Everyone was surprised when Matt’s cell chirped, including Matt. It was his idea to make their war-rooms no-phone-zones, and he thought he’d turned it off. They had shit to discuss, important shit, and he didn’t need the outside distractions. Opening for Volbeat tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia was no joke, and he wanted to change the set around, starting off with “The Sin and the Sentence” instead of relegating it to the three-hole. He needed quick confirmation so he could inform sound and lighting. He also wanted to return to the version of “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” where he sang the whole thing traditionally instead of the scream-verses. Of course, it was his vocal, but they decided things as a group for a reason. And housekeeping wanted to get in here, they’d knocked twice already.
Matt stretched out his legs, reaching into his pocket to yank out the device. He stared at the screen. Then he cupped it in both hands and sat forward.
“What?” Corey said.
“I’ve got a ghost in my phone.”
“Say again?” Alex said. He was tapping his sticks on his knees. Took those sticks everywhere.
“A ghost,” Matt said.
“The ghost?” Paolo said, eyes narrowing. “That’s an old wives’ tale. An urban legend.”
“Look,” Matt said. He turned the screen around. Corey and Paolo leaned in. Alex stopped drumming on his knees. There on the cell phone before them was the graphic they’d heard about, the spotted skull with steel teeth, one reddened eye, and a Harley bandana.
“It’s the sign of The Sculptor,” Corey said, crossing himself. Normally the guys would have broken his balls for it big time, but no one was laughing. No one asked to touch the phone either.
“Isn’t he the one who stalks musicians?” Alex said. “Using their lyrics and videos to create statues of death? Like blood puzzles?”
“Yeah,” Matt said hollowly. “He forces the song-writers to figure out the riddles. Makes them accomplices. Then they go triple platinum.”
Paolo shook his hair out of his face.
“Then why’s the ghost in your phone, Matt? If he’s so up on things, wouldn’t he know that I wrote the lyrics this time around?”
“I’m the one that found the head-space to voice it, so I’m your interpreter. He wants me to be his. Same as he did to the others, really.”
“Like who specifically?” Paolo said, still skeptical. He reached for the room service menu on the table, flipped open the top cover, looked absently and then closed it. Corey swallowed hard, you could hear it.
“Like Ian Lord,” he said. Paolo sat back.
“Ian Lord?” he said. “The singer in Rat Pelt?”
“How do you know? He doesn’t do interviews anymore.”
“Exactly,” Corey said. “And why would he? It’s common knowledge that the dude thinks of it as being “chosen.” The entire Impact of Paradox record is about it, you just have to read between the lines.”
“Guys,” Matt said. “It’s changing.”
They all pushed out of their chairs to gather behind him, and the image of the skull dissipated in what looked like an explosion of pixels. Matt’s home screen was beneath, with the message icon adorned at the corner with a small “1” in a circle. He touched it and looked at the text.
“Matt Heafy. If you do not follow my directions, a female in your life will die, someone you care about, someone young. Go to Cianfrani Park, 746 Fitzwater Street. Figure out the riddle of the sculpture there. You have thirty-seven minutes. Do not think your phone will yield evidence. I am ahead of law enforcement by thirty years in terms of technology. My messages don’t leave traces. And crime scene forensics are useless.”
Someone put a hand on Matt’s shoulder. He craned his neck and looked back.
It was Paolo.
Matt did it the old-fashioned way, jumping into the first cab in line by the valet parking area. They got to the park in fourteen minutes; the traffic was thin and the lights were forgiving, thank god for small favors.
Matt got out and saw the sculpture immediately, sticking out like a sore thumb. The park was small, with a quaint concrete walk-way between side streets, a few sitting benches, and some hopeful looking gardens with black iron decorator fencing: shrubs, blossoms, bushes, and some of those spikey plants with the red waxy berries. The sculpture was bolted to the cement in front of the central floral display.
“What an ugly fucking statue,” Matt thought.
