I went walking then to clear my head and to make sure I made it there on time. If I missed my rendezvous with him who knew what chaos would ensue? I know I predict disaster more easily than most people, but this time I could really imagine another week would go by without seeing him, during which I would drive myself insane.
It could be months before the contract and record company stuff is ironed out, I told myself. No use getting anxious.
Then again, I was anxious I hadn’t said more about where we were meeting. The block Ziggy had been describing was equivalent to Eighth Street on the West Side, but after crossing Broadway it turned into St. Mark’s Place. And the music shop we had both been thinking of wasn’t actually on the block he had been describing. I kicked myself mentally and soldiered on, figuring I’d just keep circulating until I ran into him.
The comic book store was nice. Bart and I used to read a lot of comics when we were in school. He’d go every Friday to get new comics and then we’d sit around his dorm room or apartment reading them. He would buy anything that looked remotely interesting. Superhero, indie, you name it. Since we’d moved to Boston I’d gotten out of the habit, but I recognized a lot of things.
The last thing I needed right now, though, with my financial future somewhat in question, was to pick up another expensive habit.
I lingered on the street outside the bookstore as the time drew a bit closer to two o’clock. I cruised in this bookstore once, didn’t I? At least once. God, that seemed like a long time ago. The day after the show at the Pool Bar, the day I had met Artie and he told me he liked us but wasn’t signing us.
Artie. I really needed to be in touch with him.
I went into the punk clothing store then, not wanting to seem as if by standing around outside the bookstore I was cruising. That was the last kind of trouble I needed.
I didn’t buy anything in there either. The cashier was a girl who tried to give me a jaded-as-fuck attitude, but I caught her staring at me kinda wide-eyed a couple of times. I didn’t linger.
When I hit the street again, a large black limo was pulling up outside. The front window rolled down and I saw Antonio. He hopped out immediately and held the back door open for me. I climbed in, the door shut, and we were moving before I had a chance to wonder to where.
Ziggy was leaning back against the seat like he was too exhausted to sit up. “Hey.”
“Are you all right?”
He opened his arms like he wanted to hug me. I wasn’t such a stubborn idiot as to say no to that kind of invitation. I scootched up next to him and pulled him close. I would have thought the way he had been lolling back that there wasn’t any tension in him, but I felt it draining out of him as I held him. Or maybe that was me.
He let out a long sigh.
“How was Los Angeles?” I asked.
“I can see that.”
He lapsed into silence again. I decided I’d wait until he spoke first next time.
I am bad at games of chicken, though. A few minutes later I broke. “Where are we going? I thought you wanted to do some shopping.”
“We can go wherever you want. I just wanted some alone time.” He rubbed his cheek against my chest, but not in a seductive way. “It’s been kind of rough.”
Again the silence. I began to get the feeling he had more to say, but for some reason he wasn’t saying it.
I wondered if that made it my job to figure it out. I decided to try a more pointed question. “What’s the latest with Mills?”
“Fuck.” He squeezed me around my ribcage.
He didn’t answer, but he was breathing faster and the tension in him was rising.
Oh fuck, I thought. Mills finally made a pass at him. Or worse. What else could it be? My palms went prickly and forced myself to breathe slowly through my nose, waiting to hear the worst.
I was wrong. Mills hadn’t made a pass. And that wasn’t the worst thing Ziggy could have told me. When he finally looked up, and I saw he’d been silent-crying, the words that came out of his mouth were:
I waited a couple of beats thinking there should be more words to that sentence. Something was missing. That didn’t make sense. Then it began to sink in, and it did make sense. Terrible sense. “You what?” I asked, trying to be sure, hoping I misheard or he meant something else.
He disengaged one arm so he could wipe his nose on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “I signed it. The development deal.”
I know I sounded angry when I demanded, “When?”
“Yesterday!” And I know that sounded even worse. He moved away from me and huddled in the corner, hugging his knees. “Ziggy, we barely talked about–”
“I got everything you wanted,” he burst out.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t want you to sign it in the first place!”
“Yes, you did. You said you wanted everyone taken care of and you wanted Digger to get screwed.”
What I wanted, but couldn’t of course express at that moment because I was too angry to be coherent, was for him to have consulted me before actually putting his name on anything. “That isn’t what I said at all! We talked in hypotheticals, Zig. You asked me what about this, what about this, you never said you were going to go out and sign the fucking thing!”
