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Enter Blackwood

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Henn taps out a rhythm absentmindedly on the rim of his toms. One foot rests lazily on the pedal of his bass drum, his shoes placed together off to the side. The sleeves of his dark blue dress shirt are rolled up to the elbows and it’s unbuttoned, a white t-shirt showing underneath.

Hinde is perched on the corner of Henn’s drum platform that’s snugged up against the wall, head bent low over his guitar. He’s dressed in slim black jeans and a white singlet. The muscles in his arms work as he spins soaring arpeggios, fingers fluttering up and down the neck of his Gibson. Mac is sitting on his amp nearby, drumming on the front plate between his legs. He’s wearing faded jeans and a tight-fitting grey t-shirt, the heels of his Doc Martens thudding dully against the grate on the front of the amp.

“He’s late, Gar.” Mac shakes his wrist to move the face of his watch around so that he can see it, his gaze flicking across the room.

“He’ll be here.” Garrett is lounging in the sofa in the center of the room, arms spread out across the back, his left ankle resting on his right knee. He is the only one who has bothered to dress for the occasion in dark wash jeans, a white shirt and dark grey blazer.

The rehearsal space is a loft, the roof high but sloping slightly. Sunlight turns diffuse and washed out as it forces its way through the dingy skylight in the center of the roof. In the corner opposite the actual rehearsal area is a flat-pack bed in pale wood, neatly made, with plastic storage boxes tucked underneath it. A door on the far side of the room leads to the bathroom, and a kitchen area has been established nearby, with a small refrigerator/freezer unit and a microwave.

Henn’s drum set is on a raised platform in the far corner, the rest of their equipment spread out around it in roughly the same arrangement they’ve had on smaller stages. A couch in cracked, dark brown leather sits at an angle so that it faces the door. Two mismatched armchairs complete the group. Cullen is draped across one of them, one leg hanging over the arm while the other is planted on the floor, his heel bouncing rapidly as he stares at the door. The knees are ripped out of his jeans and the chains on his belt jingle as he fidgets.

“Henry, have you met this guy yet? This – what’s his name?” Mac waves his arm towards Garrett as if trying to summon the name from thin air. Barr straightens from his investigation of the contents of the small refrigerator in the opposite corner of the room. He turns and lobs a can of beer across the room to Cullen, who barely notices and fumbles, catching it two-handed close to his chest.

“George Blackwood. And no, this’ll be the first time for me, too. This is all Gar and Jimmy’s doing. You’ve met with him two or three times, now, right?” Barr pulls open his can and moves around the sofa, settling on one corner of Henn’s drum platform.

“This’ll be the third time. First time was with twenty guys the company recommended, plus a couple people from the office. Then Jimmy and I met five of them again. This guy’s done this kind of work his whole life. I hired him; this is just a formality.”

Cullen’s head drops back over the arm of the chair and he looks back towards the band, now assembled around their equipment.

“He’s amazing. Wait until you see him. He’s huge, and serious, and he knows everything about rigging. He’s worked with bands all over the country, and now he’s working with us. This is exactly what we need.”

There is a knock at the door and the room falls into silence.

“It’s open!” Cullen calls, not moving to get up. Mac laughs to himself and hops down off his amp. Barr draws a hand over his face and sighs as Garrett pushes himself up out of the deep sofa and crosses the room. A tall, broad-shouldered man with close-cut black hair and warm brown eyes steps through the door, glancing about. He smiles and nods when he sees Garrett.

“Hi, George. Thanks for coming.” Garrett leads him towards the band, grabbing Cullen’s foot and swinging him so that he’s closer to sitting properly. He stands up and follows them.

“Nice t-shirt, Jim.” Blackwood ups the irons and Cullen grins broadly, looking down at his Fear of the Dark t-shirt and then returning the gesture.

“George, this Henry Barr, our lead singer. Thomas Henn up there on drums.” Henn stands and reaches over the kit to shake Blackwood’s hand, juggling the drumsticks so that he’s holding both in one hand. His eyes follow Blackwood around the group as Garrett introduces them. “Welcome to our rehearsal space.”

“I have to say this is nicer than I was expecting. How do you guys get a space like this in this part of town?”

There are satisfied smiles all around but it’s Hinde who chuckles and half-raises a hand. “That would be me. The shop downstairs belongs to my mum and dad. They own the building, so when we started looking for a space, they said we could keep our stuff here and rehearse whenever the shop wasn’t open.”

Blackwood nods towards the bed. “And you live here, then?”

Mac clears his throat. “I do, actually. I needed someplace to stay that was closer to my work, and what better security for all our equipment than one of us here every night.”

“Plus my parents cook for him.” Hinde flashes a grin at Mac, who smiles and ducks his head. “You think I don’t know about it? My mum’s a great cook. Enjoy it. William Hinde.” He shakes hands with Blackwood and steps back.

Mac pushes off from his amp and takes Blackwood’s hand in both of his own. “And I’m Mac, Billy McMath. So, Gar’s told us that you’re coming on to help us now that we’re headed out on tour. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re pleased you’re here.” Hinde sets his guitar back in its stand and nods, looking Blackwood over as Garrett steps forward.

