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Cole "Keys" Jefferson - Club Stingray

Club Stingray - Forward


Scene 1

    Cole Jefferson, a large man with hands the size of Texas opened the back door to the club and tossed a wiry man out into the alley. The man stumbled and fell to the ground.

    "Don't ever come back here, Mason! I have zero tolerance for sloppy musicians," Cole said.

    "Yu, yu, you have no right, Keys! No right t'all!" Mason stuttered.

    Cole shook his head in disgust; his large frame cast a shadow from the single light on the old brick wall of the club that seemed to engulf the alleyway. He turned to walk back inside and the alley returned to its illuminated state. Mason struggled to his feet, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and wavered toward State Street.

    "Keys, don't you think you were a little rough on him?" Sara asked.

    "The pathetic thing about Mason is that he had talent. He just couldn't take his face out of the bottle long enough to utilize it."

    He went into the club and sat down at his usual table in the far corner, just left of the stage and across from the bar. He could see the entire club from there and noticed everyone coming in the front door, who had been sitting at the bar, and kept his eye on the stage. He owned the Club Stingray for nine years now, since old man Miller sold it to him. A smile crossed his lips as he remembered playing in the club when it was called Night Blues. It was back in the mid-fifties, during a time in Chicago when the music was changing as fast as the city and the people in it. There seemed to be a revolution brewing and he wanted to be part of it. When the opportunity presented itself to purchase the club, Cole jumped on it. He put every penny he had ever saved into it and borrowed the rest. And so, Club Stingray was born.

    "Hey, Keys! What a night man! If'n we keep going like this, we be needing a larger club!" Matt said as he handed Cole the receipts for the night.

    "It's a Friday night, Matt, we always do well on Friday night." Cole said as he began to go through the receipts and cash. It was nearly three-thirty in the morning and the club was closed now. Matt smiled and went back to the bar to clean up.

    "We're gone, Keys. See ya tomorrow," Angela said as she walked by the table with Sara beside her.

    "Good night, ya'll. Have Tick walk you home," he replied, but didn't look up from his work.

    "Thanks, Keys. Bye," Sara said.

    They walked out the front door and Tick, the burly Italian boxer, followed them out. The door closed, but not before letting in a burst of fresh air that seemed to clash with the smell of cigarettes and alcohol.

    "Thanks, Tick," Angela said as they walked through the quiet city streets.

    "No problem. Mr. J wants to make sure you girls get home safe."

    "What kind of name is Tick anyways?" Sara asked.

    Tick smiled and paused as the "L" train passed over the street. "Mr. J gave me that name after he saw me fight in the ring. He said I was like a tick that burrowed into my opponent and didn't stop until there was nothing left."

    "Why did you give up boxing?" Sara asked.

    "I wasn't making much money and my head was starting to get dizzy from being hit all the time. Mr. J was nice of enough to offer me a job at the club."

    Cole leaned back against the chair and lit a Kool cigarette.

    "Need anything else, Keys?" Matt asked.

    "No man, go home. See you tomorrow," he said taking another drag of his cigarette.

    Matt pulled on his hat and left the club. Cole put out his cigarette in the ashtray and stood up. He looked around the empty club with the chairs stacked up on the tables, the bar wiped clean and the stage lights turned off. Walking toward the stage, his footsteps echoed like the roar of people clapping, he stepped up on stage and sat behind the piano. He slid back the cover to expose those magnificent white and black blades of mercy that had always made him feel at home. Sitting on the bench with his hands flowing across the keys, he began to play and sing the club's theme song he wrote several years earlier.

If you got no home, child

Someone stole your shoes

You can always come, baby

Come 'n sing your blues

Here at the club, uh huh, yeah at the club

Oohhh huh, at Club Stingray

    His fingers jammed at the keys as he moved down the scale and finished in the key of G. He smiled as he slowly lifted his hands and released the sustain pedal. The last chords floated around the club until they drifted into the walls and floorboards. Cole reached into his pocket and took out another cigarette. After lighting it, he closed the piano, locked the front door, and went upstairs to bed.



Scene 2


    The next day Angela was getting ready for work in her one bedroom apartment on Madison Avenue. It was a small apartment and all that she could afford after working as a singer on a cruise ship for the last five years. She had started working for the cruise lines when she was twenty-two years old and thought it would be romantic to sail on the oceans and see the world. She had dreams of a foreign prince or an American business tycoon noticing her and sweeping her romantically off her feet. But after five years of watching young couples displaying their passion and older couples re-igniting their marriages, she decided to give up the adolescent dream and settle down in the city.

