Minor seventies rockstar Taurus Temple is dead. So says the videostream in which he plunges into the icy swirls of Puget Sound.
Taurus expects his supposed death will massively boost music sales and downloads… if only he and his manager can get people on the internet to pay attention for more than five minutes.
But Taurus discovers that those in his circle prefer him gone. His ex-wife wants his royalties. Her sister Susie is assembling a documentary about his death. His girlfriend relishes her newfound solitude. His keyboard player’s taking over as lead singer in his memorial band.
When Susie discovers Taurus is still alive, her documentary is ruined, and she hires a hitman to make Taurus dead again. Taurus’s ex-wife chips in. His girlfriend shoots him in the legs, claiming she mistook him for a coyote. His band sounds better without him. And a cop’s on his trail for fraud.
Taurus Temple: once a marginal star, then a has-been, and now a non-person. But Taurus is alive, and pissed, and he’s not going to let mere death keep him from ascending the charts once again.
Here are the prologue and the first two chapters of #TaurusTempleLives.
Prologue – YouTube Livestream
“Goodbye, cruel world.”
The video – handheld, obviously an older cellphone without image stabilization – shows a man in his late 60s, rectangular face, short dyed-blond and now windblown hair, crinkling about the eyes, forehead still undecided between smile or frown lines. The raw sodium vapor lighting of the ferry’s car deck does nothing to soften a face recognized by thousands, though not millions.
“Trite, right? Well, let me add a big fuh— screw-you to John Rockwell, who called my first album trite. Or maybe it was Jon Pareles. Some John at the New York Times.”
The image tilts down. Band T-shirt over a thin waist, worn jeans, ankle weights, laced-up hiking boots.
Back up, quickly.
“Weights and boots, so when I go down, I stay down. ‘Cause I know people change their mind.”
The camera pans: from the face to the bright deck of the ferry to black, where after a couple of seconds a few dim points of light reveal themselves, moving slightly.
“Puget Sound’s fuh— sorry, damn cold even in the summer, so I hope it’ll be over quick. And hey, if you’ve enjoyed my music at all over the years, thanks for listening. Really. And do check out my last song. Up on my YouTube channel.”
Again the image pans, to the chain barrier at the back of the ferry, not much of an obstacle at all, easily ducked. And then black, not enough time for the distant lights to register before the picture rotates back to the man.
“So, um, yeah. I should yell Geronimo or something, but that’s probably a slur. Oh, shit, they see me. Peace out, friends.”
The image bobs wildly, a couple of steps, in the kind of dramatic video that makes people pay attention.
The phosphorescence of the wake is briefly visible, growing rapidly larger, before the image freezes, then disappears.
Chapter 1 – Gotta Make It Go
Mario Mendez lives by the vulture capital mantra, as spawned in Silicon Valley: Invest in ten companies, expecting eight to be flops, one to limp along, and one that returns your investment a hundredfold.
Only he had missed out on Netscape, on Google, on Facebook, on the whole electronic – and real-world – traffic jam spreading out from El Camino Real. Because his own jam wasn’t tech. He could barely use a computer, and maintained to all who would listen his pride in that fact. Rather, he lived for a different jam, the interplay among musicians striving for a hit record.
So he’d signed ten acts to management contracts. Eight flops. One that disbanded – and wasn’t that a perfect word – before their first gig. And one limping along.
He texts and tweets and grams everyone he knows, within the industry and without, linking limping Taurus Temple’s farewell video, livestreamed this past hour. Views. Gotta make it go viral.
Because if it goes viral – and Mario has by now learned what that means, if not how to make it happen – then Taurus Temple records and CDs will start selling again, and his Spotify and Apple Music streams will spike, and Mario will get his percentage of the royalties. He’ll book memorial concerts with the rest of the Distemples around the country. Europe, too. Taurus actually had a couple of hits in the UK. One in France. Get Cal Sharp to lose a few pounds, take Taurus’s place in the band. The money, such as it is, lies in live gigs.
