Time’s Bending Sickle

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2. Chronicle of Wasted Time

Dallas was quite a change for me. Instead of the lush green woodlands of the east and my native Appalachians, I found a lot of brown grass and a few scrubby trees. Jean’s folks lived in an older wooded section of town, but out in the raw suburb where our apartment complex had been piled up, the only tree was in a pot in the lobby. The city itself seemed sterile. It was largely made up of office buildings–insurance, finance, corporation headquarters–there was no industry to speak of. Cullen Computing Services was near the northern ring road, a big chunk of glass in the middle of the prairie. At least our apartment was close, so I didn’t have a long commute through the dreary landscape.
My work consisted, at first, in learning enough about computers and the services the company offered so that I could go out and sell them. It was moderately interesting, because it was new. In my training, I moved around the various departments and talked to a lot of people. The culture of the place began to interest me more than what I was supposed to be learning. It became clear that there were two tribes in uneasy coexistence: one could be identified by white shirts, ties, and haircuts; the other by the absence of one or all these insignia. The first tribe looked with indulgent contempt on the second, who in turn ignored the first whenever possible. When members of the first tribe spoke, the discourse eventually got to money; those in the second tribe occasionally mentioned it, but when they did, it was to say how much they needed for their project. It was clear that their relationship was symbiotic, though no one explicitly acknowledged it.
The attitude of both groups toward me, the boss’s son-in-law, was a mixture of deference and resentment, stronger in the tie and haircut tribe. But I listened and asked interested questions, and eventually gained some acceptance. Although I was being prepared for induction into the tie and haircuts, and wore their livery, I felt more affinity with the scruffier clan of engineers, designers, and programmers. When I was in school I got two haircuts a year, one before going home at Christmas, and one before going home for the summer. I hated ties, and wore them only when I had to. I also liked the programmers because more of them had an interest in serious music, and their absorption in their work seemed somehow more selfless and appealing than the others’ focus on money.
One engineer, Perry Fein, was also a violinist and quickly became one of my best friends at Cullen. He was a few years older than I was, a very good player who might have made it to a major orchestra. Although he was a good engineer with a head for applied math and a knack for getting a fresh perspective on a problem, music was his true love. But he quit the music major in college, he said, because he was too busy playing to practice.
“I know it’s paradoxical,” he said once during a break in a quartet session, “but we had to play in two orchestras and the opera workshop, plus do course work, so that I never had time to work on my playing. Also, there was not enough chamber music.” He pushed up the big hornrims that were constantly sliding down his nose.
“I like computers well enough, and the pay is good. It’s like doing crosswords for money. But I’ve known several orchestra players who might as well be plumbers, they are so burnt out on music. I don’t want to end up a bitter old man with tendinitis worrying about the hotshot on the desk behind me and slogging through ‘Bolero’ for the thousandth time. If I play something that much, I want it to be like this Mozart quartet–a piece that tells me something new each time I play it, one that challenges me to play it better next time.”
I didn’t make many friends in my own tribe. My immediate boss was Abner Cross, the man who would later try to shoot me. He was around fifty, and something of a professional Texan–he always wore boots and spoke with a Lyndon Johnson twang–but he was a natural salesman, and was especially successful with eastern clients, who tended to underestimate his shrewdness. He had a rumpled face which he could twist into a variety of sly grins, none of which expressed much warmth. He talked mostly of hunting and football, neither of which had interested me very much since high school.
Once during my apprenticeship I sat in Abner’s office while he lectured me on salesmanship.
“It’s like hunting,” he said. “You want to figure that customer out, see what part of the stream he likes to drink out of, track him down. When you know what he likes, what he wants, it’s like getting that eight-point buck in your crosshairs, and bam! You got him.”
His phone rang. I got up to leave, but he motioned me back to my seat.
