Road Rash was published a week ago, and the response has been tremedous.
If you haven't checked it out yet here's a sample chapter for you.
This is where we meet Vincent, shortly after he's snapped and decided he's had enough of the life he has resented for a long time. He walks away from his music career, onward into the unknown. But wait there's more; the story splits and also moves backward in time as he look back at his failed marriage to Nora.
His attention focused on the black pen in his hand, Vincent scribbled a note consisting of two sentences on the back of a torn piece of sheet music paper.
I’m done. Replace me.
The note didn’t name the intended recipient, and Vincent signed it with a simple V. He read what he’d written and let the gravity of those words linger for a moment before he got up. His knees wobbled, and his head spun. The alcohol backed up in his throat, and he swallowed to keep it down. Steadying himself against the bed, he stared at the words one last time, then quickly placed the paper on the nightstand, before second thoughts could change his mind.
With one last glance around the room, he slid his trilby onto his head, grabbed his leather jacket and backpack, and stumbled toward the door. He was about to turn the knob when a naked couple burst in.
‘Sorry, man, I thought the room was empty,’ Roger, the lead guitarist of the Daft Debbies, said.
With them came the sound of raucous music; the same old second-rate rock ‘n’ roll he’d been forced to listen to while he’d spent months on the road. It was too loud for Vincent’s current state of mind.
‘It’s all yours, man.’ Vincent staggered out, and the door closed behind him. He shuffled down the hall to the living room with a hand on the wall to keep him steady. The music grew louder.
Dozens of people, most of whom Vincent knew by name but would soon forget, were partying with liquor in their hands. He glanced at two women wearing only lacy thongs. They were kissing and caressing each other’s silky skin. A guy wearing only chaps sat on the couch and watched them while getting a blow job. And a naked blonde was draped over the coffee table, and two men were snorting lines off her stomach.
Vincent cringed and scanned the crowd for Mystic Asphalt’s bass player, Ivan, and was relieved not to find him. He’d read the note soon enough. By then, Vincent would be long gone.
He caught sight of the tall blonde he’d been with earlier in the evening. Tommy, another member of the Debbies, threw her over his shoulder, and she laughed as Tommy carried her to an empty bedroom and slammed the door shut.
Nausea took hold of Vincent, and he pushed through the crowd to reach the front door, but paused when he noticed his other bandmate, Lance, passed out in the corner.
‘Vince, baby, I’ve been looking for you,’ a lanky woman with long black hair said, pressing her hips against him. He fell against the wall, and she laid her arms on his shoulders and kissed him, the taste of Bourbon on her lips.
Vincent pushed her away. ‘Not now.’ He crossed the room to check on his bandmate. ‘Lance, wake up,’ he said. When Lance didn’t move, Vincent shook his shoulder. ‘Hey, buddy, are you OK? Wake up.’
‘Go away,’ Lance said, his voice slurred, and he rolled over.
Vincent grabbed Lance’s shirt, pulled him to a sitting position, and let his back fall against the wall. ‘Lance.’ Vincent shook him again. ‘I’m out of here.’ Vincent considered taking Lance with him, but he knew better. ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore.’
‘Don’t go.’ Lance stared at Vincent with glassy eyes. ‘Let’s have another beer.’
‘No, you don’t need more beer.’ Vincent got Lance to his feet. ‘Come on. Let’s find you a bed.’
With Lance’s arm slung over his shoulder, Vincent stumbled through the crowd to the bedroom in the back. ‘Get out. I need the bed,’ he yelled at Roger and the woman having sex.
‘Jesus, Vince, can’t you see we’re fucking busy?’
‘I said, get the fuck out of the room.’ Vincent dragged Lance to the bed and dropped him beside the naked woman.
Cursing Vincent, Roger climbed off the bed, and the woman followed. ‘Fuck you, Vince,’ Roger said, before they disappeared out into the hall.
‘Don’t drink anymore, you hear me?’ Vincent took off Lance’s boots while Lance mumbled something incoherently and rolled to his side. When Vincent set the boots down, the note on the nightstand caught his eyes, and he questioned if he was doing the right thing. He’d been at this crossroads before, ready to walk away from the band, only to let his fear of the unknown change his mind.
The music stopped, and when a new song started—a song Vincent was sick of hearing—it gave him a new resolve. He exited the room, closed the door, and pushed through the people toward the front door, and past Jack, the Debbies’ drummer.
