Some thoughts on the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Flash: 2016 presidential candidate will never release his income tax returns

I just figured out how to add the substance of the current U.S. political environment (the 2016 presidential election) to one of my novels. I had this epiphany when I happened to read a recent article about U.S. tax law that mentioned the term loss carryforward. I was vaguely aware of this term but had no real experience with it since I’ve never had a business loss that I carried forward. However, others have had and it may even be used as a corporate strategy to reduce a business’ income tax burden. Consider the following scenario:

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (the inspiration for the fictional Hortensia R. Clarkson in one of my novels) is running for president of the United States against Donald John Trump (a.k.a. Carney J. Barker). Mr. Barker is a successful businessman. He owns a global giant company known as Barker Organization. The primary source of his wealth is from commercial real estate investment. He owns hotels, exclusive condominium complexes, casinos, golf courses and such in a number of locales, both foreign and domestic. He promotes himself with all manner of consumer products bearing his name, such as furniture, lines of men’s clothing, premium foodstuffs, wine, in fact, anything on which the Barker name can be slapped to keep that name in the forefront of consumer sentiment. Except for the wine and the premium steaks, these products are manufactured in places such as China, Mexico, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Interestingly, Mr. Barker claims foreigners are stealing American jobs but as you can see, Mr. Barker himself prefers to use foreign manufacturers of the stuff that bears his name. He has also been (prior to winning the nomination of his party for the office of president) a successful television personality specializing in a genre known as reality TV. Unlike all previous candidates for the office of president since Harry S. Truman, Mr. Barker refuses to release his income tax returns. Why not, inquiring minds wonder, since those returns will prove conclusively what a great businessman Mr. Barker is, another of his recurring claims?

Releasing those tax returns might actually reveal a quite legal but glaringly unethical set of business practices, for you see, Mr. Barker has filed for corporate bankruptcy either four or six times, depending on which knowledgeable source is speaking. Here’s where loss carryforward gets really interesting.

Suppose for the sake of argument Barker Organization owns only two commercial properties, Asset A and Asset B. These two properties represent Mr. Barker’s portfolio of assets. Like all investment portfolios, some assets perform better than others. Suppose every year Mr. Barker assesses his portfolio and ranks their financial performance and this year Asset B is significantly underperforming Asset A, so much so the Mr. Barker, a ruthlessly efficient asset manager, decides Asset B was a mistake and should be eliminated from his portfolio.

He could sell Asset B but perhaps the market for this type asset is depressed such that it would be difficult or even impossible to realize the amount of money Mr. Barker has invested (or the value Mr. Barker claims such an asset is worth in a grossly over inflated real estate market). Asset B is also debt-ridden because Mr. Barker prefers to use OPM (other people’s money) to the greatest extent possible. Suppliers of all types with unpaid claims represent a form of OPM.

A better strategy might be to declare bankruptcy for the business entity that owns Asset B. This entity is not Mr. Barker, himself, but rather a partnership or a corporation specifically created to hold Asset B. It is legally and organizationally separate from the entity created to own Asset A. Thus, it may be taken into Chapter 11 without any financial impact on the results of or operation of Asset A. For Mr. Barker, the benefits of bankruptcy may, in fact, be more valuable than an outright sale of Asset B. Mr. Barker employs an army of expert accountants and lawyers to make this assessment and by training Mr. Barker is also an accountant, so he can and does appreciate the fine distinction and nuance between sale and bankruptcy. Two such distinctions come readily to mind: unpaid creditors, be they suppliers with unpaid bills for services or materials, and financial institutions that have supplied OPM, can be stiffed. They may have to settle for a fraction of what they are owed, say ten cents on the dollar, or even zero, depending on the ranking order of their claims, secured debts being given a higher priority over unsecured claims. And, of course, perhaps the most valuable aspect of bankruptcy is the loss carryforward that can be applied to other sources of income, most usefully, to future years’ taxable income. Mr. Barker is a master at keeping his effective tax rate very, very low.

Now, in fact, Mr. Barker’s Barker Organization owns many more assets than two. His portfolio numbers in the dozens, perhaps hundreds of separately organized entities that each own exactly one commercial asset. Those that underperform, and in such a portfolio there are always a few losers, are ruthlessly pruned using whatever method nets Barker Organization the greatest financial benefit, one of which is the reduction or elimination of income taxes on Mr. Barker’s profitable assets. Mr. Barker, who claims to be a billionaire, is very proud of how little he pays in income taxes. How much did you pay last year, not just in absolute dollars but in percentage of your income?

Now one wonders why anyone would do business with Mr. Barker, given his history of stiffing people and organizations with legitimate claims against one of his entities, and remember, they are not claims against Barker Organization but against Asset A or Asset B, or whatever legal name each entity possesses? Unpaid claims against Asset A do not apply to Asset B, nor to Barker Organization as a whole, Mr. Barker’s family business. The answer is that new ventures use a different mix of investors and service providers. Mr. Barker would be unlikely to borrow money from a bank he had stiffed in a previous failed business deal. There are a great many banks in the world that could and would lend money to Mr. Barker, despite his history with bankruptcy, especially after he explains to them how they can share some of the financial benefits of those loss carryforwards. Mr. Barker’s attorneys and accountants are experts in how to take advantage of tax rules that exploit a legal notion known as the “bankruptcy exception to the limitation on loss carryforward due to a change of ownership.”

Mr. Barker will never release his income tax returns, since to do so would reveal for all to see what a ruthless, unscrupulous, morally corrupt and unethical person he really is. I have a great place in one of my novels for Mr. Barker. Better there than in the real White House.

Update, Sunday October 2, 2016: Someone in New York City, apparently living or working in Trump Tower, leaked three pages from the Donald’s, a.k.a. Carney J. Barker, 1995 income tax returns to The New York Times. They show the Donald was an incredibly bad businessman, losing almost a billion dollars running into the ground “three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan,” not to mention defaulting on financial obligations to his suppliers. He used this humongous loss to offset future taxes by the generous provisions of loss carryforward. How does a big brain like the Donald lose that much money, on casinos, no less, where the house odds make it impossible to lose, if he truly is so smart, and is such a brilliant businessman? Seems more likely he inherited great wealth from daddy and then nearly lost it all, and might have except for the overly generous tax rules that favor wealthy real estate developers.

Yes Rudy and Chris, he’s smart for knowing (or hiring people who know) and taking advantage of the tax code but he’s incredibly stupid for losing that much money in the first place.

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

A scene from Thomas Docheri’s novel Affirmative Action

Use these to jump around or read it all:

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

Michael hitting on Catherine

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

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

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The Audition, Part II, from Affirmative Action begins here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antony nodded.

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

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

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

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

“What’s the difference?”

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

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

Eccellente.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Per favore,” said Tyne.

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

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

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

“Does that mean we have a deal?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds like a plan.”

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

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

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

“So you can play hard to get?”

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

“I’m not sure I do.”

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

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

. . .

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

Saltimbocca.”

“How was it?”

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

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

“I said I would.”

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

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

“Which one?”

“‘New Words.’”

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

“One of three.”

“Oh, which is the third?”

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

“Why, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“You mean why is the music difficult?”

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

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

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

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

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

Pere is pears, isn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you prefer one of those?”

“I’d rather it be your choice.”

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

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

“Did you enjoy dinner?”

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

“That was thoughtful of you.”

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

“That’s good to know.”

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

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

“What have you got against New Age?”

“Nothing except so few people enjoy hearing it.”

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

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

“Annoyed . . . truly?”

“Yes, truly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Years and years.”

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

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

“I can hardly wait to hear this.”

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

“Why do you need to know?”

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

What? What does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are there children?”

“No, neither of us wanted them.”

“Nieces and nephews?”

“Not any of them, either.”

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

“What about you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you change your mind?”

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

“She probably sensed your ambivalence.”

“Probably. Another one of my many failings.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not stalking you. I simply . . .

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

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

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

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

“That’s one of them, a big one.”

“What else?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What has my age to do with it?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ballet or . . .

“Jazz and aerobic.”

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

“On top of what?”

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

“Pig!”

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

“Not with you, Ace.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love a challenge.”

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

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

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

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

“A groupie?”

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

“The woman’s . . .

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

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

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

“You do it too.”

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

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

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

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

“We’re not a couple.”

“Yet.”

“Yet, what does yet mean?”

“We’re not a couple, yet.”

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

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

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

“A girl who craves sex every fifteen minutes.”

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

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

“And you do?”

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

“Is your wife a fifteen minute girl?”

Ex . . . wife.”

“Whatever. Is she?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, that’s correct.”

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

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

“Yes, I’m sure.”

. . .

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

A scene from Thomas Docheri’s novel Affirmative Action

Use these to jump around or read it all:

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

Men chasing after women

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

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

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

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

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Hiding from the mob

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

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

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Writing women well

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

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Read previous post for context

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

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The Audition, Part I, from Affirmative Action begins here

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M I C H A E L

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Catherine.”

“Catherine who?”

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

“Michael who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which one?”

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

“What’s her name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael? Michael who?”

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

“Ware? Michael Ware?”

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

“Is he here?”

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

“Couldn’t you find him a table?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, he’s alone.”

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

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

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

“What does he do?”

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

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

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

“He hit on me.”

“He hit on you?”

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

“Well good, problem solved.”

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

“Why not?”

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You earned a table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael. Please call me Michael.”

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

“We? How did we do that?”

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

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

“Yes, and you were very persistent . . .

“Very.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Michael.”

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

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

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

“Why would you hire a seven?”

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

“What am I?”

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

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

“Yes, I did.”

“What did she say about me?”

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

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

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

“Eastern Oregon.”

“Like Ontario or La Grande?”

“I have a ranch north of Burns.”

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

“Cats and dogs and horses. No cattle.”

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

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

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

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

“How long will you be there?”

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

“And you’ll return through Redmond?”

“Uh-huh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Napoletano decides to come down hard on Catherine Duvall

There’s a legal crisis of monumental proportions brewing for Peter Napoletano and several of his friends and associates. To deal with that crisis he’s decided to lean on Catherine Duvall, to get her to tell him everything she knows about Jonathan Tyne, particularly, how to find the remote ranch in Oregon where he lives. Peter needs help from his business partner Arthur Rhoades, a man secretly in love with Catherine. Rhoades listens to what Peter proposes but balks. As morally compromised as he is, he can’t bring himself to hurt Catherine. He has no qualms about killing Tyne although he himself is incapable of dropping the hammer on Tyne or anyone else, but hurting Catherine is another matter. He believes, with good reason, that once Tyne is dead he’ll be able to persuade Catherine to come back to him, catch her on the rebound as it were, since once upon a time they were boy friend and girl friend. He still hungers for her and regrets letting her get away. It’s imperative that she not learn the role he is playing, helping Napoletano get Tyne.

This piece is from my novel Rogue Elephants, the fourth novel in my historical tetralogy about the Tosca/Tyne War. Enjoy.

An excerpt from Rogue Elephants

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Peter Napoletano had a problem and he needed Arthur Rhoades’ help solving it.  Late yesterday he’d received a phone call from an associate in New Jersey who had a contact in the Justice Department.  This person claimed that a laptop computer owned by a mutual friend of theirs named LaPone, who has not been heard from in more than a month, was being shopped around Washington by a Portland, Oregon attorney in return for immunity from state prosecution in Oregon and California.  Neither the client’s name nor his whereabouts were mentioned but Peter could connect the dots that Jonathan Tyne was the client trying to save his ass by selling LaPone’s computer to the feds.

Peter had some exposure here, as did Jimmy Tosca but according to the New Jersey caller, some eastern associates of theirs who would remain nameless, had a much bigger exposure unless LaPone had been smart enough to sanitize the computer by erasing certain provocative e-mail messages.  Did Peter have an opinion as to whether he had?

Sorry Peter said, he had simply functioned as a buffer between Jimmy and LaPone.  He had no idea what LaPone’s computer practices were, other than that the man used encryption, and he reminded the caller that all he did was provide Jimmy with a name when, after the untimely deaths of Francesco Tosca and Tony Dellacroce, he was asked for help with the Tyne matter.  Peter had sponsored Jimmy to Tino Cassili, so that Jimmy could pitch the commission on using LaPone to neutralize Tyne, but when the secret vote was taken had advised against Jimmy.  He had argued that the Tyne matter could be dealt with much more cost effectively with a simple open contract.  Jimmy, fearing his credibility was slipping the longer Tyne remained among the living, particularly with his new Russian partners, had been willing to meet the commission’s demand for a rather large up-front payment plus LaPone’s sizable fee, so the five wise men had ignored his advice.  Had the caller contacted Jimmy with this information, was how Peter had left the matter?  Twenty minutes later he received a second call, this one from a very anxious Jimmy Tosca who pleaded with Peter to make this problem go away.

He could think of at least three ways to make such a problem go away; the first was relatively simple but had an unfortunate downside that would cause his partner some personal distress.  He needed to question Catherine Duvall about the exact location of Tyne’s ranch and was afraid that if he confronted the woman directly he would alarm her sufficiently that he would have to hurt her to learn what she knew.  Not that he cared that much about hurting her but right now she was bringing in a great deal of money to the restaurants Rhoades and he jointly owned and he held out a modicum of hope that he could persuade the woman to talk to him without destroying this lucrative arrangement.  He certainly was not above threatening to hurt her and a subtle threat might be sufficient to make her tell what he was convinced she knew about Tyne’s ranch.  But in the final analysis, he would not hesitate to hurt her if she was stubborn and if he hurt her enough, then he would have her killed to conceal having to hurt her.  It was, he rationalized, up to her to determine how much, if any, she was hurt and whether she lived to reflect on the very dangerous game she was playing.  He was convinced she was clueless as to the ways of the real world but intelligent enough to quickly grasp her own self interest when that self interest was made plain and he needed Rhoades to help him help her see exactly why she needed to answer his questions, fully and completely.

The second way was much more complex with not even the possibility the woman would survive.  If he could discover whether Tyne had feelings for the woman he would use her as a lever to compel Tyne to give up LaPone’s computer and then dispose of them both.

The third was probably a waste of time and money but Jimmy was paying so it wasn’t as if it was coming out of his end; he’d increased the surveillance on Duvall to twenty-four seven and Frank Rizzo had assured him that the bug in her apartment, damaged when she’d spilled coffee on her phone, would be replaced not later than end-of-business this very day.

