Blue Beauty
Part III of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
2003, 2009 2012

Chapter 1

December, 2000

Trey Hartwell stifled a yawn. The hands on the clock were moving very slowly toward the end of the hour. Einstein was right, he realized. Time is relative, and it hardly ever moved slower than in an English literature class.

This class had turned out to be a little more than he'd bargained for. Even though he was a second-semester junior, he had needed a literature course to help fill out his major. He'd decided that this freshman-level course would be an easy one -- at least, back in his first year on campus at Marienthal College, it had the reputation of being one.

But that was then, under the old professor, before Dr. Harris had come to the campus a year ago last fall. This class had proved to be a different kettle of fish, and Trey hadn't paid attention to the current rumors. Speaking objectively, it still wasn't that tough a course, but Dr. Harris made darn sure you paid attention in class, and you had to at least read the material. Even though it was a large lecture course, there was a lot of discussion -- and the tweedy little dark-haired woman had a knack of calling on you just as you were falling asleep . . . and then gently humiliating you for zoning out. To add to that, it was difficult to cut class entirely and make up for it with textbooks -- there weren't any textbooks. That helped save on the expense, but she would hand out multiple-page copies at the end of class, sometimes thirty or forty pages of fine-spaced type, with the announcement that there would be a discussion of the material in the next class. As often as not, there'd be a quiz, too. At least it was getting late enough in this period that a quiz didn't seem likely . . . only a few hour-long minutes more. There wouldn't be many more sessions like this, he thought; the semester was winding down and the end was in sight.

He tried to keep his attention on Dr. Harris. It usually took some concentration just to follow what she was talking about. She was clear-spoken with a Midwestern accent, but she used a huge vocabulary of words, some of which Trey had never heard. She used those words very precisely, somehow managing to sound like she'd just stepped out of one of those old English novels she spoke so passionately about. Dull, he'd originally thought, back at the beginning of the term, downright boring . . . until she'd slipped a brief selection from Fanny Hill into one of those huge reading packets. He'd been skimming through it, not really paying attention, until he realized what he was reading -- 18th-century porn! The next class discussion had been, well, interesting to say the least, and no one had a bigger grin than Dr. Harris.

"And so," she said in her clear, formal voice, "That should about bring matters to an end for this session. Before I pass around your packets for Monday's class, I do have one additional thing. Saturday evening at nine o'clock, there will be a program entitled Great Performances on Public Broadcasting, television channels 29 and 37. You might care to watch it, as I expect there shall be some quizzing on Monday."

Some audible sighs were heard around the lecture hall. Trey had some plans for Saturday evening, and from the sounds he suspected that others in the class did, too. Oh, hell, he thought. That's what they make VCRs for, don't they?

* * *

Trey's head hurt on Sunday morning. The hangover could be worse, he thought. It had been a good Saturday evening. It could have been better if Melissa had been more pliable, but who knew? Maybe next weekend. It was too late for breakfast; even though he really didn't feel much like eating, he and his roommate, Justin Blair, made the trek over to the student union and loaded up with big mugs of coffee. Fortunately, Marienthal wasn't a large college, and it wasn't a long walk through the blowing wind and occasional snowflakes falling from a leaden December sky.

"When do the Chiefs come on?" Justin asked as they worked their way back up the stairs to the dorm room. Since Marienthal was located in a suburb of Kansas City, they rarely missed the football games, at least on TV.

"Two, I think," Trey replied. "They're at home. Going up against the Lions, so they ought to kick ass."

"Got anything in mind until then?" his roomie asked, unlocking the door.

Trey gingerly shook his head; it still hurt. "I suppose I'd better watch that tape from last night. I taped Saturday Night Live too. That and lunch should get us up pretty close to game time."

"That thing from your lit class?" Justin frowned.

"Yeah," Trey sighed. "Don't know what it is. Probably Shakespeare or some damn thing. It is PBS, so it can't be that good." He turned on the TV and the VCR and set the tape to rewinding.

"I guess if you gotta, you gotta," Justin shook his head as he collapsed on the bed. "Boy, that class is really a pain in the ass, isn't it?"

"Pretty much," Trey agreed. "Oh well, only another couple weeks, and I guess it could have been worse. Let me tell you, though, that Dr. Harris is one strange lady."

