Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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The Five Hundred

Indio loved playing anywhere new. Out-of-town gigs were, to him, worth every penny spent on gas, every technical hiccup caused by unfamiliar equipment, every hassle dealing with owners and booking agents. He’d jumped at the chance to take Blunderbelly north, across the Columbia River to a recently opened tiny stage outside of Longview. He could hear Jesse’s voice now—Why d’you always gotta play dive bars? Well, rock n’ roll was made for dive bars. This place could even generously be described as eclectic, if that was what you called wall-to-wall hippie graffiti, rainbow stage lights, and bellows of dry ice fog for no reason.

With three bands playing tonight, Blunderbelly had a short seven-song set. They were second on the bill so the crowd was nicely warmed up—an older demographic than their college gigs, more sedate because they were seated at tables, but appreciative nonetheless.

After the third song, Indio turned to tell his guys to swap the song order. A tiny mosh pit was forming and it seemed wise to encourage its growth by keeping the energy high. He signaled the change to Eduardo on drums, who counted them in. As he turned to the mic, playing the heavy intro riffs, a scuffle broke out over near the wall to his left.

Great.

The band played on. This wasn’t the first time the audience got a little rough, and if they had to stop the song or even vacate the stage it wouldn’t be the first time, either. As a rule, they kept playing until they were told to stop, regardless of how fast the fight escalated or how successfully security was breaking it up.

A bouncer stormed across the floor. The altercation appeared to involve only two people. In the dark, Indio could make out someone sprawled on the floor amid smashed bottles and an upturned chair, his arms raised defensively. A tall guy with a beer gut leaned over him, swaying drunkenly, swinging a fist ineffectually as he yelled a challenge.

Indio glanced at Turk, who gave him a reassuring nod. A few appreciative whoops from the guys in the mosh pit didn’t mean the fight was going to spread or turn into a brawl.

The bouncer yanked on the aggressor’s collar to haul him up.

Harry?

What the hell was Harry doing here?

And then Indio’s breath caught and he choked on his line, because the guy on the floor was Jesse.

Indio swung the strap off his shoulder, dropped his guitar, jumped from the four-foot stage and barreled through the mosh pit. His bandmates were a little slow catching on. They kept playing, with Turk taking over the vocals for the chorus, and by then Indio had reached Jesse.

He pulled him up and another bouncer barked at them to get out.

On the street outside, Harry had been deposited like trash on the opposite side of the road. The second bouncer glared at Jesse and Indio until they moved off.

Indio set Jesse against the wall of the adjacent building and searched for damage. Jesse had been holding his arm across his face, and Indio pulled it aside now.

“I’m okay,” Jesse grumbled. “He didn’t get my face.”

Jesse’s ear was flaming red and his lip was split where he must’ve bitten down under the force of the blow. He wouldn’t let Indio get a proper look.

“Let’s go around the back and get inside. The kitchen will have ice.”

“I’m okay!” Jesse yelled.

Indio stepped away. He wasn’t going to baby his baby brother. “Two weekends in a row—I think that makes you a superfan,” he said, to lighten the mood.

“Does it get me free merch?”

“We’re all out of t-shirts.”

“Seriously?”

“I dunno. Didn’t bring any with us.”

“That’s bad management, dude.”

“I think we’ve got coasters and stickers. You said you weren’t coming tonight. And what’s Harry doing here?”

Their father was picking himself up thirty yards down the street.

Jesse said, “He came by the house this afternoon. He never does that. Got it into his head we should ride one hundred miles in the rain to this nightmare of a town.”

“How did you get past the bouncer?”

“Harry knows the owner. He made a call. They even waived the door charge.”

“Hey, the door charge is our pay for the night.”

“Sorry, dude. I owe you five bucks then.” Jesse filled his lungs deeply and exhaled in an odd shaky sigh. “Thing is, I owe you a lot more than that. Someone—”

“Hey!” The owner of the club, Heidi, was hurrying toward them as best as she could in her thigh-high stiletto boots. Indio had met her before the show—a leathery woman in her thirties with black-and-scarlet hair and an array of tattoos over the defined muscles of her wiry arms. “What’s going on? Are you going to finish your set?”

Blunderbelly’s music had been coming through the walls to the end of the song. They’d stopped playing now.

“Can he wait backstage until I’m done?” he said.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think so. I let them in because he’s a friend of Harry’s but—”

“A friend of Harry’s? This is his son.”

“Oh. I thought…”

“You thought Harry was gay?” Jesse said with a dour chuckle. “He’s gonna love that.”

Heidi scowled. “I’m sorry, I can’t let this kid back in. It was a favor to Harry but I don’t need any trouble. I had to talk my guys out of calling the cops on him.”

Harry was ambling up. “Did he tell you, then?” he yelled. “The little dumb shit. Leaves a wad of cash lying around in someone else’s house—”

“Harry, you need to leave,” Heidi said.

Harry came up and put his arm around Heidi’s waist, suddenly congenial. “I’m okay, love. Can you believe this one, though? They tell me he’s a genius. A genius who gets five hundred bucks stolen from under his nose.”

“Five hundred?” Indio said as it sunk in. “My five hundred?”

“Yes,” Jesse said. “Well, Caleb’s, technically. Yes.”

“Wait, that was Indio’s money?” Harry said. “You lost your brother’s money?”

“What the hell happened?” Indio kept his voice under control, only because Harry was close to being out of control again.

