For All Nails #252: The Waitress is Practicing Politics
by David Mix Barrington
She had reached Mecca, Clarissa thought. Fort Lodge was the Mecca of North American music, in almost every imaginable style. The great Conservatory was the Mecca for lieder, grand chorales, and symphonies. Vandalia Boulevard was the Mecca for country music, the songs of the Negro farmhands now despised by those farmhands' oh-so-proper assimilated grandchildren.
And here was the Mecca for road music as well, with its wild mix of white immigrant and Negro settler traditions. Hawley Hardin's diablo road songs, the new El Camino style, and of course the strummers. Anderson Fair was the strummers' Mecca, where the guitars were connected to the outspeakers but still sounded like guitars, where grown men and women wrote and sang their songs of love, of loss, of travel, of home. Anderson Fair, where the red brick floor of the converted Anderson Textiles warehouse was covered with tables one night, with three-steppers or buckaroers the next. Anderson Fair, the center of a growing and newly fashionable neighborhood of artists, misfits, and ahead-of-the-pack speculators at the edge of the railroad yards. Anderson Fair, where Abby Bartlet had finally arrived at the strummers' Mecca, and where tonight Abby Bartlet was serving drinks.
If this was Mecca, her mind went on, the woman now singing was the Grand Mufti. Not many girls in Clarissa Forster's Connecticut or Abby Bartlet's imagined New Hampshire had rushed out to buy every new phonosuite from Annie Shimerda. But Clarissa certainly had -- she'd filled the streets of New Haven with Annie's songs of the Northern Vandalia prairie on many a walk home from Slavic Chorus practice. Clarissa-as-Abby had sung them on the stage in Maine. And just a few weeks ago Clarissa-as-Abby had sung them again to a lonely waggoneer as they rolled over the Simmonsway toward Fort Lodge.
Abby was happy to explain to anyone who'd listen how she'd woken up one Monday morning in Burgoyne, called in sick to her dead-end job, and put her thumb out on the road to Fort Lodge to give her musical career a fair trial. Clarissa, whatever part of her was still Detective-Lieutenant Clarissa Forster of the CBI, had a very similar story to tell, though of course she had no one to tell it to. No one except Dennis, of course. She hadn't quite called in sick and stuck out her thumb. But Clarissa was as much on the run from a Burgoyne desk job as was her invented counterpart.
Abby was supposed to go away after the North Woods case. Clarissa had told herself that was the best thing, she'd told herself several times, but then came that open-sing night at the Victoria Avenue Saloon, and there she was, darkening her hair, wearing Abby's leather vest, carrying Abby's guitar, singing Annie Shimerda's songs. Abby didn't want to go away.
So was Clarissa keeping in practice for another covert assignment? Pure rationalization, she knew it, but the rationalization had now become the truth. Detective-Lieutenant Clarissa was in Fort Lodge with a letter of mission, a letter which said absolutely nothing about the mission's purpose or specification, except that she was to proceed to Fort Lodge and contact Dennis. Dennis had yet to enlighten her further, except that he seemed satisfied with her waitressing job and not unhappy at her news that she'd actually met Annie Shimerda and sung with her through two or three early-morning hours, long after Anderson Fair had closed. Not unhappy, but not impressed either. She wasn't sure about Dennis yet. At least Dennis was willing to pass along her suggestion that the CBI investigate petty corruption by certain minor officials in Indiana. That would serve one sorry bastard right.
After all, she thought, she was part of the CBI, founded as the Confederation's guardians against the governmental corruption so rampant in the nineteenth century. FN1 Guardians against corruption. But quis custodiet ipsos custodes, as Abby would certainly not put it? Was the Confederation safer for having thousands of guardians embedded in it, guiding the regular millies or impersonating ordinary citizens as she was now? It had gotten out of hand in the past, certainly under Forsyth and, some said, under Liddy. She'd paid little attention to those Peace and Justice rallies at Yale, being more concerned with singing, Shakespeare, and law books, but no New Englander could look entirely dispassionately on the power of the national government. She'd met pretty much the whole spectrum of CBI agents by now, she supposed. None of them struck her as much of a threat to freedom, but how well did she know them?
Annie finished her song up on the low stage, to applause from the tables that covered the red brick floor tonight. Abby, for Clarissa was entirely Abby now, leaned over to take a drink order and then suddenly straightened as Annie began speaking.
"I'd like you all to meet a new friend of mine, who's new in town. Abby, come on up here!" Scattered, somewhat confused applause. She started forward, then stopped. The order!
