CHAPTER 16: THE EVIL SISTER
Melody. Melody. Melody.
She was all I wanted to think about. All week long my memory kept calling up her scent and sending me spiraling back into obsession.
I hated it.
I loved it.
Suddenly, I had energy for music again. Hell, suddenly I had energy for everything again. I was ready to run a few laps around the Loop and climb a skyscraper while beating my chest and swatting at helicopters. I no longer felt compelled to drink myself into a stupor. I occasionally caught myself whistling.
My newfound energy was not universally well-received.
“What the hell are you so happy about?” Jojo wanted to know. She appeared at the doorway to her room looking worse for the wear and scowled at me.
“I feel alive again,” I said.
“How much cocaine have you had, honey?”
“You haven’t slept in, like, four days.”
“What day is it?”
“Friday. We’re goin’ to the club. You comin’ or not?”
Melody. Melody. Melody.
* * * *
Club Lure was packed when we got there. I did a quick, hopeful glance around the room in search of Melody. There were a lot of dancers working that night, but none that I recognized. On the nearer stage, caged in by brass poles, a leggy redhead looked me up and down and shook her ass in my direction until Tombstone bellied up to the tip rail with a stack of singles. I’d largely forgiven Kilroy and Jojo for leaving me out in the rain, but Tombstone and I were only barely on civil terms.
“Well, well, look who it is.” Judge made his presence known by thumping me on the back hard enough to knock the Holy Spirit out of me.
“Here I am,” I said.
“I heard Melody had her way with you, but you look like you come through it okay.” Judge stowed his cell phone in the breast pocket of his bowling shirt and peered at me over the top of his glasses. “Where’s the bar girl? I need a Coke.”
I shrugged. The bartender was also the waitress. I could see a long blondish ponytail circulating in the crowd with a tray, blending in more with the lumpy shapes of the patrons than the bright undulating curves of the dancers.
Judge grunted in acknowledgment and gestured toward the door to his office with a nod of his head. “Come with me, we got stuff to talk about. Send Eden up when she gets back.” This last was directed to a skinny dude with a mohawk and a utilikilt leaning on the bar nearby: clearly some kind of regular. Mohawk Dude nodded, his eyes flicking over me with a startle of recognition, but he stayed put.
I followed Judge up the stairs to his office and took a seat on one of the couches.
“Lolla was somethin’ this year, eh? Helluva storm.” Judge sank down in the swivel chair behind the desk in a creaking of springs.
“Yeah, we played all of one song. God fucking hates us, but whatever, we got paid.”
“Drink?” Judge produced a bottle of rum from the bottom drawer of his desk and held it out to me.
Judge poured a measure of rum into a glass on his desk and handed it to me while he poured a second. I swallowed it down in a single gulp and held the glass out for more. Judge eyed me for a moment and then filled it again.
“Pace yourself, crustbucket. Don’t need you passing out again.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” I asked, but I took a dainty sip of the rum with my pinkie raised for his benefit.
Judge chortled with a sound like he was boiling mud in his chest. “So, what’s next?”
I stared down into my glass as if it held the answers I was looking for. “Hell if I know,” I said. There had been a time, not long ago, when I would have done anything to get my ass out of Chicago the minute Lollapalooza was over. By all logic, I should have been on a flight back to L.A. by now; back in the city of sunshine and beautiful women and the dry rot of broken dreams and unfulfilled potential.
“Riot Fest coming up, you playin’?” Judge asked.
“Fat fucking chance.”
Thanks to the radius clause, our chances of making it on stage at Riot Fest were about the same as being launched into orbit. I didn’t need anybody rubbing it in.
“I know some people, could put in a word for you,” Judge said.
“Bitch, please, if you get us on a stage at Riot Fest, I will personally suck your—”
The sudden sound of shattering glass interrupted my thought. Judge’s eyes flickered over my shoulder with an expression of annoyance.
“All good, there, E?”
I turned to see the bartender standing in the doorway to the office and startled with recognition: it was Evelyn.
It was my little sister.
“Damen?! What the hell?!” Evelyn stared at me in astonishment. Evelyn: the perfect one. Evelyn the normal one. Evelyn, the success. The college graduate with a Master’s degree and a day job and fiancé. Here. Wearing short-shorts and mile-high heels.
“I could ask you the same thing, Daisy Dukes.”
“You two know each other?” Judge asked.
“He’s… my brother,” she muttered, stooping to gather up the pieces of the glass she’d dropped. Judge’s eyes narrowed as they flickered back and forth from Evelyn to me and back again; appraising our obvious differences.
“Half-brother by blood,” I supplied. “Speaking of which: you’re bleeding.”
Evelyn looked down at her hand where her finger was bleeding from the broken glass.
“You got a first aid kit?” I asked Judge.
“There’s one behind the bar,” Evelyn said. “Sorry ‘bout the mess—let me take care of this…” She waved her bloody finger in his direction and turned to head down the stairs.
