by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Profound gratitude goes out to David at Nifty, this series's first home, and to the beauteous and soignée Gabriella, Our Gracious Hostess (and brilliant author of My Surprise Romance, among other great fics, and hostess not only to me but to Casey and other superior writers at her site, It's Just a Beautiful Dream), at http://www.freespeech.org/gabriella/hosted/hosted.
Standard Disclaimer: If descriptions of same-sex acts, feelings, &c are held to be - by any governmental entity asserting jurisdiction over you, or by your religion or moral framework - illegal, immoral, unethical, or fattening, read no further. If you are underage according to your local laws, read no further. If you have somehow managed not to notice until now that this is a slash (as in boys-with-boys) site, read no further (and look into either corrective lenses or remedial English classes, because you've managed to miss about a dozen different warnings to get here at all). I need hardly say that the events and personalities depicted in this story are wholly figments of the author's rabid imagination, and in no wise should be taken to imply that any actual member of any boyband, or any celebrity known to mankind, or any real person, is or conceivably could be gay - least of all the members of 'N Sync and of the Backstreet Boys, all of whom are of course straight, well-dressed, intelligent, articulate, cultured, sweet-natured, and kind to their mommies. No celebrity so much as mentioned here should be construed as having these assigned fictional habits, preferences, personality, or fashion sense. Major Lee also of course does not and cannot possibly exist - and I am certainly not he. (In fact, bits of him are borrowed from a lovably pompous writer pal of mine who has no idea he's gay....)
Equally, it should be evident that I have no contact with or knowledge of any of such musicians, pop stars, their agents, associates, staff, or families. Nor am I turning one red cent off this. Obviously, intellectual property rights are held by me, and no cross-posting to any site that charges any fee for entrance or activity is allowed without prior written consent from the author. The other warning is that this series is not going to move urgently into hot monkey sex - though, yes, we're getting there: patience; it will build, and it will I hope be something more than quick stroke-lit. Now enough prologue: let's get to the tale....
Sentimental Journey: Chapter Seventeen
In Our Last Episode: Thrown together by Amtrak, the members of BSB and 'N Sync fall in with dashing young military historian and lawyer, the Virginia aristocrat Major Custis Lee. The Major soon found himself their father confessor and an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' In a move that backfired severely, the boys, playing Cupid, dragged the reluctant object of the Major's unrequited affections, Luke deMaria, along. That led to a tense scene or two - but nothing compared to the firestorm that erupted when Joey was caught with drugs in his luggage, and the Major and Dr Keyes forced a group meeting - and therapy session / confessional:
We'd taken a break, at Dr Keyes's direction.
Now that break was over. And Alex had some more to say.
'I - started - I got into this because of - Lou, you know ... and, um....'
'Never. I was lucky. Almost all of us were. What Lou did to me didn't cause me to start doin' the shit. Hell. I'd experimented before. Not so much in high school - I was too poor to buy a fucking lid, man. But college and Universal, I'd dabbled. But what Lou did, he didn't drive me to the stuff, he just facilitated it. Fuckin' dealer, man.'
'Holy shit,' D breathed. 'That maricon.'
'Verdad,' Chris nodded. 'Hijo de puta.'
'You said - you said "almost all" -' Kevin looked embarrassed to ask.
James gripped Josh's hand tightly. 'You're probably guessin' it was me,' James said. 'I wish - I'd rather it had been.'
Josh stared at the floor. 'It was me.'
And now, Today's Episode:
James drew his lover protectively into a yet tighter embrace.
'I - I just need a moment, okay?' Everyone murmured assurance: Josh was to take as long as he needed.
'In the meantime,' I said, 'I want to speak to the Special Agent in Charge of the nearest Fibbie field office. No. Scratch that. Lucien, you will oblige me by calling the Senator, please.'
Luke was already dialing.
'Senator? Yes sir, I'm - your cousin the Major wants to talk to you, sir -'
I took the cell from Luke. 'Senator. Louis J. Pearlman of Orlando. He is - or had damned well best be - already a target of one or more Federal investigations. I want him destroyed.'
'Do you though, cuz.'
