Read Maestro Online

Authors: Samantha van Dalen

Maestro

BOOK: Maestro
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PART ONE.

Chapter One. 

"And above all man is a spiritual being…"

Sara lulled off, her eyelids shutting down. Something blasted her back into the present: the bright lights flashing, the electric guitar roaring down the speakers. The fans' piercing screams, shrill and endless like multiple pigs to the slaughter. 

It was time to go back to work. 

Sara left the stage wing and headed down to the underbelly of the world of show business. The dressing rooms were empty now, eerily quiet despite the "boom, boom, boom" overhead. Clare, the make-up artist, and Rene, the chief stylist, were stretched across theirs chairs, half smoked fags hanging out of their mouths. Their flock of assistants huddled around on the floor chomping cold hamburgers, slugging cola straight from the can. In another forty-five minutes, they would all leap into action, their guts frantically digesting the meat and bread. 

Sara walked past the group in the direction of the coffee machine. Some nods of acknowledgement and vacant stares followed her. She rolled her eyes and covered her ears, grinning at whoever's eye she caught. 

"Its a crazy world," she whispered. No one responded. 

She walked straight past the coffee machine and into the Maestro's dressing room. She found the Jack Daniels, sat down, closed her eyes and took in a mouthful of the sweet spirit. Boredom for another two hours. At least. 

******************* 

Carl looked up at her over the rim of his glasses, the
Daily Telegraph
spread over his lap. 

"Breakfast at 11.00am! We're doing well." 

Sara leant down and kissed him gently on the mouth. 

"Hello darling. I'm just so worn out. Must have needed the sleep." 

"Wasn't last night the final performance?"  

Sara nodded.

"I've just got to go back there today and make sure the place is still standing. Then I'll pop round to the Maestro, sort him out and wave goodbye for at least a month. Lord! What am I going to do for A WHOLE MONTH?"

  "Maybe you can take up weaving or knitting." 

Sara smiled at him as she chewed on her cheese on toast. His long nose and big blue eyes were very appealing. She had known him for twenty years, from their university days together. Then they thought they were in love. After university, they found jobs miles from each other and ended up in different directions. 

Carl eventually married a perfect rose, Deborah, and settled in Surrey. Sara and Carl kept in touch maybe once or twice per year for the odd christening or wedding anniversary. A year ago, Deborah filed for divorce, unhappy with Carl's travelling and "remoteness." Carl headed back to the city. And Sara. They arranged to meet for lunch. Occasionally they were lovers. Sara suggested he use her house in London "as a base." Five bedrooms and three bathrooms was a lot of space for one person. He agreed.  

A year on, Carl was still there. Hardly ever around, travelling up to twenty days every month. Sara was also on the move, trailing behind the Maestro. The arrangement seemed to work. 

"You're a fine one to talk!" she threw back at him. "When was the last time you slowed down?" 

Carl folded his
Telegraph
neatly in half. 

"Can't afford to," came his dry reply. "I've got alimony to pay." 

"Are you going away soon?" she asked sulkily. 

"Monday. Got the Far Eastern budgets to review." 

Sara frowned at him.  "Well, I guess I should take off somewhere. Maybe rent a cottage in the wilderness." 

Carl got up, hugged her and planted a kiss on her cheek. 

"You'll be fine sweetheart," he said with his usual nonchalance.  

They spent that Sunday together, reading the Sunday papers all morning, and then going out for a long lunch. Monday morning Carl was gone. A post-it on the fridge read "Will be back in twenty one days. Let me know where you are. Carl." 

On Monday afternoon Sara climbed into her car and headed for Glymeer, a village in the Cotswolds. The cottage "Downswold" was available to let immediately. The classified advertisement in the Travel section of the
Sunday Times
described it as the "ideal getaway."

She rang the Letting Agent in London who told her it was still available and they would pass on her name to the owner. He would be expecting her. Simple really. All that was left for her to do was to go. 

She made it to Glymeer in five hours. Narrow congested English roads. Damn them. Hungry and exhausted, she spotted the sign. Luckily it was still light as she arrived and she was able to make her way around. Glymeer was hardly a bustling epicentre: maybe eight or nine stone buildings divided by a cobbled street. As old as the hills probably. The only spark of colour came from rows of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit from what looked like the village grocer. Sara parked her metallic blue BMW alongside and felt slightly embarrassed.  

"No nouveaux riches around here I'm sure," she thought to herself, wandering up for a closer look. 

Stuck innocuously behind two melons, a sign informed her of the store's hours of trading:  "OPEN 8.00 TO 5.00 MONDAY TO SATURDAY" 

Sara checked her watch.4.50 pm. 

A burly man, ruddy face, sleeves rolled up, confronted her at the door.  "What can I do for you?" he growled. 

Sara drew back, alarmed by the tone of his voice and the accompanying scowl. 

"Can I buy a few things?" she asked with some trepidation. 

The man eyed her car, squinted and pushed open the door, nodding his square head. 

Sara walked quickly through the shop filling up three baskets.  

"Do you know where Downswold is?" she asked as she approached Ruddy Face waiting for her at the counter. 

Ruddy Face squinted again, nodding his head as he looked her up and down.  "What you be doing there?" 

Sara concentrated on unloading the contents of the baskets on to the counter before replying. 

"I'm visiting a friend. Is it far?" 

"Nah. Pass the Cumbers Bridge. Stay on your right." 

He helped her carry the things to the car. When she thanked him, he squinted and turned away. 