“I’ll be back,” I told Judge and went after her.
What the hell was she doing here? My dismay vied with my fascination. Evelyn liked keeping secrets. She was wicked good at it too; this was the biggest secret I’d ever caught her out in. I felt slimy and delightful knowing that I wasn’t the only disappointment in the family.
“Your fiancé know you work here?” I needled her as she ducked under the bar counter and stuck her hand under the tap to rinse away the blood.
“He helped me get the job, fart face.”
“What about Michael?” I asked. “He know about this little side hustle you got?” Evelyn’s lips thinned to faint pink lines over her teeth.
“No,” she spat. “He doesn’t.”
I leaned across the bar and crowed.
“Shut up! It’s just a job.” Evelyn blushed furiously and splashed water across the counter at me. It was lukewarm and smelled like rust. “So help me, Damen, if you breathe one word of this to Dad, I swear to God, I’ll chew your face off.”
“Well, that was explicit.”
“Well, I—” she didn’t have anything else. I could see her throat working and I realized she was about to cry. I was suddenly sorry. I’d taken things too far; I always did. I took a bar napkin from the stand at the corner of the bar and took her hand to wrap it around her finger.
“Sorry, Evil,” I said. “I didn’t mean it. I’m glad to see you.” I reached over the bar to give her a one-armed hug. She smelled nice. Normal. Like soap and fabric softener. She hugged me with her free arm, keeping her bloody finger away from my back.
“Hands off, bitch, I saw him first!”
I felt a pair of hands smacking at Evelyn’s arm around my neck. I pulled away to see Camille whacking at her with a clutch purse and smiling like it was a game. She was wearing thigh-high black boots paired with an electric blue dress that clung to every curve. I threaded an arm around her waist and pressed her body against my side.
“Don’t worry,” Evelyn assured her, struggling with a Band-Aid from a safe distance behind the bar. “He’s aaaaaall yours. He’s my brother.”
“Shut up!” Camille grabbed my chin and angled my face toward the light of the cage-stage. “You don’t look anything alike.”
“Trust me,” Evelyn said, darkly.
“I don’t trust anybody anymore.” Camille put on a pout that was only half-serious. “D’you know, I left him alone with Melody for five goddamn minutes and he gives her an all-access Lolla pass? That should’ve been mine.” She winked at me and lowered her voice to a purr. “I heard all about your…performance. What’s a girl gotta do to get an encore?”
Her eyes swept over my body in a way that told me she wasn’t interested in my singing.
Evelyn seemed to know what Camille was about and rolled her eyes. She finished bandaging her finger and gathered a dustpan and a roll of paper towels under one arm and headed back up to Judge’s office leaving the two of us alone.
* * * *
“Now, where were we?” Camille stood over me with her hands on her hips as I once again sank into the velveteen cushions of the same champagne booth where I’d passed out a week ago. Her gaze was hungry as if I was a piece of rare steak, and she licked her lips, “You’re not gonna pass out on me again, are you?”
“No, that was a one-time thing,” I assured her, throwing a look across the booth to where Jojo was writhing against her Suicide Girl in the shifting kaleidoscope of the stage lights. She heard my oblique accusation over the thunder of the music and rolled her eyes but said nothing.
Camille settled onto my lap and melted against my chest, every inch of her soft and warm and supple; as willing and eager as Melody had been rigid and untouchable.
Melody, Melody, Melody.
I felt a twinge of guilt remembering that she was the reason I’d even come out tonight, but I quickly squashed it. It wasn’t like I owed her anything. Melody wasn’t here. Camille was. With an effort, I put Melody out of my mind and nuzzled Camille’s velvety throat with my nose and cheek. She giggled and kissed me hard, her teeth scraping my lip stud against my teeth. I hooked my thumbs on the top of her dress and waited to see if she was going to stop me. She didn’t. Instead, she put her hands over mine and tugged it down, exposing her bare breasts to me.
“You like that?” she asked, pinching a nipple with one hand and twisting a lock of hair around a finger with the other.
“I like where it’s headed,” I said. My body was beginning to sit up and beg.
“You’re gonna love where it ends up,” she smiled in my ear, pinching my earlobe between her teeth as she undid my belt. “I love a story with a happy ending…”
Kilroy chose that moment to burst into the booth in a clatter of beads, with Tombstone trailing in his wake.
“Dude. Not a good time.”
“Dude,” Kilroy insisted. He landed on the cushions beside me and smacked my shoulder with the back of his hand, one of his heavy silver rings clipping my collarbone. “Judge’s got a hookup for Riot Fest!”
“Ow, fuck, dude—Not. A Good. Time.” I gestured to my lap where Camille sat topless, one hand creeping down the front of my pants. Kilroy glanced at the goings-on, gave an appreciative nod, then turned his attention back to me, uninterrupted.
“Dude! Riot Fest!”
“What about Riot Fest?” Jojo wrenched her attention out of her dancer’s ass and pushed herself up on an elbow.
