CONCERTMASTER ALEXANDER BRYCE smiled and folded his hands in his lap. It was finally decided. The orchestra had a new leader.
"So, Sasha, what do you think?" asked the President of the Symphony, John Baylor. The meeting had just concluded and the Board was congregating socially around the remaining coffee and scones. Sasha had not moved from his chair, squeezed in awkwardly at the corner of the boardroom table. Orchestra members were not usually present at these meetings, but this was a big announcement. It would be his job to relay the news to the rest of the musicians.
"I think it's wonderful, " Sasha said. "A very exciting choice, indeed."
"Exciting, yes!" Baylor said. "Exciting is the key word here. We think Peter Dreshevsky will be that breath of fresh air we need to rejuvenate the symphony. You know, younger audiences, edgier programs, bold new projects involving the Internet in some manner or another.
And we're one hundred percent committed to supporting his vision. I'm serious, Sasha. We are going to let this maverick lose on the city!"
"Oh, wow," Sasha said.
Baylor grinned. "You know, he mentioned you."
"Yes, during the interviews. So, you've worked together?"
"Yes," Sasha said. "A few times, actually, but most recently in Toronto. He was guest conductor for a long stretch while I was principle violin. We worked well together. I learned a lot from him."
"Well, you must have made an impression on him because he asked about you more than once. So, you two were close?" Baylor asked.
"Yes," Sasha said.
"Do you keep in touch?"
"No," Sasha said.
"Well, it looks like you have an opportunity to rekindle that creative collaboration," Baylor said.
Baylor said, "He's moving into his office this weekend, if you want to stop in. I'm sure he'd like to see you."
"I certainly will," Sasha said and then stood and offered Baylor his hand. "Congratulations, sir, on your excellent decision. I will convey the news to the others." Baylor accepted Sasha's hand and they shook. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to excuse me," Sasha continued. "I must prepare for next week's rehearsal and the day is slipping away as we speak!"...read more (2/7)
He made his way to the door, weaving carefully between the board members, and exited. He continued briskly down the hallway. The administrative wing of the symphony hall was sterile, still and silent. There was no place more dignified, more secure, more safe. Sasha loved it here. He loved the soft sound of his loafers on the plush carpet beneath his feet. He loved the Italian sconces and their gentle light. He loved his office, his parking space, the locker where he kept his violin and he loved his fellow musicians. The symphony was his true home and in it he enjoyed the kind of quiet domestic bliss he found nowhere else.
Sasha stopped in the middle of the hallway, forgetting the work that called him away so urgently just minutes before, and turned to stare out a window at the city street below. His clear blue eyes were a little wider than usual and his lips were pressed a little tighter. He was perspiring very slightly. Perspiring, even very slightly, was something Sasha almost never did. In fact, there were only a scant handful of circumstances in which he could recall having perspired at all.
Sasha touched his fingers to his temple and closed his eyes as a rush of heat rose to his head. This is a disaster, he thought. An utter disaster. I'm going to have to resign from my post.
Again. Yes, again. Sasha resigned from his post the last time the shit hit the fan, but on that occasion it could be more easily dressed as "opportunity" thanks to a conveniently timed position that opened in his hometown.
Sparse raindrops began to fall on the sidewalk as he became aware of a small butterfly turning somersaults in his stomach. Of all the places he could have gone, thought Sasha, he chose to come here, to me. A strange swirl of horror and delight clouded his brain. He wasn't going to resign from his post. This disaster was far too tempting.
Professionalism, said Sasha to himself, as he rode the elevator to the administrative wing. His hands were sweaty and his heart raced. Professionalism is best in these kinds of situations. Calm, cool and professional. He attempted to breath deeply, but he found that breathing at all was an uncomfortable challenge in his nervous state.
The elevator arrived at the third floor. Sasha exited and continued down the hallway to Peter Dreshevsky's office. He found the door slightly ajar.
