Miriam Jesney was a blonde, piquant thing of nineteen summers with no relations but Gilbert, a semi-mythical brother, on the Yukon, who had not found enough gold to send her any. She earned her living – two pounds a week – as a guitarist at the splendid tea parties of the Hotel Bemrose.
“Hey, Miriam, honey, what was that thing you were playing tonight?” asked Hank Malone one evening, approaching her while she sat at the hotel bar, nursing a glass of white wine.
Miriam smiled. Hank was OK, a lumbering, gentle giant of a man. “Well, which one? I played quite a bit of stuff.”
Hank admired Miriam’s skin. It was like pink china, and her eyes, well, those huge green eyes, were like … like crystals! “That last one, a … a rippling type of thing.”
“Why, that was a study in arpeggios, just different right-hand fingerings for the same chord progression. By an Italian gentleman named Ferdinando Carulli.”
“Arp … arpeggios, what’s that?”
Miriam looked into Hank’s open, honest face. “Know what a chord is, Hank?”
“Yeah, sure … well, no, not exactly.”
Miriam suddenly turned from a voluptuous young woman into a serious-faced lecturer. “Well, if you hear two notes at the same time, that’s called an interval, like the distance between the two notes, measured in half-steps, semitones. From white to black on the piano. Comprende?”
Hank’s wide-eyed countenance broke into a smile, “I guess so.”
“Well, add another note to that, and it’s a chord.”
Hank gave a blank look. “But, like, that’s only three notes. You were playing on all them strings, what, six of them?”
Miriam smiled, “Look, Hank, buy a girl a glass of champagne and she’ll tell all ….”
The next day, Miriam was running through some pieces in her dressing room before the show when there came a knock on the door. “Who is it?” she called.
Without giving an answer, the visitor opened the door and came in. “Hello, babe, it’s me!”
“Tony! But I thought … I thought you were in … in y’know ….” Miriam felt herself blushing.
The man wore a fedora hat and a black suit with a white shirt and pink tie. “Well, you thought wrong, babe. There was a … a miscarriage of justice, so to speak. So, I’m a free man. Come to see my baby!”
Miriam felt sick. “Well, Tony, we weren’t an item, … exactly.”
The man stiffened. “Look, I just spent a year in the clink, guards beating us senseless, other guys coming onto me like sex-starved maniacs, shit food. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of you, babe.”
Miriam swallowed, her pink china cheeks becoming less pink. She’d seen Tony in action before, when another guy had come on to her. Seems like the poor guy had to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and with a face that looked like a crosscut nightmare. “Look, Tony, I gotta do the show now. I’ll see you afterwards.”
Miriam’s slim fingers fretted notes whilst her other hand plucked the corresponding strings. When she could, she looked around the large suite at couples nibbling sandwiches and cream scones, whilst sipping tea from dainty china cups. On a small dance floor, a handful of couples smooched to the melody of her guitar. Then she noticed Hank standing by the door, beaming at her. Ah, he was a gentleman, was Hank. She smiled at him, then felt a sick feeling in her stomach as she noticed Tony at the bar, glaring in her direction. Her hands started to tremble, and she could hear the unevenness in her playing, desperately hoping those taking tea wouldn’t notice.
She forced herself to focus on her pieces, watching her left hand and occasionally sneaking a peek to see whether Tony had moved from the bar. Finally, it was over. She’d played for an hour, all that she was contracted for. With a jolt, she realised Tony was no longer there. Where was Hank? Was he OK? There was a polite ripple of applause, then polished teeth bit into polished ham and tomato sandwiches once more and Miriam stood up.
“Hiya, babe, that was lovely, really lovely.” It was Tony holding out a large bunch of red roses.
Miriam relented. “Thanks, Tony, that’s real sweet of you.”
Tony took her arm. “Say, let’s go out for dinner, then afterwards we can go up to my hotel room. Whaddya say?”
“Well, I’d like to go up to my room first and get freshened up. It’s too early for dinner, anyway.”
Tony gave a broad smile. “You look lovely as you are, babe. Just put your guitar away then we’ll go and get a few drinks before dinner. Catch up on old times!”
Miriam’s mind was whirring. How could she get out of this? She passed her guitar case and the roses to Roger the concierge, giving him a pleading look. But Roger seemed not to notice, and the next thing Miriam knew, Tony had taken her arm and was leading her out of the hotel. She could feel the power in his arm and had seen first-hand what damage it could do to someone’s face.
To Miriam’s surprise, there was a dense fog out in the street. Directly opposite the hotel was a car, which, through a patch in the mirk, she suddenly recognised as a police car. Through the car window, the white smudge of a face looked their way. Tony gave a grunt and let go of her arm. Then he was off, pushing pedestrians out of the way and disappearing into the thick fog at speed.
“Hello, honey, who was that guy? It looked like you were pretty close.”
Miriam looked into Hank’s wide eyes. “Once maybe, not now, though he had other ideas.”
“Look, Hank, not really. Tell you what. I’m going up to my room then why don’t we have a drink at the hotel bar here, and I’ll tell you a bit of history, if you wanna hear it.”
Hank smiled. “I’ll listen if you want to talk, honey.”
Back in her room, Miriam found an envelope had been pushed under the door. It was postmarked Whitehorse. Hey, that was in the Yukon, wasn’t it? Miriam found herself breathless as she tore it open, and something fluttered out. “Hey, Sis,” she read, “I finally did it, went and struck gold. Me and Barney are making a fortune. Say, there’s a call for good musicians up here, especially if they’re good-looking, like my sis! Whaddya say? Love, G.”
Miriam bent down and picked up a cheque. It was made out to her name and the amount made her eyes water. Well, it was a shame about Hank, but he’d understand. And as for Tony, well, out of sight, out of mind. She’d pack her bags and leave first thing in the morning. The Yukon called!
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