Blues for C Pt 1 of 2

Synopsis:

This one is a little more autobiographical than most. But don't take it as truth. If there is such a thing. Hey, everyone has 'history'.

Two people form a relationship that takes a few turns from where either of them expected things to go. No real kinkiness, sex or violence. A bit of sorrow and some shared emotion.

A few expressions and phrases may be unfamiliar to some. Where I thought appropriate I have marked with an asterisk and a meaning is placed at the end.

This is Part 1 of 2. Part 2 will follow shortly.

Story:

This is a work of adult fiction. No resemblance to reality should be inferred or expected.
Copyright KLS 2006.

Blues for C.

Part - 1 of 2

By Kristina.L.S.

1.

Jessica crossed the room at the Bayswater* and sidled up to Blue. As he spotted her his face lit up with a huge grin that transformed a slightly ugly and vicious looking face into a grandpa teddy bear.

He was in his mid forties. About 5' 10" and built like a tank. Blue was a moniker* that had been with him for over twenty years, when one of his old biker mates through a haze of dope, decided that he looked like a beat up version of Bluebeard the pirate on steroids. That is if Bluebeard had been an old Triumph riding, leather and denim wearing, antisocial animal. He had been a member of the tribe and was possibly still on watch lists in several states as an enforcer for the C---------'s. But when one of his rivals accidentally killed a young girl in a very public shootout in a hotel beer garden he had taken stock. Dumped his colours and set out to find work as a roadie.

Ten years later Nico Kokinos, a name almost no one used, ran a sound and lighting company and organised touring rigs, transport and personnel for anyone wanting to tour the country or just around Sydney and Melbourne. When not riding the office desk he mixed for local bands, supplied and set-up PA's and basic lighting. Tonight he was mixing for a blues based band that had pretensions of greatness.

He grabbed Jessica around the waist with one arm and lifted her off her feet as though she weighed nothing. With a soft yet booming voice "Hey there darlin'. You look as gorgeous as ever. Give old Blue a kiss and make my day."

With a laugh she grabbed his beard in both hands and kissed him softly on the lips, " So how's my favourite mean old biker dude? Just as ugly as ever. You can put me down now."

"Who you callin' ugly bitch?" His laugh boomed out and with a gentle smack to her behind dropped her back to the floor. They chatted amiably for several minutes as he adjusted and checked things. Then slipping a Robben Ford CD into the deck adjusted the volume to manageable level that let everyone know the band would be on soon but didn't drown conversation. That was the bands job.

She listened for a minute and nodded. "Nice, haven't heard this one."

"Yeah, pretty good. Been out a year or so. Class playing. Give these wankers* something to aspire to."

"Are they that bad?"

"Nah. Not really. If they could get over themselves they'd be pretty good. Just think they're the next INXS or something. Not a chance, short of some serious attitude adjustment. Anyway, the reason I rang you. When you asked about a guitar player to do some duo work with I thought of this band. I've done about two-dozen shows with them over the last 6 months. As I said, they're not too bad, just... anyway...
About 2 months ago their second guitarist OD'd and Chris got the gig. Now this kid is a class player and he can do this shit standing on his head. But he doesn't quite fit the image so I figure he'll walk shortly. In fact I think he's going up to Tamworth for the Country Festival* in 2 weeks. So they're a little pissed off with him. They're all probably out the back lane sucking joints while that's Chris over there", pointing across the room with his chin.

Her gaze followed the line across the room to a corner table where a slender figure, that at first glance she took to be a woman, was sitting legs crossed and sipping a glass of red wine. Black suede jacket, dark red shirt and black jeans and boots. RM's*, she made a bet with herself.

As she watched a young guy walked up to him and nervously started talking. Chris put his glass down, cocked his head slightly to the side as he listened and nodding tried to convey something with hand gestures. She got a good look at his face as he listened and responded to the younger man. Long blondish, reddish, light brown hair in a loose ponytail, almost delicate features and she thought, pale blue eyes. With a gesture he lead the way to the stage setup, handed the guy his electric, picked up the acoustic and sat on the edge of the stage. Then proceeded to demonstrate some technique on his guitar and pointed out the fingering on the other as the sudden student tried to follow. He did this 3 or 4 times till nodding the 'student' said, "Hey, that's really cool, thanks man." With a soft smile Chris took his two guitars and placing them on their respective stands, returned to his table.

"Well... whadaya know. A nice guy and if you can be trusted a good player to boot. If he's interested he'd be perfect."

"Yeah. Doesn't quite fit the Jack swilling, groupie fucking, muso* image does he. They'll be on in about 10. Toward the end of the first set Chris steps up front for a couple of songs. Wait and see what you reckon. Then have a natter* during the break."

"Is he gay? Not that I'm fussed, just wondering." She shrugged slightly in apology at the question.

"Wouldn't have the foggiest darlin'. He might be. I don't give a rats one way or the other. As you said he's a nice guy. And more to the point for you, he can play."

They reminisced for another ten minutes, Jessica keeping half an eye on Chris as he finished his glass and headed to the stage. He picked up an old Telecaster and switching on his amp ran through a few phrases. He set it down after satisfying himself with the tuning and sound and picked up the acoustic, a small body cutaway. He strummed a couple of chords, twiddled a pedal on the floor and then proceeded to run through an intricate finger-picking piece that sounded vaguely Irish.

After about five minutes the rest of the band wandered in, beer cans in hand and trailing smoke. Another few minutes to set up and they launched into a full tilt boogie number that she didn't recognise. They were pretty tight she decided even if the posturing of the lead guitarist and bass player/singer was a bit aggravating.

She concentrated on Chris as he played the second guitar role. He was concise and played with a subtle flair that didn't overpower the others but stood out if you were listening, as she was. After a couple more songs that she thought were probably originals they blasted into the old Ted Nugent song 'Stranglehold'. Great song if you were a misogynist cave man. Well, ignoring old Ted's philosophy it was still a great song and the band pulled it off really well. Hell, compared to some of the rappers around now old Ted was a 'snag'.

