(Before you read this chapter make sure you caught up on both Saturday and Sunday’s posts! -ctan)
Digger and Mills weren’t wearing matching suits but they might as well have been. No ties today, but button-up shirts undone at the top.
“Doesn’t sound like his highness is too happy to see you,” Digger said, as something else hit the door. “Tony, would you escort our friend here to the street?”
“Wait,” Mills said mildly. “Now might be a good time for us to talk over some recent issues. Why don’t we go somewhere a bit quieter?”
I probably should have said “fuck you” and taken off at that point, except I would have had to have my wits about me enough to realize that, and truth be told, I didn’t want to leave without trying to talk to Ziggy again. “Do you think we should leave him like this?”
Mills looked sidelong at Digger, who just waved in Antonio’s direction. “Tony’ll get him calmed down. Won’t you, Ton’?”
“Yes, sir,” Tony said, folding his arms across his chest.
So I went with them to the bar. They didn’t frog-march me there, but it felt like they did, what with hostile vibes coming from all three of us. I pretended to be reading the notice posted inside the elevator. It was the lineup of artists playing in the hotel’s cabaret that week. Eartha Kitt. Huh.
In the bar they stuck me into the leather banquette and Digger slid in next to me, trapping me there. Mills took the seat across from me. Okay, I know that was standard rock star protocol: the most one most likely to cause fan hysteria was always seated least accessible to the public. But it didn’t feel like that was why they did it.
The bar was very lightly populated at that hour. There were maybe two tables besides ours, and they were on the other side of the room. One guy sat alone at the bar itself. That was it.
A waiter in an impeccably white shirt and black pants came in our direction. He skirted around an empty table on his way to us and I thought, oh no, not a gay waiter. I have enough to deal with right now. He stopped in front of us and folded his hands instead of taking out an order pad. Something about the way his weight was slightly more on one foot than the other, and the extreme shortness of his hair, and the way he moved… I could be wrong, I told myself. Your gaydar sucks, remember? Maybe you’re wrong.
Then he spoke. “What can I get you gentlemen?” Something of a lilt in his vowels and the way he hung onto his consonants. Gay.
“A Manhattan,” Digger and I said simultaneously. I quickly added, “No, wait, make mine a Sazerac.”
I got an eyebrow twitch for that from the waiter, but he was smooth, turning his eyes on Mills, who asked for scotch and soda. “Very good, gentlemen.” I watched as he went directly to the bartender and some kind of debate ensued. The bartender was older, maybe forty, heavyset, losing his hair, and he shooed the waiter away as he reached for the bottle of Pernod on the back shelf.
Mills didn’t wait for the drinks to arrive. “You’re looking well,” he said, playing nice.
“Thanks.” I was surprised my words flowed pretty easily. I guess I was getting better at faking it. “What did you guys want to talk about? You know I’m not supposed to say anything to you in case we end up in court. Feinbaum will have my testicles on tongs if I say anything I shouldn’t.”
Mills spread his hands. “Nobody wants to go to court.”
“That isn’t what your legal department says.”
“Legal doesn’t make that call,” he said, and looked me in the eye.
Mr. Magic Pen. Mr. Vice President to Be, too, I remembered. “And you do.”
He pursed his lips a little as he nodded, like he was liking the music he was hearing in his head. But he went on in a friendly tone. “This is all about trying to find common ground, and protecting our common–our mutual–interests.”
I am interested in drop kicking you onto Madison Avenue, I thought, but of course I didn’t say. I thought of something better. “Like it was in our mutual interests for you to be the one who blackmailed me instead of the paparazzi doing it.”
I was not playing nice. Mills had a good poker face, though. He grinned like I’d told him we’d all gotten puppies or something. “I don’t recall blackmailing you, Daron. I do recall it being in our mutual interest to have those pictures out of circulation, though.”
“Don’t do me any favors, Mills.” I paused as the waiter delivered the three drinks, setting them down and then zooming off, as it must have been obvious we were deep in the thick of something. I took a sip of the cocktail. It was the thing Crystal had made for Chris that time he was trying to get over Lacey. It was strong. I pretended it gave me the courage to say what I said next. “Funny thing. Turns out Jonathan knew that photographer.”
The smile on Mills’ face dimmed. I was half-lying, you know, which is why it took such balls to say. Jonathan had told me he knew who took the photos, not necessarily that he knew the guy personally. But it was close enough. I saw how that thought made Mills falter. Whether it was because he was the one who put the photographer on our trail in the first place or maybe just the thought that Jonathan or I might have been able to handle keeping the photos out of circulation ourselves, I’m not sure. Either way, I had set him off-balance.
I pressed my advantage as best I could. “Tell me what you really want, Mills. You really want me out of your hair, out of your life?”
“It’s nothing personal,” he tried to stutter.
“Tear up the contract. Release Moondog Three. We’ll drop our lawsuits. Everyone can go home.”
Mills snorted from deep in his throat. “You think it’s really that simple? If only it was.”
“So what do you want, then?”
I had to wonder if he’d ever been honest with me or if honest wasn’t in his makeup. Or his job description. There’s a chance that what he said next was true, though. He cleared his throat, had a sip of his own drink. “What do I want? Look. I know you think you’re an artiste and you’ve had a pretty good run. You got a lot more out of it than a lot of musicians in your place. But I’m here for the dollar signs, and that little junkie prima donna running up the property damage bill upstairs? Is on the verge of a commercial breakout. I know I can make it happen. I know it. I can feel it, I can smell it. I can make him the next Terence Trent D’Arby. If he doesn’t self-destruct, I can make him the next George Michael.”
