Rain on a warm summer night wasn't enough to spoil Christabel's mood. If anything; she welcomed it. Tonight had been the first show of the worldwide tour Crowley's Thoth had embarked upon to promote their first album, /Prometheus Unbound/, which they had played at Manhattan's Hellfire Club. It wasn't the largest of venues, but there would be time enough for that. While they weren't headliners in their own right, they got billing right under the main act and played their sets before it but after the warm-up acts that people tried to boo off the stage. Best of all, the headline act was VIVA, a symphonic metal act from Gothenburg. They too had a soprano vocalist, but she didn't have the range Naomi Bradleigh did.
/And thanks to me, she looks like a dumpy little frump compared to Naomi./ Christabel savored the knowledge; as the band was gearing up to release their debut album and embark on what Morgan had taken to calling "Prometheus On Tour", she had enlisted the help of Elisabeth Bathory and Tamara Gellion to design the outfits they would wear on stage. She had designed for herself an elegant ballgown in burgundy, while dressing Morgan and Naomi in tuxedos cut to display their figures to advantage and hiding their faces behind ornate masques that would not have been out of place at a Venetian carnivale. Christabel alone showed her face, standing front and center even though she did not sing.
The only fly in the ointment was that VIVA had not arrived on time. The tour bus had broken down, and the band had not arrived by the time Crowley's Thoth had taken the stage. They still weren't there when Christabel and the others had finished their set, and now the venue's manager was in their shared dressing room. He wiped his brow and wrung his hands as he tried to look Christabel in the eye. "I'm on the spot here, Ms. Crowley. I know you've finished your set, but I've got a crowd hyped up to see VIVA and they aren't here. I don't know when they're going to get here, either."
"What would you have /me/ do about it?"
"How about an encore?"
Christabel narrowed her eyes. There was nothing in the contract about an encore. They had a forty-five minute set, long enough to play the tracks from /Prometheus Unbound/ that seemed to resonate most with listeners streaming individual songs instead of buying entire albums. They had padded out the set with updated selections from the /Shattered Harmony/ albums with which Christabel had launched her career as a classical-to-rock crossover artist. Even if they had additional material rehearsed, there was the matter of payment. "Not in our contract."
"I know. I don't have the budget to pay you extra right now, but what if we can negotiate an additional contract with payment in ninety days?"
"That seems fair to me," said Naomi. "But what if the headliners still haven't arrived?"
The manager pressed a fingertip to his ear to indicate that he was getting a message via his implant. He seemed to relax a bit. "I just got word from VIVA's manager. They just got the bus moving again and they'll be here in an hour. Of course, they'll need an hour after that to get ready. I know an additional two-hour set is a lot, but—"
Morgan's smile was almost predatory. "Do you remember the fee you negotiated for the forty-five minute set we just played?"
"Quadruple it and you'll get your two hours."
Unable to believe what she was hearing, Christabel pinged Morgan over the band's private group chat. «Have you gone 'round the bend? We don't have enough material for a ten minute encore, let alone two hours.»
Morgan's reply seemed to her that of a man who saw the point but refused to acknowledge it. «We've got the public domain.»
«Live jam session?» Naomi piped up. «That could be fun.»
«We're not here to have /fun/,» texted Christabel. «We're professional musicians, dammit. We did our job. Why should we have to go out and improvise because the bloody headliners couldn't be bothered to show up on time?»
Meanwhile, the manager was staring bug-eyed at Christabel. "Can't you cut me a break on the fee?"
"Ever see an old Mafia flick called /GoodFellas/?" said Morgan.
"I have," said Naomi. Her voice had become a soft purr dripping honeyed venom. "I know you've got a tight budget, but that's not our problem."
"There's no way I can come up with that fee in sixty days and turn a profit."
Feeling both Morgan and Naomi's eyes on her, Christabel threw her weight behind theirs. "Fuck you. Pay us. And if sixty days pass without us getting a check, I'll file the wage-theft complaint with the Phoenix Society personally."
