Pricing a promise
Normally he would have walked the easy half mile along the beach from his house to Coop’s, but Slim was on his way downtown so he tossed the briefcase in the car and drove the distance. They’d planned to go over the whole damned Brew and Rayne and Jimmy misadventure after some conspiracy nuts and the media got involved, and after Rayne stormed his office, plus Duff Tyson was mixed up in there although that wasn’t his business and he hoped to keep it that way, and then there was Gemma Wilson. They’d planned to do it yesterday. They couldn’t fit it in and Slim hadn’t considered it urgent.
So here he was on a Friday morning dragging a briefcase full of contract paperwork up the stairs to Coop’s house.
So here he was on a Friday morning dragging a briefcase full of contract paperwork up the stairs to Coop’s house.
Slim heard a guitar as he climbed up the last few steps but before he had a chance to knock, Cooper threw open the door and stepped aside to let him in. "Thanks for coming to the house. With Beth away this week, I didn't want to leave Hugs alone and she’ll be getting back from school in a couple of hours."
He thought that was a pretty lame excuse. Hugs could safely stay at home by herself for an afternoon. She’d spent yesterday evening at his house playing pool with Garrett and Cullen, a last minute arrangement to give Coop some privacy to talk to Rayne, and it had gotten kind of late and she’d asked to walk home by herself. Not that he’d let her – he sent Garrett along on the ten minute walk – but she wasn’t scared.
It was just as well to go over the issue here instead of the studio though, if there was an issue, and so far he didn’t see one. "It's no problem."
Slim walked into the living room while Coop retrieved a beer from the kitchen. He set his briefcase on the table and took a look around. The place was looking empty, that whole wing where the twins stayed cleared out and left that way. He hadn’t heard Coop talk about moving into someplace smaller but he couldn’t help but wonder if they planned to stay here and rattle around just the two of them and Hugs.
"Sorry, I poured the last Guinness a few minutes ago. Heineken okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine. You working on the new album?" Slim glanced at the pile of arrangements on the table knowing that was not the reason for the summons by Coop. Like he’d already told Coop over the phone, they followed the letter of the contract right down the line, got Gemma angry, unavoidable even if he wanted to avoid it, but it was over and done with. He was worried about Rayne chasing after Gemma and wanted Coop to try to pull her back in line if he could, and Gemma’s renewed threat made him uneasy. There was nothing useful he could do about it, and he believed she’d get over it when she signed someone else, and she probably would. He thought they’d go over what little they had to talk about and put it to bed.
After taking a liberal swig of Heineken, Slim set it down, lowered his body into the chair, and rested his elbows on his knees waiting for Coop to fill him in. "You didn't ask me here to talk about leaving Hugs alone after school or how far you’ve gotten with the album. Spill. What's going on?"
Coop sat to Slim's left, drew a deep breath, and then leaned forward face set and eyes hard. Over the many years that he and Coop had been friends, Slim learned every nuance in Coop's expression and body language. Watching him now, Slim knew he wasn't going to like what he was going to hear.
"I want you to settle some money on Jimmy Breaux's little sister. Make it a percentage of what the album might have earned if we'd released it, a one-time payment. We still hold the rights to the masters right?"
What the hell? "That's it? That's why you asked me here? You could have mentioned that over the phone Coop. You didn't need me to bring these damned contracts to ask me to send some poor girl a check. I know there's more so talk to me."
"All right, there is more and before you go all ape-shit on me, hear me out. I want you to settle some cash on Brew as well."
Slim couldn't believe it. The two men stared at each other, neither willing break the connection. Coop had made some unusual requests in the past and he'd carried them out despite some pretty serious reservations but this was out of the question. Cooper had been involved in writing that contract, he’d approved the way it would be voided if Jimmy stepped out of line. It had only been a couple of days since the man died, and dying hadn’t been in anybody’s plan, but the terms of the contract had been applied as they should. Cautious, hoping there was some rationale he didn’t get yet, thinking maybe this was still something to do with Jimmy’s sister, he kept his voice steady.
"Settle money on Brew. You going to tell me why?” And, because the thought abruptly occurred to him and he couldn’t avoid it no matter how crazy it was, Slim added, “You including Gemma Wilson in that edict?”
"Just do it." Coop didn’t move, flat voice, hard flat expression, expecting no argument. Son of a bitch.
Slim pushed out of his seat and walked over to the window. A thin layer of clouds hung low on the water. Everything was silent except for the constant whoosh of the waves hitting the beach and the occasional squawk of seagulls probably fighting over a desperate crab. He was on the crab’s side at this point. He stood just out of reach of the billowing curtains and folded his arms against his chest in an effort to avoid punching a hole in something.
"Just do it? Are you fucking insane? No, I'm not going to do that, no way in hell."
Coop rose and took a few steps toward him. Clearly, he wasn't going to back down but neither was Slim. He’d already put himself out there, taken a public position on this, painted the company and himself as the bad guys in the media since the sympathy was for the dead artist. They were taking some flak for it but by the end of the month nobody would remember Jimmy Breaux. They’d remember it if Slim Savage caved on a contract because he felt sorry for somebody.
"That contract was about Gemma and you know it. The band members were innocent bystanders. Hitman never would have signed them—hell nobody would have with Jimmy's history. We cut them off at the knees because of Gemma. They don't need to bear the full brunt of it. The sister especially doesn't need to suffer. I don't care how you do it, you’ve got enough experience to come up with something, but get it done."
Stung, Coop had never been condescending and the remark about his experience came out of left field, Something had to be seriously wrong. "Again, no. We have no reason whatsoever to pay. You want to ease the loss for the little sister, which I can agree with. But there are a lot of innocents you aren't considering here Coop. The fallout of this is going to spread in ways you aren't even taking into account."