I knew what he was implying. That if Ziggy was George Michael, I was Andrew Ridgeway. Ziggy was Tom Hanks, I was… whatever the other guy’s name was who co-starred in Bosom Buddies. I was trying to think of a snappy comeback–or at least a logical one–when Mills went on.
“Are you going to really get in the way of success like that?” he asked. “Are you really going to shoot down his chance at stardom by tying yourself like a noose around his neck?”
Yeah, Mills really knew how to mix a metaphor. “This isn’t about me.”
“Isn’t it? If it’s about Ziggy, and you really care about him, you’ll do what you can to contribute to his success, not tear it down.”
“Okay, but then where do our mutual interests come in? I thought it was in our mutual interest to sell a shitload of records, and we did everything, absolutely everything, from our end to hold up that bargain.” A creeping suspicion was forming in the back of my mind. Had Mills sabotaged the band’s success because he wanted to get Ziggy away from us, to turn him into a commercial pop solo artist? Was that why the weird homophobic excuses didn’t make any sense, because they were not what was really at the root of all this?
Mills nodded like he agreed with me. “I know you did, and that just proves the drawing power of your front man. So listen. I know legal’s been champing at the bit on a lot of things lately. That’s what lawyers love to do: sue. I think we’ve got a pretty good case we could slap you around with regarding exclusivity–”
“I never used the Moondog name in other work and you fucking know it,” I burst out, livid.
“–but this is what I’m getting to about our mutual interests. I’ll tell legal to back off. You want to tear up the old contract? Maybe you have a point. Maybe starting fresh is the way to go. That’d release you to do whatever other work you want. Anything that doesn’t use the name or infringe the trademark. Cut you loose, free and clear. You and the other two. No muss, no fuss. And then we sign Ziggy to a fresh, new deal.”
He held up his glass of scotch and Digger clinked his glass against it. “A multimedia development deal,” Digger said. “This isn’t just some band deal we’re talking about.”
He was making it sound like the gold record meant nothing, like a mere hit record was piddling compared to whatever they had in the works for Ziggy: more movies? TV shows? jingles and sponsorships? I had no idea.
I tried not to let my imagination run wild. Digger had a way of making me feel like I was out of my league; it was one of his favorite tactics. I couldn’t let it succeed.
It was dawning on me, though, how stupid it was to go into a conversation like this without Carynne or a lawyer or somebody sane there. I’d told Mills what I wanted was to get rid of the contracts. Cut us free. Now he was telling me he would, in fact, do that. But he was making it clear it meant I wouldn’t get what I really wanted, which was to keep the band together.
My head was spinning and I had only had a few sips of the drink. “Ziggy and the Moondogs,” I said, derisively.
“I told you he wouldn’t go for that,” Digger said to Mills.
“That’s because Daron is an artiste,” Mills said. “Not a hack. He’s not about to put on a fake spacesuit for the sake of getting on the stage. Am I right?”
“You really are trying to get rid of me,” I said to Mills.
“Nothing personal, I told you,” Mills said. “But it’d be a lot easier if you were out of the picture.”
Digger cleared his throat and I think he was trying to kick Mills in the shins. I wondered what he was trying to tell Mr. Magic Pen. The fact that they weren’t on the same page would have helped me, maybe, if I could figure out what they were up to.
The only thing I knew for sure was what I had said: they wanted to get rid of me. So I dug in my heels and resisted that however I could. “You can get rid of me if Ziggy wants to get rid of me,” I said.
“The same Ziggy who was throwing furniture at you upstairs?” Digger chided.
He had a point. But I knew better than to think a tantrum was the same thing as the truth. “When I hear it from Ziggy’s sober mouth that he doesn’t want me around anymore, I’ll walk away,” I said. That made sense, right? Because what was the point of trying to keep the band together if that were true? “If Ziggy tells me it’s time to move on, I’ll move on.”
The two of them looked at each other and I saw Digger looked a little panicked. Or maybe just surprised. I hoped it was panic I read in those slightly widened eyes, though.
Mills downed the rest of his drink. “Why don’t you two make an appointment to talk in a couple of days, then.”
Right. So you and Digger can pull these same strong-arm tactics on him that you’re trying to pull on me right now? Like hell, I thought, but didn’t say. “Sure. How long are you in town for?”
“Coupla days,” Digger spat.
“Me, too,” I said. “I’m staying at Sarah Rogue’s. I’m sure you’ve got her number.”
They exchanged another look, like they were none too happy about that idea. I was making myself very hard to get rid of, wasn’t I?
“Let me go take a leak,” I said, half-standing up, which was as much as I could do with the banquette and the table the way they were.
Digger slid out and let me go, seemingly without suspicion. Good. I asked the waiter which way the restroom was. He pointed me back toward the kitchen. I thanked him, thinking: this is going to work.
They couldn’t see the kitchen doors from where they were sitting. I slipped into the kitchen and made my way quickly through to a service elevator. Perfect. No one appeared to have noticed.
Moments later I was on my way to the fourth floor. I had decided I wasn’t going to let anyone’s idiocy or pettiness get between Ziggy and me, not Digger’s, not Mills’, and especially not my own.