He played amid the smoke-filled room.
The rumor was that Sam got his job because he looked like Bogart. Distractingly so. In fact, he usually told the dolls in Toot's Shor's Place that he was once Bogie's stand-in on the Warner Bros. lot. And they ate it up. As usual.
This new one, though, -- Virginia -- was different. She didn't buy Sam's cock-and-bull act and, on occasion, even went out of her way to give him the icy shoulder. A girl has her reputation after all.
From the tiny coat check closet, she'd stare at him every night and after a few months of googly eyes, Sam mustered enough nerve to ask Virginia to accompany him after hours and watch him play. At first she refused but eventually she felt comfortable. Especially with those sad eyes.
She'd sit on the piano, like a siren who sang for the torches, and he'd lay it on extra thick. And it wasn't long before they became bonafide friends.
They'd talk about gossip of the day -- everything from the death of Fletcher Henderson and some new book called "Seven Years in Tibet" to the merits of leading men like Gregory Peck and Cary Grant. It all jived.
One night, they dented a bourbon bottle pretty good and the boozy piano banter got somewhat heavy.
"I have something to tell you," Virginia said, eyes watery. "I haven't been completely honest."
He stopped playing.
She told Sam that she finally heard from her fiance after too many silent months in Korea. Victoria said that she expected the worst and knew of too many men who never walked through their front doors ever again. She told Sam that she was sorry but she just needed someone to be close to. Just in case.
Sam lit another cigarette and began playing "Autumn in New York."
# # #
About a week later, the soldier showed up at the bar in uniform. He had flowers under one arm and a box of chocolates under the other. Sam watched Virginia hug him for what seemed to be five minutes.
Sam wasn't a tough guy so he just kept playing. He stared at the soldier and his stripes. That's the measure of a man, he thought. He deserved her. The soldier probably had a life plan that didn't include smoky after-hours chit-chat in dimly-lit big piano bars. Virginia and her soldier eventually left.
He went on for an hour or so, tickling those ivories in the dark, thinking of Virginia and her own ivories that he'd never have the opportunity to tickle. Sam went on, watching the janitor sweep and bartender wash glasses -- all the while writing Virginia symphonies that she'd never hear.
He played amid the smoke-filled room. And when he wrote the perfect arrangement, he went home, almost happy that he didn't even write it down.
Art: The incredible Robert McGinnis. Music: "Autumn in New York" by Jonah Dempcy. Download it HERE.