Melodies of a Tattered Shadow

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Chapter12 CAUGHT IN THE ACT

This could not be happening. Joseph Brown is badly hurt and is fighting for his life on the way to the hospital, while Paul sat in his bedroom, distraught by the horrible news.

Minutes before the phone call, Roger, the Jail Shift Supervisor was in the ambulance guarding and supervising the detainee Joseph Brown. Brown suffered from multiple stab wounds in the chest. As the man struggled for life, he whispered something to Roger that left the man bewildered.

Brown tried with all his might to speak. “Please tell Cindy that I wasn’t able to take care of him… I’m sorry… it’s not right for her… for an angel to have that burden—but please ask her to take care of Josie...” With blood spewing out the side of his mouth, he took his last breath.

Taylor didn’t understand what the man’s dying wish meant. Clearly it was important to the man, but what the hell was that about? He finally brought himself to close the man’s eyes, and breathe a last prayer for him.

Even before Brown arrived at the hospital, reporters were already there waiting for the convict. Everyone wanted a piece of Brown’s story. And when the ambulance drove to halt in front of the emergency room entrance, they feasted on what was left of the dead man’s existence.

DOA. The detainee Joseph Brown has been pronounced dead on arrival.

Pandemonium followed the doctor’s announcement. Reporters swarmed around the doctor, hungry for more details as to what caused the death. And then they turned to the warden.

Roger was put on the spot. Rumors spilt that the incident was witnessed by prison guards who just stood there and watch Mr. Brown get slaughtered by fellow inmates. It was a racial attack, all presumed.

No one had the answers.

*****

Back in Los Angeles, Paul was inconsolable. He had no clear word about what happened to Brown. He was unable to make calls to find out everything, and so in deep frustration, he reached out to his new friend.

“Eliz, I’m sorry to disturb you this early… can you come over?” Paul pleaded.

“I was on my way… don’t worry…” Eliz quickly got up from her bed, feeling like an elder sister ready to console a younger sibling.

She discovered him in the patio, staring blankly at the sea. He was crying.

Eliz walked over to him, wrapping him in her embrace.

“What’s wrong?”

“He was hurt… there was an accident.”

“You mean Peter? Peter was hurt?”

“No… it’s Joseph Brown.”

“Joseph Brown? The man you asked for—the contract? What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know now. But the last information I got was that he was badly hurt… and fighting for his life.”

“I thought you… terminated the contract?”

“That’s what I intended to do. But I was… too late. It happened before I can make the call,” he said, breaking down and losing his weight altogether. He fell on his knees, knocking over the garden chair on his balcony.

“Oh God… Then don’t make any calls anymore. It might only complicate things for you…”

“I’m not worried about that… I’m worried about Josie… I’m worried about her losing her dad. I know how painful it is to lose a father,” he sobbed so hard, “I can’t bear to think of it.”

“Look, sweetie, your heart is in the right place. But you cannot do anything now. Don’t make it worse than it already is.” She stroked his hair with her hands, gently, hoping this would calm him down.

“But still… I have to help him out… it’s my fault in the first place. If I didn’t make a deal with him, this would not have happened.”

“You are wrong. It’s not your fault, Paul.” Eliz stopped, trying so hard to look for the right consoling words to utter.

“I made him do it Eliz. How can that be not my fault?” Paul was almost yelling now.

“You made a contract… It’s an agreement, he agreed to do it and you agreed to his terms. Too bad he wasn’t able to do his part. As simple as that.”

“Eliz, this isn’t some building contract or any business contract. It’s about human lives…” Paul said in a whisper, gritting his teeth in anger and frustration.

“You might think that way… but it’s still a business deal. He was supposed to do his part and you’re supposed to do yours!”

He knew what Eliz was trying to do. He cannot get mad at her for trying to toughen him up. He stared at her and leaned on her left shoulder like a puppy craving for affection. “Eliz, no matter what… thank you for being here for me,” he whispered.

That was it. Her tears began streaming down her face. “You know I love you… I don’t want you to be hurting no more. You need to fight back. You need to be strong.”

“I have to find a way to help him… and-and help Josie.”

“Yes, of course. We’ll find a way.”

The evening papers did not waste time running a story on Brown that same day. All major news networks featured Brown’s death, branding it as a racist act.

Asheville, North Carolina. Joseph Brown, detained for suspicion of murder, died from multiple stab wounds at the Buncombe County Detention Center. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Ashville General Hospital.

Brown was charged for multiple homicides of three teenage kids whom Brown accused of raping his 10-year-old daughter. Brown was allegedly attacked in the courtyard, as other detainees stood by. Prison guards were said to stand and watched the incident without any attempt to stop it. Witnesses blame the Aryan Brotherhood for the attack.

What followed was pure chaos. People flocked to Asheville, each with his own agenda. Many saw Brown as a victim, a noble father who rescued her daughter from sex-crazed young men. But for so many others, Brown was a black man who killed three white teenagers. A madman who murdered innocent kids.

The once relatively peaceful community was now in mayhem. People are divided and are a threat to one another. To make matters worse, word is spreading that the Asheville Police Force is peppered with officers belonging to the Aryan Brotherhood. The situation was so volatile that neighboring cities are worried violence could spill over any moment.

