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.

To top of page

Jonathan Tyne survives near-fatal shooting – redux

Jonathan Tyne regains consciousness after emergency surgery – revised

Several of my long-term readers complained in private e-mails that the scene from my novel Affirmative Action, previously published herein, in which Jonathan Tyne wakes in the hospital after surviving a near-fatal gunshot wound, is not believable. Not that I got the medical stuff wrong… I didn’t, except for the type of catheter installed in Tyne. No, what was unbelievable to those readers was that Tyne could wake and after seeing the enchanting Catherine Duvall, be alert enough and horny enough to encourage her to remove his catheter and give him a handjob. Good writing, perhaps, but a bad idea.

Of course, I adhere to the Fiction Writers Bill of Rights, which states unequivocally that I can make up whatever I want as I go. If I need a building in a certain place and it’s not there I can put a fictional building there and no one can say I can’t. For example, I needed a floating restaurant in the Oakland Estuary that isn’t there so I picked one up on the Sacramento River and transported it ninety miles south. In the process I added a floating ramp I’d seen on a similar building near Sidney on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Whatever is needed to make the story work is part of the fiction writer’s craft and sanctioned by that aforementioned Bill of Rights.

Well, I thought about those critiques and decided they were right. I wrote that scene precisely because I wanted to depict adult sex between two mature people very much taken with each other. Alas, what I got was a great deal of attention from the wrong crowd. It seems that many, many surfers are fascinated with handjobs. Those looking for porn videos visit my site, so say my web analysis tools. Not that there is anything wrong with Internet porn or handjobs per se; it’s just that folks looking for such fare will be unimpressed by my telling of Catherine getting Jonathan off, without the benefit of accompanying video. Furthermore, it no longer works in the context of the story since I have changed the facts between Catherine and Jonathan. They have yet to become lovers; it is not until early in Rogue Elephants, the second book in the series, that they do. In point of fact, a day prior to the shooting at her condominium she rejected his proposal of either marriage or an exclusive commitment and informed him she was returning to her ex-husband.

So, no handjob in his hospital room after removing a Robinson catheter. They would not have used a Robinson; they would have used a Foley, which contains a balloon inflated with saline to keep it locked in place. I chose to use a Robinson precisely so that she could remove it. And he would have been so groggy from all the drugs with which they have been infusing him to make an erection impossible, other than in my imagination.

So, I rewrote that scene and several others, for reasons of continuity. I could take the earlier version down but it serves a purpose, to show my editing skills… that I can accept constructive criticism and rework a scene or scenes to make them better. Editors and agents please take note. Here then is:

Jonathan Tyne survives near-fatal shooting and receives a splendid reward – redux.

Feel free to say which you prefer.

–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–

It was mid-afternoon when Tyne woke. His first awareness of his surroundings was the steady, reassuring pinging of his own heartbeat coming from the monitor on the left side of his bed. A thick cable snaked down from it to somewhere under the sheet and blanket that covered him to his chest. He raised his right hand and saw the electrode attached to his wrist. Glancing down he saw another on his left wrist. He followed the cable to a concentrator on his chest and counted ten thin leads in and one thick one out. One by one he touched the six electrodes attached to his chest. They had him hooked up for electrocardiography, he concluded. He touched the bandage on his stomach, tentatively at first. He was tender but the pain was bearable. They must have doped me up with painkillers, he thought. Then he saw the IV needle embedded in the back of his left hand and he was sure. He pushed the blanket down and the sudden chill told him he was naked under the sheet. They had not gowned him. He drew the blanket back up to his chin.

His nose itched and when he brushed his hand across his face dislodged the nasal cannula; felt the cool air on his upper lip coming from the prongs. He twisted his head around and followed the clear tube to where it was connected to a port on the wall behind him. Glancing down at his hands he saw the device clamped to his right index finger. He could not remember the name of the finger clamp but knew it measured blood oxygen saturation. He guessed that while he was asleep his breathing had become shallow and they supplemented with oxygen to avoid hypoxemia. He pushed the prongs back into his nostrils and made a conscious effort to breath deeply.

Another glance at the monitor told him it was 2:47 P.M., but was it Sunday or some other day? And where was he? The blinking time-display had caught his eye. He scanned the display and found the date. It was Sunday, which meant he’d been unconscious for almost twelve hours. He wondered why he didn’t have an urge to pee. He reached for his willy and found the catheter protruding from its tip. With his fingers he counted the ports. There were three, which meant it was an indwelling Foley. He was very familiar with these; as part of his military medical training he’d been taught how to insert and inflate them in the field and after he was wounded he’d worn them for weeks when he was non‑ambulatory. He hated them with a passion.

Why do I need one, he thought? He could not see the collection bag. When he tried to sit up the pain was sharp, almost excrutiating, so he raised himself up on his elbows. His eyes followed the clear PVC tube to the bag hanging on the bedframe near his feet. It looked like it held about 400 ml of urine, the color of red wine. So, just what I need, blood in my urine. Well, kidneys or bladder, but which is it?

He again pushed himself up on his elbows, one at a time, and used the other hand to probe his lower back. He doubted he would find a bandage or a wound since the bullet fragments had all been under the skin of his abdomen and the wood splinter was too short to penetrate to his kidneys, but he checked just the same. So, whatever is causing the bleeding must be to my bladder.

A barely audible hissing sound now caught his attention. It sounded like a pump running, on and off, on and off, every thirty seconds or so. He listened through several cycles and then it came to him; his calves were wrapped from ankles to knees with some type of cuff that were being inflated, first the left, then the right. Something to do with clot prevention, he mused.

The first reassuring thing he saw was Catherine Duvall wearing sweats and partially covered by a blanket, sitting in a chair next to his bed, apparently asleep, her legs drawn up under her, her chin resting on her fist, an open book in her lap. He couldn’t resist reaching out and touching her thigh, the cable just long enough. She immediately opened her eyes and smiling, said, “Well, copping a feel are we? That’s surely a good sign. Quick, how much is 9 times 37?”

Tyne took only a second or two and then said, “Three hundred thirty-three. Why?”

“How about 179 divided by 14?”

Doing division in his head took a little longer but Tyne said, “Twelve and 11/14ths.”

“The surgeon who worked on you said your blood pressure had dropped so low there was a remote chance you suffered brain damage. I was doing my own quick and dirty test.”

“I wasn’t copping a feel. Under better circumstances I might… but you belong to someone else now… or am I mistaken?”

“No, you’re not mistaken.”

“It hurts to swallow… and to speak. I have no idea why… so I was trying to get your attention.”

“After they brought you here from the recovery room the surgeon who worked on you came to see how you are. She asked if I was your wife and I said I was, to get her to answer my questions. They had some trouble inserting an airway down your throat and since you were unconscious they opted for speed rather than gentleness. They split your lip too. You’ve got a couple of stitches in it, the kind that are absorbed.”

“She?”

“Dr. Conejo, very attractive Hispanic woman. I sure wouldn’t want to be on that one’s bad side. Doctors… they think they run the world.”

“Did she tell you why I’m pissing blood?”

“The wood splinter punctured your bladder. Not the initial stick but more likely, when you were moving around, or when they were transporting you.”

“Where am I?”

“In a semi-private room at St. Charles Medical Center. You’re sharing the room with a young gentleman of exactly ten and a half years named Zachary. Zachary has just had his tonsils removed and is simply amazed, his words, that they are giving him ice cream three times a day.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Well, you were still in surgery when I arrived.”

“Were you able to sleep?”

“After a fashion.”

“Did my heart stop?”

“Dr. Conejo said not.”

“The last thing I remember is being helped into a car.”

“No ambulance ever came. They brought you here in a patrol car. I guess that training you had in the Navy wasn’t all that good, huh? Or maybe it was too long ago?”

“I guess. Did they give me blood?”

“Un-huh.”

“Shit. Now I have to worry about HIV.”

“I asked. They assured me they have the risk of contaminated blood under control.”

“Famous last words.”

“You didn’t tell me you speak French?”

“Didn’t I?”

“Vietnamese and Spanish, but not French.”

