Melodies of a Tattered Shadow

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Chapter 6 TWO HIT WONDER

Everybody seems to want a piece of D’ Kickers: the school, the townspeople, the city, and even the local government. Mr. Cummings had already declared his intention for the senate seat. His original intention of running as Mayor or Vice Mayor of their town was now scrapped. His association with D’ Kickers bid him to run, instead, for a senate seat as an advocate for women and children’s rights. It was an opportunist’s dream of gargantuan proportion. The worst part of it was that he seemed to have succeeded.

He was talking about fighting for the youth’s freedom of expression and appealing to parents to support their children in the arts, sports and everything they seek to pursue. He likewise talked about abuse and neglect and women’s rights in one breath. He exploited D’ Kickers and their song, and there was nothing Fox could do to stop it.

Fox has already fallen in love with Cindy.

Cindy wanted nothing of this horrible manipulation, but her protests and appeal to her father was all in vain. And Fox—all he could say was this was all for the band’s advantage. It is working both ways, he said. So he let things be.

Miss Keys, who now stands as the band’s manager, were always in conflict with Mr. Cummings’ ideas. She didn’t want the band to “campaign” for Mr. Cummings at all. She knew about his dirty politics and she didn’t want them to be part of it.

On the matter of the record label of the band’s songs, Mr. Cummings wanted the record label owned by a big Conservative leading network to further boost his influence in the Conservative party; while Miss Keys wanted a record label that had successfully launched several rock bands all over the country.

“If you choose to be with Wolf’s record label, your creativity will be stifled. How can a conservative produce your songs? That is unthinkable. Eventually, they will control your music.”

Fox was in a dilemma, he knew that Mr. Cummings had been taking advantage of them, but he didn’t want anything to change between him and Cindy, he didn’t know how Mr. Cummings would react if they choose not to adhered to his advice.

Miss Keys continued, “Fox, look at what kind of artist their record label has been producing lately? I admit they have a lot, but they are predominantly Country music. They have a few rock bands, but they always play on the safe side. Nothing on-the-edge like yours. The record label that I’m telling you about, they are good at handling rock bands. The leading band in the country is with them, too.”

It was hard to argue with Miss Keys. Fox knew that the best choice was to go with Triumph Records, as they have successfully launched a slew of rock bands to date.

“Miss Keys—you know our relationship with Mr. Cummings…”

“Fox, yes, I know your relationship with Mr. Cummings,” she paused and heaved a deep sigh, “and I also know that your career is not his priority. His priority is to be elected to the senate. So he doesn’t know shit—I’m sorry, excuse that.” She composed herself, knowing she’s losing her grip. “I’m telling you, let me handle this and let me handle Mr. Cummings. It’s about time he knows you are not his pawns. He cannot use you anymore!”

The group agrees with Miss Keys. They knew it was the better choice. But they also knew what Fox was afraid of. Fox thought long and hard about this. His friends are relying on him, and it was not fair to hold back the best interest of the band just to not hurt Cindy. He cannot forgive himself if his friends and all that they have worked hard for, would all go to waste. He sat everyone down one afternoon to make a final decision.

In his most weary voice, he announced, “Miss Keys, we are signing with Triumph Records.”

“That’s great! Absolutely fantastic,” Miss Keys exclaimed.

“Okay, so before we proceed, you all have to sign this.” Miss Keys distributed contracts stating that ‘Fox and D’ Kickers’ will be managed and represented by Miss Samantha Keys.

Fox promptly corrected her. “Miss Keys, this contract is not right.”

“What do you mean? Not right?” the teacher was confused.

“We are not ‘Fox and D’ Kickers’. We are ‘D’ Kickers’. Period.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me that the first time you signed this?”

Fox smiled and Miss Keys understood. She understood that she is dealing with an intelligent kid.

“Okay, I will draft a new set of contract. Actually, it doesn’t end there. Your parents have to sign the contract, too. We have to convince your parents and I know it’s not going to be easy. They will definitely want for you to continue your studies. We’ll just add it in the stipulations.”

“Miss Keys, what about Mr. Cummings?” Fox asked, worried still.

“Don’t worry. I will deal with Mr. Cummings. Once we have your contract, I can deal with him, head on. To be honest with you, just like Mr. Cummings, I am ambitious. I want you to succeed, because that means I will also be successful. The difference is, if Mr. Cummings gets elected, he will forget about you, and you will be left with that conservative label.” Miss Keys has obviously prepared her anti-Cummings speech before this meeting.

The following days have been very hectic for the boys. Apart from the campaign for Mr. Cummings, they were busy promoting and supporting different projects in school. They’ve become the poster boys for everything. They have fundraisers, competitions to promote, pep rallies, and whatever big or small thing they have in school. They also go on tours to neighboring schools and states for the Women and Children’s Rights campaign.

Their parents were not oblivious to this very busy schedule. They are becoming more worried as the days passed. They never have time for actual school responsibilities anymore, plus they are beginning to lose weight. Most importantly, they know the boys are being exploited by the adults around them. So they had to put their feet down and stop all these from spinning the wrong way.

The parents’ demands were simple: they wanted to make sure that their sons could finish their studies and that they won’t be exploited any more than they already are. Miss Keys showed them the part of the contract that stipulates exactly this, and promised that the boys are in good hands. Trusting the teacher, the parents signed the contract in good faith.

Miss Keys did take care of business on behalf of the band members from then on, including with Mr. Cummings. As expected, he protested, but he could do nothing about it. The parents signed him off, and the deal was done.

“First things first. We need to record your songs before it loses its following. We need to sign the deal with Triumph Records. Your song needs to start selling,” Miss Keys talked shop with the boys and prepped them for the more exciting days to follow.

*****

Not long after, the boys found themselves boarding business class on a plane to Los Angeles. None of them have ever flown on an airplane before, and they were just thrilled. They were going to Hollywood to record their song—on a plane. What could be more exciting than that?

Just as they landed, Scott exclaimed, “Are we going to see Farrah Faucet?”

“Shut up, Scott,” Joey smacked him on the forehead, and they both laughed.

“There’s nothing wrong in dreaming, man. Dream big, like they say,” Peter laughed along.

Paul was snickering quietly behind them, and noticed Fox, who have been really quiet all through the trip. “Fox, what’s up? You’ve been very quiet.”

Fox smiled and didn’t say anything. He hasn’t talked to Cindy since they signed with Miss Keys. He was afraid that her Dad made her stop seeing him. But he wasn’t ready to share this with the boys.

A number of media people greeted them as they arrived at the airport. Mr. Gerald Belfort, one of the managers of Triumph Records welcomed them. He was actually at the Cummings house that night of the practice session that turned into a hoot.

“Welcome to Los Angeles, boys! Welcome Miss Keys! Welcome to Hollywood!” He escorted them to the limousine that was waiting for them, which brought them to the main office of Triumph Records.

The limousine drove through Rodeo Drive, and they were all in awe, including Miss Keys. Andy, Joey and Scott were happy just ogling at the beautiful ladies that paraded the streets. Fox started to feel the excitement, as they went around the town where movie stars live. Then, he remembered Cindy and wished she was with him at that very moment.

