She came cruising downriver like the city personified, all bright
lights and big bad music, banners and flags flying from bowsprits
and railings, a hundred and sixty-three feet of sleek power and
elegant design. It was costing Barney Loomis $6,000 to charter the
yacht and its staff of twenty. The additional cost of catering food
and drink for a hundred and twelve music industry movers and
shakers was close to $12,000. Add the cost of the ten-piece
orchestra, and a 15% service charge, and the 8.25% city tax, and
Loomis figured the launch of Bandersnatch would cost Bison
Records something like twenty-five grand overall. But it would be
worth ten times that amount if the CD jumped to the top of the
The boat, or the ship, or the vessel, or whatever the people at
Celebrity Yacht Cruises had called it when Loomis was negotiating
for the bash, had picked up the assorted glittery guests at Pier 27
West, just off the new marina complex in the renovated Overlook
Zone of the city. The boat, or the ship --
Loomis liked to think of it as a launch.
"We'll charter a launch for the launch!" he'd told Tamar,
and she'd clapped her hands in excitement -- well, hell, she was
still only twenty, she reacted like a teenager more often than
The official launch, then, of the new album had started at
six P.M. with cocktails on the bridge deck of the launch --
he loved that pun -- where bistro tables were festooned with
roses that picked up the red of the mask the beast was wearing on
the album cover, and where the mahogany-topped bar seemed
haphazardly strewn with giveaway CDs and tapes. The covers on each
version of the album showed Tamar as skimpily dressed as she was in
the video that had aired simultaneously last night on MTV, VH1,
BET, and WU2. Wearing a shredded white tunic that seemed to have
been torn forcefully from her legs, she struggled in the clutches
of a muscular black dancer wearing an oversized red mask that made
him look like some sort of fire-breathing mythical beast -- the
Bandersnatch of the title song -- who brought her close to his
gaping jaws, while she tried to fend him off, creamy white breasts
tumbling virtually free of her equally tattered top.
"Like in King Kong," Loomis had told her.
"Like in King who?" she'd asked, never having seen either of
the movies -- well, she was only twenty.
A mahogany stairway swept the assembled guests down to the main
deck salon where the passed hors d'oeuvres included raw oysters
(even though this was already the fourth day of May, which was not
an "R" month when oysters were supposed to be safe, according to
the "Oysters 'R' in Season" legend), and chanterelle-and-lobster
risotto cakes with white truffle cr?me fra?che and chives, and
salmon tartare on scallion potato chips. For dinner, there was
first a mesclun salad with walnuts, Stilton, and cranberries, and
then a choice of either grilled tarragon chicken or seared mustard
salmon, both served with steamed asparagus. For dessert, the chef
had prepared chocolate pâté with vanilla bean sauce and
raspberries. Merlot and Chardonnay were served with the meal. A
champagne toast was planned for later this evening, after Tamar
sang the title song of the new album.
Barney Loomis was a big man, and he didn't get that way by
accident. His plate was heaping full, and he demolished his dinner
with obvious gusto now, listening to the chatter all around him,
alert to every signal beamed from this influential crowd. For a
record company mogul -- he tended to think of himself as a mogul --
he was dressed somewhat conservatively, wearing a mocha colored
cashmere sports coat over slacks a shade darker, a beige sports
shirt open at the throat, a gold necklace showing. His hair was
black and worn in a sort of shaggy-dog style, his eyes brown. He
fancied a spade beard the same color as his hair but strewn with a
few white whiskers that gave it a distinguished professorial look,
As the launch cruised up the River Dix, passing under the bridges
that connected Isola with Calm's Point and Majesta, gliding past
Cavanaugh Island and the exclusive Cavanaugh Club, and coming back
inbound on the deep water range to head downtown again on the River
Harb, a disc jockey began spinning songs from Tamar Valparaiso's
debut album, and the talk was of nothing but Bandersnatch
and the spectacular television video that would cause the single to
leap onto the charts -- Loomis hoped, he hoped. The stars and the
moon were bright overhead.
The music swelled.
Several brave souls ventured out onto the dance floor.
Tonight was Ollie's first date with Patricia Gomez.
Man, she looked like a million bucks.
He had first admired her feminine pulchritude in uniform, the blue
tailor-mades showing off her perky figure to great advantage, ah
yes. But in uniform, she wore highly polished flat black
rubber-soled shoes. And in uniform, her long black hair was pulled
up and tucked under her cap, and she wore no lipstick or eye
shadow, and she carried a nine-millimeter Glock on her right
On this balmy, breezy, first Saturday night in May...
Patricia Gomez was wearing a tight-fitting red dress cut high on
the thigh and low on the neck. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was
wearing her raven hair falling to the shoulders, punctuated by
dime-sized circles of red earrings on either side of her beautiful
face. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was wearing glossy red lipstick
as bright as the dress, and midnight-blue eye shadow that made her
look slinky and sexy and Spanish, like some señorita coming
down a long wrought-iron staircase in a movie with banditos and
good guys. And tonight, Patricia Gomez was barelegged in strappy
red satin sandals that made her seem even taller than her
five-feet-seven, which Ollie had already informed her was a perfect
height for a woman.
Best of all, Patricia Gomez was in his arms, and they were
Detective/First Grade Oliver Wendell Weeks was a damn fine dancer,
if he said so himself.
