Chapter One Excuse Me Miss
"'CAUSE WE AIN'T NOBODY," LaToya said. Lakeesha turned from peering out the window of the ChesterfieldHotel, annoyed because her question-"Why they got us stayingin this bum-ass hotel?"-had been a rhetorical one. There was noview. Just another hotel across Thirty-seventh Street. And From whatlittle she could see, the rooms over there were nicer. "I know," Keesha said. "But still ... we didn't even get a limo fromthe airport." "We didn't need a limo," Mimi said, busily straightening up."They sent a car and it was fine." "Why are you cleaning up Kenny's room?" Keesha said, stretchingout on the perfectly made bed. "Because I already finished with ours," Mimi said. "I can't just sitaround, doing nothing, waiting for the phone to ring. It's driving mecrazy." They were sharing the adjoining room but they were campedout here because their manager, Kenny Hill, would get the call-atthe hotel since his cell-phone service had been interrupted for nonpayment-andthey wanted to be there when he did. "Let's eat," Keesha said. "That'll give us something to do." Shepicked up the room service menu. "We can order food, right?" Shefrowned over at Toya. "They pay for that?" Last night after their audition at the Triple Large offices theyhad gone to Planet Hollywood for dinner, hoping to spot somecelebrities, unaware that it was a tourist trap populated by autographseekerslike themselves where no celebrity would ever becaught dead. "I don't know," Toya said wearily. Keesha was always looking fora free meal, literally and figuratively, and it got under Toya's skin thatshe was so simpleminded. "You need to ask Kenny." "Where's he at anyway?" Keesha said. She twirled one of her longmicrobraids. "It don't take that long to buy a pack of Newports." Mimi didn't care about the low-budget accommodations or thatthere had been no limo yesterday. Keesha thought this whole trip wasgoing to be like an episode of Making the Band-she was obsessedwith that show! Kenny did nothing to dissuade her from thinking itwas going to be limos, parties, and Cristal bottles popping, but whyon earth would anyone do that for them? They were nobodies. Butthey had come here to change that. They'd all met at Performing Arts School of Toledo. They jokedthey were like TLC, whose CrazySexyCool album was one of their all-timefavorites. Keesha, big-boned and equipped with a razor-sharptongue, was the crazy component. Toya, a round-faced girl with aheart-warming smile and a degree of self-assurance that belied heryears, was the cool. And Mimi ... well, she wasn't wild like Keeshaand she didn't possess Toya's innate confidence, so sometimes she feltshe got the sexy slot by default. No doubt, Mimi was pretty. Since she was a baby everyone hadremarked on it. But in her usual baggy gear, sexy she was not. Tightjeans and midriff-baring tops invited attention, and as a biracial girlin a predominantly black school, she already stood out enough. Allshe'd ever wanted was to blend in. Her mother, Angela, was Italian,and Mimi couldn't remember her Haitian father. Jacques Bertrandhad run out on Angela a year after their only child was born, and theannual birthday cards that had arrived (late) with no return addressstopped arriving altogether after Mimi's eighth birthday. She kept the details of her home life to herself as she did mostthings, managing to pull straight As while dodging the taunts of"white girl" and "high-yellow heifer." As if she thought she was betterthan the other girls. Just like many of them, she was raised by anoverworked single mother, she rode the bus to school from the badside of town, and the clothes over which they ran a disapproving"you think you cute" eye were paid for by the after-school jobs she'dbeen juggling since she was fourteen. She never made her looks anissue, they did. Toya, however, was different. She made that clear only two monthsinto freshman year, when Nichelle Griffin had stormed over to Mimiin the cafeteria and began to lay into her for coming on to her boyfriend(even though it had been Nichelle's wannabe teenage lothario who hadbeen coming on to a completely uninterested Mimi). Toya, whoMimi knew only casually, had calmly looked over her shoulder fromthe next table and said, "You just mad because you wish you had thatlong hair. Go get yourself a weave and shut the hell up." Keesha,always spoiling for a fight of any kind, had jumped up to enter thefray but Nichelle had slunk away before she could. Toya, Keesha, and Mimi had been friends ever since. Later that year, their group was formed. They named itHeartsong. They debated endlessly about what kinds of songs theyshould sing, what kind of group they wanted to be. Keesha and Toyawere into hip-hop. Mimi's tastes fell more on