Title: Ursa Rising
Author: Sheila Englehart
Format: Ebook available through Amazon at: https://smile.amazon.com/Ursa-Rising-Sheila-Englehart/dp/1535044446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472926859&sr=8-1&keywords=ursa+rising
Pages: 344 pages
Published: 1 July 2016
Extract from ‘Ursa Rising’ by Sheila Englehart
“Rock and roll makes everyone a time traveler.
When you hear a great song, you go somewhere cool.”
Chris Cromwell, lead guitar for Ursa
Sherman Oaks was the perfect place to begin a film about a fallen star. Hadn’t O.J. lived around there at the time of the infamous white Bronco chase? Stalking seemed slimy, but Vanessa watched the Spanish-style mansion from a rental car like a jilted girlfriend. She dabbed on some lip balm and bit her lips together. Telling herself that the camera wouldn’t suck her soul away, she began her notes hoping some of the footage might be to keep in the actual film. The flashing green light next to the viewfinder mocked her anxiety. She took a few swipes at her hair, blew a fly-away strand from her eyes, and took the plunge.
“Notes for The Guitarist.” She fluttered her eyelids. Just like her to over-think how to proceed. She took a breath and pushed through. “Okay, my father was Jeremy Nash.” She held up a jewel case with a photo of the band and pointed at her father. “He played bass and wrote lyrics for Ursa. Their star was just starting to rise when he was killed the night of their last performance.” God, she sounded like a TV anchor. She willed her gaze to the lens, intent on telling the real story. “I want to know what part of my dad is in me. People always say I got my mom’s looks and my dad’s creativity. I’m not a musician like him, but I’ve always loved movies.
She closed her eyes, already editing, but kept going. He was your father. Be real.
“When my dad was on tour, he’d call and say, ‘What’d you make today?’ If I said I took a picture of a rainbow, he’d say, ‘I’ll bet it’s the most colorful rainbow ever captured on film.’ A total Dad thing to say.
“Fast-forward ten years later and I’m forgetting things about him. My memories are from my childhood and silly—his goofy laugh, his bag of laundry by the door, his voice on the phone. His cooking— everything had fruit, even spaghetti. I feel like he’s being erased like he was just a relative who doesn’t come around anymore.”
Her phone rang. She hit the end button to silence it, hating that it was now part of the recording. She cleared her throat and continued.
“I’m doing this film to find him again. Find him in me. I’m looking for answers from the people who knew him best, Benny Begara, Chris Cromwell, and Bud Gaynor of Ursa. Benny survived the accident but lost his singing voice. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his mind when he finds out I followed him here.” Her phone rang, again. She couldn’t avoid her mother forever. Shit.
Charlotte could have taught a course on how to hitch a wagon to the brightest star. Her mother called her a no-good dreamer, but Charlotte had always been a doer. She’d laid tracks in her Toyota Celica immediately after graduation. She’d given herself a year to become an actress only to find her high school drama experience a far cry from Hollywood expectations. Apparently, she lacked most of the skills required—a rude awakening that only made her more determined to gain access to beautiful people through other avenues. Cosmetology school was the smartest move she’d ever made. Hair, make-up, skin care, nails—all stepping stones to the entertainment industry. She’d get to touch greatness, help improve them, contribute to their success, and network her ass off. That had been the plan. Work long enough to pay off her loans, buy a decent car, some respectable clothes, and land a hot, eligible, rising star.
She got her license just as a chair opened in a salon near her apartment, but not so far away from The Hills that she couldn’t move quickly should opportunity knock. Chair rental was outrageous in L.A., and she had to work nonstop to survive.
She didn’t see Jeremy Nash coming. He walked in and sat in her chair wanting rock star hair. His soothing voice shot her grand plan right out the window. The last thing she expected was to fall hard and fast for a musician, of all people. A bassist even, who’d balked at the hundred dollars the shop charged for her services at the time.
“Musicians are slackers who are always broke,” her mother had warned. “Every teenage boy in America has a G.D. guitar gathering dust under his bed. Pretending he’s a Beatle won’t make him John Lennon.”
