Main Billy Lives

Billy Lives

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Billy Lockett: He was the king of rock 'n roll - until a shocking accident cut short his spectacular career.

Iris Ames: A nubile beauty who was the latest to be promoted by Billy from groupie to bedmate.

Al Fenstra: Billy's manager who guided his career like a father. His reaction to Billy's accident: "Jesus Christ, I'm wiped out!"

Madeline Fenstra: Al's cool and lovely young wife who knew more about Billy than she should.

Rick Giordan: Billy's one-time partner, he harbored a hatred that grew with Billy's fame.

Dean Hardeman: Once he was a literary giant, now he is debt-ridden alcoholic. Hired to write Billy's story, he discovers the surprising truth behind Billy's legend - and some startling facts about himself.

Billy Lives is a hard-driving novel about rock music's dim subculture, where drugs, kinky sex, and easy money can turn a teenager into a millionaire overnight - or make him an old man in a week.

Year:
2012
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9781440563331
File:
EPUB, 906 KB
Download (epub, 906 KB)

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BILLY LIVES!


Gary Brander




a division of F+W Media, Inc.





Contents


Cover

Title Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Also Available

Copyright





CHAPTER 1


Seven thousand feet above the flat, brown desert east of Los Angeles a Cessna 172 Skyhawk throttled down to seventy miles per hour. The pilot looked over his shoulder at the two parachuted passengers in the rear seats. He nodded okay to the older one, then turned away and kept his eyes front and the headphones clamped on his ears.

The pilot hated parachute jumpers. He figured anybody who would jump out of a plane when he didn’t have to was probably dangerous on the ground or in the air. If it weren’t for the twenty-five dollars an hour they paid, he would refuse to take the crazies up at all. For this trip he charged double because they seemed even crazier than usual. Also, the blond kid was supposed to be a celebrity in the rock music world. The pilot wouldn’t know about that. Country and western was his style.

Now that he had the speed and altitude they wanted, the pilot disassociated himself from the others in the plane. He had collected his money, gotten his waiver signed, so now the jumpers could do what they liked. As for the bearded freak with the camera who shot endless pictures of the blond kid for some magazine or other, that was none of his concern either. All the pilot wanted to do now was hold his speed and listen to the sizzle of static in the headphones until it was over.

• • •

Nat Spieth, the older of the two jumpers acknowledged the go-ahead nod, but the pilot had already turned away. Despite his general dislike of pilots, this was one time Nat could not blame the man f; or his lack of interest. Nat wished he could just turn away from this whole idiotic scheme. He should never have agreed to it in the first place. If only he hadn’t needed the money so damn bad.

He leaned close to the ear of the blond youth to make himself heard over the noise of the engine and the rush of wind where the right-hand door had been removed for jumping. “Are you still sure you want to go through with this?” Nat shouted.

The young man bobbed his head up and down, the shoulder-length blond hair whipping and snapping about his face.

The cameraman kneeling in the seat next to the pilot made a gimme motion with his hand. The young man smiled. The camera clicked.

“You know you’re supposed to make five static line jumps before you try a free fall.” Nat was talking into the wind, but felt he had to say it once more. “That’s the rules.”

Yes, that was the rules — one of them — of the Parachute Club of America. Nat Spieth had long ago been kicked out of the PCA for violating rules. Never before, though, had he done anything as wild as this — taking up an inexperienced kid for a free fall on his very first jump with a bare minimum of ground instruction.

But the kid couldn’t wait for the formalities required by the PCA. He wanted to go out of a plane now, and he wanted to go free fall. The kid had the money to pay for it, and if Nat Spieth hadn’t brought him up, somebody else would have.

And actually, there were no laws being broken. The Federal Aviation Agency was concerned with parachutists only if they jumped over a populated area. Out here over open country you could send a spastic out of a plane with a beach umbrella and the Government couldn’t care less.

Nat leaned close to the blond youth again. “Check your harness one more time,” he shouted.

The young man tugged at the straps holding the backpack chute and the auxiliary chute in place. Everything seemed to be snug.

“You remember the ready stance I showed you when we were on the ground?”

The young man nodded, but Nat went over it again anyway. “Your feet are on the metal step above the wheel, you’re in a half-crouch, hands straight out in front on the wing strut. Look ahead at the horizon. Okay?”

Another nod.

“When you get outside on the step, you won’t be able to hear me. I’ll give you two claps on the shoulder — like this — as a signal to drop. Got that?”

The young man patted his own shoulder twice to show he understood.

“Now remember, don’t jump up in leaving the step. Kick off gently and let your feet float out to the rear. When your body is stretched out flat, let go of the strut.”

The photographer was leaning back between his seat and the pilot’s, waving the blond youth into position in front of the open door.

“As soon as you’re free of the plane,” Nat continued, “go into the basic spread position that I showed you. The cross, remember? And start counting by thousands. At five, pull the ripcord. Count three more seconds, and if your canopy isn’t up and properly opened, use your reserve chute. Got that?”

Again a nod. A smiling wave for the photographer.

“Okay, out you go. I’ll follow you in ten seconds.”

The young jumper pulled a bright red helmet on over his flowing blond hair. He waved one last time at the cameraman, who clicked away steadily, careful to stay well away from the open door.

Gingerly the young parachutist reached out through the opening and fought the wind to grasp the slanting wing strut. With both hands on the strut he stepped out of the cabin, right foot first, then left, onto the 6-by-18-inch metal plate bolted over the naked wheel.

Inside Nat Spieth moved into the seat next to the door. He reached out to lay a hand on the young man’s shoulder. Looking down, he could make out the tiny vehicles and the cluster of dots that were people, their faces no doubt turned upward right now waiting for the bloom of a parachute. There being no wind to speak of, the kid shouldn’t land too far from his friends. With no practice at the landing fall, he would probably sprain an ankle, but that would be a good lesson for him. Nat would steer his own chute to land at the same spot, and the off-road vehicles down there could pick them up right away.

The cold blast of wind dried Nat’s lips and whipped the tears from his eyes. Still, he was sweating under the arms. He could smell it. Now or never.

Nat lifted his hand from the red-clad shoulder and thumped it once, twice. The kid, instead of kicking his feet free to get into the horizontal position, let go of the strut immediately. He vanished as though jerked from sight by wires. A metallic bang jarred the airplane. Nat leaned out the doorway to look down. The figure in red tumbled out of control toward the earth, one arm flapping like an empty sleeve.

Nat Spieth closed his eyes and tasted bile. “Dear Mother of God!”

• • •

Never in the twenty-three years of his life had Billy Lockett felt more alone than at the moment he stepped out of the airplane onto the little metal plate. His hands gripped the wing strut as if it were life. He felt the firm pressure of Nat Spieth’s hand on his shoulder. If only Nat would drag him back inside, rip the parachute harness from his body, sit on him if necessary to stop him from doing this idiotic thing.

But of course Nat Spieth wouldn’t stop him. Billy had paid him well to see that he did go through with it. Nobody but Billy himself could stop it now. And he might even have done that, climbed right back into the plane, if it hadn’t been for that bearded sonofabitch from Lifestyle with his damn camera. It was that damn magazine that got him into this mess in the first place. They told him there was a possible cover story in it for him, and a Lifestyle cover could sell half a million records and assure a sellout at the Forum for his concert in September. Why the hell had he told that fag reporter that he was into skydiving? Because the fag was starting to look bored, that was why, and Billy saw his cover going out the window if he didn’t liven up the interview.

He had said the first super-macho thing that popped into his head. “I’m into skydiving.” It never occurred to him that he would have to prove it. Unfortunately, the fag leaked the story to a wire service, and here Billy was a mile and a half in the air with a bunch of reporters and so-called friends on the ground waiting for him to float down like a big bird.

One thing Billy Lockett vowed — this would be his first and last jump out of an airplane. Once he had proved himself, he would never have to do it again. When he was back safe on the ground, there was no way he would ever buckle on one of these idiot parachutes again. No way.

The reassuring weight of Nat Spieth’s hand was lifted from his shoulder.

Oh, Jesus!

The two light taps felt like the blows of an axe.

Don’t think, just do it!

With the wrenching effort of will, Billy released his grip on the wing strut. In the same instant he remembered he should have kicked his feet back first. The steel edge of the step plate clipped his left arm just below the elbow, snapping the bones like dry sticks.

The pain shot like sudden fire from the arm into his brain. The universe was a whirling blur of blue and brown. Then everything faded to a gentle gray mist and, blessedly, the pain went away.

Fragments of Billy Lockett’s mind continued to function as his body tumbled toward the earth.

You’re falling! one said.

No, it’s only a dream. A falling dream.

Count to five and pull the ripcord!

One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand.

But there was no ripcord. There was no parachute. There was no danger. It was only a dream.

You’re falling!

A dream.

You’re going to die!

No, Billy Lockett cannot die. He is just beginning to live.

You’re going to die!

No. Old people die. Billy is young. Billy is alive.

You’re going to die!

What if he did die? What would all the people say? The people in the plane and the people on the ground? Al Fessler his manager and Madeline? Conn Driscoll, the hotshot publicity man? His one-time partner, Rick Girodian? And dumb, delicious Iris Ames? How would they feel? Would they cry for Billy? Would any of them cry?

“I’m going to die!” The wind tore the words from his throat. The blazing pain was back in his brain, in his arm. Billy saw his hand and wrist flapping loose at the end of his sleeve. A darker red stained the cherry color of the material.

Then he saw the ground. Hard brown earth rushing toward him at one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Faces. Mouths open in horrified black O’s.

Ripcord.

The clawing fingers of Billy’s good hand found the cold metal D-ring a millisecond before he smashed face down onto the hard-packed dirt of the San Bernardino desert. Blinding white lights exploded in his head, then all the lights went out.

Forever.





CHAPTER 2


Sunday morning found Al Fessler stretched out on a patio chaise watching sunlight dance on the ripples of his Anthony swimming pool. In his hand was a glass of unsugared iced tea. In the old days Al used to go for a hefty slug of bourbon, but at fifty-six a guy had to watch his condition. Especially if he had a slim, beautiful wife twenty-four years younger than him.

The relaxed attitude was most unusual for Al Fessler. To make it in Hollywood in the talent management game, a guy had to keep moving or be trampled by the passing parade. During his thirty-plus years on the Coast Al had been a man on the move constantly. The first few years, right after World War II, he had hustled and scraped for acting jobs. His dark, sinister looks and Chicago accent got him parts in a few Grade B gangster movies, but that was about it. He liked to tell people, “I was the guy who always said, ‘You want we should lean on him a little, boss?’”

With the growth of television, B movies disappeared, and sinister-looking gangster types were in small demand. It was then Al turned in his Screen Actors’ Guild card and became an agent.

Over the years he had never quite found the one Big Talent — the one who would enable him to put daylight between himself and his creditors. More than once he had come close, but something always went wrong. A girl singer who was all set for stardom got religion and disappeared into a convent. A promising juvenile got busted when the cops raided a gay bar. A couple of others he lost to William Morris or MCA just when they were starting to pay off.

