Maggy felt the weight of the antique mahogany bar as she leaned against it, half a fresh cut lemon in her hand. So much to do still for the opening tonight and it was already mid-afternoon. The club’s opening had been planned months in advance. Piece by piece, hammer by hammer, friend by friend, year after year, the abandoned 1920’s era train depot had been reimagined into “Maggy Blues, a vintage-styled jazz cafe in the middle of nowhere.” That’s how it had been described in the New & Notables section of this week’s edition of the Western Rockies Sentinel-Gazette. A short stack of the folded newspapers lay unopened at the other end of the bar.
Outside the windows, snow collected on the stone ledges. The gold threads in the brocade drapes flanking the ground-level windows glistened from the chandelier lighting overhead. The drapes were a gift from Maggy’s dear friend Zara, who had them custom made specially for Maggy Blues Jazz Cafe. The upper windows were left uncovered to allow sunlight — and moonlight — to shine through the wavy glass panes.
She had been performing in clubs, private events, and small festivals around the world since she was 16 years old, some years being more successful and more adventurous than others. Oh, the stories she could, but never would dare tell. As thankful as she was for the independent life and its series of adventures that she’d enjoyed as a vocalist, as an entertainer, the one thing Maggy longed for most in life was a place to call home. She had pretty much accepted the growing possibility that she might never get to settle down, to plant and harvest a garden, to be part of a community. Accepted it, that is, until —. Had it really been ten years since she first came to River Kross, taken that wrong turn and encountered the old train depot? Not quite, but almost.
Maggy gave the lemon a firm squeeze over the small porcelain cup on the bar in front of her. Steam rose from the hot tea inside. Ginger Peach, her favorite.
Garrett wiped the snow from his expensive overcoat before hanging it on the wall pegs next to the bar. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready?”
Maggy dipped a spoon into a Mason jar half-full of local honey. “Thought you said it was supposed to be good weather today?” She waited for Garrett to respond as she held the spoon above the cup, the bar lights overhead giving the thick glob an amber glow as it oozed from the spoon into the steaming hot tea.
“Quit worrying about it.” Garrett’s voice had that practiced tone of reassurance common among old-school TV news anchors. “They’ll be here.”
“You don’t know that.” Maggy shot back before taking a sip of the hot tea, scalding her tongue.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “You okay?”
“Of course I’m not okay.” She set the cup on the bar, then disappeared into the kitchen.
Teeka, the club manager, was counting ciabatta rolls. “26, 27, 28… You’re still here?”
“Stupid storm,” Maggy replied, grabbing some ice chips from the bin, which made a faint squeaking noise, a noise it wasn’t making yesterday.
Teeka nodded. “41, 42, 43, 44…” Maggy left the kitchen and returned to the bar where Garrett was tapping on his phone.
“So, how’s the new guy working out?” Maggy asked, dropping ice chips in the tea cup. They melted almost immediately.
Garrett set the phone down, and ran his fingers through his thick, salon-dyed hair. “He seems to know what he’s doing; covering for me tonight. I think I told you that.” He touched the faint lines on his forehead. “I’m not worried about it.”
“You did tell me that,” she reminded.
Maggy Blues Jazz Cafe wouldn’t exist without Garrett. She’d been en route to a three-month performance in Las Vegas, after a long run of engagements in hotel lounges across the nation’s heartland. Road weariness setting in, as it was prone to do more often each year, she’d told her agent to build in a week for travel before the Vegas gig. She’d been looking forward to catching up and spending a few stress-free days with her old friend Garrett, only a slight detour off the Interstate between her last gig in Lincoln, Nebraska, and next one in Vegas, where the audiences weren’t as engaged, but the money was definitely better.
After a long day of driving, she’d taken a wrong turn trying to find his house, ending up on a dead-end road. The old train depot with its boarded up windows, trash and tumbleweeds and God knows what else blown up against the walls loomed ahead. It was love at first sight.
Millie, her 50-pound auburn-haired mutt, jumped into her lap the moment she’d reached for the parking brake. They’d walked around to a side door with loose hinges — cracked open just enough for Maggy’s small frame to slip through.
The stone walls, arched windows, and faded murals on the ceilings captivated Maggy’s imagination. Millie moved about, sniffing — everything. The wind whistled, music to their highly-attuned ears, through the cracked panes of an upper level window.
She and Garrett had spent most of their brief visit fantasizing about the old depot as a jazz club — and how impossible the idea was. The building had been marked for demolition.
