Excited, Linda turned and said, "Marty, look!  It's the singer, Jeff Black!"  She pointed.

            Involuntarily, and with an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach, he looked. 

            It was Jeff.  A little older, his hair longer than it had been, almost reaching his waist.  The drooping mustache had gone gray.  Otherwise, he hadn't changed much.  Tall and skinny as a reed, he was dressed in jeans and a black leather vest that showed off his hairy chest.

            Smiling triumphantly, he waved back at the crowd. 

A lady nearby screamed Black’s name, and as he turned to look, his gaze locked momentarily with Marty’s and then passed. 

            An instant later, Marty saw his face register shock and disbelief.  Quickly, he looked back and stood staring at him.

            Outwardly impassive, Marty nodded once. 

            Black stared for several more seconds, and then shaking his head, slowly approached the rope barrier.

            As he drew near, the crowd went wild, screaming his name, many reaching out holding pens and scraps of paper.  Linda grabbed Marty’s arm in a death grip and jumped up and down in excitement.  Marty just stood and stared as Black walked towards him.

            Cops and security guards at either side roughly pushing back the screaming throng of fans, he stopped a foot in front of Marty and shook his head and smiled. 

             "Man, I thought I was seeing things there for a minute," he said, his voice the familiar gravelly rasp.  "You freaked me fucking out.  Where the fuck you been hiding, Marty?"

            Fighting for composure, Marty shrugged.  "I dunno.  Around."

            "It's been way too goddamn long, man.  Way too goddamn long."  He shook his head again and then stuck out his hand.  "You fucking sonofabitch!"

            For a few brief moments, Marty stood staring at his outstretched hand, then slowly, he reached out and they shook.  He stepped forward and with his free arm, drew Marty close in a bear hug.

            He released Marty, then eyeing the mob of screaming fans that nearly engulfed them, said in a low voice, "C'mon, let's get the fuck outa here before they rip us to shreds."

            Black stepped back and lifted up the rope and shouted at one of the cops, "This dude's my friend.  He's coming with me!"

            Marty looked at Linda, wide eyed and mouth open, who stood beside him staring, clutching his arm.  He turned back to Black and shouted, "Jeff, this is my old lady, she's coming too!"

            Black nodded and shouted at the cop, "Both of 'em!"

            The cop grunted agreement.  

            Marty grabbed Linda's hand and together, they ducked under the rope.

            As soon as they were through, the cops and security guards closed ranks in back of them and held off the mob of screaming fans. 

            Linda looked like she was going to collapse any second.  Marty stopped just in back of the cops and pulled her to him and gave her a hug.

            Kissing her forehead lightly, he asked, "You alright?"

            Wide eyed with amazement, she answered, "You never said you knew them!"

            "It's a long story.  Like you gonna be okay?"

            She smiled.  "Yes.  Of course!"

            He turned to Black who was waiting in front of them.  "Jeff, like this is my old lady, Linda Mueller.  Linda, Jeff Black."

            Black smiled and bowed.  "Pleased to meet ya."

            Grinning broadly, Linda said, "I'm pleased to meet you.  God, I just love your music.  This is really fantastic!"

            "Thanks."  He turned to Marty and said, "Now can we get the hell outa here before they mow down the cops and get us?"

            "Like sure, man."

            Black put his hand on Marty’s shoulder and guided them towards the dressing rooms, walking past the back of the stage.  Linda gripped his hand tightly as they walked.

            As they entered the long, brightly lit hallway, Black asked, "So where the fuck ya been?"

            "Around.  I've been living up here since I left in eighty-three."

            "You working with any bands?  Playing?"

            "Nope.  After I left, I got outa all that."

            Black called out to a security guard lounging in front of a door in front of us, "Hey!  These two are my friends.  I want unlimited band passes for both of 'em."

            The guard straightened up and nodded.  "Right now?"

            "Pronto.  Go see Jason or somebody and fix it."

            "Okay."  Turning to Marty, the guard pulled a tablet of paper from his pocket and took out a pen.  "What are your names?"

            Black responded, "Marty Medina, M-e-d-i-n-a, and Linda, uh...”

            "Mueller.  M-u-e-l-l-e-r," Marty supplied.

            The guard nodded again.  "Okay, I'll get right on it."

            Opening the door, Black ushered them into the dressing room. It was a large, mostly bare room with pale blue walls and a shiny linoleum floor.  In the left corner were a couple of long couches, and then at the side by the door, a table set with hors d'ouvres – meats, cheeses, bread, potato chips and several anti-pasto and veggie platters – along with bowls of different types of dip.  On the far wall was a long counter beneath a lighted mirror.  "Have a seat and set a spell," he said, indicating one of the couches.  "You guys eaten yet?"

            "Like right before we came," Marty said.

            "Then how 'bout something to drink?"  He pointed to a small portable bar set up in the right-hand corner.

