The Murder Scene

Few things can impact a life in the ways that music does. A piece of music can change one's mood and speak to the mind, the soul and even the body. It can lift the spirit, bring about undesirable memories, and arouse the mind to shape opinions and beliefs. Any given song is capable of perfectly matching one's feelings or bringing about new ones. Those that create music are incredible beings that hold this beautiful power in their hands. They are most often different from the usual person, usually bearing heavy hearts and remarkable minds that others are not able to comprehend. Music can cause these people to alter themselves, to travel any distance, to meet new people or even leave others behind. They are wont to tell that music is the most crucial piece of their lives, and it is sometimes all they have. Sadly, however, people of the sort tend to find themselves and their craft under fire or even corrupted by others: malicious sorts who see dollar signs in place of music notes.

In the land of the Calcasieu, upon the shores of a lake named Charles, four young gentlemen attempted to make names for themselves and their home city by making music together. They simply wanted to bring new life to their long-forgotten music scene, Southwest Louisiana's very own 'Murder Scene'.

Chapter One: Southern Weather

"And now, I finally get a smoke bre—goddamnit." Constantine Fratelli disdainfully remarked as he noticed a customer entering his parking lot, returning his cigarette to its home inside the tiny pack and placing the pack in his pocket. He trudged back to his post behind the cash register, wiping down the counter in front of him during the all-too-brief reprieve he had before being forced to deal with another person. He recognized the incoming patron and knew her upcoming purchase before she ever told him, so he pulled a pack of menthol cigarettes and a pint of cheap liquor from two different shelves behind him. He screwed up his face as the items touched his skin; This woman clearly lacked taste in liquor and enjoyed ingesting fiberglass, in the young clerk's opinion.

"So, Coni, you gonna share this vodka with me when you get off tonight?" She joked as she rummaged through the large wallet in her hands. In an attempt to mask his disgust for her lack of sentence structure, let alone his undying hatred for her particular brand of vodka, he faked a laugh and politely refused.

"Sorry, honey, I have prior engagements." He lied, satisfied with her fake frown. She paid for her items as Coni placed them in brown paper bags, leaving him in his shop with an empty farewell. He gazed at the wall clock above the bathroom door at the far edge of the shop, which read 9:15, and gave a half-hearted cheer. Quitting time was less than two hours away now, and his only remaining chore was stocking the store's walk-in cooler. He walked to the back of the store and began 'fronting' the sodas, single beers and beer boxes by sliding them up to the front doors. This way he could count up what needed to be stocked before actually stepping inside the cold room. He felt a refreshing chill as he opened the large metal door and walked into the refrigerator, taking care to slowly close the door behind him, preferring not to be trapped inside should the door lock behind him. After allowing the fans to cool him off for a moment, he decided he would stock beers right away to get rid of the trash. He treated himself to copious amounts every now and again, though he detested alcohol and anyone who allowed it to consume their lives. He'd become well acquainted with such people and refused to suffer them unless he had no choice.

The front door sounded its wretched 'A CUSTOMER HAS ENTERED THE SHOP AND YOU MUST ATTEND THEM NOW' signal right as Constantine had finished his stocking duties. He rushed out of the cooler and gave his usual greeting before he noticed them, smiling widely at the young man's long and imposing hair. The short, fast-growing purple hair of the lady next to him caught the shopkeep's eye as well.

"What's the word, city bird?" The man asked him with a smile, brushing his right hand through a few of the innumerable angled strands that made up his hair. James Arbuckle, widely known as 'Jimmy Switch' was Constantine's best friend, as well as the proud owner of long brown hair which appeared to be intricately styled so that each strand was composed of tiny angles. His 'geometric' hair was completely natural, though, and was a phenomenon he could not explain. Constantine liked to express mock jealousy of his best friend's hair, but James would remind him that he would never wish such wild hair on anyone. Coni's black hair fell just below his cheeks at the moment, though it had been far longer in the past.

"What brings you two loverly beings into my humble shop, or to Sulphur at all?" He asked his friend and the woman whom he deemed his significant other, grinning widely at his cohorts.

"I came to invite you to the show, since someone seems to have forgotten how his phone works." James joked, Constantine twisting up his face at the remark. The woman next to James scurried off into one of the Speed Trap convenience store's small aisles, presumably to obtain some of her favorite junk foods that no other shop in the area supplied. "I called and messaged you repeatedly a week or five ago."

"Dearest, I'm so sorry." The clerk nicked. "So who's playing, when and where, and how many souls will I need to get past the front door?" He stretched his arms toward the ceiling, James quietly laughing at his loudly popping bones. Coni rolled his eyes dismissively.