The place he had chosen for their inaugural outing was a spot
called Billy Barnacles, which was perched on the edge of the River
Harb, on the city's Upper North Side. The place served great sea
food -- he had asked her two nights ago if she liked sea food --
and it had the advantage of a live band and a parquet dance floor
under the stars and directly on the river's edge. The band called
itself The River Rats...
Ollie wondered what their name was when they were playing someplace
less proximate, ah yes, to the river, but they'd been playing here
forever, and in fact Arnie Cooper, the leader, was Billy Cooper's
brother, who owned Billy Barnacles, but that was another
The band played all kinds of music, all of it danceable. Dixieland
from the twenties, swing from the thirties and forties, doo-wop
from the fifties, rock from the sixties all the way to the present,
even a rap song or two to satisfy the handful of Negro customers
who wandered in from Diamondback further uptown. Ollie did not mind
dancing on the same floor as "people of color," as they sometimes
preferred calling themselves, so long as they behaved themselves.
The trouble with most Negroes -- and Ollie preferred calling them
this because he knew the outmoded label pissed them off -- was that
they seldom knew how to behave themselves. He considered this a
crying shame, which was why he tried to take as many of them off
the street as he possibly could.
But this was a Saturday night, and not a time to be ruminating
about the difficulties of the job in a city as large and as
diversified, ah yes, as this one. He considered it a comment upon
his social aptitude that he had never once discussed police work
all through dinner, and was not now discussing it as he and
Patricia glided nimbly across the floor to a spirited version of
"When the Saints Go Marching In," another of the tunes in The River
To watch Ollie prance around the dance floor was tantamount to
watching the hippos in Fantasia performing to "Dance of the
Hours," except that Ollie wasn't wearing a tutu. He was wearing
instead a dark blue tropical-weight suit he had purchased at
L&G, which was short for Lewis and Gregory, two brothers --
literally and figuratively -- whose shop Ollie frequented on Chase
Street in the Eight-Eight Precinct, where both he and Patricia
worked. Ollie suspected that half the clothing at L&G had
fallen off the back of a truck, which meant it had been stolen. But
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a very good policy to follow when you
were looking for designer-label garments at discount prices. The
suit made Ollie look a lot thinner than he actually was, which
meant he looked like an armored weapons carrier instead of a tank,
not to mix metaphors with hippos, oh no, m'little chickadees. Ollie
was also wearing a white shirt and a red tie, which made him look
patriotic in the blue suit, and which also picked up Patricia's
dominant color scheme, the tie, that is.
For a fat man...
Ollie knew that there were some people in this city who called him
"Fat Ollie," but never to his face, which he considered a mea-sure
of respect. Besides, he would break their heads. He himself never
thought of himself as being "fat," per se. Large, yes. Big,
For a big large man, then, especially one who was gamboling about
the dance floor the way he was, Ollie sweated very little. He
figured this had something to do with glands. Everything in life
had something to do with glands.
He twirled and whirled Patricia.
The number was reaching a climax.
Ollie pulled Patricia in as close as his belly would allow.
"A hit video is all about screwing," Todd Jefferson was telling
Loomis. "The guys out there want to whack they castles on Britney's
bellybutton, the teenybopper girls want to wrap they little boobs
around Usher's dick. It's as simple as that."
Loomis tended to agree with him, but he wished he was talking about
Tamar Valparaiso instead of Britney Spears. As for Usher, he didn't
give a rat's ass about him or his dick.
"Hit videos are all about guys and girls in they underwears,"
Jefferson said. "White guys like to see leggy black girls in they
sheer panties. Black dudes like to see titty white girls in they
skimpy bras. All this black-white shit really grabs 'em."
Todd Jefferson was a black man himself, with a black wife, but he
was purported to have a white mistress. Loomis figured he knew
whereof he spoke.
"Take J. Lo," Jefferson said. "She worked both sides of the street.
In the movies, she was screwing white guys, in real life she was
screwing ole P. Diddy. Your little girl could take a few lessons
Loomis knew he was talking about Tamar.
Some little girl.
"Her being Hispanic and all."
Loomis knew this was only half-correct. Tamar's father was Mexican,
hence the soulful brown eyes, but her mother was of Russian
descent, hence the blond hair with a little help from Miss Clairol.
Her South-of-the-Border heritage pretty much guaranteed the loyalty
of the Hispanic market. It was the crossover crowd they were going
for with Bandersnatch. Bring in all those little Anglos who
belonged heart and soul to Britney. If they failed to do
"Not too many singers can do what J. Lo did, you know," Jefferson
said. "Only other artists done it before her was Boyz II
Loomis didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Did he mean
screwing white men in movies? Screwing a black man in real
"Three number-one hits in the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks or
more," Jefferson said, nodding. "J. Lo did it with 'Ain't It
Funny.' She's the lady your little girl has to beat, man."
"We're hoping for a number-one single with the title song on
Snatch," Loomis said.
"By the way," Jefferson asked, "is that related to her pussy in
some way? The title of the album?"
"No," Loomis said. "What makes you think...?"
"Cause it sounds somewhat pornographic, you know? Bandersnatch?
Sounds like the girl has a whole rock group going down on her
pussy. Band, you know? Snatch, you know?
Bandersnatch. You know whut I'm saying?"
