Faith looked back over the nighttime cityscape. “Sam practically worships Helen. And I can see why.”
Keith finally found his tongue. “Oh, yeah. That woman truly is a piece of work. All the talent in the world and more personality than the law should allow.
“Never forget the day we met. Louie was answering an ad she’d put out for percussionists. I tagged along for the pure hell of it. Tell the truth, was curious. Wanted to see could she sing good as she acts. Showed me a thing or two.”
Gazing into the night, amused by the recollection, he didn’t notice Faith hanging on every word. “Anyway, she hired him on the spot. One thing about her, Helen has never been one to hesitate. Handed him the job straight out, and then we all sat around to celebrate.
“It was some studio or other. Small place, nothing fancy. She broke out some beers and, well, ‘fore you know it they were jamming. Helen’d sing a verse of that Joe Cocker thing, “High Time We Went,” and then let the guys just blow. I’m sittin’ there listenin’ along, havin’ a nice time. Next thing I hear, he’s askin’ her, ‘Can my friend play?’
“Helen being Helen snaps back, ‘I don’t know. Can he play?’ Well, there’s an extra guitar layin’ around. So the guitar player hands it to me, I tune up, and they start the song all over.”
Keith laughed and happened to look at Faith, caught the gleam in her eye, then had to look away again. “By the time we stopped, I’m not sure what we higher on, the beer or the music. But she said her very first words to me: ‘Come here, boy, I wanna talk to you.’
“Just like that. Halfway sounded like she gettin’ ready to kick my butt. Pulled me aside and said, ‘Finally, somebody who knows how to play that thing. I’m not hiring your buddy unless you come along with him.’”
Helen shook her head in amazement. “You’re kidding.”
“Oh, no. And she was serious. I think Helen just might’ve fired the guy working for her then. Except I said to her that bad as I wanted Luis to get the gig, I don’t join bands. Groups, backup bands, whatever. I just don’t do it.”
“You’re doing it now.”
“Yeah, well, that’s a lot later in the story. Anyhow, Luis still got the gig. Went on tour with her, opening for I forget who. She made me promise, though, that I would at least sit in with her from time to time and, when the occasion arose, record. We been mutual admirers ever since.”
He looked at Faith again, this time refusing to take his eyes away. She looked into his. Just as they were about to kiss, Kate came out. “You guys ready to come back in?”
They weren’t, but followed her in anyway. Keith kept telling himself there was nothing to feel guilty about, that he didn’t owe Lesli — his memories of and feelings for her — a damned thing.
In short order, they were all on the sofa, hunched over the coffee table, each of them nibbling and sipping on the something. Carl put the music back on and they sat jawing, trying to figure out at least what was going to be left off. This elimination process wasn’t very effective. Every time someone wanted to kill one cut, someone else wanted to keep it.
Finally Helen huffed, puffed, sat back and said, “Just forget it.” She pulled rank and assigned Keith to do the decision-making.
You’d’ve thought he’d just sat on a firecracker. “What?!”
“Don’t what me. You’re the music director, so direct, ‘cause this is giving me a headache.”
She had him there. It made sense for it to be his call. If only because he was pretty convinced it all sounded great and didn’t really much care what stayed on the album and what stayed off. He still didn’t welcome the task, because sure as the sun rose Samantha Smith was going to give him hell about which of her songs they used. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome.” And they went back to listening. And listening. Hanging out, eating, drinking and listening until everybody but her finally got tired of hearing themselves. Hours later, the last track played.
“Thank God,” Helen muttered. “Jackson, you got your work cut out for you.”
Next week: Keith keeps it simple.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.