Buy the book on Amazon Kindle.
The trio chunks to a halt at the end of “Mack the Knife” and receives a fair-to-middling applause (the interminable overcast is not helping their attendance). Billy looks to his players for the next selection, and the bassist, the one who has a thing for Abbey, leans over to speak.
“Okay if we take a break?”
“You can join us if you like. We just hang out in the parking lot.”
“Nah, that’s okay. Fifteen?”
Billy watches the two of them leave through the restaurant, then he heads for the back stairs. He knows if he hangs out in the bar he’ll be inviting questions. And questions are the enemy.
Isaiah throws back a mini-bottle of whiskey. “You realize we’re taking a chance. He might not come back.”
David laughs and sips at his gin. “I wasn’t gonna make it without a break.”
“Being attacked by roving gangs of ice cream tweakers?”
“Not while Pablo’s on the job.”
“Pablo! Back from the dead.”
“That kid is amazing. He could probably run the place by himself. I’m only paying him minimum. He says he doesn’t care. Parthenia says it’s time to get back on the horse.”
“I told you. Parthenia is a wizard.”
“Yes. I’ve heard that about fifty-three times now. But my God, what did I ever do to deserve such a great kid?”
“Did you change his diapers?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
He holds his nose. “Yes.”
Isaiah cracks open another whiskey. “You ever walk Point Damon?”
“All the time. The ocean side.”
“Oh yeah. I was down there yesterday, way at the end, where the water sort of circles around the point.”
“I love that.”
“And I saw this sort of teepee made out of driftwood. Looked like one of those barricades from Les Miserables. And there was smoke coming out of it! So I walked over to check it out, and I swear there was a pot dangling over a fire – like something from Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It smelled like chicken curry soup. Delicious!”
“You tasted it?”
“The smell. What’m I, a hobo?”
“I was about to leave when I saw a flash of red. There was a small limb extending inward from the wall, and dangling from said limb was, get this: a scarlet Bavarian cap.”
David recalls the naked guy bathing in the harbor, and decides that this is not necessarily a detail to be shared.
“You suppose he lives out there?”
“God, I hope not. I wouldn’t be surprised if that spot pretty much disappears during big storms.”
David starts laughing. “Have you seen those sweatshirts at Sandbar Gifts? The front says In case of Tsunami…”
“And the back says Run Like Hell! Yep, when you live at twenty inches above sea level… ” Isaiah takes a last swallow and chucks his bottle into the truck-bed.
“Well,” says David. “The first thing we can do is go in there and get our beach bum a gig fee.”
He finishes his gin and chucks his bottle in the same spot. As he walks around the truck he sees that the bed now holds some fifty tiny bottles.
“My God, Isaiah. It’s like a leprechaun frat party back there.”
Billy’s looking for a good signoff. ’Round Midnight is too obvious. But it’s getting near one and and his giant piano player is giving him that look. He leans away from the mic and says, “‘Goodbye’?”
The giant thinks about it. “Gordon Jenkins?”
He wants to say how impressed he is – is there anything these guys don’t know? – but he fights the urge. Just being here is pushing his luck. But the singing is like heroin – Abbey was right – and the sinewy, smoky torment of something like “Goodbye” is freakin’ paradise. He savors the end of Isaiah’s back-alley intro, dangles on the downbeat for an eyeblink, and enters.
David is expecting another end-of-song sneakoff, and finds Isaiah, as usual, reading his mind. He ends the song along with Billy; David lets his final note buzz along for a while before damping the strings. He sees that their front man is not yet across the dance floor, so he leans over to the microphone and says, “Billy Redman, ladies and gentlemen!”
The late-nighters respond with a warm applause. Abbey adds a look of consternation. But not Billy, who tips his scarlet cap and heads for the exit. Abbey heads out after him.
She returns a few minutes later and directs a district-attorney stare at David.
“Sort of a… nickname.”
Isaiah draws up a stool. “He’s not upset, is he?”
Her expression softens. “No. In fact, he wants you to use it from now on.”
David takes a quaff from his lager. “You’re lucky I didn’t say Rumpelstiltskin.”
“Hey Rog,” says Isaiah. “A drink for Billy’s agent.”
“Vodka gimlet,” says Abbey.
When Isaiah goes for his wallet, Rog waves him off. “If you’re the one who brought us the singer, you get all the free drinks you want.”
Abbey smiles sweetly. “Thank you.”
“That guy is amazing,” says Roger. “Where’d you find him?”
Isaiah and David turn as one. “Yes,” says David. “Tell us, Abbey.”
Abbey laughs. “Flat tire. Quinault Casino. I have to admit, he scared me at first. But it’s pretty obvious how harmless he is. As he was doing the lug nuts, he was humming ‘Moon River,’ and I mentioned my karaoke bar. Imagine my shock when he actually showed up.”
“Are you aware,” says Isaiah, “that he’s living on Point Damon?”
“Well. Yes. He’s strangely attached to that place. It’s like he wants to be first off the continent when the shit goes down. But I outfitted my tool shed with an old sofa and a space heater, and have been much relieved to find signs of use. And I’m not telling you one thing more, because there are reasons that someone becomes homeless, and if you want to keep your new singer, those reasons need to remain private.”
“Hey,” says David. “I’m surprised you told us this much.”
Isaiah laughs. “Blabbermouth.”
Abbey sets her drink on the bar and delivers a smart punch to Isaiah’s shoulder.
David laughs. “Did I mention I’m Abbey’s weightlifting coach?”
Isaiah rubs the spot. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Roger looks up from his dishwashing. “Hey, Isaiah. Ralph says he’ll throw in an extra hundred if you can find a drummer for the Fourth. Maybe throw in a little rock ‘n’ roll for the dancers.”
“Jesus!” says Isaiah. “How many miracles are we supposed to pull off this month?”
Abbey snickers into her gimlet. “Okay. There’s one more thing I can tell you about Billy.”
Photo by MJV