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BEGUINE

CHAPTER TEN

November, 1994
“Why were you looking at Harry’s books tonight?”

Even when Stan’s voice was angry, it stirred her heart. Karen closed her eyes for a moment as she stood by her car in the parking lot. After finishing in Harry’s office, she had listened to the last set from the back of the club where she thought Stan wouldn’t notice. She had hurried out while he was packing up his instrument, never dreaming he would follow her.

She took a deep breath and turned to face him in the dim light. “He had a problem he wanted me to look at.”

“Some sort of problem that has to do with your firm, right?”

Karen’s blood ran cold. “What makes you say that?”

“I saw a letter on his desk, and the letterhead said ‘Warrick, Thompson.'”

Her mind raced through ideas of what to tell him. But truth was the easiest way out. She gave him the same explanation she had given Harry about her involvement with Waterfront Development.

He moved nearer as she spoke and set his instrument bag on the ground. He was so close she fantasized about being in his arms and kissing him, even as she told the cold, impersonal story of her mandate to close Jazz By the Bay.

When she finished, Stan stared at her without saying anything for a long time. Then he demanded, “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Risk your career to save Harry’s place.” He moved a step closer as he spoke, and she could smell his familiar warmth. It made her think of sleeping in his bed last Saturday night and of wanting him so much it still hurt. His voice became cold. “If you did it for me, you shouldn’t have. I didn’t call you last week for a reason.”

His hostility penetrated her heart even more deeply than the silence of her phone had done day after day, but she was determined to maintain her dignity. “I know that. I did it for Harry and Kristin. And for me. If the club isn’t open, I can’t come to hear you.”

“You can’t get involved with me, Carrie Moon.”

“Why?” The word surged up from the depths of her aching heart.

“You’ll just get hurt.”

“And what if I’m already hurt?”

“It would be a much worse hurt if you got involved with me.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

His tone was as final as a death knell, and it kindled her anger. “You don’t know anything! You’re trying to hurt me enough to make me go away.”

“No, I’ve already told you the truth for your own good. I’m not going to let myself love anyone because I can’t take losing anyone else I care about. Love doesn’t work out for me.”

“Then you might as well be dead.”

“Maybe. But I know what I can and cannot risk. And I can’t risk getting close to you. I know that’s what you want, Carrie Moon. And you’re wasting your time.”

“Am I?” Karen suddenly stepped toward him, shaking her hair out of its workday confinement and letting it hang loose in a red-gold cloud around her shoulders. She turned her face up to his, inviting him to kiss her.
He wanted her. Of that much she was sure. His eyes locked onto hers, and his chest rose and fell with the effort he was making to control himself. She moved another step closer and could feel his warm breath on her face. She tilted her chin up just a little more, encouraging him to lean down to her.

To Karen that moment seemed to last for an eternity. The larger world had collapsed and only she and Stan were left as they stood bathed in the soft gold of the street lamps, surrounded by the nothing of the black night. She felt the cool breeze from the bay on her hot skin as she waited for his kiss. She wanted to freeze her life forever at this moment of potential, where no disappointment yet existed.

But Stan drew back. “No. I won’t kiss you.” He picked up his trumpet bag and turned away, heading for his car without looking back. Karen watched him get in, start the engine, and gun it out of the parking lot. So much for her hopes of spending the night with him. Maybe it was some comfort that he wasn’t sleeping with anyone else that night. But not much.

She got into her own car and drove slowly home. She undressed and crawled into her cold bed, replaying over and over the moment when the two of them had been facing each other, and there had still been time for him to decide to kiss her. She lay awake until dawn, listening to the ocean, longing for the kiss that had not come and remembering what it had felt like to sleep in Stan’s bed.

 

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CHAPTER NINE

December, 2007

“Stop,” Judge Karen Morgan told herself as she turned away from the french doors, went back to her study, and picked up the trial brief she had thrown aside earlier. “Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about Stan.”
But the temptation was too strong. As soon as she sat down at her desk, the words on the page began to swim in front of her eyes until she closed them. In the darkness, she relived the first Saturday of November 1994.

