I leaned over to Alexis and whispered, “Who are we here to see?”
I thought I caught a hint of rolled eyes, but she marshaled herself admirably. “It’s not so much who we’re here to see,” she said in a whisper. “It’s who we’re here to hear.”
I nodded thoughtfully. I glanced around the symphony hall that was slowly filling up with people. The women wore nice dresses of black or regal colors. They all glittered with jewels and precious metals and their hair was impeccably coiffed. The men generally wore black or blue suits except for the occasional rebel that wore tweed sportscoats with patches on the sleeves. I’m surprised such subversives were admitted. I’m quite sure the management doesn’t care much for ruffians and vagabonds. I couldn’t help but notice that the men in tweed were unaccompanied by the fairer sex. Who wants to be seen with a vagrant wearing herringbone?
“So, then who are we here to hear?” I whispered to the lovely little Mrs. Callington.
“Vivaldi,” she said simply, for she was distracted by looking all around us to see if she knew anyone. She certainly seemed more intent on seeing someone than hearing them.
I nodded, again thoughtfully. “I am pretty sure he is dead, isn’t he?” I asked. “It would be quite a miracle if he were to show up on time given the circumstances.”
“He’s not here in person,” she whispered in exasperation. “They are playing his music.”
“Well, that’s wonderful,” I said, nodding my head approvingly. “I’m sure he would like that, God rest his soul. What a nice way to honor the deceased.”
“They play him every year,” she said. “It is tradition. The third concert every season is Vivaldi. Really, Dear, I’d think you’d know that. We have been season ticket holders for years.”
“Ah,” I said. “I didn’t know he was part of the regular rotation. Third concert every year, eh? Good for him. He deserves it.”
“Oh look,” she whispered suddenly, putting her hand on my arm just above my wrist to simultaneously get my attention and to tell me to shush.
“What am I looking at?” I asked, trying unsuccessfully to follow her gaze to see what she was looking at. All I saw were well-dressed concert goers looking for their seats, obviously eager for a generous dose of Vivaldi.
“There is Tricia,” she whispered, and flicked her chin almost imperceptibly towards a knot of people looking for their seats.
“Oh, jolly good,” I exclaimed in an approving whisper. I had no idea which of the 20 or 30 women who lay in the direction of Alexis’ nod was Tricia. Or how we knew her. But I’ve found it best in these situations to just play along. “It’s good to see her up and about.”
“I can’t stand her,” said Alexis through clenched teeth, her grip tightening on my arm.
“Nor can I,” I said, quickly changing teams. “Can you believe her gall at showing up here tonight? What would Vivaldi say?”
The little woman glanced at me in what could either be exasperation or amazement that I was somewhat able to keep up with the batting lineup.
“It’s not so surprising,” she said. “Her husband is Herb Blakely of Blakley’s Better Bitters. They are one of the patrons of the symphony”
I perked up.
“Blakley’s? The beer magnate?”
“Yes. And she is insufferable about it, even though she merely married into the family.”
“How dare she!” I said with high dudgeon, for I thought that’s what the situation called for. I’ve found it’s always best to stay on the good side of someone with a high and unpredictable temper, particularly if that person is within arm’s reach. “Although,” I said, striking a more contemplative tone, willing to see both sides of the situation, “If one simply must get married, one could do worse than marrying a titan of the ales and spirits industry.”
“It’s not that she married into the family,” she said, still gazing with gimlet eyes at the group which contained the odious Tricia, “It’s that she lords it over everyone as if she were royalty.”
“The nerve!” I said hotly. Then, with what I considered to be an acceptable length of pause, followed with, “Do you suppose the bar in the lobby is stocked with Blakley’s since they are a patron?”
“How can you possibly be thinking about beer at a time like this?”
I drew myself up, cut to the quick. “Hey, I am on Team Vivaldi,” I said. “I’ll buy one of his jerseys in the lobby after the show. I’m perfectly fine without a rejuvenating tonic. I am perfectly content to sit and have my fill of Vivaldi for …what would you say … 20 minutes?” I put out feelers for what she thought the duration of the concert might be.
“The concert lasts for two hours,” she said, her face in a bit of a frown.
“Two hours?” I asked, shocked. “Just how much music did this Vivaldi fellow write?”
“He wrote hundreds of concertos and sonatas and even some operas.”
“Hundreds?” I asked, aghast. I may have paled a bit. “Who could possibly have had time to compose hundreds of anything back then?” I asked. “Weren’t there plagues or wars or inquisitions that took up a lot of peoples’ time?”
But my little dimpled daffodil had other things on her mind.
“I am going to go over and talk to her,” she said.
I may have been a bit confused at this point. “I thought you couldn’t stand her,” I said.
“Well then that makes going over to see her seem a little … well … fatuous.”
“Not at all. Have you forgotten that I have been put in charge of the big charity fundraiser next month?”
“Of course, I haven’t forgotten,” I said, looking hurt that she would think such a thing. “But what exactly are we raising funds for again?”
