by Daniel C. Smith
Standing alone, center stage before a hundred thousand screaming
fans in Wembley Stadium, Quinton Devlin was blowing his syntar solo.
He was too inebriated to know it, though, his veins too full of only
God knows what. Just like the all the kids worshipping at his feet
right now--too high to care that the notes were wrong, the sloppy chord
progression a wayward train of thought which only Devlin's drug-addled
brain knew the destination of, if any.
It was Quinton Devlin, and that's all that mattered.
Watching the charade from the wings, Devlin's manager, Roger Zimmer,
felt nauseous. He hated to see this happen, again, but asking Devlin to
give up drugs was like asking anyone else to give up breathing, and no
one knew that better than Epstein; he had been with Devlin since the
beginning--he got Devlin his first real, good paying
gig--playing lead for the biggest Lady GaGa impersonator on the New Las
Vegas Strip. He helped Devlin put together his first band, at least as
he remembered history. In reality, he had merely brought a bunch of
amplifiers and other sound gear while allowing a long list of transient
musicians to call his basement home until he and Devlin found what they
considered 'the right mix'.
And of course, that Lady GaGa impersonator was his cousin, and
although he never talked about it and he certainly never reminded
Quinton, he was the one who turned Devlin on for the very first time.
Still, he felt Devlin owed him something more than almost half and he
took it personally every time the 'Maestro' junked himself out on
whatever new drug happened to hit the streets that week.
It's time, Zimmer thought. Again.
With a well-coordinated series of blinks, he activated his NetCruzer eyeglasses, and within seconds the rest of Quinton Devlin's Assault on Human Decency tour had been cancelled.
Tonight, Quinton Devlin would get clean.
The band could use some time off, and by the holiday's we'll re-launch our assault on human decency, he told himself, louder and more indecent than ever--not to mention more profitable.
On stage, Devlin's assault on logical chord progressions and
sensible melody had blessedly come to an end. The kids wanted an
encore, but Zimmer had canceled that when he cancelled the rest of the
tour. They would play a holo-vid, and tomorrow morning ninety-nine
percent of them wouldn't remember the difference.
Backstage the synth-bopper and the bastik player said nothing as
they packed their gear, and the percussasynthist only rolled her eyes
at Zimmer as she made her way out the door. Epstein knew that their
irritation was, for the most part, mere pretense. They all looked
forward to the new, clean Devlins, just like he did, every time--just
as they all eventually burned out on each new Devlin's inevitable
collapsing personality and downward spiral into addiction.
But each new Devlin approached playing just a little bit
differently, and each new Devlin would re-inspire his band mates, each
time propelling them to new heights of virtuosity.
Each new Devlin.
Of course, Epstein didn't really mind these little interruptions, either. After all, each new
Devlin, with his recalculated methodology and rejuvenated work ethic,
always produced a new best seller of which Zimmer got forty percent.
Right off the top. Most managers only get ten percent, like the church,
but, as he was always reminding Quinton and the band, most managers
aren't Roger Epstein.
How many times has it been now, he wondered as he joined the world's greatest syntar player on the band's private jet.
Seven? Eight? Fifteen?
"You know where, Benny," was all he needed to say to the pilot and
he and Quinton Devlin were headed for a very private clinic in Banff.
For the seventh, eighth, or maybe even the fifteenth time.
Somewhere over Alberta during the descent from ninety thousand feet,
Devlin raised his head and spoke, "Home? Are we going home Roger?"
Home? "Yeah Quinton, we're going... home--in fact we're
almost there--another five minutes. Pretty soon you'll be feeling all
better," Zimmer said.
Then without warning Devlin dropped his head back down again,
letting it dangle helplessly off of the end of his neck, swaying back
and forth like a poppy flower riding on the breeze. Sitting there
staring at the hollowed-out husk of a once vibrant and creative human
being, Zimmer reached this conclusion: I need a drink.
* * *
They touched down in Banff and awaited the clinic staff to help
transport Devlin inside. Zimmer, finishing his third cognac, asked
himself: Am I a murderer?
Cloning was perfectly legal--in some countries. Dreadfully illegal
in others--that's what had brought them to the Canadian Rockies. The
clinic in Banff was notoriously discrete. Only a dozen or so people
knew that Quinton Devlin had been cloned several times, and as they
were all deeply and personally vested in Devlin's success, no more than
a dozen or so people would ever know the truth, and none of them would
Still, it was a complicated issue--at least from a metaphysical
standpoint--one that Epstein had usually been able to ignore, but this
Devlin--there had been something different about him right from the
start, more so than all of the others put together. They were all
different, just a little, personality wise, habit wise, even
differences in the preferences of food.
