The Pied Harpist of Nashville: The Devil and Daniel Webster

15 Dec

Author’s note: This is a continuation of The Pied Harpist of Nashville story. Click here to go to the first installment.

 

The Devil and Daniel Webster

By L. Stewart Marsden

Terry sat as Sheila paced about the small apartment living room. Her voice and her mannerisms highlighted the story of how she came to know Coleridge – and when.
“I was a barmaid in a small New England town,” she began. “King George still held reign over America, and it was a bit before colonists began to brood about how the Motherland treated them. There was more concern then over the Indians than England.

Terry tried to dig up what little knowledge he had about the time. He knew it was at least in the 1700s, but not exactly when. He didn’t want to interrupt her with stupid questions.

“Those days tavern keepers bought a variety of drink from local sources. Beer, wine, rum, and some whiskey. Some bottled. Some in barrels. So food and drink and good company was the draw.

“The tavern was the hub of the community. There you found out anything and everything that was important to know. And after the sun set, ribaldry was the order of the night.”

Terry didn’t know exactly what ribaldry meant, but he could guess.

She walked into the kitchen and poured water into a teapot from the sink, then set the pot on a stove burner to boil. She opened a cabinet and retrieved a teacup, looking towards Terry, who shook his head ‘no.’

Leaning back against the counter to wait for the water to boil, she continued, arms crossed.

“I was young and foolish. I came from a poor home. My father was a drunkard, and used to drag me to the tavern nearly every night. That’s how I came to be a barmaid there. You could say I grew into the position.

“Along the way I picked up the fiddle from one of the regulars who came to the tavern and played. He was a grizzled old man – a trapper – from France. He was happy to show me how to play all the popular tunes and reels. And I was a natural. Like you with the harmonica.

“Ebenezer, owner of the tavern, encouraged me, and was kind enough to support me in lessons, so I could learn the instrument properly. He was a fine man of the community, despite some of the goings on in his establishment.

“His son, Daniel, would come in from time to time, and part of my agreement for the lessons was to teach Daniel the fiddle – which I did. He was not very good at it, though. He excelled in his letters, and he spent time reading to me from all of the classics – Chaucer and Shakespeare. I believe he was taken with me.”

The teapot began to whistle, breaking what was a brief reverie on Sheila’s part. She opened a jar and picked out a teabag which she put into the teacup, pouring hot water over it.

“Daniel’s last name was Webster.”

“Daniel Webster,” Terry mulled. “The dictionary Webster?”

“One and the same,” replied Sheila, stepping back into the living room.

“Which led to my meeting Coleridge. Do you remember the story of the Devil and Daniel Webster?”

“I think so.”

“It wasn’t a story. It really happened. Old Jabez Stone really was a farmer. And he was truly plagued by bad luck. I actually heard him say he’d sell his soul to the devil if it would turn his luck. Under the weight of a couple of pints, I’d say.

“And no sooner was it out of his mouth when Coleridge steps through the door of the tavern.”

“Coleridge is the devil?” blurted Terry in horror.

“He is a devil, but not the Devil. He’s a minion. But a very high-ranking one. By now he’s probably a couple of tiers away from Satan. And back then he was still an apprentice. You know – under the guidance of another demon.

“Anyway, he takes Stone aside, and after a couple of more pints the two erupted in laughter and shook hands, and out walked the pair as if they were age-old buddies.

“Well, Stone’s luck changed immediately. He discovered gold on his land while plowing one day. Not a nugget or two, but a whole vein. And gold-diggers from miles around gathered like flies on a carcass, begging to buy parts of his land.

“He didn’t sell the piece where he discovered gold of course, but parceled up his land bit by bit – demanded an unbelievable sum for each acre sold. But people didn’t care. They paid for the potential, and according to what Stone mined, the potential was great.

“But no one else struck gold. And a rumor began to circulate he had salted his land with gold, and his claim was fake. It wasn’t. The gold he found made him one of the richest men in Cross Corners. But, the sale of his land? He more than doubled his worth.

