Excerpt for Between Favours - The Champagne Hurricane Trilogy - Book 3 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Between Favours

The Champagne Hurricane Trilogy


Published by Tam Sturgeon at Smashwords

Copyright Tam Sturgeon 2018

This novel is entirely a work of fiction.

The names, characters and incidents portrayed within it are

the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to

actual persons, living or deceased, or any events

mentioned is entirely coincidental.

Tam Sturgeon asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work.

Cover imagery courtesy of the author.

Cover design by Tam Sturgeon.

Copyright Tam Sturgeon 2018


Between Favours

Part 1

~ Tee ~

Riding the Tide

Time is something we all have, for some, there is never enough. There is time that has been, there is time that is now, and there is time yet to come. How we spend it is entirely up to us. Some might wish to stay trapped in the time before, living a loop, over and over. Some may forever live in the now, absorbing every moment, consuming every ounce. And there are even some who do nothing but look to the time yet to come, hoping they’ll find their answer, hoping they’ll find their peace.

Whatever your preference, I say it’s a balance of then, now and next. Why be choosy when you can have it all, right? Time, I think you would agree, is a precious commodity, and one we should never be wasteful with, and one we should always be mindful of. Time in essence has no price at all but, just in case, be well aware of its cost.

It sat quiet that day, somewhere between autumn and winter. The first of the snow had come already, it fell with the fluctuating temperatures at night, only to be gone with the heat of the following day, and there we were, just touching October. There was still some patchy grass to be seen, but the flowers were long gone, snuggled up, underground, as yet another year drew to a close

The rise to Tornado Mountain, once a fine green mantle, was sporting a settled white gown which replaced the skirts of emerald, those vast swathes running for miles, their once clean lines to disappear into the haze of the day. The apex permafrost looked all clean and shiny, the edges blending into a sky of almost the same colour.

That wonder to feast your eyes upon was all I required. It was where life had been leading me, all that way and all that time. That was where my heart was, on that lonesome road, the one that led all the way to the rocky ridge. That’s where I thought I’d stay, always, there on the mountain. There, with Max.

Me, I was okay. I still did a bit for Craig Taylor but I wasn’t travelling the distances and putting in the seminar time anymore. Those days were long gone. No, by then I was just dabbling in stuff. Hey, if I liked it, and got just a little enjoyment out of it, and I wasn’t hurting those I love in the process, I’d give it a go. You don’t know if you like it till you’ve tried it, isn’t that how it works?

Since Max’s sad departure I’d actually found enough pockets of time to finally start and finish my novel. There were no plans for it, it was more of a personal off-load, somewhere to keep everything I remembered of our short time together. I think it’ll be left, bound up, placed in a drawer somewhere, and forgotten as the years roll by.

So, work consisted of doing as little as I could, travelling when required, and faffing with words when I was asked. Also I had to find time to look after my crazy collection of animals, and the little clan of people I called family. I thought I was slowing down, but somehow I wasn’t. The package, that was my life, it simply wouldn’t let me.

And so arrived another day. To wonder what another twenty-four hours can bring is a wonder in itself, as is waking. Most take the simplest things for granted, yet a few live each day as if their last.

Stevie, my Canadian brother-in-law, turned to me, stood at the posh bar, the look on his face somewhere between amazement and devastation. He’d come in from outside, his face rolled up in anger, and had sunk two Tequila shots before he could even find the words he wanted to say. This was when our evening really began.

‘... I’m telling ya, sis, lightning’s struck twice ... Once with Max, then again with that little shit out there ... Jesus, you should see him, he’s spanked out of his face ... I had to do a double take to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing ... Holy shit, Tee, the kid’s killing me.’

His hand wiped his across his angry features as he spoke, the memory of the moment galloping through his mind once more.

‘Then there’s no denying it then,’ I chuckled, running my hand down Stevie’s arm. I finished my drink before I finished my words. ‘... He really is a Manley ...’

‘Ha, fucking, ha, ain’t you the funny fucker ... That boy is breaking my balls, ya gotta do something, Tee ... He ain’t gonna listen to anyone else but you ... Go do what ya gotta do to stop what ain’t been started yet,’ he commanded with a lowered voice, his right hand lifting so his index finger could point in the direction of the pool area.

‘Okay ... Where’s Joey?’ I asked, my eyes scanning the crowed room, packed with lots of faces I knew but not seeing the one I wanted.

Would tiptoes help? There, I spotted him speaking to Cal Mason, the shabbily dressed Producer who drove a million dollar car.

‘Nope, don’t worry ... I see him,’ I chirped as I placed my empty glass on the bar and stepped into the throng. ‘I’ll be back in a mo, bro,’ was said as I snaked a path towards the opposite corner.

Approaching with a nod, I caught Joey’s eye. He stepped away from the group we both knew with an apology.

‘What’s up, treacle? ... We got an issue?’ he asked in his gruff cockney accent, his eyes becoming alive with the prospect of a job at hand, or a punch-up, he was about ready for either the night was dragging so badly.

‘... Yeah ... Urh, may I borrow you for just a few moments? It might be nothing, but then it could be something we could all do without, tonight of all bloody nights,’ I smiled, my eyebrows moving up and down quickly, trying to get my point over in a quiet kind of way.

He got it, he was right there with me.

‘Arh, okay, lead the way,’ he grinned, rubbing in hands together, excitedly. ‘Let’s go do that, then have another beer ... I should be about ready for one by then,’ he chuckled, as I turned to snake my way back towards an anxious looking Stevie.

