Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 11 of 41
Excerpt: “You’re going in there??” Taylor’s jaw dropped. Pub, he’d heard. Tavern, he’d heard. Each of those words, to his 90’s mind, suggested, wood, fireplaces, coziness. But this! This was a full out waterfront brothel! Andy chuckled, and hauled Taylor in by the sleeve. “What’s the matter, you shy?
“Where is he?” Samuel Gage sipped his coffee, his eyes on the doorway. “Bed.” His wife’s reply was terse. An ongoing battle, the fight to get Josh up and out of bed at a reasonable hour, had grown stale. She was, quite frankly, sick of it. “Still? What time did he come in?” Sarah sighed, and slid eggs onto his plate. “The same time he usually does, Sam. Out till all hours with those no good friends. Did you know he’s met another?” “Another… I’ve made him an appointment with Simms. That typesetters position won’t hold forever, if he doesn’t get in there today, he’ll miss.” “He wants to miss, you know that.” She sighed again, heavily, and mentally said goodbye to any chance at a hot breakfast. Between her husband, her other four children who DID need her to cook and wait on them, and Josh, who only expected it, she hadn’t had a hot meal in years. “I’ll go get him out of bed, Sam.” “You do that.” He turned to his breakfast with the same stony determination that characterized everything about Samuel Gage, making Sarah ponder the situation. How had a man such as Samuel, produced a son like Joshua, with no morals, no honesty, no goodness in him? Frowning, knowing that was frustration talking, she climbed the stairs to his room. Josh had always been a good boy, thoughtful and loving, good to his little brothers and sisters. Until the music came along. Until he began to fancy himself talented, a star, and too good to associate with the likes of family. Or, for that matter, to hold a job. “Well, I can’t expect him to take a job to support the riffraff now can I?” Muttering, Sarah knocked on his door, once, before going in. As she approached her sleeping son, she found herself involuntarily sniffing the air. “Ah, no smell of spirits this morning, thank goodness… Josh!” She spoke gently. Nothing. “Josh!!” Slightly louder, gratified at a flinch. “Joshua, wake up now!” She gave him a rough shake and his eyes flickered open. “Ma! What?!” “Joshua get up now.” “No, Ma, I just went to sleep! Leave me alone!” “Joshua, I mean it. You have an appointment today at the paper. Get out of bed.” “Ma, God, I just…” “You’ll not use that language under this roof. Now get up. It’s bad enough you spend the night with your scalliwag friends, you needn’t think you’ll be lounging in bed all day while the rest of this family works! You have an appointment today to accept employment. You’ll make the appointment, and you’ll accept the position. Now get up before your father leaves his breakfast.” Scowling, thinking that between her nagging, and his father yelling, he stood no chance of sleep anyway, he waved her away. “I’m not getting up until you leave, a bit of modesty alright?” She nodded tiredly, and left him there, wondering where they’d gone wrong.
“Well? Where is he?” Sarah slapped a second slab of bacon into the frypan, struggling to reign in her temper. “I don’t know, Sam. When I left the room he said he was getting up. He’s probably fallen back to sleep… I’ll go…” “No.” Sam slammed his cup down, and shoved his chair back. “I’ll go, and he WILL get up.” “Don’t wake the children.”
“Don’t try my patience…”
He stormed up the stairs, not bothering to knock on his son’s door. Sure enough, there he was, the wastrel, sound asleep. “YOU! GET UP!” His voice, deeper than it was loud, penetrated Josh’s thin sleep, and his eyes flew open. “Da… what’s matter?” “What’s the matter? You are, Joshua. Did your mother come up here to wake you?” “Mmm yes she did, I’m sorry, I fell asleep again.” “Well I’m up here now, and here I’m staying until I see you’re feet on the floor.” Josh groaned, and eyed his father irritably. “Why does it matter if I’m up? I worked all night, Da…” “Worked? WORKED?!” His father’s contemptuous laughter filled the room. “Caterwauling in a brothel until the small hours of the morning, for a few pints!” “I got paid…” “Oh did you now? Well let’s have a look at this great pay, shall we?” “It’s gone Da, it’s MY money!” “Oh is it now? And this is MY house, and I’ll not have you leaching the lifeblood from this family any longer! You have an…” “Appointment, yes, I know. I’ll not take the job, Da, I don’t want it.”
