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Stargazers I: Sample Chapter

Chapter One: Summer, 1976

He stared into the scotch. He wondered why it was so fascinating. It wavered, and shimmered in the glass, and seemed to envelope him. Perhaps he could enter it, drown in it, become part of its' world. He shook his head, and threw the shot down his throat.

His beard was growing. It was in the itchy stage. Before he returned home, he'd have to shave. But he didn't care what he looked like, what he wore, did or thought. And going home was too scary to contemplate. Where was home, by the way? He'd forgotten.

It all started that day at the Oakland Coliseum. He'd let them talk him into headlining one of those damned outdoor concerts, the ones where they packed in ten thousand screaming dope fiends, wanna-be groupies and scam artists looking to lift wallets and drugs in the crowd. Maybe live concerts had been different in the 1960's (he couldn't say, personally, because he was still struggling in London pubs at the time) but in the mid-1970's they were more like bear-baitings in the arena.

July in California, he hadn't expected it to be nearly 100 degrees. He wasn't even on tour at the time, but recording his new album at Different Fur studios. It was Grace's fault. Grace Slick, that was. Back singing with The Starship, she'd convinced him to play the concert. He'd never imagined he'd be a bigger name in California than they were, but he'd been lucky with a few albums that went platinum.

Anne hadn't bothered to come. She had her excuses ready, as usual -- it was too far to fly with the baby, she wasn't feeling well, etc. etc. Of course, he didn't want her there anyway. There, or anywhere near him. For now until eternity. Or unconsciousness, whichever came first.

He'd loved San Francisco on sight. Like a Faerie city, perched on its' little spur of land, nearly surrounded by water. No haze of pollution above it, only mist that could have transported it straight from another world. The people were different too; there was less of an edge, less attitude, and a lot more seeming freedom. He wondered what it had been like there in 1967, the notorious 'Summer of Love'. Many of his friends had been a part of that, and now, for the first time, he regretted not having seen it as well. A strange thing, since he had been part of another youthquake, one happening halfway round the world, in London. As usual, he wanted it all.

Looking out from the backstage over the sea of colorful humanity, he 'd forgotten to put on his hat. His bright red hair was a beacon, and before long the girls had spotted him, were jumping about and waving, screaming and tugging on one another too 'Look! It's him!' 'No, it's not', 'yes, it is!' until a couple of brave souls ventured too close to the barrier, and he retreated to his trailer.

He was destined to never perform that day, however. After donning his silk suit and fedora, he went into the wings to watch The Starship perform. Marty Balin and Grace had finally made up their quarrel, whatever that was -- with that group the bickering seemed continuous. Then again, as fond as he was of his guys in his current backup band, Alien Cockroaches, would he still be playing with them in ten years? Not if they still had that name, he decided...he was sick of it already.

Grace still had it, though the booze and abuse would take her voice eventually. But now, with the huskiness just a little more pronounced than it had been during her heyday (and didn't that come awfully young for performers, he thought, feeling every one of his twenty-nine years and counting?) she had the crowd loving 'er. And Marty, though older and more weathered, would never lose his voice...some performers just kept going till they keeled over. That was how he wanted to go, he thought...perhaps without the bright red hair, styled short in front and on the sides, long in the back. It was a hairstyle that would gain popularity in years to come, but in 1976 it looked as alien as the name of his band.

He saw the two girls standing quietly at the other end of the stage, watching the performers from the wings, well out of the way of roadies and others. They were both pretty, young and with the long, straight hair popular that year. In this respect they resembled most of the other girls in the audience. But they weren't noisy, or jumping about, or generally revelling in the chaos that was an open-air, Benny Garland concert.

Instead they swayed gently to the music, intent on Grace's singing. A woman with a clipboard, who looked to be closer to his age than theirs, came to speak to them, and they nodded and whispered amongst themselves. Then clipboard retreated, and left them to listen once again. The taller girl had the longest hair, down past her waist. It was luminous honey-blond, without the phony-looking blond streaks everybody favored. Her face was porcelain pale, and she wore a large straw hat to keep it that way. A long, natural cotton dress trimmed in lace encased what appeared to be a terrific figure, with a really standout bosom. He was tied between being a tits or legs man, and whichever was better on a particular bird usually one out.

