“Just to set the record straight, I do not own all or most of Queen Street. As to what I do own -- well, it’s a simple story. You know the painter Joe Schubert?”
“Not personally, but I know who he is. He’s a great painter. Everybody who knows anything about Canadian art knows about Joe Schubert, and I know from talking to you that he’s a friend of yours.”
“Well, Joe is also a pretty passable guitar player. Years ago, about the time that you were learning to walk, Joe used to sit in with my quartet sometimes, and we became good friends. One day, he came up with what seemed to most people a hare-brained scheme. He discovered that five blocks of Queen Street West were up for sale. The properties were mostly old store-front buildings with apartments on top. Some were empty, and those that were rented housed mom-and-pop stores -- you know, sundries, junk and so forth. Joe figured that if a few of us went in together that we could buy these places, and he was convinced that the area was about to boom.
“The other guys that he talked to thought he was nuts. All they could see were some run-down old stores, but I thought that Joe just might be right. There were lots of artists and musicians living in the area. They came there when they were students at the art college or university, and they often stayed after they graduated. There were already a few bars, art supply shops, booksellers and at least one big music store. These catered to the artists. And, of course, to artsy hangers-on. The area was getting a reputation as a place to be. The scene might easily take off at any moment, and if Joe was right, I’d be nuts not to join him. As it happened, I’d just made a few thousand playing on some record and film gigs, and I had a steady gig playing some CBC shows. There was live radio and TV in those days, and you could make a good living playing the shows. Joe was starting to sell some canvases, and he played a few gigs as well. With what he and I could scrape up between us, we made the down payment and actually managed to qualify for a mortgage.
“The rest is history. It turned out that Joe was right. Well, not entirely right. The area boomed more than we ever dreamed. Within a couple of years, every one of our properties was occupied with new businesses, most of them very trendy and profitable. Henry Goldblum’s Eternity bar was one of the first. The end result was that Joe and I paid off the mortgage quickly. We agreed to put about 50% of the proceeds into buying new real estate, at least for the first 5 years after the mortgage was payed off. We bought a few more buildings. We don’t buy many new properties these days. We just look after what we have, but we’re both pretty well fixed.”
“Oh. That explains a lot. So you’re filthy stinking rich. At least you’re a hell of a lot richer than anyone I’ve ever known. Since we’re both drunk, can I ask you another personal question?”
“In all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you with a woman. You must have been hurt badly. What happened with you and Janet?”
I sighed and looked up at the ceiling before answering her. “I’ll make a long story short. When I met Janet, she was starting out as a singer. She sang with my quartet a few times, and we started going out together. After a while, I thought I was in love. Maybe she did, too. I asked her to marry me. Unfortunately, she said yes.
“We were married for a couple of years when something became apparent: we hadn’t been in love. Once sex started being just routine, there wasn’t a hell of a lot left in our marriage. To be honest, we weren’t even good friends anymore. I think that the only reason Janet stayed with me for as long as she did was money. After my investments paid off, we had money, and Janet liked to spend it. She liked nice stuff -- things like this house, cars, trips, clothes, and all the other things that money can buy. When she met someone else who could supply those things, she took off.
“Her new guy was a lawyer. Fortunately, he wasn't as good a lawyer as my pal David Nussbaum, so Janet got next to nothing out of me. Her boyfriend represented her at the divorce, and the judge really took a dislike to him. Plus the fact that she couldn’t establish any reason for leaving me except that she was fucking someone else.
“After the divorce, they left town. I heard they moved out west somewhere. I honestly do not know where Janet is now, and what’s more I don’t care. End of story.”
“Don’t be. In the end, it wasn't a bad thing.”
“But you were hurt. A lot. I can tell. That helps me understand why you’ve been so distant with me.”
“You’ve been a great friend. You’ve always been there when I needed you. We’ve been really good friends from the first time we met. And I can tell from the way that you look at me that you don’t think I'm ugly. But you’ve always kept your distance. Even though I think I’ve shown that I’d like to be more than just your friend.”
All of a sudden, I started to sober up. The most beautiful woman in the world was telling me that she wanted to be “more than a friend.” I looked into my glass for a while. Then I looked at Carole.
