Stone Quarry

Chapter One

Stone Quarry

Stone Quarry

It can be a treacherous road, State Route 30, especially rain-slick in the twilight of late winter, but I know it well. I sped along its badly banked curves faster than legal and faster than necessary. I was heading for Antonelli’s; I had plenty of time. I drove that way just for the charge, pushing the road, feeling its rhythm in my fingers, its speed in the current in my spine. Water hissed under my tires and my headlights reflected off the fat raindrops that splattered the blacktop in front of me.

Years ago, 30 carried a fair amount of tourist traffic, but even then it was people on their way to somewhere else. Now that the state highway slices through the northern part of the county and the Thruway wraps around it, no one passes through Schoharie anymore unless they mean to stop, and not many have a reason to do that. The tourist brochures call this countryside picturesque. If you look closely, though, you’ll see the caved-in roofs and derelict silos, the junked cars and closed roadside diners with their faded billboards. These rocky hills were never good for much except hunting and dairy farming. Farming’s a hard way to make a living, getting harder; and hunters are men like me, who come and go.

The hiss of water became the crunch of gravel in the lot in front of Antonelli’s. I swung in, parked at the edge. I had Mozart in the CD player, Mitsuko Uchida playing the B-flat Sonata, and I lit a cigarette, opened the window, listened as the music ended in triumph and the exhilaration of promises fulfilled.

Then I left the car and strolled over to look across the valley. I was early. City habits die hard.

Hands in my pockets, I let my eyes wander the far hills, asked myself what I was doing. Work wasn’t what this place was about for me. But on the phone, when Eve Colgate had called, I’d heard something: not her words, clipped and businesslike, but the long, slow melody under them. Raindrops tapped my jacket; a tiny stream ran through the gravel at my feet, searching for the valley.

Unexpectedly, I thought of Lydia, her voice on the phone when I’d called to tell her I was coming up here, would be away awhile. There was music in Lydia’s voice, too; there always was, though I’d never told her that. She wasn’t surprised or bothered that I was leaving. Over the four years we’ve known each other she’s come to expect this, my sudden irregular disappearances and returns. In the beginning, of course, I never told her when I was going, didn’t call when I got back. Then, we just worked together sometimes; if she needed someone while I was gone, there were other PIs to call. But at some point, and I couldn’t say just when, I’d started calling, to let her know.

The rain was ending. Wind rolled the high black clouds aside, revealing a sky that was still almost blue. The air was full of the smell of earth and promise, everything ready, tense with waiting. Soon spring would explode through the valley and race up the hills, color and noise engulfing the sharp silence. I stood for a while, watched tiny lights wink on in the windows of distant homes. When the sky was dark I turned and went inside.

The crowd in Antonelli’s was small and subdued. A golf tournament, all emerald grass and blue sky and palm trees, flickered soundlessly from the TV over the bar. A couple of guys who probably thought golf was a sport were watching it. A few other people were scattered around, at the bar, at the small round tables. None of them was the woman I had come to meet.

I slid onto a bar stool. Behind the bar, Tony Antonelli, a compact, craggy man whose muscles moved like small boulders under his flannel shirt, was ringing up someone’s tab. He looked over at me and nodded.

“Figured you were up,” he said, clinking ice into a squat glass. He splashed in a shot of Jim Beam and handed it to me. “Saw smoke from your place yesterday.”

“Big help you are,” I said. “Whole place could burn down, you’d just watch.”

“Happens I drove down to make sure your car was there, wise ass. I oughta charge you for the gas.”

“Put it on my tab.” I drank. “How’s Jimmy?” I asked casually.

Tony turned, busied himself with glasses and bottles. “Still outta jail. ”

I said nothing. He turned back to me. “Well, that’s what you wanna know, ain’t it? Make sure all your hard work ain’t been wasted? ”

“No,” I said. “I knew that. How is he?”

“How the hell do I know? He don’t live with me no more; he moved in with some girl. If I see him I’ll tell him you’re askin’. ”

I nodded and worked on my bourbon. Tony opened Rolling Rocks for two guys down the other end of the bar. He racked some glasses, filled a couple of bowls with pretzels. Then he turned, reached the bourbon bottle off the shelf. He put it on the bar in front of me.

“Sorry,” he said. “It ain’t you. I oughta be thankin’ you, I guess. But that no-good punk pisses the hell outta me. He never shoulda came to you. He gets his ass in trouble, he oughta get it out.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “How come you never gave him a break, Tony?”