"No, it's not intended that way."
"That's not necessarily bad, mind you," Jefferson said.
"That kind of association. It relates back to what I was saying
before. About videos being all about screwing. Does your little
girl screw somebody on this video?"
It dismayed Loomis to learn that Jefferson hadn't even
looked at the fucking thing yet. CEO of WU2, the
fourth-largest video TV station in the country, he hadn't even
glanced at the new video.
"Yes," Loomis said, "she screws the frumious Bandersnatch."
"Uh-huh," Jefferson said.
"This big black dude wearing a monster mask," Loomis said.
"Is that what Bandersnatch means? Big black dude? Cause I'm
a big black dude, man, and nobody ever called me no Bandersnatch
before. Nor any other kind of snatch."
"No, it has nothing to do with being black."
"Then what does it have to do with?" Jefferson asked. "Cause
I have to tell you, man, the word 'Bandersnatch' is bewildering to
"Actually, it's a word Lewis Carroll invented."
"Who's that? Bison's Artistic Director?"
Bison was the name of Loomis' label. His Artistic Director was a
man named Carl Galloway, whom Loomis had hired away from
Universal/Motown, where he'd been Manager of Artist-Development.
Jefferson should have known that. CEO of WU2, Loomis thought again,
doesn't know Lewis Carroll was an English writer and not Bison's
fuckin Artistic Director. Shit, man!
"Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland," Loomis
"Ah. Nice. I liked that movie," Jefferson said. "Disney,
"Not the movie," Loomis said. "The book. The one that had 'The
Jabberwock' in it."
Jefferson looked at him blankly.
Loomis began quoting.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
"The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
"Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
"The frumious Bandersnatch!"
"Frumious, huh?" Jefferson said. "Still sounds pornographic
"There is something totally obscene about chocolate," Patricia was
She was dipping into the double chocolate soufflé she had
ordered. Ollie was on his second wedge of strawberry short cake.
The band was playing a tune Patricia recognized from Christina
Aguilera's first album. It was called "When You Put Your Hands On
Me," and it was all about this girl who gets all oozy when this guy
touches her. It was a very hot song that sounded as if Christina
had written it herself from her own personal experience, but she
probably hadn't. There was a time -- before Patricia joined the
force -- when she wished she could be a rock singer like Christina
Aguilera. Every young Hispanic girl in the city wished she could be
a rock singer like either Jennifer Lopez or Christina Aguilera.
There was only one trouble; Patricia had a lousy voice. Even her
mother said she had a lousy voice.
"My sister went to Australia last year on one of these tours,"
Patricia said. "And...I forget which town it was..."
"You have a sister?" Ollie said.
"I have two sisters, actually. And a brother, too. My older
sister went to Australia with her husband, and I think it was
"Is that your sister's name?"
"No, that's the name of the town. At least, I think that was
the name of the town. Where she had this great chocolate dessert.
They have this shop sells chocolate desserts there, you know? And
it's called 'The Chocolate Slut.' Isn't that a terrific
"Great," Ollie said. "The Chocolate Slut. Perfect. What is
your sister's name?"
"The one who went to Australia?"
"Well, yes. Well, both of them, actually."
"She's called Isabella. The other one, my younger..."
"Come on," Ollie said, and almost dropped a piece of cake
off his fork.
"What?" Patricia asked, puzzled.
"That's my sister's name!"
"Get out of here!"
"I mean it. Well, not Isabell-a, but it's Isabelle.
"How about that?" Patricia said, grinning.
"What's the other one's name?"
"Why? Do you have two sisters, too?"
"No, just the one. But I'm curious."
"Enriqueta. It means 'Henrietta.'"
"Do you know what Patricia means?"
"Well...Patricia, I guess. I think it's the same in Spanish as in
"I know what it means," Ollie said, and grinned
"How do you know what...?"
"I looked it up."
"It means 'one of noble descent.' It's from the Latin."
"That's what the book said."
"Gee," Patricia said.
"I think it suits you," Ollie said. "Would you care for another
If the three people on the boat had been hired by Central Casting,
they'd have been labeled The Hunk, The Pretty One, and The
The Hunk was driving the boat.
His name was Avery Hanes.
Tall and somber looking, with curly black hair and dark brown eyes,
he was muscularly built -- not because he'd ever done time but
simply because he worked out regularly. Like the other two, Avery
was wearing black jeans, a black sweatshirt, and black running
shoes. Later tonight, he would put on one of the masks. But for now
he was enjoying the mild May breezes that blew in off the stern of
the boat, riffling his hair, touching his face like a kiss. Avery
had once worked for the telephone company and then had sold
electronics at The Wiz. Then he'd got the job at Lorelei Records on
St. John's Av. The gig tonight was sort of related.
The Pretty One was Avery's girlfriend.
Some five-feet-six-inches tall, twenty-four years old, redheaded
and green-eyed and freckled and lithe and lean and wearing for the
job tonight the same black jeans and Reeboks and black sweatshirt
without a bra. Her name was Kellie Morgan, and she was here because
this had to look like a nice little boating party cruising up the
river and not some people intent on mischief. She was here because
a pretty face in the crowd had a way of stilling the most dire
fears. She was here because her boyfriend Avery had told her this
would be a piece of cake that would be over and done with by
Tuesday night at this time, and there was nothing to worry about
because it was all planned to the minute and no one would get hurt
and there'd be a quarter of a million bucks for the three of them
to split when all was said and done.
