Stage (f)Right Part 5
Suspense had gotten the best of Ritchie Jean and Kevin. They had to go to the ball field, if for no other reason, just to find out what Larry was up to. It was 4:10. Larry would be here shortly so the boys ran to centerfield to throw the ball around and get loose.
Although the day was a little on the nippy side, a fresh, crisp air settled in and it was a beautiful day to play ball. A gentle breeze nudged the trees up on the hillside around the curve in leftfield. Partly cloudy skies gave good visibility for playing ball and it was generally a good day to be alive.
In the distance, the boys could hear a rumble. The boys stopped to listen as the sound grew closer. It seemed to be coming from Woodsdale Drive. Kevin looked down at his watch. It was 4:15 and Larry should be here any minute.
The sound continued to get louder. As the boys looked up the hill where Woodsdale intersected with the Boulevard, the rumble peaked. In a split, life-changing second a red Corvette smashed the guide rails on the third base side and fell one hundred feet to the diamond below. Larry and his Corvette were literally sliced by the cables of the guide rail. For Larry, there was no more time.
In shock, the boys looked on, with pieces of car and body strewn all over the infield. The beautiful day had ended.
The wind began to whistle through the tops of the trees. Partly cloudy had turned to deepest, darkest, overcast.
Although it seemed that neither boy could speak, the words just sort of rolled out of Ritchie Jean's mouth. "Kev, where do you think Larry is now?"
Sirens were blaring and people were beginning to congregate at the top of the hill. The boys were too numb to move. What they had just experienced would never be forgotten. They now stood face to face with death--violent, irreversible, death. The question was now indelibly etched on Ritchie Jean's mind. WHERE IS LARRY NOW?
Whatever made Larry turn to suicide, no one was quite sure, but the note found just inches from home plate helped to explain: "Ritchie Jean, thanks for coming. I've seen your show. I hope you liked mine. Life is a mess. I'm at peace now. I don't have to live in your shadow anymore. Good luck to you. Larry."
The note, although not clear and somewhat disoriented, seemed to have had some connection to Ritchie Jean as the cause of the suicide. Still in a state of shock, the boys were rushed to the emergency room for treatment and observation.
The next several days were very difficult for Ritchie Jean. What did the note mean? Was Ritchie Jean, in some way, responsible for the death of Larry Gross? Where was Larry now? Questions poured through Ritchie Jean's mind. The answers were harder to come by.
With two days left before the band was to meet for rehearsal of the new material Ritchie Jean had been working on, Ritchie Jean was to meet the biggest test of his career. His concentration had been destroyed and his desire severely thwarted by the repeating scenes of the accident in his mind.
The material was ready. It was a matter of rehearsing it with Robbie and Craig. Kevin already had his parts down so things should have been fairly easy, but Ritchie Jean was in his own little world. Kevin helped to keep things progressing, but he was limited as to what he could do. The accident was still very real in his mind, too. After tremendous struggles and many a temper flare-up the band was ready for the recording studio once more, and then tour number three. New York was the first stop for the boys, and then on to Pittsburgh.
A few weeks on the road and Ritchie Jean made the adjustment. Things were clicking just like they used to, and the fans were going wild. Ritchie Jean Baker was all he ever hoped to be.
Heading into Houston, Texas the band was scheduled for a press conference before their 8:00 show. After the reporters had cleared out, Ritchie Jean noticed something on one of the shelves in the press room. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but it caught Ritchie Jean's eye--another one of those religious papers.
The paper read in part, "Time stands still in eternity, but eternity lasts a very long time. Are you ready should you enter eternity today? Christ has provided all you need. Accept him now."
Again Ritchie Jean was confronted with the truth. Little by little his heart seemed to soften, but he wanted so much to talk with Kevin about it, to discuss his heart's feelings, to try to unravel the thoughts of his life, to make some sense of things, but he knew Kevin wouldn't listen. . .and why was it that he always found the papers instead of Kevin or one of the other boys?
He was tempted to pray the prayer at the end of the paper, but unseen activity was holding him back. His mind was flooded with questions that demanded answers, but where could he find them? With these thoughts, he took his place on stage. As his addiction took over his soul he seemed to forget the paper and everything else, too.
