From the window of the room which was hers for the length of her stay in the city, Rose Hold looked out on the garden below, ran her gaze over the little pond whose border was the delight of Ana Yus tortoise Chin when visits were made, and on to the far corner of the old Godwin garden where a large willow tree danced lightly to the timing of a breeze, tossing its overflowing lengths of green wands downward to where they almost touched the earth. There the reach for more space to spread out had been halted by a careful gardener who had terminated the ends so that they wouldnt sprout and cover the area with small replicas of large willow trees.
The pruning was not that of a levelling off process parallel with the ground. The tips had been thoughtfully nipped at varying heights so that the whips still swayed seemingly with their own naturalness. Below the trailing sweeps, violets and daffodils and drifts of yellow, blue and white crocus came forth in Spring and later tulips, grape hyacinth and other like bulbs kept the willow company. Summer offered peonies, and a plethora of rambler roses found the corner of the rock wall there to be just the right sort of trellis which afforded good foothold. Autumn colchicum called the space home and winter jasmine brightened the shortened daylight days of that season.
Years before, a little boy had sometimes hidden there in the right-angled shady space made by this surround which delineated the property. The screen of thick willow wands made an elevated hideaway for himself, a teddybear and a flute when his parents came to take him home and he was not yet ready to return to the turbulent life his home environment seemed to be for him at times.
The corner had also harboured a large enamelled metal cookie tin containing things which could not be trusted to the vagaries of home caremeaning that Mother was always on the lookout for things out of place or considered junk, and as a consequence the valued treasures of one were thrown out by anotherresulting in howls from one and lectures from the other.
Magicians do not appreciate having their magic rocks, and shells in which dragons hide, trashed by an unknowing adult even if it does happen to be Mother.
Therefore rocks with mystic powers and homes which sheltered imaginary friends were taken in a pocket to Grams and put in the secret confines of the brightly coloured tin box which was left with this Keeper of Treasures, along with the onerous task of guarding the contents thereof from jealous gnomes who might be lurking around, until the magician returned to claim it.
His grandmother knew of this little land of make-believe where trolls, dragons and magic lingered in the corner of her garden, waiting for the touch of childhood to bring them alive, but she never revealed its presence or the fugitive who sometimes lurked there. It might take her a day or two to convince him that home was not such a bad place, but at last the magician would agree to go home and become an ordinary boy again. After all, Mother was there even if she didnt have any respect for other peoples property, and a certain sense of belonging almost everyone longs for came with her.
Now the peonies held court in the corner, leaning their drowsy, opulent heads against the rocky wall, while the more energetic rambler roses had climbed up and thrown themselves over the side of it in a bid to fill the neighbours area with more flowers than the carefully manicured lawn there would allow.
Two years before, a new owner had arrived at the property next door and proceeded to do what new owners almost always do. He began to reshape it to his own hearts desire but, having moved into an older area, his efforts had upset the balance of what had been a co-operative, contented, somewhat settling and peaceful community of residents.
New Neighbour had a total disregard for what had gone on before. This was his castle now, and he knew he had every right to do what he damned well pleased with it, and he did that. He turfed out long time stands of annual reseeders and perennial plants from the entire area of his property. He was into grass, lots of it, over which he delighted to drive a riding mower and, more often than not, golf balls which sometimes hit the roses and had acquired the habit of arcing over the wall.
This neighbourly hobby kept Ulf and Gurth supplied with a plentiful quantity of free chewables which Friend David tried to snatch quickly away lest the two should ingest too much of what had been applied to Neighbours grass where the balls had previously rolled. It also had sent David swearing and marching quickly off from his favourite corner there by Willow where he had gone to play his flute while out with Ulf and Gurth, himself having narrowly missed becoming a hole-in-one.
David and Neighbour often threw exchanges of what Edith Godwin called friendly good wishes over the wall, which David was not backward in calling damned good cursing sessions. Neighbour wanted his balls returned. David willingly threw back the little pests which had been thoroughly chewed up by his two friends. Those which hadnt been were usually discovered by his lawnmower, thereupon receiving a benediction of sorts before they too were tossed over the wall, well dented.
Sounds of various sorts clashed. David got bawled at to quit that damned ear-piercing row. This insult to Pet Flutes voice was not taken lightly. Flute playing, considered to be music by one, got fielded as noise by the other. The row got louder, the golf balls just happened to hit the corner more often, consequently bouncing over, and a hard to ignore outdoor audio system assisted this retaliation, having the volume turned up to make sure it reached the cornered willowuntil other neighbours complained, much to Davids delight.
Dogs, having a great time playing, barked. Previous neighbour had a dog of his own and liked the sound. New Neighbour had Cats, very beautiful and nosy, who argued with Dogs when they somehow got over the wall into Dog territory, until David arrived to call time and put them back over onto grass.
Neighbour, plump and happy, used a riding mower to keep his expansive mini-golf course in trim, a passive pastime he seemed to enjoy much more often than the usual herd of automated grass cutters did. It wasnt that the grass needed so much attentionhe liked driving at a leisurely pace in a space devoid of traffic. David, considered to be mean and lean by Neighbour, cut what there was of the Godwin greens with a hand mower.
