Chapter Twenty-seven- Ten minutes to midnight
Was Wires really going to step out like I had envisioned and tell us this had all been a good giggle? Would he expose Tiny, Suds, and Miss Agnes as actors, hired to bring us to a boil? In retrospect, I would have preferred my scenario to what actually happened next.
Doc and I went to the window to join Wally as the black sedan coiled up the driveway like a snake. It pulled up and halted next to the Honey-wagon, dwarfed next to the truck’s main tank. There it continued to cough exhaust for eight minutes. No one got out, no one seemed to move inside. Although, in the darkness and through the smokey tinted glass of the vehicle, it was hard to tell. The headlights brought temporary daylight to the bible town from two beast-like eyes, sending thin fingered shadows across the lawn melting into the darkness. It seemed more like a getaway car and I began to wonder if it weren’t here for Miss Agnes, or her sister Florence.
Finally the lights shut off, and the driver door swung open. I kept my thoughts about Wires to myself. I’d been made a fool of more than I cared this weekend.
A huge figure, too dark to recognize, emerged from the driver side— a tall dark scruffy figure, ominous and foreboding, dressed in black leather. He looked almost wet as his clothes glistened in the moon’s luminescence. The fluid light shifted as he adjusted himself and headed in our direction with a deliberate conviction. Within the soundproofed walls of the studio, it was like watching a movie before the advent of talkies, as the man continued his dirge-like march to the door. The visible train of his menacing shadow grew as he approached, stabbing off into the blackness.
“Who the hell is that?” Doc whispered, as if he might be overheard by the leather clad nemesis.
The man strolled now— more of a swagger really. As he came closer, I recognized him instantly. How could I not? It was the associate Griffin Alexander had sent to me with the contract. Why is he here? It seemed like a different lifetime, but I remembered the face, unshaven and hard, with the scar across the chin, and the impenetrable angry glower emanating from his dark-skinned visage in candid simplicity.
“It’s Griffin’s lawyer-henchman friend. The one who delivered the contract.” I said more to myself than answering Doc’s question.
“Which one is it? Lawyer, henchman or friend?”
“My money’s on henchman, Wally,” Doc said as we slowly backed away from the window. We heard him as he entered without knocking and deliberately ascended the stairs at a snail’s pace. Each footfall was like the pounding of a hammer mashing the final nails into our coffin. The leaking vessel of my heart sank once again.
“What’s he doing here, at this hour?”
“I have no idea Doc, but somehow, I don’t think he’s here to put in a back-up vocal.”
We stood silent and waited for this new intrusion to present itself. The crowning hulk of a man reached the top of the stairs and without a word to any of us, melted with a farting squeak into a leather chair by the railing close to the exit. It enveloped him, black on black, nothingness into a void, as if he had somehow fused to it. Although he knew our eyes were on him searching for some clue to his presence, he crossed his legs and threw his arms back over the edges as if he were in the company of old friends. He made himself completely at home like he owned the joint. Did he? Maybe this was the son of Ned Cooley? But if so, wouldn’t Suds recognize him? So may questions and thoughts raced through my mind, searching for some in explicit way out of this, as the man studied us with a fathomless deep of a shark’s empty eyes.
Finally Suds spoke. “Can I help you?”
OK, not the son of Ned Cooley. Cross that off the list.
The man did not speak, but his steely gaze continued to penetrate and make us all uneasy.
“Who are you, and what brings you here?” Suds asked again with a more demanding tone. Tiny stood up and cast a sinister vestige in the man’s direction.
Still, the man remained relaxed and unmoving. He reached into a coat pocket and withdrew a small cigar, and a metal flip-top cigarette lighter.
“There’s no smoking in here.” Suds warned.
The man looked up directly at Suds and Tiny, clicked open the lighter, and addressed the flame to the cigar now protruding from his pursed lips. He blew out a cloud of grey smoke. It curdled and drifted about the room in defiant, lazy wisps, with a smell potent, yet enticing. The man glanced at his watch and finally spoke in the raspy baritone I had fought so hard to forget. “Mr. Malveen It’s for you.”
“What’s for me?”
Like clockwork the control room phone began to ring. I felt an eerie tingling begin in my finger tips and scrotum. It spread quickly like the plague to infect my entire body with dread. Something was not right here, and I had a feeling it was about to get much worse. What’s going on here?