Three Devlin's back the boy couldn't get enough fish and chips; today's Devlin was allergic to seafood.
This Devlin didn't even want to get high at all at first, but,
believe it or not, life at the top can be pretty stressful. Eventually
he succumbed--it was his nature--and when teenage girls are willing to
shimmy up twenty-five stories of drainpipe to steal your underwear, the
resulting hours of introspection can leave one desperate for escape.
The scientists told him that these differences were to be expected--perfectly normal. Genetic drift they called it.
But genes aren't supposed to drift... a clone is supposed to be a perfect replicant...
Which raised the issue: is each Devlin someone knew, an individual
in his own right, or just another installment in the continuum of one
If each Devlin was someone knew, then indeed Roger Zimmer was a murderer.
Dr. Paris McKenzie, followed by two nurses, entered the cabin.
"Good day, Mr. Zimmer, hitting the cognac a little early aren't we?"
"It was evening a few minutes ago in England, Doc."
"Hmm." She watched with some detachment as the two nurses dragged
Devlin's almost limp hunk of flesh past. "He's really wasted this time.
What's he on today? I hope it's not that new thing, what do they call
it? ZOMBIE I think, it really has a negative effect on the areas of the
brain most responsible for..."
"Not sure that it matters, huh, Doc? An hour from now and he'll be all clean."
McKenzie smiled, "Or someone will be all clean."
McKenzie knew the spiritual issues that Epstein sometimes wrestled
with, or at least obsessed over when he brought Devlin in for...
Watching her lustfully as she walked away, Zimmer reached another conclusion: Another drink wouldn't hurt.
* * *
For some reason Dr. McKenzie had insisted that Zimmer sit with
Devlin while the team prepped what she referred to as 'the bay', which
was all Zimmer wanted to know about anything beyond the waiting room.
"In case he becomes lucid, you can calm him," she smiled.
The two of them sat across form each other, Devlin nodding in and
out of reality and Zimmer wondering why they didn't have a bar in the
waiting room. His thoughts wandered and he found himself thinking how
relieved he was that this Devlin had run its course; something about
this particular... installment. A little too independent, too... deep.
Yeah, too deep.
Devlin interrupted his reverie, "Does my soul get cloned as well Roger?"
"You've never mentioned... any such spiritual notions before, Quinton. Why now?'
Devlin struggled to express himself, "That's what I mean. I never
cared about it before--and now I do. I used to love fish and chips, now
I'm allergic to seafood--am I someone different? Or am I the same
Quinton Devlin you brought here the first time back in '37? Do you even
know, Roger? Or care?"
"Quinton, I think the sedatives are taking effect--why don't we have this conversation later?"
"You mean after I'm out of the hospital?"
"This isn't a hospital, Quinton."
"It's full of doctors and nurses..."
"Mmm... yes, and sometimes I cook dinner in my kitchen but my
apartment is not a restaurant." Zimmer was growing irritated. He had
never liked having to explain himself to anyone.
What's taking them so damn long to come and get him?
Devlin struggled to focus on the man sitting only a couple feet from
him--his mind clouded by chemicals, an yet somewhere in that fog he
decided that he no longer recognized his friend and manager, Roger
The man had changed.
Or had he?
How come I couldn't see it before? Or was it me before? Maybe I see it now 'cause I'm different...they're going to kill me...
Out of nowhere Devlin blurted, "You got me high the first time--remember that?"
This was a subject that had never been broached, at least between
the two of them, and had Zimmer had his druthers, it would have
Roger squirmed in his chair.
None of the others ever brought that up, he thought.
Then Devlin asked, "What's going to happen to me?"
None of the others ever brought that up, either.
"For you Quinton, it'll be like going to sleep. When you wake up, you'll be in a new body..."
"But it won't be me... it'll be some other me... someone else... which means I'm going to die..."
Zimmer felt more than grateful that the nurses chose that moment to
come for their patient; saved by the bell, so to speak, but before
Devlin and the nurses disappeared around the corner, the world's
greatest syntar player turned to Zimmer one last time and said, "It was
you--the first time--the one that turned me on for the first time--it
* * *
Zimmer passed the time crashed on the waiting room sofa. He awoke to
Dr. McKenzie's smug and smiling face telling him that the 'Maestro' was
awake and wished to see him.
"Sure, doc, sure. Lead the way."
She took him to Devlin's room, her smile only getting wider and more obnoxious as they entered.
"I'll leave you two alone," she said, still smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
And now Epstein could see why. He thought surely that he was dreaming, trapped in some nightmare that he couldn't wake up from.
Quinton Devlin stood before him, minus his left hand.
