Elegantnaya Buzova srazi.., p.1

Endgame, страница 1

 

Endgame
 

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Endgame


  Table of Contents

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Acknowledgements

  For all my friends — especially the crazy ones!

  “Punk rock was an earthquake.” — Joe Strummer

  Chapter 1

  Harvey Keill finished his lunch of oysters and Chivas Regal before moving on to the Krispy Kremes. He ate a cinnamon twist and pushed aside the unfinished box, licking the powdered sugar from his short, fat fingers. Next, he turned his attention to the morning’s correspondence. Along with the usual unwanted flyers and bills lay an oversized envelope. Harvey noted the return address with satisfaction as he slit it open, read the letter, and tossed it on the desk with the rest of the mail.

  He picked the envelope up again and shook it. A clear plastic CD case slid into his hands. No label, nothing to indicate what it might be. There was one more item inside, a photocopied newspaper clipping, which he unfolded carefully. As he did, a telltale sprinkle of white powder rained down on his green blotter. He tsked and brushed it in a little pile beside the doughnut box, wiping his hands on his pant legs.

  Harvey straightened his cravat and spread the clipping across his desk, noting the headline: Ladykillers Together Again? The question mark worried him. Hadn’t it all been arranged? No matter. That was probably just more media drama. In any case, Noise had been the perfect tabloid for the announcement. Everyone who was anyone in the music industry knew and respected it. And Harvey wanted everyone to know. After years of trying to engineer a get-together, it looked as though the impossible was finally set to unfold.

  He sat back and read:

  A coup for fans! You too can be part of the sensational Ladykillers reunion tour. (See contest details page 59.)

  Since the popular punk-rock group broke up in the late nineties, fans have been begging for a comeback. It looks as though their dreams may come true.

  Founding members Spike Anthrax and Max Hardcore are said to be brokering a reunion later this month on Shark Island, a private retreat off the coast of Washington state. Singer Anthrax, who once vowed never to record with the band again, seems to have reconsidered.

  Shark Island has been the subject of much speculation of late. Insider sources suggest that either Madonna or Bono recently purchased the exclusive retreat, though spokesmen for those artists deny the claims. Other sources say the state government had been using the island for secret experiments.

  Ladykillers recorded a number of worldwide hits in the late eighties and nineties, but the group broke up amid financial and personal squabbles. Manager Harvey Keill was accused of defrauding members of their earnings, although those charges were dropped before the case made it to court.

  Harvey sighed and sat back. After all these years, they persisted in making him look like a robber baron who preyed on innocent musicians. If only the media knew just how innocent the Ladykillers weren’t.

  They’d been solid gold for a while though, Harvey recalled, casting a glance around his office, with its rich leather upholstery and fine wood-grain furniture. Original artwork adorned the walls with some fancy names attached. A marble chess set sat in a far corner — a gift from Elvis Costello, though Costello never called anymore. Harvey seldom had visitors who played now. In fact, it was a while since anybody had been through those doors or bothered to contact him, apart from a few obsessed fans and a couple of diehard critics who still took the group’s legacy seriously.

  Though it was hard to admit, times had been lean since the band’s breakup. Still, Spike and Max hadn’t been his only claim to glory. Five framed gold records hung over his desk. None of them was by the Ladykillers. The world needed to remember that Harvey Keill had had other successes in his day.

  He turned back to the clipping:

  Pete Doghouse, the original Ladykillers bassist, is also confirmed for the lineup. Rumours are rife as to who will replace the group’s drummer, Kent Stabber, who died of a drug overdose in 1999. In its heyday, the band had a history of reputed drug use and was once implicated in the death of a fan who died of an ecstasy overdose at a CD release party.

  Speaking on behalf of the group, Keill said the band “are anxious to put those days behind them and prove that they are what they’ve always been — just a fun-loving bunch of guys who want nothing more than to please their fans and make great music.”

  And it looks as though that’s set to happen. Turn to page 59 for details on how to enter this exciting contest and your chance to sit in on a history-making reunion!

  Harvey reached for another doughnut. More of the white powder stained his blotter as he bit into the soft core. His thoughts drifted. Sure, he’d helped himself to a few dollars now and again. Who wouldn’t have, in his position? Nobody else could have made stars out of those talentless humanoid grunts. Where would they have been without him? Nowhere. Or worse, stuck in Spokane getting by on petty thefts. Or, more likely, they’d have graduated to robbing banks by now.

  Still, they knew better than to complain about Harvey Keill. They’d done worse in their time. Far worse. Fortunately for them, Harvey had been there to protect them from the consequences. But even after all that, they still turned on him in the end. Moronic ingrates. As if he’d ever let them get the better of him.

  He stood and went to the side table, pondering his chessboard. All it had taken to get the band to drop the charges against him was a little reminder about a certain past indiscretion. They’d run quickly enough with their tails between their legs. It hadn’t entirely stopped the grumbling, though. So it was time to do something about that once and for all. He’d already thought long and hard about what he would say and do when he got them all together again.

