Angel and the Elk
Muskie wasn't thinking too straight about what he was strumming that
evening. He'd been through a few of his own versions of traditional
blues numbers, then bowed to commercial pressure and thrown-in some
recent Shadows finger-picking extravaganzas, eventually got depressed
at the scarcity of coins dropping into the hat and plumbed the depths
of Leonard Cohen's celebrated repertoire of songs to slit your wrists
by. Finally, in a spirit of contemptuous resignation, he had given them
a few numbers from his own conceptual album "Songs in an Open Vein". It
was conceptual in the sense that it had never been published. In
Muskie's view it was a darn sight better than they deserved, but the
river of commuters just flowed on by, arms rigid, hands buried to the
cuffs in their pockets, eyes forward and focused at middle distance.
What would it take to get through to them, he wondered? Maybe if he
stripped off and performed naked on roller-skates, holding the guitar
behind his back and painting portraits with a brush held in his mouth
at the same time...
Suddenly Muskie's string-plucking finger became still and he was seized
by the momentary panic of a performer who has forgotten his lines. Then
he remembered who his audience were, and the extent of their
involvement. Still, It was something that had never happened to him
before. The cause of his paralysis was the appearance before him,
stepping out of the viscous human fluid that poured from the bottom of
the escalator, of a figure more divine than human, her beauty far
exceeding his modest ability to construct sexual fantasies. There was
simply nothing about her that wasn't perfect. It would be tedious to
catalogue her charms, beyond the power of mere words to do them
justice. This slender graceful teenager, with her long straight black
hair falling over her shoulders, and her wispy ligh-yellow almost
see-through full-length dress clinging tightly to her impossibly
perfect curves, was Muskie's vision of the Goddess. He felt his grip on
the guitar weaken, and the sling grow heavy on the back of his
"Why did you stop?" she said cheerfully, walking right up to him so
that he could actually smell her intoxicating fragrance, "you're very
"Why did I stop," he repeated mindlessly, almost unable to speak in her
presence, "Why did I stop? Oh, sorry, you scared me, I thought I was
invisible. Why did I stop? I don't know. I think I forgot what chord
came next. I lost the thread. To be honest, I wasn't listening."
She laughed and a dazzling smile lit up her face. Muskie had to avert
his eyes slightly so as to retain control of the muscles that enabled
him to stand up. "What's your name?" she asked sweetly.
"They call me Musk-Rat. My friends call me Muskie. You can call me
anything you like, just so long as you keep on talking to me. Would you
like to marry me, by the way?"
"Well, I'll think about it," she assured him with mock seriousness,
"but I certainly wouldn't mind singing a few songs with you."
"You sing? What kind of stuff?"
"Your kind of stuff."
She was right. She was able to sing everything that he was able to
play. At least everything that was in the public domain and had words.
She liked the sad slow ballads of lost love and broken dreams the best,
and many times Muskie garbled the accompaniment from the effort of
holding back a tear. They stood together for the better part of two
hours, her strong, effortless and youthful voice hitting and holding
every note with the perfection of an opera-singer but the freshness and
vulnerability of a schoolgirl. More than that, she knew how to put a
song across. When she sang, people listened.
As soon as she started to sing, the commuters no longer hurried by.
Instead they slowed and searched in handbags and coat pockets for
coins, and formed a little circle around the pair, until a London
Transport official came and dispersed them and told Muskie and his
companion that if they didn't want to be meeting the Magistrate in the
morning they had better be on their way.
Muskie didn't care. It had been the greatest spiritual experience of
his life to date, as well as which the hat was overflowing onto the
He smiled at her with respectful awe. "You've given me the biggest
thrill I've ever had with a guitar in my hand," he told her. "I'm sorry
that I didn't recognize you. It was brilliant that you were willing to
give me so much of your time. If you tell me where you're playing I'll
come and see you."
"Where I'm playing? What are you talking about?"
"Well, you're not an amateur, are you? Anybody can tell you're not an
She was so delighted she flung her arms around his neck and reached
over the guitar to kiss him lightly on the lips. "You're so sweet! I'm
just somebody that likes to sing. That's all."