Another two originals followed by a bunch of old and more recent covers, mostly Seventies or Eighties stuff and generally pretty well done, the bass player announced, "our second guitarist Chris Cameron is gonna' step up front for a couple". With a brass slide on his left ring finger Chris eased into a swampy blues song that she thought she should recognise, but didn't. His voice was sweet and smooth, a little like Mick Hucknell she thought. 'Nice tune I'll have to ask who it is'. The second was an old Cold Chisel song 'Bow River' and both he and the band did it justice. As the applause started to die the rest of the band left the stage and it was just Chris and his Telecaster.

He wove a beautiful blues solo and gradually inserting chords, she recognised a somewhat different, but great version of Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind'. She looked around the crowd and could see the younger guys watching his every finger movement, a few single girls and couples slow dancing and most of the rest just standing and watching, the tables temporarily empty. He had the 150 odd people spellbound. Applause and whistles greeted the last fading note.

"Thanks, the band will be back in 30. Get yourselves a drink and we'll be back." He wound his way through the crowd stopping occasionally in response to a word or pat on the back. After about 5 minutes he made it to the bar and got a tall glass of something then back to the corner table, which had a reserved sign and a road case sitting on it.

"Can I get you a drink Nic, I think I need to have a chat with your boy?"

"Yeah I thought you might. Good isn't he? Go on, I'm fine." He pointed down to near his feet where a plastic bucket full of ice held several long neck bottles. With a nod she headed to the bar and after a few minutes got a glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc then headed over to the corner. As she got closer she noted idly that he sat quiet and alone with an almost graceful posture, and she thought, with his eyes closed.

"Hi. Mind if I join you for a moment?" She got her first good look at his face as he turned toward her. Slightly girlish and she was right, blue eyes, only darker than she'd first thought with little gold flecks here and there. What struck her then was that eyes his colour often looked cold but these were warm and very sad. She sucked in her breath slightly and wondered what pain he'd seen.

As he looked at her it took a second, his eye's widened slightly and with a small smile gestured her to sit.

"Jessica Wilson. Be my guest, it's a pleasure to meet you. I liked your last album. Better than the second one." He spoke softly and precisely, sounding more English than the usual Aussie drawl, but not at all pretentious. She was surprised to find that she was starting to like this guy more than usual, wanted to be his friend.

She laughed at his blunt comment, "Well I'm glad you liked that, it's my favourite so far." She grimaced slightly, " The second one was taken over by the producer. Got too caught up in his studio tricks and buried the music a little. Ah well, what's done is done. What did you think of the first one, too raw?"

"No, not really. It was a little rough around the edges, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For your first time in a studio it was pretty good. Caught the emotion and power of your voice. Also it has one of my favourite songs of yours 'Missing the Feeling'. Any album that has a song that good on it deserves to do some business. Shame the second didn't really follow through. But I reckon you still did okay. And the third really put you back in the spotlight. Great songs, well produced, tight band..." With a slight shrug he stopped talking and took a sip of his drink.

"Thanks, I really like that song myself. Speaking of which, what was that first song you did? I feel like I should know it, but I'm pretty sure I don't. Really nice feel, the slide work was terrific." He almost blushed at that she thought. Not too many guitarists she'd ever met would blush at anything. And there were a few things that she'd seen on the road that had made her more than blush.

With a soft crooked smile he looked thoughtful for a moment, "One of my all time favourite songs. One of the first I taught myself. It's an old 'Little Feat' thing that no ones ever heard of called 'Perfect Imperfection'. It's on the last album they did before Lowell George died." He gazed into the distance for a second then returned his eyes to her. She was pleased that they went to her face rather than elsewhere as guys often did.

"Can I get you another wine? I need another mineral water. It gets a bit dry up there as I'm sure you know." He half stood with a gentle question in his eyes.

"Yes. Thank you. It's the Marlborough* Sauv' Blanc." She watched as he made his way toward the bar the red shirt easy to track. His walk was graceful and fluid, almost feminine. He probably is gay she mused. But she still wanted to be his friend and hoped he would agree to play with her. 'Maybe it was relationships that caused the pain in his eyes. People could be cruel to someone a little off the norm'.

Her view was suddenly blocked by a guy standing very close to the table. Somewhat drunk, he tried the worst pick up line she had ever heard. She actually laughed, which unfortunately got him very angry, very quickly. He grabbed her arm and dragged her to her feet knocking over the chair she had been sitting on. The table tilted and her glass slid to floor, shattering.

"Fuckin' stuck up bitch, give us a kiss", planting a slobbery one in the general vicinity of her mouth. She caught a glimpse of Nic heading her way from the mixing desk with a murderous expression on his face. This could get very nasty she realised. Then she was aware of the red shirt beside her and the faint clunk of a glass being put down a little hard.

"Let the lady go friend or you will regret it."

He spoke quietly but with authority. The drunks eyes flared for a second and he threw his bottle on the floor sending foam spraying madly, released her and turned to Chris with a sneer on his face. Chris just stepped in and grabbed his right hand, twisted in and up to the guys armpit then pressed forward. The drunks eyes flared again, this time in pain, as he dropped to his knees. Two bouncers grabbed him and dragged him toward the door just before Nic got there.

"Damn kid, nice move. Saved the pricks life. I was gonna tear him a new arsehole and shove that beer bottle up it. You ok Jess?"

She was a little shaken but nodded, "Yes, thanks Nic. Chris here stopped things getting out of hand. I shouldn't have laughed at him. But... shit. That was the worst pick up line I have ever heard... and he was much drunker than I thought."

She shook her head slowly and laughed. "Thanks guys, I thought things were going to get nasty for a minute there. You have to watch your temper Blue. If you'd hurt him the cops would be all over you. Not worth it."

She turned back to Chris intending to kiss him and thank him for saving her. But as she leant forward the movement changed from a light hug to a joint fingertip clasp with both hands and a gentle buss on the cheek, almost an air kiss. A pretension she couldn't stand. Blushing confusedly she mumbled a thank you and tried to figure out what she had just done and why.

Nic leant forward and grabbed the chair by the leg, flipped it upright and placed it next to the table, "Leave you guys to it. Talk to ya later Jess. Chris. Better get back before anything not nailed down disappears."

A barman appeared, swept up the broken glass, mopped up the spilt wine and beer and offered them both a refill, which he headed off to get once he knew what they were drinking, taking Chris' empty with him. He returned a few minutes later with the wine and mineral water, placed them and nodding headed back to the bar as they both said 'thanks'.

