Life is tough when you're dating a Country Music Superstar !
Guitars & Cadillacs
by Sabine Keevil
Fifty thousand voices screaming—the sound was almost deafening even backstage. Only a few minutes now and they would give him the signal to step out in front of the fully packed arena.
Oblivious to the security people staying close to his side and the backstage personnel hurrying by him, feeling completely alone, he stood in the chilly, barren corridor that led to the stage, waiting for his cue to go on.
It was hard to tell who was more anxious to see the stage lights come up, the crowd, waiting to see him, or Colton himself, waiting to get out there and just let ‘er rip’. As always just before a big concert, he was nervous and tight-lipped. These last few minutes were the worst, waiting to just get out there and start singing.
Nervously he paced the small expanse of the corridor, irritating his security guards in their identical red and black satin shirts, black Stetson hats and black cowboy boots. Unfortunately they had become a necessity of late, what with the threats he sometimes got—some serious, some just from wild fans who wanted a piece of anything that was his. He rubbed his hands up and down the legs of his jeans and studied his reflection in the shiny glass of a display case on the wall.
His stage outfit was relatively simple, having been worked at and refined by so many image consultants and now, finally, getting back to the same type of clothes he had been wearing since he first stepped onto a stage, Levis so tight it was hard to even stand up in them, a rhinestone studded, black tuxedo jacket and the ubiquitous Stetson and boots. Of the hats, he had several in reserve as he had a habit of throwing them into the crowd at various points during his act.
They had come to see him, Colton, Mr. Right, Wright. Mr. Right to the ladies who comprised about eighty percent of his fans and who became dreamy eyed over his pictures all around the country. One day it had gone beyond the music and Colton Wright had become an image, the mysterious stranger of so many dreams, epitomized by a smoldering stare out of a glossy eight by ten.
The crew exited the stage and Colton readied himself. He could still hear the cheers, “Col-ton, Col-ton, Col-ton”, and he smiled to himself, adjusted his hat and put himself silently into that mental space that said Showtime.
“Showtime,” he said out loud, gave his lead guitarist a high five and stepped onto the platform that would lift him through a cloud of smoke onto the stage. His opening special effects were as legendary as he was and often copied. For a kid who had started with one beat up Sunburst guitar and a used amp he had come a long way, now employing an army of special effects technicians and stage designers.
The lights went down and the voice of his road manager echoed over the cheers of the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, would you welcome to the stage, straight out of Nashville, Tennessee…SoundMaster recording artist…our very own…Mr. Colton Wright!”
The stage platform came up, the smoke billowed and the noise hit him like a tornado at full gale force, fifty thousand fans on their feet, screaming.
“Helloooooo Nashville! How y’all doing tonight?”
The cheers became deafening.
“I thought I’d come down here, do a few songs from my new album, if that’s all right. Let’s see how y’all like it.”
He slung his guitar in front of him, pointed a finger at his band and leapt right into it.
“I know I’m just a simple man,
Don’t use a lot of fancy words.
But when the day’s work is done,
I come alive at the Honky Tonk.
My truck, my boots, my Stetson hat,
Everything I ever had,
My Honky Tonk Hardware, my Honky Tonk Hardware.”
The beat of the drums made the floor vibrate. He raised his hands and began clapping in huge sweeping gestures. “Hey!” he screamed, and on the next turn fifty thousand people in the audience had picked up the rhythm and clapped right along with him.
“Hey!” they screamed right back at him. Frank on electric guitar and Tony on fiddle fell into the rhythm and into the song.
“Hey!” By this time he owned them. A sea of fifty thousand faces, every man and woman on their feet.
This was what they had come for and he would give them everything he had. He owned them for this night, for the next few hours.
“Col-ton, Col-ton, Col-ton!” They screamed his name. He reached out as if he could touch each and every one of them. The melody, the rhythm started taking over his heart and soul, his entire self now, he lived every note and he wanted them to feel the same way. He stepped to the edge of the stage spreading his arms wide. They were singing right along with him by now. Arms reached out, clutched at his boots, his legs, just to touch a part of him, of the legend. He reached down to grasp reaching hands, eliciting more screams, more excitement.
Oh yeah, this was it, they were his now, he'd make them forget their worries and their lives for a few hours and let the music take them away as it took him in a rush of rhythm and drumbeats and breathless guitar riffs.
With a final “Hey!” he reached high for the bank of spotlights above him and gave himself over to the power of his songs pulling along an audience of fifty thousand. They stood on the chairs for the fast, rocking numbers, they danced in the aisles, they pulled out their Bic lighters and illuminated the arena for his slow ballads, and the more they got into his songs, into his music, the more Colton came alive on that stage. And they sang along, swaying and waving, beating him to the words of his own songs sometimes. They knew them by heart—just as well as he did.