“Sorry, I thought I had.”

“You said the Navy taught you Vietnamese. Is that where you learned French?”

“No, high school and college.”

“Figures. Your accent is awful.”

“That’s because it’s the accent of Cochin China… Nam Kỳ, southern French Indochina. Sister Linh, my French teacher at St. Ignatius was from a Dominican order near Can Tho. It served me well when I was over there but I know it sounds strange anywhere else. If I lived in France or French Canada… heard it spoken every day, it’d get better. In a year I’d be fluent again but with a more traditional accent. My Spanish is much better… because I have Mexican friends in John Day.”

He paused for a couple of beats and was about to say, “If you come with me we could go to France instead of Spain?” but thought better of it and didn’t.

“Why did you want me to hide your backpack from the police?”

“Did you?”

“Of course, but why?”

“I’d prefer they not know my birth name. Were you asked to show ID?”

“Not yet.” Catherine moved her chair closer to Michael’s bed and gripped his hand, fiercely. She leaned close and whispered, “There’s a cop outside who wants me to tell him when you’re awake and can talk. Also, your nurse made the same request. Can you talk?”

“Un-huh.”

She laid her head on his chest and listened to his heart. “Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub… sounds pretty strong now but we almost lost you. Oh Michael, life with you is such a challenge but life without you would be unspeakable.” Tyne saw her squeeze her eyelids tightly closed but not before a tear escaped and trickled down her cheek.

He wanted to tangle his fingers in her hair and pull her face close enough to be kissed, but didn’t. Instead, he said, “Are you forgetting Michael’s rule number one; I don’t fool around with married women?”

“I’m not married.”

“A di-vorced woman who returns to her ex-husband amounts to the same thing.”

“I’ll never marry again.”

“A distinction without a difference.”

“You once tried to explain to me why you claim you won’t fool around with a married woman… but I didn’t buy what you were selling. Care to try again?”

He stared at her for a moment without speaking.  I wonder, he thought, if she has any idea how offensive that question is in the current context?  She’s wearing her smug, self-righteous face, which means what’s coming is either patronizing or a put-down.  Well babe, two can play at that game.

Despite his anger he admitted to himself he was glad she was there with him, wanted her to stay but wanted her to go, too. He could not shake the notion of how vulnerable they both were, him flat on his back, defenseless, without any kind of weapon. So he said, “I don’t like sloppy seconds. I don’t mind swallowing my own spunk but I especially object to eating someone else’s.”

He thought he heard her gasp. She blinked several times and sucked her lower lip between her teeth and then she sat back stiffly in her chair. “Is there any limit to how crude you can be?”

“No, there isn’t… since you didn’t get it the first time. I’ve found if I want someone to remember something I said they’ve apparently forgotten, when I say it again I’m deliberately offensive, crude, tasteless and vulgar. It seems to work.”

“It does… but I don’t deserve that.”

“Depends on your point of view.”

“Aren’t you the di-vorced man who said you’d go back to Madeleine in a heartbeat if she’d take you back? Smart girl… that she won’t.”

“True… but only until I fell for you… since Kah-Nee-Ta, to be exact. And there’s one big difference between us.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“You’ve been divorced from him twice as long as I’ve been divorced from her. I guess it’s like the Christine Lavin song says… ‘the kind of love you never recover from.’”

“Do you want me to leave?”

Before he could answer the door opened and a nurse with a business-like look on her face and a brisk manner entered the room. “Hello Mrs. Ware. I need to check your husband’s vitals. It will only take a moment.”

The nurse, a woman of about Catherine’s age – her nametag said she was Marjorie – moved to the side of the bed and pressed a stethoscope to her patient’s chest. Next she took his temperature with a digital thermometer. She then lowered the blanket and sheet exposing the bandage covering his incision.

“She’s not Mrs. Ware. There is no Mrs. Ware. This lady is my friend. You have my permission to speak freely in her presence and answer any of her questions.”

The nurse momentarily looked up from what she was doing, then looking daggers at Catherine she said, “It was inappropriate to tell Dr. Conejo you were the patient’s wife. A lie like that can get you banned from the hospital.”

Before Catherine could answer Tyne said, “She knew the doc would not answer her questions if she said she was just a friend. She has a right to know whatever I know and I approve.”

“It’s still wrong whether you approve or not. I’ll have to report this to Dr. Conejo. You both have probably not heard the last of this.”

While she was inspecting his incision he complained about the catheter. Said he’d prefer it be removed. If he needed to pee, even bloody urine, he wanted to get out of bed and pee standing up. And what’s more, gesturing at Catherine, how the hell could he get an erection with that tube stuck up his penis, he said. Also, he told her, he wanted to be up off his ass and able to walk around the halls and corridors so that he was less likely to throw an embolism.

“I can rig it so you can walk and still wear the collection bag?” No, he insisted; unless you’re continuously analyzing the stuff he didn’t need it. She listened to this tirade but chose not to respond. Instead, she loosened the adhesive and checked his stitches. When she finished redressing the wound she dumped the urine bag’s content into a bedpan and then said, “Please remember, you’re not in a private room. There’s another patient present.”

“What’s in that drip?” said Tyne.

“An antibiotic, a mild sedative, apparently not strong enough, pain killers and an anticoagulant, warfarin. Your blood has a very high clotting factor. You also need twice-daily injections of enoxaparin, another blood thinner that works in consort with warfarin. Either I or one of the other nurses will teach you and your…” looking sideways at Catherine, “a responsible adult… how to give those shots. Your vitals are good but with surgery like you had, there’s always a possibility of pulmonary thrombosis. We don’t want that,” glaring at Catherine, “now do we?”

“Please go easy on the pain killers. I have a pretty high pain threshold and I’d just as lief not have to deal with any hospital-induced dependency.”

“I’ll let the doctor know.”

She started to leave and Tyne said, “nurse, how much blood was I given?”

“One unit of packed red blood cells and one unit of fresh frozen plasma.”

“From the same donor?”

She examined his chart and said, “Yes.”

“What are the chances it was infected with the HIV virus?”

“About one in one-and-a-half million. We don’t use blood that hasn’t been tested for both the HIV virus and Hepatitis-C.”

“But isn’t it true that blood products from a donor infected immediately prior to giving that donation could contain the virus at a concentration level too small to be detected?”

“You’re very well informed? Yes, it’s possible… but very unlikely.”

“Does my chart show the date of that donation?”

The nurse again checked his chart and said, “Yes, it does; August 4th in Seattle.”

“So, that means if it was infected a blood test today would reveal the presence of the HIV virus that might have been undetectable in August; isn’t that right?”

“Yes, it would.”

“Would you mind drawing blood and this woman has a right to know the results… don’t you agree?”

“And would you bring him some water? He has a sore throat made, as I understand it, by you people forcing an airway down his throat,” said Catherine.

“I’ll just be a moment.” She left, muttering under her breadth but loud enough to be heard: “The arrogant nerve of some…”

. . .

Tyne had been trying to keep a straight face through the nurse’s inspection. Now he broke out laughing and Catherine did too. Then, in all seriousness again he said, “Yes, I want you to leave and no, I hope you don’t.”

It seemed to take her a moment to recall what they had been talking about when the nurse walked in. “I don’t understand. Is there an English translation available?”

“Every moment you’re with me you’re in danger. I want you to leave… to get as far away from me as you can, as quickly as you can. Go back to Canada or go back to your ex. He’s rich enough to be able to provide security for you. I certainly can’t. But if you leave, and I really want you to leave, I’ll miss you, desperately, more than I can say.”

She paused a beat and then changed the subject. “You’re not really worried about the blood, are you?”

“We have to be sure… don’t you agree?”

She sighed and finally said, “You’re right… we have to be sure.”

The same nurse returned with a pitcher of ice water and some foam cups and quickly and efficiently drew a sample of Tyne’s blood. As she left she winked at Catherine and said, “don’t worry dear, he’s not infected.”

