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    C James
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Let the Music Play - 7. Lump's Return

Chapter 7: Lump's Return

 

 

Buckled into the passenger seat of Helen’s Cadillac Escalade, desperately clutching the hand-hold and clinging to the armrest as she wove though the nightmarish traffic to the accompaniment of blaring horns and obscene gestures toward other motorists, Brandon muttered, “Wasn’t it you who was complaining about how the guys drive?”

Helen snorted, “Actually, I think they drive like old ladies, but they don’t need to know that.”

Arriving at a glass and steel building a few miles away, Helen led Brandon to a reception desk, making an abrupt round of introductions, “Brandon, this is Lacy, my secretary. Anything you need, just ask. I’ll be giving you phone numbers that you can use, twenty-four hours a day if need be.”

Feeling decidedly out of place, he extended a hand, “Hi, I’m the uh...”

Lacy, almost as abrupt as her boss, grinned, “Of course I know who you are. Congratulations! If you need anything, just call or stop by.”

Helen led Brandon into her office, and Brandon did a double take. It was like something out of a movie; a huge elegant office, obviously laid out to impress, or perhaps intimidate, with an enormous Granite-topped desk in front of a wall of glass overlooking the city which unfolded below. Brandon let out a soft whistle, and remarked, “Wow, this is some office.”

Helen smirked, “Of course. Only the best for the best, and I’m the best. Grab a seat. Need something to eat or drink? ”

“Any kind of juice or some water would be great. I’ve got to watch it with the photo shoot coming up.”

Giving him an appraising look she smiled tightly, “I’m hard to impress, Brandon, but you’ve done it again. Guys your age usually aren’t anywhere near that conscientious.”

Brandon shrugged, a bit embarrassed by the flattery, “I just want to do as well as I can. I know I need to get ready for the photo shoot and interview. That means eating right, so I’m going for protein to help my definition.”

“I noticed that you had a salad at the restaurant. I also noticed you almost drooling when you saw my lasagna. Brandon, we need to talk about a few things while Lacy gets the paperwork in order.”

“Yeah, I know I need to get in shape for the shoot and for Phoenix. I’m going to start in the gym today as soon as the guys don’t need me. I haven’t had access to a weight room in over a month, and I haven’t been eating right because I couldn’t afford it. I promise I’m going to do what I–”

Sitting down behind her enormous desk, the effect convincing Brandon that the office was indeed designed to intimidate, Helen interrupted, “Stop. That’s not what I was going to say at all. First off, I do not want you trying to become some kind of body builder! The look you have right now is perfect, and I’m saying that as your manager. Just stay in the shape you are in. You have an excellent look, so don’t go trying to change it. If you don’t want a salad, don’t have a salad. You won’t see Chase worrying about that stuff, and while I appreciate the thought, right now you don’t need to either.”

“Yeah, but Chase is, well, uh, awesome looking,” Brandon mumbled in reply, while intently studying his own feet.

“Brandon, I don’t play games or give false praise, so listen up. Chase is a great-looking guy and he knows it. However, you have a more defined build than he does and a great face; just as nice as his. I’d rank you as being at least as good-looking as he is, so you don’t need to worry in that department.”

Brandon snorted, “Didn’t you see how he looked today? He looked like a million bucks, like a... star.”

“Yes he did and today you weren’t on his level because you weren’t dressed nearly as well. However, when your new stuff arrives, that will change. You have good instincts, Brandon, but you need some practice too. I want you to start getting used to wearing good clothes, and paying attention to your image. Keep doing your sit-ups, especially the day of the photo-shoot, and get some sun, but what I was going to ask you to do is get a haircut.”

Brandon grinned, tugging at his collar length hair, “Okay, whatever you think. I like it long so I cut it that way, but I’ll get it cut however you want. I’ll get it done professionally; I saw a place just around the corner.”

Helen laughed, “You cut that short and I’ll kill you slowly! It looks great; it just needs neatening up a bit, especially for the photo shoot. I want you to use my stylist; he does all the guys’ hair, and knows just what to do.” Helen paused, looking thoughtful for a moment, until an expression of sheer horror crossed her face, “You said you’d seen a place just around the corner? Please, tell me you don’t mean Supercuts...”

A slight blush coloring his tan cheeks, Brandon nodded, “Uh, well, yeah, I did. I guess they aren’t up to your standards, huh? Okay, make me an appointment with your stylist for a time when the guys or you don’t need me, and let me know how to get there.”

Helen smirked, “You have so much to learn. You don’t go to him; he comes to you. I’ll send him by the studio this afternoon. I need to get him to do the other guys anyway, so no worries on scheduling. This will work to my advantage; getting them to sit still for a trim is always a chore, so having you all sheared at once will be convenient.”

