The Girl Who Knew Nick Drake
"Nick Drake tapes? Where did she get them?"
"Easy, Martin," he said. "That's all she told me. She gave me a phone number."
I called her immediately. The phone rang four times before she picked it up (probably had caller ID and screens calls, I thought). I heard on the end of the other line a voice, slightly quavery, sounding old but clear and articulate.
"This is Shona Parker," the voice said.
"Hi, this is Martin Rollins." I had said it too fast. My words had tumbled out due to the eagerness and anxiety I felt. I tried to rein myself in and speak more evenly. "You contacted Fred Murphy, my agent, and said you wanted to talk to me."
Then I waited. I would say no more. My skin felt as if I had a case of prickly heat. The pause at the other end of the phone seemed to last forever.
"Mr. Rollins," she said. Then another long pause. "Yes. I like your music."
I licked my lips. "Thanks."
"You play Nick's songs particularly well."
I noted her use of the first name.
"I hope I do. I try. Of course, no one can come close to what he did as a guitarist." I felt more confident now, talking about guitar music, and I thought my voice became more even. "I've spent hours listening to him and many more hours trying to learn his style. If I can do it even a little justice that's all the reward I would ever want as a musician."
I waited. I fancied she smiled.
"That's very true. And I think you do measure up."
"Well thank you."
"I called your agent because I have some tapes you might be interested in listening to."
My hands sweated. I spoke carefully, not wanting to sound like a panther ready to pounce. She had tapes, I wanted them, but appearing too pushy and too mercenary would hinder my chances of getting enough control of them so that I could introduce them to the public.
"Fred mentioned that you said they were tapes by Nick Drake that no one had ever heard."
"You need to come and see me," she said, not answering my question.
"Well, of course. If you could give me your address I'd be happy to come over and listen to them." I added, "If they're songs by Nick Drake that no one has ever heard, I'll consider myself the most privileged man in the world to hear them."
"You will be indeed," she said, her voice sounding cheerful and triumphant. She gave an address, said she would see me on Monday, and hung up.
The first thing I did after I calmed down was to call Fred back and ask him if he knew anything about Shona Parker. He said he had never heard of her. I put her name in on a net search and got one hit. It was from a poetry slam in the city where she lived. I found her name in the caption to a photograph: Danielle Dunn reads. Musical accompaniment by local guitarist Shona Parker. The photo, one in a series, showed a woman maybe a little older than me reading poetry. Behind her sat a much older woman with long grey hair playing a red vintage Gretsch acoustic that I could only dream of owning.
I enlarged the photo. Shona Parker had an oval face, big, pretty eyes, and well-defined features. I guessed she would be in her early sixties. She was pretty as older women are pretty. Her eyes, drawn in concentration as she listened to the younger woman read poetry and (I supposed) approved of what she read, were bright. I could tell simply by looking at the position of her long, graceful fingers that she could play well. The ease of her stance testified to considerable expertise (anyone who can improv to someone reading poetry has to be pretty good). Something struck me as vaguely familiar about her face. I printed out the photo and went back to my web search. I found nothing more on Shona Parker. I decided to see what I could find out about her friend, Danielle Dunn.
That search yielded better results. Ms. Dunn ran the slam in Shona's home city and had published quite a bit of poetry. Her web page had contact information. I copied her e-mail and phone number, thinking when I visited I might get in contact with her and find out more about Shona.
And by then I had an idea of where I had seen Shona Parker. If she had tapes, if she was around sixty years old, it might be I would find a younger version of her in my photograph collection. I called it up, scanned through, and, sure enough, found a shot of her. And what a shot it was.
I had thought maybe to see her in a large group of people—one of the prints showing Drake at a party or a large gathering of friends. Several such photos made up the portfolio I had assembled and published. But this one captured the two of them smiling brightly, sitting together in an oversized wicker chair. Nick held a guitar with one arm and Shona Parker with the other. He wore a dark jacket and slacks, young and handsome like he is on the cover of Five Leaves Left and the front cover of Time of No Reply. The beaming young woman next to him, in a white sweater and grey miniskirt, boots, long hair parted down the middle, was unmistakably Shona Parker. I compared the two photographs, isolated and enlarged the faces, and set them side by side on the screen. It had to be, but something like this was too important to trust to my judgment alone. I called my friend, Island, so she could give an independent confirmation.
Island's real name was Sarah Timmer, but she went by a nickname derived from Prince Edward's Island, her birthplace. She was the kind of girl I once found a good description of in John Fowles' novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, which I read for a class in college: "rondelet: all that is seductive in plumpness without losing all that is nice in slimness." She had red hair and a ruddy face, blue eyes, a nice smile. We had dated, split up, hated each other for a while, and then slowly worked our way back to friendship. She kept me supplied with Upper Canada brand beer and I went to her apartment and played Muriel Anderson's version of the old Dire Straits song "Why Worry?" for her when she was depressed. We had an odd but satisfying relationship.
She stood in front of my computer screen and studied the two photographs.
"It's her. No doubt about it."
"You're sure that's her?"
"Has to be, Martin. Why did you call me all the way over here just to ask me that? It's plain as day. Is there a hidden agenda here?"
I smiled and kissed her hair, not yet to the point where I could kiss her anywhere else.
"No hidden agenda. This is very important to me. In fact, it may be the most important episode of my entire life."
"Well, I'm glad you decided to include me," she said. "But tell me why this is so important."
I told her what had just happened. She listened judiciously then offered me some advice.
"I'd try to find out more about her."
"How? I couldn't find anything on the Internet."
"I'd go to that poet woman first. She might tell you something. Otherwise you're going in blind."
I had two shows to do, one in Ann Arbor and one in Toledo, and needed to practice, but I decided to follow Island's advice. I got Danielle's phone number through the contact information on her web page. When I told her my name, she recognized it.
"Yes. I have your CDs. I play your music all the time."
"Well, I'm going to be in your town in about a week and I wondered if I could do some music for the open mic you hold."
She was elated at the prospect, though after saying she'd love to have me play she added, "I couldn't pay you anything—we could pass the hat, but nothing else. We operate on a tight budget here."
"I don't need any money. Like I said, I'll be in town anyway. I read some of your poetry at your web-site. I like to go to slams, so I'd enjoy doing some music at yours."
She told me it was a deal. I left on Thursday and played my concerts in Ann Arbor and Toledo. Crowds were good at both and I sold a lot of tapes. On Monday I drove into Indiana. The city was one of those small places surrounded by flat farmland. I found a room at a Day's Inn and called Danielle to tell her I was there. She said she got off work at four and would meet me at the Café behind which they held the poetry reading at five.