When they reached Triumph Records, they were even more astounded. They had never seen a building as magnificent as this. They were in recording business heaven. A slew of reporters was waiting for them in the lobby, throwing questions about their trip, their music, and everything else. Mr. Belfort stepped forward and told the reporters to give the boys a break, as they have just been on a long trip.

“Why don’t we let the boys cozy up to LA a little, freshen up a bit, and get ready for the press conference. What do you think?”

Mr. Belfort led the boys to the lift going up to his office. Mirrors are covered the walls of the building, lined with chrome steel. The boys started feeling uneasy, knowing this was a place they do not fit in. People here are different. They were all sophisticated and smart.

They reached the top floor where the suite was. Posters and photographs of legendary musical artists decorated the walls of the office. A whole shelf of trophies covered one wall. The office was both impressive and intimidating. The reception lobby was huge itself, with four incredibly good-looking ladies who look like supermodels sitting behind a half-circular counter. They donned frilly tops and tight miniskirts, with hair styled to copy Farah Fawcett’s famous do. They looked more like a flight attendant than office receptionists.

“Good morning. Welcome to Triumph Records. Please have a seat. Mr. Steffen Fisher will be with you in a moment.”

Jenna, the blonde receptionist led them to one of the several lounge sofas in the area. She doesn’t look a year over 20, which made the boys ogle at her even more. She asked the boys if they want anything to drink while waiting. Scott, who has been staring with his mouth open, was the first to reply. “Anything with alcohol… Miss.”

Miss Keys quickly interrupted, “No, no. He’s kidding. He’s underage. Give him a glass of orange juice.” She gave Scott a piercing look and added, “with ice.”

“Right away, Sir. Anything for you,” Jenna told Scott, and smiled at the teenager. Scott blushed. He fell silent for one whole minute, grinning like a clown. Then he called back at her, “Wait, wait! Miss… I don’t believe I got your name. Mine is Scott.” Scott was oozing with confidence.

“I’m Jenna, Jenna Simpson,” she answered sweetly.

“Please to meet you, Jenna Simpson. I will have my orange juice now, please.” Everybody broke out in a laugh, as Jenna walked away with a quiet giggle.

Not long after Jenna left, two more goddess-like beauties strutted in front of the group. Scott, Joey and Andy couldn’t help but stare rather awkwardly at the ladies. They were hot, to say the least. And sophisticated. Not like the cheerleaders or the other popular girls back in their school.

Breaking the trance they seem to be in, a man in his mid-forties walked in and addressed them in a very loud, commanding voice.

“Welcome Kickers! Welcome to Triumph Records. Have you been waiting long? I apologize for that.”

Mr. Fisher was a medium-built man with mustache and sideburns. He was wearing a corduroy jacket, designer jeans, and a printed red silk shirt that was partially open, exposing his chest. Numerous gold-chain necklaces hang from his neck. His platform shoes made a distinct sound on the marble floors, that made everyone turn when he walks.

“Come into my office, young gentlemen,” he said, showing them the way. “So these are D’ Kickers, eh? A handsome young lot I should say.”

“Yes, Sir. Here they are,” Mr. Belfort announced proudly.

“They don’t look like rock stars to me yet, but… we’ll see, won’t we? After all,” he addressed the boys, “we can all trust Mr. Belfort here, when it comes to spotting music geniuses and future superstars.”

“Yes, indeed Mr. Fisher. We are going to make these boys into phenomenal rock stars,” Mr. Belfort replied, showing no signs of doubts.

“That’s what I love about you. You are daring, but you have proof of what you always claim. Hah! Great then.” Mr. Fisher turned to the group and said, “Mr. Belfort is putting his job on the line for you. I hope you don’t disappoint us. I heard a lot about you in the news and I’m impressed with the songs you’ve written. Who is Fox by the way? You are a fantastic songwriter!”

Fox raised his hand as if in class. “I am Fox, sir. But I was not the one who wrote the songs. It’s ‘the kid,’ sir,” he said, pointing to Paul.

“Oh,” the man scoffed, as if mildly disappointed. “So this little kid is part of the group, eh? I thought you just brought along your kid brother to show him around.” He sized up Paul closer, and asked, “What’s your name again?”

“Paul, sir,” Paul was uneasy now, sitting at the edge of the couch.

“We call him ‘the kid.’”

“Interesting,” the big boss finally said after a few dead seconds in the room. “It suits you. Well, you have one hell of a talent, kid. Although commercial-wise. We have not tested it. You should start writing simpler words. You know, words to rock music. Catchy ones. I assure you, it’s going to be a hit,” Mr. Fisher lectured Paul.

Paul sat quietly, nodding at his every sentence.

“Well, I’m not going to take up any more of your time. I’m sure Mr. Belfort has prepared a schedule for you to attend to. I’ll see you tonight for your sample performance?” Mr. Fisher declared, ending the meeting abruptly.

“Sample performance…?” Fox looked at both men, and then at Miss Keys, as they were being led out of the office.

“Yes, yes. You will be performing tonight at the Crystal Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s some sort of a welcome party for you, boys,” Mr. Belfort volunteered to explain.

Peter’s mouth fell open. “Mr. Belfort, you didn’t say we will be performing right away. We—just got here…” his voice trailed off, as he fell into further confusion.

Mr. Belfort patted him on the back and put his arms around Fox and Peter. “You don’t have to worry. I have faith in you guys. You will be great tonight! You’re gonna nail this,” he reassured the boys. Fox was growing pail, worried as hell, just like everyone else.

“Just be your usual ‘rock star’ selves and you’re good. Oh, and before I forget, we have to do something about your—your looks. You need some pizzazz.”

The next stop for the group was the salon for the boys’ makeover. Jenna handled the styling business for the boys, directing everyone where to sit, and instructing the stylists what each of them needed. After a few hours, Jenna walked out of the salon, leading a group of young rock stars not even their parents would recognize.

Fox looked a lot like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, just as he wanted, with long curly hair framing his beautiful face. Paul got a total color makeover, as he bid his blonde hair. His locks were dyed jet black and was made straight to make him look a little more mature. Scott had a perm, but retained his blonde hair color. Peter, Andy and Joey all had their hair straightened to make it appear longer. Shortly after, they were brought to Rodeo Drive to shop for clothes. Several stylists welcomed them in each store, ready to transform them beyond their imagination. By the time they were finished, even the boys could not recognize each other. It was amazing.

They donned bell bottom pants, shiny riveted platform boots, black jackets with skull prints all over, and dark eye shadows around their eyes. They felt great, and they couldn’t wait now to walk up a stage and perform.

To top it all, Jenna checked them into the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they will be staying for as long as need be. When they reached the hotel, their minds were blown away and no one could utter a single word anymore. They marveled at everything and anything they see.

Just as everything was happening so fast, none of them could even begin to describe what each was feeling. They felt restless and unreal. Only that morning they were just one of the kids from the south; now they are in Los Angeles, looking like rock stars, waiting to perform for a music tycoon. They want to celebrate, but none of it felt real. They were all afraid they’d wake up from the dream once one of them says something, as if breaking a spell.

“Peter! Peter, open the door,” Fox was knocking hard on the door. He was surprised to see Paul sitting at the edge of the bed. “Hey,kid. You’re here, too. Feeling nervous?”

He put his hand at the back of his neck and rubbed it awkwardly. “A little bit, yeah,” Paul replied.