Tony snorted. “I was too busy feedin’ him! What the hell you see to like in that kid, Smith?”

I grinned. “Reminds me of me.”

“You musta been one godless bastard.”

“I was. Only I didn’t have a big brother like you, Tony. I was worse.”

“Yeah, well, he should’n’a came to you. And don’t think you’re gonna pay that candy-ass lawyer you brought here. I told you to send me his goddamn bill.”

“Forget it. He owed me.”

“That’s between you and him. I been bailin’ Jimmy’s ass outta trouble for years; I got no reason to stop now. I don’t like the kid, Smith, but I’m family. You ain’t.”

I looked at Tony, at the sharp line of his jaw, his brows bristling over his deep-set eyes. “No,” I said slowly. “No, I’m not.” I poured myself another drink, took the drink and the bottle to a table in the corner, and sat down to wait for Eve Colgate.

 

Another bourbon and a cigarette later, the door opened and a tall, gray-haired woman stepped into the smoky room. No heads turned, no conversations stopped. She looked around her, reviewing and dismissing each face until she came to mine. She stayed still for a moment, with no change of expression; then she came toward me, contained, controlled. She wore a down vest over a black sweater, old, stained jeans, muddy boots. I stood.

“Mr. Smith?” She offered her hand. Her grip was sure, her hand rough. “Thank you for coming.”

“Sit down.” I held a chair for her.

“Thank you.” She smiled slightly. “Men don’t do this much anymore–help ladies into their seats.”

“I was born in Kentucky. What are you drinking?”

“Tony keeps a bottle of Gran Capitan under the bar for me.” The skin of her face was lined like paper that someone had crumpled and then, in a moment of regret, tried to smooth out again. Her blunt, shoulder-length hair was a dozen shades of gray, from almost-black to almost-white. I went to get her drink.

Tony gestured across the room with his eyes as he poured Eve Colgate’s brandy. “You know her?”

“Just met. Why?”

“I meant to tell you she was askin’ about you, coupla days ago. Wondered about it, at the time. She don’t usually talk to nobody. Comes in alone, has a shot, leaves alone. Maybe sometimes she talks cows or apples with somebody. She ain’t–I don’t know.” He shook his head over what he didn’t know. “But she’s got money.”

“My type, Tony.” I picked up her brandy from the bar.

“Hey!” Tony said as I turned. I turned back. “You ain’t workin’ for her? ”

“Nah. She just thinks I’m cute.”

“With a puss like you got?” Tony muttered as I walked away.

Eve Colgate’s mouth smiled as I put her drink on the scarred tabletop. Her eyes were doing work of their own. They were the palest eyes I’d ever seen, nearly colorless. They probed my face, my hands, swept over the room around us, followed my movements as I drank or lit a cigarette. When they met my eyes they paused, for a moment. They widened slightly, almost imperceptibly, and I thought for no reason of the way a dark room is revealed by a lightening flash, and how much darker it is, after that.

I smoked and let Eve Colgate’s eyes play. I didn’t meet them again. She took a breath, finally, and spoke, with the cautious manner of a carpenter using a distrusted tool.

“I’m not sure how to begin.” She sipped her brandy. If I had a dollar for every client who started that way I could have had a box at Yankee Stadium, but there was a difference. They usually said it apologetically, as if they expected me to expect them to know how to begin. Eve Colgate was stating a fact that I could take or leave.

“I called you on a matter difficult for me to speak about. I don’t know you, and I don’t know that I want you closely involved in myÖin my personal affairs. However, I don’t seem to have many options, and all of them are poor. You may be the best of them.”

“That’s flattering.”

She looked at me steadily. “Don’t be silly. I can’t pretend to welcome the intrusion you represent. I’m too old to play games for the sake of your pride, Mr. Smith. I may need you, but I can’t see any reason to be pleased about it.”

I couldn’t either, so I let it go.

She went on, her words clipped. “However, things are as they are. At this point, Mr. Smith, I’d like to know something more about you. All I have up to now are other people’s opinions, and that’s not enough. Is this acceptable?”

“Maybe. It depends on what you want to know.”

“I’ll tell you what I do know. I know you bought Tony’s father’s cabin ten years ago. You come up here irregularly, sometimes for long periods. Tony says you’re moody and you drink. Other than that he speaks very highly of you. I understand you helped get his brother out of serious trouble recently–and went to considerable trouble to do it.”

