The Audition – Part II, Catherine Duvall auditions Jonathan Tyne to become her piano accompanist

A scene from Thomas Docheri’s novel Affirmative Action

Use these to jump around or read it all:

Michael hitting on Catherine
The Audition, Part II, from Affirmative Action begins here

Michael hitting on Catherine

This is the second installment of the scenes I am calling, The Audition. It’s important to the story because it is the beginning of the relationship between the male and female protagonists, which drives much of the their motivation in three of my four novels about Jonathan Tyne. In this installment Catherine Duvall is trying to decide whether to audition Michael Ware, the alias Jonathan Tyne is using to avoid coming to the attention of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Tosca crime family, as her piano accompanist. Appearing in a public venue in a resort city visited by two million visitors annually, many of them from California, is playing with fire. Better for him if he dropped the idea of working with her but he can’t. She is too much woman. He rationalizes away the risk thinking he’s smart enough to have his cake and eat it too, no pun intended.

Please feel free to tell me what you think, especially how I have written Catherine . . . and as always, enjoy . . . The Audition.

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The Audition, Part II, from Affirmative Action begins here

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C A T H E R I N E   A N D   M I C H A E L

A moment or two after Catherine Duvall walked away a waiter came up to his booth and introduced himself. He said his name was Antony and Catherine – he called her signora Duvall – had told him to take extra good care of Mr. Ware. The man was of medium height, maybe slightly shorter than Tyne, in his thirty’s; with black hair and a heavy, dark beard he’d shaved closely. Lean, like a dancer, with swarthy skin and incredibly handsome, Tyne was certain Antony had to beat them off with a stick. Antony handed Tyne a wine and a dinner menu, both bound in Moroccan leather. Then he deftly removed three of the place settings.

Tyne figured Antony was probably a senior waiter, chosen purposely by Catherine. It also occurred to him that if there was any possibility he might become Di Giorgio’s resident pianist, he’d better be on good terms with its staff. He did not make the usual pretense of studying the wine menu; instead, he was smart enough to ask Antony for a suggestion. Di Giorgio’s offered all its extensive selection of wines by the bottle, carafe and glass and the waiter beamed at being asked for his advice. Tyne said he was thinking about veal or possibly lamb, listened carefully and then chose a glass of Castello di Brolio Casalferro, an estate-bottled Chianti classico from Tuscany that Antony thought was especially good.

Before hurrying away Antony said he would tell Mr. Ware about tonight’s specials when he returned with his wine.

Before Antony returned Lydia Conti entered the piano bar carrying a bottle of wine. She was wearing her usual white, wrap-around apron but she also was wearing around her waist the canvas pouch in which she carried a generous supply of wine glasses. She saw Tyne, smiled, walked to his booth and as before, greeted him with a hug and a kiss. Then she slid in across from him.

She patted his hand and asked what wine he had ordered. When he told her, she looked thoughtful for a moment, and then poured a glass of 1992 Soave Bolla, a fragrant white wine she said came from Verona.

“Try this and tell me what you think. It won’t spoil your palette.”

He inhaled the aroma for a moment, then tasted the wine, holding it momentarily in his mouth before swallowing it.

He pronounced it excellent and read the label thinking he might buy a bottle or two from the local vintner before returning home. He took another sip just as Antony arrived with his Brolio. As he set the glass in front of Tyne Lydia said, “Michael, your server tonight is Antony Carbone, our senior waiter. Antony, say hello to Mr. Ware, an old and dear friend.”

Tyne offered his hand, the two men shook and Antony said, “the signora Duvall told me Mr. Ware’s name but she did not say he was a friend of yours.”

“Antony, if you don’t mind, my name is Michael.”

Antony nodded.

“The signora is very smart but she doesn’t know everything,” said Lydia.

Antony smiled, a very becoming smile and said, “She knows a lot. Well, you said you were thinking about veal. We have a very nice alla Florentine, with spinach, tomatoes, fontina – that’s a semi-soft cheese from Valle d’Aosta – and mashed potatoes in a white wine cream sauce. Also, the al Marsala is excellent with mushrooms and mashed potatoes in a glazed Marsala sauce. And this is not on the menu but our chef can prepare saltimbocca; that’s thinly sliced prosciutto laid on veal scallops, seasoned with sage and sautéed in butter and then braised in white wine. Would you like some time to think those choices over or perhaps something else appeals – the Agnello is excellent?”

“I’ve had all of those before, and they are excellent, but I’ve never had saltimbocca, so that’s what I’ll have, perhaps with some mushrooms sautéed in garlic butter?”

“Chef Richard can do the saltimbocca classico style or alla Romana. Do you have a preference?”

“What’s the difference?”

Classico uses a dry white wine while alla Romana uses Marsala.”

“The alla Romana, by all means, please.”

Eccellente.”

Tyne’s only meal today had been the Cobb salad from Thump he’d eaten at noon. He’d skipped breakfast so he could harvest the samples he given to chef Richard and as a consequence, was ravenous. So he ordered spiedini – prawn and prosciutto skewers – and brushetta from the antipasti section of the menu and a pomodora salad – fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil in an extra virgin olive oil dressing.

Antony nodded approvingly as Tyne spoke his order and just before he left Lydia said, “Antony, were you able to hear Michael playing the piano?”

“Yes, I was working in the main dining room and the remote speakers were turned on so I heard everything.” He smiled and shook his head, obviously amused by the memory. “Those Century-21 people are really funny. Someone should have told them the microphones were live.”

“What did you think? Go ahead; speak freely . . . Michael is Irish; he doesn’t understand Italian,” which wasn’t exactly true. Having been married to a Spanish woman who had been born in Italy and spoke the language fluently, especially when they visited her parents, he could understand the gist of most conversations, if the speaker spoke slowly and enunciated his words clearly.

Antony, se si parla . . . lentamente e distintamente, posso . . . capire,” he said.

The waiter beamed and squeezed and then patted Tyne’s shoulder while Lydia looked on in amazement. “Bravo, bravo Michael, mi deve parlare lentamente. Il suo pianismo è impressionante.”

Lydia looked at Tyne and said, “Did you get that? He thinks your playing is awesome.”

Grazie Antony. Sì, ho capito quello . . . che ha . . . detto.”

The waiter smiled again and said, “Shall I begin with the spiedini?”

Per favore,” said Tyne.

When he was gone Lydia said, “I guess being married to an Italian woman taught you a few things?”

Spanish-Italian . . . and yes, she taught me a great deal.” She also saved my life, he thought.

“They are all in love with Catherine . . . except the two gays. Say, your ordering pomodora reminded me that Richard would like to know whether you can grow Cherry Romas. We would use them in the pomodora if we could get them. It’s one of our most popular salads.”

“Does that mean we have a deal?”

She rubbed her thumb and finger together, a gesture Tyne thought implied something to do with money, and said, “You still have to negotiate schedule and price with Connie but yes, we have a deal. Richard is working up a list of what he’d like you to supply.”

“Yes, I’ve grown that variety before and I have a good supply of seeds. Sixty days plus three weeks for seedlings.”

“Speaking of Connie, are you staying in Bend over the weekend?”

“Yes. I could go back tomorrow or Sunday or even Monday, depending on how my discussions with Catherine shake out.” He didn’t think she needed to know he was really going to the Bay Area when he finished his business in Bend.

“Good, then would you be willing to meet with Connie tomorrow, say at 1 P.M. here at the restaurant?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

She nodded and started to slide out of the booth and Tyne said, “Lydia, I hope while you’re making your rounds you’re asking people who heard me play whether they liked what they heard?”

She stood next to him with her hip touching his shoulder, and she stroked his hair. “I am and so far the feedback has all been positive. Shall I ask Catherine what she thinks?”

“Please don’t. As far as you’re concerned I’m not available . . . because of all the travel. If she and I get together it will be because something happened that you weren’t aware of. If that happens you should act surprised.”

“So you can play hard to get?”

“Not hard to get, just . . . unconvinced. It’s up to her to convince me. Lydia, it has to be her idea, not yours and certainly not mine or this isn’t going to work. You do understand that, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure I do.”

“She has to want me to collaborate with her because my playing contributes something positive to her act and for no other reason. Just because we’re friends or I’m one of the restaurant’s important suppliers are not good reasons. Trust me Lydia, I know something about close collaboration especially since I blew it so badly with Madeleine.”

She bent down and kissed him on the forehead and whispered, “Okay Jonathan, I’ll do it your way.” She then moved away from the booth and began talking to a young couple sitting at one of the tables for four. He watched her for a moment until Antony brought his spiedini.

. . .

It was a few minutes before nine when Catherine Duvall reappeared. Tyne had just finished the saltimbocca and was working on a second glass of the Brolio. Catherine didn’t sit; instead, she stood close enough to Tyne he had to look up at her. He leaned his head back on the cushion and waited patiently for the woman to speak. After a moment she said, “What did you order?”

Saltimbocca.”

“How was it?”

“I’ve never had it before so I have nothing to compare it with other than previous veal dishes I’ve eaten here. Having said that, it was superb. Please convey my compliments to chef Richard.”

“I shall. I hope you’re planning to stay for my solo?”

“I said I would.”

“Yes, so you did. I’m about to start. Is there anything you’d particularly like to hear that I might know?”

“Well, I played Yeston for you; how about playing one of his for me?”

“Which one?”

“‘New Words.’”

“What a beautiful song. Yes, I know it and I’ll be happy to play it for you. Is it one that you also know how to play?”

“One of three.”

“Oh, which is the third?”

“‘I Am Longing,’ from the song cycle. I’m trying to learn the rest of December Songs but the music is very difficult.”

“Why, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“You mean why is the music difficult?”

“No, why are you trying to learn that music? Lydia said you are some sort of computer consultant. If you’re not a professional musician, why are you trying to do something as challenging as learning the cycle?”

“Because he wrote it specifically for Andrea Marcovicci and she’s my favorite female singer. I listen to the December Songs CD a lot and anything I enjoy listening to I want to play. It’s just for me; just something I enjoy doing. Had you not asked for a Yeston piece I probably would not have played one. Consultant sounds like I give advice; I haven’t actually done that in quite a while . . . years, in fact. I used to, when certain technologies were in their infancy, but those days, at least for me, are gone. I’m a software engineer, by the way, and mostly what I do is hire out as a contract programmer.”

She looked doubtful, as if she had not understood what he said, so he added, “I build things that people want built; things that generally take a few weeks to a few months to build. That way, when I’m done, it’s don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. Companies that hire me would rather not have an employee around after they no longer need one.”

She frowned and he thought she had more to say when Antony arrived with the dessert menu. He handed it to Tyne and then nodded at Catherine. Tyne opened it and glanced briefly at the list of pure, unadulterated decadence. He’d been thinking about cannoli all evening and was about to order it when he saw Antony wink at him. He closed the menu, leaned back and pressed both hands on the leather cover as if it was a keyboard. “Actually Antony, I was hoping you would suggest something as memorable as the veal? The saltimbocca was primo.”

“Yes, I do have something very special for you; pere ripiene. As you know I was instructed to take extra good care of you.” As he said this he glanced at Catherine, pointed at her but hid his hand so she couldn’t see the gesture and then smiled at Tyne.

Pere is pears, isn’t it?”

Corrètto Michael; pears stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and sprinkled with crushed walnuts. And extra good care always requires at least two choices or what’s the point. We also have tonight crostata di ricotta, which is a cheese pie that is better than any cheesecake ever made. We serve it with white grapes.”

“Antony, it’s Mr. Ware, not Michael,” as Catherine rebuked him, gently but firmly.

Tyne stared at her for a moment and then said, with emphasis added, “No Catherine; it’s Michael. Antony and I have discovered we have something in common. Like my ex-wife Antony was born in Genoa. We were discussing the ten-day bicycle trip my ex and I took through Liguria and the Piedmont the year before we divorced. We started at La Speza and followed the coast road to Genoa, then on to the Italian Academy of Cooking at Savona and beyond to Imperia and then a big loop north through the lower Piedmont as far as Alessandria. The tour manager had a van to haul the luggage and a sag wagon for those who couldn’t do the 20 to 30 daily miles. My ex and I did the whole trip on two wheels and enjoyed some really superb Northern Italian food along the way. You should try that some time, with someone you really care about. Can’t think of a better way to see Italy than by bicycle.”

Antony looked back and forth between them and again he winked knowingly at Tyne. He’d picked up on something going on between them and was amused.

. . .

During the hour it took to prepare and serve Tyne’s meal he and Antony had struck up the beginnings of friendship. At first the waiter had bristled when Tyne asked about Eddie Bryce; whether he was Catherine’s – he was careful to always refer to her as Ms. Duvall – significant other and why he had left her high and dry in Bend just when her cabaret act was proving to be a success. He mellowed when Tyne explained he was only asking because Catherine had proposed a musical collaboration. He knew the wait-staff worked for Catherine and he wanted to know what it was like to work for her. And, not to put too fine a point on it, who might be offended if he made a move on her? After all, she was a real babe; that’s what he called her, a babe, and Antony did not dispute that appellation.

What he learned was that despite the wedding ring she wore, Catherine was not married. Catherine’s ex had told him this but it was interesting to hear it confirmed by the waiter. Divorced from this Duvall dude who lived back east, upstate New York he thought, and a concert pianist by profession. She wore the ring, as many waitresses do, to ward off unwanted advances. When Tyne asked for the source of this fascinating intel Antony said it was from Carla Rainey, a former 2nd runner-up Miss Oregon while at OSU, Catherine’s assistant and his current squeeze, which was why he, Antony, had no problem with Michael making a move on signora Duvall. He encouraged it, in fact.

Something else of great interest to Tyne occurred during that hour. After the pomodora Antony brought Tyne a cup of Manhattan clam chowder with a large dollop of pesto floating on the surface, Genoese style. He said chef Richard had found a new source for basil and tomatoes and he would appreciate Michael’s opinion. Tyne asked whether others were being queried and Antony said at least half the diners in the main dining room were sampling the zuppe. He ate the soup slowly, savoring the subtle flavors and was pleased to discover Richard had followed his recipe rather than Filippini’s. After he finished the soup he told Antony to tell chef Richard that he was no expert but he had enjoyed the chowder, and especially the pesto, very much.

. . .

“Yes, the cheese pie, by all means . . . and some espresso?”

“How about . . . caffè alla Borgia, which is coffee laced with apricot brandy and sprinkled with cinnamon?”

“Antony, you’re spoiling me for any other restaurant . . . and any other waiter.”

Antony gathered up the dessert menu and Tyne’s dinner plate, after first asking Catherine – he again called her signora Duvall – to scusa per favore, signora and move slightly away from the table, so he could properly clear it, and then he left.

She stared at his retreating back until he passed around the corner of the bar, then back at Tyne for a moment and then said, “I don’t care how many walks down memory lane you and he take, I don’t appreciate you undermining my authority in front of a waiter, even if he is our senior.”

“I did no such thing. I merely affirmed in front of you that I encouraged him to address me by my given name.”

“I don’t believe in having too many rules either but one thing I do insist on is absolute courtesy to our guests, which includes addressing them by their surnames. I make it my business to make sure each waiter and waitress knows the name of his or her guest, from my book.”

“Cool, you did that very well. He referred to me as Mr. Ware until I asked him to use my first name. If you doubt what I’m saying, ask Lydia. She was sitting with me when all this happened. Is this the way it’s going to be, working for you? If so, then I pass.”

She seemed to want to say something more but didn’t. Instead, it turned into a staring contest until Tyne said, “It’s getting on past nine. Shouldn’t you be doing your solo?”

“I’m not sure I want you to work for me. You seem to have a real knack for getting under my skin. If that’s the way it’s going to be, perhaps you shouldn’t wait around for me to finish?” With that she turned on her heel and walked quickly to the piano.

. . .

Catherine played for an hour and a half and before she was done Tyne knew he could learn a great deal from this woman. She played a diverse mix of popular music – Gershwin, Kern-Hammerstein, Mancini-Bricusse, Harold Arlen, Don McLean, Carole King, Carly Simon, David Foster, Bacharach-David, even one New Age piece he recognized, Naccarato’s “Stone Cottage” – and of course, near the end the Maury Yeston song he had requested. He wondered whether she deliberately kept his request almost to the very end. Her back was to him and not once did she turn to see whether he was still there.

She took requests too, or at least that’s what he thought she was doing. Several times a waiter approached, waited patiently for her to finish, then bent close and said something to her. Each time she nodded and the waiter dropped cash into the tips jar. It occurred to him that her tips were probably commingled with the one he’d received from the woman named Gaby. He’d forgotten to tell Antony to see that any tips he received were distributed to the wait staff, his usual practice. And to Tyne’s surprise, not a single person chose to sit at the piano. Most in the piano bar dining area stayed to the end and applauded, sometimes with gusto as she finished each piece. Almost exactly at 10:30 she turned off the microphones, rose from the bench, gathered the tips and without even a glance in his direction, left the piano bar.

Both the crostata di ricotta and the caffè alla Borgia Antony served him were excellent and Tyne ordered a second caffè. After the second cup he asked Antony for the check but the waiter refused. He said he’d been signora Duvall’s guest and therefore there would not be a bill. Tyne then did a careful calculation of what his dinner cost from his memory of the menu. It came by his reckoning to sixty-six bucks; so he rounded this to seventy and when Antony returned to see whether he wanted anything else, he tipped the waiter fifteen. He said dinner was one thing the signora could be responsible for but unless she was going to serve the meal too, Antony’s service was what made the meal memorable. He thanked Tyne and smiling his most enigmatic smile said, “Good luck with the signora; you’re going to need it.”

He decided to wait to see whether the signora would return. She’d played for ninety minutes without a break; surely that meant she needed a potty break. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later his patience was rewarded when she returned to his booth carrying a bottle of Grand Marnier and two liqueur glasses. She slid in across from him and gestured with the brandy. “I adore Italian wines but I much prefer French brandies and liqueurs.”

Stravecchia Grappa and Refosco are both very good as is Strega.”

“Would you prefer one of those?”

“I’d rather it be your choice.”

She nodded and poured two glasses. He waited until she took a sip, then he did the same. “I wasn’t sure you’d stay.”

“I said I would; I generally do what I say I will do.”

“Did you enjoy dinner?”

“Very much. Thank you for comping me. By the way, I tipped Antony so you don’t have to.”

“That was thoughtful of you.”

“He’s an excellent waiter and I generally get the best meals and the best service by asking for recommendations. Antony rose to the occasion.”

“That’s good to know.”

“I noticed you did ‘Stone Cottage’; one of my favorites.”

“It was a request. I would not have played it or any other New Age piece otherwise.”

“What have you got against New Age?”

“Nothing except so few people enjoy hearing it.”

He was expecting her to take the lead; she didn’t, but her gaze never left his face. The silence dragged on for several minutes and it began to annoy him. Finally, he leaned forward with his forearms on the table and tracing the rim of his glass with his index finger he said, “While you were playing, which by the way I thoroughly enjoyed, I had this fantasy running through my head that I could learn a great deal from you. But alas, then I remembered that I get under your skin. Except . . . hold on . . . please let me finish . . .” when she started to interrupt. “You left before I could comment about that . . . what I would have said is getting under your skin is a good thing, like the Cole Porter song says, isn’t it? Isn’t that right where you want me to be? If you don’t, you should.”

