Without Rob strumming on his bass nearby, the Sound Loft remained eerily quiet.
Michael Kay sat alone, rolling a small mirror ball knick knack in his hands as he thought about the events of the upcoming hours.
It had taken an hour of pacing, nail-biting, and constantly checking his phone, but he’d finally realized that he was beyond nervous.
Mostly though, it had started when he finally decided to look up the address sent to him by Denny late last night.
Smack dab in the middle of New York City, the address was none other than the towering building that was the headquarters for 5 Records.
What he expected to be a casual outing at a presumably nice apartment had suddenly become something far more unexpected.
For Denny to live in a penthouse apartment, in one of the most expensive buildings in the whole city, belonging to one of the biggest labels in the whole country? Those were all too many coincidences at once.
She was some sort of big shot, that much was clear. How else would she able to just drop a thousand dollars without blinking an eye?
He gulped at the thought of hanging with a rich girl like her. If he pulled them inside out, Michael’s pockets would probably choke out dust like a long lost tomb.
Paranoia surged through his brain. The minute she figured out how broke he was, she’d probably delete his number in a heartbeat. Michael worried over the thought, but he didn’t have long to himself.
It was at the fourth knock, and the sound of his name, that Michael finally realized someone was the door.
“Hey Mike! You alive in there?”
Calvin, he recognized in an instant. Michael hurried over, taking off the chain before pulling the door wide open.
Calvin was smirking, hand positioned over empty space for another knock.
“Am I interrupting?”
Michael grinned back, trying to wipe away his apprehension.
“What? No! I was just a bit lost in thought, that’s all.”
Calvin strode in, taking a deep breath as he absorbed the familiar surroundings. He held to his word that the place was still a bit too retro for his taste.
Still, it was their hangout now, and he couldn’t complain about free space.
“What’s up, Calvin?” Michael said. It was just the two of them now this Sunday afternoon. Aeris had work at Audio Empire, and Kim was out all day with a family friend.
“Nothing much.” he quipped. “Just checking up on you. Sounds like you got a lot on your mind.”
“Tell me about it.” Michael admitted, rubbing the back of his head as he and Calvin made his way back to the living room.
Calvin plopped down in the dark red loveseat, watching Michael as he anxiously sat down on Rob’s familiar coffee-colored couch.
He’d known Michael Kay for a few months now. The kid was usually always talking, always full of energy. To see anything otherwise made Calvin uncomfortable, though of course he wasn’t about to show it.
Instead, he put on his best concerned voice.
“Better yet, why don’t you tell me about it?”
Michael looked up. There was no debate in his mind as he began to share his plight.
“Yesterday, I met this girl.”
Calvin’s eyes widened, and he smiled.
“Oh really? Got a picture of her?”
Michael shook his head.
“Oh.” Calvin said, clearly disappointed. “Well, there’s plenty of time for that later. Anyway, go on.”
“She seems pretty cool. She invited me to hang with her at her apartment in a few.” Michael continued, and Calvin just became more and more curious.
“Her apartment? Man, talk about moving fast. What are you doing waiting around here for?”
Michael chuckled to himself. “I’m super nervous, duh. I don’t have any friends besides you guys, and I don’t want to scare her off.”
Michael looked down, only to feel a reassuring hand on his shoulder a moment later. He looked up, and Calvin gave him a knowing smile and surprisingly understanding eyes.
“Whoever this girl is, she clearly likes you for some reason. Go for it, Mike. Take it from me. There’s a lot of girls to pick and choose in the world, but there’s only one that’ll really matter in the end.”
Michael laughed in response. “Nah, it’s not like that. She’s being nice. I just don’t want to disappoint her.”
“Okay, well, nice or not, you’re worrying way too much. She invited you. You really want to disappoint her? Try blowing her off.”
Calvin held back a snicker.
“Not the best course of action. Trust me, I know from experience.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” Michael exclaimed, but Calvin was steadfast.
“Okay. Then prove it.”
The afro-headed teen stopped in response.
Calvin was right, of course. He wasn’t getting anywhere by sitting around at the Sound Loft. It was three thirty now, and Denny had said he was clear to come by around five.
Michael stood up. “Would you mind coming with? I’ve never been to 5 Records before.”