“You’ll take it, Josh. You’ll take it and you’ll keep it! You’re not going to live under this roof and contribute nothing any longer, am I making myself clear? You’re sixteen years old! And letting your family carry you as if you were feeble! Have you no pride?! Have you no SHAME?! You’re a shame to US I’ll have you know.” “Oh, so you’re ashamed of me now, Da?” Josh’s anger was beginning to boil over. How dare his father speak to him this way? Didn’t he realize who he was talking to? ” Ashamed of me? My face, and my name, are known all over the city! I’m given preferred admission AND seating in high class establishments all over downtown! My singing is sought after, not that you’d know, never having CARED what I do…” “You’re singing is sought after is it? High class establishments it is now? Pier taverns, an brothels! High class…” Sam snorted, waving his son away. He knew where he sang. “You’re high class establishments filled with your high class friends! Tavern whores, and dips! Drunkards and swindlers! At best, other no account wastrels like yourself! Paaaah… you disgust me. Now get out of that bed, and get some decent clothes on. You’ll accept this appointment if I have to hold your hand to paper to sign!” “I”ll not do it, Da. I’m better than that!” Better than that?” His father’s voice had become dangerously soft. “Better than earning an honest wage, and supporting your family? Better than your father are you? I’ve worked my whole life at that paper…” Josh laughed, scoffing. “Better than you, better than a man who can’t read! Better than a man who sets type by rote and has no idea what news he’s printing!” He spun on his father then, gesturing out the window. “There’s a world out there, Da, and I have a better place in it that you do. I have talent. God given talent it would be a SIN to waste. I’m a musician! I’m not a laborer in a newspaper! And there’s nothing wrong with my friends… Oh SHUT UP!” His shout aimed out into the hall, where the sounds of whining and crying could be heard. “Now we’ve done it, we’ve awakened THEM. Next I’ll have Ma up here to join you, and nag me right out onto the street!” “Good place for you then! No account who leaches off the blood of his family…” “Oh stop it… you’ve already said that.” Fuming, Josh pushed past his outraged father, angrily tugging clothes on. “For your information, I’m going with my “wastrel” friends, to practice today. And we’re singing this afternoon. So I won’t be making your appointment…” “You’ll make it. You’ll make it or you’ll be out on the street.” “You’d do that? You’d put out your own son? What do you want my money for anyway, don’t you make enough of your own?” Samuel’s hand flashed out and connected with a sharp crack, to the side of Josh’s face. “You’ll speak respectfully in this house, boy.” Only slightly subdued, Josh clamped his lips shut, silently fuming. How dare he? “You have no decency, do you Josh?” The anger in Sam’s voice was fast becoming bewilderment. “You care nothing for your family, nothing for what’s right, you care only for those despicable creatures you call friends…” Josh barked laughter, and raised his head. “My friends care about me, Da. They don’t spend every waking moment telling me how BAD I am.” “Likely don’t know any better.” “They know. What do you want Da, that I should have friends like yours? Stony, stubborn factory workers who’s Irish is so thick you can’t understand a word they say, who can’t read, and beat their wives after a trip to the pub! And the women! You wonder why I favor the brothel girls?! They at least know how to smile! And sing! And have FUN! They know there’s more to life than church, sewing, hymns… they know how to show a man a good time! Although…” His grin turned wolfish, as he eyed the many children running back and forth in the hall. “It sure looks like Ma, good church woman that she is, surely knows how to uncross her legs…” His words were cut off, his father striking with cobralike speed, once, twice, finally a blow so severe it sent the stunned boy tumbling, fetching up against the wall. “Now…” Sam straightened his shirt, catching his breath. “You’ll never disrespect your mother again, do you understand me?” Josh nodded, shock stealing his words. He’d been hit before, certainly, but never with such violence. And his own words sickened him. Why had he said that? “You’ll dress yourself as a gentleman. You’ll find your way to the paper at noon today. You’ll meet with Mr. Simms. You’ll thank him for his generosity in offering, and holding, this position for you. You’ll accept the position. And you will come home and help your mother. Am I understood?” Josh nodded again, wiping blood from his split lip. “Speak when you’re spoken to, Joshua.” “Yes, Da, I’ll be there…” “See that you are.” He turned on his heel then, and strode from the room, scooping up children on his way down the stairs.
