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BEGUINE

CHAPTER SIX

December, 2007

She had freed herself from Howard, who was deep in conversation with the head of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and had wandered over to the bar for a glass of champagne. She had thought Stan would come to see her after the first set, but he didn’t. As the musicians’ break stretched to half an hour and a rising tide of disappointment began to seep into her heart, she reminded herself she had never been able to predict him.

The band was on stage again. He was deep in conversation with the two singers, his back to her, and his arms around their shoulders. They were laughing and flirting, and Karen felt as if he meant for her to see that he could still attract twenty-somethings at age forty-eight. But they don’t love you, she said softly to herself. And I – No, some things were better left in the past. And thinking about Stan, even being in the same room with him, was playing with fire. She couldn’t forget that Carrie was dead, and better for Karen Morgan that she stayed that way.

Karen put down the champagne glass and went back to stand dutifully by Howard, who was now engaged with Alan Warrick in a discussion of the litigation section’s place as the top revenue generator for the firm for the fourth year in a row. Alan gave her his minimal smile and his ususal when-are-you-going-to-get-off-that-bench-and-come-back- to-us-question. Karen took some satisfaction because he meant it. She had been the top grossing partner in corporate when she left. The cut in income had driven Howard crazy.

The music began again, and Stan was out front with an aggressive solo in “Black Magic Woman.” The singers never took their eyes off him, and she wondered which one he was sleeping with.

* * *

October, 1994

Karen went home to her condominium on the night of her conversation by the water with Stan, and tossed and turned in her cold bed until dawn. She was miserably jealous of Deanna, whom he had loved so much; and she was deeply hurt that he had warned her away. Before the sun rose, she admitted she was already in love with him.

At five a.m., she got out of bed and opened the closet. She reached to the top shelf, took down her flute and opened the case. Within a few seconds, the soft strains of the first movement of the Ibert Flute Concerto soothed her. Her fingers were clumsy and her mouth and tongue stiff, but she continued to play until her muscles were exhausted. Then she sat in the soft light of early dawn, holding the instrument while tears rolled down her cheeks.

On Sunday, she wandered the beach and considered whether she should return to Jazz By the Bay on Monday night. She honestly wasn’t sure how well Harry was doing financially. Some nights, the club was full; on others, she knew he didn’t break even. She needed to go back for another week or two to get a fair impression. She just didn’t have enough information to tell Alan Warrick on Monday that the place was ripe for picking by Waterfront Development. Although more than likely it was.

As she walked by the windy, bottle green Pacific that Sunday, she pictured Stan on stage with Harry and Kristin. All of their lives depended on the club. If Waterfront Development turned them out, where would they go?

That wasn’t her problem, she reminded herself. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, a lawyer never considered the consequences of a client’s wishes. A Warrick, Thompson lawyer only accomplished what the client wanted. It was her partnership year. She knew better than to go soft on Stan and Harry Rich. She could cut the knot and walk away from this. The part of her that had let go of music thirteen years ago told her to heed Stan’s warning and not look back.

But she knew she couldn’t. On Monday night, around the usual eight p.m., she changed in the Warrick, Thompson ladies’ room and headed for the club. She was so nervous when she entered that her hands were sweating.

Stan was on stage with Harry and Kristin. They had just finished a number, and Stan made eye contact with her immediately. He nodded to Harry, and they broke into “I Can’t Get Started.” Relief washed over her and a surge of happiness. She hurried to her usual spot and ordered a red wine.

But at the break, Stan merely gave her a friendly nod as he worked the tables, pausing longer than usual at the Table of Four. She left at midnight before the set was finished and hurried back to the office to check the documents that had come out of the overnight secretarial pool.

For the remainder of the week, it was exactly the same. She arrived. Stan acknowledged her by playing her tune and then studiously ignored any personal contact at the break. By Friday morning, when Alan Warrick, who had been out of town all week, arrived in her office, she was ready to scream with frustration and disappointment.

“So Waterfront wants the scoop on Harry Rich.”

“How was New York?” she stalled.

“Cold. Hey, did you get bored and not go back? What gives with their financials do you think?”

I wish I had been bored, she thought. “No, I’ve been going, and they might be in pretty good shape. I need this weekend to tell.”

Alan stared at her, incredulous. “You can’t mean it. A place like that doesn’t break even!”

She shrugged. “Some do. When I was in college, I used to play at one in Boston that was quite profitable.”

“Oh, well, then.” Uncharacteristically, Alan conceded defeat to a higher level of knowledge. Karen noted his unusual deference with satisfaction. “Look, give me an answer by Monday, ok? Waterfront is in a hurry to find a reason to get him out of there.”

“I’ll let you know on Monday,” she agreed.

“Hey, you look sort of down,” Alan said. “I’ve got news that will cheer you up.”

“Such as?”

“Burnett Biotech is going public, and we’re doing their Initial Public Offering.” He put a thick file on her desk. “We’re meeting with their representatives at three this afternoon.”

An IPO for a major client in her partnership year should have made Karen ecstatic. The money the deal would make for the firm would impress the partners, and they would have even more incentive to make her a partner. Instead, she felt trapped and miserable.

Her stomach sat in a tight knot for the rest of the day. She had Friday and Saturday night at Jazz By the Bay, and that was all. She tried to imagine a world in which she could no longer see Stan. And began to cry. She had to regain tight control over herself for the meeting with the Burnett executives that afternoon.

By six that Friday night, she had the Burnett documents ready for a first round in
the secretarial pool. But the Burnett accountants called at five after six and kept calling back until ten p.m. She tried to tell them they had weeks to get their numbers together, but they were nervous about their first public offering.

At eleven p.m., tired and disappointed, she went home to bed. Maybe a night off from Jazz by the Bay was what she needed. Maybe she wouldn’t go back on Saturday, and on Monday she’d just tell Alan to close them down.

On Saturday morning, she arrived at the office at seven thirty and tried to keep herself from thinking about Stan as she buried herself in the Burnett stock deal. But to no avail. By ten p.m., when she finally left the day’s documents in overnight secretarial, she headed for the club.

Her heart turned over when she walked in. It was Halloween weekend, and all of single San Diego was there. Every table was taken. And the Table of Four had become the Table of Six in very sexy costumes: three belly dancers, one Marie Antoinette with nearly exposed breasts, a leggy black cat in fishnets, and a Playboy Bunny. She looked down at her weekend work uniform of jeans, a tailored white silk shirt, and a tan fine-wale corduroy blazer and wondered if she should stay. But then, by some miracle, the group at her preferred table on the second row got up, and she hurried to her favorite seat before anyone else could take it.
As she gave the waitress her usual red zin order, she felt Stan’s eyes on her. He shared the stage with Harry at the piano, Kristin, and an alto sax player. He leaned over and whispered in Kristin’s ear and then turned to face the audience. Karen watched him set the mouthpiece in his careful, methodic way, his eyes fixed on her. and then “I Can’t Get Started” filled the nightclub.

For over an hour her heart soared as she listened. She watched his eyes rove over the audience, lingering often on the scantily clad Table of Six.

When the band broke at eleven thirty, he didn’t come into the audience. Karen’s heart sank as the next set began without any chance to speak to him. He had meant it: he didn’t intend to let her into his life. She downed the last of her wine and considered going back to the office. But alcohol and the Burnett accounting data wouldn’t be a good mix. She was already feeling the buzz. Besides she wanted to hear Stan play even if he was ignoring her. She ordered another glass of red zin. And then another.

The show ended at twelve-thirty. The club was still full of people, and they took their time leaving. Karen lingered at the back of the throng, so she could watch Stan on stage, putting away his instrument. She tried not to think this might be her last night to see him.

He kept his back to her as he emptied the valves and put his mouthpiece in its special pouch. “I’m hungry,” he said, his back still to her. “Want to get some dinner?”

By this time, other than a couple locking lips in the back, she was the sole person left.

“Are you talking to me?” The straw of her earlier despair suddenly spun into golden joy.

He turned, grinning mischievously.

“Well, I’m not talking to them.” Karen’s heart was beating so fast she thought he must be able to hear it even at that distance. His sudden shift from cold to warm was unsettling; but because he was opening to her again, she didn’t care.

