The three silently checked into the hotel. The tallest handled the money. Saying only enough to conclude the transaction. His eyes watched carefully where the money went, how the drawer was opened, how it locked, where the key went. The clerk was polite, precise in his routine, his distrust well hidden when he handed the three the key with a hint of a smile. The tall one barely nodded and the three moved as a wordless shabby assembly toward the elevator.
“The operator will be back in a moment if you can wait.” the clerk spoke. Jessie took frequent piss breaks and it was not unusual for him to be absent when someone needed a lift.
Without acknowledgement they steered for the stairs. The tall one pulling open the door and the other two following him through. The former elegance was everywhere, even in the stair well, with its white marble window sills beneath tall broad windows at each landing, the brass handrail capping the decorative iron banister. But Tom, the tall one, thought only about the cash drawer which now held nearly all of their money, enough for a single night’s stay in a single room.
They climbed the stairs with the same unhurried resign, their shoes producing an uneven rhythm on the worn stair tread. Ted, short and stocky, carried their only bag, a duffle with a one broken hand strap, thrown over his shoulder.
When they pushed open the door at their floor they stepped into a small lounge adjacent to the elevator door. A few overstuffed chairs and a couch bordered the dimly lit space and a small group of men sat and stood smoking and talking. One man with long dark hair extending from a large bald spot dominated the conversation.
“Memphis, what a hillbilly hell hole. I wouldn’t go back there right now if you paid me ten thousand dollars.” All eyes were directed on Jimmy as he spoke and all within earshot found their brain uncontrollably resonating with the last three words out of his mouth. His voice emanated from deep within a wing-backed chair whose cushion seemed to rest unusually low between the padded arms. Those same three words also caught the attention of the new arrivals who now hesitated before pressing on to their room. Yet once inside their room they stayed only long enough to deposit their bag before the voice of Jimmy drew them out again like a force field. So they stood with the others, listening for something innately promised in his authority, a sentence or word that would touch their lives and finally deliver them to a taste of the success that once was Jimmy’s. “…the fucker never paid us man and we had another gig in Denver or we would of stayed and beat the livin’ piss out of him.”
This guy was bullshitting and Tom knew it. Tom did not nod in approval after each pronouncement but instead listened for a misstep, a falsehood which he could challenge and expose this guy to be just a loser with a big mouth. He wanted to light a cigarette so when the moment came he could gesture with a fresh fag between his fingers but he only had a couple of stubs in an otherwise empty pack. “…we couldn’t involve the law, hell, we traveled with at least a pound of grass, plus the coke, acid, speed and god knows what else that fans laid on us.” Again Jimmy paused at this image, aware of his audience, allowing time for maximum cognitive saturation. “The last thing we needed was the law so we said fuck it and got on the bus for Denver. Twenty thousand dollars plus a piece of the gate. He still owes us today.”
Believing he found his inconsistency, Tom decided it was time to nail this charlatan when the elevator doors opened to a single bell tone. A collapsing metal gate was pulled back by the frail operator and there emerged a woman into the stale, smokey scene. Maybe it was the contrast, her bright clothing lithe against the stained wallpaper and worn carpet. Maybe it was her smell defying the stale cigar smoke and cheep whisky. Maybe it was her Kabuki white legs and face beneath her short skirt and straight black hair. But an Egyptian Queen stepping out of that elevator could not have been more startling to Tom and he lost all conscience thought about cigarettes or challenges or cash drawers.
“You can’t imagine how much money we were cheated out of those two years of touring.” the voice continued “At one point we didn’t have gas money for the fuckin’ bus. We had “Kitchen Lovin'” at the top of the charts and no money for gas.” The woman walked steadily toward the voice in the chair. Her presence, her proximity fired some dormant synapses in Tom’s brain, something long extinguished by drink and drugs and the struggle to get by. “We filled five thousand seat halls across America with insane fans night, after night, after night, after night.” She stepped around the chair to one side of Jimmy and sat on his far knee so not to block him from his audience. Only his head could now be seen above the chair. “Everyone wanted a piece of us, to see us or touch us or be near us. We were gods. We were star studded fuckin’ gods.”
Her neck carried her face slightly forward of her body. The beginning of the space between her breasts was just noticeable through her sheer top though her breasts were hidden by two black rectangles provocatively placed like the pen strokes of a 1950’s movie poster artist.
Tom, leaning against a wall with one leg cocked so his foot was flat against it, watched with new interest. Jimmy spoke on but Tom was not listening anymore. One thing was not disputable, she was Jimmy’s woman. At one of Jimmy’s dramatic pauses, Tom finally pushed himself away and spoke up.
“I think I can help you man. My name’s Tom.” He moved to the chair extending his hand, which only the girl acknowledged by limply offering hers. The unexpected touch of her skin made him pause, almost forgetting what he was going to say. “I’ve got an old friend, more like a relative. Lives near Memphis.” He reluctantly moved his gaze to Jimmy while still holding her hand, “He’s got some connections, knows a few people, could maybe put us up while you tried to get some of that money you’re owed or whatever… maybe we could talk later about it, in private, in your room…. or in my room or whatever’s cool?”
Jimmy never spoke or looked at Tom. After an uncomfortable pause, Tom dropped her hand and moved back toward the wall then went into his room. Closing the door, he heard Jimmy’s monologue start again transfixing, inspiring, entertaining. His friends remained out there. He was happy they stayed out there. He needed to be alone, to think. It was something important that just happened. Something that was not about money or drugs or avoiding the law. Something maybe he lost along the way.