Seen from the Atlantic, the lights of Miami are a chain of jewels balanced on a narrow rim of land between swamp and sea. Overhead, on clear cool winter nights, the stars are brilliant, pulsing.
Gail Connor waited until her fiance's Cadillac bumped onto the Fisher Island ferry, then asked him to open the sun roof so they could see the sky. She took off her high heels and climbed onto the seat.
"And where are you going, bonboncita?"
"It's beautiful out here!" A gust of wind ruffled her hair. She pulled her lacy cashmere shawl tighter around her shoulders. The ferry turned in the ship channel and headed southeast past the Coast Guard station. Water splashed steadily on the hull. A few leftover Christmas trees blinked in windows of the condominiums on South Beach, and farther out the Atlantic vanished into darkness.
Tonight the Miami Opera was holding a fundraising party on Fisher Island. Gail had recently been hired as general counsel. Her mother was a board member--that had helped--but Gail had the qualifications: eight years in a top law firm on Flagler Street before opening her own office. As a final inducement, she had offered to donate fifty hours of legal services a year. The opera was loaded with potential contacts. She had been given two tickets for the event tonight-- one for herself, one for a guest. The guest was, of course, Anthony Quintana, who had learned by now not to be surprised when the thirty-four-year-old woman he was engaged to kicked off her shoes and stood up to sightsee through his sun roof.
The small terminal was located on the causeway that ran from the city to the southern tip of Miami Beach. Passengers were required to remain inside their vehicles, but there were so few on board--a dozen or so--that from her vantage point Gail could watch the approach to Fisher Island. She liked to see the familiar view from a different angle.
A hand went around her knee. "Having a good time?" Anthony was leaning over to look through the opening in the roof. She could see the white vee of his shirt and his black silk bow tie.
"The best. It's Friday. Karen won't be back till Sunday. I have no cases to spoil my weekend." She stroked his thigh with her toes. "Are you busy later?"
He smiled wickedly. "Que chevere. People are staring at you."
"Do you care?"
"No. I think they're jealous."
Maneuvering back inside, Gail lost her balance and fell halfway across his lap, tangled in her shawl, laughing, her dress riding up her legs. He held her where she was and turned her face toward his. The air outside had chilled her, and his mouth felt steamy. Finally he pulled back, giving her a little shake. "You're a crazy woman, you know that?"
"You love it. Without me you'd sit alone in the dark and brood."
"Oh, you think so? I'd be out having fun. Dancing, parties--"
"Don't I take you to parties? Tonight you get to hear Thomas Nolan."
"Who is he?"
"Who? The singer. Tonight's entertainment?"
"Ah. Yes, I remember."
"Liar." Gail smoothed the lapels of his tuxedo. "Don't worry. We'll sneak in, mingle for a bit, then leave."
"Why go at all?"
"Because, sweetheart, how would it look if their new lawyer didn't show up? The president of the board called to make sure I was coming. Rebecca Dixon. You met her in the lobby before Hvorostovky's recital, remember? The brunette with all the diamonds?"
"Yes, I remember. "What does she want?"
"I don't know. We don't socialize, so it must be related to opera business." Gail slid over to the passenger seat and flipped down the visor mirror. Her dark blond hair fell around her face, a style that was easily repaired.
"Rebecca Dixon." Anthony tapped a rhythm on the gearshift. "She used to be Rebecca Sanders. I met her when I was at the University of Miami. She was dating a friend of mine."
Gail put on her lipstick. "You know Rebecca Dixon? Why didn't you say so when I introduced you?"
"No, no. Sometimes people don't like to be reminded. Maybe she doesn't remember me."
"I can't imagine." Gail snapped her purse shut. "Well, your former acquaintance and her husband have made a donation to the opera of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
"Alaba'o! Who is he? Or is the money hers?"
"No, it's his. Lloyd Dixon. He owns a cargo airline, I think. A quarter of a million. It certainly puts my paltry five hundred bucks into perspective." Raising herself off the seat, she pulled her narrow skirt farther down her thighs. "I promise we won't stay long, but I really need to be here tonight, maybe cultivate some paying clients. Lucky you, to be so well established."
"Ah, but my clients--I usually find them at the jail, not at opera parties."
When the ferry bumped against the dock, Anthony slid down his window and told the guard where they were going. On the south side of the island was a clubhouse that used to be a winter home for one of the Vanderbilts. Flowering vines and a marble fountain marked the entrance. Anthony gave the keys to the valet, and they went inside. From the paneled lobby they could hear a piano, a torrent of notes, and a deep voice singing in Italian. They followed the sound.