As we approached him my hand scooped around his arm so I could march us towards the chaotic space located just to the rear of the Hotel Four Seasons. Helloing our way through the metropolis we finally breached the pool area.

‘Oh, my, cocking fanny hairs ...’

I didn’t finish my sentence as the scene spread before the three of us. Joey almost split himself laughing as we watched Max’s son, Terri, run along the far side of the pool, butt naked. He momentarily stopped, turning in our general direction, before lifting the next sun lounger along.

This was then swung sideways to be discarded, as if a huge Frisbee, out onto the clear blue water, so as to join all the others at the bottom of the deep end. Someone’s pink feather boa was hung around his neck whilst a red thong sat on his head, not his by the way. Out of his face? Nah, off his bloody nut, mate.

And, I ask you, who were facing him on the other side of the pool, sat on the loungers that weren’t sunken treasure? Yeah, about eight very happy paparazzi, and they were more than comfortable taking all the photos they needed for their morning papers.

‘... Okay ...’ my hands came up to rest on my Nichi Caroni gown-clad hips, ‘which stupid butt-plug spiked his drink, again? He’s not on caine too, is he? Please, God, someone tell me he’s not on caine ... I wouldn’t mind so much, but look ...’ I wasn’t impressed, ‘... Check out the bloody mess we gotta clear up now ... The hotel is gonna love handing me this bill ...’

Shaking my head slowly, I looked at the Press taking their lovely pics, I looked over at my arsehole Stepson doing a Max in full throttle, and then I looked back to the guys beside me.

‘Okay ... Joey, pocket all the memory cards from the cameras before escorting the owners off the premises, this is a private party after all ... Any trouble makers, thump them if it helps, I’ll pay them all off later ... Stevie, you grab those towels over there, and try to find his bloody clothes, please. Oh, and good luck with that,’ I chuckled to those listening.

‘What about you? Ya gonna be okay dealing with him?’ Joey asked, his thumb indicating the rampant Terri who was, by then, knees wide apart, shaking his genitalia in the direction of anyone in his vicinity, and laughing wildly, as he did it.

‘Yeah,’ I half grinned, ‘I’ll be fine ... Remember, I used to deal with his Big Daddy ...This,’ my head nodded towards the young man, bent over, his bare arse towards the cameras, hands slapping a tune on his butt cheeks, ‘is like history repeating itself ... Only, now, there’s an English twang and twenty years between the ages, though the mental age is still the same, and that’ll be about twelve ... Apart from that, pal, it’s all the bloody same to me.’

I patted his arm as I walked away. ‘... Go, do ... I’ll catch his lordship,’ I smiled to the guys, as I headed for the one-man-show, just about to harass a tall blonde with his swinging boy bits.

As Joey, and his Hench, cleared up the Press issue, Stevie hunted for clothes and grabbed bath sheets that sat by a hot tub to one side. I, in my lovely, floor length, midnight blue, scoop backed gown, looked very elegant as I headed for the greatest show on earth. My long legs carried me passed old faces from Max’s history, the pleasantries flying back and forth.

Terri was standing on his lonesome lounger singing along to the pumping new Ea$y track, Breakdown, as I reached him. He was swinging the boa around his head, as if a stripper, whilst working his hips with everything on show. Clocking the face I had on as I approached the lyrics suddenly changed to suit the mood.

‘... Oh, no, shit, so now I better run ... She’s gonna kill me for the things I’ve done ... But, man, I’ve had some bloody fun ... I love it here in Fake Town ...’

As he took the step that should have led him to freedom, I took one step forward, grabbed the end of the floating feathers, and pulled. He spun on his pissed, bare feet and, as he did so, I lifted my free hand, elbow bent, and pushed.

His balance was gone, one foot stepping backwards trying to regain his ground. Sadly, it was too late. As the next tried to follow the former there was nothing left.

I, and thirty plus other people, watched as Terri sailed backwards to join his loungers in the pool with a crash of white water. If he wasn’t sober five minutes ago, he certainly was as that point. Well, it always worked with Max.

Smiling, Stevie joined me by the water’s edge.

‘Now I know why ya wanted the damn towels,’ he chuckled. ‘Shit, wish I’d remembered that one.’

The night ended for Terri, there and then. He was hightailed away, Joey and Stevie carrying him between them, the memory cards to the cameras safely hidden away within Joey’s pockets. A path was found, through the chaos in the foyer, the damages bill paid, our coats collected. Then out to our awaiting car, Hatch on high alert, sat at the wheel, ready to go on my mark. Terri’s first CRMAs (Canadian Rock Music Awards) ceremony as part of Ea$y was over, the pomp and ceremony completed, and our exit immanent.

It was hitting 3 a.m. as Terri was slopped into a massive bed, in a massive suite, in a massive hotel in Beverley Hills. The view over the city at night was simply breath-taking, but he wouldn’t know that. He had crashed landed with style, a certain kind of style, the kind only found in one family. Yep, that’s the one, the Manley family.

Two weeks later and I was in Vegas working with a model called Misty Autumn helping to organise the shoot for her latest line in swimwear. This would have been great, but for a freakish cold snap that swaggered in from the north and partly froze the pool. In the early hours of the morning we had to think quickly. The answer, surprisingly, came from the new kid in the team, Nick Wild.

‘Hey, they have that amazing pool down in the basement, it’s got those huge palm trees and big fancy ferns in pots ... Maybe we could shoot down there ... It’ll be warmer too, considering she ain’t gonna be wearing much,’ he grinned, slowly looking Misty up and down, his eyes halting on her long, slender legs.