After much hassling over the frequent noisy habit of the power pack beyond the wall, Neighbour agreed not to do this at certain hours, under threat of having the local noise bylaw invoked by more neighbours than one.
Methods of handling the good earth varied wildly. One used all the latest technology to keep his lawn emerald green and bug and weed free. One used the latest information about organic everything to keep his garden full of lush growth, earthworms, bugs, butterflies, birds and whatever Nature threw at it, some of which Neighbour considered to be noxious weeds.
In this endeavour of Davids, other neighbours were also on his side. Restraining Order regarding the application of certain chemicals which endangered wild, tame and human life arrived to adorn Neighbours already well-filled résumé of non-neighbourly behaviour.
The differences in gardening philosophy were never to meet. This was one place where a good fence madeif not good neighboursat least a good barrier between two antagonists, creating space for a cooling off period before the two could take after each other. Musician and golfer were not of a like mind.
This altercation had been going on since Neighbour had arrived, and Edith Godwin contended that if either man ever gave up his favourite pursuit the neighbourhood would collapse from shock and silence.
There was some speculation among the other area residents as to whether pursuit meant golf and music or out-cursing each other, or both.
For her part in the situation it had to be said that Edith tried a different route to get things changed. She well knew the power of a wifely word or two here and there and began to get around Neighbour by befriending the lady of the house and inviting her to bridge sessions at which the two diplomatically and civilly discussed issues of a neighbourly import, such as the behaviour of men acting like a couple of obstreperous adolescents.
Understanding between the two women began to take effect. While Neighbour got redirected by his mate, Edith recruited Li into the project and David was adroitly reminded, over a few chess games, as to what was a right path and what was not.
An uneasy cessation of hostilities took over the space by Willow as the two reluctantly began to regard each other as not so bad after David, taking the first step toward a less stressful relationship, offered to help Neighbour remove a fallen tree which had come down in a storm and barely missed his house. All the way through the process of bucking up the tree the two exchanged barbed witticisms, but over a glass of good wine after the job was finished, in return for Davids muscle power, the golfer made him the generous offer of borrowing the riding mower, any time, except of course during those hours when it was forbidden.
This piece of darkling humour took the musician so by surprise that he laughed all the way home to tell Gram. An uneasy but tolerant state of agreeing to disagree was agreed on after that, which kept the vitriolic words between the two from becoming outright litigious, and only occasionally now did it provide both men with a relatively harmless outlet for frustrations which often didnt have anything to do with golf or flutes. This sort of hearty word exchange kept them from more immediate confrontation, which generally unstressed the area, at least on one side of Neighbours property.
Rose had been introduced to this touchy situation as she sat at the base of the cherry tree with its encircling bench for a pause, while she and Edith shared their interest in the plants which abounded after they had walked the garden paths. This made her feel that she was being introduced to a place of family much like Grandfathers moss-covered fallen tree trunk, and the remark that the corner where Willow grew was one of Davids favourite spots made her smile as she thought of him, sitting at the foot of another old tree by the bay, contentedly absorbed in playing his flute.
As she watched David, Ulf and Gurth playing ball close to Willows corner, barking and laughing up a storm, this pastoral garden interlude was suddenly disrupted by a shout from the human in the game as a golf ball soared over the corner narrowly missing him and smacking between the two dogs who both made a leap to get out of its way and collided with each other, sending the two rolling over on the grass.
There was a loud string of curses followed by a bellow as David, completely forgetting the presence of the two women in the garden, hollered,
Clarence! You stupid ............ ! You damned near hit me with that.
Really? came the reply, I guess Im off my aim. Ill have to adjust my trajectorysee if I can do better next time.
The ambiguity of the words was not lost on the almost victim who picked up the ball and hurled it back with the shouted remark, as it landed in front of the golfer,
Well theres bloody well nothing wrong with my aim and next time Ill adjust it so it doesnt land at your feet.
The exchange which followed contained derogatory remarks about each others masculinuity, their genealogy and legitimate standing within it, perceived threats of assault, and then a remark from Neighbour about mental stability went across the wall.
Go take your meds you back-room basket case and shut those dogs and yourself up or Ill sue you for preventing me from enjoying the peace and quiet of my own property.
The exchange might have continued except the word sue reminded David of the two people sitting under the cherry tree, prompting him to abandon the field of questioned honour.
He walked away with the parting shot,
Turn on that P.A. blaster of yours one more time and youll be in court yourself.
As he went over to where the women sat, Rose told him with a laugh,
Its very generous of you but you dont really need to manufacture cases for me. I have my hands full right now.
Sorry, he apologised with an ashamed grin, But he gets to me sometimes.
Ive often wondered, Edith remarked, Where you learned to debate with such inflammatory content and fluency.
For sure not in your house, David told her, There are lots of people like Clarence around and Ive been around a bit.
A bit too much, murmured Edith Godwin. Lets go have a bite to eat before we get ready to go.
- - -
Now, in early evening, Rose looked out at the tree and wall and over it to the expanse of fine green lawn beyond, with the tale of neighbourly détente in mind which Edith had told her earlier, having prefaced her words with I dont think Im giving away secrets.
Laughing a little to herself, she couldnt help thinking that this certainly was not what David had planned on when hed told her about the other part of himself he wanted her to see. She turned away from the window, had a last glance at herself in the mirror and walked downstairs, the sound of her footfalls disappearing into the carpetting.
