There is nothing stable in the world; uproar is your only music.
--John Keats, in a letter, 1818.
At Seven P.M., Mark hopped up the steps of the East Side Police Precinct.
He went up to the front desk. "Excuse me. Where's Tom Griffes' new office? My name is --"
"Mark Medli? He's expecting you. Bea is in there with him." The woman in uniform acted as if Beatrice dropped in all the time. She buzzed the door open. "It's the last office on the right. The smallest office. The pink one."
"The what?" Mark asked, startled.
She shrugged. "It's not that bad. It's a cool pink, close to purple. I like purple." Mark nodded in a confused way, and walked past a half-dozen dark green desks of the kind one saw in old movies, and passed a series of drab offices in non-existent décor.
--I wonder why Bea likes coming here, he thought. This mausoleum looks like the administrative offices in the high school that laid her off.
Mark walked down an increasingly narrow hall, and heard music by Fauré echoing from the far end of it. His pace slowed as he got closer. There were three panels per office, two of them glass to one door. The last office seemed scrunched, with only one panel for a window. Through it he saw a file-cabinet on which a tiny Christmas tree stood; underneath a lit color wheel turned, throwing the silver tinsel into changing colors. Ludicrous, Mark thought, especially in June. He knocked on the door hesitantly.
Bea opened it without getting up from a comfortable easy chair.
"Come in -- if you can," she said. He heard Tom say, "We've gotten three people in here before, but it used up all the oxygen."
The door swung open and Mark gasped at what he saw.
Tom's old office had looked like all the others. But this one …
The new office was done in fluorescent pink; the two lamps had frilly red lampshades, and there were diagonal purple stripes going up the left wall …
"So! Whaddya think?" Tom asked brightly.
Mark gasped, "Tom, it's …it's … it's awful." Tom looked around as if this were a tremendous compliment. "I'm trying to edge Stedmin into offering me an early retirement," he half-explained.
"You may be forcibly retired faster than you think, Tom," Beatrice put in.
"You think so?"
"Certainly. If I had the office next to this one, I'd have shot you myself."
" I wanted you both to see the change. They moved me into this tiny office a month ago," he said. "They told me that if I wanted to work a third less hours, I had to have a third smaller office. But it's not too bad. I just can't gain any more weight."
"Or get any taller," Beatrice said, reluctantly getting up, "Well, we're overwhelmed and we're speechless, and we're late. Come on."
"I'll drive," Tom said, grabbing a coat. Mark remembered the size of Aunt Mattie's unwieldy car, and Tom's reckless speeding whenever he got behind the wheel. He pointedly asked Beatrice if the seat belts still worked. "It's starting to rain, you know," he added, in a warning tone.
"We'll need umbrellas, then," Tom said cheerfully, and loped towards a bin that contained a dozen of them. "People leave them here all the time." He offered Mark a grisly green one with round, yellow, smiley-faces all over the sides. Mark blanched; he chose a black one instead, and Tom happily claimed the green one for himself.
Bea ordered Tom not to race as they got into the car. She'd rather be late in time, than late as in dead. Tom nodded, and they all nodded as he suddenly lurched the car out of the police-car driveway and whipped onto the road. They stopped with a screech at Michael Munie's apartment two blocks away from the highway, one wheel up on the curb. The tall Midwesterner looked at Tom uneasily as he hesitantly opened a side door.
"I got the fax from Fidelita on Klipop," Michael said, getting into the car. "Mark. Seriously. Are you sure you want to do this? Look at these figures. There's his fee, and then we have to put him up at the hotel, and his wife, and there's his manager…" He handed Mark a sheet of paper.
Mark's expression was grave as he read the final cost. Beatrice looked back at him from her seat up front. "Do you think we'll make any money on it, Mark?"
"Well," he sighed, "I guess Fidelita doesn't regard our Benefit as something they'll take a cut in charging us on. We'll make money if we sell four-fifths of the house. And God knows we don't do that often. We'll just have to pray to a higher authority."
