Since my wife left me, I've taken to having a few of an afternoon, so I stopped in at the Eternity on Queen Street West for a drink. It's one of the last good "conversation bars" left in Toronto. I like a nice quiet place to have a sip. Like all the other musicians I know, I hate the canned music in most bars. It seems designed to interfere with my conversation and to piss me off in general.
In the Eternity, you can actually hear your own thoughts and share those of other people, and Henry, the guy who runs the bar, is always glad to see his landlord.
On this particular afternoon, I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I'd finished all the meetings for the week, and I looked forward to a few days of relaxation. So, I bellied up to the bar and asked Henry for a pint of Nutbrown Ale and a shot of Jameson. I believe in getting to the first stage of intoxication quickly and then coasting for a while.
I'd just about finished my first round. I was looking at the TV but not seeing it, more like staring into space mindlessly. Suddenly, I was brought out of my reverie.
"Excuse me sir, can I get you another drink?"
Standing in front of me was a startingly beautiful young woman. I was momentarily rendered speechless. After a moment, I managed to nod and even to speak. "Yes, thank you. But just bring me a pint of Nutbrown. I don't need any more of the hard stuff for a while"
She went to draw my beer, and I looked at her. Actually, I'm afraid that I stared. She was about 5'4" -- on the petite side but not too short. Her figure was nearly perfect for my taste. I estimated that she'd certainly fill out a nice C cup, and her hips left no doubt as to her gender. But it was her beautiful face that was most startling. Her features were almost perfectly symmetrical. Her hair was a glossy black. Her complexion was creamy white. Her eyes were the blue-green colour of a mountain lake. When she smiled, as she did now, her teeth glinted brightly.
By the time she returned with my beer, I had recovered my powers of speech and gathered what wits I had. So, I came out with my usual suave opening. "You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yes. In fact, I just started today. I'm a student at OCAD, but I've got to take some time off to make some money. So here I am."
The fact that she was a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design was not at all startling. Queen Street has long been the haunt of Toronto's artists and artsy. Nor was the fact that she needed money. Most students do. I wanted the conversation to continue, so I introduced myself.
"I'm Danny Sullivan. I'm a sometime jazz musician. Mostly, I'm sort of a high-class bum."
She laughed. "I'm Carole Tulliver." At least it sounded like "tulliver." "And you sure as hell don't look like a bum to me. Bums usually don't wear Armani suits."
"Neither do I, but I just came out of a meeting. Tell me, do you spell your last name T-A-L-I-A-F-E-R-R-O?"
"Yes, that's right: Taliaferro. Pronounced 'tulliver.' It's an English name. I get a little tired of explaining that it's not pronounced like it looks."
"Well, Carole, I'll tell you a little known secret: I was born in England, and I lived there until I was sixteen."
"Why don't you have an English accent?"
"I learned in high school that an English accent was not necessarily a social asset. And then I got into jazz. Not too many English accents in jazz. Not in Canada, anyway."
"Oh. Well, I'm not from England. I'm from Sudbury. Way up north. It's not the end of the world, but it's close to it."
"So what brings you to Hogtown?"
"Art. Or the chance to make it. Uh oh, there's Henry, the boss. He probably expects me to do some work. I've got to go. Maybe we'll talk later?"
"Count on it."
I didn't really expect to continue my conversation with Carole. I've never been what you'd call a "chick magnet," and now that I'm north of 40... well just say that I have more of an opportunity to look at beautiful young girls than I do to talk to them. But in about 15 minutes, Carole was back. She said, "I'm on my break now. Want to sit down at one of the tables in the back?"
Of course I did. When we sat down, me with my beer and Carole with a Coke, she grinned at me.
I said, "What's the joke?"
Carole smiled broadly. "Henry just told me that you own this place. And you described yourself as a bum. Some bum."
"Why can't a bum own a bar? Most bums would die to own a bar."
"Danny Sullivan, I think that you enjoy pulling my leg. And you know what? I kind of enjoy your joking with me."
