To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time) 2

Sam contemplated not telling him at all. How would he ever know? How would any of them ever know? It’s not like she’d bump into them at a concert in Budapest or Berlin. And as far as they all knew, she’d already resigned herself to a purgatorial existence in Eau Claire slinging wine, coffee, and song. It’s not like she and Sid were about to embark on a sweeping love affair. Their tryst was going to end in a parking lot in Uptown Minneapolis in less than 48 hours, and they both knew it. The seemingly innocuous thought shot her through with a dull ache that emanated from somewhere deep in her heart and coursed outward through her body, mind, and soul. 

What was that?! I hate that… she thought as she sat on the sofa and the swallowed the sentimental flavor of her breakfast cookie. Could the bittersweet twinge of nostalgia manifest in just five days? Or was it something else? Something like a hangover of the whole damn experience and not just the prior evening.  

As Sid rested his cup on the table, Sam drew a gulp of courage from hers, looked into Sid’s eyes, and said, “He offered me a job!” 

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) 2

The space smelled rich, like some combination of cologne, cigar smoke, and Rolex watches. Sam assumed the omniscient redolence was the result of a burning candle or two. Her eyes darted all over, but she didn’t spot any. Gray himself smelled like some combination of cologne, gin, and Italian suits steam-pressed in expensive European cigarette smoke—a stark contrast to Sid’s deodorant, sweat, and leather, but no less heady.

Sam’s ears pricked up to a jazzy upbeat ditty emanating from everywhere. The singer, whom she had never heard, possessed a golden throat and was just enough roughed up around the edges to be interesting. His harmonies complimented the music like a savory sizzling ribeye compliments a dark jammy Cabernet. His voice, the music, fit effortlessly and enticed the atmosphere up a notch.

At the other end of the room, Sam noticed that Bas, Kat, and Maud were clustered around an efficient little makeshift bar, which sat atop a fridge. Kat and Maud, apparently having put in their drink order, retreated to the adjacent table and chairs. Sam noticed they were chattering like college dorm mates, Maybe they were? she mused. Four square windows hanging on the far wall formed the backdrop to all the placid commotion. Each pane framed a perpetual snapshot of the blinking Amsterdam evening.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time)

Kenny nodded and followed Sam on stage.

Sid balanced his guitar against the far wall then spun to fetch his bass.

Sam snatched Sid’s Fender bass guitar from its case at the rear of the stage. As she approached, not missing a beat, or a step, she tossed it at him from ten feet away.

With a look of surprise bordering on terror, Sid, exhibiting the dexterity of a big-league shortstop, plucked it out of midair by the neck and swung the strap over his head. Kenny stepped behind Sam as she scooted onto stool behind the microphone. As though she expected a guitar to descend from the heavens, Kenny draped her strap over her shoulder laying the guitar in her lap. As Kenny skulked off stage, both Sid and Sam smiled at the audience and bowed, selling the illusion they’d just executed as a well-rehearsed parlor trick.

Sam looked over her right shoulder past her guitar strap at her man. Sid shook his head with a face-splitting grin. She knew that if they weren’t on stage in front of hundreds eager music fans, he’d be hiking up her skirt and extorting a little payback for the impromptu stunt. The thought gave her pause, then shivers. 

The blatant byplay was spiking feverish anticipation throughout the room. Still gazing backward at him, Sam began to plunge the heel of her black leather Frye boot into the stage so loudly, that the crowd was struck silent. In her mind, she was humming, hmm hmm hmm…(tap)…hmm, hmm hmm hmm…(tap)…hmm. Each tap became a clomp, each clomp became a stomp, and each stomp became the unmistakable bass line from Sid’s capable and thunderous fingers.

Sid led into the first verse as Sam seamlessly weaved a stoic accompaniment. Almost imperceptibly, the two were singing with one voice. Their conflated harmony was expansive—richer and warmer than either could muster alone. Sid noticed, Sam noticed, the audience noticed. As Sid stoked his bass and vocal chords for the key moments of the chorus, Sam lent her breath. Together, they nudged the chorus toward a new immortality, even by their haughty standards. 