She took a step into the living room and stopped.
There was a man standing perfectly still by the window in white tie and cutaway whom she didnt quite recognise at first glance because he looked like a store window mannequin showing off the latest in formal wear.
It wasnt so much the clothing as his hair which got most of her attention. It had been worked over until it lay submissively in place, its length drawn back to be fastened with a small classic black satin bow which released it in large, stiff ringlets at the nape of his neck.
His left foot rested on the edge of the low windowseat, arms folded loosely across the bent knee, and even more surprising was what he held in his right handa gold-headed cane and a top-hat.
Placed on either side of this presentation were two white dogs, as though added for effect.
The only thing which might have been objected to in this unexpected display was the arbutus berry and rose hip necklace which lay prominently visible around the collar of his jacket resting against the white shirtfront, identifying the wearer to the startled beholder.
Rose stood quietly amazed as the two dogs turned their heads to look at her, breaking the stillness of the pantomime.
As though she had spoken his name he broke the stiff pose, took a step away from the window toward her as Ulf and Gurth stood up from lounging beside him, and got a shock himself.
Hey guys, better not get your noses into that, he suggested with a restraining motion as she came into the room.
She had cinched her hair with a length of braided reeds, letting it fall to one side over her shoulder. Two rosy angel-wing shells linked with a copper chain fastened her linen cape which was thrown open showing its lining of pale yellow moire silk, and around its outside edges and on its surface opalescent discs of abalone shell caught the light and pearled it back in many colours from an ancient Shalisa design. Beneath it was a plain, straight white cotton gown with pale yellow sheer silk overall, its simplicity accented by Grandfathers necklace of shining white shells.
This time, as he looked at her, there was no way he could keep his feelings out of his eyes.
Miss Holdyoure gorgeous!
Mister Godwin, youre a surprise. Forgive me butI didnt expect this.
Oh?Didnt I tell you Im the guest soloist on flute tonight? he asked in genuine surprise. Thats what Ive been doing most of the daypractising my stuff, hidden away in my office to save you and Armand and Gram from all the repetition and false notes. I wanted to wear my jeans and sneakers, but they gave me a definite No! so I have to be got up like this. If I dont play their game they wont let me play my flute, and I dont get the chance to play with a full orchestra very often soIm bowing and scraping to gain my own ends.
Youre solo tonight? Thats wonderful! I always thought your playing was extraordinary.
Good enough for a fund-raiser. Think the others they approached wanted money and backed out. Im gratis. Better an amateur who costs nothing than having to rearrange the whole programplus Gram leapt in and offered me. Reserve judgement until you hear it.
Ive heard it, but right now this doesnt sound a bit like you, andhow did you get your hair to lie down like that?
Gram sprayed it with somethingglue I think. I dont dare touch it because Im afraid itll crack like a helmet made of sugar glaze.
Good thing you have your Friend with you as an identity card. I almost didnt recognise you. She considered, then told him truthfully, Its deliciously different butits not the you I know.
Glad you noticed, he told her with a pleased grin. Thats what youre supposed to be seeingmy other half. Seems we both had the same idea for identity though, he added as he touched the necklace he wore. Thought Id better have some help to get me through this.
Shall we go for great minds or simple ones? she laughed, then asked, indicating his hat, And something else you can clear up for medoes a rabbit pop out of that?
Teddybear occasionally, he explained. I give performances for Grams benefits. Kids love this kind of stuff, but I dont believe in terrorising little people for the amusement of other little people. I think thats twisted. Sometimes other things pop out too, like flowers and such. I get to pull a David tonight. I have permission. Largesse of flowers into the audience since its a fun evening and not too seriousamateur and all that. Old-fashioned and trite, but it works. No ad lib though. Stick to the script, or theyll never ask me back again and I really do like playing with an orchestra.
This must be the other part of yourself you said you were going to show me, is it? she asked.
Wellyeahif youd like to take it that way, he smiled, then, giving the articles in his hand a shake, he told her, The hats been part of my repertoire since I was a little kid. The cane came laterwhen I was a bigger kid. It holds brandy in its topbut not at the moment.
Shades of Sir John A. and a few others, she laughed.
I got it from a pawn shop. Real antique. Lots of good stuff in that place if the mice and bugs dont get to it first.
How about a little sneak preview on the magic? she urged, laughingly.
Oh yeah! I was hoping youd ask. I can do that. See? Holding the hat by the brim, top up, he gave it a tap with the cane and then a little shake. Nothing in thereright?
He rolled the hat down to the end of the cane, tossed it up and caught it with his free hand, tucked it into the crook of his arm, then appeared to reach into it coming out with a red rose, just opening into full bloom, with its stem in a slender watertight container.
Why Davidthats fantastic!
Not really, he told her as he walked over and slid the stem into the band holding her hair. All preplanned. Im a showoff who has a hard time playing it straight. Its from Grams gardenfrom the plant you have a cutting of at Shalisa Creek Bay. Therean embellishment on perfection.
He stepped back, openly regarding her with admiration as he asked,
Would you mind doing a pirouette so I can see the back of this lovely creation youre wearing?
She obliged, asking,
Do you like it? I made it myself.
