Robby is making a fool of himself to the police. Nothing new there. I’m about to end the ‘Monkey Song,’ when I see a policeman let his dog loose on Robby. Max barks and throws the dog into the bay. I watch as the cop draws his service revolver and shoots Max. The shot rings through out the stadium.
“No. Maxxxxx,” I scream into my mic. I dropped my guitar, creating a thunderous feedback, and run through the boats to where Robby and the boys are holding Max.
Pandemonium breaks out after the shot. All the people in the stands start running to the exits. I can’t believe a cop shot into the crowd because his dog is injured. The boat people are gunning their engines. The melee of boats causes people to fall into the water.
“Stop,” I scream into my mic, but no one is listening.
‘Sus keeps his head and refuses to join the boat people melee. I’m able to make it to his boat before it’s stranded in the no-man zone between the stage and the shore. Tears are streaming down my face as I hold Max and John.
“Max, Max, Max,” I scream into the open mic.
John just shakes his head.
“He’s gone,” I scream over and over. It echoes through the empty stadium. Finally someone pulls the plug on my mic. John and I are hugging Max’s lifeless head lying across our laps. ‘Sus slowly motors the boat to the stage. Jack rushes to pull us up onto the concrete structure. Michael is screaming at Robby, blaming him for the shooting. When Jenna rushes up to him, they embrace and Michael forgets about Robby. Hippie and the girls huddle together. I look around, still in shock. Stu and Mike Jr. unwrap John from Max and lead him away.
“Look, Tim. The other opening band is leaving by boat. The concert is over,” Jack tries to get me to look away from Max.
I sigh and look at him. “The show must go on,” I decide.
Van Zant is arguing with the stage manager, while Tom and Robby look on. All the mics and amps are off.
“Get on your drum kits,” I yell at Michael and Robby. Looking at Ronnie Van Zant , I yell, “We’ll do ‘Free Bird.’”
The boys launch the drum intro. Van Zant gets the sound man to turn the power back on to the amps and mics. I start into the long guitar intro. Robby does his bird whistles. Tom picks up his ax and joins me, as does Jack.
“Skynyrd, get out here,” I yell, the mic carrying it throughout the stadium. The guitars are deafening. There are only about a hundred fans still in the stands. They turn around and give us a big cheer. The big sound coming from the stage brings many fans back from the parking lot. I grab Mary and take her over to the stage mic, motioning Ron to join her.
“We do your song as a duet,” I tell him. He smiles at Mary. They join hands. The other Skynyrd musicians came on stage and hook into our amps. The crowd is yelling and stomping. The song is thundering as the long intro leads up to the vocals. Robby does more bird calls. Ronnie sings the first line and nods to Mary to do the second, alternating through the verses. Tom does the guitar licks, while I’m picking the notes to the piano part.
“If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me
For I must be travelin’ on now
There’s too many places I got to see…”
The hoots and hollers, during the long guitar lead in, are stilled as the crowd sees Van Zant singing to Mary. At the end of the first verse, the crowd lets out a sigh. The air rumbles with applause. The guitars answer and overcomes the rumble with more leads and riffs than the first time through. When the vocals come in again, Van Zant takes Mary in his arms as they sing together, staring into each other’s eyes.
“And this bird you cannot change
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
And the bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows, I can’t change
Lord help me, I can’t change
Lord I can’t change
Won’t you fly high free bird yeah”
VAN ZANT, RONNIE / COLLINS, ALLEN
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
They thrust away from each other then reunite and walk off stage, arm in arm together.
By now at least half the crowd has returned to the stands. People were screaming, “No! No!” and “Come back…”
They return, Mary bows. The Jacettes run out onto the stage. The rest of Skynyrd has come on stage and breaks into ‘Sweet Home, Alabama.’
We kept playing with them, yelling “Florida,” in place of “Alabama.”
