Cherry Smack

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Making The Band

Kayla rolled up in an iridescent purple Buick; the driver’s window cracked and

door scorched with holes. She stepped out, pointing pink Grendha jellies to the floor; her long legs preceding Coke bottle curves, cut off denim shorts and Lacoste striped crop top.

“Christ man, she is ker-racking. You don’t even know what you got,” gaped Pra.

“Yes I do and hands off. She’s strictly off limits.”

With Pra by his side he felt on top, happy to be back in fresh but familiar NYC. They headed toward Harlem, the plan, to write and record three tracks.

“Sorry to drop this on you guys but tomorrow we’re going straight to Neptune to see Kacey, he called.” It fell silent. “Trust me it will be ok, he’s a Brit just like you.”

They arrived at Kayla’s, an old brownstone in Brooklyn. The apartment was vast, a whitewashed studio attic, the roof was exposed; two wrought iron columns supported beams and rafters. Pra took the spare room with Jimmy and Kayla slept in the room opposite. She ran the shower.

“I’m sorry man but what are you doing in here?” asked Pra.

“She’s getting ready.”

“Why aren’t you in there helping her get ready?

“Believe you me it’s all I’ve been thinking about.”

“What’s up, don’t tell me it’s Kelly?”

“I don’t know but if I go in there I won’t make it out, it’ll mess things up.”

“Maybe I should go in then, for your sake.”

“Yeah nice try, ya dawg.”

Jimmy was dying to see Rawl so agreed to leave Kayla and meet up later. Rawl had moved up the ladder. Mark’s coke runs had made him comfortably well-off. He buzzed them in and sat back swilling Courvoisier.

Jimmy entered nodding approvingly. “Very nice.”

“We’re on 71st and Broadway, what do you expect?”

They hugged. Jimmy introduced Pra and they kicked back; priming the pumps for the main event, the Blue Note where it all began. Rawl broke out party favours, hocus, coke and the new kid on the block, acid.

Archie Bunker, a sitcom featuring the bigot Archie was on TV.

“Shit did you hear that? He said coon Jimmy,”

“Christ he’s like Alf Garnett.”

“Alf Garnett?” asked Rawl.

“Yeah, Brit fucker, just like this cunt.”

What in jolly ’ol England?

“Yeah, what a prick.”

“They say coon in England?”

“Kids at school used it.”

“You got called coon at school?”

“Didn’t you?”

“What in the Bronx? Man get out of here, if Yankee Doodle said that at our school 1. He’s is one brave Mother Fucker 2. He would be fucked up so bad his own Momma wouldn’t recognise him. What else they call you?”

“Pickaninny.”

“That’s got to be a 10,” said Rawl.

Spear Chucker?”

“What’s that?”

“Just off the boat, bone through the nose?”

“Shaka Zulu, we call them Shaka Zulu.”

“You must have had some too?”

“We used NASA over here, but only Brothers.”

NASA?”

“Stands for North American Street Ape.”

“You use it on yourself?”

“I’m from the Bronx, that’s what we do.”

“What else you got?

“Banjo lips. Oh, I know, wog we had wog, I know you got that?”

Jimmy put on his posh voice. “Wog of course ’ol boy it’s one of ours. That’s a 10; very popular weapon of choice. Golliwog or to use its abbreviated name the Golly is technically a Black character in a Children’s 19th century book.”

“Yeah and technically you’d deserve a spank for using it.” Said Pra.

“Tru say,” agreed Rawl, nodding, topping up balloon stems with Cognac.

As the night wore on, mired, they lost track. There was a knock at door. The lads fell out of their chairs. It was Kayla and Sherri.

“Oh great, that’s all we need,” said Rawl.

“Shit I forgot.”

“It’s alright for you Sherri’s my big Sister,”

“I can’t do it.” Jimmy and Rawl hid in the Kitchen. “Pra get the door.”

Pra stood debonair, like a young Elvis stepping onto the set of his latest movie.

Sherri smiled indulgent. “Hello, who are you?”

Rawl sprang out, ever-protective “He’s no-one, a friend of Jimmy’s.”

Pra shook her hand. “I’m Pra pleased to meet you. I’m in the band.”

“Really, what do you play?”

