“We were together last night.”
“One night a week we pretend we’re married. What fun.”
“We didn’t live like this in New York.”
“Yes, we did. Only you were too busy to notice.”
“You were never there for me, Lucky. You were always too busy hanging with your gay partner. Or you were busy hitting the clubs uptown because you needed to ‘feel the pulse of the music scene’”—I heard the quotes in his voice—“or you were busy ‘taking a meeting’ with some record producer no one has ever heard of.”
“That’s part of my job—”
“What job? It’s not a job? It’s a hobby.”
“It’s not a hobby,” I shouted at the receiver.
“It’s not a hobby,” Pen shouted a beat behind me. “I’ve sold eight songs.”
“Eight songs in four years. And made just enough money to buy a car.”
“Which you drive.”
“Pen, this isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“No. It isn’t.”
“Pen … It’ll get better. Once I get Granata, it’ll get better.”
“Granata? From New York? I thought you were done with organized crime. I thought it was all about terrorism now.”
“Granata is a terrorist.”
“He’s a gangster. The last of the godfathers. You said so yourself.”
“I’m going to tie him to terrorism and bring down his entire family. Wait and see.”
“You’re obsessed with him, obsessed just like you were in New York.”
“I am not obsessed. I’m a cop and he’s a crook. That’s all there is to it.”
“Steven, I thought we transferred here because … Does the FBI know you’re still working on Granata?”
Sykora didn’t say.
“You’re doing it on your own time, aren’t you? That’s why you’re always working late. That’s why you take my car instead of using a company car.”
“This is why our marriage is suffering? Because of Granata?”
“It’s my job.”
“Granata isn’t your job,” Pen shouted. “He’s your hobby.”
“There’s no talking to you.”
“I’ll be home late.”
Sykora broke the connection. A moment later, Pen set the telephone receiver back in its cradle.
What was it Tolstoy wrote about unhappy families being unhappy each in its own way? This seemed fairly common to me—a husband too busy to make time for his wife. I recalled how Pen and Sykora had treated each other the evening before. They were in love. For a time. But the relationship between them had become a slow war of attrition—one step forward, two steps back. Gradually it would wear away all the qualities that had once made them dear to one another, leaving only scorched earth behind. Who knew if anything would ever grow there again?
There was silence on the other end of the receiver. Followed eventually by a long, almost agonizing sigh. Followed by metallic sounds. Followed by Pen’s voice.
“Tommy, this is for you. If it’s not quite what we talked about … Tommy, I’m in a mood.”
She began to play, only it wasn’t the same as before. Pen slowed the tempo to four-four time, and suddenly her upbeat song was mournful, almost despairing.
Then Pen surprised me yet again. She added lyrics.
You wonder how it went so wrong.
So do I, so do I.
You wonder if we can carry on.
So do I, so do I.
A telephone call had done this, I told myself. The argument had altered Pen’s happy disposition, turning it both pensive and blue. And the result was something extraordinary. A song that saddened the heart. Listening to her play, I thought I had discovered a painful truth about creativity and genius.
There was a long pause after Pen had finished.
“That’s it for me, Tommy,” she said at last. “Give me a call.” Instead of applauding, I found myself wishing I could give her a hug and tell her everything would be all right. A silly thing to wish, I suppose.
I could hear the sound of fingers tapping a computer keyboard as I swapped the cassette in the recorder for a fresh tape and hid it in my sock with the other cassette. The finger tapping ceased, followed by Pen’s voice. “Isn’t modern technology swell?” she said.
I’ve always loved libraries, loved the very idea of them. They’re citadels of peace and quiet and intellectual freedom and civilization—commodities that are becoming increasingly difficult to come by. They are, in a word, the most “democratic” places on earth, although they’ve been finding it harder to remain that way. The sign on the circulation desk read: UNDER SECTION 215 OF THE USA PATRIOT ACT, THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MAY OBTAIN ANY RECORDS THIS LIBRARY MIGHT POSSESS PERTAINING TO A PATRONS READING HABITS AND INTERNET USE WITHOUT INFORMING THE PATRON WHOSE RECORDS ARE BEING SEIZED.