Lacy brought in the paperwork, and Brandon found himself looking at stacks of contracts, including one making Helen his manager, and others making him an equal partner in Instinct. Helen interrupted his reading to say, “There is another matter. One of the first things I noticed when checking your file was your last name, Ballzacki. That simply won’t do for a stage name. The guys had a similar situation when Instinct formed; their last name was originally a real tongue-twister, but they adopted ‘Carlisle’ as a stage surname. When the split with their folks occurred, they decided to change their legal names to match. Therefore, when I saw your name...”

The corners of his mouth turning upwards as he broke into a grin, Brandon seized the rare opportunity to interrupt Helen, “What’s my new name?”

Chuckling, Helen replied simply, “Brandon Wolfe. You can change it if you wish, but I think it’s an ideal fit.”

Answering her phone, Helen listened briefly before hanging up, “Go through the contracts, I’ll be right back.”

Brandon was nearly done reading the baffling legalese when she returned, a strange expression on her face. “That was interesting. I’ve had the police and a private investigator looking into Gabe’s activities. Technically, he’s a subcontractor in charge of crew, so I couldn’t get him for embezzlement, or so I thought for a while. His contract was with the guys’ father, so even a civil suit for material breech would have been problematic. I want to tell all four of you together, but I’ll give you the good news in a nutshell; we’ve received some help from an unexpected direction or two, and as a result, Gabe will likely be arrested this afternoon on fraud and tax-evasion charges.”

Having no love for Gabe, Brandon smiled, “I hope I get to see that.”

Over the next hour, Helen guided Brandon through the myriad of paperwork, explaining the confusing terminology. After a flurry of signings, Helen gave him one last document to sign; a request to the court for a legal name change.

“How did you know I’d...”

Helen chuckled, “An easy guess, given the way your folks treated you. You don’t have to do this, but the option is there if you want it.”

Answering by signing with a flourish, Brandon grinned as Helen announced, “Okay hon, you are hereby released from paperwork hell.”

Thanking her, he left the office, finding himself in the elevator before he remembered that he wasn’t sure how far from the hotel he was. He decided to ask in the main lobby. Searching for Lacy, who had disappeared from her post, Günter, the chauffeur, came up beside him, informing him that his ride was ready as soon as he was. Puzzled, Brandon asked, “Are you here for me, or for Helen? She’s upstairs.”

Günter smiled, “For you, sir. Helen called me and told me that you needed to return to the hotel. Please allow me to give you a card, and just call me when you need me.” Brandon took the card as Günter continued, “As I am also security, I’d suggest that you put my number on speed dial on your cell phone.”

“That I can’t do, Günter. I don’t have one.” Brandon responded, as Günter made a mental note to mention that detail to Helen.

Deciding to sit up front with Günter, and making a point of objecting to being called ‘Sir’, Brandon chatted with Günter as they crawled back to the hotel through the nightmarish traffic.


 

Dimitri’s cold, grey eyes squinted against the chill wind coming in from the Sea of Japan. Shivering on the exposed hilltop overlooking the tiny fishing town of Trudovoye, twenty miles north of the Russian city of Vladivostok, Dimitri regretted having discarded his aircraft-mechanic’s overalls. Behind him, he knew, the freighter with its perilous cargo was standing out to sea from Vladivostok’s spectacular harbor. His interest, however, lay to the northwest, and his distant view of Vladivostok’s small international airport. With the prevailing wind coming in from the west, the aircraft would be taking off to the southwest, circling out over the choppy arm of the sea to his left.

He’d watched as Russian technicians confirmed the funds in a numbered Swiss account, before turning over the truck and its cargo of small lead-lined boxes. After confirming the contents to be Plutonium, he’d sequestered the small lead boxes, less than a foot across, in cavities hollowed out of a block of granite, and then observed its loading onto the old freighter.

His business an hour later at the airport had been child’s play; taking charge of the refueling truck by virtue of nothing more than his overalls and booming voice, Dimitri had more time than he’d needed beneath the wing of the Tupolev Tu-154. With his job done, Dimitri had confirmed that the plutonium’s sellers were aboard before racing to the hilltop he’d selected.

Watching through binoculars, Dimitri congratulated himself on his timing as he watched the aging three-engined jet roll down the runway. As the Tupolev climbed out, it began a turn to the south, out over the Sea of Japan. Passing a few miles north of his position, the jet crossed the shoreline, climbing through five thousand feet.

Dimitri had done his homework; he knew that not far offshore the seabed dropped off precipitously towards deep water, strewn with rocky protrusions. Estimating that the jet was nearing deep water, Dimitri withdrew a small box from his pocket. Careful to aim the directional transmitter at the jet, he depressed the buttons on either side.

