“What’d ya hear, Doc?”

“Just you, asshole. Give me a break.” I didn’t mind that the hulking Jenkins called me Doc instead of Doctor Meyers—well, not much—but that was the third time in the last ten minutes that he had interrupted to ask what I heard. Irritation thinned my lips, however I refused to look up from the Mozart processor. I fine-tuned another mic input. “I’m trying to sort this out. You aren’t helping.”

“Do you think they suspect someone is listening?” He popped another jelly bean.

“Would you shut up? Of course they suspect. They squelched most of the mics we planted. They’ve got the band playing full tilt with a mob of people chattering away for cover. You don’t have a conference under those conditions unless you’re worried about listeners. Have you got an aspirin? My head’s throbbing.”

“Sure, Doc.” Jenkins fumbled in his jacket pocket. “Uh, how about acetaminophen instead?”

Jenkins might be an oaf, but he never stumbled over any drug name.

I nodded and selected two of the proffered tablets from his meaty hands. Generic? Why not? Since the University declined to renew my contract, my whole life felt generic. My mouth was dry, but I choked down the tablets without water. Vodka would have been better. How did the Mozart program handle discrete Fourier transforms without a stiff drink?

Jenkins patted the processor. “Nothing out of Mozart so far, huh?”

“If I feed this noise to Mozart without labeling the melody instruments, it’ll take a week of processing to sort what you want from all the conversations, and that includes the band. We’d get a complete orchestration for the music.”

“Music? Melody instruments? Alls we need is what Mr. Kelso tells Big Louie. Mr. Thompson ain’t gonna want no musical arrangements. That ain’t why he hired you.”

“I know why he hired me—industrial espionage. One more setting . . . got it. We can separate and process all the recorded noise later, but for now Mozart will tease out the tagged tunes.” I linked the last voice sample to the parse criteria, slapped the Mozart go icon, and leaned back to massage my forehead. I glanced at Jenkins’s puzzled face. “Tunes. Counterpoint conversation. Mozart will extract the, um, decompose the labeled noise into the conversations you want.”

Jenkins flashed a lopsided smile that exaggerated his deviated septum—or was it a broken nose. He popped a jelly bean and slapped my shoulder. My headache went migraine. My ears rang, and a halo of light distorted my vision.

“Uh . . . Can you get me something with lots of caffeine?”

“Sure, Doc.” Jenkins searched through his pockets. “Whatever you want. Mr. Thompson told me to take good care of you. Nope, no caffeine tablets. Say, I’ve got some oxycodone, if that will help.”

****

Most of the extracted conversation between Kelso and Big Louie was about eliminating competition from a start-up called the Garza Brothers and made little sense to me, but Thompson seemed pleased with my efforts. Two days after the transcription, Jenkins paid me ten thousand in cash and suggested Thompson might have more work for me the following week. That was better pay than I had expected for a few days work—better than a tenured teacher takes home in two months—so I kept Mozart processing the recorded cacophony from the party just in case Thompson wanted more details. I had worked four years developing the Mozart technology, and with my academic career at an end, this was my best opportunity to make it pay.

While Mozart cranked away, I counted my cash at the kitchen table and wondered whether I could get back my old apartment—the new place was a dump.

The phone rang.

“Meyers here.”

“Wally?”

Only one person called me Wally. “How did you find me, Christine?” I had expected to hear from her, but not so soon. Was I ready? Damn my weak backbone. Of course, I was ready. I could never resist her, and eventually, I would have called.

“Google, of course.” Her giggle sounded forced, artificial. “Are you still angry?”

“I’m not angry, Christine.” Best to take the high road rather than sound angry or grovel. After what she had done, taking the high road could only make her feel worse. So, I claimed the blame. “The whole thing was my fault.”

Not true. Well, not completely true. Sure, I’d looked at another girl—geez, every guy looks—but I hadn’t made any move, not unless you consider a smile and a pleasant hello a move: something I had never done before Christine. Hell, I hadn’t the confidence to make the first move for my entire life. Not even with Christine. What would a girl like that be doing with a geek like me? Despite my excuses, she was persistent. Three times she suggested we go out before I lost sight of the student-teacher boundary.

After we were a couple, Christine did not become a jealous lunatic overnight. Not until—what was the girl’s name?—smiled back at me. Insecurity? Perhaps with her as a twenty-two year old new graduate student and me as a six years older prof . . . Naw, that wasn’t a big age difference. I should have apologized and sent her flowers, but who would expect a level-headed girl like Christine suddenly to run to the dean in a jealous rage. She reported me for an affair with a student—in this case, she was the student. I couldn’t deny the charge, and that was the end of my wunderkind career. Defense? What was I going to do, publicly call the girl of my dreams a lying bitch?

