The Boston club scene may be home to a cast of outsiders and misfits, but it’s where Tara Winton belongs; the world she’s been part of for the past twenty years. Now, one of the old gang is dead, having fallen down the basement stairs at his home. With her journalist’s instincts, Tara senses there’s something not quite right about Frank’s supposedly accidental death. When she asks questions, she begins to uncover some disturbing truths about the club scene in its heyday. Beneath the heady, sexually charged atmosphere lurked something darker. Twenty years ago, there was another death. Could there be a connection? Is there a killer still at large … and could Tara herself be at risk?
Ten o’clock, and the opener will be on soon. Opener! She laughs at herself. It’s only the Craters and the Whirled Shakers tonight, and the bill was probably decided by a coin toss between them backstage. It’s the Shakers she came to see, their psychedelic pop still gets her going, with its tambourines and the beat. But maybe she’ll stay for the Craters. Depends on how tired she is. Depends on the crowd.
There are only about thirty people in the room. Twenty-something if you don’t count the bartender, but after a long day at work, Tara is glad enough for the company and for the empty chair by the table up front. Beer in hand, she settles in, waiting for the music. Twenty-seven, she counts. Twenty-four if you subtract the two wives and a girlfriend. A good house, really, for two bands that have been around the club scene for twenty years. Then again, most everyone here has been, too. She knows most of them by sight, if not by name, and when she closes her eyes she can place them in the Rat, the Channel, Oakie’s, Jumpin’ Jack Flash. All the great old places, closed now, torn down to make way for condos and parking garages. Those cavernous rooms and black-painted basements are what she thinks of when she thinks of the ’80s, back when she, the bands, and everyone here were in their heyday.
She opens her eyes to a bit of a shock. The women are all thirty pounds heavier than in her mind’s eye. Or they’ve gone thin, like she has, a little drawn, a little leathery. The men have fared better. Gray, if they have hair, and some of them have gone from biker tough to resembling the butchers, delivery men, and press operators they are during the day. But mostly they’re in good shape, if a little rough. Besides, it’s her crowd and nothing new sounds as good.
Twenty years ago, the Shakers wouldn’t have been playing a pub like this, as much a burger joint as a music room. But twenty years ago, they’d been the hot new rising stars. The best of Boston, they’d pull in quite a crowd, a Friday like this, and there’d have been half again as many label scouts among the fans.
‘Hey.’ Tom from the Exiles pulls up the chair next to hers, settling his shot glass on the scarred wood table.
‘Hey.’ Tara has never known Tom well. She’s seen his band a thousand times, can picture him in his Motorhead T-shirt banging out the bass riffs. But she only ever talked to him when he’d been behind the bar upstairs at Oakie’s, those thick hands grabbing Buds four at a time from the reach-in. The upstairs – that had started for the overflow but it had become their hangout. The bar for the music crowd. Tom wasn’t much of a bartender. Couldn’t mix more than a screwdriver, but he knew everyone. His band wasn’t much either, the kind of group you’d go see just because of who would be there – an extension of the bar. Social. Fun. Still, they’d kept at it. She knew he was still playing out, and he felt like family after all this time.
‘Good crowd, huh?’ They smile and nod, both happy enough to be there. Tara’s about to ask him about the Exiles, just to be friendly, but right then the Shakers take the stage. Two guitars and a bass bash out the first chord. It’s loud and lively, and the drummer jumps in with a fill, kicking everyone up to speed. More guitar and Phil, the singer, has grabbed the mike. He’s smiling. Happy to be on stage. But that wide-eyed grin soon gives way to a rock-star grimace, eyes squeezed shut. Then he’s prancing, the guitar taking over the song and Phil’s body with it, as he swings the mike stand high, twirls around. Stadium moves. The guitars crash again over the driving beat of the bass. Joey, the drummer, solos, fast and neat, and the guitars are back. Phil is singing his heart out, and just like that, the song is done.
‘Awesome.’ Tom could be speaking for both of them. Twenty years ago, ten even, Tara knows she’d be up on her feet, dancing, in front of the stage. Maybe up on the table. Maybe next song. Joey counts off the next tune. ‘One, two, three, four!’ and the guitar-bass unison cranks up the pace before Phil joins in. Tara drains her beer. Maybe she will get up, dance right in front of the band like she used to.
