4

“What kind of music do you play?” Johnny asked.

“90’s hits. Country hits. Popular bullshit.”

“Nothing original?” Johnny asked.

“Look at these folks,” Franz replied. “They only want you to play stuff they can sing along to. If we play anything original, they’ll throw bottles at us.”

Johnny looked around at the crowd and agreed. People didn’t come to dives like this to hear anything new or original, they came to remember the good ol’ days and drink away the bad. The place looked like it could use a few good ol’ days.

“You know them?” Johnny asked nodding toward the warm up band.

The band on stage at the moment had struggled through a string of classic covers – “Sweet Home Alabama,” a bunch of Eagles songs and were now ending their set with “Freebird”.

“Yeah,” Franz said. “Nice guys, but can’t play worth shit.”

“I haven’t played in a while,” Johnny said. “You think I could…”

“No,” Franz said. “Get your own band.”

Franz finished his beer and put it down with finality.

“I don’t blame you,” Bill said. “Johnny sucks.”

Bill finished his beer and put it down with the same sense of finality. He grinned at Johnny.

“Fine,” Johnny said getting up. “Anyone want another?”

Everyone at the table nodded and raised their beers.

“You’re not even finished with the one you have,” Johnny said to Eddie, the base player for Franz’s band.

“You didn’t ask if I was finished,” Eddie said. “You just asked if I wanted another.”

Johnny shook his head and went to the bar. The door to the bar flew open and a couple of cowboys blew in, their hats dripping from the storm. Bill looked at them and saw a big flash of lightning outside. Less than a second later a loud thunderclap shook the room and one of the cowboys turned quickly and slammed the door. Another thunderclap sounded, and even though the door was shut, the thunder was just as loud. The lights dimmed briefly but didn’t go out. The storm outside had forced Johnny and Bill to pull over and take shelter. Any other time they would have driven on by this dump.

Johnny ordered the beers and leaned back on the bar as he waited. He thought the bar was crowded for a rainy Tuesday night. The smell of old beer, cigarettes and damp carpet made him feel at home. He felt good. The urge to get on stage and sing was overwhelming. He watched the band as they finished up “Freebird”. They were having a good time doing the jam at the end. They weren’t that great, hell, they weren’t even good but Johnny smiled anyway and cheered and whistled at the band in approval. They were having fun and that’s what he wanted to do.

The bartender put six beers on the bar.

“Eighteen Dollars,” the bartender said.

“I wanted them in mugs,” Johnny said.

“Sorry,” The bartender said and grabbed frosted mugs out of the cooler. He poured the bottles into the mugs. Johnny helped.

“It’s on Franz’s tab,” Johnny said, nodding towards their table.

The bartender looked at Franz and the band at the table. He looked back at Johnny suspiciously.

“But this is for you,” Johnny said, handing him a ten.

“Works for me,” the bartender said, “That cheap sonofabitch never tips.” He took the money and stuffed it into the tip jar and moved on to another customer.

Johnny took one of the beers, held it below the bar and looked around to make sure no one was looking. Bill was looking. Johnny smiled at him. Bill shook his head “no.”

Franz also looked toward the bar, which Bill noticed.

“How long you guys been playing together?” Bill asked quickly.

“About ten years,” Franz said, turning his attention away from the bar and to Bill. “I think we opened for you guys one time seven or eight years ago.”

“Really?” Bills asked.

“Yeah, I thought you guys were pretty good.”

“Thanks,” Bill said.

“But Johnny was an asshole, that’s why I won’t let him play with us.”

Bill sighed. “Yeah, he gets in these moods and you can’t do anything with him.”

“Is that why he…” Franz started.

Johnny sat the mugs on the table. Eddie grabbed one, but Johnny snatched it away.

“That one Franz’s,” Johnny said. He handed it to Franz.

“What’d you do to it?” Franz asked.

“I spit in it,” Johnny said.

The band stared at Johnny.

“For god’s sake, Franz. It’s a Guinness. I remember you were the only one besides me that liked them.”

Franz noticed that two of the mugs were darker than the others. He smiled.

“Thank you, Johnny.”

“Least I could,” Johnny said, “I was an asshole to you guys back in the day.”

