Bay Rum Robinson and the Rescue Mission Band
M J Melneck
© M J Melneck 2020
Bill, the drummer, stood at the pay phone in the hall for over two hours, waiting for the man from the talent agency to call. The man had told Bill and the others he would call by ten in the morning if he had good news. But by eleven-fifty Bill’s bladder throbbed as if it had a heart of its own, and his spirit was bruised by the silence at his appointed post. He turned away from the phone and limped, hunched like a possessed though dying man, toward the bathroom.
“What the hell you mean off that phone?” Gus Teal demanded as Bill slunk past the dayroom door. “Who said you supposed to abandon your duty station?”
Bill saluted with that age-old dastardly digit, the international gesture of ill will.
“Feed that to you, son,” Gus barked.
“Whatever you say, Gus,” Bill said, “as long as you say it later.” He mumbled the last, and made his painful way to the end of the hall.
Gus and the dead-fish twins, Buster Carp and Roy, collected at the day room door and alternately watched the phone and the door at the end of the hall, afraid that, should the phone actually ring, they would not know what to do.
“Get away from me,” Gus growled. “You two smell like fish! You usin’ a damned sardine for a deodorant stick!” He nodded over his shoulder toward the couch in the day room. “Go on,” he said. “Sit! Sit!”
Buster Carp and Roy glanced nervously at each other, then moved meekly into the room. Gus stared through Bill as the bathroom door opened and the older man sauntered, tall with relief, up the hall.
“Maybe now you can tend to your duly assigned chores,” Gus said.
“Maybe a man could get thirty, even forty seconds off every once in a while,” Bill answered. “You know, just so’s his body won’t go to thinkin’ he died and means to neglect it.”
“Aaaaah, spit!” Gus snapped. He spread his fingers like the tines on a rake and shoved them into his beard, then turned and walked back into the day room. The phone rang as he reached the window on the far side of the room and he spun around, his eyes wide with anticipation.
Bill curled his fingers carefully around the handset, and on the second ring, with Gus and the dead-fish twins riveted in a collective, single stare, jerked the phone up.
“This is William Tierney,” Bill said with great dignity.
But the caller wasn’t the man from the talent agency; it was Dinah, the cook.
“The mail ain’t here, yet, Dinah,” Bill said. “I said I’d call you when it comes. I swear to God I’ll call you, now hang up the phone.”
“Off that instrument!” Gus Teal bellowed across the room.
The phone rang twice more, with the same result. Bill would answer stiffly, formally, and when Gus would determine that the caller wasn’t the man from the talent agency, he would scream a scream punctuated with some carefully chosen obscenity across the room and into the hall. Between the times when the phone would ring, Bill would use his foot to play with a piece of loose plaster in the wall below the phone. Gus Teal didn’t like that either.
“This is your HOME!” he screamed one time. “Sacred turf!” he wailed another. “This is NOT a combat Zone!”
During all this, Buster Carp and Roy sat on the worn couch and stuck their fingers in the holes where little metal buttons had been, or where the tips of lit cigarettes had burned through. They looked at their laps and tried not to hear, as they were afraid of loud noises.
“Call that fool,” Gus Teal demanded at high noon. “Tell him the phone here has been out of order. Say we didn’t want to miss such an important call.”
“That’s a good one, Gus,” Bill said. He picked up the phone, then timidly put it down. “I don’t know his number.”
“Tell him I’ll tan his plump pink arse for a catcher’s mitt,” Gus mumbled, not quite under his breath.
“Don’t know his name, either,” Bill mumbled back.
Then the phone rang. Gus Teal shot to attention, and Buster Carp ripped the hole in the cushion when he yanked his finger out. Roy froze as if he had got a bone caught in his throat.
“This time!” Gus demanded, pointing at the phone.
“This is William Tierney,” Bill said when he answered.
While the man from the agency told Bill he was still trying to get the rescue mission band a job, Bill sweated, and kicked the plaster until the loose piece fell to the floor. He tried to keep his composure as his shoulders slumped.
