Keith asked himself: Since Lesli’s all that great, what’s the problem? On top of being scared, he was, for the first time he could recall, confused about a woman. Why the hell was Lesli Hall so important? Especially since so many of them didn’t really stand out in his memory at all.
The flight with the boys had been a hoot. The contractor roped Luis in to play percussion and Gerry on bass guitar. The three of them, Jack Daniel’s drinkers to a man, were half-lit when they loaded in to the airport at JFK, having spent the 45-minute delay cooling their heels at probably the only bar on the concourse that didn’t water the whiskey.
Gerry’d gone and got himself engaged. Her name was Denise. Luis and Keith could tell she had him seriously whipped. The guy was doing a day job at a Johnson & Johnson laboratory — Keith never knew they made anything but baby powder — grabbing a gig now and then and checking with Denise first before he took it. This was, in fact, his last road show, because he wanted to stay close to New Jersey, where he now lived with her.
Cutting Gerry the first bit of slack was out of the question. Accordingly, all it took was for a cute stew — Keith still called them that, though the proper word was “flight attendant” — to start coming on to Gerry. He nicely, politely shut her down. After which she’d backed off.
His pals, though, were having none of that — there’s no mercy among friends — and they started in. Luis was a wry, dry s.o.b. with a cunning wit. “This,” he joked with a sly grin, “is a sad day. One of the greats has demised.”
Barely getting warmed up, he rode Gerry worse than a government mule the whole flight long. And, knowing about Lesli, gave Keith a rib or two as well. By the time the plane touched ground, Luis was laughing himself sick with Gerry by now getting pissed. Keith managed game smiles, lest Luis really pour it on him.
The funniest thing about it all was that, when it came to women, Gerry never had any game. Usually he struck out. Except the times the guy had a girl- friend. When he was happily minding his own business, not bothering a soul, females honed in on him like sharks smelling blood in water. The guys all held it as a tenet of life that the ladies sweat you the hardest when they can tell you don’t want none. But, Gerry’s case proved it to the extreme.
They touched down, grabbed their luggage and instruments, half-heartedly talked about tossing down a few rounds, then decided against it. Fun was fun, but it was time to get ready to go to work. Best to check in at the hotel and get some sleep.
That was a Sunday night. He’d left Luis and Gerry in the hotel lobby and gone upstairs, hoping against hope there’d be time to connect with Lesli sometime the next evening. No such luck. He’d picked up a message at the desk: The contractor had authorized overtime pay for extra rehearsal. Since Tuesday was opening night, not only was it reasonable, but the union would have his head — maybe threaten to pull his card — if he begged off.
You just don’t do that with a touring Broadway show. The musical director says jump, you ask how high and when is it okay to come back down. On pain of, at the very least, starting gossip among contractors and agents about whether you could be counted on in a crunch. And that translated into your ability to continue regularly working high-priced jobs. Keith wasn’t rich, but he was pretty damned comfortable and planned on staying that way. “Dammit.”
Resigned to kicking back alone in his hotel room, he shoved his gear aside on the floor, slumped on the bed, and wondered whether midnight wasn’t too late to call her. The library wasn’t dark on Mondays, and the woman had a responsible job heading up a whole department. Who knew what time she had to get up in the morning?
He’d call her right after some coffee, eggs and toast for breakfast. He’d never worked in this town and was always curious about why folk flocked here to go broke. He was more curious, though, about whether the kitchen had some grits to go with his breakfast.
Next week: A phone call puts all of Keith’s curiosities on hold.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.