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Pete’s Guitar

by Bob Sorensen

part 1

“Stewie, wake up, man,” Dave said. “The boss is supposed to come by any minute now.”

Stewie lifted his head from his desk and groaned. “No way. It’s too early. Besides, no normal human being should have any expectation of intelligent discourse at this hour.” He glanced up at the clock. “Eight a.m. How did I ever let you talk me into taking this job? Tell you what, wake me when it’s lunch time.” Stewie put his head back down.

“C’mon, look alive,” Dave said. “We have to make a good impression with this guy. Otherwise he might stick us on some crummy project. Besides, I want a good letter of recommendation at the end of the summer.” He kicked Stewie under the desk.

Stewie’s head snapped up. He rubbed his ankle. “All right, Captain America, I’m up. No need to go all jackboot on me.”

Stewie stood, stretched, and tried to smooth down his curly hair, which responded by impossibly getting even more unruly. “So where is old glad-hand?”

Dave winced. “It’s Gladstone. Mister Gladstone to us. And here he comes now.”

Gladstone’s head could be seen working its way through the maze of cubicles that filled the hangar-sized office space where Stewie and Dave had been assigned. The day before, they had taken a one-day orientation for the summer intern program at GlobalTech, a division of something or other neither Stewie nor Dave could recall.

The two young men stood in front of their cubicles and waited for Gladstone to arrive.

“Boys, welcome.” Gladstone shook hands with Stewie first, then Dave. Gladstone clearly was into the whole firm-grip thing. He had on a white shirt, tie, and sports coat, all of indeterminate fabric.

Dave pushed up his glasses, which had slipped down his nose for the nth time that morning. Stewie picked at the hole in the sleeve of his t-shirt while staring at his sneakers.

“I’ve been looking forward to having such bright young minds in my care,” Gladstone said, “even if it is only for the summer. But who knows, play your cards right and when you graduate, class of 2030 from Caltech, no less, there may be a place for you here full time.”

Stewie snorted, maybe a bit too enthusiastically, because a not insignificant accumulation of gooey mess was expelled from his nose. He wiped it on his shirt sleeve.

Dave moved in front of Stewie and took Gladstone by the elbow. He led him a few steps up the aisle. “We’re very happy to be here, sir, and looking forward to our first assignment. At the interview we talked about the new intelligent system software for NASA’s new deep-space satellites. We’re eager to roll up our sleeves.”

Gladstone looked Dave in the eye and gave him the big smile, the one he practiced in the mirror for just such occasions.

“Yes, well, about that.” Gladstone paused, his eyes darting around. “There’s been a slight change in plan.”

Dave swallowed audibly. “No problem, is there?”

Stewie stepped in between the two. “Yeah, what gives? I thought we were going to do some real work here. I turned down a perfectly cool job at JPL and if you think...”

“Please, Stewie,” Dave said. “I’m sure Mr. Gladstone has something very exciting planned for us.” Dave shot Stewie a quick glare.

Gladstone licked his lips. “Boys, it’s like this. We did want you to work on the deep-space package, but something else came up.” He rubbed his hands. “It’s much more important. It shouldn’t take too much time. And I think you guys are best suited for the job.”

“Do tell, Stony,” Stewie said.

Gladstone put his arms around the two and drew them in close. “You see,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, “it’s a special project, for old man Johnson.”

Stewie was about to interrupt, until Dave looked over at him. Dave said, “Albert Johnson is the CEO of GlobalTech, worth billions. And that’s on a bad day.”

Gladstone nodded. “Exactly. And all of the department heads are wracking their brains picking out a birthday present for Johnson’s kid, Kurt, who turns twenty-one next week.”

Gladstone looked up and down the rows of cubicles. Satisfied no one was listening, he said, “I was hoping you guys, seeing you’re the same age, could think up a present for the kid. It would be a fine feather in my cap, career wise-ish. What do you boys say?”

Standing close to Gladstone, both Stewie and Dave could see the terrible impact cheap hair transplants have on the human scalp, and in that vanishingly brief instant of pity, they nodded.

“Sure, we could do that,” Stewie said. “But then the software, right?”

Gladstone let his arms drop to his sides. Stewie and Dave immediately took a step back from their boss.

“You boys have got yourself a deal. Now get me some suggestions by next Monday, and they had better be great.” He turned and walked away.

