of the Classical Music murder mystery The Baton Rouge by Robert Bonotto
When I wish to annihilate, I do annihilate.
--Eduard Hanslick, quoted in Watson's Bruckner.
When they entered the theatre itself, they saw Colin talking to two of the musicians. Tom pulled Bea to the other side of the house and sat her down, making sure they were both out of earshot.
Tom put one foot up on an armrest in the chair and leaned over. He checked again to see that no one was around. "I was at the hospital dealing with an assault case in one of the emergency rooms," he started, "and I heard it all as everyone was coming in." He took a breath, and looked over the dark theatre. He then turned to her and said quietly, "Klipop's dead."
"What? How --"
"Don't know yet. It may have been a massive heart-attack."
"Are you sure?"
Tom looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean, Bea? Tell me."
He leaned closer. Tom seemed like another person to her now, an automaton whose only purpose was to process information, every nerve in his body concentrated on getting data.
"I mean," she said, "his expression clouded over. Slowly. I was watching him, because my section had a cue coming up. The way it stole over him was, you know, awfully slow. He didn't grab his chest or anything."
Tom shook his head. "Not all heart attacks register on the victim that way," he said.
"My father's did. I was there."
"Yes. I’m sorry. I do remember." Tom and she were still sophomores in High School when her father had died. It was the first real tragedy she had known, and Tom was there to help her through the ordeal. In a way it had sealed a life-long friendship; it was the first time in his life Tom had felt like an adult, and a needed one.
"Did Klipop grab his left arm or anything?" he went on.
"With neither of his arms. He was conducting, remember. It was as if some spell had come over him."
"… come over him …" Tom repeated. He was searching in his coat pocket for a tiny notepad and got out a cheap mechanical pencil. He wrote this down.
"Dizziness, perhaps," she said.
She tried to remember. "No. I don't think so. He was breathing pretty regularly when he fell. Also, he turned red instead of blue."
Tom shook his head. "That might be a stroke. I remember reading a biography of James Thurber where a friend described what she thought was the first of his minor strokes. He just sat there, but his head turned a dark red and looked as if it was about to explode. Is that what you saw?"
"It may have … no; I still don't think so. His color only changed when … no, after we had gotten him in the car."
Tom sat down on the edge of the seat ahead of her. He leaned over and patted the palms of his hands together, meditating.
After a moment he asked her, "Poison, do you think?"
"No, no. He hadn't anything for breakfast at Mark's place; Mary was complaining to me about the meal she'd made for him, and he just waved it aside. He wouldn't even drink the tea." And then she sat up, and her eyes narrowed. Tom, who didn't miss a trick, said, "Spill it. You've remembered something."
"My God, Tom. Two nights ago Sophie said he was worried about being poisoned."
"I know," Tom said. "Klipop's manager told me during the break yesterday about the hate mail he used to get. Some of it from players he too-happily fired." The two sat there brooding, when Beatrice whispered, "Allergies."
"What about allergies? Are you talking about yours?"
"Klipop was nosing about in my lunch bag and drank my orange juice and water --"
"Just orange juice and water?"
"No, sorry. Not water. Seltzer. I hadn't had either that or the cookies when… the cookies. I was saving the bottle and the cookies for my midmorning snack. Maybe he was allergic to them." And then she looked doubtful. "Oh, Tom, I don't think so."
"You know I'm always careful about what I eat … now. I have to be. I double-check everything. There couldn’t have been anything in that bag that--"
The cell-phone on Tom's belt started tinkling the opening of Poulenc's Flute Sonata and Tom answered it with a small move. He nodded at the phone, and then asked if Klipop's wife --what was her name? -- if she was in a condition to be put on the phone? She was? He looked in surprise at Beatrice, then turned back to the phone.
"Mrs. Klipop? Yes. Tom Griffes. I'm sorry about your husband, and … yes, we all are. A tragedy." Pause. "Uh-huh. Yes. You're doing what? What? But why?" His mouth dropped open, and he fell backwards into the chair. Turning to Bea in dismay, Tom whispered, "She's going to sue the orchestra." Before Beatrice could react, he went back to the phone. "Mrs. Klipop, may I ask why? Yes, it is my business a little … well, I'm not only a police investigator, I'm the third flutist in … well, thank you. No, I've been playing since high school. I went to high school with Beatrice. Why, is that wrong?" Pause. "Oh. No, she's nice, really. Oh, well, once you get to know her better …"
He then shot Beatrice a look of such profound irritation that she jerked up in her chair. The expression disappeared in a flash, and he went back to the phone.