'I do indeed - cuz. With all possible expedition.'
'How destroyed do you want him, there, Custis?'
'Utterly. Tried, convicted, and imprisoned in some harsh cross-bar Hilton that is so far from the amenities of Club Fed, the Bureau of Prisons actually forgets its existence for months on end. I'd prefer that he live out his days getting a checkered tan from never seeing the sun save through a barred window, but if he is not to go down for the term of his natural life, I want him when he emerges, shattered and maundering, to be broken utterly, begging his bread in the streets. I want his guts for galluses and his balls for paperweights. Am I making myself relatively clear, cousin?'
'Exceedingly so. I'll look into it.'
'You do that, sir. And I will be monitoring the situation. Good day, and thank you in advance for your fullest efforts.' I could afford to be crisp.
I looked up, and saw that they were all looking at me in - was that fear? Even from Dimi and Hunter?
Only James had the balls to speak. 'Major, I hope never to be on your bad side,' he said softly, his voice strained.
'Nor shall you. If you all, all, were not my friends whom I dearly love, I should not, as I now do, hold that man for an enemy. That bein' so, it were impossible that y'all should ever cease to be my friends, and become mine enemies. And I admit that is just as well.'
We had to take another break after that.
The Major had stepped outside to smoke a quick pipe. Inside, everyone was looking to Hunter and Jake.
'I must admit,' Dr Keyes said, 'I, um, found that about near as alarming as the rest of y'all did.' His voice was still taut.
'Well, Colonel. I have seen it before. Several times.'
'Have you, though, Jake,' Dr Keyes mused. 'Not - well, under what circumstances? Because I admit I'm a little alarmed, if he possesses that cold rage under any normal circumstances at all.'
'They were circumstances in which it was appropriate,' Jake said. 'As you, sir, will understand when I tell you where I saw him in that mood. Once, outside barracks in KKMC, when he learned that that Scud our side knocked down fell into a barracks and killed American soldiers. Once, half a klick into the Neutral Zone. And once well inside Iraq in hot pursuit of elements of the Republican Guard.'
'I had hoped that would be the case. In a combat environment, that's wholly appropriate, that harnessed rage. I trust he doesn't make a habit of it otherwise.'
'He never has, sir. But - you cross him, unjustly, and harm his men, or friends or family: he couldn't give a shit about himself, but you fuck with his people and you are going down - then, sir, he gets into that zone.'
'Damn,' said Justin, offering an olive branch. 'Luke had the right on it: that's plain intimidating, man.'
'No, Justin,' Jake said. 'Not to you or any of us it ain't. You ride with the Major, and it is just exactly not intimidating: it's the most reassuring thing in the world, knowing you are on his side and he's locked-in that way to save your ass. Always gave me one mo-fo-ing sense of security, myself.'
They thought about that for a while.
Joey spoke up. 'You know, Jake, I'm glad you're here like this. I mean, Lonnie and them, they're the best, and I love 'em and trust 'em, but ... I just wish we'd, like, saw more of you before this.'
'They're your detail. Jake and I - we're the detail on the perimeter. I mean ... when your bodyguards become celebs in their own right, like Tiger's caddy is, then they actually attract more attention; then, you need an outside level to watch you and them both. That keeps us mostly from getting close to you chaps, and that's a right shame, because I think I speak for John here too -'
'- When I say getting to hang with y'all is a privilege and an education,' Jake grinned. That broke the ice, and the boys laughed and began to relax.
'I just hope he's as intimidating to the Senator,' Luke said quietly. 'Cousin me no cousins, you just don't talk that way to a United States Senator.'
'Shit,' Jake snorted. 'Major talked that way - civilly, respectfully, and every word a white-hot whip - to a goddamn Major General one time in Saudi when the Major was right and the MG was wrong.'
'Wh- what happened?' Kev was in awe. Even he knew you just don't do that.
'General backed down, we did it the Major's way, cracked the 'Raqs like an eggshell, and shortly thereafter the Major was standing to attention getting a Silver Star pinned on him.'
I came back in, sensing a considerable warming of the atmosphere. I hugged Josh tight, and we resumed.
