"Dire Winds is the greatest band in existence."
Piper jumps at the booming voice echoing through the hallway, the sudden movement setting off pins and needles in her legs after almost an hour of inactivity. When she had first arrived at the empty arena, at 6am like the email had instructed, she had expected to be led to the Production Manager's office and set to work immediately. But instead she had wandered the grounds, dodging workers in hard hats pushing large cases up ramps and fast moving people yelling into walkies. Finally, after the fifth person yelled at Piper to get out of the way, a girl with blonde cornrows and a toolbelt took pity on her and led her to this hallway, lined with other seemingly taskless loiterers. No one looked up and Piper sat cross-legged on the floor between a pretty Spanish girl drawing in a sketchbook and a long black ATA case with a body, who's only identifying mark seemed to be thick waves of coppery blonde hair, draped facedown across it.
The body does not even twitch and the sketching girl continues drawing with a roll of her eyes as a balding man with a thick mustache and an ill-fitting suits walks up to the group.
"Now some of you may be saying, but Joe, what about The Beatles?," he continues. "Or Twisted Sister? Or those little punks in One Direction. Or Beyonce. Well you know what I say? Fuck Beyonce."
A woman standing across the room from Piper scoffs and crosses her arm, her two pom pom shaped balls of hair bop around as she shakes her head. "I know this Opie-assed Motherfucker is not talking about Beyonce right now," she rants. "Beyonce is a Q-u-e-e-n," she loudly enunciates.
"Praise Bey," the woman in track pants leaning against the wall next to her agrees.
"Not here she is not," he continues. "Here Dire Winds is your God. You will live, breath, embody everything that Dire Winds stands for. You will do your job and at night, before you lay head on your pillow, you will thank whatever deity you believe in that you have the honor to be graced by the presence of this band."
"So we are supposed to thank Dire Winds?" Piper murmurs.
The man stops and squints at her, "What?"
Piper clears her throat uncomfortably as all the eyes in the room turn on her. "Well you said that Dire Winds is the deity we are supposed to believe in." The body next to her chuckles and Piper squirms. "So we will be thanking Dire Winds for working for Dire Winds?"
He stares at her blankly for a moment before turning back to the room at large. "For those of you uninitiated with our group, I am Joe Caputo. I am your road manager for the next 16 weeks and you can come to me with any issues, big or small. Though, I do ask you to please leave any personal issues out of the arena. Your yoghurt keeps going missing from the bus fridge, not my problem. Your bunkmate snores, not my problem. Etc, etc."
When no one responds, Caputo nods and gestures grandiosely around the equipment covered hallway. "You are now surrounded by magic," he booms. "On this stage, history will be made. On THIS stage, legends will be born. And the one rule is do your job," he turns back and points to Piper, "and don't fuck it up."
"Oh, and, also," he continues, counting off on his fingers, "don't step on anyone else on the walkies. No one touches the guitars except musicians and Washington. And for the love of god, no chickens."
The Spanish girl looks up, eyebrow rising. "Chickens?"
"Chickens," Caputo confirms solemnly. "We have had… let's just say, incidents in the past. And, trust me when I say there is nothing like cleaning chicken shit out of an amp at 3am. Not sure how they got in, though we have our suspicions," he trails off, side eyeing a short elderly Asian woman standing to the side with a stack of papers and clipboard.
"Racist," the woman mutters, shoving the papers in his hands before storming out the doors into the arena.
"Okay, roll call." People slowly disperse as Caputo calls out names and sends them off to their assignments. The Beyonce fanatics, Watson and Hayes (or Black Cindy as she loudly corrects him), are apparently drivers and sent to help unload the trucks. Diaz, a wardrobe assistant, quickly collects her sketchbook as soon her name is called.
"Chapman," Caputo finally calls.
Piper quickly raises her hand and stands. "Piper," she responds.
He chuckles, handing her one of the papers. "Ahh, the troublemaker. And what is your specialty?"
"General?" he repeats.
"They told me to just come and help out in whatever department needed me," Piper explains.
Caputo sighs, rubbing his eyes. "And who hired you?"