* * *

November, 1994

It was six o’clock, and she was supposed to be meeting Harry at the club at six thirty. But she was still trapped in her office. The Burnett accountants wouldn’t stop calling with new numbers for the IPO.

Her head ached with the effort to keep their changes straight. By seven-thirty, she could take no more of their relentless nervousness over the upcoming deal. She left for the club, hoping Harry would understand why she was so late.

“It’s ok,” he said, when she arrived. “I’ve got the books in my office. I’ll send some supper. I’m on stage at eight, but I’ll be in at the first break, and you can tell me how it looks.”

Karen took a deep breath as she sat down at Harry’s desk and opened his ledgers. She was crossing a Rubicon that could forever bar her from partnership at Warrick, Thompson. If anyone found out what she was about to do, she would be reduced to hanging out her shingle as a solo in some seedy executive office suite.

Harry had sent her filet mignon. She was starving after nothing but stale vending machine sandwiches all day, and the food was heaven. As she went through Harry’s numbers, month by month, she could hear Stan performing. Even at this distance, his high, clear sound penetrated her soul. If I just didn’t love him, she thought. If I could walk away, heart intact. But I can’t.

He played “I Can’t Get Started,” and she wondered if Harry had told him she was in the office. She hoped not. The fewer people who knew, the better. She cursed herself for not swearing Harry to secrecy.

He appeared at the break, around nine thirty. “How was dinner?”

“Terrific. The club always has good food.”

“It’s a draw for the music. People come to eat and find they like jazz. How does it look?”

“I’m not finished yet.”

But Harry read her face. “You see a problem.”

“I’m trying not to. But of the last ten months, you’re in the black in only four.”

He sighed and sank into the folding chair in front of his desk. He was sweating from the stage lights. He wiped his forehead with his hands, then sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

It felt like a deathbed vigil. Karen’s stomach tightened, and she wished she hadn’t eaten. “I’m not completely finished looking over last month. It was a pretty good one. And you are so close to showing a profit in August and September that maybe your attorney could argue those months should count, too.”

“I can’t afford an attorney, honey,” Harry said, quietly. His expressionless eyes were fixed on the floor. Then he looked at her. “Unless you’d do it for me.”

Karen felt like a trapped animal. She stared at the pictures of Harry and Kristin in performance on the wall, trying to think of what to say. “I would if I could, but I – I can’t.”

She saw the moment the light went on in Harry’s eyes. “You can’t because you work for them, don’t you?”

She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. When she opened them, Harry was still staring at her.

“You came to spy on us? To see what the crowds were like? Why didn’t you just shut us down after the first week?”

The tears in his eyes made her hate her job and Waterfront Development with all her heart.

“Because I don’t want to,” she managed to say. “Before you jump to a lot of conclusions, would you let me explain?”

“I guess it’s fair to hear you out.”

“I’m up for partner at my firm this year.”

“The one on the letterhead?”

“Yeah. And Alan Warrick – the one who signed the letter – is my boss. Alan brought me here to San Diego, and my work has made a lot of money for the firm. He wants them to make me a partner.”

“What if they don’t?”

“Then I’d be expected to leave. It’s like losing your job if they don’t make you a partner.”

“So a lot rides on this year for you?”

“My whole future. Just like you and keeping the club open.”

Harry nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, Alan wants the firm’s clients to like me and to get to know me. So he involved me in the Waterfront Development deal. They bought this land from your old landlord.”

“Ok.”

“After the deal was done, Alan announced Waterfront has big plans to redo all of this. And they want some of the existing tenants out.”

“Meaning me.”

“Meaning you,” Karen agreed. “So he instructed me to come down and scope out your audiences and tell him you weren’t meeting the lease term because that is what he wanted to hear.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that?

Karen smiled. The second set had begun, and Stan’s version of “My Funny Valentine” filled the club. Now Karen’s eyes spilled over. Harry’s face softened. She said, “That’s why.”

