"They’re . . . not bad." I thought they were—as a whole—extremely talented musicians, but my unfavorable opinion of Jax kind of tainted my overall view.
"Jax isn’t bad, you mean," he said, an eyebrow raised.
Oh God. Does he know?
I tried to hide the nervousness in my voice. "He’s a good singer," I allowed.
I didn’t like where this was going. "He’s very . . . tall?"
"He’s f**king hot, and you know it."
My cheeks heated and I cleared my throat. "Okay?"
Reed shook his head. "You don’t get it. With a look like that, Jax could be—correction, will be—the biggest cash cow I’ve ever managed. It’s why I’ve got big plans for the band. Why they needed the big bus."
"About that bus," I said, a note of annoyance creeping into my tone, "Why all the crazy amenities? The convertible modifications alone must have cost a fortune."
"Riley, have you ever heard of GMZ? Perry Hilton? Hawker? How about Humans Magazine?" He started talking with his hands, gesticulating with nearly every word. "The best publicity you can get is the free kind, and that tour bus is the best marketing tool the band has. Hell, the hot tub alone got us a dozen write-ups in gossip rags. The paparazzi eat this shit up."
It made sense, even though I didn’t read much gossip. Magazines and websites didn’t cover bands for managing their money well. People wanted excitement, novelty, and luxury—they could get frugality at home. Even so, I couldn’t give in that easily. If Reed thought he could sweet-talk me out of doing my job, he’d have to think again.
"You do realize I’m here for a reason, right?" I said. "The Hitchcocks are going to run out of money if I don’t fix their finances. I’m only here because if it’s not straightened out now, they won’t have enough cash on hand for expenses through the end of the tour."
"The label’s worried for nothing," he said, shaking his head. "This band is on the cusp of greatness. One, maybe two more singles, and they’ll have a number one hit and the money makes itself. We just have to keep pushing the promotion budget in the short term."
I didn’t like the sound of that. "What do you mean by ‘pushing’?"
"With an extra ten, maybe fifteen percent add-on to the promo budget—that’s stuff like giveaway posters, bumper stickers, spending on social media, getting radio interviews—The Hitchcocks could really shine. After that, money’s not a worry. They’ll be rolling in it."
"If they don’t run out of cash and have to cancel tour stops first."
He waved a hand in the air dismissively. "Don’t believe the bluster and bullshit from the label. They won’t cook the goose that lays the golden eggs."
I shot him a skeptical look. "They seemed pretty serious when they called my firm, or I wouldn’t be here."
"It’s their job to worry," he said, seeming totally unfazed. "Budget versus popularity is always a tightrope at this phase. But it’s my job to know when to push it."
"And you think now is the time? What makes you so sure?"
He shrugged. "Call it intuition. Call it research, if that makes you feel better. I just know that that—" He thumbed over his shoulder. The sound of fans cheering for the arrival of the Hitchcocks on stage dimly resonated through the concrete walls. "—is the kind of star power you see once in a career. Trust me. You don’t want to blow this band’s chances by nickel and diming every expense."
"I’ll keep that in mind."
"Glad to hear it. Now, let’s talk cash flow."
For the next hour, we tried to hash out the money issues. Since he knew I had to reduce the budget with or without his involvement, he suggested a few places for budget cuts that would have a minimal impact on promotions and marketing. It wasn’t enough to solve all my problems, but it was a start.
When he departed, the room was thankfully much quieter. I sent a quick text to Palmer, telling him that as far as I could see, the Hitchcocks needed cuts fast. Squinting at the laptop screen, I was about to figure out how to do it when the oil drum shook, breaking my concentration.
I scanned the room, not seeing anything that could’ve caused the shaking. A small earthquake maybe? I looked at the clock on my screen and realized the band should be on a break between sets.
I was diving back into work when a muffled sound permeated the walls. I’d been able to hear scattered rounds of applause through the whole show, but the band wasn’t playing at the moment. What was it?
Shaking my head, I focused harder on my work. My fingers flew over the laptop keyboard as I got into a rhythm, inputting the numbers from the tour’s receipts to date into a column. Numbers were safe, sterile, and thoroughly unsexy—exactly the opposite of the rock god I was sharing a tour bus with. If I could keep my head in the numbers, I could keep it away from him.
Then the laptop started to vibrate. My styrofoam coffee cup, which was still a quarter full, nearly tipped over before I caught it. The computer jostled to a rhythmic beat like there was a dinosaur stomping around outside. What the hell is going on out there? Frustrated that I couldn’t get any work done, I stood, opened the door to investigate, and was nearly knocked backwards by a powerful force.
"WE WANT JAX! WE WANT JAX! WE WANT JAX!"
It was the fans!
I’d wanted to avoid Jax but even his fans seemed to be conspiring against me. The craziest part was, they weren’t chanting for The Hitchcocks as a band. Just Jax, the rock god.
I entered into the hall. Every step I took brought me closer to the source of the echoing, pulsing sound. The audience now sounded frantic, half-hysterical, and the thumping vibrations in the floor sped up to match. At a spot just offstage, I was finally able to see what was happening. Thousands of audience members, stomping their feet in unison, were making the floor shake in time with their chants.
The lights went down, and the crowd’s stomps and chants gave way to keening wails. Just as the audience reached a fever pitch, a chord broke through the screams and the stage lights came up.
Sky, wearing a black and white minidress, started playing the song’s bassline, while Chewie kept a beat with his standard stoned-out look. The guitars kicked in next, Kev and Jax facing each other as they riffed. Standing in the multicolored spotlights, Jax had never looked more at ease. His leather pants traced the outline of his muscular legs, and he moved his body sinuously as the audience screamed for more.