And just when they thought there was nothing new he could come up with, he would throw in stunts that got crazier by the minute. He covered the stage, dancing from one end to the other, never standing still for longer than a few seconds, dancing, running and jumping like the devil himself. There was very little choreography, he let the energy flow from the audience to him and back to the audience again. He shot cannons of confetti at the crowd and stood in circles of fire and smoke. He climbed the rigging, sang sitting in the rafters and running down the aisles in the midst of his fans.
There was nothing he couldn’t do and nowhere he couldn’t go tonight. He felt like a king on that stage holding a court of thousands. When he was singing, when he had a crowd screaming at him, he was invincible, he could do anything, be anything, he was no longer just a man, just a singer, he reigned supreme, he was indestructible. The Feeling—yes the Feeling had come back into him tonight.
The more the crowd was into it the more it made anything he was doing feel right. Few of his stunts were planned, set up. He just went out there and winged it—felt it, did whatever came to mind, to the point that sometimes he got in the way of his own band, or waded out into the audience if that’s what felt right just about then. His security people called it a nightmare, but anyone who had ever attended a Colton Wright concert came away believing they had seen a once in a lifetime event. And, most assuredly, they had.
“And we are live in 3 – 2 – 1...”
The ‘on air’ light above her head turned red and Reanne moved closer to the microphone and smiled at it. She always did that, certain that her attitude would come through over the airwaves.
“And welcome back to KSOM Radio, you’re with Reanne Parker and the Early Morning Show. And what a morning it is, 78 degrees outside our studio windows and the sun is just a-smiling down on us. So let’s start the day out on the right foot. I’ve got a great lineup of songs here. Give me a call if there’s something special you’d like to hear, if you want to say hi to someone or if you just want to talk to us. Here we go, let’s get the day off to a good start with Garth Brooks!”
Carefully she hit the button on her console that would bring the music up—it wouldn’t do to get that one wrong, again—and turned the swinging microphone away. Yet another switch activated the intercom.
“Where on earth is Jack?” she asked of her sound engineer. “Seems to me my dear co-host is leaving pretty much everything to me...again”.
Alan gave her an exaggerated shrug from behind the soundproofed glass of the engineering booth. “Jack’s never been a guy to get up before the sun darlin’. How he ever ended up with the early morning gig is beyond me. You got three minutes of music left—notes are on your desk.”
Reanne thumbed the headphones back into place and sorted through the notes for this morning’s show. Weather, traffic, business news, more traffic, more weather, that was all she had...b o r i n g.
How was she supposed to put together a show out of this—without the aid of a co-host, or even a listener calling with a dedication, a joke...anything. Right about now even a lame joke would do, at least give her something to talk about at six a.m. on a Wednesday morning without putting folks to sleep. How about a nice little crime somewhere she could mention, at least a misdemeanor. In all her years of listening to radio, even early morning radio, it had never occurred to her to pay attention to the content, the flow of the show and, even now, under Jack’s careful tutelage there were moments when she just hit a wall. When she was stuck for something to say or do that would keep her listeners from touching that dial. And keeping those listeners, that’s what it was all about. She was just hoping and praying she would not lose too many before she acquired Jack’s casual ease at the microphone. ‘You either sink or swim,’ was one of his favorite lines. Unfortunately, right now she was in serious need of a life preserver.
“Come on Jack,” she muttered under her breath, eyes on the digital clock on the wall. For all his faults Jack had this ability to make even traffic sound entertaining if he wanted to. In his opinion, however, his hours were at best flexible. And KSOM could not afford to even threaten to fire him. He was one of Nashville’s most popular DJs. As the story went, when Jack had switched from his old station to KSOM he brought most of his listeners with him. Because of that the old station had changed their format to hard rock. Well, that was his version of the story anyway and, all things considered, Reanne could count herself fortunate to be training under him, especially with her own checkered career history. KSOM and Jack Daniels were a plum job assignment, but…
I am grateful for this job, she repeated like a mantra to try and stop her mind from going back onto that particular train of thought. It was useless and painful to worry about the things that might have been. I am grateful for this job, and things are looking up.
After her disastrous attempt to make it as a performer in the music business—Stop it! Stop it, stop feeling sorry for yourself!
But the thought didn’t stop and it didn’t stop the feeling that it should be her record being announced next, that she should be preparing for an interview with some hapless radio DJ...if she hadn’t blown her one big chance at a live performance…
Alan caught her eye with a hand signal. Coming up on traffic, time and weather in five...
The seat beside Reanne exploded with movement as Jack slid into it.
“Well a top o’ the morning to you Nashville, it’s 6:05 in the a.m. and this is Jack Daniels telling you where you’re going to be stuck in traffic this morning, and you will be stuck, if you aren’t already. Grab the cell phones folks, call in late cause it’s a doozie out there. One of our typical Nashville mornings that is. Hey, what can you do? Sit back, relax, listen to us. More on this and the local weather when we come back with Jack and Reanne in the morning.”
