What Might Have Been (2 page)


van McCarthy finished his solo, then looked up from his saxophone and nodded to the crowd, modestly acknowledging their applause. Muddy Waters’
I Just Want To Make Love To You
was always guaranteed a warm reception, especially when you played it as well as Evan did, though in reality he had Etta James to thank, seeing as the non-jazz aficionados in the audience would probably recognise it from her version in that Diet Coke ad.

But however they knew it, as long as they knew it, Evan was happy – music was all about connecting with people, and aside from playing the themes from either
The Pink Panther
The Benny Hill Show
, there was no surer way for a sax player to do that than by playing a crowd-pleaser. Which, Evan realised sheepishly, given the unnecessary flourish he’d added at the end, was a description that also applied to him.

Not that it was completely one-way traffic: He loved playing here at Mel’s – as the
G-Spot was more affectionately known. There was just something about performing at a small, intimate venue that was hard to beat, especially one that was usually packed to the rafters, a thing Evan always found strange, particularly given the club’s name and the fact that it wasn’t the easiest place to find,
down a side road in Borough. After all, who in their right mind would stop some stranger on a dark South London street and ask, ‘Excuse me, but do you know where The G-Spot is?’

Empty, the club looked exactly like what it was – a walled-in arch under the railway viaduct which served London Bridge station. The vaulted brick ceiling – in the middle of which Mel had hung an ‘ironic’ mirror-ball that looked like it might fall down at any moment – needed a new coat of paint. The bar that ran down one side of the room had been salvaged from the much smaller pub that had once stood across the road and therefore stopped abruptly some way short of the far wall, causing more than one drunk punter to perform the classic ‘Del Boy’ fall where they’d assumed it had continued. The stage Evan and the band occupied was little more than a scuffed, hastily assembled chipboard-and-wooden-pallet platform that had lasted some five years now, and probably fell foul of most health and safety laws. If you chanced upon the place in the
, you probably wouldn’t want to come back. But call in at night, mix with the eclectic crowd that some of the best jazz in London drew, and you wouldn’t leave until Mel threw you out. Which was only – but not always – when you’d run out of money for drinks.

He grinned across at Pete, the drummer, who’d just begun his own solo. It was currently being ignored by the still-applauding audience, so Evan readied his best ‘jazz’ voice – really just an impersonation of Mel’s gravelly chain-smoker’s tones – and leaned down towards the sax-level microphone in front of him.

‘Thank you,’ he growled, followed by, ‘Pete Watson on drums,’ and as the crowd obediently switched focus, Evan stepped backwards out of the spotlight and peered into the darkness. He caught Mel’s eye, and the club’s owner – nursing his ever-present glass of Scotch – smiled up at him from his usual spot at the end of the bar and gave him the thumbs-up, and Evan shrugged, happy not to be the centre of attention.
After all, he suspected he’d already been granted more than his fair share.

He flexed his fingers as he checked his mouthpiece, the anticipation of playing the next riff bubbling up inside him.
was music – not the lightweight pop song that he’d once feared would be the only tune he’d ever play again, and to hordes of teenage girls screaming so loudly they couldn’t even hear it. Here at Mel’s, the only screaming you’d ever get was when a drunk City boy barged into the ladies’ toilets and wondered aloud whether one of them might like to ‘blow his bonus’.

Putting his sax to his lips, he stepped back in to the spotlight, drinking in the expectation of the audience as they moved their attention back onto him from the now-sweaty drummer. Then he began to play the familiar refrain once more; it was a simple tune, but to make it sound as smooth as Evan did was hard. Took hours of practice. Years, in fact. Not that he’d ever minded putting the time in. Especially when a reaction like
the resul

