August-The Summer Before
“Well, folks, Superstar is about to call it a day, or rather night as the case may be. But not before my Friday night finish. So to wrap up our summer concert series, KSTR is proud to present I-E-D! And I do believe their latest single has made it to our end-of-the-week Top Ten countdown tonight. For those of you new to the game, here’s how it goes. I’m going to play the top ten songs requested for the week and the first caller to get through the Listener Line with the correct answer to all ten songs and their artists wins a twenty-five dollar gift movie card. AND as an added bonus, the winner’s name will be added to the drawing to win a night with IED. That’s right, guys. We’re going all out on this one: dinner, front row seats, a jam session, and backstage passes to the concert Friday night.
“Hey, that’s not all. Zach Rohnan himself will be in the studio next Thursday evening with one of the most awesome and influential bass players in today’s music, Mr. Jason Maldonado! So fans and friends, be listening all next week. Kit and Kelly will be giving away tickets on the morning show, Rockin’ Roger will have some during his lunchtime time run, Bad Boy Billy will have a chance for you to win this weekend, and Wayne West will be registering listeners during the night owl broadcast.
“Wow, what a mouthful. Too bad I don’t get paid by the word. Eh, then again, since we are the rock connection with more music and less commercials, that might not always work out so well. Speaking of our sponsors, I do believe it is about that time. When we return, I’ll have the Top Ten songs of the week.”
Flipping a switch, Starr Jennings cut to commercial, letting the audio actors peddle the wares of popular advertisers. Mac Sherman, her producer, poked his head in the studio door.
“Hey, Starr, don’t forget to plug the new IED album. Maybe when you wrap up tonight, announce that Zach and Jason will be the ones drawing the winner of the promo.” The thick, black rimmed glasses he was forever misplacing fell down his nose and he pushed them back up in annoyance. He was what Starr considered an 80’s hippie. He had long light brown hair that was always in a ponytail hanging down his back and when he could get away with it, he was in concert shirts and jeans. But those days were drawing to a close. Mac had just been promoted to Assistant Director of Programming. In fact, the morning show personalities were giving him a professional haircut on the air the following week.
Mac hired Starr first as an intern, and then got her on the payroll doing the advertising traffic log. As she hoped he would, he noticed right away the coincidence between her name and the station’s call letters. She was pretty sure it had been a contributing factor in his decision to hire her. Two years later, she was given the overnight DJ spot and moved up from there. She was about to celebrate her fifth anniversary as an on-air personality. Ever since she’d landed the late afternoon/evening show, her career, and the station’s ratings, had skyrocketed. Mac looked at her fondly. She was not long for this place, he mused. This girl really was going to be a superstar, he just knew it.
“And we’re back. Number ten on tonight’s countdown is The Pretender by the Foo Fighters…”
It was close to ten when she finally made her way down to the lobby, purse on her shoulder and keys in her hand. Chester, the night security guard, wished her good night and stood in the outer lobby, watching her, as he always did, to make sure she made it safely to her car. She often thought it really wasn’t necessary since the parking lot was fenced in by a wrought-iron perimeter and the gates were “Security Access Only,”( i.e. requiring a code to enter or exit the premises.) It was also brightly lit, but should someone consider an attempt to shimmy over the columns of slim metal, the daunting spikes on top of each of them further discouraged such an endeavor.
She was usually able to park right in front, but she had to admit that lately, it was comforting, knowing someone had her back, so to speak. She couldn’t really explain it; maybe it was a bit overwhelming at times, all the publicity she got now. Her fan mail had increased exponentially over the past year and she had to maintain privacy settings on all her personal social media. It was true what they said, fame definitely came with a price.
She pressed the button on the remote to her silver Volkswagon Passat. She watched the taillights flicker and the alarm chirp as she approached the driver’s-side door. When she reached for the handle, she paused, noticing right away the black-eyed Susan lying on her dashboard through the windshield aligned with a wiper blade.
She looked around and saw no one.
