This work-in-progress just needs to be finished. The story floats in and out of his head with such regularity, it should probably already be complete. But it’s not, and that is sadly no ones fault but my own.
So, posted here are the first few chapters. I really wanted to write the “right” way as some say. Get his outline, and develop all his characters, but you know…old dog…new tricks…not so much.
Here’s how I do it: Sit at keyboard…type. I go back later and clean up the tangled, terrifically twisted literary mess I’ve left behind. I am in the wonderful position of having nothing to lose. I like what I write, so do others. If some folks read it and enjoy, yeah. Someone pays me money to write what people like, yeah. I do it because I love the process of creating something inside his head and reading it later on paper, it’s actually pretty cool.
So, enjoy if you like, share if you want, comment as you see fit. Honestly, neither of us has anything to lose…do we!
Some Broken Strings
(One man’s journey from obscurity and heart-break to something much better)
The smell of gunpowder still hung in the air. It was pungent, sweet, and almost overwhelming as the moment closed in around him. Alex’s hand was still clenched around the gun, a seemingly well-balanced Glock 17, not that he would really know, it wasn’t even his. The feel of the cold steel, his index finger still wrapped tightly around the trigger all seemed momentarily surreal. In that instant, things had happened so quickly he had yet to let go. Slowly lowering his hand, the whiffs of gunpowder smoke danced through the night as his arm brushed it aside opening a window into the cool evening air.
Alex peered ahead into the darkness. He didn’t have to look far. The night was quite, dark and moonless. The air seemed terribly still for such a pleasant fall evening. On the ground not six feet away, a body lay motionless, silhouetted against the concrete by the dim light of car headlights parked next to the large garage.
His mind raced as he tried to piece together the details of the last few moments. It was if everything had moved in slow-motion. He had simply come outside to get his guitar case from the trunk of the car. As he’d reached into his pocket for the keys; he was there next to him before Alex knew what was happening. A deep, raspy voiced had merely said, “Don’t move, don’t make a sound”. Alex could feel the tip of the gun as it pressed into the small of his back.
At that very moment a light had come on inside the garage. Alex realized now it was the light triggered by the motion outside, but at the time it was enough to make his would-be assailant turn quickly to the right to see who it was or what it was. When he did, something strange happened. Alex turned just as quickly; reached for the left hand that held the pistol and grabbed the barrel of the gun. He slammed the other body against the side of the car and threw an elbow in the direction of his head. With the most luck he’d ever had in a a situation like this, not that there had ever been any before, that movement had been perfect or as close to perfect as his poorly honed skills could take credit for. Alex’s elbow caught his assailant just alongside his left temple. The blow staggered him and he stumbled near the trunk of the car where he tried to regain his composure. In that moment, Alex had quickly turned the gun over in his hand and stood for a moment unsure of just what to do next. Before he could begin another thought the man lunged from the rear of the car towards him. Even now, he could hear the shot ring out, but could not picture in his mind; raising his hand and more surprising, pulling the trigger.
The shot stopped him in his tracks. It was at that moment he turned his face towards Alex and slowly moved his hand to the center of his chest. He seemed puzzled as he looked down at the blood that dripped from between his fingers, it was made much, much worse when he turned his eyes to meet Alex’s gaze and he realized who it was.
Beverly Hills Police might get some bad press for the way they deal with celebrities and their foibles and follies, on this night they brought their A-game to the scene of this crime.
Phil Carston wasn’t just a movie producer. He was the son of one of the most powerful media moguls of his time. His father, Edgar Carston had weathered the depression, and made his money betting on that crazy new invention called the television. His companies controlled an industry that in the 1980’s was undergoing an amazing transformation. His son Phil and his daughter Ericka were just coming into their own as corporate mogul wannn-bee’s.
Now Phil Carston’s body lay covered by a sheet as Alex Sheridan tried to explain to a rather unpleasant detective named Diminico what had just happened. A rather gruff and stubby sort of guy with less hair than he would have liked and deep set eyes that gave him the look of someone who worked too hard and didn’t rest much in the process. Diminico had spent fifteen years in LA homicide before being transferred. It wasn’t an assignment he had wanted, but one incident could certainly change an officers career. Armand, or Arnie as his friends called him, had been involved in one of those career altering incidents. He was not given the option of staying or leaving. Now working in Beverly Hills he’d gotten a little more stout, his black hair still cropped and short as it had been since basic training and his demeanor was just as rough as the day he hit the pavement on Sunset Blvd. Now he got to wear a nice suit, usually only worked a twelve hour shift at most and had enough seniority that he could pick and choose his work load. Tonight, he had gotten the call right before bed, and when he heard what had happened he knew lives would be changed tonight. Now Alex Sheridan sat going through the events as they had unfolded, he seemed to be able to tell his story, but wasn’t convincing anyone and when Mr. Edgar Carston arrived Alex also wondered if anything would ever be the same.
Before anyone could say another word, a large burly security guard Alex didn’t remember seeing before that moment, walked briskly from the side of the house out to where both the detective and Mr. Carston were standing. There was short exchange and all three men disappeared into the side door of the garage. The detective motioned to officers standing next to Alex that he should stay exactly where he was.
Alex tried to imagine what was going on when he happened to glance up at the corner of the garage roof right under the gable. There, mounted on a very silent moving turret was a video camera. he could almost feel his heart leap from his chest. They could review the tape, see what happened and he’d be free to go. How easy could that be? As he was sitting still trying to make sense of everything that had just taken place, Phil’s sister Ericka Carston drove up to the barricade the police had erected near the house.
Watching Ericka Carston do anything was, well…art. She was statuesque, graceful, beautiful and moved with an inhuman amount of self-confidence. Now, as she swung her legs from the brand new or nearly brand new MB C550; even in jeans and a t-shirt she had heads turning as if those nearby were watching a runway presentation. Two officers lifted the yellow tape at the end of the driveway, very aware of who she was. She moved quickly and quietly to where the body of her dead brother now lay. Without any hesitation she reached down and pulled back the cover, and just as quickly rolled it back over his face. She stood still, motionless, Alex thought perhaps she was praying or saying goodbye, instead as she turned towards him, he noticed she was taking notes.