Craig was pounding out the rhythm that took control of the crowd while Robbie was weaving his bass lines in and out. Ritchie Jean was playing better than usual and enjoying every minute of crowd manipulation. The one sore spot of the evening was Kevin.
After the second number, Kevin, glassy-eyed and laughing, turned and walked away from his keyboard. No one was sure where he had gone, but the show had to continue without him, and it did. Shortly he returned, but it would have been better if he hadn't. It was, without a doubt, the worst performance he had ever given with Ritchie Jean.
Back at the hotel it was just Kevin and Ritchie Jean. There was no applause. There were no lights. Quiet settled in as Ritchie Jean gave Kevin space to explain. No explanation came, but for the first time Ritchie Jean had to face what he suspected for a long while. Kevin was in too deep with some kind of drug, and Ritchie Jean didn't know how to help him.
From Houston, it was a quick trip into L. A. Kevin gave a repeat performance of his Houston show for "the City of Angels." Neither the crowd nor his fellow band members were appreciative. Kevin was very hyper and very much out of control most of the show. Concentration was broken on stage and the whole show ended in shambles.
Allison happened to catch the show and was not the least bit impressed. Immediately following the show she cornered Ritchie Jean back stage.
"Ritchie Jean, we need to talk! You, Robbie, Craig and Kevin, meet me at the hotel lounge tomorrow after your sound check. You have two nights in L. A. and the papers aren't going to give you a good review on this one. They'll devour you. Tomorrow has to be perfect. Talk to Kevin!"
Back at the hotel, there was no talking to Kevin who was constant motion. His little blue pills would help. When he finally crashed for the night, Ritchie Jean was left wondering what went wrong for Kevin. Can't he help himself? Does he want to help himself?
Insistently, the alarm clock buzzed. Both boys struggled to their feet, showered and crammed down a Pop Tart or two on their way to the sound check. Kevin tried to keep awake, but he kept nodding off.
Ritchie Jean knew that this wasn't a good way to meet with Allison, but he couldn't even get a cup of coffee into him. The shower definitely didn't do anything to rouse him.
They did manage to get through part of the sound check before Kevin passed out on his keyboard. It was to be a very long morning for everyone as they packed Kevin into the limo and sent him back to the hotel. One of the roadies played his keyboard as best he could to allow the sound technicians to fine tune some things, then it was off to meet with Allison--something none of the boys was really looking forward to.
"Okay, guys," Allison blurted out. "I've invested a lot of money and time into you guys and nobody, NOBODY, makes a fool out of me--not you, not Kevin. Ritchie Jean, fire him. He's gone--understand.
"I know the two of you are close, but this is business, pure business and if you don't talk to him, I will--and then I might be coming after you.
"I know all of you know about Kevin and his father. I tried to help him. I was the one that got him that plea bargain so he could be back out and playing and this is the way he acted then. I'm not taking the chance of anything happening like it did before. Only this time, it could be one of us. Just take care of it.
"Excuse me now. I'm heading stage right.
Stage right was Allison's way of saying she was going to the powder room and the meeting was over, nothing left to talk about, but that was far from the truth. Ritchie Jean sat stunned, trying to make some sense of Allison's message. The other boys pushed their chairs in and headed back to their rooms. Ritchie Jean waited for Allison to emerge.
"Allison, sit down. You're confusing me. What's this about a plea bargain? What are you afraid of happening again--to one of us? I know how Kevin's dad was murdered by those guys at the club that night, but what does that have to dowith us NOW?"
"Ritchie Jean, relax! Tell me, what do you know about Kevin's father's murder?"
"I know he was beaten to death while he was watching Kevin play."
"Ritchie Jean, I suppose, Kevin told you that. Ritchie Jean, Kevin's been involved with drugs ever since I knew him. He came home one night after playing and his dad wasn't able to come see him at the club. His dad tried to explain that an emergency came up, but Kevin, still under the influence of the drugs took a baseball bat to his skull.
