Into the Mystic

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Verse 21: MINSTREL'S SONG

By 8:30 pm on Friday, August 1, Gloria was a basket case. Every nerve-ending in her body felt like it had been rubbed with a jeweler's cloth, dipped in pickle juice, then run over with a floorwaxer. At 3:00, she'd taken up vigil at the bar, staring at the front door, glaring at each newcomer who had the audacity not to be Lex.

By 6:30, with the crowd so thick she could no longer even see the front door unless she was standing next to it, she’d retreated to her office, sitting in the dark, watching the numbers change on her digital clock.

For the trip to Providence, she'd taken her father's Town Car, since she'd have felt like a complete moron riding the Indian the way she was dressed. She’d never liked the Lincoln. The leather seats were too comfortable and the ride was so smooth she could not feel the road. She tried listening to the radio but turned it off before she reached I-95. Nothing could drown out the accusations Lex had thrown in her face, especially when she realized that they were true. Not all of them, perhaps, but in two short days he’d managed to get to the heart of it, shining harsh light on matters that had been shoved into the dim recesses of her mind for review and assessment sometime after Hell Froze Over. Worst of all, he had called her a coward and she found herself agreeing with him more and more as the miles disappeared under the Town Car's wheels.

She arrived at the law firm's lavish offices shortly before nine in the morning, walked past a line of BMW's and Mercedes in reserved parking spaces, and entered the chilly reception area. A brassy blonde greeted her, and Gloria wondered which were more fake, her tits or her smile. The blonde, after ascertaining Gloria's identity and business with Lettieri, Gooley & Swift, LLC, invited her to have a seat and asked if she wanted some coffee. Gloria declined both, preferring to stand. Fifteen minutes later, a curly-haired young man in grey slacks and a white shirt with matching suspenders and tie came out, introducing himself as Peter Warburton III. Although her appointment was with Mr. Gooley, Peter informed her that said gentleman had been called to their Baltimore office, and he – Warburton – would be representing her at the deposition.

Gloria had never met him before, but that was not unusual. Each of her three prior meetings with lawyers at LG&S had been with different people, even though her appointments had always been with the elusive Mr. Gooley, who she was starting to doubt existed beyond a name on a letterhead. Warburton took her to a large conference room with a mahogany table that looked like one could safely land a Cessna on it. He also offered coffee. She wondered what The Neaman would think about this compulsion to offer coffee to strangers and that made her think of Lex again. The young associate jabbered on at her about her deposition, but his words barely registered. All she could think about was Lex. She realized his rant had been mercifully short because chance had favored him, dropping him in an affluent, idyllic community like Mystic. What would things have been like if he had appeared in Bridgeport? Or New York? And why limit the scenarios to the United States? He could just as easily have wound up in Mumbai, Mogadishu, or Baghdad.

Shortly after ten, a phalanx of dark-suited attorneys began to advance upon her position. Warburton started off with innocuous background questions that soon grew more probing and painful. What was the late Mr. Robinette like before he fell victim to this horrible disease? How vital had he been? What activities could he no longer pursue as the illness took its inexorable toll? How bad was the pain? How did she feel watching him hack and wheeze and shrink before her eyes? How had the man she had loved and cherished above all others become a shadow in a sickbed, wishing for surcease?

At noon, Warburton announced that he had no more questions, and suggested a break. He whispered that she was doing very well, and if she stuck to the script he had laid out during their prep session the defense attorneys' questions would be a cinch to answer. Gloria, however, did not think she was doing at all well. She had answered most of his inquiries in a monotone, but as his questions brought to mind the soul-scraping misery of her father's last weeks, she wished more and more for a tornado to whisk her away to some magical land where all you had to worry about were wicked witches and flying monkeys. That, of course, made her think of Lex as well.

After the break, a bookish African-American with wire-rimmed spectacles introduced himself as Charles Montgomery, and said he represented two of the Big Three automakers. He offered condolences on her lose and promised to be brief, then immediately began to ask questions about her father's short-lived "career" as a gas jockey.