“Peter! Peter!” Joey, Andy and Scott barged in, without even knocking. They all began talking at the same time, when a knock on the door startled them.

“Boys? Are you all in there?” It’s Jenna. Fox shushed everyone and let her in.

“Why are you all here? You’re supposed to rest for tonight’s party,” Jenna asked. She looked at them and instantly knew they were all having the bad jitters.

“You’re all nervous about tonight?” She smiled. “It’s gonna be okay, guys. I have something here that might ease your nerves. But you have to promise me this will be our little secret… all right?”

They all looked at her as she reached into her pocket. She held out several sticks of rolled paper and showed it off like candies.

Peter’s eyes were wide in disbelief. “Are those what I think they are?”

It was only then that Peter noticed how red and watery Jenna’s eyes were.

“Yes, it is. Don’t be such a prude. Everybody needs one every now and then. Especially if you’re performing in front of the crowd. For the first time…” she stressed, as if advertising the joint on TV.

Fox was cross. “I don’t think we need that. We can perform without it,” he said in a very firm tone.

“Well, good for you,” she tucked them back in her bag nonchalantly. “I’m just trying to help. Even The Clowns used this at first, and I don’t think you are better than them,” Jenna grinned.

“Just like you said they’ve used it initially, we don’t need it” Peter answered.

“Yeah, they have used this initially, but now, they just don’t USE this, they used other stronger and heavier stuffs, it’s making their music great, do you think you are better than the Clowns?” Jenna insinuated again and sniggered.

She was good at this. At putting pressure, at convincing naïve southern boys like them, and Fox can sense it. But they were warned about this exactly, by their parents. They know the danger of using it; yet they toyed with the idea. The Clowns used it? And they are famous now. Can this magic potion turn them into rock stars instantly?

They were debating with themselves, and with each other, as they threw each other worried looks. Fox and Peter could not stop Scott from reaching out and tapping Jenna to ask for a stick. They all looked on, but no one stopped him. Scott puts it in his mouth, and as Jenna was about to light it, there was a knock on the door which startled everyone.

“Hello! Are you all there? Are you decent? Been looking all over for you,” Miss Keys called out from outside.

Scott dropped the stick and scurried to pick it up and hide it in his pocket. Peter walked over to the door to let the teacher in. “What are you all doing here? You’re supposed to rest for later,” Miss Keys could not hide her own excitement about everything that’s happening. She was clueless about what she had just interrupted.

“We—were just talking, to ease them down, you know,” Jenna informed her.

“Yeah…We were just talking. We can’t sleep anyway,” Scott added.

“But it’s still best to spend time alone and relax. Go, scram… off to your own rooms and rest.” Miss Keys ordered the group, and they dispersed.

Paul spent some time thinking about what just happened as he went back to his room. It wasn’t the first time that they had seen a joint. That wasn’t what bothered him. He thought about Jenna and how she offered it to them like some instant solution to whatever uneasy feeling they were having. Somehow, all these brought back the memory of his lost book. Even just the memory of it calmed him down—even just a little bit.

*****

The Crystal Ballroom of Beverly Hills Hotel was packed with people from the music and movie industry. There were celebrities at every corner, drinking wine and chatting endlessly. Everyone was in the party mood. Big names flock to the Beverly Hills just to be seen or to seal deals. Naturally, the place was also crawling with media people and photographers. No one was actually there to welcome a bunch of kids to show business, but the boys didn’t care at all. They were in Dream Land.

The boys were simply start struck. They had never—ever—seen a single celebrity. Now they are in a ballroom full of celebrities, many of whom they haven’t even seen on TV or the movies. After maybe an hour of ogling at the most beautiful and famous stars, anxiety began to creep in. They began to realize the situation they are in.

“I think, I’m gonna pee my pants,” Joey was tugging at Peter’s shirt. Scott and Fox were the only ones who were surprisingly relaxed and calm. Scott yawned and stretched his arms wide.

“Guys. This is our time. This is it! They’ll never forget us after tonight,” Fox whispered to them.

“Yeah. They’ll adore us,” Scott said in confidence.

They all loosened up and tried to keep focused. Jenna began introducing them around, and urged them to break up and mingle with other people. They were being photographed for publicity, which for them were the best perk of the night. None of the celebrities knew them of course, and some didn’t even bother to catch their names or to ask. No one seemed to take an interest in them. Most of them were there for one particular group, The Clowns, the number one band in the country.

When the Boston-raised band arrived, everyone wanted to have their photograph taken with them. Even the celebrities were going gaga. While the crowd gathered around The Clowns, the boys retreated to a quiet corner to talk about their game plan for the night.

“We should do a cover first, to draw the crowd’s interest. What do you think of Stairway to Heaven, or Bohemian Rhapsody? After that, we do Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell. Okay? Three songs for me and only one for you, Paul,” Fox tried to keep his hands from shaking as he pointed to ‘the kid.’

“O-okay,” Paul agreed, but he was beginning to feel the pressure enveloping his entire body.

“No need to be nervous, kid. This is our life from here on.”

Suddenly the ballroom lights dimmed, and a spotlight gleamed onto the stage.

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, Triumph Records bring you the hottest band of today, who will be launching their new album Wet and Dry, which is predicted to be the next chart-topper yet again… the one, the best, the only—The Clowns!”

The next half hour was a total blur for D’ Kickers, who spent the time wondering what they were actually doing there. While everyone raved and danced to the Clown’s new songs, D’ Kickers stood at the back near the buffet spread, looking at how crazy people were, for this band. And there they were, all that time thinking it was their night; a welcome party for D’ Kickers. Fox had a serious look on his face and the rest of them were just discouraged.

Jenna came from behind and advised them that they were going to be next. Get ready now, she said. What? They all mouthed in chorus, trying hard not to make any noise, careful not to draw attention to them. How can they follow this act?

They were directed to the other side of the ballroom where there was another stage prepared for them. Anxiously, they proceeded and prepared their instruments—for the worst.

After The Clowns finished their act, the lead vocalist announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the party is not over yet. We have someone to introduce to you. This group had been the talk of the town down south. So you better be ready for them. We might be bringing them along to our tour, so be ready for that. But tonight, they are here, for us… D’ KICKERS!”

The curtains opened at the other side and the spotlight now shone on D’ Kickers. The crowd turned around to see the band. The ballroom was quiet, apart from some buzz from one side. They waited for them to play, sipping their wine and whispering to each other. The boys froze for a second, but Fox was quick to snap them off it.

“Ooops… my bad. They were waiting for me,” Fox commented on the microphone, addressing the crowd. The crowd laughed and got the joke. Good save, Fox. “Okay guys, here we go, one, two, three…” and the band played Stairway to Heaven.

The crowd loved it. The Clowns looked on, pretty much taking them as Led Zeppelin wannabes. Then Bohemian Rhapsody seemed to have woken the crowd up as everybody cheered on. Choosing songs that people already knew was indeed a clever way of reeling the audience in.

Mr. Fisher was very pleased with the crowd’s reaction. He was smiling and looking at Mr. Belfort, and gave him a thumbs up. The band members of The Clowns saw this, and they were obviously not so happy about it.