The Café, called Holy Joe's, was smoky, filled with young people dressed alternative style. Guys sported mohawks, girls had streaked their hair blue and magenta. Most people wore black. Young men wore long black jackets, t-shirt, chains and arm bands, the girls ribbed turtlenecks, short skirts and fishnet hose. Everyone seemed to have a cigarette. They sat at small round tables, smoked and talked or wrote. After I had been there five minutes or so and my lungs had begun to sting, I saw Danielle at the front door.
She was tall and wore jeans and a sweatshirt. I had expected her to look more bohemian and less like a soccer mom. A boy and girl, probably ages six and seven, tagged along behind her. She smiled and waved at me then turned to marshal the two children in front of her.
She introduced herself and her children. I noticed she did not have on a wedding ring.
"Let's go in the back and get out of this smoke," she said.
We made our way through the café and went into a back room. It was dark and cool and not filled with smoke. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see it was a theater with seats and a stage. Danielle told her kids to go read. They obediently settled into two chairs and began to look at a book together, the girl pointing out words the little boy did not know. Her children looked conventionally suburban with designer clothes and shoes and red and purple jackets. She turned to me, smiling, obviously proud of how well they had obeyed her.
"Beautiful kids," I commented.
"Thanks," she beamed. "I'm a single parent—divorced, and I have to work, but I try hard."
"They're really well-behaved. Where do you work?"
"I work in a bakery. Long hours, messy work, but I like it—and it does teach you how to cook."
I looked around.
"It'll be great to have you play. Did you say you came to town to see someone? Do you have relatives here?"
"I came here to see Shona Parker. You know her, don't you?"
"A little bit."
I wanted to ask her more but someone came in and started talking to her about the facility and the relationship of the café to the slam. Their conversation intensified. Her children, tired of their books, began to play tag among the seats. Deciding this would not be a good time to ask questions, I told her I was going back to my motel room to practice and would be there at seven to play. I told her maybe we could go out for a drink afterwards and she said she would love that and would try to find a babysitter.
I did need to warm up. I wrote out a play-list, grabbed something to eat at Panera, and drove over to the venue.
The theater had filled. Nearly every seat was taken. Mostly young people occupied the seats, though I saw some old hippies and a couple of figures who looked like leftovers from the Beat generation. Danielle seemed pleased at the good-sized crowd, got up and gave announcements, then added with pleasure that they had an unexpected feature tonight and that I would be heading the line-up of presenters.
I decided to play a couple of my most popular pieces. The kind of music I play doesn't have a real large audience, though I make a comfortable enough living out of it. I was surprised, however, that the crowd recognized the pieces I did and seemed to know my music. Pleased that I had struck a rare vein of recognition, I played two more numbers and then, "Joey," a Nick Drake piece. I ended with a cover, "Ragamuffin" by Michael Hedges, which I had worked on for years, at last mastering all the odd percussive techniques he employs in that number. Again, the crowd recognized the song and appreciated hearing it. I took a bow to long applause, put my guitar away, and sat down next to Danielle, who gave me a small hug.
The open mic continued, mostly with poets. I looked around for Shona Parker but didn't see her. The poets, mostly young, read. A couple of people did stand-up comedy and one young woman played guitar. She played well, doing a complex melodic structure that broke into a lot of power chords (on an acoustic guitar) and lots of slapping, pounding and harmonic tricks. I was impressed. To play like that you have to already be a good guitarist and have mastered basic technique. After finishing she stood up abruptly and left without a word of acknowledgment of the crowd. She walked from the stage right out the door that led into the café and was gone. I wanted to ask Danielle who it was but she had gone up to read her own poetry and I did not get the chance.
I went up on stage for an encore. I did "Time of No Reply," another Nick Drake tune and then one of my own songs. My performance had gone well and it looked like the poetry event had gone well too. Danielle got up on stage and said it was one of the best they had ever had. She passed the hat for me. People put money in it mostly—though I also got packs of matches, a couple of condoms, and one or two phone numbers written on slips of paper. As the crowd dispersed, people came up to talk to me and ask about my music and upcoming concerts. The place slowly emptied out. Danielle turned out the lights and crossed the room to tell me her sister had agreed to baby sit and we could go out for a drink.
We went to a place actually called The Local Bar—one of those rare locations where yuppies, rednecks, bohemians and average citizens gather and seem to exist in relative tolerance of one another. We found a table and ordered. Danielle was friendly and animated. We talked about music, the poetry scene, and she told me more about herself. Being a single mother was taxing, she said. Listening to music and doing the slam provided some much-needed variety in her life.
"I've published poems in a lot of small-press journals. I'd like to go do an MFA sometime, but that's not possible now. Maybe when the kids are older."
I asked her how well she knew Shona Parker.
"I got to know her through the open mic. I wouldn't call her a friend, we're not real close, but she comes to the slam quite a bit and I've gotten to know her a little bit over the years."
"What can you tell me about her? She called me and said she had some tapes I might be interested in. Before I went over to see her, I just wanted to find out a little about what she's like."
"Very private. She lives in a house down in Maple Crest, on the other side of town."
"What does she do all day?"
"I'm not sure. She doesn't seem to have a whole lot of money, though obviously she has enough to support herself and her daughter."
"She has a daughter?"
"Yeah. The girl who played guitar tonight. Her name is Jane."
I felt surprise. She was too young to be the product of Shona and her former boyfriend. And she did not resemble her mother very much.
"Plays very well. Her mother plays too, doesn't she?"
"She does improv for me sometimes when I read. Also performs some solo stuff and some covers. She's really good. Not as good as Jane, though."
"How old is Jane?"
"Nineteen, maybe twenty." Then she added, "She has problems."
"She's done a lot of bizarre things in the last year or so—ran away a couple of times, busted for drugs. She spent some time at the girl's reformatory last year for possession. She's a handful. Shona doesn't quite know what to do with her."
We drank a couple of pale ales. I said good night to her and gave her a small kiss.
"Why don't you come over for supper tomorrow?" she asked me. "I've got the night off."
"That sounds good to me, Danielle. When?"
The next day I had breakfast at a Denny's and called Shona's number. She gave me directions. I drove along one of the main streets in the city, through a park and golf course, and came to a subdivision. It looked like one of those suburban areas built in the sixties with ranch-style houses and yards surrounded by privacy fences. Probably a prime area for the wealthy and upcoming in those days, it looked a little shabby now. I found the house and parked in the driveway. The place looked kept up, the yard neat, the house in good shape. A Honda Civic sat near the garage. I noticed a Kawasaki motorcycle though the garage window. I walked up the sidewalk and rang the bell.
