Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Different Drummer--First Peek

I know, I said yesterday. Well, yesterday was one of our infamous brown-out dust storm days and my eyes would not cooperate since I could not take them out for the wash they needed! I'm doing the best I can!!
Anyway here is the first look at Drummer.

A Different Drummer by Deirdre O'Dare  (It will be on the home page for a few days come April 21 and then on my

Jest has been on his own since his mid teens and still blesses the chance that let him realize his dream of playing percussion in a band, one who has become his substitute family. Although he misses the close sharing, he doesn’t expect to find a partner and certainly not one as clearly out of his element as the man who one night wanders into the club where Jest’s band plays, looking totally lost and friendless.

Greene has struggled to build himself a life far from the undisciplined communal community in which he grew to his mid teens. He’s lonely though and not sure how to remedy that so he keeps working as a game programmer in Silicon Valley until he makes a faux pas at a party. Traveling aimlessly, he meets Jest and the other members of Taken By Storm, and is intrigued but terrified of slipping back into a disorderly world like the one of his childhood. 

Excerpt From Chapter One--Meet Jest and Greene and share their initial contact!

Jest had almost forgotten his real name. It had been that long since he’d used it. Maybe he’d done a little too much coke and certainly way too much cheap whiskey, although he was off that stuff now. Oh, he still wore his spiked hair in rainbow colors and still played drums like a mad man, but gradually he’d gotten clean, gone straight. Well, as straight as a guy could be who’d known he was gay since he was twelve.
Marcus Jestyn Ballard III was much more name than he needed these days. He’d lived by his wits and will from the time his parents discovered him in bed with a buddy and threw his sixteen-year-old ass out to fend for himself. He’d done a lot of crazy things to survive before fate—or fortune—led him to Tom Holden and his rag-tag band.
It had happened at a low-end bar and grill in Atlanta the night Swamp Rats did their first gig there. Jest had been washing dishes in the place for about ten nights. Bussing and washing in a joint like Bubba’s Beef and Beer was about as low as you could go and still call it a job, although he’d done worse. He’d quickly discovered being party boy for the night to anyone who had a dollar or two just to get food to survive sucked a lot worse than any job. Even without skills and references, he wasn’t afraid of work.
Once he’d dreamed of being a drummer in a big name band. He’d played in middle school and two years of high school before he left home. Even if everyone said he was good, nobody wanted to hire a skinny, scruffy teenager, not even groups barely making it. Tom’s crew was one short step above that bottom rung.
Caught up with bussing/washing/drying the glassware and dishes as business slowed just before the night’s live music began, Jest heard a commotion in the hallway behind the makeshift stage in the bar. Someone was yelling and cussing. He could only make out a few words, among them “drummer,” “late again,” “stoned,” “out of my fucking mind” and a disjointed string of very colorful profanity. Curious, he stuck his head around the corner. A lanky man in worn denims holding a beautiful black Telecaster was in full rant.
“We can’t fuckin’ do a gig worth hog shit if we haven’t got a drummer. Where’s that worthless turd tonight?”
No one had an answer. That’s when Jest got the wildest idea he’d had in donkey’s years. “Need a drummer? If you’ve got the drums, I can play ’em.”
The tall, dark-haired guitarist swiveled on his worn cowboy boots and shot Jest a sharp glare. “You? You really play drums?”
“Damn straight,” Jest declared, with way more confidence than he felt. “I’m just— Well, kinda between gigs right now.”
“Humph. Let’s hear what you can do.” The man waved at the partly assembled drum set and hit a couple of chords on his guitar before he launched into a Creedence standard. Jest dropped into a folding chair and reached for the sticks. For a few seconds, his heart stopped. Then he felt the beat, picked it up and began to play. He played his soul out, scared to believe this was not just some weird, dope-fed hallucination. Afraid to hope, yet daring to dream, he pounded away.
When the piece ended, the tall man looked at him with a new respect. “No shit. You can play. Awright, I hope you pick up most songs as fast as you did this one, or you know a shitload by heart. I’ll give you a chance tonight. Not that I have a choice. Still, you’re way fucking better than nothing.”
