of the Classical Music murder mystery The Baton Rouge by Robert Bonotto
At the rehearsal I let the orchestra play as they like.
At the concert I make them play as I like.
--Sir Thomas Beecham.
The next morning Mark knocked on the guest room door of what Mary had christened The Klipop Suite.
There was no answer.
He heard Mary in the kitchen and decided to take his time shaving, comfortable in the smells that were wafting up the stairs, but still listening for any sound that might come from the guest room. The encroaching depression from last night seemed to be gone, and with it any feeling that he had to leave his own orchestra to be Klipop’s indentured servant. He’d built this group, and he was proud of them. Hell, he wasn’t about to abandon them now.
He got into his jacket as he crept downstairs, calling for his wife. She came out of the kitchen and asked if Klipop was up yet.
"I listened in at the door," he said. "Didn't hear anything."
"I did the same thing half an hour ago," she said. "Not a sound."
They exchanged uneasy looks, and both turned at once to climb the narrow staircase. Mark repeated his knocks several times. "So open it, Mark," Mary hissed, and he did. The room was empty, and the window was half-open. They found a note on the bed. "Went for wife," it read.
"Well, I like that," Mary said. "I got up early to make a really good breakfast, and he sneaks out without so much as a good-bye."
"No, Mark, it's rude."
"Well, no, it's not … it's … yeah. You're right. It's pretty rude."
The two of them went downstairs and, unconcerned, wolfed down the large breakfast themselves.
Beatrice had gone next door to get her usual lunch from Will that morning, and got waylaid in conversation with him. Will was impressed with Klipop and had all sorts of questions. As a result, she got into the theatre later than usual. She saw Klipop and his wife at the foot of the stairs that led up to the balcony. They seemed to be arguing in their way; that is, Klipop was haranguing his wife, and she just stood there, taking it. He turned and saw Bea, and broke instantly into his patented smile. She looked up at the stage saw that even the usually late players were getting ready. Coming closer, Beatrice looked at the conductor's fingers. They were stained a dark purple. The rest of his hands were white.
"Good Grief, Von Klipop. What on earth happened to you?" she asked, despite her habitual reserve.
Klipop smiled guiltily. "I ask my wife yesterday afternoon to get some of the dark ice cream you have introduced me to at rehearsal. I get it out of the hotel fridge this morning and eat in the taxi on my way here." He leaned in to Beatrice and whispered. "When I get in the car, I find she forgets the spoon." He looked disdainfully at his stained fingers, then up at the balcony, where his wife was now sitting, as if she'd been banished up there. "She is sometimes an idiot," he added, not very quietly.
Beatrice tried to ignore this domestic slam. "I take it you've already tried washing your hands."
"Yes, I wash in the lobby bathroom; but they are still ... as you see ..." he held them up with a smirk, as if he'd been caught making mud pies.
Beatrice couldn't help laughing. "Well, berries stain, and blackberries most of all. That color may not come out of your fingers for a couple of days." She ventured a mild joke. "You look like an extremely clumsy counterfeiter."
" Counter-feet? What is?" he asked.
"A person who makes fake money."
"Ah," he laughed and shook a dark purple index finger at her. "I haff too much respect for the dollars to do that." He then looked up and saw his manager conferring with Michael. "Derek, are we getting ready by now?" he asked civilly. Despite the Sherbet Contretemps, he seemed to be in a much better mood than yesterday.
"Yes, sir. I'm assuming you want to pick up from where we stopped yesterday afternoon."
"Yes; actually no. I would like instead to start some fifty measures before. Is all right?" He waved at the orchestra as he mounted the stairs. "Good morning, good people," he said cheerily. He looked over to the flutes. "Is the policeman Tom not with us this morning?"
Michael pointed out that only two flutes were needed for the symphony. "Ah, das ist gut," Klipop said, "No law and order from Mr. Tom. We can all then misbehave." A few players chuckled. Maestro was certainly not the furious firebrand he was yesterday.
Mark sat in the audience and nodded at his guest's behavior. That's it, Von Klipop, he thought. Screaming at them didn't work yesterday, so try pouring Viennese charm all over them today.
Klipop noted, "We take it two measures from letter number P." He then raised his baton and, this time, waited until everyone was ready. The cooler weather really did have a soothing effect on him after all, they thought.
The next half hour passed fairly smoothly. Beatrice had to excuse herself at one point to confirm a Fall rehearsal date with Colin in his office, who hadn't been able to find Mary in the house and couldn't reach her by phone.
