Drin finds himself staring at a pair of backsides. One man has long curly golden hair; the other’s is long, straight, and black.
Dance hands Robert a plate. “Go make deadly smile mojo. Take food so people don’t start feeling neglect, yes?”
Robert looks over at Bud. “But I’d rather be in here with you,” Robert says.
“Don’t pout,” Robert’s Papi admonishes him. “I know you would, sweet. It’s the burden of being so pretty, you’re one of the faces of the Metro, we need you cheering people up. I’ll be in shortly to rescue you.”
“Promise?” Robert says, but he goes.
The gentleman who seems to have brought Robert to heel sips his champagne, and leisurely eats some of the rolls, and some of the smoked things. “Dance, your balance of herbs is superb,” he says.
“We must thank you,” Dance says gravely. “We find shaved ice and fruit syrops for dessert. Is Mister Bud of the same school of leadership as Drin?”
“What school is that?”
“The kiss, not the kick,” Dance says.
“Well, I happen to know that Drin has a damn fine kick on him too. We just don’t employ bodily harm as our first ploy out of the box. So how did you knock Robert down?”
“Step on Mister Robert’s shoelace. He walks on–” Dance’s hand diagrams the comic disaster.
Bud cracks up. “I gotta make him pick out loafers instead!”
“Many kissings, not oops,” Dance agrees.
“You and Amalia are gonna have to keep on kicking him, poor boy,” Bud says.
Dance nods. “Our job, making Robert want to work hard.”
“Speaking of work, Drin, did you ever hear back what happened on that Rarebon Corporation audit? The one where the subcontractor and the estimator shared some really dumbass kickbacks?”
“Oh, that was the unmanned drone system, dummying up old Russian military surplus for emergency service functions. We’re waiting on sentencing. How were you involved in testifying on that court case?”
“My goddamn due diligence. I had to fess up what I learned about their operations beforehand, why we dropped their offer after we bought the company. I don’t like wasting time in court. Hell, it’s not new, we’ve kept an eye out on that bunch for years. So do the feds. Stupid games, anything with ‘dumbshit mobster’ stamped all over it. No thank you.”
Drin nods. “Just as a matter of public interest, my section got involved as independent witnesses on which records were altered and which files just disappeared.”
“Yeah, the way you start pulling line on a snarled fly cast, and pretty soon you got yourself a monster fish you can’t get rid of. No game for amateurs.” Bud turns slightly toward Dance, tells him, “Drin’s bunch of auditors pulled so many cute tricks they might as well run around court on unicycles with toy horns and rubber clown noses, I swear to God.”
“Don’t give them any ideas!” Drin says, horrified.
Bud just grins. “That answer your question, Dance?”
“Yes. Our favorite patrons believe in avoiding any need to kick. When our Mister Bud and Mister Drin do swing at them, get out soap, it is mop-time,” Dance says. Then he brings out another plate. “Does that save fuss?”
Bud grins wider. “Yeah, later on. Usually. At least, I think so,” and he pops another lump of prosciutto in his mouth. “Mmm, I do like these, Dance.”
Drin nods, mouth full.
“We shall make more, next time,” Dance says, and he’s pleased enough that he smiles.
“Don’t take any shit off Young,” Bud says to the concertmaster. He indicates Drin, and himself. “You let us know. Robert’s gonna tattle on you anyway at Board meetings, so you might as well give it to us when it happens.”
“Oh yes, Mister Bud,” Dance says, and he’s still smiling.
Bud looks at him. Looks at Drin, winks, as if to say, ‘Let me show you something.’ Bud says to the Concertmaster, “So how did you figure out Young might go ballistic on poor little Twill?”
“Miss Twillzer is prompt, she comes early always, nobody here, it comes her turn as catnip toy, yes?” Dance gives an embarrassed little shrug. “My temper runs off leash. Sneak attack on poor Twill, of all girls! I let him provoke me, that was not wise.”
“Oh, you mean you’re a fucking human being?” Drin says.
“Shocking,” Bud agrees.
“And very unwise,” Dance says, looking at them. “But very grateful.”
“Well, we’re dismissed,” Bud says, grinning. “I’ll just go rescue Robert, that bitch Amanda probably got her claws into him.”
“Give me some more plates, Dance, and I’ll circulate,” Drin says.
“Too kind,” Dance says. “These have olives, these do not.”
“Oh, I just like to gossip. Make sure the spin goes the way I want.”
Bud Innes has indeed rescued Robert, and just as briskly detailed Robert to babysit a whole set of new patrons, where the pretty boy is telling them stories and basking in their praise. Bud’s no dummy.