‘Nicky,’ I chuckled, ‘I could bloody kiss you ... Pack up and move on down. We’re going south.’

He made me laugh. Sort of cute, in a short chubby kind of way, his mop of straw coloured hair seldom sat completely straight on his head, his parting never in the same place twice. Frame-free specs made his hazel eyes sparkle, and those freckles on his cheeks were nearly the same colour as his hair. Hard to believe that inside an exterior that looked slightly vacant was a mind that never clocked off.

Misty, thank God, was another sweet kid, not too up herself and not prone to tantrums if she didn’t have the right coloured flowers on display. She was a small eater and a big smoker, which was an instant connection between us from the off. From a good family she had travelled the world before she was twenty-one. She smiled, sadly, when she said she’d missed her sister’s twenty-first birthday. She’d been in Paris at the time, doing a Vencor shoot. Her sister hadn’t spoken to her since.

I have to say it, Nicky was right. With the permission of the Hotel to move the shoot indoors, we arranged the plants in their pots, and lit it as was required. It all went like a dream, and the Photographer took some lovely shots to play with back at his studio. Misty didn’t freeze her assets off, I had a giggle with Nicky, and the job was finished come midnight. Everyone was happy.

I don’t rest well in strange beds, I never have, and one night, as I slept in that strange bed in Vegas, I’m sure I heard my name shouted loudly in my room. I sat bolt upright and replied with a yes, convinced there was someone at my bedroom door. My heart hammered in my chest as my blurred but clearing vision scanned the room in its half-light. You have to remember that staying near The Strip, in Vegas, there’s never total darkness.

Being a little freaked out, I slowly turned the covers back and slid from the bed, my hackles not eager to retreat, my senses on high alert. My journey took me from the bedroom, out into my suite’s sitting area, my eyes checking all the dark corners as I stuck to the shadow’s line.

I’d heard it before, the loud shout next to my ear. It was a night long ago. As I recall it was raining, the roads to the mountain were flooded and our landlines were down. A drunken half-sleep always drags up strange memories. In other words, pissed dreams suck.

Maybe it was Max who shouted in my ear. Maybe that was the reason he needed me to wake up. I was straying into a dark place, and maybe he did it to save me from more sorrow. But then what was worse, being shouted awake like that, or reliving something that should never have been revisited?

Dreams are a catalogue of half-forgotten memories that the subconscious feeds back to us in an order that is never meant to make any sense. I stood thinking that, naked, in my sitting area, watching the coming up of the sun through the huge window. Should I run to jump, or run to hide? How do I make it all go away, all the loss, all the memories? Could I do it? Could I break-away, could I make a run for it and find some other place to hide, or would jumping be the simpler of the two options?

Nah, no jumping that morning, it was too nice a sunrise. The only jumping I was going to be doing was into a shower. I turned and walked to the drinks cabinet behind me. The usual was thrown together, long, no ice, and then taken to the club chair that had the best view in town. I sat in silence, sipping my drink, my own atmosphere not really cutting the mustard.

My last few years had been a journey I always thought would involve Max in some way. The day we became man and wife, I never realised I’d be growing old with a bloody ghost. Terri, his long lost son, had brought so much to my life in becoming the child we never had. He filled some of the space that needed filling. English on one side, Canadian on the other, that coin could flip either way, as he did on a regular basis.

I had noticed, over the years that had flown by since losing Max, no one had got inside my head. I guess the only male that really challenged me at that point was Craig, my boss. Dan Foster had tried, our attempts at a relationship bordering on hopeless, but fun while it lasted. I still loved him, we’d always be close, but I wasn’t the girl for him. I’d been spoilt by Max.

I’d retreated from the fire when the fuel had run out. Max was my fuel, and he kept the fire in me aglow, night and day, year after year. There was no one left that could stoke me like Max did. We worked so well together, our love, our life. I picked our history apart and rebuilt it once, and it worked out just the same as it did the first time round. I’d come to the conclusion that we were simply meant to be.

The silence of that hotel room gave way to all sorts of voices in my head. Rubbing my temples with the fingers of my left hand slowly stroked them into submission.

‘Shush ... Calm down, will ya ... Stop with all the shouting, it’s too early ...’

They faded as I finished my first drink of the day, and it wasn’t even time for breakfast in Restaurant Alzir. I watched the hands on the clock, the seconds bouncing passed. History was being made with me sat there consuming a Jack at 7:05 in the morning. I liked that thought.

One hand dropped as the other rose. My drink was finished in three quick swallows, the glass placed on the low table beside me. I had work arranged. There was a flight to be caught back to Edmonton, then a meeting at Head Office I was supposed to be attending. When was that?

I lifted from my seat and ambled back to the bedroom. Dragging on my silk robe and tying it in some crap knot was my only way of hiding the wave of discomfort I suddenly felt. There was the sense of someone watching, and it was a sense I didn’t like much, plus it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

I hunted round till I found it. My phone held all my important work dates in its little electronic diary thingy. What struck me first were the twenty-seven missed calls. How could they be there and me not hear them bringing my mobile to life on my bedside table?

Looking down at the small up-to-date screen, at first it didn’t make sense. Why was it placed on mute, and how had I lost two days? Then I looked up and cast my eyes around my empty room. The more I looked the more questions I raised, and the more questions I raised, the less I liked it.

The side of the bed I had slid from, where the sheets were rolled back as I always left them, seemed no different from any other rise and shine. But I hadn’t looked beyond that, had I? I lived alone so why should I? Why should I check for any other signs of life? There was no point, I was a single woman.