So on a rainy and unusually cold Friday in May, two days before the end of Catherine’s four-week gig performing at Cassiopeia, Peter mentioned to Art that they needed to talk, before Catherine finished her second act.  Art, when he was in town, was still performing the nightly introduction to Catherine’s cabaret so he agreed to meet with Peter right after she began singing.  Peter watched Art render his ritualistic introduction from his usual table and a minute or so later left the dining room and knocked on the door to Art’s private office and entered without waiting for permission.

The office had once been a storeroom but a few years ago Rhoades had remodeled it and now it was an elegant masculine space of mixed purpose with knotty pine planks set at a forty-five degree angle on the walls, oak parquet on the floor, faux but rich looking Persian rugs and an eclectic mixture of both functionally utilitarian and traditional furniture.  The desk was an oversize and massively heavy 19th century antique constructed of solid oak.  It had been made in England and carried around the Horn to San Francisco in a clipper.  Rhoades had found it at an estate auction in Marin County.  It was one of his most prized possessions.  In contrast to it, the modern ergonomic executive desk chair, upholstered in expensive calfskin leather, was almost delicate by comparison and might be something more likely to have been chosen by a high-paid computer nerd.  The file cabinets, six of them, were solid oak.  Not quite in the center of the room was an upholstered sofa and matching occasional chair, both covered in expensive authentic lambskin suede leather, the two separated by a low, vaguely Chinese black-lacquered table while directly in front of the desk were two comfortable upholstered armchairs.

Along one wall was a built-in bar made from Philippine mahogany while the other was Art’s ego wall, fronting his diplomas from the Universities of Michigan and San Francisco and countless photographs of Art schmoozing with celebrities or important California political contacts the man had cultivated over the years.  Peter thought Art’s taste sucked, his own tastes ran to ultra-modern teak and chrome Scandinavian furnishings, and he was a knowledgeable collector of western art and had eight expensively framed examples of Howard Terpning’s long vanished Native Americans, but Art made lots of money for him so he ignored the, in his opinion, absurd furnishings, except for the stylized charcoal caricatures of familiar celebrities – Sinatra, Dean Martin, Kirk Douglas, Sammy, Marilyn, Gable, Dietrich and Bogart, which he liked.  Peter never tired of looking at these.

Tonight Peter was dressed as he almost always was, in a good cashmere jacket and cashmere turtleneck sweater.  He must have had a closet-full of them, as Rhoades could not recall ever seeing the same jacket twice.  The one he was wearing tonight was dove gray, the sweater a pale blue that matched his eyes perfectly.  He must have spent hours each day, Rhoades thought, at least those days that were sunny, working on his tan and the contrast with his thick, almost white hair was striking.  Instead of sitting in the chair in front of Rhoades’ desk Peter sat in the upholstered occasional chair off to one side after first pouring for himself at the bar in the sideboard a glass of Rhoades’ brandy.  He sat with his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed and he pushed the table out of his way to make room for his legs.  Rhoades could see his feet were fashionably bare inside very expensive Italian leather slip-ons.  Rhoades chose Bushmill’s whiskey instead of brandy, and so that he would not have to shout at Peter from behind his desk, sat in the matching sofa opposite Napoletano.  He had to step carefully over the man’s legs, as he made no effort to accommodate Rhoades.

He didn’t have to wait long for Peter to get to the point of the meeting.  After taking a healthy swallow of his brandy Peter said, “I need you to do something for me, tonight, and go along with what I intend to do without making a fuss.”

“Haven’t I always supported you?  Why should tonight be different?”

“Because you may have to watch me hurt someone I think you care for and I don’t want you playing hero.  It would be very unwise.”

“I assume you mean Catherine Duvall, since you said we had to talk before she finished her second act.”

“Yes, that’s whom I mean.”

“Why on earth would you have to hurt Catherine?”

“To get her to tell me what she knows about Tyne.”

“I thought that situation was under control?  Isn’t your man LaPone dealing with Tyne?”

“Yes, except I haven’t heard from him in six weeks.”

“Is that so unusual?”

“It’s not unusual that I haven’t heard from him but no one else has heard from him either, and that is most unusual.  If LaPone doesn’t want to be found no one is going to find him but he always leaves a channel open for us to get messages to him and that channel is also not working.  Worse still, there is evidence the target is alive and well when he shouldn’t be.

“His last e-mail message to me contained photos of a man he thought was Tyne for which he wanted confirmation.  At the time I was flying here from New Jersey and couldn’t take his calls or respond to the e-mail.  Jimmy verified that the photos were of Tyne but he didn’t ask LaPone for any details so unfortunately we don’t know what he learned about the location of Tyne’s ranch.  After I landed and Jimmy filled me in we both made bad assumptions about who was handling this thing.  Because Jimmy authenticated the pictures of Tyne I expected LaPone would make contact with Jimmy and Jimmy thought LaPone would contact me so neither of us followed up with the man.  Now people are calling me and asking where the fuck is LaPone?  I’ve heard nothing and calls to his cell phone and the cell phones of the men who were with him go unanswered or to voice mail and LaPone has not responded to any of my e-mails including that fail-safe channel I mentioned.  That is very uncharacteristic of the man, to say the least.”

“Could Tyne have survived an encounter with LaPone?”

“It’s unlikely but yes, it’s possible.”

“But I thought LaPone and his protégé DiSalvo were the best?”

“They are but Tyne has had similar training and when the shooting starts, anything can happen.”

“What does all this have to do with Catherine?”

“I think she knows how to get to his ranch.”

“When I asked her about Michael Ware, before I knew for sure he was Tyne, she said she was severing her relationship with him because he had AIDS.  Why do you doubt her?”

“When was this?”

“Right after the fire at Di Giorgio’s.”

“You told me she specifically said he did not have AIDS, only that he was HIV positive.  Which is it?”

“What’s the difference?”

“There’s a big fucking difference.  If he’s HIV positive but he does not have AIDS, then that could mean he’s a carrier and might never actually get the disease or it could just mean that he hasn’t got it yet.”

“Well, she said he was HIV positive but I assumed that means he has AIDS.”

“Well that’s a bad assumption so unless she said he actually has AIDS, I think its best to assume only that he has the virus.  That means he isn’t sick, probably has no symptoms and is not physically impaired and if he’s not impaired, then he could have survived an encounter with LaPone.”

Rhoades was silent as he considered carefully his next question.  The question itself scared him but what Peter was hinting at scared him even more.  Finally he said, “Peter, just between you and I and the four walls, is Tyne really worth all this trouble?  I mean Jimmy is old, ancient really and not very effective if half of what I’ve heard is true.  Why are all the really important people paying so much attention to his stupid vendetta against Tyne?”

“You know, the bosses in New York asked that very question when they were discussing whether to authorize the use of LaPone, and I can tell you, it cost Jimmy a bundle.  But since they have it no longer matters whether it was smart or not and worse still, LaPone is now my responsibility since I’m the one who made the case for using him.  If Tyne killed LaPone and the two who were with him, and the longer it is that we don’t hear from him the more likely that’s what happened, and I let Tyne walk away, then sure as shit I’ll get whacked.”  This was a lie; Jimmy was responsible for LaPone but Peter wanted Art’s help and if Art thought Jimmy was the one at risk and not him he would balk at doing anything that would harm the woman; he hated Jimmy with a passion.

“Perhaps they’re on the move, getting out of the country and that’s why you haven’t heard?  As soon as they get where they’re going they’ll contact you.”

“Except they rented a car in Portland that they have not returned and they all had airline reservations that have not been used, cancelled or rescheduled.  They did check out of the motel where they were staying but what that tells me is that they intended to leave the area after dealing with Tyne.”

“And you think Catherine knows something about all this?”

“It’s doubtful that she knows anything about LaPone.  I’ve had her watched round the clock since last Wednesday and her phone in Alameda has been tapped since the first of the year.  I can’t tap her cell phone but any calls she makes using it from her apartment are recorded.  So far there’s been no contact with Tyne, no suspicious activity of any kind, but I do believe she knows how to get to his ranch.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I believe she stayed with him there over Christmas.  You don’t need to know how I know but I intend to confront her tonight with the facts.”

“I wish you wouldn’t hurt her.  I’m not sure I can watch her being hurt.”

“She won’t open her legs for you but you’re still looking out for her.  I don’t understand you.”

“No, but we are good friends.  We… we were… we were more than friends a few years ago, after her divorce.  I think she’ll eventually remember what we had and come around.  But there’s a practical reason too for not hurting her; she makes a lot of money for us.  So far her second act in both Bellevue and Berkeley have sold out every night.  That’s twenty weeks and at that rate, if her popularity continues we’re looking to gross at least $1.6 mil this year from the cover charges alone.  It’s not easy to find someone that consistently popular with the crowds we attract.”

“Yeah, I hear you, that money is sweet but there’s another problem even more important than Tyne, at least in the short run.  LaPone was carrying a laptop computer that has information on it that under no circumstances can be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.  If Tyne did kill LaPone then he has the computer.  And worse still, a contact we have inside the Justice Department got wind that a Portland, Oregon attorney has offered LaPone’s computer to the feds in return for a grant of immunity in Oregon and California.  I have no choice, I have to recover LaPone’s computer as well as get Tyne and I believe she’s the key so how much we make from her act is irrelevant.  Why didn’t you tell me you had the hots for her?  That she won’t put out for you is an even better indication she’s saving it for him.  I’ll fix you up with a Vegas showgirl half her age that will make her look like the worn out pig she is.”

“Well, can’t you question her without hurting her?”

“That really depends on her, how smart she is.  Her career is doing quite well and it could do even better if I became her producer.  I have an interest in a restaurant in Chicago and one in Manhattan where her act would be well received but she has to give him up.  If she will do that we can all stay friends and we can all continue to make money, especially her.  But if she won’t play ball…”

“I can’t believe she’ll betray him for money.  She might not help him but she won’t help you either.”

“Well that’s too bad because I have to get Tyne to leave his ranch and if she won’t listen to reason I think working her over might get him to come here.  That’s why if it comes to it I want you to take some pictures of what I do to her.  In fact, I want you to do exactly what I do.  Don’t worry, I won’t take any pictures of you that show your face but I want you to fuck her, roughly, with no finesse, really hurt her like she was a piece of trailer trash, and so will I.  I’ll go first and when I get tired, then you can fuck her and when you get tired, I’ll fuck her again, all night, and we’ll take lots of pictures… and maybe I’ll let Slick fuck her too.  Hey you said you want to fuck her, this is your chance.  You can do anything you want to her and there isn’t a goddamn thing she can do about it.”

“That means you intend to kill her when we’re finished?”

“No, I want her alive so she can call him to come to her aid but if he won’t come she’ll have told me how to get to his place which is almost as good.”

“But if she’s alive she’ll go to the police?”

“No, I have an ace in the hole that will prevent her from doing that; I know where her mother lives.”

Rhoades was close to open revolt with Peter but his basic instinct for survival kept him from saying what he was thinking, except… “You know Peter, we’ve been friends for a very long time, something like twenty years, and because of that friendship, I think you often take me for granted, make assumptions and take liberties that no one else would, like now… with Catherine Duvall.  So, I’m now going to say something that may offend you but remember we’re friends and also remember you do it to me all the time.”

“This is interesting, Arthur Victor Rhoades, alias Andrew Carr, successful author and entrepreneur, finally standing up on his hind legs and complaining.  You’ve got my full attention.”

“How old is Jennifer now… thirty-five?”

“Thirty-four.”

“And you two have been married for, what… five years?”

“Six, in November.”

“She was a dancer, right?”

“Yes.”

“Does she still dance?”

“Not professionally, but she still has the moves.”

“She works out regularly… stays in shape… because she knows that’s what you like?”

“Yeah, like I said, she still has the moves.  Works out every day.  She’s even thinking of opening a studio.  What’s your point?”

“You guys thinking of having kids?”

“I’ve got two from my first marriage and that’s enough.  Jennifer hasn’t made any noises like she wants to be a mom but it could happen.”

“And if she does, you’ll accommodate her?”

“Yeah, I suppose, if I can’t talk her out of it.”

“Okay, pretend it’s ten years from now.  You’re sixty…”

“Fifty-nine.”

“… and she’s forty-four and she’s looked after herself, still has all those moves, still as gorgeous as she is now, only better, because she’s more mature.  Are you going to kick her to the curb and trade her in for a younger model?  Isn’t that what you did to your first wife?”

“Not if, as you say, she’s gotten better, or at least, stayed as good as she is now.  My first wife got fat and I hated fucking her.”

“Well, if you can see yourself sticking with Jennifer despite her getting older, why can’t you understand why I don’t want to see any harm come to Catherine?”

“You didn’t seem to mind much when Dellacroce disposed of that Oregon cunt for you… what was her name… except you were fucking her.”

“Sharon Robinette, but that was different.”

“How so?”

“Robinette was my mistake and I accept that…. except I couldn’t hurt her… I don’t get off on hurting women.”

“Nor do I… except I do what has to be done.  It’s called taking care of business; something you still need to learn.”

“Yes, well, I don’t want it to be at Catherine’s expense.”

“Except Duvall’s not with you, she’s with him.  It appears that she’s bet the farm on him and that means I can have a go at her.  If she was with you, then I’d be more careful.  I’d still want to talk to her, to find out what she knows but I probably wouldn’t hurt her.  I say probably because I’m under a great deal of pressure to resolve the Tyne matter.  I no longer have the luxury of time.”

Rhoades thought about all this for several moments, then steeled himself and screwed up his courage even further, sighed heavily and said, “No, I won’t do it.  I can’t stop you from doing this but I won’t help you.  She’s very intelligent so I think threatening to hurt her will work just as well but afterwards, when you’ve finished using her, I want to be able to deny that I was part of it.”

“You think she’ll continue to work for us after I’ve dealt with Tyne?”

“She doesn’t know she works for us; she thinks she works for me.”

“Wasn’t she your manager in Bend?”

“Yes, but I never told her you and I are partners in the Bend restaurant.  Hell, Lydia doesn’t even know you are one of the owners.”

“So, if I do this you won’t squawk to Jimmy or the commission as long as your hands are clean.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying, but don’t do it here.  Take her to your place, the Bull Shot, anywhere but here.”

