Tea With the Black Dragon

By: Roberta A. Macavoy

Chapter 1

Martha Macnamara stood at the Pacific, her toes digging into the froth. She had come the length of the country in one day's flight, and she had trouble believing that this was a different ocean.

“Oh go on, admit it,” she grumbled, kicking the ivory scum from a pile of kelp. “You're all the same water.”

Perhaps not. She peered at the line where the iron blue of the sky hit the soft-colored water. So bare a sky did not shine over Coney Island.

A gull plunged, kissed the water and veered right and away, all ten yards from Mrs. Macnamara. Her head rose to follow its flight and her hands lifted, echoing the bird's gesture. For a moment it seemed her prim figure, gray suited and graying, would fly away into the west—or north along the dirty beach toward the Bridge.

But that was just for a moment, and then the hands touched at the braids that coiled around her head, braids that threatened to slip over her ears.

“If you would know the Way,” she recited to herself, “observe the subtlety of water.” Martha considered these words as she watched the waves fling themselves roaring onto the sand. What was subtle in such a display of power?

With her round blue eyes very calm in her small round face Mrs. Macnamara watched the ocean. Slowly she smiled.

Where was Liz now—at work? Should Martha try to call again, or wait for her daughter to make the move? After all, Elizabeth had set up the reservation. Martha Macnamara would never have chosen to stay in a place like the James Herald Hotel. Oh, it was comfortable, doubtless, and the only person she had spoken to in the hotel—a bartender—had proven friendly; she had bent his ear for forty minutes at lunch—her dinner, what with the time change—perched on a red leather stool amid black oak and brass, rattling on about airplanes racing the sun, and how the violin had evolved from the viola when Europeans were able to afford carpets and drapes But with the price of a night's lodging at the James Herald she could have bought that bass bow she'd wanted since June.

Martha could just as well have slept on Liz's couch as spent so much of her daughter's money. It was all very strange. The smile disappeared from her lips as she considered how strange. She turned from the water and ascended the sandy slope.

“Mysterious meetings in expensive places,” she mumbled as she climbed. A wealth of sand was trapped in her open-toed shoes. “Intrigue. Suspense

“Tune in tonight for shocking revelations!” The sole of her foot gritted against concrete; she stood on the pavement above the beach, emptying her shoes. Except for her gray form, unobtrusive as a rock, the beach was empty on this workday afternoon. Empty and cool. Martha shivered deliciously in the good wool suit she hadn't been able to wear since May.

The Great Highway cut between the City and the Ocean, sharp as the mark of a razor. A young boy ran along the curb, all dressed in white, his feet making a noise like pigeon wings.

Thinking of pigeon wings, Martha's spirits lifted once again. It was her spirits' natural condition, to be lifted. She sprinted across the street in her cordovan brogues, her pleated skirt flapping, receiving the honks of motorists with quiet grace. On the far side—the City side— stood the stand of a pretzel vendor. His teeth flashed at her from a strong, Latin face. She bought a soft pretzel, decorated it with mustard, and ate it where she stood.

Three men walked by together, arm in arm in arm, and then a young woman with bushy hair red as a radish. A bare-chested boy on a spyder bike did wheelies in the street. Honks again. Martha's approval was limitless; San Francisco bid fair to being as zany as New York.

And this was a good corner, probably packed on weekends. Close to downtown yet in sight of the water. She wished she had brought her fiddle. How invigorating to sit down next to the pretzel vendor and play a Bach passacaglia, or maybe a slip jig. Put out the hat. Liz would hate that! Liz behaved with propriety.

Martha Macnamara was smiling again. She licked mustard from her fingers and turned toward the hotel.

She took the stranger's long hand in her own and shook it. “How wonderful! You could span way over two octaves!”

The hand retreated as soon as custom permitted. The owner of it remained standing, a dark figure in the shadow of a paneled wall. He bowed slightly to Mrs. Macnamara.

“ Mayland Long Martha Macnamara ”The young bartender continued his introduction. “I thought you two should meet.”

Both parties stared at him. “Because of the violin,” he explained.

“But surely you play keyboards,” Martha insisted. “With such a reach ”

Mr. Long motioned across the white expanse of table, and did not sit again 'til Martha had lowered herself into the chair opposite. “Forgive the clutter. I have had a late dinner.” He spoke quietly, as empty plates and silver were cleared away before him. “Please have tea with me.”

My, thought the woman to herself. His voice. Lovely English. How wonderful.

“I don't make music,” Mr. Long stated. “I merely appreciate it.” He sat in the shadow of his corner table, gazing across to where she sat touched by a beam of light. He saw a slim woman of some fifty years. Her features were small and regular, and her head set well on a slender neck. Her grizzled hair was braided around her head. The hair and her gray wool suit were back lit, causing Martha Macnamara to shine about the edges.