(Go back to Part 1)
“Something for everyone,” muttered Carla under her breath.
She was outside the main entrance to Beelo’s, looking up at the sign. Under “Beelo’s Showroom and Private Lounge” was the club’s motto in green neon: “Something For Everyone!”
Hopefully that includes live performances of 650-year old art music from Old Sol, Carla thought.
Underneath that was another sign, “All Species Welcome!” and then a list of the different performance venues inside. Humans and aliens alike perused the list with a variety of sense organs; she had to go to the bottom third of list to find her name. “Live @ The Emerald Room: The Carla Gutierrez Trio.”
Beelo’s musical director had tried to get her to change the name, but she hadn’t budged. “I know it’s a boring name. It’s part of the tradition. The guests will expect it.” When she was honest with herself, she knew that more of their audience was there for the pricing scheme at the bar than the music.
Carla went in.
The Emerald Room was half-full with the upper crust of Zero’s lower half. It was a mixed-species room where the bar served cheap champagne, imitation caviar and middle shelf vodka. The patrons wore suits, but the suits were not well-tailored. They started playing; polite applause followed some of their tunes.
She noticed Bernard halfway through the first set. He stood out from the threadbare crowd, sitting at the bar in a tuxedo sharp enough to cut glass. Carla nodded to him during a sluggish bossa nova, and he nodded back.
He approached the bandstand after the first set. “You found a new bass player.”
“Yeah. How’s he sound?” she asked him.
“He is not as good as my brother. You should fire him.”
“Look, I know you’re trying to get your brother a gig . . . but give it a rest, Bernard.”
“I am trying to help you make good music.”
“And how would you know what good music is?” asked Carla.
She could see instantly in his eyes that she’d hurt him. He looked away under the pretense of keeping an eye on the room. “I am not a musician,” rumbled Bernard, “but I know good music when I hear it. My brother is good music.”
“Bernard . . . I’m sorry. I’m just touchy tonight.” He didn’t say anything, so she tried to change the subject. “Where are your boys at tonight?”
“Driving out to run an errand,” he said. He didn’t expand on this.
“Alright,” she said after a moment. “I should get back on stage. Try not and shoot this one, ok?” she joked, but it came out wrong and Bernard didn’t laugh. Not that he would’ve laughed anyway, Carla reminded herself.
The second set was . . . acceptable. Shane didn’t try and jump in front of the band at any point, but she felt like she kept bumping into him. Growing pains, Carla told herself, just inevitable growing pains. We’ll get used to each other. It’ll get better. I hope it gets better.
Sal frowned the whole set, but he didn’t say anything. They finished to lukewarm applause, and he was out from behind the drums before it finished.
“I’m going for a smoke,” he said. Carla let him go without pointing out that it was perfectly legal to smoke inside the Emerald Room.
“Shane, let’s look at the first ending on Inner Urge,” said Carla, referencing a tune that they’d botched earlier in the set. She reached for her binder of lead sheets.
“Nah, I’m going for a smoke, too.” Shane left, and Carla was alone on the bandstand. She could feel her temperature rising, but she clamped down on it and went to the bar for a drink instead.
The bar was packed now, except for a stool on either side of Bernard. They remained conspicuously empty, as if the big lizard was emitting a force field. Carla took the one on his right. He didn’t say anything, and so she didn’t either. He bought her a drink. Finally—
“It sounds like shit, doesn’t it?” she asked him.
He said nothing.
“No matter what I do, it always sounds like shit.” How many drinks had she had already? One too many, maybe. “It always sounds like shit. I sound like shit, and Shane sounds like shit, and Sal sounds good but that’s not enough. Two-thirds shit rounds up to one big shit.”
Bernard still said nothing.
“All I want is to make some music that isn’t shit, Bernard. Just once. That’s all I want. But nobody listens. No one wants to hear it, or play it. Nobody in this damn city gets in, Bernard.”
He turned to her. “I have the solution.”
Before she could say anything, Sal barged up to them. He was more grim than usual.
“What?” she asked him.
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“What?” asked Carla, her heart sinking.
“Shane just got hit by a taxi. He was in the crowd by the stairs, and he slipped right as one of them pulled away from the stand. The asshole didn’t even stop.”
“Is he alright?”
“Well, I could count the number of bones in his arm without an X-ray, and it wasn’t the right number . . . so, no. They took him out in an ambulance.”
Carla had no words. She wanted to vomit. She thought about just leaving, abandoning the piano and the gig and walking out into the night. She thought about never playing the piano again. She thought about going out into the port and swimming out into the ocean as far she could until she’d never have to compare her shitty stride playing with Oscar Peterson’s ever again.
Bernard was still looking at her. She remembered his last words, and turned to him.
“This is your fault, isn’t it?” She jabbed a finger in his chest. It was like jabbing an iron plate.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Bernard.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. I have been right here the whole time.”
“I—just—fine! You know what? Fine!” Carla was definitely a bit drunk, and far beyond caring at this point. “You want your brother to get a shot as this gig? Fine! Where is he?”
“Nearby,” said Bernard.
“What’s his name?”
Carla paused. “. . . Tariq?”
“God works in mysterious ways sometimes,” explained Bernard.
“How old is he?”
“Christ. Get him up here. He’s got the gig, tonight. I don’t even care.”
Sal was looking at her with genuine concern. “Carla—”
Carla cut him off. “I’m going for a smoke.” She left.
(Go on to Part 3)