Mario had promised Taurus this afternoon, when the musician clued him into the near future, that he’d get views, both the livestream and the suitably black-bordered video for “Dozen.”
Unfulfilled promises. Which is, he’d learned early, the name of the game for a manager / agent.
Still, this is one he needs to make happen.
Settling in for bed, Andrea Templosky tries to ignore the ringing phone. No electronics after 10:30, she’d read, translating the advice to a more reasonable 11:00.
At this hour, has to be her son, or maybe her lawyer. Or her ex, whining about something, and she swears next time he calls she’s going to block his number. Could be a scammer, too. Well, let ‘em try. Blood from a stone and all that.
Five rings, then silence, then the chirp indicating voicemail has kicked in.
She fluffs her pillow, which doesn’t plump, having exhausted its chakras in producing a few thousand nights of bedhead.
The phone rings again.
Drea sighs, picks up the instrument, checks the caller ID.
She swipes up on the Accept button. Twice, since she misses her first try. “What’s up, Rohan?”
She runs through a mental list of matters her son might be calling about. Money, though she can’t help there. If he needs bail again, she’s gonna kick him to Tommy, swear to God. How to get the stains out of something, including his bedsheets from jerking off. How long to microwave something with the instructions written right on the fucking box.
She believes she has the options pretty well covered. Lots of practice, since parenting was no more Tommy’s thing than adulting has been Rohan’s. As far as she knows, Rohan’s barely talked with Tommy since the split two years ago. Calls, yes, but they don’t talk. How’s the weather in Bellingham? Your piano, what are you working on? That kind of shit.
She’s believes the possibilities are limited, but she’s wrong.
“He’s dead.” Rohan is sniffling, trying to stifle tears, distraught. “Dad’s dead.”
Livia Barrow swears she isn’t going to miss the asshole.
She does so aloud, a full complement of f-bombs directed at her iPhone as she watches the video for the sixth time. Maybe the seventh. Not counting the one where she dropped the phone fifteen seconds in, remaining in openmouthed shock and disbelief long after it had played through.
“Fucking asshole.” That’s one of the simpler epithets, but her spring has wound down, leaving her only with the basics, the tried-and-trues, the staples requiring no conscious thought. The weak tea she mumbles at the Niners while watching the Seahawks on TV, or at the cop outlined in his bubble-gum lights as he strides toward her wreck of a car, or at a dead boyfriend with whom she was about to break up anyway.
She checks the fridge again. The beer genie hasn’t made an appearance. But genies are fickle, and so she peers behind the decomposing lettuce and the three-day-old pad prik king leftovers, even opens the freezer in case she’d put one in earlier to cool and had forgotten it after seeing the video, but she has no more luck than the last two times she tried.
“Fucking ass….” No point to finishing. No one hears her, and she’s done. He’s gone, without giving her the pleasure of shoving his sorry butt out the door.
No, not really a sorry butt. Tight for a seventy-year-old. The fucking asshole did have his charms, and while the overall balance sheet wasn’t in his favor, the F.A. was in the red less than her previous half-dozen boyfriends.
She sighs, opens her desk drawer in search of a forgotten cigarette, pats down her one winter coat, stops. If she finds one she’ll smoke it – igniting the ciggie on the stove if she can’t locate matches – but she doesn’t want to. She has quit five times, relapsed four, yet she’s been okay ever since covid and has no real desire to go back, either to ciggies or to covid itself. Just… something to do with her hands.
She really needs a drink. The mini-mart’s only a few blocks. She grabs a lightweight jacket from the closet, both to shield her braless boobs and to provide some protection against the chill beginning to glaze the Seattle July midnight. Gathers her kidney-length gray hair in a scrunchie. Flips the sleek mass over her shoulder.
Forces her cellphone into her jeans pocket. Makes sure she’s got her ID pack, not that anyone’s going to card a sixty-two-year-old woman who’s got the face of seventy – though the tits of fifty, she reminds herself. The slim ballistic nylon case also holds her debit card and a few bills.
She sighs again. Takes a deep breath.
