Come Scoglio


For-those-who-care-about-this-sort-of-thing-dept: Come Scoglio (Co-may Sko-lee-oh) is the title of an aria from Cosi Fan Tutte and means 'firm as a rock.' Make of it what you will.

Story #5 (or possibly #4) in the Emma universe

Even though he'd first heard her sing Janacek, it was with the music of Mozart that Cowley associated Juliette Austin. By the age of thirty, she'd mastered the key roles -- Cerubino was her signature role. Juliette with her soaring, ecstatic voice and gamine face, and an uncomfortable hold on a tiny, neglected piece of George Cowley's heart.

It was to hear her sing Cerubino that he'd come that night -- to hear her sing and nothing more. More would be disastrous. Between the acts he remembered the first time he'd ever seen her. She was singing the role of a shepherd boy, her wispy blonde hair clipped short rather than tucked under a cap. She looked like an adolescent boy. Her voice even so early in her career was rich and warm and lyrical, and it touched something in Cowley the music-lover that had last been touched by Schwartzkopf.

He checked the name in the programme -- Juliette Randall-Austin (she'd dropped the Randall not long after) -- and he wondered if she was related to Henry Randall-Austin, one of the near-great helden tenors of the later fifties.

"He's my father," she said when later he was able to ask her. He'd brought her violets and asked her to a late supper, never really expecting her to accept. She did, though, with what appeared to be genuine enthusiasm.

Dressed in a severely tailored suit, her close cropped hair brushed back, she was so striking as to make Cowley a little uncomfortable. She wore the violets pinned to the lapel of her jacket.

"I heard him sing many times when he did a season here," he told her.

"I never heard him perform. He lost his voice when I was five."

Cowley vaguely recalled the publicity -- some physical disorder necessitating an early retirement. He didn't pursue the subject but Julie was candid.

"It's something I wonder about -- will it happen to me, I mean. It destroyed my father." She sipped the champagne he'd ordered. "I grew up hating him for what he did to his children."

After that, he came to see her regularly when work permitted. She expected him backstage at least once a week. They shared late suppers, went dancing .. . . she even coerced him into going to a jazz club with her and he suffered it gladly, for George Cowley, despite his iron control and his firm belief that there's no fool like an old fool, was coming to love Juliette.

He remembered too the night when, as he was about to take his leave at her door, she kissed him and rubbed her face, cat-like against his cheek and whispered, "take me to bed, George."

He must have seemed mad, he thought as the curtain rose on the last act, babbling on about his awkward political position and security risks. Julie's expression was wry, disappointed -- confusion on her strange, lovely face -- a face that would suddenly, a year later, be famous. Cowley never allowed himself to consider what might have happened had he been less forthright.

He'd not intended to go backstage -- not until he saw the old woman on the pavement selling sweet violets, and he knew that in this, at least, he had no choice.

It was crowded backstage, the dressing room filled to overflowing with people and a riot of expensive flowers. His own offering seemed very meager. Julie was in the centre of a crowd of admirers giving a very funny rendition of Polyphemus' aria from Acis and Galatea, her voice pitched low and her stance mock macho. He was about to give up the attempt when the song came to an end suddenly and a familiar voice -- a too familiar voice rose above the din: "George! Come over and kiss me." Red-faced he pressed through the crowd until like a shy schoolboy he stood face- to-face with one of the most celebrated singers of the decade.

"Oh, violets. No one ever brings me violets but you . . . and I love them so. George, why haven't you come to see me before this?" Breathless. They kissed as friends. She smoothed his hair with an elegantly manicured hand and he noticed that she no longer bit her nails. "You're taking me to supper, of course," she said in a voice that brooked no refusal. "I'm ravenous. I hope you're flush tonight."

She hopped up on a chair and whistled for attention, like a boy with two fingers in her mouth. "Friends, I'm going next door to change. Please enjoy the hors d'oeuvres and champagne. I'll be back as soon as I've scrubbed off this damn make-up."

"Meet me outside the stage door with your car," she whispered to Cowley just before she disappeared. Ten minutes later she dashed out of the theatre and into the car, barefaced and dressed in jeans, a t-shirt that bore the legend "save-a-pet" and a tweed jacket. The violets were tucked into the long, loose braid that hung over her left shoulder. She smelled of violets. "I'm so glad to be out of there," she sighed as she sank into her seat. "My feet are killing me. Can we have pasta, George? I'm famished. I always am after a performance."

It occurred to him that he hadn't spoken yet, that she had made him dumb with her strange beauty, like some sorceress in lavender trainers. "You've not changed. You still . . ."

