Zoot had slept through the start of the debacle in the desert, which was surprising to no one, least of all him, but he was still bummed about what went down (as best as he could understand it).
It wasn't often that the band had internal spats. Usually they'd forget about anything that serious within a few days, anyway. Still, Zoot wasn't so spacey that he'd completely ignore anything wrong with his best friends and bandmates. He felt like he maybe should've said something in the companionable mood afterwards, but it was hard to think of anything and sleep got the better of him.
There wasn't a seating arrangement in the van, so he'd claimed shotgun again as fast as he could once they'd left the Chenoweth bird. It was pretty quiet, as far as seats went in that clunker, by virtue of Dr. Teeth being a mostly responsible driver. And Teeth would let him doze as much as he wanted. As opposed to the gregarious Janice and Animal, or even Floyd when he got on one of his conspiracy tangents.
Speaking of the doctor, Zoot let his eyes drift over to their frontman during a moment of wakefulness. Evening was advancing and the dying sunlight turned his beard a shade darker in color, also setting his face in shadowed profile. It sort of made him look like that big metal bean in Chicago that Animal had once tried to eat on tour. But not as heavy. Or shiny. For the most part.
"Somethin' on your mind, Zoot?" Teeth asked quietly, startling him a little. The others were now sleeping in the back, although it was always hard to tell with Lips. "I see you got those eyeballs fixed on my handsome visage, heheh."
He shook his head and settled deeper into the seat. "Nah, man. Just wondering who's shinier. You or a bean."
"No one's shinier than me, you know that," Dr. Teeth chuckled. "I got flash for days. Weeks, even. No mere leguuume can comparify."
Zoot just nodded. Dr. Teeth loved his bling. Early on in their acquaintance, Zoot had to get used to the piles of jewelry that assembled everywhere in their lodgings, getting all over the place like glitter. He and Floyd were pretty low-maintenance guys, but Teeth had more rings than most girls he'd known.
The inevitable comparisons to Liberace started not long after that, with interviewers often commenting on Dr. Teeth's "colorfully unorthodox sartorial choices", as the muppet himself would say. Zoot privately thought his New Orleans-flavored fashion was a lot more stylish than anything Liberace showed off, though of course he'd never said.
That was part of what he respected about their leader - The unique personal spin he put on everything he did. Even though the band performed with a motley crew of artists over the course of the Muppet Show and et cetera, Dr. Teeth always preserved that cozy edge of funk in their sound. He was more than happy to go along with most of the frog's schemes for the show, but he never let his band lose its signature sense of creativity. He looked after them.
An image of Teeth lunging for Floyd's moustache earlier that day flashed through Zoot's drowsy brain. He blinked. Now that he thought about it, that was more than a little... unsettling.
He shook it away. It was over, everyone made up hours ago (although Floyd was still a little edgy). No sense dwelling on shit. Shit that he usually didn't remember too well in the first place, besides. It was honestly a miracle how he remembered his parts on a consistent basis at all.
"Hey, Teeth... You and Janice?"
Well, there went that sentiment.
Dr. Teeth was silent for a second, then answered, more quietly than before. "Wasn't anything, really. What you might call a fling." There was another pause. "I can tell ya later. For now we gotta finish this damn road trip. I'm thinkin' this desert heat's affectatin' us in malevolent ways."
Zoot grunted. "Amen to that. Be surprised if my sax isn't melted into... into... into chocolate by the time we get to Floyd's parents."
A soft cackle from Teeth. "Zoot, if your saxophone turns into chocolate we got more problems than just the sun. Heheh. Hey. Thanks for being so chill with all this business."
Zoot blinked at the orange sky behind his shades. "Huh?"
"You know, not contradicting to the sizeable disagreement back there. Sometimes I think we could all take a lesson from ya. A formal course in relaxationableness under pressure."
"Knowin' how to stay cool!"
"Oh! Uh... Sure, if you say so, Doc."
"I certainly do."
The good doctor was free and generous with his compliments, but his comment still gave Zoot pause. At least he seemed to be in a better mood now. Even before the fight, there was something brittle about his attitude. Just the slightest coiled-up hint of tenseness poking through his normal expansive cheer. Maybe Teeth was right, it was the heat and the pancake-flat landscape getting to them all, because normally he was cool as a cucumber.
Zoot shook his head again and shifted to a better snoozing angle. This way his head was turned away from Teeth. *Now* something was up, if he was thinking this much, this clearly. Zoot never knew what anyone else was feeling, much less what they said five seconds ago.
Come to think of it... Gah! There it was again, thinking!
Maybe once, years ago as a youthful sax player greener than Kermit the frog (or Teeth's own skin), he would've better understood what was going on, but nowadays it was too much effort to sort out the mush that was his mind, even on a good day. His modus operandi was just letting the chatter of the band swirl around him, acting as a nice unobtrusive backdrop to his daydreams. Not this bizarre second-guessing of himself.
Had to be the heat.
Dr. Teeth spoke again, and Zoot groaned internally. "By the way, man... I always looked up to you. Prior to the band, I mean."
That was enough to make him sit up again. "Eh?"
"Yeah, yeah. Back when I was tiny and small, my dad played these jazz records all the time in our house. There was this one I was obsessed with - Night Train. What a killer that was. I'd reset that poor needle over and over and over, haha."
"Night Train"? That was the very first record he'd cut, with Jimmy Forrest back in '52. That, he remembered. Bit of an old shame. At the time he'd been an arrogant teenager who was merely talented, not skilled, at the saxophone.
And Teeth had liked it? He would've been a little kid, as he'd mentioned. Pre-gold tooth and all the crazy trappings of the entertainment industry. And he still remembered it. Huh...
Zoot cleared his throat, careful not to wake Janice and Floyd behind him, who were leaning up against each other once again. "Talk about a deep cut, Teeth. I didn't know that."
Dr. Teeth's easy smile returned to his face, which was reassuring for some reason. "I think mebbe I told it to you years ago, but actually I'd almost forgotten til now. Funny how that works. You're one hell of a guy, Zoot. I'm eternally gratitudinous that we ran into you at the Haight. Somehow."
The pleasant gravel of Teeth's voice was making Zoot's eyelids feel heavy. Although that could be said for any sound at any time. But that, combined with Animal's heavy breathing, Janice's soft muttering in her sleep about some far-out dreams, and the setting sun in the distance, was a lethal combination. And after that strange mental bout of concern, he wasn't gonna fight it.
Of course, that was when Animal started shouting in Zoot's ear about needing more snacks.