About A NICE WHITE GIRL

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

A Nice White Girl, my third novel, is a story reflective of the political tenor of our times as well as my literary desire to explore racial conflict via an interracial couple impacted by police profiling. While the title is derived from dialogue that’s a critical element of the story, the narrative involves the third-person perspective of both protagonists, a black man and white woman, as they simultaneously fall in love and slam against metastasizing disruption in and around their lives.

My interest in the theme evolved from clinical observation, as well as personal experiences with issues of race, widely covered in my Huff Post column (see related articles below). Beyond that journalistic work, some of which has been excerpted for books and academic tomes (i.e., Macmillan Learning, Signs of Life in the USA; National Math+Science Initiative Workbooks), my writerly bona fides include produced and awarded film screenplays (i.e., Final Draft competitions) and literary essays (i.e., The Maine Review), with recent years focused largely on full-length upmarket fiction.

My first two novels, After The Sucker Punch and Hysterical Love, both dealt with themes of personal discovery and family politics, woven within narratives that used both humor and pathos to their stories. A Night White Girl, however, compelled a darker, more dramatic tone that relied on plot and suspense, while allowing exploration of cultural diversity from myriad points of view.

While those first two novels were successfully self-published, I felt this larger, more topical theme would benefit from a more traditional route. To that end, I’ve been exploring appropriate literary agencies to find an advocate who’ll relish taking on a provocative book of both creative and cultural merit.

A short synopsis and first six chapters are below. Should you wish more information or details on my work, you can visit my website, or don’t hesitate to get in touch @ lorrainedevonwilke@gmail.com.

Enjoy the read!  

A Nice White Girl: a short synopsis

Chris Hawkins, 34,  black sound engineer from Chicago’s south side, and Sidonie Frame, 35, white, suburban-raised, and head manager of one of the city’s most elite venues, meet by work-related happenstance and fall quickly in love. Immediately put to test by family and friends with conflicting attitudes on the matter, their romantic optimism is shattered when a series of violent police encounters culminates in Chris being beaten and arrested on criminal charges. With a trial to endure and the dissipating loyalties of key allies, Sidonie and Chris are driven to question what they know of each other and just who to trust.

A sociopolitical love story that digs deep into the conundrum of “love vs. culture,” A NICE WHITE GIRL (99,418 words) illuminates themes of privilege, prejudice, and forgiveness within families, friendships, and certainly out in the world, where bias too often makes even love a political statement. Holding a mirror to contemporary culture while reveling in the complexities of human connection, it is a story of life, love, racism, and redemption.

A Nice White Girl: first six chapters

Chapter 1

It was not an ordinary day.

It could pretend to be. It tried. The sun rose in the east. Blue jays squawked their usual morning greetings. Lyft drivers shuffled down below, and the coffee pot dinged at the exact prescribed moment. Still, it took only seconds to realize this was not, in fact, an ordinary day.

Maybe it was the drawn curtains, midnight blue and so rarely closed she’d forgotten their color. Maybe it was the rumpled sheets, tossed in cologne and the scent of warm skin. Maybe it was his head on the pillow next to hers, sweet and breathing; eyes closed and lips parted.

Everything near and tangible gave evidence of something Sidonie Frame did not do. She did not wake up in darkened rooms, next to men, in her home, in her bed; not anymore, not these days. Too much danger in the exercise, too little benefit to the risk. She’d accrued at least that much wisdom in her highly educational life.

Yet there he was. A sleeping man with strong arms and dark brown skin, tucked in a bed made the previous morning with no hint of its erotic disruption in the night to come. She smiled, pleased that life could still surprise her. Not much did these days, making it noteworthy.

As she slipped from the covers and padded quietly toward the bathroom, Chris Hawkins, the unexpected man, stirred, waking just enough to alert him to the parameters of the day. His first assembled thought was, “Oh, this did happen,” which, in the hazy moment before his eyes slid shut again, struck him as both strange and delightful.

Sidonie turned just as he fell back into a dream, and the flush of something sweet and familiar cascaded, warming her cheeks and quickening her pulse. Could it be happiness? Some form of happiness? Was that possible? She decided it was. Happiness, rare and wonderful, flowing like warm honey, inspiring tenderness for this man she’d known only months. This man whose eyes lit in her presence, whose attention jolted her senses, whose interest promised better days ahead.