“If it’s such a good thing why am I so annoyed?”

“Annoyed . . . truly?”

“Yes, truly.”

“That doesn’t suggest collaboration between us is likely to be successful. So, Catherine . . . may I call you Catherine . . . or how about Cat? It suits you.”

“My name is Catherine, not Cat, Cathy or Kate. I prefer that you call me Catherine.”

“Thank you for clearing that up; so Catherine, I know why I’m here. Why are we here?” and as he said this he nodded with his head and gestured with his hands to indicate that here was the booth they were sitting in.

“I thought we could talk . . . and maybe between us we could figure out why there is this . . . tension between us. I’ve been looking for an accompanist for several months to replace the one I lost and you’re the first of seven or eight I’ve auditioned with the talent to help me do what I want to do. I can’t let that opportunity pass by simply because we’ve . . . how should I describe it . . . we’ve stepped on each others toes?”

“Well, I’ve got all night. Why don’t you start by telling me exactly what it is I do that gets under your skin? I’m a big boy; I can take criticism so don’t pull your punches.”

“Okay, everything you did tonight, from start to finish was a game. You came here tonight to use your talent to hit on women and you’re very good at it, very slick. You even came on to me in the reservations line. You never made a reservation; that was just your bullshit story to hit on the hostess, and why the hell not, she’s just a glorified waitress and probably fucks everything in pants?”

When he started to defend himself from that unfounded canard, the part about what he wanted to do to her because she was just a glorified waitress, the look she gave him froze the comment in his throat.

“Correct me if I’m wrong; you arrived at about seven for . . . if I remember correctly, an eight-thirty reservation, so you said. Now why would someone do that? I don’t think you even wanted a table. I think you just wanted access to the piano. You’re so good at it I bet you do it at every opportunity . . . as good as you play, perhaps your entire adult life? Haven’t you?”

“Years and years.”

“What an asshole you are, to use your talent that way.”

“Okay, some of what you said is true . . . some but not all, but even the parts that are true have a context. If you’re going to beat me up for what I do you should at least understand the context.”

“I can hardly wait to hear this.”

He stared at her for a moment and then he said; “I see a lot of red in your hair. Mostly it’s dark brown and black but the red is quite prominent especially in this light. Is it natural or do you have a very talented stylist?”

“Why do you need to know?”

“Because redheads are crazy, really nuts, some more than others depending on how much red they have. Does the carpet match the drapes?”

What? What does that mean?”

“Well, a true redhead has red in her bush . . . not necessarily all red but a mixture of red and brown or black. I hope you don’t . . . what’s the euphemism they use now . . . of yes, groom it all away . . . the hair, that is, not the red?”

If looks could really kill he’d now be quite dead. Slowly, very slowly, she seemed to get her anger under control. Her entire upper boy had tensed and it allowed him to see her upper arms were ripped. He concluded she wasn’t just slender by way of a careful diet but she worked out too, seriously.

“My hair is quite natural, even the little bit of gray I have. Andrea is a little gray too and so is Gloria. When they color theirs maybe I’ll think about coloring mine.”

He studied her face and hair again and finally said, “I’d say 15-percent red, which means only a little crazy, but enough to explain why we’re getting off to such a bad start.”

“Bullshit. We’re getting off to a bad start because you are . . . you are being quite obnoxious.”

“No, the word you are looking for and are too ladylike to use is asshole. My wife used it a lot . . . still does, as a matter of fact.” He thought for a moment and then said, “No, my mistake. I almost forgot. You just used that word too, didn’t you? So, note to self . . . self, she’s not as ladylike as she’d like me to believe.”

She looked like she wanted to respond to this but when she didn’t he said, “Catherine, you should see yourself, your face, your body language. You’ve already made up your mind I’m an asshole so why should I bother explaining to you what I know you aren’t going to believe?”

He could see she was indeed very angry and now he was sure she was trying very hard to get her anger under control. She must really think I play well enough, he thought, to put up with my shit. He wasn’t applying a full-court press but he did want to see how far he could push her. She tossed off the remainder of her liqueur, poured another glass and then said, “Try.”

He took a deep breath, held it for a moment and then shaking his head, let it out in a sigh. He took another moment to gather his thoughts and then said, “I’ve been divorced for almost four years and it wasn’t my idea. My ex and I – God how I hate that term, her name is Madeleine – Madeleine and I were married for almost nineteen years. And I know it’s not very fashionable but I never cheated on her, not once. I’ve been playing in piano bars since the divorce, and yes, to hit on women. Actually, any man can hit on women; it’s much more fun and much more satisfying to get them to hit on me. If you want to call it a game, then yes, that’s my game.”

“Are there children?”

“No, neither of us wanted them.”

“Nieces and nephews?”

“Not any of them, either.”

“So, at least you’re not setting a bad example for . . .

“What about you?”

Catherine looked away and chewed her lower lip. When she said nothing Tyne said, “If you’re thinking of a polite way to tell me to mind my own business, don’t. If you can ask personal questions, so can I.”

She finally met his steady gaze and said, “I had two miscarriages in my thirties . . . both at four weeks.”

“Sorry; that’s tough. Madeleine had two of those too.”

“I thought you said neither of you wanted children?”

“Madeleine changed her mind in her late thirties, so, we tried.”

“Did you change your mind?”

“Not really, but I wanted her to be happy.”

“She probably sensed your ambivalence.”

“Probably. Another one of my many failings.”

“So, you woke up the day after the divorce was final and headed for the nearest piano bar . . . because you wanted to get laid?”

“He smiled and said, “I wish I could say I didn’t do anything of the sort, but . . . there’s quite a lot of truth in what you said. That first year wasn’t one of my best. It wasn’t my worst . . . but I’m not all that proud of what I did . . . except, I did learn how to get what I want, and I don’t lie about what I want. A lot of women seem to want that too.

“I’d been out of the dating scene for more than two decades and that first year, when I discovered how effective playing in public was, I went a little crazy, like a kid in a candy shop. And it’s funny, even ironic how it all came about. Madeleine likes to entertain; small, intimate dinner parties for friends and her business colleagues – she’s a marketing executive – and she liked me to play for our guests. I didn’t mind a bit; I love to play and if she thought it was useful for her career, then I was more than willing to help.

“And one time, this was a few months before she told me she was divorcing me, at one of those parties I played very much like I did tonight, and I flirted with one of our guests. We both knew the woman and her husband were having a rocky time and that night she had a little too much to drink and was coming on to me, although to be fair, I initiated it. Nothing happened, it was all just in fun, just the booze talking, but Madeleine overheard what she thought was lovers’ code and after all the guests left she accused me of having an affair with one of her best friends. That’s how she described the woman, as one of her best friends. If she had a best friend other than me it was sure as hell news to me. She had business contacts she networked with to enhance and promote her career.

“It took some time but I managed to convince her that there was nothing going on with the woman, or anyone else for that matter, but after she began divorce proceedings I got the idea that playing the piano in public places, such as Di Giorgio’s was a great way to meet women, especially for someone who’d been out of the game for as long as I had. It was and for a year or maybe a little more than a year I indulged myself. But eventually it got old and do you know why?”

It was a rhetorical question so he didn’t wait for an answer. “Because almost all of the women I met were married and cheating on their husbands. That first year it didn’t matter to me and I had no regard for the men I was cuckolding. I figured if they couldn’t keep their women satisfied they got what they deserved. And perhaps I’m naïve but it came as something of a surprise that there was so much adultery going on.”

He paused for a sip of cognac and she said, “Is it possible you were getting even for what happened to you?”

He stared at her for a moment. A rather perceptive remark, he thought, and then said, “Maybe. I’ve told myself Madeleine didn’t have sex with the new guy until after she informed me of her decision but that too is pretty naïve.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted you. Please continue.”

“So, sometime early in ’97, when I had this epiphany and finally got my shit together, I stopped getting it on with married women. From that point on I mostly added names to my address book. I didn’t stop playing the game and I won’t until I find Ms. Right but I no longer behave so self-destructively. Sooner or later someone I’m attracted to who is free to choose and wants an exclusive relationship will sit down at the piano to listen and life will be good again. And don’t take this the wrong way but tonight is the third time I’ve come back to Di Giorgio’s looking for you. I saw you for the first time last December. It was before you were performing because the piano wasn’t in its usual spot and the raised stage was still under construction. You were the hostess that night too and you seated me in a booth in the front dining room. I was able to watch you throughout dinner, for almost two hours. You were wearing a white silk blouse buttoned to the throat, black slacks and black pumps. You had your hair different then. It was done in this loose braid and then coiled on the back of your head and to say I was smitten is an understatement.”

“Sorry Michael, I don’t remember you. We get so many guests that . . .

Tyne gestured with his hand, palm outward, waggling his fingers as he interrupted her. “I thought tonight, when we spoke in the reservations line you recognized me from last December . . . oh not my name but maybe my face . . . or perhaps the hair. I thought I saw something in your eyes. You know how you see someone for the first time, and your eyes meet, maybe by chance, and there’s something there, like maybe you two know something no one else knows . . . or you’ve seen each other before?”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize, I quite understand,” finally feeling confident using his Ware pseudonym with this one would be okay.

“My, my, you have quite a memory . . . what I was wearing, even how I wore my hair.”

“My dear Catherine, you were . . . are, impossible to forget, especially in those slacks. You have an ass to die for. I’ve thought about your ass many times since then.”

“Do you always speak so . . . frankly?”

“Yes, pretty much; it saves a great deal of time.”

“You said this is the third time you stalked me. When were the other two times?”

“I’m not stalking you. I simply . . .

“If it’s not stalking, what the hell do you call it? I don’t know you; perhaps you’re a serial rapist or an axe murderer?”

“That’s nonsense and you know it. You think Lydia would vouch for me if I wasn’t a stand-up guy? I simply regretted not making more of an effort that first time to get to know you, at least make an attempt to see you again and I was looking for a ring and I can’t recall seeing one. I was here in March and also in June but if you were here I didn’t see you. But all that’s behind us now since you aren’t free to choose,” and to make his point unequivocal he touched her wedding ring. “Are you?”

She ignored the question and pulled her hand away. Instead she said, “So, is that your story; why someone who plays the piano as well as you do uses it in this childish way; to score piano groupies?”

“Is that what it is about me that gets under your skin? That I use the piano for sex?”

“That’s one of them, a big one.”

“What else?”

“You’re such an arrogant smart-ass and I don’t like smart-asses.”

“Well kiddo, you’re not exactly a slouch in that department yourself.”

“So if I understand you correctly, you’re just looking for the next Mrs. Ware. Is that it?”

“I’m not looking for ownership, just exclusivity . . . for whatever time I have left.”

“You look healthy enough. Is there something wrong with you?”

“No, I’m in good health but life is fragile and shit happens.”

“Do you really believe you can have exclusivity without ownership?”

“Ownership can be a strait jacket while exclusivity is a state of mind. We know ownership doesn’t guarantee exclusivity and with the right state of mind, it isn’t necessary.”

“Yes, but at your age . . . perhaps you should just settle for fun and games with your groupies.”

“What has my age to do with it?”

“Aren’t the women you’re likely to be attracted to already taken? Isn’t sharing what was really going on your first year as a single man?”

“Perhaps . . . but consider for a moment the sorry state of marriage in this country. It’s a well-known fact that half of all marriages fail. That means at any given moment half of all married women have either just shed, are contemplating shedding or are in the process of shedding their unwanted baggage. Some have already hooked up with the new guy since infidelity is a leading cause. Others are looking forward to regaining their freedom but don’t relish being alone. This latter demographic is of interest to me, specifically: childless, well-educated, self-supporting career women, if you will, say . . . thirty-eight to forty-eight with a secular humanist point of view. The sort of women who dine regularly at up-scale restaurants, such as Di Giorgio’s and enjoy listening to well-played piano whether they frequent piano bars or not. They will hear and some will investigate and voilà, new friends by the truck load.”

“Wow, no mention of what they have to look like. I’m impressed.”

“Women with those characteristics look after themselves; they’re always presentable, which is sufficient though lady jocks and fitness junkies earn bonus points. You look like one. Are you?”

“I’m a dancer, so yeah . . . I work at it.”

“Ballet or . . .

“Jazz and aerobic.”

“Splendid. Dancers have the best bodies and dancer on top is to die for.”

“On top of what?”

“The second most satisfying position in sexual intercourse. You know, fucking. It’s that marvelous hip action.”

“Pig!”

“Care to discuss which position is the most satisfying? For both participants.”

“Not with you, Ace.”

“Nevertheless, someday you’ll ask and after I demonstrate it to you, you’ll be my love slave.”

“That’ll be the day. Okay, that’s a pretty clear statement, before all this other bullshit I didn’t ask for, of what you’re looking for but it says nothing about why exclusivity is so important to you. Care to flimflam me, dazzle me with your footwork?”

Charm, not flimflam, hopefully, right out of your knickers.”

The look she gave him was lethal. “Not if you were the last man on earth, Ace.”

“I think you should revisit Buddy’s lyrics. I think if you do you’ll discover that you have the song’s intent exactly backwards. Think about it.”

“That’ll be the day it snows in hell that you’ll get into my knickers. Is that clearer?”

“I love a challenge.”

“Maybe I don’t want to hear this, after all.”

Au contraire. You’ll miss the best part.”

She studied his face for a moment and then said, “Okay, but lose the sexual innuendo. It’s boring . . . and so tiresome.”

“Whatever . . . it’s funny – not funny ha ha but funny ironic – you should ask the why question, exactly the way someone else I met recently did, in a similar context.”

“A groupie?”

“That isn’t the way I thought about her but I suppose to you anyone I meet in a piano bar is a groupie . . . that is . . . except you dear. Think whatever you like. This was in California, my most recent trip and the real point of the evening was to celebrate the birthday of a man I’ve known and loved for more than twenty-five years. She wasn’t exactly my date but my friend’s wife was trying to be helpful and included her in the guest list. She made a point of introducing us. Her name is Isabel and when she joined me at the piano I could see the rings. I played . . . oh, at least a dozen pieces, mostly for the man, including some Elton John original compositions I learned as a birthday gift for him, but I also played one she requested and I played ‘Alfie’ with harp augmentation for the first time in public.

“The woman’s . . .

“Did the woman know it was your friend’s birthday?”

That was the third time she’d interrupted him, he thought, as he gazed at her face, her eyes so striking as to threaten to make him lose his train of thought. If he spent any amount of time with this woman he was going to have to find a way to stop her from doing that. Of course, he’d interrupted her too. Perhaps they shared that trait in common, as he and Madeleine did; perceiving they knew where the thread of a conversation was going and jumping in to the consternation of the other party. After Madeleine and he had argued about it for the umpteenth time, he’d made a concerted effort, mostly successful, to rein in his own rude behavior. This woman seemed to bring out the worst in him.

He stared at her for a full minute with the trace of a smirk on his face, thinking; might as well get in a punch of my own since she’s been wailing on me. So he said, “You have this annoying habit of interrupting me.”

“You do it too.”

“Yes, I know I do. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to control. Maybe we could both work on it, that is, if we’re going to spend any amount of time together?”

“That remains to be seen but I’ll take it under advisement.”

Tyne studied her face for a moment longer, remembering what the waiter had said: that she wore the ring to keep the hound dogs at bay – wondering whether to believe him. Perhaps it was something else Charles hadn’t told him, that she really had remarried. Of course, if Antony and his squeeze Carla had it right, it was a lie. But, it wasn’t a bad lie; not a lie he couldn’t forgive, especially if he could get her to come clean, of her own volition, because she didn’t want to keep him at bay. He decided it was worth a try.

“You know, I’ve heard it said some couples fight, deliberately, because making up is so much fun. The sex is off the charts. And of course, they have to care enough to want to go a couple of rounds, to get whatever is buggin’ them out of their systems. I’m thinking we may be like that.”

“We’re not a couple.”

“Yet.”

“Yet, what does yet mean?”

“We’re not a couple, yet.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breadth if I were you.”

“You look like you’re a fifteen-minute girl.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask but what’s a fifteen-minute girl?”

“A girl who craves sex every fifteen minutes.”

“That would take a platoon and I’m not into gangbangs.”

“Only takes one if he knows what he’s doing.”

“And you do?”

“Uh-huh. Best is when a fifteen-minute girl hooks up with an oral guy, especially one who plays the harmonica. That’s why I know we’re going to be great pals. We’ll fight a lot, come close to killing each other, probably, but making up will be so good.”

“Is your wife a fifteen minute girl?”

Ex . . . wife.”

“Whatever. Is she?”

“Ten, but she’s Spanish and Spanish women are the hottest women on the planet. Their body temperature’s even a degree or so warmer than the rest of us.”

“Hmm . . . is that so? The Delissaldes, my father’s mother’s family, were Basque. So, what does that make me?”

“Part Spanish . . . you could be a twelve-minute girl. But, not to worry. We’ll eventually get you classified correctly.”

She shook her head as if to say, not a chance. “Lydia said your wife . . . sorry, ex-wife, is Italian?”

“Her parents are Castilian Spanish. They couldn’t countenance Franco so they emigrated. The waiting list to get in here was long so they went to Italy. Madeleine was born in Genoa. She was ten when they got U.S. visas.”

“And she divorced you because you couldn’t keep up?”

“No, she divorced me because at that moment of existential crisis that all relationships eventually have, I failed her. What can I say; at times I can be pretty stupid . . . but the good news is I learned my lesson.”

Her eyes were not only striking, they flashed when she was angry. He could see she was working overtime to keep her anger in check. The danger, he knew, was that if she could control her anger she could control him. Hot and cold, fire and ice; a woman to make a man forget about all other women, he thought. “Yes, of course she knew it was Jeremy’s birthday even though she knows him only casually. They both teach at UCB. As I said, Jeremy’s wife Claire thought the party a good opportunity to introduce the two of us.”

It took her a moment to remember what she’d asked him. “So she knew something special was going on; not like what you did tonight?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Interesting. Please continue, but spare me all this fifteen-minute shit.”

“Are you sure? I mean, oral guy and . . . twelve-minute girl is one of the primal forces of nature. It’s not something to ignore.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

. . .

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The Audition – Part I, Catherine Duvall auditions Jonathan Tyne to become her piano accompanist

A scene from Thomas Docheri’s novel Affirmative Action

Use these to jump around or read it all:

Men chasing after women
Hiding from the mob
Writing women well
Read previous post for context
The Audition, Part I, from Affirmative Action begins here

Men chasing after women

Men chasing after women, a variation on cherchez la femme is the oldest motivation in the world. Thinking with the little head instead of the big head can get a man into trouble faster than a world-class cretin can say, “You’re fired,” big trouble; even get him killed. In simplest terms, that’s Jonathan Tyne’s problem. He’s on the run from a Mafia vendetta; the San Francisco Bay Area-based Tosca crime family wants him dead so he can’t testify against the heir-apparent, and as long as he keeps his head down, hunkers down at his remote ranch in Eastern Oregon and avoids the Bay Area, he stands a chance to survive. But now that he’s met Catherine Duvall, caution gets rationalized away. After all, he’s Michael Ware now; shorn of his beard and soon to ditch his ponytail, so isn’t that enough? He looks nothing like his old self, except . . . he’s kidding himself. The little head will get you every time.

