The Pied Harpist of Nashville: That Old Black Magic

20 Nov

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

That Old Black Magic

By L. Stewart Marsden


Terry shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket against the penetrating cold night air. It was late – nearly five in the morning. He figured if Sheila awoke to find him gone, he’d tell her he was out walking, couldn’t sleep. And he didn’t want to lie. He was afraid she’d pick up on it. Sense it.

As he approached an intersection not far from his apartment building, a taxi pulled up and stopped at the light. Its radio was playing loudly, and Terry could hear the song. Frank Sinatra.

 Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go

In a spin, loving the spin that I’m in

Under that old black magic called love


No coincidence there, he thought. He breathed out a long sigh that condensed and formed a small breathy cloud in the mist. In the distance, he heard the echoing undulating sirens of fire trucks and ambulances rushing to some event. A fire, maybe. Or an accident. Probably a fire, he reasoned, the streets fairly barren of cars or pedestrians. Only the lone outliers like himself.

The light changed and the cab drove off, sputtering exhaust behind it, Sinatra fading down the street.

Terry was careful to unlock and open the apartment door as quietly as he could. The light to the oven hood was on in the kitchen, and next to the stove top a large mug. The tab and string of a tea bag was flopped over one side. A handwritten note was propped against the mug so that Terry would see it.

Missed you tonight. Drink this chamomile tea. It will help you sleep.

We can talk about what’s worrying you in the a.m.

– S

 He picked up the cup, which was still somewhat hot to the touch. He cradled it with both hands. It felt good, and he let his still-cool hands receive its warmth. She must have only recently poured the water over the teabag. He set the cup down and removed his damp jacket, and hung it on one of a set of coat hooks on the wall next to the front door. His hand brushed against Sheila’s dark cape. It was cool and damp to the touch, and he noticed a small pool of water on the floor beneath it.

She had gone out, too! When? How long? Had she followed him?

He grabbed the mug and walked to the bedroom, opening the door quietly. It was dark, and Sheila was rolled to one side of the bed, her back to the door.

“You awake?” he asked in a loud whisper.

“Am now,” she replied sleepily, rolling over to look at him. “Where you been?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“I figured. What’s bothering you?”

Terry sat down on the edge of the bed away from Sheila, his back to her.

“I don’t know, Sheila. My success and what’s going on is really unexpected. I’m not sure I was ready for it.”

“So it’s a bad thing?”

He dropped his shoes on the floor and turned to her.

“No! It’s a good thing! I just look around me at all of the people trying to make it here – who struggle and struggle and it doesn’t happen for them. Why me?”

“You feel guilty for your success?”

“A little. Yeah, I guess I do. Crazy, right?”

“Not so much, Terry. I mean, you are living your dream. And it’s kind of happened like that!” she snapped her finger.

“Yeah. That, and you. It’s like someone said ‘abracadabra’ and poof!”


“Question is, what kind of magic?”

“Terry don’t go off on me with that satanic stuff again. This is not magic! It’s good luck and good timing. You are the right guy with the right stuff and are in the right place.”

He laid down on his back, hands behind his head, and looked up at the ceiling. Sheila had found some luminous stars and other night sky shapes, and it looked like the night sky.

“You went out, too, right?” he finally asked.

“I woke up and you weren’t here. I figured I’d try to find you and we could walk together. I must have guessed wrong about where you were headed.”

“To the café and the honky-tonk.”


“Pretty dead this time of night. I guess I wanted some sort of touchstone to that night everything happened.”

“Well, drink your chamomile and let’s get some sleep. You won’t be worth a damn tomorrow, and we’ve got that recording session all day.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

He sat up and drank down the tea, putting the mug on the night table and lay back down.

Sheila scootched next to him and snuggled.

“Hey,” he flinched. “You’re cold as ice!”

“I need my man to warm me up. I told you I was cold-blooded,” she grinned.

He closed his eyes.

Cold-blooded, he thought.

A lone siren wailed, and dogs throughout the city took up the cry, howling from various locations.

His head swam in slow circles, as if he had just finished a couple of beers.

That old black magic, he thought, hearing Sinatra crooning in his mind.



Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 20 November, 2014

Stinky available for pre-sale on Barnes and Noble, etc.

19 Nov

Stinky available for pre-sale on Amazon.

