Achilles’ Last Stand

By on Oct 21, 2013 in Fiction

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A band from backstage

“The clap, huh?” he said, wiping his hand on Lincoln’s T-shirt as the guitarist groaned. Port flashed a yellow smile, but I was ready to piss myself. I’d been around my brother when he’d lost his temper before, even gone with my mom to bail him out a couple of times, but this wasn’t Pike County, and I thought I was going to jail with him.

“Listen to Port. Let’s go,” I whispered.

“He had it coming,” Jeff said, as if he were trying to justify sending a kid to bed without dinner.

“No argument here, but we need to get you gone,” Port said. We didn’t run, but we walked fast down a couple more corridors until we came to a door with “Sledge” on a gold-colored nameplate and a sign below with the words “The doctor is in.” Port flipped it over to read “With a patient” and ushered us inside.

Incense burned on a table while candles cast odd shadows over the room that obscured its corners. Nirvana pulsed from a stereo in the adjoining room.

“Um—” Jeff started, barely audible over “In Bloom.”

“Don’t worry,” Port said. “You’ll be fine. Nobody comes in when the sign says not to. Last guy to do it got fired.”

“Uh-huh,” Jeff mumbled.

“Yeah, and—” Port stopped as the music softened, and Billy’s voice drifted from the other room. 

“Who’s there?” We couldn’t see him, but he sounded frightened. Not at all the arrogant god the magazines were selling.

“It’s me, man.” Port said.

“What’s going on?” Each syllable was controlled, intentional. It reminded me of an actor in a school play. Port walked into another candle-lit room and looked to his right, out of our sight line.

“Not much. Good show,” Port said.

“I guess,” Billy replied.

Port cleared his throat. “Somebody’s here to see you.”

“I don’t do visitors.” Southern Indiana was nowhere in his voice.

“Yeah, but I think you’ll want to —”

“Fine.” It was light but sharp enough that I flinched in the other room. Port waved us in, and as we came around the corner, I saw Billy seated in a barber-style chair facing a dressing-room mirror with a steaming washcloth over his face. He wore a white robe, and his black hair hung lank and wet, dripping water down the back of the chair. There was incense burning on the counter, and in front of the mirror were four clear plastic glasses, each filled with a different color liquid. Near them was a small orange medicine bottle with two large pills beside it. No one spoke as Billy spun and removed the cloth. His eyes opened wide, and a smile started to cross his pink face, bled into a confused glance at Port, then settled into a serene grin.

“Now this is a surprise,” he said, and stepped forward to hug Jeff. My brother’s face was even brighter than it was when he’d clocked Lincoln. “How are you?” Billy asked.

“Not bad, you know,” Jeff said. “Heard you were in town, thought I’d bring my brother up and show him what a real rock concert’s like.” Billy looked me up and down. If I could’ve slipped under the carpet, I would’ve.

“When did you get so big?” he asked, as if he were a great-uncle or something. 

I didn’t know how to respond. “Last year, I guess.” 

Billy smiled, and for a moment the tension was gone. “So Jesus, man, how long has it been?” He set himself back in his chair and propped his hands on his knees in a comical way that would’ve gotten me beat up in the lunch room.

“Since ’85, I guess,” Jeff said.

“We’ve played Indy since then. Why just now?” Billy asked.

Jeff glanced at Port, who stared at the floor.

“You have any idea how much your tickets cost?” Jeff asked, forcing a smile. 

Billy laughed again and spun slowly in his barber chair, working his left foot like he was on a skateboard. “Yeah, it’s a pisser. But the company sets those prices.” He stopped spinning. “You know how it is.”

“Not really,” Jeff said.

Billy glanced at Port, then back to Jeff. “So how’d you get backstage? I don’t think security would let you in because you said you were mi amigo.”

“Oh, screw you,” Port said. “I set it up and you know it.” He was sitting on the couch now. I’d forgotten he was in the room.

Billy walked over and sat down next to Port on the couch, right up against him. He spoke slowly. “I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that the only reason they’re here,” another glance at me, “that Jeff’s here, is because you wanted to catch up on old times. Or maybe brag a little bit. Show him how the other half lives.” He leaned closer to Port, as if inspecting every pore, then moved back to his chair. “Tell me.” Port examined his own fingernails.

“What the fuck, Billy? I mean, seriously.” I’d expected Port to respond, but Jeff spoke instead. “What does it matter why he invited me up here? At least he did it.” The last words had teeth.

“That’s not my name.”

“I’m not calling you anything else, so you can get down off your high horse. I’ve called you Billy since the first grade.” Watching my brother chastise a rock star made me proud. I think sometimes this is where I learned to hold famous people’s feet to the fire in interviews. To make them uncomfortable and see what I got. Of course, sometimes I get thrown off tour buses.

Billy leaned forward in his chair for a closer look at the bloody gash on Jeff’s knuckle. “What’d you do to yourself?”

“Oh, uh, actually you might get a kick out of this —” Port started.

“I cold-cocked your guitar player because he mouthed off to my little brother,” Jeff said. He glanced at me then, and for all my fear since coming backstage, I knew that I was safe with him. He’d protect me. He already had.

Billy took the pills from the counter and tossed them into his mouth and then took a swig of something orange, followed by purple. He walked up to Jeff, whose fists were clenched at his side.

“You punched Trent?” 

Jeff nodded. 

“Knocked him out?”

“Yeah.” He stared without blinking at Billy. Port fiddled with the arm covers of the couch.

“That’s fantastic!” He grabbed Jeff in another bear hug. “Thinks the band belongs to him. Maybe it would be if he could write a damn lyric.” His brow wrinkled. “He’s going to be looking for you.”

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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