"Yeah? How's that?"

Trey shook his head again. Maybe the hangover didn't hurt as bad now, after a little coffee. "She really knows her shit, there's no question about it. What's more, sometimes she even makes it sound interesting. But uptight? Wow! She's got to be one of the most square and stuck-up people I've ever met."

"What do you mean?"

"If I knew, I'd tell you," Trey shrugged. "I mean, it's like she never unbends. I mean, she's always well dressed, just like she stepped out of a law office. Always very formal, Mister this and Miss that. That's kind of strange. A lot of the other profs are pretty loose if you know what I mean. And, the way she talks, it's enough to drive you up a wall. Just like she stepped out of one of those old English novels."

"Like she never has any fun, huh?" Justin smiled.

"I can't say that," Trey grinned. "I mean, what other professor would give out Fanny Hill as required reading? She may be prissy as hell, but that proves she's no prude. I guess maybe her idea of fun is a little different than anyone else's."

"She married, or anything?"

"Not that I know of. She never talks about anything personal. She comes across like a lesbian sometimes, but then sometimes she doesn't. Actually, if she's married to anything, I guess it would have to be those old books. She talks about them like they're some sort of hot guy, or something."

"Strange," Justin conceded as the tape finished rewinding. "Well, I guess you got all types around a college. If this turns out to be Macbeth or some damn thing, keep it down and I'll take a nap. Wake me up for Saturday Night Live."

"Yeah, right," Trey grumped as he pushed "Play."

The screen sprang to life, and they heard the words, "Great Performances is funded from a grant from the John T. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, and from viewers like you."

"Yeah, right, viewers like me," Justin snorted as the screen dissolved into a scene they weren't expecting -- it was a funky old barroom someplace. There were deer heads on the wall, beer ads, and a huge NASCAR poster for Bubba Winslow. The place was crowded -- people were having a good time -- and a band was playing Orange Blossom Special. "At least it ain't Macbeth," Justin smiled. "Apparently your stuck-up little professor got it wrong."

"Must be," Trey agreed. "Oh, boy, if I recorded the wrong show, I'll be in for it Monday. What the hell is this, anyway?"

"Who cares?" Justin snorted. "Just fast-forward to Saturday Night Live."

"I suppose," Trey agreed, reaching for the controller.

Before he could pick it up, the screen changed views, to a close-up of the familiar face of a long-haired blonde woman pounding the living hell out of an acoustic guitar. "Hello, everyone, and welcome to Saturday Night with Jenny Easton," her image said, "Here in the old Pike Bar with lots of good friends around us."

"Hold it," Justin commented. "Jenny Easton, this might be worth watching."

"Yeah," Trey admitted. He wasn't the country music fan that Justin was, but Jenny Easton, well, she could be pretty damn good.

The screen changed views to a big, bearded guy in biker leathers and a Harley-Davidson do-rag, incongruously holding a violin. "With me tonight is the Boreal String Band, with my favorite biker buddy, Shovelhead Metarie, on violin," Jenny went on as the camera changed views again. "And, on Celtic harp, our own English lit professor, Dr. Myleigh Harris . . ."

"What?" Trey hadn't been paying much attention and only caught a glimpse of the screen when he heard the name. But yes, that was Dr. Harris, standing at a microphone, wearing a tank top and a short skirt, holding a small blue harp, before the scene changed to a good-looking dark-haired guy with a Van Dyke, playing a guitar.

"Uh, Trey, this might be the right show after all," Justin said thoughtfully, and rolled over to dig through his collection of CDs.

"Well, damn," Trey shook his head . . . what the hell was Dr. Harris doing there? Well, playing the harp, obviously. "What the hell? Celtic harp, with Jenny Easton and a country band?"

"Yep," Justin smiled, thrusting a CD into his hand.

Trey tore his eyes away from the TV to look at it. It was titled At Home With Jenny Easton -- Songs I Play With Friends. The cover photo made his jaw drop even more, if that was possible. Jenny sat on the floor, a guitar on her lap, leaning up against the legs of a really handsome guy, also with a guitar. Facing them, on a couch, was this Shovelhead guy, holding a violin -- and Dr. Harris, holding that Celtic harp. He got a better image of the harp; it was only about three feet high at a guess, elegantly curved, dark blue with silver trim, not looking much like a concert harp. "No question, that's Dr. Harris," he managed to say.

