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She had declared, more than once, that she’d not watch Meadowlark play their next gig. Vehemently. Mom eventually resorted to begging.

 

   “I’ve got a backstage pass for you ...”

 

   “One that says, ‘DO NOT SERVE THIS MINOR’?”

 

   “That’s the one. Just go and I won’t bug you anymore. You’ve got my word.”

 

   “You won’t bug me anymore because you’re quitting, right?”

 

   “That’s right.”

 

   “Like I’d ever have any reason to ever watch them for any other reason!”

 

   “They ... we’ve ... ‘sold out.’ Apparently. Or—that’s what they’re telling everyone.”

 

   “Are you serious? Bullshit. Something doesn’t smell right. You’re playing Fifth Avenue, right?”

 

   Mom nodded.

 

   “That’s a huge venue—like, three hundred people! I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe that happened organically!”

 

   “It didn’t,” admitted Mom. “I know Dan Schnelling did extra advertising for it ...”

 

   “Dickhead.”

 

   “... and I know Terry was handing out tickets left and right a couple days ago. So was Aaron.”

 

   “Just handing them out?”

 

   “Pretty much, as I understand it.”

 

   “For free?

 

   Mom shrugged, sighed, nodded.

 

   “That’s not a sold-out concert!” laughed Laurie. “They just ran out of tickets to hand out!”

 

   “Schnelling claims his radio spots have generated a lot of interest, much more than normal.”

 

   Laurie’s grin was tinged with bitterness. “Radio. Who bothers listening to the radio anymore?”

 

   “That’s what I think. It’s a dying medium—deservedly so. But Schnelling has a huge stake in it, and I’m not willing to blow him off so quickly.”

 

   “Have they named your replacement yet?”

 

   “No. Terry told me they have a few on a ‘short list,’ but that was all he was willing to say. He and I aren’t exactly talking anymore.”

 

   “Which means they’ve got someone; he’s just too chickenshit to tell you they’ve got someone.”

 

   “Probably.”

 

   “Why doesn’t that piss you off?”

 

   Mom held up her hands in a gesture of helplessness. She didn’t offer an explanation. “I’m glad I’m out. That’s all that matters to me at this point. The last practices have been super tense. They really don’t want me there—and I don’t want to be there either. I tried talking to Terry, but he just walks away, even when I yell at him to stop. It’s all very painful.”

 

   Her eyes glistened and spilled. Laurie went to her and hugged her. Mom held her back. She sniffled. It made Laurie cry too.

 

   “I fucking hate him!”

 

   “I’m so sorry you do, sweetheart. I hate hearing it, but I must admit he’s behaving like a real jerk.”

 

   “He’s an asshole!”

 

   “An asshole,” said Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

She stared at the applications, six of them, all once neatly stacked at the back of her desk, now fanned out playing-card-style under her chin.

 

   “Eenie-meenie-mynie-mo ...”

 

   San Diego State University? University of San Diego? University of California San Diego? San Diego City College? San Diego Cooperative College? Or how about lowly National University?

 

   Did she want to go to college? Did she? She had graduated with a solid A average: 3.5 GPA. She had avoided the easy courses, the filler courses, and had challenged herself. At least enough to convince herself that she could become an academic if she really wanted, which at one point she was sure she did.

 

   Now she wasn’t so sure.

 

   College was expensive. Even with the settlement, Mom couldn’t afford it. She’d have to go on loans. And those loans were no better these days than taking cash from a loan shark.

 

   “It wasn’t always that way,” Mom had told her. “There was a time when student loans were very inexpensive and reasonably easy to pay back. But the entire system has become corrupted to the point of absurdity, from college tuition fees to student loans. It’s become a trillion-dollar racket.”

 

   “So what should I do if I want to, say, become a teacher, or a vet, or an engineer?”

 

   “I don’t know, sweetie. And I’m so sorry. Just be prepared to be in debt for a long time, maybe forever.”

 

   Did she want to go? What were her dreams, her aspirations?

 

 

 

 

 

She and Knox sat in a park near to where he lived and watched kids kick a soccer ball to and fro.

