Ain’t No Shoeshine.

An unfamiliar face appears from below the counter.

I ask for cable.

No longer than ten.

You mean lead?

Lead. Cable. Whatever.

He turns and surveys the wall of cables hanging from hooks. Eventually, he points at a coil, says, these are good. Then he says, these are good, too. He reaches, unhooks and holds out a coil. The cardboard sleeve reads twenty.

Anything shorter?

His fingers dance around his chin. He takes another coil from the wall.

Ten.

That’ll do it.

The cable in the cardboard sleeve is taken to the till. There is silence and fuss. Finally, he says, I’ve rang it wrong. I’ll get the boss. He puts the cable on the counter, flicks a quick look, thinks again, picks up the cable and disappears out back.

Carl? Carl?

*

Carl is legend. Run Four-Four since the dawn, which would put him at some age. He’s one of those that you can’t quite figure. He ain’t all about the talking, not like most old timers, running mouth. Enigmatic, says Terry. That’s what he is. I say, whatever. He’s a mystery to me.

Carl lives upstairs of Four-Four with his son. Terry says Carl has a stack of axes up there. Hidden. Vintage. Wayne ain’t convinced. That ain’t no son. What kinda vintage? I say. Terry shows the bottom of his lip. There’s a Les Paul, he says. Signed. Signed Chuck Berry. Shoeshine, says Wayne and me. We laugh. Chuck Berry, my ass!

Terry says Carl was there at the dawn. Before. He was up all night. Roadied the big bands. Hung with Vince Taylor before he flipped. Was there at the Judas with Dylan. I’ve even heard Terry tell it Carl was in Dallas when JF got pencilled. I say he never got pencilled, he got rubbed. Whatever, says Terry. Wayne opens his mouth. Ain’t no shoeshine, says Terry. He was out there, all over. Jumping train, thumbing ride. Terry tells it he’s heard that Carl even met Elvis sometime around ’54. That’s gotta be shoeshine, says Wayne. But Terry says, nope. No shoeshine. Terry says that someone told him Carl had been with Presley the afternoon that he’d recorded the booth demo for his mum’s birthday. I say, who says? But Terry don’t remember who says. But he tells it like this…

Carl was in Tennessee. Same summer job as Presley. Delivery, driving, haulage, packing. Something like this. Shoeshine, says Wayne. I’m inclined to agree with this sentiment. But Terry comes back, straight off the cuff, and looking Wayne and me straight in the eye, he says, trucking. The Crown Electric Trucking Company. Now, I don’t know where he could have got this kind of thing. Crown Electric Trucking Company. Wayne sniggers, says, yeah, sure. Fucking trucking company, my ass.

But there’s something about it. About the detail. Where’d you get such a detail. It just hung true for me. It sang.

I guess the only way to get any nearer the truth is to ask the man himself. But Carl don’t talk too much and he likes to keep a distance. And screw it, what if it wasn’t true. What if Carl just laughs and says, shoeshine. Sometimes it’s better just living in the dream.

*

Carl appears from out back. Shoulder length blond. Always over washed or something. Smiling like it’s summertime. Which it ain’t. Plate man’s waistcoat. Levi’s, hemmed, like they used to wear. Cowboy boots, some kinda leather. Carl’s wrists jangle as he holds up the cable in the cardboard sleeve.

You want this wire?

Lead. Cable. Wire. Whatever.

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