Heart Strings

Chapter Ten

"Hi Jim, it’s good to see you again."

"Hi Liam, same here, this is Leander, he’s the scientific investigator half of the team."

The tall black man extended a hand and Liam shook it. "Nice to meet you, Sir."

"Ain’t nobody calls me Sir ‘less it’s my kids and they want something, y’all can call me Lee. Let’s have a look at them hands, young man."

Liam extended his hands and Lee took them and examined them closely.

"You must be a serious guitar player and not just classical either."

"Yes, Sir, I play steel and nylon both. Not much electric, but I have an old National that’s loud enough."

"This is my father, Connor; this is his company and he’ll explain the security measures."

"It’s nothing very intense, if you’re not meant to go into a room then the door won’t open so that’s fairly simple, Connor informed Jim. We have visitor cards for you to carry or I can provide a carrier for around the neck. They’ve been programmed for your authorized access; just keep them on you if you go from room to room."

Connor had asked Wendell to remove the guitar from the vault. Much of the contents of the vault were hazardous so the guitar and case were sealed in special plastic bags. Anyone entering the vault must wear special suits and a breathing apparatus. The vault maintains negative pressure to prevent out-gassing of certain materials. Just one more reason the vault wasn’t likely to be casually invaded. Most of the contents were under government control anyway and things get intense when any of it walks away.

The materials lab had been set aside and a fiber optic microscope had been made available. An adjacent room held an industrial MRI if needed.

Jim and Lee were introduced to the rest of the people and after a snack, Liam showed them to the lab.

"So you must be Daniel, this is your guitar we’re looking at? Would you do the honors and remove it from its case?" Jim asked.

Danny had been in the bathroom when Jim and Lee had been introduced. "Yes sir, I’ll take care of that." Danny laid the guitar on the foam pad that had been provided.

Lee asked Danny for his hands and Danny obliged. 

"Another serious guitar player, my oh my; I’ll want to hear you play a bit later on."

"Okay," said a puzzled Danny. 

Lee commenced his inspection and went over every seam. 

"Ah good, who put the mineral oil on this old tape here."

"That’d be me Lee, I didn’t want to pull it off dry and damage the inlay."

"Well you did it right Liam, it’s just sliding off with a little pressure from my thumb."

"Hey, isn’t that the early script, is that a problem?" Liam asked, a bit alarmed.

"Yes, it’s the early script, but it wouldn’t be out of place for a pre-production instrument from that era. I would have been surprised if it had the newer script. You must know a bit about Martins."

"I fancy I know a bit, but I know there’s a lot I don’t know, so I call Jim when I have a mule I can’t skin."

"Now where did an Irish boy pick up an expression like that?"

"It’s a lyric from the Mule Skinners Moral by Blind Charles Wilson. I have the seventy-eight."

"Dark blue label with a Pick-a-ninny  on it?"

"Um… yes, Lee," Liam said, embarrassed.

"No need for you to be embarrassed son, it was a different world then. I notice you didn’t mention the label’s name."

"I don’t use that word Lee, ever."

"Not even to sing if it’s a lyric?"

"No sir, not even then."

"Well, I guess I can’t fault ya none, in this day and age bein’ what it is. Fact is though, prejudice is as natural as breathing. I mean look at y’all, I’ve seen how some white kids treat a boy with red hair, he might as well be black. If someone from outside your tribe comes around it’s human nature to be suspicious and jump to unfounded conclusions. Did you think black folk don’t have derogatory names for white folk? Thing is, I can call you a honky in front of people and not catch hell for it. You try that with the old "N" word and see what it gets ya."

"Um… Honky?" Danny asked, a bit lost."

"It’s a term that comes from prohibition days and after, initially it started with drive up service at some diners and restaurants or taverns. You pull up, honk your horn and a waitress would come out and take your money and give you your food. But then you could go to the red light district and honk and a pimp would send out a girl and you would take her to a hotel. Do I need to explain more?"

