This took a while to get figured out. Ended up pulling two chapters into one, I think the flow is now correct and complete. Please let me know if you see any issues.
12 ~ Spradler’s ~
Jared and I pulled into the parking lot for ‘Spradler’s on Main’ fifteen minutes prior to the required timeslot. We stood outside and each had a cigarette while I took a quick glance around the area.
“Looks almost too high-brow to be a jazz club,” I commented.
“Are you saying only low-class people listen to jazz?”
“Of course not. This just isn’t the type neighborhood I was expecting.”
“What were you looking for? Graffiti on the door?”
“No, of course not.”
“I dunno. Maybe I’m just anxious.” I ground my smoke out in a tub of sand near the door. “Come on, let’s go in.”
The inside of Spradler’s was much more as expected – dark walls, circular tables around the floor arcing before the stage. The bar was on the wall opposite the door; Mike was standing at the end with a beer in one hand, the other gesturing in true ‘Mike-ish’ fashion as he talked with a tall, lanky woman dressed in dark slacks and a light blouse. I got the feeling of ‘manager’ just from the way she stood. Mike noticed us enter and smiled. He gave me a ‘thumbs-up’ then motioned for us to cross the room and join them.
“Paul, Jared, this is Christine Spradler, owner of the club.”
Christine shook our hands, a firm, business handshake, and yet a lady’s grip. Firm but not crushing, though her manicured, highly-polished nails did start to dig into the back of my hand as she held it. “Welcome to the only true jazz club in downtown,” she offered. “Mike has told me much about both of you. Was so sorry to hear of Mac,” at this she paused and gave me the once-over with light caramel eyes. “I trust you are up to the task. Mac won’t be an easy act to follow.”
“I think you’ll be pleased, Christine,” I countered. “Mike would do without before he brought just anyone into his mix.”
“I imagine that’s true enough,” she replied.
“Count on it,” Mike added.
She looped her arm around Jared’s. “Jared, come with me and I’ll show you the sound board.” His eyes bugged as she turned and steered her away from our little group. I bit back a chuckle.
“Seems to know what she wants,” I said to Mike.
“You can believe that. The woman is all business when it comes to her name-sake, but outside the club you’d never take her for a businesswoman running her own place.”
“Is this a private convo, or can anyone join in?”
I turned at the familiar voice, a smile splitting my face. “Tara,” I exclaimed as she grabbed me in a bear hug. Mike’s wife was one of those people who was told ‘you haven’t changed’ over the years, and with Tara, it was mostly true. She had a refined beauty that seemed to increase with time, yet never aged. Petite, with platinum hair and crystal blue eyes, button nose, and perfect lips, she was the epitome of grace and charm in female form. And when she and Mike looked at each other, you could practically feel the heat from their passion for each other.
I arched a brow. “Where is Bethany?” Bethany was their two-year old. Not that I expected her to be at the club, but an obvious absence with her parents both being there.
“I have an uncle and aunt in Glencoe,” she replied. “They haven’t seen their grand-niece for almost a year and practically begged to keep her for a couple days.”
“Needless to say, we didn’t argue,” Mike added, the lust in his voice obvious.
“Ooh, is Bethany going to have a baby brother or sister?” I chided.
Tara laughed, the sound was rich and full. “I wouldn’t complain, but we’re not planning on having another.”
“We’re also not taking any measures to prevent one…”
She giggled. “True.”
I hugged Tara again. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t mind being a godfather to another. You know how much I love Bethany.”
Just then Christine returned with Jared who was smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary. Though, from the look in his eyes, maybe it was more like him being the canary. Christine and Tara said hello, and the two started to talk babies. Mike kissed Tara on the cheek and excused us as Cal and Perry headed across the room to join us.
Cal spoke first. “Sorry we’re late, Mike – there was an accident a couple blocks up Main.”
Mike glanced at his watch. “No worry, only a couple of minutes. Everyone grab a drink and convene at the stage. Jared, join us, I want to run the sets.”