"Your father worked part-time for a Texaco station. Is that correct?"

"Yes," she mumbled.

"I didn't get that," the elderly court reporter piped up.

"Yes," Gloria repeated, much louder.

"He was in High School at the time?" Montgomery continued.

"Yes, he was."

"Did he ever talk about that time in his life in your presence?"

"A little."

"What did he tell you about his duties at the Texaco station?"

"There wasn't much to tell. He was a high school kid. He wore grease stained coveralls, pumped gas, and made minimum wage. He was saving up to buy a car."

"Did he work with brakes, strike that. Did your father tell you that he performed repairs on brakes while employed at the service station?"

"No, he didn't. He knew nothing about cars except that he wanted to buy one."

"Did your father ever say that he watched other employees of the Texaco station work on cars that were brought in for service?"

"Yes, he did."

"Were any of those cars brought in for brake replacements?"

That, as they say, was the smoking pistol. Warburton had told her many things that went over her head, but she remembered clearly – because he had told her at least six times in their very brief acquaintance – that it was imperative she place her father as close to the asbestos in the brakes as possible. Leaning over and breathing in the dust as mechanics cleaned the old brakes with an air hose or ground the replacement linings would be the best answer. Just being in the same enclosed room when the work was being done would do, but not as well. He had hammered at this point assiduously.

"Could you repeat the question?" she asked timidly.

The reporter consulted the folds of paper in a small tray. "Were any of those cars brought in for brake replacements?"

Gloria shook her head sadly. Her answer was indistinct.

"Ms. Robinette, we need you to speak up," Montgomery chided gently.

She looked at Warburton, who smiled encouragingly. "My client has had a very difficult time today, reliving this tragedy, and is obviously distraught. I'm sure she recalls conversations of this nature with her father, but not the exact words."

"I am equally sure Ms. Robinette can answer for herself, Counselor," Montgomery replied. "Well, Ms. Robinette?"

She lifted her eyes from the table, and took a deep breath. "I haven't the slightest idea."

Warburton started to say something, but Montgomery bore down before he could get a chance. "Your father never discussed working near others repairing brakes, at least in your presence?"

"No, sir!" Gloria felt a trifle giddy as she continued. "He told me the mechanics were a bunch of foul-mouthed old farts who chased the pump boys away if they dared to enter the service bays without an engraved invitation."

"Move to strike!" Warburton yelped.

Gloria ignored him. "In fact, the only people who ever suggested that my father worked anywhere within shouting distance of brake repairs were the attorneys in this office, who seem to be on some sort of mission of alien mind-control to get me to say that he did!"

"We're off the record!" Warburton looked like he was having a stroke.

"No, we're not!" Gloria insisted, and turned to the lady calmly taking down every word she said. "Excuse me ma'am, I didn't catch your name."

"Stella Simonson, dear," The stenographer replied in a melodic, upbeat voice.

"Stella, this is my deposition and I say when we're off the record, not this pissant yuppie who needs some serious fashion advice." She turned to Warburton. "I have been subjected to a stream of interchangeable lawbots, each more unctuous than the last, who care more about making partner than about the feelings of a dying man or the family who loved him. You, Mister Warburton I-I-I, are probably the worst of the lot! Every second I spend in your presence is one I will never recover, and life is just too goddamn precious to spend being cooped up with a bunch of Armani-clad automatons who build nothing, create nothing, and serve nothing, especially not the Justice who is so lucky she's wearing a blindfold or else she'd be puking all over her toga." She turned again to the reporter. "Did you get all that, Stella?"

"Every word, dear," Stella replied with the merest hint of a smile.

"Great. Now we're off the record." Gloria stood up and walked past the long line of lawyers, most of whom were looking at each other with "Did that just happen?" expressions on their faces.

By the time the young associate caught up with her, she was already in the parking lot. His head resembled an eggplant in a fright wig. "What have you done to me?" he screamed.

"You watch your tone of voice or there will never be a Peter Warburton IV."

"What?" he spluttered.