The binary microwave signal, merely a quarter-second in duration, flashed across the intervening eight miles. Sequestered above the port main-gear door, emplaced by Dimitri via an access hatch during fueling, sat the beam’s intended target: a tiny receiver.

A device no larger than a deck of cards, it had been designed for one purpose, a task which the receiver completed by evaluating the signal. Finding the binary code a match to the one in its memory, it closed a single relay.

The receiver had been plastered to a wing spar with an ounce of plastique. The closing of the relay completed a circuit, sending a charge from the unit’s small battery into the single detonator. The plastique, a rapid-burning high-explosive, detonated against the stressed metal spar. A passenger seated over the wing noted the thump, wrongly assuming it to be the landing gear retracting. A larger bomb could have blown the plane out of the sky, but that wasn't Dimitri’s goal, not exactly.

Looking through his binoculars, Dimitri held his breath as the plane continued on for what seemed like an eternity, though was only a few seconds. Slowly at first, with increasing speed, the port wingtip rose up as the shattered spar failed, causing the neighboring spars to snap under the additional stress.

Folding up against the fuselage, the wing broke free as the Tupolev rolled to port. Its fuselage still parallel to its ground track as the crippled airliner, with over one hundred passengers and crew aboard, began a ballistic decent to the icy waters a mile below.

Watching with mild interest as the plane’s fuselage began to cartwheel, Dimitri let out a long-held breath as the aircraft slammed into the water at over four hundred miles an hour, raising a plume of water above its watery grave. Safe in the knowledge that there could be no survivors, Dimitri began the hike back down from the hilltop, returning to the airport for a flight of his own, hoping that the disaster he had just unleashed would not cause a significant delay in his own upcoming flight.

 

 

Upon returning to the hotel, Brandon found the three brothers in Eric’s suite, gathered around a table, with papers scattered everywhere and several dictionaries and thesauruses open. They greeted him warmly, and he informed them that someone was heading over to give them all haircuts, laughing at the anguished groans he heard in response.

Shoving back from the table, Eric asked, “Any news on Gabe?”

Nodding, Brandon replied, “Yeah, I don’t know the whole scoop, but Helen’s got something cooking, and it looks like he’s heading for jail real soon. She’s coming over in a bit to give us the details...”

A soft tapping at the door announced the arrival of the hair stylist, shocking Brandon that he had arrived so quickly. The dapper little man, carrying a large case, made fast work of setting up a chair and his tools in Chase’s dressing area. Eric watched the proceedings for a moment before suggesting, “Brandon, why don’t you go ahead and go first? We need to do some more writing and stuff anyway.”

The stylist sat him down in a chair, covered him from the neck down with a plastic smock, and made pleasant chatter while he worked. Brandon was amazed at the great job he did, barely cutting any hair at all, or so it seemed, but drastically improving the look. Once done, he thanked the stylist and asked how much he owed him, silently dreading the amount. The stylist declined, informing him that he was paid by Helen, so Brandon went back to the guys to show them his new cut. They all nodded approvingly, and Jon went in to get his own trim.

Eric and Chase motioned for Brandon to join them, as Eric said “Okay, I’ll go chat with Jon while he’s getting trimmed, maybe we can iron out some lyrics.” Eric got up to join Jon, and Brandon said, “That must be cool, writing and stuff.”

Chase gave Brandon an odd look. “You might want to give it a try sometime, it’s not hard, and it can be fun.”

“I’d love to. I already write a little. I’ve been doing that when I was stuck in my room at the old hotel.”

Raising an eyebrow, Chase asked, “Got anything I can see?”

Brandon led Chase to his room, pulling a tattered old spiral notebook from his duffle bag, handing it to Chase, who sat down in a chair and began to page through it, with an air of intensity Brandon hadn’t seen from him before. Brandon was surprised by that, enough to be rattled when Chase jumped up, heading out the door, only to return with an acoustic guitar which he thrust at Brandon. “Sing me that first one.”

Strumming a few notes, Brandon began to sing, making it as far as the third stanza before Chase hauled him to his feet, towing him out of the room, hollering his brothers’ names.

Chase stormed into his suite, with Brandon in tow, to find Eric getting a cut now that Jon was done. Chase handed a perplexed Jon the notebook, flipped open to a page with lyrics and sheet music on it. “Read this. I’ve just heard it and it’s great.”

Jon began to read, then sat down and read more intently for a minute. He looked up, “Chase, this looks hot. Where did you get it?”

Chase grinned, proudly angling a thumb in Brandon’s direction. Jon repeated the question to Brandon who replied, “I wrote it a couple of weeks ago...”

Eric interrupted his cut to get up and read the notebook over Jon’s shoulder, and Jon asked, “It looks like it was written for us, in our sound?”