“The kid deserved a chance. He was in over his head in something he didn’t understand. I bought that cabin twelve years ago. I sleep in the nude.”

She looked at me sharply over her brandy. Her movements were small and economical. In contrast to her eyes, her body was composed and still.

“And are you always rude to your clients?” she asked.

“More often than I’d like to be.” I refilled my glass from Tony’s bottle. “I’ve been a private investigator for sixteen years, twelve in my own shop. Before that I was carpenter. I’ve been to college and in the Navy. I drink, I smoke, I eat red meat. That’s it. ”

“I doubt it,” said Eve Colgate. “Have you a family, Mr. Smith?”

I took a drink. “I had.”

“But no longer?”

“I’m hard to live with.”

“Was your wife also hard to live with?”

“Her second husband doesn’t think so.”

“And children?”

That was territory where no one went. I drank, put my cigarette out. “Look, Miss Colgate, you called me. I can use the work, but not the inquisition. I gave you references; call them if you want, ask about me.”

“I have.” She didn’t continue.

“Well, that’s all you get.”

We drank in silence for a while. Eve Colgate’s eyes never rested. They swept the room, probing the comers, counting the bottles on Tony’s shelves. They inspected the cobwebs at the rafted ceiling. Every now and then, unpredictably, they returned to me, settling on my face, my hands, taking off again.

“Yes,” she said suddenly, draining her glass. “You’ll do. I’ll expect you tomorrow morning. Do you know where I live?”

“You’ll expect me to do what?”

“Some–things were stolen from me. They’re worth a good deal of money; and yet they’re not as valuable to the thief as they are to me. I want them back.”

“The police are good at that sort of thing.”

Her eyes flashed. “I’m not a stupid woman, Mr. Smith. If I’d wanted the police involved I would have called them.”

“Why haven’t you?”

She stood. So did I. “I don’t want to discuss it here. If, after I tell you what I need done, you don’t want to do it, I’ll pay you for your time and your trip. Thank you for the drink, Mr. Smith.” She walked from the room, her back straight, her steps measured.

 

When the door shut behind her the bar was the same as it had been before, as it had always been. Men and women who’d been stopping in at Antonelli’s after work since Tony’s father had run the place bought each other drinks, talked quietly about sports, the weather, their cars, and their kids. In the back, laughing, smoking, drinking beer from the bottle, was a tableful of young kids who’d been children when I first started coming here. Now that rear table was clearly theirs, Antonelli’s as much their place as their parents’. Room had been made for them, and Antonelli’s continued.

I swirled the bourbon around in my glass, then signaled to Marie, Tony’s waitress, who was leaning on the bar chewing gum and trading wisecracks with the Rolling Rock drinkers. “Hi,” she said, bouncing over to my table. “Can I get you something?” Her shaggy hair was bleached to a very pale blond, fine and soft.

“Hi.” I pointed to my glass. “I need more ice, and I’m starving. What do you have?”

“Lasagna.” She nibbled on a maroon fingernail that must have been an inch long. “And bean soup. And the usual stuff.” She giggled.

I ordered the lasagna. Marie bounced off chomping openmouthed on her gum. I glanced up at the TV. The golf was over, the news was on. That meant there’d be NCAA basketball soon. I had a client, a bellyful of bourbon, and Tony’s lasagna coming. I stretched my legs and idly watched an elderly couple a few tables over. They were eating dinner in a silence punctuated only by quiet remarks and small gestures that dovetailed so perfectly they might have been choreographed.

I’d told Lydia I was coming up here, told her I’d be away; but I hadn’t said I’d be meeting a client, that I might be working.

I got up, bought a Mountain Eagle from the pile by the bar. Sipping my bourbon, I caught up on what had been happening since I’d last come up.

There was federal DOT money coming along and with it the state was planning to replace or rebuild three county roads. That was bad. Seven years ago they’d replaced this stretch of 30 with a faster, straighter road on the other side of the valley. Now this was strictly a local road and most of the establishments along it had died slow, lonely deaths. Antonelli’s was one of the few still open.