He scanned the crowd again as he played, enjoying the almost hypnotic way the music could turn a room full of individuals into one cohesive group, then almost stopped mid-blow. Sitting at the bar, not far from where Mel was leaning, was a woman who took his breath away. Her long, dark hair cascaded down around a face that simply had everything in proportion, including the cutest upturned nose that was surely something any woman might tell her plastic surgeon she wanted, and perhaps it was the way she was twirling a strand of that hair distractedly between the fingers of one hand, or the way her full lips were ever-so-slightly parted, or even the rather tight ‘Superdry’ T-shirt she was wearing, but one thing was
certain –
she was the sexiest woman Evan had
ever see

His heart began to race. She seemed to be looking at
– though of course, he realised almost instantly, feeling a little stupid as he did so – so was everyone else in the club. He tried not to stare back, mainly because the dazzling arc-lights were making him squint unattractively, but the way she was swaying gently to the rhythm – her movement fluidly sensuous, one of the audience yet somehow apart from the crowd – meant he couldn’t take his eyes off her. And while he didn’t think love at first sight existed – though possibly only because he’d never been lucky enough to experience it – his lust at first sight felt real enough.

In truth, Evan was finding her distracting, and a couple of times he had to think hard to remember what order the notes came in – not a problem with improv jazz, but tonight’s audience were here to hear something traditional, tunes they could recognise.
He consid
ered closing his eyes, but though he could play most of the songs with them shut, he worried that musicians who did that were a bit pretentious, and he didn’t want to look like an idiot, particularly
. Instead, reluctantly, and with the greatest of effort, he averted his gaze and played on, knowing he had to perform for the room, and not just one person in it.

He rushed through the rest of the set, almost turning
into a dance tune, and by the time he got to his last number, all Evan could think about was how on earth he was going to get hers. But when he took his final bow, then stood up and looked for her in the crowd, he noticed only one thing. The woman had gone.

As the applause died down, a loud throat-clearing – more like the sound of someone trying to cough up a lung – caught his attention from the side of the stage, and he looked down to see Mel grinning up at him.

‘Very nice!’

‘My thoughts exactly.’


‘Nothing.’ Evan forced a smile. ‘Thanks. Assuming you were referring to our set?’

‘What else?’ said Mel quizzically. He clapped Pete on the
, stood back as Dave, the double-bassist, hauled his
off the
stage, and then, once they’d disappeared behind the curtain, handed Evan a piece of paper. ‘Here.’

‘What’s this?’

‘Your audition tomorrow morning, remember?’

‘Oh yeah. Thanks.’

‘Don’t be late, now.’

‘Yes sir!’ Evan peered at the note. ‘It’s in a hotel room?’

‘That’s what the man said.’

Evan frowned. The last job that had come via one of Mel’s contacts had turned out to be playing an ‘amusing’ refrain to soundtrack a film of a Labrador puppy running amok in a bathroom, and while he had to eat, he also had standards. ‘I don’t know, Mel. I . . .’

‘Relax. It’s not another toilet roll ad.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘No shit.’ Mel grinned. ‘You staying for a quick one?’

Evan glanced around the club, trying to locate the woman he’d seen
earlier, but there was still no sign of her. ‘I suppose,’ he said, unclipping his sax from the cord around his neck. ‘With you in a minute.’

‘You OK?’

Evan nodded. ‘Yeah. Just thinking about missed chances.’

‘Well, don’t let that be the case tomorrow.’ Mel gave him a look, then turned on his heel. ‘I’ll be at the bar.’

Evan smiled wryly as he retrieved his saxophone case from the back of the stage and began to put the instrument carefully away, trying to stop himself wondering what might have been, though he knew he was fighting a losing battle. Like most musicians, he was a romantic – after all, how could you play anything with feeling if you weren’t capable

Though while he’d always believed that love, like
and old age, was something that slowly crept up on you, this
was about to prove him wrong.


arah had waited until the applause started, then she’d downed the remainder of her now-warm glass of Chardonnay and rushed to the ladies’ to fix her make-up, a task made difficult by the fact that – to her surprise – her hands seemed to be shaking.

