Read an Excerpt
When Victor got me a job at a castle, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Me and a castle--we'd go together like Scotch and water, Fred and Ginger, Irene and Vernon. But I soon got used to grandeur, and in the end it was just another nine-to-five job. The castle is called Casa Loma, and it's a spurious medieval affair on the banks of Walmer Road in Toronto. According to the tourist brochures, Major General Sir Henry M. Pellatt built the castle to entertain visiting royalty, but when the hordes of royal visitors fell off, it was turned over to the Kiwanis Club. They run it as a tourist attraction to raise money for their service work, and I conducted tours to finance my education. Sic transit gloria mundi.
I came to Canada to study French at McGill University, since Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world, and more accessible (i.e., cheaper) than Paris.
Before I decided to study French, I led a life of noisy desperation trying to get rich in Bangor, Maine. It wasn't just greed, more like an adolescent daydream really. I blame it on De Maupassant's short story, La Parure, in which the heroine feels she was born for 'tous les luxes et toutes les délicatesses de la vie." That about sums up my feelings.
My guidance counselor said I had an aptitude for languages, so I decided to learn French and become a member of the diplomatic corps. After graduation I hope to live in Paris, eat in fine restaurants, go to parties, follow the performing ails, and mingle with the rich and famous. A tawdry dream, but my own.
Spending the summer in Toronto had the bonus of throwing me into contact with Victor Mazzini, the only member ofmy family who enjoys that lifestyle. Don't be fooled by the fact that my name is Cassie Newton. Mom is from Milan and felt secure knowing I was staying with her brother, safe from the sex fiends of Bangor, Maine.
I led my last group of tourists through the echoing hall to the front door and bid them adieu. It was four-thirty; the castle closed at five, which meant there wasn't time for another tour, but some of the tourists liked to wander around on their own. During this last half hour, the guides collected in groups to discuss our illegal tips, our plans for the evening, and to sneak frequent peeks at our watches, willing the last stragglers to leave so we could get away a few minutes early.
It was a quarter to five when a new customer came in. There were no blistering glares for this latecomer. He was no tourist, but my uncle, Victor Mazzini, the celebrated violinist. He looked the way a world-famous musician should look. A flap of silver hair hung boyishly over the forehead of a face that was lean, tanned, patrician in cast, but with a touch of alley cat in the eyes. Flashing eyes, black as obsidian, darted over the collection of tour guides in their natty uniforms, down for a quick perusal of their legs, back up to the bosoms, and lastly took a passing glance at the faces.
He spotted me shaking my head at him and walked jauntily forward, arms out, to place a loud kiss on my cheek. Victor has retained his Italian soul, though he immigrated to North America several decades ago to make his career here. He was often away on tour, but kept a permanent pied-à-terre in a chi-chi condo on Bloor Street, downtown. A nice, safe, semi-civilized little town, he called Toronto. He like the central location of Bloor Street and chose that particular building because it was set in behind a pretty stone church. He didn't go to church, but being Italian, he felt at home in the vicinity. Priests and ministers spoiled church for him.
Victor claims to abhor the second rate, and it's ironic that his own Innate taste is so awful. He buys expensive things but manages to imbue them with a carnivalesque touch. The lightweight suit he wore, for instance, came from Savile Row, but with it he wore a dark brown, hand-stitched, silk shirt and a cream silk tie decorated with a brown treble clef sign two inches high.
"Am I going to get a lift home, I hope?" I asked, extracting myself from his perfumed embrace.
'don't tell me you walked!"
"In this heat? Are you crazy? I'll meet you at my apartment around six," he said. "I have some business to attend to."
"Oh, about tonight."
This was a very special night for Victor. He was scheduled to perform at Roy Thomson Hall. He had his violin case with him, and I assumed he was on his way there to do a last-minute sound check.
"Last time the stupid sons-of-bitches gave me a bum pickup for my fiddle. So what else is new?" he asked, with a hunch of his elegant shoulders and a toss of one long-fingered hand. "I'm driving down to the hall now."
Victor liked to affect an air of ease before his concerts, but in fact there was a nervous tremor in the spread fingers. His black eyes darted around the lobby to where the stragglers stood in groups. One pair recognized him. It wasn't surprising as his picture decorated half the billboards and newspapers in town, heralding the concert.
A tall, muscular man with short, dark hair and a moustache was looking at him with interest. The man didn't look like an aficionado of classical music. Between the Western hat in his hand, the jeans and the leather boots, he looked more like a Willie Nelson fan. I thought the smaller, swarthy man in the blue polyester suit was with him, but as I looked, the smaller man walked away. The tall one nodded and smiled, and Victor nodded back.
Many of these discreet acknowledgments of recognition occurred in Victor's life. He cherished every one of them. If the recognizer was of a forward disposition, the next step was for him to approach and shake hands, maybe request an autograph. The tall man didn't seem to be an autograph hound. He turned and examined an undistinguished suit of armor hanging on the wall.
"Will you be home for dinner?" I asked Victor. He nodded, but distractedly. "What time are you leaving for the hail?"
'sevenish'the concert starts at eight," he said, looking around, hoping for more recognition.
Victor was a terrible ham. He always had some gimmick going to increase interest in his life and performances. He set down his violin case and pulled out a Cuban cigar about the size of a cucumber and slid the gold paper ring from it.
"No smoking," I chided, pointing to the signs. 'défence de fumer. Se prohibe fumar. Vietato fumare--we even have it in Italian, especially for you. Put the stogie back in your pocket, Victor, like a good boy."
'damned country's becoming fascist. A man can't even have a cigar," he complained, but pocketed it. "Is it permitted to visit the can? That's really why I dropped in, Ever since Doc put me on this high blood pressure medicine, I'm like a leaky faucet. Where's the closest?"