            He looked at Linda as they sat down on the couch, and she nodded.  Turning to Black, he said, "How about a beer?"

            "Cool.  You still into Dos Equis?"

            "Finest kind."

            He looked at Linda.  "You too?"

            "That'd be great," she said, snuggling up next to Marty, still in a daze.

            He popped the caps on three bottles, then handed them theirs.  Taking a folding chair from beside the wall, he set it down backwards in front of them and sat facing them.  He took a long pull off the beer, and then said, "It really is good seeing ya, Marty.  I still can't believe you're here.  This really is fucking great."

            Swallowing a mouthful of beer, Marty nodded.  "Yeah, like I'm glad to see you, Jeff.  It has been a long time."  He paused, and then asked, "So like where are the others?"

            He shrugged.  "Aw, they went out to eat.  They'll be here in a bit."  He lit a cigarette, then went on in a quiet voice, "Ya know Marty, Danny's changed."

            "Yeah, right," Marty said bitterly, losing it for a moment.

            He quickly shook his head.  "No.  He has, Marty, really.  He's sorry about what went down, man.  Really fuckin' sorry.  Just as sorry as I was.  I shit you not.  You gotta understand that, bro."

            All the old feelings of hurt and anger resurfaced with a vengeance.  "It doesn't matter.  That won't change what happened.  What came down."

            "It can," he said earnestly. 

            "Yeah, right, like sure."  Trying to pass it off, Marty shook his head.  "Look, okay?  It doesn't matter, man.  Alright?  All that's old history."  He paused for a moment, fighting for words, and then went on, "It doesn't matter.  I got a life, now.  Like I don't even think of that stuff, anymore."

            He stared at Medina, unblinking, and said softly, "I think about it.  I think about it a lot.  Why, I mean you never even collected any of the royalties off the songs we wrote.  That makes me feel like shit."  He frowned, holding his beer to his lips.

            At once, Marty felt like a shit.  He looked away, down at Linda, sitting smiling beside him. 

"Don't," he said in a low voice, "The problem was never with you.  You know that."

            "I know."  He smiled at Linda, and went on, "Hey!  That sorry, bull-headed motherfucker sitting next to you?"  Smiling, she looked up at me, and he went on, "Yeah, that one.  Him.  That sonofabitch.  That man is my brother.  My fucking brother.  Me and him, man, we went through thick and thin together and I'll always owe him.  Always, no matter what.  So I'm gonna tell you this.  If you're with him, just one thing you gotta know:  he's a thick-headed fucking sap, but there ain't no man better than him, so ya better not let him get away."

            Embarrassed, Marty looked over towards the bar.

            Beaming, Linda patted his hand.  "I don't intend to let him get away."  She paused for a moment, and then said, "So will one of you please tell me what happened?  What's this big mystery?  What really happened?"

            Eyebrows raised, Black asked, "Marty hasn't told you any of the shit that came down?"

            She shook her head.  "Nope. Not really."

            He nodded slowly.  "Yeah, that'd be like him."  Looking thoughtful, he took a drink of his beer, and then said, "God damn, that was a long time ago.  Way fucking back.  It was in the late seventies.  Was way back when."  He looked at Linda, and then went on softly, "Me and Marty played in a few bands, together.  I was singing and playing keyboards then, and Marty was on guitar.  Helluva good rhythm section, we were.  I think it was our third band, what was it?"  He looked at Medina.

            "Water Babies," Marty responded, squirming uncomfortably.

            He nodded.  "Yeah, Water Babies had just folded, and we were looking for some new guys.  Helluva scene, man, you couldn't believe it, we were all starving for work.  Me an Marty, we was living together with about fifteen other people in this big old house in the Haight.  Real weird trip, that.  These hellacious parties so intense it was unbelievable.  Every fucking night, or damn near.  Anyway ... anyway, we ran into this guitar player – Danny Rosenberg.  Fuckin' Danny.  He had a bass player and a drummer.  Even then, Danny was really fuckin' hot on the guitar.  Really fuckin' hot.  We jam a few times, and things really started to click.  We called ourselves, Tightrope."

            He took a long pull from his beer and went on, "Now all the past bands, Marty'd been handling most of the business end.  He was really good at it.  Really good.  So, we got together and decided Marty was gonna be our manager for Tightrope.  That's great, right?  Right?  For sure.  Then?  Oh, yeah.  Then, like a stupid fuck, Marty decides if he's gonna manage us, he'll stop playing."

            "Danny's always been ten times better than me.  There was no point," Marty said defensively.

            Black stared at him.  "You're a good guitarist.  Your vocals are okay.  Exactly what the fuck else is necessary?" he said flatly.

            Frowning, Marty shook his head and tried to resurrect the old arguments.  "The way we had it, a second guitar didn't fit.  And anyway, there was no way I could put enough time in the management end and still play.  Like it just wouldn't have worked."

