Leopold started this whole Red Fez thing. Where it stops, nobody knows. If you liked this, I've also written five books, which you can see on...read more my profile. Also, you've got some mustard on your collar. No...no problem. Anytime. Gotta be careful with the mustard.
It was late and his fingers knocked over a half glassful of water as they fumbled their way out of a dream and towards the ringing. It wasn't the usual ringtone. It was the bad one.
“Who is it?” he asked, his voice emerging from a fog. In his head: why did I pick that song again? The tune distantly tapping beyond the darkness of his skull, breaking through.
“It's Martin. “
“No, Martin. I-- I know it's you. Who died?”
That's right. The song was Forever Road - Sandy Carn's big posthumous hit. The music video had all that grainy plane footage the director somehow managed to turn from grim reminder of how Sandy died into a saccharine metaphor. It went over even sweeter with with fans' wallets. Alexander never cared much for the song, but it was emblematic: the perfect celebrity death ringtone. The moment it rang he would know exactly what was going down, would know to scramble and answer it no matter how deep it was into his bag, no matter how deep he was into a meeting. In theory. Instead it had a mesmerizing effect – forever throwing him the curveball – Wait…this ringtone is important. Why is that, again?
“Right. right.” Martin responded. He sounded a little drunk. On a Tuesday? The bedside clock carved a red ‘1:36’ into the dark. “It’s Cybill Sherell. Cybill Sherell died.” Alexander heard someone in the background humming that Cybill Sherell tune. That famous one. Would probably be the first one on the list.
“Confirmed?” Alexander asked. His wife stirred awake beside him, he felt her hand absently rubbing his thigh.
“Who is it, hun?” she asked.
“Umm… not yet.” Martin replied. “It’s going around the bar…and I just checked her Wikipedia page and it says she’s toast. But…not on any news sites yet. Twitter is still fairly quiet.”
Alexander put his hand over the phone. “It’s Cybill Sherell, honey. Don’t worry. Go back to sleep.” It wasn’t going to be that big. His wife probably didn’t even know who Cybill Sherell was. She was only five years younger, but those five years created a pop-culture dead zone between them that was vast and deep. And Cybill was from that ill-defined post-punk and pre-pop-punk period. Sub-culture never yielded a lot of sales – even the punk genre, with its hard-core following of now aging professionals, was a low performer. They’d get a few sales, though. Of course, it all depended on how they died.
“Cybill Sherell is calling?” she mumbled, half asleep still. Maybe she had heard of her.
“It’s…never mind. It’s just a guy from work. Go to sleep.”
“I’ll call…who was she with again?” Martin continued. “Underground?”
“No, Sony bought out Underground.” Alexander rubbed the fog from his head. He was going to have to call Taylor, that new kid. His feet fumbled for slippers he hadn’t had in years.
“Ok, I’ll find a contact and confirm.”
“Good. Oh…and Martin?”
“Take some breath mints before you make the call.”
“Haha,” Martin laughed, after an inebriated pause while his mind set to work on the joke. “Asshole.”
Alexander squirmed out of bed. “Hey Martin…”
“What’s the cause?”
“Dunno. People are saying gunshots. Gunshots were heard.”
Gunshots! Surprising. I mean…she was killed? Overdose, had been his first thought. Or unfortunate has-been tour bus crash. Hell, she’d been out of the spotlight so long it could have been a long bout of debilitating cancer. Somehow any of those would have been alright…but who would murder Cybill Sherell? She was probably hanging around some pretty rough characters in these last few years. The image of her slumped over in the corner of a seedy second floor, main-street facing apartment came to his mind, a needle hanging out of her arm, bullet holes trickling her lifeblood away. Maybe they’d use that for the music video! Ha.
“Cybill Sherell died?” his wife asked, now more awake.
“I dunno. Go back to sleep. I just need to make a call.” He stepped out of the bedroom and closed the door behind him, letting just a long thin sliver of light into the hallway, hoping the kid wouldn’t wake up. The kid had been sleeping soundly lately and Alexander was still getting used to the mixture of shock and relief when he slept in till morning. I slept all night!—I hope the kid isn’t dead!
He swam through the neon-nightlife of his phone display and hit call.