She exited the toilets, squeezed past the queue of cross-legged women that had quickly formed outside, then made her way towards the stage, watching silently while Evan pulled the mouthpiece from the end of his sax, examined it carefully, then dried it thoroughly with the cloth he kept in its case. As he gently slotted the instrument into the velvet-lined recess and softly clicked the lock shut, almost as if he were putting a newborn to bed, Sarah felt something catch in her chest – her father had treated his sax with the same care, and she loved the routine, the attention these musicians lavished on the tools of their trade. When, finally, he was done, she took a few breaths to calm herself, sidled up behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder.


She smiled as he nearly dropped his sax in shock. Close up, a little sweaty from his on-stage efforts, he seemed even sexier. A bit dishevelled, maybe, but that only added to his allure.

‘Hello,’ he said, placing the case carefully on the edge of the stage. ‘I’m . . .’

‘Evan McCarthy?’ she said, then wondered why his face had fallen.

He regarded her suspiciously. ‘And you know who I am because . . .?’

‘Lucky guess,’ she said, then she pointed at the poster on the wall behind him advertising tonight’s gig. ‘Well, that and the fact that I can read.’

‘Ah. Right. Of course. Sorry.’

‘I’m Sarah,’ she said, pleased his expression seemed to have brightened.

‘Sarah,’ he repeated, and at once she loved the way his accent softened the vowels.

‘You play well.’

‘Thank you.’

‘For a Brit,’ she added. ‘Your solo gave me goose bumps.’

‘Are you sure that wasn’t the air conditioning? Sometimes it’s on a bit high . . .’

‘Hey, don’t put yourself down. You’re good. And I loved that first song.’

‘I Just Want To Make Love To You?’

She reached across and poked him in the ribs. ‘At least offer to buy me a drink first!’

‘That’s not what . . .’

‘Are you always this easy?’

Evan smiled back at her. ‘Buy
a drink and you might find out.’

‘Touché.’ Sarah laughed. ‘Seriously, though, Muddy Waters is one of my favourite musicians.’

Evan’s eyes widened. ‘You know your stuff.’

‘I’m a New Yorker – jazz is virtually on the school curriculum. Plus my father played sax.’


‘He died. Last year.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t apologise. You weren’t the one who gave him cancer,’ Sarah said. All of a sudden, she couldn’t meet his eyes, and even though she knew it was an automatic defence mechanism, the harshness of her own response had surprised her.

Evan hesitated for a second, then rested a hand gently on her shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah. Sorry. It’s just that hearing you play tonight kind of reminded me of . . .’

‘Your dad?’

She swallowed hard, then nodded. ‘So,’ she said, after a moment, struggling to think of anything apart from the warmth of his touch. ‘I met Melvin.’

‘Melvin? Oh, you mean . . .’ Evan removed his hand, and Sarah glanced over towards the bar, where an amused-looking Mel was watching them. ‘I’m sorry,’ he continued. ‘The only people I ever hear call him Melvin are people he owes money to. Which, come to think of it, includes me.’

‘He told me you used to be famous.’

‘What?’ spluttered Evan. ‘Hardly.’

‘Come on.’ She nudged him in the ribs again. ‘Spill.’

‘There’s not much to tell.’

‘Yeah, right.’

‘And it was a long time ago.’

‘And don’t tell me – you needed the money?’

Sarah had folded her arms, so Evan sighed. ‘Does the word “Jazzed” mean anything to you?’

‘ “Jazzed” as in “being high”?’

‘No, as in the band.’

‘Sorry. Never heard of them.’

Evan made a face. ‘You and most people. What about a television programme called “Rising Falls”?’

Sarah’s eyes widened. ‘You were in that?’ She softly sang the first few bars from the theme tune and hoped Evan was wincing at the song, rather than her voice. ‘I
that show.’

‘Well, the music? That was us.

‘Wow!’ She thought for a moment, then frowned. ‘Wait. I remember seeing the video on MTV. There were two of you, right?’

‘Yup. Me, and a guy called Finn.’

Sarah nodded towards the stage. ‘Was he one of those two?’

‘No. We don’t play with each other anymore.’ Evan reddened as he realised what he’d just said. ‘As Jazzed, I mean.’