“I miss you,” she said.

Nice serve, just inside the center court line, but now I knew how to play this game. I backhanded. “Good to know.”

She couldn’t get me fired again, but she needed to learn to think before acting. I should have done the same before I let her talk me into that first date. What was I thinking? I wanted to be with her the first moment I saw her. How did I hold out until the third invitation?

I let the silence extend.

“Well, my number hasn’t changed.” She took a defensive position.

“You’ve already got my new number. Take care, Christine.” Smiling, I hung up before she could respond. New game, first point to me. I would grow a backbone yet.

****

Jenkins brought me a recording on the following Monday.

“Mr. Thompson wants to know if you can make anything out of this. He had a high-gain recorder in his pocket at the mayor’s weekend party.”

“What’s he looking for?”

The mayor’s party? Politics or contract bids? Snooping on public contracts up for bid made me more uncomfortable than industrial espionage.

“He don’t know. Separate it out and see what you find.”

“Sure.” I checked the length of the recording. “Any idea how many distinct voices?”

“Small party. No more than a hundred people. You want a jelly bean?”

“No, thanks. Without some target voice samples, this could take a couple of weeks. Most conversations at a party have little semantic content, but you don’t know that until you wade through them.”

“I don’t know nothing about semantics, but Mr. Thompson will make it worth your while. How about twenty big ones? Say did you see the news? Mr. Kelso had a fatal accident last night. Same kind of accident that killed the younger Garza brother.”

“Mr. Kelso?” I suppressed a chill and pretended I didn’t remember the subject of my previous eavesdrop. I had seen the news about Garza a few nights before, but hadn’t connected that death to the startup company that Kelso wanted out of the way. What kind of business had Kelso run? What kind of business gets you killed? What was Thompson’s interest?

“Kelso. Just a rival of the boss.” Jenkins shrugged without breaking his smile. “No one important.”

****

While Mozart digested the recording from the mayor’s party, I reviewed the remainder of the output transcription of the Kelso data, searching for anything that could ease my apprehension. Once in analysis mode, I focused on stats for the data output. Despite the fact that I wrote the program, the decomposition statistics impressed me. Mozart had distinguished seventy-three distinctive voices. Eight were band instruments, three were barking dogs, sixty-one were people, and one was unknown.

The orchestration for the band looked pretty good. Marked as a separate conversation, Mozart had converted the songs to sheet music where each instrument voice had its own line. In a quick examination, I saw no outstanding orchestration errors. That didn’t surprise me. Mozart made fewer than five percent errors when transcribing small bands. However, Mozart had included the dog barks as part of the musical score—too avant garde for my taste.

Although I had already given Mr. Thompson the extracted conversation between Kelso and Big Louie, I reviewed it again. With Garza and Kelso recently dead, seemingly innocent comments took on an ominous tone. Hoping I was wrong, I scanned the other conversations for support. The more I read and re-read, the more it sounded as if Kelso had subtly ordered Big Louie to kill the younger Garza, but who had ordered Kelso’s death? The elder Garza brother in retaliation? Surely, not Thompson: I couldn’t have involved myself in a murder.

What was I now, a conspiracy freak? Murder couldn’t be right, just accidents. I shook my head, and focused on the remaining transcriptions.

The artistry of the decomposition distracted me. What a symphony! Like the music orchestration for individual songs, Mozart grouped voices together into likely conversations with each voice having its own instrument line on the score. A few groupings made no sense. Without a separate identification linked to each voice instrument, Mozart’s decision on what constituted a conversation missed about twenty to thirty percent of the time. Understandable—overheard conversations, like archaeological shards, often make little sense to an outside listener.

Similar to musical notes in a composer’s score, Mozart used VML, Verbal Markup Language, to punctuate the English sentences in the libretto. VML extended MIDI specifications to spoken words. Given voice samples for each participant to serve as the playing instrument, Mozart could read the VML score to render a high fidelity performance of the conversation with amazing accuracy much in the same way that a conductor used an orchestra and the composer’s score to reproduce the music the composer envisioned. Far more difficult was taking the noise of multiple simultaneous conversations and separating them into individual conversations. This was what I had spent four years designing Mozart to do: to decompose not only music into instrument line voices based on a group performance, but also to separate the individual human voices in a conversation from the ambient noise.