Bud sees Drin coming with loaded plates, and grins, and resumes talking to the three even older men who are nodding gravely at what he says. Drin passes around them like a waiter, and moves on to the next little knot of people.
He finds himself watching the raconteur in that group. This storyteller is a younger woman, waving her hands and bending her head around and imitating noises, and speaking in an growling alto. She has an Aussie accent that she’s tamed down for company. He’s a total sucker for accents of nearly any kind, can’t help himself, but this one is killing him.
The nuances get buried because Young is holding court in the next room, getting loud. She pauses, as she might for a loud jet. Drin heads dutifully in that direction.
He and his plates get a glare from Young. Quite a few patrons sit listening to Young giving them all puffery about what the symphony will be able to do in six month’s time, when Young has no intention of staying that long. No wonder many of them look puzzled. Defying the union agreement, blowing up the public relations budget without a new source of funds, doing big pieces with fewer musicians and fewer administrative bodies to support it all–puffery, all of it.
Drin is suddenly impatient with the pretty soapsud lies. When he returns, he can see Robert’s patron is, too. He tilts his head toward the kitchen, and they both stroll away. Bud chooses a route where they can be seen from both rooms.
Is there anything more delicious than feeling Young’s gaze on their backs?
“Well, that was fun, been wanting to do that for days.”
“We’re being bad, and somebody else may get to pay for it,” Drin says.
“As always,” Bud replies.
Robert brings them both fresh flutes of champagne, and then a plate of lovely little smoked things with toothpicks. Then stools, and they perch at Dance’s counter.
“Mmm, artichokes and herbs,” Drin says. “Who made those?”
“We always ask Dance to bring those,” Robert Goldstein confides, stroking Bud’s arm lightly. In a stage whisper, Robert says, “He’s never got enough money to buy much of the really good prosciutto, so we only give it to people we really like.”
“So we’re being bad that way,” Dance says, and his dark hands twirl a plate of fragrant herbal things on home-made rolls out of the microwave, setting it gently in front of them.
Drin takes a big sniff, sighs happily, and glances up to see Dance’s eyes gravely considering him. Then Dance smiles, just a little, and his shoulders relax.
Drin thinks, Dammit, it doesn’t take that much to help him out. It’s not like he ever asks Young for a damn thing.
“Give me another load to distribute, please,” Drin says. A strand of black hair falls over Dance’s shoulder. It is starting to come loose from his severe black ribbon, the same way it does when he solos. He’s about to twist it up impatiently into a knot. Drin has seen him do it in rehearsals.
The hair makes Drin want to pull it, just to see what Dance will do about it.
Maybe another time; but not tonight, not after Young provoked the guy. Drin escapes into the crowd. Well, not so much of an escape, when he hears that Aussie accent tugging on him again.
When Drin swings by that group, she’s still got them enthralled. She pulls off a hoary old joke adapted for new use by making the bad guy a saltwater crocodile, and she smiles as people laugh. Eats a nice chunk of cheese in one gulp, nods her thanks, grabs extra pieces, and conveys them to one of the guys who can’t see so well. “Try that, see if you like it,” Emma says.
Emma something. Librarian who coordinates events at various branches with the Metro. The way she conducts the group, a little tap of her hand here and a flash of the eyes there, it makes Drin wish she was organizing the musicians the same way. Hell, the way Young ought to be doing. The way Dance already does, as far as he can.
“No worries, love,” she growls at another one of her really aged admirers, smiling and touching his shoulder. The poor old guy flutters like a shred of translucent vellum under the impact of it–and that voice! Drin can feel his eyes trying to roll back in his head in exactly the same way.
Well, it’s also the body. Her proportions aren’t slowed down by the unhappy lines of a cheap silk dress. But nobody’s hanging off her arm. Very odd. Usually a woman like that will have an entourage trailing around after her.
It takes him awhile to realize why.
She gets more done if she’s open to anybody who comes up to her. So she’s working alone. They’re lining up to get a look and a little kiss on the cheek, a pat on the arm, and a husky word of thanks whispered in their ear. She doesn’t forget to go around and thank people who’s helped out before, and yes– there she goes– talking them into re-upping. She’s enlisting volunteers.
It’s something to see.
“No sugar-coating there,” Bud says in Drin’s ear. “That’s all just the solid goods. Talk about leadership! God, I love dames.”
“It’s a rare model,” Drin says wryly.
“Two more seconds of staring like that, and I couldn’t save you, man. She’s gonna zero in,” Bud warns him. “She can sniff out bi-guys like you in nanoseconds, and she has no mercy.”
Drin winces. “What was it, the drool, or the cross-eyed stare?”
Bud laughs. “Oh hell, man, you love everybody.”