"Fidelita is a higher authority," Michael grumbled, and as the car noisily skidded around a corner, he added, "Tom, for Pete's sake slow down, or I'll do something about it. I'm sitting right behind you and I can reach you from here." Tom slowed down, a little, and they got onto the highway without killing themselves or anyone else. By now the drizzle had turned to downpour, and they saw flashes of lightning in the distance.
"Did Klipop sign yet?" Tom asked, reluctantly keeping his eye on the road.
"Not yet," Beatrice said. "Of course, we have to go through Fidelita to get it. I hope they don't cause any trouble."
"I thought if we show up at this last concert, it'd show good faith. Besides, I can tell more about a conductor by studying the faces of his players."
"I would think the conductor would be the one --"
"-- I'd be watching," Mark completed the sentence. "If he was taking over my job, yeah. But if it looks like any of the players are following their section leaders instead of him, I don't want him near my group. Let's face it, the cost of this thing is already way out of line --"
Mark was about to go on when Tom said, "Hold on." A dark car had been weaving back and forth behind them, and Tom had watched it battling other cars to keep on his tail. Tom had been in the speeding lane -- speeding -- but he thought it safer to jump two lanes to the right. He managed this easily enough, and the car glided slowly into the middle lane.
"I'm sorry, Mark. What were you saying?" he asked.
"I finished," Mark said. "We'll have to point out that he's got to choose something for a chamber orchestra to play. Mozart or Haydn, for instance."
"Haydn doesn't sell tickets," Michael put in. This was an old cavil.
"How about asking Klipop to do a pre-show interview with the audience? Charge a few extra bucks."
"Fidelita says no," Michael said. "If we charge extra, they will too."
"That's ridiculous," Tom shot back. "If the audience wants to learn a bit extra about the music they're hearing, they ought to … to …wait a minute …"
The rain was pouring down in sheets, and Tom was having a hard time keeping an eye on the car to his left. He knew that there was a five-mile stretch coming up in which the three lanes were reduced to two, and he was trying to glide the car over from the third lane. For the last half-mile he had been slowing down; then he had tried speeding up. The other car was refusing to let him get into the middle lane, and the game of cat-and-mouse was beginning to make him nervous. Driving a powerful police car, Tom might have been able to put his foot down on the accelerator and surge ahead; but Aunt Mattie's old car no longer had much Get-Up-and-Git.
"The lane's about to end, get into the left lane," Beatrice shouted, unhelpfully. She was drawing her legs backward in uneasy anticipation.
"I'm trying!" he yelled back, "but this son-of-a won't let me into the -- hold on, everybody--"
"What are you doing?" Mark yelled from the back. Even with cars a few hundred feet behind him, Tom hit the brake. Their car hydroplaned dangerously and slid out of control, its rear just touching the dark car. It was then that Tom saw that the driver had taped pieces of cardboard onto the passenger side windows so he couldn't be seen. Not a good sign.
A pick-up truck was coming up fast behind them, so Tom sped ahead. He just was able to escape the metal barrier as it came up to end the right lane, and swerved into the breakdown lane. The dark car was still refusing to let him back onto the main road.
"TOM!" Beatrice screamed. Over the hill in the breakdown lane emergency lights were flashing; a car had broken down directly in front of them. Tom swerved left and rammed the dark car, and its driver narrowly missed a red sports car doing eighty in the speeding lane. Their own car missed a man
bending down to change his wheel in the breakdown lane by inches; it swerved back onto the main road at the last moment.
Now the dark car was ahead of them, deliberately hydroplaning, skidding and going ahead, slamming the brakes, then skidding and going ahead, while cars honked around them. Tom avoided him by going back and forth between the right lane and the breakdown; he eyed the license plate on the back of the dark car. It was taped over.
A vague form came out of the shadows to their right, a sign announcing the next exit, a quarter-mile away. Gratefully, Tom speeded ahead and deliberately clipped the other car. This sent it skidding back into the speeding lane, where it just missed a van.
"I'm gonna try for the exit," he yelled, trying to get Aunt Mattie's car to speed faster than it could. It slowly gained speed as the dark car appeared again at their side. From the back seat, Mark looked over at the car. It was a black car with a white hood.
