The Angel of Death

The Angel of Death - Episode 4

Gossip? I hadn’t heard any gossip. Yeah, I know. Sound guy, not hearing things. Real funny. I went to bed.
When we finished the leg in Bariloche, I was feeling pretty down. Larry and I went to grab a sandwich, and as we walked across the crew tent to the buffet table, I could feel every eye in the place looking at me. Not a good feeling.

Three legs. Three teams. Three eliminations. That’s the sort of thing that makes people talk. I wasn’t much interested in being the object of so much scrutiny, so I finished my sandwich in a hurry and went to get some rest.

We had almost made it to the crew quarters when the lead producer called us over.

“Larry, Frank. How you doing? Look, straight up, I’m going to have make some personnel adjustments.”

Here comes the axe, I thought. I wondered if my contract included airfare home. I never read the fine print. I really need to start doing that.

“You’re doing great work. Seriously, great work. I just think it might be time to switch things up a bit. So, next leg, Larry is going to work with Eddie G., and you’ll be partnered with Jerzy. He’s good. I think you two will get along. Anyway, the next leg’s going to be a real bear as far as travel goes, so you should get some rest and I’ll see you tonight. Crew briefing’s at 1:00 a.m. I’ll give you your assignments then.

Larry and I walked to our quarters. I still felt a little odd. Larry, however, was all smiles.

“That’ll take care of the gossip, eh Frank? It’ll suck having to break in a new partner, but I’m sure we’ll be back together in a couple of legs. See you tonight.”

Gossip? I hadn’t heard any gossip. Yeah, I know. Sound guy, not hearing things. Real funny. I went to bed.

When I woke up, the room was dark. Light streamed in under the edge of the door, and I could hear voices shouting and music playing, random guitar chords, and bass riffs.

I got up, pulled on my pants, walked to the door and opened it. I was looking across the backstage area of a large concert stage. Hmmm, I thought. I didn’t know Bariloche had a stadium. A couple of musicians were warming up and crew were bustling around. A voice called to me from the other side of the stage.

“Yo, new guy! You wanna bring me those cables sometime today?”

Cables? I looked down at my hand, and sure enough, it was holding a large coil of wire. I walked across to the guy who had called me and saw that it was Wayne Hoover. I hadn’t seen Wayne in almost 10 years. I was surprised that he was in Argentina, what with him being dead and all.

I walked over and handed him the cable. “How you been, Wayne.”

“Oh not bad, not bad. Better than you, ya dumbass.”

“Dumbass?”

“You’re forgetting things. The most important things. The first thing I ever said to you.”

“The first thing you…”

“Frank. Frank!”

Someone was shaking my shoulder. I woke up and rolled over. It was Larry.

“Come on, Frank, haul ass. Crew briefing’s in five minutes.”

I was not on form at the briefing. I kept drifting in and out, dozing off, trying to figure out why the hell I was dreaming about a fat dead guy. My new partner, Jerzy, kept looking at me sideways. He leaned over at one point and asked if I was okay.

“Yeah, yeah. Didn’t sleep well, that’s all. I’ll be fine.”

“You not worrying about what people say?”

Again with the what people are saying. What the hell were people saying?

“No, no. I’m fine. Fine.”

“Hokay. You tell me if you not alright.”

Jerzy and I were assigned to Bob and Joyce, a nice older couple. That improved my mood a bit; after dealing with some real brats on the first couple of legs I seemed to at least be drawing better teams to work with.

My racers, however, were not so thrilled with the assignment. As we met up with them in the prep area, Joyce’s face fell. Bob leaned over and whispered something to her, then stood up and put on the biggest, fakest smile I had seen in a long time.

“So, we’re working together? Great, great!” The smile widened. “I figure your luck is due for a turn, and I’m glad we’ll be there when it happens.”
My luck. My luck? I was just a guy with a microphone. What did my luck have to do with anything.
My luck. My luck? I was just a guy with a microphone. What did my luck have to do with anything.

Bob leaned over to me and whispered conspiratorially. His grin now qualified as manic. “Besides, I figure it’s that Larry guy who’s the real jinx. We were glad to see that the twins drew him. Bye-bye girlies!”

Beside me, Jerzy snorted. “Hokay.”