"My God Quinton--your hand, man! Your goddamn hand!"
Devlin said, "I guess my time at the top is over."
"They amputated your hand Quinton..."
"I asked them to," Devlin said.
"What? For God's sake why?" This isn't happening... he's insane!
Devlin laughed, "For God's sake--maybe that's your answer right there, Roger."
"What kind of hospital cuts off a man's hand, Devlin? What in hell..."
"This isn't a hospital, Rog, remember? Their guiding star is the
profit motive--certainly, you can understand that? When I told 'em that
this would be their last chance to make any money off of me, they took
Zimmer tried to regain the upper hand, tried to sound authoritative, "I'll just have you cloned again..."
Devlin laughed, "In this country a person has to be terminally ill,
grossly overweight, or strung out on dope to qualify for cloning, and
I'm healthy, not the slightest bit overweight, and--most important--I'm
straight. Your authority over me ended with my sobriety. I was in
complete control of my faculties when I asked them to..."
Zimmer nearly screamed, "What the hell are you going to do? You
can't live unless you're on top of the world, kids scampering at your
feet, begging for autographs and sex. That's who you are, Quinton
Devlin. It's who you were meant to be... you can't live without being a
"What I was meant to be was a musician, it's all I ever wanted, and
that's what I am. I can still write songs, compose, I even sing.
Remember that best vocal Grammy? Maybe I'll produce. Point is--I've
broken your obscene cycle of clones--and I can still contribute
something to the music scene--and I will. I'll leave quite an
impression--maybe it'll be legendary, maybe not, and that's going to
have to be enough. So I'm not the hottest syntar player in the universe
anymore--turn the page, Roger. And uh, by the way, you're fired."
But Zimmer still refused to accept what was happening, what Devlin had done--the finality of it.
"Your hand..." he whimpered.
And that is how Devlin left him, simpering on the floor, repeating
the words over and over, perhaps for hours until a nurse brought him
back to reality by asking him if he needed a tranquilizer.
"You people cut off his hand," he cried.
"Well! I am going to retrieve a security guard, sir, I suggest..."
"I'm leaving, bitch. What're going to do, cut off my goddamn hand?" he screamed the last three words.
Walking the streets, Zimmer realized how many things he had taken
for granted over the last ten years--limos, strato-jet travel, first
class living, women. He had it all, or at least forty percent of it
all, and forty percent of kajillions is enough when you consider that
he never really had to work for it.
Facing life without a meal ticket, literally for the first time in his life, Roger Zimmer reached yet another conclusion: I need to go on a bender.
* * *
A few weeks later, he found himself in New York City, a seedy little
bar off Christopher Street down in the village. He was coming closer to
sobering up than he cared to admit and ordered a beer and two shots.
Looking around he decided that he fit right in with the clientele, an
assortment of pimps, dope dealers, petty thieves, and a few music
company executives that he recognized.
He downed the shots and half the beer and stood up to go say hello
and something like 'yeah I'm free of Devlin now... had to cut him
loose... yeah kind of bored... well maybe I could do some work for your
company... freelance--just temp see? I got some things cooking... big
things... sure I'll remember you--in this biz we take care of our own,
blah, blah, blah, etcetera' when spotlights lit up the stage and a deep
dark voice bellowed: "Laaadies and gennntlemen! All the way from Belfast, Ireland (in phony accent), put your hands together for Rory Sullivan and the I-R-A!"
The room thumped to life, the walls suddenly breathing in and out in
time with the impossibly tight syncopation of light and sound taking
Zimmer stood there mesmerized.
The band could be described as precise, well practiced, very professional.
In other words: Marketable. Profitable.
They were all wearing black and yellow striped jerseys that said 'International Rugby Association'.
That's cute, he thought. More musicians could use a sense of humor.
But more important than being cute, the band was literally on fire,
cutting loose with a monstrous jam so vicious by law it should've been
on a leash.
Especially the syntarist. He counted the influences: good old
fashioned rock and roll, hillbilly blues, country Jesus, neo-classical
jazzy fusion with an undercurrent of obnoxious Irish folk...
Not easy to pigeonhole the sound--he liked that. He sat back down.
No need to go groveling to those low-life A & R bastards just yet.
Hmmm... Rory Sullivan... the kid's got some chops--they could use a better bastik player--I wonder if the kid likes to get high?
© 2017 Daniel C. Smith
Bio: Smith lives in Colorado Springs and has had numerous
publications in the small and independent presses. His first short
collection, Nano-Bytes, is available in print and electronic
form from Nomadic Delirium Press (www.nomadicdeliriumpress.com). Look
for more eBooks and chapbooks in the near future.
E-mail: Daniel C. Smith
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