"Negligence? In what, for heavens sake? Well, yes, we kept the doors open this morning because the air-conditioning wasn't working. It was going to be fixed by < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">noon …" Tom's sleeve was being pulled by Beatrice and he put the phone down long enough to explain, "She says it's negligence 'cause anyone could've walked in to kill him." He went back to the phone. "We've had open rehearsals before. Well, Miss … I mean, Mrs. … if we could have a talk with you before you go to the press with this …" He nodded and cut in. "Yes. I understand. I appreciate your decision. Sort of. I would like to talk to you as soon as you're able. No, I'm hoping to investigate the matter myself. I'm with the Videntia Police, yes." He paused and a bewildered expression came over his face. "In uniform? Yesterday. Yes, that was me." He shot a quizzical look at the phone. "Yes, I suppose I could come over to your hotel room in uniform … if that's what you … tell you what, if you do me the favor of not telling the press, particularly the Videntian. Well, perhaps I shouldn't be telling you this, but they hate our guts. Because we're an orchestra, Mrs. Klipop, and they hate the arts. They really do. And we can't afford to suck up to them by taking big ads in their papers. Yes, it is outrageous." He breathed a little easier. This was probably the first time the Videntian's animosity was doing the orchestra some good. "Mrs. K, please listen to me. The investigation over Cause Of Death should take five or six days. Did he have any previous health problems? Hold on." He was writing again. "A previous heart attack, but minor. I see. When was this? Two years ago. All right, you told the doctor that he had that? Well, if you must go back to Boston in three days, we'll do what we can. Please give us until then to try and solve it all. You won't give us six days before you go to the press? What about five? I see. It has to be three. Well, that's your decision, isn't it. Which reminds me. Was your husband allergic to orange juice? Oh, I see. Well, that's very commendable of you. Yes. Can I call on you tomorrow at ten? Is the Hotel Café all right? All right. Thanks again, Mrs. K. Goodbye." He turned off the cell-phone with a sigh and stared at it, thinking.
"What's very commendable?" Beatrice asked.
"She used to squeeze orange juice by hand for him practically every morning." He rubbed the bottom of his goatee. "Very dedicated, interesting woman."
"A slave, you mean," Beatrice said offhandedly.
Tom gave her the unfriendly eye again. "You were in one of your difficult, standoffish moods when you talked to her at the party two nights ago, weren't you?" She looked down, avoiding his gaze. "Don't bother to answer, I can see it now," he snapped angrily, and continued, "You forget something very basic about yourself, girlfriend. With those light blue eyes and that tall straight back of yours, you can intimidate folks by being just slightly snooty and supercilious. And how you enjoy it!" Beatrice opened her mouth to defend herself, but no words came out. His piercing eyes stopped her, and she realized for the first time what being grilled by Officer Griffes was like.
"Well," he relented, "it's too late to think about that now. What was wrong with the woman?"
"There was nothing wrong with her, Tom. I just thought she was a dumbbell. I may have made a mistake."
"Huh. Maybe. Let's get back to the cookies," he said, clipping the phone back onto his belt. "Who made them?"
"Connie. You know, Mrs. Deviltry herself. She was proud enough of them to drop hints about them to Klipop through the party. And, much as I hate to admit it, they were good."
"Did he have any that night?"
"He just drank. I had my eyes on him the whole time."
"I wanted him to take his wife back, for one thing. For the other, he adopted me as 'the smart one of the group'."
"Thanks a heap."
"You had some of the cookies, then?"
"Yes, I had one. And I stole a few different ones for the rehearsal. Maybe one of the different ones had something I would have been allergic to. Anyway, I never got to them yesterday." Her face clouded over.
"Oh, Tom. We can't get the ingredients to the cookies. Connie's out on her honeymoon cruise. Do you think that the lab would be able to--"
"Not in three days they can't. We're working against the clock if Mrs. K is going to blab to the press by Saturday about our allowing folks to waltz in here and bump off her husband. Time is of the essence, Bea. Listen. You've got to have to make a shore-to-ship call and get the recipe from Connie..."
"I will not! I hated talking to Connie when she was here," Beatrice griped. "Why don't you make the call?"