Five of the extracted conversations from the Kelso data were in Spanish, Mozart left the Spanish transcript as phonetic spellings with tonal coding because I specified English only. Phonetically rendered Thai from an apparently disgruntled caterer formed a solo monologue with only one instrument line of tonemes in which the pitch changes affected the meaning of the words.

Skimming through the bars and measures of several conversations, I found nothing else to suggest a conspiracy. Not quite relieved, I resolved to give the entire transcript to Mr. Thompson. Keep the customer happy. Let him decide what was important. I planned to stay silent about my new interpretation of the Kelso conversation. Perhaps ostriches don’t survive by sticking their heads in the sand, but for the moment that was my only strategy.

I hesitated on the last entry. A glitch in the decomposition? Mozart had isolated a faint voice with a frequency range from three to fifteen Hertz that played underneath the entire score. I reviewed Mozart’s verbal transcription. The libretto for the low notes contained one nonsensical toneme held across seventy-three minutes. That made no verbal sense to me. Moreover, the voice range was lower than a human could hear, much less speak. Rather than ask Mozart to decode the toneme, I stripped the line from the output. I would trouble-shoot the transcription process later, but I wanted no questionable output going to Mr. Thompson—nothing that might raise my profile or cast suspicion on what I surmised.

****

When I answered the door, Christine smiled. She wore a red tank top and white tennis shorts. I recognized the loose-fitting shorts. They came off easily. That gave me love-thirty. She continued to serve. Maybe she realized how her jealousy had wrecked our future.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hello, Christine,” I returned. I didn’t ask how she found my apartment; I didn’t need to—she was a smart girl.

“Are you going to invite me in?” Excellent volley. I hadn’t seen her in the month since she testified against me, but she still played brilliantly.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I extended my hand to the doorjamb as if I worried about social proprieties.

She knew better. She ducked under my arm and squeezed past me into the apartment. Her smile vanished when she glanced about the sparse room. “Oh, Wally, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Your other apartment was so nice. I don’t know why I . . . well, yes, I—”

“This isn’t so bad, just a place to sleep.” I closed the door and stepped close behind her. “And my prospects are improving.”

She must have known that I meant her because she snuggled back against me and pulled my arms about her. Hmm, soft, and she smelled good. My mind glazed over, my resolve melted, and I disappeared into her warmth. She guided my hands away from her stomach and turned her face up for me to kiss. As always, she was irresistible, and I had never been immovable.

Just like I remembered, the shorts easily came off.

Afterwards as usual, we cuddled with her head snuggled against my chin, but something had been different from the Christine I remembered. Tentative? Reserved? Did those adjectives describe her? What had she wanted to say before I cut her off? At first, I attributed her sudden shyness to our month of separation, but then I contemplated her new behavior until the obvious explanation battered its way into my slow-witted brain.

Poor kid. She’s taken everything on herself. No wonder she cracked and went desperate. When does she plan to tell me?

****

The output for the mayor’s party included another low frequency voice. Such a low frequency can’t carry much superimposed intelligence, but mild variations in frequency and amplitude intrigued me because they appeared more organized than random noise. This time, I gave Mozart the task of analyzing the tonemes for the hypo-low frequency.

Unexpectedly, Mozart identified the base line as spoken words. At a very low frequency the formation of each complete word required many minutes, but the words weren’t random either. Rather they all described emotions: ANGER, FEAR, ENVY, HATE, GREED, with one short burst of LUST.

Emotions? Whose emotions? How had they become verbal? At that frequency, the formation of the simplest word required compressing at least ten minutes of sound from the low voice. No one could speak that slow or low—lower even than a Mahler basso profondo. Someone was playing games. Extreme low frequency signals, although unheard, could produce uneasiness in unsuspecting listeners. Had someone introduced the signal deliberately? Did they want to manipulate the people at the party?

Perhaps the signal was an accident rather than deliberate. Rather than allow this anomaly to distract Mr. Thompson—he might lose faith in my methods, and I might lose more than just money—I again deleted the line for the low-frequency voice from the transcript.

****

I managed to remain standing until Jenkins hit me the third time. Then, my legs wouldn’t properly work, and they buckled. He was an expert at administering pain, each blow calculated for maximum effect without permanent damage, each insufficient to render me unconscious. Although confused, I appreciated his finesse when he smiled and helped me to my knees.

“Sorry, Doc.” He smoothed my collar and brushed dirt off my shirt while I struggled to my feet. “I don’t like doing this, but Mr. Thompson wants to be sure you understand. Do you?”