“Angry by not finding gold on their land purchases, those who felt hoodwinked got together and demanded their money back. He refused. One night they gathered outside his home with long rifles and torches, and threatened to string him up, shoot him, and burn down his house and barns.”

“Wow. But where does Coleridge come in?”

“Right then. Coleridge intervened, and offered to pay off each buyer a percentage of their purchase price. He told them Stone had no cash – just assets – and they were unlikely to get anything out of him. He said something is better than nothing. I think he made deals with each of those men which had nothing to do with gold or land, if you know what I mean.”

“So that was it?”

“Nope. Coleridge told Stone the Boss wanted his due, and it was time for him to pay up — which meant,” Sheila slid her index finger along her neck. “Stone went to Webster, now a prominent lawyer, who agreed to take up his case.”

“So there actually was a trial?”

“There was. And when Coleridge was defeated, oh – the celebration at the tavern was incredible! Coleridge was madder than hell. And that’s when he took notice of me.”

“Ah, and what happened?”

“I was playing the fiddle in the tavern. Years had passed and my youthful looks were taking a beating. Life was at a standstill for me. And Coleridge knew all about me.

“He says to me, he says ‘How’d you like to be young and beautiful forever?’ Who is going to say no to beautiful forever? So I asked him what I had to do.”

“And he told you.”

“And he told me. And so, through the years, I’ve done whatever has been necessary. Coleridge has been good to me – but stern. I’m not proud of everything by a long shot.”

“And the men’s shelter? He ask you to do it?”

“I didn’t know what was going to happen. He gave me certain powers – like the ability to transform. I was at the café the night you and Melvin met early in the morning.”

“The old woman!”

“You have to understand, Terry. When he assigned me to you, it was just only an assignment. But now? This has never happened to me before.”

“What hasn’t happened?”

“Feelings. Over the centuries and decades, I’ve pretty much stayed out of things emotionally. I could always remove myself from each situation.”

“What other situations have you had?”

“You don’t want to know. You’d recognize some of the people. Mostly they’re dead. And Coleridge has collected his due which he delivered up the line.”

“Their souls.”

Sheila nodded gravely.

“But why me?”

“Because you have a talent Coleridge wants.”

“The harmonica?”

“More. You can make people do things.”

“Because of the harp Coleridge gave me.”

“No. It isn’t.”

“What’re you saying?”

“Your harmonica is like a placebo. Like when people take a fake medication for an illness, and improve despite it. That harmonica has nothing special about it at all. And Coleridge never wants you to know that. That’s his leverage over you: you thinking it’s special. It’s not.”

“You mean – ”

“Everything you are able to do on harmonic comes from you.”

“But changing keys?”

“You.”

“Making people do things?”

“Again, you.”

Terry was stunned at the news.

“What about your abilities? I mean, are you a witch, or aren’t you? Didn’t you destroy the shelter and kill Melvin and those other men?”

“I’m a vessel. I don’t consider myself a witch. Although they do exist. Technically I did those things, but in reality? Coleridge.”

“So – how? You were hypnotized or something?”

“Not hypnotized. I was aware what was going on. I allowed it. The power – the evilness – is Coleridge.”

“And that’s your excuse?”

“Terry, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if I didn’t know it was wrong!”

“Murder is a bit more than wrong, don’t you think!”

“I know! I know. And if I could change it I would. If there were some magic I could conjure, I would do it. Just by telling you this I’ve put everything in jeopardy. Coleridge finds out? He’ll demand payment.”

“And by ‘payment,’ you mean – ” Terry thumped on his chest with his finger.

“Not just my life,” she said, nodding.

“Your soul, too?”

She nodded again.

“I love you, Terry,” she said softly, sitting down beside him. He stiffened. “I don’t expect you to understand all this.”

He stood.

“Yeah, I don’t understand this. None of it! It makes me want to scream and run away! Go back home and pretend none of this happened! I don’t get what Coleridge wants from me. Do you know? Do you have any idea? I mean, you’re his right-hand – what shall I call you – demoness?”

