Love Him Madly...
As the crowds shifted and parted again, carrying them to the edge of the empty dancefloor, Rennie’s eye was caught by someone sitting alone at one of the little tables near the stage. He looked extremely familiar, though she couldn’t immediately place him: very tall, thick straight streaky blond hair, great hair, all the way down to strong-looking shoulders, neatly trimmed full beard. Quiet clothes, most unrockstar-like: cocoa suede shirt, black jeans, Frye boots; no flashy Navajo jewelry or anything, just a handmade leather cuff carrying a simple watch and a small pendant visible in the open neck of his shirt. And really handsome. As he became aware of her gaze, he inclined his head gravely and lifted a glass in salute.
“Praxie, who’s that, do we know him, do we want to know him?”
Prax shook the feathers out of her eyes and looked. “Oooh, it’s Turk Wayland, idiot girl! I haven’t seen him in ages, his hair’s gotten so long, and the beard, come on, let’s go sit with him.”
“What on earth is he doing here? Didn’t he dump Tansy like five minutes after she dumped Bruno for him at Monterey, before Lionheart went out on that big tour? Come to think of it, we never even saw them together much. They’re not back together?”
“Yes he did, and no they absolutely are not, she’s with Bruno again, you know that. He’s probably just here to be gallantly supportive—he is a Brit, that whole perfect-gentleman trip. And I never could figure it out in the first place, Turk and Tanze: if she weighed twice what she does, his I. Q. would still be the higher number, and they both said it wasn’t the sex so who the hell knows. He’s not with anybody now that I’ve heard about though of course he could be who’d let something like that go to waste TURK!”
They had reached his table, and Turk Wayland was rising courteously to his feet to greet them. Rennie couldn’t believe she hadn’t recognized him, though, as Prax had said, the hair was much longer than when they had last seen him, and the beard didn’t help. Didn’t help the recognition factor, that is; the gorgeousness factor, now that it helped a lot. Not that he had needed any help there either: he was quite ridiculously good-looking clean-shaven. Perhaps his brief flutter with Tansy had aged him; he looked more serious than he had at Monterey. Or maybe that too was the beard: he was only a couple of years older than Prax and Rennie.
He was one of the most sublimely talented of rock princes—a guitar god of the highest order, just about as famous as it was possible to be. But he’d always stood apart from his peers, held himself deliberately aloof, even, resulting in a reputation unique in the rockerverse. He rarely drank, seldom did drugs, never acted out in public, never got busted—if he hadn’t been so completely cool he’d be totally square—and he possessed an intelligence that in his profession was equaled by few. The rock star that never was on land or sea. Except, of course, he was.
All of which meant that he was pursued by groupies as a rock Holy Grail, or maybe Unholy: legend had it that the austere Englishman never indulged himself with groupies as his colleagues did, so scoring him would really be a coup de fucque, though, Turk being so unlike other rockers, the groupie girls didn’t understand him at all, and the fact that he refused to sleep around their ranks confused and scared them.
Which only added to his mystique. So no groupies; but by all accounts he never seemed short of female companionship: models, actresses, lady rockers like Tansy.
As for his music cred, that was beyond legend. Classically trained at the Royal Academy of Music, he had been tossed out on his ear for incorrigible rock and rolling, as he amusingly recounted in interviews. It didn’t matter: he had already found gainful employment as the founder, leader and trail-blazing lead guitarist of the blues-rock band Lionheart.
Since his teenage days with British blues outfits he’d been nicknamed Slider, for his bottleneck prowess and the flash and filigree of the sustain-fueled technique that had made him a star. Now he was a superstar, also dating from Monterey, when Lionheart had wiped the floor with everybody but Joplin and Hendrix—and those two had watched and listened with their eyes on sticks and their jaws on their knees.
His real name and history were as yet not in the public’s domain, or even known among his bandmates and friends; for all intents and purposes, ‘Turk Wayland’ was it. No antecedents, little backstory: to hear him tell it, or not tell it, he’d sprung fully formed and Stratocaster in hand from the brow of Dionysus, who if anyone was the rock god he was. And really when you thought about it, that was all anybody needed to know.
