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    Parker Owens
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Double Concerto - 36. Coda

Only distant rumbles of Willy, Heinrich or Zoltan will be heard; readers should have no fear, as they’ll hardly show up on the radar. On the other hand, there may be a few unanticipated guests appearing.

“Thanks for picking me up.” Rick settled into the passenger seat of the late model F-150.

“No problem. You remembered your passport?”

Rick patted his pocket. “Right here.” He’d made sure he had absolutely everything, twice over.

“And your toothbrush?”

“In my bag, back there.” He thumbed in its general direction behind the seat.

“You need to go to the bank?”

“Marta, this isn’t my first trip away from Eagle Lake.”

“I know that.” The young, dark-haired woman at the wheel grinned as she accelerated. “But it’s fun giving you a hard time.”

Rick made a face.

His companion went on. “And it’s not as if you needed to grill Jared yesterday. You’ve left him on his own in the shop before.”

“Are you accusing me of micromanaging?”

“Who, me? Never. I might say you’re stressing out just a teensy bit, though.” She flipped the turn signal and made a left.

Rick exhaled, long and slow, acknowledging there might be a grain of truth to the statement. He changed the subject. “You didn’t have too much on your plate today?”

“After I drop you off at the airport, I’m driving over to Frost Haven to check out some spruce and birch wood.”

“Getting ready for a new project?”

“Orders are up,” Marta responded. “I want to have some instruments pre-built for more casual buyers, so I can concentrate on the custom jobs. That means having more wood on hand.”

“What’s more in demand, violas or ‘cellos?”

“’Cellos. It seems I can sell just about everything I make.”

“That’s fantastic. Your business’ really taking off. You won’t have time to do any technical work with me and Jared.”

“Don’t get any ideas, Rick. I can keep up with you.”

Somehow, he didn’t doubt it. Since appearing on the doorstep of Ernst & Company Mechanical late one January afternoon a year or two back, Marta had worked tirelessly at learning everything she could about heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, and building systems. Between that and her own fledgling enterprise, Rick wondered if the woman ever found time to sleep.

Given the way Jared dragged himself around the shop occasionally, he was certain there were some nights when she didn’t.

“You’ll be plenty busy while I’m away.”

“Probably. But we don’t want you to worry about a thing. You and Gus should take an extra couple of days in New York if you want. Jared and I can handle it.” Marta veered into the right lane to turn at an upcoming traffic light.

“You’ll make sure to look in on Caroline?” His old friend was still going strong, though maybe moving a little slower than she once did.

“Didn’t I tell you not to worry? Of course, we will. And before you ask, yes, I know where the landing nets are in case the chickens get out.”

Rick pursed his lips, and twisted his ring finger. “I guess I have been a little overanxious.”

“A little?” She laughed. “How long has Gus been away?”

“Maybe a month.” Twenty-five days, four hours and some odd minutes. “This has been his longest tour since—"

“I know. Anyway, you’re forgiven for being antsy all week. Just go and have a good time and bring Uncle Gus home.”

“Okay. I think I can manage that.”

Marta turned right again, this time onto the main highway heading west out of town. “Daddy sent me an email last night.” She opened a new line of conversation.

“Oh? What’d he have to say?”

“Nothing new. He and mom will be coming up again for the Catch and Release Festival this summer.”

“For how long?” Rick sat up a bit straighter in his seat.

“Relax. Daddy isn’t going to mess with you and Gus. And he’s stopped hinting that I could be doing much, much better if I’d only move back to Chicago.”

“Good. Maybe Zoltan finally got the message.”

“We practically had to stamp it on his forehead, didn’t we? Jared and I got through to him in the end. Anyway, Daddy’s no fool, either. He knows the Festival is good thing. Cedarcrest’s a perfect retreat for rising and potential stars; the new cottages are awesome. If Daddy keeps on Gus’ good side, then he can have steady source of some of the best talent to recruit. And Gus makes sure they don’t get taken advantage of.”

“Gus is a great mentor and music director. And it helps that Zoltan’s behaved himself.”

Catch and Release’s one of the best opportunities in music because of you two. I’m glad you and Gus got Cedarcrest as part of the settlement.”

“Most people would be pretty unforgiving of the people who took their parents to court.”

Marta laughed. “Most people didn’t grow up with my parents. I don’t blame Gus for wanting to break that terrible contract.”

“But you didn’t answer my question.” Rick pointed out. “Zoltan and Magda will be in town for how long?”

“Oh, right, sorry. I think they’ll be here for a week. I think they’re planning a trip to South America after. Something they put off from last summer.”

“They had to rush off somewhere after only a day or two last year, didn’t they?”

“Helene had a major breakdown in Milan.” Marta nodded. “They had to go do damage control.”

The pickup slowed; Marta signaled to take the turn into the regional airport. New signage and landscaping greeted them. Some changes in town, plus the presence of what was becoming a prestigious musical event, helped garner state dollars for some long-needed upgrades.

She pulled her vehicle into the wide traffic circle in front of the tiny, gleaming terminal building.

“Don’t bother getting out. I’ll just grab my things,” Rick said as the pickup stopped at the curb.

He unfastened his seatbelt and stepped out of the cab. Reaching into the open bed, Rick grabbed his bags. But when he turned, the girl was waiting for him on the pavement. She threw her arms around him and gave him a tight hug, which he tried to return.

“Have fun. We’ll miss you. Bring Gus home in one piece.” Marta admonished his shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I will.” Releasing her, he added: “Go buy some wood. Just don’t fill the shop with it.”

“There’ll be a truckload waiting when you get back,” she quipped, retracing her steps to the driver’s side door. “You have room in your cellar for the overflow?”

Rick laughed. “Tell Jared to pile it at the foot of the bed.” He waved, and shook his head as she sped off.

He turned and entered the minute terminal. Though the airlines warned travelers to arrive over an hour prior to departure, Rick knew better. Even if the flight was full, it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get through security.

“Mornin’ Rick.” The uniformed TSA agent greeted him, taking his boarding pass. “Going to New York?”

One compensation for using the regional airport was knowing people who worked there. “Hiya, Chuck. Yeah, I’m headed east for a few days.”

