That Was Radio Clash, Charles de Lint

Hellraiser

Charles de Lint is a full-time writer and musician who presently makes his home in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife MaryAnn Harris, an artist and musician. His most recent books are Dingo and Promises to Keep. Upcoming publications include a new novel for adults, The Mystery of Grace (Tor Books, 2009).

For more information about his work, visit his website at www.charlesdelint.com.

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December 23, 2002

“Why so down?” the bartender asked the girl with the dark blue hair.

She looked up, surprised, maybe, that anyone had even noticed.

At night, the Rhatigan was one of the last decent live jazz clubs in town. The kind of place where you didn’t necessarily know the players, but one thing the music always did was swing. There was none of your smooth jazz or other ambient crap here.

But during the day, it was like any other low-end bar, a third full of serious drinkers and no one that looked like her.

“Joe Strummer died yesterday,” she said.

Alphonse is a good guy. He used to play the keys until an unpaid debt resulted in some serious damage to his melody hand. He can still play, but where he used to soar, now he just walks along on the everyday side of genius with the rest of us. And while maybe he can’t express the way things feel with his music anymore, the heart that made him one of the most generous players you could sit in with is still beating inside that barrel chest of his.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Was he a friend of yours?”

The hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, but the sadness in her eyes didn’t change.

“Hardly,” she said. “It’s just that he was the heart and soul of the only band that matters and his dying reminds me of how everything that’s good eventually fades away.”

“The only band that matters,” Alphonse repeated, obviously not getting the reference. In his head he was probably running through various Monk or Davis line-ups.

“That’s what they used to call the Clash.”

“Oh, I remember them. What was that hit of theirs?” It took him a moment, but then he half-sang the chorus and title of “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”

She nodded. “Except that was more Mick Jones’s. Joe’s lyrics were the ones with a political agenda.”

“I don’t much care for politics,” Alphonse said.

“Yeah, most people don’t. And that’s why the world’s as fucked up as it is.”

Alphonse shrugged and went to serve a customer at the other end of the bar. The blue-haired girl returned her attention to her beer, staring down into the amber liquid.

“Did you ever meet him?” I asked.

She looked up to where I was sitting a couple of bar stools away. Her eyes were as blue as her hair, such a vibrant colour that I figured they must be contacts. She had a pierced eyebrow--the left--and pale skin, but by the middle of winter, most people have pretty much lost their summer colour. She was dressed like she was auditioning for a black and white movie: black jersey, cargos and boots, a grey sweater. The only colour was in her hair. And those amazing eyes.

“No,” she said. “But I saw them play at the Standish in ‘84.”

I smiled. “And you were what? Five years old?”

“Now you’re just sucking up.”

And unspoken, but implied in those few words was, You don’t have a chance with me.

But I never thought I did. I mean, look at me. A has-been trumpet player who lost his lip. Never touched the glory Alphonse did when he played--not on my own--but I sat in with musicians who did.

But that’s not what she’d be seeing. She’d be seeing one more lost soul with haunted eyes, trying to drown old sorrows in a pint of draught. If she was in her teens when she caught the Clash at the Standish, she’d still only be in her mid- to late-thirties now, ten years my junior. But time passes differently for people like her and people like me. I looked half again my age, and shabby. And I knew it.

No, all I was doing here was enjoying the opportunity for a little piece of conversation with someone who wasn’t a drunk, or what she thought me to be: on the prowl.

“I knew him in London,” I said. “Back in the seventies when we were all living in squats in Camden Town.”

“Yeah, right.”

I shrugged and went on as though she hadn’t spoken. “I remember their energy the most. They’d play these crap gigs with speakers made out of crates and broomstick mike stands. Very punk--lots of noise and big choppy chords.” I smiled. “And not a hell of a lot of chords, either. But they already had a conscience--not like the Pistols who were only ever in it for the money. Right from the start they were giving voice to a whole generation that the system had let down.”