When he hung up the phone, he turned around very slowly. “He said he was still working on it.”
“There is no pride in the serving classes,” Gus Teal said. “We will practice. Immediately. After a light lunch. He sighed, and walked out of the room. “Light,” he repeated. “A light repast. Not too heavy on the system. Light. Yes, very light indeed. Then a good practice. He conducted the air as he moved away.
After lunch, Gus herded the others into the room off the kitchen where the rescue mission band practiced. Gus played piano, Bill played a snare drum, and Buster Carp played a clarinet. Roy brought a small, very old accordion. The box was torn, and he could only use it to accent the melody, as the instrument would play when he pulled, but not when he pushed. Sometimes other men, who lived at the mission or just hung around, would stand nearby and hum, or try to sing, but Gus would usually run them off. “This ain’t that American Idol thing,” he would say.
The only other man who got to stay through the practice sessions was Earl Robinson. Everyone called him “Bay Rum,” because he had drunk so much hair tonic in his life that he had brain damage and was thought to be little or no harm. Bay Rum Robinson loved the music, and didn’t know any better or worse than anyone else whether it was good or bad.
Bay Rum had a harmonica, and he could play it, but he only knew one song. Sometimes Gus Teal would stop in the middle of whatever song the band was trying to play, and scream at Bay Rum to stop. Perhaps the band would be trying to get through “Stardust,” or “Unchained Melody,” which were two of their favorites, and Bay Rum would get the harmonica out of his pocket and launch into “Send in the Clowns.”
“Come on, man,” Gus would tell him. “You see anybody catchin’ on to that around here? This is a dance band. You sittin’ here spoilin’ our concentration. Now put that harp away and just nod along. Otherwise you got to take it on the road.”
“It’s real pretty,” Bay Rum would say. “That’s real, real pretty, Gus. I can play it good.”
“I know, I know,” Gus would answer every time. “It’s real pretty, but you need to play it somewhere else. This is dance music. Broadway’s about two miles uptown.”
Bay Rum would always get up and adjust himself, primly, like an insulted statesman who meant to rise above some dark occasion and excuse himself from further abuse.
“It’s a waltz,” Bay Rum would say. “I’ve heard it lots of times.” He’d wipe the harmonica with a handkerchief and run his fingers down the length of it, then fish in his pocket till he’d find a frayed, faded flannel pouch. He’d slide the harmonica into the pouch, smooth his hand over it, and, while every eye in the room would watch him, walk proudly out.
This had become ritual.
“Now you’ve done it, Gus,” Bill would say, every time. “Now you’ve hurt his feelings.”
And even Gus Teal, who in legend ate galvanized roofing nails at least one meal a day and who once, it was also told, pushed a boxcar off of a man’s hand, might get momentarily contrite. “Three kinds of poop,” was a typical line. That was as warm as Gus Teal was known to get on a day-to-day basis, but everyone there knew they had seen a truly important moment.
The little band finished its practice session without much energy; the music happened, but it had little spirit. The unchained melody dragged its chain, till finally Gus Teal called a halt.
“What damned little fire there ever was in this august body,” he said sourly, “has flat gone out.”
“What’s an August body?” Buster Carp asked. The men were always keen to hear Gus talk, as he had actually finished high school and occasionally kept a book near his bed.
“August,” Gus scowled. “Au—gust! It ain’t a month. Means dignified. Now I suppose you want to know what ‘dignified’ means. Sure as hell obviously means I used the wrong word to describe this wretched collection of tin-eared sorry-damned soup mongers.”
“It ain’t a crisis, Gus,” Roy said. “It ain’t like it’s going to cost you money to tell a man what a word means.”
“He didn’t ask you for a kidney,” Bill added, nearly under his breath.
“It ain’t like it’s talking to the Swedish Royal Academy, either,” ‘Gus said. “Now get out of my face. Practice again at nine tonight.”
Gus turned and walked out of the room, and the rescue mission band, which had no formal name, stood in a near circle and stared silently into one another’s faces.
