Keith went back to his crib. Grabbing the phone, giving Butch and Sundance a wink, he rang Lesli’s number. A man’s voice answered. Keith thought his jaw would hit the floor. He hung up.
And would’ve fixed himself a good, strong a drink. As if that would’ve been enough. Instead, he picked up Butch and Sundance, sat them on his lap, and staring dumbly into space, petting the purring kittens. A man had answered. A White man.
He knew a lot of successful sisters went that way, but never thought Lesli was that type. He had no idea how long he sat there staring at nothing. It had to’ve been awhile, though, because the sun had moved a ways across the sky.
Keith had to pull himself together. He brushed Butch and Sundance off his lap and stood. They hopped down and, chased each other, proceeded to race full tilt from room to room. The flying furballs collided in the kitchen, play-fighting, biting, boxing, hind paws pummeling.
He sighed. They paused to look at him. Then went right back to scrapping, flying around the apartment. Dispirited, he watched them, drew a breath and decided, “Guys, I ain’t throwin’ in the towel. Not yet.” Then he went in and took out a steak to thaw.
If he had to, he would, White or whatever, cut the competition off at the knees. “Back to the drawing board.” He took out a package of frozen spinach and put it next to the steak. Then caught himself doing the staring thing again. Looking down the sink drain.
“To hell with this.” He went back and put on some television, pulled out an axe to run scales. Marathon Channel, as luck had it, was running all three seasons of Chef. About an hour later, he was in check. Sort of. Laughing along to Lenny Henry doing a hilarious job of playing a full-of-himself husband to Caroline Lee Johnson beautifully deadpanning as the sensible wife who put him in check.
As suddenly as they’d started up, Butch and Sundance stopped and curled up together in a corner, dropping off to sleep. Amazing. He was glad, after all, that he’d taken the little rascals in.
The phone rang. He hated answering that damned thing. But was glad for the distraction and set the guitar aside. “Hello. Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
“Oh, yeah, you did.”
Good God, it was Brenda. Good old gin-guzzling, swing them wide hips and wave that big-as-a-barn behind around ’til the cows come home Brenda Jones. After all this time. What the hell was she doing popping up out of nowhere? “Hey, kid,” he said. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I need you.”
“Your husband know you talkin’ that kind of trash to another man?”
“I’m serious, Keith. My headliner cancelled. At the last damned minute. And I have to go on. With nobody to play guitar.”
“No, a week from now. Yes, damn it, nine o’clock tonight.” She owned Her Mother’s Place, what had to be the only successful Black nightclub in Suffolk County, serving soul food breakfast, lunch and dinner and featuring nothing but the blues. On the juke box, over the p.a. and on the stage.
Deli Dan Kupferberg swore up and down that he’d produced a single for her that, somehow, never saw the light of day. Keith hadn’t ever got around to ask her about it, but it looked like he was going to get the chance. Brenda could sing the blues like nobody’s business. And had got him a gig backing Denise La Salle. For which he sincerely owed her.
What the hell? It wasn’t like he anything better to do. Except think about his woman sleeping with some White man.
“I’m on my way.”
“Love you, baby. Thank you, thank you so much!” She set a sultry lilt to her voice. “If I wasn’t married, I’d show you some real thanks.”
“Yeah, yeah. Bye.” He hung up with her laughing in his ear. And, shaking his head, reflected that married though she was, when that woman wanted some she got some. If her husband didn’t handle a switch-blade like Keith handled his axe, he might just take her up on the thinly veiled invitation she extended every time they got together.
He put dry food down for the boys, changed their water again, then had Jesse ring for a taxi. With luck, he’d get there for sound check and quick rehearsal. Without luck, he’d get there and wing it. Wouldn’t be the first time. Either way, Brenda was reimbursing for cab fare.
Next week: Guess who Keith runs into out at Brenda’s set.
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