They were lean, well proportioned, walnut brown, and she had
them crossed, properly, lady-like, reclining on the edge of Tom’s
bed, the short hem of her dress hiked up just enough to make out
those lacy black bands where her garter straps began. Her name
was Linda. Lovely Linda. Luscious Linda. She was a seventeen
year old Latin goddess he'd managed to snag at Storyville earlier.
He just couldn't seem to stay away from the young ones. They got
ugly sometimes, homicidal, suicidal, but he knew better than
Nabakov that without little girls he'd go completely shit raving mad.
Tammy had tried to wean him off jailbait during their first year
together. But five months after they had recited their sacred vows in
front of a local Baptist preacher, this platinum blonde vixen by the
name of Kim Thompson happened along one night after a show at
the First and Last Chance. He didn't usually go for blondes. They
were too vain, self-centered, but somehow Kim had managed to get
her claws in him. It wasn't just that luscious forbidden fruit between
her legs. The attraction went much deeper. He'd promised her a
bus ticket to New Orleans when he got settled in. Another promise
down the toilet.

          He was old enough to know that temptation couldn't be
defeated. She might get clocked a few times, but she always got
up swinging, stronger and meaner than before.

          For a seventeen year old hooker, Linda had style. It was
almost an art the way she worked a room, strutting in like a cocky
Mae West, like she owned the damn joint, giving every guy in sight
an instant hard-on. He was at the band table near the stage,
changing a broken guitar string when she blew in. It was like
someone had tripped the fire alarm. Every head swiveled. All the
fat old Magazine Street cats at the bar started flashing wads of fifties
& twenties in her face like live bait, trying to reel her in. She breezed
right on past, pulled up a chair and sat her fine ass down right next
to him, like the whole thing had been planned.

          He was still trying to figure out why she had chosen him. He
turned on a lamp over by the bed, then killed the brutal shade bare
80 watt that hung over the middle of the room.

          "You sure you don't wanna drink?" He unfastened the top
buttons on his tuxedo shirt, then nudged the fifth of George Dickel
closer to her with his foot. The air was roasting and offered no
breeze, as was customary for the Quarter in Mid July. He got up,
latched the screen door, bumped the windows up a bit higher, then
cranked on one of the box fans.

          "Landlady said she was gonna have the air conditioner fixed
last week,” he shrugged. “You know how that goes."

          “I don’t mind,” she said.

          He watched as Linda's eyes drifted over the room, frowning at
the mounds of dirty clothes, the wastebasket overflowing with empty
beer bottles, cigarette butts. The tux had probably thrown her.
Either that or the Jazz. Wasn't even his tux. Everybody in the band
had to wear the damn things. She probably had him marked as
some kind of uptown veteran swing cat, raking in the long green
every night. True, there was big money in jazz, but he sure as hell
wasn't making any of it. She'd probably get up and leave if he told
her what he actually pulled down a week. She'd laugh, then leave.

          He located a reasonably clean glass, then poured her one.
She waved it away.

          "I never drink on business dates. It's a rule."

          "Well, I always have several after I get through playing. It's a
ritual." He took a moment to wander over those lacy garter straps
again. It was a glorious view, magnified through the bottom of his
whiskey glass. He would take his time with her, no hurry.

          "You sounded really good tonight. I'm not heavily into Jazz,
but I dug some of it."

          "It's just a temporary gig until something better comes along."

          "Amen to that, brother."

          A smile. She was warming up. He tried not to think about the
price, which had already been quoted, and agreed upon. It was
reasonable enough, but it was almost two week's pay. Still, you
didn’t haggle with a hooker. You took it or you passed.
The warm brass moan of a tenor sax crept in through the
screen door. It was the same tenor he went to sleep with every
morning. Some guy over on Toulouse, putting the soft touch on
Bourbon Street tourists. He'd watched the guy one night. Amazing
chops: Coltrane, Miles, Bird, all at the drop of a buck.

          "Jesus, listen to that guy," he whispered to her. "Breaks my


          "He's a hundred times better than any of those guys in our
horn section, and he's out there every night, blowing for nickels and

          "All sounds the same to me."

          "You aren't listening hard enough."

          "You through with that drink yet?" she eased off her heels,
then placed them at the foot of the bed.

          "You in a hurry?"

          "No, just asking. I thought you might be."

          "I'm fine."

          Reaching for his cigarettes, he lit one, looking around for an
ash tray. "So, you originally from New Orleans?"

          "Small talk?" She cocked her head to one side, grinning down
at him. "That's a start. You're not going to psychoanalyze me now,
are you?"

          "You're right, I'm being too much of an old fart about this."

          "No, no you're doing fine. I just don't like talking about myself.
Think of me as a really juicy mystery novel. It'll be more fun that

          There was a scratch at the door.

          "Is that your cat?" She pointed to the bottom of the screen
where a small round face sat staring in.