Just before he disappeared around the corner, Dave pushed up his glasses and yelled, “What does the kid like?”

Gladstone turned, shrugged, and then muttered, “I think he likes classic rock or something like that.”

Stewie and Dave spent part of the morning knocking around ideas for Kurt’s birthday gift. They figured Gladstone would chip in some cash for the gift, but probably not much. Not that it mattered, they quickly concluded they were in no position to dazzle the son of a multibillionaire with an expensive gift.

But mostly Dave paced up and down the narrow aisle hoping for inspiration while Stewie explored GlobalTech’s large data storage network after hacking past its feeble security software.

“Hey. What if we dug up some retro rock band to come play at his party? That could be cool,” Dave said.

“Yeah,” Stewie said, “I’m sure if we ask nice, we could get anybody we want.”

He learned forward to look closely at his computer monitor. “Did you know the theoretical physics section totally cooked its books last quarter to cover up some huge losses?”

By lunchtime, they were ready for a break. The two wandered through the complex of offices and research labs, following the distinct odors of nondescript food prepared for people who would rather be eating elsewhere.

After securing their allotted portions of tuna surprise, they looked around for a place to sit. The cafeteria was crowded, and most of the tables were already filled.

Stewie elbowed Dave. “Hey, check that out.”

Tray in hand, Stewie pointed with his chin at a young woman sitting alone at a table back against the far wall. She was tall, with long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“She was in our orientation class. Let’s go make friends,” Stewie said.

Dave hesitated. “I don’t know. She doesn’t look like she wants company. Besides I don’t remember her name.”

Stewie rolled his eyes. “Don’t get all schoolgirl on me. Let’s just drop by. Friendly-like. You gotta admit she’s hot.”

Dave nodded and followed Stewie over to the table.

“Hey, I’m Stewie and the quiet one is Dave.”

Dave nodded and pushed up his glasses.

“Hi. My name’s Zoe. You guys summers?”

“Yeah, how’d you guess?” Stewie smirked, sitting down. “We’re working over in the physics lab. I’m into the theoretical stuff. Dave here, he’s what you’d call a bona fide computer super hero.”

Dave’s face reddened to the top of his ears.

Zoe pushed back a strand of hair that had worked its way loose. “Cool. I’m stuck in resources and logistics, making sure the bills get paid on time. Wannna know how much this place spends on toilet paper every month? For this I studied Shakespeare.”

For the next half hour, Stewie and Zoe chatted like old friends. Dave sat silently and managed to push tuna around his plate while gaining a larger appreciation for the symmetrical placement of the cafeteria ceiling lights. After lunch, they agreed to meet back there the next day.

Dave and Stewie wandered around until they found their cubicles.

“Wow. I am definitely in love this time,” Stewie said as he settled back into his imitation leather chair.

Dave smirked. “That took longer than I thought. Well, you ready to tackle the great responsibility that has been placed on our shoulders?”

Stewie shrugged. “Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do.”

The next morning Dave showed up on time, cleaned and pressed. He brought in donuts for Stewie, who had not come home last night. As Dave had expected, Stewie had pulled an all-nighter camped in front of his computer. It was just like being back at school.

“I got caught up exploring some of the more interesting government-related files, you might say. Thanks,” Stewie said, grabbing a handful of glazed donuts.

Dave knew better than to ask any details. They still had one more semester of academic probation from Stewie’s last excursion into supposedly protected Pentagon files.

“Well,” Dave said, changing the subject, “I have some pretty cool news myself. About Johnson’s birthday gift.”

“Ohhh, hold that thought,” Stewie said. “I’m gonna need some rocket fuel for this.” He sprinted down the hall to the vending machines and came back with two cups of black coffee laced with extra caffeine. Dave got a throbbing behind his eyes just smelling the stuff.

“That’s better,” Stewie said, after taking the first swallow, spilling some on his t-shirt. “OK, what’ve you got for me, brainchild?”

Dave scooted his chair into Stewie’s cubicle until they were almost close enough for their knees to touch. “I was talking to my grandfather last night. Turns out he’s a big classic rock guy. Knows all the bands from way back when. Says he went to a couple of concerts in his ‘crazy’ days. Whatever that means I don’t want to know.”