My tongue felt thick, and I tasted the blood on my lip. Murder as a business strategy no longer seemed so far-fetched. “Yeah.”

“What?” His grip dug into my arm. “I couldn’t hear you.”

“Yes, I understand. No more transcripts.”

“The first transcript was okay for starters. Mr. Thompson found what he wanted, but a transcript ain’t no good to show the mayor. Any jerkwater writer can make up a transcript. But when the boss asked for something better, he didn’t mean no second or third transcript with more details and numbers scratched in the margin. He wants a recording of the mayor’s conversation, one where the old hypocrite can hear himself talk. That’ll help keep the old boy in line in case the D.A. gets persnickety. So you just filter out the noise and give Mr. Thompson what he wants.”

“It doesn’t work like tha . . . .” I shut up when Jenkins frowned and raised his fist. “Okay, okay. No more transcripts. I’ll get him the audio he wants, but I’ll need voice samples.”

“Get them off TV. The mayor is on every day.”

“I need a sample for each voice in the conversation.” I could substitute other voices from my collection, but they wouldn’t stand up to expert scrutiny.

“No problem, Doc,” Jenkins said. “I left you some jelly beans and two hydrocodone on the table. Try it, you’ll feel better. I’m glad you’re gonna cooperate. You keep searching the recording for more good stuff. Good money to be made—we’ll add a bonus ten thousand to the twenty you was promised if you find more—and your girlfriend won’t have to be icing up no more bruises.”

“Girlfriend?” What did Jenkins know? I made sure she wasn’t around during business visits.

“Your girlfriend, Christine. We always keep tabs on the new help, but she’s too noisy in the sack for my taste.” Jenkins winked and headed for the door. “See you later, Doc.”

After Jenkins closed the door, my legs trembled, and I sagged onto a kitchen chair. The paper towels were out of reach, so I dried the blood from my lip on my shirtsleeve.

Where did they hide it? I glanced about the room. Stupid. I was the sound expert, yet they had bugged me, and I never guessed.

No use to search. If I removed the mic, they would only put in another and likely punch me for the inconvenience. Better not tell Christine. She would want to know why I was bugged, and she would not behave normally; then Jenkins would know that I had told her. Can’t have her drawn into this mess, too dangerous in her condition.

****

Christine was scared after I got beat up, and then she wouldn’t leave my apartment after Jenkins accosted her and suggested that she should encourage me to work faster. So much for keeping her out of harm’s way.

“Work faster at what?”

“Just a programming job,” I told her. “Jenkins thinks you’re a distraction—and you are. Besides, I worry. This neighborhood isn’t safe. I don’t want you getting mugged like me. Why don’t you stay here for a few days?”

Aggravating to have her always underfoot when I had a deadline, but I didn’t want her to get hurt.

After two days in the small apartment, she was antsy.

“When are you coming to bed?” she asked.

“Soon.” I adjusted my earphones to cancel outside noise, which meant Christine.

The mayor’s voice was distinctive. I fed his sound sample into Mozart and asked Mozart to play the mayor’s part of the conversation. Mozart used the voice sample to construct an appropriate virtual instrument and applied the Verbal Markup Language to synthesize a performance of the libretto from the mayor’s melody line.

Not bad. Sounded just like the mayor giving a speech. A few edits would smooth out any obvious glitches. Other flaws would pass as background noise or poor recording quality.

Christine wrapped her arms about my neck and pressed her chest against the back of my head. She was naked. For Christine, getting naked was the first step in getting her way.

“What’cha doing?” She nuzzled my earphones askew so that I couldn’t help but hear. “Can I help? I’m good with Mozart.”

“I’m synthesizing a conversation by having Mozart apply sampled sounds as instrument voices to the orchestration lines from the transcript. You know the drill. Add in one voice at a time to reconstruct the conversation.”

“Remember when you deliberately came to class late and had me secretly record ten minutes of class conversation before you came in?”

“Yes.” Certainly, I remembered. I’m always looking for additions to my voice sample collection. “But please, Mr. Thompson wants this re-created recording in four days. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“You had me match a sample of each student’s voice to its orchestration line in the Mozart transcript.” She lifted the headset free and kissed behind my ear. “That was fun. I felt more like a secret agent than an eavesdropper. You should have seen your face when you played back the student comments that Mozart extracted. Some of those kids didn’t like your class, but I did.”