Back in LA, Paul and Eliz were contemplating on their next move. Paul has no other plan, but to support Josie, but how to do it was the question. Just like Chelsea’s case, Paul should tread carefully so as not to blow up the situation.

“Actually, if it’s just financial support you need for Josie, I think it’d be easy. We can give the money in my name, and surely no one can link my name with the name you use in Asheville,” Eliz suggested.

“Cindy or Sarah… that’s the name I used there,” Paul said.

“Cindy and Sarah…? Neat! Two names you cannot readily associate that a person name Paul are using such names.” Eliz commented.

Paul continued, “There’s one more thing. I want to attend the funeral.”

She was staring at Paul, puzzled. “Funeral? You don’t suggest you go there as Cindy… or even Sarah, that is asking for trouble,” Eliz almost yelled out.

“No, I’ll attend as Paul Andrews.”

Eliz paced across the room, and finally said, “There’s no direct link between Paul Andrews and Mr. Brown. I think it’d be safe, if we’re talking about the contract. But Asheville now is not a safe place. I don’t think someone like you would want to go there now.”

“Eliz you’re forgetting something,” Paul said in a stern voice.

She stared back at him, perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“You’re forgetting Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell.

Eliz paused and realized what he meant. “Yeah, yeah.” She rubbed her forehead with her two fingers and added, “This is your battle… our battle, I’ll go with you.”

“No. It’s fine. You don’t have to come with me.”

Holding her friend’s hands, she whispered, “I want to… I want to be part of this.”

“Okay,” Paul answered and hugged her real tight.

“But we have to plan this. I mean we‘re not going there to be one of the onlookers. We have to make an impact. You have to make an impact! To help the cause,” Eliz explained.

“Should I bring along the band?” Paul asked, curious.

“Yes, yes. That’d be a good idea. Especially if they believed in the cause… and I think they do, since you and your band have been playing that kind of music for years. It makes sense that the band is there.”

“Yep, I guess I can convince them to go with me,” Paul replied.

*****

At Mr. Baker’s studio, members of D’ Kickers were all present, including a stand-in for Peter, Eric Thompson. They were about to begin practice when Paul blurted out, “Guys, are you aware of what’s happening in North Carolina?”

“What’s in North Carolina now? I remembered our gig there last time. The crowd was okay,” Andy butted in.

“Yeah, we had fun there,” Joey added, “but not as fun as Japan or England.”

“Why North Carolina… Southeast? We are from that area, so what?” Scott asked naively as always.

“Are you not watching the news?” Eric commented.

“There you go! At least the new guy knows something. Asheville, North Carolina is in the news because a ‘brother’ was killed by white dudes in detention. Two white jail guards just stood and watched while it was happening,” Vincent explained.

“That’s bad!” Andy followed.

“That’s not new. Those prison guys get killed every day. Why will this be any different?” asked Joey.

“The guy that was killed, killed three white dudes and…” Eric began, but was interrupted.

“Just like I said, a criminal getting killed—by another criminal, so what?” Joey was growing impatient.

“Joey, dude, you’re not getting it. The guy was in detention for killing three white guys, because these three guys raped his 10-year-old daughter,” Vincent stressed every word he uttered.

“Yeah, dude. He avenged his kid, and now he was killed because he was black and he killed three white teenagers. Now people are saying the white guards are in cahoots with the white detainees who killed the black man. You see the point? You notice the ‘colors’ they smear this story with?” Eric explained further, hoping the others would pick up.

“That is sick. I’m sure Asheville is in deep shit, man. And that means it will be suicide to go there now,” Scott commented.

“Yeah man, we don’t want to get involved with that kind of shit, that’s what you’re saying’?” Paul remarked angrily. These guys are impossible, he thought. They sure as hell want to keep themselves out of trouble!

Joey got a second wind and said, “Wait, what do you mean, kid? Are you saying that if I don’t go there, I don’t care?”

“Or worse—we are racists!” Scott yelled.

“I am not, and I know that none of us is racist,” Joey answered in defense.

“Are we not?” Eric blurted out in sarcasm.

“Yeah, are we not racists? I don’t see us doing things actively that says ‘we’re not racists’,” Andy butted in.

“No, we’re not racists. We’re not prejudiced and we have a lot of black friends. We don’t treat them any differently,” Joey declared.

“No, we’re not! This is not just about bigotry. It’s also about the things we’ve been singing from the very start. It’s about abuse. It’s about the rape of a little girl and how it seems logical that he’d want to hurt the people who hurt his daughter,” Paul yelled.

The group fell silent. They all gazed at each other.

“We have to do something about this. We are not insensitive. We should go there,” Joey declared.

“Yes, I agree,” Scott added.

“Guys, going there might add up to some more confusion,” Andy remarked.

“Are you bailing out on us—on this?” Joey asked.

“I don’t think Andy is bailing out. I think he’s right. Just going there might lead to more confusion,” Eric added in defense of Andy.

“The new guy might be right. Even here, you and Andy is already confusing things,” Scott said irritably.

“What I mean is; we shouldn’t just go there. We should do something,” Andy paused and added, “We should do a concert. A benefit concert.”

“Yeah. That can work. We can even invite other bands and other artists,” Scott suggested.

“Yes, we should start working on that. What do you think Vincent?” Andy turned to their manager.

“Guys, it’s a brilliant idea. But taking sides in this kind of issue might not be good for business,” Vincent declared, hesitantly.

