Chapter 1

The wind caught Jim’s bass case, nearly blowing it out of his hand, pulling him down the icy slope of the Boston Common toward Charles Street. He pulled back on the case, up-ended it, and hugged it to his chest, out of the wind’s grasp.

Beulah must think I’m on my way to school, he thought. Trying to take me down the Long Path, toward Park Square. We’ve got a rehearsal to go to, Beulah.

He turned left and headed down the short path toward Park Street Station.

A woman walked slowly in front of him, a large paper cup in one hand, a pretzel in the other, rhythmically dipping the pretzel into the cup and biting off soggy bits. Jim hurried past her.

Two massive granite kiosks emerged out of the foggy November night. They looked like mausoleums, in spite of the dim light that drifted from windows near the top. They housed the two entrances to Park Street Station.

Jim scurried past the first kiosk. As he approached the kiosk on the corner of Tremont and Park, he returned the bass case to carrying position. The handle of the case was positioned off-center so that one end hung lower, the tilt facilitating going up and down stairs without bumping one end of the case against the steps. For the descent down the stairs to the subway, he made sure the low end was in front, so the case would follow the slope of the stairs.

Only one of the doors of the subway entrance was open. The descent beckoned, but across the opening lay a black and white dog—actually a black and gray dog, the white obscured by grime—a homely and probably homeless mutt, though someone had tied three colorful bandannas around its neck. As Jim approached, the dog growled and bared its teeth. Jim stopped short. The dog barked. Jim contemplated whether he should change his plan and walk down Tremont Street to the subway entrance at the corner of Tremont and Boylston. His contemplation was interrupted when the dog leaped up and snapped at the air a few feet from him. Jim jumped back, but he had not been the target of the dog’s attack. Something had flown through the air and into the dog’s mouth. Jim noticed a familiar smell. In an instant he knew what that smell was—beer.

“That should shut you up for a while, doggy” he heard a voice say from over his shoulder. The woman Jim had hurried past, now without pretzel, sauntered past Jim and, starting down the steps to the subway, tilted her head back as she drank from her cup, and then, without looking back, threw the cup over her shoulder. The cup landed at Jim’s feet, spilling some of its remaining contents onto the concrete. Jim stepped briskly over the liquid and scooted into the gloom of the stairway. He looked back as he scurried down the stairs and saw that the dog had stretched itself out again in the subway entrance, this time half in and half out, with its snout in the cup, holding it with one front paw. Only then did Jim notice that the other front leg was missing. Sweet dreams, doggy.

At the bottom of the stairs, he shifted his bass case to his left hand, reached into his right pocket, took out a token, dropped it into the slot, and pushed through the turnstile. As he passed the information booth, the attendant, his sweater buttoned up, his pressed white shirt buttoned and secured by a drab tie, his thinning hair slicked down, scowled at him through his heavy-rimmed glasses, focusing his scowl first on Jim’s shoulder-length hair, then on his bass case.

Jim wanted to walk up to him and say, “Yeah, that’s right, Mister, I’m a damn hippie college kid, and I know you’re thinking this big suitcase is full of drugs.”

Instead he looked at the clock at the back of the booth, above the man’s head.

Ten of six. That should give me enough time to get to the Webster House in time for rehearsal. Miz will probably get there late. Usually does. Not riding with him tonight, no need since I left the Ampeg there last night. Still, I miss those times.

The Blues Children played Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the Webster House. They left the equipment set up on stage Wednesday through Saturday, taking home only their instruments. On Saturday nights they arrived early to get in some rehearsal time before the first set.

A Green Line car had just pulled out, so Jim joined the small crowd at the edge of the track to await the next one. He turned the bass case on end, and rested his arm on the top. On the other side of the tracks, the Kwik-Snak shop and the flower shop were closing, a woman standing in front of each, rolling down metal shutters

More people began gathering around Jim. A tall black man with white hair moved among them, sweeping cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and other debris into a small metal dustpan that swiveled at the end of a pole. After a while, a Green Line car pulled up, “Cleveland Circle - Beacon Street” in block letters on the rollsign.

As the car pulled to a stop, Jim hugged his bass case and shuffled along with the crowd to the car and up the steps. No seats available. Standing room only. Moving halfway down the car, he reached up, grabbed a strap with one hand, and used his other hand to balance the bottom of the bass case on the toe of his right foot. He’d developed this trick as a way to swivel the case out of the way of a crush of people. The case, made of not much more than heavy cardboard, offered little protection for his bass guitar, and in the hurtling of subway travel, someone could easily slam against it and damage his beloved Beulah. Probably wouldn’t happen, but Jim was, as Miz had observed, “A compulsive equipment worrier.”

As the car pulled away, Jim looked down on the small group of people who had not been able to get on, who either looked down at the ground with a grim face, or stared at the people in the slowly accelerating car as if these people, by getting on the car, had stolen something from them. Jim noticed one girl, about his age, staring not down or up, but straight in front of her, as if gazing into a great distance. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her skin pale, and her eyes of a blue that reminded Jim of something, but he didn’t know what. Though it was a cold November night, the girl wore only a light sweater over a baggy dress. The crowd around her shuffled about, each trying to find the optimal spot to be first on the next car, but the girl stood perfectly still. A rock in the waves. The still point.