The music hit me, and I started to dance.
Well, not dance. More like shimmy in place as I hung above the stage, fifteen feet up, wiggling my hips in the harness as I tightened the bolts on one of the overhead amps.
From across the way, I caught the pyrotechnics guy looking at me with a lecherous gleam in his eye. Deuces was at least twice my age, if not ten years older than that, and he had that seen-it-all swagger of one of the old guard. The kind of guy who got into the roadie life for the babes and the booze, first and foremost.
He also was the kind guy who set things on fire for a living.
There was only one way to handle unwanted advances from a guy like this.
I immediately lifted both middle fingers and blew him a kiss.
He laughed. "Nice moves, Newbie!" he shouted over the sound of the pre-show mix.
"Lemme see yours now!" I called down.
He dropped his tools and immediately obliged, rolling his hips and wiggling his prodigious beer gut in time to the weird sitar music the sound guy had chosen. "Woo!" I shouted, clapping to get the attention of Nashville and Bam-Bam down below as they did their last minute sound checks.
When he saw Deuces undulating like a belly dancer, Nashville hooted with laughter. Bam-Bam pulled a dollar out of his wallet and started waving it in the air as Deuces turned around and wiggled his ass at us. "Yeah baby! Take it off!" I yelled.
The pre-show music cut with a blast of deafening feedback. "No! Please don't!" Woody boomed over the PA, to raucous laughter and shouts of, "Spoilsport!"
"She started it!" Deuces bellowed back to Woody, pointing an accusing thumb at me since he was missing his index fingers. "Newbie thinks she can get away with causing trouble just 'cause she's got a great rack."
"You're damn right I do!" I agreed, letting the brake off my carabiner and rappelling back down to terra firma. Bam-Bam greeted me with a high-five that made my palm sting.
I grinned as I shucked off my harness. "You got any moves you want to show off now, Bam?" I asked the drum tech.
"Get enough beer in me, Newb, and you might regret that request."
"Never," I said, with a flip of my hair. "I won't regret a thing. Why'd you think I started roadie-ing in the first place?" I deadpanned. "Because of all the fine-ass man candy, that's why." I let my eyes linger on his shiny, bald head, and then slide over to Deuces' belly.
Bam-Bam chuckled. "You've got weird taste, Newb."
"Call me Reese," I said, extending my hand. "That way I'll call you by your name instead of Chrome Dome."
"Deal," he said, enclosing my hand in a giant, calloused paw. "This your first tour, Reese?"
"First big one, yeah. I've done a few regional ones, but nothing with a set-up as complicated as this."
"You got your own tools?"
I rolled my eyes and brandished my wrench. "Bet mine's bigger than yours."
Deuces guffawed behind us. "You're a wild one, aren't you Newb?"
"You're never gonna know that for sure, are you?" I tossed over my shoulder, enjoying the hooting as I moved out of the way of the talent as they emerged from the wings.
That's what you've got to do when you're a woman working in a man's world. Especially backstage at a rock 'n roll show. Give as good as you get. Teach them how to treat you.
And how I wanted to be treated was as one of the guys.
"Time to clear out, Newb," Nashville called. He was kneeling down now, taking his place by Ewan Boyd's meticulously laid out kit.
"Yeah, I'll grab you a beer before these thirsty fucks drink them all," Deuces promised, glaring at Bam-Bam.
"Mind if I hang back and watch?" I asked, glancing towards the stage.
Nashville gave me a patronizing wink. "First time seeing the guys?"
"In person? Yeah."
"But you're a fan?"
"I liked the old shit," I said, with a proud jut of my chin. "Before they got all over-produced."
As soon as I said that, I saw Nashville's eyes slide from my face and land on something just over my shoulder. I closed my eyes and exhaled a soft, resigned sigh. "One of them totally just heard me now, didn't they?"
