WEDNESDAYS

By Tim Wohlforth

Janet Taylor beamed as she stood in line at Hertz Hall on the Cal campus in Berkeley. Her gray hair was cut fashionably short, and she wore a peasant skirt with an embroidered white blouse, a Guatemalan bag hanging over her shoulder. She unbuttoned her cardigan. The fog had cleared, permitting the warming rays of the late morning sun to temper the morningís slight chill.

There were only three people in front of her. She always arrived early for the Wednesday noon free concerts. Soon the line would be around the ochre mission-style building. Since she had taken early retirement from teaching elementary school, the weekly performance had become the center of her busy life. It wasn't so much her position in line that pleased her so today. It was anticipation of the musical experience to come. Elizabeth Kroy, featured violinist with the Baroque Philharmonic, was going to play Bach. Elizabeth was the best.

Janet felt an elbow nudging her in the middle of the back. She turned to face a man with a gentle boyish visage, white hair, and a trim beard, wearing blue jeans and moccasins. She figured his age as late fifties to early sixties. He held a steaming lattť in one hand and a bran muffin in the other. A cell phone in the pocket of his loose-fitting white shirt was ringing.

"Could you help me out?" His soft blue eyes implored her.

"Of course."

She smiled back at him as she took his lunch out of his hands. She stood there, not sure what to do with the coffee and muffin. The man began to speak into the phone. "Yes, this is Jack" was all she could hear. For several minutes he murmured almost in a whisper into the phone. Then he flipped it closed and turned to her.

"You've been an angel. I don't know how to thank you enough. I never seem to get away from business." He reached towards her and lightly took hold of her two arms.

"Could I ask you one more favor? Please hold on to these for a few more minutes. And save my place. I need to run a quick errand."

"But the door may open at any minute, and they don't allow food inside," Janet protested.

"Then dump the stuff, but save me a seat. Wouldn't miss this concert for the world."

"You've heard Elizabeth?"

"The greatest."

He had said the magic words. Anyone who loved Elizabeth Kroy was automatically Janetís friend. And it didn't hurt that he was so damnably good looking or that she could feel the warmth of his hands on her arms.

"Be quick," she found herself saying. He dropped her arms and started jogging in the direction of Telegraph Avenue.

* * *

Janet Taylor sat in the front row, no more than ten feet from where Elizabeth Kroy would be standing. Seats packed with people rose high up behind her. Janet had felt guilty turning down the dozen or so persons who asked to occupy the seat she saved for Jack. She figured she'd seen the last of him, but a promise was a promise. Funny the effect he had on her. Silly really. Her female friends insisted that she was a pretty woman with an attractive figure. But the phrase "for your age," spoken or unspoken, was always there. She did work out each day - even lifted weights - and kept trim. Men like Jack, she knew, were only interested in younger women. She was just two convenient hands to hold a cup and a muffin. But he did have a nice smile.

The lights started to dim, and a hush fell over the audience. Then Elizabeth walked in holding her magnificent baroque violin. She was a heavy woman with a round freckled face and an unruly mound of brown hair and looked more like a farm girl than a concert violinist. That was part of the charm. Her face would light up when she played, like a little girl with a Barbie Doll on Christmas morning. The audience greeted her with applause and then fell silent. The first marvelous note hit Janet's ears. A hand enclosed her hand on the armrest. Janet almost jumped out of her seat.

"Sorry for being late," Jack whispered into her ear. "You've been a darling."

Janet blushed. He released her hand, but she could feel his shoulder pressing against hers during the rest of the concert. She made no effort to move away.

Elizabeth concluded her short concert with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in A minor for unaccompanied violin. More than once Janet looked up at the stage, expecting to see a whole orchestra. She saw only Elizabeth, with her little girl smile on her large freckled face, effortlessly bowing away. Goose bumps formed on Janetís arms. Jack's hand squeezed hers, pressure increasing as the piece's complexity unfolded. Faster pace. Bow flying across strings. Clusters of low notes in double stops hit her like body blows. Then silence, leaving her and the whole audience stunned.