It was impossible for Alex to hide the look of surprise that crossed his face. He’d hoped it was surprise since it felt more like shock. She looked at him for the longest time, with such an odd, blank expression on her face, it was a look he’d never seen before.
Alex had known Ericka for almost three years. You could say they were friends, although that might have been a stretch, not too many people ever thought of Ericka Carston as a friend . They were more business acquaintances, who knew each other pretty well. It would be useless to admit that he hadn’t been bowled over by her the first time they had met. Her father had brought her to a studio session. It wasn’t a very important one, or at least he hadn’t thought so. They were installing new microphones in all the studios and he had been recruited to do soundchecks on each one. She had stood in the corner of the control room, almost perfectly still. Alex had never seen her when her hair, makeup and wardrobe were not perfect… That day was no exception, but she let it be known early on that she was a woman on a mission; she was grooming herself with more than just makeup and hair to take her father’s company into the 21rst century, and didn’t have time for anything or anyone that didn’t revolve around “her” business.
Now, Alex thought he could see what…a tear? Just as quickly as he noticed, she turned abruptly on her heels and headed to the house. It was only a few minutes more before Detective Diminico and Mr. Carston came back out of the house. The detective brought Alex over to the gazebo that stood next to the driveway and motioned for him to sit. Mr. Carston came and sat across from them. Alex always thought he was pretty good at reading people. Not this time! It was obvious Mr. Carston had been crying; now he looked almost lost. Alex was certain that was a very unusual and unfamiliar position for a man like Mr. Carston to be in. Thye sat for a few awkward moments before he spoke.
“Alex, what were you planning on doing after you left music?” The question caught him off-guard and he responded almost as quickly without thinking too much either way. “I’ve just barely gotten started Sir, I’m pretty certain I’m nowhere near ready to leave the business”. His pulse quickened as he realized this conversation wasn’t about Mr. Carston’s dead son, but about his music career.
“Alex, I’ve reviewed the tapes from the house, they aren’t very good. You might be able to get off with some kind of justifiable homicide charge, all things considered”. Now his mind was reeling. The tapes weren’t very good. How good did they have to be to show someone shoving a gun in your back and you defending yourself? “Excuse me sir, I don’t know what the hell is going on, or why your son thought he needed to come after me, but I can assure you I am not going to jail for defending myself!” Alex felt his face flush, what did they think was happening here? What was he supposed to think was happening here?
Edgar Carston stared at Alex as if looking at something he was thinking about buying. It was in fact a very unsettling situation and didn’t make him feel very good about what might happen next.
“Alex, if you leave this city tonight, never return and promise to get out of the music business”, Mr. Carston paused; for effect, but it worked just the same. “I will give you one million dollars cash tonight and set-up trust account for you that will pay you $100,000 every year until you die. This deal is non-negotiable and you have exactly one minute to say yes or no”.
You’ve got to be kidding, was the thought screaming through Alex’s mind. Take the deal, don’t take the deal. This man probably had more people in his pocket than anyone in the state if not more. How important were his principles? Perhaps more importantly, was this what he had to do to stay out of jail, or knowing the Carston reputation…worse?
He could feel the sweat on his brow, his hands were clammy, and his mouth was dry. What a miserable night this had turned out to be, and it had started out so well. No big deal, just a little party, bring your guitar, we’ll drink a little, sing a little, it will just be a nice evening.
Alex could see now that Mr. Carston was looking at his watch, waiting for his answer. Leave music? The only reason he had even come to this God forsaken town was for music. Alex realized now he should have stayed in Nashville, but it was certainly too late for that now. The seconds of his life were ticking past and he had to choose a new path. It would be new whichever way he answered. “Yes”, Alex blurted as if almost not even thinking about it. His head was hurting from trying to plan the next fifty-years of his life outside of music, with new friends, maybe a family, and far, very far from this night and these people.
“Good, this is how it will work”. Edgar Carston made it sound like he was buying a new car or putting a down payment on a piece of property. “You will leave town tonight, take nothing with you. You need to vacation, maybe Europe, South America; somewhere for six or eight months. When you return you cannot come here or even back to Nashville. Find someplace you can start fresh, open a coffee shop or something and be as invisible as you can. Your hometown is probably a bad idea too. I’ll have someone contact you with all the details for money, etc.” Another pause, this time there was a different look on his face, “Alex, I’m sorry this happened. There are things I can’t explain to you, things that don’t concern you. They really don’t. You’ve made the right choice. Over time you won’t miss this crazy business and these crazy people. You’ll have a normal life and enjoy yourself.” As he stood Alex thought for a moment he was going to offer his hand, instead he handed Alex an envelope with money and a set of keys. “Take Ericka’s car and drive to the airport. We’ll take care of your car. Mr. Carston looked at the aging Toyota and seemed to almost smile as if trying to remember a time when an old car was a young mans most valuable and trusted possession. You will have tickets and all your papers ready for you when you get there.” With that he turned on his heels, almost as quickly as his daughter did and disappeared into the darkness beside the house.
Detective Dominco simply walked away. No words were exchanged. He wasn’t asked to come to the station for a statement, like they did in the movies. It was like he had instantly become invisible. Alex walked down the driveway to the Mercedes and opened the door. As he slid behind the wheel he could see Ericka’s shadow near the corner of the house. For a second she moved just a little under the light and he could see her face, she looked so very sad. Alex started the car and headed down the hill, onto the highway and out to LAX. Just as Mr. Carston had said, there was a ticket to Buenos Aires, all his papers, another envelope of cash and some directions about where to stay and what to do for six months in South America.
His mind raced as he waited for them to call his flight. Alex almost wondered out loud if this was really a scheduled flight or had the Carston machine magically conjured one up this late in the evening. He realized how ridiculous that sounded, or should have sounded and in a few short moments they were closing the door as he made his way towards his seat. As he settled into first class; he almost said out loud “this is nice”. He’d flown first class once before, but only from Nashville to Boston, this was going to at least help clear his mind and give him time to think.