Catherine kissed him on the mouth, and it was not the kiss of just a friend. “To be continued,” she said, and went to the door and spoke briefly with officer Prater. Glancing on the other side of the curtain Catherine noted the boy in the next bed was paying close attention to the adult happenings on Michael’s side of the divider. The cop made a call and thirty minutes later the Hispanic cop who had shown them Nick Parma’s body arrived to question him. Before he arrived a different nurse, a candy striper, came in pushing a wheel chair and she hustled the other patient out of the room. The cop, now dressed in a well-cut dark blue suit and maroon tie, knocked on the door but entered without waiting for permission and got right down to business.

Girl talk, three awesome cougars dissing an insufferably arrogant man

Girl talk, written by a man; a very dangerous undertaking

This one especially is for my European friends. It’s almost ready. I’m still revising and editing it so please be patient. It’s not easy for a man, this man to be sure, to write really good women’s dialogue. The scene is a coffee shop where three awesome, take-no-prisoners, mature creatures of the female persuasion are discussing the new man in one of their lives. All in their forties, one divorced, the other two single by choice. I suppose I could copy Nin or James but plagiarizing them or any other author is not what I do.

Update: Sunday, February 9, 2014, 9:15 P.M. CST

Well, here it is. I wrote this scene more than a year ago and it’s undergone steady revision and edits since. After all, I’m just a stupid man struggling to write the way women think, the way they talk among themselves when there are no men present. Please tell me what I got wrong? Hey ladies, the Internet is anonymous so you can tell me the truth without giving away any of the sisterhood’s secrets. I’m a good writer so if I know what to fix, I’ll fix it. Enjoy.

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G A B R I E L L E

Gabrielle Helm leaned over and rested her forearms on her quivering thighs and waited for the nauseous feeling to pass.  She was absolutely certain if the dance routine Catherine Duvall was leading had gone on one minute longer she would have tossed her cookies.  For the last half hour Catherine had those who had them switch to optional Latin-style ballroom shoes with 2-inch heels and suede soles and had them moving their hips in ways she never imagined a woman’s hips could move.  For the last ten minutes, to blot out the pain, she fantasized moving her hips that way while straddling Freddy-pooh and she knew, beyond all doubt he would say he’d died and gone to heaven.

Catherine was a cruel, sadistic, merciless slave driver.  Gabrielle couldn’t imagine a Marine drill instructor being any tougher, except the soft-spoken Catherine never shouted, never exhorted them with curses, kicks, slaps or insults the way she’d heard the DIs did.  She just intimated them with her incredible moves and complex choreography.

Whenever Gabrielle wanted to punish herself for the sins of gluttony, sloth and indolence she signed up for one of these classes but this one was like nothing she had ever experienced.  Four months ago eighteen of them had registered, paid the stiff enrollment fee and within two weeks the class had attrited down to ten.  A month later two more joined them and these twelve survivors had all been diligent and enthusiastic exercise junkies, otherwise known as masochists.  She wondered, for the umpteenth time whether all this pain was worth it, and then she remembered that since enrolling in Catherine’s advanced aerobics with jazz dance class she’d finally lost the ten pounds she hadn’t been able to lose since college.  Now, at forty-two she was incredibly fit and looked better than she had ever looked in her entire life, thanks to Catherine and her thrice weekly killer workouts.

Gabrielle, or Gaby as she liked to be called, was a five-eight, athletically slender, ash blonde with striking green eyes.  She was also one of Bend’s movers and shakers – she had an MBA degree in marketing and a B.A. in political science, both from OSU, and worked as a political fundraiser for the mayor, Jeffrey Boone, and she was particularly good at it.  Mayor Boone, a partner in a Bend law firm and a two-term member of the Bend city council, wanted to be Congressman Boone or possibly Governor Boone and she was going to help him get there and looking good, which in her case was an understatement, didn’t hurt one little bit.

Her breathing finally back to normal, she walked to the table alongside the wall, removed the shoes and cracked a chilled bottle of water.  She closed her eyes and pressed the cold bottle to her cheeks, then downed half of it before setting it down.  She then used one of the luxury towels the club provided to blot the perspiration from her arms, neck and face, careful not to smudge her eye makeup, the only makeup she dared wear to one of Catherine’s classes.  She’d done that just once, wore foundation and blush and it was a soggy mess well before the session ended.  She thought about a shower but Catherine almost never showered at the club, since she usually rode her bike to the fitness center, and Gaby wanted to talk to her.  She motioned to her friend Sharon Robinette to join her and she sidled up to Catherine, who was also drying her flushed, sweaty and makeup-free face.  They waited patiently while she unpinned her longer-than-shoulder-length hair, made a somewhat successful attempt to dry it, brushed out the worst of the tangles and pinned it back up again.

Sharon wasn’t a Bend mover and shaker, at least not yet.  Mostly she sold upscale real estate, very successfully, but without making a big deal about it.  Originally from Sydney, Australia, she had recently become a U.S. citizen.  It was her younger sister Jennifer who was the mover and shaker, or to be precise, it was her husband who was.  He was Kenneth Lilja, currently Oregon’s congressman from the 2nd congressional district.  Sharon may not have had Gaby’s political clout and influence – she wasn’t especially fond of her brother-in-law and made a point of not mentioning to anyone the identity of her famous in-law – but she more than made up for it with looks to spare.  Several years younger than Gaby and shorter by four inches, with auburn hair, she was just as fit and attracted just as many envious looks from women and admiring looks from men, as did her friend.

“Got anywhere you absolutely have to be in the next hour?” Gaby said to Catherine.

Catherine glanced at the wall clock, saw it was 11:35 A.M. and said, “Nope, what do you have in mind?”

“A little girl talk.  Let’s go have coffee at the new Starbucks on 9th and Greenwood.  I’ll buy and it’s only a couple of blocks away.”

“Didn’t know there was a Starbucks there?”

“It just opened, where a 7-Eleven used to be.  Perfect location; gets everyone coming into town on Greenwood.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you two there . . . in ten minutes or so.”

Catherine didn’t bother to change back into her riding duds, not for the three or four blocks to Starbucks nor the five blocks from the coffee house to her condo.  When she reached the corner of 8th and Greenwood the eastbound traffic was heavy, a steady stream of cars and trucks, so she slipped in alongside the flow pedaling just fast enough not to wobble.  Catherine ignored the whistles and the Hey baby, what’s happening.  Once she’d made the mistake of flipping the bird to some redneck in a pickup truck and he’d stopped and got out and wanted to fight.  The only thing that saved her was he couldn’t follow where she fled on the bike.  Now whenever she was hassled she avoided making eye contact, kept her middle finger to herself and her mouth shut.

She glanced to her left and saw the familiar green motif and it came as a surprise because for nearly seven months, every time she’d driven to the restaurant from her condo, admittedly from north of Greenwood, she’d turned right at this intersection and had not noticed what was being constructed less than one block over.  Good to know she had a Starbucks within walking distance of where she lived but in truth, with her espresso machine she could make coffee drinks as good as the Starbucks baristas could.  When the last car passed her near 10th she crossed over and did a U-turn and came back the opposite way.  When she arrived at the café she chained her bike where she was sure she could see it.  The four outdoor tables under the green umbrellas were all in use so she went inside.  The other women were already there, waiting for her, sitting at a table for four near the rear.  She pushed her sunglasses up in the tangle that was her hair, ordered a Coffee Frappuccino and joined them but she asked them to move to a different table close to a window where she could keep an eye on her expensive bicycle.  Gaby wasted little time; she began almost before Catherine was settled in her chair with, “So, tell us about your new accompanist?”

“Don’t have a new accompanist, at least not yet.”

“Catherine, I was there yesterday, at happy hour. I heard him play.  In fact, I requested a Jimmy Webb song and he played ‘Highwayman’ for me.  He’s fantastic, especially the way he makes a harmonica wail . . . and in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s quite the hunk.  Are you saying you aren’t going to hire him?”

“It’s in the works but quite frankly, he’s an incredibly arrogant asshole and I’m not sure I can deal with all his bullshit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Michael Ware.”