“What did you expect? For fuck’s sake, Daron, you thought this was easy?”
“Easiest five million you’ll ever make!” I could barely hear myself over the buzzing in my ears. “If this is exactly what I wanted why are you crying? Why were you afraid to tell me? Huh?”
He rocked back and forth, his eyes sullen.
“And stop acting like you’re five! I’m not your father! Or your mother! For fuck’s sake, Ziggy!”
He growled like he’d been raised by wolves, which was not an improvement. Then he shouted, “I didn’t know what else to do!”
“Stall! Wait! Talk to me!”
“There wasn’t time.”
“Like hell there wasn’t! What, did they ambush you with it when you got off the plane yesterday? Did they hold a gun to your head until you signed it?”
“Something like that,” he murmured, not meeting my eyes.
“So now you’re going to tell me they forced you into it? I thought you said they gave you everything you wanted.”
His voice was still small, barely audible, but you know, my hearing’s pretty sharp. “They did. Which was why I couldn’t stall anymore.”
A heavy silence fell between us then. I couldn’t quite accept that the earth under my feet had moved quite so drastically. And I still didn’t know enough about what this new reality was to get a grip on it.
“It’s all going to work out–” he started to say.
“How? What’s your definition of working out, Zig? Tell me.”
“Seven and a quarter. You’ll be free to work. Digger will be history.”
He meant $7.25 million. “How.”
“It’s a buyout. Mills is heading up a new multimedia division. They’re essentially buying me from BNC–”
“And from me.” I meant to say from the band, but yeah.
He nodded. “So that leaves you free to pursue whatever.”
“How? Wouldn’t that leave the rest of us under contract at BNC?”
“Part of the deal is we get together on a lawsuit to make Digger the fall guy in all the previous disputes between BNC and Moondog Three. That’ll put a stopper on him making anything off this deal and probably you get some cash out of his hide, too.”
“When you say buyout–”
“The breakdown is like this. Five million to me, two-point-two-five to Moondog Three via BNC, who are going to take a little over a million to recoup costs, and then the rest is for you. And the guys. To do whatever you want with. Put Courtney through school, start another band, whatever.”
Start another band. Just kick me in the nuts, why don’t you? Did he really not know how that would sound to me?
What happens to our relationship now? I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t imagine saying the word “relationship” now that it would come out sounding like sarcasm in the wake of what he had done. No wonder he was so upset. He knew this was a break-up conversation before I even got in the car.
His hand slid up my thigh. I think I can be forgiven for slapping it away and snarling, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
He looked like I’d slapped him across the face, not on the hand. Wide-eyed and shocked.
“What?” I demanded. Welcome to the world you made, Zig. “You wanted to fuck me one more time for old time’s sake? To prove you still could? To prove you can have your fucking way with me whenever–?” That was the point where my voice broke and so who knows what else I might have said.
“No,” he said weakly.
I looked out the window. We were on Sixth Avenue heading north, already uptown of the Penta. Heading toward the BNC offices, maybe.
I knocked on the divider between the limo compartment and the driver. The shaded window lowered and Antonio looked back at us with that predictable big-brother concerned-face.
“Pull over. Let me out,” I said.
Antonio looked back and forth between us, but Ziggy had gone into his shell like a snail, curled up and impenetrable. And silent. “Whatever you say, boss.”
The driver pulled over at an unoccupied stretch of curb.
Ziggy woke up suddenly. “You’re really going to get out?”
I looked at him, wondering which of us was feeling the greater disbelief: me that he’d pulled this shit without even asking me or him that I was actually going to remove myself from his vicinity. “I trusted you,” I said as I swung the door open and stepped out. I started walking away so fast I didn’t even slam the door like I should have.
“I did the best I could!” he screamed after me. “Ingrate!”
I heard the door slam after that. I didn’t turn around. I kept walking.
Things happen sometimes. Things that affect your whole future, but which seem random. Or like coincidences. The perfect singer happens to be standing in the crowd that day in the park. Okay, maybe that wasn’t a random coincidence. Ziggy had known us. Had seen us. And probably knew we were looking for a singer. I was still getting used to knowing that information.
This, though, this really was a coincidence: where I had bolted from the limo was two blocks from the Wenco offices.
I wondered if Artie was in. I didn’t have an appointment.
I didn’t care.