Performing Arts

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Chapter 1
Dizzy

I slid the record out of the sleeve. The pressed plastic flashed like an oil slick. I’d been around records my whole fifteen and a half years, but I still loved the satiny shine of them. I held the unmarked record up when Dad came into the office. “Do you know who this is?” I asked him. Our record store, The Vinyl Trap, was slow for a Saturday. I’d retreated to the office at the back of the store looking for something to listen to.

Dad shrugged and nodded at the turntable on his desk. “Put it on. Let’s find out.” The couch springs creaked when he sat down and propped his black motorcycle boots up on the coffee table. I dropped the record over the pin in the centre of the turntable. With the flick of a switch, it started to spin and I dropped the needle. Seconds later, a sultry powerhouse of a voice filled the room. I peeked at Dad. His eyes were closed and his head swayed with the emotion of the song. It was bare bones, just a piano and the singer.

The voice was familiar. It would have been to anyone who heard it. Georgia Waters, the world’s most famous singer.

And my mother.

The huskiness of her voice was like sandpaper and honey, every note filled with emotion. I watched Dad lose himself in the song. She didn’t need any accompaniment. She had one of those voices that hit, right in your gut, and made you ache along with her.

“Man, that woman can sing.” Dad sighed when the song ended.

“Yeah,” I agreed quietly and lifted the needle off the record.

“I think she was pregnant with you when she recorded that song.”

“Why’d you hide it away?” I stood up and dug through his desk drawer until I found a marker. In block letters, I wrote GEORGIA WATERS on the sleeve.

“Wasn’t hiding it, just forgot I had it.” Dad’s gravelly voice sounded like his mind was somewhere else. With greying hair, left long and shaggy, and the chunky silver rings that covered his fingers, it was obvious he wasn’t the khaki-button-down-briefcase kind of dad other kids had. One arm was covered in tattoos: a saxophone, some music notes, my brother’s name and mine swirled up his ropy-veined forearm, just above a stack of braided leather bracelets. Georgia’s name had been there, too, once upon a time. Now it was covered with a band of music notes.

I looked at him reproachfully. I was never sure where his feelings for her lay. He probably wasn’t, either. The bell over the door chimed, announcing a customer, and Dad stood up. He looked relieved at the interruption. “Hey there,” he called out. “Can I help you?”

I heard the customer tell Dad that he was looking for a specific record but couldn’t remember the name of the artist or the title of the album. I rolled my eyes at the impossibility of the request, but Dad loved the needle-in-a-haystack hunts: I heard it in a New York City jazz bar in 1996 and have been looking for it ever since. My brother, Lou, and I didn’t have the patience to work with a customer for two hours until the exact record was identified, but Dad did.

I held Georgia’s record in my hand and glanced at the shelves. Were more of them hidden in Dad’s private collection? Since we were kids, Dad had sworn us to secrecy about who our mom was. He’d explained that if anyone found out, we’d get hounded, like other celebrities’ children. Photographers would hide in bushes and kids at school would want to be our friends just because we were related to Georgia Waters. Keeping it a secret was easy; it wasn’t like Georgia came around very often. I’d only seen her once in the last fourteen years. She’d visited when I was six, and even though Dad told us not to say anything, I’d blurted it out at recess the next day. The girls had laughed at me and called me a liar. I remember getting red in the face and stamping my feet, insisting that it was the truth. They’d started calling me Deliar, instead of Delilah.

By the time I got to middle school, everyone had forgotten my claim on Georgia. Now that I was in high school, I was just a kid with no mom. Always had been. I’d stopped trying to explain it.

The ironic part of being abandoned by a famous singer is that she never really went away. All it took was a Google search of her name and I got two million hits. I knew where she’d had dinner last night, who she had it with, and what time she left the restaurant because the photographs were plastered all over the internet. I could follow her vacationing on a yacht and see pictures in magazines of her arriving at late-night talk shows. She might have escaped us, but we couldn’t escape her.

I put the record back and made a mental note of its location on the shelf in case I wanted to listen to it again.

Or not. Maybe it would just sit there, forgotten. Like we were.

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The Bodyguard

The Bodyguard

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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New Dark Ages
Excerpt

Prologue

Hello, you bastard.

It was hard to believe. Like a bad fucking movie. But it was happening, right there, right then, right in front of our eyes.

It was that night. The night before the last day.

I looked over at X, and his eyes — one pupil dilated, one not, as always — were squinting at the TV. His fists were clenched. He looked pissed, as if he was going to punch the screen or something.

The TV cast a bluish glow over my non-family’s family room. My mother was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, and she was watching, too. She had her arms crossed, but she seemed to be nodding about some of the things being said. By him.

I looked back at the TV, and at Earl Turner, who was still standing behind the podium in downtown Portland. There was an American flag on the front of the podium, and below that, in big block letters, was the word RIGHT. His slogan. His word.

As usual, Turner was wearing a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. As usual, his regimental tie was loose at the neck. You could tell he worked out. Behind him, an enthusiastic crowd of supporters were assembled. They were clapping and nodding their heads.

X and I weren’t really watching Turner. We were watching one of the people just behind him who was clapping and nodding his head, just like the rest of the assembled crowd.

I could not fucking believe this shit. I hated it. And hate was what Earl Turner’s speech was all about, pretty much. It usually was. Hate for refugees and immigrants and welfare moms and anyone, basically, who didn’t look like Earl Turner and his friends. Hate dressed up in fine-sounding words about patriotism and family and country and all that horseshit. Hate was Earl Turner’s thing, and it had brought him to this, his big moment. The confetti and the balloons — red, white, and blue — were ready to be dropped from above.

Turner was coming to the big wind-up in his speech. He always ended it the same way. “America,” he said, his booming voice sounding tinny on my mother’s old RCA. “America is for Americans. America is for the righteous. America is for the bold. America is for those who believe in God, those who love God, those who fear God. America isn’t for everyone. America is for normal people like us!” He paused, a big fist hovering above the podium. We couldn’t see them, but the crowd at the hotel had started to chant: “RIGHT RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT!”

Midway through — and this had happened before — “RIGHT!” changed, and the crowd started to chant a different word: “WHITE! WHITE! WHITE! WHITE! WHITE!”

Earl Turner smiled, that big square-jawed quarterback all-American douchebag smile of his, and waved for the crowd to settle down. “Right,” he said. “Right is …”

The crowd screamed as one, like a beast. “WHITE!”

Earl Turner leaned into the gaggle of network microphones. He smiled. This was his moment. This was it. He had won. He knew it. Everyone knew it.

He started to speak. It was the part of the speech about how God “created” America. At that point, the young guy behind him — the one we’d been watching — stepped forward. He was wearing a white shirt and tie, just like his hero. We could see his broad, freckled face clearly. At that moment, Turner saw him, too, and clapped a big hand on the young man’s shoulder.

It was our friend, Danny. When he was drumming in my band, his stage name had been Danny Hate. He looked different now. He was different. He and Turner looked at each other and smiled, like father and son, like some fucking Norman Rockwell painting. Behind me and X, my mother whispered just one word: “Danny.”

The crowd kept on cheering, calling out RIGHT and WHITE. They were screaming it.

“Enough,” said X, and that was all he said.

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