The other pillows lay dented, one folded to raise a head higher maybe. The covers were thrown up to meet them, a note wedged in the folds of the fabric. It stood stark white against the russet coloured cases, the Hotel’s gold emblem seen just on the paper’s crease. A glass stood, vacated of any innards, left for Housekeeping to remove once my room had been rendered the same.

All the evidence I needed was a killing field before me, from the rumpled sheets down to my strategically discarded clothes, there was no denying it. It seems I’d partook in a little more than a take-home, and the leftover had removed himself from my menu, his note a fond farewell and the cherry on the cake.

Several things bombarded my brain all at the same time. They descended on me in a bizarre chain that started in that hotel room and reached all the way back to Edmonton. Well, I liked a challenge so this was going to be fun.

As my eyes took in the state of the place, the empty glass over on that side, the one that matched mine, I listened to all my voice messages. First up was Nicky saying the shoot was a winner and it was thumbs up all round, be prepared for more work. Most of them were from Craig reminding me about the meeting. Next up was a quick hi from Stevie, he hoped work wasn’t dragging me down. Then AJ, she and Bella were missing me, wanted to know if I was about the following weekend. Then last, but definitely not least, was Craig again, only this time ranting loudly about why I hadn’t returned any of his calls, and how I’d managed to miss the bloody meeting after he’d left enough messages regarding the sodding thing in the first place. I groaned as my day slowly became chronically crap.

I left my phone on mute as I dropped it into my robe pocket. My fingers instantly met as the thumb nail of my right hand run itself under the nails of the other. Grey eyes had come up to rest on the folded paper wedged in its place of presentation. Hesitant feet then started me around the bed. They carried me to within reach, holding me there for a moment.

‘Sweet Jesus Christ almighty ... You’re acting like it’s a bloody snake about to strike ... Pick it up and bloody read it, woman,’ I said aloud to myself to push me into the action.

For some reason I looked behind me before I moved. Whether I was expecting him to walk from the bathroom or something I don’t know. Turning I saw the mirror above the basin through the open door. It was an empty reflection. No one was hiding in there.

I sighed loudly as I leant forward, the white paper taken and left folded as I slid it into my pocket along with my phone. Before I walked away, I bent to run my hand over the imprint of the one that had filled the space. Picking the pillow up, but holding the imprint there, I sunk my face into it, inhaling through my nose as I did so. I laughed at myself. I couldn’t remember him at all, not his face, his build, nothing. My mind was a complete blank where he was concerned, but nice aftershave.

I walked back to the sitting area, collected my glass and made myself another drink. Five minutes later the call for breakfast in my room had been made, and I was sat with that folded piece of paper back in my hands. I turned it, smelt it, I tapped it on my teeth, and then I stared out the window. Room Service arrived and left. It was then thrown onto the side table while I had my breakfast and drank my coffee in silence. When I’d finished, I took it back to my chair by the window, the charade continuing.

Holding it as though it were a little book about to be read, the bottom fold clamped down against my index finger with my thumb, I paused. Using the index finger of the other hand I slowly forced the fold apart so at to see what was written inside. Was it our booze bill? Was it his life story? Was he married?

Unfolding it more I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice handwritten script. His words swept across the A4 page, it was easy to read, and no smudging from the fountain pen used. That alone can tell you a lot about someone.

“Morning, pretty lady,” he started, “I didn’t want to wake you so I left you to sleep. Sorry I had to shoot, it’s not my style usually, but work calls me back onto the road. Last night was amazing. I’m so glad I went into the bar and met you there.”

I stopped reading and looked out the window for a second thinking. Bar, what bar? First, what bloke and, now, what bar?

“If you can’t remember, you kept calling me Max, but my name is actually Marcus, so you weren’t that far off. And I’ve paid the bar tab downstairs so don’t go worrying about that.”

Oops, calling him Max, that was a bit sad, and the bar was downstairs in my hotel, and he’d settled the bill. At least that answered those two questions for me. So, I’d met him there, downstairs, in that building? And I still couldn’t remember what he looked like.

“For everything else you can’t remember, check your mobile, you put that to good use last night. I also did a selfie and a shot of my business card, so you now have my contact details as requested. (Smiley face)”

My eyes flicked to my phone and back as I read those lines. That could be a really scary outcome. A guy I slept with, and can’t remember, had been in control of not only his mobile but mine too. Oh, God. My stomach lurched as my mind ran wild with a million different horror stories that could all be leaked to the bloody press, my nude photos included.

Why, oh, why did I get so pissed sometimes I couldn’t remember past hours, let alone past days. They seemed to have gone missing, a little like the features of my latest conquest’s face. Apart from the flashbacks, which would soon be starting, all I had were the images that lay within my mobile.

I looked down at its blank screen. How small and harmless it looked, but it held the key to the night before. My eyes swayed back to the note in my hand.

“Sorry, I have to leave you now. Be safe on your journey home to England, and give my love to your crazy Aunt Emily, she sounds like she can party like her niece. (Another slightly different smiley face with its tongue poking out) Take care now, Betty B, maybe we’ll stay here again someday ... Kind regards, and the best of wishes ... Marcus. L. Collins xxx”

Home to England, my Aunt Emily, and Betty bloody B? What the hell?

My phone was lifted so I might see what craziness had been played out in the hours that were missing. Checking out the Gallery section gave me a few surprises, and in different ways. I slowly scrolled down to view the last few shots taken. As he said, there were his card details along with a rather nice selfie of him leaning against me, while I slept. You know, for an older guy, he wasn’t bad looking first thing in the morning.