The Nerd had straggly blond hair and intense blue eyes and contact
lenses over those eyes. He looked like a man who might be an
accountant for a small private firm, while actually he was an
ex-con who'd been paroled only five and a bit more months ago after
having done time for 1st Degree Robbery, a Class-B felony
punishable by a prison term not to exceed twenty-five years. That
didn't mean Calvin Robert Wilkins wasn't smart; it merely meant
he'd been caught. He wasn't as smart as Avery, but then again he
didn't have to be. He'd got along just fine until the bad break
that night of the bank heist when he got a flat tire during the
getaway. He'd tried to ride out the flat, but the tire fell all to
pieces and shreds, and suddenly he was riding on the rim with
sparks flying and the fuzz gaining, and before you knew it his luck
ran out completely and there he was upstate, wearing a number. He'd
been paroled from Miramar shortly before Thanksgiving. Until just
before Christmas, he'd been working as a dishwasher in a deli on
Carpenter Avenue. Then he'd found the job at Lorelei Records, which
was where he'd met Avery.
The boat they were on was a Rinker 27-footer powered with a 320-hp
Bravo Two that could juice up to almost forty-three miles per at
top speed. There was an aft cabin with an oversized mattress, and
the dinette seating in the lounge could convert to a double berth,
but they didn't expect to be sleeping on the boat.
If everything went as planned tonight, by this time Tuesday, they'd
all be sleeping in their own little beddie-byes.
If everything went as planned.
Tom Whittaker was program director for radio station WHAM. He was
telling Harry Di Fidelio -- Bison's Vice President of Radio
Marketing -- that the question his station recently had to ask
themselves was whether they should skew their targets younger or
still go for the mother/daughter double play.
"It wasn't an easy decision to make," Whittaker said. "With all
these new uptempo releases, we all at once had a responsive
audience for teen-based pop and hip-hop acts."
"So which way are you going?" Di Fidelio asked.
"Well, we'll continue to beam primarily to our twenty-five to
thirty-four base. But what we've done over the past few months is
expand our focus to the eighteen to twenty-four demographic. We're
trying to get away from that image of a thirty-something station.
We want our listeners to think of us as dynamic and youthful
"That makes sense," Di Fidelio said, and then got down to what
Bison was paying him for. "We think Tamar will have a broad base
among the thirty-somethings as well as the younger group.
Her appeal is what you might call universal."
"Oh, hey, she's terrific," Whittaker said, gobbling down his second
helping of chocolate pâté with vanilla bean sauce and
raspberries. "What I'm trying to say, though, Barry...may I call
"Harry. Actually, it's Harry."
"Harry, right, what I'm trying to say, Harry, is that it was merely
a matter of re-examining our goals. A lot of Top 40 stations try
too hard to pitch their product to both the kiddies and their
parents, and the result is mass confusion. At Radio 180, we
augmented our focus rather than radically change it, and we
actually improved our ratings with demos who wanted to feel younger
or who just wanted to listen with their kids."
"'Bandersnatch' should appeal to both," Di Fidelio said.
"Oh, hey, she's terrific. I feel sure she'll get hundreds of plays
on our station."
If much of what Whittaker was saying sounded like total horseshit,
that's because much of it was total horseshit. Whittaker
knew, and Di Fidelio knew, and -- with the exception of the crew
and the caterers and the black dancer who'd be playing the role of
the Bandersnatch when Tamar performed the song later tonight --
everyone on this showboat vessel knew that most Top 40 and rock
radio stations today got paid by the record manufacturers, and in
some instances by the performing artists themselves, to play their
songs on the air.
Moreover, this practice of Pay-for-Play, as it was called, was
entirely legal provided the station mentioned on air that payment
had been made. Usually, the deejay merely said, "This record was
brought to you by Bison Records." Whittaker knew, and Di Fidelio
knew that the music industry was a twelve-billion-dollar-a-year
business. They further knew that only three broadcasters controlled
more than half of the top hundred radio markets in the U.S. There
were 10,000 -- count 'em, Maude -- 10,000 commercial radio stations
in the land, and record companies depended on about 1,000 of the
largest ones to create hits and sell records. Each of those
thousand stations added approximately three new songs to its
playlist every week.
Enter the independent record promoter.
Hired by the record company, the indie got paid each time there was
an "add" to the playlist of a Top 40 or rock station. Average price
for an add was a thousand bucks, but the fee could go as high as
five or ten thousand depending on the number of listeners a station
had. All in all, the indies earned about three million bucks a week
for their services.
That was a lot of fried corn husks, honey.
Whittaker knew, and Di Fidelio knew, and everyone connected with
either Bison Records or WHAM -- "Radio 180 on your dial!" -- that a
record promoter named Arturo Garcia, who worked for the indie firm
of Instant Prompt, Inc., had made a deal with WHAM that guaranteed
the station $300,000 in annual promotional payments provided its
list of clients regularly made the station's playlist. Morever, in
certain special circumstances...