“I’m pretty dense sometimes, but I’d have to be gay or a eunuch not to be interested in you. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. And you’re the sweetest. But you’re also young enough to be my daughter. Most young women aren’t turned on by dirty old men.”
“You’re not that old. And you’re certainly not dirty. In fact, you’re not dirty enough. Do I have to make all the moves in this relationship?”
Carole got to her feet a bit unsteadily. She came over and plunked herself down on my lap.
She kissed me gently and held my face with a hand on either cheek, looking straight into my eyes. “I normally wouldn’t have the courage to tell you this. But I’ve had a few drinks, and I'm not going to waste what my dad calls “Dutch courage.” Danny, I love you. I think I've loved you from the first time we met.”
She stroked my brow and kissed my forehead. She kissed my eyes. My mouth. Corny as it sounds, time seemed to stop as we kissed and held each other.
“Danny, I love you. I love you so very much.”
“Carole, I love you, too. More than I can say. But be sure you know what you’re getting into.”
She smiled at me and stroked my face. “Your place or mine?” she asked.
We settled on mine.
We held on to each other all the way to the bedroom. There was barely room for us to walk up stairs side-by-side, but we couldn’t seem to let each other go. Considering the amount we’d had to drink, we might have needed to hang on to stay upright. When we got to the bedroom, we undressed. I undressed Carole, and she undressed me. Slowly.
Clothed, Carole was beautiful. Naked, She was more beautiful than I could have imagined. There are women who look better in clothes than without them. Carole was definitely not one of them.
Her complexion was a perfect creamy white from head to toe. When I took off her bra, her breasts didn’t change shape. They were that firm. Her hips swelled from a small waist. Her legs tapered from distinctly womanly thighs to perfect calves and dainty feet. Nestled between her thighs was a V of black curls with pink, pouting lips just visible.
We embraced and kissed for a very long time, relishing the skin-to-skin contact. She pulled back a bit and smiled at me. She looked down.
“I’d say that you seem pretty happy to see me.”
I was so erect that my penis was pointing up at about a 30-degree angle. Carole took it in her hand and led me to the bed, using my dick as a leash. Once there, she laid me down and straddled me. I was in heaven.
I tried to go slowly that first time. I wanted to savour the moment. But Carole wasn't having any of that. She was like a tigress. She rode me as though I were her mount in the Kentucky Derby, and she was determined to win. I responded predictably. But I didn't come first. She did. You could say that she won, I placed, and then she showed, coming again as I jetted inside her.
After that first burst of passion, our love making slowed and became more gentle. We made love for a very long time. Several times, we dozed off. From time to time, we’d awaken, and then we’d begin again. There are times that you make love and cannot remember the details because the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. This was one of those times. We loved each other in every physical way of which we were capable. At some point, we lost consciousness.
I awoke about 10:30 in the morning. Carole was still sleeping peacefully. She looked like an angel. I put on my pants and stumbled downstairs. I went into the kitchen and put on the coffee. After a couple of cups of coffee, I went into my office and looked up a few telephone numbers. Then I made a couple of calls. The first one was to the food bank. Then I called my old pal Howard Feinberg. Howard had been the first drummer in my quartet. He was now running the musician’s union local office.
“Danny, it’s always a joy to hear from you. But why the hell are you calling me at home on a Sunday morning?”
“Howie, you know I wouldn’t call if I didn't need a favour. The pension fund concerts-- are they still happening?”
“You know that they are, and God knows why you ask. But whatever your reason, you know that they have to benefit some charity or other. You got a gig? You got a charity?”
“Yeah. The food bank. And Henry Goldblum will give us the place -- his bar, the Eternity.”
“What’s the catch?”
“No catch. I’ll even sign up the guys. There will be a cover at the bar, and 100% of the cover goes to the food bank. Deal?”
“Sounds good to me. Call me after the weekend. And while I’m at it, you’re on the union ways and means committee. How come I never see you at committee meetings?”
“Cuz I’m a lazy asshole. Talk to you later.”
And the deal was done.
