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chapter one

              In the Top Hat Club’s basement lounge, Albertine played a Gershwin ballad and was caught up in the music that she brought to life in the low, dark room. Yes, the old piano was out of tune, and two of its keys were dead, but “Someone to Watch Over Me” touched her deeply and made her wish that her husband loved her more, loved her enough so she wouldn’t have to be afraid of his temper, or suspicious of the way he looked at other women. If Hendrik loved her more, their life would be more exciting, and she might not have to spend so much time at the club.

             Albertine had come to the Top Hat in a scarlet chemise and a pink cloche hat. Her black hair was bobbed and crimped, and her lipstick was as red as her dress. Her fingernails had to be short because of the piano, but she kept them polished red, too, in beautiful contrast to the white and black keys. Her piano teacher, Madame Corbet, (the organist at the Notre Dame church) would not have approved of her nails or her music, either, because Madame had taught her Chopin, Schubert and Debussy along with the sentimental songs of the day. Perfect pitch had made Albertine a star piano student, but it was the chance to play at the Top Hat Club that made her believe her life could be different and special.

            When she finished the Gershwin number, she looked up to see that a small crowd had gathered to start their evening in the old speakeasy before moving upstairs at nine to hear the featured band. A young man, alone at the table closest to the piano, stood up and called out to her, “Play ‘Paper Moon’ for me, Albertine.” He came toward her extending a dollar bill that he stuffed into the beer glass on the piano.

            “Sure, Monty,” she said and began the wistful song as he stood over the piano and gazed at her longingly.

            Only 21 Monty Matheson was a professional boxer who liked to dance with Albertine. He had thick, copper-colored hair, dreamy eyes and a badly broken nose. While all the other men in the lounge were smoking, Monty chewed gum. Albertine had heard that he hadn’t lost in fourteen matches and that if he won a few more bouts he’d probably go to New York to fight the middle weight champion.

Monty stood close enough to see Albertine’s green eyes and her full lips that pouted as she concentrated on the music. She was only five-foot-two, but her trim legs seemed long when she danced and held herself high and proud. And for such a small woman, she had a very nice bosom. Monty was sure she dusted her breasts with perfumed powder. How different Albertine was from the rough life he led in the gymnasium and boxing ring. He wished he could do more than just dance with her.

            For her part, Albertine hoped Monty would get discouraged and move along before she finished her set.  Sure, he was a good enough dancer, but he didn’t laugh at her jokes, and he never had much to say. And he followed her around like an abandoned puppy, which put her off entirely. If she was going to forget about Hendrik for a while, it would to be with a real man and not with a sad boy like Monty Matheson.

Then as she was finishing “Paper Moon,” Monty nodded thanks to her and left in a hurry, and two other men came to the piano and slid money into her tip glass. But this was not good news. Albertine knew they were small-time crooks who earned their living by doing the dirty work for big-time gangsters.

            Tino Capoletti looked sharp-faced and brutal with his cold black eyes, broad chest, and shiny suit. Tino’s friend, Nick Trantini, was short, wiry and mean. A hungry rat, Albertine thought, who got his thrills by hurting people.

            “Was that fighter bothering you?” Tino asked her as she stood up from the piano and straightened her dress.

            “What fighter?” she pretended not to know.

            “Bubble gum boy,” he sneered. “If he was bothering you, we can fix him.”

            “Yeah, we’d like to fix him,” Nick chuckled.

            “No, I hardly noticed him. Leave him alone. He wasn’t bothering me,” she shrugged, trying hard to seem indifferent. If they were jealous of Monty, they could make sure he never fought again.

            “We thought you might take a ride over to Cicero with us tonight,” Tino suggested. “Have a few drinks. Watch us gamble.”

            “Cicero’s not the same since Mr. Capone went to jail,” Albertine teased him. “And the music’s better here.”

            “This place don’t hold a candle to the Napoli!” Nick scoffed. “There’s no action here. Not even a dice game.”

            “Our pal Nick has a tin ear,” Tino reminded her. “He likes to go to Navy Pier to listen to the calliope on the merry-go-round.”

            “And I’ve got perfect pitch!” she laughed. “Maybe some other time. What do you boys want me to play for you tonight?”

            “How about ‘Ain’t We Got Fun’?  That might make you change your mind,” Tino said and squinted as he gave her a wise grin.

            “I’ll play it,” she said and shrugged again nervously, “but my mind’s made up.”