"Carole, I'm sorry if I mislead you. Let's start over again." I held out my hand. "I'm Danny Sullivan. I'm a famous jazz musician and man about town, and I own this place."
She gravely shook my hand, and she said, "Glad to meet you. I'm Carole Taliaferro, an impecunious student masquerading as a bartender."
"OK. Now that we're formally introduced, let's talk."
And we did talk. We talked all that afternoon and during the succeeding days and weeks. We talked about all the great and small things -- things that you share with friends. Soon, we were good friends. Our afternoon talks became a habit.
I learned that Carole's parents were more than willing to help her through school, but that she'd put a limit on the amount of their help that she was willing to accept. They were both teachers. Her dad was retired, so the family income wasn't very big. Hence the job at the Eternity.
I also learned that she had wanted to be an artist as long as she could remember. Her dad was an artist, and she grew up watching him create wonderful things with his hands and his mind. And then she found that she had talent. I suspected that she had a lot of talent, and not necessarily all for art.
Not that I put the moves on Carole. Far from it. I'm as prone to dirty old man thoughts as the next guy, but Carole and I had become great pals. I didn't want to fuck up our friendship by hitting on her.
One Saturday afternoon, I'd just finished one of those interminable goddam meetings. I was consumed with a raging thirst, so I came into the Eternity for my customary tipple. Carole was nowhere to be found. I thought it might be her day off, or perhaps she had a cold. I finished my first round and headed for the john. There sitting at a table near the washrooms was Carole. She was leaning on the table, holding her head in her hands. She was crying.
"Sweety, what's happened?"
"That cunt of a roommate of mine! She's throwing me out!"
I'd never heard Carole use the C-word before. I guess I never even thought she knew it. I momentarily forgot about my need to drain the lizard.
"OK, what's going on? How can she toss you out?"
"Because she owns the fucking lease, that's how! And she's decided to move her goddam boyfriend in and me out."
"Then just move somewhere else."
"You don't understand. I can't fucking afford to move anywhere else. I've been living in this pigsty because she only charged me $300 a month. Any place else I've found is at least $700. And for that you get something even worse than I have now."
I sat down next to her. I thought for a moment. Then I put my hand under her chin and lifted her lovely face so that I was looking into her teary eyes.
"I may have a solution. You need somewhere to live. I have a place that's not being used. No, wait a minute. Don't say no until you hear me out. I have a basement apartment in my house. It's a legal apartment -- separate electrical service, separate entrance and all that stuff. Doors with double locks. But I just use it as a rehearsal studio, and I don't play that much any more, so it's hardly ever used. I have no idea what it's worth, and I don't care. I wouldn't rent it to anyone else anyway. At least come and take a look at it. What can you lose?"
She looked at me with those big glacier-blue eyes, still full of tears.
"Danny, I won't take charity. I'd rather go back to Sudbury."
"Carole, you're not taking charity. I just want you to come have a look at this joint and see if it's worth the trouble. OK?"
She smiled a little bit. "OK."
"What time do you get off work?"
"Tonight? Well, I guess it'll be 8:00. I'm on the early shift."
"OK. I'll pick you up in front of the joint at about a quarter after eight. We'll go take a look at the apartment, and you can decide."
"Danny, I couldn't possibly afford it."
"Maybe, maybe not. Be in front at 8:15. I'll be in the green BMW."
"Yeah, green. You wanna make something of it?"
She smiled at last. The clouds passed away, and the sun came out. "No, it's just kind of unusual, that's all."
"You bet your Aunt Fanny, it is. See you later. Right now, I'm going to complete the mission I was on when I was interrupted."
I made it to the john just in time. Blessed relief. Then I had one more beer and went to my office.
At the appointed hour, I pulled up in front of the Eternity. I'd chosen that time well. It would give Carole time to get her stuff, and I knew that I couldn't park in front of the Eternity. Traffic on Queen was always nuts, and this was a Saturday night. I stopped, and she hopped right in.
"You weren't kidding, it's green, all right. But it's a beautiful car. What model is it?"
