Hal towel-dried his hair and, wrapped in his robe, sat at the dressing table. There was the usual glut of messages from his fans and admirers. Cards and flowers—I could give up the music biz and open a florist’s (one of his go-to quips for the Sunday supplement interviews).
It had been a great gig. They’d called him back for three encores.
This moment of self-congratulation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Sorry!” he called out. “I’m not receiving visitors tonight. Got a long drive to Norwich. Sorry.”
He listened. No further knocks were forthcoming. He shrugged. They were usually more persistent.
He set to removing his contact lenses. While he was occupied, a stream of green smoke flowed in under the door, rising unseen behind him. Hal put on his glasses and was startled to find a woman reflected in the mirror. She was dressed in long skirts and ragged shawls. A bandanna barely tamed the corkscrew locks of her long, black hair. Enough earrings to rival a shower curtain. Bangles all up to her elbows. Hal turned to face her. He had been trained to keep calm in these situations. When a fan takes things too far.
“Hello!” he said. “Who might you be?”
“Call me Zaza!” the woman spoke with a bizarre note of triumph. “I have come for what is mine.”
Hal was nonplussed. “I can sign an e.p. for you. I don’t do skin, if it’s a tattoo you’re planning.”
The woman —Zaza— sneered with derision.
“Harold Webster,” she used his original name. “Years ago, you were washed-up. A has been. A long time since your last hit record. You were at your lowest point. You were considering ending it all. At least, after your demise, record sales would sky-rocket. But then, along came a young man. He played you a song he had written. You recorded that song, and it flew straight to Number One all over the world.”
Hal nodded. “Satan’s Sister. Great track. I don’t see what it’s got to do with you.”
Zaza twisted her thin lips into a smile. “I gave that young man the song. He consulted me. Would do anything to break into the music industry. We made a compact. And now I come to collect.”
Hal was puzzled. “I still don’t understand what it’s got to do with me.”
“That young man… disappeared just before your record was released. You know what I mean. You denied him his success, his fame and fortune. His life!”
Hal stiffened. “Now, look here, you can’t come into my dressing room insinuating all sorts.”
“Come off it, Webster,” the woman cackled. “You had the success that I’d promised Johnny Starr. Because you had him taken care of, his debt transfers to you.”
Hal scoffed. “You daft old bat. I’m calling security.”
“Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure you want the world to know that your big comeback and the decades of success that followed were all due to the murder of a promising young songwriter?”
Hal paused, his hand hovering over the telephone.“What do you want?”
Zara’s smile broadened. “Your soul,” she said brightly. “You’ve had your time.”
It was Hal’s turn to grin. “Oh, no, I’m just getting started. Satan’s Sister—is that you? Is that who I’ve been singing about all these years?”
Zaza actually blushed. “I inspired him you might say. You owe me.”
Hal snatched up a marker pen and scrawled across the plastic case of a c.d. He held it out.
“This is all you’re getting. My soul! That’s a laugh. You should have a word with your brother.”
Zaza’s jaw dropped.
“Yes,” Hal chuckled. “How do you think I’ve kept my youthful appearance all these years?”