“This might be an adventure worth having,” she thought before heading to the shower.

In the months to come, she’d reflect often upon that fleeting moment of optimism.

Chapter 2

Four months earlier…

“No business exists without chaos,” Frank Lehman, club owner and Sidonie Frame’s long-time boss, once proclaimed. “No ideas are implemented, no plans put to action, no partners assuaged or employees managed without the grit of bedlam.”

Embrace of this nihilistic maxim may have been instructive, but it did not make her job—head manager of The Church, one of Chicago’s buzziest small concert and event venues—any easier to contain. In fact, today, with its high-profile event and gaggle of nonprofit micromanagers bordering on hysteria in her office, she found herself, once again, chafing at the demands of her accidentally-chosen profession.

She’d come to The Church the summer between her junior and senior years as a business major at Northwestern University. Confident to the point of arrogance, she’d been certain her foray into nighttime cocktail waitressing, required to keep bills paid and yogurt on the table, would be a brief thing of good money and flexible hours. It was. The tips were surprisingly lucrative, she worked as often or as little as she liked; it sustained her through graduation, even financed her master’s at the Kellogg School of Management. What it was not, however, was brief.

Working at The Church ceased being a job over six years ago, when Frank, quick to recognize talent, offered Sidonie the position—and impressive salary bump—of head manager. Given its resemblance to her dream of running a beautifully realized, top-of-the line club of her own, the promotion seemed a wise step, one that, by now, had evolved into a full-blown career. But at thirty-five—divorced, overworked, and currently bereft of any previously-held joie de vivre—she found the perks of wrangling famous people, listening to great bands, and whipping up events for high-maintenance clients to be lusterless. She wanted out, but until her own project sprang to life, she was there. At The Church. Night after long night.

It was when Jasper Zabrinsky, her all-around guy who ran everything stage-and-music-oriented, came to her with the latest kerfuffle that she knew this particular night might tip the scales. “He’s not here,” Jasper, wiry, scruffed in a perpetual two-day beard, panted as if his years of smoking had finally hit critical mass.

“Who’s not here?” Sidonie barely looking up from her tablet.

“Troy! He took his monitors out last night, said he had a gig this morning, now he’s not answering his phone.”

Troy Cleveland was The Church’s somewhat-past-his-prime sound manager. In an unconventional operational quirk, his stage monitors and their dedicated mixing board were used to supplement the state-of-the-art sound system Frank had built into the room years ago, a cozy arrangement that afforded Troy additional compensation and made both his presence and equipment essential. Sidonie had long advised Frank against this potential conflict of interest, but loyalty issues were involved: he and Troy were bandmates in the 80s and those ties never failed to trump logic in this particular debate.

And despite Sidonie’s concerns, the unorthodox arrangement hadn’t initially been a problem: Troy ably managed The Church’s eclectic line-ups and sound demands. It was only in the last year dependability had waned. There were rumors (and ample evidence) of a serious drinking problem, but he’d had a rough go post a very messy divorce so leeway was given. But now he was unreachable on a day when Susan Brayman, point person for the Chicago Empathy Initiative Gala being hosted at the club, a capable woman who could nonetheless snap with the force of a hurricane, was veering perilously close to combustion.

Sidonie finally looked at Jasper, the gravity of the situation dawning. “Wait, the monitor system isn’t in the club?”

“No! He took his stuff with him last night. Had some big event in Joliet this morning. He was supposed to be here over an hour ago and so far, I’m gettin’ nothing with either texts or calls.” Jasper’s eyes had a comical way of bugging when he was particularly stressed, a sort of Steve Buscemi effect that typically inspired mirth. Even with trouble at hand, Sidonie had to stifle a reflexive grin.

“How worried should I be?”

“We’ve got two bands coming in for sound checks, and five different people giving speeches who are scheduled for rehearsal. It’s all supposed to start in about twenty minutes.”

She looked at her watch. “That is bad.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell ya!” Jasper plunked to a chair as if the weight of the day just hit his bloodstream. “I can’t do it myself, Sid, there’s lots of moving parts to this one.”

“I know. Any ideas?”

“I’ve got a friend I could call.”

“A sound guy, with a full monitor set-up, even a board?”

