Daryl unlocked the door and pushed it open, taking exactly five seconds to enjoy the sensation of being back home. As soon as the moment passed, however, he slumped and pushed himself into the largely empty studio apartment, easing the door shut behind himself. He turned on the main overhead light, tossed his bag aside and rolled his large suitcase over toward the futon, flopping down on it. The metal frame creaked under his bulk, but he paid this no mind.

He took his wallet out of his back pocket and then his phone, calling the local cable company to inform them that he was back in residence. “Yeah, I’d like to put down the usual deposit,” he said, reading off his debit card number to the service rep. The lights on his router blinked to life, and he was once more in possession of service. “Thanks much,” he said, ending the call and tucking his card back in its slot.

Daryl got up and strolled over to the tiny kitchen area, bringing the sixer of Killians he’d picked up down the street with him and depositing it on the fridge’s barren bottom shelf. He took out one of the bottles and closed the fridge, setting the beer down on the counter and heading back to the basement to fetch the bags of groceries he’d also purchased from the back of his car.

Jimmy had taken off with the Rev in Axel’s pickup after handing the Mustang’s keys back to Daryl in the underground parking lot, his bag of In-and-Out Burger goodies in hand. “Call me if you want to hang before the concert, dude,” Jimmy had said, vanishing with the pastor then. As Daryl popped the trunk of his car, snagging the three plastic bags within, he wondered if perhaps a day spent away from the crew would be better. After all, even the Big Dog needed to just chill out on the porch once in a while.

He snagged his own bag of In-and-Out from the passenger seat of the Mustang, then headed back up to the apartment. Daryl stashed his groceries in the fridge and cupboard, turned on his smart TV, then settled in to watch some Supernatural on Netflix. He was restarting his watch-through, always a fan of the early seasons. He didn’t mind all the later angel and demon stuff, but it struck him largely as ‘been there, done that before’ material. The religious angle didn’t bother him so much as seem to push the ‘monster-of-the-week’ stuff he loved about the early seasons to the back burner.

He was only about ten minutes into the third episode where there was a knock at his door. “Shit, forgot to tell Richards I’m back in town,” he said, assuming it was the building super. “Hold up, Mister Richards,” he called, pausing the program and getting up. “I would’ve called ahead, but I had to swing by Ralph’s to grab some stuff.” He opened the door, but the man standing before him was not the hunched Italian-American he’d been paying rent to for years. It was instead a man who was dressed in a carbon copy of the suit that that Gabriel fellow had been wearing at the camp.

He was a little shorter than Gabe, and his hair was midnight black instead of blonde, but he had a similar pair of slate-gray eyes that seemed to see more than the average person. The stranger smiled down at Daryl and said, “Daryl Steele?”

“Yeah, that’s me. Who wants to know?”

“I’m Michael,” said the suit, offering his hand. Daryl took it, reminded once again of Gabriel by the strength in the man’s grip. “Gabriel will be here in a minute, he’s just parking the car.”

“Oh, okay. Um, come on in, Michael,” Daryl said, stepping back and out of the man’s way. “You want a beer?”

“It’s eleven o’clock in the morning,” Michael said.

“Yeah, congratulations, you own a watch,” Daryl said with a wave of his bottle hand. “I can make some coffee.”

“That would be appreciated,” said Michael. Daryl set his beer down and got the coffee set up, flinching when he turned slightly and spotted both suits seated on his futon. Gabriel had his giant journal open on the slim coffee table Daryl usually propped his feet up on, pen in hand as he scribbled.

“Hey there, Gabe,” Daryl said, pulling two of his three plain black coffee mugs down out of the cupboard over the sink. “So what brings you guys around casa de Daryl? Better question, how did you find my place?”

“Axel gave us the address,” Gabriel said, not looking up from his notes. “You should have a,” he began, looking around the room. “Oh.”

“Yeah, no other seat here, dude,” Daryl said, sitting cross-legged across the coffee table from them on the floor. “I’m not exactly set up to have company here, guys, sorry about that.”

“We can move,” Gabe began.

“No, dude, you’re guests here,” Daryl said with a flap of his hand. “Don’t worry about it. So what’d you guys need to talk to me about?” Here Gabriel eased his journal shut and tucked his pen away in his coat, looking sidelong to Michael.

“I will handle this part, brother,” Gabriel said, folding his hands together. “Daryl, we appreciate everything that you’ve been able to do for the band over the years,” the blonde suit began. “Your dedication, your devotion, has been one of the key contributing factors to their continued success. As you’re aware, they’re about to begin their final tour. The first concert will be this Sunday.”