She raised the hem of her skirt a little and held out a foot, dancer fashion, pointed toe.
See my slippers? I made those too, from reeds like people used to, as an experiment. Theyre really comfortable. I stuffed them with bulrush fluff. Theyll probably just manage to last the evening out buttheyre fun too.
He regarded the slippered foot and the ankle above it, raised his eyebrows and asked, with exaggerated reproof,
Heyare you flirting with me? Were supposed to be on the proper up and up. How can I behave when you behave like that?
She got a surprised, somewhat guilty look on her face at the unexpected accusation and dropped the skirt.
Ooopsdidnt mean it that way. I just wanted praise for my work on the slippers.
Youve got it and then some, he laughed. The whole outfits an incredible piece of art, and so are you.
<Geeze Rose, Id love to kiss you but Im afraid if I do Ill squash everything and anyway, youd probably vaporise me.>
<Id love to mess his hair up the way it always is at the Bay. It just doesnt look like him, but it probably took his Gram ages to get it to lie down like that and hes put up with it to go on stage in front of an audience.>
Instead she went over to give Ulf and Gurth the attention they were restraining themselves from getting, and he walked back to the window to look out saying,
Theres a get-together buffet for the orchestra at somebodys place after the performance. Want to go there instead of having a late supper?
Rose tried to gauge his attitude toward the proposal but he was presenting his back to her, obviously trying to please her by letting her decision stand.
Oh, she hesitated, hoping for help, I havent been to anything like that for some time.
Well, okay, maybe wed better go show you off then, he offered, thinking that was a yes.
Taking his answer to mean he wanted to go, she agreed,
Sure, why not.
Maybe you dont want to know why not.
Why not? she asked, surprised.
He turned around as he told her with a little laugh,
UhI know a lot of people. Some good, some badsome bloody awful. My familys going to be there.
I wont ask what category you think they fall into.
Their conversation got no further because Edith and Armand came into the room.
Time to leave I think? his grandmother said, making the words a question.
Guess this means everybody outand tonight you get virtuosity, David told them, with his eyes still on Rose.
<Some timing. Two seconds more and Id have grabbed her.>
Ready if you are, smiled Rose.
<That saved me. Two seconds more and Id have gone for his hair and messed it all up just for the hell of it.>
Rose! exclaimed Armand, You look divine. Then, admiring the couple who stood waiting he asked, Am I allowed to accompany these two aristocrats? Im but a humble seaman.
Dont worry about it, Edith comforted him. Im just a humble grandmother, and hes really just a grubby kid playing dress-up. I dont know how he got the lady whos with him to go along, but dressed like that Im not sure she should get into that four by four little beaten up thing of his. Maybe she should come with us in my car.
Hey, I polished mine all up and you can hardly see the beaten parts, laughed David, defending his conveyance.
There was a vehicle under that mud pack? returned Edith. I thought it was four wheels held together with dirt.
Dont listen to her Rose, urged David as he picked up his concert flute case, Its clean inside. Maybe we shouldnt go with that naughty granny after shes cast such aspersions on our chariotand that laughing wharf rat with her should be made to walk.
Granny? responded Armand. Fagh! The boy has no respect. My arm, fair lady.
Oh, I see he got it wrong, smiled Edith, accepting the offer, He meant to say the gentleman with me.
I dont care whose car we take, was Roses opinion, through the laughter, But if they dont go, I dont.
That leaves me no choicesince Im supposed to behave myself for your benefityou and I will take mine, decided David as the four started out. The manual shift demands the attention of both hands.
Just before he closed the door, he turned back. Ulf and Gurth had followed and, not having been invited to go out with the rest, were now giving him that Guess we get to stay home again look.
Hey, guys, he told them, kneeling down on one knee and hugging them, Well be back soonwell, maybe not so soon. Try not to throw everything around too much in protest, like last nightokay?
As the door closed Ulf looked at Gurth.
<Yeahso what else did we expect?>
<Oh well, lets go see if we can get that new bag of goodies off the shelf.>
<I dont think we can reach it. He put it up too high because of last night.>
<Then lets take our bones up on the couch in the music room and enjoy ourselves, and maybe we can have a game of soccer with our new ball. Its not all chewed up yet.>
<Okay, and heydid you notice how nice our white hairs looked on that ridiculous, dowdy, dark bunch of stiff stuff hes wearing?>
<Nice contrast. Tag! Youre it.>
<Oh yeah? Ill gettcha!>
Everything which can did happen when two dogs had fun after being left alone at home for the second night in a row, unsupervised.
- - -
Dont stare, Danielle, but when you get the chance, have a look at what my mother and her grandson just walked in with.
Danielle Godwin waited a moment, turned casually and glanced through, around and across the people gathered in the crowded, noisy, brightly lit room toward the entrance, and had a difficult time not staring.
Ohthat man Li who stole our son, and his sister, and... .
He saved me a lot of trouble, interrupted her husband. Id have given the kid away with a reward. I was looking at the other two.
I saw them talking at intermission, she told him. Everyone was looking at her because she was so attractive.
Attention-getting you mean, he corrected. Seems shes with David and not the other man. I thought the two of them were just talking to my mother and they were casual acquaintances. He had almost said hoped. I didnt know they were together.