2.

They sat and looked at one another, Chris raised his glass saying, "well that was exciting" and they both laughed. The mood lightened and drinks were sipped as each quietly sized up the other.

"So how do you know Nic? It looks like you've known each other a while. He's a good guy, despite the hard-arse image he portrays. I only met him a few months back on another gig. It was nice to see him doing this one too. He knows his business and helps the band he's working with. Even if he doesn't like them."

Jess tilted her head and tried to decide how much to tell. It wasn't her story really... but Chris seemed pretty non-judgmental.

"Well... it was when I was doing the early shows for the first album. What, six years ago. Fairly low key, 4 piece band and Nic doing the sound and setting up. A simple sound and lights deal. I was initially scared of him. You know... big, gruff, nasty looking. But he made a point of looking out for me." She shrugged and smiled at the memory.

"Anyway there I was. A green 19 year old kid trying to play grown up rock star and starting to get a little 'Diva' type bitchy when Nic just walked over, told me to, 'stuff the prima donna act up my arse and behave like a human being and maybe people would respect me'. Well naturally I was furious and wanted him fired, blah, blah, blah. He laughed in my face and started packing his gear. Two hours before a show with foreign agents and Company PR people in the room already. Um... needless to say I swallowed my pride and apologised."

She laughed out loud and almost choked on her wine as it ran out her nose. A minute and 2 napkins later she resumed the tale.

"Anyway, he just looked at me for a second, sniffed and kept rolling the multi-core*. Now by this stage I was almost in tears and figured he'd give in. When I asked why he was still packing, he stopped and slowly turned around, looked me in the eye and said, 'well Little Miss Priss. When you realise you were wrong and actually mean that apology, I might. Maybe, accept it and keep working, until then...' and with that he finished rolling that main cable and started on the stands and mics."

"So... I probably stood there, fuming, with my mouth open for about 5 minutes as he packed the stands in a case and dropped the mic cables into another. When I realised he was serious, I did start crying. At which point he came over and handed me a small pocket pack of tissues. 'Ahah' I think; he's given in. But...nooo. He just turned away and kept packing. I was stunned. Another minute or two and I started laughing and sat on his mixing stool. He glanced across and I mouthed, 'sorry'. He just nodded and started putting everything back, never mentioned it again. We've been friends ever since."

Chris was smiling and shaking his head slightly.

"Yeah I can see Nic doing that. I have a hard time seeing you as 'Bitch Diva' but I guess if you say so. Nice to see you got over it."

"Yeah well... when everyone tells you you're the latest and greatest and you're still a kid... well, it's easy enough to believe it all. Nice often goes out the window. Now that I'm all sorta growed up and sophisticated like, I can smile at the memory. I am very glad that Nic smacked my bottom, so to speak, bringing me back to reality. Old Blue is a lovely guy, despite his rather... um, intimidating exterior. Do you know anything about him? His history?"

"No, not much. I hear he rode with one of the big bike gangs and was a pretty wild guy. Then he turned away from the nasty stuff and got into the roadie biz. I'm not quite sure how to take a few of the wilder stories. I can see the biker thing... but the other stuff. The guy I've met is not that guy. Still... " He shrugged slightly.

Jess nodded and smiled.

"Oh he was a bad guy alright. Very nasty. But it was all 'in house' as he puts it. You know, gang to gang or other assorted lowlifes. He was number 4 in the 'C---------'s and the main enforcer. Beatings, the odd shooting, intimidation. Drug dealing... Anyway it was all people 'in the life' until the pub shootout in the early 90's when a girl died. He says that shook him up seeing that kid lying in a pool of blood while mums and dads, just regular people, screamed and ran or tried to protect each other. He can still run through it in his head. See her catch one in the chest and just flop backwards as her mother screams. He says he just stood and stretched his arms wide calling, '..c'mon ya fuckers shoot me, not some kid...'. Tears running down his face he stepped across to check her and the mother just attacked him. Tore skin and hair, punched kicked and gouged for a minute or two until she just slumped on top of her girl, sobbing. He didn't move, just took it and then realised he still had his beer glass in his hand but that he'd crushed it and had bits imbedded in the skin. An ambulance girl fixed him up then spat in his face as he was arrested with about ten mates and another dozen 'B------'s. A few from each side were held but as he hadn't been armed and no one, 'put a weapon in his hand', he walked... and as he says, kept right on walking. And here he is."

She shook herself slightly and blew out with a long slow, not quite whistle.

"When he told me the whole thing a few years back, as he'd seen it. Well it was like watching one of those old Peckinpah films in your head and I was shaking and crying when he finished. When he saw how shook up I was he apologised for dumping on me and just held me till I got it together. He looked so sad... No, he's not that guy anymore. I'd trust him with my life."

"Wow. Guess I better be nice to the guy huh. No wonder a few people tip toe around him." Chris grinned, then turned more serious.

"I suppose he'll see that girl, that scene, for the rest of his life and even though it wasn't him he'll feel the guilt as well. That's hard... but at least something good came from it... scared him straight, so to speak. Something good from something horrible. Nic is a nice, gentle guy, but I can see the potential for violence if he's pushed." He paused and shook his head ruefully.

" Bloody hell, I sound like a pompous reporter on a tabloid TV show." They both laughed as the sombre moment was diffused.

Jess and Chris both straightened and tried to shake off the spectre of the young girl lying in a widening pool of her own blood in a suburban Hotel beer garden on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. One minute, fun in the sun. The next, horror and death.

They sat for a minute each picturing the scene and feeling very similar echoes of sorrow and distant pain. It was Jessica that straightened first and saw the distant wet eyed look in Chris' eyes. She was again struck by the pain that sat just below the surface and was sorry she'd taken the conversation down this path.

"Yes, not a pleasant story. I'm sure Nic would tell you if you asked. He doesn't hide who he was. Might even tell you some of the whys. Anyway..." She took a breath and watched as Chris pulled back from wherever and focused on her again.

"The reason I came over to talk... I rang Nic a few days ago asking if he knew anyone that might want to do some duo stuff with me. Get some new songs together and do a small tour. Sort of two up unplugged as opposed to band. He suggested I come here tonight and then pointed me at you. After hearing you play and now meeting you I think it could work. We'd need to get together and run through some ideas I have, work out parts etc. Then..." She shrugged and looked him in the eye as a slight smile crossed his face.