‘Vince!’ Jack yelled. ‘That was one hell of a fantastic tour. I’m gonna miss you, man.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll see you around.’ Vincent turned toward the terrace and scanned the faces of the many people partying in the heated pool. Everyone was too drunk to care that it had started to rain. When Vincent caught sight of Ivan in the shallow, he quickly turned away so he wouldn’t be spotted.
He teetered out of the beach house, pulled up the collar of his jacket, and braced himself against the bitter January night. The starless sky loomed over him and threatened heavy rain. Inside, glass shattered, and the music stopped. Someone yelled, and soon the music started again. The same beat Vincent had listened to for hours. He crossed the gravel path towards the street, desperate to distance himself from the people inside.
He had made it, he thought. For the first time, he’d beaten his fear and left the band. He was determined not to stop until he was far from Ivan. The tequila rose in his throat, and he doubled over to throw up into the shrubs. After he spat several times to get rid of the bitter taste of booze and bile, Vincent took one last look at the party house before he continued his getaway. The noise of the music faded as he walked as quickly as he could in his inebriated condition toward the bright lights of the city.
At the corner, he checked both ways, trying to remember how he’d gotten to the beach house. He reached inside his jacket for his pack of cigarettes and found it had only one left. He lit it and decided it didn’t matter which road he’d choose as long as it would take him away from here. ‘I’m done with this shit,’ he mumbled, and crossed the street to walk under the streetlights shining on the sidewalk. This time, he’d keep walking despite the road taking him into the unknown.
He tried to walk a straight line, with one hand on fences and hedgerows to steady himself. He couldn’t stop. If he paused and thought about what he was doing, his fear might win, and he’d return to a life he hated. A life that might eventually kill him.
‘Don’t think, just walk.’ He pushed on.
When cab approached, Vincent waved at the driver, and as soon as the car stopped, he climbed into the backseat.
‘Where to, buddy?’ the driver asked.
Vincent drew a blank. He’d been in a different city nearly every day for three months and couldn’t remember where Mystic Asphalt had played their last show. This past week alone, he’d been in San Antonio, El Paso, and Tucson, but that afternoon, he’d stood on a sandy beach and gazed out at the vast ocean. Therefore, he knew he had to be on the coast.
‘Downtown.’ Every city had a downtown area where he might find a place to wait out the night. ‘Do you know a coffee shop that’s open now?’
‘There’s an all-night diner with decent coffee,’ the cabbie said.
‘I guess that’s where I’m going.’
The driver pulled away from the curb, and Vincent scanned the landscape for road signs. His head was spinning, and the letters were barely legible through the rain-covered windows. With the booze clouding his mind, all the towns and concert halls they’d played blurred into one. But as he squinted at the familiar world outside the cab, he knew he’d been there before. Squinting at the buildings and names on the street signs, it came to him—San Diego. That’s where he was.
The thought of going back to Oakland was depressing. He had no desire to live with Ivan and Lance in a city that still didn’t feel like home. San Remus had been the one place he’d wanted to put down roots, but that was long ago when he was a different person. But as much as he wanted to forget the past, he couldn’t let go of the man he was when he lived there.
He had left the party but still heard the bass beating loudly in his head, and when he closed his eyes, he saw the people he’d been with for the past three months. Bandmates partying with naked girls were dancing in his head, laughing at him for walking away from what they called the best time of their lives.
It should have been the best time of Vincent’s life. When Steel Hat Records, a small label based in Oakland, had signed them on three years ago, Vincent had been thrilled to leave San Remus in the rearview mirror. His personal life had fallen apart, and the move to Oakland was a chance at a fresh start without the many reminders of his failed marriage lurking at every corner. The band moved into a loft near the recording studio, and he hoped to take the last few classes he needed to finish his certification as a sound engineer, but he soon found himself too busy to sign up. With the advance they’d received from the label to record their first album, they threw themselves into their work, and for a while, all three of them were filled with enthusiasm, which helped them write a massive amount of new material. Vincent put aside his desire to make his style of music, and he turned into the singer and lead guitarist Ivan demanded him to be. Lance was pleased, too, because he no longer had to pick sides or break up arguments before they got out of hand. Their debut album, Kick Start, had turned out better than anyone had hoped. Their first single, “Liquid Sex,” climbed the charts, making the label happy, and the band supported the Damned Lunatics on their national tour. A local paper came knocking for an interview, and soon music magazines expressed interest.