Chester’s outline was still visible at the doors and she waved to him as she got in the car. Puzzled by the token, but not really concerned, she gave herself a mental shrug, thinking that perhaps she’d forgotten to lock her car when she came in that afternoon. It wouldn’t be the first time. And it had been a busy day. In fact, she’d had to go in early to do some promos and tape a couple ads, one of the assets of her career. In addition to the fringe benefits of working in broadcast media, she also got paid extra for doing radio spots for some of their advertisers. Anyone could have left the flower in the last eight hours, but she made a mental note to ask around on Monday. For now, she was just going to enjoy her weekend off.
Summertime was always the busiest time in the radio industry. With students of all ages taking a break from school, it was the most popular time for family vacations and her beloved state, with its Rocky Mountains and ski resorts, national parks and a dozen other adventures that Colorado has to offer, got advertisers loosening the purse strings. Many were even starting to capitalize on the maybe-not-so-surprising new and revenue-generating tourist attraction in Colorado… Being one of the two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Starr was often doing a live spot on the weekends, promoting a theme park or a bar or at a midnight showing of a blockbuster movie. There were plenty of free concerts and festivals and all of them had some public personality hosting or making an appearance. This year she’d hoped to go to Texas for the Austin City Limits festival. The popular attraction had grown so much in recent years that for the first time, it was being split over two weekends in October. She was lucky enough to do a series of live broadcasts from the Texas capital a few years back during the South by Southwest event that is held in the Lone Star State at the beginning of every March. She had entertained the idea of relocating there a few times, but her heart belonged to Denver. Her family, or what remained of it, was close enough for impulsive visits and that was comforting, especially since her mother’s diagnosis. Grown woman or not, she didn’t really want to be too far from her family so semi-permanently. Earlier in the year, Ann Jennings had been told by her long-time friend and doctor that she had early onset Alzheimer’s. It had been a crushing blow to Starr and her younger brother, Noah, who was now working on his master’s degree. She’d felt selfish, though, thinking of her own devastation before considering what her mother was experiencing. Although Starr had to acknowledge, Mom never recovered losing their dad.
Granger Jennings was a meteorologist, but had died while he was covering the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. What really sucked is that he’d survived the storm and the floods. It was looters that took his life. His murderers had never been caught, something that still haunted her mother. Her maternal grandparents lived on a ranch in Montana, which her uncle now ran, since her grandfather’s last spill off a horse required a hip replacement. Starr’s other grandparents were also residents of Denver, but rarely in town. Her grandma had told them since they were small, that when she finally got her professor husband to retire, they were going to travel. And travel they did. The last postcard Starr received had been from Ireland. Yes, she thought. Some day she would like to travel the world, but at twenty-seven, she had time. She couldn’t waste the time she had left with her mom, and the knowledge that in a few years, her mother would slip away, at least mentally, weighed heavily on her. Lost in her thoughts, she failed to accelerate at a green light until she heard the sounds of honking cars behind her. As she fumbled with the gearshift, her flustered haste made her stall out, causing more cars to honk. Ignoring the single finger salute of the driver in the car who swerved around her vehicle, she restarted her ignition and pulled forward, right as the light turned yellow.
“Well,” she told herself, staring at her blue eyes in the rearview mirror, “At least they didn’t recognize me.”
She hated tweeted criticism, and she already got her share.
Five minutes later, she pulled into her one-car garage in the three-bedroom town home she purchased a couple of years before. She stayed in the small suburb of Englewood, one of the many mini cities that surrounded the Denver metroplex. Pressing the remote on her visor, she made sure the garage door was closed before exiting her car, something she did out of habit these days, although when her mother had first demanded she take that precaution as a woman living alone, her initial instinct had been to rebel. But her mom was hypersensitive when it came to random acts of violence and common sense won out over adolescent protestations. This was her first home, her first mortgage, her first true act of independence. For the first time, she lived alone, no family, no roommates and she loved it.
