Chapter 6

“It’s just fiiiiiinnneee,” said Karen, lifting a happy and wriggling Linney out of her carrier. “This pretty girl is all miiiiinnne!” she cooed, and Linney seemed agreeable to that.

“I really appreciate this,” said Malone, taking the bottles out of the lunch cooler and putting them in the (double-door stainless Sub-Zero) refrigerator. “Especially the short notice. It’s really a one-time thing, not my regular work,” but Karen wasn’t listening.

“You stay out as long as you want,” she said. “I’ve got the carseat for her when I go to pick up the kids at school, then Brittany has ballet, but you can watch the ballet class, can’t you? Do you want to be a little ballerina too?” She was, of course, addressing Linney, not Malone.

“I should be back by about three,” Malone said.

“Go have some dinner,” Karen said, lifting Linney up to her shoulder to rock her. “I’ll just hold onto this little bundle as long as I can. Makes me want to have anooootheeerrr,” she sang. She looked at Malone, very seriously. “We’re just glad we can help you,” she said. “It’s important for you to work. We understand that. Kathy and I will help any way we can. We know your work is important to how you feel about yourself. You need an outlet!”

It’s also important to paying the mortgage, Malone thought, but would never say. They didn’t get that part of things, just like they didn’t get why their handsome, successful brother would have paired off with that, well, she’s kind of like a hippie, but kind of tough, isn’t she? Isn’t she Italian? No? She seems like she’s Italian. Or from New York, anyway—and they’d turn and wipe down a counter, punch down a bowl of homemade bread dough, birth another child and redecorate the living room. People say she’s kind of an artist, so that must be it.

They’d invested in supporting Malone’s “work,” because it had gotten her some attention, and it was the only thing they could understand that could be appealing about her. They weren’t quite as clueless as their mother—who’d say things like “there are so many museums in Washington! Why don’t you sell your photographs there?” They’d come up a bit from Minnesota and landed firmly in Loudoun County, a land nearly as white and much more comfortable. They were pioneers in their own way, lobbying for organic food in the school lunches and early reading programs in the daycare centers.

Besides, thought Malone as she drove off to Lee’s brother’s house to meet the rest, this wasn’t a mortgage-paying activity. She could say it was to help friends, but truly, Karen had hit it: It was important to help her feel good.

March didn’t mean spring, not early March, at least. She accepted hugs and turned down coffee, then slid into the middle of the backseat of Lee’s brother’s cushy Secret Service-style black SUV, wedged between Lee on one side and Tommy, the bassist, on the other. Bebe was shotgun and Joey was driving, though nobody called him Joey anymore. He zoomed along the narrow, ice-choked roads expertly, steering with one hand, high on having a day off, just like she was, she thought. The radio was blasting the classic rock station, Led Zeppelin; that would be Bebe, who never put in a CD if she could listen to the radio, even though all the stations were preprogrammed now.

The opening bars of Billy Joel’s You May Be Right blasted out, and Malone cried out, in spite of herself, “Oh god no!” But Bebe was quick on the dial, and shot them into some Earth Wind and Fire, After the Love is Gone before any damage could be done. Malone sighed. “Thank you,” she said.

“He was never any good after he went all new wave,” Bebe said. “He was once the consummate craftsman,” she declared, hitting the “cs” pretentiously, as if she were Orson Wells shilling for Gallo. “Limning the kitchen sink narratives of the Italian subculture of a vanishing New York City, the Piano Man’s lyrics painted word pictures much in the manner of a kinder, gentler, Martin Scorsese. Some even went so far as to call him America’s Elvis Costello!”

“I’m gonna fucking kill you,” Malone said. “Plus I hate this song.”

She sang along on the whoa-whoa-whoa windup anyway, Lee joining her, continuing to climb octave after octave in some demented vocal warmup parody long after the song had finished: “After the love is GONE. Usedta be right is WRONG. Whoa-whoa-whoa,” until even Lee’s voice lost its clarity. She was the one that had the reach, whereas kind listeners used to say Malone “sounded a little like Nico.”

