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It wasn't exactly a new sound I was getting out of the little spinet, but it was a good sound--and the few customers left in this brand-new Village kick joint at three o'clock in the morning were at least hipped enough to know barrelhouse from outhouse. They sat around the stucco walls in twos and threes, and every time I'd hit a real gone figure they'd nod approvingly. Every now and then, when I got tired of this dead-pan approval, I'd sour a note or slide out of chord a little, just to watch them look pained and sympathetic.
I felt pretty good. I was knocking down good dough for this solo spot here in the Cavern Club, and while we wouldn't be giving Nick's and Eddie Condon's any real competition for a while, it looked like we were going to do all right. The club was a natural for the tourists--all tricked up to look like a cave, with weird lighting and recesses in the stucco walls for tables and even a few stalactites scattered around here and there on the ceiling.
A real corny, jazzy place, where you could spend a buck and a half on a four-bit drink. It wasn't a bad spot, outside of the echoes. The echoes were terrific. Even that frothy, delicate stuff in the treble sometimes came out like bricks rattling in a wash tub.
But the hat-check girl was beautiful, and I had a date with her at four o'clock. So everything was lovely.
I got a good ride rhythm going in the left hand and settled down to show off for the cognoscenti. If they liked their piano pure, then that's what they were going to get.
That's when Gloria Gayle came in--and from then on I was no longer the center of attraction. I watched her coming toward the piano and cussed a little andmissed a couple of notes and had to cover up quick, like a cat. I needn't have bothered. Nobody noticed sour notes when Gloria was around.
She draped her equipment over the top of the spinet and smiled at me and jiggled a little to show she was properly sent.
"Baby!" she said.
"Baby, hell," I said. "Shove off."
She had blue-black hair that shouldn't be real, but was, and long sooty lashes and skin as smooth and white as a new piano key. She gave me a long slow sweep of the lashes and the smile got even brighter. Smiles like that they measure in kilowatts.
"Be nice to me, Marty," she purred. "Or I'll twist off your head."
I riffed a little up high on the keyboard and grinned at her. A couple of months ago Gloria Gayle had made the world go round for me. That was before she gave me the heave-o for Al Prince, the guy the sports scribes called the Uncrowned Light-heavyweight Champ.
"The last name's Bishop," I said.
"Quit clowning," she said. "I want to talk to you. Now."
"I've still got this set and another one to go."
She put both hands down flat on the piano and rocked it. It was that little. All at once I was playing in another key.
"Take a break," she said.
I got up and walked around the spinet and took her arm and led her over to a table against the wall, next to the service bar. I held up two fingers to a waitress and sat down on the chair next to Gloria's and said, "I hope this is going to be fast."
She worked her chair over so that her thigh was pressed against mine and the side of her breast just accidentally brushed my arm every time either of us so much as moved.
"It is, darling," she said in that sultry voice of hers. "We're going to Mexico City. Just you and me. Tomorrow. Isn't that exciting?"
I nodded. "It sure is. And what about Al Prince? And what will we use for money? And why don't you see a psychiatrist?"
"I've ditched Al," she said. "After you, darling, Al was like a sip of wine after a jolt of whiskey." She brought up her hand to touch the taut bodice of her silk jersey dress. "And the money's in here. There's twelve thousand dollars in my bra, Marty."
The drink-mixer on the service bar was making a terrific racket, almost in my ear. I was sure I'd misunderstood her. I'd thought she said twelve thousand dollars.
"How much?" I said.
She smiled at me and said it again. "Twelve thousand dollars."
"Whose twelve thousand dollars?" I asked. I was looking past Gloria toward the check room. My four o'clock date, Julie Cole, was having an easy time of it, what with the hot weather. She was leaning on the counter, looking very hard away from me. A really luscious kid ... I hoped this little session with Gloria wasn't going to give cause for a post mortem. But Julie wouldn't stay miffed long, I knew. Not when I gave her the bracelet I'd bought for her that afternoon and for which I'd plunked down four hundred bucks. She was a little girl who liked presents, was Julie, and she liked them small and bright and expensive.
Gloria increased the pressure of her thigh against mine a little. "It's my twelve G's," she said. "Al was very generous, if nothing else. When I ditched him, I turned all the things he'd given me into cash."
I shook my head wonderingly.
"Don't fret about it, darling," she said. "The point is, I've got it. And I've got it where it's all nice and soft and warm."