Josh pulled away irritable. “Don’t touch it, Andy.” Andy drew back his hand, from his concerned study of Josh’s lip. “Will it hurt to sing, Josh?” Josh sighed. His whole face was bruised, and sore, but the lip was a real misery. “I don’t know. I don’t think so… I have to sing, even if it does, it’s already on the books” “So you really have to go work for the paper? ” Josh nodded sullenly. “Yeah, I have to go over at noon and THANK the bloke for taking me on.” “How are you going to have time to…” “I won’t have time. He’s so unfair…” “I’ll say, but my Da’s the same, thinks I’m just wasting my time… hey here comes your friend. Thought he was a no show.” “So did I…” Josh waved, catching Taylor’s attention. “What if you just don’t go then?” Josh looked at Mickey, amazed. “You’d like him to take my head off next time, would you?” “No… but…” “I know… hey Taylor. You want to meet these guys today, or did you think you’d like to follow in the shadows again?” Taylor laughed, flushing, and kicked at Josh’s foot. “Shut up. I’m sorry about that…” He shaded his eyes, and turned a little, from the sun arrowing into them. Man it was bright out here. His vision clear, he caught sight of the spectacular rainbow of bruises that was Josh’s face, and his mouth fell open. “Holy SHIT man, what happened to you?!” Josh waved the question away, closing his eyes wearily. “Leave it, Taylor. Here… sit down.” Taylor, not at all sure, took the seat on the grass he’d been offered. “Fellas, this is Taylor. Taylor…” He waved a hand. “That redhead there is Mickey. You watch out for him, he’ll rob you blind.” “Hey…!” “Aaaah Micky, swallow it. That there…” He indicated a short stocky blond, who reminded Taylor of Zac. “That’s Andrew. If you call him Andrew, he’ll bite the nose off your face, so call him Andy…” The boy grinned cheerfully, and Taylor found himself smiling back. “That bloke over there, that’s Peter. He’s harmless.” Peter stuck his tongue out and flopped onto the grass. “Were we going to do something today, Josh? Or did you just want to run us down to this fellow?” “Ah,” Josh reached out and gave Peter’s cheek a twist. “We’re going to do something today. Remember what I told you last night? Taylor says he’s a singer…” “Oh, yeah… are you Taylor?” “Well I…” “Do you sing around here?” “Well no, I…” “What do you do, do you sing solo, or do you sing harmony?” “I sing…” “Is he just here for today or are you joining him?” “No, no… I’m not…” “Did you ever sing in front of an audience?” Taylor finally gave up, falling backward onto the grass, laughing. “Hey.” Josh’s quiet voice stilled them. “How can he answer you if you don’t hush? Now lets get to work.”
Josh eyed the sun, and sighed. “Well, this is it boys. Time for me to leave you…” He sighed melodramatically, and Andy tossed a wad of grass into his face. “You want to wait here for me, or meet me at the pub?” “We have to be there at two.” “I can make two. If I can’t, I’ll walk out and I’ll just have to go live with Taylor and his friends…” Taylor’s sudden shocked expression pleased him, and he laughed, really laughed, for the first time all morning. “You okay with these blokes?” Taylor shrugged, grinning a little. “If they don’t want me around, I know my way home.” “Oh, no no. No going home. You are coming to the pub tonight.” “Oh, I am?” “Yes, you are. You have no say in the matter whatsoever. Boys… keep an eye on him. He’s trouble, I’m tellin’ you…” He tipped his hat, bowing comically, and ambled up the sidewalk. Taylor watched him, suspecting for no real reason, that his good humor was a total shame. Something was bugging him, and bugging him good. Turning to the other boys, he suddenly became aware of three sets of eyes on him. “I feel like a goldfish you guys, geez…” The comment brought laughter, and a break in the awkward silence that had taken over for a moment. Dropping his eyes, considering, as he listened to the good natured banter between the boys, he finally sighed and let his tone turn serious. “I know he said to drop it, but what happened to him? Something’s bothering him…” Andy nodded, solemnly. “His Da roughed him up good, he did. Wants him to go to work for the paper…” “His DAD did that to him?!”