We set up. On the signal, Bob and Joyce did the rip-and-read, and we were off. Next stop, Bariloche Bus Station, en route to Buenos Aires. We piled into the Land Rover and took off. The journey was fairly uneventful, although. Joyce kept looking at me with suspicion in her eyes. That was bad, but Bob was worse. Whenever he saw her do that, he’d flash me that big grin again and give me a thumbs up. That just made me wonder why I was in such apparent need of jollying.

The couple hours we spent waiting at the bus station weren’t much better. I saw at least one woman actively consoling Joyce, and looking over at me like I was some kind of fungus. It was a positive relief when one of the ticket counters opened and the racers all streamed over towards it, following this one guy- Colin, I think it was - like a bunch or REI-accessorized lemmings.

By this point in the race, I had gained a new appreciation for every grade school teacher I ever had. There had been one big line at one counter, with everyone lined up in the order they got to the station. That was fine; people got to take bathroom breaks, or go outside for a smoke – I was up to half a pack a day at this point – and no one freaked out. But when they moved? Everyone got mixed up. And once they were in line at the new counter, some people liked the new order, and some people wanted to go back to the old order. One hard-assed Grade Two teacher with a yardstick and a bell would have sorted them out in about five seconds flat.
One hard-assed Grade Two teacher with a yardstick and a bell would have sorted them out in about five seconds flat.
As it was, the loudest and most obnoxious ruled the day. Which meant that my old pals, the Flop Sweaters, did quite well out of the deal. Bob and Joyce, meanwhile, who had been in fourth place in the original line, were pushed back quite a bit. When word came back that only four teams could get tickets from this window, Joyce actually hissed at me. She hissed.

“We were in fourth, you know. We were.”

Bob patted her on the shoulder. His grin had left manic behind and was now well into rictus territory. Pulled back to his ears. “Now Joyce,” he said, voice dripping with good cheer, “that’s not his fault.”

She just glared at me and turned away. He whispered to her as they walked back to the first counter. I made a mental note to do some reviewing the next time I swapped their tapes. If there were rumours about me, I damn well wanted to hear them.

Having missed out on what was apparently the good bus line, we spent the next 22 hours riding a local bus to Buenos Aires. Joyce scooted toward the front of the line, jumped into the first seat she found, and then started pulling random people in around her. By the time Jerzy and I made to up where she and Bob were sitting, there was not a seat within three rows of them.

“Sorry, no room here.” She gave a tight little smile. Beside her, Bob beamed.

“Hokay,” said Jerzy, “We go to the back. See you later.”

I was beyond caring. They wouldn’t need new tapes or batteries for a while, there was nothing going on and so no likelihood that anything interesting would be said, and I still needed to catch up on my sleep. Fortunately, as it was on a bus, I was able to get some sleep. I was even beside the bathroom, which was perfect for me. As long as it’s not in an airplane, I can sleep anywhere.

Unfortunately, I had not accounted for the effects of nicotine. I had quit smoking years before but the habit had come back with a vengeance. Two hours down the road, I was starting to shake. I eventually dozed off somewhere around hour four-and-a-half.

When, I opened my eyes, Jerzy was gone from the seat beside. In his place was a vast bulk I recognized immediately as Wayne Hoover, again. He looked down at me.

“You don’t remember, do you?”

“Remember what, Wayne?”

“The first thing I said to you.”

I woke up. Hour nine. A few minutes later we pulled into a bus station and I went out for a smoke. That helped. Once we were back on the road, I thought about Wayne.

He was the first sound man I ever worked for. He was my tutor, my inspiration. My Yoda – if Yoda weighed 300 pounds, had a beard and ponytail, and wore nothing but Black Sabbath t-shirts. I met him at the 1983 US Festival. My uncle had wangled me a job as a gofer, and I end up assigned to Wayne’s crew.

For the first two days that I worked with him, Wayne never addressed me directly. He’d say something like “Man, I really need another 10 feet of co-axial here,” or “Where the fuck is that Sennheiser 845?” I would just find whatever it was he wanted, and give it to him.

On day three, he started referring to me in the third person. “The new guy really needs to get these lines taped down,” or “Someone better tell the new guy to replace this piece of shit mike.”

I remembered a lot. I remembered that it was the best job I had ever had. I remembered that I loved every second of it, even when he threw a can of Coors at my head after I dropped a mixer board. I remembered that after one week of working with him, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But for the life of me, I could not figure out what he was trying to tell me now.

At Hour thirteen, I went to see Bob and Joyce.

“What?” she snapped.

“Time to change tapes and batteries,” I said.