"Damn son, that’s a fine explanation. You see Daniel, before the electric starter was available on the average man’s car, they was hard to start so you didn’t want to shut them off, so you stopped at a pay phone curbside and you would call a Roadhouse that had curb service. And then you just pull around back and honk."

"Oh I get it, that’s what that old blue grass song was about."

"Oh yeah, the Goins brothers, No Curb Service Anymore. I have that one, too. Speed records label I think."

"You boys are not your average teenagers, I gotta say."

"Um… actually Lee, we’re both eleven for another few days."

"I told you he was sharp, it was him that found that old 1-21 in a pawn shop. The thing was so dirty that the name stamp couldn’t be seen. That’s how he and I came to know each other, he was restringing it and removed a bunch of dust bunnies from inside and found the label and stamp. And he stopped right there and went on-line and contacted me. Liam, tell Lee what you paid for that guitar please."

"Twenty-five." Liam said.

"Twenty-five hundred dollars, you made out great." 

"Not twenty-five hundred, just twenty-five dollars. After I looked at the pictures I told him to go ahead and clean off the grime and that exposed all the deluxe features. How much did you net from that guitar?" Jim continued.

"Well, it sold for eleven-four, so after seller’s fees I got a check for ten thousand, five hundred and change."

"Jeez, this is that kid, the one that found the J-200? The one that was sold to Hank Williams?"

"He’s the one, we ought to give him a job, that D-200 cost Martin Eighty grand plus."

"Okay, I’m impressed. You may not know everything about guitars but you know who to ask for help."

"Um… Lee? Can I ask you about your name?" Danny asked cautiously.

"Are you wondering if it has anything to do with Marlowe?"

"Well sort of, I’ve read Hero and Leander but I never met anyone actually named Leander until now."

"Well it’s only indirectly related to Christopher Marlowe; my mother thought she was carrying a girl so she had never looked for a boy’s name. Well, I come along and ruint her plans; she was going to name me after her great aunt, Leontyne Price, the opera singer. The story is she made my daddy go find a book of ‘Classical’ baby names and so I ended up with Leander."

"That makes sense to me; I have some friends with names from literature. Like Tristan, he’s coming over later Danny, you’ll like him. He’s a big Bill fan too."

Terri walked in to join them and asked how it was going.

"Just fine Mom, I’m learning a lot."

"Well, let me know if you need someone to operate any of the equipment, we weren’t sure what you might need."

"I wouldn’t mind taking a look inside with your fiber optic probe, if you don’t mind," Lee mentioned.

"I can run that Terri, I’ve used it before," Liam offered.

"Okay, I won’t bother Rick then."

The door opened again and Richard stepped in to have a look at the proceedings.

"So how is it going in here?" Richard said and then stared at Lee.

"Lee Armitage, is that you?"

"Well, hey Richard, isn’t this just a tiny little ole world? How long has it been?"

"At least six years."

The two men shook hands and jabbered for a couple moments while Liam rolled the scope over to the table and prepared it for use.

"I’m sorry, everyone. I haven’t seen Dr. Armitage for many years, we go way back."

"When you’re done here, let me know, I know a restaurant we can go to for lunch, if you don’t have to rush off."

"That sounds good Rich, I was just thinking about you and that laser experiment we did."

"Ah yes, what a mess. I have to go over a few things with Duane, so please excuse me."

"See you soon," Lee answered.

"So Liam, can you get me a nice picture of the neck joint?"

"Like this?" Liam asked, pressing a button on the remote in his left hand. They went through the same procedure with several other seams and joints, carefully noting the placement of braces. They were different in the production guitars.

For nearly forty-five minutes, Lee inspected the inside of the guitar with Liam’s help, while Jim verified their findings with the records he had at hand.

"Well, I have no reservations in declaring this to be the genuine article; Danny would you mind if I played it?" Lee asked.

"Sure Lee, I think you’ll like it."

Lee picked up the big guitar and strummed it and a smile crossed his face. "Oh my," he said and started playing a Piedmont style tune that made the guitar ring like a bell. Then he removed a pick from his shirt pocket and began playing Under the Double Eagle, and when he finished he handed the instrument to Danny.