"BEATRICE!" Tom exploded. He rarely shouted at her and she quailed in alarm. "I am not in charge of this case. Yet. I still have to go to my boss and make sure that I am. And you'd better call her and get me that stupid recipe, just in case someone from the station who doesn't care about our orchestra --"
His cell-phone rang again. "Yeah," he answered. "Hey. What's the verdict? Oh. Beatrice Klarke was with him when he was struck down. She's right beside me if you have any questions. You don't? Okay. I see. Well, thanks, doc. You've answered my suspicions. Right."
He turned off the phone and returned it to his belt. "They say it was a heart-attack after all. There's no foul play, apparently." Tom did not, however, look in the least bit satisfied.
"Should I call Connie after all?"
He woke up out of his reverie. "No. Yes. I think I'd like to just have that nailed in as a certainty." He looked towards the stage and pointed to a crumpled bag near her chair. She got up and started down the aisle. "Wait. Come back here, Bea. You can't touch your bag. The forensic crew will be here in a minute, and they've got to dust up everything for fingerprints. I have to think about questions for the coroner, too…" He looked at the few people returning from lunch, and snapped, "Those folks can't get their instruments yet, either. Not till forensics is through examining the entire stage. Will you get that mob out into the foyer and explain what's going on?"
"You're giving me a lot of responsibility, Tom," she sighed, and went off to gather them before he could object. She talked to the few that had come back into the theatre and shepherded them out into the foyer, where over a dozen of the players had just come in.
She clapped her hands together. "Rehearsal is going to be postponed. And I'm afraid you're going to have to leave your instruments here for just a bit. Later on we may get someone from the police to hand them to you off the stage."
A few players asked about Klipop; the rest were concerned for their expensive instruments. Now most of the orchestra crowded the foyer, making it even smaller.
Beatrice's reputation for keeping a cool head prevailed. "I'm afraid Maestro Klipop died a few minutes ago." She kept talking through the gasps. "I would like to ask you if it would be all right to have a moment's silence when we have our next rehearsal." There were sympathetic murmurs of agreement from the players that were there. "Fine," she said, and suddenly she felt tired and weak. The tension of the morning was beginning to tell on her. She leaned against the concession stand and said, "Look, I'll email you all on our orchestra-list with further details." Many in the group nodded and began to leave. One or two wanted the police to be reminded about their instruments' fragility.
Seth Kainor was at her side and touched her shoulder.
"Is there anything we can do for you? Are you all right?" She nodded and squeezed his hand. "I guess you'll have to leave your bass here as well."
A slight smile escaped him. "No problem. I'm always looking for excuses not to lug that thing on the bus."
A figure in the back had been visibly activated by this news. It was Ben, and he fought his way through the crowd with a strange vigor. He seemed unusually upset by the news. He grabbed her by the arms.
"How did he die?" he yelled at her. "How did he die?"
Beatrice looked at him, nonplussed. "We don't know that yet, Ben," she told him. "It seems like it might have been a massive heart attack."
Ben's eyes opened wide and the color quickly drained from his face. "Oh, no. No," he whispered.
Then he recovered himself. Outwardly. "That is too bad. A tragedy," he said. A little too loudly.
"Yes, he was too young," she said, and added cryptically, "Conductor's tickers are supposed to be the longest-running of all."
Ben and Bea looked at each other, each trying to read the other's thoughts. She disengaged herself from the milling group, and went back into the theatre. Ben followed her reluctantly.
They saw a large figure talking to Tom, pressing him for information.
It was Bill Engels, the Videntia's one-stop arts reviewer. He always seemed to bring with him an air of heaviness, as if dark clouds waited for him outside while he stopped in. If Voltaire wore his learning lightly, Engels wore it like a suit of heavy armor. Beatrice felt herself ageing ten years when she saw him. Both he and Tom had their note-books out, one of them being careful about what information he had, the other man trying to get whatever scraps he could.
"Is this what I understand correctly to be the case?" he spotted Beatrice and asked her, in verbal constructions unnervingly baroque. "That the conductor Klipop has left us by way of a heart attack circumscribing the concert of Saturday evening?"
It always took Beatrice a moment to untangle Engels convoluted verbiage, and at length she answered, "Yes."
"Then the Videntian will be by way of printing the story of said conductor's demise, the primary announcer of grief?"
"Depends on you," Tom shrugged.
"How mean you that? Certainly the hospital doctor would be, indeed, should be consulted by reporters of our provenance."