Consider, for example, the case of Tamar Valparaiso's debut album,
Bandersnatch. What with Carroll's original rhyming (which
would certainly sound like hip-hop doggerel to many teenagers), and
what with Tamar's poundingly simple five-note melody (that would
most certainly sound sexually-driven to many teenagers), the
title-song single seemed poised, please dear God, to do what Alicia
Keys' Songs in A Minor had done in its first week, more than
235,000 copies for a debut album, #1 on both the Billboard Top 200
Album Chart and the R&B Album Chart, please dear God, let it
But just in case God wasn't listening, and just in case all that
legal payola didn't do the trick, IPI (ever mindful of its guiding
slogan, "The Tin Is in the Spin") was paying WHAM -- and each of
forty other top stations around the country -- a $5,000 bonus for
fifty plays in the first week of "Bandersnatch's" release. That
came to a hundred bucks a spin, and that was a whole lot of tin,
To put it mildly, much was riding on the success of that
Meanwhile, in the main stateroom of the River Princess,
Tamar Valparaiso was getting into her scanty costume.
Ever since 9/11, and especially since the FBI began issuing vague
warnings of terrorist attacks hither and yon but nowhere in
particular, the Police Department had been on high alert for any
possible threats to the city's bridges. There were 143 men and 4
women in the Harbor Patrol Unit, which operated a municipal navy of
twenty vessels, ranging in size from twenty to fifty-two feet. The
workhorse of the HPU was the new 36-foot launch, which could travel
up to thirty-eight miles an hour -- more than twice the speed of
the older vessels in the fleet. The Police Department had recently
purchased four of these boats at a cost of $370,000 per. To the
relief of taxpayers everywhere in the city, the boats were expected
to last twenty years.
Not too long ago, Sergeant Andrew McIntosh would have been wearing
the same orange life vest over his blue uniform, but there wouldn't
have been a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle lying across the
dash. You broke those out only when you were going on a drug raid.
Those and the twelve-gauge shotguns. Nowadays, with lunatics
running loose all over the world, the heavy weapons were de
rigueur for the course, as they said in old Glasgow, Scotland,
from which fine city McIntosh's grandmother had migrated.
McIntosh was fifty-two years old, and he'd been driving boats for
the HPU for twenty-two years now, before which he'd operated a
charter fishing boat in Calm's Point. Back then, watching the
police boats pulling into the marina, he'd wondered what the hell
he was doing ferrying drunken fishermen all over the Sound. He
finally asked himself Why not give it a shot? Took the Police
Department exam the very next week, asked for assignment to the
Harbor Patrol the minute he got out of the Academy.
Back then, the Police Department was still calling itself the Isola
PD, even though precincts were located in all five sections of the
city. Eventually, Calm's Point, Majesta, Riverhead, and Bethtown
rose up in protest, demanding equal rights or some such. The
department, figuring it would cover all the bases and not cause any
more riots than were absolutely necessary, began calling itself
"Municipal PD," and then "Metro PD," and then "MPD" for short. Some
of the older hands, however -- McIntosh included -- felt they had
changed the name only because the acronym "IPD" for Isola Police
Department was being translated by the ordinary citizenry to mean
"I Peed," a not entirely flattering descriptive image for stalwarts
of the law rushing to the rescue.
There was nothing suspicious about the twenty-seven footer moving
slowly toward the Hamilton Bridge, except that she was cruising
along with just her running lights on. No lights in the cabin or
anywhere else on the boat. Well, that wasn't too unusual,
McIntosh supposed, but even so, in these difficult times he didn't
want to be blamed later on if some crazy bastard ran a boat full of
explosives into one of the bridge's pylons. So he hit a switch on
the dash, and a red light began blinking and rotating on the prow
of the launch, and he signaled to Officer Betty Knowles to throw a
light onto the smaller boat ahead.
Aboard the Rinker, Avery Hanes whispered, "Let me handle
Well, hell, he was the smart one.
"Why do I have to be black?" Jonah was asking her.
Tamar didn't know what to answer the poor man.
Because the good Lord intended you to be that way?
She hated deep philosophical questions.
Like when a reporter from Billboard magazine asked her what
she thought of Mick Jagger, and she'd had to admit she didn't know
who Mick Jagger was. When the reporter explained that he was a
seminal rock singer, she didn't mention that she didn't know what
"seminal" meant. Instead, she told them she didn't consider herself
a rock singer, and besides she was very young. So, of course they
asked what kind of singer she considered herself to be, and she'd
had to admit she thought of her kind of music as mainstream pop.
But a question like Jonah's absolutely floored her. She'd never
suspected till this very moment that he was so deep.
What she was hoping was that nobody would be disappointed because
she and Jonah wouldn't be duplicating all the bells and whistles on
the video, but of course how could they do that on a little boat in
the middle of the river? Tonight, she'd be lip-synching, which was
okay because everyone in the crowd was very hip, she guessed, and
surely nobody expected her to really perform the entire
video, did they? Shit, it had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars
to shoot the thing with all the special effects and everything, so
how could anyone expect a duplication of all that on this
dinky little boat here, even though Barney kept calling it a
"launch." She certainly hoped nobody had such wild expectations in
mind, which was a good title for a song and maybe for her next
album, "Wild Expectations." She certainly hoped they would
appreciate her just lip-synching while she dry-humped Jonah.
Jonah was as gay as a bowl of daisies.
This was okay because he only came across that way when you were
talking to him. Lisping and all, and sort of limp-wristed, a total
caricature of a fag.