A chance encounter at the restaurant where Catherine works fixed in his mind a vision of a woman to die for . . . or as he so graphically puts it in conversations with himself whenever he thinks about her, which is a goodly part of every day: self, Catherine – he calls her that woman before he knows her name – has an ass to die for. Catherine is a former professional dancer who had a modest amount of success on Broadway and she has the body to prove it. Now, a struggling chanteuse with a promising cabaret act, she’s searching for a pianist to replace her former partner who left their act just as it was gaining traction with Bend’s in-crowd.

Bend is Bend, Oregon, a sophisticated destination resort city of fifty thousand in Central Oregon that annually attracts two million visitors, mostly from California. Bend is often compared to Carmel; it has the best weather in Oregon, an overheated real estate market, expensive boutiques, five-star dining with good, sometimes exceptional local entertainment, a summer criterium road race, the Cascade Cycling Classic, which attracts elite riders from around the world, and world-class skiing at Mt. Bachelor. Indeed, the number of Lears, Citations and Gulfstreams parked on the apron at nearby Redmond Municipal Airport – Roberts Field, on any given Friday afternoon during the summer golf or winter ski season boggles the mind and signals ca-ching, ca-ching, for the local purveyors of food and entertainment.

The Mount Bachelor Ski Area, being a day-use only venue, there are only two upscale places to stay during Central Oregon’s glorious summer or during ski season; either Sunriver Resort or Bend, and since Sunriver is family oriented, the fast crowd tends to favor Bend.

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Hiding from the mob

Jonathan, using the name Michael Ware, has come to Bend looking to link up with Catherine Duvall. While playing the piano at a birthday party for his oldest and dearest friend, he met her ex-husband, a friend and colleague of the birthday boy and a man still in love with his ex-wife. When the ex learns that Jonathan lives quite near Bend he promotes Catherine to Tyne because Tyne, though not a professional musician, merely a gifted amateur pianist and harmonicist, is a master of exactly the type of music his ex-wife prefers to sing. Tyne is intrigued, because he uses his musical skills to attract what he calls piano groupies. He’s not sure that Catherine is the woman he’s been fantasizing about (let’s be honest; obsessing over) but the ex lards in on pretty thick so even if she isn’t his mystery woman, she’s well worth investigating. When Tyne discovers she is that woman there is no holding him back, despite the fact that keeping off the Toscas radar screen is the key to his survival.

I call the scenes that follow: The Audition. I will publish them in at least three parts, since the entire collective scene describing their first meeting occupies four days and spans several chapters in my novel Affirmative Action, the second in my four-novel series about Jonathan Tyne. The Audition is important because it provides the motivation for much of what Jonathan does, which almost gets him killed. Indeed, both he and Catherine nearly come to grief on several occasions. Worst of all for Catherine is when she is personally targeted by the Toscas, frustrated in their continuing search for the elusive Tyne. Getting to him through her may be the most effective thing they can do and to them she is quite expendable.

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Writing women well

The Audition is important in another sense. It represents my most ambitious attempt to date to write in a woman’s point of view. Man, don’t be fooled; this is the most dangerous thing a male novelist can do. Getting women right in fiction is fraught with perils no man can imagine, until he attempts to do it. Remember what Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets said when asked how he writes women so well: “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Well, Melvin is a world-class asshole and his response merely reflects how pissed off he is when the woman asks the question. With more than sixty best sellers to his credit, he obviously does not believe that remark, nor do I. One of my ambitions as a writer is to get women right, to be that author that women ask how I get them so right. But this is such a challenging task that I’m not above asking for help. Please, dear readers, especially you women, tell me, in words a six year old can understand, what I’m doing right and especially, what I’m doing wrong in my depiction of Catherine Duvall? I can fix it if I know what’s broken. Without her my novels are nothing but testosterone on steroids.

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Read previous post for context

It might be useful to read for context the previously published scene immediately preceding The Audition, when Catherine and Michael see each other for the first time. Michael has just arrived at Di Giorgio’s without a reservation and nevertheless, despite pushback from Catherine, requests a table. He doesn’t really care about the table; he only cares that he gets access to the restaurant’s piano. And as always, enjoy . . . The Audition.

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The Audition, Part I, from Affirmative Action begins here

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M I C H A E L

Jonathan Tyne headed for the bar and found an empty stool near one of the server’s stations close to the piano. He ordered a glass of the house Chianti and scoped the piano bar dining room. The intricately carved mahogany bar, which formed one side of the room, was U-shaped with stools on three sides. Currently there were two bartenders on duty but more than once he’d seen the restaurant so busy it took four to keep up with the drink orders. The piano sat on a raised platform easily large enough for a trio. Just beyond the piano was a row of tables for two and beyond those, tables for four. Along the sidewall were booths and Tyne knew from previous visits that the rear wall was portable. Its sections could be folded like an accordion to open the piano bar to the larger main dining room. The lighting was subdued, mostly small recessed ceiling cans with gold and red filters and lighted candles in colored glass vases on some of the tables. A quick count of the booths, tables and stools revealed that the room could seat at least sixty and at the moment it was more than three-quarters full of noisy, TGIF drinkers.

Here and there he spotted some attractive ladies, all with male companions. One thing he’d learned in the past was he could never pick them out in advance. Where they came from when they heard him play was an ongoing mystery. He was just damn glad they came, except . . . that wasn’t tonight’s mission. The idea was to get the Duvall woman to ask him to become her accompanist and go from there. Still, she’d rattled her saber and rubbed his nose in her marital status so perhaps he could do both. Nothing ventured right, and if anything developed with Duvall he’d keep it strictly business. Cool how she did it, he thought; played the game for all she was worth and waited until the very end to cut me off at the knees. Classy babe.

The piano was a black ebony Steinway. It looked like a concert grand but without putting a tape on the sound box, he couldn’t be sure. There were six upholstered stools surrounding it and with the lid closed, those sitting on them could set their drinks on it. He could see the stain rings from the many glasses from people who had done just that.
It was still early, not yet seven and there already was a good crowd. The four tables for two were all occupied as were most of the tables for four and the bar was full. The tables were all quite close together, with barely enough space to walk between them. He got the impression that during a cabaret, the atmosphere would be intimate, with a good portion of the audience up close and personal. It looked to Tyne that during such a performance the singer would stand close to the pianist’s right side and his back would be mostly to the audience. He wouldn’t have to turn very far to see her but would have to turn sharply to see the audience. He thought it would be useful, at some point, to see the woman’s act before he hooked up with her.

He donned his sunglasses, gathered up his drink and a coaster and sat down at the piano. From the scarring and fade spots it had seen lots of use and Tyne hoped like hell it was in tune. He noted the two Beyerdynamic microphones suspended from the ceiling over the piano, their red power LED’s glowing brightly. He tapped one and was surprised to hear the sound reverberate from a pair of ceiling speakers behind him near the far wall. He expected an echo and guessed the mics were cardioids with effective noise canceling filters. On impulse he looked below and saw another pointing up at the bottom of the soundboard. He knew there were remote speakers in the other dining rooms and that meant he’d have to be very careful what he said in front of them. He then laid his cased Hohner 12-hole on the lid.

He adjusted the bench to give himself a little more room and as he tested the peddles he heard from somewhere behind him, but close, a man’s voice say, “Hey, they’ve got a new piano player. It’s about time.” Tyne listened, without turning his head. He didn’t care what people said as long as they noticed.

A woman’s voice said, “Awful taste in clothes. He looks like a biker all dressed up in a cheap Joe College corduroy jacket. What a dreadful ponytail.”

“It suits his face . . . sort of. I wish my hair was as curly as his.”

“Hmm,” the woman said. “Maybe he’s got some slave in his background? You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.” He heard the man laugh and he smiled to himself. His clothes, especially his jackets, were definitely not cheap.

To limber up and gauge the sound quality Tyne started with some right hand exercises. Starting at middle C he fingered his way doing four-note scales to the right edge, then back, twice. Next he performed the same exercise with his left hand, working again from middle C to the left edge and back. Next he repeated the right hand exercise but added some left hand chords. He then switched hands and fingered left, chorded right. Finally, he used both hands and struck a variety of chords, followed by some two handed fingering exercises. Anyone listening would have thought he was playing New Age. All this took less than five minutes and it revealed to Tyne that the instrument was in perfect tune. Someone had restored this old Steinway with loving care. The exercise also told him that his fingers were doing what they were supposed to do in a reasonably competent manner. He was just about to begin playing for real when one of the bartenders approached him and said, “Excuse me sir, but we don’t let just anyone who walks in off the street play our piano. Did you ask anyone for permission to play?”

“Yes, Catherine.”

“Catherine who?”

“She didn’t tell me her last name; the hostess, the dark haired fox with the attitude who decides who gets a table. And if she doesn’t have the authority ask Lydia if it’s okay for Michael to play.”

“Michael who?”

“Just say Michael and describe what I look like, she’ll know whom you mean.” The man didn’t look convinced but he left walking quickly in the direction of the foyer.

The moment of truth had arrived. This was the time to either get up and abandon the whole idea or get on with it and the stakes tonight were the highest they had ever been. Tyne put a finger on the radial artery in his right wrist and counted his pulse for fifteen seconds by the sweep in his Rolex. His usual resting heart rate was fifty-three beats per minute. His heart was now beating at eighty-four. His stomach was turning over the way it always did when he sensed fear. This fear was not the terror he had felt in combat, just the fear that he was about to do something really stupid and embarrassing, and he might have to slink out and never again show his face in this place. Tyne still needed one more test and that was to play something fairly complex and listen critically for any clumsiness. If he passed this test, then he would be certain that he could play others of his favorites and even accept informal requests. If he played the piece poorly he would quit and the damage to his ego would be minimal.

He had to find out so he began playing Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Something Wonderful” pianissimo. He had always found this song challenging, particularly the subtle changes in timing. Now he strained to hear any false notes. Good but not great was what came to mind; adequate but amateurish. Something was not quite right so about a third of the way through he stopped and started over in a higher key and raised the volume somewhat to hear each note over the background din. Before he finished the piece he relaxed, the tension drained away and he was sure. By the end he was lost in the music and almost no longer cared if his playing attracted any restless women. But almost is only good in horseshoes, and what flashed across his brain was an image of Catherine in her sexy red dress. Now wouldn’t that be a coup if he could attract her?

Satisfied that his fingers would not betray him he launched into Sammy Cahn and Jule Stein’s “Time After Time.” Tyne loved this piece and played it exceptionally well. He closed his eyes and was lost in time and space. He always began pianissimo with the volume growing to a soaring crescendo, and then quieting again at the end. It is a short piece, just a little more than two minutes unless the chorus is repeated, but it is almost never played that way unless a singer is being accompanied and the pianist is given a solo stint, as done by Bennett and The Ralph Sharon Trio. Tyne prefers Carly Simon’s shorter version and plays it that way. He always thought of Madeleine when he played it and usually his eyes were moist when he finished, as they were now. After the last note died away, for just a moment, he stared at his hands as if they belonged to someone else.

Divorced four years, he thought, and still can’t get that woman out of my mind. Well, maybe working with Duvall will let me move on. Maybe I should stop playing this song? No, I’ve got to get to the point where I can play it and not think about Madeleine. Stay focused; think about Duvall and what this is all about.

He looked up with a start! A passing waitress with a tray of drinks had bumped one of the stools beside the piano. She looked back, smiling, and mouthed the word, “sorry.”

Back in the here and now, he pulled the stool closer to the piano, away from the edge of the platform. Next, he decided that Catherine, the hostess, was probably listening, since the bartender had not returned to tell him to stop playing, so he thought about which of the several Yeston pieces he knew he would play for her. Instead, what came to mind was a comment her ex-husband had said about her; that she wanted to develop a world-class cabaret act. Well, if that was true surely she would be familiar with the greatest cabaret singer of all time. If she didn’t he doubted collaborating with her would be worth his time. So he played one of his favorites, the Kern-Harbach song “Poor Pierrot” from the 1931 musical The Cat and the Fiddle, made famous by Mabel Mercer. He decided he’d play this one first and the Yeston piece later.

When he finished there was a small polite applause from a table close to the piano, which he acknowledged with a nod and a brief wave of his right hand. The applause was gratifying but he doubted anyone in the room had ever heard that song before. The melody was hauntingly beautiful and he played it well and that’s what the applause was for. Mercer had not performed since 1981 and had been dead since ‘84. None of her many LP’s had yet been released on CD although he had heard rumors Atlantic was planning to reissue a few of them in 2000, the one-hundredth anniversary of her birth. Long overdue, he thought.

He’d noted the relative youth of the crowd so he decided a little Elton John was in order. He played two of the pieces he’d learned especially for Jeremy – “Tiny Dancer” and “Bennie And The Jets,” and if the volume of applause was any gauge of his skill tonight, he was playing very well indeed.

When he finished the first of the two there was no mistaking the applause; some of the diners – or in this case, drinkers – seemed to think he was playing for their benefit and grew attentive but he ignored them – which was easy since his back was to most of them.

And before he finished playing the second Elton piece he had company. Three women and a man left the booth they’d been sitting in and joined him at the piano. One woman, Cali or Kelly – there was too much noise for Tyne to be sure – was in her early thirties and quite attractive. She sat on the stool closest to Tyne on the left side of the keyboard. An older woman, Mona, who looked to be in her forties, and the man, Jerry, turned out to be a married team of realtors and a still older woman, Jane, who had to be at least fifty, expensively dressed but thirty pounds overweight sat on that same premium stool on the right side. It turned out they were all realtors from the downtown office of Century-21 and they were Friday night cinq à sept regulars. They called it Chill-out Friday and Tyne was reminded that his colleagues at GGS called it chillaxing and those he’d met in Chicago did the same thing; only in Chicago they did it every other week and in nerd-speak called it B2H2Bi-weekly Bonding Happy Hour. Tyne learned all this from Cali or Kelly, whichever, without saying a word and only nodded to acknowledge them. They were all well lubricated and bubbled over with commentary. Tyne was pleased he’d opted to wear his shades and kept his part of the conversation to a minimum. He wondered how the folks in the other two dining rooms were reacting to hearing all about their latest real estate coup.

He was about to play a Yeston piece for Catherine when Mona asked if he knew any Burt Bacharach, Hal David tunes. When he nodded she asked, somewhat hopefully, whether he knew “Anyone Who Had A Heart” or “The Look Of Love.” They were her favorites, she said. He knew both but wanted to play neither, for them. He wanted to play something he thought would appeal more to Catherine, so instead he said, “Sorry, don’t know either but how about ‘Alfie’?” The women gushed something banal about the song while Tyne wished, for her sake, there was a way to turn off the mics during these pauses. He then played the piece and as he had done at Emilio’s the previous week, wailed the third and fourth verses on his harp.

Because he’d done it specifically for Jeremy’s birthday celebration he’d spent a considerable amount of time getting the transition from piano to harmonica just right and now that he had, successfully he believed, he intended to learn to play others of his favorites this way, especially if he entered into a collaboration with the Duvall woman. Mona and her friends fell all over themselves applauding and complimenting him on the way he played the song and most of the others in the piano bar applauded enthusiastically.

He was about to play his favorite Joni Mitchell song, “Blue,” when he felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned in the direction of the perfume he was looking into the eyes of one of the three cocktail waitresses working the room. Almost as old as he, still attractive but trying too hard with makeup and hair to look younger than she was – an occupational hazard of waitresses the world over – she said, “My, you’ve got shoulders. Hi, I’m Sammy. The gal over there asked if you can play any Jimmy Webb.” Sammy held a balled bill over the ever-present tips jar.

“Which one?”

“In the second booth. The one facing us. See, she’s waving at you.”

“What’s her name?”

“Gaby, I think. Not sure. Want me to ask?”

Any other night Tyne would have said yes but he knew it would be an unnecessary complication if the Duvall woman showed any interest in his playing, so he said, “No, she’d think I was interested and tonight is neither the time nor the place . . . but I do know lots of Webb. For her I think I’ll play . . .” and he thought which of the many Jimmy Webb pieces he knew would most impress the Duvall woman, if she was listening, “. . . ‘Highwayman,’” and he nodded at the woman whose name might be Gaby. Sammy gave him a foxy look and dropped the crumpled up bill in the jar. He could not see its denomination and didn’t care but he did notice Sammy returned to Gaby’s booth and said something to her. He not only played the song but sang it in a style he called talking blues. When he finished he immediately transitioned into “Blue” but only sang the verse that mentions acid, booze and ass.

When the applause ended, to cut off Mona’s monologue, which he thought would embarrass her had she known it could be heard in the other dining rooms – he assumed the other remote speakers were enabled – he played one of his favorite New Age pieces, Brickman’s “Barcelona.” When he finished this one he glanced at his watch and noted the time – 7:48 P.M. A mental check told him he’d already played nine pieces, all from different musical genres. He decided two more would cover the range of music most likely to appeal to a cabaret singer, so he played Carly Simon’s “Better Not Tell Her.” His version was one of his better adaptations. The drum programming he mimicked with a set of left-hand chords. The intricate guitars including the Jay Berliner Spanish guitar solo he did with right-hand fingering. The effect was stunning and now he wanted to add a harmonica verse.

The piano bar dining room was now full of mostly drinking patrons. Tyne didn’t turn to look but the applause seemed to be coming from all parts of the room. He was about to play something bluesy when he remembered Catherine Duvall had challenged him to play something by Maury Yeston. He loved Yeston’s music but knew only three he could play from memory. Fortunately, he’d practiced them all in the days preceding this trip to Bend specifically so he could play them tonight. So he played Yeston’s “By The River,” and he went out of his way to play it well. He did; in fact, when he was finished he thought it was the best he had ever played that piece, as good tonight as the Bacharach-David piece but not yet augmented with the harp, something he now intended to do. Apparently the bar patrons thought so too as it garnered quite a bit of applause.

“What a splendid song, ” said Jerry, when they stopped applauding. He then ordered another round of drinks. Tyne nodded his thanks but switched to San Pellegrino. “I know I’ve heard that last piece you played but I can’t place it.”

Tyne thought of the live microphones before he answered and who might be listening. “It’s Maury Yeston’s ‘By The River’ from his song cycle, December Songs. It’s more than a splendid song; it’s a musical masterpiece and I love playing it.”

. . .

Catherine Duvall, wearing her senior hostess’ hat, still logging late arrivals without reservations, was certainly one of those listening. Ordinarily she didn’t play during happy hour except on Saturday’s but last night’s crowd had been so good, she had. Too tired after finishing her second act to deal with the sound system, she’d carelessly left it set up in happy hour mode. Her former partner, Eddie Bryce, had supervised the design of the system – two Beyerdynamic MC 834 cardioid condenser microphones mounted on adjustable booms hung from the ceiling directly over the piano, another below it and one for the vocalist. There was also an additional electrical connection, presently unused, for a mic for the keyboardist. They were wired mics because Eddie thought the wireless versions had less dynamic range and poorer noise suppression. He’d even insisted that a few of the oak floor planks on the raised stage be modified to hide the cables, so a vocalist or guitarist wouldn’t trip over them and he always did the setup. After he left Catherine had to teach herself to do the setup and had fiddled with the system until she got it exactly to her liking, with amplification when desired plus, at the flick of a switch, she could distribute the sound to remote speakers discreetly hidden in the ceiling of all three dining rooms. That’s the way she’d left it last night so now all in the restaurant could hear, whether they wanted to or not, the man Ware play the piano.