 

   “They playing tonight?” he asked.

 

   “Tomorrow. No, wait. The day after.”

 

   “Shit. Isn’t this the seventeenth?”

 

   “Sixteenth.” She sighed. “They take away dreams.”

 

   He waited.

 

   She turned to look at him. “I can’t afford college.”

 

   “It’s why I didn’t go. Is that what’s got you so bummed, why you called?”

 

   She shook her head. “Mom wants me to go. But ... I just can’t. I’ve been doing research. Even if I choose a third-rate university like National and get some lunky two-year associate’s degree with no hope of a career, I’ll still be nearly fifty grand in debt—assuming I work full-time while I’m going!”

 

   “Yeah.”

 

   “Weren’t you, like, a valedictorian or something?”

 

   He chuckled. “One of ten. Big deal.”

 

   “I mean, weren’t you offered scholarships?”

 

   “A couple. Nothing that would’ve made going affordable. They were from out of state. Partial rides. Really not worth it.”

 

   “But schlepping shakes and fries at In N Out is?”

 

   He went silent for a time. “Can I tell you something?”

 

   She gazed at him, puzzled. He sounded very serious. “Yeah. Sure.”

 

   More silence. When she went to ask what’s wrong, he blurted, “I love you, Laurie.”

 

   By itself, that was a major biggie—obviously. But coming from Knox Mulloy? Knox—who typically kept to himself so much and so well that it was often impossible to know if he was suicidally depressed or ecstatic—? Knox, who was the walking, talking definition of soldiering on—? Knox, whose emotions didn’t show, typically, at all until he got behind a drum set—?

 

   “Uh ... wow. I mean ... Knox ...”

 

   “You know me,” he interrupted. “It’s not that kind of love. It’s ... the kind I’d feel for a sister—if I had one. I feel it for Cherylynn too. I love my mom ... I really do. But I love you two just as much.

 

   “Look,” he continued before she could respond, “I need to tell you something. I mean something else ... I think I alluded to it the other day when you came over. But I don’t think I impressed upon you how much it meant to me to get kicked out of the band and that you and I have formed another one. Honestly, Laurie, it’s been a fantasy of mine. I think we have a shot at something really special here. We should take it. No joke.”

 

   She leaned into him and hugged him. He hugged her back.

 

   “Musicians are a dime a dozen,” she said into his shoulder. “You might have to work In N Out forever! Is that what you really want?”

 

   She pulled back to peer into his eyes. “How about a place of your own, or a car—even a crappy one? I love music, and I love playing. I really, really do. But it just isn’t a way to make a living!”

 

   “No. It isn’t,” he admitted. “But this fuckin’ country is at such a state today that there is no way for people like me and you to make a living period. Even if we got paid fifteen bucks an hour, that’s still six or seven dollars short of what’s needed even for a living wage in this shitty town!”

 

   “So you’re saying ... since we’re screwed anyway ...”

 

   “Let’s jam. Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I’ll end up managing In N Out, still unable to pay rent and living with Mom; and you’ll ...”

 

   She chuckled sadly. “Are they hiring?”

 

 

 

 

 

They practiced again in his bedroom. His mom was gone for the day; she was a legal consultant for several large, local businesses which were hosting some sort of meet-and-greet for “new players” in town, ones who wanted “in on the action.” Or whatever.

 

   “Whatever that means,” said Knox, shrugging.

 

   He had a notebook with lyrics and poems—over a hundred. Laurie, sitting on the bed and leaning against the wall, read through some of his latest as he looked on.

 

   “I really like this one,” she said. “I keep coming back to it:

 

‘Before the sun cuts through the morning trees
I wake and review the cramped ledger of my life.
Before I knew her I trembled.
 

‘Now I tremble more.’

 

   She held up. “Is this ... about me?”

 

   “And our fucked future.”

 

   “It’s ... beautiful. And scary. And ... outrageous. Want to put some music to it?”

 

   “The answer to that question, Laurie Meadowlark, coming from you, will always, always, always be yes. Let’s do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Fog had settled over the city by the time she got home. It was supposed to last another couple days, according to forecasters, and get thicker. The weather this early summer had been unusually cool. She didn’t mind at all. Cool was better than hot.

