Page 70 of The Protege

I watch him narrowly for a moment, catching a meaningful tone in his innocent question. “It’s very beautiful.”

“Very different from the gray London streets, hmm? There’ll be an even better view from the musical director’s office at the new concert hall.”

I keep my tone as casual as his and say, “Yes, I imagine there will. I’ve been past the construction site many times.”

Mr. Anumak turns to me with an appraising look. “I suppose you know we’re looking for a musical director for the new concert hall.”

My face doesn’t change but my heart starts to pound. “No, I didn’t.”

He smiles at me broadly and then gestures to his desk. “Why don’t we sit down, Mr. Valmary. There are some things I’d like to discuss with you.”

It’s gone three in the morning when I leave the concert hall but I feel wide awake. Musical director of the new state-of-the-art Bangkok concert hall. A chance to handpick every member of the orchestra myself. Control over what the orchestra plays. Greater freedom to experiment and innovate, to invite world-class soloists.

I look around at Bangkok with fresh eyes. This could be my city. Mr. Anumak wasn’t merely offering me the chance to apply, he was offering the job to me. All I have to do is say yes.

I consider hailing a cab to get back to the hotel but the evening is warm and fragrant and the lights of the city are bright. There are plenty of people abroad and I stroll along the sidewalk, thinking. There’s lots to think about. Isabeau is foremost in my mind, because wherever I go in the world I want her with me, but I also know that London is the best place for her.

Asia, though. Asia could be good for her career, too.

All I know is that I want to say yes to Mr. Anumak. I want to shape the new Bangkok symphony orchestra with my own hands. Me. Not anyone else.

The scent of flowers reaches me. I want to tell Isabeau how I feel, how I really feel, but there’s a correct way for things to unfold. You can’t have the finale before the overture, even though we’ve skipped straight to the crescendo. It’s time for things to be returned to their proper order, and that means Isabeau knowing everything that happened after I took her into my house when she was eight years old. I could tell her now, putting a finger under her chin and drawing her face up to mine. “Sweetheart, there’s something I need to tell you. Several somethings.” Will she be angry with me? With him? I’ve wondered this so many times over the years and I don’t know the answer. Her feelings are hard to gauge because Isabeau’s always refused to talk about her father. The heroin frightened her and the loss of her mother was painful. I wonder if that’s why her sub tendencies have manifested in the way they have. I’m not afraid of the power I have over other people. Power can be benevolent. Power can support, uplift. That’s all I want, to see Isabeau and my orchestra thriving in my care, and I swear by every star above me in the night sky I will have it.

Patience, Laszlo, I caution myself. You will have it, but you need to be patient. When the tour is over and we’re back in London I’ll set things in motion for her to learn the truth. I’ll be there to deal with the fallout, to hold her as she cries if she needs to cry.

And to offer her my heart at the end. Forever.

I want to see a diamond ring sparkling on her finger, a ring I’ve given her. I want her to be my wife. Everything else, Bangkok, London, orchestras, performances, can fall in around that most important thing: having Isabeau as my wife.

I’m awoken by my phone ringing and see that it’s eight-fifteen in the morning. I groan, wishing that whoever it was could just let me sleep. I don’t recognize the number but it has a +44 country code, which is the United Kingdom.

I press the answer button and mutter, “Laszlo Valmary.”

There’s a short silence, and then a woman’s voice comes on the line, as if she didn’t hear me. “Mr. Valmary?”

I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and sit up, rubbing my face. If this is a journalist or musician wanting to audition I will give them a piece of my goddamn mind, though that seems unlikely as it’s the middle of the night in London. “Speaking.”

The woman goes on in slow, empathetic manner. “I’m very sorry to disturb you while you’re out of the country. I spoke to your assistant earlier and I understand you’re traveling at the moment. My name is Astrid Clark.”