David can be so attractive when he turns himself out decently and behaves himself, Danielle smiled. I was actually beginning to feel rather proud of him after the performance.
Once a year, returned her husband. The rest of the time he tramps around looking like a street beggar who needs a bath and a haircut.
Danielle, from whom the condemned shining legacy had come, touched her own wealth of bright curls and murmured laughingly, looking at the cropped cover on the head of the man beside her,
Mmm, Im sure it would make a difference to his looks if he were bald, and she turned her face aside to avoid her husbands glare.
Must he behave like such a fool with that hat and cane? came the angry comment when no defence against her remark was found. Stupid idiot. He could have made something of himself.
In a rare show of spirited disagreement she replied,
He has made something of himself, no thanks to you.
The injured look her husband gave her made Danielle decide to keep her admiration of her alleged idiot son to herself, and she deflected the conversation.
You know, now that I take a second look, I think thats the lawyer who got him off. Shes certainly an exotic little thing, isnt she.
I believe the word is indigenous, came the caustic rejoinder from her husband, who was still stinging from her previous remark. Lucky the Martians havent landed, or hed probably turn up with one of those.
She ignored the criticism, saying,
Ive never seen your mother with that one before either.
Neither have I. Her taste is improving. His suits a bit out-of-the-attic, but it looks well cut. Get ready. Theyre heading straight our way.
As Rose and David came up Danielle gave them a smile of genuine pleasure and told her son,
David, we thought you played beautifully tonight.
Thank you Mother.
He swept his hat in front of him with a little stage bow, smiled at the woman beside him and said with a gesture of his gold-headed cane,
My mother and father, Danielle and Anthony GodwinRose Hold, Leader of the Shalisa Nation and, incidental to that, my lawyer.
I am pleased to meet you at last, returned Danielle, surprised with both words and title, as the serene young woman before her held out her hand.
Its an honour to meet the parents of such a fine son, Rose acknowledged the introduction, in the formal way of the Shalisa.
A pleasure, said Anthony insincerely, taking her hand in turn and adding, with a laugh which bordered on a snort of derision, But are you talking about this man?
If this is your sonyesI am.
The calm, dark eyes searched into him, and he felt a little perturbed by the scrutiny.
<What did she mean by such a remark?! Is she trying to insult me?>
Oh, hes ours all right, he returned, in a tone which made Rose feel he might as well have finished off with worse luck.
Heygreat! enthused David with a wicked grin. Does that mean youll own up to me in public again? I will if you will, Dad.
Davidreally! reproved his mother, looking uncomfortable.
Its okay. I dont have any secrets from my lawyer. Im not only fine, Im honest.
When did this miracle take place? asked his father.
Before the situation could slide into hostility between son and father, Edith, Armand, Ana and Li came over.
Hello children, smiled Edith. Wasnt David fabulous tonight!
He promised virtuosity and he delivered, added Armand.
These are the parents of the virtuosoDanielle and Anthony Godwin, Edith introduced them. I dont think youve met Doctor de Marincourt.
Armand, smiled he, responding to the introduction and, feeling a little jaunty and brash because the whole evening was affecting him that way, he kissed Danielles hand, murmuring,
Husband felt threatened. Wife felt like a debutante. Husband gave intruder a look of suspicion and the offered hand a perfunctory clasp.
<What sort of pretender is this?>
Excuse me, said David with sudden abruptness, But I see my little brother over there.
David! Dont start..., but Danielle Godwins words went unheeded as her eldest son strode swiftly for her youngest like an osprey after a salmon, leaving Rose and the others behind.
Hi Howard, began David, trying to fix the vague gaze of his youngest brothers wide eyes as two of his peers who had been standing there beside him saw the big brother coming and backed away to find shelter in the crowd. Did the music take you out of yourself tonight? You look nicely spaced out.
Forgetting the fragile chemical net which held his hair in place, David tapped his hat onto his head, tucked his cane into his vest and then, without warning, his hands went inside Howards jacket and when they came out again his left one was holding a cigarette package.
His actions were so swift that the young man didnt even have time to realise what was going on. He watched apprehensively as his brother snapped open the flip-top pack with his thumb, asking,
Mind if I borrow a smoke?
Howard Godwin said nothing, his already flushed face deepening in colour.
Ah, here come your two bodyguards, observed David as the two remaining Godwin brothers converged, one from either side. Hi Art, Hi Freddie. Hows it going tonight? Just borrowing a smoke.
David removed a white cylinder, as the others watched silently, stuck it dead centre between his lips, waggled it up and down and asked,
Light me? Freddie? Art?somebody?
His three brothers remained unmoving.
Dont tell me you two have quit. Howie?
The young man dropped his bright-eyed gaze from Davids face.
With his tongue, David flipped the cigarette inside his mouth, held it for a moment, breathing in, then flipped it back out again.
Tobacco companies sure have improved their product since I had my last one. This ones good enough to eat. Nice interesting after-taste they lace it with.
He removed it from his lips and mashed it back into the package which got the attention of young Howard, who watched, blinked, and turned his head away. Still the three before David said nothing.
He looked from one to the other and finally ordered, in a low tone,
The young man turned his head back and met his eldest brothers angry eyes which bore steadily into his own defensive, guilty ones until he replied,
For chri sake David, everybody does some now an then.
