Ray checked his hair in the mirror, held up this phone and and took a selfie. “Tuesday in Tallahassee,” he messaged, included the picture and sent it to his estranged wife in Houston. “How’s the kids?” The marriage was on the rocks again, another casualty of the road and drinking. He started touring at fifteen, thirty-four years ago, mostly playing lead guitar with older frontmen. Ray was a young prodigy and grew into a dependable lead guitarist. He had the respect of all the players and most importantly Seven Chance, the current act he was touring with. Getting here from there had been costly though, burning through two marriages and the third was smoldering.
There was a soft knock on the door. It was Monica. Mike the Weasel ,manager of the tour, had hit it off with Monica in Wilmington. After she showed up in Savannah, the crew started calling her Monica the Minx. Now here she was in Tallahassee. She was going to use her youth, beauty and sex to take her as far as she could go. There had been many girls like this on tours as far back as Ray could remember, but she looked especially troublesome. “Hey, Monica, I’m getting it together” Ray checked his watch. “Showtime in fifteen?” He held up his drink smiled and made sure she saw his wedding ring. “Where’s Mike?” He’s over there, she said and motioned with her eyes. “Well, I uh… really came to see …uh…. you,” she said and bit her lip. As good as Ray was with a guitar, at best he was awkward with women. Ray squirmed. He picked up is guitar as much as a shield or something to hold onto. He strummed a C minor chord and laughed nervously. He furrowed his brow and was about to ask …. then his phone rang. It was his wife Face-Timing him. Jeeeez, he thought. Ray tried to avoid answering but fumbled, accidently pushed the accept button instead and dropped the phone on the floor at Monica’s Feet. “Ray? Ray?” his wife called. Monica picked up the phone and handed it to Ray. “Who are you?” Ray heard. He got Shiela in focus, smiled and said “HEY!” cheerfully, frowning at Monica. “RAY! WHO IS SHE?!” Sheila said in an accusatory tone. Ray motioned to Monica to leave, and she was almost out the door when Ray blurted out, “Monica the Minx.” Monica backtracked and threw her drink at Ray. “Ray? RAY?! What’s goin’ on?”
Tallahassee turned out for Seven Chance. He was standing to Ray’s left playing the keyboard, starting the set off with a mashed-up version of his popular “Ten to Twelve.” He finally gave the signal to end the song and the crowd erupted. Ed, the guitar tech, ran out to swap Ray’s guitar. The Guild for the Tele. Ray strapped it on and looked back at the bass player, Tom Weite, who stared back. Seven nodded and bowed to the crowd, settling back on the keyboard. He started to play “On the Way Back.” Usually there was a guitar intro, but Seven had been lately playing the intro on keys. The drums start out in the middle of the first verse and everybody kicked in when the second verse starts. The song was going well. Ray was relaxed when Seven missed the first change to the chorus. Ray quickly looked at Tom, who was a little alarmed. Ray drove the verse forward vamping on the root, driving the beat to add a little drama. He waited for Seven to resolve to the chorus and when he did they all changed right on it.Eight beats, not bad! Ray thought. It pissed Tom off.
A few days ago they had drinks in Wilmington and Tom had complained. “Seventy-six years old. I feel like I’m babysitting. When he leaves us hanging like that it drives me crazy.” “ But Tom, you always pull it off and because he never plays a song the same way twice, it’s considered artistic license.The audience is never the wiser.” “Still, I think he’s losing it. And what about this tour? Secondary markets? No big venues?” Tom mused.
Seven said he was pursuing the “real” America by visiting the backroads and under-appreciated cities with unique character. Seven Chance was looking for authentic material for songs. Ray had thought about his next steps, always weighing his options. He had acted in movies early in his career. Recently he had been approached to play a role again. He could do it. He was still a good looking man. He had songs written, recordings in the can waiting for the right opportunity. He had other offers to play. He could start his own act. Suddenly Seven raised up his hand. The song ended. Ed ran out with the Les Paul. Ray took a sip of his drink. Monica flipped him the bird from the wings. One..two..three.. four.. The show rolled on.