Peter stared at Art for a long time and finally shook his head and said; “You’re just as pussy whipped as Tyne over that cunt, more so since at least he fucked her.  Okay, I’ll try it your way, at least once, but make no mistake; I have to get my hands on that computer so if I have to waste her doing it, you’ll just have to choke it down.  Don’t worry; once I fix you up with a Vegas bimbo with tits out to here you’ll wonder why you wasted even a second on this Duvall cunt.  Hell, I’ll get you two and they can take turns wailing on your cock.”

Rhoades nodded and smiled but he wasn’t really interested in a Las Vegas showgirl, even if her tits were out to here but the thought of Catherine wailing on his cock was something he could wrap his mind around, and thought of, often.

Peter Napoletano decides he has one partner too many

Here’s another look at the incredibly dangerous Peter Napoletano…

Enjoy

An excerpt from Rogue Elephants

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Peter Napoletano was waiting in his office at the Bull Shot Lounge for Art Rhoades to arrive for their hastily arranged meeting and was appalled at how truly stupid Jimmy Tosca could be.  LaPone was searching in Oregon for the elusive Jonathan Tyne and since Jimmy had already paid a hundred and seventy big, he was not being shy about giving LaPone advice.  His latest bit of wisdom was for LaPone to lean on the girlfriend, Catherine Duvall and the ex-wife, Madeleine Valdés-Obregón, to get from them the location of Tyne’s Oregon ranch.  And Peter had to agree, leaning on the Duvall cunt was not a bad idea, he was contemplating doing it himself, but messing with Valdés-Obregón was insanity.  Insanity because she probably didn’t know the location of his ranch since Peter already knew she had never lived there with Tyne.  Worse than insanity for the heat whacking her would bring down upon them.

Peter was convinced Duvall could reveal Tyne’s whereabouts, since he believed she had visited him at his ranch over Christmas past.  And whacking her afterwards would present few problems.  The standard way to eliminate a woman deemed disposable was to give her a hot shot of nearly pure heroin.  Peter had done it several times and LaPone was a master of the technique.  He was never without a kit or two, just in case.  The heroin always contained a trace of lactose – milk sugar – to suggest the person doing the cutting had made a simple mistake.  And in Duvall’s case three phone calls to Montreal, New York and Seattle would guarantee arrest records for using and prostitution dating back to her college days so that when her corpse was found with a needle in its arm everyone would believe she ODed.

Not so Valdés-Obregón.  There is no way anyone would believe that lady used heroin, certainly not her husband who probably had her background checked out before he married her.  Even Jimmy knew that much since he was pressuring LaPone to make her death look like an accident.  In Peter’s opinion this was very bad thinking since staging accidents that would pass police and insurance scrutiny was not LaPone’s long suit.  He would surely make some mistake and if Charles Eversoll, her current husband, even suspected foul play the heat he could bring to bear would be felt from coast to coast.  If Tyne’s ex-wife turned up dead, because of the public death threat someone close to Jimmy had made against Tyne, perhaps Jimmy himself, Jimmy would be a prime suspect.  No way that could just be a coincidence.  And Jimmy was either forgetting or he did not know how much money his brother had invested in Eversoll’s hedge fund, Twenty First Century Fund.  Knowing how smart Francesco was and how dumb it was becoming increasingly apparent Jimmy is, he probably doesn’t know because Francesco didn’t trust him with the information.

That afternoon Peter was scheduled to fly to New York to discuss Jimmy with Tino Cassili.  He was ruminating about what to do about Jimmy when Rhoades knocked on his office door.  Peter invited Art to avail himself of whatever he wanted to drink from the built-in bar and asked him to pour a couple of inches of Dewar’s Signature over ice for him.  Rhoades chose Pellegrino bottled water from the built-in refrigerator.  When he was seated in front of Peter’s ultra-modern glass and stainless-steel desk he said, “You sounded a little upset on the phone.  Is there a problem?”

“The problem is Jimmy.  He’s off the reservation in this Tyne matter and I’m in the middle.  I agreed to run interference for him to the commission but now he’s using me as a conduit to LaPone.  If that isn’t bad enough some of the things he’s telling LaPone to do are incredibly stupid.”

“Can he do that, give LaPone instructions?”

“Yes, because he paid both the commission’s fee and the up-front money LaPone demanded.  I’ve tried telling him LaPone does not need his help but it’s like talking to a wall.  But that’s not what I want to discuss with you.  Last night you said you had some information about Tyne and I meant to follow up with you but this shit with Jimmy keeps happening.  So, what about Tyne?”

“I ran into him the other day at a gas station in Seattle.”

“You’re sure it was Tyne?”

“Absolutely.  I remembered him from Bend and he remembered me.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“Continuing as Catherine Duvall’s accompanist in Bend when we reopen; he again refused and then I asked whether he was seeing Catherine.  He said he has not worked with her professionally since the fire in September.”

“Did you believe him?”

“I tried to trap him by reminding him that as Michael Ware he made a CD with Duvall that she is hawking to restaurant patrons.  He was aware, he said, she had made the CD but denied he was the pianist she worked with.  Said the guy’s name was Felix Merak, someone Catherine knew from her time in musical theatre in New York.  He reminded me of the conversation we had about chemical-based sprinkler systems and pointed out how little Catherine and I paid him to accompany her.  He said in the beginning he thought it would be fun playing for her but it wound up costing more than it was worth.”

“What do you think he meant by that?”

“Possibly that Catherine wasn’t putting out for him as he thought she would.  He had a woman with him in the car, a very attractive Asian woman.  When I asked about Catherine his eyes went reflexively to the woman and he said he has been a little distracted.  That’s how he put it – a little distracted.”

“This woman; was she as good looking as Duvall?”

“Better and at least ten years younger.”

“Do you think he is this Felix Merak?”

“The picture of Merak on the CD jacket is definitely not Tyne.  As far as being able to tell by listening to the music, I can’t.”

“What kind of car was he driving?”

“A Chrysler rental.”

“You’re sure it was a rental?”

“Yep, I’m certain, it had an Enterprise sticker on the rear bumper.”

“A rental, eh; that means he flew to Seattle, probably from Redmond or Portland on either American Eagle or Southwest.  Did you write down the license plate number?”

“No, when I saw it was a rental I figured it was a waste of time.”

“Not true.  With the license number I could get information on his contract and maybe learn when he’s flying back to Oregon.  It would be easier with the plate number but if he flew commercial I can get his schedule, but if this sort of thing ever happens again, write down the fucking plate number.”

“It’s possible we might see him in Redmond or Bend, maybe even here in Berkeley in the coming days.  When I asked how long he was staying he said something vague about being there for a couple of days so I comped him the cover and dinner for two, good in any of our restaurants.  I gave him one of my business cards and told him to make a reservation and then hand the card to the maître ď.”

“Did he say whether he would use it?”

“No but he thanked me and put the card in his pocket.  I’ll let you know if he makes a reservation.”

“That was good thinking.  Did you ask where he was staying?”

“I did; he said at a hotel downtown but he would not say which one.”

“Did he say why he was in Seattle?”

“Some technical conference at UW, something like YAPC, whatever that is?”

Peter entered YAPC in the Google search field in his browser and learned that YAPC was an annual Perl conference this year held at the University of Washington April 5-7 in Seattle.  He searched in the YAPC page for Tyne and then Ware and discovered that M. Ware was scheduled to present a paper entitled, Using the Perl Debugger to Debug Apache mod-perl in Real-time the second day of the conference.

“Was this woman a nerd?”

“If she was she’s the best looking nerd I’ve ever seen.  Long black hair, huge dark eyes, nice tits and the little skirt she was wearing barely covered her jewels.”

“You saw a lot for a casual encounter at a gas station?”

“Well, from where I was standing the view of her in the passenger seat couldn’t have been better and naturally I was curious.”

“Un-huh; checked out the quiff okay but couldn’t get the goddamn plate number.”

“I mentioned to Catherine that I had seen him.  She was interested until I told her he had again declined our Bend offer.  After that she couldn’t have been more indifferent.  She said she has not seen him since he was released from the hospital, after the fire.”

“You mean after that fiasco with Nicky Parma?”

“Yeah, that’s what put him in the hospital.”

“And the broad you were shagging Dellacroce had to deal with… all because you couldn’t operate a fuckin’ answering machine.”

“Well, who uses an answering machine any more?  There are services for that… all the phone companies have them.”

“Are you fucking her?”

“No but not for want of trying.  She keeps turning me down even when I made it pretty clear to her that she would’ve had a contract a lot sooner if she’d been a little friendlier.”

“Stupid bitch.  How about the staff?  Do you know if any of them are fucking her?”

“I don’t see her hanging out with any of them and I’ve never seen her leave with anyone.”

“Is she a dyke?”

“I suppose that’s a possibility – or that she’s bi – but I think there was a man in Bend she was seeing and the pianist she came to Bend with was fucking her, of that I’m sure because he bragged about it.”  Here Art hesitated and looked away for a moment and Peter thought he intended to say more but was holding back for some reason.  Finally he said, “I didn’t tell you this when we hired her but I knew her before… some years ago… in ‘93, if I recall…”

“You mean you were fuckin’ her then but you’re not fuckin’ her now.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah… that’s what I’m saying.  I met her at a writers’ workshop at USF, just after I published my second novel.  She knew me back then as Andrew Carr, the name, my pseudonym, I write under.  She was recently divorced and feeling sorry for herself so… I dazzled her with my footwork and we had a thing.”

“Art, she was old even then.  She must have been pushing forty?”

“Well, yes… but she has a great body, does these crazy-intense workouts, just like you, she’s smart and pretty good in the sack…”

“No tits.”

“They’re small, sure, but she has great nipples… and…”

“Yes, and?”

“I just liked fucking her.”

“She suck your dick?”

“Man, did she ever.  One of the best I’ve ever had.”

“So what ended it?”

“She has this bourgeois notion about commitment…”

“She actually expected you to marry her?”

“No, but she expected me to keep it exclusive with her.  It ended when she caught me with another woman… and yeah, a woman younger than her.  So… it didn’t last long but there’s no question in my mind she likes men.  I’ve never seen her being cozy with any women.”

“So whom is she saving it for?  Apparently someone not connected with what she does for a living.  That could be Tyne or some other person we don’t know about.”

“I mentioned the woman Tyne was with to her and there was no reaction.”

“Or there was and you didn’t pick up on it.  It could have been something as subtle as a change in the width of her pupils and if you weren’t watching for it you could have missed it.”

“Yes, that is possible.”

“Write down her address in California.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put a watch on her.  If she’s seeing him on the q.t., I’ll find out.”

“You wouldn’t hurt her would you?  I mean, she’s a nice broad and her act is sold out every night.  It would be a shame to ruin that,” his voice rising in alarm.

“Relax; I’m just going to watch her, to see whether Tyne is seeing her.”

Rhoades went to Peter’s desk and wrote down Catherine’s address on one of his business cards.  He extended the card to Napoletano who ignored it so he set it on the corner of his desk.  Napoletano finished his Scotch and then rose to replenish his glass and when he returned to his chair pocketed the card.

“I’ve been meaning to discuss something else with you and this is as good a time as any.  How familiar are you with our limited partnership agreements, specifically the provisions for succession and dissolution of partnership assets if a partner dies?”

“I know we included language to prevent an estate from forcing us to liquidate after the death of a partner.  If I remember correctly Francesco and Jimmy were both very insistent that the agreements have that language, I suspect because they secretly trusted each other least of all.”

“Yes, well I got to thinking about how Jimmy is the only Tosca left…”

“Aren’t you forgetting Sarah?”

“I should have said Jimmy is the only male Tosca left besides which Sarah knows absolutely nothing about Francesco’s investment holdings.  He never trusted her to keep her mouth shut so he told her almost nothing about what he was doing.  Before her heart attack she was the queen bee of all the guinea broads who moved out here from New York and settled in San Leandro and Castro Valley.  He knew she talked too much, couldn’t get her to stop so he told her nothing.

“Anyway, as I said I got curious so I had my attorney review the Blue Flame limited partnership agreements and he confirmed what I suspected.”

“And what was that?”

“That you and I, as surviving partners, would own on a pro rata basis Saratoga’s holdings… if and when Jimmy passes… that is, if we don’t liquidate the underlying assets.  If we did liquidate we would have to pay to the two estates the dollar value of their realized holdings.”

“Jimmy must have a will?”

“He does but he told me that after his wife died he changed it to leave everything to Sarah and Junior.”

“Which means Sarah inherits everything.”

“You know, Sarah would think she died and went to heaven if we sold off one of the limited partnerships, say that Arizona strip mall that we can’t seem to keep fully occupied, and gave her, say a million and paid the taxes on the distribution.  She would go off on one of her extended cruises and in a year or two probably succumb to another heart attack at which time you and I would own everything.  In fact, we could make up a story that in order to pay her the money and resolve some pending estate tax issues she would have to sign over the rights to the other limited partnerships or they would have to be sold off at fire-sale prices to avoid paying the deferred taxes.  She would look at the million tax-free bird in the hand versus the questionable future likelihood of realizing anything from the sale of the other assets, especially if you explained how much in taxes we would have to pay if we liquidated early, and take the money and run.”

“The only problem with that scenario is that Jimmy is as healthy as a horse.  Sarah may not have many years left but the same can’t be said about Jimmy.”

“Yeah, that is a problem… isn’t it?”

Rhoades stared at him for a moment fully comprehending what Peter was hinting at and finally said, “Regicide is a very, very dangerous exercise frowned on in the extreme by the other crowned heads.  Jimmy may not be the best godfather but he’s our godfather and he has a great many friends back east who would take a very dim view of his untimely passing, particularly if it wasn’t by natural causes.  If the job were done by a known associate the details would eventually get back to Jimmy’s friends who would send their own messengers to demonstrate that regicide doesn’t pay.”

“I wasn’t thinking of using a known associate.”

“You’re not thinking of Tyne, are you?  Peter, he’s just a lucky amateur whose days are numbered.  When LaPone finds him that will be the last we will ever hear of Mr. Tyne.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right but wouldn’t it be slick if before LaPone finished off Tyne, Tyne could solve our problem with Jimmy?  Jimmy’s friends would wring their hands and cluck their tongues but with Tyne disposed of life would go on and as a bonus, I would take over the Tosca businesses in the Bay Area.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Yeah, with Dellacroce gone I’m the logical choice.  I know more about what’s going on than anyone other that Donnie Apia and he and I go way back, in fact, we made our bones together.  He knows he could not run things without Jimmy to tell him what to do and he would transfer that loyalty to me if he knew he would always be the number two.”

