Brian Eno gave his unruly mop of blond hair a final brush, glanced in the mirror and gave his reflection a "knock-'em-dead" gesture, then left the house. He had to stoop slightly as he walked through the low doorway of his ancestral pied-a-terre and locked the front door behind him."Geez," he thought, not for the first time, "you'd think they never had anybody over six feet tall in Fourteenth Century Venice."
It was an installation that had brought him to Italy's fabled city of canals, of course. Or as Monica had put it, "ANOTHER installation! That's all you bloody care about these days!" before storming out of the luxury apartment they shared in fashionable Piccadilly Circus. She had not returned before he had to leave for Heathrow Airport. He wondered if he should call her, reached for his phone, then stopped. She could wait. He had an important speaking engagement in less than an hour, after all.
Brian took the gold-edged invitation out of his white tuxedo pocket and looked at it.
THE UNIVERSITY OF LIFE, VENICE
THE HERMENEUTICS OF AROMA:
TOURMALINE OR TABASCO?
a lecture by
PROFESSOR BRIAN ENO,
DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
He habitually spoke without notes, but the row with Monica meant that he had neglected to do any preparation for his talk at all. He would travel to the venue on foot rather than taking the tram, he decided, and plan his lecture as he walked. At least the invitation had refreshed his memory about the title.
The Piazza della Cornetto was strangely deserted at this early time in the evening as Brian headed north. Suddenly there was a clatter of wings behind him and an arc of doves rose into the air. He wondered what had disturbed them like that. He looked over his shoulder and for a moment thought he saw a mysterious figure dart into a doorway. "Must have imagined it," he thought to himself, shaking his head.
"Culture is everything we don't have to do," he murmured, mulling over the introduction to the second part of his lecture as he approached a baroque stone bridge. "Which is why I recently redefined 'washing up' and 'putting up shelves' as Culture. Intellectual tricks like this can get you out of a lot of boring household chores." He would pause for laughter at that point and then explain why he had composed his latest installation music in the Ala Mode with Circadian Rhythm.
A public telephone started to ring as Brian reached the other side of the bridge. He looked around but there was nobody else at the side of the canal. He did not really have time to answer the call, but then again it might make a useful anecdote for the beginning of his lecture. He picked up the receiver.
"Mystery, no?" said a foreign voice on the other end of the line.
It's working already, Brian thought. To other people, we all have foreign voices. That's five minutes right there! Genius! "I'm not sure, is it?" he responded after a pause.
"Don't play games wiz me, Meester Eno. You are running out of time."
"That is certainly true. I have to be at the UOL's Lecture Theatre in twenty minutes."
"You want to stay alive to make that lecture? Then listen good. Powerful forces are at work and our Astrologers tell us the time is now. Roxy Music will rise again and you must play your part in restoring The Rule of Five - or die!" There were some clicks on the line. "Stay away from Luxor."
"Who is this? What do you want?" Brian demanded loudly.
There was another click then silence at the other end of the phone.
"Hello? Hello?" It was no use. The caller had rung off.
Brian slammed down the receiver and headed to the University campus at a brisk pace.
* * *
The audience's ecstatic applause subsided. Only three standing ovations! I'm slipping! Brian joked to himself.
"Does anybody have any questions they would like to ask?" he asked, suppressing a smile. If only Monica was here to share my triumph.
"Professor Eno, we hear that you are once again to join Roxy Music. This is great news!" cried an enthusiastic reporter.
"It's definitely news to me," Brian quipped. "Next question?"
A female reporter stood up "Is it true you have been in the studio with Roxy Music?"
Brian held up his palm. "Please. We talk from time to time. Anybody else?"
"Professor, you have spoken persuasively that societies view as 'Corruption' all the things that do not play by our rules, and you have proved a vocal advocate in opposition to the war in Iraq. So tell us, will you be donning your old costumes with ostrich feathers when you perform live with Roxy Music, or do you have some new sartorial surprises up your sleeve?"
* * *
"...so it carried on like that for another three quarters of an hour," Brian spoke into his mobile. He was talking to his friend, maverick ex-cop Bob Fripp back in England, on his walk back to his canal-side house.
"You have my sympathies, Captain," said Bob. "I don't think I've ever mentioned this to anybody before, but I myself get rather ticked off by people trying to take photographs of me."
"Really?" said Brian. His voice tailed off as he noticed that there was something wrong. "Bob, I'll call you back."
He was sure that he had locked his front door when he left the town-house a few hours ago. But now the door was slightly ajar. Brian pushed it gently and it swung open. He stepped silently into the house and grabbed a copy of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity from the telephone table in the hall in case he needed to defend himself. There was a strange scent in the air, incense maybe?
Brian walked into the drawing room, his heart beating a tattoo of terror. For branded into his priceless knitted ocelot-fur rug - its edges still smoking - he could see a large five-pointed star.
Above the fireplace his plasma screen flickered into life. Slowly a message began to fade in. It would be an hour before the words would become readable. But he already knew beyond a shadow of any doubt what they would say. Just two words, so innocent in isolation but devastating in combination.
Roxy. And Music.