Tommy took out a small pipe, got Joey’s enthusiastic permission, and lit up. Malone wondered if the secondhand smoke wouldn’t be so bad that she might as well toke up anyhow, and how would she get the smell out of her clothes around the sisters, and then leaned back, deciding not to care.

The cold air and the hot car and the smell of a man in an old leather jacket and the weed and old tobacco were delicious to her. “How about Billy Idol covering Billy Joel,” Malone asked Bebe.

“He already did, what the fuck’s White Wedding,” she said, trolling the dial.

“You’re killing me, Bodeaux,” said Joey, reaching out to stop her hand.

“No way, all your radio is belong to us!” Of course he didn’t stop her. Any man let Bebe do anything she wanted, for all the good it did her. Malone remembered the way she glowed in the crowds at the Brashton clubs, a redhead who never tanned at the beach like everyone else. Malone and Lee, with their black hair, got dark and looked ethnic—and now were starting to look leathery, she thought, contemplating her hands. She wedged them in her pocket. “Go go Godzilla!” she sang.

“Ice-T covers it,” Bebe said.

“No shit,” said Tommy, interested.

“In my dreams, my love,” she said.

“You’re so ‘80s,” said Lee, taking the pipe and taking a hit and waving it in front of Malone.

“He’s an actor now,” said Malone. She had watched TV drama and Behind the Musics and the Marx Brothers marathon nonstop, anything but the fucking news, for what felt like three solid months after Linney had been born. Anything but the fucking news. We’re just going to hide right here, little girl, safe from the anthrax and the bombs and the planes. But she still heard the helicopters, day and night, the sound sometimes waking Linney up.

She reached out for the pipe the next time it came around. “You getting anything off that?” Tommy asked, with sweet concern. “Hey, thanks for the present the other night, by the way.”

“I do share and I do my share,” Lee sang, an old line from a Jackson song. And they all didn’t say anything for a little bit. They’d caught up on the latest earlier—he was back in Brashton, hiding out, if you could say that of a guy who was a recluse before this had happened.

“So, who wants to make this interesting?” Bebe said, switching the station to get Brittney Spears.

“Jesus,” said Lee.

“I like her! So bet how long before Seth starts looking all sanctimonious about Jackson and says something to the effect of how there always was something he didn’t like about that guy?”

“Yeah, that he’s talented,” said Malone. Tommy lit her up for another hit. No driving for three hours, pump and dump, be hung for a lion as a sheep.

“I would like to avoid the topic,” Lee said.

“Yes,” said Bebe, turning around to look at them, her green eyes wide. “Bless his heart, this is supposed to be Seth’s special day. Ain’t none of us going to ruin that with that kind of talk now, will we ladies.” She turned around and punched at the dial again. “You know what, though, we have to watch out for his shit. He talks to the papers all the time, he’ll use it for some bullshit political statement now that he’s a poor put-upon right winger, just standing up for his country, and he’ll make Jackson look bad. Worse. It’s what he does.”

“If anyone can make him look worse, now,” Lee said.

“It is Seth’s special time, it would seem,” Malone said.

“Wait!” Bebe yelled, and they all listened. It was Radar Love. Everyone but Malone began dancing in their seats, and even Joey banged on the wheel. She put her head back again and remembered a hot car on a cold night and the smell of weed, on one of many short tours, a cane-handle up the coast, Chapel Hill, Richmond, DC, Philly, Hoboken, around and back down South to Brashton again, with Jackson, back in the beginning. Changing the dials and getting their homeboy, or close enough for rock and roll, if the distance from Brashton to Macon were measured by motorcycle. It was Duane Allman on Layla, the guitar tracks rising, merging, twining. She was driving, Jackson dozing. But his eyes were half open, she saw, and he was smiling. “The great speckled bird,” he said, quietly, and she knew just what he meant. That was the hard part to give up—people you could get with just a few words.

