Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 25

SGT (stage rank) Jenny Slade (real name) sang the blues in a hard-fisted way that brought tears to the eyes of all of us who loved Janis Joplin and had never fully got­ten over our broken hearts when she cheated our hopes by OD’ing. She wore a thigh-length dress-green Army jacket—cut like a suit coat—with gold sergeant stripes on the sleeves and little bows around her ankles and nothing else that you could see. Or at least nothing that I had seen. Although I had at­tempted as ag­gressively as possible while still being reasonably discreet dur­ing all of her writhing and prancing on stage to con­firm the popular rumor that she didn’t have anything on under that jacket, she had never quite revealed her hidden charms. But the raw sensuality that beaded up on her face and dripped down her bare legs wasn’t just from her outfit—in fact, what she wore wasn’t even all that impor­tant. It was her music. She sang to every man in the audi­ence like she had the incorrigible hots for him and him alone, and if they could just somehow steal five minutes backstage, he could bend her over her dressing room table and have his way with her.

Jenny Slade played the crowd like a Stradivarius. Taking us down, down into the bottomless depth of her mostly original blues. Eyes closed, swaying ever so gently until she threw her head back, unconsciously (although probably not) pushing her hips toward us. To a man we leaned forward in response. Then, when we couldn’t have stood another minute of it without storming the stage, she’d ease up on the tension, shaking and prancing her way through with a rock classic where the audience could sing along. But never for long.

And then, dragging us back once more into the maelstrom, she started into her own heady version of Unchained Melody.

The sound man was taking it easy—he could have gone out for a smoke, so quiet was the crowd on this one. She flowed down off the stage in a graceful motion that didn’t tease or tempt, trailing her long mike chord as she wandered through her throng of admirers and sang to us.

If SGT Jenny were on fire, then I was riding the Hindenburg down into the flames of hell. If she were Helen, I was sack­ing Troy to gather fuel for her fire. I wanted her, and I didn’t care about the crowds of other men lusting over her or that I had seen it all before or even about the faint, sweet musky odor of my own date.

We were seated about three tables back from the stage, and as she made her way toward us, I picked up The Grail, held it like a microphone, and began singing along with her. Not so blaring that the people around me would start pounding on me for interrupting, but loudly enough to be heard one table over. I glanced at Judy Blue Eyes, noting her look that I interpreted as astonished adoration, but other than blowing her a kiss I didn’t slacken my concentra­tion from the job at hand.

And then just as I was letting her know how much I was hungering for her touch, SGT Jenny Slade walked into the little killing zone I’d created, and it was show time. Obviously Razuni had never discovered the power that the shriek of tortured guitars and the heartthrob of the drums had to augment the magic of his creation, but rock ‘n roll had to rival alcohol and proximity all rolled into one.

It caught her right between the eyes, like an axe and a steer at the slaughterhouse, and for just a mo­ment it stunned her just as effectively. Fortunately, it was right at the end of a line, and the musicians back on the stage drove right through the lapse. They broke into a little in­stru­mental reprise, which she en­couraged by pointing at them, caus­ing them to crank up the inten­sity a notch.

She turned and stared at me through slitted eyes with an expression full of vague implications. But it wasn’t eroticism peering out at me. Rather, it was more the ex­pres­sion of bemused reappraisal that a bob­cat might show if the cor­nered rab­bit that she was playing with sudden­ly bared its fangs and bit her on the nose.

Who the hell are you, she soundlessly broadcast as effectively as if she had boomed it into her microphone.

I met her hard stare, feigning a confidence that I hoped would cover up my twitching knees. Your move, lady, I broadcast back.

The band was barreling toward the end of the reprise, and she had to make a decision. “Sing with me,” she abruptly spoke, reaching out her long fingers for me to take.

I looked at Judy Blue Eyes again—not that her approval was a prerequisite at that point, but more to include her in the deci­sion to mitigate any damages that I might have to pay for later. But she was all cheers and positive vibes. She might not know what was going on, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to stand in the way.