"Um, I think his name was Mendez," Piper replies nervously. "I answered this ad online last week. We spoke on the phone."
"God-fucking-dammit, of course," Caputo mutters. "I don't have time for this. Okay, fine, then generally you can just follow the prodigal daughter around here." He raps the clipboard loudly against the side of the black case near the head of hair. "Wake up, Nichols."
"My shift doesn't start until noon," she mutters groggily, turning her body so she was facing the wall.
"Guess again, Nicky," Caputo retorts, "You're training Mendez' new fuck-hire here."
"Excuse me?" Piper asks incredulously.
Nicky groans and sits up, glaring as she flips her hair back. "Nice suit, Caputo. Shoulda told me it was dress up day, I woulda worn my fancy harness."
"Not today, please," he responds tiredly, handing her the final paper in his hand. "Management has been on my ass all morning and they are sending someone down here after lunch, which will be just the cherry on top of this shitstorm of a day. So can you please just show her the ropes and keep her out of my hair until show time?"
"Aye, aye, Captain," Nicky responds, looking down at the paper.
"You know I really don't appreciate being spoken about as if I am a child," Piper interjects, glaring as they both ignore her. "I was a member of my college's theater club and do have some experience with the technical parts. I was in charge of the lighting for our mid-Fall performance of Hamlet."
Nicky laughs, her eyes slowly moving up and down Piper's body until she blushes and crosses her arms. "Oh this is going to be fun. Come on, Shakespeare."
"Nicky, one last thing," Caputo says quietly, pulling her to the side. "Don't forget. Me bringing you back is a favor. Anything like that happens again, your out for good." Piper averts her eyes as Nicky nods before quietly following her down the hallway, ignoring how Nicky crumbles the paper in her hand in a white knuckled grip.
"I'm Piper, by the way," Piper tells her as they walk
"Yea, I heard," Nicky replies, stopping in front of a couple more of the identical black and silver lined ATA cases that covered every surface of this building. "Alright, I'm gonna take a shot in the dark here and say you have never done any rigging before?"
Piper shakes her head. "Is that like with the equipment?"
Nicky snorts, opening the closest case and quickly sorting through the cables, "Ok, quick tutorial. Luscheck and his team set up the equipment and suspend the lights, then we go up on these harnesses and wire the lights up. Simple as that."
"But I don't know anything about electrical."
"Well the first rule of electrical club is not to electrocute yourself," Nicky replies slamming the case shut. "But with these piece of shit cables, that is almost a guarantee."
"Couldn't they buy new cables?" Piper asks, brow crinkling in confusion.
"Great question. Bring that up at our next townhall," Nicky snarks. "Grab that, will ya," Nicky hefts up a corner of the case and motions to the other side with her chin. "You're a grunt now, Chapman. As long as the stage doesn't explode and hurt talent or their profit intake, management does not care."
Piper lifts her side with a grunt and staggers after Nicky, as she expertly guides them down the hallway.
"So Pornstache, huh?
"Who?" Piper asks, wavering slightly as she struggles to get a better grip on the case.
"Mendez. The sexual predator on skates who hired you," Nicky explains. "His Dad is some high up on management side and bought him into production manager for the last couple tours. He usually gets his rocks off with leftover groupie tail, but when that well runs dry he throws up craigslist ads looking for pre-grads to work a couple days on set."
"I'm not in college," Piper clarifies indignantly.
"No shit," Nicky laughs, "unless you took a decade break or so." Nicky studies her again, not as hungrily as before but still intently enough to make Piper break eye contact. "What are you doing here anyway? Aren't you a little Upper East Side for grunt work?"
"Everyone needs a job," Piper hedges, "and touring sounded fun."
"Oh, man, are you in for a rude awakening," Nicky mutters, and then louder, "Turn here." Piper chooses to focus on putting one foot in front of the other as they make a right and she is forced to back up down the hall. She is concentrating so hard that she does not notice someone is coming up behind them until she stumbles into them and almost drops the case.
"Sorry, sorry," she exclaims, adjusting her grip and looking up to see a burly woman with one side of her head shorn close to the skin and a windbreaker that reads security.
