Love Connection – II

Norma Jean remained active in my memory. Her eyes, her facial expressions, her voice, her touch, her embrace, her scent lingered in my neural pathways like a parallel universe. I wanted to see her again but my only connection would be through Alphonso and his only interest in me was business, a very risky business. And then there was Earl to consider.

I checked with a friend in the music industry, and he said: “Yeah, I know Norma Jean. She’s a sweetheart. But you do not want to mess with her. She’s got a boyfriend, a very big dude, and he can get nasty.” He gave me the address of the studio and I drove by hoping to see her going in or out. I didn’t notice Alphonso until he beeped his horn.

“What are you doing down here?” he said, then, without waiting for an answer, he added: “Meet me at the crib. We need to talk.”

A big shipment of powder cocaine had arrived in the city, he said, and he could get it to me at kilo weight for a very good price, if I put the money up front. I told him, even if I could cover the money, I couldn’t handle the product at kilo weight. I’d need to involve someone else who could. And that would be tricky. But, if he was interested in working with me, I could move it in smaller quantities. Which would give me a good excuse to come around and possibly visit with Norma Jean.

I felt tempted to use my line of credit from Sonny for a really large purchase but that would require a commitment to the drug business which I wasn’t prepared to make. My parole status had changed, I no longer reported for drug testing, but even a small infraction could sent me back to prison. A major bust would send me back for the rest of my life, I feared. Playing it safe by delivering no more than a few ounces of powder cocaine at a time to an assortment of trusted friends would be enough to keep me afloat. And, to account for my income, I still had my day job at the factory stacking freshly stamped gas tank panels.

I finally caught up with Norma Jean at a crowded nightclub in a downtown hotel. She put her arms around me, and whispered: “Be an angel, get me high. Can you do that? I’m performing here tonight. I’m terrified.” When I nodded affirmatively, she took my hand and led me through the hotel lobby to an elevator. “I’ve got a room on the fifth floor,” she said as the elevator door opened.

A woman was sitting in the room, a black woman, older, heavy set, attractive, well dressed. “Who are you,” she said in a husky voice when she saw me enter.

“He’s the one I was telling you about,” Norma Jean responded.

“Oh,” the woman said, leaning back in her chair, giving me the same look I had received from Earl.

I handed Norma Jean a glass bottle filled with finely chopped and fluffed pearly flakes of cocaine hydrochloride salt ready for consumption, and said: “Be careful with this stuff. A match head in each nostril is all you need. No big lines.”

“I know,” she said: “This is the best coke ever. I’m getting too fond of it. I need to ease off before going on tour.”

“Uh-huh,” the older woman interjected.

Norma Jean shot the woman a quick glance, then, turning back to me, she said: “Can you leave me some?”

“Yeah,” I said: “I can leave the bottle. I’ll pick it up later. Take as much as you want. Offer some to your friend.” When the woman responded with a blank stare, I said: “Where’s Earl?”

“Don’t worry about Earl,” Norma Jean replied: “I’ll take care of him.”

The older woman stood, and said: “How you gonna take care of Earl when you can’t even take care of yourself?” Then she turned to me, and said: “Mister, you better take that bottle with you.”

I dumped a small pile onto Norma Jean’s tooting tray, a mirror from her purse. That’s all she would need, anyway, I reasoned, and the older woman probably saved me from a mess of trouble.

While walking through the hotel lobby on my way back to the club, I ran into Alphonso. “Glad you made it, Brian,” he said: “This is a big night for Norma Jean. With recording industry executives, booking agents, and media critics in the audience, she’ll need all the support she can get. I’d ask you to our table but there’s no place for you.”

Showroom tables were either taken or reserved. I worked my way through the standing room only crowd until I had access to the bar and a clear view of the stage. A stack of electric keyboards were on one side. Electric bass, drums, and rhythm guitar in the middle. Horns and reeds on the other side. I recognized many of the musicians, all top notch pros from around town.

The band played a credible rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,’ as Norma Jean took the stage. She had three female singers standing behind her on one side and two male singers standing behind her on the other, backing her up as she sang the original lyrics with the traditional melody. Then she began to stretch the harmonic structure while inventing rhythms with a musical insight Ellington would admire. She sang original verse bordering on rap with quick riffs from trumpet, trombone, tenor saxophone, and clarinet punctuated her phraseology.

The words were difficult to follow because of the reverberation between two different speaker systems serving the showroom and the bar area where I stood, plus I just didn’t understand what she was singing about. That changed as she abruptly morphed into the next number, an electrifying rendition of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New,’ a 1970s hit by the Stylistics.

A male singer joined Norma Jean at center stage and she gave the impression there really was something going on between them, judging from her facial expressions, her body language, and the sincere joy expressed in her singing. I remembered holding her in my arms as she sang like that to me. I felt surprisingly jealous. And I wondered how Earl felt.

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