Light Up My Life
Warnings: Danger, bad puns and lyrics ahead!
Archives: BTR, Stonefic - anyone else needs to ask.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to their creators, I just borrowed them. No money is being made.
Summary: Zeke finds whole new meaning to "Hell on Earth."
Ezekiel Stone was in Hell - again. Oh, not the fire and brimstone Hell he'd been subjected to for fifteen years following the murder of his wife's rapist and his own death. That would almost be paradise after THIS place.
"Get you another drink, sir?" a tired woman in her mid-thirties asked, trying to be heard over the atonal warbling coming from the stage.
Zeke nodded and the woman left. He would need a couple more beers before he found anything remotely tolerable about this place. He looked around the bar, wondering for the thousandth time what he was doing there. His erstwhile boss had led him here with another of his cryptic hints, though Zeke had his own personal opinion that any damned soul who'd managed to escape Hell, wouldn't CHOOSE to be here.
The place was simply tacky. Cheap decor, cheaper booze, and a tiny slip of a stage where, for a price, anyone could be a star for the length of a song _ or so Zeke discovered as he sat in the Karaoke bar. The first couple of "performers" hadn't been too bad. Unfortunately, as time and alcohol passed, so did the talent.
Zeke polished off his beer just in time for the waitress to bring him the fresh one. He paid and tipped her, watching his daily supply of $36.27 dwindle. He'd have to be careful with his bar bill tonight, as he scanned the staff and patrons for the taletell signs of his quarry. Which one was it? Who was it? Couldn't be Ashe, she'd definitely never be caught dead - or was it undead? - in a place like this, so who was he looking for?
He'd read in the papers about a series of music related deaths lately. All had been young musicians either near clubs or recording studios _ which were as prolific in LA as they had been in New York. But what had this seedy Karaoke bar to do with music?
The mood on the stage changed. A surprisingly pleasant tenor voice was tripping through the saccharine sweet, cloyingly annoying, award winning strains of Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life". Zeke realized the area around his table was a bit brighter. He shook himself out of his thoughts enough to realize the singer and spotlight was approaching his table. He couldn't make out the face of the person coming out of the light, but had a sinking feeling he didn't need to.
The devil, his current employer, stood there, microphone in hand, emoting with every fiber of his being the final chorus:
"You light up my life
You give me hope - to carry on
You light up my days and fill my nights with song.
'Cause you, you light up...my life."
Zeke thought he was going to wretch, right there on the devil's very hip, very stylish blue suede shoes. The small, drunk audience applauded sporadically as the prince of darkness handed off the microphone to the next person and took a chair at Zeke's table.
"What's the matter, Mr. Stone, don't you appreciate good music?"
"When I hear some good music, then I'll appreciate it," Zeke muttered. "Why am I here?"
The devil sat back and brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his perfectly tailored blue suit. "Come now, Mr. Stone, show a little respect for one of my more ingenious creations. Do you think it was EASY to convince humankind to consider committing totally voluntary acts of self-humiliation as a fun and profitable past time. I had to start with the Japanese for goodness sake - well, badness sake, I suppose would be the correct term. Have you figured out why you're here yet?"
"Just your little way of reminding me where I came from?" Zeke shot back.
The devil snorted. "Very funny, Mr. Stone, but no. There are other mirrors to the soul than the eyes. Many other ways for a tortured soul to cry out." In the background the driving beat of the Rolling Stones began pouring out of cheap speakers. The devil leaned forward and said, "Fee fie foe fum, I smell the stench of brimstone..."
He was gone before Zeke could finish saying, "That doesn't even rhyme." Then his attention was drawn to a thin, sick looking man on the stage rasping through the lyrics of "Devil With a Blue Dress". Surely it wasn't going to be that easy. Nothing could be that easy. There was something vaguely familiar about the guy, but Zeke couldn't quite put his finger on it.
The singer, wildly gyrating, and grating out the meaningful lyrics of "fee fee, fie fie, foe foe, fum..." seemed much too young to be in a dive like this. He had all the earmarks of a rock and roller, had the moves too. He might've even once been attractive to the women who haunted the arenas and backstage areas. But something wasn't right about him. The long, greasy hair cried out for a shower. He was rail thin to the point to being merely skin wrapped around bone, and his skin had a transparent quality reflecting something inside that seemed to burn. He didn't look at the others in the bar. He didn't care if his performance, and he WAS performing, meant anything to anyone else, he was moving as though driven. Like an addict, but an addict to what?
