I ought to like this music. All things considered, I really should be into it. Ive a natural affinity for programmed drums, violent synth sounds, repetitive keyboard bass lines and so on. But here at Hedonism, in the heart of Manhattan, I just cant relate. Blame its lack of meaning: my music at least usually comes with a message, however supposedly negative. Blame the crowd, that nauseating Saturday night combination of clueless suburbanites paying twenty bucks a head under the misapprehension that they've gone somewhere hip, and smug young wanna-be trendies comped by braindead promoters to fill the downtown quotient. Blame the dee jay, Dancing Danny, an ageing Londoner whos stopped leading now he's gained a following and who these days only plays what the crowd wants to hear. Blame the fact that this theme is long beyond a novelty, that the Saturday night sound track has been injected with a poison, turned into an unending assault on the senses of nonsensical techno messages. Blame it on my naturally cynical and self-righteous personality, one of several reasons I answer to the name of Holy. And blame it, particularly, on my own sense of irrelevance and unimportance, of failure and frustration, on my role here at Hedonism as nothing more than a bus boy, the lowest of the low.
As if to remind me, four slicked-up guidos with watered-down cocktails look to the cage above us where Monkeys doing her business and loudly proclaim her a dog. I resist the temptation to pour beer all over them, gather my tray of empties from the bar and turn to start the long haul to the kitchen, but Tyson steps into my path.
I pause and ask him whattup.
"The Wire wanna see you. Now."
"Like I haven't got work to do?" The Wire thinks the world heeds his every call. He's a DJ. "Tell him I'm in the kitchen. He can help me rinse the trays if he's that keen for company."
"Nah, man, this is serious." Tyson's grim expression - even more poker-faced than usual -- confirms as much. I carry the tray of empties to the kitchen anyway, throw the beer bottles in the trash can, rinse the tray of its Bud-stench, stack it on top of the others, tell the Dodger I need to take a leak and fight my way back through the throng and up to the DJ booth.
The journey takes me a full ten minutes. On a Saturday night it seems like the whole city - and especially its surrounding suburbs - comes to Hedonism. That's why the authorities impose fire limits -- Hedonism's is 800 according to the plaque that hangs defiantly on the wall near the entrance -- and that's why the club employs off duty firemen at the front door. There to greet their working buddies if a rival club owner calls the Marshall on us. New York. You've gotta love it.
By the time I get to the booth, which at Hedonism is in the heavens, up three flights of stairs, I find a clique of would-be scenesters gathered round The Wire. He's obviously carrying some hot-off-the-press news, and when he sees me The Wire pushes straight through the crowd to deliver it.
"Yo, Holy," he shouts above the music, throwing his skinny arm around my shoulder and clutching me like I'm his best friend on earth. "Serious shit gone down, man."
"I can't hear you," I shout back.
He falls for it. The Wire turns to Danny and shouts in the DJ's ears just loud enough for me to hear. "Yo, turn the monitor down, will ya. I need to talk to my homie here." Danny gives The Wire that two-faced Cockney smile I see from all the cocky Brits -- the one they give you in an alleyway as a sign of solidarity the moment before stabbing you in the back -- and reaches for the monitor volume. He calmly turns it from six to nine. The casing of the JBL speaker, the type that does for front of house sound in any of my old New Jersey bar haunts but is relegated to mere monitor status in this big city colossus, visibly buckles under the weight of the soundwaves.
The Wire shoots Danny a glance of mildly threatening retribution and then leads me out of the booth, past the Hedonism hangers-on, and into an off-limits stair well where we can just about converse.
"Skippy's at Sinai," he says, clutching me tighter.
"Never heard of it," I reply. "Who's the promoter?"
"Mount fucking Sinai, you idiot. The hospital."
"Shit. Is he alright?"
"Of course he's not fucking alright. You think he'd be in the hospital if he was alright? He's got a bullet in the fucking head. Why the hell would he be alright?"
The Wire's nickname comes from his razor-thin build, and his obsession with clubland, fashion and music gossip. That and his renowned enthusiasm for white powder of the Peruvian Marching variety, which has him perpetually on edge. Given the speed his jaws are chomping at, the sweat on his forehead and the crudity of his language it looks like he's had a toot or two tonight already.