“Yes, you were,” Eddie said, taking another beer.

Johnny took his Guinness and sat down. “To old times,” he said holding his beer up.

They tapped mugs and drank.

II

Franz and his band were in the third song of their set when Franz abruptly ran off stage and into the bathroom. The rest of the band kept playing for a while, but when it was clear that Franz wasn’t coming back, Eddie went to check on him.

“What did you do?” Bill asked Johnny.

“Nothing,” Johnny said. “The man can’t handle his beer.

A few minutes later Eddie emerged from the bathroom and came over to their table.

“You think you can play a couple songs with us,” Eddie asked. “Just until Franz gets through puking up his guts. He was never much of a drinker.”

“I don’t think Franz would like that,” Johnny said.

Eddie looked around. The crowd was getting uneasy.

“I don’t care,” Eddie said. “If we don’t start playing soon, the crowd is gonna get ugly.

“I don’t know,” Johnny said. “I’ve had a few myself.”

Someone from the crowd shouted, “This is bullshit!”

“You’d be doing us a big one,” Eddie said.

“Well, since you’re begging and all,” Johnny grinned.

“I ain’t begging…” Eddie started.

Someone else yelled “Fuck this shit!” and tossed a bottle onstage.

“Okay, I’m begging,” Eddie said.

“Just a couple songs,” Johnny said.

“Just a couple songs,” Eddie repeated.

“Allright,” Johnny said standing. He and Eddie moved to the stage. Johnny gathered the band around him and asked them if they knew “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N Roses. Eddie, the rhythm guitar, and the drummer said they did, but the lead guitar, Tamarius, didn’t. Johnny had Tamarius unplug his guitar and took him offstage and back to the kitchen area.

The crowd booed. A bottle almost hit Eddie.

“It starts like this,” Johnny said and he stepped behind Tamarius and took his hands and played quickly through the song. Tamarius wanted to move away at first, but when he heard the sound coming out of his unplugged electric he was amazed. Johnny played the first part of the song and then stopped.

“That’s the gist of it,” Johnny said and stepped away.

Tamarius looked down at his guitar in amazement. He could still feel the song in his hands. He looked up at Johnny and for a moment, he was frightened. Johnny seemed to have black veins beneath the surface of his skin.

Johnny stepped up to Tamarius and whispered in his ear, “Remember.”

The next thing Tamarius remembered was being on stage and Johnny saying “And a 1 and a 2 and a 3”

The crowd was boisterous at this point and people were standing and cursing and then Tamarius started playing “Sweet Child of Mine” and everyone stopped cursing and stopped booing and stopped doing everything except staring at Tamarius. Even Eddie and the other bandmembers turned and looked at him, trying to figure out if the incredible sound coming out of his guitar was real. It sounded just like the song. It sounded just like Slash. For a moment Eddie thought it was a trick. Maybe Tamarius had a recording of the song playing, but when he saw the look in Tamarius face and his hands playing and his body moving to the song, he realized Tamarius was fucking killing it. He wanted nothing in the world but to keep watching Tamarius play, but Johnny snapped his fingers at him and Eddie seemed to awaken from a dream and joined in the song, trying his best to keep up. The other band members followed.

Eddie thought he had seen and heard the most amazing thing he had ever seen or heard on stage, but then Johnny grabbed the mic and sang,

“She’s got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky”

For a long couple of seconds, the crowd was still and silent, like a snake about to strike. They looked at the band. They looked at each other. They couldn’t get their minds around the sound coming out of the band.

Johnny sang on,

“Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry”

Franz, vomit down the front of his shirt and in his beard, stumbled out of the bathroom and fell to his knees. No one noticed because when Johnny sang,

“Oh, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine,”

The crowd lost their fucking minds.

III

The bar was packed. People witnessing the bands unearthly performance had called, texted and snapchatted their friends. There was a line outside to get in.

Johnny and the band had played a dozen songs and it quickly became apparent that Johnny had the uncanny ability to sound just like whoever they were playing. They played “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and Johnny had sounded like John Denver. They played “Margaritaville” and Johnny sounded like Jimmy Buffet. They played and played and played and then they played “Hurt” and Johnny sounded like Trent Reznor AND Johnny Cash and that’s when a few people in the crowd started to feel uneasy. Then the band played “Luckenback, Texas” and for a few minutes the uneasy feeling went away, because Johnny sounded just like Waylon Jennings.