"So... what do think? Want to give it a try?" She hoped he'd say yes. But not knowing his plans or any commitments he might have in the next few months she wasn't sure.

"That is the best offer I've had in ages. I'd love to try out and see what happens. I have a couple more shows with these guys then a few casual gigs I'm sorta committed to in Tamworth... after that, assuming it works out, I'm all yours. So, three weeks and I'm free for whatever you have in mind." He grinned and toasted her with the mineral water.

"Well there's no need to try out. I haven't approached anyone else. I have a good feeling about you. I like your playing and I think I like you. I reckon we'll work well together. You seem like a nice guy. Fairly mild ego for a guitar player too." She grinned widely and toasted him back.

"Besides, I have enough ego for both of us. I'm a bossy bitch, just ask anyone." That got them both laughing.

3.

They sat and chatted for another 15 minutes until it was time for the next set. She joined Nic and stood with him at the mixing console.

The band opened up with a Stevie Ray triple, 'Couldn't Stand the Weather, Cold Shot and Change It'. Chris played the rhythm part while the lead guy did the histrionics, overplaying and almost ruining the chunky blues feel. That and the singer come bass player trying to pull all the attention had her completely agreeing with Nic's assessment and understanding Chris' decision to leave. She sat on Nic's stool for the rest of the hour and half set then went to help Chris pack up and see if he'd go for a pizza or something and try and line up a 'get together' in a few weeks time.

She made an offer to grab whatever and then maybe have a bite or a drink while they chatted. Chris just grinned at her and without a word wrapped up an extension cord, two guitar leads, closed the lid on an old Boss resin pedal case and tossed his channel switch, the cord and leads into a small leather duffel. And then leant a collapsible stand for each guitar on top.

He stood and smiled at her dusting his hands theatrically. "Voila. I'm a big believer in Keep it Simple. Once you've lugged a few Marshall stacks* you get a distinct taste for small combo amps and minimal gear."

Jess laughed, " Well I guess that might be true. I've never really had to, ah, lug, any Marshall stacks. So this is it... your live rig? Pretty basic, I thought you'd be more hi-tech. What, one little amp two guitars, an ancient pedal board setup and a couple of guitar stands. I expected a stack of rack gear and a big digital multi effect thingy. That's what my last guitarist had. Oh, and at least 2 amps sometimes more and four or five guitars."

"Ah... well sorry to disappoint. That's all very well if you have roadies on tap. But in the real world you mostly lug your own gear. Sure a couple of amps in a stereo setup would be nice. Different gear for different sounds... but mostly, you make do. I'll give you a list if you like. Amps... guitars... a couple of gorillas to lug it all about." He smiled to take any sting off the words and Jess laughed softly.

"What I have works for most things. A strat might be nice now and again for wang bar* work and a slightly different sound. Maybe an old Gibson for that mellow big jazz sound. But hey... my trusty old Tele covers most sounds and styles. A few pedals and a decent amp, serviced nice and regular. A nice acoustic. Keep it simple, easy lug, in and out." He smiled a little ruefully and shrugged as he caught Jess' slightly amused and exasperated expression.

" Sorry. Getting toward guitar geek stuff. You'll have me blabbing about pickups and this valve versus that and what amp or strings are best if you're not careful. Probably a little boring... Um... if you don't mind watching the gear I'll go pull up the car. Be back in 10."

Jess chatted with Nic as he shut down the desk and began sorting the bits and pieces into cases before starting on the cables, mics and other parts of his contribution to the nights entertainment. She kept an eye on Chris' gear to make sure none of it walked while he retrieved his car from probably a few blocks away. She remembered how it went before she was 'discovered' and proclaimed a star by an opportunistic and ambitious agent. Everything involved trade offs in one form or another.

She got a shot at fame and fortune. He made a name as a keyed in observer and mentor and others took their piece of the pie according to station and relative authority. 'Damn Jess, such cynical thoughts on a nice night. Where hopefully you've just made a friend. Good things to follow... you hope'. Her thoughts were slightly embittered by the users and parasites that infected the industry. It actually surprised her to think of Chris as an innocent, even though he was probably a few years older than she. But being on the periphery of the industry he was not exposed to the shit she faced. Constant expectation of a top 10 or better. Being 'told' that she was too fat or too skinny or dressing badly or dowdy or overly sexy or... it went on and on. Subject to gossip and innuendo, who she was seeing or had just broken up with. Was she a junkie or a drunk or a sex maniac. Did she spend a 'wild weekend' with what's his face from that band or TV show. Was she a closet lesbian involved with the hostess from that game show.

If it wasn't so insane it would be funny, It probably was amusing if you weren't the one being discussed.

She must have been daydreaming and probably sighed out loud. Was startled back to the present by a sharp smack to her behind and a gruff, " ..ah poor old Jess, the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune eh."

After a seconds dislocation she pouted and with laugh grabbed Nics beard and poked her tongue out at him.

"Since when is introspection a crime you callous ruffian." The rueful grin deflected any possible offence to her pompous wording, as Blue laughed heartily at her pretence of hurt.

" Ah, me darlin' I know your moods. Ya just have to look on the bright side, more than the dark. You're a sexy young bint doin' what ya love ta do and bein' paid damn well for the privilege. So don't get all woe is me or I'll have ta put ya over me knee and teach ya some humility." His grin turned feral and a wide smirk crossed his face, " Or it may be that ya'd like that from what I read in the papers ya kinky little thing." His laugh boomed out as Jess blushed deeply and tried to stop the grin creeping up her face. Which just got him chuckling even more... the bastard.

"Damn you Blue. I can't stay mad when you're teasing me like that. You do know all that stuff is made up don't you?" She actually seemed a little worried that he believed some of what was 'generally accepted truth' as decided by the women's magazines.

Nic's expression softened as he saw the worry and potential hurt hovering on her face.