I studied his strong features, his reasonable smile, and his slept in hair, the way it sat, his face and eyes. He looked like good stock, had a nice tan, dark eyes, salt and pepper hair. Sat in just his boxers, as he took his photo, I saw that he was a rather nice build, quite padded in parts, muscles in all the right places. His upper arms also had a nice shape to them. He looked pretty trim with his tight tummy and nice thighs.

So, what of the other photos? Well, there was nothing on there for me to really worry about, mainly they were in the bar, being silly. The drinks had flowed, obviously. There were a few with a middle-ages couple I didn’t know from Adam, a young guy who was in a hotel uniform, dancing with Marcus, and the rest were blurred or so dark they didn’t come out anyway. I hoped and prayed, when we got back to my suite, that Marcus didn’t go all paparazzi and get some select shots of me on his phone while I was out cold.

That was one of my biggest fears, pics like that getting into the papers. I hated that thought more than running out of Jack, how awful. Deep down, I think my inbuilt security-system created that made up name and made up life. Here was to hoping it would be enough to throw any nosy bast’d off my scent. Fingers crossed it bloody worked.

I sat back into my chair, looking down at the stranger who’d humped me the night before. How does an event like that happen and you not even remember it?

The little screen slowly darkened, and then it went black after a few seconds. It was time to go home.

~ Terri ~

When It’s Over

‘Christ ... I’ve only been gone ten bloody minutes and the place looks like a sodding tip ... Terri,’ she moaned, her hands on her hips as usual, ‘put your shit in your room before I bag it and bin it.’

She stalked off to her bedroom with her luggage, mumbling to herself. Walking back her face turned to me as she disappeared into the games room for a drink, I presume.

‘... Bloody kids ... How old are you?’ was called down the hall as if I’d broken her favourite vase or something.

I knew I’d pissed her off when she got back from her Vegas trip and stood, looking at me in the way she had. It’s the look that tells you to run, because you’re gonna feel whatever's coming and, boy, if it’s both barrels you better run fast. She might have been knocking on a bit, not as old as Grandma, but she still moved it when you’d pissed her off enough.

See Tee, my Stepmom, my Foster Mum, my whatever, was exactly that, an adopted Mum, because I adopted her, and she did her job pretty well for never having her own kid. But I wouldn’t have forgotten that in a hurry, don’t you worry, besides, she wouldn’t have let me.

I looked at the stuff she was talking about, clean washing mixed with stuff to be done, piled up on the couch and cascading onto the rug. My bike helmet and leather had been discarded upon entering. They were sat on the floor where I’d dropped them, my need for a pee not giving me time to put them anywhere except there. My bike boots, shitty with mud and other detritus, left a wet trail from door to hall where I then kicked them off, leaving them in a growing puddle. This had probably pissed her off more than anything. I heard her coming back, and still she moaned.

‘... And if your Father had seen that he would have gone bloody spare ... His lovely maple floor covered in shit and mud ... Boy, you’d be running for your damn life right about now,’ she grumped, as she entered and walked around the offending patches by the hall archway.

I looked at the dog for some sort of support. His head lifted, shook quickly from side to side, his ears flapping and slapping with his action, then it went back to its comfy position. Sadly, there was no help to come from Ziggy. He was simply a lazy, lard-arsed dog of the one mistress kind.

‘No wonder AJ booted your arse out ... After what went down at the awards night I’m surprised she even let you in the bloody house to get some of your shit back,’ she mumbled, walking to the kitchen to make a fresh coffee and put a joint together.

I looked up from the snoring dog, his feet twitching away, completely unaware of the all the traumas and tantrums around him.

‘She didn’t ... She’d dumped it all outside ... Wouldn’t even let me in to get it ... Told me to go away and grow up ... Thinks all the fame has gone to my head,’ I grumbled back to her.

I knew how it all looked, me getting wasted like that, and on my first awards night. Man, I was amazed I was still walking. I was expecting to get it from all sides. I could just feel it coming. I’d not seen the papers or the guys since that night. I couldn’t imagine them giving me an easy ride, pardon my pun. In fact, I knew they were going to give me some real heavy shit over it, and I deserved every bloody ounce.

‘... Start praying your Granma hasn’t caught wind of it yet. I think we just about managed to keep most of the pics outta the papers ... She’ll give you some hell, probably, after beating your arse around the yard with her broom,’ she chuckled, shaking her head from side to side slowly. ‘I also know the boys have some things they’d like to say to you too ... Quite colourful, some of it, I believe ...’

She appeared before me, a joint in one hand, a coffee in the other, her way of trying to make it a little better.

‘Here, have these and cheer up a little ... Stevie’s on his way over ... So it might be a while before you get to enjoy these again,’ she chuckled, her face alight with the joke of if all. ‘Let’s face it, you might be eating through a straw by the time he’s finished with you,’ she giggled, before winking and walking away, quietly singing to herself.

‘You stupid, little BITCH,’ Stevie hollered at me from across the games room. ‘We’ve built what we have from nothing, ya hear me? ... I expected this shit from Max, but I ain’t gonna go over old ground with some young ass punk like you, his son or not ...’

I thought he was gonna blow a vein in his forehead, his boiling point well on its way. Tee was stood at the bar, smoking and drinking, no emotion on her face, anywhere. But it wasn’t over, not by a long shot. In fact, he was just getting warmed up.

‘... It’s taken years to achieve what the band name means in a world where ya gotta be fucking charmed to get anywhere. Ya ain’t gonna screw that up for me, Dan and Jake, I won’t let ya, and I won’t let ya trash Max’s name, either, God damn it ... I don’t give a fuck who ya think ya are, I don’t give a shit what the fuck ya think ... It’s my way or the damn highway, boy, and right now, I feel like kicking ya worthless ass all the way to Edmonton, I swear ...’

