II. Deal
"...everybody knows that the deal is rotten."

Mikey stopped Frank on their way out of the rehearsal truck the next afternoon, one hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I got you something," he said.

"What is it?" he asked, cautiously. Mikey was quiet but he sometimes played the grossest practical jokes. One time he put jizz on a sandwich Gerard had stepped away from for, like, a single second, a feat Frank had been both disgusted and amazed by.

"Here." Mikey handed him a white t-shirt. Frank unfolded it, holding it out in front of him like a flag. "Don't Bite The Guitarist," it said neatly, written in fat black magic marker.

Frank grinned. "That's so cool," he said.

"Gerard did it," Mikey said. "I mean, it was my idea, but he actually did it."

"This is awesome," Frank said. He took off his grey shirt and pulled the new one over his head. It was a little snug -- a clear sign that Mikey had picked it out -- but the letters ran right across his chest in two neat rows. "How'd you get it so perfect?" he asked, touching it.

Mikey grinned a full-fledged grin and held up his own t-shirt. "on t et he uita ist," was barely legible in black smudges on his skin just above his nipples. He'd worn the shirt while Gerard had lettered it.

"Dude," Frank said. He was truly touched. "This is really cool of you."

Mikey shrugged, tugging down his shirt. "Well, I'm a really cool guy," he said.

"And modest," Frank said.

"Handsome?" Mikey asked.

"Oh, gorgeous," Frank answered. "And have I mentioned humble?"

"And really really good looking," Mikey said. "Don't forget that part."

"How about I forget the part where you're a total assmunch?" Frank said.

"Yeah, forget that part," Mikey said.

They went to the stage and stood in the wings, watching Thrice flail around and shout obscenities to the audience. Frank thought it was much nicer going on after a band like Hawthorne Heights, who screamed a lot in their songs, but in between songs would thank people for coming and say stuff like "you guys have been super great to us." That way when Gerard said "fuck, fuck, fuck" and deep throated the microphone, there was more of a contrast. Coming after a band like Thrice -- a band that used "fuck" as a substitute for "hello, we're Thrice" -- microphone fellatio looked like a parlor trick.

There was the inevitable lull after Thrice finished and Frank contented himself with watching the waves of sweaty, bruised Thrice fans pushing toward the back of the crowd while pale, dark-haired MCR fans shoved to the front. It was like one tide going out and a black tide coming in.

"So," Bob said, coming up behind him. "How do they look?"

"Normal," Frank said. "Mostly."

"That's about right." Bob bounced his drumsticks off Frank's shoulder, tapping him lightly, tata tat tat. "No worries," he said.

"None at all," Frank answered. He knew that Bob's affectionate drumming meant "don't worry; I'm watching out for you," even if it was something that Bob himself would never say. Bob had spent a couple of years with The Used -- that was how they had met him, during Gerard's ill-fated infatuation with The Used's lead singer Bert -- and Frank had come to think of Bob as a sort of emotional Superman, able to keep the severely fucked up from falling apart in a single bound. He'd been really great when Gerard had quit drinking. Even though that had been like the worst time of Frankie's entire life, Bob had just been ... Bob, calm and rational and totally not pissy about anything. Bob was a good guy to have at your back, Frank thought.

"Righteous," Bob said. Then he slipped past Frank and headed out on the stage to start the drumming for Cemetery Drive. The fans hardly noticed him. Frank loved them, he really did, but sometimes, Frank thought the fans were totally stupid.

Nothing happened. They went on, they played, Gerard asked the audience about his ass and the only excitement came when a girl in the mosh pit whipped her own shirt off and security guards had to rush in and try to save her before she got groped to death. They didn't even have to stop the show for that one, security was so quick. Maybe, Frank thought as he tore into "Thank You for the Venom," because there were boobs involved.

"Good one!" Gerard said, slapping him on the back as they came off stage. Frank grinned at him.

"You staying?" Ray asked. Frank nodded. They would sometimes scope out other guitar players, just him and Ray, listening and concentrating and seeing what things they could use. People, even the music critics, thought that Gerard did most of the writing for the group, but what they didn't get was that Gerard did almost all of the lyric writing, but Ray was responsible for most of the music. Mest wasn't exactly their style, wasn't something they usually would stay for although the guys were cool, but that was sort of the point. Frank grabbed a towel and a bottle of water and leaned back against the metal structure of the stage. Ray settled in next to him, pulling a small tube of earplugs out of his pocket and tipping two into Frank's palm.

It was interesting to Frank to see how other bands played. When he was onstage he tried to stay on his side, just because Gerard was a fucking lunatic and Frank didn't want to accidentally poke his eye out or something, but Jer Rangel, the lead guitarist for Mest, was a maniac, pacing the stage like a lion in a cage, roaming back and forth behind his singer, Tony, the cord of his guitar trailing behind him. Then, it happened. One second Jer was shredding, leaning down toward the thin empty moat that separated him from the audience and then he jumped, so easily that he practically just stepped from the stage, and he was in the audience, crowd surfing, still playing although that wouldn't last long. Frank had learned long ago to leave the guitar onstage.

"Holy shit!" Frank gasped, grabbing Ray's wrist. "That is too fucking awesome!"

Security leapt into the crowd after Jer, yellow specks in a sea of black. Jer's guitar, separated from its owner, flew over the top of the crowd and landed onstage. Feedback wailed from the speakers. Tony stood on the edge of the stage now, laughing and pointing and waiting for his guitarist to get the fuck out of the crowd and back onstage.

And then he was, borne out of the crowd on the shoulders of three or four security guys, crawling over the crowd barriers and up onto the stage, shaking his head and smiling. Tony went over to help him up, laughing. He grabbed Jer's arm and that was when Frankie saw it. Blood.

It ran down Jer's arm and dripped off his fingertips into a rapidly growing puddle on the stage and Jer wasn't smiling, he was grimacing, his hand held out like a little kid who wants his mom, and a bunch of people, staff people, rushed onstage and circled around him and ran back and forth talking on walkie- talkies. The crowd settled back uneasily, afraid of what it had done.

It was one of the walkie-talkie people that Ray grabbed by the arm and asked "what the hell happened?" A young girl, an intern or something, maybe twenty, her blond hair tied up in a stubby ponytail, her eyes wide, her walkie-talkie clutched like a doll to her chest. "Oh god," she said. "They bit him."

[ Boat ]