Tom cleared his throat, and his thoughts. "Listen, Bill. I'm getting a second opinion on Klipop's death. I always do in cases like this--"
Ben interrupted, "Do you mean that it might not be a heart attack, Tom?"
"No, I think it is, I mean, was; but Beatrice told me something about the way he died that I have to follow up first." He told this to Engels. "And, speaking as an ex-reporter, I suspect a delay is exactly what your paper wants, anyway. They'd be happier if there was some doubt about his death, wouldn't they? If your paper points out that Klipop died of a heart attack, that's really not much of a story, is it?"
There seemed to be a whirring sound coming from the critic's cranium as he warily circled this idea. "That would seem to be the case," he finally admitted, "and certainly the Videntian would opt for a story which promised a more, shall we say, dramatic panacea."
"Right. I think. Look, Bill, I know you don't like the Videntia much more than we do," Beatrice spoke up.
Tom looked at her intently. He did not want to lose control of the conversation. Evidence was on the loose, and a member of the press was getting involved in all this before Tom had the case officially assigned to him.
"This is, I must say, so," Engels said. "I have suggested through indirect inference as much to you in the past, though it be in the strictest confidence," Engels said, putting his hands in his coat pockets. There were moments when he approached the state of someone approachable. "I understand," he droned on, "their need to occasionally elide my more verbose extravagances …" and he looked up with the trace of a smile, "though I would rarely admit as much to anyone other than the three of you – a chamber ensemble, in short…"
Beatrice put her arm on Tom as he was about to take over, and she said, "Thank you for the confidence, Bill. I know you've wanted for years to really be writing for the BATHJAC, while the Videntian --"
"Yes," he admitted, "I have myself experienced a not-always-latent preference for the Bulletin-American-Times-Herald-Jour-- "
"Yes, quite," Bea interrupted. "My advice, if you don't mind me saying so, is to call the BATHJAC as well, right after you call the Videntian, and tell them that the investigation is continuing."
Tom relaxed. Beatrice knew what she was doing, and now he knew what she was doing as well. Relieved, he started doing small ballet turns on the aisle carpet behind Engels' back, following its arabesque lines with a certain middle-aged grace. Beatrice concentrated on the critic and ignored the performance going on behind him.
Engels looked confused. "Telling a rival paper. Would that not approach the unsteady realm of conflicting interests?"
Bea stoked herself up to an artificial but well-simulated display of outrage. "Isn't it a conflict of interest for your bosses to send an esteemed critic to do a reporter's job? Everyone in the arts gets demoted when they force you do that, and you shouldn't have to take that sort of treatment. It was bad enough for all of us when they cut down your by-line last year --"
Engels stared at his feet and shuffled them a little. "Aw … shucks," he mumbled, to the shock of the other three. "I was sort of thinking that myself."
"Call Larry Stock right now," she said, referring to BATHJAC'S arts editor. "You know he's never really been your rival. Tell him about the investigation and he'll tell the reporters. He'll keep the source secret: it's really just a lead, two critics sharing theatre news. And that is all."
Engels straightened up as if he'd been given marching orders, and was glad to carry them out. "I am much obliged to you for what my subordinates at the paper would call a 'scoop'. Good day to you all."
He trundled off, and Tom, silently clapping, complimented Bea. "You played that part as a Moderato Scherzando. What a devious little artiste you are! Remind me to invite you in on my next investigation." Tom looked at the exit door. "I always feel unutterably tired after a bout of Engels."
"After hearing Mr. Engels," Ben admitted, "I don't feel much like I want to learn more of the English language." He saw Beatrice going through her purse. "What are you doing?"
"Getting Larry Stock's phone number," she said. "I'd better warn him."
She borrowed the cell-phone from a reluctant Tom, and filled Larry in.
"I don't want that guy over here," Larry, who was not in the habit of snarling, snarled over the phone. "Whenever he picks up a pen, he has to compare everything in this town to New York. What do you want me to do, take his news-tip and throw him down the stairs?"
"Larry. Simmer down. Bill's a good, solid academic writer, not a critic. Give him Sunday stories, introduce him to academics --he's never been able to get near them because he works for a sensationalistic, yellow rag-- and then just leave him alone. I really need you to do this as a favor to me."
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and Beatrice continued, "This is our way of getting a critic into the Videntian who knows how to write enthusiastically."
