Randy’s insouciance was phenomenal as his brother began to strike the wired keys. Yes, savvy musician Rick Dangers had slipped into a game of death as his fingers struck some keys and glided over others just knowing he’d soon strike the one that was wired to the rifle that sat before him.
“Just keep playin’ the tune big brother.” Randy tugged on the visor of the cap on his head and puffed a cigar. “Just keep playin’.”
“I don’t care…” Rick announced dryly. “…Better to die free than to succumb to slavery.” He was approaching the end of Moonlight Sonata, their mother’s favorite composition.
“Better to open your eyes another day, I always say.”
“Why are you doing this, anyway? Lettin’ some scum pimp you for pennies…Mom wouldn’t have…”
The gun fired on the bass notes that completed the composition. Randy released puffs of smoke from parted, puckered lips. He eyed the body, slumped over the keyboard, turned and sauntered out of the apartment.
“Remember, talent is innate!” The pox pitted face of Peter Patrick paced before his minions. “…But skill…skill is acquired. And the perfection of a certain skill set will beat talent any day.” His voice had fallen to a hushed tone as he glared in their faces. “…And these artists have acquired skill!” His tongue hung onto the “L” sound. “Writers, singers, musicians…didn’t come out writing, singing, and playing instruments! They learned the skill…” He pointed to each one of them. “All of you have acquired a skill. And it’s that skill that makes you perfect for…bringing down these distribution agencies. “Who’s next on the list?” He planted his sights on the person at the computer.
Keys rolled out of view of the screen, revealing five artists. Randy’s eyes glued to the screen – on the vibrant beauty of number two.
“Randy,” Pete called out. “You take number two – she worked with your brother. The rest of you divide up the rest. Go! Make these artists the offer they can refuse!”
The year is 2113. At the turn of the century, concerns and fears of the populace paralleled those of the dawn of the year 2000: Wall Street will go berserk, the world will end, survival kits are necessary and the list goes on. But the world as we know it continued as it always had until…someone’s frustration got the best of him. Saxophonist Peter Patrick put his heart, soul and money into his music. Daily practice on his craft was a given and recording compositions and uploading mp3 file formats for international distribution was inevitable. And all his efforts were for what? Pennies. He double and triple checked the step by step process for promoting his music. But only wonder clouded his mind when charts recorded no sales. He questioned his every move including the quality of his music until frustration yanked remaining questions away and replaced them with anger. Now the world as we knew it was at its wits end. Gone were the days of “happy hour” night after night. But what the populace could expect were the cries of terror ringing throughout the city as the lives of artists were taken out due to their resistance to selling out to Pete.
Misty Amelia Malone was no puppet for the demands and whims of the entertainment game. Whenever the pressure gradually tightened its grip like a boa constrictor, she relieved herself without any permission. And she’d lay anyone flat who questioned her.
She bolted through the side door, slamming it shut. Between her index and middle finger, she brought a cigarette to her mouth, lit it and froze. Her jumbled ball of nerves needed it – its calming, soothing effect. But she couldn’t banish the image of her cancer ridden father from her thoughts – the way he writhed in pain before Pete’s disciples shot him. Pete actually did him a favor…he was suffering anyway. What difference does it make? Die by Pete’s hand or by your own. She began to puff, her wavy, brown hair blew in the breeze.
“You sure you want that cancer stick?” A male voice startled her.
“What’s it to you?”
“Then why ask?”
“…For what party?” She eyed him carefully.
“My eight o’clock…”
“You have an eight o’clock here?” A definitive downward index finger poked a hole in the air.
The gentleman nodded.
“…But I’m working ‘til ten with some…wait, you must be Randy Dangers…”
“Yes,” He nodded.
“I almost refused to work with you…as rumor has it, you murdered your own brother for that prick, Pete.”
“…Had nothin’ to do with it…” Randy looked at his shoes.
“I enjoyed working with your brother – the little time we had…so awful what happened to him – he had such a gift…” She put the cigarette out. “Are you the genius that your brother was?”
He motioned with his head toward the door. “Guess we’ll find out…”
He followed her with his eyes glued to her body – her hips swayed from her tiny waistline with every step she took and he, right in unison, walking to the beat of her drum. They entered a black box of a room – the walls and the floor donned the absence of light. Randy had no idea he wanted a seat until he bumped into the black couch.
“No!” Misty commanded. “Don’t sit down.” She quickly introduced him to the producers in the studio and instructed him on what to do next. “Get your piece…we can groove a little to warm-up before layin’ down the track.”
“Oh yeah,” Randy looked about himself as if he’d have the instrument in one of his pockets. “Hold on a sec…I can’t believe I left it in the car.”
“Hurry up,” Misty wouldn’t let up. She took a seat with her guitar.