It was one of those “absurdist” pieces, looking more like junk than art, purposefully child-like and visually cartoonish. It appeared to be made with a variety of flying saucer shapes for lack of a better word, as if a bunch of drum cymbals were riveted together all along their rims creating a series of two-sided hollow receptacles connected by an iron frame. Matt stepped in closer. The structure had been here for a while. At the points where the material was fastened together, the bronze had turned green in the recesses.
Matt took a step back for perspective. He never really understood the appeal of the wacko-shit, and he almost bailed. What was he supposed to make of what looked like a man and woman with buckets on their heads riding a bicycle built for two? And worse, they were joined at the pelvis, sharing only one set of feet, those that were planted on the pedals at three and nine o’clock.
Wait a minute…
He thought he saw something under the rim of one of the buckets, and he reached for it, going up on his toes. Yes. Right there. He scraped at it, and from under the lip came a chain that had been seated in there, now dangling down four or five inches. Matt stared at it numbly. The thing looked like a miniature version of the hand-shackles in their video “The Sin and the Sentence,” introduced at the 47-second mark. He pulled it, and the bucket tipped up, revealing a face, a caricature painted in bright pastels on the bronze. It was that of a man grinning madly, and it looked vaguely familiar.
Matt moved to the back, found the chain, and tipped up the other bucket, revealing the clownish face of the second bike rider, this one a female, showing her teeth in a hideous apple-slice leer.
Matt got out his phone, checked the time, and called 911. When he had to state his emergency, he said that he was witness to a gory murder that made Jack the Ripper look lame, no sense fucking around. He had thirteen minutes and twenty-six seconds.
Luckily, two officers showed up relatively quickly, one with a razor burn on his neck and a wide cleft in his chin, the other in sunglasses even though the day had turned gray. They didn’t offer to shake hands.
“Hey,” Matt said. “I’m in a band called Trivium. Roadrunner Records. We’re playing the Wachovia tonight.”
“That so,” said the one with the chin.
“Yes,” Matt said. “We’ve hit the Billboard 200 a shit-load of times, and we’re for real. Eight albums so far, and our latest is vicious, The Sin and the Sentence, killer dynamic contrast to the extreme, no holds barred, every song absolutely bad-ass, like the title track, and “The Heart From Your Hate,” and “Betrayer,” and “Thrown Into the Fire…”
He trailed off as the policemen just stared.
“K,” Matt said, jerking his thumb behind him in the direction of the statue. “See that?”
The cops looked over, across his shoulder.
He felt like they were trying to make him stutter, but Matt wasn’t a stammering sort of a guy.
Check out the music video for the single “The Sin and the Sentence.”
“Look,” he said. “Let’s get this straight. I’m going to play my show tonight. I’m going to nail all the hard parts, and we’re going to own that building. Then, after my curtain call, I’m going to come in to your station, give you my cell phone, and answer your questions. Full cooperation. You can even send me to my gig tonight with a couple of escorts.”
“Oh, can we?” Sunglasses said dryly.
“If it goes any other way,” Matt said, “I’ll lawyer up, tell you squat. You won’t have answers ‘til March.”
The cops chewed on that for a second.
“Go on,” Sun Glasses said.
Matt cleared his throat and put his hand on the back of his neck.
“I remember seeing on the national news last summer that you had two political candidates that turned up missing, am I right?”
Both officers tensed. Cleft-Chin snatched his notebook off his belt.
“You know anything about them?” he said.
“What were their names again?” Matt countered. Sunglasses answered, but had his hand on the butt of his revolver at this point.
“They were…” he said…“are the two candidates fighting for the seat of Representative for Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District. Jim Rutledge and Kathy McFee.”
“Since when are Republicans and Democrats anything else? You know where they are?”
“Yes,” Matt said.
Both officers did double takes, looking at the newly exposed cartoon faces with the buckets tipped up off their heads.
“Looks just like them,” Sun Glasses said. “What’s it mean? This a joke?”
Matt walked over to the statue.