'Ya know ... AJ, all this time, I've been - look, we were never as pissy as the press liked to make out, but the friendship we claimed existed between these bands, that was overdoing it too. And you especially ... I never felt, well, comfortable with you. The rough edges ... man, you scared me.'
Alex went over and knelt before Josh, taking his hand gently in his own, and holding out the other for James's hand. 'Man ... all the baggage, huh? And the way we been to you guys, and the whole thing thinking you were after our base and a bunch of wannabes, and I admit it we did think that at first even if we've tried to play it off since.... Shit. I tried to get scary enough to get Lou to back off and the only people I bluffed was the ones woulda been there for me ... we were the vulnerable ones, man, you, me, Chris, the ones without dads or with a family dynamic that was distant and didn't have our moms along like Curly and Nick-ay ... we were targets and we should all have been standin' together all along -'
'But you survived. All three of you survived,' Lance rumbled.
AJ looked up at him. 'Y'know what, man? You're right. Chris, C, Joe - we did it. We fuckin' survived.'
'Yay us,' Chris said, with a stab at his old smile. 'But we can't blame Lou for Joe - that's my fault -'
'Fuck that,' Joe said, ruffling Chris's hair. 'Your smart mouth, the tour, the clubs, my own need to be happy all the time - man, no one is to blame for my fuck-ups but me. I have to accept that.'
'I think you just did,' Colonel Keyes said mildly.
'Hey. I did, didn't I?' Joe swept AJ and Chris into a bear hug, then put them down and hugged Josh and James. 'You guys - long as I got you guys, I can do this.'
Everyone congratulated him: he had brightened up like the noon sun after a morning fog.
'And as long as I have you all, and especially James, I can do this,' Josh said, with quiet determination. We settled in to listen.
'I was a prick,' Josh said. James winced. 'No: I was, James. To you most of all.
'Nobody knew - not even you, I sometimes think, know, really, even now, love - how scared I am, all the time. Jeez. Do you have any idea how - except for James - I would trade anything, everything, even you-all, even you, Curly, and you're my best friend since, like forever, and all of this, and the music, and makin' it, and writin' it, how damn often I'd trade all of it just to feel safe? To feel secure? To know that, okay, I'm average, I'm nothin' special, I'll get a job in middle fuckin' management and have the house in the 'burbs and drive an Oldsmobile and blend in. I am so damn scared, all the time, an' the only thing makes it go away 's, well, you guys, sure, but really? James. James makes it go away, and even then, God, I get so scared and so damn disgusted with myself, that I'm so clingy, and that someday James'll get sick of it and then I'll have driven him away too and there won't be anything, anything left to live for and to make the fear go away....' James was holding him now, rocking him slightly, soothingly.
'I'll say one thing for that fat fuck. Lou was - I never forgot what one of the lawyers we had called him - a hell of a "social engineer." I mean he could manipulate anybody. Well. Almost anybody.
'That was the thing. I always knew deep down that James was stronger than me. No: you are, babe. So's Justy, really. Hell, who isn't? But - bein' older ... havin' been sort of JuJu's big brother ... I needed that, Just, though God it means I was usin' you and Lynn, but I needed to feel like I belonged, like I was contributin' something, I wasn't just a charity case livin' in your house ... and ... all the feelings I had for you, James ... and needin' to feel like I belonged - I had to seem like the strong one, the protector, the big brother, not because you, either of you, needed protecting, but because I needed to have that image of myself. I'm sorry, Justy.'
Justin merely slid over to him and hugged him and James both.
'And God am I sorry, James, treatin' you like some china doll when all along you were my strength, even when I pushed you away -'
'You're my strength, too,' James said simply.
'But - actin' like you couldn't fend off that bastard on your own ... what I've done over the years to your self-confidence I can never forgive myself for....'
'You'd damn well better. I've forgiven what little there was to forgive. And if you think that your letting me to know that you loved me, that you, the man I dreamt of, worshiped - still do, come to that - that you could and did actually love me - you think that decreased my self-confidence, sugarpie, you have yourself a whole 'nother think comin'.'
'And when I was pushin' you away?'
