We All Fall Down by Karen Cimms

Chapter One

July 19, 2012

The short-termparking lot shimmered like an urban mirage. Miami had been hot. At least there had been the occasional ocean breeze to punctuate the wet, heavy air. No such luck in Newark.

Billy fished an elastic band from his pocket, gathered his thick, blond mane into a double loop, and leaned against the windowed walls of the terminal. The cool glass felt good against his sweat-soaked back. As for the rest of him? It was like standing in front of an open oven door.

A steady line of cars and shuttles cozied up to the curb, spewing fumes into the still, dense air. If Eddie didn’t show soon, Billy swore he’d leave the little shit’s crap all over the sidewalk and hail a cab.

Mirrored aviator shades covered his bloodshot eyes, but nothing could disguise the pounding in his head. The dizzying waves rising from the pavement and the familiar rocking motion of his latest hangover made him want to find a dark corner and sleep until this rollercoaster came to a complete stop. And when it did, he’d like to get his hands around the neck of Stonestreet’s tour manager and personally thank him for booking such an early flight.

The opportunity was unlikely to present itself, since he’d been fired hours earlier.

He folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes, trying to make sense of the last twelve hours and ruminate on what he’d done to fuck up this time.

Mistake number one had been dropping acid. He hadn’t done it in years, but when Eddie had shown up with a couple of hits, he figured what the hell. He was no choirboy, and this tour was kicking his ass. One more night and he would be home free, at least for a couple of weeks.

But what a night. He could still hear the roar of the crowd jammed into AmericanAirlines Arena. When the band started playing “Escaping to Perdition,” he did what he always did, what he was paid to do: hang back and provide the rhythm and accents. But somewhere after the first verse, something snapped. Maybe it was the acid. Or maybe he was sick of playing second fiddle to a hack who couldn’t even win at Guitar Hero without backup. Whatever the case, he lost himself in the music and before he knew it, he’d commandeered Mick’s big solo.

And he was whaling on that motherfucker.

Even now, baking on the hot sidewalk a thousand miles from Miami, he still felt those notes pulsing through his fingertips. It was like being in a trance. Before he knew it, he’d crossed Mick’s invisible line. His fingers had flown up and down the neck of his Les Paul custom. The frets had all but disappeared, and his fingers moved as if on glass. Each note reverberated through him, shooting out like sparks.

Mick let him have his moment. And it was the way he’d always dreamed it would be. He was front and center—Billy McDonald—and the crowd went crazy. When he opened his eyes and realized twenty thousand fans were screaming for him, he fell to his knees. And he didn’t miss one fucking note.

The rest of the show had been a blur, but that feeling? No one could take that from him. It was the best night of his career—or at least it had been, for about three hours.

Stonestreet was a hard-partying band, and the end of a grueling nine weeks on the road was as good a reason to party as any. Limos deposited them at the hotel, where the booze flowed, weed was plentiful, and there was more than enough high-grade cocaine and half-naked women to go around.

It was tough, but he knew where to draw the line. The guilt he felt from cheating on Katie twenty years earlier had never left him. The risk of a few moments of pleasure wasn’t worth losing the only other good thing in his life. He tried to stay away from the hard stuff too, but he was only human. If he needed a little something now and then, he wasn’t hurting anybody.

But last night? Last night, the shit had finally hit the fan. Fueled by whiskey and coke and a few hours’ resentment, Mick had launched into a tirade about Billy stealing his solo. Billy tried to shine him on, but he wasn’t about to apologize to that horse’s ass. Everyone knew that on his worst day, Billy was ten times better than Mick McAvoy could ever hope to be.

Things had gotten ugly. He’d been getting up to leave when Mick threw the first punch. He missed, but it didn’t matter. Not since Billy was ten had anyone taken a swing at him and walked away in one piece.

His fist connected with Mick’s jaw. Mick’s feet flew out from under him, and he rolled ass-backward over the bass player, who was on his knees doing lines of coke off some groupie’s tits.

It had been pretty comical until Mick fired him.

The rest of the night had been spent nursing his ego and a bottle of Jack. Things with the band had been rough, but last night’s show had been amazing. And now it was over.

Billy glanced at his watch. A little past eleven. Plenty of time to get home, although the thought of facing Katie made his head throb.

Happy birthday, babe. I got fired!That was gonna go over real well.

The rumbling of his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten, although the thought of food nauseated him—or maybe it was the heat. If he hadn’t lost his driver’s license, he’d be on the road by now. In the meantime, he longed for a little hair of the dog and a shower. He’d been so out of it last night he’d lost track of time. Not only had he not had time for a shower, he’d almost missed his plane.

He dug a toothpick from his pocket and clamped it between his teeth. Maybe that would get his mind off wanting a drink.

A horn blared.

“Finally,” he muttered as Eddie pulled up to the curb.

He threw his duffle bag and guitar cases in the back and slipped into the front seat while Eddie loaded his suitcases into the cargo area.

“Sorry about last night, man,” the drummer said as he navigated the rented SUV onto 78. “But you were amazing. Holy shit! You should’ve seen Mick’s face. He was acting like the big man, giving you the spotlight, but I could see that little vein pulsing on the side of his head.”

“It felt pretty good. Hope I get to feel that way again someday.”

“It’ll happen, brother. God doesn’t give you that kinda talent to hide it under a bushel. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“I hope so.” Billy lowered his seat and closed his eyes. The cool breeze from the air conditioner soothed his aching head. “Thanks for the lift. I was hoping my kid would pick me up, but I forgot he’s working at some camp in Colorado.”

“No problem. I enjoy the company.” They drove in silence for a few minutes before Eddie spoke again. “Hey, I’m a bit parched. Okay if we stop along the way for a little libation?”

Billy cocked an eye open. He needed a drink a hell of a lot more than he needed a nap.

“I think I could be persuaded.”