            "That's bullshit and you know it."

            "It wouldn't have worked, man.  But anyway, it doesn't matter because it all went down the toilet as it was."

            "Maybe so, maybe not."

            "So what happened?" asked Linda, looking from Medina to Jeff Black.

            Marty sat silent, staring at the wall.

            Black looked at him, and then shrugged.  "It went really good.  Marty got us a lot of gigs.  We were playing all over the place.  We went in the studio, made a couple demos, made a couple forty-fives.  We were hot as fuck."

            "So what went wrong?" asked Linda.

            Black shook his head.  "Him and Danny always had this personality thing.  The farther we went, the worse it got.  They'd get into some really good fights.  Danny was this big ego tripper, back then.  He knew he was gonna be a star and he made sure everyone else knew it.  I mean he was a fuck of a musician, but like he lorded it over everybody."  He stared down at his beer, and then went on, "I guess we'd been together a year or so when it all came down and him and Danny got into it for the last time."

            "What happened?" asked Linda.

            On the defense, Marty replied, "Like I was having this party at my house one night and he was acting like an asshole, so I threw him out."

            "That's all?" asked Linda, looking puzzled.

            Black nodded and said, "Yeah, that's about it.  It'd been coming for a long time.  Danny got the guys together, he had this big long, laundry list of complaints against Marty, most of it bullshit.  We went round and round, and in the end, I was out-voted.  We fired Marty."  He paused, looking at me, then went on, "We lasted maybe another six months, then Tightrope split up.  It was right after that that me and Danny got Chris and Willie and formed BlackRose."

            She stared at Marty, silent for a few moments, and then looked back at Black.  "You guys used to write songs, together?"

            Black grinned.  "Shit, me and him co-wrote half of the songs on our first album."

            Linda turned to Marty, a look of amazement on her face.  "Marty...”

            He shook his head.  "It’s like Jeff wrote most of the stuff."

            Black laughed.  "Bullshit!  Marty wrote most of the music and damn near all the lyrics."  He took a long drag off his cigarette and blew a plume of smoke towards the ceiling, then went on, "But I'll tell ya what.  Either way, I made sure you got credit for the songs.  I had 'em put the royalties in a trust account in your name.  Now that I've found you, I'm gonna make damn sure you get the bucks."

            "I don't want it, man."

            He shrugged.  "It's not a lot of money, but it's still a nice piece a change.  Should be several thousand bucks."

            Marty was floored.  He hadn't even thought it would be so much.  He sat staring at the wall. 

Black continued, "Think it over.  If you don't take it, it's just gonna end up feeding some asshole accountant, or the IRS."

            Marty shrugged.  "Whatever, man."

            Black blew out another long plume of smoke, and then asked, "So what the hell ya been doing for the last fifteen years?"

            Feeling lost, Marty shook his head.  "This and that.  Like I went to school for a while.  Had a phone sales job.  Stayed there almost five years.  Then like I sold cars.  Gave that up a couple three years ago.  Now I'm driving cab."

            Black laughed.  "A taxi?  Shit!  And I’ll bet you made one helluva good salesman!  You always did a great job when you were pitching for the bands we were in."

            Marty nodded.  "Yeah, I did.  And it was really good bucks.  But I didn't really fit in."

            Grinning, Black nodded.  "Yeah, I guess I’m not surprised.  I mean I can't see you in no straight job.  But I bet you're one nasty motherfucking cabbie!"

            Linda smiled, squeezing my arm.  "He's probably the best driver we have."

            Embarrassed again, Marty shrugged.  "Linda's a dispatcher there.  That's how we met."

            "Huh.  So do you still play?"

            Marty nodded.  "Yeah.  Like I work-out every now and then."

            He shook his head.  "Man, I wanna jam with you so bad, I can taste it."

            "How long you in town?"

            He frowned.  "We play Vancouver BC, tomorrow night.  The truck with the equipment leaves tonight after the show, we fly up tomorrow morning."

            Marty was so relieved.  He was still more or less in a state of shock from meeting Black after all the years and that was bad enough.  But the thought of playing with him again was way too much to even comprehend.  Outwardly nonchalant, he shrugged.  "Like that's too bad, man."

            "Something may come up, you never know."  Black smiled, looking thoughtful.

            Marty took a hit of his beer, and then changed the subject and asked, "So how is it?  Like all those years, this is what we dreamed about.  You actually made it.  You're a fucking rock star, man.  Was it worth the effort?"

            Still looking thoughtful, he shrugged and then shook his head.  "I dunno.  I guess it was.  I got everything I want."  He looked back at Medina and went on, "I mean I'm playing music for a living.  Isn't that what it was all about?  Makin' it without having to work at a straight job?"  Marty nodded, and Black laughed and went on, "But you know?  It's still a bitch.  Remember how we used to say we'd never sell out and do lounge shit?"  Marty nodded again, and Black continued, "Still the same shit.  Just a different sellout and a higher payoff if you go along.  And higher penalties if ya don't."