That’s it for me. I lay with the In-Crowd kids surrounding Max, still strumming my SG. All those memories that he was a part of are flooding away from me. It’s like losing Jace all over again. Jack comes over and sits so I could lay my head in his lap.
“It’s bringing Jace up again, isn’t it,” he whispers in my ear.
I just nod, gulping air when I try to talk. Jay comes over and tells us there’s a boat to take us back to the staging area. I’m numb. Jack grabs our guitars. We make our way backstage where the boat is waiting. Skynyrd continues their set as planned. The crowd gets their money’s worth. I try to remember the details of our performance. It’s a blur until I remember the cop raising his gun and shooting Max. That memory is burned in stone. I’m crying again. Jack holds me tight, while Jay hovers above us, concerned but unsure how to respond.
Skynyrd plays for another hour. They have to do three encores. Van Zant gets Robby and Tom to come out for a final bow. We hear cries for False Gods, but we’re through for the night. Robby and Tom lead Van Zant and the rest of the band into the tent, pulls a joint out from behind his long hair, and passes it around. Ronnie comes over, confused by our departure from the stage.
“We’d of jammed with y’all instead of playing our set. That was the best part.”
Jay explains the importance of Max and the story of Jace’s death.
“Jesus, no wonder,” he exclaims, reaching down and stroking Max’s cold body. “With all this drama, no wonder you play like seasoned rockers. How’d you manage to get everyone playing ‘Bird?’”
“Rock n Roll, man,” I sniff.
“Keep on rockin’, boy.” He walks away.
I feel better, but I know it will never be as much fun. Max was the heart and soul of our band. Jack goes to get a couple of beers from the catering. I take a sip but the taste just reminds me of how bitter I feel. That cop killed our dog.
To punctuate that thought, three policemen walk into the tent. All the smokers instantly go out the back. The cops come over and confirm that Max is dead. The bile in my stomach races up to my throat. I vomit explosively. The cops jump back, while Jack holds me until I’m done. I glare at the cops.
“Are you Tim Castle and is this your dog?” the cop not in uniform asks.
I nod twice.
“You have to come with us. Is that your beer?
“I’m not drinking it.”
At this point, Jay rushes over and intervenes. The cops explain that I need to be questioned about the shooting.
“We already have enough evidence to hold him,” the uniformed cop points at the beer. “And obviously there is illegal drug activity going on here.”
“He’s not going anywhere without his parent or a legal authority going with him.”
“Who are you?” the cop asked.
“I’m the band’s manager. I work for Michael Antonio. He’s Tim’s lawyer.”
“We know who Michael Antonio is. He has interfered with our canine unit before.”
“I will call Michael. We can meet at his office on Monday morning so you can conduct your investigation at that time. You’re not taking this boy anywhere. He’s been traumatized enough tonight.” Jay really knows how to stand up for me.
“Have it your way. But, I’m taking this beer, as evidence.”
“Maybe you should be speaking with spectators of the incident to confirm that your officer shot into a crowd, endangering a lot of people, instead of arresting this boy who was on stage at the time.”
“We’ll conduct our investigation in our way. This is my card. Call me about Monday’s interrogation.”
The officers leave in a huff. Two uniformed officers come and take away Max’s lifeless body, ‘for evidence.’
I’m on my two feet for the police exchange with Jay. Now, Jack is holding me up.
“What was that all about,” I ask Jay. “After siccing a dog on Robby and killing Max, they want to arrest me for one sip of beer?”
“They just want to find someone to blame in order to take the spotlight off their abuse of power.”
“Well, thanks, Jay. You saved me from them.”
“Let’s hope they get their heads on right before Monday. The Miami Police are probably boiling mad about losing crowd control tonight. They have a lot to answer for.”
“What’s the worst that can happen to me?”
“Don’t worry. They’ll calm down. Michael has their number for prior abuse with dog incidents in the Black community.”
“Let’s get you all out of here. I need pizza and beer, myself.”
In short order we’re at Sorrento’s. Everyone is excited about our performance and seems over the gloom about losing Max. Jack quiets everyone down by saying that I may be arrested on Monday.