“The only two things in life that make it worth livin’
Is guitars in tune and firm feelin’ women
I don’t need my name in the marquee lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love,”

The crowd cheered and stomped. Women took off their shirts and showed their boobs. Years later, when the reporters and the cops asked the people who were in the crowd that night what they saw, the witnesses could only say that it was the best night of their lives.

Johnny kept singing,

“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys…”

The crowd sang along. And they would have kept singing along, but toward the end of the song, Johnny stopped sounding like Waylon Jennings and started sounding like Waylon Jennings AND Willie Nelson at the same time.

The crowd kept singing, but some of them seemed confused. Some of them didn’t know or understand what time it was, some didn’t know where they were. Some didn’t know who they were. One guy ran out of the bar screaming.

Johnny was about to play another song, but Bill had quietly moved onto the stage. He had a tuning fork in his hand and struck the microphone with it. It caused a little bit of feedback. Bill held the tuning fork to Johnny’s ear. Johnny stopped singing immediately, as if in a trance. In fact, everyone in the bar stopped moving except Bill.

Bill took Johnny by the hand and led him offstage, through the crowd and to the door. The tone from the tuning fork slowly faded. When they left the bar, the people in the crowd snapped back to life. There was much confusion. Franz wandered out of the bathroom, feeling better, but he was even more confused than the people in the crowd.

The reporters, years later, would also ask the people if they believed Johnny could have done all those horrible things to the people out in the desert that he was accused of. The ones that bothered answering the question would say “No. That man couldn’t have done those things. That man had the voice of an Angel.”

 

1

“C’mon man, it’s ok.” Bill said. “This too will pass.”

Johnny held a handgun in his lap. He clicked the safety on. He clicked it off.

“Would you stop that?” Bill said.

“I could just walk out to the back. Few hundred yards into the woods, put this to my head, click. All my problems are over,” Johnny said.

“I understand. I’m not going to tell you to snap out of it. Let’s both walk away from, have a beer, talk about it.”

“See, you think this just started. PTSD or some shit from the war. But that’s not it. I never thought I’d seriously think about killing myself. I just toyed with it. I hated when other people did it. Fuckin’ Robin Williams. Fuck Robin Williams I thought at first. But then I understood.”

“I know, I get it buddy.”

“I don’t need you to fix me. Just listen,” Johnny said.

“I know you struggle with the weight of ….”

You’re not listening. I’m not in pain because of the shit that’s happened this past year. I’m fucked up because of a lifetime of things happening wrong, of seeing a future lifetime of not being able to fix anything. Of failing over and over again. I’m tired. I think it’s too late for me to ever make my life what I wanted it to be, or any semblance of it. It’s just too late friend. It’s not your fault or anyone’s fault. I’m just tired. I want to cry. I want to stop hurting. And I know One Hundred Percent that if I pull this trigger, all that pain goes away for me.”

“But not for us. Not for the ones that love you,” Bill said.

“I know that and believe me , that’s the only reason I haven’t done it before, it’s the only reason I’m not doing it right now in front of you. It won’t matter to me once I pull the trigger. It won’t matter to me that you witnessed it. It does matter right now, but I gotta be honest with you,” Johnny said, “It only matters a tiny small little bit. I’m ready to do this.”

“Can’t you think of any reason not to?” Bill asked. “Your mom? Your family? Me?”

“I tell you what,” Johnny said.

Johnny popped the magazine out of the pistol.

“If I can think of more reasons than there are bullets in this mag, I won’t do it. Deal?”

“No comment? Ok. Here goes”

Bill shook his head. Johnny held the magazine firmly in his hand and sat it on the table like a man out of his mind would set a goblet of poison on a table that he intended to drink.

“Mom,” Johnny said. With his thumb, Johnny pushed a bullet out of the magazine. The pressure of the spring and next bullet made the bullet leap out with a little bit of force. It landed on the table and almost rolled off the edge.

“My wife,” Johnny said as he pushed another out.

