CHAPTER 19: MONEY, PEOPLE, DIRT


“Sooner or later you and Tombstone are gonna have to work out your differences.”

Camille’s words rang in my ears and although I hated to admit it, even to myself, I knew she was right. If I wanted to keep the band together, I was going to have to find some way to square things with Tombstone.

I waited until dawn then swallowed my pride and went looking for him. The RV stood dark and silent in the back lot behind the CursèdPlace and no one answered when I knocked on the warped fiberglass door. I picked the lock and stuck my head inside.

“Hullo?” I called. “Tombstone?”

There was no response, not even a groan of annoyance from someone hungover and trying to sleep. I climbed aboard and poked around. His bunk was neatly made. The kitchen was bare of clutter. There was no sign that the bathroom had been used any time recently. I was just about to go snooping in his fridge when my phone rang. I answered it with a distracted swipe of my thumb.

“H’lo?”

“You’re up early. Did I wake you?” It was Mom.

“Haven’t gone to bed yet,” I said. “What about you? Isn’t it early in your world too?”

“I don’t sleep much these days,” Mom said. “I had a procedure. It changed things.”

“Yeah, Evelyn told me,” I said, realizing belatedly the only reason I’d seen Evelyn was because I’d caught her working at the club. “Good to know someone in this family keeps me in the loop.”

“Don’t be a brat,” Mom said. “You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on family news when you come to Dearie’s for dinner.”

“Yeah? When?”

“Sunday. Six o clock.”

“Everybody going to be there?” It was a statement not a question.

“Yes,” Mom said. “Just like a real family. Imagine that.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“I insist,” Mom said. Thou shalt.

I tried to think what might be so important as to command my presence and wondered if it had to do with Dearie.

“I’ll be there,” I promised.

“That’s my boy.”

I ended the call and settled in to wait for Tombstone, stretching out on the couch with the intention to doze, but by the time I opened my eyes again the sun streamed in from the west and the whole day was gone. Still no sign of Tombstone.

It was fair to assume that he’d gone out to the suburbs to be with his girls now that he’d come into some money. And it was fair to assume that when the money ran out he’d be back. And it was fair to assume it was just a matter of time before the money ran out. I figured that by the time September rolled around I’d find him camped out on the front porch like a landlord expecting the rent. Until then I wasn’t going to beg.

*          *          *          *

I called Camille’s regular and agreed to hear his pitch. He turned out to be a Middle Eastern guy made up of equal parts enthusiasm and caffeine, and who looked like he summered at the Jersey shore. I couldn’t remember his name. He looked like a ‘Chad’.

“Damen?” he asked as if I wasn’t the only other person in the bar at that ungodly daylight hour.

“That’s me.”

Chad stuck out his hand. “We spoke on the phone?”

“Yeah, I remember.” I drained the remainder of the beer in my glass. It wasn’t my first and, based on Chad’s knife-edge keenness, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be my last. I held it up to him. “You buyin’?”

“Yeah—totally, totally!” He waved over the bartender. “Old Fashioned. Brandy, not bourbon—top shelf—and use the Peychaud’s bitters. Light on the sugar, heavy on the orange peel. And whatever he’s having.” He gestured to me with a toss of his head. The bartender and I exchanged a glance of mutual exasperation and she put a fresh beer on the bar in front of me before turning away to create Chad’s Micromanagement Special.

“Damn—I can’t believe it’s really you! You’re taller in person.” Chad was still grinning up at me star-struck. It was just a matter of time before he tried to tell me he was my Biggest Fan and asked for an autograph.

“So, you’re in advertising or something?”

“Right! Totally, totally.” Chad produced a card with a logo for SDB Extravaganza! which meant nothing to me. “We’re courting Firestone. You know, the tires? And…I mean…your Lolla performance…that was somethin’ else. You’re viral, man!”

“There’s Truvada for that.”

Chad looked blank.

“Viral?” I prompted. Chad realized it was a joke but still didn’t get it.

 “Oh, haha, totally, totally, good one!”

If he said ‘totally, totally’ one more time I was going to punch him in the throat. Chad produced an iPhone and cued up a video before holding it out to me.

“Hello Chicago…-ago…-ago!”

I recognized the sounds of Lollapalooza, even over the music in the bar. The footage was the work of an amateur hand with a good eye and an expensive phone. It had been shot from the crowd close to the side of the stage. I towered overhead, a dark shape silhouetted against the skyline and roiling storm clouds; buffeted by the winds as lightning cracked overhead. I had to admit, it looked badass. Even as I watched, I could see the electric spark leap from the mic stand to my wrist—the angle made it look like it was leaping into my hand.

Chad froze the video. “The sound is shit, of course. A five-megapixel camera and MP3 sound, so it’s crushed as hell, but you get the idea. We’ve already acquired the footage, but we’ll need a release from you for the likeness. And we want to license the song, of course.”

“You want to use GoatRodeo to sell car parts?”

“Tires,” he corrected me. “Firestone all-weather radials. It’s perfect.” He held up his hands, prepared to pitch the concept to me then and there: “The rage of the weather—the visceral fury of nature, tamed by—”

“I get the picture,” I cut him off. “You know it’s a song about addiction, right?”

Chad didn’t care. “It’s got a good beat. Some good riffs…” He said ‘riffs’ like it was a word he’d just learned and he planned to use it a lot. “No one cares what it’s about.”

I sat back and crossed my arms. “You’re a terrible salesman.”

“We’re offering a buyout: one-year, unlimited, national television. Flat rate.”

It was Greek to me, but I couldn’t pretend we didn’t need the money.

“I’ll have to talk it over with the guys,” I said, although there was only one opinion I planned to listen to: Sam’s. Money or no money, I didn’t dare sign anything else without his blessing.