Effortlessly his stubby fingers flew over the buttons keying up a commercial break. Reanne felt a momentary stab of envy. His apparent ease on air, confidence and assurance around the most sophisticated equipment, anywhere really, almost to the point of arrogance...perhaps if she could stick it out with this job for a while, perhaps then she could have a portion of that. And just a portion would make her grateful.
“Mornin’ Doll,” he drawled, grinning and raising a quick eyebrow at the misery in her face. “Anythin’ happen before I got here?”
She flicked a finger at their notes, scattering them towards him. “Nothing worth mentioning in here, unless you can get some more mileage out of the fact that Colton Wright is in town, and I talked that single fact to death yesterday. Any more to the rumors that he might do an interview with us?”
“Ah, Mr. Right, the dream of thousands of ladies, he’s in town again as of yesterday, isn’t he? His nationwide tour is finished. Well, if we do get him for an interview, get ready. That’ll be one of your finest moments yet. You can draw the charm right out of him. He’ll just absolutely adore you my dear Reanne.”
“Me? Interview Colton Wright? Surely you jest kind sir. Jack I couldn’t do nearly as good a job as you. I still screw up the buttons around here if I don’t concentrate every second. Naw, I’d prefer to just watch while you do something brilliant.”
“Hello…, this is Mr. Right we’re talking about. There’s no way I can do it, Babe! A guy talking to Mr. Sexy? The country music gods would have my scalp. Honey you’ll be fabulous. Anyway, you’ll have plenty of time to practice before then, if we do get one. And if you get totally stuck, drop a hint or two on how you used to be a singer and the story that goes with that, you’ll have him eating out of your hand.”
Reanne winced. In a weak moment she had told Jack a few bits and pieces of her singer/songwriter past. Not enough for him to piece the whole story together—but enough for him to know that there was more to it than she had let on.
“Yeah right Jack. I never even got close to his level. He’s a Superstar times ten. Three platinum albums, fifteen singles that went to number one, not a single concert in the last two years that wasn’t sold out within hours of going on sale...Colton Wright would see me as an amateur, Jack, a bad one at that.”
Jack just waved his hand. “You’re my student, you’ll not only do well, you’ll glow. Now...” He put down his coffee cup and pulled up the microphone, the discussion was over, it was as if he had a switch on him somewhere, he could go from chatting with you to ‘on-air’ in two seconds flat.
“Well set the UV index to bust folks, its going to be hot hot hot all day. Mind you, not as hot as it is here in the studio with Jack and his puuuurty lil’ assistant Reanne...”
“Don’t listen to him people, he’s overdone the donuts this morning.”
“Woo-ho and the sassy little mouth she’s got on her. Well Reanne my dear what do you think of the stories that are circulating now that Mr. Right, Colton Wright, is back here in town this week. Does that give you some wonderful dreams?”
“Well, Jack they say he’s one of the most talented country singers of our time and he certainly has a string of number one records to prove it, but as a woman I’ve got to tell you one thing—there is no one in this business who wears a pair of tight blue jeans quite like Colton Wright. He is dee-licious. Mm-hm.”
“I am so hurt Reanne, that you would pick a pretty boy like Mr. Right over good ol’ Jack—my heart is breaking.”
“Well Jack, you’ll get over it, all two hundred pounds of you. But until you do, here is the Man himself, Mr. Right and his latest single It’s Always Been You.”
Jack keyed up the next music segment and pushed his microphone away.
“Ya see, you can do it if you put your mind to it. Now hold the fort here, will you. I’ll be in Rod’s office in conference for a while.”
Rod Steele was their station manager and, somehow, Reanne suspected Jack was giving him an update on how she, the newcomer, was doing. From the way he acted Jack was happy with how she had settled into the radio business and there was nothing she had to worry about, her performance reviews kept getting better as time wore on. It was really her own inner critic she had to silence, especially in the dark moments, when she was alone and allowed herself to think about such things. That was when she wondered and worried, when she asked herself if she was truly happy with this new career, if she had found something she truly loved, ‘Your soul’s work’ as Oprah would call it. The thing with radio was, you didn’t really get an immediate feedback from your public. Yeah, if your ratings are telling you you’re losing listeners, then something is wrong. Or if a disproportionate number of people are calling in and calling you distinctly unflattering names, then you know you have to do something. Until then, peer review or the sometimes-jaded opinions of your friends are really all you had to go on.
Reanne sighed and tried to remember which one of the buttons in front of her would cue up the commercial track and not a loud whistle, a dog bark or a giant explosion, all of which she had set off by mistake at various times. In every case Jack, and probably a large number of listeners too, had been laughing until their eyes watered but Reanne had not been amused.