"My friend Gerald will be jamming at the Usual Spot, and I'll be playing with him, which means anyone with me will get in free."

"Gerald… the rapper that drums? Plays with a full band and all that jazz?" James nodded. "I work until ten tomorrow night, though."

"Show starts at eleven. Also, there's a woman who works there that you should totally meet." He noted with a smirk before being knocking into the counter by his lovely young companion. Miss Alexia Faretti had glomped him from behind, as she was fond of doing and did exceptionally.

"Lexxi, he's old! You can't abuse him that way anymore!" Constantine joked, making Alexia laugh and James shoot him a 'Go-Straight-to-Jail-Do-NOT-Collect-$200' look.

"Coni, he's only 24. That's not considered old in our society." She replied before kissing James on his cheek. She placed her items on the counter for Constantine to scan, and flipped a twenty dollar bill at him. "Also, guess who made mad tips today!" She bragged, waving her wispy hair. Her hair fell to her neck in back and on both sides, pointing to the left in the front. This style was her most favorite, as it was long enough to style and short enough not to distract her from things. "I made something like fifty dollars."

"MAD CHEDDAH!" The clerk exclaimed. "Only the best barista in Lake Chuck could make that much in one shift!"

"Well, whoever that girl is, I beat her." She giggled as she picked up her bag and change, reaching up and hugging the merchant before departing the store to hop into Jimmy's truck.

"Are you guys dating yet?" Constantine pestered his friend. James ignored this advance.

"So, dude, you should come to the Spot tomorrow night to hear Gerald rap and meet my friend Kristina. She's single and quite the looker. I believe she's just your type, brother." He retorted, changing the subject. His friend guffawed loudly, glancing at a surveillance camera while gesturing toward James and asking if the camera had just heard that exchange.

"You're trying to play matchmaker when you can't even tell that girl you want be her girlfriend." Constantine responded to the darkened expression James wore, throwing in an old inside joke for good measure.

"How pathetic I may or may not be is not the topic of this discussion." He rebuked, waving one finger dismissively.

"Alright, James, I'll come to the damn show…" He finally submitted. "…if only to get you to stop hounding me about it." They shared a laugh and hugged across the counter before James left. Constantine resumed his work and waited impatiently for his shift to end.

\/\/\/\/\/

"'Rurouni' is his stage name?" Alexia asked as the three of them walked into a venue, reading a poster to her left. The Usual Spot was a small bar on Broad Street in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The city of Lake Charles rested on one bank of the Calcasieu River and was Calcasieu Parish's most notable city, known for its numerous tourist destinations: large casinos, shopping centers and the like. It also attained recognition for its industry, as it was home to innumerable chemical plants and refineries. James worked as a tankerman in the Axiall plant in West Lake Charles, in the small community of Westlake.

"Yep, and he actually knows that it means 'traveling swordsman'. He lifted it from an anime series." James answered. He was familiar with Gerald Toroya, as they were once coworkers at the House of Pa'sghetti, the Italian bistro owned by Alexia's uncle, before James procured the job at Axiall. Gerald had always been the superior chef, but James was on a close level with him. The two had become fast friends and had even played music together, as they would be tonight. "'STINA!" He suddenly yelled, looking off in another direction. He motioned to Constantine, as if to say 'There she is!'

"JIMMY! They heard a woman yell. Suddenly the girl in question appeared, carrying an empty drink tray under one arm. She hugged James tightly with her free left arm as Constantine took in the sight of her. Her auburn hair was tied into a thick braid that fell down her back. Her lightly pigmented skin bore freckles throughout. She was a tad taller than James and wore eyeglasses with thin rectangular frames. A rose tattoo adorned her left arm at the crease. Constantine could not take his eyes away from her once he'd seen her. So this was the woman on whose behalf James had spoken, the lovely Kristina. She and James spoke for a moment longer before she returned to work. He thought she had mentioned her shift ending soon, and that she was singing with the band later. Coni noticed a shamrock tattoo on the back of her neck.

"Sweet Odin, she's beautiful. So she's singing with y'all later?" He frantically asked his best friend.

"Yes. She sings on a cover of 'A Grim Goodbye' by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Gee only plays the song if the band is with him and Kristina can come out. She always calls someone from the audience to scream the last breakdown because she doesn't like her own screamed vocals. She's super modest for no reason. Anyway, I'll tell her to pick you, dude!"

"It will be perfect." He vowed, clenching a fist and raising it to the sky.