Now at last Al Fessler was ready to enjoy some of the rewards he had missed for all the years of nonstop work — all the babysitting and hand-holding for the grownup children who were his clients, all the hustling and the conniving and the ass-kissing that were part of his profession. He finally had exclusive rights to a piece of talent that was going to be his annuity. Billy Lockett would keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. He could pay off the house here in Sherman Oaks, or, what the hell, even move to Beverly Hills. He and Madeline could buy a boat. Take a vacation.

He said the word aloud to himself. “Vacation.” Jesus, when was the last time he had taken more than one day off to do something he really wanted to?

The telephone rang.

Al Fessler did not hold with ESP or premonitions or any of that psychic crap. That was for the freaks down on Hollywood Boulevard. All the same, something in the sound of the ringing phone sent a chill to his bones.

Moving deliberately, he set down the glass of iced tea and walked across the patio to the sliding glass door that opened into the living room. He picked up the apple-green phone and said, “Hello.”

He listened with dulled eyes as the voice on the other end of the line told him that the unthinkable had happened. Feeling cold and numb, Al kept nodding at the telephone as though the gesture could somehow be transmitted through the wires to the speaker. Finally, when the voice was through, Al said, “Okay,” and hung up.

For a full sixty seconds he stood looking down at the green plastic instrument as if it were a pampered pet that had betrayed him.

“Shit,” he said. “Shit shit shit! Oh, fuck dirty goddammit shit!”

Ruined. He was wiped out. Every penny he had, everything he could borrow, had gone into the promotion of Billy Lockett and the Forum concert six months from now. The concert was going to be the start of the new good life he had worked for so long. On the outcome of that concert waited a fat record contract, a network special on prime time, a world tour. Also the Beverly Hills House, the boat, the vacation.

Madeline came floating in from her bedroom. Thin, blond, ethereal Madeline. When Al met her she was a fiercely dedicated actress, utterly without talent. She had an air of being unattainable that had fired Al Fessler’s desire. Now there were times when it almost drove him crazy.

“What’s the matter?” she asked in the cool, modulated tone she always used.

“Matter? Everything’s the matter.” Al ran a hand over his bare scalp to the back of his head where the black hair still grew thick and oily. “We’re ruined. Finished.”

“What happened, Al?” Madeline asked patiently.

“Billy killed himself, that’s what happened.”

For a moment an emotion of some kind flickered in the cool gray eyes, but when Madeline spoke her voice was level. “Killed himself? How?”

“The stupid little shit jumped out of an airplane. Just because of that fucking interview with Lifestyle where he told them he was a skydiver, he thought he had to go be a skydiver. Of all the dumb, fucking, stupid moves …”

“Billy’s dead,” Madeline said, as though trying out the sound of the words.

“Jesus H. Fucking Christ, yes, he’s dead. He jumped out of a fucking airplane and his fucking parachute didn’t open. That usually does the job.”

“There’s no reason to shout at me, Al. And I don’t appreciate that kind of language.”

Al spread his hands. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not really yelling at you, I’m yelling at … God, I guess. Do you have any idea what we’ve lost?”

“Yes, Al, I think I do.” She turned away from nim and walked out of the room.

Al stood with his hands balled into fists watching her go. What he wanted to do right now was go to her and put his arms around her and ask her to share his pain. But he didn’t have the words to tell her. When he talked to Madeline everything that came out of his mouth sounded like the Chicago hood he used to play in the cheap movies. If he could just break through that finishing-school reserve once in a while, maybe their life together would get better.

Then, remembering the phone call, Al sagged into a chair. What life together? Forget Beverly Hills. Hell, forget Sherman Oaks for that matter. He’d borrowed heavily on this house. Among other things. And it was all because that dumb little asshole had to prove something by jumping out of an airplane. He couldn’t have waited until after the concert, at least.

Al would have liked a drink. In the old days a slug or two of good bourbon had helped him over many a crisis. He gave it up when he married Madeline, along with cigarettes, rich foods, poker playing, and a few lesser pleasures. Not that Madeline ever said anything, but she had subtle ways of showing disapproval. Having a wife with Madeline’s looks and class was good for the ego, but there was a price.

Now he wished Madeline had stayed out here with him, comforted him, or at least joined him in cursing the rotten luck. Of course, she probably didn’t know how really deep in debt he had gone to put Billy Lockett over. Or what kind of people he had borrowed from. And he couldn’t expect her to feel any personal loss. Madeline had never liked Billy, not from the first day Al brought him home.

For the first time since he answered the awful telephone call, Al Fessler tried to think of Billy Lockett as a person rather than a lost client. It was not easy. When you spend years hustling talent you soon learn that it is a big mistake to get personally involved. You’ve got to think of your clients as warm hunks of meat — some choicer cuts than others, but meat all the same. You start getting sentimental about one of them and you can’t make an objective judgement of his talent. In this business you could not afford an error like that.

Al tried to ask himself if he would miss Billy Lockett. Miss him as a human being. It was no good. He could not think of Billy right now with any emotion except anger at what the kid had done to him. Maybe later he could put him in focus. But then, why bother? Billy Lockett was cold and dead on the desert outside San Bernardino, while Al Fessler was alive here in Sherman Oaks. Alive, but dying inside.

• • •

The noonday sun, warm for March even in Southern California, brought people flocking to the beaches for a head start on their tans. Among the sun bathers on Will Rogers State Beach north of Santa Monica was Conn Driscoll. He lay prone on a beach towel while a full-breasted girl wearing a string bikini rubbed Bronztan into his lean back.

The girl was called either Lynda or Luci — one of those cutsey names that swapped i’s and y’s. Driscoll had been well along on martinis when he met her the night before, and there had been no occasion since to call her by name.

“How tall are you, anyway?” asked Lynda or Luci.

“Six feet even.”

“You seemed taller last night.”

“I was standing up.”

“No, I mean later too.”

“Optical illusion. It’s the vertical stripes in my pajamas.”

“But you didn’t wear … oh, I get it, you’re putting me on.”

“Yeah.”

The girl turned up the volume of a transistor radio playing music from a top-40 rock station. She squirted a trail of Bronztan down Driscoll’s leg and began to massage it in. “Can we go dancing tonight?”

“No.”

“Why not?” she complained in a little-girl voice that he probably found cute as hell last night.

“Because tomorrow is Monday and I have to go to work. I am thirty years old. I am a member of the Establishment. I have a job.”

“Last night you told me you were in show business.”

“Yeah, well, sort of.” It was stretching a point somewhat, but a freelance Hollywood publicity man might be said to be in show business.

“Well, I want to go dancing.”

Without looking at her, Driscoll could imagine the childish pout she was wearing. He said, “Forget it.”

“You’re mean.”

Driscoll was wishing he had gone home this morning instead of bringing the Barbie Doll to the beach. She was kicks last night, but sober he would rate her a solid nine on a boredom scale of ten.

“When will I see you again?”

“Hard to say. I’m going to be pretty busy for a few months.” That was true enough. The Billy Lockett assignment would consume most of his time and energy until the Forum concert in September. After that, he could afford a few weeks of goofing off before looking around for something else. Not a bad way to live, as long as security was not one of his hangups.

The wailing rock music faded, and a young man’s voice came on with the hourly news summary. With a little snort of annoyance the girl reached for the radio.

The sound of a familiar name snapped Driscoll out of his reverie. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I want to hear this.”

“What for, it’s just the news?”

“Shut up!”

As the girl sat back sulking, Driscoll pulled the little radio closer so he wouldn’t miss a word. The lead story was about Billy Lockett, rising young rock star, who had fallen to his death this morning in a skydiving accident outside San Bernardino. As a special tribute, radio station KKOL (K-Kool, where it’s happenin’, baby, 1290 on your ever-lovin’ AM dial) would present four solid hours of Billy’s hits later tonight.

Conn Driscoll groaned and let his head fall to the beach with a soft thud. He reached out a hand and killed the little radio. There went six months of top dollar he was going to get for building up the Billy Lockett concert. Out the window. Or out of an airplane. Now he would have to get out on the street and hustle up another assignment. His stake was getting low.

“What’s the matter, lover?” asked Lynda or Luci.

“I’m out of a job.”

“Did you know him or something?” the girl asked.

“Know who?”

“Billy Lockett.”

A good question, Driscoll thought. Did he really know Billy Lockett? He had talked to the kid a couple of times, listened to a few of his records, and that was it. He hadn’t needed to know Billy to promote his concert. He hadn’t wanted to. But maybe, just maybe, he should have tried.

“No,” he said, “I didn’t know him. Let’s go.”

With the girl hurrying to gather up the beach towel, radio, and Bronztan, Driscoll strode off across the sand toward the parking lot.

• • •

Rick Girodian’s apartment in the decaying heart of Hollywood was in an old wooden building that looked put together from leftover parts. It was three stories of gables, porches, balconies, railings, and staircases.

Although it was three in the afternoon, the shades were drawn in Rick’s apartment, and he slept fitfully in the sofa bed. For an entertainer three in the afternoon was like the middle of the night for normal people. And Rick Girodian was an entertainer. Currently he was on the small-club circuit, appearing in L.A.’s satellite cities like Downey and Bellflower and Redondo Beach. It was a long step down from the Troubador and the Roxy where Rick had played just a few months back.

The telephone rang five times before it woke him, and five times more before he moved to pick it up. He used to have an answering service to spare his sleep these painful interruptions and to handle the many calls he didn’t have time for. These days there were not so many calls.

Rick fumbled the receiver out of its cradle and over to his ear. His black hair was tangled from sleep, his black brows drawn together in a habitual scowl. He mumbled something into the mouthpiece.

“Is this Rick Girodian?” asked the filtered voice coming through the instrument.

“Yeah. Who did you expect?”

“This is Wally Mayor at Channel Six.”

The words did not immediately register on Rick’s still-groggy mind. “What’s that?”

“Wally Mayor, Channel Six News.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Have you heard the news yet?”

“News? What news?”

“About Billy Lockett?”

“Billy?” Instantly Rick Girodian was wide awake. “What is it?”

“He was killed this morning,” Wally Mayor said, trying unsuccessfully to achieve a solemn tone.

“Billy killed?” Rick’s voice was guarded. “How did it happen?”

“He was skydiving. Jumped out of an airplane out by San Bernardino. The chute didn’t open. Died instantly when he hit the ground.”

“Son of a bitch,” Rick said.

“Yeah, it’s tough. Listen, Rick, what I’d like to do is tape a comment from you about Billy, about the days when you and him were partners. I want to use yours, along with others I’m getting, over film clips of Billy on the six o’clock news. Okay?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Wonderful. When I say go you’ll be on tape. Give me about twenty seconds of talk.”

There was some clicking on the line as Mayor set up his equipment. Rick mentally sorted out what he was going to say.

“Go,” said Mayor.

When he spoke, Rick’s voice was husky with suppressed emotion. “It’s always a tragedy when someone so young dies. In Billy’s case it’s even more tragic. It’s the snuffing out of a talent that was just beginning to reach its potential. His was the kind of a talent that comes along once in a generation. It’s a terrible loss to his fans, and to me a deep personal tragedy. Billy was my partner, yes, but he was more than that. Much more. He was my friend. The world will miss Billy Lockett, both as an entertainer and as a human being. No one will miss him more than I.”