“Hey there,” he said, grinning at the phone. “Ya’ll getting the hang of that program? What?” His grin sagged, then flowed into an innocent smile. “You must not be tweaking it right. Did you talk to that feller in engineering, John–John–” He began looking through the papers on his desk, his hand trembling. He paused and frowned. “He don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. You got to talk to John. Lemme call you back. I’ll check on it. You bet. Won’t be long. Sure. OK. Thanks for calling.” He hung up, then noticed me.
“We’ll chat some more later.” He winked and grinned. “Gotta help pull this ol’ boy’s head out of his ass.” He turned to his papers again. As soon as I was on my way out, his grin faded.
But Abner was not typical. The tone of the department was set by Howell Drew, the vice-president for field operations, whose only reason for living seemed to be competition. Under an exterior as smooth as Abner’s was wrinkled, he dominated any group by sheer undentable self-confidence. In dress and coiffure, he always managed to look like the average of all the models in the past month’s Esquire. He was a big man: he had been a defensive lineman in college, but also a cum laude economics major. After getting an MBA at Harvard, he came to Cullen, where he bowled his way to the top as easily as he would have sacked a high-school quarterback. It was said that the only person in the company who had any power over him was Oren Cullen himself. Howell’s speech was full of military metaphors; we troops must napalm the competition, conquer their territory, take no prisoners, capture the booty. He never used the word “money,” but he was a thesaurus of other terms for loot, lucre, bread, brass, and even cowrie. The unspoken word was a leitmotif running through everything he said.
Money forced itself into my own priorities rapidly. I was soon making more money than I ever had in my life, although my salary was modest. It was also inadequate. Despite some wedding gifts of cash and furniture, we were soon in debt. Once when we went shopping for stuff for the apartment, I drove to the big discount store.
“I don’t think we’ll find anything here,” Jean said.
“Why not? They have almost everything, and it’s cheap.”
“It’ll look cheap, too.”
“Let’s see.”
We looked at stainless tableware. “It’s hideous and flimsy.”
We looked at rugs. “All these are cheap and ugly.” She was right about the rugs. “I know we can’t afford orientals, but let’s at least get a couple of Karastans.”
I found a stereo on sale. “I know this is a good brand,” I said. “Consumer Reports gave it a high rating.”
“But look, the components don’t line up. Besides, that dial is garish.”
All we got from the discount store were some kitchen towels and wastebaskets. At the more expensive stores we got heavy stainless, Karastan rugs, and a handsome stereo that sounded thin in the upper range.
Jean knew she had to get a job. She had a degree, and had worked for an insurance company the previous summer. But she didn’t want to go back there. She read the want ads.
“Here’s something in public relations,” she said, “not too far away.”
“Good. You could check it out tomorrow.”
“Not tomorrow. Gigi has horse show tickets.” And the next day there was an expedition with her mother to a gallery.
We would sit down together to go over our bills and expenses. I’d dump the bill basket on the kitchen table. She would review the figures with me with attention and determination to solve the problem, quick to catch me in an error in calculation, quick to see where the figures were leading. The inescapable conclusion would be that we must spend less until we earned more. Although she was never explicit, she gave me the feeling that I was an inadequate provider. But she would make me bag lunches, she would check the want ads, she would get a job.
“Why not see if your dad has some ideas about where to look?”
Frown. “I don’t want him getting me a job. I don’t need his help.”
“He might know someone, know who’s hiring.”
“I know people. I can find a job.”
But she didn’t. Somehow, perhaps through her mother, her father found out what was going on. He called me into his office.
Oren Cullen was dark and wiry, like his daughter, with a hint of military sharpness in his dress and gestures, and that super-short haircut. Like Ross Perot, he had gotten an edge in the computer business through his military service. He knew something about men as well, but not as much as he did about computers. As he often did, he looked a bit surprised when I entered his office, as if he expected me to salute.