“But Vincent, our music had always been against abuse… these sorts of things. We have already taken sides from the beginning,” Paul reasoned.

“True. But this is another issue. Race is something else. This is a different matter,” he wasn’t so sure how to explain it, but he went on, “We might lose some business”.

“Is that what you’re worried about, Vincent? Losing some business?” Andy retorted.

“Guys, guys, you know me. I’m not without mercy or something. I care. I’m just being cautious about this because if we chose to take sides, we cannot deny that we will lose the other side,” Vincent said in defense.

“If what you’re worried about is losing business with bigots and racists, I—don’t mind losing them!” Joey insisted.

“Yeah… let’s lose them. Gladly,” Scott added.

“Okay, at least you know what you are up to. Now we can proceed? I’ll organize everything as usual,” Vincent conceded.

Paul was glad. More than glad. The conversation with his band mates turned out well. Better than what he had expected. But the following day, Vincent raised a concern with the group, crushing Paul’s hopes again.

“Look. It will be impossible for us to do the concert in Asheville or in any part of North Carolina now. Not even in Charlotte. People there cannot guarantee our safety. And I can’t invite other bands and artists unless I can guarantee their safety, too,” Vincent explained.

“That’s true… who knows what kind of bigot-idiots we’re gonna meet there,” Scott added.

“Might be true,” Eric commented.

“Here we go again. Are we starting a debate again? I thought we settled this?” Joey asked.

“No, there is no argument. Bigots are idiots. They don’t understand that skin color doesn’t make you any different from another,” Andy yelled angrily.

“But not all idiots are bigots, right?” Scott was trying to be funny, no matter how foolish it sounded.

“Scott, you really are a genius!” Vincent chuckled, trying to mask his nervousness. “No—but kidding aside, a bigot-idiot is dangerous. Those guys, they are the kind that killed Joseph Brown.”

“Yes, I think Vincent is right. We should not put ourselves and our friends in danger,” Paul stated.

“Does it mean we’re ditching the concert idea? I don’t want that. I want to be an active participant, not to chicken out because of some idiotic bigots,” Joey asked?

“Yes, Joey is right. We have to find a way,” Andy suggested.

“We will go on with the concert. But we will do it here in LA so there’d be no security issue. It will be for the benefit of Joseph Brown and his daughter,” Vincent declared.

“For the benefit of all the Joseph Browns and all Josie Browns of America,” Joey added.

“Yes. We stand against racial violence and violence towards women and children,” Andy said, feeling genuinely patriotic.

“We’ll do the concert after Mr. Brown’s funeral. We cannot do it sooner than that. We will attend the funeral to make our statement and stand on the issue known to everyone. And we will still try to invite some of our celebrity friends to join us,” Vincent instructed the group.

“Guys, thanks for doing this,” Paul said, almost in tears.

“Kid, we’re all doing this. You don’t have to thank us,” Andy replied.

Paul simply nodded. The group didn’t know how big this meant for Paul.

That night, Vincent had already asked the band’s publicist to send out a press release that D’ Kickers are going to attend Brown’s funeral and will be holding a benefit concert for the man. Soon enough, the news was all over the papers, TV and radio. Celebrities jumped in and pledged to join both the funeral and the concert.

On the day of Joseph Brown’s burial, the streets leading to the Church of Saint the Baptist was littered with people. People who were demonstrating for justice, police who cordoned off the crowd, hoping they could maintain the peace, people who were there as onlookers, to gossip, and groups of men dressed in white vestments and hooded hats that masked their faces, expressing their relief that Brown was dead.

Inside the church, major dignitaries, celebrities, VIPs from diverse places were seated in their respective rows. The church was jam-packed. Even the members of church congregation themselves were content on just squeezing themselves amid the slew of the church crowd.

The leader of the church was Rev. Bill Johnson, a church leader of the black community. He was active in the rehabilitation of prisoners and detainees like Brown.

His powerful voice was resounded as he spoke.

“Greetings to you, my brothers and sisters, we are gathered here to celebrate…” Rev. Johnson paused, gazed at the crowd and continued, “Yes, to celebrate the life of our brother, Joseph Brown.”

The whole church fell quiet, waiting for what Rev. Johnson has to say.

“I say we celebrate! Why should we be bitter about our brother’s death? Are we bitter because our brother was killed by men with a different skin color than ours? What if Joseph was killed by another black man? Would you be here? We call the people who killed Joseph racist. So, where does your anger come from? Isn’t it because white folks killed him? So what does it make you? If Joseph was killed by black men, you won’t be protesting! We are all guilty of being racists, are we not?” Rev. Johnson did not waste any second in throwing his words at the spectators.

The people were in shock. They didn’t come here to be called racists.

“Yes! We are all racists! We are on Joseph’s side because he was a black man killed by white men. We don’t see it as a man being killed unjustly by another man. If we did, we would be protesting all the murders happening in our country. But we’re not! And as it is written: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28.”

“My friends, I had an opportunity to sit down with Joseph when he was alive. I asked him what made him kill the three young men. His answer was: ‘They hurt my daughter, so I killed them.’ I asked again, ’Would you still have killed them, if they were black?’ He said, ‘They hurt my daughter, so I killed them. I don’t care if they are black or white.’