She looks around for Min, knowing that she’s not likely to have shown up in the five minutes since she last surveyed the crowd. Min would’ve liked this. The band sounds good; everyone seems mellow. Not that Min’s been out much recently. Unlike some of their old friends, the ones who’ve moved on to have families and buy houses out in Watertown or Medford, Min hasn’t really replaced the rock scene in her life. But she’s grown tired of it. When they meet for lunch – Min works at the hospital a couple of blocks from her office – she goes on about how sad it all is.
‘How’s it sad? Nobody’s pretending we’re twenty.’ Tara is used to the usual complaints. ‘We’re having fun, and we still like the music.’
‘It’s just kind of pitiful. The dwindling crowd and all.’ Min always shakes her head at this point, which makes Tara a little angry.
‘It’s the same as any other pastime. We’re a group of old friends.’ Even as she says it, Tara knows it’s not entirely true. She and Min are friends. They’ve spent time together outside the clubs. Gotten to know each other. Helped each other through breakups and miscarriages (Min’s) and divorce (Tara). But for the rest, it’s clubland only. And Min has never had quite the feeling about the music world that Tara has, that it’s her family. Her only real home. Looking around the room tonight, Tara pities her friend. This is something real. Maybe they are all outcasts, but they found each other, didn’t they?
‘Hey, kiddo!’ As if on cue, Gina is there, collapsing into the one chair left. ‘Don’t they sound great tonight?’
‘Killer.’ Tara knows Gina drinks too much, knows that she’s never gotten over Phil, even though the singer has moved on to a wife and two babies. She sees Gina glaring at Katie, Phil’s long-ago ex, still a fan. Still a knockout, too, in her wan blonde fashion, her hair still silky smooth down past the shoulders of her black leather jacket. She looks like a star, even after a sunless work week, and Gina will never forgive her for that.
‘What’s the news?’ It cheers Tara to see how Gina’s doughy face brightens at the question, her one claim to fame being her connection with the band.
‘They’re talking about going into the studio again. You’ll hear, they’re going to do some of the new songs. They’re really great.’ Gina leans in, and Tara smells alcohol and sweat. ‘I think this may be it!’
OK, so maybe Min has a point. They’re all a little lost. But isn’t it something that they found each other? That they have the scene?
‘I’ll listen for them.’ The next tune has started and Gina is up again, shaking it in front of the tiny stage, standing between Katie and the band. Looking at her, her too-tight stretch miniskirt making indents in her waist and thighs, Tara thinks twice about getting up to dance. But just as she’s reconsidering another song kicks in, a repeated guitar riff she knows in her sleep. It’s ‘World Enough’, their hit. The song that almost got them onto a major label, out of Boston, out of all this. The bass joins in, four fast bars of building beat. Then the drums. Screw the years, it’s time to dance.
If we had world enough, world enough and time . . .
Time’s played them all for fools, but they’re still here, and Tara loves it. In a minute, it’s 1986 again. She’s bouncing around, shaking it with Gina. For a moment, the years, the dinky pub, don’t matter. She remembers descending into a steaming basement, working her way through a packed house, and hearing this riff, this command to dance.
I love you baby, and you know that ain’t no crime.
The lyrics are inane. Tara knows that, and sings along anyway, shouting into the PA’s roar.
World enough and time!
With a crash, the song ends, and the present-day world returns. Tara heads for the bar.
‘You hear about Frank?’ Gina is leaning over toward her. Gina always knows what’s going on. Tara holds up her empty bottle – and two fingers – for the bartender, a tall, grizzled man whose name she can’t recall. Gina’s got an empty in front of her, and Tara’s feeling generous.
‘No, what?’ The beers arrive, and she slides one over to Gina.
‘He’s dead.’ Gina takes a swig, downing half the bottle. ‘Some kind of accident.’ Band and beer forgotten for a moment, Tara stares. Dead? ‘I heard he fell down a flight of stairs. They’re saying it could be some fucked-up form of suicide.’
‘Yeah, really. But this way, they get the insurance. You know about the baby, right?’ Tara nods. She’d heard that Frank’s only child, Mika, had been having problems. That her son – Frank’s grandson – hadn’t been right since he was born.
She takes a pull from her beer, tries to think of something to say. But Gina is gone, back on the floor for the next number. One of the new tunes, it sounds good enough but Tara has lost the urge to dance. Frank. Shit. Maybe Min is right. Tara used to think of this crowd as the lucky ones. The runts who’d survived. They were rejects and outcasts, and she included herself in that crowd, but they’d bucked the curse. They’d all been lucky enough to find each other, to find their own place, here in the clubs.
From World Enough, all rights reserved.
WORLD ENOUGH is available to order now in the UK and will be published in the USA by Severn House on 1 November. Please visit our website here for further information.