“You guys know the situation. We’ve been signed to EMI and we’re headed out on tour. Jimmy’s going with us, but he can’t handle everything alone, so he’s going to be handling the technical stuff – lighting, sound, that kind of thing. George is going to be doing-“

“I'll be in charge of the crew that does the grunt work. Heavy lifting, set up, break down. There'll be a couple of guys helping me, but they're just hired hands. I'm your roadie. I can take care of those, too, if you like.”

He points simultaneously at Hinde’s Gibson and Mac’s Peavey. Hinde looks at Mac and widens his eyes. Mac’s jaw tightens; Hinde tilts his head almost imperceptibly in Blackwood’s direction. Mac’s eyes drop closed and he blows breath out through his nose before reaching behind him and grabbing his bass, holding it out to Blackwood, who slips the shoulder strap over his head and thrums out a simple, steady walking bass line. Mac crosses his arms in front of his chest and nods, raising his eyebrows as he pivots to look at Hinde, who picks up his guitar again and plays along with Blackwood, a simple, bluesy melody. After a minute, Henn joins them, settling into an easy rhythm on bass drum and hi-hat. Blackwood nods enthusiastically and Henn grins back at him. Mac and Barr exchange a glance as the jam winds down. Blackwood ducks out of the shoulder strap and returns the bass to Mac.

“Your E string is a little low, and your B.” He nods to Hinde, who looks down at his guitar with a frown, then turns and steps on his tuning pedal. He strums the string softly and lets out a low whistle before returning the guitar to its stand. “Is this everything you guys have?” Blackwood asks.

The PA speakers and poles are piled together beside the drum platform, and the space under it is a hive of cables, flight cases and bags. The lighting rig is set off to one side near a screen on the far side of the room, and a small generator stands next to the wall. Mac looks around the room and scratches at the back of his neck.

“This is pretty much it. There’s some carpets in my van that we sometimes roll out to put under the drums, if we need them. Some extra cables, too, but they’re shit ones we only have as backups.”

“You won’t need them anymore. You guys are going to be playing proper stages, no more pubs and dives, nothing like that.” He drops to a crouch and tilts his head, looking at the chaos under the platform. Henn stands up and strains to look over his kit while Jimmy chews on a thumbnail, arms crossed in front of his chest. Blackwood draws a deep breath and blows it out through his nose. “Most of this stuff will be fine, and what isn’t we’ll have available from the other bands.”

Hinde walks around behind him to stand next to Garrett, hands resting on his guitar. He lowers his head and whispers in Garrett’s ear.

“Where the hell did you find this guy? We don’t need help. We have Jimmy.” Hinde hisses through clenched teeth.

“Jimmy’s the one who came to me and said we needed help. We’re talking four, maybe five concerts a week now. You guys are going to have more important things to do than your own rigging, and the kid can only do so much.”

“But him? He comes in here like some sort of guru-“

“You’re just angry he told you your guitar was out of tune, and he was right. Isn’t that exactly the kind of person you want looking after your ladies? Now shut up and let him work.”

Blackwood pushes up off his knees and stands again. He turns to look at Henn’s drums, head tilting from side to side as he looks at the sides of the big bass drum. He scrubs a hand over his chin, then reaches up and draws his thumb along the splintered edge of the splash cymbal. Henn’s brows knit together and he bites as his lower lip, fidgeting as he watches Blackwood scrutinize his equipment. Blackwood nods to himself and turns around, leaning against the drum platform, arms folded across his chest. Henn looks at Mac with raised eyebrows, but Mac can only shrug.

“This is going to be a hell of a good time, guys. Your first big tour is always a wild ride, but I want to make this clear. I’m not here to be your mother or your babysitter. I’ll look after your equipment and make sure you’ve always got what you need on stage before the show starts. I don’t find you parties or treat your hangovers. I can’t hook you up or help you score, but I will make sure that you look and sound like professionals on stage.” Garrett nods as Blackwood speaks, looking from one member of the band to the next. Slowly, everyone starts nodding in approval, Cullen the most enthusiastic of them all. Garrett claps his hands, grabbing their collective attention.

“That’s that side of it settled, then, to everyone’s satisfaction. What do you say we treat George here to a round?” There are murmurs of agreement. Henn stands up behind his drum set and stretches, the muscles in his chest pulling tight as he pushes his arms up behind his head and arches his back, his eyes never leaving Blackwood, who is chatting with Cullen. He lowers his arms, rolling his shoulders and splaying his hands wide, wiggling his fingers. He sways slightly as the mirrors the stretch with his toes in his socks. Mac watches the display until Barr elbows him in the ribs and nods towards the door. Mac looks back over his shoulder as Henn hops down from the platform and claps his hand on Blackwood’s shoulder, grinning broadly.

Garrett and Hinde are first out the door with Cullen following after. Barr gives Mac a long look before going out, leaving him standing next to the open door. Henn and Blackwood are walking side by side, talking. Henn scoops up his jacket from the back of the sofa on his way past.

“So, Tom, are you coming back later?” Blackwood heads down the stairs outside the door, shouting to Cullen. Henn’s eyes follow him before he turns his head to look at Mac. He grins, biting the tip of his tongue between his teeth.

“The night is young and we are about to become rock stars. Who knows where we’ll wind up tonight?” He sets off down the stairs after the others, leaving Mac alone to turn off the lights and lock the door behind him.