Jane answered. Last night I had not got a good look at her because of the dark stage and the smoke and her habit of looking down when she played guitar. She had a round face with big eyes, blue, and blond hair streaked with blue. Up close, I could see the resemblance to her mother a little more clearly. She wore a nose ring on one side and her ears were lined with jewelry as well. She had dressed in black tank-top and shorts. I noticed a spider-web tattoo on her right shoulder. She had on several rings.
"Martin Rollins," she said.
I had not expected her to say my name. It took me a moment to answer.
"That's me. You're Jane?"
"That's me," she said, mimicking my answer. "Jane. Hazy Jane, I guess you could call me."
"Do people call you that?" I asked, trying to find ground against her low-level sarcasms.
"I imagine you might."
"It didn't occur to me. I heard you play at the slam last night. You did some good shit."
She regarded me a moment, then relaxed, apparently deciding to jettison her confrontational manner.
"Thanks. That's a compliment coming from you. I like your music a lot. Mom has all your tapes."
"I like the way you play. You remind me of Kaki King or maybe Lawrence Juber. That last number you did was a lot like 'Rules of the Road.'"
"I know that song. I like it. Juber is awesome."
"I admire anyone who can do slap-style and hammer-on like you did."
"Hell, you do it better that me. I've never heard anyone play 'Ragamuffin' and make it really sound like Hedges."
I smiled. A voice called from inside the room.
"Jane, are you going to let him in or not?"
She laughed and rolled her head around in mock-crazy motion. "Sorry, Mother. Come on in, Mr. Rollins."
"Okay, Martin, right this way."
I followed her inside (I noticed she was barefoot and wore toe rings). She led me into a room that looked like a retro-seventies coffee shop. Two ball chairs sat in one corner. A small white table with molded legs and sides sat before each of the chairs. A lava lamp (bigger than any I had ever seen) occupied a niche opposite the chairs. Several garish posters—UFO Club, the famous psychedelic John Lennon, the Girls Say Yes To Boys Who Say No anti-draft poster and a Victor Vasarely reproduction—hung on the walls. I expected shag carpet, but the floor was hardwood. Shona Parker got up from one of the ball chairs (she sat back so far in it I had not noticed her) and put out her hand.
In person she looked not quite so old and she moved with energy. Her eyes were bright and clear. She smiled, showing a row of even, white teeth.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Rollins."
"Please, call me Martin. I hope we can be on a first-name basis."
"Of course. And you have met my daughter."
I looked over. She smiled a gnomic smile at me.
"You heard everything we said. I'm going, Mama."
Shona looked at her daughter. "Where, honey?"
"Out. Just out."
Shona glanced at me then back at Jane.
"All right, sweetie, but don't get in any trouble. You can't afford to."
"I won't, Mama." She turned to me. "Good-bye, Martin. Nice to meet you."
"I'd like to hear you play more," I told her. "Maybe we can jam."
"I'd like that." She turned back to her mother. "I'll be back for supper."
Shona did not want to quarrel with her daughter in front of a guest, but I could see the concern on her face.
"If you two need to talk, I can step out," I said.
"No, it's all right. Janie, just don't hang around with Krista and Emily. Promise me you won't. That's all I ask."
She smiled again. "Mama, I won't, I promise." She leaned in and kissed her mother on the lips. "I'll be back for supper."
She turned and left. Shona invited me to sit down and I settled into one of the white bubble chairs. After a moment I heard the motorcycle fire up, rev a few times, and then heard the screech of its tires as Jane pulled out of the driveway.
"Some day they're going to bring her home in a body bag," her mother said, though humorously depreciative. "I just know it." I smiled. "Would you like some tea?" she asked.
I accepted her offer. She went into the kitchen and brought me a cup of green tea. We settled back and drank in silence for a while. I decided to let her take the lead and start the conversation. I did not want to come on too strong and appear too eager to get the tapes. I sipped the slightly bitter tea and waited for her to speak.
"Your last album was good."
"Thanks. I understand you play."
"How did you know that?"
"I did some research on the Internet. I came across a picture of you playing for Danielle Dunn at a local poetry event."
She smiled. "I do that now and then. Danielle is a pretty little thing and she has adorable children. It's good for me to go to her poetry reading. I don't get out enough."
I didn't know how to reply. I sipped my tea and waited.
"Does touring fatigue you, Martin?" she asked.
"Yes. But it goes with being a performer."
"It fatigued Nick a lot," she said, as if my remark had not registered with her. "I remember when we went to Provence. Beautiful place, but all he did was complain about how tired he was. Then we went to Morocco. It was a little better there. But travel wore him out."
"It's tiring, to be sure."
"You've heard about Morocco, I gather."
"Only what is generally known. You got in a car wreck, I think. People thought he was Mick Jagger."
"Actually they thought he was Keith Richards. He looked a lot more like Keith than Mick. And of course, we met Mick. He was amazed at the way Nick played. Most people don't know Jagger plays guitar."
"He did some nice stuff on 'Moonlight Mile.'"
"He did. In open G. Ever wonder who taught him about open chords?"
I did not reply. She sipped her tea and stared out the window.
"In Morocco you could buy dope right out on the street in the open," she said after a while. "We did a lot of drugs while we were down there. Too many. Wasn't a good thing but everyone was doing it and we didn't know it had such bad effects." She looked at me. "My daughter has had some issues with drugs. I'm hoping for the best but she still hangs around with people who do them. She tells me she's clean but I still worry about her."
"She seems pretty level-headed. I'm sure she'll leave it behind."
"I wish I was so sure," she murmured. Then she looked at me and smiled. "When you started doing your research you probably noticed you had a picture of me in your collection?"
"I did. Was that in Morocco?"
"Good God, no. If I'd been seen down there in a mini like I'm wearing in that picture I would have been thrown in the clink. I had to wear a long black dress and a hijab. That's why no one ever mentioned that I was along."
"I see." I hesitated and then said, "And that's where Nick wrote 'Clothes of Sand.'"
"Yes," she said, quietly. My nervousness increased. The realization stuck that the song probably referred to her. She seemed to ponder a moment then reached down and picked something up from a box on the floor beside her chair.
I could not see what she held. Whatever it was, it fit in her hand. She looked at it and then held it out.
"You can have these," she said.