But Charlotte couldn’t help herself. His eyes, his smile, his voice, his song lyrics, just the idea of him made her salivate. Her mother had never taught her how to undo bad decisions. She’d followed him to all his gigs and still made it to the shop every morning, bleary-eyed. She’d finessed him into moving in with her. Even lured him home after he finished at the studio instead of “drinking it over” at the bar with the band.
She’d fallen so hard for him that she stupidly let herself dream of marriage. But Jeremy Nash had no interest in a conventional life, even after she was pregnant. She’d gone as far as making an appointment with Planned Parenthood to terminate the problem but then, thought keeping the baby would keep the connection if he ever made it big. He still didn’t put a ring on her finger. Jeremy had committed to the baby and loved Vanessa a thousand times more than he’d ever loved Charlotte, if he’d ever loved her at all. She often wondered if she’d ever been his muse.
The last time she saw him they’d had a horrible argument over something as small as Vanessa’s science class. Long suppressed feelings came out of him before he stormed out. Charlotte knew before the door slammed in her face that there was no undoing the damage. Her life as she’d known it was over forever. A few hours later, his was too.
Benny had done a walk-through to make sure the place was tidy before his client arrived. Then he took a deep cleansing breath. The sixty-five hundred square feet of black and white marble smelled like freshly printed money.
The foyer led to a circular space showcasing a Steinway grand that stood as regal as it would have next to Julie Andrews or Barbara Streisand. He stepped into the kitchen trying to ignore the sexy beast in the next room that whispered his name. He checked his phone for messages, and his watch incessantly before peering past the door frame a few times. Finally, he could take no more.
Benny removed his suit jacket and laid it on a pristine white high-back by the doorway. He stepped into the room and paced a little before facing the piano.
He glanced at the security camera in the foyer that faced the front door. No cameras faced the piano. The last thing he needed was to be caught pounding on a client’s treasure. It might have been a gift from Billy Joel. Nah, they’d have mentioned that for sales purposes.
Benny lowered himself onto the bench sideways. He hadn’t touched a keyboard since the night Nash died. Thought about it, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He felt as if he didn’t deserve to enjoy music anymore – his or anyone else’s. But it had been ten years, and the itch was one he couldn’t ignore any longer. He glanced over at the shiny keyboard fall. Don’t do it. But his hands had minds of their own and lifted the fall to expose the ivories.
Oh, there you are. The black and white jewels screamed to be touched. This beautifully crafted piece probably sat ignored by the film producer who had paid a decorator to feature it as furniture. What a waste. A piano was made to sing.
Did he still have it in him?
At his grandmother’s insistence, Benny started lessons at four. Even though he’d enjoyed the prestige and respectability, by twelve his musical motivation had shifted from pleasing family to getting girls. He switched to the guitar, which was portable, looked cooler, and didn’t get him chased down by neighborhood bullies for wearing a suit to a recital.
His hand reached out to the keys, only to snap away as if they burned. It felt wrong. He didn’t play anymore, didn’t sing anymore, and wasn’t a musician anymore. His hands reached and retracted several times until his middle finger pinged the C as if on its own. The reverberation filled the room with as delightful a sound as a giggling toddler. He’d always loved the key of C. Conviction gripped his shoulders, and he swung his legs around to center.
His client was as late as any other in her tax bracket. Benny was used to it. He certainly wasn’t stealing their time. One more glance at the empty spot next to his BMW alone in the entryway before the keys had his full attention.
He sucked in a breath, loving and loathing the familiar pulsing in his nervous system, warm as a shot of bourbon. The piano offered safety to overcome the stage nerves he hadn’t felt since the last time Ursa had played a packed house. He let his fingers run scales up and down the length of the keyboard. The movements didn’t feel as foreign as he’d expected, so he progressed into a couple of arpeggios until he fell into a groove.
Nash said, “Got your balls back yet?”
Benny looked up to see Nash; bass slung low, looking as if he’d swallowed a secret. His aqua eyes and pearly white innocence annoyed Benny. He had that look every time they went on stage. As he waited to hear Nash count them in, Benny’s cheek twitched as he threw another quick glance outside.
“Breathe,” his grandmother would remind him. “Relax your shoulders. Don’t lean.”
