The Way I Do

When I was young / I went off to college / But I flunked out ‘cause I could not pass no test / My old man barely made it past fifty / And I reckon that I’ll follow his footsteps / But it ain’t gon’ be bad health that’s gonna kill me / It won’t be red meat or pecan pie / It won’t be smoking cigarettes / Or drinking hard liquor / Ain’t nothing killing me like living / The way I do.


Abel Mondell
Abel Mondell


For Abel Mondell, a rainy day was life, bright sunshine the aberration, but he was accustomed to exile and reluctant to peer outside much anymore. He played his guitar a lot, and it was a damned shame he didn’t get up on stage much because he’d never been better. His songwriting was good, too, but that was just because Abel was pleased with it. If the rest of the world was, he reckoned he’d still be living in Nashville. He tried to avoid looking at that statuette, the one given for being “The Outstanding Songwriter for the Year 2002.” Glancing at it made him sad. Staring at it made his eyes moisten. When he’d reached the pinnacle of his chosen profession, he had mistakenly thought it the harbinger of success, when, in fact, it had been the portent of doom. He’d had fifty songs recorded, but it had been ten years since the most recent hit. He’d gotten tired of being told, essentially, that his songs were too good. They were thoughtful all the way through, when what record companies wanted were clever hooks and cheap rhymes. He’d given them the sorriest song he’d ever written, about how his baby wouldn’t make love anywhere but in the bed of his pickup truck, and he’d have thought it appropriate if he’d been laughed out of town, but that was the song the marketers and image specialists rubber-stamped and passed around. The stamp read “CATCHY!” It hadn’t been a hit, but it had been recorded on a hit record, and it was the main source of much-needed revenue at the moment. The only places they laughed at him were the beer joints of Lower Broadway and East Nashville, and, in his mind, those were the only places that mattered. It wasn’t that Abel was making a stand on principle. Calling the world the way he saw it was easy, easy as hitching up his britches or restringing his guitar. Following the bouncing ball of focus groups and targeted demographics zapped his nervous system like a taser. Or a root canal, absent the local anesthetic.

Futility had driven him out of town, back to the basics, where he could interact without feeling every eye in the room. He wasn’t back home, but it was close proximity. He’d had a little cabin on the lake for thirty years, a place to get away, and now it was home because he’d gotten away. He kept the vestiges of a family – his mother, his sister, assorted cousins, nieces and nephew – at a safe distance. Abel cut the grass every two weeks, and most days he scooted around the lake a little in his powerboat, but mostly he just played his guitar and scribbled his lyrics, because that’s what he did, and he was too old to do it differently.

Once every week or two, Abel paid his bills. He was well known at the post office and the trash dump. Every so often, he’d just show up at the hardware store unannounced and chew the fat with the same fellows who were there around lunchtime every day. He learned not to talk too much about himself. It made him sound like a bullshit artist. These folks didn’t know who he was, the principal reason being that they didn’t care. Home had always been a mixed blessing. It seemed like the only place on earth where he got no respect and the only place where he didn’t get his ass kissed.

Come to think of it, there are a few more of those places now.

Occasionally, Abel drove over to the Mexican joint out on the main highway, next to the bridge. He went to eat chips and salsa, and whatever else Javier Mota was of a mind to fix him, but he stashed a guitar behind the seat, and sometimes, in the bar, some old-timer would recognize him, and he’d go fetch the guitar and put on a little show. Once every month or two, somebody would send him a text message, and he’d drive over there on a Friday night, sit around and swap songs with some local pickers. A lot of songs came out of Casa Chipotle, not from swapping them but from watching people listen to them. Abel had never been one to drink every night, but he liked a good Mexican drunk every now and then. He kept playing his guitar, Javier kept catching his eye and asking, “Beeg beer?” and he kept nodding, all the while watching the young toughs and their girlfriends stalking around the pool table and stepping outside for a smoke.

Kids didn’t change much. Every generation was eighty percent the same, but the twenty percent was what folks noticed. The way Abel saw it, things were looking up. They still found places where the owners would let them slide, even if they weren’t twenty-one, and owners found cops who would let them slide, and, oh, by the way, the beer was on the house to those wearing badges. On the lake, most everybody played ball, and Abel always did requests for the deputy sheriffs, which made it unlikely he’d get lifted for a pinch runner on the way home.

Life had grown quite predictable, and in that was there comfort to countermand the boredom. Abel was operating at a responsible budget deficit, and he had about three to four years, at the current rate, until he was dead broke. He was trying to make the best of them.


