Title: The One Thing I Know
Series: B-Sides, Book One
Author: Keelan Ellis
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: Aug 14, 2017
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Historical, romance, gay, bisexual, historical-1970’s, California, musicians, rock star, drugs/alcohol use, enemies to lovers, road trip
Talented studio musician, Henry Cole, is offered the dream job of touring with popular rock band, the Vulgar Details. Things aren’t all rosy, though, as he is hired to replace Dell Miller, creative force behind the band, who recently flamed-out in a car accident.
Henry is all too aware that he’s no replacement for someone like Dell. He’s not the only one who feels that way, either. Terry Blackwood, band front man, has been giving him a hard time even before the tour start. He seems to resent Henry’s presence beyond all reason. What Henry doesn’t know is that Terry and Dell’s relationship was both intensely close and fraught with conflict.
Terry’s grief over Dell’s death is overwhelming and threatens to destroy not only the band but his life. It doesn’t help that the new member of the band makes him feel things he doesn’t want to. Worse, when he sings, Henry sounds just like the man Terry cared so deeply for.
With so much at stake, everything could come crashing down around them and mean the end for the Vulgar Details. Or, just maybe, Henry and Terry will find the one thing they need most.
Sometimes redemption comes from the last place you expect to find it.
The One Thing I Know
Keelan Ellis © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Henry woke up to the sound of the shower turning on in the bathroom down the hall. He got up and sorted through the clothes strewn around on the floor, separating his from his guest’s. The two pairs of white briefs were, unfortunately, the same brand and size, so he took his best guess and tossed one of them on top of the pile he was holding. He set the whole thing down outside the bathroom door and went to the kitchen to make coffee. He lit a cigarette and opened the window above the sink. The shower shut off just as the coffee finished brewing, and a few minutes later, his previous evening’s date appeared in the doorway. His name was Danny, and they’d been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. He was as cute as he was dumb, but Henry was fairly certain one night had been enough to satisfy his curiosity.
“Morning,” Henry said. “There’s coffee if you want it.”
“Thanks,” Danny said. He poured some into a cup and leaned against the counter. “Hey, I’m going to the beach later. You want me to stop by and pick you up?”
“Nah. I have work.”
“Oh, right. On the Details’ new record, wasn’t it?”
Henry nodded. He was slated to play pedal steel and Dobro on six tracks for the Vulgar Details’ upcoming album. It wasn’t the first time he’d played with those guys. The band counted on Henry to fill in the gaps whenever their songwriter and pedal steel player, Dell Miller, was off taking peyote in the desert or barricading himself in a hotel room shooting up with whoever he’d brought home that night. Henry had never met Dell and still thought of him as more myth than man. “I should get in the shower pretty soon,” he hinted.
Danny either didn’t pick up on it or didn’t care, and he poured more coffee into his cup. “You think it’s going to be a good one?”
“I think it’s the best one yet.” He rinsed his cup out and put it in the drainer. “I need to get ready. Thanks for coming over. It was fun.”
Danny raised his eyebrows at him, and his lips turned up with wry amusement. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as Henry had thought. “Sure thing. You got my number. Call if you want.” He set his cup down and gave a little salute before he left. Definitely cute, Henry couldn’t deny that.
Henry got to the studio early and ran through his parts before the band arrived. The songs that Henry had learned for that day’s session were, hands down, the best work the band had done. The new songs were dark and personal, explorations of loss and hopelessness, set to some of the loveliest melodies he’d ever heard. The Vulgar Details had come so far from their beginnings as a brash blues rock band that they were almost unrecognizable. Henry had never thought of them as anything special until their third album, Heart’s Desire, was released back in ’69.
Henry had been lying by the pool at his friend Richard’s house, passing a joint back and forth with him, when he first heard that record. Henry was twenty-four then, and Richard was ten years older, with family money and a beautiful house he’d had built in Laurel Canyon. He threw amazing parties attended by young musicians and hippie hangers-on who were there for the free food, booze, and drugs. Richard didn’t care why they were there. He loved the beautiful boys and girls, the music, and the easily available sex. When he wasn’t partying, he liked having Henry around. Sometimes they fooled around, but Richard never made it seem like a requirement. That day, when he put on the new Vulgar Details record, Henry scoffed.
“I thought you had more interesting taste than that,” he said.
“You’re getting too old to be such a snob.”
Henry stretched and grinned up at him. “Probably getting too old for you, then, huh?”
Richard smiled, shook his head, and sat back down. “Give it a chance. You might be surprised.”
It started out sounding much like all of their previous stuff, but somehow better. Previously, their songs tended toward aimless, slightly silly rip-offs of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or juvenile rock and roll songs about pretty girls. These were something else altogether. They dealt with love, anger, and desire—the subjects of most rock lyrics—but with a depth almost never heard in popular music.
