In music, Rubato means “stolen time.” It is a space in a composition where the creator briefly allows the artist to improvise. No rules apply and it puts the beauty of the whole experience at risk.
During the annual mid-summer Carnival celebrations, Rita Fiedler, a married, mid-30s ambitious real estate agent, accepts a strange client masquerading as Mark Baker, a wealthy bachelor.
While viewing an expensive property, the shadowy client turns the tables. He sells Rita on joining him in an unusual erotic adventure in harmony with the Carnival spirit.
Under pressure to make the sale, anxious about aging, disappointed in herself for letting work and routine rule her life, and inexplicably attracted by the stranger’s charm, Rita finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the Carnival’s dangerous side.
Meanwhile, a serial rapist nicknamed Dapper Dan terrorizes the city…sometimes masquerading as Mark Baker. Will Rita escape in time? Or will she pay the ultimate price for embracing stolen time?
Can you fall in love for the first time twice?
Couples sometimes are tempted by the thought and the passion of falling in love for the first time, especially when they have become distracted with routine and tedium in everyday life. Can one ever recapture that exquisite joy for a second time with the same person?
This tragic drama explores the risks in taking your partner by surprise, even though it was only some similar merely casual contact that brought you together in the first place. Combine that domestic desire with a carnival atmosphere filled with masks, a libertine atmosphere and a deadly rapist, and this novella rapidly builds toward a series of startling climaxes.
1. The call
A man in a blue pinstripe suit with a turned up collar, a white scarf and a dark fedora picked his way through the disorderly Carnival crowd. A downtown clock tower bell pealed 10:00. Cheap hucksters and fortunetellers of every kind worked the crowd on the street around the square. Vehicles had been banished and the usual laws providing public order usually were suspended during the weeklong mid-summer celebration. Overturning routine, flouting official order and enjoyment without consequence were the Carnival’s main themes. Clowns and everyday people masked as the celebrities whose freedom they would like to enjoy, or as the public figures whose power they envied, were everywhere.
At a glance, it would have been a puzzle to guess whether the man in the blue suit was keeping a business appointment as usual against the Carnival spirit or whether he was costumed in harmony with it. Reaching a much abused, aging phone kiosk, he set his thick, black, legal briefcase between his polished black shoes. Shielding his eyes against the morning sun, he glanced up at an office tower across the square. He double-checked the time on a gleaming steel Rolex and then removed it to an inside pocket. A passing Carnival clown needled him that trying to hide from time was the most foolish of errands.
Guarding his briefcase from the snatch and run artists abusing the Carnival spirit, the man dropped a coin in the call box. He leaned in to key a number from memory. The machine responded with its usual digital tones. He waited.
On the outside of the kiosk, a poster painted with the incidental grime of everyday life, and ripped by time, danced slowly in a summer wind. This refreshing breeze would die soon. With its death, the city would become unbearably hot and humid. Carnival goers would flock by the thousands to the waiting arms of countless bars or imaginatively themed house parties. Some smaller number would melt away to backyard orgies or opportunistic trysts spiced by an atmosphere of permissive freedom. The poster invited one and all to the free solstice concert offered by Time Scavengers at the trendy House of Sole.
2. A calling
As a digital wall clock silently turned 10:01, Rita Fiedler’s office telephone chimed like a doorbell. Real Estate Salesman of the Year, Customer Service No 1 and Excellence in New Home Design awards surrounded the clock. Pictures of houses dominated her office walls. An orderly desk centered the well-lit, impeccable space. A slightly raised semi-circular dais made it seem Rita looked up to any client seated in the plush chairs.
An intercom screen immediately opened to cover the Create Yourself Properties sketch on Rita’s monitor. Her firm’s protocol dictated that customer desires should over-ride all other concerns without any need to seek polite consent for a direct approach. The business made no secret that it valued most highly those employees who would tolerate rudeness from well-healed clients. Its studies showed that success was correlated with pleasing the most aggressive clients; that is, those accustomed to making or routinely breaking the inconvenient rules by which others might conduct themselves.
Already distracted from her work, Rita opened her eyes for this new diversion. “Now who comes to steal my time?” Knowing her firm’s preferences, she permitted this hint of annoyance only under her breath. Just as the firm had trained its agents, the admonition immediately came to mind that one does not know whether pleasure or discomfort will follow from the unexpected. From the menu, she put the office intercom on Speaker.