She rose to her feet with Jack still holding her hand. Jack dropped her hand and started clapping. She joined in, too. Jack shouted, "Magnificent." They both stomped their feet. The audience followed their lead. It was as if Janet and Jack were the cheerleaders at the Super Bowl.

Jack turned to her. "Incredible...that a human could have written something of such beauty. Impossible...that Elizabeth Kroy could play a piece of such complexity." He took her hand. "I owe you lunch." He dragged her after him out of the concert hall.

* * *

"You look a bit tired," Jack said as he reached across the table and squeezed Janet's hand.

It was their fifth lunch together at the La Strada Coffee House. The place was packed with students. Some sat alone with their books open or laptop on; others in clusters chattered away. Janet loved the college atmosphere. A vitality charged the air and made her feel not necessarily younger but definitely more alive.

"Karate practice was a bit strenuous this morning."

"You're kidding. I never would picture you performing karate."

"I know. You think I'm some gray haired old lady who likes music."

"I do not. You're not old to me, Janet. And the gray hair becomes you. I see an intelligent, passionate creature before me. You have no idea how you've transformed my life."

And hers. Could she ever tell Jack how important he had become to her in such a short while? Her life now centered on her weekly time with Jack. When she read a novel for her book club, she knew just how Jack would react to the story. She threw herself with greater energy into her volunteer work at Alta Bates hospital because Jack was so proud of her. She chattered on about him at her weekly lunches and dinners with her friends. Above all, he was with her whenever she listened to music. "That's Jack's piece," she would say to herself when KDFC played Bach.

"But," Jack continued, "I never would have guessed karate."

"I'll not be some frail woman walking around waiting to become a victim. Karate helps me feel stronger, more independent."

"I wish...."

"You wish what?"

"Maybe you could be just a bit dependent on me."

Yes, she wanted to ... to be his. She wanted so much to reach out and bring him closer to her. But she knew nothing about him. When not discussing music, Janet had prattled on about her life. Somehow Jack had avoided talking about himself. She didn't like to pry, but it bothered her. She didn't even know his last name.

"I would like that," Janet forged ahead. "I feel I know you, yet I know nothing about you, not even your last name."

Jack stiffened in his chair. He didn't look her in the eyes. Instead he fixated on the screen of a laptop sitting in front of a thin blond coed at the table across from them. She wished she could take a deep swallow and withdraw question.

"You've got to trust me, Janet. Wednesdays have become very important for me. I look forward all week to the concert, to being with you. You must believe that. However, it's best for you that I not talk about myself."

What could she say? She felt an uncontrollable urge to cry. A tear began to roll down her cheek. She swiftly wiped it away before Jack could notice it. Her mind was spinning. He must be married. Maybe even children. The wife didn't like music. That's it. He needed somebody to share that passion. Talking about music wasn't going to bed with someone. Or was it? A smile crept over her face. For her their relationship was intimate. She would have liked more from Jack, but what they had was too precious to her to lose.

"There's a group of women singers who specialize in medieval music," Janet said. She looked directly at him forcing him to return her gaze. "They're called 'The Anonymous Four.' You're my Anonymous One."

She rose from her seat. Jack rushed to her side and took her by the arm. He walked with her down College Avenue, shrouded in sycamore trees, away from the campus. He stopped and pulled her towards him. He held her tightly, pressing her head against his. He kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"I'm trying, Janet," he said. He loosened his hold on her, turned and walked swiftly down Durant towards Telegraph.

* * *

Janet attended Wednesday concerts with Jack throughout that fall and winter.

Afterwards at La Strada, she discussed music with Jack. He loved Bach but knew little about early music. Janet filled him in on Purcell, Jordi Suvall, Marias, and Hildegard von Bingen. Janet never again asked Jack about himself. Their meetings invariably ended with the hug, the kiss. Mouth soon replaced cheek.