One, two, three, four. The opening drums to Bob Seger’s “The Fire Inside” had rolled through his mind before he played into his favorite rocking piano piece. His fingers worked the notes as smoothly as a dress zipper. His hands relaxed until they moved as naturally as when they’d played every day. He looked up to see Nash in his mind’s eye, as a younger version of Seger: long dark hair, goatee, leather vest. A blue spot shone on him as they soared like gulls enjoying an up-draft. Benny glided through the melody. Nash belted out the lyrics just a few feet from him. They were at the edge of the piano solo when movement in his peripheral vision stopped him cold.
Shevaun Michaels, the wife of rapper X-Pat, stood in the foyer wearing more jewelry than clothing. Ferragamo bag linked in the crook of her arm, hand resting on artificially enlarged breasts that strained every stitch of her halter top, the diamond in her navel sufficient collateral for financing.
Shit. He might as well have been raiding the fridge dripping water from the Jacuzzi all over the marble. And now, she’d spread the word about how sad he looked trying to resurrect a moment of his squandered youth when he was still able to produce a vocal. There was nothing more pathetic than having a client witness him struggle to perform. But that wasn’t the most painful part. He didn’t get to finish the piece. That was worse than unfinished sex.
Benny hopped up from the bench. “Piano’s tuned.” He didn’t meet her gaze but stepped back into his real estate agent skin without bothering to retrieve his jacket. “I understand you were in catering?”
“Shall we start in the kitchen? You won’t believe the appliances. The owner’s wife was famous for her parties. A restaurant walk-in . . .”
He stopped. “Mmm?”
“You get your voice back?”
“Ah, no.” He glanced at the Steinway. “Just noodling around.”
“Shame. I liked your album. A lot of R&B undertones.”
Benny nodded. “That’s very kind. We did two, actually, but the label dumped the first.”
“Really?” Shevaun glided to him, a model down a catwalk without the horse-like gait. She laid a hand on his chest. “Too bad.”
Benny’s libido was being played. “Rap’s king now. When does your husband’s album drop?”
“Who knows?” She reached up and loosened his tie. “They’re still in the studio. I stopped waiting up.”
“Recording can be grueling. Especially if things aren’t . . .”
Her hand dragged slowly down to his crotch.
“. . . coming out to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Her handbag dropped to the floor with a thud. Did she have a gun in there? She stepped up and pressed her chest against him. A common occurrence to which Benny had grown accustomed – neglected wife desperate for attention while spending her husband’s money.
“Where would you like to start?” Benny asked.
Her curves were well measured and her lips equally full. She flashed a wicked smile. “Show me the piano.”
Benny enjoyed nontraditional spaces. He gazed at her mouth full of unnaturally white teeth as she tugged his belt buckle open. Now, how to close the deal without her jewelry scratching the piano?
“How do you feel about handcuffs?”
Vanessa watched the house from the street wishing she could get closer. Neighbors might call the police, but she needed a closer look at him. Would he even know anything? Would he agree to do the film? Would he be willing to dredge up the past again or tell her to get lost? What could he tell her about her father? Did he know what her mother had been hiding? She would not remind him about the restraining order.
She looked over at his BMW and wondered if he considered it less pretentious than a Mercedes. There was a little sticker in the bottom corner of the rear window. She picked up her camera hoping she could zoom close enough to make it out. Might be a parking pass. The built-in zoom whirred brought the focal point closer. Vanessa grinned. An old Bear Square, the black and blue band promo stickers with a profile of a bear’s head, mouth open in a full roar.
Her dad had been reading a lot of mythology at the time he’d come up with the name. Ursa was Latin for bear. Then Benny created the Bear Square. They used to give the stickers away, hoping a few fans would make it an iconic logo. Once the band hit its stride, their manager charged a buck for them. He’d marked his Beemer with his square, maybe so he could find it in big parking lots, or maybe to tell the world he wasn’t dead.
Time dragged. Impatient, she shouldered her camera and climbed out of the rental car, careful to bump the door closed with her hip, so it caught the latch with little noise. She imagined her approach to be like the Pink Panther slinking across the street through the open gate along the hedge line, hoping there weren’t any nosey neighbors watching. Vanessa had no idea what she might run into, or what she would say if she came face to face with Benny.