End of discussion, that’s all she said and she busied herself with her frap.  After a moment Gaby said, somewhat impatiently, “Come on Catherine, don’t make us drag it out of you . . . we want to hear all the gory details.  For example, is he married?”

Okay . . . he’s divorced, late forties, he’s not a professional musician . . . he’s some sort of computer consultant, has a hobby ranch somewhere in eastern Oregon and he travels a lot.  Lydia Conti seems to know him well, his ex-wife too – her name is Madeleine, by the way, and she’s Spanish . . . or Spanish-Italian, according to Lydia – as I guess when they were married they lived somewhere in Deschutes County, near Bend but not in town, and they were regulars at the restaurant.”

“How long has he been divorced?”

“I think about four years.”

“Okay, so what’s the downside?” said Gaby.  Sharon said nothing but was taking it all in.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more arrogant man.  Thinks he’s God’s gift to women and like a hound dog on the scent of a bitch in heat, is constantly on the make.  He turns every question, every comment into an opportunity to hit on me.  Do you know what that asshole said to me?  He said I look like a fifteen-minute girl.  Like a fool I asked what that was and he said it was a woman who craved sex every fifteen minutes, and the best match-up for one of those was an oral guy who knows how to play the harmonica.”

They all started laughing and Gaby said, “He really said that?”

“Yes, and he even used Taoism to explain the benefits of mutual oral sex . . . something about how exchanging sexual fluids enhances one’s ch’i.”  Catherine couldn’t suppress a smile and then she began laughing.  She pressed her fingers to her temples and rested her elbow on the table and laughed, uncontrollably, biting her thumb to keep from blurting out the sound of her laughter.  Finally, when she again got herself under control she said, “I’m sorry.  It was just so funny.  Of course, at the time it came as such a shock that a man I barely know would speak to me that way, I was speechless . . . literally.  Now, when I think of what he said I can’t help laughing,” and she again went into a paroxysm of laughter.

Finally, her laughing jag over, she said, “And I also heard all about how he uses the piano to hit on what he calls piano groupies.  That’s what he was doing last night during happy hour, only I spoiled his act when I seated him earlier than he expected.  What kind of fool comes to Di Giorgio’s on a Friday during pro-am without a reservation and then asks if he can play the piano?  He didn’t care whether he got a table; all he cared about was getting access to the keyboard so he could work his game on some impressionable woman.”

“Ramona Gerry was coming on to him, right in front of her husband only she’s far from impressionable.  She just likes to fuck . . . anything in pants.”

“But she’s married and he told me he doesn’t fool around with married women.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I’m not sure.  He’s seen the ring I wear so he must think I’m married but he won’t stop hitting on me.”

“You aren’t married, are you?”

“No, I wear it at work to avoid being hit on.  Mostly it works but some guys just don’t care.  Nothing short of rude and crude will shut them down, and then they always get mean and nasty.  Men are such pigs and the married ones are the worst.”

“How long have you been divorced?”

“It was in ’91 so . . . almost eight years.”

“Are you seeing someone, regularly?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is?  He’s single; you’re single.  He plays the piano and the harmonica, brilliantly.  How long have you been looking for a replacement for Eddie . . . two months, three months?”

“Four.”

Four; damn . . . Catherine, you need him and from what I saw last night, he’s very attractive.  Knows how to dress, has a good build, a ponytail no less; and you say he’s an oral guy – ooh la, la.  Surely you know how to put someone like that in a box and keep him doing what you want him to do?  After all, he’s just a stupid man and any man can be led around by his cock.”

“Except that’s not the way I want this to work.  I want to keep my personal life separate from my professional life.  I tried mixing the two, several times, and it doesn’t work . . . at least not for me.”

Catherine raised her coffee cup to her lips, shook it and discovered it was empty. “I think I need a refill,” as she stood. “Anyone else?” When neither responded, she said, “He did say something I can’t stop thinking about.” Slowly, she sat down and continued, in a voice so soft the other women had to lean forward to hear. “I can’t help thinking that deep down there just might be a somewhat decent human being under all his bullshit.”

She paused as if to gather her thoughts, then she said, “I was in his face about why he came to Di Giorgio’s last night and he admitted he plays in public places to meet women. He does it, he said, because after his wife divorced him, he discovered how effective it is. Unfortunately, so he said, most of the women he meets are married and cheating on their husbands. He said he never cheated on her and he wasn’t sure whether she had cheated on him but she probably had. She’s remarried now, but . . . so he said, he still loves her and would go back to her in a heartbeat if he could.”

“How long were they married; did he say?” said Sharon.

“Almost nineteen years.”

“Any children?”

“Nope.”

“Did he say why she divorced him?”

“Some sort of crisis, but he didn’t say what it was. He said he failed her.”

“He actually admitted he was at fault?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ve known a number of divorced men and it’s never their fault. It’s always the woman’s fault.”

“Like the one you’re currently dating? Down girl,” said Gaby. “Catherine has first dibs on this guy.”

“Stay out of this, Gaby. You heard her say she doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure.”

“What a bunch of hooey,” said Gaby. “Like the words the Bard had come out of Gertrude’s mouth, ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ If she hires him and they work well together, you can bet they’ll be sleeping together.”

“Hey, cool it, both of you,” said Catherine. “I’m not interested in him that way, so if you are, go for it. You just might be exactly what he’s looking for. Right after the divorce, when he first started hanging out in piano bars, he said he was not shy about getting it on with married women. If their husbands couldn’t keep them satisfied, they got what they deserved. That’s an exact quote, by the way. But, he said, eventually that got old and he stopped, but he still plays in places like Di Giorgio’s, hoping he’ll meet women who are quote, free to choose, unquote. That’s how he put it, free to choose.

“So, I asked him if he was just looking for the next Mrs. Ware and he said he wasn’t interested in ownership, just exclusivity. I asked him if he really believes he can have exclusivity without ownership and that’s when he said the thing I can’t stop thinking about.”

She paused for a moment and then she said, “he said . . . hang on a sec; I want to get this exactly right . . . he said ‘Ownership can be a straitjacket while . . . while exclusivity is a state of mind. We know ownership doesn’t guarantee exclusivity and . . . and with the right state of mind, it isn’t necessary.’ I’ve been there so what he said hit me where I live. Since, he said, he’d been so successful with married cheaters, I asked him why exclusivity is so important to him, and he talked at length. I won’t go into that, not because it wasn’t interesting, it was, but what was more interesting to me was this notion that exclusivity is more important than ownership.”

Again she paused to gather her thoughts and then she said, “I subscribe to several Internet sites where you can check text for plagiarism. As a writer, I can’t afford to let even a whiff of plagiarism slip into my work, even accidentally. So, last night I checked all of them to see whether he lifted those ideas from some book. I could find nothing that even comes close. So, I guess I’ll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt until I learn otherwise.”

They glared at each other, but neither Gaby nor Sharon had anything more to say. Finally, after Catherine had been silent for a moment, Gaby said, “Well kiddo, I sure hope you know what you’re doing. This Ware smells like trouble.”

. . .

The chime over the entrance door sounded its distinctive ringtone and they all turned to see the man who just walked in.  They all craned their heads; sitting in front of a window they’d all seen him ride up on a bicycle, lock it in the bike rack next to Catherine’s and Catherine noted that he’d checked out hers.  It annoyed her that without permission he’d bent down and manipulated the rear derailleur on her very expensive bicycle.

“Well speak of the devil . . . or if not the devil, a Willie Nelson wannabe,” said Gaby.  “Guess who just walked in?”

Catherine noted Michael had swapped the Forty Niners cap for a red and blue paisley bandana tied around his forehead.  He was still wearing black spandex cycling shorts and the blue and gold jersey, now with the sleeves pushed up revealing muscular forearms, and he had his backpack, really a book-bag made of black nylon, the kind they hand out at conferences to carry the swag, slung over one shoulder.  His had JavaOne, Sun microsystems, ZD and COMDEX & FORUMS embroidered on the front.  Standing up, free of the bicycle saddle she got for the first time a really good look at his legs and the bulge between them.  An image of Nurayev at his best flashed in her mind’s eye.  She felt the heat begin in her loins and spread upward until her neck and face were flushed.  She dismissed it as a hot flash until she felt the familiar wetness between her legs.