  Harvey picked up the white knight and moved it forward till it threatened the black king of his imaginary opponent. “Check,” he said to the empty room.

  He ambled over to his stereo and slipped the unlabelled CD into the player. After a few seconds, a twanging guitar started up. Harvey recognized the Ladykillers’ popular anthem, “The Twelve Days of Shagging.” Spike Anthrax’s nasal rasp erupted from the speakers: “On the first day of shagging, my true love gave to me a love song full of hate … “

  A love song full of hate. A grin spread across Harvey’s face. This was going to be a pleasure. It was all set to happen just as he’d planned. Yes, indeed — it was long past time to settle some old scores.

  Chapter 2

  Spike Anthrax looked out at the Washington coastline. A blue sky was dotted with sharp-edged clouds. Fall colours had settled in the trees on his right. On the left, the white-capped waves of the Pacific swept the shore. Some would have said it made a pretty scene. Sp
ike couldn’t care less. The train rattled along, making a soft lulling sound. The station was just an hour away.

  With his green-streaked hair and a worn dog collar around his neck, he looked like a page out of history. Punk-rock history. As he put his feet up on the recliner across from him, an old woman gave him a disapproving look.

  “Those poor seats don’t deserve to be treated like that,” she said.

  Spike raised his fists to his eyes, as if to hide his tears. He left them there long enough for her to see his tattoos: S-T-A-R on his right hand knuckles and R-A-T-S mirroring it on the left. He opened his eyes. She was still staring.

  “Boo-hoo. Poor seats,” he said with a sneer.

  He waited till she turned to look out the window then pulled the letter from his jacket pocket, unfolding it and smoothing the creases. After all these years, to hear from Harvey Keill. The unbelievable gall of the man! What was he after — forgiveness? If so, he’d never get it.

  Spike reread the letter carefully to catch the tone of the words:

  My Dear Elyot:

  I hope this finds you well and prospering after all these years.

  Spike snorted. Nobody else called him Elyot anymore. Not even his own mother. That was Harvey all over. Mr. Pompous Asshole. He probably still stuffed himself on doughnuts and wore those stupid cravats and pondered his chessboard like the upper-crust twat he’d always pretended to be. When he and the other band members met back in Spokane, they’d all been poor as shit. Not a pedigree or a penny between them. Not now, though. And certainly not Harvey. He’d become the rich pompous bastard he always pretended to be.

  Spike’s eye ran down the page.

  There’s been far too much water under the bridge. They say to let bygones be bygones, but I’ve always felt you were given short shrift back in the glory days of the Ladykillers.

  What a joke! Spike thought. Short shrift indeed. As far as Spike was concerned, he’d never been thoroughly compensated for all that music. And great fucking music it was, too!

  That’s what comes of bringing lawyers into these affairs, of course. I warned everyone about it then. Nevertheless, I feel it’s time to make amends and — dare I say — to make up? It’s time to get over what happened, Elyot. I’m sure you feel the same as me. (You always were the sensible one.)

  As you can see, I’ve arranged a little get-together for the band — a reunion, if you like. It’s time to take advantage of the group’s legendary name. (I’ve heard rumours you’ll be inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame next year if the votes are there. Just between us, I fully intend to make that happen if I have to pay for the votes myself, but more on that later.)

  Spike stopped to ponder this. The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. That would cap things off nicely. And about fucking time, too. Nobody respected genius anymore. It was time to prove that Spike Anthrax was no has-been. He’d show them all who was still the king.

  Yes — I can hear you saying it’s time for the rewards. And maybe more, if you’d let me compensate you personally. Informally, of course. A little something between friends. I can’t prejudice myself in the eyes of the law. (This will have to stay between us, is what I’m saying.)

  When the letter arrived, Spike wondered if Harvey really expected to be taken seriously. It smelled like another publicity stunt. God knows he’d been good at engineering them. Publicity stunts and broken promises — that was Harvey’s style. But the bastard lived in high style, if the rumours were to be believed, so if Harvey was offering to pay him something on the side … well then, by god, he’d be taken seriously. Spike Anthrax would come around, as requested, to receive his just deserts. There’ d be no stopping him.

  Dare I say it’s time to finish that last album? Endgame smacked of genius, Elyot. You knew it. I knew it. We all knew it. I can’t tell you how pained I was when you decided not to finish it, though I understand your reasoning. But it still can stand as a testament to your greatness, if you’re willing.

  If you agree it’s time, then join me with Max and Pete, plus a few others at a little retreat off the coast of Seattle. I’ll keep the name of our special patron a secret till I get there. Everything’s arranged. Just follow the instructions at the end of this letter. We’ll all be there. Don’t disappoint us, Elyot, old pal.

  For the old times. For fame and glory. For the Ladykillers!

