Excerpt: Identity Theft by Laura Lee. Ethan’s Chapter.

My new novel is called Identity Theft. When a bored young man working in a rock star’s office is put in charge of the celebrity’s social media, he decides to flirt with a fan in the guise of his boss. He sets of a chain of events he cannot control.

For the next three days I will be posting excerpts from the book– the chapters which introduce the three main characters.  I hope that you will enjoy them and consider buying the book. I plan to independently publish Identity Theft and I am taking advance orders to fund its creation. (More on this at the end.)

Spider Under Glass

Ethan Penn’s desk was right under the gold record. It hung a bit crooked, no matter how many times he tried to adjust it. He had some ideas about blue tack, it worked on his posters at home, but he never got around to bringing the stuff in. More annoying was the spider. At some point it had crawled under the glass and died. It had been there, preserved in the golden grooves since Ethan had gotten his job, about four months before. He looked at the dead bug every day. “Someone should get that out of there.” But it was Blast’s gold record, not Ethan’s, and he was not going to be the one to take it apart and break it somehow.

Ethan’s desk wasn’t actually a desk, for that matter. His computer screen sat on a door that was laid flat and balanced across a couple of two-drawer filing cabinets. He was the new guy, an add-on employee and his job was simple. He did whatever no one else in the office wanted to be bothered with.

His immediate supervisor was the office manager, Brenda. She was a heavy set woman in her early 40s. She wore her hair in a stylish black bob. She was a rocker, and she dressed it, and yet she still managed to stay age appropriate. So many middle aged women made themselves look years older by trying to look too young. Brenda did the bulk of things, she answered the phones, handled bookings, dealt with all of the daily mini-crises that came with keeping a show on the road.

She’d been with Blast for 17 years– since he moved to America from London. She had a crush on him, which she seemed to believe was a well-kept secret. She was happily married though with a couple of kids and clearly had no intention of rocking the boat. Another woman, Maggie, whose job was to line up free hotel rooms in exchange for advertising, told Ethan that Brenda once said she valued the unique role of being the one female friend Blast hadn’t slept with.

Along with Brenda and Maggie, there was a used-salesman kind of guy who sold tour sponsorships, there was an accountant who came three times a week, a girl who came in about as often to handle on-line orders for concert merchandise, and a business lawyer who came in when called. Ethan did everything else.

He answered phones and routed calls to the right people. He ran things off on the photocopier. He mailed off promo kits to theaters that might like to book a gig. Sometimes the guys on the road needed someone to take care of something personal back home in L.A. and a lot of those tasks fell on him. “I ordered this thing and I am having it sent to the office, and when it comes I need you to send it to me at…” Ethan had gotten pretty good at figuring out how to time deliveries so they caught up with people constantly on the move.

He opened fan mail and sent back the form letters and photos. “Blast gets so much fan mail he does not have time to respond personally, but he appreciates…” It was time consuming and only a bit more interesting than any other job stuffing envelopes. Most of the letters were predictable, “Your music means so much to me… it got me through a hard time…” Every once in a while a letter stood out, it was touching or personal or contained a request from a charity. He put those aside for the more senior staff to look at and follow up on. Then there were the strange ones: a woman who thought she was an alien and she and Blast came from the same planet, a guy who thought Blast was stealing songs out of his subconscious, a woman who sent a bunch of pictures she had made with Photoshop– the rock star’s head on the bodies of hunted animals. He didn’t answer those. They went into a special file, just in case.

The office was not set up to greet fans, but the address appeared various places and they occasionally showed up anyway. Ethan talked to them when they did. If they had come a long distance, as some had, he would give them a cup of coffee and chat with them for a while before sending them on their way. He liked the conversations because the fans looked at him like he was the luckiest guy in the world, not a stoner who still lived in his mom’s basement.

“How did you get this job? You are so lucky.”

He’d gotten the job through a friend, which was the way Blast filled most of his office positions– personal recommendation. Ethan spent a lot of time hanging out in bars with live music. He’d gotten friendly with a bass player whose best friend was the sound guy on Blast’s current tour.

“So drop out of college and spend your time in bars, that’s my career advice,” he said. It always got a laugh.