Nashville was silent a second and I wondered just how this was going to go. Getting shitcanned on my first day on the job would be embarrassing enough. And I really didn't want to have to go back to Clay Brook with my tail between my legs. But most of all I really wasn't relishing the idea of having to hold my tongue while dealing with some spoiled, overly-coiffed rockstar with a bruised ego.
"You're in luck," Nashville murmured, barely moving his lips. "It's Niall."
"The bassist?" I glanced over my shoulder.
Behind me, not even three feet away, was Niall Penrose, the impossibly tall, impossibly composed bassist of Wreckage. And in the split second that I realized that his eyes were actually green and not blue like I had always assumed, I also realized that he hadn't overheard my casual dismissal of their recent work. He wasn't paying attention at all. In fact, he looked like he barely even knew where he was. As he wandered stiffly out onto the stage, his posture betrayed just how little he cared about all the hubbub around him.
"Is he on something?" I whispered to Nashville. "He looks totally out of it."
Nashville sort of blinked, like the idea of a strung out rock star was completely new to him. "Doubt it. Niall's got a good head on his shoulders. Real solid dude."
He looked anything but solid out there on the stage. In fact he looked like he was ready to float away.
"Huh," was all I said, but I said it pretty damn skeptically.
I was used to the shenanigans that came with caring for musicians, but I had no patience for this kind of disrespectful shit. All around him, a crew of nearly one hundred people were working their asses off to make sure he looked good. The least he could do was pretend he appreciated it.
"Showtime," Nashville said, and I instinctively stepped back out of his way. He crouched down, watching Ewan Boyd, nodding as the Scottish guitarist thanked him with a grin and slung his first guitar around his body.
Hudson Grant stepped up to the mic. "Test," he said in his strangely unplaceable accent. Half Texas twang, half-New York tough. "Testing one two three." He nodded, pressing his finger to his ear. "That sounds good Woody, thanks. Can you turn down the volume in my monitor a hair?"
Niall curled his long, lean body around his bass and plucked out a few thudding notes, then shook his head. "Sorry," he muttered into the mic, and then turned to gesture to his tech. His face was tense, I could see that from way back here.
"Try channel two," Woody instructed from the back of the house.
Niall didn't answer.
"Oy," Jules Spencer called from his drum kit. "Look alive, mate."
"Sorry, what was that?" Niall said into his mic, distractedly.
I realized I was digging my nails into my palms. Woody patiently repeated his instructions, and Niall sort of snapped back to reality and nodded. His tech plugged him into the different channel and he plucked another few distracted notes. Nashville wasn't watching at all, he was busy re-tuning Ewan's Gibson. Looking around, I wondered if any of the other crew was worrying about Niall's distracted air. Was this normal for him? I looked all over, but no one seemed bothered.
"Lights check," Woody boomed. "Spot one?"
A massive white beam illuminated the stage, brighter than the outdoors at noontime. I blinked at the afterimages that seared into my retina. "Holy hell," I muttered, rubbing my eyes.
"Spot two?" Woody called.
The daylight brilliance was cut in favor of two shafts of light crisscrossing over each other from way back in the front of the house. I blinked again and as a reflex, I looked up at recently extinguished overhead spot, just as the band started playing the opening chords of 'No Promises.'
"Oh, what the fuck?" I muttered.
That light didn't look right at all.
"Watch out!" I cried.
The shriek of metal on metal rose above the din of soundcheck, but no one seemed to notice it but me. For a half a second I watched dumbly as the band milled about underneath the rigging. The whole set-up was swaying from side to side as if dancing along to the music they were playing, but there was one light, one heavy, massive spot, that was swaying at a different frequency that the others. Faster and at the wrong angle and with that high pitched shrieking grinding noise.
"Get out of the way!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, but the only person who paid me any attention was the drummer, well out of the way of danger. But Niall, Niall was...
I just started running. Fast as I could, with my head down the way my uncle had taught me, football style. I ran at Niall with my hand out and slammed into him with everything I had.
Just as the world around us exploded.