“You fell in love with him.”

“I did. That first night. And now if I can’t come to see and hear him, I’m not sure how I can go on.”

“That means more to you than making partner.”

“A lot more.”

Harry smiled and leaned over to put his hand over hers as it rested on the books. “You’re a good girl, Carrie Moon. And Stan Benedict ought to love you, if he has any sense at all.”

“But I don’t think he does, Harry.”

“Love you or have any sense?”

“Both.” Karen managed a smile as she wiped her eyes. “Look, I have to tell you the rest of the story.”

“Ok.” He withdrew his hand and leaned back in the spindly folding chair. “Shoot.”

“I honestly couldn’t tell what your profit margins were from observation. Some nights you have standing room only. Other nights, I can see you don’t break even. But I was pulling for you to make the lease term. So I told Alan he had to review your books before ordering you out. I hoped maybe there’d be something in here that would save the club.”

“Do you think there might be?”

“Give me another hour. I studied accounting as well as music. Both are all about numbers. Let me see if I can’t find some way to move things around. Delete some expenses or something.”

“Is that legal?”

Karen gave him an ironic laugh. “Harry, me even being in this room right now and saying what I just said is so illegal that a little more isn’t going to matter. Accounting is creative sometimes like music. You stretch a tempo; you change a key. Let me think about it a little longer.” And pray for a solution.

At that moment, the door burst open, and Stan appeared. He stared at Karen, obviously surprised to find her in Harry’s office. “What are you doing here?”

“I asked her to take a look at something for me. Nothing important to you.”
Harry treated Stan like a son who needed protecting, even though he was only about ten years older.

“You’re up next. We need you on stage.”

“No problem. Karen and I are finished here. I’m going to send you a glass of wine.” Harry took Stan by the arm and walked him toward the door. She wanted Stan to look back, but he hurried away with Harry, his mind focused on his upcoming performance.

Although wine and accounting were not good partners, she drank the zin
anyway, as she went over Harry’s numbers. He managed to stay in business despite not turning a profit, month after month. There had to be an answer.

At ten thirty, Harry came back.

“Any ideas?” he asked as soon as he shut the door.

“Yes. One.”

“Which is?”

“Look here,” Karen pointed to the income column. “Every month you show $2,000 in investment income that you put into the business. That’s the way you get by in the months you are in the red. And that money is enough to put you in the black for all ten months of this year.”

Harry’s face brightened. “So they can’t jerk my lease?”

“It depends. Where does that $2,000 come from?”

“My auntie back in Atlanta died the year that I opened the club. She left me a pretty nice lump sum. I invested it, so that I could draw on the income to keep this place afloat during the early years. The lump sum has never been touched, thank God. But I’ve been used the income to keep the club going.”

“Whose name is the fund in?” Karen felt her heart constrict when she asked. So much depended on the answer.

“I actually hold it in the name of the club. My accountant told me to do it that way.”

“Your accountant is an angel, Harry. Waterfront can’t touch you. You just need to have that income shown on these books on this line, here in business investment income.” Karen’s heart was so light she felt as if she could get up and dance on Harry’s desk.

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. Just tell him to do that, copy these, and mail them to Alan Warrick.”

“And what happens then?”

“Then Waterfront will probably offer you a lot of money to buy out your lease.”

“What if I don’t want to sell? I like this place by the water.”
“Then they are going to have to recognize Jazz By the Bay as the centerpiece of whatever they plan to do.”

Harry’s face lit up. He pulled Karen to her feet and hugged her. When he let her go, he said, “No one will ever know about any of this. Not even Kristin.”

“I’m relieved you understand. Stan can’t know, either.”

“Of course not. Do you think I’ll ever be called to that fancy firm of yours?”

“It’s not mine, yet, Harry. Not until I make partner. But, yes, it’s possible they’ll want you to come down if they make an offer to buy you out.”

“Then I’ll be sure they never guess I know you.”

“Thanks, Harry. My career is in your hands.”

