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Player Piano

Chapter 3

Roger left the house at one o'clock to meet his client. The negotiation this afternoon was one he'd earned his fee on; two neighbors had been feuding, with their "practical jokes" on each other becoming increasingly annoying to all the neighbors. Said neighbors had banded together to bring him in, telling him to use whatever means necessary to get the roughhousing to stop.

He'd been sorely tempted to bring the two pranksters together and bang their foreheads until they saw eye to eye, but he'd been able to shame them into sitting down and talking, and it looked like there would now be peace.

He unlocked the Griffon, climbed in, and sighed. What he needed was a drink, and a quiet place to relax. His watch said that dinner was almost an hour away, so he started the car and drove toward Amadeus.

The bar was lively tonight; a slight, swarthy man was playing clarinet, with Instro at the piano. Roger didn't recognize the tune, but it had a jazzy air, ending on an improbably high note. The muscles behind his ears tensed; this was not what he had in mind for relaxation. The other patrons seemed to like it, however.

The next piece was a change of pace; low and mellow, it was as refreshing as the scotch Roger sipped. This song must have been the end of the set, because the clarinetist put his instrument down, and he and Instro circulated around the room. When they reached Roger's table, Instro said, "Hello, Roger Smith. I'd like you to meet my friend Daoud Levy."

Roger stood and shook the man's hand. "You must be the clarinetist for the Orchestra." The three sat.

"That's right," Levy answered in a clear tenor. "Instro asked if I'd moonlight here a couple times a month."

"Dorothy Wayneright works for Roger," Instro said.

"Ah! And did you come to learn how she did today?" Levy asked with a grin. At Roger's headshake "no," he said, "But I will tell you anyway! What a girl! What talent! What brains! What looks! A little quiet, perhaps, but that is only natural in a new setting. You're a lucky man, Mr. Smith."

"Thank you," Roger replied uncomfortably.

Instro noticed Roger's discomfort. "Now, Daoud," he said, "don't bulldoze Roger. He hasn't developed immunity to your silver tongue." To Roger, he said, "Daoud is a bit enthusiastic, but we did do well for a first practice session."

Roger forced a smile. "That's good news." He sipped his drink, casting about for a topic. "I understand you'll be playing Rhapsody in Blue."

Levy grinned again. "That's a challenge. That long run up to B-flat - all on one breath -- is one of the most fiendish runs in music."

There was no peace to be had here. Roger finished the drink and stood up. "I need to get home to dinner. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Levy." They shook hands again.

"Give my regards to Miss Wayneright," were Levy's parting words, and they set Roger's teeth on edge.

The evening started badly. Dorothy had been practicing when he got home, and his attempt at a joke about "all play and no work" had drawn a swift retort about promptness at mealtimes. Conversation was chilled and formal at dinner, and even Norman's apple pie couldn't sweeten the mood.

Roger stepped out on the rooftop after dinner. It was dark outside, and the overcast had dropped to form a hazy fog, blurring the outline of the dome to the west. At times like this, with the domes invisible, he could imagine what this city would look like without Paradigm Corporation's presence.

A movement inside caught his eye; Dorothy sat down at the piano. He watched her page partway through the music on the stand, then sketch out the right hand's section. She frowned in concentration as she traced the sheet music and played it slowly. She repeated the same section, this time with her left hand playing and her right tracing the music. Finally, she played the passage with both hands, still very slowly. She paused to turn the page and continued.

He opened the glass door and stepped inside. Dorothy stopped and looked at him. "Do you need someone to turn the music for you?" he offered.

She relaxed slightly and nodded. "Yes."

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