Lesli grew under Keith’s skin and into his brain



Black&SingleBluesA long week. Spent in good spirits, but it was long. After leaving Lesli off at the airport, Keith had ridden back to the hotel and gotten his regular routine in gear — looking over the sheets, running fingering scales. Then he’d punched in and, throughout the show, guitaring in the orchestra pit for The Lion King, his mind was on her.

The leading lady, portraying Nala, sang “Showlands” with rich, earthen intensity. Reminding him how Lesli made love. Luis, second chair to first percussionist Lola, once in awhile — when not staring at Lola’s Amazon physique — shot Keith a sharp, smirking glance.

Luis, Keith thought, could go pee up a rope. As much as Luis loved riding his buddies who fell for one of these broads on the road, Keith knew the guy was himself holding out for a new lady love.

That last one had put a ring through his nose and dragged him around by a part of his anatomy considerably farther south. The day some woman wrapped her wiles around Luis’ heart, Keith made a mental note, there wouldn’t be coals hot enough to rake that rascal over.

The first week, between punching the clock after a Saturday matinee and getting back for the evening call, Keith had nothing better to do than hang out. For the pure hell of it, he’d swung through the casino. The place was glitzy as all get out. Though, not the least bit pretty.

Most folk there were expensively suited to the nines in more jewelry than a pawn shop’s. Some in knock-off outfits, trying to look like the rich folk. Some just had on cheap, loud clothes. Almost every eye, rich, poor or in-between, stared at this or that table where they’d laid down chips like junkies looking at a fix.

The tray-bearing, barely dressed, long-tall-drinks-of-water ladies, most of them skinny as six o’clock, saw him carrying a guitar case and looked through him like he was a pane of glass. Which, so far as they were concerned, he might as well be. Nothing more significant than hired help.

Musicians, even the best paid, didn’t make enough money to waste their waste time. Especially not those who doubled as flat-backers in their off-hours. He didn’t count as much as chump change. Not when whales — millionaires — tossed around thousand-dollar chips like it was lunch.

He had to admit, it must be cool to afford this lifestyle. But, frankly, if he’d had the money, he’d find something better to do with it. Never went back.

It was, yes, a long week, but Sunday night finally came. The cast had taken their bows, exit music had been played. Gustav dropped his baton.

Keith packed up and ran, getting out of there faster than a scalded dog. Hopped in a cab, couldn’t get to the hotel soon enough. Hot-footing it through the lobby, he rushed to the desk. Stephany, lethally cute, maybe making five-foot in stockinged feet, smiled officiously, handing him his key. “Ms. Hall is in your room, Mr. Jackson.”

Steph, he’d begun calling her, was a piece of work. More charm than the law should allow and damned good at her job, too. She perfectly threaded the needle, officious but not stiff, cordial without being casual. An indefinable way of being plain sexy as hell.

If Lesli didn’t work out, he definitely was going to take a run at Steph. He politely returned her smile, said, “Thanks,” and never mind waiting for the elevator — he took the stairs.

Once a week, it had gone that way. She’d materialize Sunday nights, sometimes earlier, about three in the afternoon, swinging in to catch the matinee.

For an uncharacteristically smitten Keith, every other woman in the world, absolutely all of them, had ceased to exist. Lesli grew so under his skin, made her way so into his mind, it occasionally scared him. Each time, he shrugged it off.

He had to laugh at himself in those moments, wanting to be as far away from her as he could get and as close to her as possible. A line from one of those damned books of hers he’d read, by that cat Baldwin, summed it up: Something about a river trying to run north and south at the same time.

Love, he’d concluded, is a weird thing.



Next week: Thoughts of Lesli keep Keith out of jail.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403. 


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