His blue-gloved acquaintance scrawled something on his pass. “Frieda and I went a few years back. Did the whole tourist thing: Statue of Liberty, Stock Exchange, Broadway, all that.”

“You must have had a good time.”

“We did. You meeting your, um—?”

“Yes. I’m meeting Gus tonight.” Rick took the boarding pass back.

“Right. So, you know the drill.” The man ambled over to the scanner.

As he sent his belongings down the conveyor, Rick reflected on how much had changed since Gus first smiled at him in the sunlit Cedarcrest living room. He’d traveled. He’d learned to tune a piano. Hell, he could break down a Steinway, if he had to. He’d discovered love.

After stepping through the metal detector without incident, Rick gathered his things, triple-checking to be certain every pass and piece of paper was present.

“Have a good flight.”

“Thanks, Chuck, I will.”

 

Although improvements had been made at the regional airport, a direct flight to New York was only the fevered dream of the Eagle Lake Chamber of Commerce. A connection and layover were mandatory, and Rick’s occurred in Minneapolis. It seemed paradoxical to fly west in order to go east, but he was in no position to argue. Emerging from the cramped cabin of a slender commuter jet into a vast expanse of terminal, Rick found the first flight display and studied it carefully. He located his gate and set off at a determined pace, dodging slow-moving family groups and oblivious business travelers engrossed in phone conversations hustling in the opposite direction.

Once or twice, he passed couples traveling together, so lost in one another they could have wandered out onto a runway unaware. Gus had the power to make him feel like that, narrowing his focus to one man, one face, one smile. Rick couldn’t wait to see his man again.

However, fate decreed a flight delay: Rick would have to wait, whether he wanted to or not. He checked his watch, then texted Gus about his late departure. He had plenty of time now.

Restless, he purchased a newspaper, a bottle of water, and a prepackaged gourmet pesto-turkey sandwich for an eye-watering amount of money, and returned to the gate area. To make the time and meal pass seamlessly, he alternated bites with periods of observing his fellow travelers. It seemed like a mix of businessmen and casually dressed individuals like himself, with a few obvious families thrown in.

Eventually, Rick opened up his paper and tried working his way through a sudoku puzzle. He lost himself in the logic and found the patterns engrossing. Before he knew it, he had the entire grid filled in. The crossword puzzle presented a greater challenge. Many of its clues eluded him. Tiring of the fruitless search for four letter words meaning ecstatic, Rick turned to the front page.

He scanned the headlines, following a few of the main stories. Nothing held his attention very long. We board when we board. Can’t do anything about a delay.

 

A small item on page five in Regional News made Rick blink. Wisconsin Businessman Indicted. He read further.

“MADISON, WI – Longtime Milwaukee businessman William Kohler, heir to the Kohler Companies lumber empire, was indicted yesterday in Federal Court in Madison on twenty-five counts of fraud, false testimony, and breaking environmental laws. In the documents unsealed Thursday, Kohler stands accused of improperly accepting industrial waste at his family’s defunct timber-processing facilities in Oesterich, WI, west of Sheboygan.

 

‘Instead of treating and properly transporting toxic materials, Kohler’s firm dumped them on site into local waterways while collecting hefty treatment and disposal fees from companies as far away as Cedar Rapids,’ according to a statement released by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office.

 

Already under fire for multiple accusations of personal misconduct, Kohler did not respond to requests for comment from this newspaper. The indictment may mean the end of what was once a Wisconsin industrial dynasty…”

 

So Willy Kohler had wasted his very last chance; the reprieve Rick had unintentionally granted him. His finances had forced Willy to sell off the very last tracts of timber owned by the Kohler family. When the forests were rumored to be on the auction block, Rick contacted the Nature Conservancy. Rick and Walter Heinemann had dealt with the organization before, as they explored options to protect College Hill after the Rita McKee fiasco. Although the tracts the Kohlers still owned had been cut over the years, they adjoined other lands the Conservancy protected. Their purchase had given Willy Kohler a financial lifeline. Now it seemed the man had squandered his opportunity.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” The speaker interrupting his reverie was a middle-aged woman, clad in khakis and dark blouse, a pastel sweater over her shoulders. She pointed at the seat to his left. A thinner man, balding, with wire rimmed glasses, hovered in the background. A younger, taller, dark-haired male edition of the father completed the trio.

“No, let me move my bag.” Rick hastened to clear the spot.

“Thanks.” She seated herself while her husband and son scouted out another pair of chairs across and further along in the waiting area. “Looks like it’s going to be a full flight, doesn’t it?”

Rick nodded. “Guess the route to New York’s popular.”

“We’re taking our son to tour colleges. He’s a junior in high school.” The woman explained.

“Oh. I see.”

“We’re going to see Columbia and NYU. After New York, it’s Princeton, then Penn in Philadelphia and Georgetown in D.C.”

“You have a busy trip planned.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. Such a bother, then we have to turn around and go to New England for Harvard and Brown. Then on the way home, we stop in Chicago to see UC and Northwestern.”

“Your son sounds very ambitious,” Rick said, trying to be polite.

“We’ve been pushing him ever since the fifth grade. His school did some testing, and Simon’s scores came in the highest of the class. He’s twice-gifted.”

 

“And you’re from where?”

“Edina. Just south of Minneapolis.”

Rick nodded. “I know where that is. Your son’s lucky to get a chance to see so many colleges.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “The last few years have been brutal. You have kids of your own?”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Well, let me tell you. We got Simon into the best SAT tutor in the Twin Cities. He’s been working every week with the man for over a year. Then there’s the admissions coach. And the sports! If Simon was left on his own, he’d spend all day in his room or out on his damn bike. We had to practically dragoon him into rowing and lacrosse. Plus the private fencing lessons!”

If I were Simon, I’d probably spend every minute I could in my bed, asleep. “What a lot of opportunities he’s had.” Remembering a certain whiz kid in Eagle Lake, Rick suppressed a chuckle. But can he unclog a toilet?

 

The PA system in the gate area crackled to life. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. This is the first call for pre-boarding for Flight 1020 with nonstop service to New York-LaGuardia…”

There was a general stir and the conversation ended.

Rick would have forgotten all about Simon’s mother and the college tour. However, with the full flight and packed seating, he found himself shoehorned into a coach seat, sandwiched between the mother hen, ensconced in the window seat, and her rail-thin teen on the aisle.

