Thursday, July 27, 2006

Summer 1967

The interior of the’68 Lincoln Continental smelled of leather and dashboard plastic. Its seats were so plush that they exhaled when sat upon, air came up through the little buttons sewn into the center of the upholstered seams. Zoot Prestige and the other two musicians of his trio had settled into the back seat of this elegant machine when they heard a loud bang. The car lurched, and a dimly lit man sprawled across the hood, his arms stretched in front of him, his legs pressed against the windshield glass.
The drummer, Aaron Kantro, was nineteen, and had never before heard a gun shot. In spite of this fact, he recognized the sound; it was bigger, rounder than a firecracker. The man on the car's hood waved a pistol around frantically, then sprang up and disappeared among the other cars in the parking lot.
"Jesus fucking Christ!” The exclamation erupted from Aaron's body, without thought.
Zoot Prestige held a finger to his mouth and scrunched further down into the plush of the seat. Because he was the smallest, Aaron was in the middle, over the hump of the drive shaft. The organist, Tyrone Terry, hoping to be invisible, was pulling his little pork-pie hat over his eyes.
A voice shouted, "I'LL KILL YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!", and there
were two more shots, two ovoid muzzle flashes lit up the windshields of Cadillacs and
Thunderbirds. A face appeared , pressed to the window of Zoot’s car, cheek distorted against the glass, one eye like that of a panicked horse. The man was using the Continental for cover. Though his breath steamed the glass only inches from Zoot's face, he was not aware that three musicians were trying to hide in the back seat.
The man raised a snubby revolver over the roof of the car, fired once, then ran, crouching, to take cover behind a black Eldorado.
"Shit," Zoot grumbled, "I hope nobody bleeds on my ride. That custom paint job
cost me an extra three hundred." The brand new cream-colored car was long and sleek as a submarine.
"HEY! HE'S OVER THERE!" A voice shouted. Bang bang bang!
Flashes lit up the musician's faces. Aaron looked at Tyrone, who had twitched violently and spilled ashes from a tiny corncob pipe full of marijuana. His eyes were huge. Just at that moment, Tyrone realized that he had forgotten to exhale. When Aaron saw that his friend was trying not to cough, trying not to draw attention to their presence in the car, he began to giggle.
They had sunk all the way to the maroon upholstery on the floor of the car.. Aaron's legs were in his chest. Tyrone passed the pipe back to Zoot. As bandleader and mentor, it was Zoot's custom to dole out two pipes full of marijuana to each of his musicians, before every set. He wanted them at a carefully controlled level of intoxication. This was Zoot’s “groove”, no booze, no hard drugs, moderately stoned, mellow and benevolent, smooth. This was the psychic space in which he liked to play music. Two pipes: not three, not one. Two pipes. Of course, it depended on the quality of the weed. Panama Red. Two pipes. Acapulco Gold. Two pipes. Oaxaca shake. Four pipes. That was on rare occasions. Zoot had a talent,
now being passed on to his acolytes, for scoring quality smoke.
The car rocked on its exquisite suspension as a pair of grappling men, fingers snarled in
one another’s sport coats, rolled the other way across the hood. They vanished somewhere in the gravel of the parking lot, grunting and cursing. A short-brimmed hat lay on the hood for a moment, before a stiff breeze took it and lofted it across the parking lot with an autumnal premonition of winter wind. Zoot narrowed his eyes and tried to inspect his hood for damage through the crevice between the front seats.
"Damn!" Tyrone tried to pull further into his hat. Zoot, relaxing, loaded the pipe, handed it to Aaron, and lit it carefully, using the concealed nub of his cheroot.
Observing Zoot's utter poise, Aaron and Tyrone hissed through their lips with suppressed giggles. It was impossible to tell which part of the moment was funny and which part was terrifying. The giggles and spluttering had equal components of panic and the hysterical disbelief of pot-head hipsters in a bizarre situation.
Several car engines roared to life and raced from the lot in clouds of gravel and fumes. Sirens approached and receeded, revolving red lights whizzed past the intersection, making crimson reflections in the Continental’s glass.
Then there was silence. In the back of Zoot's car, the musicians straightened their bodies with the slowness of clock hands moving. After an interval, they were sitting normally on the seats. Zoot loaded the pipe, lit, inhaled. Carefully, he replaced it in a leather pouch, concealed the stash under the seat, and twisted his head from left to right and back again, loosening his neck muscles. He was sixty two, and a tenor saxophone had hung from his shoulder blades for more than fifty years.
"Should we go back in and play?" There was a squeak in Aaron's voice. Tentatively, he made a few mock rolls with invisible drum sticks.
Zoot looked at Aaron with a barely perceptible lift of an eyebrow.
"Why would we NOT go back in and play?" The marquee lights of Mickey Tucker's Diamond Club, blue and orange , glowed on half of Zoot's face, shadowing the other half, giving his eye a demonic glitter. He wet his thumb and forefinger with his tongue and smoothed the hairs of his pencil moustache.
"We're professional jazz musicians, babe. We play." Opening the car's door, Zoot brushed a tiny flake of ash from his tuxedo pants with a dapper gesture, and corkscrewed his six foot three inch frame upright.
Tyrone and Aaron followed. The world flickered. Smoke and adrenaline mixed in their bloodstreams. They were young, life was dangerous and exciting, and it was a fine night in the neon-lit urban world of jazz.
"Is this like in the western movies," Aaron asked, "where all hell breaks loose, bodies are flying, furniture's getting smashed, and the piano player keeps going as if nothing's happening?"
Zoot Prestige straightened his lapels, and moved his shoulders inside his jacket so that the garment settled more squarely on his body.
"That's right. We're hipsters, babe, we’re cool." Zoot's voice was velvet and gravel, Scotch whisky and smoke.. “Now, if the drummer gets killed, that’s another matter. No rhythm section, no gig. Gotta draw the line somewhere.” He brushed a bit of ash from Aaron’s tuxedo jacket. It was a tender, paternal gesture. “Ain’t nothin’ unusual happening here, it’s just another gig, somebody’s old lady got too friendly with somebody else’s old man and things got complicated.” Zoot shepherded his two young friends toward the door of the nightclub. “It’s human nature. Let's go inside and play some music to soothe the savage breast, shall we? Let’s lay down some Recalcitrant Funk-itis."
Zoot had just coined another of his classic nonsense phrases: Recalcitrant Funk-itis
now joined the lexicon along with Groove-matic Ubiquity, Heliocentric Hot Sauce and other such crazed locutions.
Aaron and Tyrone grinned at one another, nodded, and followed the urbane figure of their mentor back into the humid noise of Mickey Tucker's Diamond Club.


Blogger Theresa Haffner said...

If this is the first chapter I'd like to see the rest of the novel!

Something about this vignette seems awfully familiar. I don't remember the incident, but I can almost recognize the characters. Craftily fictionalized, with enough of the details mixed up to excuse the writer of any liability, but I could almost put myself in one of those plush seats of that Cadillac in the Summer of '67. A fascinating glimpse of a shared reality from another point of view. I like it.

Your narrative writing is skillful. The story is entertaining. It definately has perked my interest and makes me want to read more.

9:49 AM  

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