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Christian came home a little while later, in jeans and workboots that were obviously covered in plaster dust. I was sitting in the living room at the time, reading through a stack of TIME magazines that were sitting there and feeling like I’d been not just in another country but on another planet.
“Hey,” he said, looking a little startled to see me.
“Hey.” I looked him up and down. “Helping someone renovate?”
“Um, yeah.” The pseudo-guilty way he said it smacked me like an unexpected wave. He didn’t want me to know he was doing construction work? He didn’t think I’d approve? He was shy about it? Ashamed? He cleared his throat and spoke with forced casualness. “How was your trip?”
“Long.” Now I was the one who felt guilt-ridden. Was it my fault Chris was acting so skittish again? Was I gone too long? What had I missed? “You, um. You okay?” I cringed inwardly. Wrong question and wrong way to ask it.
“I’m fine,” he huffed. “Be down in a bit.” And he ran off to take a shower.
The phone rang. I picked it up and was glad it was Carynne. “So when do I find out everything that’s been going on?” I asked.
“I just talked to Bart. He’ll come over tonight. We’ll get takeout and catch you up. Tell Chris when you see him.”
“He just came in.” I coughed nervously. “Um. Is he doing all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is he working construction again?”
“I don’t know.”
“I thought you said we were okay for money for a while.”
She was quiet a moment and my heart sank. “Let’s talk about it tonight,” she said.
“How soon is tonight?” I’d forgotten how anxiety made it feel like a rubber band was winding up tighter and tighter between my shoulders.
“I’ll be over in like an hour. Just chill until then, okay?”
I went back to the pile of magazines, wondering if Chris was going to dare poke his head out again.
Understand that when I was in Spain, bits of news did reach me. But since I couldn’t read the newspaper and pretty much never even looked at a television except once in a while when it was on in one of the bars, and even then I couldn’t understand what was being said, I had missed a lot of fairly drastic changes in the world. Communist Russia had fallen? The Cold War was over? Holy crap. I’d known about some of the little communist countries, but Russia? Nelson Mandela had been freed. East and West Germany were reuniting.
Oh. And we were going to war. Iraq had invaded Kuwait just a few days ago and the US military was mobilizing to their defense. I turned on CNN and wallowed in war porn until Bart came in, turned it off, and asked, “Are you okay?”
“More like culture shock.” I shook my head to clear it. “I was only gone for months, not years, but it feels like… I don’t know.”
Bart shrugged and sat down in the armchair across from me. “It’s like the world woke up and said, holy shit, it’s not the 1980s anymore, we better get with the program.”
“And what is the program?”
“That remains to be seen.” He shrugged. “So how was Spain? Are you, like, a flamenco master now?”
“Pretty much, I guess. The week before I left, the flamenco school where I was working asked if I’d start teaching classes.”
He chuckled. “How did I know you’d end up doing something like that?”
“I’ll show you some stuff later, if you want. So how’s Michelle?”
“She’s good. She’s in New York this week. Which is just as well since the contractors tore our kitchen out yesterday.”
“Wait, does that mean you bought something?”
“Yeah. Beacon Street. A townhouse.”
“The whole thing?”
“Yep.” He looked a little sheepish in that way I knew meant Bart didn’t like to show off that his family was made of money. “Terrace view of the river and everything. We took possession of the place right before the Fourth of July and had a big party up there even though we hadn’t moved any furniture in yet.”
“Wow.” That meant I had been out of the country two July Fourths in a row. I started wondering if we were ever going to do one of those big summer tours again or if we were dead in the water. Part of me was saying that was some trivial shit to be obsessing over when we were dropping bombs on other countries, but part of me was freaking out over the possibility that everything we’d worked so hard to build with the band could be gone.
“Do you think there’ll be a draft?” I asked, but he was already walking away from me.
Bart opened the front door and there was Carynne, coming up the front steps. I had been so deep in thought I hadn’t heard her car.
I hadn’t had thai food in like a year, so we got thai food delivered, and I scalded my tongue on coconut milk and dried red chili pepper soup and packed my guts with tangy, starchy pad thai noodles. Courtney came and ate with us. I was dreading the band meeting by then but also hypereager to finally find out everything I didn’t know yet. Chris barely said a word while we were eating, and neither did I, but then again both our mouths were too full to talk.
When we were done, and the containers all in the fridge or the trash, Carynne started the meeting. “Okay. I’m going to try to bring you, Daron, up to speed, while also giving everyone some news I’ve been sitting on for a couple of days. So try not to interrupt me so we can get to it.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Let’s see. The timeline on this. BNC declared the album unrecoupable near the end of the year.”