“Oh! Hello again.” The woman made a fraction of an inch available to him on the armrest.

Rick rallied. “They don’t make these seats any bigger than they have to be, do they?”

He busied himself by attempting to unearth his seatbelt and get it buckled. By the time he accomplished his task, boarding had been completed, and the pre-flight formalities of safety instruction were ready to begin. Even though he had flown plenty of times since that first spontaneous visit to Gus’ mother in Texas, Rick never failed to feel at least a frisson of excitement when the whine of the engines changed, and the plane pushed back from the gate. Even with his limited view of the outside world, he watched the operations of the ground crew with a certain amount of fascination. There seemed to be a kind of controlled chaos in an airport, no matter where it was.

Rick tried to listen to the flight attendant who, with a professional smile, delivered the required safety information in swift, efficient sentences, as if her doing so would help the plane get off the ground sooner. Gus still gave him a hard time for paying attention to these in-aisle presentations; so few people ever did. Maybe air travel was still something new to him, or maybe his sense of politeness dictated he allow someone else the dignity of doing their job. Or maybe it was the occasional hot male flight attendant.

He remembered bristling on the very first plane trip to Austin, when the uniformed steward had winked at Gus. Admittedly, the man was attractive. But when Gus took Rick’s hand and leaned in to share a private word, the steward had moved farther down the cabin. Flirty flight attendants remained a joke between them.

The engines revved and sustained a greater pitch. Rick blinked, and his memories receded. On his left, the woman by the window delved in her handbag for a piece of hard candy; to his right, her son seemed zoned out, earbuds nestled discreetly in his ears. The father was nowhere in sight, probably wedged in someplace behind. Soon, acceleration forced Rick gently back in his seat, the plane’s nose tilted upward, and it took wing, soaring into the early afternoon sky.

Once the airliner leveled out at a higher altitude, the woman on his left tried to make conversation. “Are you going to New York for business?”

Rick turned. “Me? Oh, no. I’m going to a concert.”

“It seems a long way to go for a concert. Lincoln Center?”

“Carnegie Hall. It’s a benefit.” The right corner of Rick’s mouth twitched upward. A benefit for me, especially.

“That’s such a historic venue. I have Toscanini’s recording of Beethoven’s Pastorale that was done there. What’s on the program you’re going to?”

“I’m not sure. It’s more the performer I’m interested in.”

“Who’s that?”

“Gustavo Morales, he’s a pianist.”

“Oh, I think I’ve heard of him. You’re a fan of his?”

“You could say that. He’s my husband.”

She frowned as if she’d swallowed an unopened package of in-flight snacks. He’d gotten more used to encountering this kind of reaction. Rick waited, watching and holding his ground.

The woman looked away for a moment. “Oh. Well. I see. Of course, you’d want to be there.”

“He’s been performing, touring for a month. He’s not usually gone from home so long.” Rick felt himself color up a little as he thought about having Gus back at home. He’d missed the music of their lives together.

“Well, our trip won’t be as long as that. We’re going to pack a lot into eight days. Tomorrow morning, we have an appointment at Columbia…” She needed no further encouragement to launch into a detailed itinerary.

Rick almost pitied the poor kid on his right. He’ll be in a stupor by the end of the coming week.

 

Later on, somewhere over Southern Ontario, Rick felt nature calling. He politely managed to nudge the teenSimon, that was the nameinto moving, so he could make his way back to the restroom. While Rick did his business, he yet again appreciated the technical efficiency of the on-board plumbing fixtures. There were major water-saving advantages to the vacuum system employed; as he cleaned up, he idly wondered about various alternatives in setting it up, and why such systems weren’t in more general use where water sustainability was a serious problem.

Still absorbed, Rick slid open the door’s latch with a sharp clack and pushed it open. He was startled to find his seatmate waiting there. “Oh. Excuse me.” He tried to make way for the dark-haired kid to get by.

The boy named Simon didn’t move. His eyes shifted, as if he were afraid of someone listening. “Can I ask you something?”

Wary, Rick nodded. “Sure.”

“You said you have a husband. I heard you tell my mom.”

So the boy hadn’t been as inattentive as he appeared. “That’s right. I do. What about it?”

“What’s it like? Being, you know, out. Having someone of your own who doesn’t judge.The kid looked down the aisle again.

Rick cocked his head to one side. “You’re not out yourself? Afraid of what your parents might think?”

“No. Not out. Geez, with all the crap I have to do, I wouldn’t have time for a boyfriend even if I could find one. And yes, I know they’d judge me. You don’t know. Mom and Dad have sacrificed so much, and I don’t want to be a disappointment.” The words came out in a rush, spoken as quietly as was feasible in the back of a jet at 32,000 feet.

“Well, I can only tell you that it took me years longer to come out than it should have. Decades.” Rick looked Simon in the eye. “For me, it was liberation. Freedom to live my own life.”

He continued. “I never told my mom, and my father hasn’t accepted the fact that I’m gay even now. So you might want to choose your methods and timing better than I did. Falling in love with my husband was the best thing that ever happened to me. I shouldn’t say was, I should say is, because I fall for him all over again every day.”

“Wow. You’re so lucky. How did you meet him?”

“Long story.” Rick glanced around; another passenger was purposefully making his way back toward them in the aisle. “You want to go back to our seats?”

At their row, Simon slid in next to his mother, taking Rick’s spot in the middle. This way, the woman wouldn’t hear his replies to Rick’s questions.

“So, why the trip out east? Isn’t there someplace closer to home?”

“Are you kidding? I want to get away from the phobic fakes where I live. I’m applying to a couple of places in Minnesota, but I’ve worked hard enough to see the world. The Ivies are supposed to be welcoming. Was it different at college in your day?”

Rick looked down at his hands. “I went to technical college; a totally dissimilar experience. So yeah, I think it was different.” And I was different too, back then.

 

“Living in New York would be so cool.” The boy enthused.

“You like city living, then?”

“I don’t know, but I want to try. Columbia’s my first choice.”

“And you want to study—?” Rick prompted.

Simon leaned in closer. “Philosophy,” he very nearly whispered.

“You mean like Socrates and Nietzche?”