"It's an M5. And you're right, it's green."
"I thought that all BMWs had three-digit model names, like '320' or '530. My dad's a real car nut, but I never heard of an 'M5.'"
"Most bimmers have those three-digit names, but this one is special. Hand made, in fact. Buckle up."
I drove to my house in Rosedale. At that time of day, it was about a twenty-minute drive. At least the route I took. I parked in the driveway and, being the gent that I am, went around the car to open Carole's door. She was sitting there looking at the house. The outside floodlights had come on with the timer. I hardly ever thought about it, but I guess to Carole it looked quite spectacular. After all, that was the intention of the guy who'd done the lighting design.
"Danny, this is a goddam palace! It must be four or five stories high! And look at all these gardens."
"Yeah, it's a big old dump -- way too big for me. As for the gardens, a guy has a contract to take care of them. Let's go inside. You need to see the apartment."
She came with me. I keyed the entry pad at the door, and the lock clicked open. We went in. She was wide-eyed as we walked through the ground floor. I tried to imagine what it must look like to her. The marble floors, oak wainscoting, designer furniture, and all the other stuff Janet loved but I never cared that much about. Janet was gone, but the house was still kept spotless by Maria Alvear, my wonderful cleaning person. Without her, I'd live in a sty.
We reached the back door. We walked down the back stairs off the deck. I led Carole around the corner of the house. There were a few steps that led down to a door. I opened the apartment door and handed her the key. "This is your front door. As you can see, it opens on another street. There's also a place in the garage for you, if you get a car. Let's check out the apartment."
The apartment was not as spotless as the house upstairs, although it wasn't bad. The living room furniture was fairly new, and so was the dining room stuff. The kitchen had the basics: range, fridge, microwave, dishwasher. There was even an apartment-sized clothes washer and dryer. I'd sort of forgotten about those. As far as I knew, they'd never been used. The apartment had been designed with the idea that Maude, my ex-wife's mother, could live here and be independent. Then Janet and I split up. Needless to say, Maude never moved in, and I'd never rented the place. I didn't need the money and didn't like the idea of some stranger living in my basement. Since the place had never been lived in, the appliances and the furniture had hardly ever been used, except for a few grungy jazz musicians sitting on the chairs, warming up the occasional pizza in the oven and, of course, keeping beer in the fridge. The bathroom was nice. Basic, but nice and very nearly new.
There were two fairly small bedrooms, one a bit bigger than the other, but there was no bedroom furniture. Like I said, I'd been using the place to rehearse, and there was just an electronic keyboard and a few chairs in the bigger room. There was nothing in the smaller one. But I offered an alternative: "If you'd like, I'll furnish the bedrooms with whatever you choose. Just go to a store, pick out some stuff and give them the address."
Carole went into the living room and sat down on the chesterfield. She tucked her feet under her and looked at the floor for a while. Finally, she looked up at me and spoke.
"Danny, I can't let you do this."
"Don't play dumb. I hope you know me well enough to know what I mean. I already said that I won't take charity from you."
"Fuck charity! This place is empty. And when I'm out of town, the whole goddam house is sitting empty. I should pay you for looking after it. Do me a favour: try this place out for a while. See how you feel. We'll discuss a price, and I promise it'll be fair."
"I can't take it."
"Sure you can. And you will. Pack up your stuff, and I'll have it moved in. In the meantime, let's buy you a bed and some other furniture, and in you go. Look, we're friends, right? If I needed something and you had it, you'd help me, right? So consider this something on account. You'll pay me a fair rent that we both agree on. You come and go as you please. This is your place as long as you want it. We'll sign papers tomorrow. Tonight we'll shake hands. What do you say?"
She launched herself at me. I now knew why the term "bear hug" was invented. I felt as though I were being hugged to death. What a way to go.
"Danny, you're the best. I know I shouldn't do it, but yes, I'll live here, if that's what you want. If it wasn't for you, I'd have to go back to Sudbury with my tail between my legs. What did I ever do to deserve you?"