That was how it began. Swamp Rats struggled, traveled, barely hung on when Tom Holden got called up in the National Guard and went to the sand box, but they kept going. By the time Tom got back, they’d settled in Las Vegas and had found a couple of regular bars to play in. They lived out of an old bus for a while…the one that broke down just when they hit Sin City. They’d lost some members and gained some more. Through it all, Jest stayed with them.
Once back, Tom renamed the group Taken By Storm and from then on, things got better.
They cut a record, they opened for a couple of big name acts, and they gained an amazing chick singer who put the cherry on their sundae. Stormy Alcott had been a cross- country trucker before she picked Tom up one night when he was coming back from his tour overseas, trying to catch up with his old band. She sang like a whiskey-voiced angel and provided just what the band needed.
The rest, as the saying goes, was history. They’d gone full country now instead of the swamp rock mix they’d started with. Jest didn’t care. So long as he could beat those drums, he was happy. Life could only get a little better—if the right guy came along and they hooked up. He didn’t think that was going to happen, not really, but he told himself he’d be okay anyway.
Tom was a good boss, fair and firm, and always honest. He made sure they stayed pretty clean. He took care of his crew. Stormy had become a big sister to them all. Jest wouldn’t have come on to her, even if she wasn’t beautiful, sexy and joined at the hip to Tom. That didn’t mean he didn’t love her to pieces, just more as a big sister or aunt. He could appreciate without wanting. He finally had the family he’d lost so far back down a long and broken road.
*          *          *
The birth certificate of the man now known as Greene Wilder might read Green Man Shasta Wildwood. That was the last name he wanted to be known by. Bad enough, Greene S. Wilder was the best he could think of fast when he petitioned for a name change upon attaining his majority, three years ago. By then, he was working in Silicon Valley and putting as much distance between himself and his birth commune somewhere near Mount Shasta as he possibly could.
Since he graduated from high school at sixteen with a full scholarship to UC Davis and been declared an emancipated minor, he’d spent every minute striving toward two goals: to become a strait-laced, tax-paying—the more the better, for that meant success—upscale citizen and to get one hundred eighty degrees and as many miles as possible away from any hint of that stupid hippie, back-to-nature, New Age shit from his youth. Two alienated generations behind him or not, that life wasn’t for him. He wanted no part of it.
Things had been going well, too. That is until this Friday at the office’s annual anniversary party. He’d finally gotten enough alcohol into his system to gather his courage and tell Mickey Wong just how badly he wanted them to hook up. Mickey was a full partner in MegaGames Ltd. He was also a beautiful, athletic genius who captained the company’s soccer team, led the crew keeping new versions of Deth Dealers and Uber-Strike Force coming out regularly and Mega well ahead of the entire video game pack. Blatantly bi-sexual, he changed partners like Greene changed socks. Mickey had just laughed.
“You, Greene? You? Yeah, you’re a coding genius, have a gift for anticipating what teenage boys want, and you’ve been a critical part of the team. Despite that, you haven’t got it. Dude, you’re stuck in the twentieth century in your personal life. Suits and ties? Shit, a person would think you worked for the prehistoric Xerox or IBM. Frankly, I wouldn’t take you to a dog fight and I’d rather kiss my kid brother, nerd-jerk that he is.”
Too many Mega folk had seen and heard the whole debacle. Greene was not sure he could face them again—ever. Thank the powers, he had two weeks of vacation coming and already scheduled. He fled the party, threw a few things into his Volvo and headed out to the Interstate, not sure where he was going or if he’d ever come back. Somehow, he ended up in Las Vegas, with only the vaguest memory of how he’d gotten there.
Greene cruised slowly down one of the streets well back from the strip with no particular goal in mind. He was getting hungry and very tired of driving, but not quite ready to look for a room, much less decide what he was going to do in the near term, to say nothing of farther into the future.
A flashing sign caught his eye. Without giving himself time to think, he pulled into the half-full parking lot and eased the Volvo between a couple of huge pickups. Not a single “save the whosis” bumper sticker in sight. Good. Surely a place that called itself a bar and grill would offer something to eat as well as libations. Probably liquor was the last thing he needed, considering how overindulging was behind his current fix. Still, a beer with a burger or a plate of barbeque might not be so bad. His stomach growled at the thought.
