The hallway leading to the illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist
12 minutes to ART CRAWL o/
"Two-bee, two-bee," Wendy murmurs, walking down the hall at this month's Art Crawl. "Or not two-bee." She frowns at the display of garishly painted ceramic dolls and says, "I thought this was the new girl in 2B's spot."
"She said she had other plans, so I let Joe 90 have it," Lacey replies.
"I guess homicidal dolls is a step up from plaster-casts of his penis." She waves at the table of dolls. "I might not even have nightmares."
Lacey snorts. "I wouldn't count on that." She lifts one of the dolls, its pale skin sallow in the fluorescent lighting of the hallway. "This one definitely wants to shank you and steal your kidneys."
"So dark, Lacey. Sometimes I'm afraid I've been a bad influence on you."
Lacey laughs. "We've all got our dark sides, Dub Dub. I mean, who would have guessed Lita was into hair metal?"
"Good point. I definitely wouldn't have guessed that. How did you?"
"I didn't. She told me she was missing Art Crawl because she was going to that Rabid Elephant reunion concert."
"Yikes. Maybe we dodged a bullet there."
"I guess every rose has its thorn."
Wendy ignores that and looks over the assortment of creepy ceramic dolls. "Or maybe not." She picks up another doll. "This one totally looks like Vince Neil."
Lacey makes a pained grimace. "I will never unsee that."
"Still less creepy than the one that's going to shiv me for my kidneys."
"Is it, though?" Lacey asks with faux earnestness. "Is it?"
Wendy laughs, and goes to check on the hors d'oeurves.
4:27 pm Eastern Time
"Suit up, Dubbie. Strange things are afoot at Osbourne Arena." The Middleman hands her a pile of clothing that turns out to be a Led Zeppelin concert t-shirt, a pair of strategically ripped, black jeans, and a black knit beanie.
"We're going in as roadies?"
Wendy looks at the clothes and then back at her boss. "Okay, I'll bite. Why are we going in as music bloggers?"
"Because it's more likely people will speak to us if we appear to be fans of the same thing they are."
"No," Wendy says as she makes the connection. "I refuse. You can't make me."
"It's only for show, Dubbie. And I'm not even making you wear the Rabid Elephant t-shirt."
She clutches the Zeppelin t-shirt like a security blanket. "Thank god for small mercies."
5:02 pm Eastern Time
Wendy is still grumbling about it as they arrive at the arena. "Rabid Elephant isn't even a good hair band! They're a one-hit wonder who couldn't even sell out Osbourne Arena on their reunion tour."
"That's the thing, Dubbie," the Middleman says as he swings the car into a parking spot. "As of yesterday afternoon, there were still fifteen thousand tickets for last night's show available."
"And the place only seats eighteen thousand."
"Yes. But by the time the opening act went on, the show was sold out, and additional shows were added. People are lining up outside to buy tickets like it's the second coming of Black Sabbath."
"That is strange."
Stranger still are the blank looks on the faces of the people lined up outside the arena. It's a motley crew, not what Wendy would have expected. They're not chanting brains, brains, but they've got a definite zombie-like vibe about them when Wendy and the Middleman start asking questions.
One girl who couldn't have even been born when the band had its first and only hit chirps, "Rabid Elephant is the coolest band in the world!"
"Said no one ever," Wendy mutters.
The Middleman's mouth twitches like he wants to smile but he's all business when he nudges her with an elbow. "Dubbie. Be professional."
Wendy huffs, rolls her neck, and centers herself. "Okay, boss. I'm good."
He gives her a skeptical look but doesn't press. They work their way up the line, avoiding the singalong that never quite gets past the chorus of Rabid Elephant's one big hit.
"So it's more like a hum-along. Almost as if no one knows any of the other words," Wendy says. The Middleman purses his lips in disapproval and she holds up a hand. "I mean it. What if they're being hypnotized or something and they really don't know the words?"
He nods. "That's possible." He hands her a little white capsule that contains earbuds. They have blinky bluetooth lights along the edges, but they're much smaller than AirPods. "Put these in, just in case there's something in the music causing this." Wendy opens her mouth—the joke is right there—but he says, "I can't hear you."
This time, she gives him a barely-there grin and a skeptical look, but she pops the earbuds in anyway. Better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to hair metal.
Time to rock!
As they work their way up closer to the front of the ever-expanding line, the people starts to get older, grayer, and much more in line with what Wendy would have expected from a crowd at an 80s hair metal concert. Unfortunately, they aren't any more talkative than the people in the back.
"We'll have to go around to the staff entrance to talk to the band," the Middleman says. "Walk this way."
Wendy points to her ears. "Can't hear you." He frowns and gives her a head tilt that says really? without any words at all. She sighs. "Fine. Let's go. But let me do the talking, okay?"
"If you insist, Dubbie, but at least try to be courteous."
"Fine. I will be courteous. Unless they're responsible for turning this crowd of people into mindless fans."
"With something other than their music."
"Oh, I think we both know their music couldn't do that."
The Middleman sighs in resignation and gestures for her to take the lead.
The Final Countdown!
The security guards have the same blank gazes as everyone else, and they let Wendy and the Middleman into the arena after Wendy flashes devil horns at them and says, "Woo! Rabid Elephant!"
The band is in the green room, eating dinner from takeout containers.
"You can't be in here," Randy Roxx says, and Wendy kind of hates that she knows them all by sight, even though they're all so much older now and none of them are wearing their wigs: Randy Roxx, the lead singer, Billy Buzz, the lead guitarist, Richie Bomzz, the bassist, and Darryl Starr, the drummer. But their one hit had been in heavy rotation on MTV back in the days when MTV still played music videos, aka, Wendy's childhood.