To cover her discomfort she said, without being prompted, “We ran into each other on the Larkspur and I didn’t recognize him at the time but I watched him early this morning running sprints on the Senior High track.”

“Sprints?  He was running sprints?”

“Yes, I watched him run three 220-yard sprints and he’s very fast for a man his age.  I don’t know how many he ran but he was there before I arrived and was still there after I left.”

“He’s about our age, isn’t he?  Early forties?” said Gaby.

“I think he’s older than us but I don’t know by how much.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I do believe he’s got an erection. That barista has boobs out to here and he’s ogling her. And look at those legs,” said Sharon. “My God, he’s got beautiful legs . . . except for that scar. Well Catherine, you snooze you lose. I’m free to choose and I want one of those and if you aren’t interested, I sure am.”

Gaby now studied the man’s legs too and after a moment she said, “No, he’s not erect.  It’s those spandex shorts.  They have some sort of cup that holds his jewels in a tight ball . . . sort of like when a woman wears a bra with the cups one size too small.  Like a male ballet dancer, right Catherine?”

“How would I know?”

“Come on Catherine, you’ve danced professionally.  You must have seen lots of male dancers wearing tights that show off their equipment?  I’ll bet when they pas de deux the girls grope the boys just like the boys grope the girls?  I would.”

“I gave up ballet for jazz when I was seventeen.”

“Oh, why was that?”

“My toes couldn’t take the pounding.”

After a moment Gaby said, “I’ll be damned; he has the scars of a bullet wound on his left leg.”

Catherine too stared at Michael’s legs and wasn’t exactly sure to what Gaby was referring.  “What are you talking about?”

“Excuse me for a moment.  I want to be sure,” as she got up and walked behind the man, studying his legs from the rear, and covered herself by ordering refills for their coffees.  When she returned to the others she said, “I’m sure.  He has the scars of what’s called a through-and-through.  Bullet went in the rear and came out the front.”

“How do you know what he has is from a bullet?” said Sharon.

“I used to date a cop in Phoenix.  He had one too, only his was side-to-side.  Trust me, I saw it close up, many times,” which made them all giggle like naughty schoolgirls.

“When I asked him why, at his age he ran sprints, he said when he was younger he’d had to do serious rehab to repair an injured leg.  I assumed he was referring to an accident.  He didn’t mention he’d been shot.”

“Let’s have some fun with Mr. Ware?  Call him over and introduce us.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put the SOB in his place, something you obviously failed to do.”

“Gaby, I’m still undecided about whether to hire him.  Please don’t screw that up?”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll have him eating out of my hand before we finish our lattes.”

Catherine now said, with steel in her voice, “Gaby, not one word about these notions of exclusivity and ownership. I don’t care what else you talk about, but not that. Gaby! I mean it, not one word.”

“Okay! I promise, okay?”

Catherine shook her head and wagged her finger at her friend, but said nothing more.

. . .

Catherine had already made eye contact with Michael and assumed he would come over to their table but she caught his eye again, waved and beckoned him to join them.  She knew from personal experience Gaby could be hell on wheels and she briefly considering introducing them to Michael and then making some excuse to leave just in case Gaby made a butch of it.  If she wasn’t there when it happened then Michael couldn’t blame her for anything Gaby said or did and she could always find out later what went down.  But she was curious to see how Michael would react to being dismantled by Gaby.  She could do it too, when the man deserved it, but she had never set out to be that deliberately bitchy, well . . . almost never.  When he joined them he brought the coffees that Gaby had ordered with him.  He set them on the table but remained standing, with Gaby on his left and Catherine on his right.

Catherine said, “Michael Ware, please say hello to Gabrielle Helm and Sharon Robinette,” and she gestured to each woman in turn as she said her name.

“Gaby,” as Gabrielle offered her hand.  Sharon smiled but did not offer to shake hands.

Tyne took the woman’s hand, nodded at her and Sharon and said “Ladies.”

“Please join us?” said Catherine.

Tyne set his backpack alongside the chair between Gaby and Catherine and sat down, and he noticed almost immediately the woman was staring at his left leg.  The hem of his shorts ended just above a star-shaped scar, shiny and hairless, the size of a quarter and up-close you could also see the white line from a surgical incision through its center.  Without being obvious about it he rearranged himself to give her a good look.  He wondered how she would resolve the dichotomy: curiosity about the scar and reticence about mentioning it.  Most people who saw it starred but said nothing.

He decided to take the initiative, so he said, “Did y’all see how good our two bikes look together, Catherine’s and mine, side by side, like they were made for each other, like Catherine and I are made for each other, only she’s too fucking uptight to acknowledge what is otherwise an inescapable fact of nature?  She thinks it’s wrong for a couple to perform together – that’s my take on the state of her world, by the way, admittedly after fewer than twenty-four hours, but I have a nose for these things, no doubt like the hound dog you guys think I am – but me thinks the music we’ll make together will be better, like the love we’ll make will be better when we remember the music, play it back in our heads while we’re doing it.  The audience is merely a voyeur eavesdropping on the parts us lovers will let them see.”

Before any of them could say anything, maybe because he’d stunned them into silence, he said, “Of course, a pink bike, no a matte pink bike – someone suggested I should make lists and my latest says try to be less crude . . .” and he winked at Catherine when he said this, “dubbed Genesisters no less – mine is a Genesis, get it? – is so fucking dumb as to be offensive especially coming from Gary Fisher Bicycles.  Gary is an old hippy with a ponytail, like me, and granny glasses, so he certainly isn’t chauvinistic but someone in his company, probably some marketing asshole sure the hell is.  Had Catherine asked me for my advice I would have recommended the hardtail version of that bike but a Fisher full suspension is as good as that type gets and I suppose is easier on the butt, hers being so sweet.

“By the way, some folks call what I just said TMI but I know you gals were talking about me so I thought I’d get in some bullshit of my own, first, to sort of disarm y’all.  Do you two ride,” and he gestured at the two women he’d just met, “or do you just boogie, with Catherine, that is?  Perhaps we can all ride together?”

He looked for acknowledgement but got only bemused negative head shakes from the two women.

“Pity.  Or perhaps I should join Catherine’s class?  I’m pretty fit so I can probably keep up with y’all, once I learn the moves.  I can’t remember the last time I was in the company of three stone foxes.  Are all the others in your class as hot as you two?”

The three women were all exchanging knowing looks, like they were listening to the village idiot; either that or they were all trying to keep from laughing.

“My class is not open to men; we women have to have a place to get away from guys and my experience has been guys just can’t cut it,” said Catherine.

“Uh-huh,” and he nodded and again winked at her.

“Mike . . . may I call you Mike?” said Gaby.

“I prefer Michael.”

“Okay, Michael it is.  I was in Di Giorgio’s last night, in the High Desert Lounge, during happy hour.  You play extremely well.  I particularly liked the harmonica solo you did on ‘Alfie.’ ”

“That’s what we call the piano bar,” said Catherine.

“Thank you.  Had you stayed later you would have heard me do Carly Simon’s ‘Better Not Tell Her’ for Catherine.  It has a Spanish guitar solo that I’ve adapted to the harp.  I think you would have liked it even more than my ‘Alfie.’ ”

“I liked them both,” said Catherine.

“Tell me Michael, those three women that were sitting at the piano; were you hitting on them?”

Tyne glanced at Catherine, who returned his glance with a neutral expression.  He looked back at Gaby and said, “The younger one, Cali or Kelly – there was too much noise in the bar to get her name – was an airhead; way too young for me.  Mona, nice looking woman, good tits, was married and as Catherine probably told you, I don’t fool around with married women.  Jane, the oldest was too old, so no, I wasn’t hitting on them.  Now had you joined our happy little group, I’m sure I would have hit on you.”

“I was with my boyfriend.”

“I would have hit on you anyway.”

“Oh; he might have objected to that.  Might have whupped your ass.”

“You think so, huh?  Truly?  ‘Cause I think it’s doubtful.”