“Jesus, this is great,” Henry said. “Where the hell did it come from? Did Terry Blackwood get a brain transplant or something?”
Richard laughed. “Not quite. They got a new member. Don’t you follow this stuff, working in the industry?”
“Must have missed that one.”
“His name’s Dell Miller. Actually, he was at that party you came to last month. Skinny, pretty, long-haired country boy? Walked around with his shirt open the whole time?”
“Oh yeah. I think I remember him. The girls were all over him. He wrote all of these?”
“All the good ones,” Richard said.
The last song on the album, “Traveling Abroad,” was the best one, and Henry insisted playing it three times in a row. It had an entirely different sound from the rest of them. It was almost a traditional country song, but the arrangement was complex and the lyrics made him want to cry. There was so much yearning in it that it was almost hard to listen to. When he left Richard’s house that afternoon, he went straight to the nearest record store to buy his own copy.
That was three years and two albums earlier. The Vulgar Details had only gotten better, despite Miller’s increasingly unreliable presence. The band’s sound drifted more and more toward the mellow country- and bluegrass-influenced style Miller had brought with him from Tennessee. A few of the blues rock numbers that were Terence Blackwood’s bread and butter still remained, but these no longer represented the bulk of their output. This new album took that even further, and Henry had to wonder how the rest of the band—Blackwood in particular—felt about that. In most bands, a shift like that would have led to at least one angry departure. Somehow, the Details had managed to keep it together without any public drama, unless you counted Miller’s multiple rehab stays and a short stint in jail for public intoxication and possession.
They weren’t planning to record any vocals that day, so Blackwood wasn’t around. The lead guitarist, Steve Smith, and drummer, Kenny Sailes, had entered the studio in the middle of a contentious but good-natured disagreement over which one of them would be harder to replace if they went into rehab. Alex Benton, the bass player, shook Henry’s hand and gave him a one-armed hug.
“Maybe you can settle that argument, Cole,” he said, grinning.
“They can both go, as far as I’m concerned,” Henry said. “You’ll have to tough it out, though, Benton. I don’t like playing bass.”
“You heard him, you assholes. Cole here is gunning for you, and he’s a man of many skills. Watch your backs.”
“Not me. I don’t want to be a rock-and-roll star. I prefer to work for a living.” They all laughed, and Henry said, “So, uh…how is Dell doing, anyway? Rehab working out, I hope?”
The mood turned slightly somber, and they all glanced down at the floor. Finally, Smith shrugged and said, “Terry said the place looked pretty nice, and Dell told him he was actually going to try this time. Who the fuck knows.”
Benton sighed and nodded. Sailes snorted skeptically and muttered, “I think we all pretty much know, Steve.”
“Sorry,” Henry said. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Benton said. “It’s not your fault. You gotta understand, we’ve been on this ride a few times, man. Dell is…Dell.”
Henry cleared his throat. “Well, anyway—the new songs sound great.”
“The fucked-up hillbilly bastard sure knows how to write a goddamn song. Can’t take that away from him,” Smith said, smiling again. “It’s going to be the best thing we’ve ever done.”
The session went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for, and Henry left the studio on a serious high. He wanted to get laid, but the thought of calling Richard to see if he wanted company left him restless. As soon as the idea of going to a bar occurred to him, he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. He rarely went out to bars alone, and rarely with the express purpose of finding sex. That night, he felt like a different person.
Henry’s usual haunt, the Westside Clubhouse, was a relatively laid-back place. Guys went there for the same reason they went to any other gay bar, but mainly because it was a place they could relax and be themselves. The drinks were generous, the bartenders were cute but not intimidating, and they all knew Henry. But that wasn’t the kind of place he was in the mood for. Instead, he went to the Hammer and Nail, which he’d heard about but hadn’t yet ventured into.
He stood in line outside the club while the bouncers checked everyone out at the door. While he waited, a couple of guys got turned away for not being fit enough, young enough, handsome enough, or for not fitting who-knew-what other criteria. Henry had been confident when he first queued up, but by the time he got to the front of the line, he was nervous. The tall, blond, muscular bouncer eyed him up and down and motioned him inside without a word, smacking him on the ass as he walked past. The whole process was fairly disgusting, and while Henry was opposed to the attitude in theory, he couldn’t deny that it felt good to know he passed muster.
Inside, the bar was dark and loud. At least half the guys were shirtless, and all of them were beautiful. He bought a gin and tonic and walked through the throngs of sweaty men. He’d need at least two more drinks before he’d be able to get on the dance floor, so he didn’t wander too far from the bar.
Henry turned around to see a sound technician at one of the studios where he regularly worked. “Hey, man,” he said, searching frantically for the man’s name.
“Pete, right, of course. I’m sorry. From Blue Door Studios, right?”
Pete nodded. “I didn’t know you were…” He motioned vaguely around the room.