“Whoa, five days,” Daryl said, swallowing his beer hard to respond. “That’s cutting pretty tight to the wire, my man. Did you guys already set stuff up ahead of time?”

“We did,” said Gabriel. “Actually, Michael did. That’s sort of his area of expertise, and part of why we needed to talk to you. You see, Axel and the boys are going to be bringing some new people along on this last trip, people from our organization. Michael’s been working with them all for a long time.”

“They’re good people,” Michael added.

“And in the overall scheme of things, these folks are going to be continuing to work with the band afterward, when they set on their new course,” said Gabe. Daryl felt a sudden tightness in his chest, born of a suspicion of where this conversation was headed. He decided to head Gabe off at the pass.

“I’m being demoted,” he said brusquely.

“No, not at all, not really,” Michael said. “You’ll still be in charge of the original crew, and I’ll defer to your judgment regarding their work. But in the bigger picture, you will be answering to me.”

“Think of it like this,” Gabe interjected before Daryl could raise any objections. “You’ve been the crew’s leader, their captain, as it were, for all the time you’ve been working with Axel and the band. But now, we’re integrating forces, and you’ll still serve as the captain of your people. Michael, however, he’s going to be the general of the overall body of people working together. Do you understand?”

Daryl felt every bit of old resentment and fury he’d lived with come boiling to the surface, every time he’d been rejected or told he wasn’t good enough. He’d once tried to audition to be the drummer for Tin Knife Fight when their first percussionist had left the band, and he’d been given a flat ‘no’ afterwards. That had been one of the deepest wounds to his psyche; it had taken leaving them to work for Bloodspunk to get over the dark turn of his mind. Now, that same old anger came roaring through his mind.

But he choked back his feelings, thinking about the Rules. Sure, he’d made them up as he went along, but they were a bedrock for all things he did, an anchor for his every choice. He worked FOR the band, not WITH the band. “Okay,” he finally replied, watching as relief slackened the suits’ shoulders and mouths into soft grins. “I can dig it, man. For the band.”

“We’re happy to hear that,” said Michael. “And in that spirit, I need to give you my first bit of advice as the man in charge; fire Jimmy.”

“In the same spirit, my first bit of advice as your second-in-charge is to tell you to go fuck yourself,” Daryl said in an amiable tone with a too-big smile on his face. He lifted his beer in a sarcastic salut, then drank deep from it, killing the bottle before setting it down. He grunted, pushing himself up to his feet and planting his hands on his hips. “You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I’m just gonna cut that kid loose. I do that, I guarantee he ends up giving himself a hot shot within two hours, and I don’t want that on my conscience.”

“He’s unstable, Daryl,” Michael said, shaking his head. “I’ve heard some stories from Axel, Tim and Billy about him. He’s a risk we can’t afford to take during the tour.”

“I’ll vouch for him,” Daryl said. “Sure, he’s a screw-up, of, like, epic proportions sometimes. But look at me, man,” he said, hands against his own chest. “I’m a fuckin’ high school dropout, borderline alcoholic, and I’ve got just about no marketable skills beyond being pretty decent at talking to people and making sure there’s a trash can nearby if someone has one too many.”

“You’re selling yourself short, Mister Steele,” Gabe said.

“Maybe, but that’s not the point,” Daryl said, walking away to fetch his guests their coffee. He paused in his ramble for a moment to ask, “Creamer or sugar?”

“Both,” the suits replied in unison. “What is the point, then, if I may be so bold as to ask,” Michael continued on his own.

“The point is, I made Jimmy promise me he’d try to get on the straight and narrow,” Daryl said, stirring their coffees and bringing them out, setting one down before each suit. “To at least get off the needle. He’s gonna need help to do that, and the Rev and I, we’re the help he needs. Besides,” Daryl said, nipping out to the kitchen and returning once more with a fresh Killians. He popped the cap with his belt buckle and sat down once again. “You did say it was a suggestion, not an order, right?”

“That is correct,” Michael said hesitantly. He sipped at his coffee, keeping his eyes down on the table when he set it back. “I wouldn’t presume to give you an order of any sort about your own people, Mister Steele. Axel was very plain about that.”

“Good, cool, very copacetic,” Daryl said. He drank off a couple of swigs of his beer and belched triumphantly. “What else you got to go over with me, hoss?”