I know damned well its not now and then.
Knock it off, suggested the eldest of the three standing before him.
Butt out, Art. Ill knock his bloody head off if he keeps this up, threatened David. Listen up, little brother, and you listen good. The company you keep is as disgusting as this package of horse dung. If youve never seen the inside of a jail, I have. Its not amusing, and this even happened to be a nice clean small one, all to myself. Im telling you nowyou smarten up, or this is just a taste of the hell youll get from me if you dont.
He gave his head a jerk.
Go on, get lostand dont pick up any more from that other pair you were with or Ill rifle them too, very noisily and in front of a large audience.
As his youngest brother made a hasty escape, David turned to the other two, squashing the package in his hand.
Whats going down with him anyway? What the hells the matter with you that you cant keep him in line? He reeked like an addict when he came up to us at intermission. Any cop with blocked sinuses could have smelled it halfway across the foyer, and thats the innocuous part of it.
Why dont you cool down, suggested Arthur. Kids try everything. Hes just a bit uncertain of his direction these days. Acting like some big, bullying ape isnt going to help.
Besides, who the hell are you to yell at him? Youre his role model, accused Frederic. He thinks the sun rises and sets on you.
David raised his eyebrows.
Oh sure. When did I become elevated to that position? My fault again. No bloody way this time. I might have had a joint or two way back when, but at least I had enough sense to keep away from that other garbage. So what sort of models are you that he doesnt want to follow? Or is it that you do some once in awhile?
Look, hes old enough to make his own decisions, Arthur defended his young brother in order to avoid the issue. Ive got a family to take care of, and so has Fred. We cant keep tabs on him all the time.
All rightso wheres Dad in all this, and Mom, for that matter.
David waited for an answer but there wasnt one, so he said,
Bloody spoiled brat syndrome, is that it? A twenty year old baby. Guess its up to me, even if I am persona non grata around your domains.
There was stonewalling silence for a moment, then David broke out with,
Agh! Youre all a bunch of arrogant, self-satisfied, party trotting... .You make me sick! Excuse me, I have to find a bathroom. All this crap around here makes me feel like throwing up.
David turned sharply away, found a bathroom, dumped the contents of the cigarette package into the toilet, tore up the package and threw that in, flushed, then went to wash his hands thoroughly, cupping them close to his face to make sure they didnt smell of the confiscated goods. Then he caught a look at himself in the mirror, with the angry scowl on his face, and grimaced.
<Big bullying ape.>
He put on a deliberate smile and walked out, his eyes searching for Rose.
He had spotted her and was heading her way when he saw, coming toward him with outstretched arms, the woman hed been doing his recent best to avoid.
David! How wonderful. I thought youd left for another planet.
Just as his flustered eyes got to Roses, he was enveloped in a swirl of fragrance and a tight and meaningful embrace, and then his captors mouth took over his own.
Rose was treated to the sight of the top hat flying off and the smooth hair beneath it, which she had resisted messing up herself, getting thoroughly trashed by scarlet-tipped fingers.
Yeahwell, sputtered David with an embarrassed laugh when he was finally released a little, as he tried to flatten his hair with one hand, Nice to be swallowed up by you again Tina. Would you please disgorge me so I can talk to a few other people?
Talk to me, came the demand. Where have you been? Playing your flute for somebody else?
Been quite a few places, returned David, ignoring the remark. Hows the investment broker, or whatever.
Hes exceedingly wealthy and terribly boring. Not like you at all. When shall we have dinner? Im looking forward to seeing you again.
Try using a telescope, because Im going to be out of sight where youre concerned, was the answer.
Stop making jokes all the time. It gets annoying. Oh, that necklace! she took hold of the circlet of rose hips and arbutus berries which carried Tranquil Spirit and tried to pull it over Davids head. Let me have it to go with your shirt studs.
He tried to remove her hands, but she hung on, and in the struggle for possession which took place the necklace broke, scattering some berries and rose hips onto the floor.
Geeze!Tina! exclaimed David, regarding the outrage to his Friend, as he held on to the two broken ends to prevent losing any more berries. Just quit now!
While he was occupied in that way the young woman laughed, saying,
Ill just take this, then.
She reached behind his head and pulled the black satin bow from his hair, freeing the still neat, imprisoned ringlets from their confines.
Bug off! exclaimed David in exasperation. Go find someone else to steal souvenirs from.
He stepped brusquely around her, snatching up his top-hat from the floor and as he straightened up he almost collided with the first violinist from the orchestra.
HeyDaviddid we show em tonight or what, eh?
You always were the best, Al, was the generous reply.
Too bad you didnt go pro, regretted the musician, We could have made one helluvah duet.
Still do when you lower yourself to my level. When are you going to go solo?
Never! laughed Al with great emphasis. Im happy the way I am. Let somebody else have all the work and responsibility. Im not sticking my neck out. I get enough applause to massage my ego just sitting there playing, and at the conclusion of a performance I get to kiss the hand of any ambitious ladies who want that solo glory themselves, to say nothing of the occasional luscious diva screeching her head off. Later spinoff is great.
Lazy loafing opportunistic layabout, came the laughing opinion.