Two days later Gus Teal called the band together in the day room. The man from the talent agency had never called again, and Gus had found the band a job.
“We have work,” he said. It sounded like, “Pass the toast.”
Bill the drummer threw his hands together and thrust them down into his lap, shoulders turned inward, eyes narrowed to slits.
“Don’t call me dumb, Gus,” Bill said. “You always think I’m dumb. You always—“
“You want to ask a man a blasted question, cone head,” Gus interrupted, “ask. Don’t sit there like a frozen monument to meadow muffins trying to slip the noose. Blast it, man, speak up!”
“You always t-t-talk in-instead of us,” Bill stammered.
“You always beat around the bush instead of talking,” Gus said, raising his voice. “Sometimes you act like all your bricks ain’t in the wall. Can’t any damned body around here say what they mean?”
“What work?” Roy blurted out.
“What work?” Bill echoed. “Yeah, what work?” Bill always gained an attached confidence with Roy’s questions, because Roy hardly ever spoke and the men rallied around him when they could.
Gus Teal took a stop forward, and Bill shot up from the couch and stepped around behind it.
“Work,” Gus said sharply. “We have a job. We are going to play our instruments and earn money for it. That is work. A job. We’re going to be a public band instead of a soup kitchen combo.”
Buster Carp and Roy held hands like schoolboys and could not speak. Bill relaxed momentarily and sat back down on the couch. The day room was quiet for a moment, then Buster Carp raised his hand shyly, elbow just bent and hand cupped, like an eager child who wants to speak in class but doesn’t quite know an answer.
“Where did you get a job, Gus?” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Gus inhaled deeply and seemed taller. “Having been so poorly served by the Metropolitan Talent Agency,” he said, “I took it upon myself to engage our services for an upcoming dance and social exchange at the Lasker Park Home. On 53rd St.”
The men all looked eagerly at one another, and drew taller and straighter in case someone from the mission who was not part of the little band should pass through the day room.
“Those are old people, Gus,” Bill said.
“What if old people can’t dance too good?” Roy added.
“They don’t move very fast, I bet,” Buster Carp threw in for good measure.
“Spit! Spit! Spit!” Gus snapped. “I have, at some quite evident peril to my own person, reputation and eventual legacy, arranged meaningful and dignified work for this band. I want to hear gratitude, not whining and sniveling.” Gus waved his hands over his head like an angry conductor. “I want elegance. I want grace!”
“Maybe he means the people don’t dance too fast, Gus,” Bay Rum Robinson said from the doorway behind them. Bay Rum had been in the hall, listening quietly, as Gus explained the job and railed on the band.
“Why, thank you, Mr. Robinson,” Gus said snidely, “for that astute and penetrating insight.” He looked down at the men on the couch. “They dance as fast as you can play,” he said, slowly and loudly. “Just as fast, or as slow, or as medium, as you can play. Why, God forbid and who knows—with Divine intervention they might even dance with your music, not just at it.”
“Probably they can keep up,” Buster Carp said, nodding his head in complete reassurance, “if we play just right.”
“Probably they’re old,” Gus Teal replied, “not gimped up. Can’t any of you imagine that those people may dance every day? You may perform to an audience of finely tuned athletes who might have bunions and no hair. Just because they may be missing a gall bladder doesn’t mean they’ve lost their timing. Now, come on—whether they can keep up isn’t the point. The point is, we have work, and we don’t have to pay that barracuda who didn’t do anything for us anyway. All right? All right. Twice a day the rest of the week. Our gig is Saturday night.”
“Gig?” Roy asked.
“I give up,” Gus said. He flailed his arms in the air and turned to go out of the room. Bay Rum Robinson leaned against the doorjamb, polishing his harmonica with its flannel bag, slowly rubbing the chrome, and smiling. He slid the harmonica into its pouch and leaned away as Gus brushed past him.
“Excuse me,” Gus said.
“Isn’t it rich,” Bay Rum said. It wasn’t a question.