"I'm firing you. I am firing your whole goddamned firm. I'm dropping the lawsuit, and I'm directing you to turn over the entire file to me, so I can send it to the State Board in Charge of Disciplining Lawyers, or whatever it's called."

"You can't do that!" Specks of foam flew from his mouth and Gloria took a step back. "There's an attorney-client privilege!"

"I've seen enough lawyer shows to know that protects the client, not the attorney." She poked him in the chest. "It's my privilege to do whatever I please. Right now it pleases me to take off these widows' weeds you ghouls wanted me to wear." She removed the jacket and threw it to the asphalt and wriggled out of the skirt. Warburton gawped as she stalked away, wearing only a blouse, taupe pantyhose, and high heels. Despite himself, and the ruin that was probably all that remained of his once promising career, he felt the beginnings of an erection.

Gloria started the Town Car, turned on the radio and fiddled until she found a station playing the Eagles "Take It Easy", and burned rubber peeling out of the parking lot. Once she hit the Interstate, she did 85 all the way to the Noank exit. She stopped by the house briefly to change and check her messages, on the wild off-chance that Lex had figured out how to use a telephone. There were none from him, but five from lawyers at LG&S, including one from Gooley himself, all of which she deleted. She hopped on her bike, fully intending to eat about a dozen bowls of Uncle Tully's chowder.

However, when she arrived at Gilda's, Angelo Montecino, the weekend cook, was there in Tully's place. Angelo, a retired Navy steward, said Tully had called him and asked if he could fill in today. "He said something about a doctor's appointment he'd forgotten," Angelo reported.

Gloria was dumbfounded. Tully never forgot a doctor's appointment. She called his cell, but got switched at once to voicemail. She left a four-word message.

Angelo, strictly forbidden (by Tully) to even think about making chowder on pain of castration, made Gloria a double cheeseburger with fries, but by the time he was done she'd lost all appetite. Tully was missing, Lex was missing, and she had just pissed away her last chance to become a woman of inordinate wealth and appear on Lifestyles of the Rich and Useless.

In that foul mood, she remembered something Lex had mentioned in passing before the meltdown. She confronted Michael St. John. "On Wednesday morning, did you by any chance find a rapier?"

"A what?"

"A sword. Michael. When you got here, did you find a sword in the parking lot?"

"How did you know?" he asked in surprise.

"Where is it?"

"It was all bent out of shape, but the handle was kinda nice. I took it home."

"It doesn't belong to you!" she snapped. "I want it back here tonight!"

Michael, who had never been on the receiving end of Gloria's wrath before, at least not at this level, called his wife, who'd brought the rapier over just before Gloria retreated to her office to stare and sulk.

At 8:38, there was a knock on her office door. "Come in," she said dully.

Light streamed in as Zoot stood in the doorway. "Why is it so dark in here?" she asked, flipping the overhead switch. Gloria blinked in the unaccustomed brightness. "What is it?"

"Look what a very large cat dragged in," Zoot replied, and pulled Lex into the doorway. He looked downcast and humbled.

"I –" he began, but before he could utter another syllable Gloria was hugging him desperately. She had no idea how she had reached him so quickly. It was as if the space between them had folded in on itself.

"— am sorry," he finished, and slowly returned her embrace, but gentler, as if afraid to injure her. “As my people say, Paro Dimah… the fault is mine.”

"Can we shelve the mea culpas until later?" Zoot inquired dryly. "Someone's been spreading word that there'd be live music tonight, and I guess there's nothing on TV because we're packed to the rafters with folks hankering after some hot minstrel action. "

Gloria released Lex. Free of his embrace, she felt like she was about to float away. All the pain of the day burned away like drizzle on a hot sidewalk. She stepped back and looked Lex over.

"You're all covered with dirt. And there are apple blossom petals in your hair." She reached up to pluck one.

"He's got grass stains on his ass, too," Zoot observed.

"Where have you been?" Gloria pounded on his chest with a clenched fist, but there was no anger in her voice.

