Milos Landry, rock biographer and friend of the recently deceased Andrew Killian, lit one last candle and put it in a holder on the mantle. He looked around the room, taking in the dim light of the Tiffany lamp, the little table next to his chair that held the Hennessy, two glasses, a pad and pencil, along with his tape recorder. Everything was as his friend Benjamin "Bump" Tompkins had instructed, down to the last detail.
Even the silence. "No music," Bump had warned him, "she'll get side tracked, maybe start singing and deliberately ignore what you asked her."
"Now tell me again, Bump, why I'm doing this."
Bump laughed, that low-growl farm boy laugh from the Delta that he had retained all these years. The Mississippi farm boy with the Southern sense of humor, could play almost any instrument you put in his hands, and loved a good joke.
"She's part of Drew's story, that's why, and he'd want you to include her. His wife's a good gal, and a tough cookie, and he loved her, lord how he loved her. But there were always other women; thing is, they never lasted long, except for this one. He took good care of Bennie so she wouldn't bolt, like he was always afraid she would. And she loved him back, even when he started deteriorating. 'Bump,' she'd say to me, 'I'm watching Drew kill himself right before my eyes. I love that man, but I'm getting tired of wondering if each time I see him it's gonna be the last.'"
"When was the last time?"
Bump seemed lost in himself. "He went to see her after he got back from his last gig, and then didn't see her again. He was gonna take a rest and spend some time with his family-his daughter had a baby while he was touring-then he'd be back on the road. I thought he was working himself to death, but Bennie always told me he wasn't taking care of himself, and that was his problem. She was an RN, you see, and was always on him. If it had been anyone else, he wouldn't have put up with it."
"Even his wife?" Milos asked.
"Especially his wife," Bump answered, "Celeste didn't let him intimidate her, but she didn't like fighting losing battles, so she'd usually back off. Not Bennie. Bennie wasn't a nagger or a screamer, but she didn't back down, ever. I think if Drew had had a little more time and a little more sense, she might have saved him."
The antique clock on the mantle struck midnight. Milos got up and took the key and wound it. He'd found the porcelain clock in a local antique store, along with the Tiffany lamp. The lamp fit perfectly in the cozy house that was big enough for entertaining when he felt like it. Now he was doing some entertaining of a sort he'd rather not do, but Bump had insisted.
There was a light tapping at the door, and Milos pushed himself up from his comfortable chair and answered it. Bump stood there with a woman in a hooded black coat on his arm. They stepped inside, and she threw back the hood, looking around her nervously.
He was surprised at what he saw. She had white hair, premature white, he guessed, and beautiful skin. She could have been anywhere from Drew's age to much younger, possessing one of those ageless faces that kept you guessing. Not the usual idea of beauty, but in her own way she was beautiful, and he could see why Drew had been so smitten.
Had he met her before, he wondered? Did he remember her from one of those rare occasions when Celeste had stayed home? He searched his memory, and then was able to recall a time when a woman with white blond hair hovered at Drew's side. She'd had an uncertain smile, but when she did, tiny laugh lines crinkled around her eyes.
She and Drew had gone to great lengths to maintain something of a distance between them, but as the night wore on and more alcohol was consumed, he'd put his arm possessively around her and kept it there.
Bump drew him out of his memories. "Milos, this is Berengaria Benson, 'Bennie', we call her. She's here to answer any questions you might have."
"Milos," she said, and held out her hand. From her frail appearance he expected her grip to be limp and soft, but her handshake was surprisingly firm, "I hope I'm not imposing."
"No," he replied, "As a matter fact I'm quite eager to speak to you. Bump has told me…"
"Be careful about what Bump tells you. He is like all Southerners, prone to exaggeration, but we forgive him."
Bump hugged her and kissed her cheek. "I'll be out in the car, sleeping, baby girl. Simmie's not expecting me until sunup. You and Milos take as long as you like." He turned and shut the door behind him.
"Can I take your coat, Miss Benson?" She helped him slide the black hooded coat off her shoulders.
"'Bennie', please. The only time I've ever been Miss Benson was when Drew was mad at me. He knew I hated it, so of course he thought it was funny as hell." She sighed, "I'd give anything to hear him call me that right now." She teared up, then wiped her eyes with a slender hand. He could see self-pity was not big on her list.
He directed her to a chair and poured her a glass of Hennessy. She swirled the golden liquid around, saying, "Ah, Drew loved this stuff, never wanted something cheap when something expensive would do better. At least when it came to alcohol. It would have been better if he didn't touch the stuff at all, but he never listened.
"For him, drugs and alcohol were fun, he was like a teenager that way. Even when he became dependent on them his mind didn't change. Youth became kind of a career for him. Sometimes I wanted to tell him to grow up, but I wouldn't have meant it. I just wanted him to clean up his act."
She looked at him with her strange, blue-green eyes. "Tell me, please, why did Bump want me to talk to you?"
He gave her the truth, "He told me that you were a sort of missing link in Drew's life, that you had things to tell me that no one else knew. Drew was fairly successful at keeping you a secret. No one really knew there was another woman in his life. I'd just like to ask you some questions about him, about the two of you. A long time ago, he asked me to write his biography. I had planned on writing it, I just had no idea it would be this soon."
"How much do you want to know?" she said suddenly, "The complete edition or the abridged?" She smiled at his look of surprise, "I minored in English, I was also an RN. I can give you the complete story, but for some of it I may have to backtrack. You have no idea how much I miss Drew, no one does, except maybe for Bump. Sometimes I think I want to leave here, but I'm not sure I could stray far from our memories. I never expected this, you know, meeting him, falling in love with him. You could say that he saved me, that's the best way I can think of to put it."
And what if I tried to tell you the real story, she thought, would you believe me, or would you think I was crazy, or lying? How I got here, how I met him, I wouldn't even believe me.
She watched as he clicked the "record" button. All right, here you go Bennie, she thought. Tell him what he'll believe, no more than that. It's an incredible story, anyway. She took a deep breath.