“It’s mutual, Carrie Moon. It’s mutual. Now, on Monday night I want you in here at eight sharp with that flute of yours. No excuses.”

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 BEGUINE

CHAPTER EIGHT

December, 2007

Next day, Karen tried to settle in her study to read the case file that would come before her the following week. Normally she would have been glad to see to see a civil trial on the docket for a change. The presiding judge kept sending her a steady diet of gruesome murder cases. But now the very thought of sitting on that bench every day for the coming week depressed her, no matter what she had to listen to. Seeing Stan had turned her world upside down again. She realized she was living a lie. But that was dangerous knowledge. At least living a lie as Karen Morgan wasn’t as painful as being Carrie Moon and loving Stan Benedict.

Around two o’clock that afternoon, Karen could not read another word. She put down the meaningless trial brief she had been staring at for a half hour and went into the den. The house was as quiet as death. And as empty. It was nearly Christmas, and she hadn’t bothered with a tree or decorations. Howard cared nothing for them unless they were giving holiday parties. But this year he had been too busy with the trial in Philadelphia to demand she play hostess.

She stood by the french doors and stared at her expensively landscaped backyard pool, shimmering in the December sunshine. All she could think about was Stan on stage last night. And the way he had put his arms around the singers and leaned down to joke with them. Which one was he sleeping with? But then, knowing Stan, he might not be sleeping with either of them. That was part of the hell of caring for him; he couldn’t be predicted.

* * *

October, 1994
After the Saturday night she stayed over at Stan’s, she had thought he would call. He had taken her home and work phone numbers Sunday morning just before he walked her to her car in the parking lot at Jazz By the Bay. She had hoped he would ask her to breakfast, but he had seemed very distant except for taking her number.

“I’ll call to make sure you get home all right.” He opened the driver’s door that she had just unlocked, and gave her his impish grin.

“Ok.” And she smiled. But the silent phone drove her slowly crazy all afternoon.

On Monday, she ploughed through the Burnett stock offering. She struggled to think about anything except Stan and how badly she had wanted him to make love to her on Saturday night. And she dreaded the moment when Alan would drop by to demand her final word on Jazz By the Bay. But fortunately he had been called out of town and would not be back until the next day.

That night, around eight, she struggled with her desire to go down to the club, just to hear him play. But she managed, instead, to get herself into her car and home, where she lay awake most of the night.

On Tuesday she jumped every time her secretary forwarded a call. But they were all from the Burnett accounting department. She worked at keeping the irritation out of her voice at each successive disappointment.

That afternoon, Alan turned up in her office.

“So, can we tell Harry Rich he’s in breach of his lease?”

Karen worked hard to keep Alan from seeing her rising panic. She couldn’t just hand Harry and the club over like trophies to be hung on Waterfront Development’s mantel. Truth was the best answer. “I honestly can’t tell what’s up with him. Some nights it’s standing room only. Others, no one is there.”

Alan shrugged. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got him.”

“I think you should ask to see his books before you make any assumptions.” As Karen spoke, she prayed his books would save Jazz By the Bay.

“Waterfront is getting impatient,” he objected.

“Probably, but they won’t be happy if we don’t do our homework. Write him and ask to see his books. It’s a term of the lease. I checked.”

“Ok, I’ll have my secretary get a letter out today.”

That night, she wanted to run to the club and warn Harry. But she couldn’t. She worked for the firm that represented Waterfront. She would break every ethical rule if she told him what was coming. She made herself go home to her empty condo and cried when she saw there was no call from Stan on her machine.

By Friday, she was worn out with waiting for the call that had never come and with overseeing the details of the Burnett deal. And her fantasies of making love to Stan would not go away, despite her best efforts to think about other things.

At eight o’clock, she handed off the documents to the overnight secretarial pool and decided to go to the club. Her hands actually shook as she locked her car and headed for the entrance.

Stan was on stage when she arrived, but instead of his usual friendly gaze he immediately averted his eyes to what was the Table of Five that night. Karen felt the knot in her stomach tighten. Even though he hadn’t called, she had thought he would show he was glad to see her.

