The air was thick with spilled beer and old cigarette smoke.These little clubs always seemed so desolate once the crowds had filtered out. The four of us were sharing a bottle while the waitresses and the bartender cleaned up for the night. Neff and Aiko seemed relaxed and happy, but Dalene was cool and pensive, avoiding looking me in the eye.
It had been a good weekend for us as we actually managed to play Thursday, Friday and Saturday night without being fired by the manager, driven off stage by the crowd or arrested for lewdness. It was not that we had changed our show, just that the mood going in had been a little more relaxed. We offered up lots of blues and let Day’s guitar lead us into the night until the crowd was liquored up enough to at least tolerate our louder, angrier fare. And if the room started to empty early, we could not have cared less.
Dalene downed a shot then looked up as Frank, the owner, came out of his office and strode across the room to our table. He was a big man, tall and wide with a ruddy complexion, and a broad, flat face framed in an unkempt shock of white hair. He paused, hands on his hips as he looked down at us, a slight smile on his wide mouth. I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth.
Playing clubs like Frank’s was a gamble. He knew what he usually brought in on a given weekend and the band was expected to draw enough of a crowd to see that he met his expected take between the cover charge, food and drinks. Some owners wouldn’t take a chance on us, others would. Of the ones who would, most looked at a down weekend and just told us not to come back, but some of them expected us to forfeit our pay if we did not cover the expected take. Of those in the latter group, some were willing to take payment ‘in kind’. Frank was definitely one of those.
“I thought you were gonna make it tonight, girls,” he sighed, “but y’all killed the crowd with all the screechin’ and hollerin’ at the end. You’re eight hundred short.”
He looked straight at me when he said it. I gave him a knowing look because I had made explicit promises to land this gig, but as I tried to rise from my chair Dalene’s hand on my shoulder shoved me down as she stood. She snatched up the bottle on the table and slid around behind me to rub up against Frank, sliding her free hand over his shoulder and across his chest.
“How about we go back to your office and discuss this?” she whispered, then she glanced at me and what I saw in her eyes nearly made me gasp. She was seething with anger and it was all directed straight at me.
I opened my mouth, and then gritted my teeth as Aiko kicked me under the table. Both she and Neff were watching me in a way that demanded I simply shut my mouth. Dalene tugged at Frank’s shirt and pressed her lips to his ear, whispering something I could not hear, but made him flush with anticipation. His meaty arm slid around her waist and they turned away from us, walking back to his office. Dalene clutched the whiskey bottle by the neck as she slipped her free hand across his back and leaned into him.
I called out her name, desperate to stop this somehow, but she simply moved her hand from Frank’s back, making a fist with her middle finger rigidly extended. She held the gesture until they reached the office door and disappeared within.
Neff’s voice snapped me out of my paralyzed state and I jumped from my seat. Aiko grabbed me by the hand and shook me hard.
“We need to pack up,” she said, “Day will be fine.”
I could not stop staring at the office door while we packed up our instruments and equipment. Sometimes Aiko or Neff would have to shove me to get me moving, but there was no anger or impatience in them as we spent the next hour lugging everything outside and packing it in the van and small trailer we travelled in. Once everything was packed I started towards the office door, but Aiko grabbed me as Neff planted herself between me and the door.
“Day is doing what needs to be done,” Neff told me, her Kenyan accent suddenly very pronounced. “Our hotel is across the street- she knows where to find us.”
“You don’t seriously believe I’ll just leave her here?!”
Eyes wide with anger Neff slapped me hard, snapping my head to one side. It was so sudden, so unlike her I just stared at her in shock.
“Yes! You will just leave, just like we have left, just like she has left you in places like this.”
I could have brushed past the both of them; I would not even need to hurt them to do it, but their anger held me paralyzed. I could not grasp what had set the three of them off, or how having Dalene subject herself to that fat bastard Frank could possibly make anything better, but I knew trying to stop this would be a mistake. All three of them had decided on this and as much as it tore at my heart I had to let it play out.
Without saying another word I turned and stormed out the door. At the van I reached in the driver’s window and grabbed my cigarettes, then crossed the parking lot, planted myself on the fence rail and lit up. A few minutes later Aiko and Neff came out and climbed into the van, then pulled it around in a wide u-turn to stop in front of me.
“Coming?” Aiko asked.
I stared at her, trying to keep the raw emotion boiling inside me from leaking out, but it was futile. Neff leaned over from the driver’s seat.
“You can’t go in there! That’s just the way it has to be.”
“I’m not going in,” I snapped, “But I’m not moving from this spot until she comes out.” I refrained from adding that if I suspected for an instant anything might be going bad I would be in that office in an instant and strangle Frank with my bare hands. It didn’t matter; they could both read it in my eyes. Aiko made to speak, but I stopped her with an upraised hand.
“No more,” I said, “Just go.”
They were both nervous, wondering if this could turn into something terrible. I felt tears welling up and I could not let them start to flow or I might lose control altogether, so I looked into Aiko’s eyes.
“I can’t go back without her,” I whispered. “Please, just go. We’ll meet you at the motel.”
Posted on January 3rd, 2008
Filed under: 1963 to 1967, The Past, Wounds Inflicted | No Comments »