At first, Vincent hadn’t minded the photo shoots in outfits picked by a stylist. Mystic Asphalt was being reshaped and sold in more appealing packaging, separating him from his life in San Remus. The old Vincent was gone, and a new Vince wore brand new jeans with strategically placed factory tears in all the wrong places, leather vests, and bandanas. Ivan started wearing a baseball cap with flames on its sides and posed with devil-horned fists. They stuck their tongues out at the camera and sat on vintage Harleys with whiskey bottles in hand. Yes, Vincent could ride a motorcycle, and yes, he had briefly owned a Harley, but he wasn’t a biker and hated pretending to be one.
It was the future Ivan had envisioned for the band, and the more Ivan saw his dream becoming a reality, the less Vincent saw himself in the image being created.
Lance, as always, was happy just being the drummer and made little fuss about the look Ivan wanted for the band. He didn’t mind portraying a character because when he took off the clothes at the end of the day, he knew who he was.
Over time, Vincent got tired of pretending to be someone he wasn’t, and the line between fantasy and reality blurred.
When a stylist wanted to replace his beloved trilby with a wrinkly old leather cowboy hat with stars and stripes sown on and suggested he grow his hair to look more like Ivan’s, Vincent lost it and stormed off.
But when the band took the stage for their next show in a fully packed auditorium, the problems were forgotten. Thousands of faces looked up at him, and Vincent gave them a performance they wouldn’t soon forget. He’d be the person Ivan wanted him to be because it all came down to the music, and when the crowd cheered and clapped for more, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He loved being the one with the power to take a quiet group of people who had never heard of Mystic Asphalt and turn them into screaming fans.
The venues were larger than the small clubs they used to play in, and the audience’s energy was infectious and helped the band perform at their best. Despite the countless fights with Ivan over setlists, arrangements, and lyrics, and the alcohol that had flowed more or less continuously throughout the three-month tour with the Daft Debbies, Vincent loved performing. He had a few drinks to loosen up before the show, more afterward to celebrate their good fortune, and many more with the women who threw themselves at the bands at the after-parties.
But going on tour right after recording their second album had been a mistake. They had chosen twelve tracks to record for the album, but that plan was soon tossed out the window when Ivan brought in Dennis, a producer who loved Ivan’s style and didn’t want Vincent’s input. Together, they not only wanted to change the arrangements, but they also brought new songs into the mix. Songs Vincent hated. Ivan stubbornly stuck to his formula for success and defended the new material, which sounded like second-rate versions of the songs on their first album. He wasn’t challenging Vincent with anything new.
“We’ve built a following with these songs. It’s what our fans expect when they come to our shows!” Ivan had shouted.
“It’s the same old crap we’ve been playing for years. I don’t see any growth at all!” Vincent had yelled back.
“What you call crap got us a deal with the label. That crap has us opening for the Daft Debbies on their next tour!”
“I want my tracks recorded my way. Not some dumbed-down horseshit version.”
“Over my dead body.”
“Simmer down, guys,” Dennis had said calmly, while Lance sat on the couch across the room, pretending not to hear them. “Vince, you wrote half the tracks. You can’t be unhappy.”
“Of course, I’m not happy. I bring great material to the table, and when you’re done with it, it sounds like Ivan’s horseshit.”
“Yeah, you wanna bring in fucking violins? Fuck! No! We’re not a fucking orchestra. We’re a fucking rock band! And if you don’t like it, we won’t record any of your shit,” Ivan had said.
“The best bands in the history of rock have used strings in their arrangements!”
“Well, Mystic Asphalt will be one of the greatest fucking bands without fucking Vivaldi sitting in the studio.”
When the new album was finished, with more compromises made on Vincent’s side than Ivan’s, Vincent felt he’d relented too often, and Ivan and Dennis had bullied him into giving up his vision. Of the six songs Vincent had written for the album, only one was recorded to his satisfaction; the others had been simplified, and their tempo changed to suit Ivan and Dennis. They insisted Mystic Asphalt’s target audience demanded to hear pure rock.
When they’d opened the first show for the Daft Debbies with a song Vincent hated, he was mad as hell. More than once, he closed the show with a song he’d written. If the record wouldn’t be to his satisfaction, he’d at least play his songs on stage. Lance had no problem picking up the beat, but Ivan was livid and stormed off the stage, kicking the amp along the way. Afterward, the fights escalated into physical altercations, which Lance and their tour manager had to break up by pulling Ivan off Vincent.
When the tour had ended, Ivan considered it a massive success. He’d have been happy giving up his ordinary life to live on the road permanently, like a nomad traveling from one hotel to the next and having the hired crew take care of his every need. Ivan had won the arguments, and in his mind, their success had resulted from his perseverance and hard work. His talent had taken the band in the right direction, and had it not been for his insistence that they do things his way, Vincent’s ideas would have ruined everything.