I am telling you, my brothers and sisters, violence have no color. It’s neither black nor white. Its color is death. Don’t be bitter with people who don’t understand. Don’t be trapped by the devil’s tricks to seek vengeance. Remember what Christ had done for us. He endured violence and shame and he forgave those who did it to him—because he was wise. He already knew back then that violence begets violence. He knew that even if you are not hurt or injured, still our body will decay. So there is no point in getting mad at each other if we get hurt, because our body will pass anyway.”

Hearing this, Paul looked at Eliz. They nodded at each other.

“Brothers and sisters, that’s not all we are talking about here. As I’ve said, we are here to celebrate the passing of our brother Joseph. The life he lived. I asked him what he wanted, and his answer was: ’Reverend. I can’t ask for anything more. I’ve met an angel and I know she will help me with my daughter.’ I asked him: ’So you are ready for any eventualities?’ His answer was rather vague. He talked about the ‘angel’ he met and who agreed to do something for him that she may not have wanted. And he went on to say this ‘angel’ did not want vengeance. That she just wanted to keep her sister safe.

“Destroying evil people are so easy to do. But Brown said he cannot do this to the ‘angel’ who has helped him. He wanted to repay her kindness, with kindness.”

The Reverend paused for a moment.

He looked at the crowd and said, “Rejoice my brothers and sisters! Although our brother Joseph knows violence begets violence, he held back because he knows his ‘angel’ does not deserve to carry the burden in her heart. As you can see, just like Christ, he sacrificed himself so that his angel can remain that way—be an angel. Our brother Joseph’s shackle has been unleashed now till forever. Heaven must be crowded with black men for many before us are like Joseph.”

He sacrificed himself, so that his angel can remain that way—be an Angel.

Rev. Johnson added, “Look at yourselves. Would you repay violence with kindness? Only those who can do it deserve to be called Joseph’s brother. For you who shouted vengeance, you are a bigot! Just like the people who killed Joseph. Why can we not say: ’I will not pass judgment unto my brothers and sisters, not for the color of their skin!’”

After the Reverend’s eulogy, the ceremony carried on, ending with the choir’s joyful but solemn hymn. Joseph Brown’s coffin was lifted and taken across the church aisle, leading outside to be met by a crowd of spectators seeking to view the dead convict’s remains, some to mourn and sadly, some only to gossip. People followed the procession, including all the important dignitaries and celebrities. Crowds of people were on the side streets. Huddled among the crowd were Meredith Penn and her father Karl Penn. Meredith is an avid fan of D’ Kickers, and she couldn’t seem to forego of the opportunity to see her favorite band, most especially Paul ‘D’ Kid’ Andrews.

The father and daughter tandem crawled amid the crowd. Karl Penn was not as enthusiastic as his daughter. He would rather be gambling at a table playing cards. He followed his daughter’s lead only because he wanted to win her trust, especially in the middle of a custody battle with his wife.

As the procession moved on, Karl saw someone familiar among the celebrities. He squinted, trying to make out the woman’s face, then waited until he was at a good distance to make sure it is who he thought it is. People started calling out different names: D’ Kickers, D’ Kid, Paul… Paul Andrews? He whispered in disbelief. Do I hear it right? Paul Andrews?

Paul was sandwiched between his mother and Eliz. His band mates followed behind. When Paul and his band mates were an earshot from Meredith, Meredith started yelling.

“Paul! D’ Kid! D’ Kid!” At the same time, Karl called out, “Jackie! Jackie! Jackie Andrews!”

As Meredith’s voice chorused with her father’s; both Jackie and Paul stopped walking and looked where the voices were coming from.

Jackie Andrews was in shock. She didn’t expect anyone to recognize her. She didn’t think twice to cover herself with a veil and pulled Paul closer to her.

Meredith in a bit of shocked too, when she heard her father shouting a woman’s name.

“Dad, do you know her? Is she a famous actress?” Meredith was curious.

“She’s not an actress,” Karl said, almost in a whisper. He shook his head, baffled and all, and asked, “Were you calling Paul Andrews?”

The young lady was too busy thinking of the hundred questions forming in her mind that she did not bother to respond to his dad’s own query.

“If she’s not, then how come you know her? I mean, you were calling her.”

“I’m her husband’s friend. Was it Paul Andrews? Were you calling out Paul’s name?” Karl was confused and nervous at the same time.

“Yes, Dad. Why? You—you called Jackie Andrews…” Meredith paused and continued, “Is she D’ Kid’s mom? It makes sense, like, they’re together, so…”

“What do you mean the kid’s mom?” Karl asked his daughter.

“No, Dad. I mean Paul Andrews’ mom. Paul is also called ‘D’ Kid’, the bandleader of D’ Kickers. Your friend’s wife’s name is Jackie Andrews. It totally makes sense that she is his mom,” Meredith thought she figured it all out.

“That’s impossible honey. He can’t be Paul Andrews,” Karl replied almost certain of what he knows.

“You saw him, Dad. He’s very popular. I’ll show my posters and their record albums when we get home. You’ll see that it was Paul Andrews that we saw a while ago,” Meredith smiled at her Dad.

“No, I don’t mean it that way. It is impossible Paul Andrews is Jackie’s…” Karl stopped himself. He decided this is not the time and place to discuss this matter.

Still, he was bewildered to see Jackie Andrews in the company of a famous young man named Paul Andrews. He sensed there was something off about it, but he just winked and smiled.