“Is this the right place?” Lee asked. They had taken a turn off the main road, toward the river, and were jouncing over a gravel road, past some cleared lots and construction equipment. Piles of dirt and rock and random sticks topped by fluttering orange tape marked plats on either side of the road.

“Yeah, they’ve just turned this land loose,” Joey said. “Used to be one big estate. It finally got out of receivership and they’ve been selling it off in little pieces. They’ve got a big thing planned with a clubhouse, stables, whole nine yards.”

“Whoa,” Bebe said, looking up ahead at a half-built version of an Italianate villa looming over the road ahead.

“Whoa, Nellie,” giggled Lee. “Giddyup!’ she called softly.

“Does Seth ride? I didn’t know he was into horses,” said Bebe.

“He does all that stuff,” Lee said. “But mostly with him, it’s hunting. Anything with a gun.”

They came around a sharp bend between some woods that had been left standing, and drove beside the lots that overlooked the river, although all they could see of the houses there were driveways and small, discrete signs with elegant logos softly advertising the talents of assorted architects, builders, and landscape designers.

They pulled into one of these, naked of signs and with a real mailbox at the end of the drive. There was a small house on the right, about the size of Malone’s condo, she figured, but that was only the gatehouse. Ahead was a bizarre structure, a 19th-century farmhouse with a Georgian mansion grafted onto its right side, like a tumor that had overtaken the host.

“Whoa,” Bebe said, again. “Damn.”

Joey pulled into the circular drive and they climbed out. “Looks like he did alright,” Bebe said.

Malone wasn’t surprised that Seth had taken care of himself pretty well. She wiped her shoes on the gravel and followed the group to the front door, under a portico with a fake hanging lamp. She knew just what would be inside: Sweeping staircase foyer, Palladian windows overlooking a terrace to the river, granite, stainless, limestone tile master bath with double steam shower with rain heads. She made a bet with herself: powder room lav would either have fake river rock for that Japanese spa feel, or onyx bowl on a mock washstand.

A big man in a polo shirt and khakis and a windbreaker with a techy-looking logo opened the door. Was that a radio on his belt, or a, holy shit, Malone thought, as she and Bebe looked at each other in shock. Seth had a bodyguard.

The man looked the group over, counting them, it looked like, then gave a tight smile. “Hello there,” he said. “Please come in.”

Seth was crossing the foyer. He wasn’t a hugger. His face and voice smiled, but his body kept its distance. He did reach out to Lee, however, which made it all the more awkward.

“Here,” he said, opening a walk-in closet bigger than Linney’s nursery. “You can put your coats here,” and bustled over them as they settled themselves. He didn’t make them take off their shoes, at least—something that had happened to Malone on a few occasions of shooting houses like this one.

“I can’t believe all of you are here!” he said, effusive yet slow, somehow blurred. Was everybody hitting the Vic nowadays? Well, Malone could hardly blame him. Rattling around in this prefab House of Usher, with a gun in every drawer, must be a little scary.

“Come on downstairs,” he said. “I’ve got the proofs set up for you to look at. I’ve got the covers and some promo stuff I want you to see.”

She walked behind him. He was only a little wobbly. And despite the cold, he was in a wife-beater T with a flannel tied around his waist. He’d obviously had plenty of time to work out. He probably had a gym in the house, she realized.

They trooped downstairs to find a basement lair that ran the length of the house. The walls were an odd shade of flesh pink with an elaborate chair rail running around the whole, dark wood carved with chrome sticking out almost like a ballet barre, Malone thought. Plus crown molding, with dentals. She’d seen worse, in terms of being overdone, but there was something about the proportions that were disturbing. Or maybe it was the combination of dull wall-to-wall covered with patches of contemporary-figured rugs and, worse, two bearskins by the fireplace. The skins looked real and probably were. A pingpong table and a foosball table, both dusty and unused, took up a little of the room. A big table that looked like a new and expensive version of something from an ‘80s yard sale had the cover and poster spread out on it. She dropped her backpack on the floor and walked over to look at it.