As she made her way to her usual table, she noticed the club was only about a third full. Harry came over to take her order instead of the waitress.

“Where have you been?” he demanded, smiling. “Haven’t seen you in almost a week. Didn’t you like your steak last time?”

“No, it was great.” How did she tell him Stan was supposed to call and never did?

“Well, I’m glad you’re back. Your usual?”

“Red zin.”

“You got it.”

She sipped the wine slowly because she knew she had to go back to work in two hours to proof the Burnett documents. But she wanted to gulp it down to deaden the pain in her soul. Stan had meant it when he said he wouldn’t get involved with her. That’s what the silent phone had told her for the last week.

She lost herself in his music, crying inside and wondering what had changed since she’d driven out of the parking lot on Sunday. During the entire set she hoped for “I Can’t Get Started” but he didn’t play it; and she knew it was his way of letting her know she shouldn’t have come back.

During his break, an hour later, Stan took his scotch pointedly to the Table of Five, just giving her a friendly off-hand nod as he passed. He sat with his back to her, joking and laughing with the women as if she weren’t there.
Karen stared at her empty wine glass, knowing she should leave, but too upset to do anything except sit where she was and try to hold back the tears. Suddenly a full glass appeared beside her empty one, and Harry sat down.

“You need a refill.”

She smiled up at him, knowing her eyes had betrayed her. “I can’t, Harry. But thanks. I have to leave. I have to go back to work.”

“At eleven o’clock at night?” he stared at her. “Girl, what do you do for a living? You can’t be a hooker dressed like that!” He gestured toward her simple black suit.

She laughed in spite of herself. “I’m the next best thing: a lawyer.”

“Well aren’t the courts closed this time of night?”

“I’m not that kind of lawyer. Corporate law. Deals. That stuff.”

Harry shook his head. “And all this time I thought musicians and doctors were the only ones who had to work all night.”

Karen laughed again, but her eyes darted toward Stan and the Table of Five despite her efforts not to look that way.

Harry leaned closer and put his hand over hers. “If you want to tell me what happened between you two, I’d be glad to listen.”

“Last Saturday night, after you gave us dinner, I wound up sleeping over at Stan’s. I’d had too much to drink and not enough food that day. Nothing happened. I slept in his bed; he slept on the couch. But he said he’d call me during the week.”

“And he never did.”

She nodded. “That very first night when we walked by the bay after the show, he told me not to get involved with him because I’d only get hurt. I think he meant it.” Her eyes were fixed on Stan’s back at the Table of Five, now in an uproar over one of his jokes.

But Harry shook his head. “He’s just trying to scare you off. Don’t let him, honey. He doesn’t care a thing about those women. That’s why he’s sitting over there. Because he’s scared to death of what he feels for you.”

Karen stared at Harry, wanting to believe him but not sure if she should.
He patted her hand softly. “He’s terrified of being hurt again. But I know he’s been looking for you. I’ve seen his eyes every night when he comes on stage and you aren’t here.”

“But isn’t he sleeping with them?” she nodded toward the other women.
Harry let out a soft chuckle. “Sweetheart, do you think they’d be sitting together night after night if he was?”

Karen laughed. “Hadn’t thought of that.”

“Stan’s a world class flirt, that’s all. And he wants to see if he can drive you away.”

“But why?”

“Because everyone he loves deserts him, one way or the other; and he thinks you will, too. So if he drives you away now, he won’t get hurt later on.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve known Stan for seventeen years. Since he was eighteen, a skinny kid, blowing everyone in town away with his high notes. Cocky as hell about his music. But never sure anyone loved him or would stay with him until Deanna. But, then she died, and he changed. Not so sure about himself as a musician anymore and deathly afraid to get involved with anyone.”

“He really loved her,” Karen said.

“It was something to see them together. She was Stan’s world. Made up for the family he never had as a kid.”

“She was the only person who loved him and didn’t leave him.” She felt that familiar twinge of jealousy.