            As she began the tune with a flourish of quick rag time chords, she remembered

the time she had ridden out to Cicero with Tino.  He got so drunk he ripped her dress and passed out before he could drive her home. The other hoodlums thought she was his girlfriend and invited her upstairs for a private drink. But she had a different idea. She reached into Tino’s jacket and pulled out a pistol and a switchblade before she found his billfold. Then she took out enough money for a taxi and left before he came to.  She’d been afraid that Hendrik would ask her about the torn dress that night, but he had been oblivious to it. When she came in, he had just come home from his job at the print shop and was sitting at the kitchen table, squeezing the keys of his saxophone, but not blowing it, so their son Hank could get some sleep. 

            Tino and Nick settled down at a front row table and drank their beers while she played two verses and two choruses of the song. As she finished with some of her best playing, Tino came around to her side of the piano and perched on the bench beside her.

            “Well, you missed your chance this time, Al,” Tino said and put a firm arm around her waist, squeezing her tightly through her sheer dress. He smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, after shave lotion, and pomade. “Next time, I won’t take no for an answer.”

            A cold shiver passed through Albertine as Tino released her and headed for the stairs. Maybe Tino hadn’t actually killed anyone, but he had bragged to her about slamming doors on men’s fingers, breaking their kneecaps, and dumping them out of moving cars. Now she understood that the message of such talk wasn’t to prove how tough he was. No, he’d been warning her all along: Don’t cross me!

            As Albertine caught her breath, a tall, dark-haired woman in a tight, purple dress came up to the piano and dropped a few coins into the beer glass.  Seeing the silk gardenia in her hair, Albertine recognized her; it was Pearl Cornell, one of the younger girls who had started to frequent the club since the end of Prohibition. “Play ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ for me,” Pearl said, “so I can sing along.”

            “Do I need to play real soft so they can hear you?” Albertine asked as she began the introduction.

            “No. Give it all you got. I can hold my own. But I need a lower key?”

            “This is G. Which key do you want?”

            “I dunno. A lower one.”

            “Start singing and I’ll find your key,” Albertine said and listened to Pearl sing, “Another bride, another June…” Then Albertine started playing in E-flat to match the woman’s voice, which was hoarse and seductive, the voice of a girl that no other woman could trust. Pearl was too tall, and because of her olive skin and curly hair, Albertine was sure she was part Negro, even though Pearl claimed to have mother from Rome and a father from Cardiff, wherever that was, probably a corner of Africa.

            The number was going very well, however, and Albertine sensed that she and Pearl had the right chemistry, so she decided to play through the song a second time to finish out her set. Pearl stood in front of the piano, leaning back into it slightly, and she gripped the attention of every man in the room as she sang about their favorite subject. When the song ended, the audience gave them a gentle round of applause, more than Albertine had received for herself all evening. Pearl bowed and called out, “Thank you! Thank you!” while Albertine quickly retrieved the tip glass and set it on the floor beside the bench.

            Pearl leaned over the piano, showing off her brown cleavage. “Thanks, dearie,” she said. “We make a good team. We should do this again some time.”

            “In case you didn’t notice,” Albertine said, “I normally work alone.”

            “Well,” Pearl laughed, “keep an open mind.  You never know…”

            “Oh, I know.”

“How’s that little son of yours? Who’s taking care of him?” Pearl grinned at her, as if she were exposing a secret.

            “He’s not my son,” Albertine hissed. “He’s my sister’s boy, and we’re raising him.”

            “Your sister’s boy!” Pearl laughed and gave her a fake look of surprise. “I wonder what Hendrik would say about that fairy tale?”

            “What do you know about Hendrik?”
            “Didn’t he tell you?” she smiled and stared at her with big yellow cat’s eyes. “I’ve started singing with his band.”

            “That’s news to me.”

            “On nights when you don’t have him working at the factory!”

            “Hendrik is a printer,” Albertine corrected her. “He makes good money at Donnelly’s.”

            As Pearl turned to join the action upstairs, Albertine scolded herself for disowning Hank. He was a great kid, smart and independent enough to be left on his own once in a while. Only she didn’t want people at the Top Hat to know she was his mother. How could she pass for 25 when she had a big 10 year-old kid?