The exit came into view and Tom slapped on his left blinker, veered a bit to the left and then swung a quick right. Aunt Mattie's car jumped at one of the potholes on the start of the exit ramp, and they were finally off the road. But they still hadn't escaped.
The dark car followed them on to the rising exit lane and was still trying to ram them from the left side. "Careful!" Michael yelled, as Tom pulled hard on the hand brake.
With rain streaming down the road, their car skidded out of control as the dark car surged ahead towards a red light at the top of the ramp, where it narrowly missed a bus diagonally coming off the bridge.
Their own car, still out of control, skidded sideways at the top of the road past a large lumber truck blaring its horn at them, and they slammed into an old four-foot wooden sign on the other side. It shuddered and fell down as their car screeched to a stop on top of it; another few feet and they would have gone over.
Tom jumped out of the car and looked down over the edge. The other side of the hill fell off by a steep sixty degrees and right into the busy expressway, where Tom saw the dark car speeding away in the driving rain, clearly headed for the next exit.
He looked down at the sign the car was precariously perched on; it was for a garage. In graceful Times Roman lettering, it proclaimed, "We're always here when you need a brake."
Of course, they were going to be late. Tom called in the incident to his precinct on his cell phone. As they got back on the road, Mark told Tom about his nearly being run over by the same car. "Why would someone want to kill me?" he asked nervously, as if he'd never done anything wrong in his life.
Tom asked Beatrice if she'd been able to get a closer look at the car now or before: the make, the driver, anything aside from its odd color scheme. (It hadn’t escaped his attention that it looked like an old police car.) No, she said, but added, surely a black car with a white hood would be easy to find?
Tom turned back and asked Mark, "When did you report this previous … close shave?"
"I'm reporting it now."
"I meant your going to the police station to report it. Don't be difficult."
Mark considered this. "I was still wondering if its swerving at me that day was an accident. I guess we know the answer to that one now." He promised to his precinct fill out a full report. Tomorrow.
The four fell into silence. At one point Tom noticed that Beatrice was still shivering, and he put his steadying hand on her arm.
When they got into Boston, they wasted time looking for a parking spot near the concert hall, and Tom finally let them off at the entrance. He eventually found a space a dozen blocks away. The rain had gone back to a light drizzle again, and he ran most of the way.
To his surprise, he found the three others were still stuck in the concert hall's foyer, busy being barred entrance. Mark was hopelessly trying to reason with a particularly resolute ticket-taker.
"Certainly you can let us in after the overture's over," he was arguing. The ticket-taker looked at Mark as if he was asking for a million dollars. "It's not my doing," the man said, in snooty but not-bad Fake British, "Our music director Von Klipop imposed the rule years ago. You can go in during the intermission, and not before."
"What an idiotic rule," Tom said, loudly enough to be heard inside the theatre. This seemed to penetrate their tormentor's hide, and he sneered at Tom, "There's a bar downstairs. I'm sure you'd be far more comfortable …down there."
"I don't think you understand. This is the conductor of the Videntia Chamber Orchestra," Beatrice pointed at Mark. This, too, had little effect.
The ticket-taker sniffed, "You're from Videntia, and you admit it?"
So they went down to the bar.
They had a good time down there, actually.
The bartender was from North Videntia, and Beatrice knew his father. The four of them were on their second drink when a man who had been listening to them from the other end of the bar called, "Did I hear that you folks were in the Videntia Orchestra?" They nodded, and he got off his barstool and approached them. "My name's Derek Shawnul. I'm Sergei Von Klipop's manager. Fidelita called my office this afternoon and left a fax about you folks trying to get him for your last concert." He was a short man with a distinctly middle-class English accent, not cultured, but not Cockney. Introductions followed, and Mark asked, "You aren't sitting in on the concert?"
"I will attend the second half," he said, "but I sit through rehearsals and tend to everything 'til the moment they go on. And I mean everything. The first half is when I usually come down here for a breather."