“Yeah, a guy I used to work with downtown. Has his own company, Sound Alchemy. Ever heard of it?”

“No, but it’s not exactly my wheelhouse.”

“He’s got great gear, does a lot of outdoor stuff, but he can rig a room without any problem. He’s actually kind of a genius. Odds are he’s booked—he’s pretty busy—but it’s only Thursday so we might get lucky. Should I call?”

Before Sidonie could consider this unexpected option, the shriek of her name echoed from across the room. She looked over to see Susan glaring in her direction.

Jasper’s leg was twitching. “What do you want to do, Sid? We don’t have time to think about it.”

“Call him. If he can, get him over here and set up as quickly as possible. If he can’t, come find me and we’ll figure something else out. But don’t tell anyone—I mean anyone. I’ve already got enough fires to put out.”

As Jasper sprinted off, Susan again caterwauled from afar. Sidonie took a deep breath, a slow sip of her lemonade sparkler, checked some notes on her tablet, then turned and walked purposefully in the direction of her frazzled client.

Chapter 3

Under a canopy of indigo clouds and the backdrop of downtown’s shimmering skyline, the rush and hustle of Chicago nightlife surged outside the club. Discreet signage beckoned, making the notable hip quotient of The Church a pull to anyone strolling past, and a growing crowd angled for any way in, guest list be damned.

Wind off the lake, brisk and biting despite the timid arrival of spring, buffeted the arrivals area, but, undeterred, gorgeous women decked in sleeveless couture and stilted heels teetered over the remaining slush to make their fashionable entrances. By six o’clock the valets were hopping, the velvet rope was taut, and invited guests, celebrity donors, and an impressive array of print and media personalities jammed the bar. In the adjacent performance room the music was loud and appropriately raucous, and even this early into the proceedings young, beautiful people had taken to the dance floor to get the party started.

In the midst of cacophony, reigning from behind the nouveau-speakeasy bar of ornate woodwork and artfully burnished Deco mirrors was Al Bonnura, The Church’s head bartender. A forty-something veteran of the local circuit, with reasonably good looks and a long history of entertaining Chicago’s cocktail aficionados, Al had achieved a kind of regional celebrity. He once confessed to Sidonie that he’d taken career inspiration from the film Cocktail, doing little to raise him in her esteem, but she was that rare woman who never warmed to his charms, status he viewed only as a challenge to overcome. So far he hadn’t.

But he did know his way around a bottle, and the shining, glittering women who surrounded his nightly domain attracted the packs of men who followed. It was a prosperous formula that granted some latitude for his bawdy stylings, some of which, waitresses occasionally complained, pushed the boundaries of acceptable workplace behavior. Still, he always seemed to hold the line, if precariously. Tonight he was in rare form, playing to the phalanx of cameras and eager reporters: Bottles a’twirling, quips flying from one end of the bar to the other; eyes glinting in high-pitched performance as the occasional applause left his face flushed and smiling.

Stepping incongruously into the mayhem was a tall black man, mid-thirties; serious eyes, in faded black jeans and a T-shirt. Notably dressed down in comparison to the attending crowd, his approach to the bar drew Al’s immediate attention, who hollered over the din: “You here for the pick-up?”

The man looked up, perplexed. “Excuse me?”

“She’s out in the lobby. Red dress. Not feeling too good. I think she’s headed to River North.”

The man’s demeanor shifted imperceptibly as he felt a tick, reflexive response to the cliché of presumption. He took a quick breath and smiled tightly. “Nope, not the cabbie. I’m here doing sound for Sidonie Frame. I was hoping I could grab a beer before the show.”

Al took a beat, then shot him a chagrined smile, pulled out a Sierra Nevada and slid it across the bar. “Sorry, man. Been so busy I didn’t notice what was going on in there… can’t say I’ve seen you before.”

“No problem.” The man took a long draught, placed some bills on the bar, and reached out for a handshake. “Chris Hawkins. I’m a friend of Jasper’s. Came in tonight to help out.”

Al returned a hearty shake and pushed Chris’ money away. “This one’s on me. Sorry about the confusion.” He turned back to his beckoning customers as Chris slid to an available stool, spinning slowly to take in the room.