Danny sat and asked what he should play, so Liam suggested the tune they had discussed earlier. Danny began playing the House Rent Stomp, and nailed the bass notes. When he had finished, Liam congratulated him on nailing the weird syncopation that Big Bill had made part of the tune.

"I’ve read anecdotal evidence for why he did that. He supposedly came close to hacking off his right thumb while chopping stove wood and he ended up with a little nerve damage which slowed his right thumb." Jim explained.

"I didn’t know that, it explains a lot." Lee exclaimed.

"Hey Danny, play Down At Mylow’s House, it will sound great on that big baby." Liam urged.

Danny did as he was told and played flawlessly. While he did, Terri entered the room and was amazed at the confidence he was displaying. The open door drew more people. When Danny finished there was substantial applause.

"That old girl sure has a big voice there Danny, and you make her sing real well." Lee said.

"Liam, would you play a couple?" Danny asked.

"Sure, I’d love another shot at that guitar. How about Norman Blake’s Macon Rag?"

Liam launched into the tune and even though it’s not a lively tune, it filled the lab and spilled into the hall. He morphed into a version of Mississippi Blues and a couple of nameless riffs.

More applause filled the room as Liam handed the guitar back to Danny. 

Danny asked Jim if he’d like to play, but Jim informed him that his playing days were over, arthritis had crippled his left hand for the guitar. Danny put the guitar back in the case and asked, "So, what’s next?"

Jim spoke up this time, "I will inform our company that we have verified the guitar and with that authentication, you can put it in an auction or entertain private offers. But we should probably get the authentication letter done first and get our sales manager to help us set a value, although I stand by my earlier estimation of at least six figures.”

Terri eeped and clasped a hand over her mouth, "I don’t believe it, I just don’t believe it." Danny wrapped his arms around her and Liam patted her back while she composed herself.

"Well, Gentlemen and Lady, I guess we’ll be heading out. It has been a real pleasure; we thank you for your hospitality and the use of your laboratory and equipment."

Hands were shaken and goodbyes were said, Richard offered to show them out and take them to lunch.

"You boys are magical the way you play guitar, thank you Liam for recognizing what that old guitar was and calling your friend."

"Thanks Terri, it’s just something I enjoy and I think Danny does too; and I’m really glad I could help. Sometimes it pays to be a nerd."

She hugged both boys and was very quiet for a while. "So Danny, what do we do?"

"We sell it, I’d be scared to keep it, what if I damaged it or it got stolen. We’d have to store it in a bank or something and that’s probably expensive. Plus it’s really too big for me to play properly."

"Well, we can’t afford the kind of security you need for something like that, I agree. Don’t you have any attachment to it?"

"Mom, I like playing it but there are a lot of good sounding guitars in the world and they can be bought for a lot less than a hundred grand."

"Well, it’s a little early to go spending just yet, but you will get a new guitar out of this I promise."

"That’s fine Mom, Liam gave me a couple to try out so there’s no hurry."

"Well, if you guys are done, I’ll take you back to Liam’s house so you can get ready to meet your friends. I trust you can behave yourselves?"

"Mostly, we are musicians after all," Liam joked.

Terri kissed his cheek and hugged her son. I need to go and fix my eyes boys, why don’t you pack up about half of the sweet rolls and bagels to take home; we’ll all end up in the diabetic ward if they stay.

Conversation on the ride back seemed to deliberately avoid the guitar and any issues connected with it.

Once home again, they set about getting ready to greet their friends, and relax a bit after the morning’s excitement.

Cheri and Amber arrived first and hugged and kissed them both. Liam steered them to the snack table and went to greet Tristan who arrived just a few minutes before Sean. Kelly showed up with another boy in tow. "I hope you don’t mind, this is my best friend Chad and he’s got a great voice."

"That’s cool, help yourself to the goodies, I think everybody is in the music room, so follow your ears from the kitchen.” 

Lance and Debby pulled up out front, no mistaking Lance’s aging Volvo wagon. They were a young couple in their twenties and they really loved playing in public, but held no illusions that they might turn pro someday. Liam played with them often and they had a broad range.

