Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 29

It had only been two days and I was starting to go out of my mind. After a year with a schedule so packed that I hardly had time to sleep, I was now existing in limbo, waiting all day for Kat and Mrs. Philips to come home, trying to find something, anything to do. It hadn’t taken me long to realize this wasn’t the life for me. I needed to keep busy or I was going to go crazy.

Kat had done a good job of getting me out of the depression I’d been in since my mom died. I was still sad, of course, but I didn’t feel despondent anymore. Kat talked to me for hours on Monday, until late that night, and I’d even managed to finally cry about Mom. Not body-wracking tears, but enough that I didn’t feel so numb anymore.

The problem I had now was that Kat had gotten me amped up to take the fight to Mr. Campbell, the school, and the label, but that wasn’t something that could happen immediately. All of this would take time, and being psyched up with nothing to do is a recipe for restlessness.

When my phone rang just before lunchtime, I practically leaped out of my spot on the couch to answer it, desperate for a little human contact, even if it was over the phone.

“Charlie, it’s Arthur Eaves,” my lawyer said, actually sounding apologetic for once. “I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve been tied up in court since early Monday and had a hearing this morning I needed to prepare for.”

While I would have hoped that he could have found five minutes in the last two days to call me, I knew I wasn’t his only client, and I really couldn’t afford to alienate anyone else at the moment. As long as he was on top of my case and we were making progress, that’s all I really cared about.

To that end, I asked, “Did you have any luck with the judge about the pretrial release?”

“It’s not about luck with the judge. It’s a process. I submitted the request to alter your release conditions, as we discussed. I’ve also filed a motion for summary judgment to get the charges dismissed outright and have been working on the case we’ll be presenting to the judge. The court has scheduled a hearing for both motions in two weeks, which is unusual. Both for how fast it’s happening and because usually, the judge simply puts out a ruling on this kind of motion and doesn’t hold a separate hearing to gather additional information or to hear witnesses around it. They’re scheduling one is a good sign for us.”

“Do you think he’ll side with us?”

“It’s too early to know, but like I said, it’s a good sign. DA Campbell has reached out with a plea bargain as well, which means they might be worried, although the plea itself is a joke, so maybe he just wants the judge to think he’s being reasonable and overlook our evidence that the entire case is weak.”

“What’s the plea?” I asked, although I was already certain I wouldn’t take anything short of dropping the case entirely.

“You plead guilty to manslaughter and they request a sentence of five years maximum. Since I’m legally bound to mention pleas to you, there it is, but it’s a bad deal. I think, even if the summary motion fails, we’re going to get this thrown out in court, so any plea is premature.”

“I was thinking just that, although I was specifically thinking there’s no way in hell I’ll take anything short of dropping the entire case.”

“Well, things might change in court. That’s why pleas usually work. Juries and even judges can be unpredictable, which is why it’s usually best to try and stay out of the courthouse, and why DAs ramp up the charges to make the end result scarier. Unfortunately, Doug went way over his skis with this second-degree murder charge, so he didn’t leave himself a lot of room to up the charges if we said no to the plea deal.”

“Okay. So, the reason I called on Monday is that things have gotten worse since we last spoke. Kent Graham from MAC Records called me Monday afternoon. They’ve canceled my contract on the grounds that I violated the moral turpitude clause by getting arrested for murder. They’re mailing me written notice, but he said it was official as of yesterday.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Charlie,” Mr. Eaves said, sounding legitimately sorry for me but intellectually uninterested. “Morality clauses in entertainment contracts are common, allowing labels an out if an artist faces criminal charges, regardless of guilt or innocence.”

“That’s the thing: I read the contract yesterday, including that section. I read over it a bunch of times, and it seems to me that the way it’s worded it only applies if I’m found guilty of a crime that would damage my perception by the public. It used the word ‘convicted’ three times and never said ‘arrested’ once. It seemed really specific.”

“Really?” he said, suddenly sounding a lot more interested. “That’s unusual. Every one of those clauses I’ve looked at has always been clear that it only requires arrest for that kind of thing. Sometimes it doesn’t even need that and can be enacted simply after accusations are made. I honestly don’t remember the specifics of your contract, but remember that at the time I thought it was fairly boilerplate, so I’m not sure how well we scrutinized it. I’ll have to double-check. If that’s true, they made a pretty big error in drafting it, and an even larger one by pulling your contract under those terms, if that’s true.”

