Saturday, September 23, 2006

Somewhere Warm

"Here he is! This must be him. Look, coming over the dyke."

Ghislaine crossed quickly to the window and, peering through the slanting rain, could make out a dark-blue car bumping along the muddy, rutted track that arrowed through the cabbage fields towards the house. "Oh dear. Looks as if he’s driving a Jag." She patted some straying strands of her hair into place. "Hope I can handle him."

She was waiting for him as he slithered to a stop, hiding her nervousness behind a gentle smile. "Hello, I’m Ghislaine Colley. Thank you so much for coming all this way. Is this your first visit to the Fens?"
"Hi. Moss Bennett." He reached behind him to haul a briefcase from the back-seat. "Yes it is. Is the weather always like this?"
"Mostly." She beamed brightly at him as she shook his hand. "Come inside."
He followed her through a passage into a dimly-lit sitting-room, where the scent of burning incense made him dab at the corners of his eyes.
"I’ve made some tea, I’m sure you are ready for a cup. Do you like camomile?"
"I’ll try anything once. Aah ha, so this is it then?" On the table, resting in the plush gold lining of an open guitar case, was a gleaming crimson Fender Stratocaster. "OK if I take a look?"
"Have you brought the money? Is it the amount we arranged?"
"Yes, it’s all here," patting the case, "I wouldn’t normally. But seeing as it’s you and everything. I thought I might as well."
Ghislaine touched his arm reassuringly, "drink your tea first and we’ll look at the Strat soon."

He sat on a low armchair covered in an old flower-patterned sheet, the briefcase resting on his knee, balancing his tea-cup awkwardly. Ghislaine knelt beside the fire, feeling its comforting warmth on her back.
"How strange that you should sit just there," she said, "it was Bud’s favourite place, you must have been drawn to it."
"Yeah, bet that was it, eh? I was right gutted when you told me he’s...," he shifted, looking for the words, "you know, no longer with us, like."
"It’s all right. You can say it. Dead. I’m used to it now."
"Thanks. But I guess he’ll always be with us in his music, right?"
"Oh yes, he’ll never go away. Not really. Not from me, anyway."
"Well, OK. Sorry and all that. How long since he went would it be now? Didn’t hear much about it at the time."
"Just two years. He didn’t want there to be any fuss. So I buried him quietly. In fact, that’s why I chose you to sell his guitar to. I didn’t want the publicity with a local dealer."
"But he was never all that big over here anyway, was he though? Just America and Japan, wasn’t it?"
"And Europe. But no. For some reason, he couldn’t break through in this country. After the band split up, he could have got little gigs, small venues. But his heart wasn’t in it so..," she let her voice trail off in a sigh.
Moss sipped his tea slowly, as if trying to think of something more encouraging, "Guitar Hero, though, wasn’t he, eh? Legendary wasn’t he? Some said Clapton was better. But my dad used to say you can’t play the blues with a name like Eric. Hahaha.. he was only kidding though. Why couldn’t he have gone back to the States, your old man?"
"Money", she shrugged, "that’s all. Needed money to get a tour together.. just never quite happened. There were a few false starts.. promises that might have come off if he’d been willing to believe them. But he’d been ripped off too many times before. He’d lost his trust."
"So it never happened, then?
"No, and that’s how we finished up here. He always promised me he’d buy somewhere in a warm climate. But this," she felt herself shivering and moved closer to the hearth, "was all he could afford."

She stood, stepping lightly over to the table and taking the Fender out of its case. "I play it sometimes, would you like to hear?" She plugged it into a little mustard-coloured amp and perched on a stool facing him, her long legs crossed. "I can’t do the solos Bud used to play.. well, I can.. but…," she tuned the strings, "…anyway, this is something he used to like." She began to play, looking into his eyes, her hair falling over her face.
"That’s ‘Little Wing’, isn’t it? I recognise it from records my dad used to have. But you play it a hell of a lot more gently than Hendrix did. Did you ever meet Jimi?"
"Thank you. Yes, when I’d just met Bud and the boys. But I knew him before, too." she smiled inwardly at the thought. "Here," taking out the jack and handing it over, "hold it. Let it speak to you."
He took it gingerly, studying the nicks and dents on the front, the wear on the frets. He turned it over, where the paint had worn away down at the corner – the bare wood polished smooth by contact with Bud. "It must mean a hell of a lot to you, I’m surprised you want to part with it."
"Well, yes. It is a sad day. But I think it’s what he would have wanted for me."
"And there’s a letter with it, you said?"
"Oh.. yes. When I very first looked in the case it was there. His very last words to me, I suppose. You’ll need that, won’t you."
"Yep. So as to be sure that this is the one and only, you know, genuine article and all that. Provenance, we call it."
"Wait, I’ll fetch it. I’ve left it upstairs."

As soon as she’d left him alone, Moss stood up and held the Strat like Bud did in the photos on the album sleeves; legs wide apart, left foot forward, leaning over its neck, close enough to kiss it. Wishing there was a full-length mirror on the wall

In the attic, with its familiar smell of acetone paint and wood shavings, was Ghislaine’s workbench. Scattered on it were screws, cover plates, volume-knobs, a metal Fender ID plate she’d made and stamped herself, bits of tremolos and pickups that she’d begged borrowed and bought from online auctions and shops and collectors all over the world. There was a lathe and chisels, planes, sandpaper and saws, as well as the pieces of rosewood and alder she’d had sent over from the USA. A couple of guitars she’d worked on already were on stands – waiting for a little more work on the frets and more ageing to the backs to make them exact, beautifully faked, replicas of Bud’s.