I glanced at the other lead stories. Appleseed Baby Foods was expanding. That was good. Appleseed was the only major employer in the county. Appleseed CEO Mark Sanderson smiled from a frontpage photo. I sipped my bourbon, considered the photo. In the old days, pictures of the state senator’s Christmas party or the county Fourth of July bash always included a shot of Mark Sanderson with his arm around the usually bare shoulders of his stunning wife, Lena. Then four years ago she’d left him, just walked away. Consensus among the women in the county seemed to be that anyone married to Mark Sanderson would have considered that option, maybe much earlier than Lena Sanderson did, but Sanderson reported her to the county Sheriff and to the State Troopers as a missing person, made anguished televised pleas for her to come home, and waited. My professional opinion at the time was that the cops would come up empty and we’d seen the last of her, and I was right. Looking at Sanderson’s round, smiling face now, it seemed to me he’d come through the whole thing pretty well.

I drank more bourbon, read on. New York State Electric and Gas had run an open meeting to get local comment on a natural gas pipeline they wanted to pull through the county. It would be heading down from Canada, where the gas was, to New York City, where it was needed. Local comment pro had to do with promised jobs. Local comment con was about tearing up fields, fencing off pastureland, polluted water, damaged crops, and the chance of major explosions. Pro won, hands down.

I lit a cigarette, turned the page. The Consolidated East girls’ basketball team had won the tri-county championship in a squeaker last Friday. There was a photo with this one too, sweaty, long-legged girls grinning at the camera, arms around each other’s shoulders. I imagined that picture fixed with magnets to refrigerator doors all around the county.

I was onto the Police Blotter–a lot of DWIs, one marijuana arrest-when Marie sashayed over, bringing silverware and a tall glass of ice. As she put them on my table the door swung open, letting a chill breeze push into the room.

I looked over. Three men stepped inside, chuckling as though they’d just exchanged a joke. They headed for the big table at the front. The first to sit, an angular, pasty man, cocked a finger at Marie, winking. The features on the left side of his face–ear, eye, eyebrow–were set a little higher than the ones on the right, and his nose was crooked. The other two men dropped themselves into chairs on either side of him. The big one was dark, with a thick, droopy mustache, wide shoulders, and an easy, friendly manner. The other was small and bony with bad skin and dead-brown hair.

Marie, paling, looked unsurely to Tony. Tony shook his head, lifted the gate, stepped around the bar.

“Who’s that?” I asked Marie quietly.

“Frank Grice,” she whispered, her eyes on Tony.

“No kidding.” I knew that name: The trouble Jimmy Antonelli had been in last fall, the hole I’d dug him out of, was because he’d been dumping stolen cars for Frank Grice, cars Grice used to run dope from Miami to Albany. But Grice denied knowing the kid, and Jimmy wouldn’t roll on, him. Grice left the state when the sheriff picked Jimmy up and came back after my lawyer had gotten him out. I knew the name; but this was the first time I’d laid eyes on him.

I ground out my cigarette and leaned forward in my chair as Tony walked to where the three men sat.

“You ain’t welcome here, Frank. ” He spoke low to Grice, ignoring the others. The line of his jaw was white. “Get out.”

“What kind of a way is that to talk, Tony?” Frank Grice smiled widely, spread his hands innocently, palms up. “We just came by for a drink.”

“Drink somewhere else.”

Grice didn’t answer. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his overcoat, pulled one loose. The big guy flicked a gold lighter for him. Grice looked at the flame as if it were something new and interesting. Lighting the cigarette, he looked up at Tony. Smoke streamed lazily from his mouth. He said something softly, so softly I couldn’t hear it. Tony went a deep red, I couldn’t hear his answer either. Grice stood suddenly. The other two exchanged looks, then followed suit. Grice sauntered to the door, opened it, and held it open, smiling the whole time, his cigarette dangling from his cockeyed lips. Tony half turned, searching for Marie. “Keep an eye on things,” he growled. “I’ll be right back.” He slammed forward, past Grice, through the open door. Grice followed, his boys followed him, and the door swung shut behind them.

Before the door closed I was out of my chair, moving swiftly past the bar and through the vinyl-padded doors that swung into the kitchen. Buzzing fluorescent lights, too bright, reflected off the stainless-steel counters. The room smelled of garlic and ammonia. A skinny kid up to his elbows in greasy water stared as I slipped out the kitchen door into the winter darkness. My steps made no sound as I rounded the corner of the building, a cold wind pushing its way through my shirt. Three figures–Tony, Grice, and the big, friendly man–leaned close together in the middle of the parking lot; a fourth, the little guy, stood by the bar’s front door. I worked my way in the shadows of parked cars.

I couldn’t see Tony’s face, but his voice came to me, tight and gravelly. “You don’t get it, Frank. I want you outta here, damn fast.”

