From time to time, I post chapters and subchapters from my novel, the current working title of which is "Eroberung." I should probably put the pertinent info about up in the format that is customarily used in writing communities on LJ, but it's almost 2 a.m. here, and I am too tired and lazy to go and find it. The rest of what I have so far written of this novel can be found in my writing journal, leidenschaft.
Instead of taking her outside to put her in a cab, Johann motioned her toward a quiet corner of the lobby when they got out of the elevator. They hadn’t really had much of a chance to speak until then. The elevator had been filled with people on the way down, and neither of them had wished to do their catching up with so many people around who might recognize who they were.
Even now, though, Johann looked uncomfortable with the lack of privacy. The only real way for them to have had a truly private conversation would have involved Linnea going back with him to his hotel room. Obviously, he hadn’t wanted to say whatever it was he was going to say to her with the rest of Feuersturm listening, which was why he hadn’t spoken to her before they left. For similar reasons, taking her back to his hotel would be impractical, as the others were still waiting on him upstairs.
“I’m really sorry this has been so rushed, Linnea,” he said quietly once they seemed to be reasonably out of earshot.
She waved a hand in dismissal. “Jesus, no. Don’t you think I understand your predicament? I mean, come on, my brothers kicked me in the teeth right before we were to go into the studio. It doesn’t take the pressure off you guys that it was fate that did the same to Fritz in the eleventh hour.”
“Well, this is true. I just would have rather had it be more relaxed? We all really enjoyed working with you back on the tour. I don’t want you feeling like you’re simply a commodity in all this, you know?”
Linnea laughed. “Sometimes, Hans, you make a very poor German, you know that?”
He smiled ruefully. “Yes, yes, I know. Don’t my bandmates tell me the same thing almost every day? To hear them tell it, you’d think I was more American than even you.” The smile faded, and he became more serious. “I don’t want you feeling like this is all slapped together, and I don’t want you feeling forced into working with us.”
“Well, I appreciate your sentiments, but come on; there’s a lot of pressure on both sides for this to be done. I’m afraid there’s no way I’m not going to feel somewhat “forced” into the situation.”
“I know, but you know, we’ve not spoken to you in a few years, and I want you to know that we do want you with us. It may be a pretty unorthodox move, but no one else’s name but yours was ever put forward to replace Fritz, and I really think that we could do something incredible together, especially under the direction of this new manager.”
“How did Michael take it, when you told him?” she asked, the question coming out more abruptly than she’d intended. She hoped she wasn’t sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. But then again, if they wanted her to agree to be one of them, she figured she had a right to make herself at home.
He sighed. “I won’t lie to you. It was a hard thing to do. And it wasn’t a completely popular decision, though I think it was the right one.”
“I have to say, I was surprised to learn that you’d let Michael go. He’s a good guy. I still remember like it was yesterday the day he came to our trailer after Fritz busted his ankle to ask me if I’d step in for him.”
He nodded, looking sheepish, or maybe it was a bit guilty. “Is it something that gives you reservations?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know if I’d say reservations exactly. It’s a point of interest, to be sure. I don’t know a whole lot about Heppner, except for the rumors in the business that he’s very good at what he does.” She laughed softly. “And it’s not like I’m going to have a lot of opportunity to research him inside and out before accepting or declining your offer. I guess the first question it poses goes to the internal stability of Feuersturm. You said it was an unpopular decision. Who’s not liking it?”
His mouth twisted and his blue eyes bore knowingly into her own. “Oh, take a wild guess.”
“I’d put my money on Mark and Dieter. Mmmm, and maybe throw in Fritz for good measure.”
“You’d win that bet with Mark. Dieter has been rather…how do you say it?...noncommittal, yes. Cooperative, but noncommittal. But actually, it’s Fritz, along with Peter, who brought forward the idea of bringing him aboard.”
Linnea blinked. That was a surprise. Peter could be slick and had business sense. But Fritz?
Johann laughed, seeing the look on her face. “Ja, I know. Very strange.”
She shook her head. She’d have to delve more deeply later. There were other more pressing answers she needed to help her make the decision. “Just how opposed to it is Mark?”
He shrugged slightly. “Opposed is probably not the right word to describe Mark’s state of mind right now.”
“What is the right word for it, then?”
He pursed his lips slightly, seemingly reluctant, and Linnea got the feeling he was choosing his words very carefully. “Resigned.”
“I see. So under other circumstances, he’d have been opposed to this new fella, but there’s something making him feel he has no choice,” she said, injecting mock suspicion into her tone.
He had the grace to look slightly abashed. “So many probing questions,” he replied in a gently chiding tone.
She rolled her eyes and took a breath before shaking her head ruefully at him. “Just because you have me by the balls doesn’t mean I’m going to make this any easier on you by just putting up and shutting up.”
“Ah, but Linnea, you have us by the balls, too. I told you, no one else’s name but yours came up as a substitute. You’re the only person that could possibly fit with us.”
She said his unvoiced words aloud. “And even I’m not a guaranteed fit.”
He shrugged again and gave her an apologetic smile. “Alas, there are no guarantees in anything, now, are there?”
She clicked her tongue. “Yes, well, we’ve all learned the hard way, haven’t we? But…I don’t think you, as Feuersturm’s spokesman, and I are the only people who’ve got their figurative nut sacks in a twist. There’s some reason that Mark feels he’s got to put up with this new management thing.”
Johann’s expression sobered. “There is, but it’s not for me to tell. Let’s just say he’s having some family issues and leave it at that.”
Her mouth twisted. “And I’m sure Heppner’s not the only thing he’s resigned to. I’m sure he’s not happy that you’ve come knocking at my door.”
