Fletcher emerged from the taxi wearing a tall fur hat and a sleek camelhair coat. In the freezing afternoon, Matthew wore only his swordfight attire—James Bond’s black jeans and a slate-grey sweater designed to move with him. He had parked the Mercedes at an outdoor parking lot across the street.
While they waited for the attendant to retrieve the car, Matthew stepped into a shadow and watched Brooke leaving the theatre with Axl.
“Will she be safe with him?”
“Tell me you did not spend the afternoon mesmerized by your angel at work.”
“I thought you’d be here,” Matthew said. “I only have so many hours…”
The parking attendant laid rubber, bringing the Mercedes so close to their feet, they reflexively jumped back.
“The actors love her as their own, Bond. Do not show your face here again.”
Matthew turned on the headlights and turned right. “I won’t. The discipline she exerted in not noticing me was killing.”
Fletcher pulled an ivory-coloured chopstick from his pocket, brandishing it like a cigarette holder. “Take Central Park West and I’ll show you her quarters in the brownstone. She has the third floor—bedroom, bath, even her own little study. Turn here.”
“Fletcher, I want to get home.”
“She won’t be there. She’s demonstrating Taekwondo for Rhee. Dine with me. I need an abstinent in attendance.”
“No you don’t.”
“All right but please don’t tell Brooke. You’ve no idea what joy she gives me.”
“In fact, I do. I would sacrifice anything for her.”
“Too late for sacrifice, Bond. Sung has more clout than you know.”
“I know his clout, Fletcher.”
“He’s protecting you at every turn. He admires you as his most talented and dedicated practitioner. And will give you extra respect because he regrets dishonoring your family.”
“Why isn’t he teaching Rhee?”
“He’s occupied. The actors in Pious Lies would never betray Brooke, but the sound and light crew is not as enthralled. And they, too, witnessed the illicit lovers’ reunion yesterday. So Sung’s busy winning their allegiance.”
“Ah, then he’s not tailing me. The minute I saw my mistake, he pulled me into the lobby and ordered me to leave. I’ve always obeyed Sung. But that hanged-man’s shadow of Brooke’s worries me. She won’t talk about her father but she does feel a foreboding.”
“I’m taking care of Jimmy Logan. Tomorrow night, I’ll have arranged everything, never fear. Would you mind if I told Sung the real reason you didn’t go to St. Bart’s?”
“I was never going to St. Bart’s.”
“He doesn’t need the minutia, Bond. But I think Sung needs to understand that Brooke’s father almost murdered her. For I cannot do Hamlet this summer if he sends her away.”
“Sends her away? Where?” Matthew almost stopped the car in mid-traffic. Horns blared for blocks.
“Don’t get hysterical. He could coax her into a study-abroad program.”
“She might like that,” Matthew said.
“Or she might not. You won’t know. No more love letters or phone tag.”
“Sung sponsored those, playing me for the fool that I am.”
“Now, however, you cannot have any contact with her until well after the movie opens. With one exception. I must convince Sung that Brooke’s assistance is critical for Woodstock’s play, the one in which you star as James Bond performing Hamlet.”
“Absurd in the first place. And never mind that no amount of masterminding can get me halfway to mediocre on stage.”
“You were fine as The Mayor. The Benefit gave me Pious Lies, and, it appears, a Sondheim revival.”
“Congratulations, Fletcher. Honestly. And congratulations on overcoming your addictions. But I’m no more Hamlet than Jason Astley is Shakespeare.”
“You needn’t be great, Bond. Best really if you strut about proclaiming soliloquies like the hugely important movie star that you are.”
“You realize Sung has sold Eon your Woodstock tie-in as feeding the media so well that when the movie opens, the whole world will know Readiness Is All means the rapier fight is on.”
“Thus, be scrupulous.”
“Follow the theatre news mid-January, Bond. Your angel will be extolled as Pious Lies’ ravishing, seventeen-year-old director.”
“What if the attention overwhelms her?”
“I’ll shield her. I was similar to Brooke at seventeen—minus her compassion and other virtues.”
Matthew listened to the adventures of Fletcher’s youth and followed his instructions for pursulane salad, “hopping with omega 3s.” Fletcher fixed pasta with baby artichoke hearts, parsley, and capers.
Over dinner, he described The Playhouse’s last version of Hamlet, which was only two seasons ago. Fletcher hadn’t shown up until dress rehearsal because the regional troupe did an excellent rendition without his tirades. But then—wonder of wonders! On her own, Brooke had directed—teeming with adolescent, feminine fever. Most wonderfully, the tragedy was tragic. It was wrenching. Fletcher had been roaring drunk and yet— “You had to have been there.”
“I was,” Matthew said. Sasha, her entourage, and the children had returned to L.A. while he remained to see Hamlet. And when the alluring, fascinating girl who babysat his children all summer and whom he had been so anxious to impress, took the stage as guest director, Matthew King had run for his life.
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