When he moved towards me like that I knew what was about to hit me right between the eyes. I was leant against the pool table while he’d barked at me from near the door. I think if he’d grabbed hold of me he would have done some serious damage. I knew I was quick enough to get out of harm’s way, but I didn’t have to.

Tee came to the rescue, which did surprise me, Stevie a little more. One second she wasn’t there, the next she was. She simply appeared between us, a joint in one hand, her Jack and cola in the other.

‘Boys, boys, come on ... Let’s not get all feisty ... We’re big adults, not little kids on a playground ... Now, please, Stevie, you’ve had your say and, I know, I know what you mean, but this isn’t the answer ... Smashing his face in won’t make it go away, I promise you ...’

She’d done it again, tamed the rabid beast. What was it, her eyes, her voice, what? How did she do that? How did she make one hell on an angry son-of-a-bitch step down and hear her? It amazed me, but then she amazed me.

‘Yeah, ya reckon, huh?’ Stevie seethed. ‘Well, that might be the case, but it’d make me feel a whole lot better for a while,’ he sneered over her right shoulder, just inches from my face.

Then another look swept in to make everything else seem sunny.

‘Now, ya better listen to me, boy, and ya better listen good ... I’m not in the habit of repeating myself so ya better get real good, real quick ... Ea$y ain’t goin down cuz some little piss-ant can’t get a grip of the wild side ... You’ve been privileged, no, God damn honoured, to be a part of what we’ve, that’s ya Daddy, me, Dan and Jake, created over the last fifteen years and some ... When we were stomping the boards, taking the hits, and working our damn lungs out, night and day, you were still playing with ya wiener in the God damn tub ... What you are, and how you live your life, is not my concern ... But, I swear to God, you will not, and I mean NOT, bring the rest of us down to your damn level ... Right now, there’s nothing ya can say, or do, to make this right ... Well, there is, but I’ll do life for it ...’

With that he spun away and was gone through the door, no goodbye, no see ya later, nothing. Ziggy followed him then stopped to watch him leave, his tail wagging, a small gruff of farewell. Once we heard the front door slam shut, he waddled back to his fave couch and resumed his midmorning snooze. Within five minutes he was snoring again, away chasing wabbits.

The silence in the room was cold and heavy. Tee’s energy had gone, no more words of wisdom, Stevie’s had been the bones of them, harsh and realistic. He certainly knew how to give a history lesson in ten short, angry, hours, at least that’s how long it felt at the time. Was it really only ten minutes of my life lost? Only ten minutes?

‘Well, that was both barrels from your Uncle ... One down, a million to go,’ Tee laughed from the huge red and yellow boxing glove, she’d pulled it to her usual stop in the sun. ‘If I were you, I’d get them all done as soon as you can ... Be prepared though, this shit is gonna haunt you for the next few months, if not the rest of your scrawny bitch life ... Oh, sweetie, I just hope you’ve seen the error of your ways, and I really hope the guys don’t tell you you’re out ... Which could well be the outcome here, of course ...’

Silence again, her attention suddenly on the drink and smoke she held before her. I smiled from the pool table where my whole being was trying to pull itself back together again. My legs and hands shook, even my voice shook when I could finally speak.

‘Thank you,’ I almost squeaked from a standing position, my knees on the verge of crumbling.

I made it to a barstool, just in time. Four wobbles and I touched down. I picked up the Jack bottle, took off the lid and sank two swallows. I was hoping it would get my lungs working, at one point I thought they’d stopped functioning entirely.

‘For what, exactly?’ she grinned at me. ‘Stopping your Uncle Stevie punching a few new holes in your stupid bitch body?’

It was said in the voice she saves for Bella, babyish, her empty glass being lifted and waggled in my direction. A refill was being requested by the looks of it.

Doing as I was waggled, I passed her back a replenished highball, just as she liked it, no ice.

‘Yeah, for that ... And for not being on anyone’s side, you know, neutral ground,’ I smiled, dropping onto the couch to one side of her, my fingers fiddling with the cord to my hood. ‘I guess I’m screwed now ... The boy done fucked up again, huh?’

‘Yes, you have, my dear, naive, young man ... Sometimes you’re too much like you’re dearly departed Daddy ... You don’t have to live up to his press clippings ... He was so much more than that, as you jolly well know,’ she smiled.

‘Do you think they’d do that? Really, chuck me out of the band?’ I asked, my hands not lifting from the cord I was knotting in places.

She shifted in the glove a little, the ashtray being put on the floor beside her.

‘... Well, Stevie’s the one that got you in, he’ll be the one that throws you out, I’m guessing ... My advice is, go see Dan and Jake, talk to them, see what they have to say to you first ...’

Tee looked at me, her greyly stoned eyes changing to become softer, more fluid.

‘... You have to remember, these guys have been mates since high school. Stevie and Dan were besties as kids. Jake was a neighbour of Dan’s. They were all in the same place, doing the same thing, all at the same time, music. When Max turned up at rehearsal with Stevie one day, and they heard he could actually sing the songs he’d written, in tune, well, that’s when it all came together ... Your Dad was only seventeen years old ...’

Tee knew the history as well as Stevie did. I did, some of it. There isn’t much about the guys, or the band, she didn’t know. Having lived with it for so long tends to rub off on you. It certainly had with Tee, she was like a walking Ea$y Encyclopaedia.