“So you think we might be able to pursue a lawsuit against them, get my contract back?”

“If they did make that mistake, yes. Although we can’t do anything until we get your criminal case settled. It’s important you don’t say anything to anyone at the label, or to anyone who might talk to someone at the label, until we do. First, we need to see the paperwork they’re mailing you. Telling you over the phone is one thing, but if they mail you paperwork to officially invoke the morality clause before you’re convicted, and especially if the charges are thrown out or you’re found innocent, we can definitely get some kind of concession out of them. They always have the option to back out of that decision though, which is why I don’t want you to talk to them.”

“But they’ve already pulled the contract and mailed the paperwork. They can’t change that now.”

“They can, actually. With most contract law, it’s about actual harm done. If they break the contract but then reverse themselves and honor it, it would be considered a wash, and the court would let it go, since you wouldn’t have suffered any real harm. If they’re warned, they can then find some other fine print in the contract to justify getting rid of you. I’m serious; don’t talk to them, Charlie. The number one reason I ever lose cases is because my client decides they know better than me, and say something or do something they shouldn’t, so you need to listen very closely to me here. Don’t talk to them.”

“Got it. Don’t talk to them. There’s actually more that’s happened. I was expelled from school for posing a risk to the student body.”

“Okay. I assume you don’t want to be expelled.”

“No. I want to be able to go back to school. If I miss too much, I might have to repeat this grade, and I really don’t want to do that.”

“There’s always a GED,” he pointed out.

“No, I need to graduate. I promised my mother, and now I feel that I really need to honor that promise.”

“Okay, we can see what we can do, but just like the record contract, we have to take care of your criminal case first. Once we’re out from under it, we have a lot more options.”

“Okay. I just wanted to let you know so you could ... I don’t know, start working on it or whatever.”

“Consider me informed,” he said, laughing at my choice of words.

“On the topic of things to do after my case is settled, I wanted to ask about the DA. Everything he’s been doing over the last year has to be, at the very least, against some kind of ethics rule, if not outright illegal. Aside from the drug charges, which he told a judge under oath he was still considering while telling you it was a mistake, this is the second time he’s prosecuted me without a referral from law enforcement.”

“I told you that, while rare, it does happen and is allowed under the rules,” Mr. Eaves said when I paused to take a breath.

“Twice to the same person in two months isn’t rare. When you couple that with refusing to file charges against his son, instead of recusing himself from the case, dropping the prosecution against my father for attacking me in court, and dropping the charges against Harry and his friends when they were on tape assaulting me, all of this has to paint a picture of a very specific form of retaliation.”

“They do, but it’s hard to prove what his actual intent was with all of that, and intent is what we’d have to show if we wanted to go after him for something like prosecutorial misconduct. Judges do not like overstepping their bounds and removing elected officials.”

“What if we could prove he’s been paying off school officials, who have actively been trying to get me expelled, the same officials who brought up the bogus drug possession in the first place, and who had to backtrack on it in the presence of the sheriff when it was proved they were wrong, even though I know they planted the drugs in the first place.”

“How could we prove that? Unless you have information I haven’t heard about.”

“We’d have to look into him. During a lawsuit can’t you request financial records? I guarantee the evidence would be there. You know him. Has there ever been a more egotistical man? He doesn’t think what he’s doing is wrong because he thinks it’s a crime to cross him or his family. I know his type, and he definitely wouldn’t think to hide his tracks. He’s too narcissistic for that. He thinks he’s untouchable.”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” he said, clearly considering it.

“I know we can’t deal with this now, not until my criminal charges are taken care of, but I’m tired of ‘laying low,’ ‘keeping my head down,’ and ‘being patient.’ He’s come after me one too many times, and it’s time I fought back. Against him, against Mr. Packer, hell, against the label. I haven’t done anything wrong, and yet for a year and a half, people have been treating me like a punching bag. I want it to end, and the only way that’s going to happen is if we hurt the people doing it enough that they won’t want to come after me anymore.”

“If you try something like this, and it doesn’t work, you’re going to have big problems.”

“Bigger than being falsely accused of murdering my own parents when the sheriff doesn’t even think I did it?”

“Probably not.”