            "Maybe so, but I think like you're probably making a lot better bucks than any lounge act."

            He shook his head.  "Yeah, but it's still the same shit.  Instead of the Holiday Inn telling ya what to play, it's some fucking record company asshole.  Same shit."

            Marty laughed.  "Don't give me that bullshit, man.  Ninety-nine percent of the musicians in the country – hell, in the world'd grab at a chance to trade places with you."

            He gave a wan smile.  "Maybe so.  I'm just trying to say that it ain't all a bed of roses."  He ground out his cigarette on the linoleum floor with the toe of his boot, and then went on, "We haven't as much artistic freedom as I'd like.  I guess seeing you, thinkin' of the old days brought it home."

            Marty laughed.  "You're a big star, man.  BlackRose is one of the top ten acts in the country.  If you haven't got enough artistic freedom, then tell 'em to take a flying fuck and go find a new record company!"

            He frowned.  "It ain't that easy.  We got fucked on our last contract and it's got another two years to run."

            "Like there's a way out of every situation if you just look hard enough."

            Marty was silent for a few moments, and then said, "Hey, like I saw in Rolling Stone or somewhere that you married Janine.  How is she?"

            He smiled.  "Pretty as a peach and twice as lovely.  Got three bambinos.  All growing like weeds."

            "She didn't come on the tour?"

            He shook his head.  "Naw, the kids start school soon.  We got a three day layover in St Louis next month, though, and she's gonna come out for a visit."

            "Like tell her hi for me."

            He nodded.  "I will.  She'll be tickled pink to hear I found you."

            The door opened and a group of people walked in.  Marty recognized Danny immediately.  He stood staring at Marty, his face expressionless.  His flowing blond hair was permed, and he was wearing a dinner jacket with long tails.  He was a little heavier than he used to be, and Marty could see age lines on his face.

            Black jumped to his feet and turned to him.  "Danny!  Will you look at this!  Look who turned up!"

            Marty slowly got to my feet.

            Danny nodded his head slowly.  "Hey, Marty," he said softly.

            "Hey, Danny."   

            He was silent for a few moments, and then said, "It's good to see you.  I'm glad you came.  I've wanted to rap with you for a long time."

            Black spoke up, "This sleazy sonofabitch bought tickets and was just coming in when I spotted him.  I think he was trying to sneak in and out without letting us know he was here."

            Embarrassed, Marty shook his head.  "Like I wouldn't a done that, man," He said awkwardly.

            Danny laughed.  "I hope the fuck, not."  Smiling, he went on, "I hope the fuck not.  Because whatever may have come down years ago, we all owe a lot to you, Marty.  I want you to know that."  He strode forward till he was standing in front of me, and stuck out his hand.  "No hard feelings?"

            Marty frowned.  "No hard feelings, Dan."  He took his hand and they shook.

            Smiling, he released Marty’s hand and gestured in back of him.  "I think you know most of the guys."

            Marty nodded.  "Hey Willie.  Chris.  How you guys doing?"

            Willie Wilson played bass.  He'd been a session musician around the Bay Area for years before Marty moved down.  They'd jammed together lots of times, back when they were all younger, and he and Willie had always been pretty tight.  Willie was big, with huge arms, something he'd acquired from years working as a garbage man in Santa Cruz.  His shaggy brown hair cascaded over his shoulders.  He was wearing a tank top, which showed off his muscles, and faded Levi's with big holes in each knee.

            Chris Olson was the drummer.  Tall and lanky like Black, he had a long, angular face with an outsize nose, which seemed too large for the rest of his face.  He was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  Marty had known Chris for several years when he was in San Francisco, and they'd played together a few times.  He was laid back and mellow – unlike the stereotype for drummers – and they'd always gotten along pretty well.  They'd actually made a stab at forming a group together once, but it fizzled out when they couldn't find the right players.

            Willie came forward and slapped Marty on the back.  "Good to see you, dude.  Been a helluva long time.  Gonna jam with us, tonight?"

            Chris added, "Yeah, we could do some of the old stuff.  It'd be like old times, man."

            In terror of the thought, Marty calmly shook his head.  "Thanks man, but I don't think so," he said, his voice even.

            Smiling, Danny said, "You think about it."  Gesturing at the others, who Marty hadn't met, he went on, "This guy over here is Kurt Caprieta, our new keyboardist, he came from Mudsucker, and then over there is our road manager, Mike Hudspeth."

            They waved and said hello, almost in unison.

            Remembering Linda sitting behind him on the couch, Marty turned and smiled at her, then said, "Hey, I'd like you guys to meet my old lady, Linda Mueller."

