Authors: Erik Schubach
By Erik Schubach
P.O. Box 523
Nine Mile Falls, WA 99026
Cover Photo © 2015 Yurka Immortal / Yeko Photo Studio / ShutterStock.com license
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, blog, or broadcast.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Manufactured in the United States of America
We were in the 'pit' eating lunch, the open space on the top floor where the desks of the workers were outside June and Vannie's offices at London Harmony. Everyone was gathered around June and my sister, where they sat cross-legged on top of a desk, facing each other, knees touching, sharing a container of almond chicken. Since my sister made things official and admitted she was June's girlfriend, the two have just gotten cuter together if that is possible.
June Harris-West, force of nature, my sort-of-sister, and owner of the London Harmony record label, grinned at me then looked around. “Next piece of new business, I know things have been insane around here since I came out as J8, and things are going to get a little crazier. We're losing Small Fry next week when she starts her final year in secondary school.”
Everyone already knew I was going back to school for my senior year, or whatever it is called here in London, year twelve I think, I've heard like three different terms. They still let out a collective, “Awww,” in disappointment which made me crinkle my nose and grin at the group. They were like my extended family.
She continued, “She'll of course still be helping out a couple hours a night after school and on weekends when needed. So you need to get used to doing your own work again.” Everyone chuckled at that. I was the Girl Friday here. I loved everything about the record business especially the music. I wasn't really assigned to one particular task here and just floated to wherever I was needed though Vannie has been grooming me for a talent scout position if I want it. Because she and June say that I have Vanessa's ear.
Trip Hammer was one of my finds, and Vannie made me convince June why she should go listen to them in person. I pitched what I heard from the recordings that Vanessa and the other scouts scouring the underground music scene in London brought back. I was just floored with the thrash metal group. Most groups have a certain sound that gets a little repetitious song after song. But Trip Hammer gave every song a unique sound. That set them apart from the rest to me. Then to my happy surprise, June snuck out with Vannie to see for herself and she dropped them a J-Card that night!
J-Cards have become ingrained into the lore of the underground music scene here the past few years. They started as an urban legend, most people not really believing that that is how London Harmony chose talent for our invitation only record label. June made the final decisions herself, then would place a J-Card in the talent's belongings as they played in a club or at a rave.
On one side of the shiny black plastic business card is printed a golden script J, and on the back is a phone number that forwards to June's mobile.
Then she said, “I have one other thing, but it is a biggie, so before I drop it out there for discussion, does anyone else have any new business or concerns?”
Zilrita, who was sitting next to me, stealing my sweet and sour pork, grinned and raised her hand. I noted that she had done something different with her signature black polished nails. They were, as always, immaculately manicured but they seemed to have a shimmering purple depth to the black, an opalescent look. Nice. I really heart our goth office manager. Many people underestimate her, but she has a business mind like no other and somehow runs the entire label for June without any assistants.
The toothy grin, of the 'shit eating category three' type, on her face was just punctuated by the stark contrast of her shiny black lipstick and her blindingly white teeth. June groaned. “Let me rephrase. Anyone have any new business besides Zil wanting to harass me about going on tour or at least having a concert here in London?”
Zil threw a piece of pork at her. “Booo! Hiss!”
Vanessa grinned and said, “I'll work on her.” She smiled at June, who visibly melted as my sis soaked in the music she says she can see in June's eyes.
June squeaked out, “No fair.” Everyone chuckled. Van was her kryptonite. Then she straightened up and looked at everyone. “No, takers? Okay then, on to the last piece of business then.” She grinned at Zil. “This will make you happy and will shut yer gothy little yap as it will facilitate the possibility of a J8 concert in the near future.”
Things had gotten wild when the world learned that the secretive woman, J8, who was churning out number one singles from London Harmony every other week for two years was none other than June Harris-West. Daughter of the rock legend Mandy Fay Harris. She hid from the press, and hid who she was, to stay out of her mother's long shadow and prove she could do it on her own. Until that is, my sister accidentally made a deal with her last year.
The world around here went insane after that, and even poor Zilrita is having trouble keeping the media and the industry happy since June rarely does interviews even now. It also made it more difficult for June to go out in public, and even harder to go unnoticed as she goes to listen to prospective bands or vocalists in public. She has taken to letting Zilrita goth her out for those outings as she looks nothing like herself whenever our resident super-hugger got done with her. My sister almost purrs anytime June goes out like that.