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: The Spiral

17 Nov

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

The Spiral

By L. Stewart Marsden


“1898. That’s almost a hundred years ago,” said Terry, shaking his head at the thought. “And that would make Sheila over a hundred years old!”

“At the very least,” agreed Melvin. “She could actually be older. Terry, when Sheila moved in with you, did you notice anything strange? I mean, her stuff?”
Terry thought.

“Well, she did have some pretty old pieces of furniture she said were passed down through the family. A vase or two.” Then he remembered, “Oh, and she brought in this painting – which I thought was some kind of modern art.”

“What does it look like?”

Terry took a napkin and drew a picture of a spiral with his pen.

“Like this,” he said.



“It has a really colorful background. Sheila said it would brighten up the place.”

“I’ll bet,” Melvin replied, taking the napkin and folding it. “I’ll show it to a friend of mine who is up on the occult. Maybe he can tell me if it’s anything.”

An old woman, stooped and covered with a dark hooded cloak against the cold and rain, entered from the street. She shuffled to a booth on the opposite side of the diner.

“Hot tea with honey,” she told the thin waitress.

Melvin and Terry momentarily stopped their conversation.

“Pretty late for an old lady to be out, don’t you think?” Terry asked his companion.

“See? How come your antennae are up now, but you blew it off with Sheila? You just might be sleeping with the enemy!”

“Melvin, I grew up Methodist. Nobody I knew ever said anything about spooks or demons or witches. That’s fairytale stuff. So when you dump this in my lap – tell me the girl I love is a hundred years old and the man who gave me my big start in music might be a demon? Well, I guess I’m going to think everyone is suspect! I mean, what about you? How much do I really know about you and what you do? The shelter might be the pit of hell, for all I know!”

“Point taken. And you’re right, of course. We need more evidence than an old photo and a piece of artwork,” Melvin conceded.

“Not to mention what needs to be done if any of this is true? Where do you go with this? The police? Who is going to believe us? Probably think we’re strung out and paranoid junkies!”

“Let’s do this, Terry: keep your eyes and ears open. I’ll take your drawing to a friend to see what he thinks. In the meantime, just keep doing what you do. And try not to be so obvious around Sheila and Coleridge. This could end up being really dangerous!”

“What? Like they’re going to turn me into a toad?”

“Like I say, Terry – truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.”

The waitress neared the table.

“Anything else for you guys?”

“How ‘bout some breakfast, Terry? Up for waffles and a slice of smoked ham?”

“This time it’s on me,” Terry insisted.

She took their order and returned to the front counter, sticking a green order slip on a stainless circular wheel that turned through to the kitchen.

“Two checkerboards with Noah’s boy, grits and hash browns!” she yelled to the back.

The elderly woman slid out of her booth and shuffled to the front of the diner, stopping to pay for her tea.

“Thank you, Honey,” said the waitress, ringing in the sale and taking the woman’s money, which the woman carefully picked out of a small purse. “Want me to call a cab? It’s pretty nasty out there – and it’s very late.”

“No thank you, Dear,” and she slowly made her way out of the diner, glancing back once, then melted into the night fog.

* * *

Melvin drove through the fog-packed streets slowly, the radio playing Dusty Springfield’s rendition of Spooky. He laughed and wondered how coincidental that was. Parking down a narrow alleyway next to the shelter, he sifted through a rather large collection of keys to find the one for the back door, then let himself in, closing and locking the door behind him.

From the street, an old woman stepped out of the fog bank into the yellow-gray light of a street lamp. She wore a dark hooded cloak against the cold and rain. At the front door to the shelter, she reached inside her cloak and pulled out a pouch. She loosed the stringed closure, and reached into the pouch, then began to spread black granules in front of the door, creating a circle, and then a geometric shape within the circle. From another pocket she withdrew a thick candle that was covered with wax drippings.

She placed the candle at the center of the circle and geometric shape, then stood back. Waving her hand above the candle she muttered “Ignesco!” The candle wick popped into flame. She stepped back and leaned forward, extending her arms and spreading the twig-like fingers of both hands, slowly forming circles with each in opposite motions.

Slowly murmuring an incantation, she closed her eyes, gradually increasing the speed of her hands as well as the volume of her song-like spell. Faster and faster, louder and louder.

The air grew thick with fog and mist, which poured down from all directions onto the shelter. A turbulence whipped the fog into a funnel-like shape, which arose into the dark night air, ascending above the building, spinning like the pointed end of a huge black screw.

