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40: Masquerading



Here I am marching in lock-step parade
Dressed like the others for this suave charade
Smiling and bowing and acting a part
Far from the feelings I have in my heart

Do I really need this face to play on my flute
And as for the music I’m going to toot
It won’t change a note of my good stuff today
I’d rather be wearing my jeans at the bay

But just for an evening I’ll try to pretend
I’m something I’m not though I’ll know in the end
I’m really just raffish and raggedy me
Playing my flute at the foot of a tree


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 Yu’s 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 wouldn’t 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 care—meaning 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 another—resulting 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 Gram’s 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 didn’t have any respect for other people’s 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 neighbour’s 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 heart’s 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 Neighbour’s 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 hadn’t 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 Flute’s 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 willow—until other neighbours complained, much to David’s 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 wasn’t that the grass needed so much attention—he 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 David’s, 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 Neighbour’s 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 made—if not good neighbours—at 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 David’s 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 didn’t 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 Neighbour’s 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 Grandfather’s moss-covered fallen tree trunk, and the remark that the corner where Willow grew was one of David’s 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 Willow’s 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 I’m off my aim. I’ll have to adjust my trajectory—see 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 there’s bloody well nothing wrong with my aim and next time I’ll adjust it so it doesn’t land at your feet.”

     The exchange which followed contained derogatory remarks about each other’s 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 I’ll 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 you’ll be in court yourself.”

     As he went over to where the women sat, Rose told him with a laugh,

     “It’s very generous of you but you don’t 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.”

     “I’ve 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 I’ve been around a bit.”

     “A bit too much,” murmured Edith Godwin. “Let’s 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 don’t think I’m giving away secrets’.

     Laughing a little to herself, she couldn’t help thinking that this certainly was not what David had planned on when he’d 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 didn’t quite recognise at first glance because he looked like a store window mannequin showing off the latest in formal wear.

     It wasn’t 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 hand—a 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.

     <Oh my!—David?>

     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, it’s simplicity accented by Grandfather’s 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 Hold—you’re gorgeous!”

     “Mister Godwin, you’re a surprise. Forgive me but—I didn’t expect this.”

     “Oh?—Didn’t I tell you I’m the guest soloist on flute tonight?” he asked in genuine surprise. “That’s what I’ve been doing most of the day—practising 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 don’t play their game they won’t let me play my flute, and I don’t get the chance to play with a full orchestra very often so—I’m bowing and scraping to gain my own ends.”

     “You’re solo tonight? That’s wonderful! I always thought your playing was extraordinary.”

     “Good enough for a fund-raiser. Think the others they approached wanted money and backed out. I’m gratis. Better an amateur who costs nothing than having to rearrange the whole program—plus Gram leapt in and offered me. Reserve judgement until you hear it.”

     “I’ve heard it, but right now this doesn’t sound a bit like you, and—how did you get your hair to lie down like that?”

     “Gram sprayed it with something—glue I think. I don’t dare touch it because I’m afraid it’ll crack like a helmet made of sugar glaze.”

     “Good thing you have your Friend with you as an identity card. I almost didn’t recognise you.” She considered, then told him truthfully, “It’s deliciously different but—it’s not the you I know.”

     “Glad you noticed,” he told her with a pleased grin. “That’s what you’re supposed to be seeing—my other half. Seems we both had the same idea for identity though,” he added as he touched the necklace he wore. “Thought I’d 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 me—does a rabbit pop out of that?”

     “Teddybear occasionally,” he explained. “I give performances for Gram’s benefits. Kids love this kind of stuff, but I don’t believe in terrorising little people for the amusement of other little people. I think that’s 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 it’s a fun evening and not too serious—amateur and all that. Old-fashioned and trite, but it works. No ad lib though. Stick to the script, or they’ll 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.

     “Well—yeah—if you’d like to take it that way,” he smiled, then, giving the articles in his hand a shake, he told her, “The hat’s been part of my repertoire since I was a little kid. The cane came later—when I was a bigger kid. It holds brandy in it’s top—but 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 don’t get to it first.”

     “How about a little sneak preview on the magic?” she urged, laughingly.

     “Oh yeah! I was hoping you’d 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 there—right?”

     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 David—that’s fantastic!”

     “Not really,” he told her as he walked over and slid the stem into the band holding her hair. “All preplanned. I’m a showoff who has a hard time playing it straight. It’s from Gram’s garden—from the plant you have a cutting of at Shalisa Creek Bay. There—an 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 you’re wearing?”