Then I called the other guys in my old quartet: Joe, Dick and Ernie. They bitched and moaned, but in the end they all agreed to do the gig in two weeks. Then I called Josie, my favourite publicist. She bitched, moaned, and begged for a bigger budget than I was offering. But eventually she agreed to take the job.
I heard Carole stirring around upstairs, so I put on another pot of coffee. In a few minutes, she came into the kitchen. Her hair was tousled. She was wearing one of my old denim shirts. And she looked adorable.
She came over, kissed me and snuggled up with her head on my shoulder. “Good morning, my darling. Did I have too much to drink last night?”
“Is that why you wound up in an old man’s bed?”
“What old man? I thought I spent the night with my lover and my best friend. By the way, what have you been doing while I was snoring away?”
“Saving the world. Or at least trying to save our little part of it.”
Over coffee, bacon and eggs, I explained what I was up to. Carole was very enthusiastic. She could see the possibilities. There wasn’t a jazz club left in that part of town.
After breakfast, she became very serious. “Danny, a lot of things changed last night. I guess we need to talk about sleeping arrangements and stuff like that.”
“Yes ma’am, we do.”
She came over and sat on my knee. That brought her up to my eye level.
“Should I move into the house? Would it look too bad if I did?”
“My little love, I don’t care what it looks like and to whom. You’re my woman now, and I want you in my bed. As often as possible.”
“Can I still keep my studio downstairs? I kind of need my space.”
“Of course you can. In fact, I think it would be better for you to make the whole downstairs into a studio if you’d like.
“Now, there’s still the question of that bed upstairs. I think we should check it again. Just to make sure it fits.”
Carole came into my arms as naturally as though she’d always been there. We kissed for a long time. Then we went upstairs.
In the bedroom, the events of the past night were re-enacted, but more gently and, strangely, with more intense and sustained passion.
I tasted her centre time and time again. She climaxed with an adorable moan. When I was inside her, I felt at home at last. Carole was all the home I’d ever needed. She made me complete.
Monday, we spent pretty much the entire day in bed. Well, we did go out for brunch, but then it was back to the sack. On Tuesday, I had to take my darling to work. I parted from her reluctantly. It was ironic to me that I could so easily have taken her from this job. I could support her without even noticing the expense. But she needed her sense of worth. She needed this job for much more than the money. So be it.
During the next week, Josie covered the downtown area with posters: “The Danny Sullivan Quartet Rides Again. Eternity on Queen Street. Friday and Saturday.” Josie set up interviews for me on local radio and TV. That Wednesday, there was a feature article in the Toronto Tabloid.
I figured I should get out the horn and try to see which end to blow into. I dicked around with the thing for a day or two and then got the guys together. When we started to play, some things were just like the old days. We were carried along by the incredible lyricism of Ernie’s piano playing. Joe was on drums, Dick on bass and, of course, yours truly on trumpet. We weren’t too bad. Meaning that we were mediocre, but maybe no one would notice.
And no one did. On Friday, the place was packed. We played the first set. People were actually quiet while we played. Then the second set. There were even more people. By the end of the third set, they didn’t want to let us leave.
Needless to say, Henry was selling booze and food at record levels.
In a couple of weeks, the gig was on its way to becoming a tradition. That’s the way things go in the big city these days. The quartet was sounding better all the time, and we were having a hell of a good time playing. It seemed like the old days.
There was no longer a need for the union to fund the gigs. Henry was making enough money to pay us scale and a bit more. Hell, we weren’t doing it for the money anyway.
Henry had to hire extra help for the weekends, and the business spilled over to weekdays. The food had always been good. Now it was terrific. It turned out that the chef just needed a reason to do his best.
Carole was now the head waiter and hostess, and she ran a tight ship. I’d never suspected that she had talent for management, but she certainly did. Of course, there was no longer any question of her losing her job, and I no longer had to subsidize her salary. In fact, Henry had given her a 50% raise and promised more to come.
As far as our home life was concerned, it was idyllic. Carole was the ideal partner. She’d taken over the running of the house, and she’d immediately bonded with Maria the cleaning person. Gradually, Maria took over more duties around the house. It turned out that she was a great cook, so on evenings when Carole and I were busy, we knew that we could come home to a terrific meal.