For a moment there was silence on the other end of the phone, then Wally Mayor spoke. “Rick, that was beautiful. That was absolutely beautiful. Listen, we’ll super your name on the screen while we run the tape tonight. Catch the show. If it plays good we’ll repeat it at eleven.”

“I’ll try,” Rick said.

“Oh, and listen, I want you to know you have my deepest sympathy. That goes for me and all of us down here at Channel Six.

“Thanks,” Rick said.

After hanging up Rick sat for a minute on the edge of the bed, his head down, staring at the carpet. With a sigh he rose and walked over to the mirror above the dresser. To his reflected image he said, in the fulsome tones of Wally Mayor, “Rick that was absolutely beautiful.”

Gradually his frown relaxed into a smile, then a broad grin. You’re damn right it’s beautiful, he thought. It was beautiful when he wrote it a few years ago for an illiterate disk jockey to say about Jim Croce. That time it got him a few extra spins on the DJ’s show. This time it would at least get his name flashed on the screen during the six o’clock news. With maybe a repeat at eleven. Exposure like that couldn’t hurt.

He shifted his gaze to look over the shoulder of his mirror image. “Billy boy,” he said, “it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.”

Rick went back and picked up the telephone again. He wasn’t a bit sleepy now; he felt great. For weeks he had been promising to take his sister out for a seafood dinner, and now he had something to celebrate.

• • •

Iris Ames lounged in her airy apartment above the Sunset Strip and took small sips of a diet cola. Iris was bored. Bored, bored, bored. She wished Billy were here, but he said not to expect him before dark. If she had wanted to, Iris could have gone along with him to the desert, but what fun was there in standing around with a bunch of dull, dull people watching a parachute jump? It was just too stupid.

Iris sighed and stretched out on a sofa covered with orange synthetic fur. The apartment was a carnival of colors, all bright. The furniture, which came with the apartment, was Hollywood modern with emphasis on shiny synthetics. The pictures, which belonged to Iris, included a poster spelling out LOVE in block letters, and a poster-size print of a girl with flowers in her hair and nothing in her eyes.

There were a couple of rock posters — souvenirs of the days when she used to hang around the groups. The posters were just of the best, though, like the Stones and Alice Cooper. The rest she had given away. She had no use for them now that she had Billy. Well, she didn’t exactly have Billy Lockett, but he was paying for the apartment, and he was the only one she balled now.

It was a much better life, she told herself, than hanging around with the groupies. That was a drag sometimes — waiting outside in the grubby alleys behind the clubs and trying to sneak into the hotels where the groups were staying. Then sometimes it could be a groove too. Iris remembered the thrill when one of the stars looked directly at you, how it was heaven if one of them touched you, and the ultimate bliss of fucking a star. But there had been enough of that in her life. It was time to look ahead. After all, Iris was nineteen.

She looked down and admired her body. Really a super bod. Everybody said so. Iris took one of her breasts in each hand. Big and heavy, but firm. Not a bit of sag. The belly was flat, the waist narrow, flaring out in the rear to what a lead singer had called her million-dollar ass.

Iris worked her buttocks back and forth on the fake fur, rubbing her thighs together. She wore nothing under the tight denim shorts that were cut off right at the crotch. She hoped Billy would get away sooner than he planned. She felt like balling.

Without warning, the door flew open and Trina Cole, a girl Iris’s age, rushed breathlessly into the apartment. Billy was always telling Iris to lock the door, but Iris thought it was stupid. If anybody wanted to get in bad enough they could break it down. Besides, nobody ever walked in without knocking except Billy and Trina, who had been Iris’s roommate once.

As soon as Trina had her breath back she gasped out, “Iris, honey, did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“About Billy … he’s dead.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No way. I just heard it on TV. the guy said something about Billy jumping out of an airplane and the parachute didn’t work. Something like that.”

“Well, goddamn it,” Iris said.

“Yeah, I mean, what a bummer,” Trina said.

Iris took a big swallow of her diet cola. She held up the can. “You want one?”

“No, no thanks. Iris, what are you going to do now? I mean, what are you going to do?”

Iris put a hand to her long silky hair and folded it back from the edge of her face like a golden curtain. She shrugged. “The rent’s paid here for the rest of this month and the next. After that I’ll, you know, see what happens.”

Trina sat for a long moment without speaking. Then she said, “Hey, I guess you’re feeling pretty bad now, right?”

“Well, you know, sure.”

“Yeah, a real bummer. You know what might help?”

“What?”

“Maybe if you and me went out together like we used to. Captain Hook is at the Whisky. What do you think?”

Iris chewed her pink, plump lower lip. “Gee, I don’t know.”

“It’s the last night.”

“Let me call you later, okay?”

“Sure. It might do you a lot of good. It’s best not to think too much about these things.” Trina let herself out.

With an angry gesture Iris threw the empty diet cola can into the kitchen where it clattered across the tile. Of all the rotten things to happen. What the fuck was she going to do now? One thing for sure, she was not going back to the groupie scene and hope to score with somebody else the way she had with Billy Lockett. That had been pure luck. She had caught Billy one night when he was feeling down, and she gave him just what he needed. Iris always had a feeling for what they needed. It was a case with Billy of being in the right place at the right time. It might not happen again in a hundred years.

No, goddamn it! Iris jumped to her feet and walked over to stand before the fake fireplace. She struck a pose — head up, belly in, boobs and ass out. She would not have to rely on luck. She would make things happen. With her face and her body, she would never be lonely.

But who …? Then she remembered. There was a fat little creep Billy introduced her to at a yacht party a month ago. What was his name? A funny name … Pincus, that was it. A biggie at some record company, Billy had told her. President, vice president, some damn thing. Anyway, Pincus liked her. He had danced with her, jiggling his fat little body through the latest disco steps, grabbing her ass every time he got a chance. At the time Iris was not interested. She had Billy. But now …

She went into the bedroom and rummaged through the dresser drawer where she kept all the cards and phone numbers men gave her. Men were always giving her their cards. She never threw any of them away. A girl never knew when she could use a contact.

After a minute Iris located the card she wanted. It had rough-cut edges, was printed in two colors with a wild mod logo. Oscar Pincus, Executive Vice President, Gamma Records.

An office number and a home number were given. Iris knew better than to call him at home. He wouldn’t be at the office today, a Sunday, but he would have an answering service. Iris dialed the office number and, as she expected, got an answering service. She left her own name and number, confident that Oscar Pincus would remember her. Men usually did.

After she hung up Iris began to feel better. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad scene after all. Maybe it was fate. She picked up the telephone again and dialed another number.

“Hi, Trina? Hey, I’ve thought about it, and you’re probably right. The best thing for me right now is to just get my mind off Billy. I’ll meet you at your place at nine.”

When she hung up Iris was smiling. Moving in a little dance step, she went out to the kitchen and got herself another diet cola. After all, Billy would have wanted it this way.





CHAPTER 3


Al Fessler twisted and turned and groaned and snorted in the king-size bed, but could not will himself to sleep. Every time he started to drift off he would be falling, falling, and there falling beside him, just out of reach, would be Billy Lockett. Each time, Al would be jerked awake to sit there in the dark, sweating and worrying.

This was not the first time Al had been in money trouble. Far from it. But never before had it been anything this heavy. What made this time different was that he had borrowed a bundle from some very questionable people. The kind of people who, if you didn’t get up a payment on time, might come around and break your arm. Or worse. Al had gone into it with his eyes open. He knew the risks, but he was already into all his legitimate sources to the limit.

A big chunk of the money had gone to buy up Billy’s recording contract from Gamma Records, the outfit that had released his early disks. At the time it seemed like a rock-solid investment. It would give Al Fessler control of all Billy’s future records, which would surely gross millions after the concert and subsequent TV special. That investment had stepped out of the airplane yesterday morning and smashed into more pieces than Billy himself on the San Bernardino flatlands.

Al groped at the night stand pointlessly for a cigarette. Madeline had cut off his smoking six years ago, but he still hadn’t lost the craving when he was nervous. Even when Madeline had moved into her own bedroom — his snoring kept her awake, she said — Al had not brought cigarettes in. Madeline could smell tobacco smoke a block away through concrete walls.

Al got out of bed and went over to the chair where his pants were draped across the seat. He fished through the pockets and found a pack of sugarless gum. He unwrapped two sticks and slipped them into his mouth. A poor substitute for nicotine but better than nothing.

He lay back down on the bed, chomping moodily on the gum and staring up at the ceiling where little sparkly bits were embedded in the rough plaster. Somewhere, he told himself, there had to be a way out of this. After all these years of reaching for the gold ring, how could he crash when the prize was so near?

Damn it, he simply would not allow himself to lose. He would not let it happen, that’s all. Many times in the past Al Fessler had come up with a way out of a tight spot. He would do it this time too.

The first thing to do was count his assets. Not much there, he had to admit. Of course, technically he still owned all rights to Billy Lockett. Not a whole lot of comfort, owning a dead man.

Abruptly, Al sat up in bed. A glimmer of hope. A possible out. Maybe even better than that. He just might come out of this in roses. For a full ten minutes he sat staring across the dim bedroom, running the idea backward and forward through his mind. There were rough edges and a million details to be worked out, but by God, this just might be the Big Score.

Al grabbed the bedside phone and punched out Conn Driscoll’s home number. The phone rang and rang at the other end, and finally the blurry voice of the young PR man came on the line.

“H’lo.”

“Conn, this is Al Fessler.”

“Huh?”

“Al Fessler. Come on, wake up.”

“Oh, hi, Al. I was gonna call you. Sorry about the kid.”

“Never mind that, we’ve got work to do.”

“Work?”

“You want a job, don’t you?”

“Sure. I thought it was all off. Isn’t it?”

“Maybe not.”

“Billy is dead?”

“He’s dead, all right, but I’ve got an idea. I don’t want to go into it over the phone. Can you be in my office tomorrow? Make it early. Nine o’clock.”

“I’ll be there,” Driscoll said.

Al replaced the telephone and grinned. The old adrenaline was flowing again, and he was feeling fine. He looked down at the front of his pajamas and saw that other things were stirring too. Sometimes it worked that way, an idea that he knew was a winner would excite him sexually. It could be downright embarassing when it happened at the office. Right now he wanted his wife badly.

Shoving his feet into a pair of soft leather slippers, Al left his bedroom and padded down the hall to the slightly smaller room where Madeline had slept after the first few months of their marriage. He eased open the door and looked at her in the faint glow from the night light. In sleep, as in everything else she did, Madeline was perfectly poised. She lay on her back with the covers smooth over the narrow mound of her body. Her pale arms rested straight down at her sides, the fingers gently curled. Her face was beautifully composed, not a wisp of blonde hair had strayed out of place. No wonder, thought Al, that she had chosen not to sleep with him and his incessant snoring, rolling, mumbling, and blanket-yanking.

