Saturday, February 15, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Nine: Feral Cat

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David lights the cigarette, and takes a puff, and releases it. It rises toward the green exit sign as a low-flying cirrus. Okay, he thinks. That’s pretty cool. Twenty feet beyond the sign, Isaiah plays “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” spilling out the chords like he’s not actually sure if he’s going to play it. Then he chunks a cluster of notes and kicks into an easy swing. The singer comes in a little phlegmy, but he coughs it out and swells the second line like a rubber band, playing with the finish on a delayed staccato.
            This is the voice David’s been carrying around in his head. Weathered brass, rough but dead on pitch, an apostle to the song but willing to play around. He surrounds the final note with baby notes (exactly like Sarah Vaughan) before landing it with a nice warm vibrato for the sendoff.
            David leans back and finds him in the same spot, camped between the last dune and a low balcony.
            “Hey! You’ve got a great voice.”
            Shadow Man freezes.
            “It’s all right. I’m with the band.”
            He answers in a mumble. “Sorry. I’ll get moving right away.”
            He shuffles away, stumbling in the sand.
            “No, hey! We need a singer, and…”
            “Don’t want trouble.”
            Once he hits the wooden path, he’s gone. David flashes on the feral cats behind the ice cream shop, the ones that have been shooed away a thousand times.
            He takes another puff.

            “Jesus, Isaiah. That room is so dead.”
            Isaiah shoots a mini-bottle of tequila and coughs it down. “I never realized how much of our public persona was Larry. Tell you the truth, sometimes I thought he was pretty cheesy. But I guess people like that.”
            “Maybe we need to work up a reparte√©.”
            Isaiah snorts. “Oh yeah. That’ll work.”
            “How come I can lecture to students all day long, but I can’t think of a thing to say about ‘Mack the Knife’?”
            “Because there, you’ve got tons of material, and you love talking about it. Here, it’s all about that bass. It’s easier for singers – they’re already out front. Don’t push it. No one likes a phony. But if you do feel a wry comment coming on, give it a shot.”
“You’ve put some thought into this.” David opens a vodka.
            “Isn’t that four?”
            “Tough week. Month. Year.”
            “Any leads?”
            “The usual Aberdeen-crackhead theory. No actual evidence. Smart criminals. No security cameras. Caught Pablo alone, right when he was sorting the night’s take. Poor kid. I don’t know if he’s going back. Got him hooked up with a therapist.”
            “You’ve been?”
            Isaiah turns up his hands. “I’m Jewish. A physical freak. Divorced. A ‘working’ musician.”
            “They should probably just put you in an institution.”
            “Thanks to Parthenia, no. And I hate to add to your personal shitpile, but Ralph said we need to get a singer by next week or he’s going to look elsewhere.”
            “Jesus.” David downs the vodka in a spiteful shot. “Yaknow, I keep running into this homeless dude. Hides out behind the hotel. He’s got a way with a song.”
            Oh yeah,” says Isaiah. “That’s what we need. Boxcar Willie.”
            “Hey, it’s like softball. Better to throw a body out there than forfeit the game.”
            “Oh it’s all good until he starts panhandling the customers. I’ll make a round of the town Dumpsters and see if I can sign him up.”
            “Let’s play some music before I get more depressed.”
            Isaiah smiles and hands him the Binaca.
            “I was thinking we’d start with ‘Learnin’ the Blues.’”

Photo by MJV

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