"Like Clint Eastwood said in The Unforgiven, 'Deserve ain't got nothin' to do with it.'"
She looked up at me. "If I can live here for a while, it'll mean a lot to me. You probably didn't notice, but I'm sure there's great light in the small bedroom in back. The windows are located just right. I can paint there. I was able to paint at OCAD. There was a big studio that I could use. It had good light, and there was room for several of us to set up our easels. Since I haven't been in school, there's been no place I could paint. Here I could leave my easel up all the time. It's perfect."
"It's yours as long as you want it."
I took her upstairs. We sat in the kitchen, and I opened a bottle of champagne. We toasted Carole's new apartment. Then I fired up the barbecue and burned a couple of steaks. We had a great little impromptu party.
After a bottle of champagne and a couple of bottles of red wine, I didn't think I should drive, so I sent Carole home in a cab. Fortunately, she didn't have to work the next day, and I hardly ever work these days. We made a deal that she'd call me the next morning, and we'd go shopping for her stuff.
The next day, Carole did call me -- none too early, I was amused to note. I picked her up in the bimmer, and we went furniture shopping. I don't know a hell of a lot about furniture, but one of the few decent pieces of information I got from Janet, my ex, was where the good stuff could be found. I took Carole there.
She tried to buy the cheapest stuff in the store, but I noticed what she was really looking at. I made a deal with the salesperson while she was looking at the cheap stuff. A few extra bucks changed hands, and the delivery was made that week.
Carole moved in. When she saw the new bedroom and studio furniture, she was pissed off. Well, not really, but she told me off in a fond kind of way.
She had pitifully few things, barely one load of a minivan, but she soon put her own touch on the place. With just a few little details, Carole made the place special. It felt like her. It was hers.
We established a routine. Carole's days off were Sunday and Monday. On those days, we'd cook supper together in my kitchen or hers or on the natural gas barbecue on the patio. This went on for several weeks. Until one Saturday.
Carole had the day off. She was looking forward to a three-day weekend. We were going to celebrate. I'd bought steaks and all the fixings, including a nice bottle of wine. She was going to make desert. I put the steaks in the fridge and went in search of Carole. I knocked on her door. It was open, so I went in. I heard soft sobbing sounds coming from the bedroom. I carefully went in.
Carole was lying on the bed crying. I went over and put my arm around her.
"What's the matter, dear heart?"
"Oh Danny! It's all over. This is really the end. I'll have to go back to Sudbury now. I lost my job today. Henry called me and said that he has to let me go. I can't even pay you the little bit that I've been paying. This is it. No more art. No more school." She looked at me through her tears. "And worst of all, I'll have to leave you and my little home. Oh God!"
"We'll see about that. There's always a way out if you look hard enough. Go and wash that pretty face while I make a few calls. You look after yourself and I'll get supper on."
"I don't think I can eat."
"You'll eat. You've got to keep your strength up. We'll have a lot to do, trust me."
She tried to smile, without too much success. Finally, she said "OK."
My first call was to Henry at the Eternity. Luckily, he was still there, going over his books.
"Danny, I've been expecting you to call. Believe me, I hated to let Carole go. I know that she's a friend of yours. And she's the best I've got, but unless business picks up I may not even be able to pay the rent, much less the staff. It was either her or the cook."
"Henry, there may be another way to go. I've got an offer for you. If you'll keep Carole on for a while, I'll deduct the amount of her salary from your rent."
Henry was always cagey. "Plus benefits?"
"Plus benefits. You can also offer her a raise in a few weeks. I suspect you can afford it."
"You mean that you can," he said. "What's in this for you?"
"I get to do a favour for two friends while we work this situation out. And I just might have a suggestion for you. You need to increase your profit from the bar. That means you have to get more people coming in. They have to stay longer and drink more. Have you thought about live entertainment?"
"Yeah, and I also thought about winning the lottery. Who's gonna pay musicians if I can't even pay a waiter?"