"Yeah, this is an album Jenny did a few years ago," Justin grinned. "There's harp all through the thing. Helluva cut on there, Dawnwalker. She's got another cut with quite a bit on it, too."

"But . . . Dr. Harris?"

"Doesn't look like she's as square as you thought," Justin laughed.

* * *

The lecture hall was an unusual hubbub of voices just before the English lit 101 class Monday. The instant Dr. Harris walked into the room a forest of hands shot up. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," she smiled. "I take it some of you must have watched Great Performances Saturday night. As I told you, I anticipated there would be some quizzing. What I failed to mention was that I anticipated I would be the one being quizzed. Miss Carnahan, I believe I shall begin with you."

"Uh, Dr. Harris, that was really something," the red-faced, heavy-set girl said. "Was that really you?"

"Yes," the small, well-dressed woman smiled. "I'm afraid I've revealed my secret life. Mr. Westerfield?"

"That was awesome," a short-haired guy in a reversed ball cap said. "I never knew you could do that kind of stuff with a harp. How'd you wind up playing with Jenny Easton?"

"That's a long story," Dr. Harris smiled. "As we do have a lecture to cover this morning, I shall try to keep it brief. I've played the harp for over a dozen years. When I was an undergraduate, I used to play with some friends who had guitars, just for enjoyment. When I returned from my summer break to begin my senior year, one of those friends had several musical pieces he'd gotten from a neighbor, and we worked them up. One of them you may have heard, a sad, endearing piece called Dawnwalker. At Thanksgiving, I visited his home, and we played that piece and some others for his family and some neighbors, which included a couple by the names of Jennifer Evachevski and Blake Walworth, who turned out to be the composers of the piece. Those of you who follow such things are probably aware that Miss Evachevski goes by the stage name of Jenny Easton. She invited me to work with them for a few days, and we recorded an early version of Dawnwalker that weekend. I spent the following summer with my friend's family, playing almost daily with Jennifer and Blake, and we recorded most of At Home in those months. My graduate work made it difficult, but I was also able to contribute to a later album, Back Porch. Then last summer, I was able to work with them again on Saturday Night, which you saw over the weekend. That album is now available for purchase. Miss McDonald, I believe you had a question?"

A slender, long-haired girl down in front spoke up. "Dr. Harris, what's Jenny Easton really like?"

"I confess, I think of Jennifer as Miss Evachevski -- actually, Mrs. Walworth since she's gotten married," Dr. Harris smiled. "But, she's a quiet person, quite knowledgeable about music and the business she's in, and rather a private person. She is quite warm and friendly and personable, rather reserved, nothing like the exuberant performer you see on the stage. On the whole she is one of the more interesting people I've ever met. I have learned much from her and from Blake. They have been a huge influence on my approach to the harp. I'll take one more question, and then perhaps we'd best be on to business. Mr. Hartwell?"

"Dr. Harris," Trey started. "That was amazing. Like someone else said, I didn't know you could do things like that with a harp. What are the chances we could get you to play for us some evening?"

It was the first time Trey had seen Dr. Harris looking a little flustered. He could see her reaching for words. "Mr. Hartwell," she finally began, "I'm afraid I am mostly a studio musician. Other than the taping for Saturday Night, which was actually carried out in carefully controlled conditions, I have not given a public performance in years, and never a solo performance."

"It doesn't have to be anything special," Trey suggested. "Just a few friends and students, who are really interested in what you've done."

"I fear I should disappoint you," she shook her head. "But if there are a few of you who have nothing better to do some evening, perhaps I could play a few pieces for you. Where might we do this? I doubt here, as the acoustics aren't very good."

"Maybe the chamber music room over in Downs Hall?" Trey suggested; he was a theater arts minor, and was often over there. "I don't think there's anything scheduled there Thursday evening."

"Perhaps," Dr. Harris said in a resigned tone. "I shall contact Dr. Mansfield and see if the room is available, but really, you need not expect very much. And, with that, let us get down to business. I hope that you all managed to drag yourselves away from the television long enough over the weekend to read the assigned material. The Bronte sisters were especially notable in the literature of their period . . ."