Madeline looked so carefully arranged there on her satin sheets that it almost seemed a pity to wake her up. Almost. Al’s desire for his wife was stronger than any reluctance to disturb the picture.

He reached down and touched the smooth white shoulder where the flesh was bare below the blue nightgown.

Madeline opened her eyes and looked at him. Her gaze was keen and alert. For her there seemed to be no transition between sleep and waking.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Four o’clock. Five, maybe.”

“Is anything the matter?”

Al tried to make his tone light and easy. “No, nothing’s wrong. I just got lonesome.”

Madeline continued to lie on her back and look at him.

“I thought we might … make a little love.”

“All right.”

She did not move toward him as he peeled back the covers and got into her bed. But she did not move away either.

Al eased the covers back over their bodies. Over the years of his marriage he had learned to subdue his natural instinct, which was to grab her roughly and go at it balls out, so to speak, and have a walloping good time screwing. Madeline had made it clear early on that she did not care for that kind of sex. Animalistic, she called it. Although he had never felt quite at ease doing it her way, Al had made a serious effort at becoming the gentle lover she wanted.

He reached over carefully and laid a hand on her body. Madeline’s belly was so flat it was almost concave. Like everything else about her, it excited him. Al felt the warmth of her flesh come into his hand through the slippery material of the nightgown. Somehow, he always half-expected her skin to be cool.

Slowly he moved his hand up to cover one of her breasts. He held it carefully, like a small, delicate bird. With his fingertip he drew a circle around the nipple.

Al’s passion expanded until it seemed to fill him to bursting. Still he forced himself to move slowly, gently. He slipped the blue nightgown down away from Madeline’s breast. He moved lower in the bed and put his mouth against the nipple.

“You don’t have to do that,” Madeline said. “I’m ready.”

“I like to,” Al murmured without taking his mouth away. The taste of her was smooth and sweet as whipped cream.

Madeline sighed and her nipple grew firm and erect under his tongue. By opening wide and sucking, Al could take almost her entire breast into his mouth. She placed her hand at the nape of his neck and let it rest there. The effect on Al was like that of a wildly erotic caress. He gave a muffled moan around the resilient flesh.

When he could stand it no more, Al moved away from her long enough to pull off his pajamas and throw them aside. Naked, he knelt beside Madeline and eased the nightgown up over her narrow hips. She raised her buttocks slightly to make it easier but stopped him when he tried to slip the garment over her head.

“That’s far enough,” she said.

Al moved his hand over her belly, down to the pubic mound. Madeline had less hair down there than any woman Al had seen. A neat little triangle of yellow, short and fluffy as a kitten’s fur. He petted her there, wanting to kiss it, but Madeline would not go for that either.

His fingers found the lips of her vagina. Slowly, slowly he probed inside. Al was relieved to find that she was moist in there. He hated it when they had to use the Vaseline. She never let him put it on, but made him wait while she turned her back and applied the jelly to herself.

Madeline spread her legs for him, and Al moved over to kneel between them. He lowered his body and used one hand to guide his stiff penis into her. He wished she would do that, but she had never liked to touch him there. Early in their marriage when he had carried her hand down to his naked cock, she had recoiled as though from a snake.

He found her lips with the head of his penis, and let himself glide into her. It was good. It was better than good, it was the best. How a woman who put as little apparent effort into it as Madeline could be such a great fuck was something Al could not understand.

Right now he didn’t care about understanding. He stroked slowly in and out of her, trying to make it last as long as he could. He held his breath, clenched his teeth, tried to think of unpleasant things — anything to hold on a few seconds longer.

But as always, nothing worked. It was over suddenly and explosively. Madeline closed on him, grasping his cock inside her as surely as with a fist. There was not a man alive, Al thought, who could hold back his climax when squeezed by that beautiful cunt.

He pumped strenuously, ejaculating into her, wondering if she came with him. She said she did sometimes. He never knew for sure.

Then he was finished, gradually relaxing on top of the slim woman, supporting most of his weight on his elbows. Her vaginal lips milked him of the last drops of semen and let him go. Limp and drained, he slid out of her with a long, moaning sigh.

“Honey,” he said when his breathing had steadied, “That was super-great.”

Madeline held him for a moment and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Let me up now,” she said, “so I can go clean up.”

Al rolled over on his side and watched as his wife pulled down the nightgown, then stepped out of bed and walked carefully to the bathroom. The door closed behind her, and Al heard the soft click as she punched the lock button on the inner knob. Whores were the only women Al knew who were in as much of a hurry as Madeline to douche out after sex.

He swung his legs out of the bed and gathered up the two halves of his pajamas. What the hell, he thought, for a piece of ass like that he could overlook a few peculiar habits. He just wished it would happen more often, that’s all.

Naked, carrying his pajamas, Al walked back down the hall to his own room. There was still time for a couple of hours sleep before he had to get up, but first he sat down at the writing table next to his bed and pulled out a sheet of paper and felt-tip pen. In the morning he wanted to give Conn Driscoll a solid outline of his idea. Once he had sketched in the outline, Al was sure the young PR man would come up with the details.

When he had filled the page with notes, he folded the paper twice and tucked it into the inside pocket of the jacket he would wear tomorrow. Then he walked back and dropped into bed. He pulled the blankets up around his chin and was asleep in ten seconds.





CHAPTER 4


Off Sunset Boulevard a couple of miles east of the Strip, in a block of tire dealers, appliance stores, and parking lots, there is a commercial court, in the Art Deco style of 1930’s Hollywood, that calls itself Crossroads of the World. The blue and white central building is supposed to resemble a cruise ship, complete with portholes, a railing along the flat roof, and a 40-foot mast topped by a revolving globe. A travel agency occupies the front of the ship, and a restaurant the rear. Surrounding the asphalt sea on which the makebelieve ship sails are a dozen or so small shops and offices. They include a photographer, an underground publisher, a yoga studio, and Al Fessler’s office.

The atmosphere of seedy nostalgia, Al told people, suited his clients better than the intimidating posh of Century City or the high-powered hype down on the Strip. Furthermore, the rent was considerably cheaper.

At nine o’clock Monday morning Conn Driscoll pulled into the parking lot at the rear of Crossroads of the World. He left his car in one of the unmarked spaces and headed for the white Morocco-style bungalo that housed Al’s two-room office at the far end of the court.

The receptionist in the small anteroom recognized Driscoll and invited him in with a smile. The inner office was bright as a candy store. Garish pop posters and blowups of Al Fessler’s clients covered the walls. Prominent among the photos was the guileless, blue-eyed face of Billy Lockett.

Al Fessler sat behind a blond wood desk wearing a brushed cotton leisure suit that did not look good on him. Al had the kind of face that goes with pin stripe suits, black shirts, and white ties. However, the world in which he operated demanded certain concessions to mod fashion. Al drew the line at beads and puka shells, but he occasionally wore a neck chain with his sun sign, Aries.

Driscoll, at ease in a tan sport jacket and dark green turtleneck, took the visitor’s chair at the side of Al’s desk.

“What’s up, chief?” he asked, recognizing the excitement in the other man.

Al leaned close to him, and Driscoll got a whiff of powerful aftershave lotion. “Tell me this, what do you think of when you hear these names — Rudolph Valentino … James Dean … Judy Garland?”

“Did you get me down here to play word-association games?”

“Come on,” Fessler coaxed.

“Okay.” Driscoll put a hand to his forehead and thought for a moment. “Let’s see … acting … movies … sudden death …” Driscoll stopped talking and looked sharply at Fessler. “They all died suddenly. The two men were fairly young. And after their death they all had a surge of new popularity.”

Al Fessler beamed at him. “Very good. Now how about these — Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix?”

“More sudden death. Rock stars who died at the peak of their popularity.”

“Right! Now, what’s the difference between the first bunch and the second?”

“Al, are you going to tell me what you’re driving at or are we going to spend the morning playing Hollywood Squares?”

“Humor me,” Fessler said.

Driscoll sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “They’re different generations. Other than that I give up. Tell me, professor, what is the difference between Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison and the others?”

Al Fessler jumped to his feet and stabbed a forefinger at Driscoll. “Promotion!” he said. “Good old-fashioned promotion.”

Driscoll waited for him to go on. Obviously, Al was going to do this his own way.

“What happened when Valentino died? The women went crazy at his funeral. All his pictures were re-released and did better box office than ever. Every year a woman in black visits his grave. Boffo!

“Take James Dean. Three movies the kid made, and who really knew if he could act or not? Then the flaming crash in a souped-up Porsche and pow! — he’s the symbol of a whole generation.

“Then Garland dies, and all of a sudden she’s not a drug-shriveled old woman any more, she’s Dorothy, everybody’s little sister. Today female impersonators build a whole career out of pulling on a dress and doing Garland.”

Driscoll lit a cigar and watched Al Fessler stride back and forth on the orange carpet, jabbing the air with his hands to emphasize points.

“Now take Joplin and Hendrix. Not Morrison so much, he was not really a single, but with the right promotion any one of them could have been big. I mean big.”

“Yeah, but all three of them were dopers. That could have been a problem.”

“Hell, not with the people we’re trying to reach. Dying of an OD was cool. Look at Lenny Bruce. A standup comic with a dirty-words shtick who died in a toilet shooting smack. They got books and plays and movies about him, and today he’s some kind of a saint. Anyway, here’s my point — Joplin and Hendrix died, had a little flurry of interest, and were forgotten. Why? Because nobody promoted them. With the right campaign Hendrix could have been a black James Dean. Joplin, hell, she could have been Joan of Arc. Do you see where I’m heading?”

“I think I do,” Driscoll said. “You’re suggesting we do a job on Billy Lockett to whip up interest in him even though he’s dead. No, make that especially now that he’s dead.”

Al Fessler returned to his chair and perched on the edge as though he were about to spring forward. “You’re on my wavelength,” he said. “In six months time I want to make Billy Lockett the most talked-about dead man since … who was that cat in the Bible who got raised up from the grave?”

“Lazarus.”

“Yeah, Lazarus. We’ll make people forget Lazarus. I want Billy Lockett’s name better-known than Coca Cola. In six months’ time I want the whole world talking about Billy.”

“Why the deadline?” Driscoll broke in. “What happens in six months?”

“The concert, baby. The Billy Lockett concert at the Forum.”

“Just a minute, Al. Possibly we can make the kid as famous as Lazarus, but it’s asking too much to have Billy Lockett walk out on that stage in September. You’re not putting me on? You don’t have him stashed somewhere?”

“No, Conn, like I told you on the phone, Billy’s deader than the cha cha. That’s the beauty of it,” Al said, then added hastily, “in a manner of speaking. What we do, instead of putting on the Billy Lockett concert, which was after all just another rock superstar concert, we stage it in memory of poor, dead Billy. The Billy Lockett Memorial Concert. Has a nice ring, don’t you think? We round up as many good acts as we can, maybe set up some kind of a charity dodge so they’ll work cheap, and start the tickets at ten dollars. If we don’t sell out the Forum with that, I’ll eat a Fender bass.”

Driscoll searched Al Fessler’s face for any sign that he was kidding. Finding none, he drew on his cigar and blew a streamer of smoke toward the ceiling.

