Daylight: The Fugitives
Max Tyler woke up with a start. Sleep had come more easily lately. Perhaps having a steady job and food every night was helping him sleep, but he still couldn't shake the worry that sleeping too long would leave him open to bandits. He felt for his lap bongo drums, and as he had every morning since he had found them, he thanked whatever God had brought them together by banging out a few seconds of rhythm. The beggar who'd had them before him was a strung-out junkie. Max hadn't touched his stash in months, and knew the value that any form of mental escape had since Day One. He felt guilty in giving that man drugs, but he rationalized that he was just helping the man's suffering. Besides, how much more suffering would he be able to relieve once he could bring some music back into the world?
He stretched out and looked over his room. A small cot, a table for his spare clothes, a mirror, and access to a shared john; all this, two plates of food, and a flask of water a day, all for providing his beats. He knew the old man who ran the inn couldn't afford to give him that much for long, but he'd felt he owed the drummer for restoring his faith in the world. Whenever he started playing, and the townsfolk started dancing, the old man smiled bigger than he could ever remember. Still, in this world, a man couldn't afford his own happiness, never mind those of others. This was to be Max's last week at the Hokiesmoke Inn: "Virginia's Pride and Joy, and Home of Carbo-Water," or so the sign read. Carbo-Water: what a name for water filtered through some old charcoal and paper.
He went into the shared bathroom to wash up. He splashed water on his face and looked at himself in the mirror. Five years ago, he'd been a washed-up drummer for a no-name band up in Lawndale. In an odd way, Day One had almost improved his standard of living. More accurately, he hadn't taken the hit that so many had. Because he was one of the few remaining local musicians with any talent and an instrument to play, he'd become well known in the towns he'd traveled to. He knew he couldn't stay long, but as long as he could, he had a home wherever they needed music, which was everywhere these days.
He walked back to his room to put on his grub shirt and fedora, and grab his drums. He glanced at the painting he cherished almost as much as his drums. There he was, in the back, behind his old drums. Trent out front on guitar and vocals. Jesse to the left, jamming on lead guitar. Nick keeping it all together with his bass. Trent's little sister had painted it from memory a week after Day One. He smiled, thinking about little Janie, then shed a tear when he thought of her last days, wasting away from cancer before she was even 21. He'd shed far too many tears since that day. Lawndale was now nothing to him. Everyone and everything he knew there was long gone; everything, that is, except for himself.
He sat out on a bench on the front porch of the inn, and banged on his drums every now and then as rhythms from the past crept into his mind. Sometimes he'd sing, but most of the time he didn't know the words, and his voice never was the greatest. The townsfolk occasionally came to listen for a while, but they usually didn't have much time to stay. Life was as busy now, if not busier, than before Day One. The kids would dance as they walked by, and that always gave Max a smile. Even the adults seemed to move a bit easier as they passed.
This particular day, however, two men were perched about 25 feet away, watching and listening. Both looked similar, as if they were related. The smaller man with short-cropped hair had a guitar strapped across his back, while the larger man with long, unkempt locks carried a backpack. The larger man spoke to the smaller one first. "Well, he has my vote."
The smaller one replied. "I have to agree. As long as he's as honest as everyone says he is; his skills are sure up to it. We have to test him though."
The larger one smiled. "That's what I've been waiting for. Let's go."
The two men walked over to Max, who stopped playing. "Hello; anything I can help you with?"
The smaller man spoke. "I hope so. There's a song I've wanted to hear for a while, and to me, it just doesn't sound right without the drums. You know how to play 'Hotel California'?"
Max smiled. "Man, I haven't heard that song since Day One. Come on up here. My name's Max."
The larger man came up first. "I'm Ryan, and this is my cousin Altair."
All three shook hands, and Altair spoke next. "So you guys call it Day One around here? It sure beats that Apocaliptico or whatever they were trying to name it back around the Great Lakes."
Ryan concurred. "Yeah, Day One seems much more fitting; that was the day that everything began again. Kinda like Wrestlemania 21 tried to be."
Altair frowned. "Everything with you goes back to wrestling. I'm glad you didn't talk me into naming us the Boogie Knights. Get ready to sing. You ready Max?"
Max banged on his bongos with vigor, then said, "I was born ready! Let's go!"
Altair got his guitar in tune, played a little, then paused as Max started banging out a beat, as close as he could remember to the "Hell Freezes Over" version of the song. Altair came back in, and Ryan started singing along when the lyrics came up. Altair and Max provided backup on the chorus. The townsfolk, most of whom hadn't heard the song since Day One, started to gather as the song progressed. Some put down a few offerings for the trio, and many more would have, had they been able to spare it. As the song came to a conclusion, the entire crowd cheered and applauded, and the three men bowed.
"Damn, I've missed that feeling for so long," Max said, easing back into his seat on the bench. "I haven't had a band since Day One, and going solo just isn't the same."
Altair nodded. "I know. I might have been able to go solo, but having Ry-guy here made it so much more worth it. Listen, do you have a job?"
"Only until the end of the week," said Max. "After that, I'd be off to another town."
"Well," Ryan said to Max, "how would you like to join us? Our last drummer, Joanie, decided to settle down, raise some crops and some kids. She pointed us in your direction, and I'm glad she did. You'd get an equal share of all profits we receive, and we've been touring around the Midwest for the past few months. We play a few originals, but the crowds really want to hear the old, familiar songs. What do you say?"
Max thought back on his old band, on his family, and on his gig here. After Saturday, he would have no reason to stay here or anywhere. He put out his hand. "Count me in, Daddy. You have yourself a drummer."
Altair and Ryan both shook Max's hand. They knew this was the match they were looking for. Ryan said, "Well, all right! Let's get back to the wagon. You can meet the rest of the Fugitives."
Max froze. "Fugitives?" He didn't want anything to do with breaking the law, ever since the looting crackdown days after Day One. His criminale days were long over.
Altair laughed. "It's the name of the band, man. It's Ryan's dad's old band name. It's just us three performing right now, and then we have our manager and security team."
Max was relieved. "You have a manager and a security team?"
Ryan caught this one. "Basically, yeah. Bubba's our manager, agent, driver, mechanic, and treasurer, as well as anything else we need. James is in charge of weaponry and keeping bandits and thieves away, since he's an ex-gangbanger I met during the big one. Rhonda's in charge of meals and groupie control. That's more for Altair usually."
Altair replied, "Hey, you've gotten your share lately too."
"Yeah, the girls that tried going after Joanie. I'm telling you, one of these days I'm cutting the hair off."
"You've been saying that for years. If Day One didn't get rid of it, nothing will."
All three men laughed at that, as they walked off towards the tour wagon.