One Coffee With

One Coffee With by Margaret Maron

Book: One Coffee With by Margaret Maron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Margaret Maron
were dark looks upon her entrance; two or three old-timers standing at the long mahogany bar had muttered into their ale about “petticoat patronage” and with ostentatious rudeness had given her their backs. But the great contralto was then at the height of her powers and had accurately sized up her “house”—child’s play to a woman who would still be able to sing in Das Rheingold when she was sixty-four.
    She began with the few Celtic lullabies at her disposal and, when those were exhausted, switched to the sweetest German songs in her repertoire. The language barrier evaporated—sentimentality has never needed translation—and soon the most hardbitten stevedores were weeping into their glasses. (Empty glasses, one might add, since no one had wanted to break the spell to order.) For over an hour the majestic Schumann-Heink held them in the palm of her queenly hand until at last she expressed fatigue and impatience at the nonarrival of a fresh horse; whereupon a dozen strong men hitched themselves to her carriage and pulled it though the rain all the way to her hotel on Seventh Avenue.
    “Shure and she was a foine lady,” said the pragmatic Francis Madigan, tallying up the evening’s lost revenues, “but women do be taking a man’s mind off his drinking.”
    Succeeding owners, even those not of Irish descent, had echoed his sentiments, and Madigan’s was one of the last male bastions to fall beneath the feminist assault. Not that women came there very often once their point was made. Madigan’s was neither quaint, picturesque nor cozy . In point of fact, it was quite hopelessly shabby, for there had been few concessions to modernity. Women were, by law, tolerated; but they were not encouraged with any plastic niceties.
    No wine, beer or liquor was served. Dark stout and porter foamed down the sides of chunky glass mugs, and food arrived on chipped brown earthenware, while the wide oak tables and benches were so dingy with age and indifferent cleaning that the sawdust on the floor looked fresh by comparison. The air was thick with stale malt fumes and greasy smoke, and Sigrid Harald peered through it dubiously.
    “I can see at least a dozen violations of the health code from right here. God knows what the kitchen must look like.”
    “A policewoman shouldn’t quibble about minor dangers,” said Nauman. “I thought you wanted the best steak in town.”
    “Not if it comes with a side order of ptomaine,” she said tartly.
    Their waiter had a poor grasp of English, but he flashed a gold-toothed smile, eager to please. “You no worry about that, senora. We no have it—just plain lettuce for the ensalada .”
    Sigrid laughed, and a certain familiar curve of her lips pricked the artist’s memory.
    “Harald,” he said reflectively when the waiter had taken their order and gone.” Are you by any chance related to a photojournalist, Anne Harald?”
    “My mother,” Sigrid said, and her lips tightened defensively as she waited for the inevitable, disparaging comparison. Anne Harald was known for her vivacious beauty, and casual acquaintances found it difficult to think of this tall, plain young woman as her daughter.
    Instead Nauman said only, “She took some pictures of my work for a Life article years ago. Good camera work.”
    “Were you in that series?” Sigrid asked, surprised. Then she realized her gaucherie. “I’m sorry. Of course, you would have been. That was the whole point of the piece, wasn’t it? Profiles of leading American artists. I was away at school when my mother was working on it, so I’m afraid I don’t remember any of the details.”
    “You might want to look it up since Riley Quinn wrote the accompanying text. Your mother writes most of her own stuff now, doesn’t she? Haven’t seen her in years, but wasn’t she nominated for a Pulitzer not too long ago?”
    Sigrid nodded. “For a story on how Vietnamese refugees are assimilating into this culture. She keeps an apartment

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