Randy returned within seconds with a beautiful soprano saxophone. A few more seconds passed before they were both enjoying the other’s tunes. Midnight ended the recording session and began the closing formalities.
“Let’s get a drink.” Randy suggested. The expression on her face was more than inviting – she didn’t have to answer.
Jazzy Joe’s was the spot somewhere out west in Greater Los Angeles. Anybody who’s somebody made an appearance someday of the week. Easy melodies swayed the crowd of dancing bodies on this night. Randy and Misty reclined in a booth with their refreshing drinks.
“I enjoyed playing with you tonight. You are gifted like Rick.” She said to Randy.
“So are you…so much so, that Pete wants you to play for him.”
Misty gasped over her glass just before her next sip. “You said you had nothing to do with your brother’s death…”
“I didn’t…I’m just a recruiter for Pete.”
“Yeah, and if I don’t wanna play?”
“Look, Pete’s very fond of artists – hell, he’s one himself! Allaboutmioosik isn’t doing much for you right now, right? You upload your music and bring in nickels and dimes in sales…Am I wrong?”
Misty only stared at him, and he continued.
“All Pete wants to do is create a team of great minds to introduce to the world – show the world who they are and what they can do…all you have to do is bring down Allaboutmioosik.”
“Why can’t he bring ‘em down?”
“See, the way Pete sees it, it’s better for these agencies to be ambushed by their biggest patrons and right now, in jazz guitar, mastering and uploading five or more compositions every other day,” His head leaned to one side. “…That’s you Sweetie. And trust me, he’ll make it worth your while.”
She stiffened in her seat but he grinned at her. “Stats don’t lie.”
“And if I say no?”
“Please don’t,” Randy began, cupping her chin. “I can’t hurt such a beautiful work of art…”
She yanked herself away from his hand. “I thought you were only a recruiter.”
“Save it.” She scowled at him. “I want no part of this.” And she stormed out of the night club.
“What’s the beauty in being a struggling artist? He yelled after her. But she walked even faster. Randy pulled his lingering gaze from her back to face his drink and faced another entity entirely.
“You’re supposed to make her the offer…” One of his fellow crooks said, taking a seat across from him. “Not wine and dine her.”
“I did…” Keys only looked at him. “Look,” Randy continued. “Mind your own business…don’t worry about what I’m doin’. I know what I’m doin’. Why do you think Pete gave her to me?”
Keys glared at him, finished Misty’s drink and left the table.
Pete’s other followers, Limp, Crush and Jack found their prey in a musician cocktail in the form of the Good Luck Band. A horn player, a keyboardist and an electric guitarist, they played hard and strong all night and every night down at the Contemporary. Not only did they refuse the offer initially but the second and third time as well. Their deaths were both painful ones and examples for other artists. At the next performance, the Contemporary featured Flare who was electrocuted by his electric guitar, the moment he struck the strings. Keyboardist Tone, made contact with a spurt of acid from some attached mechanism, the moment his fingers struck the keys. And horn player Windy, gagged on something the moment he raised his instrument to his mouth.
The audience was in shock with screams and shouts from various spots throughout the mass. The remaining musicians of the Good Luck Band had other plans for their fate – they accepted Pete’s offer before it was made.
The night had been long and Misty was not in the mood – nor anywhere near it. She unlocked her apartment door and crossed the threshold into darkness. She wasn’t a very obedient kid so Mom’s advice to leave on a night light to avoid giving potential intruders a hiding place was in one ear and out the other a long time ago.
She immediately kicked off her shoes and unclipped the pin that held her hair in a ball – it flowed over her shoulders. She stretched out of her shirt, pulling it over her head and unbuttoned her skirt as she walked over to the couch. Standing in front of it, she bent at the waist and pulled the skirt down, below her knees and stepped out of it. She proceeded to plop onto the couch when she suddenly sprang off it, staring at the seat in wonder. She just knew she sat on a pair of legs. The flame of a lighter suddenly glowed in front of the face of the man who occupied her couch.
She squinted. “Randy?”
“I don’t mind if you sit on me. C’mon back.”
“What the hell are you doing in my place?”
“I came for your answer to the offer.”
“Didn’t I tell you that I want no part of it?”
“C’mon, tough girl like you…that was your initial response – not your answer.”
She sighed, turning on a lamp. “You coulda stopped me from undressing.” She pointed at herself with upward palms from top to bottom in one quick sweep.
“Why would I do that? Beautiful view…”
She walked away, retrieving a robe that hung on her bedroom door. She slipped it on and sat across from him, in a chair.
He leaned his head to one side and brought it upright again. “C’mon, Baby do this for Pete. What were your sales like this past week?”
She eyed him with pursed lips then relaxed. “Um…After about twenty uploads, I raked in a good thirty dollars.”
Randy laughed. “So Allaboutmioosik isn’t doing its job, is it?”
“Not as well as I’d like.”