June's eyes narrowed as she gathered her thoughts. She said, “As we sign more people and have started doing single album deals with some artists, we have seen our overhead budget beginning to increase rapidly. The bulk of our contracts are not with bands, but rather with vocalists like Tabby Cat, and Teri Blue.”
She tilted her head and Vannie snuck a hand into hers. I grinned, she helped June focus. Then June continued, “The service we use for backup bands and musicians does a wonderful job, but the premiums we paid for long-term engagements like for Tabby's world tour last year, really eat into the profits.”
She nodded to herself and I caught her hand tightening on my sister's hand. “So I propose we hire a couple of in-house bands that are on London Harmony's payroll. They can back any of our talent in-house and accompany artists on tour. The savings would be incredible even giving them a great salary.”
June squinted her eyes and crinkled her nose at the super smiley goth. “Aaaand that would give J8 a consistent band that I can do concerts with.”
Zil started clapping in a silly quick manner. “Yay!”
Then June made a sour face as she added, “The question is. How do we screen bands without a million perspective groups standing at our door? I'd hate to hire a service to screen them all as I trust our own scouts more to know what we are looking for. And Gothy McGoth here is already treading water with her work.”
She looked around and everyone started offering suggestions. The round-table went on for a few minutes when a clear, strong British voice with a touch of a Russian accent suggested, “Karaoke Queen?”
Everyone turned to the short copper haired woman standing at the top of the stairs. Tabby Cat had arrived for her recording session! Zil squealed and hopped off the desk and ran to her. I swear Tabs glurked as they hugged. Zil was such a hug slut, but that's okay, we all loved being on the receiving end of those squid hugs of hers. I still don't get how a goth can be so super happy all the time.
When she finally released Tabs from the silly side to side hug, she furrowed her brow and asked, “Karaoke Queen?”
We were all just as confused. Well, all but June, who had a huge smile on her face. “That is brilliant Pipes!”
The pop superstar shrugged and turned her copper eyes to June, “It worked for your mum.” Then I got it... Satin Thunder.
June was hopping off the table and the two superstars hugged in greeting. So surreal, I LOVED working here! June just turned around and said with authority, “I got this shit! Executive decision everyone. A competition! Let's light up this town people!”
I stretched again and yawned, I was getting too old for these late nights playing with the band. I took a deep breath. Come on Kacy, get with it, wake up.
I grabbed my purse and stepped out of my cabin on the barge that was my temporary home here on the Flotilla Project. I still couldn't believe how nice the cabins were here, better than any of the previous flats I had shared with friends. I even had my own little loo and shower. It was so odd not to share with a few girls.
I had run away from home, back when I came out when I was fifteen, and just sort of floated from friend to friend, living on couches or floors the past ten years. Whenever our cover band got a paying gig or two, I'd help to pay rent and utilities wherever I was staying.
Recently though, we had been getting semi-regular employment at some of the less seedy clubs in London as we gained in popularity. We've been doing fewer and fewer gigs at the raves since they weren't strictly legal and for the most part we didn't get paid for them. Though Ronnie Marx has started paying all the talent he has up on stage.
I decided it was time to pretend to be an adult and get a flat of my own. That's when the reality of it all hit me square in the face. To find a place without roommates, you needed first and last month's rent, deposits, and agency fees. It was daunting. How did anyone starting out ever do it without flatmates?
When I was looking for low-income housing, the borough council referred me to the Flotilla Project. It was a low-income housing project spearheaded by none other than that super rad Tabby Cat herself, one of my personal heroes, she had come from less than stellar beginnings herself.
She used to live on these barges when they were nothing but floating slums. Then after she got a J-Card and had rocketed to fame, she created a foundation that renovated the barges into ultra modern living spaces. They were for people like me who were trying to transition into a flat of our own. They enrolled me into the Slingshot Program, which is a fund to help pay first, last and agency fees to help people land on their feet. They are like guardian angels to me.
I took a deep breath of the crisp fall air that smelled of the river and the city.
I bloody love this city!
London has to be one of the greatest cities in the world. I glanced across from the Dragon Lady to the Persephone lashed to one of her sides. Everyone knew the story of the Persephone, she is where Tabby was discovered by June Harris-West. I jumped in surprise at a familiar voice behind me. “Morning, Kacy. I was just heading in to see you.”
I turned and smiled at the short Indian Brit woman looking far too cute in her immaculately pressed skirt suit. I replied cheerily, “Morning Miss Doshi.” She glared at me and I blushed. “Sorry... Paya.”