“No, you don’t get it, Tony.” Grice’s voice still held a smile. “If I’m thirsty, you pour me a drink. If I’m hungry, you grill me a steak. That’s how it is now.”

“Hell it is,” Tony spat.

A nod from Grice, just a small movement of his misshapen head, and the big man slipped behind Tony like a shadow, pinned his arms as Grice smashed his fist into Tony’s belly. Tony doubled over, groaning. The big man pulled him up. Grice laughed, rubbed his fist into the palm of his other hand. He stopped laughing suddenly as I slammed into him like a freight train, spreading him backwards across the rusted trunk of an old red Chevy. I backhanded him once across the mouth, just to slow him down; then I sprang back, left him there. He was Tony’s.

Tony tore himself out of the big man’s surprised grip and reached both hands for Grice, hauled him off the car while I grabbed the big man’s shoulder, spun him around. I threw my best punch into the middle of his mustache. He wasn’t any bigger than I was, and my best wasn’t bad, but it didn’t faze him. He staggered back; then, spreading his lips in a hungry smile, he launched himself at me. I sidestepped, drove a kick into his ribs. He stumbled; I watched. Then something crashed into me from behind, knocked me to the ground. Small, bony hands tightened around my throat, squeezing, shaking. A knee dug into my back.

Gravel scraped the side of my face as I twisted, digging with my right foot, trying to shake off the little guy as my lungs began to strain for air. I groped at his hands pressing into my windpipe. My heart pounded, raced; yellow and red explosions started behind my eyes. His breath rasped loudly in my ear. I had no breath at all. The world got smaller, darker. Closing on one finger of each choking hand I forced them back, my muscles only half obeying, beginning to tremble. I put everything into bending those two fingers; at the last minute the hands loosened and I clawed them away from my throat.

I sucked air loudly and twisted left, yanking on his right arm. He slipped from my back; I drove my right elbow hard beside me into whatever was there. It landed solidly enough to send bolts of pain ricocheting up and down my arm. From the sounds behind me, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. I pulled away and got up on one knee and then the big man was back, with a fist the size of a bowling ball slamming into my chin. My head snapped back and I landed in a cold muddy puddle. I lay motionless, breathing hard.

The big man leaned over me, relaxed and smiling, for a good look. When he was near enough that I could smell the stale coffee on his breath. I shot my arms out and grabbed his jacket, pulled my knee to my chest, shoved my foot into his gut. I straightened my leg and threw his away from me, and this time when he stumbled I was right there, three fast mean punches pounding his face and another sharp kick up under his ribs. He moaned and started to sag. I clenched my hands together and swung them like a hatchet down on the place where his neck joined his shoulder. At first nothing happened; then he fell over sideways like a tree. I stepped back, panting, and looked around. The little bony guy was standing now but he was a lot smaller than I was and he wouldn’t try to take me again, not from the front where I could see him coming. I grinned so he’d know I knew that.

A loud, wordless sound came from behind me. I whipped around and saw Tony sitting on Frank Grice’s chest, his knees pinning Grice’s arms, his square fist thumping repeatedly into Grice’s already bloody face. “Tony!” I yelled hoarsely. “Hey, Tony, that’s enough! Come on, man, you’re going to kill him.”

I pulled Tony back and off Grice, who groaned, rolled, and worked his way slowly to his feet. Tony struggled in my grip and I held him, not relaxing until he did.

“All right?” I asked, as his rocky muscles loosened under my hands. He nodded and I let him go.

Grice stood slightly stooped, breathing noisily through his mouth. He lifted a hand to his face, cupping his nose, then moved the hand away. “You’ll pay for this, Tony,” he hissed. “This was stupid. And you”–he turned his bloody face to me–“whoever the hell you are, stay the fuck out of my way from now on.”

“Aw, Frank,” I said, my voice still hoarse. “Why should Tony have all the fun? ”

Something flared in Grice’s eyes. I suddenly noticed how cold I was, soaked with sweat and muddy water out here in the winter night.

“Go on, Tony,” Grice said, still looking at me. “You bring in all the smartass muscle you want. It won’t help you, Tony.” He coughed.

“I don’t need no help, you son of a bitch,” Tony snarled, taking two fast steps toward Grice.

From off to my right a voice like gears grinding said, “Don’t do that. ” I spun around. Ten feet away, the little bony guy was planted, legs spread apart, holding an automatic pointed at the center of Tony’s chest.