“Actually, it was like August,” I put in. Wasn’t it? That day when Mills showed his true colors and I fired Digger in Los Angeles.
“Okay, August. We put the wheels in motion to audit their books. They stalled us until the end of the year.”
“Meanwhile, though, you did the thing with the Christmas video and the sales of the Charles River inventory,” I added.
“Yes. Yes, that’s true, but Daron you said you wouldn’t interrupt me.”
She gave me one of those “if looks could kill” looks. I shut my mouth.
“Anyway. Audit happened. We found a few little things, but nothing on the level of outright fraud. Some numbers got moved from one column to the other but nothing that changed the fact that the record just didn’t sell anywhere near what it should have. In fact, when all was said and done, they moved fewer units than Charles River moved of Prone to Relapse.”
She glared at me.
“That was an interjection, not an interruption,” I said, in my defense.
“I repeat,” she said, “BNC sold fewer copies of 1989 than Charles River sold of Prone to Relapse. But they manufactured far more copies and that’s one piece of what’s killing us. We’ve been through all that. Anyway, we’re now at the point where we’ve each threatened the other with a lawsuit, neither of which have a ton of merit, but–”
“Wait, what’s the basis of the suit?”
“Theirs or ours?”
“How about both?”
She made an exasperated noise and put her hands on the table. She tapped each finger moving from her left pinky to her right pinky, as if she were playing a keyboard, as she enumerated each point. “Ours: they made internal decisions that we are paying for. Like they paid bonuses to executives based on high laydown but now are penalizing us for excessive inventory. And that they incorrectly are charging us for tour support costs that they promised to pay. Among other things. Theirs: well, for one they’ll sue to recoup the tour support they claim we owe. Which is bullshit, by the way, except maybe we can’t prove it, because Digger’s an ass.”
“Can we make this a drinking game?” Bart asked. “I think meetings will be more fun if we have to drink every time someone says Digger’s an ass.”
“Be my guest. In fact, give me a beer.” Carynne waved impatiently toward the six pack of Sam Adams at Bart’s feet. He opened one for her and put the rest on the coffee table.
“Okay,” I said, since there seemed to be a pause in her story, “but neither of these lawsuits has actually happened yet?”
“No.” She took a long swig of her beer. “The whole point of our threatening to sue them was to try to get them to negotiate. Well, I think I finally know what they want.”
I held my tongue. I bit my lips and waited for her to spell it out, whatever it was. Our fate.
“If we want to do another Moondog Three album, which we’re technically bound by contract to do, they won’t front a dime for it. But if we want to bankrupt ourselves to get them a product, well, then, that they’ll deign to put on the shelves for us.”
I couldn’t stay quiet. “And they’ll do such a great job, like they did with the last one? Fuck that.”
Carynne was nodding. “Exactly. They’ll let us take all the financial risk. Even making the record on the cheap? Tape alone is going to run ten thousand dollars, you know. We’ll probably have to market it ourselves, too. We’ll have to make our own videos. At fifty thousand minimum each. Like I said, they’ll let us bankrupt ourselves, and for what?”
Bart cut in. “Would they let us out of our contract after that?”
She sighed. “Technically they would have the option on one more record. Only an option, though, and if they decline to pick it up, that would be it. But,” she held up her finger. “But there’s a new twist. They’ve floated an idea I think you’re going to hate, but I really wanted you to hear and discuss before throwing it out.”
Bart and I looked at each other, then at Chris, then back at Carynne. “Okay, what’s the idea?”
“Mills is talking about the possibility of… re-branding the band.” She cringed a little as she said it and I knew she was trying to make it sound better than it was. Carynne could never keep up bullshit for more than a few seconds though. She gave it to us straight the second time. “He wants Ziggy as a solo artist. He wants to break him out as a pop singer and rename the band Ziggy and the Moondog Three.”
There were so many reasons why I hated that idea that I couldn’t even pick one of them to start with, so my mouth hung open for a few seconds.
Bart said, “And that helps us how?”
“Well, if you wanted to get out of working with BNC, this would be one way to do it without a lawsuit and without owing them any money,” Carynne said.
Bart again said what I was thinking. “How would that get us out of working with BNC?”
“Ah. Because you wouldn’t necessarily have to be ‘the Moondog three.’ Mills wants to replace you with session musicians.”