            My old lady found me sitting in the kitchen / I sat there chawing on a plate of ribs / She said, boy, you better stay clear of that cholesterol / It’s taking what little life you’ve got left / I said, woman, pay attention to your own self / I’m capable of dying on my own / I got up and poured myself a stiff drink / Grabbed a match and lit a cigarette.


Lanny Mercer
Lanny Mercer

God knew Abel Mondell had wronged his ex-wife, but He also knew he’d been more than fair. He’d walked into a conference room, him and his lawyer on one side of a walnut table and her and hers on the other, and he’d sprung a surprise because he was tired of the charges being hurled back and forth. Mental cruelty, huh? What in hell is that? The deal was simple. Abel said he’d give her rights to all the songs he’d written prior to 2004. All the big ones. When he’d pointed out that those songs had been worth more than a hundred thousand dollars in 2011, it was game/set/match. Only the lawyers were displeased, his because of astonishment and hers because he was going to take a serious hit in “billable hours.” Abel had just wanted to be free and clear, and that he was. As Jerry Reed had written, “She got the gold mine, I got the shaft,” but it hadn’t been bitter, and Abel and Helen still got along. They exchanged emails once or twice a month. They were still Facebook friends. The only down side was that Abel was broke. He kept right on writing, returns gradually diminishing in spite of his best efforts.

Abel didn’t like being in Nashville anymore. When he went back — and usually it was fly in, sign some papers, leave some songs, fly out — he felt like the walking dead. Hey! Didn’t you used to be Abel Mondell? Yeah. Used to. He wouldn’t be going back now, but his last ray of hope was getting married. Lanny Mercer loved his songs. Lanny Mercer was a rising star, one who wanted to make an entire album out of recent Abel Mondell songs. The plans hadn’t gone through yet. Lanny’s small fortune had been made recording what the company said. Abel thought the most recent CD was crap. Lanny thought so, too.

“What I think you need is to get big enough to where you got clout,” Abel had told him on the phone. “You gotta get big enough to where you can do the songs you want to do, not the ones they want you to.”

“I know, I know,” he’s said. “I think I’m getting there.”

It might be a longshot, but Abel was getting there, too. He was going to the big wedding because there wasn’t any way around it. He was independent and stubborn, but he wasn’t out-and-out stupid. God, he’d been dreading it for a month, but he was running out of time to feel sorry for himself. He was hitting the road in the morning with two guitars, a set of harmonicas and a briefcase full of songs. He needed to “network,” but he knew he wouldn’t. He’d just try to get to know Lanny’s bride, impress her if he could, drink enough to relax, and probably hold court with his guitar when hours got wee, and play songs that all would invariably love but not record. Abel would repeatedly hear, “God, Abel, I love that damn song there,” instead of, “Abel, you know, I’m going to record that song.” He didn’t even get that from Lanny, but, rather, “I’d give anything to record that song.”

It wasn’t much, but it was worth spending a long weekend in Nashville, pounding as little pavement as possible and occasionally pleading guilty to being who he used to be.


I don’t know what I’m gonna tell ‘em / Don’t know what I’m gonna do / I might walk out that door and never come back / Open the window, jump off the roof / But it ain’t gon’ be bad health that’s gonna kill me / Won’t be red meat and pecan pie / Won’t be smoking cigarettes / Drinkin’ hard liquor / Ain’t nothing killing me like living / The way I do.


Mud Galvin
Mud Galvin

Abel Mondell loved to drive through the mountains, not via the curvy roads and switchbacks, but on the interstates, where a man could enjoy the scenery without plunging into a ravine. On a lark, he could exit at the scenic overlook, pull the guitar out and entertain himself, the squirrels, or even humans who sometimes stopped by so that they could witness something original, eccentric, and quaint. Abel had recently gotten old enough to be quaint. Occasionally, folks even said he was “a treasure,” to which he thought, Well, I sure wish I had some of it.

For some reason, his favorite part of the drive was crossing Mont Eagle, and he always made sure he had some music that would make him think, something by Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt. He thought about how, unbeknownst to anyone of significance, he was writing the best songs of his life, and what he concluded was that he was regaining his all-important anonymity. Writing was a solitary life, and he tried to make the best of it on those increasingly rare occasions when he got out. Back in the nineties, when he’d been slightly recognizable, it had been aggravating. He couldn’t just stand around in some country store, the kind that had a drink box, lean on it, and observe people. He wasn’t anonymous. Someone would recognize him, and if he didn’t, the kid behind the counter would whisper under his breath, “You know who that is, don’t you?” Now he could sit at a picnic table, outside a rest area, play a few tunes, and make sure none of them were ones that anyone would recognize. They’d ask about them, and he’d say, “Well, no, it’s just something I do in my spare time. I’m strictly an amateur,” and when a man, standing there with his wife holding their two-year-old, would say, “Well, you ought to take that song to Nashville,” it would make him feel better than his first Grammy.