“Not a joke” he said. “A puzzle.” He turned. “Better let me go in from here, officers. You wouldn’t want to wreck those nice leather shoes.”
He got to the edge of the steel base bolted into the ground.
“See,” he said speculatively, “the concrete here under the statue is old, there’s even this crack in it, spiked out in perpendicular away from the base plate. That fissure’s been here for years by the look, I mean, you can see the weeds growing out of it. But it’s all part of the artwork, part of the message.”
He looked up at the buckets.
“Your killer is an expert with technology, or so he says, but I can tell you right now, he’s good with chemicals too.”
“Prove it,” said Cleft-Chin.
“Soon,” Matt said softly. He pointed at the chains. “These are miniatures, modeled from props we used in a recent video, and I knew to find them because of another of our songs “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr.” One of the catch-phrases in the tune is the line “It’s our curse, that makes this world so hopeless, allowing our king to spread his genocidal wings.”
Sun Glasses tensed.
“You guys said that about our Commander in Ch..”
“No,” Matt interrupted. “A broader metaphor stays timeless. It’s a statement about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Our Sculptor here found a way to make it visual. Let me show you.”
The rad cover artwork for Trivium's new release, The Sin and the Sentence.
Matt stepped in so his feet were almost underneath the belly of the thing, and he reached up under the groin area shared by the two figures. He felt along the rounded bottom, muttering, “It’s got to be here somewhere.” Then, “A-ha.” There was an edge under there, subtle, like a hidden trap door, he could feel it. He scraped in his thumbnail, flipped it down, and a dark blue liquid spewed out of the opening, spattering the ground, smoking. Matt jumped out of the way with his hands in the air like goal posts. The steamy liquid saturated the cement, seeping into it, spreading along the side of the base. The hue of the concrete was changing. Colors were coming up, as if the cement had been treated long in advance, the many footfalls scraping over it keeping it vibrant, alive in a way, ready for the active agent to be spilled over it for maximum effect.
Still smoking, the image came clear. At the base of the statue of two cartoonish caricatures riding a bicycle, sharing the same pelvis and feet, was an American flag. The crack in the cement seemed to split it in two.
“You see it?” Matt said. “The message?”
“Wrong question,” said Cleft Chin. “Where are the candidates?”
“Right there,” Matt said, pointing. “The Sculptor boiled them down, mixed them together with chemicals, and put them in the same steel belly here, same bowels. The little trap door down there isn’t the groin. It’s the rectum.” He turned to them. “Don’t you see? The Sculptor is saying that it doesn’t matter about Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, or Moderates. Literally, he’s showing you that it’s all the same shit, poured out over a divided America.”
They stood staring at it, and Matt’s phone rang. On the screen was the sign of The Sculptor, the spotted skull with steel teeth, one reddened eye, and a Harley bandana. It exploded in a haze of pixels, and Matt had a text message.
“You made it by twenty-three seconds,” it said. “You cut it close, but she lives.”
“Who?” said Cleft-Chin.
“He doesn’t tell you.” Matt said. “It’s part of the game.”
There was another message.
“Some advice,” said The Sculptor. “When you do your encore tonight, I wouldn’t sing it traditionally.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t,” Matt whispered. Sunglasses pointed and said,
“What’s it mean?”
Matt laughed bitterly, and said,
“He wants me to scream!”
Next time in MUSIC HELL:
Volume 2 - "The Hiss of the Eliminator" featuring Electric Wizard
They’d been held over a day after selling out The Electric Factory, the prestigious Philadelphia venue crammed to the rafters last night with rockers, stoners, sludge-lovers, and neck-wreckers, those who’d screamed themselves hoarse in the wake of being absolutely bludgeoned by “The Wizard’s” mountain of amplification and bone-crushing musical execution. Tonight, the band members were restless, feeling vicious and extreme, and they got a tip that the best underground, high stakes poker game was in South Philly, down by the airport in a cluster of abandoned warehouses in the basement under the basement of a speak-easy members secretly called Mama’s Inferno....
READ IT HERE!
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