“What do you say, Conn, are you in?”

Driscoll examined the glowing end of his cigar for a moment, then looked up at Fessler. “Al, that is one of the most tawdry, vulgar, disgusting proposals I ever heard. I’ll do it.”

“I knew you’d like it,” Al said happily. “I’ll leave all the details up to you.”

The PR man leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, eyes closed, speaking as the thoughts hit him. “Okay, the machinery is already set up to promote Billy’s Forum concert. We make a few changes in the theme, and that goes ahead on schedule. Now, we’re going to want to hit people fast and hard with Billy Lockett. We’re lucky he died the way he did — spectacular. It got us good coverage in the Times this morning, and the Herald-Examiner will be even better.

“We’ll want a billboard on the Strip, naturally. That’s already rented for the month of August. Posters, both to plug the concert and to sell to the kids in the pop shops along the Boulevard. I’ll get an artist on it right away.” Driscoll rose from the chair and struck a pose — feet apart, arms out, eyes to the ceiling. “Something like this. Christlike.”

Al Fessler popped a stick of gum into his mouth and nodded with enthusiasm. “Yeah, yeah.”

“We’ll get a batch of T-shirts made up,” Driscoll continued. “They’re a hot item right now. And, of course, lockets.”

“Billy Lockett lockets,” Al said. “That’s good, that’s good.”

“Little picture of Billy inside,” Driscoll went on, warming to his subject. “We’ll make anybody not wearing one feel naked.”

“I love it,” Al said.

“The funeral has to be a biggie. I’ll schedule it for Saturday, then we’ll have the rest of the week to drum up interest.”

“Where do we hold it, Forest Lawn?”

“No, they’re too Establishment for our crowd. We’ll have more freedom to operate at Greenacre.”

“That’s a cemetery? It sounds like a racetrack.”

“It’s a cemetery. A small, progressive outfit in the Hollywood Hills between Forest Lawn and Mount Sinai. They’re trying to build up a name, and I think we can get a discount for Billy.”

“No kidding.”

“Celebrity funerals are good for business.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Got anything else?”

“Billy’s records. We get the word to our DJ’s, the ones we paid to plug the concert, and have them spin Billy Lockett till you can’t stand it.”

“Way to go.”

Driscoll hesitated and frowned at his cigar.

“Anything wrong?”

“We need something else,” Driscoll said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Something to grab people who don’t listen to top-40 stations. We need them too.” A light came into his eyes. “A book. Sure, a book will put it all together. A big splashy book with lots of pictures. You’ve probably got a file of Billy pictures, haven’t you? Good. All we need is a little text to tie the pictures together, we get it into the bookstores a month ahead of the concert, and wham!, we’ve got the kind of advertising money can’t buy.”

“Couple of questions,” Al said. “One: who’s going to publish this glorified press release? Two: how do we get the important bookstores to handle it? And three: why would anybody want to read it?”

“The answer to all three questions is Dean Hardeman.”

Al tried the name out. “Hardeman. Hardeman? You mean the author with the bestsellers a while back?”

“Right, except it was more than a little while back. It was almost twenty years ago.”

“So what does he do for us?”

“He’s the author of our Billy book.”

Al’s eyes narrowed. “What makes you think a heavyweight like Dean Hardeman would take on a hack job like this?”

“Simple … for money. I’ve got contacts in the publishing business, and they tell me Hardeman is hurting. He hasn’t had a book that made money since his first three, and he hasn’t written a thing in ten years. His wife left him, and he’s hitting the sauce hard. If I go back to see him with a contract in my pocket, I’ll bet he goes for it.”

“But even if he does need the money, will he write the kind of shit we want? Can he?”

“He won’t have to. I’ll do the actual writing myself. All we want from Hardeman is his name and maybe a couple of talk show appearances. Everybody wins. We get a pile of publicity for Billy, Hardeman gets a few thou for doing nothing, and who knows, maybe the book even makes a couple of bucks.”

Al Fessler chewed silently on his gum for thirty seconds, then his face creased into a wide grin. “Conn, baby, you’re beautiful. I love you.”

Driscoll waved him off modestly. “Just doing my job.”

“One more thing I’d like you to think about,” Al said. “A theme. A short, punchy slogan. Something to go on the billboards, posters, and T-shirts. A hook that will grab the public and make the Billy Lockett Memorial Concert the biggest thing to happen in this town since the Beatles played Dodger Stadium.”

“I was saving this for last,” Driscoll said, “but I think I’ve got it.” He sprang out of the chair and assumed the crucifiction posture again. With his eyes reverently fixed on the overhead lighting fixture he let several dramatic seconds go by before proclaiming in deep tones:

“Billy Lives!”





CHAPTER 5


Two days after Billy Lockett slammed to the earth near San Bernardino, Conn Driscoll was flying overhead in an eastbound DC-10. Driscoll did not look down. His mind was on other things. For the first time since his talk with Al Fessler the day before, Driscoll permitted himself a few private doubts.

He had put on a convincing show of self-assured optimism for Al, but as a freelance publicity and PR man, that was part of his job. He had deliberately glossed over a number of the problems they faced in promoting the late Billy, including the availability of Dean Hardeman. Driscoll had talked as though it were a mere formality — getting the author to lend his name for a price. Now he wondered if it would be that easy. All he had to go on, really, was trade gossip.

A call to Hardeman’s New York agent, Ernie Zyler, had confirmed that the author had written nothing for a long time and now lived alone in a house on Long Island. The agent had also said he was no longer representing Hardeman, that Hardeman was on his own to deal with Driscoll. The implication was that Dean Hardeman had lost more than money and his wife in recent years.

Driscoll unbuckled his seat belt and took a look out the window. The San Bernardino mountains were far behind them now, and all he could see below was the fluffy white top of a cloud layer. Along with his small doubts, Driscoll could now also admit to himself that he was just a little nervous about meeting Dean Hardeman. Hero worship. In his first two years of college Driscoll had entertained a fantasy of one day being a novelist himself. His idols at the time were Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw, and Dean Hardeman. Years later, when he actually tried to write a book, Driscoll found he had neither the necessary discipline nor — he finally came to admit — the talent. The discovery only increased his admiration for the men who wrote books. Even the sudden disappearance of Dean Hardeman from the bestseller lists took on a distorted glamor for the young Conn Driscoll. Like the crackup of Fitzgerald or the destruction of Hemingway.

Driscoll put aside his admiration for Hardeman the writer. He had business to do with Hardeman the man. He had met enough celebrities to know that they never stood as tall in person as in the imagination.

To occupy his mind, Driscoll ticked off the projects he had started rolling before leaving Los Angeles. He had the funeral booked for Greenacre on Saturday. The kids would be out of school, so that would give them a good attendance. An artist had been started on the Billy-as-Christ image that would be used on everything from billboards to belt bukles. Billy’s records were getting good air time, at least on the FM hard rockers. Deejays on the big AM stations were tougher to get to, but the kids didn’t listen to them anyway.

Driscoll had found a publisher in the Valley who was delighted at the prospect of putting out a Dean Hardeman book. His list at the time was mostly cookbooks and astrology guides. Getting the book printed and into the stores by September would call for tight scheduling, but that could be worked out.

The initial steps had been taken to set up the Billy Lockett Memorial Fund. Driscoll liked the sound of the words though he hadn’t yet decided where the fund was going to go.

Finally, Driscoll had put out feelers to learn what acts would be available for the September Forum date. They wouldn’t be able to get the real heavyweights, of course — The Stones, Chicago, Elton John — but good second-line talent could sell out the house, combined with the added gimmick of Billy Lives!

So far, Driscoll thought happily, things were going smooth as cream. Or would be as soon as he had Dean Hardeman’s signature on the contract in his pocket.

The sky was a dirty gray when the plane landed at Kennedy International Airport. A bone-chilling wind knifed through Driscoll’s sport jacket and slacks. As usual he had forgotten about the climatic differences of the two coasts and had not brought a topcoat. He consoled himself with the thought that at least it wasn’t raining. Or snowing. And he would not be here long.

He found a taxi in front of the United Airlines terminal and gave the driver Dean Hardeman’s address in Great Neck. Driscoll was glad this trip would not take him into Manhattan. His hatred of New York City was almost pathological.

The house in Great Neck where Hardeman lived was a white, two-story Cape Cod with a wide lawn on a quiet street. The buds were just beginning to show on a pair of big oak trees out in front.

Driscoll walked to the front door and rang the bell. He waited, shivering with the cold.

Dean Hardeman himself opened the door. He was markedly older and grayer but still recognizable from his book jacket portraits. Driscoll was struck at once by the thought that whatever else he might be, Hardeman was definitely not shorter in person. The author stood an easy six-foot-three or -four with massive shoulders and a broad chest. He was thickening through the middle, but he retained a vigorous, athletic look. The short gray hair was hand-brushed forward. It was around the eyes that his trouble showed. They had a dull, tarnished look. Hardeman needed a shave. He carried a highball glass with a cigarette smoldering between two fingers of the same hand.

“Come on in and get warm,” Hardeman said when Driscoll had introduced himself. “Do you want a drink?”

Driscoll did not, particularly, but you do not refuse a drink offered by a boyhood hero. He said, “Sure, whatever you’re having will be fine.”

Hardeman poured bourbon into a glass, dropped in three ice cubes, and handed the drink to Driscoll.

The young PR man took a slip and nodded appreciatively. It was good rich bourbon. “I don’t know how much Ernie Zyler told you about our proposition …” he began.

“Ernie told me,” Hardeman said, “that you had a wild scheme for me to do a book about some rock-and-roll idol. Ernie also reminded me that he is no longer my agent, so I would have to make up my own mind about it without any help from him.”

“Well, uh, roughly, that’s what we have,” Driscoll said. “You’ve probably heard of Billy Lockett.”

“Rock-and-roll music makes me want to puke.”

Driscoll forced a chuckle. “I guess a lot of people feel that way. The important thing for our purposes is that there are millions of young people who listen to nothing but pop music.”

“God help us,” Hardeman murmured into his glass.

With a weak smile, Driscoll continued. “To these kids rock performers like Billy Lockett are as important as their families. Maybe more.”

“Incredible.”

“At the time he died Billy was just this far,” Driscoll measured a space in the air with thumb and forefinger, “from being a real superstar. A book about him right now will sell like …” he searched for a simile.

“Like hotcakes?” Hardeman offered.

“Oh, yes.”

“Are you sure these people, these rock-and-roll fans can read?”

“The text will be only twenty or thirty thousand words. Most of the book will be pictures.”

“Just a damn minute,” Hardeman interrupted. “What the hell makes you think I would write even one paragraph about some idiot so-called singer for a generation of bubblegum chewers who are still sounding out Dick and Jane? Maybe you heard that I’m not up to my armpits in royalty checks lately, and you think I’ll jump at the chance to write any old piece of shit just to make a couple of bucks. Well, hear this, Mr. Driscoll, I’ve got projects in the hopper right now that I don’t want to talk about, but that keep me plenty busy. If you think I’m going to take time off to fuck around with your Billy Whatsisname, forget it.”

