"You know what, DICK? Fuck you!"
Rich glared. "At least you remember how to swear!"
"You canít give me a fucking break to-"
"Why should I?! Youíre recording on your own again, youíre getting private interviews without us, youíre-"
"Who the fuck told you I was recording?"
"Chase told me you come into the studio alone twice a week!"
"So what? I go in there to mess around, clear my head. I canít-"
"Then whyís it such a big secret when you go?" Jay asked.
"So why didnít-"
"Itís the same shit he was doing when Paul was pulling his strings!" Rich shouted.
"Yeah, thatís right."
Stacee scowled at Clash, clenched his fists, and fought against ripping down the nearest thing and smashing it. "Paulís out of my life now, so why donít you guys stop fucking throwing him in my face?!"
"Fine, you donít want to talk about Paul?" Rich snapped. "How about those little kids youíve been dragging along? What about-"
"You didnít have shit to say when I invited them to the first tour!" Stacee shouted, jabbing a finger at Rich. "Now you got something to say?"
"They make you soft," Clash said. "You donít have an edge anymore, you-"
"So you donít-"
"Itís not them," Jay said. "Heís scared to show that edge to his kid!"
Stacee rounded on Jay. "You leave my fucking daughter out of this!" he screamed.
"Touched a nerve," Rich said under his breath.
Stacee lost it. He grabbed the lamp and slammed it against the end table, smashing it to bits. "You wanna see fucking edge?? KEEP PUSHING ME!"
"Nobodyís fucking scared of you, Stace," Rich said. "You are a sellout, you know that? Just like that crackpot said you were!"
"Are you fucking serious? You think itís funny that I got that death threat, Richard? Did you really throw that at me?"
Rich had the decency to look the tiniest bit sheepish for a second, before stubbornly fixing his face back into its scowl. "Itís just hot air, anyway, so-"
"Hey, fuck you, man! That shitÖ" Stacee glared at him, vibrating with rage. Then, suddenly, it just melted away. His shoulders went slack, and he dropped the jagged half of the lamp to the floor. He couldnít hold onto the rage anymore. He just felt hurt and exhausted.
"You know, you fucks put it on me when we broke up before," he said, his voice sounding as drained of life as his body felt. "But this shit is nothing new. You guys gang up on me, and you say whatever shit you want to say behind closed doors, and when I say something out loud you play the fucking victims. You want to be the one who gets interviewed? Fine. When he comes by, you can have him. Use one of Paulís lines, tell him Iím tripped out and I forgot, whatever. I donít give a fuck anymore."
Stacee turned away, snatched up his hat, his guitar case and his keys, and walked out of the room.
No one called after him. Not that he expected them to, but it still stung.
Stacee slung the guitar over his shoulder and left the hotel. He made it to his bike without being stopped, and rode away.
He wasnít too surprised when he ended up on The Strip. Whenever he was anywhere near this city and he rode with no destination in mind, he ended up here, where heíd gotten his start. He rode past Justiceís place. He wouldnít have minded a nice dance, maybe a little action later. But he couldnít do that stuff anymore, not without taking Constance with him. She didnít mind what he did where she could see, but playtime without her got under her skin, so heíd cut it out. The last thing he wanted was headlines about himself stepping out to get back to her. Especially when he was pretty sure that reporter was going to get an ear full of how megalomaniac Stacee Jaxx was sticking it to his band again.
Stacee pulled up at the Bourbon Room and left his bike with the guy at the side door. "Hold onto her for me, Ace."
"Sure, Stacee." The guy was a long-time staffer. "Iíll let the boss know youíre here."
Stacee nodded his thanks, and Ace pulled out his walkie-talkie. By the time he reached the door, Lonny was there holding it open for him. "Hey, man."
Lonny looked behind him. "Hey, whereís Hey Man?"
"Home with Constance. Heís got the flu, sheís taking care of him."
"Ohhh, Iím sorry." He patted Stacee on the shoulder.
"Me, too." He didnít bother to tell Lonny how sorry he was. A lot of people laughed at him about it, but Hey Man was his best and most loyal friend. It was rough being without him, especially now.