When he got to the outskirts of Nashville, Abel checked in the cheapest motel he could find because he wasn’t going to do anything there but sleep. Ah, that smell of curry in the lobby! Ah, that nice, little, rapidly-talking woman with the ruby in the middle of her forehead, and her attractive, teenaged daughter who is undoubtedly getting alarmingly Americanized. On the road, these were his people, and he didn’t mean that in a condescending way. They were just dreaming their own version of the American one, and if he thought there was a market for Immigrant Country, he’d surely have written songs about them.

Abel didn’t even take his guitar in the room. He turned up the air conditioner and unpacked his suitcase, then he called up Mud Galvin, one of his old running buddies. They called him Mud because there’d been a ballplayer named Pud Galvin around the turn of the century – the previous century – and Justin Tubb, who’d been a big baseball fan, had decreed that Horace Galvin’s name would henceforth be Mud. Mud had come along a generation before Abel. He and Willie Nelson were alike in that they both smoked weed regularly and were in their eighties, but they differed in that Mud was legendary on a considerably lesser scale. It took an hour to get through hellish Nashville traffic to Mud’s place, and the first thing the old man said to him when he walked through the screen door was that he’d finally given up drinking. He was sitting on the back porch, and the aroma suggested it was all he’d given up.

Lord, that man could still play a guitar. Every time he sat in with Mud, Abel felt like he was back in the fifth grade, struggling with the chords of “Down in the Valley.” He hadn’t sat in with Mud in a year, though they talked on the phone fairly often. Mud knew the way Abel played, and he just picked up everything on contact, chasing Abel’s voice with his fingers until, every single time, they finished in a dead heat. At about eight, with daylight expiring, Mud excused himself to go feed his chickens, and while he was moseying his way down to his pen, Abel turned on his fancy iPhone, which was within two models of being state of the art, and found that Lanny Mercer had texted him.

Get over here. I’m swapping songs with Cain Caldwell, and he wants to hear some of yours.

Uh, Lord. Cain Caldwell wasn’t his real name. There wasn’t much real about him except his bank account.

Where’s ‘here’? Abel texted back.

Lanny must have been watching for his reply. Franklin. About a mile past George Jones’ old house. Can’t miss it.

Abel bet not. Cain Caldwell, the former Keith Klige of Hazelwood, Minnesota, was a mega-star. He might’ve been one of the male models who recorded Abel’s embarrassing pickup-truck song. Abel couldn’t remember, and the checks didn’t come divided by artist.

When Mud got back, Abel told him something had come up and he had to go.

“Well, bidness is bidness,” Mud said.

“I ain’t gonna enjoy this, but if I ain’t gonna meet up with nobody, then I reckon I drove up here for nothing but a wedding.”

“Don’t worry none. I’ll see you at the ceremonies Sat’dy night,” Mud said. “You don’t want to hit on this reefer before you leave?”

Mud, being old, still called it reefer. Abel was old enough to understand.

“Shit, yeah,” Abel said. “The last thing I want to do is play a song for Cain Caldwell sober.”

“Cain Caldwell? Aw, hell. You better let me give you some to take with you.”


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.


Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame

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 while playing a little bass on the side. 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 extemporaneous lyrics, but he had a lingering buzz and a 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.

Be good.

“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.”

“I’m ready.”

“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 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 wonder if Cain’s got any shrubbery my piss would kill.”


A stranger asked me if I knew the Devil / I told him, well, in fact, he looks like you / He told me he was no more than a lawyer / Who merely wanted someone else to sue / Or screw.


Robert's Western World, Nashville
Robert’s Western World, Nashville

Mud Galvin called at eleven, and Abel tried in vain to sound as if the ring hadn’t awakened him.

“Get your ass up, Abel. The Devil’s loitering around the backyard, and I’m a-feared he’s gonna steal my chickens! I need your help to fight him off.”

Abel swung his legs off the bed and sat up. Mud, being a songwriter, was prone to hyperbole. “Let me have a cup of coffee,” he said, “and I’ll swing by directly.”

“That’s one of my favorite words, directly,” Mud said. “Means ‘indirectly.’”

“Be that as it may, I’ll get there quick as I can.”