The LeMoine Avenue Rescue Mission occupied all three floors of a red brick house that had curved windows on the avenue side and a wide porch that sloped toward the sidewalk because the land had settled a few inches over the years. Buster Carp and Roy, who were afraid of most things, including the notion that any one of several once famous murderers was buried under the house, were especially afraid that if they should surrender to gravity, they would surely be drawn off the porch and killed, though the sidewalk was less than a three foot drop and the heavy wooden railing before them was three feet high. On summer afternoons, if someone should turn on a hydrant up the block so that the tenement children could cool off, the two men would go onto the porch with folding chairs, but would anchor them fast against the wall of the house with sandbags that they had made for just that purpose.
The day before the dance at the Lasker Park Home, Buster Carp and Roy sat in their folding chairs on the rescue mission porch, their backs against the brick. Bay Rum Robinson sat on the floor between them, and the three men watched the hydrant, the cars that drove up on the sidewalk to get away from the water, and the children who played in the street. Buster Carp and Roy sat with their hands folded tightly in their laps, and Bay Rum polished his harmonica, occasionally getting off a few bars of the only song he knew. Roy tapped on a sandbag with his shoe.
“I’ll bet you know the words,” Roy said, without speaking to Bay Rum by name. Hardly anyone ever called him by name unless they were describing him to someone else.
“They’re real pretty,” Bay Rum answered without looking up. “There ought to be clowns,” he said. “Maybe next year.”
“What year?” Buster Carp asked, waking up from a nap in the middle of the conversation.
“I don’t know some of the words,” Bay Rum said. “But I can play all the music real good.”
There was a fair silence, and then Roy said, “Gus ain’t going to let you play at the dance.”
“That’s not so bad,” Bay Rum said. “I can go to the dance. I can even dance. I can go there.”
“It’s because Gus always has to be the boss,” Roy said.
“It’s all right, Roy.”
Buster Carp squirmed in his chair, and tried to lean forward enough to get up.
“Because, because, because,” he said. “Because it’s a pretty song and none of the rest of us know how to play it.”
Gus Teal called a practice Saturday afternoon, just hours before the dance. Bill, Buster Carp and Roy appeared in the kitchen in their dressiest clothes and milled around, afraid it might violate some sacred part of a musician’s code to sit, or to have their clothes come in contact with anything at all. They walked past the practice room door and peered in through some great cosmic barrier that kept them out, and Bill began to talk to his drum.
“It’s a big day,” he said, nodding to the drum.
“It’s Saturday the 13th,” Buster Carp said. “A big, scary day.”
“It ain’t Friday the 13th,” Bill said.
“Close enough, “Buster Carp said, nervously. “Close enough.”
Gus Teal roared into the kitchen as though his pants were on fire, waving his arms in high animation.
“A horn,” he said, his voice high and nervous. “We had a horn. Damned fine coronet player from that church on the corner. Knew all the work. Would have fit right in. Would have rounded out our ensemble.”
“Why do we need a horn, Gus?” Bill asked. “We’ve never had a horn.”
“Depth,” Gus Teal said emphatically. “We lack a certain depth.”
“You mean we ain’t very loud?” Roy asked. He surprised even himself with the question.
Gus Teal flailed his arms in the grandest Gus Teal fashion. I mean we ain’t diverse!” he screamed. “Now, let’s play! We need to play! We need to be sharp as knives!”
“We need to be something besides yelled at,” Bill said as the men worked their way into the little room and took up their instruments.
“Maybe you’d settle for horsewhipped,” Gus said as he slid onto the piano bench.
“It’s our band, anyway,” Roy said, surprising everyone.
“Don’t bicker,” Gus said, “and don’t bitch. Let’s go through ‘Claire de Lune.’ One-two-three-four; one-two--.”
And the little band played “Claire de Lune.” As Gus critiqued their performance, Bay Rum Robinson appeared in the doorway.
“A man wants you on the phone, Gus,” he said. “He said someone wants to hire the band.”
“Glorious,” Gus Teal said. “Just glorious. From total obscurity to masters of all we survey in two days.”