"Why do I have to be black?"
And a little limp flick of the wrist.
Cause you unfortunate, amigo, Tamar should have said.
Jonah hadn't done any talking on the video, and he certainly
wouldn't be doing any talking tonight, either. Even Tamar herself
wouldn't be talking until after the record played and they danced
to it. Then she'd do the interview with Channel Four, and whatever
other interviews she had to do with all the press people out there,
and then they'd call it a night and hope for the best.
The video had premiered last night on all four music channels
during their prime-time debut spots --
"I meant why does the beast have to be black?" Jonah
Another philosophical question.
He was sharing the main stateroom as a dressing room with her, but
that was okay because he was gay, and she didn't mind if he saw her
naked boobs. She was half-naked in the costume, anyway, which she
guessed was the whole point of the video, to expose herself as much
as possible without getting arrested. She had to admit that she
somewhat enjoyed all that screaming and yelling whenever she made a
personal appearance, part of which she knew was for her voice --
she really felt she did have a very good mainstream pop style and a
very good vibrato besides -- but part of which was for the way she
shook her considerable booty, muchachos.
"So?" Jonah asked.
One hand on his hip.
Pouting little look on his face.
He was perhaps six-feet-two-inches tall, with a dancer's firm abs,
and strong biceps and forearms from lifting girls considerably
heftier than Tamar, thighs like oaks, an altogether wonderful
specimen of a man, but oh what a waste! He had good fine facial
features, too, a pity they'd been covered by all those masks he had
to wear on the video, and would be covered by masks tonight as well
-- not the same masks, of course. They'd used maybe ten or twelve
different masks during the shoot, so that it looked like the
Bandersnatch was changing form each time he -- or it, more
precisely -- violated her or tried to violate her, rape or
attempted rape as the case may have been, who knew? All these
videos were supposed to be somewhat mysterious and murky, like
adolescence itself, thank God that was behind her.
She was glad her video wasn't about a black guy going to jail while
his chick moped around looking mournful and forlorn. She was glad
it wasn't about a drive-by shooting, either, which a lot of the rap
groups thought was entertainment. One of the Bison veeps had wanted
the title song on the debut album to be something called "Raw
Girls," and he'd suggested that they shoot the accompanying video
in a high school locker room, with all these young chicks, white,
black, Latino, coming in and stripping down to their underwear as
they got ready for a soccer game. Tamar had gone directly to Barney
Loomis to tell him she wouldn't do any video that looked like a
G-rated version of Debbie Does Dallas, and she wouldn't sing
any song called "Raw Girls," either.
Tamar knew exactly what she wanted to be.
Tamar knew exactly where she was going.
"Sorry to bother you, sir," McIntosh said. "Everything okay
Standing on the bow of the police launch, Officer Knowles was
playing the boat's spotlight around the chest of the man at the
wheel of the Rinker. Something they taught you when you began
training for the HPU. Unless the suspect was a known perp, you kept
the light out of his eyes. Courtesy, Service, Dedication. That's
what the decal on the side doors of all the police cars in the city
said. That's what it said on the side of Harbor Charlie's cabin,
too. Courtesy. Meant you kept the light out of a person's eyes,
unless he was a perp.
Avery Hanes was about to become a perp in an hour or so, but
Officer Knowles didn't know that yet, and neither did Sergeant
McIntosh, at the wheel of the police launch, or Officer Brady,
standing in the stern with his hand resting casually on the butt of
the Glock holstered on his hip, just in case this guy driving the
Rinker turned out to be some Al Qaeda nut determined to blow up
either himself or something else, or else some drug runner or
something. These days, you never could tell.
"Everything's fine, Sergeant," Avery said, because he was the smart
one, and he'd seen the stripes on McIntosh's uniform sleeve.
"Saw you runnin with all your lights off," McIntosh said.
The launch was idling alongside the Rinker, which had come to a
dead stop on the water.
"Ooops. Thought I had them on," Avery said, and flicked the
dashboard switch that turned the running lights on and off,
clicking it several times to make sure, and then turning to look at
McIntosh with a slightly puzzled shrug.
"I meant in the cabin," McIntosh said.
"I'll turn them on if you like," Avery said. "Such a nice night and
all, so many stars, thought we'd take advantage. They shine so much
brighter without any lights."
"Where you bound?" McIntosh asked.
"Back to the marina."
"Capshaw Boats. Fairfield and the water."
"Off Pier Seven, would that be?"
"Who've you got aboard, Captain?"
"My girlfriend and my best man. We're getting married in June,
wanted to check out the River Club."
"Nice venue," McIntosh said.
"Yes, sir, it sure is. Might be too expensive for us,
"Well, sorry to've bothered you," McIntosh said. "Enjoy the rest of
"Thank you, sir. Did you want me to put on those cabin
Knowles turned off the spot. The waters went instantly black.
McIntosh eased the throttle forward, and the police launch pulled
away from the Rinker. On the stern, Officer Brady took his hand off
the Glock's butt.