“You were great . . . ” Desperation seized me, Thompson and Jenkins scared me, and I was struggling to stay afloat until I could find an out. “Look, give me another half hour, and I’ll quit for the night.”

“That girl Janet who sat next to me on the front row, you know, the one who always wore the low-cut halter top. You must remember—you couldn’t keep your eyes off her boobs. Anyway, I swapped my voice sample with hers. Bet you didn’t know that. You thought she said bad things about you, but all the time it was me playing up the part to Mozart.”

Loosening her arms, I swiveled in my chair. Her warm closeness almost lured me in. She smiled down at me as if she had anticipated my response, as if she held sway over me. Damn me if she didn’t. I blinked hard and forced myself to ignore her nakedness and look only into her eyes.

“Christine, I’ve got work to do, and the people I work for are . . . wait a minute.” Fighting the intoxication of her fragrance, I slipped my hands about her waist and pulled her closer. “Why don’t you get dressed, and we’ll walk to the corner store for ice cream. On the way, you can tell me again what you did to Janet.”

****

“You’ve been hearing voices?” Jenkins leaned against my apartment door and screwed up his face in disapproval. “Mr. Thompson ain’t gonna like that. He can’t have no wackos on the payroll.”

“I didn’t say I heard voices—” The bruises on my face were finally gone, and I didn’t want Jenkins to think he had a fresh canvas. “Look, the recording for the mayor is almost complete, and that’s the only voices I’ve been listening to.”

“Your girlfriend says you been hearing weird stuff.” The thug clenched his fist.

Although I had asked Christine to sit quietly on the bed, she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

“All I said was that Wally got the voice of God on a transcript.” She placed her sandwich on the bedside table. “I thought it was cool.”

“Shut up,” I said. She always butted in at the wrong moment—granted, fighting for her man—but look where that got us. “You’re not helping.”

Anger creased Jenkins’s forehead. “Sounds to me like you been hearing voices, Doc.”

“Look, the underlying sound is only low-level background noise, kind of like the uniform background radiation across the cosmos. Mozart got confused and interpreted the vibrations as spoken words.”

“I don’t want to hear about no confusion from Mozart.” Jenkins formed his right hand into an impressive fist. “He’s just a machine. It won’t be Mozart’s legs I’ll be breaking.”

Why had I told Christine about the background sound? Never speculate to a woman. She’ll hear only what she wants and then take it as gospel. Despite my glare, she wasn’t finished helping me.

“Don’t be silly. Wally thinks that some kind of group consciousness produced the vibrations and gave substance to the words.” Christine shrugged and took a bite of sandwich. “But it came from people gathered together, and that sounds like the voice of God to me.”

Determination gripped Jenkins face. He reached for my arm. I needed to slow things down.

“Don’t mind her,” I said.” Christine was raised Catholic—she sees miracle faces in spaghetti-stained T-shirts. Like any human, Mozart sometimes makes an error in interpreting noise. Mozart’s job is to pull meaning out of cacophony, but sometimes, he just goes too far. I can change the sensitivity, adjust the parameters to filter out the under-voice. Not really a problem and certainly not the voice of God . . . and you won’t hear it in the mayor’s recording.”

“You got two days left, Doc. I don’t want no more hiccups, or you won’t have no job, and I ain’t got no drugs that will help you get over that.” Jenkins slammed the door when he left. He hadn’t eaten a single jelly bean during his visit.

Christine ignored me, and between bites of a sandwich, she carefully applied a layer of polish to her toenails. She had no clue as to the kind of people I worked for—hell, I had only recently figured that out myself. I snarled. She shrugged. That was Christine. She always had this disconcerting way of shifting my life about, of throwing me off balance. Sure, I knew she was doing what she thought would be best for me—or perhaps best for us—but it really wasn’t the same. My mind didn’t work properly with her around. Suddenly, my advantage in our game was gone, and the best I could hope for was a call of deuce.

“Please don’t help.” I turned on some music, adjusted the volume too high, and leaned closer to her. I whispered, “You don’t understand the situation. These guys are dangerous.”

I glanced about and gestured to my ear to indicate that someone might be listening.

“Well, you keep saying we need to get away from Mr. Thompson,” she whispered back, her breath smelling of cheese and pickles. “I just pushed it along. I think Jenkins already wants to fire you. I’m good at getting you fired.”

Her smile was adorable, but she completely misunderstood the situation. I shook my head to free myself from her spell. I had to tell her the truth. I planned a calm rational revelation, but that’s not what came out.