The hood of the cloak blew back, revealing the old woman’s white hair, which stood out from her pasty head in a wild, unnatural manner. Her wide eyes blazed red at the pupils against the luminous white.

“Impugnatio!” she yelled against the now violent winds, flailing her arms above her head in wide, frantic movements.

The black funnel – the wind – the forceful locomotive sound that was upon her – descended into the roof of the shelter, and for one brief moment, all was quiet.
Then suddenly the building exploded with wind and fire, a huge fireball ascending like the head of a demon into the night above the once-existent shelter. Debris and flames shot through the air and hailed down in all directions, clattering in the streets.

The woman stood, untouched by the blast. She reached down and picked up the candle, its small flame blown out, and pinched the still glowing wick between her fingers. As she dropped the candle back into her cloak pocket, she erased the partially remaining drawing with her foot.

Sirens wailed in the near-distance.  The woman pulled the hood of her cloak back over her head and vanished into the fog.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 November, 2014

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: Class of ’98

16 Nov

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




 Class of ‘98

By L. Stewart Marsden


Terry picked up the phone, interrupting its ring. He had been sitting on the sofa, reading The Satanic Bible by the light of a small table lamp. He anticipated the call.

“Hey!” he said. “Watcha find out?”

“A lot,” said Melvin at the other end of the line. His voice was quiet, and he whispered. “How ‘bout you?”

“The same. Do you want to meet tomorrow, then?”

“Actually, I think we’d better get together right away. Tonight. Can you meet me in an hour?”

“It’s 1 AM. I dunno. What will I tell Sheila?”

“Is she there?”

“In the bedroom reading.”

“See if you can get away. Say you have an upset stomach or something, and need to run to the pharmacy for Alka-Seltzer or something. I’m going now. If you don’t show, I’ll understand you couldn’t get away. Whatever, I don’t want you to rouse her suspicions any further than they probably are.”

“I won’t. See you if I can, then.”

He hung up. He stood up, put the book on the coffee table, and walked to the bedroom door which he cracked open. It was dark, and in the light that spilled in from his side of the door, he saw Sheila was wrapped under the bed covers, fast asleep. Terry slowly closed the door, careful not to make any noise as he grabbed his jacket and quietly left the apartment.

On the street he hailed a lone cab and climbed into the back seat.

He didn’t see Sheila watching from the bedroom window that looked down upon the street. As the cab sped off, she waved her hand, open-palmed, before the window.

“Calles de turturibus et pullis columbae!” she whispered forcefully, her eyes narrowing on the vehicle. Terry’s silhouette was visible through the rear window of the cab.

Sheila walked into the livingroom and picked up the phone and dialed.

“He’s left.”

“Follow him,” ordered Coleridge from the other end.

“Then what?”

“Find out who he is going to meet and what they’re up to. Then report back to me and we’ll decide what to do.”

* * *

Melvin was nursing a cooling cup of coffee when Terry finally arrived. The streets were clouded with fog, and street lights cast a hazy aura into the dark and dank night air.

The diner was empty, save one street bum the owner left alone in a booth. The bum’s upper torso was collapsed onto the table, and the man was fast asleep. A plate with the remains of a plate of food was shoved to the side.

“Eerie night,” said Terry as he slid into the booth opposite Melvin.

“Yeah. Creepy,” the minister replied. Melvin wore a dark Navy peacoat, and seemed not to be able to warm himself, rubbing his hands often.

“So?” asked Terry.

“You first,” Melvin suggested.

“Well, Sheila’s not got anything to do with this.”

“How do you know?”

“I picked up a copy of the Satanic Bible and was reading it. It creeped her out, big time. So I asked if she hadn’t – you know – played Ouija, or read Tarot cards. And she told me she hadn’t.”

“That’s it? That’s how you know she’s not involved? Terry – I told you to play it smart! The bible and all your questions – didn’t you stop to think that might tip her off?”

“Relax, Melvin. I know Sheila. She’s not evil! And she certainly isn’t working for Coleridge. Who, by the way, told me that the teeth of my harmonica are made of gopher wood. That mean anything?”

“For starters, no one knows what gopher wood is. So how would he know? Maybe he was around back when the ark grounded on Ararat.”

“How could that be? That must have been thousands of years ago! Coleridge is in his sixties, maybe.”

“Terry – if someone had told you a year ago that by blowing into a harmonica you could make strange things happen, would you believe it?”