"Oh my God," he mumbled, "I think I'm going to have to sit down. What's
your name, then, sweetheart?"
"Clare? That's a wonderful name. Perfect. Do you know the 'Angel Clare'
album by Art Garfunkel?" She nodded. "The title track never appeared on
the album. Only a few people have ever heard it. I'll sing it for you.
He must have written it just for you."
As they made their way towards the escalator Muskie delivered a
sensitive and soulful unaccompanied rendering of the song, which was in
fact entirely his own creation.
oo OO oo
Muskie and his new companion left the concourse of Paddington Station
Underground hand in hand. He quietly whistled "Stairway to Heaven" as
the escalator carried them noisily and bumpily to street level. They
were almost alone on the "up" section as the steady stream of office
workers and sales people from the big Edgware Road shops jostled each
other for position in the "down" lane. London's day shift was going
home and its night shift would soon be arriving.
Muskie took his angel to the seedy all-night caf? in Praed Street where
he always went to count his money. Legend had it that this was where
Ralph McTell had written "The Streets of London". He apologized for the
seediness. She told him that she loved it. They ordered coffee and a
sandwich and, still staring wistfully into her dark adorable eyes, he
tipped out the contents of his small rucksack onto the table, managing
to control the coins before they overflowed onto the dingy lino-covered
"I think we split one quarter, three quarters," he said reverently,
"okay with you?"
She agreed without hesitation but obviously hadn't understood. When he
finished counting and shoved the larger pile in her direction she
protested: "I thought you meant three quarters for you! You were there
all day, I was only there a couple of hours!"
"Sweet angel," he countered sadly, "I know what my playing is worth,
and I do a lot of bad things but I don't steal other performers' money.
You've got nearly a hundred pounds there. I couldn't make that in a
week as I think you know perfectly well. When the lady comes with the
coffee, you ask her and she'll change it into notes for you. And God
bless you for singing with me."
She reached over and touched his hand. "We're a pretty good team,
aren't we?" she said quietly and seriously, "why don't we share?"
Muskie became a bit hot and sweaty. "Share... what?" he asked
"Whatever you want," she smiled, squeezing his hand.
oo OO oo
Muskie was too excited to sleep very much that night, as well as which
he had other things to do. Angel Clare, who was cuddled-up to his right
side with her head on his chest, started to stir at about nine thirty
in the morning. He kissed her softly and asked her what she would like
"Just coffee," she whispered, "I can never eat in the morning."
"No, absolutely not. Me neither. You stay right there, coffee will be
ready in five minutes."
"You know," he added as an afterthought, "that was the nicest night of
my life. Ever. I could die now, I wouldn't have missed out on
"Don't," she laughed. "Die, I mean."
He gently disentangled her arms and, not bothering to put anything on,
made his way to the Baby Belling stove and the little free-standing
kitchen cupboard. She pulled the single sheet over her body and watched
"There's just one thing I don't understand," he went on thoughtfully as
he rinsed out two cups at the sink, "why would somebody as beautiful
and talented and just plain gorgeous as you want to have anything to do
with a loser like me? I mean, are you crazy or something?"
"Stop running yourself down, Muskie," she scolded him, "you're a very
sweet guy. And your songs are great. And I had a lovely night
"Did you? Really? You mean that?" She shook her head in exasperation.
"Hey, I'm goanna write a song about you, Angel. About how we met, and
how beautiful you are, and how you've made my life worth living."
"It won't be a success," she warned him, "people like sad songs. How
rotten everything is. How nothing ever works out."
He thought for a moment. "Yeah, you could be right there. But I'll
still write it. Just you wait and see."
He poured the coffee, remembering from the caf? how she liked it, and
carried the two cups back to the bedside table. She sat up to drink,
unselfconsciously baring her stunningly beautiful young breasts once
again. Muskie found that he couldn't keep his hands off her, but for
the sake of good manners tried to limit his caresses to her back, neck
and shoulders. He realized too late that that his nude state was giving
rather a major clue as to the direction of his thoughts.