She studied me for a moment.

“Well, at least you know your stuff,” she said. “Are you a musician?”

I nodded. “I used to play the trumpet, but I don’t have the lip for it anymore.”

“Did you ever play with him?”

“No, I was in an R&B cover band in the seventies, but times were hard and I ended up living in the squats for awhile, same as him. The closest I got to playing the punk scene was when I was in a ska band, and later doing some Two-Tone. But the music I loved to play the most was always jazz.”

“What’s your name?”

“Eddie Ramone.”

“You’re kidding.”

I smiled. “No, and before you ask, I got my name honestly--from my dad.”

“I’m Sarah Blue.”

I glanced at her hair. “So which came first?”

“The name. Like you, it came with the family.”

“I guess people who knew you could really say they knew the Blues.”

“Ha ha.”

“Sorry.”

“‘sokay.”

I waited a moment, then asked, “So is there more to your melancholy then the loss of an old favourite musician?”

She shrugged. “It just brought it all home to me, how that night at the Standish was, like, one of those pivotal moments in my life, only I didn’t recognize it. Or maybe it’s just that that’s when I started making a lot of bad choices.” She touched her hair. “It’s funny, but the first thing I did when I heard he’d died was put the eyebrow piercing back in and dye my hair blue like it was in those days--by way of mourning. But I think I’m mourning the me I lost as much as his passing.”

“We can change our lives.”

“Well, sure. But we can’t change the past. See that night I hooked up with Brian. I thought he was into all the things I was. I wanted to change the world and make a difference. Through music, but also through activism.”

“So you played?”

“Yeah. Guitar--electric guitar--and I sang. I wrote songs, too.”

“What happened?”

“I pissed it all away. Brian had no ambition except to party hearty and that whole way of life slipped into mine like a virus. I never even saw the years slide away.”

“And Brian?”

“I dumped him after a couple of years, but by then I’d just lost my momentum.”

“You could still regain it.”

She shook her head. “Music’s a young person’s game. I do what I can in terms of being an environmental and social activist, but the music was the soul of it for me. It was everything. Whatever I do now, I just feel like I’m going through the motions.”

“You don’t have to be young to make music.”

“Maybe not. But whatever muse I had back in those days pissed off and left me a long time ago. Believe me, I’ve tried. I used to get home from work and pick up my guitar almost every day, but the spark was just never there. I don’t even try anymore.”

“I hear you,” I said. “I never had the genius--I just saw it in others. And when you know what you could be doing, when the music in your head’s so far beyond what you can pull out of your instrument...”

“Why bother.”

I gave a slow nod, then studied her for a moment. “So if you could go back and change something, is that what it would be? You’d go to that night and go your own way instead of hooking up with this Brian guy?”

She laughed. “I guess. Though I’d have to apply myself as well.”

“I can send you back.”

“Yeah, right.”

I didn’t take my gaze from those blue eyes of hers. I just repeated what I’d said. “I can send you back.”

She let me hold her gaze for a couple of heartbeats, then shook her head.

“You almost had me going there,” she said.

“I can send you back,” I said a third time.

Third time’s the charm and she looked uneasy.

“Send me back in time.”

I nodded.

“To warn myself.”

“No. You’d go back, with all you know now. And it’s not really back. Time doesn’t run in a straight line, it all happens at the same time. Past, present, future. It’s like this is you now.” I touched my left shoulder. “And this is you then.” I touched the end a finger on my left hand. “If I hold my arm straight, it seems linear, right?”

She gave me a dubious nod.

“But really--” I crooked my left arm so that my finger was touching my shoulder. “--the two times are right beside each other. It’s not such a big jump.”

“And you can send me there?”

I nodded. “On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You come back here on this exact same day and ask for me.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s how it works.”

She shook her head. “This is nuts.”

“Nothing to lose, everything to gain.”

“I guess...”