"It's my company Slim, my label. Don't argue with me on this."
What the actual fuck? Sim moved dangerously close to Cooper and dropped his arms, balling his fists. "Your company? Your label? I don't seem to recall you buying my half out.”
“This is your guilt talking. Like you’ve done before, you did something arrogant and stupid and now you’re making a unilateral decision without so much as including your business partner. This is not good business or goodwill. I worked my ass off protecting our company and your reputation with that contract. After Jimmy died I tore Gemma up when she came to the studio about the contract and now you want me to take it back? Forget about your ego and what you want for a minute here and think about my credibility."
He needed space. Slim could recall only one time he'd laid a serious beating on Coop. That situation involved another Wilson family member. Julia. Coop deserved it then and he deserved one hell of a beating now if only to knock sense into him. Coop had a world class temper and he’d gotten the rough end of it more than once but nothing like this. If he wasn’t on his way to work he’d grab something a lot stronger than a beer.
Coop stepped to one side, looked down that empty hallway, and started to pull back the attitude. “Look I’m sorry about the comment on the company, I didn’t know you’d have a problem with any of this. The band caught a really lousy break, but that’s not what this is about.” He paused, looking tired and uneasy and worried, maybe showing his age some.
Cooper glanced away toward the wall where he’d hung a photo of his family, hesitated, seemed to be considering things and then came to pleading than Slim had ever seen. “Rainie…this is about Rainie. What I saw last night was bad Slim, much worse than I knew. Jimmy died almost literally on her doorstep, did you know that? And he was holding onto her photo or so they’re saying, and it’s tearing her up. Of course it is, she’s nineteen years old. She’s got reporters hounding her. She’s bouncing around with no real place to stay and she’s pushing me away. She won’t make it if this continues and I don’t know any other way to help her.”
Rayne, he should have guessed it was poor Rainie behind Coop’s change of heart. She couldn’t take one step in any direction without falling off a curb. “I know she’s upset. She was yelling and screaming at me about Jimmy. And Gemma. She’s been asking about Gemma, pushing hard.”
“Gemma was someone to blame, that’s all. She's blaming herself now and fighting a bunch of wild crap about a fiancee and stolen money and Jimmy Breaux dropping dead as soon as she walked out on him, and for some reason she's behind that too. She knows how to handle the media, but I've got to help her deal with the damage to the band. I promised her I'd do it.”
Now that did make him feel bad. “That’s a promise you shouldn’t have made. I understand how you feel Coop but it’s a business decision both of us have to make.” Slim paused, and once again asked the question Coop had not answered. “What’re you going to do about Gemma? You including her in this deal?”
Cooper shook his head, looked up over Slim’s shoulder out at the sky and the water and then back at him with a kind of brooding quiet. “I don't know. She’s the agent. You're nullifying the contract, damages her reputation, she might not take it but cutting her out would be worse. Include her.”
What a wonderful idea. Offering her money with one hand and stomping all over her with the other, publicly humiliated like that…. she was going to tear him apart.
Walking across the room, Slim regarded the family photo taken when Hugs was still a little girl. In so many ways she still was. She was an innocent who worshiped and was devoted to her father. Unlike the other kids, her life didn’t really extend much beyond the house and the safety of the peninsula. She wasn’t prepared for any of this.
Not for the first time Slim wondered if the fame and notoriety was worth the cost. Look at the fractures in the Stanfield family portrait, the cause and effect of Cooper's life in the public eye. Round and round it went and here he was again, plaster and paint bucket in hand, trying to help paste together what he could. At least he didn’t have to worry about his own family – he’d kept them away from all that bullshit.
He pulled in a deep breath and figured he’d try. “I get where you’re coming from but it’s too late. Everything is a mess from beginning to end and the good times just keep on coming. Think about your family Coop. You really want to put them through another scandal? You really think this is going to roll off them the way it rolls off you? Think about Hugs. You wanted Hugs out of the house last night so she wouldn't hear anything you and Rayne talked about. How do you think you’re going to protect her if Gemma drops that nuclear bomb? We’re talking rape, not a hookup with Stevie Holloway."
Cooper paced across the room. His expression cold and angry he stopped, turned hard on the heel of his heavy boot and demanded, “So what are you advising me to do? Not pay her? That'll guarantee she'll blow up! Give her the masters to shop around if she won't take a check! I have to try something - I can't sit here and wait for her to attack.”
Completely exasperated, Slim slammed the column with the flat of his hand and shouted at him. “Are you listening to anything I've said?
"I settled money on Gemma Wilson to shut her up when we extended that fucking contract the first time. You can't keep her quiet and you can't get rid of her no matter what you do, so why do anything at all?”
Coop folded his arms across his chest and looked at him, not moving, not arguing, not agreeing with any of it. Nothing. Like always, he'd do what he wanted to do, and what he wanted to do was try, again, to buy off a woman who wanted something other than money.
Slim grabbed his briefcase and headed for the door. “I'll see what I can do. I ought to let you deal with it by yourself but there’s Hugs standing there. The rest of your family may let you off again, but you’re going to devastate Hugs. That’s the only reason I’m doing this.”
"And you," he added, "are coming with me when we meet with Gemma Wilson."
He stormed out and thundered down the steps without a single glance over his shoulder leaving Coop in his wake. For the first time in their long relationship, Slim felt an ominous crack in their friendship. Maybe it was the same thing that happened to his family. Maybe you couldn’t get close to the man without sooner or later finding the ground opening up under your feet.