“I have utterly no idea why I did it,” I told Lady, “except that it seems to be an occupational hazard of mine. Remember my obsession with the Polish Papal Nuncio to the Dominican Republic? Or the time that I could leave poor Martha Argerich alone? Well, this weekend it was Kathleen Battle, though I’ve no idea why….”
“Whatever happened to her,” asked Lady. “She was everywhere for a while in the early 90’s, and then she disappeared.”
“The old story,” I told her. “Every opera singer knows: it’s not just about getting the engagement, it’s about getting the call back….”
“And she didn’t get the call back?”
“Worse, the Metropolitan Opera fired her, and then she was dead in the water, operatically speaking. Nobody would touch her….”
“Wow—what did she do?”
“Well, you could make a sort of children’s book out of it. You know, ‘A is for Arrogance, B is for Bitchiness…’ She didn’t, for example, like her dressing room, so she simply moved into another singer’s dressing room. Bad enough, but she also threw the singer’s clothes out in the hall. So when Carol Vaness—that was the singer—came back…well, Vaness is a lady, so we don’t know what happened. But we do know that when they were taking their final bows together, Vaness assured Kathleen Battle that, speaking for the entire company, she heartily wished never to work with her again.”
“Dear me, and I though poets were bad….”
“The stories are go on and on. The best being, of course, when she called her management company in New York, from the back seat of her limousine in California. She wanted the company to call the chauffeur, and instruct him to turn down the air conditioning….”
“What! She couldn’t tap on the window and ask?”
“Miss Battle does not address chauffeurs…”
“Good Lord,” said Lady.
“Or the time she checked out of the Ritz, in Boston, because the put peas in her pasta…”
“Clearly a major no-no….”
“So she got fired from the Met, and when they announced that, the entire company cheered! In San Francisco, they actually made t-shirts, after she appeared there, saying ‘I Survived the Battle!’”
“So I began obsessing about that, since the Met has decided to invite her back, but just in recital, and of spirituals. But it doesn’t sound like she’s had much of a life. One post in an—admittedly rather bitchy—forum said that she’s back in her home town of Portsmouth, Ohio, and that she shops in the Walmart, there. Oh, and she returns stuff, without receipts, which doesn’t make the staff happy….”
“Marc, you really have to curb the tendency…”
“I know, I know…it’s a curse, these obsessions of mine. Remember the time I actually spent 20 minutes listening to Joyce DiDonato give an interview in French? All under the guise of brushing up the language from High School?”
“Out of control,” said Lady, “and what you really should be doing is tackling the strange case of the disappearance of Pablo Neruda.”
“Well, I thought it was the known parrot rustler, young Montalvo, when I first about it….”
“So did we all. In fact, we all hoped it was Montalvo, since the bird would have been well taken care of. But he’s in the clear—the bird disappeared on a Wednesday afternoon, and Montalvo was nowhere in shight….”
Neruda was—or hopefully is—a green Quaker parrot, who lived in a cage with Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. Maya met a natural end in both senses—that is, both the poet and the bird did. Curiously, well, here’s what I told Lady….
“You should have thought about that when you named him,” I said, ‘since everybody has suspected that the poet Neruda’s death was hardly accidental. Remember, they exhumed him, a while ago?”
“Well, I could hardly have imagined…”
“Anyway, the videos should tell you…”
“That’s just it,” said Lady. “Do you know, when I finally got into my brother’s apartment upstairs, where the camera monitors are located, and when I finally convinced the se3curity company that I was authorized to look at the videos, the videos for that day were gone! Poof! They said they were doing a reboot, or some such thing, and there was nothing recorded for that date! So why have a security system if stuff like that happens?”
Theories abound. Montalvo, last night, speculated that someone was trying to frame him. After all, almost no one could touch Neruda without getting his hand shredded: Montalvo, though, could hold the bird in his hand, and even get the bird to lie with his belly facing up.
“The bird is dead,” said Mr. Fernández, though he declined to give a reason why.
“The bird is probably very depressed,” said Maritza, “since birds are very emotional.”
“I think the parrot guy—the same one who had the famous blue macaw that formed that powerful attraction top Montalvo—has him,” said Lady. “So all we have to do is go down, and see if he has any Quaker parrots, and then call out ‘Neruda!’ And if he comes, then we’ll know it’s him.”
Would that stand up in court?
“You really should have trained him to recite some of Neruda’s poetry,” I told her. “Maybe, ‘I, a dead man, want to leave my grave….’”
And so we have no Neruda.
What do we have?
A great and terrible silence!