With a shy nod, Brandon mumbled, “Er, yeah. I was kinda thinking one night and came up with this song and thought it would sound good if performed by you guys, so I wrote the instrumentals and lead-ins to match your style.”

Flipping through a few pages, glancing at each, Jon and said “You have a lot of stuff here… Some of it looks great,” Glancing at the guitar slung across Brandon’s shoulder, he added, “Play the first one...”

After Brandon had completed a few stanzas, Eric exchanged a look with Chase, and playing a hunch asked Brandon, “How come you never mentioned this before?”

“I didn’t think you guys wanted me to. I knew that you three did the writing, and figured you liked it that way,” Brandon replied with a confused shrug.

Jon snorted, “Oh, shit. Yeah, I guess we did seem like we didn’t want you in on it, huh? Sorry about that; it’s just that its always been just us three doing the writing. That’s not because we want it that way, it’s because Lump couldn’t do any of that. I guess we just assumed it was still just us. Brandon, in the future, please don’t assume we don’t want you in on something. It’s just old habits for us, so speak up. This stuff is good; I really like the one Chase pointed out. Helen needs to see this too. And, I’ve been meaning to ask, what is our playlist for Phoenix?”

Brandon shrugged, “I don’t know, Helen didn’t say.”

Jon and Eric exchanged puzzled glances, and Eric snorted, “Speaking of assumptions and old habits… Jon was asking you, dude. Lump insisted on setting the playlist, saying that as front, it was his right. Helen hated that and we weren’t too happy either. So, I take it you don’t mind some input?”

With a laugh, Brandon answered, “Input? Hell, just tell me what you want. I haven’t got a clue how to pick a playlist, and even if I did, I’m sure not going to try and ride roughshod over you guys. ”

Helen arrived as Chase got up from his cut. She checked out all four guys, and nodded approvingly, thanking the stylist who exited quickly. Jon, without a word, handed her Brandon’s notebook, and tapped the top of the page he had it turned to. Helen sat down to study the piece, then turned to a few more, and finally after a few minutes looked up, “I like the first one, a lot. Some of the others are good, but one of them I don’t know about, and one just stinks. You guys got these together fast; I thought you only had five songs so far?”

“That’s not ours; that’s Brandon’ work. Turns out, we have another writer in our midst, and he did these by himself before we met him. He never mentioned them or that he wrote at all, because he assumed we three did the writing. I’ve straightened him out on that, and wanted you to see these.”

Helen arched an eyebrow at Brandon, and had him play a few parts of some of the songs. Keeping her own council until he’d given her a sample of the selected songs, she said, “Nice. I like the first one and one other, and I see potential in two more if polished. Two stink, and one, ugh, looks like pop rather than rock; burn it. This is a rock band honey, if you guys played that one you’d be laughed off the stage. The four I mentioned are very much worth having, but if you wrote these before you joined, then they aren’t part of Instinct’s work. What would you want for the good ones?” Brandon didn’t understand, as was obvious from his expression. Helen filled him in, knowing how he’d react, and taking the opportunity to help ease his worries over freeloading, “You own these; you did them yourself prior to joining the band. I see some good ones, and I see some that, frankly, stink. What I’m asking is what do you want for the rights to the good ones, so the group can make use of them?”

Brandon snorted: “Helen, after all you guys have done for me, you think I’d sell them to you? Hell, even if I hadn’t been made a member, I’d have given them to you just so I could hear something I wrote performed. So, just take them!”

Helen smiled, but shook her head, “That’s nice, but there are legal issues. Copyright law is tricky, and unless we buy these, the label might balk at them being on the album. Also, we need these; we were behind on the new album schedule, and these could solve that problem entirely.”

Brandon grinned “Okay, the price is one dollar. Hell, you guys already gave me ten grand, come on...”

“The only problem with that is that we gave you that prior to finding out about these,” Helen countered, pleased to have predicted Brandon’s response.

Brandon grinned, thrilled to have the upper hand in the generosity department for once, standing a little taller, his long-absent air of self-worth returning, “Oh? Try proving that.”

Helen shrugged and turned to the three brothers. “He’s got me there,” she said, with a look, hidden from Brandon, which warned them not to argue.

Chase looked with pride at Brandon, having discovered a new quality in someone he already admired, and grinned impishly. “Hey, I think I deserve a finders fee; Brandon showed them to me first,” he said before ducking, almost in time to avoid a barrage of pillows.

Ceremonially handing Brandon a dollar, Helen announced, “I’ve been working on our fraud problem. It’s complicated; when the business was set up, the crew was placed under an independent contractor, for liability and tax reasons. Our contract was with that company. We did specify what the crew would receive, but that contract was between the guy’s father and Gabe’s company. I couldn’t get access to it, nor, as a non-party, could we even sue for material breech. Gabe’s company has a travel agent’s license so it was easily able to show travel bookings and such, but we couldn’t prove fraud.”

