USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith wrote for decades about a jukebox that took a listener back to the memory attached to a song. The Jukebox Series consists of more than twenty short stories and gathered numbers of award nominations and movie options.
Then in 2012, Dean started work on the Thunder Mountain series of novels, starting with the novel Thunder Mountain. Time travel novels set partially in the Old West.
Now, finally, in Melody Ridge, he combines the two worlds and reveals the origin of the jukebox for the first time. Find out what happens if Stout from the Garden Lounge finally meets the inventors of the time-traveling jukebox—because the past might just change his future.
I am the curator of this bundle and Kris convinced me to put my Christmas novel in, Melody Ridge. It combines the giving to friends on Christmas Eve a very special gift and also how that gift came about. I suppose I should also tell you I have over 23 million copies of my books in print and have published well over 150 novels and more hundreds of short stories than I can count. And I've made a bunch of bestseller lists along the way. You can find out a ton more about all my books at wmgpublishing.com. Or if you are a writer, come follow my craziness at deanwesleysmith.com. – Dean Wesley Smith
The Gift of Music
December 24th, 2015
THE STEREO BEHIND the bar was playing soft Christmas songs as Ridley Stout clicked the lock to the front entrance of the Garden Lounge and flicked off the outside light. He could feel the cold of the night through the wood door and the heat of the room surrounding him. It didn't often snow on Christmas Eve, but it felt like it might tonight.
He took a deep breath.
Christmas Eve was finally here.
He could see the entire lounge and the backs of his four best friends sitting at the bar. He had never been much into decorating with Christmas stuff, and this year was no different. His only nod to the season was a small Christmas candle for each table and booth.
Some customer had tied a red ribbon on one of the plants over the middle booth, and the Coors driver had put up a Christmas poster declaring Coors to be the official beer of Christmas.
The candles still flickered on the empty tables, but the rest of the bar looked normal. Dark brown wood walls, dark brown carpet, an old oak bar, and his friends.
The most important part was the friends.
His four best friends' lives were as empty as his. Tonight, on the first Christmas Eve since he bought the bar, he was going to give them a chance to change that. That was his present to them.
It was going to be an interesting night.
"All right, Stout," Carl said, twisting his huge frame around on his bar stool so that he could face Stout as he wound his way back across the room between the empty tables and chairs. "Just what's such a big secret that you kick out that young couple and lock the door at seven o'clock on Christmas Eve?"
Stout laughed. Carl always got right to the point. With Big Carl you always knew exactly where you stood.
"Yeah," Jess said from his usual place at the oak bar beside the waitress station, "what's so damned important you don't want the four of us to even get off our stools?"
Jess was the short one of the crowd. When he stood next to Carl, the top of Jess's head barely reached Carl's neck. Jess loved to play practical jokes on Carl. Carl hated it.
"This," Stout said as he pulled the custom-made felt cover off the old Wurlitzer jukebox and, with a flourish, dropped the cloth over the planter and into the empty front booth. His stomach did a tap dance from nerves as all four of his best customers whistled and applauded, the sound echoing in the furniture and plant-filled room.
The Wurlitzer was the old classic Bubbler 1015 model, made in 1946 from wood and glass and a little plastic to play seventy-five records. But along the way someone had taken out the old interior and replaced it with a 45 record exchanger and some interior workings he had been afraid to even touch.
David, his closest friend in the entire world, downed the last of his scotch-rocks and swirled the ice around in the glass with a tinkling sound. Then, with his paralyzed right hand, he pushed the glass, napkin and all, to the inside edge of the bar.
"So after hiding that jukebox in the storage room for the last ten months, we're finally going to get to hear it play?"
"You guessed it," Stout said. He ran his shaking fingers over the cold smoothness of the chrome and polished wood and glass. He had carefully typed onto labels the names of over sixty Christmas songs, then taped the labels next to the red buttons. Somewhere in this jukebox he hoped there would be a special song for each man.
A song that would trigger a memory and a ride into the past.
His Christmas present to each of them.
Stout took a deep breath and headed behind the bar. "I hope," he said, keeping his voice upbeat, "that it will be a little more than just a song. You see, that jukebox is all that I have left from the first time I owned a bar. Since I've owned the Garden Lounge, the jukebox has never been played."
Jess, his dress shirt open to the third button and his tie hanging loose around his neck, spun his bar napkin on top of his glass. "So why tonight?"
"Because a year ago on Christmas Eve I made the decision to buy the Garden Lounge, and try running a bar again."
"And I'm glad you did," David said, lifting his drink in his good left hand in a toast.
"Here, here," Fred said, raising his drink high above his head and spilling part of it into his red hair. "Where else could we enjoy a few hours of Christmas Eve before going home to be bored?"
All four men raised their glasses in agreement as Stout laughed and joined them with a sip of the sweet eggnog he always drank on Christmas Eve. No booze, just eggnog.
