Raine Gayle runs a struggling club called Raine's Blues located on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Her world is full of the interesting characters the club shelters from the ugliness of L.A.'s mean streets. Faced with a financial crisis and desperate to keep her club open, Raine searches frantically for that one act that will draw the crowds. She believes she has found that act in the form of the beautiful and renowned chanteuse, Cintra Wells.
Cintra Wells is more than a little surprised when Raine asks the band to headline at the small blues club. Usually Cintra would reject the offer of such a low venue, but decides to take the gig for one reason -- Raine. Cintra recognizes Raine immediately; after all, Raine turned Cintra down for their high school prom. Back then though, Cintra went by her...or rather, his...real name, Neil Williams. Neil doesn't hold any grudges against Raine. Though, it would be fun to play her a good turn since it's obvious Raine doesn't realize that Cintra Wells is actually a man. Namely, the smolderingly sexy manager of Cintra's jazz quartet.
Payback doesn't particularly have to be a bitch, but in this case, it won't be a lady either.
* * * * *
Neil sat at the mirror contemplating the lines cutting through the powder covering his five-o’clock shadow. They were cracks in the facade, a peek behind the illusion. He wiped off the powder with a tissue doused with aloe cream, removing the last of the mask, and stared at the reflection of a twenty-eight-year-old man, all hard lines and dead eyes. He peered at the blue irises; well, not exactly dead, but eyes tired of a world they’ve been forced to look at for too long.
The wig sat askew atop a head mannequin on the corner of the small dressing table already overrun with makeup and paraphernalia. The accommodations here were cramped and inconvenient. He reached behind his head to release the rubber band that had been holding his dark hair in a loose ponytail; the hair fanned out over his shoulders.
The door opened, and Max stepped in and shut it behind himself. He still had his sax with him even though their last set had been nearly forty minutes ago.
“Cin -- man, gotta talk to you.”
“What about?” Neil swiveled to face the saxophonist. He leaned back in the chair as Max’s lanky, six-feet-three frame collapsed onto the dingy blue love seat. Max laid his precious Sexy across his knees. He sat forward, his expression full of anticipation.
“Another gig, man. Some chick came up to me tonight, said she’s got an opening at a blues club called Raine’s. Said she’s looking for something different, something to spice up her lineup.” Max smirked at that.
“Yeah? What else did she say?”
“She asked what it’d take, and I told her. Actually I padded it a bit to see if she would bite. She didn’t even blink an eye.”
“For how long?”
“Said a month to start. Then we can talk extension later on if things work out. Look, Europe was fine for wine and song, but that money’s gone, man, and Kieran ain’t paying up like he promised. I’d like to know if I’m gonna have a roof over my head in the next couple of months.” He reached inside his pocket, pulled out a card. “Here. She left her number. I think we should at least talk to her.” He reached over to hand the card to Neil.
Neil took the card and read the name.
Raine Gayle, proprietor
Where rainy-day blues are sung away
Phone: (415) 552-6889
Raine Gayle? Neil blinked rapidly at the name, and a flurry of memories rushed forth. Could it be?
“I know, the name is really out there, but she seems legit,” Max said, interrupting Neil’s reverie. “All I’m saying is let’s talk with her, feel her out. We got nothing to lose just talking.”
Neil sat motionless for a few moments, then suddenly folded the card and tossed it over his shoulder. It landed on top of the wig.
Max stiffened. “So what? You’re not going to even consider it?”
Neil saw the telltale tic above Max’s left brow start, a sure sign his temper had surged.
Neil drew in a deep breath, sat forward. He’d planned to talk with the others after the gig, but Max was forcing his hand with this new offer.
“I know this is a bad time to spring this on you and the guys, but this just isn’t working for me anymore. I’m tired of the freak show, man, tired of the wigs, the dresses. Tired of singing like a bitch. It was fun for a while, but that just ain’t me anymore.”
Max sat immobile a few seconds but didn’t stay stunned for long. That tic was beating faster. “I know the show’s getting old. But it’s working for us right now. And we gotta work, no matter what. If we go back to the way it was, with just a jazz quartet and nothing more, we’re just four more bodies out there doing the club circuit. I know this is a freak gimmick, but it’s a good one, and it gives us an edge.”
“Look, I don’t want to shaft you and the guys, so I’ll give you time to find someone else. But after that” -- he shrugged -- “I’m gone.”
Max’s brows knit together, the lines above them deep grooves. “Man, this is so fucked, you know that? You’re leaving us ass up, hole wide open. Who the hell is going to take your place? Your name’s a brand, and the audience expects Cintra Wells -- nobody else -- to front when we step onstage.” He stopped, his expression changing as something began dawning. “You’re planning on filling another spot, aren’t you?”
Neil hadn’t counted on anyone figuring out his game plan this early on. It put him in the uncomfortable position of having to lie.
“No, there’s no other spot. I’m just tired, man," he lied. "Can’t you accept that at face value?”
Neil could see that Max wasn't buying the lie.
“Neil, the one thing I’ve learned working with you these five years is that nothing is just face value with you. There’s always something else going on. You know what? I’m done. Fine. You’re leaving, leave. But you tell Stevie, Dan, and Janyx tonight. You owe them that at least.” A pause and then, “You’re finishing out the contract, right?”
Neil nodded. “Yeah, I wouldn’t do you guys like that.”
“Like what? Oh, you mean stabbing us in the back. Nah, you’d never do that to us. You always do us right as rain, man, right as rain.”
Max sighed, picked up his sax, and stood. “You do what you gotta do. And we’ll do what we have to do, to survive without you. Like you said, you’re not the only bitch out there.”
The last words were a deliberate kick to the groin. Well deserved.
Neil swiveled back to the mirror as the door closed, and looked into the eyes of someone he barely knew anymore. Then he reached over to retrieve the balled-up card still lying on top of the wig. He unrolled it and looked at a name he hadn’t seen in years.
Copyright © Sharon Cullars