At that moment, Harry walked onto the stage. “Hey, Stan. Great night. The cook wants to know if you want a steak before she closes up.”

He nodded. “And my friend Kay will have the same.” He gave her another impish smile as Harry headed for the kitchen.

Stan ignored the steps and jumped off the stage. He slid his hand under her elbow and guided her to an empty table. Harry came back with a glass of scotch for him and another red wine for Karen, then disappeared into the kitchen again.

Stan took a long drink and said, “Great costume.”

“Thanks.”

“What are you supposed to be exactly?”

“Weekend lawyer.”

“Looks kind of uptight to me. Why weren’t you here last night?”

“I had to work.” Karen’s heart smiled.

“All night?”

“A lot of it. I’m doing an Initial Public Offering for a client I can’t name until the deal goes public.”

Stan laughed. “So cloak and dagger. Well, if the stock’s any good when it comes out, maybe I’ll buy some.”

“I can’t give you any advice on that, otherwise you’d be guilty of insider trading.”

“Too bad.” He smiled. His eyes held hers. “I’m glad you’re here tonight.”

She tingled at the warmth in his voice. “Great show,” was all she could manage.

His dark eyes studied her face in the club’s low light. “I played it for you.”

She felt herself blush and hoped he didn’t notice. “Thanks.”

Stan kept his eyes on her, and her blush deepened as she met his gaze. “I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

Harry appeared with plates of steak and steaming baked potatoes. The smell of grilled meat made her mouth water.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Stan said, “You’re putting it away as if you aven’t eaten all day.”

“So are you,” she countered, and he laughed.

“But I’m a starving musician. People in your profession can afford three meals a day.”

“But we haven’t got time to eat them. I had a blueberry muffin from the vending machine when I got to work at seven thirty this morning. Lunch was a stale sandwich from the same machine.”

“Better go easy on the wine, then,” Stan advised as Harry set yet another glass by her plate. “Even this much food isn’t going to help if you’ve had that little to eat all day. Why so much work – and on Saturday?”

“It’s what places like Warrick, Thompson expect of people like me, who aren’t yet partners.”
“And when does that happen?”

“Next September. If everything goes well.”

“By goes well you mean what?”

“Just hits and runs. No errors. I have to make all the clients happy and make lots and lots of money for the firm.”

“And you’ve been doing that for what – five years?”

“Yes. And I have credit for the time I spent in New York. So I’m actually considered a tenth year associate.”

“Ten years since you left music?”

A shadow crossed Karen’s face. “No, thirteen Three years in law school.”

“And you’re not happy.”

“I – I don’t think about that very much.”

“What do you think about?”

She couldn’t tell the truth and say you. “Work, mostly. It expands to fill the time.”

“And you’re not happy,” he repeated. His eyes held hers, and she could tell that no matter what she said, he knew the truth. She felt as if he could look into her soul.

She was too hungry to eat slowly, yet she made every effort to prolong the time with him. He seemed to be lingering over his meal, too.

When they were finished, and Harry had cleared away the plates, Stan said, “Where’s your car?”

“In the lot next door.”

“I’ll walk you to it.”

Even as she smiled and thanked him, Karen’s heart sank. She didn’t want her time with him to end, yet.

The cool night air hit her hard. Her car and Stan’s were the only vehicles in the lot. He reached down and took her hand, and her heart began to race.

“Let me throw my horn in the car, and we’ll go walk by the bay for a little.”

She nodded, too happy to speak.

They started down the path they had taken a week ago, but Stan stopped at the first bench they came to and drew her down beside him. It was two thirty in the morning, and no one else was around.

He pulled her into his arms and held her head against his chest. Karen’s blood raced. This was the only place in the world she belonged. She wished he would kiss her, but he didn’t. As she cuddled against him, her eyes closed. He laid his cheek against her hair.
Stan held her for a long time, but it wasn’t long enough for Karen. Finally he dew away and looked down at her. He smiled as he pushed a stray wisp off her cheek.

She looked up. “You didn’t mean what you said, did you?”

“What did I say?”

“About not getting involved with you.”

“Your bun’s falling down.”

“Fine, let it. You didn’t mean it, did you?”

“You’ve had too much to drink, Carrie Moon.”

“Probably. Empty stomach. All that.” But she liked the dizzy feeling from the wine because she was close to him. She started to put her head against his chest again, but he held her away gently.

“Can’t sleep here, I’m afraid. And you definitely can’t drive home. Come on, I’ll take you back to my place. I have a loft at Fourth and G. Your car will be ok here overnight.”

Ten minutes later, she was leaning against Stan as the elevator in his building creaked to the fourth floor of the converted warehouse. When he opened the door and flicked on the light, she had a quick impression of a big, open room with exposed brick walls, sparsely furnished. She noticed a piano under one window.

He set his horn case on a table next to the front door, one arm still around her, and led her toward the partition that separated the bedroom from the living area.

“In here,” he said. “You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

“No,” she protested. “Sofa’s fine.”

He laughed, as he removed her corduroy jacket and turned down the bed. “You’re cute when you’re drunk, Carrie Moon. But you’re sleeping right here. Lie down.”

Too sleepy to protest, she obeyed, hoping he wouldn’t make good on his promise to sleep elsewhere.

He leaned down and unzipped her jeans. “You’d don’t want to sleep in these.”

Obediently she let him pull them off. He paused, then, for a moment, as if he knew what else she wanted. His dark eyes held hers, and she reached up and put her arms around his neck.
He disentangled himself gently, kissing the top of her head as he pulled away and drew up the covers. “Not tonight, Carrie Moon.”

He turned out the light and went into the living room. She lay in the half-dark, awash in his strong, deep, masculine scent that permeated the sheets and blankets. She could hear him undressing. A few seconds later, he turned out the light, putting Carrie in total darkness. But only for a moment. Outside, a yellow street light glowed and then another yellow neon light throbbed off and on. As she watched the light come and go, she wondered what would happen if she got up and went to him. She ached to be close to him. But she was also warm and dizzy from the wine. Her limbs were heavy, and her eyelids kept fluttering shut no matter how hard she fought sleep to savor the smell of Stan that surrounded her.
She drifted off but came awake sometime later with a start. The alcohol haze had cleared, and she lay in the dark broken by the blinking yellow light, wondering for a moment where she was. Then she remembered. The clock radio on the beside table said four a.m. She peeled back the covers carefully and put her bare feet on the cold floor.

She tiptoed into the living room and approached the sofa quietly. Even though the room was chilly, Stan had tossed off the blanket that he had pulled over himself. He was sleeping on his back, in his white undershirt and shorts. He looked so vulnerable. Karen wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him close and comfort him the way he had refused to let her when he had told her about Deanna’s death.

He stirred as she stood watching him and opened his eyes. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling sick?” He half sat up as he spoke.

Karen shook her head.

“Looking for the bathroom? It’s over there.” He pointed to a corner of the loft.

But she shook her head again. “I just woke up and wanted to know if you were here.”

He stood up and ruffled her hair affectionately. “Crazy girl. Where else would I be at four in the morning? Come on. Back to bed with you. We both need more sleep.”

She let him lead her back to the bedroom and tuck her in once more. Part of her thought he would stay, but the rest knew he wouldn’t. He kissed the top of her head and said, “Go back to sleep, Carrie Moon.” Then he turned and walked back into the living room. A minute later she heard the old sofa creak under his weight. Her lids fluttered, and she was asleep.

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BEGUINE

CHAPTER FIVE

October, 1994
And so for the next week, Karen Moon was back at Jazz By the Bay every night except Sunday when the club was dark. At work, she struggled to concentrate on the dry financial forms piled on her desk. She much preferred to picture Stan on stage in his white dinner jacket, eyes locked on hers as he played.

She grew to hate the bright October sunlight streaming through the glass walls of her office because it relentlessly reminded her hour after hour that she could not see Stan until dark. She longed for eight o’clock when the firm would be empty of everyone except the night secretaries, the janitors, and the associates trying to impress the partners with their super-human billables. At eight, she could slip into the ladies’ room and change into the demure black cocktail dress she had bought at Nordstrom on that first Friday afternoon after Alan assigned her spying mission She had been tempted by the plunging necklines that the Table of Four favored; but, in the end, she was afraid of appearing too obviously in competition with them.