"It's been a good year," Stout said, "especially with friends like you. That's why I've decided to give each of you a really special present."
"Oh, to hell with the present," Jess said. "How about another drink? I've got a wife to face and knowing her, she ain't going to be happy that I'm not home yet."
"Is she ever happy?" David asked.
Jess shook his head slowly. "And I wonder why I drink."
Jess slid his glass down the bar as he always did at least once a night. Stout caught it and tipped it upside down in the dirty glass rack.
"I'll fix everyone a last Christmas drink as you open the first part of your presents," Stout said.
He reached into the drawer under the cash register and pulled out four small packages. Each was the size of a ring box wrapped in red paper and tied with a green ribbon.
"Awful little," Fred said as Stout slid one in front of each man and then put four special Christmas glasses up on the mat over the ice. He'd had the name of each man etched on the glass.
"You know what they say about small packages," Jess said, twisting the package first one way, then the other while inspecting it. "But knowing Stout, the size will be a good indication."
"You just wait," Stout said.
"Great glasses," David said, noticing them for the first time. "They part of the present?"
"Part of the evening," Stout said.
Stout let each man inspect his own empty glass before he filled it. The names were etched in gold leaf over the logo of the Garden Lounge. Stout had had the glasses done to remember the night. He hoped he would have more than a few glasses left when it was all over.
Carl was the first to get his present unwrapped. "You were right, Jess. It's a quarter." He held it up for everyone to see. "Looks like old Stout here is giving us a clue that we should tip more."
Stout laughed as he filled Carl's glass with ice. "No. It's a trip, not a tip."
Stout finished pouring Carl's drink and slid it in front of him.
"Since you unwrapped yours so fast, you get to go first." Stout nodded at the jukebox. "But there are rules."
"There seem to be a lot of rules around here tonight," Fred said.
Stout held up a hand for them to stop. "Trust me. This will be a special night."
"So give me the rules," Carl said.
Stout leaned on the dishwasher behind the bar so no one could see that he was shaking.
"On that jukebox is every damn Christmas song I could find. Pick one that reminds you of a major point in your life—some thing or time or event that changed your life. After you punch the button, but before the music starts, tell us what the song reminds you of."
Carl shook his head. "You know, Stout. You've gone and flipped out."
"Sometimes I think so, too," Stout said. He wasn't kidding. Sometimes he really did think so.
"Tonight seems to be ample proof," David said, holding up the quarter.
"Just trust me, that is a very special jukebox. Try it and I think you'll discover what I mean."
Carl shrugged, took a large gulp out of his special glass and set it carefully back on the napkin. "What the hell. I've played stranger games."
"So have I," Jess said. "I remember once with a girl named Donna. She loved to—"
David hit him on the shoulder to make him stop as Carl twisted off his stool and moved over to the jukebox to study the songs.
Stout watched as Carl bent over the machine to read the list. At six-two, two hundred and fifty pounds, Carl was all muscle, with hands that looked like he was going to crush a glass at any moment. A carpenter in the real world outside the walls of the Garden Lounge, his small business sometimes employed four or five workers. Mostly he built houses, although his big project this year had been Doc Harris's new office. That had taken Carl seven months and helped him on the financial side.
Carl had never married and no one could get much information about his past out of him. He had no hobbies that anyone knew of, and winter or summer Stout had never seen Carl dressed in anything other than work pants and plaid shirts. He kept his graying black hair cropped short and never wore a hat, no matter how hard it was raining.
After a moment bent over the jukebox, Carl's large shoulders slumped, almost as if someone had put a heavy weight square in the middle of his back. With effort he stood, turned around and faced the bar. His face was pale, his dark eyes a little glazed.
"Found one. Now what?"
Stout took a deep breath. It was too late to back out now. These were his friends.
"Put the quarter in and pick the song."
Stout's voice was shaking and David looked at Stout. David could tell something was bothering Stout.
Stout took a deep breath and went on. "Before the song starts tell us the memory the song brings back."
Carl shrugged and dropped the quarter into the slot. The quiet in the Garden seemed to almost ring as he slowly punched the buttons for his song.
"Anything else?" he asked as the jukebox clicked and the mechanism moved to find the record.
"Just state what the song reminds you of. And remember, you only have the length of the song—usually about two and a half minutes. Okay?"
Carl shrugged. "Why?"
"You'll know why in a moment. But remember that. It might be important. Now tell us the memory."
Carl glanced at the jukebox and then quietly said, "This song reminds me of the night my mother almost died."
Stout thought his heart had stopped. This wasn't what he had planned. Why did Carl have to pick a memory like that? This was Christmas Eve. Most people would have memories of good times. Times they wanted to relive. Damn, it was too late now.
"Two and a half minutes, Carl," Stout managed to choke out. "Remember that."
Carl glanced over at Stout with a frown as "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" started.
Then Carl was gone from the bar, physically gone, back into his memory.