“Bass.”

“Fo’ real?” She smiled, transfixed, nodding, sure and slow.

“Fo’ real.” They laughed, Rawl shook his head dreading the implications.

They hit the Blue Note and immediately sprang on stage joining Aaron, a drummer Kayla knew. Pra played his ass-off, slapping bass hammer and tongs to Deniece William’s – ’Free. He looked out to Sherri as she bobbed along, her eyes fixated on Pra. Jimmy was happy for them and couldn’t think of a better match. Rawl shot daggers, ribbing Pra for fun.

Morning broke it was the big day. Kayla drove, Jimmy cranked up Prince’s - Kiss and collected Pra round Sherri’s looking the worse for wear. They quaffed vanilla coffee and bagels on the way to Neptune. The headquarters was on Broadway above a diner. Pra hung back, content to sit it out, sip a soda and have Sherri nurse his sore head.

They ascended the staircase to Reception. Gold and platinum records hung on retro red brick walls. Behind the main desk stood a floor to ceiling tropical aquarium bedded in white coral. She led them straight through down a long corridor and stopped at a door marked Kacey: Head of A&R. This was it, he stiffened, tension wound tight. She knocked and opened the door. Kacey got up from behind his desk.

“Kayla, Hi and you must be….fuck, holy shit, Jimmy fucking Bramble. What the fuck are you doing here?”

Jimmy burst into laughter. “I don’t believe it, Kael… Kael Stewart, holy crap!”

“What, you two know each other?” said Kayla.

“From All Saints, we went to the same school.” He smiled and gave him a hug.

“It’s good to see you, ya little shit!”

After the initial shock they caught up. Jimmy remembered their last encounter at Wood Green tube and it all fell into place. Kacey was Kael’s American handle. He started from small beginnings at first, managing the London gigs but rose swiftly through the ranks. Neptune New York had problems with the incumbent’s strong arm approach; hiring ex-cons roughing up anyone that stood in his way. Kacey was introduced simply because he was an outsider with no gangbanger past.

They sat down. “You know once, Charlie Chaplin entered a contest for ‘Charlie Chaplin look-alikes’ and came third. If that’s a ten on the weirdo scale this is a five million at least.”

They moved on over a pitcher of Long Island Tea.

“I was blown away by your track, Plenty Love, very deep. It’s very rare I remember the hook the next day, that’s why I rang - -”

Jimmy and Kayla sat there, hanging on every word. “- -Disco is dead. Message bands are in, Nation X, Les Nubians, people want to hear what you got to say. Did Kayla tell you about the gig?”

“No I thought I would let you explain.”

“I need to bring my people down to see you play. You got to be able to deliver live.”

“When?”

“A week on Monday. Gemma will call you to arrange.”

They rushed down, relieved from torment, thinking it was in the bag. Pra recounted the situation over four coke floats in the diner.

“Ok, Kael aside, which is very Area 51 I must say; all we have to do is form a band, write a few hit songs and perform them live in a week or so?”

“Piece of cake,” assured Kayla. “Trust me, it will happen. If you need its easy."

Her words echoed Marvin. They took it as a reassuring omen.

Kayla bought in Aaron from the Blue Note, with Jimmy on guitar, Kayla on lead vocals and Pra on Bass all they needed was a keyboardist. They immediately placed an ad in Loot and the next day the keyboardist arrived, round Kayla’s for the audition.

Jimmy spied Sly from The Family Stone peering back through the viewer; a tall skinny dude with a broad grin and even bigger Afro. He ushered him in keen as he certainly looked the part. His name was Kevin. He sat down in the front room and listened to the track.

“Nice, it’s the lick.”

“Did you read the ad?”

“Yeah I know, where’s my keyboard right? This is going to sound strange but I don’t have a keyboard.”

Jimmy waited with baited breath for the follow through which came in unexpected form.

“My Dad’s a Preacher for the Seven Day Adventist. I play for the choir and use the Church Organ. I’m good, really I am, I just can’t prove it right now.”

Jimmy liked his cheeky confidence and so went on a bit of faith.

