“I turn twenty-eight next month.” The moniker carried by Jimi Joplin Jones, primary songwriter and lead singer of Leaving Alice, had weighed on him his entire life. His father, an alcoholic rhythm guitarist who was never within spitting distance of a recording contract, had hung it on him to spite his mother. She had planned to name him Gustav Heinrich Jones after her father, but a nurse handed his father the paperwork while she was in recovery following an emergency C-section.
Cyndi Shelton, a freelancer who wrote corporate copy during the day and spent her nights covering the Austin music scene for several fanzines and alternative weeklies, sat across from the rock ’n’ roller, scribbling furiously in her four-inch-wide Portage reporter’s notebook. “Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones. They all died when they were twenty-seven, but they weren’t the only ones,” she said. “There’s Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.”
“And Blind Owl from Canned Heat, Pigpen from the Grateful Dead, Malcolm Hale from Spanky and Our Gang.” Jimi’s knowledge of the 27 Club membership list extended across decades and music genres, and he knew the various causes of death, including murders, suicides, drug overdoses, traffic accidents, and diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
“There’s been some speculation—” Cyndi began.
He dismissed her question with a wave of his hand. “I’d rather talk about the new album.”
After three critically acclaimed but poorly selling albums, Leaving Alice finally had a hit on their hands. Four had spawned a single that had been hovering near the bottom of the Top Ten for the previous month. A second single had broken into the Top Forty the previous week.
“Okay,” she said. “Why now?”
“We produced this album ourselves,” Jimi said, “and the result is much closer to what I hear in my head when I write the tunes.”
“Rolling Stone said the album is ‘filled with raw emotion.’Do you think that’s why listeners are connecting with it?”
“I certainly hope so,” Jimi said. “I gave it everything I had.”
“I found ‘Mama’s Boy’ particularly poignant,” she said, “especially given your strained relationship with your mother.”
“I don’t have enough of a relationship to call it strained,” Jimi said. He told her that his mother ran off with a tax accountant, leaving his father to raise him, spending nights in smoky dives, watched by waitresses and bartenders and the drummer’s endless string of one-night stands.
“Your father determined your fate when he named you.”
“I doubt it.”
“He signed your birth certificate and your death certificate.”
“Only if you believe such things.” Jimi stood, stretched, and paced the room. “I’m in good health, I’ve never been addicted to drugs, I rarely drink, and I drive carefully.”
He took a bottled water from the fridge, opened it, and offered it to Cyndi. When she shook her head, he lifted it to his lips and downed a third of the bottle.
“What about you?” Jimi asked, turning the interviewer into the interviewee. “You dream of growing up to be Cameron Crowe?”
“I did,” Cyndi admitted. “It’s too late for that now.”
“You just need one scoop, one story no one else can get, and you’ll be the talk of the town.”
“If it’s going to happen, it has to happen soon.”
“What can I do to help?”
She was uncertain if Jimi was coming on to her or if he truly wanted to help. “Just keep talking,” she said. “You’re about to break big, and I want to be the rock journalist who ensures that you do.”
Over the next several hours, Cyndi filled two reporter’s notebooks and most of a third. When she finally left his home at three the following morning, she knew she had enough material for a major feature.
She spent the day calling all of her editors, pitching an exclusive interview with Jimi Joplin Jones, lead singer of Leaving Alice, but none were interested. The album had already been reviewed in People and Entertainment Weekly, and she had nothing newsworthy to pitch: No criminal convictions, no rehabstints, and no newly discovered love children. The most interesting things she had to report were the non-existent relationship with his mother and his father’s jealousy about his moderate success.
When she finished talking to the last editor on her list—a guy who ran an online fanzine from his mother’s basement and who never paid for copy—she threw one of the notebooks across the room.
At thirty-three and three months, she was past her prime. If something didn’t happen for her soon, she would spend the rest of her life writing corporate copy and dreaming of what might have been. Even so, she typed her notes, organized them by theme, and discovered a few quotes that, taken out of context, might indicate Jimi was suffering from some kind of depression.
She pondered that during the next few days, and while writing brochure copy for a gun range during the week following her interview of Jimi, Cyndi knew what had to be done to advance her career. She had to see Jimi one last time.
Late Thursday evening, Jimi opened his front door to find Cyndi Shelton standing on the porch.
“You turn twenty-eight tomorrow,” she said. “I wanted to be here for that.”
Jimi glanced at his watch. “That’s less than four hours from now.”
“Then I’m right on time.”
“Well,” he said as he stood aside. “Come on in.”
He offered her bottled water and she accepted it this time. As they sat in his kitchen, she pulled out a fresh notebook and began asking him questions about his rapidly approaching birthday. The answers he gave weren’t the answers she wrote in her notebook.
A few minutes before eleven, she excused herself to use the restroom and took her purse with her. When she returned to the kitchen, she wore surgical gloves and carried a .32 in her right hand, held low behind her right thigh.
Jimi didn’t notice.
She placed the barrel against Jimi’s right temple and squeezed the trigger. After putting the revolver in his hand, she slipped out the back door and threw the gloves in the neighbor’s trash bin. Then she returned to Jimi’s kitchen and phoned the police.
Cyndi was either going to become famous as the last rock journalist to interview Jimi Joplin Jones before he joined the 27 Club, or she was going to be famous as the woman who initiated him into the club. She was prepared for either.
Within twenty-four hours of the news of Jimi Joplin Jones’s demise, “Mama’s Boy” shot to the top of the charts and Leaving Alice had their first number-one hit, a posthumous success for the newest member of the 27 Club.
Although Michael Bracken is the author of several books–including the hardboiled private eye novel “All White Girls” and the young adult romance “Just in Time for Love”–he is best known as the author of more than 1,300 short stories. He has written in nearly every genre but has been most successful with women’s fiction and hardboiled crime fiction, two genres that couldn’t be more unalike.
Recipient of the 2016 Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in short mystery fiction, Michael is also a two-time recipient of the Derringer Award for his short mystery fiction, with two additional nominations.
Michael is editor of several crime fiction anthologies, including the Anthony Award-nominated The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods and the three-volume Fedora series, and stories from his anthologies have received or been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Macavity, Shamus, and Thriller awards.
He has contributed articles to “The Writer” and other writing publications, contributed a chapter to the writing textbook “Many Genres, One Craft,” is one of five authors featured in “Writing Erotica,” and is extensively quoted in “The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists.” He regularly speaks about writing, editing, and publishing to audiences across the U.S. and Mexico.
Additional information about Michael, including a selected bibliography and his speaking schedule, is available at: http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.com. He is one of a rotating group of crime fiction writers who blog at SleuthSayers.com.