Chapter Fifteen
 

15

'Bed,' as the Italian proverb succinctly puts it, 'is the poor man's opera.'

--Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell, 1956.

 

Tom and Sophie were in the hotel café. He had managed to find a corner in the place where they could be alone. This wasn't too difficult, as the breakfast rush was over and the old ladies hadn't come in for their club sandwiches yet. While ordering, Tom assumed, or tried to assume, a more masculine demeanor.

Their absurdly tiny table seemed to shrink with each new plate or teacup, and Tom had his hands full trying to remember etiquette from elementary-school training films. Sophie seemed to respond to his fumbling, as he found when he started asking her questions.

"Mrs. Klipop--"

"Sophie," she purred.

"So-phie. Thank you. Could you tell me a little bit about your home life with your late husband? Nothing racy, mind. I'm just trying to get a sense about Klipop's private, as opposed to his professional, life." He was having a hard time figuring what to do with the teapot now, and after pouring out both cups discreetly placed it under his chair.

"He spent an awful lot of time with music paper," she said. "I play guitar, you see, so that's how I know. He would go over the music with his manager, over and over -- and over --"

She was weaving back and forth in her chair as she repeated herself. Tom was getting nauseous watching her and grabbed her arm. "Yes; I'm aware of all that. I talked to the manager, and--"

"I mean," she interrupted, "how often do you have to repeat something before you know it?  If someone plays me a tune, I remember it forever."

"You have a good memory."

"For a lot of things. But, I mean, when you come right down to it, all I've learned has been by instinct, really." She gave him a melting smile.

He ignored this bit of philosophy, along with its implications.

"Of course," she chirped, "practice makes perfect. I know that. He didn't have to teach me that. He called me his little token prize."

"Okay." Tom was trying, with little success, to change gears. "Now. Do you remember anything that could have possibly been regarded as suspicious, the morning of his death? Please try to remember.  I know this all must be painful for you…"

She looked at him blankly.  "Why?  Oh. Yes. Very painful. Well, let's see." Her face darkened into a rough approximation of thought. "He didn't want breakfast at your conductor's house; he doesn't trust any other conductors, ever. He didn't want breakfast at the hotel on the way over when he picked me up." She smiled at Tom. "He likes me to repack his suitcase. He says I have The Right Touch. Let's see. The omelet at the hotel had little green things in it, and he wouldn't eat it.  Instead he went through all those little containers of orange marmalade they put next to the salt and pepper. So I guess he was still hungry by the time he got to the rehearsal. His little tummy was growling by the time we got to the theater." She giggled. "I always call his little tummy his little tummy." 

"Apt. And clever. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

She turned to him, with moist lips and eyes. Not only was she barking up the wrong forest, Tom thought; she reminded him that The Seductive Look was similar to side-effects of hay fever.  "Oh, no, please," she breathed, "I love personal questions. Go right ahead."

Tom decided to trowel on a little charm. He put his hand, lightly, on hers.             "Tell me the truth: Why do you want to sue our little city's orchestra?"

"Oh, it's nothing personal," she smiled. "Sergei just said to me just before he died, as he always does when he guest-conducts, 'Nail them if anything happens to me'."

Tom looked puzzled, and she continued, "He hated every orchestra except his own, and he certainly hated your conductor. Said he had no talent. You won't tell Mark, will you?  I have to sue the orchestra. I promised my late husband I would.  After all, it is his final wish."

 

After finishing with "So-phie", Tom walked, with overcoat flapping, to Joe's.  He had an appointment there with Derek, Klipop's manager.

He hadn't realized how long he'd been talking to her until he got into the diner:  it was already the lunch-hour and the place was crowded. Among all the light-blue shirts and dark-blue coats filled by policemen eating lunch, he found Derek looking disdainfully at both his roast beef sandwich and the BATHJAC's obituary of Klipop. Tom put his hand on the manager's shoulder. Derek turned around, recognized him and asked, "You want half of this sandwich? It'll probably be the half that's good."

"Who's Klipop's next of kin, aside from his wife?" Tom sat down at the aqua-green countered booth, and took out a pen and paper from his pocket.

Derek considered the question. "Next of kin. He had a brother, somewhere. Ernest Von Klipop, I seem to remember. I suspect he's dead; Klipop was a superstitious man, and he refused to speak of him the whole time I was there, though he must have existed."

Tom wrote this down. "Why did you try to get in touch with Klipop's brother? Was it over a will?" He looked up. "Oh, good morning, Will. Just coffee for me. To go, please."

"Sure thing," Will said, writing it down. "I heard about Klipop; I'm sorry. He seemed like a great guy."

Tom and Derek looked at each other.

"Klipop never made a will," Derek continued. "He was superstitious about everything. The man even believed in ghosts, if you can grab that."