She handed me what looked like a small book covered with tissue paper. I unwrapped it and found it was a stack of old photographs—the kind with crinkled edges—of Nick Drake. Some were of him alone. In others, he posed with other people. Several of them featured him and Shona. I went through the stack (twenty-two) and then looked up at her in amazement. I tried to thank her but words would not come out of my mouth.
"No one else has seen these," she said. "They're yours."
I finally got the weights off of my tongue.
"Thank you, Shona. These are amazing."
She leaned back and closed her eyes as if weary.
"People ought to see them," she mumbled.
"Do I have your permission to reproduce them?"
"Martin, they're yours. I gave them to you. You can do with them as you wish."
I looked down at them, then up. The photographs were a marvelous find. They would make a good follow-up to the first group I had published. I wondered, though, about the tapes. Whatever photographs I might gather, with Nick Drake the music reigned as all-important. I decided I would risk asking about it.
"And do I get to hear the tapes?"
I held my breath, not knowing how she would react. She looked into my eyes for a moment then sank back into the ball chair.
"I'll play one of them for you in a moment. What do you think of my daughter?"
It took a moment for her question to sink in. I sputtered when I spoke.
"I like her. She seems nice. She's talented and pretty."
Shona nodded as if to approve what I had just said. This disturbed me a little. Was my hearing the tapes contingent on doing something about her daughter?
"I haven't taken very good care of her." She looked over at me again. "Will it bother you if I smoke?" she asked.
"Not at all."
She lit up, drug on her cigarette, and blew out a cloud of blue smoke. She coughed.
"Bad habit," she said. "I've tried to quit a hundred times but can't. In the sixties they didn't think it was bad. Everyone smoked and we thought it was cool and adult."
She puffed again.
"Kids do what they want to do," I said cautiously. "Whatever adults plan for, kids defy you. I did my parents."
"How did you defy your parents?"
"They wanted me to be an evangelist or missionary. I became a musician and left their religious beliefs behind."
"And how did they react to that?"
"Like all parents react: they blamed themselves. But they assumed the wrong thing. They assumed they could make me into what they wanted me to be. I had other ideas. Whatever your daughter has done, she did it because she decided to."
I wondered now if I had blown it completely. She puffed her cigarette quietly for a minute or so.
"It's not good for a child when her mother lives in the past. She got on drugs, she got messed up, and she landed in reform school for a few months. If you're a parent you will blame yourself for that. You have children, Martin?"
"No. The kind of life I live I barely have time to date."
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Lately it's girl friend. We had a more serious relationship but that went by the wayside a few months back."
"What's your 'girl-friend's' name?"
She smiled—a melancholy, reflective smile.
"I think it's charming that you have a girlfriend with a name like that."
I decided an explanation of how she got her name would be tedious, so I said nothing. Our conversation had come to a dead end. She smoked in silence. I decided not to speak and to let her take the lead. After a few moments and more coughing, she reached into a satchel that sat near her chair. I had not noticed it before then. She produced a cassette tape, holding it up with two fingers.
"Stick this in the player." She pointed. I and took the cassette from her hand and clipped it into a large player sitting on a table by the wall. I clicked the on button and waited.
After some static, the music began.
The song was unmistakably by Nick Drake. The intricate guitar, soft voice, the cadences, the mood and craftsmanship of the piece, exuded his personality and his musical style. The recording was one of those that he did in his home studio, with no accompaniment, like "Smoking Too Long" or "Princess of the Sands." This sort of minimalist Nick Drake recording showed his mastery:the simple but amazingly intricate, well-articulated guitar, the lyrics not overwhelmed by orchestration. I listened in astonishment.
The song ended. She told me to click it off. I obeyed. I clicked the tape off, ejected it, and gave it back to her.
After a moment of silence, she spoke.
I spread my hands. "What can I say? Yes. It was amazing."
"His music is always amazing," she said. "I've listened to it for so many years and it does not cease to amaze me. Martin, I'll lay my cards on the table. I'm worried about my daughter."
I did not know how to reply to this. She smiled at my dumbfounded lack of reply.
"I don't want you to marry her, so don't get thinking in that direction. But there are some other considerations . . ."
At that moment we heard Jane's motorcycle. It roared loudly into the driveway. The engine shut off.
Before we could pick up our conversation, Jane came into the room. She carried a white helmet in one hand. She walked to a few feet away from her mother and then stood still.
A moment of heavy silence passed as Jane stared. I could not read the look on her face.
"Is everything okay, honey?" Shona asked.
Jane seemed to recover from something.
"No, Mama. Everything's not okay. Krista and Emily got busted. They're in jail. Looks like they might end up at juvie for a long time."
Shona did not reply. After a second, Jane's face broke into a frown. She put her hands on her hips, the white helmet dangling on one side.
"You're not happy about it, are you?"
"Jane, that was rude," Shona bristled. "Of course I am not happy they got in trouble. But I will say that they should have known something like that would eventually happen. They should have been a little smarter."
Things grew uncomfortably quiet. Jane shuffled her feet.
"Well, I'm going to start supper," she said.
"Jane, Mr. Rollins and I need to talk. In private."
"I need to eat," Jane said grumpily, loping into the kitchen. I heard her throw her helmet on a table and open the refrigerator. She assembled ingredients for cooking, slamming things and making noise. Even with the noise, she would hear us talking. Shona sighed in frustration.
"I hate it when she gets this way," she said in a low voice. Jane began banging pans around. "But there's no reasoning with her. Can you come over tomorrow? I know she has to see her social worker and probation officer in the morning, so we can have some time to discuss this privately. In short, Mr. Rollins"—she lowered her voice—"I have some money—quite a bit of money, in fact, in trust, but I'm not sure handing it all over to Jane would be a good idea. I wonder if you might be interested in helping manage it for me and, when the time comes, for her."
I spread my hands to indicate I was open to anything. She put her finger to her lips and pointed toward the kitchen. I nodded in understanding and got up to leave. Jane came out of the kitchen.
"Mama didn't invite you to dinner?" she asked, once again in confrontational, sarcastic mode.
"She did, but I already promised Danielle I'd eat with her. Maybe tomorrow."
She did not reply. I think she did not expect me to answer so directly. I said good-bye to Shona and said I would call in the morning. I took leave of Jane, too, and drove back to my motel.
I spent the night with Danielle. I end up in bed with female fans now and then, not as often as I wish, but not so infrequently that it's a completely novel experience. We got in bed after the children were asleep, made love, and fell asleep about midnight. At around five we woke up, had it again, and lay there talking.