Suds went to answer the phone.
“I said . . . it’s for Mr. Malveen!”
“It’s OK Suds. I’ll get it.”
Reluctantly I picked up the receiver and uttered a weak greeting. A voice commanding and solid answered. “Mr. Malveen, Griffin Alexander. How are things?”
“You know how things are.”
“Is that anyway to greet the gift horse?”
“You lied to me about trying to warn us when we got the wrong directions.”
“A necessary evil I assure you, but now everything is close to the end, I feel I can be straight up with you. Get everything out in the open . . . so to speak.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Perhaps I should speak to all of you as it does concern everyone. Put me on speaker phone.”
I looked down and searched the switchboard of buttons. I punched the appropriate knob. Griffin’s voice sprang to life in the control room. “Gentlemen, greetings. I’m Griffin Alexander. Been working hard this weekend? I trust you’ve all met my associate? We’ll refer to him as Mr. Black shall we?”
Doc mumbled. “How original.”
“Some of you may want to know why I’m calling at this late hour and why Mr. Black has decided to graciously be a physical presence . . . Who am I kidding? You all want to know, right? Mr. Black and I have been working exceptionally hard to make this occur, or not, depending on your perspective, but you have all demonstrated remarkable resiliency each time. You’ve overcome many obstacles. Bravo gentlemen. Bravo!” There was a faint slapping of clapping hands from the speaker. “Mr. Whitmire would have been quite proud. It has been difficult and stressful for us as well, you understand. There have been times when it looked, you might actually pull this off.”
“We have pulled this off Alexander.”
“Really? Then you won’t mind handing over the finished copy of the song to Mr. Black here and he will take it to be adjudicated.”
“It’s not done yet.”
Alexander continued in his angelic, yet pompous tone. “Really? That’s funny, I could
have sworn you just told me you pulled it off. That insinuates the song is complete, does it not? Mr. Malveen, my associate is here to retrieve the song. Please don’t tell me it isn’t finished? That would be a terrible shame after all you’ve been through.”
What’s he talking about? Here to retrieve the song? Now?
“Now wait just a damn minute!” Doc implored. “You’re early. We have until tomorrow
to get it done.”
“Ah, Mr. Barlow. I don’t believe we’ve met. How nice to finally talk to you. Let me inform you Mr. Barlow. In exactly . . . 18 seconds, it will be Monday.”
“This is fucked!” Doc howled.
“Gentlemen please be civil. There is no need for obscenities. Mr. Malveen has already used enough of those today for everyone, am I correct? The contract specifically stated you had until Monday to complete your work for submission. By my watch, it is now . . . Monday, August 31st. Unless you have something for Mr. Black to take at this moment, and I do mean right at this moment, you fail to meet the requirements set out in the contract and forfeit any further entitlement. The money allotted for this little venture will find a more suitable home at Tykes to Titans, a very worthy organization if I do say so.”
Wally seemed to turn seven shades of red. He looked mortally wounded. “Oh this is just great! I’m too ti—tired to stand here and listen to this crap Sp—sp—Sparky.” He always stuttered when he became really angry. He’d been sitting quietly with his guitar, but threw it down in a fit of rage, stormed off past Mr. Black, and stomped down the steps. Skunk sat with a sad vacant look on her face. Doc plunked himself into a chair and dropped his head into his hands. Grub remained expressionless as he sat sipping his tea with his one good hand. Even Suds and Tiny looked dumbfounded by what they were hearing, but said nothing, preferring to stay out of the conflict.
“How about the rest of you? Are you too tired as well? Are you finally going to quit this time? It seems I asked a question I have yet to receive an answer to, although, I already know what it is. Is the song ready?”
“It’s not finished. We need more time. We need until tomorrow night. Then if it’s not done we’ll admit defeat happily and you win Alexander.”
“Mr. Malveen, am I not speaking English? You don’t have until tomorrow night. You have until right now. Either Mr. Black leaves with your tape or he leaves with nothing. Those are your two options.”
“But there have been circumstances beyond our control.”
“Yes I know, and neither I, nor Mr. Black, are concerned with your circumstances.”
“This is not fair!”