"Great! I'll see you lovely people after the show." He told them, hugging Constantine and kissing Alexia before ascending the stage. In the midst of their sound check, the other four men greeted him one by one as he took up his weapon of choice, a black and silver guitar. He plugged in and tested his gear.

"Hows it going, you guys?" The short, wiry dark-skinned figure adjusting the drum set centered on the stage asked his audience. "I'm Rurouni, and this is the Four Swords Band." His voice excited his large crowd. "Don't adjust your viewing screens, folks. That one guy really is white!" The crowd had a nice laugh at James' expense.

"Gee, I told you I'm not white, I'm just pale!" He retorted.

"Whatever, man. Dude is Asian, Chief is Native American, and Aldric and I are black. You're not shaded like any of us, meaning you're white."

"Gerald, you might should stop talking like that. You might remember Jimmy knocking the black off you the last time." Chief injected, his tanned fingers caressing the neck of an orange bass guitar.

"That was me, Chief. We were boxing one time, and he literally knocked the black off me. There was a pale spot on my chest for two days!" Aldric, Gerald's younger brother and Jimmy's fellow guitarist, corrected. The crowd roared with laughter at the band members' senseless banter.

"Anyway, um, does everything sound okay? I know the Spot's setup doesn't always do well with our songs." Gerald asked them, receiving cheers and nice words. "Well then I guess we can go ahead and begin." With that the music began. The tunes mystified Constantine; watching Gerald drum and rap simultaneously, the subject matter of his lyrics, the perfect mix of the instruments. Constantine could not recall hearing such impressive raps.

A few songs into the set, Gerald insisted that James sing a song, and the audience found the idea agreeable. "You guys really shouldn't let me sing! I only know two songs: one's awfully simple and the other one's simply awful!" He rejected, making the spectators laugh. Gerald and Aldric started a crowd chant of James' name, so he finally surrendered and played them a song. Constantine smiled at the tune and sang along, as it was one the two of them always sang.

"Kristina McFarlane, please report to the stage at this time to assist your boy in finishing off this crowd." Gerald announced after a few more songs. "This is gonna be our last song of the evening. Your friendly neighborhood barkeep, the incredible Kristina, will now tear you to shreds with her lovely voice. GIVE IT UP!" The beautiful barkeep took up a microphone as she hopped onto the stage, and the band began playing the tune in question. Constantine loved the song dearly, so he moved closer to the stage to jam out to one of his favorite tunes with the rest of the audience. A clearer and more satisfying of the glorious creation that was Kristina motivated this action as well. Her very voice mesmerized him, accompanied by her body swaying in time with the music. Was she the Goddess herself? She requested a volunteer near the end of the song, the way James had said, and Constantine jumped at the chance when she chose him. He made for the stage and performed his piece of music perfectly, setting the spectators ablaze with cheers.

"You were incredible!" The gorgeous barkeep with the braided red hair told him as the band tore their gear down.

"Erm, I did okay. You were breathtaking, though." He complimented, making her blush.

"Aren't you a sweet little Pop Tart! So what's your name?" The two of them talked the time away as they sat down for drinks. Constantine found the rest of the performances to be uninteresting but didn't mind, seeing as he had Kristina to keep him company. They spoke, they drank, and they even danced a few times to songs on the club's PA between bands. "Did you want to keep our little party going? We can go back to my apartment and hang out…" She asked during their last and final drunken dance, twirling a loose strand of her hair with her left hand. Her words made him apprehensive, as he was never certain how to respond to such advances.

"Are you sure? Jimmy told me you pretty much stay busy with school and your jobs…"

"Well it's Saturday tomorrow, or today now," She looked at her phone's clock, "so I'm off school, I'm off here and I don't need to be at the casino until ten tonight. Looks like I have nowhere to go and all night to get there." She told him with a cute grin, causing him to grin back. "We can hang out, listen to records…maybe get a little more intoxicated…?" She giggled. He nodded as his inebriation overrode his inhibitions, and they walked toward the exit.

"Jimmy, I'm taking your boy home!" She told her friend as they crossed paths. He had evidently taken his fair share of trips to the bar, if not more so, given the enormous smile across his face and his death grip on Alexia's waist.

"Hell yeah, have fun! We're leaving too, I think." He told them, his lady yanking his arm and charging headlong for the door.

\/\/\/\/\/

"I'm so sorry! I'm not this way when I'm sober, and I told James to make certain I didn't drink that much." Kristina fervently apologized as the two found themselves kissing on her small couch. She had initiated the kissing, which he didn't mind since he enjoyed kissing her. It made him leery, though, seeing as they'd only met a few hours ago.