When he played several verses of “Alfie” on the harmonica pretty much the whole front dining room and the foyer stopped talking to listen. Catherine was instantly reminded of Stevie Wonder. Carla, her assistant, rushed back to tell her what was going on in the piano bar, the dining room they called the mid.

“You should see the people in there, they’re actually listening. It’s the way they react when you play.”

When she heard the man who’d dropped Lydia Conti’s name so casually play Yeston, she too stopped what she was doing to listen carefully. And while she listened she saw Lydia making her nightly happy-check of the spaces they called out front. Lydia genuinely liked people, especially regulars, but she also did it to send a subtle message to her wait staff, that she was paying attention. She always carried a bottle of wine or liqueur with her and a supply of glasses in a cloth pouch around her waist, and she offered the wine, always in omaggio – complimentary – to diners, depending on at what stage they were with their meals. She would chat briefly and always asked what they thought of whatever new wine she had discovered.

When Lydia looked in her direction Catherine beckoned her, and a moment later when the older woman joined her she said, “Do you know someone named Michael?”

“Michael? Michael who?”

“About this tall,” she held out her hand at what she estimated Tyne’s height to be, “mid forties, dark curly hair worn in a ponytail . . .

“Ware? Michael Ware?”

“Yes, Ware. That’s the name he gave me . . . for the book.”

“Is he here?”

“Yes, he’s in the bar. In fact, that’s him playing the piano. He doesn’t have a reservation.”

“Couldn’t you find him a table?”

She raised her hands in a gesture of frustration, looked around and said, “You’re kidding of course. I’m about to close the book unless you’re willing to stay open past eleven.”

“No, we can’t, we’ll run out of food and tomorrow night and Sunday will be just as busy . . . and then we have Monday to deal with. You could give him Connie’s table.”

“And twenty minutes later I’d be unemployed.”

“How is it that you asked me about him?”

“He told me to. He also told me to ask you about Madeleine.”

“His former wife. She’s Italian. Is she here too?”

“No, he’s alone.”

“Too bad. I’ve been hoping those two would get back together. They are . . . were, such a lovely couple.”

“Uh-huh. Lydia, why didn’t you tell me you know someone that can play the piano as well as he?”

“Well, he doesn’t live in Bend . . . and he travels a lot . . . you know, for his work.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s some sort of consultant . . . something to do with computers.”

“Damn, this is not happening. I refuse to believe this is happening,” Catherine said, under her breath.

“So, he must have given you a reason to ask me about them?”

“He hit on me.”

“He hit on you?”

“Yes, when I told him how long he would have to wait for a table he asked me if I got a dinner break. When I said I did he asked me to have dinner with him. When I said I eat in the kitchen at a table reserved for staff he said he’d be happy to eat in the kitchen. I said the kitchen was off limits to customers and he told me to ask you if it was okay for Michael to eat in the kitchen.”

“Well good, problem solved.”

“I’m not going to eat with him, certainly not in the kitchen.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s an arrogant smart-ass and I don’t like smart-asses.”

Lydia patted the woman on the arm and said, “So are you dear; so are you, and . . . you could do a lot worse. Do what you can to find him a table.” She started to walk away and paused long enough to say, “Hey, put him in the kitchen and I’ll talk to him while he’s eating and maybe, since you don’t want him, I’ll get him to come home with me.” The older woman smiled and winked and then moved away to greet another set of her guests.

. . .

Back in the piano bar the man with the three women said, “Man, that is obvious. You play exceptionally well. Are you Catherine’s new accompanist?”

Tyne again thought about the open microphones and chose his words carefully. “No, I’m waiting for a table. Like an idiot I didn’t make a reservation. I think I would have left half an hour ago if they didn’t have this piano, or if someone told me I couldn’t use it.”

“Well, the way you play, Ms. Luraschi will be falling all over herself to get you to accompany Catherine. She is a truly lovely woman and the best thing to ever happen to this town, entertainment-wise but her regular accompanist left town and she hasn’t been able to find a replacement. You’d be perfect for her act.”

. . .

Out at the lectern Catherine Duvall, the restaurant’s hostess, had been listening with growing interest to this Ware person’s playing and was startled when she heard this exchange. She cursed herself for forgetting to turn off the mics. She had to put a stop, and quickly, to the unsuspecting broadcast of these private remarks before anyone said something they would all regret. She looked around for any new arrivals waiting for tables and for once this evening there was a lull. Everyone waiting had already been entered into her log; they would just have to be patient and wait. She signaled to her assistant to relieve her, grabbed the spare electronic remote control she kept at the lectern and headed for the piano bar to see for herself what was going on, especially why this usually cynical Friday night bar crowd was applauding after each song.

. . .

Just as their waitress was serving their drinks Tyne was surprised to see the hostess approach the piano. She came directly to his side and Tyne saw her discreetly flick what looked like a TV remote control in the general direction of the Beyerdynamics and the red LED’s went dark. Cool, he thought, they do have a way to control what goes out to the remotes. Not to would really be stupid. She greeted the Century-21 people by name, which somehow didn’t surprise him, and then she bent over, her face close to his ear, as if to speak privately to him. She was about to say something when he said, “Did you happen to hear the Yeston song I played for you? If not, I’ll play it again. Or are you here to tell me my table is ready?”

“I heard it . . .” but before she could finish what she was about to say Lydia Conti squeezed onto the piano bench beside Tyne. To make room for herself she gently but firmly pushed the hostess so she had to take a step backward. She hugged him fiercely and kissed him on the mouth. “Oh Michael, it’s so good to see you again. Give Mama Lydia a hug.”

Tyne returned the hug and said, “It’s good to see you too,” playing along even though it had been only a little more than a week since they last had talked.

“Michael . . . ooh Michael, take it easy on an old lady. You don’t know your own strength and I bruise easy. I told this one,” gesturing at Catherine, “to find a table for you . . . or else.”

“I was just about to tell the gentleman his table is ready,” said the hostess.

Lydia smacked her palm dramatically against her forehead and said, “Porca miseria! I must be getting old and senile. I forgot how well you play and this one,” again gesturing at Catherine, “is looking for someone to play for her while she sings. She sings rather well, actually . . . maybe you two could get together . . . or are you still spending all your time in California?”

“No, for the time being I’ve no such commitments.”

“Well then, you two should talk.” She kissed him again and rose from the bench. She touched him affectionately on the neck and then said, “That being the case I hope to see you more often than of late. I think the last time was in the spring.”

“Things have been pretty hectic since my last visit . . . as well you know.”

“Yes, well . . . I hope that too is behind you. Buon Appetito. Try the lamb.”

Lydia scurried away and the hostess said, “Your table is ready. Would you come with me please?”

Tyne slid the Hohner back into its velvet pouch, pocketed it, ignored the money in the tips jar and excused himself. The woman picked up his drink and he followed her to a booth along the wall. The table, covered with a white linen tablecloth and place settings for four, had a RESERVED sign, which Catherine retrieved. After he slid into the booth she did the same, facing him. She lit the candle in the Venetian glass vase with a wooden kitchen match and then she said, “Would you mind removing your sunglasses?”

He stared at her for a moment and then removed his shades. He laid them on the table in case he wanted to put them on again.

“I thought it would be nine before I got a table and when I played Yeston, I wasn’t sure you would hear.”

“The microphones feed remote speakers so I heard everything you played . . . and everything that was said. Sorry, I forgot to turn them off last night and I was too busy dealing with arriving guests to deal with them. Fortunately, none of you said anything to be ashamed of although those Century-21 people might be surprised at what tonight’s crowd now knows about them.” She showed him the remote control. “We always reserve one table in each dining room just in case some Bend VIP shows up without a reservation. I gave you one of those because I heard you play ‘By The River.’”

“Thank you. I hoped you’d hear it and would like it.”

When she failed to respond to this he said, “Well, you said you know what good sounds like; did you like it?”

“You earned a table.”

“That isn’t what I asked you. On a scale of 1 to 10, what grade would you give it?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “Seven.”

Though he tried not to show it Tyne was visibly distressed hearing the woman give what he thought was excellent a mediocre grade. Most of the women he played to impress fell all over themselves to tell him how good he was. Objectively, he knew he was no Van Cliburn and never would be but he did play popular music and Broadway show tunes exceptionally well. The feeling passed and he said, “I guess I’m not as good as thought I was.”

“It’s your fingering technique. You’re self-taught, aren’t you?”

“Pretty much. May I ask what your qualifications are that permit you to critique my playing?”

“Well, I have a degree in music from McGill University and I’ve been playing the piano since I was seven. Mr. Ware . . .

“Michael. Please call me Michael.”

“Okay . . . Michael . . . earlier, when you arrived . . . I think we may have got off on the wrong foot. I want to try and put that right, if I can.”

“We? How did we do that?”

“Well, I may have been rude, unintentionally, but you came on to me; now don’t deny it.”

“Why should I deny it? I did come on to you.”

“Yes, and you were very persistent . . .

“Very.”

“And you didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer . . .

“When a pretty woman says no I hear yes.”

“That doesn’t surprise me, so . . . I was rude. I’m sorry if you were offended.”

“I wasn’t and it was more my fault than yours. I didn’t see the ring. Normally it’s not something I miss. I look for it . . . whenever I meet a woman as beautiful as you. I think the reason I must have missed it was I couldn’t stop looking in your eyes. They are extraordinary. I don’t think I have ever seen eyes the color of yours. At first I thought they are blue, but no they aren’t blue at all, but violet, but not really violet either, they are darker than that but definitely not black, closer to purple. It must be the light. Of course, it’s the candlelight. They are a slightly different shade of purple with each flicker of the candle. Do you know a man could drown in your eyes? Yes, I’m sure you do. Beautiful women know they are beautiful and it would be more than extraordinary if someone like you were unattached.” She started to say something and he held up his palm to stop her.

“But not to worry. I don’t believe in having too many rules but one of mine that is absolutely unbreakable; I don’t fool around with married women.”

She smiled briefly, almost to herself, looked away for a moment and then she looked at her watch and said. “Mr. Ware . . .

“Michael.”

“Sorry, Michael, I don’t have a lot of time . . . have to get back to work . . .

“So you’re not going to dine with me?”

“I can’t; too much to do. The dinner crowd is about to start arriving and the next hour is going to be very hectic. It’s up to me to . . . to juggle all those balls. Then, I play the piano from nine until ten-thirty or so. What I would like you to do is enjoy a good meal, as my guest, and then stay for my piano solo. Afterwards we can talk, at length and without interruption. And so that you aren’t surprised by what I want to discuss, I’ll simply say that I want to talk about you becoming my accompanist. My name is Catherine Duvall and I’m the resident songbird, or at least I am when I can get someone to play for me. Please don’t say anything now. Think about it during dinner and then let’s talk. Will you do that for me?”

“Why would you hire a seven?”

She blinked several times and it took her a moment to say, “It was just that one song, and . . . and that one passage . . . the rest of what you played was . . . I think if we exclude that one song you’re not a seven.”

“What am I?”

“You’re . . . let’s not get into that now, okay? Let’s just say you are enough better than a seven that I want to discuss us working together.”

“Did you talk to Lydia about me? Is that why she said hullo?”

“Yes, I did.”

“What did she say about me?”

“She said you don’t live in Bend and you travel a lot. That’s why, she said, she didn’t tell me she knows someone who plays as well as you. I’ve been looking for a new accompanist for months. She knows that and I was pissed . . . I was angry that she didn’t tell me about you.”

He shrugged, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

“If you don’t live in Bend, where do you live?”

“Eastern Oregon.”

“Like Ontario or La Grande?”

“I have a ranch north of Burns.”

“A ranch? You mean cattle and horses and all that?”

“Cats and dogs and horses. No cattle.”

“And you make a living from cats and dogs and horses?”

“It’s not a working ranch . . . at least it hasn’t been, but that could change. I’m an engineer. Mostly I consult, to companies in Portland, Chicago and the Bay Area. The ranch is a retreat, a place for me to go to get away when the bullshit gets too deep.”

“And you came all the way to Bend just for some Italian food?”

“Bend . . . or Redmond actually, is something of a travel hub for me. I can connect to virtually anywhere from there. I’m actually on my way to California.”

“How long will you be there?”

“This trip, two days. I should be back at my ranch Wednesday.”

“And you’ll return through Redmond?”

“Uh-huh.”

“When you travel, to these cities where your clients are located, do you stay there over the weekends?”

“Almost never. I like to spend my weekends at the ranch although last year, in January, I did spend three straight weeks in Chicago, three weekends . . . but that was a special deal.”

Catherine looked at her watch and said, “I have to go. Would you at least think about working with me?” When he said nothing, merely stared at her, his face as neutral as he could make it, she said, “If you don’t want to discuss it or you don’t want to stay for my show, well . . . in any case, please enjoy your dinner.”

She slipped out of the booth but before she could leave he stopped her by touching her forearm gently with the tips of his fingers and said, “Catherine, I’ll be here when you finish playing.”

She smiled and nodded, and then she walked back to the lectern.

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Cross-gender character development and male-female writing teams

Men writing women and fiction writing teams — Part #1

One of the toughest challenges facing the writer of fiction, in my opinion, is cross-gender character development. Men writing women well, and presumably the obverse (ladies, if you don’t think writing men well is a challenge, please reveal how you do it) is certainly one of this writer’s steepest hurdles. I’ve done it but whether I’ve done it well is for my readers to decide. Fortunately, early in the writing of Affirmative Action, perhaps a year into the effort, I acquired my first trusted reader.  Elsewhere I’ve defined a TR as: not your mom or your spouse but someone that will tell you the truth about your work.

My TR, a woman of course, set me straight on the unbelievable way I’d written my principal female protagonist, Catherine Duvall. Catherine is a crucially important character because she is the male protagonist’s — Jonathan Tyne — motivation for much of what he does, so getting her right is essential.

My TR argued that no mature woman, however much she might be physically attracted to Tyne, would risk taking up with him once she learned he was the target of an organized crime vendetta. The OC elements hunting Tyne are determined to silence him from being a witness against them. Catherine learns some of this from Tyne himself, who is using the alias Michael Ware when she meets him. She does get involved with Tyne but to protect herself is determined to learn all the gory details he hasn’t disclosed, and does. And rather than ditch him as my TR insisted a woman like Catherine would, she rationalizes the risk to herself to further her own career, thus creating one of the story’s major existential crisis.

Catherine is a wannabe cabaret singer who recently lost her piano accompanist and Tyne is a gifted and accomplished amateur pianist with an affinity for Catherine’s style of music. He is the first pianist she’s encountered in a fruitless five months’ search who has the talent to help her advance her career. Without Tyne — she knows him as Michael Ware — she will have to leave Bend and return to Seattle or possibly abandon totally her goal of becoming a successful cabaret performer. Bend during the time of the story was a destination resort city in Central Oregon, a magnet for the rich and famous from California and metropolitan Portland. The attractions were, and still are, the glorious weather and the ambiance — golf in summer and skiing in winter, both world-class. The exceptional skiing at Mt. Bachelor is what brought Catherine to Bend, or more precisely, brought her accompanist, Eddie Bryce, who in turn sent for her. Unfortunately for Catherine, he left at the end of the season leaving her high and dry. She loves Bend and wants to stay but to do so she must find a replacement for Eddie. She is convinced Ware is that person.

Today Bend has fallen on hard times, caught in the real estate bubble and a victim of the real estate crash. Too many absentee owners built too many condos and expensive sheet rock barns and played flip this house driving real estate prices through the roof. When the music stopped and the bubble burst, the merely comfortable but grossly overextended rather than the truly rich were left without a chair. Bend has little local industry not associated with leisure-time pursuits so local RE prices crashed. The two five-star restaurants on which Di Giorgio’s is loosely based both closed. But in their heyday they were as good as anything San Francisco, Portland or Seattle have to offer. My readers familiar with Bend in the nineties can probably guess to which two I’m referring.

So, I totally rewrote Catherine based on the thoughtful criticism of my TR, except there would be no story element of Catherine and Jonathan’s relationship if I made her the ultra-cautious animal my TR insisted she would be. Instead, I develop another secondary female character, Isabel Paglia, who refuses to take up with Tyne when he opts for full disclosure. So, Isabel does essentially what my TR says every mature woman facing that particular set of choices would do while Catherine does what I believe some women would do, particularly one with Catherine’s motivation.

Having a distaff TR is enormously beneficial but I believe there is a better way to write my kind of fiction — collaboration. Two marvelous examples of male-female writing teams are Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., and Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Man, what I’d give to be able to collaborate with a female writer like Frank or Didion. I’d write the male characters while she’d write the female and we’d collaborate on all the rest. Well, one can hope… Until then I’ll just have to rely on as many TRs as I can find.

In this post I’m including the scene from Affirmative Action where Catherine tries one last time to convince Michael to work with her. I’ll follow up later with the scene that depicts his response. Enjoy, and please comment about the way I’ve written Catherine, especially if you think I’ve written her poorly.

Catherine Duvall offers Michael Ware a job, with novel strings attached…

–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–

The next morning Jonathan Tyne was approaching Greenwood Avenue northbound on 3rd Street when he saw the sign for A Taste of Bend.  He had slept poorly, waking at dawn; and thinking about Catherine and what might have been, could not go back to sleep.  He’d gone for another five mile run along the river, then showered and ate a light breakfast of fruit and coffee chosen from the motel’s breakfast buffet.  He dressed in a black T-shirt, beige polo, cargo shorts and running shoes sans socks, and was packed and checked out by 11 A.M. and on his way to Bend Municipal Airport when he saw the sign.

On impulse he continued north another mile, crossed under the Parkway to Butler Market Road, turned left and watched for the sign marking the entrance to Riverview Park.  Once inside the park he followed the road until it dead-ended at an asphalt and gravel parking area already almost full.  After parking in one of the last available spaces he paid his twenty-dollar entrance fee, received an inked stamp on his wrist that would let him leave the grounds and return if he wished and wandered through the park towards the river to the multicolored circus tent that served as the entrance to the Bend restaurant venue.

A Taste of Bend was an annual shindig put on by the Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the better Bend restaurants, or at least those that aspired to such a claim.  For the price of admission show goers could listen to rock in the park and sample as much of the local cuisine as they could hold.  Drinks were not part of the cover charge so the presenters did a brisk business selling soft drinks and beer but essentially it was an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord and if you were discriminating, came early and stayed late, you could get the equivalent of several really good meals.  In truth, it was an excellent means of discovering what was new in the local restaurant scene.

While they were married Madeleine and Jonathan’s favorite form of recreation was dining out so they always attended the event and Madeleine, confirmed extrovert that she was, never failed to make new friends.  That’s how Madeleine came to know Lydia Conti so well and it helped that she had retained so much of her childhood Italian.  Once the older woman discovered Madeleine could speak the language the two women became friends.  Lydia never failed to stop at their table and Tyne, a mathematician by training with a good ear for language, learned enough just by listening to get the gist of what they were saying.  Girl-talk and gossip mostly and surprisingly salacious, Tyne thought, but his ex-wife had a risqué streak in her and could be quite bawdy when she wanted to be.  Madeleine was ethnically Spanish but had been born in Italy and had not been brought to America until she was ten.