Opens the door to her singlewide.
And comes face to face with Taurus Temple, nee Tommy Templosky.
Chapter 2 – If He’s Dead, You’re Not Married
“I’m not really dead.”
Taurus isn’t sure what to say or how to say it, or whether to say anything at all, despite having rehearsed the moment ever since sneaking off the ferry in the trunk of Kilgore’s beater, curled amid worn drumheads, broken sticks, and other percussion detritus. The muffler and springs make noise, the crap in the trunk makes noise, and Kils makes noise everywhere he goes, Charlie Brown’s Pigpen with sound rather than dirt. But Aaron Kilgore also keeps solid time. Including his return on schedule from the casino in Suquamish.
Or not quite on schedule, because the ferry had to stop and search for a damned inconsiderate jumper.
Taurus doesn’t get stage fright anymore, and not much shuts him up. Even when he buries his head in Livia’s unshaven bush he’s talking, often singing. His own songs, Beatles covers, nonsense syllables, extemporaneous paeans to Livia’s unfettered sexuality. But he’s frozen now, on the stoop of Livia’s singlewide, because the way he’s visualized it, Livia – after a moment of openmouthed surprise – wraps her arms around him, sobs in relief, and then leads him into frantic lovemaking on the floor, the worn reddish sixties shag fulfilling its singular purpose.
“You. Asshole.” Her ice-blue eyes narrow. Her forehead wrinkles.
“I thought you’d be glad to—”
He’s unprepared for the slap, not full force, because he’s standing in the doorway, on the narrow wrought-iron stoop, and she has no room to wind up, put some leverage into the swing, but it hurts nonetheless. Livia is strong, befitting her background as a beach bunny in her twenties in Venice, California, pumping iron, surfing, and fucking. And if she’s lost definition in the ensuing forty years, she hasn’t lost her tone, and the slap rocks him hard enough to make him stumble.
It’s been a long night, even if he didn’t actually go for a swim. The ankle weights under his pants, coupled with the Vibram-soled boots, conspire to rob him of his balance, and he begins to flail.
Livia reaches for him, and no doubt would have stabilized him had his thrashing arm not knocked hers away. He teeters for a moment, knowing he’s going over.
He begins to laugh, because it’s better than screaming, and because of the great cosmic irony in having told the world he was falling, only to have his lies true up a few hours later. The universe will not be mocked, not by losers like him.
The impact with the water from thirty feet above, the height of the ferry deck, would have been survivable, at least until he went under. The collision with the gravel path to Livia’s trailer, a mere five percent of the distance, is going to be a hell of a lot harder.
“Yes, I know what time it is.” Drea spits the answer at their divorce lawyer even as she realizes she doesn’t actually know what time it is. But then no one tells the truth to lawyers, not even their own. Why should they? Lawyers themselves are professional prevaricators.
“I don’t keep musician’s hours.” The man’s voice, rich with resonance in daylight, tonight is sleep-ravaged. Perhaps he musters the honeyed tones only for clients.
And, she hopes, for the judge.
“Neither do I. Anymore.” Better get to the point. The lawyer is, after all, named Bill. Bill By-the-Minute Porter. “My husband’s dead.”
An intake of breath. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Bet he says that to all his clients. “Not to be crass, but what does that mean for me?” And she does mean to be crass. Nearly thirty years of marriage to a rockstar manqué has taught her that if she’s not pushy, nothing good happens. Mostly nothing good happens anyway, because of all the directions her life might have taken, being a high-school history teacher was always the slow lane southbound. Directness, though, is the only key that even occasionally kicks the starter into life in her personal clown car.
“We were going to file the agreement tomorrow. He came into the office and signed it just before we closed.”
The arrangement was technically amicable. They’d used a single attorney for the paperwork, since they’d had little to divide other than distaste for each other’s presence.
She’d looked up the word. Amicable: Adjective. 1) Friendly. 2) Without rancor.
If she’d could have edited the dictionary, she’d have added, 3) Too broke and/or too cheap to give more than a shit-and-a-half about screwing over the other party.