At the door to the ballroom Gail whispered, "Let's wait till this one is over."
Anthony discreetly squeezed her backside. "We're not staying late. I have plans for you."
She smiled, told him to hush, then eased open the door when applause began. The attendees were mostly middle-aged and up, attired in tuxes, gowns, and fancy cocktail dresses. Most people sat at tables with drinks and small plates of hors d'oeuvres. The lights were low, except for those illuminating the singer and his accompanist.
Gail and Anthony edged against the wall and found chairs in the back. There were some opening chords for the next aria, then Thomas Nolan's vibrant bass-baritone filled the room. Nolan was in his mid-thirties, dressed in a black silk jacket and white turtleneck. His thick blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, making the angular structure of his face seem even more so. He had a tall, lean physique. Onstage, in makeup and costume, he would be gorgeous. Most of the women--and a few of the men--seemed on the point of swooning.
"O mio sospir soave, per sempre io ti perdei!"
Someone had left a program on the table. Gail picked it up and found the translation. Oh, my gentle breath of life, forever are you lost to me. . . . He was good . . . no, he was wonderful. Gail was sorry now that they had taken their time getting here.
"Ah, per sempre io ti perdei, fior d'amore, mia speranza ..." Forever lost, flower of love, my hope ...
She whispered into Anthony's ear, "Do you like it?"
"Very much." He put an arm around the back of her chair, and she curled his left hand around hers. There was a ring on his fourth finger, but the third was bare. Until recently he had worn a heavy platinum ring with an emerald too perfect to seem excessive. The night he asked her to marry him, he had dropped it carelessly into his pocket, and said he wanted only a plain gold band. She had found it odd, this sudden switch from overt display to the simplest of adornment. And then she considered where he had come from.
At forty-two, he had seen his life swerve from one extreme to the another, rarely resting in between. His mother's family, sophisticated and wealthy, had lived in Havana; his father's people were dirt-poor guajiros from rural Cuba. Just after the revolution his mother had fled with her parents and two of her four children. Through some terrible mistake of timing Anthony and one sister were not at home the day the others had to leave. Anthony spent most of his childhood in Camaguey province, a hot flat land of endless sugar cane. He got out at thirteen, his mother's family paying dearly in bribes. Since then, flouting U.S. law, he'd gone back many times to visit his father and sister, but promised Gail he would never go back to stay, even when things changed. His life was here.
She leaned against his shoulder and felt his breath in her hair, then his lips briefly on her temple. When the last song was over everyone applauded, many of them rising to their feet. Thomas Nolan made his bows. Gradually the applause faded away, and people moved forward to speak to him.
Before Gail could turn to pick up her purse and shawl, a delicate hand touched her arm.
"Gail? Yes, I thought it was you." Rebecca Dixon stood smiling at her side, a thin woman in a flowing gold silk dress. Her dark hair was wound into an elaborate knot, and earrings glittered against her long neck.
"And Mr. Quintana. It's good to see you again. I'm Rebecca Dixon."
"Of course." He took her extended hand. "This singer is excellent. I'm happy that Gail invited me to come with her."
Gail looked from one to the other, wondering who knew what about whom.
Anthony put his arm around her waist. "We're engaged to be married. Gail, did you tell her?"
"I tell everyone.'''
Rebecca gave a silvery laugh. "Yes, she does, and I don't blame her a bit. Congratulations to both of you. Now, may I be selfish and take Gail away for a few minutes? Let me introduce you to some friends of mine first, so you won't feel abandoned."
He demurred politely. "Thank you, but it isn't necessary. There are people here I know." He lightly kissed Gail's cheek and told her to take her time.
The two women walked away through the crowd, Rebecca smiling, saying hello, no name forgotten. But all the time they were moving toward an exit door.
Gail had first seen Rebecca Dixon a few years earlier between acts of The Marriage of Figaro, the only opera Gail had seen that season, practicing law downtown sixty hours a week. She had asked her mother who she was. Irene Connor knew everybody. Oh, that's Rebecca Dixon, a perfectly lovely woman. You should meet her. But Gail had declined. At the time, after another raging argument with her husband, she felt intimidated by perfectly lovely women.
With a billow of silk and the click of heels on parquet, Rebecca led Gail along the corridor, then turned into a foyer. Past the sloping lawn and row of royal palm trees, the ocean was visible through uncurtained glass. Moonlight lay down a path of silver across the water.