He had champagne before his butt had warmed the seat cushion. As the plane backed away from the gate he thought about how strange the past three years had been. Alex was on his third glass before the plane even got off the ground. The stewardess had brought him a pillow and a blanket. He was settling in quite comfortably for the long flight. Songs and images were running through his head as the champagne made his lips numb and his fingers tingle. He hadn’t noticed the pair of eyes watching every move he made from the seat three rows back.
Watching Lizzie and Ted run through the park Alex thought of all the times he had done the same. The Arizona sun was so nice and warm on this nearly perfect October morning. They always looked forward to the park on days like this. The kids always seemed to have a second sense for how the day was going to start. It usually began with bed jumping and the thumping of little feet as they chased each other up the hallway in the mad dash to be the first to the bathroom. It was inevitable, the “slam” of the door as the winner claimed their prize and shut the other out. The all-to-unnecessary pounding that followed and the shouts of “mom, dad, he/she won’t let me in the bathroom” always followed quickly thereafter.
Alex would always roll towards the window to hide the smile on his face as he tried desperately not to laugh. Not too long after, a calming voice would drift up from the kitchen, “just wait your turn…and be quiet, your father’s still asleep”. Alex was fairly certain everyone knew by that point only the dead were still asleep if they were anywhere close by, but he enjoyed the sentiment just the same.
People would chuckle when they introduced ourselves. What were the odds of an Alexander and an Alexandra finding each other, falling in love and stranger still getting married? Even now it was fascinating to watch the twisted and confused expressions on people’s faces as they introduced ourselves; “Hi, we’re Alex and Alex”. More than a few were caught looking to see if one or both of them had too many or too few body parts.
Now the fragrant aroma that could only come from frying bacon began to fill the house. That and some good Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee were the perfect way to jump start any morning. Alex moved slowly and set his feet gently to the floor. He’d spent the entire day before walking the production floor. This machine stopped working, this person had a sick cat, this order wasn’t correct, on and on. He was happy he could make a living doing something he enjoyed. It had proven to become more of a challenge as they grew every year. The angst of any business he supposed. It was just he and Alexa to start. The idea was really hers. Find a way to make a useable thread out of recyclable plastic. Since neither of them were scientists Alex was pretty certain the process took them four times longer than it should have. However since they didn’t know any better, and people kept telling them they couldn’t do it, their desire to prove them wrong and ignorance made them all the more determined to succeed. After two years of both of them working day and night they managed to create a product that could be used just like sewing thread. It only took them about six months to realize they needed a bigger plant and a lot more people. Now six years later, AA Threadings took up an entire block in Tempe. They were still growing and learning, but at least, with the help of some smart friends, they seemed to be on the right track.
Alex stood and looked in the mirror. Interesting that sometimes you really wonder if you know the person that’s looking back at you. His mind wandered to the streets of Rio. Just walking, listening to the sounds, watching the faces of those he passed. It seemed so long ago and then, as if it were only yesterday.
That third night there, the knock on the door, his surprise to see her there. Alex chuckled to himself for a moment as he remembered thinking she was just upset because no one had returned her car from the airport. The next three months were a whirlwind of sensory overload. He would have been content, or so he thought, to sit on the beach, eat some interesting food and maybe learn Portuguese. She was not content to do that at all. They bought a beat-up old Chevy pickup and drove across most of South America. From Machu Picchu to the heart of the Amazon, it seemed nowhere was too remote, inaccessible or unheard of for them to see. Early on they seemed to agree, without saying it, that this would be a vacation romance at best. Thinking back now he couldn’t imagine how they thought that at all. It was, as if they were thrown together by a strange twist of fate that could only mean they were destined to spend their lives together.
“Lizzie, if you don’t open the door I’m going to pee right here on the floor!” A quick slap of reality brought Alex back to the present day. He did his best dad-foot-step stomp to the bedroom door, opened it as noisily as he could and stared down the hallway. There stood poor Ted, legs crossed as if his little bladder would explode at any minute. He looked up with such a pained expression Alex wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. From below Alexa yelled up, “Lizzie, let your brother in before you have a mess to clean up.” The door open quickly and Ted was at the toilet before she could even get out the door. Alex was surprised to even hear the lid come up. “Mom, Teddy didn’t even let me get out before he started to go”. She looked down the hallway and saw her dad standing in the doorway. “Lizzie, if your brother explodes because your hair isn’t perfect, you have to clean it up. Dad, ewww, that’s gross”, she smiled and giggled as she ran back to her room and closed the door.
In this age of smart phones, smart TV’s and everything else in the world purposed to make us smarter; there was one rule in the Sheridan house. Breakfast together every morning. None or very few exceptions. Alex would never say for certain, but he thought everyone looked forward to it. Dinner time was usually a roaming target at best. A full family meal twice a week with everyone’s schedules was a treat. Alexa did the best she could to make it happen. School things, work and life in general seemed to interrupt her scheming almost every time.
Now, all of them sitting there, no noise but the scraping of forks, the “pass me that” requests, and happy morning chewing were like music to his ears. No matter the morning it was usually Ted who had the most to say. Today he seemed very, very quiet. Lizzie seemed to sense something and began talking about how hard it was to understand a certain new section in chemistry. Her mom was reassuring in her tone and support, but Alex was more focused on Ted. His head barely rose from his plate as he ate. Completely out of character for him and before long all of them seemed to be staring at him. His hand slowly raised a crisp piece of bacon to his lips; he paused as if waiting for some approval or intervention before he ate.
“Dad, why don’t you play music anymore?” His eyes were now focused directly on Alex. Not sure if Ted was questioning or accusing him, Alex took a quick sip of orange juice and set the nice crystal glass down next to his plate. “Ted, with everything going on, I just don’t have a lot of time for it, you know that. Beside you two are picking things up really well, you don’t want me stompin’ and hollerin’ around the house?” He was hoping his little stab of humor might break the tension rising around the table. Apparently it hadn’t worked too well. Ted was still looking, but now Alex felt the expression on his face was maybe sadness, or was it disappointment. Alex had never outright lied about music and things he had done in the past. He had just chosen to simply exclude information he didn’t think anyone needed to know. Even Alexa knew he had “dabbled” in music after school, but they had fortunately let it go at that. Alex didn’t want to spin a web of lies for his children and now his brain was struggling to arrange a story that would walk that fine line between fact and fiction.
