“A crooked man, a crooked mile
A crooked tooth, a crooked smile.
A crooked leg, a crooked dance
Got one thing straight, and it’s in my pants”
from “Crooked Man” words & music by Merola/Fairchild ©2010
Billy kept more things to himself than most people. He had a lifelong series of questionable friendships or “associations” as he put it. His friends were an odd lot and included musicians, waiters, officers of the law, a judge or two, assorted “associates” of organized crime figures, “professional” women, restaurateurs, sports stars, a Rabbi, luxury goods marketers, and even some Roman Catholic clergy.
His list of enemies was much, much longer. Billy had a knack for making cash while others were losing theirs and it often struck people the wrong way. His dry cleaner/bookie would no longer take his action or clean his clothes since Billy won big, betting on the Giants in the ’08 SuperBowl. The guy who sold Billy his boat thought he was selling it to a charity organization called “Save The Kids”……who wouldn’t want to help a kid? The guy who sold seafood to the S.S.Cash would always make jokes to Billy about Billy’s “bosses” and how dumb they were for paying so much more for his fish than any other client he had. Then he’d complain about the break-ins at his business and the always rising repair costs of his boat….both of which were Billy’s doing. Billy’s entire house of cards was built upon the false idea that he firmly planted in the mind of the mark …. you could take advantage of Billy Lightcap and he either was too dumb to know, or was too drunk to care. Neither of which were true.
The guys who wrote some of Billy’s newer songs were music biz vets who had some crazy stories of their own. “Cilly and Billy” were Priscilla Cyben and Billy Rubin. She was a singer/songwriter and he was a recovering alcoholic who had sidelined as a musician when he wasn’t on a bender. They would spend their afternoons sitting on the patio at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, after Rubin’s morning AA meeting, sipping whatever would last the longest and eating shellfish. They’d watch the regulars come and go and they’d enjoy watching the tourists gawking to see if “anyone famous” was around. They found this hilarious. They also enjoyed watching “poor” Billy Lightcap arrive and talk to the wait staff, reminding them that he was to be treated like a stranger…no “Good afternoon Mr. Lightcap” today. Then some sucker would show up and buy Billy lunch and hear his latest pitch.
After the pigeon left, Billy would order a bottle of champagne and wait for one of his “associates” to show up. They’d spend the afternoon planning how to get the most cash out of the situation Billy had just set up. These talks involved, but were not limited to: rainmaking schemes, rigged roulette wheels, stolen car parts, the stock market, credit card transactions, exotic animals, restaurant supplies, ethanol tax credits, and any other random way of generating a buck.
But one day the guy who came for lunch was different. Flip-flops, cheap cargo shorts, an old t-shirt. His name was Joe DeRosa and he came from the valley. Billy’s attorney, Roy, suggested they meet. DeRosa claimed he held down two jobs to keep up the payments on his small Studio City house. He had two kids, both of whom were, according to him, budding superstars. He sent them to a talent agency called “Those Rascal Kids” and the owner, Dick Charles, had told him so. Those Rascal Kids or “TRK”, set up a program of acting and singing lessons, photo shoots, recording sessions and screen tests. After six months and $30K….the kids were still attending North Hollywood High. Nothing had changed. They still sang and danced around the house, but the phone calls from Disney and the rest of the “Industry” were non-existent. Joey was unable to pay off Charles, the interest was piling up, and TRK’s collection agency was breathing down his neck. There was intimidation. Phone calls at all hours. Meeting him by surprise in the parking lot at one of his jobs. Even telling him what kind of car his wife drove. This was not new to Billy. He’d seen this routine from NewYork to LA. It was always the same….take advantage of a parents love and hopes for a kid. And then take advantage of the kid……..If there was one thing Billy hated, it was those who preyed on the young and ambitious.
Billy called his “lawyer” Roy and asked him to find out “What’s what” with TRK. He really felt bad when he learned that he had actually inadvertently profited from “Those Rascal Kids”, the talent agency. The owner was described to him as a “a manipulative fraud” who took parents money and robbed kids of their dreams of stardom. Billy owned the strip mall that housed the guys recording studio through one of his scrambled shell companies. Billy was embarrassed…a very dangerous thing for Dick Charles…so he started thinking of something to do about it. That is, besides paying the guy a visit and having him meet “the careless five”, which was Billy’s way of describing punching someone’s lights out.