“Thank you. Thank you. Now we want to sing to you a very special song, written by a very special kid,” Fox began.“Kid, they’re all yours.”

The crowd was taken aback at first, not too certain how they should react. The song was new. And the lyrics were unbelievably beautiful.

Why do angels cry?

Why am I not enough?

To kiss your tears goodbye

Heaven must be crazy

To let her be with him

There was a pause right after the last note, followed by a deafening applause. The boys knew now that they ‘owned’ the crowd. The Clowns didn’t exactly know how to react, looking at the young group now as a threat. Yet, they cannot deny how the song made an impact on them, too.

“I am loving you guys! You’re the best in the world.” Everyone cheered on frantically.

“And now for our last song…” Fox wasn’t able to finish his introduction, as the crowd chanted, “More, more, more, more!”

“This next song is another original from ‘the kid,’” he winked at Paul as everyone whistled and clamored for more songs.

“Brace yourselves for this.”

It was so much more than the boys had ever expected. People were raising their hands, jumping up and down to the beat of the song, and even mouthing the chorus.

Mad as Hell

I wish I could Kill

Kill the thief of Innocence

In my Dreams

It was their night. A dream come true for the boys from the basement. The boys from detention. They’ve come a long way and they savored every minute of it.

*****

D’ Kickers were the talk of LA and Hollywood the next day. Rumors had it that they burned The Clowns at their own album launch party. And no one from the famed rock group was happy about it.

Rick Sizemore, manager of The Clowns, was furious. “It shouldn’t have happened that way. The launch became your boys’ mini-concert? What the hell is that, Fisher?”

“Rick, I told you about that. I also told you to play all the songs on the album, but you and your boys, refused. The guests needed more songs. You gave us three songs, dammit! You should be thankful D’ Kickers were there to save the night.”

“Thankful? D’ Kickers embarrassed my boys!”

“You surely cannot be a businessman Rick. You’re too attached to your band. Look at it from a business perspective. Do you think you’ll be the talk the town now if it were not for last night’s incident? Good or bad, publicity is publicity. People talk about your boys, that’s great!”

“But people are talking about those damn boys, not mine!”

“Still, you should be happy. Now you have a free reign on capitalizing on this to your advantage. Our advantage. The Clowns are our boys, too, remember? Unless you’re worried that these kids from the south are really better than your band,” Mr. Fisher teased him.

“Advantage?” Mr. Sizemore asked, puzzled and annoyed.

“Yes, ‘advantage’. The more people talk about this, the more time you can promote your album and your concert. Are you forgetting that D’ Kickers have no album yet? And no, fans yet. They are at a disadvantage here you know. They cannot beat your band until they release their album. By that time, your band would have already sold millions of copies to fans.”

Mr. Sizemore sat back and kept quiet for a few moments. Mr. Fisher, on the other hand, is already cooking up a band face-off between The Clowns and D’ Kickers. He wouldn’t care if any of them is number one or number two, as long as they were both in his stable.

“Now, more than anytime, the D’ Kickers’ first album should be released,” Miss Keys said, thinking aloud.

When they finally woke up at noon, they were promptly rushed to the contract signing and press conference at the Polo Club of Beverly Hills Hotel. They were greeted by media people, many of whom were paid by Fisher to raise questions about the rivalry between them and The Clowns.

“May we know the names of the group members?” one media man asked.

“I will be glad to introduce them to you one by one,” Mr. Belfort proudly announced. “We start from the left, this is Fox, the lead vocalist and leader of the group; next is Peter Cook he is the lead guitarist; the next one is Paul, also known as ‘the kid’, the keyboard player and second vocalist; next is Scott Sparks, who play drums; and, Andy Stewart, on rhythm guitar; and lastly, Joey Parker, who plays the bass guitar.”

“A lot of people saw your performance last night, and they were amazed, to say the least. Is it true that you are only in junior high?”

“Yes, it’s true,” Fox replied.

“Last night, you sang two original songs, and the response was very good. They are now comparing you to the best rock band today, The Clowns, saying your songs have more depth. What can you say about this?”

The group fell silent. Mr. Belfort looked at them and motioned for Fox to take the question. “Fox, would you like to answer?”

“I love the music of The Clowns. They are one of our idols…”

“But do you think their song is meaningful? Perhaps not as meaningful as yours?”

Before he could answer, another man threw a question: “Which songs of The Clowns do you think are meaningful?”

Fox didn’t know how to respond, and struggled to come up with something. “I love all their songs. I don’t want to compare…” they didn’t even let him finish.

“So you’re saying you like their songs but you cannot remember a single title? Or not something that can measure up to your songs?”

Fox was totally confused by now. He kept quiet, not wanting to aggravate the situation any further. That night and the following days, the D’ Kickers dominated rock music entertainment news. For the most part, D’ Kickers were quoted as saying “The Clowns’ music have no depth.”

This, of course, outraged The Clowns. Mr. Fisher’s scheme was working. The controversy prompted the sale of even older albums of The Clowns. A lot of people were buying their albums if only to listen to the lyrics and dissect it for meaning, or compare it to D’ Kickers’ two songs.

There was a growing clamor for D’ Kickers album, and for more original songs from the new band. It was a major marketing strategy that did not cost Mr. Fisher a single penny.

All at once, the boys were thrown into the recording studio to record their songs. Angel’s Cry was the first on the list; Paul was close to fainting.

“Fox, please… I’m not—can we do Mad as Hell first?”

“I don’t think that’s possible now. They’ve arranged everything for Angel’s Cry.

Paul was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. However, Fox and Peter assured him, he still could not brave up to it.

When all was set up and ready for recording, Paul attempted to sing, but came off flat, to which the musical director yelled. “Oh please, stop! What’s the matter, kid? You’re totally off key!”

Fox and Peter looked at Paul and saw that he was really nervous and almost at the verge of a breakdown. Fox approached Paul and whispered to him, “Kid, what’s wrong?” He turned to the rest and said, “Take five, please.”

The session stopped; Fox pulled Paul by his shoulder and called for Scott. “Scott, come here, let’s have a two-on-one with the kid.”

Scott, Fox and Paul went outside and found a quiet corner. Scott lit up a joint and took a puff, then passed it on to Fox. “Here Kid, this will calm your nerve. It really works, kid.”

With another puff, he said, “Do you remember our performance at the party?”

And then it all came back to him. Was that why Fox was so confident on stage? No. This is not happening. They had been warned about this. And he knew that he was not just fighting the anxiety of singing. The issue, from the beginning, was the emotions involved in the song. He was already resigned from fighting it. But the more he thought about it, the more he attempted to justify doing the wrong deed.

Without thinking any further, he grabbed the stick from Fox and inhaled once. Then… twice.

By the time the three boys went back in the studio, Paul was already very calm.

“We’re back. Let’s do this!” Paul announced, startling everyone with his newfound courage.

Everyone in the studio noticed how deeply emotional the kid was as he sang. He also evoked a different sense of confidence that was not usually seen in him. Paul was almost in tears as he reached the last note. He felt a heightened sense of relief. Of joy.

“That was very good! Bravo to y’all!” the musical director burst in admiration. He asked them to play several more times. They sounded even better each time.

“Kid, you were marvelous out there! I didn’t think you had it in you, kid.” Andy commented.

“What did the three of you do outside?” Joey inquired.

