Lesli. Maybe the best thing, beyond her good looks and bangin’ body, was that she had a wonderful sense of humor. He would call her up, mad enough to chew nails and spit thumbtacks, and wind up laughing his hind parts off.
He sure could’ve used some of that sitting in the pit back then, holding onto his temper by a thread. A guitar string had snapped in the middle of a number. Keith naturally had kept playing, unavoidably missing notes, hanging in as best he reasonably could.
The musical director, at intermission, began bitching him out: “Where, Mr. Jackson, were my high notes on your instrument?!” As everyone else started to file out into the set-up room, he sat there staring at Gustav, not saying a word, and went about replacing the damned string.
It’s common knowledge high-e strings tend to break if you so much as look at them the wrong way, let alone after prolonged use. Which is why Keith changed his on a regular basis and kept a good supply on hand. It’s a pain in the behind when they break on the job, but hey, stuff happens.
He’d thought of trying to translate that to this over-paid jerk who, despite connections and a big name, a few folk thought would be more useful directing traffic than music. He had been directly inclined to cuss Gustav out and give him the guitar for a neck-tie. The music director, pulling his short, thin frame to full height, fluffing a mane of sandy-blond hair off his neck, went on: “When I ask you a question, I expect an answer. Or is English your second language?”
Keith saw out of the corner of his eye that his friends had gathered around. Luis was rubbing his congas, smirking, just waiting to see how this would turn out. Lola had her head down, tuning her timbales. Gerry, cradling his bass guitar, leaned back with an analytical gaze. All of them looked dispassionate but, knowing Keith since they were kids, were curious to see just how far Gustav could go without landing in the middle of next Tuesday. In an emergency ward.
If Keith had gotten up, gone over and kicked this idiot’s ass, two things were certain. Keith’s marketability would take a free fall from which it probably would not recover. He’d also land in jail. Well, he mused, three things — it’d be a few more Sundays and Mondays before he saw Lesli again.
He finished tuning the new string — not the least bit looking forward to it constantly going out of tune throughout the second act of the show — then stood and walked away, into the musicians’ set-up room. “How dare you walk away when I’m speaking?” he heard behind him. And felt sorry as hell for Gustav’s boyfriend, actually a decent sort who, the times he showed up, was cordially personable.
Keith had sat on a bench in an expansive area that reminded him of a small gym, still stretching the string out. The others came in, milling about. For a minute, nobody said anything to him. Then, perennial smart-ass Luis couldn’t resist: “I think Gustav is hot for you.”
In addition to being an ace percussionist, Luis qualified as a street-tough boxing champ. Knowing that was pretty much all that had kept Keith from going to jail after all. He’d reached into his wallet, pulled out Lesli’s picture, put it back and couldn’t wait to tell her about this.
By the time they all went back to work, Keith had a Kool-Aid smile. Refusing to look Gustav in the face, he got through the rest of the show, making a mental note not to work with this moron again, no matter how good the pay. As they packed up and called it a night, the cellist endured her turn catching hell from Gustav. Every so often, it was somebody’s luck to sit through a tongue-lashing, for whatever silly excuse.
Out on the sidewalk, when Lola invited the guys back to her place for a nightcap, he just about yelled, “Baby, you on!” And had a devilish thought: It’d be worth sitting down with popcorn and soda to watch Gustav make the mistake of jumping down Lola’s throat. With or without a good reason. Homegirl don’t play that.
On the trip to Lola’s place, everyone having a ball getting on each other’s case, he’d let the tension fall away, enjoying hanging with the gang. Thinking about Lesli.
Next week: Persistent thoughts of Lesli begin to scare Keith.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.