“Cash on the table, Rita,” announced her secretary, Sera Smith. “One Mark Baker says he needs a new house. Sounds ready to go.” Sera repeated the name, pronouncing it distinctly so that Rita could get it exactly right. Since her only salary was a portion of Rita’s commissions, Sera was highly motivated to see that her employer was as well prepared. Sera added, “There’s something odd about his voice. Could be a man with special needs? Mark Baker. Show him your stuff, honey, so we can party hard at the close of play.”
Rita said, “Sera, find me an outside lawyer.”
“A lawyer…? Okay, will do.”
From the intercom screen, Rita selected Record. Replacing her impassive face with a smile, in her most practiced professional sales voice, she said, “Good morning, Mr. Baker. I’m Rita Fielder. How may I help you realize your heart’s desire?”
In the background, Rita could hear a small band rehearsing for a Carnival show. Recognizing the music from a dance troupe performance she had passed in the square on the first day of Carnival, she realized the man must be calling from the square below. Just as the silence became awkward, a man’s voice with a pronounced wheeze said, “Find me the right house.”
“That’s our only reason for being, Mr. Baker, finding the ideal home to fit your dreams. It depends only on your limits. Tell me what it is you need?” She selected Microphone off and took an audible deep breath. Waiting, she said to herself, “Dreams, limits or needs, which path will you go down, Mr. Man?”
“I have no limits,” the strained voice replied. The band reached an exuberant climax. Rita waited for some explanation or elaboration. But he added nothing. The silence slowly became near unbearable. A voice in the Carnival crowd called, “Hurry, we’ll be late!”
Finally, selecting Microphone on, Rita invited him to add at least some new hint, “No limits?”
At the same time, her fingers began racing over her keyboard. She searched for high-end properties with unique features. The firm’s studies showed that clients who imagine that they enjoy complete freedom are the hardest to play, for success is much less assured with people who imagine entitlement to infinite choice. Yet the very best agents always choose this game, if they can, for there are fewer rules and each deal becomes a law unto itself. And the profits can be enormous. On the other hand, everyone knows the natural law that any seeming source of great gains also masks the chance for unimaginable losses.
3. In what key?
“I have no limits. Surprise me.” The man at the kiosk forced out the words in his distinctive wheeze. He could hear Rita’s measured breathing through the line. He closed his eyes. He heard her typing, fingers racing in a mad allegro punctuated by Space and Enter. With his free hand, like a Carnival mime, he played along on an imaginary keyboard. Behind him, an itinerant newsvendor called, “Serial rapist strikes again. Prostitution ring exposed. Police suspect big fraud. Get your morning paper! Check your horoscope. Get advice for your love life. Everything you need to know all in one place. One time, sir! Just one time buy a paper and help a poor father working hard to keep his family together.”
4. The question of surprise
“I may have the perfect house for you,” Rita responded, reviewing her search results. “In fact, it is ready for you to move in right now, if you can handle it. You will certainly be the envy of all your friends. Mr. Baker, you will tell me if you have some special requirement?”
“Show me,” he said.
Rita selected Microphone off and sat back. She mused aloud, “Okay, let’s dance. If you’ve got the money, Mr. Man, I’ve got all the right moves.”
From under a legal document naming her as the defendant in a civil suit for deceit, Rita pulled a thick file folder describing a lakeside mansion. On the phone, behind Baker’s labored breathing, she could hear children laughing at the antics of a Carnival clown. She could discern something else, too: on the kiosk wall, he was tapping the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. The cliché “opportunity knocks but once” crossed her mind.
Microphone on, she asked, “Would you like to come up and see the file now or would you like to visit the house with your wife this afternoon?”
“Now. I will see it now. Before midday,” he wheezed. “It must be before midday.”
“Okay. 1024 Lakeview, in one hour,” Rita said. As soon as she had given the address, he abruptly hung up. Trained to accept rudeness as a price of business, Rita did not give it a second thought.
Rita called Sera, “Pack my briefcase. I’m showing 1024 Lakeview.”
“Aha, squeaky voice, big wallet?” Sera said. “I’ll order the champagne.”
“Bad luck to chill the wine before the crime, you know that Sera,” Rita chastened. “Do a full work up on Mr. Baker. He’s the real silent type. I learned nothing. Make sure he has money. I hate surprises.”