He waved me to a chair. “Tony, you seem to be doing pretty well, from what I hear. You’re about ready to be sent out to sell some of our services. When you start getting some commissions, you’ll be making more money. But I know things are tight for you and Jean right now. I have a feeling that Jean will find a job soon.” He gave a conspiratorial twitch of one eyebrow. “In the meantime, here’s an advance on your first commission.” He handed me a check. “You understand that you will earn this. This is not a handout, but an expression of confidence.”
I glanced at the check and saw that it would cover the most pressing bills. I was grateful, but felt a bit uneasy. However he phrased it, I was further in his debt. Nevertheless, I had little choice but to thank him. I also asked a question.
“Jean says she doesn’t want you to help her get a job. How do you know she will get one?”
“Unless you tell her, she won’t know I had anything to do with it. I love her dearly, as I’m sure you do, but she needs this job in more ways than one. I’m not going to say any more. Some of your surprise should be genuine.”
Although I appreciated what he was doing, I didn’t like keeping a secret from Jean–but again I seemed to have no choice. I was leaving his office when Cullen called me back. “Tony. Apropos of nothing but my curiosity. How did you get Tecumseh for a middle name?”
I had had so much trouble with that name that I only used the initial. Cullen must have been looking at my file. “It’s the name of an Indian chief.”
“I know. But why?”
“My father admired him. He also had another odd admiration for a Tennesseean; that was for William Tecumseh Sherman.”
“Really? For his military genius or his devotion to the union?”
“I’m not sure. I remember my father quoting ‘War is hell’.”
He seemed gratified. “Well, thank you, Tony.”
Jean was clearly pleased about something when I came home that night. “I told you I knew people. I’ve got a job interview tomorrow.”
“That’s great! Who with?”
“You remember Barry Parsons? He’s working for Senator Kimmel–well, he has a polling service, and the senator is his biggest account. They need a data analyst, and also someone who can be a public spokesperson. Barry says I’d be ideal.”
“Absolutely.”
“So I interview with Barry and his partner–and the senator.”
“Wow. Very good. Did he mention a salary?”
The figure he proposed sounded generous; I figured that Jean’s job, with my advance, should get us out of debt in a reasonable time. Since I didn’t want to seem to top Jean’s good news, I decided to postpone telling her about my advance for a while.
Jean met me for lunch after her interview. I could see her glow across the parking lot of the restaurant. She got the job, of course. She talked excitedly all during lunch about the senator’s campaign and her role in it. I didn’t remind Jean that I had spoken slightingly about the senator as a creature of the oil bidness. That night she dragged out her old statistics texts and sat muttering about chi-square. The job began in earnest the next week. Her mother bought her two Peck and Peck suits for the occasion.
Jean threw herself into the work with all her energy and intelligence, and soon made a significant contribution by revising one of the questions in the poll that was generating conflicting data. When she brought home her first paycheck, Jean waved it at me, saying “Let’s see what this does to the national debt. Where’s the bill basket?”
“Here we go.” I handed her the basket full of windowed envelopes. “I’ve got some good news too. I hadn’t said anything before–I didn’t want to compete with your triumph. But I got an advance on my future commissions.”
Jean seemed pleased, but then a flicker of suspicion crossed her face. “Commission advance? That’s new.”
“Really? It’s not routine?”
“I don’t know. Let’s see.” She pulled out the bank statement, finding the deposit and the date immediately. “Did my dad give you this?”
“Yes.”
“Did he say anything about my job?”
I was caught. “Well, he said he thought you would find something, but I think he was just being optimistic–you know, encouraging.” I thought I might lie better if it were close to the truth.
Jean sat silent, looking at the check and the bank statement. Then she looked up at me. Her expression wavered unreadably. Something changed.
Jean quit her job before the month was out. She found a reason–or rather several. She professed to have an insight about how reactionary and unimaginative the senator was, so that she wanted no part in his reelection; they didn’t want a data analyst, just a receptionist; they had threatened to put her on the phone bank. Jean, always impatient with any hesitation or wavering on my part, expected full support. I tried to give it, but I’m not sure I knew how to give what she needed.