“Well, I wish you luck but that is too risky for me.  If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want any part of getting Tyne to whack Jimmy.”

“But you will cooperate with me regarding the limited partnerships?”

“Of course, on that you can be sure we are of one mind.  I just can’t get involved in any of these operational matters.  Indeed, I would lose my usefulness to all concerned if I ever strayed from doing anything other than managing Blue Flame’s investments.”

Peter refilled Rhoades’ glass and his own and they clicked glasses and drank and Peter said, “Here’s to fewer partners and none named Tosca.”

Buy your next new car with a reverse auction

Normally, the only thing visitors to this site will see is my fiction, fragments or whole chapters of my novels Affirmative Action and Rogue Elephants, or my short story When Devil’s Advocacy Fails… Bad Things Happen.  On rare occasions I’ve written a non–fiction piece that has some tie-in, albeit in some cases only remotely with the fiction prose.  This post is one of those non-fiction pieces:

How to buy a new car using a reverse auction process

and the tie-in is that it was so successful I’m trying to figure out how to fictionalize it into one of my novels.  But while I’m intuiting that I thought I’d post it for others to use as they see fit.  I’m sure many of my readers have conducted reverse auctions so feel free to comment.

New cars are commodities and reverse auctions are made for buying commodities.  What makes a new car a commodity is that every dealer that sells the make and model of your choice has exactly the same car.  That means the price the dealer is willing to sell the car for is the most important buying issue.  After you own the car you can take it anywhere you choose for service.

Flash update: September 1, 2016, US auto sales fall 4 percent in August

What is a reverse auction?  It’s just a fancy term for many sellers chasing a single buyer.  When you bid on a commodity, in other words, when you state what you are willing to pay, that is an auction and you are setting a floor under the transaction price.  But when you refuse to reveal what you are willing to pay and instead ask multiple sellers what they are willing to sell the commodity for, you are conducting a reverse auction.  The sellers are competing for your business and depending upon the current state of the market for the commodity you are attempting to buy, you’re likely to get the best price, a price you would never get using any other method.  It’s also very easy to execute without ever visiting the seller.  Here’s what I just did to buy a new Honda.

I live on a remote ranch thirty miles from the nearest city of any size (25,000 permanent residents, another 15,000 seasonal college students) and that city does not have a Honda dealer.  So, I selected eight within 150 miles.  I knew exactly the model I wanted to buy so I was able to conduct the reverse auction from my desk by email and telephone.  And to sweeten the already sweet deal I negotiated, the winning dealer delivered the car to me so that I did not have to make a 300-mile round trip.  You can too.  Here’s how.

First, determine exactly what you want to buy.  I can’t tell you how to do that but if you visit dealerships to inspect and test drive the product, do not buy no matter what deal you are offered.  You can almost certainly do better by executing a reverse auction.

Next, determine how you intend to pay for the car.  If you intend to finance, get pre-qualified first from a lender, not a car dealer.  Once you have a firm offer to finance the purchase you can better compare what financing the dealer might be offering but never, never, never discuss financing with a car dealer before you have his best offer to sell the car.

Next, locate a selection of dealers from whom you are willing to buy.  This is the second new car I purchased with a reverse auction so I chose to get bids from eight.  The first time I purchased a new car with a reverse auction was in 2010 and I obtained bids from 22 dealers, which was overkill and too unwieldy.  Research the dealers within the range you are willing to travel who sell the car you want to buy and select 6-10.  Hint: try Google maps and search on car dealers in your area.

Next, if you can, get the email address of the Internet Sales Manager at each dealership.  I say if you can because most dealerships with an online presence do not disclose email addresses but instead, provide a contact form for customers to use to request price information, what most call an ePrice.  You might be able to get that address by calling the dealership and asking for it but don’t be surprised if they insist you use the online contact form.  Using the contact form will probably not get you the best price in the first set of bids you receive but this isn’t a one-round process so if you are patient and persistent, sooner or later you will smoke out better bids from each dealer even those that insist you use those forms.  And do provide contact information when you fill out the form.  How else are they going to contact you and leaving out your telephone number or email address will only convince them that you are a looky-loo.

Whether they call you on the phone or email you and press you to buy today, right now, this minute, and can you come into the dealership today, your answer is to politely say you are waiting until you receive all of the bids you requested.

I used the contact forms at seven of the eight on my list and to each, even to the one dealer for whom I had the email address of a real person, the approach was the same.  I entered all my contact information and then in the comment box I included the following text, which I pasted from my word processing software:

We intend to buy in August a new (year, make and model go here) for cash.  Prefer (preferred color(s) go here) but color not critical.  Am querying all dealers within 150 miles of (your zip goes here).  Will buy from dealer with lowest price (reverse auction).  Please, no extended warranties, scotch guarding, undercoating or any other dealer add-on.  Please respond with best complete itemized out-the-door price below MSRP.

Then I sat back and waited for the responses.

Now you should be aware that timing has a lot to do with getting the best price on a new car.  Every dealer has month and quarter targets he must meet in order to maintain the pricing relationship he has with the manufacturer.  If he misses those targets the prices he pays for inventory next month or next quarter are very likely to be higher than those in his current inventory.  So month-end, quarter-end and year-end auctions will always get you better prices than those conducted earlier in any given period.  I chose the Monday of the last full week in August to begin my reverse auction.  Be aware that sales people often take days off during the week so be prepared for some delay after the first set of bids are in hand for the second round.

Speaking of the price the dealer pays for inventory, forget about the notion of discovering the invoice price of the car you wish to buy and negotiating up from that price.  That’s exactly what they want you to do.  Any invoice price published on the web is a scam orchestrated by the car manufacturers to convince you that you can out-negotiate a car dealer.  Forget it.  They are the pros and unless you buy and sell cars every day as a business, you are an amateur, a sheep waiting to be fleeced.  You can’t out-negotiate them unless you use a reverse auction.  Any published invoice price on the net is bogus and car buying sites that will connect you with a dealer willing to sell you a car at $129 or $200 or whatever over invoice are getting a kick-back from the dealer if you buy based on that referral.  The referrer makes money and the dealer makes money even if he sells you the car at the so-called invoice price, because you are so smart and such a great negotiator, so anything over the invoice price is gravy.  No merchant in his right mind is going to disclose the price he pays for inventory.  If you think otherwise, well, disregard my advice and experience and do your own thing, and best of luck.

After the first round of bids are in – and now you will have email addresses of real persons – send a polite email to all listing the highest and lowest bids without disclosing the names of any of the bidders, ask them if they are willing to submit another bid and sit back and wait for the second round.  You can, of course, do more than two rounds but very likely two is all you will need and if you try a third and subsequent rounds, you’ll only piss them off.  Be polite and after you receive each bid, thank the person and say you will get back to him when all bids have been received.  And don’t be afraid to reveal in general what you are doing.  I used the term reverse auction and I disclosed right up front that I was soliciting bids from multiple dealers.  If any refuse to participate, chose another from your list of dealers within your area.  Now relax and be patient.  You might even let a day or two go by before picking the deal you want to accept.  Try to have a backup in case the first dealer backs out for any reason.  Most offers won’t be bait and switch but some might say the deal they offered was only good for 24 hours and now the deal is… obviously higher than that first quote.  The only real power you have is your willingness to walk away from the deal and remember; the closer to the end of the period the more likely you are to receive super-low pricing.  Remember too, your goal is to get the best price available at this time and in this place.  What someone else might achieve in some other market is not relevant to you.  I bought a new Honda at 7% below MSRP and I don’t believe I could have done better using any other method.  Good luck and feel free to comment, either with your own experience using reverse auction or to critique my technique.

Flash update: September 1, 2016, US auto sales fall 4 percent in August

Read this article if you are in the market for a new vehicle, especially a new car. This may be the best opportunity in years to buy a new Honda Accord or Civic or a new Acura (or, your favorite marque). Sales of SUV’s are up but sales of cars are down – way down. Do your research and then buy a new car at the end of September 2016 using a reverse auction. September is a good buying opportunity, because it is a quarter-ending month, but so will be the three remaining months of 2016. End-of-year should be a killer buying opportunity. Go get ’em.

Jonathan Tyne makes one-time pad encryption practical

This post is an excerpt from the next to last chapter in my novel Affirmative Action. It is long, more than 12,000 words – read it as if it is a short story – and there is much dialogue in it between my protagonists Catherine Duvall and Jonathan Tyne, whom Catherine knows by his assumed name Michael Ware. The dialogue is rich and tension-filled because the wheels of their relationship are coming off. And as the story tends towards its conclusion I take pains to set the stage for the story that follows, The Seventh Circle. For the careful reader the most important aspect of this chapter is its emphasis on encryption, specifically the technique known as one-time pad encryption. The application of one-time pad encryption in the story is real; the context in which it is used is fictional. But make no mistake; the way Jonathan proposes to use one-time pad encryption is valid. The arguments made in the story, both pro and con are the very arguments you might use if someone you know and trust needs to be able to communicate with you without anyone else being able to read your correspondence. In the world we live in, that is no small issue and one we all need to consider.

I chose to put this discussion in a fictional context because at this point in the story and in the one to follow, encryption of e-mail communication is essential for Jonathan’s survival. It is insufficient in itself to keep him alive but when combined with the other things he does, it just may tip the outcome in his favor. You’ll have to read Rogue Elephants to find out.

To briefly set the stage: The date is Wednesday, September 15, 1999. Jonathan is recovering from surgery required to repair a gunshot wound inflicted by Nicholas Parma, one of two men Jonathan killed in a gun battle at Catherine Duvall’s home in Bend, Oregon four nights before. They are staying in Sisters, Oregon at the home of Dr. Anita Bellamy, a friend of Jonathan’s of long standing. Catherine, though planning to return to her ex-husband to give their failed marriage another try, agreed to play nurse maid just in case complications from surgery render Jonathan incapable of calling for help. He’s had serious abdominal surgery with extensive internal bleeding, is self-administering an injectable blood thinner and is wearing an indwelling catheter. He’s on the mend but blood in his urine makes the situation problematic. The fear is sudden hemorrhage, circulatory shock and loss of consciousness. So, for your reading pleasure, here is:

Jonathan Tyne proposes that he and Catherine Duvall use one-time pad encryption for all future e-mail communication.

Update: 8/16/2015, from The New York Times

AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet Traffic, Files Reveal

Fancy that. Here is the latest in a long line of revelations from Edward J. Snowden, patriot extraordinaire. When he first revealed the complicity of certain e-mail providers – you all know who they are – you could hear the whining and gnashing of teeth from here to Silicon Valley and back, because they feared for their business model. So, as we were told, they were compelled to cooperate by secret court order. Since then we’ve been encouraged to continue to trust because they have added end-to-end encryption to their e-mail services. But if you believe your e-mails are now secure, I have some swamp land in Florida I’ll sell you real cheap. Why bother to decrypt encrypted e-mail, even though they can, when it is so much easier if you can get a secret court order to access the raw e-mail text before it is passed through the encrypter? Since the Patriot Act, and even before, the courts have been only too willing to issue such orders. If you’re going to use encryption, think about how Jonathan Tyne does it.

Enjoy.

–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–)|(–

Bright morning sunlight flooded the room when Catherine Duvall abruptly drew the heavy drapes aside that covered the double casement windows. Jonathan Tyne, somewhat disoriented from self-induced withdrawal from too much hospital supplied painkillers, sat up and reflexively reached for the pistol he’d placed on the bedside table under the open book. When he saw it was Catherine he feigned stretching. Only four days post surgery, both movements induced sharp pain in his abdomen. The incision was healing but it was still more than a little tender. He’d left one of the casements open and the room was cold.

“Good morning sleepyhead. Jeez, it’s cold in here. Do you always sleep this way?”

“No, I like it cool but you’re right, it is too cold.”

“It would never have worked, us sleeping together. I’m not about to freeze my ass off.”

“I would have kept you warm.”

To that she responded by sticking out her tongue. She opened the valve on the radiator. It hissed and rattled and a water hammer, not unlike the sound of an AK-47 on full auto, added its staccato rat-a-tat-tat from somewhere below. “Too much,” he said. “A half-turn is just about right, otherwise it will be an oven in here.” She fiddled with the valve until he nodded. He was wearing only a T-shirt so she tossed the robe she found at the foot of the bed at him and handed him the mug of coffee she’d brought up from the kitchen.

“When was the last time you showered?”

It took him a moment to recall when last he’d bathed other than with the anti-bacterial wipes the hospital freely dispensed. “Saturday morning.”

“Well my friend, four days and counting. You’re pretty ripe. The good news is you’ve got time for a shower before breakfast,” as she headed for the door. “And shave too. Oh, Anita looked in on you before she left for the hospital. She wants you to change the tubing and collection bag. She said just a few drops of blood that cling inside the tubing can turn your urine magenta. She thinks the bleeding may have stopped but she can’t be sure. She said she thinks you know how to do it. Do you?”

“Yeah, but it takes three hands. I could use some help.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

She closed the bedroom door behind her and Tyne headed for the shower. Because he was recovering from surgery for a gunshot wound Tyne had been given the upstairs master bedroom, Joanna Bellamy’s room. It had a private bath. Joanna was away at college so the room was no longer in daily use. Catherine was down the hall in one of the two guest bedrooms. She used the hall bathroom. Anita had assumed Catherine would share the room with Jonathan and it came as a big surprise when Catherine explained that they were friends and not lovers. That was the first Dr. Bellamy had heard that Catherine was returning to her ex-husband, to give their failed marriage a second chance. She disapproved but she bit her tongue and said nothing. Tyne was drying himself when she returned with a breakfast tray.

He wrapped himself in his robe and hooked the urine bag connected to the indwelling catheter over the robe’s belt. Catherine arranged the pillows for his back and motioned him to get into bed. She hung the urine collection bag on the bed rail and then placed the tray on his lap and sat beside him on the bed. On the tray were eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon, a slice of melon, orange juice, coffee and a bud vase with a single pink rose.

“Aren’t you eating?” he said.

“Just coffee. I ate with Anita. She had early surgery so I made breakfast for her. She’ll be back about two.”

The eggs were done just the way he liked them. “Your Hollandaise sauce is better than mine.”

“That’s because it’s from scratch, not that packaged stuff you used.” Her answer was a little too sharp. After an awkward moment of silence she said, “I don’t think I ever told you how much I enjoyed those Saturday and Sunday brunches you prepared. You’re a very good cook.”