Grice and Tony saw the gun the same time I did. Everyone froze, and for a long moment no one moved in the graveled lot under the blue-black sky, scattered now with more stars than a man could count, even in a long lifetime.

My gun was pressed to my ribs under my flannel shirt, as out of reach as the stars.

Then Grice laughed, a short, guttural sound, as of something being ripped in two. “Oh, Christ, Wally. What the hell is that for? Put it away. Come on, let’s go.” He looked at me, then at Tony. “Next time,” he said.

He turned sharply and walked to a big blue Ford, got in the front passenger door. The little guy hesitated, swore, then tucked the gun into his belt. He grabbed the big man, who looked as if he wasn’t sure what day it was. Steering him to the car, he shoved him through the rear door, got behind the wheel, and sprayed gravel tearing out of the lot.

Tony and I watched the red glow of their taillights vanish down 30. “I don’t like your friends,” I told him.

“You got Frank pissed off at you now,” he said.

I fingered my left cheek carefully. It felt hot and sore. “You owe him, Tony?”

Tony turned to me. A lead curtain fell behind his eyes. “I don’t owe nobody, Smith.” He wiped his hand down his sweaty face. “You shoulda stayed out of it.”

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “But I was hungry. Grice beats the shit out of you, I don’t get my lasagna.”

We turned together, headed back toward the door. The ancient, pitted tin sign that read “Antonelli’s,” Tony’s father’s sign, creaked as it swung in the wind. A smile cracked Tony’s face. “Sucker,” he said. “I’m outta lasagna.”

 

Two hours later, full of food, warmer, I turned my eight-year-old Acura onto the dirt road that leads from 30 down to my cabin. The single lane was rutted and slippery, ruts that fit my tires exactly because almost no one drove that road but me. I parked in the flat field next to my place and spent a long time leaning on the car, looking at the stars through the black cross-hatching of tree branches.

Inside, I turned on the lamp in the front room. The cedarpaneled walls soaked up most of the light, except where the glass frame of a photograph or drawing caught it, threw it back. When I bought the cabin it wasn’t winterized, so I’d done that, insulating, finishing with cedar because it stood up well to damp and I liked the smell. I’d reroofed, too, and rebuilt the porch; this year, as soon as the weather was warm enough, I was going to replace the chimney.

I shed my jacket, threw it over the broken-in reading chair by the window. As I turned, lamplight glinted on the child’s silver-framed photograph in the middle of the bookshelves. Days, weeks could go by without my looking at that picture, knowing it was there but feeling it only as a source of warmth, a hand on my shoulder. At those times I felt almost at peace; sometimes I even thought I wanted to talk about it, although I didn’t know with whom and I never tried.

And then other times, like now, I’d walk by too close, too close, and slice my heart on the sharp edges of Annie’s smile. Then the old pain would well up from where it lived in the hollows of my bones, and my eyes would grow hot. Ambushed by this aching, I would stare, as I did now, into this picture that never changed, and wonder why I kept it here, where it was so dangerous. Seven years ago I’d packed away the pictures I’d had in New York, and all her things. Her things were gone from here, too; this was all that I had left, all I’d kept, and I wondered why.

But I knew.

Because although the fresh prettiness of her face, the round cheeks and soft brown eyes and the wave in her hair, had all been her mother’s, that sharp, slanted smile was mine.

And because, in all her nine years, I had never seen Annie afraid.

I turned away from the picture. I poured myself some Maker’s Mark, left the bottle out. I drank, then flexed my hands, palms up, palms down; they seemed all right, so I carried the bourbon to the piano bench and raised the cover off the keyboard of the old, battered Baldwin.

I ran through a series of scales, the keys cold and smooth and hard under my fingers; then, after a still minute and a few deep breaths, I started on the Mozart B Minor Adagio, trying out the phrasing that had been running around my head since morning. It didn’t really work, but I played through the piece anyway, twice, and then went on to more Mozart, the Sonata in A Minor, which I’d been playing a lot longer and played better.

As I moved into it, the power and the tension in me grew until my whole body rang with them, with the exhilaration of balancing on a very narrow beam, barely controlling the lines of the music as they wove toward and away from each other, building, fading, stopping and not stopping, only my hands preventing chaos, creating just enough order for just enough time that the immense beauty of the music could exist here, now, in this dark, small place halfway down a wooded winter hillside, under a million stars.