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The star makers, p.1
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       The Star Makers, p.1

           Robin D. Laws
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The Star Makers
The Star Makers

  By Robin D. Laws

  Copyright 2012 Robin D. Laws.

  All rights reserved.

  Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

  The Star Makers

  Robin D. Laws

  Given that Orlando Frank was opening his refrigerator door for the first time since his return from two weeks playing club dates down the eastern seaboard, he expected that maybe there’d be something living there, back in the back, amid the jars of Patak’s curry paste, the Tanqueray, and the jumbo-sized ReaLemon bottle. What he did not think he’d see peering back at him with a single, bloodshot, cyclopean eye was a beige-colored arthropod, as long as his index finger, clinging with four pairs of legs to the side of a milk carton.

  “Ack!” said Orlando, and slammed the door shut. He fell backwards onto the tiled floor of his tiny kitchen. Inside the fridge, he could hear flapping and thumping, as if he’d startled the bug-thing, sending it caroming around against the interior walls and condiment bottles. He regathered his bathrobe around his skinny frame, set his mouth into a determined line, and said, “Damn. Tom! It’s gotta be...” He stood, took a breath (he hated freakin’ arthropods) and opened the door. The creature banged furiously against the fridge’s lightbulb. Orlando thrust his hand in and grabbed at it, noticing only partway through his move that the thing was equipped with inch-long chitinous mandibles. It buzzed towards his face on dragonfly wings. He batted it away and down onto his unswept floor. With slippered foot he crushed it, setting his teeth up against each other as he took in its exoskeletal crunch. Queasily he lifted his foot and turned the sole of his slipper upwards for inspection. The creature was now a mushy mix of vivid green paste and crushed shell, the latter midway in thickness between jumbo shrimp and blue crab.

  Whatever it was, it was not native to this plane of existence. The human-like eyeball was your basic dead giveaway. It was too bad he hadn’t preserved it in a better state for examination, but he sure as heck wasn’t going to give that thing a second chance to hurtle at his face. Orlando was pretty sure that it had been put there for observation purposes, not to deliver an actual attack. Its eye would be like a spy-cam to scry through. If its conjuror was who he thought it was, it was no surprise that the thing had gone and grown to such an obtrusive size. Tom had a history of efforts whose creativity outstripped their effectiveness.

  Orlando headed straight for his phone, an old wall-mounted number, to dial Kacie, but got a busy signal. Online, as usual, probably. He might as well hoof it over to her place, which was only a few blocks away. He went for his laundry hamper, quickly smell-tested its contents for the least offensive T-shirt and skintight black jeans, dressed himself, and headed out.

  He wasn’t too far down West 22nd when he saw a slightly stout girl spot and recognize him. Orlando was used to the look of recognition and its various permutations. He’d learned to discern a “hey, aren’t you famous in some way?” look from an “I recognize you from MTV 2 but don’t much care” from an “omigod, it’s Orlando Frank”, and this was definitely the third option. The girl was in her early twenties most likely, wearing a pink fuzzy jacket. She smiled wide and headed towards him on intercept course.

  “Omigod, I don’t believe it,” she said, “It’s Orlando Frank!”

  He’d still never quite figured out the appropriate answer to that half-question, so he stopped, smiled in what he realized had to be an utterly goofy manner, and nodded. She turned around, dropped her sizable army-surplus backpack to the sidewalk, and rustled around in it. She pulled out a magazine, last month’s CMJ Music Monthly and on its cover Orlando saw his own pug-nosed, shag-haired face staring back at him, doing its best to look all defiant yet winsomely sexy. Bathed in the green lighting that had been really hip six months ago when the shot was taken. Under a tagline that read, in big yellow sans serif, ORLANDO FRANK’S PUPPY MILL COMES OUT OF QUARANTINE.

  “Hey,” said the girl, “I just happen to have this in my backpack. Could you sign it maybe?”

  “Sure,” he nodded, vainly patting his jacket for a writing implement. As she dug into her pack for a pen, he sheepishly paged through the issue to the feature article. He’d been a bit of a jackass that day, a fact the interviewer had taken no pains to conceal in her piece. It felt a little weird to sign an article accurately portraying you as an arrogant dink. At least, Orlando reckoned, he’d made himself part of a long tradition of rock ‘n’ roll dinkery. People liked it, even.

