The Board meeting is quite different from anything they’d expected. Something had certainly changed, as the just-elected Chairmen is the new member, Evans, who is known now to be retired from federal tax law enforcement work. Richard Young is not attending. Plus, some of the usual obstructionist faces are missing. Things go far more briskly than anybody is used to. Explaining the fight itself is handled in less than ten minutes, with a few quick questions to Rosie about her written report.
She looks pale and sounds subdued, even with her goth black eyeshadow carefully elongated into an Egyptian Horus loop on her right cheekbone. But she speaks clearly when she answers, turning to everyone on the Board, making sure they can all hear her. “So then I got mad, I don’t remember every word he said after that, not perfectly. I wrote that, in my report.”
Drin sat back in his folding chair, observing, and looked pleased with himself.
Then Rosie says, “But I’m sure Mister Dance did, if you want to hear it in order. He remembers stuff like that, I mean, like, everything.”
Murmurs–after all, they have the report that Dance wrote out so carefully on his computer, listing down precisely every word he’d heard, which took him ten pages to do properly.
The Chairman thanks her, dismisses her to sit in the audience again, and nods for lights to be dimmed. If he was being strictly formal, he’d have kept everybody testifying separately, but he’s letting them hear one another. He flips on the laptop in front of him, clicks silently through the pictures in the display. Dance was shocked to see several blurred cell phone shots of himself in motion, pulling away from Maestro Young’s flailing efforts, one where he is clearly deflecting Young’s arm away from striking out at Amalia’s startled face, with her cello bow fallen off to one side. Bad site awareness: He hadn’t noticed anybody back there, involved, able to take such pictures. That must have been Robert, dodging in.
“Now we have the consequences,” says the Chairman dryly.
Dance winces. There is the dented wallboard, taken at angles from both Amalia’s cell phone and from Drin’s, and several others. There’s a shot of Dance looking annoyed and ruffled in the Metro restroom, changing into his dress shirt for the hearing this morning, with the bruises on his chest gone dark. From that downward angle he looks bony and small and about as threatening as a feral kitten. That was Robert’s fault, grinning at him and running away with a joke.
There are also shots of Richard Young sitting in a blue-lit hospital area, looking cadaverous, with a sling being adjusted on his arm, and dressings taped over his knuckles. The crazy eyes don’t help. No question, those unflattering angles are Robert getting his own back, on behalf of all the cellos.
“We have estimates for wall repairs coming this week,” said the Chairman briskly. “I have a query in to our lawyers about the liability on our insurance covering the cost of medical care for Maestro Young. Now, the Maestro was personally invited to speak today, but he said he did not wish to appear for us. Maybe later, if the Board feels the need.” There is an odd dry note in the man’s voice. Evans is not just another suit, panting to be treated with the showbiz-style rudeness that Young dished out, lapped up so easily by other Board members.
Joscelyn, sitting near the Chairman, gives a snort and taps her rings on the table. “I tried too, Bert. I’m sure he needs some time off too, he couldn’t stop talking about how our Metro folks are a real handful, and it’s all beyond him. Honestly, the man does not look well.”
“Thank you. We do have our Concertmaster here today, Dance of Knives, who gave us quite a detailed report. Any questions for him?”
Joscelyn growls, “I have one. Dance, did you think about who will have to conduct the next three concerts, before you beat up Maestro Young?”
Dance stands up, bows to her. “Yes, ma’am, but I was not wishing to–”
“Yeah, yeah. I got an earful from Dickie Young last night. You want my opinion, folks, I think Young was basically committing some crazy kinda suicide by cop, no huge surprise. Trust me, folks, we’ll end up writing it all off. Dance, you lucky boy you, how fun that you got to be the one to kick his ass for all of us, and speaking both as an offended Board member and as another woman pissed off by Dickie Young’s lousy behavior–” she nods over at Rosie, who is looking astonished, “–I have to thank you for doing that.” Joscelyn’s gaze comes back to Dance with the slow, merciless smile of a lioness. “So you want to share what you decided?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Another reflex bow. “If Amalia and myself excuse ourselves for next week, if the Maestro conducts this first one, then the second chairs can cover our duties. On the second concert, Amalia can rehearse us, and conduct if necessary. For the third one, by then either Amalia can conduct and perhaps the Board can invite the guest candidates to come early. Two weeks’ notice is not too early for a professional to prepare on our repertoire, even if we cannot pay them–”
“We’ll see about pay, too, since Young breached his contract in such a big showy way,” Evans says.
Joscelyn nods. “Can’t even have him in the building for a show, just to be safe, so we need next week’s conductor like now, today. How come we shouldn’t fire your sorry tush right along with him, and Amalia too, no blame, hey, the no-fault insurance waves good-bye?”
Dance shrugs. “You may have to yell at the insurance to keep us. But it does show them our Metro is a venue with people who know how to handle moderately violent situations and keep the public safe.”
Joscelyn raps her rings on the table with a bang. “Really.”
Dance bows again. “Also, please remember, we all of us will be happier to play here with the Metro, where we have invested so much effort. We will be happy to work with guest conductors rather than to lose our positions and be forced to make union lawsuits over harassment by the Maestro, when he has forced us to defend our reputations, and will try to force us to leave the Metro, through no fault of our own.”
“Ah! and here, people tell me that you never make threats!” Joscelyn says.
“No threat, please, ma’am. I only tell you what actions I will choose if I can.”
Joscelyn makes a face. “Back over to you guys. Bud, your pet bites.”
Bud Innes waves a dismissive hand. “Looks pretty safe to me, if you gotta poke him that hard to get a reaction… As Young obviously found out.”