So I took the Sarge’s hand and stood up, holding The Cup inconspicuously by my leg. Then the band was there, and off we went.

We started off singing in unison, eyes locked, hungering for each other in the lyrics if not in fact. The veteran reluctant to trust the rookie unsuper­vised in his professional debut. But lightning was flashing, and abruptly she abandoned the melody to me and launched into a sophisticated counterpoint as if we had been rehearsing this for months.

The band recovered from their initial shock and went wild. The lead guitar started im­provising his own descant, walking to stage center so he could see her lips, the better to anticipate what she was doing. The rhythm guitar player slid over beside the bass man, searching for new foundations to support all this new and unexpected superstructure. Meanwhile, the drummer flailed away in a world of his own, regard­ing it all as merely some­thing special these neat people had done just to give him a better background for his percus­sion work.

It took the crowd a little longer to recover. They were hushed all out of proportion to the volume and intensity of the music. But all of a sudden the noise out there began to rise as the de­sire to share what was happening overrode the in­stinct to listen and concen­trate. An occasional acoustic “yeah!” broke through the amplified levels that our electronics were keep­ing.

Then in a final lingering chord, it was over. The sudden qui­et lasted for maybe three long heartbeats before the crowd exploded into screams and wild applause. “What’s your name?” she asked under the cover of the cheering, looking at me sideways and talking out of the corner of her mouth while facing and acknowledging the sweet roar of the crowd.

“Brad Schuster.”

“What else do you know?”

“Nothing too new, nothing too exotic; stick to the standards and I should be able to keep up.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Brad Schuster” she shouted at the crowd, holding my hand up, then releasing it so she could add to the applause. The drummer beat time on the snare, and crowd wound up again. Judy Blue Eyes was standing and cheering as if I were Robert Plant and not just her boyfriend.

“Roadhouse Blues,” Jenny Slade told the band over her shoulder, and off we went again.

I’d never done anything like this in my life before, but with The Grail as my silent mentor, it was if I’d been born for this. “Passion, lady,” I sang to directly her, ignoring the crowd, mangling the lyrics but who cared? Her faced was flushed and sweat was dripping down her cheek as she sang. We weren’t doing a lot of moving, since we were sharing a mike, but we were doing a lot of sweating.

“Let’s go back for a little something from the past, something you all know so you can sing with us,” she screamed, and off we tore into Gloria, a staple of every garage band in the United States ten years before. Of course, nobody remembered the verses, which in the origi­nal had been undistinguished as well as somewhat inde­cipherable, as lyrics tended to be in the days before modern re­cording studios (epitomized by the storied Louie, Louie, that epic anthem that a generation of young adoles­cents convinced each other—and the FBI as well—had dirty lyrics). But every­body there except for maybe a couple of Aggies down from Col­lege Station for the weekend could spell ‘Gloria,’ and they were in the mood to shout.

We didn’t leave the blues for long, however, sinking right back into the Zeppelin cover of I Can’t Quit You, Baby. A little sophisticated for an amateur, but SGT Jenny took the lead and let me noodle in the background. We had them, and she did­n’t mind one bit borrowing whatever magic I had to take them ex­actly where she wanted them, holding them right on the edge of the abyss, neither letting them suffocate nor catch a breath.

When she finished and turned to me, she was literally steaming. You could see her breath condense, a phenomenon that was no big deal when it was freezing outside, but some­thing I had never seen before in 80° indoors. She was the panther again, and with the heat in her eyes setting off lit­tle smoldering fires wherever she looked, there was no doubt that this was one thoroughly aroused woman. I didn’t kid myself that it was my natural sexual attraction just now coming out—in fact, even with my hypnotic cup, it was more likely to be the thrill of the crowd than me at all—but I didn’t mind being in the middle of it.

“You want to do one yourself?” she asked in a voice huskier and more intense without the help of the mike.

“Sure, why not,” I shrugged, my self-assurance feeding off of the crowd in a way that, although amateur, was as symbiotic as her own. Then I turned to the lead guitar player and asked, “How about Fe­ver, E Minor, rolling blues rhythm, with a long lead-in.”