So, that was it. I had a million miles to claw back from Stevie, Dan, and Jake, not to mention AJ. I was also missing my baby girl, Bella B, which was starting to hurt too, then after that, Granma. Tee was right, everything stood on speaking to the guys. What came after that was anyone’s guess.

~ Stevie ~

Question of Faith

I was going to have to talk to someone before the frustration killed me. Carrying it around inside you like that, it makes your soul heavy and your heart ache with the weight of it all. I guess my own anger had its thumb on my crown too, pushing down a little harder. I do know the one person I would have taken this to was way out of reach. Tee wasn’t going to take sides, speaking to her was going to make it even harder getting Terri’s ass out of the band. Who could I turn to? Ma and everyone around me seemed too close to be nonbiased. There had to be someone, there just had to be.

Max, my dearly departed baby brother, he would have been pretty proud of his kid, I know that. Getting that far with nothing in his pockets, keeping quiet about where he was from, who he was, and learning a little before he made himself known. You had to admire the little shit for that. He certainly didn’t storm in demanding his share of the goodies and all that lovely money.

Again, Tee was already on it. She and Reedy were investigating him as he was getting nosy about us. Reedy, yeah, he was the man to speak to. I hadn’t seen him in months. It was about time I dropped in to help him drink some of the overly expensive brandy he kept at hand. Yeah, Reedy, he made a good someone.

‘... Yeah, I know what you’re saying, Stevie ... But that little cock-sucker, as you called him, gets butts in seats ... The girls love that English thing he has going on ... In many ways he reminds me of Max when he was that age ... Plus, he has a voice that can charm those sweet young things straight online to buy the damn album ... So far this year and, no, I can’t reveal my source, the band has grossed well in excess of seventy-five million dollars, give or take a few hundred thousand ... As I see it, kicking him outta the band, right now, would be like kicking yourself in the damn nuts ...’

Well, that was Reedy saying it as he saw it.

I was sat opposite him in his new office, drinking and chatting. He conducted business from the penthouse suite of the Silver Room Plaza in downtown Calgary. You can’t miss the tall construction of a matt silver kind. It stands beside the Gold Room Plaza, the one Reedy intended on occupying in his next ten years of the music business. Hell, the rate he was making money, he’d be buying that place before the spring.

‘Don’t be stupid cuz ya angry, he’s Max’s kid no matter what ya wanna do to him,’ he continued, whilst chomping on his huge cigar and drinking his expensive liquor. ‘And, yeah, I know you’re angry, I hear ya, Stevie, you’re damn angry ... But, take a breath, take a few steps back even, then look at this from a different angle ... Sometimes, a little space can save a life ... Maybe it’s time ya find yourself some of that lovely space ... Maybe it’s time ya save yourself ...’

With that he fell silent, the taste of good booze filling the space where words were meant to be, his smiling eyes looking at me, his grin not fading from his chubby face.

‘Well,’ he chuckled, ‘if ya ain’t happy doing that anymore, do something else with your time left on earth ... There’s a thousand projects I can dip your digits in if ya wanna tow a different line for a while ... Maybe it’s not Terri, it could just be it’s done it’s time ... Ya never know, the other guys could feel the same ... I know ya all have things going on ... Dan has his own band and is taking that around the world soon ... Jake has his own record company now, as do you, things have moved on ... Ya just ain’t seeing the bigger picture ... Ea$y isn’t what it was, it can’t ever be, not without Max’s input ... I think you’re starting to see that, and it’s that what hurts so damn much ...’

My eyes lifted as he spoke, coming to rest on the photo of him and Max when we signed our first contract together. Reedy looked so young, even had hair back then, fine threads of gold lying over the top of his head, the worse God damn thatch I ever did see. Max is laughing, his face alive with what was about to come next, the start of the craziest journey ever. Man, what a ride.

I heard his words, and they were ones I weren’t expecting to hear from him that day. From the look he gave me to the way he said them, he meant every one of them.

‘Jesus, damn it, maybe you’re right, Reedy,’ I reluctantly replied, as I lifted from my seat and moved to a window with a view of the world.

On the thirty-second floor you could see all the way north, the towns and flatlands, and a crisscross of highways and sprawling estates which supported thousands of middleclass homes. The highway to Edmonton seemed a black line into the distance, the airport sending up tiny planes to fly tiny people away from the looming winter, the first snows of which had just come a calling.

When I turned to him again my glass held more amber fluid, the one just right when the temperature don’t stay much above freezing.

‘... I hate to say it, but I know I am,’ he grinned at me. ‘Remember, I am this damn music business, Stevie, and I’m right, most of the time ... Anyway, how else d’ya think I made all this fucking money?’ he laughed, his chunky hand lifting to indicate the refined lushness surrounding him.

And very modern it was too, or do I mean empty?

So, anyway, I found some time and space, and I went off to think about it. I told Chels I was away on a business trip and would be gone a few days. I went to our cabin up by the lake. With the snowy Rockies as a backdrop, and my only company, I reckoned I had all the space I needed to take a little time out to do a whole lot of thinking.

The first time I saw the cabin it was a cold day in early March, ten years prior. The snow lay quite deep in the higher areas, much the same as it was that day, but we could still get up there when the lake road was clear enough. The tranquillity is what sold it to me. Sat all alone, it looked down over Lake Louise with a view up to the mountains on the other side. It was somewhere close to making me cry from all the beauty to be seen. The eagles flew there too, soaring into the blue spread above, clashing and calling, the wonder of nature surrounding their every dive.