The female fans sometimes flirted with him. He knew they were hoping to get in with him to meet Blast. He wasn’t the type of guy that got swooned over. He was 22 years old, 6’2” and skinny, all arms and legs and knees and elbows. “Lanky” his mother called him. “Gawky” is what it meant. His nose was too big for his face and he had a mop of curly brown hair.

A lot of the visitors would follow up by asking how they could get a job. There was one guy who came in carrying a skateboard. When Ethan said they were all set for employees, he said “Can’t you fire someone or something?”

The most common fan question was “Does Blast ever come in here?” and its variants “Is Blast here now?” “Do you know him?” “What is he like?” “What is it like working for him?” “Do you get weird fans in here?”

“What,” he always wanted to say, “You mean besides you?”

There was one middle-aged woman who wanted to buy a Blast T-shirt. Ethan went into the back and got it for her. Then she wanted to know if Blast had worn the shirt. When he said he was pretty sure he hadn’t, she suggested that they could make more money if they had Blast put on all the shirts before they sold them. She also thought they could make a ton of money by selling locks of rock star hair on Ebay. This freaked Ethan out a little bit.

A lot of the time Ethan just sat around and surfed the Internet, which was what he was doing when his friend Ale arrived. (Ale was his nickname, earned because he had fair skin and the kind of blond eyebrows that disappear. Pale Ale. His real name was Lloyd.) Ale made the international gesture for smoking a spliff (two fingers pinched in front of the lips then moved front and back) and then pointed out the door.

“Hey, I’m done for the day,” Ethan called out to Brenda. “Taking off.”

“Bye, Ethan. See you tomorrow.”

When Ethan got outside he found Ale in the parking lot, pacing around his Kia.

“Come on,” Ale said, opening the door. “We’re going to the park. Sasha’s got a bonfire going.”

“Who’s Sasha?” Ethan said as he hopped in.

“Sasha. Come on, I told you about Sasha. The girl I met at the thing.”

“Right.”

“You’ve got to pay more attention to stuff, man.”

“So you’re really into this girl?”

“She’s great. You’ll see.”

“Will there be other girls there?”

“Not until you find one. Seriously, this dry spell is really pathetic. You’re the only one I know who can name drop that you work for a rock star and still not get laid.”

“I work for a rock star, that’s different from being a rock star, idiot.”

“Working for a rock star is close enough. I run the 1 hour photo machine at the drug store. Spend all day looking at everyone else’s vacations and birthdays. There is no way I should have more luck with women than you.”

“When you can only afford to buy her half a Big Mac, I don’t think that stuff matters much.”

“Sex power,” Ale said. “That’s what rock stars have. Who is Blast? He’s some dorky English guy. Strap on a guitar and rock n’ roll. Use what you’ve got.”

The friends had arrived at their destination, they followed a narrow trail back into a clearing. The bonfire was going full force, with sparks floating up toward the overhanging trees. Around the blaze were three plastic lawn chairs, two cases of cheap beer and a girl in a tube dress, squatting down to poke the logs with a stick. When she saw Ale, she stood up.

“Hi, Baby,” she said.

Her long, straight, brown hair was decorated with a a small braid, woven with feathers. Ethan could tell she’d had a good head start on the pot.

“I’m Sasha,” she said to Ethan. “It’s short for Alexandria.”

“How is Sasha short for Alexandria?” Ethan asked.

“It’s a Russian thing,” she said.

Ethan had no idea what that meant, but he nodded anyway.

“Come on,” she said taking Ethan’s hand. “I got some great stuff at Falcon Ridge from this guy who plays the didgeridoo.”

Falcon Ridge was a folk music festival held in Massachusetts. Sasha liked to drive around the country and go to stuff like that.

She pulled a glass pipe, a lighter and a plastic bag full of herb out of a little leather handbag. “This is called ‘paraphernalia,’” she said, holding up the pipe. “I had to buy it in New York. It’s illegal to sell in Massachusetts.”

“I think the pot is illegal there too,” Ale said.

“Here,” she said, handing the lighter to Ale. “You do it, I don’t want to set my nail polish on fire. It’s flammable, you know.”

