from the classical murder-mystery The Baton Rouge, by Robert Bonotto.
Usually I have to wait for other people to tell me I have new ideas,
because I never know this myself.
--Ludwig Van Beethoven.
The evening humidity had slowly given way to a needed drizzle of rain. All of the windows in Mark & Mary's house had been flung open, and a faint and calming breeze was finally drifting in.
Bea, Ben, Mark & Mary were in the living room, trying to find a way to save the fundraising concert, now that Klipop was well and truly gone. It was getting late and tempers were beginning to escalate.
When she'd gotten home, it was Mary who elected to telephone Connie in a shore-to-ship call, and tried to get the ingredients for the cookies she'd baked and Klipop had eaten.
It turned out badly. Now freed of her job, and irritated at being interrupted on her carefree voyage, Connie spent several undoubtedly happy minutes over the phone, slashing into Mary, Beatrice, the orchestra, and finally intimated that the real reason Mary wanted the recipe for her cookies was that she was jealous, always had been. The recipe was her own secret, and Connie would thank Mary to mind her own business from now on. The idea of someone dying from her cookies! Outrageous! And Mary heard the phone slam down decisively.
Tom, in his turn, tried calling her and was even more unsuccessful.
When he told her this was now an official police matter, she turned the tables on him, threatening to call the Videntian. She screamed into the phone, "Young man (ha!), I'll report to that nasty paper of yours that my city's police force, whose salaries I pay for, has nothing better to do than bother a poor woman on her honeymoon."
Tom and Mary stopped calling, both silently praying for her Love-Boat to meet with A Perfect Storm.
This was the least of their problems tonight: they still had to find someone to fill in for the late conductor. In two days.
"Well, who or what can we use as a substitute?" Mary fretted. "We spent so much on ads, on promotions -- we can't just fill it in with some kind of symposium. We have to have some kind of gimmick, or we might as well call the whole season a loss right now."
"Call Paul Mendnelson," Mark suggested. Mendnelson was the orchestra's Composer-In-Residence. "The Triple Concertino we commissioned from him isn't due 'till the fall. Still, if he's finished one of the movements, or two, maybe we can premiere it as --oh, I don't know, a 'sneak preview' or something."
"That's not good planning, Mark. It stinks, actually," Mary shot back. Mark nodded: she was right, as usual. He turned to Bea, "Call Paul anyway. Maybe he has something else to suggest, something we could use."
"Like what? You think composers have unperformed symphonies lying around in the kitchen closet, next to the tea and the sugar?" Bea huffed.
"Most of them do, actually," he answered. "Call him. He might have a suggestion of something --or someone-- else we can use in a pinch."
Bea got on the phone. It was getting late but that hardly mattered with Paul. He was the sort of person that was just setting down to coffee at that hour. He insisted that he composed better after midnight. His neighbors rarely agreed.
A somewhat lazy, low midwestern drawl answered the phone. "H'lo?"
"Paul? I'm sorry to be calling you this late---"
"Not at all. I was just making some salad for dinner."
She cast a disbelieving glance at the clock. It was nearly eleven. "Okay," she said, shaking her head.
It turned out that Paul had heard the news about Klipop's death on the radio, and she filled him in on the rest. When she asked him about the Triple Concertino, he gave her the bad news.
"I've started on all three movements," he said, "but they're none of them finished. It'd be a weird concert with the three instruments and the orchestra starting out at full tilt, and then tapering off into an embarrassed silence after a few minutes…. Three times."
She agreed. "You're right. That wouldn't be good."
"We could call the piece Coitus Interruptus, I suppose, but I don't imagine your board of directors would like something with that title being billed as 'A Work In Progress, for Soloists and Orchestra'."
He chuckled away at the receiver; she waited patiently, straight-faced, for him to stop. She wasn't in the mood. "Isn't there a piece you've got somewhere that we could advertise as a world premiere?" she asked. "Think, Paul: we're really up the creek here. We need to counteract some bad press we're expecting to get…"
There was a long pause at the other end, and then he asked suddenly, "Do you know Richard Strauss's Enoch Arden?"
"I don't know. Maybe. What about it?"
"I can give you a premiere."
"Of what?" she asked. "A Strauss Tone Poem? Oh, Paul, please, this is serious. You do not have a long-buried tone poem of Richard Strauss in your basement or attic to premiere --"
"It's not a tone poem. It was a piece he wrote when he was a young man, for narrator and piano. Mostly narrator."
"But we need a new orchestral piece--"
He interrupted her. "Beatrice. Shush. Let me finish. Please." She shushed, and he went on to explain.
"Somewhere in the basement I've kept part of my thesis project. It was an orchestration of the piano part of Arden. The original work was always a bit oddly shaped; Enoch Arden's got a half-hour of narrator, but only twenty minutes of music. That's pretty unwieldy. And I can't vouch for the quality of my contribution to it. After all, I wrote it forty years ago; perhaps that's why I've never peddled the thing to anyone. But you're free to use it if you want. You do need a good actor for the role, though, since there's only twenty minutes of music."