the soul side. She idolizedthose female artists whose songs stirred something inside hermore than an urge to dance. Her mother had harbored dreams ofbeing a singer way back when and music was the only constant intheir unstable lives. From Aretha to Alanis Morissette, SarahVaughan to Sarah McLachlan, Mimi would close her eyes and try tomimic their every inflection, pretending she was them, not a girlfrom Toledo who wouldn't recognize her own father if she passedhim on the street. That was how she got through performing onstage. She becamesomeone else-whoever's song she was belting out. She was pretendingto be Beyonc on the night they met Kenny at a local talent show;Heartsong had just won the top prize and three hundred dollars fortheir rousing rendition of "Bills, Bills, Bills," the Destiny's Child hit. A lanky dark-skinned man of thirty-four with droopy eyes and aseemingly permanent deposit of white crust in the corner of hismouth, Kenny Hill's name was one they recognized from flyersposted all over town. A part-time club promoter, he told them heknew every musician, nightclub owner, and DJ in Toledo. Which inretrospect, they realized, wasn't saying all that much. He proffered abusiness card that read simply "talent manager" and they didn't knowto ask him for any credentials beyond the promises he made. Hetalked about getting them a record deal and he didn't ask them formoney, and so it was that Kenny Hill became their manager. He had arranged for them to sing backup on demos at WildsideStudios in exchange for free studio time to record their own music.He kept telling them that he was setting up auditions with labels butnothing ever panned out. And they'd graduated high school twoyears ago! The day after they tossed their caps, Mimi's part-time jobat the discount emporium Sav-Mart became full-time, Toya wasdoing hair at Black Roots (without a license), and Keesha wasn'tdoing much of anything except hanging out with her crazy-ass drug-dealerboyfriend. They'd finished their demo, using tracks Kenny bought from alocal producer and singing generic R&B lyrics that Kenny had writtenhimself. Kenny Hill-club promoter, talent manager, songwriter. Jackof all trades and master of none. When he finally got a callback from Triple Large Entertainment aweek ago, he didn't tell the girls right away that they had a chance at arecording contract. Instead he'd gotten everything in order-wranglingfour coach plane tickets to New York, two $99-per-night roomsat The Chesterfield-before he strolled into Wildside Studios andcrowed triumphantly, "Pack your bags, girls. We're goin' to New York!"
CALL THE GIRL? Why did Lamont always have to be so dramatic?Daryl wanted to call the girl but he couldn't even remember thebitch's name! La-something. Lavonne? No, LaToya. Or maybe thatwas the other one. He'd already asked Lamont's assistant and thereceptionist if they remembered the name of the "pretty one" becausehe couldn't find the group's bio and attached photo. With all thegroups that had come through the office in the last few weeks, no onecould remember a damn thing about any of them. Now Daryl rummagedthrough all the useless office memos on his desk in search ofthe package the manager had left with him the other day. Daryl's office was tiny. So was he. But what he lacked in size hemore than made up for in self-aggrandizement. He was five foot fiveand three-quarters of an inch, but whenever anyone dared to questionhis height he'd pull out his driver's license. Bam! Five foot seven. Peoplealways took that as gospel, as if the DMV actually measured folks. His office would have felt larger if he'd cleared out the half dozenboxes of demos he was supposed to listen to as the A&R rep of TripleLarge Entertainment. When he first got the gig he didn't even knowwhat A&R stood for. "Artist and repertoire" he was told. He still didn'tentirely understand, but he'd figured out he was expected to discovernew artists and work on their development once they were signed.That he could do, although he really wanted to be a producer solelyand forget the office bullshit. He rarely got around to assessing the volumes of material thatfound their way into the midtown office. Most artists who got signedhad already made names for themselves on the street or were affiliatedwith an established hip-hop clique. The next big thing rarely arrivedunannounced via the United States Postal Service. Nevertheless, PaulMankewich, the label's V.P. of A&R, stayed on Daryl's ass about listeningto every single submission. A strapping, floppy-haired white guy in his mid-thirties, PaulMankewich made six figures and his own hours. He was nicknamed"Witchy" because he had successfully cultivated so many R&B andhip-hop acts at various record companies