Her dress was knee length, with a modest V neckline; but she added a set of very long and expensive rhinestone earrings to give it glamour. She bought body glitter to sweep over her throat and shoulders and silvery eyeshadow to highlight her eyes.

When she had transformed herself each night from Karen-the-Lawyer into Karen-the-Woman, she headed to Seaport Village, hoping for the most distant parking spot in the lot, so she could walk longer with Stan after the show. She loved hurrying along the Village’s winding paths, lit by the hundreds of white fairy lights, knowing she was leaving the real world and heading into an enchanted land full of possibilities.

On Saturday, following her week of nightly appearances at Jazz By the Bay,
Stan walked her out into the cool October night just after midnight and said, “Want to walk by the Bay for a little?”

“Sure.”

“Let me put my horn in the car.”

He unlocked the trunk of a pristine red ‘65 Mustang and placed his trumpet bag carefully inside. He started to put his white dinner jacket in, too; but noticed Karen shivering slightly in the night breeze.

“Here, put this around your shoulders.”

The jacket still carried the warmth and smell of Stan’s skin. Karen felt a hard, stab of pure desire as he draped it around her and took her hand, leading her down the path toward the water. The moon was full, and its silver light was almost as bright as daylight.

He looked over at her with his mischievous smile. “Like the show?”

“Of course.”

“You’re going to have to pick a new favorite tune. People are beginning to think I like you.”

“And do you?” She echoed his bantering tone, but her stomach tightened as she waited for the answer.

“A little.” His eyes still twinkled, but his voice reflected his discomfort at being asked. As they turned down the path that wound by the Bay, he moved the conversation in a different direction. “You don’t seem like a ‘Karen’ to me.”

“What should my name be, then?”

He stopped and studied her face in the moonlight. For a moment she thought he might kiss her, but he turned back to the path and began to walk again. “Carrie,” he said. “You look like a Carrie.”

Her stomach tightened again. Why did the moment when he decided not to kiss her feel like rejection? And yet, why did the next moment when he guessed her name feel so intimate? “I used to be Carrie,” she offered.

“When?”

“All my life, until I went to law school.”

“Where you Carrie when you studied music at Boston University?”

“Yes. What made you remember that?”

“BU is an impressive music school. What was your instrument?”

“Flute.”

He looked down at the hand he held and smiled ironically. “Flute fingers. I should have known.”

They walked in silence for a few moments. Then Stan said, “Why did you decide to become someone else?”

“I was afraid to go on being Carrie Moon.”

“Why?”

“Because she wanted to be a musician. She wanted to go to Julliard after college, and she was accepted.”

“So why didn’t she go?”

“Because she was afraid.”

Carrie stopped and studied the yachts bobbing on the moon-streaked water as she remembered the day she had put the letter in the mail telling Julliard she wasn’t coming. “All through college, my parents kept insisting music wasn’t a reliable career. I majored in music to please myself and in accounting to please them. Just before I graduated, I auditioned for graduate school in music and applied to law school. I got into Julliard and Harvard.”

“And you picked Harvard?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“My parents were killed in a car accident just after I got the acceptances. Honestly, the three of us were never all that close. They were so busy struggling to pay the bills every month, they didn’t have much time left over for me. But when they died, I was suddenly weighed down by how alone I was. And I kept thinking about how much they had wanted me to have a career outside of music.”

“So you let someone else choose your life?”

“That sounds so harsh, but in a way a I did. Still, my decision to leave music was not entirely because of them. Have you ever wanted something so badly you were sure you could never have it?”

He nodded.

“A career in music was like that for me. I wanted to play so much it hurt. But I was so afraid I’d fail if I tried to be a professional musician. I was afraid I wasn’t talented enough.”

“So you couldn’t fail if you didn’t try?”

“Or I failed because I didn’t try.”

“Didn’t you miss music?”

“All the time. I promised myself I’d practice every day. I didn’t mean to ever stop playing. But law school was overwhelming. Gradually, days went by when I never opened the case. I kept telling myself I could go back whenever I wanted. But deep down, I knew it was a lie.”

“But still, Harvard law.” She could see the idea intimidated him and put space between them.

She felt the now familiar flicker of fear that any sign of rejection produced. “Don’t be impressed. The way you play is a much bigger deal than going to Harvard. Where did you study?”

Stan shrugged. “Here and there. I grew up in a bunch of different foster homes in San Diego. My father split just after I was born. My mother struggled to keep me until I was five. Then she handed me over to Social Services and never came back.”

They had come to a bench, facing the bay. Stan pulled her down beside him. She wanted him to put his arm around her or take her hand, but he didn’t. He stared at the waves dancing in the silver light. “I picked up the trumpet when I was nine. The elementary school had a beginner band, and my foster father had played the trumpet. He let me take the instrument with me when I went to the next family.”

“How many homes were you in?”

“Five. Or was it six? I’d have to count up.”

“But somewhere you learned to play like that.”

He smiled. “I got a paper route to pay for my lessons. And I went to UCLA for a year. But I was getting gigs by then, and I thought I needed the money more than the stuff they were teaching me. I saved up and took lessons from Jimmy Stamp and Claude Gordon. You know who they are, right?”

She nodded. “So why aren’t you still in L.A?”

A shadow crossed his face. “I was there for about twelve years, mostly playing in a lot of rock and roll bands and looking for better gigs. Four years ago, my wife died. Harry knew I needed a change of scene, so he offered me a regular spot here at the club.”

Karen reached out and put her hands over his which were clenched together in his lap. He smiled but remained slightly away from her on the bench, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed on the water. “I’m sorry about your wife.”

“Thanks. We had six great years. I met her in Vegas after a gig. She was a dancer. I was twenty-five; she was twenty-one. Three months later, we got married.”

“What happened?”

“Crystal meth. She started using during the last two years we were married. I didn’t like it. I’ve always stayed away from the people in this business involved in drugs. I wish to God Deanna had. Anyway, she told me she’d stopped using, but I came home on Christmas Eve after playing a party in Beverly Hills and found her dead.”

Karen squeezed his tightly interlocked fingers again, but he still did not respond. He looked at her, his eyes masked, apparently oblivious to having rejected her comfort.

He said, “Don’t think about getting involved with me.”

The now familiar flicker of panic shot through Karen, but she kept her voice devoid of emotion. “Why not?”

“Because I won’t fall in love with you. Or with anyone else for that matter. Losing Deanna hurt too much. And, besides, attachments don’t work out for me. I learned that growing up. As soon as I’d get attached to my foster family, they’d send me away.”

“What if I stay around?”

“Don’t. You’ll just get hurt.”

His final rejection stung, and Karen felt tears begin to well up. She looked out at the bay and concentrated on making them go away, so he wouldn’t notice.
He pulled her to her feet. “Hey, it’s late. I’ll walk you to your car.”

The return trip was devoid of the magic Karen had felt earlier. She continued to struggle to keep her emotions in check. Beside her, Stan was silent.

He took her key and opened her door. He was in a hurry for the evening to end. She slid behind the wheel, wondering miserably if she would ever see him again. She couldn’t go back to the gray life she had led before he came into it.

Stan closed her door and stepped back. “Take care driving home. See you around.”

“Thanks for tonight.” She started the engine and backed out of the parking space, fighting the urge to stop and jump out and beg him not to shut her out of his life. She drove away, tears streaming down her cheeks.

silver-flute-red-rose-m-k-miller

PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER FOUR

December, 2007

He was playing it now. The singers moved away from center stage to leave room for Stan to solo. He made the longing melody so rich and deep that almost everyone stopped dancing to listen. Four hundred people hanging on every note.

He could still do that to an audience, Karen mused, as she watched him soar through the haunting melody, eyes closed, deep in the world he occupied when he played.

Twelve years had changed his face and thickened his abs but had not touched the way he mesmerized with his horn.

* * *

October, 1994

And that is how she had left Jazz By the Bay that first night, mesmerized and longing to return. When Alan showed up at her office around ten next morning, she was quick to give him an inconclusive report that would require her to go back more than once.

“Too soon to tell what kind of profit he’s making.” But with less than half of twenty tables filled at mid-week, Karen already knew Harry Rich was having a tough time being in the black each month.