"You wanted Jimmy to stop you from drinking? He doesn't drink that way. He'll give you the drink he just ordered and go right back to the bar." He spoke, once he could contain his laughter at the thought of James Arbuckle assisting anyone in sobriety while he was drinking.

"I know, what was I thinking?" She chuckled as she exhaled. He put his left arm around her, smiling as her warmth engulfed him. They looked into one another's glassy eyes for a long moment, complimenting each other's features: his smile, her freckles, his cute bangs, her hazel eyes that he could lose himself in…

…and the next they knew, they were kissing again. They quickly pulled away, embarrassed again.

"Look, I really like you, and that was true before I was drunk, but I'm not very good at this whole relationship business." He confessed to her. She smiled lightly and ruffled his hair with one hand. He enjoyed this gesture, one he frequently performed.

"Don't feel bad, Coni. I'm not good at that stuff either. I really like you too, though."

"You called me Coni. People don't usually do that when they've just met me… I think I like it." He liked more than that about her… of this he was certain.

"I'm glad." She smiled again. Neither could believe how much they smiled. "Well, I'm too far gone to drive you home, and I would confidently wager that Jimmy and Faretti are currently 'up to no good' as she loves to say, so my couch is all yours… or the chair or whatever you like. I should be a decent hostess and offer you my bed, but I've been dreaming about it all day." She told him as she pushed herself up from the couch. She appeared to need assistance with the walking, so he stood up to help her. They staggered through her apartment under her direction, soon reaching the room in question. She crashed into her bed when she reached it. The two of them exchanged good-night wishes before Constantine teetered his way back to that wonderful couch to lie down, fumbling for his phone.

'So… she likes me too. Thank you for introducing us and letting us get shit-faced together. I LOVE YOU, MAN!' He typed into a text message to James, mashing the 'Send' button just before nodding off.

\/\/\/\/\/

In October of 2011, Constantine and James met at a Halloween get-together hosted by a mutual friend. James had been playing his guitar for fellow party-goers, though very few of them paid him any attention. Constantine heard him play a song that he knew and began singing along before he could stop himself, so they performed a song together. This gained the notice of a few attendees. The two exchanged contact information and soon teamed up to write music together. Constantine's younger brother, Benito 'Baby' Fratelli, tagged along to listen to them practice one day, and before long took up the bass guitar to accompany them. He soon introduced them to Zak Brink, his best friend that called himself a singer, and Zak asked if he could jam with them. James and Coni thought the kid's voice was awful, but he hooked them up with a drummer (those are usually the hardest to find), so they felt an obligation to offer Zak a position also. The five of them formed a project named The Murder Scene, though they quickly realized they did not coexist well. Their musical style differed from Zak's preferences, causing him to clash with them all the time, specifically with Constantine on the topic of lyrics. Brink seemed to make fun of any lyrics that were not his own, but he also never bothered to write any.

"I want that kid out! You're his friend, so you get rid of him!" Constantine told his brother once he and James had exhausted their patience for Zak. "He disrespects all of us and does nothing but get high all the time. You, of all people, should know how I feel about that."

"That's not fair!" The younger Fratelli protested, shooting his brother a look of confusion.

"You're impossible, just like your damned friend!" James retorted. "Besides, the punk can't even sing and he doesn't like our music. He's just in this band so you and him and Alex can smoke and drink all the time and not care about anything else!" He and Constantine left: Coni to walk around Sulphur, James to visit his dear friend Bridgette. Bridgette O'Laughlin was a grocery store clerk at that time, and she happened to be taking her break when he found her. They talked about their respective issues for the time they had and tried to provide feasible advice to each other.

Over the next few months, a number of the band's choice venues stopped booking any bands that played heavy music, making it difficult to procure gigs. Zak left the band instantly, wanting no part of any music project that wasn't playing concerts. Alex left soon after due to other commitments. The band went on a hiatus of sorts since they could not find a drummer. Weeks became months, months turned a year, and James and Constantine both acquired jobs that tied up all their time, and so the Murder Scene was no more.

