“Can I offer you a drink?”
She wanted to scream, lay down on the ground and cry. Her convictions about city-life and its educated inhabitants had blown to pieces. All the signs were here, a morbid light in the eyes, that blend of sheer lust and madness, Morgan felt it right after playing the first notes.
She did not want to believe, chalked it up to paranoia. It was over now, no piano, no people, she’d rather die than being surrounded by nutcases discovering their final impulsion listening to her. She answered in the most diplomatic tone she could muster.
“I’m searching for new talents.”
Points for originality, she hadn’t heard that one before.
“Fuck off all the same.”
“I need a pianist for my opera.”
Saying so, he handed her a business card.
Jonathan Bourkas, director of the Pierre Mendes France sports hall. How that imposing upper-class twat dressed in an expensive suit found this hole was beyond her. Looking at him again, she realized he bit his lips often and leered at her inappropriately. He possessed the light, damn it, she almost believed him.
“Please, I’m not...”
“Do you really want to keep playing in this rat hole?”
Dignity commanded her to run from this charlatan and handle things on her own. Ambition wanted her to use the situation to her advantage for the sake of her future. She was a broke student in a field that would lead her to a boring job, nothing to ignite her passion. On the flip side, opera and piano...
“Just a glass, nothing more.”
“Do I look like a rapist?”
Yes, he definitely did, but passion muzzled reason and she followed him, dodging with experience every spectator whose irregular movements hinted at a potential threat. Outside the theater she entered a black sedan.
As the door closed it dawned on her that she just left an open public place to close herself in with a stranger.
To her surprise he did no inappropriate gesture and his ravings made sense. He promised he would make her into a star, a comet, an idol invited in the most prestigious events, where the rich offered each other golden statuettes pretending they understood the plight of the poor.
They stopped at a bar to grab a drink just as he said. Jonathan was a puzzling man, he seemed aware of his own madness. The place was full, he waved to the barman who immediately liberated a table for them, regular’s privilege he explained. One mojito later the hostilities started.
“Bullshit, there’s a thousand pianists that are better than I will ever be, I’m not gifted nor skilled, you saw it, you heard it.”
“Talent, I maintain it.”
“No, the reason is your disgusting gaze, that creepy smile like a rapist or a wacko, I never should have come.”
“Good, you already have some experience in the matter, that will make things easier to explain.”
“You look like a prepubescent girl, what you see in my eyes or others have nothing to do with sexual desire, I’d have to be a pedophile and have bad taste to fancy you.”
Morgan showed no reaction, she wore no fancy clothes but, come on, that hurt.
“The reaction is provoked by your music, you’re not good at it but what you do is more than just press the keys. The love you possess for your instrument and music have no equal, and you convey it like only a precious few can. That is what I want.”
“I have no reason to believe you.”
“Irrelevant, you are still sitting here in front of me, you know your other fans do not possess the control I do. You could just stop playing, but we both know you can’t. It happened before yet you could not resist trying again. That drive cannot be given up, but I can give you the conditions to express it in full. I have a contract ready at home, I keep it ready for people like you.”
“Why not bring it here?”
“To see what you’re made off. Some possess the same gift but are not worthy of it, I’m not certain you fit either. But you’re better than nothing and I’m lacking a pianist. Two representations at the Pierre Mendes France sports hall for starters. If you’re afraid, give yourself a few days, fish for info on the internet, ask your friends.”
“It’s not just that, my parents...”
“...Will say no. You’re in an opera now, not some run-down pretentious pot-head gathering where you will end up dead or old without ever becoming what you wanted to be.”
Heavy silence. Morgan replayed every word. It sounded wrong, her heart, brain and gut agreed on that. Just like they agreed that the asshole was right.
She had not talent but would play again. The campus bored her and she was going towards an average life where dreams are left at the doorstep, left there for children to pick up at the parent’s behest. She hated that future.
“Alright, let’s go.”
They left and went back to the sedan. Jonathan promised her the stars once more, he was bombastic and good at it, but Morgan had heard it already. She politely nodded without listening to his rambling.
They entered Grenoble’s upper-class quarter where the space between houses grew proportionally to their size. They stopped in front of an abomination made of marble, two white pillars flanked the front door, injecting an air of bragging and opulence.
“Your sense of decoration is inversely proportional to you convincing skill.”
“Yes, and the neighbors would never approach such an offender of good taste, which is exactly why I had it built this way.”
The inside was just as impressive, an immaculate white floor with two black sofas, each more expensive than Morgan’s student flat, a huge television and an ivory low table, all of this in the entry hall.
To call it ugly didn’t do it justice, it was like stating that a sniper bullet through the head hurt. Jonathan laid a contract on the low table, she rubbed her eyes to ensure she didn’t hallucinate the salary on it.
“There are no dates written down.”
“I need to round up the other musicians and distribute the sheets. Give me a day.”
“A day to organize a massive event. You’re mocking me.”
“This is the big league, I got cash to throw at problems, reputation to shut mouths and a rabid public eager to hear you. There will be a before and an after, such an event does not wait.”
She signed, he laid a pile of cash in front of her.
“Thank you. That’s it?”
“Yes, leave now.”
“Why are you such a prick?”
“Because I can and nobody dares saying something, unlike you, child.”
“Enough with the child part, I don’t know who crapped in your coffee this morning but you have issues.”
“You know nothing and you’re a kid. Play your piece and shut your mouth, that’s what I pay you for.”
Morgan got up to leave, at the door she paused and looked over her shoulder.
“Oh, I get it, you’re just envious.”
“Leave, you don’t have the chops to play me.”
She turned around.
“You tried to play, didn’t you? Just like me, in front of an audience.”
Jonathan suddenly calmed himself, no more jitters or twitching, he walked up to her as she went on.
“But they did not react. No one listened, no one cared. For all the fancy marble and suit, you’re just an envious boy furious that I possess what you don’t have. Swing your cash, when it comes to play music, you’re just an insect next to me.”
He hit suddenly, the backhand resonated in both her ears, blood ran down her nose. She stumbled back, he stood ready to hit again should she speak up.
He didn’t need to, Morgan kneed him in the crotch with a sickening crunch. He screamed in pain, she kneed him again, sending him to the ground. She was outside calling the police before he got back up.
Jonathan rose slowly, happy that she had finally shown some backbone. She would have her place on the show, didn’t look like much but could defend herself. The police would come, of course, that happened sometimes. It was irrelevant.