“Shhh. Don’t let my mom hear. My parents think I want to be a computer engineer. That’s actually what they want.”

“They’re going to be in for quite a shock.”

“In a year or two.” The dark-haired teen sniggered. “When I bring my new boyfriend home for Thanksgiving.”

“Oh, boy. That could be trouble.”

“Your parents freaked out?”

“My father learned I’m gay on the same day he got some bad financial news. One of those pieces of news gave him a stroke.”

“You mean he died?” Simon’s eyes were wide.

“No, no. Dad’s still alive.” But he has to use a walker and had to re-learn how to talk. “The first time he met my husband brought tears to his eyes.” And a red-faced rage that had us calling the doctor. “Meeting my mother-in-law was much better. My husband and I flew down to Austin on a surprise visit.”

“She took the news better than your dad?”

“You could say that. I don’t think I’ve ever been fed so well, or so much, in my life. Rosina welcomed me with open arms.” She fussed over Gus and me like prodigal sons.

 

Simon’s mother turned her gaze on Rick and her son. She frowned. “Shouldn’t you be working on your Sanskrit assignment?”

“It’s all done, Mom,” the boy told her.

“What about your AP Stats?”

“Under control.” Rolled eyes told tales of exasperation and oppression for adolescents the world over.

Rick leaned in. “You can’t control how other people feel. You can only choose your own time and your own words. Tell your parents when you’re ready.”

They passed the remainder of the flight in easy conversation.

 

Apprehension didn’t really hit Rick until he cleared the jetway at LaGuardia, pulling his roller luggage along behind. He checked his watch for the umpteenth time. Landing much later than expected meant time would be very short. He made a decision, and walked toward the nearest airline employee. He wasn’t too proud to ask directions.

Rick emerged from the Sky Club fresher and far better dressed than he arrived. He’d even managed a snack, as he was going to miss supper. Gus had taught him about business travel, why some of the perks were worth the extra money. One of the many, many things he’d learned from his man.

He strode down the concourse, out past the security checkpoints, and made his way to ride sharing pickup. Rick glanced again at his phone, confirming the make and tag number of the car coming to get him, and where it would be. A burly black Suburban crawled in his direction; the descriptions matched. Some of Gus’ lessons had taken a lot of getting used to. His heart beat faster.

The driver lowered the window. A dark face with a sunny smile grinned back at him. “You’re Rick? I’m Cash Lagrande.” Yes, this was the right car. The man got out and opened the rear gate. “Where are we going?”

Rick lifted his bag in. “Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. And I’m kind of running late.”

“Well, okay then. Buckle up.”

Rick appreciated the feel of acceleration as the big SUV surged into traffic. In the space of a few minutes, the bulky machine hurtled into an eight-lane maelstrom of evening traffic, all moving at breakneck speed. The driver, Cash, wove in and out of lanes, finding by some kind of instinct those moving fastestand which had real estate large enough for the vehicle he drove.

“This your first trip to the Big Apple?” The man tried to make conversation.

Rick tried to relax his grip on the armrest. “Um, no. I’ve been here once before.”

“That’s cool. What’s the big rush?”

“I’m meeting someone. He’s actually playing a concert.”

“At Carnegie Hall?” Lagrande bullied his way further to the right, finding a last-second spot in an exit lane. “Impressive.”

The car slowed momentarily, then sped through a wide underpass and around a bend. There were fewer lanes here, but the road was just as congested.

Rick tried to concentrate on the passing scene – the trees were leafing out in that light green color that could only occur in spring. He mused that trees softened even the harshest landscape.

An abrupt swerve into the left lane to avoid a slow-moving panel truck snapped his attention directly ahead again. “Pretty time of year,” the African American man observed. “Almost makes you want to move to the country.”

Rick was just glad he didn’t have to do the driving.

One mile further on, another multilane highway merged in from the right. Cash accelerated and moved left, dashing down the passing lane through concrete channels and arroyos flowing with cars.

They rounded a bend and emerged from under yet another crossover into blinding sunlight.

The big SUV kept going, slowing not a moment. Rick’s eyes adjusted, and the Manhattan skyline showed in the distance. The driver gunned the engine, and they sped onwards into the evening light. “You’re kind of lucky to be late. Traffic isn’t so bad right now.”

“Is that right?” Rick noticed the lanes going the opposite direction were even more congested, and moving slower. He lost track of the lane changes and exits, overwhelmed by the burgeoning cityscape. Tall apartment complexes marched past. “Where are we again?”

“Queens. Don’t worry. You’ll get there onshit.” Lagrande swerved right, moving through two lanes. “Forgot I had to get over.”

Now in the right lane, the Suburban bore down on a tarnished looking Camry with New Jersey plates. Rick inhaled as the two vehicle bumpers edged closer. A few moments later, both cars plunged into relative darkness, illuminated only by garish overhead lights.

“We’re in the tunnel. Not far now.”

The driver in the smaller car ahead of them seemed to sense some urgency. The Toyota put on a burst of speed, and the distance between the cars opened up. Cash threw the big SUV into a pair of gentle curves, as the road sloped upwards. They emerged into daylight again. With some reluctance, the driver decelerated and hugged the right lane, but made it through a green light as they entered city traffic.

Lagrande knew his business. He negotiated a series of turns and twists down Manhattan streets that Rick would have had to study ahead of time. Turning onto a wide street, the man announced: “Park Avenue. Need to go celebrity hunting?”

Rick just shook his head.

The hulking black SUV followed a couple of yellow cabs uptown, diverting around a large glass-windowed edifice. “Grand Central.” His driver casually dropped place names he’d only heard about in old movies.

Rick’s phone pinged. Gus. Where RU?

 

Manhattan. Park Ave, he typed back.

Hurry. xo

 

The driver must have had some kind of magic about him, because they sped through every light with ease. Rick watched the street signs now. “There. Up ahead at 55th Street. Turn left.”

“You sure?”

“Yup. East 55th Street.”

The man shrugged. “Okay. Your call.” Lagrande slowed, moved over and flipped on the turn signal.

Now it was Rick’s turn to navigate. He watched the signs carefully. Madison Avenue. Fifth Avenue. In every block, building after building looked as if it was under repair, scaffolding masking façades everywhere. He knew this was the ongoing nature of the city renewing itself, but he couldn’t help wondering if someone wouldn’t one day call an end to it all and call it good.