"Clarence Clemons," the Middleman says, flashing a press badge. "And my colleague, Wendy O'Williams."
"We're here to interview you for our music blog, Super Sonic Sounds," Wendy says. "Surely you're heard of us."
"Sure, sure," says Randy Roxx. "Music blog. Right. That's cool."
"That's us," the Middleman says, bobbing his head. "Cool."
Wendy shoots him a glare and he shrugs almost imperceptibly. She turns back to the band. "So that's quite a crowd you've got waiting out there. Are you surprised?"
"We had one of the biggest hits of the late 80s," Billy Buzz says. "Why would we be surprised that people want to see us?"
"Most of those folks weren't even born in the late 80s," Wendy replies waving a hand vaguely in the direction of the crowd outside. "And none of them know the words."
"Our music speaks to the heart," Billy says. "Lyrics are unnecessary."
"Okay, point," Wendy concedes. She thinks she should be congratulated for not saying that the words to their songs barely count as lyrics.
Darryl Starr makes a scoffing sound. "Like you're old enough to have seen Zeppelin play."
Wendy looks down at her Zeppelin IV t-shirt and smiles sharply. "You're right, I'm not. But they had more than one hit, Darryl."
"Your favorite Zeppelin song is probably 'Stairway to Heaven,'" he sneers.
Wendy knows she shouldn't rise to the bait, but sometimes the bait is so very tempting. And it's in character for music blogger Wendy, or at least that's what she'll tell the Middleman later if he calls her on it. "My favorite Zeppelin song is actually 'Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,' which was released as the B-side of 'Immigrant Song,' but go off I guess."
"Oh yeah?" Richie Bomzz asks, looking up from where he'd been fiddling with his bass. "Who's your favorite band?"
Wendy silently apologizes to Noser and says, "Consider the Narwhal. They broke up before they released their first album. You probably haven't heard of them."
He jerks his chin at the Middleman. "What about you?"
"Well, you know me," the Middleman says, dipping his head bashfully, "if it's not by Dolly, Johnny, or Waylon, I don't listen to it."
Richie's mouth twists. "Fucking hipsters."
"Hey now, there's no need for that kind of language," the Middleman says. "We're just trying to get to the bottom of your sudden surge in popularity."
"It's a good story," Wendy adds, keeping her pun about bottoms to herself. "We also want to know how you feel about it and why you think it's happening now, after all these years."
"I can't take this interrogation anymore!" Randy Roxx exclaims. "We summoned a demon, if you must know."
"Sweet child o' mine! A demon!"
"We were tired of being a joke. We just wanted to be cool to our grandkids," Randy continues. "We didn't think it would be like this. But while it made people come see us, they don't really care. It's like playing to an audience of zombies."
"And now we can't get rid of it," Billy says glumly. "It's feeding on the crowd's energy."
"More like starving," Wendy murmurs.
"We know someone who can take care of your demon problem," the Middleman says, already dialing Roxy Wasserman on his Middlewatch.
"Don't fool around with the dark arts again," Wendy warns them. "Ten points from Hufflepuff."
"We won't," they promise, and Wendy figures it will have to do.
The Osbourne Arena parking lot
8:36 pm Eastern Time
It doesn't take Roxy long to banish the demon. Apparently his name is Byron and he feeds on chill vibes.
"That's not really his name," Roxy says, once they're out in the parking lot. "but you couldn't pronounce his real name with your puny human voice box."
"Of course," Wendy says with a tight smile.
"I'll see you next week for our monthly game of parcheesi, MM."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world, Roxy." He gives her a rueful half-grin. "Well, maybe for the world. The job, you know."
"I do know," Roxy says. "And I understand." She looks at Wendy and her pleasant expression disappears. "Watson."
Wendy gives her a nod. "Wasserman."
"Always a pleasure, Roxy," the Middleman says, and they do that air kiss thing that makes the hair on the back of Wendy's neck stand up.
Roxy gets into her tiny red sports car and peels away, tires screeching. Wendy joins the Middleman in the Middlemobile.
"Another successful adventure, Dubbie. Though you were a little harsh on the band. Funny," he admits, "but just a little harsh."
"They summoned a demon," she replies. "Their hair is fake and their music is terrible. They kind of deserved it."
"Did they?" he asks mildly.
Wendy shrinks down a little in her seat. She hates when he does the "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed" thing, and she has a feeling that's where this is going.
He waits until they've pulled out into the late evening traffic before he speaks again. "You were right that the people being mesmerized by Byron didn't know the words to the song, Dubbie, but you did. You do."
"Noticed that, did you?"
"It's my job to notice things."
Wendy sighs. "My dad used to sing it to me. He was so dorky and it used to make me laugh. He said if they ever got back together and went on tour, he would take me, even though that was the only song we knew by them."
"We could have stayed for the show," he says, glancing over at her. "I know it wouldn't have been the same, but—"
"I know." She gives him a smile that hopefully doesn't look as sad as it feels. "And I appreciate that. But I'd rather just go home and listen to some good music."
"I don't know Consider the Narwhal, but we could listen to some good music right now," he says, pressing play on the Middlepod.
Wendy opens her mouth—to object, to tell him that she made up Consider the Narwhal—but the opening beats of "Ran Kan Kan" blare through the speakers, and instead she says, "Thanks. I'd like that," around the sudden lump in her throat.