 

   Mom came in with groceries, which Laurie helped unload from the car; then helped her cook. Baked ziti. They sat an hour later and dug in.

 

   “You seem to have something on your mind, honey. Mind sharing?” Mom asked as they finished up.

 

   Laurie took a drink of water, set the glass down. “Just a little depressed. Thinking about college, the future, all that scary stuff.”

 

   “It’s much more complicated for you than it was for me, and it was already way too much back then! Anything in particular that’s got you down?”

 

   “Nothing you don’t already know about. Knox thinks we should focus on music and playing and let the chips fall where they may. Not really a sound financial plan. But I’m tempted.”

 

   “I would be too. It’s minimum wage and unlivable standards everywhere now. College degrees aren’t worth the generic toilet paper they’re printed on. The only thing that matters now is how rich you are going in, how connected.”

 

   “Exactly!” exclaimed Laurie. “That’s exactly how it is!”

 

   When Mom didn’t respond, she asked, “Where’s the lecture?”

 

   “What lecture?”

 

   “The standard parental one all kids hear growing up! That one!”

 

   “I’m not sure which one you’re referring to.”

 

   “The one about chasing security and money, how both are the most important things in life! That one! The one about finding a ma-yan and settling down and making a home in suburbia; the one about being a good wife and mother and having babies and finding a ma-yan who’s ‘financially secure,’ that one! Where’s that lecture?”

 

   “Is that what you want to hear?”

 

   Frustrated, she shook her head, then clutched it with her hands. “No. It isn’t,” she murmured, staring down at her empty plate. “I guess. I mean ... I feel so lost, so ... adrift! I don’t know what to do with my life!”

 

   “I can’t tell you what you should do, honey. I won’t. You know me: I’m not the kind of mother who would tell you to do all that ... well, for lack of a better word, bullshit.”

 

   She didn’t cuss often; when she did, it deserved immediate attention, because Laurie knew whatever she was saying was being said in grave seriousness. She stared at her and waited.

 

   “I may not know much, but I know this: this world is careening towards total destruction because far too many people listen to advice like that, and dispense it to their kids, and so on forever. Don’t get me wrong. Security is good. Money is nice to have. Having a roof over your head and clothes on your back ... those are good things. Necessary things. And you should do what you need to in order to provide for your being.

 

   “But honey ... your being is so much more than that. You have a soul, too. And it should never, ever take second place to your physical needs. Do you understand?”

 

   “How can I take care of my soul if I can’t take care of my body?” demanded Laurie, sniffling.

 

   “The more important question is: What does it matter if you can take care of your body but in doing so have lost your soul?”

 

   Laurie pounded the table with her elbows, making the dishes and silverware clink and rattle. “Why—does—it—have—to—be—so—hard?”

 

   Mom brought her chair closer and pulled her into a hug, one that released the sob she was fighting desperately to hold back.

 

   “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.”

 

 

 

 

 

She came downstairs dressed in her stage outfit—a lace-trimmed, tight-fitting black top, and jeans. Except this top ...

 

   “Wow ...” said Laurie with a laugh. “Really? Aw, Mom ...”

 

   “What are they going to do? What do you think?”

 

   On her left shoulder, artfully embroidered in a colorful mix of threads, was Knox; on the right shoulder, Laurie. The print was easily large enough to be seen by the audience many rows back; the black of the shirt making them obvious, almost glowing. “I had Mister Jackson’s wife down the street sew them in. She’s got that Etsy store, you know, the one that makes all those fancy quilts.”

 

   Laurie hugged her. “I’ll tell Knox. Thank you ...”

 

   She pulled back. “They are gonna be so pissed!

 

   Mom shrugged. “Oh, well!”

 

   “Are you heading out now?”

 

   “To their new bachelor ‘cave,’ yeah. Tex’s father bought them a used van. They insist I go with them—all this rah, rah, we’re a team thing, look at us, the unified rock n’ roll band.