The three brothers looked downcast, but remembering what Helen had said in her office, Brandon waited for the other shoe to drop. He didn’t have long to wait, because Helen, hiding a smile, turned to face the three brothers and continued, “Until this morning. I’d made a few phone calls, and received help from an unexpected direction. Gabe made one mistake; he assumed your father would have nothing to do with this. Fortunately for us, someone interceded, and your father released the contract, along with a signed statement quitclaiming all interests in Instinct, transferring them to you four. Not only does that solve some longstanding issues, the information allowed fraud charges to be filed against Gabe. He’ll be under arrest before the day is out.”

 
 

The smooth rumble of the electric train ebbed as it reached the end of the line, having come south from Innsbruck. Checking for any sign of surveillance, Dimitri took his time in disembarking, before taking a circuitous route a couple of blocks east, breathing hard in the thin mountain air as he walked briskly uphill. Turning right and strolling towards the gondolas along Hauptstrasse, the main street of Mayrhofen –a small resort-town high in the Austrian Alps. Spotting a familiar stand on his left, set back just a little from the tidy old-world storefronts, Dimitri paused to buy a bratwurst as he checked for a tail. None were apparent, and he relaxed for a moment as he sunk his teeth into the veal brat on rye, the spicy brown mustard making his nostrils tingle.

Finishing his snack, he continued his stroll, often pausing to peer into the shop windows. The tourist trinkets were of no interest to him; the reflection in the glass however, was. It served to allow him an unobvious view of the street, as he used his tradecraft to be certain he was not being followed. The street, uncrowded due to the late summer season in the heart of the Zillertal ski region, suited his purposes in this regard.

Certain, to the best of his considerable abilities, that he was not being followed, Dimitri quickened his pace towards the gondola station; his flight had been late getting into Innsbruck, necessitating more haste than was his norm. Passing the gondola station on his right, Dimitri proceeded for half a block before doubling back, thankful that there was no queue to further delay him.

Climbing aboard the unoccupied yellow bubble gondola as it clanked towards departure, Dimitri looked to the west, up the cable, at the other gondolas on the continuous lift. Clenching his fists, he steeled himself for the ride; he was a man of few fears, but heights were amongst them.

Sitting back, attempting to ignore the dizzying retreat of the ground, he glanced about at the snow-capped peaks rimming the valley. The sudden thump came close to breaking his casual demeanor, as the gondola reached the support tower atop the high ridge. Taking pains to ignore the trees rushing by, Dimitri sat still and silent as he soared over the high valley, looking back the way he had come so as not to see the sheer cliff approaching, the part he most hated.

His years in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, better known in the west by its initials, had trained him well. He’d transferred from the Second Chief Directorate –counterintelligence and internal political control– to the First Chief Directorate; principally foreign operations. The transfer had occurred just in time for him to make the contacts he’d needed when the Soviet Union had collapsed, leaving him unemployed. Fortunately, there had proven to be lucrative opportunities for a man with his skills and connections.

Wiping the sweat from his palms, Dimitri relaxed a little as the gondola clanked through the final tower, perched precariously atop the sheer cliff, and approached the high terminus a hundred yards away.

Breathing the cold mountain air, he stepped out onto the dirt boulevard of the ski area, marveling that, even without the snow, so many came to enjoy the mountains. Hikers by the dozen clustered within the little brew houses, German techno-beat pop music pouring forth.

Reaching his destination, he broke from habit and turned left into the small chalet, skirting the entrance to the bar, heading instead for the patio overlooking the now-green slopes. Stopping at a telescope, he dropped in a Euro coin before peering through the haze at the valley below. The expected tap on his shoulder prompted his planned reaction, as he turned to give a smile of recognition, as though to an old friend unexpectedly encountered.

The Scar smiled broadly, “Charles my friend, what an unexpected surprise. Allow me the honor of joining you for a hike. The weather is perfect, is it not?”

Relieved to hear the code-phrase indicating all was well, Dimitri replied, “By all means. We have much to discuss.”

Making pleasant chitchat, the two men walked west towards an inoperative ski lift, taking a trail through the forest to the right. Once a sufficient distance was thus obtained, Dimitri reported, “All is well for the delivery. The freighter is at sea, with our cargo aboard. You can recover the funds from the Swiss account; the sellers won’t be making any complaints.”

“I heard about the crash. Was it necessary to bring down an airliner? That could draw unwanted attention.”

With a touch of pride in his ingenuity evident in his voice, Dimitri replied, “Yes. I had no other means for disposing of the sellers without raising suspicions. This way it looks like an accident; I brought the plane down in deep water. Unless the Russians are very lucky and very thorough, they won’t recover the area around the detonation, and will, I hope, assume that metal fatigue brought the old jet down.”