Sitting in the garage was a red VW cabriolet that Janet had bought just before she left. It had been there for a couple of years. Somehow, I’d never gotten around to selling it. The car had been driven only a couple of thousand kilometres and then sadly neglected. It was so dirty that you could hardly tell what colour it was. However, after it was cleaned up and gone over by a mechanic, it was like new, and it served Carole very well. Something that most people don’t realize is that a convertible can be nearly as functional as a van when you’re carrying big stuff like large canvases. You simply put the top down and let them stick up.
Of course, the rest of the time, it was a lot more fun than a van. Carole drove it every day: rain, shine, fog or snow.
Summer turned to winter. We were soon coming up to our six-month anniversary. While she’d been living with me, Carole had painted nearly every day. I had suspected before that she was good. Now, I knew. She was brilliant. Soon, her paintings replaced all the crap that Janet had bought to go with the decor. For the first time, I felt that the house was a home.
I thought that we should consider a show of her canvases. Carole was quite reticent, so I was resolved to do an end march around her. As luck would have it, Joe Schubert, my artist friend and business partner came to the house for a meeting. It was during the day when Carole was at work. I took his coat, hung it up and went into the hallway. There was Joe standing transfixed in front of one of Carole’s canvases. It was the large one of the CN Tower reflected in the buildings across the street.
I realized that Joe hadn’t been in the house since Carole had been living there. He said to me, “Who the hell painted this?”
“Carole, my partner,” I said.
“Jesus Christ, Danny! Where have you been hiding her? This stuff has to be shown!”
Joe called his agent, Chris Little. Chris came by the next afternoon. He looked at Carole’s paintings. Carefully. And he made lots of notes. He didn’t say much to me, but he left an envelope addressed to Carole.
Carole came home late that night. She was very tired. Henry had extended the live music theme to other days of the week. That night had been “audition” night. New groups were given the opportunity to play. It was always a crazy time.
We had a late supper, expertly prepared by Maria. I’d left Chris’ envelope by Carole’s plate. “What’s this, Danny?” she said.
“I’m not sure. Open it.”
Carole opened the envelope. She read the contents. She was fully awake now. Her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked at me and said, “You sneaky bastard! What do you know about this?”
“About what?” I said, innocently.
“This!” And she threw a legal-looking document on the table.
“This is an offer from The Little Chris Gallery, from Chris Little. He’s only the most important dealer in Canadian art in the country. He wants to represent me. And he wants to talk about a one-woman show. Are you responsible for this?”
“No, I honestly didn't do anything. Joe Schubert was here yesterday for a business meeting. He looked at your canvases. Then he brought Chris here to take a look at your stuff. Chris looked for quite a while. He didn't say anything to me. He just left that envelope for you. That’s the honest truth. Are you going to do it?”
“I can’t! I’m not ready, and what’s more the whole idea scares the hell out of me. I’m totally unknown. Why would anyone take my work seriously?”
I picked up the offer and waved it at her. “Here’s someone who takes you seriously, and he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is. If Chris believes in you, other people will certainly want to see your stuff. Besides, an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day. You’ve got to do it. Here’s a pen. You sign the contract, and I’ll witness it.”
She did, and I did. Over the next couple of weeks, Carole and Chris spent a lot of time looking at canvases. They wanted to be sure that they chose the right ones for the show.
On the day the show opened, Carole was a nervous wreck. So was I. At last, the doors opened. Soon, the gallery was mobbed. After they’d seen the paintings, everyone wanted to meet Carole. And many of them got out their cheque books and went to see Chris.
The show was the hit of the season. It sold out in two weeks. And Carole was lionized by the press. One of the entertainment papers dubbed her the “Queen of Queen Street,” either not knowing or caring that was the title given some years ago to Jim Mahler, painter, folk-singer and queen.
Carole was suddenly in demand as an artist. Chris was now her exclusive agent and had agreed to take on whatever work she’d send to him. They had a standard deal, the fifty-fifty split that had always seemed unfair to me, although all the painters and sculptors I knew accepted it without question. Some even signed to a sixty-forty split, the sixty going to the agent. Musicians pay 20% to their agents and bitch heartily about it. C’est la vie.