Janet felt she knew Jack better than anyone she had met in her whole life. He was a good man. He had his reasons for his secrets. She did not tell Jack that she loved him. And he didn't mention love. He didn't need to. She knew.

* * *

Jack didn't show up the second Wednesday in March. Janet figured that he must have been sick or that some pressing business matter had come up. She went to the La Strada and sat at their favorite table. She waited almost two hours. For the next three Wednesdays, she faithfully saved his seat and waited at the coffee house.

A small package arrived in the mail. It was a CD by Anonymous Four. There was a Post-it attached with one word scrawled on it: "Sorry." She burst into tears. "One word, only one word!" she exclaimed to no one. "Damn him."

His wife must have spotted them, Janet figured. She knew it couldn't have lasted forever, but that didn't make it any easier for her. There was really nothing she could do. She felt miserable. She had been a happy person before she met Jack. Had it really been worth it? Wasn't she too old for...for love?

After a few weeks, a change came over her. She discovered that she wouldn't have wanted to live without knowing Jack. The pain of losing him subsided. She permitted thoughts of him to reenter her life. In her heart and thoughts, he was with her again at the Wednesday concerts and whenever she heard music.

* * *

Janet hurried up Telegraph Avenue one cool overcast Wednesday in May. For once she might be late for the concert. She pushed through throngs of students rushing from class and on their way to their apartments or to find lunch. Ahead, the punks and Goths had sprawled over the sidewalk across the street from Cody's bookstore. Bright red spiked hair, tattered blue jeans, leather jackets, chains, dogs, backpacks. Girls, with ghostly pale complexions, black lipstick, clothes. A whiff of pot mixed with car exhaust in the air.

A gigantic hulk of a man towered over the punks. Shaved head, rings in ears and nose, a swastika tattooed on his massive biceps, leather vest with thongs attached, chain holding up tattered leather pants, no shirt. He was talking with an older gray-haired man in a white shirt. It was Jack.

Janet froze. People bumped into her, but she couldn't move. The hulk grabbed Jack's shirt and ripped it open. She ran towards Jack, bashed past a young Persian woman, her hair covered by a chador, and knocked over a table full of anti-establishment bumper stickers. She tore across the street. A new Beetle, its horn blaring, screeched to a stop inches from her body.

The hulk saw Janet, and his black eyes burned right through her. Then he reached behind his back, pulled out a revolver, and fired directly into Jack's stomach. Jack fell to the ground. The hulk turned his back to him and walked up the street.

Janet reached Jack and dropped to the sidewalk. She picked up his head and cradled it in her lap. She could see a wire on his bloody chest leading to something taped to his belly. His blue eyes absorbed her and he smiled weakly.

"Sorry," he murmured, blood spurting from his mouth. "Missed Wednesdays. Was watched." There was a gurgle, and he stopped breathing. Janet heard sirens. She looked up. The Goths and punks were all gone. Cops surrounded her.

* * *

Janet sat rigidly in a straight chair in front of a painted gray table in the interrogation room of the Berkeley Police Department. A lanky black man with short-cropped hair and a thin mustache sat opposite her. He wore a three-piece brown suit.

"I'm Detective Malik Baraka. You appear to be the only witness to the murder of Detective Jack Henderson."

"So that was his last name."

"I gather you knew him?"

"Yes, I did, but I hadn't seen him for months. I didn't know he was a policeman."

"The best. Worked undercover for years. Dedicated. We need your help if we're going to be able to prosecute his killer."

"It was a crowded street. There were all those young people dressed in leather sitting on the sidewalk."

"The punks. Disappeared as soon as they heard the gun shot. We need you to testify."

"I'd be happy to. It's the least I can do for Jack."

"He's been working for three years trying to trap Gigante."

"Gigante?"