A bolt of lightning surged through Calvin’s mind at the sound of the building’s name.
An apartment was one thing, but the 5 Records building in Midtown was another entirely.
He didn’t show it, but Calvin wondered at the identity of this person.
Then he shook it away as quick as it came.
No, that was an absolutely ridiculous thought. There was no way in a million years.
Finally, Calvin addressed Michael.
“Sure. If it makes you feel better, I’ll tag along.”
Michael grinned in response.
Perhaps Calvin wasn’t completely unreliable after all.
From Rob’s lower Manhattan apartment, 5 Records wasn’t all that far away. With that in mind, and with time to spare, Michael had decided that a walk would be nice.
It was nearing the end of December, but thankfully, it was a pleasantly lukewarm day.
Besides, it would save Michael the two dollars and seventy five cents for a day when he might actually desperately need it.
Calvin and Michael walked side by side, passing bodegas and discount electronic stores alike in their journey up towards Times Square.
Calvin had remained remarkably silent as the two of them walked, leaving Michael to drift in his own thoughts for at least five minutes.
Finally, it was in listening to one of his many disco songs, that Michael finally remembered something he had planned on asking Calvin time and time again.
“Hey! Hey, hey, hey!”
Calvin pulled down his headphones, but it was out of courtesy more than anything. He could hear Michael just fine.
“What’s up?” he said, and Michael’s words came out like bullets.
“Last Record. I kept forgetting, but this whole time you were supposed to tell me what Last Record was.”
Calvin was only somewhat surprised. If anything, it was coincidental that Michael would ask that, when something in relation still hung in Calvin’s mind.
Nevertheless, he was actually true to his word.
“Ah, of course. It’s not too complicated. Kim mentioned a while ago that those two from Zero Beat, Helia and Renaldo, remembered you and your disco music. As out there as it may seem, Zero Beat doesn’t like disco music. Not one bit.
Michael almost stopped in the middle of the street from shock. “Uh, excuse me? That’s gotta be a joke.”
Calvin shook his head. “Wish it was, Mike. But ever since Highlord Funk’s curtain call at what used to be Gibb Stadium, it’s usually not wise for your health to run disco tunes openly.”
Michael couldn’t believe it. It was too silly to be believed.
“Oh, come on! They got something against one kind of music? Do you know how stupid that sounds? I mean, what did this Highlord Funk guy even do?”
Calvin’s voice was stone-cold serious as he relayed the next sentence.
“He killed more of their people than Zero Beat would like to admit. They offed him in the end, but he was sure to take another hundred of them with him. I heard his last song effect left a freaking meteor crater where the stadium used to be.”
Michael gulped at the thought. Suddenly, Rob’s words at being careful and non-descript rang in his head louder than ever.
“Disco’s just been a sore spot for Zero Beat for awhile now. But we just gotta be all the more careful, that’s all.” Calvin reassured, realizing the look of intense worry now on Michael’s face.
“Don’t let it bother you too much. Helia and Renaldo are pushovers, from what I hear. It’s not that bad yet.”
Calvin laughed as he continued, and Michael exhumed his anxiety as he also chuckled.
“It’s not like they sicced the Pop 5 on you or something.”
Calvin looked up, noticing the skyline beginning to change color as the sun started to set.
“Anyway, let’s pick up the pace. I’m supposed to meet Aeris at her work once I’m done dropping you off.”
Michael nodded, and they quickened themselves as they could see the towering buildings of Time Square just up ahead.
Calvin was right.
As long as he had his fellow Audio Knights with him, he had no cause for alarm.
As far as Denny knew, all three of the 5 Penthouse’s massive floors of luxury were totally and completely empty.
She’d only checked the most used rooms, but like all Music Masters, she trusted her hearing would pick up anything suspicious. Save the loud music that was constantly left on within Nathan’s room, Denny was sure she had the all clear.
She shook with excitement, reaching to check her phone again
Denny patted her thigh, only to feel it flat and empty.
She turned, eyes buzzing around with sudden panic.
She was sure she just had her phone a few minutes ago. Pacing quickly, Denny began to pop her head through various rooms.
Had she left it in one of them? As she passed through their game room, the personal theater, and the huge private bathroom that only Lily used, she worried that with the amount of rooms and floors in this place, there was a chance she’d never find it.