"Where's your laminate," the woman asks, holding up a flashlight to shine in her eyes.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Piper says, blinking to block out the light. "Sorry, but can you not point that at me. I work here."
"No one past this door without a laminate," the woman declares loudly, though she lowers the light and Piper can just make out a tattoo that reads 'Butch' emblazoned across arm. "But you could always suck my dick for one," she says with a smirk.
"Alright enough, Boo," Nicky interjects. "I'll get her one after breakfast. Can you move now? This shit is heavy."
Boo laughs and steps to the side, opening the door. "Welcome back, Son. Hasn't been the same without you."
Nicky smiles, guiding Piper and the case through the door. "Yea, missed you too. This is Piper by the way. Newest Mendez recruit."
"Well good luck with that, Fresh Meat," Boo chuckles again, shaking her head. "My favorite time of the season." Then the door closes and Piper realizes they are finally in the main concert hall. A group of ten men in hard hats are pushing what looks like parts of the stage to the middle of the room and people are wandering everywhere, carrying cords and making notations on the floor in chalk.
"What is she talking about?" Piper asks as they carry the box over to a huge pile a couple feet away.
Nicky smirks. "It's hunting season. "
"Most of the people here, we have been here for years. We're roadies through and through. Then there are people like you, who think it might be fun or glamorous working with a band for awhile. Let's just say they usually don't make it to week two. So people like Mendez and Boo pick them off before they drop off."
"And you?" Piper asks, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.
Nicky grins, "And me. But trust me, your less likely to wake up with an itch the next morning after a night with me."
"I'm engaged," Piper clarifies, for the first time wishing she had brought her ring with her. She had been worried that she would lose it on the road, especially since she kept twisting it off her finger when she was not paying attention, not yet used to the constricting weight of it.
"Yea," Nicky murmurs, her smile faltering slightly. "Not the first time I've heard that. Drop it here." Nicky gestures to an empty space next to a raised platform. Piper places her side down and stretches out her cramped fingers as Nicky climbs the couple stairs up the platform. She swaggers over to a tall Brunette in denim shorts and a white muscle tee leaning over a large soundboard.
"Howdy, M'am," Nicky greets, leaning up against the board. The brunette turns slightly and Piper can just make out the dark frames of secretary glasses. "I wandered here all the way from the electrical pit because I was wondering if you had any free outlets for me to stick my auxiliary cord in?"
"I bet you say that to all the girls," the brunette replies and turns around, her glasses glinting in the light as they land on Piper.
"C'mon, Vause, you know I save my best material for you," Nicky responds. She looks between Piper and Vause. "Ahh, I see you have noticed my new protégé."
"I'm sure you can find a better mentor," Vause responds with a smirk, never breaking eye contact. "I'm Alex."
"Piper." Vause – Alex lifts a penciled in brow as her smirk softens into something more genuine. "I'm new."
Alex chuckles, "Yes, you are."
"Sooo," Nicky interrupts, side-eyeing Piper, "breakfast?"
Piper stands behind Alex on line for catering, intently focusing on anything but the smell of her hair and the elegant curl of her fingers as they drum along the table. Piper is no stranger to being attracted to woman. She had dated a couple girls in college, made out with strange girls in bars in her mid-20's, but nothing since Larry. Larry was – comfortable, safe, bumbling and sweet.
Alex is confident and sexy and knows Piper is watching. Piper can tell by the way she licks her lips and arches her back as she reaches for the last muffin at the back of the tray.
And from the way Nicky is watching, her tongue caught between her teeth as she occasionally scoffs, Piper suspects she knows as well.
"So how does this work, after the show tonight, do we have hotel rooms or…" Piper trails off, scooping fruit salad onto her plate.
Nicky smirks. "Ha, hotels are for celebrities and pussies, welcome to the magical world of coffin sized bunk beds and the sound of 3am turds hitting the water. Hope you don't get motion sickness, Chapman."
"Ugh, that's disgusting," Piper groans. "Can you really hear that?" After a beat, Piper realizes Nicky is not responding and glances at her. Nicky is staring across the room where a short pretty woman in aviator glasses and a bright red lip is standing in the doorway, clearly staring back. The woman visibly fidgets before spinning on her heel and rushing back out the door. Nicky looks down and only turns back to the catering table when Alex nudges her with an elbow.