“Give yourself a break,” Jack would say. “You haven’t been here all that long.” Which was true even if it didn’t help much. A few months ago, when she was desperately looking for a job, any job, she had applied as a receptionist with KSOM. Jack had by chance been in the lobby when she dropped off her resume.
“Hey you’ve got a beautiful voice, did you ever think about being on radio?” he had asked and to this day he wouldn’t admit to whether it was a pick-up line or the truth. And that, as they say, was that. How a career was born. Things had just kind of worked out without any major participation on her part, and now here she was, the on-air co-host of the ‘Jack and Reanne in the Morning’ show.
I am grateful, she thought. Grateful not to be washing dishes or cleaning floors or any of the other menial job she had been ready to tackle to keep the rent money coming in. This thing had all of sudden turned into a career but she still wasn’t too sure if it was truly the one she wanted. A year ago she would have said no, the only career she was interested in was one that involved her standing on a stage entertaining large audiences. Now, however...
Nevertheless, no matter how things turned out, she was determined to do the best job she could, while trying to figure out if her dreams of being a singer belonged on the shelf permanently.
Working the morning show had its own problems if you were single. A lot of folks preferred it because it meant you were home by maybe two in the afternoon with lots of time to spend with your family and friends. To Reanne it meant she was home by maybe two in the afternoon with too much time on her hands to think. She didn’t know that many people in Nashville yet, none of them close enough to be called friends. Calling home was out of the question for its own set of reasons and so Reanne had taken to long solitary walks. She learned to navigate Nashville on foot in a hurry, always listening to loud music on her Walkman.
It was late that night when a bout of insomnia drove her out of her apartment again and into the streets. Jack’s hints at a solo interview with Colton Wright and his unshakable belief in her abilities had brought up the old doubts again. Thoughts of her messed up career in music and her odd rise to where she was now in the radio business, and they had not left her alone all day. And, really, it was mostly the memories that haunted her, memories and thoughts of what could have been, might have been, if she just had been a tiny bit more courageous. Mostly, her thoughts seemed to start with, if I had only. Once that train of thought got a hold of her, it usually would not let go. There was nothing to do but grab a coat and her Walkman, and head out for a long, exhausting walk, in the hopes of tiring herself out so much that she would come back to the apartment, slip into bed and fall asleep.
Since she had come to Nashville ten months ago she really hadn’t made many new friends, whatever acquaintances she had made in the music business had disappeared in a hurry after the ‘big disaster’ as if she was carrying something that was contagious and they might catch it if they hung around her. The radio business didn’t really lend itself to making lots of friends either; mostly it was you and a microphone and what you hoped were large numbers of listeners glued to their radios in rapt attention. No, as a place for a social life it sucked. There was Jack of course, he seemed to have formed an odd attachment to her as if at his age he had finally realized that he would never have a daughter and he had taken her under his wing. Or, perhaps more simply, they were just two lonely people.
Reanne headed through Riverfront Park and down the familiar road to the Cumberland River. During the day this area would have been humming with people. Sightseers enjoying the park or taking one of the riverboat cruises and locals who liked to take their lunch on one of the benches scattered throughout.
Riverfront Park was a good spot to get lost in during the day, just follow the crowds. But now, at night, the paths were deserted, locals and visitors alike having decamped to the more popular nightclubs and bars of downtown Nashville. Reanne wasn’t really afraid of walking alone at night, she had done it many times and the thought of her own safety had never crossed her mind.
Slowly she kept turning up the volume on her CD player to keep the loneliness at bay. It didn’t truly matter what was playing, anything fast with a beat to it would do and she just kept turning it up hoping it would drown out her own racing mind and the press of memories. Memories, doubts and, sometimes, tears.
Sometimes, like tonight, she would walk so far, so fast, she would lose track of her immediate surroundings and she would have to stop and check for major landmarks before turning and finding her way back again. Oh yeah, you could get lost in this city, easily, but the one thing you couldn’t do was outrun your past, lose some of the sad memories along the track, they had a way of sticking with you.
Still, like a barely healed wound that one can’t resist picking at, she let her mind return to the very same thought almost every day. If only—If only... She clung to those ifs in her life hoping that one day she would be able to take out the memories of that very best, very wonderful but very short moment of her life and enjoy them without feeling the pain. That glorious moment when all her hopes and dreams for the future, her deepest and fondest wishes seemed to have come true...for one instant, only to be snatched away again almost immediately.
Reanne picked up her pace; trying to walk away from the memory...faster, faster, follow the beat. The road down to the river followed a hill, winding and curving to the bottom, where it followed the riverbank. From the top of the hill she could see the dark band of the river winding away. Here and there reflected streetlights glittered on the surface, as if someone had spilled a bag of diamonds there. Diamonds. “Diamond West,” Reanne said quietly as if tasting her erstwhile stage name on her lips. Diamond West—that was me, she thought, for about thirty seconds—and then....
