The energy of the crowd and passion from the band was infectious. Barrack stood as close to the stage as he could. His body ached and his eyes itched with need for sleep after a long day at work then the concert, but it was worth it. Seeing him made it worth it.
He headed for the VIP line forming next to where NRG Stadium kept their performance stage when not in use. Other bodies ran into him, one group nearly running him over with their purple VIP passes swinging from their necks. Barrack shook his head. Purple badges like theirs only allowed them into VIP after-show signings, nothing special. Black was the next level up, with after-show backstage access and a gift signed from all the band members for Christmas. White, like his, allowed backstage access before and after shows, as well as the yearly gifts at Christmas and the holder’s birthday, plus special one-on-one time with the band at a scheduled party near Halloween.
The organizers broke up the white badges into groups of seven per party to allow more one-on-one time. Hence, only twenty-one people had a white VIP badge. If a white badge didn’t come to a white party more than twice in a row, they automatically lost their white VIP status since other people would use it to its full advantage, like him.
He turned to see Bridge, the band’s head of security, waving him over, then shouldered his way through the crowd, slowly making his way to the front of the line.
“Annoying, isn’t it?” Bridge’s voice had a slight rasp to it. He was a tall broad man with a stern-looking face and jaw. His hair looked swept back by the wind.
The two clasped hands and Bridge pulled him into a one-armed hug, each patting the other heavily on the back. “If I had to deal with this all the time, then shit yeah. Doesn’t it get annoying?” Barrack asked and gave Bridge one more hearty pat on the arm before releasing him.
Bridge shrugged. “Not really, no. How you’ve been?”
Barrack smiled at his old friend. They had gotten close once a long time ago when they’d been undercover. When everything was all said and done with that case, the men had lost contact, only to be reacquainted a few years later when Emotio hit the scene.
He shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
Bridge shook his head. “Come on.” He opened the door to allow them inside. Barrack stepped into a much quieter but still busy space. Stage personnel hustled about doing whatever it was that they did. One was carrying a large stuffed rhinoceros—he didn’t want to know.
“Barrack.” Rex Louis Clark, the drummer waved and Barrack waved back. The man stood shirtless with raven black hair that shined blue in the light. A white stripe accented the side of his head. The tabloids had nicknamed him ‘Skunk’, and for good reason. He’d been known to have a bad temper. He was talking to Luxe,
the band’s stylist. Why, he didn’t know since the man seemed to be allergic to shirts.
“Everyone else is in back,” Bridge said. “The public signing will start in half an hour.” Bridge patted him on the back and walked off, leading the way.
“That’s it?” Half an hour seemed like a short break after such a performance.
Bridge shrugged. “Aksel and Patryk wanted to be done early.”
“Wonder why,” he mused aloud while they turned a corner.
Bridge sighed, but it sounded more like a disbelieving tsk. He opened another door and walked inside with Barrack following behind.
“You know you’re the only fan we actually like enough to hang out with,” Bishop, the lead guitarist, said from the wet bar. His silk black pirate shirt caught the light, highlighting his exposed chest. His shoulder-length bleached hair sported pink highlights at the tips, which faded up the length.
“That one isn’t so bad,” Aksel, the bass player, said as he plopped on the couch. His purple Mohawk didn’t even move.
Titus, the piano or keyboard player, threw wadded paper at Aksel, which he caught. “Do ya mean Greg?” Titus’s slight Irish accent came through. His all white hair almost glowed in the fluorescent lighting.
“I hate him,” Bishop said as he took a long drink.
“That’s because—” Patryk Sama’el, the lead singer, walked in from another door on the opposite side of the room. “—he drinks just as much alcohol as you.” His hair was black, the sides of his head shaved into a military buzz, and the center was long, thick, and styled effortlessly to the side. A chunk of white highlighted his bangs. Diamond stud earrings decorated his ears. He had changed from his earlier outfit into skinny jeans and a loose rock and roll T-shirt. “And even we cannot afford that.” His comment won a round of chuckles and the finger from Bishop.
The singer shook his head and plopped on the couch next to Aksel. Heavy black makeup framed his eyes, as did an elegant gray and black masquerade mask. This air of secrecy heightened Emotio’s fame. No one had seen Patryk’s face, not even Emotio’s other members. Rumors soared over Patryk’s looks, but the man in the center of it all, Patryk, neither confirmed nor denied anything. Patryk Sama’el symbolized mystery, and mysteries were intriguing.
“Hey Barrack,” Patryk said with a tiny wave, looking relaxed but tired.
“Hey, guys.” Barrack entered the room while Bridge said his goodbyes. “You want a water?” Barrack asked Patryk who nodded. Barrack had to practically shove Bishop out of the way to get to the wet bar.
