Hey, Helen!” Keith hollered across the stage. “You ain’t gon’ b’lieve this!” She was on the stage scanning the surroundings, taking a breather. And idly responded, “Yeah, yeah, what?”
“Your boy just got arrested.”
Helen gave him an ugly look. “What’re you talking about?”
“Cop got Mensah.” He went over and picked up the half-can of beer he’d left sitting around.
“Go outside and see for yourself.”
Which she did. And came back running her fingers through that lustrous mane. “Where am I going to get a bass player at this last minute?!”
The drummer raised his hand. Helen gave the guy a killing look. “What are we, in grade school? Talk, man!”
“Yohannes Tona. I was hanging with him last night. He’s free all weekend. And he’s good. Actually, he’s better than Mensah.”
“Who is… Yo-what?”
Keith knew the name from Jeff Christensen. Who also had high praise for the cat. “Yohannes, Helen. Yohannes Tona.”
“Well, let’s get him on the phone! Charts! He’ll need charts!”
The drummer pulled out his phone and dialed, saying, “I saw some sheets in Mensah’s case.” Things were looking up in the veritable blink of an eye. Tona, of course, had to be paid a whole lot extra to come down at the 11th hour and sight-read an entire show.
No problem. He cabbed it over at Helen’s expense and, in fact, by the time they’d done a quick run-through, she invited him to join her band. But he was a family man who needed to stay close to home.
The gig went great. Every time Helen said, “Thank you very much, Twin Cities, good night,” the whole place would shout, “More! More! More!” They were about to go into mandatory overtime for the stage hands, sound people and other union workers.
The promoter and club manager both got nervous imagining a gouging cut into the profits. When a runner for the stage manager snuck on-stage and said something to Helen, she simply shrugged, swaggered to the mic and said, “That’s it! This is now a private party.”
That took care of the part about Twin Cities clubs having to shut down business by 2 am. Everybody hooped and hollered. She then told the runner she would cover union costs out of her pocket — actually, it would come out of her investors’ pockets.
The worriers breathed easy. Club management, indeed, was happy to have someone else pay his staff while the impromptu private party came with a cash bar.
It was crowding dawn. Helen, Sam and the boys finally filed off stage congratulating each other. Everyone piled into her dressing room.
Helen hollered, eyes wide, “Would somebody tell me what happened tonight? I heard people were lined down the block! That the merchandise is sold out — every single CD. Tee-shirts. Sweatshirts. Gone!”
She spun around in the middle of the floor, did a James Brown split, sprang back to her feet and declared, “We blew the walls off this joint!” No one argued that for a second. They’d planned to go somewhere for an after party, but every place in town had been closed for hours. So they just called it a night. As the sun came up.
A few hours later, after a nap, Keith was in his room having a second cup of good, strong coffee. Whatever it was with Lesli had begun itching under his skin worse than a rash. He’d called again and had to leave another message. He wanted to hop a flight home, but nothing doing.
Next week: Lesli’s indecision suggested cold feet.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.