“Ted, you know I love music. Playing, even the rare attempt at singing, but things you do when you are younger sometimes become less important as you find other more fulfilling and more important things in your life. For me that is this family and the business, and I couldn’t be happier.” Alexa squeezed his hand under the table and leaned in to kiss the small of his neck. Alex was searching Ted’s face to see if he had understood. It looked like he did. Lizzie looked at each of them slowly, methodically, “well, I think you should play more, but that’s just me sayin’”. Everyone giggled and Alex nodded his head. “Ok, when you are practicing, I promise, when I can, to sit down and play along…when I can”
At CME, Carston Media and Entertainment, in Nashville a producer was sorting through the arrangements and charts for some songs. Over the years something had been nagging at him, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. It seemed once or twice a year a song would magically appear that would be a chart-topper, an almost instant hit. He had talked to quite a few song writers and while some had heard of the credited writer most acknowledged that Carston must have a group of writers stowed away in a cave somewhere just cranking out songs. Carston, as the publisher, had always acknowledged that these big hits were created by a collaboration of writers and artists and always attributed to an original idea creator, but after some investigation no one ever seemed to be able to find out who actually belonged to that group, and the credited writer would take his check and disappear from the limelight just as quickly.
Now pouring over these charts it seemed Ericka Carston’s name appeared in almost all the memo notes and the initials A.S. on some of the really old ones, in fact a lot of the really old ones. Well, really old in the sense that they weren’t from within the past two or three years. Pete had been a producer in Nashville for almost five years now. He thought he knew a lot about the music business. He laughed to himself. His “spidey” sense was tingling. Growing up as Pete Parker meant having to endure an unending litany of Spiderman jokes, and jabs. Strangely, like now, that “sense” seemed all too real. Something just wasn’t right here. These songs, supposedly written by dozens of different composers had an underlying feel, it was subtle, but just the same he was certain it was there. Or, perhaps he was just looking for something that didn’t exist. Pete really didn’t have time for even more extra work. Still, as he hummed through each song, read the words, his mind felt something similar and unique tying them together. Most of these charts had come from the old records room. They were randomly assorted in boxes labeled notes and had yet to be archived, he wasn’t sure he was even allowed to dig through them, but no one had stopped him. He had also made copies of everything so that the originals went back as quickly as they could.
There was a date in the lower corner of one of the first songs, 1988. Had these songs been stored for over twenty-five years and just discovered? Why weren’t they brought out and credited to the original creator? Was it just that Ericka Carston was a music industry genius and penned these years ago to only release them to the public now? Everyone knew that Edgar Carston had taken a strong hand in guiding his daughter’s career from singing in bar rooms to presentations in board rooms. You would have thought someone so connected in this industry would have wanted a family member involved in every aspect. Mr. Carston made it no secret that this company would be run by his daughter, the business woman, not the singer-musician. It still was no secret that Ericka could play the piano from Mozart to Motown and the few who had heard her singing deep in the bowels of her office complex would attest to her fine tune and pitch.
Something just wasn’t right and the more Pete thought about it the more it nagged at him. Now who could he ask? Certainly not anyone at CME, that would get him fired and sent to the Arctic chorusing with sea lions for the rest of his career. There had been a producer he’d met when he first came to town who everyone had told him “he knows everybody that’s anybody”, now he couldn’t remember his name. The thought seemed odd to Pete as he hadn’t thought of him in a few years and then realized he hadn’t heard anything about him in about as long. Somewhere in his stash of cards was a name and phone number, now all he had to do was find it.
Bob Hatfield came from a proud and distinguished family, or so he always said. Bob even looked a bit of a rebelious mountain man. At a little over 6” 2’, in his prime he’d held a considerable frame at 215 pounds. Even now with his pepper grey hair he still turned heads when he walked into a room. His family was part of an American legend. Albeit he was a third or fourth cousin down the line he considered himself an amateur Hatfield-McCoy scholar and would share his opinions and ideas about the feud whenever someone was naïve enough to ask about his last name.
Bob was a West Virginian. In his younger years he had spent the working part of his life shuttling between Nashville, New York and Los Angeles but he was always happy to get back home. His isolated country estate was buried deep in the woods not so far from Tug Fork and if you didn’t have four-wheel drive or an ATV you just couldn’t get there. Bob liked it that way. There was no phone, no cable TV and if you hiked to the top of one of the nearby mountains you might get enough signal for your cell phone to work. Bob did keep an Iridium Sat phone charged up, well, just in case.
Not too many people bothered him these days. He’d drive into Welch once a week or so, pickup whatever food stuffs and supplies he might need and then head back into the mountains. The folks here didn’t ask questions. He was a familiar face and no one really cared that he might be more than a retired mountain hermit who was content to spend his days fishing and reading and his evenings watching the stars. His days used to be filled with so much more than that.
The buzzing of the sat phone caught his attention as he came through the back door and set the bundle of wood next to the fireplace. He stared at it for the longest time. It hadn’t rung in so long he’d almost forgotten the sound. Slowly he walked across the roughly-hewn cherry floor and picked up the phone. The voice on the other end was all too familiar, but sounded a bit nervous or maybe even scared. He methodically took a pen and paper from the desk drawer and wrote quickly as he listened to the call. He probably didn’t get to say more than two words before the line went dead. He set the phone back in the charger and took his notes to his chair near the fireplace. One of the few luxury items he’d allowed himself, this fine recliner did everything but talk. Sadly it was also about the only thing in the house that constantly needed electricity; although he had solar-batteries in the works to solve that problem too.
Now he spent a few minutes looking at his notes, working to put together all the pieces just one more time; pieces he had hoped he would never have to deal with again.
Bob had jotted quickly, but tried to make sure everything he wrote was legible and clear. Producers he had met, archived music and notes, CME issues, and the “AS incident”. He knew as he packed his bag this whole fiasco would never go away. Every few years something would always happen and there would be another crisis conference as they were called. He wasn’t even packing a suit this time. He showed up every time there was a call. If his attire didn’t make her happy, he really just didn’t care anymore.