Al was right; he had never been here before. Lincoln Park was not his usual stomping grounds, though his nights were more often spent working than bar hopping. When he did get out it was typically to clubs further south; smaller, more casual places with good jazz and blues, and the kind of food rarely found in tony rooms like this. Looking around, he couldn’t help but note few faces of color in the mix.

But it was a nice venue, a prestigious place, and he knew their performance roster was top-notch. Jasper had invited him in on several occasions—when guys like Clapton and Buddy Guy were playing—but so far he’d never taken him up on it. Until tonight.

His availability had been a fluke; the original job fell through after a kitchen fire broke out in the booked venue. He’d been heading to dinner with some of his team when Jasper called. Given his old friend’s frantic plea, and the not-inconsiderable ‘emergency wages’ being offered, he shifted gears to get over to The Church as quickly as possible. He realized this would be a shoot-from-the-hip kind of night, not his usual style, but after his monitors and board were set up and a rough sound check was managed, he was confident they’d get through the night well enough.

Which was important to him. He’d built the reputation of his company, Sound Alchemy, by making sure every room, every stage; every event he rigged was as resonant and crisp as the best places in town. Having a portable set-up offered unlimited options, his ears were impeccable, and in the six years since he’d launched—with seed money (from his grandmother) and a business plan vetted by experts (his mother, sister, and brother-in-law)—he was booked consistently enough to build his reserves and comfortably turn down the occasional side gig.

But tonight he was happy to help out… particularly after he met Sidonie Frame. There was something about her—swinging blonde hair and piercing eyes—that set the night on a different plane. She’d been gracious and grateful upon meeting, and went out of her way to make sure he had everything he needed. That wasn’t always the case at gigs, and certainly not always the case with women who looked like Sidonie Frame. Chris would never say he had a type, and typically he wasn’t drawn to white women, having dated only two in his thirty-four years, but she made an impression: not flashy, not obvious; grounded somehow; smart, direct, and clearly in-charge. That she was stunning was a bonus.

And approaching now from the undulating crowd was the very women in mind.

Her face lit up when she saw him. “Oh, Chris, good, I was just looking for you. I’m glad you got something to drink; have you had a chance to eat? It’ll get too crazy later and I don’t want you to starve to death.”

He liked that she’d thought of him. “Thanks, I’m good. Grabbed a burger a few minutes ago.” Just then Jasper flew by and Chris noticed he’d changed into a dress shirt and tie. “I’m sorry I’m not better put together,” he said to Sidonie. “I rushed over from another gig and didn’t realize the set-up was so formal.”

She stopped scanning the room to peruse his attire; she smiled. “No worries… you look fine. I’m just grateful you’re here. I don’t know if our regular guy is under a bus or under a bed, but thank you, truly. And, listen, if you need to step away during the night, there’s a little office right behind the stage. It’s really more of a closet, but the door does close,” she laughed.

Her tablet lit up with a text; she quickly sent a response, then turned back to Chris. “It seems we’re rolling. Just do your best and let’s be sure to touch base at the end of the night, okay?” Her smile radiated the suggestion of what she was like when she wasn’t beleaguered. He smiled back.

“Absolutely. You know where to find me.”

“Thanks, Chris.” She squeezed his hand. “Jasper’ll take good care of you and I hope my crazy client doesn’t drive you to drink. If she does, it’s on the house!” With that she hustled off, people grabbing her from every angle.

Chris watched her cross the entire length of the room.

Chapter 4

Despite definite highlights and the commendable efforts of everyone involved, the event was not without its glitches. Two of the guest speakers missed rehearsal and were ultimately so unnerved by the demands of public speaking they were barely audible, losing meaningful speeches in the din. Conversely, one of the two bands, local headliners poised for a national breakout, insisted on playing so loudly that several of the more elderly donors stormed out with expressed irritation. Lastly, Susan Brayman, while empathetic to the demands of an “Evening for the Chicago Empathy Initiative,” complained often enough that every transition was a struggle (“we are not serving dessert before the last speaker, I don’t care if it is soufflé!”).

