remembering the young man he had spotted one night in downtown Philadelphia. A dreary November drizzle had given the city an electric shine; and Cal, high as a kite, was parading shirtless along the street behind the YMCA. When Ronnie pulled the car to the curb, Cal sauntered over with all the wrong ideas and started his filthy come-on. But Ronnie could see the sweet damaged boy beneath all that chemical jive and pretense. “Why don’t you get in the car for a minute?” Ronnie had said. “Seems a bit of a chilly night to be dressed like that.” When Cal slid onto the front seat, Ronnie clasped his hands together as though in prayer. “Tell me,” he said, “have you ever thought you might like to be in show business?”
Ronnie shook the memory away and stared grimly at his tour mates. “What do you think, lads?” he said. “Will you help me with this? We are on the cusp of great things, I believe. Our first record is getting airplay. Can we four do the right thing here? I will take full responsibility. You can deny everything. But for now, I need your strong arms and determination.”
They were not easily persuaded, but in the end they agreed and went tiptoeing down the hall to Cal’s room. By four-thirty they had the body and all of Cal’s personal belongings stowed in the trunk of the Cadillac. They hadn’t seen a soul.
“What about his gear?” Kerry asked. “Not many musicians go off with their dirty laundry and leave their axe behind.”
For a moment, Ronnie was stymied. But then he smiled and said, “You forget that no one but us knows he ever played an instrument. No long-lost relative is going to come calling for something like that. In fact, we bought the equipment so, strictly speaking, it’s ours. And as far as a band member getting suspicious, they know better than anyone that our Cal was not a musician. They experienced that sorry fact every night. It will make perfect sense to them that he left his gear behind and went off in search of an easier high.”
Then Ronnie got behind the wheel of his Cadillac and fired up the engine. As he rolled down the window, he said, “I’m certain you three can handle everything on this end. Don’t forget receipts. I must have receipts. Tell everyone that Cal has cleared out and that I’ve gone to find a new bass player. Sonny can figure out something for tomorrow, I’m sure. He’s done it before.” Then he pulled out of the parking space and drove into the night.
Tom looked at the two Welshmen and said, “Itsa fuckin’ mucky weddled.”
SO THERE HE WAS , Ronnie Conger, back in his car for maybe the hundredth time that day, only this time he was heading miles away from his crew. Nowhere in particular, you understand, but somewhere far, somewhere that felt right. And before long it wasn’t highways anymore but gravel roads, and it wasn’t nighttime but daylight, and then this long lonely concession road, the straightest road he had ever been on, through the squarest and flattest fields he had ever seen. And he had the radio off and the windows open, even though it was early spring and the air was freezing. The speedometer sat solidly on sixty, the speed limit. He was using his turn signals, too, steering straight and true, because the last thing he wanted was to get stopped by the cops with a dead body in his car, the body of a friend, no less, which was wrapped in a floral bedspread and pumped full of heroin and quite unceremoniously shoved in the trunk.
And it was only then, with the sun up over those wide black fields, and people heading to work, that he realized there was no way he could dump the body in broad daylight—Ronnie Conger stomping through some farmer’s field in his expensive suit and shoes and dragging a corpse behind him? No,a stopover was key, a bit of shut-eye, because he was starting to feel punchy. A motel, maybe, some dismal place where no one in his right mind would stop. A little rest, a bite of food. Rome wasn’t