Ericka returned the funny little phone to the charger smartly hidden behind a cabinet to the rear of her large mahogany desk. She’d had quite a few extras added to the office upon her promotion. The majority had been completed late at night and on the weekends by contractors who did work for people who needed to be discreet. Next to the phone was a file folder of pictures. They seemed like a typical family enjoying a day at the park. Mom, Dad, son and daughter oblivious to the attention that was being paid to them.
She reached across the desk and pushed a small red button on what looked like a control panel or remote control for the world’s most complicated TV. Less than two minutes later an older, burly looking man in a finely pressed suit entered her office through a door that didn’t exist until he opened it. Jason Wolfe had been with CME for as long as Ericka could remember. He had been her father’s must trusted security man and he remained now, that he was a bit older, as her personal security specialist. He had a team of younger men at his bidding, but his mind was still as sharp as ever and his plans and their execution to date had been foolproof.
Ericka lifted the large manilla file from her desk and handed it to Jason as he sat in the large leather chair almost two arms lengths away from the desk. He deftly unbuttoned his jacket, took the folder and sat silently; much like a man one third his age might do. He leafed through the folder. Pete Parker was someone he had known since Pete had started to work for CME. He was bright, creative and not too uncontrollable. He made money for the company and seemed to enjoy being part of the “family”. It was easy to see the surprise on the big man’s face as he read through the summary. Ericka slid the chair from behind the desk and stood to stare out into the courtyard. She waited a few moments for Jason to start to digest all the information then turned to see a quiet, but disturbing look on his face.
Alex always walked the steps up to his office, some mornings bouncing up them two at a time, this morning something told him walking would be fast enough. The office was the one amenity that both Alexandra and he had agreed upon. They wanted to be within walking distance of every part of the facility. Sadly, with the addition of the second warehouse it just wasn’t that easy or even practical now. Looking through the window before turning the handle to enter the office he noticed a body with their back to the office window. Usually only Kelly, his administrative assistant was in here this early in the morning. This person appeared rail thin with a head full of brown hair, pulled to the back and tied. Alex found myself wondering if it was a man or a woman. Over the years he’d decided to not be as paranoid as he had for some time after he’d left LA. It seemed natural to think everyone was looking for him, for unknown or more to the point; known reasons. When he’d read in the paper that Edgar Carston had finally died Alex was not surprise at all he had lived to be one hundred years old. In the back of his mind he had hoped he would never worry again, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. The ghost of Carston’s memory seemed to reach out to him when he least expected it, and more so, when he had hoped it never would.
Alex chuckled as the door handle gave him a quick static shock as he turned to go in. He remembered the movie scene where a disgruntled employee finally removed the entire assembly to prevent it from happening again. He’d thought of that on more than one occasion, but in a masochistic way; he kind of enjoyed it. This time of year in Arizona it was so dry everything could shock you. Alex had no idea how true that was going to be.
Bob Hatfield stepped quickly from the plane at Nashville International Airport. As he checked his phone for messages he wondered how many times he’d walked through this terminal. You could say what you wanted to about Edgar Carston but the man was not afraid to do what it took to get what he wanted or get the job done. There had been times when Bob had left town on such short notice he’d have to buy clothes in whatever city he’d been sent to. Over the years he just kept a suitcase in his car. Mr. Carston would call him into the office and say he wanted this person signed or look at this property and out to the airport he would go. Bob never wondered why he didn’t have a family, or home life. He had left little time for either. A slight smirk crossed his face as he thought of the times he had traveled with Jessica Carston. It was no great secret that Edgar’s second and significantly younger wife was probably not just in love with him. By the time she began rearranging the third or fourth vacation home she was very adroit at tapping just the right amount of the Carston billions for whatever she might need. Mr. Carston didn’t seem to have a problem with that and he always made certain she had adequate security. Bob was certain she had always arranged the trips. There was a justifiable business reason for each and every one and she would just happen to be going “that way”, which to him seemed more than coincidentally…his way. Bob enjoyed her company and it probably did spare him some long term relationship problems, but he knew it was a breached trust that if discovered would get him fired, if not worse.
Back in the real world he headed out through the terminal into the unpleasant heat and humidity of Tennessee in July. As if the unpleasant blast of summer wasn’t bad enough, there in the company car sat Jason Wolfe, security spirit for CME. He could have done without that this trip. While they weren’t enemies, Jason and Bob were definitely not friends. Their positions at CME had put them on far too many collision courses. Bob always believed that Mr. Carston did it on purpose. In a twisted way it did bring out the best in both of them, but it was tense to say the least every single time.
As Bob approached the car Jason smiled. Stranger still it was a smile that seemed sincere and warm. In all the years they’d know each other Bob couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen the big guy smile. It didn’t make him feel any better, but perhaps it was time to remind each other the big boss wasn’t around anymore. Jason came around the rear of the car and opened the trunk. Before Bob could hoist the bag, Jason had already taken it, set in gently inside and closed the lid. They stood for an awkward moment there at the trunk lid, just looking at each other. Anyone passing by might have mistaken them for long lost family members who didn’t know whether to hug, cry or both.
Jason extended his hand first, looked in Bob’s eyes and said, “Good to see you again Robert”. Bob not wanting to be the only insufferable member of the duo extended his hand hoping in the back of his mind that Jason didn’t crush it with his vice-like grasp. Jason grasped firmly and then placed his other hand over both of theirs. “We’ve both come a long way Robert, I think we need to mend some fences and play for the same team”. Bob was so stunned, which wasn’t easy to do, he turned to the passenger side of the car, opened the door, sat quickly, secured his seatbelt and tried to imagine just what in the world was going on.
Inside the office Alex turned to find Jessica chatting with the thin young man who had been leaning against the window. He looked to be mid to late twenties, dressed age appropriate and polite. He turned as Alex came through the door and seemed suddenly to be a man on a mission. “Good morning, Mr. Sheridan my name is Pete Parker”, a quick handshake revealed that he had a purpose and that he was in fact more nervous than he looked. “How can I help you Mr. Parker?” hoping that he was selling something or just figured going to the boss was the quickest way to try and get a job, no need to deal with all those HR people. He looked over at Kelly then back at Alex and said, “is there somewhere we could speak alone, for just a moment or two?” While he didn’t look imposing, the situation did feel a little awkward, none the same Alex directed him to his office and told Kelly to hold his calls for a few minutes. Once inside the office Alex moved to the rear of his desk but before he could even get to his chair Mr. Parker had pulled a file folder from his small satchel and placed it on the desk. As Alex settled into his chair he waited for Parker to open the folder. Alex had no idea that what was inside would change the course of his life…again.