“A labor of love for my love.”

Frowning, she said, “Please don’t say that.”

“Why the hell not. It’s the truth.”

“It’s pointless.”

After a pause he said, “If you say so.”

He finished his breakfast, which was excellent, in silence and when she removed the tray he said. “I’d like to talk but I could use another cup of that coffee.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Are you still planning on leaving Friday?”

“Yes, if Anita removes the catheter on Friday.”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“Then I’ll stay until she does.”

“Why?”

“The surgeon who patched you up said you must not be left alone while you’re wearing the catheter and Anita concurred. She can’t be with you every moment of every day so I agreed to spell her.”

“That still doesn’t tell me why. A Foley is a pain in the ass especially the way that bitch-doctor Conejo set up mine. She was infusing saline and she set the drip rate faster than the discharge capillary tube could drain it, so I felt full, and damn uncomfortable, all the time. I complained twice and the fucking night-nurse increased the drip rate, so . . . I noted her setting and then I adjusted it myself until I was comfortable. When I knew they were coming back on rounds I put it back the way Conejo had set it. It’s hardly life-threatening.”

Catherine was shaking her head and rolling her eyes while he ranted on. “By itself it isn’t but what makes it life-threatening is that blood thinner you’re taking, enox . . . something or other.”

“Enoxaparin.”

“Whatever. When it’s taken after major abdominal surgery, like you had, there’s a risk of hemorrhage and with it, shock. If that happened you might not be conscious long enough to call for help and you could bleed to death. With all we . . . you’ve been through, to bleed to death now would be too much to bear. So, I’m here to see that that does not happen. You are taking it, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, twice a day, nine and nine.”

“You still haven’t told me what you want to discuss?”

“Us . . . after you leave on Friday . . . or whenever.”

“I’ll get your coffee.”

. . .

When she returned with two mugs of coffee Tyne had gathered the supplies needed to replace the tubing and urine collection bag. He was cleaning tape residue on the inside of his thigh with alcohol when she came into the room. A three-lumen catheter, the irrigation port now sealed, emerged from his penis and was anchored to his thigh with a plastic clamp, the clamp taped in place. His penis was shriveled down to the size of a walnut from the effects of the catheter and there was dried blood caked on the glans.

“I’ve never seen one so small,” was the first thing Catherine said.

“Like all those Greek and Roman statues. It’s because of the catheter. It’s big enough unless you’re one of those women, for whom size matters. Madeleine never complained.”

“I can assure you my interest is purely academic.”

He swabbed away most of the dried blood with alcohol and then said, “Good, now how about cutting two pieces of that tape, about five inches each.”

She did and then he held in place a fresh tubing anchor. “Tape it to my leg where I’m holding it.”

After she secured the anchor he pulled the tubing off the outlet lumen and holding his penis and it so it did not spill urine on him or the bed he said, “Now you hold the lumen like I am, so I don’t pee on myself.”

She did what he asked while he unspooled the tubing and attached it to the lumen, then snapped it to the anchor. “Thank you, you did good. Nice warm hands. You’d make a fine nurse.” It was a few minutes to nine so while she watched he injected himself with enoxaparin. She then gathered the supplies and disposed of the used urine bag, syringe and the packaging. When she returned he was sitting on the south-facing balcony on one of the two chaises, his legs covered with a heavy woolen throw. He indicated she sit on the second chaise with its matching throw. The two chaises were separated by a small redwood table with a large unfurled umbrella rising from its center. She set the coffee mugs on the table, sat and covered herself with the blanket. The air was cool, probably still in the upper fifties but there was no wind to make sitting outside unpleasant.

“So . . . what about us?” she said.

“Aren’t you neglecting your husband?”

“He’s still my ex-husband. I haven’t decided yet what to do about that, at least not in the short term.”

“You still don’t trust him?”

“Let’s say I want to see whether he . . . no whether we have staying power. We can always deal with the legal issues later.”

“Okay, aren’t you neglecting your ex-husband, Charles, right?”

“He’s still in London. He won’t be back in Seattle until Saturday week, or possibly Sunday. So no, I’m not neglecting him and you know damn well his name is Charles. I know you know him so it’s pointless for you to continue to deny it. He admitted to me you and he met at Spears-Fisher’s place in Sausalito.”

“Okay, I met him just that once, in June, at Jeremy’s birthday bash.”

“I knew it. That’s why the name Spears-Fisher rang a bell but I couldn’t place him. And he told you all about me, didn’t he? Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t want you to know that when I met you that first night at Di Giorgio’s it was to get you to hire me as your accompanist. That was my mission. That’s why I was there but I wanted it to be your idea . . . or not at all.”

“Where was this birthday party?”

“There were two, actually. The first was on a Friday night at a restaurant in Jack London Square. It was there so that people where Jeremy’s works could attend. It was a regular Friday night chill-out but everyone knew it was to celebrate Jeremy’s birthday. At least twenty people, possibly more were there at some point that evening. The second was the next night at Jeremy’s home – and yes, he owns a floating house at Sausalito.“

“I know that, I’ve been there.”

“The guests at the second party were fewer and mostly from the academic community at Berkeley. Charles and I were both weekend houseguests.”

“And he was with this . . . this person, who performed oral sex on him in public?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“I’m asking you.”

“Why, because you think he’d lie?”

“I know he was with someone in June. I don’t want to ask him about her but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know. Call it independent verification. Call it anything you like, just tell me?”

“Her name is Hillary something or other – I’m not always good with last names. Thirtyish, shoulder length blond hair, tall, taller than me in heels, classic features . . . really great cheekbones . . . model thin, too thin for my tastes but with gorgeous fake tits . . . I have this vague recollection that someone, I think it was Claire, Jeremy’s S.O., told me she is a second violin with the Seattle Symphony.”

“How do you know her boobs weren’t real?”

“I saw them. Sunday, when we took Jeremy’s boat out – he owns a 36-foot sloop – she went topless. She’s much too thin to have naturals as big as those.”

“And that’s where she sucked his cock, in front of all of you?”

“Uh-huh, on the bow, beneath the spinnaker. It would have made a fantastic photo for Sailing Magazine.”

“Who else was on the boat?”

“Jeremy, Claire and me.”

“And you all saw what was going on?”

“Well, I didn’t point out what they were doing, but it was pretty obvious. We were all concentrating on the spinnaker. By the way, Charles is an excellent sailor. I know more about powerboats, but he certainly knows more than me about sailing. The spinnaker was his gift and he taught us how to fly it. Did you know that about him?”

“Yes, he’s always been interested in sailing. I can’t think of a time while we were married that we didn’t have some sort of sailboat. We mostly sailed on Long Island Sound and he was very competitive.”

“Well, that will give you two something to do together in Seattle. Keep him on a short leash, sail with him, travel with him when he’s on tour and he just might do right by you, although I’d bet against it.”

“How were they together?”

“Meaning . . . other than having sex in front of the rest of us . . . meaning what?”

“You know damn well what I mean. Were they a loving couple? Was there empathy between them? Did she slavishly echo whatever he said?”

“I’d say they were into each other big time but there was also some tension between them. I got the impression from what I overheard on the boat that he wanted her to do something she didn’t want to do. They were trying to be discreet but the wind has a tendency to carry conversations. I couldn’t help overhearing some of what they said. And then, of course, I couldn’t ignore what she did to him. It was so . . . what’s the right word . . . so uninhibited. You might have to learn to be more demonstrative.”

“Why didn’t you want me to know he steered you to me?”

“Ego, I suppose. I wanted you to want me . . . for me, not because I came recommended by someone else. I don’t like friend of a friend connections.”

“What did he say about me?”

“Catherine, it was months ago. What does it matter now?”

“It matters to me.” After a moment when he said nothing she said, “Tell me.”

“He said you were a good person. Smart, loyal, honest to a fault but you have a ferocious temper. He said that would be the biggest problem I had to deal with if I worked with you, your temper. He said you were a better than average singer, a superb pianist and an accomplished dancer. He said you should stick to the piano and forget about singing but if you insisted on a singing career, then I was the kind of musician who could help you make the best of what you had. Since I’d already seen you that was enough of an intro for me to want to work with you.”

“My temper isn’t any worse than yours.”

“Well I beg to differ but it turned out not to be a problem because from the very beginning I decided it was your act so I’d do it your way.”

“Well, I have no complaints in that regard.”

“So, what happens next? What do you want to happen between us after you leave?”

. . .

With an exasperated tone in her voice he knew well she said, “Didn’t we have this conversation just a few days ago?”

“We did but a lot has happened since then. My point of view has changed so I’m assuming yours probably has too.”

“Have you changed your mind about working with me?”

“You mean in front of a live audience?”

“Yes, as I told you we’ve been offered a gig in Seattle.”

“No, and now not just because I’m feeling sorry for myself. It could get us . . . well, maybe not us but certainly me killed.”

“Is there anything I can say to get you to change your mind?”

“Not a chance.”

“Does that include working with me on a CD? And you promised to build a website. What about that?”

He didn’t answer immediately. When he finally did he said, “The website is a no-brainer. As I told you I want to do it because I want to test out some new ideas before I pitch them to my friends in Chicago. I’ll have it done in three weeks, a month at most. I think making a CD is a bad idea but I said I would so I will . . . but . . . it’s all in the details.”

“You mean rehearsal?”

“That and the timing. Also, you may not use my name or picture. You’ll have to invent a new name and bio for the jacket copy.” She started to protest and he stopped her with an upraised palm. “Catherine, hear me out. I know how important it is to you but it’s such a bad idea I really think we should forget the whole thing.”

“Why?”

“Because these Tosca people aren’t going to give up looking for me. I’m going to be very difficult to find and when that reality sets in they’re going to come looking for you. They know we worked together. They know we lived together and they’ll assume we were sleeping together. They’ll probably think we still are even after they observe you playing house with your ex. They’ll think you can tell them where to find me. You can’t but they won’t know that. I think you should distance yourself from me. You should come up with a story why we aren’t working together, why you’ll never again work with me.

“Make me out to be the villain. I never told you my real name. You didn’t find out until after the shooting, during the police investigation. I lied to you and you won’t have truck with liars no matter how well we perform together. We were never romantically involved, the proof of which is your return to your ex, which has been planned for months. The catalyst for moving back to Seattle is the fire but you visited Charles in Seattle to show the flag many times while you and I worked together.

“I can’t tell you exactly how to cobble that story together but you’re a smart girl; you’ll think of something . . . but don’t ever let them catch you in a lie. You can’t hurt me, no matter what you tell them so you should not try to protect me. For example, you know I maintain a P.O. box in John Day, my business card says so – that’s where your accountant sends my performing fees – so that implies my ranch is closer to John Day than it is to say, Burns or La Grande or Pendleton, but close to John Day encompasses thousands of square miles. By the time they find my ranch . . . and they eventually will, I’ll be long gone. I’m thinking of leaving Oregon for good and starting over somewhere else. So, it’s against my better judgment but if we can work out the logistics you have until I leave to get this CD made.”

“Are you certain it was the Toscas?”

“Isn’t it rather obvious?”

“Weren’t those two men you shot in that restaurant in California named O’Meara? Brothers, weren’t they? And didn’t the stories in the press say they were formerly IRA, from Belfast? Perhaps their IRA buddies or a relative is responsible?”

“Perhaps but I doubt the IRA would hire a Venezuelan to do the job. They would want me to know who they were. Besides, what you didn’t read because it was withheld from the media is the reason why the Toscas want me dead. It’s a long boring story but the bottom line is they think I can identify the last man standing, the man that got away. He was wounded in the exchange of gunfire and left behind DNA, which was partially matched to a man serving time at Folsom. This man is a distant relative of Frank Tosca Junior, on his mother’s side.

“I didn’t know this but in California convicted felons have to provide samples of their DNA. Tosca Junior has never been arrested much less convicted of anything so his DNA is not on file. The tests they ran indicate a strong probability the true owner is a maternal cousin or uncle of this guy at Folsom but apparently that isn’t enough for a court order. When I was still facing indictment for manslaughter and negligent homicide, and it appeared to all, certainly to my attorney, an indictment was a virtual certainty, an ADA named Sullivan offered me a deal: all charges dropped if I would say that photo number eight in a photo array could have been the shooter. That’s all I had to say, that number eight and three or four others could be the man because they look enough like him in general type. That would give Sullivan the probable cause she needed to force Tosca to give up some of his spit.

“I refused, because I knew I had information that would come out during my grand jury appearance that would exonerate me. Hell, I wouldn’t have identified Tosca even if I could. That would be like signing my own death warrant. Francesco Tosca—”

“You mean the reflective elements?”

“Yes, the REs.”

“But the press said the authorities found them and that’s why the charges against you were dropped.”

“That’s the story we agreed to, the deal my attorney negotiated. My arrest record expunged in return for letting ADA Sullivan take credit for finding them. My attorney provided a copy of the surveillance video and I thought I saw several REs. It was actually one of Jeremy’s grad students who rendered them so they were meaningful.

“As I was saying, Francesco Tosca knew about the photo show-up and sent a lawyer with a camera crew to record it. It wasn’t just me who viewed those photos. They were also shown to the other witnesses but I was the only one whom the DA thought she could intimidate. I can’t ID the shooter. I told that to the police and her numerous times but after the showing I made the mistake of calling the Tosca lawyer, a guy named Siebert, and of telling him what Sullivan tried to do. I thought by disclosing this information they would know I wasn’t a threat and they’d leave me alone. I didn’t exactly threaten Tosca but I did say something stupid like if they wanted war then I’d oblige them and I quoted from Shakespeare: Cut off the king’s head and you don’t have to worry about the king’s men. It was a stupid thing to do. It probably put the idea in their heads that I might some day recant, if I ever got into trouble and needed something to sell to save my ass, because my dear, there is no statute of limitations on homicide. With me dead they’ll have to figure out some other way to get Junior’s DNA.

“So, now you may be a target too.”

“Why do I get the impression all this bullshit about burning my bridges, burning you is just your not so subtle attempt to persuade me not to return to Charles? You seem to be implying the only way to be safe is to abandon my plans and instead live with you at your stupid ranch where I’d be bored out of my gourd.”

“I won’t imply it; I’ll say it straight out. You would be safer with me, and not just at the ranch but wherever we’d happen to be but you’re as wrong as you can be about my intent. I’m not offering you such an arrangement and what’s more, I know you wouldn’t accept it if I did.”

