Following the Melody
A short story by Dan Berthiaume
The cell was sparse, utilitarian; far less dramatic than anything Brad had seen on television or in the movies. A metal shelf bolted to the wall served as a bed, and most of the rest of the room was filled by a small metal toilet and a metal sink with a basin just big enough to fit both of his hands. The cement walls were bare. Nobody had scratched their initials or lines to count how many days they had spent there.
The only aspect of the cell that had any Hollywood familiarity was the door, a metal grate that stretched the entire width of the room and offered a view of a brightly-lit, narrow hallway in dire need of scrubbing and fresh paint. Since the hall was fully illuminated at 2 AM, Brad assumed the lights stayed on all night, which would make sleep a difficult proposition. Not that the metal bed, which offered no mattress or pillow but only a thin woolen blanket, looked all that inviting.
Brad sat on the metal bed and leaned back against the hard cinderblock wall. He started feeling drowsy, dimly recalling from numerous cop shows that only the guilty fell asleep in a jail cell after being arrested. His head had begun slumping forward on his chest when a commotion of shouting voices and scuffing feet jarred him back to consciousness.
“Calm down, asshole!” yelled a stern voice that Brad recognized as that of the desk sergeant, a short, square-headed man with a buzz cut who had mocked his shoulder-length tangle of hair as a “hippie dandruff nest.”
A few other officers shouted similar admonitions, then an eerily familiar voice, far richer and more harmonic in tone, called, “You can’t hold me down, man! You can lock me in your cell but you can’t stop what I’ve already created!”
Now fully awake, Brad watched intently as a familiar figure, a figure he had only seen in person as a tiny speck on a stage or projected to godlike proportions on a football stadium jumbo screen, was dragged past his cell by about six red-faced cops. It was none other than Dean Morrow, lead singer of the Poorboy Shamans, in all his golden-haired, leather-panted, black silk-shirted, bead-necklaced glory, singing the praises of mindless revolution in the face of fascist oppression. He looked a lot shorter than Brad had expected.
“I’m not a fucking slave, man!” Dean declared, punctuating the sentiment with a sharp gasp as the desk sergeant elbowed him hard in the gut.
“Of course you’re not a slave,” agreed the desk sergeant. “Slaves work. You leech off society for a living.” Brad heard the door of the cell next to his automatcally whir open, followed by a loud thump. The door clanged shut.
“I’ll sic my lawyers on you pigs!” Dean wailed. “I know my rights!” Brad had heard Dean sing the jailhouse blues many times on stage, but it had never sounded so plaintively real. “You can’t toss me around like this!”
The vanguard of police marched past Brad’s cell. The desk sergeant paused to sneer at him. “There’s your goddamned hero,” he spat. “Caught ripping up his hotel room with two underage hookers and a gram of coke. Real fucking role model. You’ll be back here soon enough if you keep looking up to this schmuck.”
Brad said nothing and looked at the floor. If the police in this station were willing to get rough with a multimillionaire celebrity who mouthed off, he could only imagine what they would do with a broke, out-of-state hippie who got out of line. Satisfied that Brad had been cowed into submission, the desk sergeant chuckled loudly and continued back to his post.
Still too scared to speak or even move, Brad reflected silently on the events that had led to what was undeniably turning into a very interesting, if also troubling, evening. The whole thing had been Skyler’s fault. Brad had known bringing that dork along for the trip would only cause problems. Having to pull over on the highway to let Skyler puke in the breakdown lane had drawn the attention of the passing state cop, which led to the DWI test that Brad flunked, which led to the search of the vehicle that turned up Brad’s hidden stash of booze and weed, which brought Brad here to this cell.
Until that point, everything had been going fine. Melody, Melody’s sister Charity, Charity’s boyfriend Skyler, and this righteous dude named Dylan they had first met at a show in Wisconsin were driving down Route 95 South in Brad’s beat-up Ford Explorer. They had just seen the 12th show of the Poorboy Shamans’ fall tour, and it was the best one yet. Almost three hours of an electric smorgasboard of blues, R&B, psychedelia, funk, and plain old three-chord rock n roll, accompanied by the incomparable voice and stage presence of Dean Morrow.