“I’m not sure what he wants, but I can tell you, he wants it very badly. And whatever it is – you’re the key to him getting it.”

“Great! So who the hell can I go to with this? Who would believe me? And how can I trust you! I mean, who are you going to bring fire down on next? Me?”

“No one, Terry! I’m done with Coleridge! After more than two hundred years, I cannot go another day like this. You’re the reason why! I love you! And I know now I should never have listened to Coleridge years ago. There’s no hope for me. But there is for you! You don’t have to go another day longer. And I’m going to help you, Terry. By God and all things holy, I am going to help you defeat Coleridge.”

Terry stopped and looked at Sheila, who had stood, arms to her side, a look of misery on her face.

“At what cost, Sheila?”

“Whatever it takes, Terry. Whatever it takes.”

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 15 December, 2014

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: Black Magic Woman

12 Dec

Author’s note: This is a continuation of The Pied Harpist of Nashville story. Click here to go to the first installment.

Black Magic Woman

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The party was the first soirée Terry had ever attended. He felt awkward and conspicuous, not knowing what to do with his arms, alternately wrapping his torso with them, or letting them drop in a gangly fashion by his side.

Coleridge worked the guests for Terry, leading interference and introducing him to country music name after name – many who already had heard of the young harmonica player.

“JC tells me you’re the hottest up-and-comer of the day,” said one balding man in a loud voice over the live music, and puffing on a long and fat cigar.

“Well, I don’t know,” Terry replied, also loudly. He had to bend down to reach the man’s level. “And by JC, I suppose you  mean — ”

“Cash,” the man puffed back.

Yeah, grinned Terry turning red. Not Jesus. But funny about Johnny Cash’s initials. The Jesus of Nashville.

“That’s Daryl Compton of RCA,” shouted Coleridge to Terry when they had moved on.

A live band of motely-dressed musicians occupied one corner of the large banquet room. Long-haired with paisley shirts, open at the collar to reveal curly chest hair. Bell-bottom jeans and boots just peeking out from under the legs.

Got a black magic woman,” the lead singer stretched his raspy voice, “Got a black magic woman . . . “

The lyric caught Terry’s attention. A Santana hit. A coincidence they were singing a rock song instead of country? Especially that song?

I’ve got a black magic woman, got me so blind I can’t see that she’s a black magic woman she’s trying to make a devil out of me.”

Whoa! Terry looked about him. The crowded room was sardined with the famous and those he had no idea who they were. Eyes were blurry with smoke and drink, and more than a few with other substances. The stink of weed wafted over in one remote corner of the large hall, and Terry determined to stay clear of the area.

A waiter, trussed up like a penguin, offered a tray filled with bite-sized mystery stuff.

“Hors d’oeuvre?” he asked Terry.

“Naw. I’m not hungry, thanks.”

And the waiter walked stiff-backed away to another group of guests, who dived into his fare.

“You gotta loosen up, Terry!” Coleridge poked him in the arm. “These kinds of events are vital to your career. Where you meet the power mongers in town. Where you get seen. Where the hell is Sheila?”

“She wasn’t ready when the limo came – said she’d catch a cab.”

“She’d better get her ass over here. That dame’s a diamond on your arm, Terry. And talented, too. You need to hang on to her,” Coleridge urged.

“Yeah.”

When Sheila arrived the whole room nearly stopped. Skinned in a tight-fitting red sequined dress, bejeweled and made up, she reminded Terry of Elizabeth Taylor, and he found himself, like nearly every other man in the room, unable to keep his eyes off her.

“Wow!” was all he could stutter out when she got to him and took his arm. “I understand now why you weren’t ready! What happened to the little black dress?”

“I wanted to surprise you,” she said, looking up and kissing him warmly on the cheek.

“I’m surprised, all right.”

“Yes, you got your spell on me, baby,” the band played, “turnin’ my heart into stone, I need you so bad, Magic woman I can’t leave you alone.”

JC himself came up with a woman on his arm. He grinned broadly.

“Hi, Terry,” he said in basso voice. “This is June,” introducing the woman.