"There are ways. Have you ever heard of union pension fund gigs? No? Well let me look into it. It's a way to get the union to pay musicians for a gig if the profits go to charity. In the meantime, call Carole. Right now."
"You got it."
I started puttering around in the kitchen, lit the barbecue and was just about to set the table when Carole burst in. She was a different girl.
"Danny, Henry just called. He's figured out a way that he can keep me on, at least for a while. Isn't that great?"
"Fantastic. Let's celebrate."
Carole had regained her appetite. She handily put away a steak, baked potato and sautéed mushrooms, as well as more than a few glasses of wine. There was no dessert. Carole was supposed to make it, but she'd been otherwise occupied. We didn't miss it. After supper, we relaxed in the living room with some excellent Armagnac.
Carole had been quite light-hearted all through supper. Now, her mood turned more serious. "Danny, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure. You know you can."
"I've never asked you before, but I've been curious for a long time. You have all this," she made a circular gesture to indicate the house, "and I hear rumours that you own most of Queen Street. How did a musician get all that money?"
"Just to set the record straight, I do not own all or most of Queen Street. As to what I do own -- well, it's a simple story. You know the painter Joe Schubert?"
"Not personally, but I know who he is. He's a great painter. Everybody who knows anything about Canadian art knows about Joe Schubert, and I know from talking to you that he's a friend of yours."
"Well, Joe is also a pretty passable guitar player. Years ago, about the time that you were learning to walk, Joe used to sit in with my quartet sometimes, and we became good friends. One day, he came up with what seemed to most people a harebrained scheme. He discovered that five blocks of Queen Street West were up for sale. The properties were mostly old storefront buildings with apartments on top. Some were empty, and those that were rented housed mom-and-pop stores -- you know, sundries, junk and so forth. Joe figured that if a few of us went in together that we could buy these places, and he was convinced that the area was about to boom.
"The other guys that he talked to thought he was nuts. All they could see were some run-down old stores, but I thought that Joe just might be right. There were lots of artists and musicians living in the area. They came there when they were students at the art college or university, and they often stayed after they graduated. There were already a few bars, art supply shops, booksellers and at least one big music store. These catered to the artists. And, of course, to artsy hangers-on. The area was getting a reputation as a place to be. The scene might easily take off at any moment, and if Joe was right, I'd be nuts not to join him. As it happened, I'd just made a few thousand playing on some record and film gigs, and I had a steady gig playing some CBC shows. There was live radio and TV in those days, and you could make a good living playing the shows. Joe was starting to sell some canvases, and he played a few gigs as well. With what he and I could scrape up between us, we made the down payment and actually managed to qualify for a mortgage.
"The rest is history. It turned out that Joe was right. Well, not entirely right. The area boomed more than we ever dreamed. Within a couple of years, every one of our properties was occupied with new businesses, most of them very trendy and profitable. Henry Goldblum's Eternity bar was one of the first. The end result was that Joe and I paid off the mortgage quickly. We agreed to put about 50% of the proceeds into buying new real estate, at least for the first 5 years after the mortgage was paid off. We bought a few more buildings. We don't buy many new properties these days. We just look after what we have, but we're both pretty well fixed."
"Oh. That explains a lot. So you're filthy stinking rich. At least you're a hell of a lot richer than anyone I've ever known. Since we're both drunk, can I ask you another personal question?"
"In all the time I've known you, I've never seen you with a woman. You must have been hurt badly. What happened with you and Janet?"
I sighed and looked up at the ceiling before answering her. "I'll make a long story short. When I met Janet, she was starting out as a singer. She sang with my quartet a few times, and we started going out together. After a while, I thought I was in love. Maybe she did, too. I asked her to marry me. Unfortunately, she said yes.
"We were married for a couple of years when something became apparent: we hadn't been in love. Once sex started being just routine, there wasn't a hell of a lot left in our marriage. To be honest, we weren't even good friends anymore. I think that the only reason Janet stayed with me for as long as she did was money. After my investments paid off, we had money, and Janet liked to spend it. She liked nice stuff -- things like this house, cars, trips, clothes, and all the other things that money can buy. When she met someone else who could supply those things, she took off.