Kayla knew a disused bottling plant in Hamilton heights, West Harlem. The electric was connected and for $5, security turned a blind eye. It had high vaulted ceilings and industrial sheet plate roof. They positioned a few dead boards, hired a keyboard and held their breath. Fortunately Kevin was Billy Preston deity; classically trained and excellent jazz noodler. Jimmy hooked up his axe, Aaron twirled his sticks and they went on an hour long jamming odyssey. He’d never had so much fun playing. He felt free and exhilarated. It was a cosmic revelation ordained by God and he wasn’t about to let it go.

They went through Plenty Love, the parts practically wrote themselves. Aaron held the groove, Pra drenched it in delicious funky syrup, Kevin’s fills were pure inspiration and Jimmy added lift, gilding the lily. As soon as Kayla slipped on her velvet tones the song came alive, an irreverent angel with attitude. They gleefully ran through it till it shone, a perfectly devoted team of players heralding unexpected opportunity. They took a break and went off to the kitchen. Jimmy stayed perched on a stool comping a melody waiting to happen. Kayla came back and immediately sang over the top.

Don’t tell me Maybe, Don’t tell me Maybe, I won’t take Maybe for an answer,”

“Do that again,” Jimmy said.

Aaron spouted “You’re not going to use that, I just said that to you in the Kitchen. Jimmy, I asked if I could write some lyrics.”

“Yeah then I said Maybe.” interjected Kayla.

“Yeah then I said Don’t tell me Maybe, I won’t take maybe for an answer..?”

Jimmy interjected. “No matter - -“ He played on and searching for a verse, ”- -

it sounds great. Keep going.” He set the Walkman down and she sang.

Looking in the wrong places to be someone, So young yet so critical, My heart was hardened to my way of life.

The melody flowed poetic, celestial. It was incredible to witness the magic, words spun on the fly. They had never seen anything like it.

She smirked at Aaron “Did you say that too?”

Aaron laughed “Kayla, you’re too cool.”

They strummed and scribbled their way to the finish. Pretty soon they had their second track, “Maybe” a mid-tempo soulful gem reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready.

The pressure was on; they had little over a week to write eight perfect songs. Jimmy grabbed his guitar and started playing around with riffs, trying to pluck a winner out of the sky. After three hours of hair pulling he had nothing. He retired to bed and struggled to sleep as the neighbours in the tenement opposite were blasting Cameo. His head hit the pillow frustrated and exhausted.

Jimmy woke the next day and by way of Cameosis a riff magically appeared. He only had a few notes but it was enough to build on. Jimmy sprung up frenzied with excitement and searched panicked for his Walkman. He frantically shoved a tape in and sang the riff. He scribbled some lyrics and invited Pra into the living room to listen. He loved it but said the vocal needed souling-up and threw on his best Luther. Kayla obliged and tweaked the melody to soulful perfection and in an hour they had their third song, “Back Together,” a gritty track exploring the complexity of love, Kayla wrote the lyrics in moments. Jimmy knew instantly it was about them but didn’t let on.

As a group they meshed effortlessly; a real force of nature but productivity was slow. They needed at least ten songs for the set and were seven short.

“Why don’t we play some covers to pad it out?” suggested Pra.

“They’re not looking for a covers band. We do originals, our material only,” said Jimmy.

“Well you guys are the writers, you better get cracking.”

They made their way to rehearsal. Jimmy listened to the radio in the car looking for inspiration.

“You’re wasting your time,” said Kayla “Relax, it will happen, the songs are in the clouds you just got to reach up and pick one.”

No sooner had she said it they drove pass a crowd gathered in a shop door in East Harlem. They pulled over. There was an impromptu open mic session in full swing. A fat man dressed from head to toe in red Denim and a bucket cap was rapping freestyle to beats from a boom box placed on the stoop behind. He picked out a random person and rapped about them on the fly. Jimmy was impressed. They went in for a closer look only to be chosen next. He threw down.

So which of you’s doing the lovin?

the shit real hot? Do you need an oven?

Y’all in love, all hot and buzzin,

I’m sorry my bad, did you say he’s your cousin?”

Kayla grabbed the mic threw it back in his face, spitting venom.

N-ah, no, don’t need no oven?