When Liam entered the music room, Chad was showing Danny a couple of piano blues riffs.

With everyone fed and assembled in the music room, Liam got their attention.

"Hey people, thanks for coming; Chad and Kelly, welcome to our little bunch of rebels. Before we get started, I wanted to introduce everyone, you’ve all met Lance and Debby. So the lass with the red tint in her hair is Cheri and with her is Amber. Kelly is a fellow student and his friend Chad is alleged to have a great set of pipes; the ginger lad is Sean and he’s an accomplished drummer as some of you may know. And this guy here is my friend Danny, I met him at McAuliffe on day one. He’s a great guy and fantastic guitar player."

"So Tristan, front and center boyo, did you think you could just slide under the radar and get away without a birthday greeting from yer friends. Where did you end up after Hart by the way?"

"Brandice Academy, uniforms and the whole thing, but they have a great music program and a fantastic teaching staff. I’m liking it there."

“That’s great Tristan, to mark your thirteenth birthday and mostly because you inspired me to build it, I’d like for you to have the Guitar Sitar or Gitsit as I like to call it. It’s in the stand under the cloth to your right."

"Oh man, really, I love that thing!"

"Well, only someone who loves it would have the patience to figure it out."

"Oh man, Liam, you inlaid my name in the head stock. It’s beautiful."

Tristan gave Liam a big hug and wiped his eyes. "Thanks man, really, it means so much," he whispered in Liam’s ear.

There was a lot of music made that day, Liam and Cheri reprised Dimming Of The Day, with more instruments behind them. 

Chad, as it turned out, had a great tenor that blended well with Cheri and Amber’s voices and they sang a couple of current tunes together.

Kelly led off with some Delta blues and did a little slide work while Chad sang. They were joined by the rest for several blues numbers and they sounded good for a group that had never rehearsed together.

Lance and Debby did a ballad or two and it sort of melded into a Ceilidh band and they played a bunch of Irish and Scottish tunes and almost everyone sang at least on the chorus. Liam noticed that Danny didn’t sing a word; he played like a mad man but kept his mouth shut.

After three hours of singing and eating they called a halt and everyone but Cheri and Amber went home.

"So Danny, how did it go with the guitar guys?" Cheri asked urgently.

"Great, they authenticated it and they’ll write a letter and we’ll get it auctioned off I guess."

"Did they say how much it was worth?"

"These guys don’t really do that, they gave a range of six figures or more; which means upwards of a hundred thousand," Liam said.

"So who sets a value so you know what to ask?" Amber asked.

"They have a guy at Martin that will analyze the condition and rarity of the instrument and set an approximate auction estimate. Then Danny and his mom can decide to take a cash offer from a buyer or list it for auction.

Cheri’s phone chirped and she looked at it and frowned. "My mom wants me home soon so we’ll have to go. She probably wants me to baby sit my sister while she goes out to shop."

Kisses and hugs were exchanged and the boys walked to the sidewalk with Cheri and Amber, waving as the girls walked away.

"Well, I guess I better clean up, and get the dishwasher started."

"You mean we right?" Danny asked."

"Sure if you feel like it, it’s not that bad mind."

"Liam, why did you introduce me as your friend instead of your boyfriend?"

"Well, we haven’t discussed it yet; I didn’t want to do that until I knew you were okay with it."

"Oh okay, I guess that makes sense. I guess I thought, oh hell, I don’t know what I thought."

"I didn’t introduce Cheri and Amber that way either for the same reason."

"I’m sorry Liam, my mind is all over the place today and I’m really stressed out. When we’re done cleaning can we just chill for a while."

"Sounds good to me babe, if you want you can go get a shower while I finish up in here. It won’t take long."

"No I’ll help and we can get one together."

                                                 ******

A pleasant afternoon breeze came through the French doors in Liam’s bedroom. The boys were wearing only their boxer briefs and Liam leaned into the corner of his bed against the wall while Danny sat between his legs and leaned back on Liam’s chest. Both boys looked angelic and relaxed.