"Yeah, I remember that," Will interrupted. "I believe in them, too. He and I talked about them when we met--" Will began, but saw that the two men were eyeing his contribution with little enthusiasm. He slunk off to get the coffee.

"Tell me something else. What did Klipop really think of Mark?"

"Mark? Oh. Your conductor. Let's see …" Derek thought. "Klipop said he was pretty good. Very good. In fact, he was thinking of asking him to guest conduct the Boston."

"Really? But that's quite an honor."

The manager looked at him in disbelief, and chuckled. "You don't understand.  He was thinking of asking him. That's not what you think it means.

"You see, Klipop would have engaged Mark to warm up the orchestra before his own concerts for a few weeks, as a prelude to using him for a children's concert, and then… just let him go. That's his style. Klipop's done that to a lot of people.” He cocked an eye at Tom, and added, "I bet he suggested that Mark leave his orchestra, too."

"Why would he do that?"

"Don't you see? It's a one-two punch. Gets rid of competition.  Find a conductor with promise, fill him with dreams, let him touch --just touch-- a great orchestra, and then… cut him adrift.  For life.  The poor idiot spends the rest of his days living over and over those precious hours he had with one great orchestra. Ever hear of Janus Joslin?"

"Has anyone?"

"No. No one has. Except for me. Joslin was pretty good; I heard him one summer at Tanglewood.  I was foolish enough to bring him to The Great One's attention.   Bad move.  Klipop made Joslin a 'guest offer', made Joslin give up his orchestra --which wasn't far from Boston, either-- and then, whammo.  Instant oblivion. Couldn't go back to his old job, of course, that was filled.  Americans aren't supposed to like their own conductors, anyway. 

"Last I heard from Joslin, his wife left him, and now he's a rehearsal pianist for a ballet company in Utah." Derek shook his head, chuckled, and choked on the dry roast beef.

After a sip of coffee, he continued, "mind you, if a conductor were either great or terrible, Klipop wouldn't go near them. If they were terrible, his orchestra wouldn't be properly rehearsed when he took over. But," Derek added, wagging two fingers together as if they were two people,  "If they were great, the orchestra would start … comparing the two of them. Do you see?"

"Klipop told his wife Mark hadn't any talent."
            "Klipop told his wife whatever he thought would make him seem a God in her eyes. His first wife fell for that for a few years, too. I would have thought you'd have figured that out for yourself." He regarded Tom for a moment, and broke into a smile; not a good smile, as there was lettuce on one side of it.

"So," he asked, "whad'ya think of Our Sophie?"

"Well, I'll tell you," Tom said, warming to his task. "When I was in college, I had a paper route in an Industrial Park that wasn't doing very well.   I had to walk through a hundred abandoned offices to find the three offices I had to deliver a paper to.  Some offices had been vacant for years. Room after room of emptiness and dusty carpeting.

"That's what I thought asking Sophie questions was like."

Derek was looking at him critically, the cup of coffee in his hand suspended in mid-air. "You thought that, did you?" he said.  For a moment he was lost in thought. Then he slammed the cup down, turned to Tom and said severely, "I'll tell you something, brother. Our Sophie's a lot more intelligent than she looks." With that he turned away abruptly from Tom and went back to his newspaper, opening it with a furious snap. For some reason Derek was offended.  And he clearly wasn't going to answer any more questions.

 

Tom went to get his coffee at the counter. Joe, as usual, seemed happy to be the cook, which meant he didn't have to talk to anyone, and he let Will take care of everything else. Will was rushing between the cash register and filling the other orders. The coffee was waiting in a bag.

"Ever efficient as usual, Will," Tom said. He put a couple of bucks on the counter. "Sorry I interrupted you when you were talking about Klipop."

"My kind of guy," Will said. "He wants something and goes after it. That’s the kind of guy I am, really. I’m a subjectionist –“

“Um. Subjectionist?”

“Yeah. You subject everyone else to your philosophy of Self-Aggression,” Will said, pounding his chest. “It was invented by the great novelist Randi Ayn. Have you ever read her novels?”

“Sadly, yes. A guy I was dating insisted that I –“

“What did you think of her greatest book, Sisyphus Sneezed?”

“Unspeakable. Look, if you’re thinking about careers, Will, you certainly could find a better job than this one. You’re a hard worker."

Will looked around to where Joe was and whispered, "It won't be long now. You won't see me here soon. There just aren't that many jobs in this town."

"Got a couple of questions for you." Tom said, and took out his small notebook. "Klipop ate one of the Belgian fries you had made --" he started to say, when Will interrupted him. "Those fries were fine!  And that was a whole day before he died, man," Will said loudly, then quietly leaned in to Tom. "You can't pin that on me."