Part 2: Taylor, the Graphics Clerk
He was so close. He couldn’t believe it. The new girl Casey…with the amazing ass and the fantastic, pendulous tits now deliciously slapping against his face: here! With him in his bedroom! Her hips grinding against his, wantonly, her pubic hair peeking out then disappearing between them as she undulated back and forth, grasping at his chest. Funny meeting her at the furniture store. They didn’t even need to talk. Just a ‘hey’…a long pause and flirtatious smiles. A ‘hey’ back…and then here they were in his bedroom, the new girl he’d been fantasizing about all week asking him to do things he’d only dreamed of girls asking him to do, things he’d be too embarrassed to ask for himself. And he was getting so close now. So close…
“Give it to me,” she purred, letting him slide out, sliding down between his legs, her hand wrapping around his hard warmth. “Give me your hot—“
The phone rang.
No! No no no no no no no… Not right now! He was so close.
“Come on…” she coaxed. “Come on…”
And it was that song. The damned important song…
“Don’t stop now. I want it all…” she cooed.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
“Why was that song important again?” He reached for the beside table, the song ringing endlessly through the room, drowning out the lovecalls of the woman he’d lusted after for weeks. No, no, noooooo. Just stop ringing. He was so close…
He woke up; His hand fumbling all over the sticky inside of the pizza box left open on the couch coffee table. He extracted his hand from the box, pulled his body up from its sweaty embrace with the leather sofa and grabbed his phone from between the cushions.
“This is Alexander. Cybill Sherell is dead. Or probably dead. We’re still waiting on confirmation.”
“Oh man. That’s too bad.” Who was this again? Alexa…oh! That Alexander! And Cybill Sherell was dead!
That was too bad. Not just because she died, but because nobody thought of putting her in the pool. Taylor had had his bets on Graham Cook for over a year now and the bastard wouldn’t die. It was a pretty safe bet – the crooner was nearing 98. The returns wouldn’t be great, because the odds were low, but it was a safe bet. A good, solid bet. Better to get paid then never win that windfall! But now he was stuck in the gamblers fallacy, hanging onto the guy through five celeb deaths now. Nobody even thought of putting Cybill Sherell on the list. Then…oh shit-- Did they have pre-made artwork for this?? He scrambled off the couch and pushed aside the junk on his art table, booting up his Power Mac with the top plate duct taped on. The robot he’d drawn on one corner during a long and boring Friday afternoon had been smudged.
“I’m awaiting confirmation from Martin, but I need you to get it all ready ASAP.”
“Uh….” Taylor hadn’t really heard what Alexander had said. Come on, come on. The image gallery FINALLY loaded up—he needed a new PowerMac, but they kept turning down his expense request--and Taylor flipped through the pre-made banners. Joe Dredd. Nope. Jimmy OD. Still alive and kicking. He knew she wouldn’t be in there, but he prayed, flipping though hoping, by some chance, that God had slipped it in there for him. Just this one time. As payment for taking Casey away. Come on….
“Taylor? You there?”
“Yeah. Yep. Just booting up the machine. Sorry. Uh…what did she die from?” Stall.
Oh shit…did they even have useable photos for Cybill? Shit. Shit. Shit. There was no way she’d be in here. If she wasn’t on the office pool list she wouldn’t be in the artwork section. All the names they’d come up with in the last meeting in March, they’d based their death pool off that. The odds thing had just been for fun, but turned functional as, their betting helped prioritize dead celebrity artwork creation. Fun and work, seamlessly married. Dead celeb artwork was Ken’s make work project for them. Who knew? Maybe someone had thought of Cybill and made some. Maybe? Hopefully? Please?
“I dunno. She was shot or something, but we don’t know. I’m checking Twitter right now.”
“Oh. Cool.” Stupid thing to say. Twitter? Oh shit…he abandoned his second hopeful search through the gallery. He was going to need new artwork. No avoiding it.
“Look. I’m going to need you to get that up as soon as possible. The moment we get confirmation it has to go live.”
Should he tell him there was no art? Would Alexander be mad? It wasn’t their fault, right?
Taylor already had the feeling around the office that he was unreliable. He’d been there over a year now and he kept hearing himself referred to as the ‘new kid’. As if he hadn’t really passed his probationary period. It made him nervous. Maybe it was one of those underhanded tech-sector motivation strategies he’d read about. He zipped over to celebstock.com, their official stock photography site – the only one he had a cost code for. Maybe he could nab the photos while it was still cheap. The page loaded and he popped Cybill Sherell into the search bar. The dollar amounts we staggering! Three times what they’d pay if she was actually in the news…you know, for something she did while being alive! And not a thing under his cost-code limit. They’d jacked up the price for publicity shots. Shit, those greedy bastards.
“Uh, Alexander. Uh, we don’t have stock footage of Sherell. And I just checked the site and, well, word is out. The costs are astronomical. My cost code won’t cover it.”
Taylor winced. Waiting for the ‘it’s your problem, fix it!”