"I have to be at work by seven. I take the kids next door and they wait for the bus there." She reached over and touched my nose with one finger. "I want you to be gone before they wake up."
"They don't like you to have overnight visitors?"
"I'm afraid they'll start talking about it at school. 'My mommy had a guy over last night.' I am active in PTO, so I have to keep up a veneer of respectability."
"You probably don't tell them you're a slam poet, either."
She laughed. "Never! They'd excommunicate me."
Besides being pretty, Danielle was personable, smart, and had a kind of honest, self-depreciating humor I liked. I did not see her as a conquest or a lucky chance groupie I would forget when I drove out of the city limits here. In fact, I wanted to see her again. As we lay together in the warm nest of sheets and blankets, I asked if she could come and see me in my hometown. We made plans for a visit. Then I asked her how she knew Shona.
"I used to live close to them. I know Jane a lot better than I do Shona."
"I started babysitting for her when I was in high school and watched her all these years, even when I was married. I practically raised her. I've done the surrogate mother thing."
"What's Jane like?"
"She's not as hip and cool as she likes to make people think. Actually, she's kind of shy. And very smart. She got straight A's in school, honor society, sports, all that."
"Then why the punk act?"
"You said it, Martin: act. It's a front."
"What does she want to hide?"
"She wants to hide that she has a weird mother."
"How old is Shona?"
"Probably about sixty."
"That means she was forty when she had Jane?"
"Jane was a late-comer. Shona started dating a guy in her late thirties. She got pregnant. She didn't get an abortion, even with all the risk that comes with such a late pregnancy, and she had the baby. Jane really hates the Nick Drake thing."
"What do you mean by 'thing'?"
"I mean the fact that her mother lives in the shadow of her past so much. In the past, she sort of kept her resentment down. The last year or so, she's rebelled. The whole punk look, the streaked hair, the motorcycle—all that is just an attempt to try to get her mother to pay attention to her."
"Has it worked?"
"Well, when she got busted for drugs and sent to detention, Shona noticed. But she doesn't know what to do with Jane. She's spent too many years detached from her. What Jane wants is to be important in her mother's life."
"Yes and no. Shona loves her. But the memories she nurses are such a powerful force they take up a lot of her emotional energy. I think it was Jung who said that. Something about the unlived life of the parent being a strong psychological force in the life of the child. That unlived life has been a barrier between them."
I smiled at her. "Can you recite me a poem?"
She thought a minute. She gave me "Samurai Song" by Robert Pinksy. I had read it before and liked it, especially the verse that read
When I had no father I made
We talked until she said I'd better go because her children would awaken soon. We got dressed, said good-bye, and made plans to meet for lunch. I walked out into the early morning sunshine and headed for my car. I had parked it on the street down the block so as to not alarm Danielle's neighbors. Jane startled me by coming up behind me and calling my name.
I turned. She was dressed in a beige sweater, short khaki skirt, boots, and turned down socks. The dye was gone from her hair, she had put on make-up.
"Are you stalking me?" I asked, wanting to take the offensive in case she tried to mess with me again.
"I could tell from last night that Danielle had the hots for you," she said, "so I thought you might end up spending the night here. I need to talk to you and it has to be this morning. I've got to see my probation officer at ten."
I did not reply. She looked anxious.
"I really need to talk, Martin. It's important."
Her unexpected sincerity, and the slight edge of emotion in her voice, surprised me. I remembered what Danielle had just told me.
"Okay. Why don't you meet me at the Denny's out on 31? I'll buy you breakfast."
"Deal. I'll get us a table."
"Did you ride your motorcycle?"
"Do I look like I'm dressed to ride a motorcycle? I do own a car." She pointed to a red Pontiac Grand Am parked across the street. "I'll meet you there."
I drove across town to a Denny's I had seen on my way in. Being local and knowing the shortcuts, she got there first and had a table. We ordered. I had expected her to be a vegan or something like that but she ordered a grand slam breakfast with sausage.
"You look good," I commented as we both sipped coffee and waited for our food.
"I dress up for my parole officer."
"Do you work?"
"At Starbucks. My parole officer got me that job and I don't want to lose it."
"How long are you on parole?"
"I got another month so I don't want to fuck it up. That's why I have to be on time. I got busted with a few ounces of cocaine last year and ended up doing four months at the juvie. It was the first time I'd done drugs and the first time I'd ever been arrested for anything, but in this little hick town they stomp on you with both feet for drug violations. Did Mother tell you I have a drug problem?"
"She said you'd been in trouble."
"I found out something yesterday. I went to see my two friends and they'd been busted so I went to see another friend who works at the hospital. She told me Mama has cancer. They did tests and they came out positive. She has liver cancer and it's terminal. Nothing they can do—except maybe slow it down a little."
I stared at her, not knowing what to say. Sadness pooled in her brown eyes but she looked at me steadily. Her lips trembled and I thought she would cry, but her face hardened, as if reverting by long-studied habit. I reached across the table and took her hand.
"I sort of suspected. She's looked really bad the last month or so. I've known it's just a matter of time, but it was a little upsetting to find out she'll be gone in a year or maybe less."
"Jane, I'm sorry. I truly am. I didn't know."
"Neither did I," she said, "but that's par for the course. Of course, you can't hide having cancer, she told me about that, but she didn't tell me this latest twist to it. That's typical." She wiped a tear away but did not cry. I was going to say she might not know how to say it, but Jane cut me short when she lost her grieving look and set her face hard. "Now that I know, it explains a lot. It explains why she brought you here."
I thought it would be better to say nothing. Our food arrived. While we ate, she studied my face, glancing up now and then to catch the look in my eyes. After a while, she spoke again.
"Mama brought you here to listen to the Nick Drake tapes she has, didn't she?"
"Yes. You know about them?"
"I've listened to them. I know where she keeps them."
I waited. She let her emotion subside and continued.
"She probably wants you to manage the money she has. It's his money, Martin, what he left her and we've lived off it all our lives. She wants to set you up as a fiduciary because she thinks I'll spend the money on drugs or go on a cruise and use it all up on a wild time."
I decided to tell her the truth and not try to disguise it.
"She did mention that she wanted me to do that. But I wonder why she doesn't just get a lawyer to set up a trust for you and pay it out in increments."
"She doesn't trust lawyers. When I was born, the guy who was my father tried to use paternity to get her money. She fought him in court, it cost a lot, and she had some nasty encounters with lawyers, so she wants nothing to do with them. Martin, my mother has never lived in a real world. I don't mean she's delusive or psychotic or anything like that. I just mean she's lived in dream world all her life."