* * *

Since it had been his idea -- or at least, his suggestion -- without telling anyone, Trey appointed himself as stage director for the concert Thursday evening. The chamber music room in Downs Hall was intimate -- it only seated fifty people or so, but seemed about the right kind of place for a solo harp performance. He got there early; made sure the chairs were set up comfortably, and adjusted the lights. He was still messing with the lighting when people began coming in, still well ahead of time -- and soon, the place was getting full. Good God, this was only supposed to be a few lit students, he thought. What the hell do I do?

An older man wearing a suit and tie came up to him. After a moment of confusion, Trey realized it was Dr. Hamilton, the college president! "Are you in charge of this?" Dr. Hamilton asked.

"As much as anyone," Trey admitted. "I didn't expect this many people. I'm wondering if maybe we'd better move this over to the auditorium."

"I think it would be a good idea," Dr. Hamilton smiled. "I know a number of people who aren't here yet that are planning to come."

"If it's not a problem with you and Dr. Mansfield, it's not a problem with me," Trey said.

"I don't see how it could be a problem," Dr. Hamilton agreed.

Trey hustled up to the low stage. "Uh, folks," he said in a loud voice. "It looks like we're gonna have a little bigger crowd than we planned, so we're going to move this thing across the hall to the auditorium. Give me a couple minutes to get over there and turn on the lights."

It took some hustling -- the auditorium was a lot bigger and the lighting system was much more complex. There was a sound system too, and with a bigger crowd, he thought he'd better use it. He was just starting to get a microphone set up when Dr. Harris joined him backstage. She was dressed in an elegant red evening gown and carrying a black triangular case, which obviously held the harp. "Mr. Hartwell," she said in an icy voice. "I was not expecting a circus like this. Is this your doing?"

"I wasn't expecting it, either," he said. "I figured maybe twenty or thirty lit students."

"It's gotten a little out of hand," she said, still a little coldly. "To be greeted by Dr. Hamilton out in the hall, thanked for presenting a free concert to the campus and being sent from the chamber music hall to the main auditorium were hardly what I expected."

"I'm sorry," he said. "Guess we're just going to have to make the best of it."

She frowned, opened the harp case, and said, "You mean, you didn't have anything to do with this?" She handed him a flyer. "How could you have not seen this? They're all over campus!"

Trey looked at the paper she held in her hand. Printed on green paper, it had a picture of her and the harp -- cropped from the picture on the At Home CD, obviously -- with the words: "FREE CONCERT! Dr. Myleigh Harris from Jenny Easton's Boreal String Band. Thursday, 8:00 PM, Downs Hall."

"Honestly, Dr. Harris, that's the first I've seen it," Trey apologized. "I've been off campus working all day!" He thought for a moment. "Six will get you two that Dr. Hamilton is involved, though."

She shook her head. "I suspect you're right," she sighed. "I shall have to have a word with him. However, you are correct in that I shall just have to make the best of it and hope no one is too disappointed."

"As long as we're doing it, we might as well do it right," he agreed. "Look, with this big a crowd you're going to want the sound system. I've just been setting up a floor mike."

"Blue Beauty has a sound pickup, from when we were recording," she offered. "It takes a standard jack. Could you arrange a cord?"

"Sure thing," he smiled. "I'll just have to work out the sound balance as we go along. Do you want to work standing? I could get you a bar stool."

"That would be good," she said. "Trey, look," she said, using his first name, for the first time ever. "I'm sorry I was angry with you just now. As I said the other day, I'm mostly a studio musician, and I fear I'm now a little nervous."

Trey shook his head -- she was actually a little rattled! He'd never dreamed it of her. "It'll work out just fine," he smiled. "I'll kick the house lights down and put a couple spots on you, so you won't be able to see the audience as well. Maybe that'll help."

"Thank you, Trey," she smiled. It was a very nice smile. Now that he took a second to look at her, he realized that she was really a very good-looking woman -- and in that evening gown, definitely not the tweedy professor he'd come to know.

"You hang in there," he said. "It'll work out all right. I better get humping."

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