Nobody had expected somebody as busy as Bud to show up. Since he’d joined the Metro Board, his position was often handled by his proxies, usually with notes texted to them from foreign cities. He sighs. “I’ve sent along lists on guest candidates who’d be able to pop in on a weeks’ notice, another list for two weeks, and so on. We can go over ideas later in the week, after we have some answers from the insurance and everyone has time to look them over.”
Evans nods. “Excellent, thank you. Any other questions for our Concertmaster? None? All right, Bud, if you’d like to explain?”
Bud says, “Dance, you told us where you were standing when you first heard the conversation in Young’s office and you thought something was wrong. Can you normally hear things from that spot? Would you be willing to demonstrate it this morning for us? Good. If any Board members would like to join me, I’ll be happy to explain what I have in mind. Thank you, that’s all the questions I have.”
They all troop downstairs and look at the bent and crumpled drywall. They ask Dance to stand next to the dented outline. Bud takes pictures with his cell phone at different angles than Amalia or Drin did. Then Bud asks Dance to stand where he first heard the sounds in Young’s office. Some of them stay with Dance and Drin, others join Bud in the office while he sets up whatever equipment he brought along with him. He gives the playback job to a volunteer staff member who’s also an audio engineer as their day job. Then Bud and the rest of them come trooping back to where Dance and Drin are standing. By then, one of Bud’s assistants is carrying a big pro videocam on one shoulder. He takes up position, clicks on his camera quietly, nods to Bud, who looks at his watch. Bud holds up a microphone attached to a sleek tiny pocket phone and nods for Dance to start talking into it. Asks Dance to tell what he hears in the office.
“Well, they’re counting down–four, three, two, one, and a machine clicks on, so quiet.” Dance frowns. “Murmur, we cannot make it out. Oh, a cat mewing, this sound is on a recording. Not a tape, perhaps a cell phone, by the distortion. Yes, in the room and not on the recording, somebody coughs– coughing twice. Okay, between the recorder and your speaker, the recorded sound has distortion in the midrange. The recording has a bow drawn on strings– a cello. Someone is playing the cello part of Brahms’ Lullaby adapted for quartet, soft. Getting louder.” He hums along with it, nodding. “Oh, it must be an informal practice, they are jazzing it up at double speed–oops, they bobbled the fast notes in that fourth bar–”
People are starting to laugh behind him, trying to be quiet.
“–Oh, yes, it’s a recording of Robert’s playing,” Dance says between humming bars of it, eyes shut. “Yes, that resonance is Robert’s cello. He’s playing from memory, I think. Yes, Robert in the last few weeks, because he’s fixed that hand movement when he does his tremolo– yes, definitely, much better–”
Drin claps him on the shoulder, laughing softly.
Dance blinks and looks around. “Oh, now he’s stopped playing. He says, very loud, ‘Is this enough for tonight, Papi, my back is killing me.’ Then some kind of machine humming. I’m not hearing any other–”
There’s a general roar, and Bud Innes nods, and clicks off recording on the little pocket phone. Bud flips on the phone and calls his engineer, and says, very dryly, “Yeah, we got it. I think that’s enough to make the point.” Then he clicks on the microphone again, but he does it without showing it to everybody else. The videographer is still running his camera, aimed at Dance.
Dance frowns, looking at Bud. He’s not sure what Bud wants to record. So he asks about Robert’s well-being, which he would normally do anyway. “Has Robert got a massage therapist to work on that back yet? It always gets worse under stress. Was this recording done last night?”
Bud looks at him a moment, and smiles. “Yeah, about three AM after he got home from dealing with getting Young from the ER back home, and yes, he’s gone to his new therapist this morning, and it helped a lot.”
“Oh good. Thank you, Bud.”
“You’re welcome.” And he grins, and clicks off the mike again. The videographer thumbs off his camera at last. “I assume you’re eager to go talk to Brian now, he was chewing his nails off, down in the lobby.”
Dance sighs, collects the folders of papers that he put together for Brian, and hurries away. Reassuring Brian about what he faces if Young is not coming back will be the big job of the day. Brian is suddenly asking all those questions he was far too proud to ask before, with more time, back when he viewed Dance as an immovable object.
Dance remains puzzled by much of that morning’s meeting, and Bud’s questions.
When he asks Drin about it, that night, Drin shrugs too. “He gets precise like that when he’s checking on the specs on some piece of equipment, I know that. Maybe he just never connected the dots before, things like, oh, yeah, you do actually practice in the dojo. I assumed he wanted to nail the point on how extremely well you could hear what Young was saying, to help defend against any lawsuits by Young.”
“Shura is going to be unhappy about Young fighting himself out of a job, if Young is still owing debts and gambling badly,” Dance says.
“You got that right,” Emma says, pouring Drin more coffee. It’s looking like a long night for all of them, with deadlines that won’t conveniently postpone just because they need to make statements to the police. Or because they have to make arrangements to help out Brian if Dance is removed from his post as Concertmaster.
He’s too tired to think about the bubble of hope hanging tightly in his tum, the one that says, hey, if Young is leaving, maybe we could get a really good conductor? He ignores that misleading little voice. He had the same hopes when Walstad left, and they got Young instead.
Besides, he’s almost too tired to respond when he rolls into bed with Drin. Almost. Drin wants to kiss him and touch him all over and take him with a kind of reassuring, possessive anger, and Dance is happy to have his brain shut off in favor of his dick by a demanding husband. Plus it makes his back stop hurting so much. Ever since the fight with Young, his tailbone has been achingly alive, throbbing up his back and across his pelvis. It’s got a constant tingling sensation like one of Drin’s July Fourth sparklers spitting onto his fingers. That itchy, crawling, white-spark sensation burning along the base of his spine quiets down for hours when Drin brings him to climax. Getting fucked into totally limp satisfaction is a real improvement.