J. P. Higgins was holding forth on the various types of videos on
the air these days. He was Bison's Executive VP in charge of Video
Production, and he was obviously impressing the foreign affiliates
who'd been invited to tonight's launch party. The man from Prague
didn't understand English as well as Bison's people from London
(well, of course not) and Milan, or Paris and Frankfurt, but he was
nonetheless hanging on every word because he hoped to learn how to
promote the "Bandersnatch" video in his own country, now that the
flood waters had subsided, and once the video and the album were
released there. One drawback was that Tamar Valparaiso was
virtually unknown in the Czech Republic. Well, she was virtually
unknown here as well. But that was why Bison had spent a pot full
of money on the video, not to mention all the publicity and
promotion preceding tonight's launch party when -- in exactly one
hour by the Czech's imitation Rolex watch -- Tamar Valparaiso
herself would be performing with the very same dancer who'd
accompanied her on the video.
There was a palpable air of expectation.
Something big was going to happen tonight.
Just how big, none of the assembled guests could ever possibly
Higgins was a man in his early forties, and he liked to think he'd
learned all there was to know about video production by the time he
was thirty. Convincing the foreigners gathered around him was a
simple task. He concentrated instead on trying to sell his savvy to
a young black girl wearing what appeared to be nothing but three
chain links and a diamond earring, sitting on a hassock alongside
their man from London.
"Your cheapest video to shoot is what I call your 'Pool Party'
video," Higgins said, trying to catch the black girl's eye, but she
seemed absorbed in her chocolate pâté, which was the
exact color of her barely covered breasts, topped with a pair of
red raspberries, the dessert, not her breasts. "One of the execs at
any label is sure to have a house with a swimming pool. You go to
that house, you set up your cameras around the pool, you decorate
the premises with girls in bikinis and guys in thongs, and then
shoot your artist against a backdrop of all these half-naked young
people writhing in time to the music. You don't have to worry too
much about lighting because you're shooting in broad daylight. Only
thing you have to worry about is airplanes flying overhead. But
that's the same as on any daytime shoot."
Higgins didn't know what it was he'd said that suddenly captured
the black girl's attention. Maybe she was interested in auditioning
for the role of one of those half-naked young people writhing. She
was half-naked herself right now, albeit not writhing. Higgins
plunged on regardless.
"Your second cheapest video is what I call the 'Disco Party' video,
which is a variation on the poolside theme. You rent a disco for
the night, you pack it with those same young people from the
swimming pool, except the guys are in tight jeans and tank tops and
the girls are in halter tops and hip huggers that show their
bellybuttons. You use the club's own strobe lighting except for
your star, who's performing in their midst and needs special
lighting to show her own bellybutton or however much else of
herself you'd like her to show," he said, and turned his steely
blue-eyed gaze full force on the black girl, who licked chocolate
pâté from her fork, and smiled at him. "You've got to
remember," he said directly to her, "that there's absolutely
nowhere your artist can go after she's stark naked."
Everyone laughed. The man from London had a sort of horsy laugh.
The man from Paris sounded like he was choking on a Gauloise.
Higgins figured he was both amusing and instructing these two
stereotypes. Encouraged, he continued with his thesis, which he
would try to get published in The New Yorker magazine one
"A little more expensive is what I call your 'Back to the Hood'
video. This only works with black or Latino artists," he said, and
winked at the black girl, "since your white performers don't come
fum no hood, sistuh," and winked again. The black girl winked back.
Higgins figured he was home free. "This is a video you shoot
outdoors, with your male or female artist roaming the old
neighborhood and feeling sentimental about it. You see shots of old
black guys playing cards on an upturned garbage can, you see shots
of little girls jumping rope and teenage dudes shooting baskets in
the school yard, you see shots of what look like dope buys going
down, this is like a documentary that says, 'Look where I came
from, boys and girls, and now I'm a big rock star, ain't that
something?' And your artist is roaming through all this like a
hidden camera, with a soulful look on her face, singing her little
heart out while she remembers what it was like to be a kid in this
The black girl was nodding dreamily now, remembering what it was
like to be a kid in the shitty hood where she herself was born, but
look at her tonight, man, here on a million-dollar yacht, wearing
chains and a diamond and flirting with a veep from a big-time
label, oh lordy!
"The song doesn't have to have anything at all to do with the hood
or memories of the hood. The song can have a lyric any
twelve-year-old can remember in six seconds flat, 'I'll love you
till the day I die,' something like that, 'I'll love you till the
day I die, I'll love you till the day I die, I'll love you till the
day I die-ai-ai,' like that. Nothing at all to do with growing up
poor, the growing-up-poor is only the sub-plot. What the video does
is tell all those kids out there who bought the album that here in
this America -- or for that matter any of your countries,
too, my friends -- anywhere in the entire free world, for
that matter, you can grow up to be a diva who will love someone
till the day she die-ai-ai-s."
Higgins smiled. They all smiled with him.
The black girl wasn't too sure Higgins wasn't dissing the sort of
hood she grew up in, but she smiled, too, what the hell, and
grabbed a glass of white wine from a waiter passing a tray.
"Your next cheapest video is what I call 'Smoke and Mirrors,' it's
all bullshit flashing lights and blinking neon. Looks like a
million bucks, but doesn't cost a nickel. Well, it costs a lot more
than the other three, but that's only in the construction. The
shooting is cheap. Just your set and your artists on the set. This
is the kind of set you use when your song is about absolutely
nothing. In fact, not anybody out there can understand the words to
the song. Nobody. Not a single living soul. I'm not talking rap.
