Solitude Creek by Jeffery Deaver
To Libraries and Librarians everywhere …
Fear is the mind-killer.
– Frank Herbert, Dune
TUESDAY, APRIL 4
The roadhouse was comfortable, friendly, inexpensive. All good.
Safe, too. Better.
You always thought about that when you took your teenage daughter out for a night of music.
Michelle Cooper did, in any event. Safe when it came to the band and their music, the customers, the wait staff.
The club itself, too, the parking lot – well lit – and the fire doors and sprinklers.
Michelle always checked these. The teenage-daughter part again.
Solitude Creek attracted a varied clientele, young and old, male and female, white and Latino and Asian, a few African Americans, a mirror of the Monterey Bay area. Now, just after seven thirty, she looked around, noting the hundreds of patrons who’d come from this and surrounding counties, all in buoyant mood, looking forward to seeing a band on the rise. If they brought with them any cares, those troubles were tucked tightly away at the prospect of beer, whimsical cocktails, chicken wings and music.
The group had flown in from LA, a garage band turned backup turned roadhouse headliner, thanks to Twitter and YouTube and Vidster. Word of mouth, and talent, sold groups nowadays, and the six boys in Lizard Annie worked as hard on their phones as onstage. They weren’t O.A.R. or Linkin Park but were soon to be, with a bit of luck.
They certainly had Michelle and Trish’s support. In fact, the cute boy band had a pretty solid mom-daughter fan base, judging by a look around the room tonight: other parents and their teenagers – the lyrics were rated PG at the raunchiest. For this evening’s show the ages of those in the audience ranged from sixteen to forty, give or take. Okay, Michelle admitted, maybe mid-forties.
She noted the Samsung in her daughter’s grip and said, ‘Text later. Not now.’
‘Who is it?’
A nice girl from Trish’s music class.
The club was filling up. Solitude Creek was a forty-year-old, single-story building featuring a small, rectangular dance floor of scuffed oak, ringed with high-top tables and stools. The stage, three feet high, was at the north end; the bar was opposite. A kitchen, east, served full menus, which eliminated the age barrier of attendance: only liquor-serving venues that offered food were permitted to seat children. Three fire-exit doors were against the west wall.
On the dark-wood paneling there were posters and during-the-show photos, complete with real and fake autographs, of many of the groups that had appeared at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967: Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Al Kooper, Country Joe. Dozens of others. In a grimy Plexiglas case there was a fragment of an electric guitar, reportedly one destroyed by Pete Townshend of The Who after the group’s performance at the event.
The tables at Solitude Creek were first come, first claimed, and all were filled – the show was only twenty minutes away now. Presently servers circulated with last-minute orders, plates of hefty burgers and wings and drinks on trays hovering atop their stable, splayed palms. From behind the stage, a miaow of tuning guitar strings and an arpeggio chord from a sax, a chunky A from a bass. Anticipation now. Those exciting moments before the music begins to seize and seduce.
The voices were loud, words indistinct, as the untabled patrons jockeyed for the best position in the standing-room area. Since the stage wasn’t high and the floor was flat, it was sometimes hard to get a good view of the acts. A bit of jostling but few hard words.
That was the Solitude Creek club. No hostility.
However, there was one thing that Michelle Cooper didn’t care for. The claustrophobia. The ceilings in the club were low and that accentuated the closeness. The dim room was not particularly spacious, the ventilation not the best; a mix of body scent, aftershave and perfume clung, stronger even than grill and fry-tank aromas, adding to the sense of confinement. The sense that you were packed in tight as canned fish. No, that never sat well with Michelle Cooper.
She brushed absently at her frosted blonde hair, looked again at the exit doors – not far away – and felt reassured.
Another sip of wine.
She noted Trish checking out a boy at a table nearby. Floppy hair, narrow face, skinny hips. Good looks to kill for. He was drinking a beer so Mother vetoed Trish’s inclination instantly, if silently. Not the alcohol, the age: the drink meant he was over twenty-one and therefore completely out of bounds for her seventeen-year-old.
Then she thought wryly: At least I can try.
A glance at her diamond Rolex. Five minutes.
Michelle asked, ‘Was it “Escape”, the one that was nominated for the Grammy?’
‘Focus on me, child.’
The girl grimaced. ‘Mom.’ She looked away from the Boy with the Beer.
Michelle hoped Lizard Annie would do the song tonight. ‘Escape’ was not only catchy but brought back good memories. She’d been listening to it after a recent first date with a lawyer from Salinas. In the six years since a vicious divorce, Michelle had had plenty of awkward dinners and movies, but the evening with Ross had been fun. They’d laughed. They’d dueled about the best Veep and Homeland episodes. And there’d been no pressure – for anything. So very rare for a first date.
Mother and daughter ate a bit more artichoke dip and Michelle had a little more wine. Driving, she allowed herself two glasses before getting behind the wheel, no more.