At the time, Garrett hadn’t been ready to talk about his recent move to River Kross. And Maggy hadn’t pressed. He’d been at the height of his career as a successful producer at a major news network based in New York City, but had suddenly and without explanation left to take on the news anchor position in one of the smallest and lowest salaried TV markets in the nation: the GBS network affiliate in River Kross. He’d welcomed Maggy’s visit. She was one of the few people he’d chosen to keep in touch with after leaving the city.
“You seem more relaxed, content,” she had told him before resuming her route to Vegas. “I think I like you better like this.” She, too, had felt more relaxed. The quiet, the big blue skies, the view of the river from the studio balcony over Garrett’s detached garage, the ease of their friendship.
“I’m getting there,” he’d replied, bidding her safe travels.
Maggy swirled the spoon absently in the cup of tea.
“Hello? You still with us?” Garrett snapped his fingers close to her face.
“Yes, sorry,” she said, shaking off the revery. “I was actually thinking about how much I appreciate you.”
“I appreciate you too.” Garrett said without hesitation.
“Here’s to opening night?” Maggy raised the teacup, then took several more sips, the warmth of the honey-sweet tea soothing her tired vocal cords. She attributed her diminishing vocal range to a combination of age, too many early years singing in smoke-filled clubs, and those wretched house-gin martinis between sets. While she had enjoyed growing popularity in Vegas after her brief stay at Garrett’s place, she couldn’t stop obsessing over the old train depot. So, she fulfilled her booking contracts and six months later was headed back to River Kross where she moved her few belongings into the empty studio apartment over Garrett’s garage. She didn’t know how or when, but she’d been determined to save the old depot from demolition and transform it into a jazz cafe, her home base, her personal sanctuary.
And save it, they did.
“That’s the spirit,” Garrett said, pointing at his wristwatch, then to the faded fleece leggings and tunic she was wearing. “Now, go away and don’t come back until you look like the sassy little diva we know and love.”
Maggy set the cup gently but deliberately into its saucer. “Don’t mock me.”
Garrett pulled her thrift-store camel hair coat from the wall peg. “You’re welcome,” he said, holding the coat open for her.
“Sorry.” She slipped her arms into the worn linings of the sleeves. “I don’t think it has fully hit me yet.”
“Get out of here,” Garrett’s voice was gentle, but insistent.
Maggy pulled the coat close, fumbling with the buttons, stalling.
“Are you sure you don’t mind helping Teeka for a few hours?” She picked up her keys from the bar and, without waiting for a response, added, “oh, and when Viktor gets back, ask him to please look at the ice machine; it’s making a funny noise.”
“Will you go already?” He nudged.
Braced for the storm outside, she hurried out the heavy double front doors.
The blast of cold air stung her face as she made her way across the parking lot, steadying her pace, careful not to slip on any hidden ice beneath the fresh snow. Two men exited a late model car idling near her old truck. Instinctively, she positioned the keys between the fingers of her left hand before clenching her fist.
“Hey, you Magdalena Blue?” The shorter man asked as she neared the truck.
“We open at seven.” She reached for her truck door.
“We just have a few questions to ask you,” the man insisted, betraying a distinct Boston accent. The other man, taller, stepped in front of her, putting his hand flat against the truck door.
The Boston-accented man flashed an ID, impossible to discern at a glance.
“I don’t answer questions.” She tensed. The taller man’s gloved hand was still pressed against the door. “I said, we open at seven,” she repeated.
The lights of the snowplow grew brighter as it rolled slowly into the parking lot. Viktor.
The taller man removed his hand from her door and stepped back.
She climbed into the truck, slammed the door against the wind, then drove away, waving to Viktor as she passed the plow.
The two men returned to the warmth of their late model car.
The windshield fogged as Maggy let out a sigh of relief. She pulled the phone from her pocket. No messages, nothing. Shivering from the cold, she drove long enough to give the truck time to warm up before adjusting the heater controls.
“Come on,” Maggy pleaded as cold air blasted from the vents with no sign of warming. She shut off the heater, reached behind the seat and pulled Millie’s blanket over and across her lap, the auburn dog hair immediately migrating from the blanket to her camel hair coat.
She ran through her mental checklist over and over for the next several miles. There was no sense worrying at this point. Everyone had done the best they could.
The metal windsock sculpture marking Parker Road was barely visible in the blowing snow. She pushed down hard on the clutch, downshifting as the truck rattled over the cattle guards, then back into third gear when her tires met the wet gravel road.
Copyright 2021 Krystyn Hartman