Keith showed up at the stage door and, despite that he carried a guitar case, the guard wouldn’t let him in. Anybody, after all, could come bopping up with an instrument trying to get in, and Brenda, in her frenzy, forgot to put him on the guest list.
He went around front and couldn’t even pay to get in. The box office hadn’t opened. For the first time, he wished he had a cell phone and could call inside, have Brenda come out. “All right, the hell with it.”
He turned, headed across the highway to a diner to ask if they had a pay phone. Before he got far, “Hey, man, is that you?” he heard. And looked over his shoulder. Brenda’s manager and husband Bubba, had wandered out for a breath of air. And to blow a bone. “You old snake!”
“Man, would somebody let me in?” Bubba cheerfully beckoned him. The guy was a good sort. Friendly and the whole nine. It was best, though, not to be on the business end of his razor. Which Bubba kept in his hip pocket. Right next to the pistol he had in the other pocket.
Ask the guy who ran up on him when Bubba was stage managing a Wilson Pickett tour. Pickett and Bubba had both thrown down, leveling hardware on a promoter trying to cheat on the box office receipts. He clasped Keith about the shoulder, damn near dragging him into the club. “Brenda!” he hollered. “Look what the cat drug in.”
Brenda, in a floral print house dress, chestnut skin, crowding six feet, heavy-chested, barrel-hipped with a kewpie-doll face look, gave a fiendish grin. Threw her head back and guffawed. “Baby, come on in and let me buy you a drink.”
“Works for me.”
“Baby,” she told Bubba, “get Keith the set list.”
Her husband walked away, mumbling, “Ain’t like you gon’ follow it.”
“Nothing, baby.” At the bar, Keith started straight in swilling Jack Daniel’s. And would never fathom how Brenda could drink Gordon’s gin like it was water. The night was going well. True to Bubba’s word, the band rehearsed a set list, easily half of which went by the wayside.
By the time, nine o’clock rolled around, Keith was, between free drinks and stepping outside with Bubba, pretty damned good and well wasted. Brenda gave what was, even for her, a monstrous throw-down of set. When she sailed into “Born under a Bad Sign,” nailing the chorus “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all,” Keith went crazy, playing his heart out. The packed house was all the way with it.
They took a break. Stoned to the bone, he went to get himself a drink. Sidled up to the bar. The bartender, a Richard Roundtree look-alike but about a foot taller and beefy, shook Keith’s hand, congratulating him: “Good set, my man.”
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“What you drinkin’? Same?”
“Double-Jack rocks.” Keith heard, “On me” and looked around. It was her standing there, leaning on the rail, smirking. Lesli. Keith thought he might wet his pants.
Of all the places for her to show up. He wasn’t sure, close as Lesli kept to Manhattan, that she knew there was such a thing as Long Island. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Excuse me, I can’t have a drink?”
Next week: Keith struggles not to make a scene.
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