"It'll do for an emergency," Bea breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Paul. Please see if you can find it…"
She slammed down the phone and turned to Mark and Mary. "I'm going over to see Karl."
Mary was busy rewriting the concert programme and looked up. "Karl Colliers? But we just used him in October for a Children's Concert."
"Well, we're using him again," she said, and put on her raincoat. He was another one she knew was always up late, and she fled out the door and into her car.
A theatrical "Yessss--- coming" answered the doorbell, and there was a wide swing of the door. "Well, this is a surprise. Come in, Beatrice. Would you like some coffee?"
Karl Colliers looked a bit like Thomas Nast's original Saint Nicholas; the other bits looked like Thomas Nast. His deep, rolling voice always reminded Beatrice of a dark velour carpet, unrolling out to unknown vistas.
"Decaf, if you've got. Sorry about the hour. I saw your light on from the highway as I was driving by. I'm glad to see you, Karl. "
"Same here --but you haven't been in touch in a while. I'm wagging my finger at you, girl, because I enjoy your company and have missed it." She followed him into the condominium. He turned back and asked her, "How is your Ben?"
They went into the small kitchen and he took down a pair of ancient mugs from a shelf. One of them was labeled, Deepest Thanks, with signatures from about twenty cast members scribbled all over it. Beatrice answered, "He's not my Ben. I've never been able to regard him as my special property. I don't think he's anybody's, really."
"I'll claim him, then. He's a good actor, and I'd like to cast him again." Ben had, at short notice, filled in as the villain for The Night That Creeps in two weeks. "I never could find out where he learned to act."
"Probably by just being Ben. You know, he and I have been seeing each other for over a year, and there's still a lot I don't know about him myself," she admitted uncomfortably. "I certainly know that he knew Klipop from working with him before, but I can't figure out from where."
"Ask him," Karl suggested.
"I have. He just wriggles out of it."
"Start a fight," Karl suggested. "Then ask him.”
"Won't work. At the first sign of a squall, he admits he was wrong."
"Stop seeing him for a week," Karl suggested. "Then ask him."
"When I came back after two weeks, he acted as if I'd never been away." She laughed, "I've tried all those, Karl. Got any more bright ideas?"
Karl gave up. "Not at the moment. As for Klipop, that's a little different. There could be other ways of finding out about him," he said. He was taking two cups of hot water out of the microwave, and was filling each with ebony and ivory crystals. "Look up Klipop on an Internet search engine. See what you find. It might take a few hours," Karl added as they went into the living room. He waited until Beatrice sat down, and then handed her a mug. "He's known enough that some fan probably has already dug up a lot of information on him; doubtless there's a lot of things his 'authorized' biography didn't mention, posted somewhere on the internet."
"You think a fan would do that -- post their idol's kept secrets online?" Bea asked, taking one of the lighter-looking cookies.
Karl sat on the other side of the sofa, meditated for a moment, and then said, in a low tone, "It's always the person who has a mania, an obsession about another person's life that uncovers the most information. By the simple law of averages, more often it's the fan that turns up something disreputable about their idol. Not that they want to, it just ends up that way. After all, there's a hell of a lot more fans out there than private investigators." He took a sip from his cup and added in a conciliatory way, "Of course, the most ardent fans will try and bury the evidence again. They usually fail, though. The past can be a Pandora's Box, and notoriety is a two-edged sword, Beatrice. Well, of course, you know all about that."
She smiled, pleased in spite of herself. "It's not the same with a classical-music celebrity," she admitted. "You know that, Karl. Once in a blue moon someone might recognize me on the street. When it happens that rarely it's always a pleasure."
Karl rolled his eyes. "For two years in my life I had that 'pleasure'," he muttered. "That damned TV series had more people see me on one night than I had in my twenty years on the stage. Not that I ever got the chance to do much acting on television. That slow, pensive look I had as a macho private eye was simply me trying to remember my lines. Fifty new pages to memorize per week, My God.
"Have I told you that one of my old students is now playing the lead on one of the soaps? She manages to pack in sixteen pages per day. I tremble to think where that would have put me. The booby-hatch, probably."
Bea had stopped listening halfway through his speech. "You played a private eye…. I'd forgotten that." Karl shrugged and asked her if that was why she came by.
"Oh … no. I wanted to ask you if you would read for the orchestra again. I know it's short notice, but it's an emergency, because of --"
"Because of The Great Man Klipop's death. I heard about it on the radio this afternoon." He put down his mug with a decisive gesture and said, "Of course I'll be glad to fill in at the last moment." Then he sighed and asked, "Which of the three regulars is it you want me to narrate? Is it Carnival of the Animals? Or The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra? Or is it Peter and the Wolf yet again…?"