"Dennisíll be back here in two shakes," Lonny said. "Like to sit in the dressing room, or-"
"Nah, Iím going to the bar."
"Sure, Stacee. The other guys coming?"
Lonny frowned for a second, but then shrugged it off. "Címon, Iíll get you a spot."
Lonny led him to the main floor, then guided him through the throng, deterring starry-eyed fans who caught a glimpse of him. "Heís not in the mood tonight! Fuck off, wankers! No offense!"
Within moments, Stacee was seated at the bar, with a full bottle of Jack in front of him. Lonny offered to take his guitar to his dressing room, and Stacee agreed. With a pat on the back, Lonny told him his bottle was on the house and went off to find Dennis. Stacee was a little worried that people would crowd him once Lonny left, but it didnít happen. People smiled at him and put up the Devilís Horns, but they didnít pester him, and he was left to drink his bottle and listen to the music in peace.
Dennis came to say hello, and they talked for a few minutes about married life. (Of course, Stacee had been invited to Dennis and Lonnyís wedding, which was a blast, and the two of them were still going strong.) Then, Stacee thought Dennis was about to get serious, the way he leaned in - maybe ask about whatever Lonny had seen in his mood. But there was a resounding crash from across the floor, and Dennis looked over with a scowl. "What the fuckís going on over there?! Sorry, man."
Stacee just smiled and waved him on. He was relieved, he didnít want to talk about shit right now. He took another swig of his drink, and watched the people around him, just taking things in, and not thinking too hard. Before long, he noticed an anomaly in the crowd. The teens and twenty-somethings with their wild hair and wilder clothes, and the aging rockers (like Stacee) with their rough faces, drunk, sloppy and happy, danced and jostled each other as usual.
But in their midst, interrupting their wild frivolity for a few seconds at a time, was a tall, clean-faced, boring-haired, complete and utter square. Stacee had never seen a guy more square in his whole life. He was a big guy, probably had some muscles under the cheap brown suit. He had big black-framed glasses, and his hair, which was long considering how square he was, but way too short for him to fit in at the Bourbon Room, was slicked down and forced into obedience by who knew how much gel. People gawked at him while he moved clumsily through the crowd, but nobody bothered him. He caught sight of Stacee, and a bright, goofball of a smile lit his face. He pushed his glasses up from the middle and walked more purposefully toward Stacee.
Great. Fucking press guy. Stacee sighed and turned away, taking a long pull from his now half-empty bottle. Before long, he could feel the dude hovering over him. He sighed again and turned around. "Mr. Jaxx? Iím Clark Kent from the Daily Planet. We were supposed to-"
"Yeah, yeah." Stacee tapped the guy on the stool next to him. "You mind?" he asked, jerking his thumb toward Clark Kent.
The kid looked up at Kent, and hopped out of his seat. "No problem, Stacee." He took Staceeís hand in a firm shake. "I LOVE you, man!!!"
Stacee smiled and the kid let him go and edged out of Kentís way. "Take a seat."
Kent sat down and smiled almost as brightly as the kid had. He muttered something, but Lonny started talking into the mic at the same time. Stacee stared at Kent. "What?"
"Glad I found you!" he yelled. He said something else, but it was drowned out by cheers from the crowd.
Stacee shook his head. He dropped down off the stool and beckoned to the reporter. Without waiting for a response, he turned away and made his way back to the dressing rooms. Security let him by, and he glanced back to see Kent following hard on his heels. "Heís with me, Beau," Stacee said, before the security guard stopped him.
Stacee went to his favorite dressing room, plopped down on his favorite couch and took another swig of his drink. He watched Kent through half-lidded eyes. The young man shut the door and came to stand nervously near the arm chair. Stacee waved at him and the man sat down. "Thanks, Mr. Jaxx."
"Sure, thank you. You can call me Clark." He grinned again. Stacee sighed and stared at him. "UmÖ I know we were supposed to meet at your hotel, but the rest of the band said you were out for the night."
Clark cleared his throat. "Hope you donít mind me tracking you down here."