“No, listen, I realize that,” said Driscoll, talking fast. “I wouldn’t think of asking a writer of your stature to do what is — for lack of a better word — a hack job. I’ll level with you, Mr. Hardeman, we need this book by September to help put over a rock concert in Los Angeles. Al Fessler, that’s Billy’s manager, and I talked it over yesterday. The big question was how to get some publicity on the writing of the book, and how to get the bookstores to give us good display. The answer was to have the name of an important author on the cover. You, for instance.”

Hardeman started to say something, but Driscoll went on hurriedly. “Now, you won’t actually have to write a word. I’ll do that myself. It won’t amount to much more than a pasteup, anyway.”

While the author frowned at him, Driscoll tossed the contract casually onto the coffee table, making sure the boldface dollar figures were visible. “I know that doesn’t come anywhere near your usual advance from a publisher, but it’s not bad for letting us use your name and maybe making a couple of personal appearances.”

“You want to put my name on something written by you?”

“You’ll have the final okay on the manuscript, and you’re free to make any kind of changes you want to.”

The author’s gaze drifted to the contract lying on the table between them. Driscoll could almost hear him adding up the figures.

“Plus a percentage of all subsidiary rights,” Driscoll said softly.

Hardeman mashed out his cigarette and lit another. “And what was that about personal appearances?”

“A couple of talk shows maybe. Only the biggies. Johnny or Merv. A press conference or two. Only what will fit into your schedule.”

“No bookstores?”

“Not if you don’t want them.”

“I hate sitting in bookstores.” The author rubbed his jaw. It made a bristly sound. “You leveled with me, kid, so I’ll do the same for you. I do need the money. The thing is, I’m not crazy about putting my name on this picture book. Granted, my name doesn’t ring the bells it used to, but it still means something to some people.”

“If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be here,” Driscoll said. “And I can understand how you feel.” He let a calculated pause go by, then added, “Of course, it didn’t hurt Norman Mailer any to do the Monroe book.”

For a moment Dean Hardeman looked intently at the younger man, then he threw back his head in a full-throated laugh. “By God, you’ve got a point there. I guess what’s good enough for Norman is good enough for me. I’ll do it.”

• • •

An hour later the papers were signed. Dean Hardeman stood at the front window of the big house watching the taxi carrying young Conn Driscoll drive down the street. When the cab disappeared around the corner at the end of the block, Hardeman turned away from the window. He crossed the room to the bar and poured himself a fresh drink. There was a queer prickly sensation under his arms. He took a deep swallow of bourbon.

How would it feel, he wondered, to see his name on a book written by somebody else? Hell, he wouldn’t be the first writer to do that. It was not a crime. Not in the legal sense.

He paced the floor, found himself staring into the cold fireplace without really seeing it. He was thinking about Billy Lockett and Billy’s special world.

Hardeman walked back across the wide living room to the window. Outside was the quiet suburban street where he had lived for fifteen years. Ten turbulent years with Joyce, and five empty years alone. It was a calm, well-ordered world outside his window. How different it must be from the world of Billy Lockett. What was that strange world like, Hardeman wondered. What were the colors, the smells, the special tastes of Billy Lockett’s world?

And what about Billy Lockett himself? Hardeman was not quite as ignorant of Billy as he had let on to Conn Driscoll. He had read how the young entertainer had died in a parachuting accident. At the time he had wondered idly why it had happened. Now he began to wonder more actively.

Hardeman put the drink down and walked to a small, ornate desk at the far end of the room. With a forearm he swept aside the clutter of unpaid bills and unanswered letters. He took up a felt-tip pen and began making notes on a yellow legal pad. Before he thought about what he was doing, Hardeman had filled three pages with questions, ideas, and alternative approaches to the puzzle of Billy Lockett. As he stared down at his hard, square-topped handwriting, a smile grew on his face.

“By God, I’m writing,” he said aloud. For the first time in years he felt the stirring of the creative juices he had feared were congealed. He was not sure he could trust the sensation.

Still holding the pen, he stood up and began to pace. He warned himself not to go off the deep end. The money for this Billy Lockett thing was as good as in his pocket, and he didn’t have to do a damn thing for it. He could use the money to pay some bills, then get to work on some serious writing.

Oh yeah, serious writing, Hardeman mocked himself. Maybe those nonexistant “projects in the hopper” he had invented for Conn Driscoll. It was time to quit kidding himself. The important thing about this project, the thing to be seized upon, was that here was an idea that intrigued him, that actually made him want to write. Nothing outside a bottle had intrigued Dean Hardeman for a long time. This rock music scene, foreign though it was to him, seemed to crackle with vitality. Maybe he could absorb some of that vitality. He could certainly use it.

But did a fiction writer have any business taking on something like this? Aside from a few articles early in his career, Hardeman had never attempted a work of nonfiction. But why couldn’t he do it? If he was the writer people used to say he was, he could handle it. This trendy New Journalism was nothing but using the techniques of fiction in factual reporting.

Hardeman grinned over at the empty chair where Conn Driscoll had sat an hour before. “By God,” he said, “I’m going to write your damned book.”

He sat down at the desk again and read over his notes. Yes, it was there, all right, the germ of a book. And if he handled it right, it might turn out not half bad.

Hardeman’s smile faded and he sat back in the chair. He might as well be completely honest with himself, he decided. There was another reason for taking on this job. It would give him a solid, acceptable excuse for going out to Los Angeles. And Joyce was in Los Angeles. If he could sort of look her up while he was out there working, he wouldn’t appear to be running after her trying to get her back. Maybe then the two of them could communicate without all the hostility and strain there had been since the divorce. Possibly they could rediscover some of the old rapport and maybe … well, time enough when he got out there to see what would happen.

Hardeman took the yellow pad with his notes on it back to the room at the rear of the house that had been his writing room. The heat was shut off and it was cold in the room, but Hardeman didn’t notice. He sat down at the metal typewriter stand and pulled the cover off the machine. He flipped the switch and listened for a moment to the soft electrical hum, then spread out his handwritten notes and rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter.

The jottings in longhand were an encouraging start, but he had made many starts in the last few years that had come to nothing. This time, though, Dean Hardeman felt that once he typed up the notes — recorded them in good black pica letters on white bond — he was committed and would see it through to the end.

With one hand he picked up the telephone while he flipped through a personal directory with the other. He found the number of his travel agent and punched it out on the phone buttons. While he waited for the connection Hardeman shifted the typewriter to capital letters. At the top of the page he pecked out the words: BILLY LIVES!





CHAPTER 6


Wednesday was a bright blue day in Los Angeles with a crisp wind from the north cleaning the sky. Conn Driscoll’s alarm clock buzzed him awake at 7:00 A.M. He slapped the clock into silence, knowing it would buzz again in another five minutes.

Driscoll lay under the electric blanket, which he kept at a gentle three setting, and let his mind ease into wakefulness. His morning ritual began as he mentally ticked off the things he had to do that day. This day there were plenty.

Al Fessler had turned his office and his secretary over to Driscoll for the rest of the week. The PR man had never had an office of his own because he felt it would constrict his movements. And what would he do with an office during the weeks he liked to take off between assignments? This time, however, he could see that it would be helpful to have a base of operations while getting the Billy Lockett hype off the ground.

As the alarm clock began its second buzz Driscoll hit it again, this time punching in the off button to silence it for good. Normally he stretched the waking up process over twenty minutes or so, but today he was eager to get started.

He showered and shaved and went into the kitchen to put on a pan of water for instant coffee. Driscoll’s apartment, three small rooms in a new complex at Marina del Rey, cost him three hundred dollars a month. It was too much, but with no dependents or outside expenses, he could afford it. He had a cleaning woman who came in twice a week, and he ate most of his meals out, so the apartment reflected very little of Driscoll’s personality. He used it mainly for sleeping and screwing.

Driscoll ate a donut with his coffee, read the Times entertainment section, turned on the radio for a freeway report, and left for his first appointment of the day. It was with his artist, a wildly talented eccentric who insisted his name was Xenon Quarles. That was all right with Driscoll. Quarles did beautiful work, and he did it fast. He could call himself Fred Flintstone if he wanted to.

Quarles worked in a shabby store-front studio on Robertson Boulevard. Not on the part of Robertson that runs through Beverly Hills, but the low-rent area south of Pico. From the size of his fees, he could have had better, but like everybody else in town, Quarles was maintaining an image. His personal image was that of the serious artist forced into taking commercial assignments to keep bread and wine on the table. As far as Driscoll knew, Quarles had never done anything but commercial work. He was much in demand for pop posters and could handle any style currently in vogue from Art Nouveau to Grand Guignol. He dressed in grubby thrift-shop clothes but was rumored to be worth half a million dollars.

Driscoll found a parking place a block from the artist’s studio and walked back past a body shop and plumbing supply store. The windows of the studio were opaque with years of undisturbed grime. The display shelves behind the glass were stacked with trash. Nowhere was there any kind of a sign identifying the proprietor or his business. Xenon Quarles depended on word of mouth to advertise his work. It was all he needed.

It took some effort to open the door against the rags, papers, and other litter that covered the cement floor. Driscoll pushed his way in and found the artist off to one side mixing paints in old coffee cans. Quarles had on a raveled brown sweater and a pair of torn pants that may once have been green. Most of his face was hidden behind curly black hair and beard. What could be seen was pockmarked and ugly. Quarles had been described as a tall, dirty Toulouse-Lautrec.

“Hi, maestro,” Driscoll called cheerily. “Got the Billy poster finished?”

Quarles scowled at him, continuing to stir the can of paint. “When did I tell you it would be done?”

“Today.”

“Then it’s done. Wait a minute.”

The artist stirred for several more minutes, adding drops of pigment until the shade of the paint in the coffee can satisfied him. Then he wiped his hands carefully on a rag and picked his way through the clutter to the back of the room. The wall there was lined with narrow upright bins. Quarles drew out a large poster board and carried it back up front where he laid it across an inverted carton for Driscoll’s inspection.

There was Billy Lockett in a white sequined jumpsuit, legs spread, arms out from his sides, one hand holding an electric guitar also white with sequins. Billy’s mouth was slightly open, his eyes cast upward. The background was a stipple of colors that suggested an endless crowd of people. Billy’s flowing blond hair was back-lighted to produce a halo effect. Nothing blatant, merely a suggestion.

Across the bottom of the poster in stark black letters was printed: BILLY LIVES. A space was left for the printer to add concert dates, ticket prices, and whatever.

Xenon Quarles returned to his paint mixing and affected an air of utter indifference about Conn Driscoll’s appraisal of his work.

“It’s beautiful,” Driscoll said.

“Naturally,” Quarles agreed.

“It’s even better than the way I saw it in my mind.”

“Of course.”

“The halo bit with the hair is sheer genius.”

“Sheer schmaltz,” Quarles said, but his voice betrayed his pleasure.

“No kidding, maestro, it’s the best thing of yours I’ve ever seen.”

“A cartoon.”

“There’s just one little thing …”

“What?” The artist whirled on him like a mother bear whose cubs were being threatened. “What thing? What little thing? Are you telling me there is something wrong with my work?”