"Her new guy was a lawyer. Fortunately, he wasn't as good a lawyer as my pal David Nussbaum, so Janet got next to nothing out of me. Her boyfriend represented her at the divorce, and the judge really took a dislike to him. Plus the fact that she couldn't establish any reason for leaving me except that she was fucking someone else.
"After the divorce, they left town. I heard they moved out west somewhere. I honestly do not know where Janet is now, and what's more I don't care. End of story."
"Don't be. In the end, it wasn't a bad thing."
"But you were hurt. A lot. I can tell. That helps me understand why you've been so distant with me."
"You've been a great friend. You've always been there when I needed you. We've been really good friends from the first time we met. And I can tell from the way that you look at me that you don't think I'm ugly. But you've always kept your distance. Even though I think I've shown that I'd like to be more than just your friend."
All of a sudden, I started to sober up. The most beautiful woman in the world was telling me that she wanted to be "more than a friend." I looked into my glass for a while. Then I looked at Carole.
"I'm pretty dense sometimes, but I'd have to be gay or a eunuch not to be interested in you. You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. And you're the sweetest. But you're also young enough to be my daughter. Most young women aren't turned on by dirty old men."
"You're not that old. And you're certainly not dirty. In fact, you're not dirty enough. Do I have to make all the moves in this relationship?"
Carole got to her feet a bit unsteadily. She came over and plunked herself down on my lap.
She kissed me gently and held my face with a hand on either cheek, looking straight into my eyes. "I normally wouldn't have the courage to tell you this. But I've had a few drinks, and I'm not going to waste what my dad calls 'Dutch courage.' Danny, I love you. I think I've loved you from the first time we met."
She stroked my brow and kissed my forehead. She kissed my eyes. My mouth. Corny as it sounds, time seemed to stop as we kissed and held each other.
"Danny, I love you. I love you so very much."
"Carole, I love you, too. More than I can say. But be sure you know what you're getting into."
She smiled at me and stroked my face. "Your place or mine?" she asked.
We settled on mine.
We held on to each other all the way to the bedroom. There was barely room for us to walk up stairs side-by-side, but we couldn't seem to let each other go. Considering the amount we'd had to drink, we might have needed to hang on to stay upright. When we got to the bedroom, we undressed. I undressed Carole, and she undressed me. Slowly.
Clothed, Carole was beautiful. Naked, She was more beautiful than I could have imagined. There are women who look better in clothes than without them. Carole was definitely not one of them.
Her complexion was a perfect creamy white from head to toe. When I took off her bra, her breasts didn't change shape. They were that firm. Her hips swelled from a small waist. Her legs tapered from distinctly womanly thighs to perfect calves and dainty feet. Nestled between her thighs was a V of black curls with pink, pouting lips just visible.
We embraced and kissed for a very long time, relishing the skin-to-skin contact. She pulled back a bit and smiled at me. She looked down.
"I'd say that you seem pretty happy to see me."
I was so erect that my penis was pointing up at about a 30-degree angle. Carole took it in her hand and led me to the bed, using my dick as a leash. Once there, she laid me down and straddled me. I was in heaven.
I tried to go slowly that first time. I wanted to savour the moment. But Carole wasn't having any of that. She was like a tigress. She rode me as though I were her mount in the Kentucky Derby, and she was determined to win. I responded predictably. But I didn't come first. She did. You could say that she won, I placed, and then she showed, coming again as I jetted inside her.
After that first burst of passion, our love making slowed and became more gentle. We made love for a very long time. Several times, we dozed off. From time to time, we'd awaken, and then we'd begin again. There are times that you make love and cannot remember the details because the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. This was one of those times. We loved each other in every physical way of which we were capable. At some point, we lost consciousness.