The other girl had strawberry blond hair, and the complexion to go with it. They both had green eyes, the redhead paler, like water jade, the blond darker, like green olives. A strange alliteration, he thought, laughing.

This attracted the girls' attention, and they focused on him for a moment. The blonde simply stared at him, and the redhead whispered something to her that made her nod, and smile slightly. A thrill went through him. Was it possible she hadn't known who he was? He really had to meet a college co-ed who'd had to be told his identity.

He started towards the back of the stage, where a catwalk ran around the scrim to the other side. But just as he put one booted foot on the walk, the entire stage started to shake. What was happening? An earthquake? He'd heard those were pretty frequent in California.

He was heading towards the stage when it happened again. The whole thing was tilting to one side! Now he could hear people screaming, and see them sliding down the stage into the audience. The two girls he'd seen before came running toward him, slipping and hanging on to one another. He managed to keep his balance by hanging onto a pole, and when he saw the blond girl starting to go down, he caught hold of her arm and pulled her against him.

"Hello, love," he said. "We've simply got to stop meeting like this."

She laughed -- what a relief to meet a girl who didn't giggle -- but started to scream in his ear when she saw her friend fall and start to slide towards the audience. Good thing the redhead was wearing jeans, he thought. "Daphne! "She's falling!"

He thought he detected a cultured British accent, which amused him. His own accent, though lately he'd been working on it, was far from cultured. He grown up mostly on the streets of Brixton, and what knowledge he possessed he'd mostly fought for. "Don't worry, love -- there are a million people down there. They'll catch 'er."

"They're the ones who caused it!" She turned wild green eyes to his, and he was immediately smitten. "You're English?"

"Yes, just like you. Well, not just like. I'm Brixton, you're Richmond."

"Close; Osterley Park. I'm Diana Hilton."

"Cameron Prince. Did you say the audience caused the earthquake?"

"It's not a quake! It's nothing like a quake," she said contemptuously, and he assumed she'd been living in California for a long time. "The kids in the audience managed to break some of the supports, so it tilted and everybody slid off."

A chant had started up below them. Cameron couldn't really see what was happening just below the stage, but he could hear them chanting his name, over and over. "Prince! Prince! Prince! We want Prince!" Then there was some muttering, like, "We didn' get 'im -- he must've gotten off!"

"Your fans, I presume?" Diana asked him sarcastically.

"Either that or hired killers. Probably hired by my wife."

He hoped he saw disappointment cross her face, but he wasn't sure. "Soon to be ex-wife," he amended quickly.

"I think the stage has stopped moving," was all she said. "We could make it to the edge and get down to the grass."

They held on to one another and managed to get to the edge, where there were people waiting to help them down. What they didn't know was that an ambitious paparazzi had somehow gotten photographs of them while they were clinging to the post -- and one another.

***

Cameron perused the menu at Chez Michel. "We'll have a bottle of your best Sauvignon Blanc."

The waiter regarded Diana and Daphne somewhat dubiously. "Are the young ladies 21?" He asked.

"I'm buying it," Cameron snapped. "Go away, and come back in ten minutes for our orders."

The waiter left, looking upset. "Are you always so charming with people serving you?" Diana asked him, but she was smiling.

"Oh, bugger that," was his response. "I can't believe you have to be 21 in this country just to have a glass of wine with your dinner."

"Primitive, isn't it?" Daphne asked him, grinning wickedly.

"Oh, you're not drawing me into that trap, young lady," he responded severely. "What were you two doing backstage, anyway? You weren't working there, were you?"

"In a way," Diana responded. "We work at S.F. state university, for the New School. Benny Garland donated some of the money from the concert to the school for a New School building."

"Di's the assistant to the Dean of the New School, so we got to come," Daphne added. "I'm the Coordinator."

"I thought you two were students."

"Oh, we are. We both work about 20 hours a week."

"Industrious, you American birds. You make me feel like a feeble old man."

