We stayed there for two weeks, never setting foot outside the church.
Every night, we ate dinner with the church staff, helped to wash up, and to do other chores to help to earn our keep. As much as we were made to feel welcome we both knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. When we looked out the window of the room in which we slept at night, we could see a man leaning on the hood of his car, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigarette. We knew he was with Dolgov, because the spot in which he parked was directly underneath a silver maple – and thus almost pitch black – and yet he seemed to have no problem at all with the newspaper.
We had access to the internet through a laptop I bought online and had delivered to the church, so we could download movies and music, but eventually we began to get a little stir crazy. It wasn’t like the church hosted AA meetings or fundraisers. The best we got was eaves dropping on Da Vinci Code fans sure that the holy grail was actually hidden under one of the tomb stones of the old knights upstairs. Even that started to wear thin.
On the second Friday of our stay, just as the man with the newspaper parked his car under the silver maple outside, I heard a familiar sound coming from the Rotunda. Chunky bass and screaming guitars. It was a cover of O Come O Come Emmanuel, and it wasn’t half bad. Curious, I made my way down there and stood in the back of the room.
The band was unlike any I imagined would play in a church – emo punks with dyed black hair and elaborate leather outfits. Their name was “Flock” and after a few songs, I realized they were a Christian rock band and not ironic about it at all. Not even the name was ironic.
And, would you believe it, they were pretty good.
The crowd was young, but I spotted a familiar head of blonde hair in one of the pews.
“I never suspected you were a religious man, Rick,” I said as I slipped into a pew next to him.
Casterly rolled his eyes. “I’m surprised you didn’t burst into flames on the threshold, Reardon.” He wore a loose Rolex on his left wrist, and he fiddled with it before speaking again. “Look, the whole Wembley thing. I’m sorry, man. It was uncool. I had no idea Martine was off her rocker. I feel badly that it killed your girl’s career. She was a phenom.”
I was stunned.
Casterly was apologizing to me? Of course! He had no idea that I was the one who’d set Martine up. From his point of view, he’d booked a troubled young act onto a bill that was doomed from the start. “Water under the bridge,” I said generously.
“That was quite the stunt you pulled, the suicide thing. Who knew the press would take it literally? How’s she doing, anyways, your girl?”
I looked towards our room. “Good. She’s found religion. Speaking of which, what are you doing here?”
He looked at Flock appraisingly. “There’s a market for this stuff. I could name several bands that had their start in Christian rock. Creed. Evanescence. Et cetera.” I’d never heard of Et cetera so they couldn’t have been that hot. He winced as the boy with the microphone slipped into a falsetto, and then stood to leave. “Their singer is shite though, so that’s it then.”
I walked him to the door.
“Look,” he said, “I owe you one. You have my number, ya?”
The business card with the palm tree clip art held pride-of-place in my wallet. Rick Casterly of Performance Edge owed me a favor.
And I knew just how I’d use it.
Two weeks later, on a Tuesday in May, London’s only true Caucasian entered the Broken Doll with several of his goons at his heels. Dressed in a black suit and tie with a red rose in a buttonhole, he looked dramatically out of place, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He walked over to my booth and sat down. One goon stood behind him, and the other beside me, blocking the booth’s exit.
“You killed Dimitri,” he said, folding his hand on the table. “Let us start there.”
“Technically, not my fault. I didn’t lay a hand on him. It was Aura,” I said calmly, laying the blame anywhere but at this particular table in this particular gin joint.
He inclined his head. “And where is young Aurelia? I expected a phone call, a letter …an e-mail,” he said this last with distaste. “I thought that after paying for your studio, all your expenses, that she would have at least said goodbye. Most disappointing.”
I knew then that Dolgov would never leave us alone. We had humiliated him publicly. This was personal for him.
Behind me, the band on the other side of the chicken-wire fence began to play.
A steady drumbeat was soon joined by the bass, and we had to lean closer to be heard.
“If you leave right now, we can both walk away from this like it never happened,” I said.
His red lips split open, revealing a mouthful of fangs and he laughed. It was not a nice laugh. “Is that supposed to be an offer I can’t refuse? You are a funny guy,” he said. He faked getting up and laughed again. “You know I nearly had one of my boys put a centaur’s head in your bed over at the church. But he pointed out that was just a human head. Called me a psycho. I didn’t appreciate that. I’m not like that. I’m just a business man. So I killed him.”
I remained stone faced.
My confidence wiped the smirk off his face, and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What are you playing at?”
“The band you are now listening to is called Flock, and I think you’ll be interested to hear they’ve hired a new singer. You’ll recognize her. She’s a real nice girl.”
Behind me, Aura stepped onto the stage, dressed in tight leather pants and a white blouse, fitting the band’s emo image but somehow rising above it. She picked the microphone off the stand, found us in the audience, and nodded tightly at me. I nodded back.
She began with a hum, a chaste, beautiful thing like a mother waking her sleeping infant. Her eyes closed and she swayed slightly, letting the music take her away.
Then she broke into song.
Dolgov lurched back in his seat and his goons fell to their knees. The Russian gangster clamped his hands to his ears as his bald scalp began to smoke.
“You really should have left when you had the chance, Yevgeny. Don’t you know how it works? No, of course not, you’re used to talking, not listening. Well let me explain what’s happening to you.” More smoke steamed off his head. For a minute there it actually looked like it was coming out of his ears. “Aura’s voice amplifies the power of the songs that she sings, so when she sings the Blues, well she’s suicidal, so all those guys out in the audience want to slash their wrists; when she’s poppy, she’s shiny happy people on acid, you get the idea?” I like to think Yevgeny nodded but he was long past nodding. “Flock are a Christian band. You know what that means?”
One of the goons stumbled backwards and fell across another patron’s table. Instead of smashing it, as a man his size should have, he collapsed and with a soft implosion powdered into a pile of dust and ash. The other goon broke for the door, but with every step he took, part of his leg turned to ash. Half a second later he was running on stumps and shrinking by the second. Unable to retain his balance, he too collapsed into a pile of dust.
“You should never have killed the Fortunate Fridays, Yevgeny,” I said. “Then maybe you wouldn’t be having a Terrible Tuesday.” The line sounded a bit corny when I said it out loud. It wasn’t exactly the most pithy of taunts.
He growled and leapt for me. He caught me one good one, leaving a scar on my right cheek, before he too succumbed to the faith of Aura’s song burning up inside him and turned to ash. I think the scar makes me look pretty distinguished. I could have had plastic surgery but I’m not that vain. I stood and dusted myself off as the music stopped behind me. Aura left the stage and came running towards me.
I caught her up in a hug and planted my lips on hers.
She tasted like a peach. She still does.
As we were leaving the Broken Doll, the man who’d been sitting at the table where Dolgov’s goon had burst into ash stopped me. It was Polanski, formerly of Red Sky Entertainment and, at one time, proud owner of an Aston Martin DB9. The original Rainmaker. “Who was that girl?” he asked. “Seriously. I have to know.”
I smiled at him. A fish on the hook. Well, more of a man on the fishhook I suppose. Or the siren’s hook.
“Her name is Shepherd,” I said. “The band’s called Flock.”
“As in wallpaper?” He looked genuinely confused by the idea.
I decided to help him out. I handed him my card with Dead Records stamped in gold foil over a siren on the rocks. And no, that’s not a kind of drink.
“Nope, as in make like a shepherd and get the flock out of here. C’mon, babe,” I said to Aura, “Let’s go make some noise.”