“So how long before you’ll know?”

“Give me at least a couple of weekends. If he’s packed on Friday and Saturday nights, he’s in the clear.” Pray God that was true, Karen thought.

Alan shrugged. “Ok. Sounds reasonable. Is Hartfield on schedule?”

“Of course. Secretarial got the final draft done last night, and I’m going to messenger it to the printer’s at noon. It’ll be out the door to the SEC in the morning.”

“Good. So Waterfront Development didn’t slow you down too much?” He grinned, and Karen knew he was playing his I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong game. He wanted her to admit she could maintain her own practice and his, too.

“Not too much, but I’ve still got a lot to catch up on.”

“But you’ve got time for lunch today, right? David and I wanted to thank you for working on the Waterfront deal.”

Karen’s heart sank. Whereas other associates would have killed to go on lunches with the name partners, she would much rather have a sandwich at her desk. She dearly hated sitting at Rainwater’s listening to Alan Warrick and David Thompson tell endless war stories about the early days of their firm while her pasted smile made the corners of her mouth hurt. And it would be particularly hard to listen to them today when her mind was completely occupied with replaying Stan’s performance of “I Can’t Get Started” and wondering if he would repeat it for her that night.

But as of March she was up for partner. And even if she hadn’t been, she could not have refused the joint request from the firm’s letterhead. Still, the thought of being hours behind when she got back to her desk made her heart sink. What if she couldn’t make it to Jazz By the Bay that night?

* * *

But she did arrive by ten o’clock. She held her breath as she paid the attendant at the door and stepped into the club’s darkness. Stan was on stage with the brunette singer from the previous night. The poster out front identified her as Kristin Rich, wife of Harry, the owner. Harry himself, a fortyish African-American, whom Karen recognized from the same poster, was at the piano. A man about Harry’s age was on drum set. Stan was in the process of adjusting the horn in preparation to play.
Karen slipped into her table from the previous night, relieved that over half of the tables were full. She felt a hard stab of jealousy when she realized the Table of Three had grown to Four, and the gowns were even lower cut than the night before. She wished she had changed out of her work suit before coming over.

And then Karen forgot everything except the warm, deep golden sound of Stan’s trumpet, playing “My Funny Valentine.” He went through song after song, some alone, some with the singer. Every melody tore open the sealed places in Karen’s heart and let in a flood of overwhelming feelings she couldn’t name.

When Stan played, he often closed his eyes, concentrating on every detail of his performance. But at other times he kept them open and let them dart over the audience, making contact with some listeners and ignoring others. He was very practiced at gaining the attention of those he chose to engage and appeared to realize the disappointment he inflicted on the ones he ignored. That night, she noted with satisfaction, he made little eye contact with the Table of Four.

Not long after she sat down, he broke into “Watermelon Man” with Harry on the piano. As he hit every impossibly high note, he looked right at Karen. He seemed to be saying, this is for you. Her hands began to tremble with excitement. She could hardly wait for a chance to talk to him.

He came into the audience at the break, scotch in hand, as he had the night before. He concentrated on the couples tables first, and Karen grew impatient for him to come to her. But she was happy that he studiously avoided the Table of Four.

Finally, he was standing next to her, eyes twinkling.

“You came back.”

“I did.” She smiled, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Then I must have done something right last night.”

“Except for getting my name wrong.”

“But I got it right. Kay, the banker!” His face lit up as he teased her.

“No, Karen Moon, the lawyer.”

He jingled the ice cubes in his empty glass as he considered what she had said. She felt as if he were trying to make up his mind about her. Did her profession mean he would immediately lose interest? As she waited uneasily for his response, the gold chain jangling against his watch reminded her how much Alan Warrick hated men in jewelry.

“What kind of lawyer?” He finally asked.

“Securities and Exchange Commission. Financial filings. I worked for a firm in New York for five years right out of law school where I learned the basics. Then five years ago, Alan Warrick hired me here.”

“Form 10-K’s and 10-Q’s?” he suggested.

“Right. How did you know?”

“Oh, I follow the stock market. I have a few investments. Any hot tips?”

“Afraid not.”

He grinned. “Well, I’d better get back on stage.”

The lights went down, and he began the first bars of “I Can’t Get Started,” making eye contact with her as he set his embouchure and sounded the first note. This time he did the vocals, too; and she sat entranced as he played – just pure, golden horn.

The music ended too quickly at a quarter past midnight. The club emptied rapidly, except for the Table of Four who rushed to the stage while Stan packed up his instrument.

Regretfully, Karen headed for the exit, knowing she had to be at work early. She was already counting the minutes until she could return next evening.

But just as she reached the door that led to the lobby, Stan called out, “Wait, Karen! Can I walk you to your car?”

She turned, her heart slamming in her chest. The Table of Four studied her with envy.

“Sorry, ladies,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure Kay the banker makes it home safely.”

Each one gave Stan a peck on the cheek and headed for the exit. They all looked Karen up and down as if to say, we have no idea what he sees in you.

Stan picked up his trumpet bag and hurried toward her. “Where’s your car?”

“In the lot outside.” She wished she had parked farther away.

“So how was it tonight?” he asked as they stepped into the crisp October air.

“Fantastic. Are you this good every night of the week?”

He smiled. “I try to be. Hey, I guessed this was yours.” He took the key from her and opened the door.

“Why did you think this one was mine?”

“Conservative but not quite. Like you.”

“I’m not conservative,” she protested.

“Oh, no? You work in the top law firm in town and you aren’t conservative?”

“If I were, would I be standing here with you at one a.m.?”

He laughed. “Probably not.”

She slipped behind the wheel and closed the door, rolling down the window quickly. “Thanks for tonight.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” He leaned on the door as she started the engine, “But here is the big question:  are you coming back tomorrow night?”

“Absolutely.”

bea0841a241f69cef63ff7609ed35423

 

PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER THREE

December 2007
As the waiters rolled back the doors to reveal the dance floor, the eight-piece band broke into “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Karen would have cringed at the cliche with any other group, but she barely noticed the song. Her eyes were riveted on the man in the red sequined jacket with the trumpet, standing just behind the two, statuesque blonde singers in plunging green velvet gowns. Over the course of twelve years she had often tried to imagine his face, wondering how much he had changed. And occasionally she had seen men who somewhat resembled him and had incorporated their features into her mental picture. But she hadn’t gotten it true to life. And now she had the chance, at last, to see what he had become.

Middle age had thickened his formerly wiry five eleven, but not a great deal. His hair was still wavy and dark, but noticeably receding, leaving a broad forehead exposed. He had put on weight in his face which gave him a rounder, more open appearance than the sharper features of his youth.

But his eyes, dark and mischievous, were exactly the same. She watched them dart from curvaceous singer to curvaceous singer and felt the old familiar stab of envy as she wondered which one he was sleeping with. Her jealousy broke the dam that had held back her feelings. As she stood watching him again, after twelve years, she couldn’t stop the memories.

* * *

October, 1994

When Karen Moon graduated from Harvard Law in 1984, she went to work on Wall Street for the securities powerhouse, Jennings, Cooper, and Duran. For five years she tried to learn to love securities law; but by June of 1989, she was willing to admit, only to herself, that it was exquisitely boring. So when a head hunter called with the news that Warrick, Thompson in San Diego had an opening for a rising mid-to-senior-level associate in the securities field, Karen decided a change of venue might spark her interest in filling in Securities and Exchange Commission forms.

Alan Warrick, a former securities litigator, interviewed Karen. During their conversation, Karen realized Alan knew litigation but not the regulatory side of securities law. Her job would be to do the substantive legal work to make him look good, so the firm would attract clients. In 1989, the local San Diego corporations were going to New York for their securities needs. Alan wanted to change that.

During that same interview, Alan decided that this thin, serious, auburn-haired woman with eyes the color of a stormy green sea and whose resume said she was thirty but who looked twenty, was the one he wanted for the job. She knew her stuff, and he could tell she was meticulous in her attention to detail. And she wasn’t married, so she had nothing to keep her from concentrating on her work for him. To win her over, Alan make it clear that the firm would highly prize an attorney who oversaw public stock offerings for large corporations and who shepherded their routine filings through the Securities and Exchange Commission. An associate attorney who knew how to fill in all the blank lines with all the right financial data on SEC forms and who got all the pictures in the right places in the annual reports would become a partner and earn a huge annual income.

