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Hellhound Extract Part 2

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The Hellhound Sample by Charles Shaar Murray. Fiction. A potent mix of secrets, nightmares and lies, spanning decades and continents. James 'Blue' Moon, the greatest living bluesman, has one last chance to escape the hellhound on his trail ... if the cancer doesn't get him first. More about this item»

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Part 2

Extract from Chapter Eleven of the Headpress book,
The Hellhound Sample (a novel)
by Charles Shaar Murray


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, 1958

These stairs sure as hell never get any easier, Blue thought as he hauled his guitar, amplifier and suitcase up to the apartment. Don’t get any cleaner, neither, he added, narrowly avoiding a pool of piss on the landing. At his approach a rat skittered away into the darkness. Lights gone upstairs, too. He better get on to the super about it first thing tomorrow.

He was dog-tired. Been out on the road thirty-five days. Last show’d been in St Louis. He’d driven straight from the gig still wearing his red stage suit, now stained, crumpled and stinking, and he’d had to drop Levi the drummer off at his crib, drum set and all, before finally making it all the way home. The only consolation was the thick wad of cash in his wallet, over eight hundred bucks. All he wanted to do now was take a shower, wash off the road and the sticky residue of sweat and bodily fluids from that girl he’d had in the alley back of the club in St Louis, maybe catch a shave — he ran a thumb over the rasping stubble on his cheeks and jaw — and then sleep for about a week. It was late now, what with the storm damn near lashing the car off the road, a five-car collision blocking the highway and slowing him up for hours, and then taking Levi home and having one last drink with him. Or maybe it had been two. That damn Chevrolet was about to die on him after all that roadwork; he thanked his lucky stars it had still been able to crawl those last few miles. Damn roof was leaking, too, steady drip of water right down the back of his neck.

Idly, he wondered who owned the big black Lincoln parked outside on the corner, then dismissed it from his mind. With a little luck Mary and Venetia would be asleep and he wouldn’t have to talk to them until he’d gotten clean and had himself a good few hours stacking up them zees.

Unlocking the door, he was faintly surprised to find the lights on. Mary normally switched everything off before going to bed, Blue thought as he dropped his suitcase next to the other suitcases.

Other suitcases? What in the…?

Mary was waiting up for him. She was wearing her church dress. Through the open door he could see Venetia, asleep on her bed but also fully dressed.

“James…” she said. She always called him James. Reminded him of his mom and dad. Everybody he knew in music just called him Blue, but Mary said Blue was his worldly name, that the folks called him that weren’t nuthin’ but sinful trash.

“James… me’n Venetia can’t live this way no more.”

WHOMP. Soaked, stinking and tired as he was, Blue felt like he’d been punched in the gut. Mechanically he put down his guitar and amplifier and sat down heavily in his armchair. “What you talkin’ about?”

“James, six years now you been making records, supposed to be some big star…” she positively spat the word out “… and we got a little more money’n we had when you was drivin’ a truck, but them Jews you workin’ for don’t be payin’ you nuthin’ like what you should be gettin’, all them records they say you sellin’ for them. We still living in this same crummy apartment with the heat go off half the time an’ rats outside in the halls …”

“Big mice,” Blue interrupted, with a warning glance into the tiny room where Neesha lay sleeping.

“ ... big mice and drunks’n junkies all around. And half the time you ain’t even here. When you are here, you out playin’ clubs when you ain’t in the studio. When you ain’t here, I get floozies on the phone for you all the time, callin’ from Houston or New York or I don’t know where. Most’a the time, Neesha don’t even have a daddy.

“James, we tired’a livin’ this way. I’m tryin’ to raise my daughter to live a decent life. I ain’t bringin’ her up to hang out with lowlifes in bars. I’m raisin’ her up to work hard, live clean, go to church…”

Moon found his voice at last. “I was wonderin’ when we was gonna get to talkin’ about the church,” he said, his voice crackling with fatigue.

“James, I’m gonna say it as plain as I can. I want us to be a family again, like we was before you started makin’ records and went to the road. I want you to stop travellin’, get yourself a real job right here in Chicago…”

“You want me to go back to drivin’ a truck? You want me to throw away everything I been workin’ for since nineteen-and-fifty-one? You want…?”

“I ain’t finished yet. There’s one more thing I want. I know you spent your whole life runnin’ from Jesus. I want you to stop runnin’. I want you to turn around and embrace Him. Me’n Neesha done took the Lord into our lives, and we need you to do the same if you want us all to stay together.”

Her voice softened. “James, I know you love us. And you know we love you, too. I know that in your heart you’re a good man. But you move in a world where the devil be callin’ loud and clear even to a good man like you. You got to leave that world, honey. You got to follow us to a place where you can be that good man I know you are. The Reverend Holland say…”

The anger simmering below Blue’s surface was bubbling now. He raised a bloodshot gaze to stare straight into Mary’s eyes. “The Reverend Holland? Oh baby. Things is startin’ to get real clear now. I suppose you done embraced the Reverend Holland right along with embracin’ Jesus?”

Mary flushed. “Well, you know I spent some time comfortin’ him after his wife passed…”

“Comfortin’ him? Com-fortin’ him? That what you call it now?”

“Now that the devil talkin’ for sure. Reverend Holland is a man of God, and nuthin’ like that done happened between us.” She sighed and knelt down beside his chair, taking his hand in hers. “James, it’s true me and the Reverend done a lotta talkin’. He willin’ to take us on, me’n Neesha. I told him I needed one last talk with you, see if me’n Neesha can bring you back. I need a man gonna be there for me’n Neesha and help me raise her right. Nuthin’ in this world make me happier than if that man was you. But if it ain’t…”

She took a deep breath and clasped his hand tighter. “James… I want a divorce.”