"Speaking of which," Alex murmurs, looking at Nicky, "what bus did you get?" Nicky silently shakes her head, piling bacon onto her own plate.
Uncomprehending, Piper glances between the two. "How do you know which bus you are on?"
"I'm guessing you haven't read the schedule?" Alex asks.
Nicky reaches into Piper's back pocket, ignoring her yelp, and throws the paper Caputo had handed her earlier on the tray. Piper unfolds it, quickly glancing at the "Day One – NYC" and the Dire Winds' purple phoenix emblazoned at the head of the page. It's a run down of the day and at the bottom in bold print reads "CHAPMAN – BUS B (DRIVER – MORELLO)".
"You too, huh?" Nicky mutters, reading over Piper's shoulder.
Alex glances down too and sighs. "Well, that makes three of us. I guess it's the party bus then."
"What is it?" Piper asks "What's wrong with this one?"
"Nothing, don't worry about…" Nicky is cut off when a banana plops on her plate, knocking the top layer of her bacon mountain on the ground. "Hey!"
A woman with fiery red spiky hair and a white chef's jacket glares down at Nicky from behind the table. "You can't be throwing things like that," Nicky exclaims, gesturing at the floor. "Grease like that can be a hazard. Watch, next thing you know someone is going be tripping over that and break something.
"Gina will clean it up," the woman retorts in a thick Russian accent, gesturing to a short girl with a pixie cut behind her. The girl rolls her eyes but reaches for a nearby broom to start sweeping it up. "You need more fruit in your diet. That much salt," she tsks, "it's unhealthy."
Nicky releases a long-suffering sigh, but smiles. "I know, I know, Ma."
The girl behind Piper impatiently bumps into her and so she moves off the line. Alex follows and leads her to a nearby table.
"That's Nicky's mom?" Piper asks, squinting at the two, looking for the resemblance.
Alex shrugs, "Might as well be. That's Red. Head of catering. She takes care of all of us, but she and Nicky, they have always been close. When you're out on the road for as long as we are, the crew starts feeling like family," she glances over to where Red is speaking quietly to Nicky before pulling her into a one-armed hug. "It's nice, especially if you don't have one to go home to."
Piper, acting almost on instinct, reaches out and covers Alex's hand in hers. Alex looks down in surprise, but smiles softly, the corners of her eye crinkling behind her glasses. Alex meets her gaze and strokes the side of Piper's knuckle with the pad of her thumb. Piper leans forward slightly, but is distracted when she sees a familiar head duck into the nearby bathroom.
"Umm," Piper stutters, pulling her hand quickly. "I, uh, have to go to the bathroom." She stands swiftly and barely hears Alex's confused "Everything alright?" as she rushes away.
Piper slips into the ladies' room, and leans back on the door, closing her eyes.
"This place is a shithole." Piper opens her eyes with a sigh and watches as Fig turns on the faucet and efficiently washes her hands. Piper glances towards the stalls.
"No one else is in here," Fig replies to her unasked question. She turns off the faucet and quickly dries her hands before pulling her lipstick out of her purse. "So what do you have for me so far?"
"I have only been here a couple hours," Piper replies.
"But you did have enough time to make new friends."
Piper glares. "You asked me to integrate myself with the crew."
Fig finishes applying the lipstick with a smack and turns to her. "May I remind you why you are here? This band is hemorrhaging money and if we don't find a solution soon this entire tour is cancelled. The hundreds of thousands we have already invested will be completely gone and how will that look in your department's profit/loss margin at the end of the quarter?"
"I understand," Piper responds slowly, "but you can't expect miracles in less than a day."
Fig, sighs, glancing at her watch. "I have a meeting with that imbecile Capitchio or whatever in five minutes." Pushing past Piper to the door, she turns back and narrows her eyes. "You have two weeks, Ms. Chapman. If you don't have a list for me by then of the twenty-five people we can fire, they will not be the only ones losing their jobs."