          "That's Hank," he nodded, reaching for the fifth. "He ain't
mine. I don't think he belongs to anybody. He visits every now and

          Linda got up to let him in. As she rose, Tom zoomed in on her
plump, pear shaped ass. It had been a while. He shifted himself
into a position where his erection wouldn't show.

          Linda knelt beside the door, stroking Hank's back. "Muy bonita
El gato."

          "You speak Spanish?"

          "Some," she smiled. "French, too."

          "I picked up a little French myself back in the seventies when I
was in Europe."

          "You were in Europe?"

          "Amsterdam, Paris, Hamburg. Had a five piece band back
then and two singles on the radio."

          "Hey, I'm impressed," she spread her arms, sizing up his pitiful
rented room again. "So what happened?"

          Stretching himself out on the floor, Tom mashed out his
cigarette, then lit another. "You'll have to settle for the condensed
version, because I don't like talking about myself, either."

          "Let's have it."

          "The label I was on started dicking me over. They wanted to
turn me into the next John Denver or some shit. So I split."

          "But integrity doesn't pay the rent, does it?"

          He let out a loud laugh, not meaning to, not believing what he
was hearing. "How old did you say you were?"

          She didn't answer. Hank's rear end shot up in the air as he
stretched. With his one good eye, he seemed to smile, wider and
wider, with each of Linda's thorough strokes.

          "Uh, I wouldn't get too close," he picked up a magazine and
fanned the air with it. "That cat ain't had a bath in a while."

          Linda didn't say anything. Hank's built in motor idled above the
street noise outside. The Quarter never stopped. It was open all
night, every night. Shopping, strip bars, coffee, liquor, drugs, sex,
hustling, murder. A continuous stream of soot black diesel busses
groaned down Chartes Street, ferrying in still more tourists. Broken
down taxis screeched right alongside them, brake pads and rotors
long gone, beaten to death by pot holes and 110 degree heat.

          He heard a gaggle of stumbling drunks pass by on the
sidewalk outside. Corner of St. Ann and Toulouse. He wondered if
the street was named after Lautrec, the French painter. Absinthe,
red-faced whores & cheap cigars. Toulouse knew how to have a
good time.

          "Hey, Hank's only got one eye," Linda cupped her hands under
his neck.

          "He's been in a few scraps. Judging from those raggedy ears
of his, I'd say he's lost more than he's won."

          Pouring another splash in his glass, he started to fill it up, then
caught himself. Didn't want to get too much in him. Wouldn't do at
all. Be wasting her time and his.

          "Poor baby," she bent down and kissed Hank's back. "Dios mio."
Mercy, he thought. Hell that's all anyone ever really needs.
Just a break every now and then.

          "Why do you call him Hank?"

          "Well, he sort of looks like a Hank, don't you think?"

          "I don't see it."

          "All the Hanks I've ever known have been sort of raggedy and
wild and kept odd hours."

          He waited for her to smile. She didn't. A hard one. A real pro.
Somehow he always wound up with the hard ones. Seventeen
years old, and she already had that thousand yard stare. She'd
been looking straight through him most of the night. Then again, it
was silly to expect too much. She was there to do her job and he
wasn't letting her.

          "I also named him after my favorite songwriter."

          Linda dug her nails into Hank's back. "Mister Williams, I

          "Mister Williams was way before your time, Miss Linda."

          Tucking long black strands of her hair behind her ears, she
started humming, soft at first, then a little louder. He couldn't believe
what he was hearing: "Lost Highway." She was a little off key, but
she had the melody nailed.

          "You are a juicy novel, aren't you?"

          "My mom used to listen to him. She was really into that old
country stuff. Earnest Tubb, all those guys."

          "Your mom had good taste."

          "That's about all she had."

          Walking slowly back to the bed, her shadow danced tall and
alone along the far wall. Tom watched, mesmerized. She moved
with studied grace, flowing, each step gliding over his floor like a
whispered hush as her nylons rubbed together.

          Kneeling down beside him, she curled her fingers around the
fifth, then lifted it to her lips. She made a sweet sour face as it went
down. He began to wonder if he could handle her.

          "How do you drink this shit?" she stuck her tongue out and
shook her head.

          "It's not so bad. You get used to it."

          "So you done with your drink yet?"

          "Almost," he turned the glass up, finishing what was left. Hank
wandered over and started rubbing up against his leg.

          "I get paid up front," Linda turned, unzipping her dress.

          "Excuse me Miss Linda," he pulled himself up and went
into the bathroom. There, on the sink, he counted out the twenties,
then buried his wallet in a mound of dirty towels, even though there
wasn't much left to steal. He folded the bills in his front pocket, then
eased the door open just a bit. Linda was stretched out on the bed,
waiting. All that young woman waiting just for him. He switched off
the light. Somewhere in the dark, Hank was still smiling with his one
good eye.

Keith Wood lives and works in Philadelphia, but is originally from
Columbus, Mississippi. He has had work published in Negative Capability
and The Dilettante. He has written a slew of poetry, a collection of
short stories, and 2 books (as yet unpublished). And yes, he is still a

© 2005 Underground Voices