“…Not at all, as well as you’d like.” Misty nodded at him. “…Be ready tomorrow night at seven…I’ll pick you up.”
Randy felt heaviness across the nape of his neck and shoulders as he crossed the living room of his apartment; he hurled his keys into one corner of a table top (between a shelf and cabinet construction). He turned to walk away when he heard the clinking sound of the keys hitting the picture that stood in the corner of the table. He walked back and picked it up. It was a picture of Rick Dangers on the keyboard – his recently deceased brother. Randy sniffed and the weight grew heavier as though he bore the world. He dragged his fingers over the picture and a single tear glided down his face.
The calming tunes of Dave Koz floated through the air as if he was playing them himself. Randy and Misty walked in on Pete moving with and cradling his saxophone as if he were making love to a woman.
“Boss!” Randy called out when Misty placed a hand on his arm. But Pete only continued playing as though no one had tried to get his attention. He was truly locked away in his own world. For the next ten minutes, Randy led Misty into a slow dance to the beautiful music.
Pete seemed to be in shock when he finally returned to reality. After securing his instrument, with his arms out stretched, he froze a few seconds with his sights honed in on Misty.
The temporary paralysis was finally broken when he laughed. “Is this the bad ass, Misty Amelia Malone?”
Misty whispered to Randy. “Bad ass?”
He whispered back. “I might have mentioned how tough you are.
Pete continued. “You look like a super model, Sweetheart!”
“Did Randy tell you how much you two have in common?”
Randy swallowed hard as Misty shook her head. “He’s a bit of a bad ass too…he took out his own brother.”
“I knew it! Murderer!”
“You don’t understand!” Randy replied, pointing when Misty slapped his finger out of her face.
“Cut the crap!” Pete demanded. “Are you ready to get down to business?”
“The computer’s all ready for you.”
“Explain it to her, Randy.”
“Yeah uh…” He rubbed his nose and turned his cap backwards. “Pete’s an expert hacker…” He touched the small of her back, prodding her toward the computer and she slapped his hand away. Randy frowned at her but continued the explanation. “…We hack into Allaboutmioosik’s system and infect it with a Trojan…wipes out everything.”
Misty frowned and shot a look at Pete. “So if you’re the hacker, why don’t you just do it?”
Pete danced about the room with a drink in hand. “Because I want you to do the honors…” His voice was groggy.
She stared at the screen. “I don’t wanna do it.”
“What?” Pete froze.
“I changed my mind.”
“What’s this? Bad ass gone soft?”
They only looked at him.
Scowling, Pete pointed to Randy. “Well you know what you have to do…” Then his glare darted to Misty. “Take care of little Miss Pretty Face!” He spilled his drink when he shot an accusing finger on her.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do it, Pete.”
“Boss!” Crush stepped in with news of some kind.
Misty grabbed Randy’s gun from his hip and shot Crush in the chest and turned the gun to Pete when Crush fell to his death. Without blinking twice, she ordered Pete to the same demise with an equal shot but her aim was off. The bullet only grazed his arm. In an instant, he grabbed his gun from a desk nearby and shot the computer monitor. Randy and Misty were gone. They managed to scurry through the wide, entryway and into a side room.
“Get back here!” Pete bellowed. “You can’t hide from the KING!”
Randy yanked his gun away and backed Misty into a recess where he pinned her with his body.
“Get off me, murderer!” She commanded in a whisper.
“Shut-up! You don’t know half of it.”
“…And you’re a liar!” She pushed against him.
He banged his hips against hers. “Rick always talked about dying and how it’d be better than livin’ in this world. So when Pete threatened to kill my wife…” He flashed an identifying glare on her. “…Unless I did this dirt for him and get you to work for him, yes, I executed the mercy killing.”
She gritted her teeth. “Yeah, well how come I don’t remember any of this?”
He kept her pinned as they listened for Pete and exchanged whispers in their shared personal space. “…Because about two months ago, you became a Marsian, a colonist of Mars. You said you wanted to do something adventurous – I wanted to stay here so we parted, looking forward to your return. But while you were there,” His eyes seemed to study her hair and her soft features. “They erased your memory and trained you for combat. As it turned out, Marsian government is a covert military operation that converts ignorant recruits into fighting machines. They also erased your memory of their operation before your return.” She hung on every word he spoke in wonder. “They feel war in the future against psychos like Pete is inevitable. As soon as Rick was gone, he ordered your return under an official alias and added you to his artist database.” His eyes seemed to see her soul. “You were always a better musician, a better warrior, a better asset to Pete than Rick would have ever been.”
Pete finally found them hiding behind a block of wall. “Nighty – N-i-g-h-t!” He sang out aiming his weapon.
But Randy extended his gun at arm’s length and blew him away with one shot. “Sleep tight,” He returned his gaze to Misty and planted an open-mouth kiss on her.