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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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