Music City Madness: Chapter 85

Leland waited inside a construction trailer with his tool belt around his waist. The smell of burned coffee and cigarettes permeated the portable office wallpapered with building plans and a motorcycle calendar advertising topless women on custom bikes.
He acknowledged the foreman, who entered in his orange safety vest and yellow hard hat with a pair of leather work gloves and a dented Stanley thermos. “You wanted to see me?”
The foreman set the metal thermos on a file cabinet and unlocked the top drawer to retrieve a thin stack of envelopes. He parsed through the first few names before he found the one he wanted. “This is yours,” he told Leland.
“My advance?”
“Severance.”
“For what? I just started this job.”
“We’re over budget. Last to hire, first to fire. You know the deal. Other guys have seniority.”
“Then put me on a different site.”
“Not my call.”
Leland tore open the envelope and scrutinized the dollar amount printed on the company draft. “This will barely fill my truck.”
“There’s FEMA work in the city.”
“It pays half.”
“More than you’re getting now.”
Leland followed the foreman outside the trailer and beat a path toward his truck. He unbuckled his tool belt and threw it across the seat. Then he climbed inside and contemplated his paltry earnings. With his rent in jeopardy and an empty refrigerator at home, he prayed for the daughter he sorely missed, for the woman he loved, and for the strength to press on. He prayed to endure what he knew was only temporary hardship; to look beyond the small setbacks and see the bigger plan.
He’d played more gigs on the honky-tonk circuit than he ever imagined he would. He’d also tasted his five minutes of fame and opened his heart to thousands of country music fans who’d listened to him perform, blissfully unaware of the pain that drove him to end his career.
He reached in his pocket when he heard his cell phone ring and noted Sid’s name on the flip phone’s display. “I left you three messages this morning.”
“I’ve been busy,” Sid replied over the phone.
“I just got shit-canned from a job I can’t afford to lose. If you’re calling to kick me when I’m down, get in line.”
“I wouldn’t worry so much anymore.”
“What about Abby?”
“That’s why I’m calling…”
“Did you talk to Paula’s lawyer? I think Martin Hamilton’s involved with her somehow.”
“I’m working on it.”
Leland moved the phone to his other ear. “I’m getting tired of the waiting game.”
“Let’s talk in person.”
“Where are you?”
“Look up.”
Leland checked his rear view mirror to see a black Escalade in his field of view. He climbed out of his truck to meet Sid in a swirl of dust and diesel from a convoy of heavy equipment. “What’s going on?”
Sid covered his mouth with his hand and pointed to the construction trailer. “Let’s talk inside.”
Leland followed him. “Is Abby okay?”
Sid entered the single-wide trailer on blocks and filled a paper cup from the water cooler. “She’s fine.”
“Where is she?”
“South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, to be exact.”
“What is she doing there?”
“She ran away from the home in Nashville.” Sid finished the water and crumpled the cup. “I just found out.”
“How did she—”
“She lifted a credit card from someone’s wallet and bought a bus ticket online. Melissa’s boys emailed her their location.”
Leland ran his hand through his hair. “Is she okay?”
“Melissa’s escorting her back to Nashville. Their flight lands this afternoon.”
“Then what happens?”
“You take her home.”
Leland scratched his head. “To her foster home?”
“No, Dummy. Your home. You’ll need to go downtown and sign some papers first. I’ll come with you.”
“What about Paula’s case against me?”
“Her lawyer withdrew the case. Paula’s returning to where she belongs. So is Abby.”
“How?”
“I made some calls.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What if Paula tries to come after Abby again?”
“Paula needs long term care. By the time she’s ready to even think about mounting another case, Abby will be of age and no longer a minor, free to choose with whom she lives.”
“What about the test results? If I’m not her biological father—”
“You’re her father, Leland. DNA doesn’t change your commitment to your daughter. Paula’s agreed for you to maintain full custody. Her falsified abuse allegations have been dropped. Child services will want to talk with you to make sure everything’s above board at home and work.”
Leland hugged him. “I can’t thank you enough. But I need to find a new job.”
“I would focus on your music instead.”
“Music’s not exactly in my future anymore.”
“A few million people beg to differ. Your little stunt went viral. A Man Like Me has been blowing up the Internet. You’ve got three million hits on YouTube already. I have two major labels competing to sign you. Both are talking seven figures. Country Weekly wants an interview.” Sid smiled wryly. “You’re going to need a good agent.”
Leland choked on his words. “Are you serious?” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Your time has come, Leland. Lord knows you’ve earned it.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Believe it. You touched a lot of people that night. Before the concert, no one outside of Nashville, hell, no one in Nashville, knew the voice of Leland Presley. They do now.”

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