The entire band followed Gus to the phone, and stood lined up in the hall behind him.
“What do you mean, ‘tonight?’” Gus asked. “You didn’t call us for weeks, now you want us on a couple of hours’ notice?”
There was a pause while Gus listened. He ran his fingers through his beard.
“We’re not available.”
Gus tugged on his beard while he listened.
He tugged harder. “Hell, no! Hell, no! Did I mumble? You left us on the shelf for weeks, now it just so happens we aren’t available tonight.”
Gus turned around and wrapped himself in the cord.
“None of your business. We take fair care of ourselves.”
With yet another pause while Gus listened and unwound himself, Buster Carp and Roy began to fidget, as silence was another thing they quite feared.
“I don’t give a rat’s patoot what you promised. You ignored us and now we’re not available.”
Gus stiffened, held the handset away from his face, and spit at it.
“I am white with terror,” Gus said finally, and he slammed the phone down so hard that more plaster fell from the broken wall.
“Why didn’t you tell him, Gus?” Buster Carp said, nudging Roy with his elbow.
“That’s right,” Roy added. “Call him back, Gus. Call him back and tell him we got our own work.”
“What did the man say, Gus?” Bill asked.
“He said it’s a closed neighborhood. We want work, he books it. Fifteen percent commission.
“What’d you say, Gus?” Buster Carp asked. He held Roy’s hand, as he always did when he was very nervous.
“God-a-mighty!” Gus snapped. “Where the deuce were you—out having a seizure? I told him to buzz off.”
“I heard, ‘Buzz off,’” Roy said, nodding eagerly.
“Spit,” Gus snarled. “Spit, spit, spit.” Let’s go play our music. And you two,” he added, turning to the dead-fish twins, “you two show up smelling like gardenias.” He said “gardenias” very softly and waved his hands lightly in the air.
Buster Carp and Roy went straight to the front porch, as they usually believed that fresh air was a remedy for whatever they were afraid of at the moment. They inhaled deeply when they opened the screen door, for they had been holding their breath all the way up the hall from the kitchen.
Bay Rum Robinson sat on the porch between the two chairs, playing “Send in the Clowns.”
“I never heard you play better,” Buster Carp said.
Roy sat in his chair and pushed back very far, trying to get all of the back of his head, his neck and his entire back pressed against the wall.
“Let me know when you get flat enough,” Bay Rum said.
Roy laughed. “That’s funny,” he said. “That’s a good one. Flat enough.”
The three men watched the street until, after a few minutes, Buster Carp began to fidget.
“Are you coming to the dance?” he asked.
“Gus won’t let you play,” Roy said, nervously and quickly.
“It’s not much to dance to, I suppose,” Bay Rum said. “It’s only a waltz.”
“It’s because we don’t know the music,” Buster Carp said, embarrassed.
“It’s because Gus doesn’t know the music,” Roy said, suddenly courageous, and he began to draw his arms back and forth, squeezing his imagined accordion.
“It doesn’t matter what the ‘because’ is,” Bay Rum said. “If there’s no place to play, there’s no place to play, and I’ve got no place complaining. I’m not in the band.”
The three men got up, and Buster Carp and Roy scuffed their shoes on the floor and looked at their hands the way children do when they’ve been scolded for having done something naughty.
“Go get dressed,” Bay Rum said. “You’ve got a dance to play.” And he turned, proudly, they way he always turned when Gus would send him away from the practice room, and walked into the mission.
“Don’t say anything about me,” Bill told Gus.
“Say I’m from Baltimore,” Buster Carp said.
“I say,” Gus said, straining his neck inside the stiff shirt collar, “that the entire gaggle of you should cancel the nervous routine and think about the music. You’ll all have cottonmouth and cotton fingers and not a single note will be heard above the sound of the sweating. I fear you’ll all break out in hives.”
The men stood near the small riser that had been provided them at the side of the dining room, and while there weren’t many people in the room, dozens walked back and forth in the hall, stopping to look in, then moving on, only to reappear every few minutes.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Roy said.
