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…

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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.”

2 thoughts on “Cross-gender character development and male-female writing teams

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