Don’t think about it, don’t think...Unfortunately her stubborn mind refused the silent command.
Up ahead a piece of orange construction fencing surrounded a hole, most likely one of the city’s many notorious potholes being worked on.
Reanne, with her headphones leaving her oblivious to her surroundings and half of her mind persistently gnawing on one single subject while the other half tried to ignore that same thought, turned to pass the fence on the left. She didn’t hear the car coming up behind her, never realized that she was in any danger…until it was too late.
Thanks for reading the first chapter of Guitars & Cadillacs. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
GUITARS & CADILLACS
Published by Thinking Dog Publishing
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
© copyright Sabine Keevil 2002 All Rights Reserved
ISBN, Standard ed.: 0-9689973-0-9
ISBN, Limited 1st Ed.: 0-9689973-5-X
FOREVER LOVE, by Deanna Bryant, Liz Hengber, Sunny Russ
© 1998 WB Music Corp. (ASCAP), Glen Nikki Music (ASCAP),
Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI) & Missoula Music (BMI)
All Rights o/b/o Glen Nikki Music administered by WB Music Corp.
All Rights o/b/o Missoula Music administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
All Rights Reserved Used by Permission
WARNER BROS. PUBLICATIONS U.S. INC., Miami, FL. 33014
Printed in Canada
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission.
For information, please email to:
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
'Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for !
Long Way Home
by Sabine Keevil
“I think I’ve heard just about enough. I’m ready to make my motion—now!” Victoria Masters looked at the male faces around the conference table. “I move that Knight Rider, along with their lead singer, Calder McKnight—theDark Knight—be suspended indefinitely from their recording contract with SoundMaster Records, as allowed under the Morals Clause.”
The room erupted in pandemonium, as she had expected. Everyone was talking at once, trying to catch her attention, to convince her to back down. In their collective opinion, she had just made the dumbest move in recording history since Decca passed on the Beatles.
“You can’t…simply can’t do this.” That was Stephen Grant, chief financial officer, seated to her immediate right.
Victoria simply raised an elegantly styled eyebrow. “You know very well that I can, Mr. Grant, and with my father’s proxies, I don’t really need any of the rest of you to do so. Call it common courtesy I’m even tabling it.” She looked around the conference table from face to face, making sure everyone knew just where she stood.
“Victoria, Knight Rider is our top grossing act,” Stephen Grant tried again. “Calder McKnight has become something of a cult figure in Rock and Roll. There’s a reason they call him the Dark Knight. Suspending their contract at this point…well, just for a bit of bad behavior...” he let his voice trail off.
Victoria fixed him in what she hoped was a steely glare. She had trouble enough facing this all male board. Despite the authority her father had bestowed on her, despite the five thousand dollar magenta business suit by Dior, and the Mark Cross briefcase sitting like a buffer between her and the other board members, she still felt insecure. She was jittery as all get out, and she couldn’t let them see it. Never let them see you sweat, she thought, and went on.
“SoundMaster is only a minor division of Masters International, Mr. Grant, as I’m sure you’re aware, and Knight Rider’s escapades have gone far beyond a bit of bad behavior, they’ve damaged our reputation.”
She snapped open the burgundy leather briefcase and took out a sheaf of reports. One by one, she laid them on the table in front of Stephen Grant.
“Knight Rider, specifically Calder McKnight, the Dark Knight, arraigned for possession of narcotics, disturbing the peace, firing an unlicensed firearm in a public place, possession again, DWI, public nuisance, and—this one is my personal favorite—suspicion of rape.”
“They are rock musicians Miss Masters, they are…well, rowdy by definition.” Sam Falkins, advertising and promotion, probably twenty years her senior, thought he could guide her in the right direction—namely his.
“Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll Mr. Falkins? I don’t think so. This is not the sixties. This whole episode has been a major PR headache for Masters for long enough now. As Knight Rider is one of the few remaining rock bands still with SoundMaster since we changed our focus to country music, I believe this is the best way to put an end to this nightmare.”
“A Knight Rider nightmare?” some wiseass muttered, and there was some chuckling around the table. Victoria blushed furiously, hating to be ridiculed.
“My father,” she continued, hoping her voice would not betray the insecurity she felt, “My father sent me here to resolve this somehow, and this is the best way I can see to achieve that.”
“Perhaps you should put this issue to your…to Mr. Masters before doing anything rash.”
Victoria’s eyes narrowed, she didn’t even look at who was challenging her authority, suggesting she defer to her father, the powerful Anthony Masters. No one would ever have dared to question his decisions, his authority, no one would have dreamed of it. She rose from her chair slowly, using her height to dominate the table.
“This is my decision gentlemen, and I suggest that you learn to live with it. This meeting is closed; there will be no further discussion,” she snapped her briefcase shut decisively.