“Okay – well, it’s just hard to believe.”

“Start believing, Terry. And you’ve got to quit thinking Sheila’s not a part of whatever’s going on as well. I checked records at Tennessee and found out there hasn’t been a student there by Sheila’s name in the last 50 years.”

“That can’t be.”

“The last 50, I said. But, there was someone who matched her name a ways back.”

“Yeah? Probably a coincidence. Or maybe one of her relatives.”

Melvin pulled out a photocopied picture from his jacket. It was folded carefully. He opened it and flattened the picture with his hand, turning it so Terry could see it right side up. It was of a woman, with dark hair styled tightly around her face. He recognized her from the start.

“Sheila!” said Terry in amazement.

“Sheila,” replied Melvin. “I’d say she was maybe 18 when this photo was taken of her for the yearbook. She was a senior. Part of a graduating class at UT of twenty. Fifteen men, and five women. Pretty progressive back then.”

“When was back then? What year?”

“Class of ’98, Terry. 1898.”

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 November, 2014

Stinky available for pre-sale on Amazon

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

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

PLEASE NOTE: Amazon has listed my book as out of inventory on their website. Unfortunately, it is a common ploy Amazon uses to redirect you to other books that are more in their control.

Barnes and Noble has Stinky and the Night Mare listed IN STOCK AND READY TO SHIP! Here’s the link:  click!

Available in: Hardcover. Whenever Anna Maria Alberghetti Christiana Gabriella Margaret Anne Jones was in a snit, her dad lovingly called her Stinky. Tonight, she is in a snit. This is until she embarks on a fantastic journey.


This should be valuable to all of you who intend to self-publish. So, take notes.

You saw my printer’s copy of Stinky and the Night Mare at the last meeting. It is now listed on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble.
The interesting thing is that Amazon deeply discounts books they do not control (are not the publisher), and will employ a tactic informing buyers that the particular book they would like to order is “temporarily out of stock.”
I refer you to the page of my book listings. Through the Glass Darkly is published through Amazon. Note that there is no mention of a stock problem. Stinky, however, indicates you cannot get the book at present.
My publisher, Warren Publishing, assures me that is not the case. Warren, by the way, will not let Amazon discount my book. And charges Amazon a fair value for each sale.
Barnes and Noble mentions no lack of inventory, nor delay in shipping — which at Christmas time, is a big consideration for book shoppers.

Worth a blog, don’t you think?
This helpful observation offered for no charge by one of your writing group members. Go thou and cogitate.



Stinky and the Night Mare by yours truly, is now available on Amazon by plugging in my author’s name, L.. Stewart Marsden, the title of the book, or by simply clicking here.

It is beautifully illustrated by up-and-coming artist, Jessie Luo.

Check out the book online. Written for ages 3 to 5, it will make a wonderful Christmas gift for children of all ages — even your age!


What would we do without the internet and digital artwork?

What would we do without the internet and digital artwork?


Check out the official Stinky and the Night Mare Facebook page!




The Pied Harpist of Nashville: Everywhere a sign

13 Nov

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


Everywhere a Sign

 By L. Stewart Marsden


Terry felt like a complete, idiotic fool. How Melvin could deduce in a few minutes what had stared him in the face for months shook his self-confidence, much less his  trust in Sheila.

How could he have been taken in so easily?

Melvin tried to tell him that these things aren’t very obvious. That it takes someone who is inclined towards the spiritual to pick up on the spiritual.

“We don’t even know what’s going on, Terry. It could be that Sheila is as much a victim as you. But regardless, we’ve got to be careful. They can’t know we suspect anything! You must keep poker faced until we know what we’ve been dealt, and what cards to play.”

“Yeah. You got to know when to hold ‘em,” Terry said with a wry grin.

They agreed to meet in a week back at the diner. Each would reveal whatever else they had managed to uncover.

“She can’t know, Terry.”

“I was never good at cards, Melvin,” he said, shaking his head.

“Get good, then.”

* * *

 Terry found reasons to go to Marvin’s Musical Museum. To chat about an upcoming tour, or ask Coleridge something about the harmonica.

“So, what kind of wood is this made from?”

“Gopher wood. Hard to come by.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Noah used it to build the ark, they say.”

“Oh, yeah! It’s in the Bible! You read the Bible, Marvin? I didn’t know that. You go to church?”

“Yeah. I go to church.”

“Which one?”

