They Called Themselves “the Trumped-Up Blues”
A short story
They called themselves “The Trumped-up Blues.” Harold sang and played guitar, while Jimmy kept the beat on the drums. It was just a small kit with a bass drum, snare, and high hat. But he was known to keep good time.
Clubs and taverns paid the best, but street-side gigs provided quick under the table cash, with easy setup and tear-down and complete freedom to play things their way.
Both Harold and Jimmy had held a good-paying career in the tech industry back in the pre-dot-com-y2k era. But all that came to a halt when the industry crashed and they found themselves jobless in Seattle.
After a few years of nothing but rejection letters — trying to get back into an industry that didn’t want guys their age with too much of the wrong experience — they decided they needed a drastic change and a way to make a quick buck. So, they got together, bought a slightly beat up and rusty but fully functional old black 1980 Cadillac from a used-car salesman, loaded it up with their music gear, a couple of suitcases and hit the road to play any gig they could get. They didn’t looked back since.
For the first ten years, they called themselves “Twelve Bars and the Blues,” but then the results of the 2016 presidential election made them to change their band’s name. They played a lot of covers and sometimes they even modified the lyrics in ways to make fun of the current president. Harold reworked most of the musical arrangements. Their style appealed to liberals who also ended up throwing good money into the guitar case. But many republicans seemed pissed.
“Where are we at, boss?” said Jimmy, waking up from his afternoon nap, sitting in the passenger seat, leaning against the window.
“Lexington Kentucky. Here, have a cold one.” He handed Jimmy a cold Red Bull he pulled out from the little cooler between their seats. “That’ll put some spark in your bark.”
“Right… Thanks.” Jimmy pulled the tab on the can, making a swish sound. “Kentucky, eh? That’s gonna bring us lots of happy paying fans. Not. Last time I checked, we were heading for Memphis. What the fuck happened?”
Harold had been driving all morning since they left the pancake house in St-Louis — where they’d slept the night parked in the lot, after playing a seedy pub for a meal, a few drinks, and way less than minimum wage.
“I missed the exit and just kept driving. Didn’t wanna wake you to check that map app on your phone. The Cadillac was just coasting happily in cruise control. A nice smooth multi-lane interstate. So… whatever. It’s not like we have anything in Memphis, anyway.”
Jimmy had a frowning look on his face. “I’ve always wanted to check out Graceland. So much for that, I guess. Anyway, isn’t it about time you get a smartphone, so you, too, can use a map app? Mister twenty-year-old stick phone.”
Harold stared at the road ahead and didn’t say a thing. He’d never really felt the need to upgrade his old 1998 stick phone to a smartphone. As far as he was concerned, it worked. Calls and text messages were enough for him to communicate with the world that, he felt, had left him behind. The internet downturn had shaken his confidence in new technology. He felt satisfied with checking email, the news, and surfing the web on a ten-year-old laptop wherever he could find free Wi-Fi.
“We’ll be in Lexington soon,” Harold said. “We’ll play an outdoor gig this afternoon, in the downtown area. Somewhere with a terrace. In a park. It should bring in enough cash to buy us dinner. Maybe even a cheap motel to crash. A shower and a regular bed I can stretch out my legs in would be nice. Anyway, digs in Lexington Kentucky are gonna be a lot cheaper than in Memphis, right?”
Jimmy stared out the windscreen scratching the top of his head and said, “Yeah, I guess. A shower and shave sound like a plan.”
By the time they pulled into town, near two in the afternoon, Harold had found a free parking spot on a side street, near the park. They carried all their gear with the help of two luggage carts. Harold held his old guitar case in one hand and pulled an amplifier, microphone, cables, and a stand on his cart. Both of them wore cheap navy-blue suits with white shirts and red ties.
“Got your mask?”
Harold smirked while gesturing towards the folded president Trump rubber mask he held under his armpit. The mask he’d worn without fail, at every gig, since he had heard the 2016 election results.
“Today’s sun’s a real doozie,” said Jimmy, while pushing up his big black sunglasses.
They found a spot on the terrace, near the entry to the park, and set everything down. Harold set up his gear to face the oncoming foot traffic; Jimmy did the same just a few meters behind. The mic and guitar were plugged into the amp while the small drum kit was assembled. They both turned up and then Harold stepped up to the microphone, put on his rubber mask, and began to sing the “Preaching Blues” tune by Son House.
Said, I’m gonna get me a religion. I’m gonna join the Baptist church.
People started gathering around the area to watch. Harold kept fingerpicking his electro-acoustic and sang. Sometimes he would point at the big, red and white “Impeach Trump” bumper sticker on the front of his guitar.
You know I wanna be a republican preacher. Just so I won’t have to work.
Some in the crowd bopped their heads to Jimmy’s steady beat. Many looked like they were enjoying themselves. Others clapped. But a few in the front seemed annoyed and began to boo. But Jimmy and Harold didn’t make anything of it and kept playing.
One repub jumped up and began to spin. You know, he said, “One thing, elder, I believe I’ll go back to jail again.
They kept on like this for the next half an hour. Playing rhythmically, belting out the blues. Money was being dropped and accumulated quickly in the guitar case. The politically incorrect lyrical adjustments were bright and clear, but not everyone cheered. A few in the crowd wearing red MAGA hats looked mean.
At the end of the song, Harold paused, looked back at Jimmy and whispered, “There’s a lot of coin in there.” Jimmy looked up at him grinning and nodding, “Looks like steaks tonight!”
Harold took his guitar off and said, “I better bring this load of coin to the bank across the street and convert it to bills. Before they close. Christ, there must be at least fifty bucks of coin in there. We don’t want to have to pay with coins at the steakhouse.”
“OK, dude,” Jimmy said grinning. “I’ll wait here with the gear. Hurry back ‘cause the very small sign over there, on that poll, says musical acts with permits can perform for a maximum of one hour. And we got none.”
Harold looked stressed as he closed the guitar case filled with coins almost to a quarter. “Yeah, OK. Shit, I hope there’s no big line-up. Everything looks pretty busy.”
He sprang to his feet and ran towards the bank with his guitar case in hand. Cars honked, drivers screamed obscenities, as he dodged around them to cross the busy street.
When Harold swung the front door of the bank open and ran in, an older woman standing in line saw him and screamed. The security guard who was momentarily busy talking to a young lady swiftly turned around, pulled out his gun, and shot Harold in the chest with ten rounds of ammunition.
The force of the gunshots pushed Harold back ten feet where he laid on his back, arms and legs out, with the coins from his burst-open guitar case scattered around. He died almost instantly.
Jimmy, having heard the gunshots and screams from the park, ran over to the bank as fast as he could.
“Oh my God,” he screamed, at the sight of Harold’s bleeding body on the ground floor. “Why? Oh God, why?”
The security guard who shot him was now standing near the body and said,“I thought he was going to rob the bank. He was carrying a guitar case and wore a president mask, for Christ’s sake. I mean, haven’t you seen the original movie, Point Break?”