“How’s your mom?” Carynne asked, the next time we spoke on the phone.
I clutched the phone, trying to come up with an answer other than “dying of cancer.” I mean, how are you supposed to answer that. I stammered, “Um, sleeping a lot–?”
“Oh, jeez, sorry. I just asked out of reflex.” She made a self-exasperated sound. “Just tell me I’m being stupid next time.”
“Why? You’re doing a fine job of telling yourself.” I chuckled. “How’s things in the big city?”
“That’s what I’m calling to talk to you about.”
“I figured.” It was morning, and I was in the room that Remo and Court had been sharing because Remo was making coffee and I wasn’t going to resist an offer of coffee. I sat in a beam of sunlight right next to an HVAC unit built into the window, feeling like although I could tell myself what time it was, no matter when the sun or the clock said, it still felt like the middle of the night. “What’s up?”
“If you have time today, I’d love to walk us through a series of conference calls. You and Ziggy’s lawyers–we’d need him, too, for that–and Megastar–and maybe another lawyer call–and you, me, Barrett, and Ziggy.”
“‘If you have time,'” I repeated. “This is the thing. If Claire has time, I have time. If she crashes, I don’t.”
“Everyone understands that.” She used her most reassuring voice. “If you gotta go, you gotta go. But can we at least try?”
I had no energy to protest with. “Sure. I’ll get Ziggy up.”
“I think Barrett already talked to him, or maybe he’s talking to him right now. One sec.” She put me on hold, then came quickly back. “Yeah. He’s up. And he’s up for it. I’ll call you back with the conference call times.”
“Okay.” I hung up and closed my eyes.
The smell of coffee revived me. Remo set a large mug down on the counter next to me, then pulled up the stool across from me and sat down with his own mug.
He’d done something to the coffee with a flavored syrup and cream and I don’t know what else. It was delicious as well as caffeinated. “Oh my god this is ambrosia compared to the burnt-ass stuff we’ve been drinking in the hospital.”
He grunted agreement and sipped his. “Thought it’d be your cup of tea. To mix a metaphor.”
“Mix me a metaphor like this anytime.” Mine must’ve had more cream in it because it was cooler than his and I gulped mine down. “I’m going to need to be alert today.”
“Something going on?” He gestured toward the cordless handset I’d set down on the table next to me.
“Yeah. Our whole management team is on fire about something regarding the lawsuits and also our relationship with our record company? Or something like that? But they’re freaked out that we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and trying to make up for it by running up my long-distance bill.”
Remo huffed. “Tennessee. Middle of nowhere.”
I was about to say, well, it is…. when he went on.
“You know what we’re in the middle of here? We’re a stone’s throw to two of the most vital, important points on the music map of the United States. Nashville and Memphis are ground zero for two of America’s core genres, and I’m not even talking about bluegrass yet.”
“Jeezus, Reem, don’t scold me before I’ve even finished my fucking coffee.”
“I didn’t mean you, although if you agree with your ‘management team’ then that rant’s for you, too,” he grumbled.
We are not morning people. “The point is not that Nashville isn’t important. The point is my lawyer’s offices are a thousand miles that direction, and Digger’s are two thousand miles in that direction,” I thumbed over my shoulder, “and same for BNC or Megastar or whatever the hell they’re called now.”
“If it’s so damn important they should meet you here.” He took a larger sip and winced.
“Yeah, sure.” I tried to picture the hospital cafeteria full of record execs reeking of hair gel and lawyers eyeing the whipped Jell-o with suspicion.
A knock came at the door. Remo got up to let Ziggy in and then got himself an ice cube on his way back to the table. “So what’s up, anyway?”
Ziggy slid his hands over my shoulders and kissed me on the ear, then answered before I could. “I think there’s some chance of some settlements being made, but a lot of negotiation needs to happen before that.” He picked up my now-empty mug and sniffed it. “Did you just drink a melted-down mocha praline ice cream sundae?”
Remo stood back up. “I’ll make you one if you want.”
“Sure,” Ziggy said. “Thanks.”
The first call came about an hour later. Ziggy and I sat on opposite sides of the phone between the beds, which had a speakerphone setting. Mintz and Feinbaum and Barrett and Carynne were on the other end of the line. I’m not sure if all four of them were in the same office or in two different ones.
“So, some management changes are coming to the BNC division of Megastar,” Carynne said, to start things off, “and the new players are less invested in the old baggage, to put it mildly.”
“Okay,” Ziggy and I said at the same time, then had to stifle giggles because that was funny.
Barrett picked it up from there: “They want to focus on ways to move the ‘relationship with the artist’ forward.”
Ziggy put on his best rhetorical sarcasm tone: “Does that mean they’re going to finally release the album here?”
“Possibly,” Barrett said. “Pending the larger discussion.”
“Really. I don’t know if I like the sound of that,” Ziggy said. “That sounds like renegotiation. What do they want us to give up?”
I could hear Mintz chuckling in the background and saying something to Feinbaum on the side. It might have been, “I told you he was sharp.”
“I think we should be open to hearing what they have to say,” Barrett said. “Currently we’re not suing them and they’re not suing us. They’d now like to keep it that way, so we should discuss what it will take for that to happen.”
“The money would be nice,” I heard myself say.
“Definitely,” Carynne echoed. “No matter how you account this, there’s over two million dollars not paid.”
“So, good faith payments, made quickly and on time if we set up a new payment schedule,” Mintz said. “Meanwhile, about the album release, looking at this deal, there’s no legal way to force them to put it out. Any pressure we put on them on that score is going to have to be extra-legal.”
“Got it,” Barrett said. “We’ll probably use Japan as a lever there.”
Ziggy met my eyes on that, but neither of us said anything.
“The other thing they want, or that we think they want,” Mintz said, “is our help with their lawsuits with Digger Marks.”
“Haven’t we been helping them?” I asked.
“Not directly,” Feinbaum said. “You going to LA to be deposed doesn’t count.”
Mintz coughed. “I’m concerned that if we share the financial information we have in hand, that it’ll backfire on us.”
Ziggy sighed. “How can proof that he was a crook backfire on us?”
Mintz sighed right back, imitating his client. “Give me a break, Ziggy. Try to see this from the jury’s point of view. Where did this information come from? From Mr. Marks’s former secretary. Great. Except it’s not so great that you went and slept with her to get it.”
“Just because I slept with her doesn’t mean Digger wasn’t embezzling. How are those two things related?”
“They’re not, but the worse you look, the better Digger looks by comparison. This is all about introducing doubt into the minds of the jury. If they think you’re shady, they either won’t believe you or they’ll think you have an ulterior motive. Even if you come off looking innocent, how about the fact she tried to slap you with paternity? This has unreliable and discredited sources written all over it. Maybe she falsified the information specifically in order to suck you into a relationship so she could nab you as her baby-daddy.”
Ziggy covered his eyes with his hand. “Okay. Yeah. I see. Janessa isn’t like that at all, but the jury won’t see it that way.”
“So the thing is, we can share the forensic accounting stuff with BNC, but in the end it might just hurt the case.”
Ziggy growled. “So what do we do?”
“Get on the phone with them and find out what else they want, and what they’re willing to give us in return,” Mintz said. “Okay? Okay. Talk to you again in forty-five minutes or so.”
I wished, just a tiny bit, that Remo had spiked my coffee with bourbon. Only a tiny bit. There are better ways to get through tough times than drinking.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I announced to Ziggy.
My mood brightened a little at his answer. “I’m coming with you.”