We’d get bobcats being nosy, looking for food, but mainly just passing through. Elk and moose were usually in the woods out back, wandering and honking for company. At one point we had those black tree rats living in the loft, till I evicted the little sons of bitches. Squirrels cause the most damage and will gnaw through everything that doesn’t poison the little fuckers. No home is safe. They can even climb brick or plaster fascia, up and gone like they were spiders. I know this. I saw it.

Silence is a bounty, it hangs from the trees, swims along the shoreline in the thick ice, and it hides in the shadows and lingers all around. When a place like that is found you tend to hold it close and horde the moments, you take advantage of the escape, lapping up the peace and feasting on your own company.

Cold mountain air cleared my head as some good whiskey washed away the sour taste of routine. Being there, like that, it helped iron out some kinks, the kind of kinks that make you look at life differently for a while, the kind of kinks that can change things completely when stamped flat.

I sat there and asked myself one question, did I want to do it anymore? Looking out over the part frozen lake that afternoon, I decided I didn’t. I didn’t want to do any of it anymore. I needed a change. It had to come, and it had to come soon. What we were doing, it wasn’t giving me that gentle squeeze of the nuts. That tingle in my ass when things got exciting, it had gone, never to return. The only time I felt it was when Chels and I were humping, or I was getting wasted with Tee at the lodge. There had to be more.

I finished my whiskey, the glass refilled from the bottle to my right. I looked at the warming fluid and slowly smiled to myself. Another sip was taken and savoured. It was Max’s favourite tipple, after Jack, so I thought I should enjoy a few for him. Cheers, bro.

Chels, now there was a topic. When did we drift apart? There were days when we seemed like strangers, our lives a constant loop of work and kids, the miles between us a whole world wide. I tried to meet her in the middle, I really did. I tried to be everything she needed, and in the same room as her for more than five minutes, but she always had something else to do, or something else to finish.

When I was home there was no room for me. Once the kids were in bed she simply shut down, and I won’t even mention having a session in the sack. Christ, I tried to jump her in the shower one morning. I won’t be going there again. When a woman turns on you with a look like that it puts parts of you in reverse, first your legs, then your libido. I didn’t try again, thought it best if I didn’t.

Max was with me when I first saw that stack of nicely positioned wood with huge windows and big chimney. He said it was his kind of place, and liked that wooden structure thing, seeing it, smelling it, living in it. Shortly after we picked the keys up he told me he’d found the plot on the mountain. Then he showed me the design. Wow, Max, my brother, designing his three million dollar pad and studio. Hell, I remember when we’d hit old man Dendy’s candy store. I would distract him while Max filled his pockets. Poor as farm mice we were, but made quite a team though, even back then.

Funny how you can wander in your mind, just one thought sending you on a journey of memories, the years receding as old faces flit through. My Daddy would have liked that place, tucked away up there like that, away from people, nothing but trees and space. He never had much time for folk, always said they were being nosy, looking for something to chew on because their own lives were so tasteless. My Daddy, the Farmer on a mission to feed Alberta. He was well on his way to achieving that, yes he was, but the job killed him young, leaving Ma alone to raise us two. Man, we had nothing back then.

My eyes started to sting, my vision became a little misty, and my nose had that trickily feeling. I was bordering on tears. Being surrounded by that nothingness, allowed to think in silence, to prioritise and to make some sense of the shit in my head, while I had a few drinks, it had started a chain reaction I couldn’t stop. The memories became so fresh that the hurt was on my back the same as it had been all those years before. Christ, I missed my Dad.

I let the tears flow. They had to run. I didn’t have the strength to hold them back any longer. With my hands to my face I sat and emptied my soul into my palms, hoping the release of so much would make some space for the happier times to come.

‘... CHRIST, GIVE ME A BREAK ...’ I yelled into the emptiness around me.

Slowly, the ache receded, crawling back into the darkness under my ribs where it settled itself again. Big breaths were pulled into me, my own arms crossed over my front so I could hold me tight, my fingers gripping my jacket’s sides. That tide of emotion swept a warm hand over my cold, wet face, its fingers raked through my spiky hair, and then it slowly skipped down my heated spine.

The dropping of the sun reminded me that the temperature would soon be doing the same. As my senses came back to the real world I felt lighter for letting some of it out. A few deep breaths helped steady my hands, finishing my drink helped too.

I left that bench there, where Tee had left it months before, my glass and bottle too, and walked back to the cabin. I noticed it had started to snow again. My step speeded up as I walked back in the tracks I’d made getting there, the crunching noise loud across my frosted landscape.

Standing on the porch I looked back at the lake one last time, as the sun left the mountain’s summit. Night-time had reached my secluded coppice and all the sun lovers were calling it a day. Once the last of the light had gone the night movers would be out to play and, up there on the mountain, some of those suckers didn’t always play nice.

If I could have sat next to that open fire with anyone, at that moment in time, it would have been Max. We could sit for hours and talk shit about what would come next. He always said he wouldn’t get married, he said love was for suckers, and anyone who actually went through with it needed their stupid heads testing.

I laughed at that. He was sunk to the damn nuts when he met Tee. He dumped that tramp, Anna-Lee, when it finally got through that thick skull of his. Tee was all it took to make him see there was more. When he took the correct hand, and squeezed it tight, he suddenly found he had it all at his fingertips. Everything changed after that, everything changed for the better.

The only thing that stopped me staying at the cabin was my boys. It sent me home the next morning, my need to have and to hold growing by the second. I knew what it was like to grow up without a Daddy, my kids would never get the same treatment. They came first, before everything else, even before music.

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