"Just out of her teens, she goes to London with almost no money. She bums around the clubs and gets picked up by some people who are rich and famous today. Mama's pretty. You saw those old pictures of her."
"Well, she was even more hot back then. A lot of guys in the late sixties rock scene in London—a lot of guys you've probably got CDs by—went for this cool, blond American chick with the funny name. She eventually met him and they became an item. For her it was like a dream come true. She leaves the farm in the Midwest and suddenly she's traveling with a promising singer who's talented and handsome. This goes on, she travels, rubs shoulders with the Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield, goes to parties and chats with Lennon and McCartney and Donovan Leitch. She meets the Maharishi and Mia Farrow. Then, boom, it all comes to an end."
She fell silent and ate for a while. I think she also wanted to get control of herself. I perceived that Jane liked to project a public persona of the hip, bitchy little punk chick whom you had better not mess with. But it was only a persona. After a few minutes of silent eating, she spoke again.
"So she came here and settled down. And she lives in the past. That's the thing that's sad, Martin. No one should live in the past, no matter how magic it was."
Now tears were coming out of her eyes. I reached across and took her hand. She let me hold it a minute and drew it away. She wanted to rally once more, put on her tough side, and go on talking, but the emotion she felt overwhelmed her. She drooped down and silently wept. People in booths around us started to stare. I got up, sat down next to her, and put my arms around her. That made her cry harder.
"Let me get through this," she said. "I need to talk to you."
I held on to her until she got some control of herself.
"I'm okay, now. Thank you, Martin. Go on back to the other side of the table so you can hear me better. What I have to say is important."
I sat down across from her. The tough look had gone from her face. She looked young, vulnerable, full of pain.
"Martin, I don't want Mama to give you those tapes."
I tried not to react but I'm sure she saw the shock come into my eyes.
"Why not?" I asked.
"I need to talk to her and talk to her seriously. If she has this whole bit in her head, this whole deal she's trying to cook up with you, she won't listen to me. I need to get you out of the situation. I want you to leave town and go back home. Just walk away from the whole thing."
I stared at her, saying nothing. I wanted to speak but no words came. She smiled with one corner of her mouth.
"You really want those fucking tapes, don't you?"
"Of course I want them," I managed to say.
"If there's music nobody knows about, it needs to be published. People need to hear it."
"Why do they need to hear it?"
"It's musical art in its highest form. If you found a room full of paintings by Monet or Picasso, paintings that had been stored away and no one had ever seen, you wouldn't ask if they need to be made public."
"Are you living in the past too?"
I stared. "Me?"
"Sounds like you've got a little bit of a Nick Drake thing too, Martin. I just wondered."
I spluttered. She resumed her perky-bitch-you-don't-mess-with demeanor.
"You play really well," she went on, "but you seem to be carrying a torch for someone who's been dead a long time and ought to be laid to rest. Maybe we should symbolically marry him and Eva Cassidy."
"Katie Wolf would be more his style," I put in, trying to sound acerbic.
"Mama has all her tapes too—old LPs, even. She seems to be into people who have died. Maybe that's your problem, Martin. Maybe it's everybody's problem. But I want you to walk away from this."
Her face quivered. I thought she might start to cry again but she controlled herself.
"Because I want her for the last part of life. I don't want to share her with anyone else—not you and especially not him. I want her to live her life in the present and not the past."
I noticed she referred to Nick Drake as him.
"How will my having those recordings keep you from doing what you want to do?"
"I don't know. But I'm somehow sure it will. She needs to let go of the past. And that means letting go of those shit-head recordings she's been sitting on for forty years like they were the most important thing in the word. Now she's brought you into it. If you agree to what she asks, that will fill her mind—until she dies. I want her to be free of all that. I don't want her to keep living for a memory."
My mouth went dry. I remembered the music I had heard yesterday. I briefly envisioned writing the liner notes for a new CD of previously unknown Nick Drake songs. I thought of hearing them, learning them, playing them, introducing them to the listening public. My hands trembled slightly at the thought of them slipping through my fingers.
Jane Parker sat across from me, her gaze fastened to my face. She did not look exactly confrontational. The intensity of what she felt had wiped away all pretence and all posturing. I saw a young woman who fiercely loved and who wanted the object of her love. Something about this was pure, primal, and disarming. I licked my lips nervously.
"Well, I see what you're saying."
She didn't answer. She folded her arms, leaned forward, and raised her eyebrows questioningly. Playing the bitch again. I held up my hands.
"Jane, I don't want to come between you and your mother. But—"
"It means a lot to me."
"People have gotten along for thirty years without hearing that music. They'll get along with never hearing it."
I felt her backing me into a corner. Ethics, I've always noticed, are the most powerful weapon to do that. If the person you're dealing with is without morality, it does not work, but most people have an intrinsic idea of right or wrong. I did. She knew it and pressed her advantage.
"So you're going to take my mother from me the last few months of her life. Martin, I've never had her, never. She's never been in my world. I have a chance to get her attention, finally, to get her out of the dream world she's always lived in. I have a chance to get her in my world, for once, Martin, so she can be mother and not the girl who knew Nick Drake. But if you get her in this project to publish that music, she'll be all caught up in it. I want her, Martin. I want my Mommy."
Her eyes burned with passion.
"I've known for a long time she was going to die and I guess I'm prepared for that. But now I know it will be soon and I don't want to share her with anyone."
I tried not to look at her. Her intense eyes were overpowering.
"I have a master's class this afternoon in Indianapolis. Why don't you let me think about it while I'm there and I'll tell you tomorrow?"
"What's to think about, Martin?"
I drummed my fingers on the table. There seemed no way out. I looked over and met her eyes. I saw the emotion there and the desire. My resistance collapsed.
"All right. I'll do what you want. I'm supposed to have lunch with Danielle. I'll leave after that. I won't say anything. I'll just go."
After her display of sorrow and all the emotion that went with knowing her mother would die soon, I thought I would get some kind of solemn thanks or a serious moral affirmation of my rock-solid morality and sacrificial altruism. Instead, Jane stood up, leaned over the table, threw her arms around me, and gave me a loud smack on the lips. I instinctively pulled away from her and I spilled my coffee. People stared over at us, startled. She grabbed a wad of napkins, walked around to my side of the table, and began to mop up the spilled coffee.
"Martin, you are a man," she said, raising her eyebrows.