 

   “You mean,” Laurie grinned, “they are actually listening to the idiots on their Facebook page?”

 

   “And their Patreon page, yes,” said Mom, shaking her head. “They’re pissed about the ones that keep flaming them about firing us. Not a small number of those. Terry and Aaron have insinuated that they got rid of us because we’re troublemakers.”

 

   “I saw that. Jackasses.”

 

   “So this is the least I can do. I’m going to go out protesting. You bet your ass I’m going to!”

 

   They hugged again. “See you there?”

 

   “Doors open at nine, like usual?”

 

   Mom reached and cupped her face. “I love you.”

 

   “Love you to. Now I can’t wait to go!”

 

   “I thought you’d say that. See you there.”

 

 

 

 

 

She finally found parking and walked the four blocks to the bar. She was twenty minutes late. Normally that would concern and irritate her, but not this time, because she spied Terry angrily rounding a corner and disappearing from sight. She followed him and smirked: they too were late. He was still hauling equipment out of their new-old van into the back entrance to the stage. Tex was with him; she spied Aaron too, who saw her. He threw her a look of unbridled hate and went inside.

 

   That made her smirk even more.

 

   She rounded the corner to the front and joined the queue waiting there. It was, admittedly, larger than normal, which wiped a little of the smile from her face.

 

   Meadowlark attracted all types, it seemed, from metal-heads to gaggles of giggling suburban mothers wearing hot pink tops and trying really hard to play teenager again. There were bikers in the mix, and frat boys; there were girls with dyed black or purple hair and heavy makeup and leather to ...

 

   “Hi,” he said as she passed him, falling in line behind him.

 

   “Hi,” she quietly returned. She had learned long ago to avoid eye contact with boys and men if she didn’t want to be hit on, so she didn’t look at him. Now, behind him, she allowed herself to look.

 

   He was a trim middle-aged man, neatly combed auburn hair, clean-shaven, expensive business-casual jacket, somewhat pointy chin, what had to be a very expensive gold and silver watch and custom-cobbled shoes.

 

   He turned to face her. “Laurie Meadowlark, right?”

 

   She blinked. “Right.”

 

   He held out his hand. “Good to meet you, Laurie. I’m Reuben Kincaid.”

 

   She shook it. “Uh ... wow. It’s really great to meet you.”

 

   Mr. Kincaid was a publicist and band manager, one of the best and highest paid in the country, if the rumors about him were even half true. Everyone in music had heard of him. He had recently retired, Mom had told her not too long ago, from managing Taylor Swift—Taylor friggin’ Swift! He was a bona fide biggie in the industry, which made him knowing her name both astonishing and somewhat terrifying.

 

   “I’m sorry to hear about the band changes,” he said. “It happens all the time. I’m just sorry it happened to you.”

 

   “Me? You’ve heard about ... me?

 

   He glanced up the line, then back. “Meadowlark—I mean, the new Meadowlark—contacted me through Dan Schnelling a week ago. They asked that I show up tonight. I was in San Francisco, so I thought, ‘What the hell ...’ ”

 

   “Well,” she said, fumbling for something to say, “I hope you enjoy the sh—”

 

   “I’m doing this as a favor to Schnelling, frankly,” he said. “He’s convinced with you and your mother and Knox Mulloy gone that Meadowlark is ready for the big time. Truth is, I think Meadowlark is farther from any sort of ‘big time’ than ever. But hey—what do I know? I’ve been wrong before.”

 

   He turned to face her fully. “You and Mulloy were the real backbone of that group.”

 

   She flushed. Such a compliment coming from such a well-known industry bigwig!

 

   “Thank you.”

 

   “I mean it. A group needs fire. It needs passion. It needs authenticity, even if half your set are covers. That was you; and that was very much Knox Mulloy. Did he come with you tonight by chance? I’d really like to meet him.”

 

   “No,” she replied. “He had to work.”

 

   “Let me guess. Fast food.”

 

   “Shake and fries,” she sang.

 

   His smile was genuine. “Ann Wilson.”

 

   “Sorry?”

 

   “Your singing voice. Ann Wilson. You sound pretty close to her.”