Instead Alexander just laughed. “Ha. Fine. I’ve got to call Sony to see how much they want to raise the album prices. They’ll have stock somewhere. I’ll get them to send it to you.”
“Great! Good!” And Alexander was gone.
This part Taylor knew how to do. His fingers were a whir at the keyboard. His mouse had flair. In a matter of seconds he had the celeb death template up and was tweaking the font, adjusting the kerning. Man, that font was so in style last year. Now it looked like junk. Tom Jones’ tanned-leather smiling face held the placeholder as Taylor whipped up a new graphical flair – something multicoloured and rough, like a home-made bottle rocket. Something very Cybill Sherell. Gotta deliver like a pizza, before the product is cold. When Taylor was satisfied with everything else, he hit delete and Tom Jones was gone. Just a grey background awaiting its new arrival.
Taylor leaned back in his chair. It had taken him less than fifteen minutes. He wondered if he should make some coffee and just stay up until morning, then realized it was only 1:45. He wondered if Casey was still awa—oh man…didn’t he have a dream? He was having – oh man! The best dream of his life! Ruined! He was so close! A stone sunk in his gut. He’d probably never get with her and here, the next best thing he’d ever get and it slipped from his grasp, taken by Alexander, taken by Apple. Taken by Cybill fucking Sherrel. Gaaaahh! Everything about it was perfect, he could remember the peach tone of her breasts, silhouetted in the dream perfect lighting, the feel of her pushing down on him. Her face…wasn’t so clear. Her--
Man. Cybill Sherell was dead. Wild. He wondered if Abe knew. Taylor pulled the phone off his desk, whirred through the numbers. Abe answered, clearly not yet in bed.
“Hey, did you know Cybil Sherrell died?”
“No way. Of what?”
“I dunno. I’m just waiting on the—“
The inbox on his laptop dinged. Taylor leaned forward to check it, but the phoned buzzed in his hand. Another caller. Alexander.
“Shit, I gotta go. I gotta get the art work up on the site. Call you back?”
“Hey. Got the art from Sony. You should get some visuals in your inbox.”
“Yeah, I just got it. These will work fine.”
“Ok, so here’s the pricing. Put “from 12.99.” and the copy is ‘Remembering Sherell.”
Remembering Sherell? That sucked. Why not ‘Long Road.’ That song was iconic.
“Yeah. So you gotta get it up ASAP.”
“I don’t know. Police are tight lipped, but they confirmed it was her. She’s toast.”
“Ok, cool. Should just be a few minutes.”
“Great. I’ll get out of your way.” And Alexander was gone, leaving Taylor in the empty silence of his fourth story apartment.
Alexander snuck down the creaking stairs to the living room, cursing again the decision to remove the carpet from the stairs just before the baby was born. He set down his phone on the desk and popped open his laptop. The bright light conjuring up a small cave of silhouettes it. A desk edge, the outline of a chair, the tips of a pen jar. Alexander popped open the web-browser.
There was nothing on the news yet. He checked the other national magazine. Nothing. He refreshed the page. Still nothing. Even on twitter. If they beat Twitter, nobody could criticize. It would be a slam dunk.
He went back to the iTunes store. Still nothing was up on the front page. Come on! What was taking so long?
Back to the national news. To the other national news. Twitter feed, twitter feed, twitter feed, nope! He flipped back to iTunes and hit refresh. The screen was the center of this small, dark midnight universe and it churned and churned and churned.
Pop! The screen came up.
‘Yes!” Alexander muttered, he felt the pang of small victory deep in his gut. He quickly flipped back to the news site. The world churned over and over. Even the internet hamsters must be asleep at this time of night. Boy, Alexander thought, dying on a Tuesday. How ignominious for Cybill. Oh well.
Pop! The national news came back up. Nothing! They were even beating the journalists. It was a dying medium, but still it felt good. He felt good. Like a journalist. $12.99. Cybill looking defiant as always, as if to say, Dying only Made Me Stronger. Was that a song? It should be. Perfect.
Alexander clicked the ‘buy now’ button and the gears of the world sprung into action. The progress meter drew down Cybill’s best works to his computer. Cybill had once famously told her fans to shoplift her album when she switched labels. Alexander guessed there was still Pirate Bay, but it wasn’t the same. There weren’t any actual stores left to steal from. The high of looking over your shoulder, the pressure of looking unworthy of attention, the feel of the pinched product in your jean jacket pocket as you slipped out the front door. His generation had really killed the thrill of shoplifting…
Alexander slapped the lid shut and the world went dark. He headed towards the stairs, quietly ascending towards the bedroom. Maybe he’d even listen to the album tomorrow at work.