Ericka Carston wasn’t a gym rat, or at least she tried to tell herself that. But her father had been a fitness junkie and Jack LaLane devotee from day one so there was no escaping it. Now in her early forties she knew full well how much it helped her. Today she needed a work-out in the worst way. CME had a full fitness facility. With over 900 employees in Nashville alone it made good sense and oddly enough, her father had figured out how to make it a profit-center as well as a benefit. She laughed a little to herself as she thought of how he was always thinking out both sides of the coin. Take care of your people, but take care of your company too. In her opinion he did it better than anyone in business today. She was trying to model what he had done. She knew though, too many people saw her as a cold, calculating business bitch. It wasn’t true and most who dealt with her knew that. However; when you run the type of company that CME had become; not everyone was your friend.
Work-out’s did a lot for her these days. Between her work days and serious lack of a personal life there was some frustration that only a heavy bag or a sparring partner could ease.
As she stood taking light jabs at the heavy bag, warming up, her mind drifted to a rain soaked evening many years before. What was the name of that place? La Casona. Amazing, after all these years some memories were so strong, so powerful. She could smell the rain; hear it tapping gently on the tile roof. What a wonderful and crazy time that had been. Even know she couldn’t explain to herself how everything had unfolded. It just happened. What a lie! She’d all but threatened her father’s head of security with everything and anything she could imagine to find out where he’d gone, or more appropriately, where they’d sent him. Why had she cared? Her brother was dead, Alex had shot him and all she could think about was finding him. She had no plan. She got on a plane and fourteen hours later had shown up at his hotel room door.
She was now kicking and punching the bag with such a fury that several people nearby had moved a little further away. Load grunts and groans came even more quickly as she pounded and kicked the bag harder and harder each time. What a time that had been. Not a care in the world. How had she been able to pretend that it meant nothing to either of them, she knew that just wasn’t true. Their final night together had been one of the best and worst nights of her life. The sweat stung her eyes as she continued to pound the bag. Finally, a hand touched her shoulder. She swung so quickly and abruptly she almost punched her trainer Rocky; he had heard her from all the way across the room. Ericka stopped, her hands dropped to her side. She turned her face to the wall and grabbed her towel. Fortunately, her breathing was so heavy it hid her sobs and the sweat carried away the tears that were runny down her face. Now what was she going to do?
As Jason Wolfe maneuvered his way through afternoon traffic he handed a large envelope to Bob Hatfield who had spent the short trip out of the airport looking at all the things that seemed to change every time he came to town.
Bob took the envelope; it had that new out of the box feel to it which meant someone had probably just packed all these documents this morning or the night before at the latest. He waited for a moment to see if Jason would offer him any thoughts or directions before he opened it up. Jason had deftly returned his hand to the steering wheel and seemed to be focusing on traffic. Bob understood completely. Jason didn’t need to tell him how to do his job, or judging from his attentive and focused posture behind the steering wheel, he didn’t want Bob doing the same.
Bob never surprised easily so as he read through the documents from the envelope he didn’t expect anything shockingly new that he would have to digest. Copies of police reports from the Philip Carston investigation, a signed agreement, some notes about video surveillance tapes, etc. etc. But then a three page report from a private investigator hired by Mr. Carston in Peru; now here was something that made Bob Hatfield take a deep breath.
The report typed out on what Bob thought might well have been an old Underwood typewriter was arranged in chronological order. As he worked his way through each day and time on the report his breath grew a little shorter, he could feel a small bead of sweat form near his hairline. When he finished reading the last page he set the envelope and the report in his lap, reached for a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his brow and turned to watch the city skyline pass by. What a wonderful, nasty mess this whole thing had become.
Jason saw Bob set the folder on his lap. He was trying to imagine what he was thinking? Had he known about it? From the reaction he saw he knew Bob didn’t. They both were very aware of the events that occurred on that terrible night all those years ago, but didn’t it seem there was always a new twist every few years. This time though, this was more than just a twist, and no one; not Ericka Carston, Jason Wolfe or Bob Hatfield had a really good plan to deal with it.
Bob turned his gaze from outside the window back to the driver. Jason was always composed, or almost always. Bob had seen him unsettled a few times. Thinking back on them now he realized he’d enjoyed those moments, maybe a little too much; control freaks out-of-control could be entertaining. Bob felt a tinge of guilt, unusual, but understood just the same.
Jason didn’t move his head before he started to talk, “Bob, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not certain what it’s going to take to either fix this situation or make it go away”? “Ericka, handed me the folder and said can you fix this?” Jason reached up and adjusted his sunglasses as if pausing to reflect on the moment, more so, to reflect on a memory.
Bob and Jason were both fixers but they weren’t hit men or mobsters. Fixing something to the Carston’s always meant spending enough money to make a problem disappear. For many years Edgar Carston had done it with the skill of a neuro-surgeon, and for many years the problems went away. However; most of the senior Carston’s problems were not family issues, or close family issues. Most involved artists, actors, directors, distributors; people who would take a good sized envelope of money and do exactly as Mr. Carston asked.
Bob chuckled out loud as they drove. “Jason, you realize we were just plumbers?” Before he could answer Hatfield continued. “Edgar Carston would flush some crap down his company sewer, there would be such a mess it threatened to clog up the entire works and we would go in and clean it out; plumbers, plain and simple.” Jason understood the analogy all too well and knew, better than Bob ever would that the messes were usually worse than that. “Bob, I think if we nip this in the bud before it gets too far out of control we’ll be ok”, Jason wasn’t smiling or even smirking, it was very matter of fact. Bob looked out as the city skyline approached; “Jason, it’s not the principals of this problem we have to worry about. There are two entities, two new players who are just ignorant enough or innocent, whichever you prefer, to really want to dig in and get some answers. That’s where the problem is.” They both looked straight ahead, there were small beads of sweat on both their foreheads. The air temperature in the car read sixty-eight degrees!