"Oh, right," Daphne snorted. "Pull the other one!"

"Now where did you get that expression from, I wonder?" Cameron asked her, laughing? "From our other demure maiden here?"

Now Daphne laughed. "You mean Diana? She looks demure, doesn't she? You seem to be overlooking the fact that she's 5'10" tall and probably could've saved you, if you'd been the one sliding by her."

Cameron took a startled glance in Diana's direction, who batted her eyelashes at him mockingly. She was taller than she'd seemed, particularly when she was clinging to him. He hadn't been mistaken about that body, however, particularly the cleavage part. The waiter was heading back in their direction, accompanied by the Maitre'd.

"Sir," the Maitre'd began, in obviously discomfort, "I'm sorry, but the young ladies...I mean, in this country..."

"My uncle forgot to mention that we'll have two Pepsis," Diana cut in, smiling at him disengenuously.

When they were gone, Cameron fixed her with an indignant glare. "Uncle!" Was all he said. They were still laughing when the long-suffering waiter came to get their order. He had to leave and come back a few minutes later.

***

The summer Diana Hilton met Cameron Prince she was a nineteen year-old virgin, working for San Francisco State University and pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Cameron was twenty-nine, the father of a three-year-old son, married to a woman he didn't love and desperately wanted rid of. When they became lovers and he discovered her virginity, Cameron felt as if she was a gift he'd been given, chauvinistic as it sounds, and he had to prove himself worthy of receiving it.

Around the beginning of September Diana was leaving work when she saw a shock of red hair in the distance,and knew it was him. He wore faded jeans and a denim workshirt, and she shook her head, smiling. She wondered if she would ever understand his strangely eclectic way of dressing -- one night like a European gentleman, the next like a construction worker.

When he saw her he started running across the lawn in the middle of the campus, while the two girls she was walking with stood staring round-eyed. She started running as well, suddenly feeling she couldn't wait another moment to be in his arms, and he picked her up, twirling her around until her hair fanned out around them.

"Cameron, everybody's staring at us!"

"Let them! They're just jealous of two people in love." He pulled her after him and they ran to where his rented Mercedes was parked by the curb, drawing admiring glances from passers-by. They leaped in and he shot away into the street, cutting off a Pinto and a Volkswagen bug. Amid a chorus of horns they sped down the street and around a corner.

"You'll get us killed, you fool."

"At least we'll go together."

"Bizarre. You are totally bizarre."

"My old drummer is playing at Winterland tonight. He's in the group VOYAGE. Have you ever heard of them?"

"No."

"That was a silly question. You've never heard of THE ROLLING STONES."

"Have too."

"Well, I promised him I'd do a guest star spot with them. We have to be there in forty-five minutes for the sound check."

"But I'm starving!"

"Pete can go and get us some sandwiches."

"Two for you."

He laughed and pinched her knee so she jumped on the leather seat. "Little bird, are you trying to fatten me up?"

"Definitely yes."

"Well, forget it. This is part of my image."

"You're changing your image. Everyone says so. Besides, it doesn't interest me. Only the real Cameron Prince interests me." He turned to look at her. "I think you're the only one who's ever found the real Cameron Prince."

Two days later they sat staring at one another over coffee in Enrico's on Broadway. Diana was wondering if there had ever been another such beautiful man in the history of the world. She traced the line of Cameron's strong jaw with her eyes, the curve of his sensual lips, his straight, classic nose. He leaned over and put his hand over her's. "Di, I've extended my stop here by two weeks. At the end of next week I have to go back to London. There are some matters I have to take care of there. But I'll be back as soon as I can. You trust me, don't you?"

She smiled weakly. She was young, but not that young, and she'd never been naive. "I believe you mean what you say. Whether or not you'll still mean it in a month, I have no idea. I hope you mean what you say. I think I'm in love with you, you arrogant bastard."

Cameron grinned. "I'll be back. Will you be my virgin bride?"

"You made sure it's too late for that. Get the waiter to bring me a hot fudge sundae. I always eat when I'm nervous."

"No chance. I don't want my wife to weigh more than I do. Take this instead. But don't try to eat it."