Keith tries to distract himself — and fails

Keith-&-LesliKeith felt fairly breezy, free and easy, striding out into the midnight air. Looking for someplace else to go. Minneapolis was a shoe box. You could fit all of downtown in one corner of Greenwich Village.

Where was he going to go from here for any action? He walked. Toward the Hennepin Bridge. Halfway across, looked out over the mighty Mississippi River snaking south, splitting the country in half. Yet, people were impressed by the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. He shook his head and kept going.

Found himself on the other side, standing in front a club. Something called, of all things, The New York Times. He looked at the sandwich board sitting next to the steps. Chalk scrawled on slate, the featured act was a jazz pianist whose name vaguely rang a bell.

He wasn’t hungry, but a double-Jack-rocks sounded good as ever. And he hadn’t caught any live jazz in some time. He’d found something to do with himself.

Keith went in, sat down and, out of nowhere, walking his way was a woman he hadn’t seen in ages. He’d wondered every now and then what had become of Angel. When was the last time he’d seen her? Where? Germany. She’d been playing bass behind — was it Van Morrison? Sting? He couldn’t clearly recall. He couldn’t even remember who he’d been playing with.

Angel Martinez had a blinding smile. Wondrously broad hips. They’d hit it once, twice, way back when. And the glint in her eye said she wouldn’t mind one bit hitting it again.

“Talk about a small world. Keith Jackson, what are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?”

The years had been good to this woman. It probably helped that she stood six-foot and was mixed, Mexican and Black — women of color are slow to wrinkle. Besides, she couldn’t be more than, what, 40? “Grabbing some grub. Have a seat.” She did. “Girl, you look good as new money.”

“Y’ don’t look so bad yourself. How long has it been?”

“I was asking myself that same question.”

“Berlin, right?”

“Yep. One of them festivals.”

“Yeah. You coming through on a tour?”

“No. Just wrapped up a gig with Helen St. James. Headed back to the Apple.”

“Helen her own self St. James. She looking for a bass player?”

“Fact is, yeah. She might be. I’ll give you her phone number.” She kept smiling at him.

“Really? Thanks. I’m working tonight with Jose Romero. You gonna stick around?”

“To catch about the baddest bass-playing babe known to man?”

Angel smiled. “Look. I gotta go warm up. Try the chicken. It’s good.” Getting up, she winked, spun and strode off, hips swaying to and fro.

His drink came. He would catch a set, go back to the hotel and, if he felt up to it, pack. If not, that could wait until morning.

He was, once the music got underway, glad he’d stepped in. Romero, a pianist, wasn’t half bad. Good, healthy jobs. Nice imagination. Angel, on the other hand, smoking a Fender fretless, knocked Keith back in his seat. The way she burned, he mused, she should be charged with arson. When the band stepped off the stage, she was no longer shooting him that come-and-get-some smile. Had had her head turned by a petite, pretty redhead with an impish grin.

Keith said a gracious goodbye, gave Angel a hug and decided to call it. Cabs were lined up outside, but opted to walk back and enjoy a nice breeze blowing up off the water.

None of it worked. He still couldn’t shake that uneasy feeling about his lady.

Next week: Duty keeps Keith on the road.

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