He still wore the suit he’d had on when he went to the party straight from work. Was it only yesterday evening? The summer-weight fabric was now crumpled and drooped, looking as if he’d slept in it. In truth, he had—a few hours at a rest stop when he caught himself nodding off as he drove down I-5 in the deepest darkness of the previous night. That was probably dangerous and doubtlessly stupid. He really didn’t care. If he got mugged, car-jacked or shot in cold blood, it didn’t make a rat’s ass to him. Who’d even want to car jack a four-year-old beige Volvo badly in need of a good wash?
After he got out, he took off the coat and threw it back on the seat. As an afterthought, he removed his tie as well. The wrinkled shirt and trousers would have to do for now. He wasn’t about to drag a bag into the place and try to change in the men’s room. The chance he’d see anyone he’d ever cross paths with again was slight indeed. If the patrons chose to laugh at his appearance, let them. He was tired of a bunch of mother humping fools judging him and telling him he came up short. From the looks of the vehicles parked in the lot and the d├ęcor visible at the front of the place, it was a cowboy and trucker bar. So he didn’t own one item of clothing that would fit in, anyway.
Greene found a table, back in a corner away from the bandstand and the dance floor. A table-hop in flame red Daisy Dukes, matching silver-stitched boots and a top showing lots of skin sauntered over to take his order—after the more alert bartender spoke to her.
He ordered a Bud Light with a burger and fries, determined not to overindulge. As he’d guessed, this was a workingman’s place. The room was jammed with boots, big hats and garish shirts. The women dressed much like the men in tight jeans and bright tops, many sporting wide-brimmed hats in a rainbow of colors. Although he felt as out of place here as with the hip crowd in San Jose, no one paid him any attention.
Across from his corner, he noticed an alcove filled with arcade games and slots. He smiled to himself when he saw the familiar logo of Deth Dealers on the panel of one game machine. That would be the arcade version of MegaGames’ newest rage. Every time someone played it, a few cents flowed to the Mega coffers and of that, a fraction went to Greene’s growing investment account.
Right now, the game room wasn’t busy, though because the band had taken their places and begun to play. The group was evidently known and favored by the regular customers because they whistled and stomped in boisterous appreciation, especially when a gorgeous redhead in black, skintight jeans and a sparkling, clingy top approached the mike.
Greene might not be into girls or country music, but he had to admit she was good. A whiskey-silk voice with an impossible range from growly bass notes to bird-clear trebles took familiar, ordinary songs to a new level. The back-up music supported her perfectly. A spark of unexpected color drew his eye to the back of the band. The elaborate arrangement of percussion instruments almost obscured the drummer, although his multi-colored topping of mohawk mixed with mullet could not be ignored, anymore than the flashing neon it resembled.
Finally, Greene got up and moved along the wall to a spot where he could see the drummer clearly. He wasn’t sure why. He only sensed he had to see this man and watch him play. Although every musician in the band was good, better than good really, there was something special about the drummer. The rainbow-haired musician almost seemed a misfit, despite the seamless way his input melded with the rest of the band’s sound.
Certainly his whole appearance was at odds with the group’s typical 2013 country look. He was almost a sixties refugee, a throwback who could have supported Jimi or Janis, played with Starship or Iron Butterfly. Not at all what Greene normally wanted to see or hear because it took him right back to the hated roots from which he’d torn free and fled with all his might. It felt as if an outside force drew him with the power of a strong magnet. Who was this mad drummer and what was his magic?
Before the first set ended, Greene had almost reached the edge of the bandstand, elevated a foot or so above the jam-packed dance floor. He wedged into a corner, unable to move until the sweating dancers halted and the crowd began to shift back to stools and tables to grab another beer or step out for a short break. Then, suddenly, he was conspicuously alone, a solitary stranger in a rumpled white shirt, as obvious as a burned-out bulb on a game board.
The drummer stood and stretched, rolling his shoulders so the tattered camouflage shirt pulled out of his jeans and stuck out at the waist between the bands of his striped suspenders. Then he turned and looked straight at Greene from less than a yard away.
“What the fuck?” His lips shaped the words clearly, although Greene could not hear him speak. The next words were all too audible. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”

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