    Chicago wasn't the first city she encountered and she was sure it would not be the last, but for right now she had a nice apartment, friends who cared about her and she was doing what she had always loved to do, sing. Her Italian heritage and her mother's fondness of the opera had Angela singing at a very young age. She had a natural talent for music and could sing a variety of musical styles, but she always held a special place for the blues. Perhaps it was because she was somewhat sad and had not found that special person to fill the void in her heart. She had several relationships, all of which were doomed from the start. The biggest problem for Angela was her huge heart and the kindness she showed to everyone. This was often taken advantage of by the men she had dated, and when the same courtesy wasn't returned she left them standing in the street, sitting in restaurants, or chasing after her as she climbed into a cab that sped away, as was with the last loser.

    It was nearly seven-thirty in the evening and she didn't need to be on stage until nine o'clock, but she always enjoyed going to the club early to have a snack and talk with her friends. She slid the long black dress over her head and fixed her hair one last time. Then, dabbing perfume on her neck and wrists, she grabbed her bag and left the apartment.

    "Dede, can you take table 4? If that guy says one more thing to me I think I'm going to throw up!" Sara said walking with a tray of empty glasses to the bar.

    "Sure, hon, I'll take care of him for you. By the time I get done with him, he'll be running home to mama." She laughed as she took the three bottles of beer over to table four.

    Sara smiled at Matt behind the bar. "I just love her! I wish I could be more like that and say whatever was on my mind."

    "Yeah, that Dede don't take shit from no one," Matt agreed.

    It was almost eight o'clock and the Saturday night rush was starting to come in for the show that would be starting soon and they wanted tables close to the stage. Cole was sitting at his usual table. With his chair leaning back against the wall, he scanned the club nodding with approval. Sara walked up to his table with his glass of gin and tonic and placed it and a napkin on the table.

    "It's gonna be another busy night, Keys," she said with a smile.

    "Yep, this city loves its weekends. I have a new sax player coming in tonight I told him I'd give him a listen. Can you send him over here when he gets here?"

    "No prob," she replied and headed back to wait on the tables.

    In front of the Club Stingray with its neon sign lighting up the block, Angela stepped out of a taxi and went inside. She made her way toward the bar where Dede and Sara were waiting for Matt to fill their drink orders.

    "Ciao, Angela! How are ya?" Sara called out as Angela walked up to them.

    "This place is packed already!"

    "They wanna hear you sing, Angela," Dede said as she picked up the drinks and headed back through the crowded club.

    "You keep packing them in, girl, and I'll keep counting my tips," Sara smiled.

    "I've got to grab something eat, I'm starving!" Angela said and started toward the buffet table. She picked up a plate and began to fill it with salad, fruits, and other essentials. After she finished, she carried it over to Keys and sat at the table with him.

    "For someone so skinny you sure know how to pack it in," Cole said.

    "I'm a growing girl. I need the energy to stand on stage all night," Angela smiled and took another forkful of salad.

    At nine o'clock, Matt turned down the lights and Cole walked up on the stage. The spotlight shined on him from the rafters as he sat behind the piano and adjusted the microphone. He looked toward the audience and began to play.

    "Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Club Stingray!" Cole played the piano like it was an extension of his soul. No one could belt out a tune like he could and he had that raspy, blues voice that carried throughout the club. People began to clap and whistle, and then cheered him on as he broke into the theme song as only he could sing it.


If you got no home, child

Someone stole your shoes

You can always come here, baby

Come 'n sing your blues

Here at the club, uh huh, yeah at the club

Oohhh huh, at Club Stingray!


    Cole stood up from the piano and walked to the center of the stage where he picked up the microphone.

"How ya'll doing?"

    Everyone screamed with excitement.

    "We have a great show for you tonight and later on a special guest is making their debut here at Club Stingray. Our barkeep Matt will keep your drinks flowing, our hostesses Sara and Dede will tend your tables. I'm your host, Keys Jefferson. I'd like to introduce Casey on the piano and our talented Angela."

    Casey took his position at the piano and Angela walked up to Cole who handed her the microphone and then, left the stage.



Scene 3


     Cole withdrew to his table again, sitting against the chair as it leaned on the wall. He stared at the stage as Angela was in the second verse of Eyes of Mine. That girl knows the blues, he thought. Just then, noise and yells came from one of the tables as two men jumped to their feet and started wrestling with each other. Tick was already on it and quickly grabbed both men and proceeded to lead them to the back door. Cole shook his head and laughed as he watched Tick nearly lifting both men off the ground. Tick never hesitated when it came to keeping order in the club and Cole didn't interfere with his decisions to keep the club safe. After showing the two men the alleyway, Tick stepped back inside and nodded to Cole.