 

   She knew he had managed Heart in the past. She was flummoxed to the point of speechlessness.

 

   “And Mulloy,” he chuckled. “I’ll be a son of a bitch if that isn’t the next John Bonham. Seriously. It’s beyond stupid that they chucked that kid. Just ... stupid.”

 

   “I will send him your regards,” she managed to get out.

 

   He laughed. “You will ‘send him’ my ‘regards’? Holy shit! When was the last time I heard anyone in this lousy industry say something with decency and a little class?” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for that!” He laughed again.

 

   She was standing at the cliff-edge of catatonic awe and about to fall off. In an effort not to, she asked, “You’re ... standing in line? You? I’d think just walking up to the backstage door would get you in right away!”

 

   The line had started moving; bouncers were collecting tickets and stamping hands. He motioned for her to join him.

 

   “I like getting a feel for a crowd before a show,” he told her as she came up alongside him. “The best way to do that isn’t after you’re let into a venue; it’s before, out here in line. It’s a habit my mentor taught me. It’s quite valuable.”

 

   “So what does this line tell you?”

 

   He shrugged. “They’re interested, mildly so. Meadowlark has kinda-sorta minor celebrity status in this town. The band has a following, I suppose enough to make the possibility of ‘the big time’ tantalizing—at least to newbies. I’m sure they don’t think I’ll show. I didn’t even bother buying a ticket.”

 

   She chuckled. “Neither did I.”

 

   They laughed.

 

   They got to the bouncers. “Ticket?” demanded the bigger one (they were both huge and intimidating).

 

   “Nah. None,” said Mr. Kincaid. “Let the band know that Reuben Kincaid is here.”

 

   The other bouncer’s eyes went wide. He hurried inside. The other one focused on Laurie. “You’re not allowed in, Miss Meadowlark. Sorry. Band’s strict orders.”

 

   She was about to blurt, “What the fuck—?” when Mr. Kincaid said, “If they want me to watch them, they’ll change their tune on that tootsweet. I suggest you let them know.”

 

   “I don’t know who you are, Mister ...” the bouncer began, his goateed visage darkening. He went to continue, but the other came rushing back. “Mister Kincaid. Come on in.”

 

   “Not without her,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

 

   The bouncer held up, then motioned them inside.

 

   “Please, Laurie, won’t you join me?” he asked as they made their way to a seat along the bar’s back side. The bouncer who’d let them in rushed up. “You need to have this on at all times.”

 

   He gave her a huge white shirt clip, outlined in neon red, that said:

 

MINOR.
DO NOT SERVE ALCOHOL.

 

   “Yeah, whatever,” she murmured, and snatched it from his hand. Mr. Kincaid led her to a table with two empty seats, one of many back here. The band had definitely not sold out, she thought as she sat down.

 

   “Something to drink?” Mr. Kincaid asked as he got comfortable and she put on the clip.

 

   She remembered that Fifth Avenue served Zevia, so when the waitress approached, that’s what she asked for. “Zevia cola, please.”

 

   “What the heck is ‘Zevia’?” he demanded.

 

   “Soft drinks with Stevia instead of sugar. Really good.”

 

   “Make that two,” Mr. Kincaid told the waitress, who had probably recognized him, because she had to be told twice. Her gawk disappeared; she blinked, smiled, and hurried away.

 

   “That must get really old after a while.”

 

   He chuckled. “You have no idea.”

 

   The venue had tables and seats along the back and the sides. These were up stairs; the main floor, which usually had tables and chairs as well, was barren concrete. The stage was fairly plain: no curtains, standard rock-show lighting, larger than most, which in the past she had appreciated. It tended to be quite cold up there, as air conditioning always seemed to be blasting down. The last time she played here, she actually got a little hypothermic; as a result she kept missing notes from her hands shaking.

 

   The waitress returned, cans of Zevia and glasses with ice. She gave Mr. Kincaid a quick awestruck smile and hurried away once again.

 

   “I’d’a thought you a Scotch man,” Laurie commented, trying to make friendly conversation. She was honestly lost for words at this point, uncomfortably so.