Half gram of coke and you still wudn’t be buzzin

You see this Gucci, my shoes from Prada

Now go, pack up get back to your momma …

She said your dinners getting cold…Black Santa, hoho…ho! ”

The crowd lost their minds. ‘Oh no Black Santa, she’s right, shame,’ they clapped and jeered “Rewind, more again, again.” They broke out a fresh beat at a slower tempo, Kayla sang a loop, preparing the way for Santa.

Whatever goes around,

Comes back around ’ (D.C. al Fine)

The crowd clapped on the one, Santa freestyled over the top.

I give you the same ol scenario

Man falls for girl, they’re in love you know

She knows he belongs to some else

But they go further still…

Jimmy could not ignore the chemistry, although eerily close to the mark, it was sublime. He heard the music in his head. It had to be their fourth track. The MC was called Rufus and was well known in the area, a big man with huge stature. He approached him and put out the feelers.

“I dig your style, laid back.” said Jimmy.

“Your girl can spit, she’s got personality.” replied Rufus.

“Yeah, fo’ real.”

Jimmy told him about the band and listened to gauge his reaction.

“What you guys about?” asked Rufus.

“For me it’s all about the music, getting people off.”

“Fuck that shit I need to eat?”
Jimmy laughed “Roll in a ’64 ?”

“Fuck the ’64 I want a Benzo wid Lil’ Dime ridin’ shotgun,”

Jimmy invited him down to see them play.

Kayla was aloof a bit wary. “You know he’s a gangbanger?”

“How do you know?”

“Just open your eyes and look,”

“So what?”

“So what!? You see the bullet holes in my car, have you been listening? I don’t need no drama Jimmy, been there before -” she shook her head. ”- not again.”

Kayla got the call from Gemma, the date was set. Rufus came down regardless, they had run out of time.

“Gemma wants to know the name of the band,” said Kayla.

“Yeah Sunny Jim what we gonna call ourselves?” challenged Pra.

“It’s gotsta be stone.” stated Rufus.

Jimmy got to work, he closed his eyes regurgitating their words. “Stone, stone, Sunny stone, Sunny Jim, Jimmy and the Stones.”

Sunstone, it restores life’s sweetness and helps you to value and nurture yourself. Sunstone, that’s it my favourite gem.” Proclaimed Kayla.

“Too cool.” said Aaron.

The days flew. Jimmy listened to the radio praying for inspiration. They rehearsed built songs out of a jam. By the end of the week they had six solid songs and two instrumentals just long enough for the pitch.

The audition was at The Altar, a hip dive in a basement, East Harlem. The ceiling was low, the lights dim and the stage a makeshift rostra. The crowd was a curious mix of rowdy nu-metal funksters and acid-jazz diehards. The atmosphere buzzed electric, heaving, sweet with the smell of cigarettes and alcohol.

The time was upon them. The mood ran hot, the air charged with anticipation. They unleashed their first track and the crowd went crazy. It sounded raw and energetic. Each track was stronger than the previous. The set built climaxing to an epic finale. All the while Jimmy searched the audience for Kael but he was no-where to be seen.

It was closing time. The landlord told them to wind it up or they would “lose their license.” Jimmy’s heart sank. They dropped an encore, hoping to glimpse Kael and his entourage but saw nothing. They signed off and started packing up to chants of “More, More, More!

Jimmy ignored it deflated and yelled angry at the no show. “I said let’s go.”

“Hold on,” said Kayla.

“For what, it’s a waste of time. He’s full of shit,”

“Listen to the crowd man, have some faith it will happen,”

Kayla believed when no one else would, such was her conviction. She played enough gigs to know this crowd meant business. She took it as a sign. Usually the cheers die out but this time they grew louder. Rawl and Sherri shoved themselves forward, shouting above the din.

“Man, I thought you’d be good but that was off the chain.”

Sherri heaped praise. “Blacks are stoosh. Look nah, dem crazy.”

Their words spurred him on. The whole pub pumped their arms pleading for an encore. Things were getting raucous.

The landlord yelled from the wings. “You better play or they will tear the place up.”