\/\/\/\/\/

Constantine lived in a small house in Sulphur, Louisiana. His occupation, for the time being, was the assistant manager position at the Speed Trap convenience store Number 321, the shop section of a small truck stop. Dealing with truckers and drunkards and other such riffraff were occupational hazards he'd grown accustomed to in his long time there. He still had yet to decipher some of the dialects he heard from his patrons: fast talkers and stutterers and folks that spoke as if they lacked any semblance of sentence structure. His hobbies included reading, attending jazz concerts, cooking (which he was particularly masterful at doing), and playing with Ashleigh, his cat. His kid brother Benito was his dearest treasure, and Coni did everything in his power to take care of him, even though the younger Fratelli hardly appreciated it. Benito kept many aspects of himself secret from his elder brother, or rather he tried to do so. Constantine was perceptive enough to notice the stench of marijuana and liquor all over him, the hickeys and dark teeth marks across his skin and whatnot. He let his brother have his own way, though, as it was his life. He could only offer advice to his kid sibling.

Baby Fratelli was renowned in the area for his taste in women and his prowess with them. Any woman could be 'Baby's best broad' so long as she made her living by taking off her clothes. Most people would assume that he feared relationships, but he would tell them they were wrong and remind them that he enjoyed the strippers. He often claimed that they were excellent company.

"Basically he a great lay, or so they all say." His brother told when asked of him. "The local strippers pass him around like a damned rag-doll. It's disgusting to me, but it's his life. Hopefully he'll find a decent woman for himself and make her honest before his dick falls off." Constantine would rant away. He knew his rantings would get him nowhere, but if nothing else it passed the time. He told these things to Kristina the next morning when she drove him home.

"Jimmy was almost that way once, after that bitch Nikki. Good gods, I hate her so much. I'm so happy he found that Faretti girl. She makes him indescribably happy, and they're so damn cute together." She smiled at the thought. Constantine loved seeing that smile. He was surprised that he liked so much about a girl he'd only just met. James had definitely assumed correctly in saying the two of them should meet.

"I don't see how he keeps up with her. She seems like a real minx."

"Jimmy can handle a minx, dude. You should have heard that last girl. Oh my gods…" She joked, Constantine nearly spitting out his coffee.

"I think he turns them into screamers. I don't know what he does, but he must have a trick of some sort. There was this one girl, the one with the pink hair, I think. She was so soft-spoken just talking, but she shrieked like a banshee when they slept together." He replied once he'd gulped down his coffee and collected himself.

"She lived in the same apartment complex as me when he was with her. I'm surprised he didn't get the poor girl evicted." They shared a laugh as she pulled into his driveway at the left side of the cul-de-sac. Silence fell.

"Well… that was a thing…" Coni mentioned, speaking to the sedan's windshield. Apparently. A chortle left Kristina's soft lips. More silence ensued. It sure was quiet out this morning.

"Okay, despite our drunken idiocy, last night was really fun. All of it." She finally spoke. "Then again, had we not gotten drunk and disorderly, we wouldn't have had these good times."

"So… does this mean we're together?" He asked apprehensively. They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment.

"Is that what you want it to mean?" She responded, the nervousness crossing her face.

"Is that what you want it to mean?" He repeated.

"Well, we just met last night, but I really like you, and you share the interest. Perhaps we should hang out and get a little bit better acquainted before… getting drunk and making out again?" They laughed and agreed to this suggestion, hugging and kissing each other's cheeks before Coni left the car. "I'll see you soon. Call me." She told him. He nodded before she drove away, watching the sedan disappear down the street. He took out his phone as it gave a cry, seeing a message and opening it.

'I knew you two would click.' James had sent him. He heard a cry from his right as he crossed the door frame, instantly falling under the attack of a speedy ball of orange fur. Ashleigh greeted her owner with an excited welcome, so he petted her for a moment before filling her food and water dishes. He then sat at his computer and prepared to do some writing for one of his various projects. His dream was to become a published author and make a living with his writings.

'My mother warned me of drugs from the street, but never of the one with hazel eyes and a heartbeat.' He scribbled into a notebook before he began typing. He made this note with the intention of using it in his writings.

\/\/\/\/\/

"QUITTING TIME!" James yelled as his relief arrived. His tankerman job required him to load and unload tank cars with caustic chemicals. This was rigorous work, but the salary was certainly worth it. He also sometimes had the privilege of loading or unloading barges when they came through on the river. The Axiall chemical plant in the small city of Westlake was enormous and employed thousands. James loved the job because his tasks were always engaging. Nothing there could bore him, other than the idea of being a fire watch. Sitting in a tower for ten hours didn't seem like something he could do. He often joked that he'd fall asleep and the whole plant would catch fire. "It's all yours, Big John. Hold it down." He told the oncoming coworker as he boarded the transport vessel, which was akin to a golf cart, and made for the main office to clock off and leave. He smiled and nodded at his boss, a tall gray-haired gentleman, as they crossed paths in the office.