 

   He poured some soft drink into his glass. “I was. A fifth every night. Then I lost my wife, my kids, my home, got fired—twice, in the same day—lost thirty-six million in the settlement, got in a nearly fatal car crash, had my name plastered all over the Internet ...”

 

   He lifted his glass in a toast. She did as well, trying not to gape at his honesty. “Here’s to six and a half years sober.”

 

   He clinked his glass to hers and drank.

 

   “Not bad ... not bad at all!” he said, examining the clear liquid.

 

   “Congratulations,” she offered, feeling deeply awkward. Was that what you did—congratulate those who stayed sober?

 

   “This business ...” he said, shaking his head “... drugs and drinking are so foundationally wrapped up in its mystique that I doubt they’ll ever get untangled and discarded. If you’re a rock star, it just goes with the territory. It’s fairly mind boggling to me just how many get into this racket with that front and center in their mind, as though it’s some sort of job requirement.”

 

   She couldn’t help but think of Terry and Aaron, who, it seemed, were high and/or drunk all the damn time.

 

   “Yeah,” she replied. “I think that’s at least part of what got me and Mom thrown out.”

 

   “It’s probably a waste of breath to tell you not to take it personally—?”

 

   She nodded balefully, staring at the ice in her glass.

 

   “Good. Because that advice is bullshit. You should take it personally. As should Knox Mulloy; as should your mother.”

 

   At that moment the lights fell and the crowd—definitely not a sold out one—came to life, cheering and clapping. Under purple lighting the emcee came out, headset on, and yelled, “Good evening! We’ve got two-fers going until 10; taps half off; and just to remind everyone, next Saturday Priority Mail will be playing one night only! For now, give it up for Meadowlark!”

 

   An electric guitar sounded a hard E chord, then went into the intro to one of their signature songs, “Simply Driven,” as the band came out onto the stage. Terry approached the stage’s front like some conquering hero as girls at his feet squealed; he gave them a grinning acknowledgement and began singing. Mom was at keyboards, typically what Laurie played; Aaron was on bass, and, of course, Tex Lansing was bashing the skins.

 

   Laurie wasn’t focusing on them, but a fifth player she’d never met, another guitarist to the right of Terry: long, straight black hair, eyeliner, multiple piercings and tats, heroin-addict thin, wearing some sort of silly get-up that showed most of his stick arms and flat stomach over tight black leather pants.

 

   They had greatly increased the tempo to the song, and totally changed the guitar accompaniment. Mom, the names on her shoulders plain even back here, sang backup. Usually she smiled and looked out at the audience; tonight she stared down at the keyboards, her face very serious. Aaron, to her immediate left, jumped up and down.

 

   The song was in nightmarish ruins. Just like that.

 

   “God-damnit,” she murmured.

 

   “I take it they have changed it in a way that you don’t like,” Mr. Kincaid remarked, having to speak loudly.

 

   It was arguably her favorite song. She was its coauthor, along with Mom and Knox. It was difficult not to fly in a rage. Keeping it under wraps only made tears burn up in her eyes. She gritted her teeth and peered at him.

 

   Thankfully, it was all the answer he needed. He gave her forearm a couple of sympathetic pats.

 

   There were more songs she’d written with Knox and Mom; and sure enough, they had butchered those as well. Terry announced, “We’ve got somethin’ brand spankin’ new for you all tonight.”

 

   As far as she could tell, its title was “Massively Doinked,” given the number of times he screamed it. The lyrics came down to, essentially: I’m gonna do what I want; I know what I want; Ain’t no way you’re gonna stop me; Burn it all down; Get off my ass.

 

   It and the other “brand spankin’ new” ones were all very similar tone: very metal-based and angry, Terry metal-screaming into the mike, few chord changes; Tex Lansing breaking drumsticks with great gusto and much less than half the talent of Knox.

 

   Mom played along, wooden and stiff, a clear frown on her face, which, given the tone and the lyrics, actually made it appear as though she was just getting into the songs’ character. But Laurie knew she wasn’t. Terry went to her once between tunes and yelled something; she glanced up at him, eyes wide with anger, and went back to staring at the keyboard.