“I’m a big fan of the Carters, Ma’am, and am so glad to meet you!” he said, shaking her hand perhaps a bit too strong.

“John says you’re incredible on the harmonica. I’d like to hear you play. Would you play something for me tonight?”

“Orange Blossom Express,” declared Cash. “You ain’t never heard it better, Baby.”

“I’ll get the band to let you play,” suggested Coleridge, sensing a one-in-a-moment opportunity. “You got your harmonica with you, right?”

Terry looked at Coleridge with wide eyes and barely nodded “no.”

“What? I told you to carry that harp everywhere with you!” he blurted, turning red in the face.

“I – uh, I left it in the apartment. I didn’t know — ” scrambled Terry.

“Relax, Marvin,” said Sheila, “I’ve got some of Terry’s harmonica’s in my handbag. I’ll go get one.”

“Two,” Terry said quickly. “F and B-flat. If you got ‘em, that is.”

“I got ‘em,” Sheila mimicked him, smiling thinly, and giving him a knowing look that took him by surprise.

 

* * *

 Sheila slammed hung her coat on the coat rack angrily, and slammed her purse on the kitchen counter. She spun and nearly spat at Terry.

“So where is it?”

“Where is what?”

“The goddamn harmonica!” she spewed.

Terry had never heard her curse. He had never seen her angry, in fact. Her demeanor was like out of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde movie.

“It’s around somewhere! For chrissakes, Sheila – it’s no big deal!” he parried, raising his own voice and emotions to try to match hers.

“That’s NOT it, Terry! You can’t lie to me! I KNOW what you’re thinking!”

There is was. As he suspected and feared, Sheila had powers to reach into his own mind!

“What am I thinking, Sheila,” he challenged, not knowing why he dared he so blatantly.

“What am I to you, Terry? A plaything? An aside? Someone you tolerate to tag along until you get bored?”

The sudden shift confused him. Where was she going with this?

“What? — ”

“I’ve known you for almost eight months. I moved in with you! I share your bed! I share your whole goddamn life – career and more! I give you everything of myself! YOU have become the center of my universe, and I can’t stand spinning around any longer, Terry!”

Now he was totally lost.

She’s a witch, he kept telling himself. But was she?

“Ever since the shelter burned down – you’ve been – god, I don’t know! You’ve been like in a daze or something! It’s like you’re drugged. Are you taking drugs, Terry, and I don’t know it?”

“No!”

“Then what the HELL is going on here!?”

Terry sat on the couch. She stood near the counter, hands on hips, silhouetted by the kitchen light. In the sequined dress, she looked like something out of one of his Batman comic books. Foreboding.

“I have something to ask you, Sheila,” he finally said, quietly.

“Then ask!” she said, still hot.

“I have a picture I want you to look at.”

He pulled his wallet out and retrieved the folded paper with the Xeroxed picture from the University of Tennessee yearbook. He carefully unfolded it and offered it to her. She looked at it from the distance, and walked over to the couch to take it.

“Oh,” she said simply when she had glanced at it.

“Is that you?”

“Is that — ?” she burst into laughter. Terry thought there was a hint of cackling around the edges of her response.

“You. Is that a picture of YOU, goddamn it!?” The burst surprised Terry himself. The air hung thick with emotion. “Or, is that a picture of your mother – or your grandmother? Tell me it’s one of them, Sheila! Tell me this is NOT you, and that you’re NOT over a hundred years old and that you’re NOT a witch and you did NOT kill Melvin Jones in that fire!”

There it was. Nearly all of the fear that Terry had tried to keep bottled inside and hidden. Sheila looked at him and cocked her head to one side as if considering his questions. She sat down beside him, and put one hand on his knee, continuing to look at the photocopy.

“Terry – ” she began slowly.

“The truth,” he demanded.

“The truth is – I’m not a hundred years old.”

He listened.

“I’m older.”

His stomach turned, and he felt a wave of nausea rise ever so slightly. His face drained of color. His hands felt ice-cold.

