Keith and Helen look ahead

Keith-&-LesliKeith found himself watching the DVD at the after-party, Helen resting an arm on his shoulder. “I like this part,” she said.

He stood back and watched himself step up to the microphone. Eyes red as hell. With a smart-ass expression that belonged to his dad. “Wanna dedicate this next one to the horniest hound God ever placed on the earth.”

Everyone in the band knew who he was talking about. Luis actually had the nerve to blush as the band broke into the chestnut, “Sneaking Sally through the Alley,” about a cat who gets busted by his wife and tries to lie his way out of it. It segued into Rick James’ “Superfreak.” He said in Helen’s ear, “Word on the grapevine is I should’ve dedicated this song to you.”

“Um’ beat yo’ butt.” They laughed, two good friends having a nice time that neither would have seen coming, give or take a year ago, sipping Chianti, chowing down on Italian, thinking all they were doing was getting together for a quick gig while their paths happened to cross. He was about to ask her, point blank, whether she was married.

Alena Sheridan raised her voice above everything. “Ladies and gentlemen.” Then, added, “You too, Mr. Lugo.” Only a few of them got the joke. Luis laughed and looked at his shoes. She paused for effect. Simply said, “To success!”

Rapturous applause ensued: It was clear to even the most jaded among them this handsomely promising enterprise was paying off. In spades. They were all pleased to receive complimentary advance copies of UTC, both the CD and the DVD, which would hit the stores and Internet market a week later, within a month completely dominating outlets like MTV, VH1, TMZ and so forth.

The term rock-and-soul was about to mean something altogether brand new. Was going to have teeth. Shark’s teeth.

When it was all over and the last guest shown the door, a very weary Helen St. James sat with her just as bone-tired music director and an extremely pleased Alena Sheridan, hunched over a table, doing a little more plotting of the future before they broke camp and Keith was in the wind. Long range, there’d solo albums by Luis, by Lola and by him.

He’d suspected that was coming and by now had grown used to idea — a side of him even liked the notion. What the hell, in for a penny in for a pound. The next three years, as the broad scheme of things went, belonged to the enterprise.  At which point, they’d have to sit down and evaluate where they were.

Helen’s film career, logic dictated, would blow up by leaps and bounds, making it simply impossible for her to keep up with the band. At least, that’s how Alena — who, of course, had a keen interest in getting richer thanks to Helen getting more and more famous — saw it.

Keith knew better and watched his friend slightly frown before she said, “Al, I am always going to sing.”

Alena thoughtfully shifted gears: “Okay, if you feel that strongly about it. Beyoncé does it.”

“Thing is,” he put it in, “you can spend a year, more, in Hollywood or doing Indies. Whatever your heart desires. Then record, perform whenever you feel like. I don’t know about the rest of us being ready to drop what we’re doing, though, whenever you want to sing. Y’ know?”

Helen munched a carrot stick, washed it down with a swallow of beer. “Well, I suppose the band can go on without me and I can come back from time to time.”

“No, darlin’, we’ll go on playing music. But this band is not the same band without you. From more than time to time. I mean, we all dig gigging with each other. But we love performing with you. Face it, you’re the glue holding this thing together.”

She gave him a warm smile, leaned over and kissed his forehead. Then sat back and bit the stick again. “Well, listen. We’ll just have to look at the situation again in a few years. Meanwhile, we’ll all just get rich and famous.”


Next week: What’s on Helen’s mind?

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