I knew I almost had her, so I smiled and said, “Should you stay or should you go?”

Her blue gaze held mine again, then she shrugged. Picking up her beer, she chugged the last third down, then set the empty glass on the table.

“What the hell,” she said. “How does it work?”

I slipped off my stool and closed the few steps between us.

“You think about that night,” I said. “Think about it hard. Then I put two fingers on each of your temples--like this. And then I kiss your third eye.”

I leaned forward and pressed my lips against her brow, halfway between my fingers. Held my lips there for a heartbeat. Another. Then I stepped away.

She looked at me for a long moment, before standing up. She didn’t say a word, but they never do. She just laid a couple of bills on the bar to pay for her drink and walked out the door.

* * *

December 23, 2002

“I feel like I should know you,” the bartender said when the girl with the dark blue hair walked into the bar and pulled up a stool.

“My name’s Sarah Blue. What’s yours?”

“Alphonse,” he said and grinned. “And you’re really Sarah Blue?” He glanced towards the doorway. “I thought you big stars only travelled with an entourage.”

“All I’ve got is a cab waiting outside. And I’m not such a big star.”

“Yeah, right. Like ‘Take It to the Streets’ wasn’t the big hit of--when was it? Summer of ’89.”

“You’ve got a good memory.”

“It was a good song.”

“Yeah, it was. I never get tired of playing it. But my hit days were a long time ago. These days I’m just playing theatres and clubs again.”

“Nothing wrong with that. So what can I get you?”

“Actually, I was expecting to meet a guy in here today. Do you know an Eddie Ramone?”

“Sure, I do.” He shook his head. “I should have remembered.”

“Remembered what?”

“Hang on.”

He went to a drawer near the cash and pulled out a stack of envelopes held together with a rubber band. Flipping through them, he returned to where she was sitting and laid one out on the bar in front of her. In an unfamiliar hand was written:

Sarah Blue
December 23, 2002

“Do those all have names and dates on them?” she asked.

“Every one of them.”

He showed her the top one. It was addressed to:

Jonathan Block
January 27, 2003

“You think he’ll show?” she asked.

“You did.”

She shook her head. “What’s this all about?”

“Damned if I know. People just drop these off from time to time and sooner or later someone shows up to collect it.”

“It’s not just Eddie?”

“No. But most of the time it’s Eddie.”

“And he’s not here?”

“Not today. Maybe he tells you why in the letter.”

“The letter. Right.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” Alphonse said.

He walked back to where he’d left the drawer open and dropped the envelopes in. When he looked up, she was still watching him.

“You want a drink?” he asked.

“Sure. Whatever’s on tap that’s dark.”

“You’ve got it.”

She returned her attention to the letter, staring at it until Alphonse returned with her beer. She thanked him, had a sip, then slid her finger into the top of the envelope and tore it open. There was a single sheet inside, written in the same unfamiliar script that was on the envelope. It said:

Hello Sarah,  

Well, if you’re reading this, I guess you’re a believer now. I sure hope your life went where you wanted it to go this time.

 Funny thing, that might amuse you. I was talking to Joe, back in the Camden Town days, and I asked him if he had any advice for a big fan who’d be devastated when he finally went to the big gig in the sky.

 The first thing he said was, “Get bent.”

 The second was, “You really think we’re ever going to make it?”

 When I nodded, he thought for a moment, then said, “You tell him or her--it’s a her?--tell her it’s never about the player, is it? It’s always about the music. And the music never dies.”

 And if she wanted to be a musician? I asked him.

 “Tell her that whatever she takes on, stay in for the duration. Maybe you can just bang out a tune or a lyric, maybe it takes you forever. It doesn’t matter how you put it together. All that matters is that it means something to you, and you play it like it means something to you. Anything else is just bollocks.”

 I’m thinking, if you got your life straight this time, you’d probably agree with him.

