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Strange Magic ~ Goodreads
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I quickly grabbed a pillow and covered my lap while Arla Gautreaux rolled his eyes to the ceiling as if searching for the patience he required within the recessed lighting of the tour bus.
Access to my dick denied to her, the brunette kneeling on the floor between my spread legs rocked back on her spiked heels. She wasn’t wearing anything else. Neither was the other brunette on the bed next to me, but she wasn’t as bold as her companion and pulled the rumpled silk sheet in front of her too big to be real breasts. The entire scene too familiar to be shocking to him anymore, my manager continued to voice his displeasure peppering the air with Cajun curses strong enough to make my eyes water.
“Next time maybe try knocking,” I mouthed lamely. It wasn’t much of a defense. He had it right when he called me a hot mess. I was a pedal to the floor, picking up major momentum, barreling headlong down a predictable path to its natural dead end disaster.
“I’ll start asking your permission to enter,” Arla tapped his watch and jerked his chin over his shoulder to emphasize his point, “when you start taking your commitments seriously, no? You forget you have a show tonight, Billy?”
I shook my head. Of course, I hadn’t. “Excuse me, darlin’.” I tossed the pillow aside and moved Brunette One out of the way so I could yank up the Rock 47 jeans from around my ankles. She and her eager friend might have told me their names at sound check before they offered me their services as a two for one deal, but I’d be damned if I could remember either one. In fact, I was already regretting taking them up on it.
“I gotta go. Playtime’s over,” I announced gruffly despising the weakness that made me screw up everything in my life.
Untamable strands of dark blond slid forward effectively shielding my eyes from my manager’s condemnation as I carefully tucked my dick back inside, buttoned my fly and re-buckled my Nocona belt.
“If you wanna keep your fans and tour sponsors you need to stop pulling stunts like this, podna.” Arla dished out the well-deserved verbal lashing ignoring the brunettes as they sifted through drifts of empty liquor bottles and six months of accumulated tour clutter for their discarded clothing.
“You’re right, Arla. I screwed up. I know.” I swiveled at the waist snagging my favorite wadded up black Fender t-shirt from where it lay on the bed behind me. Bunching the soft cotton between my fingers, I punched my head through the frayed collar. Before I could get my arms into the sleeves, one of the white gold bands from the silver chain I wore around my neck got caught on a loose thread. Guilt burned inside my gut as I paused to untangle it.
“I hope so, Blade.” Arla slammed me with a censuring gaze the moment I looked up, his dark scowl eradicating the trio of laugh lines that usually framed his muddy brown eyes. “I surely do hope so, but lately it doan seem like anything I say gets through to you.” Arla’s lazy way of drawing out his words and stressing the last syllable came from time spent deep down in the Louisiana swamp and was even more noticeable than my south Texas twang.
Arla’s disappointment stung. I didn’t really care what most people thought about me, but he was a loyal friend, one of the few who had stuck by me when everyone else had written me off as a lost cause. For nearly a year I had taken a sabbatical from everything, holing up in the old tool shed behind my parents’ house, drowning my sorrow in alcohol. The only breaks in the monotony were the regular visits from the one man who had refused to give up on me. If not for his stubborn persistence, I’d probably still be languishing within the ramshackle confines of my self-imposed exile.
Walkie talkie sputter crackling in his hand, Arla made a rolling gesture with the other. I knew the drill. Best get moving. Arla wasn’t some label lackey that I could brush off or push around. We’d been together too many years for that, since the very beginning of my career when I had been seventeen and winning the Professional Bull Riding world championship had been my goal. Singing had just been more of an afterthought, something I did to impress the chicks. Pathetic now that I thought about it, how my pickup technique hadn’t changed in all this time.
Anyway, Arla had convinced me to hang up the spurs, placed a guitar in my hands and insisted I learn to play. He had showed me the basics of songwriting, and not long after I got the knack of it he had negotiated my first record deal. The latest one with Black Cat Records was his doing as well.
“Blade, take us backstage with you,” Brunette One whined blocking my exit, a pile of clothes in her arms, but still as naked as the day she’d been born. Brunette Two in her bra and jeans hovered beside her friend chewing disinterestedly on a raggedy red thumbnail.
“No can do, darlin’.” I stepped around her snagging sunglasses from the shelf and lifting my black Stetson off its stand. I raked back the thick layers of my hair to get them out of my eyes before shoving the hat down on my head. “We leave for Houston directly after the show tonight.” I slid on the dark aviator shades I always wore on stage, dismissing her, but more importantly shielding my glacier blue eyes from Arla’s scrutiny.
He barked an order to event security on his handheld before addressing my companions. “Ladies, you’ve got two minutes to get dressed and get off the bus. I’m sending someone back here in case you need some encouragement.” He turned and made his way down the center aisle past the sleeping bunks to the front lounge without pausing to look over his shoulder to see if I followed. He didn’t need to. I might be on the slow road to ruin but I didn’t have a death wish.
My three man security detail and my personal assistant, Lorraine, fell into place around us as soon as we stepped onto the pavement. As a unit we set off across the gated lot where all the buses were parked. The steady roar of the outdoor crowd grew louder as we approached the scaffolding of the stage but I knew it would be even crazier once I stepped out in front of them.
A warm wind with just a hint of brine from the bay rolled a discarded Outside Lands festival cup across my path. I stepped over it just beginning to run through the set list in my mind when Arla spoke again.
“Just got the call from the Bacchus Krewe Captain.” Hearing the edge of excitement in his voice I knew it had to be good news. “They chose you, podna.”
“Seriously?” That was cool but it wasn’t something that came totally out of left field. Arla had buddies who were on the committee. Each year the thousand or so members of the Bacchus Krewe chose a top tier celebrity to be their king and fashioned their theme around him. Because of Arla’s connections I knew that my name was on their short list, but then so were a lot of other notables.