"If the Videntian will hire someone like that," Larry muttered. "Which I sincerely doubt. All right. Now is there anything I should know about what's happened that Engels doesn't?"
"There'll be a dozen reporters here in the theatre in ten minutes after they finish up at the hospital," she said, "but the only thing I can tell you now is that we're going on with the benefit … I think … but I have no idea who's going to take Klipop's place." She was about to hang up, when she added, "Larry? You still there? Please call me if you have any ideas about who we can get for the benefit; that is, get cheaply. Okay? Thanks. Bye."
Ben looked at her in wonder. "You really are something," he said. "Is there anything you won't do to keep the orchestra going?"
She crossed her arms and started pacing. "This orchestra's my home now, Ben. I gave up a small fortune to keep my home. Every woman does."
"Beatrice," Tom said, "let me ask you a question." Bea stopped pacing and looked at him. His face was back to his Severe Policeman Mode, and the normally fey voice had gone low. "You were the last person, practically, to touch Klipop when he was alive, is that right?"
"I guess it is. Does that make me a suspect?"
"If it wasn’t a heart attack that killed him, yes, I'm afraid it does," he said, rising. He reached into the valise he had left near the chair. Beatrice hadn't noticed it until now. He brought out some white plastic gloves, and slowly put them on as he walked down the aisle to the foot of the stage. He looked at the crumpled bag near the concertmaster's chair, the plastic bottle on its side. He turned and called to her, "Was Klipop the only person to drink the orange seltzer from your bag?"
Ben, who had been sitting down in one of the center seats, cleared his throat and spoke up. "No; I had some as well. He offered it to me after he had drunk most of it." He looked around at Beatrice. "I finished it up and put it down near your chair when you were off someplace. I didn't realize that it was yours until he told me."
"So, Ben, your fingerprints are on the bottle as well as Klipop's?"
"Yes …" Ben answered, ruminating, and then called to Tom, who was in now in the front row before the stage. "Does that make me, I'm sorry, but is 'accessory' the right word?"
"Not exactly," Tom called back, and then, more quietly, "Not yet." He leaned down and was examining the stage floor, his head sideways.
Two policemen came in from the back of the theatre, both of them carrying large plastic crates with sealable tops. Colin was behind them, and Beatrice could hear him locking the entrance. All the musicians went home after all, she thought, and left their instruments here. It occurred to her that they trusted her and Tom to safeguard their possessions. It was a tribute, of a sort.
Colin was checking the theatre doors so more reporters wouldn't get in. The side doors usually locked themselves when you closed them.
"Mr. Griffes?" one of the policemen called from the center aisle.
"What's evidence?" the other man asked, as they slowly walked down to the stage. Beatrice was unused to this and thought their offhand manner chilling.
She watched Tom walk over and engage them in a quiet discussion, and he made a circular motion taking in the stage. He then seemed to be counting off things they had to make sure they found and took with them. "Dust everything for fingerprints," he raised his voice just enough for her to hear. "Even the conductor's baton …um, stick. The thing he waves around. It was red."
"Oh, right," one of the men said. "Like a magic wand." Tom leaned over and whispered something in the older of the two men's ear. The man turned around and called to Beatrice. "Mrs. Klarke --"
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I understand you were the last person to touch the dead man before he fell. Was it here?" He surprisingly pointed to the very spot where it had taken place, to the stage right of the podium.
"Yes, that's right," she called back.
She jumped as someone's hands lightly touched her. Ben had seen her shivering, and was trying, as unobtrusively as possible, to drap her sweater around her shoulders. She turned and put her head on his chest. He stroked her hair and stared darkly at the policemen examining the empty stage.
"Mr. Griffes," one of them said.
"Can't find it. The red stick."
"It's right there." Tom pointed to the conductor's podium.
The policeman looked. "Nuh-uh … sir."
Tom walked up the steps and stopped. He muttered something and turned. "Beatrice!" he yelled. "Where did Klipop put his baton?"
"On the stand."
"It's not here."
Beatrice disengaged herself from Ben's embrace and walked a few steps down the aisle. "Is it so very important?"
Tom looked to heaven to witness the silliness of either women, or musicians, or both. "Bea Darlin'," he explained patiently, "the symptoms you described lead me to wonder if Klipop touched anything else … do you understand? Some one may have put something lethal on the baton, a white powder --"
Beatrice gasped and staggered to one of the chairs. Tom was instantly attentive. "What is it, honey? What do you remember? You didn't touch the baton, did you?"
