Sample Chapter

The Case of Einstein's Violin


Could a formula left in a violin case lead to the creation of a gravity bomb?  This rollicking mystery caroms from Oregon to a Greek monastery, an Italian cyclotron, the Slovenian Alps, and the German city where Einstein was born.




Sample -- Chapter 1

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE

(Ana)


Now I can say this: Sometimes you need to put yourself in Harm’s way, even if she is the kind of person who sells the skeletons in your closet on eBay.

I might still be a high school German teacher drilling irregular verbs if Harmony hadn’t convinced me to break into my mother’s house.

My old key didn’t fit, and Mom must have switched the hide-a-key when Monty moved in. I just stood there on the dark porch, musing out loud that we’d have to go back to the hospital.

"Ana! Your mother’s in surgery." Harmony put one hand on a hip and tilted her head. "Back in high school, how did you sneak into the house after a late date?"

"But I never did that."

"Come on." She took a pen light from her purse. "The kitchen window usually works."

Soon we were creeping through the bushes like burglars behind the big Victorian house on College Hill. To my surprise, the kitchen window really was unlocked. Harmony clasped her hands as a stirrup to give me a boost.

When I heard a thump inside the house, I called, "Hang on, Einstein!"

"Who’s Einstein?" Harmony asked.

"He’s the real reason we’re here." I squirmed down to the counter, unfolding my legs as stiffly as a butterfly trying to emerge from a cocoon. Finally I swung my feet to the floor. Then I found the kitchen light and unlocked the back door for Harmony. By that time an ancient Siamese cat was tottering up to an empty food dish. He looked at me and emitted a long, weird, demanding meow.

"This is Einstein?" Harmony asked. "We’re spending the night here to take care of a cat?"

"A very special cat. I got him when I turned ten. Now he’s so old he needs a pill three times a day. I hope you’re not mad."

Harmony bent down and petted the old cat gently. "Poor old guy. Medicine’s no fun, is it?"

Up until that moment, I don’t think I entirely trusted Harmony as my friend. After all, we had met only three months before, at a local women’s support group called DANCE. The group’s name stands for Divorced And Now Challenging Everything, but I was still too busy getting my feet on the ground to jump up and challenge everything at once.

Harm had just ditched a manipulative hunk named Leo, and I had just been left, again, by a randy wanderer with the name of (Why didn’t I see this coming?) Randy. Eventually, I supposed Harmony and I would be in the market for upgrades, but after you’ve burned your fingers on one stove, it’s refreshing to take a little breather, and look around for some sisterly friendship, before warming up to the next fire.

Not that Harmony and I are much alike. To be sure, we were both thirty, and we both taught school in Eugene, Oregon. But Harm is a natural beauty, with wide brown eyes, a dimple in her cheek, and a blonde ponytail that cascades casually out the back of a baseball cap. She grew up with hippie parents who make wooden toys on a commune behind Spencer Butte. As a child she was granted all the liberties in the world. The resulting innocent freeness has become a mysterious part of her attraction, from the way she shrugs with one shoulder to the way she chooses impossible combinations for a double-scoop ice cream cone.

Harm is irresistible to men, but she has a dangerous streak. Sure, she teaches kindergarten, but she also has an advanced belt in Aikido.

As for me, I’ve found other ways to turn heads. I’m happy enough with my roundish face, brown eyes, and mid-length brown hair, even though it tends to frizz out on either side. It’s just that I get people’s attention faster by writing freelance articles for Eugene Weekly about library funding or adult literacy or the like. Did I envy Harm’s adventurous style? Yeah, and I’ll admit I was lonely since the divorce. It wasn’t any easier knowing that my only living relative had just checked into McKenzie-Willamette Hospital to remove a lump in her breast. I didn’t want to think it might be cancer.

"Where are the pills?" Harmony asked.

"What?" I blinked, as if awakening from a trance.

"Einstein’s pills. Where does your Mom keep them?"

"Oh. I think she said they’re in the dining room cabinet. Where they keep the wine."

Harmony turned on a chandelier in the next room. "Wow. Where did your mother get all the antiques?"

"The house used to belong to my great aunt Margret. Margret may have been confused about many things, but she understood antiques. When Mom inherited the house she wanted to modernize everything. I convinced her to leave the dining room alone."

Harmony was halfway to the cabinet when she paused beside an oak buffet. "Hey, here’s a letter for you."

"But I haven’t lived here for years." Curious, I picked up the envelope. There, neatly penned in my mother’s looping hand, was the inscription, "For Ana Percey Smyth." I turned it over. Written in large letters across the sealed flap were the words, "TOP SECRET! To be opened by my daughter in the event of my death!"

For a moment I simply stood there, stunned. The formality and the finality of the envelope made me fear for an instant that Mom really might be dying. I sank into one of the nearby plush chairs, hit by a sick feeling in my stomach.

"What is it?" Harmony asked.

I held out the envelope in reply.

She read the words and bit her lip. "Damn. I’m always barging around in other people’s business. This time I’ve gone too far."

"No, it’s not your fault. My mother can be melodramatic. She probably leaves a letter like this every time she goes to the hospital."

Harmony handed back the envelope. "Do you have any idea what’s in it?"

I turned it over in my hands, wondering. Knowing my mother, the most likely message would be a teary farewell. Or some ghastly, detailed funeral instructions. Or perhaps a photograph? The thought tempted me to open it, despite the envelope’s instructions. When Mom had remarried, she had burned our family photo albums. The only pictures I had of my father were memories, and they grew fuzzier every year. . . .