"Hey, give me time to finish my coffee," she laughed.
oo OO oo
Muskie took Angel to a different station that day. Paddington was good
in the evenings but Bond Street was better to catch the steady stream
of shoppers and tourists through the day. If they had been up earlier
he would have taken her to Victoria, which was best for the morning
rush-hour because of the long passageway that gave people an average of
a minute or so of exposure to the song before they walked past the hat.
You had to study the market if you wanted to make a success of your
Despite their late start, by the time they were ready for a break and
something to eat the contents of the hat was once again nudging towards
a hundred pounds. Muskie could barely comprehend the change in his
fortunes. He had the most beautiful girl that he had ever seen as a
lover, and he was making more money in half a day than he had been
collecting previously in half a week. There had to be a snag. Fate must
be planning some particularly cruel joke at his expense. He was being
set-up for a colossal tumble. That was the way Fate treated people like
him. As he watched her sip her coffee dark forebodings swept through
his anxious imagination. He craved for reassurance.
"Angel," he began nervously, "are you coming home with me again
tonight, or do you need to go back to your own place?"
"I do need to get back really," she confirmed, "I need clean clothes
and there are things I need to do. But you could come with me if you
"Could I? You mean you would let me into your home?"
"It's just a room in a rooming-house. It's nothing wonderful. You let
me into your home, didn't you?"
"But my place is a dump."
"Why do you always have to run yourself down, Muskie? There's nothing
wrong with you. Or your place. You're a very sweet person." She held
his right hand in both of hers. "May I ask you something?"
"Of course. Anything you like, Angel." He somehow knew that this was
the start of the big tumble. She sounded way too serious.
"Do you know a guy called the Elk?"
"Yeah. Sure. I know the Elk. How do you know him?"
"I don't. I've never met him. But I would like to."
Angel knew about the Elk, and she wanted to meet him. What was going on
here? This threw everything into a whole different perspective. He
started going over in his mind the events of the previous day, the way
she had walked straight up to him out of the crowd, as though she knew
him already. She hadn't known him of course, but she had known who she
was looking for. He could easily imagine what had led up to the
meeting. A young girl asks around for the Elk. Nobody knows where he
is, or more accurately the ones who do aren't willing to say, but
somebody says: "I'll tell you who would know: Muskie, the
guitar-player. You'll likely find him busking at the bottom of the
escalator on Paddington Underground about now." That had to be it! How
could a drop-dead gorgeous female like her be interested in Muskie for
himself? She could have any man on the planet just by smiling at him.
Is she going to choose him? Is she hell! Muskie felt a heaviness enter
"Yeah, I can take you to see the Elk if you want me to. We could go
over this afternoon. He would be wakening up about now."
She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Would you, Muskie? It would be a big
oo OO oo
The Elk lived in an attic room three floors above street level and had
no doorbell. To alert him of your presence you stood in the back alley
behind the big decaying Victorian terrace house and threw pebbles at
the cylindrical metal chimes which he had suspended for this purpose
outside his rear window. It was an energy-efficient and environmentally
friendly solution to the communication issue, and discouraged or
significantly impeded the access of officers of the law or anyone else
whom the Elk might consider persona non grata. Muskie's expert first
shot struck the large middle chime dead centre, and it reverberated
with a deep, sonorous note, which brought the Elk immediately to the
window. He glanced down and disappeared again inside.
"He'll be right down," Muskie assured her, strolling up to the wooden
rear door. It suddenly crossed his mind that he knew very little about
Angel, beyond her musical talents and sexual preferences, and might be
leading the Elk into a trap. But no, he couldn't believe ill of anybody
as pretty as she was.
Sure enough the door was quickly opened by the Elk, who wore a genuine
silk dressing-gown with a Chinese dragon motif on a light blue
background. Big though it was, the gown barely closed around his
massive girth. A pair of hand-made open-toed Jesus sandals completed
his ensemble, and heavy locks of straight blond hair flowed over his
shoulders as he walked, his perfectly circular brass-framed spectacles
magnifying his eyes to create the general impression of an owl that had
been fed on growth hormones.
