“All Night Jam Session”
by Horace P. Sternwall
Originally published in Eldritch Tales magazine, August 1950, and included in "The Siren Call of Doom” and 27 Other Previously Uncollected Stories of the Supernatural by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of Post-Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College.
Illustrated by rhoda penmarq.
“Hey, Mitch,” said Tony Winston. “Mitch. That you in there?”
Tony squatted down, then bent over to one side and peered under the toilet stall door. Two shoes. Two scuffed black shoes, black socks, grey trousers. The one dress requirement Tony asked of his players was that they wear black shoes and grey suits.
“Mitch,” he said again, louder this time. “That you in there, man? Come on, we’re supposed to be on.”
Was he going to have to crawl under this door to get this bum?
“Hey, come on, Mitch.”
Still squatting there, he banged on the door with the side of his fist, once, twice, and then again.
Then he heard a slumping, sliding noise, followed by a soft but heavy thump.
He bent over to one side and peered again under the door.
There was Melvyn “Mitch” Mitchelson, crumpled in front of the toilet, his face sideways on the tiles, staring blankly at Tony. He had his suit jacket halfway off, so that it was only draped over his right shoulder and arm. His left arm was stuck out in front of him, with the shirt sleeve rolled up all the way, and a belt tied around the skinny biceps. There was a syringe and a needle still sticking out of his forearm.
“S**t,” said Tony.
He got to his feet, then went off to find Mr. Nolan, the house dick.
Mitch Mitchelson’s immortal spirit watched as Mr. Nolan and Tony carried him through the men’s room doorway, each of them with one of Mitch’s arms draped over a shoulder. Tony had gone back to the green room and gotten Mitch’s threadbare old topcoat and his fedora, and the brim of the hat was pulled low over Mitch’s unseeing eyes. Instead of turning left and going back to the Prince Hal Room, Mr. Nolan and Tony turned to the right and carried Mitch down to the fire exit, his shoes dragging on the floor. Mr. Nolan pushed the door open, and Mitch floated along, watching them as they brought his body out to the cobbled alleyway.
“So we leave him out here, Mr. Nolan?”
“No, Tony,” said Mr. Nolan. “It wouldn’t be the best publicity for the hotel, dead trumpet player found in the alley outside.”
“Saxophonist, actually,” said Tony.
“Saxophonist,” said Mr. Nolan. “You up for dragging him down down around the back of the automat? And then we can leave him by the ash cans in back of the deli on the corner. They open up pretty early there, so at least he won’t be lying out too long.”
“Okay, whatever you say, Mr. Nolan.”
“Yeah, let’s get it over with. I got to get back onstage.”
“I know, Tony. All right, let’s go.”
Mitch’s spirit watched as they dragged his corpse down the dark alley, the toes of his shoes making gentle popping sounds on the old cobbles.
He rose up, into the dark air of the alleyway.
He no longer had any interest in whatever would become of his former corporeal host, which had served him indifferently through twenty-seven years, in good times and bad, through straight times and high times.
Twenty-seven years, a fairly short span of life, but then he had packed a lot of fun into those years, playing in joints all over the country, jamming until the wee hours, getting drunk, getting high, sleeping the day away and then getting up to do it all over again.
But to say he had no regrets would be lying. He would have liked to stick around a bit longer, getting high, playing music, jamming all night, sleeping all day. He rose up higher. He could no longer see Nolan or Tony or himself down there. He was now all the way up to the roof of the hotel.
The good old Hotel St Crispian.
This had been a good gig, these last few months, playing with Tony’s band in the Prince Hal Room. The music was pretty square, but after the last set nearly every night Mitch and Tony and usually the canary, Shirley De La Salle, they would head down to Bob’s Bowery bar and meet up with some of the rest of the gang, and just jam, until six in the morning, Bob didn’t care, he was cool, and the old winos at Bob’s didn’t seem to mind, the winos and some of the hep cats who would fall in just to dig the jam sessions.
Good times. So, yeah, Mitch would miss the jam sessions. And he had to admit it, he would miss getting high.
He wouldn’t miss the cold water flat he lived in. He wouldn’t miss the cold hours sweating it out waiting for his connection. He wouldn’t miss never having the money for pretty much anything except his next fix and the automat coffee and pie that kept his corporeal host alive.
But he would miss those all night jam sessions.
He rose up higher, way high up above the city.
Down below were all the lights, all the millions of lights in the dark city, all those millions of people.
He looked up, and he saw something he rarely saw when he had been alive, down there in the city.
He saw the stars. Millions of stars. How could there be so many stars?
He rose up higher, then higher, and he rose up into the stars.
Mitch was standing on a dark city street, and he was carrying his ax in its case.
He could hear music. It was bop, but kind of slow bop, with a lot of blues in it. He headed toward the music, and the music got louder until he came to a bar. It didn’t have a sign with a name on it, just a red neon Rheingold sign.
Mitch pushed open the door, and the barroom was full, filled with laughing people and with smoke.
Off to the right was a slightly raised bandstand, and a combo was playing that slow deep bop music, white cats and black cats, just jamming.
The cornet man was laying out at the moment, standing there on the stage nodding his head and staring off into space. He looked familiar, real familiar. Then he saw Mitch, and smiled, and waved, waved for Mitch to come on over.
Mitch nodded back to the cat and headed on over through the laughing crowd. By the time he reached the stage he already had his instrument out of its case.
(Previously published in somewhat different form in Tales of the Hotel St Crispian, fully illustrated by rhoda penmarq.)
(No new Arnold Schnabel chapter this week because your humble amanuensis was visiting family in Cape May, but Arnold will be back next week with an all-new thrilling chapter of Railroad Train to Heaven.)