What Have We Done by Alex Finlay: Featured Excerpt
By Crime HQJuly 12, 2022
BONUS: comment on the post below with a band name that Alex Finlay might use in the book to enter for a chance to win an advance reader copy of the book. More details below!
Donnie wakes to loud thuds on his cabin door. Each pound reverberates through his head like an explosion. He’s on the floor of the tiny room in the belly of the cruise ship. Twenty years ago, he and the band would have been in the coveted concierge suites. He pushes himself away from the vomit puddled on the floor. The ocean is choppy today and it’s making him even queasier than he would be.
The thumping continues and he manages to climb to his feet. Wearing only tighty-whities, he opens the door and the light from the hallway sends another bullet through his skull.
“Donnie, what’s going on?” Pixie has a concerned look on her face. “Rehearsal started half an hour ago. Tom is pissed.”
Before he responds, Pixie pushes her small frame inside. She makes a face at the stench, looks around, and before Donnie can conceal the evidence, sets her eyes on the empty bottle of Jägermeister. The razor blade and rolled dollar bill on the table.
“Oh, Donnie,” she says. She puts her delicate brown hand on his ghost-white bare shoulder.
“I can’t do this right now,” he says, with more edge than she deserves.
Pixie’s new. She joined the band last year—[BAND NAME] have only two original members from back in the day, including Donnie. But it’s enough for the Legends of Rock Cruise. Pixie’s the only bandmate Donnie considers a friend. The rest merely tolerate him.
Her downcast expression is the worst. One-thousand-percent pity. He’s been sober for three months, the longest stretch in a decade. But he got word last night about Ben. The closest thing he had to a brother. Then he ran into that aging groupie—the one with the same bleached hair she probably had when she raised a lighter to their hit power ballad two decades ago.
“Wanna party?” she’d said, smelling of cigarettes and beer. She didn’t have to ask him twice. He doesn’t remember much else.
“Can you play? Are you okay?” Pixie’s questions return him to the present. “Seriously, I’m worried. Tom seems—”
“Of course I can play.” He climbs into his shirt and jeans flung on the floor. Grabbing the handle to his guitar case, he charges out of the cabin.
“Hurry,” Pixie says, outpacing him. She moves quickly for such a compact woman. “I told them I was going to the bathroom.”
Donnie rushes into the ship’s performance hall and is greeted by several exasperated expressions, the most prominent from their singer, Tom Kipling.
“Sorry, y’all, I overslept,” Donnie says, opening his guitar case and slinging the strap over his shoulder.
“Pfft.” Tom grips the microphone, leaning as if he’s being held up by the stand. Donnie has a brief image of a younger man in the same pose. Even then, Tom was always bossing everyone around. The only thing that’s changed is Tom’s hair plugs, those white chiclet teeth, and the tighter fit of his leather pants.
“Overslept . . .” Tom says, with an audible sigh. “It’s four o’clock.”
“What do you want me to do? I said I’m sorry.”
Tom starts to speak, but stops himself. Donnie notices Tom tap eyes with Animal, their drummer. “Let’s just do the sound check,” Tom says, sighing again. He points to the set list taped on the stage floor.
Animal clicks his sticks—a one, a two, a one-two-three-four—and Donnie strikes the opening chord to a song he’s played so many times he can barely stand it. From his Marshall stack comes what sounds like an elephant being slaughtered. His Les Paul is wildly out of tune, thanks to neglect and a popped string.
Tom waves his arms to cut the music. His sagging jowls quiver. But he doesn’t yell at Donnie. That’s a surprise. Donnie’s spent most of his adult life being yelled at by Tom Kipling, so he’s used to it. But this is worse. Tom composes himself, then looks over to their manager, Mickey, at stage right. Mickey gives Tom a nod, and Tom addresses the band.
“Tonight, after the show, you all have a choice to make,” Tom says. He spins around and fixes his gaze on Donnie. “It’s him or me.”
And with that—his aging-rock-star flair for the dramatic on full display—Tom stomps off stage.
Donnie looks at his bandmates. When he sees that even Pixie isn’t willing to make eye contact, he knows it’s over.
Later, after the last encore—they do two every show—Donnie runs off stage drenched in sweat and feeling euphoric. That sensation never goes away. He’s performed well, Tom can’t deny that. Donnie got his guitar freshly strung and went over the set list beforehand to be ready for tonight’s parade of oldies. He even hit all his marks for the ridiculous choreography.
Backstage, amid the high fives and rapture that follows every performance, he thinks things should be fine. Tom will have cooled off. Donnie can explain what happened—that his best friend, Benny, is dead. Not just dead. Murdered. He’ll explain that he’s committed to his sobriety—to the band—and they’ll give him another chance.
After the meet-and-greet—the selfies and poster signing and awkward conversations with drunk people—the VIP room clears out and Tom calls him over.
“You did well tonight,” Tom says.
“Thanks, brother. You were great. You sound like you did when we were kids.”
Tom gives a fleeting smile with that row of Tic Tacs on his too-tan face. He’s like an old house with too many layers of paint. He takes a deep breath. “That’s just it, man. We’re not kids anymore.”