. Taylor was aghast. His own father had been known to smack judiciously from time to time, but he’d never done anything like that. This time it was Pete, nodding matter of factly. “Well yeah, it’s not the first time, won’t be the last. We all have the same problem, because our…” “They don’t understand we just want to sing!” “What about you? Did you have a job back home?” Taylor shrugged, not about to tell them singing WAS his job. “Not really, no.” “You should do music, you’re really good, Josh was right.” Taylor smiled at that, nodding. He knew he was good. “Yeah, well… how does it work around here? You guys talk like you do this professionally…” Pete nodded again. “Josh does it. He gets us places to sing, and he makes all the dates. But we do get paid for it. Course… if he goes to work at the paper we may as well all, because nobody will pay to hear us without Josh.” Taylor shook his head, frowning. “Why do you say that? You’re really good! All of you!” They were. And open to suggestion. They had, he thought, all of the makings of a great vocal group. Even suggestion from him, a virtual stranger, had been taken as part of the melting pot of ideas they tossed around continuously. Some of his suggestions worked, some of them didn’t, and they were merited on that, not on who made them. With the exception of Josh’s very strong dictator tendencies, they were a true democracy in action. They’d make it. But what was this idea they needed Josh? “How come you think that? Just because he’s your leader? Andy, you could take over singing lead, your voice is just as strong as his…” Andy smiled, delighted at the compliment, but shook his head. “No, because people come to see JOSH. We’re like… just the people who back him up. He’s the one people pay to see.” “He’s the one the girls like…” “Yeah the girls…” Mickey grinned. “They love Josh, we could stand there and sleep, and they’d keep paying just to look at Josh. No, without him, there’s no group.”. Taylor was scowling now. That was just stupid… “Not so stupid, is it Taylor?” His brow knit… that voice in his head had sounded like Zac. “I’m hearing things now?” He let himself drift for a moment, gradual dawning awareness that the boys here had just described his own relationship, in his own band. “It’s not like that though. They could go on without me… “But could they? Did HE really believe they could? Suddenly deep in thought, he dug his hands into his hair, tugging on it. “Hey, you alright? Hey!” He jumped, looking up into the concerned eyes of the other boys. “Oh… oh sorry, yeah I was just thinking about stuff…” “Must have been big stuff, you were gone there…” “Yeah… no it’s okay.” “Hey Taylor…” Andy’s voice, suddenly shy. “Do you… do you really think my voice is as good as Josh’s?” Taylor laughed, nodding. “YES. I don’t say what I don’t mean. Josh sings… his voice is wonderful, he has a great voice, and great control. But you have a ton of emotion when you sing, you just go for it. And your voice has a really cool sound, I like it a lot.” “I go flat though, every time it hits a certain range… like this…” He sang a tiny snippet of a song, voice sweet, and clear, until, right on cue, he went flat, grimacing.” Taylor nodded. “Yeah, well that’s one of the reasons you have other people singing harmony. I do that too, we have this song we sing? Every time I sing it I screw it up.” “As bad as me?” “Well… worse! Listen…” The boys listened avidly, eyes scrunching, faces puzzling. What in the world kind of music was this? “Yeah…” When the few lines of song ended, Andy nodded. “You went flat. What WAS that?” “Huh?” “That… that… well I guess you said it was a song. What’s it called?” Taylor felt a sudden sickening falling sensation, and the blood drained from his head. He’d sung them one of HIS songs. One of his songs from the nineties. Just a couple of lines but… “It’s um… it’s called “Where’s the Love.” My brother wrote it, just playing around. Sort of like…” He paused, knowing he’d blown it. “A joke Taylor?” “Yeah, kind of like a joke.” “Well yes you were flat. And it’s not very good music!” Feeling the constriction in his chest ease, as the rest of the boys laughed, Taylor fell back onto the grass, muttering. “ANYWAY case and point.” “What?” “Case and… oh God. I made my point. I go flat. Andy you sing good, okay?!” Andy nodded, beaming at the praise, while at the same time, a tiny niggle of doubt tickled the back of his mind. There was something just WRONG with this kid. There he was again, mumbling to himself, things that made no sense. Like just now, what had he said? “I suck so bad?” What in the world did that mean? Shrugging it off, he let himself smile. “Well, you hungry?” “Yeah always…” “Well come on then… Petey’s mum always feeds us, and boy does she do a spread. You gonna come to the pub with us?” “Is it okay?” A round of nods met the query. Josh had said so, he was going.
