Game time!

Keith-&-LesliHelen’s hug put him in a fairly good mood and he walked with her over to the prep area, where Luis sat behind his skins, tuning them with that perpetual smug smile he probably wore even in his sleep. Keith said, “Whass up, partner?”

“Ain’t no line like the main line.”

“Yeah.” And the main line was staying on the j-o-b. Working. If you couldn’t count on anything else in this world, you could count on that. If you couldn’t even count on your woman, you could count on it. And, clearly, Keith could not count on his woman.

Helen shooed all the hangers-on out of the place, including Luis’ groupies and any straggling journalists. Luis rolled his skins and barked, “Game time!”

Everybody get it together to go to work. Keith was disappointed that Jeff Christensen hadn’t come east to close out the tour. He’d been looking forward to trading riffs with a true master. Well, maybe some other time.

In short order they filed out and down a long set of stairs, then up a short ramp to the stage.  The crowd reacted right away, people up front calling out to Helen and Sam — most of them had no idea who he was, not yet anyway. The publicity machine, steadily grinding, would soon change that.

Yohannes had been replaced by a local ace, and the Twin Cities drummer had stuck around enjoying the payday and the prestige of a few more gigs with the one and only Helen St. James and her brand new band. This was going to vastly enhance his rep and greatly improve his employment opportunities.

It was an outdoor event, the audience spanning out behind the student union building. The sun had set and, as Keith looked out over the campus, he couldn’t make out any faces past the first several rows. But he could hear a sizeable mob out there.

It quickly became one happy mob as things got kicked off in high gear, Helen and Sam leading with “MidnightTrain.” Smoke was everywhere, a cloud of it hovering over the stage, a haze of it so thick in front of the stage he could make out fewer and fewer faces. The cops, on-duty to see nothing got terribly out of hand, picked their spots, ignoring the weed but snatching up anybody caught snorting something. And as the night and beer supply wore on, looking out for any fights.

Keith let the applause die down after “If There Was Any Other Way” and, departing from the set list, raised a hand and stepped to the mic. Helen, Sam and Luis looked on, wondering what he was up to.

He stepped to the mic, cradling the acoustic and said, trying to peer out into the throng, “is gon’ be a single from the band. Ain’t sure quite when it’ll be released, because I gotta talk to the boss about it. That gorgeous lady standing over there with her hands on all them hips, looking at me like I lost my mind.”

He turned and winked at Helen who simply stood, uncharacteristically caught off guard. Keith turned back to the crowd. “It’s wrote by some guys my daddy once used to jam with. Song about gettin’ your heart broke. It’ll sound a whole lot better when I finish showin’ it to my girls here, Helen and Sam, and they set they pipes to it. For now, though, what you get is what you get.”

He played and sang “Her Town Too.” When he got done, applause rose up so loud you couldn’t hear a cannon go off. He turned to smile at Helen and was shocked, stopped in his tracks. The brassy broad had tears in her eyes. Walked over and hugged him.

One thing about Helen. When that woman hugged a man, he knew he’d just been seriously hugged.  Keith said as she wiped at her face, “As music director, figured I got license to decide on material. Thass a decision. Work for you?”

“I love you!” She hugged him again. With which the crowd crazy. Sam had kind of a dizzy smile on. He wasn’t sure whether that was appreciating what had just happened or just a matter of her being goofy under the influence.

Next week: Keith parties with Helen.

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