Professionalism, he said to himself. A wall of professionalism....read more (3/7)
He knocked. "Maestro Dreshevsky?" He pushed open the door further and stuck his head in. The office was dark and the blinds were drawn haphazardly, as if someone had dropped them in a hurry. Sasha stepped inside. "Maestro?" he tried again, almost whispering. Silence, except for the distant hum of the air conditioning.
Sasha glanced around the office. Stacks of cardboard boxes sat unopened in the corners. A grand piano, still wrapped and padded for travel had been shoved up against the wall. Peter's desk, a vast and impressive piece of mahogany, was clearly the only item already in its permanent position at the center of the office. It was awash in bottles of wine and gift baskets.
To his left, Sasha caught sight of a patch of dark purple velvet, exposed between layers of cellophane packing. He recognized it immediately. It was Peter's purple velvet chaise lounge. Though currently mummified in packing materials, Sasha could visualize it perfectly. He knew it all too well. Peter claims to have done some of his best work on the purple velvet chaise lounge.
His thoughts meandered into old, familiar territory, but it was only a moment before the maestro himself popped up from behind the desk and startled Sasha from his daydream.
"There you are!" Peter said, loudly, pulling his earbuds from his ears. He had an iPod in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. His silky silver hair was rakish and askew across his forehead and, for reasons unknown, he was wearing a white dress-shirt, wrinkled and unbuttoned at the top, with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. He motioned for Sasha to come to him. "Come here, you have to see something!"
Sasha had not recovered from the shock of Peter's sudden appearance. The maestro had a way of jumping into things - and out from behind things - without the slightest hesitation. Sasha found it unnerving and, always in retrospect, exhilarating. "Maestro!" Sasha gasped. "I didn't see you back there. You scared me!"
"I'm sorry, my dear," said Peter. "I guess you've forgotten how sneaky I can be. And I've forgotten what a little mouse you are! Well, don't worry. We'll get used to each other again, I'm sure. Now, come here, please!"
Sasha, obedient as ever, joined Peter behind the desk. The blinds on the window were elevated a few inches above the windowsill and there was a nest of blankets on the floor below the window. A cup of cold tea sat not far away....read more (4/7)
"What is this?" Sasha asked.
"Take these," Peter handed him the binoculars, "and kneel down right there." Peter pointed at the blankets.
Sasha looked at the binoculars and then looked at Peter, who was grinning at him. Sasha smiled back, despite himself. "What?" he asked, with a hint of suspicion.
"Come on, come on!" Peter pressed Sasha's shoulder downward. Sasha dropped onto the blankets. "Now, look out the window and tell me what you see."
Sasha held the binoculars to the window and peered through them. Peter's office had a magnificent view of City Hall and the Civic Center. Sasha ran the binoculars over City Hall's shiny gold dome, then over the Civic Center gardens, then up and down Van Ness Avenue. This was a simple task, but he was finding it difficult to focus because Peter had knelt down beside him and was now leaning in so close that Sasha could feel his breath on his ear.
"So, what do you see?" Peter asked.
"Uh, I see City Hall, Civic Center, Van Ness, uh," He scanned the block again, searching in earnest now. "People, traffic," he guessed.
"No, no, " Peter said, taking the binoculars back from Sasha. He sounded genuinely disappointed. "You aren't looking closely enough. You know, it was the first thing I noticed when I got here, the very first thing. Tell me, did Maestro Barozzi ever mention anything about the mayor during the length of his post here?"
"The mayor?" Sasha said. "No, I don't think so."
"He didn't have any unusually detailed information about Mayor Fox's personal life?"
"No," Sasha said. "Not as far as I know. Why?"
Peter handed him the binoculars and, taking him by the shoulders, turned him to the window again. His right hand dropped away, but his left hand grasped Sasha's upper arm tightly, like a parent might hold a small child in a crowded public space. "Now follow my directions very carefully, Sasha," Peter said. "Look at the top row of windows on City Hall. Now, look at the fourth window in from the right side of the building. Now, what do you see?"...read more (5/7)
Sasha directed the binoculars as instructed. Focusing his magnified gaze on the fourth window on the top floor of City Hall he saw a man sitting at a desk in what was clearly a large and well-appointed office. The desk was facing away from the window, so the man had his back to them. He appeared to be talking on the phone because his head bobbed in a characteristically conversational manner. Sasha noticed the man's hair was very slick and shiny, like a seal. It was this detail that confirmed for Sasha that the man was indeed Mayor Fox. No one in all the city, save for the seals, had hair quite as slick and shiny as Mayor Fox. This was an accepted fact.