“No, no,” Driscoll said hastily. “Nothing’s wrong. Your work couldn’t be better.”

“What then?”

“Just a trifle about the lettering.”

“Lettering! Tchah! A child can letter. What’s wrong with it?”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. You left something off, that’s all.”

“Left what off? Damn you, Driscoll, will you stop this mealy-mouthing and tell me what’s bugging you.”

“You left off the exclamation point.”

“Exclamation point! What the hell do you want with an exclamation point?”

“Right here after Billy Lives there should be an exclamation point. I’m sure it was there on the rough layout I gave you.”

“Driscoll, what you are saying on this poster is that this kid, who everybody knows is dead, is really alive after all. And with that piece of news you want to give them an exclamation point. Who are you trying to reach with this, a bunch of idiots?”

Driscoll answered that with the quirk of an eyebrow.

“I see what you mean,” Quarles said. He picked up a brush, dipped it into a can of black paint, and deftly added the punctuation mark. “There you are,” he said, “BILLY LIVES!”

“Thank you,” Driscoll said. “Do you have Al Fessler’s address where you send the bill?”

“I have it.”

“Fine. See you around.”

Driscoll delivered the poster to a printer in Hollywood along with Quarles’ formula for mixing the inks. He had them run off a photocopy, which he took to a jobber where the image of Billy Lockett would be printed on several thousand one-dollar, white T-shirts. The T-shirts would thereafter be sold for five dollars apiece.

There was still the billboard on the Strip, but that could wait until the month before the concert, as could the newspaper ads. Driscoll reminded himself to bat out a commercial to be played on the local rock stations. Never mind the middle-of-the-roaders; their listeners didn’t buy pop records or go to rock concerts. Same for television. They could safely ignore it.

It was eleven o’clock by the time Driscoll arrived at the office at Crossroads of the World. A stringy mar with horse teeth was waiting for him with a large square suitcase in the anteroom.

“Hello, Phil,” said Driscoll. “Come on in.”

Phil Carbo leaped up from his seat and hurried into the inner office behind Driscoll, clutching the suitcase under one arm. Carbo was a gimmick peddler known along the Boulevard as the Sultan of Schlock. He claimed to have originated the magnetized, glow-in-the-dark Holy Family for your dashboard, though he said the idea was stolen from him and made a fortune for somebody else.

“What have you got for me, Phil?” Driscoll said, seating himself behind Al Fessler’s desk.

“After I get your call Monday, I work straight through,” said Carbo. “I got a couple items here you really gonna like. Class merchandise.”

Carbo popped open the suitcase and brought out a blue satin pillow, 12 inches square, which he displayed as though it were the Mona Lisa. On the face of the pillow was a head-on photograph of Billy Lockett, eyes closed, mouth open in song.

“A Billy Pillow,” Carbo said.

Driscoll nodded slowly. “Not bad. A lot of the girl fans might like to take one of those to bed with them. Some of the boys too, for that matter.”

Carbo beamed at the approval. “This is just a mockup, you understand. I just glue the picture on there. For the real item you can appli … appli … what is that word?”

“Appliqué.”

“That’s it. I know I can place these items in at least twenty stores right now.”

“What else have you got?”

Carbo dived into the suitcase again and came up with a glazed beer stein of the type popular with college fraternities. On the surface where the fraternity crest usually went was Billy’s face again and the poorly lettered legend, BILLY LIVES!

“A Billy beer mug,” Carbo announced.

Driscoll pursed his lips, shook his head negatively. “No good, that’s the wrong image. Billy’s fans are not your beer drinkers.”

Carbo dipped a hand into the mug. “A Billy hash stasher?”

“Forget it.”

Regretfully, Carbo put the beer stein away and brought out another object, which he kept hidden from Driscoll behind his hand. “This item you are positively going to love,” he predicted.

Carbo manipulated the gadget for a moment, then with the sound of a spring released, a little man-shaped object popped up to the ceiling and came floating back down buoyed by a white silk handkerchief.

“A Billy Skydiver Doll,” Carbo said proudly.

Driscoll winced. “Phil, that’s in rotten taste. Even for you.”

“I am up all night getting it to work right.”

“Put it away.”

With a heavy sigh, Carbo folded the white handkerchief around the little doll and laid it back in the suitcase. “I have one more item for you,” he said. “A guaranteed winner.”

The last of Carbo’s items was a 5-by-7 photograph of Billy in a metal frame. The photo was printed on a sheet of plastic with fine ridges. As Carbo tilted the picture slightly up and down, the photo of Billy seemed to open and close its eyes.

Driscoll studied it for a moment, then shrugged. “Why not? I’ll get an okay from Al Fessler, and you can be ready to go ahead on the pillow and the picture. You’ll get the usual percentage of sales, plus a bonus if they move well.”

“Oh, they’ll move,” Carbo assured him. “Don’t worry about that.”

A beeping sound somewhere in the room startled Driscoll until he located it coming from the intercom box on Fessler’s desk. He nodded a goodbye to Phil Carbo, then said, “Yes?” into the box several times without getting a response.

Finally Al’s secretary put her head into the office. “Greg Neely is outside, Mr. Driscoll,” she said. “He wanted to see Mr. Fessler but says he’ll talk to you.”

Greg Neely did pop-music criticism for the Times and contributed articles to publications like Rolling Stone and Creem. He was not a young man to be brushed off.

“Hey, that’s great,” Driscoll said, knowing he could be heard in the anteroom. He arranged his face into an expression of delight and came around his desk to usher the visitor in personally. A young man in a tie-dyed outfit and a Sonny Bono moustache slouched at the secretary’s desk.

“Hey, come on inside, Greg,” Driscoll said. “Al’s turned me loose in here for a week while we get things set up.”

“I really wanted to talk to Fessler,” the young critic sulked, “but I suppose you’ll do.”

“I know Al would be anxious to talk to you,” Driscoll gushed, “but in the meantime, maybe I can answer some of your questions. He let Neely take the visitor’s chair, then sat down behind the desk, leaning forward in an attitude of attentiveness.

“My first question,” Neely said, “is what the hell is this ‘Billy Lives’ ripoff?”

“Ripoff? What do you mean, Greg?”

“What I mean is we both know Al Fessler went into hock promoting Billy Lockett and setting up a Forum concert for September. Now Billy’s dead, but Fessler’s got you working the local hype merchants overtime trying to pump life into the corpse.”

The little shit is after something, Driscoll thought. He said, “That’s not fair, Greg. Sure, Al Fessler had money invested in Billy because he believed in the boy’s talent and in his future. A lot of people did. There’s a lot of fans out there who feel a dreadful sense of loss at having Billy taken from them so suddenly. By staging a Memorial Concert Al felt he could give everybody a chance to say goodbye to Billy properly.”

“And Fessler could say hello to a million dollars. I hear the tickets start at ten.”

“We haven’t actually scaled the prices yet, but I’ll admit tickets won’t be cheap. We’re figuring on some high-powered talent being there, and those boys don’t work for nothing.”

“Who have you got lined up so far?”

“Greg, I gave my word I wouldn’t mention any names before the papers are signed. We’ve got to look out for lawsuits over conflicting commitments, that sort of thing.”

Neely wrote something in a notebook.

“As soon as the talent is signed, you’ll get it first, Greg. You have my word on that.”

Neely continued to scribble in the notebook.

“Hey, if you’re doing an article I can feed you a lot of good stuff on Billy. Pictures too.”

“It might not be the kind of article you have in mind,” Neely said, still writing.

Well, there it is, Driscoll thought. This pimply little creep was threatening to blow up the whole million-dollar operation. And the hell of it was, he could do it with a piece of hatchet journalism in the Times or Rolling Stone. The kids were getting stirred up anyway about rising prices for concerts, and if the word got around that Billy Lives! was a ripoff, the promotion was dead.

“The only reason I would do an article at all,” Neely said carefully, “is that my sound equipment is giving me problems.”

“How is that?” Driscoll asked, just as carefully.

“I have a stack of albums halfway up my wall that I’m supposed to review, and that would keep me plenty busy. But I can’t even listen to them properly.”

Aha!

Driscoll made his face show concern. “Trouble with your sound equipment, you say?”

“That’s right. I’m still using one of the old LLT Formula Five quad systems, and I’m getting a lot of crosstalk. No way I can give the new albums a fair listen with that racket going on.”

“No, of course you can’t,” Driscoll agreed. Then, with a pantomime of having suddenly thought of something, “You know, this is a hell of a coincidence, but just last week Vic Faust down at the Sound Shack was telling me he had a whole new line of Kasaki components in. He was hoping he could place one of the top-of-the-line quad outfits with somebody who really knew sound quality. Somebody who might, well, spread the word.”

“That is a coincidence,” Neely said. “Of course, you know I couldn’t plug Kasaki or the Sound Shack in print. You know how the Times feels about that.”

“No no no,” Driscoll said, “nobody would expect you to do anything like that. Just talk it up a little among your friends. A word from you carries a lot of weight, Greg.”

The young critic pretended to consider, but Driscoll knew he was in the bag.

“I suppose I could do that much,” Neely said. “I mean, if it’s good hardware, I don’t mind telling people about it.”

“Hey, that’s great, Greg. I’ll pass the word to Vic Faust, and he can probably have the equipment to you by tomorrow afternoon.”

“He’ll deliver it to my apartment … not to the Times?”

“Oh, sure, Greg.”

Neely closed the notebook and dropped it carelessly into a pocket. “I’ll be moving along. Nice talking to you, Driscoll.”

Yeah, and profitable, Driscoll thought. He said, “Drop around any time, Greg.”

He stood in the doorway smiling until the young critic had walked out into the courtyard of Crossroads of the World, then he sagged into the chair behind the desk. That had been a near thing. He would square the quadrophonic equipment with Vic Faust somehow — get him some plugs from the FM deejays, concert tickets for his kids. Driscoll would work it out one way or another and hope that the bribe would keep Neely quiet. A badmouthing from him could kill the concert deader than Billy Lockett.

The intercom beeped again. Rather than fight with the thing, Driscoll walked around the desk and stuck his head out the door.

The secretary looked up at him and said, “You have a call from Vernon Karp.”

“Karp? I don’t know any Karp.”

“He says he’s the book editor of the Herald-Examiner.”

“I didn’t know they had a book editor.”

“Shall I brush him off?”

“No, I’ll take it.”

Driscoll went back into the office and picked up the phone. “Mr. Karp, how good it is to hear from you. I never miss your column.”

“W-why, thank you.” The voice was soft and hesitant, with a slight stammer.

“What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Driscoll, I don’t know if there’s any t-truth to this, but I’ve heard that Dean Hardeman is going to write a book about the young rock musician who was k-killed, Billy Lockett. I understand you’re involved in the thing somehow.”

“Your information is correct,” Driscoll said, pleased that his rumor network was operating efficiently. “The fact is that Dean called me the day after Billy’s death and told me he was so moved by the tragedy that he wanted to do a book on Billy.”

“You know Dean Hardeman?”