“You remember the guy who did the Asphalt covers, in Minneapolis? I got him for these. There’s nobody any good in Brashton anymore, they’re all completely commercial. You know how it is, they just do the same things over and over, imitating what they’ve done before and hoping someone will go for it just because it worked back then. I looked at some locals, but they’re all too cute now, very hippie and flowery. You know it had more edge than that, but they can’t get themselves out of that hippie ecstasy raver shit. Very gay, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that, you know what I mean?”

Malone, who thought it would have been nice to have a Brashton artist do design for a book about Brashton, nodded and looked things over as Seth babbled, still sounding like a 45 on 33: “It needed to have a sharper feel…” She thought the cover was fine, clean if somewhat ‘80s looking, but it was a book about the ‘80s, so that was fine. What was not fine were the words on the front. The title, The Wander or the Wave, that was OK, that was Bebe’s choice, from one of Jackson’s songs, of course. But what it said across the bottom, that wasn’t right at all: “Introduction by Josh Millstern.” And that was all. Nothing about Bebe’s writing or editing at all, though she was the one who had done it all. Millstern, a hip pop culture writer recently dubbed the Voice of His Generation, who was overcultivated as a source on cable news shows, had written—well, overwritten—about four paragraphs about what the Brashton scene and music had meant to him. While he was growing up. In Seattle.

Malone looked up and caught Bebe’s eyes. She looked back, blank and resigned. She gave a little shrug, shook her head just a little. “Yeah, we know what you mean, Seth.”

“Are you going to his thing, his reading next week? He’s coming in and doing some promotion and Matt Voorhess is having a party at Lava Lounge.”

“No, I didn’t know anything about that,” Bebe said.

“You weren’t invited? That’s weird,” Seth said. “Well.”

“It’s probably a working night for me,” Bebe said. She wouldn’t give him an inch, Malone saw, but if he kept it up, she might lose it yet.

“He really gets it,” Seth said. “You know the thing about Brashton, the thing that made it so great, was the way the different kinds of worlds came together there. It was a crossroads. That’s what Josh really captures in his intro. He really captures it. He gets the essence of the place and what it really meant, you know?”

She supposed, but didn’t say, that to someone who came on the scene when most of the noise was being made by a motorcycle revving up to jump the shark tank, yes, it might appear that a pretentious internet darling would “capture” the scene far better than Bebe could. Josh probably sounded mighty profound to someone like Seth, whom many people considered a one-hit wonder out of LA, not even a Brashton artist at all. Then she decided she would stop listening and just watch his mouth. Whatever drug he might be on, it wasn’t hurting his looks any.

“Here, wait, I’ll show you the rest like this. Sit down, I got this working—“ and he picked up a remote, and a huge wide-ratio TV screen over the fireplace lit up, one of those new ones you could hang on the wall, that only stuck out a little bit, like you were watching a slide show at a convention. It wasn’t the most elaborate home theater setup Malone had seen lately, but it was pretty sweet, she had to admit.

Seth scrolled through the pages as Lee oohed and aahhed and said nice things, and Seth occasionally groaned and talked about how “annoying” certain people on the scene had been. Bebe and Seth started to laugh at one page with a photo of a woman with disheveled hair topped by a tiara, hanging onto the lead singer of a minor scene band for life and trying to shout into the microphone. “Do you remember the time she fell into the drums and cut up her ass?”

Seth laughed. “At the Manta Ray.”

“She needed stiches in her ass!” Bebe said. “You know she lived with us for a while. Everyone started calling her Frankenstein, cause she kept lifting up her dress and showing everyone her stitches on her ass. ‘I was dancing on stage, at the Serial Bakers show! I got this scar from the Serial Bakers!’ ”

“I can tell the ones that are yours, Mal,” Lee said. “They’ve got so much happening in them.”