“My sister,” he said. Another bullet ejected out onto the table and this one rolled off.

“My kids,” Johnny said. Another bullet popped out onto the table with more life than it should have had.

“That should count as two,” Bill said.

Johnny stared at him.

“You got two kids,” Bill said.

Johnny pushed another bullet out shaking his head as if he’d been caught in a misunderstood lie.

Johnny paused a moment, thinking hard.

“My friend” he said as he held the magazine up and nodded to Bill as if about to drink a drink.

You have many friends”

“There’s only one here” Johnny said.

“The others will come if you, we call them”

“Too late,” Johnny said, “And I think I’m out of reasons”

“Your dad,” Bill said.

Johnny picked up a bullet from the table and put it back in the mag.

“What the fuck Johnny!”

“I got his genes. I got his habits and his problems and his nature to hurt people. That’s a reason to get this whole thing over.”

“Fuck Johnny. C’mon,” Bill said.

Johnny tapped the mag on the table as if genuinely trying to think of another reason.

“I think I’m out of excuses.” He said, holding the mag up to the light. Against the light he could count the holes in the mag.

“Looks like I got 4 left. Sorry.”

“Wait. Wait. Wait. Think of all the shit you’re gonna miss. The original guns and roses are back together. Their album comes out in six months. C’mon. Axel, Slash and Duff! C’mon, that’s gotta be worth something,” Bill said.

Johnny reluctantly pushed another bullet out.

“3”

“You said we’d be famous. I quit my job for you to go on tour,” Bill said.

“We lost a lot of money on that tour. They threw bottles at me,” Johnny said.

“At us.” Bill said. “They threw bottles at US. But I still believed in you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you. That’s worth a bullet. Take one out,” Bill demanded.

Johnny sighed and popped another round out.

“Two” Johnny said. “I can’t think of two more.”

Johnny held the magazine up to Bill as if asking for confirmation.

Fuck it,” Johnny said.

“No.” Bill said. “Give me a moment,” Bill pleaded.

“You remember that time we saw Metallica and afterwards we met one of their roadies and he invited us backstage and we got to go to their hotel and party?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah. I remember. Great fucking night and there’s many more,” Bill said.

“And then after the party we were all hyped up. The best night of our lives…”

“Yes, Johnny, I remember. We can do that…” Bill said.

“But instead of going home, we stayed out. We ended up at that shit bar,” Johnny said.

“It was the only one open.”

“Exactly!” Johnny said as he stood. “We shouldn’t have lingered. We should have called it a night. That’s what I’m doing here old friend. I’m calling it a fucking night. ”

“Listen to me, Johnny.” Bill said. “If you do this, I will fuck your wife. I will tell your kids that you hated them. I’ll show them your freaky porn stash.”

“You..”

“I know all your passwords and if you do it, I swear to god, I’ll go on your computer and show them all your dirty secrets.”

“Nice try,” Johnny said. “First off, I know you won’t do it. Second. I’ll be dead. Won’t care”

“I will do it.”

“I got two bullets left. I could kill you also.” Johnny said.

“You recycling, repurposing, don’t waste anything piece of shit!” Bill said.
“What?”

“You’ll hang on to an extra screw and the one use tool that comes with a piece of Ikea furniture because you hate to throw it away,” Bill said.

“So?”

“But you’ll throw your life away,” Bill said.

“You’re wasting your time,” Johnny said as he loaded the magazine into the pistol.

“What I’m saying fuckface,” Bill said, “If you’re going to kill yourself at least be useful.”

Johnny looked at his friend, waiting.

“I know someone who needs to be killed,” Bill said. “Kill him. Then kill yourself if you want.”

“Who?” Johnny asked

Bill got up and went to the fridge. He opened it and got a two beers out and returned to the table. He placed one in front of Johnny and kept one for himself.

“Your father.” he said as he opened his beer and took a big drink.

Johnny took a deep breath. He sat down.

“Why?” Johnny asked.

“You know why.” his friend said.

“Goddammit,” Johnny said as he smashed his head on the table several times. A trickle of blood crawled down his forehead. After a moment he took the magazine and used it to open his beer.

He took a long draw from the bottle and sat it down on the table.

“Ok.”