Oh yeahfrom one black sheep to anotherand speaking of loafing and playing, havent seen you at our usual poker gatherings for some time. What are you up to these days eh?
Just the usualbusiness.
Uh huh. Got nice company to do business with I notice, returned Al with a suggestive glance toward Rose.
Shes just my lawyer, responded David with a shrug, hoping to avoid the subject.
Needed one lately? came the enquiry. No? Cleaning ourselves up are we? First, no cigars. Then, no women. After that, no pokerand right now I dont see a glass in your hand. Court orders? NopeI have another idea. When do you get the ring through your nose?
Get off it Al, David excused himself, She was in town on a case and I asked her to the symphony. She likes music and I had a spare ticket, thats all. Then, catching himself in the evasive answer he added, So what?
Thats all huh? grinned the violinist, settling in for a good fellowship needling session. I dont think so. You know, seeing you trying to reform is like watching a big whale get stuck in a slowly receding pool, flapping its tail with no room to manoeuvre. What are you trying to do? Set yourself up for sainthood with this pure and disinfected attitudeor is it just an underhanded act youre putting on to dupe that scrumptious piece of pastry youre with? It wont work, ole buddy. Youre too dyed in the wild and wicked. Once a gambler always a gambler eh? Youve said it yourself, so why dont you just fall off your ivory tower and get back to earth?
Why dont you, suggested David, surprisingly rattled by this good-natured attack, Go impale yourself on your violin bow? All youre good for is fiddling around.
Hah! laughed his friend. Gottcha a bit below that neat vest of yours didnt I. And what was all that with Tina just now? Youre guilty of something eh? Two at a time? Thought you were off women. Lets go have a drink and you can tell me all about your devilish intentions.
I have better company to drink with, thank you very much, returned David, red-faced at having been thought of as being in that compromising situation.
Oh yeahI noticed. Whats it going to be? Lemonade? And judging by your playing tonight I figure youve been getting in lots of practise with that flute of yours.
Ohgeeze!you going to hit me with the low jokes too? Go tune your own instrument. Your G string sounds like its too tight. Youll blow your next performance.
Hah! Gottcha again! chortled Al in triumph. That sounds more like my ole buddy. I knew if I just scratched off a bit of that phony veneer youve encased yourself in thered be our Goof underneath ready to go and, sure enough, I got action. Glad to know she hasnt quite wrestled you flat on the floor yet. Youll be back with us shortly. Youre just lying to yourself about being good and it aint gonna work you know. Knowing you, odds to whatever, you cant hide behind that false show youre putting on for too much longer.
Agh! Get out of my face, ordered David. Youre ruining my evening.
I doubt it, the cheerful reply followed him as he turned to stalk away to Rose, And if she really is just your lawyer how about introducing me?
David pretended he didnt hear.
You saw huh? he queried a little anxiously as Rose gave him raised eyebrows and a significant smile. Well I didnt ask for that, and look what that silly fool did! he complained, holding out the broken necklace.
Calm down, laughed Rose. Its a party. Things happen. Here. Ill just tie the ends togetherlike this. There.
She put the jury-rigged necklace over his head and settled it around his collar again while Tina, a short distance away, stood staring with angry eyes. Dont worry. Well fix it properly later. Good Friends arent that perishable.
Thanks, he told her gratefully. You seem to know how to fix everything.
He swiped at his hair again, but Rose noticed the wavy wisps were loose, along with the rest of his hair, which seemed to have no intentions of getting back to order now it was free once more. It was sticking out at odd spiral angles, still partially held by the hair spray Edith had put on it, which made it look even wilder than it usually did.
Grab a drink the next time a tray goes by, he suggested. There surely has to be something worthwhile here, apart from you and the company we came with.
If we walk over there I think we wont have to grab, she countered. Theyre serving.
Good. Walk fast, David suggested. She looks like she might attack again along with my buddy who just worked me over.
Isnt he the first violin? asked Rose looking over at Al who gave her a gorgeous smile. The two of you were terrific together. Do I get to meet him?
Not at this point, refused David.
Why not? asked Rose in surprise. I thought you said he was your buddy.
Yeah, and thats why not, replied David. I can get into enough trouble by myself right now. I dont need his big mouth to help it along. Then, glancing at Rose he added, Good thing you dont make asinine jokes about flutes.
OhI see. Boy jokes. Only asses do that, and Im not one. That title belongs to the law I practise.
Two of those please, David smiled at the bartender, indicating something in a glass which someone else had just received, as he considered her unintended innuendo as to whether he was an ass or not after what hed retaliated with to Al.
Two Laptops with... , the server began.
You can keep the program for it secret. Im just an end user, not a hacker, confided David.
The young man laughed and mixed. With a Laptop apiece in hand, they had just turned away from the table, sipping, when they heard,
Hey! Rose! My gawd! Beautiful! You get more enticing every time I see you, which hasnt been for awhile, since you left town.
Coming toward them was Ed, glass in hand and a huge delighted smile on his face.
Who the hell invited him? growled David.
Lawyers are notorious patrons of the arts, confided Rose. I think thats how this one figures culture is acquiredby osmosis. Hello Ed.
There was no offer of recognition from David.
Quite a tweeting canary, the lawyer grinned at the soloist as that man controlled his schoolboy impulse to give Ed a shove. Not still defending this criminal from that gambling charge are you?