Peter was quiet the whole time. He was already suspicious, but he didn’t want to confirm it.

Joey’s eyes were wide in excitement. “Where did you get it? Who gave it to you?” He knew it, too.

Scott just smiled his devilish smile.

“Those are the things we were warned about, don’t you remember? This is crazy! You—we shouldn’t be doing this,” Andy was yelling now, for the first time he said his piece to the group. “We are disappointing our parents!”

Peter just looked on in disappointment, too.

“Hey, we’re not asking you to do the same. We will never force you to do anything you don’t want to. Fox and the kid, they decided for themselves. Ain’t got nothing to do with that. And look at how it turned out. It was good for the kid, right?”

Peter finally spoke. “This is serious. People’s lives get ruined because of that stupid thing. I just hope you don’t become too dependent on that. Just to be able to perform.” He tossed a crumpled paper into the brick wall and continued angrily, “I can understand, somehow, why Paul would want to take a puff, to brave up. And Fox, okay, so you may be missing Cindy. What about you, Scott? What’s your excuse?”

Scott just smiled back. He was happy. As simple as that. He was happy for the first time in his adolescent life because he is in Hollywood, with a rock band, and he met a beautiful lady who likes her. No one noticed that there was already something going on between Jenna and Scott. And it was Jenna, who passes on the joints to Scott. Unknown to Scott, this was part of her job: to provide for the boys’ special needs.

Back in the studio, they recorded Mad as Hell without any problem. The musical director raved about the group’s performance, to Mr. Fisher. Fisher was proud of himself. He knew this was going to be a huge hit. He made sure his marketing scheme continuously spins, so he secretly ‘invited’ two reporters to spy during the recording, to get first dibs on the band’s milestone.

The next day, both reporters diligently posted their ‘review’ of the band’s recording. Radio stations were clamoring for an advanced copy of their single. Mr. Fisher made sure all marketing collaterals were distributed in all the record bars in major cities to further beef up the promotion. Now is the best time to tickle the fan’s fancy and make them “crave” for D’ Kickers’ music.

Mr. Fisher’s list of marketing tricks and promotional gimmicks seemed endless. He wanted to create more frenzy. Radio stations held contests; record bars had even bigger PR tactics. Phone lines were flooded with calls for requests and inquiries about the band’s upcoming album.

On the day of their first single was released, people lined up to get first dibs on the most sought after record. By the end of the first month of its release, Mad as Hell and Angel’s Cry had sold over half a million singles in the United States. They had broken the record of any music release by the number one rock band in the country, The Clowns. This sealed the rivalry between the two bands in the public’s eyes, to Mr. Fisher’s delight.

D’ Kickers has become a phenomenon in Hollywood and the music industry in less than a year. They have gone all around the country, promoting their record and appearing on local TV shows.

The tours were amazingly thrilling for the boys, but the long trips and hectic schedule were also exhausting. At some point, the boys have grown too sick of doing the same act over and over again. The excitement was beginning to die down; their interest, waning. Fox, who used to give all the inspiring pep talks have somehow become detached and even disinterested. The worse part was, Fox would arrive late or even go AWOL in some engagements. He began missing flights, TV and radio tours, and press conferences. No one among the group dared to question him. They opted not to know.

Unfortunately, the random tardiness and no-shows did not go unnoticed to Mr. Fisher. He also began to notice that the boys were growing bored of their routine. The excitement a year ago was slowly dying down. He decided to discuss the matter with Jenna. He called Jenna and made his point very clear to her.

“What’s wrong with the boys? What have you been doing? Didn’t I tell you to give them what they need? You better make sure they deliver what people are expecting them to… or I’m going to fire your ass!” Mr. Fisher did not pause even for a second, and there was nothing that Jenna could say to appease him.

She wised up and talked to Fox right away.

“What’s happening to the group? Have you lost your touch? You all look bored and…you’re definitely beginning to bore the hell out of your fans. Including me,” she said, yawning sarcasticly.

“That’s because we are bored. We’re doing the same stuff—every day!” Fox couldn’t hide his frustration.

“And you think I’m really happy babysitting you all the time? Can’t you think of a way to up the ante?”

“We can’t help it. I’m beginning to hate that song.”

“Well, didn’t you ask for fame? If you don’t do this, if you don’t do what the fans want, then you’ll be forgotten in no time. You’ll be one of the has-beens—in what, just a year? Hah!”

Jenna dipped her hand into her bag and reached for something.

“Here, take this.”

She threw small packets of white powder-like substance into Fox’s lap. Fox wasn’t naïve. He knew what it was.

He didn’t want to… but now of all times, her longing for Cindy is at an all-time high. Darn it, I miss her. And this—this was the only thing that could ease the pain of that longing.

Fox sat with the group, something he had never done in a long while now. He talked to them about what was happening and about Jenna’s warning. Even Miss Keys has been giving them the flak for their obvious disinterest in what they’re doing. Peter and Joey began talking about what should be and what could be, but they all stopped and froze when Fox threw the small plastic packets of white substance onto the center table.

“This is what other rock band takes. This is what keeps them from slacking.”

Complete silence dominated the room.

“Fox, no,” Peter was firm and positive. “Smoking joints was damned already. Now this? You are definitely out of line.”

“Don’t be naïve, Peter. Everybody does this. We knew that from the start, didn’t we?” Fox insisted.

“Yes, we did. And we agreed that we are above this.”

“Are we? Are we above this? Are we above anyone? Look at us! A year of fame and we’re going downhill already? We’re worse than robots now!” Fox did not realize he was yelling his lungs out as he spoke.

Peter stood up. Andy stood in front of him, sensing Peter was ready to take Fox on.

“Yes, we seem to be losing it. But that’s because we are always playing the same thing,” Andy said in a calm voice.

“Don’t be stupid. You think the other bands didn’t do—this? Hah! News flash guys, we need to promote our songs. We’re damn lucky we’ve come this far. But if we don’t do anything—” Fox paused, to wipe the drool forming on his mouth as he spoke angrily, “we’re doomed. We’re losers again.”

The group fell silent, and nobody dared to speak a word.

*****

Another year passed. The popularity of their first two songs had reached its peak. The novelty of the band and their song began to slowly fade. The fans demanded for something new, but they had nothing to offer. It was only then that they realized they have not even thought of writing a new song. Critics are now saying their fame was a fluke. That they were a fad that will soon be forgotten. That they were just two-hit wonders.

The Clowns laughed at the young band’s fate. That was their edge over the neophytes: they had so many songs and albums, and they were all selling—to date. They have long proven their place in the music industry.

The boys saw it clearly. They had fallen into the trap. They’ve become a one hit wonder or in their case a ‘two-hit wonder’. And Mr. Fisher saw it coming, too.

Triumph Records made a killing from the record breaking sales of D’ Kickers two years ago. The Clowns’ albums are still raking money in. Mr. Fisher basked in the glory of his profit. His’ was the best marketing strategy of his time. He pitted two rival bands against each other, but what people did not realize was that they were actually from the same studio. It was sure win for Mr. Fisher, whichever way the competition goes.

Triumph Records immediately promoted and launched a double album of The Clowns’ Greatest Hits. The album sales broke The Clowns’ own previous records. They were hailed as the best rock band of their time.