“So right now, the late Tommy Templosky is still my husband.”
Porter mumbles a “hang on.” A few seconds of shuffling, the thunk of a gently closing door, and he’s back. “Technically, if he’s dead, you’re not married.”
“So his will is still valid?”
“If he didn’t change it. But let me tell you, that’s one of the first things that happens in a divorce. Spouses do a revenge will.” His voice goes up half an octave, with nasal overtones. “I leave one dollar to my ex so she can stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
“Like I’m either a widow or a divorcee, right? Depending on whether you file the agreement?”
“I suppose. Is there some reason we need to hash through this at….” He is silent for a couple of heartbeats. “At 1:37 in the morning?”
So that’s what time it is. “I need to figure out if I’m better off as a divorcee or a widow.”
Despite the hour, he’s quick on the uptake. “It’s possible my office might not actually possess the signed papers. Let me know – during business hours, please – if you want me to try and locate them.”
The phone goes dead.
Taurus had made some money in the seventies and eighties. Not a lot, but enough to buy the house she now lived in. And in which she’d keep living, whether as connubial premises or as the one thing she’d gotten out of the maybe-file-maybe-not divorce agreement.
Then had come lean years. They’d scraped by between music and her job as a teacher, the music paying less and less as streaming replaced CDs and as his live audience literally died out, the teaching gig in trouble because history has become increasingly meaningless in an era of alternative facts and quid est veritas.
The veritas is that Tommy is dead. And that there will be memorial concerts and minor tributes and a decent uptick in steams, sales, and royalties. None of which could be of any use to the late Taurus Temple.
But maybe can benefit the still-kicking Andrea Templosky.
She contemplates her options for a while before adding: And Rohan Temple too.
And later appends one more thought regarding Rohan: Their sole offspring is finally independent. No reason to screw that up now.
Livia lurches toward the falling man in hope of keeping her ex-boyfriend alive.
Even as Taurus folds toward the walk, she too is aware of the irony. He’s quite dead. Technically. The world has the video to prove it.
As his body thumps the ground, as she dashes down the two latticed steps, she tries to recall whether the tarp is still in her who-the-fuck-thought-copper-was-a-cool-color Honda Element. Wrap him up. Slide him through the suicide doors. She’s still proud of her strength, even if her workouts these days are largely confined to swinging kettlebells gifted by a previous lover, and those stupid Element latch-to-latch doors will finally prove useful for something other than a surfboard she hasn’t ridden since the year she bought the car. Dump him off the beach at Golden Gardens, and who’s not to know he didn’t wash up there from the ferry. The location is four or five miles from his jump spot, but Puget Sound currents are strong and mysterious.
The thought vanishes almost before it begins – almost, but not quite. She had after all determined to get rid of this current iteration of boyfriend, albeit in a less physical manner.
She kneels at his side, calling “Taurus, honey.” She starts to cradle his head. Stops. Bad idea, if his neck is broken. Though for a millisecond or two, maybe a good idea. The Element still calls.
Again, she dismisses the thought.
She puts her ear against his mouth.
And moaning, a low grumble. And then, “Fuh-h-h-h-ck,” deep in his throat, more subvocalized than spoken.
But all things considered, the perfect word for the situation, in her view. He has fucked up. Her night is fucked. Her fucking plans are fucked.
Well, it’s not like she has another boyfriend waiting. They’re getting harder to catch, good ones, anyway. She’s trolling in fished-out waters, she knows that, scooping up bottom-feeder after bottom-feeder. She’d thought big-fish Taurus had miraculously surfaced in her small pond only to find him as needy as the rest of her conquests.
She looks down at his prone form. Has to admit he’s well worth looking at, still trim at seventy, friendly blue eyes, even white teeth, strong chin, minimal neck wattles. Older by a decade than her preferred demographic, but no low-T bullshit, and he keeps himself in shape, a devotee of the Mick Jagger workout routine. He just… doesn’t see her.