"Ah Jess, c'mon we've known each other a while. I no more believe all tha' crap than I believe in Santa Claus. It's all money and the truth be damned. I know you aren't like that. Mind you... the idea of a nice spankin' does get me heart beatin' slightly quicker..." He managed to jump back from the laughter impaired swipe that followed his last comment and returned with a chuckle to packing up the gear. Jess smiled to herself at the juvenile nature of men and wondered if they were really that driven by sex or if it was an expected put on for the female of the species benefit. Some of each, dependent on the man, she decided as Chris appeared on her periphery and headed for his gear.

4.

Chris grabbed his amp, doing the bend ze knees, hoisted and headed back out. He returned a minute later so Jess bade Nic a good night, promised to get in touch in a day or so and grabbed Chris gig bag and stands as he took the two guitars. He stowed them in the back of an ancient pale green Land Rover ute* with a lock-able resin top on the back. The only modern concession to comfort beyond a World War two Jeep was that it had doors and a roof and thankfully padded covers over the thin vinyl seats. That and the wide tyres or it could be 1960's Africa going lion hunting.

Hiding the gear under a blanket Chris waved her to the passenger side then climbed in the drivers seat. Glancing at his watch he nodded to himself and turned to Jess.

"So you mentioned pizza or would you rather Chinese. It's only 1.30, there's a few places we could go. Did you have anywhere in mind? You cabbed it here so we could head toward Coogee, I remember reading somewhere that's where you live. Grab something, have a chat and then I'll drop you home. Your choice."

"Hmmm, Chinese sounds good lets swing down to Chinatown and pick up something. We could eat in or take-away and eat at my place. Um, where do you live? If it's too far you could stay the night, I have plenty of room."

"Well I'm out at Glenorie..."

"Glenorie! I don't go that far on my holidays. That settles it. You're staying the night. Lets get the food and I'll direct. There's secure parking so your gear will be safe. I can lend you a robe that should fit and isn't too girly."

She was slightly amused to see a slight blush creep up his cheeks as he nodded, started the car and concentrated on getting past the truck Nic was packing the PA into, he waved as he passed and Nic smiled as he slapped the side twice as they crept by.

"So why do you live so far out? It must take you over an hour to get home, after a feed this time of night that would mean at least 3 in the morning."

"Well I'm not really a beach slash city person. I enjoy coming in and playing but I like getting back out of the city and suburbs to the slightly open countryside. Trees and valleys and bush. Birdsong in the morning instead of traffic. It only takes about 40 minutes this time of night. It's more peaceful and relaxing than in here." He shrugged and concentrated on driving.

They drove down across the city centre to Chinatown in easy silence. Jess leant half against the door and quietly watched Chris as he drove. Smooth and economical with a certain 'polite gentleness' was the phrase that stuck in her head though what that meant exactly she couldn't say. He was aware of her watching him and had a small, she thought slightly embarrassed smile as he flicked his eyes to her every few minutes. Which in turn brought a smile to her own face. Gay or not he was an unusual guy. She didn't think she had met another quite like him.

They hung left and headed toward the centre of Chinatown, lucking a park only four blocks short, locked up and walked the rest of the way into the bustle of locals, both Asian and others and of course tourists. They picked a small storefront that both had eaten at before and ordered several dishes and entrée's to take-away.

They quietly sipped the tea that had been plonked in front of them by a smiling apron clad man that bawled their order in rapid Cantonese to the kitchen just beyond the swing doors less than 20 feet away. A quick single word response fired back and he smiled again and quietly said, "10 minutes" as he took the fifty Jess proffered and nodding again turned to the register and punched a key, deposited the note and handed her one back. Before Chris could even get his wallet out she stopped his arm and quietly whispered, "my treat, call it a business expense."

Chris held her eyes for a moment before nodding and settled back with his small tea cup. She watched him again for a few minutes until he grinned self consciously and looked out at the street. The image in the bar earlier came to her as he had dropped the drunk guy to his knees in a couple of seconds. No real violence just quiet surety. It seemed somehow not the same gentle and maybe slightly effeminate guy sitting opposite her trying to ignore her scrutiny.

"So Chris, I was just thinking how you handled that guy in the bar. Are you a black belt or something?" He turned back to her seemingly more embarrassed that earlier.

"Black Belt, no nothing like that." Her gaze invited further response and she waited patiently.

"Um, well back in high school I had a bit of trouble for a while and my older brother had a friend who was really into all that. I think he was a fourth dan in Aikido. He came over one afternoon a week for a few months and taught me some blocks, grips and throws, just enough to keep myself out of trouble and gave me some videos to watch and pick up a bit more. So, I know a bit but I'm a rank beginner compared to Claude. Aikido's basically reactive and gentle but if you watch a couple of high dans go at it you know they could kill you in a second if they wanted to."

"So..."

"So? What do you mean?"

"Well did it work? Did you 'keep out of trouble' after that? Best the bullies or whatever?"

"Yeah. I, um, dropped the main bad guy with an arm lock and told him I'd break it off next time. I guess he believed me 'cause I had no more trouble, from them anyway."

"What do you mean, there were others?"

"Uh, well it seemed that 'someone' let it be 'known' that I was gay. Lot's of quiet contempt and muttered comments." A slightly bitter half smile crossed his face. "I guess no one wanted their arm ripped off or something. I was left alone. Gave me plenty of time to practice guitar."

The pain that flitted across his face and settled in his eyes made Jess regret asking the question, but she wanted to know. She wasn't quite sure why but...

"So are you?"

He stared at her sadly for a minute then glanced over her shoulder as a plastic bag full of food was lowered to the table with a soft, "Your order. Enjoy. Please come again, yes."

Chris grabbed the bag and stood easily with that same fluid almost feminine grace that even though she felt bad for asking she was annoyed at the intervention of the order. Sighing softly she stood and smiling took his arm and whispered in his ear as they headed out," sorry it's none of my business and we hardly know one another. Please forget it."

His quiet "Ok" just reached her as they walked up the noisy footpath to the car, piled in and headed east toward Coogee and her apartment. As they came down the hill toward the beach she directed him into a side street and then a back lane that had the security door to the underground garage of her building. A small four-story block of two, two and then singles on three and four. He parked next to the burgundy Accord as directed and locked the car as she took the food and keyed the lock against No. 6, the top floor.

5.

As they rode up the few floors in the lift Jess apologised again for intruding.

"I'm sorry about before Chris. I like you and want to know you better. But that's no excuse for prying into your life. Told you I was a bossy bitch, or was that nosy." He nodded but made no further response.