            She nodded and smiled. 

            Danny bent towards her and took her hand.  "Very pleased to meet you." 

            "Likewise," she said, beaming.

            A security guard came through the door and spoke with Hudspeth, and then left.

            Hudspeth walked over then held out two passes towards Marty.  They were plastic cards with the word 'Band' scribed across the front, then underneath, 'BlackRose Kick 'em Up tour.'  Each pass was on a long plastic lanyard, so it could be worn around the neck.

            "The guard said Jeff ordered these for you."

            Marty accepted them.  "Thanks."  He handed one to Linda.

            Hudspeth turned to Danny.  "He said five minutes.  The warm-up act is already off stage and they're almost done setting up."

            Danny nodded and looked at Black.  "Ready?"

            "As ready as I'll ever be," he said in his gravelly rasp.  He turned to Marty.  "C'mon, I'll show you and Linda a place up in the wings where you can watch from."  He turned back to Danny.  "I'll be on stage."

            Linda stood up, and then as Marty turned to leave, he looked back at Danny.  "Like break a leg, huh?"

            He smiled.  "Thanks, man."

            Linda's hand in his, they followed Black out the door.


            The noise from the crowd was intense as they walked up the wide steps to the darkened stage.  At the top of the stairs, Black called out to a man standing next to an equipment cabinet, "Jason!  C'mere."

            The man hurried over, and as soon as he was near, Black put his hand on Marty’s shoulder and said, "Jason, these two are Danny's and my friends, Marty Medina and Linda Mueller.  I want you to see they're taken care during the show."  The man smiled at them, then Black turned to Marty and went on, "Jason's our stage manager for the tour."

            Black stared out at the stage, looking thoughtful, then said to Jason, said, "Have someone get a couple of chairs and put 'em in back of the PA speakers, over there."  He pointed at a massive column of speakers at the left of the stage, then went on, "Have 'em rig up another monitor speaker and put it over there so they can hear what we're doing."  

            Jason nodded.  "I'll get right on it.  It'll take about two minutes."  He walked quickly off, shouting at a couple of gophers, standing in the shadows of the wings.

            Marty’s eyes had slowly adjusted to the darkness and he could see the outline of their equipment, spread out across the width of the huge stage.  Immediately in front of them were an array of about six keyboards stacked two deep, set up in a 'U' shape allowing the player to quickly jump from one to the other.  Behind was a stack of speaker cabinets.

            Next down the line was a raised platform with the drums, a double set of Ludwig’s, they could see.  Then several guitars on stands sitting out in front of a stack of Marshall’s, which would be Danny's.  Down on the far end was Willie's bass amp.

            Everything was miked, and there was a vocal mic and monitor speakers at every position.  In the very center of the stage was a wireless microphone on a tall stand.  At the left, the noisy crowd was visible in the darkened auditorium. 

            Someone had started chanting, "Black-Rose, Black-Rose..." until everyone had picked it up and the hall shook with their thunder.

            Smiling, Black asked, "Whadaya think?"

            Marty gazed at the chanting crowd.  "Like pretty impressive, dude."

            Black stood looking out at the mass of people.  At our left, Marty noticed one of the gophers had returned with their chairs, and the other was busy rigging the monitor.

            Linda was staring out at the crowd as well, and Marty pulled her to him and they kissed.  As their lips parted, he asked, "So what do you think?"

            Still smiling, her face inches from his, she shrugged, then said, "I guess I was a little overwhelmed at first.  But I'll cope."  She turned to Black, still standing next to them, and asked, "Jeff?  Are you guys gonna do 'City Of Pain?'  I think that's gotta be one of my favorites."

            He nodded, grinning.  "Yeah, later in the show.  That was always one of my favorites, too."  He laughed, and then added, "Was one of your old man's favorites as well.  Should be, 'cause he wrote most of it."

            Her eyes widened as she turned to Marty, a half smile on her pretty face, she stared intently. 

            Marty nodded slowly.  "Jeff and I wrote it while we were in Water Babies."

            Still smiling, she shook her head.  "You and I are gonna have to have a long talk, later."

            Marty looked down at the stage.  "Yeah."

            Danny and the others came up the stairs behind them and stood gazing out at the crowd. 

            The MC, a disk jockey from one of the local radio stations came up to them, and asked Black, "So, you guys about ready?"

            Black looked at Danny, who nodded, and then said, "Let her rip, dude."

            The disk jockey rubbed his hand together, and then clapped once.  "Alright!" he shouted, then strode off to center stage and stopped at the mic.

            After a few moments, a single spotlight came on, and the crowd hushed.  The disk jockey shouted, "Alright Seattle!  Are you ready to rock and roll?"  A massive roar rose up from the crowd, and then the disk jockey screamed even louder, "Are you ready to rock and roll?"  The words were almost drowned out by the noise of the crowd.