Bea came back into the theatre and found Klipop working on a long passage for the eight winds that he felt had to be gotten right. It was obvious to her, sitting down and taking up her violin again, that Mr. and Mrs. Heidelmann, the two elder bassoonists, had worked hard last night on the every passage they had so there wouldn't be any more major mistakes.
With Klipop intent on the winds, Beatrice took the opportunity to reach down beside her chair and get out the small bottle that Will made that morning for her. She still had the cookies left over from the party two days ago. She always asked Will to put them all in a plastic bag. Paper bags made way too much noise.
The bag seemed very light. She looked down. The bottle was out of the bag, and it was empty ... and most of the cookies in the bag were gone.
She looked over accusingly at Ben in the violas. He had obviously been waiting for her to discover the theft. He pointed ahead of him, and Beatrice looked over to Klipop, who was repeating a phrase for double-reeds.
Why, you Pretentious Prussian so-and-so, she thought. She snapped a look at Ben, who pointed at himself and mouthed, "I - had - some - too."
Men, she thought. You're both jerks.
Klipop had gone ahead to another section of the Schubert, and she busily found the place in the score. He started in almost before she was ready, but she caught up in time. She shot a glance at Ben. He was playing and looking at the score, but she could detect the trace of a smile on him.
In the middle of the phrase Klipop had yelled at the orchestra about the previous day, the venerable conductor raised his hands and was about to beat a particularly forceful phrase of the score into the orchestra's inner being.
He stopped in mid-gesture. He stared in front of him, at nothing. The orchestra's playing slowly petered out.
His face expressed in quick succession first surprise, then irritation, then fear, then determination. He slowly put the baton down carefully, as if it were a highly-charged explosive.
He stepped down the two short stairs of the podium with great concentration, like a drunken man trying to look sober. He searched for Bea among the violins and beckoned her with two fingers.
She swiftly put the violin down on her chair and went quietly to him. He nodded as she did so, and was about to put his right hand on her shoulder.
"Don't worry about an ambulance," he said quietly, in a distinctly breathless tone. "In my pocket…" he then stopped, took an intake of breath, and added, "Hozpital --"
Then there stole over his expression a look of complete surprise. It was as if someone had knifed him from behind. He seemed to be getting shorter, and Bea realized he was sinking slowly to his knees in front of her, and from there he slipped to the floor as if the bones had been taken out of him.
Two women in the orchestra screamed. Bea turned wildly to Mark, who had gotten up from his chair two rows back, and had run to the edge of the stage. "Get your car!" she screamed at him. "Quickly!! Now!! No time for the ambulance!" The hospital was only four blocks away from the theatre. Mark practically leapt with one bound out of the stage right stage door, where his old red station-wagon was parked.
Beatrice heard the scuffling of men's shoes behind her. She remained outwardly calm as they picked Klipop up, with veneration, but firmly. The conductor's face seemed to be jogging from side to side as they lowered him off the stage.
There was a sudden siren sound coming from the balcony---
But it was not a siren. It was Sophie Klipop. She was standing over the edge of the balcony and screaming at the top of her lungs. Not screaming any words. Just screaming.
Now the men were carrying Klipop down the steps and through the theatre at as swift a pace as they were able. Seth Kainor, the tall double-bassist, was loosening the Klipop's tie with a free hand as he helped them carry the poor man out. Bea was running after them, then beside them, now in front of them, holding open the doors to the foyer, then out to the street, where Mark's ancient station wagon was already waiting, with the back door open on its side and the seats down. Mrs. Klipop had by this time come down the stairs and leapt into the front seat next to Mark. He speeded off, turning a quick corner, and the back door slammed shut.
Bea had gotten into the back seat along with one of the brass players --she couldn't for the moment remember his name-- and searched through his pockets for whatever Klipop had asked for before he collapsed.
Mark was careening around corners and she was barely able to keep her balance, let alone dig through Klipop's coat. The poor man's face seemed to be turning beet red and his breathing was beginning to become labored.
She found only a small green pill in his pocket.
"Stuff it in his mouth!" Mrs. Klipop screamed from the front of the car. Bea struggled to get it in between Klipop's set teeth. As she did there was a dip in the road --it was the entranceway to the hospital--and Bea and the other musician hit their heads on the top of the car.
Someone from the theatre had clearly phoned the hospital, for there were two men already waiting with a stretcher to take Klipop inside. They quickly opened the back, lifted him speedily from the car, and ran him inside. The others followed.