This was no longer the haunting ’60s R&B classic, they had transformed it, and it was theirs. As she bowed, Sam knew it. As they roared their approval, the crowd knew it. As he straightened from his bow, Sid knew it. But a familiar twinge flared somewhere at his core. Without knowing it, he knew it was their swan song.

“That was great!” Sid smiled as he bent to return his instrument to its case.

“That was fucking epic!” Sam admonished with girlish exuberance.

Kenny hopped over the front of the stage, “That was epic!”

“See!” Sam exclaimed as she thrust out her hands for full-body emphasis.

Sid smiled and nodded at them, “OK…epic it is…”

“You ready to dazzle famous dude?” Sam asked Kenny as she motioned over her shoulder toward the leather couch.

“I’m going to do my thing, so yeah,” he assured with a wink.

“Well, don’t tear your jeans,” Sam joked.

Kenny made a gun out his thumb and forefinger, aimed it a Sam, and winked again as he dropped his thumb.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Man in the Moon

Sam was relieved that she and Sid had screwed in the shower before the festivities. By her estimation, there was no way he could possibly be anything but spent and hammered, like she was. 

Maud was leaning against Kenny, who was leaning against the light pole. It was evident that everyone was drunk, stoned, weary, or D. All of the above. Sam mused that they were doing the rock star lifestyle the justice it so richly deserved. 

“See you tomorrow,” Bas announced as the cab pulled up to the curb. 

A chorus of half-hearted replies flowed in Bas’ general direction but fell short of his ears. 

As he opened the door for his daughter, he added, “Get some sleep!” He tap-danced around the back of the cab and waved at the group. Before disappearing inside, he warned, “You’ll need it!” Seconds later, the cab disappeared around the corner. 

“Did that just happen?” Kenny asked. 

No one answered.  

No one moved. 

Everyone was sharing the sensation of floating a few inches off the ground. Whether it was the Heineken, the weed, or the break-neck wonderment of the night, it was unclear and immaterial. The gloaming of the Amsterdam witching-hour held them suspended in its dark womb. The jaundiced glow of the street lamp captured them in its opaque hue, as though they were about to be beamed aboard a UFO parked just off the rooftop patio of their flat, as though they were about to be whisked off to another galaxy, as though this was their last night on earth, as they knew it…

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

Opening Sequence…

From their booth near the back of the room, Julia was staring blankly in the general direction of the stage. Musicians were scurrying about like ants, plugging in chords and fiddling with mic stands. In the periphery, hipster guys and pixie gals were pouring in from the street to squat at the choicest upfront tables. With a full tray and a busy expression, a server sporting Warby Parker frames and pink hair was ducking in and out of the frenetic malay. She was doing her best.

In the midst of a comically familiar third marriage—one which she had quietly enrolled in hospice—Julia found herself midway though a date with her first ex-husband. The irony of this moment was not lost on her. But the dinner she’d just eaten, the G&T she was rimming with her right index finger, and the show she was about to suffer, would be. She hadn’t been expecting to be wined or dined; she was desperate for what came afterward.

Who cheats on their future ex-husband with one from the ash bin? she wondered. She felt like a despicable unicorn—loathsome and unique. She downed her remaining drink, called for another, and perished the thought in lieu of hopes for sturdy, possibly violent, encore fuck. As she glanced over at Gary’s excited expression at the prospect of seeing his buddies take the stage, she knew she’d have to wait until the band finished their’s.

Excerpt from All the Men Stayed, the forthcoming serial from Blake Charles Donley

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)

“So, it feels like we’re international rock stars, right?” Sam muttered as she bent over to rest her guitar in its case.  

Sid, high on applause, adulation, and Heineken, reached up her skirt and squeezed her left ass cheek with his capable right hand. 

“Sid!” Sam screeched and she went bolt upright. 

“Yes, how can I help you?” Sid asked with an innocent boyish expression on his face. 

Sam softly slapped his stubbly cheek, “You can get your grubby paws off my backside and start winding cords, OK?” 