"I have been learning from the dead," he replied. In the face of her incomprehension, he added. "I will explain later. In the meantime, I should change my clothes."

"Now there's an idea!" Zoot chuckled. "Gloria, unless you intend to watch, Harpo and I could use some help behind the bar."

Gloria allowed Zoot to press her into service and soon she was up to her elbows in drink orders. The place was as crowded as she had ever seen it. A good seventy percent of the clientele was female, thanks no doubt to Hannah's publicity campaign. Zoot's friend Harpo, a part-time bartender and full-time stoner when not actually working, looked incredibly relieved when the two women came to his rescue.

Gloria was filling a pitcher with Guinness when Zoot sidled over and spoke to her out of the corner of her mouth. "So, you're in love with him, huh?"

Gloria turned, causing beer to miss the pitcher. She corrected her aim before replying, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Besides, you're the one who came in here yesterday looking like she’d won some sort of sexual lottery."

"True, but I'm not in love with the man. You, on the other hand – are overflowing!" She pushed Gloria aside and began to fill a pitcher of her own.

"What makes you think –?" Gloria demanded, setting the pitcher on a tray and adding four mugs.

"It's so obvious Stevie Wonder could see it," Zoot replied cheerfully. "There's a simple test: just ask yourself three questions. If the answer to all three is 'yes,' then you're in love." She made five g&ts in quick succession, while Gloria digested that bit of folk wisdom.

"Is this a Cosmo thing?" she demanded. "Is the first question 'Do you want to jump his bones?' or something similar?"

"No," Zoot replied patiently. "That would only prove you have a pulse. The man is a virtual trampoline, he's so jumpable." She pulled Gloria to a corner of the bar. "Do you want to hear the questions or not?"

"Sure, Z, I'll humor you. Go ahead."

Zoot ticked them off on her fingers. "One, do you know what he's thinking just by looking at him? Two, do you get pleasure just from looking at him? And three, does it make you feel better just knowing he's around?"

Gloria stared.

"Do you want me to write them down for you?" Zoot teased.

Before Gloria could respond a familiar voice called out. "Miss, I'd like a bourbon and water, and my dates here would like a couple of virgin daiquiris." Tully, flanked by Nate and Hannah, beamed up at her. He looked tired but happy. "I got your message, babe. Had a physical therapy session. Sorry I didn't tell you beforehand. Must have slipped my mind. Say hello to your sister, kids."

"We can stay, can't we?" Nate asked. "It doesn't break any rules, I hope."

"Probably, but who cares?" Gloria replied. She felt such considerations, for the moment, beneath notice. "In fact, Hannah gets the honor of introducing Lex."

Hannah looked both surprised and pleased.

"What about me?" Nate whined.

"You're in charge of security. You get to knock on the door to my office and say 'Five minutes!' just like in the movies. Then you get to be his security and escort him to the stage."

"Cool beans!" Nate enthused. He looked at his watch. “Better go.” He dashed off, weaving his way through the crowd.

Hannah said, "I guess I should get everyone's attention," and headed for the stage.

"I hope the Fire Marshall doesn't stop by and write us up," Zoot added.

"Not to worry," Tully yelled. "He's over there with Linnea Lindstrom from the Chamber of Commerce, see?" He pointed towards a man conversing with a frizzy-haired redhead. "I'd say that makes him part of the problem, wouldn't you?"

Nate appeared and gave Gloria an exaggerated thumbs up. Gloria returned the gesture, and signaled to Hannah, who took the microphone from its holder and blew into it.

"Is this thing on?" Her voice echoed through the room, and there was a bit of feedback. She held the mike farther from her face and spoke into it. "Ladies and gentlemen!" she began, "Gilda's is proud to present, in his Connecticut debut, the Minstrel Extraordinaire, LEX MACHALLO!" There were a few scattered cheers as Lex made his entrance, followed by a few snickers and at least one gasp.

