From the ever-appealing and underappreciated Kotker (Miss Rhode Island, 1978; Learning About God, 1988, etc.), a lightly rendered but unflinching tale of love--and its hazards--in the golden years of life. At 69, Billy Symmes is a widower, retired bandleader-clarinetist, and absentee landlord of a modestly profitable apartment house in Boston, his hometown. The ``absentee'' is because Billy has chosen to retire to Florida--where he's become involved with (engaged to, no less) the blond and still plenty good-looking Joyce Tarlow (67), herself from New York City. What could possibly stand in the way of wedded bliss for these no longer young but still active (and how) lovers? Kotker's alluringly spare short novel will give you the long--and much more complicated- -answer; for the short answer, though, enter Joyce's son Roy, graduate of no known charm school, connoisseur of the fast move (in real estate especially), and friend of the thuggish operator Dennis--who'll do anything to push Billy into turning his Boston apartment house into condos before the city's conversion law changes. What neither Roy nor Dennis counts on, though, is the real goodness in the tough--and toughly loving--Billy, who bravely (and with some real danger) holds the pair off, choosing decency over the easy million or so that would be sure to result in the eviction of old tenants and friends. In the meantime, what happens to romance? Does well-off Joyce still think the world of Billy after she feels almost ``like crying'' when son Roy tells her that Billy is `` `different from us, you know what I mean,' '' and then turns the knife by adding, `` `Your boyfriend doesn't know how to live the big-ticket life' ''? Whatever happens, readers will know more than they ever imagined they could or would about Joyce, Billy, passion--and what comes at the end of all things. Short, pitch-perfect, amusing--and wonderfully, briefly moving. Another small gem from the estimable Kotker.