     She obliged, asking,

     “Do you like it? I made it myself.”

     “It’s beautiful!”

     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. They’re really comfortable. I stuffed them with bulrush fluff. They’ll probably just manage to last the evening out but—they’re fun too.”

     He regarded the slippered foot and the ankle above it, raised his eyebrows and asked, with exaggerated reproof,

     “Hey—are you flirting with me? We’re 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.

     “Ooops—didn’t mean it that way. I just wanted praise for my work on the slippers.”

     “You’ve got it and then some,” he laughed. “The whole outfit’s an incredible piece of art, and so are you.”

     <Geeze Rose, I’d love to kiss you but I’m afraid if I do I’ll squash everything and anyway, you’d probably vaporise me.>

     <I’d love to mess his hair up the way it always is at the Bay. It just doesn’t look like him, but it probably took his Gram ages to get it to lie down like that and he’s 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,

     “There’s a get-together buffet for the orchestra at somebody’s 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 haven’t been to anything like that for some time.”

     “Well, okay, maybe we’d 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 don’t want to know ‘why not’.”

     “Why not?” she asked, surprised.

     He turned around as he told her with a little laugh,

     “Uh—I know a lot of people. Some good, some bad—some bloody awful. My family’s going to be there.”

     “I won’t ask what category you think they fall into.”

     “Thanks.”

     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 out’—and tonight you get virtuosity,” David told them, with his eyes still on Rose.

     <Some timing. Two seconds more and I’d have grabbed her.>

     “Ready if you are,” smiled Rose.

     <That saved me. Two seconds more and I’d 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? I’m but a humble seaman.”

     “Don’t worry about it,” Edith comforted him. “I’m just a humble grandmother, and he’s really just a grubby kid playing dress-up. I don’t know how he got the lady who’s with him to go along, but dressed like that I’m 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.”

     “Don’t listen to her Rose,” urged David as he picked up his concert flute case, “It’s clean inside. Maybe we shouldn’t go with that naughty granny after she’s cast such aspersions on our chariot—and 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 don’t care whose car we take,” was Rose’s opinion, through the laughter, “But if they don’t go, I don’t.”

     “That leaves me no choice—since I’m supposed to behave myself for your benefit—you 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, “We’ll be back soon—well, maybe not so soon. Try not to throw everything around too much in protest, like last night—okay?”

     As the door closed Ulf looked at Gurth.

     <Yeah—so what else did we expect?>

     <Oh well, let’s go see if we can get that new bag of goodies off the shelf.>

     <I don’t think we can reach it. He put it up too high because of last night.>

     <Then let’s 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. It’s not all chewed up yet.>

     <Okay, and hey—did you notice how nice our white hairs looked on that ridiculous, dowdy, dark bunch of stiff stuff he’s wearing?>

     <Nice contrast. Tag! You’re it.>

     <Oh yeah? I’ll gettcha!>

     Thump! Crash!

     Everything which can did happen when two dogs had fun after being left alone at home for the second night in a row, unsupervised.

- - -

     ”Don’t 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.

     “Oh—that man Li who stole our son, and his sister, and... .”

     “He saved me a lot of trouble,” interrupted her husband. “I’d 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 she’s 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 didn’t 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, I’m sure it would make a difference to his looks if he were bald,” and she turned her face aside to avoid her husband’s 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 that’s the lawyer who got him off. She’s certainly an exotic little thing, isn’t 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 haven’t landed, or he’d probably turn up with one of those.”

     She ignored the criticism, saying,

     “I’ve never seen your mother with that one before either.”

     “Neither have I. Her taste is improving. His suit’s a bit out-of-the-attic, but it looks well cut. Get ready. They’re 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 Godwin—Rose 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.

     “It’s 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 son—yes—I 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, he’s ours all right,” he returned, in a tone which made Rose feel he might as well have finished off with ‘worse luck’.

     “Hey—great!” enthused David with a wicked grin. “Does that mean you’ll own up to me in public again? I will if you will, Dad.”

     “David—really!” reproved his mother, looking uncomfortable.

     “It’s okay. I don’t have any secrets from my lawyer. I’m not only fine, I’m 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. “Wasn’t David fabulous tonight!”

     “He promised virtuosity and he delivered,” added Armand.

     “These are the parents of the virtuoso—Danielle and Anthony Godwin,” Edith introduced them. “I don’t think you’ve 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 Danielle’s hand, murmuring,

     “Enchanté.”

