9 Beelzebub Inc.
Beelzebub, Inc. occupied the top floor of the Buena Fortuna Building just off the sand in Manhattan Beach. Greg Horn owned the building: nineteen million was the conservative estimate of its value. Not bad for a remodeled beach house. The mode was beach-boy chic, with breezy sea posters and southwestern blankets hanging along hallway walls, but the doors were locked down with buzzers to activate and codes keyed to each floor. The three staffwriters churning out formulaic copies of current hit records in their cubbyholes in the back of the first floor didn’t have access or a need to ascend any higher unless called to from above. Juliana, the five-foot-ten bitch-goddess, stood guard on the third floor. No one got through to Horn’s exclusive, glass-walled sanctum on the fourth floor without her say- so.
Greg’s floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on the pier and the ocean. Manhattan Avenue was right below. Greg could check out the sultry blondes as they window shopped the ultra trendy clothing tiendas and restaurants. There was no end of good places for lunch. Life was good at Beelzebub.
Greg Horn, the former Seattle and Billings kid who got his accounting degree from Idaho State University in Pocatello, had built this empire largely on timely acquisition. He had always had the gift of knowing when to go for the kill. He could slip the stiletto in with such skill that his victims usually had to admire his finesse. He knew by the double virtues of instinct and a well-informed and well-greased intelligence network when a publisher, musician, or writer was in dire straights. That was the time to acquire. Make an offer. Make it sound generous, but always know the margin. Be firm; only negotiate down, never up from that established price. But make the “client” feel comfortable. Let him know you feel his pain. Man, ain’t life a fuckin’ bitch? Man, it sure as fuck is. We can help you out of your jam. You have to pay your taxes, your kid’s school tab, and your mortgage. Other hits are coming down the road. You’re such a big talent. This business runs in cycles. I can do eighty grand; that’s really the limit. Yeah, I know things don’t pay the way they used to. It’s the frikkin’ internet; all those downloads. Ain’t that fucked up?
Greg Horn had a catalog of songs valued at over three hundred million dollars. Over the years he had leveraged this, bought that. He had most of Wisdom’s catalog. Also, Johnny Zee, Slick Rox, Cherly Chez’, Tommy Huckster, The Grassers, PencilLead, The Vortexans, Rank Smell, The Undecydead, Penelope Piper; the list went on and on. He controlled ninety-one number one hits. He had three full time licensing people running on all cylinders just to keep up with the demand for the songs. His movie and TV division owned the rights to dozens of films and shows, including You Bet Your Ass, and the huge new hit, American Idiot.
But while the man known to his closest associates as the Smiling Assassin and the Great Horned One had every earthly thing known to man, he was missing something. And he couldn’t get it. He had a vision of it, and he was going to try to find a way to get it.
“Jules, get me a table at Stitch at one”
“Of course. What else?”
You could blow me, that’s what else. Nope, never the help; a bad idea every time, though Juliana was a knockout. Too much of a chance to find oneself compromised.
“That’s it; it’s just me and Joey. Oh, actually have a car sent for him at two thirty. I forgot he’s going to take the charter this afternoon to Portland”.
“You got it.”
Stitch, recently redone in muted sea-tones and fishing nets, was predictably full of enhanced blondes and silver-haired guys who played way too much golf and went bonefishing in Belize on a regular basis. Greg and Joey’s table was on the corner of the veranda.
“So, how’s the unit? Still sore?”
“Yeah, it hurts a little. The worst thing is, I have to take it easy for a couple of weeks. It looks good, though, man. The fuckin’ thing is two inches longer than it was and wider too. God, I can start doing porn!”
“Well, watch it, you don’t want it to explode, especially on stage!” They laughed and ordered a bottle of Leaping Whale Pinot.
After Joey had taken off for the airport, Horn flipped out his cell and tapped in a number. “Yeah, Horn here. Let’s do it. Right, fax it to my office. Price is fine. Right. Good.”
He lifted the big wineglass and looked over the expensive babes sitting here and there in the restaurant.
Nah! He thought.
