29662 Word Count for the Day. Hey Ms Muse? Can we continue this hot & torrid love affair for my Kingdoms novels, please? Pretty please?
Anyway, Sentence of the Day:
“Bullshit,” Steve said. “You use three pairs of socks stuffed down your jeans. Little girl’s sizes.”
I vaguely remember Barb using this line in an email exchange between us. It's sat and perked all this time, before Steve finally had a chance to use it on Neal.
So, since this is my WHAT THE HELL NaNo Year, let's give you all a fuller excerpt – part of the opening section. While yeah, this tale is a mash-up of a couple different fandoms, it's ALSO a sort-of sequel to "An Alien Sky", the FanFic 100 thing posted on the Shrine. Enjoy!
1981: San Francisco, CA
Fog, rain, cold. Fog, rain, cold. It never changed, ever, in San Francisco, especially in late February, always one of the three or all three at once. Why the band couldn’t just relocate to L.A. — Steve Perry shivered as he trudged up the stairs of Nightmare’s business offices. The old painted-lady house in the middle of the city was pretty enough, but all the windows and brick made the place even chillier than the outside. He shoved the door open, waved himself past the receptionist and into the inner waiting room.
As usual, Ross had beaten him there, and, surprisingly, the new guy, Jonathan Cain; Ross was shaggy, rubbery, golden, Jonathan looking for all the world like a sullen Southern Cali surfer dude, even though he’d only moved from Chicago last year, both of them stark contrast to Steve’s dark Portuguese looks. Steve opened his mouth to say hi, then shut it; the press party this past weekend had turned into a major embarrassment for him and Jonathan — Steve had gotten way too drunk, said more than he’d intended about his new bandmate, none of it complimentary, all of it insulting. The media people around him had laughed, and he’d thought everyone was only taking it as a joke, but Herbie had hauled him out back for a major bitch-out. Then Neal had called Steve the next day, yelling; Herbie had apparently bitched Jon out, too, though why, Steve had no clue.
Jonathan was pointedly not looking at Steve; Steve caught just the bare edge of the disgust and hurt. Fine. Steve could deal with that. He clenched down on his shields, the comforting and necessary mental walls between him and the rest of the world; they’d been giving him problems for the last week or so, and the thought of himself facing the whole of San Francisco — let alone the band — without them was terrifying. The TV was on, afternoon news; good. Distraction worked somewhat, to help him ignore that damned Empathy that tended to act up, with no warning. Steve sprawled on the floor next to Ross. “Anything important?”
Ross slanted a grin at him. “Nope. They haven’t mentioned you once.”
Steve grinned back. Ross was easier to deal with; the bassist’s laid-back joker front mostly ran beneath the surface, too. Steve pushed himself back up to grab a Coke from the cooler. He stood over Ross a moment, just watching the scrawl of images: Muni workers on strike again, Middle East, follow-up stories on Iran hostages, recession, depression, blah blah blah. Then the door burst open, slamming against the inner wall and making everyone jump — only Neal, their lead guitarist, a lean, muscled street-rat, his brown hair frizzed out from the drizzle and catching the fluorescent light in an afro-halo around his head. Their drummer, Smitty, strolled in casually behind him.
“Jesus, Schon, trying to trigger another quake?” Ross drawled.
“That was outside,” Smitty said, a grin playing around his mouth. “He damn near ran down a cop on that new Harley of his.”
Neal only gave Steve a brief glare. “Herbie in yet?” he said, to the room.
“A while ago,” Jonathan said quietly, not looking away from the TV. “Doing some secret stuff in the inner sanctum.”
“Jacking off to Disney porn is hardly secret,” Ross said. There was a shocked pause, followed by Neal and Smitty’s combined burst of laughter, Jonathan’s uncertain grin, Steve’s snort.
“I heard that,” said Herbie,. The band’s manager stood in the inner doorway — he was a round bearded apple of a man. “And anything’s better than listening to your bass playing, Ross. Now get your asses in here, we got shit to get settled.””
Ross mouthed a long, silent, “Oooooooo”, caught Steve’s eye, grinned.
“Disney porn versus your bass playing,” Smitty said, grinning, to Ross. “Yeah. He’s got a point.” Ross mimed a punch, which Smitty ducked, then pushed to his feet.
Still grinning, Steve turned from the TV, then stopped, turned back, his attention caught. “Did they say New Orleans?”
“Yeah,” Jonathan said in passing, un-caring, “the murders down there. There’s been another one.”
“Murders?” Steve heard the crack in his voice, hated himself for it. They were supposed to be playing a show there, right in the middle of Mardi Gras. They hadn’t even finished recording the new album, and Herbie was already having them play a show — “a break,” he called it, “a great chance at Mardi Gras, let you guys get crazy for once.” Not on the actual Fat Tuesday, though — even Herbie wasn’t publicity-hungry enough to try to compete with that — which meant that the band could enjoy the party, for a change.
Until this, anyway. Everyone had stopped, looking at him.
“Just the usual big time Satanic voodoo shit, no big deal,” Ross said casually. “Cow skulls, stinky candles, backwards Led Zep albums, voodoo dolls, dead bodies, you name it. Been six, so far.”
“Seven.” Jonathan nodded at the screen. “They’re scared it’s going to scare folks away from Mardi Gras.” For a moment, the disgust and un-caring broke; he eyed Steve.
Neal had gone completely still, then pushed past Ross to stand next to Steve and stare at the TV screen. “You know Kris went down there,” Neal said quietly, to Steve. “With Josh.”