Beatrice felt faint. "No, I didn't, but … Tom. He was licking his finger as he turned the pages of his conductor's score. Don't you see? If his mouth touched his fingers, and his fingers touched the baton ... "
"Right, that does it. We have to find that stick, guys. Look, as far as I'm concerned, it's Exhibit A." Tom leapt onto the stage with one bound, and started looking under the instrumentalists' chairs.
"Tom?" Ben called from the back. Tom was too upset to answer and Ben had to call his name again.
An old man with a dark complexion had accompanied him down the center aisle. "I have the electrician here," Ben said. "He was underneath the stage fixing the vents when all hell broke loose on top." Tom took two long steps to the edge of the stage and leaned down on his haunches. He attempted a smile and shook the older man's hand. The old man looked afraid and uncertain. "Thank you for helping,” Tom said, trying Now. Did you see a red baton here, a red stick that might have fallen off the stage?"
"I … no … eu não fala Ingles," the old man stammered.
"Fala portugues?" Ben asked, and the old man, surprised, nodded vehemently.
"Eu sou de Lisbon," the old man said, and Ben responded, "Eh; eu sou de Ouro Preto…"
"Are introductions over?" Tom snapped. The older man nodded at Tom, clearly not understanding the question, and the two men exchanged phrases that Tom couldn't understand. Ben eventually turned to Tom and explained that the old man had not seen the baton drop off the stage. Instead of shaking his head, the old man seemed to think it would somehow help to keep nodding his head up and down. It didn't.
Tom sighed, "All right. Tell him to leave his name and number."
"Tell him to leave it with me," a loud and stentorian voice behind them said. Tom got up and saw his uncle and superior officer, Lieutenant Stedmin, walking down the aisle.
Stedmin had a curious resemblance to W. C. Fields, though no one had the courage to remark on it, and certainly not to the man's bulbous-nosed face.
He was the last person Tom wanted to see. The two men had a growling respect for each other, though Tom knew his uncle once blocked one of his own promotions. Tom had always assumed that Stedmin was homophobic, and he was, but in an unusual way: ten years ago Stedmin's wife had left him. For another woman.
"L'tennant," Tom growled.
"Griffes," Stedmin warmly returned the greeting. "Give me details."
"Well, sir," Tom said with a smile, "I've only been on the case for an hour and I've already lost what might be the murder weapon."
Stedmin sighed. He didn't much like the way Tom would drop the worst news on him first, and then not try to defend himself.
Filling Stedmin in on the latest developments, Tom included Beatrice's game-plan to keep the newspaper critic Bill Engels from talking too much. Stedmin gave Beatrice an interested look. She was still seated and tried to look elsewhere. Ben's expression was hard to read, and he simply whispered to the electrician to stay where he was for the moment.
"I'd like to take this case, sir," Tom said to Stedmin. He turned to the two policemen and said, "Take a break. This might take a while. Ben, could you please tell the electrician he can leave?"
"Now, wait a minute, Griffes --" Stedmin tried to interrupt him.
"Of course, it could get you lots of publicity and you'd meet a lot of rich people if you cracked it." Tom started talking at such a pace that his boss was overwhelmed by the younger man's delivery, "As it happens I know everyone involved in this case. I even met the murdered man; and there's a good chance we may not find the murderer if we don't find the murder weapon. If we don't, that would make the front-page news from here to Boston to New York. Now, do you really want that?"
Stedmin was not swayed by the last argument, but said, "Yes, you probably would know more about these kind of people --" he eyed Ben and Bea suspiciously, " -- than I would. But at least let me know if you're keeping anything from the newspapers."
"Well, you met Klipop's wife when they were at the hotel."
"Yes," Stedmin recalled. "Shapely young thing."
"Well, she's just told me over the phone that she'll sue the orchestra --run it out of business, in short-- if we don't crack the case in three days. She's leaving Saturday and wants it all settled by then. Or else."
Stedmin was amused. "So. Klipop's young sex-kitten has claws, eh?" He then straightened up and asked, "Where is she now?"
"Either at the hospital, or at Mark and Mary's house." Tom was still talking fast. "The two of them are going to take care of her. Mrs. K has promised not to say anything to the press for three days. I'm trusting Mary to keep her happy enough for that time."
Stedmin raised his hand. "Wait, wait a minute. What's Klipop's wife suing the orchestra for?"