Pleased, The Scar nodded, “No matter what, we should have the time we need. The funds have already been recovered; it was not easy finding a banker willing to cooperate, but all has been taken care of. I have also arranged for the freighter to be met at its destination, and the cargo will go from there to the fabrication site. Things are moving faster than either of us had anticipated. You have your ‘shopping list’ for some of the remaining items, and I have my own list to pursue. I’ve arranged for the necessary refrigeration and lens-grinding equipment to be delivered to the fabrication point. Take our engineer to a place of safety, but bring him to our next rendezvous; the Devil’s Throat, five in the afternoon, ten days from today.

Dimitri took his leave, wondering if The Scar picked meeting points with the intent to terrify anyone with a fear of heights.

 
 

Finishing up the third run-through of a new song, Brandon was concentrating on his singing, standing in place, not doing any stage work, and still had his shirt on. Jon and Eric had shed theirs upon arriving, but Chase hadn’t even bothered to bring a shirt along, which Brandon didn’t mind one little bit. All four guys were having a blast and finally hitting their stride on the new material. They were just about to begin another song when Jon’s phone rang. Answering it, he listened for a few moments before ending the call, turning to tell his band mates, “That was Helen. She just got word that Lump is up front and heading back here. Helen will be here in a few minutes, but Lump’s going to be here first. Helen said he’s steamed, and may already suspect, but probably doesn’t know for sure yet that he’s out.”

Chase grinned wickedly, “Remember, I get to tell him. Hey, I’ve got an idea; why don’t we play ‘Believe’?” Turning towards Brandon, Chase asked, “Why don’t you do some of your stage work; I want Lump to see just how much better off we are without him.” Chase hesitated, and then added shyly, “And could you take your shirt off? I want to really yank his chain.”

Brandon grinned, pulling off his shirt before tossing it to join Eric and Jon’s, giving Chase a quick flex and a wink before Chase hit the drum lead in for ‘Believe’. Brandon got into the stage work and the song, even though he was a bit nervous about the upcoming encounter.

Halfway through the song, the rear auditorium doors slammed open, and Lump stormed in, charging right up to the front of the stage, his face red. He stood there, steaming, while the four guys finished up ‘Believe’. As soon as they were done, he yelled “What the fuck is going on here?”

Chase got up and headed for the front of the stage, stopping at the edge, looking down at the former singer, “Hey, hi Lump. Just some rehearsing for the Phoenix concert. Oh, and in case nobody told you, we needed somebody to help us rehearse when you didn’t show up.” Chase paused, watching Lump relax a little before pulling the rug out from under him, “So, we asked one of the roadies to fill in, and guess what, he was so much better than you we decided you were out and he was in.” Chase grinned wickedly. “I just wanted to be the one to tell you, Lump, you’re out, gone, goodbye, and his–tor–y.”

Brandon and the three brothers watched as Lump seethed for a few seconds, and then stormed up the side stairs to face Chase nose to nose, “You fucking assholes! If you think I’m going to let you get away with this, you are out of your minds!” Lump turned to glare at Brandon, who was stunned. He’d seen pictures of Lump, and seen him on stage, but had never met him, never looked into his glazed eyes. What he saw in those eyes now reminded him more than anything of a feral creature; just anger, not thought. Lump hissed, “So, roadie, you wanted to take my place, did you? You can fuck off, and kiss your roadie job goodbye too.”

Moving to confront Lump, Jon moved up close to his side, his fists clenched, “It’s you that’s going to fuck off, you piece of shit. He’s in; you’re out, so get lost.”

Lump turned to face Jon, “Oh yeah? Did you bother to tell the roadie about your little fudge-packer drummer boy?” With a satisfied look on his face, Lump turned to Brandon to watch for a reaction, and Brandon fought to suppress a laugh.

Eric chimed in, “Yeah, first thing we asked him was if he was cool with Chase. Turns out he is; not everybody is an ass like you, after all.”

Sneering back, swaying slightly on his feet, Lump replied, “So the new guy is cool with it, huh? Let’s find out just how cool the fans are with it. I think it’s time for a press conference about Chase’s perversions.”

Lump faced Chase, toe to toe, while Eric and Jon crowded Lump from the left. Puffing out his chest, Brandon stepped forward to take a position on Lump’s right, marveling at what a short fight the fool was getting himself into.

No one had noticed Helen enter the auditorium, but she was standing only a few feet away when her voice startled them all, “Lump, you idiot, that’s called blackmail, and that thing in Brandon’s hand is called a microphone. This is, after all, a recording studio. Do you really want to go to jail? If I were you I’d leave right now, and hope like hell we let it drop.”