"Talk too much? Oh, but there I go finishing your sentences again. That's terrible and I'm sorry. I won't say another word, I promise, except to tell you how very happy I am to see you again. I've missed you. Now tell me what you've been doing all these years. You know what I've been doing."

"You got married."

"Who told you that?" she demanded.

"I, ah, I assumed . . ." He was extremely and pointlessly embarrassed. She laughed.

"Oh, you heard about Maggie, my daughter. No I'm not married. Are you awfully shocked?"

"No, nor surprised either."

"Have I just been insulted?" she asked playfully. "Goodness, George, I never took you for a prude."

"You had enough reason to, I expect. It's good of you to give me the benefit of the doubt. Georgio' s all right with you?"

"Wonderful," she said, meaning the restaurant. Then: "What do you mean?" She leaned towards him, her arm stretched across the back of the seat. He could feel the warmth of her through his coat and shirt.


"No really, do you mean that little scene we went through the last time we were together?" He nodded. "I took you at your word, George. I never thought you were being prudish. Were you?" she asked, a sly grin lighting up her face. She was cat-like, he decided, almost feral.

"Of course not!" He did not like feeling the fool in front of Julie.

"Am I still such a dreadful security risk, then?"

"You'll do."

"Then you'll just have to explain to me why. This time I want to know why I'm being turned down . . . in detail."

Why he said it, he would never be sure. "What makes you so sure you'll be turned down?" he asked.

"Oh . . . good," she said, settling back into her seat.

Over dinner she spoke more about her family than her career, and Cowley began to understand why she'd hated her father so. (Henry Randall-Austin had died since the last time Cowley had seen Julie. He'd sent a brief note of sympathy, but it was never acknowledged.) "There's not one of us who's whole and healthy and stable, and I blame him more than anyone else," she said, with perhaps more vehemence than was necessary. She stabbed at her place of fettucine with real feeling. "Still," she added, "we're surviving, which is something . . . isn't it?" She looked up with mute appeal in her blue-green eyes.

"You seem eminently stable to me, Julie."

"Oh, but I'm the lucky one, you see. I had a voice. He expected the most from me, but he loved me best at the same time. He never raised a finger to me no matter how horrible I was to him. Ashley, on the other hand, would get knocked around regularly. Dad hated Ashley." Once again she was business-like and animated. "I suppose that surviving is a sort of victory in itself. And I had my revenge. The summer that I was pregnant with Maggie, I went home and mooched around town one of those dreadfully posh north-shore suburbs of Chicago looking for all the world like the Goodyear blimp and making sure that all of our neighbors knew that I wasn't secretly married or anything. To make it worse, my sister Eden was pregnant too, and that was before she married Stewart, so the two 'loose' Austin girls gave the town a thrill that year." She laughed. "We'd walk to the center of town and get ice cream and Baskin- Robbins and flirt with the counter boys. Our neighbors were gleefully scandalized."

Cowley sipped his wine thoughtfully. "How old is your daughter?"

"Almost three . . . just think, that means it's been . . ." She did a quick mental tally, "five years since we've seen each other. Yes, of course, Dad died eighteen months ago. Goodness, George, wherever have you been keeping yourself? I was in London two years ago for a benefit concert. I had hoped to see you."

"Och, I wanted to come and hear you sing that time, but I was tangled up with a difficult case."


"I don't want to talk about business, " he demurred.

"I'm a firm believer in getting to know your rivals. I want to know all about your mistress."

He was embarrassed. "What makes you think . . ."

"Your job, I mean. You know, now that I move in exalted circles I have access to a lot more information than I used to. I even know what CI5 is now, thanks to a sweet peer who shall remain nameless. He told me quite a bit about you." She reached across the table and took his hand. "For what it's worth, I'm terribly trustworthy."

The idea that she'd thought of him at all in the seven years since last they met was strangely thrilling. It had been a very long time since any woman had made him feel so special, and he was not immune to that pleasure.

"Can we have canneloni?" she asked, making that startling transition from alluring woman to anxious child that always unnerved him.

"Of course. Whatever you want."

"Oh my," she said.

Later, when he took her back to her hotel, she asked him in to meet Maggie, and he was charmed by the lovely child of this lovely woman. Maggie was quiet and affectionate and she resembled Julie to a great degree. "Austin looks," Julie said as she smoothed Maggie's fair hair. "Only the twins were dark. God knows who they took after."

"Isn't it a bit late for the child?" he asked.