Tyne wandered through the tent, not sampling anything, just looking to see what was being prepared, and was disappointed that Di Giorgio’s was absent until he remembered they had their own pavilion that was always separate from the main tent.  Di Giorgio’s wasn’t the only restaurant to own its own booth and every year additional purveyors acquired such facilities as a means to distinguish themselves from the crowd.  And sure enough, between the main tent and the river, along a beautifully landscaped river walk was an area set aside for individual booths and in a prominent location he found them.

The display consisted of a commercial canopy, perhaps 10′ x 20′, large enough to completely shade two large propane-powered steam tables along with a utility table covered with a red and white checkered table cloth, a large electric drink cooler, a portable generator that also ran on propane and folding chairs for the chefs.  Behind the restaurant equipment were two rustic picnic tables where fair-goers could sit and enjoy their food.  Tyne saw Lydia busily preparing one of her specialties – Chicago-style roast beef sandwiches – and to his amazement, he saw Catherine serving a family of four from trays of two kinds of baked lasagne, baked cannelloni and ravioli with what looked like the restaurant’s trademark marinara ragù.  He listened to them rave about the flavor of the dishes they were sampling, which to Tyne looked like pretty basic Di Giorgio’s fare… except, it pleased him no small amount to see the tureen of Jonathan’s clam chowder.  Not that there was anything wrong with those dishes and less is usually more, or so Tyne believed; it was just that the family seemed to be making more of it than was justified.

He waited patiently a few yards away until the family wandered off, and then he approached the women.  Lydia acknowledged him immediately and held out her arms for a hug.  “Michael, I’m so glad you decided to come see us although I can’t imagine why you want to see her,” gesturing at Catherine.  Catherine obviously heard that slam, meant for her ears but she chose to ignore it.

Tyne rocked the woman in his arms and gave her a big wet smack on the cheek and said, “How’s my favorite WOP grandmother?”

“In the pink Michael, in the pink… oh my, you don’t know your own strength; hey, take it easy on an old lady, I bruise easily.  And how is Madeleine, pray tell?”

“She’s in the pink too, as far as I can tell.  It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her.”

“But you do talk to her, don’t you?”

“Now and again.  Let’s see, I guess the last time was in June.  She called me immediately after you called her.”

“I didn’t know how to reach you directly but she and I talk occasionally.”

“I appreciate the information you shared with her.”

Lydia looked at Catherine and said, “Catherine dear, would you please sit over there on that bench so that I may speak privately with Mr. Ware?”

Catherine nodded and went to the bench, sat and crossed her legs.  She watched them carefully.

“Are you going to the Bay Area?”

“Yes, Catherine said you’d be here so I thought I’d stop by and say hello, before I leave.”

“Are you flying?”

“Un-huh.”

“Does she know about the plane?”

“No, and please don’t tell her about it?”

“I approve of that name.  I think you are wise not to use your own name.  Were you going to accept Catherine’s offer to perform with her?”

“I was until she opted to return to Seattle.”

“I’m working on her but she can be incredibly stubborn.  Perhaps you can talk to her before you leave?”

“I don’t think she wants to talk to me.”

“Did you and she fight?”

“Big time.”

“And you hurt her feelings?”

“Afraid so.”

“I thought so, from the little I could get out of her.  Shame on you.”

Mea culpa.  I tried to make it right with her but as you say, she’s very stubborn.”

“I think you are much safer in Bend than you would be in California especially as Ware.  You should cut your hair.  That will make you look very different.”

“Do they ever come here?”

“Well, I’ve never seen anyone I was sure of but I don’t see everyone who comes to Di Giorgio’s.  If either Tosca came they’d say hello and I’ve never seen them.”

She looked at him with a roguish smile and said, “Do you… how should I say it… do you have the hots for her?  Are you in love with her?”

“We’ve only just met and I don’t know her very well.”

“She’s a lovely girl, a good girl I believe with a good heart.  You could do worse.”

“I don’t yet know whether I can trust her.  What do you think?”

“Maybe.  Maybe you can, but then again… maybe you can’t.  She’s a foreigner you know.  From up there in Canada, of all places.”

“What’s wrong with being from Canada?  And you’re a foreigner too.  Weren’t you born in Italy?”

“Too cold.  Yes I was but that was sixty-three years ago.  I’m just as American as you are, you Irish WOP.  Besides, Madeleine is Italian.”

“Madeleine was born in Italy but she’s Castilian Spanish.”

“She speaks Italian like a native.”

“That’s because she lived in Genoa until she was ten.  We’re talking about Catherine so why did you bring up Madeleine’s Italian-ness, you nosy old crone?”

“Because you obviously don’t know how to love an Italian woman so you should choose a non-Italian for the next one.”

“I sure would like to trust her.  Maybe in time…”

“She’s very smart and I just love the way she sings, don’t you?  But I wish she would sing some Italian songs.”

“Lydia, what do you know about Anthony Dellacroce?”

She turned her face and spat and said in Italian, “Malvagio uomo, figlio di una puttana; Dellacroce is scum, filth.  He’s the one you have to be concerned about.  He wants to be boss and now that Sonny is out of the picture, he’s next in line but he has to kill the man with the ponytail first.  That’s the gossip my daughter Morgana hears from the Italian ladies where she has her hair done.”

“What do you mean, Frank Jr. is out of the picture?”

“He’s hiding somewhere in Europe and he can’t come home until they deal with you.  And Francesco is ill.  If he dies before they bring Sonny home Sonny will probably stay in Europe.  He’ll try to run things from there but it won’t work and Dellacroce will be boss.  He still has to get rid of you because he planned that shooting at Pietro’s.  He’s as much at risk from you as Sonny is, or at least, that’s what they believe.”

“I can’t identify Junior and they damn well know it.  I told his lawyer that myself.”

“They also know the trick that lady lawyer tried to pull.  They’re afraid at some point she’ll force you to recant.”

“They know about what she pulled because I told them.”

“It doesn’t matter who told them.  You are a loose end and they don’t like loose ends.”

“Is there anything about all this you don’t know?”

“Not much.”

“I’ve heard about this Dellacroce.  Has he ever been here?”

“Never.  He and my Gaetano were mortal enemies and he knows I would poison him if he came to Di Giorgio’s to dine.  You must be very careful of that one.”

“I will and next time you see me I won’t have the ponytail.”

“Madeleine worries about you.”

“She’s always been a worrier.”

“Yes, but now she has cause to worry.  I hope you are being extra, extra careful.  You are, aren’t you?”

“Yes mama, I’m being extra, extra careful.”

She beckoned to Catherine, who had been watching and listening.  She’d heard bits and pieces of their conversation.  She quickly joined them under the umbrella and Tyne said, “Good morning Cat.  Did you sleep well?”

Frowning at the unwelcome familiarity she said, with an edge to her voice, “Hello Michael.  I thought you’d be on your way to California by now?”

“I was, saw the sign and decided to stop.  I can stay until four.”

“May I fix you a plate?  I promise not to poison you even though you deserve it.”

“In a moment… but first, any chance you’ve changed your mind about leaving Bend?”

“Lydia’s been working on me but no, I haven’t changed my mind.”

“In that case,” he turned to Lydia and said, “I’ve been thinking about life at Di Giorgio’s after La Duvall.  Specifically, I want to take you up on her offer to become Di Giorgio’s resident pianist and I’d like to expand the format of open mike night.  Has it occurred to you that there were several very talented people, all Bend residents, who performed Saturday night?  I know they are amateurs, but so am I.  I think I could work with Gaby Helm and Frederick Glass, or Judith and Mark – sorry, don’t remember their last names – to come up with very credible acts.  And what’s more, I think we should use open mike night to discover others.  Di Giorgio’s could become a beacon for talented amateurs hoping to become professionals.  Give them a chance to gain experience performing before live audiences.  It would add another dimension to the restaurant’s long list of noteworthy attributes, a forum to discover and nurture new talent.  What do you think?”

“What a clever idea,” said Lydia, after giving Tyne’s suggestion a little thought.  “Ski season is coming up.  I’ll bet some of the folks who’ll visit will have musical talent, maybe even some professionals.  After all, that is the way Eddie came to perform at Di Giorgio’s, and he brought her.  What have we got to lose?  I like it and I think Larry will too.”

“Except, you won’t be able to charge a cover,” said Catherine.

“Maybe not at first,” said Tyne, “but we can monitor the number of patrons who come to hear any acts we promote compared to last night, use last night as a reference, and if there’s no drop-off, we can experiment with a cover.  After all, you didn’t charge the full cover last night, did you?”

“No, Catherine said half would be sufficient to test the water.”

“Something else about the cover you may want to consider; the seating in the piano dining room…”

“It’s called the High Desert Lounge,” this from Catherine.

“Whatever… the seating lends itself to two-tier pricing, what I think they call VIP seating.”

Lydia nodded while Catherine looked thoughtful; Tyne could see he had both women’s attention. “Did she get a cut of last night’s cover?”

“Lydia, please, that’s none of his business?”

“Why isn’t it?  After all, you are leaving, aren’t you?” said Lydia.

“Nevertheless, my compensation, past, present or future, is not his concern.”

“Well, without telling me what you pay her, is it customary to share a piece of the cover with the headliner?”

“Yes, if the house is full, based on a definition of what full is.”

“Was the house full last night?”

“Yes, it was.”

“And when Larry books a radio ad announcing Gaby or Fred singing to piano accompaniment by Michael Ware, he doesn’t have to say we’re all amateurs.  Who would know, if he didn’t tell them?  The only thing they’ll care about is whether we’re any good, and we won’t go on until we are.”

“Jordie’s is a dump,” said Lydia.  “Great location but they water the drinks and the waiters have been known to spit in the food.”

“Hey, what the hell is going on here?  It’s not fair, you two ganging up on me.  Was this planned… to get me to change my mind?”

“No dear, but Michael is right.  We have to think about what happens after you leave and now that Michael is the restaurant’s resident pianist, his input is most welcome.”

The astonished look of surprise on Catherine’s face told Tyne his last minute Hail Mary gambit had found its mark.

As Lydia said this a group of six, three youngish couples, approached and pointed at the Italian selections and Lydia began assembling this year’s specialty: herbed Italian roast beef sandwiches with sweet bell peppers and gravy on coarse Italian rolls.  They looked and smelled exactly as he remembered them in his youth in Chicago and he thought he might get one of these to go but he also wanted to try some of the baked cannelloni.  Catherine fixed him a plate and a cup of clam chowder with pesto sauce.  She then said, “Can we talk?”

“What, more talk?”

“What would it cost you to lose the attitude?”

Her rebuke, mild as it was, was a warning to tread lightly, if he wished to appear the reasonable one, which he did, so… he said, “Sure, let’s walk by the river.”

She took off her apron and Tyne saw she was barelegged, wearing wedge sandals and a sleeveless cotton sundress that ended a few inches above the knee.  The pretty yellow frock had a scooped neckline and fitted waist but was partially open behind revealing her nicely toned lower back. Stepping out from under the pavilion, from its cool shade into the glare of the noonday sun, Catherine lowered her sunglasses from the tangle of her dark hair. Tyne had forgotten to bring his.

As they walked he ate his cannelloni, which was excellent, and he glanced several times at her back.  After the third time she said, “What are you looking at?”

“What a pretty frock… and the lovely back that’s in it.  You know, female backs are very underrated.  A back such as yours is a work of art.  Andrea has a beautiful back too.  Remember the cover photo on her What Is Love? CD?  Yours is better.  She was a little too thin back then, but incredibly elegant… and sexy.  Looking at your back is getting me aroused.”

“Stop looking at it then.”

“I can’t.  Rodin also knew about backs.  I wish I could sculpt… or paint.  I’d want you to model for me.  Reminds me of someone I knew a long time ago.”

“An old girlfriend?”

“My first woman, actually.”

“A bar girl no doubt, in some Asian port?”

“No, she was an American and it was the summer before I went into the Navy.  I was twenty-one and she was… well, I’m not exactly sure how old she was… a little younger than you… maybe 38 or 39.  I was fishing out of Morgan City, Louisiana…”

“You fished commercially?”

“Un-huh, every summer from fifteen onward, usually out of Port Arthur, Texas, except that year.  My uncle owned a pair of trawlers set up for shrimping.  That’s how I earned money for college.”

“Where is Morgan City?”

“On the Atchafalaya River about… oh, say, seventy miles southwest of New Orleans.”

“What was this woman like?  Surely not like me.”

Au contraire; very much like you; dark hair, dark eyes, a take no prisoners attitude and sexy as all get out.  She had an ass to die for too.  Cajun French and weren’t they originally from French Canada?”

“Yes, I believe they were.”

“Her name was Jessie and she worked at a waterfront dive where I ate most of my meals.  She was married to one of the men I crewed with but that summer he was out in the gulf on a drilling rig.  She followed him from Texas to Louisiana when my uncle moved the boats.  That’s how I knew who she was.  We… well, what can I say… the chemistry was good.  She taught me a lot.  Every young guy should have an older woman, at least once, to teach him how to love a woman.”

“A one night stand?”

Tyne thought for a moment and then said, “Five months… except, he came back every four weeks or so.”

“What about your rule?”

“I didn’t have it then.  I would have broken it in a heartbeat.  In the evening when we unloaded the shrimp Jessie would walk down to the boat to watch.  She wore dresses like the one you’re wearing… even more revealing; shear, clingy fabrics with next to nothing underneath.  When she walked, so elegant, with so much style, the wind would make the fabric cling to her thighs.  She took my breadth away… just like you do.”

“Was Jessie a fifteen-minute girl?”

“Even better; Jessie’s motor never quit.”

“That must have been exhausting for you.”

“It would have been had she not taught me to be an oral guy.  Of course, once I tried it I found I liked it as much as she.”

“Were you in love with her… or was it just sex?”

“Yes, I was… and at your age, if you don’t know the difference I doubt I can explain it to you.”

“I know the difference.”

“You don’t mind me complimenting your back, do you?  I mean, the way we left it last night, I wasn’t sure whether you ever wanted to see me again, much less hear me say anything nice about your body.”

“Hey, I’ve already pegged you as a stinker so don’t confuse me by pretending you can be a sweet man.”

“I am a sweet man, or I can be given a little encouragement.  I don’t have a mean bone in my body… I’m not vindictive… I don’t hold grudges… I don’t fight dirty and I really do enjoy the company of smart women, even those that are smarter than me… especially those that are smarter than me.  And I’ll tell you something else… I wish I had never said what I said last night that got you so mad.”

“Un-huh, well… thank you for the roses and that lovely vase… those certainly were sweet gestures.  I was hoping you would stop by and for the last ten minutes I’ve been staring at your legs.”

“What roses?”

“The red roses you gave me, one Friday night and another Saturday.  Giving them one at a time like that is very romantic.  I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.”

“Must have been another of your secret admirers.”

“Un-huh, well… if you say so.”

“Looking for my scars?”

“Yes, I suppose, but I can’t stop ogling your legs.  They’re beautiful.”

“A man’s legs are not beautiful; strong, possibly, hairy, usually, but beautiful, never.  Only women’s legs can be said to be beautiful.”

“Yours are.”

“Well, at least there’s one thing about me you like.”

“I like the way you play the piano… and the harmonica.  Isn’t that enough?”

“Not hardly.”

“Well, you could always try harder.”

“You said my fingering was inefficient…”

“Only for a certain type of passage.”

“You also said I wasn’t worth working with, to become more efficient.”

“No, that’s not what I said. I said it probably wasn’t worth your time to unlearn what you do well and learn a different technique that only someone with my training could hear. I’m a perfectionist and by listening and watching your hands I could see your fingering wasn’t the result of professional training. Contrast that with what I think you do quite well. I hesitate to say this because your head is fat enough as it is… but… okay, here’s what I really think.

“The standard keyboard has eleven octaves. Most amateurs use no more than six.  They might as well use a smaller keyboard. You consistently use nine and sometimes all eleven. I’ve also noticed that you play the dramatic passages one octave higher than is in the standard score. You also have a subtle sense of when to vary both the volume and the tempo. I think those qualities define your unique style and unlike many talented amateurs that stink it up by adding those Liberace flourishes at the end of each passage, you play the music as it was written. He could get away with playing that way, because that was his style. For others that do that it’s just so much phony-baloney.”

Finally, some concrete, constructive feedback, he thought; it was like pulling teeth to get it. I asked several times in several different ways and each time she ducked the question. But… it was well worth waiting for. “Doesn’t trying harder imply we have to spend time together? Aren’t you going to Seattle?”

“That’s the plan.”

“If you go it will be without me.  What do I have to do to get you to change your mind?”

She looked away for a moment but when she looked back it was if she had not heard his question.  “I’m curious about something; when you were in Vietnam, did you know what was going on back home?”

“Why do we keep coming back to this subject?  Haven’t we beat it to death?”

“Because until I get it and you straight in my head, it’s the thing that will either drive us apart or pull us together.  Please answer my question.”

“You mean the anti-war movement?”

“Un-huh.”

“No, while I was overseas I was too busy trying to stay alive to pay attention to what was happening on the campuses.  But I did know, in general, because during my service I spent more time stationed in the U.S. than I did over there.”

“Where were you stationed?”

“After boot camp in San Diego I did my OCS, eighteen weeks, at Newport, Rhode Island… then D.C. for Vietnamese language training, another 37 weeks, and six… no, seven months in California, at Coronado and Mare Island.  I spent all of ‘69 back in D.C. at intelligence officer school, so I knew what was happening.  I thought most of it was pretty self-serving, mostly draft resistance rather than war resistance.  I know you understand the distinction since you said it was what repelled you about American draft evaders in Montreal.

“All that changed in the summer of ’71 when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers.  That was really the beginning of my journey.  By then I knew we were losing the war, particularly after Tet; that Vietnamization wasn’t working, but until I read those articles I still believed in the mission.  I was still ignorant about colonialism in general and the French experience in Indochina in particular and at first I believed Ellsberg was a traitor.  It wasn’t until much later, in the early eighties, when some decent critical histories and analysis were published that I came to understand that the entire enterprise had been wrong.”

“Was there any one book that more than any other helped you to reach that conclusion, or was it cumulative?”

“What an interesting question.”  Tyne had to think for a moment about all the books he’d read about the war.  Finally he said, “You should understand something; during most of the 70s I didn’t want to read anything about the war.  I just wanted to forget the whole thing, especially my part in it.  It wasn’t until the 80s that I got interested and then only because of all the nonsense coming out of the Reagan administration.

“One book isn’t enough although Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly comes close.  The other book that really moved me was Frances FitzGerald’s Fire In The Lake.  I wept when I read that book.”

“Why those two?”

“Because they both treat our involvement as a continuation of the failed French experience.  They were two sides of the same coin.  Too many authors consider what happened before Geneva and what happened after as two unrelated scenarios.  The only way to understand the Vietnam War is to treat it as one thirty-year continuum.  The faces of the soldiers changed but it was the same war, with the same flawed policies.