I may have somehow given the impression through all this that I was a musical chowderhead, limited to nothing more difficult than a porta­ble stereo. Ac­tually, I had taken nine years of piano lessons, sung in choirs, all that stuff, so I wasn’t a complete ignora­mus—although this was my first time on stage with electric instruments. I got the barest of nods in re­turn, then a con­ference that last­ed three or four seconds before the bass an­nounced the flight, ladies and gentlemen, this is your final boarding call for flight six-oh-nine, destina­tion Chey­enne, Wyo­ming and points west, leav­ing from gate seven­teen.

OK, Lady, here’s your chance to show your stuff, I challenged The Grail a little as the bass walked up and down the intro, turn­ing a half dozen simple notes into exotic promise. What I want is something with enough impact to rip this place apart. And carrying such an under­current of sexual ener­gy that the women will all be sitting with puddles in their panties and not even un­derstand why. You’ve been doing this for a few thousand years now; got something like that in your reper­toire?

Piece of cake, she answered, sounding as eager as I was. This whole thing is amazing. If Jesus’ music leader Bartholomew had a couple of those electric guitars, we’d have owned Jerusalem. Anyway, I’ve got a little scene in mind that we’ll be get­ting to in a couple of weeks; it should do the trick. I’ll fancy it up a bit by describing it in poetic terms and let their own raging hormones take care of the rest. Inciden­tally, you’ve heard of the participants, but I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you.

OK, it’s your ball game. Let’s do this.

So I held The Grail before me in one hand like a priest at an exorcism, cradled the mi­crophone with the other, and let my mind go blank. Not so vacant that I couldn’t appreciate what was going on or add my two cents worth if called for, but blank enough that I would­n’t get in the way.

Here’s the poem that we recited, in a Jim Morrison kind of way, as flawlessly as if we had re­hearsed for weeks, as fresh as if it had been scrawled spontane­ously on a subway wall.

The drums throb, pounding
A rhythm older than men.
Humans and the woodlands creatures alike
Sway to that primeval heartbeat.

The crowds were totally hushed, hanging on the words, trying to see where this was all heading. I imagined I could hear SGT Jenny breathing beside me as I continued.

Satyrs abandon their pipes for the dance;
Fairies writhe and sweat in the firelight.
Centaurs mate without restraint
While outside the circle the hyenas wait patiently.

The bass was walking up and down that seductive opening lick, with our drummer doing a little primal rhythm of his own. The Cup and I paused, giving them some space before continuing.

One couple moves so gracefully
That humans and faeries alike stop to watch.
Who is the wild beauty in the garb of the fairy queen?
And what stranger lurks behind that demon mask?

Up to this point I had been addressing the audience. But be­fore the next stanza began I took SGT Jenny’s hand in mine, letting The Grail dangle innocently in the same hand that was holding the mike (I noticed that sometime during my monologue she’d gotten another mike for herself). Her eyes were shining so brightly that they were painful to stare into, so I focused on the sunken hollow of her throat as I recited the end to her.

The drums fall silent with sudden savagery.
The couple raises their masks to kiss.
Ah, it is you disguised as the fairy queen.
While masquerading as your demon lover
‘Tis I, The Fool.
You give me Fever.

Without willful timing on my part, there was just a long enough pause for me to risk another glance at her eyes before the music for a verse came around. Not wanting to let the intensity of the moment die, I launched directly into those classic lines immortalized by Peggy Lee a decade before. We hadn’t had to use too much amplification up until this point, but I had crammed too much raw emotion down the crowd’s throat for them to stay quiet any longer. As soon as they recog­nized the song, they erupted into an avalanche of joyful noise. Still, the sound ­man was up to the chal­lenge, and if they suffered through a day or two of ringing ears, what was it to him?

SGT Jenny Slade let me finish the chorus by myself, then took over the next verse. That was OK by me; I needed a chance to catch my breath. But when she came around to the chorus, I jumped back in, she switched to an ad lib descant, and we were smoking.