His last remark was intended to hurt. If it did he couldn’t tell from her face. At best, he thought, she was indifferent. Then she said, “You can’t remember from one day to the next what you say. The first conversation we had when you woke up in the hospital was to advise me to hotfoot it back to Charles as fast as I can because he’s rich enough to provide me with security while you can’t. Now you’re saying I would be safer with you, anywhere with you. So which is it?”

“If you recall I was flat on my back, virtually helpless with a tube up my willy and wired into the electrical grid. If the people who ordered that hit had even one operational brain among them they would have sent a follow-up shooter to the hospital. That they didn’t was luck, good for me, bad for them. And in general I meant the public you. The you that performs in public and wants me to work with you, in public. That’s what nearly got me killed . . . and no, I’m not blaming you. I wanted you and I thought working with you was the key to you eventually wanting me. And sure, I’m terribly disappointed you’re going with another man but the last thing I would do is chase after a woman who’s secretly yearning for someone else. I’m simply trying to get you to understand the danger you are in.”

“I get it. You made your point. Can we move on?”

“Sure, let’s. So, since we’ve determined that we are going to have some sort of ongoing relationship after you leave Bend, I want to discuss how we will communicate. Are you cool with that?”

“Until I hear what you have in mind.”

“Okay, as I see it there are three methods we can use: encrypted e-mail, burner phones purchased with cash and private courier services, such as UPS, FedEx and DHL, also paid for with cash.”

“You mean PGP?”

“No, I no longer trust PGP. In fact, I spent most of yesterday writing a better alternative.”

“Come on Michael; I know you are a top engineer but a better PGP than PGP? In only one day? PGP has been around for years.”

“One-time pad encryption has been around even longer and XOR, exclusive-or, is baked into silicon and every serious programming language.”

“Aren’t fictional spies the only people who use one-time pads? It makes a good spy story but get real. I use PGP with my accountant, my agent and my editor at Penguin and I’m satisfied it works.”

“There are instances of one-time pads in fiction; probably the best known is Follett’s The Key to Rebecca. And real spies particularly from the Eastern Bloc have used them but they don’t scale well. The problem is creating the pads. What makes the one-time pad method unbreakable is the randomness of the pad. Unfortunately, if you create the pads with a computer you will not get true randomness since computers are only capable of what we call pseudo-randomness. That means they repeat themselves and any encryption method that uses a repeating pattern can be cracked.

“Follett’s spy used the Daphne du Maurier novel to effect random one-time pads along with a manual transliteration method. A better method, not so error-prone, is to use XOR with text taken from a book, any book. When you apply XOR to two sets of bits, the result is 1 if the bits differ and 0 if they’re the same. One set is the message to be encrypted; the other is the one-time pad. The beauty of XOR is that it has the mathematical property that it is self-inverse. That means if you XOR the one-time pad against the encrypted message, it yields the original message. My contribution to the art is using any ordinary paperback as a book of pads, in this case the book you bought for me to read in the hospital, Deighton’s Berlin Game. Terrific book, by the way.

“First you have to decide which page to use. One way to do it: yesterday was day 257 of the year so that’s the page I used. I typed that page into a Word document and saved it as an MS-DOS Text file. That’s a must. You want text only, not formatting markup. It isn’t necessary to type the whole page but it must be as long or longer than the message. The program will report a fatal error if the one-time pad file isn’t long enough and it will tell you how many more characters you need. I then used that file as a one-time pad in a Perl program I wrote that uses XOR.

”Works like a champ. I now have encoder and decoder versions of the script. That’s what I want us to use instead of PGP, with two different books. When you want to initiate a message to me you will use one book, like Berlin Game, but when you wish to decrypt a message I send you you’ll use a different book. That’s so we don’t inadvertently use the same page to encode two different messages that happen to be sent on the same day. That’s the whole idea of why one-time pad encryption is unbreakable; each pad is used exactly once. I’ll take responsibility for choosing the books and obtaining two identical copies of each. All you’ll have to do is type the appropriate page into Word, and of course, the message. The encoder will write an encrypted file to disk that you then e-mail as an attachment.

“Let me demonstrate.” He then showed Catherine step-by-step how to encode and then decode a thirty-line message.

“I have some questions,” she said after he finished.

“I thought you would.”

“How do you know one-time pad encryption is better than PGP?”

“The study of mathematical algorithms was one of my specialties in grad school. PGP uses pattern repetition, just as all encryption methods do, except one-time pad.”

“Can you show me something authoritative, not just your opinion, that asserts one-time pad encryption cannot be broken?”

Tyne connected to O’Reilly’s Safari website and opened his online copy of Orwant, Hietaniemi and Macdonald’s Mastering Algorithms with Perl. The ability to do research was so important to Tyne he subscribed to the Safari service to avoid having to buy, much less carry around whatever technical books he needed in his work. He did own a hard copy of the book but it was currently sitting on his desk back at the ranch. He opened to the chapter on cryptography and then paged forward until he found the discussion of one-time pad encryption.

First he explained the Safari service. Then he said, “This book was just published in August. The discussion is a little technical but I think you can follow it. Read these two pages but skip the section labeled Swapping Values with XOR. It’s not relevant to our use of XOR. Skip the sample program too. Mine uses a somewhat different approach to managing the pads. If you get stuck on any terminology I’ll translate.”

She did what he asked. She actually read the two pages twice. When she finished she said, “There is nothing here about using a book like Berlin Game for the pads. All this book says is how difficult generating the pads is and how much trouble it is to use this type of encryption.”

“Yes, I agree it is difficult and it doesn’t scale beyond a small network of users. That’s why it will never be used by a large organization like the military. It’s why so much effort has been applied to solving the encryption problem with much shorter keys, such as with PGP and similar approaches, and that’s why they are inferior. They all repeat. I used Berlin Game because it was handy. Think about fictional prose, as opposed to say, poetry . . . or song lyrics. Think about your own writing. There is no repetition in the text of a book such as Berlin Game, or any other contemporary fiction. Thus, we are assured of randomness created by others with no ax to grind. We don’t have to resort to a computer random number generator we know isn’t random.”

“But it is a lot of trouble to go through. And what if we don’t type the page correctly? What if what you type is different from what I type? What happens then?”

“Good question. It tells me you understand the issues. Yes, that is a weakness of my implementation of the method. Any errors will cause the message to be garbled at best and possibly completely unreadable. It depends on the type of error and where in the pad it is located. A one-character error at the beginning of the pad, say an extra letter or an omission would render the message unreadable. That’s why great care must be used when entering the text.”

He demonstrated by making several changes to the test pad file he’d created from the Deighton book and showed Catherine the errors that would result from using it. “I’ve watched you type,” he said. “You’re very fast, faster than me and you’re expert with Word. I think if you slow down a bit and opt for accuracy, and use a spell checker, you can create pads without any errors.”

“I’m not a Word expert; I just get by.”

“Well, you sure fooled me and I’m very good.”

She was silent for a long time and then she said, “Unless you make it easier to use and less error prone, I won’t use it. I’ll use PGP, or nothing . . . or those two other methods you mentioned.” She rose from the chaise, folded her blanket and started for the French doors, but before leaving the balcony she said, “I have some phone calls to make and then some errands to run in town after Anita gets back. You’re a smart guy; you’ll figure it out . . . or not. But unless you do I won’t use it.”

. . .

Tyne spent the rest of the morning doing research online. At lunch – Catherine made sandwiches and iced tea, and Tyne went downstairs still wearing his robe to eat with her – he said nothing about what he was doing. They talked about horses. Catherine told him how much she was going to miss working with Dr. Bellamy’s horses. When Jonathan reminded her that the Bellamy horse, a four year old filly, she most liked was sired by the same Idaho Arabian stallion as his two geldings, she abruptly changed the subject.

After lunch Tyne returned to his labors. When Catherine looked in on him after Anita Bellamy returned from the hospital, to ask whether he wanted anything from town, he believed he had a solution. He said that to Catherine but did not tell her the details. In any case, she said she was on her way out and it would have to wait until later. Then she asked him, somewhat testily, if she was to be the only person stuck using his encryption method. He said no, that he would ask six or seven of his closest friends some of who, his ex-wife, for example, were already using PGP to switch. How about Dr. Bellamy, she asked. Yes, Annie was certainly one of those he would ask. Then would he mind explaining it to both of them, say after dinner. Not at all, he said; it would save him from having to do it twice. So they agreed that after dinner tonight he could make his pitch, to both of them.

For dinner Catherine returned from Bend with a rack of baby back ribs and several ears of fresh sweet corn. She announced she would bake the ribs with her special sauce and also make coleslaw with her own private recipe. As Tyne always did when meat was being prepared, he volunteered to grill the ribs, of course, with Catherine’s sauce but on Dr. Bellamy’s charcoal grill. The good doctor also had an expensive gas grill, which Tyne disdained as inferior to cooking over coals. A short but potentially acrimonious argument then ensued between Catherine and Jonathan, which Anita quickly settled by waxing near rhapsodic about Tyne’s ability, about which she was very well informed, to cook meat. So, while Tyne prepared the grill Catherine mixed up a batch of barbecue sauce – she loathed she intoned anything store-bought that came in a jar. She also made up a batch of slaw and both it and her barbecue sauce were strongly influenced by her expertise in Chinese cuisine.

As a concession to modesty he ditched the robe in favor of a loose set of sweats. He ran the catheter tube down the inside of his leg and hooked the collection bag over a leather belt he wore around his waist explicitly for that purpose.

After removing the membrane from the ribs, which Catherine closely observed and for which he was thankful came off in one piece, he first basted the meat with extra virgin olive oil. Catherine wanted him to add the sauce immediately, as she would have if the ribs were baked in an ordinary convection oven, but he said the fire was so hot that the sauce would caramelize long before the ribs were done. He began basting the ribs thirty minutes before he judged them to be done and as was often the case, he misjudged how long done would take. He had to leave them on the grill another twenty minutes for the internal temperature to reach 170 degrees. To keep the sauce from burning he moved the ribs to a place on the grill where the heat was not so intense. Catherine, of course, made a snide comment about his inability to keep to a schedule, to which he had the good sense to ignore.

They dined outside under the stars on Anita’s flagstone patio, the women sitting together on one side of a redwood picnic table, and Catherine admitted, somewhat grudgingly Tyne thought, that the ribs were excellent. Tyne made a point of complementing the barbecue sauce and the slaw. Over a 10- year-old tawny port, Brie and coffee, actually espresso, which Catherine also prepared, she challenged Tyne to put up or shut up about one-time pad encryption. Apparently believing, so Tyne surmised, that Annie would be an ally, she said in a particularly sarcastic manner, “Michael, always arrogant to the point of being obnoxious thinks he has invented a better PGP than PGP. He is insisting that we use his latest creation when we exchange e-mails. He also says he is going to ask you too to use his method. What do you think of that?”

“Well, I’m not a fan of PGP, or any of the other encryption methods, such as public key encryption. I wish someone would invent a better technology. Michael has all the right training and credentials. Perhaps you ought to heed his suggestion.”

“What have you got against PGP?” she said.

“You have to understand the problems we in health care face. What we desperately need is the ability to exchange patient information electronically. Even better would be standardized patient records with industry-standard secure access. Unfortunately, there is no standard for patient records, none, absolutely nada, and a host of incompatible methods for accessing them remotely and almost zero ability to exchange them. PGP is only one of many methods and what I dislike about it, why I don’t trust it, is the government apparently is content to encourage its use. I think any technology the government is willing to endorse is one they’ve already compromised.”

“Do you actually see that encouragement, because I don’t?” said Tyne.

“Yes, in several white papers I’ve seen circulating concerning certain very preliminary proposals for that part of a patient’s record the exchange of which Medicare is considering authorizing. Whether they will or will not is anyone’s guess but it’s way in the future, perhaps not in our lifetimes. Hell, the VA won’t even participate in the discussions. To say I and some of my colleagues are skeptical is an understatement.”

“Do you use PGP?” said Catherine.

“I do, but reluctantly, and only when my correspondent insists. When I want to have a private communication with another professional I pick up the phone. So Michael, what have you been up to?”

Before he could answer Catherine said, “He’s written some half-baked version of one-time pad encryption based on a few paragraphs in some stupid book.”

“Is it half-baked?”

“No, it’s fully baked. I demonstrated the half-baked version to Catherine this morning and she shot holes in it. So, I spent the day doing research and I’ve come up with the changes that answer all her doubts and concerns.” He then briefly, for Annie’s benefit, reviewed the notion of using a book of fiction as a one-time pad.

“Okay,” he said, “to summarize Catherine’s concerns: first, the probability that two people at separate locations can enter the same page of text into a word processor without errors is so high as to make the method impractical, and second, the process is too cumbersome to use. Did I state your concerns accurately?”

“Those weren’t my words but yes, you paraphrased what I said correctly.”

“Any others?”

“No, those are plenty.”

“Have either of you heard of Project Gutenberg?” Both women shook their heads.

“The project is the brainchild of a fellow named Michael Hart, who invented the eBook, which is a freely downloadable electronic version of a book in the public domain. Books that are currently out of print and for which copyright has expired.

“I’d heard about the project when I was at UofI but until Catherine complained that my one-time pad implementation was too unwieldy, I’d forgotten that it existed. When I visited the project’s website I was amazed at the number of books available for download. I made a list of a dozen or so I thought would make good one-time pad candidates and then I searched Annie’s library to see whether she had any hard copy versions. I found Melville’s Moby Dick; Or, The Whale.” He held up Annie’s copy for them to see. He then entered the Project Gutenberg website and used its search feature to find Moby Dick.

“The file I downloaded was the Plain Text UTF-8 version. If that type is not available for some book we think we might wish to use, we’ll look for a different book.” He then opened the file in Microsoft Word. “Notice the absence of page numbers. The person who entered this text either typed it or scanned it and the process used discarded the page numbers. That’s why we also need a hard copy version, two actually.

“So, suppose I want to send Catherine an encrypted e-mail. I need a method for selecting the page to use as the one-time pad. I prefer simple to complex so the method I like uses the day number of the year. Today is day 258 so—”

“How would I know today is 258?” said Catherine.

Tyne connected to a NOAA website that provided a day-of-year calendar. He entered 1999 and the page clearly showed that today was indeed day 258.