Paya Doshi was the woman who managed the Flotilla Project for Tabby Cat, along with Captain McCray. She seemed to always have a smile on her face, even when she was sarcastically ordering people around. You couldn't 'not' do what the woman said, and smile while you did it. I think it may be her superpower. Either that or she was too damn cute for you to resist. I heard some of the other tenants say she ruled with an iron grin.
At one hundred eighty-three centimeters, I towered over her. I was used to that, being taller than most of the women and even men around me. I absently brushed my honey-streaked brown locks out of my face. I always felt self-conscious around her.
She looked at her ever-present iPad and said, “I just wanted to let you know that the name Kacy Green popped up on the Slingshot list this morning, after we got the McArthers settled into a new flat. I'll be scouting a couple new rent-controlled flats for let today. They are new to the subsidized project so I'll have to vet them myself. But if all goes smoothly, I'll need you this weekend to choose a flat and then get the paperwork signed.”
She grinned. “Then you'll have a place to call home. Does that sound good?”
I blinked at her, my own place. This was so mind boggling to me. I didn't know what to say and she prompted, “The proper response here is 'Yes Paya.'”
I grinned at the look on her face and slumped exaggeratedly with a silly look on my face and said, “Yes Paya.”
She lit up. “There's a good girl.” Then she suddenly got serious as she placed a hand on my arm. “But seriously Kacy, congratulations.” I suddenly wanted to cry and I didn't know why. I just shrugged and nodded like a wally.
She looked like the cat who ate the canary and she strode off and hopped over the other side to the lead barge, the Tennessee. She called back, “I'll email updates. And congrats again lady.”
I looked at my feet then looked back up to her suddenly as I took a step toward her, finding my voice. “Thank you!” She just waved back as she made her way up the stairs to the pilothouse.
I took a moment then smiled and pulled my sticks out of my back pocket and started drumming the air as I almost skipped down the gang plank to Flotilla Pier on the River Thames. I went over to the row of storage units at the end of the dock and up to mine. I unlocked it, then started pulling out my drum cases. This was going to be another insane day in the Jubilee Gardens.
The entire city had gone stark raving mad as almost four hundred bands converged on the London Eye for the band competition hosted by London Harmony. Roctoberfest! It is a single elimination music competition to find two bands to be the full-time house bands for the music label. The main house band and a secondary. Talk about the chance of a lifetime.
I hear tell that it should have been impossible to get the city to agree to something so huge and disruptive that would stretch across so many weeks, but rumor has it that you never tell June Harris-West that something is impossible.
It started at the end of September and would be going on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout the month of October. Six weekends and anyone is allowed to compete. It also doubles as free concerts in the park with some of the biggest names in music. The first two weekends there were four venues running concurrently on those days. Two band got to play with either Tabby Cat, Teri Blue, Rayleigh Stottard, or J8 herself, June Harris-West. All but Rayleigh are signed at London Harmony, she is signed at a sister studio, Harmony Trax in the States.
After each band covers an artist's song, the artist, and an assigned judge, like that Marjorie McClellan from the McClellan Music Conservatoire, choose the winner. They score you between one and five in three areas. The winner moves on to the next round.
When the final twelve bands play at the end of the month, then three judges and the four artists will vote on each elimination match. Three hundred and eighty-two bands whittled down to two winners.
I about passed out last week on our first round, I was fangirling out. Our band, Purple Horseshoes, got to play with Tabby Cat! She's famous for how much sound she can project for such a small woman. You get the sense of that on her records, and I could never afford to hear it first hand in concert. But when she sang as we played ‘Water Gypsy’, she blew me away! We always thought our lead singer, Caroline, could sing, but Tabby was in a whole other realm.
Don't get me wrong, Caroline is great, and one of my closest friends, she's just not at Tabby's level. She did awesome backup for Tabby though with the rest of us chiming in. We had a giant bear of a man who looked like a Wookie from Star Wars, as a judge. He runs a little demo studio in the city.
We were really nervous because the band that played the same song after us added in some pretty interesting ad-libs on the instrumental end of things. But Tabby grinned as she flicked a “Half-J” at us and it spun like a Frisbee and landed at our feet. I'm pretty sure we were all in tears as we went over to hug the members of the other band. I didn't feel too bad about their losing after their bass player copped a feel when we hugged. He was a wanker.
A Half-J was a black plastic card just like a J-Card, but it had a gold J on one side and “Round One Winner” on the back. I'm pretty sure I'm still reeling over the fact that I was on a stage with a bloody superstar.