Shortly after quitting, she shocked me by getting a radically short haircut, less than a half inch all over. She had always seemed to take pleasure in her long, full hair, and I had always found it attractive, and told her so many times. I didn’t say anything–it’s her hair–but my shock must have shown on my face, for she was angrily defensive, somehow managing to bring my low paycheck into the discussion.
Fortunately, I soon began to travel, and, to my surprise, to bring in some commissions. The company had some attractive new services at the time, and competition was still rather limited, so my success depended more on these circumstances than on my talent as a salesman. Nevertheless, I covered my advance after four sales, and sooner than I expected began to make some money. But after a few months, the easy sales dried up. The pressure to land clients became intense, as did the competition. I often felt squeezed in a three-way vice: pushed by the company, resisted by the client, and threatened by the competition.
And homecomings were disappointing. Jean had maintained a certain distance from me ever since she discovered her father’s–our–conspiracy. Her habit of blowing hot and cold had continued after our marriage, but it now took on a different, deeper quality. It varied, and sometimes would be hardly noticeable, especially if I worked hard to please her. But on at least one occasion, I found her depressed and weepy, much worse than any pre-menstrual blues, and unable to talk about what was bothering her. We rarely fought, but we never quite reached over that distance. Jean eventually found a job on her own, but didn’t stay with it long. She went through three jobs in the next five years.
Jean had some friends from her youth, and she would occasionally go out with Gigi or Ashley, but the only really close friend she had moved to California shortly after we came to Dallas. I met her a few times, and regret that she left, for she always put Jean in a good mood. Callie Warren was not the country club or junior league type, but a big woman with a big heart, a true Texas good ol’ gal with a wide smile and loud laugh. She had no pretense at all; she was very smart, but spoke up immediately if she didn’t know or understand something. “Whoa!” she would say. “I don’t get that thang you said about Gaussian distributions.” She found something interesting, likeable, or valuable about almost everyone. For this reason, it may have been a more important friendship for Jean than for Callie. After her move, they talked on the phone a few times a year, but Callie didn’t write–“I get too busy talking to write”–and I heard less and less about her. Jean had few other influences that could stimulate her intelligence and energy in really positive ways other than my young, inadequate self.
I had music, which helped me handle it all. I had found some players among the grubby sweater tribe at work, and managed to schedule an evening of string quartets almost every week I was in Dallas. Perry Fein was my main contact in the chamber music underground. He knew two other players at Cullen and a dozen others out in the community, and could almost always get a group together on a day’s notice. We played most with a programmer named John Yazchuk, a violinist; our regular violist was a doctor, Myron Fish, but we occasionally played with another violist, a burly lawyer named Herman Murray, whom we teased because of both his vocation and avocation. A viola-playing lawyer got to hear a lot of abusive jokes.
Perry also got me into the amateur chamber music players’ organization, and they sent me a directory listing players in most states and in several foreign countries. So when I travelled, I called ahead and lined up an evening of chamber music whenever I could. Sometimes I had trouble borrowing a cello, and I couldn’t afford to take mine on the plane. Then I’d find some singers and read madrigals and part songs. I didn’t have much of a voice, but I could sight-read and hit most of the notes in the bass parts. Madrigals led me to other early music and to the beginnings of my interest in string fantasias like the In Nomine. I also started doing a lot of reading in the literature and history of the Renaissance. Only in the last months before my visit to the British Museum had I been too busy to play or sing, or even read much.