"Carrie, table thirteen: porter, two stout, bourbon and water, Mount Gay. I'll be right back." Carrie repeated the order back with almost military precision. Abby nodded and started again toward the stage. CBI agents prided themselves on doing their temporary undercover jobs extremely well. How much, she thought idly, of the actual work of the CNA was really done by those thousands of undercover agents? Should the criminals be watching everywhere for the most efficient employees? Was Carrie really just another millie? Now she had reached the stage, to be met with a mischievous smile from Annie.
"This is my new friend Abby Bartlet from back east. She's just taught me a new song that we're gonna sing for you now. You know, the history of this country is the history of ordinary people struggling against the powerful. This is an old song about some of those people struggling to live their own lives and speak their own language, and being met with a wall of lead and iron. I don't know what all the words mean, but I want to sing them with Abby because they sound so beautiful." FN2
Annie was a Jeffie, of course, a casual Jeffie like most of the strummers. Not at all fond of CBI agents. Well, politically speaking, Abby was as much a Stars-and-Snake-waving Jeffie as any of them. Clarissa, now, she supposed that Clarissa was apolitical. She had a sworn duty to stop those Jeffies who insisted on blowing up buildings, naturally, but as for the ordinary Jeffies--
Then Annie touched the guitar and it seemed as though the audience vanished -- there was nothing in the world but two girls singing an old French song together for the pleasure of it, Abby with the melody, Annie filling in a harmony arrangement she must have worked out already in her head since the other night. How wonderful it was to sing parts with another girl, as she'd hardly done since the Slavics. "Un mur de plombe et fer" -- they reached the end, the audience gave them more than dutiful applause, Annie gave her shoulder a squeeze and called her name out again to the crowd. She hopped off the stage to find Carrie, and straighten out the drink orders, when she heard a voice behind her.
"Oye, Miss Bartlet? I liked that song very much." A young man, sounded Mexican. A little Spanish-looking, lively eyes, cute in a way.
"I was wondering, you know, if you've got anything regular going."
Was that a pickup line? No, he meant musically. She thought.
"Well, I've just gotten into town, so no, not really."
He seemed a little nervous. "You see, we've sort of got this band, and we had a girl singer, and she left, and--"
The Abby part of her almost jumped. "Do you play the new Mexican music? El Camino?"
His face fell a little. "Uh, actually we play the old Mexican music. Have you heard of Jeffizona?" FN3
Clarissa had, of course. Abby, she decided, was not so sure. "You mean like Bailleres was doing a while back? With the squeezebox?"
He brightened a little. "The acordeon! And the bajo sexto, and horns. Lots of horns. You have to hear it, hermana, you'll feel the music in your heart -- Jeffizona is the soul of Mexico. Can you sing in Spanish?"
Clarissa was fluent, of course. Abby, she had decided, would speak it like an unusually attentive Tory state-school student (that is, not very well at all) until she'd had a chance to learn the Mexican dialect better.
"I haven't, much, but I had Spanish in school. I can give it a try." She gave him a smile, the smile of a singer with a chance of a singing job, and the smile of a young woman for a young man. He smiled back, a musician's smile and a young man's smile as well.
"Are you free Monday night?" She nodded and handed him a napkin and a pen. He wrote down an address and 'phone number. "I'm Pat Sandoval."
"Nice to meet you, Pat. I'll see you Monday night -- how about eight? I'd like to talk more, but I've got to get back to work."
"Nice to meet you, too. Monday at eight." Really very cute eyes, she thought, especially when he smiled.
Abby picked out Carrie in the crowd near the bar. Back to the real world of a porter, two stouts, bourbon and water, and Mount Gay. Had it even happened, that moment in the spotlight with Annie? Well, of course it had, and now it seemed that she might even get a singing job out of it. Even if it meant a job singing with something like oddly-dressed polska dance bands she remembered from Connecticut. The soul of Mexico? Pat's alleged Jeffizona band might not be the shortest path to what Abby wanted. What about what Clarissa wanted? Clarissa's job now was to do what Dennis wanted, and that was still a total mystery. Anyway, Pat's eyes were cute. And he had liked her song,...
Carrie handed her a tray containing a porter, two stouts, a bourbon and water, and a Mount Gay.
Forward to FAN #253: Paper Trail.
Forward to 10 August 1975: Under Heartbeat City's Golden Sun.
Return to For All Nails.