that people said he couldwork "black magic." Twenty-three-year-old Daryl didn't have anofficial title. He was usually called "the A&R guy," which he preferredto being called Witchy's assistant. Though affable to most, Witchycracked the whip on his departmental subordinate-mostly, Darylbelieved, as a form of insurance. If Witchy failed to meet his monthlybeat-up-on-Daryl quota, Witchy was guaranteed to receive a fewlashes from the HNIC himself, Lamont "Fat Man" Jackson. Daryl idolized and despised Fat Man with equal fervor. Some dayshe wished he were standing tall in Lamont's four-hundred-dollarshoes, making big moves and bigger bank. Other days he hopedLamont Jackson would keel over and die from a massive coronaryand spend all eternity rotting in hell. A few months ago, Fat Man had put out the call that they'd bebranching out into R&B. They were hoping to find the nextDestiny's Child. In the past two months, they'd seen twenty-sevengroups. None of them got past their first song. After an audition twodays ago of three white girls with varying degrees of pink hair whocalled themselves Shades, it was obvious Witchy was digging at thebottom of the barrel. Lamont had turned to Witchy and said, "Mr.Mankewich, why do I feel like I'm a judge on American Idol?" Darylhad fallen back on Lamont's sofa and laaaaaughed. It was a joy to seeWitchy catching some flak for a change, but the most hysterical partwas that Lamont was beginning to resemble the fat guy on the show. And then this group Heartsong-the worst fucking name!-hadcome in yesterday. Daryl had only listened to their demo as a favor toMeagan, Triple Large's certified hottie receptionist. She'd urged himto listen to it, saying the manager was a friend of her cousin's friend."Oh well, I'll give it the VIP treatment right now!" Daryl had clowned.Like he cared. It was certain to be garbage, but if it brought him onesmall step toward getting some pussy from Meagan, it was worth alisten. And, what did you know, it wasn't bad. Not bad at all. Witchy was heated when he found out Daryl had flown them inwithout consulting him. One of the girls, the one with the longbraids, had to be twenty pounds heavier than she'd been when thebio picture was taken. And the manager was annoying as hell! Darylhad to shove him out of Lamont's office as he tried to sell him on twoother hip-hop acts he managed. The group's audition didn't seem toignite much enthusiasm in Lamont although he didn't say that hestraight-up hated them, which was his response to most of thetwenty-seven who'd come before. This morning Lamont had called Daryl-at the crack of dawn-tosay maybe they didn't need a group after all. Actually his firstwords were "Where the hell is Witchy?" Daryl rolled over, looked atthe ungodly hour and yawned, "At home sleepin' maybe?" Lamontgrunted his disapproval, then told Daryl he'd had a moment of revelation.He'd decided they needed just one girl. A solo artist. Hewanted to meet with the lead singer of Heartsong. "The pretty one,"he'd said. Daryl finally found the bio picture ticking out of a stack of magazineson the floor. Mimi. That was her name. He looked at his fakeRolex. Damn! It was already 4:15 and Lamont wanted her down thereby 5:00. He picked up the phone and dialed the hotel. This chick could be his first discovery. And if a signing came outof this, he wouldn't let Witchy or Fat Man forget it.
Copyright (C) 2004 by Barack Obama
All right reserved.
LAMONT CLIMBED THE WINDING STAIRCASE to his homegym, thinking, Lamont Jackson, Chairman of Augusta Music. Had anice ring to it. He'd be able to sell Triple Large to Augusta but he'dstill retain control of the label he'd founded as well as run several others.How much would the deal reap? Sixty million? No, Triple Largewas worth seventy-five at least. He stepped onto the treadmill and poked a few buttons. He usuallyworked out in the evening after coming home from the officeand before going out for dinner and whatever else the night offered.But today he'd come home right after his lunch meeting with Irv.One of the perks of being a top dawg-you didn't have to accountfor your whereabouts to anyone. These workouts were often the only time he spent alone in an entireday. At the office he had his minions swarming around and his faithfulassistant, Imani, hovering nearby. At night, out at the most exclusiveclubs, his entourage was always surrounding him. When traveling in hisMaybach or Suburban (money green, fully loaded), his driver, Carlos,was at the wheel. And when he finally fell asleep in this TriBeCa triplex,there was almost always a gorgeous babe in bed beside him. He had tried working out with a highly recommended personaltrainer, but the guy had annoyed him and was fired after two sessions.