Jimmy saddled up for the hell of it. They played their best three tracks ’Plenty Love, Maybe and Back Together’ the crowd roared. This charming hip bar had given way to a heaving amorphous mass, gyrating and swaying. Jimmy was so amped when it came to introductions he told Kayla to introduce him last. He signalled to the drummer to take it down, hushed the audience then squeezed out Jimi’s “Purple Haze,” the rockers bowed in reverence. He gave the nod and they slipped into Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon. The energy seeped into his brain and out his fingers, he played till exhausted on his knees.

The whooping and cheers went on and on. He couldn’t get out of the pub everyone wanted to buy him a drink. Jimmy was upset at the no show but the crowd diffused his anger. Just then Jimmy felt a slap on his shoulder.

“That was da bomb.” It was Kael.

Jimmy was delighted. “How long you been here?”

“I caught the encore. You bought it Jimmy, it was smoking,”

“I thought you weren’t gonna show?”

“We’re blood, we go back man I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Good I’d hate to kick your ass, we worked hard.” Kael chuckled.

“I knew you’d bring it. Jimmy, do you remember why I arranged this night?”

“You said you had to convince your people.

“Do you know who I was referring to?”

Jimmy looked round “Where are they?”

My people are all around. Him that guy over there- -” ‘You rock man’ yelled a

stranger. “- - him. The crowd are my people - ” He grabbed him round the arms and shook “- and they’re losing their loving minds. That’s all I needed to know. You got it, I’ll get Legal to draw up the papers. Congratulations Sunstone, you’re signed!”

The news spread like wild fire and they partied into the night. Jimmy stared into Kayla’s eyes, fixated, he felt on top of the world. They skipped out early while celebrations ran on and took a walk along Washington Bridge. The moon was high, light danced on the rippled waves.

She turned toward him. “Why didn’t you call?” He felt winded, a sucker punch leaving him silent gasping for breath. “You thought you got away with it?” He put his arms around her. She smiled playful. “Get away, I should chuck ya down.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Everything.”

She smiled. “You’re lucky you know me.” Jimmy smiled. ”Sweet Bwoy.”

They kissed spontaneously, caught a cab and rushed back to Queens desperately trying to contain themselves.

Kayla led Jimmy to her room. Jasmin candles flickered on the French dresser as she placed a bottle of scented pimenta oil in his palm. She kicked off her heels and lay face down on the bed. Jimmy slicked her hips, massaging with a feather like touch from the small of her back and further still breaching the line, building tension. She turned face up, he poured the remainder from her neck, across her collar, teasing till slippery. Shadows danced entwined, glistening against the flicker and spit of wick. She tensed up then lay uncoiled, freed from grip, easing every measure.

They woke late, the phone rang. Rawl broke the morning calm.

“Come on get up we’re doing brunch.”

Rawl met Jimmy opposite The Dakota on the corner of 71st . He held a pastry box. “Free croissant and Danish from the Patisserie. Marcia lets me have them, saves throwing them out.”

“Marcia, I see. Are you..?”

“We’re eating for free. That’s all you need to know.”

They walked to Central Park and saw a line of horse drawn buggies. “Lived here all my life, I always wanted to ride in one, be normal you know.” He approached one of many. “How much?”

“$20.”

“Today it’s Jacks, just up by the Mosaic.”

They climbed in, Rawl squeezed Jimmy’s hand, he grimaced in jest.

“You looking after my girl?” He squeezed till it hurt.

“Ow, ok, ok were good.” Jimmy chuckled.

“Alright ya wimp.”

“Anyway, she’s just a women?!”

He raised the back of his hand “Ya wretch!”

The connection was as strong as ever. He shook his head “Women, they always want more. You were right about Marcia, she wants more. Pity she was nice, I’m gonna miss her,”

Jimmy furrowed his brow. “You going somewhere?”

“I’m leaving.”

“You’re leaving, what New York?”

“No America. “

“Fuck, ya mad, you gonna leave all this?”

He sucked his teeth “Rass, all this what? You’re lucky, you got talent, something to shoot for. All I got is heat. I’m getting out. Tired of it; waking up in a cold sweat, not knowing if I’m gonna make it through the day. I keep a 38 under the seat, check my rear view for ’copters, it’s no joke,”

“Is VIK after you?”

“VIK? I left them after Vegas. Something bad’s gonna happen, people want what I got. I ain’t going down like Leon…” He sighed and turned to Jimmy “ I got to thinking last night. We’re winning Jimmy, you know that?”