The usual hurricane of energy and emotion that surrounded the guitarist had gone decidedly spiky. Steve swallowed, dared it; he gripped a tense hand on Neal’s shoulder. The last tour, this past year, something had changed, something with Kris, something with him, something with Neal. He wasn’t sure what. He wasn’t sure why. But it’d gotten more raw and more open than usual, and he and Neal had taken to walking on eggshells around each other, uncertain and wondering…
“You did say Kris, right?” Smitty said. “Hawk and Josh? They of the ‘we’ll kick your little demonic murderer asses’ fame? That Kris?”
“I feel sorry for the killer,” Ross said.
That broke the tension, a little. Steve snorted, felt Neal’s shoulder relax. “Oh, yeah,” Neal said, grinning, “right.” But Steve couldn’t stop staring at the TV: police stumped, no clues, the brutality of the murders, all young, men, women and two children…
“Someone I should know here?” Jonathan said.
“Just our bodyguards,” Ross said, before anyone else could open their mouths. “Friends. Two of them, at least. I hope, anyway.” He raised an eyebrow towards Herbie, who’d still been standing with ill-concealed impatience in the doorway.
“Well, if you can tear your rock-star asses away from the TV and get in here,” Herbie said. “You too, Perry. You can catch up to your press later.”
Steve clenched back the immediate curse he wanted to spit in Herbie’s direction; Herbie had been getting more and more irritable lately, all of it aimed at Steve. Neal, though, wasn’t so controlled, though he only muttered under his breath. Steve pulled himself away from the TV, followed Neal past Herbie. Herbie pulled the door shut behind them, shoved both Neal and Steve a little too friendly-hard through the mail room after the others — two of the fan club people, Lora and Tim, were sitting in a pile of letters, studiously ignoring the band save for friendly nods.
“Herbie,” Lora said suddenly, and there was an edge to her voice and a spike of feeling to that that made it through Steve’s shields. He stopped; Herbie had gone over to look at what she held, and there was another sudden spike and a muffled hiss of breath. His bandmates had gone on. Steve edged over casually, just enough to see what Lora held — a photo of some kind, torn up?
“No, you don’t,” Herbie said, forcibly pushing Steve away.
Steve resisted the shove. “You —“
“That,” Herbie said, over top of him, “is what we pay these guys for. You are not paid to deal with the lunatic fan mail. You, singer. Them, mail jockeys. Now move your ass, Perry, before I get Schon out here to kick it for you.”
Steve huffed himself up, then abruptly decided against it, allowed Herbie to push him into the meeting room; he could sweet-talk Lora later. Steve could feel Neal’s gaze on him as if he was sitting in the heat of sunshine, but Steve only shook his head, dropped into the chair next to the guitarist with a graceless sprawl.
“To answer your question out there,” Herbie said to Ross, “yeah, the Center group’ll be guarding us in New Orleans. Mostly, anyway. Usual terms. So you idiots can get that worry off your minds. Or off other parts, some of you.”
“Mostly?” Steve said.
Herbie gave him a look. “Yeah, mostly. Believe it or not, there’s more important things than you, Perry. That’s what Mar said, so stop glaring at me. At least enough of her folk to cover the arena — I’ll be hiring others for your personal bodyguards.”
Jonathan looked openly confused. “This is just over bodyguards? Is there something I should know about here?”
Sudden, too-obviously-guilty silence; Steve and Neal exchanged looks. They hadn’t really let Jonathan in on everything, not yet.
The open confusion went irritated, angry. “I am part of the band, y’know,” Jonathan said stiffly. “Right? Or you guys feel like asshole there does?” That last, with a lift of the chin towards Steve.
“Cain,” Herbie said, and then glared at Steve until Steve shut his mouth. “Settle it, both of you.”
“I’m not the one who un-settled it,“ Jonathan snapped.
“So level with us, Jay,” Neal broke in, calmly, evenly, “and we’ll level with you.”
Steve blinked; Neal’s words had caught Jonathan with his mouth open. Everyone’s stares moved from Jonathan to Neal, then back. Jonathan gave Neal a steady, long glare, then looked away.
“Riiiight, that’s settled. And closed.” Herbie glared around the table, and changed the topic.
Long, long, boring. The thought of getting out of San Francisco and into the warm South was quickly overrun by the usual minutiae of show planning, flight arrangements, interviews, promo things. Herbie and Jonathan both kept casting glares towards Steve, their disgust and anger beating at him; Steve was careful to keep his gaze fixed on the window or the table, running through the mental exercises, trying to reinforce the shielding and not let their problems get to him. He really didn’t want to start anything here, not yet, and it was obvious that both were still pissed off about the weekend, still. But finally, it was over. Steve wanted to bolt out of there, but he held himself carefully in check, casually lagging behind the others without looking like he was lagging.
Herbie was already ahead of them and through the doors, the others trailing after him, chattering. Lora and Tim were nowhere to be seen — Steve glanced at the clock; it was past 4:30. He edged towards the mail Lora had been working on, picking up letters at random and trying to figure out her sort-system.
There. A torn edge…
“What the hell are you doing?” Neal said, right behind him.
Steve jumped, barely clamped down on the yell before it tore loose. He leaned against the nearby desk for a long moment, waiting for his heart to get out of his throat. Neal, though, was staring — not at Steve, at the torn photo that Steve’d dropped.
“Jesus,” Neal said softly. “What the fuck is that?”
Steve swallowed irritation. “Lora had it, when we came through. Spooked her good — she called Herbie over and the bastard wouldn’t let me see —“
“Jesus,” Neal said again, and grabbed Steve’s wrist when Steve moved to pick it up. “Don’t. It’s real, whatever it is.”
A promo photo of the band, one of the recent ones with Jonathan that the fan club had just started sending out — the eyes were stabbed out, the mouths blacked out with permanent marker, and brownish-red splatters were everywhere, crossing through arms, over hands, throats…and worse…
It’d been ripped in two: Steve’s image had been torn away from the others…