The food was delicious and well received, however; the dollars raised were substantial, and The Church was once again acknowledged as the place for entertaining and event fulfillment, making Frank a happy proprietor. Sidonie just wanted a hard drink and a long vacation, only one of which was available by evening’s end. As she sat at the bar sipping the best vodka gimlet she’d had in a long time, courtesy of Al’s magical touch, she noticed Susan leaning against the stage in a provocative pose, her smile coy and beaming as she chattered away with Chris. Jasper stood across from them boxing microphones, and when Sidonie caught his attention, he rolled his eyes. She waved him over.

“What’s up, boss?” Jasper wheezed. She wondered how he always looked as if he’d just stepped off a hard road trip, even in dress attire.

“What on earth are those two talking about?”

“She’s cooing about what a great job he did. I’d guess she’s also angling for a phone number.”

“For reasons of work or play?”

“Your guess. But Chris is a big boy, he can handle her.”

“Any word from Troy?” She was reluctant to ask. Several big events were coming up and she did not have time for wayward employees, particularly of the sound department kind.

“Yeah, a couple of hours ago. He sounded pretty messed up. Said his mixing board and monitors were stolen out of his truck this morning and after dealing with the police and everything, he just got fucked up and lost time.” Jasper, like Frank, felt some loyalty to Troy, who’d gotten him the job five years earlier, but, unlike Frank, Jasper was disinclined to minimize the problem. “It pissed me off when he acted like it was no big deal, so I let him know my thoughts.”

Sidonie could only imagine that conversation. “I am sorry about his equipment, but what did he think would happen when he didn’t show up tonight?”

“I don’t think there was much thinkin’.”

“So, what’s the plan? He just comes in tomorrow and we pretend nothing happened?”

“I don’t know, Sid.” Jasper shifted uncomfortably. There was nothing he liked less than answering for someone else, and he’d had to do that a lot for Troy lately. “He’s gonna have to replace everything, and money’s tight for him right now. He said if Frank wants to rent out some stuff, he’ll take care of getting it in here and set up, but that’s up to you guys.”

Sidonie wasn’t feeling magnanimous. Troy’s job entitlement was severely disproportionate to his value. Her eyes slid past Jasper; Susan was now waving good-bye in her direction—she waved back with a nod and smile, noticed that Chris had climbed back on stage to roll cords. “How’d he do tonight?” she asked Jasper.

Jasper looked over. “Chris? Great. He knows his stuff. I wouldn’t have suggested him if he didn’t.”

“I know, I just meant how do you like working with him?”

“He’s awesome. A total pro and a great guy. Why?”

Sidonie took another sip of her gimlet. An idea was gelling. “Do you think he’d be interested in the job?”

Jasper eyes bugged in their usual fashion. “Wow… I don’t know. I mean, he’s got a pretty good thing going with his freelance business, I’m not sure he’d want to lock into something full-time. I guess it’d depend on the money, or maybe what he’s already got booked. Do you want me to ask him?”

“No. Let me think about it for a minute, run it by Frank. But don’t let him leave before I do that, okay?”

“Yeah, no problem.” Jasper jaunted back to the stage area just as Al approached from the other side of the bar.

“Hey there, good lookin’.”

Sidonie felt a recurring wave of annoyance. She’d asked Al to stick to her name, which for him typically meant her last name, but tonight he was clearly feeling sassier than usual.

“Crazy night,” he grinned.

“Yep. A wild one.”

Al leaned in, closer than she appreciated. “Listen, you remember Mike Demopoulos, right?” He motioned to the other end of the bar where one of the neighborhood cops who’d made The Church a watering hole raised a glass in her direction. She had a vague memory of meeting him at some point.

“Not really. Why?”

“Nothing major; he was just commenting about how cute you are, how capable you seem, you know, working the crowd like you do. I think he has a little crush on you.” Al winked with enough leer to convince Sidonie the conversation was over.

She popped off her stool. “Thanks for the gimlet.” Before he could respond, she turned and walked toward her office, passing the kitchen just as Frank emerged with a heaping plate of ribs.

“Hey, you want some of these? I think I’ve got more than I can handle.”

“I’d say so… that’s quite a rack!” she laughed. “And no thanks… but I do want to talk to you about something.”

“Come sit, tell me what’s on your mind.” Frank, good-looking late-fifties, always immaculate in business dress, pulled a couple of chairs up to a table in the darkened dining area and the two of them sat. Sidonie had to smile as he launched into dinner with enough verve to splatter barbecue sauce on his designer shirt. He grinned. “Never fails. Stella tells me I should wear a bib!”