“Ah, don’t let’s be paranoid now, Linnea.” He shook his finger at her, but his mouth twisted again, giving lie to his scold.
“It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.” She shrugged and smirked at him. “I don’t pretend to understand much about Mark, but one thing that has always been very clear, the man’s a purist. Ironically enough.”
He sighed deeply. “I’m not going to pretend. Things are hard for Mark right now, and for all of his wild reputation, he’s actually rather…conservative about certain things. But he understands the need for the changes, even if he doesn’t like that need.”
“And he’s not nearly as good as you are at trying to put a happy face on things.” She tried to make the jab breezy, but her voice betrayed her, and it came out more like acid.
“Don’t take it personally, Linnea,” he said quietly.
“I’m trying not to…but there are reasons for me to take it so. And not just with Mark.” There, she’d said it. She hadn’t planned to, but when the puppetmaster was right there showing her all the strings, it was hard for her not to be equally forthright. Especially when she had been agonizing about it ever since Peter’s call.
Johann gave her a quiet, almost sad smile. “I always thought Peter liked you.”
She bit her lip. It was all like some sort of sordid high-school level drama, and she realized right then that she’d hoped that he hadn’t known, that no one else had known, or even suspected. Peter and Mark were men, blunt German rock stars with a sense of propriety that was distinctly, and often bizarrely, different than her own.
He shook his head. “No need to blush, Linnea. It’s not like that,” he said, as if he were reading her mind.
Since she couldn’t run away just yet, she did the next best thing and folded her arms. “Not like what?” Blushing? How could she be blushing? If she’d turned any color, it would have to have been a sickly white. She felt sick to her stomach with the stupidity and infantileness of it.
“Whatever it is that happened – and I’m not saying anything did, you understand – with you or Peter or you or Mark, they haven’t been shooting their mouths off all these years, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He put a hand on her arm. “It’s just – “ He shrugged. “I’ve known them both for too long. They both are …fond of you, in their own ways.”
“Well,” she said, tight-lipped, “that’s just dandy. You know, this may not be a good idea after all.” She looked up at the ceiling, gathering her thoughts. “You know, Hans, maybe we should go somewhere, and I can tell you what did happen, and then you can judge for yourself.”
He shook his head and squeezed her arm gently. “No need. Whatever it was, I don’t care. Not only is it none of my business, but really, it’s probably best I don’t know.”
She blinked. “Why the hell not? It could make things awkward.”
“That is precisely why.”
He glanced briefly at his watch. “Liebchen, it’s something in the past. Whatever it is -- or was -- chances are, if I know the two of them, you’re not the one who needs absolution for it, no matter how much you may think to the contrary. Besides, though it may have made things awkward at one point back then, it doesn’t mean they will be awkward again this time.”
“So you’re going to stick your head in the sand,” she said dully. Gods, he must be thinking I am such a child and such a complete prude right now.
He gave her a look that wasn’t without sympathy. “Have you ever had a feeling about something?”
She snorted softly. “Oh, Hans, if you only knew.”
He nodded once in acknowledgment, unfazed by her sardonic tone. “Then you’ll understand what I’m speaking of when I say I have a feeling that there could be something really special that will come of this new collaboration, and there’s no reason why – you’ll have to forgive me for this, Linnea – but there’s no reason why worries about something so trivial should keep it from happening…especially if they are worries that might be unfounded in the first place.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” she said bitterly.
“All great artists have their quirks. Some of the greatest art has been created because of their quirks. I think we’d be doing ourselves all a great disservice if we let pangs of conscience get in the way of what we could build together. Well, if you and Mark let pangs of conscience get in the way,” he amended. “Peter, I don’t think, is anywhere near so tormented by his conscience, or the lack thereof” he said wryly.
“I didn’t think you were such a gloryhound, Hans.” The accusation was flat, without any real bite. The Germanic arrogance or bizarre preoccupation, or whatever it was he was exhibiting now, had knocked her flat on her ass, and she didn’t know how to counter the sheer bombasticness of his pronouncement.
He cocked his head, and the wryness turned suddenly into hardheaded practicality as Johann-the-businessman took the helm. “I’m not. I’m just along for the ride. I’m a facilitator. I’d like to see it happen for the sake of seeing it happen. No one has me by the balls. No, I don’t want to have this opportunity for something unique spoiled, but even more so, I think it would be a shame to spoil this opportunity for you and Mark to extricate yourselves from your respective difficulties.”
She just looked back at him. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t just further cement the adolescent role into which he’d so effortlessly cast her. She had thought that she’d reached the nadir of absolute helplessness the night her brothers had told her the band was dissolved. But at least then she’d been able to rage at them. They were family, they knew her and she them, and there was reason for them to be hurt just for the fact that they had inflicted hurt upon her. But this…Johann was just an acquaintance, and he wasn’t even trying to wound her. He was just being logical…mostly. And that was that.
He glanced down at his watch again. “I hate to be so abrupt, especially at a time like this, but I’ve really got to get back up there.” He smiled in soft apology to her. “I know this whole thing is awkward. I just wanted you to know you don’t have anything to feel awkward about. And for all its strangeness, it really is a unique opportunity. I feel it in my bones. Sometimes things do happen for a reason.”
She nodded slowly. “They do,” she agreed.
“Go home and think about it, Linnea. Don’t think about your brothers, don’t think about Fritz…think about how it felt when we’d get on stage together during that tour. Remember the lights and the hush of the crowd, and remember how we made the critics eat their hearts out, we were so good…” He trailed off and smiled knowingly, a bit sheepish. “You and Mark were so good.” He put a finger under her chin, a glint of shrewdness in his eyes as he met her gaze. “And when you think about it, don’t let Mark’s brashness or Peter’s arrogance get in the way of just how good it was.”