“Considerably older,” she smiled. She grabbed a cigarette from a box on the coffee table. Drawing it to her lips, she snapped her fingers, and a flame popped from her thumb, and she lit the end of the cigarette, and drew on it, releasing a cloud of smoke as if an exhale of relief.

“How can that be?” he asked, feeling more faint.

“It’s a long story, Baby.”

“I’ve got time to hear it. If you really feel the way you say about me – you owe me.”

“Yeah. I suppose I do. You might want a beer for the ride,” she said, standing.

“Nope. I wanna hear this with a clear head, Sheila. Stone-cold sober.”

She sat back down and turned toward him, looking Terry dead in the eyes. Transforming from the incredibly vivacious woman he had watched enter the party hours ago, her eyes and face and mouth took on a colorless tone over the next hour. It was all Terry could do to sit and listen to her tale. In his mind, the song from earlier that night kept replaying and echoing in the back of his mind as she spoke.

Yes, you got your spell on me, baby
Turnin’ my heart into stone
I need you so bad
Magic woman I can’t leave you alone.

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 December, 2014
“Black Magic Woman,” lyrics by Santana, Copyright © 2000-2014 AZLyrics.com

 

Merry Christmas!

9 Dec

Before the last few days slip by . . .

From all of us to all of you.

From all of us to all of you.

 

and from Stinky, too!

MerryChristmas_fromStinky

Be sure to visit Stinky on Facebook at Stinky and the Night Mare!

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Free is good.

9 Dec

 

 

Free is good. I heard a kid say that once.

Ray Ferrer's cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

"Stinky and the Night Mare," by L. Stewart Marsden

“Stinky and the Night Mare,” by L. Stewart Marsden

 

I give away a free copy of either “Through the Glass Darkly,” or now, “Stinky and the Night Mare” to the person who lands on a one hundred count as far as following my online writing studio (this is the studio).

I go to their WordPress website and leave a message saying so, and asking them to email me for particulars at skipmars at gmail dot com. Did you get that? I write it that way so it won’t get picked up by spiders or phishers or spammers, right?

So, the people who were my 1300 and 1400 lucky guys either A) don’t like my writing, or B) think I’m a prevert and they will be stalked and end up on the local nightly news broadcast.

Or, C) None of the above.

Regardless, I’ve heard nothing from them. So, poo on ‘em.

Therefore, I have two books to send out — free! I’m going to restrict the offer to those to people within the continental USA, because frankly, sending a book to Cambodia or the Philippines is pretty darn expensive, and I’m on a fixed income — although most of the time it’s broken. If you don’t know whether you are in the continental USA, google Map of the USA, continental.

So, as I type out this message (it’s 7:31 pm EST in my little North Carolina town), I’m offering you your choice of either “Through the Glass Darkly,” or “Stinky and the Night Mare,” free. No gimmicks. Free. Gratis. Stringless. Not even shipping costs.

And, I’ll sign the copy. You can say “I read him when.”

That’s for the FIRST TWO PEOPLE who follow the instructions. Don’t write a comment — doesn’t count. Liking doesn’t count, either. I already know some of you are going to ignore the instructions I just wrote about not commenting and not liking.

I’ll probably never EVER do this again. Ever.

Unless you are a movie star. Then I’ll reconsider. But, you have to prove it.

By the way: Stinky has her own Facebook page now at — guess where? — Stinky and the Night Mare. There’s a really nice YouTube reading of the book by some guy I don’t even know. I think he did a bang-up job. Ross Merrick is his name, and you can see the video by clicking . . . right . . . here!

 

– SM

Hiatus is over: continuation of The Pied Harpist of Nashville to resume

8 Dec

Between the holidays, a book signing or two for Stinky and the Night Mare, shipping out signed copies of Stinky, weathering a late-fall cold that struck in spite of getting my flu shot — whew! — I promise I’ll get back to Terry Jaspers and The Pied Harpist of Nashville tomorrow, Wednesday at the very latest.