Back, at the procession, Jackie Andrews felt uneasy. She tried to cover herself with her veil, trying not to be recognized. Paul noticed this and asked “Mom, what’s wrong? You seem anxious.”

With her hands shaking while grasping Paul’s elbow, she said “Honey… someone recognized me.”

“Don’t worry Mom. It’s not like you are with someone that they knew,” Paul reassured his mom in a whisper.

“Honey, someone was calling out your name—when he saw me,” Mrs. Andrews replied.

Paul became a tad nervous. “Mom, are you sure?” he asked nervously.

“You met him before… It’s Karl, your dad’s friend, remember…? We have to get out of here,” Mrs. Andrews replied, deeply concerned.

“Mom, I want to but it might make matters worse. They might become suspicious.”

“I think it would be best for me to go, honey. Just give me a call later,” Mrs. Andrews said, as she hurriedly took off.

The bright blue sky seemed to be welcoming Joseph Brown. White doves flew over the crowd, as if sending the message that Joseph was God’s child, too. Roger Taylor was there to pay his last respects. He was not in his uniform in the service. He knew it might trigger unnecessary commotion. He approached Josie Brown and talked to her. He said his condolences, and also wanted to ask about Cindy.

“Josie, your dad had told me something and I wanted to relay the message. Do you know Cindy?” Mr. Taylor whispered very discreetly.

“Yes, sir. She is my friend’s sister,” Josie replied innocently, still weeping.

“Do you know where I can find her?” Mr. Taylor asked again.

She sniffed and replied, “She used to visit our shelter before, but now she no longer visits. Even her sister doesn’t see her anymore,” Josie replied sadly.

“So her sister is still with you in the shelter? I need to—talk to her because your dad has a message for her sister.”

“She’s here. You can talk to her if you want,” Josie replied and pointed toward Chelsea’s seat.

Mr. Taylor expressed his sympathies again, and thanked the young girl for her time. He then turned to Chelsea, who was sitting behind Josie.

“Chelsea, I am Roger Taylor. I’m acquainted with Mr. Brown. Is Cindy your sister?”

“Yes, but I don’t know where she is,” Chelsea was quick to answer.

“I need to talk to her… for Mr. Brown. He has a message for her. Do you know where I can find her?” Mr. Taylor asked awkwardly, knowing this was not the proper time to do this. But he felt he had no choice.

“I don’t know where she is. There are a lot of people looking for her, but I know she will come for me one day,” Chelsea answered confidently.

“Okay then. I will just leave the message to you—in case she visits you?”

“Yes… she will definitely come for me,” Chelsea said, placing her clenched fist to her chest, “I believe it in my heart.”

Roger was about to tell Chelsea the message, but instead, pulled out his pen and a paper, and wrote Joseph’s message.

Dear Cindy,

Before his last breath, Joseph Brown told me to relay this message to you. “Please tell Cindy that I didn’t take care of him… I’m sorry… it’s not right for her… for an angel to have that burden. But please ask her to take care of Josie.” I chose to write verbatim, for I’m afraid to omit any of the things he meant to say.

May this message helps in any way.

A mutual friend of Joseph,

Roger Taylor

He handed the paper to Chelsea and said his thanks, to which Chelsea responded with respect.

Unknown to Chelsea and Roger, Paul was watching them from afar. He wanted to go to Chelsea and embrace her, but he stopped himself. He was not dressed as Cindy or Sarah. More importantly, no one should see them together. So he stood there, contented with looking from a distance. He pointed Chelsea to Eliz and she was equally happy to have seen Chelsea, finally.

After the ceremony was over, it wasn’t easy getting out of the place. Media people blocked most of the exits, if only to get a shot of the celebrities. Paul was still following Chelsea from afar, while Eliz holds him by the elbow.

Chelsea moved out of the crowd, with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. She was with Mina Sanchez, the supervisor from Child Protective Services. Absent-mindedly, Paul kept following Chelsea and Mina Sanchez. Because of the commotion, Paul didn’t even notice that the interment was held here—at the Riverside Cemetery. He was startled and surprised when Chelsea stopped at one of the tombstones, knelt and placed the flowers on the ground. He looked around and saw the street sign, and only then did he realize they were at Rose Alley. When he looked back at Chelsea, he faintly saw the tears and heard her sobs. Paul collapsed in Eliz arms and sniveled in her embrace.

The young girl was standing in front of Elizabeth and Michael Payne’s gravestone. At that moment, he fought the urge to run to Chelsea to share her pain. Eliz embraced him tightly. They were both oblivious to the crowd, of people who were still there.

*****

Paul called his mom as soon as he arrived home.

“Mom, did you get home safely?”

“Yes, yes honey. How was the service?” Mrs. Andrews’ voice was still a bit shaken.

“It was at Riverside Cemetery…” Paul answered, holding his emotions back.

“Oh, dear. Did you visit your—?” Mrs. Andrews asked, but she was interrupted by Paul.

“I didn’t realize it was Riverside Cemetery, until I saw Chelsea stop at…”

“Did she see you?”

“Mom, Chelsea doesn’t know Paul Andrews.”

There was a long pause.

“I know how much you miss her, honey. Maybe one day we can find a way for the two of you to be together,” she tried to mask the pain she herself was feeling, to no avail.