“I know, so stay.”

“No you’re winning ’cause you got the girl, the record deal, the Dream. I’m winning ’cause I’m still alive and that’s no way to live.”

Jimmy smiled. Rawl’s intention made perfect sense.

“What happened to Leon?” asked Jimmy.

“The harder they come…he was fucked from day one. I told him not to get in wid those fuckers but he wouldn’t listen. He did well at first, made a lot, then the threats came. He was an offering, bought in to take a bullet, a sacrifice plain and simple. Even Kayla told him to blow; but no, ’just one more deal, the big one.’ He was going to use the money to buy Kayla a recording deal with Neptune.”

Jimmy was puzzled “So our deal is down to Leon?”

He back tracked, annoyed at the slip. “No, no don’t start thinking up shit. I don’t know and it don’t matter. All Nu-Jack vinyl is drug money, everyone knows it.”

Jimmy felt affronted, suspicion grew. “Does Kayla know?”

“I don’t know man, really I don’t. Truth is we were all shocked when you guys landed the gig.”

“This is heavy, they’re repaying a debt? Either Kayla was duped or she’s in on it.” Jimmy looked dejected.

“I told you, stop dreaming up shit. It don’t matter. I meant what I said last night, you guys killed it. What does it matter how you got in… How do you think Kim Moore got in? That track - ’Please Me’ was a favour from the Chairman and the Board. “

They stepped off the buggy and walked toward the Guggenheim. Parked on a stone bench. Rawl sparked a blunt.

“You’re gonna smash it. Like Shelly said us Negroes don’t rant and what did the landlord say?”

Play or they’re going to riot.”

“Play or they’re going to riot. Now please do me a favour and chill the fuck out,”

Jimmy tugged hard on the draw. “Sorry man, mi head twis up.”

Jimmy looked up at the Guggenheim spirals. “Where you moving?” he passed the blunt back.

“Guyana, I already talked to Lennox. He wants me to set up a chain of Gas Stations,”

“What do you know about that?”

“Nothing, I’ll work it out. He’s putting up the money, wants me to manage it. He can’t do it. I guess he’d rather trust family. Guyana is my home and it’s time to go back.”

As soon as Rawl left, doubts resurfaced. He wondered just how genuine Kael’s offer was. He prayed he was on the level and not merely under orders. His safety valve shut off before paranoia kicked in prompted by the crowd’s belief. As long as the crowd was real the deal was too.

They played JoJo’s an innocuous dive in Harlem, Upper East side and broke after the first half. A skinny Rasta with thick dreadlocks caught Jimmy’s attention. He had a post-op Jacko face, wore pristine white Nikes and a Red Tommy Hilfiger jacket so big it practically swallowed him whole. His name was Cornell and was from South Beach, Miami. He drew them in with that sweet southern drawl;

“You guys are sick, bitchin’ and your look rare. I mean a Jewish drummer,

mixed race Lead, Indian Bassist and you -” he looked at Jimmy “- what are you?” He shook Jimmy’s hand “I’m your manager, Kacey sent me,”

“Kacey’s our manager.”

“Did he say he was your manager?”

“Not exactly.”

“He’s A&R I’m your manager, Cornell.”

He was slick and had a bewitching air. “I like you. You’re good but you need to raise your game.”

“We bring it every time,”

“I’m not talking about playing, I’m talking performance. I can name you guitarists that can outplay Halen, jazz pianist who’d play Petersen under the table. You got to know how to move, sizzle interact. You don’t look together, you all dress different and that’s where we’ll start. You wanna breakout, you got get tongues wagging give them something to talk about. You wanna make it? You got to stand out, give them something unexpected,”

“Next level.” said Pra.

“That’s what I am talking about, something radical, new.”

It wasn’t long before he won them over. He got them motivated, had a vison and understood what needed to be done. They went back to play the second half. Rufus went early as he had business to attend, his day job pushing H. Cornell clocked him, murky in the back, packing up and gave him the nod.

“You know Rufus?”

“Yeah.”

“We caught him on the street.”

“That’s where you’ll find him.”

