This was originally written for /r/WritingPrompts: “[WP] Music has now been classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance due to its ability to influence the human psyche. Only government approved music is available to the general public. This forces an illegal underground of people creating and distributing non-approved music. You are a dealer.”.
This was heavily inspired by a much older story by /u/RamsesThePigeon: “Reddit, what’s a good street name for toast?”. Shorter than most of my /r/WritingPrompts stories, and a bit lighter as well.
Music’s a lot less casual than it used to be. Once, just anyone could go to YouTube or Spotify and get access to millions of songs, and listen to them with lousy $10 headphones without any real appreciation of it. Then came the DCMA II, and people had to start pirating mp3s and using IP proxies. Then came DCMA III, and people had to start going to brick-and-mortar music stores again. Then came DCMA IV, and people had to start making their own records from X-Ray plates again. And then came DCMA V, and, well, here we are.
The last ten years have been pretty good for business, if I’m being honest. And the entry requirements for bone music does keep the filthy casuals at bay.
I clean another set of cups behind the college singeasy’s bar as Anscombe’s Quartet steps off the stage and Dangerously Irrelevant Operator gets ready to play their opening number. It’s a good crowd (even if a bunch of engineering students turn out to have some really weird taste in band names), the music’s been rocking to a solid 55 dB, and there’s still a trickle of people coming in from outside, reciting the password “gramophone”. Suddenly, Derrick, one of the waiters, pulls up beside me in a fright.
“I was just upstairs, and I saw a few cars circling the block.”
“So? Maybe they’re just looking for a place to park.”
“Nah dude, there’s nowhere to park on this block on a Saturday night and all the customers know it. You gotta go over to 36th and take the subway. I’m pretty sure it’s the police.”
My eyes go wide, but I stay calm. Starting a panic is the last thing we need. I look around at all the illegal activities going on: unapproved lyrics and jams coming from the stage, various people with portable CD burners mingling going from table to table advertising their wares, and though I’m technically a high-brow establishment, I turn a blind eye to the flute lessons going on in one of the back rooms. As long as there’s no kids involved. No kid should be subjected to flute lessons. I’m not a monster.
“Ok, we’ve been over what to do. Get back up there and stall them for a few minutes. I’ll handle things down here.” Heh. Three minutes and that drum will turn back into a keg, the mic will turn back into a yard of ale, and the piano’s fourth and fifth pedals are ‘gas’ and ‘brake’. I’ve been through this before.
But before Derrick can even make it to the stairs, the door at the top slams open as a half-dozen men in uniforms burst in. “FREEZE! NOBODY MOVE!”
Well, shoot. So much for stalling. I can’t hide the evidence now. Derrick looks like he’s about to faint. Do I have a plan B?
“Officers,” I say, “welcome to my humble establishment. May I offer you all some light refreshments?”
They don’t respond to this as they come down the stairs, and one of them grabs my hands and pulls them around my back as the others fan out. “You’re under arrest, scumbag. Facilitating the sale of a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.”
“I’m not selling any drugs here, officers. This place is clean, and always checks IDs before serving alcohol. I run an above board establishment.”
The one on the stage looks at me and laughs. “Yeah? Then what do you call this?”, pointing to the drum kit.
“Perfectly legal equipment, grandfathered in and approved for demonstration and display purposes by a licensed historian.” Which it technically was. Thank goodness for diploma mills. “I have their up-to-date certifications on the walls, there.”
“Don’t play games with me”, says the man holding my arms. “We’ve recorded the whole thing.” He pulls out a pocket recorder, presses a button, and I hear ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ playing faintly behind me. Ok, that’s pretty damming. But where did he get it? Our Christmas show was two weeks ago, which means…
Ethan. I never should have hired that weasel. Ok. Time for some brown-nosing of my own. “So the only evidence you have is that recording?” I say softly to the officer behind me.
“We’ve got more where this came from. More than enough to put you away for life.”
“What if the recordings were overwritten? Could your guys be persuaded not to press charges?”
“Fat chance. Money? Booze? We don’t need it. And don’t even try to bribe me with your” — he almost spits the word — “CDs. Pop music was a cancer. Bieber’s extradition was too good for him. We’re better off now.”
“I’m not talking about pop music, Officer Darryl”, I say quietly, and I take a leap in the dark. “How old’s your daughter? 3?”
He freezes. I’d felt the wedding ring on his finger, and he didn’t look a day over 30, but still, it was a big gamble. “Two and a half”, he finally says. “And there’s another one on the way.”
“Does she ever have trouble sleeping at night? And a nightlight just doesn’t cut it?”
He says nothing, but his grip relaxes. This just might work.
“Sir”, I say loud enough for everybody to hear, “if you’ll take me to the supply room, I believe you’ll find exculpatory evidence.”
He practically drags me there, and three other officers accompany him. Come on, come on…
“Right beneath that floorboard.”
One of them grabs a crowbar from the loading dock, and jams it down. Under the floorboards is a small wooden chest. In the chest, wrapped in velvet, are three wind-up music boxes. You wouldn’t believe what those cost. “They’re yours, officers. All I ask is for your discretion.”
After a long and stressful pause, Darryl grunts and uncuffs me. “I never saw you”, he said. “Get out of here.” He takes one of the boxes almost reverently and winds it up.
And as I slip into the alley and out of sight, I can hear a toy piano plinking out the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.