Lump growled and then spat, “You can all go to hell. Either I’m back in or Chase is out, and I mean out. I don’t even have to do it myself.”

Unable to resist, Chase baited Lump, “Later, shithead.”

Lump hauled back to take a swing, as Chase moved to dodge the punch that never came. Brandon, his time on the street having taught him by necessity how to take care of himself, had hooked Lump’s cocked arm. Slamming Lump onto the stage, Brandon sneered, “Just how dumb are you? It’s four against one and I just took you down myself.

Staggering to his feet, Lump stormed off, glaring back at the stage as he left. Helen remarked dryly “That went well…”

Chase shrugged, and Brandon asked Helen “Do you think he’ll do it? Out Chase?”

Helen shrugged, “I give it fifty-fifty, and that’s only because he’s dumb enough to ignore what I said about blackmail and him being on tape. By the way, he is on tape: I made sure of it.”

Brandon wondered if there was about to be a change of minds about replacing Lump. Chase saw his look and walked over, tossing his arm around Brandon’s bare shoulders he said, “I can guess what you are thinking, and don’t. None of us are backstabbers; we wouldn’t ask you to leave so Lump could come back. Besides, we wouldn’t ask him back even if you didn’t exist. Remember what an ass he’s been; pulling no-shows and being hell to work with? I don’t care what he does, he’s gone.”

Noticing that Chase’s arm remained in place across Brandon’s shoulders, Helen added with a smile, “Like I said before, I’d have been in favor of replacing him with a tree stump. I can control the rumor mill enough to probably defuse anything indirect, but if he does it in person, I can’t, though I will see to it that he goes to jail. From a business perspective, this is really no big deal. There are plenty of gay musicians around, many of them out. Frankly, this is more of a personal issue than a business one.”

It didn’t fail to escape Chase’s notice that Brandon didn’t pull away, instead leaning into him a little, giving him a sideways grin, apparently enjoying the contact. Overjoyed by the discovery, and promising himself he’d follow up on it as soon as they were done rehearsing, Chase gave Brandon another one-armed hug as he said, “I really don’t care. I’m just happy he’s gone.”

Helen took that moment to shove a cell phone into Brandon’s surprised hands. “Here, I heard you didn’t have one. It’s been programmed for you. Günter is speed dial number two, nine-one-one is speed dial nine, my private line is three, and the guys here are four, five, and six in ascending order of their ages.” Brandon stared at the phone, seeing it was one of the new thin ones he’d been hearing about. Thanking Helen, he flipped it open to see that it was indeed already activated.

“Brandon, I want you to be very careful who you give your number to. You need to keep it private. Günter already has it, and so do I, and of course you will need to give it to the guys here, but be very careful. If it ever gets out in public, you will have to change it in a hurry or it will drive you nuts,” warned Helen.

“I’ve got one friend in Phoenix I’d like to give it to at some point, but other than that, nobody.”

After a few abortive attempts, they were able to play one of Brandon’s songs all the way through, with just a few errors. They made a few more changes, and called it quits for the day. Helen, who had been unbeknownst to them watching from the control booth again, came to join them on stage, happy with what she’d seen, “Good; you all need a lot of practice, but watch out for Brandon’s vocal cords; do not over-do it. I think you’ve picked some solid pieces for the playlist, and that first one Brandon wrote will be a hit, and so will at least two pieces you three wrote.” Helen paused before adding, “We need to think about the playlist for Phoenix. It’s both the kick off for the tour and the new album, and the new front man’s debut so I’d like to see a mix of old and new stuff. Brandon, will you work with us on this?”

With a laugh, Brandon replied, “They told me how it was done before, and all I’ve got to say is I’m not Lump, plus I don’t know how to go about picking a playlist. The rest of you should pick and just let me know what you want.”

Jumping on the idea, Helen announced, “Maybe open with a song you can do in Lump’s voice, something where your range wouldn’t be as useful. Think about ‘Beyond’ for your second number, in your full range; your voice is a real step up for that song. Let’s see how the new stuff turns out, but I was thinking three old hits, plus five or six from the new stuff. Put ‘Believe’ at the top, sing it like Lump, then go right into ‘Beyond’ in your own voice and range, then right into whatever we decide is the best of the new material. We’ll work on this more in a few days, but I think Phoenix will be big.”

Pumping a fist in the air, Eric said “Lump’s gone, the police are gonna haul Gabe away any freaking minute, we’ll be able to do the album on time, and Phoenix is looking great. Damn, I feel good!”

A movement behind the dark glass of the projection booth caught Jon’s eye. Remembering Helen watching and listening from there when they’d first met Brandon; Jon realized just who it was likely to be, and what he’d heard.

Pointing up at the booth, Jon snapped, “I think I saw Gabe, and he’s getting away.”