“Then it’s worth it. They keep escalating, and who knows what they’re going to try next.”

“As long as you know there might be consequences to pursuing all of this,” he said. “I’ll start working on a complaint against him, although there isn’t much I can do until we actually sue his office and get discovery. Keep your expectations low on this. We’re not the police and can’t actually investigate him. We can only sue his office and make enough noise that someone with the ability to look into him starts paying attention. Once discovery happens, we’ll be able to look into his finances, which is where the real smoking gun’s going to be, if there is one. But even if it’s there, we may not be able to get to it ourselves.”

I realized it was going to be an uphill battle, going against Mr. Campbell ourselves, since he had all the power in this kind of situation, but Mr. Eaves’ warning actually gave me an idea. Not that I was going to say it out loud to him, since I knew he’d tell me it was a bad idea.

“I’ll also start making some inquiries with your school district about your expulsion. There, at least, we have some more leeway since I believe there are specific requirements related to expelling students. There’s a good chance they’ve violated their own policies, if not state law, and unlike the DA’s office, school boards don’t have the kinds of protection or power to avoid dealing with us. If we can get you acquitted or the case thrown out, they’re going to want to sweep it all under the rug.”

“Okay. I just don’t want to miss a lot of school if I don’t have to.”

“Be prepared for it. If we can’t get the case dismissed and have to go to trial, it’s going to be the end of the summer, at the earliest, before the trial actually starts. There’s not much we can do about that since that would still be very fast for this process.”

I was afraid he was going to say that. I guess I didn’t have much of a choice, but the idea of adding another year of high school sucked.

“And the contract?”

“I’ll look over it and see if you’re right. I’m not making any promises about it. These guys usually know what they’re doing and have good lawyers. Unless the exec who decided to pull your contract ignored them or didn’t talk to them at all before doing it, which would be monumentally stupid, I doubt they would have made that kind of mistake.”

“But it’s possible?”

“Anything’s possible. I’ll look at it. Remember, this is all just prep work. I’m not filing anything or making any moves until we’re clear of your criminal charges. Besides it being more important, all of these other things rely on you not going to jail.”

“I understand,” I said, although I wished things could be different.

“Fine. If we hear anything about your pretrial conditions getting changed, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, the next time we talk is going to be at the motion to dismiss hearing on the thirty-first. You don’t really have to do anything but stand there and let me argue our motion, but we’ve got a fair amount of prep work to do on our end. If anything else happens or you have any questions, you can still call, of course.”

“I’ll try not to bug you. I just hope we get this thrown out so I can get my life back.”

“I know. We’ll do our best,” he said, and hung up.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. There wasn’t any kind of resolution, and I was basically in exactly the same spot I’d been in before the call, but I still felt a little better after it. I was ready to start fighting back, and this was the first step.

I went through the rest of the week and weekend, just waiting. Chef still had me come out to train since there wasn’t a rule about being outside of a bar, and his apartment counted as a separate location. It was weird to not be able to step into the Blue Ridge at all, but it did feel good to get more training in.

Since I didn’t have anything else distracting me, he put me through more and more conditioning. I also found that if I worked myself hard enough, I was too tired to think about all the things that I was missing. Kat told me the baseball team had lost the last two games, and I felt bad about that. I’d worked hard to be part of the team, and their losing felt like it was somehow my fault. That wasn’t really fair, since we’d lost games I’d played in too, and I didn’t know the circumstances related to the losses, but I couldn’t help feeling the way I did.

On Monday, I was cooling my heels, tinkering on “Little Things”, even though I didn’t know if I’d ever get to actually play it on stage again, and working out some more when Warren called. Considering I’d been canned from the label and he no longer worked for me, I was more than a little surprised.

“Should you be calling me?” I asked right away, worried I might be getting him in some kind of trouble.

“It’s fine. Just because you’re not with the label doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to talk to you.”

“Okay. I wasn’t sure. What’s up?”

“I mostly wanted to call and apologize for how everything’s gone down. I hate that they canceled your contract. Yeah, it was costing money to cancel those shows, but you could have bounced back from that. You’ve made such amazing progress and even if you couldn’t play for a couple of months, I think your momentum would have kept you going. Hell, I hear your streaming numbers haven’t dipped yet, even though they pulled the advertising.”

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