As for financial improprieties, Knowles insists the group which is poised to make some major green actually owes him money. ''Anyone in this business knows what [managers] make. I don't make the rules. Ten years ago I invested a lot of time and money in this group. I had to make a lot of sacrifices to get to here. [My wife and I] had to sell our house. They have my financials, which show the group owes me in excess of $50,000.''
Though LaTavia and LeToya declined to comment, their lawyer, Randy Bowman, says that more specific allegations will come out if the case goes to trial (both sides say a settlement is a strong possibility). ''In every dispute each side has an opinion, one of which will prevail and the other of which will not.
''I feel really good about ours,'' Bowman says with a laugh. At this point, Knowles may be pining for those saner days of peddling MRI and CT-scan machinery. The morning after he eloquently and convincingly made a case for himself against the lawsuit charges, he calls to offer a nasty and unsolicited smear against newcomer Franklin, whom the group axed just months after the surreptitious switcheroo. ''There's a website you might want to take a look at,'' he says, carefully spelling out the URL of a site that he alleges pictures Franklin. (In fact, the site would be only mildly embarassing to her even if a positive identification could be made. A look at the web page is inconclusive.)
Thankfully, Beyoncé and Kelly are more clear-eyed about Franklin's exit. ''We have nothing against her,'' Beyoncé insists. ''We work very, very hard, and I think [joining the group] was just overwhelming for her.'' Franklin's July ouster came after she allegedly skipped several important promotional appearances including the group's first-ever concert in Australia and stormed out of a band meeting. ''This is just like any normal job,'' Beyoncé says. ''If you don't show up, then when you come back you don't have a job.'' (Franklin couldn't be reached for comment.)
Astonishingly, none of this turmoil seems to have hurt the group commercially. A fourth single from The Writing's on the Wall, ''Jumpin, Jumpin,'' is currently hovering near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 (destined, perhaps, to be their third No. 1 single), and they're now in the middle of a major tour, opening for Christina Aguilera. They've also just released a new tune, ''Independent Women,'' which is both the first single from the upcoming Charlie's Angels soundtrack and, Knowles says, the title track of their third CD, due out early next year (six songs have already been recorded, including two versions of ''Women'' and new tracks called ''Nasty Girl'' and ''I Tried''). Most importantly, fans seem to have stuck with the group throughout all the accusations and confusing changes.
''We have the talent to back up all the drama,'' Beyoncé says. ''If we were weak [musically], then people would have said, 'Man, they have too much drama.' But when we get up on the stage and we sing and perform, that's the thing that really matters.'' That, and a really good lawyer.