“Well, if we ever come in again when you’re playing, better be careful.  You are going to join Catherine’s act, aren’t you?”

“She hasn’t asked me yet and I’m undecided whether I want to work with her.  She’s so fucking uptight she must have the biggest damn cob up her ass.  I don’t think the chemistry between us is right.”

“That’s because you think your do-do doesn’t stink,” said Catherine.

Tyne started laughing.  He couldn’t help himself.  He laughed and laughed, tried to stop and couldn’t and his laughter was contagious, because all the women, even Catherine began to laugh too.  When they finally stopped Tyne said, “That is priceless.  My do-do doesn’t stink.  That’s the best put-down I’ve heard in years, maybe ever.  I love it . . . and her for having the stones to say it,” and he laughed again but only momentarily.  He stopped laughing but he couldn’t stop smiling and several times in the next few minutes he covered his mouth with his hand and chuckled silently to himself.

“You play to hit on women, don’t you?”

“Nope.  Takes way too much energy.  I prefer to have women hit on me and yes, that’s why I play.”

“How well does it work?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out, except don’t tell your boyfriend.  He might whup your ass.”

“You’re really on a roll, aren’t you?  One real slick arrogant smart-ass,” said Gaby.  Catherine was having a hard time keeping a straight face.  She was enjoying the barbed exchanges, could see Gaby was getting pissed and she was glad she hadn’t left.  Michael, she decided, could take care of himself.

“Well dear, you bring out the best in me . . . or is it the worst?”

“Michael, Catherine tells us you are a student of Taoism. Is that true?”

Tyne smiled, patted Catherine’s arm and said, “Good for you, dear. I was hoping that discussion would . . . resonate . . . with you. I can see it did.”

To Gaby he said, “Not a student, per se, but some of the more lyrical passages seem to speak directly to me, especially those that deal with maintaining and enhancing one’s ch’i.”

“Such as?”

“Such as . . . yoni worship. Taoism argues that it leads directly to longevity and vitality. I don’t really know . . . none of us do . . . how long I’ve got left but it certainly makes me feel like a twenty-year-old. When they elect me president . . . or better yet, emperor of the world I will issue a proclamation that every woman have a dozen yoni worshipers at her permanent beck and call. You would concur that that’s a good thing, wouldn’t you? Just think, no more wars, just lots and lots of yoni love. Except . . . and he shook his head in a show of dismay, “. . . except the yoni lovers would make war among themselves over the prettiest yonis. I could write a song . . .

She didn’t let him finish; “Michael, isn’t yoni a Sanskrit word? And, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t Taoism Chinese? You seem to be confusing the Kama Sutra with the Tao. Only the dumbest of dumb piano groupies, the ones who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, will buy into your bullshit when you make that mistake, ya dig?”

“That’s very good. I’m impressed. Perhaps I have more in common with you than Catherine?”

“Not if we were the last two people alive on planet earth.”

“Probably the entire universe, right?”

“You got it, Ace.”

“Think of them as compatible metaphors except Taoism is much more ambiguous . . . perhaps that’s not the right word . . . more esoteric . . . more . . . figurative than literal. One would have to be a Chinese scholar and fluent in Mandarin to comprehend anything other than the English translations. Even yin and yang . . . and yin, the closest the Tao comes to the Sanskrit word for vulva, yoni . . . are difficult, almost impossible for an occidental to understand. Yin and yang can mean, metaphorically, whatever you want them to mean while yoni and lingam are unambiguous. And since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . .

“Oh, which languages do you speak . . . besides trailer trash?”

He stared at her, intently, hoping to make her blink or look away but she didn’t. She looked back just as intently. What the hell is going on, he thought. Why is this woman so angry . . . or is it some sort of game? He looked at the other two women in turn and saw the same sort of smirk, as if they were both expecting some reaction, especially Catherine. Obviously, Catherine told them something about me and it’s some sort of test . . . or possibly this one is teaching her friends the proper way to handle someone like me. He decided to have some fun with them, so he said, “I’m wondering if interrupting is some kind of girl thing. My ex-wife did it all the time and it drove me up the wall. Last night Catherine did it a bunch of times and now you. The Guide says it should be nipped in the bud at the earliest possible moment. To her credit Catherine and I are working on the problem . . . sort of, and I guess now I’ll have to work on you too.”

“Guide? What guide?”

“Why, The Guide, especially chapter XII, Concerning girlfriends, wives and mistresses, and the proper management thereof.” It was difficult but he managed to keep a straight face by biting his lower lip.

“Liar, liar, pants are on fire. I don’t believe there is such a book. Who wrote it?”

Why Nicolò Machiavelli, of course, in . . . 1514 or ‘15, during that period after the restoration of the Medicis when he was sucking up to Lorenzo the Magnificent, trying to get back in his good graces. I got my copy in Florence on my last trip to Italy,” and he looked at Catherine and said, “it was during that bicycle trip I told you about.”

Gaby stared back and he could see he’d hooked her. He was sure she wasn’t buying what he said but she was at least temporarily without a comeback. He looked again at Catherine and then at Sharon and saw, what . . . amusement? . . . or something equally interesting. He loved fucking with a woman’s head and this one seemed to have promise, so he continued, “It was his companion work to The Prince, but much less well known. In fact, it’s only recently been translated from the Italian . . . La Guida. And chapter XII is, Per quanto riguarda fidanzate, mogli e amanti, e la corretta gestione della stessa.”

“You speak Italian?”

“My ex-wife is Spanish-Italian so over the years I’ve picked up some Italian. My vocabulary is somewhat limited but I can manage basic conversational speech, especially the kind that passes between men and women.”

“But I’m neither your girlfriend or wife, and certainly not a lover.”

Hmm, he thought, she speaks Italian. But how well? “Yet. And I think in this context amanti best translates as mistresses.”

Gaby’s eyes flashed, her lower lip quivered and then she pressed her lips together in a thin line, her anger, it seemed to him, ratcheted up another notch. She obviously does not like to be corrected, he thought.

“Yet? What the fu . . . what is that supposed to mean?”

Ancora? Che cazzo è che dovrebbe significare? The Guide says it’s okay to say fuck. It says men should speak to women the same way they speak to men and women should be encouraged to do the same. The Guide encourages clarity in speech . . . for both men and women. Yet, or ancora . . . means you aren’t my girlfriend, wife or mistress, yet. I can’t speak for Sharon . . . yet, but it’s obvious neither you nor Catherine have ever been with an Italian man; neither of you have been properly trained. Best that that training commence immediately, so, in future, please restrain your natural impulse to interrupt me, especially when I’m about to say something profound.”

“Ware isn’t Italian. Isn’t it Irish?”

Esatto, cara Gabrielle. But managing women is an Italian art form and I am a diligent student of the genre.”

He could see she was furious but before she could respond, he continued, “As I was saying . . . since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . . I chose to adopt yoni as my preferred word for pussy. Many women are uncomfortable, at least at first, hearing or using that word. I’ve not met one yet who was uncomfortable with yoni, but if anyone can teach me a Chinese word that is as evocative as yoni, I’ll gladly use it.”

“Which languages do you speak . . . other than Italian?” this from Sharon, her first comment since he sat down with them. He noted a lovely Australian, or possibly New Zealand, accent.

“Officially, Spanish, French and Vietnamese, the latter taught to me by the Navy and not because they wanted me to join the diplomatic corps. My Latin is very rusty, certainly no fault of the nuns at St. Ignatius. I also know some Gaelic, from my mother, mostly the greetings the Irish use when formally calling on a friend or neighbor.”

“Sharon, you speak Spanish, don’t you?” said Gaby.

“I’m a little rusty, too, but I can usually understand what someone says, if they speak slowly and distinctly.”

“Okay Ace, say something in Spanish . . . if you can?”

Tyne studied her face and holding eye contact, he said, “Okay . . . let’s see. It has to be in context, apropos of what we’re discussing.” He thought for a moment and then said, “I’m sure you’ll appreciate this: Usted es una mamá caliente, pero usted tiene la lengua de una víbora.” For Sharon’s benefit he spoke slowly and precisely, with his best Hispanic accent.