Zeke watched the young man as he finished the one song and went into another, also by the Rolling Stones, "Sweet Black Devil". This HAD to be the soul his boss was pointing him to, though Zeke wanted no part of the Hell this guy was living in or with. As he watched, Zeke knew he wouldn't just meet this particular guy in the back alley and send him on his way, as tempting as the idea was. He needed to know more about him. The waitress came back by, but instead of ordering another beer, Zeke decided to get some work in.
"Who's that guy?"
The waitress glanced over her shoulder. "Who? Oh, him?" She shrugged. "That's Kevin. He's in here all the time."
"Why?" Zeke wanted to know.
The waitress shrugged. "Don't know. Guess he just likes to sing. Sometimes he does some really funky old stuff, too. I think he thinks he coulda been somebody."
The waitress wandered off, and Zeke didn't stop her. He studied Kevin while he finished his beer. Then he tossed a tip on the table and left. Kevin continued to sing, oblivious to the uncaring audience, the bar, or anything other than the music.
# # #
Maxine was where she always was, behind the counter of the run down building Zeke called home. She was also in her typical position, tapping away at her computer. Zeke still couldn't get over how prevalent computers had become in the last fifteen years. Part of his brain said he should learn how to use one instead of always asking Max, but another part of him didn't want to be around long enough to learn.
Maxine looked up and saw him. "Hey, Zeke, how's it hangin'?"
Zeke still wasn't used to the new slang, but that was easier to adapt to than some things. "Oh, fine. Can you look something up for me?"
Max rolled her eyes. "What is it with men, anyway? You don't ask how a girl's doing? Just wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. Out the door and never heard from again. Why is that?"
Zeke groaned silently. Max was having boyfriend troubles. Again. "You're right, Max. I'm sorry. How are you?"
"Lousy," Max replied. "Thank you for asking. Now was that so hard? But I don't want to burden you with my problems. What do you need found this time?"
"Dead musicians named Kevin."
"Dead musicians named Kevin."
"That's pretty out there, even for you. And vague, you got a last name?"
"Nope, sorry, just dead musicians named Kevin."
"You don't have to keep repeating it." Max leaned on the counter closer to Zeke. "You know, if this were anyone else, somebody might think you were obsessed with dead people. But this is still research for some book or something, right?"
"Or something," Zeke agreed. "Does that make it better?"
"At least not quite so weird. Writers research strange stuff all the time. I'll see what I can find for you."
"Thanks. I owe you," he said, heading for the elevator.
"Got that right," Max called after him. "Don't think I'm gonna let you forget it either!"
# # #
It took a lot to freak out Maxine. She took great pride in thinking nothing could shock her any more. She was wrong. She couldn't believe how many websites she found on the Internet about dead musicians, and a disturbing number went into all the gory details. She'd actually had to turn away from one site, which had some how begged, borrowed, or stole morgue and autopsy photographs and had them posted on the site. An interesting point for the trivia buffs was that an unusually large percentage of dead musicians had names starting with a "K". Within a couple of hours, Maxine had a sheaf of print outs of names and photos going back almost forty years. Though, she did take a bit of a license with the search criteria and also pulled the Keiths and the Kurts, just in case.
# # #
Over a meal the next day, Max showed Zeke her findings. She was always amazed by what the man ate. Anyone else would've dropped dead of a heart attack after eating the cholesterol_laden meal Zeke consumed every time she saw him. She, however, continued to enjoy her salad with dressing on the side.
"Are you sure this is something you want to talk about while eating?" she asked.
Zeke took a long pull on his coffee. "Sure, why?"
Max made a face. "Well, it's just not something most people feel comfortable talking about over a meal."
"I have a strong stomach," he said, taking a large bite of huevos rancheros.
"So I've noticed, and hardened arteries too if you keep eating like THAT."
Zeke merely grinned and continued eating. He went through the stack of papers and finally stopped on one. "This one."
Maxine took the sheet from him and looked at it. "Him? Why him? What's so special about this guy? He didn't even rate a plane crash like Buddy Holly or Rick Nelson. He died in a DUI accident on the way to a concert. Whole band was killed. He was the driver."
"Yeah, but it would've been his big break..." It all added up now. Zeke had to go back to the bar. "I've gotta go."
"Go? Go where?" Maxine wanted to know.
"I'm coming with you."
That brought Zeke up short. "Why?"
"You in a karaoke bar, that I have to see." Max got up and followed him out.
# # #
The place was much the same as when Zeke was there before. The waitress recognized him when she came by the table. "Back again. It's like this place is contagious or something. Addictive maybe." She noticed Max. "And you brought a friend."
