Music City Madness: Chapter 15

Leland lifted a hammer from his leather tool belt and drove a sixteen penny nail through a two-by-four he’d cut to fit a window frame. He wore a hard hat and jeans with a long-sleeve shirt and steel-toe boots. Rubber ear buds muted the loud whirring sound from a circular saw ripping through a sheet of plywood while a backup beeper signaled a bulldozer traversing a muddy patch of rain-soaked gravel in reverse.

He retrieved another nail from his tool pouch and drove it home with the claw hammer. He holstered his hammer when the foreman approached him with an envelope in hand.

“This is yours,” the foreman shouted above the construction noise.

Leland removed his ear protection and opened the envelop to find his paycheck inside. “This is light.”

“A week’s pay for a week’s work. You’ve been punching out early.”

“I had some personal stuff to take care of.”

“You got someplace else you need to be with that guitar of yours, you do it on your own time. We’re already two weeks behind schedule.”

“I get it.”

“I want the framing done by Monday.”

“All of it?”

The foreman spit a glob of brown saliva from the wad of smokeless tobacco marinating between his check and gums. “You got a problem with that?”

“I’ll get it done.”

“I hate to lose you.”

“You won’t.”

“I had big dreams too, Presley. Wanted to be a major league catcher.”

“What happened?”

“I found a real job.”

Leland wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “Music is my life.”

The foreman sucked on the shredded dip in his mouth. “A man’s got to earn a living, Presley. Put bread on the table. This job is who you are. Don’t pretend to be something else.”

* * *

Leland tossed his work belt in the back of his truck and drove off. Grungy from an eight-hour shift on a gritty construction site, he drove the long way to avoid the congestion downtown. He sang the lyrics to a new song he wrote, slapping his hand on the truck’s steering wheel to keep time.

He checked his phone for a voice mail or text. No news, good news, he presumed and continued to Mrs. Hamilton’s address for his first voice lesson.

This time he found the gate closed when he approached the sprawling Belle Meade estate. He cranked his window down and pressed the intercom to announce his arrival. He heard a garbled reply from a bad Darth Vader impersonation, followed by muffled laughter.

The gate opened slowly. Raindrops pinged his windshield in a slow staccato rhythm.

He followed the driveway along the manicured grounds and parked near the familiar black Mercedes. He carried his guitar case to the door and tipped his Stetson at the surveillance camera mounted above. Still dressed in his work garb, he took his hat off when Tomás greeted him at the door. “I have an appointment with Mrs. Hamilton.”

Tomás stepped aside and motioned for Leland to enter. “I’ll let her know you’re here.”

Leland set his guitar case on the floor. He sniffed the air and winced, hoping the cologne he applied would keep him in his host’s good graces long enough to finish his lesson. He glanced at the walls with autographed photos of Garth Brooks, Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette. A glass-enclosed case displayed two CMA award plaques: one for Female Vocalist of the Year and one for Album of the Year.

“A gift from Quincy Jones,” Melissa called out from the stairs with an empty laundry basket. She pointed toward the Fazioli Pianoforti grand piano in the music studio across the room. “The piano,” she said to Leland. “You were staring at it like a kid in a carnival.” She descended the staircase and thanked Tomás for waiting.

“Tools of the trade.”

“You could say that.” Melissa carried the empty basket to the laundry room and dropped it on top of the dryer while Tomás retreated to the kitchen. She wore her hair down with a light concealer and coral lipstick to illuminate her face. “I recorded my first top ten single on that piano.”

“I hope I’m not intruding,” Leland said as he untied his work boots to place them on a shoe shelf behind an oriental rug. Outside the windows, light rain escalated to a steady downpour.

“I wasn’t sure you would show.”

“I wasn’t sure the gate would open.”

“My boys like to fool with the speaker.” Melissa pointed to a family portrait on the wall. “You met Tomás. These are my boys.”

“They share your smile.”

“The one on the left is Adam. His older brother, Jonathan, is on the right.”

“Do they get along?”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “Like Cane and Abel. They’re supposed to be doing homework upstairs.” She pointed to the ceiling as the sound of an electric guitar carried through the house. “You can hear how well that’s going.”

“Which one plays guitar?”

“They both pretend to. Adam likes it more, but he won’t sit through the lessons. Wants to learn by himself.”

“I can relate.”

Melissa checked the clothes in the dryer and gave the timer another twenty minutes. “Do you have children?”

“A daughter. Abigail. I call her Abby.”

“How old?”

“Thirteen going on thirty.”

“I can imagine. No girls in this house but me.”

Leland reached for his guitar case. “I brought my guitar.”

“Did you bring your tools?”


“My toilet keeps running. The one in the powder room downstairs. I tried to jiggle the chain on the rubber flapper thingy, but it didn’t fix it.”

Leland followed her to the open bathroom. “Did you turn the supply valve off?”

“The what?”

Leland took the lid off the tank and inspected the components. He could hear water leaking into the bowl. “You have a bad fill valve.”

“Can you fix it?”

“If I had the part.” He caught her bewildered expression. “I’m a carpenter, not a plumber. I don’t keep parts like this on my truck.” He twisted the supply valve clockwise. “I shut the water off to keep it from running.”

“But it’s still broken?”

“Technically, yes. Until I can get the replacement part. Any hardware store will have it.” Leland washed his hands in the pedestal sink and dried them on the neatly folded hand towel.

Melissa stepped away. “Boys!” she shouted toward the top of the stairs. “Turn it down!”

We did…” came a muted reply.

“Then turn it down some more! The neighbors in Memphis can hear you.”

The volume subsided.

“Sorry,” Melissa whispered. “I feel like a prisoner in my own house sometimes.” She brought Leland to her music studio and dimmed the lights before she nestled herself behind the piano. “How did you get into music?”

“My mother used to sing to me when I was little. I guess it took. How long have you been singing?”

“Since before you were born.”

“I’m not that old.”

“Good answer, Mr. Presley.”

“Does your husband sing as well?”

“Ex-husband. And only in the shower. He lives in California with his paralegal.”

Leland scratched his razor stubble. “What inspired you to sing?”

Melissa glanced up at the ceiling, then back at Leland. “Singing is all I ever wanted to do. I used to run around the house with a toy microphone and sing to my parents.”

“Do they perform?”

“My mom died when I was young. My dad passed away three years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“At least he got to see me on stage. He was in the audience when I won my first CMA award.”

Leland touched a metronome on a shelf beside the piano. “Excuse me,” he said when his cell phone rang. He read Abby’s name on the display and opened the flip phone to endure her teenage wrath. “I’m on my way.”

“Everything all right?”

Leland closed the phone. “My girlfriend forgot to pick up my daughter from school. Now somehow I’m the one at fault.”