Leaping from the stage, landing in a crouch before breaking into a run, Brandon hollered, “I’ll get him.”

The three brothers, stunned only for a moment, leaped down to follow, leaving a worried Helen alone on the stage, frantically stabbing buttons on her cell phone.

 

   

© 2007 C James

feedback.gifPlease let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.

Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"

 

 

Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.

A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice, and to Captain Rick for Beta-reading and advice.

To Graeme; thank you for your wonderful idea; and your wise council and input at a very critical stage.

Any remaining errors are mine alone.

© 2007 C James
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I just love the way the story unfolds. Two storylines at the same time and a massive climax at the end (excuse the pun). Thanks again CJ - you are a magnificent storyteller!

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One of my favourite stories (I've read it and the sequel on your site).

I noticed an error, though:

'It didn’t fail to escape Chase’s notice that Brandon...' - that's a triple negative :P

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I'm enjoying this story the second time around even more than the first. Thanks for bringing it back. And I hope you stay with the two-chapter-a-day release schedule; love it!

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Brandon! Really? You think you're superman? Running off after him like that? Hahaha. I'm interested to see how these two scenarios (the plane bombing and the band) come together. It should make for a very interesting story.

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CJ - I can't keep up!!!! lol Not only are you King of the Cliffies, you're an updating machine! lol

 

I did have a question: when the boys are writing songs, they don't write them on a computer? For some reason I thought that would be easier. Don't they have like music scores and whatnot that you can write songs on? Like an app or something?

 

And with all their money, Helen couldn't splurge for a smartphone for Brandon? She got him a flip phone? lol Poor kid...Oh, and the ten grand on his debit card - I think that's all gone now! lol

 

Ok, on to chapter eight. :)

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Well, now we're getting somewhere... :)

 

Re: Helen's disdain for "Pop" - depending how heavy their sound would've been as a band, back in '07 when you wrote this they probably could have stuck to the rockier side more easily, but these days it'd definitely be much easier for them to cross over without even trying - there's just that much more cross-over going on these days in general. Wonder what they'd think of that.

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Lump seems to have a lot of nerve and not a lick of sense. As shrewd as Helen I find hard to believe that contractually he'd wouldn't have to keep his mouth shut or face huge lawsuits. Labels are very protective of their assets. Anyhoo, thanks for the good work.

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So Scar and Dimitri are becoming more a part of the story, or at least their storyline is starting to become more of a concern. The fact that Dimitri is former KGB and was willing to blow up a plane of a 100 people and crew is truly concerning. Yes, the Scar was questioning of it but was quick to dismiss it and move onto retrieving the funds from the account quite quickly.

 

Lump is gone. Maybe they can write a song about that ;) . Even though Helen is impressed with Brandon's natural instincts, I'm sure she is going have something quite vocal to express to him about not only putting Lump on the ground, but for taking off after Gabe (even though I hope he catches him). Where Chase had reason to take care of Lump, Brandon has reasons to take care of Gabe.

 

Lisa, not sure if you will see this or not, I think when CJ originally released this story I don't think any of us had a smartphone. Slim flip phones were the the in thing at the time. I'm not sure if they could even access the internet so that would rule out an app. Also, music software was in their early development and other than Apple, I don't think there was much available.

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Lump shows up, behaves just as bad as expected and Brandon demonstrates that he is not all pretty boy, that there are some street smarts in there too.

Scar also shows his KGB background causing an airliner to crash into the sea killing over 100 passengers and crew is a very thorough way of getting rid of some sellers and a broken spar on an antique airplane will deflect any investigation if any ever takes place.

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On 3/1/2014 at 10:38 PM, wildone said:

So Scar and Dimitri are becoming more a part of the story, or at least their storyline is starting to become more of a concern. The fact that Dimitri is former KGB and was willing to blow up a plane of a 100 people and crew is truly concerning. Yes, the Scar was questioning of it but was quick to dismiss it and move onto retrieving the funds from the account quite quickly.

 

Lump is gone. Maybe they can write a song about that ;) . Even though Helen is impressed with Brandon's natural instincts, I'm sure she is going have something quite vocal to express to him about not only putting Lump on the ground, but for taking off after Gabe (even though I hope he catches him). Where Chase had reason to take care of Lump, Brandon has reasons to take care of Gabe.

 

Lisa, not sure if you will see this or not, I think when CJ originally released this story I don't think any of us had a smartphone. Slim flip phones were the the in thing at the time. I'm not sure if they could even access the internet so that would rule out an app. Also, music software was in their early development and other than Apple, I don't think there was much available.

Good point about the phone.  As for music writing programs, Sibelius and Lily Pond already existed several years earlier.  After checking out the exorbitant price of Sibelius, I went with a far cheaper, but equally capable program called Harmony Assistant.

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