“Life’s not fair Mr. Malveen. Mr. Whitmire found that out. Obviously, you have failed to meet the demands set out in the contract. I will inform the adjudicator of the situation. There will be no need for his services.”
“Suppose the tape was ready. What would happen then? Would it get conveniently lost, destroyed, given to monkeys? What?”
“No, It would be adjudicated.”
“You keep saying that. Adjudicated by who?”
“Whom Mr. Malveen. Whom. It would be adjudicated by a man named Blake Cole . . . oh is that silence? . . . You’ve all heard his name before haven’t you?”
“Blake Cole? Blake wouldn’t give us the time of day. He washed his hands of us long ago. You set us up to fail!”
“Failure is a realistic expectation.”
“Especially when it’s caused by greed.” I seethed.
“As I’ve stated before Mr. Malveen, other than the executor of Mr. Whitmire’s estate, there is no financial gain for me in this venture. The money goes to charity. I believe I’ve made myself clear on all accounts and have the answers I need to close the book on this. All that is left for you Mr. Malveen is to pay the studio bill.”
“The studio bill, for recording. I wasn’t aware I had to hold your hand for this entire process.”
“You said I wouldn’t be held accountable.”
“And you wouldn’t if you hadn’t recorded. You weren’t supposed to make it as far as the studio, but you did, and now the bill has to be paid, by you.”
“You said Wires’ estate would pay the expenses.”
“Yes, I did, and it has. I said, representation would be made available to you at his expense. I didn’t specify the studio time and neither does the contract. Mr. Cole would have been adequately compensated for his time and critique had it been needed. However, we all know he is no longer required. Not that he’ll be surprised, I’m sure, when he hears it was you. He’s always viewed you as losers, has he not?”
“You fuckin liar!”
“No need to get testy Mr. Malveen. It’s not my fault you read more into it than was actually there. That you failed to notice the fine print in the contract you signed. You were in the music business at one time weren’t you?...”
“Patronizing son of a bitch!”
“...You of all people, should know not to take the word of someone until you’ve read the smallest details. Mr. Whitmire wished to help you. I have interpreted and carried out his last wishes to the letter. But even Mr. Whitmire did not wholly understand the words of the law. He specified the money allocated should be used to the best of my abilities. Well I’m a busy man and I have given you time to the best of my abilities. He should have worded it best efforts. They are two different things. Do you see where I'm coming from?”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Believe it or not, that is your choice, but you will eventually have to deal with it. I am now confident our venture has concluded.— Mr. Black you may depart at your leisure.— Goodbye gentlemen . . . oh and another thing Mr. Malveen . . . I don’t like homosexuals.” There was a click and the hollow emptiness of dial tone.
Doc looked up at me from his cradling hands. “Homosexuals?”
“Alexander thought I was gay. I’m not getting into it. It makes no difference.”
Mr. Black butted his cigar out on the arm of the chair with a hiss. He got to his feet and shook his clothes. Without further word he headed outside to his car and got in, but he did not leave. He drifted up to the front door in the vehicle and left the engine idling.
“That was a bunch of shit!” Doc babbled.
I was still stunned. “What I don’t understand is how Alexander seemed to know so much about what went on here this weekend?”
“You’re right. He seemed so cocky, like he knew we weren’t finished all along . . . and he made that comment about you losing your temper this morning. How would he know that?....unless...”
I finished Doc’s statement. “...Someone here told him.” I looked around the room in disbelief, scanning the faces of people who were very close friends at one time.
“Grub? It was you?”
Grub put his empty tea cup on a nearby table. “I told you I didn’t want to come. Why didn’t you listen to me? If you had, none of this would have happened.”
“How could you do this?”
He took off his sling and started to unravel his bandaged hand. “I never thought it would get this bad. We’re too old to be doing this anyway.”
“Wires didn’t think so . . . oh and I see your hand isn’t damaged.”
“You should have listened to me Sparky. I am sorry it had to happen this way, but I have to go now. My ride is waiting.”
Doc questioned. “You’re leaving with Lurch? Mr. Personality? What about your drums?”
“It’s being taken care of.”
“I’m glad Alexander’s doing something for someone.” I said. “Did he tell you to try and delay us by any means necessary so we wouldn’t finish on time? What, is he giving you Blake’s cut?”