“Oh, it’s a pretty small offshoot denomination. Probably never heard of it.”

“Could I go with you sometime?”

“Sure. Sometime. But I want you to concentrate on your career now, Terry. Church can come later.”

“What’s going on with me, you know – this harmonica? It’s pretty special, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think. I know!” Coleridge grinned, flipping through a stack of sales receipts at the counter.

“So, don’t you think God has something to do with this, then?”

Coleridge stopped what he was doing and looked up.

“God – Terry – God helps them that help themselves. Ever hear that? It’s in the Bible. Look it up. And special people like you, well – special people like you don’t need a lot of help from God.”

“That doesn’t sound very religious, Marvin.”

“Well it goddamn well is religious, Terry! If everybody who’s down and out got up off their fat asses and did something about it, there wouldn’t be any need for all these goddamn religions, I say!”

How quickly Coleridge heated up surprised Terry, and he decided he had better back down before the crab man began to get wary. As he continued to wander through the shop, Terry picked up instruments and looked at them. Coleridge cooled and went back to his paperwork.

He found the logo that was etched on his harmonica adorning a number of instruments. On a mandolin, it was embossed into one of the tab turners. He found it etched onto one of the valves of an ancient-looking trumpet.

“How long you been using this logo, Marvin?” he asked, an acoustic in hand.

“Huh? Oh, forever, I think,” came the disinterested reply.


“That’s a really long time,” Terry said with a laugh.

“Well, time flies, boy. Forever ain’t as long as you’d think.”

As he walked about the shop, he kept glancing over at his mentor, looking for some physical thing – slightly pointed ears or traces of webbing between the fingers or unusual hair growth – to point to the demonic side of Coleridge.

Wait! Maybe he could read minds, and was listening in on Terry’s very thoughts!

“I can’t!” Coleridge yelled, slamming his fist on the counter

“What!” reacted Terry, sure he was exposed.

“I can’t get these goddamn receipts to add up!” he said, face reddening again. “Don’t you have somewhere to go? Something to do?”

“Not at the moment,” Terry responded meekly.

“Well get the hell outta here and go find something to do, goddamn it!” he yelled.

* * *

Sheila opened the apartment door and struggled holding takeout Chinese in one hand, and a stretched canvas painting in the other. Terry was sprawled on his back on the couch, his nose deep in a rather voluminous book.

“That’s okay,” she said, “don’t get up! I got it!”

“Um-huh,” he mumbled as she teetered into the kitchen and dumped the bags on the counter. She leaned the painting against the wall.

“I got Chinese. Ling-Fu’s. And I brought this painting over from my apartment. Thought it would brighten up the place.”


“What’re you reading that has you so hypnotized? You never read. Unless it’s fan letters.”


She marched over to the sofa and plucked the book from his hands.

“Hey! I’m reading that!” and sat up as she closed the book and looked at its cover.

The Satanic Bible, by Anton LaVey? Holy Mother of Jesus, Terry! What the hell are you reading? And where’d you get this?”

“I found it at the bookstore down on the corner. Neat, huh? Did you know that you can actually levitate things by really concentrating on an object? No strings or anything! I thought those magicians on TV were fakes. Turns out some of them aren’t. Makes you wonder about guys like Houdini and where he got his talent, right?”

“Terry! Listen to yourself! Where is this coming from?”

“I’ve just been wondering how I can do what I can do with my harmonica. Did you know that the logo on it is a sign of Satan?”


“Two crosses and the infinity symbol. Stands for Satan. You know there are a lot of stories about Satan and country music musicians. Like all of the tragedy that struck some of the best.”

“I’m starting to worry about you, Terry. Really, really worry.”

“C’mere, you,” he said, feigning a mysterious look, and moving his hands and fingers as if to magically draw her to him. She laughed and walked over, and the two fell back onto the couch, she on top of him.

“So all this stuff about Satan and magic makes you uncomfortable, does it?”

“It’s creepy! Gives me the shivers! And it’s not like you.”

“You ever dabble in the occult? You know, play Ouija? Or Tarot cards?”


He hugged her tightly and kissed her neck, working up to her lips, kissing between words:

“That’s – good – to – know!”

“Ummm,” she purred as his hand moved down along her spine. “What about the Chinese from Ling-Fu’s?”

“Who cares? We’ll just be hungry again in an hour. Let it wait.”

“It’ll get cold.”

“Cold Chinese! Oh, the horror of it all!”




Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 November, 2014

Them Revenuers

13 Nov

Them Revenuers

By L. Stewart Marsden


Jest what?
Jest what in Gawd’s name?
Jest what in Gawd’s name would them revenuers do?
Jest what in Gawd’s name would them revenuers do if they couldn’t do?
Jest what in Gawd’s name would them revenuers do if they couldn’t do what they do do?

I’m thinkin’ them revenuers would still do do-do.


Copyright © by L. Stewart Marsden, 13 November, 2014


12 Nov


Photographer: unknown

Photographer: unknown




By L. Stewart Marsden


Behind the cyclopean eye

That blinks and links the moment to a future distant review of what was;

Not knowing the thought or impression

Except the session and time and person or persons,

Places or things captured

Were important;

The author of those briefest of times picked

Hid behind the lens

And hardly ever stood out front,

Exposed and vulnerable;

For the most part was the controller

And not the controlled;

He said, ‘Smile!’

And it was caught;

And though we search and dig

For what ought to be there,

For what should have been,

He is nowhere to be seen.



Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 November, 2014

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: Truth and Consequences

12 Nov

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



Truth and Consequences

By L. Stewart Marsden

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Melvin said, shaking his head slowly.

“Me either. I was convinced it was just a bad dream – that’s what Sheila said it was. You say it wasn’t a dream. I don’t know what to believe!”

“Terry, what’s your relationship with these two – Coleridge and Sheila?”

“Coleridge is my manager. He’s the reason all of these incredible things have happened with my career.”

Melvin nodded and listened from the other side of the table. The two were tucked into a corner booth in a barbecue diner, in the back and away from traffic. Melvin was in his street clothes, and Terry was dressed inconspicuously, and wore a dark blue hooded sweatshirt with a Duke Devil logo imprint.

“And Sheila?”

“Well, Sheila came along before I met Coleridge.”

“Came along?”

“She was a waitress in the honky-tonk next door to where I worked as a cook. Actually, I really didn’t know her at the time, except as a customer. We didn’t talk, I mean. Well, she would tell me there were no free refills is all.”

Melvin smiled at that.

“Okay. And how did you run into Coleridge again?”

“His music shop is next door on the other side of the café.”

“So, one on one side of where you worked, and the other on the other side, right?”


“Do Coleridge and Sheila know each other?”

“They do now.”

“But before, I meant to say?”

“Don’t know.”

“And what do you know about her?”

“She got her degree in voice from UT. She came to Nashville, just like me. She wanted to make it here – like me.”

“And she has, right? I mean, she’s starting to come into her own as a result of knowing you, wouldn’t you say?”

“What’re you saying? That she using me?”

“I’m just asking questions, Terry. I’m not saying anything. But you called me, right? And wouldn’t you like to know if there’s more to this thing than you know about?”

“I guess. Really I wish you hadn’t sent that card. Then I wouldn’t be second-guessing her now.”

“I believe you got that card because you were supposed to. Think of the chances that it would be picked out of the thousands sent to you. Your publicist couldn’t have read it – even though it was staring him in the face. If he had, he would have gone straight to Coleridge with it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Who hired your publicist?”


“And Coleridge doesn’t go on the road with you, right?”


“And your publicist does, right?”

“Okay, Melvin – I know there are all sorts of conspiracies that happen all over the world, but this ain’t one of them! You’re saying Coleridge has got both my publicist and Sheila keeping track of me? Spying on me? What the hell for?”

“I’m not saying it, Terry.”

“Yeah? Well you’re implying the hell out of it, then.”

“Let me do some checking. I’ll dig into who Coleridge is, as well as find out more about Sheila and your publicist.”

“So, spy on them? What, you’re gonna get your prison buddies to dig up dirt?”

“I’m not gonna spy on them, Terry. And by the way, I’ve never been an inmate.”

“But you said – Johnny Cash and all –“

“I was the prison chaplain at the time.”


“Here’s the thing – I can do this for you, and maybe find out there is nothing there to be worried about, and you can go on. Or, you can flat-out ask Sheila and Coleridge and your publicist what the hell is going on. If you do that, either way you’ve created a problem. I check things out and there’s nothing – no one is the wiser for it.”

“What if you do find something?”

Melvin leaned against the back of the booth and took a deep breath.

“We cross that bridge if and when we come to it. Fair enough?”

“Yeah. If and when.”