“I hope so, too, Mom,” then he added, “About that Karl… How well did he know you?”

“Honey, I’m afraid he knows a lot—a lot about the past. That’s why I’m worried about him hearing people shouting your name while I’m with you,” she replied.

For some reason, it made him worry, too, especially now that he feels responsible for not just Chelsea, but also Josie. He could no longer afford to put his career in jeopardy, too. He knew, he said money is not the most important thing in the world. But right now, that is the only thing he could provide Chelsea and Josie.

“Mom, do you think we’re going to have problems with this Karl? Is he a close friend of Dad’s?” Paul asked.

“Honey, I wish I could say that we’re not going to have a problem with him. Your dad was not close to him, but your Dad has always found him very nosy and very greedy, mainly because of his gambling problems. That’s what I remember of him, too. I don’t know if this man will just let this thing go away.”

*****

That night, Eliz was with him again at the beachfront of his Malibu house. She readily knew that Paul would be uneasy. What the Reverend spoke of during the memorial service; and his failure to be with Chelsea are enough reasons to rattle him. What she didn’t know about was the additional burden of the Andrews encounter with Karl Penn.

“Kid, you don’t have to over think what the Reverend had said about Joseph Brown,” Eliz tried to reassure Paul.

“Kid?” Paul was caught by surprise. “I don’t remember… When did you start calling me that?”

“All the people back in Asheville called you that, your friends and especially your fans. I just think it suits you well. Which was I wanted to ask you. Why did they call you D’ Kid?” Eliz inquired.

“That’s a long story. I know you’re not really interested in the name game. You’re just doing this to divert my attention—away from the more dramatic issues of my life,” Paul tried to force a smile.

“Is it working? I don’t mean to, but if it works, hell, that’s good,” Eliz tapped him on the arm. “Anyway, I’m really curious to know why they call you D’ Kid.”

“Really?”

“Yes! It’s interesting. And to think that we are very close, closer than any other people in the world. In fact, we know things about each other that we cannot let someone else know!”

“True. Well, actually it’s not only D’ Kid, before. It was ‘Karate Kid’. It was a moniker started by our friend Fox, D’ Kickers’ former band leader,” Paul recalled fondly.

“Karate Kid… D’ Kickers… it sounds like a Chinese martial arts movie. I can sense that there is a connection between your name and your band’s name.”

Paul sat back and gazed at the dark, evening sky. It was only then that he was reminded again of this connection. He looked at Eliz and smiled, “Yeah. I guess you can say there is a pretty strong connection.”

“So tell me the story,” Eliz asked with a smile.

“As I said, Fox was the one who gave me that name —D’ Kid.”

Paul narrated the origin of his moniker and the history of their band. He started from the time he fought and kicked a bully that led to his meeting the boys in detention, which led to him being named Karate Kid, and again, about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

“That is a fascinating story—history. It really clearly means that your band D’ KICKERS… is really you,” Eliz surmised.

“I don’t believe that... it’s us. It’s not just mine,” Paul insisted.

“I don’t mean it that way. I don’t want you to take credit for everything. I mean, I don’t know how to say it, but it’s just like what we’re talking about—this is your battle. Look at what your band is singing about. It’s all about you… your story,” Eliz explained.

Paul paused; he remembered when Fox told him, that he was the soul of D’ Kickers. He then understood what Fox and Eliz were talking about. But still, he tried to deny it. He contended that it is not about taking the credit for everything that every one of them had worked hard for, so he said, “My friends have equally worked hard as I did. I will not deny them of the credit they deserve.”

“Kid, I’m not talking about credit. You know me, I don’t give a damn what other people say. I was talking about ‘accept and surrender’. Think this through, all your life now are connected… your present, your past and maybe your future. I just want you to realize it, for you to decide…” Eliz heaved a deep sigh.

“Decide what?” Paul asked.

“My dear friend. Your life is deeply connected with your past. You can still decide to get away from it if you wanted to, or decide to continue on and fight this through. It’s a cliché now for both of us, but would you accept and surrender your past to determine your future?”

Eliz is right, he thought. His life then was deeply entrenched in his past, but he still did not understand how he can get away from it.

“Do you honestly believe I have an option? An option to escape from my past?”

“Not entirely. But it should not define your whole life,” Eliz answered.

“How?” Paul asked.

“Well, for one—you can start a family of your own,” Eliz suggested.

“Are you joking now? Are you forgetting who I really am?” Paul asked.

“I know who you really are. I’m serious, kid. If you can throw all this away, you can live a new life.”

“Forget about my career. Forget about my music and forget about Chelsea and Josie? I don’t think I can abandon them,” Paul answered.

“Actually, if you don’t have this life, it might have been easier for you to deal with Chelsea. Your being famous was one of the reasons you can’t be with Chelsea, if you think about it. That’s why I still consider myself luckier than you are. Because unlike you; I don’t live in a ‘fish tank’. Having all the world watch as I live my life is my worst nightmare,” Eliz leaned back on the lounge chair and looked up at the evening sky. “It happened once to me. They took my mug shot and I dreaded it. I hate that people associate us with common criminals. You know me. I just want to be left alone, not minding anyone, and I will be ever thankful if everyone will just stay the hell out of my life.”

“Yep. We are alike in that area.” Paul looked at Eliz. “But I don’t have a choice; because this is the consequence of the one thing I love doing. I don’t think I can do anything else besides this—music is my life.”