 

Sixth Avenue. Rick looked at the note on his phone. Soon. Nearing the corner of 55th and Seventh Avenue, Rick said: “You can let me out here.”

“Here? You sure?”

“Yes. Here.”

“Oooookay. This corner it is.” Miraculously, the light went red. Lagrande hopped out of the car and retrieved Rick’s bag. The man was bigger than he looked behind the wheel.

“Thanks.” Rick handed Cash a folded bill.

“My pleasure. Have a good time at the concert.”

It was impossible not to smile in anticipation. “I sure will.”

Rick moved to the sidewalk as the man turned away. Getting his bearings, he walked up Seventh Avenue for a block, blinking yet again at the sheer numbers of people and vehicles. Across the street, he noted the Park Central Hotel. Was that where he and Gus were staying? He couldn’t remember, and there was no time to check the notes on his phone. He hurried on. Crossing 56th Street, he called to mind again the address he’d been given. He knew he’d found the right place when he saw a couple of well-dressed individuals carrying instrument cases stop at a door just to his right. He followed them in.

Once inside, he was stopped. “Your pass?”

Rick dug in his pocket for the one thing he’d guarded so closely since leaving Eagle Lake that morning. He held it out for inspection.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I don’t suppose you could tell me where I might find Gustavo Morales?” Rick asked, looking around at the bustling pre-concert scene. “I’m his husband.”

The attendant paused a moment. “You might try that way. Up the stairs, I think.”

Rick followed the direction of the pointed finger through a heavy metal door. Everything was painted a brilliant white. Posters of famous performers and previous concerts adorned the walls. He ascended a utilitarian looking staircase, which arrived at a rabbit warren of practice and dressing rooms. By now, he was used to this. He went left; luck was with him, as the second door featured a discreet sign Gustavo Morales.

 

Rick knocked.

“Come in,” his favorite voice called out.

He entered, negotiating the door and his roller bag.

“Rick! I was worried

Gus didn’t get to finish. Rick wrapped his arms around his man, only afterwards noting he was in his black tails and white tie.

Formal dress notwithstanding, Gus returned the embrace. “Mmmmm, oh, my, I’ve missed you.”

Rick felt the tension in the shorter man’s back and shoulders. “I’ve missed you, too.” He inclined his head for a kiss.

Their lips met, and for a long moment, nothing else seemed to matterneither concert, nor long journey, nor their weeks apart. Rick melted into Gus and savored their closeness once again.

When they broke, Rick finally acknowledged the moment. “Sorry about messing up your jacket. You must have to go on soon.”

“I don’t care.” Gus tried to smooth the material. “I have a few more minutes; there’s time.” He gave Rick another quick kiss. “You’re dressed up. You didn’t go to the hotel, did you? Where did you change?” He turned to the dressing table and handed him a program with a ticket clipped to it. “Oh, and I got you a seat. I think you’ll like it. Right up in the second tier, where"

Rick placed a finger on his lover’s lips. “Usual pre-concert nerves?”

His man nodded. “You know me so well.”

“I can do something about that. They won’t start the concert without you.”

“You don’t have to

Rick was already on his knees. “Shhhhh. Just let me.”

 

Rick settled into his seat with four minutes to spare before the lights dimmed. He barely had time to scan the program. Rick noticed with satisfaction that Carnegie Hall’s main space was packed. Large bold letters proclaimed the event’s sponsor. All proceeds from the concert would benefit the work of the Nature Conservancy. Gus had agreed to appear on a program with a number of musicians who had been at Catch and Release over the past few years. These rising stars would get a big boost from this kind of exposure.

It had been one extra performance tacked on to a busy month. Rick remembered trying to find the right words to ask his husband to do it. He oughtn’t to have worried: Gus had laughed and assented with his singular bright, wide smile.

Applause rippled across the main floor and balconies as the musicians entered and took their chairs. The inevitable pre-performance tuning and adjustment of chairs ensued. Just below, a door opened, and Gus strode onto the stage. Rick’s hands were the first to sound, but the applause joining his swelled loud and long.

Rick had watched his husband seat himself at a concert grand any number of times now, but he never tired of it. For this piece, Gus would simultaneously play and conduct the chamber orchestra. With a subtle gesture, everything on the stage and in the storied hall went quiet.

Gus gave a slight nod, and three bright chords burst out like fireworks. Orchestra and piano burnished a cheerful, busy theme that shone like stars. Rick knew this one, after having listened to Gus practicing at home in Eagle Lake. Bach, Keyboard Concerto in D Major. Later, during the third movement which reminded Rick of water joyfully tumbling down a forest stream, he reflected on how lucky he was. And how many couples had not one, but two pianos in the living room?

For the second item on the program, Samuel Barber’s Serenade, Gus stood and conducted the orchestra in the more traditional manner. For Rick, this piece was one of those he found hard to hearone with many changes in tonality, tempo and focus. Unlike the light-filled Bach concerto, Serenade was full of dissonance, as if the composer had written out all his unfulfilled hopes in music. For the musicians on stage, the score challenged them to be both true to the spirit of the piece and to make it accessible to listeners.

The applause at intermission was real and unaffected, however, which showed just how well Gus and his protégés had won over the audience.

Rick stood and stretched. He had no real desire to move around and mingle with the rest of the crowd. He considered trying to slip backstage to see Gus, but he set the idea aside. His man would be focused on the third portion of the concert, a solo performance of Grieg’s Sonata in E minor. He knew better than to be a distraction at this point. They would have plenty of time together after the concert and the inevitable reception for major donors afterwards.

Instead, he watched the stage crew remove chairs and stands, shifting the massive black piano stage center. The instrument looked to be the size of some of the larger boats that sped across Eagle Lake.

But when Gus returned to the stage, he appeared as master of the behemoth. Rick recognized the understated energy in his step, and his almost brisk, businesslike approach to the keyboard. But Gus broke his usual habit by turning to acknowledge the audience for a moment; he looked up to the very spot where Rick sat. For just an instant, their eyes met, and Gus smiled to make Rick’s heart stumble all over again.