Sharon paused long enough to do the translation in her head and then began laughing. She went into the same sort of laughing jag that Catherine earlier had had. It took her several minutes to get herself under control, but even after she did, she could not help smiling to herself.

Tyne then said, “Catherine dear, I’ll bet you speak French, right?”

“Yes, French is my first language.”

“Here’s what I said in French: Vous êtes une maman chaude, mais vous avez la langue d’une vipère.”

Catherine made a wry face, as if Tyne had said something repulsive, and then she said, “What a weird accent.”

“It’s the accent of my French teacher, a woman born in Saigon. Talk among yourselves and satisfy yourselves that I said the same thing in both languages.”

Catherine conferred with Sharon but they kept their brief conversation private from Gaby. When they were done Catherine said, “They were the same . . . except . . . except your accent is like nothing I’ve ever heard before.”

“But you understood what I said, so it couldn’t have been that awful.”

“It wasn’t awful . . . it was just . . . it was just very different.”

“You’ve obviously never traveled to Vietnam, have you?”

There was a noticeable pause and then she said, “No . . . I never have.”

“Something about a viper?” said Gaby. “How is that in context?”

“Sharon dear, was what I said in context?”

Sharon looked off into the distance, pursed her lips, finally smiled and nodded her head.

“I could say it in Vietnamese too but none of you would understand. Oh, what the hell: Bạn là một . . . mama . . . nóng nhưng bạn phải lưỡi của một con rắn. Vietnamese is a relatively small language so if there is no suitable Vietnamese word, or one doesn’t know it, one simply inserts a suitable English or better yet, French word. Gaby dear, don’t you know any language other than English?”

“I’m fluent in German and nearly so in Italian. That’s how I picked up on the words in Spanish and French for viper. They all have the same origin. I also understood all your bullshit about this so-called guide, we all know doesn’t exist. You’re such an asshole; you made that up to screw . . . to fuck with my head, didn’t you?”

“Fucking with women’s heads is my favorite pastime. It’s never meant to hurt or do harm . . . it’s fun, although I can get mean and nasty, if the situation warrants mean and nasty . . . just like you, dear. Try this one on for size. Give me a sec to get the verbs right . . . Tu sei uno . . . hot mama ma si ha . . . ha la lingua di una vipera.”

If looks could really kill Tyne would now be quite dead. Gaby said, “Given half a chance I’d use it on your jugular.”

“Me thinks you’d use it on a different part of my anatomy . . . if you could.” He didn’t wait for the answer her angry face told him she was about to deliver. “There’s this great scene in Hombre, one of my favorite films, where Diane Cilento’s character says: ‘And if you’re wondering whether I’m carrying a gun, I’m not, my tongue is my only weapon.’ And Richard Boone’s character says, ‘And it’s deadly.’ Great scene. I never tire of watching Cilento in action. Her Jessie is a marvelous character. Gaby sort of reminds me of Diane. I wanted to use adder, to capture just how deadly Gaby’s tongue is – you are one hot mama but you have the tongue of an adder – but I couldn’t think of the Spanish or French words for it. There’s una culebra, but snake is too generic. I’m thinking maybe there isn’t one.”

¿Cómo más agudo que el colmillo de una serpiente que es tener un hijo ingrato,” said Sharon.

“That’s the famous line from Shakespeare’s King Lear: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ Una serpiente, that’s good but it too misses the mark, since Lear punished Cordelia for being ungrateful, but putting her husband ahead of her father is not the same as being deadly.”

Comment plus nette que la dent d’un serpent, il est d’avoir un enfant ingrat,” said Catherine.

“There’s that serpent again, d’un serpent. I guess viper is most apt.”

“Where did you learn your Spanish? You’re accent sounds like northern Spain, perhaps Basque?” said Sharon.

“Yes, Raul and Olivia are both Basque by way of New Mexico. I have this friend . . . no, he’s more like my brother . . . and I wanted to speak with him, and later with his wife in their language rather than mine. I have a good ear for languages and I pick up the accent of whomever I’m speaking with if I spend any amount of time with them. Do I hear a bit of Oz in yours?”

“Yes, I’m Australian but I have dual citizenship.”

“Where did you learn to speak Spanish?”

“In Granada, at the university. I won a scholarship for a year abroad. I was working on my masters in political history at ANU in Canberra. My thesis was on fascism and I could have chosen to study in either Italy or Spain. I was most interested in Franco and the Civil War so I chose Spain and I liked it so well I stayed for an extra year.“

“I loved the month I spent in New South Wales in late ‘68 and early ‘69.”

“Really? Perhaps if you hook up with Catherine, I’m sure we will . . . we will run into each other . . . and you can tell me that story?”

“My goodness, I have something in common with each of you. How fortuitous it was to stop here this morning for coffee. I almost didn’t. Moving right along . . . regardless what you call it . . . yoni worship or goddess worship or pussy worship, whatever . . . it’s my point of view and therefore I’m free to pick the best of whatever philosophy appeals to me, ya dig? Even the early Christians, the Gnostics, called their religion Synesaktism, which means The Way of Shaktism, which is another term for Tantric yoni worship. Every culture expresses some form of that particular activity. If you, dear Gaby, had less anger and more wit you would appreciate what a good thing you have going. Forget the penis envy and cultivate your own stable of yoni groupies.”

“I need advice from you like I need a hole in my head.”

You could cut the sarcasm with a knife. For a moment all was quiet on the western front. In that moment, what novelists call a pregnant pause, despite Gaby’s hostility, he began to feel optimistic about this apparently chance meeting. The Australian woman had been more than civil. She had undoubtedly heard the same things from Catherine that Gaby had and it hadn’t poisoned her well. He was thinking a discreet follow-up with her might be rewarding. And Catherine too seemed to have mellowed. Her body language was much more relaxed than when she had fired her do-do warning salvo. Only Gaby, it seemed, had not been charmed. Oh well, he though, perhaps a sincere apology might still salvage the moment.

Finally, since no one else would speak, Tyne, looking intently in Gaby’s eyes, said, “Someday . . . perhaps you’ll tell me exactly what bad thing I did to make you so angry. Or was it something I did to Catherine? Whatever it was, I sincerely apologize.”

Before Gaby or Catherine could speak, Sharon said, “Yo podría estar interesado . . . si no es Catalina.”

He held eye contact with the woman for a long moment, his face as neutral as he could make it, and then he said, “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Michael, that scar on your leg . . . it’s from a bullet, isn’t it?” this from Gaby, and her tone was even less friendly than before. Alas, he thought, my mea culpa didn’t work.

Well, she finally got to it. He was beginning to think she was going to let it pass; just busting his balls getting her jollies based on what she’d heard from Catherine. “You’re very observant. Yes it is.”

“I thought so.  Well, either you’re an ex-cop; an ex-con or you got it serving in the military.  Which is it?”

“Well, I’m not an ex-cop.”

“But you could be an ex-con?  You certainly have the hairdo for one only I would expect to see tats too.”

“Could be I have them where they don’t show.”  He sipped his coffee and studied her face, in silence.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“How did you get those scars?  Inquiring minds want to know.”

“If I tell you, what’s in it for me?”

“Satisfaction.”

“You offering me some satisfaction? I’d rather have ch’i but I’ll settle for satisfaction . . . from you.”

“Not a chance.”

“What are you offering?”

“Nothing; the satisfaction I’m talking about is what comes from coming clean . . . being honest.”

“It isn’t being dishonest not to discuss with a perfect stranger something that isn’t any of her business.  Now if we were lovers . . . I’d probably answer, reasonably truthfully, any question you asked.  Are you auditioning for the part?”

“Not hardly; would you answer that question if Catherine asked it?”

“Maybe . . . but there’d still have to be a consideration.  Why don’t you tell me, in words a six year old would understand, exactly why you need to know – that is, unless you’re just having some fun busting my balls?”

“You look like trouble, with a capital T and I’m concerned, for Catherine.”

“She looks like she can take care of herself.”