With that she walked out of the room, head held high, leaving in her wake confused, heated and angry discussions, and an extremely unhappy board of directors.
Reaching her office she fell into her chair, kicked off her shoes, and rubbed her tired eyes. Sparsely furnished, this room didn’t exactly reflect SoundMaster’s beautifully appointed suites in one of the finest buildings on Nashville’s Music Row. They had obviously made room for her in a hurry when word came that Anthony Masters’ daughter was arriving from New York to clean up the trouble at SoundMaster. Trouble that everyone here would have liked to sweep under the proverbial rug.
Knight Rider was one of the most popular rock bands around right now and its thirty something lead singer, Calder McKnight, an enigmatic figure; a world apart from all the teenage singing sensations who dominated the current scene. He was always dressed from head to toe in black, he wore huge, dark sunglasses, elaborate stage makeup and maintained a constant air of mystery, never being seen in public unless dressed as the Dark Knight. The stories circulating about him could raise the hair on one’s neck.
Victoria sighed deeply. Knight Rider was indeed making a lot of money for SoundMaster right now, their records were selling like hotcakes, their concerts could always be counted on to be sellouts. The only problem was their attitude in regards to rules and regulations. Regularly they were involved in bust ups at local bars and restaurants, band members had been caught with every conceivable drug and pill—and the string of women that followed them around...Victoria would rather not think about that.
So far the umbrella of Masters International, and the skills of their legal team, had kept Knight Rider largely out of serious trouble, but finally her father’s patience had worn out. And here she was answering his summons to get to Nashville and clean up that sordid mess, pronto.
Unfortunately that was about the last thing she wanted to be doing right now. Having arrived from New York just a few weeks ago, she still felt out of place and foreign in Nashville.
She looked down at herself, tugging self-consciously on her Dior suit. Jeans and boots would probably have been more appropriate. Lord knew she had seen the most outrageous clothing choices in the last few days. Cowboy boots with suits, Stetsons with tuxedos and torn jeans, and somewhere at a downtown club, a violet pinstriped tux—with boots and a Stetson of course.
The sooner she got out of here the better. She needed a break quite desperately. And this would finally and truly be the last job she did for Masters Enterprises, she promised herself for the thousandth time. Finally, she would leave all the corporate machinations far, far behind. Hopefully, maybe...Oh, who was she kidding, the gospel according to Anthony Masters read that sooner or later she would be the one at the helm of the company, so she might as well put away her classical piano studies, and scores and compositions, and whatever else caught her fancy and get on with it. There had been a time where she might have had a brilliant future as a concert pianist, but her brother Robert had put a stop to that. Well, good for him, hopefully he was enjoying his life as an artist in Europe somewhere while she was stuck in Nashville trying to keep a wayward rock band in line.
Victoria shook her head; it wasn’t like her to be this cynical. Usually, she was pretty resigned to her fate as a future corporate tycoon. This job, this town, must be getting to her. Sighing, she pulled her black notebook toward her. She had a few uncomfortable calls to make—no time like the present. Knight Rider was in for a rude awakening, and their manager would be none to happy. Mentally she put herself into her I am the boss, what I say goes mode, and started dialing.
Hours later she sat back and rubbed her eyes exhaustedly. It had already been a long, hard day, and it was by no means over. The yelling and arguing, the defending of decisions was still to come. As if somehow her decisions were suspect simply because she was Anthony Masters’ daughter—the resentment wasn’t always obvious, but it was certainly there.
She pulled herself together and called for her car. Might as well leave all that other stuff until later and head out for a late lunch, she thought.
“You’re looking a little haggard.” Glenn, her driver, mentioned as he skillfully navigated the snow-white limousine through the Nashville traffic.
“You have no idea, and it’s only two o’clock. I need a break so badly, I can barely breathe.”
“As bad as all that?” he looked at her in the rearview mirror, concerned. For years, he had been not only her driver but also a close, personal friend, despite her father’s objections to fraternizing with the employees.
“Worse, I feel like I’ve been battling a den of lions all morning. Now if you could find me a quiet place to have lunch somewhere, that would be great. Even better, go back to the office for me after, will you? I’m sick of having my every decision questioned.”
“Oh I’m afraid I’m not cut out for corporate life.”
“Well, you know what Glenn, neither am I. If my father hadn’t insisted I step up to the plate and start learning the business—well let’s just say my life would be a whole lot different.”
“Like Robert’s perhaps?”
Victoria didn’t answer. An answer seemed neither required nor expected. Glenn was well aware of the taboo against talking about her brother, Robert, and the mere fact that he had brought it up now proved how concerned he was. The strain of the last few days must be showing in her face big time.
She was idly looking out of the window as they passed one of downtown Nashville’s many parks. The sun shone on the white painted park benches, some children were playing a game of ball in one corner, mothers were watching, old folks were sitting feeding the doves and squirrels—a strange feeling of calm came over her. A feeling the likes of which she hadn’t experienced in quite a while. What would it be like to be out there, without obligations, without an international corporation waiting for more decisions?
