6 Double Shift: A Short Blues Story by Bonni McKeown
As the budding band's first rehearsal got underway in Everley Prison's music room, Marcus found Streeter bopping out a thick beat on the bass drum, awkwardly tilting the sticks to manage stray hits on the tomtoms and rat-a-tats on the snare drum. His drumming sounded like the clatter of dirty silverware at the end of chow hour.
“Get off them drums, Streeter,” Richie hollered. “That ain’t your thing! Why don’t you get the mic to work so’s I can do some singing?”
Acknowledging his partner’s musical judgement, Streeter handed the drumsticks to Marcus and went to fix the mic. Raoul tried out the guitar amp. Jeremiah settled behind the piano. Dugan and Marshall got ready to blow horns as Edward walked out the bass line. The music materialized into an old doo-wop hit: “Duke, duke duke, duke of Earl…”
“Try some funk,” Edward suggested.
“Uhh! I feee—eeel good!” belted Marcus and the horns responded. Richie skittered across the floor, kicked the mic stand and caught it with one hand. Then he pivoted and backed up in a perfect James Brown dance step
“Good grief, this as good as anything I hear on the radio.” Mr. Blackwell, astonished, shook his head. “Bet you all don’t know any pop or country,” he challenged.
“Bye bye, love!” Richie sang a cappella with a smirk on his face. Streeter harmonized. “The Everly Brothers!”
“Is that what you call your band?” Blackwell asked. “You can’t do that, they’d sue you.”
“What they gonna do? Put us in jail?” Richie hollered and they broke up laughing. “How ‘bout the Everley Soul Brothers?” the teacher suggested.
“We could do a show for the whole prison,” Marcus proposed..
“Hmm. Okayyy—“ Mr. Blackwell’s mental wheels were turning. “Let me see about that. I think everybody would like it. Even the administration.”
Wednesday was the day the psych tech staff gave prolixin shots. The horse tranquilizer was sometimes injected into humans with the administrative goal of curbing prison violence.
Marcus saw the cart coming down the cellblock corridor. It carried two rows of two-inch needles, all lined up, to be quickly jabbed into the arm of whoever was on the list that week. No man would stand still—the drug had a way of twisting people’s faces and shutting their mouths. No less than six guards accompanied the cart, like pallbearers around a coffin. They’d fish one man out of his cell, hold him down hollering and protesting, jab him and move on to the next. One nasty nurse, Biggers, would call the inmates’ names in a mocking tone.
By the time they got within Marcus’s sight, only one needle was left on the cart. It had Lambert’s name, though he’d been clear of fighting for two weeks and was scheduled for release in three more. His 28 years finally up, he couldn’t wait to head home to his family in Tennessee.
When the zombie cart rolled up to his cell, Lambert yelled, “Go away! I don’t want no prolixin! It’s a mistake— I’m out of here next month. I don’t need no shot!”
Behind bars three cells away, Marcus could hear his friend start to roar. What could he do?
Lift your voice, his father’s spirit suggested. Hell-- Lift every voice!
“Stop the pigs!” Marcus yelled out. “Stop the pigs!”
Another man upped the ante: “Stick the pigs!”
All together, inmates began to stomp and bang their bars with pens and pencils, forks and spoons: “Stick The Pigs!” Stick! The! Pigs!”
Right on! Akbar shouted inside Marcus’ head. Power to the people!
“Run! Run! Run!” the prisoners roared from behind their bars, thrusting their fists in the air. The would-be hit squad picked up their heels and barreled toward the exit, cart wheels careening ahead of them.
“Don’t worry Sawyer, we’ll get you next time,” Biggers jeered back.
“Your concert’s next Thursday in the yard. The warden’s planning to be there, and people from the outside, somebody from the governor’s office. Will you guys be ready?” In the music room, Mr. Blackwell had set up a rack of shiny jackets borrowed from the local high school drama teacher.
Richie donned the slightly small red cape, top and cane for a test strut. “I positively adore this wardrobe. What songs we gonna do, honey?”
“A variety. Songs for different people,” suggested Blackwell. “I want everybody to see the talent behind these bars.”
Raoul said, “I’m gonna be Chuck Berry for a day. Let’s kick it off with ‘Johnny B. Goode.’” Blanngg! went his guitar.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I’ll be Aretha,” announced Richie. Rummaging in the wardrobe rack, he pulled out a silvery feather boa. “Ain’t this pretty?”
“I’ll start the bass riff on ‘Duke of Earl.’ Play it and sing it,” offered Edward.
“I want to sing one from Muddy Waters,” Marcus declared.
“That old blues stuff?” questioned Dugan.
“Watch what you sayin’. That old blues comes straight off the streets I live on,” Marcus threw back. “Don’t worry. Everybody gonna love it.”
That’s right, son. Carry on the tradition, seconded the spirit of Marcus Sr.
They rehearsed for four hours, til Blackwell had to lock up the music room for the day, and set up another three sessions..
“I’m starved,” said Marcus. “Let’s see what kinds of great food they got down at the restaurant.”
As they entered the chow hall, Edward asked, “Anybody seen Lambert lately?”
“Naw, man, I ain’t seen him,” Marcus said. “Not since Wednesday.”