He rolls partly onto his left side, pushes with an elbow to a half-sit, groans, lies back as she slips an arm behind his shoulders for support.
He yelps, reaches across his body with his left hand, fingers the area between the bump atop his right shoulder and the hollow at the base of his neck. “Fuck.”
“Are you okay?” As soon as the words hit the cooling night air, she feels their stupidity.
“Fuck no.” His sneer overrides her fumbling attempt to claw back her question.
“Sorry.” Simultaneous apologies.
He looks up at her, and laughs. Then winces.
Her arm keeps his shoulders off the ground. “Should I… help you up?”
“Yeah. No, wait.” He takes a deep breath, gasps, squeezes shut his eyes.
Livia broke her arm falling out of an orange tree when she was eight. She refused to cry. But she understands the pain, as much as anyone can remember pain. Not as bad as childbirth, about the same as when the dentist didn’t get the Novocain right.
Much less than the morning a major and a chaplain made the slow walk to her door.
He’s not whining, not crying. Maybe shock. Maybe fortitude. Either way, good. Perhaps he’s not an utter lost cause after all.
She has a thing for wounded birds and stray kittens.
Sort of a thing. Take them in, then kick them out because they shit on the floor and tear stuffing out of the sofa.
A light has come on in a doublewide across the way. Taurus tucks his head toward his chest. “Help me inside.” And then, “Please.”
She adjusts her arm, feels him shivering in his T-shirt. “One sec.” Withdraws her arm, easing him to the gravel, removes her jacket, drapes it across him.
He slides it up, using only his left hand, to cover his head.
She helps him to his feet, guides him up the stairs, leads him to her sixties sofa. Roughly as old as she is. She doesn’t sag – she hopes – as much as the piece of furniture that also serves as a pull-out. She doesn’t need the extra sleeping space, but the family that owned the trailer before her left all their furniture. And the original ugly laminate and crappy carpet. And bedbugs.
All she could afford to remove, after the down payment, was the bedbugs.
Taurus shivers and leans forward.
Livia adjusts the lightweight jacket over his shoulders. She lowers herself next to him on the sofa, takes his hand – his left hand – and sits in silence for three or four minutes.
“Thank you.” The first words he’s spoken since they came inside.
Only fair, since her slap sent him careening to the ground.
The slap occasioned by his sudden and unexpected appearance at her door. The slap that started the whole Two-Stooges episode. Now she remembers, and her confusion is building. “Um, why are you here?”
“Well, because you’re my woman. My main squeeze.” He grips her hand harder, leans into her.
Main squeeze. Bullshit like that is reason enough to kick him loose. And now she considers how she’s going to deal with her boss the following day, No, it’s already the following day. Her boss knows she’s dating Taurus, claims to admire the guy’s music, will be all sympathy and consoling while he updates his plan to get into her pants. Or at least talk her into an advance on the annual blowjob. The morning promises to be awkward, or worse. “No, why are you not dead?”
Taurus isn’t sure he can explain to Livia.
He enjoys hanging with her, they’re fire in the bedroom, and he burned out fifteen years ago cheating on Drea with cute young things who didn’t know who Paul was, let alone that he was in Wings, to say nothing of that band before Wings.
Though it wasn’t really cheating. Mostly. The deal with Drea was 1) only out of town, 2) use protection, and 3) don’t get involved. He’d kept the deal. Mostly. Always 2) and 3), and broke the first commandment only once, but he had his reasons.
It had worked until it hadn’t. The motto for his marriage, for his band, for his life itself.
Livia has proved a useful stopgap. But not necessarily a confidant. What he shares, he shares through his lyrics and his singing. Occasionally through lovemaking. Words are his coin, money he spends as fast as he makes, which is why he knows exactly how specious words can be.
Still, words rarely fail him.
Tonight – this morning – feels different. Even the currency of words has lost its value, as if his double-exposure selfie with death, one photo staged, one nearly the real deal, has occasioned runaway inflation. “It’s just…. I couldn’t do it.”
“But… I saw you. Saw the splash.”
