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
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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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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
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?”
“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.”
“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 B2H2 – Bi-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.
“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.”
“Because he’s an arrogant smartass and I don’t like smartasses.”
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 . . .”
“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 . . .”
“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?”
“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?”
“When you travel, to these cities where your clients are located, do you stay there over the weekends?”
“Almost never. I like to spend my weekends at the ranch although last year, in January, I did spend three straight weeks in Chicago, three weekends . . . but that was a special deal.”
Catherine looked at her watch and said, “I have to go. Would you at least think about working with me?” When he said nothing, merely stared at her, his face as neutral as he could make it, she said, “If you don’t want to discuss it or you don’t want to stay for my show, well . . . in any case, please enjoy your dinner.”
She slipped out of the booth but before she could leave he stopped her by touching her forearm gently with the tips of his fingers and said, “Catherine, I’ll be here when you finish playing.”
She smiled and nodded, and then she walked back to the lectern.
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