James punched out, walked to his truck and drove away. His house was in a rural area on the outskirts of Lake Charles. He had an expansive yard for his two dogs to roam around while he worked. They greeted him as he stepped out of the truck. "Heimdall! Kurama! Did you guys go out on any crazy adventures today?" He asked the two black Shepherd dogs. They offered pleased vocalizations as he petted and scratched their necks. He walked into the house and selected a bottle of ale from his refrigerator. He found a seat on a couch next to his guitar case, taking out the gorgeous instrument from its home and playing. The purple mahogany body and ebony fretboard dazzled anyone watching him play. He cracked open his beverage and drank a sip or two before sliding the bottleneck across the strings, adding glissando to his notes. He played tunes to occupy himself until five o'clock, when he would leave to rescue Alexia from her occupational imprisonment.

"Welcome to the Dou— Thank God, it's only my lover." She said as he walked into her coffeehouse. He grinned at her words, watching her wipe down the counter while the pieces of her espresso machine soaked in a sink in the back room. Dismantling the machine piece by complicated piece was not a fun task, but it was Alexia's favorite chore because it beckoned the end of her shift. The Double Shot was a cozy coffeehouse and Internet cafe' on Broad Street in Lake Charles, a few buildings down from the Usual Spot. She leaned over the counter and rose up onto her toes to kiss James.

"Man, the machine's in shambles. I wanted a Pumpkin Spice…" He noted, mock pouting at his own observation. His significant other scoffed at the words.

"You should be well aware that we've been out of that for just about forever, baby." She replied as she ventured to the back, shortly returning to reconstruct her monstrosity espresso maker. He commended her expert reconstruction of the machine. Her boss appeared from nowhere, as she was prone to doing. James attempted to mask his disdain for her. Her fake red hair made his skin crawl, and he didn't like much else about her on hearsay.

"She's amazing, is she not? You can go ahead and leave now, Lexxi, if you want. I can finish up here." The olive-skinned woman told her. She nodded, knowing this meant there was nothing more to do, and walked to the back to punch out so she and Jimmy could leave. The couple walked south and turned onto Ryan Street, headed toward Costello Music to visit Samantha Barnett, Faretti's cousin and James' longtime friend. The two surprised the blonde woman arranging the records behind the front desk. James hugged her and talked for a moment before slipping away to survey albums while the ladies spoke.

"I certainly need more of this extraordinary gentleman in my life!" He heard a male voice behind him, turning to see Michael Britt, a longtime friend of his. The legendary 'Eagle' looked the same as ever, clad in black slacks and a white tank top, his namesake shoulder tattoo visible. The two men hugged and struck up a conversation. Suddenly James could feel arms around his waist and teeth nibbling at his neck.

"Babes, don't do that… not in the record store, at least." He joked, and the three of them laughed. "Oh, Mike, this is my lovely Alexia. Babes, this would be the music god that I'm always talking about."

"Ser Michael Britt, the left-handed god? I'm better for having met you!" She told her lover's friend, performing a small curtsy for effect.

"Ooh, this one has manners and even a little culture. That would be a step up from She-Whose-Name-Escapes-Me, so I'm happy for you." Mike observed. James chortled at the thought of the person he would rather forget. The three of them chatted on for a while longer before the couple left the record shop. They talked away their ride home. Alexia raged about her boss's boyfriend dressing moronically and being altogether unpleasant, with his complicated beverages with ridiculous specifications, every time he darkened the shop's doors. She recounted today's story of his pale salmon tuxedo and Lindsay, Lexxi's boss, putting him in her place for being rude to one of her baristas. Her jokes about this apparently horrible man never ceased to amuse James.

Once they arrived at her house, she stayed behind in his truck for some alone time. She hopped over to the driver's side and climbed on top of him. They kissed viciously for a long time, nipping and scratching. The cell phone in her bag shrieked to life after a time, and she sighed heavily.

"I'm so glad I'm gonna 'stay at Sammi's' this weekend. I can't wait to be alone with you for more than a few minutes." She confessed, smiling as he softly kissed her neck.

"It's not my fault you selected someone five years your senior as your pleasure source." He joked.

"I like you James. I love you, in fact. I just hate the term 'relationship'." He nodded.

"I'm the same way. That's what people like She-Whose-Name-Escapes-Me or the Infamous Heartless can do to you."

"Besides, you like sleeping with me more than I do." She chuckled. He eyes her curiously.

"You like to sleep with yourself? How can you even satisfy such a fetish?" His condescending query made her laugh and scratch his abdomen, before her phone made yet another awful noise.