"Hey, Muskie, how's it hangin' man?" he greeted them, "who's the new
Muskie had not discussed any previous female associates with Angel and
was mildly embarrassed by the greeting. "This is Angel," he said
curtly, "she's cool. Wants to see you."
"No shit man? Well, I want to see her too. Come inside, sweetheart,
tell me what I can do for you."
As the Elk stood aside to let Angel come in Muskie moved forward also,
but the Elk stepped into his path. "Look, I'm real sorry, Muskie, but
you know the rules."
"Rules? What rules?"
"Like, one at a time, man. I can only do business with one person at a
time. It ain't a supermarket. I gotta find out what the little lady
wants and then we have to agree a price. Business has got to be done in
private. You know that, Muskie."
"Yeah, I guess," he conceded gloomily.
"Don't worry, Muskie," Angel shouted from behind the Elk, "I'll come
back to your place tonight. Maybe late. You wait for me. Okay?"
"Are you sure? You'll really come?"
"Sure I will, Muskie, Stop worrying so much. Chill out, man."
"Wise words," the Elk put in, "wise words."
oo OO oo
Muskie couldn't concentrate enough to play any more music that day. He
walked around the Paddington area for a couple of hours, went back to
his room to drop off the guitar, then walked around some more. Two of
his fellow performers greeted him outside Euston Station: he didn't
even return their hello. Everything that had happened kept churning
about inside his head. She liked him. She had said she did. She had had
a good time with him in bed. She had said that too. And he could tell
that she had. Although women can fake that kind of thing, so he'd
heard. She'd promised she'd be back. But earlier on she had said he
could go to her place tonight. What had happened to that plan? If she
could change one arrangement she could change another. God, he knew so
little about her! Didn't know her last name, where she lived, who her
friends were... nothing. But he was crazy about her. If he couldn't see
her again there was no point in living. It was as simple as that.
As the sun sank low behind Westminster Bridge and Parliament Building
he knew with a cold gnawing certainty that she wasn't going to come
back that night. He went to his room and lay down on the bed fully
clothed, staring up at the pallid twenty-five watt bulb in the ceiling
above him. He had never felt this bad before. So bad that he didn't
even want to write a song about it. Music didn't exist for him any
more. It was just a meaningless noise that people used to bolster-up
their fantasies and avoid having to face reality.
oo OO oo
The sun had already risen when Muskie heard the timid tapping on his
landing door. He looked over at his bedside clock. It was 6.15 AM. He
was on his feet in a moment.
"Angel? Is that you? Don't go away! I'm coming!"
Trembling, he dashed over to the door and wrenched it open. She was
still wearing the same yellow dress and her hair was damp as though she
had come straight from a shower. She looked up timidly and
"Angel," he breathed, flinging his arms around her and almost lifting
her off her feet, "you did come! Thank God! I didn't think..." His
words faded out and he started kissing her and, to his acute
It took her a moment to recover from the ferocity of his greeting and
start to return his embrace. "Muskie," she pleaded, as soon as she
could get her lips away from his, "take it easy. Relax. Of course I
came back. I said I would, didn't I?"
"Oh God! I was so scared. I thought I would never see you again. What
happened? Where have you been? Did he... do something to you?"
She gently disentangled herself from Muskie's embrace. "The Elk? No, of
course not. He's a pussycat. A real sweetie..." She gently led him in
and drew him down to sit beside her on the bed.
"Well... what then?" he asked blankly, holding both her hands and
staring anxiously into her eyes.
"I... I just fell asleep, Muskie. We both did."
He looked at her in complete incomprehension. "You... both... fell
"Look, Muskie, it's time we had a proper talk. Hey, don't look at me
like that! I'm not giving you the shove. It's okay! Relax. Just listen
"I'm listening, Angel." The tremors died down slightly in his hands. He
felt his shoulders relax. It took Angel a moment to think of the right
way to explain things.
"Muskie, you gave me that name, Angel, but it's wrong. I'm not an
angel. I'm me. I've got good parts to me and bad parts to me. I'm the
same as everybody else. I like being with you. You're a very sweet
person. But I'm not very good at this faithfulness thing. I'm good at
some things: I think I'm quite a good singer, and I can cook... and I
can tidy up this place for you and make it look nice..."