The machinery was put in play, they were placed on a punishing schedule; recording the album at Ladyland Studios, opening headline acts, paying their dues in clubs and bars. It was a gruelling non-stop push, driving across state overnight, playing to packed or empty bars, anyone that would take them just to get them out there and spread the word. The pressure began to take it’s toll. Jimmy began taking coke to keep him going. Rufus supplied it, he bought a dime baggie every couple of days at first, then it moved to every night, fast.

“Why don’t you try Tar?” said Rufus.

“Not for me man, no thanks.”

“Forget what you heard. I was just like you. I used to do coke till I saw the light. If you get it pure and shoot it right it will last you all night, trust me. It don’t make you sick like they say, not if you do it right.”

Jimmy shuddered at the thought. He knew the routine but after Kelly’s warning stayed away out of respect. He could not betray his conscience but the devil was persistent. The pace ground him down and eventually brought him to his knees. Rufus swung the door open and offered Jimmy a needle, casually as he walked by. The hit was immediate, the rush like no other, smooth like velvet. On the surface it seemed he was right, one hit would last and eased the frustration of scoring multiple times. Rufus was playing him; after he hooked him on the good stuff he started cutting it, taking risks to increase profit. Jimmy knew but by then it was too late; he was addicted and soon took whatever was on offer.

In a few short weeks he spiralled out of control surviving from hit to hit. He managed to conceal it from the others at first, keeping it together in polite company and on stage. As the weeks wore on he became more distant from Kayla and the band. He thought he could handle it, hold it down but inevitably took on another form. His behaviour became erratic, his face gaunt and tired.

They came off stage headlining at Sonny’s, a premier jazz bar in Midtown. Jimmy sat in the dressing room, he seemed twitchy.

“Have you seen Rufus?”

“You’re not here,” said Kayla. “Off to Disney are we?” she moved in closer “You need to fix up.”

Jimmy was hurting, he had cramps and felt prickly heat as if his blood was about to boil. “Just get him for me, can you please?”

“No I won’t.” Pra came in. “Can you do something, look at him?” she cried.

Jimmy heaved into the waste basket. “Leave me alone.” Jimmy was sick before but not like this. He ran out and disappeared.

Pra caught up with him passed out on the minibus. His mouth was choked with vomit, his body cold and limp, not breathing. Kayla came looking with Kevin, everyone was frantic, rushing round trying to revive him. The medics came and rushed him to emergency but it was too late Jimmy was lost to the world. His mind drifted for an age beyond the confines of the room.

The death of Jimmy’s brother Josh haunted him. Not a day passed where it did not enter his mind. Josh was thirteen, suffering severe head trauma from a joy ride. He spent months as a vegetable with his family by his side praying for a miracle that never came. Jimmy saw himself saying goodbye to Josh before they pulled the plug. Then Jimmy saw himself wired to a machine saying goodbye to Kayla. He could hear Josh call, his voice grew louder.

“Jimmy, Jimmy wake up.”

The bright lights blinded his sight. The acrid smell of turps brought him to. He turned his head slowly, it was Kayla.

“You fool, don’t you ever do that again.”

“What happened?”

“You died,” she cried, sobbing with tears of joy. “You stopped breathing, I hate you.”

He felt disgusted in himself for stooping so low, hurting her after what she had been through seemed especially cruel.

Cornell stepped in. “You gave us a scare, welcome back. You are one lucky son of a bitch.”

“I’m sorry,” he uttered faintly.

Cornell shook his head. “The Cake of Liberty, it can bind you in chains or set you free.”

His words echoed deep. Jimmy knew he had been there, where he lay. He understood and nodded out of respect then closed his tired eyes.

He had been riding the abuse for a long time, carrying the guilt. When he woke his mind was clear.

He left the hospital after three long days and moved back to Kayla’s. His conscience punched a hole back to normality. He went cold turkey, no methadone, just a longing to redeem himself before Kayla. Pra entered his room.

“Kelly told me what you did for her,” said Jimmy.

“She told you, did she?” said Pra.

“Why didn’t you say?”

“Exactly when was I supposed to do that. You were busy positioning her pedestal I seem to recall.”

“I’m a hot head when it comes to girls. I like to think I’m clever but I know I’m not. I got luck on myside and deep down I hate myself for not doing the right thing. Well some of the time, not all the time.”