He shrugs, the gesture an agonizing mistake. He lowers his wounded shoulder carefully and puts on his best abashed, a look well practiced. “What you saw was… I dropped the phone.”
She offers no response, and in her lack of reaction he feels her disappointment in him. Not that he died, or didn’t die, but that he has been so transparently false.
He’s still awake enough to recognize that he might be inventing her motivation. He has no idea what she’s thinking. But then he acknowledges that he rarely understands what anyone is thinking. Sometimes that includes himself.
She breaks the silence. “Where’s it hurt?”
“I think I broke my collarbone.” He recognizes the particular pain of a fracture. He’s cracked a rib helping carry Ruth’s two-hundred-pound Hammond B3 organ down a flight of stairs back when they were starting out, before she quit the Distemples the first time (of four or five – he’s lost track). Before they could afford roadies. Broke a finger during a gig, whacking it against the drum riser doing the Pete Townshend windmill while kneeling onstage. Nailed his little toe when he dropped his Peavey Vintage amp in his basement.
But the collarbone is something new. The others are war wounds, the life of a scuffling musician taking its toll. Still, the internet knows all, pretends to see all. “Borrow your phone?”
“Why can’t you use— Right. You dunked it.” She works her phone out of her pocket, fingerprints it unlocked, and hands it over.
He fumbles for a bit, forced to type on the tiny onscreen keyboard with one hand. Holds the phone sideways, waits for the recalcitrant device to recognize its new attitude, and now has a larger keyboard, except that the expanded key squares crowd out everything else on the screen.
He gives her what he hopes is a sheepish look and hands it back. “Can you look up what to do for a broken collarbone?”
She does, while he studies her face. More handsome than beautiful, her skin leathered from the ravages of sun and cigarette smoke, but her eyes aglow with life. She’s still excited by shit. Taurus finds her joy as electric as her tight body.
He’d love to help her to a better place in life than a third-hand singlewide with either the original furnishings or unreasonable facsimiles thereof. But Drea has the house, and he could barely afford the rent on the ramshackle converted garage in a changing neighborhood in the south end, for which he has already handed in the keys and recovered his deposit.
She shows him what she’s discovered. “Says here, first, see a doctor.”
Yeah, like dead people – even those pretending to be deceased – can go see a doctor. Fill out all sorts of forms, and the world will know he’s alive, which will kill the boost in sales and streaming he’s living for. “Um, I can’t do that.”
“My healthcare sucks, too.” She reads further. “Anyway, all they’ll tell you is to put it in a sling. Your arm, not your collarbone. Try to immobilize it.” She shows him the diagram of how to wrap a sling. “I can figure something out.”
Good thing, because he can’t make sense of the diagram. Like one of those how-to-tie-a-clove-hitch step-by-steps. Or the page in an Ikea flat-pack box. He knows, deep down, the only reason they sell furniture that way is that they can’t figure out the instructions either.
“Thank you. Really.” And he means it. And not just for solving the sling problem. If he made a list of things to be thankful for, she’d be at the top, along with his voice and his vintage Gibson SG. Above the Peavey, which he still uses, both sounding and looking like an original tweed Fender Twin onstage.
Rohan would be on that list somewhere as well. He should rank high, even though he’s a fuckup. Still, he’s blood. And only in his darkest moments does Taurus blame Drea. Mostly, he knows it’s not her fault. Blame genetics, plus his own extended absences, emotional and not just locational. His devotion to the muse of music rather than his son. And Rohan somewhere deciding that learning to play an instrument was the key to parental approval. Not guitar, because that was daddy’s jam, but keyboards. Piano.
Fuck. He left things with Rohan… where he always left them. In midair, in medias res, in an emotional Bardo, neither dead nor alive, committed to neither this nor that, just existing. He should have called his son this morning, not to let him in on the adventure, but to ensure their last conversation would entail more than “doing okay” and “should get together, maybe.”
Livia continues to read. “Number three, painkillers.”
Step three sounds promising. “Got any beer?”
Copyright © 2023 by Brent Salish. All rights reserved.