The walls of the emergency room were painted the usual unpleasant gray-green, and Bea resented her own shallowness in noticing such things just then. She also noticed that Klipop's wife was no longer a vacant-eyed gold-digger, but someone legitimately concerned about her spouse. Bea blushed in shame for having misjudged the young woman, as she watched Mrs. K bringing out a number of cards from her purse, and splaying them before a relatively indifferent nurse.
The scene slowly quieted down. Klipop was being attended to, his wife was murmuring information to the nurse, and everyone else was catching their breath. Into this harassed scene another nurse butted in, and asked where the victim had come from.
"Take care of him! He collapsed at the < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Cincinnati theatre."
"He came from the theatre? Him? What do mean, him?" she asked, dully, in a cowboyish accent. She clearly wasn't the brightest card in the deck.
Seth, the most imposing figure in the room, towered over her. "He, he!! It's a man!" he yelled two inches from her face.
The nurse recovered her sense of purpose, and started barking orders. In a few seconds, the world-famous conductor had been wheeled off to one of the hospital's emergency wards.
"What now?" Bea asked impatiently.
"We wait," Mark said.
This was the last thing she wanted to hear. Bea had a phobia of hospitals ever since her breakdown and felt her neck and back flushing red. She wondered aloud whether she should go back to the theatre and tell everyone to go home. It was an opportunity to get away, and she asked Mark for permission. Lost in thought, he nodded and she left.
There were no cabs in sight. Fine. She had left her bag with her purse in it down in her locker at the theatre anyway.
She walked the four blocks back to the theatre, replaying in her mind what had just taken place. She obviously should have called an ambulance. Were they legally responsible for his death now, if he did die?
If Klipop died, the Videntian would have a field day, saying the orchestra were a bunch of amateurs in life as well as art. But Klipop had specifically asked that there not be an ambulance. Why? And then the really unpleasant question presented itself. What was this green pill she had just given to a man in danger of his life? She had taken the responsibility on herself to give it to him. Fortunately, Mrs. Klipop had yelled to her to use it, and there were two witnesses in the car to attest that the conductor's own wife had said it. That would hold up in court, she bitterly realized, but it wouldn't stop the Videntian from making dark and sinister suggestions about … what?
She caught herself mumbling, and stopped for a moment. Looking into the mirrored reflection of an empty store, she brushed back her hair before walking on.
She turned another corner, and saw a number of people standing in front of the theatre in various states of unease. She waved at them and one or two strode briskly towards her.
"What's the verdict?" one asked.
"Is he OK?" another said.
"Anything we can do?" asked a third. The sunlight was in her eyes, but she recognized their voices and shook her head.
"It's too early to tell. Mark said he'd call the theatre." He hadn't told her that, but Bea assumed it. "I guess we just continue with the rehearsal."
"Really?" asked one of the younger women skeptically, crossing her arms, and leaning defensively against one of the theatre's front pillars. She was not one of Bea's favorites. The woman played beautifully but without much interest and Bea hated both her ability and seeming diffidence.
"Really. Look, we'll break early, but I think we should go on, as a favor to Mark, if not to Klipop. No, let's just take a break now, and I'd like you all to be back here in forty-five minutes."
She went inside and repeated her decision in both the foyer and the theatre, where players had congregated in a confused way. Some part of her noticed that the air-conditioner, at long last, was working.
She strode out of the theatre, looking at no one, and marched next door to the deli, where some musicians were already placing their orders.
Joe, rude as usual, saw her march in and trumpeted, "Are you responsible for all this? Don't tell me you need an order, too? Walt's out picking up supplies and then your bunch marches in on me …"
"Stop it, Joe," she snapped. He stopped, surprised. She motioned to the people around her. "Look, whatever they want, Joe, give me the bill. I'll have to answer to Mattie later for it, but I'll give you a big tip."
She thought Joe would look pleased; he wasn't. Orders and customers waiting to sit down had suddenly swamped him. Fortunately, many of them would take their lunches back to the theatre, where it was now a bit cooler. There was so much commotion in the diner that Beatrice didn't see Tom come in. He fought his way through forty people trying to give their orders on the far side of the counter, and grabbed Beatrice by the arm.
"Need to talk to you," Tom said.
"Yes?" She turned to look at him.
She knew. She knew as soon as she saw his set face.
"Not here," he said, his voice low. "Let's go to the theatre." He went to the door and held it open for her. His movements were mechanical as he escorted her next door, his arms bereft of movement.
copyright 2005, 2007 by Robert Bonotto. All rights reserved.