“The thing is, now that thirty years have passed, at least since my time, there are lots of good books being published, based on material only recently made public.  What makes FitzGerald’s book so compelling is she published it in 1972.  After returning from Vietnam in ’66 she studied under Paul Mus at Yale and much of what she wrote in Lake she learned from him.  I wish I could read French better than I do.  If I could I’d read his Viêt Nam: Sociologie d’une guerre.  I think had I read that book in college I’d have been in the streets with you.  I did read his later work in English, The Vietnamese and Their Revolution, written with his grad student John McAlister and published in 1970 but the book in French was available before I went into the Navy.  I’d like to think it would have changed the course of my life.

“Another good book is Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History.  How many is that; I’ve lost track.”

“Five.”

“Yeah, well it’s a big subject.  Oh, and four on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident: Goulden’s Truth Is The First Casualty; Austin’s The President’s War; Moïse’s Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War and Hanyok’s article, Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964.  Those four are must-reads since the incident that laid the foundation for the bombing was a lie.”

“You just walk around with all those titles in your head?”

“Well, as you said last night… it was my war and my defining moment and when it really counted… I failed to measure up.  I’ve made it my business to try to understand why.  I’ve even written a short story about the incident that builds on the Hanyok material.”

“By not measure up, you mean because you failed to complete your third tour, and you gamed the system to avoid orders that would have sent you back?”

“No, by not resisting, by lending myself to the killing machine… being a willing part of the killing machine… at least until ’71, and even then, I was motivated by cowardice, not a conviction that the war was wrong.  For anyone with a brain to learn, who considers himself to be a humane person, the only appropriate behavior in ’65 would have been to refuse to serve and take the consequences.  That doesn’t mean hiding in Canada or behind a deferment.  It means refusing induction.  I wish I had.  I’ll go to my grave wishing I had.”

They walked in silence along the river for several moments and then she said; “What’s your short story about?”

“The title is: When Devil’s Advocacy Fails… Bad Things Happen.  It’s a work of historical fiction – a melodramatic rendering of the incident as seen through the eyes of two American intelligence officers, one of whom has access to secret radio messages between naval units, both ashore and afloat, of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.  Hanyok documents how NSA doctored intercepts to allow McNamara to get congress to approve the resolution.  He does not name names or say how they did it, only that they did… so, I wrote a fictional account of how it could have been done.  So far I haven’t been able to get anyone to publish it.

“That, by the way, was my sixty-second elevator pitch.”

“When did you write it?”

“This past winter… when the weather made doing anything outside pretty unpleasant.”

“May I read it?”

He thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, if you stay in Bend and try to make your act work with me.”

“Always a quid pro quo, with you, isn’t there?”

He shrugged and said, “I don’t have much leverage with you so I have to use what little I do have.”

“You didn’t answer my question; which book, of all those you’ve read made the greatest impact?”

“I suppose if you held my feet to the fire and insisted on only one it would be FitzGerald’s.  It, better than any other tells how we destroyed a country and its culture.  It’s pretty heavy going so it’s probably not the best book to give an eighteen year old either contemplating enlisting in the military or applying to one of the service academies.  For that I’d recommend Tuchman.”

“Have you done that… counseled a young person considering military service?”

“As a matter of fact I have.  My neighbors in Grant County have a sixteen year old, borderline juvenile delinquent.  They’ve asked me to help steer him into the Navy.  I refused.  Instead, I gave him a copy of Tuchman and I’ve answered some of his questions.  Truth be told, he’s more interested in what life is like in the service.  Just as the adults in his family, he doesn’t want to hear about all the stupid things we did three decades ago.  If we did them they can’t possibly be stupid, that sort of thing.  I think it’s a losing effort on my part.”

“At least you tried.”

“I suppose you’ve read those books?”

“I haven’t read Karnow, and of the last four you mentioned, on Tonkin Gulf, only Austin.  It was Mus’s book that got me interested in the movement.  You said FitzGerald was heavy going, try reading Mus at fifteen.  When I got stuck Mama helped me over the rough spots.”

“You were lucky… to have a mama like that.  Mine died when I was fifteen.”

“Well, even though you can be a real shit… and scars or no scars, I still think your legs are beautiful… but I want to read your goddamn story.  It might be helpful reading something you wrote before you began stalking me, but it remains to be seen whether we will work together.”

“You know I’m not a stalker and I like your legs too, what I’ve seen of them.  And your back, I’ve seen a bit more of it and it is truly beautiful.  And let’s not forget your titties, they feel so good…”

“Pig.  I don’t like anyone to put his hands on me unless I want him to.  I’ll probably regret this but I’m willing to forget what happened last night; it’s history, but if it ever happens again… And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll avoid saying anything about my breasts.”

“Well, now that we know you’re a leg girl, what did you want to talk about?”  He finished his food and dropped the paper plates in a waste container.

They sat in the shade of a juniper on a bench facing the river and she said, “First, I have a bone to pick with you, and those roses you didn’t give me don’t buy you a pass.  I didn’t know whether I would ever see you again.  I thought I’d just have to bite my tongue and choke it down but since you’re here, I intend to have another go at you, because of what you did.”

“What did I do?”

“You gave your tips to Carla to distribute to the servers.”

Catherine was still wearing her sunglasses. He could not see her eyes so he said, gesturing with his fingers, “Do you mind losing the sunglasses so I can see your eyes?”

She shook her head, made an annoyed clicking sound with her lips and pushed the glasses into her hair. “Better?”

He nodded and said, “What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with that; I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that?  We’ve been fighting over two hundred and fifty fucking dollars and on your first night you gave away seventy dollars in tips.  With a little advice from me, in three nights you could easily earn more than that amount in tips and with the five hundred I’m willing to pay you, you’d have more than the fucking seven-fifty you insist you must have to work with me.  You asshole.  You arrogant, fucking asshole; why did you do that?”

“I don’t play for tips.”

“What did you say?”

“I said… I don’t play for tips.”

She slapped him, hard, with her open hand just below his left cheekbone.  It stung and his eyes watered.  He was wearing contact lenses and for a moment he thought he’d lost one of them but when the tears cleared from his eyes he could still see clearly.  The inside of his cheek was cut from his teeth and he could taste blood in his mouth.

“Take it easy; you’ve got a wallop and I almost lost one of my lenses.”

“You deserve it for what you put me through.  I did everything but grovel to Larry to try to get you that two-fifty and you gave it away to the servers.  Don’t you know that tips are part of a musician’s compensation?  Don’t you know you were offered five hundred plus tips?  Don’t you know that?”

“No, I didn’t know that.  Remember, I’m not really a professional.”

“What did you do with the tips in Chicago?”

“I gave them to the servers.”

She was so mad she almost slapped him again; she didn’t but she was furious, and then she started to cry.  She wrapped her arms around her chest and rocked forward and back and cried silently.  Tyne could see tears running down her cheeks and he reached to embrace her and she lashed out with her arm, pointing at him with an accusing finger and said, “Don’t touch me.  You asshole, I don’t want you to touch me.  Just sit there for a moment and keep still until I get through this.”

In a moment the fury subsided and the sobbing stopped and she wiped her eyes with the heels of her palms.  She had moved away from him after the slap and now she moved closer and gently, with the tips of two fingers, touched the place where she had struck him.  “Does that hurt?”

“Yes it does.”

“Good.  Do you think you’ll live?”

“Probably, why do you care?”

“Because asshole, the second thing I wanted to talk to you about is a way for you to have that fucking amount you say you just have to have to work with me.”

“What about the tips?”

“We’ll come back to that in a moment.  That story you told me about that hotel in Chicago gave me an idea.  I live in a condo on NE 8th Street in Bend.  It has two bedrooms and two baths and one bedroom is set up as a guest room with a double bed.  It’s very nicely furnished, not the way a man would furnish it, but nice.  You are welcome to use my guest room when you come to Bend to play with me if you accept my conditions.

“I checked with La Quinta Inn, which is a much better motel than that rat-trap you stayed in, and learned that the best room they have goes for eighty bucks a night.  My guest bedroom is at least as good as any motel room so I figure three nights at my place are worth two-forty.  I won’t cook for you but you can cook breakfast for yourself and that ought to be worth at least ten bucks each trip in out-of-pocket expenses.  So, if my math is correct, and I’m sure you have already done the calculations in your head, you now have an offer of employment that matches your requirements.  Are you interested?”

“That rat-trap is clean, safe, cheap and pet friendly and I sometimes travel with a dog.”

“I assume your dog is house broke?”

“Yes, he’s a seven-year-old Airedale.”

“Neutered?”

“Of course.”

“How is he with cats?”

“He loves cats and has two of his own.”

“I like dogs so he’s welcome too, if you’ll be responsible for any damage he causes.”

“You told me fuck you last night, and my horse too, and you still want me to play for you?”

“I called you a fucking asshole too and you are one but yes, I still want you to work with me.”

“Why… and what about Jordie’s?”

“I told you last night.  Every man I meet in this business expects me to put out… even you.  That’s why I’m so pissed at you.  I was beginning to think you were different and then I come to find out you’re just like all the rest.  Because I’ve always said no, my career has gone nowhere.  The only real success I’ve had was at Syracuse U., where I was a member of the Musical Actor’s Workshop.  My ex-husband formed MAW when he was on Syracuse’s faculty.  Thankfully, Di Giorgio’s has been free of that bullshit – Larry is very happily married and though incredibly cheap, in that respect is a joy to work for.  And the guy who owns Jordie’s is gay.  What’s nice about both is I don’t have to peddle my ass to work.”

“May I say something?”

“Go ahead.”

“I know you aren’t going to believe this but I’m going to say it anyway.  I’ll say it just once and I’ll never mention it again.  What you just said, about being expected to put out to get a part; our mutual friend, who will continue to remain nameless, told me that about you.  That your career could be much further ahead if you had been willing to compromise on that issue.  Forgive me for being incredibly stupid but I was testing you, sort of like you tested me when you asked me to apologize to Gaby.  I know doing it destroyed what little credibility I had with you but I couldn’t stop myself.  I had to find out how far you would go to get what you want.  I learned what I wanted to learn but it was costly.  A lot more than I bargained for.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

He took a deep breadth, held it for a beat or two and then let it out.  “What are these conditions?”

“Catherine’s rules.”

“Okay, what are Catherine’s rules?”

“For now there are only two but I may think of more and when I do you will be the first to hear.”

“I’m still waiting to hear what they are?”

“First, whether my bedroom door is open or closed, locked or unlocked, it is off limits to you.  What I’m proposing is a straight business proposition, nothing more.  I’m not inviting you into my bedroom and you must acknowledge that from the very start.  You must agree in advance, right now, right this instant, that you understand what I’m saying and you agree to abide by that rule.”

“May I ask why?”

“For three perfectly good reasons; first, I don’t like you very much.  You are not someone I care to have a sexual relationship with.  Second, you hurt me, terribly, last night when you proposed that I become your whore.  I’m not sure I can forgive you for that, ever.  It doesn’t change my opinion…”

“Excuse please?” for some obscure reason he was thinking of Charlie Chan when he said it.

She glared at him and said, “Yes, what is it?”

“Last night you said you would never, ever forgive me for calling you a whore.  Now you’re saying you’re not sure you can forgive me.  Which is it?”

She shook her head in exasperation and said, “A distinction without a difference.”

“An English translation would be helpful.  Is there one available?”

She let a couple of beats pass to hold her temper in check and to think of something that would wipe the smirk off his face, and then said, “Do you remember the line in Dr. Strangelove, when General Turgidson says to President Merkin Muffley: our hopes of being able to recall the planes are rapidly being reduced to a very low order of probability?”

“Sounds vaguely familiar.”

“Or I’ll do you one better.  A math nerd like you will appreciate this one, the first derivative of maybe: As the rate of change of yes approaches zero, the rate of change of maybe approaches its limit, otherwise known as no.  Do you get my meaning, baby?”

“Did you study calculus at McGill?”

“No, I studied music and history at McGill.”

“Then where?  The limit of d-maybe over d-yes equals no: pretty fuckin’ clever analogy.”

“In high school.  What, you think there’s something inferior about education in Canada?”

“No, quite the opposite.  You learned shit at fifteen I didn’t learn until I was a grown man.”

“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, the abominable way you treated me doesn’t alter my opinion of how well you play the piano but it does make me hate you, yes hate you.  Up until then we were just having a heated difference of opinion but when you made that cynical offer to work for free if I let you fuck me, I loathed you.”

He waited for her to continue and when she didn’t he said, “And the third reason?”

“The third reason?”

“You said there were three reasons why your bedroom was off limits but you only told me two.”

She shook her head again and said, “Asshole nerd.  The third reason is obvious; I’m sleeping with Mr. V.”

“Surely not while I’m staying in your guest room?  You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”

“No, and I wouldn’t do it to him either.  When you are in town and staying with me he won’t visit me.  When I see him, usually on my days off, you will be elsewhere so your paths should never cross.”

“Are you going to tell him about this arrangement?”

“Of course.”

“And that will be okay with him?”

“He’s not like you.  You’re smarter than he is, and you have nicer legs and you’re probably stronger and he doesn’t play the piano but that’s where your superiority ends.  He is kind and gentle while you’re arrogant and abrasive.  And as I told you last night, he’s younger than you and very well endowed.  Oh not muscular and strong like you; he’s lean and very slender but well endowed where it matters to me, what he has between his legs.”

“Catherine, I told you the other night that if there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that we would become lovers you would never see me again.  Do you remember me saying that?”

“Of course I do.  It was memorable.”

“Why are you proposing that I work with you if you’re committed to this man?  You must know that the only reason I’m interested in this gig is to be close to you?  I want you and if I have to play the piano for you to have you, I will.  If that isn’t going to happen, then I’m not interested in working with you.”

“Michael, you are so predictable,” as she shook her head.  “I thought you’d say something like that.  If you want to try to rehabilitate yourself in my eyes, knock yourself out.  I won’t make you any promises but convince me I’m wrong about you and I’ll be your biggest fan but keep doing what you’ve been doing and it will be a very short association.”

“Okay, but I need something from you.”  When she started to protest, her face distorted in anger, he held up his hand to restrain her and said, “No, not sex.  You’ve made yourself perfectly clear in that regard.”

“Okay, what then?”

“Would you catch me if I were falling… or would you call for the clowns?”

She blinked several times and looked puzzled but no longer angry. “Meaning what, exactly?”

“Catherine, enough is enough. The war’s been over for almost thirty years. No one cares…”

“I do.”

“Okay, present company excepted. I wasn’t going to tell you any of this… it sounds like whining but you leave me no choice. You ready for this? It will give you a good laugh.”

The sudden flood of adrenaline was near instantaneous. His stomach knotted and he felt the heat from his chest rising up his neck, face and ears. Just for an instant he wondered if this is what the onset of a heart attack felt like. The feeling of near-panic anxiety was almost overpowering. He knew if he was going to keep seeing this woman he had to convince her to stop tearing the scab off wounds he thought had healed. If she would not, he’d have to stop seeing her or risk regressing into the depression that almost cost him his life. He wanted nothing more than to run away and it took all his self-control to maintain eye contact.

He waited for her consent to continue. When she nodded he said, “For years I had recurring nightmares, the same two. I told you about one…”

“The girl on the sampan?”

“Yeah. The other one I don’t want to talk about. Anyway… somewhere in the mid eighties I got some help… and I did what this shrink suggested I do and they stopped. I haven’t had either since… except last night one of my friends was back. Probably because of all the talk we did this weekend. You said I deserved my nightmares and I probably do but…”

“What did you do… to stop them?”

“I wrote a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations and returned all of my awards. At least I think that’s what stopped them. I can’t remember having either after I mailed that package.”

“Your medals…?”

“Ribbons, medals, citations… everything… even my dog tags. So… if we are to work together I need you to put a sock in it. I’ve answered all your questions, as honestly as I’m capable of, and now I want you to drop it. Can you do that? Because if you can’t… I’m out of here whether you offer sex or not.”

“And you signed your name to this letter?”

“Of course, that was the whole point.”

“I don’t suppose you’d let me read it?”

“You’d be the first. If I ever do you’ll know I trust you, completely.”

“If you permit me to read your short story I may have questions. I may want to discuss it.”

“In the context of the short story or in general, yes, but not my role in it.”

She didn’t answer directly.  Instead, she said, “Okay, your position, if I understand it correctly, is that your government’s policy was wrong and you were wrong for fighting what you thought was the good fight.  Now you know better and if you had it to do again you’d be a refusenik.  Is that an accurate depiction of your position?”

“It’s oversimplified, but yes.”

“And you put all that in this letter… to the Chief of Naval Operations? Is he the man at the top?”

“Yes, he’s the big dog and yes, I made it clear why I was returning those awards.”

“If that’s true… have you ever considered leaving this country?  Moving to one that doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others?”

“Yes, I have.  My Spanish is adequate so Spain is an option.  So is France although my French needs work…”

“Trust me, your French needs lots of work.”

“Yes, well… the French are meddlers too, although not as bad as us.  My mother’s family is from the Aran Islands.  I’ve visited them and I think I could be happy in Ireland… the Republic, not Northern Ireland.  I’ve also considered Canada… either the Maritime Provinces or B.C.”

“Why British Columbia?”

“The best weather in Canada is on the west side of the Strait of Georgia.”

“But not Quebec?”

“Well, Quebec City… or points east but not Montreal.”

“Why not Montreal?”

“I like living near water but I’d rather be on the gulf than on the river.  Also, I prefer smaller to larger.”

“And you’ve visited all these places?”

“Un-huh.”

Put a sock in it; I just love that expression, it is so you. If someone asked me to describe you I’d say: picture a man who tells the woman he’s trying to seduce to put a sock in it.”

“Well, you’re not likely to forget this conversation, are you? I mean… it’s a pretty big issue between us… perhaps the biggest.”

“I’m sorry I made that crack about you deserving your nightmares. I don’t wish that on anyone.”

“Not even an FMP?”

“You’re not an FMP.”

She fixed her eyes on his and said, “There’s only one question I still have that you haven’t answered.”

“I can’t imagine what that can be.”

Still looking intently in his eyes she said, “Why you voluntarily gave up a 2-S deferment. Will you answer me that… in words a six year old would understand?”

“It’s not a pretty story.”

“Makes you look like a shit, right?”

“Yes, it does. If I answer, will you give the entire subject a rest?”

“Probably.”

“Probably? Is that the best you can do?”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

It took him a moment to gather his thoughts and then he told her the story. “NMU kicked me out. I got into trouble with a girl…”

“You got one of your girlfriends pregnant?”

“That’s what she said… but it wasn’t true. She was pregnant but not by me.”

“And you know that how?”

“Because I didn’t ejaculate.”

Catherine laughed and said, “Is that anything like: I didn’t inhale? Because if it is, it makes you look like a stupid shit.”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

She shook her head and it took a moment for her to lose the smirk, but finally she said, “Sorry, please continue.”