So five years slipped by. We had ups and downs, but until just before the London trip, my life had some rhythm, a pattern that seemed to give it balance and impetus. Nixon resigned, we left Vietnam, I worked. Into the gray background of work and travel, I managed to weave some brighter threads of music–and friends, especially those friends with whom I shared that disinterested love of music. Given the number of egos and prima donnas in the music world, I’ve always been surprised at how few I have encountered among amateur enthusiasts. My new London acquaintance, Derek, for instance, was a natural first violinist: he had the technique and the temperament, and the ability to lead; yet he never dictated, never overpowered the ensemble to show off his facility. Ian told me that Derek would often volunteer to play the second violin part if that seemed to be the best way to get a group playing, to get to the music. And I know that Derek and his friends would gladly welcome me back if I should call again, and that they might be more inclined to trust me, on shorter acquaintance, than they would their banker, because they would have perceived in me a love for what they love.

These thoughts were vaguely in the back of my mind when I called Arthur Reed-Noble the next evening after our quintet session. After several rings, a burst of recorder music came on the phone, and a plummy BBC voice saying, “Hallo, Reed-Noble here.”
“Hello, my name is Tony Maclean. Ian Ramsey and Derek Miller suggested I call you.”
“Oh, good.” The voice relaxed a bit toward friendliness. “Let me turn down this noise.” The music faded in the background. “How do you know those chaps?”
“We played some quintets last night. I’m a cellist.”
Suspiciously: “I hope you don’t want me to play bloody Brahms or something.”
“No, I actually wanted to ask you about an earlier composer. Ian says you’re an expert on Renaissance composers, and I’ve become interested in their music. Could you tell me anything about Tobias Hume?”
He laughed. “A bit. Very queer duck. Wrote a lot for the lyra viol. Couple of amusing songs. One very fine lyric, and some of the viol pieces are interesting. What else might you want to know?”
“Well, I know he was a soldier. Any good published information about his life?”
“Yes. About all we know is in Peter Warlock’s little book on the English air, written in the twenties. Mad as a hatter. Hume, that is–Warlock was half around the twist himself, but that’s another matter. Hume spent his last years in the Charterhouse, a kind of old soldier’s home–still is, in fact. Near the end of his life he sent a petition to Parliament, which got printed. Full of crazy things–claimed to have invented some powerful new weapons, wanted to go use them on the Irish.”
“Fascinating. Do you think any of his viol pieces would work on the cello?”
“No.” A note of distaste, then of conciliation. “I suppose it would be possible to play some on the cello, but it wouldn’t sound the same. Have you ever heard any of the pieces played on the viol?”
“No.”
“Are you doing research–a dissertation, maybe?”
“No, just amateur curiosity. I’m a salesman for a computer service.”
“Indeed. Tell you what. I’m having a sort of musical open house tomorrow night. Why don’t you pop round and I’ll play a few bits on the viol for you. Also, some interesting people might show up.”
“That would be very nice of you. What time?”
“About eight. Here’s the address.” It was in Islington.
“I’ll be there.”
I worked hard on the bank job all evening and all next morning. At lunchtime I took a break and a walk and found myself looking at the columns of the British Museum. I felt a mix of dread and curiosity. I entered the library, looked up the Warlock book and filled out a request for it to be sent to the North Library. The Hume books were still waiting for me behind the counter. The room was much the same: a few readers were scattered at the tables, leaning over books under the low lights. The ceiling dripped with shadows.
I opened Poeticall Musicke to the “Hunting Song.” The print lay docilely on the page. I read the song. It was all very jolly. “Come come my hearts a hunting let us wende,” it began. The hounds were called–“Ringwood and Roler . . . Trounser and Drummer, Bowman and Gunner.” One hound named “Joler” seems to have saved the hunt. I flipped back to the beginning of the book where I read a dedication to Queen Anne of Denmark, James’s consort. At the bottom of the facing page was an inscription in a neat italic hand: “I doe in all humylitie beseech your Majestie that you woulde bee pleased to heare this Musick by mee; having excellent Instruments to performe itt.” Again I felt very strange, and the letters on the page began to squirm.

The tall man with the red beard and sloping eyebrows stood outside an imposing building. His viol was strapped to his back. He also clutched a flat package wrapped in white cloth. He glanced up and down the street, and at the entrance to the building. Finally he knocked on the door. A man in a blue jacket opened it.