Sara guessed correctly that Cumbers Bridge was straight ahead. Soon enough, she spotted a wooden sign, a white arrow and DOWNSWOLD painted in odd gothic letters. She turned off to the right onto a narrow dirt track, shrouded in dense foliage. The tyres crackled as they passed over dry dirt and stones. Half a mile later, she emerged from the tunnel of overgrown shrubbery to find a small cottage sitting in a large expanse of bare, razed land. The cottage itself consisted of two large wooden windows separated by an imposing wooden door, supported by stone and covered over by a shingle roof. Unremarkable but not without charm. DOWNSWOLD, painted across a slab of granite buried half way down near the front of the house, confirmed that she had indeed found the "ideal getaway". 

A mixture of fatigue and senselessness overcame Sara as she walked up to the front door and pushed it open. She heard a bunch of keys rattling in the inside lock and pulled them out. Once inside, the design of the cottage was straightforward: a hallway with a kitchen and living space on one side and a bedroom, bathroom and laundry space on the other. In the kitchen, a door leading to the back garden and another door, most likely leading to a cellar. There was central heating in the house. It had been turned on. An A4 size sheet of paper was laying across the stove hob. 

"Welcome Sarah. Will visit tomorrow at 11.00 am to finalise letting arrangements. Guillaume." 

"Guillaume? What a strange name," she thought.  

The handwriting sat starkly on the paper - perfectly in the centre, big blanks to the north and south of it. Each letter was crushed against the next, supremely vertical. Instead of a simple dot, the full stops were drawn out as lines facing upwards. The upper loop in "Guillaume" was very narrow but again, perfectly upright. All the letters sank deeply into the paper. If the writer had pressed any harder, the paper would have disintegrated. It struck Sara that the writer had written in a hand other than his own. She put the sheet of paper down, deciding that she was probably seeing things that weren't there. 

Sara walked back to the car and began moving in. Laptop, portable stereo, cds, clothes, walking boots, books, whisky, wine and the food she'd bought from Ruddy Face. Within fifteen minutes, it was all packed away. 

The kitchen was spotlessly clean and well equipped. A kettle, coffee maker and toaster had thankfully been provided. Despite her raw hunger, Sara opted for a soak in the bath first. While the bath filled, she made some herbal tea and hooked up the stereo. She programmed Puccini's "Un Bel Di Vedremo" to repeat three times which would give her a paltry fifteen minutes in the bath. 

She washed her hair, scrubbed her skin. The water turned grey as London's muck came off. 

"Un Bel Di Vedremo" was on its last playing. Sara slipped on her dressing gown quickly and sat next to the stereo as Monsterrat Caballe made it to the hurtling finale. 

Dinner was quickly prepared and wolfed down. Seared steak, bread, lettuce, half a bottle of burgundy and two peaches. After dinner, Sara switched to Scotch and cigarettes. She opened the kitchen window to let the smoke out. Outside it was pitch black. Silent. Empty.

Chapter Two. 

Sara awoke the next morning to find that it was already 9.30. She had slept deeply and found it hard to rouse herself out from under the covers. Kicking the duvet off, she struggled out of bed. She drew the curtains back and for a moment was blinded by the brightness of the sun- a huge ball of fire at a 45-degree angle from where she was standing.  

The sight of the sun in a clear, blue sky had revived her appetite. She was positively ravenous and headed straight for the kitchen to feast on a breakfast of fried egg, bacon and mushrooms. Breakfast over, she walked out into the garden, a mug of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other. She spied a weather beaten wooden bench not far from the front of the house and settled on it to take a good look at her temporary home. 

The few trees on the property were at the far end behind the cottage. Apple, maybe pear and walnut trees too. A city girl like her couldn't be sure. At the front of the cottage, a stone island was covered in roses, geraniums and others she didn't recognise. The island and the cottage seemed to have been built in the same stone.  

A robin came and sat on the bench, curious to observe Sara. 

"Hello. Do you want to be friends?" 

The robin twisted its head from side to side to get a better look at the newcomer. 

"I see you've settled in." 

Sara leaped off the bench and swung around to find a man standing behind her.  The man continued speaking, apparently unaware that Sara was shaking like a leaf. 

"Are you Sara? I'm Guillaume." 

For a moment Sara found it hard to speak. The little robin had flown away along with her mug of coffee, which now lay on the grass. 

"Yes!" she blurted. "I'm Sara." 

A hand was proffered and she placed hers in it. 

"Is everything alright in the cottage? Did you have any difficulty finding the place?" 

"No..I mean, yes, it’s fine."  

The sun seemed to be drawing closer, blinding Sara. She was feeling perplexed, irritated. In need of a drink. 

She turned around, her back facing the cottage to get the sun off her face. 

"I didn't see you coming," she mumbled. "Did you come down the drive?" 

"Oh, I live on that side. Not very far. I usually walk across the fields to get here. I've brought the letting agreement for you to sign..." 

"Er...yes. I'll just get my chequebook."  

Sara began walking towards the house. Deciding that she might as well get over the fact that she was dressed only in a flimsy dressing gown, she retreated her steps. The landlord should at least be offered a coffee. 

"Forgive me. Please come inside for a coffee." 

The visitor had not moved from where she had left him. He nodded and followed her into the cottage.  Once inside the kitchen, he handed Sara the letting agreement. She read it quickly, signed and dated it, then excused herself once more to find her chequebook. 

BOOK: Maestro
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