“But she did leave him,” Harry contradicted. “She died. And that just convinced Stan that for him loving anyone only ends in heartbreak.”

Karen looked over at Stan’s back, as he resolutely blocked her out of his world. “So what should I do?”

“Stay around. Show him he can’t drive you away.”

Karen smiled wistfully. “I wonder if I’m capable. Rejection hurts.”

“Oh, you’re capable, all right,” Harry said as he stood up. Stan was heading to the stage, throwing back the rest of his scotch as he passed her table, so he didn’t have to make eye contact with her.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because unlike those women over there, you really care about him. You’re the one who’ll always be there for him when things get rough.”

Instinctively Karen knew he was right. But she put on her lawyer-skeptic tone. “How do you know so much about me?”

“I watch you when you come in. I see the way you look at him when he plays. You know his secret.”

“And that is?”

“He gives away his soul with every performance. He wants the audience to love the music as much as he does.”

“And they do,” Karen added softly.

“The music, yes,” Harry agreed. “But they don’t love Stan. And that’s his dilemma. No matter how afraid he is of love, he wants to be loved. And you understand that, Carrie Moon.”

“Who told you who I used to be?”

“He did. I told you he misses you. He talks about you.” Harry studied her face as he stood by the table. Behind him, she could see Stan on stage setting up for the next set. “You and Stan have a lot in common besides music.”

“He told you about that, too?”

“Uh, huh. Why don’t you bring your instrument in one night. Play a little.”

“I couldn’t. It’s been too many years.”

“Hogwash! Bring it in. You need something in your life besides those suits and those documents. And you’re a long way from home.”

“How do you know?”

“Accent. I’m from Atlanta,” Harry said.

“Asheville, North Carolina.”

“Brothers and sisters?”

“None.”

“See your parents often?”

“No. They passed away when I was in college.”

“Then that’s another reason the two of you need each other. You both need a family. ” At that moment, Stan began to play “Somewhere Beyond the Sea.”

“Are you going to stay?” Harry asked.

Karen nodded. “Yeah. But bring me some coffee, if you don’t mind. I really do have to go back to the office and read those documents.”

However, Harry came back with more than coffee. He held out Alan’s letter in all its twenty-pound, engraved letterhead glory.

“I got this in the mail yesterday, and I don’t really understand it. Since you are a lawyer, would you mind explaining it to me?”

Karen reached for the letter, gingerly, as if handling a snake. Tell him, a voice in her head insisted. Tell him right now you can’t advise him. You represent his enemy. You are the enemy. “Oh, God, please no,” she thought. “Please, no.”

She stared down at the page, the words a blur. She didn’t need to read it; she knew what it said. “You have a new landlord, Waterfront Development. They want to see your books to see if you are in compliance with your lease.”

Harry’s face fell. “The six out of twelve months thing. I don’t think we’re ok on that one.”

“Are you sure?” Karen tried to keep the urgency out of her voice.

“Not completely. Hey, how come the old landlord didn’t bug us about that part of the lease?”

“They could ignore the condition if they wanted to. But I would guess Waterfront has plans for the property, and you’re in its way.” God forgive me for acting as if I don’t know the truth.

“They want to kick us out.”

“I would say yes, based on the tone of this letter.”

Harry looked away toward the bay, his face a mask of anxiety and anguish. “I can’t lose the club. It’s all Kristin and I have. We’ve put everything into it for the past ten years.”

And it’s all Stan has, too, Karen thought, but didn’t say it.

Harry’s face brightened. “Hey, maybe you’re the answer to a prayer. You do this suff for a living, right?”

“I do.” Tell him you can’t help him, she thought. Tell him now before you get in too deep. But then he’d know you were the spy, and there’d be no chance with Stan. Ever.

“Think you could come down early tomorrow night? Go over the books for me? Tell me what you think. Come around six thirty? I’ll make sure you get a free dinner.”

“It’s a deal. Now I better get out of here. I have documents waiting for me in my office.”