“What the hell for, being a faggot?” Robby jokes.
“Yeah. And you’ll be the first witness to testify for the prosecution.”
Jay stops our repartee, “I spoke to Michael’s dad. He wants no one to talk about the investigation to anyone. The cops are looking for a scapegoat to cover up their abusive behavior tonight.”
That pretty much kills our buzz from the night’s show, no matter how great a show it had been, Max’s death is a shroud over our spirits. Now the police investigation is just the icing on a rotten cake.
“Rock n Roll sucks,” I think for the first time.
I turn to Jack, “Your house tonight?”
His smile perks me up. “We can practice prison sex,” he jokes.
I gulp, then guffaw at the thought of going to prison for a sip of beer.
Prison sex turns out to be no sex. I’m too drained to satisfy anyone, even ever horny Jack. I wake up to find him setting out outfits for us to attend church.
“We need to present a wholesome attitude at tomorrow’s interrogation,” he explains.
I’m more interested in Isabelle’s breakfast than image burnishing. I’m still frazzled but look decent in Jack’s suit and tie.
Mr. Stone looks up from reading the paper as we enter the dining room.
“You boys certainly have the Herald’s attention. Maybe you can give me the actual story of what happened last night? What I’m reading is too bizarre to believe.”
“It’s worse, Daddy. Tim may go to jail after the police killed his dog.”
“The paper says the police had dogs attack concert goers who had broken in. A policeman had to shoot one to restore order.”
Oh, god. I am going to jail, I realize.
“No, Daddy. The police shot Tim’s dog who was fighting the police dogs. He was defending the band.”
“You mean, Max, as reported in the Herald.”
“Everyone knows Max, Daddy.”
“Well, I don’t, but that isn’t important.”
I suddenly realize how Dad is probably as upset about Max as I am. He’ll blame me regardless of the circumstances….who ya gonna call?
“I gotta call Mike Sr. May I be excused?” I ask.
“What about breakfast?” Jack whines.
Oh for god’s sakes. For once, I detest his self-absorption.. No, no…
“I’ll be right back.”
I get Jay on the phone, who quickly understands my concern about the law. He has to be filled-in about my gun-touting, police supporter dad.
“Let’s just concentrate on Monday’s interview,” he suggests.
“Please, Jay. I need to talk with Mike.”
“You’re the boss.”
“I thought Mike Sr. was the boss, but I’ll take it.”
“Go over and practice. Mike will join you.”
“Jay, you know I love you.”
“That will get you everywhere,” he laughs.
“Well?” Jack interrogates me.
“We have to go practice after breakfast.”
“No song and dance?” Daddy asks.
“Just, ‘aaaaaaaaaah, that’s all folks,’” as I bite down on a celery stalk.
I sit next to Jack, who finally looks worried .
“It’s okay. I need to speak with Mike Sr.,” I explain.
“I was hoping to get your side of the story,” Daddy looks me in the eye.
“Well, the easy answer is Robby, but I bear the responsibility for all our actions. We put on a show like never before. It’s what we do. We played before 5,000 people and we rocked.”
“The voice of youth is heard.”
I grab Jack. We pedaled to Michael’s. No one is up, so we let ourselves in. Michael is sleeping in his room – alone.
“Wake up, Italian Stallion,” we both rough-housed him into a sitting position.
“What’s up,” he mumbles.
“Meet us in the music room.”
“Why?” after thinking it through.
“Never mind. Join us when you can,” I dismiss him.
He plops under the covers. Jack jumps in as well, whispering in his ear. Michael’s eyes go wide open in shock, until Jack jumps out of his bed.
“What did you whisper?” I ask.
“That this may be our last chance to be together.”
“Why was he looking so shocked, then.”
“He has homophobia.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“Fear of homos.”
“He’s not afraid of me.”
“You don’t jump in his bed and whisper in his ear.”
We settle into the music room, sitting opposite each other, with the amps barely on.