Camille gave an annoyed groan. “If you guys’re gonna have a board meeting in here, you’re all gonna pay for fucking lap dances,” she told him, snapping her fingers at Kilroy and Tombstone’s empty laps. The floor host crammed another clutch of dancers into the booth. A redhead. An Asian girl. A pair of girls who looked like they styled themselves as twins but didn’t look much alike. The booth suddenly abounded with a carnival of flesh. We were one hard-boiled egg away from a Marx Brothers routine.
Even through the forest of legs I could see Tombstone’s fingers forming an unmistakable sign that somehow managed to express rock, riot, and riches at the same time. Riot Fest!
“We’re not playing Riot Fest,” I said again.
Tombstone’s expression slammed closed with anger. WTF?! Kilroy seemed to agree.
“We don’t exactly have a ton of options, dude.” Kilroy’s bloodshot eyes were serious. He’d taken over our bookkeeping and knew better than any of us just how many inches of debt dildo we had shoved up our asses. “We need this gig. I’m telling Judge we’ll take it.”
“Wait—” I said. I caught the hem of his t-shirt as he got to his feet and dragged him back into the booth before he could make promises we couldn’t keep. He staggered back and landed beside me.
“The fuck is your problem, dude? You can’t keep making these fucking decisions on your own,” he snapped. “First Lolla, now this? What, you’re not even gonna give TJ a say this time?”
“It’s not that I don’t want it. We can’t take it. Legally.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Kilroy demanded.
I sighed, staring at Camille’s tits without seeing them. Fuck.
“The Lolla contract has a radius clause.”
“A radius clause.”
Kilroy looked blank. On my lap, Camille started to laugh.
“Oh, honey, you’re fucked,” she said.
Tombstone made a questioning gesture.
“It means we can’t play any shows within 90 miles of Grant Park for a year,” I muttered in a hurried undertone, embarrassed to even have to speak the words.
Kilroy’s face went blank for a moment while he processed this.
“What’d he say?” Jojo could read the trouble on Kilroy’s face, even if the words hadn’t carried across the booth. Kilroy didn’t answer.
“We Can’t Take Any Gigs In Chicago For A Year,” I enunciated loudly, to a firing squad of angry stares.
“When the hell were you planning on telling us?!” Kilroy asked, finding his voice at last.
“It was in the contract. It wasn’t exactly a secret.”
“Like we had any fucking say in that!”
“Well, there’s nothing I can fucking to do about it now, is there?” I snapped, the thunder of blood in my ears was drowning my thoughts in static. “We either signed the contract or we didn’t play. So, we signed it, and we played the show, and we got our fee. You’d have done the same thing. Any of us would have. So, don’t fucking put this on me.”
Across the booth, Tombstone made an obscene gesture in my direction and I saw red. I shoved Camille off my lap and lunged at him. Tombstone’s face flushed with anger as he launched to his feet, slapping his chest.
Come at me, bro!
“Jesus, what is your fucking defect, man?” Kilroy struggled to get between the two of us before things could escalate, but I elbowed him out of the way to face off with Tombstone. The not-twins shrieked and fled out of the booth in a panic, but I ignored them.
“You wanna fight? C’mon; hit me.” I shouted at him. I knocked my forehead against his and Tombstone reeled back in shock, but before he could react with a punch, I was yanked backward by the force of a strong arm wrapping around my neck.
“That’s enough, fucker! Break it up!” The floor host, Rocco, trapped me in a headlock as another thick-necked gentleman pulled Tombstone in the opposite direction.
I held up my hands in surrender. “We’re cool; I’m fine. We’re cool!” I shouted to Rocco over the music, but he didn’t let me go. He hauled me out of the booth and down the short flight of steps onto the club floor before releasing me. I reeled away, nearly colliding with Camille who followed me down the stairs. She caught my arm to steady me.
“Fine! I’m fine!” I shrugged her off. I wasn’t fine. My hands were shaking. My mouth tasted like copper. I needed to punch something. Rocco started forward again but Camille put up a hand on my arm and held him back.
“I got him, Rocco. I got him.” She waited until Rocco nodded before turning back to me. “Heyyyy,” she soothed. “C’mon, you don’t wanna be fighting in here. Don’t let him be the reason I don’t get to see you anymore…” Her voice managed to make it through my rage to speak to my rational mind.
“I gotta get outta here.”
“Okay, okay, c’mon outside—I’ll have Ralph bring your car around. I’ll keep you company while you wait. Deep breath.”
I forced myself to take a deep breath and got a grip. Every fiber of me still wanted to punch Tombstone’s face in: to shatter his nose and send the cartilage up into his brain until he fell down dead. Dead as a Tombstone. But Camille was already looping her arm through my elbow and tugging me toward the exit.
Across the room, Tombstone seethed and made an angry series of gestures.
This isn’t over!
The feeling was fucking mutual.
“Any time, any place,” I told him. Then I gave him the finger with both hands and walked out of the club.
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