            After a minute, the noise subsided a little, and then the DJ went on, "Alright!  The mighty KXXR and Don Jones Productions are proud to present, direct from San Francisco, one of the top rock and roll bands in the world, the one, the only ... BlackRose!"

            The crowd went wild and the hall shook.

            Spotlights came on, spearing down at Marty and Linda, the bright lights nearly blinding them.  Black looked over at Marty, smiled, and then nodded at Danny, and they ran onto the stage. 

            Marty pulled Linda close and kissed her forehead.  "C'mon," He said.  "Let's go sit down."  He nudged her in the direction of the chairs.

            As they walked to the chairs, he saw someone had left new beers for them, sitting on an equipment case.  He handed Linda one of the beers as they sat.

            Twenty feet away in the middle of the stage, Black picked up his mic and screamed at the crowd, "It's great to be here, Seattle!"  The crowd roared back, and Black turned towards Chris, who drumsticks above his head, beat-out a four-count, then they launched into a number off their new album. 

            Marty took a drink from his beer and settled back to listen, as Linda snuggled up close beside him.

            The night was perfect, and as soon as Marty got past his inhibitions, he found he was enjoying himself immensely.  BlackRose was in fine form, better than they'd ever sounded on their albums, and the spot Black had picked for them behind the PA columns had to be the very best seats in the house.  A gopher had kept bringing them new beers through the night, and Marty was getting a little drunk.

            Linda was getting off, too.  She'd dragged Marty to his feet and had insisted on slow dancing a few songs back.  Since then, she'd continued to dance by herself, one hand on Marty’s shoulder, standing beside his chair.   

            He put his hand over Linda's as he took a drink of Dos Equis, listening to the music from the monitor.

            That was the only way you could really hear anything comprehensible.  While the beat of the drums came across clearly without amplification, most of the other instruments were inaudible over the general blast of noise coming from the PA.  The monitor speaker allowed them to hear the full mix of instruments including the vocals, without which, would have been completely lost, sitting as they were, behind the PA speakers.

            It really was loud.  In the moments of relative quiet between songs, he could hear ringing in his ears. 

            Black had come and stood by them a couple of times during instrumentals, and he had actually dedicated one song to Linda, which made her ecstatic.

            As the song they were playing ended, the lights dimmed and Linda bent low and kissed him.

            Over the roar of the cheering crowd, she shouted, "God, they're great, Marty!  This is so fantastic!  Better than anything I ever coulda imagined!"  She reached across Marty and snagged her beer from the equipment case.

            Marty cupped her behind in his hand and squeezed.  "Glad you're like having fun, man!" he shouted.

            Swallowing a drink of beer, she smiled and shouted, "Just wait'll I get you alone in the motel room!"

            Marty grinned, and moved his hand in between her tight cheeks, running his fingers along the seam of her jeans.  "Oh yeah?  Like got something planned?" he asked.

            She smiled broadly, then bending so her face was an inch from his, she said, "Better be damn careful a whatchya do or you may get raped right here on stage!"

            Marty moved his fingers to her crotch, and rubbed gently.  "Huh?"

            She smiled sweetly and gave him a wet kiss.  "You do wanna get raped, don'tcha?"

            Marty grinned back.  "You bet!"  He shrugged and went on, "I don't think Jeff or Danny'd mind.  Like probably wouldn't be the first time it's happened, anyway."

            "God I want you so bad, Marty!"  She extracted his hand from her crotch, and sat down in his lap and they kissed again, slowly. 

            Across the stage, Black, Danny and Willie stood together in a tight knot in front of the drums, talking, while the crowd continued to cheer and clap wildly.

            The conference over, Black strode back out to the center of the stage and a single spot came on him.  He held up his hands.

            "Thank you, Seattle!" he screamed into the mic. 

            As the cheers subsided, he continued, "Thank you!  Now we're gonna do something a little different.  Got a special treat for you.  We're gonna do some stuff off our first album."  He paused for a moment, looking out into the crowd, and then said, "But that ain't the treat.  There's someone very special here with us tonight.  One of my and Danny's oldest friends, the man I co-wrote most the stuff on our first album with."  With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Marty listened as Black went on, "I want you to welcome Marty Medina!  C'mon out here Marty and grab an axe!"  The crowd cheered and clapped.

            Feeling helpless, Marty watched as Danny walked across the stage towards him holding out a guitar.  Linda mashed his lips in a kiss and then got off his lap.    

            A spotlight came on and found Marty, temporarily blinding him as the crowd cheered.  Like an automaton, he stood up, and his eyes adjusting to the glare, saw Black and Danny standing in front of him. 

            Danny held out the guitar.  "C'mon, man.  You can use my Les Paul.  You always did have a thing for Gibson's."

            Trembling, Marty shook his head.  "I can't.  There's no way I can do this, man!" He stammered.