Lex had indeed changed his clothes and then some. His pants were still black, covered with hundreds of sparkling stones in an intricate design reminiscent of honeysuckle vines climbing a trellis. His shirt was an iridescent Kelly green and also had more than its share of glitter. By comparison, the ornate instrument he carried looked positively dowdy. Gloria and Zoot stood there dumbstruck.

"My God," Tully laughed. "Elvis is in the building!"

Lex took up position on the small stage, gently pushed the microphones aside, and began to play. His fingers flew over the fretboard and the most amazing music issued forth. From every corner, the room filled with a rapid yet fluid cascade of notes, sounding like a marriage of Swiss bells and pedal steel guitar. After a virtuoso lead in, the Minstrel opened his mouth to sing:

"As I was a-goin'

Over Gilgarra Mountain,

I spied Colonel Farrell

And his money he was countin'.

First, I drew me pistol,

And then I drew me rapier,

Sayin' Stand and deliver!

For I am your bold deceiver."

From that moment on, the audience was putty in Lex's hands. The arrangement was a synthesis of folk, funk, and metal that should not have worked, but somehow did. His instrumental breaks cut clean and sharp and soared wild and free but invariably found their way safely home.

And then there was his voice! Gloria had heard a smattering of it in the intimacy of her living room, but that was a mere hint of the power of the real thing. Pure yet flexible, his voice simultaneously crooned sweet and rocked hard. In terms of stage presence, Lex had more than any performer she'd ever seen. He twinkled boyishly, but wore his sexuality as comfortably as a pair of faded Levi's. Playful and soulful and shaded with just the right bit of humble irony – Lex combined all these things and still there were layers beneath layers. Most of all, he radiated accessibility. His demeanor seemed to say "We’re all singing – I’m just the mouth."

Lex was irresistible. Gloria couldn’t pull her eyes away. Neither could anyone else in the room. By the time the last chorus of "Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar-o!" came to a triumphant conclusion, with the whole room singing along at the top of their voices, a star was born. Those lucky enough to find seats jumped to their feet, and the ovation was deafening.

"Hello, Mystic!" the Minstrel grinned and waved. The audience responded with hoots of approval. "Who here is from out of town?" he asked. Several chorused that they were.

"Me too!" he grinned broadly, then launched into a raucous version of the blues standard "Seventh Son." He segued from that smoothly into Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go."

After that, the hits just kept on coming. He found new depths in the strangest places. He slowed the Pete Seeger chestnut "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" to a funereal pace that brought several audience members – many of them men – to tears. "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady in Lex's hands became a reggae anthem. When he delivered a note-perfect version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," the lyrics suddenly made sense. And so on.

At one point during a blazing solo in the middle of a searing rave-up of "Gimme Some Lovin'," Gloria felt someone tug on her arm.

"Do you notice something weird?" Zoot asked. "No one's buying anything."

Gloria realized it was true. Since Lex had taken the stage, no one had placed a single drink order. This was probably just as well, for Gloria could see all the barmaids huddled together, empty trays hanging loosely by their sides, as enraptured as the patrons. "So what?" she smiled. "Just look at them."

The good mood was palpable. The people in the tavern had ceased to be individuals. They'd become part of that strange gestalt known as The Audience and The Audience was having the time of its life.

As was Lex. Gloria had only to look at his shining face to know that this was not just another gig for him. He wasn't just trying to please the crowd. He was trying to take them into his heart.

After an hour, Lex announced that he would do one more song then take a short break. "This one is for the lady of the house," he announced, and played some choppy chords that Gloria recognized all too well. It was "Gloria," written by Van Morrison, made famous by the sixties garage band the Shadows of Knight, reinvented in the 1970s by punk goddess Patti Smith and, according to Tully, a staple for every bar band in creation from 1966 to 1971. He'd even once heard it sung in Vietnamese.

It was also, without question, Gloria Robinette's least favorite song in the universe. "Damn him!" she curse.

"Who?" Zoot asked. "Lex?"

"Nate! The little creep must have downloaded the song and given it to him."