 But now to business. First off, the reason I’m not here to see you is that this isn’t the same future I sent you back from. That one still exists, running alongside this one, but it’s closed to you because you’re living that other life now. And you know there’s just no point in us meeting again, because we’ve done what needed to be done.

 At least we did it for you.

 If you’re in the music biz now, you know there’s no such thing as a free ride. What I need you to do is, pass it on. You know how to do it. All you’ve got to decide is who.

 Eddie

Sarah read it twice before she folded the letter up, returned it to the envelope and stowed it in the pocket of her jacket. She had some more of her beer. Alphonse approached as she was setting her glass back down on the bar top.

“Did that clear it up for you?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, that’s Eddie for you. The original man of mystery. He ever start in on his time travel yarns with you?”

She shook her head again, but only because she wasn’t ready to admit it to anyone. To do so didn’t feel right, and that feeling had made her keep it to herself through all the years.

Alphonse held out his right hand. “He wanted to send me back to the day before I broke this--said I could turn my life around and live it right this time.”

“And...did you?”

Alphonse laughed. “What does it look like?”

Sarah smiled. Of course, he hadn’t. Not in this world. But maybe in one running parallel to it...

She thought about that night at the Standish, so long ago. The Clash playing and she was dancing, dancing, so happy, so filled with music. And she was straight, too--no drinks, no drugs that night--but high all the same. On the music. And then right in the middle of a blistering version of “Clampdown,” her head just...swelled with this impossible lifetime that she’d never, she couldn’t have lived.

But she knew she’d connect with a guy named Brian. And she did.

And she knew how it would all go downhill from there, so after the concert, when they were leaving the theatre from a side door, she blew him off. And he got pissed off and gave her a shove that knocked her down. He looked at her, sobered by what he’d done, but she waved him off. He hesitated, then walked away, and she just sat there in the alley, thinking she was going crazy. Wanting to cry.

And then someone reached a hand to her to help her up.

“You okay there?” a voice with a British accent asked.

And she was looking into Joe Strummer’s face. The Joe Strummer she’d seen on stage. But superimposed over it, she saw Joe Strummers that were still to come.

The one she’d seen fronting the Pogues in...some other life.

The one she’d seen fronting the Mescaleros...

The one who’d die of a heart attack at fifty years young...

“You want me to call you a cab?” he asked.

“No. No, I’m okay. Great gig.”

“Thanks.”

On impulse, she gave him a kiss, then stepped back. Away. Out of his life. Into her new one.

She blinked, realizing that Alphonse was still standing by her. How long had she been spaced out?

“Well...” she said, looking for something to say. “Eddie seemed like a nice guy to me.”

Alphonse nodded. “He’s got a big heart--he’ll give you the shirt off his back. Hasn’t got much of a lip these days, but he still sits in with the band from time to time. You can’t say no to a guy like that and he never tries to showboat, like he thinks he plays better than he can. He keeps it simple and puts the heart into what he’s playing.”

“Maybe I’ll come back and catch him one night.”

“Door’s always open during business hours, Miss Blue.”

“Sarah.”

“Sarah, then. You come back any time.”

He left to serve a new customer and Sarah looked around the bar. No one stood out to her--the way she assumed she had to Eddie--so she’d have to come back.

She put a couple of bills on the bar top to cover the cost of her beer and went out to look for her cab. As she got into the back seat, she found herself hoping that Eddie had made himself at least one world where he’d got his lip back. That was the only reason she could think that he kept passing along the magic of a second chance--paying back his own attempts at getting it right.

It was either that, or he was an angel.

* * *

January 27, 2003

Alphonse smiled when she came in. When he started to draw her a draught, she shook her head.

“I’ll have a coffee if you’ve got one,” she said.

“We don’t get much call for coffee, even at this time of day, so it’s kind of grungy. Let me put on a fresh pot.”

He busied himself at the coffee machine, throwing out the old grounds, inserting a filter full of new coffee.

“So what brings you in so early?” he asked when he turned back to her.

