A new, different Keith Jackson showed up at the tail end of Helen’s tour. He’d tried a couple times but, for one reason or other, missed the Canadian leg altogether. First, the cab had got caught in traffic that even for Manhattan was abysmal — a water main broke in midtown, tying things up for miles around.
Rather than miss the flight and wait around in the airport bar for the next one, he cancelled and went to the Village, sitting in with some cats at a jazz club. A few days after that, a bomb scare cancelled all incoming British Columbia flights. Later in the week, when, a freakish lightning storm grounded outgoing New York flights, he’d figured it wasn’t meant to be. Guess I just ain’t goin’ to Canada.
And settled for connecting with the gang stateside. His chops had got a good workout. When he wasn’t running scales and working out song arrangements, he was picking up session work (and the buzz had got around in studios all over town that he and Luis were in a band with Helen and some young hottie with a hellacious voice).
Scott booked him into a Holiday Inn out near Stony Brook, his accommodations while the itinerary finished shaking out. Long Island was crazy about Helen St. James. College kids at every school worshipped her on the order of a second coming. Probably her aloof attitude didn’t hurt.
At length, what was supposed to be basically a whistle stop at Suffolk Community College stretched into a mini-jaunt in and of itself. Including Long Island University campuses in rich Southhampton and Hicksville.
He sat in his Inn room cooling his heels, noodling on the Ovation, lit like a Christmas tree, watching Betty Boop cartoons. Picked up the ringing phone and drawled, “Yeah?”
It was Helen! “Hey, girl, whass up!?”
“What you mean what’s up? You’re late for sound check. We’re wondering if your sorry behind didn’t miss a flight from one county to the next.”
“Helen,” he said, not the least bit bothered, “I been sittin’ in this room waiting for somebody to tell me where the gig is, let alone what time’s sound check. You talk to Scott?”
She hadn’t except, now that Keith was missing action, to get his room number. The job was at Stony Brook University, fortunately a hop, skip and jump away.
Still better news: Turned out the band was being put up at some banking baron’s mansion and, scrap hotels, that would be the base of operations for the next week. Gratis. In return, of course, for the banker being able to brag to her colleagues about her house guests — and to anybody else who’d sit still long enough. Scott, who had more than few friends in that neck of the woods, was likely at the bottom of it.
Keith could’ve just about walked there. But, late for the show, sat around until Helen came and got him. They rode over in a cab. Sat in silence. Got to the gig.
Their green room was the athletic director’s office and as much of the locker room as partying spilled over into. Keith wandered into the area and found a place where he’d be away from the general hubbub. The media in particular. Since Helen and Alena Sheridan were doing a full-court press, granting interviews all over the place.
To which Sam took like a duck to water. Cool beans. Let the front folk front their hips off. He had a surprise up his sleeve, anyway.
Helen found him. She did not, though, have a reporter in tow. She was wearing one of her lethal get-ups — clad in black. Leather britches stretched over those meaty thighs. Shin-high, stiletto-heeled FMB’s. Ballooning chest veiled in a brief vest barely held closed by a strip of black lace. Flame-hued hair flowing down over her shoulders.
She stared at him with a thin, loving smile, crossed to him with that mesmerizing, hip-swinging stride of hers. “Keith, I’m sorry about your lady.” Then reached out and held him.
Keith hugged Helen and stepped back before losing control. “Thanks, baby. No sorrier than me.” Then, to not dwell, to get on with things, “You buyin’ the next round?”
“Bet on it. We’ll sit down after the show, tonight, and get good old-fashioned, rip-roaring, drunk.”
Next week: It’s game time for the new band.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.