“Let’s write a song,” Jack suggests.
“Jail house blues,
I got the jail house blues.
I need the news my pardon’s come through.
Jail house blues.
Jail house blues.”
“No,” Jack complained. “No time for blues. I need a funky love song.
“Sally in the alley,
Takin’ my time
Make her feel fine
Making me dally”
“You, dick. Stop pretending you like chicks,” he complains.”
“Back at the alley,
Sally looks sadly
Dusts off and smiles
Loves my wild wiles.”
Jack plays Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
‘all that glitters is gold,
And I’m buying my way into heaven.’ I sang
We smile at each other and laugh.
“Why can’t it always be this way?” Jack asks.
“Someday we’ll be boring together. We’ll be old.”
“Fuck, no. I don’t wanna live that long,” Jack, the romantic.
“This will never get old,” I reach out and kiss him.
Michael and Jenna walk in.
“Caught you,” Michael crows.
“Are we stealing your make-out place?” I answer back.
Michael just holds Jenna tighter. She smiles. Just two couples together.
He sits at the drums and casually runs through several rolls and riffs.
“Trying to impress your girl,” Jack teases.
“Don’t havta,” Michael smiles.
Jack runs a long string of a leads, which Michael deftly follows.
“I’m dazed and confused…”
I started the verse, until I see the adoration in Jack’s eyes.
“You don’t need to impress me, either,” I quip, looking at Jenna.
We all smile.
“You guys recover fast,” Mike Sr. complains as he arrives, still in night-clothes and a robe.
“We’ll go get coffee,” Michael suggests. I shoo Jack to go with them, so I’ll be alone with Mike Sr.
“I can’t say I didn’t know this would happen,” is all he says.
He wants an explanation. There was no excuse. John could’ve died. How would I feel about that?
His face holds no hint of amusement or encouragement.
“I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”
“Juvie, because you’re unsupervised and insufferable.”
I look down. I have nothing to say.
“Let’s concentrate on tomorrow. It will be inadvisable for me to show up at your interrogation. Jay will do it. Be honest and not sarcastic. Show no fear about their threats. You are innocent.”
“Except for a sip of beer.”
“You’re a juvenile. They can do whatever they want to you. I’ll go through channels to resolve all this. The bigger story should have nothing to do with you. Keep your mouth shut.”
“So, I tell them what happened to me, without going into detail of what I saw happening.”
“Good. If they ask you about what you saw, just say you don’t remember.”
“Okay. What about my dad. He loved Max and, I’m sure, will blame me for losing him.”
“I’m your lawyer, not your therapist. Talk to your mother. Get her to calm him down. You miss Max, too. Bond.”
“You’re always right.”
“You’re always plotting three moves ahead. Just stop manipulating everyone, especially me.”
I want to hug him but know better.
“Right.” As I realize I stopped myself from crying, I could at last look him in the eye. Grew me some.
I call home, praying Mom will answer. But prepared for the worst. Of course, Dad picks up.
What,” he sounds curtly.
“Tim. You get home this instant.”
“Yes, sir,” and I hang up.
I look across the room at Mike Sr. and shake my head. He nods back.
I whisper in Jack’s ear, “I have to go home alone. Please let me do this.”
He looks as shocked as Michael had been when he whispered into his ear. I kiss each eye shut, turn, and leave.
Riding home alone means I play all the possible scenarios over and over. I’m totally busted. Playing the Max card is too obvious to Dad’s bullshit detector. My only hope is Mom, but I have to save that one for life or death. Mike Sr. planted the right seed. I have to rely on Dad to save me, by showing him how much I need his trust. Jace’s approval pings in my heart. I sigh and walk in, sitting next to him before he has to tell me to. It has been awhile since I faced the music like this. Mom is in the kitchen, oblivious. I have a definite sense of déjà vu.
“He’s dead, Dad. The cops shot Max when he was protecting Jace’s little brother.”