Record sales were good, but they weren’t rolling in money and still owed the label for the advance. After some well-deserved rest from the stress of being on the road, they’d start promoting the album, which Ivan insisted on calling Full Throttle. There would be another tour with another band, more drinking, more drugs, and more women.
Just hours earlier, while they’d partied at the beach house, Ivan had talked about writing material for their third album and possibly booking a tour with Panic System Nightmare, a band whose music Vincent hated.
Vincent swallowed to keep from throwing up in the back seat of the cab. He pushed his feet into the floorboards and grabbed onto the handle above the window to keep himself upright when the cab turned a corner. The driver was taking him away from Ivan and Lance, and despite their countless disagreements, Vincent still questioned if he was doing the right thing.
He’d been with the guys for seven years, and their success had just started. If he put aside his feelings and musical aspirations and somehow got along with Ivan and recorded more albums, which would take them to the top of the charts, might he find enough validation to make him happy? Or would Ivan’s vision for the band, or lack thereof, turn Vincent into the type of musician he didn’t want to be? The music Vincent longed to make might never find an audience, and he’d go down in history only as the singer who’d walked away from Mystic Asphalt when their future looked the brightest.
‘You OK back there?’ the driver asked with a concerned look into the rearview mirror. ‘Do I need to pull over?’
‘I’m fine, but slow down a bit, will ya?’
The taste of the beer mixed with tequila backed up his throat, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it down for long. His head was spinning, and he took a deep breath to calm his body.
As the San Diego cityscape passed by the window, Vincent contemplated his decision. He had two options; go back to the beach house, toss the note in the trash before anyone had the chance to read it, and carry on as he had before, making music he hated. Or let the cab take him in a different direction.
But without Ivan pushing him, would he even have a future in the music industry?
Drunk as he was, he understood he couldn’t decide his future in the back of a cab while trying to keep the booze down. He needed to be alone for a few days to find clarity.
He wished he had someone to help him figure out in which direction he should go. He thought of the only man who would let him stay at his place while Vincent tried to sort himself out, and that person would only want him to be happy. That person wouldn’t have an agenda of his own.
He leaned forward to give the driver an address, but when he opened his mouth to speak, he urgently needed to get out. ‘Stop the car,’ he said, and jumped out of the cab just in time to throw up on the sidewalk. He stayed bent over for a few minutes, one hand holding his trilby in place, waiting for the rest of the alcohol to leave his body, and when he felt better, he walked back to the cab to get his backpack and pay the driver.
Without looking at the traffic or the direction he was going, Vincent crossed the street, hoping to find a coffee shop. He needed to make it through the night, and in the morning, when he wasn’t such a mess anymore, he’d rent a car to drive to Birch Creek to rest for a few days.
‘Hey, watch where you’re going,’ a man in dark clothing yelled after Vincent bumped into him.
‘Sorry.’ Vincent raised his palms to show he meant no harm.
A gust of rain hit his face. He lost his balance and fell against the storefront advertising the latest models of cell phones. He turned into a side street, hoping the buildings would shelter him from the winter weather. Another burst of nausea hit him, and he dashed behind a dumpster to bend over and wretch. When nothing came up, he teetered to the alcove of a back door, where he sat protected by an awning and waited for the energy to go on. He leaned back and closed his eyes, but then his head spun madly, so he stared at the chipped paint on the door frame.
He wondered how long it would take Ivan to find the note.
The party at the beach house had started two days ago. Ivan had rented the place for a week and planned on letting the alcohol flow until it was time to go back north. For a few hours, Vincent had enjoyed being part of it and hadn’t minded putting on the same old show as the confident, charming singer of Mystic Asphalt, who didn’t have a care in the world and loved to drink too much in the company of easy women.
Twenty-nine hours later, the booze and drugs no longer dulled his senses. He was in the back bedroom, staring down at his hands steadying the hips of a lanky blonde, his thumbs digging into the flesh of her butt cheeks, when the past struck him like lightning, one crystal clear image after another. His ex-wife’s disgusted face and her voice screaming at him to get the fuck out of her life.
He’d let go of the blonde, zipped up his pants, and run to the bathroom to throw up. When he couldn’t find the strength to get up, he’d sat on the tile floor, staring at the blue towel hanging on the rack, and he relived the moment when love turned to loathing, and his inevitable journey to the miserable now began.