"And a snifter," Mark noted. "Sorry. This is Michael Munie, my manager-in-chief. My wife also does a lot of what he doesn't have time to do…"
"Just like us," Derek said. "Klipop's wife, however, doesn't like anyone knowing that she does what she does. She’s very shy about taking credit, and it's all behind the scenes." He looked at the other manager. "Michael, I see you're not drinking."
"I used to," Michael said. "Don't anymore."
"Ah. That means you used to manage a huge orchestra," Derek said with a smile. Beatrice asked him how he'd guessed. "Practically all of the ex-managers I know of large orchestras are recovering alcoholics," he explained. To the three others' surprise, Michael laughed instead of being offended. Obviously this was an accepted occupational hazard.
Tom guessed, "Michael drinking cranberry juice instead of soda is how you knew, isn't it?" Derek gave him a short nod. He looked over at Beatrice's seltzer-with-lemon, but said nothing.
On the other hand, Michael seemed to open up. "Is Von Klipop going back to Europe this year?"
"A week later than usual," Derek said. "His wife is making sure he goes through a dozen check-ups. She's also insisting on a week of his relaxing at a secluded rest-hotel up in Maine. He says it reminds him of his homeland."
"That's a lot of recovery time. He's not that old, surely?" Michael asked.
"No, but when he gets tired out his behavior gets worse, and …these 'de-fusings' do seem to help. After all, there was once a story circulated about the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky. The ensemble was called 'Ninety-Nine Men and a Hundred Ulcers' ---one man had two."
"Well, our orchestra would be mighty grateful to get him," Mark said, undeterred. "I know we were lucky to flag him down at the last moment. Do you think he'd accept conducting the Videntia before he leaves?"
Derek shrugged. "I really don't see why not. Your group isn't far from here. It shouldn't be a problem, if it's a traditional program you want. I know he was wanting to do a Schubert symphony --the Sixth is his favorite-- and he'd probably want to do it with a small orchestra." He looked behind him to see if anyone was eavesdropping. "You'll have to excuse his tricks when he does get up to the podium. He'll take the fast sections a bit faster than usual; and the slow sections a lot slower than usual. Sometimes that can be an effective substitute for inspiration. He's been getting worse, though, and the local critics have started to ride him. A vacation from them without his having to travel too far would probably suit him. And his wife too, I expect."
"Schubert 6 is certainly no problem for the likes of us," Mark put in. "Three of our four horns are very good."
"And the fourth?" Derek asked.
Mark laughed and made a so-so gesture with his hand. "A bad fourth horn is the curse of all underpaid orchestras," he admitted. "But we won’t need the four of them for the Sixth."
The bartender interrupted. "Folks," he said, "we're coming up to half-time. There'll be a bunch of thirsty elitists down here in about five minutes. I'm assuming you don't want to meet most of 'em." As if on cue, the four Videntians took out their wallets, and were surprised by Derek's offer to pay for them.
"If you're going to be dealing with Klipop as a guest star," he said in his clipped voice, "you'd best accept the niceties I offer you now." Derek told the bartender to put the bill on his orchestra's tab. "Okay," Mark said, not sure whether or not it was okay. "Thanks."
Michael Munie stayed behind a moment with the bartender, who wanted to bring a girlfriend to the Videntians' next concert and asked about his ushering. Beatrice waylaid Derek on the stairs leading up to the foyer. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" She cast a worried look back at Michael. "Is Klipop as bad to deal with as I've heard?"
He looked at her for a moment, wondering what kind of truth to tell her. "He will test you at first," Derek said at last. "If you show not only that you won't put up with a lot of nonsense (you do have to put up with some of it) and that you know your job as a musician, he'll be all right." Beatrice nodded; she knew the type. "In a previous life," she suggested, "he would be a Bavarian prince of unlimited temper and limited power." Derek grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "Exactly," he said, and patted her on the shoulder. "I think you two will understand each other perfectly."