     Sara walked up to Cole's table followed by a young, nervous looking man two steps behind her. She took Cole's empty glass and replaced it with a full glass of gin and tonic.

     "This is Sam Baker. He says he plays the sax," she said and winked at Cole.

     "Is that right?" Cole asked as he glared over Sara's shoulder eyeing up the young man hiding behind her.

     Sara turned and went back toward the bar carrying a tray of empty glasses. Sam removed his hat with his left hand, still holding his saxophone case with his right. He stood about six feet and wore an old tattered suit that was at least a size too small. The brownish-gray pants looked as though they were ten years older than the jacket and had worn thin and ragged. His yellowish stained tie hung low and had a hole in the bottom of it.

     "How do you do? I'm Sam Baker. I talked to you on the phone about a job," he stammered.

     Cole sat up in his chair and reached across the table for his pack of cigarettes. Removing one from the pack, he lit it and inhaled.

     "So you think you got what it takes to play here at the club, huh? What's your style boy?" Cole asked and took a sip of his gin.

     "I can play anything, sir, but I like Jazz, like Louis Armstrong style."

     Cole smirked and took the last drag of his cigarette, then smashed it out in the ashtray. He stood up, which startled young Sam to take two steps backwards. Cole reached for his glass and started to walk toward the back door. He called out over his shoulder for Sam to follow him.

     Cole opened the back door to the alley and stepped out followed by Sam, still carrying his saxophone case and hat. Cole leaned against the alley wall and took out another cigarette.

     "Let's hear what kinda soul you got, boy. I ain't got all night."

     Sam looked around the dark alley and then back at Cole.

     "What's a matter? You never played in an alley before?" Cole lit his cigarette.

     "Yes, sir. I mean, no sir." Sam placed his saxophone case on the ground and then popped it open. He removed the shiny golden saxophone from the case and took out a reed, which he placed in his mouth to moisten. With the strap around his neck, he placed the reed into the mouthpiece and adjusted the saxophone's neck. He took one last look at Cole and then closed his eyes and blew into the alto saxophone.

     The night air filled with the crisp, luscious notes of the sax as Sam moved his fingers on the keys. The smoothness of his changes and his grasp of the instrument's capability had captured Cole's interest. He put his cigarette out with his shoe and took a sip from his glass.

     "Alright, so you copied the great Louie. What do you have that's yours?" Cole asked as Sam finished the tune. "Give me something with some soul. I want to see people open their windows in this alley as if they just heard the devil himself play."

     Sam looked at Cole and then at the night sky. He paused for just a moment and then began to play. The smooth sound of that sexy sax filled the alleyways and drifted out into the streets. The blues style mixed with sounds of the Chicago night, and people started to peer down the alley from the sidewalk of State Street. A young couple walked down the alley and stopped just in front of the club's back door, where they swayed back and forth with their bodies pressed against each other.

     Sam ended the song and looked up at Cole. The couple stopped dancing and facing Sam, clapped and smiled. Then they turned and strolled down the alley to State Street. Cole took the last sip of gin and made his way over to the young saxophone player.

     "You got talent kid. I'll say that much for ya. Where ya'll from?"

     "Atlanta, Mr. Jefferson. I'm from Atlanta," he said smiling.

     "Ya gotta place to stay?"

     "I'm staying over at the 'Y' on Ashland Avenue. It ain't much, but it's alls I can afford right now."

     Cole looked past him and out towards State Street. "I'll give you a hundred a week to start. You'll play at least three nights, maybe four. If you can keep the customers entertained, we'll talk about an increase. There's no booze while you're playing -- I catch you with one drop of liquor on my stage and I'll toss you out in this alley faster than you can say Atlantic City."

     "Yes sir! Thank you, sir! I really appreciate it!" Sam said excitedly.

     "Have you had anything to eat today?"
     "No, sir. Not yet."
     "Get inside and have Sara fix you up something."

     "Thank you, Mr. Jefferson! I'll do that right now," he said and put the saxophone back in its case and went into the club.

     Cole stood outside in the alley and stared up at the sky. "Sweet Jesus, how many of these folks are you expecting me to take care of?" A small grin escaped his mouth as he turned and went back inside.


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