“Oh, yes, we’ve been friends for some time. Naturally, I told Dean I’d give him any assistance I could.”

“N-naturally,” said the book editor. “It’s really remarkable that he would come out of semiretirement after so many years to do something … well, something so different from what he’s done in the past.”

“Yes, remarkable,” Driscoll agreed. “We’re really excited and gratified to have an author of Dean’s stature take an interest.”

“I hope you won’t mind my asking, Mr. Driscoll, but what, exactly, is your connection with the book?”

“I don’t mind at all,” Driscoll said, putting a smile in his voice. “I’m working with Billy Lockett’s personal manager, and that puts me in a good position to supply Dean with any background material he needs. I’m a glorified researcher, really.”

There was a hesitation before Vernon Karp spoke again. “I-I wonder if it would be possible to have an interview with Mr. Hardeman. I know he doesn’t usually give interviews, but p-perhaps …”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Vernon,” said Driscoll, “but I doubt very much if Dean will be spending any time out here. As you probably know, he does all his work at his home on Long Island.”

“Yes, I’d heard that.”

“But I’ll tell you what, if there’s any chance at all, I’ll see that you get first crack at him.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. D-Driscoll. I certainly do appreciate that.”

“Not at all. And make that Conn, okay?”

“Okay … Conn.”

Too bad they aren’t all as easy as that, Driscoll thought as he hung up the phone. All in all, though, things were not going too badly. He would have time this afternoon to go through the carton of Billy pictures he’d had sent over to pick out the best ones for the book. He hoped there would be no more surprises today.

The intercom beeped at him again. By this time he had the thing figured out and pressed down the lever with the little light over it.

The secretary’s filtered voice spoke to him. “Mr. and Mrs. Lockett are here.”

“Who?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Lockett … Billy’s parents.”





CHAPTER 7


He should have known, thought Conn Driscoll, that things were going altogether too smoothly. Hell, of course Billy Lockett would have to have parents somewhere. Since they were not a part of Driscoll’s plans, he had never given them a thought. But now here they were, right outside his door, and they had to be dealt with.

Driscoll put on what he hoped was a sympathetic expression and walked out to the anteroom. The couple standing by the secretary’s desk turned to face him. The man was in his early fifties with pale, thinning hair — blond going to gray. His dark blue, off-the-rack suit showed travel wrinkles. The man held himself very straight, almost standing at attention. The woman was soft and plump with a pretty face that looked like it smiled often. Her hair was dark with only a few wisps of gray.

“Mr. and Mrs. Lockett, I’m Conn Driscoll. I want you to know how terribly sorry I am, how sorry we all are, about Billy.”

“Where’s Fessler?” said Mr. Lockett. He was not smiling.

“He’s staying home for a few days,” Driscoll said. “This thing has hit him pretty hard.”

“I’ll bet,” said Billy’s father.

Driscoll knew then he was going to have a problem here. “I’m filling in for Mr. Fessler this week,” he went on, “and if there’s anything I can do for you …”

“For one thing, you can explain why my wife and I had to hear of our son’s death on the television news. Why nobody out here took the trouble to contact us personally.”

“Do you mean you never got our message?” Driscoll said, feigning surprise.

“The only message we got was a telegram from the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Office telling us our son was dead. And we didn’t get that until Tuesday, two days after Billy was killed.”

“Why that’s terrible, Mr. Lockett,” Driscoll said. “Believe me, I would never in this world have let a thing like that happen. I guess things were in such a turmoil that we just had a breakdown in communication somewhere. I’m really deeply sorry.”

“That helps a lot,” the man said.

Billy’s mother spoke for the first time. “Tom, there’s nothing this young man can do now. It was a mistake, that’s all.”

“Yes, Mrs. Lockett, it was a mistake,” Driscoll said, “but I’m certainly willing to take my share of the blame.”

“Never mind about that now,” said Thomas Lockett. “It doesn’t matter who’s to blame or who’s not to blame. They told us at the sheriff’s office that Al Fessler was taking care of Billy’s funeral.”

“That’s right,” Driscoll said. “Actually, I’m handling the arrangements. We want to be sure — ”

“You can forget about your arrangements. We’re taking Billy home with us.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said we’re taking Billy home with us to Belford. That’s in Indiana, Mr. Driscoll.”

“Yes, of course it is, but the funeral … the memorial service … the plans are all made.”

“You can unmake them,” said Mr. Lockett.

Billy’s mother put a gentle hand on her husband’s arm. To Driscoll she said, “Mr. Lockett’s parents are buried in Bedford. My husband and I have our own plots there. We want our Billy to be there too. You can understand that.”

Conn Driscoll could not understand it at all. Why would it make a damn bit of difference where anybody was buried? What he did understand was that he was in danger of losing the big funeral, the opening gun of his campaign to promote Billy Lives!

He said, “Yes, I can certainly understand that, Mrs. Lockett. I’ll tell you what — let’s take a run out and see Mr. Fessler. He’s really the one who ought to make these decisions.”

Mrs. Lockett looked to her husband.

“That’s fine with me,” he said. “Just so we get it settled today.”

“My car is outside in the lot,” Driscoll said. “If you want to ride with me, we’ll go out and see him right away.”

The Locketts nodded their assent, and Driscoll ushered them out of the office. Once outside, he snapped his fingers as though he had just remembered something.

“Oh, darn it, I’ve got one phone call I absolutely have to make. It will just take a minute, and I’ll be with you.”

Mrs. Lockett smiled at him as he stepped back into the office. Mr. Lockett did not.

“Get Al on the line,” Driscoll told the secretary. “I’ll take it at his desk.” He went into the inner office and closed the door in case the Locketts should come back into the anteroom.

After a minute the phone beeped at him and Driscoll picked it up. Al Fessler was on the other end.

“We’ve got a little hitch in the operation,” Driscoll said.

“Hitch?”

“Billy’s parents are here.”

“What parents?”

“You know, father and mother.”

“I know what parents are, I mean where the hell did they come from?”

“Someplace called Belford. That’s in Indiana, according to the father. They got a telegram from the Sheriff’s Office about Billy’s death.”

“So offer them our sympathy. What’s the hitch?”

“They want to take Billy home with them and bury him in Belford.”

There was brief pause before Fessler answered. “They can’t do that.”

“Yes, they can. And if they do, it wipes out our Saturday show at Greenacre.”

“Well, do something, for Christ sake. Buy ’em off.”

“Al, I’m bringing them out to your place.”

“My place? What the fuck for?”

“Because I can’t buy them off, and they want to talk to you anyway.”

“Jesus.”

“The mother can be handled, I think, but the father is a tough bird and no dummy.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

“Back my play. Help me try to sell them on burying Billy out here where he belongs. Maybe the two of us together can put it across.”

“Okay, bring them out,” Fessler said unhappily. “How’s everything else going?”

“Everything else is fine, but we need this funeral. We need it bad.”

Driscoll rejoined the Locketts out in the courtyard of Crossroads of the World. They walked back under the eucalyptus tree that shaded the court and found Driscoll’s Firebird in the parking lot. They all climbed in, Mr. Lockett taking the cramped back seat, and Driscoll headed up Sunset toward the Hollywood Freeway.

“How long has it been since you folks saw Billy?” Driscoll asked to break the uncomfortable silence.

When her husband did not answer, Mrs. Lockett spoke up. “Four years. It’s been almost four years. Billy came home and told us he’d signed a contract for Mr. Fessler to be his manager. He was so excited. He was sure good things were going to start happening for him.”

“He never came home again,” Mr. Lockett said.

“I’m sure he was awfully busy,” said Billy’s mother.

“Oh, he was,” Driscoll agreed quickly. You can’t imagine the demands on a performer’s time, the obligations he has to meet.”

“He could have written a letter once in a while,” Mr. Lockett said.

Driscoll swung north onto the freeway for the short drive to Sherman Oaks. He felt at a loss for words to say to these solid, honest, middle-American people. They were outside his experience. Driscoll had spent so many years dealing with sharpshooters and hustlers, he did not know what approach to take when he came face to face with honesty.

He took the Sepulveda off ramp and swung into the block where Al and Madeline Fessler lived. He was relieved that the comfortable looking, tree-shaded house did not look like a Kodachrome California postcard. The low, wide Spanish architecture was typically Los Angeles; nevertheless, the house had the look of being lived in, of being somehow Midwest. The look was deceptive, Driscoll knew, but he felt the Thomas Locketts of Belford, Indiana, would be more comfortable talking here than, say, at a beach house in Malibu.

Al and Madeline Fessler came to the door together to meet them. When Driscoll had made the introductions, Madeline reached out and took Mrs. Lockett’s hands in her own.

“I’m so glad to meet Billy’s parents,” she said. “What a shame it has to be under such tragic circumstances. Won’t you both please come in?”

Driscoll shot a glance at Al, who answered with a fractional shrug.

Madeline, showing a warmth and sensitivity Driscoll had never seen in her, seated Mr. and Mrs. Lockett comfortably in the living room and produced big cups of hot coffee for everyone. For the first time Billy’s father allowed himself a small smile.

“About this funeral business …” Al Fessler blurted, immediately killing Mr. Lockett’s smile.

“Billy’s funeral is our business,” said Thomas Lockett. “We’re taking him back to Bedford with us to be buried there.”

“Can we talk about that a little?” Al said.

“There’s nothing to talk about. Where do you have him?”

Al looked to Driscoll for help.

Driscoll said, “Billy’s out at Greenacre Memorial Park now. It’s really a lovely place. Maybe you’d like to take a drive through the grounds?”

“To my way of thinking, cemeteries are no place for sightseeing,” said Mr. Lockett.

Madeline spoke up. “I can understand how you feel, Mr. Lockett. I came from a small town myself, and I lost my parents when I was quite young. I know what a comfort it can be to have them nearby.”

Mr. Lockett nodded. His wife reached over to pat Madeline’s hand.

Driscoll gave Al a what-is-she-trying-to-do-to-us? look. Again, Al had only a shrug for an answer.

“But don’t you agree, Madeline,” Driscoll said carefully, “that Billy’s being a celebrity makes a difference?”

Madeline looked at Driscoll, and there was a message in the pale eyes he could not read.

She said, “Yes, Billy was a celebrity. But first and most important, he was a son.”

The Locketts glanced at each other and exchanged sad smiles.

“And yet,” Madeline continued, “Conn is right in a way. Billy was not just another young man who died tragically. Heaven knows we’ve seen enough of those in recent years. Billy was a special person. He had a talent — a gift, even — that could reach millions of young people. To them Billy was a friend, a brother, maybe even an image of themselves — the person they would be if they had the talent. And Billy reached some people who are not so young too. To them he was a son. The son they never had, or perhaps the son they’d lost.”

Driscoll listened, spellbound. In the dozen or so times he had visited Al at home, he had never heard Madeline speak more than two sentences in succession. Mr. Lockett was leaning forward in rapt attention. Mrs. Lockett dabbed at her eyes with a tiny handkerchief. Al Fessler stared open-mouthed at his wife.

Madeline continued, “It would mean so much to all these people to be able to say goodbye to Billy in their own way. Each of t