"The big guy. We don't know his real name. He's behind the drug pushing on Telegraph. Jack had penetrated his gang. We had Jack wired. I was sitting in an unmarked car not more than twenty feet away. But I wasn't close enough. Somehow Gigante caught on."

"He risked his life." Janet now realized why Jack had stopped seeing her. Gigante must have seen them together. Jack was trying to protect her.

"Jack didn't care. Wouldn't listen to reason. I was his partner and kept telling him it was only a job. Catch one big dude, and another rises in his place. But he was obsessed with this particular bad guy. Don't blame him. His daughter died on that street when she was only fourteen. OD'd. Gigante supplied her. He took sexual advantage of her, too."

"Oh God, how terrible. How's his wife taking it?"

"Wife? Long gone. They divorced years ago. The job's all-consuming. Then the daughter's death. Really destroyed his family life. We think the wife's in LA somewhere. Haven't been able to locate her. Are you coming to the memorial service?"

"Of course."

"Won't be anybody there but us cops. He had no other life."

"You're mistaken."

"About what?"

"His life. He had Wednesdays."

* * *

Janet Taylor smiled as she walked out of the First Congregational Church. Dressed completely in black in her ushering outfit, she clutched a Bible, pressing it to her chest. She was the last one to leave. She had sat for awhile looking up at the cross, making her peace with the loss of Jack.

It had been a beautiful service. Taking money from her meager savings, she had hired Elizabeth Kroy to play Bach's unaccompanied sonatas. Elizabeth had concluded with the very same toccata and fugue she had played at the concert where Janet met Jack. It had been his favorite. Now it was Janetís. Kroy never performed better.

Janet stepped out onto the patio in front of the church, the fugue throbbing sonorously in her head. She remembered each note. It was more than a magical piece of music to her. It was Jack.

Blinded for a moment by the sun, she held her Bible up to her eyes to block the rays. A shadow fell over her. Gigante's bulk blocked out the sun. Standing directly in front of her with legs spread apart, a cocky sickening smile crept over his face. He reached behind his back. Janet knew that's where he kept his revolver. He planned to kill her, the only witness to Jack's murder.

She took the Bible in her hand and flung it with all her might into his face. It hit him just as his hand, holding the revolver, swept around front. A deafening roar. Flames spurted out of the barrel. The bullet went wild.

"Murderer! Murderer!" Janet screamed as she lunged towards the monster. Bach's fugue throbbed ever louder, ever faster in her head. Building. Building. Giving her courage. Pushing her on. She felt no fear, only hatred for what he had done to Jack, to Jack's daughter.

"You killed Jack!" she shouted. She started scratching his chest and kicking at him. Bach spurred her on. Each piercing note surged like electricity through Janet fingers, driving her nails into his chest.

"Damn!" Gigante exclaimed. She had caught him by surprise.

She could see that he had not expected such furor from a gray-haired lady. Now she was too close for him to shoot. He swung his massive arm, seeking to fling her away as if she was a fly or mosquito.

Janet dug her teeth into the flesh of his massive arm, just as Elizabeth Kroy, performing in Janetís head, came down in a series of double stops on the lowest, deepest notes. Blood spurted from his arm. He involuntarily jerked away.

She stepped back swiftly from Gigante, and, using all her strength, landed a powerful karate kick right at his crotch. He doubled over screaming. She rushed forward and gouged her fingernails into his eye-sockets as Bach majestically resolved all elements of his composition into a final musical phrase. Gigante dropped his gun.

She heard footsteps, shouting. The cops had returned. They grabbed Gigante from behind. But Janet didn't let go. She pawed his huge chest like a wild animal, digging her nails ever deeper, drawing blood. It took two cops to pull her off of him.

Janet dropped to the ground, exhausted. She lay on the grass besides a flower bed full of yellow and red roses. A crowd gathered around her.

She muttered only one word.

"Wednesdays."