Stacee shrugged. "Thought youíd be taking notes on how Iím breaking up the band again."
"You guys are breaking up?! They never said-"
"They didnít?" Stacee felt a tiny glimmer of hope start to brighten up his insides, but he squelched it. They were fuckers. If they felt bad about tonight, then good. Fuck them, either way. "Forget it, then," he said aloud.
"Okay, whatever you say." Clark pulled out a notepad and a pen. "I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me tonight," he said. "Thereís a couple things Iíd like to ask about, umÖ HmmmÖ" He pushed his glasses up again and looked thoughtfully at his notebook. "Well, I was going to ask a bunch of questions about how it felt to get back with the band, butÖ"
"Huh?" he looked up.
"Youíre right, I donít feel like talking about that shit tonight."
Clark smiled, and looked down at his notes. "Well, I know our readers are really interested in the threats you received. I read that the police didnít take them seriously, is that true?"
"Yeah," Stacee said. "Didnít qualify as a death threat to them."
Clarkís eyebrows rose. "No? But you were certain."
"Yeah." He looked around the room, and saw his guitar case leaning against the bar. "Do me a favor, bring my guitar over here will you?"
Clark looked in the direction of Staceeís gaze and nodded. He got the guitar case and brought it to Stacee. While Clark grabbed his notepad again, Stacee opened up the case and pulled out the book. He didnít really know why he kept it with him. It made him feel like shit, but he kept it with him just the same. Maybe in case something happened, so it would be a reminder to the fucking fuzz that heíd been right.
He tossed it onto the table. "Take a look."
Clark looked down at the book - Catcher in the Rye, and picked it up carefully. He turned it to the back side, then opened up the front and saw the note inside. Stacee remembered the messy scrawl in red, angry letters, pressed down hard digging into the next few pages of the book. "Sellout" was all it said. Clark took a deep breath and blew it out through puffed cheeks. "They didnít see this as a threat?"
"Nope. Said I was reading too much into it. Dramatic Rock star. Trying to get extra publicity. You name it. But thereís not a lot of rockers my age who could see it as anything else."
"Yeah, I agree with you."
"I donít mind being compared to John Lennon," Stacee said. "But not like that, man."
Clark nodded and sighed, putting the book back on the table. "Iím sorry this happened to you. Do you plan to do anything else? Private investigator maybe? File a complaint against the police?"
"Nah, Iím not gonna do that. You donít hassle the fuzz when you do the shit I do. Or that I used to do. Thatís fuckiní suicide." He shook his head and took another long swig from his bottle. He looked into the amber liquid and sighed. "Can you keep a secret, Clark Kent from the Daily Planet?"
"Sure. Try me."
Stacee looked at the book and then up at Clark. "That shit scares me."
"I donít blame you."
"Two reasons," he said. "About two years ago, I wouldnít have cared if I died. I was alone. Just a wolf doing whatever. Career stalled, life all fucked up. Now, Iím married to this great chick. Got a beautiful little daughter. Got my friends back, sort of. Got my music back, thatís the best part. Iím writing shit again. Iím not ready to fucking die, man. Not over some dumb shit." Clark nodded. "Second reason?" His eyes fell on the book again. "Iím afraid that fuckerís right."
"My stage show is clean and innocent now," he said. "I used to get up there and lay it down. Have chicks creaming their pants, you know? Every guy in the audience wanted to BE me. Lately itís a little tame. I decided to try something new, keep my clothes on, let the other guys share the spotlight and all that. The crowds still love it, but I donít feel the same fire like I used to. Now I got those fuckers in the press saying Iím losing myself or Iím getting too old for the game. I got the band calling me a sellout, too, accusing me of being pussy-whipped or getting soft because of Stephie. But when I performed like I felt, I got death threats then, too. But never anything like that," he said, pointing at the book. "Thatís some dirty shit right there." He shook his head. "Itís a fucked up world, Clark. Damned if you do, damned if you donít."
Clark nodded and let out a little sigh. "I know reporters arenít paid to give opinions," he said. "But I donít think trying something new makes you a sellout. You tried it, and it didnít feel right to you. Doesnít mean you canít go back to the way you did it when it felt good. Thereís no law against changing your mind."