Impulsively she leaned forward. “Glenn, let me off here, would you please. I want to just wander through that park for a little while. I’ll page you when I’m done.”
“Certainly, but…are you sure you wouldn’t like me to come with you?” he asked in a worried tone.
“This is Nashville, not New York, you know. I’m positive I won’t get mugged, so don’t worry. Just one more thing.”
“And that would be?”
“I’m leaving the cell phone here. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Would you mind answering it if it rings.”
Glenn rolled his eyes and smiled at her. “I’ll make something up, go have some fun for a little while.”
“Thanks Glenn, you’re a doll.”
He sighed and pulled over to let her step out of the car. He knew very well that she had to steal every little moment of free time she could. Her father had set a hard agenda for her, and often was the time Glenn had covered for her when she was taking a few precious moments to herself.
She stepped out, and moments later the long, white limo had disappeared into traffic.
Victoria stood on the sidewalk looking up and down the street. She had the strangest feeling of playing hooky somehow. No one knew her here, no one could get a hold of her, for a while she could pretend she was someone completely different. The next few hours were absolutely dedicated to doing nothing, and gathering strength for the many meetings which were sure to follow.
She bought a morning newspaper from a street vendor, dropped the change into the guitar case of a sidewalk musician—envying him for the freedom to just stand there and play—and headed into the park she had seen from the car. After the brutal meeting of this morning, after the madhouse of rumor and innuendo at the office, doing nothing was pure indulgence.
There was nothing Victoria wished so much as to be the businesswoman her father wanted her to be—it just didn’t seem to be in her. All the corporate deal-making in the world left her empty and dissatisfied, left an empty space inside her where a creative urge screamed to be let out.
Masters International, the sprawling corporation that had more subsidiaries than she could count, hung over her like a dark cloud. She was simply expected to deal with it. Her older brother, Robert, had been the one being groomed for leadership, but many years ago he had laid down the law, opted to leave Masters, to leave the family, and to live as an artist—somewhere. Her father never mentioned Robert’s name, and Victoria could only hope that he was doing well; she hadn’t heard from him in years. And now it was up to her to fulfill her father’s dream of making Masters one of the biggest private conglomerates in the world. Moments like these, strolling through a park in the early morning sunshine, made her long for a life of music, song and freedom—something she would most likely never have.
Victoria found an empty park bench dappled in golden sunshine, and sat down, unfolding her paper. Really, though, the news didn’t hold her attention this afternoon. It was far more fun to people watch, to take in the sights and sounds of a peaceful April morning. Besides, there was that story in the entertainment section about the furor Knight Rider had created at last night’s ‘Will Sing For Food’ charity concert. ‘They’ll Sing For Booze’ the headline read, and that pretty much summed up Knight Rider’s drunken escapades at a charity event that could have generated some much needed good will.
She rubbed her temples trying to erase the embarrassing memory when a movement on the bench beside her caught her eye.
A man wearing brand new cowboy boots, fashionably torn jeans and a huge, pearl gray Stetson stumbled to a halt before the bench and sat down heavily. Drunk? Glenn’s concern popped fleetingly into her mind but the man didn’t really look dangerous. There was just something odd about the way he walked.
When he turned his head, Victoria found herself looking into soft, smiling eyes that were almost golden, and shaded by the longest lashes she had ever seen on a man. There was a depth of emotion in those eyes, and she had a hard time tearing her gaze away.
A lazy, amused smile spread over his face, letting her know he had caught her staring at him, and she started to fumble with her paper in her haste to get up and leave. She could just feel an embarrassed flush creep into her face as she tried to refold all the sections, pick up her purse, and arrange it all under her arm. Clumsy fingers, added to her embarrassment, finally made her drop everything, and her belongings scattered around her.
Great, just what she needed. She tried, as gracefully as possible in her tight skirt, to bend down and gather everything up again when a large hand came into view.
“Here you go Ma’am,” a soft drawl, like warm honey.
A little shiver ran through her, from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, and again she found herself staring into those deep, golden eyes finding little flecks of hazel. What’s wrong with you, Victoria Grace Masters? Her cowboy was still holding the paper out to her in one hand, smiling, probably having a good laugh at the city slicker from New York, while offering her the other to get up off the ground.
Victoria rose from her rather undignified position without his help and took the paper. “Why, thank you, err...thank you.” Thank you? She ran meetings with dozens of male executives every day, stood her ground against every kind of male chauvinism, and that was all she could come up with?
“No need. You through with the paper?”
“Yes…sure…I mean, if you’d like to have it, be my guest.” She laughed, a bit too shrill for her own ears, “All I did was spread it around anyway.”