The second half of the program, to their disappointment, was Stravinsky's Le Sacre de Printemps. It was every musician's favorite piece at some time in their lives; but as professionals who heard conductors trot it out whenever a 20th-century work was needed, they were a bit sick of it.
Mark had paid for a seat in the front row, wanting to get as close as possible to the orchestra, and study the players at close hand. Despite this, he found himself getting involved in the music.
He’d read about Stravinsky's discontent with the dynamics of Sacre's original score, and the composer never found the time to correct it. With so many instruments playing at fff, blasting their sound out at triple-forte, other instruments that were playing at the same level got hopelessly buried. Mark sat back and concentrated on hearing the balance in the orchestra.
Klipop had certainly diddled with the score in some way. He had probably taken the brass down a notch or two, so the winds and the lower strings were able to get some of their sonorities through the blaring passages. All to the good, Mark thought, and he started to nod with the music.
He noted that the orchestra was mostly men, with a few women scattered over the group. They were following the conductor and not their section leaders. Okay so far, he thought.
In a sense, there was nothing to be disappointed about in the performance, either, although a lot of the playing seemed generalized in some undefined way. And Derek was right: Von Klipop was taking the slower sections slower than usual, but still managed to keep Le Sacre’s inner pulse going.
The Stravinsky ended with its customary whoop-ups and blasts of sound. The composer was no fool, and knew the best way to get ecstatic applause was to put out with a final orgy of decibels.
Mark sat there as the rest of the audience stood up and collected their things. The whole thing had a great surface, but he felt in some way unsatisfied about it. He was close enough to see half the players' faces, and saw little other than concentration, so that couldn't have been the problem.
"Well?" Beatrice asked, taking him out of his reverie. Michael was by her side. "Tom's gone on the long walk to get the car; Michael asked him to pick up cigarettes on the way there."
"I hope you're not going to--"
"No, I won't smoke in the car," Michael agreed, before Mark could get it out. They'd had this dispute before. Beatrice continued, "Tom says he'll probably be circling 'round the theatre in twenty minutes. Derek's going to bring us up to meet Klipop. Anyway, Mark. What did you think of the Sacre?"
Mark shrugged. "It was great."
"Great, as in 'impressive'," she smiled. The three of them knew what that meant. Impressive but not inspiring. Bea had a number of these 'code words'.
"Come on," Michael said, "let's go have an audience with His Eminence."
"It would help," Beatrice suggested, her hand on his arm, "If you keep that well-worn-wit under your raincoat 'till we leave."
"I won't say anything, then," he replied.
They had to get through a maze of people waiting to get out, or find their friends, or coats, and for spouses to reluctantly emerge from the restroom. The rain had stopped, so the theatre was emptying quickly.
The foyer was a brilliantly packaged festival of light, mirrors shooting off reflections of white, beige and gold, capped off by top-heavy chandeliers. Derek had taken a position on the right balcony, and waved at them. They had to get down the left side, wade across the exodus of exiting patrons struggling to put on their coats, and climb up the other staircase to meet him.
"Klipop's just talking to his concertmaster," Derek said.
"Bawling him out?" Beatrice asked.
"Not at all," Derek said with some surprise. "I thought the concert went very well. Why? Didn't you?"
"I thought it was …very professional," she said, hiding her ambivalence about the word.
Derek nodded at her and said nothing. He turned and opened a door that seemed to magically appear out of the wall. On closer inspection, a sign with discreet gray lettering on it said, "Authorized Personnel Only." He led the way in and they followed.
To their surprise, the passageway that led to the back of the theatre was as clean as anything the audience saw. Michael, remembering the deleterious state of the Cinsin's backstage, remarked on it.
"It's not my doing," Derek said, "it's Klipop. He won't tolerate a speck of dirt backstage. He says that if the concert hall is a temple to music, it should be kept sacrosanct. And, I guess, that means as spotless as possible."
"Until last year our Temple doubled as a porn cinema," Beatrice muttered under her breath. Derek stopped and looked at her; Mark explained to him, "We just rent the theatre we play in. We don't own it."