Alex and Pete had settled at his rather large dark office desk. Pete looked comfortable, but had that conquer the world through music look about him, or maybe starving artist. Alex mentally reprimanded himself, “don’t be such a jerk’, he thought, “you used to have that same determined, self-confident look too” His mind flashed back to a night many years ago. Sitting wrapped in half a bed sheet, playing his guitar, singing to a beautiful woman as a gentle breeze blew through the window. Moonlight traced the outline of her profile, tears trickled down her cheeks as he sang. It was the song he knew would have touched a million hearts and launched his career. Now there in that moment, it was more a requiem and they both knew it.
Alex snapped himself back to this moment, offered some water to Pete across the desk, took a sip and then set to work. “Ok, Mr. Pete Parker, what brings you into his office today?” Pete sat a bit straighter in his chair, reached for the folder on the desk, opened it and laid some sheet music out on the desk. Perhaps Alex had been waiting for this moment for the past twenty plus years. Had he been expecting it? Had he been hoping for it?
“Pete, I don’t want to discourage you but we are a synthetic thread company here. While we might like to have a catchy commercial jingle it’s not something we are looking for today” Alex hoped his volley had been enough to steer the course of this conversation in his direction. “Mr. Sheridan I was hoping you could give me a little insight on where this music might have come from.” Pete waited for a moment before continuing, “I know from the studio logs that about the time these appear to have been written you were working in the CME studios in California”. Alex realized some information hadn’t disappeared like Mr. Carston and his cronies might have liked. “Pete, that was a longtime ago. I had some friends who liked to dabble with music. I was fortunate enough to have a decent ear and some computer experience that they would let me fiddle with things when they went in to make their demo’s, not much more than that I’m afraid.” The look of disappointment on Pete’s face showed that maybe he hadn’t put as many pieces of the puzzle together as Alex had given him credit for, or Alex was just a better actor than he thought. “Mr. Sheridan does any of this look familiar, the writing, the words, I’m just trying to figure out where some of this music comes from. I think there were others, absorbed into the CME song catalog that were written at the same time, perhaps by the same person.”
Alex knew full well when they were written, in fact, if he wanted to he could probably tell young Mr. Parker where they had been written and he sure could tell him why. He thought back to the first time he had heard what he called “one of those songs” on the radio. The tempo might not have been exactly as he would have liked it, maybe a little change here or there, but all the same he knew. They would pop up with a new CME artist or when there seemed to be a dry spell and not much was happening musically. Over the years he tried to just tap his foot and pretend it was another nice song.
“Pete, there were so many people in and out of there in the short time I spent there. You would probably be better off asking one of the older producers or maybe even one of the CME people about them.” Alex knew that was a bold step, but offering up the corporate sacrificial cow might give off the appearance that he didn’t care what happened. He hoped it would work. “Mr. Sheridan, the thing is…” Pete hesitated for a moment, took a sip of water, seemed like he might just grab his folder and head out the door, then he continued;” I found these in a copy box down in the basement. It was just an accident, but the more I looked I realized that there were songs in this box, written years ago, that had become hit’s today; I just need to find out where they came from.” Poor kid Alex thought, this was not a road he should really be travelling down. Alex thought for a moment; he could blow this off and let Mr. Parker fend for himself, he could send an anonymous email to “her” and throw him under the bus; neither of those options seemed like a very pleasant solution. “OK, Pete here’s what we can do”, Alex took an imaginary deep breath and hoped this solution would be good enough to buy some time and maybe quell his enthusiasm. “I haven’t talked to some of my old friends in a long time. If you’d like, leave me this and I’ll call around and see if anybody has any ideas; that’s about the best I can do.’ Pete just about jumped out of his chair at the offer. “Mr. Sheridan that would be awesome. I don’t feel comfortable taking this to anyone in the company right now, maybe it’s nothing, or just coincidence, but I’d sure like to know.” Alex reached out shook Pete’s hand, took his contact information and slid the folder from Pete’s side of the desk over to his. They said their goodbyes and Alex promised he would be back in touch within the week. Was this really a quagmire he wanted to tangle himself back up into again? He smirked a little. Maybe it was time for his just reward? Maybe Pete was his door back in? Question really was; did he want back in?
Ericka Carston was talking quietly on her cell phone as she took the steps down into the archives. Her father had intentionally not let the elevator go to these four floors and most people he found were just not ambitious enough to wander down into the bowels of the beast as he used to call them. The fourth floor was her favorite. Shelves and shelves of marked generic boxes with dates and labels all indexed and cataloged if anyone really needed to find anything down here. Most were studio notes, old company memorandum, and demos. Were there a lot of demos! The last count was almost a million. Over the course of fifty years it didn’t seem quite such a large number, still, music from a million would-be musicians; it was a lot.
Towards the back wall was a large display case and next to it a narrow book shelf only about thirty-eight inches wide. Ericka approached the case and pulled a long thin key from her pocket. It was on a special key chain her father had given her. She still remembered the first time they’d come down here. He gave her the key that day and told her from that moment on, his secrets were her secrets. Over the years she realized he hadn’t meant ALL his secrets.
On the corner of the bookshelf was a hole. It looked like someone had forgotten to plug a mounting hole for the shelves. She inserted the key, waited for it to click, then turned it clockwise one full turn. The bookshelf slid in to reveal an entry way just wide enough to slide through sideways. One step inside and the door closed automatically. The three ceiling lights were activated by movement and the outside camera monitor came on showing if anyone was on the bottom floor when you needed to exit.
Here was the world of Edgar Carston. Ericka used to think the house was so empty because he really kept everything he valued here. Over the years she would come here as much to reminisce as anything, but every so often there would be a legitimate reason to be here. There were four long hallways all lined with books and boxes and containers of every shape and size. Her father had told her he had purposely not categorized or indexed anything in the room. He knew what was in there. He told her that in due time she would too. Most of the labels on the boxes were in his handwriting. Some of it was pretty self-explanatory, but some of the labels just had initials written with what might have been a big marker. Some were written in black, but there were a few that were written in red. It was one of the red ones she was looking for tonight.