What happened to D’ Kickers?

“Mr. Fisher, what you did to the boys was unacceptable,” Miss Keys confronted the big boss. “You exploited them to reap your profit?”

“Unacceptable? Didn’t you make a lot of money, too? The boys made money, lots of it. So what did you say was unacceptable?”

“What about their career? Where are they going now after being marked as ‘two-hit wonders?’ Argh—I hate that name! For god’s sakes, people call them a wanna-be rock band now!” Miss Keys was fuming mad.

“Who exploited who? Samantha, just like I said… you made a lot of money. And so did your boys. Why don’t you dig into your pocket before you lash out at me? I have done my part for them, and you know that,” Mr. Fisher was calm and serious this time.

“But what about their future?” Miss Keys was beginning to lose her grip.

“Are you a manager or not? Isn’t it your job to manage their career? Let me make this clear: your boys create music, I sell them, understand? You—you make sure they are steered into the right path. That’s your job. To find opportunities for them. To find ‘work’ for them.”

“The contract stipulated an album should be recorded. I demand for that at the very least.”

Mr. Fisher snickered like a little boy. “Again Miss Keys, your boys create music, I sell them…how many times should I tell you that? I would gladly see them record an album. But, where are the songs? I should be the one demanding that from you!”

Miss Keys walked out of the room before things escalated to an ugly height. She sat on a bench in front of the Triumph Records building.

She failed the group. She didn’t see any of this coming.

The boys were not their best selves, too. They started believing they are now doomed to fail.

Miss Keys gathered her act together and decided to sit with the group and lay all the cards down. They need a wake-up call. They need it now.

“We have to re-group. We need to leave all the bad stuff behind and wake up from this nightmare. This—is only a bad dream. It’s not the end of the world. You have made it this far; we can still make it happen. You have to believe me. You have to believe in you.” She managed not to cry.

“What’s your plan?” if there was anyone in the group who still held a speck of hope, it was Peter.

“Let’s come up with an album. It’s in your contract,” Miss Keys explained.

“But we don’t have any song to record,” Joey sounded apathetic.

“Can’t we ask Mr. Fisher to give us songs from other composers?” Andy suggested.

“Yes, that’s what The Clowns have been doing.”

Miss Keys approached Mr. Fisher the next day, with her fingers crossed.

“Mr. Fisher we are ready to record an album,” she announced.

“Good to hear that,” Mr. Fisher was sarcastic.

“We would like to request what you normally provide for other musicians, like The Clowns,” Miss Keys said.

“And what is that?”

“We need songs to choose from, from your roster of compositions.”

“Very well, Miss Keys. I see you are now coming to your senses. But—there’s a little problem. Have you actually read the contract? Are you sure that part is stipulated there?”

Miss Keys paused. She knew it was not part of the contract, but she still insisted. “But you do that for the other bands.”

“Yes, yes, Samantha. But it is not in the contract with D’ Kickers. Are you really thinking this through? Or you’re just as dense as you look? Don’t you even remember what transpired?”

Miss Keys’ sat down, her knees now weak. She felt embarrassed. How can she have been so dumb? She didn’t understand what Mr. Fisher was talking about, and she dared not ask.

“Okay, then. Since your head is as bright as a dead light bulb… D’ Kickers wrote their own songs. And they’re supposed to write it. Do you remember when Fox was quoted as saying The Clowns’ songs are meaningless? So what do you think the public is expecting from them now?” Mr. Fisher grinned at Miss Keys, knowing he was triumphantly humiliating such an incompetent manager. Mr. Fisher wanted D’ Kickers to write their own songs. But more than that; he was also planning to use their songs for his other artists. Not known to Samantha, he had already made sure that all songs that would be written by D’ Kickers were owned by Triumph Records.

When Miss Keys went out of Mr. Fisher’s office, she was still in shock. She didn’t know what she’s doing and she didn’t know how to tell the group. She contemplated hard and weighed things. She had made a reasonable amount of money; money she could use to start a new business or any endeavor she wanted. She had to move on, move away from this. She cannot take the humiliation.

All five boys were waiting for Miss Keys the next day at Peter’s hotel room. She was supposed to discuss with them what had transpired during the meeting with Mr. Fisher. They were beginning to get worried, when a knock on the door broke the silence in the room. Peter was surprised to see a hotel room boy at the door, handing him a small envelope. Peter showed it to the group without saying anything, sat down, and began to read the letter.

The others watched him in silence, and waited for whatever the note said.

Angrily, Peter crumpled the paper and threw it on the floor.

“She quit… she left us.”

Jenna, who was standing behind Scott, hurriedly left the room and made a phone call. Curiously, Fox was not there. He was in his own room, making frantic calls.

Peter, Scott, Paul, Andy and Joey were debating and deliberating on what their next action would be. There was yelling and cursing, and endless bickering, until someone knocked on the door again. Scott kicked his chair, knocking it down, and walked over to the door.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I believe you already know me?” The burly man went on to shake everyone’s hands. “I’m Rick Sizemore, manager of The Clowns. I heard you’re having a problem? I’m here to help.”

The boys were disoriented for a few seconds, and tried to figure out why this man was in Peter’s hotel room, at this exact moment.

Paul looked at Mr. Sizemore, and realized what was happening.

“Jenna?” They all looked at the young lady and waited for her response.

“Guys, I am just trying to help,” she begged. “He is the best manager there is.”

Mr. Fisher walked around like an arrogant, over-confident king. “Well, that happens to be true, boys. Okay, look. Amateur time is over. You need to be handled by someone professional and experienced, not some two-bit teacher. This is Hollywood, boys. This is big time!”

“But you are competition?” Paul said in a calm voice.

“Things change, kid. And it’s about time your career changes, too. If I manage you, I will fairly devote the same amount of attention to you. Come on,” Mr. Sizemore sized the boys carefully, “you know I am your only hope now.” He snickered and lit a cigar.

Yes, they do. They know there’s no way out of this mess, but to side with the enemy. What have they got to lose, anyway?

Just as Peter was about to agree with the manager, Fox barged in, looked at everyone, and held a blank expression as he sat on the couch. Nobody said anything, until Mr. Sizemore left.

Not a moment too soon, Mr. Sizemore headed to Mr. Fisher’s office to inform him of the news. This did not sink well with Mr. Fisher. He figured he could no longer manipulate either of bands now that they are under one manager. He tried to convince Mr. Sizemore that it was a fool’s man’s wish to manage the young boys, but it was to no avail. The manager wanted D’ Kickers. He promised to Mr. Fisher that D’ Kickers will come out with an album in six months, as stipulated in the contract. He also reminded Mr. Fisher that he should support the launching of the album, as stated in the contract as well. Mr. Fisher had no choice but to nod in agreement. How he despised this man.

*****

“I believe in your great potential, young men. But you were simply mishandled by your former manager, because she doesn’t understand the business. I am a big fan, I must admit. From the beginning. Your genius in writing songs is what sets you apart from other bands,” Mr. Sizemore gave the speech with such passion that the boys were all ears. “We will bank on that, kid,” he pointed to Paul, “because your reputation precedes you. I am seldom impressed, might I add, but you have the veins for it.”

Paul didn’t know how to respond. He was flattered that a top-caliber music manager was impressed with his work, but he was also filled with doubt.