“Praxedes, how nice to see you, it’s been much too long…” Upper-class English accent, deep and pleasant baritone voice. He took Prax’s hands and leaned over the table to kiss her on both cheeks, then cut his glance sideways. “And I know very well who this lady is—”
Rennie looked up—way up, he had to be at least six foot three to her five-six, strange she hadn’t remembered how tall he was—to meet a pair of alarmingly aware and intelligent cobalt-colored eyes, strange she hadn’t noticed before how intelligent…
Oh Holy Mother of God! He’s SMART! There’s nothing walking this planet since the dinosaurs went boom that’s more dangerous than a rock star with a brain…why do I have the feeling this guy is going to be big, big trouble?
They did the double-cheek Eurokiss, murmured mutual courtesies—we met briefly at Monterey you wouldn’t remember, oh but I do, at the hotel Saturday night and then we all had breakfast at that diner on Sunday morning right before we heard about the last murder, love your work, love your work, heard so much about you from Tansy, me too also from Tansy, what are you doing in L.A., oh I live here now, what a coincidence so do I. Prax sat them all down and waved a waiter over with drinks, and she and Turk immediately dived into shoptalk, Rennie content just to listen.
Lionheart had a huge chart-topping album out at the moment, Clarity Road, their first for Centaur Records, who had snapped them up at Monterey and rush-released the LP. But when Turk mentioned their next, now under construction, Rennie couldn’t keep the eyeroll under control.
“You’re calling it COCKCHAFER? For the love of God, Montresor! They’ll never let you get away with it—the suits at the label.”
Turk smiled straight at her—not the usual calculated-to-a-millimeter rock-star-bad-boy-guaranteed-to-make-you-curl-your-toes-and-drop-your-knickers smile, but the real one, the slow warm one that reaches the eyes and says Right, you pass the test, you’re obviously a person, maybe we can talk after all—and Rennie almost fainted.
Dear God, you could raise crops in those dimples… Well, take your best shot, guitar stud, but I’m telling you, you won’t land a glove on me! I’ve been prettyboyed by pros, so bring it on!
“Of course they won’t,” he agreed, dropping his voice another octave, although that really didn’t seem physically possible. “Especially our dear label president, Freddy Bellasca. Ah, I see you’re acquainted… Well, it’s just strategy, the title. You toss out something outrageous that you know you haven’t a hope in hell of getting approved; then when you’re shot down, you cunningly suggest as a ‘compromise’ whatever it was you really wanted in the first place and now stand a far better chance of getting.”
“A clever ploy.”
“You’d be surprised how often people fall for it. But it’s not what it sounds like, you know—‘cockchafer’. Means a great huge—bug. Giant grasshopper, cicada, sort of thing. Makes a disproportionately big noise when it flies. It seemed to fit us. Oh, and I too am an Edgar Allan Poe fan, by the way.”
Ohhhkay, gloves coming off now… Rennie smiled and stirred her drink with the tip of one index finger, glancing up at Turk; then, still holding his gaze, she put the finger in her mouth and slowly drew it out again, lips pouting kissily around it, soft inner lower lip turned out, fingertip lingering in one final flick. They’d never had a serious verbal sparring session before; but gauntlets had clearly been flung, and now all that seemed about to change.
“I think Road is maybe the best album I’ve ever heard in my life,” she said then, voice pitched deliberately low, slow and challenging.
Turk looked down, then up, then away, and his face both brightened and colored.
Oh my paws and whiskers, he’s SHY, I don’t believe it, this could be fuuuuuun…
“Exactly what do you admire so much about it?” he asked, swinging his gaze back to clang across hers like a naked sword, though there was a glint of amusement in there too. “I’m not fishing for compliments—I’d just like to know what people actually mean when they say something like that. We hear that sort of thing so often, I thought I’d ask. Now that I have the chance.”
So much for shy. Obviously an opponent worthy of her steel—she liked that so much in a man. Though she didn’t quite cackle and rub her hands together, Rennie settled down with something like enthusiasm to a song-by-song dissection of the groundbreaking, earthshaking Clarity Road, which had released in December and was already being hailed as one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time and space.