You can usually understand the words in a rap song. I'm talking
about a song that has lyrics nobody on earth can understand, no
matter how often you listen to the song. This is a song that kids
keep listening to over and over again, trying to dope out what the
hell the lyrics mean. This is a song that's usually a big hit
overseas, because you don't have to understand it in Germany or
Italy, it's the same as if you're hearing it in America, where
nobody can understand it, either, because it's designed to be
unintelligible. Are you beginning to get my drift?"
The guy from London was beginning to get Higgins's drift. Higgins
was leading up to talking about "Bandersnatch." The man from London
nodded sagely, like a member of Parliament who'd just been advised
that his Prime Minister had the goods on Osama bin Laden.
"Your next to the most expensive video is your 'Story' video. This
can be a video that actually follows the story of the lyrics
in any given song, illustrating the song, so to speak, putting it
into pictures for the twelve-year-olds out there, or it can be a
video that tells a story entirely different from the one the
lyrics are telling. Usually, the Story video is directed by some
guy who has dreams of doing a feature film for Miramax. He is more
interested in the video itself than he is in the song
the video is supposed to be selling. In many respects, it's like
your 'Back to the Hood' video. Your artist can be singing, 'I'll
love you till the day I die-ai-ai,' and the picture on the screen
will be showing a car crashing through the guard rail on the Calm's
Point Bridge and hurtling to the dark swirling mysterious waters
below. The 'Story' video is full of artsy-fartsy shots and
dissolves and fades you learn in Directing 101 in film school.
There are women with horns and pointy red breasts..."
Higgins glanced at the black girl again.
"...or guys who suddenly sprout huge wings and fly off into a sky
torn apart by thunder clouds. You're sometimes watching two or
three stories at the same time, either having to do with the song,
or having nothing at all to do with it. The idea is to make the
video look like a hi-tech movie so that the kids will run out to
buy the album, thinking maybe it, too, gee whiz, is like a
high-tech movie. Razzle-dazzle. It's all razzle-dazzle, thank you,
Kander and Ebb. Which brings me to the most expensive video of all,
and that is the 'Production Number' video, and that is what the
'Bandersnatch' video is."
Finalmente, the guy from Milan thought.
"Leave me dispense with generalities," Higgins said, "and invite
you directly into my boudoir," and here his gaze brushed the black
girl's long and shiny legs, and her pert and perky tits, and then
her overblown lips and her loam-colored eyes, asking his question
to those eyes, asking it with a small inquisitive lifting of his
brows, and getting his answer with a slight imperceptible nod, Yes,
the girl in the chains was saying, oh yes, yes, yes.
"'Bandersnatch,'" Higgins said, "although I feel certain Lewis
Carroll didn't intend it this way, is the story of an attempted
rape, the story of a thwarted rape, the story of a victim
triumphant. Most importantly, it is in fact a story -- a
genuine story and not one of those invented film-school
stories that have nothing to do with the song they're selling.
'Bandersnatch' is the story of a girl who is warned of the beast
out there on those mean streets, but who goes out to find that
beast, anyway, and to slay it, my friends, to kill it dead, to
emerge victorious, 'O Frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!' Yes, you're
right if you're thinking this is the story of 'Beauty and the
Beast,' told in nonsense syllables that captivate and mystify, part
hard driving rock, part rap, so that we go after and deliver both
audiences. You may well ask -- especially our friend from Britain
here, who may be more familiar with the poem than some of you
"I'm familiar with the poem," the black girl said.
Higgins looked at her.
"In fact, I know it by heart," she said.
"Then you may be wondering how..."
"I am indeed wondering," she said.
"...how the boy in the poem..."
"'Beware the Jabberwock, my son,'" she said, stressing the
"Exactly," Higgins said.
"'Come to my arms, my beamish boy,'" the man from London
"Exactly right," Higgins said. "How does this boy become a girl,
become a rape victim, become in fact Tamar Valparaiso?"
"My magazine is wondering the same thing," the black girl
"Which magazine is that?" Higgins asked.
Ooops, Higgins thought.
She had cut her hair short for the video.
It was growing back now, but if the album was a hit and Tamar had
to go on tour with it, she'd have it trimmed back to the length it
was two months ago, when they shot the video at what used to be a
bakery but what was now the Sands Spit Studios across the River
Dix, which in fact they'd passed not half an hour ago. The River
Princess had already come around the tip of the island and was
now heading downtown, cruising the waters between the two states,
moving at a leisurely pace toward the bridge.
On the video, the short hair made her look like a blond Prince
Valiant. Or more like a Peter Pan, she guessed. No question there
was a girl in that tattered tunic at the end of the song, though,
the beast clawing and biting at the garment till it came away in
shreds under his talons and teeth, no question about that at all.
They'd even had to edit out a thirty-second shot where her left
nipple distinctly showed, and another longer sequence where too
much cheek and almost some pussy were revealed when Jonah lifted
her; you couldn't risk offending all those soccer Moms out there,
as if they didn't have pussies and nipples of their own.
Started her quest in what looked like a sturdy-enough white
thigh-length tunic, sandals strapped to the calf, subtly heeled to
give the leg its essential curve...
Excerpted from THE FRUMIOUS BANDERSNATCH © Copyright 2004
by Hui Corp. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star, an impring
of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Frumious Bandersnatch a Novel of the 87th