“Captain Hume to see his lordship.”
The man in blue waved him into a paneled room with a fireplace. Captain Hume put down his viol and began pacing around the room. In a few moments a middle-aged man entered; he was dressed in an embroidered cloak of deep red, black stockings, and high-heeled shoes with bright silver buckles. The gentleman spoke with a Scots accent, and Hume’s accent sounded similar, but not quite the same.
“My lord–cousin,” Hume said with a bow. “I’m ever in your debt.”
The gentleman gestured toward Hume’s parcel. “Is that the book for her majesty?”
“Aye.” He handed over the package. “You’ll see her now? Shall I wait here, in the event it would please her to hear me play?”
“Gude captain, I canna tell. Wait here half an hour. If I am no back then, get you home. You lodge in Fetter Lane? I’ll send word to you there.”
“Thank you, my lord. I may first go to the Mermaid in Cheapside.”
“Very well.”
The gentleman made as if to leave, but Hume tentatively touched his arm and stopped him. He spoke with great earnestness. “My lord, honored kinsman, forgive me, but please understand that you have my fortunes in your hand. If this miscarries, I know not where to turn.”
The gentleman was impatient, but not unkind. “Cousin Toby, I’ll do what I can, but I canna do mair. My father and your”–here he hesitated slightly–“cousin were friends as well as kin.”
“My lord, your grateful servant.” Hume bowed and stepped back. The gentleman left the room. Hume stared at the door for a time, then began pacing back and forth.

I started at the presence of the librarian handing me Warlock’s little book. I sat staring at it, then hastily shut the book by Hume. Warlock’s book on the lute-song or air lay before me. When my eyes could focus properly, I opened it to the chapter on Hume. I moved gingerly, as though it might explode in my hand. Warlock’s few pages were mainly descriptions of Hume’s two books, with quotations from their lengthy titles and dedications, and comments on some of the songs and viol pieces. He then described a petition Hume submitted to King Charles around 1630 asking permission to take 120 men to “Mickle Bury Land” (Mecklenburg?) as requested by the king of Sweden. The final item was a full reprint of Hume’s petition to the Parliament in 1642.
He was indeed a poor, pitiful madman when he wrote this document, which testified to his poverty, the rejection he had encountered, and the fantastic plans he had for subduing the rebels in Ireland with mysterious instruments of war. He praised a few people who helped him, such as the Earl of Pembroke, and blamed the Earl of Essex, whose servants drove him away. He called on Pembroke and the king of Sweden as witnesses to his military service. He boasted of putting “thirty thousand to flight” in Russia and of killing “six or seven thousand Polonians by the art of my instruments of war when I first invented them.” He claimed to have maintained a thousand soldiers in London for seven weeks, the expense of which made him pawn all his best clothes. Yet he promised to bring the king “twenty millions of gold and silver in ready coin in the space of twelve or fourteen weeks.” I felt a peculiar sensation, like the change in air pressure before a thunderstorm, when I read this sentence: “For I protest I cannot endure this misery any longer, for it is worse to me than when I did eat horse flesh, and bread made of the bark of trees, mingled with hay dust, and this was in Parno in List-land, when we were beleagured by the Polonians.” I sat fingering Hume’s books for some time, not daring to open them. I felt sympathy for Hume’s madness, and deep, demanding curiosity. What happened between his dedication of a book to Queen Anne in 1607 and this mad petition of 1642? I opened the 1607 volume and looked again at Hume’s handwritten plea to the Queen. I felt something–tremors, aftershocks–but nothing happened.
I picked up Hume’s first volume, The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish, and Others, published in 1605. The running heads read “Captain Humes Musicall Humors”; some references use this title, I remembered. Grinding my teeth at my own irrationality and superstition, I decided to try a kind of sortes virgiliana. I flipped the pages and randomly placed a finger on a spot. I had landed on a piece called “Captaine Humes Pavin.” Nothing happened.