  “I’m sorry I haven’t bought the new Puppy Mill record yet,” she was saying, “I love the sample track on the CD that comes with the—It reminds me of... I mean, I like all your stuff, but those first three Dogs records... So what’s up with Tom these days?”

  “We’re not in touch.” Orlando briefly considered telling her that Tom Lockhart, his former bandmate and writing partner, had been on the lam ever since nearly completing a ritual to bring about the apocalypse. But he’d been taught from an early age that the great mass of the population was better off not knowing.

  The girl’s smile broadened, and she nodded knowingly. “Oh, yeah. Right. Of course.”

  Orlando signed the cover for her, frowning slightly. The fans were always sure that The Dogs were on the verge of a surprise reunion. Stupid Internet rumors. He handed the mag back to her and redoubled his walking speed towards Kacie’s place.

  The heat had gone off in Kacie’s building and Orlando warmed his hands over a bubbling saucepan of ramen noodles. She held the jar containing the bug’s remains up to the desk light over her work station. “Etymology is not my strong point,” she said.

  “Entomology,” Orlando corrected.

  “That either,” she said, tossing back her silken, crayon-red hair extensions. She’d settled on a glam-goth combo look for the new record and tour. The angle of the light brought out the fineness of her cheekbones, and Orlando gazed at her with the usual unconsummated romantic tension. Kacie Markovich was the only other carryover, aside from him of course, from his old band, The Dogs, to the new one, Puppy Mill. If Tom was making a play, Orlando couldn’t not tell her.

  “You called Carlo, right?”

  Orlando felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. He hadn’t. How could he have been so stupid? “Jeez, no, Kacie, all I thought of was you.”

  Kacie shot him a disgusted look and flipped open her cellphone. She’d picked the closest model she could find to the classic Trek communicator. “What’s the number?”

  Orlando told her. “But he never picks up anyway. You know how paranoid he is. He thinks dealers cold-call.” Carlo Martelli had been The Dogs’ fourth member, the drummer. After Tom’s attempt at the ritual, which he’d been roped into, Carlo had decamped to a tiny place in rural Pennsylvania to kick heroin, repent to the Lord, and convince himself that nothing he’d seen in the sky that night had been anything but the product of his chemically-enhanced state of mind.

  Kacie shook her head. “You’re right. No answer.”

  “Call Sphinc and tell him to get the van and his ass over here. We’re probably overreacting, but who else would pull this kind of thing but Tom? And what else would it mean than he’s on the move and out for the promised vengeance? And who else would he go after but Carlo?”

  Orlando didn’t use the phrase weak link. He didn’t have to.

  If there was one rule about We’re Off On A Mission music, it was that you had to time it to start with the moment of turn-off from city to highway. Orlando decided that, in this instance, the moment to pop in the CD, which he’d burned several months ago for just such an occasion, would be when 14th Street made its lyc
anthropic transformation into the I-78 W.

  The tune Orlando had chosen to lead off the disc rang out from the van’s speakers: “Slalom”, by Ennio Morricone, the title music from a 1965 Italian film of the same name that Orlando had never seen. Its madly driving beat, executed on tubular bells, and the frenzied sing-song of its female chorus, seemed utterly appropriate for the situation at hand, even though they would not be skiing.

  “Sla-lom!” Orlando thought. “Sla-lom!” For the first time he felt up to the task, if indeed there was one.

  Sphinc, muscle shirt displaying his meticulously sculpted upper body, sat behind the wheel. His full name was The Recurring Sphincter; he bashed the kit for Puppy Mill. The freak-out that broke up The Dogs was before his time, but Orlando had briefed him on it, and he had assimilated the weirdness with stolid equanimity. He and Kacie knew Sphinc’s real name, but had been forbidden to use it. They respected his dedication to his performing alias.

  “Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.” Sphinc said, unhappily reviewing the driving directions, which Kacie had downloaded onto her PDA. Sphinc got a nosebleed whenever he got more than half a mile from a functioning espresso machine. “I thought I’d have a longer break than this from driving,
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