He smiled that lazy smile again and tipped his hat. Did anyone still tip their hat nowadays? The slight movement made the sun catch on his strong features, the stubborn tilt of his chin, the high elegant curve of his cheekbone. Victoria found herself staring again, this was truly getting ridiculous. She was about to look away when she caught an expression of acute pain on his face.
“Ouch, man, what the...” he bit the rest of the sentence off, though Victoria could guess the full extent of it. “Sorry, Ma’am.”
“Don’t worry about it. Are you all right?” He seemed unsteady on his feet all of a sudden, and Victoria found herself holding out a steadying hand. “You sure you’re ok?”
“Well, it’s actually kind of embarrassing...”
“By all means go on, after my earlier display of grace I’m happy to let someone else take a turn.”
“Well...” he sat back down on the park bench. “You see, these here boots are brand new and I’m afraid they may have crippled me for the rest of my life.”
Victoria looked down at his brand new, needle nosed, snakeskin cowboy boots and tried unsuccessfully not to laugh.
“Trouble is,” he continued ignoring her giggles. “Trouble is I’ve gone and thrown out a perfectly good pair of sneakers when I bought these here torture instruments. Now I’m condemned to limp through the rest of my life ‘cause the only thing that’ll get these puppies off my feet is a good sharp hunting knife.”
Victoria was laughing out loud by now, as much at the story of these painful shoes, as at the pitiful expression in his face.
“I'm sorry, I can’t help it. And they say women are obsessed with shoes,” she looked down at her own practical as well as expensive loafers. “I never understood how men could walk, never mind ride, in those.”
“Trust me, they can’t”
There was an awkward pause between them, both of them aware that they were standing in a public park, talking to a stranger. Finally, the cowboy, as she had started thinking of him, stuck his hand out.
“Name’s Cal Duncan and I suspect I’m wearing a woman’s revenge for man’s invention of stiletto heels.”
Victoria took his hand and shook it. His hands were surprisingly soft and well manicured, his handshake firm and sincere.
“Vicky Masters—son,” she improvised, “and I do suspect you’re right Mr. Duncan.”
“Cal. And after having worn stilettos for years, I’d say you deserve it.”
“Women—no sympathy at all.”
Vicky Masterson? Close enough, she thought. But why had she not wanted this guy to know who she was? Was this all part of her escape from the pressures of Masters, or did she just not want him to react to her name and tough-as-nails reputation? Victoria had seen it happen a hundred times. Men treated her differently as soon as they found out who she was. After all, one had to be careful with a girl who could buy and sell Miami if she wanted to. And then there was her famous recluse of a father who was rumored to have a whole gang of more-or-less thugs working for him. No, getting involved with Victoria Masters was definitely a gamble. But Vicky Masterson, that should be fairly safe.
He bent down to rub his aching feet and Victoria took the chance to study him closer. She had already seen his deep brown eyes and impossibly long lashes, but now she noticed the laugh lines around his eyes and his full mouth. Sandy colored hair curled from under the Stetson and she was willing to bet that as soon as he took the hat off it would be impossible to tame. Oh, but to run one’s hands through it! Even scrunched up on a park bench, his features grimacing in pain, he exuded something powerfully male. His faded blue shirt stretched tightly over broad shoulders and she couldn’t help noticing how his jeans clung tightly to slim hips and endless long legs.
Just looking at him made a warmth spread through her, a delicious little feeling that she hadn’t experienced in a long time, and she found herself plotting for ways to keep it there. He looked back at her with a mischievous little grin that told her he didn’t mind her checking him out—as long as he could do the same.
Across town, at a large, expensive hotel, a phone rang several times.
“Calder McKnight’s suite.”
“This is Lorne Cooper, I need to speak to Calder, right now.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Cooper, Mr. Knight has gone out for the afternoon, I'm not sure where, or how to get hold of him.”
“Damn! Any idea at all when he’ll be back?”
“I’m afraid not. And I’ve been swamped with calls. He was supposed to phone in, but he hasn’t.”
“Well you make sure he gets this message: tell him that if he doesn’t get his ass into gear and clear up the problem at SoundMaster right away, it’ll be the end of his recording career. And you might as well tell him he won’t have a manager anymore either. Got that?”
“Tell him to phone me if you hear from him—immediately.”
The phone slammed down and the petite secretary stared down at the receiver for a moment. Oh Mr. Calder McKnight, you are in deep trouble, she thought, From what she had seen this morning, maybe it was time to start looking for another job. Odds were that Knight Rider would probably not survive for very long after this current shake up, and the chances of Calder McKnight needing a personal assistant after all this were starting to look slim, slim indeed.
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Thanks for reading this excerpt from Long Way Home, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. Don't forget to check out Guitars & Cadillacs, and This Time too.
Long Way Home, Chapter One © copyright Sabine Keevil 2003