I’ve publicized my Stinky and the Night Mare Facebook page, and the response has been great! Hope some of the people who have liked the page will go online and order a copy, which is available online through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion (BAM.com) and Powells Books.

OR, those who want a signed copy, will contact me either through the Stinky Facebook site, or email me (my email address is on the ABOUT page). Depending where you are located, and if you have PayPal, you can still get your copy by Christmas.

 

– L. Stewart (aka Skip) Marsden

Short, not sweet, Review: NBC’s live telecast of “Peter Pan”

5 Dec

A Tale of Two Pans

NBC’s live production pales in comparison

 By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Having grown up on Mary Martin and Cyril Richard’s wonderful taped for television version of “Peter Pan,” I was prepared to be somewhat underwhelmed by the recent broadcast with Allison Williams and Christopher Walken. I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s difficult to establish one’s identity with a role already well-marked – especially with Mary Martin looming as the standard. Others have tried: Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby tried. Williams didn’t even come close. For Walken, the iconic rascally character Richard created in Hook wasn’t even a goal, apparently.

When a kid, I never had the sense Peter was portrayed by a girl (Martin). He seemed overly brazen and outlandish in his bravado and ego so that I wasn’t concerned over chest bumps and a woman’s legs covered with green leotards. Martin was Pan. Williams? She was very feminine. The scene with Wendy rowing in the boat to Skull Island was uncomfortable – like a reenactment of Disney’s “Kiss the Boy” scene in “The Little Mermaid.” I hoped there would be no sudden embracing and kissing in this one. I doubted this Pan’s ability to command the respect and devotion of The Lost Boys.

And Richard? Oh, morphing from Father Darling into Hook – we all knew it was he – was seamless. Over-the-top expressions, and playing to the camera, was the best. Walken? Understated as he always is. I felt he was always looking slightly off-camera to read his lines, as he does on SNL. Not big, not boisterous.

The bit of Father Darling and Hook portrayed by the same actor was dropped. Probably something in Walken’s contract regarding double-pay.

A couple of new songs were interesting. And the set design and costuming and make-up were good.

But where was the energy? A live performance, it was obvious dancing and other stage movement left its main characters a bit winded, and that came through during the next (pant) few (pant) lines (pant) of delivery. I feared Walken was going to keel over during the fight scene on the Jolly Roger. Live TV, after all, has its problems.

So – how did this version compare to my Mary Martin version memories? Not so good. In a race, this production ran a distant second. The expression “close, but no cigar” would be “not so close, and definitely no cigar.”

As always, my opinion and ten dollars will get you a cup of coffee just about anywhere.

 

 

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: I am the resurrection

2 Dec

skipmars:

In case you’ve been missing Terry Jasper’s quest to become a country music star . . .

Originally posted on Writing Odds n Ends:

Author’s note: This is a continuation of The Pied Harpist of Nashville story. Click here to go to the first installment.

I am the resurrection

By L. Stewart Marsden

It rained the day of Melvin Jones’ funeral. Stripped of their leaves, melancholy oak branches stretched their bare finger-like limbs skyward, as if in mourning. Terry huddled with strangers in the back of the entourage that traveled the slick roads from the downtown church to the solemn burial grounds. The church service was well-attended. Dignitaries and celebrities alike resounded the pain of the loss to the community and personal. The grave side grouping was much smaller. Less than a fifty, Terry thought.

Jones was well-respected.

As he lived, so he died – stated the Reverend Charles Moore – a contemporary and a friend. The unstained pine box was simple and without adornment. Jones’ elderly mother, dressed in black with white laced…

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Personal Favorite: Egon Schiele, Exhibition London

2 Dec

skipmars:

From a request by Elli, of Greece.

Originally posted on Art Attack:

I have always been a great fan of non-realistic portraits. I enjoy viewing non-realistic portraits because I personally believe that in that way, the artist lets his creativity shine, and in a way, the painting he creates expresses his thoughts and ideas about the person illustrated. Thus the artist does not depict a person realistically, but he paints his feelings, thoughts and beliefs.