“Yeah, well,” Henry said, smiling lamely and shrugging. “I don’t usually come here, though. It’s not exactly my scene, but I was in some kind of mood tonight. I had a good day.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Laid down some tracks with the Vulgar Details,” Henry said, striving for casual, as if it was the kind of thing that happened every day. “Great stuff.”
“Oh, cool. Was Terry Blackwood there? He’s so sexy.”
“Nope. No Blackwood, and no Dell, of course. He’s the reason I got hired.”
“Right, the drug thing,” Pete said. “Too bad you didn’t get to meet Blackwood though. I bet he’d think you’re cute.”
Henry rolled his eyes. “I have met him. He treated me like the hired help, which I was. And I think those rumors are all bullshit anyway. Just because he partied with Lou Reed or got a blow job from some drag queen—supposedly—doesn’t mean he’s into guys. I think he wants people to think he’s interesting, like Bowie, instead of a second-rate Mick Jagger.”
Henry gave him a sheepish grin. “I was unaware I had any opinion of him whatsoever until just that moment.”
“Well anyway, a boy can dream.”
The One Thing I Know
Keelan Ellis © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Stein’s inner sanctum was even swankier than reception. Henry was no expert on high-end design, but he was pretty sure Stein’s desk alone cost more than he made in a year. In the middle of the office, white-carpeted steps led down to a sunken sitting area. Food was laid out on a round glass coffee table, along with champagne bottles in ice buckets, vodka, and various juices. Henry didn’t want to touch any of it for fear he’d mess up the pristine sofa he was perched on, but the other guys dug in.
Ten minutes or so passed before Stein glanced at his watch. “Has anyone talked to Terry recently?” he asked.
The three band members exchanged looks, and then Benton said, “He won’t take our calls. We were starting to get worried, so I drove out there to make sure he wasn’t…you know. Fucking dead or something. He told me he needed time to himself before he had to spend months on end with us, so I should fuck off and stop calling and tell the other guys to do the same. This was about two weeks after Dell’s funeral. None of us has spoken to him since then, far as I know.”
The other guys nodded in confirmation, and Stein’s expression grew darker. “Was he intoxicated when you were at his place?”
Benton shrugged and said, “He was drinking.”
There was a beep from the intercom on Stein’s desk, and Vicki began to say that Mr. Blackwood had arrived when the door to the office opened. As if walking on stage, the front man swaggered in. He grabbed a bottle of champagne from the table, not bothering with a glass, and flopped onto the loveseat across from Henry.
“Started without me, I see,” Blackwood drawled, his Mancunian accent much less pronounced than in television interviews. As the only English guy in the band, maybe he felt obliged to play it up a little for the people. “Mustn’t keep the new boy waiting.” Behind his dark sunglasses, it was difficult to tell if Blackwood had even glanced in Henry’s direction.
“Terry, I believe you’ve met Henry Cole,” Stein said, ignoring his comment.
Blackwood lifted three fingers in some kind of acknowledgment. Henry hoped Stein wouldn’t belabor the point, like a young mother trying to teach her kid manners. It didn’t matter if Blackwood was rude and arrogant—it was nothing less than he’d expected, and anyway, he was there to do a job. He wasn’t trying to insinuate himself into the band or to make friends.
“Good to see you,” Henry said.
Blackwood’s lips twisted very slightly in a sneer. In the silence that followed, Steve Smith’s voice sounded too loud when he said, “Okay! Can we get started? I promised Angie we could drive up to Big Sur as soon as we’re done here.”
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Benton said. “Gotta keep the wife happy. We don’t want Steve coming in here with a black eye next time, for Christ’s sake.”
“Fuck you,” Smith said.
Stein handed around packets for all of them, with schedules and information on the various venues. Their first gig was in Oakland, and from there, they’d be traveling across the northern part of the country. After that, they’d move down the East Coast, into the South, and back west by a southerly route. As Henry read through it, he was beginning to wonder if he’d made the right decision. This was a long time to spend in the company of a bunch of people he didn’t know, one of whom seemed to have a problem with him. Not that it mattered—it was too late to back out.
Henry mostly sat back and let everyone else hash out the details. They agreed on rehearsal times—especially important for Henry, since he’d never played with them before—and discussed a core set list. Whatever decisions they made, he nodded and wrote them down. He noticed Blackwood wasn’t saying much either. Occasionally, he’d throw in a comment—usually negative—but mostly he drank his champagne and leaned back into the sofa cushions, detached and disinterested. Twice, Henry caught Blackwood glaring in his direction—or, he assumed it was a glare, unless somehow those aviators were hiding cartoon hearts. He did his best to ignore it, along with the growing fear over how this was going to go.
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Meet the Author
Keelan Ellis is an author of romance and detective fiction, who is always seeking to expand her literary horizons. She is a lover of music and food, and has an intense love/hate relationship with politics. Her stories reflect her passions.
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