Week two was just as nerve-wracking if not more, we got to play for Rayleigh this time. And I kid you not, her best friend, Abigail fucking Addison was there to lend her moral support! I'm not too embarrassed to admit I got both of their autographs just like I got Tabby's the prior week when we won.
Week two was worse than week one because the judge and Rayleigh couldn't come to a consensus. So they had the keyboardist from both bands solo. Then the drummers. I can't tell you exactly how close I came to vomiting knowing that whether or not we moved on came down to me.
The other drummer used a matched grip, instead of the orthodox grip I use, and he just went into a solo using the piece we had just played, ‘Cobble Stones’. He did a few flourishes and rimshot pops, but there wasn't much you could do with a slower piece like that. It was a song that was meant to showcase the rich honey tones of Rayleigh.
When it was my turn, I instead just went into my jam. Let the beat take me wherever it wanted to go. I spun my left stick into a one handed drum roll I had seen Ringo Star do in an old video, and crashed my cymbals. My double bass thumped in a syncopation that just made you sway and catch the beat. God, I loved drumming!
I walked down the toms then suddenly dropped the beat to a slow thump on the bass as I held my right hand high pointing my stick to the heavens. My other stick lightly ting tinged the raised bell on a cymbal.
Then as my arm dropped I did a full roll round, working through the snare and toms ending with me spinning my sticks above my head then letting them drop to the stage as I pointed at the other drummer on the other side of the stage.
Rayleigh looked so very sexy as she conversed with the judge then walked between the two bands holding a Half-J. She looked more like a fashion model than a singer to me. She stepped over to the other band and smiled at them then over to us. She was killing us! She stepped close to me then looked out at the crowd, playing them as she shrugged. They were silent. Then she just pressed the Half-J onto my snare with a huge smile and the crowd went wild. I about passed out with her that close to me.
This was week three, and each band had to do two numbers. Only ninety-five bands made it through so far, well ninety-six if you count the wildcard. Since it is single elimination, they need an even number to compete. So on weekends with an odd number of bands, whether by math or by disqualifications, the eliminated band with the highest combined points from the prior weeks gets to be resurrected to compete again. I had had heard there was already a band disqualified today even before the competition had started.
I got together with the band last night and we jammed, working on technical aspects of each of our instruments to work out any rough edges. There was Matt, our lead guitarist. He was a replacement for David, who had moved off to Cardiff two years ago.
Mathew was an acquired taste. He was nice at first, but now a little abrasive, but I've found a lot of lead guitarists to be that way. Something about wanting to be the lead vocalist too. He was pretty fit and fresh out of Uni. He kept his dark hair parted in an old Beatles style sixties cut.
Then Caroline our rhythm guitar and lead singer. She was our frontman because she had the best voice of all of us, not to mention it was her band. Something we constantly have to remind Matt of. She was all woman and dressed the part. Always in tight skirts and leathers at every performance, making us Horseshoes look good.
Darin was our keyboardist. He had a weird knack of just listening to a song without sheet music and he could reproduce the keying by ear. When he did have music in front of him, he was a machine. We call him Animal. Partially because he is that good, and partly because his shaggy, naturally curly hair, and matching beard and mustache make him look like... well, an animal.
He's possibly the nicest guy in the world as well as the shyest guy in the world around women. It took him three months before he could say a whole sentence to me when I joined the band ten years ago.
Then there's Mick. Mick is our bassist. She's slightly butch and rough around the edges, but somehow very feminine at the same time. She plays all sides of the street and loves to make people trip over their own tongues. I pity the man or woman that tries to exchange suggestive sexual innuendo with her, not realizing she means it. I can't tell you how many people she has broken, but they all seem to like her commanding nature. She's a love em and leave em kind of girl. Once she has conquered you, she loses interest.
That all being said, she is probably the fiercest friend you could ever have. She will defend you and make sure you are always okay if she lets you into her inner circle. I had been crashing on her couch for almost eight months before I found the Flotilla a few months back.
One night Mick brought home a goth girl who had a guy in a studded collar on a leash in tow. I kid you not, a leash. When the girl sneered at me on the way to the bedroom, Mick stopped dead and kicked them out... with prejudice.
When I say kicked out, I mean she literally pushed them out the door and kicked the girl in the arse for good measure. I can't repeat what she told the woman because it was so bloody crude. I mean, I can fucking cuss with the best of them, but this was just... wow. I remember the smile she gave me, you can't buy friends like that.