“I accidentally left the envelope in the bottom of my backpack, which I brought along to carry the gifts. Put it in the bedroom with all the coats and when I fetched it later—”

“What the fuck is wrong with you, you useless shit?” Harry barked, looking to Indio for support. “Who brings that sort of cash to a wedding? Someone else’s cash?”

“One of your wedding guests stole it!” Jesse fired back.

“Don’t you blame my friends for this. Those are decent guys.”

“One of your bride’s guests, then.”

“You shouldn’t be bringing wads of cash to a wedding, or anywhere.”

“Harry, cool it.” Indio knew his father was enjoying Jesse’s humiliation. And in front of a stranger. Even better. “Jesse, did you report it?”

“I didn’t realize until after I got home. What can the cops do anyway? I called Charmaine’s folks from the number on the invitation.”

“Why are you calling them?” Harry said, outraged. He unlooped his arm from Heidi’s waist. Indio didn’t take his eyes off those fists. “You got no right calling those people. They sent me a bill for the entire cost of the wedding. The food, the flowers I never wanted. Even the officiant, who was a friend of theirs and should’ve been doing it for free. They were supposed to pay for all that. I don’t want anything to do with them. Where am I gonna find forty-two hundred dollars?”

“Sounds like you could use that five hundred. Did you take it?” Jesse said sulkily, not really meaning it.

Harry lurched at Jesse. Indio was quicker—he threw an arm between them and held Harry off, grasping his father’s forearms to wrestle him away, before shoving him hard to knock him off-balance. Harry staggered away with a curse. The security guys down the street were showing an interest again. Harry wasn’t too drunk to realize it. He made appeasing motions with his hands, both angry and embarrassed by the situation, and walked off muttering something about finding a bar where he was more welcome.

“Are you going back on?” Heidi said, unfazed, seen it all before.

Eduardo and Turk came out the front to see what had become of Indio. “Everything okay?” Turk called, jogging over to them.

“Gimme the key,” Indio said. He took it, and walked Jesse down the side alley behind the club where they’d parked the band’s van. “Wait in here. I’ll be done in twenty minutes—”

Jesse shook his head. “I’m gonna ride home. I don’t wanna hang around.”

“Please, promise me you’ll wait for me. We’ll hang out for a bit.”

“Why d’you want to hang out with me? I lost your cash.”

“And I’ll never let you forget it, as long as I live—unless you wait for me tonight.” As he said the words, the impact hit him. He pushed his hand through his hair. “Five hundred bucks, Jesse. Jesus Christ,” he said without heat, because Harry had already said—and done—enough.

Jesse sat in the back of the van, legs hanging out.

“You’ll wait, then?”

He got a reluctant shrug in reply.

Turk and Eduardo had followed at a respectful distance. Indio beckoned them over and they went inside and picked up where they left off. Indio had gone on stage a hundred times before with his head full of some drama or other, whether at home with Harry, or internal strife in the band, or girl trouble. He was well practiced in setting it aside for the duration of the set, and did so again tonight.

Once they were done, he begged off loading out and pulled Eduardo aside.

“I’ll take that joint after all.” Eduardo had offered him one earlier in the afternoon, and he’d refused.

“Dude, you jump off the stage in the middle of a song, and now you want me to be nice to you?” But he handed Indio two joints.

Outside, Jesse wasn’t in the van. At the end of the alley, in the customer parking lot, Indio could see him at his bike, pulling on his helmet.

“Indy!” Turk called when he was halfway up the alley. Indio didn’t slow down, so Turk caught up and walked with him. “Gareth’s in there with a couple guys from his band. You avoiding them?”

“Did he confirm he’s filling in for me on the eighteenth?”

“Yes, so how about you return the favor?”

“Jesse!” Indio bellowed. Jesse had straddled his bike but not started the engine—yet.

“Why won’t you talk to him about his tour?” Turk persisted.

“I don’t want to do it. Blunderbelly has dates through the summer—I’m not gonna abandon you guys.”

“Indy, it’s a national tour supporting a major act. We’ll survive without you but I’ll never forgive you if you don’t go. Jesus, you’d have to be nuts to turn this down.”

“Yeah, Jesus is kind of the problem—”

“What tour?” Jesse called out when they were a few yards from him.

“Not tonight, okay?” Indio muttered.

Turk scowled. “Hey, Jesse, maybe you can talk him into it.” He punched Indio’s arm and headed back to the club.

Through the helmet’s open visor, Jesse raised an expectant eyebrow.

“Some friend of his, looking for a guitar tech,” Indio said vaguely. This was half the truth. They also needed a backup for their rhythm guitarist, who had tendonitis and might not be able to play.

“Did I hear the words national tour?”

Indio had no intention of discussing this with Jesse. He wasn’t going to take up the offer. The money would be nice, especially if he did go on stage. If Caleb could wait until August, Indio could pay what he owed without selling another guitar.

Nope, he wasn’t going on that tour. He wouldn’t be caught dead playing Christian rock music.

“Forget it. Let’s hang out.” He tapped his pocket meaningfully.

“Not feeling it,” Jesse said, and switched on the ignition.

“C’mon, Jess. You’re gonna have a road rage incident.”

He could go full Caleb on him, confiscate the key, order him to chill for an hour. Fortunately, Jesse reconsidered, killed the engine, and dismounted. Harry’s bike was right beside the dirt bike—Indio had no idea where their father was, and tonight he didn’t care.

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