After the effect of the drugs wore off, he went to the hospital and he was there when he died. Kevin murdered his father, Ritchie Jean."
"We got him off on a technicality and he ended up spending two years in prison. He also went through a drug rehab program and he seemed to be making some progress--until now.
"I've got business to look out for. I can't afford it, but it's more than that. I'm not going to let him destroy any of you. The addiction keeps building until no one on the face of this earth can control him, including himself. I care about you guys. He has to go. Ritchie Jean, I'll tell him."
Allison walked away, leaving Ritchie Jean alone at the table. The cigarette smoke from the others had long ago disappeared, but left a familiar, stale odor settling in around him. A cold, lonely, empty feeling was also settling in. That same emptiness he felt many times before--like the rejection of his father, like Andrea moving from town, like the dead weight of seeing Larry Gross sliced by the cables.
All of a sudden, he was aware of a voice from across the room. He couldn't see the woman that spoke. She was shielded by several people, but he could hear the words.
"Lori, please understand that I love you and I'm concerned about you. I'm not criticizing you for anything. I just want you to have what I have. Lori, you need to be saved."
The voice sounded like Andrea. The wording sounded like Andrea. Just then, the woman stood up. The light caught shades of red in her soft, auburn hair, but before Ritchie Jean could get to her, she was gone. As quickly as his feet would carry him, he headed for the door, but the woman was nowhere to be found.
Kevin was still asleep when Ritchie Jean got back to the room. He knew Allison would be here soon to talk to Kevin, but wished it didn't have to be that way. In his brotherly way, his heart bled for Kevin, wanting to do something to help him, but not knowing where to begin.
Ritchie Jean slouched back in a chair and waited for Allison. He thought back to the day Andrea left for the city and now he was in that city. Was she still there? If so, he wanted to find her. He thought back to her last words: "Ritchie Jean, you need to be saved."
His thoughts were rudely interrupted by the doorbell. Allison was here, and not a moment too soon. Kevin was just beginning to rouse himself. This was not the way he wanted to wake up.
"Kevin, sit down. You and I both know the rock-n-roll business is tough. You're on top one day and the next you've hit rock bottom. Bands come and go. Personnel comes and goes. Kevin, I have to let you go--in the best interest of the band, in the best interest of business.
"That's all I have to say. Ritchie Jean can explain, but you won't be playing tonight. The boys will do it without you."
Without a word, Kevin turned and headed back to his room. He was sleeping again by the time Ritchie Jean got there.
Ritchie Jean's heart melted, but he knew the job he had to do. He was living the dream of years gone by. He was on top and nothing would be allowed to wake him from his dream. Bigger crowds and bigger money were still the name of the game for Ritchie Jean and as much as he cared for Kevin, he still had a job to do, and he did it well.
Despite those feelings, the show that night was really not what it should have been or what it needed to be. Every time Ritchie Jean looked over toward the keyboard area his heart sank to realize that Kevin wasn't there and probably never would be again. The stage play and interaction on stage was lost without him. Still the show must go on.
In the dark of his dressing room after the show, Ritchie Jean sat. He chose to pass up the usual parties with the crew and groupies. Although he didn't involve himself with drugs, the party was the customary end to the evening, but not this time. Andrea's last words haunted him. Larry Gross's suicide was still very real in his mind and Ritchie Jean needed answers.
He reflected over the years of his life--his father, his beginning in rock-n-roll, his search for meaning, or at least some sense to life. It was 3:45 in the morning when he returned to his room.
He sat down and pulled out the phone book. Quickly he went to the "P" section, but there were no "Andrea Petyaks" listed. Her father's name wasn't listed, nor her mother's. That didn't mean that she wasn't in the city, but it limited Ritchie Jean as to how he might find her and in the morning, he'd be on his way to the east coast and Miami. Sleep was coming quickly now and Ritchie Jean drifted off to a surprisingly peaceful night of rest.
The alarm was ringing in Ritchie Jean's ears, signaling another beginning to yet another day on the road. Miami was calling, but at the same time, the emptiness of knowing that Kevin wouldn't be with them had returned. He wanted to talk to Kevin one last time and try to explain that it wasn't his choice to let him go, that it was all up to Allison, and that they needed to stay in touch.
