A Cough at the College of the Pacific – 3

Like most LA commutes, the drive home took longer then expected. I entered a dark apartment and switched on the lights. Once, not long time ago, O’Brien would have greeted me at the door amidst gentle purring. But O’Brien was gone, having escaped through an open kitchen window on a rainy October evening two years ago. I’d always assumed cats hated water, but I suppose curiosity had gotten the better of O’Brien, rain be damned. Long searches had proven unsuccessful, though I still kept the window open hoping he might one day return.

I grabbed a Sapporo from the fridge and retreated into the living room. After five minutes of news I switched off the TV and switched on the Philco receiver and hit the CD PLAY button on the Sony before falling onto the sofa. The music of Jazz at the College of the Pacific – files ripped from a pristine copy of the original Fantasy Records vinyl pressing of 1953 and processed through an anti-static charger – eclipsed the silence of the room. A car pulled into the driveway and moments later Lien Chen, my next-door neighbor, peered through my living room window.

“It’s unlocked, c’mon in,” I said, a bit too loudly.

Lien entered, dressed, as usual, in black yoga pants and a heather gray tie-back tank.

“Hard day at the office?” I asked.

“Just the usual,” she said. “Instructing rich housewives who’ve nothing better to do than master downward facing dog before driving two blocks to drop ninety-dollars on an Anthropologie tank top.”

Lien snagged a bottle of pomegranate cherry water from the fridge and took a seat next to me. We’d been neighbors for five years, having both arrived in LA during the same week. “How’d the Vegas trip go?”

“Not good. Husband, deceased; wife, no recollection.”

“That sucks. Are you about ready to give up this obsession?”

“Not yet. Not quite yet.”

“Figured as much, seeing as how you’re playing that damn live album yet again.”

Desmond’s gentle sax on “For All We Know” filled the air, and we sat in silence for a tranquil moment.

“Did you ever stop to wonder,” I began, “what the world might have been like had Brubeck followed his original career path and become a veterinarian rather than switching his major to music in 1939?”

“I can’t say that I have,” Lien said.

“I mean, sure we’d still have Kenny Burrell, Cecil Taylor, Dexter Gordon and the like. But a world without Brubeck/Desmond collaborations? I can’t even ponder it.”

“Unless he used his gift of music to heal sickly animals.”

“Good point,” I admitted. “Hadn’t considered that.”

“It was a joke. You really have to pull back the reins on this. You’ve gone full OCD over a split-second cough recorded on a live album forty-five years ago. Do you really expect to find any answers?”

“That’s still the plan,” I said, trying to laugh off the rationality of Lein’s statement as a cold sweat broke out upon the nape of my neck.

NEXT: Our story continues.