“Yes ma’am!” he responded with an upside-down Benny Hill salute. 

As Sid was standing with his back to her looping a blue extension cord around the heel of his palm and elbow, Sam shed her jacket and pressed her chest into his back. 

Sid immediately ceased winding the cord and looked over his shoulder. 

“Seriously, we are like real rock stars here in this place, right?” 

Sid did an about face and set his cord on the stool. 

“It’s pretty damn fun, Sam, it really is. But this is pretty much what we barstool bandoleros do: we entertain groups of five to five hundred, mostly drunk, strangers. Then we move onto the next gig and do it all over again, until we can’t.” 

Sam frowned, “So this is as good as it gets?” 

Sid smiled, “Yep babe, this is pretty much tops for rebels like us. If we’re one of the lucky ones, we’ll weave an endless strand of gigs into a career—some a bit better, some a bit worse, but hopefully most like this one. Thirty years down the road, we can regale our grandkids with stories, tales, lies, and exaggerations from our workman’s vantage point, as we retire to a bedroom in their parent’s basement.” 

Sam looked crestfallen, “Really…?” 

“Them is the facts hun. How many ‘International Rock Star’ jobs do you think open up each year? One? Two, maybe? And you don’t just get those gigs by working hard. You gotta know someone who knows someone, and so on…” 

Sam looked despondent. 

Sid put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her to his chest. 

“Hey, do you love it though?” 

Sam looked up at his glorious square jaw and smiled, “Yeah…I do…” 

“Then who gives a fuck if you are playing to 500 sweaty Europeans, or 50,000 screaming teenagers? If you love it, you soldier on!” 

Sam kissed his cheek, “You’re right, I guess…” she wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him. At that moment, it was as good as she had ever known it to get, and that was everything.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

You Can’t Go Home Again

Either Kenny or Maud had already brewed a fresh pot of coffee. Sam grabbed a mug off the lattice of wooden knobs protruding from the wall above the sink. She filled it to nearly overflowing with the essential onyx liquid. She snatched a stroopwafel from the package and headed for the sofa beckoning her to the other end of the room. She set her cup on the end table and fell into it the over-sized cushions. 

Prior to embarking on her trip, she arranged for an international phone plan which afforded her only 30 minutes of talk time each day. She had to call Kendra, apparently, but she would need to throttle Kendra’s desire to chat for hours as they had done on so many occasions in the window seat of their apartment. 

Sam shifted her focus to the bustle of everyday life just beyond floor-to-ceiling window that bookended the massive space. In her peripheral vision, she monitored steam escaping the small opening at the far edge of her mug she had failed to eclipse with the gooey caramel cookie. Smokey tendrils danced in the autumn sun flooding the room. Suddenly, the realization of fleeting nirvana came to her. This city, these people, this moment—bliss. She savored it gratefully. She never wanted to go home.  

She swung her legs up onto the sofa. The path from her heels to her ass was a caret or lazy capital V, depending on the vantage point. She leaned forward resting an elbow on the broad arm of the sofa. She gazed out the window for a beat. As she reached for her coffee, a resigned frown formed on her face at the thought of Kendra crashing through her utopian moment. 

Sam lifted the nearly melted stroopwafel and took a bite. A stubborn gossamer strand of caramel refused to let go as she pulled it away from her mouth. When it finally broke loose, it landed on her chin, neck, and the drawstring of her hoodie. She quickly twirled it onto her index finger and sucked it off.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

Another One Bites the Dust

Kenny, for his part, was mostly a stand-and-play musician. There was little pretense, if any, in his performance. He was a rock ‘n’ roll disciple testifying from the black triangular dais as fervently as anyone Sam had ever seen. The gospel of bluesy rock & roll he preached into the microphone had entranced not only Sam, but the entire audience. The man, the singer, had soul, and he was bearing it for the entire congregation that showed up for this late-night mass.

