Alex followed him as best she could that first night she saw him but lost him somewhere near Grand Central. She suspected he went in and so ran into the terminal to see if she could spot him, but even before she made it through the doors she knew it was a lost cause. After just a few moments of walking around looking for him she gave up.
The next week she was there again. She stayed there from the afternoon till the evening watching and listening to him play. Still she found no song she could distinguish. When he left she was close on his heels. She wanted to talk to him after his set but he never took breaks and they closed the bar down with him still there. Each time she tried to tell the staff that she wanted to talk to the pianist she was politely but firmly told no. So just like last time she stood outside and waited and hoped to spot him. Unlike last time she placed herself along the route to Grand Central thinking that he might take the same route as the week before and she could stop him along the way.
She never saw him. She had walked home wondering what the hell was going on.
“You going again tonight?” Claude asked. They had just finished for the night. Her voice was tired and she could feel the scratch at the back of her throat. She had taken it a bit too far again. It was three in the morning. Usually they were through by midnight and she was in bed by two, but this evening the crowd had stayed around longer than usual, so they had gone on playing.
The club was a new one to them. Move to Trash it was called. Why? Who knew. It had sprung up sometime in the past three months and the owner was trying out all sorts of different bands, a different one every night, in an effort to find a following. Claude was happy because the owner had already asked them to come back in two weeks. Another Thursday gig. He was hoping after a few shows this bar could become their regular Thursday show and perhaps after a month or so, and after getting a following, they could parlay that into being the house band for the joint.
Alex wasn’t so sure. She doubted the bar would be open in a few weeks much less in a month or so. The owner, a young, bearded, neo-hippie who sat at the bar like a customer and took a too laissez faire attitude toward management, looked like the son of a uber-wealthy socialite who after a few more months of not turning a profit would be cut off by daddy. It wasn’t that she could tell that by his wardrobe or his accent, she could just tell by his nonchalance and the questions she asked of the others at the bar.
The bar itself was dark and their were no decorations anywhere. The walls were flat black and she suspected, based on the horrible acoustics, that they were plywood. The tables and chairs were a motley, unmatched crew, and the bartender looked desperately low on every single staple. To get to the bar the patron had to duck down a small, alcove like doorway then follow some steps further down after that. Alex would have bet with anyone who asked that fully half of the people who started the trek down the stair to the bar turned around before taking three steps in.
The only good thing? The owner paid well. They would make a handsome bit from tonight. Sadly, that was another argument in Alex’s favor that the place would be out of business soon. It was a hobby not a business.
“Your voice again?” Claude knew her well enough to understand her quiescence.
She nodded again.
It didn’t matter to Claude whether she talked or not. Claude went right on cleaning up the gear with her, talking all the while, barely stopping to look to see if she nodded or shook her head at his questions.
“It cracks me up that you keep going there,” Claude was helping John with the drums while he spoke, his voice going up and down in volume as he walked and passed the gear through the door to his band mates. “I mean it’s so fucking staged. It’s a fake. He’s doing it just to get some notoriety, to make him seem different than the others.”
Alex shrugged her shoulders.
“I know your argument well enough to make it for you,” Claude said as he came back from hefting the snare drum up the stair well to John. “You think he’s got something because he makes the songs up on the spot. That he’s a composer, right?”
“It’s all a gimmick!” Claude went on happily. “I mean think about it. All he has to do is find some obscure songs from unknown composers, past and present, from out of the way places, Eastern Europe, Japan, Middle East, and throw it all together with a bit of his own style thrown in and you have it. Throw in some strange, surreal silence and you’ve got your hook.”
Claude stopped as he packed away the cymbals into their case for John. He looked up as if surprised. “Could be he’s on to something? Holy shit. If this gimmick has em packed in as much as you say, maybe we should do it. We should have you just stand silently on the stage and not say a word into the microphone. Might be an improvement.”
Alex looked up with a glare. Claude winked and gave an air kiss.
“Without you we’re nothing, I know that Alex.”
“Don’t you forget it.” She heard the rasp in her throat now.
Claude quickly held up his hands in a “stop” gesture as he heard her speak. “You need to rest that sucker. We have another gig in two days. At the Top Down. Twice the size of this one. Go rest that voice.” He started to push her away from the stage. “We will finish up here, you go rest.”
He wouldn’t take no for an answer so Alex found herself on the street hailing a cab to take her home. It took her a long while to get to sleep. That was always the case. Her little studio, homey, quaint, on the fifth floor of a small brownstone on the west side of the park that she was everyday grateful that she had, was filled with noises, creaks and drips that came from the drizzle that had started on her way home and didn’t seem like it wanted to really stop.