The moment passed; Gus moved to seat himself. He sat in stillness for a moment; it was a habit Rick had noted. Then, into the hush, Gus began the deceptively soft first notes, their minor key triad echoing across the crowd like the faint cry of a water bird on the far side of a lonely lake. These same notes repeated, crashing as thunder might across that same water. Gus had chosen this very piece because it recalled so many scenes they had witnessed together on and over the lakes.

Now, Rick could hear them played out all over again.

The storms in the first movement gave way to sunshine playing on the water in the Andante. Rick even felt his arm twitch as if inspired to paddle. The Menuetto felt to him like the alternating episodes of activity and sweet stillness that accompanied them in fishing. He was as hooked as any pike. In the Finale, Gus played an excursion onto the dark, mysterious waters of Eagle Lake after sunset. Rick could actually see the moon appear through thin, swirling clouds overhead. At the end, the music brought alive the magnificence of the constellations rising over the waves, and even the delight of a stolen kiss in the dark.

The response to the last booming chords was immediate and thunderous. After a moment to recover, Gus rose, stepped forward and took a modest bow. If anything, the ovation increased, roaring louder. The cheers refused to die down until Gus returned to the piano.

Rick was amazed how swiftly silence descended; he watched his husband’s hands rise. One note played, then a chord, then a note, then a chord, and a slow andante established itself, as if he and Rick were walking a path under the leafy shade on College Hill. He recognized the piece, but could not place the name of the haunting music. It meandered as the path might, or as bird might flit through the woods, ending as mysteriously as it began, perhaps as if it had flown away and out of earshot.

Again, the ovation deafened; Rick himself realized his own hands smarted from applauding. Gus turned and looked up at Rick, who beamed back. The black-haired man grinned and shrugged. Once more, he returned to the keys and the hall was quiet.

He recognized what came next. Gus often played the piece at home. Rick had said early on that he liked it, and Gus had actually taught him to play it as a duet – though very slowly, and not without mistakes. But those errors seemed only to bind them closer together; Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses seemed like an encore played just for Rick.

Though the cheers afterward rose just as enthusiastic and loud as before, he barely heard them.

 

Later, Rick made his way to the reception, held in a plush wood-paneled room in the Carnegie Hall complex. Having made his way past the attendants, he searched the crowded room for Gus. Somewhere in the room, anodyne piano music played unobtrusively. A passing waiter offered him a flute of something bubbly. Taking it with an absent smile and acknowledgement, he spotted his man some distance away on the left, surrounded by a knot of well-dressed guests, all in formal attire. He hesitated.

Gus happened to turn his way, and that was all the invitation he needed.

His man slipped an arm around his middle and squeezed for a moment as he joined the group. “Mr. Ambassador, let me introduce my husband, Rick Ernst.”

“Cesar Abelló. My friends call me CJ.”

Rick found himself shaking hands with a dark-haired, polished individual, who struck him as oddly familiar. “I’m sorry. Um, have we met before?”

“Maybe. It’s possible, but I’m sorry I don’t recall when. I think my husband wants to make your acquaintance.”

Rick blinked. “Oh. Is he—?”

“Floating somewhere around here. This is his shindig. He’s with the Nature Conservancy.”

The other man standing beside Gus wore a different ensemble from the ambassador’s: dark form-fitting crewneck tee, and a stylish tight-cut jacket and matching slacks. However, like Ambassador Abelló, his dark, Latin good looks were reminiscent of his husband’s. “Pardon my cousin’s bad manners. I’m Chipper Pereira. And as I told your husband, he rocked tonight.”

Rick took the offered hand and flushed a little at the oddity of meeting a celebrity. He’d actually seen this person’s face on a magazine cover. “Nice meeting you. I’ve enjoyed your songs.”

“Not half as much as I’ve enjoyed tonight’s concert.”

Gus spoke up, eyes glittering. “If you’re interested in taking some time to explore with some new talent, we’d love to have you at Catch and Release.”

 

“You serious? I’d love that.”

“Take some time off and time out.”

The singer gestured with his head in the piano’s direction. “You want to go relieve the hired hand? We can play together. Try out some jazz.”

Gus turned to Rick.

“Go ahead. Just don’t overdo it.” He bent and whispered in his husband’s ear. “And save something for me tonight.”

That made his man snort and laugh. “Don’t worry. I won’t be long.”

Rick was only left alone with the Ambassador for a moment.

“Ah. Here’s my husband.” A well-dressed blond man in evening attire joined them, a glass of red wine in hand. “Oz, this is Rick Ernst, the guy you wanted to meet.”

The new arrival stuck out a hand, even as his husband’s attention was drawn away by another guest. “Owen Liston. I understand you’re the man who let the Conservancy know to protect the Kohler forest parcels. I gotta say, mate, that was good of you.”

“Hi. Glad to know you.” He shook hands, but held the grip a moment longer. “Your accent. I can’t place it.” He wracked his memory for that voice.

The blond man laughed. “Australian. You Yanks give me that kind of reaction all the time.”

“No, it’s familiar.”

“You have many other Aussies up in Wisconsin then?”

A patter of applause broke out elsewhere in the room. Gus and the man named Chipper started improvising something jazzy.

A scene came back to him: a sunny afternoon at Guttmacher’s, a pair of men on a Harley, obviously together. He remembered the heartache.

“No, I think I remember you specifically. You and your husband. You stopped for directions at a service station on your way to Minneapolis.”

The other man laughed. “You’re joking. I remember that, the trip which took forever. And that ass— um, idiot wouldn’t ask directions until I made him stop. He’s been denying it ever since. I have a witness!”

“Well, you two were memorable to me.”

“Listen, I think what you did was fantastic. From what I heard, you saved a four-hundred-acre parcel of old-growth forest, and then helped us save land that feeds a whole watershed.”

“I’m just a plumber with a decent memory.”

“I’d say you’ve got somethingsomeone special.”

Rick smiled broad and wide. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

For anyone who couldn’t be at the Carnegie Hall benefit concert, here are links to other artists playing the pieces on Gus’ program:

 

J.S. Bach Keyboard Concerto No. 3, in D Major https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8mMJfC99m8

Samuel Barber, Serenade for Strings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC0ey796KfQ

 

Edvard Grieg, Piano Sonata in E minor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWQUeipn-N0

 

(encore) Erik Satie, Gymnopédie 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ok-am7rP_k

(encore) Francois Couperin, Les Barricades Misterieuses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lvBZhXEJXY

 

 

I shall ever remain deeply indebted to @AC Benusand @Carlos Hazdayfor their kind and unfailing help in making this story better in so many ways. Thank you.