As Jared and I stood at the bar waiting for his drink I took a good look at my friend. “So what’s up? You came back from the sound booth almost like you were in terror. Is the equipment that old?”
He shook his head. “No man, it’s perfect. It’s Christine. Damn if the woman didn’t make a move on me.”
“Major. I barely sat at the console and she had one claw on my shoulder and another on my thigh, her face inches from mine and I swear I saw her drool.”
I laughed. “Drool. Get real, Jer.”
“Ok, so maybe the lady didn’t drool – but I know being hit on. And this was a full-frontal advance.”
I glanced over at the two women for a moment. “So what’s the problem, she’s very attractive.”
“My pendulum doesn’t swing that far anymore.”
“Be happy someone wants to swing your pendulum at all, my friend.”
He punched my shoulder gently. “Trust me, everything still works. I just have my thoughts in another direction these days.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Mmm,” was all he said as he paid the bartender for his mixed drink and headed for the stage, leaving me puzzled as to his non-committal response.
I downed the last of my beer and bought a fresh bottle then headed to the stage. Mike went over each of the sets, then we walked through the first set order, reviewing each piece, tempo, special hits, who had what lick when. When he finished I actually felt more relaxed about what was about to take place. Before I could come to grips with the crowd that had spawned on the tables around us, Mike stood at his mic and greeted the people. Jared took his place at the board and within moments the band moved into ‘Blue Train’. One thought raced through my mind before I closed my eyes and lost myself in the music.
Into the valley of death …
~ – – – ~
After the program, Mike, Jared and I were sitting at a table recapping. Cal and Perry had left about thirty minutes earlier and the place was about empty. Mike finished his beer and looked across the table at me.
“Once you loosened up, I think you did great.”
Jared chortled. “From where I sat, it didn’t look like he ever ‘loosened up’.”
“Not sure I did,” I confessed. “Not completely, anyway.”
It was true. Although I didn’t hit any places where I felt lost or addled, I never quite dropped into the flow. Each piece had been a bit of a trial and although none of the audience may have noticed, I certainly had. I was already questioning whether I could do this full time.
“First thing you have to do,” Mike went on, “is let go of that perfectionist attitude and realize jazz works because it is not flawless. You cover well.”
“You heard those, huh?” I queried.
“Heard what? Heard you use slides and climbs? Heard you half-step your way out of a glitch. Even rose an extra octave? Yeah, I heard them. Artistry in motion. Ease up on yourself a little.”
“Ugh,” I countered as I took a swig of my whiskey. “I remember now why so many musicians fall into the drug trap.”
Mike slammed his open palm on the table. Both Jared and I jumped, but managed to spill neither of our drinks.
“You wanna work for me you drop that talk now.” His eyes were dark and narrow.
“I didn’t say that I was…”
He cut me off. “I know what you said. Look, Paul, I’ve seen too many good musicians kill their art with drugs and alcohol. If I thought you were prone, I never would have invited you in.”
“I am not prone,” I replied angrily.
Jared jumped in. “Easy guys. It was a good night. The crowd loved it. Now is the time to chill and enjoy.”
I downed the last of my drink. “Right. I’m sorry, Mike – I was thinking out loud, but I wasn’t contemplating.
Mike nodded. “I know. I guess I get a little parental when a member of my team doubts his own ability.” He stood and smiled. “You did an awesome job. Even with your glitches. And Jared, reports are the sound was solid. Nice work.” He set his bottle down. “But if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see a man about a horse, then head for bed.”
I stood and looked at Jared. “I think I’m ready, too. You good to head out?”
He tapped the side of his mug. “Coffee, remember? Yeah. I’m good to go. Before the caffeine actually starts to wake me up.”
We each tossed a couple bucks on the table to add to the growing tip, waved at the remaining staff, then headed for the front door. Outside the air was balmy and still quite humid, though a nice breeze wafted in from the lake. I stretched and looked around at the lights of the city as I dug a smoke out of my inner jacket pocket.
We each lit up and strolled casually across the parking lot. Jared kept shooting me furtive glances until finally I had to ask.