Back at the party, the beat of the music was pounding in his head, while people laughed and patted him on the back, saying words he couldn’t understand, but he knew they were saying what many others had said before. “Love your music, man! Killer party, dude!” Staggering through the beach house with his chest on fire, his soul aching for relief, he was searching for something to help him feel less lost. And in a moment of clarity, a thought had crossed his mind—whatever he needed to be happy, he would never find in a place like that.
Sitting under the awning to keep out of the rain, he adjusted his backpack behind him until he was comfortable. He gazed up at the dark, wet sky, his mind too tired to make much noise. Eventually, he nodded off and dreamed of being on stage, staring down at the crowd cheering him on. While he played music Ivan would never allow him to play, he saw one crystal-clear face smiling up at him between the blurry heads of fans. Nora. She had set his heart on fire, filling him with incredible emotions and instilling in him the courage to trust his talents. He’d conquer the world as long as she was by his side.
“You’re so much better than Mystic Asphalt,” she yelled at him. “You are Vincent—fucking—Benavides, and don’t you forget that.”
He stood on stage, moving his feet to the beat of his song, and tilting the mike stand to the side as he sang a song he’d heard in his dreams many times before.
The noise of early morning traffic woke him with a jolt. The drizzle of the night had turned to hard rain. Although he had passed out under a roof, his clothes were damp and cold. After checking his watch, he got to his feet, feeling only slightly better than an hour ago. He walked close to the buildings to stay out of the rain, scanning the street for a place to get dry and have a cup of coffee. He hummed the tune from his dream, but all he remembered were a few notes. He tried to fill in the blanks and remember the lyrics, but the song eluded him.
He passed by pedestrians without looking at their faces until he saw a coffee shop across the street. Without checking the traffic, he crossed the road. Morning commuters honked at him, lights blared in his eyes, and he jumped back just in time as a car missed him by inches.
‘Fuck you!’ he yelled after the driver, holding up both middle fingers as the car sped up. He tripped but caught himself and made it to the other side just as another vehicle drove past him. He had the urge to throw up again and turned into the dark corner, where he doubled over, anticipating the alcohol coming up again. After he heaved a few times and spit out the bitter taste in his mouth, he continued his quest for caffeine.
He stepped into the coffee shop, and the warm, dry air welcomed him. He slid up his hat a couple of inches, looked at the chalkboard on the wall behind the server, and ordered a tall Americano. After reaching into his pocket for a few bucks, which he dropped on the counter, he sat near the window and watched the rain pound the glass.
The server brought his coffee, and he warmed his fingers on the hot cup. ‘Can I get you anything else?’ the heavy-set woman asked. ‘A slice of cherry pie to go with that Americano? It was baked fresh today.’
‘No, thanks, I’m fine,’ he said, without looking up at her. He listened to the sound of her shoes on the linoleum until she was back behind the counter. He stared at the twilight sky while cars passed by the window and took slow, deep breaths, trying to will his head to stop pounding.
Vincent set the cup down, and his head went down, too, his forehead landing on his arm. It spun in dizzying circles, and vomit backed up his esophagus. A couple came through the door, laughing and talking. They looked at him and sat at a table far away. Vincent heard the server take their order and try to sell the same slices of pie. When more people came through the door, Vincent got up, picked up his bag, and went to the men’s room. He pushed open the door to the stall just in time to throw up into the toilet. After a few wretched dry heaves, he washed his face with cold water.
Upon seeing his reflection in the mirror, he backed away from the man he saw. He had grown sick of being Vince, the singer of Ivan’s shitty band, and tired of pretending their music mattered and had value. If he had to listen to Ivan one more goddamn time telling people that Full Throttle had turned out better than anyone had hoped and would revolutionize the industry, he’d have to punch himself in the throat for his part in its creation.
Standing alone in the restroom of an all-night diner, far away from the people he had fooled into believing he was a carefree, happy-go-lucky rock star who didn’t get attached to other human beings because cool dudes like him don’t have those sorts of feelings, he missed being the husband of the woman who had made him fall in love with her so deeply he hadn’t been able to let go of her years after she’d left him. He hated her for it, yet he ached to hold her again and couldn’t imagine where he’d go without her. If only she’d seen that one small act in a dark corner of a club meant nothing. If only she hadn’t been so damn stubborn and unforgiving.
His back slid down against the wall, and he sat on the cold tile floor. He sobbed and wallowed in the despair that had been waiting to bubble to the surface for the past three years.