She led Randy downstairs to the owner’s office and knocked on the door. “Come in,” she heard from inside.
“Just stand there and…be tall,” she whispered to Randy and opened the door.
“Corey Lyondell!” said the owner, his face lighting up when she entered. He pushed himself up from his chair and walked around the desk. He wore khakis—oh my God, pleats—and some Under Armour polo shirt with crazy swooshes on it. The perfect shirt when you can’t decide if you want to hit the town or hit the golf course. He looked like a beefy college football coach gone to seed. All he was missing was a headset and a folding chair to throw. The man came in for a hug, but Corey thrust out her hand. Give a club owner an inch and he’ll take a mile.
The glow of the man’s smile dimmed a bit, but Corey compensated with her brightest “Hi! Thanks again for inviting me!”
When Randy the man-mountain loomed behind her, any remaining wattage in his smile fizzled out.
“Oh, uh, my pleasure…”
“This is Randy. He’s with me.”
“Hello, Randy. Dick Schlesinger.”
Randy held up a meaty paw. “Hey dude.”
“Right,” said Dick.
“Anyway,” said Corey, “I was hoping to settle up and be on my way.”
“So soon? Wouldn’t you like to hang around a bit?”
“Oh man, I would so love to, but this is literally the nineteenth city on an eighteen city tour and I’m gassed. The tank is below empty. I’m so tired I’m contradicting my own metaphors, so if I could just collect…”
“Ha,” said the man, then cast a glance at Randy. “Well, uh, let’s see.” He reached into his drawer and pulled out a check, scribbled for a few moments, and handed it over.
Corey looked at it and thought what the fuck?
“What the fuck?” she said.
“This is not what we were promised. This is, like, half.”
“Well,” said Dick, offering a good-natured chuckle, “I mean, come on…”
“What?” asked Corey.
He looked from Corey to Randy, as if appealing to his fellow man’s sense of reason, “It’s not exactly like you packed the place.”
“Dude.” Ug, I can’t believe I have to do this again, she thought. “We didn’t have a door deal, man. We had a flat fee. That was the deal.”
“Come on, be reasonable.” He waved his arms around his head, indicating the restaurant above them. “I’m a small business owner.”
“Dude,” said Corey, “I’m a small business!”
“Hardly, you’re a rock star.”
Not only was he trying to stiff her, but he was weaponizing her own past success back at her. And she didn’t have the time or the energy to go into the fact that those salad days were gone. Long gone. That she wasn’t 22-year-old ingénue with a large record advance anymore, but a 41-year-old veteran, with each tour the latest article in the Law of Diminishing Returns. That she was forced to supplement her income with web design. That it took all of her will to keep Lou from licensing her few, legitimate hits for commercials for soap or diapers or vacuum cleaners or, worst of all, retirement plans. (Had it been a soft drink or a shoe company, perhaps she’d finally let go of the cliff of artistic integrity she was clinging to by her fingertips.) No, she had survived almost twenty years as a solo artist in the music business—plus another five with The Toddlers—and she had done battle with the sleaziest record execs and club owners in the business and she was not about to let this second-rate TGI Fridays motherfucker stiff her.
Dick pulled a bottle and a pair of shot glasses from his top drawer.
“Sit down, have a drink. Take a load off and let’s talk. We’ll sort this out and I can drive you back.”
“I thought Tank was driving me back.”
“Tank’s hands are full.”
Ah, there it is.
The reason she brought Randy with her. First, the power play of making her find his office, his shitty seat of power in his shitty sports bar. Then trying to stiff her. Then a drink or two, and he’d cough up the rest if he could really stiff her. He’d seen the cover of Damsel Underdressed and thought he’d take a shot.
There once was a time she would have gone head to head with this guy. There were nights where she’d drink a club owner under the table and get the money that way. Then there was the time she swung her guitar at an owner’s face and barely missed. And there was the time with The Toddlers when she flirted with the manager while Anders just stole the cash. There were nights with the boys where they were owed $100, and once stiffed, decided to meticulously damage $100 worth of a club. But tonight she was tired and humiliated—in front of Randy no less—and just wanted to get out of this guy’s dungeon office via the path of the least resistance.
“You’ve heard of my manager, yes?”
“Louise Yardley,” said Dungeon Dick.
“You know who else she represents?”
“Sure I do. Everybody does.”
“You should also know I’m her oldest client. Her first client. And she will dismantle this bar and rain hellfire upon the ruins if you don’t pay me what you negotiated with her. Pretty stupid for a few hundred dollars.”
He looked at her with annoyance, then at the man-mountain standing beside her, and shook his head as he scrawled another check. He held it out for her.
“I thought you’d be a lot cooler,” he said.
She snatched the check from between his fingers.
“You were exactly as cool as I thought you’d be.”