Bea was shaking her head. "It's Enoch Arden." When Karl looked puzzled, she continued, "You know the old poem?"
"Of course: heavens, my grandmother used to quote it at me whenever I dropped a girlfriend she was fond of. I remember the plot." He started to declaim, "The first husband, lost at sea, comes back to home and hearth," --here Karl mimed taking some seaweed off his arm and flinging it across the room-- "and finds his wife's married again." A smile was beginning to curl his lips when it froze, and descended an inch. He looked at her and asked, "Say… Klipop was married before, wasn't he?"
"I have no idea. Why?"
"Just wondering," he muttered, and continued. "What have I to do with Enoch Arden? Is it the Richard Strauss thing you want to do?"
Bea's jaw dropped. "Karl, how did you know about that?" she asked. "Even I had never heard of the damned thing before--"
But he was already off the sofa and into his spare room. He had a medium-sized apartment, and the second bedroom housed his voluminous library of theatre books. And other paraphernalia. Karl came back with an old LP record, which he handed to her.
"Claude Rains and Glenn Gould doing Enoch Arden," he said. "Big failure on records, sold only a thousand. Or less. But Mr. Rains signed a copy for me. As a young man, I had a minor role in a play he did. Very kind man." He seemed for the briefest moment to be drifting into the past, then checked himself. "You have a good pianist?"
"We have a good orchestrator. It's on Saturday night. Feel up to it?"
"Do I!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands, and then tried to look reserved, even bored. "I mean, as a favor to you, I'd be happy to… if you want me to…"
That night, Ben and Beatrice were in bed at his apartment. Ben was chewing on a pen.
Bea knew that this nervous habit was in deference to her intense dislike of cigarette smoke. He even seemed to have cut down on them, as a sort of indirect homage. But she noted that, after they'd had sex, he seemed to need to have a ball-point pen to chew on while they were watching television.
They were not watching TV now. There were pens on the bedside table, looking as if a small terrier of uncertain intelligence had mauled them.
Ben was idly turning a few pages of Jane Austen. That night he’d finally confessed about his immaculate English accent.
While he was growing up, Ben's mother sought out something better than the usual romances, and discovered the female English Authors of the 19th-Century: The Brontës, Eliot, Jane Austen.
Of course, she first read them in cheap, chopped-up Portuguese versions; later she gloried in the full editions’ expanded detail, and turned their plots into bedtime stories, about a land overseas full of dukes and princesses with strangely thoughtful lives. Ben wanted to go there.
Like most inland families in Brazil, the family owned a Shortwave, and listened to the BBC World Service's English lessons on a cheap radio that drifted in and out. Ben's mother then bought "her" novels, in English, for Ben to copy out; knowing them first as bedtime stories made it easier.
By the time Ben left Brazil, he had a good sense of English, but it took a while for him to throw off most of the 19th-century lingo that came with Ms. Austen.
Beatrice had rested her head on his chest, and noticed his absence of mind -- he had been staring at the same page for some time. She was about to ask, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" when she was surprised to hear him asking her that same question.
"I think so. About us?"
"No. I was thinking about the orchestra."
"Oh." She shifted uncomfortably. "I see."
Ben looked down at her. "What about us? Is there something wrong?"
She shrugged. "No. Not exactly. Maybe I'm a bit bored. Not with you. With the two of us. As it is." She paused, and added, "Although the girls at my music school always said, 'don't go to bed with anyone who has more problems than you do'. Good advice."
"That's just what my father in Brazil told me." He looked down at her. "You and me ... I thought we were doing all right," he said.
"We are. But…" she started, but fell silent.
"I'm not a fireworks kind of person," Ben said. His accent was mostly American now; in his voice there still lurked a trace of Brazilian rhythm. "Is there something you'd like to do? Music Projects?" He then, asked, reluctantly, "Housing? Moving?"
She wound her arms around his neck. "You know that's not possible. I have to take care of Aunt Mattie. And she thinks she can take care of herself, so that makes it all the more difficult. Her knowing about us and not minding, though, is …fine, too."
Ben nodded. He was aware that this conversation might be the setting for a marriage proposal …coming from either of them.
It could be so easy for them, to get married and live with her aunt in that mansion of a house. After all, the three of them got along fine. For now.
This, too, was an old situation. Both Bea and Ben had stared down that particular precipice before, and both had moved away as gingerly as they'd approached it. Ben felt the softness of her body clinging to him, and wondered if he would feel it in quite the same way if they were living and sleeping under her aunt's house. Nothing would change; and yet everything would change.
Their indecision was beginning to have the same effect on them that the decision itself might have had. They stayed there, in silence, drifting in and out of sleep, waiting for dawn to come.
copyright 2005, 2007 by Robert Bonotto