'"What don't kill, fortifies." And even that ... honeybunch, you ain't never done nothin' didn't come from lovin' me. I cain't hardly bitch about that none, now can I?'
Josh looked at his love, eyes brimming, and James tenderly kissed him.
'Me too,' Justin said quietly. 'Maybe Poofu could have handled Lou on his own ... Uncle Casey - he's not really my uncle, he's a soldier - you know him, Major?'
'It's a right big Army, son. Where is he?'
Jake chuckled. 'Major's Cav, Justin. Cav officers don't go slummin' by associating with groundpounder officers. Hell, they'll barely acknowledge the Artillery, socially.'
I glared at Jake, who snapped-to and braced, with an exaggerated 'Sir, disregard that, SIR!'
Justy grinned. 'Never mind. Anyhow. Old friend of my Dad's. Uncle Casey always says there's nothin' stubborner than a good ol' boy 'bout things, even things he'd druther die than have known: might as well try an' blackmail a mule, he says.'
Josh grinned a faint answering grin, strained though he still was. 'Stubbornness isn't my man's only mule-like quality -'
James blushed violently, to a chorus of 'Awwwww's.
Just went all serious on us again, though, when that was done. He hung his head before going on. 'Anyhow. C, man. Maybe James didn't need you that way. But maybe ... maybe I did. If Lou ... if Lou had ever ... I don't know, man. I don't think I coulda handled it. I mean, fuck, I can't even - I mean here I've just told everybody I'm gay too ... and no one believes me -'
'You're not gay,' Josh, James, D, Nick, and I all said in unison.
'I'd think I'd know,' Justin pouted.
'You're heteroflexible,' I smiled. 'What the hell do labels matter, anyway? I think you'll end up, eventually, happily married to a nice Southern girl who's had some experiences of her own but is ready by then to be a happy Junior Leaguer and happier still to have you actin' like the gentleman you can be when you try, and aren't going for the "In Da Hood" attitude. But you're likely to have an - interesting - path from here to there. What of it?'
'Well maybe because bein' gay or bi or whatever the fuck I end up being is -' Justy paused, calmed his voice, and looked guiltily at me, James and Josh, D and Nick ... and at Luke. 'Is, well, scary. Sorry. Don't be mad,' he pled, and this time he was definitely looking at Luke.
'Why would we be mad?' Luke's voice was unwontedly gentle. 'It's true. I can do all the activist posturing I want, but I've been just as scared, and still am, a lot. I bet La- I bet James and Josh are, too.'
'God, you have no idea,' said James.
'You don't get scared, do you?'
I looked at Justin as he sat there, his whole posture defensive.
'Oh hell no,' I drawled, 'I'm just naturally pale and sweating and shittin' green corn whenever the topic comes up, 'tain't that I'm frightened a-tall.' Justin looked at me a moment with That Look - you've seen it: the eyebrows knitted, mouth slightly open ... 'cute but dumb as a stump,' the Look says, when he's really not stupid at all. Then it sunk in, and he collapsed bonelessly in relief. Nick and Howie knelt next to him and stroked his back.
'Remember what Josh said,' D murmured. 'Sure, we're all scared. It's a scary world out there. But it's scarier to give up and give in. Remember?'
Justin nodded, and embraced them both. We were wrung out, all of us, I think: time for another break.
'Anyway,' Justin said when we resumed, 'I can go later: I just wanted you ta know, C, I 'preciate that you cared so much, and I don't know but that maybe I needed it.'
'Oh, Curly.... You're tougher'n you think, Baby Bro. I just wish I'd really done it for you, not so much for me and my self-image.
' 'Cause that's what worries me. All this time, all that time, it was all bout me. Pisses me off so much when they rag on Curly for bein' into himself and stuck-up and shit: I'm the one always trying to be what I'm not so I'll look good in that damn mirror that's always in my head.' James gripped him tightly and shook his head, eyes boring into him. 'Okay, babe, I won't overdramatize, but it's how I feel I am. The only thing makes me know I'm not as bad as I see myself as being is that you couldn't love me if I were.