Sidonie liked Frank. He was a fair boss and ran a classy operation. He was good to his wife, Stella, to whom he’d been married for almost three decades; he treated his two college-age sons with respect, and he never failed to acknowledge her role at the club as essential. His biggest flaw, beyond misguided loyalty and a tendency toward conservative thinking (both in business and politics), was his sloppy eating habits, deep contradiction to his impeccable grooming.

“We need to talk about Troy, Frank. You know what happened, right?”

“Jasper gave me the rundown, including his drunken call of a couple of hours ago. Not thrilled, obviously.”

“I think it’s beyond ‘not thrilled.’ He put us in real jeopardy with a very big client tonight. If Jasper hadn’t come through with his friend I don’t know what we would’ve done. Apparently, he now plans to just walk in tomorrow like nothing happened, without his monitors and mixing board, which he expects you to replace for the time being, and I have to admit, I’m not feeling generous.”

“Okay. What are you feeling?”

“I want to talk to Jasper’s friend about stepping in.”

Frank looked up. “Temporarily? Put Troy on suspension?”

“No.” She hesitated, then: “Let him go.”

“Wow. That bad, huh?”

“That bad. Tonight may be the worst, but it’s not the first infraction. By a long shot.”

Frank went back to his ribs, pondering her proposal. She continued the pitch:

“I’m not sure Chris is available or would even be interested—Jasper tells me he’s got a successful freelance business going—but if you’re agreeable, I’ll at least run it by him. If he can’t do it, we’ll reconvene on other options. But I’d like to make an offer, even consider a bump on what Troy’s making, really shift gears here. I can’t risk any more unpredictability, and there’s been too much of that lately. I know you two go way back and—”

“Sidonie, I’m not stupid.” Frank looked up from his plate to give her his full attention. “I know he’s been dropping the ball. I’ve wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, as we have—”

“For quite a while, actually.”

“Yes, for quite a while, and maybe I haven’t been as on top of it as I should have been. But when you’re right, you’re right. Tonight was a major screw-up. I’ll leave it to your good judgment. Talk to your guy over there and if he’s onboard, I’ll be the one to let Troy go, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks, Frank. I’m just looking out for the club; you know that, right?”

“I know that.”

And she was. She was sure of that, antipathy for Troy notwithstanding.

Frank went back to his ribs. “Anything else?”

She got up quickly. “Nope. Just thinking it through.”

“Then get outta here. I want to be a slob in peace.”

She smiled and headed out, surprised, really, at how easy that had been.

Chapter 5

Chris, who’d found himself paying attention to Sidonie’s comings and goings throughout the night, now had the distinct feeling he was a focal point as she and Frank conversed in the dining area. He wondered if she had issues with the job he’d done. Despite the few snafus, it had gone as well as could be expected under the circumstances, status confirmed by Susan’s gushing accolades, but he’d learned that clients sometimes offered surprising post-gig assessments. As he noticed her glance his way more than once, he started to get jumpy.

“Hey, Jasper, is your boss cool with the way things went tonight?”

Jasper looked up from behind the stage where he was dwarfed by a stack of speaker cabinets. “Sidonie?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure. She knows the problems weren’t on us. Why?”

“I don’t know… just wondered.”

“She did say she wanted talk to you before you left, so check it out with her.”

As if on cue, Sidonie approached from the dining room. “Hey, Chris, could we talk for a minute?”

“Sure.” Climbing down from the stage, he walked with her to a booth in the bar area. “Can I get you a drink?” he asked politely.

She smiled at his formality. “I hit my one-drink limit a minute ago; I’m good.”

She slid into the booth and he sat across from her, surprised at how nervous he felt; her cool approach was somehow intimidating.

“I hope you’re okay with the way everything worked out tonight,” he began. “I know there were a few issues—”

“More than okay. As it seems Susan happily conveyed to you,” she said with a grin. “She couldn’t stop talking about how ‘considerate and humble’ you were. And despite our loud band and very shy speech makers—”

“Yeah, sorry about all that—”

“No apologies necessary. Susan told me herself she wished she’d gone with more experienced speakers, and the band, well, she picked them too! She was very clear that none of it was your fault. Under the circumstances, I would’ve been happy to just get through the night, but you made the switch almost seamless. I’m in your debt.”