"UGH! I should probably go, otherwise I risk my father gunning you down. Farewell, James my beautiful paramour. I pray we meet again soon."

"Yes, soon… and alone, without a stitch of clothing between us." He replied, kissing her softly and enjoying the warmth of her lips against his. She hopped out of the truck and waved at him as he drove away.

He had met the woman of his dreams while he was employed by her uncle. The locally famous House of Pa'sghetti Italian bistro in Orange, Texas was owned and operated by Donatello 'Don' Faretti. The name had come from his daughter Samantha, who had difficulty pronouncing 'spaghetti.' James worked there for three years, from 2009 to 2012. Faretti had hired him as a bus boy initially, but he swiftly worked up the ranks to become a chef and even gained himself some renown. Folks frequently requested that James cook their meals because of the rave reviews; many recounted being told this food was the best around. Alexia worked on the wait staff for a few months of his time there, and the two took notice of one another. She was much younger than he was, a fact her uncle would not allow James to forget. His warnings did not stop them from spending time together, and once she turned eighteen they began seeing each other. They chose against referring to their union as a relationship, as neither of them had ever found any particular success in such endeavors.

Faretti would not allow them to work together for business reasons, as business and pleasure never mix well, so she quit after picking up her job at the Double Shot. She caught on fast and enjoyed her work. She often joked that 'serving overpriced and complicated coffees to hipsters and asshats the entire day' ended up being really fun and engaging, and she made more money in tips than she knew what to spend on.

They cared for each other dearly, and James longed to simply be able to call her his girlfriend without being condescended by everyone within earshot. He could tell she wanted the same thing, otherwise she would have moved on a long time ago. She was not one to stay in an uncomfortable place or situation for very long. He couldn't find the words to say to her, as he was miserable at talking. Words tended to get in his way, so he spoke through music and lyrics. He didn't dwell on the negatives of his situation; he did have her to some degree, after all. He could touch her, hold beautiful conversations with her, and she was a fiend in the bedchamber; he appreciated that as much as anyone would, if not more so.

'So, you two official yet?' He read, Brigette's text message sending his mood south. She had just left work, if one could call it that. Her current gig was that of a 'dancer' at the Pink Chandelier in Toomey, Louisiana. Toomey was a small settlement that only existed to its residents, truckers, and lost tourists. The small strip just of the freeway by Exit 4 was home to many truck stops, convenience stores, smoke shops and liquor stores, as well as the Texas Longhorn entertainment complex. The Longhorn boasted a club, a hotel, a truck stop with a tiny hole-in-the-wall casino, a twenty-four-hour diner, and an event venue. It was the most famous spot in Toomey, and the only one to outsiders. It was thoroughly dwarfed by Delta Downs, the essential tourist trap in the entire Vinton-and-surrounding-settlements area. (The smaller settlements around town were filed under 'Vinton' by address, but the locals were quick to tell which place was which.)

The monumental complex called Delta Downs was the tiny town of Vinton's claim to fame, renowned for its exorbitant accommodations: the racetrack where horses ran (which was once all it was), the largest casino between the Texas state line and Lake Charles, and multiple eateries and venues, only to scratch the surface. Beneath the night sky the establishment beckoned customer for miles and miles around with its obnoxiously bright lights. A host of Jimmy's classmates from high school worked different jobs there, as did most of the folks in the town. He wondered why Bridgette didn't try her hand at working there. Of course, he also wondered why she didn't work somewhere closer to her home in Sulphur.

'No, leave me alone about that.' He replied. Already growing weary of receiving unwanted advice from all directions, he especially didn't want the suggestions of a self-conscious stripper. He read her incoherent reply and ceased the pointless conversation. They had not spoken much as of late, and he didn't like her as well as he once had. Something was vastly different about the girl he once knew. Lately she seemed like she was all about herself, and she'd always talked too much… but nowadays he couldn't bear to listen to her because she only ever spoke about her nonexistent problems. They used to talk for hours on end, but he figured life had gotten in the way and they simply grew apart.

\/\/\/\/\/

"Hey, Jimmy! Looks like you could use a vodka…" Kristina assumed as she saw him enter her casino. Her second job was a casino attendant at the Shamrock Isle, a small corner spot in Sulphur. James smiled at his friend, who looked altogether lovely in her work uniform: an apple green polo shirt and black slacks. Her hair was styled in a single braid falling down her back, her favorite look.

