Paz turned the champagne bottle upside down, draining the last suds into his glass.
“How many is that?” Robert asked. “Five?”
“Six.” Paz dropped the empty bottle into its bucket and raised his right hand, gesturing to the waitress for number seven. She’d been hovering by the curtained entrance of the private room for three hours now, watching her aged charges slipping further into inebriation and daydreaming of paychecks. She nodded and slipped out between the thick velvet curtains, allowing a brief burst of noise to invade the room from the main hall of the restaurant. The four men at the private table had twenty-six platinum records between them, not counting the ones Nickie Vandros had sold to his dealer in the ’80s, and every one of them had plumbed the depths of depravity over their combined century of touring. In the office of his Miami home, Dom Depravato had a framed newspaper clipping that contained the words ‘The Marquis de Sade would be proud’.
“Tell Rob about that time in San Bernardino with Lemmy,” Paz said after lucky number seven was placed on the table, filling everyone’s glasses to the brim, “back in ’89.”
“Ah, you were there for that one,” Nickie said with a nostalgic smirk, “you can tell it.”
“You tell it better,” Paz replied with a wink and a sip.
Robert Rogers and his band, Final Daze, hadn’t toured in 1989 due to Robert going to rehab for the first and second time over the summer. Nickie slurred his way through a story that involved at least five narcotics, a Star Trek convention, and a bearded pyrotechnics expert called Lucy. The explosive denouement brought a burst of laughter from Robert, who had been in a padded cell at the time, and Dom, who understandably had no memory at all of the event. As the laughter faded, Robert looked around the table. The only light left on in the room was dim and hanging above their table. His old friends looked skeletal in the shadows. His second rehab experience actually stuck for a while, until 1992. He could feel the snowburn of that first nostril of ’92 coke, see Dom’s leering razor-grin. Dom had picked up some good connections from a brief and ill-advised affair with hip hop and he wanted everyone to know it. When you partied with Dom, there was no saying no. Robert felt agoraphobic under the light, like the rest of the room had receded into a void. There was a rustling of fabric. The waitress was still out there somewhere. He downed his glass.
“Those were the days, man, those were the days,” Nickie said, running a napkin over his tightly groomed beard.
“What are you talkin’ about ‘were’, Vandros?” Dom grinned, “those days haven’t ended for me.”
“Yeah and you’re looking real good for it.” Robert felt beads of sweat on his brow.
Dom looked to him, eyebrows raised, “you’re damn right I am.”
Paz smiled and leaned in to the table, refilling Robert’s glass again, “don’t get defensive, Dom, you know it’s all busting balls.”
Dom kept his eyes on Robert, glinting like silver coins in the shadows. Then he gave another rictus grin and reached over to slap Robert’s arm, “of course it is, couldn’t hold a thing against this guy. Been touring with this guy since ’85!”
“Oh yeah, the M.A.D. Tour,” Nickie licked his lips, “now that was some crazy shit!” Final Daze, Depravato, and The Lowlifes (Nickie’s first band) had all come together for the first time on that nation-spanning tour, in what would prove to be both a literal and metaphorical orgy of mythic proportions. Paz, being slightly younger, didn’t become part of the group until a few years later.
“Nah, you want crazy shit then you gotta talk about ’97,” Paz tapped the table with his finger, emphasising his words, “Thrashfest. First year. Fucking insane.”
There was a ripple of laughter and then a frown slowly spread across Dom’s face, for a moment he looked lost, “Paz, you weren’t at the first Thrashfest.”
“Wasn’t I?” Paz smiled.
“You weren’t at any Thrashfest…” Robert said.
“What are you guys talking about, he was… Oh shit…” Nickie put a hand to his mouth,
“Yeah,” Paz nodded, his smile turning small and bitter.
“What the hell is this?” Robert put down his glass, it sang a little with the shaking of his fingers.
“This is a reminder,” Paz pointed to each of them in turn, “a reminder of when Dom passed me a needle and said it would be fine. A reminder of when Nickie laughed when I told him I needed to stop. A reminder of when Rob found me, convulsing, and what did you do, Rob?”
Rob shook his head. It was more like an aggravated sway, all that champagne had to go somewhere.
“What did you do, Rob?” Paz repeated, that accusatory finger still pointed across the table, “What did you do on the night before Thrashfest ’97?”
“I walked away.”
“You walked away. I could feel the vomit in my throat, burning, and you went off to fuck whatever groupie you’d found that night,” Paz stood up and spread his skinny arms wide, “this is a reminder of how I died in pain and all three of you went onstage the next night and pretended it never happened. Partying was easier than taking responsibility, right?” His grin was tight, lips thin, “it still is, I guess. Look at yourselves, you’re all just festering and acting like you love it. Makes me glad I didn’t get the chance to end up like that.”
“Fuck this, this is…” Dom pushed away from the table and made to stand up.
Paz slammed his hands down on the varnished wood. A champagne bottle fell to the floor and never landed. Dom paused as if he’d just been slapped. The three of them were silent.
“You don’t get to walk away from me,” Paz said. His smile was gone, replaced with a horrifying grimace. His eyes were red-rimmed and brimming with the purest of hate, “not this time.”
“Paz…” Rob said slowly, feeling every single one of his years. “I’m sorry. We’re all sorry.”
“Yeah, I figured you’d say that,” Paz sniffed and gestured to somewhere out in the darkness. The waitress soon approached, all shadows and curves, and presented him with the eighth champagne bottle of the night, “but you people have spent half your lives screwing everyone you ever knew over, so ‘sorry’ doesn’t quite cut it.” He gave a decisive tug and the bottle was opened with a pop that echoed for so much longer than it should have, “you’re gonna have to earn this.”
Dom was like a statue in his seat, the cords of his neck pulsing. Nickie was breathing fast, tears in his eyes. Paz leaned forward and filled all their glasses again, his lips curling into another smile.
“Now…” he said, settling back into his chair and pulling it up to the table. His eyes roamed from person to person, a taunting internal game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe, “… Rob. Why don’t you tell us all about Salt Lake City, ’87?”
Rob looked around the table, looked at all that was left. His lips were dry. The champagne was right there. Nickie shook his head, silently begging Rob for something neither could put into words. Rob picked up the drink.
“It was a crazy night,” he said, through the lump in his throat, already bringing the glass to his lips, “I used to wish that it never ended.”
Paz grinned, showing teeth. His glass was raised and the rest would follow. The night would continue. The night would always continue.
J.H. Hook is an author of short fiction and occasional ill-advised attempts at poetry. He was born in Liverpool in 1994 and the world is yet to recover. He’s never danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, though he did come close on a particularly harrowing night out in Birmingham.