Meanwhile, media eyes fell heavy on Helen St. James. And on her rising-star protégé Samantha Smith. Between sound check and the show, Helen and Sam held a press conference. Microphones shoved in their faces under glaring lights.
Keith looked on, marveling at the irony. If Helen could get famous without being noticed, she’d love it just fine. Sam ate it all up with knife and fork, no need for a napkin, let it dribble all down her chin.
Each took to the limelight like a duck to water. Just differently. Helen sang because she loved singing and doing it under the lights made her feel complete. Sam sang because she loved singing and wanted the whole world to stand still just for her.
Both fielded interview questions with personable wit. They glowed. Smiled pretty, smarted off, and were, in a word, damned good copy. By the time Uncle Thom’s Cabyn hit the stage, they’d already been on the evening news.
Helen St. James and Samantha Smith strolled on stage to a standing ovation of frenzied folk hollering their lungs out. Keith noted the acoustics worked fine. Then, double-checked the set list.
One thing he loved about working with Helen. She changed songs every show. Tonight, they were doing some Denise La Salle. You hadn’t lived until you’d caught St. James reveling a bawdy track like “Smokin’ In Bed.” She also was going go with Laura Nyro’s jazz cum R&B gem “Blackpatch.”
Both songs had gone well at sound check. Should go pretty good now. Sam had switched a couple songs out, too. He sipped his drink, decided he was comfortable. Turned to the rhythm section and counted off. They hit it.
Helen and Sam sang like angels. The whole night. They jammed on the encore, “Midnight Train,” stretching it to nearly 20 minutes. Then filed off stage, fairly staggering to a one.
Security guards had to keep Helen and Sam from getting mobbed. Everyone else just stepped into the dressing room to sit back and relax for a minute before returning to the buses. The audience, it turned out, refused to leave.
Helen and company had called it, but the faithful were not to be denied. They were in there, house lights full up, still yelling for more. The phone rang. Luis answered. “Okay, cool.” Hung up. Said to Keith, “Back to work.”
The band assembled just off-stage. Keith took charge. “Helen, you know, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’?”
“Is water wet?”
Sam asked, “What the hell is “You’ve Lost…” what’s the name of it?” Helen glowered at her. Sam shrank before that withering gaze. Keith smiled. How was the kid to know? Well, she’d find out fast under Helen.
He scribbled a chart, handed it to Sam. Played a little chicken-scratch while she worked it out. Then she stuck her chin out at Helen: “I got this.”
Keith and Helen grinned, proud as parents. Keith looked at Lola, who counted it off. Sherry hit a snaking riff and the song was on its way. He soloed. Luis soloed. For the pure hell of it, Sherry soloed. Then Lola had one. Sam took hers on piano. Then Helen and Keith raised three different kinds of hell, Helen taking the Bobby Hatfield part, Keith singing Bill Medley’s.
They filed back on and, soon as the first foot hit the stage, a roar went up. Sherry looked around, leaned over to Lola and asked, “This gon’ happen all the time?”
Lola grinned. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” They played and sang the song to death. Then the crowd finally left.
Keith staggered into the locker room. Luis shoved him. Keith shoved back. Said, “What you pushin’ me for?!” Luis simply stared.
Keith followed his friend’s gaze. And stared. Saw her. Standing against a wall, levelly eying him, arms at her sides.
Lesli was dressed simply enough. For a fox, anyway. Faded Capri jeans tight as a second skin. Dodger’s sweatshirt that, fitting loose, still couldn’t hide her assets. Wasn’t wearing much makeup. A little eye-liner, touch of lipstick. She looked good.
Luis studied them, wondering what was about to happen. Helen and Sam came barreling in, bragging and boasting about how well the gig had gone. Sherry came in behind them, equally enthusiastic, arm in arm with Faith.
Sherry and Faith saw the suddenly slack-jawed expressions on Helen and Sam, who had stopped dead in their tracks and were, like Luis, staring at Keith and Lesli. The silence in the room just about deafened. Faith quietly asked Sam, “Is that her?”
Lesli, looking at her man, simply said, “Yes. I’m her.”
Next week: Sure enough, she’s back.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.