“Hey! We’re back with Childhood here in our Weezooo-woop-ka-pow! Studios at KWUZ – Why? ‘Cause we was! and we still are! Z-Z-Zingo-kazang! Playing the hits we remember, and some we don’t! I’m Johnny Lightning, and I gotch’er song right here! “
Christ, what a load of crap. Smile, fuck-face, just smile and pretend you love it. Ace grinned and had another pull on his latte’.
“Sooo… “intoned Johnny Lightning, aka. Herbie Elliston, originally from Sand Point, Idaho, now drive-time DJ emeritus at KWUZ, “Tell us, Ace, how did you write Here Comes the Big One? There weren’t any implants back then? “ Ha-ha for the umpteenth time!
“Well, actually, the song’s about the eight point six ‘quake in Yellowstone in ‘74. Everyone was saying that the park was going to explode like Krakatoa. It took a while for the fear to go away. The aftershocks went on for weeks up in Idaho. We just saw it as a good excuse to party and get crazy, and we ended up with a number one song.”
“Well, “said Johnny. “ That’s very interesting.” Bee-yoop! Wazoing! “Hey! That’s the sound of the KWUZ traffic eye in the sky! “C’mon in, Doc, and give us that seagull’s eye view…”
Who gives a flying fuck what the song was about? Radio was all bells and whistles now. It reminded Ace of being high on speed and drinking Thunderbird. After a while, your maxxed-out brain cells would start imploding and crazy shit would go flying around in your mind. Like a meth-crazed rat in a kaleidoscope. He shot Harry a look. The Hebe was seething, tapping his feet and playing with his fingers, rubbing his hands on his thighs. The veins in Harry’s forehead were standing out. Ace thought he could see Harry’s pulse in them.
Gotta get him laid or something.
Johnny played The Big One and turned the sound down. He took off his light amber shades and picked up a towel and wiped the sweat from bald dome. His coffee cup smelled of scotch.
“Sorry about all that crap, guys. Remember when radio was outlaw and fun? Now it’s just this corporate bullshit. You know, gotta pay the rent. Xeonosis has been good to us.”
“Not a problem, man, thanks for having us in.”
B-twoing!“ Hey! we are sooo back with Childhood. So tonight you’re out at the Starhood Arena. Wildman Joey Lowe! He must be something to work with, am I right?”
“Oh he is something, you are so right!”
Harry almost smiled for a second.
“Hi, Josh, How are things?” Ace smiled at the thought of his son. Ace pictured Josh sitting in front of his computer in a trashed, cramped room in Brooklyn, cats on top of messy shelves, unmade bed, and a couple of empty Guinness bottles on the floor. Ace hadn’t been to New York for a while, so he really didn’t know the state of Josh’s homemaking, but he knew how it used to be.
“Oh, you know, just workin’ and goin’ to school. Been doin’ my dungeonmaster thing and playing a couple of gigs. The usual. What’s new with you?”
Ace felt like Josh thought of him nowadays as a foolish old man, fairly useless, but harmless. They had been very close when Josh was growing up, but since Josh moved to New York to go to school, they had naturally drifted apart a bit. It was all in the normal range, thought Ace; just the way it was supposed to be. Josh had dropped out of college and stayed in New York. He had a band of his own. They did funky, rap-meets-Devo stuff that was way outside, almost performance art compared to Ace’s music, which Josh considered to be folkie-fuddy-duddy- muzak. Ace loved Josh’s music. He thought of him as genius far beyond his own average talent level. But he worried that his son was so far out of the commercial realm that he might never be heard, which would be a true loss for the world. He had me for a role model, that’s his problem. Still, Ace thought, he emulated me and not his attorney mom; that was a compliment that made Ace feel good.
“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to come see us play our last gig. It’ll be at the good’ol Spud Palace in about six weeks. It’s the wrap –up to all this implant bullshit. A lot of music-biz wankers will be there. You might be able to pitch your CD around to a few people.”