“You’re going in there??” Taylor’s jaw dropped. Pub, he’d heard. Tavern, he’d heard. Each of those words, to his 90’s mind, suggested, wood, fireplaces, coziness. But this! This was a full out waterfront brothel! Andy chuckled, and hauled Taylor in by the sleeve. “What’s the matter, you shy? Come on…” He led the astonished Taylor to a stage-side table. “Here, best seat in the house… Mickey, do the honors.” He lounged back, watching Taylor, eyes sparkling with amusement. “Hey Mick, he’s never been in a pub! Look at him…” Mickey laughed, socking Taylor on the shoulder. “Greenie… don’t they have bars where you come from?” Taylor nodded, eyes and mouth wide open, as various heights of cleavage moved in and out of his visual range. “Oh, oh, mate shut your mouth! Something’s going to fly in there… here.” Pete clunked a full beer glass in front of him, and waved a hand comically in front of his eyes. “Lads, I think we’ve killed him, he’s not blinking…” Andy burst into laughter, and punched Taylor solidly, once more. “Wake up, my son! You’ve never been to a pub?” “No I… I’ve been to clubs and stuff but they never let me drink or anything… and it was just…” Shaking his head, catching his equilibrium now, he found himself mentally comparing the place to some of the higher class biker bars, back home. Loud, noisy, chaotic, loose, but nobody appeared to be out for blood, and nobody was having sex on the tables. Absently, he picked up the glass, sipping the beer, making a face. He’d had beer before, occasionally, and wasn’t crazy about it. This was an even harsher brew, bitter and malty. Catching his grimace, Mickey nodded. “Yeah, it’s horrid stuff, but a coupla turns fixes that smart. There’s Josh.” He tipped his head, Taylor’s gaze following the gesture. It was Josh alright, and he didn’t look happy.
Taylor watched, mildly amused, as Josh argued with the barman. His unspeakably bad mood wasn’t doing him any favors, and Taylor found himself wondering why he didn’t have one of the others handle the details. “Mick, how come you guys don’t do any of that?” “Of what… oh the business? That’s Josh’s job, he likes to do it himself. Thinks if we do it we’ll just muck it up.”
“Kinda stuck up, isn’t it?”
“Kind of what?”
Taylor shook his head, sighing. He really had to watch that. “Nothing… I’ll be back in a minute.” He shoved his chair out, holding onto the edge of the table, as balance reasserted itself. He was on his third “pint”, and he was feeling it. Wading through the sea of girls, mildly irked that none of them spared him so much as a glance in their endless gushing over Josh, he made his way toward the increasingly frustrated boy.
“Hey…” “What…” Josh was reaching the end of his patience. This had been set up for weeks and here this fool was, trying to change everything. “What’s wrong, you’re over here looking like you want to kill the next person who crosses your path.” “Oh, forget it…” He turned back to the owner, ready to resume the argument. “It’s not anything you’d understand.” Eyes widening, barely holding in the snort of derision, Taylor set a hand on his friends arm. “Try me… you might be surprised.” Josh sighed, exasperated, and flung a sheet of paper into Taylor’s face. “You see? THIS is what we agreed on. THIS is what they’ve decided they want to do. What is this? Who ever does this? This is…” “Josh, calm down, okay?” Years of practice dealing with his own business affairs kicked in, and Taylor turned to the bar’s owner. “You’ve never done this before?” The man, obviously highly annoyed, shook his head. “It’s an idea, is all it is. There’s no profit you see, because all of the money we make on people coming to see the band, is paid out to the band. We’ve decided that it’s more profitable to pay them based on…” “I know what playing for the door is, man. Save it. If you’ve never done this before, you don’t know if it will work. You’re asking them to risk possibly working all night for free, or close to it.” “Well that’s the…” “Here’s what you need to do, or you can kiss your live act goodbye…” “TAYLOR! Don’t cancel for US, you…” “Shut up, Josh.” Taylor’s tone was mild, but brooked no discussion. “You already contracted to pay them a set amount. For tonight, you’re obligated to pay them at least that much. After tonight if you book, you book for the door. Tonight, charge the door. Pay the band what you get from the door. BUT if it doesn’t reach THIS amount… make up the difference. If it makes more, your idea went well didn’t it?” Thoughtful, hand stroking chin, the man, who’d understood only about 6 in 10 words Taylor had said, gazed at the boys. “And you’re tellin’ me if I don’t agree to this, you’ll walk out on it?” He directed the question at Josh, who, glancing uneasily at Taylor, found himself nodding. He really didn’t feel like he had a choice. The barman nodded, thinking a bit more. It was fair, he thought. He had agreed to pay them what they were asking. This was a good compromise, and would likely save him some profit. Nodding, he reached for Taylor’s hand, shaking it firmly. “Pleasure doing business with you, sir. Joshua…” Josh, sulky and more than a little put out that he’d been shunted aside so easily, muttered something neutral. “You’ve got no time left to rehearse, you and the lads come in early this evening.” He took his leave abruptly, leaving Taylor to face an unarguably livid Josh.