I could spend another twenty pages de­scribing the rest of the concert song by song, but I’m sure I’ve written plenty by now. The band was scheduled to play un­til one, but we were on stage until they pulled the plug at two and ran everybody out lest they violate those sacred liquor laws and bring the wrath of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, an entity not very far below Yahweh in the hell of its fury (and even slightly above the average woman scorned) down upon their heads. We took a break around eleven, but the crowd just sat there stomping for us to come back so we cut it pretty short before the floor caved in. By midnight they didn’t want ei­ther of us to sing by our­selves anymore; they wanted the dy­namic energy that we created when we played off each other, and they weren’t very subtle in expressing that sen­timent. For­tun­ately, The Privates had a large repertoire, and we found enough songs we knew in common to get us through the last en­core.

And then it was over. We should have been exhausted, but there had been too much sexual energy built-up in the four or so hours of foreplay that we had been in­dulging in on-stage to just call it a night. So the three of us pushed our way through the crowd that was still buzz­ing out­side, piled into Judy Blue Eyes’ car, and headed for my place.

It wasn’t a long drive, and we didn’t talk much at all on the way. I didn’t have any idea what to expect once we got there, so I just sort of hung back and let them take the lead. I figured the women were going to have a lot more re­strictions and inhibitions than I did, and whatever they came up with would be acceptable to me. But if they had any uneasi­ness about what we were doing, I sure didn’t see it. Maybe they had worked it out in the ladies room or some­thing.

By the time we were mostly undressed and in bed and had gotten the protocol sorted out a little, it was obvious that SGT Jenny Slade’s real sexual interest was Judy Blue Eyes. All that time on stage together hadn’t given me an inkling that I was pouring my soul into se­duc­ing this lus­cious wom­an for my girl­friend, but appar­ently that was exactly what had hap­pened. Proud of her sleek and vigorous body, SGT Jenny loved being watched and ad­mired, and didn’t mind me kissing her here and caressing her there. But it was easy to tell that wasn’t where her passion lay.

As for Judy Blue Eyes, despite our jesting repartee-come-true about a ménage a trois earlier in the week, as far as I knew she had never had a sexu­al ex­perience with another wom­an be­fore (she certainly hadn’t shared any such fantasies with me). How­ever, she opened her body and soul without restraint to this pro­vocative and exhil­arating woman who had inex­plicably—at least for her—entered our lives. Not that she forgot about me, but in the final analy­sis she could go to bed with me any time she felt like it, while this could well be a once-in-a-life­time oppor­tunity.

Needless to say, being someone that Jenny Slade (civilian now, having shed her rank with her costume) was willing to put up with in or­der to be here with Judy Blue Eyes tempered my participation. I should have been miffed or at least disappointed, but strangely enough, I wasn’t. Just being alive and a part of the whole glorious day—the passion and death of Jesus, the passion and multiple little deaths of Judy Blue Eyes and Jenny Slade—was enough. Af­ter a while I got up, retrieved The Grail, and poured us a glass of wine. And as it was a time without pretensions, a time for nakedness and open explora­tion for all of us, I didn’t make any effort to hide my secret thoughts from her. I expected some sort of reaction—or at least some motherly advice—but she obviously knew I did­n’t feel like talking. So we stood there leaning against the doorway, watch­ing those two beau­ti­ful women make love, communing without words.

As my price for giving them the opportunity to concentrate on each other, however, I filched without compunction the tiny French-cut flesh-colored panties (thongs hadn’t been invented yet) that turned out to be the only garment Jen­ny Slade wore under her dress-green Army blouse, secret­ing them in the drawer beside Anne’s undies. Hell, unlimited powers of per­suasion may not have made me rich or gotten me laid yet, but at least it was feeding my latent underwear fetish, if indeed I had one.

Only when their fervor turned into cuddling and holding and gentle kisses did I rejoin them in bed. And of all the wondrous and exotic things that had happened to me that day, the most aston­ish­ing was that I was able to fall asleep amid the tangle.

Dress Green Jacket

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