He let a long moment of silence pass by.

“Do you honestly believe that if I were not famous, it would have been easier for me to be with Chelsea?”

Eliz can feel the desperation in Paul’s voice.

“Yes, I think so. But it might not be that easy right now for you. You cannot just remove your popularity. Besides, you need the money. You have to support Chelsea and Josie financially, and as you said music is your bread and butter.”

“So why do you have to raise that issue? If we cannot do nothing about it? You’re confusing me!” Paul threw the beer bottle he was holding onto the water out of frustration.

“Like I said, you can change your life, but not entirely, you know? You can choose a different path to your music. Don’t dwell on the sadness of the past. Write about—about love, or about happy times,” Eliz tried to feign a smile.

Paul understood what Eliz was saying. But writing songs about love? D’ Kickers have always been known for their deeply enraged sentiments. The only time he could remember writing one song about ‘love’ was when he wrote something for Fox and Cindy. “Love song? Do you honestly believe I can write a song about love?

“Yes, you can. Why not? It’s not a subject that you know nothing about. You’ve been in love, haven’t you?” Eliz said with a faint smile, careful not to tip off Paul’s emotions.

Paul was silent. He didn’t know how to react. He felt embarrassed.

“Hey kid, don’t be embarrassed. I am your friend,” Eliz quipped.

“All right, all right… I’ll give it a shot,” Paul tried to sound enthused.

“That’s good, girlfriend,” Eliz winked and paused. She was aware of that word she just used. She looked around, suddenly worried that someone heard.

Paul threw a sharp look at Eliz, more afraid than angry.

“Don’t worry,” Eliz said apologetically, “We’re the only people here.”

Unknown to the pair, there was a suspicious eye looking at them from inside Paul’s house.

Eliz was glad that she was successful in diverting her friend’s attention. The rest of the night, they talked about anything they could delve into until they both retired for a restful shuteye.

Paul woke up to a commotion in front of his house. He could not believe his eyes when he peeped through the window curtains: media people were camped right outside his gate. He was not alarmed at all, having dealt with this in the course of his music career. But he wondered why…

He got dressed to go to the studio, uninterested to know what the fuss was about this time. He wrote a note for Eliz telling her she could stay on for as long as she wished. She kissed her on the cheek and whispered goodbye as she slept like a baby on his bed.

He drove out as newsmen and some fans called out his name. The rock star was completely oblivious to anything else. When he reached the studio, he stepped on the brakes to a halt as he was greeted by an even bigger crowd blocking the gate to the parking lot. He scanned the crowd from left to right, only meaning to figure out how to get through; when he noticed people were angry.

“What the…?”

He had managed to deal with some angry fans before, but this time, he was anxious. The guards tapped on his car which woke him up from his deep thinking. They managed to sweep the crowd to give him way to the studio parking. He tried to read the signs the people were holding but he had to focus on maneuvering through the crowd.

He parked his car, a bit diagonally and off the lane, but he did not care.

Maybe it’s another gimmick to trigger interest in our new album.

Inside the studio, everyone was silent. Paul was puzzled.

“Guys, what’s going on?”

The group remained mum. No one dared to respond. No one wanted to be the first one to tell Paul what was wrong. Vincent rose from his seat and handed over a folded tabloid to Paul.

“What for? I didn’t ask for this.”

“It happened,” Eric bellowed.

“Guys… I’m not getting you. What do you mean?”

“Kid, read the damn paper,” Vincent ordered Paul.

Paul unfolded the paper and was speechless in the next few moments. There is a big picture of him embracing Eliz, taken at the Riverside Cemetery, and Eliz’s mug shot on the inset. The headline reads, Caught in the Act: Self-righteous Singer/Songwriter brought his prostitute-girlfriend to a murderer’s funeral.

He felt as if the room was spinning slowly. He held on to a chair next to him, sat down, and buried his face in his hands.

“Guys, Eliz is a nice person. She is a beautiful human being,” he sounded desperate and his friends have caught that. They were all eerily quiet, looking away from Paul as he spoke.

Joey finally broke the silence. “It doesn’t matter, Kid. Even if she was as good a saint as Mother Theresa, she is a…” He decided to stop talking.

“What?” Paul’s voice echoed in the soundproof room.

“A WHORE, a prostitute,” Eric blurted out, not caring much about what Paul would feel.

What came after was a long moment of silence. The boys are mad at Paul because of the scandal, yet they care for him so much that they would not openly say hurtful words to him. Eric, on the other hand, was new to the group and didn’t realize that this brutal honesty might not be welcomed by the group.

“Is this, what we are now? Have we become so big that we can judge people now?” His voice was shaking, but he was trying so hard to contain himself.

“Kid, it’s not us who are passing judgment. It’s the media, the people. You know we’re not like that, but whatever we’re doing is no longer for our own ‘enjoyment’. Sad to say, it’s also for the public,” Andy interrupted.

“I’m happy that you have a girlfriend. We are actually starting to doubt you’re…” Scott mentally shushed himself and was glad he did not finish his sentence.

“Scott, is right,” Joey added, “We are all glad you have a girlfriend, but I’m sure you understand that the moment you put it out in public, she will be scrutinized, no matter where she came from.”

“Yes, it’s media’s nature—to find dirt,” Eric quipped.