Albertine first walked into the Top Hat club in 1932 on the night that Hendrik’s combo opened for Bix Biedebecke, the most famous band leader in Chicago. The Top Hat was still a speakeasy then, and the noisy, low ballroom was jammed with gangsters, women in silk dresses, and sports stars she’d read about in the newspapers. Hendrik had paid the manager to let his group set up on the front edge of the narrow stage. Then during the hurried, 20-minute set, the audience ignored the band’s tight rhythm and Hendrik’s haunting solos, which poured directly from his heart.  That night, Hendrik’s music was more disturbing to her than beautiful. He claimed he was happy to be her husband, but a happy man’s music wouldn’t sound so blue, even if he had come from Germany, “another world,” and claimed to see things through “different eyes.” Still she recognized that Hendrik had a special gift, greater even than her perfect pitch, and with a lucky break, he could become famous. But in the Depression, only sports stars and gangsters got the breaks. And they were the ones who had money to spend at the Top Hat, buying drinks all around, and tipping the musicians.

Then, as Hendrik’s band packed up their instruments to make room for Bix and his octet, Rocko the bass player waved for Albertine to climb up to the piano, and as he called song titles over his shoulder, she played fifteen of them, one after another, in a three-minute medley. When Albertine looked up, she saw a tall man in a tuxedo leaning over the piano and grinning at her.  “Neat trick, little lady,” the man said. He introduced himself as Lonnie Fulshear, the club manager, and he asked her if she’d like to play the lounge piano for tips, three nights a week.  Now, two years later, playing at the Top Hat was just as exciting as it had been that first night.

Before she went upstairs, Albertine collected the money from her tip jar (twelve measly dollars!), and she snapped the money next to her cigarette case in her tiny pocket book that she strung like a bracelet on her wrist from its gold-plated chain. She wondered if Monty would be lurking upstairs. Worse yet, she could meet her brother Larry, who would report back to Ma and Pa, and make them think she was a bad wife and a worse mother.

Since full repeal, the Top Hat on North Rush Street had grown from a basement speakeasy to take over the restaurant above it, and now the club had many tables, a long mahogany bar with a mirror behind it, and an expansive parquet dance floor.

            The featured combo played a too-fast number with a syncopated rhythm that sounded forced to Albertine, and maybe that was why so few couples were dancing. But it was only 9:00 o’clock. In another hour you couldn’t breathe in here, it would be so crowded. But now you could look around and spot people you knew, and Albertine was lucky enough to see Colby Malone sitting at a big table with two other ballplayers from the Cubs and a couple of girls. People said Colby had a wife back in West Virginia, but he didn’t act like it. Colby was out on the town almost every night, and he liked to spend time with her.

            If you met Colby Malone on the street, you wouldn’t guess that he was one of the best hitters in the National League. He looked like he had just left his job at the steel mills. Instead of being tall and lanky, Colby was five foot seven and powerfully built, with huge arms, a barrel chest and a square, determined jaw. He had tiny feet, size five, so that when he ran the bases or chased a fly ball he had a choppy stride that made you think he was going to fall flat on his face. No, he wasn’t a graceful athlete like Lou Gehrig or Pepper Martin, but he got the job done. In 1933, he was one home run short of Babe Ruth’s record, he drove in more runs than anyone, and he earned a salary of $50,000, one of the highest in baseball. Already this season he’d hit 20 homers, and it was still early June. But that didn’t keep the sports writers from making fun of him, calling him an iron worker, a coal miner, a fire plug, a bull dog, and even a freak of nature.

            Albertine knew the criticism hurt Colby. When she looked into his soft blue eyes, she wanted to protect him. He was a star baseball player with muscles like Hercules, but underneath he was shy, sensitive and insecure, amazed that he had made the Major Leagues at all, let alone being in contention for his third World Series. He was also a gentle and caring lover. When Colby touched her, she thought she might melt away. But there were other girls at his table now. He might already have decided to be with one of them tonight.

            As Albertine came up to the table, she saw that the other two girls were younger than she was, soft-faced with full lips and beauty spots penciled on their cheeks, false eyelashes and crimped, bleached hair. One was a big gal, with Mae West-sized bosoms, and a long black cigarette holder that she held like a magic wand. The girl who sat next to Colby (in what should have been Albertine’s chair) also was very tall and buxom. Even sitting down she was a head taller than Colby. She had a long face and too big, too white teeth. Next time she laughs, Albertine thought, she’ll neigh like a horse!

