Chapter One

Alan Hutcheson

San Francisco
Somewhere around thirty years later
April 12th

"Hey, Ted. Marci wants to see you."
Ted Hogwood was sitting on the floor of the aisle marked Poetry Collections in the Literary Lighthouse Bookstore in the North Beach district of San Francisco. It had been an effort to ease his six-foot eight, three hundred and twenty pound frame down so he could stock the dozen or so hardcover books that were waiting to be squeezed in among the rest of the stiff spined tomes lining the bottom two shelves. He looked up at the twenty-something girl hovering next to him. She was rocking slowly back and forth on the balls of her feet and seemed to be taking inventory of the silver studs in her left ear with her right hand.
"What's up?"
"How should I know?" The girl shrugged and switched her attention to her right ear. "You're probably fired or something."
She shrugged and drifted back to her post at the register.
Ted pushed himself off the floor. Predictably, his left knee reminded him of the excess weight he made it bear with a crack and a stab of pain. He muttered a resigned and well practiced profanity, then gave himself a moment to get his legs truly under him before heading to the back of the store. The door to the office was slightly open so he knocked on the door frame.
“Come in,” said Marci.
Ted stepped into the store manager's office, a small space furnished with an old metal desk dominated by a computer. There were two secretary chairs with beaten down padding and tired frames. The walls were covered with plain but sturdy shelves packed with books and binders, with just enough space left for a small stereo. Marci had eclectic musical tastes, so Ted never knew what she would have playing either in the store or her office. Now he nodded appreciatively at the sound of a jazz trio: guitar, bass, and drums. Just his style.
"'Soft Winds'," Ted said. He held up a big paw and lowered his head to indicate concentration. Eight bars passed. Paw down, head up. "Barney Kessel with Ray Brown on bass and Shelley Manne on drums. Am I right?"
Marci smiled at the big man standing in the doorway. The first time she had seen him, just eight months ago, she had been awed by his size and slightly intimidated by his scowling expression, which seemed to hover halfway between menace and melancholy. Balanced against Ted's appearance had been the lines on his job application which listed professional basketball player and jazz musician as his former and current occupations.
During the interview Ted confirmed that he had indeed been working-on and off for the past twenty years or more-as an itinerant jazz guitarist, supplementing his income with whatever other work he could find. None of the other jobs, he said, were of any real consequence. And yes, for five seasons he had played in the NBA, on seven different teams. A blown anterior cruciate ligament ended his career and so, the NBA not yet having evolved into the Every-Player-a-Millionaire-with-a-Guaranteed-Contract status it soon after grew into, he had been scrambling to make a living since. The one constant factor was his music, but more often than not it failed to provide a living wage.
A couple of weeks after she hired Ted, Marci chanced upon him in his moonlighting role as jazz guitarist at a nightclub called The Sassy Loaf. He was a picture of blissful concentration as he produced sure rhythm and sweet, warm solo lines. Ted had not noticed her, she doubted he noticed anything beyond his blond and gold instrument, and she never told him she had witnessed his other life.
Right, as usual, said Marci. "Have a seat, Ted." She pushed her wheeled chair the couple feet across to the stereo and switched it off.
Ted perched carefully on the other secretary chair. It squealed and tilted, objecting under Ted's bulk. He planted his feet eighteen-inches apart, flat on the floor, and placed his ham-sized hands on top of his tree-trunk thighs.
Marci drummed her fingers lightly on a stack of papers in front of the computer monitor. The top sheet was covered halfway with a bold, computer generated print underscored with a signature that consisted of nothing but gradually diminishing waves and troughs.
"Ted," she said, "it was just, Monday I believe, when we had a conversation about proper customer interaction. Do you remember that conversation?"
"Yes, I do." Ted rolled his eyes. "The person who thought I was making fun of his purchase."
"Much the same comment we've had from all these folks." Marci indicated the pile of papers. "Thirty-four, at last count. Not including the customers who have spoken to me personally about your, shall we say, lack of professional detachment regarding their purchases."
I try Marci, and I know you have to stock some of this crap. Sorry. She nodded. But you've got to admit, it's pretty tough to keep a straight face when somebody brings a copy of Everybody's Wrong But Me, or Your Liberal Neighbors, Abandoning God, Destroying America to the counter. The people buying this dreck actually believe some kind of thought went into it beyond separating them from their cash and common sense.
I understand, but when I get a letter like this, Marci picked up the top sheet from the file folder, less than a week after our last talk, I'm afraid I have to take some action. She read from the letter. “‘You may not be familiar with the fact that rolling one's eyes and snorting is not considered decent behavior in a customer-service oriented business. The oversized, middle-aged troll'…“ Marci winced sympathetically, “…‘that you have working in your store obviously thinks he has license to make just such thinly veiled editorial comments concerning my choice of reading material. I have tolerated it in the past, but enough is enough. Please be informed that I have license to choose another bookstore and will not only do so, but will also persuade all of my friends and acquaintances to do the same.’”
Wait, don't tell me. Ted held up his Man Thinking hand again, slowly, so as not to throw off his balance on the gallant, inadequate chair. This has got to be the moron who bought How To Be First in Line, EVERYTIME.
Marci put the paper back on top of the pile and shook her head.
Ted, this can't go on.
He also bought Feel, Think, Do and Work to Play/Play to Work, Ted said, reinforcing his case.
Thats not the point. The point is that he is a customer. What he chooses to buy doesn't matter. What matters is that I can't let this happen in my store. I've tried to make allowances, Ted, you know I have. You do bring some very positive qualities to the place. But I can't afford to spend so much of my time and energy putting out all the fires you ignite.
Point well taken. Both hands went up in submission, again slowly, mindful of his perch. Then the left hand came down, the right staying up in pledge. Promise. I will keep my opinions to myself. The last thing I want to do is make your life more difficult.
Ted, Marci said. You don't understand what it is I'm having to say here.
I completely understand, Marci. Business is business and I've just got to control myself no matter how stupid―”
You're fired.
Teds chair tilted forward and deposited the big man, suddenly, and in a very undignified manner, on his keester.

That evening, when Ted and Sarah, his beloved Gibson L5-CES jazz guitar, reported to the Blue Raspberry Cafe for the low paying, two night a week gig his quarrelsome, unnamed quintet had had for the last three months, he was informed by the wife of the couple that owned the establishment that her husband had run off with Roscoe, the groups fiftyish, tie-dye favoring drummer. At the moment she was feeling antipathetic towards the male of the species, jazz players in particular, and could not guarantee Ted's safety if he chose to remain on the premises. She seemed only marginally aware of the large, rather rusty kitchen knife in her hand. Ted felt it best to leave before she became fully alive to the fact.