'Let's leave it at that. Point is, I was vulnerable. Lou ... that shit. Alex, you really meant that, that it never went beyond inappropriate touching?'
AJ looked at JC and realized the question had a meaning, and was not what it sounded like. He exhaled, slowly, let his first flash of being affronted seep away, and nodded. 'Dead serious, man.'
'Sorry, I didn't mean to look like I doubted you like that. With me ... God, this sucks.' He took a few calming breaths. 'You all know I'm adopted, right? 'Kay. Look ... Karen and Roy have been great, they really are Mom and Dad to me. Heather, Tyler, they're true family too. And they never once, any of 'em, made me feel I was less than family. It was a sacrifice to them to let me do the Mouse Show, to let me do this, to follow my dreams far from home, okay? And Lynn ... she did everything she could ever have done to make me feel at home. I'm no throwaway. But. Well. Jesus. Inside, ever since I knew I was adopted ... I've felt like one. I was easy prey, I guess. Especially when ... that bastard ... figured out about me and James, even when I was making a prick of myself not being with James and dragging girls back every night....
'AJ's story is pretty important, I think. I don't know that Lou ever wanted to screw any of us - literally at least, he sure screwed us bigtime every other way, it was what he did, what he does, it's like - I'm babbling again, aren't I, James?' The blond just smiled and kissed him. 'Mmmm. Gee. Where was I? Oh. Anyway. Um, I think - and this is really just beginning to sink in - I think with Lou it was about control, nothing else.'
Dr Keyes and I exchanged a glance, and nodded.
'Makin' AJ confused and resentful and scared and never trustin' himself. Keepin' Chris hazed-out so he couldn't fight or even know there was a war on. And me. With me it was all a mind-fuck. Always. He never laid a hand on me. It was the comments. Like cold poison in my ear, all the time....'
I caught Joe, in my peripheral vision, his face taut with cold rage, irresistibly whispering to himself, 'Hamlet's father.'
'The faggot jokes and shit. Offhand comments that showed he knew. Knew what I was half-killing myself to deny. And suddenly it was easier, lots easier - unless Security was literally at my shoulder - for the groupies to slip me a number, or get to me, and for the underage drinks to show up, at clubs or at parties. I never made the connection, even when the groupies came equipped with coke and weed and acid.'
'Jesus CHRIST,' Jake exploded. If Lou Pearlman had been there - or indeed, the long-term inner security detail - nothing on earth, with the possible exception of a direct order from me in a parade-ground voice, could have prevented murder - or justifiable homicide.
'They didn't know,' Josh said. 'Don't blame your detail, Jake. Don't. They were manipulated too. Anyway. I was well on my way to being fucked up, under Lou's thumb. Fortunately, well, something happened.'
'What?' We were all so absorbed that even Colonel Keyes had forgotten his training: the question was forced out of him.
'James happened,' Josh said.
'He can rest another day,' the obese manager had sneered. 'This is a business. Sometimes you have to play hurt.'
Pearlman roughly shoved JC into a corner of the greenroom. His voice was low, menacing, designed to threaten without being overheard. 'Listen, pussyboy, if your frail little boyfriend can't do his work he can be replaced. What - you think maybe he got into your stash?'
'You son of a -'
'Listen, junkie-boy faggot, I can break you. I own this group. I own you. And don't even try to fuck with me: we both know who the world and the industry will believe.'
'Two minutes,' called the ASM in the doorway.
The show, as all the world now knows, had gone on.
It went on, because it was an article of faith that 'the show must go on.' It went on because Louis J. Pearlman decreed that it would, and that money be made from it. And Lance went on for the show. With Lou Pearlman, there was no court of last resort, no appeal unto Cæsar. The show went on, without the magic, without the verve ... with James Lance Bass dredging up from unexpected reserves the last ounce of his strength, even though it was not enough, even though everyone could see that it was not enough.
Even so, no one quite expected what happened afterwards, as they trudged towards the dressing room. Josh would never forget the sound, the sickening thud of James hitting the hallway floor helplessly, nor yet the look on that most precious of faces, nor yet the nausea and fear that gripped him when he saw James collapsed on the cold tiles, the way the back of his knees felt loose and his palms ran with a sweat like cold grease: the sensation of utter, hopeless fear that for all his fears and terrors he had never known until that instant.