Julie shrugged. "She keeps my schedule. Doesn't seem to hurt her." She cradled Maggie and nuzzled the silver-blonde hair, humming softly at first then singing 'Bist du bei mir' as Maggie dropped off to sleep in her arms. "Her name is Anna Magdalena so I sing her to sleep with Bach," she explained with a shy smile. She gestured to Maggie's nanny who led the child away. Then Julie sat down beside him. "She's nice, isn't she? I decided when she was born . . . well, before really, that even if she has a voice I'm not going to push her into music. She's going to be her own person. Well, for a while she's going to be my person, but I don't think she minds right now. God, I'm nuts about that kid. That's why I let her stay up until I get home. I don't want to miss her growing up." She leaned close to him. "But there's other things I don't want to miss right now," she whispered, her breath raising the tiny hairs at the nape of his neck.

He kissed her. He knew he was going to stay.

Never the sort of man to allow even the smallest of private concerns to intrude on his public life, Cowley stoically accepted the fact that Julie's schedule was far from compatible with his. Still, it was with a twinge of regret that he realized that she wouldn't be able to accompany him to one of the annual affairs that occasionally plagued him. Deadly things with their hearty speeches about "jobs well done", usually turning into mutual admiration societies, Cowley had always hated them. Juliette's company would have made the evening considerably less tedious. It was just as well, though, he decided as he dressed that evening, because he had a few words to say to the assembly that might take much of the evening to say . . . and a few of the wee, small hours as well. Yes, it was perhaps better this way. And she had asked him to come by afterwards, no matter how late, and tell her all about it. He was far from convinced that she found stuffy political affairs 'fascinating' as she put it, but he was flattered even by her feigned interest. It was part of her charm -- that willingness to make the effort to appear interested. And it was something that many contemporary women had forgotten how to do. Men were vain creatures, he reflected. They wanted someone who would listen to even the dullest nonsense and seem interested. The thought quirked his mouth into a little grin. He felt like a cross between besotted schoolboy and dutch uncle.

A little part of him felt the pangs of regret when he saw the dates that Bodie and Doyle had dredged up for the evening -- regret because Julie was easily as lovely as either of their women, and (he was willing to bet) rather more clever. He realized that he was feeling the lamentably vain desire to show her off.

Later, while he was speaking, his gaze fell on the two women. They looked bored and tired. He thought of Julie and faltered slightly. Not good, he decided, clamping down on extraneous thoughts. There would be time enough later to be with her, talk to her.

But later when they were together, drinking coffee and brandy and discussing their respective evenings, and he'd only just begun to unwind from the fierce outpourings of energy that had carried him through the evening, a call came through from a Detective- Superintendent Tilson complaining about -- predictably enough -- Bodie and Doyle.

What Cowley really wanted to do was to tell the man to go to hell and hang up on him, but his sense of duty was much too strong for anything but a guilty fantasy along those lines. He took the address and promised to be along immediately, adding that Tilson and his men ought not to impede the two CI5 men. "They're apt to be ugly at this hour," he said with a touch of asperity before he rang off.

"Duty calls, eh?" Julie remarked. She held his coat for him. "I'm marking all this down, you know. 'Lost hours' I call it, and I promise you that we're going to make them all up eventually." She gave him a brandy-flavoured goodbye kiss that underlined her words. "Call me," she said. "I miss you when you're not around."

"Oh, tell the truth, girl," he chided, vaguely embarrassed.

"All right then . . . nobody else ever brings me violets. I have to keep you around for that, don't I?" Julie grinned at him. "That and because you're willing to listen to the tedious details of my day. I'd propose to you, but I wouldn't want to ruin your life."

"What d'you mean?" He held her close, not wanting to leave her.

"You don't know what a bitch I really am, George. You wouldn't hang around long if you did." To which pronouncement he gave a hearty 'nonsense.'

He was feeling tetchy, and took his frustration out first on Tilson, then on 4.5 and 3.7. They were still in their evening clothes, Bodie unshaven but elegant like an advert from a posh men's magazine, Doyle withdrawn and sullen -- troubled. He was sharper with them than he should have been. They had good instincts. When he found the paper with the P.M.'s private number he knew they were on to something important.

Later, in his office, he allowed himself to unwind a little in their company. His leg was aching mercilessly, and he numbed the pain with whiskey. About the vaguely uneasy feeling this situation was giving him, he could do nothing.

