Achilles’ Last Stand

By on Oct 21, 2013 in Fiction

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A band from backstage

“You don’t know that,” Jeff said. I tried not to visibly shake, sure that we were going to get arrested. Or eaten by Bulldog after all.

“Fine, you would’ve written checks to homeless kids and recorded crappy benefit songs with Bono. I don’t care, okay? You’re here because I finally pulled my head out of my ass for two seconds just in time to watch Billy jump off the deep end.”

“And what’s that got to do with me?” Jeff asked.

I leaned against the wall between two amps and watched them.

“Maybe nothing. But with him out of his gourd, I got to thinking about the old days. How you used to be able to talk him down.”

For all of his own issues, Jeff had usually been able to keep Billy from getting too stupid. Once, Billy decided he was going to chain the rear axle of a county police cruiser to a light post in the Jay-C parking lot because he’d seen it in American Graffiti. Jeff had convinced him to smoke some weed in the basement instead.

“What, is he on something?” 

“Beats me. He says he’s clean. Says it’s a waste of money. But he’s got half a dozen prescription bottles. I don’t even know what they do. People are getting pissed at him. You’re the only person I could think of who knew him before. Those nights practicing, drinking beer. Making plans to get the hell out of Ayrshire. We were okay then.” He stopped and looked at me, but didn’t say anything, and I wondered what was wrong with Ayrshire. The dark circles around his eyes unnerved me, and his hands had a shake that didn’t seem useful for a guitarist.

“So I’m the cavalry or something?” Billy said. “Here to save the day because you couldn’t keep Billy from turning into a head case? What have I got to say to him? Why don’t you just have Trent Lincoln solve your problems?”

“Trent’s an asshole. He wants to see Billy self-destruct. Wants the band to himself.”

The blunt admission deflated Jeff. He’d always assumed that Billy and Port were fast friends with his replacement. And why not? Rock magazines have always paid writers like me to make it look that way. Photographers, video directors. All illusionists. You think Steven Tyler and Joe Perry go to the movies together? 

“I don’t even ride on the same bus as that bastard anymore,” Port said. Someone in the hallway shouted something about wrapping cables. “But he’s got the clap, so it’s not like I’m using his john anyway.” 

Jeff laughed despite his irritation. I joined in, though everything I knew about the clap came from my ninth-grade health book.

“It’s your band, too. That guy’s not going to take it over,” Jeff said. 

Another smile from Port. “I play rhythm, man. Ain’t nobody here to see me. Sledge and Trent, that’s who sells the tickets.” His weary tone made it easy to believe him.

“So where’s Billy now?” Jeff asked.

“Same place he always is after a show. In his dressing room being a hermit. I’ll take you over there, but be ready for anything.”

“What do you mean?” Jeff asked.

“Probably nothing. You sure you want to bring him?” His eyes shot toward me, still standing between the guitars.

“It’s not like I’m leaving him alone,” Jeff said, giving me a glance that made me feel safe.

“Up to you.”

Port eased his guitar into its case and locked it using a key from his pocket, then led us through the curtain and back into the labyrinth. We passed the press room, full of local media and some rock reporters that followed D.C. from city to city. (God, would I come to know that room. Beige or green cinder block walls and fluorescent lights. Always.) As we passed, a few voices cried “Port! Port!” but he slid past them. The crowd thinned. Mostly hangers-on remained, quick to smile or toss a “hey” toward Port as he walked through. For Jeff and me, the smiles shifted to glares. My stomach twisted with nerves, but Jeff relished the attention, walking taller as he went. I was proud of him, in his element, decked in studded leather and motorcycle boots.

We turned a corner and ducked under a cheap velvet rope with a paper sign scotch-taped to it reading “BAND MEMBERS AND GUESTS ONLY.” Two more burly security guards stood in front of it, and I stared at the floor as they looked us over. A couple of fans shouted at Port from down the hall, and then we turned another corner and found ourselves mostly alone. There were two girls loitering outside a door, and as we approached, Trent Lincoln stepped out. He and Port gave no sign that they knew each other. I’d been watching the man on MTV for years, and now he stood in front of me, a real live rock star, even if he seemed short. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he wore sweat pants without a shirt, a half-empty bottle of Bushmill’s in one hand and a smoke in the other. The taller girl hooked a finger in the band of his sweats. Her mascara was smeared on one side of her face. As we passed, I couldn’t help myself.

“Great show,” I said. 

He didn’t look at me but grunted, “Fuck off,” as he flicked his cigarette in my direction. 

This is not an unusual reaction from a rock star when there are no cameras around. They’re mostly assholes, and after shows they’re tired assholes. I’ve long since learned to throw it right back at them. “Eat shit,” I’d say today, defusing the situation with the machismo I learned from Jeff. But that night, my face burned with shame as I dodged the ashes, wondering what I’d done wrong. I kept walking, thinking that if I didn’t break my stride, the scene would evaporate.

“Jackass,” Port said as we walked, and that should’ve been the end of it, but Jeff stopped and turned back toward Lincoln.

“What did you say to my brother?”

If Lincoln had realized that there was probably no one in the world spoiling for a fight with him more than Jeff, he might’ve backed off, but instead he turned and said, “I told him to fuck the fuck off,” then took a swig of whiskey and spat it at Jeff’s feet, like some French fountain. “And what are you gonna do about it, mate?”

Jeff didn’t move as Port stepped in.

“Trent, back off. These are my friends, so —” 

Before he could finish, Jeff swung a haymaker that shattered Lincoln’s nose with a wet crunch (an injury the guitarist would later blame on an epic bar fight) and put him on the floor. The girls shrieked and ran away as the whiskey bottle busted on the concrete.

“Oh hell,” Port said with horror and laughter. “Man, that was a bad idea.” He looked up and down the hallway. “Let’s get out of here. I might be able to get away with that, but they’ll cart you off.” Jeff looked at his fist, bloody and split at the knuckle.

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Chris Drew's essays and stories have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Big Muddy, Concho River Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and The Sycamore Review. He is currently a dissertator in the creative writing Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he has served as nonfiction editor for cream city review. Chris can be found on the web at