She awakened just before noon and her head hurt. She could still feel the scratch at the back of her throat so she told herself to not speak. She made the bed, a futon, and propped it back up into a couch, a habit she couldn’t break no matter how hard she tried, cleaned up a bit, made an egg white and went for a jog. She came back five miles later and enjoyed a long hot shower, an apple with some peanut butter on it and was dressed and out the door by four so she could make it to The Burning Pear before the evening rush.
She didn’t make it. The crowds beat her and she found herself at the bar again. She asked for a juice, not wanting any alcohol on her throat, and settled down to wait. He came in at ten till five. He was wearing jeans, run down loafers with dark socks and a grey sweater. He was skinny, just shy of painfully skinny, but there was musculature behind the smoothness of the sweater that spoke of time when he had been more filled out. His beard, the only thing she had a hard time thinking was attractive, was full and unwieldy. Wearing full beards had become de rigueur lately and she again found herself surprised that someone who seemed so artistically talented and serious fell into the beard fashion so easily and conventionally. His hair was a pair with the beard. Long and curly and without style or care. Still, despite having the outward appearance of homelessness he was clean and sharp and his ensemble fit the mood of the bar and his performance.
She was going to stand up and go confront him before he began, but as soon came into the room the customers began a hesitant and light clapping that caught her off guard. As he sat down he started to play and Alex knew she had missed her chance again.
His set went on for hours and as much as Alex tried to pinpoint a repeated song, a song she had heard him play before, or even a song she knew, she couldn’t. It took three juices and three cocktails before midnight came and the staff started ushering people out with light movements and thanks. Again she waited outside. This time she had a plan. She was looking for a man wearing jeans and loafers with a beard. Last time she had focused on the beard and had been surprised by all the bearded men who past her. This time she was determined to find him and the combination of the beard, the hair, the jeans and the loafers that could not be hidden by a heavy coat or over coat, seemed like that best bet.
It was a full thirty minutes later that she found him. Last time she had given up too soon if he was in the habit of leaving this long after closing. She saw the beard, but the hair was under a dark ball cap. It was the blue jeans and loafers that capped it for her and she ran to catch up with him and finally confront him about his music.
Another man beat her to him and it was obvious from the way the second man reacted that they were friends.
“What are you doing, Brother. I said I was going to come get you.” Alex heard the second man say. There was no reply.
“Come on, let’s get you home.” The second man again.
Alex felt there might not be any better time so she stepped forward.
“Excuse me,” she said to both of them. “I was hoping to talk to you about your playing.”
“Who are you?” It was the second man.
He was large, much larger than his piano playing friend, but like him he had a full beard and long hair. His was blond instead of dark, and he was much more muscular than the still silent pianist. Still they both seemed of a type.
“I’m just a fan of his.” She pointed at the pianist. “Can you tell me your name.”
The huge blond friend smiled as if she’d just told a joke. “If you’re one of his fans you know that he’s not a big talker.”
“I was just hoping to know more about his music. I’m a musician and a composer. Hey, . . .” They were turning their backs on her.
“Not interested,” the blond friend said over his shoulder.
“Not interested in what?” Alex ran to catch up.
“Whatever you’re selling, Lady.”
“I’m not selling anything, I just want to talk about his music.”
Again the smile that made her think he was joking. The piano player this whole time she noticed remained completely impassive and without any emotion.
The friend allowed the piano player to walk on as he stopped to confront Alex. “Look, he just likes going and playing the piano. If you like it, great. Enjoy. But he’s not really into anything more than that, okay?”
He started to turn as if that explained everything, but Alex stopped him by saying, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He turned back to face her, again, blocking her from following the piano player. “He’s not into having groupies, or hangers-on, or women who want to save him, okay? I mean sure, you got this skinny but defined muscly woman thing going for ya, and maybe I’d like that. Hell, I’d be into you right now if I wasn’t pursuing this other cutie, and I don’t care much for pushy women, but whatever, Marcus isn’t into that okay? He doesn’t want anything but his music in his life right now, alright? So just leave him alone.”
“I’m not a groupie,” Alex spoke through clenched teeth.
“Whatever,” he said. “How bout you just leave Marcus alone.” He turned and ran up the street after his friend.
Alex stood there feeling angry and confused. She felt the blood in her face and knew she would regret not speaking up more later, but she felt that she might have won at least a small battle in the overall war. She now knew that when she looked for him next week she should look for two men, and that his name was Marcus.