     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! Don’t start...,” but Danielle Godwin’s 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 brother’s 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 Howard’s jacket and when they came out again his left one was holding a cigarette package.

     His actions were so swift that the young man didn’t 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. How’s 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.

     “Don’t tell me you two have quit. Howie?”

     The young man dropped his bright-eyed gaze from David’s face.

     “Uh huh.”

     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 one’s 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,

     “Howard!”

     The young man turned his head back and met his eldest brother’s 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 it’s not now and then.”

     “Knock it off,” suggested the eldest of the three standing before him.

     “Butt out, Art. I’ll 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 you’ve never seen the inside of a jail, I have. It’s not amusing, and this even happened to be a nice clean small one, all to myself. I’m telling you now—you smarten up, or this is just a taste of the hell you’ll get from me if you don’t.”

     He gave his head a jerk.

     “Go on, get lost—and don’t pick up any more from that other pair you were with or I’ll 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.

     “What’s going down with him anyway? What the hell’s the matter with you that you can’t 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 that’s the innocuous part of it.”

     “Why don’t you cool down,” suggested Arthur. “Kids try everything. He’s just a bit uncertain of his direction these days. Acting like some big, bullying ape isn’t going to help.”

     “Besides, who the hell are you to yell at him? You’re 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 doesn’t want to follow? Or is it that you ‘do some’ once in awhile?”

     “Look, he’s old enough to make his own decisions,” Arthur defended his young brother in order to avoid the issue. “I’ve got a family to take care of, and so has Fred. “We can’t keep tabs on him all the time.”

     “All right—so where’s Dad in all this, and Mom, for that matter.”

     David waited for an answer but there wasn’t one, so he said,

     “Bloody spoiled brat syndrome, is that it? A twenty year old baby. Guess it’s 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! You’re 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 didn’t 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 he’d been doing his recent best to avoid.

     “David! How wonderful. I thought you’d left for another planet.”

     Just as his flustered eyes got to Rose’s, he was enveloped in a swirl of fragrance and a tight and meaningful embrace, and then his captor’s 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.

     “Yeah—well—,” 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. “How’s the investment broker, or whatever.”

     “He’s exceedingly wealthy and terribly boring. Not like you at all. When shall we have dinner? I’m looking forward to seeing you again.”

     “Try using a telescope, because I’m going to be out of sight where you’re 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 David’s head. “Let me have it to go with your shirt studs.”

     “No—NO!

     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,

     “I’ll 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.

     “Hey—David—did we show ’em tonight or what, eh?”

     “You always were the best, Al,” was the generous reply.

     “Too bad you didn’t 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. “I’m happy the way I am. Let somebody else have all the work and responsibility. I’m 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 yeah—from one black sheep to another—and speaking of loafing and playing, haven’t seen you at our usual poker gatherings for some time. What are you up to these days eh?”

     “Just the usual—business.”

     “Uh huh. Got nice company to do business with I notice,” returned Al with a suggestive glance toward Rose.

     “She’s 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 poker—and right now I don’t see a glass in your hand. Court orders? Nope—I 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, that’s all.” Then, catching himself in the evasive answer he added, “So what?”

     “That’s all huh?” grinned the violinist, settling in for a good fellowship needling session. “I don’t 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 attitude—or is it just an underhanded act you’re putting on to dupe that scrumptious piece of pastry you’re with? It won’t work, ole buddy. You’re too dyed in the wild and wicked. Once a gambler always a gambler eh? You’ve said it yourself, so why don’t you just fall off your ivory tower and get back to earth?”

     “Why don’t you,” suggested David, surprisingly rattled by this good-natured attack, “Go impale yourself on your violin bow? All you’re good for is fiddling around.”

     “Hah!” laughed his friend. “Gottcha a bit below that neat vest of yours didn’t I. And what was all that with Tina just now? You’re guilty of something eh? Two at a time? Thought you were off women. Let’s 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 yeah—I noticed. What’s it going to be? Lemonade? And judging by your playing tonight I figure you’ve been getting in lots of practise with that flute of yours.”

     “Oh—geeze!—you going to hit me with the low jokes too? Go tune your own instrument. Your ‘G’ string sounds like it’s too tight. You’ll 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 you’ve encased yourself in there’d be our Goof underneath ready to go and, sure enough, I got action. Glad to know she hasn’t quite wrestled you flat on the floor yet. You’ll be back with us shortly. You’re just lying to yourself about being good and it ain’t gonna work you know. Knowing you, odds to whatever, you can’t hide behind that false show you’re putting on for too much longer.”