CJ Abelló, Owen Liston and Chipper Pereiera are the intellectual property of Carlos Hazday, and appear here with his very kind permission.

Thanks also to everyone who took time to read Rick and Gus’ story. If you have any comment, reaction or observation to leave, please know that I appreciate whatever you might have to say.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments



2 minutes ago, weinerdog said:

Do you foresee who the President is going to be?

LMAO

Didn't I write a story about that?

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3 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

One of my favorite chapters in the book. Primarily thanks to one character's appearance. No, you wankers, not HIM. Karma. It came in, kicked ass, and didn't bother taking names. Rita, Heinrich, Willy, and Zoltan all got their comeuppance. Excellent job wrapping things up, Parker.

The growth in Rick is so pronounced, he barely resembles the insecure individual we met so many chapters ago. I guess it's proof of what love can do.

I foresee Gus Morales performing during the 2041 Presidential Inauguration festivities. :P

 

Thanks a million for all your patient and kind work with my drafts of Rick's story, making it turn out so well. Karma, indeed. Heinrich and Willy must live with their choices; Zoltan may indeed be humbled by events. Rita may one day bounce back, if she can put away her bourbon. Rick grew and changed, and Gus was the catalyst. It is indeed all about what love might do. Gus will be ready in 2041!

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4 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Thank you,thank you thank you so much for sharing your gift and a wonderful story.I had it in the back of my head that Marta was going to learn about Rick's craft that didn't surprise me.And out of the two pieces of news Heinrich got that one day I bet I know which one gave him the stroke $$$. I bet you could have done 5 very entertaining chapters on the court case.

I obviously recognized the guest characters at the end I have been on GA a little over a year so i have only read about 5 of your stories that's because there are so many other great stories to  read that there is rarely a lull to get to your back catalog.That's why I was wondering if Simon was one of your old characters if not that sound like it could be a good story in its own right there seemed to be some parallels between his parents And Zoltan and Magda anyway thank you so much again and I will eagerly looking forward to your next offering whenever that is. God bless

You are most welcome. Thank you for your many insightful and interesting comments. Marta knew her own way out of Zoltan and Magda's presdestination plan; graduate early and run to Eagle Lake. You're possibly right that more chapters might have been wrung out of reckoning Gus and Rick's new lives in Eagle Lake. However, it seemed better to let them simply be. Maybe there's a follow-on story waiting to emerge from a dream one day. Simon is not one of my old characters, and you're quite right; there may also be a story in him. His mother is quite as controlling as Zoltan and Magda, as you point out.  In fact, there are lots of potential threads one could pursue - I kind of like Cash Lagrande, too. Many thanks for reading this story!

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4 hours ago, weinerdog said:

Do you foresee who the President is going to be?

I've only got 20 more years to wait.

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4 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

LMAO

Didn't I write a story about that?

I think I remember the main character...

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3 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Brilliant ending to the story. All is well with Rick and Gus, Marta got away from her awful parents and the bad guys got exactly what they deserved. Not that it's good to hear anyone had a stroke, but I knew Heinrich Sr would react badly to knowing that he'd lost his millions and particularly in the way he’d been conned.

Simon's parents sound very similar in outlook to Zoltan and Magda, in that they are trying to force their son into a mould of their own making. Glad he got some advice from Rick on the plane.

Sigh! What have I got to look forward to on Thursday morning now...

 

Thank you very much for reading Rick and Gus' story. By the last chapter, they have grown into the love and comfort of each other, and that seems to be spreading outwards from them both. Willy definitely ran out his string, and Heinrich rediscovered his human frailty. Unfortunately, that discovery did not include the ability to reconcile with the son was never quite good enough, and could not fulfill impossible expectations. Zoltan and Magda got taken to the cleaners, perhaps - but more, they have had to face their own fallibility. Simon's parents will probably have a similarly rude awakening. Once again, thanks so much for your comments and for reading.

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3 hours ago, btowndude said:

I have enjoyed reading your story and what a wonderful surprise to find CJ, Ozzie, and Chipper at the reception.  I look forward to reading future stories.

I'm very glad you found Rick and Gus' story enjoyable. Including those special guests at the reception was a great deal of fun. I'm certain Gus and Chipper had fun improvising. Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

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1 hour ago, 84Mags said:

By the time we reached the morning after the school board meeting a couple chapters back, I found myself tearing up and often a giddy mess, overjoyed Rick’s life finally began to be all that it could be. This final chapter was no exception. I started getting tearful when I realized Marta had found her way forward with Jared and a career she loves, happy crying when Gus not only figured out a perfect way to continue his beloved performances but also now has a place to encourage artists and established the Festival, and by the time Rick was (re) introduced to CJ and Ozzie, I was full on smile sobbing! 
The introduction of Simon and his overbearing mother was the perfect counterbalance and reminder of how Rick never returned rudeness, scorn, or bad behaviors with the same. I’m so glad he could be a brief but important role model to Simon. 
To have those Rick loves and who also care so deeply for him also leading their best lives is the absolute perfect ending. The small line about Caroline Lee was nice as it let me know she is gracefully aging under the caring and watchful eye of Rick and Gus. The characters of Cedarcrest became real to me and it gives me such sense of peace, to know that all who are deserving are well and thriving.  
Thank you for this well thought out, exceptionally written work. I promised myself I wouldn’t gush, so just know that you are an expert in the details and that makes all the difference. I will miss Rick, Gus and all those living happily in Cedarcrest.
 

 

 

 

I am glad Rick, Gus and everyone in Eagle Lake will live on in your memory, as they reside in mine. Your comments are really very kind, and I have been most grateful to find yours every week. Marta and Jared will be a fun couple together - and given her contacts through her parents' network, her luthierie business is bound to take off. The Catch and Release name for the festival seemed just right for something Rick and Gus must have worked on together.  I included Simon and his mother in the story because I have been struck by how many memorable encounters I have had with fellow passengers on various trips. I vividly recall some of these brief, never-to-be-repeated conversations. For Simon, a soon-to-be-uncloseted-freshman in university, his chance to talk with Rick must have represented a hopeful glance into a future he could not well imagine.  Please accept my thanks for reading, and for your many observations and thoughts.