“She’s vulnerable . . . and we don’t want to see some slick SOB take advantage of her, now do we?”

“I guess where you went to school they didn’t teach that in debate you lose points when you resort to name calling.  Let’s see; Ace, Slick, smart-ass, SOB . . . did I miss any?  I assume you did go to school?”

“I have a B.A. and an MBA from OSU.  Did you go to school?”

“I graduated from St. Ignatius High in Chicago.”

“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”

“Before I answer your question, may I ask what you do?”

“I’m a political fund raiser.  I work for the mayor.”

“His name’s Boone, right?”

“Yes, Jeffrey Boone.”

“And he’s a Republican?”

“Yes, he is.”

“And you’re a Republican too, right?”

“Duh; well it wouldn’t really work very well if I was a Democrat, now would it?”

“I wouldn’t know, having never been a political bag man . . . or is it bag woman, when a woman does it?  No, bad analogy, since a bag lady is a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart and scrounging for spare change.”

“We’re all waiting for an answer.”

They stared at each other for a full minute and then Tyne said, “Did it ever occur to you that I might not relish tearing the scab off something I’ve tried to forget, with the likes of you?”

“Nice try Ace but we’re still waiting for an answer.”

“I can see you’re the ringleader here but you’re all in this together?” and he twirled his finger to indicate he meant all three of them.  He saw Catherine close her eyes and thought he saw her shake her head no, but ever so slightly; perhaps he only imagined it . . . or was hoping she wasn’t?  The other woman, Sharon, sipped her coffee but he thought he saw the trace of a smirk hiding behind her cup – an expression that could mean almost anything.

I’m waiting for an answer.”

For the last several minutes he’d been studying the three women, comparing their physical attributes, which were prominently on display inside their revealing shorts and jog bra halter-tops.  They were all mature women; in their forties or close to it.  All were very lean and fit looking, which figured since Catherine taught an advanced aerobics class and these were obviously two of her students.  What puzzled him was that Gaby, to a greater extent but Sharon too had very large breasts, high and full and voluptuous, Ds for sure, while compared to them Catherine was flat chested.  Well, not totally but her breasts were much smaller, no larger than Bs, and they didn’t exactly sag but they didn’t stand at attention either, the way the others’ did.  And then it struck him why that was.

“Well Gaby, I’m a fair guy so I’ll make you a deal, since we’re discussing scars.  You tell me all about those two little scars on the underside of your tits and I’ll tell you about mine?”

A slight tightening of her jaw and pressing her lips together in a thin line were her only reactions.  “What makes you think I have scars like that?”

“Come on girl, you’re almost as lean as a runway model and from the looks of your ankles you’ve always been lean.  You’re too lean to have tits as big as those,” and he pointed at Gaby’s breasts.  “They’re surgically enhanced or I’ve never seen a pair of plastic tits.”

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?  Well, there’s one way to prove who’s right and who’s wrong.  Unless of course you don’t really want to know how I got mine?”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Tyne stared at her for a moment and she stared back, her eyes fixed on his.  She was good but Tyne knew he was better at the eyeball-to-eyeball game, and he’d seen something, a very slight flutter of her eyelids when he’d used the phrase plastic tits.  Slowly, without taking his eyes from hers, he took out his wallet and counted out ten, twenty-dollar bills and said, “Two hundred bucks says you’ve got those scars.”  She didn’t budge so Tyne took out his checkbook and a pen from the backpack and wrote out a check to Jeffrey Boone, Committee to Reelect, for two thousand dollars, signed it and placed in on top of the stack of currency and said, “For your boss’ reelection and all you have to do to earn it is prove you don’t have those scars.”

She tried to stare him down and when she couldn’t she said, “You sorry son of a bitch,” and then she slapped him.

She rose from her chair but he stopped her from leaving by touching her forearm, ever so gently, with just the tips of his fingers, and said, “Sit . . . please; you’re going to want to hear this.  By the way, that was a pretty good slap.  You get one . . . and only one, for free.”

She stared at him with a look that could kill, and then she sat.

“Well Gaby dear, you had your chance to make some rain for Boone and you blew it, but you’re just wetting your fucking pants to know whether I’m a felon or not and far be it from me to disappoint you.  Give me your hand.”

When she made no move to respond he said, “Give me your fucking hand.  I promise I won’t hurt you.”

She finally offered him her right hand.  He grasped it, tightly enough so she couldn’t pull it free and pressed her fingers against the scar on the back of his leg.  “It’s a souvenir from Southeast Asia.  Here’s where the bullet went in,” and then he pressed her fingers to the front of his thigh and said, “and here’s where it came out.  As you can see, it’s a coward’s wound.  I got it running away, just as fast as my little legs would go but obviously I wasn’t fast enough.  The man, or boy, or woman . . . whatever . . . who shot me, an unsung and unlamented NLF soldier, was a pretty good shot and lucky for me he wasn’t a better shot.  Perhaps I should have zigged right instead of left or if the A-1 pilot that deep-fried him extra crispy had arrived sixty seconds sooner I might not have been wounded at all.  He was unlamented because there isn’t much left after a napalm barbeque.”

She pulled her hand away and wiped the perspiration from her palm on her shorts and gathered her purse to leave.

“You don’t have to leave; I’m leaving.  Have a prior engagement and can’t be late.”  Tyne put the money and the check in his wallet and said, not looking at her, almost as an afterthought, “Good Republican that you are, I’ll bet Kissinger and Nixon were your heroes?”

“Kissinger certainly and Nixon before Watergate . . . but Ronnie Reagan is my real hero.”

Ronnie huh?  That figures.”  He now turned to her, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Well Gaby, when it’s my turn to run the world I’m going to haul that fucking Nazi Kissinger before the International Military Tribunal at The Hague for what he did and try his ass as a war criminal.  Most, if not all Republicans aren’t much better.  Scratch a Republican and under the skin you’ll find a fucking fascist.  For my part, I regret deeply that I was involved and had I known then what I know today I would have burned my draft card and taken the consequences.  And as for you, a little while ago I gave some thought to asking you to return with me to my motel, since Catherine is playing hard to get and won’t.  Quite possibly you would have said yes.  But my dick leans too far to the left to ever fit comfortably inside you.  Here’s a flash for you lady: it’s none of your fucking business how I got those scars; you dig?  Now if you ladies will excuse me, I need to go put on some cologne or deodorant to mask the smell of my do-do.”

He left the coffee house and was bent over unlocking his bicycle when Catherine jerked his arm so sharply he had to stand to face her to keep from falling backwards.

“How dare you speak to Gaby and me in front of Sharon and those other big ears that way?  I want you to get your ass back in there and apologize to her.”

“She asked for it.  I tried to get her to leave it alone but she wouldn’t.  That bitch doesn’t care about my scars and how I got them; she was just trying to put me down, probably because of things she heard about me from you.  You’re the one who should apologize, for sharing what I told you in confidence with them.”

“I didn’t tell her about your scars.  She told me.  She and Sharon both saw them when you walked in.”

“I don’t give a fuck who saw what.  I’d sooner cut off my leg than apologize to that fascist cunt, and my advice to you is to leave it alone.”

“Gaby is no fascist and I’m really starting to wonder if you’re playing with a full deck.”

“You are huh?  Well I don’t owe you an explanation any more than I do her or anyone else but I’ll tell you this much.  You’re probably old enough to remember: Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?  And: One, two, three four!  We don’t want your fucking war!   Well, after I finished rehab and left the Navy in ’71 I returned to Illinois for my senior year, and what I heard was: Baby killer, baby killer, how many babies did you kill today?  I’ve never felt as isolated and alone as I did that year and I came that close,” and he held up his finger and thumb to indicate a very small space, “to eating my gun.  Now leave it alone.”

“ Look, I’m sorry you had to serve but she didn’t send you and neither did I.  If you don’t go back in there and apologize, then we’re through before we even get started.”

“So be it but the shame of it is, no one sent me.  I was so fucking stupid I volunteered.  Let’s skip the 2 P.M. meeting,” and as he said this he rode off without looking back.

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.”