     “Agh! Get out of my face,” ordered David. “You’re 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 didn’t hear.

     “You saw huh?” he queried a little anxiously as Rose gave him raised eyebrows and a significant smile. “Well I didn’t ask for that, and look what that silly fool did!” he complained, holding out the broken necklace.

     “Calm down,” laughed Rose. “It’s a party. Things happen. Here. I’ll just tie the ends together—like 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. “Don’t worry. We’ll fix it properly later. Good Friends aren’t 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 won’t have to grab,” she countered. “They’re serving.”

     “Good. Walk fast,” David suggested. “She looks like she might attack again along with my buddy who just worked me over.”

     “Isn’t 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 that’s why not,” replied David. “I can get into enough trouble by myself right now. I don’t need his big mouth to help it along.” Then, glancing at Rose he added, “Good thing you don’t make asinine jokes about flutes.”

     “Oh—I see. Boy jokes. Only asses do that, and I’m 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 he’d retaliated with to Al.

     “Two Laptops with... ,” the server began.

     “You can keep the program for it secret. I’m 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 hasn’t 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 that’s how this one figures culture is acquired—by 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 I’m not.”

     “So what’s he selling this time? Not you I hope. Never mind. Let’s 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,

     “Let’s 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 more—lots 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 David’s cold granite gaze.

     “You crude, coarse, uncouth crud—back off! We don’t need your insults and you don’t 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 isn’t. 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... .”

     Rose’s hands went to her hair as she exploded,

     “That stupid...,” concluding with a Shalisa phrase, just the sound of which made David’s eyebrows shoot up and he gave a small laugh of surprise.

     “That sounds deadly. Do I get a translation?”

     “No! I’m 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, I’ll get you a fresh rose from the garden,” David told her, as he laid his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. “It’s 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 it’s true or not.”

     “Proof? I’ll give them proof!” threatened Rose, “I’ll grab the hide off the next one who tries anything, and it’ll 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. I’m innocent—at least this time.”

     “I hope you don’t think I ever slept with that cheap ignoramus.”

     “Never crossed my mind. Sorry I can’t say the same for my one though, but it ended some time ago.”

     “You’re not only fine, you’re 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.

     “Rose—you swore again!” accused David, laughing.

     “I must have caught the bug from you.”

     “For sure something’s sick around here right about now,” he told her. “What started out as a beautiful evening is turning into a bloody orchestrated horror. Oops—sorry. 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 haven’t been here too long, but—would 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 I’ll deck the drunken beggar.”

     “Mind?! I just came because I thought you’d like to—and I’ll help you assault him. That idiot stepped on my foot and when I jerked away my slipper tore. I’m puffing bulrush fluff all over, and I’m 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, let’s see. Which is the fastest way out of here without anyone noticing and asking us where we’re going and why we’re leaving, and trying to force us to stay because I’m supposed to be important to the evening? Oh, yeah—there’s a door away over there and I’m sure there’s a window somewhere behind it. Are you game for that escape route?”

     “More than.”

     “Great!” he told her. “Let’s go home where we can speak Shalisa and get something decent to eat. Soggers these ain’t and I’m tired of pretending I’m 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? That’s interesting.”

     “Yeah. They’ve been here for at least an hour. Maybe he’s out of practise—or getting old. That boy is getting slow.”

     “Getting slow? He’s always been slow. Didn’t you see him just now with Tina? Give me a chance like that and I’ll take it twice. Don’t know where the idea came from that he’s a stud. Where women are concerned he’s a dud. Two at once and he doesn’t even know how to handle one at a time.”

     “Looks like he’s made a good start right now—and you’re just jealous.”

     “Yeah. I’d run off and find a bedroom too if I had that for the evening and—tell me, how do you know it’s a bedroom? Been there have you?”

     “No, been here and know where all the doors lead.”

     “Scouting out the ground eh?”

     “Old boy scout—always be prepared. What the hell’s 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 nowadays—round, square, shiny, petal-shaped, you name it.”

     “Fluffy stuff too?!”

     “Why not?”

     “Have you tasted it?”

     “No. Let’s go see if we can find some.”

     Just then the burglar alarm went off as Rose and David skipped out a bedroom window.