  Yours ever,

  Harvey

  Spike stopped to consider. Maybe Harvey was right — it was time to let bygones be bygones. If there was anything left to share between the remaining band members, hadn’t they better do it while they could? Kent was already gone. Who’d be next? Still, he couldn’t believe Max Hardcore would agree to a reunion. The bastard hated everyone’s guts. That son of a bitch was the ultimate punk-rock bad guy. Max used to laugh at all those bands that got back together for lucre.

  Die young and keep a pretty corpse. Piss in the face of life. That was what they’d all agreed on back then. Better to go out in one great, pestiferous bang than rot away in some rosy-hued pasture looking back on your past glories.

  But back then they’d been on top of the game. Now … now was different. None of them had expected to live this long. None of them thought they’d be around to contemplate what it meant to be a rock ’n’ roll legend without a recording contract at fifty. What good was fame? You couldn’t eat it or pay your bloody mortgage with it. The most it ever did was get you laid any time you wanted, which had been plenty back then. Now was another story, though. Now, your back did you in half the time when exhaustion didn’t drive you to bed before ten o’clock at night.

  Some fucking legend.

  The clipping had clinched it for Spike Anthrax, a.k.a. Elyot Jones. There, in black and white, was an article from Noise, the best damn music magazine ever. Above it was a picture of the band in their prime. So what if that shit-heap of a tabloid had trashed the group in its heyday, making them out to be derivative, untalented losers? They’d come round at last. No such thing as bad press, Harvey always said. Besides, the controversy fuelled by the lousy reviews helped propel more than one album up the charts. The fans had been crazy for them even when the critics sharpened their knives on them. But this piece — Ladykillers Together Again? — had the whiff of success. So Harvey was at it once more, stirring the flames. Who said the glory days were over?

  Yes, Spike told himself, this is too good to pass up. And about fucking time. You could kick a genius like Spike Anthrax in the teeth — lots of people had — but you can’t keep him down forever.

  It still pained him when he thought about the band and all the fun they’d had. All the dirty good times they’d shared. It was time to live a little again and, yes, to let bygones be bygones. Once he’d settled a few scores, of course.

  Spike glanced up. The old bitch had crawled off to bother someone else in another part of the coach. Piss on her. He looked out the window. They’d passed Seattle a while ago. Soon, he’d be on a boat bound for Shark Island and the return of everything he had missed all these years. Special patron, huh? He’d heard the rumours: Madonna, everyone said. Her music was shite, but she had clout by the bucketful.

  Good old Harvey.

  Still, before he agreed to anything — even to finishing Endgame — Harvey Keill was going to hear what Spike Anthrax had to say on the subject of unpaid royalties and the neglected genius of punk-rock superstars.

  Chapter 3

  The train rounded a corner as the whistle blew overhead in a high-pitched whine. Verna Temple checked her makeup in the compact mirror. She was nearing forty, but most people took her for a decade younger. She made a pert moue, pouting at her reflection as she licked a spot of lipstick off a tooth. Those lips were something to behold. Full and red, as if they’d been stung by bees into a plump, round smoothness. Two quick injections and voila! Perfect for life. She smoothed a platinum lock across her brow. It was funny how she
d become such an old-fashioned sort of girl. Not at all what anyone would have predicted.

  She picked up the magazine in her lap and turned the pages: Taylor Swift, William and Kate, more Taylor Swift. Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, George Clooney, and One Direction. She knew them all. The faces changed, but the news was the same: romance, marriage, betrayals, drug abuse, babies, divorce. A column called “Toxic Love” caught her interest briefly — she was an old hand at that — and on the next page an ad for Sexi-Nitee. All the usual trash glittering at the bottom of the barrel.

  The waters of Puget Sound twinkled up ahead. Verna watched the craggy hills approach. She hadn’t been to the west coast since she was a child, on one of those endless car trips with her parents and her younger brother. The experience hadn’t been so great. Nor were the memories. She had Bill and Audrey to thank for that, of course. It had turned out to be another one of their drinking and arguing binges. Not much as parents went, that’s for sure. Sometimes she wondered how they were — or if they were even still alive. But these days she wondered less and less about them. Her brother had been a total shit, of course. He always was, but you don’t speak ill of the dead, Verna reminded herself.

  The past was past. And what you couldn’t change, you put behind you. That was another thing Verna knew. She’d done plenty of putting behind her in her time. What you didn’t like or couldn’t live with, you could reinvent. That was her credo. From that poor, homely creature she’d once been had come the ultimate femme fatale: Marilyn Redux. All the right curves and moves.

  Since leaving home, her life had been a balancing act of sobering fact and startling fantasy, of harsh truths and the little white lies she told to make it through the day. She couldn’t afford a slip, not even in the things others took for granted: the stories about her mother and father, about her brother, even her work history. She rehearsed them carefully until she was exactly what and who she claimed. No more and no less. No ripple, no shimmer of doubt to mar the surface of the image she had so carefully built up all these years. If anyone looked for the person she’d once been, they would never find her. Those days were long gone. With any luck, the memories would be better on this trip.

 
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