“I can’t get those envelopes out of my head.”

“The...oh, yeah. They’re a bit of a puzzle all right. But I can’t let you look at them.”

“I’m not asking. But when you were giving me mine, I saw the date on the one on the top of the stack.”

“Today’s date,” Alphonse guessed.

She nodded. “Do you mind if I hang around and wait?”

“Not at all. But it could be a long haul.”

“‘sokay. I’ve got the time.”

She sat chatting with Alphonse for awhile, then retired to one of the booths near the stage with her second cup of coffee. Pulling out her journal, she did some sketches of the bar, the empty stage, Alphonse at work. The sketches were in pictures and words. At some point they might find a melody and swell into a song. Or they might not. It didn’t matter to her. Doodling in her journal was just something she always did--a way to occupy time on the road and provide touchstones for her memory.

* * *

Jonathan Block didn’t show up until that evening, after she’d had a surprisingly-good Cajun stew and the band was starting to set up. He looked nothing like what she’d expected--not that she’d had any specific visual in mind. It was just that he looked like a street person. Medium height, gaunt features, a few days worth of stubble and greasy hair, shabby clothes. She’d expected someone more...successful.

She waited until he’d collected his envelope and had a chance to read it before approaching him.

“I guess your replay didn’t turn out,” she said.

He gave her a look that was half wary, half confused.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

She pulled out her own envelope, creased and wrinkled from living in her pocket for over a month, and showed it to him.

“Do you feel like talking?” she asked. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

He hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure. I’ll have a ginger ale.”

She got one for him from Alphonse, then led Jonathan back to her booth.

“What did you want to talk about?” he asked.

“You have to ask? I mean, this, all of this...” She laid her envelope on the Formica table top between them. “It’s just so strange.”

He gave a slow nod and laid his own down beside his drink.

“But it’s real, isn’t it?” he said. “The letters prove that.”

“What happened to you? Why didn’t it work out?”

“What makes you think it didn’t?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just...the way you...you know...”

“No, I should be the one apologizing. It was a fair question.” He looked past her for a moment, then returned his gaze to hers. “It worked for me and it didn’t. I just didn’t think it through carefully enough. I should have focused on a point in time before I got drunk--before I even had a problem with drinking. But I didn’t. So when I went back the three years, suddenly I’m in the car again, pissed out of my mind, and I know that the other car’s going to come around the corner, and I know I’m going to hit it, and I know it’s too late to just pull over.”

He wasn’t telling her much, but Sarah was able to fill in the details for herself.

“Oh, how horrible,” she said.

“Yeah, it wasn’t very bright on my part. But hey, who’d have ever thought that a thing like that would even work? When he kissed me on my forehead I thought he was just some freaky guy getting some weird little thrill. I was going to take a swing at him, but then I was there. Back in the car. On that night.”

“What happened?”

“Well, the good thing was, even drunk as I was, I knew what was coming and whatever else I might have been, I wasn’t a bad guy. Thoughtless as shit, oh yeah, but not bad. So instead of letting myself hit the car, I just drove into a lamppost in the couple of moments I had left. The twelve-year-old girl who would have died--who did die the first time around--was spared.”

“And you?”

“Serious injuries. I didn’t have any medical, so I lost everything paying for the bills. Lost my job. Got charged with drunk driving, and it wasn’t the first time, but since I hadn’t hurt anybody, they just took away my license. But after that it was pretty much the same slide downhill that it was the first time.”

“You don’t sound...” Sarah wasn’t sure how to put it.

“Much broke up about it?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“It’s like I told you,” he said. “This time the little girl lived. I wasn’t any less stupid, but this time no one else had to pay for my stupidity. I’ve still got a chance to put my life back together. I’ve been sober since that night. I just need a break, a chance to get cleaned up and back on my feet. I know I can do it.”

Sarah nodded. Then she asked the question that troubled her the most.