Stewie chewed on another donut, chocolate, his favorite. “Well, what did he say?”

“He told me about one of the greatest moments in rock history, said if anyone was a real fan, they would know about it.”

Stewie learned forward. “Keep going.”

“Better yet, let me show you.” Dave reached across Stewie and typed a few words into his keyboard. After a few seconds lag, an image appeared on the screen. It was grainy, dark with runny colors, but the two could make out a grungy-looking guy sitting on a cramped stage playing an electric guitar. A drummer and a bass player were standing off to one side, coolly ignoring the proceedings.

“And what exactly am I looking at?” Stewie said.

“See that guy? That’s Pete Townsend, he was the guitar player for a band called The Who.”

“Very clever name,” Stewie said. “I hope they didn’t hurt themselves thinking it up. So, what’s the deal?”

“My grandfather said this film was taken at a big hippie concert over sixty years ago at some place in New York called Woodstock.”

Stewie took another big gulp of coffee. No spill this time.

“According to my grandfather,” Dave said, “it was some major happening — his words not mine — half a million people standing outside in the rain for three days listening to the best rock and roll of that era. I think there was some tie-in to the whole political climate thing: the Vietnam War, Watergate; I’m not too sure.”

“Okay, I’m with you,” Stewie said, “but what’s with this Who guy?”

“Watch the tape,” Dave said. “This band was known for some pretty crazy stunts. At least crazy for back then. Tearing up their hotel rooms and smashing their equipment. So they play this set at Woodstock, and after they finished... well watch, here it comes.”

On the screen Townsend stops playing and begins to smash his guitar on the floor of the stage. The crowd cheers. Oblivious to everything around him, Townsend tosses the guitar in the air. Dave reached over to the computer speakers to lower the wailing of the guitar as it hits the stage floor.

The two watch as Townsend, with an almost perfect blend of defiance and indifference, takes the wounded guitar and heaves it into the audience. It hangs in the air for a second before disappearing among the throngs of screaming, dirty, and delirious spectators. Townsend struts off the stage.

The video goes blank.

“So that’s it,” Dave said. “A defining moment in rock music, at least according to my grandfather. I was hoping we could use it for inspiration. Maybe cleanup the video and put together some kind of tribute to this band. What do you think?”

Stewie pushed his chair away from the desk, leaned back, and grabbed the last donut. He ate most of it in a single bite and then smiled. “Dave my lad, it’s good. In fact, it’s very good. But, I’ve got an ever better idea. The perfect gift for the kid who has everything.”

Dave looked at Stewie and started to sweat. He had seen that look before. “Oh no. What are you thinking? Wait. I don’t even want to know.”

Stewie leaned forward and rewound the video to the point just before Townsend’s guitar disappeared from sight. “C’mon. This will be cool. I ran across some interesting files last night that could help us get our hands on that guitar.”

Dave looked almost relieved. “That’s impossible. My grandfather said Townsend didn’t just randomly throw it into the crowd. He had a roadie waiting to catch it. The guy brought it backstage after the show. All part of the act. The guitar was never put up for sale, and no one knows what happened to it. That ax, my friend, is long gone.”

Stewie shrugged and zoomed the picture until the guitar filled the entire monitor. “Well. That’s a matter of opinion.”

Dave’s voice dropped to a whisper. “What? What are you planning?” he said.

Just then Mr. Gladstone bounced into Stewie’s cubicle. “Good morning, boys.” He smiled at Dave who instinctively jumped to his feet. Dave was rewarded with a big slap on the shoulder.

Shifting his eyes, Gladstone cast a disapproving eye at Stewie, letting his gaze linger on Stewie’s faded t-shirt, which was covered with powdered sugar. Stewie brushed some of it away.

“Don’t forget, boys,” Gladstone said, “we’ve got our weekly staff meeting. I have a couple of other things to keep you busy. You know, when you’re not working on you know what.” Then Gladstone winked.

Dave bowed, although not too deeply. “Sure thing, Mr. Gladstone. We were just on our way.”

Gladstone hurried up the aisle, disappearing around the corner.

Stewie looked at Dave. “See, even the boss approves. Tell you what, give me some time to arrange things and then I’ll tell you all about what we’re going to do.”

Dave pushed up his glasses and nodded weakly.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2012 by Bob Sorensen

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