This is the last part of Chapter Nine from the third story in Secret Lives of Musicians, "1967." Jack and Alexandra have just arrived in Winnepeg, Manitoba, a place with which she seems quite familiar.
Alexandra took Jack to her favorite eatery in all of Winnipeg, Strait’s at LeConte Street and Ninth, which enjoyed a worldwide reputation, she said, for its gourmet, Greek-style seafood. She ordered for the two of them and Jack thought it sounded like way too much, but when the platters arrived, they dug in like they were starved, which they were. The fish was fresh and the authentic Mediterranean sides were worth the price of admission. She knew the Greek names for all of them and explained what each was along with a brief recipe and historical sketch. She knew an awful lot about Greek food, he noticed. Every so often the chef would break out in song, usually a piece from a Puccini or Straus opera, which would resound throughout the restaurant and come to a grandiose conclusion that always elicited much applause. The meal was an international experience.
As they sauntered back to the Chevy, Alex said, “Let’s go downtown. There’s something I want you to see.”
‘The last time she said that, she took off her pants,’ he thought.
Jack found urban Winnipeg fascinating, very much another culture, with its European-influenced architecture and police in English bobby uniforms and odd-sounding horns and lights flashing and pungent diesel exhaust and all of the impersonal bustle of a foreign city.
They walked six or seven blocks to a big building on a corner. It was an old bus station converted to a music club with a restaurant above it, she said. The entrance was unmarked and they had to climb a steep stairwell to reach the cafe that occupied the entire top floor. The first thing Jack noticed was that it was almost silent and the air was filled with the unmistakable aroma of patchouli incense. The place was full of people sitting in booths wearing hippie clothes and European jackets and round eyeglasses, drinking coffee, talking in low voices, and looking studiously intelligent and thoughtful.
“Doesn’t everyone look alive?” Alex asked when they sat down.
“Where are we?” Jack asked, looking around.
They ordered tea and watched the foot traffic while they talked. He’d never seen so many beads and fatigue jackets and Mexican serapes, and all of the guys had very long hair. He recognized some of the pungent smoke from his college days but decided not to bring it up. He didn’t care for pot.
“A lot of local artists hang out here, and rock and roll musicians, too,” Alex said. “And all kinds of painters and artists. It’s like an open-discipline guild—they call it a ‘local movement.’ But what’s amazing is: the Canadian government encourages it and supports it.”
They hung out for an hour or two before they wandered back to the wagon, holding hands. Their clothes smelled like a patchouli bush, she said. He opened the door for her and said, with a Boy Scout salute, “All aboard the Minot Clipper.” When she bowed elegantly, he swooned.
Alex was talkative as they started back toward the border. She had just finished In Cold Blood and thought Truman Capote was the finest American author of his generation. She loved Gordon Lightfoot, and his lead guitarist, Red, was a friend of hers. Then there were some problems with her mother’s health that worried her. And no, she didn’t feel inhibited dancing in front of everyone but she did feel like she was dancing naked. Because there wasn’t much time to get into character, she went for a straight Annie Oakley in mannerisms and mixed a pinch of nude Alexandra into the personality. Although she loved our dance, she was disappointed, in a way, with the lower key scenario; she was in the mood to act. But she loved our time together in the spotlight.
Alex assumed that Roger’s point was a simple but important one: that that’s what we do every day—except our costumes are our clothes. That was why she was still underexposed on the trip up to Winnipeg. She continued it into real life, “to see what I could see and feel what I could feel. And, yes,” she said, “I am still underexposed.” Jack involuntarily reacted to her statement by glancing across at her breasts. She saw him look at them and briefly lifted her blouse up over her nipples to make her point.
After that sensuous sight, Jack didn’t speak for miles.
“I wanted to take you out to Birds Hill today but we ran out of time,” she said later. “It’s a beautiful new provincial park in the Winnipeg area that just opened this summer. You really must see it.”
As they approached the customs booth, Alex brushed her hair and stuffed it into her hat, which changed her appearance a lot, he noticed. He could see much more of her face with her hair up and his first impression was that she would be a very attractive bald woman. ‘She has such high caliber genes,’ he thought.
It must have been early in her shift because the gatekeeper was in a jolly mood. “What’re ya bringin’ back?” she asked in vintage North Country twang.
Jack pointed toward the back seat with his thumb. “Not much. Just a box of goodies from her mother.”
“Thank you—have a nice day now,” said the gatekeeper in a friendly monotone; the window slid shut, the light turned green, and the gate arm shot up.
As they started south down US 81, Jack asked, “Alex, where did you get that jacket? It looks like it was made for you. It’s not a stock costume, is it?”
“Oh, no, one of our members donated it to the theater not long ago,” she said.
“It looks ancient. Did she say where she where she got it?”
Alex nodded. “I know her, her name is Beatrice; she’s an attractive girl—and very clever. As I remember it, her story was she was dating a guy in a band and they went out for a few weeks and things were going good until something happened, she didn’t say what, and that was it; he was gone. He left her and his jacket behind and she never saw him again. I do love it. He told her it belonged to his mother and she got it during the war.”
He pointed at the silver buttons with the yellow question marks hand-painted on them. “What do you think those mean?”
“Don’t know,” she said. “Looks like a homemade job. Something tells me that’s an interesting story.”
They drove in silence for almost an hour before Alex slid over next to him on the seat and put her left arm around his shoulders. “Let’s stop at the sacred mound on the way back,” she whispered.
He glanced at her peaceful smile. “It’s not too far ahead,” she said, her arm still around him.
He parked Old Brown in the same place and they walked over to the edge. As they stood there in the afternoon breeze, looking out across the straw prairie and holding hands, she said, “It’s going to be late when you get home.”
“I don’t have plans,” he said.
They kissed for a long time. A warm wind was in their faces as they started to walk along the rim. As they strolled and surveyed the distant horizon, a prairie chicken flushed and jolted them, and then another—four in all. “Beautiful birds with incredible feathers, especially the male birds,” she said, “and I like them broiled.”
When they got to the other side, they scared up a pair of young mule deer bucks who went thundering down the side of the mesa in a cloud of dust. “Boys will be boys,” she sighed.
As they started back, Jack put his arm around her and said, “One more time? I told you I’m a slow learner.”
Alexandra laughed. “You are anything but, Mister Walker.”
When they got to the wagon, she opened the passenger side door and turned around. Coming close to him, she whispered, “Jacky, all of me wants you.” As she spoke, she unbuckled his belt.
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Secret Lives of Musicians
Secret Lives is the only novel I've published using a pen name. (My middle name is Emmett and my mother's middle name was Orlaine. Hence, Emmett Orlaine.) But this is not a book about music. It's a collection of stories about musicians from different eras who find themselves in international, desperate, and often life-threatening situations and how they improvise and think on their feet to survive. It's a cultural time capsule, it's funny, and it's available for all eBook formats anywhere in the world—and only $4.99.
For more about Secret Lives, check out the BOOKS section.