"Yeah. I just donít want to change back just because Iím caving to someone else. Thatís not why I changed in the first place."
He nodded again. "Sounds to me like youíd be doing it for you though. You did say-". Clark froze, mid-sentence, and sat up straight. Then, he turned his head toward the door and looked like he was listening for something.
"What?" Stacee asked, looking toward the door.
Clark listened for a moment more, then turned to Stacee, eyes wide. "Get down!"
Stacee gasped, alarmed by Clarkís urgency, and he dropped down off the couch and crouched behind the trunk. A second later the door burst open, and Stacee suddenly felt Clark crouching over him. The next second, there was a barrage of shots - so fast they had to be from a machine gun. He heard glass shattering and he felt Clarkís body jerking - felt the jolts through his own body as the rain of bullets hit the other man. After a few seconds more, it was over.
Stacee was frozen, mind and body shocked by what had happened. He felt sure the kid was dead on top of him. But a second later, he felt the kidís hand on his arm. "Stay still." The words were so soft he barely heard them, but he stayed still and waited. There were footsteps - sounded like one person. There was a triumphant laugh, then footsteps running away.
Clark sat up quickly - way too quickly for somebody whoíd just been shot up - and Stacee looked at him in awe. His cheap brown jacket was full of holes, but there was no blood anywhere. "WhatÖ w-what the f-fuck?"
Clark turned to him. His face was a little flushed, and his glasses were askew, but there was no other evidence that heíd just taken about forty rapid-fire bullets. "Can you keep a secret, Stacee?"
Stacee swallowed and nodded. "Try me."
Clark lifted a hand and undid the top three buttons on his shirt. He pulled the shirt back with both hands, revealing a bright blue "undershirt" and a hint of the red and yellow crest that Stacee knew so well.
Stacee fell back against the couch and stared up at the young manís face in amazement. Then, Clark pulled off the glasses, and Stacee gasped. His eyes went from normal, pale, average blue to a vivid, vibrant, shining blue that couldnít be anything but alien. There was no hint of the goofy smile, or the nerdy, squarer-than-square kid behind the thick glasses. There was nothing left of the over-sized nerd stumbling across the dance floor. This man was a giant. A legend. A hero. "Holy s-shit!"
Clar-Ö Shit. Superman smiled at him. "Can you keep a secret?" he asked again. Stacee nodded. "Thank you." Superman glanced toward the door, then grabbed a handful of slugs from the floor. "Get down for a sec." Stacee ducked, and Superman flung his arm out in a wide arc. The bullets sang through the air and hit the walls and the couch with the same force as if theyíd come through a gun.
"FUCK," Stacee hissed.
"I have to go before he gets away," Superman said. "Is there a back way?"
Stacee pointed toward the back wall. "Behind the bar, to the right, you can get to the street from there. I used to use it to get out when the crowds were too much."
He nodded. "Must be lead-paint, I never saw it. Sit tight, Stacee, Iíll get this guy and he wonít be able to come after you again."
Stacee nodded, too shocked to speak again. He heard footsteps coming toward his dressing room, and Superman sped from the room and into the secret passage, moving so fast he was just a giant streak of white and beige, kicking up a gust of wind strong enough to blow Staceeís hat off. At almost the same moment, the dressing room door burst open again, and dozens of people spilled into the room, screaming and calling his name, and crying out to stop the gunman.
Stacee had time to grab his hat and put it back on, then get slowly and shakily to his feet, before Dennis and Lonny burst through the crowd and hurried toward him. They stopped short when they saw the bullet holes in the walls and the couch. "Shit!" The two men crowded him, touching his arms, chest and back, plying him with questions. "Are you okay? What happened? Whereíd that guy with the glasses go?"
"Iím okay, Iím okay," Stacee assured them. "The guy was a reporter, he shoved me down and we ducked for cover. He went out the back to try to get the cops, I guess."
"Jesus, thank God youíre okay!" Dennis gave him a crushing hug, and Stacee hugged him back while Lonny patted them both. "Jesus, Stacee! Shit! Of all places, at my place!"
