"Cellists" by Maureen S. O'Brien Disclaimer: Airwolf belongs to Belisarius Productions and MCA/Universal. Vedran Smailovic, the Cellist of Sarajevo, really exists; the character with his name in this story is intended as tribute and not documentary, however. This is just my imagining as to what it would be like to be him. This story was inspired by something I heard but do not know to be true for sure: that Vedran Smailovic was given a valuable cello by an anonymous donor. ------------------------------------------------- He sat at the table alone, staring into a pint as dark as his thoughts. Where were they now? His family. All his old friends. No way of telling if they were dead or alive, and all the news was always bad. At least he still had the music. He'd had to leave his cello back home; there was no room for wood and gut when human lives were at stake. But he'd found a cello here, very cheap, and he practiced every day, after he was done working his fingers to the bone at his entry-level job. "Mind if I join you?" He looked up. An American, with the crag-hidden, wrinkle- surrounded eyes of a sailor. He was fifty or so, but he dressed like a teenager, as most Americans seemed to. "Not at all." Vedran tiredly waved him to a seat. I hope he is not a reporter, he thought. I do not think I could answer a single question tonight. "Thanks." The American sat down with his pint. Much to Vedran's surprise, he didn't say anything else. No questions, no stares. He just sat there. It was restful. After a while, though, Vedran began to feel curious. "Excuse me, but is this your first visit to London?" "Not quite." He didn't elaborate. "I'm here to see a man about a cello." "Oh? What kind of a cello? If I may ask." "A Stradivarius." Vedran felt his jaw drop and his eyes bugging out. They had to be. Oh, what he wouldn't do, just to see such an instrument! "You appreciate good cellos, I see." "I play." What else needed to be said? The man smiled and his eyes lit up. "So do I, a little. Would you like to come visit the Strad with me?" "But of course!" Vedran liked a good pint, but there were such things as priorities. "By the way," the American said, putting his pint aside in the face of Vedran's excitement, "the name's Stringfellow Hawke." "Vedran Smailovic," the other replied, pulling on his coat. The American's lips quirked. "I know." Vedran didn't hear. In a moment, they were walking down the street, discussing music. Vedran thought that Hawke could have been a bit more open to contemporary composers, but otherwise was very knowledgeable. Particularly in works for the cello alone. The amateur and the soloist had much the same repertoire there. Vedran sobered for a moment. He was an amateur now. And why not? In a small city, he had talent. In one of the great cities of the world, who was he? A nobody. Nothing but a refugee. "Here's the hotel where the Strad's staying." The American grinned. "Also my wife, Cait, and Annie, our little girl." "You? You _own_ a Stradivarius cello?" Vedran suddenly felt bitter envy. Some rich American, some amateur, who had never known a moment's sorrow, could wake up in the morning -- the peaceful morning, unbroken by gunfire -- and apply bow to string on a Strad. While he had been suffering in Sarajevo, making music his life, avoiding the notice of the Communist government, and then living through the hell of the snipers and mortar fire, with a poor cello that might have been burned to boil water by now. "I play it every day," Hawke was explaining, almost defensively, as the lift took them upstairs. "And you wouldn't believe where I got it. And how. But here's my room." Hawke let them in with a key. The hotel room was bigger than Vedran's entire apartment. The wall was lined with picture windows, and a little girl with dark hair had her nose pressed against one, staring at the city lights. For a moment. "Daddy, you're back!" The girl leaped at Hawke. He caught her effortlessly in his arms and held her tight. "I came back as quick as I could, Punkin. Now say hello to Mr. Smailovic. He's going to play the Strad tonight." "Ohhhhh." She looked down at Vedran from her temporarily superior height. "Daddy must like you. He won't let me even touch his cello, 'cept when he says I can. It's real, real old. Older than Uncle Dom, even!" "Very old," he agreed gravely. He was glad to see her, but she brought back images of shattered innocence and massacres of the young. But then, she had clearly been born to privilege and security. She had never known more sorrow than a broken toy, he was sure. An red-haired woman wandered in. She was at least ten years younger than Hawke. This too was part of the trappings of wealth, he thought. "I see you found him," the woman said to her husband. "Did you get a chance to have dinner, Mr. Smailovic?"