Little Boy BlueJune 15, 2015
Little Alvin Martin was glad at the crowd in the run down club. His band, Blues Nuisance and the Disco Traveler, were the headlining gig tonight and smiles were had all around the stage as Little Al stepped into the light and closer to a battered microphone.
Folks had come from all over to this dingy part of town to see the little boy blow his horn. It was the first of the month and everyone had money to spend in here tonight.
Staccato notes ringing in their ears, the crowd turned to the stage, mesmerized. Lights in overhead cans cast the young man in various shades of crimson as he stepped off into a long legato run. It was really just Martin, the bassist and the drummer at this point in the song. The other players had stepped aside to let the boy have the stage.
A hot blast of windless night gripped the city and the inhabitants were showing their lack of patience with the heat. Warm pink neon radiated outside from The Virginia Hotel sign high above the corner of Kern and Van Ness to the streets below.
“Stand on it baby,” A woman yelled from the smoky darkness somewhere near the bar.
A smile threatened to touch Martin’s lips, but there were several more notes to come in this rapid fire run.
Martin closed his eyes and drifted away to someplace cool and safe and loving, maybe to a home with both a mother and father? The kind of place where people had jobs and the little houses were all clean and nice with a car in the drive, a place where loved ones weren’t strung out on crack or soaked in malt liquor most of the time.
Little Al held the last blue note with its vibrato fading out and then back again. Everyone in the barroom crowd stood and clapped, some yelled over the band roaring from the overhead PA located around the club. Out of breath now, the young man trailed off with a last flurry in the improvised run before taking a bow and stepping back to the riser with the rest of the horn section.
Someone handed Martin a towel, another held a glass of Gin over ice. Martin toweled away the sweat and took the cold glass, nearly downing the drink in one swallow. It was hot in here tonight, the place, the music, the crowd. Man it felt good to be playing tonight.
Backbeat from the drummer signaled that Martin should go out for another bow. The crowd continued to stand in the dim smoky light clapping. Little Al Martin stepped up to the battered microphone smiling. He started to say something and stepped back shaking his head with the smile of embarrassment across his young face. A waitress handed up another glass of confidence. Martin took a sip and the thirsty crowd roared with laughter.
Everyone in here knew the young man who played his horn like no one they had seen before or at least like no one they had seen in a long, long time. The boy was good. But there was a dark side to the story as Martin ran dope on the seedy city streets from time to time. In here, everyone loved him…out there not so much. You didn’t want to cross Al Martin, or so it was said. Some of the thugs he ran the back alleys and dark streets with would see to it that you paid on time, whether you could or not. It didn’t matter.
A loud crack from the back of the room came with a flash. No one on the floor in front of the stage seemed to notice. Maybe they were packed too tightly standing there looking at the boy on stage to hear it. Maybe it was the band, maybe the alcohol or the drugs circulating amongst them?
“Go ahead baby,” That same woman yelled from the back of the room. “Yeah man,” Someone else closer was saying.
Alvin Martin’s chest felt as though someone had had kicked him hard, real hard. The dark smoky room began to spin, slowly at first. His mouth filled with the taste of iron and he tried to say something into the old condenser mic under the lights. He wanted more than anything to tell them that he’d been shot. Air rushed from an opening in his coat along with his life’s blood, he couldn’t. Not one in the crowd standing just feet away noticed the gunman ducking back out onto the street. Martin pointed at the door, his eyes widening, knowing now that he would die.
As he slumped to his knees at first and then to the dirty stage floor, Martin wondered what he wouldn’t give for a few lines of the cocaine in his old trumpet case back stage? His grandfather had given him the old horn way back when he was just a boy, a boy in the second grade. His grandfather had been so proud of him then, maybe he wouldn’t be now? Splitting seven hundred between 9 guys didn’t provide much in the way of income. Little Alvin Martin loved playing his horn, he always had, but it was selling dope that paid the bills. He kept a stolen .357 in the trumpet case along with the dope, but it wouldn’t do him any good now.
Blood pooled on the dirty stage boards underneath. Maybe no one had realized that he’d been shot? The drummer and bassist continued to churn out a dirty blue groove. The crowd seemed to dig it. Martin’s pals in the horn section added flavor to an already sultry piece. And the crowd continued to applaud in the smoky darkness.
Alvin Martin felt tired. More tired than he’d ever been. Martin closed his eyes with the metallic taste of blood in his mouth and the droning of the band nothing more than noise now in the background. From some distance, Martin thought that for a moment, he heard his long dead grandmother reading to him like she did when he was just a baby, calling him home maybe?
“Little boy blue, come blow your horn…”