“I think it’s only flammable when it’s wet,” Ale said. “They use alcohol because it evaporates quickly. So when the polish hardens, it stops being flammable.”

Ethan was surprised that Ale had given that much thought to how nail polish worked. Ale lit up, took a hit and passed the pipe to Ethan. Ethan went over to one of the chairs and sat down before taking a drag. Ale and Sasha joined him in the other seats.

“You know in England they call it nail varnish,” Sasha said. “I think they’re right, don’t you? When you varnish something it changes color. Polish is making something shinier. You don’t polish your nails. You change their color.”

“They also call cigarettes ‘fags.’” Ethan said.

“Cigarettes are kind of homosexual,” Ale said. He made a gesture that was a combination of smoking a cigarette and sucking a cock.

Ethan laughed.

“You’re being gross,” Sasha said.

Ale and Ethan looked at each other. Ethan could tell they were both thinking the same thing, “if dick jokes are out, what are we going to talk about?”

For all his bluster, Ale was just as intimidated by women as Ethan was, just as nervous about getting it wrong. Ale, though, would be curling up next to Sasha tonight. Ethan would be spraying air freshener, dropping Visine in his eyes and sneaking in so his mom wouldn’t wake up and see him stoned.

They popped open beers and smoked and talked about the fire, the leaves, and the music at the festival. Through some thin trees Ethan could see a group of girls walking around their own campfire, poking it with sticks. He saw them mostly in silhouette, he caught a flutter of long hair, a feminine hand gesture, a tilt of the head. He could hear their distant laughter.

In his imagination he went over to them. “Can I join you?” They welcomed him like the bikini clad women in a beer commercial. They were overcome by his body spray or his soap and they crowded around him to muss his hair and pose. There are guys who would go over, strike up a conversation, and still be sitting and laughing with them three hours later. Ethan was not one of those guys. So he sat, hoping that the girls would get lonely and decide on their own that they wanted to join his group at their fire. It never happened.

Instead, he talked with his two friends until the sun went down. By then they were pretty well fried and they sat for a long time saying nothing, gazing at the flame, listening to the crackle and pop of moisture in the wood.

“Why is everyone so ambitious?” Ethan finally said. “I mean, why, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, totally,” Ale said.

“I mean, all you need… all you need…” Ethan said.

“They want you in the game,” Ale said.

“In the game,” Ethan added. “Like all you really need, you know what I’m saying? This stuff.”

“That’s completely right,” Ale said. “I totally agree. I mean why should you run around and…”

“It’s a racket. A Communist conspiracy,” Ethan said.

“A Capitalist conspiracy,” Ale said.

Ethan was sure he had just discovered something really important but verbalizing it was too much effort, so he stopped talking.

“I’ve been thinking about that too,” Sasha said, without looking at either of the guys. “It’s not about money and power. Rich and famous. We’re all art.” She was waving her hands in front of her face in a slow sweeping gesture. “God is an artist, and we’re all his art. He sat down and sketched us and sculpted us. Art doesn’t have to do anything. It just has to be.”

“That is the deepest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” Ale said.

“He must have been in a Picasso mood when he sketched my face,” Ethan said. No one laughed. At first Ethan was annoyed. Then he thought if they didn’t laugh, maybe it wasn’t a joke. Maybe all the ugly people were some kind of abstract masterpieces.

As if reading his mind Sasha said, “To God, it’s all beautiful.”

Ethan thought they had just stumbled onto the very meaning of existence. They held the key to something profound everyone else had lost.

Then he wondered if you could go to hell for wanting to bang your best friend’s girl.

——–

I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Identity Theft by Laura Lee. Would you like to read more? Please visit Pubslush and place an order. The funding levels I have chosen correspond to the cover price of the book, so you will not only get an autographed book at the regular cover price, your order now will allow the book to be produced to professional quality. You will make its production possible. I am pleased to say that as of today the project is 24% funded, but it has a long way to go. Pubslush is an all or nothing crowdfunding platform, so if the campaign fails to reach its goal I will not receive any funding. You will not need to make a payment unless the campaign is successful. It is set to wrap up in 15 days.

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