"Negligence, sir. Said we kept the doors open during rehearsal. Anyone might have come in and tried to murder him."
"Well. Succeeded. Sir. I wasn't here, if that's any help."
"Not much, no. But …" and Stedmin turned to Beatrice. "That's a ridiculous lawsuit. She couldn't possibly win a case like that."
Beatrice turned to Ben, who turned to Tom. "He's right," Ben said.
"Ah. Yes." Tom decided that it was time he dropped the second bombshell. "But we have another problem. I was hoping to avoid mentioning this until the right time." Tom looked around and made sure that the two policemen were out of the room. He wanted to make sure only the three of them heard this.
"No one called an ambulance when Klipop got sick," Tom explained to Stedmin. "Instead, they drove him over in Mark's old station wagon. Bad move. Very bad move. The orchestra is liable for a lawsuit on negligence there."
Stedmin's mouth twisted convulsively. He clearly wanted to say "idiots" or worse, but held his temper in check. "And who made this terrible mistake?" he asked.
Beatrice found herself raising her hand as if she had been caught doing something terrible at school. "I did. I'm sorry. The last words he said were, 'no need for an ambulance.' I thought we could save him and ... after all, the hospital's four blocks away."
"That's bad," Stedmin muttered. "Very bad. I'm sorry, Ms. Klarke. You were clearly too distressed to think clearly. I didn't mean to be rude." He turned to Tom and nodded. "Well, Griffes, it looks like you're in the soup on this one. Maybe I am glad after all that I won't be taking charge this time."
"Thank you, sir," Tom sighed with relief. "Now, it is entirely possible that this man might have died of a heart attack after all. Unfortunately, the hospital said all the tests wouldn't be available for --"
"-- five or six days, I'm guessing; and you say Mrs. Klipop's given you only three." Stedmin punched his nephew in the arm, and leered, "Say. Don't you think you could give up your nancy-boy earrings for three days, and romance that Klipop woman into waiting a week?"
"Maybe you should do it," Tom shot back. "You're the one who called Mrs. Klipop a Sex Kitten."
"Yes, well," Stedmin looked down at his bulky middle, "in my case the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak." He turned to Tom and changed the subject. "You say the baton disappeared? Is this really a problem?"
"It might be, if there was any, say, white powder on it that might have --"
Stedmin shook his head. "You know anthrax doesn't work like that. It takes hours, sometimes days. There's black stuff on the victim's fingers --"
"Purple," Bea corrected him.
Stedmin looked up. "I beg your pardon?"
"He had been eating blackberry sherbet with his fingers this morning."
Stedmin looked at Beatrice as if she'd suddenly gone out of her mind. "His wife forgot to bring a spoon," Beatrice patiently explained. "Klipop was afraid of being poisoned. He wouldn't eat breakfast at Mark's house. He wouldn't eat breakfast at the hotel. But his wife got him some sherbet that he liked yesterday; unfortunately, she also forgot to bring a spoon when they left the hotel in a taxi."
"Let me get this straight. You're telling me that a famous conductor always rides in a taxi eating blueberry ice-cream with his fingers."
"It was blackberry," she said simply, "and it was sherbet."
Stedmin's irritation did not lesson with this revelation. "And whose bright idea was it to introduce him to blackberry sherbet?!"
"Beatrice," said Tom.
"Tom," said Beatrice.
Stedmin threw his hat down on the floor in a rage. "This is a farce," he yelled. "I'm tempted to just call in the forensic boys from Boston. Not that they'd be of any use." Stedmin's pride in his hometown remained unimpaired.
Tom went up to his superior and tried to look him in the eye. This was difficult, as Stedmin was six inches taller. "This is serious, sir," Tom said. "If the orchestra sinks because of this, a lot of culture in this town will disappear."
"Oh, for Pete's sake, who give a -- ?"
"Well, there's rich folks bringing money into the center of town, for once. They come in and spend it at the shops. That creates jobs. That creates pay." He whispered to his politically conservative boss and whispered, "It's all …trickle-down. Do you understand? That means less crime. Eventually."
Stedmin's face froze in sudden understanding, and he turned sternly to Tom. "My God, young man, it's your American duty to see that this mystery is solved." Stedmin turned and walked up the aisle; he didn't see Tom click his heels together, with a military. and only slightly effeminate, salute.
copyright 2005, 2007 by Robert Bonotto. All rights reserved.