It took about a year to get my head straight / I drank my share and crashed into the ground / It seemed as if my voice got so damn lonely / My friends all dreaded having me around.
Abel and Siri had their differences on the proper course to Cain Caldwell’s house. She was patient and kept informing him she was “rerouting.” He wondered if she worked lives. It was eleven when he pulled into the circle driveway. Lanny Mercer answered the door, undoubtedly hopeful it was he.
“You look good,” Lanny said, giving him a bear hug.
“I’m high,” Abel said. “I been at Mud’s house.”
“I wish to hell I had. Come on in. I think you know everybody.”
Cain was holding court out back, on the screened-in porch. His current hit was about a dog that loved to go fishing with him and his baby. Abel thought they had a pickup truck, and, of course, it was a Chevy because Cain made commercials and they sponsored his tours. Abel didn’t know that for sure, but it wasn’t hard to figure. Cain’s lovely wife, a singer of modest talent and large boobs, was on display. She had a syrupy accent and reminded Abel immediately of Lou-Ann Poovie, Gomer Pyle’s girlfriend. He was positive she didn’t know who that was. Hoot Meaney had kissed at least two generations of country stars’ asses and played a little bass. The hotshot playing bongo drums had to be Cain’s flack. Hangers-on always loved to bang on something, which was a fine double entendre because Abel had seldom known an agent, or an A&R man, or a disk jockey, who was above taking care of “the talent’s” rejects. It wasn’t bad work if you could get it.
Abel got his guitar out of its case and tuned up while Evie O’Shanahan – no way that was her real name – sang the song “Cain has just wrote for me.” It wasn’t bad. It’s just that Abel had noticed that lots of songs by women singers these days were alarmingly similar, particularly in the verses. Long lines —Mama told me not to chase the boys / Joey told me he would be my toy / Pretty soon I had a taste for beer / Then I learned that Joey was a queer – and very few chord changes. D-D-G-D. Abel was ashamed of those lyrics, but he had a lingering buzz and healthy dose of amusement. He wondered what they’d say if he sang that verse. They’d probably go apeshit. He needed to get away from this line of thinking. This bunch wasn’t that bad. They couldn’t be. He liked Lanny, and there was a good chance the only reason Lanny was here was that he was trying to help him, and, God knows, that was impressive since the boy was about to get married and had lots of other things to consider.
“Thanks for coming over, Abel, you old goat!” Cain roared. He was too young to be calling people goats, and, besides, Abel was fairly well preserved, given the fact that he’d been sitting around on back porches all night long, drinking liquor and smoking weed, for more years than Cain Caldwell had been alive.
“Honey, go get Mr. Mondell a beer and me one, too. Anybody else need one?”
“Yeah. Evie, bring me one. Thanks.”
“Might as well fill up one of them little coolers and bring it back out here,” said the little man with the big cowboy hat.
Abel dreaded drinking beer. No telling how many times he was going to have to piss. It occurred to him that the reason they were drinking might be that they didn’t want to smoke marijuana around him. Damn young’uns. Think what they do is so … unprecedented. I should’ve brought Mud along.
“Play me a song, goddamnit!” Cain commanded.
What is he? Twenty-eight? Nah. They aren’t drinking beer out of deference to me. This guy never heard of deference, which is probably one of the reasons he’s a star as well as a son of a bitch.
Abel propped the guitar on his knee, strummed it once, and said, “Cain, I heard your song about going fishing with your sweet baby and your dog.” He smirked, thinking of Evie going fishing. “This song compares a dog to a guitar. It’s in ‘D,’ as usual.”
I got this dog / She’s good to me / Always helps me watch TV / Never wants the remote control / I never leave her in the cold / When I’m down / She smiles at me / Continues to act cheerfully / When I want to raise some hell / She harmonizes very well.
The only time she barks is when I touch her wrong / But when I pet her right, she tags along / Doesn’t mind it when I want to take her far / All my dog really is is this guitar …
There were two more verses. The song got the kind of rollicking response that songs get from drunks putting on airs. It wasn’t anything but a silly little ditty. The only one there who genuinely appreciated it was Lanny, and looking at him smile, Abel thought, Well, maybe him and me can sneak out and catch a little buzz here directly.
Abel liked the song Lanny said he just wrote. It was about falling in love, and it was good he wasn’t writing blues since he was getting married in two days. Then the big shot sang another mediocre tune of his, and when Evie started another of the “la-da-DAH-da, la-da-DAH” songs she didn’t write, Abel decided he needed a break and motioned toward the swimming pool when he caught Lanny’s eye.
“Be right back,” he said. “Me and Lanny’s buddies, and we ain’t seen each other for a spell.”
They sat down on a high-dollar bench – it looked like one that might be in a public park – with the bluish flicker of the pool reflected on their faces.
“I want to smoke something,” Abel said.
“I should’ve brought some.”
“Ah, that’s all right. I don’t hardly smoke it no more. I just ain’t never give it up.” He accepted a light. “The music sounds better out here. I can’t see the egos.”
“Cain’s interested in recording a song or two of yours,” Lanny said. “Honest. He is.”
Abel sighed. “Here’s what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna make a deal, shake hands, and, in about two months, one of his people is gonna call one of my people, and he’s gonna find out I ain’t got no people, so he’s gonna hate it, or maybe she’s gonna hate it, ‘cause she’s gonna have to call me and say, ‘Cain is so sorry. He recorded two songs of yours for the album,’ but they didn’t make the cut, but he’s gonna put ‘em in his play list on the tour, and he says both of them will be on the next record,’ and all of that together will be one big lie. I’m just glad Cain Caldwell ain’t my brother.”
“Because Cain slew his brother Abel, and I’m damned if I’m gonna let that son of a bitch kill me.”
Lanny started laughing.
“Let’s go back inside,” Abel said. “I’ll be nice.”
TO BE CONTINUED