            “Hey, look who’s here!” Colby called to her. “It’s my gal, Al.” His voice was deep and mellow, a man’s voice, and as he smiled at her with straight rows of small teeth, dimples formed in his cheeks. Oh, she wanted to reach across the table and cup his face in the palm of her hand. But there were two bimbos and two cigar-smoking baseball players in her way.

            Billy Herman and Stan Hack were infielders who had the annoying swagger of big leaguers. They were tall and wiry and had cropped and pomaded hair, and clean- shaven faces that were tanned from playing outdoors all spring. They paused to give Albertine the eye, to undress her with a look. But she didn’t carry as much flesh as the two bimbos, so Billy and Stan didn’t keep their eyes on her for long. Besides, they knew Colby had seen her first. He had the right of first refusal.

            “Hey, what are you guys waiting for?” Colby nearly shouted. “Make room for Al. She came over to sit with me.  Ain’t that right, Albertine?”

            “You bet, Colby,” she replied and felt her face grow hot. Why was she blushing? Now that Albertine had what she wanted, she was both thrilled and a little ashamed. If Hendrik knew where this evening was headed, he’d give her another big fat punch right in the mouth.

            Albertine worked her way around the table, brushing past Billy and making the tall, horse-faced girl switch chairs so she could sit next to Colby, where he leaned toward her. She thought he was going to kiss her cheek, but instead he whispered in her ear.

“I was hoping I’d see ya,” he said. His breath was warm across her neck, and she wished they were alone together.

            “I was playing piano downstairs in the old club,” she said and smiled. “I was hoping you’d come rescue me from the gangsters.”

            “I don’t mess with gangsters, you know that,” Colby said. “People get ideas. But hey, quit worrying and have some champagne.”

            “Well, if you insist.”

            The girl to her right waved her cigarette holder, and then rubbed her cheek against Stan’s shoulder like a cat wanting to be petted. Stan ignored her.

            “Who are we playing tomorrow, anyway?” Stan asked Billy. Albertine saw how red his eyes were, she heard liquor on his voice like a soggy sponge, and she wondered how he’d be able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone play baseball.

            “We’re playing Philadelphia, aren’t we?” Billy laughed. “They got a new pitcher who throws the knuckle ball. We don’t have anybody who can hit a trick thrower like that except for Colby. Don’t let him drink too much.”

            “We’re playing Pittsburgh,” Colby corrected them. “Phillies don’t come to town until Saturday. What’s the matter? Don’t you read the papers?”

            “Why should we read ‘em? They only write about you,” Billy complained. “Colby Malone, the home run slamming midget.”

            “The sledgehammer in center field,” Stan piled on. “The slugger from the steel mills. The gorilla who shags flies.”

            “Haven’t you teased him enough?” Albertine scolded.

            “I guess so,” Stan laughed. “We can’t think of any more guff to throw at him.”

            “None we can say in front of the ladies!” Billy laughed.

            “Are there ladies here?” Stan asked and grinned drunkenly. “I got the impression they were trying hard not to be ladies.”

            “Stan!” the big girl said and slapped him so hard his cigar flew out of his mouth and landed on the dance floor. Instead of getting angry, Stan laughed, held the woman’s hand in both of his and kissed her hard and long, until she pulled back, gasping for air.

            “So that’s what a cigar tastes like!” she said and pretended to spit behind her. “Geez, Stanley, your dick tastes better than that!”

            “Let’s give ‘em some room to fight,” Colby said and took Albertine’s hand. “Let’s dance.”

            Colby led her out onto the dance floor (where he crushed the burning cigar beneath his heel) and then took her in his arms to begin the halting stagger that he believed to be a foxtrot. She didn’t care that he was a lousy dancer. His shoulders were almost twice as broad as Hendrik’s, and Colby was a full head shorter than her husband, so he seemed just the right size to watch over her. As they danced, they were nearly eye to eye, and although he held her firmly, he didn’t crush her body into his. She could tell that he wanted to look at her.

            “I’m glad you came tonight,” she told him. “I’ve been thinking about you every day for two weeks.”

            “We just came in from our road trip,” Colby smiled and sighed. “I’m happy not to be cooped up in that Pullman car for a while.”

            “Were you thinking of me?” Albertine asked and Colby winked at her. It was just the kind of question dames asked to make sure they’ve got their hooks in you, but he didn’t mind.

            “Sure, I was thinking about you all the time,” he teased her. “I was saying to myself, there’s no one like my gal, Al!”

