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Player Piano

Chapter 4

"Good morning, Master Roger," Norman said.

Roger opened his eyes. "Norman, what's the matter?" He looked blearily at the clock; 11 a.m. "Why are you in here before noon?"

Norman bowed slightly. "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but Miss Dorothy is at the Orchestra Hall. It's now raining hard. She shouldn't be riding her bicycle in this weather. I'll have your breakfast ready in ten minutes." He left.

"And why can't she take a taxi?" Roger asked the air, but he got up. Once dressed, he made his way down to breakfast. While he rapidly ate his eggs and toast, Norman said, "I received a telephone call from the tailor shop. Miss Dorothy's dress is ready."

"Right. We can pick it up on the way back." He finished, wiped his mouth, and stood up, heading for the elevator. After he had put on his overcoat, Norman handed him Dorothy's.

Rain sluiced across the street, overflowing the gutter and pooling at the corners. There was even less traffic than usual, as nobody wanted to be outside in weather like this. Even Roger drove more slowly than usual.

By the time he made it to the Orchestral Hall, the rain had slackened, but the streets were still full of water. Roger parked near the performers' entrance, and walked inside. The sounds of practicing lead him to the stage.

Madame Zaworski was standing by Dorothy at one piano, pointing out something on the sheet music. Dorothy looked up at her, nodded, and looked back to the music. Zaworski returned to the podium, picked up her baton, and said, "One more time through the rondo, gentlemen and ladies." She swung the baton down, and the orchestra started to play.

Instro's entrance was right on the beat, and so was Dorothy's. But where Instro seemed to be part of the music he was playing, Dorothy was laboring to keep up. When the movement ended, Instro looked ready to keep going. Dorothy dropped her hands to her lap and sat looking down at them.

"That's a good finish," commented Zaworski. "Thank you all, and I'll see you tomorrow." The players filed off the stage, passing Roger in the wings. Daoud Levy stopped for a few words with Dorothy.

Roger stepped up to Instro. "Hello, Instro. Good practice?"

"Hello, Roger Smith. There's an old saying, 'Get your mistakes out of the way in practice.' Today has been quite productive for that."

"What's with Dorothy?"

Instro looked over at her. Levy was still talking. "I would say that she is working too hard at this piece. She had the essence of it Monday, but now she's belaboring it. I suggested she'd be the better for a break, but I don't think she took the hint."

Roger thought back over the last three days. "No, I'd say she has been working on this whenever she was at the piano."

The android spread his hands. "That's the problem, then. Maybe you can persuade her. It would be a shame to perform the work as poorly as we did today." He stood up. "I should rescue her from Daoud's encouraging words."

Roger and Instro walked to Levy and Dorothy. Dorothy had not said one word the entire time, but Levy had talked enough for both.

"Dorothy," said Instro, "I'm sorry to break into your conversation, but I need to talk with Daoud about "Rhapsody in Blue." He led the other off.

Roger looked down to Dorothy, still seated at the piano. "Hello, Dorothy. Ready to go?"

"I brought my bicycle, Roger." Despite her usual lack of expression, she seemed tired.

"I know; I'll put it in the back. It's been raining hard, and Norman didn't want you getting soaked. Besides, we need to stop by the tailor's and pick up your dress." She obediently stood and walked with him to the back door. She collected her bicycle from the storage room next to the back door, and he opened the trunk and fit it in. He had to remove the front wheel and turn the handlebars before the lid would close. The rain had stopped, but the streets were still wet and slick.

She sat silently, staring straight ahead as he maneuvered on the main street. When he didn't turn at the usual place, she said, "That is the turn to go home." She wasn't looking at him.

"I'm taking a different route, down by the river." He pulled up at the greensward by the East River.

He opened her door, but she didn't move. "Dorothy, please come with me." She silently complied, and they walked slowly along the promenade.

"Did I ever tell you about my time at the Police Academy?" Roger asked, after they had gone a few hundred meters.

She shook her head.

Roger's lips twitched. "There was one time... we all participated in intramural sports. I was quite a sprinter back then, so I was the lead man in the 400-meter relay. Our team was the fastest in years. We were all eager for the last meet of the season. I'd practiced for weeks on my start, shaving my reaction time to a minimum. You might say I'd done little else."

He leaned on the handrail, looking out over the river and back ten years. "I shaved it too fine. When the meet came, I jumped the gun for a false start not once, but twice. A third time would disqualify us. I was so tense the third time that I tripped and nearly lost the baton. My three teammates made up much of our time, but we still came in last, by a fraction of a second." He cleared his throat. "It seems petty now, but at the time, I thought it was the end of the world. They would've won, had it not been for me," he finished bleakly, looking down at his hands.

"Dorothy..." he stopped and turned to face her. She looked up at him for the first time. "You know the music. You can play it. Right now, you need to let it go until the concert."

"But -" she stopped.

He shook his head. "No buts. I've seen how you've been practicing morning and night. Instro said he had suggested rest; now I am asking you. Please?"

Did her posture relax fractionally? "Yes, Roger. I will rest," she conceded.

"Good," he smiled. "I think we'd better head to the shop and get your dress."

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