The lift stopped and the door opened into the foyer of her apartment. She led the way to a large open kitchen. Gesturing for Chris to place the food she bent and got a couple of plates some cutlery and a couple of glasses.

"Fancy some wine Chris. I feel quite excited and up and I'm really looking forward to you and I getting together." She stopped as she saw the laughter just below the surface on his face. After a second she laughed and threw a washcloth at his head that he caught easily.

"Sure, a glass or two would be nice." Humour evident in his voice and eyes.

"Bastard" she muttered, laughing, as she searched for the opener.

They sat and chatted easily as they ate. Switching from entrée's to mains as the mood took. A splash of soy or dash of plum sauce. But as ever there was food left when they were done. So a quick wipe down and stuff the leftovers in the fridge, probably to be thrown out in about a week as a container was opened and that rhetorical, question was asked, "I wonder what this was? Yuck."

Chris settled on the lounge and gazed out the window at the view across the skyline and beach north and east of Jessica's apartment. He sat for a minute before kicking off his boots and tucking his legs up under him. Squidged (I made that one up) slightly to settle himself and holding his wine glass in both hands took in the ocean and lights displayed below.

Jess walked across from the kitchen and paused as she took in Chris sitting as he was. She could not help but smile and shaking her head slightly joined him, flopping into the lounge against the arm at the far end.

"Oh just make your self at home won't you." Jess smirked and poked her tongue out as Chris smiled slightly but didn't even look her way. She glanced at the boots, yep, RM's.

Jess smiled to herself and sipped silently just watching this guy sat on her lounge in a rather feminine pose without any self consciousness at all. She liked him but was not 'attracted' to him. Wanted to be friends but thought more in talking and relating terms than nights out and waiting for a call.

'Did it matter if he was gay? No it did not, it would answer whatever questions she had. Maybe.' She still wanted to be friends and more than that? Wanted him to play with her. A relationship, of sorts. 'Probably more meaningful than any she'd had in years. Ah, the price of fame.' The snort of laughter that followed that thought caused Chris to look her way with a questioning expression on his face. Jess shook her head with a smile and he turned back to the view with a small smile of his own.

"You know, this is nice. Plenty of room, great view. Probably a great investment too. But... well, you seem, I don't know... a little... alone. Beautiful, successful rock chick like you and you're picking up strange guitar players in bars and bringing them home..." He shrugged and waved his glass at Jess with a smile.

"Hell... happens to me all the time. But... ok I lie. It's been so long I forget how to spell sex. Let alone remember what to do or how... so that means you actually do want me to play guitar with you, which is very flattering and I would love to."

Jess went from surprise to mild anger and back to surprise, mixed with slight amusement.

"You're what... two years older than me, maybe three. So I doubt it's been all that long, relatively. As for picking up strange guitar players... well you might qualify in that respect, the strange bit I mean. But seriously I like your playing and I like you. Sex, well it's been a while for me too, but it never crossed my mind. Tonight was a work night and I'm serious about my work. I think you are too. So..." She poked her tongue at him and pouted sulkily.

Chris smiled and shook his head, "Yeah. You're right. Sorry. Didn't mean to imply anything. Just getting defensive I guess. Us strange guitar players are like that. Oh, it's two... not three."

They stared straight faced at each other for possibly a minute and then each succumbed as the other tried to hold back and soon they were both laughing madly with tears running down their faces. After about three minutes they had recovered enough to be smiling inanely at anything and nothing.

"What... the hell... are we laughing at?" Chris spluttered as he wiped his face.

"Who knows, but it felt good." Replied Jess, carefully wiping tears from under her eyes.

They sat sipping wine and stared at the view in peaceful silence.

6.

Jess gazed quietly at Chris and tried to decide who he was. Was he gay? Slightly feminine in manner and appearance. Maybe a couple of inches on her 5'6, but he could look after himself. Slightly sarcastic, but smart and thoughtful. And a damn good guitar player, which was the main point after all. If he became a friend... well so much the better. She hoped so, but it wasn't essential as long as he was professional, which she didn't doubt.

"So tell me oh guitar geek. Is that one you play really an oldie or is it one of those new made old repro's they do now?"

Chris smiled and turned to her, "Well, bit a both actually. The body and neck is '64, nice and light and mellow. Everything else is pretty new. It used to be red but... well I'm not crazy about red as a guitar colour so I stripped it back and oiled the bare wood. Has the added benefit of softening that sometimes 'sharp' Tele sound, which is also the reason for some of the other bits. Graphite bridge and nut takes the twang off a pinch and the pickups are noiseless Kinmans*.The tortoiseshell pick guard is just for the look. So, it's a hybrid, customised to me. Does what I need most of the time." He shrugged slightly and grinned, "Techie boring enough for ya? You did ask."

She smiled back, "It's cool, I followed no prob. And I understand what you said and the why. What about that acoustic, is that custom? Looks like it and sounds good."

"Yeah that's a custom Gilet*, he's over in Botany. Had it made a few years back and then got a fishman* fitted under the saddle. No pre-amp, that's why I use the graphic* pedal. It's a European spruce top with Tassie* Blackwood back and sides, Brazilian Rosewood bridge and fingerboard, the neck is Queensland maple. That ancient pedal board belonged to my brother. He gave it to me when he left school and got a real job. He's 10 years older and that's how I got into all the seventies stuff. Got me the current gig, 'cause that's what they're into. The amps a Rivera* 55, used to have a Boogie* which had more grunt, but this one is a little smoother. There ya have it, my gear in a nutshell." He grinned slightly apologetically at her and she smiled back.

It was good to watch him talk like that. The eyes sparkled and that sadness disappeared. 'Boys and their toys'. Tools maybe in this case, but the same thing basically. Still, the hand gestures and posture were very feminine. She could imagine him having a hard time with some people. If you stick out you can be a target for distrust or worse. Her musing was broken by a return question.

"So what about you. What are you using these days?"

"Well I get it given to me. Yamaha keys', um CP 300's, pretty new, nice touch, got 2 of them, one in the office here. Taylor guitars, ah, 800 and 900 series Grand Concerts. Different woods and degree's of fancy, you'd probably know better than me and Sennheiser mics." Jess sighed theatrically, "The price of fame I guess. Top quality gear at no cost beyond a, 'I use blah blah', in an add and visible brand names on stage. As long as it does what it should, no problem. I've got one of the Taylors in the office as well, if you want to see?"