So for the first year at Warrick, Thompson, Karen had tackled her work with renewed vigor, if not interest. She was the lone securities expert in the firm, unlike Jennings, Cooper, where securities expertise had lined the walls and carpeted the floors. Being “The One” all the other attorneys came to with SEC questions was fun. For a while.

But financial data has no heart and soul. Ten mind-numbing years of manipulating numbers for corporations of all sizes and persuasions took their toll. By 1994, her fifth year in San Diego, she realized she was as blank and empty inside as the documents she spent her days producing.

Then one Monday morning in March 1994, on the day that the handful of associates who had dared to take a few days off for Easter returned, rested and tanned, but apprehensive that all their files had been reassigned, Alan came into her office to announce that her partnership decision would be made in September of the following year. Karen, of course, had taken no time off for the holiday.

Just keep on, keep on, he advised; and she’d be a certainty for partner in September 1995. After all, she thought, as the aura of Alan’s smugness followed his retreating back out of her office, who are they going to replace me with? Although she now had two junior associates who helped in her practice, neither of them had the expertise to handle her clients. And neither had her dedication to work. Both had made the highly unprofessional mistake of absenting themselves over the Easter weekend.

Still, from day one, when she’d sized up Alan as a litigator and not a securities specialist, she had understood he was tough and expected to be pleased. Even if she knew more about securities law, Alan and David Thompson were the name partners. Cross them, and you were out.

So on that March Monday in 1994 Karen focused on making Alan happy. This was relatively easy to do because she was already used to working long hours, generating as much revenue from clients as humanly possible – or even as inhumanly impossible. She had learned in the early days of her career an associate in a big law firm that life was like was a prisoner-death-march. If you became ill, took a vacation, or fell in love, the firm eliminated you right where you fell, brought in your replacement, and moved on.

* * *

Then one clear Wednesday night in mid-October 1994, pleasing Alan Warrick became much, much tougher to do. Around eight thirty p.m., she looked up from the Hartfield Corporation’s 10-Q and saw Alan standing in her doorway.

“Great job on Waterfront Development’s closing today.”

“Thanks.” That was a matter Karen had truly hated. As a securities specialist, she did not often oversee corporate buyouts. But because she was being groomed for partner, to prove her “versatility,” Alan had dumped the Waterfront deal on her plate.

“Anyone else would be out celebrating,” Alan observed as he plopped into one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“Another time. I have to get Hartfield into the overnight word processing pool before I leave. I’m behind on reviewing my 10-Q’s because of the Waterfront deal.”

Alan heard the irritation in her voice. “Look, Karen, I apologize for pulling you off your regular clients, but Waterfront Development is huge. They are going to be redeveloping the entire area by San Diego Bay in the next ten years. David and I wanted them to be comfortable with you. They are going to be selling a lot of securities to finance their construction. We wanted them to love you.”

“And do they?”

“Looks like it. In fact, I’ve got a special request for you to take a look at a property for them.”

“A property? Alan, this is going too far. I have nothing to do with real estate. Let them fall in love with someone from that section.”

“No. That’s not what we need.”

Karen sighed. She was tired, and the Hartfield numbers were beginning to swim in front of her eyes. She hated being unable to finish a project before going home. “So what exactly do you need?”

“We want you to check out a place at Seaport Village, Jazz By the Bay. It’s a restaurant and jazz club that was part of the properties Waterfront picked up in the deal you closed for them today. The owner, Harry Rich, is half-way through a ten-year lease. Waterfront wants him out, so it can begin construction on a new set of shops and restaurants at the Village.”

“So start eviction proceedings.”

“It’s not that simple. As far as we know, Harry’s not in breach of his lease. Pays his rent on time, all that stuff.”

“Then wait five years.”

“Too expensive. No, look, here’s the lease.” Alan held up a file folder. “It has a provision for early termination if Rich hasn’t shown a profit for six of the last twelve months.”

“Ask to see his books.”

“But first, we want to know what kind of traffic the club generates. We don’t want to piss him off if he’s making money.”

“So you want me to put down this very important 10-Q that has to go out in two days to drink wine at a jazz club tonight? And I assume the time is billable?”

“Very billable.”

“And you’re coming, too?”

“Absolutely not. My wife hasn’t seen me in weeks – since we started the Waterfront deal. Besides, you at least know something about music. I can’t stand the stuff.”

Karen stared at Alan. “You’ve never mentioned my undergraduate major in the entire five years I’ve been here. You never even asked me about it in my interview.”

“Yeah, but now you know I read your resume. Flute, music degree. Boston University. You were on your way to Julliard. Then you wised up and went to law school, instead. Good thing, or you’d be starving like Harry and his buddies at that club. Do it for me, Karen. It might even be fun. You could stand a night or two away from the office.”

“As long as it’s billable. I’m up for partner, remember?”

“I never forget. Look, jazz clubs don’t close early. You’ve got plenty of time to wrap up Hartfield, get it into the pool, and make it to Seaport Village. Besides, I bet the crowd – if there is one – shows up late.”

“But it’s Wednesday night, Alan. Who parties on Wednesday night?”

“Beats me. Go find out for both of us. See you later. Good luck.”

* * *

Mumbling under her breath, she fixed up the Hartfield numbers and took the final draft to the overnight secretarial pool, then headed for her convertible VW Rabbit in the basement parking garage. She had promised herself a small BMW as soon as the partnership decision was made. The money to pay for it was waiting in her brokerage account. But buying it too soon might look cocky to Alan and David.

Well, hearing some jazz would be more fun than heading back to her condo in Del Mar, eating Haagen Daz out of a carton for supper, and then staring at rerun movies on TV until it was time to kill her boredom with a glass of wine and sleep.

She parked and wandered through the Village’s maze of tiny white fairy lights, until she found the little club, tucked into a corner with a stellar view of the harbor. Prime real estate, she thought, as she handed her cover to the bouncer at the door. He couldn’t believe she asked for a receipt, but she fully intended to bill the $10.00 to Waterfront Development. And that was the last fully rational thought Karen Moon had for some time.

She heard him playing before she saw him. Stan Benedict’s trumpet was pure gold in the medium range, had the depths of a human voice in the low range, and cut through her soul like diamond on diamond when he soared above the staff. She grabbed the receipt from the astounded bouncer and hurried inside to see who could be making these unexpected miracles of sound on an ordinary Wednesday night in San Diego, California.

It was a small club, only about twenty tables, with most of them empty on a mid-week night. But the attention to detail lavished on the decor gave it the elegant feel of a upscale forties night-club. Every table was covered in crisp white linen and topped with a candle glowing in ruby glass, next to a spray of red and white roses. The stage was small but professionally lit. The aroma of irresistible cooking wafted from the kitchen.

Karen was so fascinated by the music she forgot her role as corporate spy. Instead of taking a table in the back, she hurried to one close enough to the stage to see every detail, but far enough away to be engulfed in his incredible sound.

He was in the middle of his first set. His dark eyes darted over the audience from time to time, and occasionally rested on her, probably because she was new. Or maybe it was her business getup. The remainder of the audience, in everything from casual to full evening dress, seemed to be regulars. There were four couples, varying in age from twenties to forties, and one table of three women, mid-twenties to early thirties, obviously well known as fans because he grinned or winked from time to time when they clapped for a particularly high note or difficult passage. Each one wore a skin tight cocktail dress revealing plenty of cleavage.

Karen couldn’t take her eyes off him. Which conservatory had taught him to play like that? He was meticulous as he settled the horn to his lips, gripping it precisely with his left hand and running the long fingers of his right expertly across the valves. He was in charge of the sound, and it was overwhelming. In one shocking instant, the notes sent her world from black and white to color. At that moment, she couldn’t have even spelled Waterfront Development Corporation.

After the first set, he came into the audience, a glass of scotch in his left hand, and exchanged a few words with the various couples, who offered song requests. Karen busied herself ordering a red zin so she wouldn’t let her eyes linger over his conversation with the three women. She heard lots of laughter; and he glanced her way once and found her watching him. Embarrassed, she took a quick sip of wine and fixed her eyes on San Diego Bay, visible through the window behind the stage.