“At midnight on Friday night?”

“At midnight on Friday night. See you tomorrow.”

Karen got up and headed for the door without looking back.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.)

car

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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A few weeks ago, my faithful 3G HTC Incredible began to do weird things. For example, when I tried to open my text messages, it would tell me its memory was full. But three text messages a full memory doth not make. Ever resourceful, I hit *228 and, against a background of really strange electronic music, Verizon updated my operating system. Problem solved. Or so I thought.

Faithful 3G Droid

But no, my otherwise highly reliable companion since 2009, kept refusing to go about business as usual. And while the *228 trick worked every time, who wants to hear weird music several times a day just to open an app? Not me. (Now if the background music had been my favorite jazz/ska band, Western Standard Time, I might have taken a different view of the proceedings. But what if’s don’t count.)

Favorite Jazz/Ska Band: Western Standard Time

So I went to a Higher Authority – namely my sons, who Understand Technology and speak Geek Speak to perfection. The answer turned out to be simple, but deadly.

“Your operating system is a piece of shit,” my oldest son Chris said with true Geek Speak elegance. “Verizon has stopped updating it. You will have to get a new phone!”

“But I don’t want a new phone. This is the best phone I’ve ever had!” (Read between the lines: I actually know how to use this phone and It Understands Me.)

“Sorry, Mom.”

I was in heavy denial over the impending death of my little Droid buddy. So I sought a Second Opinion.

Not long after my youngest son Michael, computer software major extraordinaire, stepped off the plane for his Thanksgiving visit, I asked him if my 3G baby could be saved. Answer: “Not a chance, Mom.”

So with a heavy heart, after turkey feasting on Thursday, I set out with Michael for the Verizon store on Friday. While we waited eons for our number to come up on the Next Customer List, we browsed around, trying out the 4G phones. Chris had just upgraded to the gigantic Samsung Galaxy. Ever competitive, I announced I wanted one, too, only to be laughed down by the Geek Speakers who said it was Way More Phone Than I Would Ever Need. Ten minutes of swiping its touch screen not only convinced me they were right (to my great humiliation), it also convinced me the phone was way too big to fit into any evening purse ever invented. Clearly a male designed it. Possibly a male who had never seen an evening purse.

Next, I worked my way through the smaller Samsungs and then, at last, found the 4G version of my beloved Droid. Happily I tried to figure out where in the world they had hidden my favorite icons on this new incarnation of my baby. But they were not in the same places!

Michael found me trying to get the hang of the new version.

“It’s not the same phone, Mom.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not. If you get it, you’ll still have to get used to a new phone.”

“No, I won’t.” I was too proud to admit he was right. And I was wondering why they had changed things. At least it wasn’t any bigger than my own little Droid. It would fit into an evening bag!

But, then, for some reason, both Michael and I turned to the left and saw IT: The Windows Phone. It drew us like the Sirens singing to Ulysses or like the Monolith dropping out of the sky in 2001, A Space Odyssey. We picked up its ultra sleek thinness and began to explore its touch screen. I expected to hear the opening fanfare from Thus Spake Zarathustra. (That would make a killer ring tone, by the way.)

The Monolith

Guilt settled over me. How could I even consider another phone? It was like picking out a new husband while the old one watched. But after I discovered the Windows Phone understood my southern accent and would let me dictate a text message, I let Michael talk me into trying one out. After all, I had fourteen days to Bring It Back. And my tiny little thumbs are not user friendly on touch screen key pads. (What do people with big thumbs do? Buy the Samsung Galaxy I guess and forego evening wear.)

Anyway, in deep emotional conflict, I left with the smart, sleek Windows phone in my purse, and its various charming accessories packed into a suitably Christmasy Verizon logoed shopping bag. How could buying a new phone leave me feeling as if I were setting out alone on uncharted waters? Because, truth to tell, the next not quite fourteen days would show me I had done exactly that.

Siren’s song: Windows Phone

Next time: Trying to Survive Without Google Nav or Droid Love II

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