            “And there’s no one else like you, Colby. There never will be.”

            “Don’t play games with me, Al. I could have lots of girls who aren’t married, ya know.”

            “Everyone knows you’re a big star,” she said. “Any girl would want to be seen with Colby Malone, the major leaguer. But I want to be with Colby Malone, the man.”

            “Somehow I believe that mush,” he smiled. “Let’s get outa here. All right with you? I’ve got a new place over by Lincoln Park.”

            “I’d love to see it.”

            “Let’s have one more drink with the gang, and then we can clear out.”

            When they got back to the table, the infielders and their girlfriends had been joined by a trumpet player named Clyde who’d worked with Hendrik, and by Pearl, the dark-skinned girl who called herself a singer.

            “Who’s the red dress with Colby Malone?” Pearl called out in her nasal voice. “Why, it’s Mrs. Hendrik Kinderman!”

            Looking at Pearl Cornell, Albertine knew how it felt like to hate someone. Singing with Hendrik’s band! She wanted to kick the woman down a flight of stairs, or turn her over to Tino and Nick for a rough time in Cicero.

            “Excuse me,” Albertine said and smiled odiously at her rival. “Have we met? I don’t actually know many colored people.”

            “Pipe down, Al,” Stan the third baseman said. “Everyone knows she’s Italian.”

            “Everyone says she’s Italian,” Albertine continued. “Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against Negroes or Italians, either. I just don’t like her tone.  Not her color, but the way she’s talking to me. I never did anything against her.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Pearl replied with a smile that said exactly the opposite. “You’re a great little piano player. You should keep it up.”

            “That’s more than I can say about your singing!”

            “Oh, my!” Pearl laughed. “I struck a chord, didn’t I?”

            Before Albertine could respond, Colby whispered to her and poured her more champagne. “You shouldn’t let her get your goat. No one pays her any mind. Don’t you know that?”

            “I’m not turning the other cheek for anybody,” Albertine insisted. “Once you give in to people, they walk all over you.”

            “Boy, you are wound up tonight! What can I do to make you laugh?”

            “Get me outa here.”

            “You gotta laugh first.”

            “Make me.”

            “When I get to the ballpark this morning for practice, there’s this little boy standing at the gate holding a program and a fountain pen. He says to me, ‘Mr. Malone, could ya do me a favor?’ And I say, sure, kid, and I take the program and the pen and I sign my name on top of the team photo on page two. When I hand it back to him, he gives me the queerest kind of look and he says, ‘Uh, thanks, I guess. But I was hoping you could get me Gabby Hartnett’s autograph.’ ”

            Albertine laughed, pleased that Colby could poke fun at himself, though she believed Colby was a bigger star than the Cubs’ player-manager. Then she said, “Can we go now?”

            “I’ll go grab a taxi,” Colby said. “Meet me out front in a minute.”

            Anxious to be alone with her, Colby jumped up from his seat and trotted toward the exit, as if he were running out to center field to start a big game. If things were different, they could have left the table together. If she wasn’t married, if Colby didn’t have a wife in West Virginia, if that snoop Pearl Cornell wasn’t there to tell her lies to Hendrik, if things were neat and tidy, she could walk away from this crowd on Colby’s arm with her head held high. But as it was, she had to sneak out when no one was looking. And nobody would notice her leaving by herself, anyway. It was Colby they watched for, Colby the batting king, but not the man she knew.

            His new hotel apartment had a small sitting room, a galley kitchen and a bedroom big enough to hold the grandest four-poster bed Albertine had ever seen.

            She hadn’t been wearing much to begin with, but before she knew it, she was naked between those crisp sheets, waiting for Colby to come out of the bathroom.

            On the bedside table she noticed a pewter picture frame lying face down, and curious, she picked it up to see a photo of a young woman with a wide, round face and curly blonde hair. In the photo, her cheeks were rouged with water color and an artist had added blue ink to her eyes. So this was his wife, a sturdy-looking country girl in a simple calico dress and without a hat. The building behind her is probably a barn. Albertine felt uneasy sitting naked in Colby’s bed, holding a picture of his wife, so she quickly set the frame down on the table. As she lay back on the pillow, she wondered why Colby and this woman never had any children.

            When Colby appeared in the shaft of light, he looked like a statue to Albertine, with powerful arms and well-defined muscles across his chest and stomach. Still, he was shy with her. He didn’t take off his BVDs until he had turned off the light.