“You are one complete band. You have a great vocalist, who is also damn good looking, and you all play your instruments fairly well. Plus, you have a songwriter. It’s time to go big time, boys. Let’s come up with an album in six months, and your name—and fame—will be sealed.”

Peter felt a terrible head rush. “Six months…?” he exclaimed.

“Yes. We have to come up with an album in six months, if we still want to capitalize on what you have started. If we release an album later than six months, it might be too late, I’m afraid.”

The boys looked at each other, and simultaneously buried their faces with their hands in desperation.

“How are we going to do it?” Scott asked.

“Good question. That is where I come in. The kid here is your lyricist. We will hire someone to play the keyboard in his stead, and the kid will be able to concentrate on writing songs for the group. I will also hire a musical arranger to pair up with the kid. These are all out of my own pocket, of course. That’s how much I believed in you.” He explained everything in such a professional tone that it did not take much to convince the boys. They were actually happy with whatever they are hearing. They held high hopes now as they gear up for their recovery.

Everyone was excited except for Fox, who remained silent the whole time. The boys noticed this, but waited for Mr. Sizemore to leave before asking him what was bothering him.

“What’s wrong with you, man? Don’t you think this is good for us? Don’t you like the idea? We finally have a semblance of order and you are—you’re just quiet,” Peter said.

“We’re not blaming you for what happened, you know? You’re still our band leader,” Paul added.

“Oh, shut up,” he threw Paul a sharp, angry look, his eyes red and glum. “I know you are not blaming me for what happened.”

“So what’s wrong?” Andy asked.

He slouched in the chair and held his forehead. “I’m sorry guys.”

“Sorry for what?” Joey was totally confused.

Fox remained silent, as everybody looked on.

After a couple of quiet minutes, Scott broke the news. “Cindy is pregnant.”

“What?” They all chorused in disbelief. They all knew that Cindy’s father ordered the two to break up, plus the obvious fact that they had not been back in Tennessee for over a year now.

And they began to understand the no-shows and the late appearances all through the year. It all went back to Jenna, and how she was given orders to “give Fox whatever he needs.” Mr. Fisher knew Fox had the makings of a superstar. Mr. Fisher’s master plan was to keep Fox as happy as he could be, so he won’t leave Triumph Records, even when D’ Kickers are broken up, which he pretty much predicted. Jenna fed them with the details, in between sobs of guilt.

“It’s no big deal, man. I was telling him,” Scott tried to appease the others.

No one said a word.

“Scott, you really don’t know what you’re saying. If they are betting on me to make us famous, then—what will the fans think? No one wants a young father—” his voice trailed off. He was in despair.

After a few more minutes debating about their new crisis, they all agreed in the end that this would be kept secret and Jenna would handle everything on all matters pertaining to Fox and Cindy.

*****

Mr. Rick Sizemore worked day and night, pushing the boys to finish their album. He was very strict, and did not tolerate drugs of any kind, warning the boys that if he ever catches anyone using any illegal substance, they will be kicked out of Hollywood before they can say Tennessee.

He sent them to practice every day, and checked on Paul constantly to make sure there’s progress. The manager hired a professional lyricist and musical arranger to mentor Paul: Mr. Vincent Baker.

“You have to go back to when you wrote the first two songs. What was your inspiration, then? What made you write such incredible word?” Paul felt the pressure of the huge task given to him as he listened to Vincent.

“You mean I have to go back home?” Paul was sarcastic, and wasn’t in the mood for any emotional outpouring.

“No, no. I mean in your heart. But if going back to your place literally can help you go back and find what your heart is saying, then do so,” Vincent urged him.

Paul struggled to find inspiration, but could never seem to find it. He pondered for a long time before marching up to Mr. Sizemore to ask for a favor.

Before he could even say goodbye to his friends, he was on the plane to Asheville, North Carolina. Nobody knew why, and he did not bother to explain. From the airport, he took a cab, dropped his luggage at the City Hotel, bought two bouquets of flowers and told the cabbie to bring him to the Riverside Cemetery.

As he got there, he walked several blocks. It took him a while before he found what he went there for.

He did not know this person personally, but he knew that their history was intertwined. He owed this little kid so much. He placed the first bouquet of flowers on the tombstone, and prayed. “Thank you. Thanks for being you,” he whispered. He stood up and headed to Rose Alley to another tomb close by.

Michael Payne

Born Died

November 29, 1940 August 26, 1968

Survived by his loving Daughter and Wife

Sarah and Elizabeth

Paul fell on his knees as soon as he reached the second tombstone. He cried like a baby and cupped his face with his hands. “I lost the book… I’m sorry.” He spent the whole day in the graveyard until dusk sets in. He didn’t want to leave, but it was getting dark.

He retreated to his hotel room, exhausted from the trip; his heart was heavy. He tried to rest and lay in bed, not moving. Yet no matter how he tried to, a vision haunted him: A young girl, crying in front of a coffin; people talking about a car accident that caused the man’s death.

With this in his head, he continued to cry. After a while he shook the grief off, stood up and pulled a small plastic packet of the white powder-like substance from his pocket. He emptied it out on the glass table, took out a blade, and started sniffing. He stopped crying, sat up in the study, and began writing.

The Road Ends

Wake up early morning

coffee on hand

A kiss from my little doll

Who won’t let go of my hand

Cranked the car for Gastonia

Put my suitcase in the trunk

One hug for my daughter

Who is always please, that I’m around

I start to drive out for the town

Ready for my job for a meager pound

A faraway look for my daughter

Who can’t wait for me to be home

Refrain:

What’s with this car?

I’m driving around

It seems to have a mind of his own

Driving to a place, I’ve never known

The road ends and it’s still going on

The car momentarily stops

And I hurried home

Waiting for a kiss from my doll

Instead I’m inside a box

with a glass window hole

He stopped, blood rushing to his head. He looked at the paper with so much hatred, and then continued to write.

Heaven is a Hungry Wolf

Do you really need him badly

That you have to steal him from me?

I don’t want him to go away

But what must a child do?

Is it enough that he’ll just be

In my heart as a memory

How many are like me

From whom you steal carelessly

Refrain 1:

Heaven must be a hungry wolf

Killing as he wants in spree

Can you feel the pain of your bite?

It wounds like hell and it bleeds non stop

We often pray to You for safety

But look what you did in my sleep

Waking up one morning, he’s gone

You took him without thinking of me

Refrain 2:

Heaven is a hungry wolf

No care for those left behind

He just takes what he can

He’ll kill some more, and lets you bleed

I asked, why him?

Do you thirst for his blood only?

I have the same running through my veins

Why not take me with him, so I can be happy?

He could not contain his anger anymore. He walked toward the window and stared at the dark blue sky and the spray of stars with his fists clenched. He cried again, this time, in quiet sobs. He spent the whole night writing some more.

Paul woke up to a different day, his mind refreshed. He gathered all the sheets from the previous night and mailed it to LA via special delivery.

In LA, Mr. Sizemore gave the parcel of sheets to Vincent Baker for the music to be arranged promptly. Vincent had no words to describe the songs. They were all deep and profound. However, he doubted its commercial potential. He listened to the songs and felt the rage and darkness. It is something new, indeed. He perused about it for some time, and decided that if this had made them successful once, it might be what the fans are looking for. He studied the lyrics more carefully and planned how to arrange the music that will fit the band’s image.