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1 hour ago, headtransplant said:

Such a great conclusion to an excellent story! Bravo!! Seriously, take a bow. It’s not just any story that can make a bunch of people look forward to Thursday mornings each week. I’ll miss it and I’m already excited to see what you come up with next.

I loved your descriptions of Gus’s piano pieces, and I’m planning to check out the YouTube links later. 
 

The news of Heinrich’s stroke made me give an evil little smile. Other details I enjoyed included the conversation with the boy on the airplane and finding out that Gus and Rick had been married since we saw them last ❤️

In conclusion, I’d like to give you a standing ovation, but seeing as it’s not 7 am yet, I don’t think my roommates would approve. So I’ll just applaud in my head for now.

Thanks for the wonderful story!

Thank you very much for the intracranial applause. Your words are most kind, and I appreciate your thoughtful reading of Rick's story. Rick would not wish evil on anyone, least of all his father, yet the old man had a stroke or a coronary coming. He could not seem to live into any other vision but his own. This not only led him to be a terror to his son, but also sent him astray into the schemes of Rita McKee. Her project was actually legitimate, though her means of fundraising weren't, and she rushed through her highly important environmental "homework."

Many things have occurred in the years intervening between Rick's arrival in Chicago and the trip to New York, but one of the most important is Rick's marriage to Gus. I have no doubt that the event would have been greeted with many broad smiles in Eagle Lake.

Again, many thanks for reading!

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drsawzall

Posted (edited)

Not having jumped to the end of the comments, to make my own first, I can only say, everything I wanted to say has been said.

Thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and exceptionally well written. A master class in first rate wordsmithing. The drive thru NYC reminded me of the first time I had to go to the company I worked for NYC office.

I flew down and had to take a taxi to and from. On the way to the office, a fairly large box truck bounced off the walls of the Lincoln Tunnel coming towards us at a fairly good clip, how we avoided disaster I'll never know, I had my eyes closed, hoping the powers that be, heard an agnostic's prayer!

On the way back to the airport, our driver decided to cut off another car, both came to a stop, drivers jumped out and nearly came to blows. I made my flight back to Boston...barely. From that point forward I converted to the Acela on Amtrak for my regular trips to the NYC office!

Well done Sir and thank you!

Oh...by the way...do I remember correctly, that there were thoughts expressed that Lovely Rita may return in her own saga?

Edited by drsawzall
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3 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

:rofl:  I always pay attention to the safety presentations.  :P  

Your depictions of the drive in NY are spot on.  I was right there in the vehicle with him, weaving through traffic and trying not to get carsick :puke: I will never drive in NYC... nope nope nohow never ever :P  

I love the descriptions of the music.  They bring it to life in a way that makes me hear it and picture it at the same time.  Bravo! :worship:  

It sounds like everything worked out perfectly.  I'm glad Marta got away from her parents and found her way back to Jed.  Too  bad Heinrich Sr never accepted Rick for who he is.  I'm glad Rick and Gus got their HEA.  Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story with us! :hug:  

 

You and Rick are in the minority concerning pre-flight safety messaging, I fear. As for driving in NYC, Rick was treated the services of a person who has plenty of confidence, and the skills of a NASCAR driver. I hope the journey to Carnegie Hall didn't leave you feeling queasy. At least the concert delighted you, and I'm glad the descriptions helped you listen as you read. Were the links at the end helpful? Marta and Jared have teamed up on a more permanent basis; better still, because Jared appears to be working with Rick, that means Rick and Gus might be able to do more than go fishing together. It is not too late for Heinrich Senior to reconcile to his son, and it is to be wondered if he realizes his own mortality. Time for the old man is running low. Thank you so much for reading, and for all your many comments!

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3 hours ago, Ivor Slipper said:

I suppose all good things have to come to an end, but after 36 weeks Thurdays just won't seem the same! 🙂

It was good to know that Marta did manage to reconnect with Jared, but the epilogue did leave one question unanswered. Whatever happened to Rita McKee? Surely her body isn't at the bottom of Eagle Lake??

I'm grateful you read the whole of Rick and Gus' story. Yes, it had to come to an end, but this seemed like a good resting place. Think of this as your well-earned summer vacation. Jared and Marta really made a deep impression on one another. The waited for one another - and she managed to escape whatever her parents had planned. As for Rita McKee's fate, I can confirm that her body does not rest at the bottom of Eagle Lake (or any other body of water).  If there is redemption to be had, she may one day experience it. But that will require inspiration I do not currently have, alas. Thank you again for allowing this story to fill at least a part of your Thursdays for so long.

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1 hour ago, drsawzall said:

Not having jumped to the end of the comments, to make my own first, I can only say, everything I wanted to say has been said.

Thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and exceptionally well written. A master class in first rate wordsmithing. The drive thru NYC reminded me of the first time I had to go to the company I worked for NYC office.

I flew down and had to take a taxi to and from. On the way to the office, a fairly large box truck bounced off the walls of the Lincoln Tunnel coming towards us at a fairly good clip, how we avoided disaster I'll never know, I had my eyes closed, hoping the powers that be, heard an agnostic's prayer!

On the way back to the airport, our driver decided to cut off another car, both came to a stop, drivers jumped out and nearly came to blows. I made my flight back to Boston...barely. From that point forward I converted to the Acela on Amtrak for my regular trips to the NYC office!

Well done Sir and than you!

Oh...by the way...do I remember correctly, that there were thoughts expressed that Lovely Rita may return in her own saga?

I am very happy that you found this chapter, and this story enjoyable. Your comments are most generous, and I'm grateful. I wish I had mined your experiences for Rick's journey from LaGuardia to Carnegie Hall. Your descriptions sounded far too exciting! I imagine Rick was happy to let someone else do the driving. As for the Lovely Rita, I have wondered if she could ever be redeemed. It may indeed be possible. It's something I may take some time to think about under the summer sun, in any case.

Thanks again for reading and for your comments.

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