“You were so lucky,” Seth said. “You were always in the right place at the right time to get the shots. It’s like you were always there, always following the bands. Always Malone, you were always there. You must have had no other life!” he said, suddenly very concerned. “Are you still taking photographs?”

She thought someone had told him what she’d been doing. “I’m working for Capital Life magazine now,” she said. “I mostly take photos of kitchens and bathrooms. I don’t have to rely on my luck anymore. Toilets can’t move.”

“Oh, that’s right, that’s right,” he said. “Heh. Well. So, you think it works?” he said, turning to her with a sudden very-sincere air of seriousness.

“It’s a great book, Seth,” she said. “I’m glad somebody did it.” She didn’t say she wished somebody else had. It was a good book, though; she told the truth there.

“Because I know you’re hard to please,” he said, with a ghost of a leer. He couldn’t be serious.

He took them on a tour of the rest of the basement, the studio built in next to the wine cellar closet, then upstairs to room after room, many still empty. “When did you get this place?” Lee asked. “I thought you’d live in California forever.”

“I still have a couple places in Cali,” he said. “I’m all about the real estate, now. I had it all in tech, but before things started crashing I put it in houses and condos. I can always make more tech,” he snorted. “Besides, it’s you lawyers who make it all, anyway, right?” he nudged Joey, who laughed along with him.

“Real estate is smart now,” Joey said. “You gotta put it somewhere. The values are going to go up like crazy. Who’d you get it from?”

“I don’t know, I shouldn’t say. Well, you know, Brooks Sinclair, the congressman. I knew him from LA. He even used to surf. He put the studio in.”

“He’s on the IP and copyright committee,” said Joey.

Despite her work, Malone didn’t keep up with too many names and faces of the famous-for-DC. Sinclair, though, that was one everyone knew. He’d been named “Nuttiest in the House” by Capital Life two year ago, and you really had to be nutty to get called out for it by that publication. He and the publisher had had an epic phone shout-down, followed by hate mail, snubs, lawsuit threats, and pledges on both sides to urge “friends” in the Redskins management to withhold game tickets. He’d been tagged for offensive language against just about every group. He thought he was a rockstar and a playboy. That must be why the house felt so icky.

“Damn, I’m surprised there’s not a hot tub in every room,” Malone said.

Seth looked out over the lawn, distracted. “Oh. Yeah,” he said.

Another man in khakis, a black guy, was standing out there, in a field between the rocks and the river. “Thought I saw something out there. Those guys, they’re always smoking out there. I make them carry Altoids cans to put the ashes in. See, just cause I’m a libertarian doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment!” he boomed at Malone, showing his teeth. “I care about the land, because I own the land!” he laughed. She didn’t, exactly.

“With these copyright changes coming, it’s going to be very hard for a musician to make any money at all pretty soon, Lee,” Joey aimed at her, as Seth led them into a cave of a dining room, with a long, narrow dark wood table flanked by too-tall, too ornate dark wood chairs. Too Dracula, thought Malone.

A housekeeper was laying out food and heavy plates (contemporary, square, in soft green, another discordant note) on the buffet, along with an ice bucket full of beers and a few bottles of wine. For all the ostentation, it looked exactly like a deli plate you’d get backstage in a decent club. Maybe he’d gotten so used to road food he didn’t go for anything else. Malone took a couple slices of bloody roast beef, and poured herself some water. Nils would have been pleased.

“We’ve gotta fight for our copyrights. But, you, you also have to control the means of production,” Seth said, laughing at his own joke. “Me and Marx, right? Everyone says, Oh, music should be free, so OK, so now it is. You’re gonna have to give it away. But if you own the how, the way you give it away, you get to keep the money. It’s artists like Lee who suffer,” he said, turning serious. “The only way you can make any money is touring. Or session work. Riggght? Like session work for me, maybe?”

“It’s so hard for me to get away,” Lee demurred.

Music was being piped in to the dining room. Buried in the current mix, Malone could hear The Chain, by Fleetwood Mac.

“Do you think British drummers are the best?” she asked Tommy idly.