As if he knew he had her at a disadvantage and anxious to follow up, he left the women and sauntered over to her table.

“Hi, I’m Stan. You’re new, tonight.”

“Karen.” She stuck out her hand and then hated herself as he eyed it with amusement and gave it a light shake. Too many years among lawyers, she thought and gritted her teeth. “You play – ” She was so caught up in the sincerity of her feelings she didn’t care that she sounded tongue tied. “Incredibly.”

He grinned, and her heart turned over. She didn’t want to be one of the string of conquests like the poor women at the other table, but he did something to her that she could not describe.

“Not incredibly. But thanks.”

“No, I meant it. Where did you learn to make that sound? To play so effortlessly in the octaves off the charts?”

He shrugged. “Here and there.” The laughter in his eyes deepened. To her great satisfaction, he was flirting with her. “How do you know which octave I’m playing in? Or about trumpet players. You don’t look like a musician. You look like a banker.”

All at once Karen was miserably self-conscious in her mannish blue suit and starched blouse. She blurted out, “I’m an attorney. But I studied music – once.”

“Where?” His laughing eyes were skeptical.

“Boston University.”

His face became serious, and he backed away imperceptibly. She hadn’t thought her college background would intimidate him. Surely he had studied somewhere even more prestigious, given the way he played. Why should he be threatened by someone who filled in SEC forms all day? She bit her lip and wished she could begin her conversation over with him. At that moment, the only thing she wanted in the entire world was for Stan Benedict to like her.

But he was all cool, professional reserve now. The twinkle in his eyes had been extinguished. “Thanks for coming in, Kay. Come back again.”

“Karen.”

“Karen,” he repeated absently as he turned toward the stage.

She sat at her table, filled with despair, clutching her wine glass. Obviously he would not even remember her an hour from now.

He reached the stage where a stunning, raven-haired woman in her late twenties or early thirties in a tight, dark blue clingy silk dress joined him along with a drummer and an alto sax player. Stan leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek, and Carrie felt a sharp, unexpected stab of envy. Was she his wife? He hadn’t acted like a married man at the Table of Three.

Stan started to put the horn to his lips, going through the now familiar routine of setting his mouth carefully in position before he took his first breath. But just before he completed his preparations, he put the horn down, catching the other musicians by surprise. They all looked at him quizzically.

He gave them his twenty-watt grin, walked over to the edge of the stage, and looked straight at Karen.

Her heart began to slam in her chest, and her hands trembled. She clutched the glass to keep them still.

Stan smiled and called out, “What’s your favorite tune?”

“‘I Can’t Get Started.'” She hoped her voice had sounded calm and normal.

He stepped back to his position on stage and said to the others, “Second set, first number. ‘I Can’t Get Started.’ For Kay, the banker.”

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PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER TWO

December, 2007

In her early days at Warrick, Thompson, Karen had looked forward to the firm’s annual Christmas party. The venue varied. Sometimes oceanside at the Hotel del Coronado. Sometimes inland with exquisite food at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. And sometimes under chains of white fairy lights outdoors on the Prado at Balboa Park. But always with no expense spared. Before her legal career, Karen had no experience with formal parties. Her family’s budget could not cover Christmas dinner at a restaurant, let alone a catered affair for four hundred.

In those first years at the firm, she had shopped the second-hand designer stores to compete with the wives of the big name partners who imported their gowns from Rodeo Drive. Even before she was fully aware of how much appearance mattered in the Warrick, Thompson world, she had instinctively kept her true self hidden and disguised herself to look like those around her. At age thirty, as she stood by the hors d’oeuvres at her first firm Christmas party, white wine in hand, she had laughed privately at the thought of resale Givenchy as camouflage.

Now at forty-eight, she regarded the annual event as a dreary duty. Howard loved it for glad-handing big name clients. But she thoroughly hated wearing a pasted smile from eight to midnight, while watching unhappy people drink themselves into oblivion. And now that she had the money to afford original designer labels – in fact something Howard insisted on to ensure his status in the firm – she no longer found dressing up for the big night could take her mind off the exquisitely boring evening that lay ahead.

On Friday, December 16, she closed her courtroom at four p.m., an hour early, and made it home before I-15 became impassible. She had trained herself in the last two weeks not to look at the answering machine when she came in. She knew the light was not blinking. She had instructed her staff and Howard to leave messages only on her cell so that a winking red light would not tempt her to hope Stan had called again.

Because, of course, he did not. And it had been for the best, she reminded herself as she stripped off the gray suit of judgeship and ran hot water for her shower. Even if her heart still turned over at the sound of his voice after so many years, they had nothing to say to each other.

She stayed in the shower an extra long time. The last thing she wanted was to arrive before Howard. He was flying back for the party but would arrive so late he would go straight to the Hotel Del from the airport. He was still in trial in Philadelphia and had not been home since December 1. She had given his tux to his secretary to FedEx to him the day before.

She took extra time with her hair and makeup. Was there any trace of Carrie in the face of The Honorable Karen M. Morgan? Her auburn hair, which had been long enough to cover her breasts on those wild nights when she and Stan had made love from two a.m. until dawn, was now cut to a tame chin length. She pulled it away from her face with small black clips when she sat on the bench. Loose hair, even chin length, was unprofessional.

She still had Carrie’s round face and big hazel eyes that became green when she wore that color. But these days they were more often gray, influenced by the black robes. She had never looked her age – a disadvantage in the early days of her career when partners had passed her up as too young for important assignments. But Howard now loved having a “trophy wife” his own age who looked ten years younger. She shuddered at the way he’d said it.
She applied her Chanel makeup and studied the effect. Suddenly she wished she had picked the dark green velvet Prada gown at Nordstrom’s. Deep V-neck, long skinny sleeves, and a pencil skirt, slit to the knee. Hardly something the Honorable Karen would wear. But a dress the middle-aged Carrie would have adored. If she had survived.

Karen dug deeper into her cosmetic drawer and found an old emerald eyeshadow. Cover Girl. From the days when she had bought makeup in drug stores. She applied it lovingly to each lid. And then deepened her black liner, smudging it carefully so that it would look soft. She smiled. Her eyes were now the color of the sea on a sunny day. She slipped into her black silk Chanel gown, high neck but plunging V back, three quarter-length sleeves. She added the emerald and diamond earrings she had bought last summer when Howard’s secretary forgot her birthday. She wiggled into black satin evening sandals and picked up her discreet black evening bag. Eight-thirty. Cocktails had begun at eight. Howard shouldn’t arrive until nine.

She resolutely refused to look at the answering machine as she walked through the kitchen, car keys in hand. But just as she opened the door to the garage, she turned abruptly, ran across the room, and switched it off. There. Now she could come back untormented by any hope of a call. Besides, it was Friday night. Stan Benedict was working. Somewhere – she had no idea where – he was on stage, playing trumpet in a way that touched the soul of every woman in the club. One lucky one would go home with him. But not Carrie Moon. She had been home with Stan Benedict. And she was dead. The Honorable Karen M. Morgan turned off the kitchen light and headed for her BMW. Showtime at Warrick, Thompson. Again.

* * *

Everyone had just sat down to dinner in the dark paneled Crown Room when she arrived at the Hotel Del. To her surprise, Howard was already there and seated next to fifty-something Huntfield Harper, CEO of Harper Biotech. Her husband shot her an annoyed, but relieved look as she slid into the seat beside him.

“You’re late!” he hissed in her ear, smiling to mask his displeasure.
“Sorry.” She gave him and her immediate audience a vague smile, unperturbed. “Red zin,” she said to the hovering waiter and turned to engage the third Mrs. Huntfield Harper in mindless conversation. While the twenty-something, dripping in diamonds, chattered about shopping and redecorating her Rancho Santa Fe mansion, Karen tuned out. She had long ago mastered the art of lobbing a pointless question across the net to keep equally pointless social conversation flowing.

When the lobster entree arrived, Mrs. Harper received a warning look from her husband as the waiter poured her fourth glass of champagne. Karen heard the musicians begin their sound check. They were behind the closed folding doors in the middle of the Crown Room where dancing would follow dinner. First the deep reverberations of a bass guitar, then a sax, starting low and running an F scale into the upper octaves, followed by laughter and conversation that she couldn’t make out, followed by electronic buzzes and monotones that indicated they were adjusting the sound equipment. Mrs. Harper paused at that moment, and Karen tossed her another question about interior decoration that restarted her monologue.