“This wasn’t about money Sparky. As I told you, I have enough. This was about you holding that damn incident with your ex-girlfriend over my head all these years. We were young. We did stupid things back then.”
“You’re doing something stupid now.”
“What you did to get me here was underhanded. I was hurt and angry. So when Alexander contacted me it was already a done deal. You betrayed me first. How does it feel?” Grub said nothing more. He flexed his hand over the small pile of bandages and left us behind, shocked and shit-on. Wally reemerged, passing Grub on the way. He was grumbling inaudible gobble-de-gook. Huffing and puffing, he dropped into a bean bag chair and folded his arms. “What did I miss?”
“I don’t think you really want to know.” Doc reported, then moaned. “I never even got to swim in the pool.”
“Ned Cooley died in that pool Doc. Are you really going to miss it?”
“That’s what chlorine is for isn’t it?”
Wally stopped his grumbling and looked up. “Where’s Grub going?”
“The same place we all are . . . home.”
There was a long silence. We didn’t hear the car leave so much as we saw the headlights disappear down the dirt road and fade from view with our drummer behind the dark glass of the car’s interior.
“Great! Just fuckin great! So what now?” The guys began to jabber at one another.
My hands fell into my pockets and fumbled with the contents. Some loose change, a down payment for the money I now owe the studio perhaps? Keys to my apartment, a bottle cap, crumpled receipts, a business card . . . a business card?
I pulled the small square from my pocket. It was dog eared and folded. I pried it open. It was Apples’ card with his personal number on it. It also bore a name scrawled in pen. The name of Chico Savarious. Amid the swirling controversy of adversarial voices I blurted out the name. “Chico Savarious!”
“What did you say Sparky?”
“Chico Savarious. Chico Savarious Doc!”
“What the hell does a baseball player have to do with all this?”
“Chico Savarious is the guy who manages Apples and Oranges. Apples said when we were done to give him a call and he’d make sure Chico heard our stuff.”
“You’re kidding right? This is just a trick to try to make me feel less shitty than I already do.”
“No Wally. Apples was very sincere in his offer. I’m sure of it.”
“Hello . . . Sparky . . . We’re not finished. We need vocals. We need to mix.”
Wally snapped to attention. “Then it’s simple Doc, we finish the song tomorrow and get it to him.”
I could hear Alexander’s voice ringing in my ears. I didn’t specify the studio time . . . the bill has to be paid by you. My momentary candle flame of hope was blown out. “Doc’s right, Wally. Here’s a news flash. I have to pay for all of this. I can’t afford the studio time, and certainly not another day of it. I can’t afford anything. Even if we could finish and get it to Chico there are no guarantees No. Alexander’s won. It’s finished. I don’t want to do this anymore. We leave in the morning. — Suds I’ll make good on what I owe you, just give me some time.”
Suds nodded and continued to shut down the console. “We’ll work something out,” he said. He looked almost as sad and frustrated as I felt.
Wally wouldn’t let it go. “Sparky, you’re telling me, you’re going to let some smug fuck come in here and tell us what to do?”
“Yes Wally, I’m going to let some smug fuck come in here and dictate what to do.”
“We have to make a stand!”
“Wally! This is not rock n’roll anymore. The days of demonic lyrics, throwing shit out of hotel room windows and raging against the machine are over. We’re middle-aged men with shitty day jobs, no pun intended. That’s the reality. Like Alexander said to me, eventually we have to deal with it. Shit! I didn’t want to do this in the first place. I should have listened to my conscience. I should have listened to the Mayor. I should have listened to Grub. I just wanted to write. Be an author like John Grisham or even John Kennedy Toole.”
“Why would you want to be an assassinated president?”
“Not John Kennedy, Wally. John Kennedy Toole, ya tool. He wrote A Confederacy of
Dunces, committed suicide and won a Pulitzer prize for his work.”
“Sparky why would you want to be a dead writer?”
“Forget it Wally. I’m going to bed.” I crumpled the business card and tossed it into a waste paper basket at the foot of the sound console. I shoved the lyrics for the song we’d written over top of it in a fitting burial. “If anyone has a match, feel free to torch it. This is over. We’re done.”