With equal enthusiasm, Turk fluently disputed her every word, taking the opposite viewpoint to whatever she said purely for the pleasure of arguing with her. Prax just sat there, looking back and forth like a Wimbledon spectator as the arcane musicological points—they were hurling genre influences at each other like javelins, everything from medieval plainsong to Delta blues—were served, returned, lobbed, volleyed and scored, a knowing grin overspreading her face.
After awhile, Rennie noticed that some people across the room were waving Prax to come over and Prax was showing signs of wanting to join them. She grabbed her friend’s arm and spoke in an urgent mutter, while Turk courteously excused himself and left the table to fetch more drinks.
“Praxie, don’t leave me, whatever will I talk to him about?”
“Sweetness, he’s flirting with you like a Southern belle! He’s doing everything but bat his eyelashes and I’m sure he’ll do even that if he has to, yes, and hasn’t he got long ones too, his eyelashes, I mean. If you were both in the third grade your pigtails would be in the inkwell by now. And we all know what that means. Two smart people being intellectual all over each other’s ass when even a blind albino cavetrout can see that each other’s ass is all they’re thinking about—man, the unresolved sexual tension is killing me here…”
“I’ll get you some brandy and a fan, shall I?” said Rennie acidly. “Before you swoon clean away?”
Prax laughed. “You’re not exactly pushing up the gain on subtlety yourself, O Queen of Nuance! That cute little one-finger exercise—I can’t believe you actually did that, you’ve been having sex with him ever since you sat down… Put us all out of your misery, will you? Just go fuck his brains out and get it over with. No? Well, okay, but believe me, he’s dying to talk to you without me around—and, indeed, to fuck your brains out. Mark my words.”
“You talk to people for a living, remember? Best not too much about Tansy, obviously—though do tell him how sweet and chivalrous you think he is to come cheer her on tonight even though he dumped her. Well, maybe not that dumping bit. Oh, wait, I just remembered, he’s into all that English history crap you like, talk to him about that. Yes, that’s it.”
Heartlessly, Prax went off to join her friends, and Rennie glared narrow-eyed after her, thinking daggers. Not turning, but obviously feeling the stings, Prax waved backward over her shoulder, and Rennie laughed.
Turk returned with two large gin and tonics, and sat down beside her a lot closer than he had when Prax was with them, in fact so close that their thighs were touching hip to knee under the tiny table. Oh, that old trick…
Rennie Stride had seen very little of Turk Wayland since Monterey. She certainly hadn’t encountered him enough to form an opinion—other than the standard critic assessment of his incredible talent and the standard chick assessment of his equally incredible looks—so she didn’t have sufficient data to effectively make one now.
But if he was flirting, and it sure seemed that Prax was right about that—and hmm, how had he known to bring back only two drinks?—it was on some higher plane or deeper level that wasn’t flirting at all. Then again, probably every intelligent woman who had ever done anything so abysmally stupid as fall for a rock star—and you’d be surprised how many there were—had thought the same thing.
Turk sipped at his g&t and set it down again, and then he put his arm around the back of her chair, where she felt the light contact right through his suede sleeve, heating up her bare shoulders like an electrified boa.
“I hesitate even to mention it,” he said then, “as I understand from Prax and Tansy both that you’re a bit sensitive on the topic, and who could blame you, but I must admit I’m curious. You certainly seem to have a flair for—”
“Murder?” Rennie’s smile was cool, but her green gaze was downright frosty; she’d been wondering how long it would be before that came up. It always did. “Yes, it does seem to happen a lot in my vicinity. That was how Praxie and I became friends: she was accused of three, count ’em, three, murders up in San Francisco. Well, actually formally busted on only two, but she was on the scene for three, and eyebrows were raised… Not to mention the ones I was around for at the Avalon Ballroom and Winterland and the Matrix and the Be-In in Golden Gate Park. Plus the murders at Monterey—but you were there too, you must remember those.”
“I do indeed. But as I recall, it was you who proved that Prax didn’t do those first San Francisco ones.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t prove who did, not until he tried to kill me. Tansy helped me out a lot, oddly enough. She can tell you all about it.”