I awoke about 10:30 in the morning. Carole was still sleeping peacefully. Her black hair lay about the pillow, faming her lovely face. She looked like an angel. I put on my pants and stumbled downstairs. I went into the kitchen and put on the coffee. After a couple of cups of coffee, I went into my office and looked up a few telephone numbers. Then I made a couple of calls. The first one was to the food bank. Then I called my old pal Howard Feinberg. Howard had been the first drummer in my quartet. He was now running the musician's union local office.
"Danny, it's always a joy to hear from you. But why the hell are you calling me at home on a Sunday morning?"
"Howie, you know I wouldn't call if I didn't need a favour. The pension fund concerts-- are they still happening?"
"You know that they are, and God knows why you ask. But whatever your reason, you know that they have to benefit some charity or other. You got a gig? You got a charity?"
"Yeah. The food bank. And Henry Goldblum will give us the place -- his bar, the Eternity."
"What's the catch?"
"No catch. I'll even sign up the guys. There will be a cover at the bar, and 100% of the cover goes to the food bank. Deal?"
"Sounds good to me. Call me after the weekend. And while I'm at it, you're on the union ways and means committee. How come I never see you at committee meetings?"
"Cuz I'm a lazy asshole. Talk to you later."
And the deal was done.
Then I called the other guys in my old quartet: Joe, Dick and Ernie. They bitched and moaned, but in the end they all agreed to do the gig in two weeks. Then I called Josie, my favourite publicist. She bitched, moaned, and begged for a bigger budget than I was offering. But eventually she agreed to take the job.
I heard Carole stirring around upstairs, so I put on another pot of coffee. In a few minutes, she came into the kitchen. Her hair was tousled. She was wearing one of my old denim shirts. She looked adorable.
She came over, kissed me and snuggled up with her head on my shoulder. "Good morning, my darling. Did I have too much to drink last night?"
"Is that why you wound up in an old man's bed?"
"What old man? I thought I spent the night with my lover and my best friend. By the way, what have you been doing while I was snoring away?"
"Saving the world. Or at least trying to save our little part of it."
Over coffee, bacon and eggs, I explained what I was up to. Carole was very enthusiastic. She could see the possibilities. There wasn't a jazz club left in that part of town.
After breakfast, she became very serious. "Danny, a lot of things changed last night. I guess we need to talk about sleeping arrangements and stuff like that."
"Yes ma'am, we do."
She came over and sat on my knee. That brought her up to my eye level.
"Should I move into the house? Would it look too bad if I did?"
"My little love, I don't care what it looks like and to whom. You're my woman now, and I want you in my bed. As often as possible."
"Can I still keep my studio downstairs? I kind of need my space."
"Of course you can. In fact, I think it would be better for you to make the whole downstairs into a studio if you'd like.
"Now, there's still the question of that bed upstairs. I think we should check it again. Just to make sure it fits."
Carole came into my arms as naturally as though she'd always been there. We kissed for a long time. Then we went upstairs.
In the bedroom, the events of the past night were reenacted, but more gently and, strangely, with more intense and sustained passion.
I tasted her centre time and time again. She climaxed with an adorable moan. When I was inside her, I felt at home at last. Carole was all the home I'd ever needed. She made me complete.
Monday, we spent pretty much the entire day in bed. Well, we did go out for brunch, but then it was back to the sack. On Tuesday, I had to take my darling to work. I parted from her reluctantly. It was ironic to me that I could so easily have taken her from this job. I could support her without even noticing the expense. But she needed her sense of worth. She needed this job for much more than the money. So be it.
During the next week, Josie covered the downtown area with posters: "The Danny Sullivan Quartet Rides Again. Eternity on Queen Street. Friday and Saturday." Josie set up interviews for me on local radio and TV. That Wednesday, there was a feature article in the Toronto Tabloid.
I figured I should get out the horn and try to see which end to blow into. I dicked around with the thing for a day or two and then got the guys together. When we started to play, some things were just like the old days. We were carried along by the incredible lyricism of Ernie's piano playing. Joe was on drums, Dick on bass and, of course, yours truly on trumpet. We weren't too bad. Meaning that we were mediocre, but maybe no one would notice.