Vincent collaborated with Paul over the phone. From time to time, he would call him and ask his opinion about the arrangement he was planning on. After only a few days, the two came up with songs for the band to record.

After sending all the lyrics to Los Angeles, Paul took a trip to the outskirts of Asheville City, North Carolina in a cab. They stopped at the corner of Lakeshore Drive and Pine Tree Road. There stood a house smacked dab in the middle of the woods. It was as magnificent as he remembered it. The greenery that surrounded it was breathtaking, with specks of colors off lowers in random places decorating the scene.

The house, to his disappointment, was run-down, obviously neglected. Paint was peeling off, dirt covered most of the walls, part of the roof was giving in. It was in total disarray. He stood by the road looking on at the house, as if waiting for someone to come out. And only after a few seconds, a lady did step out to the front porch and went on to collect the laundry. She was thin and old, her eyes showed resignation, her hair gray, and her clothes were old and tattered. She was proof of a ravished time.

Tears formed in his eyes at sight of the old lady. He was trying to control himself from running to her. Suddenly a half-naked man came out, with a bottle of whiskey on hand. Paul could hear him shouting at the old lady, but it was inaudible from where he was standing. His knees weakened, his hands trembled. He stepped to the side and hid behind the tall bushes. He hesitated for a moment, then jumped in the waiting cab and asked the cabbie to drive away.

“Where to?” asked the man.

“Anywhere. Just get as far away from here as possible.”

He was crying now, and didn’t care that the driver was watching him. He started kicking and punching the seat in front of him. He calmed down just as they were driving into the city. He apologized to the driver, who smiled and kept mum.

He felt like lashing out again as he found himself alone in his hotel room. He grabbed a vase and smashed it onto the wall mirror, shattering the glass into a million pieces all over the room.

It wasn’t long before the hotel staff came knocking at his door. “Mr. Andrews, are you all right? We received calls from the other rooms saying they heard some noise from your room.”

Paul opened the door a little and said, “I’m okay. I accidentally broke the mirror. Can you clean the mess up? I’ll pay for all the damages.”

The young hotel staff noticed the despondent look on Paul’s eyes. He did not ask any more questions, and instead offered to transfer him to a new room as they clean up this room.

He fought the darkness off, trying so hard to control his anger and eliminate every inch of sadness that has been hovering above him. It was then that he took out the small plastic packet again and did what he knew was wrong, but felt necessary. He wrote four more songs by the day’s end, and slept unperturbed the whole night.

He was back in LA the next day, scribbling in his notebook non-stop during the whole flight. By the time his plane landed at LAX, he had twenty songs on his notebook.

Mr. Sizemore carefully read through the songs, and was quietly impressed. Some were just angry rants and were simply rubbish; but most of it was promising. “Kid, you are truly full of surprises. I haven’t come across someone who can do this as quickly as you.” Paul kept quiet and maintained a blank look all throughout the meeting.

Paul was still frantic and restless when he reached his hotel room. He could never seem to relax, so he decided to visit his friends in the recording studio. They were working on The Road Ends, and were glad to see the kid back.

Excitedly, they all complemented the kid. “Kid, your songs are really sick! We love it!”

“What’s in North Carolina that you were able to come up with songs like that?” Joey asked. “Who’s in North Carolina?”

“No one. I just wanted to be in a new place to get some inspiration,” Paul lied. Peter was quietly observing Paul, and knew he was not telling the truth about North Carolina.

Vincent was glad to see him back. He showed ‘the kid’ the musical score and arrangement he did, knowing for sure Paul and the rest of the boys will love it. They resumed rehearsals for The Road Ends excitedly. Paul was about to join the group, but Vincent stopped him.

“You don’t need to play the keyboards. Rick has already hired someone for that. You should sit here beside me and supervise the recording, making sure everything is good.”

Paul understood, but at the back of his mind, he did not agree. He wanted to play the keyboards, and besides, Fox is still the leader. Fox knows what’s good and what’s not good for their music and the band. But he was afraid to say anything.

Vincent was obviously very fond of Paul. He discussed everything with ‘the kid’ and asked what he thought sounded better, which key would work, and so on. They sat together, supervising the recording—something that Paul did not enjoy.

Fox had mixed feelings, too. He was happy that the band is finally doing much better than just a few weeks ago. Yet he felt threatened, as he watched Vincent rave about Paul’s songs. He watched the new tandem as they stood at the booth, approving and disapproving every move the band makes.

*****

Mr. Fisher, who was reluctant at first, but is now beaming with pride and more than thrilled about D’ Kickers. He planned a grand re-launch of the group, a comeback that will send everyone’s head spinning—and his bank account raking in more dollars.

But Sunday morning, news headlines sent everyone in Triumph Records in shock: Garry Gable of the Clown’s DEAD in Car Mishap

Mr. Fisher called Mr. Sizemore to discuss Garry’s death.

“Rick, what’s your plan?” Mr. Fisher asked.

“I think the funeral is a matter for the Gable family, not us. We can assist and help them, but they have to decide on the details.”

“Rick, I’m not talking about the goddamn funeral! Do you know the cause of the accident? Your genius band leader was hooked on drugs. That is why he crashed his fuckin’ sports car!” Mr. Fisher was fuming mad, his voice echoing on the entire floor.

“I don’t think now is the time to speak ill of the dead.”

“Speak ill of the dead? Are you really naïve? Don’t you even understand what this will do to our business? To our name? Once the word is out that your band leader was hooked on drugs when he died, that will be the end of the Clowns, the end of your band!”

Admittedly, Mr. Sizemore had not thought it through. It was the first time that something like this has ever happened to one of his talents. He was lost in his own thoughts for a few moments.

“Mr. Sizemore, good as you were in making your band famous, you must also have planned crisis management!”

Mr. Sizemore just remained silent. It was only now that Garry’s death had fully sunk in. He was speechless and in shock now, and Mr. Fisher noticed it. His voice sounded more sympathetic.

“Rick, I see that you cannot handle the problem now. I will hire a PR firm to spin this and handle the matter. I will take care of The Clowns, don’t worry.”

He lit a cigar and began talking shop. “Now, let’s talk about the other issue…”

“’Other issue?’”

“Yes. Who will replace Garry Gable? Do you have anyone in mind?”

“For Pete’s sake, he died only this morning!”

“There you are, being naïve again. This is business. Everything that we will do now will affect the future of your band. Are you not professional enough to handle this? Just tell me and I will move everything forward myself.”

Move everything? Are you out of your mind? They are still my band and you can’t just do as you please, sir,” Mr. Sizemore’s voice was so loud everyone outside the office paused and tried to take a peek inside.

“Yes, they are your band. But are you managing them right now? Let me remind you that this is my company and I won’t let anything bad happen to them—and us.”

He stubbed his cigar on the ash tray, looked at Mr. Sizemore, and said in a low voice, “Don’t worry. I just gave our publicist some photos that will jumpstart news of Garry Gable’s replacement.”

He took out a big envelope from his left drawer and threw it on the table for Mr. Sizemore to see.

“These will be leaked with all the articles about Garry’s death.”

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