“Well, I don’t know. I might have a couple of gigs around then, but, sure, I’ll come. Could we drive up to Montana after for a couple of days? I’d like to see it again. “
“We can try if Sheila will let me.” Ace felt a hot flash as his forehead knotted up. Dammit, Josh came first, long before Sheila. “Fuck it, we’ll do it! I’ve earned it. Great! It’ll make your old dad happy to see you out in the old stomping grounds.” Truly, Josh had been born in 1980, so he didn’t remember Idaho. Ace and Ada had moved to L.A. in ’82, just part of the miserable and enduring fiasco they called their marriage. Part of the saga of Ace and his angry women!
“OK, dad. Well, I’ve got things I have to do.” Such as right now to continue to fight the Assyrians in Civilization X.” I’ll call you in the next few days.”
Josh hung up and pushed back from his computer. He picked up the twenty-pound barbells from their rack in the tidy room and did thirty reps with each arm. He was in good shape. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. The beard was gone, he had contacts. He was using some products that made his shortish dark hair stand up and out. He had cut back on the beer and was looking like a star. He was going to surprise a lot of people one of these days.
Joey was a little off his feed in Portland, not that the adoring throng of older ticket buyers really noticed. Childhood split the bill with the Vortexans, who also had their big run in the ‘70’s. Their hippie-acid music had a lot of fans in Oregon. There were plenty of that old lovin’ feelin’ hits to go around.
Joey seemed like he was in a little pain. No one in the band out side of Russell and Greg knew about the implant business. He still got the big ovation with his Hitler salute. He did a quickie meet-and-greet afterwards, and then took off with Russell before the Vortexans’ set.
The Vortexans played their psychedelic folkie stuff. Real acid-rock. They were still tripping. Russell came in to warn the band.
“Hey, don’t drink anything that’s open over in the Vorto’s dressing room. They’re fuckin’ high.”
“Harry the Hebe said, “How do they do it? They’re on goddam oxygen bottles and using walkers and they’re still taking acid? Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl.”
Ace added, “I’m glad I tripped when I did, but I would never do that again. Scary, man”
Sheila was cold even by her standards after the show.
“It’s late. Don’t even bother calling me, Ace. I know you don’t want to. And I don’t want you to either.”
Ace felt that customary, what a pain in the ass this all is twist in his gut. Then he mustered, “Well, I want to find out how Molly’s doing in school.”
“Molly is doing fine, no thanks to you. You’ve been gone most of the last four months. She and I do just fine without you. I’m serious.” Sheila sounded serious. She could get very serious. Seriously angry. Like controlled fission inside a nuclear facility: when it got loose, it would char Ace’s worthless flesh to the bone.
“Shee, I am doing the only thing I know how do reasonably well that I can earn a dollar doing. What I am supposed to do?” It was a frequently asked question; more rhetorical than anything else. Ace was stuck.
“You could have come up with a real job in the last nine years.” This was Sheila’s big argument.
Ace’s usual retort was, I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid one of those fucking, chrome -plated, soul-trapping jobs.
“Sheila, I’m a musician. You should have married an attorney.” Like my ex-wife – you two would make quite a pair!
“Maybe I will. Maybe I will! I want out!”
How many times had he heard that! The only problem was, it never came true. Their war always fell back into a familiar, brittle, hypocrite’s truce, saturated with frustration and hopelessness.
Ace had just about given up hope that they would ever break up. The high-flying feeling of exhilaration that came each time from the post-fight delusion that this time it was really over would be brought back to earth by a need to go to dinner at Sheila’s sickening mom’s, by a private school function, by the endless stack of bills and the too-expensive brick house in the neighborhood he didn’t like, and by the whole blinkin’ life he had never intended to live.
Ace really didn’t want to hurt Molly. Still, what good was it to bring a child up around parents who were always fighting? No answer seemed to work. Being on the road was a good thing; that is until the gig was over and he had to call home and get his balls broken.
“Ok, I give up!” he said, “I surrender. Look, I’m doing the best I can.”
“Just don’t bother calling every night. You can talk to Molly on the weekends.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Shee!” Ace had had it.
Sheila hung up the phone and looked the number written on the pad.