Denny passed by Nathan’s room, stopping for just a moment. Obnoxiously loud music played from within, as it often did even when he was nowhere to be found. It was his way of rudely reminding everyone of his existence, and a poster of a toxic hazard skull on his door further dissuaded anyone from going further.
She debated going inside to check, but decided against it. Behind his very much not sound-proofed room, the music hurt her ears so much she could barely focus.
And besides, there was that incident.
Since the last time he’d invited her to “hang out”, and she left him with a nasty black eye, Denny promised herself she would never share a space alone with him as long as she lived.
She sighed. At least she’d texted Michael the address, and hopefully he could get up here without trouble. Worst case scenario, the security desk would call, and she’d just have to come down.
Denny walked off, hoping to find her phone but knowing that buying a new one would be a trivial matter.
Little did she know, that once he was sure she was gone, the door to Nathan’s room creaked open slightly.
Nathan’s prominently pierced tongue slipped past his teeth, and he snickered to himself at his own genius. Music Master or not, this particular piece of music never failed to frustrate, annoy, and more importantly, distract. He didn’t even like this song; he just knew how good it was at pissing people off.
And what more was there to life than being the biggest asshole in the world? Touching up his over-gelled, spiky black hair, Nathan eagerly read through the most recent texts on Denny’s phone.
“Got a little dork on your mind, huh?” he said to himself, laughing at the thought. “From one obsession to another.
The name on the contact said Michael, with a tiny heart emoji right next to it. The name was certainly familiar, but Nathan didn’t bother to think over it too hard.
Instead, he had to stop himself from laughing too loud, lest Denny come back and hear it.
Out of whim, he’d decided last minute to not join the rest of the Pop 5 in Coney Island. Whatever Ripsaw was, he didn’t feel like being bothered today.
What he did feel like though, was spying on the airheaded dunce who’d painfully denied him tongue some time ago. Swiping her phone and figuring all this out was just icing on top.
Clearly, she thought that she could have her little happy date in peace, under the assumption that everyone would be good and gone.
Nathan clicked her phone locked, slipping on his converse shoes as the building lobby became the destination in mind.
This had become the perfect opportunity to ruin her day. The most appropriate payback for that punch in the face.
Nathan checked to make sure Denny was far gone and searching in vain, before heading out of his room and closing the door behind him.
He grinned to himself as he made his way to the elevator lobby.
“Ground floor, coming right up.”
Time to be the jerk that she deserved.
“What do you mean you can’t just call upstairs?” Calvin argued to the security guard, his voice getting progressively louder and louder.
Behind him, Michael looked beyond worried at the emerging situation. They were clearly making a scene, whether Calvin realized it or not.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the penthouse is for residents and pre-authorized visitors only. And I’ve got nothing today on either of you.”
“So? The guy’s got a date! You gonna just deny him that?!” Calvin said with sudden fury, but the guard remained surprisingly calm.
“I’m sorry, but without a notice of entry, my hands are tied. Now please lower your voice, or I’ll be forced to have security escort you out.”
He was stern now, and Michael got the message.
He put a hand on Calvin’s shoulder. Denny had not responded to four separate texts, and at that point Michael could only assume the worst.
“Come on, man. Let’s just go.” the afro-headed teen said, sounding very much defeated.
It saddened him to think he was dropped by Denny so quickly, but at least Calvin had tried on his behalf. And that at least was good enough for Michael.
Clearly aggravated, Calvin backed away towards Michael. Lest he ruin his chances further, he kept his mouth shut.
“Hey! Hold up a second!”
Calvin and Michael both turned at the same time in response, noting the newcomer who made his entrance.
He was shorter than them both, clad in mostly black clothes and bearing a large double-sided arrow tattoo on his neck. The smell of his powerful cologne and strong hair gel on his spiky black hair hit both Michael and Calvin’s noses with full force.
“Denny said you two would be coming.” Nathan said, unfortunately not completely able to hide the sneer in his voice. “I’m supposed to let you guys in.”
Michael’s expression lit up at the sight of this guy, and at the sound of Denny’s name. “Yes! Everything all right? I can’t reach her for some reason.”
Nathan nodded. “Yeah, her phone got dunked in the toilet. Crazy, huh? Anyway, follow me. I gotta grab some mail and then we can all head up together.”