Billy asked Jez Kitting, his “assistant”, to call and make an appointment with TRK. He asked her to pose as a wannabe singer who felt that her wealthy, deceased husband had never taken her dreams of musical stardom seriously, and she was looking for the demo that would finally launch her long-postponed career.
Jez showed up on time, parked, and walked into a small office building on Ventura Boulevard. The Directory listed “Those Rascal Kids”, or T.R.K.LLC.. She entered a small waiting room. She quickly got the gist of the scam just by looking at the walls adorned with Disney posters and photos showing kids walking down red carpets and smiling on stages holding little trophies.
The old “just one more recording session” or photo shoot or whatever to fill their “Talent Packs” or “TP”s as they were called at TRK. TRK would milk cash out of unsuspecting parents who thought little Teddy or Patty-Ann had what it takes to be a star. Some would take out loans or blow out credit cards, or worse, pay TRK in time payments. They believed in their kids and they believed Dick Charles (or whatever his real name was) the owner, operator, and Head of Talent at TRK. All followed up by submissions to casting agencies and producers and directors who never even laid a jaundiced eye on the TP’s which usually went into the “round file” for unsolicited materials, if they were ever sent at all. This was followed by the need for “one more photo shoot” then “one more recording session”. Then the disappointment of rejection…Followed up by a strong collection agency that made sure every penny was paid…or else.
Gertie, the receptionist, looked like an old hand at fronting an office. She also looked like she spent so much time in her rolling chair that it became a part of her. Jez said her name was “Lotta Dues” and Gertie rolled her eyes. She sized Jez up right away as a wannabe ready to give it her best, and judging from her age, last, shot.
Disappointed and nasty, Jez figured. She’d bet that there was a bottle of vodka in one of Gertie’s desk drawers.
A woman in her early 20’s came out, smiled and led Jez into a bright office, cluttered with TV and film memorabilia. This stuff would blow any kid away. Aladdin, StarWars, Nemo, and of course, “Frozen” paraphernalia and replicas. Enough swag to fill a pickup truck, autographed photos from stars and again….more shots of kids walking down red carpets. If it were only this easy, Jez thought.
Dick Charles got up from behind his desk extended his hand and smiled a smile so broad that it nearly closed his small, close set eyes. “Hi..Lotta, I’m Dick, can we get you something to drink?”
“Nothing for me thanks, I’d like to get down to business.”
“Oh ok…what can I dooyafor?
Jez couldn’t believe he actually said that! “I want to record a demo but….”, she looked around at all the kid stuff, placed her palms up, snickered, and started shaking her head. She was giving him “the pushback”, a technique designed to tell the mark that “Yes I have a wonderful thing here…BUT …. it’s not really for you”.
As he fell for it Charles’ entire tone and posture changed. “Ms. Dues, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Although the majority of our clients are tailored for a specific market, we here at TRK are professionals, and we possess experience and expertise at all levels of the entertainment industry. I’ve engineered and produced hit recordings, as well as sound tracks for numerous films and television.”
“Oh I like that” Jez smiled and kept smiling as Charles started pulling out photos of himself behind the board in recording studios like Record Plant, The Hit Factory, and Electric Ladyland. “I worked with some of the brightest stars of the ’80’s, (Charles was back to being a salesman, waving his arms around and smiling) and I’d like to lend that knowledge, expertise and talent to your artistic endeavors.”
Jez was trying hard not to laugh, but just smile, as Charles went through his spiel.
She told him, “I’m interested, but nothing’s free…what’s it gonna cost me…and what am I gonna do once I have my demo finished?”
“Well Lotta, I have many friends in the industry…some owe me favors.”
“Oh I like that” Jez smiled…it was all she could do to keep from kicking the guy in the nuts.
With the initial fee arranged and paid for (with a bad check) Lotta Dues, aka Mrs. Gladys Bunbury, aka Jez Kitting, was on her way to stardom! At least that’s what Dick Charles said.
TO BE CONTINUED…….