"Wait, Will, I'm not --"

"And anyway, the couple that ordered those fries ate up the order and nothing happened to them. Nothing I'm aware of, anyway. They walked out of here smiling, which, considering this place, is pretty unusual --"

"Whoa, Will, whoa, hold on a second, dude." Tom strained to placate the other man, who was some nine inches taller. "I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just double-checking a lot of stuff. Like, I'm assuming that Klipop didn't come around after the rehearsal was over that day? Or show up the morning he died, to get anything? Another bottle of water, for example?"

"No. No, the only time I saw him was when you were here, and you saw that all he got was a bottle of water, and then we talked about ghosts, and that was all --"

"And that was an entire day before he died. Okay. Fine. That's all I wanted to know, Will. Relax, man."

"Look," Will went on, "I saw his daughter walking into the theatre with him the morning he died. They walked right by here, but they didn't come in. And you can check all this stuff I'm telling you with her."

"Daughter? Oh. I think you mean his wife."

Will gave a low whistle. "Wow. That cute young blonde job was his wife? Man, he did get everything he wanted from life, didn't he?"

 

            Half an hour later, Mark was standing next to Tom in front of the dressing rooms, and addressing a puzzled orchestra as they were preparing for rehearsal. He was in the passageway he usually reserved for his pontifications.

            "Good morning, folks," Mark tried to sound breezy, and partially succeeded. "I think you all know Tom Griffes, our third flutist. You also know that he was, until recently, a officer working for the Videntia police force."

            A smart aleck from the back of the men's dressing room half-yelled "Fire!" and there was general laughter. They were referring to Tom's supposed heroism.

            "Okay, settle down," Mark continued. "The thing is, we've had a considerable stroke of luck in the face of all the bad events from the past two days. Tom has convinced the police to take this investigation into his own hands," -- there was a sigh of relief from several members of the orchestra-- "and he'll be questioning only a couple of you about the accident yesterday. Now you know as well as I do that we're trying hard to keep a lid on untoward rumors about The Great Man's Death. We've taken the precaution of making this a closed rehearsal." And he added meaningfully, "No press allowed."

            Murmurs of approval came from both dressing rooms.

            "Tom," Mark turned to him, "we're going to have a short rehearsal today, but before we get started, you can ask your questions." Tom nodded in a businesslike way and Mark started to leave for his own room.

Before he let Mark go, Tom grabbed him by the arm. "I've got one question for you, first," he whispered to Mark. "Did Klipop offer you a rehearsal with his orchestra in exchange for your giving up Videntia's?"

            Mark looked surprised. "How did you know that he --"

"Never mind," Tom interrupted him. "I've got my answer."

 

After the two-hour rehearsal, Tom was back in the afternoon at Mark and Mary Medli's house.  Questioning the orchestra turned up little that he hadn't figured out before.

Bea opted out of that day's rehearsal; she and Aunt Mattie had been there all morning, discussing budget proposals for the next year.  The talk had been listless.  The threatened lawsuit was hanging over all of them.

Mary had lain out, on the dining room table, piles of papers and forms to fill out for grants and proposals, one of them for a five-year plan. "There's so many forms to fill out," she muttered, "that Mark and I now spend most of the year eating in the kitchen." The table was divided into state and federal forms, as well as paperwork involving private subscribers.  There were two large cardboard boxes piled in the corner, most of them duplications of forms --all of it since January.

Next to the dining room was the living room, where Tom was pacing in front of an audience of five. He was repeating his conversation with Sophie to the others, adding unnecessary and libelous comments.

Tom was clearly angered by what he suspected was Sophie's combination of real and feigned stupidity, as well as the power she could have for closing the orchestra down. He made no secret of his disapproval. "I don't know about presumption of innocence," he raged, "but she's certainly not innocent of presumption."

Bea was looking over the forms on the dining room table and listening quietly to Tom's combination of fact and derisive, sometimes catty, opinion. Aunt Mattie was in an old armchair in the corner, with her cane handily nearby.  She appeared to be comfortably dozing, yet everyone save Tom knew that she was listening intently.

"All right, Tom," Bea said, after his diatribe had run its course, and he seemed to be winding down. She walked into the living room and sat at the smaller sofa. "We know you're on our side. The orchestra's, I mean. In as much as you can legally be. I suppose we should have our lawyer here for me to ask this, but I'll ask it anyway. What should we do now?"

Tom gave an unhelpful shrug and slumped into the other sofa, sitting next to Mark. "Well.  She's given us three days to solve it all, and we've got half of that left…."

Aunt Mattie spoke up so sharply that Tom half-jumped. "That's two days to turn her around." She turned to the conductor. "Mark. Entertain her. Wine her and dine her. Take her out."

"Thanks, Mattie." Mary snapped. "He's already married to me."