 

   “I think she’s really not having much fun up there tonight,” observed Mr. Kincaid.

 

   Laurie had just managed to get a handle on her rage. “So what do you think?”

 

   “Of this new Meadowlark?”

 

   “Yeah.”

 

   “I don’t. It’s a junior high school garage band. They’ve butchered Meadowlark’s best compositions.”

 

   “I’m sorry you wasted your time coming here,” she remarked, feeling genuinely bad for him while astonished that he knew anything about their music.

 

   “Nonsense,” he replied after setting his glass down. “I got to meet you. Did you drive here?”

 

   She nodded.

 

   “I’ll walk you to your car. Ready to go, or do you want to hang around to talk to your mom?”

 

   “I’ll see her when she gets home. Let’s go.”

 

   She was impressed that he knew that their set was almost over; but then, his experience and expertise was probably so finely tuned that it was second nature for him to know such things. She stood with him as the band launched into another new tune. She gave Mom a last glance at the door.

 

   It’s almost over, Mom. Then you and I can have some hot chocolate and celebrate your freedom. See you soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kincaid held out his hand when she got to her car. She took it.

 

   “It was a real pleasure meeting you, Laurie. Please give your mom and Knox my best.”

 

   “I will,” she returned. “They won’t believe I met you, let alone got to sit with you!”

 

   He went to respond, but stopped. “I’m really not all that. I got lucky. Very lucky. I got into the biz when the getting was good. I had some really smart people around me, only two of which I can claim I even wanted there.

 

   “Most of all, though,” he said, sighing reflectively, “I came from great wealth. I was born on third. For a long time I deluded myself that I’d hit a triple. But I hadn’t. That wealth provided all sorts of connections for me to plumb—even before I was your age! I heard just last week my first apartment—the one I bought at the tender age of twenty-one—just sold for eighteen and a half million dollars. I only paid a million for it.”

 

   “Sure,” he went on, “sure. Those bozos might get lucky and hit it big. They might. Truthfully, they have more talent than some who have made it, and are popular still. So I can’t discount the possibility. But the truth is, Laurie, it’s remote. Same goes for you, and for Knox. You’re quite talented. And he’s phenomenal. But that doesn’t mean squat in the end. Your futures are like great, deep ruts already dug out for you, ones that’ll take tons of luck—not hard work, luck—to get out of. This is not a democracy. It’s a full-on oligarchy. And those bastards hold all the power. Believe me. I’m one of them.”

 

   She was surprised and silenced by his speech. Then it hit her.

 

   “Is that ... I mean ... is that how you know about me? About Knox?”

 

   He smiled. “I was born on third, Laurie. I haven’t had to work a single day of my life. I chose to because ... well ... I was very high at the time; but also, I had some spark of democratic idealism in me. Imagine that! A bratty silver-spooned punk oligarch wanting to go fight for democracy! So my dad pulled some strings and I got into music. It was sheer blind luck that I had an aptitude for it and took it someplace.”

 

   He cupped her face. “You have talent. Never forget that. The world is going to ignore you, because the world only cares about cash and connections. You stand no chance of ‘making it,’ however you define that. But damn ... I really hope you keep playing. Knox too. I’d say the same about your mother, but after what I saw tonight, I doubt she’ll play again. That woman was pissed off.”

 

   She nodded. He hadn’t answered her question. She wasn’t going to press him.

 

   He reached into his suit coat, pulled out what looked like a checkbook, and handed her his card. “Let’s keep in touch.”

 

   “I’d really like that. Thank you, Mister Kincaid.”

 

   He gave her a sad smile, turned and walked away.

 

 

 

 

 

The doorbell rang at half past one—the exact time she expected Mom to walk in. Blinking with confusion, she got up and ran to it.

 

   Two cops were waiting. “Laurie Meadowlark?”

 

   “Yes...?”

 

   “I’m sorry,” the taller, darker one said, “but your mother and brother have been involved in a serious car crash. They’re in the hospital.”

 

 

 

~~*~~