 

 

**

 

Rev tried to understand what was happening, but the abrupt, heavy violence being visited upon his ears made that difficult. All he could really tell was that the young man in the other room with Jimmy was clearly upset, and the music being blared over the sound system in the living room, in which the Rev waited while Jimmy dealt with the fellow, was like nothing he’d ever listened to for more than a few seconds. To him, it was little more than electronic noise, but the jewel case the CD had been in made it plain what Jimmy used it for; ‘Cover Garbage’ was written in permanent marker across it.

A few minutes later, the stranger stomped through the room and heaved himself out of the apartment in a huff. Jimmy came along a few seconds later, locked the door, and popped out the disc from his stereo system. “Sorry about that, Rev,” Jimmy said, putting the disc away it its case and tossing it up on a speaker. “That was my local dealer. He’s not exactly thrilled at my decision to get clean, as you could probably tell.”

“Yeah, I sort of noticed. Now, are you sure you’re okay with me staying here while we’re in town?”

“Absolutely. I’m a little surprised Big Dog didn’t suggest it himself, but I think he’s dealing with some shit, you know? I mean, what with the last tour and everything.” Jimmy slumped down onto his worn down couch, an ugly green thing that served its purpose. “I mean, when it’s over, I’ll be fine. There tons of punk bands in New York, I’ll be able to jump on board with one of them just fine. And I’m sure Daryl can get you hooked up with someone without a problem. But him?” Jimmy shook his head, looking at the floor. “He’s put his heart and soul into following the Horsemen, keeping us all in line and taking care of us. I mean, what are the odds everybody decides to stay together, or that any other band is going to want to take everybody on?”

“Daryl will get a damned good reference, I’m sure,” the Rev pointed out.

“That’s not what I’m getting at, Rev. It won’t be the same for him, and you know it. We’re, we’re like his family, you know? You ever seen a dad with a whole bunch of kids, and, like, the last one heads off to college?”

“Can’t say as I ever have.”

“I have,” said Jimmy, thinking about his own father. “I was the last of seven kids, Rev, and when I moved out, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world, man. Went to a bunch of shows, scored a ton of coke and pussy, got blitzed out of my head for, like, months, man. But then I went home one time, just to visit, you know? And my dad,” he said with a defeated clap of his hands on his knees. “It was like he’d aged a decade in just over half a year. He wasn’t the same, man. It was like, once we were all gone, it took a part of who he was with him.”

The Rev sat down beside the punker and propped his feet up on the edge of a wide brown ottoman that Jimmy had garbage picked down near Skid Row. “There will be water if God wills it,” the Rev said.

“What?”

“It’s an expression I came across in ‘The Dark Tower’ novels,” Rev said. “It’s actually one of my favorite quotes from the series. James-“

“Jimmy.”

“Jimmy, there isn’t much we can do about what happens to Daryl when the tour is over. All we can do for him right now is keep our promises to him, and do whatever he asks us to during the tour itself. Anything after that, however?” The Rev raised his palms upward, and tilted his head back to look at the ceiling. “That’s in God’s hands alone.”

“Yeah, well, let’s hope God’s a better ball carrier than anybody the Chargers have got right now,” Jimmy quipped. “Seriously, I’m not rooting for the fucking Rams, I don’t care how quick they turned that shit show around from Saint Louis.”

The Rev chuckled, located Jimmy’s television remote, and turned it on. “Well, let’s just take a little bit to relax, shall we?”

“You do that, Rev. I’m gonna grab a shower,” said Jimmy, hopping off the couch. “I smell like shit. You already put that stuff away in the fridge?”

“Shortly after your friend led the way back to your room,” Rev said.

“That guy ain’t no friend of mine, Rev,” said Jimmy. “No friend of mine at all.” As he stepped into the bathroom and flicked the light on, Jimmy caught a look at the sunken eyes staring back at him from the mirror. The Panic Bugs had already announced their return, crawling around just under the skin, but he swallowed hard and fixed himself with a stern stare into the mirror.

He owed it to Daryl to at least try to get straight for this last hurrah. “This ain’t gonna be pretty, sunshine,” he whispered to himself, opening the cabinet door by his feet under the sink and pulling out the little baggie he had taped up on the underside, just inside the door where few people other than other addicts would think to look for it. He undid the twist tie and opened the baggie over the toilet, flushing his last stash of heroin down the drain and into the congested sewage lines of the city, already likely awash with the narcotics of thousands. “Better get used to it,” he said, turning on the shower.

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