"Iím okay, man. Itís cool."
Dennis let him go, but kept a hand on Staceeís shoulder, while he shouted orders. "Get those people out of here. Heís fine, heís fine, but get out, we need to keep it clear for the cops. Get the cops! And Ace! Beau, Jake, figure out how that nutcase got in here!"
There were a few "Okay, Dennisís" and security started pushing people back out of the room. Stacee backed away from the crowds, and Lonny kept a hand on him while he sat down on a stool at the bar. "You sure youíre all right, man?"
Stacee nodded. "Fine, Iím good."
"Here, you look like you could use one." Lonny brought back the half bottle of liquor, and Stacee chugged down enough to stop his hands from shaking.
"Sure. Just relax, weíll get everything sorted in no time, okay?"
Stacee nodded, and did as Lonny suggested. He sat there and tried to relax. His head was spinning. Fucking Superman. Fucking Superman was sitting there giving him fucking words of wisdom and shit, then taking fucking bullets for him! Somebody busted into Denís place and fucking shot it up! What the fuck kind of a night was this??
Before long, the cops arrived and Stacee gave them his statement. Most of it was true, but big parts of it were total bullshit. The quick thinking reporter had shoved him down behind the trunk, and hid there himself, lucky nobody got hit at all. The shooter ran off without checking, the reporter snuck out the back to see if he could tell what direction the guy went in, then everybody busted in to check on him.
They took notes, then more cops came and took pictures and discussed the bullet holes and how lucky they were, and wondered where the reporter went. Stacee wondered, too.
After a while, they got their answer. The uniformed copís radios crackled, and announced an "S17". The first cop who took Staceeís statement looked up. "Supermanís in L.A.?"
"Guess so!" the other guy said. They grinned and gave thumbs-up to Stacee. "You got lucky again, sir," one of them said. "Come on, boys, gather as much as you can, and weíll meet this perp downtown. Weíll pin him down."
Stacee flagged down Dennis. "Iím dead on my feet, can I crash in your office?"
"Of course, man, anything you want."
"And I need to call Constance, I donít want her to hear this shit on the news. Iíll pay you for the long dist-"
"No way. Come on, Stacee."
Stacee smiled, and Dennis ushered him to the office. He called Constance and had a brief conversation with her. She freaked out, of course, but Stacee got her calmed down. She woke up Steph and Stacee talked to her and listened to her sleepy nonsense talk for a few minutes before telling her to go back to sleep.
Constance came back to the phone and sighed, making nervous little sounds. "Stacee, are you sure youíre okay? Do you want me to come out there? Hey Manís still coughing, but the feverís gone. I could-"
"Nah, babe, stay put. He needs his rest. Told you, Supermanís out here, Iím not worried."
She let out a nervous chuckle. "Okay, butÖ he canít be everywhere at once, baby. Be careful, okay? Where were your security guards? Are they sure the guy didnít have anyone working with him? Didnít you-"
"Constance, come on, donít start freaking out again, okay? Everythingís gonna be fine."
She sighed. "Okay. Okay, I know, itís fine. JustÖ be careful. Okay? Please?"
"I will, donít worry."
"Okay. I love you, Stacee."
"Love you, too. Bye, babe, Iíll talk to you later." He hung up, laid down on the soft leather couch, pulled his hat down over his eyes and passed out almost instantly.
Stacee was left alone, and woke up in his own time around noon. He stumbled to Dennis and Lonnyís tiny bathroom and stood in front of the pot for what seemed like hours. Heíd drunk a lot of fucking booze last night. He washed his hands, splashed some water on his face to try to wake up for real, and went in search of his friends.
It was strangely quiet in the halls. It was early still, as night clubs went, but he remembered mopping floors and picking up trash for Dennis when heíd first come to L.A., and heíd started his work at 11:00. But he saw no barmaids, no little hard luck cases, no Lonny, no Dennis, nobody. He crept through the halls almost nervously, feeling like he didnít belong there. Finally, he headed for the main floor. He rounded a corner and almost had a heart attack.