Now Blue felt like he’d been kicked in the head by his daddy’s old mule. “I thought you’n your Reverend Holland didn’t hold with divorce.”

“Most’a the time that’s true. But this is an emergency. If I got to get a divorce from you to protect my daughter, give her a daddy gonna be there to look after and help me raise her right, then I’ll get a divorce.”

Neesha appeared in the doorway. She was eleven now, solid and sturdy like her mother, and like her grandfather.

“Daddy,” she ran into his arms. “You gonna stay with us, daddy? Don’t leave us, please daddy.”

There was such a tightness in his chest that he could hardly speak. He hugged her fiercely. “I don’t wanna leave you, sugar. But your mom say she gonna take you away.” He looked up at Mary. “You leave if you want to. But Neesha stays with me.”

“Now you talkin’ crazy. You know you away half the time, an’ when you here you in studios’n bars. How you gonna look after a young girl? You know you can’t raise her by yourself. What you gonna do? Take her on the road, have her raised up by drunks’n gamblers’n floozies in bars? You know you just talkin’ foolishness now. Neesha stays with me. The only question is whether you gonna stay with us.”

“Daddy,” Neesha snuffled. “You got to stay home with us. And if you ask the Lord Jesus for help, He gonna give you the strength to quit livin’ like you been livin’.”

God damn. Now my own daughter talkin’ in my daddy’s voice. Everything I been tryin’ to get away from my whole life done followed me home. An’ everything I spent my life workin’ for gonna be taken away. If there’s a God and I ever meet Him, Blue thought, I’m’a ask him one question: why me? I don’t gamble, not for big money anyways. I don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat folks. Pay my musicians well. Don’t drink but a little. Never raise my hand to my wife or my daughter. Work hard tryin’ to make people forget they troubles, get happy in the evenin’s and weekends. Work my ass off puttin’ food on my family’s table. Study music, read books. Be as good a man as I can be. Now I done reached a fork in the road and I don’t know which way to go.

I could use me some serious help round about now.

And something loosened inside Blue. It was the strangest feeling he’d ever had. It was a little bit like what happened sometimes when he was playing, when he stopped thinking and planning and composing in his head and just went to a timeless place deep down inside himself, where he was no longer choosing what note or lick to hit next but almost sitting back and listening to what he was playing, surprising himself by the sounds his fingers were making come out his his amplifier. It was moments like that kept him going, moments when he felt warm, free and clear, wired direct to the mains power of the universe singing right through him.

And now he was still sitting in his chair, and words were coming out his mouth, and he was just listening to what something inside of him was making him say. “This music I play, this work that I do, it ain’t no hobby. It ain’t no game. It ain’t no trick so I don’t have to do a regular job. It’s what I was put here on this earth to do. This music is a callin’. Yeah, a callin’, just like what a priest get. And there ain’t no evil in it. Every night I play, I look down at the peoples and I see they faces. I see ’em come in the place weighed down by they troubles, worryin’ ’bout they jobs’n money an’ The Man. And I see ’em smile’n laugh’n dance’n go home with a smile on they face an’ a weight off they shoulders.

“The blues ain’t no devil’s music. The blues put on this earth to make folks feel better, an’ I was put on this earth to play the blues. Anyone say any different, they the ones been listenin’ to the devil, not me. If there’s a God like you say, then I’m doin’ His work, right here, with what I’m doin’. I love you both like crazy, an’ I would never leave either one’a y’all. But I can’t quit what I’m doin’ an’ still be a whole man.”

Mary’s face froze. “Then you gonna be a whole man by yourself. We goin’ now. The Reverend be waitin’ up.”

Blue looked over at Neesha. Her head was bowed so he couldn’t see her eyes. He took her in his arms and gently tried to lift her head so he could look at her, but she obstinately fought to keep her head lowered.

“Neesha… honey… just remember this. Never forget this. I love you and I ain’t leavin’ you. You bein’ taken away. I didn’t leave.”

Her voice was small and tearful, but resolute and firm. “Daddy, you been leavin’ us for a long time now. Now you remember this. We may be leavin’, but you the one lettin’ us go. That’s what I’m gonna remember my whole life. You let me go.”

She pulled away from him to stand with her mother.

“Goodbye, James,” Mary said. “We gonna pray for you.”

All of the accumulated fatigue of the road suddenly came back. It was like a huge weight pinning Blue to his chair. With a massive effort he hauled himself to his feet. The inner voice was no longer speaking for him. All he could do was mutter, “Neesha… Mary… please… don’t,” but it wasn’t doing a damn bit of good. They picked up their cases and, without so much as a backward glance, walked out the door, slamming it behind them. He listened to their footsteps recede down the hall, realised whose limo it was downstairs and who it had been waiting for.

Absentmindedly, he unlatched his guitar case, took out the big Gibson he’d saved so long to buy and cradled it in his arms, waiting for a song to come to him, listening to the rain lash the building and the wind moan high and lonesome through that window that never would quite shut, desolation descending around his shoulders like a cold wet blanket. If this ain’t the blues, he thought, I surely don’t know what is.
   
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Image thumbnail the hellhound sample
The Hellhound Sample by Charles Shaar Murray. Fiction. A potent mix of secrets, nightmares and lies, spanning decades and continents. James 'Blue' Moon, the greatest living bluesman, has one last chance to escape the hellhound on his trail ... if the cancer doesn't get him first. More about this item»

charles shaar murray  , the hellhound sample  ,
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