"That's too bad," Derek said. He turned to Michael and suggested, "The orchestra might get some much-needed cash playing live music for old silent porn films. Think about it." He went on walking, and Mark and Beatrice couldn't tell whether he was joking or not. He turned back and said, "You could start with Strauss' Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils."
Okay, they thought: he is joking.
A set of metal double-doors appeared to the left of the hallway, with a dark cherry-wood doorframe surrounding it, probably put there when the theatre had been built.
Derek knocked a code at the door: one, then three, then three but slower. Mark recognized it as the repeated-note opening of Tchaikovsky's Fourth.
"Come," they heard in a gruff, low tone. Derek opened the door a crack and slowly arched his head around it. "Are you willing to talk to three folks from Videntia?" he asked. His voice had taken on a servile tone.
A Prussian voice could be heard muttering, "All conversation is a stab in the back." Then a sigh, and, "Let them in, if you must." The "three folks" looked at each other, but Derek swung the door wide and motioned them in. The room itself resembled the ornate dressing rooms of stars in Broadway plays.
Klipop had his back turned to them, and was buttoning up a light-blue dress shirt. He still had his dress pants on, and the rest of the tuxedo was littered about the floor. He turned and surveyed the three of them with an absent air.
"You will haff to introduce yourselves to me," he said, "while I finish dressing." He started taking off his pants without any sign of embarrassment.
"I'm Mark Medli, Music Director of the Videntia Chamber Orchestra," Mark said from the far end of the room. "This is Michael my manager, and Beatrice Klarke, our concertmaster."
For the first time, Sergei Von Klipop seemed to focus on the people in his dressing room. He draped his pants over the chair, and extended a hand to Bea. Only to her; Mark and Michael he seemed to ignore. He gave her an official smile. "I haff heard about you, Ms. Klarke, from my manager Ronchev."
"Nothing nice, I hope," Beatrice said coolly. Any mention of her former manager rose her hackles.
"No, nothing nice," he admitted, keeping the tight grin. "You left his sponsorship under a cloud, it seems." Beatrice replied that his "sponsorship" had led to health problems. "Yes, I know all about that," he said, and went on, "I mean, I go through the same things, with Ronchev's lack of concern with my health problems. It is all part of 'the business', if we must regard it as so." Klipop continued to ignore Mark, who looked at Derek, who shrugged. The Great Man probably treated all rival conductors this way.
"I hope you can see your way clear to conducting the Videntia in a few weeks," she said, pressing her advantage. "It was nice of Derek to try to get us into your schedule at the last --"
There was a knock on the door, and a man in a work uniform stumbled in, with a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes. He was looking down at his large, metal toolbox and seemed oblivious to his surroundings.
"What is?" Klipop said, as he looked at the man doubtfully.
"Got to check your pipes," the workman muttered thickly.
Klipop touched his throat, and Derek snapped, "Come back later, it can wait." But the man ignored him, saw the radiator in the corner and simply barged toward it, muttering in a thick Boston accent, "Can't wait. Some of the dressing room's pipes stuck. Preshah's too high. Might blow the fuhrnace."
Klipop shook his head, and turned back to Beatrice. "I'm sorry about Ronchev's charging my usual high fee, but what can I do? I cannot control my manager’s greed --"
"Don't worry, we understand," Beatrice said with a tight smile. She was perfectly aware that Von Klipop had the option of waiving his fee if he wanted to; he just didn't want to. Beatrice tried to speak in a uniform tone above the clanging the workman was perpetrating against the radiator, and then she had to compete against his muffled swearing.
"How many people are there in your orchestra?" Klipop asked. He did not condescend to raise his voice.
Klang, klang, klang. "Forty-eight," she half-yelled.
"Really?" The conductor's face brightened. "Very good! That is a true chamber orchestra. I would like for your group a little Schubert. And perhaps a small Haydn." Michael held his tongue about Haydn not drawing customers.
"We used to have seventy players," Beatrice said, "but forty-eight is our legal number. Through a fund we've set up, we often get a number of players jobbed in for the larger pieces."
"Do any of you have a programme of your orchestra?" Klipop asked. "I would like to see the distribution of players you officially have."