“Yeah, Blade. When’s it goan sink in that thick skull of yours how big of a deal you done become? Country entertainer of the year. Grammy for song of the year and best rock album. Cover of Rolling Stone. Top of the list for rock and country sales for over half the year. Why wouldn’t Bacchus want you?”
I shrugged. I didn’t put a lot of stock in awards and shit. It was nice to receive those honors, don’t get me wrong. It was just that I tried not to focus on stuff that was outside my control. It was hard enough to manage the things that I could. But I knew this one was a big deal to my native New Orleans boss.
“Don’t make any plans in February. It’s not just the parade you’ll be officiating. You’ll also be performing at their masked Rendezvous Supper Dance in the Morial Convention Center. Your ceremonial duties aren’t quite as complicated as those in the older more traditional Mardi Gras Krewes, but we’ll still have a ton of stuff to go over as the event gets closer.” He shot me a serious look and held out his hand. “Here.” I took the coin he offered me. “That’s just a prototype. When you’re in the parade you’ll wave your scepter and the other riders on your float will toss those wherever you point.”
I studied the silver dollar sized doubloon.
I knew the ones from Bacchus were some of the most collected and valuable of all the carnival throws. They sold for thousands of dollars after Mardi Gras on auction sites. Mine was black and had a silver imprint of me in my cowboy hat and sunglasses on the front. That same side also had the year twenty fifteen and the parade number. The flip side was engraved with an image of my harmonica, the date again and the theme ‘Celebrating Mouth Harp Charmers’.
A blast of icy wind that came out of nowhere suddenly lifted the hair underneath my hat and raised chill bumps on my arms.
I glanced around to see how everyone else was reacting but oddly no one else in my entourage seemed to have been affected. “Arla,” I began. “Did you feel that…”I trailed off as the ground started to roll like a boat on a choppy lake beneath my feet. I swayed and my vision tunneled. I heard three long protracted harmonica notes. A beautiful woman’s face materialized within a smoky haze that I knew had nothing to do with the famous San Francisco fog.
Though I’d never seen her before she seemed strangely familiar. Haunted violet eyes locked with mine as if it were a two way exchange, as if she could really see me. Not just the man I was now, but also the man I had been, the one who used to give a damn, the one who had been buried under the rubble of his demolished heart.
“Help me,” the violet eyed beauty intoned faintly with an accent I couldn’t place. “Please.”
“Hey, Billy.” Arla put his hand on my arm. I jumped. “You ok?”
The spell was broken.
“Where the hell is he?” The voice on the other end of Arla’s walkie talkie exploded with high volume disembodied displeasure.
The sounds and sensations of the here and now effectively swept away the lingering traces of whatever the hell had just happened. Just one more freaky occurrence I’d have to chalk up to alcohol and my overactive imagination.
No more mixing tequila and whiskey, I vowed.
“Relax. We’ve got him. We’re coming down the corridor now. He’ll be there in five,” Arla responded calmly, his wrinkle free western shirt and pressed Wrangler jeans outward reflections of his inner chillaxed attitude. Though he had an intricate tattoo spanning the entire length of his spine that told me there was a little unexpected rebel beneath the polish. I could always count on him to keep his head despite the chaos that I or anyone else threw at him. Irate record execs, clingy groupies, condescending rehab administrators who didn’t appreciate me checking in wearing only boxers and boots; no one kicked my boss from the bayou out of his steady groove.
“You’re thirty minutes late this time.” Arla shook his head, the ends of his dark brown hair brushing his collar. “You’re lucky Blackberry Smoke extended their set to cover for you.” He gave me another censuring glance that might’ve had me quaking in my boots a couple of years ago, but not anymore. Not these days. Not the soon to be crowned Bacchus monarch, the prince of the rock and country airways Billy Blade. The no longer down and out, scraping out a meager living playing nothing but cash songs at BYOB honkytonks out in the boondocks. These days I was the comeback sensation everyone was talking about, a headliner selling out maximum capacity stadium sized venues. A mega huge superstar.
Fucking fickle fame.
It was all due to the success of my latest album Never Too Dead to Dance. The title sucked wind, in more ways than one I could assure you, but I was proud of the songs I’d written for it after crawling away from the wreckage of my life post rehab. I’d channeled all the bad stuff, all the broken dreams, the heartache and the anger into my music. The only time I really felt like my old self anymore was when I was up on stage playing those tunes. If I wanted to continue having the privilege of doing so I would do well to pay attention to the boss. People were counting on me. Loads of them. The crew. And my fans. It was time I stopped being such a self-hating, self-absorbed bastard.
Arla took off to negotiate the next big deal on my behalf while I jogged up the steps to the stage. Rodney, my guitar tech, handed me my custom black and silver Gibson hollow body. I threw the strap over my shoulder and clipped it into place, not missing a step as I strode out onto the brightly lit stage, an earsplitting boom from the Golden Gate Park capacity crowd nearly blowing the hat off my head. I still hadn’t gotten used to it, even though it had been like this at nearly every stop for over a year now. As low as I’d been, I’d never take it for granted.
I tipped my hat to the audience out on the grassy lawn to show them my respect and the sea of fifty thousand Outside Lands festival fans cheered even louder. Cell phone cameras flashed from the bikini clad chicks on their boyfriend’s shoulders upfront and the tented VIP booths on the far sidelines where the rich cats paid thirty-six hundred dollars a ticket.
It was wall to wall people in every direction, a massive swarm of living breathing humanity.
Well, not all of them were living and breathing. There were others out there, too. Ones only I seemed to be able to see. Ones I refused to dwell on. They were nowhere in sight at the moment, but I knew from experience that they wouldn't remain hidden for long...
not if I blew into my harmonica.
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