“Don’t you think the riser should be a little higher in the back?” Bill asked. The others looked at him strangely.
“Well,” he shrugged, “you’ll all be standing up, and I’ll be sitting down, and—“
“Just keep the symbol out of your face,” Gus said. “You’ll be the belle of the ball.”
“Where are my brushes?” Bill asked, growing more nervous. “The music is so much more satisfying when I have brushes.”
“What if I get sick?” Roy said, a little louder.
“What if the damned moon falls out of the sky?” Gus hissed.
“I have a stomach ache,” Buster Carp said.
Gus teal took a slow, deep breath and spread his arms to gather them all in.
“You all give me such an acute pain in the rear,” he said through his teeth. “But I shall rise above all that. You’re nervous, that’s all. Nervous. Happens to the great ones all the time.” Then he got a little louder. “Now cut me some slack here, boys, and KNOCK IT OFF!”
Buster Carp and Roy shrank back in terror and held each other. Bill turned his back to the others, folded his arms to hold himself, and began to shake.
“God-a-mighty, boys,” Gus Teal said, softer then. “We’re not going to get pushed out of line to get into heaven if we don’t do this just exactly right. But you’ve got to lighten up else nobody’s going to hear the music because all we’ll be able to do is squeak.”
Bill the drummer, arms still folded, turned and stared at the others, then slowly and quietly unpacked his drum and cymbal and set them up at the back of the riser. Buster Carp and Roy let go of each other and began to pick at their instruments.
“Come on, guys,” Gus said. “You’re just too nervous. This is supposed to be fun. Once we begin you’ll all be fine.”
“It ain’t fun right now, Gus,” Bill said.
Buster Carp began to run up and down the scale on his clarinet, raising his head back to tip the instrument up toward the high notes, and lowering it as he played back down.
“That’s better,” Gus Teal said. “Much, much better.” And he sat at the piano and began to loosen up his fingers on the keys.
And the room began to fill, slowly at first, and some of the ladies wore white gloves and some of the men wore bow ties, and after the first song, “Stardust,” Gus introduced the members of the band, adding that, “Buster Leon—for some reason we call him ‘Buster Carp,’—is from Baltimore…wherever that is.”
Buster Carp glowed red as Gus embellished his introduction, making it sound as though the little band played nearly every night. “Roy wanted to be from Baltimore too,” he went on, very smoothly, “but Baltimore wouldn’t have him.” Some of the couples looked at each other as if they couldn’t hear all that well.
We’re really pleased to be here tonight,” Gus said. He added, “We haven’t played this close to home for a long time,” making that line sound as if the band were ending a world tour. “Now we’re going to play a few favorite pieces for you, and we want you to dance. Stretch. Loosen up. Relax. Do all that at the same time and you’ll really be glad you came.”
And the band played “Unchained Melody,” and “In the Mood.” Gus always told the band that their version of “In the Mood,” without horns, was petty fair.
It was during the wrap-up to “In the Mood,” that Gus noticed a man, who looked much too young to be a resident of the Lasker Park Home and who had been leaning in the doorway. The man made his way along the wall around the room to the riser. As he moved around the room from the doorway, another man took his place, folded his arms, and watched intently.
“Which one’s Teal,” he asked when the music stopped. He stepped onto the riser.
Gus looked up from the piano bench. “Gus Teal here,” he said.
“Jake Pesto, Westside Talent Agency,” the man said. “You owe me fifty bucks for this gig.”
Buster Carp and Roy leaned back and held hands. Bill held one of his drumsticks like a dagger.
“Nice of you to stop by,” Gus said. He worked his mouth around, ready to spit. “But we raised this job ourselves, so why don’t you just crawl out of here and die.”
Buster Carp, who had a thing about death,” sucked in his breath.
“My neighborhood,” Jake Pest said. “My dues.”
Some of the people who had come to the dance sat down, and some stood and stared, not knowing at all what was happening.
“My band,” Gus replied. “My work, my deal, and your night off.”