The waiter approached the table and asked if the two needed anything else, laying the check on the table. Melvin smiled and said no, then covered the paper with his hand.

“My treat, Terry. One last thing – you got that harmonica with you? The special one Coleridge gave you?”

“I’m never without it,” he replied, pulling the case from the hand warmer pouch on his sweatshirt.

Melvin took the box and looked it over carefully before opening it.

“Incredible workmanship,” the minister observed. Then he pulled the harp out and looked at it as intently.

“So, what’s the key? I thought harps have a key signature stamped on one end. There’s only this logo.”

“It’s whatever key I want it to be,” Terry said

“What? How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. The band can start a song in B flat, and when I blow, it’s a B flat harmonica. I can change keys in midstream. I can even get my audiences to do what I want, without asking.”

He explained his onstage experiments to Melvin, who listened while he turned the harp over in his big hands, shaking his head in amazement.

“You never wondered about these things?”

“I just want to be a star, Melvin. Coleridge told me the harp is special. That he made it.”

“And he gave it to you? No strings?”

“Well, yeah. The strings are that he manages my career. Long as I follow his lead and do what he tells me, the harmonica is mine.”

“And this confusion about what you thought was a dream – that came because you wanted to help me.”


“Has he told you what the logo means?”

“I figured it was something he made up. A way of branding his hand-made harmonica.”

“Have you seen it before?”

“Well no. Not other than on some other instruments he has in his music shop.”

“Other instruments have this logo?”


“Terry, I’m going to tell you something. And you’re probably either not going to believe me, or you are going to think I’m crazy. Maybe both.”

“Tell me what?”

“This logo? It’s a symbol for Satan.”


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 November, 2014

The Pied Harpist of Nashville: What’s in a name?

11 Nov

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

What’s in a Name?

By L. Stewart Marsden


Terry awoke with a start.

Ahhhhh-ah!” he gasped as though he had broken the surface of the water after desperately swimming up from the bottom of the ocean.

He was damp with sweat.

“Hey, it’s okay, Terry!” Sheila said in a soothing tone, reaching from beside him in the bed to caress his arm. “It’s only a dream.”

“Maybe — but it sure seemed real as heck!” he said, turning back to her and laying back down.

He told her the dream: of rising to stardom so quickly. Of offering to help Melvin raise money for the shelter, and of Coleridge’s unexpected reaction.

“He was so angry! He must’ve changed three shades of red in his face!”

Then of the ultimatum, and his decision to end his deal with Coleridge.

“Whadaya think? Is it a sign or something?” he asked, staring up at the ceiling.

Sheila put her head in the crook of Terry’s arm and gently massaged his chest.

“No, I don’t. I think that you are worried what’s really happening to you is the dream, and that you’re going to suddenly wake up. Like the Chutes and Ladders game you told me about. Maybe you think you don’t deserve this, I don’t know.

“What I do know,” she said, propping herself up on one elbow, “is that you are incredibly talented. You have a gift, Terry — and whether or not you stay with Coleridge or leave him behind in the dust — it’s you that is responsible for all that’s going on. Not the harmonica.”

“And, I’ll tell you one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

She bent down and kissed him on the lips.

“I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“There’s nothing to think about where I’m concerned,” he grinned as she traced her finger along his mouth, “I do love you!”

They grabbed each other and spun about in the sheets, laughing and kissing — then touching.

* * *

Like a locomotive pulling from the station, slowly gathering speed, then chugging along at full-tilt, Terry’s career gained momentum.

“You’re on the one-way special to the top!” Coleridge cheered. “There is no thing and no one that can stop you, my boy!”

Still, doubt lingered. Like a shadow in the corner. Lurking.

He and Sheila now performed together. In the back-up bands for Johnny Cash and Ronnie Milsap and Jerry Reed on the road. They would huddle together on the large tour buses, ignoring the catcalls and jibes from other band members at the budding romance.

At each show, whoever headlined would call Terry up to showcase his talent on the harmonica.

“This boy works magic with that harp,” declared Reed at the San Antonio show. “Why, I believe he could lure all the lizards and armadillos out of the county if he chose! He’s the Pied Harpist of Nashville!” he laughed as Terry walked up to the mic.

And the name stuck.

It was corny, Terry thought. What the hell was a Pied, anyway?

Sheila looked it up one day, stopping in a bookstore and leafing through a dictionary.

“Kind of like a multi-colored coat. You know, patchwork.”