He gave a few, quick raps on Kevin's door and waited for Kevin to open it.Things were quiet and Ritchie Jean figured either Kevin was still sleeping off the effects of the drugs or was just ignoring him. He knocked again with no response from Kevin's side of the door.
Slowly he opened the door. The open window was the only thing that kept the stench of vomit from spreading. Kevin lay face up on the bed, his mouth open, clogged with his own vomit. Just what combination of drugs and/or alcohol he had taken wasn't clear, but his bluing flesh did make it clear that he was dead. A shaking Ritchie Jean reached over to take the paper that was still lying in Kevin's hand.
"Dear Ritchie Jean,
I didn't tell you all there was to know about my father's death. I'm
sorry, but Allison can fill you in. I'm drowning in guilt. I didn't tell you all there was to know about a drug problem I had either. Without the band, there's no reason for me to continue. I'm at peace now, I guess. I hate to admit it, but I wonder if there is a Hell. If there is, it's only what I deserve anyway. If there is, I'll say `Hi' to Larry Gross. He's the one that gave me this great idea. I'm banking my soul that there isn't.
"Remember when you play tonight and look into the glazed eyes of your audience that they don't care about you or your music. They only care about drugs and sex and your rock-n-roll is the medium they use to get it. I was one of them. I know. Ritchie Jean, I love you, man. Think of me often.
The scene, the note, the stress was all Ritchie Jean could handle and he fell to the floor, his mind going blank. Just how long he was out of touch wasn't clear, but he was still in a state of collapse when Allison had hotel security open the door. He was late for the plane. He'd be late for Miami.
He rested quietly in the hospital while Allison canceled the next three nights of concerts. Sedated, he was able to slowly recover control and get back in touch with reality. The heavy burden of losing his best friend in the manner in which he did would be a burden he would carry for the rest of his life. One question kept coming back to him. WHERE IS KEVIN NOW?
As soon as Ritchie Jean was able, it was necessary for him to go back to the hotel room with the police to wrap up the investigation. The room had been left untouched until Ritchie Jean was ready. The fact was Ritchie Jean would never be ready, but the police kept up the pressure, so upon leaving the hospital room, he was escorted back to the hotel suite that he and Kevin had shared.
Everything was still the same. The window was still open as the breeze floated in to the sixth story room. The door had been locked and guards were posted as an extra precaution. Everything was the same--except for the note. Ritchie Jean had placed it in his jacket pocket on his way to the hospital. He had read it several times while he was there. He knew exactly what it said--or didn't say.
As he entered the room a strange coldness seemed to settle over him. The room temperature had been set at sixty-eight degrees, but to Ritchie Jean, it was so much colder. He hugged his jacket around him to keep warm, but he was still chilled.
The officer in charge asked Ritchie Jean if there was a note left and Ritchie Jean reached into his pocket and pulled out Kevin's last words. The words at the bottom were hard to read. The strokes were very quick and sharp, not soft and curved like the rest of the letter. Officer Clark asked Ritchie Jean if he could make it out.
After some examination, it was finally concluded that it said, "If there is a Hell, I'll be sure to let you know. I promise."
Ritchie Jean, trying to keep his composure, collapsed again, but was quickly revived. That last line didn't appear on Kevin's original note, nor did it appear to be his handwriting, but the ink did match the ink from the pen Kevin had used. Ritchie Jean knew that last sentence wasn't there when he left the hospital. How did it get there, written with Kevin's own pen? More questions, still no answers.
The death was ruled a suicide, but the note was taken to be analyzed. The writing was determined to be Kevin's, but under heavy stress. Still Ritchie Jean knew that sentence was not on the note at the time of Kevin's death.
He was feeling better now. Something was going on and he was going to find out what, no matter what the cost.
After a week of rest and investigation, it was time to get back on the road. True, Ritchie Jean was rested, but the investigation came up empty. It wasn't a matter he would let rest, though. He would continue to piece things together and the next few weeks would give him more time to think about it.