“Maybe. In that era,” he said. “Ain’t no drummer nowadays can play for shit anyway. Not y’all, I mean,” he nodded at the table.

“I thought you didn’t eat meat,” Seth said. That was interesting, considering what he’d served.

“I have to right now,” Malone said. “I need the vitamins and all.”

“You getting enough, baby?” He turned toward Lee. “Try some of those mini-cheesecakes, they’re the shit. Seriously. Want me to go out and shoot a deer for you?”

“It’s all very good, Seth,” Lee said, smiling serenely and enjoying her lunch. Malone couldn’t figure out how she stayed so cool. She knew she wasn’t on anything—she’d seen Lee on pills plenty of times; they turned her dramatic and sobbing and mean. Lee only took them at night, when she was traveling, and all the old pains from the car accident got to be too much after sitting, lifting, sitting some more.

“Oh, sweetie, don’t kill anything on our account,” said Bebe. “We’ll be fine, really. It’s all just wonderful.”

Malone excused herself and took her backpack into the powder room, which she’d noted during the tour. She dug her hand pump out the bag and squeezed and squeezed the handle until she’d emptied both breasts. It took only about 10 minutes. She poured the pot- and tobacco-tainted milk into the onyx-bowl lavatory on the Florentine replica washstand, and rinsed the pump and the bowl clean and put them back in her pack.

As she got closer to the dining room, it was obvious they’d moved on to a different topic of conversation.

“Of course it’s hard for me to believe it,” Seth was saying, sitting close to Lee, who was looking down at her plate, miserably. “But at a certain point, it doesn’t matter what I believe. Who really knows anyone? Who knows what someone is capable of? Think about the kinds of things he writes. What about that ‘surf boy, you’re going down,’ thing? What was that supposed to mean?”

Bebe was furiously flicking ash off her cigarette, puffing smoke in exasperated snorts. “As long as we’re getting nostalgic about the wonderful Brashton days, you might remember who produced your first EP,” she said.

“He fucked the mix! Come on,” he said. “Look. I’ll always be very grateful to Jackson, but there’s just something wrong with him. He’s missing something. Listen. Listen to me. He was here, you know, it was back in August, right here—when Brooks still owned the house,” he said.

Brooks, Malone thought. First-name basis. Cozy.

“He closed the door then, Lee. We could have put something together, at least creatively, but he just shut down. He’d barely even talk to us! And with this stuff? Who knows? Nobody wants to get near that shit,” Seth continued, glancing up at Malone.

“There’s too much of that kind of thing going around. What about that missing boy? Do you hear anything about that at the newspaper?” He looked at Bebe and then at Malone.

“What do you mean?” Bebe said.

“You know, that kid who was missing. The local one, in the band. Did anyone report anything on him?”

“You think Jackson had something to do with that?”

“No, no, it’s just that this is the kind of scene we’re in, like Seattle, with all the heroin. That’s what it turns into when you let these kinds of things go. When you say, oh, it’s OK, I know he didn’t do anything. Malone, you must understand. You have a child yourself, now. That makes a difference in how you see things.”

“Yes, it does,” she said, and stopped right there under the arch that led to the dining room, not stepping in, not sitting now. “It really does make a difference. And I’m afraid I have to get back to her right now. Really right now,” she said, smiling a little, apologetically, in Joey and Tommy’s direction. “I’m so sorry, there’s just nothing I can do about it—I have to get back and pick up the baby from the sitter!” She pretended to laugh. It was the kind of acting Bebe could pick up on immediately, and she just shook her head and put out her cigarette.

“OK, let’s get her out of here,” Bebe said, and this time, it was only Malone who could tell she was talking not about herself, but about Lee. The guys stood up, a little confused but going with it, and Seth rose too, a little belatedly.

“The book looks amazing,” said Lee, as they all shuffled to the doorway, going into the closet one at a time to collect their coats. They each murmured their congratulations and how they were looking forward to the release party, then followed Malone, who had zoomed out first, better to avoid a hug. Lee stayed behind for hers, however, prompting Bebe to yell an ungracious “come ON” from the backseat of the SUV.