Ah, the classic chick fishing expedition: practically dare the guy to talk about the ex, to find out if she’s really the ex or still just the pre-ex…
But Turk shook his head. “Tansy and I aren’t together. Not since last summer. I’d have thought she’d told you? She and Bruno Harvey have been back on again for months—he loves her so much, and it was great for Turnstone when they were a couple. Intraband romance doesn’t usually work, too many power struggles, but for those two it somehow did. Now that she’s solo, who knows? Maybe it’s better for them to keep their professional and personal lives separate. At any rate, after we broke up, I went home to England for a while; when I came back my band went out in support of the new album, and we just came off the road two weeks ago. I haven’t even seen her in all that time.”
Well, that’s something. And yes, she did tell me… Last June at Monterey, Tansy Belladonna had taken one look at Turk Wayland and listened to him play eight bars and had dumped Bruno for him on the spot, though she and Bruno had remained close friends and good bandfellows. But Turk and Tansy hadn’t lasted: by the end of July they were over; he’d ditched her, Tansy had said cheerfully, and he had never uttered a public word about it.
And then, amazingly, in a move which nobody from one end of rock to the other understood, just around Halloween, with their first album topping the charts, Tansy herself had ditched Turnstone, in favor of this new assemblage, which she’d insisted on calling Moonfyre, oblivious to the thunder of eyes rolling from the Sunset Strip to Carnaby Street. And in a few minutes now, Moonfyre would be making their L.A. debut—though the rock-insider morning line had been stash your bread and wait for the album, studio tricks are the only thing that can save this.
“No wonder Praxie and I haven’t seen you around. Very decent of you to come tonight, then.” Rennie looked sidelong at him, suddenly embarrassed. “I’m sorry, that came out really snotty. I meant it honestly.”
Turk smiled again. “We’re still friends. She’d do the same for me.”
“We’re going backstage after the set,” offered Rennie. “Come with us. Just to say hello. I’m sure Tanze would love it if you dropped in.”
He took another, longer, hit on his drink. “Let’s see how the night goes first.”
Rennie, who like most women was a past master at interpreting cryptic guyspeak, recognized that Turk had just spoken from that mysterious point of masculine entrenchment where the male mind was made up and further female prodding would only annoy, and she was an experienced enough campaigner to know when to break off.
Mission accomplished, anyway…
She changed the subject by brute force. “Prax tells me you’re really into English history. That would be because you’re historically English?”
Turk’s countenance kept its pleasant expression, but his eyes went the color of gun-blued steel, and he looked at her from under the blond bangs like an antelope checking out a waterhole for lurking leopards. He seemed to have gone on sudden red alert, though she couldn’t imagine why; his undeniable Englishness seemed a safe enough topic…
“Yes, I expect it would,” he said levelly, sounding even more Brit than he had before. “Historically or otherwise. And enthusiastic fans make a good deal more of it than I do, if you take my meaning.”
Rennie nodded comprehension; for enthusiastic, read obsessed. “That’s how it’s getting to be in rock. You can’t have secrets or a private life anymore, no matter how hard you try.”
This time he visibly struggled to keep his smile from becoming a grin, though whatever the inside joke was, he wasn’t sharing.
“Well, I like to think I’ve managed so far. And when you and I are married we’ll keep it that way.”
They both froze, aghast, neither having the faintest clue as to where that had come from, or why. Rennie recovered first.
“Okay, if you insist, but won’t it be a lot less complicated if we just fuck?”
Turk burst out laughing, and the moment was saved. He had no idea why he’d said that. It had just popped out of his mouth, probably by way of his crotch with no brain participation whatsoever. But whatever he had been going to say next was lost, as a faint backstage commotion caught their attention. Nothing that would alarm anyone sitting farther away than they were, though at the next table Chris Sakerhawk looked up curiously. But to Rennie’s experienced ear, there was something familiar about the tone of the subdued turmoil, something horribly familiar…something just horrible…
Like Rikki-tikki-tavi, like any good reporter, Rennie’s motto was ‘Run and find out’. She never hesitated, but with Turk right behind her, dashed straight through the curtain. The backstage space was full of crew and roadies and equipment, as usual for half an hour before a show, perhaps a little fuller than usual. On the far side was the open staircase that led up to the dressing rooms and offices in the loft above the stage. But Rennie and Turk both stopped, well, dead in their tracks, brought up short by the almost incomprehensible scene that met their eyes....