The backdrop’s a barn.
The audience buzzes like a busted speaker.
Judge Roy Hay says howdy. “Get ready, folks. Here comes the Grand Ole Opry’s brightest star—and do I mean bright!”
Spotlights big as milk cans. Hank steps on stage. Suit stitched with a farm scene. Sequined steeds. Beaded barbed wire. A Swarovski crystal creek.
The audience stands. Flashbulbs flash. He starts into his single tout de suite. I warned him. Flashbulbs fade fine fabric.
I’m watching from the wings.
“You’re the tailor, right? ” Ernest Tubb says.
“‘Couturier,’” I say. I size up Ernest’s ensemble. His collar’s unstable. The pants are odds.
“How’s about making me a suit like that? ” Ernest says. “Not exactly like that. I’m thinking maybe something with Texas.” He tips his ten-gallon. “I’m the Texas Troubadour.”
“I work exclusively for Hank.” I walk away.
“What’s he paying you? ” Ernest yells. “I’ll pay double! Triple!”
Hank and I duck out the stage door. Flashbulbs bleach the alley. Girls wait. They make a ring around Hank, waving autograph books. Pages pink and yellow.
Hank signs. I stand to the side. Out of the heel of my eye I spy them. Boys. They’re loitering around the Cadillac. Tinfoil taped to the yokes of their shirts. Duct-tape piping. Their boots painted orange. Their mothers’ scarves around their necks.
“They’re being you,” I say.
“I’ll be damned,” Hank says.
“Well? ” I say.
The store’s a shell. Drywall daubed with undercoat. Dust like a splatter sheet. “What is it? ” Hank says.
I direct him to a drawing tacked to drywall. “HANK’S CORRAL.” Letters resemble ropes. The perspective’s impeccable.
“The artist’s conception,” I say. I’m the artist.
“A store of me? ” Hank says. In the drawing, he’s stylized, sketchy, like people on patterns. The decor’s dude ranch. A chuckwagon checkout. Saloon doors swing on change rooms. A chandelier of branding irons. Dangling.
“What do I sell? ”
“Pretty poor what?”
“Hi,” Hank says.
We’re in a sweatshop. Seamstresses sit at satin stitch machines. Pumping foot pedals like they’re playing pedal steels.
“It’s done piecemeal,” I say. “This woman’s stitching sleeves. This one’s doing cuffs. At the end of it we have these.”
Mannequins model. The shirts are stallion print. The prints bleed. Hank strokes one. Gets a spark.
“The thread count’s negligible,” I say. For ladies there are gauchos. “A blend. The sequins are store-bought.” I pinch one. It creases. “If your fans are going to dress like you, you may as well profit.”
Hank rubs his neck. “You really think they’ll buy it? ”
“Show me something showy,” Ernest Tubb says.
A men’s store. Might as well be a bank. Mahogany and mirrors. Ties displayed in wickets. Dust swirls like paisley. A clerk leads him to herringbones.
“No, no, no.” Ernest runs his hand along hangers. They clink. Brown blazers flecked with grey. Grey blazers flecked with brown. He waves a page torn from Hillbilly Fan. Hank’s glossy suit. “Don’t you have something like this? ”
Ernest steps outside. Empty-handed. He walks upstreet. He steps into Gentry Esq. Menswear. He tries the Olde Suit Shoppe. Same story.
Then he sees it. In a store across the street. It sparkles. A suit. He dodges cars. He runs for it.