He retrieved two waters, then handed one to Patryk while he sat between Aksel and Patryk. “Where’s Dominik?” Another scan of the room confirmed the electric violinist wasn’t there.
Titus tossed him the wad of paper, and he tossed it back. “Good question.”
“Bathroom,” Patryk supplied with a sigh.
Barrack looked him over. Patryk seemed to have melted farther into the couch since he sat down, “Okay?”
Patryk nodded. “Just tired.”
“If I danced like you in them damn high heels, I’d be tired too.” Bishop twirled and went back to the bar for another drink.
Before anyone could answer, Dominik walked in from the same door Patryk had. He stopped short when he saw Barrack. “Hey.” On stage, Dominik was a force worthy of the band’s fame, but in that moment, he seemed tiny and timid, as if he were two different people.
His emerald-green hair had white accents. Dominik’s style was the most formal. A well-tailored suit showed off his form. The jacket was opened, exposing a white button-up shirt and loosened black silk necktie.
“You okay?” Barrack asked while getting up. “Here, sit. You look tired.”
Dominik smiled, but it seemed sad to Barrack. “I’m fine.”
“Please, sit.” He motioned to the spot he’d given up. Dominik meekly nodded and slowly made his way to the sofa. To Barrack, he seemed to move a little too gingerly. “Thanks,” Dominik said as he passed. Barrack’s gaze zeroed in on him pressing his arm to his side. A small bruise visible on Dominik’s knuckles made Barrack “Son of a bitch.” Rex burst into the room and chucked something against the wall, but Barrack didn’t see what it was. Barrack was too focused on Dominik’s barely there flinch and subsequent wince.
He covered it up well. “Lose a bet?” Dominik’s response was more subdued than usual as he sat.
Rex growled as he strode across the room to the other door. “Shut up,” he snapped. “I’m taking a shower.” The poor door almost groaned under Rex’s grip as he wrenched it open, and the reverberating slam when he left sent a crack throughout the room.
“Well he’s a ray of sunshine, isn’t he?” Bishop listed to the side with a giggle.
Patryk sighed, but Barrack could tell he was watching Dominik, too. “Stop drinking. We still have the signing to do.”
Bishop flipped him off again. “You gonna stop me?”
“And mess up this manicure?” Patryk waved black fingernails at him. “I don’t think so. Barrack can subdue your drunk ass.”
Bishop looked at him with bleary eyes. He must’ve been drinking on stage. “Wouldn’t mind ‘hat at all.”
“Barrack is off limits. He’s got that Willow fellow,” Titus said while still tossing the wad of paper around.
Barrack shook his head. “We’re not together.”
Patryk chuckled. “The way you talk about him sure makes it seem you are.”
Barrack moved and sat on the arm of the couch closest to Patryk. “Well, he does have a nice ass.”
Bishop spit out his drink. “You’re gay!”
“No.” Barrack took Patryk’s water and opened it, then gave it back. “Drink that,” he said under his breath, then turned his attention back to Bishop. “But I can appreciate a nice ass when I see one.”
“We have got to meet this Willow,” Titus said. “He’s all ya talk about.”
Barrack shrugged. “He’s busy.”
Aksel heaved himself up. “The fucker is always busy,” he said while retrieving his own water.
“Be nice,” Patryk said.
Aksel made a jacking off motion. “Suck me.”
Barrack laughed, but Patryk punched his thigh. “What?” He asked then took a drink of water.
“Don’t encourage him,” Patryk quipped, then took a swig of water.
A knock on the door stole everyone’s attention. Bridge stuck his head in. “Signing starts in 5. Where’s Skunk?”
Bishop giggled. “Ima tell you said ‘hat.”
“That’s great, where is he?”
Barrack nodded to the other door. “Showering, should be about done.”
Bridge walked into the room and to the other door. “You guys get out there and I’ll get him.”
“Better you than me,” Patryk said as he got up.
The rest of the band followed with their own brand of sarcasm except for Dominik. He sat on the sofa and looked a little pale. “You okay?” Barrack asked again.
“Yeah. Help me up.” Dominik offered his hand, and Barrack pulled him up. The man seemed too light even for his smaller physique.
Barrack watched Dominik walk. He had a slight hitch to his step. “If you ever need anything, I can help Dominik stopped and turned. The gaze that met Barrack’s could only be described as broken. “You’re a really good friend.” With that, Dominik strode off with Barrack following. They arrived at the signing and Dominik took his place between Aksel and Rex.
Bridge came up behind him. “Everything all right?”
He stepped back so he and Bridge were behind the band but out of earshot. “You know what I think.”
“Yeah” was all Bridge said, and the two lapsed into silence.