“So, I open my hard copy version of Moby Dick to page 258 and then I search in the downloaded version for the string that begins: ‘the affirmative fact.’ I then hold down the shift key and use the down-arrow key to select from that location to the last word on the page, the string that reads: ‘have reason to know.’ I cut this to the clipboard and then paste it into an empty Word document.” He demonstrated each step as he described it. The two women were sitting next to him, one on each side, both apparently unaware they were pressing against him with their legs, and they were completely engrossed.

“Notice I use the right margin to cause Word to wrap the lines to the same length as in the book. I then save this page as an MS-DOS Text file and voila, we have a perfectly random one-time pad.”

He then used the pad to encode a pro forma message to Catherine. Tyne had two public e-mail accounts, one at Yahoo Mail, the other at Hotmail. He sent the message as an attachment to himself from the Yahoo! account to the Hotmail account and then downloaded the attachment. When he applied the Moby Dick file to the encrypted attachment file that looked like gibberish, the decoder program rendered the original message perfectly.

“Now there’s one additional refinement I’m going to make. I can’t show it to you yet because I just thought of it but rest assured, I’ll have it done before you leave. It’s a search tool. It’s okay to keep the encrypted messages on your hard drive but it’s not a good idea to keep the pads. So, the tool will take a single argument, a fragment of the first line of the page you intend using, long enough to be unique, say . . . twelve to twenty characters starting with the first character on the page. Since the encrypter already truncates the pad to the exact length of the message, you don’t need to express the end of the pad, the tool will take care of that. And of course, the key is the rule for selecting the page. This is simple enough to commit to memory, so you don’t need to write it down, anywhere. Without the key no one could read any encrypted messages on the machine even if they had the machine.”

“What if I need to send more than one message on any given day?” said Catherine.

“Very good question.  In that case call me on your burner.” He then walked them through the Perl programs explaining in layman’s terms how each worked.

. . .

Just as he was finishing this explanation of the Perl code his cell phone rang. When he heard the voice on the other end he excused himself, to take this call in private. He’d avoided Catherine’s eyes so she assumed it was from his cop friend in California. To cover her discomfort she asked Anita what she thought of Michael’s one-time pad design. Anita was impressed, she said. She also said she intended to ask Michael whether she could use the programs with a colleague at Penn State, with whom she exchanged frequent confidential e-mail discussions using PGP that would benefit from better encryption. They discussed Project Gutenberg. Tyne had left his laptop connected to the Internet and the browser connection to the project’s website was still active so the two women spent a few moments searching through the eBook database looking for titles they recognized.

. . .

Tyne retreated to Dr. Bellamy’s study and closed the door behind him. The call was indeed from Mike Castelano, his cop friend in California. After greeting each other with the usual ribald repartee Castelano began with, “Jonathan, you are one lucky sumbitch to have survived this encounter. It was very well planned and perfectly executed except they were not expecting an ambush. It’s probable that they assumed you and Duvall would be asleep.”

“Do you know who sent them?”

“We can’t prove it was Tosca but Nicholas Parma being one of them points in that direction.  Unfortunately, the linkage is not definitive. Parma was married to a woman named Connie Falco. Falco is the daughter of Frederick Falco, a San Francisco lawyer, and Elizabeth Rhoades and Rhoades is the older sister of a guy named Arthur Rhoades.

“Now here’s where it gets really confusing . . . or really interesting depending on your point of view. Even though Parma had ID on his person the Oregon cops ran his fingerprints through the bureau and it turns out Parma’s real name is Nikolai Petrovich.”

“That sounds Russian?”

“He’s Bulgarian but he was born in Trieste, Italy in 1957. Apparently he lived there until he was a teenager. Spoke Italian fluently. He also served in the Soviet army, flew Hinds in Afghanistan until he was wounded and invalided out. Came here in ‘87. Last known address under his own name was in ‘93 in Brighton Beach. Under Parma he lived for a time in California but for the last three years his address was in Aloha, Oregon. It’s unclear whether Rhoades knows his real name. He and his sister are estranged and we don’t know whether he’s broken up about the death of his niece’s husband but you may have made another enemy. I think you may know this Rhoades and we’re certain Duvall knows him. We know Rhoades does business with the Toscas but there is no proof there is anything illegal about this connection.  You do know him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I met him twice at the restaurant in Bend. Was Parma some kind of mole?”

“Man, that’s what makes him so interesting. Don’t know but you can be sure we’re gonna find out. Tell me about those meetings.”

“The first was three or four weeks before the shooting. Not sure of the date. Rhoades came in during happy hour with a local woman named Sharon Robinette. At first they sat in a booth but after a bit they moved to stools at the piano. I know the Robinette woman casually so she introduced Rhoades although she said his name was Andrew Carr. At one point Catherine joined us and she greeted Carr as if they were old friends. They stayed for the dinner show and then the four of us had a late supper. On the drive back to Catherine’s condo she told me his real name was Rhoades, that he was a novelist and a successful real estate developer and that Carr is his pseudonym.

“The second meeting was the Saturday afternoon before the night of the shooting. Catherine was asked to attend a meeting at the restaurant and on the way her car broke down. She had it towed to a Honda dealer and someone at the dealership gave her a ride to the meeting. When the meeting ended she called me and asked me to come and get her which I did.”

“What time was this?”

“Early afternoon, probably between two and three. When I got there Catherine was in another meeting that did not include Carr. He saw me drinking coffee at the bar and we talked briefly.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“He was whining about how expensive repairing the fire damage was going to be – that’s when I learned he was one of the owners, apparently a very silent partner – how insurance never covered all the costs and how this was the second fire the restaurant had sustained. I’ve been eating at Di Giorgio’s for a decade and know one of the other owners well and his rant pissed me off so I made the point, not too politely, that if they had installed a chemical fire suppression system after the first fire this one wouldn’t be so costly. He politely told me I was full of shit but seemed to pay attention to what I was saying when I told him that computer data centers use such systems to avoid costly water damage. I offered to give him some names of companies in that business.”

“Did you give him the names?”

“No, but I also told him to ask Catherine to do the research online. She later told me that he had.”

“Did Duvall tell you that they’d once been lovers?”

“Yeah, She told me they’d met when she was in grad school in . . . I think ‘93, or there abouts. She met him at a writer’s workshop at her university and yes, they had a brief affair. She said she broke it off when she caught him with another woman.”

“Is that all she said, just that they’d once been lovers?”

“She told me she lived with him for almost a year. She also said contacts he gave her led to getting her book published. He’d also read and critiqued her stuff and for that she’d always be grateful even though their personal relationship was over.”

“Did she say what this meeting at the restaurant was all about?”

“Insurance and repairing the fire damage.”

“Why was she asked to attend?”

“Managing the insurance program was her job.”

“So, is she going to oversee the repairs?”

“No, they laid her off right after the meeting.”

“So, she’s unemployed?”

“Yes and no. She said Rhoades invited us, Catherine and I, to dinner that evening at Eagle Crest to discuss hiring us to perform together at a restaurant he owns in Seattle. She said he hinted that if we were a hit in Seattle there could be another engagement at another place he owns in Berkeley.”

“Did you attend this dinner?”

“No, but Catherine did. I reminded her that our agreement to work together was limited to Bend and since under no circumstances would I work with her anywhere other than Bend, I saw no point in having dinner with Carr, or Rhoades, since she referred to him that way. I didn’t tell her that I didn’t like the guy especially after she admitted she’d slept with him. He’s not bad looking and he’s as smooth as silk but I thought she had better taste, although him being a successful author, I can see why she might have been smitten.”

“And he’s rich.”

“That never hurts.”

“So, she went alone to this dinner at Eagle Crest?”

“Yeah, I let her use my rental. She left about seven and was back just before midnight.”

“Was it just her and Rhoades at dinner?”

“No, she said the Robinette woman was there too. Catherine knows Robinette well and was aware that she and Rhoades were an item. I don’t know and Catherine didn’t say whether Robinette knows his real name.”

“Did she say what they discussed?”

“That indeed Rhoades wanted to hire us to perform in Seattle. When Catherine told him I wasn’t available he didn’t exactly withdraw the offer but she said he sounded ambiguous about hiring her without me. She said she told him she could easily get someone comparable to me in Seattle, it was only in Bend where I was indispensable. That’s how she described me, she said. When the dinner ended she said he told her he’d think about a separate arrangement and get back to her.”

Castelano was silent for a moment and then he changed the subject. “That stuff you sent me was very interesting, particularly the match book from the Black Cat Bar & Grill. The number written inside is the bar’s pay phone. Someone called that number from a burner phone twice, once at 8:17 P.M. and again at 11:43 P.M. from near Bend the night of the shooting. Two minutes before each of those calls someone also on a burner called that burner. The second call was from near Redmond but the first was from a tower less than a half mile from the restaurant at Eagle Crest. The first calls were fast, less than twenty seconds each but the calls to San Leandro each lasted between one and two minutes. Later there were four separate 9-1-1 calls, all from burners, all from women and all different women that pulled first responders away from Bend. One domestic abuse, two auto accidents and a fight over a woman in the parking lot of a biker bar; all phony.

“That’s why it took twelve minutes for the first cops to arrive at Duvall’s apartment. Only one call each was made from any of those 9-1-1 phones. None has been used since. That’s why you were indeed lucky you weren’t killed. At least eight people with nine separate burner phones were involved in this attempt on your life and at this point we have no real leads. We have no idea who answered the phone in San Leandro but it’s a known wiseguy hangout. We think it’s owned by Anthony Dellacroce. You remember I warned you about him?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Here’s my best guess as to what went down: The second call from near Redmond, the one at 11:43 was what started the action. The earlier call, the one at 8:17 is a mystery.  Possibly it initiated a change of plans. That would have been about the time Duvall arrived alone at the restaurant. If they were expecting you and they planned to take you out, say, in the parking lot, then they had to go to plan B. Eagle Crest is near Redmond, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. You think Rhoades made those calls?”

“It’s likely he made the first, but his house at Black Butte Ranch is in the opposite direction. However, based on when you said Duvall returned home he probably had time to drive to Redmond to make the call. These people are obviously smart enough to know the kind of bread crumbs cell phones leave, even burner phones, so driving east 8-10 miles or so to make a call isn’t a bad idea. Or, she did. Late at night she may have preferred driving back to Bend by way of Redmond rather than the back roads that aren’t very well lit.”

“Come on Mike, you don’t really think she was involved?”

“At this point we’re not ruling that possibility out, nor should you.”

“I saw her when she came back and we talked for at least an hour. If she’d just set me up to be killed she would have been as nervous as a cat. No way she was involved.”

“Maybe, and maybe you don’t know her as well as you think. And maybe you think too much with your pecker. We think the call to San Leandro was a cut out because within a minute of that call the burner Parma was carrying was called from another burner in San Francisco. Parma then called yet another burner cell phone records say was in the same cell as the call made to San Leandro. Within a minute of this call the phones used by the 9-1-1 callers all were called, probably instructing them to proceed. We think the person who received that call provided logistic support, possibly transported the 9-1-1 callers to where they initiated their calls from and collected them afterwards. All of those calls were close enough to the emergency addresses provided not to arouse the suspicions of the 9-1-1 operators.”

“Any idea who assisted Parma on the ground?”

“We thought it might have been his wife but she has a pretty solid alibi. She says she was driving from Seattle to her home in Aloha, Oregon and stopped for gas in Kelso, Washington. She has a credit card receipt time stamped 11:57 P.M. to prove it. Impossible to get to Bend from Kelso even in a plane in time to make or receive any of those calls. Speaking of planes, did you know Parma was a licensed pilot?”

“No, I know nothing about the man.”

“The Oregon state police found his plane, a Cessna 172R, at the Bend airport. And get this, they found traces of cocaine residue in the cargo compartment. Parma was a pro golfer, not a very good one but he made enough money at it to stay on the tour. It appears that he was using the plane to supplement his golfing income as a drug mule. We’re looking into whether that was the Tosca connection. Also, it seems likely that that’s how he and the Venezuelan traveled to Bend from Portland.”

“Any video of the person using Parma’s wife’s credit card?”

“Very good, but no, no video. That’s very good . . . I’ll have to keep my eye on you.”

“So someone else could have provided her with an alibi, if as you say, so many people were involved?”

“Yeah, that is a possibility.”

“So, that’s all you have?”

“All except what might have happened between Duvall and Rhoades.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning was Duvall involved? Did she help them, even inadvertently to know you were available? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, if as you say she didn’t display any anxiety when she got home, that call from Redmond smells suspiciously like Rhoades made it after the dinner with her. Perhaps the call was to confirm to Parma that you were still in town? When you didn’t show for dinner he may have assumed you had gone back to your ranch and the first opportunity he had to make that call was after Duvall split.”

“So if that’s true he was setting her up too?”

“Why should he care about her? They hadn’t been together since ‘93 or ‘94 at the latest. His current squeeze, by your own admission, is the Robinette woman. Duvall was expendable, once she provided information about your whereabouts. But that does not mean she wasn’t involved. How well do you really know her? Maybe Rhoades made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, she not knowing that he was using her. She might even have been foolish enough to believe they could come into her home and whack you and not whack her. That is possible, wouldn’t you say?”

“She’s smarter than that. I don’t think she would ever fall for an arrangement like that.”

“What if they paid her? She’s not exactly rolling in dough. Isn’t she struggling to make it as a singer?”

“I’ve never gotten the sense that she was motivated by money.”

“Okay, it could have been inadvertent then, couldn’t it? You said Rhoades is as smooth as silk and the dinner was meant for both of you. Perhaps he learned what he wanted to learn without alarming her in any way? That Oregon cop, Araya, said she knew your name was Jonathan Tyne so she may have been careful about what she said but he may have got her to concede you were staying over the weekend at her apartment. Isn’t that possible?”

“Yes, it’s possible.”

“And wasn’t the weather awful that night? He might have said something like he hoped you got home safely in the storm and she might have said you decided to wait until Monday. Isn’t that possible?”

“You made your point. Yes, that could have happened. Anything else?”

“Man, I just hope you profit from all this and stop making it easy for them. Playing the piano in public was a stupid thing to do and you and I both know it. I hope Duvall was worth it. In fact, I think maybe you ought to start thinking about leaving Oregon and going somewhere else, far away. With your computer skills and a new name you ought to be able to start over anywhere, even in Europe. Ever think about that?”

“I’ll give it some thought.”