And there also, sitting in an old sofa, happily watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on TV, was Bud himself.
"Did he buy it?", he asked, grinning.

"Ssshh, turn that down," she told him in a mock-stern whisper, "you’re supposed to be dead you know. He’s still downstairs. You forgot the letter."
Bud shook his head, "oh man, no, did I? He hasn’t sussed us, has he?"
She took a sheet of paper - an old handbill for the Marquee Club - from a drawer, picked up a pen and gave them to him.
"No. But here, dear. Do it quickly now." She rested her forearms on his shoulders, stroking his once-red hair as he wrote, ‘My dearest darling Jizzie, by the time you read this, I will have gone to wait for you in a better land. My old guitar is all I can leave you, and my hope is that it gives you as much love as it gave me. Peace, Bud xxx’.
"Will that do?"
"Oh, Bud, I do love you. This should do the trick. You always said you’d buy me a house in a warm country. Only the two more of these to go and you’ll be able to. You are wonderful."
"It was all your idea, lovergirl."
"And put this out until he’s gone," she took a half-smoked joint from his ashtray and pinched the lighted end between her fingers.

Moss had put down the guitar and was waiting for her. She handed the letter over and he glanced at it briefly, "look, I know we said fifty on the phone. But, really, I’m taking a bit of a punt with this. How about if I offered you forty-thousand?"
"Forty? I really don’t know about that, Mr. Bennett. We had a firm agreement. I’d have to think."
"Well, forty-thousand pounds is still a lot of money, you know."
"I’m not sure. I don’t know what to say without asking Bud."
"Bud? What do you mean ‘asking Bud’?"
"Oh, I never do anything without him. I told you." She thought quickly, feeling a tiny thrill of hate for this silly little man and what she was doing to get his stupid money. "For me he never goes away. Wait. I know. Let’s go outside, I’ll show you."
She led him out of a side door, past tumbledown outbuildings, to a sheltered place under a high bank where a circle of seashells surrounded a cairn of white flints.
"This is where he talks to me."
Moss looked from Ghislaine to the stones and back again and shrugged. The rain had turned to freezing drizzle and the ground was soaked. She took a silk scarf from her pocket and spread it on the grass, took his hand and twined her fingers tightly through his. As she knelt, she pulled him down beside her, their shoulders touching so that he could feel her warmth.
"When I’m here, I can feel his vibe. I’m sure you feel it too."
A damp chill was seeping through the knees of Moss’s freshly pressed chinos but he nodded anyway.
"You do, don’t you?"
He nodded again, more convincingly this time.
She closed her eyes and tugged at a cheap silver necklace, hung with little glass stars. "He’s saying he thinks fifty thousand is very fair. He says Jimi Hendrix’s are fetching over a hundred."
"Well tell him, with all due respect and everything, he wasn’t no Jimi Hendrix." A cold trickle ran down his neck. "And can we get back inside now?"
Ghislaine composed herself and closed her eyes again. A seagull made a swooping pass overhead. A curtain twitched at an upstairs window. Minutes went by.

"Alright," she said, finally, "he said to tell you it’s got to be forty-five grand or it’s no deal."
Moss looked agonised. But she knew he wouldn’t have come all the way out from Birmingham if he hadn’t known that the price being asked was far less than he could get at a good auction or from an American collector.
"Forty-five? Look…I..."
Ghislaine made as if to turn back to the cairn.
"Oh OK then," he muttered, wiping rain from his eyebrows, "tell him he’s got a deal. Let’s get back into the house."

The cash was stacked on the table, in bundles of fifties. Beside it was the Fender, back in its case.
"Well, I’d better be going. Nice to do business with you."
"And you too. You won’t forget our agreement though, will you? You must keep the guitar for a year before you let it go."
"No, Mrs. Colley, I won’t. Besides, you know how to drive a hard bargain. I’m going to have to keep it a while, anyway, before there’s any profit in it for me."

She watched him climb back into his Jag and gave him a wave as he drove off. She felt an arm being slid around her waist. "Bud! Careful. Wait until he’s out of sight."
He laughed, "Oh, he’s well gone, he won’t see me. Well done, girl. Specially with the stones moody, I had to chuckle at that. Now, let me see the money."
"I didn’t enjoy that, Bud." She shook her shoulders, ridding herself of the memory, "I think I deserve a treat now. Why don’t I nip to town and get us some champagne?"

In the Land Rover, she felt better and was humming to herself as it bounced through the mud. Until, ahead of her, she saw a car, stopped at the bridge. She recognised the number plate, MOS 5. She pulled up behind it and climbed out. Moss wound his window down. "Mr Bennett," she said brightly, "not having problems, I hope."
Moss had the letter in his hand. Bud’s letter.
"Is anything wrong? Can I help?"
"You might just say so. Yes. Something was niggling at the back of my mind. It made me get this letter out and look at it. Just to confirm it. To confirm whether the Fender is the genuine article. Or not."
"I’ll give you bloody ‘and’, Mrs Colley."
"Whatever do you mean? What is the matter with you?" She felt a chill of apprehension. Bennett looked ready to explode.
"You’re going to have to turn round. We need to go back to the house, that’s what’s the matter."
"But why?"
"This bloody letter, that’s why."
"What’s wrong with it? It’s got Bud’s signature on it, hasn’t it?"
"Oh yes, it’s Bud’s handwriting all right. I checked that. I’m not that stupid."
"Well what’s wrong then? Tell me."
Moss ground his teeth. He spat the words out.

"It’s dated today!"

"Oh Bud," she groaned.

copyright akc 2006