Yet in Lex's hands, the song did not bother her quite so much. He had drained much of the growling sexuality of the song and transformed it into a playground romp. When three hundred voices spelled "G-L-O-R-I-A" at the song's conclusion, one of those belonged to the song's namesake.

"God in heaven," Gloria said to herself as she watched Nate escort Lex through his admirers to the privacy of the office. "It is true!"

Yes. She had sensed his feelings a dozen times since he fell into her arms. Yes. She enjoyed just looking at him even while he slept on her couch. And had she ever in her life felt anything close to the elation she had felt when he walked into her office that very evening? Yes, yes, and absolutely yes. "I am in love with him!"

"Toldja so," Zoot said simply. "Uh-oh. Here they come."

With Lex's departure, the audience became, all at once, people who remembered they were in a bar. It was all three bartenders could do to bail before the sheer weight of orders capsized the entire establishment. Gloria was almost grateful for the deluge. It kept her from succumbing to two conflicting urges. Part of her wanted to rush into her office and kiss Lex until their lips melted. Another part wanted to hide in a corner until the unthinkable stopped asserting itself. A third part, which won out after a titanic inner struggle, wanted to fill all these orders so Lex could begin his second set.

Forty-five minutes passed before everyone had a drink in hand and it was safe for Lex to come out and face the eager throng. Gloria rapped at the door. It cracked open and she could see just a sliver of his face. Her heart leapt in her chest and she scolded it back into place.

"They appear to be enjoying themselves," Lex noted.

"They appear to be your willing slaves. Word gets around and tomorrow we'll have to turn people away at the door. Now get back out there!" Lex opened the door wider to comply, but before he went to become one with his fans, Gloria gave into impulse and seized a private moment. She grabbed his shirt, pulled downward until his face was level with hers, and kissed him firmly on the lips.

"Hey," a voice called. "Hands off the talent, lady!" Nate came running up. "This is my gig. Get your scrawny ass outta here before I have it tossed into the street!"

Gloria stood looking down at her kid brother. "Scrawny ass?" she repeated.

"Just go with it," he advised. "Don't make me break character."

The slightly more lubricated crowd greeted Lex's return with a huzzah. Gloria remained by her door.

"Why so glum, chum?" Zoot was once again by her side. "You're in love, not under sentence of death. Go for it. Be happy for a change."

"It won't work!" Gloria moaned, as Lex began his second set with "Bad to the Bone." "It can't work!"

"Why the hell not?" Zoot looked offended, as if the whole idea had been hers in the first place.

"It’s complicated," Gloria waffled.

Zoot responded with a humorously derisive snort. "Why not? It's not the whole creature from another planet thing, is it?"

Gloria gaped.

"What?" Zoot asked calmly. "Do I look stupid to you? Of course he's not human. Any idiot could see that."

"But how –?" Gloria was flabbergasted. Zoot pulled her to the service door where they wouldn't have to shout and run the risk of being overheard.

"You want the clues, G? All right, here from the Home Office in Calumet City, Illinois, is Zoot's Top Ten Reasons Why Lex is Not of This Earth. Ten: Two words – "Spock ears." Gloria shrugged and Zoot sailed onward. "Nine: he knows less US geography than an eighth grader from Arkansas. Eight: he never heard of Monty Python. Seven: immigrants off the boat from Monrovia can handle American currency within fifteen minutes, and he can't break a friggin' twenty. Six: he's never seen a condom before in his life. Five: that thing we saw killed the other day was unlike any creature I ever saw on the Animal Planet, but Lex knew it like a long lost cousin. Four: he is not using the sound system. Three: he learned to be an expert bartender in under an hour. Two: he… no, I'll let you learn that one for yourself but the number one reason why Lex is a Strange Visitor from Another Planet?"

Zoot led Gloria back to the concert. "Just listen!"

Gloria did.

"Anyone who sings and plays like that and doesn't already have a wall full of platinum albums has got to be from outer space," Zoot finished with an air of unmistakable triumph. "Record execs be all over that boy like white on Republicans."

"He's not a boy." Gloria confessed. "He's over two hundred years old."