“Did you ever try to change anything else?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Some disaster where a little forewarning could save a lot of lives.”

“You mean like 9/11?”

“Yeah. Or the bombing in Oklahoma.”

He shook his head. “It’s a funny thing. As soon as I heard about them, it all came back, that I’d been around when they happened the first time and I remembered. But the memory just wasn’t there until it actually happened.”

“Like all we’re changing is our own lives.”

“Pretty much. And even that’s walking blind, the further you get from familiar territory.”

Sarah knew exactly what he meant. It had been easy to change things at first, but once she was in a life that was so different from how it had gone the first time, there were no more touchstones and you had to do like everybody did: do what you could and hope for the best.

“I was afraid there was something wrong with me,” she said. “That I was so self-centered that I just couldn’t be bothered with anything that didn’t personally touch my life.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“How would you know?”

“Well, c’mon. You’re Sarah Blue. You’re like a poster child for causes.”

“I never told you my name.”

He smiled and shook his head. “What? Suddenly you’re anonymous? Maybe the charts got taken over by all these kids with their bare midriffs, but there was a time not so long ago when you were always on the cover of some magazine or other.”

She shrugged, not knowing what to say.

“I don’t know what your life was like the first time around,” he went on, “but you’ve been making a difference this time out. So don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“I guess.”

They sat quietly for a moment. Sarah looked around the bar and saw that the clientele had changed. The afternoon boozehounds had given way to a younger, hipper crowd, though she could still spot a few grey heads in crowd. These were the people who’d come for the music, she realized.

“Will you do like it says in the letter?” she asked, turning back to her companion.

“You mean pass it on?”

She nodded.

“First chance I get.”

“Me, too,” she said. “And I think my go at it should be to help you.”

“You haven’t passed it on yet?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t know if you get a third try,” he said.

She shrugged. “If it doesn’t work out, I can always front you some money, give you a chance to get back on your feet, and use the whatever-the-hell-it-is on someone else.”

“You’d do that for me--just like that?”

“Wouldn’t you?”

He gave a slow nod. “Not before. But now, yeah. In a heartbeat.” He looked at her for a long moment. “How’d you know I’d be here?”

“I saw your name and the date on your envelope when I was collecting my own. I just...needed to talk to someone about it and Eddie doesn’t seem to be available.”

“Eddie,” he said. “What do you think he is?”

“An angel.”

“So you believe in god?”

“I...I’m not sure. But I believe in good and evil. I guess I just naturally think of somebody working on the side of good as being an angel.”

He nodded. “It’s as good a description as any.”

“So let’s give this a shot,” she said. “Only this time--”

“Concentrate on a point in time where I can make the decision not to drink before it’s too late.”

She nodded.

She gave him a moment, turning her attention back to the bandstand. Looks like tonight they had a keyboard player, a guitarist, a bass player, a drummer, and a guy on saxophones. They were still tuning, adjusting the drum kit, soaking the reeds for the saxes.

She turned back to Jonathan.

“Have you got it?” she asked.

“Yeah. I think I do.”

“I’m not going to try to tell you how to live your life, but I think it helps to have something bigger than yourself to believe in.”

“Like God?”

She shrugged.

“Or like a cause?” he added.

She smiled. “Like a whatever. Are you ready?”

“Do it,” he said. “And thanks.”

She leaned over the table, put her hands on his temples and kissed him where Eddie had kissed her, on--what had he called it? Her third eye. She kept her lips pressed against his forehead for a couple of moments, then sat back in her seat.

“Don’t forget to come back here on the same day,” she said.

But Jonathan only gave her a puzzled look. Without speaking, he got up and left the booth. Sarah tracked him as he made his way through the growing crowd, but he never once looked back.

Weird. How was she even supposed to know if it had worked? But she guessed that in this world, she wouldn’t.

Her gaze went to Jonathan’s half-drunk ginger ale and she noticed that he’d left his letter behind. There was another puzzle. How did they go from world to world, future to future?