I break free of his grip. "What happened?" I demand.
"He got shot. That's what happened."
"Fucked if I know, man."
"Then how'd you know he got shot?"
"'Cause I'm the one who found him, due, that's why.
In a pool of blood in the hallway of your building. I tell ya, Holy," he says, clearly keen to do so, "Skippy looked like he'd bought it. The kid weren't moving. Not even moaning. I was trying to figure out how the fuck to help him when an ambulance crew arrived. Someone must have called in on hearing gun shots. Like that's anything unusual up there on a Saturday night. Man, I told you it weren't safe for white guys in Harlem."
"We never had a problem before," I say tersely.
"Well ya got one now," he says, equally so. "Them ambulance guys looked pretty freaked out too, like they thought he was dead. Took 'em for fucking ever just to figure out he still had a pulse. Cops show up moments later, start asking who knows the guy, and all your spic nigger neighbors vanish into the fucking peeling paint." Listening to the Wire, you'd never know dance music is all about peace and unity. Supposedly. "I'm the only one admits to anything about him," he continues.
"So they haul me in the police car for best part of an hour asking me when did I get there, when did I last see him, was I the last person to see him, does he have enemies, why might anyone want to shoot Skippy? I'm like man, the kid's a scrawny fucking white surfer boy from Sydney living in crack-addict Spanish fucking Harlem. Who ain't gonna want to shoot him?"
"So how is he?" I say, trying to ignore the Wire's racial baiting.
"I don't know man, I came straight down here to tell you 'bout it."
"You didn't go to the hospital?"
"What use'm I gonna be there? I don't know shit 'bout saving lives. Besides, cops told me not to bother, said there was nothing no one could do that the hospital couldn't do for itself. Anyways, Im meant to be at Euphoria. On Long Island. Thirty miles away. Right now. That was why I was up there, remember, to get Skippy, share a car there. We can't both miss it. They'll kill us."
"Like that would really be a concern for Skippy right now."
"Skippy gets shot and all you can think of is playing a rave?"
"Yo, don't come onto me like that, man, he's my friend as well as yours. I'm the one just got grilled by the cops. I'm the one who sees him all fucked up like that. Shit, man, I get there a minute earlier, could have been me lying in that hospital bed right now."
"Yeah, well it isn't." I pause to try and take it all in but it's too loud to think. Someone could get shot right here in the dee jay booth and no one would hear a thing. The music is fast, but my heart's beating faster, like the tempo of the techno that The Wire plays: crazy fast shit from Rotterdam called gabba. Skippy once told me gabba starts at 150 beats per minute and goes up from there. I breathe deep to control myself. It's not easy.
The Wire takes advantage of my confusion. "Listen, man, I gotta get going." I can't believe he's off to Long Island to spin after what's just happened. Maybe he's not. Maybe he just wants to be the first to spread the news. "They'll probably know about this already," he adds, as if reading my thoughts.
"Word travels fast on this scene."
"Especially when youre the one spreading it," I say. The Wire looks at me like I just complimented him and, as though proud of the fact, puts his arm around me again in a further show of bonhomie. The stench of his sweat is overpowering. The boy's permanently on edge, but I've never known him like this. I slip from his clammy clasp and wonder whether Hedonism management care enough about their DJs getting shot to let me out for the rest of the night. I can't afford to lose my job but I most definitely am not dragging empty bottles round the club while my friend might be dying.
"So where's The Ocean?" I ask The Wire as we both start off down the stairs.
"Five miles high," he replies, and before I can repeat my earlier faux pas, he elaborates. "Just flew out on the red-eye. Got called to Milan at the last minute. Just as well. She couldn'a have dealt with what went down."
"Just as well," I agree. A bullet in her pretty face and she'd sure as hell never work again. We reach the lower balcony and I want rid of him. But I have a final thought and so I turn and put it to him. "So who was the last person to see Skippy conscious then?"
"You tell me," says The Wire. "You live with him."
Continue to PART B PART C