for Frank Kermode

It was the long bad time after the long good time.

Stocks a puzzle, real estate stalled, the bond market iffy, Wall Street firms down to half their size. Two of his former associates under indictment: Sorkin and Menninger, Menninger probably guilty. To Lee Binstock, good times had always come like sunshine on a holiday weekend; a feeling of surprise but of pleasure deserved. Now, out of work for the first time in twenty years, bad times came with the unpleasant surprise of being caught and punished in spite of feeling innocent. And, of course, there was the matter of Binstock’s mouth.

Always, he’d been able to make his own extracurricular comfort: the clarinet’s woody breath of independence—his horn of romance. He had partners in crime. Callahan, advertising copy, ruddy, volatile on the violin, with his quiet academic wife, second fiddle in more ways than one; Menninger, mutual funds, intense, humorless on viola; Sorkin, smooth but folksy, arbitra…