The sax wailed a few notes of the blues scale, and then a trumpet began to warm up. Karen felt the first low notes vibrate inside her as if she were the instrument. No, she told herself. Stan’s not in there. A phone call does not mean he’s in San Diego. And even if he were, he’d be playing solo at a jazz club somewhere – probably Croce’s tonight. He wouldn’t be backup in the kind of corporate dance band Warrick, Thompson shelled out big bucks for every year. Stan wasn’t in the next room. But someone who could nail triple high C’s, just the way he could, was in there. The high, pure notes sent her blood racing. At least the music would salvage something of the evening for her.

PRELUDE AND THEME

CHAPTER ONE
December, 2007

“Stan Benedict calling for Carrie Moon.”

Even after twelve years, his rich, baritone sent her heart racing. He still had a smile in his voice. On all the nights when she couldn’t sleep because she was thinking of him, she had tried to remember exactly the way he had just, an instant ago, pronounced her name, Carrie Moon.

But, no, she reminded herself quickly. Carrie Moon had been dead for twelve years.

“No one by that name lives here!” she blurted into the receiver and threw it down before she could lose her nerve. As much as she had dreamed of the day when she would hear from Stan again, she knew she couldn’t let him into the well ordered life of The Honorable Karen M. Morgan, Judge of the Superior Court of San Diego County.

“What’s wrong?” Her husband Howard appeared in the doorway of her study, his face contorted with frustration. “I need quiet to finish these depositions.”

“Sorry. It was nothing.” She tried to steady her hands as she adjusted the sentencing memoranda she had been reading in preparation for the sentencing of two convicted murderers the following day. But she was unsuccessful.

“Your hands are shaking. Was that some sort of threat? Should I call the police?”

Because she presided over criminal as well as civil trials, Howard resolutely believed that one day someone she had sentenced to prison would escape and murder them in their beds. He hated her job. He had wanted her to stay at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, San Diego’s biggest law firm, where they had both been partners. But after more than twenty mind-numbing years of ensuring the right accounting data of multinational corporations went on the right lines of Securities and Exchange Commission financial disclosure documents, she had chosen to accept the judgeship two years ago.

At six one, with one hundred and eighty pounds of well-honed muscle, Howard was not someone to be taken lightly. She was certain his stature enhanced his reputation as an unbeatable trial attorney.

At that moment he looked like an angry grizzly bear, roused from the comfort and isolation of his own fully equipped home office. When had the handsome man she married become this jowelly, gray-haired, fifty-year old? Where was the distinguished Howard Morgan, who had spoken to her in the elevator ten years ago on his first day at Warrick, Thompson? In 1997, a year after she became a partner at age 38, the firm had lured him from Elliot, Fitzgerald in New York to shake up their sleepy, backwater litigation section. From his first day in charge, the litigation lawyers at Warrick, Thompson were on call twenty-four/seven. They went to every initial client meeting with a fully prepared litigation plan and cost analysis. After five years of Howard, the Los Angeles firms that had been trying to take over the San Diego market, closed their branch offices and went home.

“No, you don’t need to call the police.” She regained more and more of her composure with each passing second. Her voice now carried its usual cool, unflappable judicial tone. “It was just a wrong number.”

“Good. I don’t have time for crises right now. I have to read three major depositions tonight.” He turned abruptly and went down the hall. She would not see him again for at least a week. He would study depositions until the wee hours, sleep on the sofa in his office, and be out the door to catch his flight to Philadelphia by six a.m. After ten years of marriage, she knew all his routines by heart.

She took a long breath and stared at the phone. All she had to do was hit *69, and Stan’s voice would be there again. And she could tell him the truth. Except she had already told him the truth. Carrie Moon did not live there. Carrie Moon no longer existed.

  * * *
She was in her office in her chambers by seven the next morning, an hour before her secretary, her court clerk, or her bailiff arrived. She had not slept, so there had been no point in staying in bed past five thirty when the first faint light of the December dawn filtered through her blinds. She actually had come downstairs in time to see Howard heading out, suitcase in hand. He regarded her with mild surprise.

“You didn’t have to get up to say goodbye.”

“I couldn’t sleep anymore. Have a good trip.”

He nodded and without a backward glance hurried out to the waiting limo.

No kisses, but she hadn’t expected or particularly wanted one. In the early days of their relationship Howard’s attention had been exciting. He had appeared in the doorway of her office at six in the evening and had taken her for a drink or for dinner before returning to his own office to work until the wee hours. Single, successful, and rich, he had been highly sought after. His attention had turned her head. He had asked her to marry him after three months of dating. She wasn’t in love when she said yes; but she had thought mistakenly, he was in love with her. On their third anniversary – by the time they were using a king-sized bed, so that they could maintain the appearance of sleeping in the same room without touching – she had asked him why he’d pursued her so relentlessly in the beginning. Unspoken were the words, since you obviously care so little about me now.

“I needed a wife. So everyone would leave me alone. It takes time away from work to fend off women and well-meaning friends who want to fix you up. You were terrific wife material for someone like me: a partner at the firm, discreet, undemanding. And you’ve turned out to be everything I thought you’d be, Karen. You’ve been great for my career. And I hope I’ve been the same for yours.” He had stretched across the mammoth bed and patted her shoulder before he rolled over and went to sleep.

The Honorable Karen M. Morgan sat down at her desk, wondering if she dared make herself a cup of coffee. When she became a judge, she quickly learned that everyone waited on her because of the dignity of her position. Her court secretary and clerk would be miffed if they showed up and found the pot brewing. She eyed her empty cup longingly but decided against rocking anyone’s boat that morning. She considered the sentencing memoranda and probation reports on her desk and wondered if she would learn anything else about Pablo Rodriguez and Vincenzo Lopez if she read them again. She already knew they were twenty-one and twenty-two. Gang members since the age of twelve. They had killed three bystanders in a drive-by shooting against a rival gang eighteen months ago. One victim had been a four-year-old child. Each defendant was up for 125 years-to-life. Pablo was the sole support of a widowed mother and a ten-year-old sister. There would be tears this morning.

The probation report and sentencing memoranda remained untouched. She would learn nothing more about these men whom she would soon sentence to a living death just as she would she never learn any more about Howard’s twisted logic which had produced their living death of a marriage. His coldness would have mattered if she had had a heart herself. But hers had been dead for twelve years.

Yet maybe a spark still lived inside her somewhere. After she had heard the limo drive off that morning, she had rushed to the phone and dialed * and 6 before she put it down without completing the 9. She had stared at the receiver longingly, wishing she had not told Stan the truth last night. Then she probably would be seeing him today. The thought of being near him created such a surge of joy that she couldn’t catch her breath for a moment. She had felt nothing like this for twelve years.

Howard would never know if she saw Stan. He was going to be gone for the entire week. And even if he found out, he would not care as long as no one else knew. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, no one frowned on having affairs; they frowned only on knowing they had occurred. One never made one’s personal or professional mistakes public.

She had stared at the phone and wondered how long * 69 worked to ring back the incoming call. But where would a ringing phone have found Stan at this hour except in bed with some woman half his age? For he, too, had turned forty-eight this year. He had been thirty-six on that last day.

She closed her eyes, summoning her memory of his smiling voice and her first sight of him on stage with his trumpet at Jazz By the Bay. Five feet eleven, dark, slightly wavy hair that he grew to collar length, slender build but well-developed chest, the result of years of relentlessly increasing his lung capacity. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he was drop-dead attractive thanks to the warmth in his smile and the twinkle in his dark eyes. His exuberant personality made him a born flirt. She’d watched him solo that night on “I Can’t Get Started” and, while her heart raced, she had realized most of the other female hearts in the room were pounding just as hard.

“Judge Morgan, you’re sitting in the dark!” Isabel Martinez, her secretary, flipped on the overhead lights as she entered the office.

Karen hadn’t noticed. The glow of the desk lamp that she left on around the clock had been sufficient for her musings. Mesmerized, she watched Isabel place a small artificial tree on the corner of her desk.

