SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’

Where he works2He was getting way too old for this.

Jamal Turner squared his shoulders, shoved back against the crowd, and made his way toward the front of the club. It was a low-end joint in a non-gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, where it was still possible—if not likely—that a luxury car might be broken into, or outright stolen. Driving had been a risk, but he would want to make a hasty departure after his mission was accomplished.

Tonight, the mission was simple. Meet and make nice with an artist named Devin Parks. All he needed to do was lay eyes on the youngster, size him up and get him to agree to a real meeting. Under normal circumstances that was the kind of errand just about anyone from Scaife could be sent on. Hell, they could send an intern and have them drop the name of any one of Chris Scaife’s labels and most artists would call within hours. Jamal would return to his office the following morning to find voicemail awaiting him, from someone who was eager but trying not to sound like it.

This time, though, would be different. Devin Parks was one of the most confounding and exasperating of breeds—he was indie and anti-establishment, and to top it off, hella-talented. Normal scouts wouldn’t do for the likes of Devin Parks. This one would have to be wooed.

Just as he was about to make it to the edge of the foot-high ramshackle structure that passed for the stage, a young woman in a black dress stumbled across his path and spilled half the contents of her cup on Jamal’s pant-leg.

“Oh shi… sorry!” She giggled, clearly well on her way to becoming inebriated.

Wincing, Jamal looked down at the dark stain and kept moving. The sooner he found his contact the better. Meeting Devin Parks was apparently akin to a top-secret spy operation. Because he was suspicious of anything that smelled like ‘The Man’, Parks didn’t like being approached by recording industry insiders so a “contact” was necessary to ensure a civil conversation. This kid was going to be a real pain in the ass if he ever actually became famous. But truth be told, he already was kind of famous. On the underground club circuit, Devin Parks had made quite the name for himself with his unique blend of spoken word, hip-hop and be-bop, reminiscent of Mos Def’s early days.

Exploding onto the scene about a year earlier, Parks had created the kind of buzz that got lots of labels paying close attention, scouts following him around to clubs and trying to gain his confidence, that kind of thing. Jamal himself had heard the stories, about the twenty-something phenom with the pretty-boy face, wiry frame and sun-ripened wheat-colored eyes. Sure to be a goldmine—that was the word on the street. Not much grooming and styling required—a readymade star. Those didn’t happen too often anymore in this new world of manufactured teen idols, so Devin Parks had lots of folks excited, and chasing him around New York like a bunch of starstruck tween girls.

Jamal was more than happy to watch things play out organically, having long passed the stage of his career where he needed to chase artists. Now, they came to him. But this one was different. His boss had actually heard the music; some independently-produced, poorly-recorded tracks of Devin Parks’ had apparently made their way into Chris Scaife’s state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen sound system when he picked his son up at college after his freshman year at Notre Dame.

Listening to one of the more popular tracks as he drove down from South Bend, Indiana, Chris had called Jamal from the car and asked whether he’d heard of Devin Parks. The music was original, the hoarse, raw and authentic voice of the artist stirring, and to top it all off, Chris’ nineteen-year old son raved about him.

Yeah. He’s indie, Jamal replied, knowing immediately what was coming. Chris Scaife didn’t like to be behind the eight-ball on anything.

Indie? What the hell does that mean? That you can’t get him? Just the word, ‘indie’ was a thorn in the side of many a recording executive, and Chris Scaife was no different. He didn’t just dislike being cut out of the action, he claimed to find it offensive when good music was butchered by bad production. But in all fairness, not all indie productions were bad…

Nah, Boss Man. It just means he doesn’t want to be ‘got’.

I don’ wanna hear that, Chris said. Find a way to sign him.

When that order was delivered, it had just about wrecked Jamal’s quiet Sunday afternoon. He’d been spending it with the fresh-faced, brand-new winner of a popular modeling reality show. She was twenty-one, eager and very, very limber. New models were Jamal’s preference. With their eyes still starry, and a fire in their breasts to be famous, they were generally as uninterested as he in being slowed down by something as pedestrian as a “relationship.” They liked him because he had a rep for being a beast in the sack, was photographed a lot, and could take them places where they would meet people who were already famous.

And he liked them because they were, well, young, and models … and very, very limber.

But after Chris’ call, Jamal went into immediate work-mode. He’d never let the big boss down and he wasn’t about to start now, not when his fortunes at Scaife were about to take a sharp upturn. Maybe even all the way to the top. It was rumored that since his marriage, Chris was looking to pass the baton, taking more of a backseat in day-to-day operations and spending time with his wife and kids. Jamal couldn’t say he blamed him. He happened to be very close friends with the wife in question, and Robyn Scaife was just the kind of woman who would make a man want to dramatically change the course of his life. And if he played his cards right, Chris Scaife’s decision to change could also mean a dramatic change for Jamal as well. He liked the sound of Jamal Turner, Chief Operating Officer Scaife Enterprises. He liked it very much.

So now he was wading his way through a sea of underage, oversexed, scantily-dressed clubbers, making his way to a spot where his contact would give him a rare insider intro to American music’s next sure thing.

Lifting his wrist so he could check the time in the gloom of the club, Jamal saw that it was just after one a.m. This was the place and this was definitely the time, when he was supposed to connect with one of Devin Parks’ childhood friends, who just happened to be an administrative assistant in Scaife’s communications and public relations department. Jamal had gotten that information the way he got a good deal of the four-one-one—from the guys in the mailroom. They carted around the mail for the company, doing it the old-fashioned way, because Scaife Enterprises still got lots of snail mail—mostly unsolicited items that couldn’t be submitted online like demos, and sometimes headshots and résumés from recent college grads who just “had to” be in the recording industry. They wanted to make an impression so many of these eager young things put together packages that contained practically their entire life stories—commendations and transcripts, letters of recommendation and pleas which they sent to various executives whose names (but never email addresses) they found online.

The mailroom guys, because they rarely delivered anything of consequence, had lots of time to shoot the breeze. And so they always knew whose anniversary it was, who was losing their house or their husband; whose kid was on drugs, and whose woman was cheating on them. They also had a virtual treasure trove of information about who was connected to whom and by how many degrees. And it was from them Jamal learned about the administrative assistant who knew Devin Parks up close and personal and from the time she was practically a toddler.

So after just one phone call, he had arranged to meet her at this so-called nightclub where she was willing to arrange an intro with the elusive performer, and grease the wheels a little for Jamal to work his magic. And he had no doubt that he could work some magic, even with the notoriously moody Devin Parks. Jamal’s batting average was enviable, no matter the yardstick he was measured against.

The music throbbed in his chest and the scent of perspiration, perfume and weekend desperation permeated the air. Jamal waited. Twenty minutes. He would give her twenty minutes and then he was out.

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Woman-Centered Fiction Writer, commenting on books, culture and the human condition.

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