This time, the three women took the backseat, with Malone still in the middle, and there wasn’t much singing going on. She shivered despite the close quarters. The car jerked through stop-and-go early rush hour traffic as the watery sun faded. She wasn’t looking forward to driving home in the cold and the dark. Karen would probably make her stay for dinner. And Karen’s husband would be there. He was always trying to get her to talk about Brashton music or Capital Life, as if there were nothing else about her. She knew he was just trying to be nice and grab some reflected glamour; but there wasn’t a bit of glamour there to shine anywhere. So Karen would go on and on about a certain brand of organic juice she’d have to give her kids every day from now on. She just wanted to get home, give Linney a bath—she loved her bath—and feed her and rock her and sing with her.

“You know, she’s started singing,” Malone said suddenly. Lee and Bebe looked at her, completely confused.

“I mean Linney, she’s singing. I was giving her a bath the other night, about two weeks ago, and she started making this noise. I thought there was something wrong with her at first. It was like ‘wuuuuuh…whhhhhuuuuuu…” she demonstrated on a rising and descending scale, sort of, as Lee and Bebe continued to look at her as if she were insane. “See, she’s got this little music toy, and it plays You Are My Sunshine, and I realized she was singing along! It was so weird. I was afraid she was sick or something, but she was smiling and kicking away in the water. Now she does it whenever I give her a bath or change her. It’s like she’s so happy…”

Bebe was staring straight ahead again as Malone trailed off. “What an asshole!” she burst out—and immediately “Oh, god, no, I don’t mean the baby! God. Seth! Seth! Fucktard! There are people in Brashton who fucking hate his guts! There are people in Brashton whose fucking names should be on the credits of his last three fucking albums! They should be getting some cash. Everyone knows how he just came in at the tail end and stole everything, the big LA star. And now a book about it, how sincere and authentic the scene was, how it’ll never be the same—Jesus! Authentic. The bigger the fake someone is, the more they’ll tell you how authentic they are.”

“You wrote it,” Malone said, mildly.

“I had to keep tabs on his ego-tripping ass,” Bebe said. “And I need the money and the credit. He won’t put me on the cover, but I’m in there. He can’t change that. But now with him selling out Jackson, again, I can’t wait until this fucking thing is over.”

“He might need the money, too,” said Joey, stuck in a long line of traffic.

“The lord of the manor?” Bebe asked. “Fucking hell.”

“You heard what he was talking about rights and royalties,” Joey said. “When he tweaked that embed app to get videos to stream with his new songs, remember, how he was the first one to do that? The courts and examiners haven’t been going his way. He’s turning into a troll.”

“Turning?” Bebe said.

“It’s someone who files a bunch of crap patent paper from a lot of directions and hopes one will hit. It’s pretty much how Sinclair made his money,” Joey said.

“Him and Sinclair sound like peas in a pod,” Malone said.

Joey glanced at her in the rear view and said: “There you go. Sharpest in the shed, as usual.”

“Oh, my heart bleeds,” Bebe said. “Why did I ever get involved with this. What a clusterfuck this turned out to be.”

“It’s OK,” Lee said, putting her hand on Bebe’s arm. “I’m OK.”

Bebe felt guilty, Malone saw, for all kinds of old things that had gone down, that they hadn’t had anything to do with or had any control over. But guilt and anger were Bebe’s fuel, that and having to be smarter than everyone else. They hadn’t changed a bit since they’d met, even through everything they’d let happen to each other: Bebe was fierce and mocking; Lee was the kind one, the vulnerable one, the talented one; and she herself watched and waited, watched and plotted, listening for the right moment to capture—something.

“Bebe,” she said, reaching over to touch her arm. “Bonnie Tyler. Doing Enter Sandman.”

Bebe didn’t react for a second. Then: “Damn. That could really work.”

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