You know very well Im not.
So whats he selling this time? Not you I hope. Never mind. Lets concentrate on us.
As he spoke, Ed snatched the glass from her hand, thrust that with his own back on the table, and grabbed Rose into his arms before David realised what he had in mind, saying,
Lets have a kiss then.
David winced at the sound of crunching abalone shells, and the rustle of broken pieces hitting the floor as Ed kissed and Rose pushed away from him.
Ah! sighed the lawyer, taking a step back from her, Mmm, that tasted like morelots more.
He was about to attempt another hug when he found his way barred by a gold-headed cane slanted before him like a fencing épée, tierce, and he met Davids cold granite gaze.
You crude, coarse, uncouth crudback off! We dont need your insults and you dont know how to behave around anyone as exquisite as Rose Hold.
Oh, you do, I suppose, sneered the lawyer. I forgot. The clothes may be civilised but the animal in them isnt. I think you should muzzle him, at least in public. He probably bites. Wonderful to see you again Rose, he told her as she stood giving him a furious look. Love your icon.
He reached out, yanked the rose from her hair, took up his glass again, pressed the rose against it and turned quickly away, tearing the petals from the flower and tossing them over his shoulder as he went, chanting,
She loves me, she loves me not... .
Roses hands went to her hair as she exploded,
That stupid..., concluding with a Shalisa phrase, just the sound of which made Davids eyebrows shoot up and he gave a small laugh of surprise.
That sounds deadly. Do I get a translation?
No! Im not supposed to say it myself.
How about teaching it to me then? It sounded just right for some people I could use it on.
You know enough of your own. What is this? A free-for-all or something, where everyone goes around pretending to love people and then they finish up stealing their décor?
Never mind, Ill get you a fresh rose from the garden, David told her, as he laid his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. Its the latest fun thing. Grab something from someone and nail it to your door so you can tell everybody you slept with the owner, whether you did or not, because you have proof. Keeps the gossip going while people speculate and try to figure out if its true or not.
Proof? Ill give them proof! threatened Rose, Ill grab the hide off the next one who tries anything, and itll be tanned and pegged out on my door for everybody to see!
David, whose hand was still resting lightly on her shoulder, quickly removed it, murmuring,
Not me please. Im innocentat least this time.
I hope you dont think I ever slept with that cheap ignoramus.
Never crossed my mind. Sorry I cant say the same for my one though, but it ended some time ago.
Youre not only fine, youre too damned honest, retorted Rose, unable to keep her reaction to his admission under control, and surprised that it evoked such a response in her.
Roseyou swore again! accused David, laughing.
I must have caught the bug from you.
For sure somethings sick around here right about now, he told her. What started out as a beautiful evening is turning into a bloody orchestrated horror. Oopssorry. We seem to be slipping up on our agreement to behave. As for this Laptop... ! David put his hat over the glass he held, made a quick pass over it and left the stemware upended in an ice bucket, sticking there, shivering. Lap bottom, if you ask me. Rose, I know we havent been here too long, butwould you mind if we left before I make a complete sensational public fool of myself by demolishing someone, and you wind up with a case of assault? If he comes near you again Ill deck the drunken beggar.
Mind?! I just came because I thought youd like toand Ill help you assault him. That idiot stepped on my foot and when I jerked away my slipper tore. Im puffing bulrush fluff all over, and Im shedding abalone shells like a one woman shucking party.
Looks cute, he observed, seeing the torn toe of the slipper with white fluff sticking out of it, poking from under the hem of her dress. Now, lets see. Which is the fastest way out of here without anyone noticing and asking us where were going and why were leaving, and trying to force us to stay because Im supposed to be important to the evening? Oh, yeahtheres a door away over there and Im sure theres a window somewhere behind it. Are you game for that escape route?
Great! he told her. Lets go home where we can speak Shalisa and get something decent to eat. Soggers these aint and Im tired of pretending Im not one!
That makes two of us, agreed Rose as they headed for the door.
At about that moment Edith, Armand, Li and Ana looked at each other in silent surprise as they overheard a conversation which went,
Hey Al! Look! There goes David sneaking into a bedroom with his woman.
Oh? Thats interesting.
Yeah. Theyve been here for at least an hour. Maybe hes out of practiseor getting old. That boy is getting slow.
Getting slow? Hes always been slow. Didnt you see him just now with Tina? Give me a chance like that and Ill take it twice. Dont know where the idea came from that hes a stud. Where women are concerned hes a dud. Two at once and he doesnt even know how to handle one at a time.
Looks like hes made a good start right nowand youre just jealous.
Yeah. Id run off and find a bedroom too if I had that for the evening andtell me, how do you know its a bedroom? Been there have you?
No, been here and know where all the doors lead.
Scouting out the ground eh?
Old boy scoutalways be prepared. What the hells crunching underfoot?
I dunno. Somebody dropped a cracker maybe.
Funny shiny lookin crackers, and some of em look like berries and rose petals.
Get anything catered nowadaysround, square, shiny, petal-shaped, you name it.
Fluffy stuff too?!
Have you tasted it?
No. Lets go see if we can find some.
Just then the burglar alarm went off as Rose and David skipped out a bedroom window.