“For the Polk Inn restoration.”
“Ah, yes,” I said. “How could I forget the ol’ Polk Inn restoration project? If anything around here needs restoring, it is the Polk Inn. Why, just last week I was telling Jeremy at the club that the ol’ Polk place was becoming an eyesore and in need of some major restoration.”
But I was talking to myself. My Lovely Little Dahlia had gotten up and approached the abominable Tricia with purpose. It was obvious she was willing to set aside her distaste of Tricia for her enthusiasm for the Polk Inn restoration. Which, now that I think about it, just where in the heck is the Polk Inn? I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it before. However, this was no time to spend contemplating dilapidated old piles of brick and wood where Washington may or may not have slept. The time had come for action. To think was to do and, just like a hare would do if the cobra were to look away for a moment, I bolted and in a moment, I was in the lobby, one foot on the brass footrail, my forearms against the highly-polished bar.
“I’ll have a pint of Blakely’s, please, Barkeep,” I said.
“Yes, sir,” came the reply and he turned to pull the amber fluid into a pint glass.
“Oh, you like Blakely’s do you?” asked the whiskered man beside me. He looked for all the world like a sea captain from the days of Clipper ships. He wore a navy-blue blazer with gold buttons on it, white shirt, blue slacks, and blindingly polished black shoes. He had a slightly nautical air about him, possibly due to his thick, gray beard.
“I must say, I do,” I said, hoisting the full glass of it in a sort of toast. “I’ve always said that if there’s one thing that goes swimmingly with two hours of Vivaldi, it is a pint or two of Blakely’s finest.”
“I’m glad you like it,” said the nautical-aired man. “Grandfather would be pleased.”
“Grandfather?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “I say, you’re not related to Vivaldi, are you?”
“Oh, goodness no,” he said. “I’m about all Vivaldi’d up. If the wife drags me off to one more of his operas, I think I might just become a hermit. Last month she dragged me off to see “La verità in cimento” and I seriously contemplated jumping from our box seats and making a run for it.”
“So, no relation, then?” I asked, having picked up on his coolness towards the Vivaldi family. Perhaps there was an old family feud still going on between his family and the Vivaldi’s.
“Not a bit. No, the grandfather I was referring to was Grampa Blakely.”
My eyes widened. “So …. So … you’re …”
“Yes, yes,” he sighed. “I’m one of those Blakely’s. Herb Blakely, to be exact.”
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying it, you sound a lot less happy about that than I would be if I were one of those Blakely’s.”
He shrugged and took a hearty drink of one of his own beers. “People think ales and spirits is all fun and games,” he said, almost sadly.
“A common misperception,” I agreed sympathetically.
“But it is just like any other business,” he said. “My days are filled with accountants and lawyers and marketers.”
I shuddered. There but for the grace of God go I, I thought to myself. I patted him sympathetically on the back.
“I’m sorry to hear that, old man,” I said sympathetically. “A man in your position should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors without having to deal with such things.”
He nodded and glanced at me appreciatively. “You seem like you understand my situation.”
“I do. I do,” I said. “I avoid lawyers and accountants and marketers like the plague. Of course, I am handicapped somewhat by having married one.”
“Which? An accountant or a lawyer or a marketer?”
“I can’t really remember,” I said. “But she is one of the three.”
We both sipped contemplatively on our Blakely’s while leaning against the bar.
“What you need,” I said finally, “Is something else to take your mind off of the unsavory characters you are forced to associate with.”
“You mean like a hobby?”
“No, something more than a hobby. Something that will give you purpose and a sense of fulfillment.”
“What do you suggest?”
I looked around, trying to think of something. It was at that moment I saw my diminutive daisy stalking purposefully and with pique into the lobby looking for me. In desperation, my mind tossed me a lifesaver in the form of an idea.
“You should take on a project that will challenge you and yet fulfill you. For instance, you could take over the restoration of the old Polk Inn project. Now there is a project worthy of the talents and energies of a man like you.”
He stared off into space for a moment as if trying to imagine himself leading the resurrection of a moldering pile of old lumber and masonry. I could feel Alexis’ footsteps drawing ever nearer.
“It would be just the thing to bring you back your joie de vivre,” I said, trying to push him over the edge.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said, warming to the idea.
“Buttercup!” I said brightly to Alexis now that she was in our midst. She was about to give me a speech on temperance, but I jumped in quickly before she could build up a head of steam. “I’d like you to meet my friend Mr. Herb Blakely.”
“Blakely?” she asked, her eyes widening and all of the ire draining out of her. She suddenly became the solicitous flower that I had married long ago. My stock just went up considerably in her eyes.
“Yes,” I said, as they shook hands. “And furthermore, he has agreed to take on the Polk Inn restoration project.”
There are few things in a man’s life that fills him with a sense of accomplishment and victory like avoiding a dressing down by his petite jolie fleur. Of course, the antidote to that feeling of warmth and happiness is two hours of Vivaldi.