Mattie wasn't finished. "Although marrying a rich widow would solve most of the orchestra's problems, Mary," she continued, "that's not exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking that someone here should be with her and ask her anything that could point to a possible murderer. Besides," she added, "Sophie might be in danger herself."

Everyone looked at Tom, who had surreptitiously put his hand behind Mark's head and was playing with the back of Mark's hair. "You want me to do the romantic work?" Tom asked. "I spent a half-hour with her this morning trying to seduce me. Talk about pointless. And I still have people to question on this."

"You've already interviewed the orchestra," Mark pointed out.

"The orchestra may have some suspects," Tom responded. "And don't forget, Mark, you may be a suspect, too. Now, don't look so shocked. I want to make sure everyone I know comes out of this thing clean and pristine. So every possible question I can think of has to be asked, even the unflattering ones. I'm thinking of the Videntian's reporters trying to get anything they can to strike both you and the orchestra.  They and their editors are leaving messages on my office machine every day, and they'd love to get the drop on you guys." He continued stroking the back of Mark's neck. "And after they run you out of business, they'll run editorials bemoaning the fact that the musicians don't continue to play in this town for free. And live on air."

Mark got up off the couch. "If you're going to accuse me, Tom, you might at least stop playing with my hair. I'm a married man." 

"I like married men."

"So I've heard." Mark turned and faced his accuser. "And would you like other people --in the press, say-- to know it?" he asked.

The smirk dropped from Tom's face. He looked at Mark and said simply, "you wouldn't talk to the Videntian about that. They're homophobic as hell."

Mark waved this away. "Of course I won't. They hate us just as much. And if they don't know about you by now, they're stupider than you are.

"I just wanted you to feel, for half a second, what most of us in this room right now are feeling.  What it's like to be in a position of authority and have it threatened." He made a sweeping hand motion that took in everyone in the room. "That goes for all of us, and the orchestra too. You know as well as I do that fifty temperamental and possibly paranoid artists can not only attack me when they're cornered, but backstab each other as well." He relented, and added, "Okay. Only a few in the orchestra would actually do it, but they'd make everyone else's lives miserable.  I like to think that they're all my friends, however untrue that may be. Some friendships last because they're never tested.

"Tom. If you speak to anyone about your suspicions in this case, you're in danger of unleashing something that could destroy us all faster than anything that blabbing idiotic widow of Klipop's could say.  Now do you understand?"

Tom nodded equably. "Yes. I know."

"After all," Mark continued unwisely, "how long ago did you start in the force?"

Tom was surprised at the question and answered, "Twenty years ago last month. Why ... why do you ask?"

"Think of the hostility you encountered when you arrived there. Try to re-imagine it, surrounded by fifty highly articulate and nervous musicians, with me and Beatrice and Mary --and Ben-- trapped in the middle, trying to keep them all from tearing each other to shreds. Before the gleeful eyes of the press, too."

Tom understood. "You want me to be tactful."

"That’s putting it mildly. If you don't tread lightly over all this we might as well close down this venerable operation right now.  Be careful.  Please."

Tom, chastened, got up from the sofa. "Well, I think we may be all right with Sophie, at least for the present time. She says she's a musician, too." He shrugged and looked helplessly at Ben. "Unfortunately, it's the guitar."

"What's wrong with the guitar?" Ben asked. Like many Brazilians, he had played the instrument as a teenager.
            "Everyone plays the guitar," Tom snapped.

"No, Tom," Ben said meaningfully. "Everyone plays the flute."

"Touché."

"Tom," Bea spoke up. "How well does Sophie play?"

"Well enough to play a real concert, I guess," Tom shrugged, "after all, she met Klipop when he conducted her at one … of …  his…um… 

     ….hmm."

Tom stumbled and stalled. He looked at them, and they at him. The same thought had occurred to everyone at exactly the same time.

Bea made a quick motion to get up, but Mattie was nearest the telephone. She slammed her hand down on it and whipped the receiver to her ear with one deft movement.  Snapping her fingers loudly at Tom for the phone number to Sophie's hotel room, Mattie dialed it in a swift, businesslike manner.

She then cleared her throat with a deep, masculine growl that would have scared away any small dogs in the room.  Or the backyard.  Next door.

When her call was put through to Sophie's hotel room, Aunt Mattie swiftly descended from her autocratic battle-ax mode. Suddenly, in the twinkling of a geriatric eye, she was transformed into the most endearing and sweet-tempered old lady imaginable. 

"How are you, dear?" she coyly cooed into the receiver. "We've been thinking and worrying all day about you…. Oh, really?  Poor dear; poor thing."

Tom, who had police experience in dealing with schizophrenics, reflected that "Dear Aunt Mattie" was more frightening now than she was before the call.