From The Old Mermaid's Tale
HIS WORDS SEEMED MAGICAL. Albinoni, he said, Respighi. Donizetti.
First there was a Sunday afternoon concert in the library’s mezzanine. Then an evening in a small Irish pub where a woman who looked like she had stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting played the harp like an angel. He was seducing me with music, I thought. The words he used sounded like sex in distant languages. Flamenco, he said, Balalaika. Viol d’gamba. Lute.
Afterward there would be a walk to a restaurant where no one but lovers should be allowed to sip wine and tear at bread that shattered across the linen like glass. But we were not lovers and what we were filled me with confusion. His hands were like quartz and his voice was like smoke. In the light of candles his hair was a rage of blackbird wings and I wondered if the ashes of Jacques de Molay had willed itself into life again and he was the last of the Knights Templar riding through seas and galaxies and women’s appetites.
His behavior toward me was warm, protective, even caressing but he eluded questioning. He told me that he lived in one of the hotels Dante had pointed out where seamen stay. He played his music at The Old Mermaid Inn four or five nights a week. During the day he picked up extra work at the Customs House because, like many mariners, he spoke several languages but, unlike them, he could also read and write in those languages. Beyond that I knew nothing.
He would stop in the diner on his way to work at the Inn and offer an invitation but he never stayed. It seemed he was being cautious about how we were seen by others. He was a man who had learned to be careful. I was so besotted by his every gesture that I noticed little else in my life.
And then it was time for Baptiste.
He need not have worried. Even before he began to play, as he sat rolling back his shirt sleeves over thick arms, the slanting rays of a blue spotlight seemed to carve him out of the darkness like one of Michelangelo’s Prigioneri. And when the first shower of silvery notes shimmered from his guitar and the cool smoke of his voice rose over the crowd, breaths were held and eyes widened. Each song, the sea ballads he had questioned the merit of, was met with wild applause.
“There's someone waiting for you in your office.” She grinned and nodded toward the door. He looked at her.
“Go see.” Her smile told him that whoever it was had brightened her day, but that was no guarantee that it would his. In fact, knowing Donna, it probably wouldn't. Resisting the urge to draw his gun, Henry walked toward his office. The door stood open but the interior seemed unnaturally dark. A large man stood in front of the office's sole window with his back to the room, blocking the light. He was as tall as Henry and considerably wider, wearing a black leather jacket and faded jeans.
“Can I help you?” Henry asked.
The man turned toward him with a sly smile. He had a rugged, weather-lined face and wore mirrored sun-glasses—when he removed them they revealed familiar blue-green eyes.
“Hey, cuz,” he said in a gravelly voice, “miss me?”
Henry hesitated, then recognition flooded him with pleasure. “Boone Wilde! I don't believe it. Where the heck did you come from?” He crossed the room in two steps, hand extended. Boone took it in a hippie-handshake—thumbs locked around each other—then put his massive arms around Henry and hugged hard, nearly lifting him off his feet.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you with that shiny star on your chest,” Boone said.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you without a beard down to your gut.”
“I don't have a gut.” Boone patted his stomach and he was right. He was a huge man but did not appear to have an ounce of fat on him.