“All during my tenure at NMU, except during football season, I worked part-time for a marine salvage company based at Marquette. They had four diesel tugs and since I know a lot about marine diesels, I did some of the maintenance… the kind that can be done with the boat in the water. In the spring of my junior year, after I turned twenty-one I received my Merchant Marine able seaman’s certificate. Technically I’d been an apprentice AB from the age of fifteen, crewing for my uncle. So that spring, after ice-out, I also worked as a deck hand on one of the tugs. In June, the first week, just before I left Marquette for Louisiana my pals threw a going away party at our hangout. There was a lot of drinking and four of us had sex with one of the bar girls, Ms. Round Heels of the Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t actually drunk but I was feeling no pain… you have to understand what a macho environment marine salvage is. So when it was my turn to fuck her… her name was Angie Davenport… and she just happened to be the sister of one of the guys, I went through the motions. I couldn’t turn Angie down without looking like a total wimp. I could get it up, with a little help from Angie, but I knew I couldn’t come, so… I faked it. They say alcohol is a stimulant but for me it’s always been a depressant. Makes your penis numb… or it does mine, so that you can’t feel anything.

“I gave a pretty good rendition of a man in the throes of passion humping the sexiest, most desirable woman in the Upper Peninsula. Certainly worthy of a porn academy award. All my pals cheered and applauded and even Angie looked pleased.

“So, a month later I get a letter, care of my uncle… I always gave out his address as my summer mailing address just in case anyone at NMU or Marquette needed to contact me. The letter is from the brother telling me that Angie is pregnant and she swears I’m the daddy. According to her, the other three guys who fucked her that night all wore condoms. I was the only one who didn’t. Funny thing about Earl, the brother; had he been there I think he would have fucked her too.

“Well, to make a long story short, I refused to do right by Angie. I knew I wasn’t the father of her brat and I wasn’t about to get sucked into a marriage of convenience, no matter how much Earl threatened to pound my ass into putty. He went to NMU and asserted that I was the father of Angie’s still in utero kid and accused me of abandoning my paternal responsibilities. NMU thought so too, especially the athletic director. He threatened to revoke my scholarship, have me suspended from classes unless I married the girl. I refused. So, the U terminated all financial support, suspended me and had me charged with moral turpitude, a misdemeanor in Michigan punishable by up to a year in prison. If I returned to Michigan within the statute of limitations period, three years, I would certainly have been prosecuted. So, I stayed in Louisiana and fished for my uncle until I received my induction notice. I was not about to serve in either the Army or the Marine Corps… at that time the Corps was drafting too, so I returned to Chicago and enlisted in the Navy. My uncle counseled me what to say, how to negotiate with the recruiters so that I got into OCS and also into the post-OCS program that I wanted. The rest is history… except I had blood drawn and frozen and my uncle used it to prove I wasn’t the father of Angie’s baby… but of course, by then I was already in the Navy.”

“Who was the father?”

“I have no idea. It could have been any one of at least a dozen guys several of whom were like me, on the NMU football team. They boasted about what an easy lay Angie was. She was a very popular girl.”

“A coed?”

“No, a townie.”

“Had you been with Angie before the party?”

“No, that was my one and only time.”

“Were you aware that you could have gotten a 3-A deferment had you taken responsibility for the kid? You wouldn’t even have had to marry the girl, just owned up to being the father?”

“A Kennedy father. Yeah, I knew about it but I wasn’t about to let Earl blackmail me into marrying his slutty sister. She would never have been faithful to me… nor I to her.”

She studied his face for any hint of his usual arrogance and finally said, “Okay, I learned what I wanted to learn. I’ll leave it alone.”

“But you haven’t answered my question so I’ll ask it again.  Why are you willing to have anything to do with me if you’re committed to him?”

“It’s really quite simple.  I need you.  You’re my ticket to something better than either Di Giorgio’s or Jordie’s.  As Gaby put it to me, surely you know how to put someone like him in a box and keep him doing what you want him to do?  Of course, she added a typical Gaby-ism that doesn’t apply to us: after all, he’s just a stupid man and any man can be led around by his cock.  Well, I don’t intend to manipulate you or any other man that way.  That’s not my style.  What I want is an extended gig playing with you at Di Giorgio’s.  By the time you figure out that you aren’t going to get what you want, I’ll have gotten what I want and moved on.”

“Well, that’s clear enough.”

“The second rule is that I don’t care what you do or whom you fuck but you can’t do it in my home.  You may not bring any of your groupies to the condo.  Go to a motel or go home with them but keep them away from me.  And I don’t want to hear about them – this Isabel person or any new ones you meet… or whatever you do with Sharon.  Keep the details of your conquests to yourself.

“So, there it is; take it or leave it.”

“Do you want to know why I made such a big deal about the two hundred and fifty bucks?”

“Not especially.  It’s over now and is no longer relevant.”

“What about the tips?  You said you weren’t finished discussing them.”

“I want you to tell Carla that you’ve changed your mind and intend to keep them.”

“Anything else?”

“Nope, that’s the deal, except what was all that about with Lydia; about trusting me and being extra, extra careful, and Lydia knowing that your ex-wife is worried about you?”

“That’s not part of the deal.  That’s not part of Catherine’s rules.”

“I could make it part of Catherine’s rules.  I can change Catherine’s rules any time I wish and you will honor them, or you can just disappear.  In fact, that’s what will happen if you break any of Catherine’s rules and if you do, you will not get a second chance, ever.”

“Why would any self-respecting man agree to this?  What makes you think I want you bad enough to put up with all this?  As you have so often pointed out, I could easily have Sharon Robinette and if… no when I take over happy hour the job’s fringe benefits are likely to be extensive.  Getting piano groupies into the sack is child’s play.”

“At this point I don’t really know what you want from me, other than the obvious, but this is all your doing and I’m betting that you have enough pride and self respect that you want to make it right between us.  You probably won’t succeed, because you’ve already done too much damage, but I think you will want to try.  If I’m wrong, well, I never expected to see you again so having this discussion doesn’t cost me anything more than the price I’ve already paid.”

“This is no longer the simple thing it once was.  You’ve made it very complicated and I want to think about what you’re proposing before I give you my answer.”

“Please don’t take too long?  If your answer is yes Larry will want to start promoting our act.”

“Do you and Thorpe have some idea how long this gig will run?”

“Excellent question and I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear.  Two four-week engagements with one week off in between are what we’ve agreed to, starting Friday.”

From his wallet Tyne removed a plastic pocket calendar six months of 1999 on each side.  “So, eight total weeks the last day the twelfth of September?  Is that correct?”

“Let me see?”

He handed her the calendar and she confirmed the end date.

“I can do that except I have another commitment the weekend of August 7-8.”

She looked again at the calendar and said, “Okay, let’s divide the two gigs into three and five weeks?  Will that work?”

“What about Thorpe?”

“Let me worry about him.”

“May I have until tomorrow?”

“Yes.  Tomorrow is the only day off I will have this week so I can delay informing Larry until Wednesday.”

“Are you going to see Mr. V. tomorrow, or tonight?”

“Michael, I just made up a new rule.  No more questions about Mr. V.”

“Okay, give me a phone number where I can reach you and I’ll call you tomorrow evening after dinner?”

“I don’t have anything to write with.”

Tyne took out one of his High Desert Produce business cards and offered her a pen.  She wrote down several numbers and said, “The first is my cell and the second is the phone at the condo.  Both have voice mail.”

“Do you have a preference which one I use?”

“Please use the condo phone in the evening so that you don’t get voice mail just because I’m recharging the battery.”

“Okay, I’ll think this through and we’ll talk some more tomorrow.”

“Good, now I have to get back to work.  Try Tres Amigos or the Ranchero, both are excellent.”

She began walking back to Di Giorgio’s booth.  Tyne remained sitting on the bench and watched her and marveled at the graceful way she walked, head high, back and shoulders straight, hips swaying gently but not suggestively.  Her calf muscles and her buttocks flexed with each step she took and thirty yards from the booth she broke into an easy run.  Tyne thought she ran like a trained athlete, a sprinter or the soccer player she said she once was.  She’d also said she was a dancer and taught aerobics so that could explain the easy way she moved, not clumsily with toes splayed outward as most women did who did not run from choice.  He would suggest they run together, he mused, that is, if he accepted her offer.

He waited until she entered the booth and then he began walking back towards the tent.  To avoid walking past her booth he cut across the lawn to the curved path where other restaurants had erected their booths and wandered amongst them until he found Tres Amigos, a restaurant that had only recently opened.  He chose enchiladas and was presented with two, cheese and chicken.  He tried them both and Catherine was right, they were excellent.

He wandered back towards the tent but was distracted by the fleeting images of Catherine working her steam tables as seen through the open-air venue of the booths.  He discovered that he had lost his appetite and discarded the partially uneaten enchiladas, and at that moment he could see no further reason for remaining in Bend.  He walked back to Di Giorgio’s booth and asked Lydia to make up a beef sandwich to go.  He would reheat it, he told her, in his microwave when he got home so she put the gravy in a small plastic container so that the roll would remain crisp.  Catherine watched him but said nothing.

Lydia double-wrapped the sandwich in waxed paper and then bagged it and he hugged her and gave her a friendly pat on the ass.  “Oh my,” she said, “If I were just a few years younger, what I would do to you.”

He stepped close to Catherine and without touching her, whispered in her ear.  “You are not a whore; you could never be a whore and I could never think of you as a whore.  Not in this lifetime, any previous lifetime or the next.”

He immediately began walking briskly away and she said, “Drive carefully.”  He waved without looking back.  She watching him go, until he disappeared inside the big tent.  Then she said, “Why did you tell Michael to be extra, extra careful?  Is he in some sort of danger?”

“Didn’t he tell you?”

“We’ve talked about a lot of things but nothing like that.”

“Well, if he didn’t tell you, then he must not want you to know.”

“Know what?”

“I can’t discuss it with you.”

“Why not?”

“Because if he wanted you to know he would have told you.  You’ll just have to wait until he trusts you.”

Catherine stared at the older woman with a puzzled frown on her face.  Lydia smiled and said, “When he thinks you should know he’ll tell you and if he doesn’t, then that means he doesn’t think you should know and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Does cunnilingus trump infidelity?

Years ago North American elk, or wapiti (Cervus canadensis), were hunted in the American west and Canada during the rut. For those innocents in the class that don’t know what the rut is, it’s that time of year when the bulls are humping the cows. The time of estrus when cow elk hormones are at their peak and bull elk are their stupidest. A mature bull of eight winters or so in his prime can manage a harem of eight to ten but it’s not easy. There are always wannabes trying to steal one or all members of his string, so the bulls fight to hang on to what they’ve acquired.

To announce his intentions a bull elk bugles. He raises his nose to the sky so his antlers almost touch or straddle his back, expands his chest and emits a long, shrill, piercing challenge song that echoes and reverberates through the high country. It’s a sound like no other in nature. It makes the hair stand on the back of your neck, something I try to do with my writing. Once you’ve heard it, it’s unforgettable. The bull is saying to one and all, cows and bulls alike, I’m the biggest, baddest stud in the forest and together we’ll make nice little elk babies… or; to the bulls, I’m gonna take away all you have and all you’ll ever have. Meet me in that high meadow and I’ll clean your plow.  They’re easy to kill during the rut, or let’s say relatively easy to kill since no elk is easy to hunt, because men, always looking for an edge, make reed flutes that with practice can mimic the bull elk’s bugle. That was once considered the epitome of sport hunting – to bugle a bull into shooting range.

Over the years a great many magnificent bulls, six points per branch, the tips white and nearly translucent, were killed, mostly for sport since the meat of a bull shot during or towards the end of the rut is dry, malodorous and stringy. A spike bull or fat cow makes much better eating, as good as or better than any corn-fattened steer. Genetically these were the best breeding bulls, the ones least desirable to remove from the breeding gene pool. If thinning of the herds was necessary, and once all the wolves were shot out of the west, it was, then young males and cows should have been targeted, just as two-year old steers are sent to slaughter. Eventually, the clueless bureaucratic herd managers got religion and closed the elk-hunting season during the rut.  That made hunting elk, always a difficult proposition even tougher, at least if a big six-pointer was the target of choice.

Thomas and Belesomo Wizard in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

Thomas Docheri and Belesomo Wizard in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon near the entrance to Steamboat Lake, 8,481′ above sea level. Late October snow up to my stirrups.

I’ve been on five pack trips with horses and mules into prime elk country in northeast Oregon, where the only way in or out was by horse or shank’s mare, and have seen exactly one bragging-size bull killed, and not by me. I write a little about these trips in my novels. I had tags and always packed a rifle but mostly I went to wrangle the stock. The bull that was killed; we rode more than five miles from camp and then climbed nearly three thousand vertical feet. Near the top my two compadres dismounted and I led their horses to a prearranged spot miles away while they hunted around the mountain on foot. I spent the day in the pick-up meadow, the horses grazing nearby, and towards late afternoon I heard a single shot. I gathered the horses and rode in the direction of the sound and found my pals with the bull. We butchered it on the spot and it took all three horses to carry the meat, hide and head back to camp. The only elk I’ve killed was a fat cow taken less than a mile from my home when I lived in Oregon’s Ochoco Mountains.

What does this discussion of elk hunting have to do with going down on women? My protagonist in Affirmative Action, Jonathan Tyne, is an oral guy. He believes the proper, frequent and extended use of lips and tongue is the best way to keep his woman from straying. It also makes her extravagantly responsive and demonstrative. He boasts to his inamorata, Catherine Duvall, that once he was with two women, one bi-sexual, and he bet her partner that if she were blindfolded she would not know who was licking her, him or her girl friend. The non-bi thought it was disgusting but her partner thought it would be a kick, so they did it, except the bi and Jonathan played a trick on the other girl. They agreed that only Jonathan would go down, twice. He had shaved very closely so beard rash was not an issue. Afterwards, the girl swore the second experience was her bi partner and better than any man, including him. She was furious when they told her what they had done but eventually saw the humor and admitted how much fun she’d had. She never became bi-sexual but she and Jonathan remained friends.

Where Catherine Duvall is concerned, Jonathan is like a bull elk during the rut. He repeatedly exposes himself to Russian and Italian hit men in order to stay close to Catherine. He knows it’s stupid, that he’s begging to get whacked but he can’t not try to stay close to her: (I know it’s a double negative; it’s intentional). He can no more abandon the unforgettable Catherine than stop breathing, although given the people trying to kill him, that outcome is a distinct possibility. Just like rutting bulls.

Here is some dialogue between them, hopefully, to stimulate a discussion of whether going down, expertly of course, will keep a woman from fooling around. Does Jonathan have his head up his ass? Do I? Enjoy, and please tell me what you think.

Jonathan is telling Catherine why he no longer fools around with married women…

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He paused for a sip of cognac and she said, “Is it possible you were getting even for what happened to you?”

He stared at her for a moment.  A rather perceptive remark, he thought, and then said, “Maybe.  I’ve told myself Madeleine didn’t have sex with the new guy until after she informed me of her decision but that too is pretty naïve.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted you.  Please continue.”

“So, sometime early in ’97, when I had this epiphany and finally got my shit together, I stopped getting it on with married women.  From that point on I mostly added names to my address book.  I didn’t stop playing the game and I won’t until I find Ms. Right but I no longer behave so self-destructively.  Sooner or later someone I’m attracted to that is free to choose and wants an exclusive relationship will sit down at the piano to listen and life will be good again.  And don’t take this the wrong way but tonight is the third time I’ve come back to Di Giorgio’s looking for you.  I saw you for the first time last December.  It was before you were performing because the piano wasn’t in its usual spot and the raised stage was still under construction.  You were the hostess that night too and you seated me in a booth in the front dining room.  I was able to watch you throughout dinner, for almost two hours.  You were wearing a white silk blouse buttoned to the throat, black slacks and black pumps.  You had your hair different then.  It was done in this loose braid and then coiled on the back of your head and to say I was smitten is an understatement.”

“Sorry Michael, I don’t remember you.  We get so many guests that…”

Tyne gestured with his hand, palm outward, waggling his fingers as he interrupted her.  “I thought tonight, when we spoke in the reservations line you recognized me from last December… oh not my name but maybe my face… or perhaps the hair.  I thought I saw something in your eyes.  You know how you see someone for the first time, and your eyes meet, maybe by chance, and there’s something there, like maybe you two know something no one else knows… or you’ve seen each other before?”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize, I quite understand,” finally feeling confident using his Ware pseudonym with this one would be okay.

“My, my, you have quite a memory… what I was wearing, even how I wore my hair.”

“My dear Catherine, you were… are, impossible to forget, especially in those slacks.  You have an ass to die for.  I’ve thought about your ass many times since then.”

“Do you always speak so… frankly?”

“Yes, pretty much; it saves a great deal of time.”

“You said this is the third time you stalked me.  When were the other two times?”

“I’m not stalking you.  I simply…”

“If it’s not stalking, what the hell do you call it?  I don’t know you; perhaps you’re a serial rapist or an axe murderer?”

“That’s nonsense and you know it.  You think Lydia would vouch for me if I weren’t a stand-up guy?  I simply regretted not making more of an effort that first time to get to know you, at least make an attempt to see you again and I was looking for a ring and I can’t recall seeing one.  I was here in March and also in June but if you were here I didn’t see you.  But all that’s behind us now since you aren’t free to choose,” and to make his point unequivocal he touched her wedding ring.  “Are you?”

She ignored the question and pulled her hand away.  Instead she said, “So, is that your story; why someone who plays the piano as well as you do uses it in this childish way; to score piano groupies?”

“Is that what it is about me that gets under your skin?  That I use the piano for sex?”

“That’s one of them, a big one.”

“What else?”

“You’re such an arrogant smartass and I don’t like smartasses.”

“Well kiddo, you’re not exactly a slouch in that department yourself.”

“So if I understand you correctly, you’re just looking for the next Mrs. Ware.  Is that it?”

“I’m not looking for ownership, just exclusivity… for whatever time I have left.”

“You look healthy enough.  Is there something wrong with you?”

“No, I’m in good health but life is fragile and shit happens.”

“Un-huh.  Are we done?”

“Not quite.  Recently I was discussing all this with someone…”

“A groupie?”

“That isn’t the way I thought about her but I suppose to you anyone I meet in a piano bar is a groupie.  Think whatever you like.  This was in California, my most recent trip and the real point of the evening was to celebrate the birthday of a man I’ve known and loved for more than twenty-five years.  She wasn’t exactly my date but my friend’s wife was trying to be helpful and included her in the guest list.  She made a point of introducing us.  Her name is Isabel and when she joined me at the piano I could see the rings.  I played… oh, at least a dozen pieces, mostly for the man, including some Elton John original compositions I learned as a birthday gift for him, but I also played one she requested and I played Alfie with harp augmentation for the first time in public.

“The woman’s…”

“Did the woman know it was your friend’s birthday?”

That was the third time she’d interrupted him, he thought, as he gazed at her face, her eyes so striking as to threaten to make him lose his train of thought.  If he spent any amount of time with this woman he was going to have to find a way to stop her from doing that.  Of course, he’d interrupted her too.  Perhaps they shared that trait in common, as he and Madeleine did; perceiving they knew where the thread of a conversation was going and jumping in to the consternation of the other party.  After Madeleine and he had argued about it for the umpteenth time, he’d made a concerted effort, mostly successful, to rein in his own rude behavior.  This woman seemed to bring out the worst in him.

He stared at her for a full minute with the trace of a smirk on his face, thinking; might as well get in a punch of my own since she’s been wailing on me.  So he said, “You have this annoying habit of interrupting me.”

