His wake-up call came at nine on the nose. He was up and in the shower a few minutes later. Turned out, Helen and company — she’d got Yohannes Tona to sign on for a week and a half — were going north to Duluth, then Canada. He was tempted to stay on, but took a pass. It was just too important, right now, to handle things on the home front.
In the hotel dining room, he sat down to a nice plate of eggs over easy, bacon and grits with toast and a pitcher of coffee. Reading the NY Times.
Looked up and who should be sashaying out of the elevator but her ladyship of the hour, the illustrious Ms. St. James. Magnificently strutting across the carpet. Coming up behind, seriously hung over, Sam and Luis converged on the buffet. Shortly, everyone was at Keith’s table.
Mensah’s goose, Helen had decided, was cooked. With dressing. Bad enough he’d been stupid enough to stand around toking up on the sidewalk. But getting caught with coke? Not acceptable.
“He’ll never work with me again,” Helen said. It was without rancor, real matter of fact. She was done being angry and now simply accepted it. “Or anyone who asks about hiring him.” Words no musician who knew her wanted to hear. The last thing you wanted was Helen St. James leaning tough on your reputation.
Truth be told, she loved to carouse much as anybody else. Anything harder than that was a hanging offense. No two ways about it. For good reasons.
Not the least being it was habit forming and tended to get in the way of work. Not the least being it was a something to which cops seldom turned a blind eye. Not the least being it carried a stigma that would send her investors running for cover.
It wouldn’t take long for word to get out that Mensah had blown a gig with Helen St. James. And how he’d blown it. Any attorney worth his or her salt would get the fool off with a spank on the wrist for an amount that small. Bottom line, there shouldn’t’ve been an amount at all. Not on her watch.
Keith sat shoveling salted, hot-buttered grits down his gullet, then paused, watching Helen and Samantha watch him. “Y’all ain’t seen nobody eat before?”
They cracked up. Then, in that way women generally have of laughing at men, smirked with devilish smiles. Sam chirped, “Enjoy your meal.”
The boss chewed, swallowed and said, “Need to talk to you, boy.”
He went along, deadpanning. “Ain’t sure I like the sound of that.”
Helen draped an arm around Sam’s shoulder, lowered her voice, sounding like Johnny Cash. “Oh, you’re gonna like it, alright. You’ll like it just fine.” She pushed back and, still smiling, said, “Whether you want to or not.”
They were getting on his already frayed nerves. “Why don’t y’all eat? Food’s halfway decent for a hotel.”
“Yeah,” Helen rejoined. “Try the flapjacks.”
“Would you two like to tell me why you’re staring down my throat while I’m trying to enjoy breakfast?”
Luis, too, wanted to get in on whatever they were up to. Because these two women looked like the last canary-swallowing cats. “Whass up?” he asked.
“Oh,” Helen blithely answered. “Not much. Only, I’ve discovered myself a star.”
Next week: Helen St. James makes an outrageous proposition.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.