“Really? So what if I hang my hat on the name? You know, dress the part? Get me a pair of patchwork jeans — or a jacket or something?”

And he did. Not only jeans and a jacket, but boots and his hat, too. Everything he wore — other than his open-neck linen shirts, was pied. He even had his hair cut in an elvish style: long and straight on the sides and back, barely noticeable at the front. He had a salon colorist highlight his brown hair with blonde streaks.

As Terry’s star continued to rise, other country wannabees noticed his unique style of clothing, and began to develop their own “brands” of dress.

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Coleridge explained when Terry made a disgruntled observation of his copiers. “But they can’t imitate your talent, boy.”

As in his dream, Terry appeared on Hee-Haw. And Glen Campbell’s show. And John Denver’s. He was even invited to play The Star Spangled Banner at the opening ceremonies of the Republican National Convention, and he met the candidates.

He was in demand for nearly every major county fair across the country, and he and Sheila began to headline events together. The Grand Ole Opry. Reno and Las Vegas.

The crowning glory was being named country music’s Best New Entertainer. From there, the floodgates opened, and Terry Jasper started to believe that he was who everyone said he was. He had, finally, arrived.

He hired a publicist — with Coleridge’s okay — who immediately scheduled Terry for interviews and photo ops. His face appeared on the cover of Billboard, with the caption Hot Country Pied Piper Pipes His Harp.

First hundreds, then thousands of requests came pouring in for autographed photos, as well as for special appearances.

Terry was coaxed into appearing with Jerry Lewis on his annual Labor Day Telethon, wowing Lewis and the nation with his rendition of Amazing Grace. During that segment, the fundraiser experienced the highest peak of contributions ever.

Terry began to experiment with the harmonica in little ways. Like influencing his audiences. He could coax listeners to a myriad of reactions, from tears to shouts of joy, and everything in between.

“I told you that you and the harp would do incredible things,” remarked Coleridge when Terry told him of his experiments. “If you wanted, you could make thousands jump into the river. Like that Pied Piper guy.”

“Well, I don’t want to make anyone jump into a river. I want people to be happy — and do good things for each other.”

“That good stuff is overrated, believe me,” Coleridge shot back. “What you want is for them to reach deep and give you everything they have. And to enjoy the process as they do it. Kind of like those televangelists who get suckers to give gladly!”

“No  – I don’t want all their money. I don’t want that kind of power.”

“So, you don’t want people to buy tickets to your concerts? You wanna give away your albums?”

“Well — “

“That’s what I’m talking about.”

But Terry often wondered if that’s all Coleridge meant.

Terry’s publicist often brought him cards and letters for a response. He randomly picked a dozen or more for the artist to read while on the bus to help pass the time. Terry enjoyed the only personal opportunity he had to connect with his fans. Everything else was carefully controlled by Coleridge. Everything.

On one particular day, as Sheila slept next to Terry on the bus, her head resting on his shoulder, he leafed through a stack of cards.

One card stuck out. It was a plain, with a return address scrawled by hand: St. Stephen’s Shelter for the Homeless, Nashville, TN.

He quickly flipped the card over and read.

Terry, I’ve been following your success and am really pleased for you! God has indeed blessed you, and I trust you are able to handle everything that comes with the fame and fortune. Lest you worry about deciding not to be a part of our annual fund-raiser for the shelter, I thought I’d let you know that your picture and autograph — remember that? — have helped bring in much-needed money for our work.

God bless, and don’t be a stranger!

– Melvin Jones

What? But that was a dream! Terry thought. He reread the card two more times. Not matter how he read it, it still said the same thing. How could that be?

He thought perhaps Jones had sent a request to his publicist, and was turned down at that point. He couldn’t remember going by the shelter or running into the pastor since he had left to move into his apartment — ages ago.

At the next rest stop, Terry got off the bus and found a pay telephone. The phone number was scrawled at the bottom of the postcard from Jones, and Terry nervously dialed, inserting a handful of coins at the operator’s instructions.

“Hello? Melvin? Melvin, this is Terry Jasper. Yes, I’m fine, thank you. Look, when I get back to Nashville I have to get together with you. Yes, lunch will do. No — no. My treat. Sure. No, I can’t talk now. A couple of days, okay? I gotta go now, Melvin. I’ll see you then. Okay. Yeah, God bless you, too.”

And he hung up.

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 11 November, 2014

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