Mud was a storyteller, and that’s the way he wrote songs. He still released a CD every now and then, but he hadn’t toured in twenty years. He had a recording studio at the house. As soon as Abel pulled out his guitar and got settled in with a cup of coffee, Mud played a song about a modern kid who woke up one morning in the seventies. In addition to wry observations about the differences in dress, automobiles, and bad habits, the focus of the song was the uproar caused when the kid asked a black girl to the senior prom. The title was “You Were Too Soon (and I Was Too Late).”

When he finished, Mud said, “You know, kids from the high school come by here a couple times a week, usually four o’clock or thereabouts. They bring their guitars. One of them plays a fiddle. I don’t let ‘em do nothing illegal, and I stay straight when they over here. If I’m gonna be a bad example, it’s gonna be bad music, but, what that really means is they get high before they get here, and then they take breaks, sit on the steps, smoke cigarettes. They ain’t much different from kids ten, twenty, thirty years ago, but it seems like to me they a lot less racism in ‘em. That’s a good thing. These kids are truly color-blind. They don’t think nothing of whites being with blacks, Mexicans, Japanese, whatever, and that’s the reason I wrote yet another song nobody in town’s gonna touch with a ten-foot pole.”

“You’ve always been about ten years ahead of the times, Mud.”

“Now I ain’t got ten years left,” he said. “That’s the hell of it.”


Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee
Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee

Sure enough, when four o’clock rolled around, so did several high school kids. In deference to Mud Galvin’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy, he and Abel got provisionally high before they arrived, and the kids apparently did the same.

Abel was glad Victoria was back. She had been Mud’s significant other for at least a decade. She was probably in her forties, so Abel reckoned she was comfortably more than half his age. For all he knew, she might have been at the grocery store the night before – it hadn’t been all that late when he left – but he’d noted her absence and hoped nothing had come between them. As much as he denied it and belied it, Mud needed someone to look after him a little.

Once the kids straggled in, Abel went to the kitchen to help Victoria with refreshments. He spread egg salad and pimiento cheese. Victoria insisted on cutting the sandwiches into triangles and then shaving off the crust. The sandwiches disappeared quickly. Abel thought he might have to go back to the kitchen and retrieve bread crust from the trash. He and Mud didn’t even try to grab one. It would’ve been like sticking their hands in the garbage disposal.

The lemonade was good, though.

Warren played a guitar and said he fooled around writing songs. He was a good-looking kid and might’ve played a little ball. His apparent girlfriend, Jess, was a looker, too. She played harmonica, most likely because Warren had taught her how. She brought a little pouch of harps with her, though, so she took it seriously and knew what she was doing. Henry didn’t play ball unless it was billiards. It was fairly obvious he had spent most of his young life playing mandolin, and it showed. All three of them were good at what they did, especially eating sandwiches.

Abel had not heard his cell ring. He didn’t think he’d set it on “vibrate.” He’d probably missed it in the din. The din of the den. He had a voice message, and it was from the local area code, 615, so he thought he’d better see what it was. He walked down the steps and sat down at the picnic table under the oak tree and next to the hammock. The message was from Cain Caldwell International, Limited, a title that struck Abel as hilarious. Cain Caldwell Universal, Sharply Defined. It seemed like he could have LLC’d it. When he called back, trying to keep from laughing, he only had to “hit one” once before his call was swiftly forwarded to the business manager, Judd Herlong, who said he “had some good news, indeed.”

Judd wasn’t lying. Abel hung up and sat for a few minutes stunned. This was a situation he would have to rethink. He didn’t notice Jess, the harpist, until she sat down opposite him. He acknowledged her with a nod. If Warren played ball, Jess was surely a cheerleader.

“I been thinking about a song,” he said from nowhere. “All I got is a chorus. ‘Since I was just a boy, they’ve said the truth shall set you free. Sometimes it seems the truth is just a source of misery. The line is long and weary gathered at the gates of hell. Just heed the devil’s call. Don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

“Cool,” she said. “Want to smoke this joint with me?”

Abel took a deep breath. “Does a one-webbed duck swim in circles?”

Jess laughed and took it as a yes.


Robert's Western World
Robert’s Western World

Abel feared he was performing beneath the level predicted by Mud when he had extolled his songwriting virtues. He was in something of a trance, which was understandable as he’d just gotten high with a gorgeous woman who might conceivably have been his grandchild. A man got old a lot faster than his taste in women. It was liberating. He could flirt unashamedly, given the acknowledged absurdity of the situation. Abel was no threat. He was just an old fart.

Mud toted the mail. He spun his tales. Picking up a poor hitchhiker. A waitress in a truck stop with an awful secret. A man who commits suicide after the bank forecloses on the farm. In Mud’s world, most everything was either humorous or tragic and sometimes both. Abel fumbled the lyrics of the songs he knew best and got the ones right he hadn’t thought about in six months. He nodded politely at Warren’s tunes, which were at least enthusiastically bad. Abel told Jess she reminded him of Patsy Cline, which was a lie he had foisted upon numerous others.