With that remark, everybody looked at Eric with disdain.

“Guys, no matter what. It’s unfair for them to treat Eliz that way! She has done nothing wrong to me, and I’ll defend her if that’s the last thing I will do,” Paul declared.

“Kid, this is not about her.” Andy seriously remarked.

“She was being attacked by the media, wasn’t it? Why will it not be about her?” Paul answered mindlessly.

“This is about D’ Kickers as much as it is about you—not about her,” Vincent said raising his voice.

“What do you mean?” Paul asked Vincent.

“Kid, this scandal will not change Eliz’s lives. But our careers? There is so much more that we don’t know that might happen because of this,” Vincent explained.

“This is damaging her as much as it is damaging to me,” Paul said, in a very soft but stern voice.

“Kid, I don’t know if you’re just being naïve or you’re just too damn nice. You are too good for your own good,” Vincent said, heaving a sigh.

Paul was stunned. He did not expect Vincent to speak that way to him, though he considered him like a father. He knows that he cares a lot for him.

Vincent’s secretary stepped in as Paul was about to say something. She handed Vincent a piece of paper. He squinted as he read what was written on it.

“Guys, this was one of the things I was worried about. Everything seems to be going haywire,” he paused and then continued. “No one among our invited celebrities, our friends who said they were committed to join us for the benefit concert, is actually coming now. They are all backing out.”

“What?” they all chorused.

“So, what now?” Scott asked.

“You’re still asking? That means the concert benefit is now cancelled—we’re done!” Eric commented.

“Is that so, Vincent?” Scott asked seriously.

“Like it or not, Eric is quite precise.”

“Why don’t we just do it ourselves. I’m sure we can still pull it off,” Scott suggested.

Hearing this, even Eric fell silent.

Paul, on the other hand, was calm and resigned. “Scott I know you want to do it and I’m sure every one of us is willing to do this. But I must admit it; we can no longer do this. Our credibility is shattered because of this scandal. No one will join us in this concert. Even our fans might not be so thrilled to join us.”

“What do you mean by that?” Scott asked worriedly.

“I’m afraid this will not be the end of it. This is just the beginning,” Vincent conceded.

“Are you saying this might be the end of us? The end of D’ Kickers?” Scott was clueless.

“It looks that way, Scott.” Andy stressed the obvious.

“No, I don’t believe that. We have encountered a lot more than this, and we were able to surpass those shit. This is no different. We can manage this,” Scott insisted.

“This is different Scott,” Joey sadly added.

“What are you saying? How different?”

Paul, who tried to be silent for some time, answered Scott.

“Scott we are known to be on the side of right and justice, but because of this scandal, we may have lost our credibility to fight for justice. You see, many people see prostitution as not just a crime. It is a moral indignation. I know that I don’t believe that prostitutes are criminals, but because of my relationship with Eliz, I know in my heart that she is not immoral. But fighting this on her behalf would mean the demise of the band,” Paul explained.

“Kid, I know your heart is in the right place and I’m sure you will never be involved with this Eliz if she is not a special girl. It’s what we are, right? It’s what we fight for?” Scott told Paul.

“Many people do not understand this. We’ll definitely lose this battle—and lose everything.” Andy butted in.

“So what if we lose this? It’s better than kissing all the ass’s of everyone just to conform to their so called moral ass. I’m with you here, kid. We fight for our love ones, I say,” Scott declared seriously.

“Scott, we are not fighting this. We already lose our supposed ground for Joseph and Josie Brown’s benefit, and we don’t even know the extent of the damage yet. You want a new battle? Are you crazy?” Joey retorted.

Paul kept mum while his friends began to argue for him or against him. He honestly did not know what to say anymore. In part, he believed he could not fight this and sacrificed their band. But he cared for Eliz and definitely wants to stand on her side in this issue. In all the confusion, he remembered Eliz being in his home and the crowd of people in front of his gate.

He immediately got up, worried that something bad might happen to Eliz. He left her sleeping, oblivious to what was happening outside the house. He grabbed the phone and dialed for home, but no one was answering. Frustrated and alarmed, he went out of the studio, leaving his friends still arguing about the issue. He hopped into his car and drove out of the parking lot.

He knew it is not impossible for a die-hard fan to attack Eliz, fully aware that she was the reason for the scandal. It happened to John Lennon. He was killed by a fan. Now, he was worried that a deranged fan might harm Eliz.

Nearing his house, he saw the crowd has multiplied. Police cars added to the lot. He had no choice but to alight from his car far from his house to find out what the commotion was about. Why are the police here? When the crowd saw him, mayhem broke out. The crowd went wild and began running in his direction. Fortunately, the police anticipated this and swiftly surrounded him to protect him from the crowd.

“I am Police Officer Thomas Fields. Mr. Andrews, there was an accident…” a police officer spoke to Paul, but nothing was audible. The noise of the crowd was drowning out the policeman’s words.

Paul was anxious. The only thing that he understood from the police officer was that there was an accident. Before reaching his front door, he could already see the yellow ribbon around his property. He did not like the sight. It sent chills to his bones.

When he finally had the full view of his front house, he stopped. His face dropped; all the bones in his body felt like they shattered to pieces.

Someone was dead on the ground, wrapped with white blanket and blood was spewing out from the cover to the bottom, only her left foot in a familiar red high heel shoes was exposed.

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