The first time Alan Hazard, Ray Sunshine, and Bas practiced together the result was a temporal marvel. Although each played their part in perfect time, they were seemingly incapable of playing in the same time.
Whenever Hazard was belting out the chorus Sunshine was three minutes into a solo and Bas was somehow on the previous song. For hours they persevered in the vague hope that these arrangement would sound sophisticated, like Led Zeppelin. They didn’t. Luckily their rehearsal space – Sunshine’s parents' garage – was not within earshot of any of the villagers. The only people who could hear them were Sunshine’s parents, and they were used to being disappointed in their son anyway.
After a final car crash of a performance Sunshine voiced what he and Hazard were both thinking. Bas had by that point passed out in the corner and was not thinking anything.
‘We need a rhythm section,’ Sunshine said.
Hazard nodded, but a terrible anxiety was forming somewhere in the bubbling depths of his ego. It had begun to dawn on him that being in a band meant there were other people besides him who might be considered important. This did not mesh with Hazard’s view of the world and his place in it. Each addition to the band was a further threat to his authority, and a rhythm section meant two – a bassist and a drummer.
He cast a jealous eye on Bas and briefly considered cutting him loose, carrying him back to the car park and pretending they’d never invited him in the first place. He decided against it. Bas was not strictly conscious most of the time, but the previous four hours had been enough to know guitars sang like angels when he played them. He had been the rehearsal’s only positive.
‘Do you know any drummers?’ Hazard asked.
Sunshine began to shake his head, then paused. ‘There is that one guy down the Miners’ Arms,’ he said. ‘Theo.’
‘Theo?’ Hazard gawked. ‘He’s a headcase. All he does is drink and fight. I’ve met rocks with more emotional depth.’
‘He likes to hit things.’ Sunshine shrugged. ‘Drummers hit things.’
Hazard’s mind whirred looking for a hole in this argument, but he couldn’t find one. At least, he reasoned, no-one would mistake Theo for someone more important than he was.
‘Where can we find him?’
They found him in an abandoned lot on the outskirts of town. True to form he was circling an abandoned car, hitting it with a two-by-four between bouts of howling. The timing of his blows was immaculate. The car’s engine was running and the speakers were belting out a cataclysmic post-rock dirge. Silhouetted by the livid red of the setting sun, Theodore Stone looked like hell’s bouncer.
Hazard and Sunshine edged forward, wielding Bas as a kind of human shield. As they neared their potential recruit Hazard was able to scan his face. He’d never seen him without a beanie before and was suddenly overcome by sympathy. If his hairline had receded that much by his early twenties he’d have been angry too.
‘Ahoy there,’ Sunshine sang with what Hazard and Bas thought to be rather reckless cheeriness.
Stone stopped in mid smash and turned his head with blood freezing slowness.
‘What do you want?’ he said.
‘We were wondering,’ Hazard said, ‘if you’d like to join my band-’
‘Your band?’ Sunshine hissed.
‘Aiodutbv?’ Bas slurred.
Hazard elbowed them in the ribs and back respectively and ploughed on.
‘-join our band as a drummer.’
There was a long silence. ‘If you like,’ Hazard added.
This was followed by an even longer silence, at the end of which Stone’s brow collapsed into a frown. He looked down at his immense hands.
‘Do I get to hit things?’ he said.
Hazard nodded in a mixed frenzy of affirmation and self-preservation. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘in fact that’s the whole idea.’
‘Just don’t hit us,’ Sunshine added with what he hoped was a convivial air, and started to laugh. Stone stared at him. Sunshine stopped laughing.
‘I think,’ Stone stared intently at the two-by-four still clenched in his fist, ‘I would like that.’
Hazard and Sunshine almost collapsed with relief. Bas stepped forward.
‘Qoiugna?’ he said.
‘Bassists?’ Stone scratched his brow. ‘Now that you mention it, I do know one guy.’
‘Where can we find him?’ Hazard asked.
They found him at the library. Theo had stayed behind to finish destroying the car, and Bas had stayed behind to watch him, but the instructions provided to Alan and Ray were enough to lead them to a wiry, clean-cut fellow stamping returned books at the front desk.
His name was Irvine Waltz and he had an inoffensive haircut, inoffensive eyes that blinked often behind inoffensive rimless glasses, and was wearing a deeply offensive blue turtleneck jumper. A team of crack scientists couldn’t have designed a more perfect librarian.
He was humming gently to himself, a deep, groovy hum that danced around the thwack of his stamp. For a time Alan and Ray watched him from the shadows of the Music section, their feet ever so gently tapping the floor.
The only other sound was an occasional snort from somewhere in Classics.
Finally, convinced, Hazard and Sunshine approached. The man looked up and met them with a model professional smile.
‘Sorry, gentleman,’ he said. ‘The library closes in five minutes. You’ll need to be quick.’
‘Actually, we’re here to see you,’ Hazard said. ‘Are you Irvine Waltz?’
‘We’re putting a band together,’ Hazard said. ‘Theodore Stone just joined us as a drummer and he said you were a mean bassist. Is it true?’
Waltz chuckled. ‘I don’t know about a mean bassist,’ he said, ‘but I can play. If you’ve got Stone on board that’s meanness enough I expect.’
‘How do you know Theo?’ Sunshine asked.
‘He comes here all the time. Can’t get enough of postmodernist literature, though I hardly think it helps with his moods.’
‘No kidding,’ Hazard said. The silence was filled by another huge snort, this time from History. ‘Anyway, how about it. Will you join us?’
Waltz was perfectly content with his life at the library, but during rare moments of introspection he suspected he wasn’t actually all that happy there. He sometimes wondered if the world was more enjoyable in person than it is on paper. He just needed a way out, an excuse to leave.
‘Do you have any songs?’ he asked.
‘Gigs lined up?’
Waltz digested this. He looked up at the pile of books yet to be sorted. It looked awfully tall all of a sudden. ‘Do you think you’ll be any good?’ he asked at last.
‘It’s possible,’ Hazard said.
‘Definitely,’ Sunshine said. ‘It’s definitely possible.’
‘What the hell,’ he said. ‘Why not.’
Another snort turned all their heads and their eyes fell on a woman careering out from behind a bookshelf. She was wiping something from under her nose.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘My name’s Laina Gould. I was taking my medication in the aisle there and couldn’t help overhearing you need a manager.’