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(Excerpt)

“Remember when we used to do the festival circuit together, and I was the opening act for you and Deb?”

“When everything we touched turned to platinum? Do I remember those days? Gee, let me see. Um, yeah.”

“And you promised that one day the two of you would collaborate with me on a song?”

“Ah.”

“You guys are my only hope.”

“Then you’re in worse shape than you think.“ Without asking, Zeb reaches for my highball and takes a drink. “Did I ever tell you about the time she convinced herself I was cheating on her, then cut the crotch out of every pair of pants I owned?”

“Try to stay focused,” I say. “We don’t have time to wallow in the past.”

“I have more fun there,” says Zeb. He slaps a pack of cigarettes on the table. “Perhaps we should discuss my fee,” he says. We hadn’t discussed his fee because I hadn’t considered paying him a fee. Springing for a weekend at the toniest hotel in Nashville seemed fee enough.

“I’ll be paying you in gin and tonics.” I scan for the bartendress, a bare-armed redhead with a honeysuckle voice.

Zeb says, “My fee is that you name the kid after me.”

I have no idea whether he’s kidding. Zebulon got his name not from the Bible, nor from Zebulon Pike—who never actually reached the summit of Pikes Peak—but from a poker game. His mother, eight months pregnant, was standing at his father’s elbow when he lost a final hand to a pair of nines held by a man named Zebulon Smith. This was the nadir of a long losing streak, during which the young couple had mortgaged everything they owned. The victor, perhaps in a moment of pity, had agreed to let them off the hook on one condition: The unborn child would bear his name.

“You’re joking,” I say.

“I am serious as whiskers on a shark.”

 

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