The van journey wasn't long, but the warmth of the van was making me feel sleepy as we pulled up outside a terraced house on a residential road. The band piled out almost as soon as we'd stopped, the pink-haired girl tagging along behind like a little sister. Nico saw her and shrugged; I just yawned and stretched.
The house revealed itself rapidly to be what I thought of as student accommodation; mismatched, battered furniture, a non-too-clean kitchen that still put mine to shame, and lots of bedrooms. The house was about half-full I thought, and everyone was holding a can of one branded lager or another. The band cleared a sofa in the living room to sit on, though the leader singer claimed an overstuffed armchair, slung his legs over one of the arms and stared off morosely into the distance.
"Beers are in the kitchen," brayed a boy who couldn't be more than fourteen. His pupils were dilated and there was a thin stream of drool running from the corner of his mouth. I wondered for a moment if there was anything I should do, but then three women wearing enough clothing for one between them descended on him, laughing hysterically and sweeping him off elsewhere.
"This way," said Nico, holding the midnight blue guitar that the lead guitarist had surrendered on stage. "Let's get this put away, and then we can sort out a proper drink."
He lead the way up two flights of stairs, one carpeted and the other bare wood that someone had painted with patterns of interlocking bones. When Nico stepped on the first one it crunched, and I stopped, startled. He must have heard my footsteps halt because he looked back and laughed.
"Sugar on the stairs," he said. "The boys like the effect it has on visitors, don't let it bother you."
I followed him, my feet crunching on each step, but I couldn't feel any grittiness like sugar of salt. If anything, the steps felt as rough as if they'd been truly fashioned from bones.
There were three doors on the landing at the top, and the middle one opened into Nico's office. There was a desk, a couple of chairs, a couple of wooden filing cabinets; typical office furniture. On the desk were some catalogues of antique instruments, an editor's spike with bills speared on it, a couple of pens and a small fan of business cards. Nico gestured to one of the chairs, a wooden affair with an ornately carved back, and put the guitar in a steel cabinet behind the door. He slipped a chain through the cabinet's handles, and padlocked it with a combination lock. Then he scooted round the other side of the desk, opened a drawer in one of the filing cabinets and produced a bottle of absinthe.
"No glasses," he said sounding a little apologetic. "But I don't mind sharing the bottle if you don't." I shrugged; normally I'd be fussier but I was feeling warm and sleepy now. He grinned, uncapped the bottle and drank first. He pushed the bottle my way, and then as an afterthought pushed a business card my way too.
"About DeeDee," he said as I drank, wincing slightly at the bitter taste of herbs, "I really don't want that kind of publicity around the boys at the moment. We're just starting to get known, the gigs are coming in and the boys are seeing a little bit of cash from it. Not a lot, but enough to make them want to stick at this."
I gave him the bottle back, and slipped his business card into a pocket.
"Right," I said. "I'm not trying to stir anything up here, I'm just checking you out for my sister. She's got a daughter in a coma, you can see how she might be a bit..."
"Right. Right. And all I'm asking is that if she gets a bit antsy, starts wanting to talk to the papers and maybe blame us, then you might calm her down again?"
"Sure." I had an inkling that Nico had probably tried it on with DeeDee and got nowhere, and that was what he was more worried about.
"Great! Then let's put this away before anyone comes looking for us, and join the party!"
I got down the bone-staircase by clutching the balustrade and trying not to listen to the noises beneath my feet. The second flight of stairs with its stained grey carpet was far easier. Half-way up we met the lead guitarist coming up, an odd look on his face. He seemed to look straight through me, so I looked at his eyes and was surprised to see them filmed over with a milky-greyness, like cataracts.
"Were you looking for me, Michael?" said Nico behind me.
"Guitar." Michael's voice was deep and guttural, and for the first time I wondered if he was foreign.
"Not tonight, it's sleeping."
Michael wavered on the stairs, and I reached out thinking he was going to fall backwards. Then he steadied himself, looked sulky, and turned round and led the way downstairs. Nico pushed past me at the foot, pursuing Michael who was heading through the kitchen to the back door. I headed for the front door, thinking it was time to leave. Just outside the front door I found the lead singer being sick in a flower bed.