I was very excited when I read that works of Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists that focused more on portrait paintings, were exhibited in Courtauld Gallery in London. Born in Vienna, Egon Schiele was a leading avant-garde artist in the early 1990s, the years around the First World War. During his short but very productive life, Egon Schiele managed to create a great collection of portraits (including self portraits) that were consider to be provocative, controversial but most importantly, some of the most radical depictions of the human figure…

View original 828 more words

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: I am the resurrection

2 Dec

Author’s note: This is a continuation of The Pied Harpist of Nashville story. Click here to go to the first installment.

I am the resurrection

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

It rained the day of Melvin Jones’ funeral. Stripped of their leaves, melancholy oak branches stretched their bare finger-like limbs skyward, as if in mourning. Terry huddled with strangers in the back of the entourage that traveled the slick roads from the downtown church to the solemn burial grounds. The church service was well-attended. Dignitaries and celebrities alike resounded the pain of the loss to the community and personal. The grave side grouping was much smaller. Less than a fifty, Terry thought.

Jones was well-respected.

As he lived, so he died – stated the Reverend Charles Moore – a contemporary and a friend. The unstained pine box was simple and without adornment. Jones’ elderly mother, dressed in black with white laced trim, stood and dropped a white rose onto the coffin, and sat back down while others in the burial party repeated the action.

Soon a small mound of the white roses formed before the last was dropped. Terry’s rose.

“May the circle be unbroken,” was begun a Capella by a deep baritone voice – one of the frequent patrons of the shelter, and soon the group joined in, splitting into various parts. Terry pulled his harmonica out and played in the background, lilting and weaving with the voices.

“Amen,” said Moore when the song ended.

“Amen,” said the attendees in one voice.

The casket was lowered slowly into the grave. All were silent, and watched as it dipped below the ground surface, softly stopping on the muddy clay bottom.

“I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus said,” pronounced Moore, holding both hands aloft, his eyes closed. “He that believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

“Amen,” responded the attendees.

“A reception for family and friends of Pastor Melvin Jones will be held at St. James in the dining hall. You are all warmly welcomed to attend.”

As the group began to break apart from under the funeral tent, a man dressed in a dark overcoat approached Terry. He had stood on the opposite side of the grave site as Terry, and furtively glanced Terry’s way from time to time during the ceremony. Terry hadn’t given it much thought, thinking the man might have recognized him as a budding celebrity – which, at the moment, he cared less about.

“Uh, Mr. Jasper? Terry Jasper?”

“If you don’t mind, this is not the time nor place –” Terry said, trying to turn and leave.

“I know what the sign is. Melvin gave me this,” and reached out his hand and opened it to reveal the paper napkin on which Terry had sketched out the painting Sheila had hung in the apartment.

That stopped Terry, and he turned and took the napkin. He looked about carefully to make sure no one was watching.

“Who are you?”

“I’m one of Melvin’s ‘projects,’” the man said, crooking his fingers briefly into quotation signs. “He brought this to me right after he left you at the café. I just live a few blocks away from the shelter. Or what used to be the shelter.”

“Why to you?”

“I – uh – I’ve been in the occult. A member of a satanic church for years.” He pulled the sleeve of one arm to reveal tens of tattoos of various sizes and shapes. “All satanic signs,” he said.

“That one!” Terry pointed to a coiled shape. “That’s the painting Sheila hung in my apartment!”

“Yeah. A sign of witches.”

“Witches?”

“I’m guessing your girlfriend might be a witch.”

“Like a bad witch? There are good witches, aren’t there?”

The man grinned wryly and cocked his head to the side, “I suppose that’s a debatable question. I’m not the guy to ask about good and bad. In the occult, it’s all relative. You know, everything is grayish. Not black and white. Whether she is good or bad I can’t answer. But, if she’s behind the shelter explosion and the death of Melvin and those other men in there – she is definitely able to do some really bad shit. Pardon my mouth.”

“The fire department says it was a gas leak.”

“And I’m the pope,” the man answered quickly.

“You think it was not an accident?”

“Don’t you?”