I relaxed a bit and did some ordinary rational examination of the book. It was dedicated to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke; I remembered that he was one of the dedicatees of Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of the candidates for “Mr. W. H.” of the Sonnets, and a minor poet himself. Later I discovered that he was the brother of the earl who gave Hume some help in his last years. Most of the pieces were for solo viol, and most were written in tablature, a kind of musical fingering chart, though a group in the middle of the book were in regular notation. Several reflected Hume’s experiences in foreign lands: some were identified as “Pollish,” one was “Duke John of Polland his Galliard,” and another was “Beccus an Hungarian Lord his delight.” There were a handful of songs, including one in praise of the soldier’s life, with sound effects; an amusing comparison of tobacco and love; and one of those lyric gems that seem to pop up like wildflowers in the most unlikely places in this period:

Fain would I change that note
to which fond love hath charmd me,
long, long to sing by roate,
fancying that that harmde me,
yet when this thought doth come
Love is the perfect summe
of all delight.
I have no other choice
either for pen or voyce,
to sing or write:

O Love they wrong thee much,
That say thy sweet is bitter.
When thy ripe fruit is such,
As nothing can be sweeter,
Faire house of joy and bliss,
Where truest pleasure is,
I doe adore thee:
I know thee what thou art,
I serve thee with my hart,
And fall before thee.

I hummed the tune Hume matched to this verse; it was beautifully simple, with a surprising range and sense of space.

Hume was seated at a table in a small, dim room lit by a single smoking, flickering candle. The smell of smoke, sweat, and an unemptied chamber pot was heavy. Hume was dressed in a plain but clean linen shirt and dark knee breeches. He was writing notes on a wax tablet. He hummed a bit, stopped, then rubbed on the wax with his finger. A knock startled him, and he jumped to his feet. He opened the door and admitted a woman in a veil. He shut the door hastily behind her and stared at her intently as she began to remove the veil. Neither had spoken.

When my vision cleared and I could see the printed page, I read through the song again. I thought of Jean and felt a pang of longing. Now I checked my watch–it was six hours earlier in Dallas, just about when she would be waking up. I turned in my books and returned to my hotel.
The call went through quickly, and I was surprised to hear Jean answer not only fully awake, but with an urgency in her voice. “Tony, are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I was just missing you, wanting to hear your voice.”
“I’m glad you called. How soon can you get back? Dad’s in the hospital.”
“Oh God. What is it?”
“A stroke. We don’t know how bad it is yet.”
“I’m sorry. Are you OK?”
“Yes. Can you get an earlier flight?”
“I don’t know. I’ll try. I was supposed to see the client in the morning and leave tomorrow night.” Even in this strait I had a twinge of disappointment that I might miss the evening at Arthur Reed-Noble’s. I stayed on the phone long enough to comfort Jean, who in the end seemed more harried than fearful for her father. Then I called the airline, but all flights before mine were booked. Although I did try very hard, and left my number to be called in case of a cancellation, I was secretly pleased to be able to keep my plans. Even working on the bank job seemed less onerous that afternoon. I left Reed-Noble’s number with the desk clerk along with instructions to relay any calls from the airline, and set out for another quick Indian dinner and a tube ride to Islington.
On the way I tried to put aside my fast-growing concerns about my sanity or brain tumor or whatever else was causing my visions of Tobias Hume, and examined my feelings about Oren Cullen, or rather the lack of them. Cullen had meant well toward me, and could have made things much harder for me and Jean. Perhaps I was relieved at the prospect of the disappearance of someone who had loaded me with the burden of gratitude. To defend myself against such unworthy motives, I told myself that he had manipulated me, had put me in a difficult position in my relationship with Jean. But if he should die, our future would become much more uncertain. It then occurred to me that Jean’s own feelings for her father were not clear to me. I looked out the window of the train and watched the dark shapes grab and flinch at the speeding car.

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