“Why sure, Frank.” Bob was tired, and could only muster a leer. “Glad to help! Thanks so much! Here you go!”

Rule 4 in the Sound Man’s Guide to Life: Nothing is forever. Except tape.

Back in my seat, I checked the counter and cued up the tape to the bus station.

“I know what you’re trying to do Chip…”

Too far.

“Sorry, no room.”

Not far enough.

“Now Joyce…”

Bingo. Time to see what was going on.

The bus station had been noisy and full of echoes, but we use good equipment. And, after all, I am a pro. It takes more than a little bit of whispering to defeat me. (Just ask Colin Powell about his last visit to Baghdad. But I digress.)

“…that’s not his fault.”

“Bob! Everyone says he’s unlucky!”

Everyone?

“I even heard his cameraman telling our cameraman that!”

Larry? That bastard.

“Joyce, honey, don’t panic. I’m sure it’s a coincidence.”

“I’m not. I want to get rid of him.”

“I don’t think we can do that.”

“Look, we’re going to the airport, we’re going to have change planes somewhere, I say we ditch him!”

“Well… let’s see what we can do.”

Ditch me? This was not looking good.

Sure enough, when the bus finally pulled into the Buenos Aires station, they were off like a shot. We chased after them, Jerzy calling out “Please to stay in camera range!”

We caught up to them when they were getting into a taxi, although I did have to stand in front of it to keep it from pulling away without us. When we climbed in, Bob was full of apologies.

“Sorry guys, didn’t mean to lose you there. But it’s a race, you know?”

His grin was back at full strength, and moving towards death’s-head. “Airport, por favour!”

From Buenos Aires, we needed to get tickets to St. Petersburg, Russia. I had a hard time tracking what Bob and Joyce were doing, because whenever I tried to get in close with the mike to pick up what the ticket agents were saying, she started throwing elbows. At the first counter, they were told that they could get a flight to Madrid.

“Okay, book that,” said Bob.

“Erm…” I started.

“What?” snapped Joyce.

“Oh, nothing… you know Madrid’s not in Russia, right?”

“You’re a travel agent now too? Shut up and tape.”

Well then. It was clearly going to be a long flight. I caught Jerzy’s eye. He leaned over and whispered “I not care. As long as we not going to St. Petersburg via Grozny, I not care. Racers still nicer than Chechens.”

I had to agree.
We spent the next couple of hours chasing Bob and Joyce around the airport. Three times I had to remind them to book four tickets, not just two.
We spent the next couple of hours chasing Bob and Joyce around the airport. Three times I had to remind them to book four tickets, not just two. If I hadn’t been carrying the credit card, I think Jerzy and I would still be there. They almost escaped once, but we caught up to them at the Air France office. Apparently they had a problem because some of the seats were booked in Business class. When we got to the office, Joyce was explaining.

“I didn’t say I wanted Business. I just wanted seats somewhere away from… from him!” she finished, pointing angrily at me.

I was beginning to feel a little underappreciated. After the ticketing mess was finally sorted out, and we all had our seats, I tried to have a little chat with Joyce.

“Look, Joyce, I know you think that I’m some kind of jinx or something.”

“A curse, actually. I think you are a curse.”

“Whatever. Look, jinx, curse, it makes no difference. You can’t be in the show without me.”

She snorted. “So? It seems that people can’t be in the show with you either. At least, not for long.”

This was clearly going to take some more effort.

As we boarded our flight to Madrid, Bob and Joyce entered the cabin and turned left. I went to follow them, but the flight attendant intervened. “Sir, your seat is this way. Near the back.”

“But my friends…”

“Your friends have been given upgraded seats in business class. Sadly,” she frowned at me, quite sympathetically, “there was no room for you.”

I looked over at Joyce. This time, she really was grinning. She waved to Jerzy. “C’mon up, Jerry, your seat is here too.”

I looked at him. “Isn’t the crew sticking together?”

He snorted. “When they have 51 inch leg room in economy, you tell me. I stick with you. Until then, I go where the wine is better. See you in Madrid.”
Rule 23: Everyone sticks it to the sound man. Get used to it.
Rule 23: Everyone sticks it to the sound man. Get used to it.

Congenitally incapable of sleeping on an airplane, and not even having Jerzy to talk to, I had 11 hours to reflect on things. I sat back and thought about Wayne, about that first festival gig we worked together, about what it was that I was supposed to remember.