In jeans and T-shirt, she stuck out like a cat burglar in a ski mask. She jogged to the east end of the house, tucking herself into the shrubbery, praying there were no sensors wired to a security system. The branch poking into her rib cage reminded her of how stupid this idea was, but she was committed. Logic said she should be able just to go right up to him, no problem. After all, she used to call him Uncle Benny. But if he contacted her mom? Big problem.
She still hadn’t dredged up the courage to tell her mother about the money she’d liberated from her trust. And Vanessa was painfully aware that her money had once been Benny’s, extorted from him in a lawsuit over her father’s death. Her mother would never have consented to her having anything to do with Ursa.
The sound of a piano caught her attention and drew her closer. She could hear it clearly enough to recognize that it was not from the Ursa playlist. Was it Benny or someone else? She had to see for sure. God, what if this was his girlfriend’s house? She was about to be a peeping . . . Tanya.
A door chime interrupted the piano. Vanessa’s heartbeat quickened. Had someone called the cops? She moved to another window trying to get a look at whoever was at the door. Vanessa tiptoed to the back of the house. The lovely waterfall in the corner made too much noise for her to hear anything. She edged around the stone pavers onto the grass to muffle her steps. The place was all windows. She couldn’t imagine why anyone of affluence who liked privacy would live in a glass house. Don’t touch the glass, she thought. Fingerprints were damning.
She crept as low as possible, ducking behind a stainless steel barbecue grill, then a lounge chair, back to a hedge. She dropped to her hands and knees.
Through French doors, she saw a grand piano, the back of a man, and a woman who was every bit as beautiful as Halle Berry with big autumn-colored hair and the jewelry of an Egyptian goddess. The way she held her handbag said that she was a visitor. And she was looking at Benny like he was a plate of caviar. Yeah, he was lunch and this lady hadn’t consumed a complex carbohydrate since the early nineties. She was chatting him up as if he were still famous.
Benny gestured toward the kitchen doorway, but the woman didn’t take her eyes off of him. As Vanessa got a better vantage point, she looked through the viewfinder. The woman was all smiles when her huge Ferragamo bag fell to the floor. She was probably older than her open midriff let on, married, what with the two-pound boulder on her left hand. Some poor slob was probably working hard to keep his adulterous wife in high-ticket costumes. Vanessa wondered what kind of car waited in the drive. She’d have to remember to check as she left.
No sooner did Vanessa have this thought than the woman tugged Benny’s tie off in one long fluid motion. Another move and his shirt opened. Then his hands disappeared inside her tiny wraparound skirt. She had looped the tie around her neck before he relieved her of the halter that probably cost more than Vanessa’s camera. Benny reached for his attaché on a side table and produced something shiny. Vanessa jerked away from the viewfinder as if her conscience had slapped her in the face.
Uncle Benny, you bad boy.
By the time she took another look through the lens, the woman’s hands were cuffed behind her back. Benny slid the bench backward with one foot and lifted the woman up onto the piano; her knees braced on the keys, her breasts pressed against the closed top. How was he going to . . . ooh.
Vanessa ducked away to get her breathing under control. Her face was hot, and the little voice in her head scolded her for being a voyeur. She usually heeded that voice. His behavior was probably nothing compared to what the entire band was doing at the height of their popularity. Did Ursa have a bear cave for this kind of thing?
Bad girl. But you’re young and lacking in practical skills. Who better to teach you than Uncle Benny? Sleazy.
But he wasn’t her real uncle. She didn’t wrestle with her conscience long before repositioning and looking through her camera again to see the woman staring right back at her.
Vanessa’s phone rang again. The vibration caused her to start and the movement gave her away.
“The back, the back,” the woman shouted. “Ratzo!”
To continue reading chapter 2 of Ursa Rising by Sheila Englehart, you can purchase a print copy at: https://smile.amazon.com/Ursa-Rising-Sheila-Englehart/dp/1535044446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472926859&sr=8-1&keywords=ursa+rising