That was enough for Michael. The guard also seemed more than convinced upon seeing Nathan, but it was Calvin who stood still and said nothing for the next few seconds.
His mind was trying to place Nathan’s face. He’d seen it before, he was sure of it.
Something didn’t feel right about all of this.
He’d had that bad feeling since Michael had told him they’d be going to 5 Records. Now it had only gotten worse.
“I’m good, Calvin.” Michael said, realizing his silence. “You gotta go, right?”
Calvin’s eyes shifted back at him. He hid the suspicion behind a curious gleam.
“Eh, she’s usually caught up a little late anyway. I don’t mind walking you up. Kind of want to see this penthouse for myself.”
Nathan just shrugged. “Hey, the more the merrier.”
With that, the two Audio Knights followed him towards the elevator, waiting in somewhat awkward silence.
He was smiling, but annoyance pumped through Nathan’s very being. There were now two Music Masters to deal with instead of one. The odds no longer tipped heavily in his favor.
But he was nothing if not a master of improv. What mattered most, was that he now had their afro-headed problem in the palm of his hand.
As they stepped into the elevator, Nathan kept his satisfied smile even as they descended down to the sub-basement level, where the mail supposedly waited.
Calvin remained on edge as they stepped out of the elevator and into a huge space that seemed more appropriate for underground storage than simple packages. His finger hovered by his pant pocket as Nathan led them along. Michael, meanwhile, remained blissfully unaware.
“So where’s the mailroom?” Michael asked innocently, looking all around him at the sheer size of this place.
Hundreds upon hundreds of boxes were lined up in aisles high above them, and the ceiling must have been at least seventy feet high. His voice echoed, and it became clear that they were very much alone down here.
Nathan snorted loudly, eventually exploding into laughter.
Michael was immediately confused, of course. “What’s so funny?”
This was all it took to convince Calvin, his fingers moving for his music player as Nathan dropped the act.
“You. God, you’re such a freaking idiot! You’re the one who’s got Denny all riled up? Unbelievable. I mean, of all the lame-ass morons she could have met, it just HAD to be you.”
“Who are you? What’s your game?” Calvin asked, serious now as he pulled up his headphones.
Nathan just laughed between words. “Oh man, why bother? If you were smart, you would have let your boy here walk alone. Then maybe you would have lived to see tomorrow.”
Without warning, Nathan’s expression shifted, and he bull rushed at Calvin. With surprising force, his head slammed into Calvin’s stomach, knocking him off his feet and breaking his focus.
“Calvin!” Michael yelled, down at this side in a heartbeat.
Of course, this is exactly what Nathan was banking on.
He grinned with clear malice in his expression, before reaching into his pockets and pulling out the most curious set of headphones.
They were small, orb-shaped, and stark white.
He placed them in his ears, activating their voice command as a pre-programmed statement slipped from his lips.
“Now I gotta crush you both. It’s gonna be big.”
Upon his second statement, his headphones responded, searching through his custom music player with blinding speed and automatically playing the chosen song.
Michael and Calvin could only watch in awe as the song effect took hold; a brazen pop-rock song they’d both heard on the radio countless times.
Nathan laughed hard, all awhile his clothes ripped apart as his body violently and quickly expanded. In the span of ten seconds, Nathan went from five and a half feet to well over forty.
In the process, his previous shirt, jacket and jeans practically disintegrated from the force of growth, while only his shoes and checkered boxer shorts expanded without damage.
Nathan bellowed loudly as Michael and Calvin prepared their song effects, ready for the worst of it as the titanic teenager now threatened to turn them to dust.
“Just wait till Zero Beat hears about this! I’m gonna get all the credit for killing you, disco boy! No need for no Pop 5!”
Not showing any hint of fear, Michael stood side by side with Calvin.
He was able to keep it off his face, but the blonde Music Master could now feel the most horrible shiver of fear crawling up his spine.
Still, as he looked at Michael’s serious expression beside him, he knew this was the wrong time to falter.
Calvin’s words came out with best confidence he could muster. “Not on my watch, Godzilla.”
Calvin clicked ahead on his music player.
With Nathan’s revealing words, his fears were now fully realized.
He could only hope he was on the winning side.