And no one did. On Friday, the place was packed. We played the first set. People were actually quiet while we played. Then the second set. There were even more people. By the end of the third set, they didn't want to let us leave.
Needless to say, Henry was selling booze and food at record levels.
In a couple of weeks, the gig was on its way to becoming a tradition. That's the way things go in the big city these days. The quartet was sounding better all the time, and we were having a hell of a good time playing. It seemed like the old days.
There was no longer a need for the union to fund the gigs. Henry was making enough money to pay us scale and a bit more. Hell, we weren't doing it for the money anyway.
Henry had to hire extra help for the weekends, and the business spilled over to weekdays. The food had always been good. Now it was terrific. It turned out that the chef just needed a reason to do his best.
Carole was now the head waiter and hostess, and she ran a tight ship. I'd never suspected that she had talent for management, but she certainly did. Of course, there was no longer any question of her losing her job, and I no longer had to subsidize her salary. In fact, Henry had given her a 50% raise and promised more to come.
As far as our home life was concerned, it was idyllic. Carole was the ideal partner. She'd taken over the running of the house, and she'd immediately bonded with Maria the cleaning person. Gradually, Maria took over more duties around the house. It turned out that she was a great cook, so on evenings when Carole and I were busy, we knew that we could come home to a terrific meal.
Sitting in the garage was a red VW cabriolet that Janet had bought just before she left. It had been there for a couple of years. Somehow, I'd never gotten around to selling it. The car had been driven only a couple of thousand kilometres and then sadly neglected. It was so dirty that you could hardly tell what colour it was. However, after it was cleaned up and gone over by a mechanic, it was like new, and it served Carole very well. Something that most people don't realize is that a convertible can be nearly as functional as a van when you're carrying big stuff like large canvases. You simply put the top down and let them stick up.
Of course, the rest of the time, it was a lot more fun than a van. Carole drove it every day: rain, shine, fog or snow.
Summer turned to winter. We were soon coming up to our six-month anniversary. While she'd been living with me, Carole had painted nearly every day. I had suspected before that she was good. Now, I knew. She was brilliant. Soon, her paintings replaced all the crap that Janet had bought to go with the decor. For the first time, I felt that the house was a home.
I thought that we should consider a show of her canvases. Carole was quite reticent, so I was resolved to do an end march around her. As luck would have it, Joe Schubert, my artist friend and business partner came to the house for a meeting. It was during the day when Carole was at work. I took his coat, hung it up and went into the hallway. There was Joe standing transfixed in front of one of Carole's canvases. It was the large one of the CN Tower reflected in the buildings across the street.
I realized that Joe hadn't been in the house since Carole had been living there. He said to me, "Who the hell painted this?"
"Carole, my partner," I said.
"Jesus Christ, Danny! Where have you been hiding her? This stuff has to be shown!"
Joe called his agent, Chris Little. Chris came by the next afternoon. He looked at Carole's paintings. Carefully. And he made lots of notes. He didn't say much to me, but he left an envelope addressed to Carole.
Carole came home late that night. She was very tired. Henry had extended the live music theme to other days of the week. That night had been "audition" night. New groups were given the opportunity to play. It was always a crazy time.
We had a late supper, expertly prepared by Maria. I'd left Chris' envelope by Carole's plate. "What's this, Danny?" she said.
"I'm not sure. Open it."
Carole opened the envelope. She read the contents. She was fully awake now. Her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked at me and said, "You sneaky bastard! What do you know about this?"
"About what?" I said, innocently.
"This!" And she threw a legal-looking document on the table.
"This is an offer from The Little Chris Gallery, from Chris Little. He's only the most important dealer in Canadian art in the country. He wants to represent me. And he wants to talk about a one-woman show. Are you responsible for this?"
"No, I honestly didn't do anything. Joe Schubert was here yesterday for a business meeting. He looked at your canvases. Then he brought Chris here to take a look at your stuff. Chris looked for quite a while. He didn't say anything to me. He just left that envelope for you. That's the honest truth. Are you going to do it?"