“Are you crazy, Christine?” By this time my voice was a sibilant hiss. “This isn’t a joking matter. The only pink slip you get from Mr. Thompson is stapled to a coroner’s report, and Jenkins will make sure that your toe is tagged alongside mine.”

****

“Were you followed?” I asked Christine when we met at the supermarket.

“No.” Up on her tiptoes, she kissed my cheek and offered me a grape she had stolen from the produce aisle. “I love it when we shop together.”

I munched the grape, swallowed the seed, and handed her a computer chip with copies of the two playbacks I had created with Mozart. “Mail this one from across town to the District Attorney. They shouldn’t make delivery until tomorrow or a day later. Hopefully, everything will be over by then. Make sure to wipe the chip again for fingerprints. Don’t call me or go back to the apartment.”

“When should I buy the train tickets?”

“This evening. An hour before I meet you at the station. Cash only. If I don’t show, go without me.”

“Wally—”

“Shush. I plan to show, but if I don’t, it will only be because I can’t . . . do you understand? Don’t wait for me. I will find you.”

“Yes, Wally.” From the tone in her voice, I knew she wasn’t playing against me. We were on the same side of the net playing doubles against the other team.

“Good.” I handed her a second chip marked with a “G.” “Here’s the custom version recording that goes to Garza. Wear a disguise, and hire a bum to deliver it. Watch from a distance and disappear when you’re sure he’s made the drop. No adlibbing, okay?”

“Yes, dear. I can be compliant when I want.”

“I know.” I kissed her forehead. “When I called Jenkins and told him that I’d extracted a conversation of the mayor plotting with Garza, he promised me a twenty K bonus instead of ten on delivery.”

“Can’t you send that chip by messenger? What if they won’t let you leave?”

“The pay-off is forty-thousand dollars, Christine. Enough for us to disappear until this blows over. I’ve got to take the chance to get the cash. Once Thompson hears the mayor and Garza plotting to kill him, I think he’ll hold off on me until he’s sure I can’t give him anything else useful. By tonight we’ll be gone.”

“I don’t like it.”

“It was you swapping voices with Janet that gave me the idea to substitute voices and words in the libretto so that the playback sounds like different people are in a conversation. The one you take to Garza is an almost identical libretto, but with the mayor and Thompson plotting to kill Garza. When Garza hears it, I’m hoping for a massive gang war to provide enough noise for us to escape. I also cranked up the underlying background bass—you know, the one voicing HATE, ENVY, and so on. Low frequency sound makes the listener uneasy and moody, perhaps enough to precipitate rash actions. Hopefully, some smoke will have cleared by the time the D.A. gets his copies. You and I will be out of the country before then.” I hugged her and whispered in her ear. “Honey, I know you’re pregnant. You didn’t have to hide that from me. I can’t see any other way for the three of us to get a fresh start.”

“Oh,” Christine gasped and squeezed me tighter. “God is looking out for us, so I know we’ll make it. I know you don’t believe that you recorded the voice of God, but think about it, Wally. You never saw a bass line like that until we needed it for a warning, for inspiration. If God is the best listener in the universe, then maybe he occasionally has something to say.”

“If group consciousness is an attribute of God, I’ll go along, but I have no idea how either God or group consciousness could manifest a separate voice.” I grasped her shoulders and looked in her eyes. “You haven’t been messing with Mozart’s programming have you?”

“Me?” Her eyelashes flutter. “You know I don’t interfere in your work.”

I frowned, and she became serious.

“Honestly, Wally, I haven’t touched Mozart or any other man since I met you.”

“Okay, Baby.” I smiled. “Let’s go for it.”

****

Choose your climate in Costa Rica by how far you live up the mountains—the closer to the coast, the more expensive. We chose a spot about halfway up. The local college was happy to put me on staff without embarrassing questions, which gave me work permit status and free health care for the baby’s birth. Living modestly allowed us to sock away thirty thousand dollars of Thompson’s payoff for our future.

I dragged Mozart from the closet a few months after the baby was born. Not only did I want an early voice sample from our daughter, I wanted to separate the kid’s gurgling from Christine’s baby talk and the yelling children in the next apartment.

With only the three of us in the small apartment and the yammer of kids and neighbors as a soothing background, Mozart quickly extracted our family conversations. After Mozart decomposed the more distant conversations from our neighbors, an impressive bass line punctuated the final output on the orchestral score. The low frequency background sound had only one toneme. I hesitated, then asked Mozart to translate. While the word formed, I smiled and resolved to kiss my wife and daughter.

The libretto line read LOVE.

****