“Man, if you’re mad at me, would you say so? The silence is killing me.” Taylor was keeping pace with Josh’s angry strides, only with enormous effort. He’d offered to leave, and been snapped at, well nigh ORDERED, to “No, you come with me.” Since then, their leave-taking of the rest of the band unarguably hostile, thanks to Josh’s pique, Josh had said not a word. “Oh for God’s sake, Josh, quit it now!!” Josh stopped abruptly, rounding on the other boy. “What were you thinking?! Why would you just think you knew what was going on?! You could have ruined everything!” “I didn’t did I?” Taylor kept his tone even. Josh’s behavior at the pub had really stood on his nerves. Lording it over the rest of the boys, declaring himself leader with actions, more than words. His assumption that he was the only one capable of making any kind of decision, parading and preening for the girls. He may as well have had “I am a SOMEBODY and you’re not” stamped across his forehead. “Sound familiar Tay? Anything you may have seen before?” His eyes narrowed as Zac’s voice rang in his head. “Great… my conscience has to sound like Zac?” Still the point had not been lost on him. He could see himself in Josh, clearly, and the pangs of self disillusion had begun to stab at him. “Josh… man listen to me.” Josh had begun walking again, at a more reasonable pace this time. “What.” Taylor opened his mouth, realized he had no idea what he wanted to say, and snapped it shut again. His thoughts were unformed, static, white noise. “I don’t know, I’m sorry I stepped in on your action. You just seemed really frustrated, and I KNOW about what he was talking about.” Josh snorted, and Taylor saw the faint shadow of a smile on his face. “Obviously. Do they pay groups that way where you live?” “Some places do. They call it playing for the door, and if you can get a ton of your friends to come see you, you can make a lot.” He smiled a little, thinking that he and his brothers had never done a door gig in their lives. Still, they’d padded the room for OTHER friends who were playing, and they knew it worked. “The only problem you can run into is people getting mad paying the cover.” “The what?” Josh’s irritation spilled over. “Will you at least TRY to make sense?!” Sighing, Taylor could have kicked himself. He really had to stop that. “The cover is the amount of money the cl… pub charges people to get in, to see the band. Sometimes people don’t want to pay it. Then you don’t make anything.” “Well yeah, Taylor, I had understood that.” He brooded silently for a few minutes, and Taylor recognized the expression on his face. It was one he wore himself, often. “God, he’s so much like me. I’m so much like him! Am I that insufferable?” Suspecting, for the first time, that perhaps it wasn’t his family who were the unreasonable ones, he felt a wave of regret break over him. Just watching Josh with the girls in the bar, while the rest of the band sat unnoticed, had rung loud bells. And no small amount of indignation. HE was used to being the preferred individual, the favorite. Sitting on the sidelines while someone else sucked up the glory just wasn’t something he understood. And it felt pretty darned lousy. “Josh…” “Hmm?” “If you’re mad at me, why am I going to your house?” “I’m not angry, Taylor. Not with you. You shouldn’t have done that…” His glance was pointed “…without talking to me first. But you did understand the whole idea, and I didn’t, so I thank you for at least clearing it up.” “You still haven’t told me why I’m going to your house.” “Because…” Josh sighed, bitter. “I start that job in four days. And if I go home alone I’m going to get in the fight to end all fights, with my father. And I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life with my head facing wrong way round.”