"No shit?" Zoot looked at him. "Well, he wears it well. Come to think of it, that explains a lot right there. Not to be indelicate or anything, but no young buck ever did me like he did. He's got stamina, flexibility, sensitivity, and finesse, and that combination is proof positive that he is no ordinary man all by itself. Come on, girl, I test drove the sucker for you and I can attest that it is a ride you won't soon forget. You owe it to yourself and Aunt Kitty to at least get behind the wheel."

"He's going back to his world tomorrow morning, Z. And I'll never see him again!" Gloria wailed.

"Then you better tell him how you feel tonight, girl. Who knows, maybe he feels the same and he won't want to leave."

Gloria slumped against the door. "I can't. It wouldn't be fair to him. He doesn't belong here and he'd never be happy on Earth. I have to let him go."

Zoot regarded her best friend with something approaching awe. "I've heard about it, but I never seen it before," she said, her admiration mixed with pity. "But you got it bad."

"Got what?"

"That's the fourth test. If you love someone so much that you'd let him or her go because that's what would make them happiest, even if it would make you miserable? That's not just love, child. That's true love. There ain't nothing finer nor more terrifying. I envy you, G, but I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for all the beans in Boston."

As if on cue, the audience burst into applause as Lex wound up a killer instrumental coda on a scorching cover of "Come Sail Away." Zoot took Gloria's hand and held it in silence for the rest of the show.

Just after midnight, Lex said he had a surprise for everyone. He called Tully to the stage. Tully brought his Martin 12-string and carried Lex's flute. Together they did a Jethro Tull medley that lasted twenty-seven minutes and left the audience exhausted. Tully remained on stage, and the two men did a heartfelt bluesy duet on the old standard "The Glory of Love," complete with dueling call-and-response solos. Once it was over, Lex said "Thank you, one and all. This has been an experience I will remember all my years."

He waved his flute above his head and, before anyone could react, jumped off the stage and disappeared down the hall. Cries of protest followed him, which turned into pounding on tables and stamping of feet. After a decent interval, he returned, beaming roguishly.

"Still not satisfied?" he prompted the crowd. With one voice, they signaled their denial of such a foolish suggestion. "Fine then. Here is a song I have never sung before, and I hope it is to your liking. This is a translation of an old folk song I heard in a land very far away. It is called 'The Mermaid and the Centaur,'"

He began to sing accapella, and the crowd went silent.

"One morning shortly after dawn,

Upon a windswept shore,

A centaur raced beside the surf

'Til he could run no more.

He stopped to scrape sand from his hooves,

When all at once he spied

A mermaid sitting on a rock

Whose beauty came as quite a shock

And once he found the strength to talk

He begged 'Please be my bride.'

He begged 'Please be my bride.'

"The mermaid started at the sound

And dove into the foam,

But soon she surfaced once again

And reclaimed her rocky throne.

'Oh, centaur bold, your offer comes

At a propitious time,

For I am prone to passion's call,

And there you stand, so fine and tall –

So join me in the sea withal,

And surely I will be thine,

And surely I will be thine.'

"The centaur stood upon the sand.

His face became quite grim,

'I cannot join you in the sea,

My love, I cannot swim.

But climb upon my back and then

Away from here we will move

And there among the leafy bowers

I will find for you a bed of flowers

Where we can while away the hours

And there our love will prove,

And there our love will prove.'

"The mermaid cried and pulled her hair,

'Sir, you must surely see

I have no legs to stride the land

And cannot ride with thee.'

So there they stood 'til evening fell,

And the silence 'twixt them grew.

And as the sun burned through the haze,

The lovers went their separate ways,

Condemned to living out their days

When morning came anew,

When morning came anew."

The last note died away and the audience held its breath while it passed.

"Thank you all again, and goodnight." He bowed and tried again to leave the stage. This time, however, the crowd was ready and blocked his way. Lex was in danger of being mobbed and had to return to the stage to avoid mayhem.