Jake Pest leaned closer, and as he did he motioned to the other man, who started across the floor to the riser.
“Listen, friend,” Jake Pesto said, “fifty bucks. What part of that don’t you understand?”
Gus Teal stood up, and, it seemed to Buster Carp and Roy, shoved his beard right into Jake Pesto’s face.
“You see,” Gus said through clenched teeth, “fifty is all we’re getting tonight. Sort of like a ‘freebie,’ if you know what I mean. Now go away and leave us alone.”
The man who had come across the floor stepped onto the riser, and Jake Pesto nodded to him while he stared at Gus. The man nodded back, and then in just a few seconds he pulled Roy’s accordion in half, snapped Buster Carp’s clarinet in two, jerked a knife from his jacket sleeve and cut the heads on Bill’s bass and snare drums, and then, as the people began to gasp and back away, he lifted the front cover of the piano and in a vicious swipe with the knife cut the wires he could reach. That made a terrible noise and caused many of the people to gasp and catch their breath and move quickly out of the room. A few moaned and a few, including Bill the drummer, began to cry.
“Would have been cheaper to pay the dues,” Jake Pesto said, and he and the other man turned and walked off the riser toward the doors. Those nearest them backed away, and the two men straightened their clothes and shrugged, shedding themselves of the entire matter.
Gus clenched his fists and rose up on his toes to hold in the rage.
Bill the drummer cried quietly and ran his fingers along the edges of the gash in the top of the snare drum. Buster Carp stood in shock with his mouth open, and Roy moved his arms back and forth, thinking that perhaps by some heavenly intervention the two halves of the accordion might play.
Gus Teal looked at the little band, and started to gather the men around him, and as he did Bay Rum Robinson walked out of what was left of the crowd and onto the riser.
“I saw that, Gus,” Bay Rum said. “I saw how bad that was.”
“I need a minute here to collect things,” Gus answered. “Give me a minute here.”
But Bay Rum Robinson took the harmonica out of his shirt pocket and out of its little velvet slipcase, and walked to the edge of the riser and began to play “Send in the Clowns.”
And it took a few minutes for anyone to really notice and for the buzz in the room to soften and die away, and it took Bill the drummer another minute to find a brush in the mess on the riser and begin to play on the cymbal above the torn snare drum.
Then a few people who had left the room came back, and as Gus Teal, Buster Carp and Roy picked up pieces of the broken instruments off the riser floor, a pair of couples moved away from the tables and began to dance. Another couple joined them, then a third and fourth just as Bay Rum and Bill finished.
“Would you like to hear it again?” Bay Rum asked in a very soft voice. “It’s a waltz and I can play it pretty good. I think Bill will help me again.”
And they began to play again, and some of the people nodded or said, “Yes,” as they began to dance, and Gus Teal and Buster Carp and Roy moved off the riser and sat on chairs at the edge of the little dance area and looked around.
“What if I had an accident?” Roy asked under his breath.
“Ain’t there a pretty good chance you’d know by now?” Buster Carp crackled at him.
“What if the pair of you knock it off and show some support for this man,” Gus said. “I think we’ve got to find us a few dollars to fix this equipment, and then I think first thing we do is get back to work.”
“He only knows one song, Gus,” Buster Carp said.
“He can play it real good,” Roy added, though he stood behind Buster Carp and spoke over his shoulder.
“Featured artist,” Gus said quietly. “Just listen to that, will you?”
Buster Carp and Roy stood very close together and leaned with Bay Rum’s music, and Gus Teal leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach.
“Are you thinking about another dance, Gus?” Buster Carp asked nervously.
“This is hard, Gus,” Roy said. “Think about us. Those guys shouldn’t ever come back again. Think about that.”
“Think about the band, boys.” Gus Teal smiled at them and ran his fingers into his beard. “Imagine. That’s it. Think and imagine.” He leaned back so that the front legs of the metal folding chair rose a few inches off the floor. “And listen, boys—hot spit! Listen to that gifted man.”