"I believe so. I will have one of your incredible Lemon Drops, if you would be so kind, ma'am." He told her, passing her two bills. She took one of them, a ten, and rang up the drink on her register, tossing the change and the smaller bill into her tip jar. She snatched up a bottle of flavored vodka and poured a shot into a small plastic cup of ice. She poured equal amounts of two lemonade cocktails, one with raspberry added, into a larger foam cup and added some sugar. She then clasped the cups together, one inside the other, and gave the mixture a nice shake. She added sugar to the small cup's rim and strained the drink into the glass, tossing the ice and the foam cup into the trash. She passed the drink to James, delighted by the smile that crossed his face as he took a drink.

"Jimmy Switch! Lemme hold twenty dollars!" He heard a gambler joke, turning to see a woman he would sooner have not seen.

"Stop feeding the machines and drinking up all my broad's liquor, Holli, and maybe you could hold your own money." He combated, though Holli just smacked her lips at him and returned to her losing poker game. Kristina asked him a question, pulling him out of a conversation with someone he couldn't stand. James thanked her for that, and they talked the rest of her shift away between customers with stories of their recent pasts. Kristina told him about her evening with Constantine, James mentioned his alone time with Alexia, and the next thing they knew Jakob and Drew were there to relieve her. She finished her end-of-shift tasks and punched out, James accompanying her to her car. She hugged him tightly.

"Thank you so much for introducing me to him." She sighed.

"Y'know, he said the same thing." He mentioned, getting a smile out of her. "I'm really glad you guys clicked."

"You really should talk to Lexxi. She makes you dance like a dervish, and you do the same for her. That's a relationship, and you should be able to call it that." She told the young musician. He tried to hide his expression, but he knew he looked pitiful and he knew she would see that. They shared a laugh and good-bye wishes before she left. The night was still young, so he decided to visit Constantine since his friend was off work that night. He called first to confirm that he was home… and that his brother wasn't having a loud romp with a new squeeze.

"ASHLEIGH! You're so adorable!" James told the orange ball of fur at his lap as she attacked his hands with her paws and teeth. She purred loudly at the compliment. He loved this cat almost as much as his dogs. She seemed to like playing with him, though she loved to play-fight anyone willing. Her name came from one of Coni's favorite singers, and he and the cat listened to her music for ages at a time. Just then, Constantine appeared with sodas and a bag of tortilla chips. The cat jumped for the bag, but Coni yanked it away.

"NO CHIPS FOR KITTY! Human food isn't that great for you, at least not junk food." He lightly scolded her, causing her to sniff loudly and trot away. "Fuck you, too." He told her with a laugh. "So…" He opened the bag of chips as a measure of suspense. "I think we should try our hands at music again. I mean, if we can ever find the time or the patience."

"I would really love that. Time is hard to find these days, though." He replied, hearkening back to the days of the Murder fondest memory was the last show they played.

Zak had already quit, allowing them to play enjoyable music. They were standing outside the Barking Dog after their set, a venue in Orange, Texas that had since closed its doors, and Faretti had run up to James and grabbed him, stunning Benito.

"Buy me dinner first!" James joked. The girl, then with bright blue hair that cascaded down her back, laughed in his face.

"We can go to my uncle's shop and get the best meal in town for free!" She smirked.

"No, I want you to buy me dinner first so I can feel classy when you fuck me senseless." He told her before they kissed vigorously. Benito made some comment about subtlety, but James ignored it. He later found out that he'd asked Constantine about her and made some comments he'd rather not think about in this flashy flashback that flashes…flashy!"

"Dude, check out this new song I started writing!" Coni mentioned, snapping James back to reality. Constantine dug up two guitars from his things before playing the song for James.

'Should have seen me last night. Felt like a movie star.

Picked up this gorgeous number sitting alone at the bar

Asked her for her name, she asked me for a drink.

Tipped the bar a stack, said 'Keep em coming' with a wink

We talked the night away about all of our schemes

Listened to her eyes as she told me all of her dreams

'To live somewhere with palm trees, where the water's clear

And the sun is out at least three hundred days a year'

Told her 'You don't have to leave to go find paradise

All you gotta do is ride home with me tonight!'

"That's all I have right now. It's pretty lame." He admitted sheepishly. James clapped at his friend's poppy little tune.

"That was beautiful, brother. Who's it about?" He joked. "Play me the tune again." Constantine played his chords again, James played some matching riffs, and soon they had a real song. They continued for awhile longer, writing music and lyrics. Eventually James needed to leave, as he had work in the morning. They hugged and exchanged goodbyes. Coni continued writing until he fell asleep. James drove home and crashed into bed without even bothering to tear away the clothes he had worked in and worn all day.