            The way Colby made love was different from Hendrik’s way. Hendrik took her for granted. He was always in a hurry and he pressed against her as if he were trying to release a terrible, mindless urge. Sure, it could be thrilling, but Albertine often thought that Hendrik could be sleeping with anyone – that he wanted to have sex and not make love.

            Colby, on the other hand, took his time. He massaged her with his small hands, and kissed her neck and whispered her name into her ear, so she was ready for him ages before he came to her. Albertine felt that he really was making love to her.

            “Am I dreaming?” she asked him as they lay beside each other in the dark, listening to the sounds of traffic outside their window. “Or do you really love me?”

            “Hush,” he whispered. “You’ll spoil it by talking. Can’t we just be together?”

            Yes, they could just be together, passionate and restful by turns, but only for a few hours. At 1:30, Albertine was out of bed, taking a shower, and by 2:00 she was down in the lobby with the big Irish doorman, waiting for her taxi.

            “Good night, Miss,” the doorman said as he held the cab’s door for her.

            “Thank you, Brian,” she said, as she ducked onto the seat. Then she gave her address to the driver and closed her eyes so she could think about Colby on her way home. If only she had met Colby first, before she’d laid eyes on the handsome German musician and heard him play his horn. But when she was 17, Colby would have been a 15 year-old boy in a West Virginia steel town, about to drop out of school to swing a sledge hammer in the mill and a baseball bat in the semi-pro league, until his reputation for slugging home runs reached the scouts for Pittsburgh, who signed him for a year in the Texas League to see if he could hit real pitching. By that time, he was 20 and married, and Albertine was 22 and already had Hank. Having her baby was one thing she did not regret, though sometimes she fudged the truth about his being her son.

            The taxi dropped her off in front of her shabby three-flat building on Lexington Avenue. She could see the light in their second-floor apartment, and she shuddered to think that Hendrik had waited up for her.

            The wooden staircase creaked beneath her, and she felt ashamed of the musty smell in its rug, the paint worn away from the banister, and the bare bulb that dimly lit her way up the steps.

            She took a deep breath before she unlocked the door, and she smiled her brightest smile as she pushed it open, but instead of Hendrik standing in the hallway, it was her younger brother Larry. He wore a dirty yellow shirt and untied brogans with no socks, and he squinted at her angrily.

            “It’s about time you got home!” Larry accused her.

            “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

            “There’s been an accident.”

            “What kind of accident? Is Hank all right?”

            “Hank is fine. It’s Hendrik who’s hurt. He lost his thumb in a printing press.”

            “Is he okay? Can I go see him?”

            “He’s asleep in the bedroom.”

            “Why isn’t he at the hospital?”

            “Dad took him over to Cook County and got him stitched back together. I think he saved his life.”

            “He nearly killed him, you mean!”

            “I don’t think Hendrik was meant to be a printer,” Larry said. “Christ! I hope he can play his horn without his thumb.”

            “Oh, Larry, don’t even say that! Of course, he can play it,” Albertine said, then suddenly felt worried about her son. “How did Hank take it? Did he go back to sleep?”

            “He took it all right, I guess,” Larry shrugged. “When you weren’t here, Dad took him to their house in my car.”

            “Lonnie Fulshear asked me to play between sets,” she said. “I knew Hank would be fine until his Dad got home.”

            “Did you see any ball players, Albertine?”

            “Not tonight.”

            “Any boxers, Sis? Any mob hoodlums?”

            “I don’t have to take the third degree from you, Larry!” she said and rushed past him to the bedroom. She turned on the light and hurried to the bed to see her poor, wounded husband lying on his side with his golden hair spread out on the pillow around his flushed face.

            “Hendrik, honey? Hendrik? Are you all right?”

            Oblivious to her, he snored away. But he cradled his bandaged hand against his chest. She was sure he was dreaming that he would never play his horn again.

            A wave of affection and pity came over her. No matter how wonderful Colby might be, no matter how tender and generous and sweet, it was Hendrik who was her husband. It was Hendrik who would always command her love. And while he was being crushed by her father’s machines, she was cheating on him with a baseball player who had a wife and a dozen other girlfriends.

            “Oh, Hendrik, you poor baby,” she said, and as she began to cry, she climbed into bed beside him, careful not to touch his wounded hand, and she kissed his bristly cheek and made it wet with her tears.

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