But he was met only with stunned silence, frivolous compliments being the last thing on their minds. He hung his head and put his horns away, then asked Bam-Bam for a ride home. "WHAT?" yelled Bam-Bam. John pointed at Bam-Bam's ears, showing him that he needed to take out his earplugs, then asked him again. "WHAT?" Even without his earplugs, Bam-Bam could hear nothing but his cymbals, ringing furiously. John acted out the question in gestures, playing real-life charades. Bam-Bam nodded reluctantly.
Once Bam-Bam had loaded up his dolly, John put his horns on top and helped guide it through the labyrinthian corridors. Down in the kitchen, navigation had gotten easiermost of the food carts had been moved out of the waythough the tide of unknowable primordial goo had clearly risen. Their dress shoes made sucking sounds with each step and were soaking wet, as were the bottoms of their tux pants. When they got to the loading dock Bam-Bam went to fetch his van, leaving John to wait with the instruments by the festering dumpsters. He didn't mindhe could barely smell them over his own funk.
The two were quiet for most of the drive to John's house, Bam-Bam briefly interrupting the silence with a story about a groupie who had overdosed when he was playing with the Grass Roots, or was it when he was playing with Styx? Maybe that time they played a famous French amphitheater in front of forty thousand people? John acted duly impressed, then reflected on the evening, and on his career. He'd played with a dancing potato chip, with a faith healer, with a hand fart artist, in a clown costume, in a dog cone, in a grocery store checkout lane, in a car dealership, in a psychiatric ward, even in a funeral home, but he'd never before been the actual soundtrack to a death. It all seemed surreal, and he was surprised by several tears sliding down his cheeks.
When Bam-Bam pulled into John's driveway, John gathered his horns and sadly thanked him. Just before closing the door John suddenly pulled himself together and said, "Oh, and by the way, you sounded really good tonight, Bam-Bam." He assumed the perfect posture of a dog waiting for a treat, staring unblinkingly into Bam-Bam's eyes. He even tried telepathy: C'mon, man, throw a bone to a fellow Rocco!
But Bam-Bam would do no such thing; he shook his head and quietly said, "Good night, John."
Thirty minutes later, lying in bed, John kept replaying the horrible moment that had brought the evening to a close. He'd been looking out on the dance floor, had seen the man clutch his chest and awkwardly crumble. Come to think of it, he'd been soloing at the time. Suddenly, he was struck by a terrifying thought. He gently shook his wife awake: "Sweetheart?" "Ugh," she groaned. "Time is it?"
"Just a little after midnight."
"I'm sleeping, John. I'll say it in the morning like I always do." She crinkled her nose. "But my god, what have you been rolling around in?" She was about to turn away, but he grew insistent.
"No, this time it's different. I mean, not different like I played well. I didn't, and the bridge of 'Girl from Ipanema,' it's just... I don't know. But that's not it. Everything was just loud like always, it seemed like, and then Bam-Bam put in earplugs and started playing even louder. Everyone had earplugs except me, and I had to solo on, it was, maybe, 'Y.M.C.A.'? (sigh) I hate that song. But I'm soloing, playing as loud as I can just to hear myself." He began to gently sob as he continued. "And as I'm blasting out these shitty lines a fat old man dancing right in front of me went down. Father of the bride, a heart attack, and he died in front of all of us. I just... I mean... could it have been something I played?"
She listened patiently and gently touched her hand to his face. "Honey, I'm sure you played great, because you're a great player. And you're certainly no murderer." She rolled away from him, sound asleep the second her eyes closed.
He shook his head, napkin balls rattling. Ha! he thought. What does she know?