“What’s that for?”

“Christmas, Your Honor. Haven’t you noticed it’s December 1?”

Karen reached over and pulled yesterday’s page off her calendar. “Why, so it is.” She rubbed her eyes, sandy from lack of sleep.

“You need coffee,” Isabel said wisely. “I’ll put the pot on.”

Karen watched her small, overweight figure waddle over to the coffee pot and take charge. Isabel was only a year older than she was, yet looked ten years her senior. She had been married since the age of 18 and was a grandmother three times over. Karen wondered if she loved her husband but dared not ask.

In the law firm, secretaries and paralegals talked about their personal lives to the women attorneys. But as soon as she was on the bench that stopped. She could not be called Karen any longer. She had to be Your Honor or Judge Morgan. When she put her robe on each morning, she felt as if she disappeared under its weight. A figure that looked like her took the bench day after day and barked orders in the courtroom, while her soul hovered in some unknown place, waiting for the robe to come off so that it could return to her body.

“Here.” Isabel handed her a steaming mug just as Jim Scott, her court clerk, and Bob McGee, her bailiff came in. Eight o’clock. They met each morning to receive her orders for the day, but on this day she had none.
Fortunately Bob took the lead. “I’ve scoped out the hallway. Lots of press waiting to report the sentencing. And lots of victims’ families, too.”

“Tell the press they have to stay outside.” Panic hit Karen. Stan might see her on TV and realize she had lied to him last night. She remembered how he used to watch the morning news as he lay in bed, not rushed to go anywhere because his work day never started before eight p.m. What if he saw her and came down to the courthouse?

“With all due respect, Judge Morgan, the last time we tried to close the proceedings, we spent two mornings in litigation with those hotshot Los Angeles First Amendment lawyers that Channel 21 keeps on retainer,” Bob reminded her.

One of Howard’s few failures was his inability to capture Chanel 21’s First Amendment business. “Good point,” she conceded. “Let them in, but make sure they are set up by nine. I don’t want any delays today.”

* * *

At six fifteen that night, she sat on I-15, her silver BMW stalled like a ship dead in the water. She stared blankly at the parking lot that the freeway inevitably became after five o’clock. She recalled the impassive faces of Rodriguez and Lopez as she had sentenced them that morning. As she inched forward to her exit, she realized to her horror that she was as emotionally detached as they had been. She couldn’t shed any more tears about anything or for any reason – not like the mothers, sobbing their hearts out as their sons were led away. What if she could feel again? Even pain would be better than this continual numbness. But no, she reminded herself, blinding emotional pain had left her unable to feel. She had hurt until she could not hurt anymore. Not feeling was better than hurting that much ever gain. Stan had to stay out of her life.

But within ten minutes, she found she was wrong. She parked in
the garage of their six thousand square-foot-home with the view of the eastern mountains. This house was one of the few disagreements she had won with Howard. He had wanted to live in upscale La Jolla by the sea. But she had grown up in Asheville, North Carolina; and she missed mountains and forests. Her suburban Scripps Ranch home, among the eucalyptus trees, was in one of the few San Diego neighborhoods with anything green overhead. And she could see the mountains every morning from her bedroom window.

She hurried into the silent kitchen. She raced toward the phone, almost breathless at the sight of the red light on the answering machine, winking steadily like a monitor tracking her heartbeat. She pushed the message button and held her breath. Isabel’s soft monotone reminded her to bring ornaments for the barren little tree. The light stopped blinking as if her heart had stopped beating. She hit the erase button and burst into the tears she had no idea she could shed. She stood alone in her empty kitchen in her empty house in her empty life and sobbed for Stan Benedict – and for Carrie Moon.

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Last Wednesday morning, at 5:30, I woke up with my heart racing like a NASCAR competitor. I rolled over and tried deep breathing, but my heart ignored the vast quantities of oxygen I poured in and out of my lungs. (I have a trumpet player acquaintance who swears his trumpet-breath training saved his life during a heart attack. So I thought it was worth a try. I guess it doesn’t work for woodwinds.)

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So I sat up on the side of my bed in the dark and panicked. Which sent my out-of-control ticker into the tilt zone. But really, I told myself, wasn’t this the product of a month of my doctor trying to find a blood pressure medication that would keep mine normal and not give me the backache the current one gave me. Surely I wasn’t going to die of a pounding heart brought on by the recent three-day trial of a DIFFERENT DRUG? Then I decided NOT to answer that question.

I went down to the kitchen and swallowed the effective, but offending drug we were trying to replace, reasoning that the back pain you know is preferable to the death you don’t know. I went back to bed, and somehow my pulse went back to normal. I fell asleep congratulating myself on saving the cost of the ER visit and remaining alive, all with one tiny pill that was just going to give me a severely aching back while it kept me on this side of Eternity.

BUT THEN -

I was awake once more. And my heart was now racing along again in the danger zone. It was no longer impressed that I was willing to endure back pain to get it to behave. And it had developed this funky new symptom, pressure on my chest. I sat up again and considered my options. There was no one home but me and the retrievers, who don’t drive. One child was in Seattle. Not an option. One was in a classroom teaching with a brand new job on the other side of town. Not an option. The third was in his second week of law school, in class, also on the other side of town. Strike Three.

I reminded myself people in my family live a long, long time. All I had to do was drive myself to the hospital. I was tough. I could do it. After all, I’d given birth to three children after the age of thirty-six, wimping out to anesthesia only on child number three.

So for twenty minutes, I listened to Frank Sinatra sing Mack the Knife and tried to pretend my heart wasn’t going faster than my MiniCooper. I picked Mack, not because I like the lyrics, but there’s this feel-good jazz interlude that’s all big band and no vocals. And if I was heading to the Other Side, I wanted  Count Basie to give me a Big Send Off with trumpets blazing. I drove, and breathed as I counted the red lights to the ER.

The staff grabbed me at once and stuck electrodes everywhere. And by their reaction, which went from OMG to Oh, hum, I wasn’t having a heart attack. After a lady with a clipboard asked if I had an “Advanced Directive” and I told her “No, that means death is not an option today,” (she didn’t get the joke) a serious young ER doc told me the vampires would be after my blood, and then he would figure out what was making my heart run like a racehorse.

I had no one to talk to. I lay on my back and stared at the layers of gray metal light fixture on the ceiling and tried more deep breathing. My heart slowed its pace slightly, but nothing like what I needed to be comfortable.

I decided to think about SOMETHING ELSE. But what? I considered the possibility, Advanced Directive or no, the Universe had decided my number was up. Would the petals of the industrial light fixture above my head slowly dissolve into the long white-tunnel everyone talked about? Would heading into the light be easier than lying here alone, trying not to worry the EKG might have been wrong because my heart was not with the slow-down program? Would I get to come back and write a bestseller about Heaven which I already remembered from Before I Was Born? Had it changed much? Heaven Before and After didn’t sound dramatic enough for the bestseller list. And then it might seem boring that I’d already been there and remembered the place.

The ER doc returned to look at the heart monitor. Surely a bad sign, I thought.

“Wow, your heart rate’s high!”

Tell me something I don’t know. Was this doctor-speak for the white tunnel is on it’s way?

“Don’t name a number,” I said. I figured the freak-out from that information would send me into Eternal Oz to hang with the Wizard for sure.

He nodded and made way for the vampire cart.

Now I began to wonder if I should call my children. After all, they had no idea where I was or that my heart was doing a tap dance that might not have an encore. But the nurse had promised me an answer within the hour after the lab had given the results to the serious ER doc. So I decided to delay announcement of my possible demise. In the meantime, my heart had taken a new view of woodwind breathing and was beginning to turn down the metronome.

In the end, the vampires had the answer. The new medication coupled with the weird diet the doctor’s nutritionist had come up with (another story) had washed out all my potassium. And hearts can’t hold a tempo without their potassium. They rush like a junior high band on steriods playing a Sousa march. So after an hour of fluid dripped into my vein and twenty minutes of drinking the nastiest tasting potassium liquid on the planet, I was wiped up, dusted off and sent HOME.

It could have been worse. I’m glad it’s over. I eat an avocado, now, every day. Better source of potassium and a whole lot cheaper than the ER.

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