Maybe it had something to do with the Rhatigan itself. Maybe there was something about the bar that made it a crossroads for all these futures.

She thought of asking Alphonse, but got the sense that he didn’t know. Or if he knew, he wouldn’t be telling. But maybe if she could track down Eddie...

He appeared beside her table as though her thoughts had summoned him.

“Never thought about third chances,” he said.

He slid a trumpet case onto the booth seat, then sat down beside it, smiling at her from the other side of the table.

“Is--was that against the rules?” she asked.

He shrugged. “What rules? The only thing that’s important is for you to come back and get the message to pass it on.”

“But what is it that we’re passing on? Where did this thing come from?”

“Sometimes it’s better to just accept that something is, instead of trying to take it apart.”

“But--”

“Because when you take it apart, it might not work any more. You wouldn’t want that, would you, Sarah?”

“No. Of course not. But I’ve got so many questions...”

He made a motion with his hands like he was breaking something, then he held out his palms looking down at them with a sad expression.

“Okay, I get the point already,” she said. “But you’ve got to understand my curiosity.”

“Sure, I do. And all I’m doing is asking you to let it go.”

“But...can you at least tell me who you are?”

“Eddie Ramone.”

“And he’s...?”

“Just a guy who’s learned how to give a few people the tools to fix a mistake they might have made. Doesn’t work on everybody, and not everybody gets it right when they do go back. But I give them another shot. Think of me as a messenger of hope.”

Sarah felt as though she was going to burst with the questions that were swelling inside her.

“So’d you bring a guitar?” Eddie asked.

She blinked, then shook her head. “No. But I don’t play jazz.”

“Take a cue from Norah Jones. Anything can swing, even a song by Hank Williams...or Sarah Blue.”

She shook her head. “These people didn’t come to hear me.”

“No, they came to hear music. They don’t give a rat’s ass who’s playing it, just so long as it’s real.”

“Okay. Maybe.” But then she had a thought. “Just answer this one thing for me.”

He smiled, waiting.

“In your letter you said that this is a different time line from the one I first met you in.”

“That’s right, it is.”

“So how come you’re here and you know me in this one?”

“Something’s got to be the connection,” he told her.

“But--”

He opened his case and took out his trumpet. Getting up, he reached for her hand.

“C’mon. Jackie’ll lend you his guitar for a couple of numbers. All you’ve got to do is tell us the key.”

She gave up and let him lead her to where the other musicians were standing at the side of the stage.

“Oh, and don’t forget,” Eddie said as they were almost there. “Before you leave the bar, you need to write your own letter to Jonathan.”

“I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“‘Crazy,’” Eddie said. “Willie Nelson. That’d make a nice start--you know, something everybody knows.”

Sarah wanted to bring the conversation back to where she felt she needed it to go, but a look into his eyes gave her a sudden glimpse of a hundred thousand different futures, all banging up against each other in a complex, twisting pattern that gave her a touch of vertigo. So she took a breath instead, shook her head and just let him introduce her to the other musicians.

Jackie’s Gibson semi-hollow body was a lot like one of her own guitars--it just had a different pick-up. She took a seat on the center-stage stool and adjusted the height of the microphone, then started playing the opening chords of “Tony Adams.” It took her a moment to find the groove she was looking for, that hip-hop swing that Strummer and the Mescaleros had given the song. By the time she found it, the piano and bass had come in, locking them into the groove.

She glanced at Eddie. He stood on the side of the stage, holding his horn, swaying gently to the rhythm. Smiling, she turned back to the mike and started to sing the first verse.

END

For Joe Strummer, R.I.P.

 

Copyright info:
“That Was Radio Clash” first appeared in Taverns of the Dead , edited by Kealan Patrick Burke (Cemetery Dance, 2005). Copyright (c) 2005 by Charles de Lint. Reprinted by permission of the author.

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.