"I see the mayor in his office, " Sasha said, still watching the mayor's animated phone conversation.
"Yes!" Peter cried.
"I think he's on the phone."
Sasha turned away from the window and returned the binoculars to Peter. "That's pretty neat," he said.
"Neat? This is an incredible boon!" Peter cried, throwing his arms in the air. "We now have the inside scoop on the mayor's office!"
"What are we going to do with the inside scoop on the mayor's office?" Sasha asked, plainly. "We're a symphony orchestra."
"Well," Peter said, with a halting laugh, but he didn't seem to have any further explanation. He was silent as he wrapped the neck strap neatly around the binoculars and set them on the floor next to the blankets. Then he stood and leaned against the windowsill and said, coldly, "Strange, I remember you being a lot more fun. It must have been the alcohol."
Sasha stood quickly, annoyed, and made his way to the other side of the desk. He backed up as far as the haphazardly stacked moving boxes would allow and then crossed his arms childishly.
There was a long, agitated silence.
"Sasha," Peter finally began, but to Sasha's horror, his tone indicated something far too forthright was to follow, so Sasha stomped on it.
"Maestro, I think it's important that I be perfectly honest with you," he said.
Peter's expression darkened. "If you must," he said. "I haven't had much luck with that approach myself, but…whatever," Trailing off, he moved from the windowsill to his desk chair. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a baton and began rolling it slowly between his hands. He did not look at Sasha....read more (6/7)
Sasha glanced around for a chair to sit in, hoping to alleviate some of his discomfort, but there were no chairs. There were boxes, many boxes, but Sasha was not about to sit on a box. He tucked his hands behind his back. Now he felt like a pupil reporting to the Principle's office.
"Well?" Peter peeked sideways at him. "Aren't you going to be honest," he set down his baton to use air quotes here, "with me?"
Sasha plunged ahead. "What happened in Toronto - it can't happen again."
There was a very quiet pause. "I see," the maestro said.
"It's just - I've never," Sasha stammered. "I've never done anything like that before."
Peter regarded Sasha darkly. "And you think I have?"
"Actually," Sasha hesitated, but he did not have to continue. Peter threw back his head and laughed. "I just mean, you seemed to know what you were doing," Sasha added.
"Oh, Sasha, I'm flattered," Peter said. His laughter subsided and he sat back in his chair, watching Sasha with sparkling, ardent eyes. "You surprised me that night, you know. You're not as naive and delicate as you let on."
Now it was Sasha who was flattered. He returned the maestro's gaze boldly and said, with unexpected ferocity, "I wouldn't have done it for anyone but you, Maestro."
Peter raised one wiry eyebrow and his mouth curled into a smile in the strangest and most appealing way. He tsked and said, "You're going to break my heart all over again, aren't you?"
"Like I said, it can't happen again," said Sasha.
"Of course not." Peter opened his desk drawer and exchanged his baton for a corkscrew. He stood and surveyed the gift baskets on his desk. "My goodness, we have a lot of drinking to do." He pulled a bottle of wine from its tissue paper nest and examined the label. "Close the door," he said, without looking up.
As Sasha, obedient as ever, made his way to the door, it occurred to him that he could continue all the way out of the maestro's office, into the sterility and safety of hallway and pull the door shut behind him, but the thought immediately felt foreign, like an intruder from another mind and another time. Sasha shoved it into the hallway, where it belonged, and shut the door. Turning the lock on the doorknob, another thought occurred to him.
He looked back at the maestro and said, "Close the blinds. You're not the only one with binoculars in this town.”...read more (7/7)