            "Bullshit!" said Black, smiling as Danny forced the guitar into Marty’s hands.

            "But I can't, man!" Marty said, now holding the guitar.  "It's just been way too long!"

            Black shook his head.  "Bullshit.  Look, how many bands you and I played together in?"

            "This is different!"

            "Not a fucking bit!  All the same old songs you and I wrote.  Just get out there and do your thing.  It'll be easy."

            Linda, her arm around his waist, said, "Please, Marty?"

            Feeling trapped, Marty frowned and looked at Black.  "I really don't know about this, man.  I don't wanna embarrass myself – or you."

            Black shook his head.  "You won't.  Just the old shit.  It'll be great, man."

            Danny smiled and said, "You can plug-in to the amp next to the keyboards."  He jerked his thumb in that direction.

            He'd noticed they'd set it up sometime ago and wondered why.  It was an old Sunn lead amp with a tall cabinet.

            Black went on, "We'll start out with 'City of Pain.'"  He smiled and said, "You'll do just fine, man."

            Feeling calmer, Marty nodded.  "Okay."

            Danny punched him lightly on the shoulder, and then said, "You get lost, just follow me, okay?"

            Marty nodded.  "Cool.  Got a pick?"

            He dug in his pocket and handed Marty a pick, a Fender thin.

            "So we ready to go?" asked Black. 

Marty nodded again.

Black went on, "Let's do it!"  He slapped Marty’s back and then strode off towards the center of the stage.

            One of the sound techs who had been standing nearby, gave Marty a cord, which he plugged into the guitar.  He put the strap over his shoulder, and then turned to Linda who gave him a hug.  Reaching to the equipment case, he grabbed his beer and chugged what was left.

            Looking across the stage, Marty saw Danny had picked up his guitar, and Black was standing in front of his mic stand, looking at him expectantly.  Marty walked over to the amp and switched it off standby, and then played a chord.  It was much too loud, so he turned the guitar down a little, then looked over at Black.

            He nodded, and then looked at Chris.  Chris beat-out a four-count with his sticks and they started playing 'City of Pain.'

            The first half of the song, Marty hung back, standing close in front of his amp, watching Danny closely as he played.  Even though he knew the song, he couldn't hear well, and that made it hard to follow the others.  Spotting a sound tech hovering in the wings near Linda, he caught his eye and pointed quickly at his ear.

            He ran over to Marty who shouted, "I can't hear the music!"

            The sound tech nodded, and shouted in his ear, "You'll have to get near one of the monitors up front!  We don't have any others you can use!"  He pointed towards Black and an array of monitor speakers lined up at the edge of the stage.

            Playing mechanically, Marty nodded and he left. 

            Marty took a deep breath and began walking cautiously towards center stage.  His eyes had adjusted to the bright lights, most of which were focused on Black, at least for the moment, as he belted out the chorus.

            As soon as he got near the monitor, the difference was fantastic.  Being able to hear all the instruments had a calming effect and he forgot his inhibitions and just played.  Soon, he was lost in the music. 

            Before he knew it, the song had ended, and the crowd was cheering and clapping.

            Danny screamed into his mic, "Marty Medina!" and waved his arm in Marty’s direction. The crowd roared.

            Feeling a rosy glow, Marty bowed slightly. 

            Cupping the mic in his hands, Black said, "Now we're gonna play another song Marty and I wrote.  Willie starts this song."  He turned back and shouted to Willie, "Goin’ South!"

            He looked over at Marty, eyebrows raised, and Marty nodded.  He turned back to Willie, and Willie played the opening bass line.  After two bars, they all joined in.

            As Black started the vocal, Danny walked over next to Marty.  Standing side by side, he shouted in his ear, "Hey, remember the harmony piece we did on the bridge in the middle?  Let's do it!"

            Marty turned towards him, concentrating on the chords.  "We only did that a couple times!" he shouted.

            "It's easy!" he screamed above the roar of the music.  "You start low in A, I'll start high in C sharp.  C'mon!"

            Marty shrugged and continued playing.

            He stood beside Marty as they played through the song.  As they approached the bridge, he eyed Marty who nodded. 

            The moment came and concentrating intently, Marty picked out the harmony perfectly, bending the strings almost as if in a trance.

            A half hour later, Marty was in seventh heaven.  He'd only screwed up just a few times, and most of those mistakes had been minor, and were covered up by the rest of the band. 

            After getting the butterflies out of his stomach, he ended up playing harmony leads behind Danny on several songs, and on one song, Danny actually laid back playing rhythm and let Marty take the lead.  He was in ecstasy.

            Being up on stage, feeling the heat of the lights, hearing the roar of the crowd, holding the slim neck of the guitar in his hand was the most potent narcotic he'd ever taken.  Everything else he'd ever done in his life was meaningless.