‘So why’d you give it up? Tired of being chased down the street by screaming girls?’

‘Actually, no. Tired of that

‘I find that hard to believe,’ said Sarah, and as Evan blushed awkwardly, she smiled. ‘Still, you had your fifteen minutes. That’s pretty impressive.’

‘Actually, it was more like seven and a half minutes each.’

‘Even so.’

‘We were just lucky.’

‘How come?’

‘It’s a long story.’

‘I’ve got all night,’ she said, surprising herself with her

For a moment, Evan seemed lost for words, then he leaned against the side of the stage. ‘Okay, condensed version coming up: Finn was seeing this girl who worked for Sony, and managed to convince her to play our demo tape to her boss. One thing led to another, then Rising Falls came calling, and we got a number three hit on both sides of the Atlantic on the back of it.’

Sarah whistled appreciatively. ‘Do you still hang out?’

He smiled at the Americanism. ‘Yeah. Finn owns a café on
High Street. Best coffee in town. I go there quite a bit.’

‘And get all wistful about the old days over a cappuccino
or two

Evan shook his head. ‘Not really. Though mainly because I only drink espresso. Besides, they were only a matter of days.’

‘Hey – at least you still have a musical career.’

Evan laughed. ‘If you can call playing here every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday a musical career, then yes, you’re right.’

‘So what was the problem?’ Sarah made the quotation-marks sign in the air. ‘
Musical differences

‘No, we just . . .’

Evan’s voice had tailed off, and Sarah couldn’t work out the look on his face. ‘You just what?’

‘Stopped playing.’


‘Sometimes people just do. Circumstances . . .’

‘Tell me about it,’ said Sarah, sadly.

In the silence that followed, Evan appeared to be resisting the impulse to take her in his arms and comfort her, and Sarah found herself wishing he would. ‘Listen,’ he said, eventually. ‘That drink you mentioned earlier? Can I buy you it? Not, you know, because of what you said about the song . . .’

Sarah thought for a moment. Right now, a drink was the last thing she needed, otherwise she’d probably burst into tears. ‘Do you have a car?’ she asked, suddenly desperate to be anywhere but somewhere that brought back so many memories.

Evan looked at her blankly. ‘A car?’

‘You know – four wheels, an engine, that sort of thing?’

‘I know what a . . . Yes. It’s parked out the back.’

‘Can you give me a ride?’

‘You mean a lift?’

‘Yes, sorry, a
,’ Sarah said, enunciating the word in her best English accent.


Sarah shrugged. ‘Anywhere.’

Evan looked like he didn’t need to be asked twice. ‘Sure,’ he said picking up his sax and then leading her past the bar.

Sarah glanced self-consciously at an open-mouthed Mel as
she follow
ed Evan out through the fire exit and towards an old
white Merc
edes convertible parked just across from the club’s entrance. ‘Is this yours?’ she asked, running her hand seductively along the
, then surreptitiously re-attaching the piece of chrome trim she’d accidentally dislodged in the process.

‘Yeah,’ he said, proudly, as he locked his sax in the boot. ‘It’s new. Well, not
, of course. But new to me, if you see what I mean?’

He coughed lightly at his own tongue-tiedness, then walked round to open the passenger door for her, and as he politely
stood back
to let her get in, Sarah felt something somersault
inside her

‘Can I drive?’

‘I don’t know. Can you?’

‘One way to find out,’ she said, clambering across to the
driver’s side

Evan regarded her for a moment, then he grinned. ‘Here,’ he said, tossing her the keys and then hurriedly jumping into the seat she’d just vacated.

Sarah turned the key in the ignition, and after the briefest of refusals, the engine roared into life. ‘Now, what is it you Brits say instead of “buckle up”?’

‘Fasten your seat belt,’ said Evan.

‘Well in that case . . .’ She revved the engine a few times for effect, adjusted the rear-view mirror, then flashed him a mischievous smile. ‘Fasten your seat belt.’

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