All the suppressed tears come flooding out. Dad glares at me.
“Don’t you dare cry in front of me. You’re the reason Max is dead.”
My newly found ability to stop the tears kicks in.
“Dad, the cops killed Max.”
“You will not disparage the police in this house.”
“Max is a hero. He died (I hiccup) protecting us. I loved him so much. I know you did, too.”
“Stop it. I blame you. You know it’s your fault.”
“I loved Max, too,” speaking, his eyes glisten.
“Dad, what am I going to do? The police want to arrest me for drinking a beer.”
His eyes turns icy.
“We both know that is the least of your crimes.”
“You’re right, but I need you to stand up for me.”
“Where’s Mike Antonio?”
“He’ll help but can’t be at my police interview. Dad, I need you,” I implore.
“You expect me to cover up all your misdeeds, to lie.”
“I promise to tell the truth. I did nothing wrong. You have to show you believe me. Without your support, no one will believe me. With you defending me, they’ll back down..”
“Tell me why they’re after you when Max is the one who died?”
“We caused a riot at the show, playing Dixie and riling up all the Southern boys from North Florida. The police lost control. They let their dogs loose on the crowd. A police dog attacked our friends who were sitting in a boat. Max defended them. The dog handler shot and killed him.”
I break down a little, prompting Mom to come in and comfort me. Dad is still glaring at me, but Mom makes him nervous.
“Well, as long as you admit it was all caused by the riot you started and don’t accuse the police of killing Max, I will go to the interview with you.”
Mom beams at him. “Maybe we can start thinking of getting a new dog,” she suggests. She just doesn’t understand dog lovers.
“But there are new rules around here until everything is cleared up. You’re on restriction. You come home directly after school lets out. No more sleepovers here or at the Stones. Has Jack even told his parents?”
“We had a long conversation about what happened with his father over breakfast. He knows what we talked about.”
“Will Jack be arrested too?”
“Not unless I tell them it was him that gave me the beer.”
“’He,’ Tim,” Mom pipes in. “It was he that gave it to you.”
“That doesn’t matter. The boys were breaking the law and must suffer the consequences. But it can’t be that serious. Even we allow you to drink on occasion.”
Nothing is said about not using the phone. I call Jack. Our fears are warranted – we are to be separated.
“It’s all my fault, getting you that beer.”
“No, Jack. My dad knows we’ve been bending the rules for months. We caused a riot. Max was killed. It coulda been John that was shot.”
“You’re siding with your dad?”
“Because he’s siding with me. It’s my only hope for staying out of jail, by showing I have ‘adult’ supervision.’”
“We can still see each other at school and talk on the phone.”
“Just the places to have sex.”
“We’ll figure it all out. All you have to do is stop smoking dope.”
“It’s more than being high that makes me need you.”
“Will you tell everyone that I’ll only be gone temporarily?”
“Tim, I can’t stand it.”
“We’ll get through this.”
We cry together before hanging up. Tears don’t help.
Jay calls and says everything is arranged to meet at their office on Brickell Avenue at 9 am. I tell him that Dad is coming and that he wants me to confess my guilt and not blame the police.
“That’s not a bad strategy. Just tell them what you did and avoid describing what you saw.”
“That’s what Mike says.”
“We’ll all be on the same page.”
“Dad’s a big police supporter.”
“That may work in your favor.”
We arrive early enough to be settled in the conference room when the police investigators arrive.
“Where’s Mr. Antonio?” is their first question.
“He asked me to help Tim,” Jay answered. “Is this just an interview or is Tim being accused of a crime?”
“We can take him in right now for the open beer and being involved in drug activity.”
“Then I’ll get Mr. Antonio to represent him if he’s being charged.”
“He’s not being charged yet. We are investigating the circumstances that led to the shooting at the stadium.”
“Let’s get started. I assume you will read him his Miranda rights if you plan to charge him with a crime. Remember, it was his dog who was shot. Luckily there were no other fatalities.”
