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Cafton Merriepennie is smart, compassionate, loyal, eccentric, and reclusive. He is also the preeminent songwriter in Nashville in the late 1960s.
His childhood in a small Alabama town was tumultuous at best, treacherous at worst. When his mama was electrocuted on a honky-tonk stage, fifteen-year-old Cafton was on his own. Due to his grit and wits, he overcomes all odds and lands in Nashville, determined to fulfill his mama’s dream of becoming famous.
And his plans are successful — until the bodies of three female songwriters who worked in his club are found in his best friend and business partner’s hometown, and the police come knocking on Cafton’s door in the middle of the night and haul away a beaten and bloodied suspect. The spotlight may have shifted to Cafton and his friend in the murder investigation, but nothing is that simple or easy in the music industry.
“Hey, Cafton. I wrote your obit today.” Marty grinned, peering over his heavy black-rimmed glasses. “I said you were one of Nashville’s iconic success stories, an inspiration to all those wide-eyed dreamers who migrate to Nashville to see their name inscribed in gold records and to hear themselves on the radio.”
“Well, thank you for those kind words, Marty. My mama used to always say that you’re more famous when you die than when you’re drawing breath,” Cafton drawled, flipping a coffee cup onto the bar in front of Marty, filling it half way with black coffee, and topping it off with vintage bourbon.
Marty Schwartz, a reporter at the Nashville Banner, the redheaded, conservative, afternoon stepchild newspaper to the morning’s The Tennessean, was a pragmatic drunk. Marty called his signature libation a Black Jack—equal parts hot black coffee and bourbon. Marty thought the two ingredients would offset each other so he could drink and work at the same time. A good belt of coffee with the bourbon would keep him sharp and cover the booze on his breath, or so he thought.
“Stop being so damn humble.” Marty scowled, noisily slurping his steaming concoction. “You’ve been the hottest songwriter in this town for years. You came, you saw, you conquered. No one has ever seen someone have so many hit songs so quickly before. Since 1968, you’ve had four chart-toppers in the last five years. People would kill to be in your shoes. In fact, people have killed to be in your shoes.”
Cafton dropped the shot glass he was cleaning. “’Scuse me. Got a case of the dropsies today. Speaking of death, do you know something I don’t know that prompted you to write my obituary? It’s not like I’m Methuselah, ya know.”
“Nah, the paper has us write stock obits for prominent people. That way we’re not on such a deadline when they drop dead.” Marty smirked at his own pun, which Cafton ignored. “When the obit assignments came out for the day, your name was up, so to speak.”
“How lucky for me.” Cafton sighed.
“Hey, at least you get an obit. Now that I’m an obituarist, I think a lot about people and their lives and what I’d write in their obits. Then I think about all the poor schmucks who croak and don’t get their final history written.” Marty took a sip of his Black Jack and held it in his mouth a minute to extract the full buzz and mellow. The warmth of the alcohol and steaming coffee spread across the roof of his mouth like caffeinated lava. It felt good. Calming. Steadying. Three more of these and he would be a wide-awake drunk. Just the perfect state for a bored reporter.
He slowly took off his glasses and carefully waved them over his cup. The near-toxic vapor moistened the thick lenses. He then methodically wiped the lenses dry with his rumpled paisley tie. Without his glasses, Marty looked like a beady-eyed rodent sporting a greasy Elvis wig. With the glasses on, he looked like a university professor sporting a greasy Elvis wig. Neither particularly appealed to Cafton’s sense of aesthetics.