He studied them as they worried at the problem. Chalk and cheese, someone had said of them once . . . perhaps he'd said it himself. No matter, the team was working which was the most important consideration. They were still new to each other, still testing limits, looking for weakness. At that, Bodie was a past master. He pushed and tested and prodded until you thought you'd murder him cheerfully, but it was his barometer. A man singularly untrusting, and with good reason, he was looking for someone to trust. And Doyle, passionate and intense, didn't understand Bodie; but he trusted him and was a man that Bodie would come to trust, Cowley would bet on that . . . had, in fact. Well, their pasts were equally colourful and checkered, though in very different ways. It made them even more useful as field agents.

He didn't call Julie until late that afternoon, preferring to let her sleep. He told her that he couldn't be sure when he'd be able to see her again. His instincts told him that this case was going to be very unpleasant.

It was, of course. Unpleasant and uncomfortable, particularly in light of his relationship with Julie. Badger games were always ugly, but this one was potentially deadly -- he realized that in the one awful moment after he recognized Tcherkoff pursuing the girl to Culver's flat. Something in Cowley recoiled, but he had no time to examine the feelings.

Later though, after the girl was safe and Doyle was in hospital, and the films were viewed; then Cowley recognized his fears. It could have been him in those films. It was not suspicion of Julie that plagued him, but rather the certainty that had Julie been something other than what she was, he would still have been attracted to her. Had there been danger there, he would have ignored it. The sudden self- knowledge was painful as was the knowledge that he was going to have to break off with Juliette. In the final analysis she was as dangerous in her own way as Sarah had been to Sir Charles.

It was several days later that he finally had the nerve to go to see her again. She was sitting on the floor of the suite surrounded by stacks of music, listening to Tristan, talking on the phone and playing jacks with Maggie who seemed more interested in watching her mother play than in playing herself.

"Oh, I've gotta go," she said into the phone. "I'll call you back later. Love you." She rang off. "My brother, Ashley," she explained as she rose to greet him with a kiss on each cheek. "He's in town this week and I want to go see him one night. Do you like rock 'n' roll, George? Anyway, I want you to meet him. He's wonderful -- a brilliant guitarist and gorgeous. All the girls and most of the boys are mad for him." She pulled him over to the couch and pushed him down. "Do you want a drink? Goodness, you're quiet, aren't you? Is something wrong?" She sat beside him and fixed him with that terribly unnerving frank look, that had sent lesser men into attacks of extreme anxiety. "You're upset. Is it the case?"

"Yes, it is. I want to talk to you about it."

"Oh, and I've been babbling again . . . Sorry."

"Julie, we cracked a badger ring. Do you know what that is?"

"Sex?" she said with a grin. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm not treating this with enough seriousness, am I?"

"They were using a young woman to gain a hold over a politician. They wanted the classified information that he had access to."

"That's not sporting, is it? He should have been more careful."

"That's not the point."

"Isn't it? If he'd been discreet it wouldn't have been a problem, would it?"

"The spirit may have been willing . . . " he began.

"Oh bullshit. We make our own choices, George. We all know what those choices entail." She glared at him. "And you've made a choice too, haven't you?" He was taken aback. "You're going to tell me that we're quits, aren't you? Frankly I've been wondering when this was going to happen . . . and what I was going to do about it."

She got up and paced the room. The opera was nearly over and the liebestod was swelling to its ecstatic finish. She switched off the receiver with an impatient gesture. "How wonderfully symbolic," she snapped.

"Julie . . ." What to say? What words were right? "I made the choice and I'm going to stand by it. I'm not sorry. Our relationship made me uncomfortable."

She turned and stared at him. "I can't argue with that, George. You said the one thing I couldn't argue with. Oh hell, I suppose you're right." She flopped back onto the couch and put her arms around him. "Can we be friends or is that verboten too?"

"Oh friends, by all means," he confirmed, relieved that she was taking this so well.

"And you'll still bring me violets and take me to Georgio's after a performance now and then?"

He nodded. "Whenever you like."

"And we just won't do anything blackmailable anymore, right?" He nodded again, and uncontrollable urge to laugh stealing up on him. "So, can we go to Georgio's tonight? My brother is going to meet us there after his last set." She gave him a sly grin and he knew he'd never really be free of her. "Well, it sounds almost as good as before. Oh hell, George, it's better because friends last but lovers almost never do."

He did laugh then. She was not for him -- never had been -- but she'd been one of the most remarkable experiences of his long life. "I wonder," he mused as she chattered on, "did Maggie's father refuse to marry you because you talk too much?"

"I couldn't marry him, George. He never let me talk at all. And he never brought me violets."

-- THE END --

Circuit Archive Logo Archive Home