“There were plenty of injuries from the melee during their set. We want him to describe what happened and what these boys had planned that led to the incident.”
I began, “We never plan what happens. We play to the crowd. We’d never played in a stadium setting. In clubs and frats, the small space keeps the mayhem under control. We never thought it would be worse than our singer being chased up a tree by football players.”
The interviewer guffaws.
Dad steps in. “Tim knows they were wrong to incite a riot and is willing to take the consequences of his actions. He’s already on complete restriction. He knows right from wrong.”
“Thank you, Col. Castle. We know you are a strong supporter of our department. Is it possible that Tim’s rebellious attitude is a teenager’s reaction to strict parenting?”
“I’ve always been strict with Tim. He has always been a good student and athlete. This year with the band, we had serious disagreements but in the end I supported him. I don’t understand the music business. The truth is that he and I are closer than ever before. He will be my best man when I marry my fiancée.”
“What about his drinking and associating with drug users?”
“I believe him when he says he only took a sip and didn’t want any more. The drug use at the concert is certainly something I condemn. I once worried he may be on drugs. It turns out he was just growing up and challenging some of the rules we had set. I’m proud of his being City Swimming Champion last year. The protest to end de facto segregation at Gables High was justified. The result has been positive. Singing at churches and performing at Easter services in New York made me very proud. He is a good boy. Tell the officer what happened Saturday night,” he orders me.
I give the police the chronicle of our performance. I explain, “We played ‘Dixie’ and ‘Born a Rebel’ to welcome the other bands to South Florida and to get their fans on our side. I was playing when the crowd broke down the fence. I didn’t notice what happened with the boat people until Max jump into ‘Sus’s boat. Max was John’s dog before his brother Jace was killed. I instinctively knew Max went to defend John. When Max was shot, I jumped from boat to boat to be with him. It was too late. He had died. The rest is all a blur. I was back on stage. We played with Lynyrd Skynyrd to calm everyone down. The rest of the concert I was with the kids holding Max’s body behind the stage.”
“You didn’t try to start a riot?”
“We try to get everyone excited and dancing to our music. We were stunned when there was a gun shot. All the fans started to leave. I started playing Skynyrd’s hit ‘Free Bird,’ to get them to come back. It mostly worked and the concert was finished as planned.”
“So. What happened isn’t your fault?”
“No. I know from talking with Dad that we are to blame. He really loved Max and is really mad at me for getting him killed. Max was just defending us. I should have been more mature about putting him into that situation.”
“You don’t blame the officer for shooting Max?”
“He was just defending his dog. Max had thrown it out of ‘Sus’s boat. The boys were there to see us play, not causing trouble. I don’t know what went wrong. If I had not brought Max to be part of the show, he would still be alive .”
“You’re not going to make a big deal about your dog being shot?”
“How can I? I’m on restriction.”
They all laugh.
The tension in the room evaporates.
“Do you have any further questions?” Jay asks.
“No. You all have been very cooperative. I think Tim is more the victim here. He needs to know he can’t drink beer until he’s 18 and to not associate with people doing drugs.
“I have a question,” the uniformed officer pipes up. “Are you Teen Jesus?”
“Oh, God,” everyone on our side of the conference table murmurs.
“That is the Miami PD’s fault,” I assert. “At a street performance in the Grove, a redneck attacked Jack. I held him down until an officer arrived. After it was all settled, he asked me if I thought Jesus was a rowdy teenager in his youth. It’s just a crazy idea that gets people to see religion in a more positive light.”
“Well, we’re not going to crucify you yet.”
“That’s a relief,” Everyone laughs. The meeting breaks up.
I hug Dad for standing up for me.
“Isn’t that what you say, that you learned it from growing up in the military? We back each other up.”
“You’re my hero, again.” I gush. Over Dad’s shoulder I can see Mike Sr. smiling. No legal fees for this crime.
“Well, don’t expect me to loosen your restriction because you claim to like me.”
I laugh. Little do I know how serious he is.