"Very well then, one last song and then I truly must bid you farewell. This is a song my dear friend Tully taught me. It comes from Ireland, he says, like most good things." Several voices cheered in Celtic solidarity. "It is called 'The Whistling Gypsy,' and I will take it very much amiss if you fine people do not join me on the choruses."

Beginning with a whistling overture, he sang:

"The whistling gypsy came over the hill,

Down through the valley so shady.

He whistled and he sang

'Til the green wood rang,

And he won the heart of a lady.

"Ah-de-doo, ah-dee-doo-die day!

Ah-dee-doo, a Ah-dee-day-dee!

He whistled and he sang

'Til the green wood rang,

And he won the heart of a lady."

Only a few knew the song at first, but by the end, everyone would remember the tale of the seductive singer and his lady love for the remainder of their lives. Once again, he tried to leave, but the crowd would have none of that.

"But I have nothing else prepared!" he protested.

"Then sing everything again!" someone yelled, which drew peals of laughter mixed with howls of agreement. Finally, Lex was able to quiet them.

"If you insist. I shall do one last – I repeat last – song, but you must promise to free me from this durance vile once it is done. Until I have your solemn oath, I shall not proceed. Have we a bargain?" There were some grumbles of agreement. "I cannot hear you." The audience agreed a little louder. "Excellent! This is a tune you may recognize for it can be found on this goodly place's box of juke, but since I do not have the proper instrumentation to play it as originally written, nor the desire to imbue it with the same irony with which it is usually laden, I will provide new lyrics in an extemporaneous fashion." A pause. "That means I shall make it up as I go along." Everyone laughed. "However, the chorus remains largely unaffected, and once again I beseech, nay demand, that you augment my humble efforts with the overwhelming might of your combined voices. Now, one last song for you all and goodnight. Agreed?"

This time they cheered, and he began.

"'Tis getting late on a Friday night,

And everyone seems to be here,

There are purists and tourists and pretty girls'

There are shooters and pitchers of beer."

Cheers of recognition and appreciation of the slyness of the affectionate parody masked most of the short instrumental break.

"They say, 'Lex, would you please

Sing another song?

We do not care what you choose.

Make it jazz, make it soul,

Or old time rock and roll,

Make it country or rhythm and blues."

He led them into the chorus with a series of lah-de-dahs.

"Oh sing us a song,

Mister Minstrel Man!

Sing us a song tonight!

We are all in the mood for a melody,

And you have us feeling all right!"

Lex had the next verse in mind by the time the chorus was over.

"Now, Zoot at the bar is a friend of mine.

She knows all the Knights who say 'Ni!'

She's a comely young wench

Who can taunt you in French,

And there's no place that she'd rather be!"

Zoot fairly squealed in embarrassed delight.

"She says 'Lex, this whole world is a movie show,'

With a smile writ large on her face.

'And I know, without fail,

That if there is a Grail,

Then it has to be inside this place."

Another chorus and an instrumental improvisation gave him time to consider what to sing next.

"Now Tully he knows almost every song –

Just ask him, he will say 'tis true!

And Hannah and Nate

Think that everything's great

But Warlock has nary a clue."

"Well, they can't all be gems," Hannah told her brother. "But it was nice of him to mention us."

"Shhhh!" Nate hissed.

"And Molly and Joan and the other maids

Will keep you more drunk than alive.

But just one favor, please –

Would you leave us your keys,

If anyone's planning to drive?"

One more chorus, and it was time to bring everyone in for a big finish.

"'Tis a really good crowd for a Friday night,

And Gloria gives me a grin,

'Cause she knows that, so far,

Everyone in the bar

Is much poorer than when they came in!

"And Mystic is a summer carnival,

And Gilda's is where we all play!

Tip your waitress, my friend,

And come see us again –

I shall sing again on Saturday!"

And they all joined in.

"Sing us a song,

Mister Minstrel Man!

Sing us a song tonight!

We are all in the mood for a melody,

And you have us feeling all right!"

And, at least for the moment, and for those assembled in this palace of harmony and good will, truer words were never sung.


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