He felt a flush of relief; it seemed important to please her. “It’s a great room and I knew this was a big event for you. I’m happy it worked out.”

“Actually, I want to talk to you about an idea that started percolating for me as the night went on. I just ran it by Frank and he’s open to it as well.”

“Okay. I’m intrigued.” He smiled, still nervous.

“I hate to just dump this in your lap without preamble and within less than twenty-four hours of meeting, but would you be at all interested in stepping into the position full-time? Beyond the stellar job you did, Jasper vouches for you, which is a big deal to both Frank and me, and we’re definitely in need of change around here. I’d normally take longer to find the perfect person, but if tonight were an audition, I’d say you were the perfect person.” The intensity of his eye contact rattled her.

“Wow.” He sat back, nonplussed.

She quickly filled the pause. “I understand you have your own business, and this kind of gig may not fit your work model—and it can be a pain in the ass working with celebrities and their entourages, or corporate types who don’t understand the process of putting an event together, but—” She stopped, realizing she was pushing too hard. “Sorry. I’m overwhelming you.”

Chris laughed. “Not at all! It’s nice to feel wanted.” He meant it.

“I know I’m making us sound desperate and we’re not—well, we are, but it’s not like we can’t find—”

“No, no, I get it. Sometimes a place just needs new blood. I appreciate that you thought of me. What you’re offering could be a good situation under the right circumstances; the problem for me is that I’m booked solid for the next few weeks. And beyond that—I have to be honest—I’m not sure you could beat what I’m pulling in on my own. That’s a big component for me running the business, so I don’t think this would be my best move right now.”

“I understand.” She did. She was also disappointed. And not ready to concede. “Though I guarantee we could meet whatever salary demand you had—” A completely unsubstantiated claim. “And maybe we could work around what you’ve already got booked until you could hire more staff for your gigs and come in here full-time.” Which would require them using Andrew, their standby sound engineer—who was solid but lacked experience—or capitulating to the Troy scenario for a while, which was deeply undesirable. Beyond that, and for whatever reasons, Chris’s acquiescence had become important to her.

He, meanwhile, was rolling it through his own filters. The Church was a prestige gig; there was no doubt about that. Would it raise the value of his brand if he were the sound manager here? Would it attract new freelance customers? Get his name out there on a whole new level? All good questions to consider. “How quickly would you want me to start, if it was something I could work out?”

“This weekend is easy, and we’ve got a light acoustical roster throughout next week; Jasper can do all that himself. The week after that is sporadic, spoken word one night, a couple of bands over the weekend—Jasper can manage that with Andrew, our standby guy. But the following week we’ve got two big corporate events, and the week after, both Melissa Etheridge and David Crosby are coming in; I’ll definitely need the full team by then.”

It was impossible for him to assess, at this moment, if the job was something he was actually interested in or if it was the proximity of the very appealing woman offering it. He opted for delay. “Let me think about it. I’m pretty happy with the rhythm I’ve got, but if the salary moved me up the scale, and I could ramp up to it rather than leap right in, it might be doable. I have a good team that can run things for me on the outside, so… can I have the weekend to think about it?”

His earnest expression, devoid of either Troy’s snark or Jasper’s beleaguered mien, was charming to her, inspiring an unexpected tug of feeling. Which annoyed her. Because now she really wanted him to take the job. “Absolutely. Why don’t you think about what salary would work for you, shoot me a text, and I’ll clear it with Frank. We’ll take it from there.”

He stood up. “Sounds great. And thanks, Sidonie. I enjoyed working with you.” He took her hand. It was warm.

“No, thank you! You quite literally saved my ass today.”

He smiled and walked back to the stage area, actively pondering the aforementioned body part.

Before she could slide out of the booth, Mike Demopoulos suddenly appeared at her side, drink in hand. “Good evening, Sidonie. Al tells me you’re a gimlet gal and I figured after such a long night, you could probably use some libation.”

Mike was a nice guy and not completely unattractive—average height, a little paunchy; a face most women would characterize as ‘cute’—but at the moment Sidonie found him to be as annoying as Al, who grinned from behind the bar with a goofy thumbs-up.

She looked back at Mike with an inscrutable expression. “Mike, is it?”