“You do it too.”

“Yes, I know I do.  It’s a bad habit I’m trying to control.  Maybe we could both work on it, that is, if we’re going to spend any amount of time together?”

“That remains to be seen but I’ll take it under advisement.”

Tyne studied her face for a moment, remembering what the waiter had said: that she wore the ring to keep the hound dogs at bay – wondering whether to believe him.  Perhaps it was something else Charles hadn’t told him, that she really had remarried.  Of course, if Antony and his squeeze Carla had it right, it was a lie. But, it wasn’t a bad lie; not a lie he couldn’t forgive, especially if he could get her to come clean, of her own accord, because she didn’t want to keep him at bay.  He decided it was worth a try.

“You know, I’ve heard it said some couples fight, deliberately, because making up is so much fun.  The sex is off the charts.  I’m thinking we may be like that.”

“We’re not a couple.”

“Yet.”

“Yet, what does yet mean?”

“We’re not a couple, yet.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breadth if I were you.”

“You look like you’re a fifteen-minute girl.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask but what’s a fifteen-minute girl?”

“A girl that craves sex every fifteen minutes.”

“That would take a platoon and I’m not into gangbangs.”

“Only takes one if he knows what he’s doing.”

“And you do?”

“Un-huh.  Best is when a fifteen-minute girl hooks up with an oral guy, especially one that plays the harmonica.  That’s why I know we’re going to be great pals.  We’ll fight a lot, come close to killing each other, probably, but making up will be so good.”

“Is your wife a fifteen minute girl?”

Ex… wife.”

“Whatever.  Is she?”

“Ten, but she’s Spanish and Spanish women are the hottest women on the planet.  Their body temperature’s even a degree or so warmer than the rest of us.”

“And she divorced you because you couldn’t keep up?”

“No, she divorced me because at that moment of existential crisis that all relationships eventually have, I failed her.  What can I say; at times I can be pretty stupid… but the good news is I learned my lesson.”

Her eyes were not only striking, they flashed when she was angry.  He could see she was working overtime to keep her anger in check.  The danger, he knew, was that if she could control her anger she could control him.  Hot and cold, fire and ice; a woman to make a man forget about all other women, he thought.  “Yes, of course she knew it was Jeremy’s birthday even though she knows him only casually.  They both teach at UCB.  As I said, Jeremy’s wife Claire thought the party a good opportunity to introduce the two of us.”

It took her a moment to remember what she’d asked him.  “So she knew something special was going on; not like what you did tonight?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Interesting.  Please continue, but spare me all this fifteen-minute shit.”

“Are you sure?  I mean; oral guy and fifteen-minute girl is one of the primal forces of nature.  It’s not something to ignore.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

He stared at her for a moment, and he could see she was amused as well as angry, so he said, “Jeremy and Claire were holding court at a table with a bunch of his university friends so Isabel and I were alone at the piano, and you know how it’s possible to talk between songs… so we talked.  But I don’t like to waste my time on the married ones so I told her straight out that I don’t fool around with married women.  And for some reason I can’t explain, she told me some rather personal things about her relationship with her husband.  Long story short she said she was separated and was in the process of severing the ties that bind.  She may have been lying, because she was still wearing his rings, but I chose to believe her, possibly because Claire had told me the same thing and she was such a fox – about your age, dark like you, very nice figure, athletic rather than voluptuous, also like you, and smart, a lecturer in history at Berkeley. If she was telling me the truth, and I fully intended to find out, then she was on the rebound, the perfect time, perhaps the only time to catch them; when they’ve just cut one guy loose but before they’ve hooked up with the new guy.”

He paused for couple of beats to see if she’d respond. Talking about catching a woman on the rebound was, he discovered, so provocative it was a rare woman who could resist giving him a piece of her mind. He saw the briefest little smile come to Catherine’s face; her cheek pressed against her knuckles, she pushed her lips out into little pout and looked away with just her eyes, the way women do, at something in the distance or possibly at nothing, and just as fast the look was gone.

“So, I played, mostly for Isabel, for over an hour and we talked some more.  And one of the things we talked about was exclusivity and at one point she asked me why it was so important to me.  The question really threw me.  No one had ever asked me that question before and I’d never asked it of myself.  I’d always taken it for granted that that was the way it was supposed to be, when a man and woman paired off, without really knowing why.  She didn’t hurry me but she wasn’t giving me a choice; she wanted an answer.  Finally, after much thought, I was able to give her one but it was a very banal answer because I had absolutely no intellectual basis for my belief.  What I told her was no better than myth… no better than a fairy tale.  I simply said I was happiest when I was in a committed, exclusive relationship with my ex-wife and now that I’m not I’m more than a little unhappy.  So I play the piano in places like this and keep a good grip on my expectations. And I am not stalking you.”

“Are you seeing her?”

It was a simple question but the look on her face was not so simple.  Maybe a little cheeky, he thought; maybe the question was freighted with hidden nuance, or could have been, so he said, “You’re asking me if I’m sleeping with Isabel?”

“What? No, I… I could care less whom you’re sleeping with.”

“Sounded like you want to know whether Isabel and I are lovers.”

“No, that isn’t what I asked you. Are you seeing her?”

“Seeing, sleeping with, what’s the difference?”

“Well, if you don’t know by now you’re clearly too obtuse for me to explain it.”

“I have many shortcomings but obtuse is not one of them. He deliberately paused several beats to give her the impression he was choosing his words with care, to add a bit of mystery to what he was about to say. “Not any more. She wasn’t as interested in me as I was in her.” He wondered whether she would notice he had not resolved the dichotomy between those two verbs. If she did she didn’t ask.

“Figures.”

Three months later, their relationship still platonic (you’ll have to read the story to discover why), when he threatens to leave her she says…

Catherine poked him in the shoulder and told him to move over.  She sat next to him on the piano bench, with her thigh pressed against his.  She joined in and played a duet from the treble side of the keyboard, just the way she knew he enjoyed playing with her.  When they finished the piece she laced the fingers of her hand in his and said, “I don’t want you to go.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  For the time being I can’t deal with what that implies about my feelings for you, so… we’ll do it your way and see how it goes.  But, all I can say to you partner, you’d better be terrific in the sack, and… god help you if you’re not.”

“By the time we finish making the CD you’ll be a fifteen-minute girl.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“Of course I will.  If it’s important to you it’s important to me.”

“Not good enough.”

“Didn’t you just hear me say I’ll do it?”

“I heard that but you told me your ex was a ten-minute girl so I expect no less.”

Inaugural Post: Scene from a Novel, Affirmative Action

Every blog has to have a first post, other than ‘Hello World!’ so, here’s mine. Affirmative Action is not and is not meant to be a funny book. It’s about serious men doing serious things. ‘Serious men,’ by the way, is organized crime-speak for members in good standing meant to be taken seriously by other members: our friend rather than a friend. Jonathan Tyne is running from some serious men but along the way he meets Catherine Duvall, the novel’s female protagonist. I could write an entire novel about Catherine. Maybe I will. Extraordinary is an understatement.

The scene I’m posting is when they meet. First meetings between lovers (of course, they become lovers, what would be the point of including her if they didn’t) are world-changing events. Remember one of yours? Remember several of yours? For Jonathan, staying close to Catherine increases his risk of being killed by several orders of magnitude. So what does he do? What would you do? He knows who she is, from a mutual friend, but he doesn’t want her to know he knows. That’s backstory for you and you don’t need to know, at least not right now. I’ve tried to make the scene funny even if the book isn’t. Pretend you just ordered your café latte at B&N, you’re sitting in your favorite chair, the one where you can watch the wildlife come and go, and you’ve opened Affirmative Action randomly and begin reading. I hope you become so engrossed you ignore the passing parade. After you read the scene, join the discussion and tell me what you think. Enjoy… Catherine and Jonathan meet.

 * * *

Finally it was his turn and he stepped to the lectern.  He was embarrassed that he did not have a reservation, which would reveal to the woman that he was stupid and that was the last thing he wished to appear to this one.  His mission now took on something of the hint of urgency; he knew he had to get permission to play and beyond doubt, he had to play well to overcome the bad impression not having a reservation was going to make on this woman.  During the more than twenty minutes he’d spent in line he’d thought up a plausible story he would use on her and hope for the best.  He intended to hold eye contact with her through the entire conversation.  Those eyes… she had extraordinary eyes: close up he could see they weren’t really black but the deepest blue, violet actually, no, almost purple; so striking were they that there was nowhere else he could look.

“Good evening sir.  Welcome to Di Giorgio’s.”

Their eyes met and held and he looked for any sign of recognition.  There was something… some flicker… something other than the respectful look of a professional gatekeeper, but whether she recognized him or not he could not say.  “Hullo, one for dinner, please.  I think I have a reservation.”

“If you have a reservation you could have saved yourself a twenty minute wait.  You could have been in the other line.”

“Thank you, I do know what con means in Italian… but… well, it’s like this; I’m not sure if I actually have a reservation.”

“Not sure?  Either you made one or you didn’t.  Which is it?”

“I meant to make one, for eight-thirty, and I may have but I was juggling so many balls… Have you ever been so busy that you just forgot to do something?”

Hello!  Earth calling space cadet… that’s what lists are for.  Don’t you make them?”

“So what would I put in it, juggle better?”

“Make reservation for dinner… and check it off when you do it.”

“I just knew when I saw you, you were going to be helpful.”

“Would you like me to check my list… to see whether you made a reservation?  I do so want to be helpful.”

“Yes, please.  That’s exactly why I stood in the senza line.  I figured you’ve heard every excuse imaginable and I didn’t want to piss you off, seeing as how I’d like a table even if I forgot… you know, to make a reservation.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What name do I check for?”

“Oh sorry, Ware… Michael Ware.”

W-a-r-e?”

“You found it; great.”

“I haven’t started looking yet.”

“Oh, well you spelled it correctly; that’s progress, isn’t it?”

She stared at him for so long Tyne thought he would give the game away by laughing.  Finally she lowered her eyes to her list and searched for his name.  He bit his lower lip to keep from making a sound and managed to compose his face before she looked up.

“Sorry, I can’t find your name in my log.”

“Rats.  Well, I’d still like a table.”

“I can put you down for a table but you’re going to have a very long wait, at least two hours, possibly longer.”

“Di Giorgio’s has a very nice bar.  You put me down on your list and I’ll amuse myself rapping with the bartender until my table is ready.”

“If you spend two hours in the bar you won’t even be able to taste the food.  Why don’t you settle for a pizza… just down the street and I’ll make a reservation for you for tomorrow night?”

“No, I’ll hang out in the bar and drink mostly Pellegrino.”

“Okay but I should warn you; you’re alone so if I seat you at a table for two you’re going to get stuck for a second meal you didn’t order.  We do have a few tables for one but I can’t guarantee you’ll get one.  This is the height of the summer season, the weather’s glorious, there’s a pro-am golf tournament this weekend at Eagle Crest and tonight and the next two are going to be three of our busiest.”

A golf tournament; so that’s why they are so busy, he thought.  “I don’t understand why you’re so determined to send me out into the cold without any sustenance.  I’ll risk it.”

“Mr. Ware, within walking distance of Di Giorgio’s there are three or four really good restaurants where I’m sure you would be seated a lot faster than you will be here.”

“But Di Giorgio’s is my favorite.  I didn’t come 150 miles to eat down the street.  If you can’t seat me tonight then you can’t but if it’s just a little wait in the bar, please put me down in your list.”

She smiled and started to write his name in her log.  He casually leaned against the lectern, as if he was watching her make the entry, and with his mouth close to her ear and barely above a whisper said, “Say, I have an idea.  You get a dinner break, don’t you?”

She stopped writing and turned to look at him and he saw in her eyes he’d made a mistake.  This gambit wasn’t going to work but now that he’d crossed the Rubicon, he had no choice but to continue.  She said, “Yes, if I want one.”

“Well, tonight I think you should want one… and when you take your break, please come and get me in the bar and we’ll have dinner together.”

“My break isn’t long enough for the kitchen to prepare a meal for you.”

“In that case, tell the kitchen what you want to eat and tell them to prepare enough for two.  When it’s ready, come and get me in the bar.  I’ll eat whatever you eat.  I’m sure it will be excellent since who better than you would know what on tonight’s menu is particularly good.”

“I don’t order from the menu.  I eat whatever the kitchen prepares in bulk; lasagne or ravioli, the zuppe of the day or sometimes just a hearty salad.”

“That doesn’t surprise me but it doesn’t mean it won’t be good.”

“Mr. Ware, I eat in the kitchen at a table reserved for staff.”

“Terrific.  I’ve always wanted to eat in the kitchen.  The sights and smells will add something special to my dining experience… as will dining with you.”

“Sorry, the kitchen is off limits to guests.”

He paused for several beats and then said, “I have a suggestion that I think will solve our dilemma.  Do you want to hear it?”

“The answer is no.”

“You haven’t heard my suggestion yet.”

“The answer is still no.”

“I was about to suggest…”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“If I say please?”

“No, and you’re starting to annoy me.”

“Ask Lydia.”

The woman stared at him for several seconds and then said, “What did you say?”

“I thought that might get your attention.  I was about to suggest that you ask Lydia if it would be okay for Michael to dine with you in the kitchen.  Ask her.”

“Are you just dropping her name or do you really know her?”

“Ask her… and no last names.  Just ask her about Michael.  Or, don’t ask her; that’s okay too because I’m going to ask her to introduce us.”

“Even if you do know her… even if she’s a relative, why should I eat with you?”

“’Cause we’re going to be friends, you and I.”

“We are?”

“Uh-huh.  I used to come in here a lot, when I lived in the county, sometimes as often as once a week.  My wife… ex-wife that is… doesn’t like to cook so we ate out a lot.  The last few years, not so often… but now that I know you’re here I’m going to become a regular again, so you’re going to be seeing a lot of me.  That’s why I know we’re going to become friends.”

“Couldn’t you do any of the cooking?  Does the woman always have to be the chief cook and bottle washer?”

“Actually I cooked more often than she.  I like to cook and I’m good at it, I think better now than she… but even if you enjoy cooking you don’t like to do it every night.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We liked this place, the food and especially the woman who owns it… so we ate here a lot.  Ask Lydia about Madeleine too; they’re particularly close.  Oh, and ask her if she agrees with me, that you and I are going to be friends.”

She pointed at her log and said, “See, I’m writing your name on the list, at the bottom of the list.  When a table becomes available, if you’re still here, someone will come and get you in the bar.”

Tyne deftly and unobtrusively slipped a twenty-dollar bill under the logbook and thanked the woman.  He then started for the bar but stopped and said, “Do you mind if I play your piano?  That would certainly make the time pass more agreeably.”

She stopped writing and studied him over her glasses – Ware?  Black Irish, not quite six feet, sturdy looking, black really curly hair, gray eyes with something else, maybe a little yellow, no, more green than yellow; neat ponytail held with a pretentious silver barrette, no less, not a déclassé rubber band.  A little puffy under the eyes, as if he is allergic to something; interesting face, not handsome but not exactly ugly; prominent cheekbones, no fat, no jowls, hard-bitten was the phrase that came to mind.  Straight nose with a little bump near the bridge, as if it had been broken long ago.  Lots of wrinkles around the eyes, and at the corners of the mouth too, like hers.  Where do those goddamn little mouth wrinkles she hated come from, she thought; certainly not from smiling, probably from clenching his teeth, something she did and had tried very hard but unsuccessfully to stop doing?  No gray; she wondered whether he colored his hair, decided he didn’t as it wasn’t uniform enough, with some brown, even a little red.  A vain, forty-something ex-jock with an attitude about women and a glib line; what he needs, she thought, is a swift kick in the ass.

“Are you any good?”

“I know my way around a keyboard.”

“Knock yourself out.  Can you find your way to the bar by yourself Mr. Ware?” with just a trace of a smirk.

“I think so ma’am, but if I get lost I’ll send up a flare, or I’ll do something else equally outrageous.”  At no time did he leer, look at her tits or let his gaze leave her eyes except when she looked down.  Now he held her eyes until she looked away, only then did he step around the lectern and head for the bar.  He’d gone only a step when she stopped him by poking him in the arm with her pen, the non-pointy end.

If you’re any good, they’re might be a table available at nine… but you’ll have to be really good.  Trust me, I know what good sounds like.  But if you stink… well, you could order a tray of antipasti – the spiedini di gamberoni and the assorti are particularly good – share it with the others in the bar not smart enough to make a reservation.”

“Do you have a favorite song I might know?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “How about… something by Maury Yeston; your choice?  Do you know anything by Yeston?  Have you even heard of Yeston?”

“I think I can manage a Yeston… for you… if you tell me your name?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t need to know my name.”

“Are you ashamed of your name?  Is that why you won’t tell me?”

“My name is for my friends… and you aren’t one.”

“But I will be and I’ve been so good… well, most of the year.  I think I deserve to know your name, especially if I’m going to play Yeston for you.”

“You can really play Yeston?  You’re not just shitting me?”

“Yes I can and I’m not.”

“Well, if you do and it’s any good you’ll get your table.  My name is Catherine, by the way, but… there’s something you should know.”

They were looking directly in each other’s eyes and she had just the trace of a smile on her lips, and he said, “What’s that?”

Tyne had thought when he stepped to the lectern that he was facing the woman directly but the lectern was asymmetrical so his view of her was slightly oblique.  He was actually looking at the left side of her face and when she smiled it was strikingly similar to his smile, more with her eyes than her mouth and he could see the intricate network of wrinkles at the corner of her eye and below her lower lid.  She’d smiled with her lips closed but the smile pulled the skin at the side of her mouth back just a little revealing another network of fine wrinkles at the corner of her mouth her makeup couldn’t quite conceal.  She was older than she looked but that impressed him all the more because the body appeared so supple.  The crinkling of the crow’s feet more than her words convinced him that he’d made contact; that his attempt at repartee had not been in vain.

Without any change in her expression she raised her left hand in front of his face and waggled her fingers.  She was wearing a wedding ring, a thin gold band with an intricate filigree pattern.  He hadn’t noticed it or maybe he hadn’t been looking for it.  Then, it was as if she could no longer keep a straight face.  She smiled broadly, shook her head as if she were dealing with the village idiot and then stuck her tongue out at him.  She dropped her eyes to the log and finished writing his name in it, all the while laughing at him.  Tyne made a valiant effort to maintain a poker face but the ring and the way she’d showed it to him floored him, as if she’d punched him very hard in the stomach.

To cover his discomfort he said, “Does that mean we aren’t going to be dining together in the kitchen?”

“What part of no don’t you understand?”

“I understand perfectly, but I thought you might change your mind… you know, because you want to be helpful.”

“Nice try Slick but not a chance.”

“Okay, and just to show there are no hard feelings, listen up for an absolutely awesome Yeston.  Just for you… and don’t forget to ask Lydia about me.”

Neither Charles nor Lydia had said anything about her being married and Tyne assumed, based on the way she’d come to Bend that she wasn’t.  Now, if she asked him to collaborate with her, a notion he had already been thinking was a foregone conclusion, he might just pass.  But, never let it be said he wasn’t up to a challenge; if Catherine liked Yeston she was in for a pleasant surprise.