“Do that . . . and ditch the Duvall broad. I wouldn’t trust her as far as I can spit.”

“She seems to be driving that bus.”

“Good. There’s plenty out there as good as she but way, way out there is where you should be looking.”

“Thanks for the call . . . and the advice I didn’t ask for.”

“Don’t mention it. If you heard me, if you were listening, maybe I won’t have to make another. Maybe I won’t have to attend your funeral.”

Tyne ended the call by closing the shell of his phone. What troubled him now was the confrontation he was certain to have with Catherine.

. . .

When Tyne emerged from Anita’s study he could hear voices coming from the media room. The media room had originally been an unfinished walk-out basement. Over the years it had morphed first into a family room, finally transformed into its present manifestation as a high-end place to listen to music or view film, complete with sound enhancing ceiling and wall tiles and the latest in surround sound technology. All that had been done by Anita’s long-term life partner, Faye Treadwell, dead now, more than a year, from breast cancer. Faye was an interior decorator and over the years had almost completely remodeled the thirty-year old Arts and Crafts house.

The sound from the media room ceased abruptly and a moment later Catherine was standing at the head of the stairs. “We’re watching Casablanca. Come join us. We’ll turn the sound down low, you can play Rick, Anita can play Ilsa and I’ll play all the other parts. It’ll be fun. I made popcorn and if you like, I’ll make some of that espresso you like.”

“I think I’ll read for a bit.” He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he went up the stairs to his room. A moment later she was standing in the doorway holding his laptop computer and the two books he’d used to demonstrate his one-time pad programs.

The door was open but she stood glued in the doorway, apparently afraid to enter without an invitation. She tapped on the door and said, “Knock, knock. May I come in?”

“If I want privacy I’ll close the door.”

“Like you did downstairs?”

“Something like that.”

“That must have been some call. You’re so distracted you left your computer logged in and connected to the Internet. We checked out some titles on Project Gutenberg until we got bored and then I logged you off. Where shall I put it?”

He pointed at a chest of drawers.

“It was your cop friend, from Oakland, right?”

“Un-huh.”

“Are you going to tell me what he said?”

When he said nothing she said, “I think I have a right to know, don’t you agree? I was there too, remember?”

When he still said nothing she said, “What did he say about me?”

“Why do you think the call was about you?”

“If it weren’t you wouldn’t be having such a hard time telling me.”

“It was less about you than about someone you know.”

She crossed the room and stood very close in front of him. Her eyes were on his and she said, “If you want me to continue to trust you, you have to tell me what he said.”

“Sit over there,” gesturing at the only chair in the room. He then sat on the bed. He arranged the catheter tube and collection bag and when he was comfortable she drew the chair close to his side.

“You have my undivided attention.”

“How well do you know Arthur Rhoades . . . or if you prefer, Andrew Carr?”

“I told you, we were lovers for nearly a year when I was at USF, my last year. He helped me by critiquing my work and he helped me get published. Had he asked me to marry him I would have said yes, but he couldn’t keep it in his pants. That’s why we split but we’re still friends. I don’t hate him because he didn’t want what you want but I’d never be able to trust him.”

“What about his other business?”

“What other business?”

“Isn’t he a big-time real estate developer?”

“Yes but I know nothing about that.”

“Did you know he’s very wealthy?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Weren’t you even a little curious how he got so wealthy?”

“Not very. I figured if he wanted me to know he would have told me.”

“Did you know he does business with the Toscas?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“He probably launders their money by burying it in his real estate deals.”

“Is that what your cop friend told you?”

“No, but I’m inferring it from what he did tell me.”

“That’s taking a lot on yourself, don’t you think?”

“Maybe, but it’s my life on the line.”

“Mine too. Your ex-wife is married to an investment banker, isn’t she?”

“He runs a hedge fund.”

“If you were to learn the Toscas invested in his fund, would that mean he too launders their money?”

“Touché. You told Araya you recognized Nicholas Parma? How well did you know him?”

“I know nothing about Parma. I recognized his face from when I seated him at the restaurant, the same night I first met you.”

“Did you know that Parma was married to Rhoades’ niece?”

“I didn’t know he had a niece.”

“Do you know his sister?”

“Elizabeth. I know he has a sister but I never met her.”

“How is it you know about her but not about Parma?”

“He never discussed Elizabeth with me. He has a picture of his family on his desk and she’s in it. I asked who the people in the picture were and he told me.”

“The police think Rhoades was involved with Parma and the Venezuelan guy I killed.”

“In what way?”

“After the dinner party you had with him and Sharon Robinette it appears likely that he called someone from an anonymous cell phone and that call started the rock and roll.”

“That’s preposterous.”

“Is it? Castelano believes Rhoades’ mission that night was to determine whether I was still in town and if so, to send Argueta Otálvaro and Parma to your condo to kill me, and . . . you too.”

“I can’t believe Arthur would do such a thing. I can’t believe he would do anything to jeopardize me, and had those two killed you they would have killed me too.”

She started to get up and said, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you disparage my friend, someone who has been very kind to me.”

“You said you wanted to hear this? Don’t you want to hear the rest?”

“Not if all you’re going to do is make this perfectly absurd case that Arthur conspired to kill you. Why couldn’t it have just been Parma? You told me you had words with him at the Bend airport. Perhaps he followed you to my place and waited outside until all the lights were off. Isn’t that how it could have happened?”

“Yes, it could have happened that way, in which case it’s just a coincidence that he’s married to Rhoades’ niece. I don’t believe in coincidences. It’s possible Parma recognized me or thought he did but he’s too small change to orchestrate what went down that night. Do you want to hear it or have you heard enough?”

She was silent for a moment and then finally said, “Okay, I’m still listening.”

“As I said, someone made a twenty second call from a cell phone at 11:41 that started a chain of events that included a call to a San Leandro, California pay phone, the same number that was written inside a matchbook I found on the body of the Venezuelan. Shortly after that call someone called Parma from San Francisco, probably ordering him to proceed. Parma then called a burner that just happened to be in the same cell as the one used to call San Leandro. This caller then made four calls in rapid succession to four separate burner phones, the owners of which then made four 9-1-1 calls that pulled first responders away from Bend. That’s why it took more than ten minutes after the last shot for the cops to arrive. All that seems too complicated for the man I had words with.”

“Do they know for certain Arthur made this call?”

“No, the call was made from a burner phone purchased for cash. The only way to prove who made the call would be to link that person with the phone.”

”Then it’s pure speculation that it was Arthur.”

“True, but the timing is right and the Parma connection makes it likely.”

“That isn’t enough.”

“Tell me, you arrived late for your meeting at the restaurant because your car broke down. Did you explain to the others why you were late?”

“Of course.”

“Was Rhoades present? Did he hear you say your car broke down?”

“Yes.”

“Did he ask how you managed to get to Eagle Crest without a car?”

“No, it never came up.”

“What exactly did you say about why I wasn’t with you?”

“That your schedule did not permit you to work with me after Sunday, the twelfth so you saw no point in attending a meeting to discuss a Seattle gig after that date.”

“Think carefully; could he have concluded I was staying at your place that weekend from anything you said?”

She took a moment before answering, then she said, “I can’t recall everything that was said but once I explained you weren’t willing to work with me after the twelfth, you ceased to be a topic of discussion.”

“Are you sure he didn’t ask, even casually, nothing more significant than small talk, what you used for transport that night to get to Eagle Crest?”

“I already told you we didn’t discuss what I drove. Why are you so fixated on my ride?”

“I’m grasping at straws. If you didn’t tell him I was staying at your place that weekend and he didn’t ask, I’m trying to understand how he knew?”

“He didn’t know because I didn’t tell him.”

“Did you tell Sharon?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “I probably would have had we been alone but we weren’t, so no, I didn’t.”

“Why would you have told her and not him?”

“Because she is so crazy about you and I wanted to let her know she had only that weekend left to do something about it.”

“She came with Rhoades and you actually thought she would ditch him for me?”

“Yes, I’m certain she would. I’m certain she still will if you make an effort.”

Tyne was running out of ideas but finally he said, “At any time while the three of you were at table did either Rhoades or Sharon make a phone call or leave the table to make a call . . . or perhaps, to visit the restroom?”

“Why is that important?”

“Because there was another series of calls made to Parma that were initiated from at or near the restaurant, this one at 8:17.”

“Even if they did, and I’m not saying either of them did, why would that be significant?”

“Because they may have intended to kill me when I left the restaurant, either in the parking lot or on the drive back to your place, and when Rhoades saw I wasn’t with you, he had to order a change of plans.”

“This entire conversation is too absurd for words.”

“Is it? In three hours eating and drinking didn’t any of you have to pee?” he said, much louder than he needed to.

“Okay, Okay, you don’t have to shout. As I recall both Sharon and Art visited the restroom.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice. Can you recall when?”

She frowned and considered his question and finally said, “I arrived a little early and they were a little late so I waited beside the Koi pool in the lobby. After we were seated and ordered drinks Art excused himself and went to the men’s room. Sharon went later . . . I think just before dessert. I went on the way out.”

“Weren’t you alone with her when Rhoades went to the restroom?”

“I was but we didn’t talk about you.”

“You didn’t go to the loo with Sharon? Isn’t that what women usually do?”

“I wanted to give Art a chance to discuss Sharon in private, that is, if he had something to say.”

“And did he?”

“He said he was interested in her, he used the word fond, but he’d ditch her for me . . . all I had to do was say the word.”

“How late were they?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I said?”

“I don’t need to hear what you said.”

“What do you have against Sharon? She’s smart, attractive . . . she has a great body, better than mine . . . she’s younger than me—”

“I don’t have anything against Sharon. I like her but she’s not you.”

“But I’m no longer available.”

“It doesn’t matter. Read my lips; she’s not you.”

She stared at him for a long time, finally shook her head and said, “Art’s reservation was for eight. I don’t remember exactly how long I waited, perhaps ten minutes.”

“What time did you get up to leave?”

“I’m not exactly sure but it must have been a little after eleven, since I got home before midnight.”

“Were they still at table when you left?”

“No, we all walked out together.”

“It was raining, wasn’t it?”

“Pouring.”

“So you all went schlepping in the rain together?”

“When you dine at the restaurant and are not staying at the lodge you use the valet parking. We all waited under the portico for the cars to be brought out but Arthur and Sharon came in a limo, which was already waiting for them. They waited with me until my car was retrieved, then they left.”

“You mean they waited with you until my car, my rental was retrieved?”

“Yes, so?”

“So it’s possible he made the connection that if your car was in the shop until at least Monday, the car you were driving was mine?”

“Well, you finally did it. You found a way for him to guess you were in town, and that’s enough to prove he made that call?”

“No, it isn’t enough but it helps to connect the dots. How did you drive home? By that I mean what route did you follow?”

“Cline Falls Road to Tumalo and then twenty to Bend, the same way I always go when I go to Eagle Crest.”

“You didn’t drive back by way of Redmond?”

“Why would I do that? It’s ten miles farther and it takes twice as long. Oh I see . . . whoever made that call made it from Redmond. Is that what your pal said? And he implied that I may have made it, didn’t he?”

When Tyne said nothing she said, “Answer my question. He told you I may have made that call, didn’t he?”

“I told him that was categorically impossible. I know you didn’t make that call.”

“If you know it, why did you ask me how I drove back? If you really know I could never betray you, you would not have asked that question. The fact that you did tells me you aren’t really sure that I didn’t betray you.”

“Catherine, don’t read anything into my words that isn’t there. I’m merely—”

“I’ve heard enough,” as she rose to leave.

“I asked you so I could better defend you if Castelano—”

“Bullshit.”

“What I think is that when you told him I wasn’t available for a Seattle gig he realized that that weekend was the last crack his goons would have at me before I disappeared into Eastern Oregon, where they don’t have a clue how to find me. That’s why he was less than enthusiastic about hiring you when you made it clear it would be without me. When he saw what you were driving he knew I had stayed over. And he may not have wanted you to be involved but at that point what choice did he have? So, he started the ball rolling with that call from Redmond. Why his limo went to Redmond instead of the other way, to his place at Black Butte Ranch, is still a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with Sharon. Perhaps he was taking her home and they went that way for some reason I can’t explain. But the Parma connection is just too much of a coincidence to discount.”

Catherine was already through the doorway before he finished. He wasn’t sure how much of it she had actually heard. When he followed her out into the hallway her bedroom door was already closed. The windows at the far end rattled when she slammed the door.

It took a long time for him to fall asleep but sometime before dawn he finally did. Waking a little after seven and after shaving and showering he waited in his room thinking Catherine would again bring breakfast in bed or at least coffee. When it became obvious this wasn’t going to happen he went downstairs. Catherine’s door was still closed. Anita was in her study when he walked past her door and she confronted him with hands on hips, a hostile expression on her face.

“What did you say to Catherine to upset her so?”

“We talked about her friend Arthur Rhoades. The police think he may have been involved in the shooting.”

“Why would they think that?”

“Because the husband of his niece was one of the men I killed.”

“But wouldn’t they have killed Catherine too?”

“Yes, and that’s why Catherine doubts Rhoades could have been involved. She is convinced he would never hurt her or agree to be a part of anything that would. What did she say?”

“Almost nothing but she left in such a hurry I knew something was terribly wrong.”

“She’s gone?”

“Yes, she bolted out of here before seven bag in hand without so much as a fare-thee-well. If you look where she was parked on the driveway you can see the skid marks in the gravel her car made when she left.”

“She left without saying anything?”

“All she said was she’d had enough of Michael Ware to last a lifetime.”

“Did she leave a note?”

“Not that I could find.”

“How about removing the catheter so I can get out of here? Perhaps I can find her.”

Anita looked at the collection bag and the dried blood on the tubing where it emerged from his penis and said, “Tomorrow, maybe. That dried blood tells me you’re still bleeding.”

“Shit. Tomorrow could be too late. By tomorrow she could be in Seattle or in Canada.”

“It’s too late Jonathan, you’ve already lost her. It was too late weeks ago after Kah-Nee-Ta when you failed to make your move. After that she was convinced you were no longer interested in her, if you ever were, and it was then that she reconnected with her ex-husband.”

“She told you that?”

“Not in so many words but enough to know the issues she was grappling with. She told me you proposed – she said you didn’t use the word marriage but she knew that’s what you meant – but by then it was too late. She would have said yes had you done it sooner, before . . . before she visited Mr. Duvall in Seattle. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”