by Vincent Scuro
Move over Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendryx, and Michael Jackson! Nobody dies like Jake Rhinestone! Especially when the washed-up, 70ís teen idol fakes his death to avoid paying some overdue gambling debts. Jake teams up with two unemployed, down-on-their-luck advertising executives and hits the big time when his legend turns into a gold mine of re-released films, skyrocketing album sales, his very own theme park and enough Jake Rhinestone merchandise and memorabilia to make his fans scream for more!
However, the scheme goes awry when Jake meets the daughter he never knew and discovers thereís more to life than pretending to be dead. Itís a wild ride as Jake learns how to live again -- until his young partners are framed for his murder and he has to get them out of jail without giving himself away -- or getting whacked by the Mob.
Welcome to Rhinestoneland!
A new voice in Rock and Roll Heaven
In a dreary Secaucus, New Jersey motel room off a service road on Route 3, newly unemployed advertising executive Nick Schneider looked at his watch. It was almost three in the morning. He switched off the television and started toward the door.
"It's show time!"
There was a broad smile on his face and enthusiasm in his voice, a stark contrast to his surroundings.
A short drive later, he and his creative partner Andy Reese, who was also newly unemployed, stood next to a refuse container in the parking lot behind the Beaver Lounge, a rundown bar built on an old landfill where several nearby communities used to bury their garbage.
"What a great location for a meeting!"
There was mock enthusiasm in Andy's voice.
"The smell of this place makes me want to throw up."
He paced back and forth, chain-smoking, looking over his shoulders nervously.
Nick was oblivious. He stood in the dim light of the street lamp, casually leaning against the container flipping through a magazine.
"He should be here any minute."
Andy grew more and more agitated.
"He's not going to show. I just know it."
"Don't worry," replied Nick.
Nick never took his eyes from the magazine. He remained calm and optimistic. It showed in his voice.
"He'll show. I have a feeling everything went according to plan. Stop being negative all the time."
Andy lit one cigarette off the other, tossed the used butt on the ground, and stomped on it with his foot.
"Negative is what I do best! It gives me my edge!"
He took in a long drag. It did nothing to calm him down.
"As for your feelings, so far, they haven't produced squat. Look around you! We're standing near garbage on top of garbage."
Andy looked around. There wasn't a soul in sight.
"I think the old man is dead."
Just then, a bald-headed, clean-shaven figure wearing denim jeans and a topcoat emerged from the shadows.
"The old man is dead, huh? So, when's my funeral?"
The accent, the attitude, and the intonation were distinctively New Jersey.
The voice belonged to Jake Rhinestone.
The former teen-age idol and movie star, now in his mid-fifties, held his arms wide open as if waiting for a crowd to applaud.
Nick didn't clap. Instead, he tossed the magazine over his shoulder into the refuse container. Then, he wrapped his arms around Jake in a big bear hug, grinning from ear to ear as he patted him on the back.
"Nobody dies like Jake Rhinestone!"
"Easy, kid. My ribs are still sore from the beating Rocco's goons gave me. Jumping out of a car into an icy cold river didn't help either."
Nick released him.
"Sorry about your car."
Jake's face suddenly turned sad. He'd owned his Plymouth Duster since 1970. They'd been through a lot together.
"Yeah, well, sometimes sacrifices have to be made."
Jake rubbed his jaw. In the hectic moments before he drove the Duster through a guardrail and into the Hackensack River, he yanked the bridgework out of his mouth and left it on the front seat. It was the only thing he could think of that would positively link Jake Rhinestone to the accident.
"Your car gave its life so someone else could live," said Andy. "But what happened to your hair?"
Suddenly, Jake reached into his back pocket and pulled out his toupee.
"Souvenir for you, kid. Catch!"
Instinctively, Andy reached for the blob of fake hair and then, realizing what it was, dropped it as quickly.
Jake roared with laughter.
"I knew the kid had had no hands!"
Andy kicked the toupee as far away as he could.
"Very funny! Very funny! Go ahead and laugh! You scared the hell out of me!"
Suddenly, Jake stopped laughing.
"That was the whole idea."
He broke into laughter again.
Andy snuffed out his smoke and immediately lit up another one.
"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself!"
"I am. For the first time in a long time, I am."
Andy was still fuming.
"If you weren't already dead, I'd kill you! And what's with the no beard, no hair look? You call that a disguise?"
"Relax, kid. No one's seen a beardless Jake Rhinestone in over twenty years and no one's ever seen him bald. I should be able to move around without being recognized. Plus I'm dead, which is good news for me and bad news for Rocco Rompolo and everyone else I owed money. So what do we do now?"
Even in the dim street lights, there was a gleam in Nick's eyes.
He put his arms around Jake and Andy.
"We cash in!"
Jake's face lit up.
"I'm all ears."
Nick began to pitch The Plan, as if he was doing the advertising presentation of his life.
"First, we release, a collection of your greatest hits! Newly re-mastered! All digital! Then, we issue the Jake Rhinestone doll series! Young Jake the way you remember him and older Jake for those cozy evenings by the fireplace! Next, we come out with a numbered series of commemorative plates for each of your movies! We petition the postal service to put you on a stamp! Jake Rhinestone comic books! Your very own web site!"
Jake raised his hand.
Nick pointed to him.
"I really like that stamp idea. Can I have my own action figure, too?"
Nick slapped his hands together.
"What a great idea! A Jake Rhinestone play set complete with piano and Las Vegas stage! Of course, we have to have some Jake sightings. Rumors that you're still alive--the kind of stuff that keeps the public interested. Once we have their appetite clamoring for more and more Jake Rhinestone, we go for the Big One!"
Jake was dumbfounded. This was too much for him to comprehend.
"The Big One?"
"Yes, the Big One."
"What do you mean?"
"Your very own amusement park built around the legend of Jake Rhinestone!"
Jake still wasn't sure what Nick meant.
"I didn't know I had a legend."
"Of course you do! Everybody has one."
Jake was beaming now.
"An amusement park--you mean, like, with rides and arcades?"
Nick grinned from ear to ear.
"Yes! Plus Jake-based attractions, shows, restaurants, souvenir shops, t-shirts--the works!"
From where Andy was standing, it looked like Nick had sold Jake on the idea. A firm believer in acerbic American journalist and social critic H.L. Mencken's statement that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public, Andy was beginning to see the huge potential of this crazy scheme.
"It'll be the kind of amusement park where people will spend money without realizing or caring how much they actually are spending. They'll want to tell their friends how much they spent there. In fact, they'll boast about how much they spent."
Nick smacked his hands together and pointed two fingers at Jake.
"Exactly! And do you know what we'll call that amusement park?"
Jake had no idea what they were going to call it.
Nick raised his hand above his head, painting a single word across the night sky.
The name slid off his tongue like sweet butter.
Jake Rhinestone smiled.