"Thanks," I said. I wanted to comment on her sudden change in temperament. If her mother really was dying she seemed irreverently chipper now, but I decided not to say anything.
"You don't know what this means for me."
"I think I do," I said.
She backed up a step or two. Now she looked more serious.
"I think you don't. You don't know my mother. You don't know me. Will you keep your promise?"
By now I felt less like talking. The implications of what I had agreed to began to sink in. I noticed some coffee had got on my shirt. I began to wipe it off.
"I keep promises."
I finished mopping up the coffee. Reality began to set in. I started to get a sense of how much I would regret this in the future.
"You said you're visiting Danielle?" she asked.
"I'm meeting her for lunch."
"That surprises me. I thought you'd already got what you were after with her."
People were looking at us. The chagrin I felt at the loss of those tapes by now had generated a surge of anger. I leaned down and whispered in her ear.
"Fuck you. That wasn't what I was after. And what I do with Danielle is none of your goddamned business anyway."
She smirked. "You're sexy when you cuss," she observed, the bitchy act on once more. Then she turned and walked out of the Denny's.
I sat down. A feeling of desolation descended on me. I glanced around. People were staring. They looked away quickly when they saw I had noticed them. By now I felt as if my insides had collapsed and I was only a shell with a black hole in the center. I would not get the recordings. I would not write on Nick Drake. The songs he had done would possibly never be heard. I put my finger through the loop of my coffee cup, then remembered I had spilled it all.
I went back to my motel. I sat around for a while and tried to practice, but could not concentrate enough to play. I thought of the tapes, the one I had heard and the ones I had not heard and now would never hear. I threw my guitar on the bed and started to swear at Jane. I wondered if I could break my promise to her, see Shona, and get the recordings after. But I knew I would not. My word meant something to me, and she was right. I felt hemmed in at the tiny motel room. I went out in the lobby and asked the desk clerk if there was a good record store in town. He directed me to one in large mall. I found it, wandered in, and started going through the shelves.
It stroked my ego to find two of my CDs in the New Age bin. After clicking through some titles I wandered over to the section marked Popular and found a strata of Nick Drake recordings: Pink Moon, Bryter Later, Fives Leaves Left, the albums he released in his lifetime, and greatest hits albums like Way to Blue and Treasury. I thought about what Jane had said back at Denny's. What was it about an artist that made people engage in veneration of him or of her? Why did people hold festivals commemorating deceased singers like Katie Wolf or Merle Watson? Why did people like me sleuth for endless hours in book and record shops in London looking for photographs of Nick Drake? And why did we attach such significance to it when we found one?
I continued to look at the albums. People venerate John Lennon and all but worship Elvis. The grave of Jim Morrison is the second-most visited spot in Paris. I wondered if Jane might be a little right. The thrill of venerating the dead might be in the idea that you inhabit their talent and are a continuation of their mystique, of their pioneering vision. If a person learns to play exactly like D'Jango Reinhart or Jimi Hendrix or sing like Sinatra (I thought of Robbie Williams), is it not something disturbingly voyeuristic about it—inhabitation of a memory, a hope that some eidolon will materialize and lend a hand so the vicarious wisher can defer their own life in pursuit of the absent and the surreal?
I wandered around the music store until it was time to meet Danielle. She wore her store uniform and looked tired and harried. We had lunch at the cafeteria. She said she wanted me to see her on the way back from Indianapolis. She could send the kids off for a couple of days. We talked more and I agreed. I liked Danielle and did not see as her as a conquest or a lucky score. My chagrin at Jane's smart-assed little crack at Denny's had been genuine. Danielle was pretty, bright, seemed intelligent, but was someone who had had hard luck. Though she did not whine about it she talked about being a single parent. "Constant whitewater," she said. I did not ask her about her divorce but could sense just from her mention of that part of her life that it was not a happy story.
Lunch ended too soon. She had to go back to work. I kissed her and told her I would come back after the Indianapolis gig.
I drove down, trying not to think of the deal I had made with Jane. I listened to the heaviest music I had—The Best of Jimi Hendrix and the untitled cut by Led Zeppalin with "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll" on it—so I could keep my mind off the loss of the tapes. I did not want to be glum or sullen for the master's class. I had learned early in my career that whatever I felt in my heart would be on the strings of my guitar when I played, and I had to be in good spirits for the class and the concert afterward. I managed, both went well, and I enjoyed staying with the couple from the local guitar society who hosted me that night. I headed back for Shona's town after a late breakfast. About eleven o'clock, just as I saw the city limits sign, my cell rang. I looked at the caller ID.
"Island? What's up?"
"What's up?" she repeated. "Martin, what the hell did you do?"
"Do? What are you talking about?"
"The police just left about a half hour ago. When I saw them at my door, I almost shit my pants. I thought they'd come to deport me."
Island worked in a candle shop in my home town but did not have a green card.
"What did they want?"
"They wanted to know if I'd seen you—if I knew where you were. They're looking for you, Martin. They must have really done some asking around to find out I know you. I don't want the police getting too close to me. I think you know why."
I got her calmed down and told her I would call her back. I could not think of anything I had done, but I had not gone two blocks inside the city limits when a police car flashed its lights and pulled me over.
The cop said I needed to come down to the station to answer some questions. They did not put me in the car but let me follow them downtown.
We parked and entered a police station that might have been an insurance agency or a medical complex housing orthodontists and podiatrists: brick, lots of tinted glass, spacious offices, new carpet. The uniformed officers took me to a room and left me alone. After a while, two men in suits came and introduced themselves as detectives Rohwer and Burghart.
They started in right away: "Mr. Rollins," one of them asked, "where were you last night at four in the morning?"
I told them in was in Indianapolis. They seemed to wilt at this. I gave them the details of the master's class and the concert, and the address of the people I stayed with. They looked nonplussed and scribbled down the information. My alibi seemed to have ruined what they must have thought a sure apprehension.
"Mind telling me what's going on? Why I was brought here?"
They looked at other. Burghart sighed.
"Mr. Rollins, you know Shona Parker, don't you?"
"I do. What about her?"
"Apparently some items were stolen from her home last night."
I felt an uneasy stirring in my soul.
"The tapes? Did someone steal the tapes she had?"
"You know about them?"
"Of course I know about them. She played one of them for me."
"Did you steal them, Mr. Rollins?"
Despite myself, I laughed. "Hell no, I didn't steal them."
"We don't think this is funny, sir," Rowher said, stone-faced.
"Theft never is," I replied. "But I didn't take them. Look, I'm a musician. You think I'm going to ruin my career by committing a crime and stealing something? Those tapes aren't worth it."