“Yeah, Mike; we met before, remember? Mind if I join you?” Oblivious, he slipped into the seat Chris had just vacated.

Sidonie simultaneously stood up. “Actually, Mike, I’ve had all the libation I need and I was just about to head home. But thank you. Good night!”

As she walked off, Mike looked to Al with a shrug and headed back to the bar.

Chapter 6

After the Sound Alchemy van was loaded, and handshakes and goodbyes were exchanged, Chris caught the neon of a 24-hour market a few blocks north and decided to walk over for a few needed items. Armitage Avenue remained closing-time hectic, so, looking for a more peaceful stroll, he pulled his jacket tight against the wind and turned toward an adjacent residential area.

Walking at night was a kind of poetic meditation for him. A man whose head was filled with sound most of the time, Chris gravitated toward quietude whenever he could find it. He often took longer routes afoot, content to wander streets he didn’t know to get places he needed to be, fascinated, always, by what was noticed along the way.

Curiosity had been a proclivity of his since childhood. His mother would chastise him for being a ‘nosy sort’ when he’d stare too long at passing strangers, or listen too closely to bus stop conversations, but inquisitiveness prevailed. The half-sentence that floated by; chatter from an opened window; a couple’s whispered embrace on a porch stoop. Even as a child, before he had the maturity to articulate, or even understand, it, those brief intersections sparked a sense of existential connectedness. His mother told him it was safer to mind his own business, but he found life too compelling to ignore.

As at this very moment. To his left, across a short expanse of late-winter lawn, behind a window warmed by amber lamplight, he saw a middle-aged couple dancing closely to the strains of something smooth and melodic. He slowed his pace, wondering who they were to each other and why they were dancing at two-thirty in the morning, imagining their story to be something tender and provocative-

WOOT WOOT! His reverie was jolted by the bleat of a police siren. A patrol car pulled sharply to the curb. The uniformed officer on the passenger side leaned out an open window, training his flashlight on Chris’s face.

“What are you doing there, buddy?”

Chris felt a tick, the familiar tick. He took a breath. “Just heading to the store up there on the corner.”

“Oh, yeah? Up on Armitage?”

“Yes.”

“Then what are you doing on this street? They don’t much appreciate strangers loitering around here.”

“Not loitering; just looking for a quieter walk.”

The cop climbed out of the car, hand on his gun. “Where are you coming from?” His approach was wary, tense.

“I worked at The Church tonight,” Chris responded in as neutral a tone as he could muster. “Just wrapped it up and decided to grab a few things at the store.”

“How about you show me some ID?”

As Chris carefully extracted his wallet and pulled out his driver’s license, the officer behind the wheel disembarked. As he approached, hand rested atop his gun, he positioned himself to frame Chris opposite his partner. No one spoke and the moment crackled with frisson. The first cop studied the license, scanned Chris’s face, then walked back to the car to run the information. Chris took another slow breath.

“Did I hear you say you worked up at The Church?” the remaining officer asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s a nice place, isn’t it?” He was clearly running the ‘good cop’ angle.

“It is.”

“What did you do over there?”

“Ran their sound tonight.”

The first cop came back, nodded to his partner, affirmation of some kind, then handed the license back to Chris. “You don’t look like a sound guy,” he remarked with a smirk.

Tick, tick. “Really? What does a sound guy look like?”

“I’m just saying I wouldn’t have expected that. So why are you looking at that house? That sort of thing tends to make people nervous.”

Chris turned back to the window; the couple, oblivious to the drama outside, was still dancing. “I noticed those people, that’s all. It caught my eye. It was just… I don’t know… poetic.”

The two cops turned toward the window and, for one odd moment, the three men stood watching, their shadows forming an unlikely tableau on the lawn. A beat, then everyone shifted back to assigned roles.

“Okay well, Shakespeare, time to move on,” said the first cop. “And probably smart to stick to the commercial streets from now on. It’s a lot safer that way.”

Safer for whom? Chris thought but didn’t ask.

Both cops gave him a nod; headed back to their cruiser and slowly pulled away. Chris started toward his intended destination, then stopped and headed back to The Church parking lot. There was nothing at the store he needed that badly.

(to be continued…)

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Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles. Contact @ lorrainedevonwilke@gmail.com

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