"T-T-That's not how business is done."
"It is with us," said Morgan. "While I'll not be the Adversary who gets the case, the one who does will be no less merciless. An attack on one is an attack on all."
"Day of wrath, day of burning, all your hopes to ashes turning," Naomi sang her paraphrase of /Dies Irae/. To Christabel's chagrin, she had improvised the melody on the spot.
"If you fuck us over," said Christabel, poking the manager's chest with the tip of her bow. "Our next album will be your bloody requiem. Now go deal with the stage crew and the crowd. We'll be out in ten."
Once the manager had left, Christabel rounded upon her bandmates. "Are you two utterly barking? What the hell are we supposed to play out there?"
"Acid Rain," said Morgan.
"Orion," said Naomi.
"Hit 'em upside the head with Chopin's Revolutionary?"
"Ooh, fun. I'll do that first."
"It's just started raining, so I'll come out once you've finished the Revolutionary and launch into Sweet Sweet Rain."
"And when I come out," asked Christabel.
"What about one of those Jean-Luc Ponty pieces you've been fiddling with," said Morgan.
"But they're /metalheads/."
"So are we," said Morgan and Naomi in harmony.
"Will you stop doing that? It's creepy."
"Not like we do it on purpose," said Naomi.
"Fine. What should we play when I come out?"
"Go with some Malmsteen or Satriani," said Morgan. "Maybe the Far Beyond the Sun or Ceremony?"
"I think I'll go with Unstoppable Momentum," said Christabel. While the band might be her cover, rather than being her life as it so obviously was for Morgan and Naomi, living up to her cover was a matter of acting, and acting /was/ her life.
A few hours later, Christabel stood behind the Hellfire Club at the entertainers' entrance. She stood with her face lifted skyward, letting the rain cool her in its embrace without a care for what it would do to her makeup or how it would most likely ruin her dress. It didn't matter. She'd wear something different, something even better, for the next show.
What mattered was that halfway through their second set, the crowd was utterly theirs. They hadn't cared that the material they played wasn't original. If anything, they had appreciated the breaks between pieces in which Morgan or Naomi would share a bit about the piece they had just played, educating the audience and exposing them to selections from the public domain that often went forgotten in mass-market compilations.
It was hardly the reaction Christabel had expected.
She turned as the door opened behind her. An auburn haired woman in a little black dress stepped out, reached into her purse for a pack of cigarettes, and offered one to Christabel, who waved it away. "No thanks."
"Smart woman," said the other woman as she lit up. "This is one vice I should leave behind; it's going to be murder on my voice. Not that I ever had a shot at being as good as Naomi Bradleigh. How did you manage to get /her/?"
"Just lucky, I guess." Christabel gave up on trying to place her interlocutor. "Have we met?"
"Damn. I may have left my manners on the bus." The other woman offered a hand. "I'm Victoria Valentine. Thanks for holding the crowd while we were broken down. We got here in time for me to catch the end of your set, and you three were crushing it."
Despite the cooling summer rain, Christabel flushed, and cursed herself for her embarrassment. /Take the compliment, dammit./ "Thanks. You and VIVA were real troupers. I'm not sure what I would have done in your position."
"I'm sure you would have done fine. It certainly wouldn't have occurred to me to spend the night digging up relics like you did, though. That last tune was an inspired choice. You really tore into the violin part, and the way you three passed the lead around was so smooth I could have sworn you'd been rehearsing it."
"Actually, that last number was Morgan's idea." There was no reason not to give credit where it was due, in Christabel's opinion. Not when there was plenty to go around. "We had started dating before I realized how good a musician he is."
"Did he ever tell you about his day job?"
"No. Why would he?"
"He should have," said Victoria, as she reached into her purse. When she withdrew it, she was holding a small black semiautomatic pistol. "The enemies he makes could complicate your life."