Carlisle growled at them. “Keep everyone’s eyes up here tonight, got it? I don’t want nothin’ getting’ in the way in the back room.”
“Course, sir.” White-Note Wanda kept herself seated on the black lacquered bench next to the baby grand. She looked up at the club’s owner with a demure smile. “Anything else, sir?”
Carlisle grunted and walked away.
“One of these days I’m going to smack him so hard,” Black-Note Benny breathed.
“Relax, Benny. We got the best show this side of the state line. Everyone knows that. We can keep everyone’s attention just fine.” Wanda nodded toward the bar. “Suzanne’s workin’ tonight. You two got plans for later?”
“I sure hope so.” Benny blew a kiss to the bartender with the black bobbed hair. She caught it with one hand, pouring a shot with the other.
Suzanne vanished. A big goon with a shaved head stood in his place.
“Rewrite!” Wanda shook her head as she turned to the keyboard.
“I was hopin’ for a romance!” Benny looked up at the dingy ceiling. “Come on! Give a guy a chance!”
“Benny, you’re not a main character.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re just a secondary character’s sister.”
Wanda crinkled her nose, working some chords. “Come on. We gotta perform. It’s in the story.”
“Author’s working the backroom. It doesn’t matter what we do.” Benny absently plunked a few accidentals in a jazz chord for Wanda. “She hasn’t even populated anyone up here yet but the staff. Early draft, you know?”
His hand shifted to a garish hook and then back again.
“I think you better do what she wants or you might get rewritten.” Wanda worked harder at the chords, shouldering Benny to complete what she couldn’t play. The two got into a basic jazz improv, shifting keys and rhythms with ease.
If there had been a crowd, they would have enjoyed it.
Suddenly the bar filled with a boisterous mob. The duo picked up the pace of the song. Benny swung all around Wanda, hitting the notes she couldn’t. Men cheered. Waitresses with very little on sauntered through. “Welcome to the Misfit. What’s your pleasure?”
Wanda was glad the Author had given her a nice green dress that showed off her assets without showing off too much.
A waitress set a martini on the grand piano. “From that guy at the bar,” she muttered.
Wanda risked a look up from the keyboard to see the man.
She missed a note.
It was the main character. The main character had bought her a drink. The grizzled detective the entire novel revolved around bought her a drink.
Was the Author making her a secondary character instead of a background one?
Time to shine. “Benny, we’re raising the tempo. Follow my lead.”
“What?” Benny didn’t have time to say anything else. She pounded the white keys with abandon, faster, faster. Benny struggled to hit all the black keys in her runs up and down the keyboard.
Come on, Author. Wanda knew she had the stuff to be a leading lady. If the main character bought her a drink, that had to mean something, right? Right?
The crowd cheered. Every eye in the place was on them, except for the new brute bartender. He kept pouring more and more liquor.
The keys were getting slick. Benny dripped sweat onto them. Wanda’s fingers began to slip.
This has to be perfect. Prove you’re a good character. You’re not going to vanish like Benny’s girlfriend. What was her name again?
No. concentrate on this. Come on, Wanda. Push harder.
Benny hit a sharp that shouldn’t be there.
She raised the tempo, her fingers racing up and down the keyboard, Benny struggling to keep up, sweating more and more.
Finale time. Tremolo on the left hand, glissando on the right, all the way down –
They nailed the last chord. The crowd burst into applause.
Wanda stood, her face hurting at the size of her smile. The crowd showered her with praise.
She couldn’t find the main character.
He was gone.
… he didn’t buy a drink because the Author was raising her status. He bought her a drink as window dressing.
– – –
“And that’s the last thing I remember before showing up in the Swamp,” Wanda muttered.
Brarrian nodded. “I am sorry. If it brings you any comfort, you have more story than many here.” She penned the last few words onto the nearly-blank parchment. “And it does appear you had more story than your brother.”
“But now I have written your tales, it is time for me to tell you what will happen with your stories, now that they have been recorded here. Allow me to share with you the villain that once nearly destroyed every rejected story, and the hero that saved us.
“Let me tell you of Sauron and Aragorn.”
This is a Barrelbottom Tale.
White-Note Wanda and Black-Key Benny last appeared in Registering Rejects.
Brarrian tells her tale in The Battle of Barrelbottom.