Rebecca let out a breath. "I was afraid you hadn't come."
"Is there a problem?"
"I hope not, but quite possibly--What did you think of Tom Nolan?"
"Isn't he. We've hired him to sing the lead in Don Giovanni, which opens at the end of the month. One of our board members called me this morning. She said that two years ago last November, Thomas Nolan sang at a music festival ... in Havana." With a lift of carefully drawn brows, Rebecca Dixon waited for a response.
"Ah. Havana . . . Cuba."
"She heard it from one of her friends--a Cuban woman, in fact--at a benefit for the Heart Fund. Who knows where she got it. I asked Tom if it was true. He said, 'So what?' " Rebecca lifted one golden-clad shoulder, imitating his reaction.
Gail had to smile. "But two years ago--"
Rebecca looked at her. "Gail, you live here. Can you seriously tell me we have nothing to worry about?"
"Well . . . no, I can't."
The previous spring a Brazilian jazz combo had been booked into a theater downtown. Nobody paid much attention, until a Little Havana radio host announced that the band had just appeared in New York with a group straight from Havana called Los Van Van--a gross insult to the exile community. The theater manager received death threats. The scene outside the concert turned ugly--shouting, pushing, the police trying to keep the crowds behind barricades. The second performance was canceled, and the story wound up on Nightline.
"What would you like me to do?" Gail didn't know what could be done, except to roll down the hurricane shutters and bring in the plants.
Rebecca twisted her gold necklace around her finger, then slid the diamond pendant back and forth, metal clicking. "The general director is in New York looking at talent. He doesn't know about this yet, and I'll have to give him a recommendation. We have two choices--find someone else to do Don Giovanni or keep Tom Nolan. It's not that easy. We don't want a controversy in the middle of a fundraising drive. On the other hand, do we fire him and look like cowards? My husband says we have to hold our ground, no matter how much it hurts. Lloyd isn't on the executive committee, but he can be such a horse's behind."
A quarter of a million dollars gave him that privilege, Gail thought. "What do you want to do, Rebecca?"
The pendant clicked on the necklace. "I. .. haven't decided yet."
"Well, here's your lawyer's position," Gail said. "Keep the singer. If you cancel his contract without cause, you still have to pay him. How much does he get, by the way?"
"Six thousand five hundred dollars per performance. Seven performances."
Rebecca took Gail's arm. "A few of us on the executive committee are getting together at my house tonight. I'd like you to be there. Bring Anthony Quintana. We need his input. I wanted to consult you first, of course, in view of your relationship with him."
"Tonight?" Gail groaned. "Oh, Rebecca. Don't say that."
"Gail, I've got to have someone who can tell us how the Cuban community is likely to react once the news gets out--and it will. I can't just go into that meeting and say well, I think this might happen, or that--"
"Look, you have Cubans on the board, don't you? Ask them."
"I would, but they have no connection with the--I don't want to say extremists. Let's say certain groups who take a different point of view."
"What? Anthony doesn't--"
"It's his family I was referring to. His grandfather is a member of every hard-line exile group in Miami. His brother-in-law, Octavio Reyes, has a radio talk show. Anthony would have an opinion on what might happen. Maybe he'd even help us with PR if we decide to keep Tom Nolan. Please, Gail. I'd ask him myself, but it would be better if you did."
"In view of our relationship," Gail repeated. A man in love wasn't likely to turn his fiancee down. "All right. I'll ask, but what he wants to do is up to him."
"Fair enough." Rebecca squeezed her hand. "You're a dear."
"Just curious. How did you find out so much about Anthony's family?"
"Well ... we knew each other in college."
"Oh, yes. The University of Miami," Gail said. "Anthony mentioned that."
"He was very political in those days," Rebecca said. "That's why I believe he'll help us now."
"Political? No ... I don't think he was ever . . . like his grandfather."
A laugh danced off the tiles in the foyer. "Good lord, no. The other end of the spectrum. Anthony had a poster of Che Guevara in his bedroom."
Gail managed to smile. "Really. Che Guevara." The bearded poster boy of campus radicals. Hero of the Cuban Revolution. In Anthony's bedroom. Which Rebecca Dixon had somehow seen.
"Oh, don't tell him I brought that up, after all this time. It would embarrass him."
What an odd sensation, Gail thought. Almost physical. A slight turn on the axis. A shift in the angle of light. Edges in what had seemed smooth.
Rebecca gestured toward the corridor. "I suppose we should go back. They'll be wondering where we are."