Trommler Records

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"Just sign right there." The blond man, Contz Beckenbauer, indicated the space for her signature and handed her the pen. "Right there, as I said. Then we'll talk about what you will sing for the record."

Els hesitated a moment. She was just about to move to dip the pen when Herr Beckenbauer said, "The offer could be withdrawn at any time, you know."

That just didn't sound right. This man was in a bit too much of a hurry for Els' comfort. There must be something in this contract that he hadn't properly explained. Els could remember spoken words very well. She had a little more trouble when it came to reading them. The counselor at the high school had called it dyslexia. That diagnosis had come as a relief. It explained why she could memorize spoken lines for plays but had trouble reading them herself.

Els stood. "I will have my father look at this." She picked up the up-time style handbag that had been a gift from Trent Partow for her eighteenth birthday and shoved the contract inside. "I've been told many times that a person should have a contract examined by a legal expert." She headed for the door, over his protests.

"I will withdraw the offer, then," he said. "You will not record for my studio."

Els turned. "As you wish. But I'm still going to have this contract 'checked out,' as they say." Perhaps you are not an honest man, Herr Beckenbauer.

****

Judy was almost dancing in her seat at Cora's, waiting for Els to get there. When Els came in, she jumped up. "How did it go? Did you get a contract?"

Els slumped into the booth. "I got one. But I haven't signed it and now he says he withdraws the offer. Here." Els scrabbled around the bag. "You look at it."

Judy knew about Els' problems with the written word. Els didn't like to talk about it, but they'd grown close over the last couple of years. She took the contract and worked her way through it. It was in legalese, which she didn't speak, but it felt off. That was okay; she knew lawyers. "You were right not to sign it. I can't really read it either, between the German and the legalese, but I think it's a case of 'what the large print gives, the small print takes away.'"

****

Judy caught up to Els in second period practical math. "Good thing you didn't sign it," were the first words out of her mouth. "He'd have had you tied up for fifteen years for one thing. You wouldn't have gotten any royalties for your records, either."

Judy looked ready to bite someone's head off. "We're going to have to put the word out about this turkey. I hope there aren't a lot of people who've signed this sort of thing. Professor Gruder says it's as near to a contract of indenture as makes no difference. Except a contract of indenture actually pays you something." Gruder was one of the teachers from Jena who had come to Grantville to learn up-timer law and teach down-timer law. He was positively fierce and scared everyone in class. Except, apparently, Judy.

Els slumped into the desk. "Wonderful. I finally get a chance and this happens. I want to be a star, Judy. I've wanted that since I first discovered what it meant. Not just for me. For my family. For Trent. So he will have a wife of property, not just a player."

"You already are a star," Judy insisted. She was supported by a couple of nods from some of the other kids near them. "Besides, you know that Americans don't think that way, Els."

"No, they don't," Els conceded, after giving her a look. It was true mostly, though the exceptions weren't as rare as Judy seemed to think. "But my own people do. To become famous . . . it would mean a lot."

Judy's expression went a bit sad for a moment. Els knew she was remembering Katrina Kunz. Katrina was from a wealthy family in Badenburg. She was the one who had explained to Judy that players were not socially acceptable.

Katrina had been trying to be nice and keep Judy from making a social error that might ruin her prospects, or so Judy had insisted. She had returned the favor by explaining that in the up-time world having successful actors for friends was a good thing. Katrina hadn't taken it well. She no longer talked to Judy, who hated losing friends, especially over something that just didn't make sense to her.

Els examined Judy, her friend. Four years after the Ring of Fire, Judy was no longer the cute little sister of Sarah Wendell. She was the acknowledged queen of Grantville High. She was five feet nine inches tall and could be a runway model if she had time. Herr Schroeder had asked her. She was, in Els' opinion, the prettiest girl in school. She made Els feel better about being thin just by being there.

Judy tapped her fingers on the desk. "What you need is an agent."

Els pulled herself back from her thoughts. "Agent?"

"Right. Up-time actors have agents."

"What do agents do?"

"They . . . " Judy paused, then grinned. "We take ten percent off the top." Els gave her a look. This was Judy the imp. Judy the plotter. Els knew she was in trouble. When Judy the imp got started you ended up doing the craziest things . . . but they all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

Judy started laughing. "An agent handles things like contracts, does the negotiating, has the contacts. Arranges things. It should be someone with your best interests at heart." Judy stood and grabbed her own bag. "C'mon. Let's go to the library. I need to do some research. Agent and manager. That's something I could do. I'm sure of it."

Els rolled her eyes. Judy wouldn't actually do the research. She never did. She would grab someone and have them do her a favor. Probably Susan. Susan was good at research.

"All right. But I've got to be at the lounge at six." Els had been singing in the lounge in the Higgins Hotel three nights a week for the past two years.

****

Ritter Jost von Reinhart was quite pleased with the overall situation. He was rather short at five foot four, with sandy hair and gray eyes. People who called him fat were both unfair and unwise. He was big-boned. Granted there was a certain amount of padding on the bones, but a surprising amount of it was muscle. He was, as usual, meticulously dressed and groomed. Every hair in place. There were rather fewer of those hairs than there had been in his youth. He pushed a button and the servant came and exchanged this course for the next. While his estates were near Berlin, he had a house in Magdeburg from which he did most of his business.

He was, of course, disappointed that Contz Beckenbauer had failed to get Els Engle's signature on the contract. There was still hope, though not much if the young lady actually did take the contract to a lawyer. Beckenbauer should never have let her take it out the door. Thankfully, most didn't seek legal advice. Even if this girl did, though, he still might get her. Many people were desperate to get a record cut and become famous stars in the up-time fashion. He doubted that she'd be able to do that. He had too much control already.

Jost owned—indirectly—a record player manufactory and a record cutting studio. And had a contract with Adolph Schmidt at the pressing plant. He also had several other contracts. Jost paused a moment and chewed. This up-timer catfish was excellent. Completely unlike the inedible down-time sort.

His cutting shop had contracts with several recording studios that delivered tapes to him. He owned one of them already and expected to pick up the other soon. The other one was a studio with some good portable equipment, perfectly suitable for recording live concerts and plays. It was expensive equipment—quite expensive—and he could probably pick it up fairly cheaply in exchange for not prosecuting when Jacob Trommler defaulted on his contract.

Jost grinned and patted his mouth with a napkin. It was a good contract, that one. It obligated Trommler Records to buy at least one cut master a month at a set price. If Herr Trommler didn't buy the master, he didn't just owe the cutting shop for it, he owed a penalty as well. Of course, Jacob had not been quite so naïve as the "want to be" stars whose contracts Jost owned. If Trommler did come up with something to cut a master of, the von Reinhart cutting studio was obligated to do it.

But Jost doubted that Trommler would have anything more than another speech he wanted recorded. The man was too civic-minded for his own good. Jost grinned again. The radical ones often were. Jost was a fairly conservative man. He was willing enough to use the technology the up-timers brought. He was less happy with their radical political notions. Trommler had insisted that he be able to cut and distribute anything he wanted to and hadn't paid much attention to what else was in the contract. Which meant that, soon enough, Jost would own Trommler Records.

****

"Because," Judy said, weeks later, "Speeches aren't especially entertaining. She was sitting in a rather dingy office outside Magdeburg where the rents were cheaper. And talking to a committed record producer. Or perhaps one who should be committed. "They're topical, I'll give you that. People need to hear them, but mostly they only need to hear them once. Maybe twice, in an election year. Records are for stuff you want to listen to every day or every few days or maybe just when you're in the mood."


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