The rest of those frantic minutes were a blur: Lou, cold and contemptuous, busying himself with controlling the incident, concocting a cover, interfering with Johnny's swift response in securing aid so as to cover the situation, and spin it; Chris, bewildered, Joe cradling James in a way that made Josh think, surreally, of the Pieta; Justin holding Josh back from throttling the life out of Pearlman's fat throat, then comforting him as he fell apart, racked with anguished sobs....
What Josh would always remember with hallucinatory, febrile clarity was the aftermath. He had stayed by the boy he loved, attached himself to his bedside like a limpet. Vaguely, as through from a tinny radio five rooms away, he could hear their bandmates. 'Leave him 'lone, okay? It's - he ... just let him be.' 'But what is with Sleepy on this, anyway?' 'Ya know, he tried to tell Lou before da show, just like Johnny did, and Lou overruled him: mebbe he feels it's his fault somehow.... Anyway, we betta let him be, and just let him work it out. He needs ta be by Lansten.' 'Well, damn it, we don't?' 'The Kid's right, CK, let's let it work itself out, actually.' He could hear them, but he had no ears for them, no eyes for their forays into the room: he was wholly concentrated on James, pallid, innocent, so perilously human amidst the cold machines and colder efficiency of the hospital. He forced himself to take in the sight of the hated needles, the IVs, and all the grim sterility of the room, knowing, knowing, that somehow this was his fault.
'James happened,' Josh repeated. 'The Disney Summer Jam, back in this last summer - you all know what happened ...well, mostly. And then ... afterwards...'
'James! Oh God, James. I'm here, baby. I'm here.'
James squeezed his hand, feebly. 'C'n I have some water, please?'
'Of course - here. Oh, Christ, James - baby - I....'
'Shush now. Shush. Josh.... We need to talk.'
'James, rest now, I'll be here, you need to get better, we'll have all the time in the world -'
'Shush, Josh. You're babblin' like a brook. Listen to me. I - I hope we do have all the time in the world -'
'James, you're going to be okay, I promise you, I'll do whatever -'
'Josh, I will call Nurse Ratchett in to sedate you, I'm warnin' you. Now shush up and listen.
'Josh. Look me in the eye. Do I mean anything to you at all?'
Josh's mouth wouldn't work for a long moment, his hand in James's trembled, only his tear-ducts worked properly as glistening drops slid down his face unremarked.
When he could speak, it was in a broken whisper. 'James ... you mean everything to me ... everything ... I love you, only you, I can't love anyone else this way....'
'Josh. Listen. I love you. You alone. You're my soul, and I have never stopped and never can stop loving you. Believe that.
'But if you love me, you have to love what I love, and that's you. For both of us, you have to - and you have to stop this other, um, shit. The -'
'James, I will never so much as look at another groupie if you'll just be mine -'
'Well now, that's all nice to hear, Joshy, but 'twasn't what I was talkin' about. Josh. I know. I know you haven't gone too far yet to get back - we couldn't do what we do out there onstage if you had, and you're no spazzier'n you were when you were a Rat-keteer, so that's normal for you - but you have to stop.'
'Y- you know?'
'Figured you out last month. Was fixin' to call you on it anyway. But now ... do you realize we could have lost each other yesterday?'
'Oh, fuck, James, I don't even want to think about it -'
'Joshy, that's sort of the point, you have to start facin' reality, not runnin' from it. Joshua Scott Chasez, I love you with all my heart, mind, and soul, but much as I want things to get back to where they should have been from the get-go, I am not going to do it until you get yourself clean.'
'Do you love me?'
'YES! God.... Yes....'
'Then love yourself and do this, I'll be with you every step of the road -'
'I'm scared, damn it! I'm scared shitless, okay?'
'We can do this together -'
'You don't understand! Do you have any idea why - do you know who - do ... oh God....'
'Josh. Look at me. Who has been gettin' you involved with this shit? One of the guys?'