All three of them started to rummage through their still-damp raincoats for old programmes they might have left there. Derek watched them all fumbling about with amusement.
No one in the room kept an eye on the workman.
Klipop put his dress pants over a chair, the belt making a clinking sound.
Suddenly, while everyone was otherwise engaged, the workman jumped up with a hammer in his hand. The expression on his face was a mixture of rage, fear, and determination. He took a step back, and was about to lunge for Klipop --with the claw side of the hammer out.
Beatrice felt something flat and soggy on the other side of her coat. She'd been wasting her time looking in the wrong pocket. With an irritated gesture, she whipped the wet, heavy coat from one hand to the other, and, still not being able to get at the program, angrily flung the whole coat up to her left side.
Just as he was about to leap forth, uttering a fierce apache-like yell, Beatrice's raincoat whipped back and caught the workman in the face. Uttering confused sounds under the coat, he stumbled and fell backwards, knocking his head out on the radiator.
The whole thing must have taken some three seconds, and had unreeled in front of Mark and Michael before they could start yelling about it. The four of them looked down at the fallen man, who now looked contentedly and inappropriately asleep. Beatrice was the first to speak.
"Anyone you know?" she asked dryly.
"Yes," Derek said, examining the man with marginal interest. "He's a violinist that Klipop fired a month ago."
"I'm much obliged to you," Klipop said to Beatrice, as if she'd merely mailed a postcard for him. "I haff always had an abnormal fear of being murdered with my pants off. Now. Do you haff the programme?"
"Oh! Yes," Beatrice said, digging it out of her coat and handing the limp booklet to him. "I'm sorry it's a bit damp. We had to walk twelve blocks in the rain to get here."
All of them had momentarily forgotten the inert body at their feet.
Klipop looked over the list of players and counted them up. "Yes," he said, "forty-eight. You are quite right. In that case I will be most happy to conduct." He snapped the damp programme shut and handed it back. "Now, if you will excuse me, Stravinsky has made me somewhat tired. It was a pleasure meeting you all." He dismissed them with a slight bow and went back to the long-delayed business of putting on his pants.
"This way," Derek said, as he led them out. He and Klipop had acted as if violent violinists' attacks on the conductor were a daily occurrence.
"Why was he so concerned with the number of players?" Mark asked him as the group descended the stairs.
"Well, I'll tell you. He's a fanatical numerologist; he believes in lucky numbers. Forty-eight is his. As a matter of fact," Derek smiled and winked at them, "it's such a lucky number for Klipop that he's been forty-eight for the past four years."
Outside, Tom was waiting in what he had always called Aunt Mattie's DownwardlyMobile. All the other taxis and cars around the theatre had long gone, and they saw him in the front, impatient and tapping away on the dashboard. As usual.
"What kept you?" he asked, opening the passenger side for Beatrice.
Beatrice was busy noticing for the first time that the left side of the car had gotten its lights knocked out in the accident. Mark spoke for her. "Your girlfriend Beatrice was busy saving Von Klipop's life." He filled Tom in on the details.
Tom was amused by it all. "Nice work, Beatrice. Good of you to earn our orchestra Brownie-Points. Say, what is this, Kill-A-Conductor Week?"
"What do you mean?" Michael asked.
"Someone tries to run over Mark a few days ago. Okay, fine. Didn't like one of our concerts, maybe. Then tonight someone tries to run all of us, Mark included, off the road. Then someone attacks El Klipop with a hammer. Nice work: it’s cemented the deal for us."
The conducting connection hadn't hit Mark until now; and Beatrice saw him sink into troubled contemplation. Tom reached back and patted Mark’s shoulder -- dangerously, and in the act of turning the car onto a main road.
"Don't worry, Mark," he said, and looked over at Michael, "Maybe next week they'll go after orchestra managers." With a grunt he shifted the old-style manual gears on the steering wheel and peeled out onto the expressway, where the night sky was clearing.
copyright 2005, 2007 by Robert Bonotto. All rights reserved.