After Mud sang one of his funny songs, “The Worst Things in Life Are Free,” the song swap played itself out. It was a poker game Mud won. The kids enjoyed themselves, but, really, it was just a way to get a Friday night started. If they hadn’t excused themselves – Jess gave Abel a peck on the cheek and a hug – it might have lasted all night, and Abel and Mud might never have made it to Lanny Mercer’s bachelor party. They killed a couple hours getting stoned before they left.

“It seems like no matter where I stay, every time I come to Nashville, I wind up driving back and forth, one side of town to the other,” Abel said on the way. “If I’m playing a gig in East Nashville, something’ll take me to West Nashville. If I’m down toward Franklin, there’ll be a need to go to Gallatin or Goodlettsville.”

“Just stay at my place,” Mud said. “Won’t be no need to go no place else.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, that you might be right. Least this time we just gotta go to Lower Broadway.”

“What’s on your mind, Abel? Something’s got you frazzled.”

“That call I went outside to make? It was from Cain Caldwell’s business manager.”

“What’s his name? Judd Herlong?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s it.”

“He was mine for about ten minutes,” Mud said. “I reckon ‘bout everybody else was, too.”

“He was sending a contract by courier. I bet they don’t get a lot of couriers at the no-tell motel I’m staying in. I had to fetch my wallet to remember the name.”


“Well, Mud, it seems that Cain Caldwell has decided he wants to make an entire album out of my songs.”

“Like Waylon did with Billy Joe Shaver. Well, almost, anyway.”

“Yep, this Judd fellow said Cain wants to bring back the concept album, like Willie did with ‘Redheaded Stranger,’ ‘Phases and Stages,’ seems like there was one or two others. Hell, he’s offering a good chunk of money right up front.”

“Damn, son, congratulations,” Mud said. “About time you struck oil again.”

“Yep. I still can’t help but thinking something’s wrong with the picture.”

“Hell, I can tell you what’s going on. First of all, it’s a damn good idea. You got songs you can string together any way he wants, but I’m gonna tell you what’s happening. Caldwell, the son of a bitch, is feeling some heat from our buddy Lanny. Lanny wants to do that album but ain’t got the clout. Cain’s got the clout. He’s gonna cut that album so Lanny can’t.

“My professional opinion is that it ain’t no concern of your’n. You in the business of songwriting, and when some big star wants to do your songs, why, that’s why you wrote ‘em.”

“In other words …”

“Take the fuckin’ money,” Mud said.


Reckless Kelly
Reckless Kelly

The wedding was at the Opryland Hotel. Lanny Mercer had the remarkable good sense to marry a woman who wasn’t a singer. Olivia was a pediatrician, leading Mud to crack that she probably wouldn’t have to “turn no more pedia tricks if she don’t wanna.” Lanny was a college man himself, but he hadn’t ever made any use of his phys-ed degree. The best lesson he’d learned at the University of Kentucky had been how to catch a woman like Olivia.

It took Abel a while to find Lanny and a while longer to finagle a way to see him. Abel said he needed two minutes in private, and Lanny walked with him out into one of the mammoth hotel’s courtyards of fountains and greenery.

“I got an unusual wedding present for you, Lanny.” Abel handed him a contract.

“What’s this?”

“I’m s’posed to sign it,” Abel said. “It came by courier. You know how you been talking about doing a whole record of nothing but my songs? Well, your buddy Cain Caldwell’s a step ahead of you. That contract is between him and me, and he’s wanting to do a record of my songs. I’m supposed to stay over. He’s put me up for the week at that Hampton across the street from the Hall of Fame. I’ve stayed there before. Right nice place. It ain’t the Four Seasons, but it’s way past my usual speed.”

Lanny skimmed the first page. “So why you showing this to me?”

“I’m not showing it. I’m giving it.”

Sons of Bill
Sons of Bill


“The way I got it figured, and Mud assisted me in this analysis, is that Cain has got a little interest in holding you back. He knows you want to do this album, so he’s gonna to do it first, not because he likes my songs but because you do.”

“But I can’t sell nobody on the idea,” Lanny said.

“That’s the point,” Abel said. “Maybe, if you show that contract around, it might change some minds.”

“Might not.”

“I’ll take that chance, buddy. It’s your wedding present. Tell Olivia it’s the thought that counts.”

If you enjoyed this, recommend it to others and pass it along, preferably to someone who might want to publish it. Please consider my novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles.  For more information, go to


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