He sits on a bench and tunes his guitar. It is already in tune, but he has time to kill. The taproom is almost empty. The woman behind the bar has methodically wiped the same surfaces with the same gray rag over and over.
He plays in half an hour. He would like a few customers, but not too many. It’s better when people actually listen than when he is lost in the dull roar of beery voices.
A warm, humid breeze rustles the hand printed sign with beer choices. The garage doors are open, letting in the summer, including the flies.
He gets up and tries the microphone again.
“Testing, one, two, three,” he twiddles a few knobs on the mixer, just for something to do, and to look professional. He then returns them to their original settings.
He puts his guitar in its stand and then takes a seat at a picnic table, looking back at his scant and battered equipment. He sighs and rubs his hands.
He hears people enter behind him. A man and a woman, and they are speaking in loud voices, perhaps a disagreement. The picnic table shifts as they sit, directly across from him.
The man is probably in his 50s, big, strong, but gone a bit too fat. He is bald and wears wraparound sunglasses. The woman is about the same age. She smiles at him. He notices a lot of make-up, hair dyed black with lavender highlights. Her full figure seems strangled in the leopard print top.
“Buy you a beer,” says the man, in a strangely sonorous voice. The bartender overhears and comes over. She looks inquisitively at them.
“I’ll take the imperial stout,” says the man. “She’ll take the lager, get this gentleman an IPA.”
“Are you the musician? What kind of music do you play?” asks the woman. “I love country, but I also love all music. I love all music.” She beams at him.
“She does,” says the man. “What’s your name?”
“On the sign over there. Jimmy Dutton.”
“You do this for a living?”
Play once in a while,” Jimmy shrugs.
“We are here to get a beer,” says the woman, still smiling. “Then we’re going to a bar for a real drink, then we are off to go karting.” She winks at Jimmy.
“She really likes go karting,” says the man, with a slow smile. He reaches his hand across the table. “I am Paul.”
Jimmy shakes. “Well, I’d better get over there, get a few things in order before I start.”
Paul looks over his shoulder. “Not much to get ready. Drink your beer.”
Jimmy takes a sip, and then another.
“So, if you don’t do this for a living, what’s your day job?” The man pushes his sunglasses high up on his forehead. He stares hard at Jimmy and slowly smiles again.
“Do you take requests?” interrupts the woman. She puts out her hand, says, “I am Tabby.”
He shakes her hand. “No,” he says.
Can you play Tiny Bubbles?” She asks.
“No,” he says, taking three long swigs of beer.
Tabby smiles. “It’s a special kind of go karting.”
“It’s color coded, the go karting,” says Tabby. She winks at Jimmy again.
Paul calls to the bartender. “Get this man another beer.”
The bartender brings Jimmy another beer.
“Open a tab,” says Paul. “We may be here awhile.”
“So this go karting attracts all kinds of people, you know. But they all like fun, adventure. Know what I mean? They might be anyone. A doctor, a lawyer, A nurse…”
“An assassin,” says Paul.
“Another round,” says Paul to the bartender.
A minute later Jimmy is looking at is half empty beer and two full ones lined up in front of him.
“Can you get me drugs?” Tabby says. “You’re a musician. You have connections. Do you know anyone who sells babies?”
“Not that again,” says Paul.
“Well, nice to meet you,” says Jimmy. He grabs his partial beer and one of the full ones.
“Sit down,” Paul says and then chugs the rest of his first beer.
Jimmy hesitates, then sits.
“Let the man play his songs,” Tabby says, nudging Paul with her elbow. “I’d like to hear what he’s got.”
“He’s got a few minutes yet,” Paul says and waves his hand at the full beer. “He’s got work to do right here.”
“Want to go to the go kart track with us?” Tabby asks.
Jimmy stares at her for a moment. “No,” he says.
“Like I said, it’s color coded. These go carts, some of them are yellow, some are red, some are blue. You choose your color, get it? You might be in the mood for, say, a little blue today, but if you show up there again, you might decide on red or yellow.”
“I don’t think he gets it,” Paul says. Paul and Tabby look at each other and then laugh.
Jimmy looks at the bartender. She smiles back at him, clearly enjoying the conversation.
“Are you religious?” Tabby asks. She smiles broadly at him.
“She is taking your temperature,” Paul says and smiles at Tabby.
“Just trying to see where he’s at,” she says.
Jimmy starts his second beer.
“It’s like this. Let’s say you choose blue, and you see someone else in a blue cart. You get it? It means something. It means that you want to get together too, well, what does blue mean to you? It’s on the Internet. These color codes and then you might meet up after a couple of laps and go somewhere and get to it. It’s in the colors.”
“She likes yellow,” says Paul, “You look like you might be that kind of guy, one who likes yellow.”
Jimmy takes another drink, then looks at each of them in turn. “No,” he says.
Paul looks at him and spreads his hand. “C’est la vie,” he says.
He and Tabby both laugh.
“Let’s go,” says Paul.
“I want to hear him play.”
“Let’s go,” Paul repeats, and gets up. So does Tabby.
Jimmy watches them leave. He stands and looks through the garage door, as a decked-out Silverado 3500 roars away. Jimmy goes over to the microphone, straps on his guitar. He looks at the bartender and they share a laugh. In the empty room, Jimmy starts to play Tiny Bubbles.