"Jesus H. Christ!"
Lights blared on the moment they screamed surprise, and Stacee saw that the room was full. FULL. But it wasnít full of people. There were only about fifteen people, maybe less. But the room was loaded down with huge flower arrangements, wall to wall, covering the whole dance floor and spilling up onto the stage. Among the small group of people in the room were his bandmates, which was a total shock. Dennis and Lonny were there, along with a few of the senior staff and security. And there was one press guy - Clark Kent - standing next to a smaller guy with ruddy-blond hair and a camera three times bigger than his head.
Stacee smiled - he couldnít help himself. "What the fuckís going on in here?"
Rich took a step forward. His hands were in his pockets, and he shrugged. "We fucked up, Stace," he said.
"You were right," Jay said. "We teamed up against you, and we were stupid dickheads. Iím sorry, man."
"Sorry, Stacee," Clash said.
"Iím sorry, Stace," Rich said. He shrugged again. "Since that fuck-faced loser wanted to compare you to a Beatle, we thought weíd go one better." He gestured toward the flowers and gave Stacee a sheepish grin. "SoÖ wanna not leave?"
A slow smile crept onto his face and he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I wanna not leave." There were relieved sighs from the guys, and cheers from everyone else. Stacee shook hands with Rich, and Rich pulled him into a hug while the little camera guyís bulb flashed.
Stacee shook hands and hugged all the guys, and they started to chat, but Stacee excused himself. "One minute, okay?"
He stepped away, moving carefully around the flowers, and got some vigorous shoulder and back pats from Lonny and Dennis on his way to see Clark. Clark waved and smiled that goofy smile at him as he approached. Stacee smiled back. "Hi, Clark."
"Hi, Stacee. This is my friend Jimmy, one of our photographers. Hope you donít mind."
Stacee shook his head and looked over at the wide-eyed kid. He was the same height as Stacee, but had to be at least 30 years younger. "Hey."
"Thanks!" he said, grinning brightly. "I have to tell you, Mr., I mean, Stacee, I really admire your music, I mean really!"
"Thanks," he said, letting the kid pump his hand vigorously up and down. He took in the kidís plaid shirt, yellow bow tie (they still made those?) and his green suspenders, and wondered if this hopelessly square guy was where Superman got the material for his own act.
When Jimmy let go at last, Stacee turned to Clark and shook his hand. "I was so shocked yesterday, didnít get a chance to thank you. So thank you,Clark. If you hadnít pushed me out of the way, Iíd be dead."
"Donít mention it, Stacee. I did what anybody else wouldíve done if they could."
Stacee laughed. "Heroes always say shit like that. Youíre a good guy, Clark. Iíll send some tickets to you at your paper next time weíre in Metropolis."
He started to shake his head. "Oh, thatís-"
"That would be great!!. Thanks, Mr., I mean, Stacee!"
Stacee laughed again. "Youíre welcome. Hey, soÖ we didnít exactly finish our interview, butÖ"
"Oh, Iím sure I have plenty to work with," Clark said.
Stacee nodded and looked back to where the guys were talking and laughing with Dennis and one of the barmaids. He tipped his hat to Superman and turned away. A moment later, he turned back and said, "Hey."
"Being back with the band feels great."
Clark opened the thick, heavy envelope, and pulled out a "Thank you" card. A small bundle fell to the floor (because heíd let it, of course), and he fumbled to pick it up. There were two pictures inside the envelope - one of Arsenal - a large promo pic addressed to Jimmy, and signed by everyone in the band. The other was smaller - a simple family photo of Stacee, Constance, and their daughter Stephanie. Stacee had simply written, "Thanks from all of us, Clark," on the back.
Clark smiled, pushed up his glasses and opened the card. Inside the card, there was another, slightly longer note. Clark laughed aloud when he read it, then tucked it away, deciding he would probably keep that little message to himself. Still smiling, he fumbled off to find Jimmy.
"Hereís the tickets. I sent six, but get in touch with my people if you want more. If you bring chicks, tell them to bring a change of pants. Youíre gonna wish you were me."