Crow Jane - D. J. Butler

Chapter One

Jane looked with eyes that had seen many things. She had watched the Holy League sink the Turk at Lepanto. She had seen Spartacus and his six thousand revolutionaries nailed to crosses on the Appian Way. She had witnessed the falls of Troy, Ugarit, Ebla, and Babel, when she had still been recognized by the children of men, and known by the name her mother had given her. It had been a long, long time since anything had truly delighted Jane’s eyes.

This rock and roll band certainly didn’t. They tried to make up in enthusiasm what they lacked in finesse, but their efforts left her unsatisfied. Time was infinite, mankind was a huge, flowing river, and Jane had heard it all before. Still, she had followed them all the way from New Mexico, and this was her first actual glance at them, so she paid close attention.

“Ten thousand miles of motorway tar,” the singer roared.

Maori girl and a Japanese car,

Picking a living on this old guitar,

I gotta go.

I gotta go.”

He was tall and lean, with the broad-shouldered, muscular physique of a rugby player or a Myrmidon. He looked the part of a rock and roller, pale and intense, with eyes like ice and black hair to his shoulders. There was something familiar about him too, something Jane could not quite place. His wide mouth nearly swallowed the microphone, and his booming voice threatened to shake the brick walls of the bar.

“I loved you well but from afar,

Picadilly or Zanzibar?

I gotta go.”

The crow flapped directly over the players on the tiny stage, mocking her with its enormous black wings. She couldn’t avoid seeing it, but she resolutely avoided paying it any conscious attention.

“Enjoyin’ the music?” a voice asked at her elbow.

Jane turned and saw that it had come from the man behind the bar. “Layers of sound piled on top of each other do not necessarily become music,” she told him, “just as a series of events is not necessarily a story.”

“You don’t follow the band, then?”

“I don’t.”

“Too bad,” he said, “I’se hopin’ maybe you could tell me their names. I coulda swore when we booked them yesterday they were The Racket Club, but tonight they’re callin’ themselves Laughing Jack and the Sons of Bitches.”

“Maybe they’re on the lam.”

The bartender chuckled deferentially. “If they are, I reckon they’re not the only ones in the room. That’s quite the set of tattoos you’re sportin’,” he said.

Jane looked at him more closely. She didn’t particularly care for the bartender, and it had been centuries since she’d had a conversation with a human being that was anything other than dry dust and hollow words, but she wanted a distraction from the crow. Also, the fact that he had noticed her at all caused a tiny spark of surprise to flash in her mind—he must be a keen observer, and she must have let herself drift too close. “And you have quite an accent, barkeep. You’re not from here.”

“I ain’t from Kansas,” the bartender agreed. He was a tallish man with a shock of silver hair and a twinkle in his eye. He wore jeans and a checked shirt, and Jane could see in the Wild Turkey-branded mirror behind him that he stood within easy reach of a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun under the bar. “I wandered the hills of North Carolina in my youth, and I reckon in my old age I jest started wanderin’ a bit further. Name’s John,” he grinned. “What’re you drinkin’?”

Jane was already bored. No amount of wandering could compete with hers. She looked back at the stage again and saw the crow perched on the guitar player’s amplifier. He was a wiry thin black man in torn blue jeans and a green military jacket, bristling with pocket flaps, the sleeves of which had been crudely ripped off. He played a worn red guitar and stared down at it with intense focus. Behind him lurked the bass player, a tall, slightly paunchy man with thick black hair. If any of the band was a real musician it was him—he threw improvised little flourishes into the turnarounds like he too was bored with the song, and was trying to liven it up—but he looked shaky, and barely under control. Drugs, Jane thought, or some deep-seated fear.

The burning sands of the hippodrome,

Slick my hair back, polish my chrome,

One final battle, one final poem,

I gotta go.

I gotta go.

“Call me Jane,” she said. “And pour me rum.”

“Got a bit of an accent yourself, don’t you?”