'No! Of course not. God, James.... James ... it's Lou.'
Josh was barely in time to stop his re-found lover.
'James Lance Bass, don't you dare touch that IV! What the hell are you thinking? You're staying in that bed if I have to sit on you -'
'Tempting as that is,' James spat, 'I have me a fat bastard to kill first -'
'Lay down, James! Please. Please. We'll deal with it - but you have to get well too.'
'I damn near did kill the mangy flea-ridden son of a mongrel feist-dog bitch, too,' James recalled as we listened. 'Been simpler if I had....'
'You heard me, Mister Pearlman, sir.'
'Listen you little pantywaist, I own you - I could squash you like a bug -'
'"Robert E. Lee freed the slaves." You don't own me, by God.'
The manager sneered. 'Apparently that schooling wasn't worth much. Lincoln freed the schwarzes.'
'Apparently you never read nor saw Lonesome Dove, sir, or you plain have no sense of humor. I may be from Mississippi, but I'm not an idiot. Now let's agree neither of us is, and try and do this the easy way -'
'Listen, faygeleh, you don't come in here and threaten me -'
'I haven't made a solitary threat yet, sir: these are promises. I promise you that Jo- JC is going to get straightened out -'
'And if I say just a word in the right quarters -'
'You cain't, 'thout all sorts of questions the answers to all of 'em come right home to you, mister. You ought to be thankin' the Good Lord the police and the Feds ain't sniffin' around your office - yet: I'll drop a dime on you in a New York minute, I have to. And either you can submit the books to an audit voluntarily, or I'll find a way to tangle you up ever'whichway so fast it'll make your head plumb spin -'
'GET OUTTA MY OFFICE! No goysiche faygeleh from the backwoods is going to do this to Louis J. Pearlman - you're already about out of this band, you little cocksucker, and you're close to being out-ed, and wouldn't your parents love to learn that -'
'Since you were s'posed to be in loco parentis, I really don't think you want to get into that, you mudsill peckerwood bit of po' white trash - least of all when your greed and lack of concern for my welfare put me in a hospital a month back. I can see you want to do this the hard way. Fine and dandy, but you are in for more'n a peck of grief, buddy-boy, and that don't sweat me none at all. Yessir, in for a world of hurt. You done picked the wrong country boy to try and pull this shit on.' The door slammed so hard the band's first gold album fell off the wall, and it was touch-and-go whether subsequent awards might not.
Chris was staring at James as we listened to him and Josh recount the past. 'So that was why you gave me that innocent look and suggested - suggested - you sneaky Mississippi Albino....'
'That - that motherfucker!'
Chris just looked murderously at Lance. 'Curly knows the word. And as for you ... "go ask Lou," you said, "you should be able to buy a new house for cash down with what we've made," you said.... Well I asked Lou and that motherfucker tells me he can give me an advance, a fuckin' loan, but that our cut - we're broke, do you people realize that, BROKE!'
James and Josh exchanged a look. 'I don't expect he told you where all the money went?'
'You sound awfully calm about this -'
'Well, Joe, gettin' mad won't help. Gettin' even, on t'other hand....'
Joey gave him a speculative look. Nothing in the world would convince him that their Scoop hadn't expected this, planned for it. But all he said was, 'Now you're thinking like an Italian, man - gotta love it....'
Oblivious, Chris stopped pacing and stood over the seated James, white with fury. 'He started spouting bullshit, but - fuck it!' Chris was uneasy with the question anyway.
'That question really hit home,' Chris told us that autumn night in the hotel. 'Part of what he said was that a big chunk of it had gone for ... well, had gone up my nose or what have you. I wasn't about to tell you that, then.'
'Chris. It's okay, now. He was so damn crooked you could have used his spine for a safety pin.' James turned to us all. 'Anyway. Kev and y'all ... I reckon that answers your question.'
'There are other questions, though,' Dr Keyes said. 'We'll take a break now.'
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. What pop-psych revelations and dirty linens still await? What added stress will this put on the young couples? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you by the Office of Price Administration, Leon Henderson, Director . We now return you to our studios for a concert of popular music by the Duke Ellington Orchestra.