Wailing notes squeezed from metal strings pealed through the smoke-softened air. The stained maple body of the instrument as dark as the whiskey in my glass. The axe man clutched it to himself, bent and wracked as he reeled out a banshee’s call for a lost lover.
I sat alone at my table, boot heel snagged on a jagged tile on the beaten floor. Third cigarette burning down untasted between my fingers. My eyes pinned on the guitar player’s grimace.
“I haven’t seen you here before.”
I cupped my ear and leaned toward the woman who’d materialized at my left.
“Heard good things,” I said. “Thought I’d check it out.”
“If you like the real blues, this is the only place to be.”
I nodded, admiring the nut brown skin that revealed in the deep neckline of her dress. Her hair was back in a bun, her eyes flicking from the stage to me. Short clipped red nails tipped slender fingers, curled around her glass.
Under the blue lights, the bluesman sang of a woman too good for him, a woman now buried because of his jealous ways. He slipped back into the chorus.
“And now I got these prison bars, ain’t got her lovin’ arms…” His lip got that wicked curl again, giving a thin gleam of teeth.
“She’s too good for this old snake, and she’s too good for this world,” his voice rumbled over the finale, and the room broke into claps and hollers.
I clapped with the rest of them, his music was righteous. Now I knew what she’d seen in him.
Her chair scraped closer to mine. “I wonder how he channels that kind of pain.”
I almost flashed a smile, but cut it off. My hand dropped to my belt, where I’d tucked the cheap .32 the kid had sold me.
“Something like that has to come from the heart,” she said. “He’s gone through it.”
I nodded. “That’s the stone truth.”
I stood up and slipped through the thinning crowd, toward the stage.