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A Quiet Night
by Tal Greywolf
Tal Greywolf -- all rights reserved
 

He climbed the old metal stairway, the steps creaking with age. Every night that the weather was good he would make the trek to the top of the building, going from his apartment up the old stairs to the roof. There he could look down over the streets lit by the lamps below, removed a short ways from the world.

Here up above the streets he didn't have any worries or fears. No one could see him from up some seven stories above the traffic, safe from being spotted, taunted, ridiculed. A far cry from the reaction he used to receive when he was on stage, performing to the adulation of audiences around the world. Back then, the sounds of the crowds was a welcomed sound.

A deep sigh came from him, tinged with a bit of a purr. Carl Rogers looked down at the golden horn in his hand, remembering what had been his life previously. Ever since he was eight years old, he wanted to be a musician, learning to play the trumpet. At 17 he made his first public performance with the St. Louis Symphony, the start of his career. For five years he travelled the world, performing with orchestras throughout the world from New York to London, Tokyo to San Francisco.

Without warning that career ended and plunged him into a nightmare. During a routine practice with the Cleveland Symphony he became violently ill, so sick that he had to be transported to a hospital. He recovered after a short stay, but a few nights later the transformations began, and Carl realized he had contracted SCABS.

His career collapsed immediately. The physical changes to his body meant he couldn't perform, his new lips and muzzle a barrier. Concerts and contracts were cancelled, and Carl found himself forced to live on the outer fringes, his former friends unwilling to help or even recognize him.

Only his savings and investments helped him through the past two years, along with the occasional royalty checks from his earlier recording. He wasn't as well off as he had been previously, but at least he was able to live comfortably.

He settled into a small apartment close to the lake, a quiet neighborhood where a mixed population resided. Shopping was close by, and all of his immediate needs were easily obtained by a short walk, his ventures into the public kept to a minimum by his condition.

Settling down on the ledge, Carl sighed and brought the horn to his lips. He kept it perfect, oiling the valves, rubbing it down until it gleamed in the light. Two years of practice, frustration, despair and more practice, working repeatedly until he felt he was regaining his ability to perform again. He took a breath, then softly began to play.

The notes were deep, expressive, filled with the soul of the moment. Carl closed his eyes and let the music carry him, the rhythmic pattern of Aaron Copland's 'Quiet City' fill his mind and his heart. Of all the music he performed, this one piece held a special place within him, evocative and mesmerizing.

He played on, the music echoing in the canyons below, the notes drifting on the wind swirling down the streets. Copland's music of a young musician expressing his emotions as well as the emotions of others matched Carl's feelings, those feelings taking form. Eventually the music swirled towards the end, and Carl let that last, single note hang in the air before pulling the horn away from his lips. Silence greeted him for a few seconds... then the sound of someone clapping behind him.

He spun around, surprised at the sound. Quickly his eyes spotted someone standing near the door to the stairs, someone he hadn't seen in over two years.

The figure moved into the light, and smiled. "I see you've managed to keep in practice, Carl," the person began, his voice carrying a slight German accent. "A most excellent performance, considering you were doing that without any additional orchestration."

Carl frowned a bit. "Gustav, what are you doing here?"

Gustav Klemperer shrugged. "Honestly? Looking for you. You're not an easy person to find."

"So you've found me." Carl's displeasure was starting to show, his tail twitching a bit behind him. "What brings the conductor of the symphony to my home?"

Gustav ignored the frustration. "As I said, I was looking for you. An acquaintance of mine suggested I come around in this neighborhood to find you. I'm here to bring you back."

"Back?" Carl glared at Gustav. "Back to what, the orchestra? Back to be the resident sideshow?"

"Back to be my lead in the brass section and soloist," Gustav shot back. "Back to being what you are, Carl. A performer."

"How the hell can I be a performer?" Carl replied. "Look at me, Gustav." He stood up, his clearly feline features visible. "I'm not an artist, I'm a bloody freak now! If I was on stage, I'd be more suited for 'Cats' than the orchestra. I can't go out and perform, I can't do it."

"You can." Gustav said it firmly, his own eyes challenging Carl. "You're an artist, Carl. You have the gift within you. I want you as a part of my orchestra."

"Why?"

The question hung between them for a moment, then Gustav shook his head. "It's not a question of why, Carl. Being a SCAB doesn't mean a thing to me. All that matters is can you perform? Can you create music that touches the soul of another person?

"You can do that," Gustav said in a softer tone. "You've always been able to do that. And you can do that again."

Carl sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Gustav, you're asking something of me I can't say I can do. I don't know if I can go out there. I still hear the comments, the snide jokes, the taunts aimed at me. It's not as if I wanted to be this way," he added, his voice cracking just a bit.

Gustav walked over and placed a hand on Carl's shoulder. "It doesn't have to be this way," he said in a firm tone. "Things can be arranged. The orchestra voted on wanting you back, and I accepted the job of finding you."

"That's because you're a stubborn bastard who rules by iron fist when you're on that podium." Carl's voice held a little humor in it, and Gustav chuckled.

"How better to describe your conductor in flattering tones?" Gustav gave Carl a light squeeze on the shoulder then smiled. "So you will come back, no?"

Carl snickered. "If I say no, you'll just keep coming back until I give in."

Gustav raised an eyebrow at that. "Would I do a thing like that?"

"Considering one of your ancestors was Otto Klemperer, you would." Carl laughed softly. "All right, you win. If you can stand my playing, then I'll come back and perform. But just for you."

"Fair enough." Gustav held his hand out and Carl shook it. "Come by the office tomorrow and we'll file all the paperwork. Rehearsal is at 2pm, casual. I'll call Thompson and schedule an appointment to get a new suit for you as well."

Carl shook his head. "You're serious about this, aren't you?"

"As you would say, 'Damn straight.'" Gustav grinned a bit. "I should get going here."

"Who told you?"

Carl's question didn't faze Gustav. "Actor I know, said he met you at some pub a few months ago. Calls himself the Wanderer."

"Figures." Carl shook his head again, then waved. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Gustav nodded, and headed down the stairs. Carl sat back down on the ledge, looking first down at the street, then up at the moon. A smile slowly formed on his muzzle, then he lifted the trumpet up to his lips, and started playing once more. Only now, the tone was lighter, cheerier, a bit of a more playful sound to it.

And the notes of Haydn's Trumpet Concerto drifted down to Gustav's ears, bringing an equally warm smile on his lips. He brushed off one sleeve, and hummed softly as he headed to his car.

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