“I get it, Tommy. I promise it won’t happen again, I just—”
“I’ve got three ex-wives to support,” Tom interrupts. “My daughter’s in her second year at Berkeley. I need this job, man.”
“Trust me, so do I,” Donnie says. He holds back his resentment at Tom’s tales of financial woe. Tom took all the songwriting credits—at the time the rest of the band didn’t understand that if your name isn’t on the song, the money stops. It’s the reason [BAND NAME] broke up. Donnie’s the only other member who was desperate enough to come back.
“That’s what makes this hard, Don.”
“Tommy . . .”
Tom offers a sad expression. “It’s done, my friend. I wish you nothing but the best.”
“You can’t do this to me!” Donnie’s voice rises.
A couple roadies look over.
Tom shakes his head.
Donnie’s voice breaks now. “You owe me, man.”
“I’ve gotta go.” Tom turns. Donnie grabs his arm roughly and Tom twists around, his face dark now. “I suggest you let go of my arm.”
Donnie stares at him a long beat. And releases his grip.
Closing in on midnight, on the promenade deck—the most secluded section of the ship after hours—Donnie takes the last swig of the bottle, hating himself for drinking again. Hating himself for not standing up to Tom. Hating himself for what his life has become. He stares out at the ocean. With the moon hidden by clouds, there’s nothing but blackness.
He ponders where he can get another bottle. The ship’s bars are closed. There’s room service, but his account is maxed out.
A woman appears in the weak light. She’s in her early twenties, younger than the band’s usual fans, but she’s wearing a [BAND NAME] concert T-shirt. Probably someone’s kid who grew up with their music. That happens sometimes.
Her face brightens when she sees him.
“Oh my god. Are you Donnie Danger?” She looks around as if she wants to confirm what she’s seeing, but no one else is on the deck.
“The one and only,” Donnie says. His Southern drawl gets more pronounced when he’s playing rock star, particularly when he’s drinking.
“Will you sign an autograph for me?” she asks.
“I’ll do anything you want, sweetheart.”
She smiles, her teeth glowing in the dim light.
“Anything?” she says seductively. She walks over next to him, leans against the protective railing.
“Your wish is my command, darlin,” Donnie says, trying to muster more Southern boy charm, but it’s half-assed and lazy.
The woman reaches inside her shirt. He thinks she’s going to pull it off. Have him sign her breasts. It’s been a while since he’s done that, but it’s part of the job, who’s he to complain?
She doesn’t remove her top. Doesn’t ask him to sign her ample cleavage. Instead, she’s reached into her waistband and pulled out a handgun.
“Well, my wish”—she says the word with derision—“is that you jump.” She motions the gun at the ocean below them, then trains it back on Donnie.
He chuckles, like she’s kidding. She’s fucking crazy, but he’s always been drawn to crazy women. The gun looks real but surely it’s a fake; she’s only playing. Offering a rakish smile, he says, “Look, sweetheart, I don’t—”
He’s cut off with a hard blow to his head with the butt of the gun. Donnie doubles over. After what feels like a long time, but might be only a few seconds, he stands, his legs wobbly. He touches his head. There’s red on his fingers. His eyes look into her’s. She’s definitely not playing.
She puts the barrel of the gun to his forehead, its muzzle cool on his skin.
“I don’t understand.” Donnie’s heartbeat swirls in his ears now.
“You don’t need to understand.” She holds up five fingers with the hand not clutching the gun. She begins ticking off her fingers. “Five . . . four . . .”
“All right, hold on, wait . . .”
“Three . . .”
“Okay!” He raises his hands.
She retracts the barrel and steps back, motions her chin for him to get up on the rail.
A chill races up Donnie’s spine. He hops his ass up, feeling the cold metal through his jeans. He’s no longer shit-faced drunk, but he’s unsteady from the terror.
The woman gestures with the gun for him to swing his legs around, and he does, fear seizing him as he sits precariously on the ledge, his feet dangling. On this side of the ship there are no decks below. A straight drop into the ocean. His eyes search for life preservers but find none.
“Two,” she says.
He twists his head around. She’s displaying an awful peace sign with her fingers.
“Please— What’s— I don’t understand.”
Before he pleads more, he hears her say, “One,” and feels the shove into the abyss.
Copyright © 2022 by Alex Finlay. All rights reserved.
What Have We Done Band Name Sweepstakes
How it works: sign in and comment on this post with your suggestion of an original band name that you want Alex Finlay to use in What Have We Done. Alex will decide the name for the band, which we’ll announce on the site, and by simply submitting your suggestion, you’ll be entered for a chance to win an advance reader copy of What Have We Done.
Need inspiration? The character Donnie enjoys the Calvin and Hobbes comicstrip so you can make reference to that in your suggested band name, or you can suggest a name that downright rocks in its own way.
What Have We Done Band Name Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/what-have-we-done-by-alex-finlay-featured-excerpt/ beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 11, 2022. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET July 15, 2022. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.