She thought she had remembered seeing the initials on a box some time ago, but her father had been with her and she didn’t want to open any old wounds by pulling that from the shelf. She walked to the end of the second row and there it was. A reasonably large plastic tote with two red letters on the front: AS.
Bob Hatfield and Jason Wolfe moved quickly through the lower floors of the main Carston complex. Interestingly, few people seemed to pay much attention to them. It was as if they had that “we’re invisible, ignore us” look to them. Whatever it was they were inside, in the elevator and in Jason’s office without a ripple moving through the corporate rumor-sphere.
Jason was quite pleased with the office space that Ericka had given him. He’d asked for about half as much space and she gave him twice that. It did make him a little uneasy in realizing that he did, in fact, need all the space she had provided. He didn’t like when he under-estimated and worse still that she had been so right. As they both settled into chairs at the long mahogany conference table it was clear both were trying to sort the problems out in their own minds. Bob was the first to speak, he took his time, slowly and deliberately more in his mind to make certain he understood all the players and scenarios then, at least to this point, to offer any solutions. “Jason, first, how did this kid, this Parker get his hands on this material?” Bob slid some photographs across the table. “There were storage boxes in the document room that no one had paid any attention to in years. Evidently one day just by chance he opened one up and found a sheet of music that caught his eye. You know how these young producers are, they’re always looking for the next new thing, the next new sound. Sadly, this particular sheet music was from a very old song that mysteriously had become a big hit about two years ago. Bob was piecing together all the different ways they might want to handle this situation. Here was a young gun, working hard, wanting to do well; did he know what he had? Was he able to make any connections? And eventually, how much was this going to cost? As the two men looked over documents Jason’s cell phone rang. Bob almost laughed out loud as “Sweet Home Alabama” burst from the big man’s jacket pocket. Jason quickly retrieved the phone, smirked at Bob as he knew exactly what he was thinking and began to listen intently. The call last less than a minute. When Jason hung up, his eyes dropped, he set the phone on the table, looked across at Bob and just said “dammit”!
CME has eyes everywhere so it wasn’t difficult to track people if you really needed to. When Pete Parker’s name had come across Jason Wolfe’s desk the first time he set “a pair of eyes” as he liked to call them, out to just be aware of Mr. Parker’s whereabouts.
The phone call had been short and to the point. Pete Parker had boarded a plane and flown to Tempe, AZ the day before. He got a rental car and headed directly to AA Threadings.
Bob just glared across the desk. He was upset with Jason. He was upset that somehow someone had put two pieces of this horrible puzzle together, and from all accounts that should never have been able to happen. From his source Jason learned that Parker had met with Alex Sheridan, carrying a large manila envelope for about five minutes. Bob couldn’t help it and said out loud, “well that’s more than enough time to put these pieces together”. Jason paused and then continued with more details. As Parker left the building…there was no envelope. Bob Hatfield knew what that meant. Parker had left whatever it was he had uncovered in the CME archives with the last person on earth who needed to know they still existed. In the back of his mind Bob knew that Alex certainly had heard some of his songs re-recorded over the years. He also knew that the agreement that had been signed that night meant a world of trouble if Alex ever said or tried to do anything about it. He groaned as he wished he had made Ericka shred all those songs, and notes and pictures those many years ago. She assured him they would be safely tucked away. Well, now it appeared that her idea of secure most certainly sucked.
Jason just sat for a moment and waited to see if Bob offered any suggestions. The silence wasn’t unpleasant but he also wasn’t the most patient man in the world either. “Bob, thoughts, suggestions, ideas”? Jason asked trying to decode the expression that now held Mr. Hatfields face prisoner. “Jason”, Bob started and then paused, not for effect, maybe more for clarity, “first I think we need to find out where this stuff came from, then we need to make a quick visit to Tempe, I don’t think a phone call will do and third, we need to go see Ms. Carston….right now”! There was a firmness and finality in his voice that unsettled Jason just a little. He didn’t like his boss being blamed for anything. Unfortunately, this time; he knew Bob was right.
Alex looked at the folder for the longest time. Sliding it back and forth across the desk hoping that it might magically disappear without a trace. It had been so many years since there had been any trouble. And most assuredly when something like this surfaced there was always trouble. You didn’t even have to make a phone call, someone always showed up. Usually it was quick and painless. A few simple questions. A reminder of “the agreement” and its contents and the problem went away.
This one was different. He wanted to look through each piece of paper, each picture, hum each note, sing each song…..and then the phone rang. Not shrill but shocking enough to make him close the folder, unlock his private drawer, place it inside and answer the phone. Five minutes later Alex was on the far side of the plant examining a broken spindle and trying to find out from his head mechanic how long it would take to fix it.
Ericka Carston had come back up the steps from the vault as her cell phone rang before she got to the office door. On the end was Jason Wolfe. Bob Hatfield was with him and they were on their way to her office…now. The line went dead. Jason usually wasn’t the most pleasant or polite person on her staff but she usually gave him credit for being very respectful, she hadn’t detected that tone from this call.
Ericka turned the corner at the top of the steps just as Bob and Jason stepped from the elevator. Without glances or any words all three of them headed into her office and closed and locked the outer door.
Ericka nodded to Bob Hatfield, she quickly noticed he didn’t look very happy either. Well, no kidding she thought to herself, no one in this room right now was very happy. She motioned to the chairs at her desk but instead Jason took the file folder to the small conference table on the other side of the room away from the windows and sat in the chair furthest away from the door. Bob followed closely and sat directly across from Jason which forced Ericka to sit at the head of the table. It was really where she needed to sit, but they wanted to make certain there was no confusion about who would be ultimately responsible for all the decisions that they would make here today.
Jason opened the folder and removed the older report and gently, almost gingerly handed it to Ericka. He moved some papers in the folder as he waited for her to digest what she was looking at. Bob Hatfield had know Ericka Carston since she had been a bouncing baby girl running around her daddy’s feet in his big office. He also knew she could be a cold-hearted, calculating business person. He would never admit it, but he liked her way to much to ever, ever call her a bitch. Now as she looked through this report he could tell she was really trying hard not to show any emotion. When she finished the last page she slid it forcefully back across the table to Jason Wolfe, looked up and said, “so?”