"One of... just how many do you have?"

"Um, four I think. A real fancy 900 my manager keeps in his office, two others with my stage gear and the one here. I like the smaller body style like these. Pretty similar to yours in looks, not sure how they compare, but these are pretty nice."

"Yeah the good mass market stuff like Taylor is good gear. Especially the upper level lines. Probably isn't much between them and mine at all. Minor differences in styling and personalisation. Talk to the guy that makes it as opposed to a guy in a shop."

Jess got up and went into another room and came back carrying a guitar.

"Here, try it out, the strings might be slightly old but they're ok."

"Hmmm. Cedar top I think, which will make it a little more mellow than mine. Mahogany back and sides, rosewood board..." He strummed a few chords and picked a line. "...pretty nice, I like mine better. But this is good."

"Yeah, you make it sound better than I could though, no great surprise." She watched as he picked a lead line and blended chords into a smooth instrumental piece. Then grinning at her began to pick some slightly jazzy chords that after a moment or so she recognised as a re-voiced version of her own 'Missing the Feeling'. She listened as he ran through a couple of times to get the tempo and feel, which was slower and a more jazz gypsy style than the originally recorded solo piano.

Then as he ran through from the start he nodded to her and softened his playing so she could croon the words...

Saw you there across that room
And I just had to walk away
Feeling sad and oh so lonely
Wondering where did I go wrong
How could it just have faded
Like smoke into the night

She has your arms to hold her
A place I once knew well
That gentle touch and whisper
It was something oh so strong
A place of peace and safety
I could reach and touch the moon

***
Ohhh Oh missing that feeling
The gentle pressure in the night
Soft and sweet that bump and sway
Oh I'm missing that feeling
The way you'd hold me tight
Yes I sure do miss that feeling
Caress and touch to reach the light
Beauty in a simple movement
Oh I'm missing that feeling
It all just slipped away
***

The distance seemed so sudden
All at once the gap was there
Where once was easy pleasure
Now a stretch could barely touch
The simple became harder
And the harder was too much

***
repeat chorus

***

Oh I'm missing that feeling
That sweet and gentle touch
Yes I'm missing that feeling
It's awful lonely now at night
Hmmm I'm missing that feeling
Wish I could make it right
Oh yes I miss that feeling
(Slow)
Hmmm missing that feeling
I really am ohh yes I am
I am Missing That Feeling
(repeat from slow)

As the wavering final guitar notes faded they looked at each other and grinned like idiots. Their thoughts probably almost exactly the same, at least initially, '...damn, that felt great. That really worked...' Then, well, each to their own.

7.

A glance at the clock showed past 3 am, time to rest the weary.

Jessica showed Chris the spare room and got him a towel and a robe. A nice big fluffy towelling robe in pale blue. The towel matched, of course. Not too girly as she had said, but... not real macho either. Chris smiled ruefully and took it in good grace as Jess smirked at his discomfort. There were two bathrooms so, no problem there. After a quick shower she tossed his clothes into the drier to lift the smoke smell and set the timer.

"Hey you look real cute in that robe ya know. Baby blue is just so you." She noticed it was tightly belted and wrapped and the hem sat at his knees. There seemed no visible hair on what she could see of his legs. Or anywhere else, except his head and that was still ponytailed.

His reply surprised her and made her laugh.

" Well I always go darker blues, but in this case a nice rich yellow would have been more appropriate. It's summer and I am a Leo after all."

He grinned at Jess' surprise and turned with a very feminine strut and walked into the spare room, as he waggled his fingers over his shoulder. She had to laugh which she was sure was expected. But, also had to wonder, how much of that was a joke. Shaking her head she headed to bed and as the light clicked off wondered just who this guy was. He sure kept a tight hold on the real Chris, at least she suspected there was more than met the eye. Sleep came quickly.

It was after 11 when she emerged to find Chris dressed, his bedding and robe in the wash, coffee and croissants ready and waiting. He looked fresh and neat, no 5 o'clock shadow as she had expected. She wondered again just who this guy was.
But coffee and a croissant distracted her thoughts. A rich Blackberry jam, ah, bliss.

They chatted easily and swapped mobile numbers and e-mails. She agreed to follow him out to his place as the discussion had turned to rehearsal space and Chris had suggested his own sunroom. For a duo setup in comfort it worked well he assured her. So, she would have a look.

A little after 1 they set off Chris leading in the old Landie and Jessica following in her Honda. They headed across the Harbour bridge and followed the M2 until the turnoff and up Pennant Hills Rd to New Line and the Old Northern to Glenorie. Shortly after 2 they pulled off, Chris into a carport and Jess into the dirt lay-by off the road to the front of the old weatherboard cottage set about 30 metres back.

She helped as he unloaded his gear and then had a look around as he made coffee. It was a small 2 bed, 1 bath, lounge/dining and kitchen, probably forties weatherboard. Neat and well maintained. It was the sunroom that made the place and she knew straight away it was perfect. It stretched the full width across the back of the house, about 5 by 12 metres and faced down the valley behind. Glass enclosed, bright and airy. A small amp and a battered old Takamine guitar on a stand sat at one end. An old comfy looking lounge was centred and faced the valley, a couple of pot plants, a beat up old Persian rug and a stereo at the other end, that was it.

She sat and sipped coffee, nibbled some shortbread as Chris played a demo instrumental. He stopped took a few sips and said, "close your eyes". She did, as he ran through an easy fluid Santana-ish solo thing as she listened to the room the reverb and brightness as the sound bounced around. It had a rich 'old hall' live feel and she could see why he had suggested it. They could even record the demo tracks here for the studio sessions and she started to get excited. This was going to the best album she had done to date, she knew it. She and Chris would make magic or close to it. She just knew.

A few more songs to give enough choice. That was almost done. She would have Nic drop some gear over. A small PA, her keyboard and guitar, some effect gear, mics and stands, a mixer and a laptop with cubase* to record all the demo's to hard-disc and then CD. Her mind starting running the details and ticking off notes to various people. A few minutes later she became aware that silence reigned. Chris was standing with his elbows cupped in each hand above his guitar and his head tilted slightly as he watched her think. A small smile on his face.