Max didn't notice the hint of derision in the jaded woman's voice. She was too busy looking over the song list.
"Is Kevin here yet?" Zeke asked, wanting to get down to business. "I wanted to talk to him."
"I think I saw him heading to the john."
Zeke thanked her and headed for the dark, dingy hallway leading to the restrooms. Kevin was just coming out when Zeke approached. He didn't even look up until Zeke said his name.
"Aren't you Kevin Cunningham?"
Kevin looked up, startled. "Who're you? What do you want." Suddenly, his eyes flared with hellfire. "You're not sending me back."
Zeke wondered what gave him away. Something ALWAYS gave him away to the errant souls, and they invariably ran, or tried to kill him. It just wasn't fair. Zeke sighed and pulled his gun. "Come on, let's just go outside."
Kevin lunged at Zeke, knocking him off balance, and ran back into the club. Zeke sighed, put away his gun, and followed. He was getting too old for this, even if he was dead. Kevin was already scattering tables and chairs in his path, heading for the kitchen and the alley behind. Patrons, of a sort, in the bar scattered, many too far gone to shriek in fear and confusion. Zeke tried to spare a glance for Max, but didn't see her, and had too many other things on his mind to care.
# # #
The alley behind the bar turned out to be a dead end. Kevin was trying to scramble up the wall to get away, but couldn't. He slid down the wall into a heap on the ground, sobbing. Zeke hated it when they did that.
"It's time to go back," he said.
"Don't you want to know why?" Kevin asked, looking up. The sobs had just been an act.
"Why? Why kill them?"
"Because they had what I should've had. What I would've had if it hadn't been for the others."
"Derek, Lance, the rest of the guys in the band. They were the ones drinking. I never touched the stuff. They wouldn't let me drive that night. THEY crashed the car that killed us. I could've been HUGE, with or without them, and they KILLED me. Why should these other bozos have a chance at what was taken from me?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I made a deal. With HIM. He was going to make me bigger than Elvis," Kevin told him. "Than ELVIS, man. Do you know what that means?"
"What did that matter?" Kevin demanded. "I was going to be huge! Then, then those IDIOTS thought it would be FUN to play chicken on the highway. I never got my chance, HE didn't hold up his end of the deal. I didn't even get to die in a plane crash like Buddy Holly."
Zeke shrugged in acute frustration. "What is so important about dying in a freakin' plane crash, already? You're still dead."
"Yeah, but people remember it! They should've remembered ME! I sold my soul so people would remember me, and I didn't get squat, so why should anyone else get what I deserved? It's not fair." Kevin looked up, shaking his fist. "WE HAD A DEAL!"
Zeke sighed and raised his gun, aiming carefully. This was the same song he'd heard over and over again with these souls. "Life's tough," he said, "Then you die. Though, this time, have the courtesy to stay dead. I don't like doing this."
Kevin knew what was coming and didn't even move. The two bullets took him squarely in the eyes. His soul returned to the perpetual torment of Hell, though when he went, Zeke was sure he could hear the sound of music going with him. After a moment, he felt the terrible searing pain of one of the tattoos being removed. This one was just below the base of this throat. He waited for the pain to subside before going back inside the club.
# # #
Zeke was amazed. It seemed like nothing had happened in the bar at all. The tables and chairs were back in their places, and the patrons were back to their assigned task of drinking and staring blankly at the people singing on stage. Zeke looked around for Max. She was chatting with the bartender, oblivious to her surroundings. He smiled and took a seat.
Suddenly a voice started singing in his ear:
"I can't get no, Satisfaction.
I can't get no, Satisfaction.
Cause I tried, and I tried
And I tried, and I tried.
I can't get no... I can't get no
I can't get no, Satisfaction."
Zeke looked at his boss. "Then why not pick on someone else for a while, and give me a break."
The Devil pouted, it was undoubtedly his best expression. "Come now, Mr. Stone, surely there's some satisfaction in a job well done? Though this job isn't done yet. There are still a lot more lost souls out there just waiting for you to send them back to me. And you haven't even discovered some of the more challenging ones yet."
The Devil's pout turned to a grin. "Enjoy the evening, Mr. Stone. Then get back to work." Then he vanished.
Max came back to the table a moment later. "Where you talking to someone just now?"
Zeke was startled. "No. No one."
Max shrugged. "For a no one, he was awfully cute."
Zeke shuddered. He didn't like to think any one, especially not Maxine, could see the Devil. "Trust me, you didn't see him, and you don't want to know him."