Actually, they were worth it. But I was not about to say that.
"Mrs. Parker indicated that you were the only person besides her who knew about them."
I answered carefully, not wanting to give them cause to keep me here any longer.
"I know about them, but I can't say I'm the only person who does."
"She said you were."
"She should know, I guess. I only know because she told me about them and played one of them for me. She was thinking of giving them to me. Now I guess that's not an option."
They could tell they did not have me. They took my phone number and let me go. I called Danielle. The police had fingered her too.
"They came here. It was embarrassing. And then Shona called and said someone had stolen her Nick Drake tapes. I didn't know what she was talking about. She said it had to be you and wanted to know if I'd seen you. She seemed almost crazy. I told her you were out of town."
I paused, thinking.
"When do you get off?"
"Can I stay with you tonight?"
"Sure. I'll see if I can get someone to keep the kids."
"Okay. I'll let you get back to work."
I clicked off and asked a passer-by if there was a Starbucks in town. He told me it was two blocks down. I left my car in the police parking lot and walked down to it.
I saw Jane cleaning an espresso machine. The café was almost deserted. I walked up and tapped on the counter. She looked up, her hands in a basin of soapy water.
"What did you do with them?" I asked.
"I burned them last night, one by one, in the back yard."
"One by one?" I repeated mechanically.
"It took a long time," she said. "There were so many."
I probably didn't speak for a full minute. Finally I was able to say, "Does your mother know you took the tapes and destroyed them?"
"What do you care about my mother?" she asked.
"What do you mean? You don't think I care about your mom? You think I came here just to get my hands on the tapes?"
"Look, Jane. Your mother called me. I didn't call her. I was not trying to exploit her. I write on Nick Drake, I play his music. Did I want the tapes? Hell yes. But I would have never done what you did. I would never have done anything to hurt her. I would especially not have taken something that means more to her than anything else."
"You hit the nail on the head there, Martin. They meant more to her than anything else, including me."
"I didn't mean it that way."
"I know you didn't. And to answer your question, yes, she knows what I did. I told her."
I waited. When she said nothing more, I prompted: "And?"
"It was quite an emotional scene," she said, sloshing the water, starting to wash the espresso machine with a cloth. "We yelled, screamed, threw things, cried. But I got through to her. I made her see it. She said I'd done the right thing. I told her I know she hasn't got long to live. I told her I wanted her. We stayed up all night talking. I have what I've always wanted, Martin Rollins. I have my Mama. I've finally gotten her away from him and from the past. I won't have long to enjoy her, but I have a while. That's all I'm going to say about it."
She went on washing the machine. I thought for a moment she might cry but she controlled herself and turned to me.
"You heading home today?" she asked
"I'm staying tonight with Danielle. I've got to meet with my agent tomorrow afternoon, so I'll probably take off pretty early."
"Danielle's a good woman. She stood in as a mother for me for a lot of years and I love her. I'm sorry for what I said at Denny's. I know you weren't just trying to screw her. I know it's more than that and I think it's great. She deserves someone who'll be good to her after all she's gone through."
I wanted to say we hardly knew each other but decided not to. Things had started out well with Danielle and me, and I hoped maybe something long-term might develop. I felt too tired now to be angry with Jane, though the chagrin I felt over losing the tapes was almost intolerable. I said good-bye to her and walked out of the café.
I blinked in the sunlight. It was two o'clock. I had three hours to kill until I met Danielle. I saw a park a block or two away, went back and got my car. I found a slot, got my guitar out, sat down on a picnic table, and began to play.
Ever since I was a kid, playing the guitar has been my way of dealing with stress, pain, loss, grief. When my father died, I played all day. When Island and I split, I played for hours. I had mastered the guitar and could command it, but music is bigger than any musician and takes a person where it wants to go. I watched a small river that ran through the park and thought about the way notes turn to tunes and tunes to song, how they flow and how they have power and velocity. Maybe musicians like Nick Drake follow the current more and go deeper and farther than the rest of us. Maybe that was the appeal of their music. Maybe that was why they were venerated and why they still have power over us.
I played until my watch alarm went off and then I went to Danielle's. She had found someone to take the kids. We spent the night listening to music, drinking wine by candlelight, making love, talking, even planning and hoping about the future. I left early. She planned to come see my in my hometown next weekend.
I drove away from her house and headed home. On the outskirts of the city, though, I saw someone on a motorcycle pull up behind. I caught Jane's face in the rearview mirror. She waved and gestured, indicating I should pull over. I pulled off on a side street and parked.
A guy who looked a little older who had a Mohawk haircut and lots of punk accouterments followed her. He drove a Harley and parked behind her. She dismounted. I rolled down my window as she took off her helmet. She wore shorts and a halter top and boots. Her hair was pink today. She leaned down.
I nodded. I gestured back.
"Boyfriend?" I asked.
She glanced his way and threw him a little smile.
"I wouldn't call him a boyfriend. Just a fuck-buddy. I have something for you."
She reached into a pocket on her shorts, took out three CDs in plain paper sleeves, and handed them to me. I looked down at them then up at her.
"What are these?"
"I told you I destroyed the tapes. I didn't tell you I had someone with really good recording equipment make copies of them first. They're yours, Martin. All the songs Mama had are on these discs. I even made you two extra CDs in case you lose one."
I stared, my mouth open. I could not speak. She continued.
"The only thing I ask is that you wait until Mama's gone before you release them. That shouldn't be too awfully long. I know you respect her so I know you'll do what I ask."
I nodded. Strangely, I was the one who felt emotion, but not over the tapes.
"Tell your mother I'm so sorry for what happened to her—I mean, for her medical condition. I have a lot of regard for her."
She smiled sadly.
"She knows you how you feel about what happened to her, and she appreciates it."
She took a step as if to walk away. I spoke to keep her from going.
"Jane, one more thing. You're a damned good guitar player. When things get settled for you, why don't you drop me a line? I'll have my agent listen to you play. I'd be willing to bet he'd let you cut a CD. Our music company is always looking for new talent, and you've got it."
She turned her head to one side. Bitchy, arrogant, but I liked what I saw.
"You know, Martin, I just might take you up on that." Her look turned a little sadder. "Bye."
She walked away, fired up her motorcycle, and she and her friend turned circles on their bikes and blasted out of the side street on to a busier highway. I looked down at the three discs. I put two of them in the glove compartment and slid the third into my car CD player.
I pulled away from the curb and began the long drive home.
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