I didn’t sleep, but I did drift away to somewhere. And I remembered something.

We were still at the festival. It was Metal day, and a crew had set up to film the Scorpions for a concert video. I had never seen anything like that before. I think “slack-jawed awe” covers my point of view pretty well. I was standing beside Wayne, who was viewing the whole scene with an air of professional detachment. Then he noticed something on stage, and his eyes narrowed.

“Someone had better pull that cable back and secure it before Rudolf breaks his neck on it. Where’s the new guy?”

I had been working with Wayne for a week by this point, and that was as good as an engraved invitation. I scurried over to the offending cable and lifted it up. When I looked back at Wayne to get some indication of where I should pull it to, he was staring at me, his eyes blazing. He pointed off to my left, to where a camera was set up.

And he spoke. Directly to me.

“Get the fuck out of the shot, you moron!”

I sat up. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned. Across the aisle, there was Wayne. He looked at me.

“Did you get it?”

Get the fuck out of the shot, you moron.

He smiled. “That’s it. First thing I ever said to you.”

I looked at him again. “Wait a second… I don’t sleep on planes. How can I be having another dream about you.”

He winked. “Maybe you’re not dreaming.”

The drinks cart rolled by. When it was gone, so was Wayne.

I thought about the rest of the way to Madrid.

When I got off the plane, Jerzy was waiting for me. “Where are they?”

He shrugged. “We get off, they say ‘It’s a race,’ they run. I wait for you.”

“Crap. Well, we’ve got tickets. Let’s go.”

I didn’t see them again in the airport. Or on the plane to Frankfurt. Or in the Frankfurt airport. “We gotta call this in,” I said as we waited for our flight to St. Petersburg.

“Hokay,” said Jerzy. He pulled out our mobile phone.

I called production and explained that we had two racers on the loose. I gave our flight numbers and was told that they’d look into it.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang. “We found them. It looks like they switched flights in Madrid and routed themselves through Stockholm. Why the hell aren’t you with them.”

“They didn’t tell us they were going! They just took off!”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. There’s some heavy weather over Sweden and all flights are delayed a couple of hours. You’ll make it here before they do, and you can pick them up in the airport. Looks like they really screwed themselves. Why’d they change flights?”

This was going to look really bad.

Without racers to supervise, Jerzy and I were able to take it easy. We drank and exchanged war stories all the way to St. Petersburg. He maintained that Grozny, 1999, was the worst possible assignment, while I held out for Gorazde in 1995. We eventually agreed that if it started with a “G” and Slavs were involved, it was best to give it a miss. By the time we landed, I was past caring about the race.

Bob and Joyce made it in and hour and a half later. When they walked out of passport control and saw us, I could see the energy just leak out of them. Bob didn’t even bother to attempt a smile.

“So, you found us,” he said, in the same tone of voice usually reserved for asking if the Governor hasn’t called yet.

I just nodded. Jerzy said “We go now, hokay?”

And we did. The rest of the leg was pretty much an anti-climax. Production had notified Jerzy and me that we were way, way behind. Bob and Joyce didn’t know for sure, but they had a pretty good idea.
That made sense; thinking about some of the elbows Joyce gave me at the ticket counter, I figured she might have some experience.
They were pretty game at the end, and they put on a good show for the cameras. I was hoping they’d go for the vodka shots – I figured there were bound to be leftovers, and it wasn’t as though they needed to save them for any other teams – but they picked the hockey. That made sense; thinking about some of the elbows Joyce gave me at the ticket counter, I figured she might have some experience.

When we got to the Roadblock, Bob asked Joyce if she didn’t just want to skip eating all that caviar. “No,” she said, “Let’s finish this right. I need to eat this.”

She was pretty game too. Got stuck right into it and put it all away. When she was done, we followed them out of the restaurant to a sleigh, which was going to take them to the Pit Stop. We all knew what was going to happen there.

I felt that I should say something.

“Um, I know this might not have been a fun leg for you guys, but I have to say, I think you’re great people. And I think you’ve done a great job here. You really stuck with it, and fought it out to the end. I’m just sorry it didn’t work out better.”

Joyce looked at me. “Oh, fuck off.”

Then she bent down and puked up two pounds of steaming caviar all over my boots.

“I told you I needed to eat that! Now, let’s get out of here Bob.”

I just stood there and watched as they rode away. Her voice carried back to me as they disappeared from view.

“Fucking Angel of Death, that’s what he is.”



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