Terry hesitated. He had gone to the police with his theory the shelter fire had been set. The officer took his name and contact information, but had not gotten back to him, which he thought strange. When asked why he thought the fire was arson, Terry couldn’t — or wouldn’t —  give his explanation.

“Are you confessing to arson?” the officer asked.

“No! No, I’m not. I just have this feeling. I mean, Melvin and I had breakfast just a short time before he died.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, son,” the officer had said. “I’ll keep your statement. If we discover something that leads us in that direction, we’ll be in contact.”

“And of course they haven’t contacted me,” Terry said to the odd man. “I doubt what I told them went any further than the officer’s desk drawer.”

The man looked at Terry, as if inspecting him.

“I need to ask a favor,” he said finally. “Melvin mentioned that harmonica of yours, and the case you keep it in.”

“Yeah?”

“I need to borrow them for a few days if you don’t mind.”

Terry’s physical reaction was instant – he tightened up and wrapped his arms across his chest defensively.

“I can’t do that! This is how I make my living, for Chrissake!”

“Hey – I meant no harm, kid. He told me you said the case is made of gopher wood, and part of the harmonica, too.”

“That’s what I was told.”

“By Marvin. Marvin Coleridge, right?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Coleridge was an elder at the church I attended.”

“Satanic church?”

“Yeah. Just a couple of days, kid. Might be the very thing that breaks this thing wide open. Might save your life – and keep others from losing theirs as well. I mean, you do have other harmonicas to play, I assume.”

“Not like this one,” Terry replied slowly, pulling out the wooden case with the harmonica. He handed it to the man. “I don’t even know your name, or how to get in touch with you.”

“Renne,” he said. “Not the bird, but French. People read it incorrectly, and say Rah-nee. But it sounds like the bird all the same. And I know how to get in touch with you. It’s better you know as little about me as possible.”

“Okay, Renne. But I could get into serious trouble with Marvin if he finds out I gave this to you. I don’t know what would happen.”

“Oh, believe me, Terry – you’re in serious shit with Marvin already! Pardon my mouth,” Renne nodded, and quickly shoved the box into an inside pocket in his overcoat. “I guess you could tell him you lost it – or misplaced it. You’ll think of something.

“I hope. When should I begin to worry? About you, I mean, and getting the harmonica back?”

“I’ll get right on it. A day and a half. Two at the most. We can go ahead and set up a tentative meeting now, if it makes you feel better.”

Nothing would make Terry feel better, he was quite sure. But they agreed to rendezvous at the same café where he and Melvin had last met.

“Two AM in two days. That should give me plenty of time,” smiled the man. He reached out and gripped Terry’s arm. “Look, kid – I know it’s crazy to ask you not to worry. But, don’t worry. You need to come across as though everything is normal so as not to arouse suspicion. Especially with Sheila. She’s probably on red alert right now. You need to calm her down, and don’t let on what you know.”

“She’s a witch. How the hell do I remain normal knowing that?”

Might be a witch, I said. Well, yeah. She probably is a witch. I don’t know. When I was a follower, there were some pretty damn good lookin’ witches around! You know the saying: a little brew, and a witch or two!” and winked with an elbow jab to Terry’s ribs.

“I don’t know the saying. And if you meant that to be comforting, it isn’t,” returned Terry.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 2 December, 2014

The Pied Harpist of Nashville

25 Nov

turkey-cartoon-006

The Pied Harpist of Nashville will return after Thanksgiving and the ushering in of (ugh) 65 years of plodding the planet. May your holidays be safe and full of friends and family! Turkey — stuffing — punkin’ pie? Num-num!

 

– L. Stewart Marsden

 

"Stinky and the Night Mare," by L. Stewart Marsden

“Stinky and the Night Mare,” by L. Stewart Marsden

Psst!!! Don’t forget to go to Amazon, Barns & Noble, BooksAMillion and/or Powell’s Books to order your copy of “Stinky and the Night Mare” for Christmas for your favorite 3 to 5-year-old! (Shameless advertising).

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