Hope you enjoy it! First chapter is just after the break.
Alistair Cameron pushed the body of his guitar against its amplifier sending squalls of feedback coruscating through the room. His free hand reached down and adjusted the controls, making the noise swell. He looked over at Roddie pounding the drum kit and realised the song wasn’t going to end any time soon.
Grinning, he unstrapped the guitar and propped it against the amp before setting to work on his pedal board, fifteen Boss and Fender units interconnected in an array he’d taken months to perfect. He applied a layer of delay before gradually increasing the reverb. On a beat, his right hand slammed down on an overdrive pedal then a distortion two bars later, while his left mimicked a foot and added a wave of wah wah.
Through the noise, he could just about pick up Roddie’s clattering drum pattern signalling the end. He looked over at Gary, head down and noodling away on his bass, keeping some semblance of song together. Their eyes locked. Alistair nodded at Gary then over at Roddie who swept into a long snare roll stretching over four bars. Alistair gradually switched off pedal after pedal before carefully retrieving his guitar just in time to crash in on the final chord.
The sound stopped dead, echoes of the cymbals dying away.
“If there was an audience,” said Gary, “they’d be going mental just now.”
Alistair nodded as he looked around the practice room, four whitewashed walls and a bare ceiling above a concrete floor, the equipment of two bands rammed into the tiny space. “Not long till we have a proper crowd.”
Roddie grinned. “You almost didn’t make the last chord there. One pedal too many.”
Alistair shrugged, trying to affect the cool the singer of a band should have. “I was tempted to put another one on.” He sat down on his amp and flicked it to standby. “Reckon that’s us for tonight?”
“Think so,” said Roddie, before reaching round and tossing a can of beer over to Alistair.
“Cheers.” He inspected it, a cheap supermarket brand. He wasn’t one to turn down free beer, so tentatively opened it, careful not to catch the gush of foam on his clothes, shoes, guitar or pedals. The floor got it instead, another sticky patch that would take weeks to clear.
“That was a good practice,” said Gary.
“Damn right.” Roddie avoided the spray as he opened his can.
“Nice to kick back and relax now,” said Alistair, feeling genuinely spent from the exertions of running through their twenty-five minute set four times, almost eradicating errors.
“Not quite,” said Gary, taking a sip of vodka straight from the bottle.
“Eh?” said Alistair.
“Tonight’s the night,” said Gary, mouth twisting into an evil grin.
Alistair rolled his eyes. “You still on about that?” he said, trying to sound tired.
“Aye, and I won’t stop until you finally do it.” Gary picked up a copy of The List, the Glasgow and Edinburgh what’s-on guide, and showed it to Alistair. “The deal was, I arrange the gig and you go for a wander down there.”
Alistair shook his head. “You’re such a bloody child.” He looked around, desperate for an excuse. “I need a torch.”
Gary grinned again as he took one out of his hoodie pocket. “Here you go. No more excuses.”
“You really want me to do this?” said Alistair, trying to sound grown up, challenging Gary to see the error of his childish ways.
It didn’t work. Gary prodded him in the chest. “A deal’s a deal,” he said, punctuating each word with a poke.
Alistair’s eyes pleaded with Roddie.
“Don’t look at me,” said the drummer. “This is between you pair.” He cracked open another beer before belching.
“Fine,” said Alistair, feeling his blood rise.
Gary turned to a dog-eared page. “Here.”
It was an interview with Expect Delays, the local band made good. Alistair was obsessed with them, almost as much as Gary. Top five singles, a number one album and supporting U2 at Hampden next week. Miles better than playing to the proverbial ‘three blokes and a murderer’ at Bannerman’s, like they would on Sunday.
“What am I supposed to be looking for here?” said Alistair.
Gary’s fat finger pointed to a chunk of interview text. “This bit.”
Alistair read the interview with Neeraj Patel, Expect Delays’ guitarist, talking about the practice room they used as an unsigned band in Edinburgh.
“I know they practised here,” said Alistair. “That’s why we got the room.”
“That’s not it,” said Gary. “Read on.”
“Right, so they went for a wander along an old street under the Old Town? Big deal.”
“Says you can walk for miles under here,” said Gary. “Can’t believe they did that, man. It’s fate. If we do it, maybe we’ll get signed, too.”
“I don’t think it works like that,” said Alistair, sweating despite the cold.
“You’re not going back on our deal, are you?” said Gary.
Alistair tried again with the maturity act, this time folding his arms. He got nowhere. “Right, fuck it,” he said, getting to his feet and snatching the torch from Gary.
“Good man,” said Gary.
Alistair stormed out of the room, swinging the torch by its cord. They were on the second level down and the entrance was on the next, the lowest. He waited with Gary while Roddie locked the door then headed down the stone stairs.
He heard the sound of at least one other band bleeding through the walls. He checked his watch – still another fifty minutes till they had to lock up.
Alistair stopped by the heavy door and turned round. “You coming with me?”
Gary rubbed his hands together. “Of course.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Roddie.
Alistair grimaced before marching on. The lack of whitewash was the only difference between the rehearsal space and the old street.
An old paraffin lantern hanging from a wall reminded him of Mary King’s Close, the sanitised tourist attraction he’d visited with school.
This was different – an ancient road that led off Niddry Street before the buildings of South Bridge sprang up in the nineteenth century. The smell of damp – always present in their room – worsened as they progressed deeper.
They came to a crossroads that opened out slightly. Alistair quickly ascertained two of the paths were bricked up, leaving right as the only option. He shone the torch into the gloom, the beam dying long before it reached a distant wall. The hair on his arms pricked up. He swallowed hard and marched on, trying to recall the exact terms of the deal – he reckoned another hundred footsteps ought to do it, but he didn’t know whether Gary would see it that way.
“What was that?” said Roddie.
“Your burp,” said Alistair, briefly turning round.
“No, I swear I heard something.”
Alistair gritted his teeth and strode on, determined to get it over with. After another fifty or so paces, the path curved hard to the left. He was aware of their breath behind him, loud in the darkness. “This’ll do.”
“Nowhere near enough, mate,” said Gary. “Keep going.”
“Come on, man,” said Alistair.
“Don’t ‘come on, man’ me.” Gary stabbed a finger at his chest. “I say when it’s over, not you.”
Alistair pushed on. After another twenty seconds, he stopped dead and turned to face the others. “I swear I heard something.”
Gary scowled. “Quit it. Roddie’s trick didn’t work on you, so you’re trying it on me now?”
Alistair swivelled back round, the torch dancing on the stone walls. The light bounced off something metallic. “What’s that?”
“Enough,” said Gary.
“I mean it,” said Alistair, pointing down with the torch. “Look. Something’s glinting.”
“Might be some old money or something,” said Roddie. He laughed and spoke in a stupid voice. “Maybe it’s gold. Maybe a treasure chest.”
“I doubt it,” said Gary.
Alistair inched forward, flicking the torch across the ground. As they approached, he saw something long and thin. He stopped and looked closer. A screwdriver. He crept on, training the torch ahead. The light shone on something and he let out a gasp.
A body was propped against the wall.