“He smiles real peaceful-like, totally laid back, and sticks out his hand. ‘Nice to meetcha, mate.’”

I cannot stress how adorable Derek’s bad English accent was.

“So Ryan gushes all over him – ”

“I was not gushing,” Ryan said crossly.

“ – and Killian just smiles like he’s stoned, but the whole time he’s playing his guitar – just little whispers of his fingers over the strings. It’s not plugged in, so you can barely hear him, but he’s just playing non-stop, even while he’s talking to us, like his brain and his hands are disconnected.

“So I say, ‘We’re in a band. And one day we’re going to get you to be our guitarist.’”

I frowned in disbelief. That was a pretty ballsy thing to say.

“Ryan looks at me like I’m crazy, but Killian just laughed, took a hit on his joint, and nodded his head. ‘Well… let me hear you first,’ he says.

“Ryan doesn’t have an instrument, obviously, so Killian tells one of the roadies to bring the bass guitar stuff over. The bassist is pissed, but Killian tells him to fuck off, he’s going to quit Gobsmacked and join our band if he doesn’t let Ryan borrow the bass. So the bassist threatens to cut Ryan’s balls off if he fucks up his bass, and then he goes off to get drunk. Ryan’s freaking out at this point, but I couldn’t be happier.

“Killian asks what we want to play, and I say, ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ which is a Zeppelin tune. Killian nods like he’s happy to hear it. Ryan’s killer at this – we’ve practiced it, like, fifty times here in the basement – so we launch into it, and it’s awesome. I’m pretty good, Ryan’s losing his nervousness, and Killian just owns the song. It was like we’re playing with fuckin’ Jimmy Page. We actually start attracting a little crowd.

“Then Killian is like, ‘What’s next?’ and I say ‘Higher Ground,’ and he says, ‘Stevie or Peppers?’ because the Chili Peppers covered the original Stevie Wonder song, and I say, ‘Chili Peppers.’ Killian tells some guy to go get the drummer from Gobsmacked, and he comes back and he’s pissed, but Killian tells him ‘Get on the drums, mate, we’re doin’ the Chili Peppers’ ‘Higher Ground.’ So the guy does, and it ROCKS. We’re getting a bigger crowd. We play a couple more songs, and people are totally into it, but the lead singer comes back in and he is PISSED that he’s not the center of attention, and he and the bassist basically get the roadies to load all the equipment up and tell us to fuck off.

“Killian flips them off and looks back at us and says, ‘You guys are good. Really good. You – ’ and he points to Ryan – ‘are technically excellent. You just need to get more of a feel for it. You need to get spiritual with it. Let the music own you. And you – ’ and he points to me – ‘you’ve got that ‘something’ you need to be a great lead singer. You just need to stop mimicking those other people. Stop imitating them. Find your own voice. It’ll take awhile, but if you do it, you’ll be unstoppable.’”

It was actually really good advice. It put a finger on the one thing I’d noticed subconsciously about the songs: Derek sounded like himself… but he also sounded like a couple of other, better-known singers. He didn’t quite sound… unique, if that made any sense.

Derek continued, “Then he smiles and shakes our hands and says, ‘That was a pleasure, mate. We should do it again sometime.’

“And I say, ‘When he gets better at feeling the music, and I find my voice, I want you to be in our band.’

“And he laughs and he says, ‘You do that, both of you, and I will definitely leave this shitty outfit, or whatever outfit I’m in, and I’ll back you.’

“And then he waves goodbye and walks out into the night strumming his guitar, no amp, just the metallic strings dying away in the night air.”

I could see it in my mind’s eye – the mystery man walking out into the night, his trench coat swirling the fog behind him.

“From that moment, I was hooked,” Derek said, his eyes on fire. “I was a man possessed. I’m going to find my voice if it kills me, and Ryan’s going to go deeper and do whatever the fuck he needs to do, and we’re going to get Killian Lee to join the band, and we’re going to be fucking famous.”

The certainty and the passion with which he said it sent a shiver down my spine.

“Wow,” Shanna said, entranced.

“He didn’t mean it,” Ryan said glumly.

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