Chad consulted his calendar. “I can give you until tomorrow, end of day. We pitch to the clients on Monday. Think on it, lemme know what you decide.”

*          *          *          *

“The money’s not great,” was Sam’s assessment. “It’s a token fee for the kind of exposure he’s describing.”

“So ‘no’, then?” I couldn’t tell if I was disappointed or relieved. The fee from Lolla was already being wicked away by debts, and without any more prospects for shows I was ready to take whatever chump change I could get.

“I leave that to your discretion.”

“That’s as helpful as a fart in space.”

“I’ve reached out to C3,” Sam continued, ignoring me. “They are unwilling to waive the radius clause in its entirety—”

I groaned. “We didn’t even play!

“Let me finish.” Sam held up a finger to silence me and stared me down over the top of his glasses. “Since you performed only one song, I’ve convinced them the clause should apply only to the song performed. You can play the rest of your material without restriction.”

“So, we can do shows in Chicago, but we can’t perform GoatRodeo at any of the shows.”

This was a mixed blessing if ever I’d heard one. GoatRodeo was the only song we had that had approached the status of a hit. It had peaked at seven on the Billboard charts and stayed there for about sixteen weeks. It got some solid radio play on the contemporary hard rock formats. Nobody in the mainstream knew us for anything else.

On the other hand…

“We just can’t play it live?” I said, not quite a question. I saw a twitch of a smile begin at the corner of Sam’s mouth.

“Not in the Chicagoland area.”

“But we can, say, license it to an advertising agency for a national television ad…?”

“Indeed.” Sam slid the documents across his desk toward me and laid a pen on top of them. I signed.

“Make it so.”

*          *          *          *

“Were you serious about Riot Fest?” I asked Judge who was holding court in his office in the back of the club. By the light of day, the club was little more than a squalid cave of smudged mirrors and stained carpet. A steady stream of deliverymen came and went with clipboards and hand trucks; trading in stacks of banker’s boxes in exchange for Judge’s signature. Whatever business Judge was in, business was good; and it sure as hell had nothing to do with the business of exotic dancing.

“I thought you had a radius clause?” he said.

“We did. We don’t anymore. Is Riot still a thing?”

“It can be.” Judge waved away a skinny kid who was starting to approach and turned to give me his full attention. He looked up at me over his glasses. “What’s it worth to you?”

“Make me an offer,” I said. “My soul and my first-born child are already spoken for.”

“Your next album.”

It wasn’t what I expected to hear. I stared at him for a minute while my brain tried to catch up. “What about it?”

“I wanna produce it.”

“You.”

“Yeah, me.”

“D’you know the first thing about music producing?” I asked.

“No, but I know money and I know people and I know goddamn dirt. I fucking dare you to tell me I need anything else.”

I had to admit he had a point.

“I done my research,” he continued. “I know about your boy Hex. I know about your agent’s wife. I know about the label.” Judge leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “I know they offered you a contract if you cut Tombstone and the others loose.”

I felt a chill run up my spine. He really had done his research. The recession had hit everyone hard and smaller labels were drying up like everything else. One of the major media conglomerates bought up our label for the express purpose of stripping them for parts. They didn’t need another middle-level metalcore act. Metal was dead. Rock was dying. But I was still valuable as a frontman: I could legitimize one of their mainstream Star Machine bands. The number they had quoted me had been generous to the point of extravagance—all I had to do was cut the deadweight loose.

“I know you told them to shove it up their ass sideways,” Judge said.

“Who the fuck have you been talking to?” I hadn’t told anybody about that offer—not Sam, not Hex, not Chase, not Tombstone. And I was never going to.

“I told you, I know people. You got the stage magic; I got the connections to get you on stage. I’ll get you Riot Fest if you give me an album. Cut me in as a producer.”

“You gonna want creative control?”

“Fuck no, I’m a money guy. Write whatever you want. Hire whoever you want to engineer it. Record a concept album on banjo and sitar for all I care just put your face on it.”

“Seriously, dude, you really wanna be putting money on us?” I asked. “We’re radioactive right now.”

“I’m aware.”

“What’s in it for you?” I asked, but I was pretty sure I already knew and I didn’t really want an answer. I eyed the deliverymen not-quite-casually perusing the dancers’ headshots while they waited for Judge’s attention.

“I run your books. No one handles the money but me. You want something, I’ll get it for you. I’m your golden fucking goose.”

“Eggs.”

“What?”

“The eggs were golden, not the goose,” I said. “That’s the whole point of the story—they cut the bird open to see where the eggs come from and find out it’s just a normal goose.”

“You want the deal or not, cockwomble?”

Of course I wanted the deal, but it was too good to be true. It had to be. My instincts were standing on a mountaintop waving the biggest reddest flag they could find.

On the other hand…it wasn’t like we could get any more broke.

“I gotta talk it over with the guys.”

“Already did. They’re on board, but they wouldn’t do it without you, the loyal fucks. You all deserve one another. Talked to your lawyer too—Aiello? He’ll draw up all the paperwork, so you can bet he’ll cover your asses.”

“You talked to Sam?”

Who the hell was this guy?

“Think it over, do what you gotta do, but you’re gonna say yes.”

“You seem pretty sure of that.”

“What other choice do you have?”

He had a point.

“Oh, and one more thing. You gotta stay in the city. The money doesn’t leave Chicago.”

“Don’t want to do business across state lines, or something?” I joked.

“Or something,” Judge said. He wasn’t laughing. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what he was leaving unsaid. He held out a hand. “We got a deal?”

Money. People. Dirt.

I shook it. “Welcome to the family.”

New chapters released every week. Come back and read the next chapter absolutely FREE!!

CHAPTER 20: SEPARATING will go live Monday, November 8th , 2021

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