Jimmy winced. He had a severe attack of cramps in his gut. “Ow..the knot in my head had moved to my gut.” He grimaced through the pain. “You went through the same when you kicked it? Why didn’t you warn me?”
“I ain’t your mama, anyway would you have listened? You had it before, you knew I dabbled. No-one talks about H you know that, it ain’t like coke. You out of weed you munch Oreos, you out of H, man that shit is severe.”

“Thanks for saving me man. I mean if you never came when you did.”

“You owe me and one day I’ll collect, I ain’t ramping,” he joshed.

Rufus was let go but not before he cursed out Cornell with a promise to get even. They took a break and auditioned for a new MC. After rejecting a line of hopefuls Marcia walked in late from playing with the kids in the street below. Rawl had suggested her. She was an acquaintance, a recommendation from a friend. As soon as she started to freestyle she was immediately handed a BabyCham Brandy out of relief and accepted into the fold. She was a west coast rapper, a petite Bajan with short locks, plucky and full of spirit.

The group was rested and with their new member everyone was on their best behaviour. Jimmy found new impetus and spent most days in doors working on new material, pulling from his experience, writing from the heart. They went back to recording and were booked for their first Stadium gig opening for Nation X at Staples, New York.

They piled into a Transit panel van and headed off with a full entourage and Access All Area passes. They were assigned a team of roadies to porter their equipment. Their dressing room was adorned with flowers and ice buckets packed with Caviar and Crystal. This was rock n roll at its’ civilised best and they liked it. Jimmy and Kayla mingled back stage with pop couple Kim Moore and Patrice Gordon from Cronik. They gave embrace and wished them luck.

The sound check instantly blew them away. The arena shrank them small. The rear seats were mere dots in the distance. Jimmy gulped; this was altogether another league, people were approaching him from all directions asking questions about stuff he had no idea about. He was trying desperately to keep it together.

The call came ‘Ten minutes and you’re on.’ Guitar in hand he was led through a maze of tunnels up to the stage. The roar of the crowd grew louder till they were face to face with a frenzied mass. He was overwhelmed. They were received like headliners. He bowed his head, plugged his guitar in, looked up and immediately back down, his heart in his throat. Thousands of screaming punters were all wailing for them. He looked back to compose himself and was faced with a forty foot high live screen with his face on it, there was nowhere to hide.

He gave Aaron the nod and they went into their first number. Kayla made a theatrical entrance from the wings and the audience cranked it up a notch. She started right on cue; every song was epic, every chord a triumph. At one point Jimmy spotted Chuck T himself in the wings nodding along. They were in the moment delivering the goods to a crazed stadium.

The floor manager told them they were out of time and to wind it up but they defiantly played on with “Josie” a song Jimmy had written on the Subway the week before. He marvelled at the power of it all, from an idea in a train car to a crowd of twenty thousand singing it back. This was what it was all about, sharing, sending a gift. Kayla made her exit as the outro played, succeeded by an exclamation of pyros.

Afterwards Jimmy went down to see Nation X perform with Pra and edged into the crowd. He could hear whispers of ’That’s him, that’s him.’ People were talking about Jimmy; star struck by a nobody.

“From Funkenstien to this,” said Pra.

“Crazy isn’t it?”

“Imagine Kelly could see you now?”

“You sound like Kael back in the day.” He flashed through everything moment that led up to that point. “Thanks for being there Pra.”

“No problem man. Just do me a favour.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t die again, once is enough.”

They went onto the after party at the Parkway, a prestigious club off Times Square. Debbie a friend of Marcia and resident groupie had designs on Jimmy from the moment she fist laid eyes on him back at the Blue note. Debbie was a voluptuous blond siren, self-obsessed and wanted Jimmy just to prove she could. She stalked him determined to strike. She cornered him in a secluded corridor. When the coast was clear she made her move, stroking his hands placing her thigh between his. Jimmy resisted but it was too late Kayla spotted them and stomped off. Jimmy ran after her back to the dressing room but she locked the door. He banged, he pleaded. Eventually the door swung open and she stood their vacant.

“Are you ok?” asked Jimmy.

“No, I’m pregnant.”

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