            Basking in the warm glow, he figured it had to end soon.  They'd been playing for almost three hours. 

            Linda was having a helluva time, and she clapped and cheered with the end of each song.  He'd walked over and kissed her once, in-between songs.

            The song we were playing ended, and the crowd roared for more.

            Lighting a cigarette, Danny walked over towards Black and Marty.  He blew out a long stream of smoke, and then asked, "Hey Marty?  How about that Dave Mason song you and Jeff used to do?"

            Black grabbed the cigarette out of his fingers and after taking a large hit, said, "Yeah.  'Look at You, Look at Me.’ Let’s do it." 

            Marty shook his head.  "Aw come on, man.  There's gotta be something else we can do."

            Danny went on, "No.  Let's do that one.  That was a good lead you did on it." 

            Kurt, the keyboardist and Willie approached. 

            Black called out to Willie, "Hey, you remember 'Look at You Look at Me,' by Dave Mason?"

            Willie nodded, then played the bass line.  "Like that?" he asked.  He bent down taking a swig from a beer sitting on the drum platform.

            Black turned to Kurt.  "How about you?"

            Kurt frowned, and then said, "I dunno.  I've heard the song but I don't really remember it."

            Black shrugged.  "It's cool.  Tell ya what.  I'll do the organ piece and you can do the piano part.  Just follow me."

            Chris, sitting behind the drums had been following the conversation.  He called out, "So we're set?  'Look at You Look at Me?'"

            A little terror seeping back into his bloodstream, Marty said, "Wait just a minute, wait just a minute."  He turned to Black and asked, "Are you sure you like remember the words?"

            Looking puzzled, he stared at Marty for a moment, and then said, "You always sang it."

            Marty shook his head.  "Like I didn't sign on for that shit, man.  You gotta sing it."

            Willie took another swig of his beer and added, "I remember jamming with you on that song before, Marty.  You sang it well."

            Black smiled and said, "That settles it."  He looked over at Chris.  "You remember how it starts?"  Chris nodded and Black went on, "Organ bass and drums start it out.  Piano and rhythm come in after the first bar.  Soft and slow in the first verse, then build up in the second verse.  Cool?"   

            Feeling jittery, Marty nodded and the others started returning to their places.  Holding his guitar, he bent down and snagged his beer off the drum platform and took a long pull.  Setting the beer back down, he straightened up and walked towards center stage.

            Standing at the mic, the noisy crowd rippled and surged like an animal in its death throes ten feet below him, and Marty froze for a moment.  The spots came on nearly blinding him, and after a hesitation, he reached forward and adjusted the mic so it was level with his lips.

            He looked behind him.  Danny was holding his acoustic.  The other band members were looking at him expectantly.

            Marty turned back to the mic.  He cleared his throat, then said, "We're gonna do an old Dave Mason song," the words booming out across the auditorium.

            Looking back at Chris, Marty nodded, drawing a deep breath.

            There was a double thump on his kick drum and then he beat his sticks together.  After one bar, Black came in playing organ and Willie started the bass line.

            Squinting against the glare of the bright lights, his guitar hanging from its strap, Marty grasped the mic and began to sing.

            "Looking all around me

            what do I see

            lots of changing faces

            and lots of things to be

            but I'm happy just to be

            a part of all I see

            as I turn around to look at you

            and you look back at me."

            As Marty finished the verse, he was surprised, because his voice sounded good.  Danny played the bridge lead riff on his acoustic, and then the others joined in, picking up the tempo.  Marty started playing the rhythm piece, and then with more confidence, sang,

            "There isn't time to hang around, anymore

            so fill you heart with loving

            and open up the door

            Someone's coming after you

            That's what love is for

            As I turned round to look at you,

            and you looked back no more."

            He sneaked a quick look in back of him, and then we went onto the chorus, Black singing back-up.

            "I'm feeling up, I'm feeling down

            My head's been twisted, yeah, all, all around, yeah yeah

            But now my feet, oh yeah, are on the ground

            For everyone to see."

            He went into the first instrumental breathless, staring intently at the neck of the guitar as he played the riffs he had practiced so often.  Bringing it off without a hitch, he let go of his guitar and holding the mic, he went into the final verses.

             Finished singing, Marty was bathed in a lone, blue spotlight.  Slowly, Black played the lead-in for the final instrumental on the organ.  Marty closed his eyes against the glare and leaned backwards as he played the opening riffs. 

            As the song progressed, it grew in a crescendo.  Marty’s eyes still closed, he just played.

            Marty was in the song – he was the song, and as his fingers moved over the frets, the notes poured out, each more exquisite than the last. 

            Finally, they reached the end.  The crowd went wild, cheering and clapping, shouting for more.

            Beside him, Danny grabbed the mic and screamed, "Marty Medina!"

                High beyond belief, basking in the lights and the cheers of the crowd, Marty took a low bow.