"So. I assume you agree. This will work. Yes."

She grinned like a maniac in response and nodding jumped to her feet to pace. A sure-fire indicator she was energised and working the old grey matter.

Chris had to guess at it, but that was not particularly hard. He lifted off the guitar, sat it on the stand and tossed back the last of his coffee as he sat to watch her think.

She rattled off her thoughts as she paced and Chris had to admire her focus and skill at mental organisation. After several minutes she dropped onto the lounge beside him and giving a tight hug kissed his left cheek.

"Oh this is going to be great. I can feel it. We will be terrific. Another 3 weeks", she glanced at him for confirmation, " then we get down to it. Oh I can't wait, well I can. Gives me a chance to brush off a couple more tunes for working on and then, mid Feb we hole up here each day and work our little butts or fingers off."

Another hour and Chris waved her off. They kept in touch by phone and often multiple daily e-mails. Chris finished up with the 'Blue Ringers' and headed to Tamworth and the gigs that he had set up, with friends mainly. Jess fulfilled her 'contractual obligations' for interviews and appearances and by the second week of Feb was practically itching to get going.

She had spoken to Chris everyday and really appreciated his easy accepting manner and willingness to let her run things. She was a control freak and knew it. She was however smart enough to know that if he did question or object it would be worth listening to. He was back in town and ready to go. Tomorrow they would begin. Nic had dropped the gear at Chris' place and all was a go. She wondered if she'd sleep, but she was out like a light. Up equally early, raring to go. She had said 1, after lunch, but well, 'let's get this show on the road'.

8.

Jessica pulled the Honda into the lay-by in front of Chris' house. She was two hours early and wondered if he'd even be here. Instead of knocking on the front door she headed down the side intending to check if anyone was there and if the gear was set up. She didn't really doubt, it was just, well... As she headed down the path the angle of the sun caused a reflection of the whole room on the side glass. She could see the two guitars and amp set up with a boom stand and mic just in front for Chris. Her Yamaha keyboard and Taylor acoustic were setup a little way away with another stand and the small Bose PA bracketing it all with a rack of gear to the side. Her appraisal had taken maybe 30 seconds, as she took another step the light changed and the view dimmed as a woman walked into the room. Curious she stopped and took a back step to see more clearly this woman that was in Chris' home.

As Jess watched she leant down and switched the PA to live and flicked another switch to start some music playing. It was loud but no one else was closer than 200 metres, so, Jess shrugged gently. It took a moment for the funky beat to register. She hadn't heard the live version. It was Boz Scaggs doing some classic stuff from his old albums. As she watched the woman began to sway and dance slowly. Arms above her head she danced to the beat then stepped in to double on the backup vocal parts. Her voice was husky but good. She crooned her part then stepping to the beat spun gently for more space to dance some more. Her timing was spot on and the line she added worked well with the original recording.

Jessica had been there for perhaps 4 minutes watching as this stranger sang and danced, theoretically in private. Something puzzled her about this woman. What? Her clothing? A short skirt, strappy heels and a long sleeve T on top. She was relatively under-endowed. Her hair was loose and wavy, dangly earrings glinting in the light. No make up at all as far as Jess could see. Then as she turned directly into the light the face fully illuminated, eyes closed in pleasure as she danced...

Jess flushed hotly as a feeling of guilt washed through her for gazing on a private moment not meant for other eyes. The woman was Chris. Biting her lip softly Jess backed up and walked back to her car. Damn, she should have known. She sat for a minute, her mind blank. Then started up, backed out slowly and drove the 2k back to the café she had passed earlier. Ordered a cappuccino and settled with some magazine to kill the time, plus a bit, before she would resume the trip.

Thoughts wandered back and forth as she tried to piece the clues together. 'So. Maybe not Gay, exactly. Did he want to be a woman? Was that the source of the pain in his, or was it her, eyes? How do you ask a question when the person is trying to keep it private and you should not know? But you do, damn.'

End Part 1 Part 2 to follow shortly.

*

Bayswater — The Bayswater Brasserie, a music venue/eatery in Kings Cross, Sydney (now defunct)

Moniker — a nickname or name

RM's - R M Williams - a famous Aussie 'bush' clothing Co. They make boots among other things

Wanker(s) — derisory term for anyone considered to be a bit full of themselves, better than the rest. A jerk. From the slang for masturbation ie to jerk off or wank.

Tamworth (Country Music Festival) — a town in central north NSW Australia. A yearly week long festival of Country Music is held in late January (sort of an Aussie Nashville in miniature). Awards, buskers, lots of music and a fair bit of drinking.

Muso — short/slang for musician

Natter — slang for a chat/conversation

Marlborough — a wine region in New Zealand famous for, especially, Sauvignon Blanc.

Multi-core — the main cable that connects the stage speakers/monitors to the mixing desk/ amplifiers.

Wang bar — the tremolo arm, for vibrato or dive bomb type sounds. On, in this case, a Fender Stratocaster or Strat for short. Tele (Telecaster) is an earlier, simpler model guitar also from Fender.

Marshall stacks — Marshall is one of the most famous guitar amp manufacturers. Their head and quad box setup practically defined seventies rock. The head is the separate box containing the electronics, a quad box is a 4 speaker cabinet. Often 2 would be stacked 1 on the other and head on top.
A combo is a smaller self contained unit. i.e. speaker(s) and electronics in one cabinet.

Ute — Short for utility vehicle. What in the US would be called a pickup.

Chris Kinman — a Brisbane Australia, pickup maker. The best Strat or Tele retrofits going.

Gerard Gilet — a luthier(guitar maker) working in Sydney. Makes nice instruments.

Fishman — an under the bridge saddle(where the strings end on the body) slim, permanent fit, pickup. Needs careful fitting.

Graphic — short for graphic equaliser. In this case a pedal, used to adjust/taper the sound.

Tassie — Tasmania, the southernmost, Island state of Australia

Rivera and (Mesa)Boogie — relatively small U.S. 'boutique' Guitar Amplifier companies.

Cubase — a sound recording software program

Any thoughts or comments I can be contacted - [email protected] Anything short of abuse welcome.

Notes:

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