As she entered the dimly lit kitchen, she immediately turned to the control box beside the doorframe, disengaging and re-engaging her alarm as she felt the familiar softness rubbing against her bare ankles. Tossing her keys and purse on the kitchen counter, she bent down and picked up her black cat, rubbing her face against the fur of the feline’s neck. Her own raven locks mingled with the cat’s and it would have been hard to distinguish whose were whose to an observer if not for the blond streaks that trickled throughout her hair.
“One of these days, Bruja, you are going to make me trip and fall. You could at least wait until I’m all the way through the door,” she admonished the animal.
“Meow,” came the response as the cat jumped down and immediately went to the sliding glass door behind the small kitchen table.
“Yes, yes. I know. You’ve been cooped up all day and want to go out on the prowl,” Starr acknowledged turning on her back porch light and opening the door. A small beeping sound came from the box on the wall behind her as the home security system acknowledged a breech on the premises. “Plan on being out there a while, Kitty. I’m gonna take a bath.”
Heading through a short hallway which skirted a small den, she made her way to the steps by her front door, kicking off her shoes once she moved from tile to the lush pearl carpeting that covered the floors everywhere except the kitchen and the bathrooms. Her room was at the top of the stairs to the right, the other two smaller rooms were above the kitchen, and garage and a guest bathroom rested about the middle of the upper landing. She had her own bathroom. The house was not large, but it was comfortable.
She was already pulling her shirt off as she entered the room. She went to the dresser and withdrew a some men’s boxers and a t-shirt, her usual sleepwear, and tossed them on the bed, along with a clean pair of panties.
Damn! she thought. I didn’t even bring anything up to drink. Or snack on for that matter. Glancing at the mirror over her dresser, she took in short inky hair with blond highlights, glad she sported the pixie haircut and noting the makeup starting to smudge under the sapphire blue eyes. Darting into the bathroom, she turned on the water and plugged the tub, adding a generous amount of scented oil before she decided to go back down to the kitchen.
This was the best part of living alone, she acknowledged as she padded her way back down the stairs in just her bra and jeans. Not having to throw on a robe when I leave my room.
Opening the fridge, she debated over the leftover Chinese or some cheese, salami and crackers. Thinking the cold option would be better with a hot bath, she grabbed the Swiss and lunchmeat, a bottled ice tea and a box of Wheat Thins, setting everything on the counter as she went to call her cat inside. Leaving the door opened for a minute, she turned and grabbed her makeshift meal and tucked what she couldn’t carry under her arms. But apparently after being stuck inside all day, Bruja was not about to make a short night of it, so resigned, Starr locked the door and went back upstairs.
Setting her snacks on the bed, she went and turned off the water and turned on the TV that sat on top of a display case across from her bed. She loved watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, but it was still too early so she removed the rest of her clothes, threw everything in the hamper by her bathroom door, and proceeded to set her little feast down on the toilet lid as she slid into the liquid warmth. Leaning back, she closed her eyes, only half-listening to the nightly local broadcast.
“Police still have no leads in the death of Betsy Wright, our dearly departed producer-slash-lifestyle commentator, who was so brutally murdered almost six months ago and today, Lieutenant Jack Draper announced that without further evidence, the case is on its way to the cold files. The station is still offering a twenty-five thousand dollar reward for any information that would aid in this investigation…”
Thirty minutes later, with her face freshly washed free of make up, and the salami breath defeated by a toothbrush, she nearly screamed as Bruja jumped on her bed. Scolding the cat playfully, a sudden wave of panic came over her. Alert now, frightened even and second-guessing herself whether or not she’d locked up during her attempt to call the cat in earlier, she grabbed the baseball bat she kept under her bed and slowly crept down her stairway. She heard nothing, but the dim house suddenly felt eerie, so she turned on every light on her way back to the kitchen.
Holding her breath, she ducked around the corner, the bat raised for attack. Nothing. No shadows, no burglars, no boogey man. The back porch light was still on and the sliding glass door was still locked, as was every other door, she found when she double-checked. But the real comfort came from the green light on the box by the door that led to the garage.
“Damned smart little kitty,” she said out loud. “She must have sneaked in when I opened the door earlier.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, she turned off the lights and headed back upstairs to bed.