“Something on your mind?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. You look … I dunno, displeased I guess.”
“Huh? Oh.” I paused in thought. ‘Inner-soul’ sharing was never easy. Even with Annie. “I’m just thinking about Mike’s offer to do this full time.”
“Gonna turn him down?”
I ground out my cigarette as we reached the rental and looked across the vehicle at Jared. “I don’t know. Tonight was eye-opening, to say the least. I mean, ok, I really did enjoy playing, and I love his style, always have.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Let’s start with all the travel.”
He put his smoke out and opened the car, sliding into the driver’s seat. “There is a lot of that, sure. But you seem able to chill yourself enough to manage if you have to fly. You know Mike’s route; it never goes that far you couldn’t drive between most points. Buckle up.”
I absent-mindedly buckled my seatbelt; my gaze remained unfocussed out the windshield. “I suppose. But never being home? How does someone have any kind of relationship with anyone when you’re never home? Unless you’re lucky enough to find someone like Tara, I just don’t see that as an easy road.”
Jared stopped short, backed half-way out of his parking spot against the building. “Relationship? You thinking about getting serious with Cheryl? ‘Cause I’m fairly certain you’re not talking about Tommy. And when did you start thinking long-term when it comes to relationships?”
I leaned back in the seat and stared at the ceiling as he moved into traffic. “Not really thinking about anyone. Not yet. But I know me, Jer. I know how much I miss having someone … there.”
“And you’re not the type for one night stands.”
“Never have been.”
“Don’t remind me.” I gave him a look and he just winked at me. “Point is, you’re not with anyone right now, so that’s not much of a deterrent to going with Mike. At least, from where I sit.” He swerved to the left and swore, causing me to close my eyes for a moment. “Damn fool taxis”.
I ignored it. Better than starting another conversation on his driving and Chicago traffic. “I suppose not. But in truth …” I stopped.
“In truth what?” He glanced over at me. “C’mon, Paul, give. You know you’ll feel better if you get it out.”
I sighed and shook my head. “Between you and me, Jer. Truth is, there’s no real reason for me to keep working at all anymore. I could take a buy out of my retirement – between that and Annie’s insurance I could be comfortable for a long time. Maybe not have to work again.”
“I don’t get it,” he countered. “To me that sounds like grounds for taking Mike up on his offer, not turning it down.” He stopped at the light just shy of our hotel and began tapping mindless rhythm on the steering wheel. “I could learn to hate this light.”
I had to laugh. “You could learn to hate any light. Traffic signals are the bane of your driving existence. I’ve ridden with you long enough to know that.”
“Whatever. Don’t change the subject. You still haven’t come clean on why you’re not accepting Mike’s offer to become part of the band.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to accept. Just … thinking about it. It’s a big change. And anyhoo, like I said, there’s no reason I couldn’t pack it in and quit earning.” I sat up as he started forward and signaled for the turn into the hotel lot. “I could travel. See all those places we were going to see but never got to. Maybe go north. Or Europe even.”
“Is that your dream, or Annie’s?” Jared asked quietly.
“We both talked about it.” I unbuckled as we parked. “Yeah, ok – so she wanted to more than I did, and I agreed mostly because it meant free time with my love at my side. But there are things I would like to see, like to do, and I now have the freedom to do so. For starters, I have grandkids I could spoil.”
We got out of the car and walked across the lot to enter the hotel. As we rode up in the elevator, I sighed again. “You keep talking ‘second chances’. Well, this could be mine. A chance to just … I dunno. Be me.”
As we moved down the hall toward our rooms, I could tell I had reached him; Jared was lost in thought. He stopped briefly after opening his door. “Just don’t be running away from life. Whatever you decide, make it toward living.”
I stepped over and gave him a hug, then returned to my doorway. “Thanks for listening, Jer. And for understanding.”
He shot me an impish grin. “That’s what friends be for. Well, that among other things.”
I just laughed and stepped into my room, not even bothering with the lights as I headed for bed.