Kenny’s big blue boot was deliberately stomping out a rhythm to the Black Crowe’s haunted ballad “She Talks to Angels”. Apropos of the song, the first verse didn’t feel so much sung as torn from somewhere deep inside the big guy’s spirit. Sam, Sid, and the locals who’d packed the room looked as though they’d been lulled into a state of suspended animation as Kenny alternately howled and scowled through the verses. To a neutral presence, the scene would’ve had the feel of an ironic vignette from a DC Comic’s strip where The Flash was moving so much faster than everyone else that he looked to be operating in slow motion amid a field of statues.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

I Strike the Lightening You Clap the Thunder

Sam was standing on a stage in the largest record shop in Amsterdam gazing out at a packed house. Hundreds of live music fans, some sitting, some standing, were gazing back in utter silence. She debated whether to regale them with her Samantha Fox intro, but she had no way of gauging how many of them were familiar with ‘80s pin-up girl gone mega pop star. She also had no clue as to how many of them spoke fluent English or had a sense of humor or both. Her stock-in-trade intro seemed like a risky proposition. That said, every risk she had taken lately had paid off, in spades.

Unbeknownst to her at that moment of inner debate, a much more innocuous maneuver would prove to be the riskiest of all.

Max stepped onto the stage to introduce Sam. As he began, Sam noticed that every monitor in the entire record store flickered, went dark, and then began playing the video of her and Sid singing “Black” back in the Minneapolis record store. The moment was equal parts shocking and exhilarating. Seeing her rock star persona gyrating and wailing on a half-dozen LCD monitors imbued her with all the confidence in the world.

As Max was wrapping up his overly magnanimous remarks, Sam perused the small sheet of paper upon which she had scratched out her set list. Her lead-off tune was the slow but mighty Joan Baez staple, “Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)”. Max was nearly finished, as Sam positioned the microphone stand in just the right spot. She proceeded to affix the set list to it with a small piece of masking tape she had grabbed from Kenny, who had seemingly endless rolls and varieties of tape in his bag. Pulling over a stool that was at the corner of the stage, she sat down and flung her guitar strap over her shoulder.

The last thing Sam did before Max motioned to her and walked off stage, was to lift her right leg and rest the heel of her boot behind the bottom rung of the stool. As the audience dutifully applauded in anticipation of her first song, Sam felt the distinct yet terrifying sensation of a seam ripping and her tight leather pants relaxing considerably. Shortly after, she felt the cool vinyl upholstery of the stool in direct contact with her bare ass. Her wardrobe had betrayed her, malfunctioned spectacularly, in fact.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley

A Kind of Magic

“What’s the story with the piano benches?” Sam asked. 

“Ha! They are from the shows Tom Waits did at the Royal Theatre Carré in November of 2004. I am his biggest fan, and the proprietor of the theatre is a good friend. When I heard Tom was coming to Amsterdam, I asked if I could buy four identical piano benches and have them placed at the piano on stage for his three shows plus his rehearsal.  My friend agreed. Those piano benches were all used by Mr. Waits.” 

“They are his prized possessions,” Luuk added with a smile. 

Max slapped Luuk’s knee. 

Sid, Sam, and Kenny stood there in various degrees of shock, awe, and reverence. 

“Wow! That’s a helluva story,” Sid finally said. 

Max and Luuk just smiled. 

“He wrote songs about your city, you know? ‘9th and Hennepin’, ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’, He drew great inspiration from there.” 

Sam didn’t know that, but she nodded along with everyone else. 

“Aren’t you worried they’ll get ruined?” Sam asked with a concerned expression on her face. 

“What is ruined?” Max pontificated, “I think putting them behind a glass enclosure, or roping them off from anything other than looking, and oohing, and aahing—that would ruin them.” 

Sam looked quizzically at him. 

“I love telling the story of the benches, especially to people who’ve sat on them, especially to the ones who know of Tom Waits. I’ve savored thousands of reactions over the years. Some people are amused. Some people are amazed. Some are ecstatic. It’s the reactions—they are the joy of having these benches, not the benches themselves. So, I leave them for people to sit on, enjoy some music, and make a really cool memory.” 

Sam smiled and thought, That’s perfect…

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novella from Blake Charles Donley