An Excerpt from Crossroads
The new novel from Gwen Masters

David had been the first. Anthony would be the second.

Anthony Keenan was a magnet of a man, quiet and shy enough to make one think he was aloof, but with just enough of a sparkle to his eye to draw one in. The surety of always being uncertain of who he was made him intriguing. That, and those eyes. Eyes that could be seen from across the room, or at least from the tenth row when under a spotlight. Brown as Mississippi mud, dark as Kentucky coal. His drawl helped…deep and southern to the hilt, the kind of long twang that made women shiver.

But the guitar was where he shined, and the slide was good to him. By the age of twenty he was playing every weekend around his hometown. By twenty-five, he was fronting a band with a set of equipment that would make old-timers envious. By thirty, his song catalog was three hundred strong, held under copyright. By thirty-five, he had seen his fill of Music Row and no longer thought the politics were worth it. He had reached that point where a man simply throws back his head, takes a long drag of his cigarette and chases it with Jim Beam, and growls "Fuck 'em all." And means it.

That was where I came in.

Like I said, I'm not a talent scout. I'm not an agent, and I don't work for a record label. But things are not always what they seem, and so having no title is fine with me. Labels serve only to throw up boundaries where there was once wide-open space, and I like my air fresh and free, thanks. I suppose I would simply be known as that one person who happens to know everyone else. Like six degrees of separation, only with me, there are only about three degrees. And they are few and far between.

All this would be fine and dandy, except for one little thing. My problem is, I'm delightfully weak. I have a weakness for beautiful men and their sexy guitars and their oh-so-cocky attitudes. Put a guitar in a man's hands and watch his ego rise, I always said, especially after seeing a green youngster think he was the next George Strait. A man will never come to stardom that way, and that's just fine, because the best ones are the seasoned ones. Like aged wine, or a really good marinated steak, seared just right. If he isn't tested and scarred, then he ain't worth a damn to the Row.

But once in a while, someone comes along who has the talent. Who has been beaten down and battered by those Nashville winds. Who has just what it takes, and knows it, but damned if they are going to kiss ass to get the golden ring. Fortunately, kissing corporate ass and fucking a sweet redhead are two different things, and so…like I said, that's where I came in.

I had always been mesmerized by those handsome men who handled a guitar as if it were a woman, pulling every swell and moan from an instrument curvaceous enough to make any man hard. I loved everything about it, and I dreamed of life on the road. Of the grime and sweat and heartache, of the blood cried and tears shed over a dream that left you broken and with nothing but a bittersweet story to tell the grandkids. It was life lived in fast forward. And from the time I was no bigger than a guitar myself, I was hooked. I wanted to be a songwriter.

And now I write, but songwriting fell to the wayside when I discovered the joys of sex.

When I began writing smut, I was only thirteen. That should have been foreshadowing of things to come, no pun intended. I would write a sexy story, fill it with as much pumping and sucking as I could manage, then rip it up and hide the pieces in the bottom of the garbage can. After all, it was hot while I was writing with one hand and touching myself with the other, but what would the benevolent parents think? And so I taught myself shame before anybody else had to do it for me. Welcome to small-town America, home of picket fences and narrow minds.

Then I turned eighteen and all personal hell broke loose. I was officially an adult, so I daringly waited for a few days before I ripped those stories up. And I began dating a songwriter, of all things. The first time I had sex, it was on top of a piano, which is about par for the course. I think I was fucking his reputation more than I was fucking him. Which he didn't mind, because he got the trophy girlfriend. Not the trophy wife, because I fancied myself far too sophisticated for that kind of mundane atrocity.

After that it was a string of men, all older and none the wiser. Usually they were married, because I had a seriously defiant streak, curling deep inside me like a spiral of misplaced ambition. I followed one of them to Music City to do an interview with his producer. I had a plan and just enough audacity to follow it through.

I didn't sleep with the bigshot executive…oh, no. Instead I kept him up until four in the morning, picking his brain and feeding him just enough wine to keep him talking. We were seen leaving my hotel together at sunrise, and some photographer got a lucky shot, and that was my first brush with the gossip columns. I took the initiative to bitch out the columnist at a dinner party that I somehow got myself invited to, and saw her fired right there among the crowd of rich and famous. Thus, I garnered a kind of backward respect.

And soon after that, I wondered…why not stay where all my fetishes resided? And so, the visit to Nashville wound up being permanent.

I live in the high-class part of town, the one where the beautiful starlets climb gracefully into the limousines of men who have far too much money for their own good. You know, the part of town that is on the maps they sell downtown for outrageous amounts of money. A tour bus drives past my house a dozen times a day. I'm not one of those stars, but I know all of them. I'm that woman you know you have seen before, but you can't quite place me. And that's just fine with me.

Because it's not about me. It's about the men. It's about those dark and handsome Delta boys, those northern transplants who need to learn the ropes. It's about those diamonds in the rough, those beautiful flawed men who know their way around a guitar better than they will ever know their way around any woman. It's all about bringing them to your friendly local record store. And like I said, I'm the one who knows everybody. And anyone who says who you know doesn't matter…well, when their number is called, they are going to be having a mighty quiet funeral.

And knowing everybody gives me the stories…oh, does it ever. The ex-lover who is angry about the new lover, the new lover who is angry with the boyfriend for the ex-lover's antics…it's a sweet circle of lack of respect, and I put it all down on paper for the blushing posterity. Even celebrities can't get enough of themselves, and so they like to see themselves being celebrities. And if their characters in the stories I write turn out to be true assholes or bitches, that's okay. It makes them laugh, because they aren't really like that, of course. 

And of course, some people just haven't figured out that art imitates life. Or, worse…that life imitates art.

So I am, in a nutshell, the one that everyone wants to hate but really can't. I'm the one who writes about the petty divorces in a way that makes them more believable. I'm the one who reveals in an oh so subtle way that he fought so hard to keep that antique bed because she fucked the band on it, and he liked to think about it and jack off at the fantasy that had become reality. Or that she had plastic surgery not because she needed the boob job, but because Victor the dominant went a little too far with his razor blades. But damn, it was worth the twenty grand for a night! I'm the one who reveals more than they want to know about themselves.

And since I'm the one who knows them all, I'm the one who knows just who will fit in.

I can tell you from the first lick whether or not he's got it. And to this day, I have never seen someone who had more of it than Anthony did. Because Nashville isn't just the strings or the voice or the pretty face…it's the attitude. No matter what the hierarchy says, it's not the conformist who ends up on the billboard. It's the rebel who has abandoned the cause.

And Anthony was my new poster child.

Copyright 2004 by Gwen Masters. All Rights Reserved.