"This place? Make it look nice?"
"Well, over a period, obviously. A little bit at a time. But the
faithfulness thing, that's one of my weaknesses. You see, I know girls
aren't supposed to say this, but I like men and I like sex. I like
all... you know. The closeness and the cuddling and all that. And I get
tempted, real often. Maybe it's some kind of disease, I don't know. But
if you really can't cope with that part of me, then maybe we can't make
Muskie simply felt dizzy. But sitting next to Angel and holding her
hands nothing could be all that bad. "Hey! This is heavy shit! You're
telling me that you slept with a good friend of mine? Man, this is
heavy. You know, Leonard Cohen writes songs about stuff like
"Is it okay, Muskie? Are we still cool?"
"Hell! Of course we are! It's cool. Absolutely cool. But you're always
going to come back, aren't you?"
"Always, Muskie. That's the bit you don't have to worry about."
He hugged her again, less desperately, and stroked her back. "Hey, are
you sure the Elk didn't hurt you? I mean, he's a big guy. If he rolled
over on you..."
"No, honest, Muskie, he wouldn't do that. He's very gentle..."
"Did you... did you like him better than me?"
"Nope. Pretty equal, I would say."
Muskie felt a twinge of disappointment. "Oh. Okay. That's cool, I
guess." He thought for a few seconds. "Are you going to see him
"Well, she hesitated, "that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you
about. The Elk is quite lonely you know, but busy too, because he has
his business to run, and he's writing a novel as well. It's set in the
ashram he stayed in when he was in India. Did you know he was writing a
"No. I knew he was trying to learn the guitar."
"Believe me, he's crap on the guitar. No timing and his fingers are too
short and fat. But, he and I said that maybe I could visit with him two
nights a week. We thought maybe mid-week, Wednesdays and Thursdays. And
then I could stay with you over Friday and the weekend, because that's
when we could make the big money playing the Underground stations. So I
would be with you more time than I would be with him. Is that okay,
Muskie swallowed hard. "It's cool, I guess. Fridays, Saturdays and
Sundays. That isn't too bad."
She kissed him tenderly. "You're so sweet, Muskie. I knew you would
Muskie's head was still swimming. He couldn't quite believe what he had
just agreed to. But the alternative was losing Angel, and that was
unthinkable. He squeezed her tight. His Angel still wanted him. He had
been saved. Nothing else really mattered a damn. "Next time you see him
tell him I want my Bert Weedon 'Play in a Day' book back."
He looked straight into her eyes. "Is the Elk cool about this
arrangement?" he asked as casually as he could.
"Yeah. We talked it over. It's fine with him. He's cool." She suddenly
remembered something and reached into her shoulder-bag to take out a
small brown bottle with a medicine-dropper top. "And guess what," she
added with obvious excitement, "he's given us a little present. This
isn't like the old weak stuff you used to buy from him back when you
had some money: this is the best you can get. One drop of this on a
sugar cube and you get to see heaven, Muskie. That's what he said. Two
drops and it's the other place. Think of the songs you'll be able to
write when you suck that sugar cube! And there'll be more. As much as
we want. All free, Muskie. A token of his friendship, he said."
Muskie took the little bottle and held it up to the light. "Free? A
bottle that big?"
"As much as we want, Muskie."
Muskie smiled. "You must have given him one hell of a time,
She returned the smile. "I guess that must be something else I'm good
He held her again, very tenderly this time, and felt his whole body
relax. "Please," he whispered, "promise me, that... if I can accept you
as you are... you'll never leave me... I mean, that you'll always come
back to me."
"Always, Muskie. It's a deal."
"I don't give a shit about the acid. It's you I want. Real bad."
"You've got me, Muskie. It's a deal."
He stiffened slightly. "Hey," he said with sudden realization,
"Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with me, Wednesdays and Thursdays with
the Elk... What about Mondays and Tuesdays? What happened to
She caressed the side of his face soothingly with her hand. "Oh yes.
Mondays and Tuesdays. I'll talk to you about them, but maybe not just